Results tagged ‘ A.J. Burnett ’

McCann Deal Shows Yankees Are Rebuilding

It appears the first plank to rebuilding the New York Yankees into a playoff contender has been hammered in place.

It took an offer of five years and $85 million to lure Georgia native Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves to the Big Apple and it will be money very well spent.

McCann, 29, hit .256 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in 102 games with the Braves last season. In his nine-year career, McCann has hit 176 homers and driven in 661 runs while hitting .277. That is far better that what the Yankees had on hand last season.

As power-hitting switch-hitter Jorge Posada eased into retirement the Yankees turned to Russell Martin in 2011 to provide some power and defense behind the plate. For two seasons, Martin provided both those things but he chose to accept a more lucrative contract offer with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter.

Martin, 30, hit .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 127 games with the much-improved Bucs in 2013. He was sorely missed in the Bronx, however.

After auditioning holdover backups Francisco Cervelli, 27, and Chris Stewart, 31, in spring training the Yankees selected Cervelli as their starting catcher to begin the season. But much like almost every other player on the roster, Cervelli fell early in the season to a broken finger on his right hand.

The Yankees did not know at the time that Cervelli’s last game would be on April 26.

First there there was an extended process after surgery which delayed his rehab. Then Cervelli ended up suffering an injury to his right elbow.

Later, part of the Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis resulted in Cervelli accepting a 50-game suspension without pay for his admission into using performance enhancing drugs. So Cervelli’s season consisted of 17 games in which he hit .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs.

Cervelli’s injury forced the Yankees to use a career backup in Stewart as their starting catcher for the remainder of the season. Although Stewart was hitting a robust .284 as late as June 11, his season quickly nose-dived from there and ended up hitting an anemic .211 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 109 games.

Rookie Austin Romine, 25, was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 27 to back up Stewart and he did not fare much batter at the plate. Romine hit .207 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 60 games.

The Yankees had admitted that they were allowing Martin to go in order to usher in a new philosophy of “defense first” behind home plate. Though Cervelli, Stewart and Romine were not accomplished hitters each of them could be counted on to call a good game, block pitches in the dirt and control the other teams’ running game.

Stewart was exceptional. He threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers and committed only two errors.

However, on a team that started the season with some 190 home runs short on power and who lost most of the remaining power they had on their roster to injury, Stewart Cervelli and Romine stuck out like sore thumbs because of their lack of power and production.

On a franchise that fielded the likes of legends such as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Posada, it seems only fitting the Yankees would quickly switch gears from their “defense first” approach and find a catcher who can put the ball into the seats.

McCann certainly can do that.

The fact that he is a left-handed hitter makes him very attractive to the Yankees because of the short porch in right-field.

McCann is a seven-time All-Star, was the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 2010 and was a five-time Silver Slugger award winner.

In 2006, McCann posted his best season as a pro. He hit .333 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs. He has averaged 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his eight full major-league seasons.

Though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove, McCann is not exactly a liability on a defense either. He has thrown out 200 of 842 base-runners in his career, which works out to a respectable 23.8 percent. He only committed one error in 92 games behind the plate last season.

The Yankees see McCann as a starting catcher but he also could remain in the lineup as designated hitter against right-handed pitching. That is one of the reasons McCann was looking to move to the American League. With the Braves he had only could pinch-hit in games he did not start.

The Yankees have already indicated that they intend to offer Cervelli a contract for 2014 and Romine certainly factors into the equation as a backup. But McCann’s signing likely ended Stewart’s days in pinstripes. He probably will not be tendered a contract offer and thus will become a free agent.

The Yankees do have to be encouraged with the development of J.R. Murphy, 22.

Murphy received a late call-up and, despite the fact he hit .154 in 16 games, he made great strides in the minors, hitting .248 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Murphy provides the Yankees with some depth behind the injury-prone Cervelli and Romine, who has had a history of lower-back issues.

The big prize in the Yankees minor-league remains 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, who hit a combined .253 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs at stops at High-A Tampa and Trenton.

Sanchez, much like his predecessor Jesus Montero, has a bat that looks like it will make him a potential star at the major-league level. The big concern with the Yankees, as it was with Montero, is Sanchez’s defense.

Though Sanchez has made great strides in his four minor-league seasons behind the plate, he has committed 43 errors, including 16 and 11 the past two seasons. His arm is exceptional, though. He has nailed 33.4 % of would-be base-stealers.

With McCann’s five-year deal with a vesting option for a sixth season that makes the deal potentially worth $100 million, Sanchez might have a tough time shoving aside the veteran down the road. But it does not look like Sanchez will get that chance until 2015 anyway.

The McCann signing does prove that the Yankees have reached a point where they realized getting by on “cheap” free agents and waiver-wire pickups were not going to cut it if the team expects to be competitive in 2014 and beyond.

While the Yankees have McCann on board they are also looking to keep second baseman Robinson Cano as a Yankee for the remainder of his career, if he and his agent Jay-Z realize that he is not going to get the 10 years and $310 million he is seeking.

The team is also interested in re-signing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and making a huge posting bid for fellow Japanese right-hander Mashiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and is being compared to Texas Rangers star right-hander Yu Darvish.

The Yankees are also contacting outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo as well as hoping to convince Curtis Granderson to remain with the team.

The Yankees are showing signs that they are going to be aggressive in the free-agent market as they were the winter before the 2009 season when they signed left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to lucrative free-agent contracts.

Coincidentally, that was the last season the Yankees won a world championship.

General manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner seem to be on the same page this offseason and it is looking like that their statement that the $189 million payroll mark was more of a target that is not set in stone may mean Yankee fans might have a team they rally around in 2014 instead of the sad group they fielded in 2013.

There seems to be hope in the Bronx and it all starts with Brain McCann.

 

A-Rod’s Claim About Yankees, MLB Way Off Base

When it comes to the New York Yankees it seems the team is always thrown into a negative light every time something awful surfaces about Alex Rodriguez.

The latest flap about Rodriguez concerns a report from the Miami New Times that Rodriguez’s name – along with five other major-league players – was found among documents obtained from an anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis. Those six players were accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs from the clinic run by Anthony Bosch.

Not to be outdone by a small potatoes newspaper, Sports Illustrated managed to uncover additional documents that linked Rodriguez to 19 drugs and supplements, including several banned substances.

Major League Baseball met with the editors of the Miami New Times on Monday to gain access to the documents they uncovered in their investigation.

Rodriguez, for his part, has vehemently denied the allegations through a spokesman and claims he never was treated or advised by Bosch.

But probably the most telling comment from Rodriguez was published in the New York Daily News saying that Rodriguez is fearful that his own team and Major League Baseball are conspiring to end his baseball career, sources said.

If, in fact, this is a statement coming from Rodriguez it shows a lot about how he thinks of himself as a victim and never in terms of someone who is potentially hurting a franchise and a very popular brand like the Yankees.

A-Rod has failed to complete a full healthy season with the Yankees since his 2007 MVP season when he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted .314. During spring training 2009, he admitted – after a SI report surfaced – that he took PEDs while he was a member of the Texas Rangers through the 2003 season.

He very pointedly said that he taken not PEDs since 2003.

Because the rules regarding steroids had not been implemented prior to the 2004 season, Major League Baseball was prohibited from imposing a suspension on Rodriguez since they had no positive drug test from him past that point.

In the meantime, Rodriguez has been plagued by a series of injuries (a right hip that required surgery, a knee, a finger, a hand) that kept him on the disabled list over the past four seasons.

After another disastrous postseason in which Rodriguez hit .120 with 12 strikeouts in 25 at-bats and that forced manager Joe Girardi to pinch-hit for him on a few occasions, it was revealed he was suffering from a congenital left hip problem that would require surgery and shelve him for at least half of the 2013 season.

Because the Yankees are on the hook to pay A-Rod $114,000,000 through the 2017 season, the Yankees are very much concerned about their investment in a player who is 37 years old, is declining markedly in production, is mostly unavailable to play and perhaps again could have been dabbling with PEDs.

But the odds of Yankees deliberately smearing Rodriguez’s name or possibly being complicit in a scheme to get him out of baseball seems implausible.

If anything the Yankees have bent over backwards to support their controversial third baseman. They have never publicly commented about his past transgressions or embarrassed him in anyway.

Rodriguez has a way of doing that just fine on his own:

(1) His stupid comments belittling Derek Jeter during a magazine interview.

(2) Being caught walking the streets of Toronto with a woman who was not his wife and who turned out to be an exotic dancer.

(3) His divorce and his subsequent dalliances with Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and a former WWE wrestler and model.

It is extremely doubtful that Major League Baseball or the Yankees would risk the discovery of fraudulent documents in order to keep Rodriguez from ever playing baseball again.

In addition, teammates such as Mariano Rivera and Mark Teixeira have recently issued statements of support of Rodriguez. If the Yankees were “against” A-Rod wouldn’t they issue edicts to the players not to comment at all?

If it turns out that Rodriguez did use PEDs again with the help of his Bosch fellow than I would be very offended if I was accused of being part of a conspiracy against him. So I would think the Yankees would have every right to look at Rodriguez’s contract in an effort to void it.

The Yankees were unable to do so when they looked at Jason Giambi’s contract in 2004. I doubt seriously they would have much luck now with A-Rod’s.

MLB rules call for a first-time suspension of 50 games if A-Rod is judged to be guilty of what he is accused. He would not be paid, which would cost him about $8 million but the Yankees would still be obligated to honor his contract.

The Yankees could release him and just eat the contract, however, the Yankees would not receive any relief regarding their overall payroll or the luxury tax.

About the only way the Yankees could get out of the deal would be for A-Rod to retire, which would then forfeit the remainder of his contract and what he is owed. But that is about as likely as fans at Fenway Park giving Rodriguez a standing ovation.

So the Yankees are forced to live under a hanging cloud throughout the 2013 season. Rodriguez is rehabbing from his January hip surgery and is hoping to return sometime after the All-Star break.

There is a possibility that Rodriguez may not be quite ready to resume baseball activities then and he could miss the entire season.

In the meantime, MLB will continue to investigate Rodriguez and the other players named in the published reports. They could suspend Rodriguez at any time over the next several months.

However, Rodriguez’s suspension would not take effect until he is pronounced fit to play. That means the 50-game suspension could be imposed to start at the beginning of the 2014 season if A-Rod is out for the 2013 season.

That means the Yankees would have lost A-Rod for a total of 212 games. They would have to pay him for 162 of them despite the fact they were getting nothing from him. In addition, a suspension would leave the team with yet another stain on it – a stain Rodriguez would leave on it as long as he wears the pinstripes.

The Yankees could possibly look to unload their rapidly aging former superstar but that route would mean not getting a comparable value in return because A-Rod’s value is about half of what it was in 2007.

There also would have to be a stipulation in the deal that the Yankees would be obligated to continue to pay some portion if not most of his salary. After all, the Yankees had to do that to unload A.J. Burnett last spring.

I hate to be bearer of such depressing news but the Yankees made a terrible mistake in signing Rodriguez to that 10-year contract five years ago after his agent Scott Boras goaded Rodriguez into opting out of his contract and cost the Yankees about $9 million the Texas Rangers were paying him.

Instead, Rodriguez came to the Yankees with is tail between his legs begging the Yankees to sign him without Boras around. The Yankees have received very little from Rodriguez since then and the next five seasons are not looking much brighter.

The fact is Alex Rodriguez and his bloated contract is an albatross that will be hanging around the Yankees’ necks for many years to come.

 

Yankees’ Frugal Ways Can Be Traced To 2007 DUI

On Feb. 15, 2007, the course of history for the New York Yankees took a huge turn and the current state of the team begs the question: What if it did not happen?

Though the Yankees were still be operated ostensibly by managing general partner George Steinbrenner, the actual day-to-day operations were being run by Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, Steve Swindal, who was named the successor to Steinbrenner in June 2005.

Swindal was chosen over Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hal and Hank, because Steinbrenner felt more comfortable with Swindal’s leadership and his vast baseball knowledge.

However, while the Yankees were in the midst of spring training in 2007, Swindal’s vehicle unfortunately cut off in traffic a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cruiser driven by a female deputy. A chase ensued in which Swindal’s vehicle was clocked at 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone before he was stopped by St. Petersburg police.

Swindal declined to take a Breathalyzer test but failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while under the influence.

Swindal’s wife, Jennifer, later that year filed for divorce from her husband and Swindal’s stake as a general partner and chairman of the Yankees’ parent company was bought back by the Steinbrenner family in November of that year. Hal was shifted into Swindal’s role with the club and the history of this franchise was forever changed.

The Yankees were known in the Wild West days of early free agency as the major-league team with the largest saddlebags. Under George Steinbrenner’s regime from when he purchased the team in 1973 through November 2007 the Yankees tossed around millions like pennies in a fountain to lure the free agents they coveted.

In some cases, the elder Steinbrenner would be so ruthless in negotiations with free agents he would even increase a bid that already was more than any rival team was offering – actually bidding against himself.

Of course, that led to such signings as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield. Between free agent signings and some shrewd trades the Yankees won a pair of World Series in 1978 and 1979 and Steinbrenner and the Yankees were being cursed all around baseball for “buying their way” to prosperity.

Though Steinbrenner’s money did re-establish the Yankees in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Yankees actually failed to make the playoffs from 1982 through 1994. A combination of some poor signings and trades doomed the Yankees until their minor-league system began turning out a solid of corps of young stars such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

Those players along with the acquisition of Paul O’Neill and the signings of pitchers such as Jimmy Key, David Wells and David Cone pushed the Yankees into an amazing run in which they won four world championships from 1996 through 2000.

Since then the team has only failed to make the playoffs in one season – 2008. They won their 27th world title in 2009 after dipping heavy into the free-agent market in signing pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.

But in 2003, Major League Baseball instituted its first luxury tax, which was supposed to operate alongside revenue sharing to allow small-market teams to draw money from teams who were over a threshold payroll limit, which was set at $178 million in 2011. All teams shared the remaining revenue.

Only four teams have ever exceeded the established luxury tax limit: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. However, only the Yankees and Red Sox have ever exceeded it twice and the Yankees have paid in 95 percent of all the luxury tax since its inception.

When Hal Steinbrenner took control of the team he decided that the Yankees’ philosophy of paying top dollar and ignoring the luxury tax would have to come to an end.

In 2014, the payroll threshold will be increased to $189 million. By a complicated formula set up by the teams, there would be refunded revenue sharing streams for teams who remain under the luxury tax threshold. That gives the Yankees an added incentive to cut payroll below $189 million in 2014.

Not only will the team save money by trimming payroll; they would receive a considerable sum of refunded revenues as well. This explains why the Steinbrenner family informed general manager Brian Cashman that he will have to pass on high-priced free agents and he will have to pass on trading for players with huge long-term contracts.

So Yankee fans have watched a stream of free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jose Reyes, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes sign with other teams instead of with the Yankees. The Yankees are already on the hook for long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira.

Those three contracts alone are worth $73,875,000 plus player benefits worth an additional $10.8 million, which will also count against the $189 million.

That leaves a remainder of a little less than $105,000,000 to pay the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster in 2014.

That is why the Yankees have let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin go this offseason and it is likely that Curtis Granderson will follow them out the door sometime within the next year.

The team will also have another group of expiring contracts such as one of Robinson Cano. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are working this season under one-year contracts.

The question is will the Yankees make an effort to offer Cano a lucrative multiyear contract to remain a Yankee? Can they afford to do it? What will they do with Jeter, who is a significantly aging commodity at shortstop?

Some Yankee fans were quick to point out that if Rodriguez is found to have taken performance enhancing drugs past the 2003 date he previously claimed that the Yankees could easily just void his contract and dump him. But that may be a pipe dream.

First, Major League Baseball must have proof that he did it and then mete out a 50-game suspension. But Rodriguez can appeal the procedure and delay its effect. He also could have the suspension tossed out.

The Yankees would find it very difficult to find relevant clauses in his contract to escape from the $114,000,000 they owe Rodriguez through the 2017 season. The Players’ Association and his agent would certainly fight it and that could lead to a prolonged court battle with no guarantee the Yankees could win.

In addition, should the Yankees lose they would still have to pay Rodriguez and play him. He may not be in any mood to produce much for them either. He gets paid no matter how bad he is. So any thought of voiding his contract is going to have to be very carefully weighed.

The long-term effect of what has been an austerity program the Yankees have been under since the 2009 season ended is that the balance of power in baseball is widening out to teams who have lots of money to spend under the current salary threshold like the Tigers, the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers.

These are the teams that have been active in the free-agent market and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays have benefitted from what was a talent fire-sale by the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins.

The Red Sox traded most of their high-priced players like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez away last season to the Dodgers to restock their 2013 roster while keeping well below the looming $189 million limit.

That is why the Yankees’ prospects for the 2013 season are not as bright as they might have been under the old George Steinbrenner regime or the short-lived rule of Swindal.

Would old George or Swindal have allowed the Yankees to wither on the vine for the past three seasons and basically pinch pennies and risk the team missing the playoffs in 2013?

Hal Steinbrenner has already stated quite clearly that he expects the 2013 club to remain a top-quality team within the confines placed upon Cashman and the team’s scouts. The result is the current Yankee roster is full of 40-year-olds like Rivera and Pettitte and players in their late 30s such as Rodriguez, Jeter, Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed DH Travis Hafner.

Cashman spent a lot of time and effort stocking the minor-league system with talented young players over the past five years and Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner have provided some support to an aging corps of veterans.

However, the two best minor-league prospects the Yankees have produced in that time, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, were both packaged in trades. Jackson was sent out in three-player swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tigers that yielded Granderson for the Yankees. Montero was sent along with two other players to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-handed pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

While Jackson is thriving with the defending American League champions, Granderson has provided the Yankees with two consecutive seasons of 40-plus home runs and a lot of strikeouts. And though Montero has proven to be lackluster on defense as a catcher, his power in Yankee Stadium will be missed in a season in which the Yankees are choosing between singles-hitting catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.

In addition, both Pineda, 25, and Campos, 20, suffered injuries and had their 2012 seasons cut short. Pineda is recovering from right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he could miss a portion of the 2013 season and may not be 100 percent until the 2014 season. Campos was shut down with a right elbow injury that did not require surgery.

The Yankees have a number of very good prospects within their minor-league system, including a catcher who hits as well as Montero and has better defensive skills in Gary Sanchez, 20. They also have a pair of good-looking outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming star reliever in Mark Montgomery.

But the question is will the Yankees allow these players to develop long enough to make the roster or will they package and ship them out as they have done with Jackson and Montero?

The problem with young players – most especially pitchers – as they develop in the minors is that they need to be promoted to learn at the major-league level. Too often the Yankees pull a player back and ship them back to the minors when they initially fail.

The Yankees did that with Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy in 2008. They both got off to shaky starts (a combined 0-7 record) and the Yankees believed they could not afford to keep them on the roster.

Anyone want to guess what the records of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were in their first full season with the Atlanta Braves?

Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 starts the same season.

If Glavine and Smoltz were with the Yankees in 1988 they would have been sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for another season and their major-league development would have been stilted. In 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 and Smoltz was 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA.

The point is that players have to learn at the major-league level and when you are constantly shipping them back out they will never learn how to succeed in the major leagues. A good case in point is when the Yankees elected to ship right-hander Ivan Nova back to Scranton in the middle of the 2011 season despite the fact he ended up the season with a 16-4 record.

The Yankees are pretty rough on their prospects. If they are not ready to contribute on Day One they get sent back down. Sometimes players in the late 20s like Colin Curtis find themselves drifting in the Yankees’ system but never even given the chance to play in the majors much.

Then there are the Monteros and Jacksons who succeed just enough in the minors to be traded. Then there are the Kennedys, who are traded and ended up going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2011. So the Yankees show patience with players like Curtis, who never made it in the majors, and a lack of patience with players like Kennedy, who succeeds with another team.

If the Yankees are to adhere to this stringent luxury tax threshold in 2014 they are going to have to stop making the mistake of trading their great prospects away or, at the least, if they are going to trade them they better get something of real value back for it. They also could benefit by being a bit more patient with their young players when they call them up.

The Montero-Pineda deal is but one example of those mistakes. Cashman can’t afford to do that much going forward.

The Yankees are going to need good young athletes and skilled pitchers coming out of their system on a regular basis to retool this franchise through the end of the decade. It will certainly lower payroll, make the team better-suited for healthy runs at championships and may prove – ultimately – that Hal Steinbrenner had the right approach.

Otherwise, there will be hell to pay and old George will be have cigar smoke coming out of his ears as he rolls around in his grave. If a ghost could ever fire a son, old George will figure out a way to get that done.

 

Martin Catches Fire At Right Time To Save Season

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

CATCHER – RUSSELL MARTIN (21 HRs, 53 RBIs, .211 BA)

If you were judging Russell Martin’s first half you would say that it was a foregone conclusion he would not be back with the Yankees after this season.

At the midway point, Martin had eight home runs, 21 RBIs and he was hitting an anemic .184. Though the Yankees love his defense behind the plate they also realize having a catcher that unproductive hurts the offense. Opposing pitchers were using Martin to escape from innings with men on base.

But what a difference a second half makes.

Martin,29, found his lost stroke as the season progressed and he hit 13 home runs, drove in 32 runs and batted .242 in the second half. In his first season with the Yankees he hit 18 home runs, drove in 65 runs and batted .237. So it is safe to say that Martin may have saved his job with his good work in the second half.

Martin was particularly good when it counted most – in September. From Sept. 1 on Martin batted .258 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. It was, by far, his best month of the season.

September is usually the time where catchers wear down from all those games behind the plate and all the nicks and bruises they incur during the season. But for some reason Martin just got better as the season progressed. He saved his best for last.

Compared to his 2011 season, Martin was quite durable. He started 116 games behind the plate and caught in 128 games overall.

His defense, as advertised, was very good.

He nailed 24 percent of the runners attempting to steal on him. That was down from his career average of 30 percent but it was still very respectable. He committed only six errors though he did have a a high total of nine passed balls.

His overall fielding percentage of .994 was the same as the Rays’ Jose Molina, who is considered the best defensive catcher in the league.

But a lot of Martin’s game behind the plate goes unquantified.

His agility and cat-quick reflexes prevent a lot of wild pitches by the way he blocks pitches in the dirt. Though the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett, they still had a lot of pitchers who test a catcher with nasty breaking pitches such as Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan.

Catching such a diverse staff is no day at the beach but Martin handles it exceptionally well.

He also is able to communicate with his pitchers and he calls a great game. He commands the respect of the pitching staff and he is smart enough to help pitchers get out of jams.

He certainly helped Kuroda’s transition to the American League since he caught Kuroda when he played for the Dodgers. At the same time he helped in the development of rookie right-hander David Phelps.

Martin’s contract with the Yankees expires after the season ends. Martin had sought to sign an extension before the season began but it never happened. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll it unclear whether Martin will be offered a new contract or will be allowed to become a free agent.

If it were based on his first half, he would be gone. But his second half and performance in the playoffs could save him.

It helps that a some of the Yankees’ catching prospects were hampered by injury or are a few years away.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C-

SECOND HALF GRADE: B

OVERALL GRADE: C+

BACKUP – CHRIS STEWART (1 HR, 13 RBIs, .241 BA)

Chris Stewart came to the Yankees in a trade with the San Francisco Giants made on the last day of spring training. Because Stewart was out of options, Francisco Cervelli lost his job as Martin’s backup and was shipped off to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

So Stewart was replacing a very popular player in Cervelli. But he handled it well and won over some Yankee fans with his exceptional work behind the plate.

Backup catchers are not paid to hit. They are paid to call a good game, play defense, deter the running game and block pitches in the dirt. Stewart did all of those things well.

Stewart, 30, also became the “personal” catcher for CC Sabathia throughout most of the season and he seemed to have built a great rapport with the ace left-hander.

Stewart started 46 games and caught in 54 games overall.

The only red flag in his defense was that he committed a career-high eight passed balls in 395 innings, But that may have been a fluke because Stewart nailed 23 percent of the base-runners who tried to steal and committed four errors for a .990 fielding percentage.

Stewart drew praise for his defensive work even from opposing teams’ TV announcers. That means his good work was being noticed.

Martin started of the season hitting better than Martin. He was hitting .270 with nine RBIs at the season’s midpoint. Some fans even suggested Stewart replace Martin.

But Stewart ended up with one home run, 13 RBIs and he hit .241 on the season.

He hit just .220 in the second half, which is more in line with his career average of .217. So Stewart won’t be replacing Martin. But he complimented him well in 2012.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

SECOND HALF GRADE: C

OVERALL GRADE: C

The Yankees catching depth was reduced a bit this past winter when they traded 21-year-old prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda. The Yankees were not convinced Montero would develop the defensive skills to be able to play the position regularly.

So they sent his potent power bat to Seattle and he hit 19 home runs and drove in 74 runs and batted .267 in his first season in the majors. But he only started 55 games behind the plate. So maybe the Yankees were correct about his defense.

But the Yankees will miss his power and production.

Cervelli, 26, spent the entire season at Scranton despite the fact he was the team’s backup catcher in 2010 and 2011.

Cervelli hit .246 with two home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games with Scranton. He was recalled to the majors when the roster expanded but he did not get much of a chance to play.

Though Cervelli is a bit better with the bat than Stewart, the Yankees have not been a big fan of Cervelli’s throwing behind the plate. He only nailed three of 27 base-runners (11 percent) in 2011 and he committed a lot throwing errors.

At Scranton this season, Cervelli committed only five errors but he was charged with 15 passed balls. Though other parts of Cervelli’s defensive game are good, manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena (both former major-league catchers) believe Stewart was superior defensively.

Cervelli likely will look to improve his skills to stick next season or he could be shipped to another team. But as long as Stewart is around, Cervelli’s path back to the major leagues is blocked.

The Yankees had hoped their young catching prospect Austin Romine would make an impact in spring training. However, Romine was an early casualty when he succumbed to back spasms and he did not catch a single inning this past spring.

In fact, the Yankees cautiously held him out of game action for most of the season to allow his back issues to subside.

He caught only 17 games at Scranton and 31 games overall.

Romine, 23, hit .243 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. Though Romine will never hit like Montero, the Yankees believe he is capable to being an excellent defensive catcher in the major leagues right now. Next spring, he will push Stewart (if he is re-signed) and Cervelli for the backup catching job.

But with the Yankees always erring on the side of caution, Romine could end up at Scranton and the Yankees would monitor his back as the season progresses.

The Yankees are very lucky to have two very good young catching prospects in J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez.

Muphy, 21, hit .231 with four home runs and 16 RBIs at Double-A Trenton this season after advancing from Class-A Tampa, where he played in 67 games and hit .257. Murphy can also play third base and he has above-average defensive skills behind the plate.

Sanchez is currently the team’s No. 1 rated young prospect and with good reason. Sanchez, 19, hit a combined .344 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 116 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa this season, Unlike Montero, Sanchez does have some defensive ability behind the plate. He has a plus arm but his other defensive skills took a step backward this season.

But with his booming bat and his overall potential, Sanchez appears like he could eventually surpass Montero when he reaches the majors. His future is ultra-bright.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C

With Martin unsigned, this position will be in state of flux unless the Yankees decide to offer Martin a contract to remain with the team.

Considering the fact that Stewart is only considered a backup and Cervelli is looked upon the same way, Martin’s chances of returning are pretty good. Good free agent catchers are scarce and throw in the fact that Romine has had recurring back issues and you have a very compelling case for the Yankees to keep Martin.

But Romine, Murphy and Sanchez do point to a bright future ahead for the position. It is still a strength of the team to have this much depth at the position despite the trade of Montero.

 

Ibanez Ties It In 9th, Wins It In 12th As Yanks ‘Raul’

GAME 161

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 3 (12 INNINGS)

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman badly wanted to sign Raul Ibanez this winter but the front office told him he had to trim salary before he could. Cashman finally was able to trade A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates the weekend before spring training opened to clear enough salary and Ibanez was signed.

That signing looks huge now because in the 161st game of the season Ibanez blasted a pinch-hit two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and then delivered a game-winning RBI single in the 12th as New York reduced its magic number to just one with a thrilling come-from-behind classic defeat over arch-rival Boston on Tuesday.

The 40-year-old outfielder first brought the paid crowd of 41,564 at Yankee Stadium to its feet when he stroked a low line-drive home run off Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey into the fifth row of the right-field bleachers with Curtis Granderson aboard to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 tie.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, the team then managed to load the bases with one out in the same inning but Mark Teixeira, who spent all night dashing the team’s scoring hopes, and Robinson Cano could not deliver off reliever Mark Melancon.

So the game, played on a very chilly 62-degree and rainy evening, trudged on to the bottom of the 12th.

Things did not look promising when left-hander Andrew Miller retired Teixeira and Cano to begin the inning and Francisco Cervelli, pressed into service because manager Joe Girardi had pinch-run and pinch-hit for Russell Martin and Chris Stewart earlier in the contest, was making his first plate appearance of the season.

He also was down in the count 0-2 on the first two pitches. But Miller threw four straight pitches out of the strike zone to walk him. Granderson then came to the plate and he drew a four-pitch walk to advance Cervelli into scoring position.

Girardi was also forced to keep potential pinch-runner Chris Dickerson in the dugout because Cervelli was the last catcher on the roster.

But Girardi’s concerns became moot when Ibanez laced an 0-1 pitch into the hole between shortstop and third base. Cervelli raced around third and headed for home as Daniel Nava scooped the ball and threw it towards home plate. But Cervelli crossed the plate well before the ball arrived and the Yankees flooded the field to celebrate one of their most hard-fought comebacks of the season with the division title on the line.

The Yankees knew that the Baltimore Orioles had defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 earlier on Tuesday. A Yankee loss would have hurtled them back into a flat-footed tie with the Orioles atop the American League East.

The Yankees can clinch their third division title in the past four seasons on Wednesday with a victory over the Red Sox in the final game of the regular season or if the Orioles lose to the Rays.

Derek Lowe (9-11) came on pitch two scoreless innings in the 11th and 12th to pick up the victory. Miller (3-2) took the loss.

Frustration as a word does not begin to tell the story of the evening for the Yankees.

They collected 11 hits and a walk over the first eight innings of the game but they failed to get any big hits to add to the one run they scored in the second inning off Red Sox starter Jon Lester.

With two out, Granderson reached first on an infield single and advanced to second when third baseman Pedro Ciriaco’s throw to get Granderson bounced into the stands. Eduardo Nunez, who started as the designated hitter instead of struggling Andruw Jones, delivered a hard-hit single off the glove of shortstop Jose Iglesias to score Granderson.

That run halved the deficit to 2-1 because the Red Sox jumped on rookie right-hander David Phelps early.

Jacoby Ellsbury laced a leadoff single and Dustin Pedroia, playing despite a fracture in his left thumb, then stroked an RBI double in the gap in right-center to score Ellsbury.

Pedroia advanced to third on a infield groundout off the bat of Nava and he scored on a sacrifice fly to deep center by Cody Ross.

However, Phelps pitched well the rest of the way. He left with one out in the sixth after giving up just two runs on three hits and two walks while he struck out four.

Lester, in addition to his teammates in the bullpen, kept walking the tightrope between trouble and disaster but he kept escaping thanks to some poor hitting by the Yankees with runners in scoring position:

  • In the first inning, Derek Jeter singled and and reached third one out later on a bloop single by Alex Rodriguez. However, Teixeira – still hobbling on a sore left calf – hit into an inning-ending double play.
  • In the third inning, Nick Swisher slapped a one-out double and  advanced to third on an infield single by Rodriguez. But, Teixiera again hit into an inning-ending double play.
  • In the fifth inning, Cano led off with a single and Nunez stroked a two-out double. Alas, Ichiro Suzuki lined a shot into center but right at Ellsbury to end the inning.
  • In the ninth, Bailey gave up a one-out double to Jeter after Ibanez’s game-tying home run. Swisher was intentionally walked and Rodriguez followed by drawing a walk to load the bases. However, Melancon entered the game and retired Teixeira on a broken-bat pop to shallow center and Cano grounded out weakly to Pedroia at second.
  • In the 11th inning, Swisher slapped an opposite-field single with two out off Vicente Padilla and Rodriguez followed with a blast to the warning track in center that Ellsbury was able to run down before he crashed into the wall.

Lester left after five innings having given up one unearned run on eight hits and one walk while he fanned one.

The Red Sox added to their lead in the top of the ninth when James Loney uppercut a 2-1 offering from Rafael Soriano in to the second deck down the line in right-field. The Red Sox and their beleaguered manager Bobby Valentine were figuring that it was the insurance run that would put the Yankees away with Bailey on the mound.

Ibanez had other ideas.

The Yankees ended up with 16 hits and five walks in the game and they stranded a total of 14 runners. Teixeira left nine runners on base in his six at-bats.

But none of that all matters much now because of Ibanez.

The Yankees, thanks to the Oakland Athletics’ 3-1 defeat of the Texas Rangers late Tuesday, now also hold claim to the best record in the American League at 94-67.  The Red Sox had their season record fall to 69-92.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ibanez entered the game in the ninth and ended up 2-for-3 with a home run and three very big RBIs. Since Sept. 22, Ibanez is 14-for-34 (.412) with five home runs and nine RBIs in largely a platoon role against right-handers. He is hitting .235 with 18 homers and 59 RBIs on the season. His single in the 12th was his 11th career walk-off hit.
  • The bullpen, with the exception of Soriano’s hiccup to Loney, was actually very good. In  6 2/3 innings, they gave up one run on five hits and two walks and struck out seven batters. Lowe was especially good in his two innings of work. In a game when the relievers needed to hold the Red Sox down long enough to wake up the bats, they did a very good job.
  • Girardi chose to go with Phelps in place of Ivan Nova and Nunez in place of Jones. Both moves paid off for the Yankees. Nunez was 2-for-3 with an RBI until Ibanez pinch-hit for him in the ninth and Phelps pitched into the sixth and kept the Yankees in the game. You have to give the manager credit for those moves.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Fans do have a right to question Girardi’s move to put Swisher second in the order with Rodriguez and Teixeira behind him. That left Cano, the team’s hottest hitter batting fifth. Teixera ended up 0-for-6 and he only got that weak pop to shallow center out of the infield in those at-bats. Teixera’s at-bats killed the Yankees all night long and it was Girardi’s fault. Shifting Suzuki to ninth did not seem to make sense either. Suzuki has owned Lester throughout his career.

ON DECK

The Yankees end their regular season with a chance to clinch the division and home-field advantage in the playoffs with a series sweep of the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda won his last start despite giving up 10 hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA this season against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will counter with every hitter’s dream in Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68 ERA). Matsuzaka gave up five runs on nine hits and a walk in three innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in his last outing on Sept. 19. This likely will be the last start of his career for the Bosox, who can’t wait to shed his huge contract. He is 3-3 with a 5.52 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Outslug Blue Jays In Ugly But Key Victory

GAME 149

YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 7

Let’s make this perfectly clear. This game on Thursday is not going to go down as a Yankee Classic. With both teams combining for 17 runs on 18 hits, 13 walks, two hit batters, an error, two wild pitches and two passed balls, it likely could be disseminated without the expressed written consent of the either team.

But it was a victory for the Yankees and they will take it.

Ichiro Suzuki continued his hot hitting by driving in three runs and Nick Swisher blasted his third grand slam of the season as part of seven-run fourth inning as New York outslugged Toronto to give themselves a one-game lead in the American League East over the idle second-place Baltimore Orioles.

Phil Hughes (16-12) did not so much win this game as he did not lose it. He gave up four runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out nine batters in five innings to collect his team-leading 16th win of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, had to wait out soft-tossing left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-6) to throw a pitch within a neighboring area code of the strike zone before they drove him out of the game in the fourth.

The Blue Jays held a slim 2-1 lead in the fourth when Laffey issued a leadoff walk to Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson reached when second baseman Kelly Johnson treated his routine grounder as if it was a hand grenade.

Laffey then issued another one of the five free passes he handed out on the evening to Casey McGehee to load the bases for Suzuki, who started the night 7-for-8 in the series and had homered in his first at-bat off Laffey to lead off the third inning.

Suzuki brought most of the paid crowd of 40,511 at Yankee Stadium to their feet with a two-run double that gave the Yankees their first lead of the night. Little did they know they would hold the lead for the rest of the night.

Manager John Farrell mercifully ended Laffey’s evening in favor of right-hander Brad Lincoln. However, unlike the vehicles that sport his name, Lincoln was neither original or inspired.

Lincoln walked Jayson Nix to refuel the bases to full and he put it in gear to face Derek Jeter. But Jeter stroked a lined single into right to make it 4-2.

Lincoln then wished he could have put the whole thing in reverse or hit the brakes when Swisher smacked a fat 2-1 fastball into the third row of bleachers in right-center over the auxiliary scoreboard to put a serious dent in the Blue Jays’ night and give the Yankees what they thought might be some breathing room so they could rest up for their weekend series with the Oakland Athletics.

Laffey’s line read five runs given up (four earned) on just two hits but five walks and he struck out three in three-plus innings.

However, in his effort to get five innings in for his victory, Hughes surrendered a two-run home run to  to rookie Moise Sierra in the bottom of the fifth.

The Yankees got those two runs back in the bottom of the frame off reliever Brett Cecil on RBI singles by Nix and Jeter to make it 10-4.

After Derek Lowe pitched two shaky but scoreless innings, manager Joe Girardi called upon Cory Wade to pitch the eighth.

Wade spent most of the season at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because he was unable to get anyone out consistently at the major-league level this season. That should have been a huge red flag for Girardi.

Wade opened the third by giving up a solo home run to Johnson that still might be traveling. A single, a strikeout and a double later and Wade was gone in a New York minute. Joba Chamberlain then allowed a an RBI single to Brett Lawrie and a Mike McCoy drove in another run on a fielder’s choice groundout to make it 10-7 .

Chamberlain then gave up a single to Edwin Encarnacion to bring up the tying run in Adam Lind. I bet Girardi loved this part of the game.

Fortunately, Chamberlain got Lind to fly out to medium right and David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth to collect his second save of the season.

It’s a good thing, too. Whew!

With the victory, the Yankees have now officially righted themselves and have won seven of their last eight games. Their season record improved to 86-63 and they have but 13 contests left to play. The Blue Jays are pretty much sucking on the tailpipe of their own Lincoln after having been swept in the series and they are now 66-82.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • All Suzuki did in the three-game series was go 9-for-12 (.750) with a home run, three doubles, four stolen bases, four runs scored and four RBIs. About the only thing he did not do was deliver margaritas in the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. Girardi has chosen to keep Suzuki in the lineup against left-handers because Andruw Jones seemingly has not gotten a big hit since Memorial Day.
  • Swisher struck out three times and walked in the game. However, his grand slam was the biggest hit of the game and it was a game the Yankees needed to win badly. Swisher hit a franchise record-tying 10th grand slam of the season and it was his third. It also was the seventh grand slam of his career. Swisher now has 21 home runs and 83 RBIs on the season. He has hit at least 20 home runs and driven 80 runs in all four of his seasons with the Yankees.
  • Hughes tied a franchise record when he struck out four batters in the fourth inning. Hughes struck out in order J.P. Arencibia, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose and Lawrie, however, Hechavarria reached first on one of the two passed balls charged to Russell Martin on the evening. A.J. Burnett also did it for the Yankees on June 24, 2011 against the Colorado Rockies.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees scored 10 runs but Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 with a walk. That snapped his modest four-game hitting streak and pushed him under the .300 mark this season. Cano is having an unusually quiet September, hitting just .279 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
  • Wade had pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his two appearances since his Sept. 1 recall but he was tagged hard by the Blue Jays. Wade is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA on the season after he was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA for the Yankees last season. It is not likely Wade will make the postseason roster and his days with the team appear numbered.
  • Martin’s two passed balls give him seven on the season, which is the most he has been charged with in any of his major-league seasons. The Yankees still rave about his defense but it is hard to imagine the Yankees will re-sign him after he thoroughly flopped at the plate this season.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixeira took swings in a batting cage at Yankee Stadium before the game on Thursday and he will travel to Tampa, FL, on Monday in order to rehab his left calf strain in some Instructional League games. Teixeira is targeting a Sept 27 return date so he can get in some game action before the playoffs.  . . .  The Yankees elected not to activate Brett Gardner on Thursday although the move is imminent in the next few days.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a three-game weekend series against the A’s beginning on Friday and they have some payback in mind after they were swept in Oakland.

The Yankees send to the mound left-hander CC Sabathia (13-6, 3.63 ERA). Sabathia has allowed nine earned runs in his last two starts covering 13 innings. Though the Yankees say he is fine, Sabathia has not pitched well since his return from the disabled list with left elbow soreness. He is 8-8 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the A’s.

Oakland will start right-hander Jarrod Parker (11-8, 3.51 ERA). Parker allowed two runs on seven hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in seven innings in a victory over the Orioles on Saturday. He is 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his one career start against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

Should Yankees Trade For Outfielder For Gardner?

I have been receiving some excellent questions lately and I thought it would be a great time to share some of them of with you all. So let’s dip into the old e-mail and see what is on the minds of some fellow Yankee fans.

Q: With Brett Gardner out do you think the Yankees should trade for another outfielder, preferably someone with some speed? Why not bring Eduardo Nunez back up and play him in left? (CiscoK)

A: Cisco, I would be with on board with a trade for an outfielder with some speed but the news concerning Gardner is actually pretty good. After getting an opinion on his balky right elbow from Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, FL, on Monday, Gardner received a confirmation of the diagnosis from Dr. Timothy Kremchek in Cincinnati on Thursday. The opinion is that Gardner should rest the elbow an additional three to four weeks and he does not require surgery. Gardner received a platelet-rich plasma and cortisone shot on Thursday and he will wear an elbow brace to ensure the elbow is rested properly. That is pretty good news. I have heard rumors about the Yankees may be interested in Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs and Chone Figgins of the Mariners but both those guys earn hefty paychecks and the Yankees want to cut payroll. So unless they can get a team to pay most of the tab like the Yankees did with A.J. Burnett, it does not make much sense. As for Nunez, he injured his thumb and is currently on the minor-league disabled list. So even if the Yankees wanted to call him up, they really can’t because of the injury.

Q: Why did the Yankees send David Phelps down instead of Freddy Garcia or Cody Eppley? (JIMMAJAMMA)

A: The Yankees decided to activate David Robertson on Thursday instead of waiting before Friday’s game against the Nationals in Wasington and Phelps was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The answer, JJ, does not come down to performance or who deserves to go. It is simply because Phelps is 25, he has options left and the Yankees really see him as a starter and not a reliever. Phelps was 1-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings over 13 games (two starts). He impressed the Yankees with aggressiveness and he really has a bright future ahead of him. Garcia (0-2, 7.68 ERA) is being paid more than $4 million this season and the Yankees are not going to eat that contract by sending him out or releasing him at age 35. Eppley is 1-1 with a 5.16 ERA but he has been much better in June than he was in May. He has a 2.08 ERA against right-handers and he gets exposed when he faces lefties (5.40 ERA). Eppley is a specialist like Clay Rapada is from the left side and he seems to have earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi.

Q: Why do the Yankees keep Francisco Cervelli at Scranton when Russell Martin can’t hit? (Martini88)

A: Martin has been hitting a lot better this month and, truthfully, the Yankees are in love with his pitch selection, defense and throwing. Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who know a bit about catching in the majors, think he is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. He does a great job of blocking pitches in the dirt and he does dissuade teams like the Angels and Rays from turning the game into a track meet. Backup Chris Stewart is out of options and he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without losing him as a free agent. The Yankees do not care what he hits and love his defense also. Frankly, Francisco Cervelli is at Scranton because the Yankees were not happy with his throwing accuracy. In 174 games in the major leagues, Cervelli has committed 20 errors and he has nailed base-runners at a subpar 19%. Stewart in 104 games has committed 10 errors and he has nailed base-runners at rate of 38 percent. I think that pretty much explains it.

Q: Are the Yankees paying a big price for not going after C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish? (Tex25Fan25)

A: I don’t think so. Their recent surge (16 out of their last 20 games) has been accomplished largely with the addition of Andy Pettitte and pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova pitching much better than they did in April. If you look at what has happened to the Rays’ staff the last few days against the Mets, I think you can see that even good pitchers can go through some struggles. It is much better to get them out of the way early and the Yankees starters seemed to have done that. Besides the Yankees, if you can believe it, are not looking to add payroll because of the more stringent salary cap rules that go into effect in 2014. As a result, the Yankees won’t be looking at big-ticket free agents unless they shed a lot of salaries to ckear room. So they only made a token bid on Darvish and they basically ignored Wilson. That will continue for the next three years.

Thank you for your interest in my blog and keep your questions coming.

 

Pettitte’s Return A Special Day In Yankees’ History

Retirement is a one-way trip to insignificance.
George Burns


When I first heard the news Andy Pettitte had decided to come out of retirement to pitch for the Yankees this season I thought it was a hoax. When Andy walked away from a $12 million contract offer after the 2010 season I thought the next time we would see him pitch was in an Old-Timer’s game at Yankee Stadium. But now that I know he did, indeed, sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract on Friday, I could not wipe the smile off my face.

The immediate thought is what manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are going to do to sort out a sudden glut of seven starting pitchers with only five spots available. As it is without Pettitte in the mix, you have Ivan Nova (16 wins), Michael Pineda (promising sophomore right-hander), Freddy Garcia (crafty veteran) and Phil Hughes (18 wins in 2010) vying for the three spots behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.

It is a good thing the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and Mike Mussina has not planned a comeback or it could be a real mess.

But Pettitte obviously will need time to get into “game shape” and build his arm strength for the 2012 season and he will not be able to start with the Yankees by Opening Day. Yankee general manager Brian Cashman estimated it might take about seven weeks.

So at age 39, Pettitte will embark on an extended spring training and then he will likely venture to Triple-A Empire State (formerly Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) for a series of starts until the Yankees decide he is ready to join the Yankees. That could be mid-May or later.

So Girardi’s immediate plan is to just sort out the six starters he has now and wait to see what happens with Pettitte later.

If the decision were mine to make now I would give Nova a spot because he earned it with the 16 games he won as a rookie last season. He also has a very high upside in potential and the Yankees could use a young pitcher in their rotation.

Pineda deserves a spot based on his great showing last season but there is a big problem: His velocity on the fastball is down and the Yankees are concerned though they are not voicing it publicly. Perhaps the Yankees open the season allowing Pineda to try to recapture it in the major leagues, as they did with Hughes last season.

But they would be able to place him on the disabled list or just send him to Empire State to build arm strength at some point. It is a possibility.

Hughes looks like he is back from his arm woes. He threw four shutout innings on Friday and in his previous start at Ft. Myers, FL., against the Twins he was registering 92 miles per hour on the radar gun.

If Hughes wins the No. 5 spot, then Garcia would be in the bullpen ready to fill in if Pineda struggles or there is an injury.

Garcia’s stuff translates well to the bullpen because he throws strikes and mixes his pitches well. A team could do worse that to have a pitcher who was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in the bullpen.

As for when Pettitte is ready to join the 25-man roster, that is one of those “cross the bridge when we get it to it” deals for Girardi. A lot can happen in a 162-game schedule with injuries and ineffectiveness. As to who do you bump from the rotation for Pettitte, i have no idea how to answer that question now.

But what I do know is that this turn of events is very bad news for the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

The Red Sox have three very good starters (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), a big question mark (Daniel Bard) and a fifth starter to be selected out of a grab bags of misfits and free-agent sludge.

The Rays thought the y had the best rotation in the division with the likes of James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie lefty Matt Moore. To tell you the truth they still could. However, the addition of Pettitte makes the difference between the two staffs somewhat insignificant.

Think of what Pettitte was able to do in 2010.

He was 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA and he was headed for a great season when a groin injury shelved him during the home stretch of the pennant race. In his two starts in the postseason Pettitte was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Then he walked away thinking his calling was at home with his family.

But coming to training camp this spring as a guest instructor apparently got Andy to thinking there was still something left in the tank. Of course, we all saw that. It wasn’t like Andy’s record was 4-14 with a 5.42 ERA and we all knew we could stick a fork in him because he was done.

No, Andy walked away when he was still one of the better left-handers in the American League and he is still the all-time leader in postseason wins (19), starts (42) and innings pitched (263). Pettitte is also third on the Yankees all-time win list (203) behind Hall-of-Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).

What better way to spend a summer for Andy than joining Derek Jeter to get an up close and personal view of what could be fellow “Core Four” veteran Mariano Rivera in what could be his last season?

This is an historic and monumental day in Yankee history. One of the most successful pitchers from their golden era (1996 through 2000) is coming back to don No. 46 and reprrise that famous steel-eyed glare over the glove Pettitte made famous.

Yep, the Pettitte family’s temporary loss of their beloved father is certainly Yankee Universe’s gain. Welcome back, Andy!

 

Yankees To Open Spring Playing South Florida

The New York Yankees will open the spring with an exhibition game against the University of South Florida on Friday.

Manager Joe Girardi is planning to have his starters get one at-bat or two and right-hander Adam Warren will be the starting pitcher for the Yankees.

Warren, 24, is a non-roster player who was 6-8 with a 3.60 ERA in 27 starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. With the Yankees’ rotation loaded with six pitchers vying for five spots, Warren is obviously headed back to Triple A.

But Warren hopes to leave a good impression this spring with hopes of in-season call to the major leagues as a starter or reliever.

Girardi also announced the pitchers who will follow Warren to the mound. They are: Brett Marshall, Dan Burawa, Juan Cedeno, Graham Stoneburner, Ryan Pope and Kevin Whelan. All of them are non-roster pitchers who were invited to spring training.

The game, which begins at 1:05 p.m. EST at George M. Steinbrenner Field, will benefit the University of South Florida baseball program.

WALKING WOUNDED

The club has five players who have come up with injuries this spring.

Right-handed reliever Manny Delcarmen, another non-roster invitee, will miss four to five days with a slight strain of his right lat muscle.

Rookie catcher Austin Romine has been hobbled by inflammation in his back and the Yankees are being very cautious before letting him return to action.

First baseman and designated hitter Russell Branyan has been shelved with tightness in his back. Catcher Kyle Higashioka has been bothered with right shoulder soreness and right-handed reliever George Kontos has a slight oblique strain.

ALL EYES ON A.J.

Speaking of wounded, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced on Thursday that A.J. Burnett will undergo surgery in Pittsburgh on Friday after he suffered a fractured right orbital bone in his right eye in a bunting drill on Wednesday in Bradenton, Fl..

The Pirates do not have a timetable for his recovery at this time.

Burnett, 35, was acquired by the Pirates on Feb. 18 from the Yankees in return for two minor-league pitchers.

The Pirates scrapped Burnett’s scheduled start on Sunday and now face the likelihood with the setback in his spring preparation that he likely will not open the season on the team’s roster.

Burnett was injured while participating in the team’s bunting tournament. He fouled a ball from a pitching machine into his right-eye area and had to be immediately tended to by trainers.

On behalf of the Bottom of the Ninth blog and all the Yankee fans who still love and support A.J., we wish to express to A.J. and his family that we are are hoping the surgery goes well and he bounces back to pitch well for the Pirates this season.

BOMBER BANTER

Robinson Cano returned to camp in Tampa, FL, on Thursday after spending a few days in the Dominican Republic attending his grandmother’s funeral. She died of cancer at age 91. Cano will not play in a exhibition game until Sunday.  . . .  The Yankees’ annual team-building outing was held on Thursday at the Tampa Improv in Ybor City, FL. The team participated in improvisational skits and activities designed to loosen up the players and allow them to have some laughs together. Girardi said the trip was especially important for the young players in camp in helping them feel a part of the team.  . . .  Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said Thursday that the team has a goal to lower payroll to $189 million over the next two years and the development of the team’s young pitchers would help toward that goal.  He said the team’s current payroll is around $210 million.

 

2012 Looks Like More Trouble For ‘Red Flops’

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX

A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011″ the term seems apropos.

On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.

Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.

Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.

There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?

Well, it does not look good.

STARTERS

The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.

So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.

Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.

If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.

Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.

Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.

The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.

Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”

But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.

Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.

With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.

But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.

Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.

Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.

For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.

The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.

None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.

This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?

BULLPEN

The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.

But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.

There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.

The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.

Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.

Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.

The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.

The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.

This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.

Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.

STARTING LINEUP

The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.

Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.

The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.

To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.

The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.

Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.

Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.

More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.

The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.

The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.

The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.

Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.

The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.

Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.

That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.

The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.

BENCH

The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.

The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.

The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.

This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.

ANALYSIS

The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.

The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.

This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.

The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.

With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.

I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.

Just call them the Red Flops.

 

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