Sunday, December 28, 2008

Coney on the Ballot

David Cone's 88-pitch perfect game was kinetic poetry.

His journey back from a life-threatening aneurysm surgery in 1996 to pitch like a bulldog down the stretch and win the pivotal third game of the World Series was storybook. Those that bleed pinstripes will never forget his masterful 6 innings of one-run ball against that powerful Atlanta offense, during which he outdueled the legendary Tom Glavine.

Chances are, his 194-126 record outweighs his five rings and Cy Young Award. But its a damn shame. Between his good-guy persona, his crafty arsenal of four pitches coming from all angles, and his knack for anchoring winning teams, this is a man who should be remembered as one of the greats.

I won't fault the voters if they don't vote him in. His numbers aren't historic. The Hall of Fame is the most exclusive of diamond clubs. But sometimes, the best fans are found in the bleachers, the same way that Coney, one of the greatest pitchers I'll ever see, will be stuck outside of the Hall.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Is Andy Pettitte Done with the Yankees?

Is Andy Pettitte's time with the Yankees done?

It seems, in the wake of the Teixeira signing, that the Yankees are finally tightening their purse strings. Andy Pettitte feels that he deserves about the $16 million he earned last season, when he pitched .500 and had an ERA just north of 4.50

Being that we don't independently trust ERAs in this metrics era, his ERA+ for the year comes out to 92.13. Ouch! That is comfortably below the average number of 100

For you sabermetrics newbies, ERA+ factors in a player's league average, his ERA and the ballpark he plays in.

But somehow $10 million is not enough. For the record, Pettitte's second half ERA+: 67.14. AA material.

Not that Phil Hughes dominated last year, but I have a feeling his numbers, or Alfredo Aceves', and maybe even Ian Kennedy's over a full season would exceed at least the second number, if not the first one. Maybe it's time for the youth to compete for a spot.

And Ben Sheets is an injury machine. The Yankees would be foolish to sign him after signing the similarly frail A.J. Burnett this offseason. I am starting to advocate the youth committee for the fifth starter job. Pettitte's jersey should stay behind in the Old Yankee Stadium, where we can remember his contributions fondly.

Bernie Back in Action

It's winter league season, and a Yankees center fielder picked up an important hit today.

No, my eyes weren't on the Dominican Winter League, where Melky Cabrera has put up some solid numbers through 93 at-bats with the Aguilas Cibaenas. I'm eyeing Bernie Williams, who singled off Jerome Williams of the Oakland Athletics in his first at-bat with Carolina of the Puerto Rican Winter League. He would finish one-for-three. 

Granted, Jerome Williams hasn't done much since 2005, but he was impressive from 2003-05 and has only pitched 42 terrible innings since at the big league level.

But what a joy for Yankees fans to know that Bernie is out there, still capable of hitting a liner up the middle. It reminds us of how he was unceremoniously voted off the island after the 2006 season, when he hit .281 with 12 homers and 61 RBI in 420 AB (two-thirds of a full season, which suggests around 18 homers and 80-90 RBI in 600 AB). For the record, how do you think they would feel about that kind of production out of the Melkman next year? Bernie was slipping on defense...but I still think they could have kept him somewhere...I mean Jesus, were Doug Mientkiewicz, Josh Phelps and Wil Nieves really better on the bench? I know we needed Nieves as a second catcher...and Mientkiewicz to man first...but Josh Phelps stunk and hardly played for the team at all, but I digress.

Bernie is trying to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. I really hope he makes the team and is able to start at DH, at least sometimes. I never thought I'd be this excited to see #51 in another uniform.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Yankees get Cash

The New York Yankees signed former Boston Red Sox backup catcher Kevin Cash to a minor league deal on Wednesday.

This is a minor signing, as illustrated by the $700,000 price tag for the one-year contract, and by the fact that he is headed for the minors. But realistically, this move could end up impacting the Yankees this year.

The Yankees insist that Jorge Posada is going to catch this year. I am not sold. He is coming off of a year in which he could not hit the broadside of a barn. Posada is no Carl Pavano. He was really hurting and the results showed it. Will he be 100 percent this season? Will he be 100 percent ever again? I am not sure that can be expected and only time will tell. 

But Brian Cashman cannot really be this sure either and I wonder if it makes sense to sign a .184 career hitter to be Jose Molina's backup assuming that Francisco Cervelli, a fringe/backup defensive specialist much like Molina (but less of a sure thing) isn't ready for the bigs (which he may simply never be, based on his skill set). 

This ultimately underscores the point that the Yankees do not have long term plans at catcher, and may need to sign a Joe Mauer or a Brian McCann once they hit the market. If Posada can not perform at his expected level, the Yankees are going to suffer. They simply have not thought through a realistic alternative should Posada go down. I don't mean to pick at Jose Molina. He is one of the best backup catchers in baseball. But he is a backup, and the Yanks are putting themselves in position to be caught with their pants down if Posada's shoulder proves to be balky next season. 

They need a plan for the future...and for the present, there are certainly better contingency plans with higher all-around upside (Johnny Estrada, Brad Ausmus, Gregg Zaun, Pudge Rodriguez, Paul Lo Duca, Jason Varitek, Michael Barrett, hell even Josh Bard, Robby Hammock and Toby Hall) than Cash that wouldn't have cost much more than $700,000. I would like to say, however, that none of the catchers in that group make me salivate or could realistically be classified as the solution to the dilemma of who will follow Posada. I just fail to see how signing Cash makes the Yankees more prepared in the event that Posada's arm falls off.

And I just don't think this signing stung the Red Sox as much as Johnny Damon, Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Where Does Swisher Fit Now?

Earlier this offseason, the Yankees acquired Nick Swisher from the Chicago White Sox for Wilson Betemit and minor leaguers Jhonny Nunez and Jeff Marquez. Marquez, at the very least, was a good talent with high upside. Some reports said that the Yankees thought Marquez was overrated, however. Brian Cashman insisted that Swisher was going to be the Yankees first baseman this year, and some people claimed that the Bombers even saw him as a "Scott Brosius type." But where does Nick Swisher fit now that the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira?

Let's look at the Yankees potential defensive lineup this season:
C: Jorge Posada (or Jose Molina if Posada's shoulder isn't right)
1B: Mark Teixeira
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Alex "Sally Girl" Rodriguez
LF: Johnny Damon
CF: Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson (if he's ready), Nick Swisher?

I'm going to assume, for the sake of sanity, that Nick Swisher will not be pitching. And the Yankees aren't apparently high on Swisher as a center fielder, thanks to wisdom inspired from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The only sense I can make of this, if Brian Cashman always intended to make a serious run at Big Tex, is expiring contracts. Both X-Man and Johnny Damon will be free agents after next season. Swisher will have two years left on his deal after this upcoming season. Hopefully the Yanks will extend Nady, and it's hard to believe that they won't be set in center with Austin Jackson after 2009. So Swisher may ultimately be the Yankees left fielder following this year, when he'll serve as injury insurance. Unfortunately, Swisher showed that he can be vocal when he is unhappy with his role last season with the White Sox. So this could be a recipe for disaster: will the Yankees trade him before the season? It seems to me he was acquired the same way Wilson Betemit himself was: as an insurance policy that became obsolete all too quickly to get a real chance to thrive.

Yankees Buy Teixeira- and are Hammered for Recession Spending

Silent as an owl in flight through the midnight shadows, the Goliath Yankees swooped in and scooped their prey out of the mouth of the waiting Red Sox. Mark Teixeira, joining C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, accepted the green (a reported $180 million over 8 years) as an acceptable reason to try on pinstripes.

This time, the baseball world was blindsided. The chatter among sports reporters suggested that the Yankees were in on Teixeira because they wanted to gently prod his salary northward for the rival Sox, much as Boston had done for Sabathia. But my father made an interesting point yesterday as we discussed the signing:

the Yankees must know that super-agent Scott Boras is always going to check in with them last on his larger clients.


In the wake of the signing, the sports reporters (except the smart ones) have taken the tone of utter disgust with the Yankees for making it rain during a recession. There are several problems with this line of thought:

1) The Yankees are shedding almost $90 million off their payroll with Jason Giambi ($23,428,571), Bobby Abreu and Andy Pettitte($16 million each), Mike Mussina ($11,071,029), Carl Pavano ($11 million) and other smaller contracts that have also been moved along (Latroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth, Wilson Betemit) to the tune of about $10 million.

2) I didn't realize that the Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels were small market teams now...and let's not miss the fact that the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles were terrible last year. Granted, Baltimore has a good young outfield corps, but are they really close to competing? The Nats offered  about the same money as the Yankees did, and indications were that they may have been willing to go an extra year or two on top of what they had on the table. But somehow, if Teixeira had accepted their money, I have a feeling we may have heard some of the same cries we heard when A-Rod accepted Tom Hicks' cash in Texas. It's not like Kansas City had a shot at Teixeira from the get-go.

3) The Yankees pull in  a ton of cash, and the last time I checked, America doesn't like it when the top rungs of large corporations hold onto their cash in a recession either. If we want the Yankees to stop spending, a salary cap is a ridiculous solution. It's bad for the players, and great for the obnoxiously wealthy owners.

Maybe the solution is forcing the Yankees to decrease their revenues. Sounds like socialism, doesn't it? Not that I'm particularly against that...

Ultimately, what we need to accept is that the fans, and reporters, simply don't like the Yankees. The AL East last year was ridiculously talent-stacked, and the Yanks are competing with two teams who are arguably the class of the American League (now that the Angels lost Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez and Garret Anderson). Did you think they would let themselves finish in third place in the New Yankee Stadium? If any team in baseball besides the Yankees, or the Red Sox, had signed these players the General Manager would be called a genius and their moves would be applauded. Let's just stop the hating. New York is a baseball town, and our owners are willing to invest a lot of the money they make into fielding a product we can be proud of.

And let's be honest, the highest payroll has never guaranteed the Yankees, or anyone else, a championship