January 2010

Nady Signing Raises Doubts About Yankees’ Goals

We have heard all winter that the New York Yankees could not re-sign Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui because of their restricted budget.
That also was the reason why the Yankees passed on “Cadillac” free agent outfielders like Matt Holliday and Jason Bay.
Then we heard that the Yankees were looking at low-cost options like Reed Johnson and Rocco Baldelli. General manager Brian Cashman also said that Xavier Nady was out of the Yankees’ price range.
When Matsui signed with the Los Angeles Angels for $6 million Cashman said Matsui never would have accepted $6 million from the Yankees. Do we know that for sure?
The Yankees, Cashman said, now have only about $2 million to spend on a right-handed-hitting outfielder.
Then the news comes Tuesday that the Chicago Cubs had signed Nady to a one-year contract for a guaranteed $3.3 million with about $2 million in incentives for games played. The deal is pending a physical to determine if Nady’s second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow is progressing on schedule.
Hmmm!
Since when do the Yankees pass on an outfielder who hit 25 home runs, drove in 97 runs and batted .305 in his last healthy season over a meager $3.3 million?
Ever since George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees the team has spent lavishly on free agents. For every signing of a Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter there have also been mistakes like Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa.
But Yankee fans never had a doubt that the front office was trying to put the best team it could on the field — until now.
This haggling all off-season with Damon has really been belittling to one free-agent signing the Yankees did not have to regret. 
Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, the self-proclaimed smartest man in baseball, determined Damon was too old and was breaking down at age 32. Rather than satisfy Damon’s demand for a four-year contract, Epstein dealt for Coco Crisp instead.
Four years later Crisp is long gone from the Red Sox roster and Damon is coming off four seasons where he played 141 or more games and averaged 19 home runs, 74 RBIs and batted .285. He also averaged 23 stolen bases.
Oh yeah, Damon has a weak arm in left field and he also has had issues with calf injuries. But he also has been on the disabled just once in 15 major league seasons. Damon also was the man at the plate in the World Series that took Brad Lidge through that long clutch at-bat that led to a single, a steal of second and the grand larceny of third that set the stage for the Yankees comeback victory in Game 4.
But budgets are budgets, I guess. The Yankees can’t afford Johnny.
That still does not explain Nady. Cashman told us he was out of the Yankees price range. Yet he signs for a piddling $3.3 million. What is going on here?
Nady did everything he could to help the Yankees after they traded for him and Damaso Marte in the middle of the 2008 season. In the deal to acquire Nady, Cashman traded the Yankees best outfield prospect in 20-year-old Jose Tabata.
This winter the Yankees traded their best outfield prospect in Austin Jackson to obtain Curtis Granderson.
I find it odd that the Yankees plead poverty on the one hand and on the other hand trade promising outfield prospects away to obtain guys like Nady and Granderson. Then when those veterans get to the end of their contracts we can’t afford to bring them back and the cupboard is bare of prospects to replace them. 
Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the younger prospects in the first place? That way they can be signed for contracts like $2 million until they hit their free-agent years. My point is that I would feel a whole lot better going into the 2010 season with the Yankees trying to adhere to a budget if they had guys like Tabata and Jackson on the roster instead of Brett Gardner, Jamie Hoffman and Greg Golson.
That would at least mean that the Yankees were trying to fill a position of need with some homegrown talent instead of veteran retreads like Reed Johnson and Rocco Baldelli. If the Yankees fail to repeat as world champions in 2010 will Yankee fans exclaim “That is OK. At least they stayed within their 2010 budget”?
I don’t think so. I think Yankee fans will see a young Jackson playing well for the Tigers, a young Tabata progressing to the majors with the Pirates, a veteran Nady pounding home runs at Wrigley Field and a Damon getting clutch hits with whomever he finally signs and ask why aren’t they in Yankee uniforms.
This winter’s events also puts an awful lot of pressure on Gardner too. Though I like him a lot, if he hits .250 or ends up on the disabled list for three months than this whole winter dance of the dollar by Cashman will be wasted without another championship banner to display.
I sure hope Cashman knows what he is doing because it sure is looking gloomy to me.

Yankees Catch Fire With Posada Behind Plate



It is almost time for pitchers and catchers to report to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa and it is the perfect time to start evaluating the New York Yankees talent. We will start with the catching position and move around the various positions. Needless to say, the Yankees do not have any “Help Wanted” signs out. They are coming to spring training with just about every job filled. But let’s take a look at what they have and see how they stack up to the 2009 World Champions.

CATCHER

In his three previous healthy seasons prior to 2009, Jorge Posada averaged 21 home runs, 85 RBIs and hit .293. In 2009, despite missing 22 games with a hamstring injury, Posada registered 21 home runs and 81 RBIs and batted .285.
The Yankees missed that consistent offense in 2008 when Posada was forced to end his season early to have right shoulder surgery. It was not lost on Yankee fans that 2008 also was the first season in Posada’s big-league career the Yankees missed the playoffs.
Having a healthy Posada behind the plate was paramount in the Yankees’ desire to return to the postseason in 2009. So Posada worked hard to rehab his surgically repaired shoulder. The Yankees were hoping that Posada would at least be able to deter teams from running wild on the bases on him as they did in 2008.
In 2008, Posada nailed 8.1 percent of base-runners. In 2009, he retired 22.3 percent of the base-runners attempting to steal. So it stands to reason that Posada answered the biggest question the Yankees had about him in the offseason.
Of course, there were problems. Posada was involved in an ugly public blowup when A.J. Burnett was tagged for nine runs in a game against the Red Sox. Burnett made it clear he was not happy with Posada’s pitch calls.
In the playoffs, manager Joe Girardi benched Posada in favor of backup Jose Molina in the games Burnett pitched. That angered Posada but Girardi insisted that he did not want to break up the chemistry that Burnett and Molina had established.
Posada also did not see eye-to-eye on pitch selection with Joba Chamberlain earlier in the season.
Heading into 2010, Posada at age 38 even admits he will not likely be able to catch more than 115 to 120 games. Girardi plans to use Posada as a designated hitter at times to keep his valuable bat in the lineup.
Posada is in the third year of a four-year contract he signed after the 2007 season. The Yankees know the 15-year veteran is coming to an end of his career in pinstripes. The only other catcher to catch more games than Posada at his age was Deacon McGuire, who caught 88 games at age 40, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
That means the Yankees need to have a capable backup in 2010. But instead of the defensive wizard Molina, the Yankees will be counting on the homegrown Francisco Cervelli. Cervelli got to show what he could do last season.
The Yankees lost both Posada and Molina to leg injuries in May and they were forced to call up Cervelli, despite the fact he was hitting .190 at Double A Trenton. But Cervelli quickly established himself as a great defensive catcher who did not embarrass himself at the plate.
Cervelli, 23, played in 42 games (started in 25) and hit .298 with a home run and 11 RBIs. He also threw out 13 of 21 potential base-runners. His real value, though, was in calling games.
He drew raves from Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia for his command behind the plate and the fact that he would have the courage to make suggestions to the veterans. A former catcher himself, Girardi was also lavish in his praise of the young rookie.
As a result Cervelli figures to remain as the team’s backup catcher this season. Molina is a free agent and the Yankees are unlikely to re-sign him for another season. 
The Yankees also have two very good prospects getting ready in the minors. Jesus Montero hit .337 with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs for Class A Tampa and Double A Trenton. Montero is the team’s top minor-league prospect.
In addition, Austin Romine hit .276 with 13 home runs and 76 RBIs for Tampa. Romine is the son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine.
The Yankees also invited to camp 33-year-old veteran Mike Rivera, who has hit .244 in 181 major-league games. He has spent parts of the past four season with the Brewers and has also played for the Tigers and Padres. 
Rivera could be assigned to Triple A Scranton-Wilkes Barre as a potential call-up if anything happens to Posada or Cervelli during the season.
It appears with Posada’a bat, Cervelli’s glove and arm and Montero and Romine looming in the not-to-distant future, the Yankees seem to be well stocked at catcher entering the 2010 season.

Yankee Fans Ask ‘Hey, Abbott, Who’s In Left?’

I can almost envision Lou Abbott and Bud Costello talking about the 2010 New York Yankees now:
Costello: “Who’s in left?”

Abbott: “No. Who’s on first.”

Costello: “I don’t know.”

Abbott: “I don’t know is in left”
So it goes with the Yankees. Who, what or I don’t know has shifted to left-field and it is anybody’s guess who will play there come Opening Day on April 4 at Fenway Park.
Last season left-field, for the most part, was manned by Johnny Damon. But after a season in which the 36-year-old veteran hit 24 home runs, drove in 82 runs and batted .282 the Yankees allowed him to become a free agent without even an offer of arbitration.
Damon said he wanted to remain a Yankee but his agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a ridiculous four-year, $52 million contract. The Yankees chose to pass. Though Damon has lowered his demands to a reported two years and $20 million, the Yankees have let him seek offers from other teams.
Rumors say the Braves have an interest in him but they are not likely to pay $10 million for two seasons for the privilege.
The Yankees did have other options in left. For one, they could have tried out rookie Austin Jackson, the 23-year-old gem of the team’s minor-league system. But, alas, the Yankees decided to package the potential five-tool star in a trade with the Detroit Tigers that yielded outfielder Curtis Granderson.
The Yankees immediately announced Granderson was the team’s center fielder and that 2009 center fielder Melky Cabrera would move to left field. 
If the Yankees were serious about cutting payroll, it would seem odd for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to trade Jackson for Granderson’s four-year contract that calls for him to make $5.25 million this season but about $13 million in the fourth season. Jackson would have cost considerably less.
Still, the shift of Cabrera makes sense with the newly frugal Yankees considering that he made a paltry $1.7 million in 2009. But, once again, the Yankees vacated left field when they used Cabrera in a package that brought right-hander Javier Vazquez back to the Bronx — along with his $11 million salary.
There is no doubt that getting Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) from the Atlanta Braves solidified the starting rotation because there are now four pitchers who are capable of pitching 200 innings or more. It also would allow either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to shift to the setup role in the bullpen. However, it also vacated left field again.
Now the Yankees are touting Brett Gardner as their starting left fielder. Or they could keep Gardner in center and move Curtis Granderson there if the team is dissatisfied with Granderson’s defense in center.
Either way, Gardner certainly is a low-cost alternative to Damon. But it seems odd that Cashman is protesting poverty in his inability to bring Damon back. Cashman said he only has $2 million left to spend on an outfielder.
Well, it seems to me that if he paid just a bit less than $10 million to sign Damon for two years, kept Jackson and Phil Coke instead of making the Granderson trade and used Jackson and Coke to obtain Vazquez instead of trading Michael Dunn, then the Yankees would have not needed to obtain Boone Logan.
They then could have signed Nick Johnson to DH for $5 million and had an outfield of Damon, Cabrera and Nick Swisher with Gardner in the wings and Dunn could have replaced Coke without pushing the Yankees over their budget because they let Hideki Matsui sign with the Angels. 
If I have done the math correct, I think this would have got the Yankees close to their so-called budget limit without affecting the performance level of the team.
Now without Damon in left, the Yankees reportedly are looking at signing right-hand hitting outfielder Reed Johnson or perhaps bring back injured Xavier Nady or utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. for about $2 million. This would give the Yankees a right-hand hitter to platoon with Gardner or Granderson, who hit a woeful .182 against lefties in 2009.
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for spring training, I know that Yankee fans are getting nervous about the opening in left field. Pundits like Jon Heyman of the MLB Network are beginning to wonder if the decision to allow Matsui and Damon go in the offseason in favor of Granderson and Johnson has weakened the offense.
It is a valid question.
I am not sure if even Abbott and Costello can answer these questions.
Costello: “The left fielder’s name?”

Abbott: “Because”

Costello: “Why?”

Abbott: “Oh, he’s center field.”



McGwire’s Actions Final Indignity to Roger Maris

It is ironic that in all the controversy stirred by Mark McGwire this week that the legacy of Roger Maris has to suffer yet another indignity.
Even the most casual baseball fan will know that Babe Ruth’s record for home runs in a season of 60 came under assault in 1961 by Mickey Mantle and a shy 27-year-old kid from Hibbing, MN named Maris.
But Maris was never really allowed to have the record by himself. Commissioner Ford Frick, who was a ghost writer for Ruth declared that if Mantle or Maris failed to hit 60 or more home runs within the 154 games Ruth set the record, it would have to carry a special designation.
The designation later became an asterisk. It hung around Maris’ neck like an albatross.
Mantle was injured late in the 1961 season and was unable to continue the race with his teammate and roommate Maris. Maris, in fact, failed to hit his 61st home run until after 154 games. So he never really was accorded the honor of being baseball’s single-season home run king.
Considering that many Yankee fans revered Ruth and many more thought it should be Mantle and not Maris to break the record, the 1961 season became more of a nightmare to Maris than a blessing. He couldn’t sleep, the press hounded him and his hair began falling out in clumps.
People were actually openly rooting against him and many were glad with the commissioner’s edict had prevented Ruth’s record to be eclipsed because of the new 182-game schedule. 
Many forget that Maris was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1960 and he was just as deserving as anyone to break the record. In fact, who is to say who deserves to break a record or not?
Ruth’s record had stood since 1927. The asterisk remained until 1991. Maris died on Dec. 14, 1985 never knowing that he would actually be recognized as baseball’s home run king. But the dropping of the asterisk did little to embellish his image as the king.
Ruth’s shadow followed him throughout his injury-filled career. He never liked the asterisk but said it was for history to judge who the legitimate home run record-holder was.
Then along comes McGwire, who was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1987 and, who along with Jose Canseco, led the Oakland Athletics to a world championship in 1989. In McGwire’s first nine seasons, his single-season high for home runs was the 49 he had hit as a rookie.
His single-season high other those 49 home runs in 1987 was the 42 he had hit in 1992.
Then came the 1996 season with the St. Louis Cardinals when he hit 52. Then came the 1997 season when he hit 57. Then came the famous 1998 season when he 70. In 1999 he belted 65.
Hmm! Ruth’s record stood since 1927 when Maris broke it in 1961 and here was McGwire having two consecutive seasons of 70 and 65 home runs. 
Meanwhile, Sammy Sosa of the Cubs hit 66 in 1998 and 63 in 1999. He also hit 64 in 2001. Hmm! He had three seasons where he hit more than Ruth and Maris.
In 2001, Barry Bonds established a new major-league record with 73 home runs.
You seeing a pattern here?
From 1998 to 2001 three major-league players had passed Ruth and Maris a total of six times. Though there were whispers around baseball that something was not right, baseball accepted these feats because the game was gaining in popularity. Baseball had no steroid testing policy nor was it being contemplated.
It was not until the BALCO revelations and baseball began to crack down much too late on steroids that McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were swept up into the scandal. The damage the Steroid Era has inflicted upon baseball is immeasurable. 
Stains will never be washed away.
Now, 11 years later McGwire apologizes and admits the obvious: He did use steroids. What does he want us to do? Cry for him? Forgive him? Put him in the Hall of Fame?
This to me is the final indignity to Maris. As far as we know, Maris hit his home runs the right way. No steroids and every one was legitimate. We can’t say the same for McGwire. Sosa and Bonds.
They cheated. They cheated not only us. They cheated the game. Most of all they cheated Ruth and Maris. 
If I was the commissioner or a person with more backbone than Bud Selig, I would erase the home run marks of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds and restore Maris as the recognized home run king along with Ruth’s mark of 60 as second best.
I would reinstate Henry Aaron as the overall record-holder for career home runs and expunge the totals Bonds amassed.
Without doing this, the game is forever tainted by these criminals. Steroids continue to cloud the game. Even if an Albert Pujols were to break a record in this atmosphere, it surely will come with the accusation he is taking performance enhancing substances to do it. With McGwire as his hitting coach no less.
It is like McGwire and his fellow cheats have forever stained the game. Ruined it. Ruined its most hallowed records.
And it is not as if McGwire did not realize what he was doing at the time. When he broke Maris’ mark, the Maris family was on hand to watch and cheer the event. How hypocritical can you be? You accepted these accolades from this proud family knowing that you cheated to do it.
You may as well of pulled a gun on them and took their wallets while you were at, Mark.
You and your fellow cheats are scum and just as much a scourge to baseball as Pete Rose is. And like him, none of you deserve to even enter the doors of the Hall of Fame, much less be enshrined.
I will never forgive Mark McGwire and I hope he rots in his own private hell when he dies. Selig should not allow him near a uniform or the field as a coach. He should be banned just like Rose.
Maybe the Roger Maris did not deserve to break Babe Ruth’s record but he still has more class than McGwire ever had. I truly do feel sorry for Roger today. More than ever.
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