November 2010

Yankees Have Jeter In Vise But It Could Haunt Them Later

I find all this Derek Jeter versus Yankee management haggling over money disturbing.
The reason is that the Yankees are the richest franchise in baseball and the most successful in the history of baseball and sports.
But for some reason Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have decided to play a little hardball with the team captain and the owner of five World Series rings.
Doesn’t that seem odd when you look at some of the recent history of this ballclub?
It was some years ago that this franchise offered Carl Pavano a four-year deal worth just a nickel below $40 million. The Return on Investment (ROI) there was just a shade below Yankee expectations. “Carla,” as Yankee fans called him, spent more time in a hot tub than Hugh Hefner and he needed a GPS device to find the Yankee Stadium mound.
Seems that the Cashman was the one who went looking for a Japanese lefty named Kei Igawa and signed him for about $50 million if you include the posting fee. Yankee fans remember him well. He marked his four seasons in pinstripes spending more time in Scranton than just about any salesman at Dunder-Mifflin. 
His appearances in the Bronx were just about as funny if they were not so sad. His plate offerings spent more time high and outside than Charlie Sheen.
So when the Yankees low-ball a good guy like Andy Pettitte as they did two years ago and they make it so obvious that they want Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon off their payroll as they did last season, I begin to wonder.
Are the Yankees all about overpaying jerks and underpaying the “good soldiers?”
The Cashman tenure is littered with expensive free-agent mistakes and lavish contracts extended to stiffs who did not produce much.
Yet, the Yankees seem to have Jeter in a vise.
I would not want to be Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, right about now. The Yankees have closed off just about all avenues to Jeter’s former 10-year, $189 million deal being matched. They denied the shortstop arbitration, which Jeter could have leveraged into a one-year, $20 million contract.
They also tossed out a three-year, $45 million offer and basically invited Jeter to entertain offers from other clubs. If you were a GM of any of the other 29 major-league teams would you seriously offer Jeter a deal above that knowing it could be used to up the Yankees’ ante?
Therein, lies the rub.
The Yankees are betting that no club will offer Jeter anything more than three years and they are sure not many can afford the $20 million Jeter would like per season. This is old-fashioned country hardball negotiations and the Yankees seem to be sitting in the proverbial catbird seat.
Mariano Rivera is also part of this equation. Hence, the one-year offer he is getting when he is looking for two.
I get it. The fewer dollars spent on Jeter and Rivera the more dollars can lavished onto to ace left-hander Cliff Lee. I assume this is the real reason fiscal sanity has hit the Yankee top brass so suddenly.
But, this is a dangerous game. There could be something in the works that will throw a huge monkey wrench in the Yankees’ plan. This holds true especially for Rivera, who any team could claim with a reasonable two-year deal offer.
You want to begin the 2011 season with Joba Chamberlain as your closer?
With Rivera gone the Yankees could sign Cliff Lee to a $250 million deal and still lose about a half-dozen of his starts to a shaky bullpen. The same holds true for CC and the rest of the rotation. Sometimes you do not know what you are losing until you have lost it.
Jeter may be coming off his worst offensive season. But many wrote him off after a lackluster 2008 season. He came close to winning a Most Valuable Player in 2009. Do you really want to risk letting him having a bounceback season with the Detroit Tigers?
That is the kind of dangerous game the Yankee brass is playing with the face of the franchise.
I think of a season with Eduardo Nunez at shortstop. In some ways I think Nunez could be the Yankees’ shortstop for the next dozen years. He can hit, run and he is learning to field more consistently. Perhaps he is the future.
But when your clubhouse erodes into a powder keg of hurt egos and dissatisfied superstars grumbling to the media behind manager Joe Girardi’s back, I wonder what the Yankees will think of the $3.9 million dollars per season they tried to save signing Jeter.
Sometimes players earn respect for what they do for the team beyond statistics. One player in Baltimore comes to mind: Cal Ripken.
Look up Cal’s stats for the final five years of his career and you will wonder why he even got a contract offer at all from the Orioles. But ask the Orioles now if they could use another player like Ripken. Have they been the same since he retired?
That is what I see in Jeter. The same professionalism. The same quiet dignity. The desire to give it all for the team and leave it all out there on the field. The playing of the game the right way and playing each game as if it was the last.
Putting a price tag on that is hard. But it sure seems silly to throw it away to save a measly $3.9 million doesn’t it?

Cashman’s 2011 Moves Need To Be Better Than 2010

ORLANDO, FL – Brian Cashman is truly the New York Yankees’ version of the Teflon Man.
The team’s general manager since 1998, Cashman has outlasted any general manager in the George Steinbrenner era and he is in pretty cozy with the current Hank Steinbrenner regime.
His job is like that of circus performing plate spinner. Trying to keep negotiations going on many fronts at the same time. Sometimes, like in 2009, Cashman gets lucky. After signing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to improve the pitching staff, Mark Teixeira’s wife suggested to her husband that he contact the Yankees if he really wanted to play for them.
That free agent haul spurred Cashman and the Yankees to their 27th world championship.
But then there are years like 2010. 
Cashman’s first big winter move was the acquisition of outfielder Curtis Granderson in a three-way trade with Detroit and Arizona that cost the Yankees starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, young outfielder Austin Jackson and left-handed reliever Phil Coke.
Granderson, 29, was dreadful out of the gate, got injured, stunk so more and rescued his season late by getting some tips from hitting coach Kevin Long. Granderson hit .249 in 2009, which spurred the Tigers to want to trade him. For the Yankees in 2010, Granderson hit .247.
The Yankees just hope the Granderson they saw in September (He hit .278 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs) is the real Granderson because they are stuck with him contractually for three more years.
In the meantime, Jackson nearly won the American League Rookie of the Year award. He hit .293 with four home runs and 41 RBIs and stole 27 bases as the team’s leadoff hitter. At age 23, Jackson has a very high upside.
Coke, 28, was 7-5 with a 3.76 ERA. But that does not tell the whole story. The Tigers were so pleased with Coke’s work out of the bullpen they are considering making him a starter next season. The Yankees big loss was Coke’s work out of the bullpen in 2009. They missed not having him in 2010.
Kennedy, 25, was 9-10 with an excellent 3.80 ERA with an offensively challenged Arizona Diamondbacks club. True, he might be one of those dreaded “National League pitchers.” But could he have been any worse than Javier Vazquez?
That brings us to Cashman’s other 2010 trade. He shipped Melky Cabrera and young left-hander Michael Dunn to the Atlanta Braves in return for Vazquez and lefty reliever Boone Logan. 
Vazquez was coming off a 15-10 season with the Braves. He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. But Cashman made two big mistakes here.
No. 1: Cashman brought back the pitcher most associated with the disastrous 2004 ALCS series with the Boston Red Sox. Vazquez surrendered the grand slam home run to Johnny Damon and Yankee fans did not let him forget it.
No. 2: Cashman forgot that pitchers’ success in the National League does not translate to the American League. Vazquez was 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and pitched less than 200 innings for only the second time since 1999. Both of those seasons Vazquez toiled for the Yankees.
To be fair to Cashman, he had no way of knowing that Vazquez would just lose his velocity on his fastball. But that is not unusual for a 34-year-old pitcher. Vazquez will not be back with the Yankees in 2010. For his sake, we hope he ends up on a team with a huge ballpark in the National League.
Cabrera was a disappointment in Atlanta. He hit .255 with four home runs and 42 RBIs. The Braves released him on Oct. 18. Meanwhile, Dunn was 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in 25 appearances with the Braves. Dunn was just packaged in a trade for Dan Uggla of the Florida Marlins. At age 25, he has a bright future as a left-handed reliever.
Cashman was just lucky that Logan did not pitch like he did in Atlanta. Logan was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 51 games with the Yankees. So basically the Dunn for Logan deal was a wash. Since Cabrera was released and Vazquez has pitched his way out of New York this is a deal that really helped neither club.
To really assess Cashman you have to look at his free-agent signings. Instead of the high-priced talent he sought in 2009, Cashman looked instead for some good picks among the low-hanging fruit.
To replace the eventual departures of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Eric Hinske and Jerry Hariston Jr., Cashman first signed oft-injured former Yankee Nick Johnson as a potential full-time DH.
Bad move.
Johnson didn’t even make it through the first week of spring training unscathed. He wore cleats to batting practice and they got stuck in the artificial surface around the batting cage and he wrenched his back.
Cashman should have seen that as a sign of what was to come. Johnson, 32, played in just 24 games before suffering yet another wrist injury that required surgery and shelved him for another season. Goodbye, Nick — again!
Cashman also signed veteran outfielder Randy Winn to compete with Brett Gardner for the left-field job Damon owned. Winn struggled all through spring training and he ended up being released after 61 at-bats in which he hit .213. 
Instead of a veteran utility infielder like Hairston, Cashman elected to stick with 25-year-old farmhand Ramiro Pena. Pena played good defense and he had some clutch RBIs among his 18 he drove in But he hit only .227.
Hairston hit .244 with 10 home runs and 50 RBis for a good Padres team. Meanwhile, Hinske hit .258 with 11 home runs and 58 RBis with the Braves, helping them to a wild-card spot.
So a fair assessment of Cashman’s 2010 winter moves was very, very poor. Instead of strengthening the Yankees in 2010, he made them weaker. Though he was eventually astute in allowing Damon and Matsui to walk as free agents, none of his off-season moves really made a major impact on the Yankees except for one.
His last addition to the team was to sign free-agent Marcus Thames as reserve outfielder and part-time DH. Though Thames struggled in spring training and he missed a month with a ankle injury, he provided power off the bench against left-handers. Thames hit .288 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs.
Many of his home runs came in a stretch in August where Alex Rodriguez was injured and Thames provided the punch the Yankees needed until Rodriguez returned.
The only salvation to Cashman’s 2010 season besides Thames was his trade deadline moves to acquire reliever Kerry Wood, DH Lance Berkman and outfielder Austin Kearns. Wood was sensational as a setup man for Mariano Rivera.
Berkman, after he recovered from an ankle injury, actually provided clutch hitting down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Kearns, however, was a bust. In 102 at-bats with the Yankees, Kearns struck out 38 times. That means
he struck out just over one out of every three at-bats in pinstripes. He is free-agent this winter and he will not be re-signed by the Yankees.
So how does Cashman keep his job?
He signs Cliff Lee, gets Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera back into the fold and convince Andy Pettitte to pitch one more season. He also will likely add some arms the rotation and bullpen and pick up a few spare parts for the bench.
Cashman has proven that you are only as good as your last move. The good news is most Yankee fans have forgotten the dreadful moves he made last winter. They don’t seem to blame him for the loss in the ALCS to the Rangers.
That is Cashman’s true gift. A real Teflon Man.

Yankees’ Infield Golden But Jeter Gets Ripped Again

The New York Yankees had the best defense in baseball last season. They made the fewest errors and, despite a shaky pitching staff going down the stretch, the team did not beat itself by making miscues.
Validation of that fact came on Tuesday when three of the Yankees four infielders won Gold Gloves. Congratulations to Robinson Cano for winning his first at second base. In my mind, it was long overdue. (More about that later).
Mark Teixeira collected his second in a row as a Yankee and his fourth overall. There is no doubt Teixeira is in a class by himself in range, agility and glovework at first base. I am not sure if anyone could argue with his skills around the bag.
However, just like the flu the usual attacks on Derek Jeter have begun despite the fact the 36-year-old captain won his fifth Gold Glove award at shortstop. I find it astounding how people claim to have more knowledge than managers and coaches who vote the award.
Bill James (now there is an unbiased source) started all this in the sabermetric world and now he is got his minions spouting the gospel of range factor and error quotients. This makes for lots of fun if you love advanced geometry and you have nothing better to do with your time.
I am sure all you baseball fans wake every morning to check on your favorite player’s zone rating! 
You don’t? Well, neither do I. Until these so-called measures are accepted by the baseball world and the coaches and managers who vote the Rawlings award each year, it will continue to go to the player “they” deem the best. Not the sabermetricians.
Fact: Derek Jeter made a total of six errors in 2010. It was the lowest total of any shortstop. It also came on a total of 553 chances. It would seem to me if I was looking at a shortstop and just based my decision on the basis of range I would be short-sighted.
Jose Offerman had great range when he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Marvelous range. His problem is that the ball did not always stay in his glove and he made erratic throws to first base.
So on the basis of range factor and zone ratings I should give Offerman a Gold Glove despite the fact he makes 33 errors? Come on!
I have read a blog rant by Dave Brown of Big League Stew say that Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox and Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers were more deserving of winning the award.
Ramirez made 20 errors in 768 chances and had a fielding percentage of .974. Andrus committed 16 errors in 659 chances for a fielding percentage of .976. Jeter’s fielding percentage was .988.
Getting to more balls does not make you a better shortstop if you are making that many errors in the process. Ask any manager who wants to win a crucial game: Do you want a flashy range roving infielder who makes a fair amount of errors or would you rather have a solid range guy who hardly ever makes an error?
I guarantee you that most managers would say the latter. Hence, the reason Jeter should win. Period.
I did not hear these sabermetricians screaming like stuck pigs when Cano has been overlooked for his fielding prowess the past six seasons. I am sure his range factors and zone ratings have been off the charts.
But he has been losing Gold Glove after Gold Glove to the likes of Placido Polanco and Dustin Pedroia. Or maybe the reason they did not go to bat (or should it be go to glove?) for Cano is because he is a Yankee?
Could the reason behind all this chirping and harping on Jeter have something to do with the fact that he is a Yankee?
I feel some of it does. After all, James spent the better part of a decade trying to tear him down to make his beloved Red Sox look better. He keeps inventing measures that try to make the Red Sox better each year. I guess his slide-rule and computer hiccuped in 2010.
Most sabermetric measures showed the Red Sox had a brittle team that could break down in 2010. I guess the master missed that fact. He never warned Theo Epstein anyway. But he still collected a paycheck.
The fact remains that the Yankees go into the 2011 season with the best defense in baseball. They have an infield that now boasts 12 Gold Gloves among all its infielders (Alex Rodriguez won two Gold Gloves at shortstop).
They also have an decent outfield with Brett Gardner sparkling in left. Curtis Granderson still lacks instincts on tracking flies and NIck Swisher is slow and has an erratic arm at times. But they are not exactly error machines either. So the only real weak spot on defense is behind the plate where Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli made a number of throwing errors.
In fact, if you took away the errors the pitchers and catchers made in 2010, the Yankees would likely have set an all-time fielding record last season. 
Oh, but I am sure the Rangers or White Sox must be No. 1 according to the sabermetricians because they handled more chances. Yeah, I handle 750 chances and make 25 errors and I can say I am better than a guy who handled 600 and made four errors.
Try to sell that to the managers and coaches. I am sure they will soon see the “error” of their ways.
THE LEE WATCH

The fact that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is on his way to meet with free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee should have the baseball world quaking in its boots. This is a huge step towards the Yankees landing Lee and at any price. There is no doubt the Yankees have the desire to sign Lee. They also have the means to sign him. No other team can match those two attributes. The Rangers only hope now is that Lee stays for less money and honors loyalty. That is a slim hope with CC Sabathia ready to welcome his old friend into the Yankee fold.

Yankees Will Have To Be Patient With Lee This Winter

SOME HOT STOVE NUGGETS

  • CLIFF LEE CHASE . . . If you Yankee fans were expecting the first contact between general manager Brian Cashman and Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker to end up with a Lee signature on a contract you are overly optimistic. The Major League Player’s Association does not disallow it, but it frowns upon top-tier free agents from signing too early because they prefer low-level and mid-level free agents push the prices up rather than have the top-tier free agents push the prices down. Lee will take his time and he may end up as Matt Holliday did last winter by not signing until January. But my understanding is the Yankees intend to make Lee an offer the Rangers will not want to match. 
  • WRITING OFF DEREK JETER? . . . Yes, it is starting again. Yankee haters have been blogging that the Yankees would be better off letting Jeter go rather than sign a player who apparently can’t hit, field, run or feed himself anymore at age 36. There is no doubt Jeter had his worst season as a pro. But I doubt anyone in baseball is truly writing Jeter off. They tried that in 2008 and he only hit .334 and won his fifth championship ring in 2009. Jeter and his agent might be seeking a long-term deal — perhaps six years. But what Jeter likely envisions is a contract that will allow him to play into his 40s if he wants to challenge Pete Rose’s all-time hit record. But the deal also would allow him to remain with the team either as a coach, player-coach or personal services ambassador for the team. Jeter could eventually end up as the team’s manager as some point so it might be a good deal for the Yankees to lock him up for six years. You write Jeter off at your own peril.
  • SIGN THEM ALL . . .  I have also read a lot of Yankee fans crying the Yankees should have kept Kerry Wood and they need to sign Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford AND Cliff Lee. I got news for you fans: It is not going to happen. The Yankees are going to put their big dollars toward signing Lee. They then will try to get Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter signed. They then plan to ask Andy Pettitte if he wants to keep pitching. Only then will they assess what money they have left to put towards Crawford or Werth. The problem is that with Brett Gardner’s emergence last season, the Yankees might be forced to unload Curtis Granderson’s hefty contract, which has three years left on it. That is the only way they could justify signing Crawford or Werth. It is unlikely either player will end up in pinstripes. As for Wood, the Yankees knew that he would prefer to go back to closing and likely for a contending team. The Yankees always address their bullpen needs last and they will do so very late in the winter. Signing Rivera is the first step. They may have their eyes on lefty Scott Downs as a replacement for Wood. Downs has closed but mostly has been a setup man in Toronto. The fact he is left-handed is a bonus. Downs would address the need for a quality lefty and a setup man in one nice package. He also will not command a huge amount of dollars. But he will have a lot of suitors too.
  • MONTERO AS A STARTER? . . .  The Yankees are absolutely convinced that Jesus Montero will hit in the major leagues and he could potentially be a superstar with the bat. The only caveat with the 20-year-old Montero is his defense behind the plate. Well, former catchers like Tony Pena and Joe Girardi and others in the organization now believe Montero is a better defensive catcher than 38-year-old Jorge Posada. So the plan this winter is to get Montero ready for the major leagues. They won’t say it because they will not want to put any pressure on the young catcher, but the Yankees would like him to have a hot spring and take over as the starting catcher. The Yankees then could use Posada as its primary DH and he would also be an emergency third catcher behind Francisco Cervelli. That is, if Cervelli keeps his job. Word is the Yankees are looking at bringing Jose Molina back because Cervelli’s throwing in 2010 left a lot to be desired.
  • CANO MOVING UP? . . . After Robinson Cano’s breakout 2010 possible-MVP season, the Yankees are toying with the idea of moving him into the No. 3 spot in the batting order next season. Ideally, the Yankees would like Cano there because he is the best hitter on the team and Mark Teixeira would provide “protection” for Alex Rodriguez in the No. 5 spot. The Yankees also want Gardner to lead off. However, they do not think it could work because Jeter hits to many ground balls that could be double plays batting second. So Jeter likely will lead off and Gardner mostly will bat ninth.
  • SUPER NOVA . . .  The Yankees are very happy with the way 23-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova pitched in his rookie season in 2010. They still believe he could develop into a very good starting pitcher. However, with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes in the rotation and the possibility that Lee and Pettitte may round out the starting five, the Yankees are thinking Nova has a better chance of contributing in the bullpen. Nova seemed to struggle the second time through the batting order as a starter, which suggests he could be very effective as middle-inning reliever next season. He also gives the Yankees insurance in case a starter is injured.
  • THE ZACK FALLBACK . . . With all the attention of the Yankees’ pursuit of Lee, what is not being considered is the Yankees’ fallback position in case Lee signs elsewhere. The Yankees have their eyes on a trade for Royals right-hander Zack Greinke should Lee somehow get away. The Royals would be willing to part with their ace if they could get four prospects that could rebuild their team. The Yankees might have to dangle Montero, Nova and Joba Chamberlain just to get the Royals interested. The Royals also would be looking at young shortstop Eduardo Nunez and might take him instead of Montero.
MORE TO COME THIS WINTER


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