Results tagged ‘ Javier Vazquez ’

Kuroda Looking To Build Upon His 2012 Success

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 2

HIROKI KURODA (16-11, 3.32 ERA)

When the Yankees decided to sign right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million free-agent contract there were a lot of naysayers voicing a litany of concerns about the 37-year-old right-hander.

After all, in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kuroda was 41-46 and only posted one season above .500 in victories – an injury-plagued 2009 season when he was 8-7 in just 20 starts. Though he posted excellent ERAs in those four saesons (3.73, 3.376, 3.39 and 3.07) the conventional wisdom was coming over from the National League to the designated hitter in the American League would see his ERA explode.

The skeptics also pointed out that Kuroda would struggle in the competitive A.L. East.

You won’t hear those arguments anymore. Kuroda silenced his critics with his best season since he left Japan in 2008. He was absolutely brilliant from mid-May through August. Even though his ERA took a big hit in September he finished the season after Sept. 1 with a 4-1 record.

Y0u could even make a case that Kuroda’s season was better than CC Sabathia’s because Kuroda was healthy throughout and he even was more consistent than the Yankees’ left-handed ace.

Kuroda ended up setting carer major-league highs in victories, innings pitched and strikeouts. Kuroda emerged as the team’s No. 2 starter and he earned it by pitching deep into games and baffling hitters with a wide assortment of breaking pitches that offset his 90-mph plus fastball.

After getting blasted early and often in the first month, Kuroda made some adjustments and then never looked back. It was really no surprise when general manager Brian Cashman decided to sign Kuroda for another one-year deal but this time for $15 million.

Kuroda certainly earned the raise.

The veteran from Osaka, Japan made two starts in the playoffs for the Yankees and both were brilliant. However, Kuroda did not get any run support in either start and was 0-1 despite a sparkling 2.81 ERA.

In the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Kuroda gave up just two runs on five hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings but did not earn a decision. Then he gave up three runs on five hits and no walks and struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series but lost because the Yankees did not score him a single run.

There are higher hopes for 2013, which is why Kuroda elected to re-sign with the Yankees.

“I am very grateful for all of the interest and all of the offers that I received from the various teams that courted me,” Kuroda said when he signed. “It was a tough decision for me to make, but at the end of the day, I wanted to try to win a championship with the teammates that I went to battle with last season.”

This season does figure to be a battle for the Yankees because the teams in the A.L. East appear to be stronger while the Yankees lost a lot of offensive firepower when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones left the team as free agents, taking 94 home runs with them.

Kuroda will have to adjust to a less explosive team that might score a lot fewer runs. Of course, that is not unlike Kuroda’s seasons with the Dodgers when he received very poor run support and was a major reason why his season records there were below .500.

Kuroda gradually earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild by limiting his pitch counts so he could last deeper into games. With a bullpen that was missing Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberalain for most of the season, Kuroda’s stamina in games was very much welcome.

Kuroda also won over skeptical Yankee fans, who were absolutely stunned a National League pitcher could have success with the Yankees after the team had suffered through the likes of Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano in previous seasons.

Kuroda will have to adjust this season without his favorite catcher in Martin. Martin, who caught Kuroda in his first three seasons with the Dodgers, elected to take his shin guards and his bat to the Pittsburgh Pirates. But that issue does not seem to be too great because both Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli have caught Kuroda since he became a Yankee.

The only real obstacle may be for Kuroda to stay on the mound long enough to allow the Yankees to get a lead for him in the late innings. With less firepower it also figures the Yankees will be in a lot of close games. That could mean a lot more no decisions for Kuroda.

Though Yankee fans would prefer to see a rotation made up of young hard-throwing starters, Kuroda allows the Yankees to buy time to let their young pitchers such as Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps to develop and also allows Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances to rebound from injuries and ineffectiveness.

That is not a bad tradeoff if Kuroda can duplicate his 2012 season. The Yankees will just be hoping for anything close to what he produced for them last season.

One thing is certain: With Kuroda pundits can no longer say the Yankees’ rotation is Sabathia and four other guys. Kuroda is just that good.

NEXT: ANDY PETTITTE

 

Ibanez Joins List Of Possible Yankee DH Targets

With the end of the holidays and the beginning of the new year, the Yankees got busy after sitting out a good portion of the offseason bidding and dealing. Here are some bits and pieces of information and some analysis on what it all means:

THE DH ‘RAUL’

Apparently former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez is on the New York Yankees’ short list of players they might want to sign to take over as the team’s designated hitter, the New York Post reported.

Ibanez, 39, was allowed to walk as a free agent by the Phiilies after a 2011 season in which he hit a career-low .245 but still managed to hit 20 home runs and drive in 84 runs in 144 games. Ibanez is career .280 hitter with 252 home runs and 1,054 RBIs in 16 major-league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals and the Phillies.

The right-handed-hitting Ibanez was an All-Star selection in 2009 with the National League-champion Phillies.

With the four-player trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, the Yankees seem to have an obvious opening for a primary DH in their 2011 lineup. Jorge Posada held the role at the start of the 2011 season.

With one possible candidate, Carlos Pena, re-signed as free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays, it appears the Yankees are looking at free agents including Ibanez and former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

Damon, 38, played last season with the Rays and wanted to return to the team. However, the signing of Pena likely means the Rays are not interested in keeping Damon after he hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games in 2011.

Matsui, 37, played last season with Oakland and hit a career-low .251 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs in 141 games. The Athletics, who are retooling with younger players, seem to be uninterested in bringing Matsui back for a second season as the team’s DH.

The Yankees have not commented publicly about Ibanez, Damon or Matsui. They have said they are interested in looking at 29-year-old former Mexican League star Jorge Vazquez this spring as a potential DH.

Vazquez, who can play either first or third base, hit .262 with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in only 118 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. The right-handed slugger is not consider to be a very good defender but the Yankees have been impressed with his hitting potential.

At this point, it comes down to payroll economics. If the Yankees feel a pressing need to have a professional hitter at the DH spot and they are willing to shell out about $5 million to $8 million to get one of the three free agents, they will certainly do it. But if they feel they can’t afford it, Vazquez will get a shot this spring.

Odds are the Yankees are definitely looking outside the organization. That is why Ibanez’s name surfaced. So look for a free-agent signing real soon to fill the role.

OKIE DOKEY, HIROKI

The Yankees officially announced the signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda this week.

The former Dodger signed a one-year deal worth a reported $10 million. He left the Dodgers as a free agent after going 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA in 2011. In his five seasons with the Dodgers, the 37-year-old Kuroda was 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in 115 major-league games, all with the Dodgers.

Kuroda will join Pineda in a revamped Yankee rotation for 2012. With CC Sabathia the unquestioned ace, Pineda figures to open the season as the team’s No. 2 starter and Kuroda likely will be the No. 3 starter. Ivan Nova, 25, after a sparkling 16-7 record and a 3.70 ERA as a rookie, figures to have a starting job locked up also.

That leaves Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett to battle it out this spring for the final starting spot.

The signing of Kuroda was a fallback position by the Yankees’ front office. Both general manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hank Steinbrenner felt the price of top free-agent pitchers like C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buerhle and Japanese import Yu Darvish was too high.

They also felt the asking price in trade for starters such as John Danks, Jair Jurrgens, Matt Garza and Gio Gonzalez was also too pricey.

As it is, Cashman needed Steinbrenner’s assent to pay Kuroda the $10 million he was seeking. That is one reason why the Yankees do not wish to overpay for a DH and add much more money to the payroll.

Kuroda, like a number of other National League pitchers who have been signed or acquired by the Yankees, will be under the microscope when he faces much tougher hitters in the American League, and those particularly in the East.

Pitchers such as Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and, even to some degree, Randy Johnson have found it difficult to put up good numbers in the A.L. Kuroda, however, is in a somewhat better position than some of those previous pitchers because the Yankees have one of the deepest and best bullpens in baseball heading into the 2012 season.

Kuroda could have his ERA jump a run and he still could win 15 games for the Yankees in 2012.

PRAISE JESUS

The Montero-Pineda trade was made official this week when Montero passed his physical with the Mariners.

There has still been a major flood of angry comments from Yankee fans who are upset the Yankees traded a 21-year-old catcher who looked to be the best power prospect the Yankees have had in their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle was promoted to the major leagues in 1951.

Yankee fans also have pointed out that Pineda faded badly in the second half of 2011 and he has had a history of elbow problems stemming from a very violent follow-through in his motion. That does not bode well for the 23-year-old right-hander’s long-term prospects.

However, just about every analysis of the trade by experienced sports writers such as Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal have praised Cashman for making the deal.

What do they know that Yankee fans don’t?

For one reason, Montero’s work behind the plate is in question and will remain in question throughout his development in the major leagues. Though he has made vast progress, the Yankees were concerned they could NOT compete with teams that run a lot like the Rays and the Los Angeles Angels with Montero behind the plate.

They also saw a move to right-field or first base as impossible. Montero would really struggle in the outfield and Mark Teixeira is entrenched at first base and simply is the best-fielding first baseman in the game.

So Montero’s long-term future would have to have been as a DH and part-time catcher. That would limit his impact because manager Joe Girardi would still have Russell Martin as a starter with either Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine backing him up. Plus, Girardi would have to give veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher some time off at DH during the season.

Also figure that 19-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez is considered the No. 4 catching prospect in baseball. The Yankees and scouts see him as the whole package behind the plate. He is excellent on defense and he has the ability to become a very good major-league hitter. He won’t hit for the prodigious power Montero might. But he will hit for average and power, scouts say.

So the Yankees felt with Montero’s defensive liabilities and the limited nature as a DH and part-time catcher, they could use Montero’s high value to get a pitcher, who not only figures to improve on his 9-10 record and 3.74 ERA in his rookie season, but could eventually become the ace of the staff in a few years.

Pineda projects as a potential No. 1 starter now. With he and Sabathia at the top of the rotation they figure to dominate any three-game series in which they pitch. If you are talking a potential playoff series the possibilities are even better. That is why the Yankees chose to make the deal.

They gave up a potential superstar but they may have got one in return also. What’s done is done. So let’s wait to evaluate the trade five years from now.

JONES REDUX

The Yankees also made it official this week they have re-signed Andruw Jones to a one-year contract for  a reported $2 million plus $1.4 million in incentives.

Jones, 34, batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 77 games for the Yankees last season. Jones appeared as a DH, outfielder and pinch-hitter, but his calling card was his ability to hit left-handers. He hit lefties to the tune of .286.

Jones can play both corner outfield spots, DH and pinch hit. Because Brett Gardner struggled against left-handers last season, Jones could also be used to replace Gardner against some left-handers next season.

The Yankees have also managed to sign most of their arbitration eligible players in the past weeks including Gardner, Martin, David Robertson and Boone Logan.

The result is the Yankees have managed to improve the team while at the same time being able to hold the line on spending, which Steinbrenner is determined to do.

The Yankees would seem to only looking to add a bench infielder and a DH to the team before spring training.

Eric Chavez, who played first and third base for the Yankees last season is still available to be re-signed if the Yankees wish. We have already discussed the potential free agents available to DH.

ADIOS, JORGE!

Jorge Posada also made it official this week that he was retiring after all 17 seasons with the Yankees.

Posada, 40, thought about offers from other teams such as the Rays and the Mets, but ultimately chose to end his career as a Yankee.

Now the discussion starts as to whether he has the credentials to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. The fact that he is the only catcher among the group of catchers already in the Hall except the great Yogi Berra, who has either more home runs, RBIs or a better batting average than all of them gives him some standing.

In addition, he has four World Series rings and he was one of the best hitting catchers of his generation.

It will be close, but Jorge stands in Yankee history among legendary catchers such as Berra, Bill Dickey and Thurman Munson. So he has a good chance of having his No. 20 retired by the Yankees at some point.

That would be a fitting tribute to a man who was a leader among the best Yankee teams in a generation. Thank you, Jorge!

 


Yanks’ Targets Include Wilson, Darvish, Buerhle

With the New York Yankees seemingly in the market for some starting pitching help this winter, one cold, hard fact is obvious when looking at the potential free agents available: This is a thin market. There is a good reason for that. Teams have been much more diligent in identifying there talented young pitchers and locking them into long-term deals that cover their arbitration-eligible years. Thus, instead of becoming free agents when they are 27, pitchers are being locked into deals until they are in their 30s. That is why there is not a Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander or Jared Weaver out on the open market. But let’s take a deeper look into what is available and rate the pitchers who should be at the top of the Yankees’ Christmas shopping list.

C.J. WILSON

As I posted earlier, the top target on the Yankees’ list is currently C.J. Wilson of the Texas Rangers.

Wilson is a 31-year-old left-hander who was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA in 2011. On the positive side, Wilson is a lefty and the Yankees did miss have a second lefty in their rotation when Andy Pettitte chose to retire after the 2010 season. The record and ERA he posted also show that Wilson was an effective pitcher for the American League champions.

Wilson also has pitched only two seasons as a starter. He has a combined record of 31-15. Since he was a relief pitcher for the Rangers for his five previous major-league seasons, Wilson does not have the normal wear and tear on his arm a normal 31-year-old would have. He also was the ace of the Rangers’ staff in 2011.

But there are some negatives.

The most glaring is that Wilson is 1-5 in his nine postseason starts with an ERA of 4.82. He was 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA this past postseason. So maybe Wilson is not quite ready for prime time as his regular season record might indicate. The Yankees would prefer to have a proven postseason winner like a Pettitte rather than a guy who will not deliver when it counts.

Wilson may not be that guy.

However, Wilson remains the top target of a lot of teams such as the Washington Nationals, the Los Angeles Angels and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Not to mention the Rangers would love to keep Wilson in the fold themselves.

But the biggest factor in Wilson’s favor is that his price will not even come close to that paid to Cliff Lee by the Philadelphia Phillies last winter. Lee received a five-year, $120 million contract. Wilson will not receive offers anything close to that because he is not in Lee’s neighborhood as a pitcher.

Wilson likely will get offers of around four years and $80 million. The Yankees can certainly afford that since they did not have to really break the bank to retain ace lefty CC Sabathia. Sabathia did not opt out of his contract, which would have driven his price up. Instead he signed a modest extension, leaving some dollars for general manager Brian Cashman to offer Wilson a nice deal.

It is pretty obvious with Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova lined up behind Sabathia in the Yankees’ rotation, the Yankees will look to add at least one free agent to the mix. There could be a possibility of two.

Wilson stands above the rest of the free-agent class and Cashman will likely stay in the bidding with Wilson’s agent, Bob Garber.

YU DARVISH

Yu Dravish comes with a gigantic question mark because he is not officially a free agent yet.

Darvish, 25, is the best pitcher in Japan and likely would become the best starting pitcher ever to pitch in the major leagues from Japan. He currently is pitching in the playoffs in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters. Nippon is in a bad situation with the right-hander.

They do not have the financial ability to keep him and they would benefit greatly by “posting” him. That would allow the team to receive bids just for the right to speak to his agent. That money would allow the Ham Fighters to rebuild their team with a huge infusion of cash.

Daisuke Matsuzaka drew a huge posting fee of $50 million from the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox then signed Matsuzaka for $53 million for a total investment of $103 million (of which only the salary of $53 million counted against the salary cap for the Red Sox).

Darvish is somewhat different than “Dice-K.”

Darvish is 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. He also is of part Middle Eastern descent. But what really sets Darvish apart is his ability to throw fastballs in the upper 90s, in addition to an excellent array of breaking pitches. But Darvish does not nibble with pitches out of the strike zone like Matsuzaka. He attacks hitters.

In his six seasons in Japan, he is 88-33 with five seasons of an ERA under 2.00. He also has pitched against the world’s best hitters as the MVP of the last World Baseball Classic as he led Japan to victory.

The negatives are that Japanese pitchers have not fared well as starters in the States. The most successful was Hideo Nomo, who was 123-109 with a 4.24 ERA in 11 major-league seasons. There also have been the Hideki Irabus and Kei Igawas the Yankees have signed and become dismal failures.

Japanese pitchers also have their own different way of preparing for their starts and they do not often like changing their routine once they reach the States.

The other problem is that if the Yankees do decide they really want Darvish, they better be prepared for a posting fee that could approach $100 million and a contract of five years for upwards of $90 million. That is going to push the Yankees a lot further over the salary cap and managing partners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner have instructed Cashman to either hold it steady or reduce it where he can.

By signing Darvish the Yankees would have to have the Steinbrenners’ blessing to break the bank as they did in signing Mark Teixeira in 2009. This seems unlikely but certainly within the realm of possibilities.

But it is almost sure the Yankees will not sign both Wilson and Darvish. It will be one or the other.

ROY OSWALT

Oswalt is 34 and is coming off a 9-10 mark with a 3.69 ERA with the Phillies last season. He was injured for a month with some recurring back issues.

When he was healthy, he actually pitched quite well. He finished the season well by throwing quality starts in four of his last seven starts. The veteran right-hander is what the Yankees used to love: a reliable older veteran pitcher who has pitched in big playoff games and someone who definitely knows how to pitch.

The Yankees succeeded in signing veteran free agents like Jimmy Key, David Cone and Mike Mussina. However, at the other end of the spectrum they also have signed or traded for mistakes like Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and Burnett. So to be a little wary of Oswalt and his balky back might be another cautionary tale.

Insiders seem to believe that the Yankees interest in Oswalt is minimal at best, which would be fine by me. There may be too much mileage on that right arm to risk signing Oswalt at this stage of his career. There are much younger and cheaper options below him.

EDWIN JACKSON

At age 28, Jackson has already modeled six different uniforms and five in the last four seasons. The right-hander seems to burn bright with promise and then fizzle out like a dud roman candle.

Last season, Jackson was a combined 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA between the Chacago White Sox and the world champion St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, Jackson was 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA for the Cards in 12 starts down the stretch.

But he was 1-1 with a 5.80 ERA in his four postseason starts.

Jackson is one of those high-risk, high-reward free agents. He has the stuff and the stamina to dominate any team in baseball for nine innings. But he also can unravel like a cheap suit against the weakest hitting team in the league. Hence, his career ERA of 4.46 and a WHIP of 1.48.

The hope of signing Jackson is that he is young enough to turn his career around and become the star pitcher he was predicted in his younger days with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But you have to raise a red flag when a pitching coach like the esteemed Dave Duncan is willing to allow you to leave the Cardinals as a free agent.

Jackson would be much cheaper to sign than all the other pitchers listed above. But he also may be just a younger version of Burnett – some good days and a lot of bad ones. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild is not a young man. Why give him two potential heart attacks with Burnett and Jackson?

I do not see much interest in Jackson from the Yankees. Let him ruin another team’s staff.

MARK BUERHLE

He is 32 but he also is left-handed. So there is a lot to like in Buerhle.

Last season, Buerhle was 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA for the White Sox, the only organization he has ever known. In his 11 full seasons he is 161-119 with a 3.83 ERA.

Buerhle has never been a Josh Beckett, Roger Clemens or Stephen Strasburg pitcher who lights up radar guns. Buerhle just pitches and gets outs. He throws 200 innings every season and he not missed much time with injuries. He has no season in which he made less than 30 starts.

Reliability and effectiveness are two of Buerhle’s best descriptions. He also has been the unquestioned ace of this staff for all of those seasons and he has postseason experience. He was 2-0 with a 3.87 ERA in the championship season of 2005 for the White Sox.

This would be a perfect kind of target for the Yankees if they fail to sign or either Wilson or Darvish. He also could be a likely target if the Yankees intend to trade Burnett this winter, which has been circulating as a rumor ever since Cashman made the comment about “if Burnett is back with us next season.”

Buerhle is the antithesis of Burnett, Burnett has “stuff” but Buerhle gets by on guile. Buerhle is as steady as plane on autopilot. Burnett is be as unpredictable as Lindsay Lohan on Rodeo Drive.

It would stand to reason the Yankees might have an interest in another left-hander. If Wilson goes elsewhere, look for Buerhle to get an offer from the Yankees. Lefties fare much better in Yankee Stadium because teams stack righties and we all know the short porch is in right. So Mr. Buerhle certainly bears watching this winter.

He may just find a friendly home in the Bronx in 2012.

HIROKI KURODA

On the surface, Kuroda may appear to be better than Buerhle. After all, he was 13-16 but had a sparkling 3.07 ERA for the Dodgers in 2011.

However, Kuroda will be 37 when the 2012 season starts and he has pitched a lot of innings in Japan before he came to the Dodgers in 2008. He is 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA with the Dodgers.

The biggest drawback with Kuroda, besides his age, is the fact he has not pitched in the American League. So his value, much like Oswalt’s, may be inflated a bit by pitching in a less tougher league where pitchers bat.

His biggest positive for the Yankees is he is left-handed and the Yankees could use another lefty. He also is a low WHIP pitcher, His career WHIP is 1.19, which is excellent in any league.

But it is hard to imagine that the Yankees, who have been burned by National League pitchers like Brown and Vazquez before would not be salivating to add a 37-year-old Japanese pitcher who has not pitched in the American League.

The Yankees would have to be real desperate to show much interest in Kuroda.

TRADE OPTIONS

The biggest trade target the Yankees would seek would be Hernandez of the Mariners.

Why not?

Hernandez is only 25 and he is pitching for one of the weakest offensive teams in the A.L. He was 14-14 with a 3.47 ERA in 2011 and that was considered an off-year for the King.

He won the Cy Young Award in 2010 and is considered one of the best pitchers in baseball. So why wouldn’t the Yankees target him?

Well, Cashman has already weighed in on that subject by saying that he would much rather sign a pitcher as a free agent than trade away top-flight young players like Jesus Montero, Eduardo Nunez, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Delin Betances and Manny Banuelos.

The nice thing about signing a Wilson, Darvish or Buerhle is that Cashman still gets to keep the building blocks to the future of the club. Trading for Hernandez or any other pitcher like him would gut the farm system just as the Boston Red Sox have done by trading for Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez the past two seasons.

Cashman would love to have King Felix in the fold. But not at the price the Mariners would want in return.

So do not bet the ranch Hernandez will be in pinstripes in 2012. It is just not likely to happen.

CONCLUSION

The bottom line is the Yankees are definitely targeting Wilson and Darvish. But they likely will sign only one of those two because they can’t afford both. Wilson tops the list because he is left-handed and he does not have the mileage most 31-year-old pitchers have on them.

But if Wilson eludes them or gets too pricey, Darvish will become priority No. 1 because he is not your typical Japanese import starting pitcher. Darvish has plus stuff and he has a competitive streak that makes him attack hitters without fear. The problem is it is hard to guarantee Cashman will even get a chance to negotiate with Arn Tellem, Darvish’s American agent.

The reason is the posting fee is a crapshoot. The Red Sox outbid other teams by more than $20 million in the Matsuzaka sweepstakes. Darvish is drawing interest from a lot of teams with bankrolls who can post $100 million. The Yankees just have to guess how high that fee might be and try to beat it if they want Darvish that badly.

Whatver money is left could possibly go to another pitcher if the Yankees are sure they want to ship Burnett out of town and they are willing to pay most, if not all, of his contract. If they do make that decision, Buerhle looks to be the most attractive target to replace Burnett.

A startung staff of Sabathia, either Darvish or Wilson, Buerhle, Hughes and Nova somehow does not seem so bad, does it?

Wilson, Darvish Top Yankees’ Winter Shopping List

With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.

PART 1 – Starting Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 3 – Finding help with free agents or trades

Looking at the New York Yankees’ starting rotation you have the possible loss of CC Sabathia, the return of injured right-hander Phil Hughes, the return of severely underperforming and overpaid right-hander A.J. Burnett, the sophomore season for rookie surprise Ivan Nova and the likely release of free agents Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

Even if Sabathia somehow decides to re-sign with the Yankees, they will still likely need another starter to add behind the ace left-hander and Hughes, Burnett and Nova. So that begs the question: Will general manager Brian Cashman be looking to spend big bucks to add another starter or two to the Yankees for the 2012 season?

That seems likely given that the Yankees were so hellbent on signing left-hander Cliff Lee last winter. But Lee spurned a better contract offer to sign for less money to pitch with the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite the fact Lee thought he was joining a super rotation of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, the Phillies got no father than the Yankees did in the playoffs and Oswalt was allowed to become a free agent.

This season the Yankees obviously will be focused on getting Sabathia to remain in pinstripes. Sabathia has two days to decide to stay with the Yankees for the four years and $92 million left on his contract or opt out and look for a more lucrative deal. Most baseball insiders believe Sabathia, never being accused of being foolish, will opt out to seek a longer term on his contract and more money.

The Yankees, unlike their attitude when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2008, are prepared to offer Sabathia a very lucrative six-year, $160 million contract modeled after the contract Lee signed with the Phillies. But Sabathia will have other suitors, including the Texas Rangers to increase the bidding price.

If the Yankees succeed in bringing Sabathia back into the fold, they will then turn their attention to acquiring a pitcher who they can slot in as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

TARGET NO. 1 – C.J. WILSON (16-7, 2.94 ERA)

Wilson is a 31-year-old left-hander who was the ace of the American League-champion Rangers. But unlike most 31-year-old starters, Wilson has only two seasons of throwing more than 200 innings behind him because he was a reliever in his previous five major-league seasons, all with the Rangers.

If the Yankees were to keep Sabathia and land Wilson it would a tremendous dual victory for the organization. They would have retained their ace and added a second left-hander to the rotation. In addition, it would be a double blow to the Rangers, who are not exactly swimming in starting pitchers who could pitch on the level of Sabathia and Wilson. Strengthening the Yankees while weakening the Rangers is a definite plus to a front office that is taken a great dislike in the Rangers’ front office over the past two years.

A rotation of Sabathia, Wilson, Hughes, Burnett and Nova does not sound all that bad when you add up their record from last season. That five (understanding that Hughes only pitched 74 2/3 innings) was a combined 67-35 with a 3.81 ERA.

Wilson will command a nice princely sum on the open market because he clearly is the best free-agent pitcher available this winter. In the past three season, the Yankees have not bid on pitchers like Halladay and John Lackey, preferring to either solve their problems from within or signing cheaper free agents like Colon and Garcia.

There is no doubt that Colon and Garcia helped the Yankees during the regular season. They were a liability at crunch time, however.

Colon was 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA and Garcia was 7-6 with a 3.13 ERA in the first half of the season. But in the second half, both pitchers struggled at times. Colon was 2-6 with a 4.96 ERA and Garcia was 5-2 with a 4.45 ERA. Colon pitched so badly he was not even placed on the active roster for the playoffs. Garcia pitched and lost Game 3 to the Tigers.

Neither Colon at age 38 or Garcia at age 35 figure to be back next season.

The Yankees also have a host of young pitching prospects like Manny Banuelos (20), Dellin Betances (23), David Phelps (25), D.J. Mitchell (24) and even Hector Noesi (24), who pitched out of the bullpen for the Yankees. Signing Wilson would give the Yankees an opportunity to bring those prospects along slowly. Banuelos and Betances are easily the most talented of the group and they could use a season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to fine-tune their electric stuff.

Of course, some of them can be used in trades if Cashman felt a need to make a deal for a bench player or a veteran pitcher.

TARGET NO. 2 – YU DARVISH (18-6, 1.44 ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters)

Darvish is a 25-year-old right-hander who stands 6-foot-5 and weights 187 pounds. He is the Randy Johnson of Japan with 276 strikeouts in 232 innings this season.

Even more impressive is that he is 88-33 in his last six seasons with his highest ERA during that period of 2.89 in 2006 when he was just 19.

Darvish has requested that his team owner post his contract in order to make himself available as free agent in the United States. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters owner Hiroji Okoso indicated his readiness to respect Yu Darvish’s decision earlier this month even though the Japanese baseball season has not concluded.

Darvish’s posting will make the posting of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the winter of 2007 look like a flea-market sale. Darvish is a much more gifted pitcher who challenges hitters with his mid-90s fastball and he has some dazzling breaking stuff to go with it. Darvish has also succeeded on the grand stage, being named as the MVP of Japan’s victory in the last World Baseball Classic.

The Yankees, who have been burned in the past with the signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, are nevertheless intrigued by Darvish. They have had a bevy of scouts in Japan clocking every fastball and monitoring the break on his curve. They see him as a potential ace in the major leagues.

But, if the Yankees are committed to re-signing Sabathia and they decide to make a long-term offer to Wilson, Darvish would be even out of reach of the Yankees deep pockets. The posting fee itself could be double the $100 million the Red Sox paid for Matsuzaka. Then the team that wins the posting must sign Darvish to a lucrative contract which might reach $150 million.

So it looks like Darvish would only come into the Yankees’ sights if they fail to keep Sabathia.

The Yankees would then have to pile their cash to sign Wilson and then offer a rich a posting fee to obtain the rights to sign Darvish. They could only afford that if Sabathia does not come back.

Darvish is Plan B if Sabathia leaves. If Sabathis stays, the Yankees likely will still look to sign Wilson and they will let Darvish go to another team with deep pockets like the Red Sox or Rangers.

TARGET NO. 3 – ROY OSWALT (9-10, 3.69 ERA)

Oswalt was injured in 2011 and he started only 23 games for the Phillies. He wasn’t bad as his ERA indicates.

But he also is 34 years old with 2,154 innings pitched in his major-league career. The Phillies chose to not keep him and he will be probably be the second-most sought after pitcher behind Wilson.

Oswalt is consummate pro with the ability to win at the major-league level with less stellar stuff then what he had in early days with Houston like 2005, when he was 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA and 184 strikeouts. Last season batters hit .280 off of him and he was forced to pitch out of a lot of jams.

Back issues forced him to miss all of July and he even considered retiring after this season. But he did throw four quality starts in his last seven appearances. But when it comes to signing Oswalt as a free agent, he is going to have to have doctors clear him to pitch in 2012 before he ever gets a contract offer.

The Yankees’ interest at this point of Oswalt’s career is unlikely. The Yankees would have to basically strike out on keeping Sabathia and signing either Wilson or Darvish before they would even consider making that move. Oswalt has pitched only in the National League and the Yankees have to be leery of guys like him and Javier Vazquez, who post low ERAs in the NL only to pitch with plus 5.00 ERAs in the American League.

Oswalt is the longest of longshots on the Yankees radar this winter. He has too much mileage, there are injury concerns and you have to consider he has not pitched in the AL.

TARGET NO. 4 – FELIX HERNANDEZ (14-14, 3.47 ERA)

With the Yankees, King Felix has been like Jonah’s whale. They try to reel him in but he slips through the nets every time.

Dealing with the Mariners in the past has not been pleasant. The Yankees attempted to deal for Lee when he was pitching for the Mariners in 2010. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik induced Cashman to include Jesus Montero and Ivan Nova in a potential deal for Lee.

The Rangers, on the other hand, were offering a package including power-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak.

Zduriencik then got greedy and asked the Yankees to sweeten the pot by including minor-league shortstop Eduardo Nunez to the package. Cashman said no and Zduriencik went running back to the Rangers to accept the Smoak package. The fact that Smoak bombed badly for the M’s in 2011 gives Yankee fans a lot of pleasure.

The Yankees, in the long run, were better off hanging onto Montero, Nova and Nunez and all three have bright futures ahead of them in pinstripes.

Any deal involving Hernandez likely will start with Zduriencik requesting Montero, Nunez and either Betances or Banuelos or both. This would the cost of doing business with a team that is desperate to fill the seats with a creditable team building for the future. But the Yankees would be crazy to be locked into this madness unless they were real desperate to replace Sabathia and they had lost both Wilson and Darvish in free agency.

This would be their Plan C and it would have to make sense to Cashman to give up so much talent. But Hernandez is not even 25 yet. So if you are going to deal for an ace it might as well be a young one with talent like the King.

But I do not see this happening. The M’s are building a nice rotation of young pitchers and Hernandez is a big part of that. However, their offense is just dreadful and King Felix could bring a package of young hitters the Mariners could build around. Montero would be a special prize here.

But the odds of it happening are in the 500-1 range. Cashman knows Zduriencik practices legal extortion and Cashman may be unwilling to pay up.

NEXT: PART 2 – Relief Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two

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.

In Wake Of Late Slide Yankees Ready For 2011 Arms Race

The 2010 Yankees season ended abruptly in Arlington, TX, with a starting pitching staff left in tatters and there will be work to do on it before the 2011 season begins.
At least one big mystery has been solved. Those of you wondering why CC Sabathia was not his usual self in the playoffs can blame a meniscus tear in his right knee, which was repaired on Friday.
Sabathia’s 21-7 record an 3.18 ERA may be worthy of his second Cy Young Award and he did not lose any of his three postseason starts. However, he allowed 10 earned runs and 22 hits in 16 innings and he did not look anything like the shutdown ace he has been for the Yankees the past two seasons.
Behind Sabathia it is no secret the Yankees would like to add a quality starter and Texas left-hander Cliff Lee will be at the top of the shopping list this winter. The Yankees can pretty much open the vault to bid for his services.
The question is: Will Lee sign?
Having his old Indians’ pal Sabathia will be a great help in getting Lee on board if the money is right.
The Yankees also would love to have Andy Pettitte come back. It was his groin injury, suffered on July 18 against the Rays, that exposed the weak underbelly of the Yankees rotation the rest of the season.
Though Pettitte was able to return in late September and though he pitched the best of all of the starters in the postseason, the starting pitching staff collapsed down the stretch and cost the Yankees the American League East title.
But the Yankees would love to have Pettitte back simply because he pitched his best baseball in years when he was healthy. At the time of his injury, Pettitte was 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA and he made the All-Star team.
The question is will Andy give it one more go at age 38? The Yankees hope the answer is yes.
Phil Hughes, 24, emerged as a potential ace for the future. Winning the No. 5 spot in spring training, Hughes was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. But it hardly was as easy as it looked. Hughes was 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA and made the All-Star team in the first half.
However, he was only 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in the second half. He also pitched poorly in both of his starts in the American League Championship Series. Hughes was bolstered by great run support. He led all major-league pitchers with 7.45 runs per nine innings.
Hughes needs to develop a swing-and-miss pitch that will keep opposing hitters from fouling off his good fastball and running up his pitch counts. But the Yankees still believe that Hughes can become an excellent pitcher now that he will be able to pitch without any restrictions on his innings pitched.
If the Yankees can look to any players that may have cost them a championship season, look no further than Exhibit A: A.J. Burnett and Exhibit B: Javier Vazquez.
Burnett was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA with the Blue Jays in 2008, which earned him a rich four-year deal with the Yankees. In 2009, Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and he was coming off a strong showing in the postseason.
But 2010 was anything but strong. Burnett has always been a poster child for inconsistency but the Yankees were shocked by how bad Burnett was in 2010.
He was 7-2 with a 3.28 ERA in the first two months. In July, he was 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA. But in the other months, Burnett was 1-12 with a 7.85 ERA. No amount of offense can overcome pitching that bad.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they are stuck with Burnett and his huge contract for two more seasons. The Yankees can only hope that pitching coach Dave Eiland can find him a consistent release point in his delivery and shorten the lengths of inconsistency.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Vazquez is a goner. Much like Burnett, Vazquez would pitch poorly for a while, then rebound, only to pitch poorly again. He was 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and he spent most of late August and September in the bullpen.
Vazquez, 34, lost zip on his fastball and his breaking stuff was just too easy for hitters to crush. So the Yankees are not going to bring him back in 2011.
Though Vazquez was a disappointment after his 15-10 season in 2009 with the Braves, Brian Cashman must take the blame for this deal. Vazquez and left-hander Boone Logan came over from the Braves and the Yankees shipped Melky Cabrera and promising left-hand reliever Michael Dunn to the Braves.
The Yankees passed on free agent John Lackey, allowing the right-hander to sign with the Red Sox. Lackey was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. Somehow the difference between the salary Lackey earned and the money paid to Vazquez does not seem so great when kept in context of how Vazquez was a major reason the 2010 Yankees did not advance to the World Series.
The Yankees do have some hope on the horizon in 23-year-old Ivan Nova. Nova was summoned as a replacement starter in late August and was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts. The only question for Nova is if his stuff can translate into getting through a batting order three times as a starter.
If the answer is no, Nova could be a candidate for short relief because the Yankees love his composure and competitiveness on the mound. His poise really impressed manager Joe Girardi.
The Yankees also have a contingency plan if Lee somehow escapes them. They may be able to convince the Kansas City Royals to trade Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. The 27-year-old right-hander might be on the market if the Royals can get some prospects to rebuild their team for him.
Of course, the asking price might include catcher Jesus Montero, Nova and reliever Joba Chamberlain. But if the Yankees believe Greinke can get them back to the World Series they may be willing to make the deal.
Greinke is coming off a bad season. He was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. But there is no doubt he would benefit greatly from the Yankees’ offense because the Royals were unable to support him with many runs in the past two seasons.
It would appear that Cashman will be on the hot seat again this winter. His job is repair this rotation with the best arms he can find. 
The Yankees’ hopes for 2011 pretty much hang in the balance.

Burnett And Vazquez Torpedo Yankees’ Starting Rotation

With the end of the season it is time to hand out the final report cards for the New York Yankees for 2010. The Yankees reached the halfway point with the best record in baseball but with much promise to even improve in the second half. But some key injuries and some inconsistency with the starting pitchers dragged this team down a few notches. They qualified as a wild card but to defend their 2009 title they will have to dig deep. Here are the grades:

STARTING PITCHERS

CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA)
Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA)
Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28 ERA)
A.J. Burnett (10-15, 5.26 ERA)
Javier Vazquez (10-10, 5.32 ERA)

Other starters: Dustin Moseley, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre

At the midway point I proclaimed the Yankees starting pitching the best in baseball. It shows you what I know.
To be fair to me, though, the Yankees’ starting five was the best at the halfway point. They were a combined 48-21 with a 3.86 ERA. They also were averaging just over 6 1/3 innings per start.
Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes had 11 or more wins and they were the first trio to do that since the 1999 Houston Astros starters Shane Reynolds, Jose Lima and Mike Hampton. All three were named to the American League All-Star team although Sabathia was ineligible to pitch because he started on the Sunday before the Tuesday game.
So what happened to the best starting five in baseball?
Well, three key things brought this staff crashing to Earth:
  • On July 18 Andy Pettitte was pitching in the third inning at Yankee Stadium in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays when he felt pain in his left groin. Pettitte left the game and ended up on the disabled list through Sept. 10. Pettitte was arguably pitching the best baseball of his career and the Yankees lost their second-best pitcher.
  • A.J. Burnett always has been an enigma — good one start and awful the next. But even he could not have predicted the dreadful month of August he would have. In his five starts, Burnett was 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA. In addition, Burnett never really rebounded. He was 1-3 with a 5.60 ERA the rest of the way. With Pettitte out, Burnett was expected to step up and help the Yankees overcome it. Instead, he pitched worse than he ever has with the Yankees and he is not expected to start a game in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Javier Vazquez looked like he had put his early season problems behind him. He was 7-7 with a 4.45 ERA at the midpoint after starting the season 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA. But he slumped miserably in August, going 1-2 with a 8.10 ERA through Aug. 21, when he was pulled from the rotation in favor of rookie Ivan Nova. Vazquez made only three more starts the rest of the season and they all were dreadful. As a result, Vazquez, who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting last season, was left off the playoff roster.
With Pettitte on the shelf and Burnett and Vazquez giving up more runs than a cheap pair of stockings, Sabathia and Hughes were saddled with having to carry the rotation most of the second half.
Sabathia was up to the task. He was 9-4 with a 3.29 ERA and he managed to win 20 games for the first time in his career. His 21-7 record makes him a front-runner for the Cy Young Award. It would be his second.
Hughes, on the other hand, struggled a bit but still won because the Yankees honored him by giving the most run support of any starter in baseball. Hughes was 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA. Hughes seemed to wear down a bit under the weight of an upcoming innings limit, which forced the Yankees to skip his turn on occasion.
Nonetheless, Hughes can consider an 18-8 record as the team’s No. 5 starter in his first full season in the rotation at age 24 a pretty good season no matter what the struggles were down the stretch.
Moseley made seven starts in place of Pettitte at the end of July and throughout August. He was 4-2 with a 5.03 ERA. He was credited with three quality starts. But after being hammered for four runs on five hits and four walks against Oakland on Aug. 30, Moseley only made two more starts the rest of the season.
He was 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in those starts. So, needless to say, he was not much of a replacement for Pettitte.
The Yankees recalled 23-year-old rookie right-hander Nova from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 23. He made seven starts in late August and September in place of Vazquez and was 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA 
Although Nova showed great promise for future success at the major-league level with his assortment of pitches and his poise, he struggled the second time through lineups and could not limit his pitch counts.
For the first half the starting five received the following grades:
Sabathia A-
Burnett C
Pettitte A+
Vazquez C
Hughes A+
Their second-half grades are as follows:
Sabathia A+
Burnett D
Pettitte I (Incomplete)
Vazquez F
Hughes C
Their 2010 overall grades are as follows:
Sabathia A+
Burnett D+
Pettitte A-
Vazquez D-
Hughes B+
OVERALL STARTING PITCHER GRADE: C+

The overall record of 50-18 by Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes more than makes up for the horrible 20-25 record posted by Burnett and Vazquez. 
Still, the inability of Moseley or Nova to really step up and pitch well late in the season really doomed the Yankees to their September swoon that cost them the best record in baseball and first place in the American League East.
The Yankees are going to have to make some tough decisions on what to do with Burnett and Vazquez next season. Both are under contract and both are owed a lot of money. Trading either or both would be difficult unless the Yankees picked up a portion of the contracts.
It is n
o secret the Yankees covet Cliff Lee. They nearly had him at the trade deadline until the Mariners stabbed the Yankees in the back and made a deal with the Rangers instead. But Lee will be a free agent and his buddy Sabathia likely can convince him to sign if the money is right.
The Yankees also may have a potential young starter in Nova. If he continues to develop, he could be of great help as a starter in 2011.
In the meantime, the Yankees’ hopes for a 28th championship once again ride on just three starters: Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes. The Yankees have Burnett on the roster for the first series but he is not scheduled to start a game.
The Yankees likely will have to use him if the Yankees make the AL Championship Series and the World Series. What they get from him is a big mystery. 
It is troubling to think of what could have been if Burnett and Vazquez had just pitched adequately this season. If the Yankees do not repeat as champions it is obvious who the fans are going to blame.

Royals Blank Rays To Hand First Place Back To Yanks

GAME 160
YANKEES at RED SOX (POSTPONED, RAIN)

Nobody warmed up in the bullpen at Fenway Park and no one took any swings in batting practice, yet the New York Yankees reclaimed first place in the American League East.
The reason: The Tampa Bay Rays, seemingly so giddy about their return to the postseason, they have forgotten how to pitch, hit and field in Kansas City.
Bruce Chen, a 33-year-old journeyman left-hander who signed a minor-league contract with the Royals this off-season, dazzled the Rays with a two-hit complete-game shutout on Friday for his first major-league shutout. It was the second straight Rays’ loss to the Royals in the four-game series.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were hanging out at Fenway for three hours waiting for the game to be postponed. It will now be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader beginning at 4:10 p.m. on Saturday.
The Rays have now lost five of their past six games and they perhaps ceded some of the control they have on that tiebreaker they own with the Yankees if they end up tied in the American League East.
Truth be told, the Yankees likely would not mind being the wild-card team and losing home-field advantage in the AL playoffs if they could avoid Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers, who would await them if they won the division.
Oh, manager Joe Girardi talks a good game about how home field is important because the alternative would be face the Minnesota Twins at Target Field, where they own the best home record in baseball.
However, the Yankees are Kryptonite to the Twins. 
The Yankees managed three walk-off wins in a single four-game series at Yankee Stadium last season. They also swept them in the old Metrodome. Then they rolled them out of the playoffs in three straight games last season like they were bugs on the windshield.
Things have not been much different this season.
The Yankees have won four of six with the Twins this season and the four wins have come with a combined score of 17-7. The one loss at Yankee Stadium came from a grand slam home run by Jason Kubel off Mariano Rivera, in one of the All-Star closer’s rare meltdowns.
The other loss at Target Field came from Kubel’s two home runs and five RBIs off Javier Vazquez and the back end of the Yankees bullpen.
Neither scenario figures to befall the Yankees this time. Rivera rarely loses his edge in the playoffs and Vazquez may not even make the postseason roster. He certainly will not start any of the games.
As for Kubel, he has hit all of .173 since Sept. 1 with three home runs and 11 RBIs and he is hitting just .231 since the All-Star break.
The Twins have just got back an injured Joe Mauer behind the plate and there are rumors Justin Morneau will give it a go despite missing close to three months with a post-concussion syndrome. The question remains, how good can Morneau be in not facing live pitching since July 7?
If the Yankees can handle the Twins with Morneau at 100%, it stands to reason they just as easily beat the Twins without him or with him at 75%.
So the Yankees will have to make up their collective minds how much the A.L. East and home-field advantage means when the price comes at facing Cliff Lee in Game 1. 
Lee is Kryptonite to the Yankees and it would be a scary prospect depending on a rusty Andy Pettitte and a young Phil Hughes to get the Yankees must wins in Games 2 and 3 against a Rangers offense that boasts stars like Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler. 
I am not saying much that has not been discussed on radio talk shows and speculated about in the New York media.
You wonder what Girardi is thinking by throwing Vazquez against the Blue Jays on Wednesday and having Burnett face the Red Sox on Saturday if it is not to allow the Rays a chance to claim first place.
I know Burnett is the No. 4 starter and the team needs him straightened out. However, Burnett has always been, from the start of his career to now, a 50/50 proposition as a pitcher. He either pitches like Roy Halladay or he pitches like Vazquez. There is just no in-between with Burnett.
So maybe instead of pitching Burnett we pitch CC Sabathia with Pettitte on Saturday and have Phil Hughes start on Sunday and damn the innings limit. That would be the way you would play it if you really wanted to win the East.
But I am not sure Joe and the Yankees are going to be too broken up if they have to pack for Minneapolis.

Thames’ Two-Run Blast Leads Yanks To 8th Straight Win

GAME 136
YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 5

Isn’t about time for New York Yankee fans to come up with a nickname for Marcus Thames?
Mar-T? The Marcsman? How about River Dog?
After Saturday’s dramatic tie-breaking two-run home run in the seventh inning that propelled the Yankees to a 7-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, you can call him anything you like.
Thames is taking vitamin approach to hitting home runs these days: One a day. And in his last 10 starts he has six of them, which has got Yankee fans thinking “Alex who?” Pressed into a more prominent role in the starting lineup because of the absence of a hobbling A-Rod, Thames is delivering in a A-Rod-like fashion and the Yankees now have won a season-high eight games in a row because of it.
The bullpen, which earlier this season was a mess, took care of the rest. For the second straight day they combined to pitch 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of a struggling starter to hand a victory to the guys in pinstripes.
The struggling starter du jour was Javier Vazquez, whose shaky command of his slider led to a solo home run to Lyle Overbay with one out in the second inning. With two down in the same frame, Vazquez served up another home run to weak-hitting John McDonald, a two-run shot that hit the left-field foul pole and made it 3-0 Jays.
Vazquez has the dubious distinction of being tied with James Shields of the Rays for serving up the most home runs this season at 29. Vazquez has now become the Baskin-Robbins of soft-serve homers. Give him a paper hat and all he would need to do ask the hitters if they would like whipped cream and nuts with it.
The Yankees did manage to come back to tie it up in the third inning off Jays starter Marc Rzepczynski. 
With one out, Francisco Cervelli doubled, Brett Gardner walked (his ninth straight game with at least one walk) and Derek Jeter doubled in Cervelli. After Mark Teixeira walked to load the bases, Robinson Cano singled to center to score Gardner and Jeter to make 3-all.
The Yankees then took the lead in the fourth inning. With one out and Eduardo Nunez at first, Cervelli doubled again. Gardner followed with a soft infield liner that dropped just over Rzepczynski’s glove and McDonald was forced to retire Gardner at first as Nunez scored.
After a walk to Jeter, Rzepczynski uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Cervelli to score from third. 
But Vazquez did not protect the 5-3 lead well enough to suit manager Joe Girardi. With two out in the fifth inning, Vazquez walked Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells followed with a line-drive single to left.
Girardi decided to end Vazquez’s day much to the displeasure of the 34-year-old right-hander, who was one out away from a potential victory. 
It did not lighten Vazquez’s mood much when Dustin Moseley came out of the bullpen and gave up a two-run double to Overbay that tied the game again at 5. Vazquez’s line now read five runs on four hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. 
Fortunately for the Yankees, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera combined to pitch four scoreless innings beginning in the sixth. They gave up only two hits and no walks as the the bullpen has now racked up 8 2/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Blue Jays in two days.
Of course, the victory would not have been possible without Thames, whose first two outs of the day travelled about 750 feet before he stepped to the plate in the seventh inning.
With two out in the frame, Cano banged out his second single of day, this one off reliever Jason Frasor (3-4). Thames, who previously drove Rzepczynski sliders to deep center in the second and deep left in the third, caught up to the first pitch Frasor threw: A slider.
“They threw me sliders all day so I was looking for it,” Thames told reporters after the game.
He deposited his 11th home run of the season into the Blue Jays’ bullpen in left-center and the Yankees were handed a lead they would not give up again.
Wood (2-4), who has only allowed one earned run in the 16 innings he has pitched for the Yankees, was credited with the victory after pitching a perfect eighth inning.
Rivera gave up a scratch single but still pitched a scoreless ninth to record his 29th save in 31 tries.
The better news for the Yankees came many hours later when the Baltimore Orioles battered the Tampa Bay Rays 8-2. By virtue of running their season record to a season-high 36 games over .500, the Yankees have opened up a 2 1/2 game lead on the upstart second-place Rays in the American League East.
The Boston Red Sox, who lost a pair of 3-1 games to the Chicago White Sox in a day-night doubleheader, are a full 10 games back in third place. They are 7 1/2 games out of the wild-card standings.
It may not be quite time to stick a fork in the Red Sox for 2010 but it is certainly time to get the utensil out the the drawer.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Thames was signed as a free agent just before the beginning of spring training and made the team as the team’s 25th man. But injuries to DHs Nick Johnson and Lance Berkman and the loss of Rodriguez for three weeks has given Thames more playing time. Known as a power hitter who murders lefties, Thames has hit seven of 11 home runs against right-handers. Before his home run on Saturday, however, Thames was one for his last 14 at-bats.
  • Cano is still swinging at pitches out of the strike zone but still came through with two key hits. His single with bases loaded put the Yankees in front 5-3 in the fourth. His two-out single in the seventh brought Thames up to the plate and he scored on Thames’ game-winning homer.
  • Since Wood has taken over as Girardi’s new 8th-inning man on Sept. 1, he has pitched 3 1/3 dominant innings and surrendered just one hit and a walk while striking out three. His ERA when he was acquired was 6.30. With the Yankees it is 0.56.
NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The rotation other than CC Sabathia may be in tatters but the Yankees keep winning. They have outscored their opponents 57-29 during their winning streak. However, to advance in the postseason the Yankees will need Javier Vazquez, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes to pitch better soon. Vazquez was just too tentative and he kept falling behind hitters all afternoon.
  • Moseley allowing two inherited runners to score was inexcusable. He fell behind Overbay at 1-0 and then gift-wrapped a cutter that sat in the middle of the plate with “hit me” written all over it. Overbay did hit it for a double and it allowed the Jays to tie the game.
  • Despite the fact that Jeter drove in a run with a clutch double in the third inning, he is still struggling at the plate. In his last two at-bats of the day he struck out swinging. His season average is at .266, which is 48 points below his career average.
BOMBER BANTER

Vazquez was visibly upset at being taken out of the game in the clubhouse afterward. Asked if he thought Girardi had lost confidence in him, Vazquez replied “You will have to ask him.” But Girardi said he took Vazquez out because he sensed he was struggling with his mechanics and Girardi said Moseley was summoned because “I wanted a fresh arm.” He also said he expects Vazquez to make his next scheduled start at Texas on Friday.  . . .  Andy Pettitte took part in the three-inning simulated game on Saturday prior to the regular game and he threw exactly 50 pitches. Tossing to Rodriguez, Greg Golson and Ramiro Pena with Reggie Jackson acting as the umpire, Pettitte looked sharp in throwing 31 strikes. Pettitte is scheduled to throw another bullpen session on Monday and, after that, the Yankees will have to decide if they want him to do a rehab stint during the minor-league playoffs. Pettitte is hoping for a return to the Yankees within the next 10 days.  . . .  Rodriguez had no setbacks in taking his swings and running during the simulated game. In six at-bats against Pettitte, Rodriguez got two hits, struck out once, grounded out twice and popped up. Rodriguez admits that he is not running at 100 percent but he said it unlikely he will run too hard at first when he returns to action with the Yankees.  . . .  Nick Swisher, who has been nursing a bruised left knee for a few days, was a late scratch from the lineup on Saturday. Swisher wanted to play but he was unable to run without pain. Girardi, who had already decided to give Austin Kearns a day off, penciled in Thames in right-field and moved Lance Berkman into the DH spot. 
ON DECK

The Yankees have already won the three-game series with the Blue Jays and they will aim for a series sweep and an extension of their winning streak to nine games on Sunday.
Phil Hughes (16-6, 4.10 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Despite not having his best stuff, Hughes was able to battle through against the Athletics and he limited the A’s to two runs on four hits and five walks over five innings. He is 2-2 with a 4.35 ERA lifetime against the Blue Jays.
The Jays are counting on left-hander Brett Cecil (11-7, 3.74 ERA), who picked up a loss despite pitching well over 7 2/3, innings against the Rays. Cecil gave up five runs but only two were earned. He gave up only five hits and a walk and struck out four. He is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will broadcast by the YES Network.

Vazquez Steps Up While Yankees Pound Cahill, Athletics

GAME 131
YANKEES 11, ATHLETICS 5

To the naked eye, the New York Yankees’ rout of the Oakland Athletics on Monday night looked like just another game at Yankee Stadium:
  • Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back solo home runs in the third inning to break a 3-all tie. It was Teixieira’s 29th home run of the season and Cano’s career-high 26th.
  • Marcus Thames connected for a three-run homer in the fifth inning for his sixth home run in his last five starts.
  • Nick Swisher added a two-run double in the first-inning and RBI double in the fourth inning.
  • In fact, Teixeira, Cano and Swisher combined for nine hits and seven RBIs and Thames did the the rest.
But the biggest shift in the Bronx on Monday may have come from the 4 2/3 innings of relief thrown by Javier Vazquez (10-9).
Summoned from the bullpen in the fifth inning with one out, the exiled starter gave up only one run on two hits and a walk the rest of the way to win his second game out of the bullpen this season. He also might have convinced manager Joe Girardi that he may be ready to reclaim a spot in the five-man rotation.
Dustin Moseley, making his seventh start of the season in place of Andy Pettitte, could not complete the fifth inning. He was tagged for four runs on five hits and four walks before being removed by Girardi in the fifth inning after he walked Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki with one out.
Despite a record of 4-2 in his starts, Moseley is sporting an ERA of 5.03 and a walks and hits to innings pitched ratio (WHIP) of 1.58. So it appears that Vazquez will, at least, get some consideration to replace Moseley in September.
The Yankees, meanwhile, destroyed Trevor Cahill (14-6) for the second time this season. On July 6 in Oakland, the Yankees blasted Cahill for six runs on four hits and walk in a 6-1 defeat, his first loss since May 16.
On Monday the Yankees again blistered the All-Star right-hander for a season-high eight runs on a season-high nine hits and two walks in 4-plus innings. Since that loss to the Yankees in July, Cahill was 6-2 with a 1.46 ERA.
Cahill’s bid for Cy Young Award consideration hit a serious bump in the road in the Bronx.
With the victory the Yankees improved to a season-high 31 games over .500 at 81-50. But they remained in flat-footed tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the American League East for an eighth consecutive day. It is the longest stretch of days that two teams have been tied for first place this late in the season in the modern era of baseball.
The Athletics, meanwhile, lost despite three-hit, four-RBI night from outfielder Jeff Larish, and they fell to an even 65-65 on the year.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Teixeira’s three hits in the game improved his season batting average to .262. His highest average of the season was .264 on July 25. Teixeira also is just one home run and eight RBIs away from his seventh consecutive season of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
  • Swisher’s three hits give him a seven-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .379. In his last four games, Swisher is hitting .529 with two home runs and eight RBIs.
  • Alex Who? Inserted into the lineup against both left-handers and right-handers in the absence of Alex Rodriguez, Thames has laid waste to every pitch he has seen lately. In his last five starts, Thames is 9-for-20 (.450) with six homers and 11 RBIs. Thames was signed to a minor-league contract just before spring training began and is proving to be the most valuable of all the players general manager Brian Cashman signed this off-season.
  • Other than a two-out ground-rule RBI double by Larish in the eighth inning, Vazquez was in command in his long relief stint. Vazquez threw as hard as 91 miles per hour and threw breaking pitches as slow as 68 mph, keeping the Athletics’ hitters off-balance.
NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is just about official now: Derek Jeter is the midst of his worst offensive season of his career. Jeter was 0-for-4 and his batting average dropped to .268. The lowest batting average Jeter has ever recorded was in 1997, his second full season in the majors, when he hit .291.
  • After his little hot streak in August, Curtis Granderson has fallen off the train again. Granderson was 0-for-4 and in his last five games he is 2-for-19 (.105).
  • Moseley may have pitched himself out of the rotation with a very weak effort in which he pitched tentatively and like he was afraid of contact. During the first inning when he gave up three runs, Moseley threw 34 pitches. He did have two outs and 1-2 count on Mark Ellis but he walked him to load the bases and Larish made him pay with a two-run single to center to make it 3-0.
BOMBER BANTER

Obviously, after his three-hit game Teixeira showed no problems with a bruised right thumb that forced him to leave Saturday’s game in Chicago and made him a late scratch for Sunday’s game. Teixeira injured his thumb on Friday night diving for a ball.  . . .  Girardi told reporters on Monday that it appears as if Rodriguez will be activated from the 15-day disabled list without requiring a rehab stint. Rodriguez is eligible to come off the DL on Sunday and the Yankees hope to have him in the cleanup spot that day. He is been on the disabled list with a strained left calf since Aug.21.  . . .  Andy Pettitte is scheduled to throw another bullpen session on Wednesday. Pettitte said if he progresses on schedule he could possibly be activated from the disabled list in two weeks.
ON DECK

The Yankees will resume their four-game series against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday.
Phil Hughes (15-6, 4.12 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. He is coming off what may be his worst start of the season against the Blue Jays last week. Hughes was tagged for five runs on six hits and five walks in 3 2/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season. Hughes is 1-0 with an 0,77 ERA against the A’s in his career.
Hughes will be opposed by right-hander Vin Mazzaro (6-6, 3.61 ERA). In his last start Mazzaro gave up three runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings in a road loss to Cleveland. He is 0-4 despite a 3.89 ERA in his last six starts. Mazzaro is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
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