Results tagged ‘ Ian Kennedy ’

‘Super’ Nova Helps Yankees Bring Padres To Knees

GAME 109

YANKEES 3, PADRES 0

It would have been easy for the Yankees to have given up on 26-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova after a disastrous 2012 season and when he started 2013 with a 1-1 record and a 6.48 ERA after four April starts. But their patience with the 6-foot-4 Dominican is being rewarded now.

Nova (5-4) hurled seven shutout innings while striking out eight and Curtis Granderson blasted a two-run homer in the seventh inning on Saturday as New York blanked San Diego in front of a sellout crowd of 44,184 at Petco Park.

Nova held the Padres to just four hits and a walk while he strung together a stretch of retiring 15 straight Padre batters to win his first game since July 10.

The Yankee offense, meanwhile, struggled initially against right-hander Tyson Ross (2-5).

Ross held the Yankees hitless through the first 4 1/3 innings before Lyle Overbay stroked a one-out opposite-field single in the fifth.

The Yankees did not score until Alfonso Soriano opened the seventh inning with a bloop single to shallow center. Granderson followed with his second home run of the season, a long, high drive that reached the bleachers in right-center, to give Nova and the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Ross gave up the two runs on only three hits and three walks in six-plus innings while he fanned a season-high nine batters, mostly recorded with a devastating slider.

The Yankees managed to tack on a run in the ninth off right-hander Dale Thayer after Granderson opened the inning with a single, stole second and he scored on a two-out single by Jayson Nix.

The Yankees’ bullpen came through with two shutout innings to close out the victory for Nova.

David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera came in to hurl a perfect ninth for his 35th save in 37 chances this season. It also was his first save that he has ever recorded at Petco Park in what will be his final season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season ledger to 57-52 and they remain in fourth place in the American League East, 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Padres fell to 51-60.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nova finally got some run support, although it did come late in the game. Nova pitched well but had lost his past two starts because the Yankees did not score him any runs. Since coming off the disabled list on June 23, Nova is 4-3 with a 2.15 ERA in nine games, six of them starts. It looks as if Nova has regained his 2011 form when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
  • Granderson looked absolutely overmatched in the fifth inning when he struck out swinging on a slider from Ross that ended up in the dirt. But he bounced back in the seventh by driving a high fastball into the seats in right-center with Soriano aboard. Granderson, 32, had been 0-for-6 since be activated form the disabled list before going 2-for-2 with a stolen base, two RBIs and two runs scored in his final two at-bats.
  • While Rivera deservedly is getting all the accolades in his final season, Robertson’s brilliance in the eighth inning is being overlooked. The 28-year-old right-hander’s scoreless eighth gives him a string of 16 2/3 scoreless innings covering 17 appearances dating back to June 19. He has lowered his season ERA from 2.93 to 1.79 during that span.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

With Nova pitching brilliantly, the bullpen doing its usual great job and Granderson providing the team with much needed power there is not much to complain about. This is the way it was supposed to be before all the injuries decimated this team.

BOMBER BANTER

Shortstop Derek Jeter did not play in Saturday’s game and will not play until Monday at the earliest due to a right calf and leg injury. Manager Joe Girardi did not know if the injury was related to the Grade 1 quadriceps injury that landed Jeter on the disabled list on July 12. He will continue to receive treatment for the injury and the Yankees are hoping he can avoid going back on the disabled list for a third time this season. Jeter is hitting .211 in five games with the Yankees. Eduardo Nunez replaced Jeter in the lineup on Saturday and was 0-for-3 with a walk.  . . .  Right-hander David Phelps has a sore right elbow and was scratched from a rehab start scheduled for Double-A Trenton on Sunday. Phelps was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 5 with a right forearm strain. Phelps is 6-5 with a 5.01 ERA in 18 games (12 starts) this season with the Yankees.  . . .  Girardi told reporters on Saturday that if Alex Rodriguez is available to play with the Yankees on Monday he will be penciled into the lineup against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Rodriguez walked in all four of his plate appearances and scored a run for Trenton on Saturday as part of his rehab assignment from left quad strain. However, it is possible that Rodriguez could draw a suspension from Major League Baseball before he is able to take the field on Monday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to win the rubber game of the three-game series with the Padres on Sunday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (4-9, 4.58 ERA) will start for New York. Hughes gave up five runs on nine hits in four innings in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on July 28. Hughes has never faced the Padres in his major-league career.

Hughes will be opposed by former Yankee right-hander Ian Kennedy (3-8, 5.23), who will be making his debut with the Padres. Kennedy was obtained in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks before Wednesday’s trade deadline. Kennedy allowed three runs on six hits in six innings in a loss to the Rays on July 30. He has not faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

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.

 

Banuelos Tops List Of Six Young Yankee Starters

With the advent of the free-agent signing season coming, the New York Yankees obviously are in the market for some starting pitching help. We have already detailed the Yankees’ likely interest in the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson, Japanese star Yu Darvish and longtime White Sox ace Mark Buerhle. But what if the best laid plans of general manager Brian Cashman do not work out as planned and the Yankees sign none of those players? What if they are unable to make a trade for a starter? Let’s see if there is a creditable Plan C if free agents and trades are unavailable. This is a two-part report. The first part already dealt with the Yankees options at the major-league level. Part two will deal with their minor-league options.

PART 2: MINOR-LEAGUE OPTIONS

Yankee history is littered with young pitchers they developed only to use as in trades for more experienced hitters or pitchers. For years the veteran pitchers the Yankees acquired fizzled and the young pitchers they let go later on helped other teams.

The list includes Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Al Leiter, Ted Lilly and look at the record Ian Kennedy posted with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

But general manager Brian Cashman would eventually like to end that history. The problem is with the Yankees always aiming their sights on winning the World Series it is hard to allow young pitchers develop at the major-league level as other teams might. Patience is a virtue that the Yankees have never shown with very many pitchers they have developed. That possibly could change soon.

The Yankees boast a collection of six pitchers who can potentially contribute as starters with the Yankees in 2012. They include: right-hander Hector Noesi, right-hander Adam Warren, right-hander D.J. Mitchell, right-hander David Phelps, right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Manny Banuelos.

Let’s look at each one and see if any of them have the potential to help the Yankees in 2012:

HECTOR NOESI

Noesi, 24, pitched most of the season in bullpen for the Yankees, logging 56 1/3 innings in 28 relief stints and two late-season spot starts. He was 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he was 1-1 with a 3.28 ERA in five starts.

Despite the fact he was needed to fill a spot in the bullpen in 2011, he is still considered a starter by the Yankees. He also comes into spring training with a leg up on the other five because he has the most major-league experience and manager Joe Girardi was comfortable using him out of the bullpen down the stretch.

Noesi’s main calling card is his exceptional control. But he did walk 3.5 batters per nine innings with the Yankees last season. He also gave up six home runs, which would translate to 24 in a 200-inning season. But Noesi was nevertheless effective enough as a middle-inning reliever to stay with the club.

Noesi was slow to reach the majors because he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2007. But he rose like a meteor in the Yankees’ eyes because of his exceptional minor-league walk rate of 1.6 and an exceptional 2009 season with Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Last season, Noesi was considered a “second-tier” pitching prospect behind Betances, Banuelos and Andrew Brackman (who has since been released). Noesi has a nice 91-94 mph fastball and a decent curve and change-up. But his long-term pitching prospects with the Yankees are clouded because so many other pitchers in the organization have what is perceived to be better stuff.

So Noesi must enter spring training throwing strikes and proving he can get outs without having what would be considered strikeout stuff. If he exhibits any sign of wildness or a propensity to give up gopher balls in the spring, he is likely to be ticketed for Scranton again. But if injuries should crop up in the bullpen, Noesi could be offered a return engagement since he did not embarrass himself there in 2011.

D.J. MITCHELL

Mitchell is also 24 and he put a pretty good season together at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011. He was 13-9 with a 3.18 ERA and was the ace of the staff.

The 6-foot, 175-pound right-hander also struck out 112 batters and walked 63 in 161 1/3 innings. He is part of a trio of right-handers (along with Warren and Phelps) who were selected in the draft as college players. Mitchell attended Clemson and was selected in the 10th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

Mitchell has an excellent two-seam fastball, which translated into an impressive 62% ground-ball rate in the minors. He also has a smooth and controlled delivery. Scouts believe his two-seam fastball is enough of a weapon to get him and keep him in the major leagues. Mitchell can not only induce ground balls with his sinker, he can strike out batters with also.

Mitchell is still working on his secondary pitches and his curve has developed into a plus pitch, too. His four-seam fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range and he is even developing a cutter to use on left-handed batters. His change-up needs a lot of work.

Mitchell’s stuff is good enough to help the Yankees at some point but it is unclear whether that will come as a starter or as a reliever. Mitchell enters spring training as a longshot to make the Yankees’ starting rotation but he might be an excellent choice for a in-season call-up to fill in as a starter or reliever. He could actually benefit from another season at Triple-A to fully develop his secondary pitches.

There is a lot to like about Mitchell. It is just up to him to step up his game when he is given chances to pitch in spring training.

ADAM WARREN

Unlike Mitchell, Warren has been on a fast-track to the major leagues despite the fact he is also 24.

Warren is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-hander the Yankees selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft out of the University of North Carolina. Like Mitchell he spent all of the 2011 season at Scranton.

His record was nothing special at 6-8 but his ERA was 3.60 and he fanned 111 batters and walked 53 in 152 1/3 innings. Like Mitchell, Warren is a command and control pitcher who will not blow hitters away. He pitches in the 88-92 mph range and pounds the strike zone and changes speed on his pitches well.

He gets a lot of ground balls off his two-seam fastball and change-up but he needs work on some of his other secondary pitches like his curve and slider. Warren has pitched in high=pressure games at North Carolina and he has a competitive streak in him. The question becomes how high is Warren’s ceiling?

At this stage, Warren might make a nice No. 4 starter someday but he lacks the weapons to be considered anything more. He will get an honest look in spring training and you can’t help but root for a guy who flew under the radar for the past two seasons before his rise to Scranton last season.

The Yankees are hopeful he will be able to contribute down the road but Warren looks like a lock to spend the season back with Scranton.

DAVID PHELPS

If you ask Cashman about Phelps, his first reaction is a wide smile. Phelps, also 24, is one of those pitchers who has a habit of exceeding expectations.

Last season, Phelps began pitching at Double-A Trenton and was promoted quickly to Scranton. His combined numbers were a modest 7-7 with an eye-popping 2.99 ERA. Even more impressive was his 95 K’s and just 27 walks in 114 1/3 innings.

Phelps was selected by the Yankees in the 14th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of Notre Dame. Phelps was written off by a lot of scouts after his junior season at Notre Dame did not measure up to his spectacular sophomore season in which he was 8-5 with a 1.88 ERA in 15 starts.

Phelps promptly became the ace of his rookie Staten Island team in 2008 and he has succeeded at every level he has pitched since. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander just exudes confidence on the mound and he attacks hitters despite not possessing an above-average fastball.

Phelps throws in the low 90s but has impeccable control, as the 27 walks he issued in 2011 indicate. What sets Phelps apart from Warren and Mitchell is his slider, which translated into a 7.51 K rate at Class-A Tampa. His pitches to contact and that also keeps his pitch count down.

His deceptive delivery actually makes his average fastball seem livelier than it actually is and Phelps is an absolute bulldog on the mound, brimming with confidence to throw any of his pitches in any count.

There are a lot of pitchers like Phelps in the minor leagues. Some make it to the majors and some don’t. The Yankees actually might motivate Phelps by betting that he won’t because Phelps is determined to prove doubters wrong and be successful in the major leagues. Don’t bet against him.

This spring training the Yankees hope to see that Phelps has improved his curve and change-up. The rest of the arsenal is there and Phelps already has the makeup any pitching coach would love all his pitchers to have. Phelps is the most likely of the three college right-handers who could be of help in 2012.

Of course, that could come as a starter or a reliever, given what the Yankees may need. Phelps has a chance, like Ivan Nova, to develop into a nice starter for the Yankees at some point. It is just a matter of time. But he will be a middle of the rotation guy, at best. But isn’t it there where the Yankees need the help?

DELLIN BETANCES

He is Brooklyn boy, though at 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, he is very large boy at age 23.

Betances was selected by the Yankees in the eight round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft despite the fact the velocity on his pitches dropped in his senior season at Grand Street Campus High School.

But the tall righty overcame that and some forearm tightness in his first minor-league season to pitch very well with Charleston in the South Atlantic League in 2008. Betances was 9-4 with a 3.87 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 115 1/3 innings. That caught the Yankees’ attention and he advanced to Class-A Tampa in 2009.

But Betances was shut down with elbow pain and ended up having elbow reinforcement surgery. But he overcame that and became one of the prize pitchers in the Yankees’ farm system with a 8-1 record and an eye-popping 1.77 ERA in 14 starts for Tampa. He struck out 88 batters in 71 innings.

I guess the elbow was fixed.

It was no surprise that a lot of Yankees wanted Betances to succeed in spring training in 2011. He and Banuelos had their every move documented for fans interested in seeing the two most prized pitching prospects in the organization. But it was a foregone conclusion that Betances would be sent to Double-A Trenton to work on his command and his secondary pitches.

Betances features gas. He can dial it up to 98 mph on his fastball but he throws in the mid-90s mostly. His height allows him to force a downward plane on his pitches so the Yankees want him to work on a two-seam fastball. He also features a power knuckle curve that could be a solid swing-and-miss pitch for him. He has pretty good command of the curve.

Betances’ weakness is his large frame. Much like CC Sabathia at a young age, Betances finds that it is hard to keep his balance in his delivery. When he flies open he is apt to miss with his pitches, fall behind in counts and either he gets hit or walks batters. Finding a consistent release point is a struggle for him.

Last season, Betances was a combined 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA between Trenton and Scranton. He struck out 142 in 126 1/3 innings. But he also walked 70.

Betances is a pitcher worth being patient with because he is a potential front-of-the-rotation pitcher. If he stays healthy and progresses in finding a way to repeat his delivery consistently he could one of the best pitchers the Yankees have developed in their minor-league system. He is that good.

He will get a long look in spring training but realistically it would be very surprising if Cashman would allow Betances to make the 2012 major-league roster. Betances really needs to put in a season at Triple-A honing his craft. If he was pitching for a team like Kansas City he could learn at the major-league level. But not with the Yankees.

Cashman believes in being cautious especially given Betances’ past elbow problems. Betances could be called up late in the 2012 season when the rosters expand. But set your clock on him for 2013. That is when he should get a shot to make the rotation.

MANNY BANUELOS

At age 20, Banuelos is already a legend in smart Yankee circles.

The reason is that Banuelos’ promise is limitless and there is so much to like about the 5-foot-11, 155-pound left-hander.

Signed as a non-drafted free agent in March 2008 out of Vergelito, Mexico, Banuelos impressed the Yankee scout who signed him just when he was warming up with his brother before showing the scout what he could really do. The scout marveled at the ease in which the ball came out of Banuelos’ hand.

He advised the Yankees he needed to sign him quickly and the rest is history.

Banuelos features a fastball, a change-up and a curve. But the pitch that draws the most raves is actually the change-up because so few young pitchers ever truly master the pitch. Banuelos has a quality change-up that makes his fastball even more deadly. Betances has better velocity on his fastball. But because of Banuelos’ change-up his 92 mph fastball looks like it 100 mph compared to it.

Banuelos, unlike Betances, has a nice, free-and-easy motion that makes it easy for him repeat his delivery over and over again. That also means he can maintain control and Banuelos – at a tender age – has learned how to add and subtract his pitches. That makes him special and it also places him as the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Yankees’ farm system.

Last spring training, Banuelos was pressed into starting against the Red Sox in a spring training start in Tampa. The most impressive pitch Banuelos threw was a 3-2 change-up that absolutely stunned Jason Varitek. Varitek watched it glide over the plate, shook his head and walked back into the dugout stunned.

The legend of Banuelos was born.

There was some hope the Yankees might promote Banuelos to pitch out of the bullpen for the stretch drive, given their need for a second lefty. But Banuelos was just 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA and he struck out 125 and walked 71 in 129 2/3 innings between stints at Trenton and Scranton. The Yankees felt his control needed more refining before they could bring him up.

So Banuelos will get his chance to pitch a lot in spring training in 2012 but he is likely going to be ticketed for Scranton. (If you have some money to bet you might want to put it on Scranton winning the International League with its projected starters).

But do not bet against Banuelos making it up to the majors at some point in 2012 – as a starter or reliever. Make no mistake, Banuelos has a chance to be a very special pitcher for the Yankees and that is the reason Yankee fans absolutely buzz about him as much as they do about Jesus Montero.

SUMMARY

The Yankees are well-stocked with pitchers just on the verge of making the major leagues as starters. You would think the Yankees would be looking to push a few into what is undoubtedly the biggest weakness on the team in 2012. But the Yankees are not a team who promote young pitchers and ask them to take them to a World Series.

The Yankees look for veterans and free agents who can buy them time to develop pitchers to either promote or trade.

At the moment, Mitchell, Noesi and Warren are the most advanced of the young pitchers in experience. However, they also are the pitchers with lower ceilings. One of them could surprise but they likely will either stay in Triple-A or be dealt or released down the line.

But Phelps, Betances and Banuelos are worth watching. They seem to have the ability, they know how to pitch and they are determined to make it to the major leagues. Phelps is loaded with heart, Banuelos is wise beyond his years and Betances looks like a budding right-handed version of Sabathia.

Though 2013 looks like the year they might reach the big stage, don’t be shocked if any one or all three of them pitch in some capacity for the Yankees in 2012.

Like the old saying goes: “You can never have enough pitching.”


Granderson At Center Of Yankees’ 2011 Fortunes

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

CENTER-FIELD  – CURTIS GRANDERSON (.267 BA, 22 HRs, 57 RBIs)

Last season, the trade that brought Curtis Granderson looked like a bust. Granderson missed a month early in the season and did not hit well we he returned.

He was not hitting for a lot of power, not hitting for average, he was striking out a lot and forget about it when he faced left-handers. After the Yankees dealt away lefty reliever Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to Detroit and starter Ian Kennedy to Arizona, the Yankees might have felt they had been had.

But Granderson turned around his season (and perhaps his career) thanks to some tutoring from hitting coach Kevin Long in the first week in August. From that point on Granderson has been much more like the player he was with the Tigers in 2007 when he .302 with 23 home runs and 74 RBIs as primarily a leadoff hitter.

Granderson closed the season on a high note with a big September finish and he hit very well in the playoffs.

The question was could he keep it going in 2011?

Looking at his midpoint statistics, you would have to say the answer is resounding yes. In fact, with Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira not exactly having first halves that were at the top of their game, Gramderson has been the Most Valuable Player on this team.

Afetr 81 games, he leads the major leagues in runs scored with 73, he is second on the team in home runs with 22 and second in RBIs at 57. He is second in stolen bases and he is hitting .271. His career batting average is .268. So in just about any measure you can quantify, Granderson has been very good.

The other thing is nine of his 22 home runs have come off left-handers this season. That is most of any player in the majors leagues. In fact, Granderson is actually hitting left-handers not much worse than he hits right-handers (.263 vs. lefties and .272 vs, righties). That says a lot about Granderson’s commitment to improving and the help Long gave him seems to have rejuvenated his career at age 30.

Granderson has spent most of the season hitting behind Derek Jeter and ahead of Mark Teixeira in the No. 2 spot. Granderson’s .369 on-base percentage shows he is getting on base ahead of the power hitters and scoring runs in droves. He is on a pace to score 148 runs, which would obliterate his career high of 122 in 2007.

Not to mention the fact he could hit 44 home runs and drive in 114 runs, which would, far and away, be new career highs. This is pretty lofty heights for Granderson but they are well-deserved — as was his selection by the fans to start in the All-Star Game.

Now Cashman is looking like a genius for making the trade. That is why it is tough to evaluate a trade based on just one season. It is looking very good for the Yankees now.

Another thing about Granderson is that this season he appears to be more comfortable playing center-field in Yankee Stadium. Last season, he misjudged some fly balls and took some odd routes to flag them down. But this season, he likes the Yankee strategy of playing shallower in the outfield. Granderson seems effortless in going back on balls and he still is able to reach the sinking liners and weak pops that normally fell in shallow center last season.

Granderson has committed only one error and he has three outfield assists. But teams will still challenge his very average arm in the outfield. He does not have as strong an arm as Nick Swisher and he is not as accurate on his throws as Brett Gardner. But in almost every other aspect of the game, Granderson is exceptional.

His base-running is excellent. Granderson already has seven triples this season and he is on a pace to break his career high in stolen bases at 26. He has 14 steals after 81 games and he should have even more opportunities to steal in the second half.

What is there no to like about Granderson?

Yankee fans have gravitated towards him and he is such a great ambassador of the game off the field, too.

I have to give Granderson a solid A for his first half. The reason he is not getting an A+ is because the batting average needs to be a bit closer to .300 to make his season complete. Granderson also leads the team by 20 in strikeouts. Most of them have come on change-ups in the dirt. Granderson is being fed a steady diet of breaking balls lately and he is going to have to adjust to keep his great season going.

As long as he stays committed to the swing Long has worked on with him he should be OK. He is more balanced as the plate, his swing is shorter to the ball and he is keeping both hands on the bat. Though he does not consider himself a home run hitter, Granderson is taking full advantage of the short porch in right-field.

Most Yankee fans would have considered it shocking if he hit 30 home runs this season. Now they would be surprised of he does make it to 40. Such are the way Granderson’s fortunes in pinstripes changed so dramatically.

I would think Granderson’s second half should be just as productive as his first if he remains healthy. It seems he has it all working for him now.

OTHERS

I will discuss others and prospects when I review the performance of right-fielder Nick Swisher. But Granderson started 79 of the first 81 games and Gardner is the only other player on the roster who started in center. This is Granderson’s position and as long as he is healthy and productive, he will not see much rest in the second half. I am sure that is just fine with Granderson.

FIRST HALF GRADE

Granderson A

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A

 

We All Owe Cashman Big Apology For Granderson Trade

OK, Brian Cashman, we apologize to you.
At baseball’s Winter Meetings of 2009 Cashman engineered a three-team trade that essentially sent mega-outfield prospect Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Ian Kennedy away and brought in Curtis Granderson.
You can’t blame some Yankee fans for being upset about trading and up-and-coming young player like Jackson for a then-28-year-old player who did hit 30 home runs in 2009 but also (1) lost his role as leadoff hitter, (2) struck out 141 times, (3) saw his batting average drop 31 points to .249 and (4) was criticized roundly for his poor reads on fly balls.
Granderson was virtually useless against left-handers. Hit hit under .200 against them in 2009. That was very troubling to a team that faces a lot of left-handers.
Given Granderson’s performance for the Yankees in the first four months of 2010, you can understand why this Cashman deal still was being criticized.
After a good start, Granderson floundered, missed a month with an injured groin, he returned and floundered again through July.
Then Granderson made a dramatic decision that changed his career. He asked hitting coach Kevin Long to remake his swing. So Granderson worked with Long on shifting his hands and making his swing quicker. He also rid Granderson of a habit of releasing his left hand from the bat on the follow through.
The new and improved Granderson debuted in early August and the result was dramatic. Manager Joe Girardi said that other than Robinson Cano, Granderson was the Yankees’ best hitter the rest of the season.
He hit nine home runs in September alone and left-handers were finding out that Granderson was no longer the easy out he had been. Granderson even carried his assault into the playoffs. 
Hidden in the Yankees’ disappointment of losing to the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series was the fact that Granderson hit .357 with a home run and six RBIs in the postseason.
The question for Granderson in 2011 was could he carry through on that success late in 2010?
Granderson immediately sought out Long this spring and they went over his swing mechanics. Long was astounded how Granderson was able to repeat the changes he had made without much adjustment.
The result was that Granderson hit .385 this spring with three home runs and seven RBIs. There is no doubt that this Granderson is closer to the Granderson the Tigers saw in 2007, when he hit .302 with 23 home runs and 74 RBIs as a leadoff hitter. 
There was some doubt that Granderson would debut with the team on Thursday. On March 22, Granderson suffered a right oblique strain that forced him to miss the last week of camp and put his availability in doubt.
But Granderson took some swings in a minor-league game on Tuesday and stayed in Tampa, FL, to play in another simulated game on Wednesday. Feeling fine, Granderson hopped on a plane for New York and landed at 9 p.m.
He arrived in time to play in the 2011 opener and he promptly took over the game against his former Tiger teammates.
In the first inning he made a sensational diving catch on a sinking liner off the bat of Will Rhymes.
In the seventh inning, he greeted Coke (Yeah, that same Phil Coke) with a leadoff home run in the second deck of the right-field stands at Yankee Stadium to break a 3-3 tie. It was a lead the Yankees would build into 6-3 cushion.
Granderson not only hit a big home run — it came off a left-hander.
To punctuate Granderson’s big day, he made an even more dazzling over-the-shoulder catch of a long blast off the bat Brandon Inge in the ninth inning.
At age 30, Granderson has finally arrived as a player in the Bronx.
And the critics of the Jackson and Coke for Granderson part of that three-player trade Cashman made – including yours truly – owe Mr. Cashman a very big apology. We did not see how brilliant a trade that was until now.

Cashman’s 2011 Moves Need To Be Better Than 2010

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

Yankees Have Few Holes Left To Fill For 2010

The Winter Meetings in Indianapolis are over and the New York Yankees were pretty busy during that time. The welcomed free agent pitcher Andy Pettitte back into the fold, acquired center fielder Curtis Granderson and traded away pitchers Brian Bruney, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy and their No. 1 young outfield prospect in Austin Jackson. They also will have a chance at looking at the first pick in the Rule 5 draft, outfielder Jamie Hoffman. But where does General Manager Brian Cashman go from here? Let’s take a brief look position by position:

CATCHER

The Yankees have Jorge Posada signed for two more seasons and after his 2009 season it looks like he is healthy again, still productive with the bat and adequate enough in the field. The Yankees chose to let Jose Molina go as a free agent and it is not likely he will be back in 2010, The Yankees were very impressed with the way Francisco Cervelli played when Posada and Molina were hurt and he would provide a cheaper and younger option to Molina. In the minors, the Yankees have two great prospects in Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Montero has been mentioned in potential trade talks for Toronto Blue Jays’ ace Roy Halladay. But given the deal that sent Jackson to the Tigers for Granderson, Cashman may be leery about trading the second best blue-chip prospect in the Yankees’ system. With Posada getting older it would seem unwise to trade either at this point.
FIRST BASE

The Yankees are set here for another seven years with Mark Teixeira proving to be everything the Yankees could have hoped for when they signed him as a free agent last winter. Finishing second in the Most Valuable Player voting showed Teixeira’s value to the Yankees. Nick Swisher will remain as his primary backup but that could change if Cuban-born Juan Miranda makes the team in the spring. If Hideki Matsui is not signed to be the designated hitter, Miranda may be given a shot to replace him as well as be a backup at first.
SECOND BASE

There was a rumor going around Robinson Cano might be traded but it does not seem likely that it would be possible. Cano is still just 27 and he is signed for another two years. He is also coming off a bounce-back season where he hit .320 with 25 home runs and 85 RBIs. The Yankees do not have anyone in their system to replace him. So if the Yankees were to trade Cano they would have to look at getting a second baseman back in a trade or through free agency. Orlando Hudson would be a possibility as a free agent but he is not the hitter Cano is though he is a Gold Glove fielder. I do not see any changes here.
SHORTSTOP

I will be real brief here: Derek Jeter. Seriously, Jeter is signed to a deal that expires after the 2010 season but the Yankees chose not to negotiate a new deal with Jeter because he is coming off one of his better seasons. He won the Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove and finished third the MVP voting. But the Yankees will certainly look to keep their “franchise symbol” player for the rest of his career. So there are no real worries here.
THIRD BASE

Compared to last spring, the Yankees are exhaling a great sigh of relief they have Alex Rodriguez signed to a long-term contract like Teixiera. A-Rod overcame a heated steroid controversy and hip surgery to re-establish himself as one of the best players in the game. His postseason also exorcised a lot of past demons. A-Rod has no worries going into 2010 and he can honestly say he won a championship.
RESERVE INFIELDER

The Yankees chose to let Jerry Hairston Jr. go as a free agent. They have not precluded re-signing him. But they do have other options. Reports say the Yankees might be interested in free agent Mark DeRosa, who can play all the positions Hairston can except center field and has a better bat. The Yankees also have a homegrown alternative in Ramiro Pena, who is 24 and hit .287 in 115 at-bats with the Yankees last season. Pena can play second, short and third and plays them all very well defensively. If the Yankees are looking to cut payroll, Pena might be the choice here and let the pricier Hairston and De Rosa go elsewhere. The Yankees also have a minor-league reserve candidate in Eduardo Nunez, who is 22. Right now it looks like Pena and Nunez will battle for the job this spring with Pena the odds-on favorite.
RIGHT FIELD

Nick Swisher took over this position last year when Xavier Nady went down with a ligament tear in his right elbow in early April. He is just 29 and it looks as if he has found a home in New York. Though he hit just .249, Swisher more than made up for it with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs. He also walked 97 times and had an on-base percentage of .371. The Yankees no longer have Nady on the roster and he is a free agent. The Yankees could seek to bring him back at a cheaper price and shift Swisher to left if they did not re-sign Johnny Damon. They also might consider Nady as a cheaper option to use at DH if they do not re-sign Hideki Matsui. But Nady will draw a lot of interest from small-market teams looking for cheaper alternatives to add power rather than bidding on high-priced stars like Jason Bay and Matt Holliday. The Yankees are likely to let Nady go.
CENTER FIELD

The trade for Granderson last week was not a total shock. It had been talked about since November. But it is not often a world championship team trades for such a talented outfielder. Since the incumbent Melky Cabrera and backup Brett Gardner were known for their defense, Granderson is not really much of a defensive upgrade. With the bat, it is a different story. Granderson hit 30 home runs and drove in 71 runs as a leadoff hitter for the Tigers last season. The Yankees see his left-hand stroke as perfect for the short porch in right field in Yankee Stadium and 40 home runs may be possible. But Granderson also is a career .208 hitter against left-hand pitching and he strikes out twice as much as he walks. So patience is not a Granderson virtue. 
LEFT FIELD

Melky Cabrera, right now, is the team’s left fielder. For those tired of seeing runners take advantage of Damon’s arm, this might be a blessing. Cabrera has an arm that would make runners think twice about trying score on him in 2010. He also bounced back nicely from a dreadful 2008 season to hit .274 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs. But either of two things happen: The Yankees sign Damon or Matsui as free agents and they become the primary DHs or Cabrera is used as trade bait for whatever the Yankees might be looking for such as Halladay. Because is just 25, he has great trade value and could be dealt. But if the Yankees sign Matsui, Cabrera would likely stay put because Matsui, in the Yankees’ view, may not be able to play the outfield anymore on his bad wheels. But if Damon is signed instead, Cabrera looks to be relegated to a backup outfielder or in prime position to be traded. The Yankees have a lot of options here.
RESERVE OUTFIELDER

Gardner, 26, looks to be the No. 1 candidate here. But the acquisition of Granderson most adversely affected him. Gardner entered 2009 as the Yankees starting center fielder. Now he looks to be, at best, a off-the-bench player in 2010. The trade of Bruney to the Washington Nationals also brought worse news: Gardner will have competition for the job in the spring. The Yankees acquired outfielder Jamie Hoffman from the Nationals. The Yankees had asked the Nationals to select Hoffman so they could
trade Bruney for him. Hoffman, a former hockey player, brings that tough mentality with him to the diamond. Hoffmann, 25, split most of this season between Triple-A Albuquerque and Double-A Chattanooga, batting .291 (104-for-358) with 69 runs, 23 doubles, five triples, 10 home runs, 64 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 54 walks and a .390 on-base percentage. If Hoffman fails to make the roster the Yankees will have to offer him back to the Nationals for $25,000. So Gardner will have a major fight on his hands.

STARTING ROTATION

The signing of Pettitte to a one-year deal for a reported $11.5 million last week means the Yankees will have their postseason trio of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Pettitte back next year. The rest of the rotation is on flux but Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes are slotted as the No. 4 and No. 5 starters, at this time. With the Yankees, according to Cashman, “kicking the tires” at free agent John Lackey and possible trade target in Halladay, the Yankees have made no secret they are looking to add a starter. However, any trade for Halladay could mean the Yankees lose either Hughes or Chamberlain as well as prospects such as Montero. The Yankees have also made some moves to make sure they have some depth in the rotation. They decided to tender offers to right-handers Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre. However, at the same time, they did not tender an offer to Chien-Ming Wang, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.  The Yankees have said they would like to keep Wang but $4 million is the lowest amount for which they can sign him and they are unsure of when he will be able to pitch. His agent said Wang is ahead of schedule and could be ready on May 1 but the Yankees would rather sign him to lower contract with incentives. The Yankees also could use Alfredo Aceves as a starter next season depending on whether he is needed there more than in the bullpen. There also is speculation that the Yankees’ search for another starter could be a way to move Chamberlain a more comfortable role as the setup man — a job he used to have.

BULLPEN

This area of the team is the strongest on the team and the reason why Cashman felt he could safely trade away Bruney and Coke. Mariano Rivera is set as the closer and the Yankees are happy with the way Damaso Marte pitched in the playoffs last season. They also like the development of 24-year-old right-hander David Robertson last season. Aceves was dependable as a long man for the most part last season and could return to that role. The Yankees also have Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, youngsters Mark Melancon and Michael Dunn to audition for jobs. They also could have Chamberlain back if they make a deal for a starter. Gaudin and Mitre can also slide into bullpen slots. This is the place of least worry on the club. All are under contract and there appears to be plenty of depth. Do not look for anymore deals involving these players and I doubt Cashman is looking to add another arm unless it is another left-hander to replace Coke.


Yanks Deal A-Jax, Coke And Kennedy For Granderson


WINTER MEETINGS
DAY TWO

The future is now in the Bronx.
The New York Yankees and General Manager Brian Cashman mortgaged the most valuable piece of the team’s future in Austin Jackson by trading him to the Detroit Tigers for Curtis Granderson.
The rumored three-team deal between the Yankees, Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks was agreed to in principle by the three teams Tuesday morning in Indianapolis.
The Yankees received the 29-year-old center fielder Granderson from the Tigers and they sent their five-tool center fielder of the future in Jackson to the Tigers. The Yankees also sent left-hand reliever Phil Coke to the Tigers and right-hand starter Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks.
The Tigers and Diamondbacks also swapped three right-hand starters in the deal. The Tigers received Max Scherzer and pitching prospect Daniel Schelereth while the Diamondbacks picked up Edwin Jackson.
Granderson, who hit .249 with 30 home runs, 71 RBIs and 20 stolen bases last season, brings his left-hand bat into new Yankee Stadium, where he could take advantage of the short  porch in right field. However, he hit only two home runs and batted .183 in 181 at-bats against left-handers last season. He also strikes out more than twice as much as he walks.
Patience is not a Granderson virtue.
But Granderson is a very good defensive outfielder and he will take over as the team’s center fielder. Melky Cabrera, who played center field most of last season, likely will move to left field.
GOOD NEWS FOR MATSUI?
The Yankees reportedly are interested in signing one of their two outfield free agents: Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui. It is hard to read into the Granderson deal directly but it would seem that Matsui might be the choice for the Yankees to sign now.
Granderson likely would become the Yankees leadoff hitter and Derek Jeter would return to bat second. Damon, who hit .282 with a career-best-tying 24 home runs and 82 RBIs last season, is seeking a four-year deal at age 36. He spent most of his career as a leadoff hitter but was moved to second last season.
The Yankees are reluctant to go any further with Damon than two years guaranteed and perhaps a club option for a third season. But the Yankees are sure to let Damon go if any team offers him three or more years.
That would be good news for Matsui, who although he could not play the outfield last season still hit .274 with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs in only 456 at-bats. Matsui also is the only player the Yankees had on the roster in 2009 that could adequately protect Alex Rodriguez in the No. 5 spot in the batting order.
But either way, the Yankees are not likely to play either Damon or Matsui in the outfield on a regular basis now. Matsui has had surgery to both knees and Damon’s weak arm is a real liability to the Yankees. This past season a National League team scored a pitcher from second on a single to Damon and teams were even running slow-footed catchers from second base on him.
It appears both players would be limited to DH for the Yankees if they were signed.
YANKEES PART WITH A-JAX
But the biggest loss for the Yankees is the 22-year-old Jackson, who hit .300 with four home runs, 65 RBIs and 24 stolen bases at Scranton-Wilkes Barre last season. Scouts rated him the best athlete in the Yankees’ organization and they projected he would eventually hit for 20 home-run power at the major-league level.
The Tigers likely will give Jackson a chance to make their major-league roster in 2010 and replace Granderson as the team’s center fielder.
The Yankees also traded Coke, 27, who was 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA with two saves last season as the team’s primary left-hander out of the bullpen. Coke lost his job in the postseason when Damaso Marte, finally recovered from a shoulder injury, pitched better than Coke in the playoffs.
The Yankees also dealt 25-year-old right-hand starter Ian Kennedy. Kennedy actually made the Yankees’ roster in 2008 as a starter but was quickly sent out after posting an 0-4 record with a 8.17 ERA in nine starts. 
His 2009 season was marred because of an aneurysm discovered under his right armpit. He had surgery to repair the problem on May 12 and returned to pitch in August. Kennedy posted a 1-0 record and a 1.59 ERA in four starts at Scranton-Wilkes Barre. He also shined in a stint in the Arizona Fall League, which encouraged the Diamondbacks enough to ask for him in the deal.

ONE AND DUNN

The one saving grace is that Cashman did manage to hold on to left-hand reliever Michael Dunn, who the Yankees’ lone representative in the Futures All-Star Game this fall. Dunn, 24, a converted outfielder, also pitched well in the Arizona Fall League.

Though Dunn is a strikeout pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, he still needs to work on his command of the strike zone. Once he conquers that he likely will replace Coke as the team’s second left-hander in the bullpen.

Dunn was originally reported to have been joining Coke in the trade to Detroit but Cashman likely realized it did not make much sense to trade the second- and third-best left-hand relievers in the organization in one deal. 

Dunn is a very good prospect and keeping him out this deal was a big coup for Cashman.

MORE MOVES?

With Granderson aboard what other deals are lurking for the Yankees?

Cashman, who never let on the Granderson deal was in the works, likely will continue to play it close to the vest. But it would appear that with Kennedy gone and the Yankees close to re-signing Andy Pettitte that the team will not be too active in a potential free-agent signing of John Lackey or a trade for Roy Halladay.

The reason is that Cashman has been asked to cut $15 million in payroll for the 2010 season.

Lackey would be looking for a deal similar to the deal the Yankees gave A.J. Burnett last season and any trade for Halladay would have to include negotiations to extend his contract past 2010 and would cost similar money that CC Sabathia received last season.

That would not exactly jive with the Yankees’ desire to cut payroll and get younger. But, then again, the Yankees did not exactly meet that goal with the Granderson deal. Granderson will be paid $5.5 million this season but his contract jumps to $8.5 million next season and $10 million in 2012.

HARDEN FAST RULE

The Yankees might be looking for bargain free-agent pitching help. With veteran left-hander Randy Wolf looking to be headed to the Brewers, the Yankees might turn their sites to Rich Harden, a 29-year-old right-hander who was 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 31 starts with the Cubs last season.

Harden, whose career has been marred by arm problems, has now made 51 starts his last two seasons and he is combined 19-11 in those starts. The Yankees may feel he is cheaper alternative to slot as a No. 4 starter and would allow the Yankees to move Joba Chamberlain back to the bullpen and Phil Hughes back to a starter in the No. 5 spot.

The Yankees having already dealt Brian Bruney and Coke may be signalling that Chamberlain may return to his setup role ahead of closer Mariano Rivera.

Hughes, who likely would be limited to about 130 innings under the same rules that applied to Chamberlain, could be switched to the bullpen at midseason to hold down his innings pitched. The Yankees use swingman Chad Gaudin as a No. 5 starter to replace Hughes.

WANG’S STATUS IN LIMBO

The Yankees are unlikely to offer arbitration to Chien-Ming Wang, which will make him a free agent. But the Yankees might look to retain him at a lower price tag. 

Wang, who had surgery to repair his right shoulder, may not be able to return to the mound until June, is currently working out and rehabbing his shoulder in Taiwan. It is unclear whether Wang will be able to harness the sinker that was his trademark pitch when he won 19 games for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007.

Wang suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot running the bases in Houston in May 2008 which ended his season. Last season, he started the season with an 0-4 record and an ERA over 30 before the Yankees discovered he had a weakness in both hips as a result of not being able to work out on his injured foot in the winter.

Wang spent a month on the disabled list and seemed to be rounding back into form when he injured his right shoulder. Wang had surgery to repair his labrum and missed the rest of the season. By re-signing Wang at a cheaper cost as a free agent, it will give the Yankees another pitching option for 2010. 

Stay tuned . . .


Yankees Deal For Granderson Looks To Be Dead For Now



WINTER MEETINGS
DAY TWO

General Manager Brian Cashman had hardly broken the seal on his honor bar macadamia nuts in his Indianapolis hotel suite before the Yankees had already made news with rumors swirling about that outfielder Curtis Granderson was heading to the Bronx.
According to FOX Sports the Yankees, Tigers and Diamondbacks were proposing a three-way deal that would send Granderson and two Diamondback prospects to the Yankees. The Yankees, in turn, would send lefthanders Phil Coke and Michael Dunn and top outfield prospect Austin Jackson to the Tigers.
The Tigers would ship righthander Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks and the Tigers would receive young starter Max Scherzer. The Diamondbacks would also receive righthander Ian Kennedy from the Yankees.
FOX Sports did say the discussions hit a snag Monday night and that one of the teams rejected the deal.
For Cashman’s sake, let’s hope it was him.
The reason is that any discussions about trading a potential star prospect like Jackson would have be treated with caution. Jackson is simply the future centerfielder for the Yankees and Cashman already rejected one deal for Jackson last July.
When Cashman asked the Mariners their price for lefthander Jarrod Washburn and he heard Jackson’s name mentioned, Cashman shut down talks right there. Despite the Yankees need to replace Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation at the trade deadline, Jackson was a price too high to pay.
Now, it appears, Cashman is pulling the plug on this deal because Jackson may be too high a price to pay for Granderson.
In addition, it is hard to see the sense in trading the two best lefthanded relievers in the organization behind Damaso Marte. Coke pitched reliably for most of the 2009 season and only lost his No. 1 status to Marte in the playoffs because Marte was pitching well.
Dunn, a former outfielder converted to relief pitcher, is a young lefthander with potential. He was the Yankees lone representative in this fall’s Futures All-Star Game. 
Lefthanders are a scarce commodity in baseball and the Yankees might want to hold on to Coke and Dunn because Marte has some mileage on him and there is no guarantee he will stay healthy in 2010.
The loss of Kennedy also would seem odd considering that Cashman is seeking potential starting rotation help this winter. If the old adage “you never have enough pitching” is true dealing Kennedy would only make sense if the Yankees had given up on him.
There are reports that talks on this rumored deal could resume Tuesday. My guess would be that Cashman is looking to make this deal without Jackson included. If the Tigers insist on Jackson they may have to look for another trading partner.
The Yankees could use Granderson’s bat to replace Johnny Damon. But because Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner are excellent defensively, Granderson would not add much to the defense. He also is woefully bad as a hitter against lefthanders. 
Since the Yankees do not have a righthanded hitter to platoon with Granderson, he and his sub-.200 average would have to slog through an entire season of futility against lefties. 
So perhaps this deal might be dead. Let’s hope so. The Yankees could do a lot better and they need to keep Jackson, Coke and Dunn.
NUMBER 99 GONE

The Yankees will have No. 99 available to any player wanting it for 2010 because Brian Bruney was dealt to the Washington Nationals for a player to be named. 
Bruney was 5-0 with a 3.92 ERA last season but has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons. Slated to be the setup man for Mariano Rivera, Bruney started the season off well in April. But a sore elbow landed Bruney on the disabled list twice last season and he never really regained his April form.
Though Bruney threw hard, his command was erratic and he quickly fell out of favor of manager Joe Girardi late last season. He was left of the ALDS and ALCS rosters but was added for the World Series.
Cashman said the depth the Yankees built in the bullpen last season simply made Bruney expendable this winter. The Nationals said Bruney will be a back-end option for the woefully bad Nationals bullpen.
PRICE IS RIGHT

The Yankees reportedly offered lefthander Andy Pettitte $10 million and it was rejected by Pettitte and his agent Randy Hendricks. Other reports say that because Pettitte just relayed word through Hendricks he wanted to pitch in 2010 that the Yankees would make their first offer on Monday.
Either way, it appears Pettitte will return to the Yankees in 2010. 
It is sure thing that the Yankees will get into the right price range to please Pettitte. The Yankees also can be pretty sure that Pettitte will not be looking at other teams. If Pettitte is pitching in 2010, it will be the Yankees and no one else.
That limits Hendricks’ bargaining position but the Yankees do not wish to low-ball Pettitte as they did last winter. Pettitte, who made a base salary of $16 million in 2007, had to accept a $5.5 million deal with incentives that paid out $11 million.
The Yankees and Pettitte might settle in at $12.5 million for one last season for the 37-year-old veteran. Pettitte might creep closer to Hall of Fame status with another good regular season and playoff run.
Stay tuned . . . 
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