Results tagged ‘ Cliff Lee ’
PIRATES 2, YANKEES 1
TAMPA - It is only fitting that on the final day of spring training in Florida that the Yankees would lose to the Pirates because of a lack of run support for a great outing by a starting pitcher.
Despite the fact that Hiroki Kuroda pitched six scoreless innings, striking out five batters, walking none and surrendering only an infield single, the Pirates scored two runs in the seventh inning as Pittsburgh went on to edge New York on Thursday in front of a paid crowd of 11,028 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees made Pirates rookie left-hander Jeff Locke look like Cliff Lee in his prime. Locke (3-1) shut out the Yankees for six innings, giving up four hits and no walks while striking out three.
Despite allowing an RBI double to Lyle Overbay in the ninth inning, Ethan Hollingsworth was credited with a save.
Boone Logan (0-1) was charged with the loss.
Logan walked pinch-hitter Travis Snider to open the seventh inning and Jose Tabata then lined a hard come-backer that struck Logan in the left hip and he reached base on the single.
Logan left the game as a precautionary measure and right-hander David Aardsma entered the game and uncorked a wild pitch and Francisco Cervelli threw the ball past Robinson Cano attempting to nab Tabata advancing to second. That allowed Snider to score.
One out later, pinch-hitter Jeff Larish singled in Tabata.
The Yankees completed Grapefruit League play with a 13-18 record. The Pirates ended up with the same record.
- Kuroda ended spring training with his sharpest effort of the spring. He kept the Pirates off-balance all day mixing his 92-mile-per-hour fastball with his slider and split-finger fastball. The only hitter to reach base on him was Garrett Jones, who reached on a two-out infield single that Kuroda knocked down but could not pick up in time to throw out Jones. Kuroda threw an amazing 52 of his 69 pitches for strikes - a 75 percent strike rate.
- Overbay cemented his position on the 25-man roster with his RBI double in the ninth inning. Overbay, 36, was given three days to make the team and he did it by going 5-for-11 (.455) in the three games he played. Overbay will open the season at first base and he will remain there until Mark Teixeira returns, which could be as soon as mid-May.
- The Yankees were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Thursday. The Yankees’ biggest failure came when Cervelli blasted a one-out triple off the left-field wall. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a weak infield popup and Vernon Wells ended the threat with a routine flyout. Yankee fans complained last season when the team did not deliver hits with runners in scoring position and relied so much on the home run to win games. Well, now the team still does not hit with runners in scoring position and now doesn’t hit home runs either.
- Aardsma appears to have blown his shot to win a bullpen spot with a weak showing on Thursday. He threw a wild pitch to set up one run and another scored on a RBI single. After he issued a two-walk to pinch-hitter Josh Harrison he was removed from the game by manager Joe Girardi. Aarsdma has a spring ERA of 3.52.
- Wells finished the day 0-for-3 but he still hit .310 for the spring and he will begin the season as the Yankees’ starting left-fielder until Curtis Granderson returns to the team in mid-May. Granderson will play center and Brett Gardner will shift to left-field. Granderson’s broken right forearm prevented the Yankees from their experiment of flip-flopping Gardner and Granderson.
The Yankees reportedly have released Juan Rivera from his minor-league contract and the team has decided to keep Overbay and outfielders Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch. Overbay likely will be in a platoon with reserve infielder Jayson Nix. Overbay will start at first against right-handers and against left-handers Kevin Youkilis could shift to first base and Nix can play third. With Wells starting in left and Travis Hafner as the designated hitter, Francisco and Boesch will mostly be bench players, although the Yankees could use Francisco as a right-handed DH against some left-handers. . . . Logan said after the game that his left hip was fine and he expects to be able to pitch again on Friday. That is one bullet the Yankees dodged. . . . It was no surprise that left-hander Vidal Nuno, 25, was named before the game on Thursday the recipient of the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie of the spring. Nuno was 1-1 with 0.61 ERA in seven appearances. Nuno still has an outside chance to make the team as a second bullpen lefty behind Logan while Clay Rapada recovers from bursitis in his left shoulder. Nuno pitched at both Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton and was 10-6 with an organization-leading 2.54 ERA.
The Yankees are already in Washington D.C., and they will play an exhibition game against the Nationals on Friday.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (1-0, 4.82 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. The Nationals will counter with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (0-1, 5.40 ERA).
Game-time will be 2:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised locally by the YES Network and nationally by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 6, PHILLIES 2
TAMPA - So much of the early weeks of spring were filled with such bad news for the Yankees but on Wednesday night a page seemed to turn and it all of it centers around the presence of the team’s “Key Three.”
Andy Pettitte threw three-plus innings his spring debut, Derek Jeter played shortstop for the first since his ankle injury last October and Mariano Rivera pitched another perfect inning as New York flexed its collective muscle to down Philadelphia at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Pettitte (1-0) gave up one run on four hits and three walks while striking out three to pick up the victory. An uncharacteristically out-of-sync Cliff Lee (0-1) took the loss after giving up five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings.
In addition to Lee’s inability to command his breaking pitches, the Phillies did not help his cause by committing four errors behind him.
The surprise hitting star of the night was the newly acquired Ben Francisco, who laced a two-run double to the wall in centerfield with two out in the first inning to score the Yankees’ first runs. Francisco batted fifth and played rightfield.
With the victory the Yankees have now reeled off four straight victories and they are 7-11 in Grapefruit League play. The Phillies dropped to 7-10.
- Although Pettitte’s outing was less than stellar, there were some positives. He wriggled out of a two-on, two-out situation in the first by getting Domonic Brown on a flyout. And after giving up a two-out RBI single up the middle to Brown in the third, he retired Darin Ruf on a great play by third baseman Kevin Youkilis and a great stretch by first baseman Juan Rivera. Petitte’s command was off but it was not a bad 58-pitch first effort in spring.
- Francisco has a great opportunity to make the club and his debut could not have been better. Francisco was hitting .400 and he had six doubles when he was released on Monday by the Cleveland Indians at his request. With Rivera seemingly looking like the team’s replacement first baseman for Mark Teixeira, Francisco could emerge as the starting leftfielder until Curtis Granderson returns in mid-May.
- It is easy to overlook Ichiro Suzuki but opposing teams are learning that is unwise. Suzuki was 2-for-3 with a run scored, a stolen base and a key two-out RBI single in the second inning. For those fans and so-called experts who think Suzuki is over the hill at age 39 listen to this: He is hitting .462 this spring, which leads the team.
- Pettitte gave up a run in the third inning which broke the Yankees’ earned run scoreless inning streak at 30 innings. Before that the last earned run the Yankees had allowed was on March 9 when Jim Miller allowed a ninth-inning run on a Jordan Parraz sacrifice fly in 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
Just before Wednesday’s game the Yankees announced three roster moves. They optioned outfielder Zoilo Almonte, infielder Corban Joseph and right-hander Adam Warren to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Almonte, a 23-year-old switch-hitter with power, had an outside shot to make the team after Granderson’s injury on Feb. 24. But Almonte has not played above the Double-A level and the Yankees would like to see him continue to develop at Scranton.
The Yankees will travel to Dunedin, FL on Thursday to square off with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jose Ramirez, a 23-year-old who has been the best young pitcher the Yankees have showcased this spring, will make his third start. He will be opposed by newly acquired right-hander Josh Johnson.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.
YANKEES 3, RAYS 1
Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb set the tone for the afternoon by matching zeros early and the Bobby Wilson’s two-run single in the top of the eighth inning helped allow the Yankees break through in this pitchers’ duel as New York downed Tampa Bay on Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Complex In Port Charlotte, FL.
Nova, who is vying along with David Phelps for the No. 5 starting spot for the Yankees, tossed four shutout innings and gave up four hits while striking out two batters. His mound opponent, Cobb, pitched five shutout innings and gave up two hits and struck out six.
The game remained scoreless until the eighth when the Yankees got a leadoff single from Francisco Cervelli and a one-out single from Thomas Neal off Dane De La Rosa (0-1). Slade Heathcott followed with a potential double-play ball that Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee botched for an error that allowed Walter Ibarra – pinch-running for Cervelli – to score the game’s first run.
Wilson then followed with a sharp single to left to score Neal and Heathcott.
The Rays scored an unearned run in the bottom of the inning off right-hander Brett Marshall (1-0), which broke the Yankees’ 25-inning scoreless streak. However, the Yankees still have not given up an earned run in 27 innings and they have allowed only two earned runs over their last 41 innings.
Matt Tracy pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
With the victory, their third in a row, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 6-11. The Rays fell to 11-7.
- Though Nova held the Rays scoreless he needed a lot of help from his defense to do it. Melky Mesa made a outstanding back-handed grab at the wall in center off Rays leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings in the first inning. In addition, Nova had to wriggle out of a major jam in the fourth. Kelly Johnson laced a single to right that Zoilo Almonte bobbled to allow Johnson to reach second. Johnson then advanced to third on a Leslie Anderson single. But Ryan Roberts lined out to third baseman Jayson Nix, Cervelli threw out Anderson as he attempted to take second and Nova struck out Sean Rodriguez swinging to end the threat.
- In addition to throwing out Anderson in the fourth, Cervelli also threw out Mike Fontenot attempting to take second in the first. In both cases, Cervelli partially blocked pitches in the dirt and threw out both runners because they thought the ball had rolled to the backstop. Cervelli is solidifying his candidacy for the starting catching spot with his defense and throwing.
- Neal, 25, was 2-for-3 in the game and has quietly raised his spring average to .333 with a homer and three RBIs. Neal was signed as a free agent out the Cleveland Indians organization and he is a non-roster invitee to camp. He has virtually no chance of making the 25-man roster but he could be valuable as a future call-up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- The Yankees continue to commit errors in bunches. They were charged with three but only Ronnier Mustelier’s error in the eighth hurt. The other errors were charged to shortstop Eduardo Nunez and Almonte. For Nunez it is only his second error of the spring and both have been on throws.
- Travis Hafner continues to struggle mightily at the plate this spring. Hafner was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and all came looking. Hafner is hitting .167 with no homers, one RBI and seven strikeouts thus far in spring. It is true that Raul Ibanez struggled through spring training in 2012 and ended up having a great season for the Yankees. But Hafner is either be pressing or may be taking things for granted since he has a major-league contract.
- Though Mesa is playing excellent defense and he has been hitting for power this spring, he is in a bit of a hitting funk. He was 0-for-4 in the game is his spring average has dipped to .194. Even with all that, Mesa has a great chance to make the team as a spare outfielder because he is such a great defensive outfielder.
The Yankees’ decision to sign veteran outfielder Ben Francisco does not bode well for the hopes of non-roster invitee Matt Diaz. Francisco, 31, will make his first start in left-field with the Yankees on Wednesday. Diaz, 35, is hitting only .190 with no homers and two RBIs Francisco, meanwhile, was hitting .400 with six doubles for the Indians when he requested his release so he could sign with the Yankees.
The Yankees will play host host to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Fans who plan to attend the game will see two important debuts. Left-hander Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the spring and Derek Jeter is expected to shortstop for the first time.
The Phillies will start left-hander Cliff Lee.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
RAFAEL SORIANO (2-0, 1.72 ERA, 19 SAVES)
DAVID ROBERTSON (0-3, 2.42 ERA)
BOONE LOGAN (3-0, 3.54 ERA)
CORY WADE (0-1, 5.79 ERA)
CLAY RAPADA (2-0, 3.00 ERA)
CODY EPPLEY (0-0, 2.53 ERA)
D.J. MITCHELL (0-0, 3.38 ERA)
The New York Yankees season could have very easily ended on May 3 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was shagging balls during batting practice, as has been his custom his entire career, when his right knee buckled as he reached the warning track. Rivera went down in a heap and the Yankees lost the best closer in the history of the game for the rest of the season.
However, on May 22 the Yankees ran off a record of 28-11 and they moved from tied for last place in the American League East 5 1/2 games behind to first place in the division and five games ahead.
The starting pitching was a big reason why. The starters who struggled in April pitched better. But there was something else that kept the Yankees going without Mariano Rivera.
That something was Rafael Soriano.
Soriano, 32, was signed by the Yankees for $12 million a season over three seasons in the winter of 2011. Soriano had just come off a season in which he saved a league-leading 45 games in 48 chances with the Tampa Bay Rays and compiled a 3-2 record with a 1.73 ERA.
But why pay so much for someone who would not close games?
General manager Brian Cashman quickly pointed out publicly the signing was not his idea and he disavowed it. But after the Yankees lost out in trying to sign left-hander Cliff Lee the front office figured that with Rivera, Soriano and David Robertson that the Yankees could shorten the game to overcome their starting pitching deficiencies.
On paper, it made sense. In practice, it did not work out entirely as planned.
Soriano was hit hard early and often at the start of the 2011 season. The fans quickly turned on him for his seeming uncaring attitude as he pitched worse and worse. Then he ended up on the disabled list for two months with soreness in his right elbow. The fans also do not like players drawing rich contracts while rehabbing injuries.
Soriano did come back and ultimately was given the seventh inning as Robertson owned the ninth and Rivera was king of the ninth. Soriano finished the 2011 season with a 2-3 mark and a gaudy 4.12 ERA. He saved two games and blew three others.
Soriano then surprised a lot of people by deciding not exercise his opt-out clause in his three-year deal. He was getting paid good money to pitch the seventh inning and he figured it was more advantageous for him to stay. As far as Yankee fans go, they may have enjoyed booing him, but Soriano saved the Yankees’ season by deciding to stay.
When Robertson failed in his first attempt to close for Rivera on May 9 against the Rays and then ended up on the disabled list for a month with a left oblique injury, Soriano was reborn as a closer. He is also proving to be very good at it.
Since he has taken over, Soriano has saved 19 games out of his 20 opportunities and erased the team’s fears they could not win without Mo.
The fans? They booed him unmercifully at Yankee Stadium when he blew his only save on June 10 against the Mets. Tough crowd.
Yankee fans should be hoisting this man up and celebrating him because Soriano will be a big component of the Yankees’ run in the playoffs. They certainly do miss Mo but they have to be thankful they have a replacement in Soriano who has saved 91 games out of 99 chances since the 2009 season. That is a 92 percent success rate.
The Yankees actually have other more pressing bullpen issues. They revolve around Robertson, who came off the 15-day disabled list on June 15.
In the 11 appearances Robertson, 27, has made beginning on June 15, he is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA. That is a far cry from the Robertson who made 13 appearances before May 9 and was unscored upon in his first 13 innings of the season with 23 strikeouts.
The Yankees need Robertson to settle back into his groove and just, well, be Robertson again. We will see how it unfolds after the All-Star break.
The injuries to Rivera and Robertson have meant that Boone Logan has pitched in more games and for more innings than he has been used since he was acquired by the Yankees in 2009. The most innings he ever pitched in pinstripes was the 41 2/3 innings he pitched last season in 64 appearances.
But because Logan is no longer the lefty specialist in the bullpen he is being used more often and for longer stretches. Logan, 27, has already thrown 29 2/3 innings and made 41 appearances.
The strain is beginning to show. Logan’s ERA for the first three months was excellent: He was 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA on June 30. But in July, Logan has been scored upon in all four of his appearances and, if anybody deserved an All-Star break it was Logan.
The hope is that Logan will bounce back in the second half and pitch like he did before June 30. The Yankees need Logan to be good in the seventh inning so the Yankees can use Robertson in the eighth and Soriano in the ninth. Logan will be a big key to the Yankees in the second half, no doubt.
Manager Joe Girardi has been praised, and rightfully so, for his ability to maximize a bullpen. This season he has proven what a skill it is.
The Yankees found a lefty specialist in side-armer Clay Rapada during spring training and Rapada has been excellent as getting left-handers out since the 2012 season began.
Rapada, 31, is holding left-handed hitters to a .150 average this season. Amazingly, Rapada is retiring right-handers also. They are hitting .227 off him. But Girardi has wisely tried to keep Rapada as a specialist as much as he can this season.
The Yankees also got lucky when the Texas Rangers waived 26-year-old side-arming right-hander Cody Eppley early in the season. The Yankees claimed him and sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Recalled on April 20, Eppley has provided Girardi with a righty specialist to twin with Rapada.
The results have been very good. Eppley is holding right-handers to a .231 average. Much like Rapada with right-handers, Girardi must keep Eppley away from dangerous left-handed hitters. Overall, Eppley has done an excellent job and he and Rapada have strengthened what already was an excellent bullpen.
That can’t be said of Cory Wade, however.
Wade, 29, was picked up off waivers from the Rays in 2011 – much like Eppley was this season – and he put together a great season. Wade was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA last season and drew a lot of praise from Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
But 2012 has a been nightmare for Wade.
He compiled an ERA of 1.69 in April and an ERA of 2.92 in May. But in June, Wade hit the skids and he has not recovered.
Beginning on June 16, Wade gave up a home run to Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals in a game the Yankees won 5-3. Since then, Wade has given up 16 runs in his last 8 innings covering his last seven appearances. Wade’s ERA has ballooned to 6.48 and he has been sent back to Scranton to try and get his groove back.
The Yankees filled out their bullpen just before the break by calling up Triple-A starter D.J. Mitchell to be the long man in the bullpen now that Freddy Garcia is being used as a starter to replace the injured Andy Pettitte.
Mitchell, 25, has a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA at Scranton in 14 starts but Mitchell may have more value as a reliever in the majors because he has the best sinking fastball in the organization.
The Yankees would like to use him in situations they might need a double play. But Mitchell is strictly a long man for now.
To replace Wade, the Yankees picked up veteran right-hander Chad Qualls off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Qualls, 33, is 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 3 1/3 innings over three games. That is certainly a step up from what the Yankees have been getting from Wade. We will see if he continue to pitch well in the second half.
Overall, this has been one of the best, if not the best, bullpens in baseball this season despite the loss of Rivera.
Girardi was able to slide Soriano into the closer’s role and he has Robertson and Logan to pitch in setup roles. Plus he can mix and match with the righty-lefty combo of Eppley and Rapada. Wade is the only reliever who has been a major disappointment but Qualls was picked up to fill his role until Wade finds it again or not.
RIVERA: I (for Incomplete)
QUALLS: I (for Incomplete)
MITCHELL: I (for Incomplete)
DAVID PHELPS (1-1, 6.46 as a reliever)
RYOTA IGARASHI (0-0, 22.50 ERA)
David Phelps began the season in the bullpen as the long reliever and he actually pitched much better than his ERA indicates. He was shelled for three runs in back-to-back appearances against the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox in late April.
But Phelps, 25, is more suited as a starter and is thought of that way by the organization. After two starts in place of Freddy Garcia in early May, Phelps was sent back to the bullpen when Pettitte was activated on May 13. He stayed until June 2, when he was shipped to Double-A Trenton to get his arm in shape to become a starter.
However, before the process could be completed Pettitte was placed on the disabled list with a broken tibia in his right leg and CC Sabathia had to be shelved because of a groin injury.
Phelps was recalled and pitched out of the bullpen until he was pressed into a start against the Rays on the Fourth of July. Phelps struck out eight batters and gave up only one run in 4 1/3 innings in his best performance of the season.
Now Phelps has been sent back to Trenton to complete the process of building up his pitch count so he can start. It is unclear when Phelps might return to the Yankees or what role he will assume. My guess is we have seen the last of Phelps as a reliever, barring an injury.
Igarashi was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen on May 25 and pitched poorly in the two games in which he pitched. He was sent back to Scranton and was recalled again on June 8 and he gave one run in his one inning of work against his former Met teammates.
Igarashi, 33, is 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and three saves at Scranton this season. He is there for depth purposes but the Yankees could do better. Igarashi does not appear to be the answer for the Yankees based on what he has done in three games.
PHELPS : I (for Incomplete)
IGARASHI: I (for Incomplete)
The Yankees have some veteran relievers at Scranton, including Igarashi.
Kevin Whelan 28, is the main closer and is 3-0 with a 3.55 ERA and 12 saves.
Meanwhile, left-hander Juan Cedeno, 28, is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA and former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen is 2-4 with a 3.86 ERA.
The most impressive young relievers the Yankees are developing are Preston Claiborne, 24, and Chase Whitley, 23.
Claiborme was just promoted to Scranton after going 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and saving five games at Trenton.
Whitley is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 games in Scranton.
Both are right-handers.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+
There are whispers that Rivera is progressing well in his rehab after surgery on his right knee and that he might be able to pitch this season. That would be bad news to the teams in the A.L. East staring up out of a huge hole in which the Yankees have placed them.
Whether Rivera returns or not the Yankees have an exceptional bullpen that rarely coughs up leads late in the game.
Soriano has 19 saves after 81 games and he has been sensational as Rivera’s stand-in.
There are some concerns before the second half begins.
Both Robertson and Logan need recapture their early-season form. They both have a long enough track records in the majors that they should be able to rebound. Robertson just needs to regain command of the strike zone and Logan just needs rest after absorbing a huge workload in the first half.
Logan leads the American League in appearances and that is an aberration from what Girardi and Rothschild would like from him. But Rivera’s loss impacted Logan the most and he has been forced to pitch a lot of innings and it is catching up to him. Hopefully, the rest over the break rejuvenates his valuable left arm.
The Yankees also have to hope that Wade rediscovers his karma in the minors. Most of the karma he has been exhibiting on the mound these days is bad.
Rapada and Eppley have proved to very valuable specialists and they have been impressive in the first half. They just have to continue to do what they have been doing.
Qualls is a place-holder for Wade and Girardi seems to trust him.
Mitchell can be valuable as a long man but Girardi rarely calls on him. His sinker could have some value in the second half and he is the one reliever that can give Girardi a lot of innings out of the bullpen.
The biggest hope for the second half has nothing to do with any of the pitchers I mentioned.
The Yankees just sent Joba Chamberlain out on a minor-league rehab stint. Because Chamberlain, 26, is coming off Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a severely displaced fractured right ankle, the Yankees were not really expecting much out of the big right-hander.
But if all goes well in his extended rehab stint, Chamberlain could return to the Yankees within a month. That would be a big boost to the Yankees and it should make Logan really smile.
Yankee fans may have forgotten that Chamberlain was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 27 games before injuring his elbow last season. If he can get back to that level, Chamberlain could a valuable piece to the bullpen in the sceond half and heading into the playoffs.
The Yankees also had high hopes for former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma in the second half. Aardsma, 30, was coming off Tommy John surgery himself last July and was making his final rehab appearances when he suffered a setback and had to be shut down.
Aardsma underwent some tests and is consulting Dr. James Andrews, who performed his surgery, about what his next step will be. But it looks doubtful Aardsma will be able to help the Yankees this season. That is a shame.
But the way the Yankees’ bullpen has been gong this season, they may not need him. The return of Chamberlain, however, could be a real big boost.
Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.
Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.
After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.
But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.
The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.
They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.
If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.
To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.
The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.
Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.
If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.
There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.
Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.
How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.
No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.
That is huge red flag to me.
Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?
Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.
That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.
It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.
That is my concern with the Rays.
In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.
One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.
They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.
The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.
However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury. Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.
If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.
The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.
Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.
They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.
That just about sums up the Orioles.
Now we come to the Yankees.
They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?
Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.
The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.
I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.
Here is the predicted order of finish:
1) New York Yankees
2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
3) Toronto Blue Jays
4) Boston Red Sox
5) Baltimore Orioles
If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.
When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from a resigned Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974 he told the American people in a nationally televised address that “our long national nightmare is over.”
Well, on Feb. 17, 2012 I am hear to tell Yankee Universe that our own “national nightmare” is indeed over.
The New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates have tentatively reached agreement on a deal that would send enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for two minor leaguers and $13 million in cash.
The deal has not been officially announced and it still would require the approval of Commissioner Bud Selig because of the amount of cash involved. But the fact that the Pirates have released the names of the two players the Yankees are acquiring in the deal is proof that the negotiations are down to one last detail: The payment schedule on the $13 million the Pirates will pay the Yankees.
Burnett is in the fourth year of a five-year, $82 million contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have insisted in their trade talks with the Pirates that they would have to assume some of the roughly $33 million still owed Burnett over the next two seasons.
In addition to the $13 million the Pirates have agreed to pay, the Yankees will receive 25-year-old right-handed reliever Diego Moreno and 20-year-old outfielder Exicardo Cayones. Both players are natives of Venezuela.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Moreno is entering his sixth season in the minors and was a combined 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 41 games with Class-A Bradenton in the Florida State League and Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Cayones is entering his fourth minor-league season and hit a combined .228 with no home runs and 12 RBIs between the Pirates’ Class A Gulf League team and Class-A State College in the New York-Penn League.
Neither Moreno or Cayones are listed among the Pirates’ Top 20 prospects rated by MLB. com.
The main reason the Yankees are unloading Burnett without much in return is because he has been a disappointment during his three years in pinstripes and huge salary is a albatross around the Yankees’ necks. Burnett was a combined 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in stint with the Yankees. His average of 3.98 walks per nine innings was second in the American League and fifth in the major leagues, according to STATS, LLC.
Burnett also became expendable when the Yankees traded catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos. The Yankees then added to their rotation by signing former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.
That left Burnett, 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia left to compete for the No. 5 spot in a Yankee rotation that already boasted ace left-hander CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, who was 16-7 in his rookie season,
The Yankees were basically seeking some salary relief from the Pirates in order to sign a designated hitter and a backup infielder for the 2012 season.
The Yankees seem to be most interested in 39-year-old left-hand-hitting outfielder Raul Ibanez to pair with 34-year-old right-hand-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones in a platoon at designated hitter. Ibanez, a free agent, has told the Yankees he would willing to sign a contract for less money in order to play with a playoff contender.
Ibanez hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Phillies last season but he hit only .211 against left-handers. He hit .256 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs against right-handers.
If the Yankees fail to sign Ibanez they have two left-handed-hitting options at DH in former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who are also free agents.
The Yankees also would like to re-sign 34-year-old backup corner infielder Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.
Once the deal for Burnett is complete and approved by the commissioner, the Yankees expect to act quickly to sign Chavez and one of the free agent DHs.
As for Burnett, the Yankee front office, teammates and fans alike will shake their heads on how a pitcher with such unhittable stuff could pitch so poorly for such a good offensive team like the Yankees.
When he was signed, Burnett was looked upon as the No. 2 starter behind fellow free agent Sabathia for the next five years. They both delivered a world championship in 2009 when Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA.
But Burnett will be best remembered for rescuing the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies after Cliff Lee had bested Sabathia in Game 1. Burnett threw a spectacular seven innings and evened the series the Yankees eventually won in six games.
Unfortunately is was mostly downhill from there. Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. In 2011, the Yankees hired pitching coach Larry Rothschild largely on the basis of his proposed fixes to help Burnett get back on track. However, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 after Rothschild tinkered with his delivery.
Burnett also was embroiled in some odd incidents. He cut his finger on his pitching hand angrily trying to open a clubhouse door. He arrived for a start in 2010 sporting a black eye that he refused to explain. He also had an clubhouse run-in with Joe Girardi after he left a start in Minnesota last August.
Burnett also had to deal with a loss in velocity on his fastball, which had made him more hittable.
With the Pirates, Burnett likely will become a co-ace with free-agent left-hander Eric Bedard in a rotation that also includes Kevin Correia, James McDonald and former Yankee Jeff Karstens. The Pirates’ right-hander Charlie Morton is recovering from left hip surgery and he is not expected to be able to pitch when the season starts.
In Pittsburgh, Burnett will face less pressure to win and less expectations to succeed than he did with the Yankees.
Though the Yankees and their fans will forever miss “Good A.J.” and his post-game celebratory pies in the face in walk-off victories, those same people will not miss the inevitable unraveling of “Bad A.J.” on the mound.
Speaking for Yankee fans, thanks A.J. for 2009 and good luck in trying to get back on track in the National League.
One axiom of Major League Baseball is pitching comes at a very steep price.
Yankee fans found just how steep on Friday when general manager Brian Cashman swung a pair of deals that netted the Yankees two starting pitchers and a very good pitching prospect and it cost them their No. 1 prospect and potential Rookie of the Year in Jesus Montero and right-handed starter Hector Noesi.
Though the trade is not official, the Yankees apparently have agreed to ship off Montero and Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.
Right after the rumor of that deal surfaced, the YES Network reported that the Yankees reached agreement on a one-year, $10 million contract with 37-year-old free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
Pineda burst upon the baseball landscape when he emerged as dominant starter during spring training in 2011. In five games (four starts), Pineda had no record but had a 2.12 ERA and struck out 14 batters in 17 innings, which earned him a ticket to begin his rookie season as the Mariners’ No. 2 starter behind “King” Felix Hernandez.
Pineda got off to a marvelous start, too. Pitching for perhaps baseball’s weakest offense, Pineda was 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA after his first 11 starts as of June 1. He was so impressive he was selected to pitch for the American League in the 2011 All-Star Game.
However, the combination poor offensive support and a heavy workload of innings combined to trip up Pineda in the second half. In his final 11 starts, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Pineda went 2-8 with a 4.74 ERA.
For the season, Pineda was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and struck out 173 batters in 171 innings pitched. He only walked 55 batters and ended the season with a WHIP of 1.10. He was generally considered as second to only the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson among rookie starters with the Yankees’ Ivan Nova very a close third.
If the trade is completed, Pineda will join the 24-year-old Nova in the Yankees’ 2012 rotation.
Campos is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander from Venezuela was 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA in 14 starts with the Mariners’ Class-A Everett team. Campos struck out 85 batters while walking only 13 in 81 innings last season and he is considered one of the best young pitching prospects in the Mariners’ system.
As ardent Yankee fans know, the Mariners were offered Montero and Nova two seasons ago in exchange for left-hander Cliff Lee. But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik got very greedy and tried to push Cashman into including shortstop Eduardo Nunez in the deal and Cashman balked. The Mariners then shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers in a package that included first baseman Justin Smoak.
Montero was slated to be the Yankees’ primary designated hitter and a backup catcher in 2012 after he burst upon the scene in a September callup and hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 61 at-bats. Montero’s power and hitting drew comparisons from scouts to the likes of Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez.
The doubts about Montero surrounded the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder’s ability to become good enough to be even a passable defensive catcher. Some scouts feel his long-term future was as a DH or first baseman.
Noesi had been a starter throughout his career with the Yankees but spent his rookie season in 2011 pitching mostly in the bullpen. Noesi was 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA over 56 1/3 innings in 30 games (two starts). The Yankees had maintained that Noesi was going to be strictly a starter this season. If he did not make the starting rotation this spring he was slated to pitch at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
If the deal is finalized, Noesi would join Hernandez, Jose Vargas and youngsters Charlie Furbush and Blake Beavan as starters for the Mariners.
With the signing of Kuroda, the Yankees have ended more than two-month search for pitchers to bolster their rotation. Just this week the Yankees opted not to sign free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, whose agent Scott Boras was seeking a four-year, $60 million contract that the Yankees believed was too pricey.
Kuroda, 37, was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA and he recorded 161 strikeouts in 202 innings over 32 starts last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound native of Osaka, Japan is 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in his four seasons in the major leagues, all with the Dodgers.
With the addition of Pineda and Kuroda the Yankees are now overloaded with seven potential starting pitchers.
Pineda and Kuroda will slot in the rotation behind ace left-hander CC Sabathia. Nova, who was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season, would seem to have the inside track on a spot. Phil Hughes, who was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010 but was hampered with a right shoulder injury last season, would be the odds-on favorite to win the fifth spot if he is healthy this spring.
That leaves 35-year-old right-handers A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia in a very tenuous position.
Burnett suffered through his second straight subpar season, recording a mark of 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. Burnett’s wildness and lack of command does not lend itself well to the bullpen and he still has two years and $33 million owed on a five-year contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract to any team willing to take them off their hands but they have received no takers.
Garcia was signed last season as a free agent and he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA over 26 appearances (25 starts). The Yankees re-signed him for $4 million in December and he now looks to be an insurance policy against an injury to any of the starters before the season starts. He likely will end up in the bullpen as a long reliever and spot starter.
The trade and the free-agent signing also would allow the Yankees to keep all five of their best pitching prospects – Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps and Adam Warren – at the Triple-A level to continue their development.
The only real downside is the loss of Montero as the team’s designated hitter.
The Yankees are set at catcher with Russell Martin signed for another season as the starter. Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine will battle this spring for a backup role with the loser likely headed to Triple-A.
With the loss of Montero it is unclear how the Yankees will handle the DH spot. They could rotate it among starting players such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, which is something manager Joe Girardi prefers to do. That would mean bench players such as Nunez and outfielder Andruw Jones could be used to spell the resting regulars.
They also could use the righty-swinger Jones and lefty-swinger Eric Chavez, if he is re-signed as a free agent, in a platoon at DH.
However, in either case, Montero’s spot on the roster would have to be filled. That would seem to indicate that Cashman may intend to use Burnett in a trade to fill that spot with someone who could serve as a DH and play the outfield. It seems unlikely, put still possible, the Yankees could choose to bring back 40-year-old Jorge Posada for another season.
Posada reportedly has decided to retire rather then field offers from other teams.
In what has been a quiet, almost somnambulant, off-season the New York Yankees seem to making strides in signing a free-agent pitcher.
CBSSports.com reported on Wednesday that Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner met with agent Scott Boras to discuss 28-year-old right-hander Edwin Jackson.
When Yankee fans first heard this they must have thought back to last winter when the right-hand of the Yankees, general manager Brian Cashman, did not know that the left-hand, Steinbrenner, was signing free-agent reliever Rafael Soriano to the richest contract ever paid to a non-closer.
Despite losing the draft pick for signing a Type-A free agent and the fact Soriano was ineffective and then got hurt, it was a marvelous masterstroke for a team reeling from the failure to sign Cliff Lee.
Soriano is actually a prize piece to a bullpen that lost Joba Chamberlain last season and ended up being the best bullpen in baseball. They enter the 2012 season armed with Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Soriano for what again looks to be the best bullpen in baseball. That can sure cover up for what looks to be an average starting rotation, too.
But Steinbrenner is still a bit worried. (Count me there too if any Yankee starting rotation includes A.J. Burnett.)
“Look, we were concerned about pitching last year, and it ended up working out pretty well,” Steinbrenner said. “But I’m still a little concerned about our rotation.”
The Yankees have been doing their version of kabuki theater this winter. They are going through all the showy motions of looking at free agents, exploring trades and scouting for any live arm that can make the Yankees better than the 97 games they won last season.
But they are finding the price tags of the free agents loaded with some dealer fees and markups they weren’t counting on. They passed on C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they just made a token bid for Japan’s Yu Darvish.
They also have found that general managers looking to trade arms were looking for bushel basket full of prospects from the Yankees’ tree that included Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams. That price was just way too high for Cashman, who said that he could make any trade to get a pitcher but the problem was that if he made the trade he would not be a popular guy with Yankee fans.
But now it seems that the Steinbrenner family is on board with Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. However, Jackson is just 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA in his career and he reportedly is seeking a five-year deal with an annual salary in the $15 million to $17 million range.
Ouch! Talk about your sticker shock.
Steinbrenner feels that Jackson is too pricey now. But the meeting with Steinbrenner was requested by Boras, which may signal that the agent every general manager loves to hate may be willing to deliver Jackson to the Yankees for something less.
Cashman has been restricted by the Steinbrenner family’s desire to reduce or, at the very least, keep the payroll at around the $200 million range. That is why the Yankees have been so quiet since the 2011 ended and the only moves they have made is to sign back players they had last season (Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones and maybe Eric Chavez.)
But the fact Steinbrenner took the meeting with Boras is a sign the Yankees are indeed serious about adding a starting pitcher. Should the talks for Jackson break down over price, the Yankees still have two viable options in free agents Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda, who are seeking less years and less money than Jackson.
If the Yankees do add a bona fide starter they will have the ability to seriously shop Burnett and his bloated two-year, $33 million contract. The team offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s salary but they got no bites on the line. With another starter signed they could increase that salary payment offer to $14 million and still come out ahead on the deal.
The real issue now comes down to how much does Jackson want to pitch for the Yankees and what can he accept in terms of annual salary. If Boras is willing to compromise there is room to make a deal. If there is no wiggle room the Yankees will have to a pass on him.
Just knowing Steinbrenner was willing to help the Yankees acquire a durable 200-inning pitcher is enough for me to show that there is a willingness for the team to get better. It was not apparent for most of this offseason.
You are a Yankee fan and you are not happy now.
The reason: General manager Brian Cashman has not made a major splash with a big free-agent signing or a blockbuster trade.
To Yankee fans standing pat is like surrendering to teams like the Marlins and Angels, who tossed around cash this week as if it was only Monopoly money. Some fans are yearning for the days when George Steinbrenner would go after free agents he wanted with the ruthlessness of a pit-bull, never letting go.
However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner seem to be a lot more pragmatic about spending too much for negligible return. They were willing to spend $150 million for Cliff Lee but they were not going to spend close to $80 million for C.J. Wilson or about $60 million for Mark Buerhle.
There are a lot of reasons the Yankees sat idly by while some teams played “Let’s Make a Deal.”
But perhaps the biggest reason is the Yankees have already lavished their riches on their “Pujols” and their “Lee.” Those are the 10-year, $275 million deal the Yankees committed to Alex Rodriguez in 2007 and the $186 million the team is paying CC Sabathia to be the ace the staff through at least the 2016 season.
Those two contracts are largely why the Yankees are the only team in the major leagues who are subject to the luxury tax. The Steinbrenner family would like for the team to remain competitive and successful while Cashman tries to reduce the annual payroll below the $178 million level where the tax kicks in. or, at the very least, the Steinbrenners would like it to remain steady and not push higher.
That is the reason Christmas ornaments like Pujols, Wilson, Buerhle, Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder will be dangling on other teams’ trees this December.
So Yankee fans will have to realize that a team that won 97 games last season is still an excellent one even if adds no one of significance this winter. Rodriguez will just have to be our Pujols and Sabathia will just have to pitch like Lee in 2012 to make Yankee fans forget that this free-agent shopping spree was just too pricey for a team already above the $200 million mark in annual payroll.
Rodriguez is the biggest key to the Yankees’ success in 2012. You just have to face the fact that Rodriguez is being paid the most because he is expected to be the best player in pinstripes, period.
Last season, he was anything but that. Oh, he showed a lot of promise in the spring when he showed up lighter and quicker in the field. He also had a spring that portended a monster 2011 season. But, as the previous three seasons proved, Rodriguez was beset by a series of injuries that kept him off the field for 63 games and a shadow of what he was in the other 99.
Rodriguez, 36, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. If this is the level of performance the Yankees will get from Rodriguez in 2012 they are doomed to fail. Oh, they are talented enough to make the playoffs. But they will not go very far or do very well in the playoffs without what was the most feared hitter in the American League when he is healthy.
But balky shoulders, unsteady knees and painful thumbs can reduce a great player to just a pretty good one real quick. That is what happened to Rodriguez in 2011 and why he needs to arrive in Tampa in Florida fit and ready to go to war to restore his reputation as that most feared hitter.
To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.” His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.
There is no doubt that Rodriguez is on a slight decline. He has not played in more than 138 games since the 2007 season. From 2004 through 2007, Rodriguez averaged 43 home runs and 128 RBIs. From 2008 through 2010 he has averaged 32 home runs and 109 RBIs. In 2009, Rodriguez barely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs on the final day against the Rays but he was healthy at the right time to lead the Yankees through the playoffs and into the World Series as the Yankees won their 27th championship.
So the point is that Rodriguez can average 32 home runs and 109 RBIs and be in decline and still lead the Yankees into a World Series. He just has to be healthy when the playoffs begin. That was not the case last season and the Yankees paid dearly for it in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. They only trailed by a run but it may as well have been 10 runs the way the offense just seemed to sputter with runners in scoring position.
With a healthy and “locked in” A-Rod would the result have been the same? I doubt it.
For all the talk of Robinson Cano and how he has become the best hitter and best player on the Yankees, it is still Rodriguez who can turn a game with his bat that can strike fear into opposing pitchers, managers and teams. Besides the fact is that his ability to hit makes Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner better.
To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.”
His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.
The same can be said of Sabathia. He is, after all, the unquestioned ace.
When he is really dealing he is among the best pitchers in baseball. He is 59-23 in his 101 starts in pinstripes. The Yankees have reached the postseason in the past three seasons largely because of his work in the regular season.
But the past two seasons, his work in the postseason has been not worthy of the status of the one of the best pitchers in baseball. In the past two postseasons he is 2-0 but his ERA in his six appearances (five starts) is 5.84. That stands in stark contrast to his 3-1 record and 1.98 ERA in the 2009 postseason.
In the 2010 playoffs, Sabathia pitched with an injured left knee that required offseason surgery. Sabathia rehabbed the knee and showed up at spring training in February 30 pounds lighter. It helped him get off to unusually quick start and by the All-Star break Sabathia was on the top of his game.
He was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA at the break. He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. So in his last 12 starts, Sabathia was a very ordinary 6-4 with a 3.66 ERA before imploding the playoffs. Why?
Much of that was was blamed on Sabathia’s noticeable and significant weight gain down the stretch. The heavier he got the worse he pitched.
But the Yankees chose not to allow Sabathia to opt out of his contract and leave via free agency. Considering the things Sabathia has done for the Yankees it was a very wise decision. After all, Wilson. Buerhle, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda were not going to replace Sabathia.
In order to find another ace like Sabathia would have cost the Yankees prize prospects like Jesus Monetro, Eduardo Nunez, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. So getting a younger pitcher like Felix Hernandez would have pretty much raped the impressive farm system Cashman has gradually rebuilt the past five years.
So Sabathia will remain a Yankee through at least 2016 (the Yankees have an option for 2017) and the Yankees do not have to bid on overpriced free agents or trade their great young prospects. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
Now the Yankees just have to make sure Sabathia stays off the Cap’n Crunch cereal he loves and eats a lot more salad throughout the 2012 season. At age 31, Sabathia is going to have to realize that to extend his career he is going to have to take care of that large frame going forward.
The Yankees could easily add a starting pitcher or two to their roster to improve the rotation. I fully expect Cashman to continue to his efforts to do just that this winter. But the real key to this staff is making sure Sabathia is able to hit the 2012 playoffs in shape and healthy enough to be the ace he is supposed to be.
Without that, and the health of A-Rod, the whole journey to the 2012 playoffs will be just as wasted as the effort in 2011 was.
Like I said Yankee fans, A-Rod and CC are our free agent pickups and we will live or die in 2012 with them.