Monday, January 30, 2012

Second Base

For several years, the Yankees second base situation has been one of strength. They have arguably the best second baseman in baseball. He is a smooth fielder, hits for average, and for a ton of power.

Robinson Cano has been the Yankees rock in otherwise disappointing years for the Bombers. Since 2010, the second baseman has hit .319 and .302, respectively. Cano has hit 57 home runs since the 2010 season, in addition to being one of the only Yankees that actually hits in the postseason. It also seems like every time the bases are loaded for Robbie, he hits a grand slam! It is difficult for me to say that Cano needs to make improvements. He hits lefties and righties, and his splits are even better against lefties. Cano is what you would call a model player.

If there is one place where he could get better in 2012, it would be his fielding. Many baseball people mistake Cano's nonchalant fielding for laziness. Cano has dispelled that myth in recent years. He had a breakout year defensively in 2010, committing only three errors in 776 chances for a .996 fielding percentage. In 2011, he took a step backwards, making ten errors in essentially the exact same number of chances for a less respectable .987 fielding percentage. Cano is a gold glove second baseman who makes difficult plays look like child's play. I would like him to return to his 2010 form. His ceiling for success is endless and I firmly believe that Cano will win a batting title and an MVP award in his career. That's how highly I think of Robinson Cano. Also, hitting third in the lineup will give him more protection and will make Robbie even better being behind Granderson and in front of a (hopefully) healthy Alex Rodriguez.

My 2012 predictions for Robinson: .325 BA, 32 HR, 104 RBI

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Who's on First?

Alright, maybe that was a dumb question to ask, but it sounded fitting because of the mystery that awaits. Mark Teixeira will obviously the starting first baseman for the Yankees in 2012. He will not move to third base to let Swisher take over on first. (Prince Fielder joke...)

It is somewhat of a mystery however, regarding which Mark Teixeira we will see offensively. In 2011, Teixeira got off to a fast start. Everybody thought his April struggles would be over. Not quite the case. He started the season with a bang. He blasted 4 home runs in the first 4 games of the season. Although his power numbers were there for the remainder of the season, his batting average dipped significantly from the left side. The switch-hitter hit .248 overall with 39 home runs and 111 RBI for the season. The last two statistics are enticing, but the batting average looks terrible on the back of that baseball card. Going into the season, Teixeira was a career .286 hitter. He had a sub-par season in 2010 in the batting average department, but it was looked at as being an off-year for Teixeira. His average took an even further dive in 2011, leaving people to wonder if this is what they were going to get from Mark over the remainder of his contract.

Even with his terrible batting average, Teixeira killed lefties, batting right-handed. He hit a healthy .302 against righties. However, he hit a scary .224 as a lefty facing right-handed pitching. Teixeira knows that he had a down year in 2011. According to him, he is working hard in the off-season with hitting coach Kevin Long to tinker with his left-handed swing. Teixeira hit 24 home runs from the left side, but admits that he got a little pull-happy with the short porch at Yankee Stadium. Teixeira needs to be better consistently as a left-handed hitter. The shift is employed on Mark because teams have him figured out. They know that he will not hit anything to the opposite field from the left side, taking away groud ball hits that he would have otherwise gotten if he was not a dead pull hitter. I am confident that Teixeira will have a bounce back season in 2012.

My predictions for Teixeira in 2012: .270 BA, 34 HR, 108 RBI

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yankee Great Announces Retirement

Judging by the way the 2011 season went, it only made sense for Jorge to pack up his catching gear and explosive bat. However, Jorge still has the passion that many players in their prime do not have. Watching his press conference, it was evident that it was a difficult thing to do for Jorge. Relationships were formed in his 17 years playing for the greatest team in professional sports, and not only with his teammates.

Posada thanks the fans for sticking with him throughout the season. For a man with as much pride and passion for the game of baseball as Jorge had, it must have been difficult to turn in his catching gear before the start of the 2011 season.

Jorge leaves behind a legacy of determination and heart. He wore his heart on his sleeve until the very end. This press conference signifies Jorge's emotion while putting everything he had on the baseball field. He is a Yankee great and has been so clutch throughout his terrific career. From the double off of Pedro Martinez in the 2003 ALCS to his numerous late inning heroics, Jorge is a fighter and his passion is what inspired his fans.

It will be strange to not hear the chants of "HIP-HIP-JORGE" at the stadium anymore. Another member of the Core Four has decided to hang it up. It leaves a void in Yankees Universe. There is no doubt that nobody will ever be able to replace Jorge Posada as the heart of this team for much of seventeen seasons. I believe that Jorge will make a great major league manager one day. His passion and the fire that burns within him are ideal managerial characteristics that I hope will be exercised soon.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trade becomes Official, other notes

  • Michael Pineda is now a New York Yankee and Jesus Montero is a Seattle Mariner. The trade became official today. Pineda held a conference call and stressed that he was speechless and is totally looking forward to pitching with CC Sabathia and playing with the likes of Jeter and A-Rod.
  • Montero said he was "shocked" about the trade because he thought the Yankees would have given him a legitimate chance to prove himself in the big leagues.
  • Cashman stated that he doesn't see Hughes as a reliever. He is more comfortable with him being a starter.
  • Also from Cashman, he says that free agent DH's are "secondary" in his search right now. He would prefer to trade an arm for a bat that can make a significant impact. 
  • Brett Gardner avoided arbitration this weekend, settling on a one-year contract worth $2.8 million.
Associated Press Photo

Sunday, January 22, 2012

With Scutaro out of AL, Mariano Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Marco Scutaro has been traded to the Colorado Rockies for a pitcher. Mariano Rivera now has breathing room when facing the Red Sox lineup. If you watch the Yankees/Red Sox games, they always come down to Mariano facing Scutaro and Scutaro usually wins the battle. Just last year, the Yankees were one out away from winning a tight game that was started by Freddy Garcia and Josh Beckett pitching for the Sox. Mariano has to face Scutaro. He hits a double off the Green Monster and the Red Sox eventually win the game when Hughes comes out of the bullpen to face Josh Reddick (who is also out of the Boston system).

Scutaro had great numbers vs. Mo. He had a slash line of .294/.400/.588 with a homer, two doubles and three RBI. To see those numbers against Rivera makes no sense, especially coming from a career .270 hitter. You can breathe now, Mo. Scutaro will no longer haunt you in your nightmares.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Assessing the Value of AJ Burnett

Burnett's reaction after giving up a home run to Bengie
Molina in the 2010 ALCS
AJ Burnett has always been a point of controversy in Yankee Land. Most fans are frustrated with his lack of consistency over the past two years and want to trade him or outright dump him and his salary. Let's face it, Burnett is a shell of his former self. He is a two-pitch pitcher who is all too inconsistent. In 2010, he saw a minor drop in velocity. One would think that if a pitcher loses 1-2 MPH off his fastball, it is no big deal. That's not the case with Burnett. Being a two-pitch pitcher makes it more difficult for him to adapt. Players know that they will get one of two pitches, and they can sense a fastball that contains less velocity when it is thrown. He is a very streaky starter. He has bad months that cause his ERA to inflate. Without certain months added to the ERA, he is a league-average pitcher. What entices you is his ability to throw a no-hitter every time he steps on the mound. He has, when right, a filthy curveball that looks appealing to hitters and usually ends up in the dirt and with the batter looking like a fool. Burnett also consistently eats innings for the Yankees year in and year out and makes all of his starts. He pitches 200 innings every year and gives the Yankees a chance to win in a rare occasion. He has stepped up when he was needed. The 2009 World Series comes to mind where he went 1-1, but the game he won was spectacular and gave the Yankees the edge in the remainder of the Series. Last year, with the Yankees being on the brink of elimination in game four of the ALDS against the Tigers, Burnett stepped up and delivered 5.2 innings of one-run ball. We know that Burnett is VERY inconsistent, but he shows us why we are all eager to watch his next start to possibly witness a no-hitter.

Moving forward, Burnett has $33 million remaining for two years on his Yankee contract. The Yankees have a boatload of front-line starters not named AJ Burnett. Is it a possibility that he gets traded before the start of the season? Very unlikely. Teams do not want to be responsible for his salary and the Yankees do not want to pay the majority of it for a different team. The Yankees would rather have him on the team, knowing that he is an innings-eater. That is perhaps the only value that Burnett has right now, and it only means something to the Yankees because they are paying him to eat those innings and to have a great start now and again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Yankees Catching

I will dedicate a blog post to each position for the New York Yankees. In these posts, I will be discussing organizational strengths at each position and how they will be affected by minor leaguers coming up through the system. With my first post, I will hone in on the Yankees catching situation and what it will look like in the long term, post Russell Martin.

Austin Romine
The Yankees currently have Russell Martin at catcher. Martin has been great for the Yankees in his first season in 2011. He threw out 30% of potential base-stealers, something that Posada was not especially good at doing. He hit for power, mashing 17 home runs and provided stability behind the plate for over 120 games. There is no doubt that the arbitration-eligible catcher will be back in pinstripes in 2012, judging from comments made by Brian Cashman. However, if the Yankees do not lock Martin up to a long-term deal, which they won't, they need to have the stability at the catching position that they had when Jorge Posada was squatting behind the plate for most of 15 seasons. The organization is stacked with an embarrassment of catching prospects which include Austin Romine and even further down in the system, Gary Sanchez. After Martin becomes a free-agent, the Yankees need to look closely at making Romine their every day catcher. The AAA player had a taste of big-league time when he was called up in September, but needs to further develop his hitting skills. Before the Yankees commit to making Romine their every day catcher, they need to gradually set him into the role of back-up catcher. When Jorge Posada was coming up, Joe Girardi was the Yankees catcher and Girardi taught Posada the ropes of how to catch a big-league staff. Over the last three years, the Yankees back-up has been Francisco Cervelli, a terrible defensive catcher who is a singles hitter. If the Yankees want Austin Romine to be successful at the big-league level, catching the likes of CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, they need to let him break camp with the Bombers to get a taste of life in the majors. Although Francisco Cervelli is a pro at fist-pumping, he needs to get traded for a similar player at a different position or as a complementary piece for a big-time pitcher. Cervelli, not Martin, is blocking Romine's future with the Yankees because the Yankees are opting to go with the guy with more big-league experience rather than with a new guy who needs to mature. For that to happen, I don't see any other option but parting ways with Cervelli. Sanchez still has a long way before he hits the majors which would give Romine plenty of opportunities to prove himself as a legitimate defensive catcher who can handle the bat and hit .280 consistently. What actually happens though, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yankees Avoid Arbitration with Hughes, Robertson, and Chamberlain

Yesterday, the Yankees announced that they came to an agreement with RHP Phil Hughes on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract worth $3.2 million plus incentives. That's a $500,000 raise for a guy who essentially had a lost season, winning a lowly 5 games for the Yankees with an inflated ERA of almost 6. There is nowhere to go for Hughes but up. He had a dreadful 2011 season and did not come close to his 2010 first half statistics. He came into spring training overweight and not as ready as he did the previous year, knowing that he was a lock in then- the Yankees thin rotation. Being that the Yankees have surplus starting pitching, it would help the Yankees in a possible trade involving Hughes if he began the season as the number 5 starter. It is unlikely to happen however, because of the size of Burnett's contract and having Freddy Garcia as a proven starter. Nonetheless, Hughes has potential to be a front-line starter, but his likely home to start the season will probably be in the bullpen until Chamberlain fully recovers from Tommy John surgery. He is a proven winner in the bullpen and the move would only make sense.

The Yankees also announced that they have come to agreements on one-year contracts with setup man David Robertson and reliever Joba Chamberlain. The two were no-brainers to obtain contracts from the Yankees. Without Robertson setting up for Mariano, there may not have been a postseason for the Yankees. Let's not forget how he Houdini'd himself out of based-loaded jams throughout the season. Personally, I think the Yankees should lock him up to a long-term deal before he gets too expensive. Chamberlain is a wildcard because he, like Hughes, had a lost season. Before his elbow injury, he was having a great season, with an ERA under 3. While at one point Chamberlain was thought to be the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera, his place within the organization remains a mystery with the Yankees already having two eighth inning relievers and a closer who isn't bad himself.

Update- 3:39 PM- According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Robertson will make $1.6 million with 25K in incentives and Chamberlain will make $1.675 million.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Filling the Last Spot on the Bench

In recent years, the Yankees bench has been made up of weak hitters, mostly coming from Scranton-Wilkes Barre. In 2010, their bench featured Ramiro Pena, Francisco Cervelli, Marcus Thames and Eduardo Nunez. They also called many players up from AAA through out the season. Kevin Russo had a brief stint, as did Chad Huffman and Colin Curtis. But the bench was thin. It was lacking impact players who put fear into the eyes of opposing pitchers. Then in 2011, the Yankees upgraded their bench significantly by adding the power hitting Andruw Jones and taking a chance with Eric Chavez. The acquisitions worked in the Yankees favor last year. They have already re-signed Jones to a one year deal, but the final spot on the bench remains vacant.

Eric Chavez was a valuable asset to the Yankees bench last season when he was not hurt. He played gold glove caliber defense at third and even at first base. When Alex Rodriguez went down because of his ailing knee, Chavez stepped up and filled the void at third base in a platoon with Eduardo Nunez. Though Chavez's bat never really lived up to it's potential, there was more he had to contribute defensively. He did get hits in key spots and many of them came against the Red Sox, but his power was virtually non-existent except for homers he hit in a blowout game in Chicago and toward the end of the season in Toronto. Chavez is a very undervalued player who can contribute in a lineup and defensively. Although he is still no longer the healthy player he once was with the Oakland A's, Chavez is a valuable piece that would give the Yankees bench an additional weapon from the left side. Cashman would be foolish to not sign Chavez to fill the last spot on the bench, knowing that A-Rod is coming off of an injury plagued season. The Yankees bench was an overall success in the 2011 season and having the same pieces back in the 2012 season would only make it stronger.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why CC Remains the Only Sure Thing

With the boatload of pitching that the Yankees now find themselves with, CC Sabathia remains the only sure thing in the rotation. Don't get me wrong.  I love the additions of Kuroda and Pineda in the Yankees starting rotation, but let's not forget that neither of them have pitched in particularly difficult divisions offensively. Both, Kuroda and Pineda pitched in the friendly confines of Safeco Field and Dodger Stadium, respectively. Neither of the pitchers are battle tested, as CC is. With Kuroda, there is no doubt that he is a workhorse who pitches every fifth day and gave his Dodger teams a legitimate chance to win. In 2011, he had a sparkling 3.07 ERA and posted career highs in strikeouts and earned run average. Let's not forget however, that he pitched on a .500 team in the NL West with no pressure to perform in key games. That makes him far from a sure thing. Also, he did not accept a trade to the Bronx last season, leaving me to wonder whether or not he was skeptical about how his numbers would turn out in the beast of the east, facing the Red Sox.
Pineda was a top tier prospect in the Mariners system who showed that he could be a legitimate number one in the first half of 2011. He was an all-star on a team that went on to carry a 17 game losing streak in August. His numbers plummeted shortly after the all-star break, where he carried an inflated ERA and his stuff was not fooling as many major league hitters. Let's not forget that he was pitching many of his games in pitcher friendly Safeco Field, making his ERA deceptive. The Yankees acquired him from Seattle, hoping that someday he will be a number one for the Yankees. He has yet to develop a third pitch, but with some extra work in spring training that could change. Remember what happened when Ivan Nova was sent down and was called up again? This is the ideal situation for Pineda, who carries an intimidating presence on the mound. CC Sabathia is a veteran starter whose dominance season after season is difficult to match, especially while pitching in the AL East. Will Kuroda crack under the pressure of flashing lights? Will Pineda develop into an ace starter if he masters the changeup? Time will tell. One thing remains certain however, and it is that CC Sabathia will remain the Yankees ace for years to come.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

WANTED: Designated Hitter

Damon as a member of the Rays hitting a walkoff home run against the Twins

Going into the 2012 season, the Yankees were set on making Jesus Montero their primary DH. Now that he is a Seattle Mariner, plans have shifted just a bit. The Yankees need to go out and get a reliable bat. Their options are limited because of their need for a left-handed hitter. Two names on the free agent market jump out at you. Johnny Damon and Carlos Pena. There are upsides to both players and drawbacks that could detour a trip to the Bronx for the 2012 season. Johnny Damon is AL East tested and a proven winner who does not cave in pressure moments. He thrives in key situations and continued to do so for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011. One thing that makes a reunion with Damon difficult is his age. The 38 year old has seen a decline over the last two years with the Tigers and Rays, respectively. His batting average has taken a considerable dip in the last two seasons. Additionally, his fielding is suspect as a 38 year old left fielder. Carlos Pena is also AL East tested and though he has not won, he certainly has pop. The first baseman hits for power, and lots of it. He plays sparkling defense at first base. However, as a DH for the Yankees, his fielding would not be needed as Mark Teixeira is not a bad first baseman himself... Another negative about Pena is that he is an all-or-nothing hitter. His batting average is embarrassing but his power numbers are outstanding. Pena's lack of consistency at the plate is a turn off for the Yankees. The Yankees have power hitters with respectable averages and do not need a headache that will hit 30 homers but have those homers be 1/3 of his total hits. Looking at in-house options, Jorge Vazquez is a 29 year old AAA DH/1B who mashes the ball, but with that comes plenty of strikeouts. He has raw power that can give the Yankees a cheap, in-house option that will save them several million. My take is this: Damon is a good leadoff hitter that can cause havoc on opposing pitchers. Pena is a more expensive Jorge Vazquez, so I do not understand why Pena's name is even coming up. I would sign Damon to a $4.5 million contract and have him platoon with Jeter for the leadoff position. Jorge Vazquez can begin the year in AAA with a possible call-up later in the season if injuries plague the everyday players.

The Evil Empire Strikes

And so goes the quiet off-season that Brian Cashman was talking about for months. The Yankees have made two major moves that will bolster their starting rotation. The Bombers acquire young Seattle star Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. It is a gutsy move by Cashman to give away Montero, a proven hitter at the major league level in a small sample size. I also believe that Noesi has a lot of upside and if not for Banuelos and Betances, could have prospered in the Yankees organization for years to come.
However, there is a positive that comes out of all this, and not a small one. The Yankees get two quality starting pitchers! They now have a rotation that features CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova. If that doesn't scare you as an opposing team, it should. The Phillies have aging star pitchers. Two of the Yankees top 4 are under 26 years old. Don't forget that Banuelos and Betances are waiting in AAA to get a chance to pitch for the Bombers. I would rank the Yankees starting rotation in the top five in the American League, joining the likes of the Angels and Rays. The Yankees splash also leads to another series of questions. The first one being that they have seven starters. Who will be the odd man out between Hughes, Burnett, and Garcia? The other question that remains is who will be the Yankees designated hitter in 2012? Let's start with the first question. The Yankees may have something else up their sleeve. Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett are the odd men out based on last year's statistics. If Hughes isn't traded, I can see him joining the Yankees bullpen while Joba Chamberlain is on the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery. If the Yankees can find suckers to take on the majority of Burnett's salary it will be a miracle. This leaves Freddy Garcia as the most sensible option to round out the Yankees stacked rotation. (Never thought I would say that). To answer the second question, the Yankees have an eye on Carlos Pena. I do not think he is a good option to fill the designated hitter slot in the Yankees lineup. A .225 average would not serve the Yankees very well. I envision a possible reunion between Johnny Damon and the Yankees. It would make sense. He would be a great leadoff option against right-handers and Jeter would remain the leadoff hitter against lefties. Damon is also a proven asset in the American League East and in the past has been very clutch and reliable for the Yankees. Nevertheless, look out for the Yankees to make a move in the DH department and soon.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Kerry Wood: Imagining a Yankees Reunion

We all remember the last two months of the 2010 season. Kerry wood was traded to New York from Cleveland and returning from the DL. He was hardly anything to get excited about. His first game with the Yankees was in Tampa Bay where he got himself into a jam where the bases were loaded. Girardi went to the bullpen because he felt that Wood could not handle pressure situations. Later however, Wood's talent would be revealed to Yankee Universe when he consistently was put in games and would get positive results. Despite his high walk totals, he always seemed to get out of those "first and second, nobody out" jams and more confidence was instilled in his manager. Wood would allow two earned runs in 26 innings pitched for the Bombers. His post-season heroics were also evident when he would put men on base in the eighth inning of tight games and picked them off attempting to steal. Bottom line: Kerry Wood was a savior for the Yankees in 2010 and helped them advance to the postseason with his strong pitching in the latter part of the season when the Yankees bullpen was thin and lacked effective pitchers aside from Mo. It was a major disappointment to see Wood reject the Yankees last off-season to sign with the Cubs for a below-market salary. The Yankees eventually signed Rafael Soriano to a highly controversial three year deal making him the highest paid set-up man in the game. Soriano struggled in his first season in pinstripes and was plagued by injury, causing him to miss almost two months of the season. A Wood reunion is is not happening this year, but Yankee fans can't help but feel nostalgic about the the right-hander and what he did for us in 2010. Maybe 2013 will yield different results and a reunion. We can only hope.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Edwin Jackson: Desperation or the Real Thing?

Yesterday, Hal Steinbrenner sat down with Jackson's agent, Scott Boras to discuss Edwin Jackson and if a possible deal can be created. Yankees fans are jumping on the E-Jax bandwagon out of pure desperation. Jackson is a headcase, much like somebody the Yankees have on their starting staff *cough*AJ Burnett*cough*. His stuff is appealing but let's face it. Do we really want another starter with question marks on a long term deal?  Jackson is the premiere pitcher left on the market who is seeking a multi-year deal worth 15-17 million dollars per season. For that asking price, no thanks to Edwin Jackson. If Jackson is willing to accept a one to two year deal from the Yankees worth about 8-12 million dollars per year, I would be alright with it. The lack of free agent starting pitching this off-season is making Jackson look more enticing than he really is. Trading for a top-notch starter is difficult and impossible without including Betances or Banuelos. Too much has been invested in the Killer B's to just trade them for a Matt Garza or a Gio Gonzalez. A better option for the Yankees would be to sign a free agent starter such as Roy Oswalt to a low risk, high reward one year deal to see if he can contribute without his back giving out. I'm very leery about Kuroda only because of his previously stated skepticism about pitching in New York. The last thing the Yankees need in a rotation full of question marks is another disaster. Look up: Vazquez, Javier... part one and part two. So to conclude, the Yankees best options are to settle with a one to two year deal with Jackson to see what he can bring to the table. He is not a lock to be a reliable starter but he is proven to be healthy. I just don't think he has what it takes to pitch in the American League East. For me, Hal meeting with Boras is purely a move out of desperation. If something can come of it, I am willing to try it out as long as it is not a long-term contract. For me personally, Jackson is not the real thing. His ability serves as a mirage that will painfully be uncovered if the Yankees sign him to a long term deal.

An Introduction

I am an enormous Yankees fan. I follow every player and watch all 162 games of the regular season... and of course post-season games too. I follow Yankees players and beat writers on Twitter and love to get my Yankees fix during any part of the day. My favorite current Yankees are Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. Cano's pure ability to hit and Gardner's speed make them especially intriguing and unpredictable. During the regular season, I hope to post daily blogs about game predictions and player updates. From now until spring training, I will be talking about up-to-date Hot Stove action and how different signings affect the Yankees. Here's hoping that we get #28 in 2012. Let's Go Yankees!