Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Rest of the East: Baltimore Orioles

Let's say it like it is. The Baltimore Orioles are... not good. They have spent their last several seasons as the doormat of the AL East after Tampa Bay started to compete.

The Baltimore Orioles have the chance to be a decent team in a division that doesn't include the Yankees and the Red Sox. They have good offensive players in Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Their pitching staff could use some work, but they have some young guys who have a chance to shine. Zach Britton, Brian Matusz have shown that they can be dominant pitchers in the starting rotation. Matusz had a promising 2010 season, while Britton showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season. Jim Johnson is a flame throwing right hander who is making the transition to the starting rotation this season. He served as a one inning setup man in the 2011 season, but his pitches have enough life and enough of a difference in speed that he will be better served as a starting pitcher.

Kevin Gregg was a good closer in Toronto before he signed with Baltimore and struggled in his first season with the birds. Expect a bounce back season from Gregg. The starting rotation is young and inexperienced. The youth on this team leaves me to believe that their inexperience will play against them in the beast of the east.

They have some guys in the lineup who can contribute offensively and defensively. Nick Markakis has one hell of an arm and hits for power. A change of scenery can make him shine in right field. Matt Wieters had a great season in 2011. He is a powerful force at the plate and behind the plate. He is a special catcher. J.J.  Hardy provides a veteran presence in the clubhouse and can be a valuable asset to a team filled with youth.

This team has many players who have a chance to shine, but their youth and inexperience make it difficult for me to give them a chance in the AL East. Buck Showalter has shown his fiery personality and is a presence in the clubhouse. He needs a few more pieces, including a proven starting pitcher, to even approach .500 baseball.

I don't see the Orioles winning more than 71 games this season.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Rest of the East: Boston Red Sox

In this series of posts, I will discuss other American League East teams. This post will focus specifically on the Yankees arch rivals: the Boston Red Sox.

At this time last year, the Red Sox were, on paper, the team to beat in the AL East. Many were predicting a World Series appearance for the Sox. Acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres and getting back Pedroia from his 2010 injury were the final factors that would lead the Red Sox to the division title.

They began the regular season terribly, in a way that would foreshadow their September collapse. The players were frustrated and nothing was going their way. This would change a week later (of course, while playing the Yankees). From that point on, they were the best team in baseball from May to August. They were winning at an amazing pace and were already looking toward the playoffs.

The Yankees came into Boston on the last day of August and beat the Sox two times in a three game series. From that point forward, the Red Sox collapse became increasingly more the topic in baseball. Boston's pitching went into a tailspin. Their starters had a 7.08 ERA collectively in the month of September, a mark that is atrocious. Their bullpen fell apart as well, with Bard losing his control and blowing eighth inning leads.

On the last day of the regular season, it seemed that regardless of the Red Sox September record they would still make the postseason. The Yankees were beating Tampa Bay by seven runs and the Red Sox had a lead over the Orioles going into the ninth inning before Andino dunked a single into left that just missed the glove of Carl Crawford. The Red Sox hopes of making the playoffs hinged on result on game going on in St. Pete. The Red Sox season came to an end when Evan Longoria wrapped a home run just within the foul pole in left. The Tampa Bay Rays were the American League wildcard team, with Boston going home.

The team was largely impacted by the September 7-20 collapse. Manager Terry Francona was fired, GM Theo Epstein chose to go to the Cubs, and Boston fans were ready to jump off the deep end.

I don't see Boston being a major factor this season in the AL East. The hiring of Bobby Valentine will help the Sox in terms of discipline, but I don't see the players taking to Bobby V's methods. Papelbon leaving Boston for Philadelphia and trading Lowrie to the Astros leaves them without an everyday shortstop and a legitimate closer. They acquired Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon but not without losing their right fielder, Josh Reddick.

The Red Sox will settle somewhere within that 89-92 win spectrum, with a third place finish in the AL East behind the Yankees and Rays, respectively.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One Mo' Time

Mariano Rivera is without question, the greatest relief pitcher who ever lived. His cool, his ability to put batters away consistently with one pitch, and his grace on the mound. All of these attributes are what make Rivera who he is. He is the best at what he does.

Earlier in the week, Rivera hinted strongly that this could be his final year. That is something that scares all Yankee fans. How will we ever find someone to replace the greatest closer of all time? When the bullpen gate opens in the ninth inning with the Yankees having a slim lead, how can anyone envision someone other than the great Mariano Rivera jogging out of it? Enter Sandman is a staple at Yankee Stadium and has been for years. We are not ready to give that up quite yet, but apparently Mariano is hinting that he is.

One of the many reasons that I respect Mariano above any other player in the majors is his passion. He looks to the bright side of any situation. The main reason that he continues to be so dominant year in and year out is because he is able to forget about a hiccup. The bright lights of New York don't phase him. He is the god of pitching.

The cutter, that one damn pitch that has worked for Rivera for over 15 years. Hitters can't touch it. It cannot be duplicated. The stifling pitch that has gotten Mariano his success for almost two decades is a gift that Mariano attributes to God - another reason I respect Mariano. He is the most graceful human being that I ever witnessed in the game of baseball. He loves his fans, and acknowledges them in every facet of his success.
I met Mariano once at a signing just after he signed his most recent deal to come back to the Yankees for two years. After he signed my ball, I said to him, "congratulations on your new contract and good luck." He looked at me for a second, and with the most sincere of facial expressions thanked me. I was astounded that a lowly fan like myself could even have gotten a second of Mariano's attention. I saw him at a game in 2011. I was in the bleachers and he was near the Yankee dugout. I yelled his name and waved. Mariano turned around and acknowledged my presence by waving back.

Mariano Rivera is a class act. I can't imagine the stadium not having "Enter Sandman" play as he jogs in from the bullpen. It will be a tough transition when Mariano decides to call it quits, with it becoming more of a reality after every season. Mariano Rivera is one of a kind. He will never be matched in excellence and performance. There is no replacing Mariano. You just can't do it. Whoever will be the Yankees closer after Mariano will have big shoes to fill, but they will never match Rivera's excellence.

Yankees re-sign Chavez, Make Ibanez Official.

The Yankees announced earlier today that they have officially sign Raul Ibanez to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million.

Later in the day, when asked about his bench, Girardi "accidentally" slipped in Eric Chavez's name when in fact, he was not yet signed. A few hours later, it was revealed that Chavez agreed to terms with the Yankees on a one-year major league deal worth $900,000 with added incentives. The Yankees are now a complete team. They have players to fill holes that will need to be filled when regulars are inured.

Players are filing into Tampa daily. Today, Andruw Jones made his Spring debut, discussing his meniscus tear that he played through last season and had repaired in the off-season. He also said that he would like to contribute more to the team... With a young outfield, it will be hard to contribute anymore than he is used to unless he platoons with Gardner in left, which I do not see happening too much because of Gardner's above-average defensive abilities.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Busy First Day in Tampa

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Tampa this morning for the first workouts of the season, there was obviously media hype surrounding some players.
  • Mariano Rivera, without actually saying it, hinted that this would be his final season. "How many times have I told you guys that this is my last year?" Rivera said. "I keep telling guys, after this year, I'm not going to play. Then there it is, I play two more years, a contract for three more years. Then another three more years. But this one is different. This is it. This one is my decision. When I let you guys know what it is, you guys will know." The thought of Rivera not jogging in from the bullpen when the Yankees have a lead in the ninth certainly scares me, and all other Yankee fans.
  • The Yankees have agreed to terms on a deal with Raul Ibanez for one year and a salary of $1.1 million with plate appearance incentives that could potentially drive up his pay to $4 million.
  • The Yankees are still interested in bringing back Eric Chavez, but on their terms. Chavez recently said that it was a 50/50 shot that he would return to the Yankees in 2012, but he clearly wants to come back based on word from his agent earlier in the off-season.
    Michael Pineda
  • Michael Pineda had his first Yankee bullpen session today, with Russell Martin catching him. Martin was singing the praises he had of Pineda. "You could tell he’s been working on the changeup. Larry (Rothschild) was saying that he’s changed the grip a little bit, and it’s working. We’ll see how hitters react to it, but from my perspective, it looked like a pretty good pitch. His slider is a plus slider. Everybody knows he’s got a live arm."
  • A.J. Burnett is officially a Pirate. In an interview, Burnett said that maybe he allowed "tinkering" from too many people in the Yankees organization. Martin agreed when asked about Burnett, saying that there were outside factors that got to A.J. Regardless. there won't be anymore questions regarding Burnett and his inconsistency. The days of Girardi and Brian Cashman standing up for A.J. are over. It is a team game and talking about one player all season takes away from how the rest of the team is performing.
  • One of the things on pitchers' agenda today: PFP, or pitchers fielding practice. I have never played professionally, but it sounds like a drag.
  • When asked about his lineup for 2012, Girardi expressed that he would have Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira bat 3-4-5 and that Jeter would bat lead-off ,but also reminded everyone that he is not married to that order.
Those are the notes from Yankees camp in Tampa, Florida. Thank you to Chad Jennings, Marc Carig and the rest of the Yankees beat crew for keeping everyone up-to-date today on Twitter and on the Yankees LoHud blog. Day two of workouts will convene tomorrow morning from Tampa.

Photo of Pineda provided by the Yankees LoHud Blog.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Today's the Day

The off season has come to a close for the Yankees. It was an off season that was different from all the others. No big name free agents were signed and the Yankees are trying to lower their payroll. They made three significant moves this off season. The first two came on the same day on that Friday the 13th in January. They traded away prospect Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda. On the same day, they came to an agreement with free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on a one-year deal that will further stabilize the Yankees rotation.

Their next move is still pending, however it is essentially a done deal. They dealt erratic pitcher, A.J. Burnett to the Pirates for salary relief and two marginal prospects. The Yankees rotation is now one of the best in the game on paper, with a powerful 1-2 punch, Sabathia and Pineda.

The Yankees final move will come during spring training. They will probably sign Raul Ibanez to a one-year deal to be their lefty designated hitter. If finances permit, (can't believe I'm saying this about the New York Yankees) they will go out and sign Eric Chavez to provide insurance for an aging A-Rod at third base and an occasional inning at first.

So the day is here, all of the moves made in the off-season are put under a microscope and are dissected piece by piece. All of that does not matter. The Yankees are back in business, healthy and fresh, and that's what makes me happy- I have something to look forward to. Not many fans are blessed to have a team that succeeds year in and year out.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A.J. Deal almost Finalized

The Yankees and Pirates have finally come to terms on a deal that would send A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh for salary relief and two marginal prospects in the Bucs system. The Pirates will pay the remaining $13 million of Burnett's salary, according to Joel Sherman. One of the two players rumored in the deal that the Yankees will be getting is RH relief pitcher Diego Moreno. He is a 25 year old AA player who has delivered sub-par results thus far. Since salary is involved the commissioner has to OK the deal. That is not seen as a possible obstacle for the impending deal.

Burnett will re-unite with catcher Rod Barajas, with whom he won 18 games in Toronto as his battery-mate. The battery history is a good sign for Burnett and the Pirates.

The Yankees next order of business will be to sign Eric Chavez and a DH. Reports say that the Yankees are heavily interested in Raul Ibanez. Fans are against the proposition, wanting Damon back in the Bronx. I agree with the fans. Although Damon's at-bats in the second half of 2011 became impatient, I do not think that it is a sign of how he will perform for the Yankees. He just wants to win, and the Yankees know what he can do in the AL East.

The trade leaves us with one questions: Who will be the pie clown after walk-offs? We shall wait and see.

UPDATE: 3:36 PM- The second player the Yankees will receive for Burnett is Exicardo Cayones, a low A outfielder.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

At the Center of It All

In my final positional player evaluation I will discuss Curtis Granderson. Granderson came to the Yankees in 2010 in that three-team trade that sent top Yankee prospect Austin Jackson to Detroit and pitcher Ian Kennedy to the D-Backs. The Yankees received in return, a developed starting center fielder who they thought was capable of hitting 40 home runs and playing decent defense in center field.

Curtis' 2010 campaign began with him struggling at the plate. He had a wide strike zone and did not hit for the power the Yankees thought they would be getting. Sending Jackson to Detroit seemed like a mistake. Something happened however, that sent many Yankees fans begging Granderson for forgiveness. For a few days in in Texas, Curtis worked to tweak his approach at the plate with hitting coach Kevin Long. The results made K-Long look like a genius. Granderson's swing was transformed and it was showing results. He finished the 2010 season with an outstanding performance in the postseason and carried that into the 2011 season where he would be up for the MVP discussion.

From Game 1 of the 2011 season, it was apparent that the tutorial with Long did not go to waste. He began the season with a home run off of a lefty to essentially win the game for the Yankees. He ended the year with 41 round-trippers, 119 driven in and an eye-popping 136 runs scored to league the league in that category by a landslide.

Granderson did have some glaring issues at the plate that would not change however. He struck out a ton and his batting average was .262. Pitchers pitched to Granderson, hoping that he would strike out, which he did... 169 times. Granderson will be the first to say that he needs to work on his plate discipline and needs to cut down on the strikeouts. In order for him to ever win a Most Valuable Player Award, he needs to put more balls in play and hope they sneak through for hits. The .262 average will turn into a .275 average and pitchers will be forced to pitch around him.

Granderson had an MVP caliber year in 2011, with fans hoping for similar results in 2012. I believe that fans will see a Curtis Granderson who keeps his power numbers up, but also will see a Granderson who will cut down on his strikeouts. Plate discipline means everything in the majors and without some sense of it, pitchers will not see you as much of a threat.

My predictions for Granderson in 2012: .278 BA, 35 HR, 103 RBI

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where They Stand

Where do the Yankees stand only one week before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, Florida? There are many questions surrounding the rotation being the excess pitching that is not a sure thing to work. Late last week, the Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates began heavy discussion surrounding A.J Burnett. The Yankees need to get rid of pitching, the Pirates need pitching; the Yankees need to get money to sign a DH, the Pirates need a cheap player who can provide stability and a veteran presence in their rotation.

I initially thought that the Yankees would enter Spring Training with Burnett penciled in to be their number five starter. Since then, the discussions got deeper and the prospect of Burnett being traded became more of a reality. A deal needs to get done. Burnett is a fragile creature and if the trade falls through, his ego will be further bruised, so expecting him to fall apart early in the season would not be unfathomable. My gut tells me that Burnett will not begin the season as a Yankee. His Yankee career will conclude with a record of 34-35, a 4.79 ERA and 99 appearances (98 starts). The possibility of not having Burnett in the rotation gives me hope. He was a good project but his time has come and gone in the pinstripes.

What does scare me however, is the lack of quality depth behind C.C. Behind the ace, are five starters who have the ability to be something special but are not givens as great starters. Michael Pineda has never started a game in New York and his second half 2011 stats scare me. Ivan Nova had a stellar year but there's no guarantee that it will translate into the 2012 season, (look up Hughes, Phil). Hiroki Kuroda made a living pitching in the National League and for a west coast team. He is also 37 years old and nobody knows how he will perform under the scrutiny of New York fans and media. Phil Hughes is coming back from a terrible season. Freddy Garcia's best years are behind him and chances are that he does not repeat the year he had in 2011.

That is what to expect coming into Spring Training. Hopefully my skepticism is put to rest and my fears do not take the best of me. One thing is promising however, and that is A.J Burnett's career as a Yankee is probably over.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hitting the Corners

I continue my player evaluations tonight with some analysis on the Yankees corner outfielders. This post will focus on Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, two very different players who can both contribute greatly to the team's success in 2012.

In my first post I pointed out that I am an avid fan of Brett Gardner. He is a dynamic player who brings speed and defense to the field every night. In 2011, he led the league in stolen bases with 49 swiped bags. He played a gold glove caliber left field but got snubbed for a Gold Glove award. I am still livid over the snub. Statistically, Gardner played the best defense of any left fielder in 2011. He made seven outfield assists and committed only five errors, even though he will tell you that at least three of those errors could have been prevented. He saved 23 opposing runs from scoring last year, which is a mind-boggling statistic. Gardner's WAR, or "Wins Above Replacement" in 2011 was 5.1. In other words, compared to the league-average left fielder, Gardner was on another level by winning over five games just with his speed and defense. He is not your typical left-fielder when it comes to his power. Gardner hit seven home runs in 2011. He says that he is satisfied if he hits five in a season, but I believe that he will have a breakout year in which he hits at least 20 home runs.

One thing about Gardner that I would like for him to improve on in 2012 are his base-running skills. There is no doubt that he is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, player in baseball. He needs to take that skill and apply it by stealing more bases. He is hesitant to run early in counts, second guessing himself about whether or not he will be thrown out. I say that he needs to run every time he gets on base. He stole 49 bases in 2011 without being aggressive 100% of the time on the base paths! Imagine the numbers he can put up with more aggressiveness on the bases.

Nick Swisher is going into his age 31 season, meaning that he is just leaving his prime. Swisher has been a great player for the Yankees. He is a great clubhouse presence who breaks the mold of the old days of Yankee Stadium. He is loud, easy-going, and loves getting pied. There is no doubt that Swisher has been a clutch player for the Yankees in the regular season, but the postseason is another story.

In the postseason with the Yankees, Swisher has been terrible. In three postseasons with the Yankees, Swisher has hit .160. This is not an easy pill to swallow. He is a great guy who puts up amazing numbers in the regular season. What could possibly go wrong in the playoffs that does not click for Nick? At this point, I feel that it is all mental. He began the 2011 season terribly. He did not hit his first home run until late April and everybody was thinking that it was a lost season for Swish. He finished the year with 23 round-trippers and hit a decent .260.

Entering his walk year, Swisher needs to prove that he can put his mental lapses aside and show up every day. This means that he will have to have a great postseason for the Yankees to even consider resigning him to another deal past this year. Swisher has a lot to prove going into this season. How he does under the pressure will ultimately decide his fate in the Bronx long term.

My predictions for Gardner: .280 BA, 12 HR, 58 RBI, 56 SB
My predictions for Swisher: .274 BA, 27 HR, 90 RBI

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Yankees agree to terms with Bill Hall

The Yankees offseason just got busy again. They have agreed to a one-year, minor league contract with IN/OF Bill Hall. Hall provides reliable insurance for most of the positions on the field. He can hit for power and gives the Yankees another possible choice for their open designated hitter slot. Last year with San Francisco and Houston, Hall struggled. The year before, he played well for Boston. If he is not with the team by April 4th, he can leave the team and will make $600,000 with incentives based on plate appearances.

The work is only halfway complete. The Yankees still need to find a full time DH. They are apparently close to signing Raul Ibanez. He would be a good hitter at Yankee Stadium because of his pull power, but he will be 40 this summer, which is a cause for concern. Also, he has only started one game at DH in his career. I prefer Damon over Ibanez because of age, overall production, and him being a proven clutch player for the Yankees and other teams in the AL East.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Captain

Derek Jeter has been a staple of the last five Yankee championships. His intangibles are irreplaceable and his leadership makes him a model baseball player for the ages. The fans did find a weakness Jeter had over the past two seasons, however.

In 2010, Jeter had a terrible offensive year and finished the season with a career worst .270 batting average. Talks were getting heated concerning his current contract and whether or not he should bat leadoff. He batted leadoff on Opening Day in 2011, but his stats were hardly impressive. He had minimal extra base hits through July and he found himself batting behind Gardner many times until Girardi lost faith in Gardner and stuck him back in the ninth spot in the lineup.

Derek Jeter was on a quest to achieve 3,000 hits. No Yankee had ever done so. He would be breaking records that would add on to his Fall of Fame career. The day came on July 9th, 2011, facing David Price. Jeter started the day with a base hit and in his second at-bat, came up huge with a home run in the left field seats for his 3,000th career hit. He finished the day by going 5 for 5 with a home run, a double, and a couple of RBI. Since that day, Jeter returned to form. He hit almost .330 for the remainder of the season and finished the year with a healthy .297 average. He was never a home run hitter, so the six that he hit in 2011 were not really looked at with much concern. There is no question that the milestone hit was detouring Jeter. He has stated himself that he struggles when he is approaching career milestones. Even though he says that the pressure of getting 3,000 did not phase him, everybody knows that it weighed heavily on Derek.

What can we expect from Jeter going into his age 38 season? I expect Derek to hit for average. He will not hit many home runs. That part of his game is for the most part, lost. He is a singles hitter and he comes up in the clutch with those singles. I feel that there is a good chance that Jeter may be getting pied this year for coming up big in a clutch situation.

My predictions for Jeter in 2012: .292 BA, 8 HR, 68 RBI.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Start of Spring Training is Almost Here

I'll take a break from my player analysis tonight and write about something that is nearing. Pitchers and catchers report dates are almost upon us. Players are getting ready to pack their bags and to say good-bye to their families in hopes that they will return in November as World Series champions. The Yankees are no exception. Derek Jeter firmly believes that a year where the Bombers do not win it all is a failed season. I could not agree more with the Captain. The Yankees are a team that is built on winning and winning consistently.

Yankees pitchers, catchers, and injured players report to George M. Steinbrenner Field in sunny Tampa, Florida on Sunday, February 20th. The initial report date is just for weigh-ins and player photos. The players and coaching staff talk to beat reporters and discuss what they expect the upcoming year. Shortly after, the rest of the gang joins pitchers and catchers and workouts begin.

It is always interesting to see which players gained weight and lost weight. Last season, Joba Chamberlain entered camp looking bulkier. Reports speculated that he did not take care of himself and that it would affect his season. The truth was that it was mostly muscle and his season ended prematurely because of an elbow problem. Moving on, CC Sabathia came to spring training last year about 30 pounds lighter. His first half of 2011 was one for the ages. Later on, his first half form was no longer there and reports surfaced that he gained back the weight he lost. According to CC, as of two weeks ago he lost 15 pounds. Phil Hughes came into camp last year looking like he sat on the couch all winter. It showed in the regular season when he went 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA. Hughes says he feels better than he has ever felt before and I genuinely believe that he will bounce back this year. Mark Teixeira says that he lost 14 pounds this off-season. I love that he is dedicating himself to his figure. His numbers need to go up this year to end talks of a decline.

In other news around the league,
  • Edwin Jackson has agreed to a 1-year deal with the Washington Nationals worth approximately $10 million.
  • Casey Kotchman is going to the Cleveland Indians on a one-year pact worth $3 million plus incentives.
  • Mark Teixeira may introduce a new side to his game: bunting. He wants to use the shift to his advantage by laying down a few bunts down the third base line to keep opposing infielders on their toes.
*UPDATE- 2/3/11-11:29 AM* Edwin Jackson will receive an $11 million salary with $9 million being paid in 2012, according to Jim Duquette.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Will the Real Alex Rodriguez Please Stand Up?

Alex Rodriguez has been a controversial topic of discussion for years now. His mega contract is as scary as it has ever been. How can we expect A-Rod to be himself for the next six years? He only appeared in 99 games in 2011 for the Yankees. He was nagged with injuries throughout the year that never seemed to go away. His postseason was one to forget. He is signed until his age 42 season. What can be better?

Alex has always been a force in the lineup. In recent years, his presence is still felt when he is in the lineup but he has not been putting up the same numbers that he was expected to put up when he signed the 10 year, $252 million contract with the Yankees. I truly believe that Alex will have a bounce back year in 2011. What other injuries can he possibly get? I think every part of his body has been surgically repaired since 2009. It is tough to watch a player get old and begin his decline. With Alex Rodriguez, it is no different, or is it?

A-Rod is still A-Rod. A year before his injuries started he was hitting tons of long balls and driving in runs at a crazy pace. In 2010, he hit 30 homers and drove in 125. This was done in 137 games. Imagine what a healthy A-Rod can do for the Yankees in 2012, regardless of his age. He is 36 years old. He won't hit 50 home runs anymore, but without a doubt he can still hit 30 and drive in 120. His ceiling is very high and barring injuries in 2012, I believe that he can have a fantastic year, and make that enormous contract look somewhat deserving...

My predictions for a HEALTHY Alex Rodriguez in 2012: .280 BA, 30 HR, 115 RBI.