The pieces that don’t necessarily fit • 01.10.11
This free agent market doesn’t match the Yankees needs. We know that. It’s been discussed time after time, day after day, but this morning the good people at MLBTradeRumors listed the 11 players remaining from their initial list of the top 50 free agents. It paints a pretty convincing picture of just how little is out there. Here’s their list.
1. Rafael Soriano — Significant cost, in dollars and draft picks, for a setup man.
2. Carl Pavano — There was never a real chance of the Yankees bringing him back.
3. Jim Thome — Hasn’t played the field in three years. DH spot isn’t available.
4. Vladimir Guerrero — Another designated hitter, best kept out of the outfield at this point.
5. Manny Ramirez — Probably a better defensive option than Guerrero, but still questionable. Plus, Manny in pinstripes?
6. Andy Pettitte — This one’s not up to the Yankees. It’s all up to Pettitte.
7. Brian Fuentes — If he wants to close, he won’t come to the Yankees.
8. Kevin Millwood — Amazing how quickly the starting pitching market falls into the questionable zone. At least Millwood has been fairly durable.
9. Grant Balfour — Another setup man who would cost a draft pick.
10. Scott Podsednik — Left-handed, speed-oriented left fielder. The Yankees already have one of those.
11. Johnny Damon — Probably a better defensive option than some of the other guys who are primarily DHs. Might prefer an everyday role. A right-handed hitter would be a better fit.
The timing of transition • 01.05.11
For Jorge Posada, the transition away from catcher has always been a matter of time. Even during his remarkable decade-plus stretch of durability, it was clear that at some point — either because of age, production or health — the Yankees were going to have to make a change behind the plate.
That time has come. It’s been three years since Posada started more than 88 games at catcher, and last season he was so banged up that Joe Girardi was understandably hesitant to start him behind the plate more than two days in a row. Posada was an everyday catcher in name only.
In the big picture, the timing of this transition is perfect. Posada got here gradually, and the Yankees have young players ready to take over. Short-term, though, it’s hard to look at the free agent market and not wonder if the Yankees might have been tempted to press their luck one more year.
You could look at the timing Posada’s transition based on two positions: Catcher and designated hitter. Catcher is the long-term positive. DH is the short-term regret.
Passing the torch
The Yankees minor league system is ready to takeover behind the plate. At the very least, it’s ready to give the Yankees options and reason for optimism. Jesus Montero’s second half of 2010 suggested a player growing into his enormous talent, and even if doesn’t prove Major League ready behind the plate, Austin Romine is coming quickly behind him. The Yankees have both talent and depth, and they have each of those things on the cusp of the big leagues.
Two years ago there was unproven talent. One year ago, that talent had shown some results, but it still wasn’t ready for the show. Today, there are catchers on the verge. The past two years, Posada gave the Yankees enough behind the plate that they didn’t feel compelled to rush their young players or aggressively sign a replacement. Posada bridged his own gap, with some space-fillers helping along the way.
As an added bonus, this happened to be the winter Russell Martin became a free agent. Because of their catching depth, and because Posada can still catch occasionally, the Yankees could afford to take a shot on Martin rediscovering his old self. If it works, great. If not, it only gives the young guys a little more development time. In theory, this is what a catcher transition should look like: The old guard is still around and the new talent is eased in.
Filling the hole
With one more year on his contract, Posada isn’t finished just yet. He’s not longer an everyday catcher, but he can be a productive hitter. Even in a down year, when he clearly played hurt a lot of the time, Posada still hit for power and gave the Yankees production. He’s only one year removed from a vintage Posada slash line.
To keep Posada’s bat in the lineup, while keeping his body healthy, the Yankees will make their former catcher a more-or-less full-time designated hitter. It’s a natural fit, and the spot was wide open. No more Hideki Matsui. No more Jason Giambi. No more Nick Johnson.
Then again, if ever there was an offseason to go DH hunting, it was this one. The free agent market is always full of potential designated hitters — quite literally, any available hitter could theoretically fill the spot — but this winter’s crop is loaded with players who can still hit but are best kept away from any sort of glove.
Matsui and Adam Dunn have already signed, but the free agent market still has Giambi, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. A second tier offers Marcus Thames, Russell Branyan, Jose Guillen and maybe Jermaine Dye. The price for each of them must be dropping by the day, and it’s hard to imagine any of them getting more than a one year deal. Those are bats that could help the Yankees, if only there were a place for them.
Associated Press photo of Posada, headshots of Martin and Thome
Mariano Rivera threw 21 pitches last night. He got a four-out save that was essentially a five-out save. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Rivera is absolutely available tonight, but probably not for more than one inning.
“I would prefer not to do it tonight,” Girardi said. “But I said that last night.”
There can be no doubt that there’s a certain comfort that comes with Rivera. Like Girardi said this afternoon, there’s no fair comparison. No one has been this good for this long in this role. It’s such a track record that, even at 40 years old, bumps in the road don’t mean much.
Rivera struggled down the stretch, one of two periods of three or four outings when he wasn’t himself.
“It wasn’t his mechanics, it was his hand position on the ball,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “When you show the player – they can feel something – and when you show them, it kind of clicks.”
Based on the all the broken bats last night, it seemed Rivera had clearly made the adjustment. Everything clicked, just like it’s clicked time after time since the mid-90s.
“Command was better, everything was better, and the result was better,” Rivera said.
Girardi doesn’t want to use his closer for more than three outs tonight, but in a crucial situation — no matter how good Kerry Wood has been since the trade deadline — it’s hard to imagine anyone the Yankees would rather have on the mound.
“He’s tremendous to have because you know the situation isn’t going to affect who he is,” Girardi said. “Mo’s been doing it so long, I think he enjoys the situations and I think he thrives in them.”
• A day after the blown call in right field, Girardi once again gave his position on instant replay in baseball: “As long as it doesn’t slow the game down,” Girardi said. “The thing about expanded replay for me is, could they have reviewed that play as quick as they talked about it? Probably. It’s the same amount of time. It might even be less time.”
• Was Nick Swisher bunting on his own last night? Girardi wouldn’t say, at least not with words. There could be no doubt, based on his physical reaction to the question, that Girardi certainly didn’t call for the bunt. Someone said that Rob Thomson seemed to talk to Swisher very quickly after the failed bunt attempt, and Girardi only nodded. Bottom line: I wouldn’t expect to see Swisher laying down a bunt in the early innings tonight.
• There seems to always be some frustration from the fan base whenever Brett Gardner gets to first base and doesn’t try to steal. He had a chance to run last night and didn’t do it. “You just can’t run reckless where you get picked off and you take yourself out of an inning,” Girardi said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re able to read a guy’s move that you’re able to get a good jump, and those are the things that he does.”
• Derek Jeter hit some balls hard last night, continuing a trend that started in the last month of the season. “I think his at-bats have been a lot better,” Girardi said. “I think he’s hitting the ball harder. When he was in his rut, he was getting jammed a lot and hitting some weak ground balls. You see him hitting the ball to right field and center field with authority, and that’s good.”
• Girardi said he wasn’t worried about taking his only lefty out of the game in the seventh inning last night. In his mind, there were two innings to play and — lefty or righty — he knew the two pitchers he was going to use. “We’ve talked about Woody being our eighth-inning guy, and that’s probably where we’re going to use him,” Girardi said.
• Girardi said he plans to stick with Curtis Granderson as his everyday center fielder throughout the playoffs, regardless of lefty or righty starting pitcher. Last night might have reinforced that, but had Granderson taken an 0-for it wouldn’t have changed Girardi’s opinion. “This is a guy who for two months has hit off of lefties,” Girardi said. “So I don’t make a determination by one game.”
• One of Girardi’s many bullpen rules in the regular season was a refusal to use relievers four out of five days. He said that ban could be lifted in the postseason. “There’s a possibility we can use some guys four out of five nights if we had to,” he said.
• The Twins used Brian Fuentes for five batters last night, but manager Ron Gardenhire said Fuentes is available tonight.
• Girardi on the fact he’s in the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thome is not: “They have made a mistake. Jim was, you know, a little bit younger than I was, and I never had a chance to play against him growing up. But I did in the big leagues. Somehow we grew up in the same area and I got like 1/20th of his power. I’m not sure what happened.”
Associated Press photos of Rivera with Posada, and of Teixeira’s game-winning home run last night