Results tagged ‘ John Lackey ’
The New York Yankees welcome their old pals, the Boston Red Sox, to Yankee Stadium for the first time this season beginning on Friday. The Dead Sox, as they are being referred to many Boston circles, are limping in having lost five of their last six games and are 10 1/2 games back in last place in the American League East. This series is pretty much their season. If they get swept, it’s over. If they sweep, there is still a glimmer of hope. But in some ways the Red Sox have the look of Custer at Little Big Horn, the Texas Army at The Alamo and the Red Sox in September 2011. Here is why they will fail this weekend:
PITCHING IS KING
Looking at the pitching matchups this weekend does not instill much confidence in Boston.
Journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (2.3, 3.50 ERA) will open the series for Red Sox. Cook, 33, is a symbol of the inability of the Red Sox to build a starting rotation this season. In past years the Red Sox would trade for a Josh Beckett and sign free agents like Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey while they developed young stars like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.
But with the team’s record 13-24 in games started by Beckett and Lester this season it really has not mattered much what three pitchers follow them in the rotation. Buchholz is 8-3 with an elevated 4.93 ERA and he has been hampered by injuries for a good part of the year.
Lackey is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Dice-K came back from the same surgery only to make five ill-fated starts with an 0-3 record and 6.65 ERA before landing on the DL again. Matsuzaka has made only 49 starts since the 2008 season in which he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. The Red Sox have their own version of Carl Pavano, collecting huge paychecks while he constantly rehabs.
That is why the Red Sox have been forced to use Cook and Felix Doubront in their rotation. Doubront is 12-7 with a 4.62 ERA but he has become less effective as the innings have piled up. His ERA has steadily risen all season and was 5.83 in June.
So Cook enters this game actually as the the team’s most effective starter lately. He has a 2.79 ERA in July. But he also is 0-2 in his three July starts, which means he has not got much in the way of run support.
The Red Sox also will be facing right-hander Phil Hughes, who has rediscovered his 2010 form this season. Hughes is 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA, however, those numbers are misleading.
Hughes is 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA in his last nine starts and he has issued only 15 walks while striking out 53 in his last 61 2/3 innings. Add to that, the Red Sox have been outscored 43-17 in their last six games and you have the makings of a very ugly opening night for them in the Bronx.
The Red Sox will just have to hope they score enough runs early to keep Cook in the game and get Hughes out of it early. In other words, a typical Red Sox-Yankees four-hour marathon where the total of runs scored is about 24. But I do not think that is going to happen on Friday.
The Red Sox are without their Yankee kryptonite in designated hitter David Ortiz. Without his bat, the Red Sox become less potent against the Yankees. In a 9-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the Red Sox collected 10 hits against fill-in starter Scott Feldman. But they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.
The Yankees do come in having lost five of their last seven and they are without Alex Rodriguez and possibly may be without Nick Swisher.
But the Yankees also come back home for this series and home is where they shine.
The addition of Ichiro Suzuki could make a big impact in this series with is bat, his legs and his glove. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira come into the series hot and the Yankees are getting contributions from their bench in Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix.
Look for Game 1 to be close early but the Yankees will eventually burn Cook and serve him up as a special at NYY Steak over the weekend.
TOO MANY CCs
Even if the Red Sox do succeed on Friday, they will have to face CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30) on Saturday. That is bad news for the lefty-dominant Red Sox lineup of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who stinks as a right-hand hitter.
The Yankees, meanwhile, face Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). In Lester’s last three starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 22 runs (21 earned) on 25 hits and 10 walks over 12 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 15.32. Ouch!
The word from scouts is that Lester decided to develop a cutter a few years ago. He used it to compliment his other pitches, which were nasty. He was able to control both sides of the plate and he was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA last season despite a September slide that coincided with the epic collapse of the Red Sox.
But this season, Lester has become cutter crazy and it cost him in velocity and command of his fastball. Hughes found the same thing happened to him in 2011 and he junked his cutter this season. But Lester has tried to carry on with his same arsenal and he is getting pounded harder than a herd of cattle in a butcher shop.
In his last start against the Yankees on July 8 at Fenway Park, Lester lasted just 4 1/3 innings and he surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk.
The bottom line is Lester is just not the Lester that Red Sox Nation is used to seeing dominate lineups. He is headed for a big fall on Saturday.
COUP DE GRACE
The Red Sox will face on Sunday the Yankees’ best pitcher, of late, in Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.34 ERA).
Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in last 11 starts. Though he did struggle against Boston at Fenway Park, Kuroda has proven to be a much more effective pitcher at Yankee Stadium this season. He is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in the Bronx.
That is bad news for the Red Sox, who have not announced a mound opponent for Kuroda.
Doubront defeated the Yankees at Fenway on July 7 but he also was shelled for six runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings against the Rangers on Monday. The Red Sox may, instead, call upon Buchholz to pitch the finale. He gave up just one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the Rangers on Tuesday.
If Buchholz pitches on Sunday it indicates that manager Bobby Valentine is desperate. He has to be if the Red Sox pick up the Sunday New York Times facing a 12 1/2-game deficit to the Yankees.
The game will be very close on Sunday but the Yankees have a decided edge on the mound. They should win in a very close game.
IN THE END
The truth is that the seeds of the 2012 season for the Red Sox were sown in the aftermath of their historic collapse in September 2011. The departures of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein have left Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington with a mess.
He has some prima donnas like Beckett and Lackey and a huge albatross of a contract to Crawford tied around his neck. The team can’t rebuild only through free agency because they are right up against the edge of having to pay the luxury tax.
They could start shipping high-priced underachievers out and let their free agents like Ortiz walk. But there are so many holes on this roster it looks like Swiss cheese.
Young talent the Red Sox are hoping to develop is in short supply and that is really the biggest problem they have going forward. They likely would be better off with a roster purge and rebuild effort. But that also will mean they have to be candid with Red Sox Nation that they will not be competitive for some time.
That is hard sell. But after this weekend, it could be quite likely you will see Beckett go and others will follow.
The Curse may be over but it might be a long, long time before we see a Red Sox team capable of competing with the Yankees.
To us Yankee fans, that is just fine.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX
A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011″ the term seems apropos.
On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.
Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.
Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.
There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?
Well, it does not look good.
The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.
So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.
Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.
If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.
Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.
Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.
The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.
Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”
But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.
Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.
With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.
But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.
Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.
Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.
For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.
The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.
None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.
This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?
The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.
But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.
Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.
There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.
The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.
Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.
Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.
The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.
The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.
This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.
Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.
The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.
Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.
The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.
To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.
The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.
Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.
Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.
More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.
The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.
The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.
The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.
Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.
The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.
Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.
That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.
The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.
The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.
The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.
The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.
This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.
The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.
The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.
This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.
The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.
With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.
I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.
Just call them the Red Flops.
Reports indicate that the New York Yankees are among a handful of teams interested in acquiring Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.
It is no secret that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is seeking another starting pitcher and the Cubs, under the direction of new team president Theo Epstein, are seeking a bevy of young prospects on which they can build a foundation for their future.
One report indicated they are “seeking the moon.”
The Chicago Tribune reported that the Yankees and Americam League East rivals Toronto and Boston are in the mix of trade talks. There are rumors that the Detroit Tigers might be willing to part with 20-year-old pitching prospect Jacob Turner for Garza. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com first reported that the Miami Marlins, seemingly not through after signing free agents Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle, have also made inquiries about Garza.
One reason Garza, 28, is attracting attention from A.L. East clubs is his 23-15 record with a 3.34 ERA in 56 games against teams in the division. Garza was 10-10 with a career-low 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 198 innings for the Cubs in his first season in the National League in 2011.
Garza is currently under contract through the 2013 season and he is expected to receive about $9 million and $10 million through arbitration for the 2012 season.
Would this be a good move for the Yankees?
On the surface it seems that it could be just the move they could make to add a starting pitcher who would likely slot as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter and it would allow the Yankees the opportunity to rid themselves of mercurial right-hander A.J. Burnett, who will turn 35 on Tuesday.
Garza has a career record of 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA. The odd thing is that he never fared well against the Yankees in his three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 12 games (11 starts) he was 1-10 with a 4.48 ERA. However, against the Red Sox he was 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 19 games.
He also has pitched 184 or more innings in his last four seasons with a 44-41 record. On paper, and perhaps in reality, he is a better option and more reliable as a starter than Burnett.
That said the prime targets the Cubs are looking for to build around is young pitchers. The Yankees have a slew of them, including 25-year-old Phil Hughes, 24-year-old Ivan Nova and 24-year-old Hector Noesi, who have reached the majors. In addition, they have D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos who have all reached the Triple-A level.
However, the Cubs certainly will not part with Garza and settle for a package that did not include either Banuelos or Betances. Epstein is not a fool, though his own perceived self-worth and burgeoning ego does sometimes cloud his judgment. The Victor Marrinez fiasco and the John Lackey signing comes to mind.
The Yankees do have a lot of other pieces they can offer at other positions such as backup infielder Eduardo Nunez, third baseman Brandon Laird and outfielder Mason Williams, which might tempt the Cubs to settle for Phelps, a Notre Dame alum, instead. There also is the specter of Jesus Montero sitting out there and Epstein would definitely like to see him play on the North Side.
Cashman must play this one very carefully in order to not overspend for what is essentially a .500 pitcher and a No. 3 starter. As such, why part with top minor-league prospects like Banuelos, Betances and Montero?
At the same time, the Marlins, Tigers and Blue Jays have even more of a need for starting pitching and they seem to be pretty determined to get it. The Tigers offering Turner gives Epstein the wedge to use to get the Yankees to throw Banuelos into the deal. The Marlins also can offer an attractive package of young players.
The Blue Jays are reportedly dangling former No. 1 prospect Kyle Drabek and four others including Anthony Gose and Deck McGwire.
So the bidding on Garza seems pretty serious, not to mention intense.
Cashman, at some point, might walk away if the deal will cost the Yankees too much of their future for such a short-term return. Garza could walk after two seasons and that would hurt a lot if Banuelos or Williams went on to become stars for the Cubs. That is the tradeoff Cashman must weigh before making too big an offer.
Garza is certainly worth the effort into inquiring into his availability and what the Cubs might be seeking in return. But caution is the ever-present watchword. Once the price for him goes too high, Cashman must be willing to fold his hand and walk away from the poker table.
The great poet Kenny Rogers once said, “You got to know when to fold them.” My guess is Cashman knows this full well.
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
YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2
Reporters kept reminding CC Sabathia that he was 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox this season and he kept saying to them that he had beaten them before and he could do it again.
On Tuesday night, he did just that.
Sabathia bowed his neck and steeled his nerves to throw six tough innings, fanning 10 and stranding 10 baserunners as New York rode its ace lefty to a huge psychological victory over Boston at hallowed Fenway Park with 37,773 in attendance.
Sabathia (18-7) threw a Yankee career-high 128 pitches and gave up just two runs on 10 hits and two walks. But the best part of Sabathia’s performance was how he wriggled out trouble in virtually every inning.
In the second, Sabathia induced Jacoby Ellsbury to hit into a harmless grounder to end the inning with the bases full of Red Sox. In the fourth, Sabathia gave up four hits, including a solo home run by Carl Crawford and an RBI double by Marco Scutaro that brought the Red Sox back into the game at 3-2. But he struck out swinging American League batting leader Adrian Gonzalez to leave two more Bosoz adrift. In the fifth inning he struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia swinging and stranded two more runners.
Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away at right-hander John Lackey (12-10), who entered the contest with a 3-0 record against the Yankees this season. They did it without most of the usual suspects, too. It came from the crew who normally play off the bench.
In the second inning, Eric Chavez, who is filling in for an injured Alex Rodriguez at third base, followed a Robinson Cano one-out walk and a Nick Swisher single with a bouncing RBI single just past second baseman “Dusty” Pedroia to break the seal on the scoring. I call Pedrois “Dusty” because in his effort to stop the bouncing ball he ate a face full of dirt on his dive.
The Yankees tacked two more runs off a tentative Lackey in the fourth. Curtis Granderson walked and one out later Robinson Cano doubled off high the Green Monster in left-center to score Granderson with his major-league-leading 123rd run of the season. After Nick Swisher drew a walk, Chavez hit another shot up the middle that Pedroia had no chance on to score Cano and give Sabathia a 3-0 cushion.
After the Red Sox scored what would be their only two runs of the night in the fourth, another bench player shocked Lackey and the Red Sox in the fifth. Francisco Cervelli, who came into the game with only one home run this season and a total of two in his career, blasted a 3-1 Lackey fastball over the Green Monster in left and out onto Landsdowne Street.
The Yankees added a run in the seventh. It started with a bang and some fireworks that cleared both benches and got Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild ejected from the game.
When Cervelli crossed the plate on his home-run gallop in the fifth he stopped at home plate to clap his hands. Lackey promptly hit him square in the back with his first delivery of the seventh. Cervelli immediately yelled out at Lackey and walked towards the mound. He was cut off by Saltalamacchia and home-plate umpire Ed Rapuano and both benches and bullpens cleared.
Calm was restored without any blows struck and Rapuano warned both benches to cut it out drew the ire. Rothschild had some parting words with third-base umpire Mark Wegner and walked away. However, Wegner tossed him from the game.
The question was did Lackey throw at Cervelli on purpose? If he did it was the stupidest thing he did all night. And Lackey, who came into the game with a 5.98 ERA, has been on a first-name basis with stupid in his pitching this season.
Lackey later uncorked a pitch that Saltalamacchia could not handle and Cervelli moved to second. Brett Gardner advanced Cervelli to third on a bunt single. Cervelli then scored on Derek Jeter’s double-play grounder. So if Lackey did hit Cervelli on purpose it was yet another stupid decision because it cost him a run.
Meanwhile, the Yankee bullpen had to navigate the last nine outs to preserve the victory for Sabathia. Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera combined to give up three hits, two walks and hit a batter over the final three innings. However, the Yankees were still able to keep the Red Sox from scoring with more clutch pitching.
Wade got into a one-out jam in the seventh when he walked David Ortiz and Jed Lowrie followed with a single.
Logan was summoned from the bullpen and he gave up a fly ball single to left-center by Crawford on which Ortiz could have scored. But he waited too long at second to see if it would drop. Logan then bowed his neck and steeled his nerves and fanned Saltalamacchia and Darnell McDonald on 3-2 pitches out of the strike zone.
Soriano pitched around a leadoff walk to Ellsbury to pitch a scoreless eighth and Rivera came on the ninth to fend off one last Red Sox threat.
Ortiz led off with a double. Two outs later, Rivera hit Saltalamacchia with a inside cutter in which Saltalamacchia appeared to swing. Wegner awarded Saltalamacchia first base, claiming he did not swing. Manager Joe Girardi erupted out of the dugout and he became Wegner’s second Yankee victim of the night.
Earlier in the inning, Jed Lowrie was called out on strikes on a Rivera fastball that appeared to be out of the strike zone. Lowrie slammed his bat and charged right into the face of Rapuano to argue the call and he was not ejected. Hmm!
Anyway, the hit batter left the Red Sox with the two on, two out and the tying run at the plate in pinch-hitter Josh Reddick. Reddick did slice a lined shot to the opposite field, however, Red Sox Nation went home crying like babies when Gardner reached up and snared the liner for the final out.
Rivera eanred his 35th save in 40 opportunities and it is the 594th of his career, seven saves away from all-times saves leader Trevor Hoffman’s total of 601.
The Red Sox can’t be proud of their effort on Monday. They struck out 13 times and left a total of 16 base-runners on base while scoring just two runs. The Red Sox were 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position. The key to game was they missed their opportunities to score while the Yankees cashed in on the much fewer chances they had.
The best news is the Yankees have pulled to within a half-game of the Red Flops, uh, Sox in the American League East. The Yankees are 81-52. The Bosox are 82-52.
- Sabathia’s line of 10 hits and two walks over six innings is not very impressive. But it was a very gutsy effort the ace delivered on Monday. Sabathia struck out Gonzalez the first three times he faced him and Gonazalez ended the night 0-for-5, the only Bosox starter who did not get a hit. MVP, huh? Sabathia got the big outs when he needed to and limited the damage in the fourth to two runs. Sabathia might have been more impressive in toughing out this start then he has in his complete-game shutouts.
- Chavez came through subbing for A-Rod with a pair of RBI singles off Lackey in the second and fourth innings. After missing 2 1/2 months with a broken bone in his right foot, Chavez was hitting just .237 since his return in July. However, in his last four starts, Chavez is 6-for-16 (375). Chavez stands to get some more playing time while A-Rod heals his sore left thumb.
- Cervelli’s home run was a much smaller version of the Bucky Dent home run in the one-game playoff in 1978. Cervelli was the most unlikely Yankee to homer on Tuesday. His enthusiastic celebration at home plate also goaded Lackey into stupidly hitting him in the back with his first pitch in the seventh. It cost the Lackey and the Chicken Pox, uh, Red Sox a very important run. Letting a bench guy like Cervelli get under your skin is not smart.
- Logan deserves credit for fanning Saltalamacchia and McDonald in a bases-loaded pressure situation in the seventh. Logan has not given up an earned run since July 23 against Oakland, a span of 12 appearances. Logan is 4-2 and has lowered his season ERA to 2.60.
- The Captain let us down on Tuesday. Jeter could have been still favoring his bruised right knee but he went 0-for-5 including his run-scoring double play groundout. In fact he grounded out to the infield in all five at-bats. On the verge of passing the .300 mark, Jeter’s average fell back to .293.
- Mark Teixiera also flamed out in this game. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and three weak infield popups. Teixeira is so intent on loading up on his back leg and lifting the ball that he pops up a lot, hence his current batting average of .249. Tex needs to stop going down for pitches and start hitting line drives on pitches up in the strike zone.
- Jorge Posada had no day to write home about either. He was 0-for-3 and ended the Yankees two best rallies in the second and fourth innings by grounding into double plays. He also flew out to left. Posada is hitting a anemic .239 in what likely will be his last season with the Yankees.
Rodriguez had a cortisone shot administered to his left thumb and he will not play in the Red Sox series. Rodriguez originally injured the thumb diving for a Joe Mauer infield single on Aug. 21, his first game back in the lineup after missing a month with surgery on his right knee. Rodriguez then re-aggravated the injury in the first game of a doubleheader on Sunday against the Orioles. Rodriguez may be able to return to the lineup on Friday with the Yankees at home against the Blue Jays. . . . Sabathia became the fifth Yankees pitcher to win at least 18 games in three straight seasons and he is the first to do it since Vic Raschi did it from 1948 through 1951.
Well, in Act One we had four hit batters (five if you count the one Granderson was hit with that Rapuano had his head up his hind end and missed), two ejections and a bench-clearing incident. What will Act Two of the this three-act play between the Red Sox and Yankees bring on Wednesday?
The Yankees will count on 24-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes (4-4, 6.46 ERA). Hughes was on a three-game winning streak and looking like the 18-game winner he was in 2010. However, he allowed six runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Athletics last week. But Hughes did not lose the game because the Yankees rallied from a 7-1 deficit to win 22-9. Hughes is 2-4 with a 6.25 ERA lifetime against the Blowsux, uh, Bosox.
The Sox will counter with right-hander Josh Beckett (11-5, 2.43 ERA). Beckett gave up four hits and fanned four in his last outing against the Rangers. Beckett is 13-7 with a 5.37 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
- Colon’s performance may put him in line to replace Hughes in the starting rotation if he continues to struggle. Colon gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits and a walk and he fanned five in 4 1/3 innings.
- Alex Rodriguez connected for his third home run for the season, a solo shot in the top of the fifth off John Lackey to tie the game at 6-6 and take Hughes off the hook for the loss. Rodriguez now has 616 career home runs.
- Brett Gardner proved to be a very pesky leadoff hitter for the Yankees. He drew two walks, doubled, tripled, stole a base, scored two runs and drove in another. Gardner pulled his batting average up to .238.
- Robinson Cano, who is the career batting average leader for opposing players who have at least 50 at-bats at Fenway Park, added to that total with two doubles in four at-bats. He also drove in two runs.
- Hughes is obviously struggling with a lack of velocity and command. He was bashed for six hits and five runs in the second inning as the Red Sox moved out to a 6-3 lead. After two outings Hughes’ ERA is 16.50.
- Boone Logan is quickly punching his ticket back to Triple-A. The Yankees’ lone lefty came in to a 7-6 game to face some tough lefties and promptly gave up a double to David Ortiz and a two-run single to J.D. Drew. In three appearances, Logan has given up five hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings.
- Teixeira had a rough afternoon at the Fens besides the rare error. He also was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. His average dipped to .240.
- Jorge Posada also took an 0-for-4 and he is now 0 for his last 14 trips to the plate with five strikeouts. His average has dipped to .154.