No surprise, Phil Hughes remained a hot topic of discussion during today’s pregame press conference. There’s really nothing new — the Yankees still believe it’s a matter of arm strength — but Joe Girardi did bring up one aspect that Hughes himself mentioned in passing yesterday.
Last season, Hughes didn’t make his first Major League start until April 15. He stayed behind in Tampa to continue pitching in exhibition games after the Yankees broke camp, and in the last outing or two before he finally came north, Hughes’ velocity was lower than usual. The return to form might have been a matter of Major League adrenalin. It might have been a matter of recovering from a sort of dead-arm period. It might have been a matter of gaining the proper arm strength.
“This is a kid that made his first start last year April 15 and his velocity creeped up a couple miles from what it did in spring training,” Girardi said. “I know his velocity has not been there this year. Does it have to do with the increased work last year? Does it have to do with it’s just taking him a little time to get going? I can’t tell you. There’s nothing to lead us to believe that something is bothering him because he hasn’t said anything.”
Girardi said the Yankees still have no plans of sending Hughes to a doctor because right now — aside from the velocity — there’s no sign of trouble, either medical or mechanical.
“There are guys that really get into their legs (when they pitch),” Girardi said. “There are other guys who don’t, who just have that natural gift of being able to throw a ball hard. For Hughesy, he’s somewhere in between that, and I’m not going to panic about his velocity. I’m not. I believe it’s coming back. I can’t give you a date. I’d like to be able to say it will be back this day, but I believe it’s going to be there. Right now he’s scuffling a little bit, and I don’t want to throw away what this kid did last year and all of a sudden say I’m really concerned. Yeah, I want to get him on track and he’s important to us, but I believe it’s coming back.”
• That said, Jorge Posada is off to a strange start. He has three home runs, but he has only one other hit. Some of that is because of the adjustment to DH, Girardi said, but most of it is simply the ebb and flow of being a hitter. “When he hit those couple of home runs we thought he had it,” Girardi said. “It’s just part of the game. In our game there are so many ups and downs, to me the big thing is that mentally you stay on the same plane all the time and you don’t get caught up in it.”
• Russell Martin has played in every game this season, but as Girardi pointed out, he has yet to play more than four games in a row. He was supposed to have a day off on Wednesday, but that game was rained out. “The schedule has played favorably for him to play every day,” Girardi said.
• Girardi said he considered putting Chavez in the field, but right now he’s confident that Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira feel fine. “I think physically, they’re good and their bodies are recovering fine right now,” Girardi said. “Maybe if it’s a little later in the season, I might change my mind.”
• Girardi said it’s possible Bartolo Colon could be available tomorrow, but it’s more likely he won’t pitch again until after Monday’s off day. Freddy Garcia is available as a long man today.
• Kind of like what he said about Hughes, Girardi said he doesn’t want to “throw away” what Boone Logan did last season. The Yankees have seen Logan be effective as the No. 1 lefty, and right now they have little choice but to trust that he’ll get going again. “Boone is our left-hander out of the bullpen that’s going to need to get left-handers out,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of lefties, Pedro Feliciano will see the doctor when the Yankees return to New York. If that checkup goes well, he could be cleared to begin throwing. Feliciano has indicated that he does not believe it will take him very long to get ready.
• Francisco Cervelli has been taking batting practice, running in a pool and doing light agility drills in Tampa. Girardi still believes he could have his regular backup catcher by early May.
• I thought Girardi did a nice job addressing the Manny Ramirez retirement: “Any time that this comes up, it’s kind of a black eye for baseball in a sense,” he said. “It’s sad. We keep trying to put this behind us, this era that they talk about, and it just keeps resurfacing. We have trials coming up, we have what happened with Manny, and it saddens me. You want the game to be clean and gone about the right way. We went through a time period that it didn’t happen.”
Associated Press photos of Hughes and Posada.
Also, Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues is a Bob Dylan song. For whatever reason I thought of it when I was writing that headline.
One week later • 01.24.11
I quite literally lost myself in the back bowls of Vail last week, but when I came back to New York, I found myself right at home with the unavoidable Yankees topic of the offseason. I guess it’s hard for the Yankees to escape Andy Pettitte these days. I tend to agree with Jesse’s morning post — I’m not sure Pettitte’s a Hall of Famer — but right now the Yankees don’t need a Hall of Fame addition to their rotation.
They’ve built a remarkably deep bullpen, their lineup is still arguably the best in the league and they have some new power on the bench. What they don’t have (still) is depth in the rotation. It’s an issue that’s going to linger, and until Pettitte gives a definitive answer about his future, his name will never fall out of offseason speculation.
As for recent events, I actually missed a fairly active week. A few highlights:
Rafael Soriano became official
Press conferences for new free agents are fairly predictable. The team is happy to have the player. The player is happy to be with the team. Those situations are interesting only because it’s a new face in a new uniform, not because there will be any sort of interesting news or realization. This week, though, the Yankees signing of Rafael Soriano became official, and the team had to address the obvious: That the general manager wasn’t in favor of the signing and ownership ran the show in signing the team’s biggest winter addition. This topic has been discussed over and over again, and there’s no sense rehashing it here, but I will say that this was one of the few press conferences that I actually thought might be legitimately interesting. I was on an airplane at the time.
Rumor became fact, Andruw Jones became a Yankee
At some point around the first of the month, the Yankees and Andruw Jones became a constant rumor. They were talking. They were interested. They were sorting the details. Last week, it was done, with Jones taking a one-year deal worth $2 million plus incentives. It fits into the going rate for similar players, and I like the signing. As I’ve written before, I think Jones made the most sense for the Yankees. Of the outfielders in this market, only Matt Diaz might have been a better fit, and he got a regular gig with the Pirates. Jones isn’t what he used to be, but the Yankees don’t need him to be what he used to be. They need him to hit for power and play the outfield corners. He can still do those things, and he can do them without costing much this season or putting the Yankees on the hook for any long-term risk.
The Yankees avoided arbitration with everyone
No arbitration hearings this year, which is probably better for everyone involved. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan all settled on 2011 contracts last week, locking up the only arbitration eligible players still on the Yankees roster (Sergio Mitre had already re-signed, Chad Guadin had already been released, and Dustin Moseley had been non-tendered). I actually thought all three might get more money than they did, but my ability to judge arbitration value is suspect at best. Those three are still a year or two away from becoming truly expensive for the Yankees.
Johnny and Manny together again
While the Yankees settled on their fourth outfielder, the Rays also completed their outfield picture by signing Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to one-year deals. Damon seems likely to get most of his playing time in left field, Ramirez at designated hitter. To me it’s a nice signing for the Rays, but not a big loss for the Yankees. Neither Damon nor Ramirez exactly fit the Yankees needs – defense plays a role here, so does Damon’s left-handed bat – but the Rays had a wide-open DH situation and an outfield in flux, stuck somewhere between Carl Crawford and Desmond Jennings. To an extent, Jones, Damon and Ramirez each made sense for both the Yankees and Rays, but it seems to me that the Yankees got the guy who best fit their needs and the Rays got the guys who best fit their needs.
The Angels showed what desperation really looks like
Whether true or not, there was something about the Yankees Soriano signing that seemed desperate: It wasn’t a perfect fit or a good contract, but at least it gave them a significant addition. However, when it comes to perceived desperation, the Angels took the prize this week when they traded for Vernon Wells. I like Wells and wouldn’t be shocked to see a repeat of 2010, but his contract is an absolute mess that the Blue Jays have clearly wanted to dump for a while. Not only did they dump it, they dumped that contract – all of it! — for two solid young players, and to a team that didn’t necessarily need an overpaid center fielder. It’s like the Soriano level, only on a whole other level: Wells might make the Angels better, but does that mean he’s worth this sort of cost and risk?
Marcus Thames remembered his glove
Last winter, Marcus Thames was – pretty much without question – Brian Cashman’s best offseason signing. He came to camp on a minor league deal and settled into a significant and productive role as a semi-regular. Thames has some very real power, and he can really hit against lefties, so it’s easy to see why the Dodgers signed him last week. Of course, you might have noticed that the Dodgers are a National League team without a designated hitter. Thames is best left out of the defensive game plan, but to be honest, if he hits like he did last season, his bat will be more than enough to make up for shaky left-field defense. That’s my guess, anyway.
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.
Notes and such on a snowy Christmas Eve • 12.24.10
It’s snowing in Missouri. Two years in a row with snow on the ground Christmas is pretty unusual where I grew up, but it makes my mom happy, so that makes me happy.
My brother-in-law is slowly making his way down I-55, and I’m excited about spending the holiday with friends and family tonight and tomorrow. Whether you’re celebrating or not, I hope you all enjoy the weekend and get to be around some of the people closest to you.
For now, just a few notes from a predictably slow day for baseball news.
• Good stuff from Ben Shpigel, who writes that Andy Pettitte’s decision about whether to return might impact his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.
• Jack Curry has heard that the Yankees have discussed the idea of signing Manny Ramirez, but Manny being Manny in the Bronx seems even less likely than the Yankees bringing back Johnny Damon.
• Speaking of players unlikely to come back, Buster Olney thinks it’s unlikely that Marcus Thames will return to the Yankees.
• At the top of that Olney link is poll of 16 talent evaluators who were asked to pick the top rotations in baseball. They agreed with Olney that the Phillies and Giants are Nos. 1 and 2 by quite a bit. Not good news for the Yankees: They ranked Boston and Tampa in a tie for third.
• Over at MLB.com, Jonathan Mayo profiled the Yankees farm system and the success it had this year. “We don’t sit around patting ourselves on the back,” Mark Newman said. “We had good fortune this year. We had a bunch of guys come back from injury and a bunch of guys have good years.”