Tagged: Joe Girardi

A world of extremes for Hughes

WHAT IS THIS, RED LOBSTER?
I understand that it was Memorial Day, but red caps? Red is a patriotic color? You go whisper that at Joe McCarthy’s grave and see if his rotted hands don’t shoot up out of the ground and drag you down under the dirt. Besides, the Yankees just looked plain undignified.

aceves275_052609.jpg… On the other hand, if you win all your red-cap games by 10 runs, maybe red caps can be fashionable.

PHIL HUGHES, SO NEAR AND YET SO NEAR
Assuming the Yankees don’t use Thursday’s day of rest to skip a rotation spot — and Joe Girardi hasn’t done that so far this year — Mr. Hughes will next pitch Sunday at Cleveland. He’s made one career start at Jacobs Field and did very well, throwing six innings of one-run baseball back on August 10, 2007. The Indians don’t have quite the same roster now — Hughes won’t be striking out Kenny Lofton twice this time around — but the meat is the same. Cleveland has one of the league’s most strikeout-prone lineups this year, something that could play into Hughes’ hands. Parenthetically, they also sent down Matt LaPorta, one of the top power prospects in baseball, who had mostly rented space on their bench over the last few weeks. Very wasteful, especially when the players currently in his positions, Ryan Garko and Ben Francisco, are not current or future world-beaters …

Back to Hughes: Monday in Texas was just a taste of his abilities, and the trick for the Yankees and Hughes himself will be to exploit his talents more consistently. I know that seems obvious, but Hughes has been either all or nothing in his brief career. When Hughes is on, he’s been dominant. In his eight career wins, his ERA is 1.44. In his losses, it’s 11.53. Now, all pitchers have this sort of split between their best days and their worst, but Hughes has been particularly extreme. The difference has largely been one of control: On the bad days, Hughes can’t get his pitches over, his walk rate shoots up, and the home runs follow. That said, when it works it really works; a more typical ERA in winning games is something in the 2.00s. The Right Stuff Hughes is overwhelming. On yet another hand, part of a starting pitcher’s job is to give his team to win whether he has the stuff to pitch a no-hitter or not. Hughes isn’t there yet.

Hughes should eventually have fewer days when he’s just a glorified batting practice pitcher, but it’s difficult to say when things will click into place, or if further Minor League experience would be a help or a hindrance. The only thing that’s certain is that the upside is huge and there’s no sure way to get at it except to keep trying. Right now, bad days have actually outnumbered the good (with “in between” outnumbering both). American League pitchers make a quality start just under half the time this year — the rate has stayed fairly constant since 2005. For his career, Hughes’ rate is 33 percent. When he’s good he’s very good, when he’s bad he’s worse, and if he could just shift a few of those bad ones onto the good or even “Mr. In-Between” pile (the guy Johnny Mercer said you don’t mess with), the Yankees would have a star on their hands.

It could be that Texas was the beginning of the shift, and that Cleveland will be continuation of it, or maybe Hughes struggles again and the counter resets. Patience is obviously warranted.

BRIAN BRUNEY HEADS BACK TO THE DL …
… Another stay for Brett Tomko. The battle for relief help as the trade deadline nears is going to be intense. Many of the teams that have dropped out of their division races have done so in large part because of their lack of quality relievers. Sure, the Nationals will trade you one of their relievers, but do you want one? (Nightmare scenario: Ron Villone’s scoreless 11.1 innings this season suddenly makes him attractive trade-bait.)  Sure, the Rockies may want to move Huston Street, and there might be a couple of other semi-attractive hurlers out there, but it’s definitely going to be a seller’s market. As I stated in a previous entry, the Yankees would be best off if they aggressively sorted through the David Roberstsons (welcome back, Dave) and Mark Melancons of the world now so they know whether they have to go hard after relief help or they can save their chips for bigger game. Thus my minor-key carping about Tomko: he’s not part of the solution set, and he’s taking up the roster spot of someone who very well may be. Who better to spend trash time innings on, a 99-year-old vet or a kid who might show you something?

MORE FROM ME
?    For those with access to Baseball Prospectus, I’ve got a bit up on the worst offenses of all time, springboarding from the current Giants. No Yankees on the list, though I could have dragged in the 1913 team, I guess …

?    Wholesome Reading has been updated, with more to come on the evolving Supreme Court and Prop 8 situations. Warning: Politics!

The Pinstriped Bible — LIVE from the Bronx

andybiblepinstriped09.jpgMORE FROM THE BALLPARK ( 9:35 p.m.)
As I write, the Yankees are batting in the bottom of the fourth. Andy Sonnanstine, who has not been particularly good this year, have held them to one hit (three hits — in the time it took me to complete this sentence, Teixeira singled and Matsui doubled. Either the Yankees are heating up or my sentences are too long). The Rays have played some excellent defense, as is to be expected given that by at least one measure, defensive efficiency, the Rays are the best leather team in the league — just as they were last year.

With two runners on, the ballpark is plenty loud — I wonder if the acoustics are really as has been said or the fans haven’t had enough to cheer about… And Cano flies out to Carl Crawford in left, and all at once it’s quiet again.

A little earlier, A.J. Burnett skipped a ball through Dioner Navarro’s toes, and that reminded me of a brief encounter I had with sports talk radio earlier today. The caller to Sirius-XM’s midmorning show argued that what the Yankees needed to do to beat the Red Sox was hit them with more pitches. We seem to hear this sentiment every time the Yankees drop a series to the Sox: the Sox intimidate the Yankees but the Yankees don’t intimidate them. It sounds pathetic. I can never remember the old saying correctly — is violence the first refuge of the incompetent of the last? It seems to work either way. Whichever the case, such sentiments are an example of it. The way the Yankees will beat the Red Sox is to win some games. I know it’s a novel idea, but if they hit better than .150 with runners in scoring position against Boston, they’ll score some runs, maybe even more runs than Boston scores. Engaging in a beanball war is not going to achieve much more than getting players suspended at best and hurt at worst. These teams see each other a lot of times this year, and the last thing either of them needs is to see sporting competitiveness spill over into violence.

The thing that really struck me about the call, after its ignorance, was its super-ignorance. The Yankees have hit EIGHT Red Sox this year. The Red Sox have hit TWO Yankees. Don’t you have an obligation to watch the actual games before making so reckless a recommendation? Couldn’t the Yankees try hitting a few home runs before starting a fight? All we are saying is give peace a chance. Or at least common sense.

As I put the pen down on this particular entry, it is the top of the sixth. The Rays have two on and one out after a Jason Bartlett sac bunt (Bartlett had struck out in his two previous at-bats, so the bunt sorta kinda makes sense). Burnett is already over 100 pitches, and I see someone loosening in the bullpen. “Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.” Maybe it’s howling at Jose Veras. Wouldn’t you?

———-

SCENES FROM A BALLPARK ( 7:23 p.m.)
The Pinstriped Bible comes to you from the Bronx, New York this evening, where the Yankees and Rays are about to joust. Let’s see… The Rays thrashed the Red Sox, the Red Sox thrashed the Yankees, so next in the sequence is… Yankees thrash Rays? My boss is in the seat next to me, so I’m sticking with that line. Not good to look too curmudgeonly and pessimistic in front of the guy who signs the checks.

Despite the tough losses of the last few days, there was a lot of animated good spirits on display on the pregame field. Bernie Williams was on hand, joking with Derek Jeter, then chatting with Melky Cabrera behind the cage. I couldn’t make out what they were talking about — the ballpark amps were at 11 — but I hope it was some insight about growing at the major league level or how to hit from the right side, and not the best way to shift to an F#m chord from a D#7 diminished chord without breaking your fingers. Reggie Jackson was also on hand, in uniform (Williams was in civvies), watching over batting practice and chatting eagerly with some reporters (off the record ad strictly personal, natch). A few feet away, John Sterling was interviewing Joe Girardi, but somehow Joe was doing a lot more listening than talking.

I briefly tried to imagine that it was 1927, and the Yankees taking batting practice were Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, etcetera, but quickly gave up: it was too bloody loud. In 1927 batting practice must have sounded like batting practice: the crack of the bat, a few people shouting on the field and in the stands.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

It must have been pure heaven.

swisher_pblog_050609.jpgAs Nick Swisher came out of the cage, Girardi asked him a question. I assume it was, “How did you feel hitting today?” or something like that. Swisher made a face, shook his head, and must have said something sarcastic, because Girardi bopped him over the helmet with the mitt he was carrying. Swisher isn’t tall, but Girardi had to do a little hop-step-jump in order to pull off the gesture.

Angel Berroa and Brett Gardner took extra batting practice. Berroa caught my eye when he cracked a ball far deeper into the stands than any of the Yankee regulars had–you’ll note that whereas every Yankee starter could put on a show in batting practice, most of them are more applied in their work, drilling line drives in one turn in the cage, pulling balls in another, and so on. Berroa was hitting deep flies, and one traveled deep into the right field bleachers, landing just short of the back row, just in front of the “26 World Champions” sign. This seemed like a wasted drill–Berroa is not going to be cranking balls out of the park under game condition. It’s just not a skill he has. Few hitters achieve any kind of consistency when uppercutting the ball and trying to hit home runs, and Berroa won’t be the first. Why not try to develop a skill that will keep you on a Major League roster instead of one that won’t?

Gardner’s BP seemed, to my weak, rhino-like eyes, to be a mixed bag. On some swings he used the lower half of his body to pull crisp line drives to right, including one which carried out of the park. On a few other swings, he lunged with his upper body as he has been doing in games, and hit something weak the other way. As he finished, he turned to Kevin Long and asked, “How was that?” I didn’t catch Long’s response, as at just that moment, the scoreboard kicked off the Graig Nettles “Yankeeography” at such volume that John Sterling could have been chastising the Hebrews for their dalliance with the Golden Calf, or threatening to turn Sodom into a parking lot. At one point I looked up and saw an image of Tommy Lasorda as big as an aircraft carrier. “Surrender, Dorothy!” he screamed. I dropped to my knees. In doing so, I narrowly avoided being run down by the entire Rays roster, which was engaged in a pregame stretching exercise in which they hopped, skipped, and jumped down the third base line singing, “Three Little Maids from School Are We.” Okay, they didn’t really sing that, but they could have — they were skipping to the proper rhythm.

This should in no way be construed as a comment on the collective masculinity of the Rays. The only point, if there is one, is that grown men rarely looked dignified when hopping and skipping. It’s also a good way to lose your wallet.

The weekend from hell

jobabiblegoldman042609.jpgTHE WEEKEND FROM HELL
Of all the troubling events of the past weekend in Boston, perhaps the most ominous development was Joba Chamberlain’s Friday evening start, in which he pitched like a much older man, walking four and striking out two. Naturally, various broadcast crews spent the weekend wondering if this meant that Chamberlain should be sent back to the bullpen, where he threw harder. Guys: reduced velocity and a loss of control does not indicate that a pitcher is starting or relieving. Reduced velocity and a loss of control indicates that something is wrong. Any argument that Chamberlain is now hoarding his stuff as a starter is purely suppositional and highly unlikely, and Chamberlain’s role is less important at this moment than the possibility that he might be hurt.

MY LATEST THEORY
Steven Jackson is on the roster purely so the Yankees can bring a full complement of players out to the foul line during the national anthem. It is painful to watch Joe Girardi manage games so as to get them into the hands of his so-called dependable veterans, pathologically avoiding the kids now on the roster. This is 180 degrees removed from the Girardi of a year ago, who did so much to revamp the bullpen after years of Joe Torre kiting from veteran to veteran. For some reason, Girardi doesn’t seem to be willing to do it again. Yet, the team isn’t winning and the pen isn’t helping, so whatever he’s trying to do in getting those pitchers reestablished, and in some cases re-reestablished requires rethinking.

WHY THE YANKEES STILL NEED TO ACQUIRE ANOTHER THIRD BASEMAN

Because even if Alex Rodriguez comes back tomorrow, he could be out again the day after. That could be for any reason, not just his hip. A pitch could fracture his hand in his first plate appearance of the season, and the Yankees would be right back where they were. This is what we call insurance. You don’t think your house will burn down tomorrow, but you pay the insurance, just in case. There will be no time this season where it will be safe for the Yankees to have so little depth at the hot corner, just because life is unpredictable. Meanwhile, playing Angel Berroa at third clearly means you’re not altogether serious about winning. Playing Cody Ransom meant that too, but it was marginally worth trying — though not without a safety net. It is stunning how little Yankees management learned from last season’s injuries.

PROBABLY WISHFUL THINKING, BUT…
…If Sidney Ponson could hold the Tigers to three runs over eight innings, as he did on Sunday, the Yankees should be okay in this series.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
?    In a previous entry, I said that no one can win the NL East. Allow me to add the AL West to that formulation as well.

?    Dear Angels: Can the Yankees offer you 1.5 pitchers for your own apparently despised 3B/SS Brandon Wood? With affection, Brian Cashman. Dear Rockies: Can the Yankees offer you .5 pitchers for your own redundant third baseman Jeff Baker? Respectfully, Brian “Manpower Shortage” Cashman. Dear Mike Blowers: All is forgiven. Please come home. With sincere regret, Brian “I Didn’t Work Here Then” Cashman.

?    Best wishes to Braves All-Star Brian McCann as he heads for the DL trying to cure his blurred vision. We know from bad vision at the Pinstriped Bible, and we feel for you, Brian. McCann is apparently off for a second Lasik surgery.

?    Gavin Floyd was battered by the Blue Jays on Friday night. Given Floyd’s unrealistically low batting average allowed on balls in play last year, forecasting a regression was one of the easiest calls of the offseason…

?    I love allmusic.com, because sometimes you just have to know how many bands have covered “Daydream Believer,” “Coconut Grove,” or “Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?”  

?    Sometimes I think, “Where would the Royals be without Zack Greinke?” Then a voice answers, “Where are they with him?”

?    On the eve of a new Bob Dylan release, a reminder that if you haven’t been with the man on his last three albums, “Time Out of Mind,” “Love and Theft,” and “Modern Times,” you’ve missed a remarkable career renaissance. I’m not certain of Dylan has changed with the times or the times have become strange to the point that Dylan is now able to sing from a timeless American dimension in which civil war soldiers commiserate with hoboes over the Great Depression, both admiring the singing of Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, who are playing just down the line at the next soup kitchen. Many of these songs are fatalistic, but simultaneously reassuring. In the early ’60s, Dylan was an entertainer. In the mid- to late-60s he was angry. It was harder for him to find relevance from the mid-70s through the 90s, but now he’s memory, and boy, do we need memory. “I got my back to the sun ’cause the light is too intense/I can see what everybody in the world is up against/Can’t turn back, you can’t come back, sometimes we push too far/One day you’ll open up your eyes and you’ll see where we are.” Funny thing about history; you can only mourn what you’ve lost if you know what you had, and who in modern times has any use for the lessons of history? Thus the next line of the song: “Sugar Baby, get on down the road/Ain’t got no brains no how/You went years without me/Might as well keep going now.”

?    One good sign for Alex Rodriguez is how well Chase Utley and Mike Lowell, both veterans of recent hip surgery, have been hitting. The Yankees have seen the latter’s work firsthand…

?    It seems odd how quickly the Twins decided that Carlos Gomez was a defensive replacement rather than a starter, especially when Mike Cuddyer and Delmon Young aren’t giving them anything special at the plate. Just because Cuddyer is the rare Twin under a sort-of pricey contract doesn’t mean he has to play. As for Young, at this point the hype, always out of balance to the actual product, should no longer blind anyone to the realities of the player. The Twins, by the way, possess several mediocre third baseman that can actually play third base, and yet they have no current use for. Just sayin’.

?    In case you missed it, Carl Pavano got hammered Saturday. He’s now 0-3 with a 9.50 ERA. Somehow, though the thrill isn’t quite as sweet given that the Yankees passed up their own opportunity to thrash him…

?    Charlie Manuel benched Jimmy Rollins on Sunday because “He’s not swinging good.” While it is true that Rollins is batting only .162/.205/.235, unless you really think he needs a mental health break, or he’s doing some Manny-style sulking thing that we don’t know about, do you bench a former MVP and three-time All-Star? You figure a ten-year vet will work his way out of it…

?    Are we off the Marlins’ bandwagon yet?

?    Given that Reds’ left fielders have combined to hit .171/.275/.300 to date, why not run Micah Owings out there every once in awhile? Is Laynce Nix really going to do that much better?

?    Chris Davis of the Rangers has a seven-game hitting streak going, in which he’s hitting .304/.360/.739 with three home runs, including two in his last two games. His strikeout-walk ratio in that time is 12-1, so he’s not over his troubles yet, but at least he’s holding his own for now after his miserable start. Note also Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s eight-game streak (not counting a no at-bat appearance as a defensive replacement), during which he’s hit .407/.429/
.630. His strikeout-walk ratio I during the streak is 10-1. Hey, Rudy Jaramillo: what are you teaching these guys?

Pitchers, Ransom need to step it up

ccsabathiapblog041609.jpgOPENING DAY U-TURN
The pomp of the first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium: The Sequel was all well and good, but in the end the club has to execute. The Yankees confronted a 2-7 Indians club led by Cliff Lee, a potential flash in the pan who had been thoroughly mistreated by his every opponent in Spring Training and his first two starts. The Yankees bowed, in part because the offense stranded 27 runners, in part because Jose Veras and Damaso Marte (who hasn’t been the same pitcher with the Yankees he was prior) played arsonist, and if you’re looking for a third culprit, point to CC Sabathia, who negated his ability to throw 120 pitches by burning through them in less than six innings.

Thanks the amazing nine-run seventh inning pitched by Veras and Marte, pitching will receive the bill for this afternoon’s debacle, but the offense could have changed the complexion of the game at any time. Despite getting the first hit at YS: TS, Johnny Damon stranded five runners. Despite hitting the first home run at YS: TS, Jorge Posada stranded six. Special credit must go to Cody Ransom. Ransom’s first at-bat came in the second inning with one out and Robby Cano at second base. The third baseman struck out. In his next at-bat, in the bottom of the fourth, he batted with Hideki Matsui on first base and flew out to right field. He came to the plate again in the fifth with runners on first and third. He grounded to short. Runners were on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Ransom struck out again. Finally, with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees just looking for some dignity, or maybe a miracle comeback, Ransom grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. He left nine runners on base, and presumably because the Yankees are carrying 13 pitchers and no bench players, Joe Girardi let him.

The Yankees’ 5-5 start is discouraging, but it’s not as depressing as is Ransom’s first 10 games as A-Rod substitute. Ransom is not a kid. He’s a 33-year-old vet. He has had six shots at a big league career since 2001 without ever catching on. We are likely looking at his last chance to have at least a single season in the major leagues, first as Alex Rodriguez’s substitute, then as his caddy. The odds were against Ransom succeeding, because his long experience in the minors showed that he would not hit with enough consistency. Despite this, his small-sample hot streak of last fall gave hope that he could make it. This is the kind of player who is great fun to root for. Unfortunately, Ransom is now 3-for-30 with 10 strikeouts, and it is difficult to see how the Yankees can afford to keep playing him, however quickly A-Rod is expected to come back, or even how they can retain him on the Major League roster once Rodriguez is active. Thursday’s defeat had many fathers, but any kind of contribution from Ransom early on might have meant a different complexion to the game.

matsui275blogpbible.jpgMeanwhile, despite the best efforts of Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano, the rest of the offense has yet to click into gear. The Swisher-free components of the outfield have been a total loss, and there’s a danger that that could be a season-long affliction. Hideki Matsui has looked very sluggish, and Mark Teixeira’s wrist and penchant for slow starts has crippled his numbers. Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter have hung in, but four bats is well short of an offensive load. Take out the 11 runs the Yankees scored against Baltimore in the third game of the season and the club is averaging just 4.2 runs of offense per game. You don’t want to hit the panic button after 10 games, and some of the elements will heat up a bit, even Ransom — but heat is relative. They may not heat up enough to make a truly potent offense. That’s something that Brian Cashman is going to have to watch.

SHAWKEY-SABATHIA
Sailor Bob Shawkey was the first starting pitcher at Yankee Stadium, and CC Sabathia will go down as the first at YS: TS. What was not noted today was that Sailor Bob’s history with the Yankees was contentious. After a very good, just-south-of-Cooperstown career, Shawkey became the manager of the Yankees in 1930, replacing Miller Huggins, who had died during the previous season. The club went 86-68, finishing third, and Shawkey was viewed as a failure because former teammates like Babe Ruth wouldn’t take him all that seriously (one wonders who Ruth did take seriously). In an especially coldhearted move, the Yankees replaced Shawkey with Joe McCarthy but didn’t bother telling him. Shawkey happened to walk into GM Ed Barrow’s office as McCarthy was heading out and put two and two together. “It was a dirty deal,” Shawkey said. In anticipation of Yogi Berra years later, Shawkey cut off all contact with the team. He didn’t return until the threw out the first pitch at the renovated Yankee Stadium  — 45 years later. He was 85 years old.

I wonder if the opening day crowd of 2054 will get to see a first pitch from a 73-year-old Sabathia. Try to hang on if you can. I’ll try too, and we’ll talk about it then.

SKINNER

Always interesting to see who gets a hand and who doesn’t when players are announced individually. There wasn’t even polite applause for Indians coach Joel Skinner, who caught for the Yankees for three seasons. I guess fans have forgotten his amazing inability to make contact — in 556 at-bats with the Yankees he struck out 158 times, hitting .214/.299/.253. In comparison to Skinner, Jose Molina is Mickey Cochrane. Maybe they do remember, but are still mad that the Yankees gave up Ron Hassey for him…

…They definitely remembered Carl Pavano. That was clear.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)

  • Another depressing bit: many fans and pundits held out hope that this would be the year that Royals’ third baseman Alex Gordon really took off. Instead, he’s headed for surgery with a cartilage tear in his right hip. No word on when he’ll be back as of yet.
  • I keep forgetting to mention Dewayne Wise separating his shoulder  and thus exiting the Chicago White Sox’ lineup. He was another player, like Nady (though a far lesser talent than Nady), whose use I railed against. As with Nady, I’d rather he take a seat than take a surgeon…
  • Unless Tony LaRussa gets caught taking betting tips from Pete Rose, he’s going to the Hall of Fame. If he manages to keep his Cardinals winning at anything like their present (8-3) rate with the roster he has, he’ll have gone an extra length towards earning his plaque. Of course, today’s game against the Cubs was their first against a team of any real talent. 

The Nady-Swisher situation

nayd_girardi300_041009.jpgWIN #1
Can Nick Swisher play now? Can Joe Girardi say, as Lincoln did of Grant, “I can’t spare this man — he fights”? A reader recently wrote me to say that I had been quiet about Xavier Nady outperforming Swisher during Spring Training, and it would be more fair to Girardi to admit that Nady had legitimately won the job. My answer here is that it depends on how you define “legitimate.” Making decisions on the basis of 40-60 Spring Training at-bats against highly variable competition is nonsensical, particularly when you have a track record of a couple of thousand at-bats on which to base your evaluation. If those 60 wind-blown at-bats are going to outweigh 2,000 regular-season turns at the plate, there had better be some extenuating circumstances.

Now, in this case I think there were some extenuating circumstances, and I said so: As much as I think Spring Training stats are overblown, given that Swisher came off a .210 season, he had to show the Yankees something to prove that his inconsistency was a fluke. He did not do this, and so he’s going to have to prove himself, start by start.

That said, there is still no reason to believe that Nady is the .328 hitter he was in Spring Training, and only slightly more reason to believe that Swisher is only capable of the .222 he hit. We should also note that Swisher led the spring squad in walks with 13 (Nady took only two), and that he hit the same number of home runs as Nady, one. The difference between them comes down to a few hits.

In short, did Nady really win the job, or were the Yankees guilty of a selective review of the evidence? We’ll see as the rest of the season plays out. Note that Swisher is in the lineup again today, and Nady is not: The competition is not yet over, and with another good showing from Swish Nicker today (a home run off of Kyle Farnsworth? Nah — anyone can do that) it may be that the issue will remain open.

NICK ADENHART
What a senseless loss. Trying to grasp for a silver lining, the one thing I can think of is that if you asked most pitchers how they might like to go, perhaps they would choose to exit right after a strong start. It is small consolation that the police nabbed the perpetrator, a drunken driver, and charged him with “felony drunk driving, felony hit and run, three counts of murder, three counts of vehicular manslaughter and four counts of committing bodily injury during a crime.” There is no circle of hell low enough for drunk drivers, and it is to be hoped that the Orange County District Attorney does not reach for any kind of settlement but prosecutes to the full extent of the law, such that the murderer will never see the light of day again.

Parenthetically, I would be this emphatic were we not talking about a professional ballplayer and his friends but any three victims. There are few more selfish acts than getting behind the wheel of a car when one is inebriated. I don’t think much of drinking to the point of intoxication — I have never done so — but I don’t begrudge others the right to pickle their brains if they so choose. However, if you drive at that point, you are extending an invitation for involuntary audience participation in your potential suicide. The murders committed under the influence are crimes of simple, selfish negligence and deserve not the least bit of sympathy.

As baseball fans, our loss pales beside that of Adenhart’s Angels teammates, his friends and his family, but we do feel it. We did not know Adenhart well, and beyond our basic human sadness at a young life snuffed out is the lost opportunity for Adenhart and for ourselves. When Thurman Munson lost his life, we could, as fans, look back on a long career and a familiar personality. The interruption was sudden, tragic, shocking, but the legacy was there for us to hold on to. Adenhart was just beginning. His legacy is the tragedy of not getting to have a legacy. Baseball is all about history, and we’ve been deprived of one here.

TWENTY-FIVE MEN, TWENTY-FIVE GOALS INTO ONE
Continuing from second base …

ALEX RODRIGUEZ THIRD BASE
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Win another MVP award, and try to avoid offending easily irked Yankees fans and media.
DID HE GET THERE? Pretty much whiffed on all counts, though his season wasn’t bad by any means.
2009 GOAL: Quickly return to hip-health despite having foregone, for now, the complete hip reconstruction procedure; hit more like 2007 than 2008, in the process putting questions about steroid-fueled production behind him.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Seems like a mighty tall order.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: It won’t last much longer than A-Rod’s DL stay, but with two more home runs, Derek Jeter will pass Rodriguez on the Yankees’ career home run list.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Rodriguez warps the fabric of space-time with his personality, creating dangerous singularities that will be the subject of a forthcoming series of science fiction films starring Seth Rogen. Sir Anthony Hopkins will portray A-Rod.

DEREK JETER — SHORTSTOP
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Stay healthy, get some life back in those legs, recover defensive value.
DID HE GET THERE? Not really. He played through a hand injury that ruined his production, hit into a career-high 24 double plays, and his defensive range wasn’t any better than usual.  
2009 GOAL: Stay healthy, get some life back in those legs, recover offensive and defensive value.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Last season’s production was strong in the context of league shortstops, weak in the context of Jeter’s own career, not to mention league-average production. If that was only attributable to the injury, then he has a good chance of hitting well this year. He did bat .344/.406/.434 in August-September of last year. Even then, though, he was lacking some customary pop — there were 65 hits in that period, but the only extra-base hits were two doubles and five home runs.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: When are we not thinking about Jeter?
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Lou Gehrig. Jeter should pass him to become the Yankees’ all-time hits leader in September.

CODY RANSOM — THIRD BASE/UTILITY INFIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Fill in for Alex Rodriguez without killing the team, then remain on the roster as a utility infielder.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not great, actually. While Ransom’s 1-for-10 showing in the first three games is nothing to get exercised about, there is a reason that he has spent most of his career (going back to 1998) in the Minor Leagues. While his career 162 homers in the sticks attest to some nice pop for a guy who has primarily been a shortstop, his .242 batting average argues that he lacks the hitting consistency to succeed in any sustained way. Last fall’s exciting 13-for-43 with four home runs was a spectacular fluke.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Ransom was drafted by the Giants in the ninth round in 1998. Another future Major Leaguer taken in that round was Mark Teixeira, selected by the Red Sox 13 picks in front of Ransom. He didn’t sign. The Yankees picked one in front of the Giants and selected a college outfielder named Claude Greene, who didn’t make it.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: There have been only three players named Cody in Major League history. All of them played in this century, and two of them, Ransom and Cody Ross, are in the Majors now. T
he Marlins’ Ross easily leads the Codies in all statistical categories.

RAMIRO PENA — INFIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Avoid being overexposed, simultaneously giving the Yankees a reason to retain him on the roster once A-Rod comes back.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not good given that he has yet to play at Triple A; the Yankees almost certainly plan on getting him some Scranton time this year. He’s a career .258/.316/.319 hitter in the Minors, so he has plenty of work to do if he wants to have a career greater than quickie injury cameos.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: When Pena appeared at shortstop on Thursday, he became the 21st player to appear at the position during the Jeter era, not including Jeter. He is now entitled to attend a once a year luncheon with Enrique Wilson, Felix Escalona and Alex Arias.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Though we’ll hear a great deal about Pena’s speed whenever he’s asked to pinch-run, he was not a basestealer in the Minors, nabbing just 28 bases in 43 tries over 334 games.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
?    I was going to comment yesterday that few pitchers can burn though 100 pitches faster than Scott Kazmir, but had I done so it would have been a grave disservice to Oliver Perez of the Mets, who got there in 4.1 innings on Thursday thanks to five hits, five walks and seven strikeouts. When the Deity modeled hard-throwing lefties, he included wildness in the young’uns, which explains Kazmir, still only 25. Perez is 27 and still has some shelf-life, but it doesn’t seem as though he’ll get that walk rate down under four per nine. Just think: Somewhere there’s a parallel universe where the Mets have Perez and Kazmir in the same rotation. Perhaps in that universe they also built their new park with the stairs behind the seats instead of in front of them.

?    The Rays held on to beat the Red Sox yesterday, but not before Troy Percival gave up a solo homer to Jason Varitek in the ninth. I imagine a sequence for the Rays in which Percival is replaced by Jason Isringhausen, and then Isringhausen is replaced by a player to be named later at the trade deadline. Percival doesn’t allow many hits, but too many of his mistakes reach escape velocity.

?    Who would have suspected that Chris Carpenter had another start in him like Thursday’s against the Pirates (7/1/1/0/2/7)? Heartening to see, given the fellow’s many, many (many) injuries … Ross Ohlendorf had a good start in the game too, though not good enough. Nor were the Pirates helped by their Adam LaRoche-free lineup.

?    No doubt you have already seen and perhaps celebrated Carl Pavano’s long Thursday: 1/6/9/9/3/1 with two home runs allowed. He failed to retire a batter in the second. Andruw Jones played and went 3-for-5.

?    Staying away from Kyle Farnsworth helped the Royals get to 2-1. If not for the whole Kyle debacle the boys in powder blue would actually be undefeated right now. They got seven innings of three-hit, eight-strikeout shutout baseball from their other Kyle, Kyle Davies. I don’t know if that was really Davies taking a major step forward or simply a White Sox lineup that looks a bit light in the lumber. Center fielder Dewayne Wise is now 0-for-10 on the season with four strikeouts, and Ozzie Guillen dropped him from the leadoff slot yesterday, then pinch-hit for him late in the game. The next step in that sequence is Melky Cabrera.

?    The Padres got away with one, walking seven Dodgers but still holding them to three runs. San Diego is an improbable 2-2.

?    Horrible moment in the Brewers-Giants game when Giants pitcher Joe Martinez took a Mike Cameron line drive off of his forehead. Martinez popped right up, then fell again, his head bleeding. He walked off under his own power and seems to have gotten away with nothing worse than a concussion (though those are bad enough). Best wishes to the rookie for a speedy recovery … The Giants got great pitching from Matt Cain in that game, as well as fine hitting from Randy Winn, Fred Lewis and Bengie Molina. The Dodgers should win the NL West pretty easily, but the Giants have enough pitching to make it interesting. They probably don’t have the offense or the defense either, but if you’re going to have one out of three, having Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain isn’t a bad option.

AN APOLOGY
I recently missed a media appearance due basically to negligence on my part. I apologize to those involved for what was a purely unintentional oversight.

ONE THAT I DIDN’T SCREW UP …
On Thursday I was on Fox News’ Situation Room with my Baseball Prospectus pal Jay Jaffe. In the linked excerpt, we talk about the “pressure” on Joe Girardi. This was, by the way, a fun format. As the show’s description states, “There is no script, no commercials, just great panelists and conversation on the biggest topics in today’s news. Viewers are a big part of the program, as our hosts read fan emails throughout the show often sparking more conversation.” They’re on eight hours a day online, and do sports each Thursday from 1-2 p.m. 

Twenty-five men, 25 goals into one

posada_250_040709.jpgToday we begin our annual look at what each player is looking to accomplish this season — a tradition since whenever I started doing it. I believe it was in 1881, when my friend Clemens yielded this feature to me so he could finish work on Huckleberry Finn.
    
JORGE POSADA — STARTING CATCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
Repeat his 2007 performance.
DID HE GET THERE? Nope. Injuries intervened.
2009 GOAL: Health, which means not only staying in the lineup and contributing some approximation of his career numbers (.277/.380/.477) but also throwing out 25-35 percent of attempting base stealers.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: He seems to have a fair shot, but it’s asking a lot given his age.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Even when struggling last year, Posada was strong with runners in scoring position, batting .250/.392/.425. He’s a career .282/.403/.492 hitter in those situations.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: With 27 home runs this year, Posada can pass YES broadcaster Ken Singleton on the career home run list for switch hitters (Singleton ranks 14th with 246). Kenny is probably safe for another year — Jorge hasn’t hit more than 23 homers in a season since 2003.

JOSE MOLINA — RESERVE CATCHER
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE:
Hit as well as he did after he joined the Yankees in July ’07 (.318/.333/.439 in 29 games).
DID HE GET THERE? Heck no, but he did play terrific defense.
2009 GOAL: Keep up the glove work while rebounding at the plate from a career-worst offensive season.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: You’d think he’d have to if he’s going to stay on the roster.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Believe it or not, Molina’s .263 on-base percentage wasn’t the worst of Yankees history (200 PAs and up). Shortstop Jim Mason’s .210 OBP of 1976 takes the prize, while shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger’s .256 of 1925 is even worse than Mason’s mark when contrasted against the league average.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Elston Howard. There’s nothing wrong with having an old starting catcher, but as that catcher’s durability declines, you need a tandem starter who can give you good production the rest of the time, not just defense. The Yankees had this situation with Yogi Berra and Elston Howard in the early 1960s. Acquiring a reserve catcher with a bat is of paramount importance to the Yankees.

MARK TEIXEIRA — FIRST BASE
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Just consistency would be good. Teixeira is a .290/.378/.541 career hitter and Gold Glove fielder.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: There’s no reason why he shouldn’t.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: You hear a lot about Teixeira being a slow starter, but the flipside of his slow starts are hot finishes. Teixeira is a career .303/.390/.574 hitter after the All-Star break.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Teixeira is going to see a lot more of the Red Sox this year than he’s used to, and he hasn’t hit them well in his career. He’s a career. 193/.363/.274 hitter at Fenway Park (80 PA) and has hit only .232/.364/.373 against the Red Sox overall.

ROBINSON CANO — SECOND BASE
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE:
Keep on growing and/or simply hold onto present value.
DID HE GET THERE? Not even close. His season was disastrously poor.
2009 GOAL: Get back to being the guy who hit .322/.358/.504 from 2006 to 2007.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Reasonably good given his age and a few lucky hits. He might not get all the way back, but he should get close.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Five games from now, Cano will pass Jerry Coleman for 10th place on the career list of games played at second base for the Yankees with 573. He still has a long, long way to go to catch the team’s all-time leader, Willie Randolph, who manned the keystone for 1,688 games.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: It might seem like Cano led the Yankees in pop ups last season, but he didn’t. He was fifth, with 33. The leader was Johnny Damon, with 45. Derek Jeter hit 13 pop ups all year.

To be continued…

MAKE IT STOP!
Here’s a literal blast from the past for you: In Tuesday’s Royals-at-White Sox game, the Royals took a 2-1 lead into Chicago’s turn at bat in the bottom of the eighth. The White Sox have the 9-1-2 spots due up: Josh Fields, Dewayne Wise, and Chris Getz. Royals manager Trey Hillman calls on Kyle Farnsworth. The Royals, you see, have decided that Farnsworth is a setup man. We in New York know it ain’t true. They even know it in Detroit and Atlanta, but they’re smarter in Kansas City.

Fields bunts to third base and reaches. Wise flies out to center. Gets singles to right, moving Fields to third. That brings up number three hitter Carlos Quentin. Even Joe Torre would have called for another pitcher by now, but Farnsworth gets Quentin to whiff, so score one for Hillman. Two outs now, future Hall of Famer Jim Thome at the plate. Thome is a left-handed hitter, and he’s getting up there in years, doesn’t hit the portsiders as well as he used to, averaging just .233 against them in 2008 (albeit with a ton of power). The Royals have Ron Mahay in the bullpen, but apparently he’s only hanging around for moral support. You know what happened next. Farnsworth throws, Thome swings, boom — it’s No. 542 for Jim and loss No. one of the 2009 season for Farnsworth.

Nice work if you can get it. Joe Posnanski ruminates on the managerial brilliance of the move.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
In an effort to bond with my cat, I’ve started wearing sisal pajamas… Another year, another pounding for Ian Snell, and the Pirates are off to the races… Khalil Greene so impressed Tony LaRussa with his hot spring that he’s batting fifth; it would be nice to see him complete make that kind of comeback. Of course, any player’s bat is going to perk up after escaping PETCO… The Rays lineup sure looks light with B.J. Upton out. Of course, it’s easy to look light against Josh Beckett when he’s on. They and the Red Sox will go at each other nine times by May 10, a nice quirk of the scheduling for the Yankees; the Yankees have ten total games against both clubs through May 7… As with CC Sabathia, you hope that Tim Lincecum wasn’t burned out by overuse last year… The Marlins drew 11,124 against the Nats in Game 2 of the season, but they did get a terrific start from Josh Johnson, so Joe Girardi, you’re off the hook (so long as he lasts)… The Tigers’ pen tanked their game, but Edwin Jackson’s fine start is the more important omen for them in the long term. Good to see Scott Rolen drag his hot spring into the season… Erik Bedard sort of made it through a start; when does he get dealt? …Dan Haren picked up where he left off for the Diamondbacks (good), but so did Jon Rauch (not so good)…I actually saw Jason Giambi hit a bloop double to the opposite field against the Angels… The Beatles remasters are finally coming!

Secretly building trade value

girardi_cashman300_032409.jpgI HAVE THIS FRIEND NAMED ADAM … And whenever I write here that Brian Cashman or Joe Girardi say something completely indefensible, something like, “Xavier Nady is the starting right fielder,” he writes me and says that I’m too quick to criticize and that there’s a secret plan afoot that will set matters aright. Adam hasn’t actually issued his usual warning this time around, but he must have gotten through to me in the past (maybe it was regarding Kyle Farnsworth, though I’m still not certain), so I have decided, in my best Pollyannaish way, to believe that Mr. Girardi is building Mr. Nady’s trade value. There are teams out there, hungry, less discriminating National League teams, that might like to have an X-Man of their very own. There is a master plan at work of such savage cunning that the terms “Pinstriped Weaselry” don’t do it justice. You heard it here first: some club is gonna get suckered.*

(*The foregoing may prove to be a work of pure fantasy. Management is not responsible for any personal items left unattended in your vehicle.)

Meanwhile, my pal Rob Neyer proves that great minds think alike:

So, let’s see … younger, better against right-handed pitching, better fielder, better baserunner … gee, why would you want to give that guy a regular job?

Oh, don’t worry; it’s not as bad as all that. Considering all the Yankees’ creaky old geezers, there should be plenty of at-bats for a (relative) whippersnapper like Nick Swisher. These sorts of things do tend to find their natural balance, eventually. But with the questions about Alex Rodriguez’s availability and the tough competition in their division, one might reasonably wonder if “eventually” will come soon enough.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
When I saw the headline, “MLB bans Pichardo 50 games”, the chain of association rapidly led me back to the Royals righty of the last decade Hipolito Pichardo, and thence to the short-lived Yankees lefty Hipolito Pena, who I recall as being distinctly more hippo-like than his listed 6’3″/165 pounds. The Yankees received Pena from the Pirates in 1988 in exchange for Orestes Destrade, an underpowered first baseman (later broadcaster) who the Yankees seemed to have no use for, given that it seemed like Don Mattingly had the better part of 10 good years left. No disrespect meant — I’m sure it means something noble in Spanish, but forget being a boy named Sue, I can’t think of anything more frightening than being a boy named Hipo … Seth McClung actually pitched well for the Brewers last year. That’s hard to believe, but it’s harder still to accept that he might sub as closer for Trevor Hoffman … It’s difficult to think of a player, aside from a Buck Weaver or Shoeless Joe Jackson, who has fallen as hard and fast as Andruw Jones … With third baseman Jack Hannahan likely to be squeezed off of the Oakland roster, the Yankees could take a run at the glove man. He won’t hit much but is a lefty bat and a strong fielder … The White Sox may regret signing Gavin Floyd to a four-year, $15.5 million contract. The same luck on balls in play that affected  Swisher in a negative fashion last year benefitted Floyd. He’s due to regress and in a hurry … If I took all the decisions I’d ever made because they seemed like good ideas at the time and stacked them one on top of the other, I could climb that pile and just scrape the bottom of the moon with my fingertip.

ONE LAST GO AT PHILADELPHIA
Final warning, and aren’t you relieved: Jay Jaffe and I will be at the Penn Bookstore at the University of Pennsylvania (3601 Walnut St.) this evening at 5 PM. I hope to see some new and familiar faces there tonight.

What, this movie again?

melky_250_032009.jpgIn today’s New York Daily News, Mark Feinsand writes:

[Melky] Cabrera, who looked to be fighting for a roster spot more than a starting job, stayed the course and tried to let his play speak for itself. Apparently, his strategy worked.

“In this game, things aren’t always going to go the way you want that day or the next day — or maybe for a week — but Melky didn’t panic,” Joe Girardi said. “He just kept doing his thing, which is a sign of maturity.”

[snip]

“I’m happy with the way Melky is playing; he’s really started to swing the bat,” Girardi said. “They’ve both played at a very high level. Gardy started a little quicker, but to me, they’re both playing at a very high level right now. It’s been a fun competition to watch.”

As Einstein said, and every man of woman born has since repeated, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Cabrera has been a regular player for three years now, and the Yankees have received three years of below average, declining results. He does not hit for a high average, and since he has little power and no particular love of taking ball four, he produces almost nothing at the plate.

The counter argument here is that Cabrera, now 24, was a young big leaguer and still has room to develop. Perhaps, but (1) at 24 he likely has sailed past the point that a breakout can reasonably be expected and (2) if there is a breakout, where is it to come? Should we expect a player who has never hit more than eight home runs in a season to whack 25 of them this year? Should we expect a fake switch-hitter who cannot bat right-handed (.251/.319/.329 career) to become a reliable .310 hitter? Should the Yankees project that a player who has averaged 50 walks per 162 games played to add another 25 of them to the back of his baseball card?

Now, these things could happen. Cabrera hit for power last April before quitting completely, and maybe whatever alchemy allowed him to be a slugger for one month could reconstitute itself over six months. Not likely, but it could happen. He could hit .300 just on luck. That happens too — every year some player sees an abnormally high (or, in the case of Nick Swisher last season, low) percentage of the balls he hits fall in. He could take more walks based on the understanding that if he doesn’t make every effort not to throw away his at-bats, he will forfeit millions in future salary.

If these things happen, swell — the universe is a capricious place. It giveth and taketh away and sometimes gives us cash bonuses we don’t deserve after we’ve helped cause a global financial meltdown. Such unpredictability is what makes life here so exciting. Betting on such events, however, is never a wise policy, especially when one requires offense to win a pennant, and particularly when one’s MVP just had his hip operated on and your team will require every iota of additional offense to support its gold-plated pitching staff.

It is hoped, and perhaps it is even probable, that Joe Girardi is not entirely serious in what he is saying, and he is merely trying to keep both players pumped or to stoke Cabrera’s trade value by exaggerating his performance this spring. We know that Girardi isn’t stupid and that he can be disingenuous. In this case, he may be letting the latter quality do some of Brian Cashman’s work for him. If that is true, then he’d better hope that potential partners don’t look too closely, as this spring Cabrera has batted .250/.341/.361. It’s more of the same-old, same-old, a movie we’ve seen before.

Post-script: today’s game in Fort Myers, Fla., wrapped up as I tossed these words onto the page. Brett Gardner went 1-for-3 with a stolen base. Cabrera did not play.

ONE FELLOW WHO DID PLAY
Austin Jackson. He hit his second home run of the spring and is now batting .303. Jackson has played consistently well this exhibition season, but I’ve been reluctant to say anything about it because generally he’s been coming into games late and doing his damage against roster fodder. That said, something is better than nothing, and you would have to think that he’s positioned himself to get an early jump on a Major League career should any injuries befall the Major League outfield cadre. That’s a fantastic development for the Yankees as — here’s one cliché that is completely true — you can never have too much depth.

NO ONE EVER LEARNS ANYTHING
I don’t like to single out other writers in this space so I’m going to be oblique here, but there was a piece published today that praised Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins for accepting a change in batting order position from leadoff to third, while castigating Jose Reyes of the Mets for reacting with less enthusiasm to a similar proposal from his manager. There’s a very simple problem with this line of thinking: Ramirez isn’t necessarily right and Reyes is definitely not wrong. The difference between the most optimal, second-most optimal, and eight-most optimal batting order in terms of generating offense is very, very small. To conceive of batting orders in this way is an act of ignorance and naivety. The batting order is more accurately viewed as a mechanism through which the manager distributes playing time. The leadoff hitter will play (come to bat) more than any other player on the team. The No. 2 hitter will have approximately 20 fewer turns than the leadoff hitter. The No. 3 hitter will have 20 fewer turns than the No. 2 hitter, and so on down the order.

Take last year’s Yankees team as an example. The leadoff spot came to the plate 762 times. The second place in the order batted 14 fewer times. The third spot batted 32 fewer times. If we drop down to number nine, we see a gap of 140 plate appearances from first in the order to last. Jerry Manuel of the Mets was proposing that one of his worst hitters, Luis Castillo, bat 40 or so more times this year than Reyes, one of his best hitters. Fredi Gonzalez is proposing a similar reduction in Ramirez’s playing time. Whatever the small effect of batting order changes, there is no way to justify voluntarily giving up the equivalent of eight to ten games worth of times at bat for one of your best hitters.

These days it is rare that a piece by a fellow toiler in these fields seems so wrongheaded that I am obliged to write about it, but this one got to me, being an excuse to take a cheap shot at Jose Reyes over an idiotic suggestion by his manager.

THE PLACE WHERE MY FEET ARE
None too soon for my somewhat fragile constitution, the book tour comes to a close next week with two appearances. First, Jay Jaffe and I will be in Philadelphia on Tuesday the 24th at 5 p.m., at the Penn Bookstore at the University of Pennsylvania (3601 Walnut Street, Philadelphia). Second, Jay, Cliff Corcoran, and I will be at the Rutgers University bookstore (Ferren Mall, One Penn Plaza, New Brunswick, N.J.) on Thursday the 26th beginning at 6 p.m. On both occasions we’ll be talking baseball in any of its multifarious forms. I am very much looking forward to seeing you. 

More on the center field merry-go-round

damon_250_010809.jpgJon Heyman of SI.com had an interesting tidbit in a recent posting about the Yankees shopping Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady:

Johnny Damon isn’t in the trade mix, as the Yankees need him to be their leadoff hitter and part of a center field rotation. The other in-house candidates for center field are Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner.

That’s interesting, though not in the basic meaning of it — even though Damon is in the last year of his contract and is coming off something like a career season, it seemed unlikely the Yankees would try to move him, given the two roles he plays on the team, leadoff hitter, as Heyman mentions, as well as defensively overqualified left fielder. Many observers tend to focus on Damon’s poor arm, but his speed makes for a corner outfielder who can cover an unusual amount of ground.

Now, if you think about it, the most potent offensive outfield the Yankees could field next year would be Nady in left, Damon in center, and Swisher in right, rather than the presumed alternative, Damon in left, some combination of Gardner and Cabrera in center, and Xavier Nady in right — and Swisher playing the Ghost of Christmas Past, or Hamlet’s Father, or something. The problem with doing that, beyond the misuse of Swisher, is that at Damon’s current stage of the lifecycle, he’s better off not being overtaxed. Further, while his speed still does wonders in left, it’s not quite as spectacular in center — Damon had already slid off his peak the position before the Yankees moved him.

That said, being part of a center field rotation, as per Heyman above, makes all kinds of sense in that it gives the Yankees a great deal more flexibility in being able to waltz other players in and out of the corners. The more positions a star can play without compromising the defense, the better off the team is, because the club begins to close off openings for the replacement-level players that are so damaging to the winning effort. Similarly, Joe Girardi needn’t be married to any one center fielder.

There is yet another hand, which is that the Yankees might want to get married to a center fielder. Damon is in the last year of his contract, and as good as he was at 34 and may be at 35, asking him to keep it up at 36 and 37 will likely be pushing it. Given that the class of free agent center fielders next winter is going to be no fun, the Yankees will be in much better shape going into 2010 if they have the next center fielder lined up now. That could mean getting Gardner established, finding some way to electrify Melky, or even giving Austin Jackson a shot in the second half of the season, should his work at Scranton demand such an audition. Obviously the needs of 2010 have to be balanced against the goal of winning in 2009, with any luck the two goals will be mutually compatible.

One supposes the Yankees will need another leadoff man after 2009 as well. Traditional images would suggest that Gardner is the man, but Gardner may never have enough sock to justify taking up so many plate appearances, regardless of how many bases he steals. The Yankees will need to remember that your leadoff hitter need not match the picture of the singles-hitting speedster. That way lies madness. That way lies Juan Pierre. Remember, Wade Boggs was a great leadoff hitter, and he almost never stole a base. It’s about how often you’re on, not about how fast you can run. In an era of home run hitting, the rest takes care of itself.

SO LET’S TAKE THIS TOPIC ON THE AIR
Later today (6:30 EST) I’ll be appearing from the Bunker on the Yes Network’s Hot Stove show. As usual, I’ll be asked to summarize what we’ve been discussing this week. Let’s try a simple vote, which I’ll relay to the fellers on the air: who should be the starting center fielder in 2009? Damon? Gardner? Cabrera? A rotation split roughly in equal thirds? Or a write-in candidate of your choice? Jim Edmonds is still out there, and he murdered the ball for the Cubs last year. He’d be a heck of a platoon player in center. Argue it out in the comments section below, and I’ll tally up your responses while waiting for smilin’ Bob Lorenz to cast his dancing spell my way.