Thursday, March 31, 2011

Yanks-Tigers Opening Day Live Blog

And we're live from my apartment!  Damn this feels better than being in the office, even if the weather conditions aren't great and even if I can't drink because I have somewhere I have to be at 4:30.  It does look like we're going to get this thing in today, though, and that's a good thing.  If I would have taken PTO just to come home and watch the BBTN crew jabber on about how good the Fraud Sawx are and how many "questions" the Yankees have about their bullpen for 4 hours, I would be pissed.

Joe is going with his "Vs. righty" version of the everyday lineup today:

1) Brett Gardner- LF
2) Derek Jeter- SS
3) Mark Teixeira- 1B
4) Alex Rodriguez- 3B
5) Robinson Cano- 2B
6) Nick Swisher- RF
7) Jorge Posada- DH
8) Curtis Granderson- CF
9) Russell Martin-  C

And he's got Carsten Charles Sabathia on the mound, who should be good for 110-115 pitches today, if needed.  I don't see any way Joe lets his pitch count get that high on his first outing of the year, especially with the bullpen depth he has.  Personally, I'd be shocked if CC reached 100 today.  But now it's time to sit back, enjoy the game, and pray that it doesn't rain or go into extra innings so I'm forced to miss the finish.


Did somebody not tell Mother Nature that today was Opening Day?  How does this happen?  Somebody get on the horn with that old hag and tell her to let some sun shine in so the Bombers can do their thing.

Goddamn ridiculous...

It's Finally Here!

No more snow.  No more offseason turmoil.  No more retirements.  No more new coach signings.  No more free agents signed or free agents lost.  No more pitchers and catchers.  No more cage work.  No more split squads.  No more roster cuts.  Today, Yankee baseball returns to our lives and I couldn't be more excited about it.

There's still a few hours before the game (and the AB4AR live blog) starts, but the countdown is on.  Get ready, people!

** Live blog starts right here at 1 EST, 12 noon my time. **

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

AB4AR's 10 Fearless Predictions For The 2011 Season

The previews are done so it's time to get nuts.  Well not nuts, but a little bit bold as I make some predictions for the Yanks in 2011.  Granted, some of these won't be as out there as others.  Quite frankly some of them will be stuff that any idiot SportsCenter anchor could have told you, but I honestly believe each and every one of them will come to fruition this season.  So if you're thinking about some prop bets on the Bombers for 2011, you can take all of these predictions (Or some. Or none) to the bank, baby!

1) Derek Jeter will rebound enough at the plate this year for Joe to keep him as the leadoff hitter against lefties.  But not enough that Joe won't scrap his plan to use Gardner against righties as Gardner will flourish in the role.

2) Phil Hughes will essentially bypass A.J. as the #2 starter with a better approach and more improved secondary stuff this year, earning himself a 2nd straight ASG nod in the process.

3) Russell Martin will stay healthy and productive enough to hold down the starting catcher spot for the entire season.

4) Jesus Montero will start heating up with the bat in late May-early June and be called up to replace Francisco Cervelli.  In one week in August he will play for 4 consecutive games, both behind the plate and as the DH, and will have 6 XBH (3 of them homers) and drive in 7 over that 4-game span, serving notice to everybody that he IS the real deal.

5) Joba won't quite get back to being 2007 Joba in the 'pen, but he will be better than the 2009 and 2010 versions.  He and D-Rob both will earn some more high-leverage innings when Soriano starts to hiccup midseason.

6) 3 Yankees will win Gold Gloves this year: Cano, Teixeira, and Brett Gardner (thanks to an injury to Carl Crawford).

7) At some point in June or July, the Yankees will hit a rough patch and we will see at least one ridiculous story saying they should trade Betances, Romine, and Mason Williams for somebody like Fausto Carmona, and another one saying they should call up Banuelos.  They will do neither.  And Andy Pettitte will not be coming back.  Ever.  He's done.

8) We will see Andrew Brackman in a Yankee uniform this season.  And also Hector Noesi and David Phelps at some point.  We won't see Banuelos or Betances in one, though.

9) Both Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira will finish in the top 5 of the MVP voting, Cano coming in 2nd and Teix 5th.  A-Rod, despite having a good year, will only finish 9th after making a mid-summer DL stint.

10) The Yankees, behind their monster bullpen and CC and Phil at the top of the rotation, will win the 2011 World Series in 6 games over the Colorado Rockies, sending Jorge Posada (but not Mo) off into retirement on top.

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview Recap

If you missed any of the great AB4AR Season Previews, here's some good news.  You still have the rest of today and tomorrow to catch up and be ready for Opening Day.  And I, being the gracious blogger that I am, have taken the time to put all the previews together here in one neat little post.  Hey!  It's double good news!

The Lineup

The Rotation (Part I)

The Rotation (Part II)

The Bullpen

The Bench

And as if that wasn't enough, I've still got my 10 Fearless Predictions for 2011 coming later today.  So take some time out of your work day and study up.  And if you want to really want to bone up, check out the "Known/Unknown" series from earlier in the month.

** And be ready for the Opening Day live blog tomorrow, starting at 1PM EST, high noon for me.  **

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: The Bench

(Hey look!  It's a bench!  From Yankee Stadium!  It's the Yankee bench!)

Well, we're down to the last official season preview post.  It's been fun, hasn't it?  At least I hope it has, since I know almost nothing about it was informative.  That being what it is, it's time to tackle the last piece of the Yankee roster puzzle, the bench.  Thankfully, Joe was gracious enough to announce all his final roster decisions yesterday so that I don't have to guess at any of this.

In the outfield, the Yankees have traded in their Ford Explorer (Marcus Thames) for a Range Rover (Andruw Jones) to fill the 4th OF spot.  Is that an accurate comparison for Jones' current skill set?  Probably not, but you get the idea.  Jones will be expected to provide exactly what Thames did at the plate last year in mashing lefty pitching, but he also brings the added bonus of being a capable outfielder.  He certainly won't be winning any Gold Gloves in limited playing time, but Jones can be plugged into either corner spot and probably even play center in a pinch.  Jones' value is already being exhibited as the Yankees know they will be covered in terms of OF defense if C-Grand has to miss some time early.

The infield is going to be covered by 2 guys at drastically different spots in their career.  Eduardo Nunez is looking to prove that he can be a productive everyday player and even be capable of handling the full-time SS job when the time comes for Jeter to relinquish the role.  He wrestled the utility infielder role away from Ramiro Pena after a solid ST and can start to carve a niche for himself moving forward if he produces at a similar level.  Eric Chavez, on the other hand, is a former All Star who has already established himself as a premiere hitter, but injuries have taken their toll over the last couple years and Chavez is looking to prove he still has some gas in the tank and maybe earn one last big paycheck from another team.  He will likely spell Teix and A-Rod at the corners and could also DH when needed.  His bat has looked very good in ST and if he can stay healthy he could be another cheap steal for the Yankees and an upgrade over what was in his place last year.

Behind Russell Martin, the Yankees made a late audible at the line of scrimmage and are planning to start the season with Gustavo Molina as the backup catcher.  I don't know anything about him other than the fact that I don't know anything about him, but with Frankie Cervelli getting out of his boot this week, it's likely that Molina is just a placeholder for Cervelli who is just a placeholder for Jesus.  He didn't impress enough to win the job in ST, which is disappointing for Yankee fans, but if he continues to improve behind the plate and gets his bat to heat up again, we should be talking about Montero on the bench come summer time.

So there you have it, folks.  The complete season preview.  The lineup is stacked (again), the bullpen is deep, and bench should be much improved from the last couple versions in previous years.  The rotation has question marks, but also the possibility for positive answers to those questions as the season progresses.  Let's not forget that the Yankee rotation heading into 2009 wasn't exactly a bunch of world beaters, and that turned out just fine. 



Quick Take On Yesterday's Roster Decisions

Thumbs Up: 7

- Sending Ramiro Pena to Triple-A (kid can't hit)
- Adding Eric Chavez to the 40-man (guy has done nothing but hit)
- Releasing Ronnie Belliard (hard to add him when he barely played)
- Selling Romulo Sanchez to Japan (hopefully they paid for him by the pound)
- Sending Austin Romine to Double-A (he still needs work)
- Making Eduardo Nunez the utility infielder (not official but do the math)
- Keeping Mark Prior around in Tampa (nice to see his arm still attached and working)

Thumbs Down: 3

- Making Gustavo Molina the backup catcher (seriously, who is this guy???)
- Sending Jesus Montero to Triple-A (good hitting or bad, good defense or bad in ST, the kid is one of the 25 best players on the team and he should be on the 25-man)
- Not announcing Feliciano's replacement (might want to get on that)

More good calls than bad made yesterday by the Yankees, and nothing really surprising.  You can't be upset about any of that (except maybe Molina-for-Montero).

Monday, March 28, 2011

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: The Bullpen

(No.  That's not the guy who's replacing Feliciano.)

Next up in our Season Preview series is the bullpen.  And while there are a few issues and changing bodies in there right now, this should still be the first season in quite some time that the Yankees are entering the season without the bullpen being any kind of a question.  We'll make our way through this collection of arms from the bottom to the top.

Bartolo Colon is penciled in as the long man right now, as it was determined by Joe that he is a better fit for that "flex" role that used to be handled by Aceves than Sergio Mitre was.  Given the way his stuff has looked in ST, I can agree with that assessment, but I still think it's risky move handing this position to Colon given his recent history of health issues.  If the Yankees monitor his workload and conditioning, Colon could excel in this role and give them the confidence in the long man role that Aceves used to give them. If he falls apart, they will have to go back to the drawing board.

The lefty spot is next, this year providing 2 of them instead of just one.  Pedro Feliciano will join Boone Logan to give the Yanks a solid 1-2 punch from the lefty spot.  Logan, after being awful in the first half of 2010, came back to be very good in the second half, but it still remains to be seen if he can replicate that success.  When he's on, he has the makeup and the stuff to be a lockdown-type stopper as a lefty specialist and just enough to get by and pitch effectively to righties if needed.  Feliciano is less effective against righties, but can also completely shut down lefties with his stuff.  His reputation as a rubber arm, though, is already coming into question as he has dealt with arm issues all spring and looks to be starting the season on the DL.  Steve Garrison would be the most likely candidate to take Felciano's spot.

Now we get into the meat and potatoes of the 'pen, the 4-headed righty monster that is the Yankee setup crew.  Starting it off is the always-talked about Joba Chamberlain.  After coming into camp looking a bit heavy, Joba impressed early with improved velocity.  But an oblique strain has slowed his spring progress and he will likely start as the 3rd in the pecking order.  If he can get healthy and maintain that velocity, he could take a step back towards being 2007 Joba and show that he's worth considering for high-leverage innings.  But, the Yankees could use that to boost his trade value since they now have a surplus of good righties in the 'pen.

Just above Joba in the hierarchy is strikeout machine Dave Robertson.  He also had a rough start to his 2010 campaign, but rebounded nicely to be just as effective as he was in '09, if not more so, down the stretch.  D-Rob still has great swing-and-miss stuff with his fastball-curveball combo, but it's his inconsistent command that gives him problems and he still walks more guys than you'd like to see.  If he can tighten up the command this year, he could put up closer-type numbers.  As it is right now, he could probably be closing for a few teams in the Majors, so to have him as the 7th-inning guy in the Yankee 'pen is a luxury that should not go unnoticed.

After D-Rob comes the new (grumpy) kid on campus, former Tampa closer Rafael Soriano, who took a boatload of money and a bunch of opt-clauses to come be Mo's setup man and possibly replacement as future closer.  As much as I've poked fun at Soriano and his mopey-ness since joining the Yankees, there's no denying his talent level.  His fastball-slider combo is absolutely devastating and perfect for a shutdown bullpen role, and Soriano has shown to be that type of shutdown pitcher when he's on.  The Yankees would be wise to use him as much as possible this season, as long as he's pitching well, both to give Mo enough rest to stay healthy and to drive up his value on the open market.  If he decides to leave after this year (presumably after helping the team win their 28th title), the Yankees are freed of his contract and get a few compensation draft picks to boot.

Closing out this potentially dynamic group is the G.O.A.T., the greatest individual athlete at any one thing in the history of professional sports, Mariano Rivera.  Yes, he's 41 this year, but he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down so I'm not even going to bother saying anything about him other than he's Mariano Freaking Rivera.

The depth and overall skill of the Yankee bullpen makes it one of the team's greatest assets this year.  The beauty of having so many above-average guys is that not all of them have to be on the top of their game for the Yankees to be successful.  Even if just 3 or 4 of them are, that still gives the Yankees tons of late-game options to mix and match, shorten the game up, and help cover the presumed weak back end of their rotation.  If the Yanks are up after 6 innings this year, there's no reason they should ever lose a game.  Knowing that, other teams are going to have to change their approach against the Yankee starters, and that's a benefit to the Yankees.  If things fall into place, this could be the best bullpen since the Nasty Boys, and that's not a stretch to say.

Projected Bullpen

- Mariano Rivera- RHP
- Rafael Soriano- RHP
- Dave Robertson- RHP
- Joba Chamberlain- RHP
- Pedro Feliciano- LHP
- Boone Logan- LHP
- Bartolo Colon- RHP

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Yankee Spring Training Trip That Almost Wasn't

Last weekend my family was in the Orlando area, enjoying a nice 4-day weekend vacation.  I wasn't with them at the time and for that I resent each and every one of them for all the fun they had down there.  But part of their vacation included traveling to Tampa to see the Yanks-Blue Jays ST game that took place last Saturday and hopefully capturing some pictures that I could then post on the blog.  What ended up happening was a travel tale so ghastly, so horrific, so incredibly barbaric, that I can barely keep my composure as I write this recap.  What follows is a firsthand account of the terror that occurred last Saturday on the highways of Tampa, Florida from my parents and younger brother.  I remind you that missing a Yankee game was hanging in the balance here.

We start at 10AM EST, as my family finishes breakfast and packs up the belongings they'll bring to the game that day: tickets, water bottles, sunscreen, etc.  They're packed up, in the rental car, and ready to embark on their roughly 1-hour journey down I-4 East to Steinbrenner Field at 10:30AM, and it was all downhill from there.  Early in on their journey they encountered a 4-mile, bumper-to-bumper traffic backup on I-4 for what they later found out to be a very serious car accident.  This traffic caused quite a significant delay and increased annoyance on the part of my father, who was behind the wheel, but at this point they were still on schedule to get there before the game started and maybe get some good pictures and autographs.

Fast forward to 10 miles down the road, where traffic hit another standstill thanks to a car fire.  By now, the lost time is adding up, annoyance has turned to frustration, and making the 1PM start time of the game is beginning to become a question.  By now I have been made aware of my family's peril, thanks to minute-by-minute text updates from my mother.  Despite being on the front lines of this nightmare, she had enough wits about her to let me know what was going on and how it was affecting all of them.  My father was beginning to get a bit hot under the collar, but he soldiered on valiantly through the car fire and towards his destination, trying to make up some lost time and ensure that they would not miss the first pitch.

But it simply wasn't to be.  Next up was construction delays, compounded by the fact that all the old blue hairs and stupid tourists in the area could not navigate the construction on the highway without coming to a complete stop almost every time.  By now frustration has turned to anger, and in the case of my father, skipping anger and going right for pissed.  Sighs are releasing, curses are flying, and the 1PM start time is now only a pipe dream.  What was supposed to be a 1-hour car ride to the field has now become a 2-hour journey into the very depths of Hell itself.

Trying To Make Sense Of It All

There have been some interesting decisions to say the least made by the Yankees over the last couple of days.  Some of them seem to be pretty logical, others not so much.  So what better way for me to weigh in on them than to drag out the scale and rate each decision from 1-5 on the sense-o-meter, with 1 meaning the decision made about as much sense as having Charlie Sheen babysit your kids and 5 meaning the decision was practically a scientific fact.

Yanks trade Sergio Mitre- 3 out of 5

I can respect the fact that they thought Garcia and Nova were better starting options and that Colon could be used in Mitre's role.  But the fact that Mitre has done it before and has done it well over the last couple years while Colon has been in and out of waffle houses around the country makes the call a little risky.  If Colon goes down or is totally ineffective, who replaces him?  As much as I joke about him, I would feel more comfortable with the Meat Tray as my long man than Bartolo.

Yanks Give Garcia the 5th Starter Spot Over Colon- 2 out of 5

This just didn't make sense to me at all.  Decisions should be made based on results, and Colon beat Garcia there on paper and in the eye test.  He's been the better pitcher and he deserved the role.  If this was a way to try to keep both of them around on the Major League roster then it becomes an even dumber move.  You take the best man and if the other one wants to walk, you let him.  That's why you signed these guys to Minor League deals anyway.  And if there was concern about Garcia not fitting into the long relief bullpen role, then guess what?  That's what you still had Mitre for!

Yanks Sign Kevin Millwood- 2 out of 5

Does he give them insurance for the back of the rotation should Garcia bomb? Yes.  Did they end up getting him for much less than he was asking for?  Yes.  Does that mean that he completely sucks and would probably provide less than league average production if used?  I think so.  No other team was looking at Millwood at all.  NOBODY.  And he knew that and that's why he decided to cave and sign the Yankees' MiL offer.  Why would you want to sign somebody who brings nothing to the table?  Especially when every other team already seems to know that?  If you're looking for replacement options, you look to your young guys with something to prove, not a washed up old sack of crap with nothing left.  The Yankees took the 2nd option and that was just stupid to me.

Gustavo Molina Now Likely to Win the Backup Catcher Role- 2 out of 5

First question, who the hell is Gustavo Molina?  Was he anywhere on anybody's Top 100 prospect lists?  Does he have a cannon for an arm behind the plate?  Can he swing a Miguel Cabrera-like bat at the plate?  No?  Than why is he being considered for the backup catcher role over Jesus Montero?!?!  I don't care if opinions on Montero have changed, the time for him to come up is now.  He can learn just as much from Major League coaching not playing every day than he can from Minor League coaching if he is playing every day.  He's the best hitting prospect in baseball, he's got nothing more to do in the Minors to prove that, and he could be the future cornerstone of your lineup for the next 12 years.  He should be in the Majors now.

So there you have it.  Obviously a lot of these recent moves are a bit baffling to me, but then again I'm just a 25-year-old blogger out in Wisconsin.  Maybe all this stuff works out for the best and I'll be bowing down to Joe and Cash to honor their genius again.  But if something doesn't work out, you can bet your ass I'm going to be the first one to criticize.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: The Rotation (Part II)

(Guess which 2 made the rotation.  Used courtesy of BBD)

Obviously word of my decision to split the rotation preview post into 2 got back to Joe quickly, since he made it official yesterday that Ivan Nova will be the 4th starter and Freddy Garcia will be the 5th.  So that we know who the last 2 are, let's take a look at them.

Ivan Nova made some appearances late last season, both as a starter and as a reliever.  And while opinions are mixed on just what his ceiling is and where he best fits into this team's makeup, there's no denying that Nova has talent and pitching moxie beyond his 24 years of age.  He lives off his fastball, which sits mid-90s but can be ratcheted up to 96-97 when needed, and Nova is very good at locating the pitch down in the zone to get ahead in the count and induce a lot of ground balls.  The thing he needs to work on, like other Yankee pitchers, is developing reliable secondary stuff that he can mix up as he gets through a batting order a 2nd and 3rd time.  That was his big problem last year, but the development of a slider that he has shown in ST could be just what Nova needs to get over that hurdle.  Struggles aside, he still put up a respectable 4.50 ERA in his limited Major League innings last season.  As a 4th starter, something in line with that would be acceptable for the Yankees, and anything better would be gravy.

Last, and in this case least, is Freddy Garcia, who won the 5th starter job over Bartolo Colon merely on the fact that he is more of a known commodity than Colon these days.  Apparently, Joe thinks a crummy known commodity is better than a risky unknown, and I can appreciate that logic, but there won't be big expectations for Garcia this year.  After getting off to a good start in ST, Garcia has come back to Earth with his stuff, as I suggested, and he will get by this year on his experience and offspeed pitch location, not his heater.  Garcia's role will be that of an innings eater, just somebody who Joe knows can stay healthy and go out there and give him 5 league average innings and hand it over to the bullpen.  But that role will be determined by the pitchers in front of him.  If the top 4 can do their jobs and provide length, Joe can stagger his 'pen to be ready to cover extra innings in Garcia's starts.  If they can't, Garcia's role becomes more important and he will have to step up and provide quality innings, not just innings.

Projected Rotation

1) CC Sabathia- LHP
2) A.J. Burnett- RHP
3) Phil Hughes- RHP
4) Ivan Nova- RHP
5) Freddy Garcia- RHP

Friday, March 25, 2011

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: The Rotation (Part I)

(I know I already used this picture.  Deal with it.)

We're going to change things up a bit for the rotation preview and split it into 2 parts.  The reason for this, you ask?  The Yankees haven't officially announced who their 4th and 5th starters are going to be.  So today, we'll focus on the top of the rotation, where jobs are locked in and the order is set, and tomorrow or whenever Joe gets around to finishing out the rotation, we'll touch on that too.

As for that top of the rotation, it looks very similar to last year's, minus one big retired piece.  As he has the last 2 seasons, CC Sabathia will be the ace at the top of the rotation.  The big fella had another great year in 2010, and did it all despite having a bad knee that required surgery after the season.  That surgery inspired CC to shed some weight in the offseason as he heads into what could be an opt-out year needing to prove that he's worth whatever additional money he will be looking for.  Behind the Jeter situation, CC opting out will be the most talked about subplot in Yankeeland, but Carsten is enough of a professional to not let that distract him from getting the job done on the hill. And with the growth he has made becoming a complete pitcher and his improved physical condition, it would be crazy to expect anything less than another 18-20-win, 200+-inning, 2.75-3.25-ERA, 1.10-1.20-WHIP season from him in 2011.

Behind CC will be the tandem of Dr. Burnett and Mr. A.J., the schizophrenic man who can be amongst the best or worst pitchers in the game at any given moment of any given game he's in.  After a disastrous 2010 campaign that was more Mr. A.J. than Dr. Burnett, A.J. spent time this offseason working with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild on fixing his mechanical issues, and maybe some of his mental ones.  A.J. has looked good in Spring Training, showing an ability to repeat his delivery better and shake off bad pitches, but the true litmus test will be when he's on the hill in a high-pressure situation and has to make a pitch.  While they aren't what they used to be, A.J.'s fastball-curveball combo can still generate swings and misses when he locates the pitches, and he is developing his changeup into a pitch that can be very useful in setting up the other two.  It would be hard not to, considering how awful his 2010 was, but I expect A.J. to rebound from that mess and be more of a #2 starter this season than the #5 he was last year.

The last of definite 3 is Phil Hughes, who is essentially stepping into the "stopper" role that Andy Pettitte had locked down the last couple seasons.  Like A.J., Phil has spent significant time this Spring Training working on his changeup, as he realized that not using it early in 2010 came back to haunt him later in the year.  Hughes is also experimenting with his cutter, incorporating a little slider-like action into it to add to his arsenal.  His primary stuff is good, no question about that.  But Hughes needs to develop 2 more reliable secondary pitches to take the next step towards being a legit top-line starter.  The good news this year is that the kid gloves officially come off Hughes and he'll be allowed to do his thing on the mound without worrying about inning/pitch counts.  And with a guy with a track record like Larry Rothschild's handling him, Hughes should get the help he needs in his development.  He made the All Star team in 2010 with just 2 pitches.  Imagine what he could do this year with 3 or 4.

NY Times Story About The Mets Situation Rules

 Via yesterday's story:

"The Mets, long one of baseball’s most highly valued franchises, have lost millions of dollars in recent years, including nearly $50 million in 2010, according to two people briefed on the team’s finances.

The team’s losses [are] projected to hit another $50 million or more this season based on factors including advance ticket sales."

There's really nothing I can say that's going to make those statements any funnier than they already are, so I'm not even going to waste time trying.  I'm just going to use that time to continue laughing at the pathetic team with a pathetic coaching staff and a pathetic ownership group that is going down faster than Lindsay Lohan at a coke house.   Just another great day to be a Yankee fan.  Hit the music, Frankie!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: The Lineup

(Hey look!  Four starters!)

Well here we are.  It's 2011, it's almost time for the baseball season to officially begin, and it's time to break down the Yankees 25-man roster as we head towards Opening Day.  We'll start, as we did last year, with the starting lineup.  And this year, as it was last year, the Yankee lineup will be one of, if not the, deepest, most dangerous, most talented lineups in all of professional baseball.  At almost every position, the Yankees have a current or former All Star plugged in, and there isn't an easy out anywhere 1-9 in the batting order.  At worst, the Yankees' least talented players (if there is such a thing) in their starting lineup will provide league average production.  And while advanced sabermetrics might suggest that their defense isn't the strongest, they've got a handful of players who are among the best in the business in the field.

Looking around the infield, the 4 suspects are the same crew that started the last 2 years, and they are still the best all-around infield in the game.  At first base, Mark Teixeira will be looking to rebound from a 2010 season of ups and downs.  He was either ice cold or on fire, and a progression of small injuries as the season went on sapped him of his usual strength down the stretch, culminating in that pulled hamstring in the playoffs.  Projections have Teix slated for a bounce-back year in 2011, and I believe the opportunity is there for him to have a big year and re-establish himself as the best first baseman in MLB not named Pujols.  If he can shake his traditional April slump, he could set the groundwork for an All Star season very early.

At second base, the Yankees are as set as any team with 2010 MVP candidate Robinson Cano.  Coming off a career year that saw him capture an ASG starting spot, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger Award, a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, and the Nobel Prize for Scientific Research in the Field of Chemistry, Cano will be looking to pick up where he left off in 2011.  Now fully into his prime, Cano's maturity has caught up with his natural talent and there is no doubt that he is the best second baseman in baseball and the future leader of this team.  Despite tempered projections, I expect another MVP-caliber year from Cano in 2011 and would be shocked if he didn't finish in the top 5 in the voting again.

We now come to 3rd base, where the majestic A-Horse, though older in age, still exhibits signs of being a premiere thoroughbred in its field.  A-Rod has never looked better in Spring Training than he has this year, physically or at the plate, but it remains to be seen if he can translate the offseason workout regimen to a full healthy season of A-rodian production.  The days of MVP awards are probably over for the 35-year-old Horse, but if Joe can manage his workload to keep him healthy and keep him off the DL, there's no reason not to expect A-Rod to improve his numbers across the board from 2010.

Who Pooped In Buck Showalter's Corn Flakes?

For some reason, Men's Journal magazine decided to interview Buck Showalter for their April issue.  He had some not nice and rather stupid things to say about the Yankees, specifically one Derek Jeter.

"The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout.  Our guys are thinking, 'Wow, he's screaming at Derek Jeter.' Well, he's always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets -- and yes, he pisses me off."

"WAAAAAHHHHH!!!!  Derek Jeter is trying to get calls!  WAAAAAHHHHH!!!!  The Yankees dumped me as manager right before their late-90s dynasty took off!  WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!  I've still got an axe to grind because I built that team and never got any credit for it!  WAAAAAHHHHHH!!!  Now I'm stuck managing the Baltimore Orioles!  WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!"

Seriously, Buck.  Let it go.  Move on.  Grow up.  I did like his jab at the MSM's treatment of Theo and the Fraud Sox, though:

"I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll.  You got Carl Crawford 'cause you paid more than anyone else, and that's what makes you smarter?"

+1 for Buck there.  I can look past the Jeter bashing if you're going to call out the Fraud Sox.

"That's why I like whipping their butt. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the hell are they beating us?'"

I don't know if I should take umbrage with this last quote because it's not quite clear if Buck is talking about the Yankees, the Sox, or both when he mentions the "$205 million payroll."  If he's talking about Boston, fine.  If he's talking about the Yanks, I would remind him to check the records.  Baltimore went 5-13 against the Yankees last year.  Not exactly a butt whooping if you ask me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I just strained my oblique.


AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Bench)

(Enjoy it, people.  That's the only time your butts will ever sit there.)

DH- Jorge Posada

What We Know: His catching days appear to be over.

Even with the injury to Cervelli, Jorge's name has not come up as a potential backup/emergency catcher candidate.  The team has finally recognized what most of us already knew, that being that Jorge is old as hell and shouldn't be behind the plate anymore.  Technically he's not a bench player, but I included him here just to even things out.

What We Don't Know: Will the lack of catching actually help him?

Logic would dictate that less wear and tear on his old body would leave Jorge in better physical condition, and that better physical condition would lead to better offensive numbers.  But maybe Jorge is just an old guy and his body isn't standing up to aging as well as other players.  There could still be bumps and bruises and 15-day DL stints this year even if he isn't getting beaten up behind the plate.

OF- Andruw Jones

What We Know: He can still play.

Diminished speed and all, Jones can still provide adequate to above-average defense at all 3 outfield spots.  And he can still make you pay if you try to sneak a fastball by him up in the zone.  On paper, he's a rich man's Marcus Thames.

What We Don't Know: How much will he play?

Like Thames, Jones is here to play against lefties when the matchup doesn't favor C-Grand or Gardner.  But both of those guys have shown enough against lefties to warrant them staying in the lineup even when David Price or Jon Lester is on the hill.  If that trend continues this season, how are the Yankees going to get Jones at-bats?  And will that number of at-bats be enough to keep his swing going well?

IF- Eduardo Nunez

What We Know: No backup IF candidate has played better than him in Spring Training.

Looks like that offseason spent working out with Cano has paid off.  Nunez has swung the bat well, run the bases well, and more than held his own in the field.  He is probably the most complete option for a backup infield role out of the pool of candidates.

What We Don't Know: What does Joe think of him?

The organization is high on Nunez, since they have kept him out of a couple potential trades, but does Joe share that sentiment?  He's traditionally a loyalty-type manager, and he's more familiar with Ramiro Pena than Nunez.  Will that loyalty blind him from seeing the fact that Nunez is the better all-around player?

IF- Ramiro Pena

What We Know:  He can't hit.

At all.

What We Don't Know: What will happen to him if he doesn't make the team.

Pena seems like he's reached the ceiling of his career.  He's an all-field, no-hit shortstop whose existence as a liability at the plate almost negates the positive value his defense brings to the table.  And his miserable hitting performance in ST has done nothing to change that assessment.  So if he doesn't make the 25-man, he basically falls back into a life of Triple-A purgatory, always somebody in the 26-30-man range who only gets called up when the injury bug hits bad.

C- Jesus Montero

What We Know: The backup catching job is all but his.

Cervelli is still hurt, Romine clearly isn't ready to make the jump from Double-A to the Majors, and Jorge isn't being considered.  The future is now for Jesus, who has every opportunity to show why he is such a highly-regarded prospect and lay the groundwork for a long and prosperous future as the anchor to the Yankee lineup.

What We Don't Know: How good/bad he actually is behind the plate.

The climate has shifted constantly on this topic since ST started.  We get a few good reports about his work and in-game performance and then a few talking about how slow and uncoordinated he is.  At this point, that shouldn't matter because he is so young and it's always been his bat that has been his calling card.  But once he has to play some games behind the plate in the regular season, the picture will start to become more clear about where his future in the field lies.

C- Francisco Cervelli

What We Know: Dude has terrible luck.

Every year he gets hurt in Spring Training.  You can't help but feel bad for him, even if he is just a marginal backup player. 

What We Don't Know: If he'll ever play another game as a Yankee.

If Russell Martin stays healthy and regains some of his form, and if Montero shows enough skill to warrant staying on the 25-man roster all year, it's going to be next to impossible for Frankie to ever see the field again.  He just isn't as good as those 2, even at his best.  Hopefully he's got his voodoo dolls done and he's contacting the spirits, because an injury to one of those 2 might be the only we he wears the pinstripes again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Bullpen)

(Lotsa options for this situation this season.)

No time for intros here, people.  If you missed any of the series so far, too bad.  Catch up.

Mariano Rivera

What We Know: He's the man.

In typical Mo fashion, he showed up to camp, worked at his own pace to get into game shape, and then proceeded to come out and knock everybody's dick in the dirt.  Ho-hum.  Another year in the life of the greatest single performer at his position in any sport in the history of sports.

What We Don't Know: Will Father Time finally catch up to him?

Mo has managed to dodge wily old FT so far as he's moved into what should be the twilight of his career.  But injuries are always a concern, especially for a 41-year-old.  Surely this factored into the Yankees' decision to throw a bajillion dollars at Rafael Soriano as insurance, but we're all hoping it doesn't come to that contingency plan.

Rafael Soriano

What We Know: He's a grumpy puss.

Dude has literally not smiled since he joined the team.  There's been reports that he hasn't really gotten involved with anybody in the clubhouse, and he stated that he didn't want to pitch against any AL East teams until the regular season.  So in terms of temperament, Mariano he is not.

What We Don't Know: If he can live up to his contract.

When he's on and healthy, he's one of the best relievers in the business.  But there have been plenty of times when he hasn't been either or both of those things, which would make the money he's being paid this year a bad investment on the Yankees part.  Plus, the fact that he's a whiny baby makes me a little concerned that he could become the next in line of players who couldn't handle playing in New York.

Dave Robertson

What We Know: He's the next in line after Soriano.

D-Rob has established himself as the 3rd pitcher in the bullpen pecking order, and with good reason.  He has great swing-and-miss stuff, he's learning to harness it to be more efficient with his pitches, and he has shown that the moment is never too big for him.  He'd be the setup man on most other MLB teams and could even be the closer on some.

What We Don't Know: How much work will he get?

We know that Joe is going to do everything to play the matchups and keep a consistent rotation so that everybody gets work and everybody stays fresh.  But we also know that when the starter gives a good performance, Joe is going to look to shorten the 'pen and go Soriano-Mo as much as he can.  How will D-Rob's stuff and command hold up to only getting a few batters a week here and there if it comes to that?

Joba Chamberlain

What We Know: His stuff looked better this spring.

Whether he was in good shape or not, Joba's velocity and bite looked good on his pitches this spring, which is a good thing for him and the bullpen depth.  Without this recent injury, he could have had his arm strength up to the point where he could reach 96-97 on the gun again.  That would be fun.

What We Don't Know: What the Yankees plan to do with him.

He isn't going to start, he isn't going to setup, and he isn't going to close.  Right now he's the 6th-7th-inning bridge guy along with D-Rob, which means he might have more value to the Yankees as a trade chip for teams looking to use him as a starter again.  So will they run him out there a lot to show his stuff to up his trade value?  Or try to hold onto him and let the market determine his worth by how the season plays out?  Or will they even trade him at all?

The Lefties (Feliciano & Logan)

What We Know: There are 2 of them.

2 lefties is always better than 1.  Especially with the human DL stint, Damaso Marte, still sucking up payroll from the team.  Now the Yanks are covered in cases of injury or ineffectiveness.

What We Don't Know: A lot.

Who is the #1 and #2 option?  How will Joe divide up work between them?  Is one guy going to be used as a LOOGY and the other as a workhorse?  Was Logan's second half in 2010 a flash in the pan?  Can Feliciano stay healthy after his workload over the last 3 years?

The Long Man

What We Know: The 'pen needs one.

You always have to have somebody there to suck up innings when you're on either side of a blowout.  And most, if not all, of the guys mentioned above are only good for 1 inning, 2 tops.

What We Don't Know: Who it will be.

My money is still on Sergio Mitre, even though there are rumors going around that the team might cut him.  Garcia and Colon have each expressed slight interest in staying on as the long man if they don't get a rotation spot, but is that option attractive to the Yankees?  Don't even consider Mark Prior.  More than 1 inning of work and his arm will probably fall off of his body.

Is This Really Happening?

Is that really Bartolo Colon out there on the mound?  Pitching not just decently or effectively, but pitching well?  6 innings of 2-hit, 1-run ball against the Rays?  With his fastball still sitting in the mid-90s in his last inning of work?  How the hell did this happen?  What was Colon doing in winter ball that showed the Yankees he was capable of doing this?  How did they manage to see through all the fat rolls, skin flaps, and man boobs to see that there was still some gas left in the tank?

And is Colon really going to win the 5th starter spot in the 2011 New York Yankee rotation???  With all that's going on in the world, the revolutions, the tsunamis, the global warming, that happening might actually be the final thing that leads me to believe we are heading towards the end of days.  I can't even wrap my mind around that thought.  I keep expecting my TV to cut to a shot of Morgan Freeman sitting in the oval office giving one of his speeches from "Deep Impact."

Seriously, though, I have to have the same tempered expectations for Colon going forward as I did with Freddy Garcia a few weeks ago, but I can't deny that Colon has been impressive this spring.  I would have been excited if he was able to make it out to the mound for first inning warmups without hurting himself or having a heart attack, and he has gone out and been one of the best pitchers in camp.

Obviously you don't put his and Garcia's stats next to each other to make a decision if you're Joe Girardi, but if you're using the patented Jay Bilas eye test, Colon passes that easily when compared to Freduardo.  His stuff has been better than Garcia's, his approach has been better than Garcia's, and his cleavage is better than Garcia's.  I can't believe I'm going to say this, but out of all the starter candidates left in camp, Colon is the best option for 5th starter right now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Previewing The AB4AR Season Preview

If you haven't figured it out already, we're ankle deep in the official AB4AR season preview, and we're not even close to complete.  Here's a look at what's coming up over the next week plus to prep for Opening Day on March 31st.

- 3/22- Knowns/Unknowns- The Bullpen

- 3/23- Knowns/Unknowns- The Bench

- 3/24- 2011 Season Preview- The Lineup

- 3/25- 2011 Season Preview- The Rotation

- 3/28- 2011 Season Preview- The Bullpen

- 3/29- 2011 Season Preview- The Bench

- 3/30- AB4AR's 10 Fearless Predictions for the 2011 Season

And if you're all really good and eat your vegetables, there might even be a live blog for the Opening Day.  I don't know how I'm going to do it from the office, but I'm sure I can figure out a way.  In any case, that's the plan to get everybody as ready as they can be for the 2011 Yankee Regular Season.  If you miss out on any of this, your loss.

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Rotation)

(Who else will be in this picture come March 31?)

Next up in the AB4AR "Know/Don't Know" series is the rotation, the group on the roster with the most questions and unknowns surrounding it.  But hey, at least 60% of the rotation is already set.  Right?

/looks around for nods of agreement 

CC Sabathia

What We Know: He came into camp this year in better shape.

Whether it was 25 pounds, 20 pounds, or 5 pounds, there's no doubting that CC put more emphasis on physical fitness this offseason after his knee surgery.  He's the rotation's horse, he knows it, and he's trying to do everything he can to stay whole and stay healthy in 2011. 

What We Don't Know: If the Yankees have a plan for him to limit his work this year.

It might not be a bad idea considering the workload Carsten has accumulated over the last 4 seasons and the fact that he is coming off surgery.  A rough pitch/innings count early in the season or in games where the Yankees are way ahead would be a good idea to keep him fresh and ready for the stretch run and the postseason.  But then again, these are the Yankees and nothing is more important than winning, and CC on the mound always gives them a better chance of winning. 

A.J. Burnett

What We Know: He's the #2 starter.

Joe made it official this weekend.  Misguided or not, he has faith in A.J. after what he's seen so far in ST and he's showing confidence in A.J.'s ability to rebound from his horrific 2010 by coming out early and announcing him as the starter behind CC.  

What We Don't Know: Will his offseason work with Larry Rothschild will fix him?

A.J. has talked and worked with Rothschild almost since he was announced as the new Yankee pitching coach, and the results so far have been positive.  A.J.'s new mechanics and where he's standing on the mound seem to be working, and his changeup is developing into a reliable pitch.  But when the tough times come, how will A.J. handle them?  Can he keep repeating his delivery mechanics after he throws a few bad pitches?  Can he shake it off and re-focus on the next batter?  Because that's what's going to make the difference for him between success and failure in 2011. 

Phil Hughes

What We Know: The kid gloves come off this year.

No innings limitations, no lower spot in the order, no excuses.  After an All-Star 2010, Phil is going to be counted on to be the anchor of the rotation that Andy Pettitte had been the past few seasons.  He will fill an extremely important role as the 3rd starter in the rotation, expected to provide stability and high-quality innings between the sketchy A.J. and potentially shaky back end. 

What We Don't Know: How much will he use the changeup in 2011?

People raved about it in camp last year, and then it disappeared once the regular season started.  By the time we got to the end of the year, when he needed it, he didn't have it.  Hughes has put more time into improving the changeup this spring as well, but the true test is whether or not he can add it to his repertoire and implement it effectively in games. 

4th Starter

What We Know: The team needs one.


What We Don't Know: Who it will be.

The early leader in the clubhouse is Ivan Nova after his sterling 6-inning performance last week.  But he still hasn't locked it down and will probably need another solid start to give Joe enough confidence to declare the job his. 

5th Starter

What We Know: See 4th Starter.

What We Know: Ditto.

Favorite- Freddy Garcia, shaky recent outings aside.  Backup- Bartolo Colon, who the team seems pretty happy with.  Darkhorse(s)- Andrew Brackman, Manny Banuelos.  There's almost no chance either one of them will get the job, but they have been impressive and the Yankees could be forced to scramble if either Garcia or Colon gets hurt in the last couple weeks.

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Outfield)

(Mind the gaps, gentlemen.)

The first of a two-part known/unknown preview to come your way today, this one involving the outfield.  If you missed the first part over the weekend, don't fret.  It's right here.  The things I do for you people.  All caught up?  Good.  Onward and upward.

LF- Brett Gardner

What We Know: He can be an everyday player.

Gardner has almost as many questions surrounding him going into last season as the back end of the rotation does this year, and he more than held his own in the field and in the lineup as the everyday LF.  A .277/.383/.379 tripleslash and a 106 OPS+ to go alone with 47 SB and solid defense is pretty damn respectable.  And those numbers would have been better were it not for the heater he took off the wrist in the summer that sapped what little power he has in his swing. 

What We Don't Know: Can he take the next step?

I'm a firm believer that Gardner can develop into a poor man's Ichiro if he stays healthy, keeps working, and develops a little more pop to his swing, and have said as much on this blog before.  He was hitting at an All-Star level before the HBP on the wrist last summer.  But there are many who think Gardner outperformed his true talent last season and will regress this year.  Gardy's got some work to do to silence the doubters. 

CF- Curtis Granderson

What We Know: Last year was a disappointment.

For him and for all the fans, who were hoping for a version of C-Grand similar to the 2007-2008 model.  Instead, we got treated to a watered-down version of what he was during his last year in Detroit.  It all came to a head when Granderson was taken out of the lineup for 2 days to revamp his swing with Kevin Long.  The results of that work were noticeable, as Grandy finished the year looking much better at the plate, though still not good enough to make up for the early season struggles. 

What We Don't Know: Whether he's truly turned the corner.

His hot finish to the 2010 regular season carried over to the playoffs, where C-Grand was one of the few Yankees who actually swung the bat well.  He has looked good so far in ST this year, but will need to carry that over to the regular season and show some consistency with his new hitting approach to really prove he's worth the trade the Yankees made for him. 

RF- Nick Swisher

What We Know: He has been reborn in New York.

It's obvious by now that Swish was drowning in Chicago and New York was his life preserver.  He's taken to the city and fans like a duck to water, he's added some much needed energy and looseness to the traditionally stuffy Yankee clubhouse, and he's had the 2 best years of his career in the Bronx, including a title in '09 and his first ASG appearance in '10.  Goofy as he is, Swish fits into the fabric of the team and the organization perfectly. 

What We Don't Know: How much longer he'll be a Yankee.

I can't see any reason why the Yankees wouldn't bring him back, but Swish does have a $12 mil team option for 2012 that could become questionable if he regresses a bit this season.  He will turn 30 this year, and the Yankees certainly aren't interested in handing out a Jayson Werth-style contract to him.  But if Swish continues on the production trail he has blazed over the past 2 years, the Yankees will most likely offer him some kind of new deal.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Horse Keeps On Galloping

Screw the unimportance of Spring Training stats.  Screw conventional wisdom.  Screw basic baseball logic.  Screw everything.  The A-Horse is flat out crushing the holy hell out of the ball this spring, he's been doing it since the day he stepped foot on the team facility in Tampa, and he's well on his way to having a monster rebound season in 2011.  Consider these facts:

- He has 16 hits in 37 ST at-bats.

- 11 of those 16 hits have been for extra bases (6 2B, 5 HR).

- He has at least 1 hit in each of the 13 ST games in which he has played.

- He's scored 8 runs, driven in 11, and played damn good defense on the hot corner.

- His tripleslash for the spring?  .432/.475/1.000

- He's already being talked about as the early odds-on favorite to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby.

Alright, so maybe I made that last one up.  But that doesn't change the fact that this is the best A-Horse we've seen, both physically and from a baseball standpoint, in a few years.  His hip is healthy, he's in great shape, his swing looks immaculate, and he's set to hit the ground running on March 31, instead of still nursing injuries or trying to find his balance at the plate like he has been the last couple of years.  We can all get excited about the likes of Cano, Jesus Montero, and ManBan, but don't sleep on A-Rod.  The dude still has some serious tread on the tire.

Joe Names A.J. #2 Starter

Well we can all stop speculating about whether Phil Hughes deserves the #2 spot in the rotation.  Joe made it official yesterday, announcing after the game that A.J. will be the #2 starter in the rotation and Phil will take the #3 spot.

“That’s what we brought A.J. here to do,” Girardi said. “He struggled last year, but we believe he’s going to be back.” (via LoHud)

So what's the bigger deal here?  A.J. getting the spot behind CC or Phil getting the spot behind A.J.?  On the surface, this looks like an easy situation to figure out.  A.J. is more experienced than Phil, and when he's on his fastball-curveball combo plays up to the type of stuff you want a top-of-the-rotation starter to have.  Phil is still learning to master his offspeed stuff, especially his changeup, and really needs to lock down that reliable 3rd pitch before he can be considered a true top shelf starter.

But then consider how awful A.J. was last year and how important that 3rd starter spot became behind him.  That spot was taken by Andy Pettitte, and between A.J.'s struggles and Javy Vazquez's equally disappointing results in the 4-spot, that 3rd spot in the rotation became very important.  The Yankees were always confident in CC at the top, but if they lost a game in his start and then A.J came out and bombed the next day, the 3rd starter was the stopper of the rotation, somebody Joe could turn to for a big outing if and when the team needed a win, and before he got injured Andy performed that role for the team incredibly well in 2010.  Now with Andy gone, that role gets passed on to Phil in the 3-spot.

So does Joe giving A.J. the 2-spot and Phil the 3 show that Joe has seen enough good stuff from A.J. this spring to make him feel confident in A.J.?  Or does Joe have more confidence in Phil to be able to step up in a pinch and deliver a 7-8-inning, 1-2-run gem after a rough couple of games than he does in A.J.?  Either way, each guy now knows where he falls in the 2011 rotation and we can focus the rest of our energy on the 4th and 5th starter spots from here on out.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Infield)

(It ain't quite ready yet, but soon... )

We're less than 2 weeks away from Opening Day, so it's time for AB4AR to get its season preview on.  Over the next 12 days, we'll take a look at every part of the team from every angle, culminating in the official 2011 season preview the week leading up to Yanks-Tigers on March 31st.  For starters, let's ease into the 2011 season by taking a quick look at what we know and don't know about the guys who will man the inner area of the diamond this year.

C- Russell Martin

What We Know: He can still play.

Martin has certainly shown that he still has the skills to be an elite catcher.  He has hit the ball well this spring, showing some pop in the bat, and he's also flashed some leather behind the plate and ran the bases well.  When he's clicking on all cylinders, Martin is easily one of the 5 best all-around catchers in the game.

What We Don't Know: How long will he stay healthy?

The big issue with Martin over the last few seasons has been how long all his cylinders stay functioning.  The Yanks have eased him into ST to get him to 100% physically, but once the season kicks in and he's catching 5+ days a week, will his body hold up?

1B- Mark Teixeira

What We Know- He put in a lot of offseason hitting work.

So far it seems to be helping, as Teix has swung the bat well in Spring Training.  He's also shown no signs of lingering injury from all the dings he had at the end of 2010.

What We Don't Know- Will that extra work help him get off to a good start?

Teix's offseason swing work was inspired by his historically cold starts to the regular season, a tradition that was incredibly bad in 2010, even by Teix's slow start standards.  Whether the extra work over the winter will help cure this early-spring ailment remains to be seen.

2B- Robinson Cano

What We Know- He has started to become a leader.

Cano has gone from being benched in '08 because of lack of effort and perceived lack of work ethic to becoming one of the example setters for guys in 2011.  He had Frankie Cervelli and Eduardo Nunez work out with him over the offseason and seems to be setting himself up to assume a leadership role when the Jeters and Posadas of the world decide to hang 'em up.

What We Don't Know- Was 2010 a career year for Cano?

Projections for 2011 have Cano's numbers down across the board from his 2010 campaign, mainly because they factor in his down year in '08.  But some baseball "experts" also expect Cano's numbers to dip in 2011.  I am not  one of those people and expect Cano to outperform his 2010 numbers, but only time will tell.

3B- Alex Rodriguez

What We Know- A-Rod came into camp in great shape.

The Horse looked lean and mean when he arrive in Tampa this year for Spring Training, and so far his offseason workout program has paid dividends.  He looks smooth and comfortable in the field, and his power is back in his bat as he has his swing all but locked in.

What We Don't Know- How that shape will hold up over 162 games.

Is the new and improved A-Rod designed to fight off the aches and pains that have hindered him over the last few seasons and allow him to put up MVP-caliber numbers?  Or is it merely masking the fact that he's an older player who is going to break down physically this year at some point?

SS- Derek Jeter

What We Know- Jeter has finally committed to altering his swing.

He worked with Dr. Long at the end of the 2010 season and saw some better results.  Before 2011, Jeter worked even more with Long on eliminating his leg kick and speeding up his swing.  While he's still getting used to the new mechanics, he has shown some more pop in his bat in ST.

What We Don't Know- Will the new mechanics help him bounce back?

The new swing is designed to speed up Jeter's bat and allow him to get back to his trademark inside-out swing to right field, but can it help him win the battle over Father Time over the whole season or will pitchers figure out a new way to exploit Jeter's deteriorating bat speed and get him out consistently?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Post-St. Patty's Day Slacker Post

A bunch of bullpen pitchers are dinged up.  Freddy Garcia sucked his last time out.  Ivan Nova didn't.  A.J. was pretty awful in his outing today.  Now nobody thinks Jesus can catch again.  Joe Torre is participating in Old Timers' Day this year.  Rafael Soriano is a baby and doesn't want to pitch against any AL East opponents until the season starts.  And The Horse is still hitting the cover off the ball.

That pretty much covers everything, right?  Good.  Here's Mastodon's "The Czar."  Surprising as this may be, the song is actually NOT about A-Rod.  I know, I didn't believe it either when I first found out.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gardy Gets A Leadoff Audition Tonight

Tonight's lineup, via LoHud:

1) Gardner LF
2) Jeter SS
3) Teixeira 1B
4) Rodriguez 3B
5) Cano 2B
6) Swisher RF
7) Posada DH
8) Granderson CF
9) Montero C

SP) Hughes RHP

No need to get too excited as it's a sure thing that Jeter will be manning the top spot once the season starts, even if Gardner goes 3-3 with a walk, 3 runs scored, and 2 SB tonight.  But it's good to see Joe experimenting early and getting himself some firsthand information on what a Gardner-Jeter top of the order looks like should he need to re-examine the situation later in the year.

I still like the idea of using C-Grand in the 2-spot this year.  His combination of speed and power could be a great dual-threat table setting option for Teix, A-Rod, and Cano.  And he's less of a groundball hitter than Jeter, which reduces the risk of hitting into double plays.  But hey, that's just me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse For Mets Fans

This sign in NYC comes along and takes it to a whole new level.

I don't care how old this is, I don't care how long it's been around, and I don't care if I'm the last person in the world who knows about it.  This sign is new to me and it is absolutely hilarious.

I mean, Giants and Jets makes sense.  The Knicks are back in a way big way so they obviously go above the Mets.  And the Rangers and Yankees are no-brainers.  But when you're getting dropped below the New York Islanders, that's when you know you're hovering dangerously above rock bottom as a franchise.  The Islanders aren't even the ugly stepchild of New York sports teams.  They're more like the aborted fetus of New York sports teams.  They're a complete joke.  And this sign ranks them above the Mets.  Simply brilliant.

It's like the marketing person at Manhattan Mini Storage designed this sign with me in mind.  I almost feel like I owe it to them to buy a storage cell and pay for it, even if I don't ever put anything in it, to thank them for this work of art.

Tip of the cap to you, Manhattan Mini Storage.  Free AB4AR t-shirt coming your way if I ever get around to designing one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dan Shaughnessy Should Probably Stop Talking

 At AB4AR, the "... Should Probably Stop Talking" series is usually reserved for the two silly gentlemen who man the ESPNNY Yankee blog.  But the door is always open to other sports writers willing to join the club and get FJ'd right in their Ms, so who better to welcome to the SPST fraternity than Dan Shaughnessy, noted Fraud Sawx rumor monger and unabashed Boston sports homer.  Shaughnessy is the classic example of a lazy sportswriter who uses generalities and over-dramatized opinions based on nothing to create false controversy amongst the population of the idiotic and ignorant sports fan, and this latest attempt to drag something important out of a meaningless Yanks-Sawx ST game is nothing short of brilliant in its inanity.  Without further ado, I give you, Dan Shaughnessy.

"It felt like Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Except for the fact that there were only 7,859 fans and the starting pitchers were Alfredo Aceves and 20-year-old Manny Banuelos."

So in reality, it felt nothing like Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.  Unless you're an idiot who thinks Spring Training games, even Yanks-Sawx ones, actually matter.

"But this was not your typical spring training game. It was Red Sox-Yankees, the mastodons of the majors, duking it out for Grapefruit League supremacy last night."

"Mastodons of the majors," "duking it out," "supremacy."  I can feel my heartbeat starting to race just reading that graphic battle imagery!  Oh no, wait.  I can't.  Because there were no mastodons, and nobody was duking it out for anything.  The Yankees only had 3 regulars in the lineup.  And nobody gives a crap about Grapefruit League supremacy.

And seriously, "mastodons of the majors"?  At what point does comparing baseball players to extinct prehistoric elephants seem like a good idea for a sports column?

"In the spirit of this hakuna matata spring of 2011, the Sox prevailed, 2-1.  Naturally."

Yes, of course.   Using the life lessons handed down by these two animated Disney characters, the Red Sox managed to squeak out a one-run Spring Training win against a team comprised of roughly 20% of players who will actually be on the Yankees' Opening Day roster, thus setting the tone for what will surely be a 160-2 season for Boston.  What isn't natural about that?

ManBan Passes The Test

(Courtesy of The AP)

I know that Mitre had a sore oblique yesterday so he wasn't going to pitch, and I know Banuelos was scheduled to pitch yesterday regardless, but let's be honest, yesterday was a test for Manny against the Red Sox.  It was a measuring stick for the Yankees to compare his sparkling results so far to his results in a "pressure" situation against some of the best hitters in the American League.  And in my opinion, ManBan passed the test with flying colors.

The final line doesn't look all that impressive: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 0 R, 2 K, 53 pitches, 28 for strikes.  But the true value in Banuelos' outing was shown in his ability to work through the problems he created for himself last night.  He was obviously a little juiced up after finding out he was going to face the Sawx on short notice, and his trademark command wasn't there in his 2+ innings of work.  He got into a lot of deep counts and worked the bases loaded in the 2nd inning.  But after that, Banuelos bore down and made pitches to get himself out of the inning unscathed with back-to-back groundouts.  And then he had the stones to throw a 3-2 changeup to Kevin Youkilis to get the K on his last pitch of the night.  That's pretty damn impressive in its own right, no matter how old a pitcher is.

His stuff wasn't as sharp as we've seen, nor was his command.  He wasn't dominating in any sense of the word.  But for a 20-year-old facing the everyday Boston Red Sox lineup, Banuelos was very impressive.  His ability to stay composed and make pitches when he had to is something rare in someone so young, especially when you consider the fact that the Yankees have a 34-year-old in their rotation who STILL can't do that on a consistent basis.

Nothing about Manny's outing last night will change the Yankees' plan for him this year, and it shouldn't.  But make no mistake, this was more than just a pitcher subbing in for someone because of injury.  This was the Yankees taking the ST arm floaties of a Pirates split-squad team off of Manny and tossing him into the deep end of the talent pool to see how he could handle it.  And he didn't just float, he kicked and paddled and made his way from one side of the pool to the other.  It doesn't mean much for the current rotation, but it certainly made the future look a little brighter.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mo Makes His Spring Debut Today

Mo took the hill for the first time in a game situation today for the Yanks.  How did his outing go, you ask?

"Rivera threw 12 pitches today. He struck out the side, then he went for a run." (via LoHud)

Oh, ok.  No big deal.  Just the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball coming out and being the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball.  Ho hum.  Exit light, enter night, blah, blah, blah, off to Never Never Land.

(Photo used courtesy of Leather Penguin)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Don't Even Know What To Think About This Picture

(Photo courtesy of Barstool Boston)

On the one hand, this guy gets a major +1 for wearing a Yankee jersey into Boston and rocking the crap out of it at a major Boston sporting event (can't believe I'm saying that about a BU basketball game).

On the other hand, he's got the BU face paint going, so that's a negative.  And he's wearing a Florida Marlins hat.  What is that about, dude?  Are you subliminally saying you wish the old school, younger A.J. Burnett was pitching for the Yanks?  Are you secretly a Josh Beckett fan?  WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR DEAL?!?!

All in all it balances out to an even 0 on the awesomeness scale.  As much as I'd love to tip my cap to this guy for rocking the pinstripes, the face paint and Marlins hat just don't allow me to do it.  Better luck next time, kid.  Thanks for playing.

(AB4AR is getting into the March Madness spirit.  Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.)

Everybody Loves Them Some ManBan (But Is That A Good Thing?)

(Wook at dat wittle baby face!)

It's no secret to anybody who follows the Yankees regularly that Manny Banuelos has been impressive so far in ST.  The secret has continued to come out more in the mainstream this week, first when Mo, The Godfather of pitching, had this to say about ManBan:

“I like everything about him. The makeup and how he keeps his composure. I notice situations and how you react in situations. Where you make your pitches in tough situations, where you spot your pitches, he has the ability to do that.”

When Mariano Rivera is commenting on your makeup and your composure, you can be pretty sure you've got a bright future ahead of you.

And then there was this bit from Keith Law's ESPN chat yesterday, when he was asked about ManBan's arrival in the Majors by a reader:

"Midyear? I feel like this is Heyward/Atlanta all over again, where you might let the best interests of the club in the current season trump long-term considerations – and it’s not like Banuelos has a ton of things to work on in the minors. If they gave him a rotation spot now I wouldn’t argue."

Another sterling review from one of the best in his particular field, but there is much more to consider in Law's response.  While it's true that Banuelos, even as young and inexperienced as he is, could be the best option for the 5th spot in the rotation this year, the part about trumping long-term considerations is where I think this possibility ends.  The Yankees have gotten burned big time in the past rushing guys up to the Majors to help the team and then watching their career paths derail and crash and burn (see: Chamberlain, Joba).

Ever since the Jobacle, the Yankees have been very good about keeping their young pitching prospects on a strict plan to build up arm strength and experience in the Minors.  That plan has rewarded the organization by giving them an abundance of legit Major League-potential guys on the cusp of making their debuts.  There is no point in abandoning that plan for one guy now, even somebody as potentially great as Banuelos, when it doesn't guarantee a World Series championship, and when we're talking about one player, even a pitcher, that never guarantees a title in baseball.  The Yankees have built up the rest of their roster around their weak bullpen to make up for that and allow them to not abandon the plan for Manny and the rest of the young guys.  The smart move is to keep on that path.

Now Keith Law is a big ManBan fan, and that's fine.  I'm a card-carrying member of that club as well.  But the Heyward-Braves comparison and saying that Banuelos has nothing to learn in the Minors are 2 unfair statements to make.  First off, comparing a young pitcher to a young outfielder is simply ignorant.  Outfielders play every day, using a completely different set of skills than pitchers.  Starting pitchers focus on  one aspect of the game and employ that aspect once every 4 or 5 days.  It could be true that an OF as talented as Heyward could have nothing left to gain by playing in the Minors, but there is always something a pitcher can work on or refine to prepare himself for the next level.

And even it were true that Banuelos had mastered the art of pitching already in Double-A, there's the innings limitation thing to remember.  It would be one thing if ManBan had thrown 140-150 innings last year in the Minors, but the reality is that those numbers are going to be what his ceiling is this year.  If a team can't let a guy lose and be confident that he can handle a full workload in the Majors, then it makes more sense to keep in the Minors, where he can work on his skills, build up his arm strength, and not have that innings limit be a hindrance to his team's success.

Is Manny Banuelos a big-time prospect?  Hell yes he is.  Are people starting to open their eyes to just how good he is?  It certainly appears so.  But that doesn't mean it's time to get crazy about where he should pitch this year, regardless of the situation at the back end of the Yankee rotation.  The Yankees are handling ManBan the right way and should not change their plans at all.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rough Day For Nova

It was a struggle out there on the hill today for Ivan Nova, who struggled with his fastball and paid for it.

While it's no major cause for concern, as Nova knew that he couldn't get the ball down in the zone when he was interviewed after the game, it does point to what Nova is going to have to do this year to be successful.  His biggest strength is his ability to locate his fastball down in the zone and force a lot of groundballs.  If he can do that, he can be successful.  When he can't, he's going to get hit.

So while this doesn't extradite him from the rotation by any means, it does give us all a window into what is going to drive Nova's success or lack of this season.  And it also gives me an opportunity to bring back Nova the Terrible for the first time in 2011.

So I guess I have to take the bad with the good when Nova doesn't have his fastball command.

Updating The Roster Battles

("We're not letting Jorge catch, right?"  Courtesy of The AP)

Spring Training is in its 3rd week now, and already it looks like there are major changes in terms of front runners for some of the last roster spots based on performance over these first couple weeks.  Nothing is set in stone, of course, and there is still time for guys to get hot, get cold, or get hurt, and change the landscape some more.  Here's a quick look at how the favorites for some of these spots have changed over the last month. 

Back of the Rotation

Prior to ST: 4th Starter- Ivan Nova, 5th Starter- Sergio Mitre

Today: 4th Starter- Freddy Garcia, 5th Starter- Nova

Not a major change for Nova, who still has to be considered a favorite to get a rotation spot after working 2 scoreless outings so far.  But Freddy Garcia has drawn praise from his 5 innings of ST work (deserved or not), mainly due to his improved fastball velocity and demeanor he has displayed on the mound, which has scouts saying he's got more than enough guile to handle pitching in the Bronx.  Garcia can't afford to let off the gas, however, as every other potential rotation candidate has also pitched well, and because he is still in camp on nothing more than a non-guaranteed MiL deal.

Mitre doesn't appear to be a rotation option anymore and has assumed the pole position in the race for long man out of the 'pen. 


Prior to ST: Starter- Jesus Montero, Backup- Francisco Cervelli

Today: Starter- Russell Martin, Backup- Jesus Montero

Despite saying over the winter that they had every intention of letting The Jesus come into camp this spring and win the job, the Yankees made the decision to bring in some more veteran experience and signed oft-injured Russell Martin to a team-friendly deal.  So far that seems to have worked out well, as Martin has held up physically behind the plate while still showcasing a solid all-around defensive game in his few outings, shown some pop in his bat, and even tested his knee by stealing a few bases.

Montero hasn't lit the world on fire with his bat yet, but has drawn praise from his coaches and pitchers for his improved receiving skills behind the plate, and has also helped to ease concerns about his ability to slow down the opponents' running game by throwing out a few runners.  Montero will, in all likelihood, end up starting the season on the 25-man because of Frankie' bad luck injury.  What the team decides to do with him once Cervelli is healthy again will be determined by how Montero adjusts to the Major League game. 

3rd & 4th Bench Spots

Prior to ST: Ramiro Pena & Eduardo Nunez

Today: Nunez & Eric Chavez

The PeNunez infield combo was slated into the bench spots prior to ST starting mainly because they were the guys who had been there before.  But after the Yankees brought in Ronnie Belliard and Eric Chavez, the certainty to those spots decreased and Pena and Nunez have both had to earn their keep.  Nunez has shined with the bat so far, hitting .375/.400/.542 in 24 at-bats, while Pena has put up .190s across the board in 21 ABs.  You can't put a lot of weight into ST stats, but the fact that Nunez's bat is far superior to Pena's while his defense is serviceable should give him the leg up in the utility infielder race.

Chavez, who came in with low expectations after being ravaged by injuries the last few seasons, seems to have found the fountain of youth down in Tampa this spring, with 9 hits in 19 ABs and a couple walks.  He is still a huge health risk, but he looks good so far, and the fact that he is a veteran who fits the Yankee mold of patience at the plate and can still back up at third or first if needed gives him a clear cut advantage over the Penas, Brandon Lairds, and Jorge Vazquezs of the world.  As long as he doesn't get hurt, the last bench spot will be Chavez's without a doubt.

The rest of the roster is all but set in stone, so these will continue to be the hottest battles in camp.  Guys have a little less than 3 weeks before the start of the regular season.  It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out.