Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Captain For The Win!

Of course everybody and their mother was going to want to get Derek Jeter's take on Bobby V's idiotic comments yesterday.  Jeter addressed the issue today, and in typical Jeterian fashion he handled the situation with class and a bit of humor.  He really couldn't have said it any better if he tried.

“I mean, think about it. We don’t practice it? We do. You guys have seen it, so what else can I say? I was out of position? No, I was where I was supposed to be. Talking about Varitek, point out the good things he’s done. Unbelievable career. I’m happy for him. I enjoyed competing against him all these years. That’s what we should be talking about. ...

They must be bored over there, huh?”

Love it.  Absolutely love it.  Whether he meant to or not, Jeter subliminally points out that by making the comments he did about "The Flip," Valentine basically buried Varitek's retirement, which should have been the real story.  And I don't know about you, but I found the "bored" comment very amusing considering all the drama surrounding the new regime and clubhouse beer ban in Fraud Sawx camp.  The only thing that could have made this better would have been Jeter cracking a beer and smiling for the cameras when he gave the answer.

Searching Off The Radar For Prospect Value

(The following is being syndicated from The Yankee Analysts)

** If you're somehow ass backwards enough in your Yankosphere blog cycle that you would check AB4AR and not TYA on a daily basis, well then firstly I'd like to thank you for the support.  Secondly, I'd like to give you the opportunity to check out this post I did over there yesterday for Prospect Week, as I'm sure you missed it since it didn't originate from here.  And if you haven't been following the goings on this week over at TYA, I highly suggest you do so. **

There’s plenty to get excited about at the top of the Yankees prospect food chain right now. They have a small group of players who could step in and contribute at the Major League level right now, some in bigger fashions than others, and an even bigger group of players in the lower levels of the system with high ceilings who could fill the gap left at the top after the higher-level players move on in the next year or so. Check any top 10 or top 20 list out there and you’re bound to see a lot of the same names time and time again- Banuelos, Betances, Williams, Bichette, Campos, Romine, Sanchez. Beneath that top tier or two of Yankee prospects, there is another group of prospects who could develop into top 5 talent in the next few years, your Brett Marshalls, Slade Heathcotts, Tyler Austins of the world. The players I want to look at today are the guys beneath THAT group; the players who aren’t on many people’s prospect radars, if any at all. Part of the strength of the Yankee system is the overall depth at all levels, and there is value in this group of “off the radar” prospects that is deserving of attention. Here’s a quick look at five off-the-radar prospects worth keeping an eye on this year.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

There Must Be A New Show Out Called "Valentines In Paris"...

(#Assclown.  Courtesy of The AP)

'Cause Bobby V is trolling me so hard right now.  And truth be told, I'd fine him if I had the ability to do so.  Today he decided to spout off about how "The Flip" wasn't that great of a play.

"We'll never practice that.  I think [Jeter] was out of position and the ball gets [Giambi] out if he doesn't touch it, personally."

"That was amazing that (Jeter) was there. I bet it's more amazing that he said he practiced it. I don't believe it.''

Fuck.  You.  I've made a conscious effort to not curse as much on here recently and to be more analysis/stats-driven instead of just spewing my thoughts into a post, but I won't stand by and let some self-absorbed, no-ring-having jerkoff speak ill of one of the greatest heads-up plays in sports history.  Not when that play was made by one of the greatest Yankees in history who also happens to be my favorite baseball player of all time.  Not happening, slapnuts.  Not on my watch.  Mind your manners, check your French, and shut your fucking mouth.

And on Cap'n Varitek retiring:

"He was able to beat up Alex... "

Get bent, bro.  Varitek left his mask on like a bitch because he was afraid The Horse was going to rear up and kick his teeth in.  That's truth right there.  Everybody knows that.

If this is how you want things to be this year, Bob, this is how they can be.  I need a new whipping boy with The Pitcher Who Shall Not Be Named in Pittsburgh.  I can roll up the sleeves and get dirty on you.  You wanna get nuts?  Let's get nuts!!!

The Art Of Hedging Your Offseason Bets

(The one man who could make it all happen)

All in all it was a pretty active offseason for the Yankees.  They completely remade their rotation, brought in lots of new options to fill the DH spot and bench, and added some potential depth to both this and next year's bullpens.  And they managed to do it all in a cost-conscious way, an approach not traditionally taken by the front office when Hot Stove season rolls around.  The formula for doing that successfully has been Cash's ability to hedge his bets on all the moves he's made.

The Michael Pineda trade was a risky move, no doubt.  The Yankees were giving up two young, cheap pieces of their 25-man roster including their starting DH, who also happened to be their number 1 hitting prospect, for a very young starting pitcher with a still yet to be determined ceiling.  You would only give up what the Yankees gave up if you knew you were getting a top tier starting pitcher back, and while the Yankees are hoping and planning on Pineda becoming just that, it's still too early to say whether or not that happening is a lock.  That bet on Pineda was hedged to a certain degree by him being a young, cheap player who will be under team control for years to come.  It was further hedged when Cash went out and signed Hiroki Kuroda, a veteran pitcher with consistent above-average career performance who should give the Yankees added depth and skill in their rotation.  This depth and skill will help ease the sting of any growing pains Pineda might go through as he attempts to evolve into a #1-#2 starter, and it also gave the Yankees the ability to pursue trading The Pitcher Who Shall Not Be Named.

That trade essentially became the way for the Yankees to hedge their bets on filling out the roster under their self-imposed budget constraints.  The argument can certainly be made that the penny pinching efforts in filling the roster this offseason were unnecessary, especially given the level of talent the Yankees were going after and the money involved in doing so, but that was the plan and credit has to be given for how they stuck to it.  The Yankees were covered no matter what the outcome of the trade efforts turned out to be.  They signed guys like Bill Hall, Russell Branyan, and Clay Rapada to MiL deals to give themselves Major League-proven options should the trade not go through and give them the money they felt they needed to sign the guys they really wanted.  Once the trade did go through, they went out and added the guys they wanted in Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and David Aardsma, better options who got a little more money and guaranteed deals.

It was a masterful job of working within the confines the front office set for itself, and as a result the Yankees are sitting pretty this Spring Training.  They have the guys they always wanted (Ibanez and Chavez), and if they get hurt they've got cheap backups on standby (Hall, Branyan).  If those guys also happen to get hurt, or are just completely ineffective, the Yankees are still covered by their cache of in-house MiL depth (Brandon Laird, Ramiro Pena, Jorge Vazquez, Chris Dickerson, Justin Maxwell).  It was unfamiliar territory for us to watch the Yankees work under a strict budget this offseason, but they passed the test with flying colors.  Some of the moves they made were just as risky as the big-dollar free agent signings they're known for, but Cash and the front office did a great job of minimizing that risk by hedging their bets with other moves and making sure they weren't going to be lacking options when it came time to finalize the roster for this season.

Eric Chavez Is A Lucky SOB

("75 plate appearances?  Yeah, I think I got that in me." Courtesy of The AP)

I touched on this last night on the AB4AR Facebook Page, but Eric Chavez has himself a pretty sweet incentive deal in his new contract.  Sure, he's only making 900 thou in base salary, which is barely enough to get by in today's world, but thanks to his incentive package he could earn upwards of $3.05 million just for putting his batting gloves on, picking up a bat, and standing in the batter's box.

"Chavez would make $50,000 for 75 plate appearances, $100,000 each for 100 and 150, $200,000 apiece for 200 and 250, $300,000 each for 300 and 350, $400,000 apiece for 400 and 450 and $500,000 each for 500 and 550." (Courtesy of The AP)

50 grand for 75 plate appearances???  You've got to be kidding me!  That's like free money, even for a guy as injury-plagued as Chavez.  He spent the bulk of last season on the DL and still managed 175 PA, which would have netted him a cool quarter of a mil under these new terms.  It's highly unlikely that Chavez will reach the 200 or 250 mark, and next to impossible that he gets 300 or more, but to get that kind of money for doing the bare minimum of your job is a little ridiculous.  That's like me getting a 25% bonus on my paycheck every two weeks because I sat in on three extra meetings.  Didn't contribute anything, didn't take notes, just sat there.

This also sheds a little light on how confident or not confident the Yankees are in Chavez' ability to stay healthy this year.  I don't think they would willingly hand out $3 million if they thought there was a chance Chavez could reach these marks.  But still, a .294 wOBA in a season spent mostly on the DL last season and Chavez turns it into a new contract with bonuses not even tied to any kind of production.  I should have been a baseball player.

Monday, February 27, 2012

TYA Plug- Prospect Week

It's Prospect Week over at TYA, and that means a whole shit ton of prospecty goodness.  It kicked off today with the release of the combined TYA Top 20, which I am already getting beaten up over for my selections in the comments section, and will continue over the course of this week with daily staff roundtables, prospect-related posts, and whatever else we decide to cook up.

Do yourself a favor and make sure to check it out.

How Does Nobody Claim Chris Dickerson?

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

That's a serious question.  The Yankees had to put Chris Dickerson on waivers yesterday to make room on the 40-man roster, and by some stroke of dumb luck he managed to clear waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A.  Apparently every other GM in baseball was in the bathroom or out to lunch with their families or stuck in the movie theater with their wives watching "The Artist" while this move was happening.  Now instead of being in camp in a different uniform participating in what would likely be a more fair competition for the 4th OF bench role, Dickerson will be safely stashed away in Triple-A for the Yankees should they run into problems with their current group.

I just can't, for the live of me, figure out why every other team out there would willingly pass on a guy like C-Dick.  Is every team in Major League Baseball that set in the outfield?  I know for a fact that teams like the Mets and Astros are absolute shit in the outfield and could use Dickerson, if for nothing more than another warm body to compete and push other players to earn their spot.  Even though he's 29, turning 30 in April, and has only 582 Major League plate appearances to his name, Dickerson brings a lot to the table.

For starters, the guy is a physical monster.  He's listed at 6'3", 230 on the Yankees' website but he looks about 6'5", 245 on TV.  He's got great speed and athleticism, allowing him to play all three outfield positions if needed, and also making him a very good baserunner and base stealing threat.  At the plate, C-Dick is far from an automatic out.  He owns a career .266/.351/.399 slash line in his 582 PA (.338 wOBA) along with a respectable 11.0% BB rate, and as a lefty swinger he has produced a solid line against right-handed pitching (.270/.355/.415, .341 wOBA).  Sure he strikes out a bit more than you'd like to see, and he doesn't generate a whole lot of power for a guy his size (.133 ISO), but the positives far outweigh the negatives with Dickerson and he's an almost picture perfect candidate for a 4th OF role.  Now the Yankees have him as their 6th.

Between the defense, baserunning skills, and ability to hit righties well, Dickerson has accumulated 3.5 fWAR in what equates to almost one full season's worth of plate appearances in his career.  That's not too shabby if you ask me.  I've praised Dickerson before for his contributions to the Yankees and I'm glad they managed to keep him around as insurance this year.  I'm still flabbergasted that not one other team thought they could use him, though.  It's mind-bottling.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mo Already Out On The Mound This Spring

He was in camp early, at least by his standards, when he showed up only a day after pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report.  A story early this past week said that he would be bucking his usual Spring Training trend and traveling to possibly pitch in some road games this year.  And to top of his spring surprise sundae, Mariano Rivera took the mound this morning to throw a 25-pitch bullpen session.  This is well ahead of his usual schedule in Spring Training, and a sign that if this is his last year, Mo is planning on going out on a high note.

So how did that first bullpen session go, you might wonder.  Here's what Gus Molina had to say:

"He's a machine.... Everything was down in the zone, in and out."

The dude just isn't human.  Steps on the mound for the first time and hits his spots.  It's almost a good thing that Mo is hanging them up after this season, because I'm running out of things to say about the guy.  My buddy Gary read another report this morning that said Mike Harkey stepped into the batter's box a few times without a bat to give Mo some perspective.  I think Gary summed it up best with the message he posted on my Facebook wall this morning, "You might as well just leave the bat in the dugout when you step up to face the G.O.A.T."

(I still don't remember where I first saw this, but courtesy of whoever was smart enough to put it together.)

Quotes via Chad at LoHud.

Bahhston Beer Ban Becomes Official

There's something gratifying about being an adult and a professional and knowing that you can pretty much make all your own decisions about what you're going to do and not do and when and where you're going to do those things.  For example, when I'm not working I can go and drink as many beers as I want to.  The Fraud Sawx won't be so luck this year, as Bobby V finally announced the clubhouse beer ban yesterday afternoon to the team.  This was pretty much an inevitability after last September, but that doesn't make it any less funny.  Especially when Valentine had this to say about making the decision:

"It's just what I've always done, except in Texas, I guess.  I'm comfortable with it that way."

Yeah, it's just what he's always done, except for that one time that he didn't do it with one of the other teams he managed, he guesses.  Those guys were mature, responsible adults who recognized that knocking a few back in the clubhouse wasn't the most professional thing to be doing when you're an athlete making millions of dollars to play a game.  They didn't have to be treated like children.  But for the other two out of the three total Major League teams that he's managed, this is what Bobby V has always done.  Always.

Big Sloppi was the biggest and most vocal supporter of the new rule, saying this to reporters:

"We're not here to drink.  We're here to play baseball.  It ain't a bar."

Damn right, Sloppi.  It definitely ain't a bar.  And you're definitely not there to drink; just to play baseball.  And maybe also to take steroids so that you can play baseball better, you're there to do that.  And to cause fights with the other team when you don't like getting pitched inside.  And to interrupt your manager's post-game press conference to whine about your stats being changed.  All of that, and baseball.  That's all you guys are there to do.

Absolutely hilarious.  That's what this is.  Over half of the other teams in MLB already have beer banned in their clubhouses and it's never been a story.  The Fraud Sawx are basically forced to after last year's collapse and it's front page news.  You gotta love men being treated like men.  What's next?  Impromptu D.A.R.E. meetings in the clubhouse after a tough loss?

Don't worry, boys.  You might be stuck in the dry county that is your clubhouse now, but I'll make sure to always keep a few on hand in my fridge to keep the memory of the fall of 2011 alive.  Cheers, dickheads!  Enjoy the Gatorade.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Martin Contract Talks On Hold

Via George King of The Post, Cash had this to say about tabling the Russell Martin contract extension talks:

"We will talk at the end of the season."

Both sides were willing to talk extension, which is the most important sign, but with both sides being far apart on the money it's better to not let this bleed into Spring Training and just address it at season's end.  Martin is already under contract for this year for $7.5 mil, which isn't exactly chump change, and the Yankees just showed this past offseason with CC Sabathia that they are good at working through deals and getting them done quickly.  So there really shouldn't be any concern at all about this; it's smart for each side.

Smart for the Yankees because they don't risk biting too early after a good sign season from Martin and getting stuck with him for more than they want to spend if he gets hurt again; now they can make him show them his comeback is real and earn the higher dollars.  Smart for Martin because he gets the chance to build on the positive momentum from 2011 and prove to the Yankees, and every other team, that he is back and capable of playing high-caliber baseball behind the plate.  At 29, he's still very much in his prime and will stand to get the type of money he's looking for and maybe then some from the Yankees or somebody else if he has a better 2012 than he did in 2011.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 2/24

Last night I had the good fortune of being able to tag along with the bigwigs of my company to an awards dinner.  I was only invited because I helped do some of the writing and video work for our submission package as part of the nomination process, but any chance to throw a suit and tie on, eat free food, and suck down free gin and tonics is a chance I'm not turning down.  It's rare that I get to feel important and I definitely lived it up last night.  Of course I'm following it up with a booze-hazed hangover today, because I'm a pussy and can't drink liquor, but it was definitely worth it since we came home with some hardware.  And now that I'm done talking about my 9-5 life, onto the links!

- On Tuesday, Matthew B of Yankees Fan Unite got an early start on 2012 offseason storylines by pondering who would be the ideal candidate to replace Swish in right field.

- It's been a consistent topic of conversation for the past couple of weeks, and Brien Jackson of IIATMS weighed in with his take on locking up Russell Martin long term.

- Anthony McCarron of the Daily News had a short profile piece on David Adams, who is still recovering from his 2010 ankle injury that put the kibosh on the Cliff Lee trade.  Adams has some real skill, so hopefully he can make it all the way back to form this year and keep himself on the prospect radar.

- On Wednesday, the always entertaining, and usually on point, el duque of It Is High... commented on the lack of potential Linsanity for the Yankees this season thanks to them stocking up on veterans to fill out the roster.  I especially liked the Brandon Laird name drop.

- Rebecca Glass of Pinstriped Bible had a nice piece on the true greatness of Mo.  With the quotes going around this week, it sounds like we all have to prepare to write something similar after this season.

- Mike Axisa of RAB discussed how the Yankees can adjust their strategy in the draft to be successful under the new CBA rules.

- On Thursday, Frank Campagnola of Pinstripe Alley practically gift wrapped this link for me by saying he wanted Phil Hughes to be the fifth starter and backing it up with some numbers.

- Fishjam25 of Yankees Fans Unite had an interview with left-handed pitching prospect Matt Tracy.  If you aren't familiar with Tracy, here's your chance to get up to speed on one of the better under-the-radar prospects in the Yankee farm.

- I shouldn't have to tell anybody this, but Chad at LoHud has the best day-to-day coverage of Spring Training activities and you should be following it and checking for updates at least twice a day.  Here's an example. 

And from my TYA brethren, Matt Imbrogno reminds us all that the Yankee bullpen will not be a rudderless ship if Mo really does decide to hang 'em up after this season.  There's plenty of depth and plenty of talent left to get the job done.

For the Friday jam I'm going back into my wheelhouse with some Mastodon.  Musically that's an equivalent to a 2-0 fastball down the middle for me.  Enjoy.

Joe Paying Some Serious Lip Service

(How could you not believe a face like that?  Courtesy of The AP)

The 25-man roster is all but complete right now, at least as far as the position players are concerned with this week's signings of Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez.  But that isn't stopping Joe from being PC and saying that guys like Chris Dickerson, Justin Maxwell, Russell Branyan and Bill Hall are going to get their fair shot to make the team during Spring Training.

“They’re going to get a fair shake to try and make this club.  That’s the bottom line. We’ll have to make some decisions, but I don’t see why someone couldn’t play their way on. I don’t. Do you have to make some moves if that’s to happen? Yeah, but I don’t see why they couldn’t.”

Listen, Joe.  I know you've got to do your job, and I respect that.  But don't spit on us and tell us it's raining, and don't feed Dickerson and Branyan chicken shit and tell them it's chicken salad.  You and I both know that there's no way Ibanez and Chavez aren't making the team as long as they're healthy.  That's never a certainty with Chavez, but if he is able to play he's going to be the 13th man on the bench.  Guys like Dickerson and Branyan probably should get a real chance to win a spot on the team, but I've seen how these "open competitions" work with the Yankees in Spring Training and I know that the only thing that's going to give them that chance is a bite from the injury bug.

Quote via Chad at LoHud

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Standardizing The Top Yankee Prospects

One of the best things about the end of offseason/beginning of Spring Training period in baseball is the annual release of everyone's top prospects lists.  Whether you're Keith Law and your list is highly anticipated or you're just Joe Schmo who follows the goings on of the farm system closely, it's always nice to forget the perils of prospect hugging for a few minutes and take stock of the best the farm system has to offer.  Everybody evaluates players differently, everybody values certain prospect traits more than others, and everybody has a couple of guys that they inexplicably like or dislike more than others, so it's always fun to see how all those differences add up.

To extend the fun a little longer, I wanted to come up with a way to take all the various lists that are out there right now and create one standardized top 10 for the current crop of Yankees prospects. The pool of lists being used for this standardization is made up of Keith Law's from ESPN, John Sickels' from Minor League Ball, Jonathan Mayo's from, John Manuel's from Baseball America**, Mike Axisa's from RAB, TYA's own EJ Fagan, and my own personal list from AB4AR.  If you're not already familiar with these lists, a simple internet search of any of the names above and "top Yankee prospects 2012" should bring you to them.  In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am the only one who ranked Austin Romine third and didn't include Dante Bichette, Jr. in my top 10 at all.  I will now pause to allow you a quick moment to make a sarcastic comment or joke at my expense. 

(**- John Manuel released Baseball America's list on January 4th, prior to the Montero-Pineda trade, and has not updated it to include Jose Campos. For the purposes of this exercise I penciled Campos into the 5th spot on what would be the updated BA list behind Banuelos, Betances, Sanchez, and Williams.)

In the interest of simplicity, I used a ten-point system for the rankings, assigning a point value to each spot in the top 10 in reverse order: 10 points for being #1, 9 points for #2, 8 for 3, and so on.  Then I simply added up the total points for each player who appeared on at least one of the seven  prospect lists and ranked them highest point total to lowest.  This is not an attempt to say that all prospect lists are created equal, or that mine is just as good as Keith Law's, but with prospects being such tricky things to evaluate and predict, it's difficult to say that one person's list is "better" than the others.  It's also just for fun.  Using that ten-point scale to rate all the players included on each individual list, here's how everything adds up to form the standardized top 10:

1) Manny Banuelos- 69 out of possible 70 points
2) Dellin Betances- 58 points
3) Gary Sanchez- 57 Points
4) Mason Williams- 51 Points
5) Jose Campos- 38 Points
6) Dante Bichette, Jr.- 28 Points
7) Austin Romine- 27 Points
8) J.R. Murphy- 12 Points
9) Adam Warren- 10 Points
10) Slade Heathcott- 9 Points

In the "also receiving votes" category we have Ravel Santana and Tyler Austin each with 8 points, David Phelps with 7, and Cito Culver with 2.  Not as much variance in player selection towards the bottom half as I would have expected, but this version of the top 10 still gives a pretty good general description of the Yankee system.  Manny Banuelos is the clear cut best prospect in the organization, but behind him it's not so easy to define who is #2, with both Betances and Sanchez making a strong case.  The core of high-ceiling A-ball talent makes up the next group of big-time prospects, with a handful of Major League-ready Triple-A guys who could probably make many other teams' 25-man rosters sprinkled in.  And Slade Heathcott, shoulder and personal problems aside, is still just too damn talented to ignore.

Burt Reynolds Joins The Organization

Not THAT Burt Reynolds, although that would be fucking awesome.  This is Robinson Cano's cousin Burt Reynolds.  You know, the 23-year-old utility outfielder.

I don't know what's more awesome here.  The fact that this guy is actually named Burt Reynolds or that he's Robbie's cousin AND he's named Burt Reynolds.  When you're walking around with a name like Burt Reynolds, that naturally comes with a pretty hefty amount of swag.  Add in the extra swag that comes with being a part of the Cano family and things just get downright silly.  From the limited info I can gather on Reynolds he doesn't seem to be any kind of blue-chip prospect, so the odds of seeing him play for the Yankees are slim to none.  But having Burt Reynolds in your organization is never a bad thing.

P.S.- I wonder if he does his own stunts.

P.P.S.- Gotta love the tactleneck.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yankees Add More Bullpen Depth By Signing David Aardsma

(He looks happy to be here.  Courtesy of Getty Images)

In a bit of swerve earlier today, the Yankees signed right-handed reliever David Aardsma to a one-year Major League contract worth $500,000 with a team option for 2013.

Aardsma, like Joba, is rehabbing from summer 2011 TJS and currently about a month or so behind Joba on his road to recovery.  He's primarily a fastball-slider pitcher with a career 4.20/4.24/4.49 slash in 265.2 career IP, and when he's on he has legit swing and miss stuff (career 9.08 K/9).  But Aardsma also has a bit of Rick Vaughn in him and can walk the yard at a moment's notice; his command improved a bit in 2009 and 2010 when he was with Seattle, but his career 5.05 BB/9 is still a bit scary.  With where he's at in his rehab Aardsma will be heading straight to the 60-Day DL, so nobody will have to be kicked off 40-Man Island to make room for him.

The addition of Aardsma is a solid move for the Yankees for both this year and next.  It's unlikely that he will be ready to go until late summer, but when he is healthy and able to pitch Aardsma can basically be the equivalent of a trade deadline bullpen addition that the Yankees are almost always in the market for at that time of year.  And with the team option for 2013 they can bring him back to help fill the void left by Mo's retirement and Soriano's potential opt out after this season.  Aardsma was pretty damn good with Seattle from 09-10, so he could be a very valuable piece to have if he can regain that form.  And a very cheap valuable piece at six figures.

It's way too early to call, but this could turn out to be another "diamond in the rough" move by Ninja Cash.

Yanks Put Four In The BA Top 100

Baseball America released its top 100 prospects yesterday and the Yankees were well represented by the usual suspects.  Manny Banuelos was ranked 29th, right in the same neighborhood where Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein ranked him, and was followed by Dellin Betances at 63, Gary Sanchez at 81, and Mason Williams at 85.

Banuelos is the clear cut #1 Yankee prospect, but the other three guys fluctuate in their standing depending on whose list you're referencing.  Based on all three being ranked in the lower half of the top 100, it appears Baseball America has more tempered opinions on Betances, Sanchez, and Williams than other, but it's still a strong showing for the Yankees to put four in the top 100 after trading away their #1.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Just Missed The Numbers

I felt confident when I went on the record with my new number predictions for Pineda and Kuroda.  And I was in the ballpark with my predictions of #38 for Pineda and 22 for Kuroda but just missed out, as Pineda took #35 and Kuroda got #18.

I really didn't expect the Yankees to give up Moose's number this early, which is why I didn't mention it at the time, and I didn't see Jones recognizing the significance of #18 and giving it up to Kuroda.  The fact that Jones switched to #22 for this season makes me feel a little better.  1 out of 3 will win you a batting title.

Brandon Laird: Forgotten Infielder

(Courtesy of The AP)

A little over a year ago things were looking sunny for Brandon Laird.  He was fresh off an MVP season in the Double-A Eastern League thanks to a .291/.355/.523 line (.383 wOBA), 47 XBH, 23 HR, 90 RBI in 454 PA, and got a late-season bump to Triple-A (.270 wOBA in 127 PA).  He had elevated himself to the top half of most Yankee top prospects lists, and heading into 2011 Spring Training he had an outside shot at nudging his way into the discussion for the utility infielder role with a good performance.  Since then, however, things have taken a downturn for Laird and he finds himself heading into Spring Training this year dangerously close to falling off the prospect radar and the Yankees' radar as a legit 25-man roster candidate.  How did this happen so quickly and should it even be happening?

Joe Already Making Lineup Decisions

I know this isn't Joe's MO, but I liked having him come right out yesterday and address some of the questions surrounding the Yankee lineup/roster this year.  Better to hear him say this stuff now than have these topics linger and be beaten into the ground by people like me all spring.

- On the backup catcher: “I anticipate it to be Cervelli.  Obviously we’re going to give the other guys a godo look. Romine, I like the job he came up and did last year for us, especially under the circumstances… But Cervelli has done a very good job for us. His problem has been health.”

I'm no Cervelli fan, but I don't have a problem with this.  Cervelli already has more Major League innings under his belt, and he's more familiar with the bulk of the Yankees' pitching staff than Romine.  I certainly want to see Romine get a look and give the team something to think about for later in the season, but if he's healthy Cervelli should be the backup on Opening Day.

- On the 8th-inning role:  “(Dave Robertson) was our eighth-inning guy, Sori was our seventh-inning guy (last year).  It worked out really well. I don’t necessarily have any ideas of making any changes right now to it. Could you? Of course. You don’t want to say this is what’s going to be, but when I look at it, that’s kind of how I envision it.”

I know there are some people out there who would rather see D-Rob in the fireman role that made him famous, but the job he did last year can't be ignored, no matter how much Soriano is making.  Robertson was the better pitcher last year and should keep the spot he earned.  If he falters, then the topic can be brought up again, but right now there shouldn't even be a discussion.  The setup role should be D-Rob's to lose.

- On Jeter & Granderson at the top of the order: “If we were going to put it out today, that’s kind of how I envision it."

The Jeter leadoff argument would normally be at the top of the list of discussion topics relating to the lineup, but with the way he finished 2011 that should be tempered a bit this year.  Everyone knows what the L/R splits are for Jeter, and most everybody recognizes that Gardner should be leading off against righties.  But Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter and he's going to hit leadoff until he decides he doesn't want to.  It's that simple.

- On the heart of the order:  “Finishing last year, we moved Robbie up to the third spot, and I kind of envision that.  Alex following and then maybe Tex. I’m not married to that — I’m not saying that’s what it’s going to be — but it seems that we have some guys that can be really productive and that we can move around if we think it’s going to benefit us… But I envision Robbie hitting third and going from there.”

It took Joe long enough to make this change and I'm glad he's sticking to it.  This one is almost as simple as Jeter at the top; Robinson Cano is a better hitter than A-Rod and Teix.  And your better hitters should get more at-bats and more at-bats in run-producing situations.

So now that we know the answers to these questions, we can move on to other Spring Training storylines.  Thanks, Joe. 

(Quotes via Chad at LoHud)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Did The Yankees Sneaky Diss A.J. On His Way Out? (And My Final Words On A.J.)

Check out the A.J.-specific section of the Yankees' press release on the trade:

"Burnett, 35, was signed by the Yankees as a free agent on December 18, 2008, to a five-year contract. In his three seasons with the club, he went 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA (584.0IP, 311ER) in 99 games (98 starts). His 58 wild pitches recorded during his three-year stint with the Yankees (2009-11) were the most for any Major League pitcher over a three-season span since Tony Cloninger threw 62 wild pitches from 1964 through 1966, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

He posted an 11-11 record with a 5.15 ERA (190.1IP, 109ER) in 33 appearances (32GS) with the Yankees in 2011, setting career-highs in home runs allowed (31) and tying a career-high in earned runs allowed, while ranking first with a franchise-record 25 wild pitches – the most by any Major League pitcher in a single season since the start of the 2000s and the fifth most since 1900."

Fuckin' A, man.  Talk about a kick in the ass on the way out the door, huh?  Just skipping the World Series in 2009 and jumping straight to the wild pitches?  That's cold.  And then they follow it up with a more detailed breakdown of his 2011 mediocrity, making sure to mention the HR allowed, touching on the ER allowed, and just in case you forgot about them from the last paragraph, getting right back to the wild pitches.  The all-time high number of wild pitches.  I can't say I recall an instance where the Yankees felt it necessary to discuss a player's shortcomings during his time in pinstripes when issuing a press release confirming he was no longer a member of the team. 

And now my goodbye to A.J.  As a guy who bagged on him constantly and was always expecting the worst from him, I'm happy to see him go.  I don't really give a damn about somebody being a good guy in the clubhouse and a hard worker when the results aren't there to back it up, especially with pitchers.  And A.J. was not a good pitcher while he was with the Yankees.  That's how I feel, that's how I'm going to feel, and nobody is going to talk me out of that.  I'm not going to miss him at all, I would have hated if he was on the team this year, and after this post I am never mentioning him on this site again.  But the Yankees almost certainly don't win the 2009 World Series without him, and I'll never forget that World Series.  That also means I'll never forget about A.J.  I was nervous as hell for Game 2 and he sacked up and got it done.  For that I'll always be grateful, and for that I say good to luck you in Pittsburgh, A.J.  I truly do hope you have success there.

(Bon voyage, A.J. Two-Face.)

Mo Already In Camp

... And already talking about the future.  Cash made it seem yesterday like Mo was going to be a later arrival to Spring Training than he turned out to be.  He was in the clubhouse this morning when it opened to the media, and he had plenty to say about his future beyond this, supposedly his last, season:

“I know.  I know now. Definitely. I won’t let you know now, but I know.”

“It doesn’t depend on how I’m going to pitch. Always I want to do my job, but I’ve made my decision already.”

“Even if I save 90 games. Even if they want to pay as much money as they want to, any team, (it won’t change the decision).”

“Decisions like that are always hard. Always. They involve what you do and what you have done for 22 years. Decisions like that are always hard, difficult, but at the same time, they have to be made.”

“I know what I want to do after this. There’s a lot of things I want to do after baseball. I always tell you guys that. It’s something that everybody goes through.”

“If I wanted to become a manager I would continue playing until I can’t no more because you have to do the same thing, traveling and traveling.”

“This one is different. This is it. This one is my decision.”

Mo said he made the decision about "two or three weeks" ago, and from all those little quotes it certainly sounds like he's leaning towards this being his last season.  If that's the case, then at least he gave everybody plenty of notice so they can enjoy every opportunity they have to watch him this season. 

All quotes via Chad at LoHud

Waiting For Ibanez

With the A.J. trade completed last night, the only other remaining roster change should be the addition of a free agent DH to fill the lefty platoon spot in the lineup.  The talk for the past week has been that the Yankees were targeting Raul Ibanez for that role, and that talk intensified to an almost near certainty over this past weekend as Johnny Damon pulled out of contention.

I'm not a fan of spending money or a guaranteed roster spot on Ibanez, but in fairness to him his .256/.307/.440 line (.322 wOBA) against right-handed pitching last year was better than Damon's line of .255/.314/.401 (.313 wOBA).  Ibanez will also come a bit cheaper, somewhere in the $1-2 million range, although I still can't wrap my head around the thought of him being a better OF option than Damon.

With camp officially open and position players expected to officially report by this Saturday, and the A.J. trade finalized, the Ibanez signing should come soon.  Don't think I'm going to be putting up a doomsday clock for this move, though.

** UPDATE- 8:29 AM- Buster Olney is reporting that the the Yanks already have a deal in place with Ibanez, pending his passing a physical.  Contract is reportedly worth $1.1 mil. **

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A.J. Trade Finally Becomes Official

I had to wait.  I couldn't jump in with everybody else and celebrate/talk about the A.J. trade to the Pirates on Friday or Saturday as if it were official.  I wanted to, but I couldn't.  Not until I knew the physical was passed and Bud approved the deal.  After all that A.J. put me through, I had to make sure he was dead and gone before I celebrated.  Kind of like he was Michael Myers.

And now that time to celebrate has come, thanks to this tweet from Mr. Yankee, Jon Heyman:

"Burnett passed the physical and mlb approved the trade. Done deal."

Done deal.  Done deal indeed.

I was out of ice for the champagne, but goddamn, it did its job!  And Korbel has never tasted so delicious.

There's an Incubus song that I've always liked, and I think the lyrics to its chorus ring more true to me when talking about A.J. Burnett being traded away from the Yankees than ever before:

I haven't felt the way I feel today
In so long it's hard for me to specify
I'm beginning to notice
How much this feels like a waking limb
Pins and needles
Nice to know you

The dead limb on the body that is the Yankee rotation has not only been awoken, but chopped off and fed to the poor.  Goodbye, A.J.  It's been fun (not really).  I'll always remember Game 2 of the '09 World Series; the argument could be made that the Yankees won that World Series thanks to your performance in Game 2.  And I'll also always remember the 15-inning game against the Fraud Sawx when you went toe to toe with Beckett and Game 4 of last year's ALDS, where you gave the Yankees one more night.  But all in all, there's too much of your time in pinstripes that I'd like to forget.  So best of luck to you in Pittsburgh, and as this song for the older generation of Yankee fans, hand picked by my father, says- So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodnight.

Yanks Sign Clay Rapada To A MiL Deal

(Photo courtesy of The AP)

Normally, signing a guy like Clay Rapada to a Minor League contract would be enough to just warrant the mention it got on the AB4AR Facebook Page last night.  But with the Yankees' love for left-handed bullpen options and the fact that they lost one on Friday when Hideki Okajima failed his pre-ST physical, Rapada probably deserves a little more ink.

He's almost 30 years old and only has a few years of Major League experience, so Rapada is clearly no Billy Wagner.  In fact, Rapada has spent the majority of his professional career in the Minors, and his 5.13/5.28/.4.75 slash line over 52.2 career MLB innings isn't exactly eye-opening.  But when you look at his L/R splits, that's where Rapada becomes interesting.  In 34.2 career innings against lefties Rapada has a 1.82/3.14/3.56 line with a 9.35 K/9, 3.89 BB/9, and a .153/.252/.220 tripleslash against.  Those numbers were even better in 2011, when Rapada posted a 1.23/2.28/2.59 slash, 11.05 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, and a .104/.170/.167 tripleslash against with the Orioles.  He has sample sizes working against him, but as a LOOGY option the Yankees could certainly do worse than Rapada.  Those are very good numbers.

You can argue about the need for another lefty in the bullpen.  I'm on the record as being in the camp of those who believe the Yankees are fine with Boone Logan and their strong stable of righties who pitch left-handed hitting effectively.  But there's no arguing that the Yankees love having more lefty bullpen options than they need, evidenced by their signings of guys like Marte and Feliciano to multi-year deals and their efforts this offseason to bring guys like Okajima and Cesar Cabral to camp.  The loser of the 5th rotation spot will likely become the long man and 6th member of the bullpen, but that 7th spot is up for grabs.  He would lessen their flexibility with his struggles against right-handed hitting, but Rapada has just as good a shot as anybody to grab that spot if he continues to perform against lefties like he has in the past.

Spring Training Is Open For Business

It's not official until late March, but today is a significant signal that winter is over and spring is in the air as pitchers and catchers officially report to camp.

There's been a lot of activity around the Yankees' Tampa complex already this week, but with locker assignments, physicals, media sessions, Joe's season-opening press conference, and maybe some light baseball work, this is the first day of formal activities.

The 2012 Yankee season is officially underway, folks.  Hit it, Frankie!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

1 Minute To Midnight

Well it's all over but the official approval from MLB and the passing of a physical, but since that hasn't happened I'm obligated to continue the doomsday clock countdown for the A.J. trade.

Erik Boland reported today that the physical would take place tomorrow and the Commissioner won't formally approve the deal until Monday afternoon, so this is likely just elementary at this point.  At least A.J. won't be showing up to camp tomorrow.

What Sources Would Say This???

"Sources said there is a good deal of sentiment within the Yankees organization to go after Raul Ibanez -- who wants to play for the team -- to be their designated hitter against right-handers, partly because they believe he can give them some days of outfield play.

Although Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are also available, they are generally regarded as unplayable defensively, sources said."  (via ESPN)

I'm not going to go to Jon Heyman levels of shilling for Johnny Damon, because he's no Gold Glover, but any source that would consider Johnny Damon "unplayable" defensively when compared to Raul Ibanez is not a source that should be taken seriously and quoted in a story.  Hell, it's not even a source that should be talked to as a source.  Sure, his arm is basically a wet noodle in the outfield, but it always has been and wouldn't be a reason to call Damon "unplayable" as an outfielder.  And even if Damon was the benchmark for determining playability, there's no chance in hell that Ibanez passes that standard.  Against Matsui, sure.  Against Damon, no way.

If the Yankees are saying that they truly value Ibanez over Damon because of defensive skills, that statement has to be coming from Levine.  There's no way Cash would make a decision this stupid.

TYA Roundtable: Roster Changes

The second TYA roundtable discussion is out, this one focusing on what the differences will be between the roster that opens the season and the potential playoff roster.  Head over and check out my take and the takes of the rest of the TYA staff.

And if you missed it last night on the AB4AR Facebook Page, fellow TYA writer Michael Eder made Deadspin last night with his post on Jon Heyman's connection to Scott Boras clients and the Yankees. Do yourself a favor and check that one out too.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 2/17

Long week.  I've got nothing witty or sarcastic to say.  I just want the A.J. trade to be completed so I can put it behind me and focus on baseball.  Here's the lap around the Yankosphere for the week that was.

- I'm probably the last one in the entire Yankosphere to link to this, but on Monday Alex Belth of Bronx Banter did a terrific profile of Hiroki Kuroda.  Definitely a must-read if you haven't already.

- Also on Monday, Rasheeda Cooper of Bomber Boulevard showed why the Yankees would be wise to not consider Vlad Guerrero for their still vacant DH spot.  I couldn't agree more, especially considering Vlad offers no roster flexibility due to his inability to play the outfield anymore.

- On Tuesday, Wallace Matthews' latest offering from the continually great "25 Questions/25 Days" series at the ESPN NY Yankees Blog touched on the topic of clubhouse leadership, specifically who will take the throne when Jeter and Mo are gone.  His leading candidate was A-Rod, but don't sleep on Robbie Cano either.

- On Wednesday, el duque of It Is High... expressed his displeasure with the continued penny pinching by the Yankees in their efforts to fill out the roster.  While I don't think I'll be following him to Occupy the Yankees, I can side with him on this when it comes to finding a DH option.

- Jesse Schindler of Bleeding Yankee Blue predicts a rebound from Rafael Soriano in 2012.  I know I would be happy with something similar to the numbers he put up in the final months of 2011.

- William Juliano of The Captain's Blog took an interesting look at Yankee offensive production across the defensive spectrum, showing that the Yankees have had success thanks to solid offensive production from premium defensive positions.

- Matthew B of Yankees Fans Unite has been plowing through a series of AL East rankings posts this week.  Yesterday he rocked a double dip of starting pitchers and bullpens and benches.

- Rebecca Glass of Pinstriped Bible is also double dipping with her look at top Yankee prospects of recent past and present.  Here's Part I from Wednesday, and this morning she posted Part II.

- On Thursday, Larry Koestler of RAB broke down the best individual pitches in the Yankee bullpen.  Definitely didn't expect Soriano to have a better cutter than Mo.

- As always, I have to include a pair from my fellow TYA writers.  On Tuesday, EJ Fagan explained why the notion that Dellin Betances is automatically going to be a big-time reliever if he doesn't make it as a starting pitcher is flawed.

- And in preparation for the A.J. trade becoming official, Eric Schultz looked at how his game might play in PNC Park.  As long as I don't have to worry about how he pitches in Yankee Stadium anymore.

- On a more somber note, Mike Dodd of USA Today wrote a nice piece honoring the life and career of Gary Carter, who passed away yesterday.

- The biggest news of the day, at least for me, is the release of Mike Axisa's Preseason Top 30 Prospects at RAB.  Mike's list was a big inspiration for my AB4AR Top 30, so this gets my highest recommendation (as if it needed it).

I didn't even bother asking for reader submissions for this week's jam because I had it picked out on Monday.  Camp officially opens in two days.  Yankee baseball is back!  And that means we're going with the old standby.

Enjoy your weekends, everybody.

Two Minutes To Midnight

We're another day closer to doomsday, but fortunately it sounds like we're also a lot closer to the A.J. trade being completed.

Via George King, the Yankees and Pirates have agreed to swap A.J. for two marginal prospects, with Pittsburgh picking up somewhere between $13-15 million of the remaining contract.  A source was quoted as saying the deal should be completed by Saturday.  That's still cutting it pretty close, but things look promising right now.  If the deal does go through this way, you would have to call that a big win for the Yankees.  But until it does, the clock stays active.

**UPDATE- 12:19PM- Buster Olney is reporting that the terms of the deal have been finalized and are being submitted to MLB for approval.  This thing could become official this afternoon. **

** UPDATE- 1:47PM- Joel Sherman has the first prospect included in the deal- Diego Moreno, right-handed relief pitcher. ** 

** UPDATE- 3:31PM- Jonathan Mayo of reporting that 20-year-old OF Exicardo Cayones is the 2nd prospect included in the deal.  Still no official approval from the Commissioner's office. **

** UPDATE- 6:36PM- Pirates picking up $5 million this season and $8 million next.  Yankees get the remaining 20. **

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fraud Sawx Camp Should Be Fun This Year

I swear Bobby V is just doing this shit to get a rise out of me.  And it's working.  Based on this story I don't know if I should be more excited for Yankees camp to open or Fraud Sawx camp to open.  Check out what Valentine's planning:

"When I look at the program we devised, I don't think of it as tough. But it seems it's different because a lot of people are frowning."

"We all know that nobody likes change except for those who are making other people change to do what they want them to do. I happen to be one of those guys who likes change because guys are doing what I want them to do."

"I would bet there will be 100 guys who won't really like it because it's change for them. But they'll get used to it."

... Valentine wants to make the club's games against Northeastern and Boston College nine innings instead of seven. He also wants to add a couple of games to the team's spring training schedule.

Those games are likely to either be split-squad games or intrasquad games played on a practice field. He said there weren't as many of those types of games in spring training anymore "because there's a lot of lazy people in the game today."

"Everyone says (spring training) is too long. I think that's baloney.  To get guys really ready, I think everyone's working the deadline to get a starter with 30 innings and five (starts). The numbers just don't compute."

So to recap, Bobby V is making a much more aggressive Spring Training schedule for The Fraud Sawx that nobody seems to like.  He doesn't give a crap about whether or not they like it because he's in charge and all that matters is that he likes it.  And he wants to fill open dates in their ST game schedule with more games.  If that isn't a recipe to start building a better clubhouse culture, I don't know what is.

I can only hope that this results in an immediate clubhouse split between guys who are looking forward to working harder and improving upon last year's EPIC collapse and guys who would rather continue to sit on their asses and drink beer and slack through ST exercises.  And if a player or two gets injured in these extra games and starts the regular season on the DL, that would be even better.

Spring Training Storylines I'll Be Following

The wait is almost over, friends. We're just a handful of days away from finally being able to talk about real, actual, on-the-field baseball again. Pitchers and catchers are expected to officially report this coming Sunday, but if you're a daily follower of the Yankee blogopshere you already know that players have been trickling into the facility at Tampa since last week. The team appears to be stoked that baseball is starting up again and ready to get back to work, and that makes me even more stoked for Spring Training to get started. Spring Training is almost never boring for the Yankees, and this year should be no exception. There will be plenty to follow and talk about over the next month or so, and here are the major storylines I know I'll be following particularly closely.

Mark Teixeira's New Left-Handed Approach

It's the only position player topic that has gotten as much attention this offseason as A-Rod's health, and it's really going to be the only thing I care about in regards to Teix in Spring Training. I don't care if he boots every ball hit to him, drops a bunch of throws from the field, or doesn't get a single hit from the right side because I don't expect those things to be issues during the season. But I need to see some improvements in his game from the left side of the plate to feel good. I want to see him taking more pitches, swinging at fewer curveballs, not getting too far under the ball and popping it up, driving the ball the opposite way with power, and if he's going to experiment with bunting, get it out of the way before the games start to count. We all know numbers don't mean a thing in Spring Training, but this might be the single most important Spring Training lefty split slash line in Yankee history.

Alex Rodriguez's Health and Mobility

By my count, this will be the third consecutive Spring Training that Alex Rodriguez will attend coming off of a new offseason workout plan to get him ready for the season. And it will be the first where the change in offseason workout plan wasn't related to performance or production, but rather just staying on the field. The Horse is getting up there in years, that's a fact, but he shouldn't be quite ready for the glue factory yet. I want to see how A-Rod's body responds to getting back into full-scale baseball activities. How's he going to look physically playing a full game in the field, running the bases, et cetera? And more importantly, how is he going to feel the next day? It's true that he's come through the past two Spring Training healthy and still gotten hurt during the regular season, so a clean bill of health at the beginning of April doesn't guarantee anything. But for the first time, A-Rod comes into camp with people almost expecting him to get hurt, which forces me to pay attention.

The DH Situation

I'm still a little surprised that the Yankees didn't already have the move to fill the lefty DH role finalized when they made the Pineda and Kuroda moves, mainly because I didn't think they would want to be here, a few days away from camp opening and still trying to swing deals. I'm still intrigued by the idea of them bringing somebody in, but not if it completely kills the chances of Russell Branyan making the team. I think Branyan could be just what the Yankees need out of that role this season and he comes with an incredibly low-risk, low-dollar contract. That being said, I also would have loved to see a deal get worked out for Travis Hafner. Whoever ends up being involved in the competition, this DH spot is the only major positional battle to speak of, so it's going to get its extra share of coverage.

The Michael Pineda Hype Machine

Real talk for a minute? Michael Pineda is a beast. A beast. This is a guy who put together a ROY-worthy season last year; he's not a scrub. And yet he comes into Spring Training this year almost a little underrated now that everybody has had five weeks to nitpick everything wrong about him and probe for every conceivable flaw instead of recognizing that he's a big, hulking kid with a nasty fastball and great command who pitched very well last year. He's something to embrace and build around, not worry about not, and I can't wait to see him get on the mound for the first time as a Yankee. Once again, I say this knowing that Spring Training performances don't mean a whole lot, but I wouldn't mind seeing Pineda get a little buzz going for himself heading into the regular season with a strong ST campaign.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Start The A.J. Trade Doomsday Clock!

I can't believe I'm doing this, but we're getting down to the wire here.  When we wake up tomorrow there will be only three minutes left to midnight; three days until pitchers and catchers have to report to camp.  And with everything that's gone down this offseason, there's just no way that A.J. can still be a Yankee when that day comes.  A.J. doesn't need that, and the team doesn't need that.

The latest news has the Yanks and Pirates still trying to figure out that last $3-5 million and who's going to pick it up, so things look close and that's good.  But it's still too risky to not be prepared for the fallout from an A.J. Spring Training attack, so doomsday clock it is.

3 minutes, Cash.  Make it happen.

Jorge Soler, Anybody?

I'm admittedly very late to the Jorge Soler discussion party.  I haven't followed him as closely as others have, mainly because my focus has been on the rotation upgrades, roster filling, and the ongoing A.J. trade saga this offseason.  But with Yoenis Cespedes coming off the market earlier this week, Soler now becomes the premiere Cuban/international free agent available.  The Cubs are the reported front runner for Soler right now, but Buster Olney reported yesterday that the Yankees have "serious interest" in Soler and it's easy to see why.

As a prospect, there's a lot to like about Soler.  He's got great size (copyright Jay Bilas) at 6'3"/205, and has a couple of very attractive tools, notably his power and bat speed.  Soler projects as a big-time power hitter, favorably compared to Gary Sanchez in that department by my TYA colleague Eric Schultz yesterday, and also possesses enough athleticism and defensive skills to become a good corner outfielder.  His swing mechanics need some work, but what 19-year-old's don't to some degree?  As a 19-year-old, Soler potentially has a higher ceiling than the 26-year-old Cespedes, and if signed he could follow a much more traditional path to the Majors, likely starting this season in High-A ball.  The Yankees are noticeably short on legit corner OF prospects right now, and Soler would be one of, if not the best one available if he were going to be in this year's draft.

The problem for the Yankees in this seemingly right-fit situation is the money it will take to sign Soler.  The rumors going around yesterday, which have now been squashed, was that the Cubs had agreed to terms with Soler on a deal worth more than $27 million.  With the Yankees shying away from the Cespedes contract demands, I can't imagine they would be willing to invest a comparable amount to someone who is still at least 2-3 years away from helping them at the Major League level.  Soler is  a top-tier prospect, would fill a position of organizational need, and could potentially give them a long-term replacement for Nick Swisher in right field if the Yankees decide to let him go (albeit a replacement that would need a short-term placeholder while he moves through the MiL system).  The question is, would the Yankees be willing to cough up that much money to get him if that's what it takes?

Pineda In Camp Early

(Photo courtesy of the NY Daily News)

At this rate, there isn't going to be anybody to report on Sunday when the Yankees are supposed to "officially" open Spring Training.  Yesterday, newly acquired starter Michael Pineda arrived in Tampa to begin his spring work.

Anthony McCarron reported that Pineda is already forming a strong friendship with Robinson Cano, and Pineda said he's looking forward to working with CC Sabathia.  Being a guy who has made the transition from hard thrower to polished pitcher, Sabathia is the perfect resource for Pineda to use to improve his repertoire as he matures.  And he doesn't seem like he's going to waste any time getting to work on that, as McCarron also reported that Pineda said he plans to work on his changeup in camp.  I think that's a damn good place to start when you're working with the kind of heater that Pineda is.

For the sake of comparison, when I turned 23 I spent the majority of my time going out in downtown Milwaukee, getting near blackout drunk, and making out with almost all of my buddy from work's chick friends, so this is exactly the type of stuff you want to see and hear from a young pitcher like Pineda.  He's in camp early, he knows what he has to work on, and even a small improvement in his change will be incredibly beneficial to Pineda's development and a positive omen for his 2012 campaign.

P.S.- Big ups to Ron Antonelli for finally getting a shot of this guy in a Yankee hat.  I was getting tired of using pictures of him in a Mariners uniform.

For more on Pineda's first day in camp, check out this piece that McCarron wrote last night for The Daily News.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The A.J. Trade Plot Thickens

On Saturday it looked like a done deal that we would be spending this week talking about A.J. Burnett only in past terms.  And yet here we are two days later, not only with the trade not being completed with the Pirates but with more potential trade partners coming to light.  The Yankees find themselves in a situation where they have options and at the moment it certainly seems like they are willing to weigh them.  So where do we stand?  Let's check what's behind Door # 1:

Behind Door #1 is the scenario that still seems most likely to happen- the Yankees and Pirates completing a trade.  Garrett Jones is off the table, now replaced by one or two "blah"-level prospects, and the money has gone from the Pirates picking up $8-10 million on A.J. to somewhere between $13-15 mil, according to the Hey Man.  That won't help the Yankees fill any DH gaps directly, but is about the best they could expect to get from a trade partner willing to take on that much money.  And with the "framework" for any deal already being in place with Pittsburgh, there aren't as many details to hash through, which is helpful when you're trying to get things done in a timely fashion before pitchers and catchers report.

And what do we have behind Door #2?

Behind here we find the Cleveland Indians, a new interested party that was introduced today by Hey Man.  Initial rumors centered around the possibility of a Burnett-for-Travis Hafner swap, but that would have been complicated with serious money still owed to both, and a report this afternoon from Bryan Hoch put the kibosh on that anyway.  If the Indians are serious, they could start talking money to keep the Yankees interested (hey, it never fails me with the ladies).  But they have a lot of work to do to catch up to Pittsburgh.

Lastly, let's check out what's behind Door #3

Behind here we have the very unattractive option of not trading A.J., keeping him on the roster, and heading into the opening of camp next with a big, dreary cloud of A.J. drama hanging over everything.  I'm sure everybody will do their best to go about their business and be professionals, but that's just not a scenario that benefits the Yankees in any way.  Nobody needs outside distractions while they're trying to get back into the swing of things, literally and figuratively.  Especially not for a guy who would be emergency rotation fodder and could probably be outperformed in that role by guys like David Phelps and Adam Warren.

There have been enough reports out for a long enough amount of time for everybody to know that you're not just dipping your toe in the pool on this one, Cash, but that you're really trying to move this guy.  So just pull the fucking trigger already and get it done.  You aren't going to get your new DH back in any deal, and you'll take enough money off your hands to still make this a win for you.  Just pick two scrubs from Pittsburgh, get them to settle on a number they want to pay, and get this thing done so we can all move on with our lives.

Can Derek Jeter Continue To Defy Time?

(Squared up on that one... )

With the bulk of the focus this offseason centering on the Yankees' moves to beef up the rotation and their ongoing pursuit of a left-handed DH option, certain storylines heading into Spring Training have fallen by the wayside.  One of those storylines is The Captain, Derek Jeter, or rather what he will do in 2012.  Between the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, Jeter's status as a big-time everyday player looked to be on life support.  Then he suffered the calf injury last June, hit the 15-Day DL, and came back on July 4th a new man.  The difference in Jeter's pre- and post-injury performance is night and day, as he was at .260/.324/.324 (.295 wOBA) prior to hitting the DL and hit .331/.384/.447 (.367 wOBA) from Independence Day on.  While it was great to see The Captain rebound, his strong finish to 2011 raises just as many questions about how he'll do in 2012 as his poor finish to 2010 raised prior to last season.  It's already been shown that Jeter is entering rare territory as a SS who will turn 38 during the season, and history is not on his side.  So what does Jeter need to do in 2012 to continue to thumb his nose at Father Time?

The first, and simplest, predictor for success for Jeter in 2012 will be hitting the ball hard.  After having an insanely high 65.7% GB rate in 2010, Jeter dropped his overall GB rate to 62.4% in 2011, thanks in large part to his 58.9% GB rate post-injury.  Jeter paired that positive trend with an improved LD rate, boosting it back up to 19.0% after posting a career-low 16.3% LD rate in 2010.  Again, this increase was aided by his post-DL power surge (dude rocked a 31.6% LD rate over 119 PA in August), and it's not quite at the level of his best days, but it's still enough for a hitter of Jeter's skill level to be successful and his post-DL tripleslash is proof of that.  If Jeter is going to continue that success in 2012, he needs to at least maintain that contact breakdown.  It's easier said than done of course, and at 37 going on 38 it's expected that Jeter's bat speed won't be what it was at his peak, but if he can continue to follow the pattern of success he established last year by staying back on the ball more it should be do-able.

In addition to continuing his positive contact trends from last season, Jeter also needs to continue to improve against right-handed pitching.  As he has gotten older Jeter has seen his production against righties slip, from the .300/.380/.440 days of the early 2000s to the low point of 2010 (.246/.315/.317, .286 wOBA).  Jeter improved slightly last season, posting a .277/.329/.338 tripleslash in 439 PA against righties, but that level of production is still subpar (.298 wOBA), and with the overwhelming majority of pitchers still being right-handed it's an area that needs improvement.  Over the last couple years the approach against Jeter seems to be to attack him hard inside in an attempt to capitalize both on his lack of power to the pull side and his age-related decline in hand/bat speed that surely affects his ability to pull his hands in and go the other way with his trademark Jeterian success.  Jeter should especially look to continue his staying back approach against righties to play to his strengths as a strong opposite-field hitter.  His wOBA to the pull side (.332) is the lowest of his three field splits, and Jeter had a higher GB rate (63.3%) against right-handed pitchers than he did against lefties.  Interestingly enough, he also had a higher LD rate (20.0%) against righties, showing that when he stays back he can still drive the ball with authority off of them.

Something that could help accomplish the goals of consistent solid contact and improved performance against righties could be Jeter's selectivity and pitch recognition.  Whether you're looking at the standard plate discipline percentages or the PITCHf/x versions, the general trend for Jeter over the past two seasons has been a lower swing percentage than what we're used to seeing from him, with a similar decrease in swings at pitches in the strike zone and an INCREASE in swings at pitches out of the zone.  These numbers suggest that Jeter might be struggling a bit with his pitch recognition and is being fooled on pitches out of the zone more than he used to be.  Perhaps in his attempts to combat his declining bat speed and adjust to pitchers working him inside, Jeter is leaving himself exposed in other areas and pitchers are taking advantage.

Being a hitter who has a track record of making a lot of contact and maintaining a low K rate, his 13.3% in 2011 being no exception, Jeter's failure to lay off pitches out of the zone would likely manifest itself as a lot of bad contact.  And a lot of bad contact being generated by a hitter with declining bat speed and power isn't going to result in a lot of hits.  Last year Jeter made a big stride in correcting the mechanical flaws that were affecting his ability to be a productive hitter.  This year it might be time to look at potential flaws in his approach that have crept up as pitchers have started working him differently.  Being more selective, recognizing situations and pitchers' tendencies in certain counts, and laying off more pitches out of the zone should help put Jeter in more situations to get something to hit with authority rather than something that will generate weak contact.

2011 was a big year for Derek Jeter in terms of coming to grips with the player he was at age 37 and realizing that he had to adapt to continue to be an above-average hitter.  2012 will be the real test to see if he can continue to stay one step ahead of the game as opposing pitchers now have half a year's worth of at-bats and tape from the second half of 2011 to study to come up with a new plan of attack for him.  It's important to remember that Jeter could very well make the right adjustments and still end up having his 2012 numbers decrease from where they were in 2011.  That's the nature of the beast when you're a 38-year-old Major League Baseball player.  But if Jeter is going to have any kind of success in 2012, these are the things he needs to focus on.