ANOTHER ANTICIPATED REUNION THWARTED
Miguel Cairo will not be on the Phillies roster for the World Series. I’m sure this will be a relief to John Sterling, who will now not have a conflict of interest.
IN RESPONSE TO A SWISHER-BASHER IN THE COMMENTS
How can Nick Swisher be a better player than Bobby Abreu? I’ll make this simple for you.
? Swisher hit 35 doubles, Abreu 29.
? Swisher hit 29 home runs, Abreu hit 15.
? Abreu took 94 walks, Swisher took 97, in fewer plate appearances.
? Swisher was dangerous from both sides of the plate, whereas Abreu wilted against left-handers.
? Abreu has the advantage on Swisher in two categories: He had 22 net stolen bases to Swisher’s none (Swisher also had no caught stealing) and he hit more singles. Abreu had 65 more at-bats than Swisher. If you even out the playing time, figuring that Swisher would have continued on roughly the same pace, then Swisher would have hit 40 doubles (+11) and 33 home runs (+18). Abreu would have maintained his lead in singles, 118 to 65. That’s a big gap, but it comes to an advantage of 53 total bases, whereas Swisher is up 94, giving him a net advantage of 41 total bases.
? Because extra-base hits generate more runs than singles (I’m assuming that you know how a home run works), this works out to a small advantage for Swisher. If you look at a basic stat like runs created per game, Swisher created 6.5, Abreu 6.3. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference but:
? Swisher is an average defensive outfielder, whereas Abreu splashes around out there like a toddler in a kiddie pool. Since defensive plays not made lead to runs, deduct several from Swisher’s total. At that point, Swisher’s advantage is no longer so small.
PS: Regarding Melky Cabrera vs. left-handed pitching: Yes, he has gone 6-for-14, all singles, against southpaws this postseason. However, for the full season he hit .268/.343/.420 against them. These were breakthrough results, though the power portion was inflated by an early surge. From the halfway point on, he hit .265/.337/.361, albeit in a small sample. Given that his career rates against lefties is .255/.325/.355, the latter number seems more likely to replicate itself in the future than the former, and has more predictive power than a 14 at-bat .420 streak, because Ted Williams is dead, by which I mean that no player is likely to carry that kind of performance forward for any real length of time.
WORLD SERIES HEAD-TO-HEADS PART II
While writing Part I, I was so caught up in getting past the obvious A-Rod/Pedro Feliz match-up at third that I never typed the words, “EDGE: YANKEES.” If it hadn’t been obvious before, well, now the suspense is over.
CARLOS RUIZ (15.6 VORP, 11th among catchers) vs. JORGE POSADA (35.7, 3rd)
Ruiz is a career .296/.406/.432 hitter in 26 postseason games, which is kind of amazing when you consider that he’s only a .246/.337/.379 hitter in the regular season and that he also went 1-for-14 in the 2008 NLDS. If you’re looking for Jeff Mathis II, here he is, with the same position and everything. Defensively, Ruiz is a good thrower, not a great one. He and Posada threw out about the same percentage of baserunners this year. He’s much better than Posada at corralling balls in the dirt, but then everyone is. The thing to remember about Posada is that as good as he is in the regular season, he seems to be play a bit tight in October. He’s played in 25 postseason series (a “wow” number all by itself) and he’s had good series and bad but overall has hit only .238/.353/.388. He keeps up his selectivity against good pitching, which is nice, but the rest of his came suffers. EDGE: YANKEES, but you can see how it could go the other way.
RAUL IBANEZ (38.5, 6th) vs. JOHNNY DAMON (39.3, 4th)
Ibanez was more productive than Damon on a per-game basis but played less due to injury… Ibanez’s season breaks down into two parts, pre- and post-DL stint for a strained groin. At the moment he went down, he was having the season of his career at .312/.371/.656. A month on the shelf cooled him off considerably, and he hit .232/.323/.448 the rest of the way. His postseason has been a mixed bag.
The difference in Ibanez’s production this year was that while he was the same hitter he always has been against right-handers, but he killed lefties, knocking 13 home runs in just 144 at-bats. His career rates against them stand at .269/.326/.434, which isn’t of the same level but does give him more proficiency in lefty-on-lefty battles than your typical southpaw hitter.
Damon slumped in September and disappeared in the first round of the playoffs before coming back strong against the Angels. He too isn’t too damaged by seeing a left-handed pitcher, although most of his power disappears. The same thing happens when you take him out of the new Yankee Stadium. Ibanez will spend some time at DH in this series, including Game 1. Ben Francisco should be a defensive upgrade. Slight EDGE: Phillies.
SHANE VICTORINO (37.7, 5th) vs. MELKY CABRERA (17.1, 22nd)
A rare two-time Rule 5 draftee, it took some time for Victorino to find his place in the Majors. He’s in the prime of his career right now, and he’s just good enough to start — whenever he slips a little he’s going to be no fun anymore. He does most of his hitting in Philadelphia. A switch-hitter, he’s more powerful from the right side, which means turning him around is not the greatest idea. Cabrera struggled in the first round, then hit well against the Angels, though like all Yankees a few more hits with runners on would have made it a faster and more painless series than it was. Defensively, this matchup is a push. Offensively and on the bases, Victorino is significantly better, and he’s been a postseason monster in other series, including both rounds this year. EDGE: Phillies.
JAYSON WERTH (42.8, 3rd) vs. NICK SWISHER (30.9, 10th)
Philadelphia’s big weapon against CC Sabathia, Werth crushes lefties, batting .302/.436/.644 against them this year and .294/.391/.570 for his career. He strikes out quite a bit, but is patient, powerful, and runs the bases as well as any non-burner in the game. He also excels defensively. It has been an unusual career for the former first-round pick, for it took a change of position and several changes of organization for Werth to find himself. He made his first All-Star team this year, at age 30. We’ve already talked too much about Swisher lately, but the Yankees can be competitive here if he can get out of his own head. Even if he does, this is an EDGE: PHILLIES.
BENCH AND DH
In his handful of interleague games, Charlie Manuel used the DH spot to get one of his weaker defensive players, either Ryan Howard or Raul Ibanez, off the field. Ibanez is nursing an injury (torn abdominal muscle), so he will DH in Game 1 with midseason acquisition Ben Francisco (open your golden gates) patrolling left field. Francisco is one of those tediously decent role players. Starting he would mediocre you to death, but in spots he can be helpful keeping his position above replacement level. He had a reverse split against lefties this year, hitting only .247/.351/.392, but that might have been a one-time thing. Phillies pinch-hitters hit only .186 but did hit 9 home runs in 237 at-bats. Matt Stairs, 41, had a rough year but remains very selective and is still a threat to hit the ball a long way now and again, with f
ive home runs in 62 pinch-hit at-bats. Lefty hitter Greg Dobbs, who used to have a share of the third base job, was strictly bench material this year and his game suffered for it. As a pinch-hitter he was only 9-for-54.
Hideki Matsui gives the Yankees an edge when there is a DH and a strong weapon on the bench when there isn’t. Brett Gardner gives the Yankees a speedy option the Phillies don’t have, and Jerry Hairston won’t kill you if he has to take an at-bat or two. EDGE: YANKEES.
Starters and bullpens, managers, and my prediction, all before curtain time tonight.
LIVE ROUNDTABLE TONIGHT
I’ll once again be participating in the a live roundtable with my Baseball Prospectus colleagues during Game 1. As always, everyone is welcome. If you want to hang out at game time, or just submit a question early X marks the spot.
RED SOX REDUX
The alliterative phrase “possible playoff preview” is overused, but here we have one of those series that could be exactly that. If the current seeding holds through the end of the season, the Yankees would face Detroit in the first round and, if they survive that test, see the winner of a Red Sox/Angels match-up in the second round.
Facing either opponent emphasizes the importance of maintaining the division lead and home field advantage, because the Red Sox are a .500 club on the road to date, and despite the recent successful action in Anaheim, the Yankees want to see as little of California as possible. Beating the Tigers only to find out one has to play up to four games in Anaheim might be the only time in sports history that the line, “I’m going to Disneyland!” would signify a negative.
Derek Jeter: I’m going to Disneyland! Aw, [expletive, expletive, expletive]!”
Thus, this series does matter in a real way, beyond the usual Red Sox-Yankees hoopla. There are also three pitchers undergoing key tests: Joba Chamberlain gets yet another chance to lower his post-Rules ERA from 8.50, and against a pitcher, Jon Lester, who has been almost unhittable since getting off to a rough beginning to the season, so there’s not a lot of margin for error. On May 26, Lester was 3-5 with an ERA of 6.07. He’s made 20 starts since then, going 11-2 with an ERA of 2.13. I hope that you readers won’t fault me too much when I say that I root for Lester as a fellow cancer survivor in spite of the uniform he wears. Some things transcend petty rivalry. I don’t mind if the Yankees beat him, of course, but I’d rather it was by a 2-1 score than a 15-1 score. In any case, much as with Joba’s most recent start in Seattle, the Yankees stand a good chance of being lulled to sleep if Joba allows the Sox to score an early touchdown.
On Saturday, CC Sabathia gets a chance to continue his recent dominance against a resurgent Daisuke Matsuzaka, which is really just a game of minimal expectations: You don’t have to win, but don’t pitch so badly that people start to wonder if you’re hurt, or have turned into Joe Cowley or something. On Sunday, Andy Pettitte will get a chance to put his shoulder fatigue further behind him, drawing Paul Byrd as his opponent, Byrd being Boston’s placeholder for a guy named Hypothetical Better Starter that We Don’t Have.
In short, it’s a weekend of confidence testing, of pulling back from a 3-3 road trip. The playoffs are assured and even the shape of the playoffs as far as the Yankees goes seems largely locked into place, so the key thing here is to not fall apart. That doesn’t seem like very much to add.
Lester on the hill means Melky Cabrera in the lineup. Last year at Triple-A, Brett Gardner batted .324/.407/.495 against southpaws. This year in the Majors he’s hit .302/.393/.415 against them. Cabrera has hit .261/.335/.418 against them, and those rates have slid in the second half — whereas Cabrera hit .267/.345/.480 against lefties through mid-July, since then he’s hit only .256/.326/.359 against them, which is actually a pathetically poor number for a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching.
This year, all right-handed hitters in the Majors are batting .268/.341/.431 against lefties. All right-handers have a built-in ability to hit left-handers, but not Cabrera. His career averages against southpaws stand at .254/.323/.354, and as with so much about his post-April work, his final numbers are going to be reflective of what he’s done in the rest of his career rather than what he did earlier this year. Joe Girardi really needs to forget about what he thinks he saw this spring and move on with things.
I note Baseball Think Factory:
The blue shirt read “New York No. 52” on the front and “Sabathia” for the New York Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia, on the back.
” I thought to myself ‘Is he serious or is he kidding,'” said Nate, 9, a student in Peter Addabbo’s fourth-grade class. “But he had this look like he wasn’t kidding at all.”
Nate complied, and said he was later told to wear it that way until dismissal. At lunch, Nate said the fifth-graders made fun of him because he wearing his shirt inside out.
“It was such a horrible day.” Nate said. “I don’t ever want anything like to happen again.”
Nate said he felt he was treated unfairly.
“Just because my teacher doesn’t like the Yankees I should still have the right to wear a Yankees shirt,” Nate said Thursday after school. The teacher has Boston Red Sox paraphernalia all over the classroom on display, he said.
I have long felt that one of the problems with the educational experience in our country is that school is a place where they teach you about your rights and then fail to honor them. As an aspiring columnist in high school, I simultaneously learned about first amendment rights and was subject to prior restraint and press censorship because the administration didn’t like my choice of topics.
Apparently, now you can also be bullied because the teacher doesn’t like your choice of teams. Had the kid been wearing an Obama T-Shirt, or for that matter a Richard Nixon T-shirt (a friend actually did wear one in high school, albeit as a kind of ironic statement), the violation of his rights would have been much more obvious and probably wouldn’t have been contemplated. Instead, the kid, a fourth-grader, all of nine years old, was singled out in a possibly traumatic way. The petty tyranny of some teachers over children is astounding to behold. They indulge in arbitrary behaviors that they would never, ever have the guts to pull with an adult.
Longtime readers know that I am no fan of the teaching profession. As time goes on and my own children get further into the school system, and I read of matters like this one, I see little to change my mind. This incident was wholly inappropriate and the teacher should be disciplined — and although this is a Yankees-centric feature, I would say that even if the roles were reversed, and an educator who was a Yankees fan told some helpless child to reverse his Kevin Youkilis T.
Since he’s such a brave Red Sox fan, his punishment should be to stand outside of Gate 4 of Yankee Stadium this weekend and ask everyone coming in to reverse their T-shirts. I’d like to see the reaction of people old enough to answer back. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.
Ever go to a Broadway play to see a famous actor in a part, only to have the guy not show up? You’ve dropped some serious dough on Brad Pitt as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” (work with me here). As you’re sitting in your seat waiting for the lights to go down, a little slip of paper flutters out of your Playbill. It says, “For tonight’s performance, the part of Willy Loman, normally played by Brad Pitt, will be played by Ethel Birnbaum.” You are, at the very least, nonplussed.
Wednesday’s game had the feeling of an Ethel Birnbaum performance. For reasons of necessity, Joe Girardi started only about half of his normal lineup. There was no Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher, and once the game was turned over to the bullpen — perhaps a bit hastily — there was no Phil Hughes. That the Yankees won in spite of these sacrifices is one of those “any given day” hand-outs that sports, and that Flying Dutchman of a pitcher A.J. Burnett, can grant.
I am reminded of an occasion during Casey Stengel’s Minor League managerial career when, desperate for a starter, he called on a pitcher lacking the stuff to break the proverbial pane of glass, and won. “Casey,” said the opposing manager, “I think you’re underestimating this league.” Girardi wasn’t guilty of that; he had his reasons, but the effect was the same. You wouldn’t want to try this again unless you had to, especially not against the Angels.
DEAR JOE GIRARDI
Can we please have more Brett Gardner? By this I am not asking that he make even more appearances as a pinch-runner or defensive substitute, but that he be given more starting assignments now and into the playoffs. He’s not dramatically more productive than Melky Cabrera is, but as we saw on Tuesday in Anaheim, his style of play can be a welcome change of pace from the usual Earl Weaver-style approach employed by the Yankees.
Now, I’m the last one to ever criticize Weaver-style on-base ‘n’ bash baseball, because I believe it is the most effective form of offense there is. You could almost say I’m religious about it, Joe. Yet, even Earl employed his base-stealers, players like Paul Blair, Don Buford, Al Bumbry and Don Baylor, who in his younger, more svelte period swiped 30 bases a year for Team Baltimore. Even Reggie Jackson swiped 28 bags his one year in the Crab Kingdom, a career high. Earl’s 1973 team even led the league, hard as that is to believe.
See, it wasn’t that Earl totally disdained the stolen base. He saw it as a tactical weapon, one to be used sparingly rather than fetishized. And if the base-stealer in question does some other things, like takes the odd walk and plays solid defense, well, Earl had his Mark Belanger, after all. Gardner is no Belanger, Joe. My point is our particular offensive cult does permit this kind of messing around with speed guys; as long as two guys are on when the home run hitters come up, we’re okay. Gardner would seem to provide your best option for getting that out of your center fielder.
As for the power you would be giving up, there’s not a whole lot there on Cabrera’s part, and its loss should be offset by Gardner’s larger contribution on defense, on the bases, and of course from his reaching base more often. Cabrera is a groundball hitter, and his current 12 home runs seems to be around the upper limit of his power. Sure, he gets into stretches where he gets a little more loft on the ball, resulting in his bunching four of his home runs into the month of April, but outside of those hot streaks the power production comes down to one or two home runs a month.
That’s not a lot to sacrifice given what’s being gained. And here’s another bonus: both Gardner and Cabrera hit a ton of ground balls, but the latter’s speed is unexceptional, resulting in a high percentage of double plays. The Major League average hitter (the number is almost the same in both leagues) hits into a double play in about 11 percent of his chances. Cabrera hits into one 14 percent of the time. Gardner, with his speed, hits into one only seven percent of the time. Over the course of a full season this is a gain of many outs. This is why, despite the gap in home runs, Gardner is creating 5.5 runs per 27 outs, while Cabrera trails at 4.7. Over a full season, this would work out to at least one added win, and that’s without considering defense. Speaking of which, most metrics agree that Gardner is the rangier fielder. I would say that most naked eyes agree as well, but I can only speak for myself, and being down one eye, I should probably leave that assessment to others not part of the Greater New Jersey Order of Cyclopians.
I understand why you’ve been reluctant to start Gardner of late; he had just come off the disabled list, and maybe his thumb isn’t up to the daily pounding. Cabrera would also seem to have “won” the job while Gardner was gone, but in truth, his recent production has been nothing special. He’s hit .255/.318/.382 in the second half, .243/.299/.361 in August-September. Cabrera is also getting to the point in his career where he’s going to cost the Yankees some significant dollars (he’s in his arbitration years), and given that the budget has proved to be only semi-infinite it would probably be a good idea to get Gardner established so the front office knows the full extent of its flexibility. Perhaps a Gardner/Austin Jackson combination next year will be just as good as a Gardner/Cabrera combination. In that case: voila, instant trade bait! Instant payroll reduction! This sounds like the best of all worlds to me.
Thank you for giving this matter your full attention.
Very Truly Yours,
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: PRETTY MUCH NONE (OR ONE)
…Although “Waiting for Melky Cabrera’s Next Hot Streak” would have made for a very good Johnny Cash song, something along the lines of “Big River”:
Now, I taught the weeping willow how to cry
And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky
And I’m still waiting for Melky to start hitting again, Big River
Or I’m gonna sit right here until I die
This is hardly worth a complaint or cavil; with the Yankees having just swept the White Sox, there’s little to complain about. Well, we could always spend more time first-guessing the Joba Rules 3.0, or whatever version Joe Girardi is up to now. The experiment is fascinating in the completely blind way it is being conducted; there is no hope of ever knowing if the Yankees are helping or just sort of messing around. If Joba doesn’t get hurt, it isn’t necessarily because of anything the Yankees did or did not do, and the same thing is true if he does get hurt. Being careful to avoid too large a year-over-year increase in innings pitched seems correct both from an intuitive and anecdotal perspective, but in the final analysis, the only foolproof way to avoid pitching injuries is not pitching.
Simultaneously, if the Joba Rules are in conflict with the goal of developing Chamberlain into a consistently successful Major League pitcher, then it isn’t clear what the Yankees are accomplishing. To paraphrase a tragic Vietnam-era concoction, what if the only way to save the pitcher is to destroy him? Yet another thing we don’t know is if Joba’s recent stretch of weak pitching is due to the rules or just coincidental with their implementation. The righty made 11 starts with a 3.31 ERA in June and July. In August, the month all the messing around really took hold, his ERA was 8.22. If he’s miserable in the playoffs, if he’s miserable next year, then it will be difficult to argue that this was a goal worth pursuing, or that it was pursued correctly.
There is another imperative, one which is in conflict with the Joba Rules, and that is winning ballgames and championships. Had the Yankees been in a tighter race in the middle of this month, they would have faced a fascinating choice between holding to their principles and trying to get back to the postseason. Fortunately for them, and perhaps for Joba, we will never know what would have happened in that situation.
20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. ORIOLES
W-L RS/G RA/G AVG OBP SLG AB/HR SB CS HR/9 BB/9 K/9
Yankees 14-6 6.3 4.5 .298 .357 .513 20 9 2 1.2 2.9 8.6
Orioles 8-12 4.9 5.2 .281 .343 .465 31 11 5 1.3 3.3 5.9
Another August comes to a close, another series against an Orioles team that has packed it in for the year. The Orioles franchise goes back to the founding of the American League in 1901, when it came into existence as the St. Louis Browns. The Browns, as you can probably infer from the fact that they now play in Baltimore, were generally not too successful, their two high points being a terrific but losing race with the Yankees in 1922 and a random pennant in 1944. Much of the rest of the time, including the early Baltimore period, the club was hopeless, twice going more than 10 years without even putting up a .500 record. The first stretch, from 1930-1941, lasted 12 seasons. The second, from 1946-1956, lasted 11. When this season ends, the club will have equaled the former futile run, having not posted a winning record since 1997.
The Yankees have good timing in this series, in that they won’t see the two top pitching prospects the Orioles now have up, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz. Instead, they get the vet Jeremy Guthrie (hot lately, with consecutive seven inning/one run starts), the rookie David Hernandez, who they have handled before — he remains wild and prone to the home run — and another rookie, Jason Berken, who they battered back in July. This is not something to be boasted of, because pretty much everyone else who has seen Berken has basted him. He has pitched a little better of late, going 10.2 innings and allowing five runs in his last two starts.
The hottest hitter the O’s have won’t play against Andy Pettitte. Outfielder Felix Pie has been a bust in both Chicago and Baltimore, but the 24-year-old got a chance to play with Adam Jones nursing injuries and he made the most of it, batting .333/.394/.651 in August. This aside, the sights to see remain the same: veteran keystoner Brian Roberts, the three young outfielders, and rookie catcher Matt Wieters. If it sounds like I’m not too excited by this series, it’s because there isn’t much reason to be. The Orioles hit at about the same level of productivity as the White Sox, but their pitching is far worse. Given how the Yankees just handled the White Sox, there isn’t much suspense here. Or, at least, there shouldn’t be.
WAITING ON SEPTEMBER CALL-UPS
The Yankees still haven’t said who is coming, nor have they designated all of their Arizona Fall League attendees, so the immediate future of Yankees prospect-dom remains murky. One would hope that Austin Jackson is coming. As miserable as he has been lately (.236/.281/.299 since the break and largely pointless since May), the Yankees still need to get a look at him in big league situations to see what they have. There is some interesting slack in his numbers, including a homerless .302/.346/.414 against left-handed pitching, an oddity for a right-handed hitter. This is not something you would expect to continue, unless Jackson has become such a pronounced ground ball hitter this year that his power is going to stagnate from now on. With a big lead, Brett Gardner hurt, and Cabrera endlessly slumping (.212/.225/.333 in August, .239/.308/.380 since May), veterans in need of rest, and all the leverage in the world on Johnny Damon’s side in upcoming free agent negotiations, giving Jackson a cup of coffee in spite of his weak performance would seem the correct thing to do.
The fact that the game probably won’t mean much to the outcome of the season notwithstanding, Tuesday night’s ballgame had to be one of the most frustrating losses of the year for the Yankees. They got out to a big lead, but Joba Chamberlain was unable to shut down an enemy offense that has had a hard time getting on base at a .300 rate on the road. At this point, it’s impossible to tell if Chamberlain is just lost or the Yankees have lost him, playing so many games with his schedule in the interest of protecting him that they’ve actually played head games with their own pitcher, sabotaging him mentally.
Cut to the bottom of the ninth. Ron Washington decided to finish up with Jason Grilli, never a good idea against a top offense. Predictably, the Yankees started putting runners on base with a Johnny Damon single and a Mark Teixeira walk. Washington then reached for closer Frank Francisco, the Santa Domingo Treat, who couldn’t throw a strike, or at least not a good one. A-Rod walked. Hideki Matsui singled. The much-maligned Jorge Posada singled. Robinson Cano singled. What had been a 10-5 game was unexpectedly 10-9, men on first and second with none out and Nick Swisher at the plate.
Joe Girardi called for a bunt. You can first-guess the play, and I did, but it’s not a clear-cut decision. After last night, Swisher is a .200/.376/.313 hitter at home, and although there isn’t any particular reason that Yankee Stadium II should be such an impediment to him, it isn’t unreasonable at this point for Girardi to assume that Swisher isn’t likely to get a big hit in that spot. That said, Girardi could also have tried to give Swisher a mental boost by showing confidence in him — there’s nothing stopping Swisher from hitting at home except Swisher. Alternatively, Girardi could have also looked at the situation — pitcher falling apart, a batter at the plate who, even if he fails to hit, is still taking a ton of walks, and let Swisher try to walk to reload the bases. The double-play threat was relatively weak — the league double play rate is about 11 percent. Swisher, with all his fly balls and strikeouts, is a little better than average in this regard, hitting into a double play in only 10 percent of his chances.
An additional negative to calling for the bunt derives from goals: are the Yankees trying to tie the game or win it? Conventional wisdom says the former, but with two runners on, none out, and a pitcher in mid-meltdown, they had a good chance to do both. Even if Swisher had succeeded in getting his bunt down, Girardi was falling into the trap that Earl Weaver warned against: if you play for only one run, you’ll only get one run. The Yankees were in a position to win, not tie, the game. There was a very good chance that Swisher would have walked, and although Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter are double play threats, even a double play has a good chance of scoring the tying run with the bases loaded and none out. In addition, as bad as Swisher has been, the Yankees would have still had to get through Cabrera to survive the inning, and unlike Swisher, Cabrera doesn’t have the redeeming virtue of selectivity.
You know how it worked out. It easily could have gone the other way; if Swisher executed on the bunt, perhaps the game would have gone to extra innings, and the Yankees, with Phil Hughes, Mo Rivera, and the rest, not to mention the last turn at bat, still would have had a very good chance of winning. Still, with Chamberlain’s erratic performance, perhaps provoked by the Yankees’ erratic handling of him, the Rangers trying to give the game away twice, the bunt call by Girardi, and Swisher’s failure to execute, this easily qualifies as the most annoying loss the Yankees have suffered in a long time. As I said above, the good news is that in the long run it shouldn’t mean very much at all.
Five shopping days remain until rosters are frozen for the postseason, which means Brian Cashman can still get his trading shoes on and make a deal. I realize I’ve had a Magellanic range of opinions on Cabrera, but given his current slump (.236/.306/.380 from June 1 on, .198/.239/.326 in August) as well as Brett Gardner’s limitations and his uncertain status as he returns from a thumb injury, and the Yankees might benefit from revisiting an offseason trade target, Mike Cameron of the Brewers.
There are four factors which should combine to make Cameron a relatively cheap acquisition should Doug Melvin be willing to deal: the Brewers have next to no chance of getting to the postseason; Cameron is 36; Cameron is making $10 million; Cameron’s contract is up. The old man has had a relatively good season at .259/.362/.456, and his defensive work is still strong. He’s also played on four postseason teams (though his October work has been miserable). Offense isn’t the Yankees’ problem, but every little bit helps when your goal is to win a World Series, and it’s difficult to image the Brewers would hold out for a top prospect…
…Unless they somehow have delusions that getting nothing is better than getting something, which Melvin suggests is the case, saying, “I’ve gotten calls, but they don’t want to give much up at this time of year … They’ll give you cash, but they don’t want to give me a player … I can’t imagine that a team would give up a good player for one month, unless there is a key injury. I don’t anticipate anything.”
Cameron would likely be a Type B free agent, meaning that if the Brewers offered him arbitration (a big if) and he signed elsewhere, they would receive a sandwich pick after the first round. You’d think a functional Minor League arm would be more valuable than the 40-somethingth pick of the draft, but there’s no way of knowing. And, of course, if the Brewers offer arbitration and Cameron takes it, they’re in big trouble — it’s a weak year for center fielders, and Cameron’s numbers are going to look pretty good come negotiation time.
TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
THE POSADA DISCONTENTS III
Thanks Steven, but you fail to mention besides Jorge’s injury last year that the Yankees did not have CC, A.J., and others on the pitching staff. Furthermore, you also fail to mention that Jorge was not the reason the Yankees were World Champions in the ’90s…it was their pitching staff! Pitching is the name of the game! Yogi Berra, and a host of other top notch catchers will tell you the same thing.
Let’s try this: For all their weaknesses last year, the Yankees finished six games behind the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. Depending on whose definition of replacement level you use, in 2006-2007, Posada was worth between six and eight wins above replacement. Last year, Jose Molina was worth somewhere between a fraction of a win and two wins above replacement, almost all of the value in defense, as Molina was among the 20 worst hitters in baseball to have any kind of playing time last year.
The Yankees got less than one win out of Posada last year. Pretend Posada had been in the lineup having his typical season. The Yankees pick up four to six wins, which means that anywhere between 75 and 100 percent of their deficit disappears. Once you get down to a gap of one or two games. The Yankees had too many problems to overcome the Rays, but Posada’s inj
ury was the one thing that kept them for qualifying for the postseason in spite of everything else that went wrong.
Ever see the old baseball musical “Damn Yankees”? It has a song about denigrating Posada in it. It’s called, “A Man Doesn’t Know What He Has Until He Loses It.” Then again, the Yankees lost Posada last year and some people still don’t know.
With the amateur draft signing deadline having just passed, I want to spend a couple of entries here looking at the Yankees’ farm system with an eye towards a very specific problem, the absence of solid outfield prospects. The Yankees don’t have them and haven’t developed one in a very long time. While Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner have their uses, the last outfielder to emerge from the farm system and have anything like a substantial, above-average career with the Yankees was Bernie Williams.
This puts immense pressure on them to retain an aging Johnny Damon this offseason whether giving him another contract is a good idea or not. This is the same pressure that led to the decision to sign Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright a few winters ago when the farm system could not render up quality pitchers. That problem has been treated to a large extent, but the absence of quality position players continues to impel the Yankees towards free agent adventurism.
Since the great center fielder/guitarist, numerous outfielders have passed through the system on their way to the Bronx without making a lasting impression. The parade includes Gerald Williams, Shane Spencer, Ricky Ledee, Ruben Rivera, Kevin Thompson, Justin Christian, Kevin Reese, Shelley Duncan, Donzell McDonald and even Mike Vento. The best of the lot were Marcus Thames, who was dealt away to the Rangers for the mortal remains of Ruben Sierra in 2003, and Juan Rivera, a strong hitter with a tendency towards injuries. He too was traded in 2003, to the Expos as part of the package for Javier Vazquez.
What is meant by a “solid” outfield prospect? It’s a young player who might hit even five percent better than the league average at his position. That’s not asking for the moon or Joe DiMaggio. Five percent better than a Major League average left fielder would be .282/.358/.460; for a center fielder it would be .281/.353/.441; for a right fielder, .284/.362/.465. This is asking for a good player, not a great one. Don’t take those numbers too seriously — they’re just broad guideposts for a hypothetical player who might hit for more power or take fewer walks while arriving at roughly the same place. Whatever your definition of “slightly above-average outfield starter,” that is what is being aimed at.
Prior to the season, Baseball America compiled their list of the top 100 prospects in baseball and placed two Yankees position players on it, Austin Jackson (No. 36) and Jesus Montero (No. 38). Considering Yankees prospects exclusively, they ranked the top 30 players in the organization and found only 10 position players worthy of ranking that high. Among these were four outfielders: Jackson, Kelvin DeLeon, Abraham Almonte and Gardner.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus also compiled a top 100 prospects. As with Baseball America, Jackson (No. 46) was the only Yankees outfielder to rank among the elite prospects in the game. Goldstein also compiles rankings of each organizations top 11 prospects, plus honorable mentions. Using those lists, I compiled the top 86 prospective outfielders coming into the season. Just two of the 86, Jackson and DeLeon, belong to the Yankees.
Although Goldstein’s lists of 11 are more restrictive than BA’s top 30, the shorter list ensures that we are examining players who have a chance to start, as opposed to the likely reserves who often fill out BA’s lists for thinner organizations. Almonte may be the 30th-best prospect in the Yankees organization, but given his current offensive profile (“current” because he is quite young and could evolve) his chances of starting for the Yankees or any team is nil.
Thus, 84 of 86 top outfield prospects coming into the season belong to other organizations. The purpose is not to second guess — as you will see, some of the best of these prospects were early first-round picks, and thus unavailable to the Yankees due to the nature of their consistent high finishes, and it would be unfair to criticize them for that — but to ask what priorities and assumptions the Yankees were working off of in the draft, and to see if other teams are doing a better job of finding outfield prospects in the later rounds or on the international talent market, where good scouting and luck play a greater part.
If the Yankees are stumbling into fewer of those “solid” non-star starters than would be expected, be it because of organizational priorities or simply poor choices, we’ll see why as we explore the top 86 and where they were selected in the draft.
First Round (13): Colby Rasmus (2005/HS), Cameron Maybin (2005/HS), Andrew McCutchen (2005/HS), Brian Bogusevic (2005/C), Trevor Crow (2005/C)Travis Snider (2006/HS), Drew Stubbs (2006/C), Tyler Colvin (2006/C), Jason Heyward (2007/HS), Matt LaPorta (2007/C), Ben Revere (2007/HS), Wendell Fairley (2007/HS), Aaron Hicks (2008/HS).
What the Yankees did: These players were selected in the 2005 through 2008 drafts, so we’ll look at what the Yankees did in those drafts. In 2005, the Yankees picked at No. 17 thanks to the Phillies signing away Jon Lieber. Their own pick at No. 29 went to the Marlins because they signed Carl Pavano. By the time the Yankees picked, Maybin (No. 10), McCutchen (No. 11), and Crowe (No. 14) were off the board, as was Jay Bruce (No. 12). The Yankees spent their pick on the miserable high school shortstop C.J. Henry. Subsequently, John Mayberry (No. 19), Jacoby Ellsbury (No. 23), Bogusevic (No. 24), and Rasmus (No. 28) were selected.
In 2006, the Yankees gave up their first-round pick (No. 28) to the Red Sox to sign Damon, but for the second year in a row the Phillies handed them their own pick to sign a Yankee who wouldn’t help them much, Tom Gordon. By the time they picked at No. 21, Drew Stubbs had gone to the Red at No. 8, as had Colvin (No. 13) and Snider (No. 14). Another strong hitter, Chris Marrero, went to the Nationals at No. 15 (he was later shifted to first base). The Yankees selected Ian Kennedy. Two other outfielders went in the first 30 picks, Cody Johnson to the Braves at No. 24 (he appears to have potential in a Steve Balboni kind of way), and Jason Place to the Red Sox at No. 27.
In 2007, the Yankees picked 30th, last in the first round. Jason Heyward, who might be the best hitting prospect in baseball just now, was selected from the planet Krypton at No. 14. Ichiro-type Ben Revere went at No. 28, and the Giants took Fairley at No. 29, setting up the Yankees to shock the nation by selecting Andrew Brackman, the less said of whom the better. We’ll look at who was still on the board in the ’07 supplemental and second round when we get to the supplemental picks.
In the Year of Our Draft 2008, the Yankees picked at No. 28. Naturally, a lot of the interesting guys were gone. Even the Yankees’ own interesting guy was gone because they didn’t sign their pick, pitcher Gerrit Cole. Hicks was the only outfielder selected in the first round. He went to the Twins at No. 14.
These last four drafts have been borderline disastrous for the Yankees insofar as the first round, where the sure things are supposedly to be found. They completely missed on Henry, and only the recklessness of the Phillies allowed them to redeem the pick by taking him in return for Bobby Abreu, but it’s clear that if the Phillies took Henry they would have taken anybody — the move was the Alex Rios salary dump of 2006.
Brackman also appears to be a complete miss, but it’s too early to write him off despite the 6.56 ERA and seven walks per nine innings in the Sally League. The failure to sign Cole got the Yankees
an extra pick in the 2009 draft, but there’s still an empty spot in the organization where a player with one year of experience would have been.
Only Kennedy has rewarded the Yankees’ evaluation of him as a prospect, at least until his blood clot surgery this year. That, at least, is an act of God, not scouting. What rankles is the availability of Rasmus, now a rookie center fielder for the Cardinals, in 2005, not to mention Ellsbury, Matt Garza, and Joey Devine, all first-round selections after the Yankees took Henry. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances, such as Georgia boy Rasmus indicating he would not be happy in the big city, but the same cannot be said of the other players available at that spot.
First Round, Supplemental: Michael Burgess (2007/HS), Kellen Kulbacki (2007/C), Corey Brown (2007/C), Julio Borbon (2007/C), Zach Collier (2008/HS), Jaff Decker (2008/HS).
What the Yankees did: The Yankees didn’t have a supplemental pick in 2007, so they got to watch as Burgess, Kulbacki, Brown, and Borbon (now playing well in the Majors) were selected. In 2008, the Yankees did get a supplemental first-rounder due to the Rockies signing Luis Vizcaino. It was the 14th of the round, two from the bottom, and Collier and Decker had already disappeared by the time they picked. They used the pick on Stanford lefty Jeremy Bleich, now pitching at Double-A Trenton. Note below that a number of quality outfield prospects were available at this point, as several were selected early in the second round.
Second Round: Seth Smith, (2004/C), Nolan Reimold (2005/C), Jon Jay (2006/C), Mike Stanton (2007/HS), Charles Blackmon (2008/C), Cutter Dykstra (2008/HS), Destin Hood (2008/HS), Xavier Avery (2008/HS), Dennis Raben (2008/C), Kenny Wilson (2008/HS), Jay Austin (2008/C).
Now things get interesting, because any of these players were available at the time that the Yankees picked at the end of the first round. In 2005, the Yankees picked at No. 15 in the second round thanks to the White Sox signing Orlando Hernandez (there should probably be an axiom in baseball that says that if the Yankees don’t feel like spending the money to retain their own free agent player, that player is probably not worth having). Their own second round pick (No. 29) went to the Braves due to the ill-considered signing of Jaret Wright. The Orioles took current rookie Reimold two picks ahead of the Yankees, who selected reliever J.B. Cox, now pitching at Trenton.
The Yankees had no second-round pick in 2006 because their pick went to the Braves as compensation for Kyle Farnsworth, which is depressing. Cardinals center field prospect Jay would have been available to them. The Yankees had the last pick of the round in 2007. They made a solid pick in catcher Austin Romine, currently batting .277/.319/.445 for High-A Tampa. The Yankees picked 29th in round two, 2008. They went with Ole Miss righty Scott Bittle, who they elected not to sign. As we will see momentarily, this meant passing on a couple of quality outfield prospects who would be selected in the third round.
We’ll pick up with the third round in our next entry.
YANKEE STADIUM II (III) AND ITS DETRACTORS
In yesterday’s chat, I was asked “What do you think of the new Yankee Stadium? Does the avalanche of home runs to right bother you?” My response: “Not at all. It just is what it is. At worst, it really requires the Yankees to re-embrace their traditional love of left-handed hitters and pitchers, something that had gotten lost with the various shrinkages of the left side of Yankee Stadium over the years.”
As the year has rolled on, I’ve been mystified by the cynical response to the way the new park plays, not least because it has been competitively advantageous for the Yankees. The offense has out-homered the opposition 107-78 in the same number of at-bats, and the pitching staff’s ERA is a third of a run lower at home than on the road. As long as the Yankees keep the park in mind when building the team in the future, it can continue to be so. This year, Yankees opponents have gotten lefties to the plate at Yankee Stadium roughly 850 times, as compared to 1384 tunes for the Yankees. That advantage might be ephemeral — the Yankees won’t always have four switch-hitters and three lefties in the lineup every year — but if they can maintain some semblance of that balance, as well as place renewed emphasis on the drafting a development of left-handed pitchers, and the park should continue to be an asset.
Whatever the Yankees do, I hope that they won’t rush out as soon as the season is over and reconfigure the fences. First, 81 games (plus a few postseason contests) isn’t enough to get an accurate reading on the park. Second, if people talk, let ’em. Whether it’s Coors Field and its altitude or the old Polo Grounds with its shortened foul lines, which resulted in home runs which were criticized as cheap, or even Babe Ruth’s porch at Yankee Stadium I, they’re all legitimate versions of a playing field. The great thing about baseball there are no correct parks or incorrect parks. They just play the way they play. The Yankees have nothing to apologize for.
MATSUI’S MASHING AND THE FUTURE OF EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING
Whenever one of the Yankees’ potentially departing free agents has a big night, usually Johnny Damon but on Thursday night Hideki Matsui, a conversation starts up as to whether the player should be retained. The talk has some validity. The Yankees are not deep in outfield prospects, Austin Jackson’s .301/.362/.413 at Scranton translates to only .266/.330/.385 in the Majors, and he’s been cold for about 10 weeks; because the free agent class is going to be on the weak side, with an emphasis on older players. That limits Brian Cashman’s choices. He can let Damon and Matsui go, figuring that although they’ve done well this year, their negatives — age (Damon will turn 36 in November, Matsui next June) and defensive limitations (Damon has slipped, Matsui’s knees don’t even let him play) — are good enough reason to move on.
In a vacuum, letting the oldsters go would be correct call. However, it also means the menu of alternatives could be a Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera/Nick Swisher outfield and a rotating DH, which would be offensively light, or the above with Jackson mixed in, or the above with a very young Jesus Montero mixed in at DH, or giving too much money and too many years to Matt Holliday or Jermaine Dye or Magglio Ordonez … or hope to trade the entire farm system to the Braves for Jason Heyward, which won’t happen. It is because of scenarios like these that general managers are paid the big bucks.
As always, much pain could have been avoided if the Yankees had been more adept at drafting and development in recent years. The farm system has clearly improved over the last few seasons, but even having said that, it seems that too often there is cause to observe that the development of position players lags far behind that of pitchers. This has been a glaring problem for so long that it’s hard to believe that the Yankees have not spent time identifying the problem (I am not pointing fingers at anyone, but they need to point fingers at someone or someone(s) or some aspects of what they are doing) and doing something to remedy it, which surely would be cheaper than continuing to pay bonuses to players who end up doing little more than filling out the farm system.
Even if those changes are implemented tomorrow, they will take time to pay off for the big team in the Bronx, so this season’s dilemma remains. I wish I had a brilliant suggestion to solve the problem, other than Montero should be allowed into the mix before long if he heals up well — no use wasting a ready bat waiting for a defensive evolution that might never come — but whereas as season’s outset it seemed like there was no scenario in which it would be worthwhile to bring Damon and Matsui back, now one can at least glimpse situations in which retaining one or both on a short-term contract — most likely Damon given Matsui’s utter loss of speed — isn’t more likely to have a worse outcome than any of the other possibilities.
That’s not exactly a strong endorsement, but it’s more than you could have said in April.
Jesus Montero is out for the rest of the year, having broken the middle finger of his left hand on Saturday. If he’s out even the minimum expected, four weeks, that takes him right through the end of the Minor League season.
Before we mourn, let’s review: 48 games at Tampa, batting .356/.406/.583 with 15 doubles and eight home runs in 180 at-bats. Moving up to Trenton, Montero played in 44 games, batting .317/.370/.539 with 10 doubles and nine home runs in 167 at-bats, this despite being utterly fluxed by the big, cold, riverfront Thunder ballpark (try the crab fries!), where he hit just .232/.376/.354 vs. .400/.457/.718 on the road.
Total: .337/.389/.562. Age: 19. Moreno will turn 20 just after Thanksgiving.
The good news is this: Montero didn’t suffer a knee injury. He didn’t fracture a wrist, which could have affected his swing. He’s not out for six months, just six weeks, tops. The Yankees would have some options at that point, including a quick cup of coffee once rosters expand, and could still send the lad out to the Arizona Fall League or for other winter action with an eye towards prepping him for an extended look in next year’s Spring Training camp. Naturally, this assumes an uncomplicated recovery from the injury.
Montero may not be ready to be a big-league catcher, but if his bat is judged to play the Yankees would be mistaken to send him on an indefinite tour of the upper Minor Leagues waiting for his glove to mature. First, it may never be ready. Second, with Jorge Posada signed through 2011 and still playing well, there isn’t any urgency for him to catch. However, there may be a need for a solid bat of his ability by next spring. There should be room on the club for a young player to take some time at designated hitter while perhaps catching the odd game against less speedy opponents. This could not only get Montero’s bat in the lineup, but serve to lower the team payroll in the short term. Montero’s injury is disappointing, but it need not be a disaster.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: the lad’s got good timing. If you could just go back and erase that injury at Texas on May 26, he might have had a perfect year. For more than a month after that he struggled to hit .200, and didn’t get hot again until Brett Gardner got hurt. Through July 22 he was hitting just .220/.278/.320 for the month. He hit a double in his sole at-bat on the 23rd and since then he’s been rolling, going 15-for-35 in 11 games overall, with five doubles, a triple, and two home runs. He’s also thrown in six walks and turndown service, including a mint placed just so on top of your pillow.
This is truly a stunning, heartwarming turn of events. Though only 24 (he’ll turn 25 on the 11th of this month), Cabrera had spent 2006 and 2007 playing every day but failing to show much with the bat. He’d hit a few balls in the gap, knock one out of the park every now and again, but not so often that you could say he had real power. He was only moderately patient, so even hitting .280 he didn’t get on base that much. He was a switch-hitter, but he couldn’t touch a lefty. Then it got worse, as he followed a torrid April, 2008 with a 100-game cold streak that got him sent to the Minors.
Coming into the season, there was no reason to view Cabrera as much more than a versatile outfield reserve, and given his 2008 performance, perhaps not even that. Even after another hot April and a solid May, it seemed likely that a cold snap would ensue. When it did, it was impossible to tell if it was due to the Texas injury or just Cabrera returning to form. It now appears that the injury was at least partially to blame, and whatever Cabrera does for the rest of the season, he’s not heading back to the dark depths of post-April 2008. He’s even hitting left-handers, something he’d never done with any consistency or authority before. That, more than anything else, suggests real change.
If Cabrera maintains his current .292/.355/.463 level of production, the Yankees have a very solid center fielder on their hands. The average Major League center fielder is batting .268/.337/.422. For once, the Yankees were patient with a young player (far more patient than your host, for once) and it seems to have paid off — and they had far less reason to be patient with Cabrera than with a host of predecessors who quickly headed out of town, Drabek, Buhner, et al. Let us hope the lesson sinks in — for everyone.
As I write this Thursday morning, there are just two shopping days left until the non-waiver trading deadline falls and every deal essentially requires the approval of 29 other teams. Several deals dropped on Wednesday, though none had the participation of the Yankees (their sole transaction line was the release of the ungrateful Brett Tomko).
The Phillies picked up Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco (I hear Jeannette McDonald sing, “Ben Francisco, open your golden gates” every time I think of that guy, and it never fails to disturb me) from the Indians, the Tribe picking up several players who could be useful contributors in the near future but almost certainly won’t be stars, with the possible exception of New Jersey native Jason Knapp, a teenaged righty whose fastball reaches atmospheric escape velocity.
The Phillies now get another reliable, top of the order type who can not only help them maintain their current lead but can get them through the playoffs — Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, and Joe Blanton seemed like less than sure bet to get them through Round 1, let alone to the World Series. Lee, Hamels, and Happ seem like a much better bet, and a real threat to an opponent with too left-handed a batting order. The Phillies still have a problem too address, and solving it doesn’t involve blowing their remaining prospects on Roy Halladay, but finding someone who can supplant Brad Lidge at the end of games.
As good as Lidge was last year, the Phillies can’t blow their season on sentimentality. A reliever who is giving up two homers per nine innings pitched isn’t worthy of his job (just ask Edwar Ramirez). I’ve seen some commentary on the deal worrying about how the Phillies are going to accommodate their current rotation plus Rodrigo Lopez and Pedro Martinez. This is much ado about nothing; in the case of the former, the Phillies can thank their various gods that they got some good work out of junk pile pickup, and as for Martinez, his utility is purely theoretical at this point. If he can pitch, perhaps he can add some depth to the bullpen.
The Giants tried to bolster their slim wild card lead by pulling second baseman Freddy Sanchez away from the Pirates. It cost them their No. 2 pitching prospect, righty Tim Alderson. While I am not completely sold on Alderson’s future as an ace (his control is of the finest quality; his stuff isn’t), the Giants might have picked the wrong spot to fix — Sanchez will upgrade their production at second base if he hits at all, but in the grand scheme of things he’s not a big generator of offense (his current .334 on-base percentage is about league average), not even at his batting title best (back in 2006), and he’s just an average glove. The Giants could have tried to live with what Juan Uribe was giving them at second while addressing themselves to left field or even shortstop, where the five-time All-Star Edgar Renteria is having a miserable year. Parenthetically, if Renteria has a couple of decent years left in his bag, he’s going to finish his career with somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 career hits and make for a really annoying Hall of Fame argument.
The Mariners acquired Ian Snell and Jack Wilson from the Pirates for reasons that are sort of hard to figure. They gave up five, count ’em, five players in the deal. Wilson has a superb glove, but while he should give the M’s more offense than they’ve gotten from their shortstops this year (.222/.249/.320, numbers that deserve a double-take and a whispered prayer), he’s only a career .269/.311/.376 hitter himself and the difference won’t be enough to make a real dent in the Mariners’ major problem, which is that the league-average offense is scoring 4.8 runs a game and they average 3.9.
For their trouble, the Pirates pick up quite a bit of depth. They get a futile shortstop placeholder in Ronny Cedeno, but the real haul is 25-year-old Jeff Clement, a former No. 1 pick who still has a lot of offensive potential (his .288/.366/.505 at Tacoma translates to .255/ .329/.462 in the Majors), especially if the Pirates can live with his defense at catcher. The three pitchers the Buccos got in the deal are lower echelon prospects, but when you’re the Pirates, depth is not a bad thing, as you need a lot of pieces to sort through if you’re ever going to build a competitive roster with the kind of budget that their city requires.
Finally, the Reds picked up outfielder Wladamir Balentien from the Mariners, who had designated him for assignment last week. Balentien looked like he might be a solid prospect a over the last couple of years, hitting for real power in the minors, but his plate judgment is so bad he may never be able to be a regular contributor. Still, he’s only 24 and has a career slugging percentage of .526 in the minors. The Reds, who suffer from the worst outfield production in the bigs, have a much better chance of gaining a lasting asset by playing Balentien than they do by giving more playing time to Laynce Nix — or Willy Taveras, though Balentien can’t play center field. Tavaras’ current .240/.279/.290 would qualify as among the bottom five seasons turned in by a regular outfielder in the history of the game were he to carry those rates through to the end.
In his last 20 games, not counting appearances as a defensive substitute, Melky Cabrera has batted .317/.403/.444, numbers which include five doubles, one home run, nine walks, and only one double play hit into. Much like his running mate Robinson Cano, Cabrera’s hot and cold streaks can make him a frustrating player to watch; he’s seemingly at his best or his worst, with little in between. Last year that divide broke down as best in April, worst the rest of the year. At the very least, Cabrera is mixing it up a bit more this season, and you can’t fault his timing — his first hot streak this year came when Brett Gardner struggled out of the gate, the second after Gardner broke his thumb. Perhaps Cabrera is the kind of player who needs to be in fear of his job to play well. After all, had he continued to slump with Gardner on the shelf, Austin Jackson was just a phone call away.
TERROR IN A TINY TOWN
Yesterday, electrical storms rolled through the obscure village in which I lived and disrupted Internet service for a good chunk of the day; I couldn’t even get on line with my phone. I was quite fearful that the Yankees would acquire Babe Ruth in exchange for $100,000 and the mortgage on Fenway Park and I wouldn’t know about it, but Brian Cashman was good enough to hold off on making any moves. I just want to thank him publicly and let him know that I am back on line and he is free to proceed with any acquisitions he would like to make … as long as they don’t involve dealing Jesus Montero.
MO, MO, MO (497 MORE MOS TO GO)
You can’t follow the Yankees without appreciating Mariano Rivera. He’s superhuman and yet human, approachable and professional. No doubt you’ve read a thousand thoughts along the same lines already today, so instead of heaping on more superlatives, let’s look at the actual record in all of its glorious length. Indeed, length is the key. What makes Rivera great is not only his rare dominance with one special pitch, but for just how long he’s maintained his high level of performance. Many closers rocket up the pop charts, but few have anything like the staying power of Rivera. Generate a list of the top 200 single-season performances of the last 55 years by a reliever (I’m using the context-sensitive wins added, or WXRL) and count everyone who appears on the list more than twice and this is what you get, ordered from lowest to highest:
3 Bruce Sutter
3 Eric Gagne
3 John Smoltz
3 Keith Foulke
3 Lee Smith
3 Lindy McDaniel
3 Randy Myers
3 Rollie Fingers
3 Stu Miller
4 Billy Wagner
4 Dan Quisenberry
4 Francisco Rodriguez
4 Joe Nathan
4 Trevor Hoffman
4 Troy Percival
4 Tug McGraw
5 Armando Benitez
5 Goose Gossage
9 Mariano Rivera
This is a fairer reflection of Rivera’s dominance than something more basic like seasons leading the league in saves-Rivera has done that only three times in 15 seasons. It’s not the number of saves that matters, it’s the quality of the performances, and no one has been as good as often as Rivera has. Twenty-four pitchers appear on the list only twice. There is normally a lot of turnover in the closer department, just as there is for all relievers. There is also much variability depending on how pitchers are used by their managers. Rivera has stuck there like no other pitcher in history. Throw in his extraordinary postseason work, his humanity and professionalism, and this is one inner-circle Hall of Famer that no one will be able to second-guess on induction day.
NADY BE GOOD (EVERYONE’S FAVORITE GERSHWIN TUNE)
The future is now, but in order to win the American League pennant, the Yankees will need to fight the future. No doubt few readers pity Brian Cashman, but he’s in the difficult position of needing to win this year while also thinking about how the Yankees win next year and in the years going forward.
While this page never roots for a player to suffer injury and never will, the removal of Nady for the season (if confirmed) helps to clarify the outfield picture for the rest of the season, or at least until the trading deadline. Nady had some value, but on the whole, 30-walk a year players who don’t also hit .330 or slug .500 are to be avoided. Nady is a stopgap-level player. The Yankees needed that kind of help last year, but don’t this year. The Yankees, particularly Joe Girardi, devoted a lot of air to Nady’s contribution in 2008, but it would seem that the first impression was a lasting one, because .268/.320/.474 isn’t memorable by the standards of corner outfielders. There was a reason that Nady played for four teams in four seasons from 2005 to 2008. The Yankees would have found out why at their own peril. The troubling aspect of the affair was that they seemed willing, if not eager, to do so.
Ironically, they might need Nady-style assistance next season. With Nady’s contract up, that might be the end of him as a Yankee, but one could imagine the team signing him to a low-base, make-good contract, because the outfield shelves could be bare this winter. The contracts of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon are up, and the arguments for bring each back are not strong. Matsui’s lack of mobility constricts the Yankees’ roster while his declining bat adds less than the team would should get for paying that price. Given his age, a multi-year contract would also be dangerous even if one expects a bounce-back next year, even if Matsui returns to Godzilla-style smashing in the second half (not that Matsui has been above Rodan-level in the U.S.).
Damon has obviously had a good year, and a couple of big nights in Atlanta and Queens have helped bring up his road numbers. Still, he too is 35, and there’s no guaranteeing that his Yankee Stadium II power boost is more than an ephemeral event. Last year, at 34, Damon was better than he had ever been before. This year he’s been better than that. That’s an unusual progression and one not likely to sustain itself over the course of another three-year contract, and perhaps even not over another two.
Thus, by the end of the World Series, three of the five current outfielders (counting the gimpy Matsui) could be in the wind. The free agent possibilities are not promising: Rick Ankiel, Jason Bay (if the Red Sox don’t extend him, which seems unlikely), Carl Crawford (a team option of $8.25 million seems likely to be picked up), senior citizen Vlad Guerrero, a long-ago Cashman crush vetoed by ownership, Randy Winn… There’s not much. Help won’t be coming from that direction.
Perhaps by the end of the year, Brett Gardner will have cemented himself in center field for a time. Melky Cabrera is not a sufficient bat for a corner, though the Yankees may choose to see him there, and at present levels, he can hit enough to be a rotating jack of all trades, though it should be noted that he’s going to be increasingly expensive in the coming seasons. As far as the farm system goes, you know about Austin Jackson (currently in a mini-slump). With two home runs, he doesn’t seem like a corner outfielder. A Jackson, Gardner, Cabrera outfield would be strong defensively but not very powerful. Swisher, who is signed through 2012, suddenly becomes very important in any conception of next year, not to mention this one.
This leads to an interesting question. If Matsui and Damon are truly to be gone next year, if Jackson is to be among the possible replacements, is it in the Yankees’ best interest to get him at least 100 plate appearances of Major League time this year? The answer is almost certainly “not yet”–while Jackson has had a solid season, his lack of power and moderate selectivity don’t portend production at the big league level. Remember, in the Majors the batting average is likely to slip, which leaves a medium walk rate and, at least this year, little in the way of power. This would change, though, if Jackson surged and/or Matsui or Damon began to slide. Then the needle that swings between present and future would be stuck exactly in the middle of the dial.