A VERY QUICK NOTE ON ARBITRATION OFFERS
As you have very likely seen by now, the Yankees have declined to offer arbitration to any of their free agents. They have elected not to get tied into an inflexible negotiating position with any of their veterans. The downside to this decision is that if Johnny Damon leaves the Yankees won’t pick up a free draft pick.
Now, on the positive side, this decision doesn’t mean that Damon and pals are definitely gone. The Yankees can keep talking to as many of their free agents as they’re interested in retaining, even Xavier Nady. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it ain’t over ’til the fat agent sings (about signing with another team). Meanwhile, a handful of players were offered arbitration, including some players that have been rumored to attract the roving eye of Brian Cashman to one degree or another–Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Mike Gonzalez, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. If the Yankees were to bring in any of these fellows, they would punt away their first-round draft pick for next June. Given that the Yankees actually do things with their draft picks these days, it is to be hoped that the penalty attached to signing these cats would act as a severe disincentive to action. With Curtis Granderson and Roy Halladay out there to be pursued in trade, there’s no reason for the Yankees to feel like they absolutely most sign a free agent.
IF I WERE A VOTE-MAN CONTINUED
Continuing our review of the Hall of Fame ballot…
Barry Larkin: One of the best offensive shortstops in history, with Jeter-like batting results in most seasons. He was an excellent glove in his prime, and his Reds won a World Series, something that seems impossible now. An MVP award attests to the high regard in which he was held during his career, as do 12 All-Star game selections. His main weakness was that he had trouble staying on the field, but his career totals are just fine in spite of that. He could hit .300, steal 40 bases at an excellent percentage, was willing to take a walk and hit almost 200 home runs. He’s a no-brainer Hall of Famer.
Edgar Martinez: Let’s get one thing out of the way: if designated hitter is a legal position, then there should be no penalty for playing there. Martinez was not a good glove at third, where he started, and he might or might not have been a decent first baseman but he was fragile and the Mariners had other options. Thus, the DH position allowed Martinez to reduce his injury risk and made him a pure asset instead of a compromised defender. Those seem like good things. Martinez was one of the best right-handed hitters of recent years–you might recall him personally dismantling Buck Showalter’s career in the 1995 ALDS. He won two batting titles, led the league in on-base percentage three times. A career .312/.418/.515 hitter, depending on how you adjust for era, Martinez figures as one of the 30- to 50-best hitters of all time. His career totals are a bit short of the big round numbers the voters typically like to see mainly because the Mariners weren’t smart enough to start playing him regularly until he was 27–he had to prove he could hit a Triple-A three times over before they gave him a real chance. This is one of the reasons the Mariners were a complete loss from expansion until the mid-90s. That’s not Martinez’s fault and he shouldn’t be penalized for it. He’s in my Hall.
Don Mattingly: Back in the early days of the Pinstriped Bible the readers and I spent thousands of words arguing Mattingly’s Hall of Fame case. I should re-run those one of these days. Suffice it to say that, in the days when feelings about Mattingly were still fresh, emotions ran high when I suggested that Mattingly’s short peak period didn’t quite qualify him for entry. This was a painful thing for me, because Mattingly was the player who really changed me from a very casual baseball fan to someone who would eventually end up writing about baseball for a living. Donnie Baseball had four Hall of Fame-level seasons, perhaps three more that were very good but not of that quality, and six seasons that really didn’t help. These were the post-back injury years–I still mourn that injury. As good as Mattingly was from 1984-1987–and despite the greatness of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, A-Rod, and the rest, I still haven’t seen anyone better–his peak just wasn’t long enough.
Fred McGriff: The Crime Dog confuses me. I wouldn’t hold up a true Hall of Famer over seven missing home runs. That would be pathetically small-minded and arbitrary. His offensive abilities were clearly worthy of enshrinement. He wasn’t just a one-dimensional slugger, but also walked and hit for solid averages. He played on five postseason teams and picked up a winning ring. At the same time, he wasn’t much of a fielder (though he was good enough at first to get over 2000 games there), not at all a baserunner. He never came close to winning an MVP award. He was just quietly good for about 18 years. I really have no idea what to do with him. The back of his baseball card says yes, but I just don’t have that feeling about him.
Jack Morris: The quintessential “league-average innings eater,” people mistake him for an ace because of one of the great World Series performances. You have to make crazy excuses and explanations to force him into the Hall. Walter Johnson was reputed to pitch to the score too, but still managed to post dominant numbers. Pass.
Dale Murphy: An excellent player on a mostly miserable team, in the late ’80s you could turn on TBS and the games were so sparsely attended that the crowd mic would clearly pick up the players talking to each other on the field. I tend to discount him on two levels: first, his peak was relatively brief. Second, he was a product of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, hitting .285/.374/.513 at what was called the Launching Pad, but only .251/.329/.445. He was a good player, and a much-admired one, but given that park advantage, even his best seasons aren’t quite as big as they should be to put him in the Hall given the brevity of his career.
Dave Parker: In the first Hall of Fame entry, I said of Andre Dawson that as a center fielder he was a Hall of Famer, while as a right fielder he was Jermaine Dye. A similar bifurcation can be observed in Parker’s career. For about five years in the 1970s, Parker was a .300 hitter with power, speed, and a killer throwing arm (26 assists in 1977!). After that, but for the 1985 season he was just a guy, and often not a very good one, overweight and impatient at the plate. From 1980 on, a span of nearly 1,600 games, his hit only .275/.322/.444. The overall career is still impressive due to his longevity and the height of his peak years, but his case for Cooperstown comes down to about six seasons, and as with Mattingly, that’s not quite enough for me.
WE’LL WRAP UP THE BALLOT…
…In our next installment.
Remember when Nick Swisher was going to sit so that the thoroughly mediocre Xavier Nady could play? I thought you would. The Yankees’ baseball men make some very smart decisions, but like all of us the are sometimes vulnerable to valuing something incorrectly because it somehow looks better than it is. In my life I call this The Cindy Syndrome, also known as First Girlfriend Disease. I was lucky enough to break the spell, just as the Yankees were fortunate in that the Benevolent Deity deprived them of Nady long enough for them to discover their errors. It didn’t have to be that way — some of us marry our first girlfriend, and some teams play bad players all season long. In both cases all chance for a heroic October is lost.
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.
SUBWAY AGAIN (AGAIN)
It’s time for another tired interleague match-up. I realize that I’m acting the wet blanket, but after years of record-distorting play and such scintillating league crossovers as Astros-Royals, it seems to me that a great deal of the attraction of any interleague rivalry, particularly Yankees-Mets, was the impossibility of ever resolving the debate, because Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez were never going to be in the same game together short of the odd spring training confrontation. The argument could never resolve and everybody could be right–unless, the tantalizing, always just out of reach World Series confrontation materialized. Then it would all be settled at the highest possible level, under the greatest possible tension.
Interleague play stripped the mystery away. Now we know that most meetings between the Yankees and Mets are just like any other game. Maybe the fans feel a bit more jazzed than usual, but in the end, the only thing at stake are some empty bragging rights, now immutably concretized in the drab facts of the box score, and the usual one-game-in-the-standings stakes. In the latter case, the stakes are no different than any midweek game against the Orioles. By the time the two teams finally did meet in a World Series, interleague play had let the air out of the confrontation–it was nothing we hadn’t seen before, as recently as that July.
So here we are again, 12 days after the last time. Admittedly, the last time was exciting, or at the very least strange, with Luis Castillo’s inexplicable dropped pop-up, the unheralded comeback of Fernando Nieve (“comeback” might be a misnomer given that he was never really here), and an unprecedented battering of Johan Santana. Parenthetically, since striking out 11 in six innings against the Nats on May 27, Santana hasn’t struck out more than three batters in any start; in 30.1 innings, his strikeout rate is 4.2 per nine. The Yankees won’t be seeing Santana this series, so that’s just a point of interest.
The Yankees will be seeing Mike Pelfrey (tonight vs. Sabathia), old pal Tim Reddding (Saturday vs. Burnett), and Livan Hernandez (vs. Wang). Pelfrey is a really interesting case. The 2005 first-rounder had a breakthrough season last year, but this season has been choppy to say the least, with his strikeout rate dying a tormented, painful death. Despite this, he was was winning thanks to decent run support. Beginning with his second start of May, he reeled off five very solid appearances, limiting batters to just six walks and one home run in 34.2 innings. His strikeout rate bounced back up into the fours, which isn’t good but was sustainable given the high number of ground balls he was getting. He was, shall we say, Wang-ing it. Just as quickly as they came, the good times ended, June bringing a 7.08 ERA as Pelfrey’s control has wandered, giving hitters more chances to put the ball in play with runners on. Nor has the Mets’ defense done him any favors in this period.
Redding you know from his brief pinstriped experience, a journeyman with a capital “R” for “Replacement level.” He was actually a bit better than that last year, but not by much. This year he’s back in the submarine, sailing below the surface of useful. He’s given the Mets three quality starts in seven tries, but remains a fly ball pitcher without a strikeout pitch, a very bad combination. Hernandez was roughed up by the Yankees in Castillo’s dropped-egg game. What I said then remains true now: his pitching as well as he has was wholly unexpected given just how badly he was treated in both leagues last year. Despite his low-ish ERA, he remains very hittable, averaging 10 safeties per nine innings pitched, and his home run rate is on the high side. He’s pitched well in two starts since the Yankees last saw him.
There is no reason that the Yankees could not sweep this series given the pitching matchups, but that was also true of the Nationals series and we know how that went. However, the Mets are at a further disadvantage, because their many injuries have reduced their list of star-level players to just one — David Wright. He can be enough–he went 5-for-12 against the Yankees the last time around, and has continued to hit well since. However, his power continues to be mystifyingly absent–it has now been 15 games since his last home run. During that stretch he has hit .383 with five doubles, and only four RBIs.
The most remarkable aspect to Wright’s season is that he continues to have a batting average on balls in play of nearly .500 (currently it’s .469). A high percentage of his balls in play, 27 percent, are line drives, which would correlate with a high BABIP, but not this high. In comparison, Scott Rolen has a higher line drive rate and his BABIP is only .354, while Jason Bartlett is leading the majors with an almost 30 percent of his balls in play being liners and his BABIP is “only” .405. It is extremely likely that Bartlett’s BABIP will decline as the year goes on, perhaps by 70 or 100 points, and spectacularly likely that Wright’s will fall off by even more. That leaves the Mets with an interesting problem, because if Wright’s NL-leading average has been due to an overlarge share of luck, and not due to a change in approach by the batter, purposeful or otherwise, then when did his power go, and what happens to his production when some of the singles start to get caught?
As we will likely see tonight when the Yankees put balls in the air and watch what would have been home runs in the Bronx ballpark settle harmlessly into gloves, some of the power outage has been engendered by the Mets zombie tribute to Ebbets Field (ironically, a bandbox–Mickey Mantle used to say, and he meant this, that he would have hit a thousand home runs had he played there), but not all of it, as Wright has hit but one home run on the road this year.
After a 1-for-6 on Thursday, Nick Swisher apparently gets a mental health break today. It seems as if his place in the lineup is safe, however, as Xavier Nady has had a major setback in his rehab. No confirmation of the damage yet, and I’ll reserve comment until we get the straight dope. I’m waiting for someone to hit my inbox with “Melky should be the everyday right fielder.” It hasn’t come yet, but it will.
LET’S KILL TWO!
If the Yankees hitting into three key double plays on Tuesday night bugged you, if you were awake to be bugged, then know that it’s about par for the course for these Yankees, who have gone for the two-outs-on-one-swing sale in about 11.6 percent of their opportunities this year, the seventh-worst rate in the majors this year. The Mariners lead the majors, hitting into a double play in 13.6 percent of their chances. This is kind of amazing, as the Mariners also have the lowest on-base percentage in the majors. They reach base less than anyone else, then kill the few runners they get faster than anyone else.
What’s fascinating about the Yankees’ poor performance in double play situations is that for the most part, it’s not the regulars who are doing the damage. This year, the average AL batter is hitting into a twin killing 10.6 percent of the time (the NL rate is almost exactly 10 percent). For example, Derek Jeter has hit into four double plays in 25 opportunities, which is 16 percent. That looks bad, but it’s not, really — one fewer and he’d be right at the league average. The same goes for Melky Cabrera, who has also pounded into four DPs in 25 chances. Brett Gardner, with two in 17 chances, is at the league average, which is surprising given his speed, but less so when one considers that he hits more ground balls than any Yankee except Derek Jeter. The worst Yankees regular is Robby Cano, who has hit into five in 28 chances, or 17.9 percent, but again, that’s not a horror-movie number — Geovany Soto and Mike Lowell are at 30 percent in a significant number of chances (29 and 40, respectively). Several Yankees have actually done a terrific job at staying out of the double play. Nick Swisher, last night’s DP villain, has hit into only two in 33 chances. Johnny Damon has only two. Hideki Matsui and Mark Teixeira are both around six percent.
It’s actually the guys who haven’t played much, or played too much due to injuries, that are driving the Yankees’ into a high number of twin killings at bat. Together, Cody Ransom, Xavier Nady, Kevin Cash, Angel Berroa, Jose Molina, and Francisco Cervelli have hit into 11 double plays in 44 chances, or 45 percent. There’s not much that Joe Girardi can do to address the situation except not play those guys — he already calls as many or more hit-and-run plays as any manager in the game. Unfortunately, he hasn’t always had the choice not to play them, and the existence or continuation of Ransom, Cash, Berroa, and Molina as Yankees was the general manager’s call — but now we’re away from talking about the double play and once more in the realm of depth, so never mind.
In the short term, it’s little consolation that the Yankees blew a chance to take first place in part because of missed offensive opportunities, but at least you can be sure that it was a bit of a poorly timed fluke on the part of two of the three. There’s also an “on the other hand,” which is that when Jorge Posada comes back the team’s double play rate will actually pick up, because Posada runs like the 37-year-old catcher he is. Fortunately, Posada does other things with the bat that more than make up it. You can’t say that about the 11-for-44ers above.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Orioles 7, Blue Jays 2: Just over 10,000 showed up at Camden Yards to see the Orioles deal the Jays their eighth straight loss. During the streak, Jays batters are hitting .251/.306/.331, which is very bad but isn’t too different from what Padres hitters did during their recent winning streak. Of course, the Padres had great pitching, whereas the Jays have allowed nearly six runs a game. No doubt you’ve heard that Matt Wieters finally comes up on Friday. With Wieters, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis the Orioles are finally changing, and none too soon… I’ll talk more about Wednesday’s game in our next entry, but it should be noted that the Jays dropped their ninth straight to the Orioles in daytime action, the pen being unable to follow up Roy Halladay’s strong start. The Jays are now just four games over .500 and the division is wide open.
Mets 6, Nationals 1: The Nats DFA’d Daniel Cabrera. As Bill Ladson reported at MLB.com, GM Mike Rizzo said, “I looked at the execution of the performance and it wasn’t up to par. I was tired of watching it.” You have to appreciate a candid GM. Among other things, this should inoculate the Yankees from having to face the spectacularly tedious Mr. Cabrera during interleague play (as Bob Uecker said in “Major League,” “Ball three… Ball four… Ball eight…”). Adam Dunn homered again… Just sayin’. Another home run for Gary Sheffield, and he’s now batting .291/.430/.535. Talk about getting something for nothing, and a needed something now that the Mets are in the position of having to play 20-year-old prospect Fernando Martinez, who hasn’t actually looked very prospect-y in years.
Reds 6, Astros 4: Another three-hit night for Miguel Tejada, but that was most of the fun as Roy Oswalt is no longer the lucky rabbit of yore. Among the most unexpected events in baseball this season: a Laynce Nix renaissance in left field for the Reds, which is kind of like a Rod Stewart renaissance taking over for the late Joe Strummer in a Clash reunion tour. It’s just not something you’d ever think about.
Indians 5, Rays 1: Can’t tell a lie — Carl Pavano killed. Four Indians hit home runs, three of which probably shouldn’t have been in the lineup, but sometimes you win with your worst foot forward. Both of these clubs lost key players yesterday, with Jason Bartlett hitting the DL with a sprained ankle, and Grady Sizemore may take a seat with a left elbow that’s feeling poorly. The Indians shuffled Matt LaPorta off the roster to get another center fielder up to the bigs, so my criticism of them yesterday was in error.
Phillies 5, Marlins 3: The much-denigrated (at least by me) Joe Blanton had one of the best starts of his career, shutting out the Marlins for seven frames, striking out 11. That has far more to do with the Marlins with Blanton, as their defining characteristic as an offense is the strikeout. Make that double if Hanley Ramirez’s groin sidelines him for more than 30 seconds.
Cubs 6, Pirates 1: Cut short by rain, and you can expect that Lou Piniella danced in it, maybe more like Roger Daltrey closing out “Quadrophenia” than Gene Kelly — this win got the team that was going to end the 100-year-old dry spell to the break-even point. Elements of the Cubs that haven’t disappointed this year: Kosuke Fukudome, Ted Lilly, Johnny Evers. Evers in particular has done exactly what was expected of him.
Cardinals 8, Brewers 1: The Cards are pitching at about 20 percent above league average, the mark of not only a good pitching team, but a staff on the verge of having a great season. Whether the Cards can improve that much more I don’t know, but in this division they might not have to. Extra-credit to Adam Wainwright for his solo home run, thereby batting in as many runs as he allowed in seven innings.
Twins 5, Red Sox 2: One of the season’s great flukes — Nick Blackburn striking out seven Red Sox. Blackburn never strikes out seven anybodies. Jacoby Ellsbury has a 21-game hitting streak going, during which he’s batting .333/.366/.417. During the streak, he’s stolen 10 bases, been caught four times, and has driven in four runs.
6, Tigers 1: How does Jose Guillen have a .412 OBP? Not “how”– that’s like asking where babies come from–I mean, “Why?” …KC shortstops, principally Mike Aviles (now on the DL) are hitting .183/.214/.250 this year. With anything from the position, they might be leading the division right now. It also hurts that David DeJesus is having the worst season of his career. Haven’t mentioned another fine Zack Greinke start, and I won’t, except to say that for some, “potential” is a curse. It’s grand to see someone survive it.
Dodgers 7, Rockies 1: And there was much gnashing of teeth in Denver given the club’s .400 winning percentage, or maybe it was just losing to Eric Milton (and congratulations to the former Yankees’ draftee for making it back). Andre Ethier in May: .190/.298/.266, following up a .306/.423/.553. Shades of Melky ’08! That’s not to suggest that Ethier won’t be back, but that Melky should have been, or maybe that we just don’t know what turns a hitter on or off–the recipe is probably something like one-third mental, one-third physical, and one-third luck (sprinkle lightly with shredded cheese, serve over pasta).
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 5: Thus endeth the Padres’ winning streak, as Max Scherzer strikes out 10 in seven innings… Mark Reynolds is just off of last year’s 204-strikeout pace; he’d finish with 202 in the same number of at-bats. Scherzer is only 2-7 in his brief major league career, but his ERA is 3.21, and he’s K’d 119 in 106.2 innings. Of the current roster, Scherzer and Justin Upton will be part of the next great ‘Backs team, but you can’t be certain of anyone else. At .173/.220/.313, Chris Young has to be one of the biggest failures to launch in recent baseball history, a kid who came up with all the tools but didn’t develop a centimeter from where he started.
White Sox 4, Angels 2: Big day for the Nix family, as Jayson hit two home runs to go with Laynce’s one. What is it with that family and the letter “y?” Big Scrabble fans? Bart Colon’s win pushed his quality start percentage up to 33 percent, still well below average… Bobby Abreu hit his first home run of the season.
Athletics 4, Mariners 3: The A’s did all their scoring in one frame, Jason Giambi driving in two runs on a single as the Seattle pen tossed away six shutout innings from Jarrod Washburn. With Kenji Johjima off for a long stay on the DL, the M’s didn’t call up Jeff Clement, batting .309/.382/.533 at Triple-A Tacoma. The guy has his limitations — he’s an offensive catcher with a big swing — but given that the M’s are by far the worst offensive club on the circuit , you’d think they would go for a little more offense. Oddly, for a team that can’t hit, the Mariners have tried the fewest hitters in the American League. They’re standing pat, even though their lineup looks a lot like that of the ’54 Pirates.
Giants 4, Braves 0: And nothing to say about it except, “Lincecum!” Also, every time I load up the news on the Internet, there’s something about “Jon and Kate.” I have not the foggiest who they are, and don’t think I’m going to try to find out. Jon, Kate, Bread, Circuses — there are bigger fish to fry, like baseball (?).
Mariano Rivera has had two one-two-three innings this year, one on April 9, the other on April 15. Since then, he’s allowed 11 hits in 6.2 innings, including two home runs, along with no walks and 10 strikeouts. Not drawing any conclusions here, just sayin’, though one does wonder if the occasional five-day layoffs he’s had are too long to keep him sharp.
A QUESTION I’D REALLY LIKE TO ASK
I’m not going to get up to the Stadium again until next week, but I really want to ask Joe Girardi this: “What are you seeing from Nick Swisher now that you did not see during Spring Training, the absent thing that caused you to call Xavier Nady a starter? Have you considered that if Nady was still healthy you might have left all this production sitting in the freezer?”
That sounds critical, but it’s not meant that way — well, mostly not. I’d really like to know.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Rays 13, Red Sox 0: About the best thing that’s happened to the Rays all year. Of course, if you listen to the Joba-to-the-pen fetishists, anyone like Matt Garza who throws a near-perfect game as a starter would be more valuable in the bullpen. That way lies madness. Now all they really need is a few players beyond Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett to feel like hitting. Pat Burrell one home run? B.J. Upton .177/.320/.226? Speaking of the latter, there’s a guy whose career we’re still going to be scratching our heads over 20 years from now.
A’s 4, Rangers 2: Dallas Braden keeps pitching well, but as a scary fly ball guy without great control or a terrifying strikeout rate it’s not clear that he can keep it up. Given how thin the A’s are, they desperately need him to keep it up. For gosh sakes, Landon Powell had to play first base last night. That reminds me to check on Daric Barton’s progress at Triple-A: .149/.274/.209 in 20 games. Farewell, shooting star.
Royals 8, Blue Jays 6: Credit the Jays for this: after a second consecutive thrashing of Brian Burres, they seem to have come to the enlightened point of view that they’re ahead, they may never be ahead again, so they might as well try to win the race with pitchers who have an upside. As such, they demoted three pitchers, including Burres, and called up two of their top prospects, Brett Cecil and Robert Ray, as well as veteran minor league reliever Brian Wolfe. Maybe it was the sight of John Buck pounding balls all over the yard that dropped the scales. All things are possible when the deity is rolling his infinite-sided die, but yeesh, you’d think the outfielders would have had to suffer a spontaneous kidney stone attack for that particular combo to assert itself. Anyway, good move by the Jays going with their best hopes for the future instead of trying some Ponsonian nightmare form the past… Last 11 games for Billy Butler, .333/.458/.564, three doubles, two home runs, nine walks. The nine walks are more than a quarter of the free passes he took all of last year.
Cardinals 9, Nationals 4: I must stop eating these candied cashews I bought yesterday at Target. Other than that, another day, another Nationals loss, though it is good to see Ryan Zimmerman hitting like a star should (.289/.354/.544) — this franchise needs a star or 10. Catcher Jesus Flores hitting .281/.356/.438 is almost as exciting, because if you can’t have stars at least your second-line guys can be good (the key to winning any battle is good interior lines). Meanwhile, Daniel Cabrera throws four wild pitches in six innings but actually gets the quality start as the bullpen gives it up — again. Ask the Joba guys if any of those relievers would be more valuable in a different role, perhaps concessions. “Gentlemen, we concede this game.”
Brewers 4, Diamondbacks 1: One of the best starts of Matt Scherzer’s young career gets tossed aside so that Flash Gordon can “pitch” at 41. Must have seemed like a good idea at the time. I wonder if that girl that loved him still does — she must be in grad school by now, or married with two kids. At some point, we put childish things away. Then again, I still read comic books, so what do I know? On the other side, The Brewers get a rare good start from Jeff Suppan, and Trevor Hoffman resumes his quest to put the saves record out of Rivera’s reach.
Florida 8, Cubs 2: In 10 innings, no less. Groundballer Chris Volstad allowed back to back shots, but otherwise was without blemish in seven innings. The Cubs were fine until they turned things over to Aaron Heilman, who didn’t get an out. It used to be you could see that kind of show here in New York almost any day of the week. Milton Bradley hit one of those two home runs, which was the one good thing the Cubs got out of the game — a sign that Bradley is ready to come to work.
Dodgers 8, Padres 5: All I have to say is, “Four scoreless innings from Jeff Weaver? I just swallowed my gum.” With this loss, the Padres hit .500. Next stop, basement level: luggage, lingerie, Padres.
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.
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.
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.
1: LET’S START WITH THE GRUMPY ONE FIRST
You really are something. You make the biggest deal in the world out of minor differences in Swisher (hero) and Nady (zero) yet totally discount the importance of swapping Jeter and Damon in the order. If I wanted to bore you I could come up with 10 factors — physical, mental and record based — that could change the dynamic of the Yankee lineup — or not. But to be so disdainful of how we earthlings waste our time obsessing over swapping a Hall of Fame No. 2 hitter with one of the better career leadoff men of the past ten or so years… Yes, I understand that none of this matters in the grand scheme of the universe — other than Nick Swisher, of course.– javamanny
Hey, I did allow for the possibility of a placebo effect, which takes care of your “physical, mental, and record-based” factors (what’s a record-based factor, anyway?). The point remains that small lineup changes, and maybe even big lineup changes, are more about psychological than real-world benefits. Many studies have been done of this subject, and the results consistently show that the difference between the least-optimal lineup (leadoff with the pitcher or Jose Molina or someone like that) and the best is only a few wins. The difference between the optimal lineup and the second-most optimal lineup or the third-most optimal lineup is nonexistent. As I said yesterday, it’s always possible that someone muscles up and hits .350, and when that happens, you or someone like you will write in and say, “See? It’s all because of the lineup change!” But you won’t really know. Given all this, swapping Jeter and Damon isn’t a significant move at all.
What is not nonexistent, however, is the impact on the bottom line, wins and losses, created by the manager’s decision to play one player over another. At his 2006-2007 best, Swisher’s offense and defense combined to make him a six-win player. At Nady’s normal rate of production–that is his whole career except for the first 89 games of 2008, he was a one-win player. This is anything but a minor difference.
Let it not be said that we don’t agree on anything, javamanny. I am definitely “something.”
2: I KNOW BECAUSE ROD SERLING TOLD ME SO
Just imagine in the spiral bands of the Milky Way Galaxy we have a speck of dust orbiting a star we call the Sun in which there is a Nick Swisher and a Jeter and Damon flip flop. Makes you wonder what might be going on in the M31 Galaxy — although I am beginning to suspect Arod is an android.–midcoaster
That was kind of my point. Flipping one lineup spot is about as infinitesimal a change as you can make… Also: A-Rod is a cookbook.
3: FAIR ENOUGH, I SUPPOSE
Steve – Love you, man, but you wasted about 250 words on this topic without ever saying anything analytical or insightful about the pros/cons of such a move. I’m leaning toward pro for the following: 1) I agree with others about Jeter’s increased propensity for GIDP; 2) no one has mentioned the lefty/righty thing: with Gardner projected in the 9 hole, that would give you l-r-l in the 9-thru-2 spots (nice!); 3) Damon is more of a pull hitter – with Jeter on first base (and the first sacker holding him on) this increases the likelihood of more ground ball hits by Damon in the 1st-2nd hole; 4) Finally, I also generally agree with the points about Damon’s bigger power/run production potential. O another note, did you just imply that – Swisher was a better option in center than Melky? Nick Swisher? Come on… –budboy
You raise some fair points, budboy (as did the others who raised them), and all of them may mean something to the bottom line this year, but what value in terms of wins and losses do you want to assign to them? I will concede that many small things can add up to a big thing, so perhaps Joe Girardi has made a move that will pay off in some way, but a lot of dominoes would have to fall in precisely the optimum way for it to mean very much at all.
As for Swisher in center field, sure, some of the time, if the Yankees are smart about it. When CC Sabathia is pitching, probably not, when Chien-Ming Wang is pitching, sure, and with the other three guys you check which way the wind is blowing before making a decision.
4: ANOTHER POSSIBLE SOLUTION
Just wondering, how suicidal would it be to platoon Nady and Gardner? Now before you jump down my throat thinking I want X in center, stop and breathe. Against righties, run Gardner in center and Swisher in right. Against lefties, Swisher roams center for six innings giving way to Gardner and Nady starts in right until Swisher slides over (assuming a lead.) The preponderance of right-handers would mean, what, 35 partial games in center for Swisher?? I think this set would be the team’s strongest getting the most PAs for the best on-base guy and Nady shots vs. lefties. –Greg D.
It makes sense to me, but Joe Girardi may not want to think that much. See also the adjustments for the starting pitching made above–Sabathia is more of a fly ball pitcher, so you might want your best ballhawk on the field for his starts, regardless of the opposition’s hander. Of course, that would be Gardner and Swisher regardless, but the world ain’t logical or we wouldn’t be talking about this.
I 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.
INTO THE TWILIGHT ZONE IN SEARCH OF A-ROD’S REPLACEMENT
As the old Leadbelly song goes, “I may be right and I may be wrong, but you know you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” No doubt Alex Rodriguez will be singing this song now that hip surgery is apparently going to put him on the shelf for a projected 10 weeks. If the story as reported by ESPN is correct, the Yankees will be without their starting third baseman for something like six weeks of the regular season.
Since the news came through, I’ve been plumbing the depths like Cave Carson looking for replacement possibilities that won’t damage the Yankees’ efforts too badly. The two utility infield types currently in camp, Cody Ransom and Angel Berroa, are not good bets. The latter may be one of the worst bets of all time, a career .260/.305/.378 hitter. Ransom has a little more life in his bat, but despite his nice little September hot streak last fall, he’s not likely to produce at a satisfactory level. His career Minor League batting average is .242 and he’s hit about .250 over the last three seasons. Average isn’t everything, and Ransom has some power, but when you start out with a batting average that low, there’s a good chance you won’t hit safely often enough to reach an acceptable level of production.
There are a couple of Hail Mary options on the roster — Xavier Nady and Mark Teixeira (pictured) have done the third base thing in the past, Nady very briefly, Teixeira throughout his brief Minor League career. As with many young third basemen, Teixeira was prone to errors at the position, and the Rangers had Hank Blalock locked in at third, so Teix moved across the diamond and proved to be a very good first baseman. Moving Teixeira back to the hot corner now would allow the Yankees to drop Nick Swisher at first base and Nady into right field. Offensively, this is probably the best possible way to paper over Rodriguez’s extended absence. Defensively, it would all depend on Teixeira’s ability to handle a position he hasn’t touched for six years and what you gauge his risk of injury to be (if any), and if he’s even willing to make an attempt at it.
Such a solution could be flexible, depending on the starting pitcher for that day. CC Sabathia can probably stand to pitch with a weaker defense behind him. Chien-Ming Wang cannot, so his starts would have to feature a “real” third baseman, with Teixeira back at first. It’s messy, but it could work … And I can’t resist saying that Casey Stengel would have done it. Heck, down the stretch in 1954, as the Yankees were trying to avoid elimination, Casey put Yogi Berra at third and Mickey Mantle at short so he could get some extra bats into the lineup. Anything for a win, even if it seems outlandish. It should also be pointed out that the offensive damage done by a Ransom or Berroa would almost certainly outweigh the defensive damage done by putting someone like Teixeira at third.
The Minor League options on hand aren’t strong. Eric Duncan is still kicking around, but he has shown no sign of being a Major Leaguer (scratch one more Yankees first-round pick). Kevin Russo, America’s favorite utility choice, won’t hit either and has spent most of his professional life at second base. There are a number of veteran options soaking up bench spots for other teams, like Mike Lamb with the Brewers and Scott McClain with the Giants (an NRI, he’s probably expendable), but these will have to be pried free, however limited their value. The Yankees cannot give up a player of long-term value for a 10-week rental.
Whatever the solution, which at the moment is not obvious, the Yankees are now in some real trouble. The murder weapon used in the demise of last year’s Yankees team was not the shaky pitching but the presence of three replacement-level hitters in the lineup in Jose Molina, Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera. The Yankees just took a giant step back in that direction. If Jorge Posada isn’t ready, if Hideki Matsui isn’t ready, if the second baseman or center fielder doesn’t hit, and Rodriguez is out for an extended period, scoring could be a problem. It might have been a problem even with Rodriguez in the lineup, so short of a season-ending injury, this is about the worst news the Yankees could have received right now.