March 2009

Odds and ends for a Thursday

MAYBE THE BEST THING EVER WRITTEN
Ken Davidoff vs. A-Rod’s detractors. It’s all quite obvious, really, but for some people it requires repetition.

BILL HALL AND OTHER DISCONTENTS
Apologies for yesterday’s skip day — I find I cannot sleep my first night in a hotel, and so I got home from the gig and collapsed straight away and at great length. All those who wished crab cakes for me in the comments, sorry to disappoint, but I played it conservatively — one of those combos you never want to hit in life is, “bad shellfish/300 miles from home.” As much as I love Maryland’s signature dish, I just couldn’t risk it.

Continuing on the “Find a sub for A-Rod” beat, I note this article from the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel regarding rookie Casey McGehee’s pursuit of the Brewers’ third base job. McGehee, 26, hasn’t done much in the minors to suggest that he could start in the Majors — he’s a career .279/.332/.409 hitter in nearly 700 games — but he does have a decent glove, so Ken Macha might be a little infatuated with having a guy at that corner who can make a few plays.

What this means is that Bill Hall, who was once rumored to be headed to the Yankees as part of a deal for Mike Cameron, could be in play again. Hall has been slowed by a calf injury this spring, he’s owed about $18 million over this year and next (plus a 2011 buyout), and he hasn’t done anything exciting with the stick in three years. However, we’re talking about third basemen who might out-perform Cody Ransom, so our threshold is extremely low. A reasonable projection for Hall would be somewhere around .250/.310/.425, or about what he did in 2007. You could also pencil in a great many strikeouts and some frustrating errors at third base.

Still, the Yankees would get a few home runs, decent production against left-handers (.278/.355/.493 career), and the versatility of a player who has also spent whole seasons starting at shortstop and center field. That last might yet come in handy.

YET ANOTHER REASON SPRING TRAINING STATS ARE MEANINGLESS
Kevin Cash is hitting .385 (5-for-13). He’s a career .184 hitter, with cause.

WE COULD USE MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS (WELL, I COULD)
Just received my copy of Allen Barra’s new biography, Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee.  I was all set to read it and give you a thoroughgoing critique of the work, but when I cracked open the book at random, I landed on this passage: “Steven Goldman, author of the brilliant analysis of Casey’s evolution as a manager, Forging Genius…”

So I guess any pretense of writing an objective review is out the window. I will, however, still read and report to you on the book, because it really fills a needed hole in our understanding of those great Yankees teams. Whereas Yogi has written or collaborated on many books about himself, and there have been a few notable tomes on those teams as a whole, or on other members (mostly numerous volumes on Mickey Mantle), the definitive book on Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time and an indispensable member of those championship teams, had never been written.

Yogi is famous for his personality, but when you look at those dynasty teams, the gap between Berra and the next-best catcher in the league was often no smaller than the Grand Canyon. Casey, once asked the secret of his success, said, “I never play a game without my man.” The man to whom he was referring was Lawrence Peter Berra, and he was right.

TONIGHT, TONIGHT, TONIGHT
Yeah, it’s a bad Phil Collins song, but it’s what I’ve got right now.  I’ll be in Manhattan this (Thursday) evening talking any topic you wish to throw my way, along with my Baseball Prospectus colleagues Kevin Goldstein, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, and Neil deMause at 6 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble at 5th Avenue and 18th St. be there or be… somewhere else, I guess.

For those choosing that latter option, you have another chance on Friday, and from a safe distance, as I’ll be doing a live chat beginning at 1 p.m. EST at Baseball Prospectus. As always, if you can’t hang out as the chat is ongoing, you can still submit questions ahead of time at the same link. 

Depth perception one hard lesson

ransom_250_030909.jpgTHE ONE AFTER 909
As you know by now, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees will roll the dice on “hybrid” surgery (first thought: they’re turning him into a Prius?) and will hope to have the big guy back in six to nine weeks. We’ll see how that works out. Until then, the Yankees will have to walk on eggshells, because Rodriguez’s is only the first injury, not the last. What happens when you have Cody Ransom and Donald Duck in the lineup? As they say on the subway, “Stand clear of the closing doors.”

The lesson of Rodriguez’s injury is one that we’ve discussed here time and again over the years: You can spend all the money you want, sign all the big-name expensive contracts in the world, but if you don’t have good depth in the form of young players, your team is going to suffer. After years of having nothing on the farm at all, the Yankees now have a good supply of pitchers, something from which they will benefit as soon as the season’s first arm is scragged. The team has been unable to find the same success with position players, particularly as the club’s history with first-round picks (when it has them at all) rivals that of the New York Jets for sheer waste.

In today’s New York Post, George King quotes Brian Cashman: “But you have to remember Erick Almonte for (Derek) Jeter, and last year we went with Jose Molina and Chad Moeller (for Jorge Posada) until Pudge Rodriguez fell into our laps.” The GM is right that the Yankees might survive one injury, but the lesson of last season is that they couldn’t survive two or more. Maybe Molina/ Moeller/I-Rod would have been survivable if Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera had hit, but they didn’t. Their production was tantamount to their being absent.

One hopes that Ransom plays well — he’s certainly paid his dues — but he’s not going to be the straw that breaks the offense in any case. The replacement to fear is the one after Ransom.

A QUICK TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
Wanted to snag this response to Friday’s dash through the lineup’s possibilities:

Hey Steve, you sure are a negative guy. How can you possibly know what each player will or will not do for the Yankees. How can you say Damon should have a down year? How can you know that Nady and/or Swisher will not be lights out?
Give me a break!!!!!!!!!!
— Yankeegirl224

Thanks for commenting, Yankeegirl. I’ve written this before: life is not a movie that you’ve never seen before. In fact, it presents all kinds of situations analogous to those that have come before. If you’re aware of the past, you can draw inferences about what’s going to happen next. No, I cannot say with absolute certainty what each player is going to do this year, but given 25 years of seeing how hitters behave first-hand, plus another 80 or so years of historical evidence, I can make some informed guesses. Let’s go back through what I wrote and look at the rationale for each — rationales that I’ve frequently explained throughout the winter, by the way.

1B Mark Teixeira: Solid producer, typically scrapes the underside of MVP-level production but could easily rise to that level with a good season.

I expect you don’t have a problem with that one. Teixeira is a very good hitter, and with some good luck or some slight tweak in his performance, like a mildly improved line drive rate, he could exceed expectations.

2B Robinson Cano: Has to hit .300 to contribute. He might do that, he might not.

Can’t argue here. This is just factual. Because Cano doesn’t walk and isn’t what you would call a slugger, when he doesn’t get his average above a certain level, he eats outs without giving the team much in return. I believe he has a decent-sized rebound in him, but whether he reaches the point of actually being an asset on offense I can’t guess.

3B Cody Ransom: Has some pop, but is unlikely to hit for sustainable average (PECOTA: .216/.293/.386).

This isn’t a big reach either. The Ransom of A-Rod is a career .242/.322/.426 hitter in nearly 1200 minor league games. His numbers at Scranton last year translate to .216/.295/.421 in the majors. At 33, he’s not going to find untapped pools of ability. He’s far more likely to find untapped pools of retirement. While he might find the odd hot streak, as he did last fall, I wouldn’t recommend betting on it. As I said above, I’m rooting for him, but that doesn’t mean having unfounded expectations.

SS Derek Jeter: Offense has declined in two straight seasons. Average of five projection systems: .300/.368/.419.

I didn’t make a prediction here so much as make two statements. If he reaches the numbers cited above, no one will complain.

LF Johnny Damon: Almost certain to take a giant step back.

Here’s one of the ones that caused Yankeegirl to straighten her curls. Unfortunately, I didn’t go out on a limb here either. First, Damon has never been a particularly consistent player, and at 35 he’s not likely to start. Second, his 2008 season was one of the best of his career if not the best. Players generally don’t set new performance norms at 34. I hope Damon does, because he’s had an interesting career and his having a Steve Finley-style last act would put a cherry on it, but it is unlikely to happen. Now, whether Damon dials it back a lot or just a little I don’t know, but the change will be significant either way because all the elements of Damon’s game have to work together for him to make a real contribution — a little batting average, a little power, a little baserunning, a little patience. You kick out any one of those legs and he starts to tread water on the league averages.

CF Brett Gardner and pals: Any production will be a bonus.

This is a conservative prediction, and between last fall and this year’s spring power surge I’m hoping that we’ve seen the birth of a new Gardner, but (as much as I think he’ll be a better regular than Melky Cabrera) until we see him hit with authority for a sustained period of time, he’s still Jason Tyner until proven innocent.

RF Nick Swisher: should be productive in a lower echelon kind of way, Xavier Nady less so, either way, not a big plus.

Swisher is another guy I think will help the Yankees with his walks and his power, but he’s not an MVP-type hitter, and the whole point of this exercise was to suggest that in the absence of Rodriguez, the Yankees are down to one player who meets that description.

DH Hideki Matsui: should hit decently, but not at an MVP level.

We’re entering the seventh year of Matsui’s American career, and he is who he is. There should be nothing remotely controversial about that statement. I actually considered throwing in a few caveats based on age and his physical problems.

C Jorge Posada: may or may not be ready to open the season, may or may not hit as well as he used to, and will probably have to yield to Jose Molina on a regular basis

Again, this is simply a statement of where things are.

So tell me, Yankeegirl and the others who responded negatively, what in here do you really want to argue with?

MORE OF ME
Wholesome Reading is back. After a sabbatical inspired by the BP annual and another urgent project, I’m recharged and ready to wade into current events. About a half-dozen posts went up over the weekend with more to come. WARNING: Politics!

For our readers in th
e Baltimore area (and judging by the number of attendees at O’s games wearing Yankees caps we must have many), the great Jay Jaffe, Clay Davenport, and I will be appearing tomorrow, March 10, at the Johns Hopkins University Barnes & Noble (3330 St. Paul Street, Baltimore) to talk baseball, sign books, and crack wise. Hope to see you, your wives, and girlfriends tomorrow night. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. 

Fringe elements

Looking for more potential A-Rod subs of the fringe kind:

Ron Belliard (Nationals 40-Man): This roly-poly second baseman has hit .282/.334/.433 over the last five years, which means he’s batting life to a draw. No one knows if he can actually field third base or not, a position he’s barely played. He seems to be without a position in Washington as the team tries to move to younger players — through with their recent front office changeover, it remains to be seen if any priorities have changed.

Brian Buscher (Twins 40-Man): The 28-year-old lefty swinger lucked himself into a decent batting average last year, but he’s really not much of a hitter, with very little production outside of that average. He’s been passed by Joe Crede, the Twins have a better utility option in Brendan Harris, and there are better prospective third basemen in the system, including the soon-to-be-ready Danny Valencia.  In short, he’s purely redundant in Minnesota.

Korey Casto (Nationals 40-Man): My colleagues at Baseball Prospectus reminded me of this one today at ESPN. Casto, a third baseman/outfielder is absolutely buried in Washington. A lefty hitter, .250/.320/.400 seems like an optimistic projection.

Chone Figgins (Angels 40-Man): He remains the starting third baseman and no one is particularly pushing him — the Angels don’t seem to believe in Brandon Wood, and he may yet slot in at shortstop. Figgins is valuable as a multi-position player, but injuries have been a problem the last couple of years, and he’s an average hitter at best, lacking the pop to be a regular at the hot corner. He will also reach free agency after this season, which means an acquiring team will only be getting a rental for whatever payment the Angels extort–if they would even consider moving him, unlikely that he’s their primary sub at several positions. Figgins would almost certainly be an improvement on Cody Ransom, and he would give the Yankees an interesting extra burst of speed to pair with Brett Gardner, but he’s not a significant run producer. As BP points out, Minor League vet Matt Brown would be a better candidate as a sleeper pickup from the Angels system.

Jeff Larish (Tigers 40-Man): One of my favorite prospects, albeit for no particular reason, this lefty power and patience type is a natural first baseman or DH, but the Tigers have tried to make him into a two-corner sub. PECOTA hates him, but if he can hit .250 he’ll be an offensive asset. He’s 26, not a future star, and is stuck behind veterans at all of his positions — in other words, the kind of player that a team might flip for, say, a half-decent bullpen piece.

More of these to come as merrily we roll along — we have lots of time for speculation. Before I wish you a good weekend, I’d like to remind any readers in the Baltimore area that Jay Jaffe, Clay Davenport, and I will be doing our talk ‘n’ signing routine on Tuesday evening at the Johns Hopkins University Barnes & Noble, 3330 St. Paul Street in Baltimore.  Closer to home, next Thursday Kevin Goldstein, Cliff Corcoran, Neil deMause, Jay, and myself will be reprising the act in Manhattan at the Barnes & Noble at 18th Street and 5th Avenue. I hope to see you there to talk about the new baseball season and all the crunchy A-Rod goodness you can stand. I’ll be the fat guy with the glasses. Can’t miss me.

In fairness to Teixeira

teixeira_350_030609.jpg(IF A-ROD CAN’T PLAY LIKE A-ROD)
“Something Shakespeare never said is, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.'” — Robyn Hitchcock

Today the wires are bursting with, “Now the pressure is on you, Mark Teixeira” stories. Those stories couldn’t be more loaded with bull if they mooed. This is a simplistic effort to create a new Yankees scapegoat since Alex Rodriguez’s injury effectively insulates him from criticism. If Rodriguez misses a significant chunk of the season, Teixeira can hit like Lou Gehrig and Don Mattingly put together and still not overcome the basic weakness of the offense.

Let’s go around the diamond:

1B Mark Teixeira: Solid producer, typically scrapes the underside of MVP-level production but could easily rise to that level with a good season.

2B Robinson Cano: Has to hit .300 to contribute. He might do that, he might not.

3B Cody Ransom: Has some pop, but is unlikely to hit for sustainable average (PECOTA: .216/.293/.386).

SS Derek Jeter: Offense has declined in two straight seasons. Average of five projection systems: .300/.368/.419.

LF Johnny Damon: Almost certain to take a giant step back.

CF Brett Gardner and pals: Any production will be a bonus.

RF Nick Swisher: should be productive in a lower echelon kind of way, Xavier Nady less so, either way, not a big plus.

DH Hideki Matsui: should hit decently, but not at an MVP level.

C Jorge Posada: may or may not be ready to open the season, may or may not hit as well as he used to, and will probably have to yield to Jose Molina on a regular basis.

Like the British at Singapore, the Yankees pointed all of their guns in the wrong direction this winter. They went heavy for pitching, but the offense needed an overhaul and the Minor League required needed some of its pitchers converted into position players. That didn’t happen, and as with last season, the Yankees are in the position of having a desperately wounded player (last year it was Posada and Matsui) try to overcome an injury because they just can’t compensate. Without an MVP-level Rodriguez, the offense is very likely to struggle to support the new starting rotation. Unless Cano, Jeter, and the rest rebound in big ways or stave off expected regressions, Teixeira won’t be enough if he hits .180, .280, or .380.

A short list of fill-ins at third base (if need be)

arodpbblog030509.jpgNO SURGERY FOR A-ROD…FOR NOW
Remember how well no surgery for Hideki Matsui worked out? I hope the Yankees have received better advice this time. The Yankees will still need insurance for the position — even if Rodriguez can “play,” we’ve seen what this kind of injury did to Chase Utley and Mike Lowell last season.

DELVING DEEPER

Throughout the evening I’ll be spelunking through the world’s roster flotsam to see if there are any third base possibilities that could provide the Yankees with better depth than they currently possess. This is emphatically a non-systematic look, no better than guesses and random suggestions. I’m sticking with lower echelon guys, because the team is unlikely to try to deal for an All-Star type (if one is even available) until it has a better idea of how much Rodriguez it’s really going to get. Thus the trick is finding someone who will fit on the bench or in the minors if/when Rodriguez becomes available and is also demonstrably more potent than Angel Berroa and Cody Ransom. Fortunately, that group includes everyone. Here’s the first pile.

Ray Durham (Free Agent): Durham, 37, can still hit, having batted .289/.380/.453 for the Giants and Brewers last year. A legitimate switch-hitter at one time, his right-handed stroke seems to have died over the last couple of years. As a career second baseman, the last time he played third base in the majors was… never.

Esteban German (about to be a Free Agent): German was designated for assignment by the Royals a few days ago. He has played a little third base each of the last five years, though he’s not particularly good at it. German was once a useful offensive player, making up for his lack of punch with a high walk rate. Then he stopped walking.

Mark Grudzielanek
(Free Agent): Grudz is a career .290 hitter but has never produced much because he doesn’t get on base or hit with any power. Over the last two seasons, he hit .301/.345/.415, though he missed about half of 2008 with injuries. He last played third base in 1995. This would be a desperation pick-up, but “desperate” describes the situation with a high degree of accuracy.

Jeff Keppinger, Danny Richar
(Reds 40-Man): The Reds have a legion of infielders in camp and might not mind moving one. Richar will turn 26 this year. He’s a left-handed hitter with a little pop who has spent all but 72 games of his career in the minors, where he has been a .288/.338/.440. PECOTA has a weighted mean projection of .253/.318/.401 for Richar, but that’s as a Red — in another ballpark, that projection would presumably drop. Keppinger is a vet who can usually hit for average, though injuries prevented him from doing so in the second half last year. Keppinger has mostly played short in the majors, but he’s stretched there. Right now he seems to be behind Alex Gonzalez and Jerry Hairston, Jr. on the depth chart.

Kevin Kouzmanoff
(Padres 40-Man): This one is likely a reach unless the Yankees want to send a real prospect or two, but the Padres are a financial mess and have a bit of depth at this position as sophomore Chase Headley could take over the hot corner if Kouzmanoff were to leave town. No defensive whiz, Kouzmanoff does have a potent righty bat that has been camouflaged by Petco Park — last year he hit .226/.268/.390 at home, but .292/.329/.473 on the road. He’s impatient and strikes out quite a bit, but the road figures represent the real hitter.

Scott McClain
(Giants NRI): The soon to be 37-year-old journeyman, once an expansion Ray, got the call from the Giants last fall and hit .273/.368/.485, which is probably the high upside of his hitting abilities. He’s been a pro since 1990 and has spent some time in Japan as well as the American minors. Including his time overseas, he has hit 405 pro home runs — we’re talking Crash Davis here. As a domestic Minor Leaguer, he’s hit .271/.357/.484, including .300/.388/.553 at Triple-A last season. He’s never been a great fielder, and an optimistic Major League projection would be .240/.320/.420, but that would far surpass the Berroa/Ransom combo.

Dallas McPherson
(Marlins 40-man): The former Angels prospect, now 28. A left-handed power hitter, he led the minors in home runs last year, batting .275/.379/.618 with 42 home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque. He also struck out 168 times in 448 at-bats. He’s no fielder and would struggle to reach base 30 percent of the time, but he’d hit a few balls over the fences.

More to come…

A-Rod surgery worst case of bad timing

teixeria_250_030509.jpgINTO THE TWILIGHT ZONE IN SEARCH OF A-ROD’S REPLACEMENT
As the old Leadbelly song goes, “I may be right and I may be wrong, but you know you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” No doubt Alex Rodriguez will be singing this song now that hip surgery is apparently going to put him on the shelf for a projected 10 weeks. If the story as reported by ESPN is correct, the Yankees will be without their starting third baseman for something like six weeks of the regular season.

Since the news came through, I’ve been plumbing the depths like Cave Carson looking for replacement possibilities that won’t damage the Yankees’ efforts too badly. The two utility infield types currently in camp, Cody Ransom and Angel Berroa, are not good bets. The latter may be one of the worst bets of all time, a career .260/.305/.378 hitter. Ransom has a little more life in his bat, but despite his nice little September hot streak last fall, he’s not likely to produce at a satisfactory level. His career Minor League batting average is .242 and he’s hit about .250 over the last three seasons. Average isn’t everything, and Ransom has some power, but when you start out with a batting average that low, there’s a good chance you won’t hit safely often enough to reach an acceptable level of production.

There are a couple of Hail Mary options on the roster — Xavier Nady and Mark Teixeira (pictured) have done the third base thing in the past, Nady very briefly, Teixeira throughout his brief Minor League career. As with many young third basemen, Teixeira was prone to errors at the position, and the Rangers had Hank Blalock locked in at third, so Teix moved across the diamond and proved to be a very good first baseman. Moving Teixeira back to the hot corner now would allow the Yankees to drop Nick Swisher at first base and Nady into right field. Offensively, this is probably the best possible way to paper over Rodriguez’s extended absence. Defensively, it would all depend on Teixeira’s ability to handle a position he hasn’t touched for six years and what you gauge his risk of injury to be (if any), and if he’s even willing to make an attempt at it.

Such a solution could be flexible, depending on the starting pitcher for that day. CC Sabathia can probably stand to pitch with a weaker defense behind him. Chien-Ming Wang cannot, so his starts would have to feature a “real” third baseman, with Teixeira back at first. It’s messy, but it could work … And I can’t resist saying that Casey Stengel would have done it. Heck, down the stretch in 1954, as the Yankees were trying to avoid elimination, Casey put Yogi Berra at third and Mickey Mantle at short so he could get some extra bats into the lineup. Anything for a win, even if it seems outlandish. It should also be pointed out that the offensive damage done by a Ransom or Berroa would almost certainly outweigh the defensive damage done by putting someone like Teixeira at third.

The Minor League options on hand aren’t strong. Eric Duncan is still kicking around, but he has shown no sign of being a Major Leaguer (scratch one more Yankees first-round pick). Kevin Russo, America’s favorite utility choice, won’t hit either and has spent most of his professional life at second base. There are a number of veteran options soaking up bench spots for other teams, like Mike Lamb with the Brewers and Scott McClain with the Giants (an NRI, he’s probably expendable), but these will have to be pried free, however limited their value. The Yankees cannot give up a player of long-term value for a 10-week rental.

Whatever the solution, which at the moment is not obvious, the Yankees are now in some real trouble. The murder weapon used in the demise of last year’s Yankees team was not the shaky pitching but the presence of three replacement-level hitters in the lineup in Jose Molina, Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera. The Yankees just took a giant step back in that direction. If Jorge Posada isn’t ready, if Hideki Matsui isn’t ready, if the second baseman or center  fielder doesn’t hit, and Rodriguez is out for an extended period, scoring could be a problem. It might have been a problem even with Rodriguez in the lineup, so short of a season-ending injury, this is about the worst news the Yankees could have received right now. 

The banter from Beantown

pedroia_250.jpg

AL
EAST ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER

As you know, I’m up in Boston
on book-tour duty. I’ve had enough train action in recent weeks that I’m
starting to feel like the Joe Biden of the Internet baseball set. Then again, I
shouldn’t complain, as some of my brethren down in Florida are having to scoot to all corners
of the globe to follow both their normal team assignments as well as peek in on
WBC action.

In this part of the woods, the worries are, as you would
expect, oriented around the Red Sox and if their offense will hold up in the
coming season, and if the Yankees have trumped them by adding CC and A.J. There
are few good answers at this point except to flip the switch on the season and
see what happens, but that moment is a month away yet, so we all get to nibble
our fingernails a bit more — Boston fans on their offense (and maybe their
starting pitching, too), Yankees fans on their offense and defense (and defense
is pitching is defense, so this is a bigger issue than is usually acknowledged)
and Rays fans wondering if it was all a dream (it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean
the sequel will be easy). The WBC gives us an extra week to think about these
things, which now that I think about it, might be good for the collective
mental health. In the same way that Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak kept a nation
on the edge of war distracted for one last summer, if this year’s baseball
season starts late and drags into November, well, that’s one more week when the
specter of financial ruination can be put off. I hope.

Meanwhile, today’s exhibition action was more exhibition-y
than usual, with the Yankees taking on a team of Major League All-Stars in a
WBC tune-up — not a good day to be Phil Hughes or any of the other young
pitchers required to face Dustin Pedroia, Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun, etcetera, not
to mention Derek Jeter. As such, the story wasn’t really in the pitchers today
but in the hitters — the Yankees hitters. Brett Gardner put together another
strong day, and against real Major League pitchers like Roy Oswalt. If he keeps
up his current pace, it’s going to be very difficult for the Yankees to deny
him the starting center field job. And then, of course, he’ll have to keep it
up, because with his first 0-for-4, someone will be arguing that it’s time to
see if Melky has learned to hit by sitting on the bench.

The Gardner vs. Melky competition may seem like small beer
given that we’re talking about the team’s ninth-place hitter, but given the
probable offensive shortfall the Yankees will see in left and right field, and
potentially other spots on the diamond, getting something rather than nothing
out of that position could make a small but significant difference in what
should be a tough division race, perhaps a swing of two or more wins. That
could be the difference.

More from me when I’m not comatose from doing two AM TV
spots. It’s always shocking to me to see so many people awake and producing
television programs when they should be sleeping. Those of you in the
Boston-New Hampshire-Rhode Island-Vermont-Canada-Atlantis region, I look
forward to seeing you this evening.

More defense on my Jeter stance

jeter_320_030209.jpgJETER III

After I got back from the Yogi Berra Museum on Sunday evening, just ahead of the big storm, I checked out the latest comment thread here and read this from notajediyet7:


I enjoyed the session at the Yogi Berra museum. You were the best in your row. As a Yankee fan, I felt a Pilgrim in an unholy land as Sean Connery said to Harrison Ford in Last Crusade. I thought the panel was sponsored by the Wilpons or the Kill the Evil empire society from Beantown.


There is plenty of baseball left in Derek Jeter. His paint is not peeling. He had a monster start after the last baseball classic. I expect another one. Derek will deliver. This is America. You are entitled to your opinion, but Derek Jeter will go out a Yankee. Be it as a DH or a shortstop. Nothing was better than watching Don Mattingly regain killer form in the 1985 playoffs.


Sports are more than about statistics, It is about heart and love of the game. Jeter is the Yankees, warts and all. So he can’t go to his left, Stop the world. So he is slowing down. Start a movement. He can teach the Yankee way until they pry the bat from his hands and Joe Torre, the right man in the right place at the right time, definitely belongs in the Hall Of Fame. I thank you. The panel was informative and interesting, but I felt I was in Fenway not Yogi Berra.


Apparently, if you say that Jeter is aging that makes you a Red Sox fan. This is, of course, like saying if you question the government you’re anti-American. Last I checked, the team is the New York Yankees, not the New York Jeters, and making the inarguable observation that Jeter will be 37 years old in 2011 is not equivalent to disloyalty.


I have often said that the reason this feature was titled the Pinstriped Bible is that the real Bible is an argument about how to live your life in a moral way and the Pinstriped Bible is an argument about winning baseball. That means making every effort to be objective, regardless of what team or players I rooted for when I was a lad.

To the credit of the three organizations that have played host to the Pinstriped Bible in the past, YES, MLB.com, and the Yankees themselves, none have asked me to be anything less than that. If that means making unpopular but commonsense arguments about the impact of a player’s aging (and three years from now) on the team’s fortunes, so be it. You can get boosterism anywhere.

Modified from the script of Any Given Sunday, it fits right here with Derek Jeter:”


Do I need to remind you he helped build this franchise, which you benefited from? That he’s a hero to the working people of New York, and one of the greatest pressure players to ever play the game. You don’t just cut a man like Derek Jeter.”


Hopefully some of you (and you, Steve) can appreciate that.


Of course I appreciate it. This current discussion springs forth from my expression of that appreciation. However, the sentiment expressed here is complete and utter hogwash. It’s akin to saying, “He was a great soldier. He helped us win many a battle. Now that he’s dead is not the time to stop depending on him.”

Just to clarify, Jeter isn’t dead and he’s not done, but we’ve been talking about what happens after 2010, not about today (not that today is a sure thing either). The question remains: What is your greatest priority? Seeing the team win, or seeing an aging player do an increasingly vague approximation of the things he did well ten years earlier? Those that choose the latter are the ones guilty of disloyalty, both to the team and to the player. The worst thing that can happen to a self-aware performer like Jeter is to receive applause for something that was previously beneath him. Lou Gehrig understood this, which is why he asked out of the lineup when teammates began congratulating him for making routine plays.

What’s strange to me about this entire discussion is that otherwise knowledgeable baseball fans are bent out of joint by a simple discussion of a post-Jeter world, as if such a discussion were optional and merely wishing that Jeter would be good through his late 30s and into his 40s or 50s or 90s would make it so. I can imagine a conversation with these denial-ists that goes something like this:

“So you know Albert Pujols, the great Cardinals, first baseman, two-time MVP? Well, he was in a severe car accident. His life was saved, but there was some severe damage. His left leg is permanently shorter than the right one, so he can no longer run around the bases, he hobbles, or lopes. Due to the fact that his right arm was bent into itself like a Mbius strip, his power is all but gone. He’s lucky to hit the ball out of the infield now. Should the Cardinals play him, or let him go?”

“Let him go, obviously.”

“Okay, say the same thing happened to Derek Jeter?”

“Play him!”

As I’ve been writing, rsiciliano added, “The Yanks owe Jeet too much not to resign him.” They owed Babe Ruth even more, but when he couldn’t help anymore they were all too happy to move him on to the Boston Braves. Gehrig wasn’t even offered an office job. The pruning of the roster during the dynasty years of the 40s and 50s was merciless. Players age. Period. Winning requires youth, particularly young shortstops. In the next day or so I’ll complete a little historical survey on the matter, and you’ll find that you can count the number of teams that won with elderly guys at shortstop can be counted on just a few fingers.

Now, Jeter may have an atypical late-career surge in him. He may show you things on defense you’ve never seen before, or come back from last year’s weak (by his standards) offensive performance. Perhaps in October, 2010, we’re talking about whether the Yankees should re-sign a guy who just hit .330. I hope those things happen, but regardless of whether they do or do not, if you’re a Yankee fan, you have to be willing to discuss the consequences of going forward in 2011 or not. It’s not disloyalty. It’s just as acceptance of the facts.

I close this section with that great quote from G.K. Chesterton: “My country, right or wrong,” is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.” Or like saying, “Derek Jeter, good or bad.”


AND AS IF I DON’T HAVE BOSTON ACCUSATIONS ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH…

..I’m off to Boston. Those of you in the area who would like to hang out with Kevin Goldstein, Marc Normandin, and myself and talk baseball can join us Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble at Boston University, 660 Beacon Street in Boston. For those New England early birds with televisions, I’ll be on WFXT Fox 25 Tuesday morning at 6:45, and on “Good Morning Live” on the New England Cable News at 8:45 AM. And then I will take a nap, but that will not be broadcast.