From Haren And Lee To…Um….

  • Mark…..Prior?

I’m only half-kidding when I say that.

The Yankees response to their needs in the starting rotation will not be answered by Mark Prior; I think everyone—-the Yankees, the media, the fans and Prior himself—-know this.

Even with that, we’ve come a long way from the heady days of mid-summer when following the Mariners backing out of an agreed upon deal with the Yankees and double-dealing Cliff Lee to the Rangers, and weeks before Dan Haren was traded to the Angels, there was a prevailing notion that the Yankees were going to go after Haren via trade, get him, and then go after Lee following the season.

They were going to get him as well.

At the time, I thought the plan was ludicrous. Haren is owed a guaranteed $29 million through 2012; if the Yankees were getting Lee as a free agent, they would’ve had to up their offer significantly from what it was—-so significantly that it would’ve dwarfed what he got from the Phillies. Once you add in C.C. Sabathia‘s and A.J. Burnett‘s contracts and the raise coming for Phil Hughes, then the Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera deals, you come to the conclusion that not even the Yankees could do that and stay financially sane.

I doubt anyone thought they’d end up with nothing.

Well, nothing unless you consider Mark Prior to be someone who can provide….something.

I’m not being cruel or sarcastic when I scoff at the notion of the club getting anything of substance from Prior. History has shown that he’s not going to stay healthy regardless of his stuff.

So where does that leave the Yankees?

GM Brian Cashman has said that they’re “unlikely” to acquire a top pitcher. This is even more stark with the Zack Greinke trade to the Brewers and Ricky Nolasco signing a contract extension with the Marlins.

There’s nothing out there.

The Yankees current depth chart in the starting rotation consists of Sabathia, Burnett, Hughes and Ivan Nova.

Venturing into frighteningly new and unfamiliar territory of rejection, the Yankees and their fans are confused and scrambling. They’ve grown accustomed to being able to purchase whatever they wanted/needed; when someone refuses their money, they have to step back and reassess; move onto Plan B; but Plan B wasn’t all that great either with Greinke being considered unsuitable for New York and the pressure of pinstripes.

They have no options other than to wait for mid-season and see which teams might place some pricey and unexpected arms out on the market.

Factoring in the aggression of the Red Sox and White Sox, the Yankees are now in the position of needing—-not wanting, needing—-Burnett to return to 2008 form (and since he’s not a free agent, don’t hold your breath).

Like the once wealthy person who looked down upon his contemporaries from a lower class, rather than being above the fray in digging for answers, the Yankees are amongst the rabble without the bounty to go around and the objects of their desires either refusing to take their cash or being sent elsewhere.

A lot can change in five months—-backward and forward.

  • Viewer Mail 12.21.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Pedro Feliciano:

Glad to hear you like the Feliciano signing for the Yankees. Always good to have a guy who will give you innings.

He’s actually more of a lefty specialist. The Mets made the mistake of trying him against both righties and lefties and it, um, didn’t work.

Justin writes RE Zack Greinke:

You’re just plain wrong throughout the article. Greinke was a 5WAR player last year. He doesn’t need to bounce back. A transition to the NL will make him even better.

Second, the whole point about facing Pujols in September is kind of moot. It’s not like he gets shelled everytime a good batter comes up to the plate because he’s scared.

Lastly, the Brewers bullpen morphed as the season went along. Loe, Braddock, Axford is a 7-8-9 inning trio that can stack up to the best.

Don’t come at me with WAR when we’re talking about more of a mental issue than performance; and he did not pitch up to the standard he set in 2009. His strikeouts were way down and he, bottom line, was on a level with a number 3 starter on a good team. He was the number 1 starter on a rotten team, so it didn’t make much of a difference, but now there are actual expectations in a team-concept aside from a talented and frazzled pitcher who’s failed to fulfill his potential.

You’re missing the point about facing Albert Pujols—-the mental aspect has a lot to do with performance and Greinke’s mentality is an acknowledged question mark.

Truth be told, I think he’s going to do very well with the Brewers, but if you’re expecting a Roy Halladay-level of dominance, you’re deluding yourself.

Speaking of which—-Kameron Loe, Zack Braddock and John Axford “stacking up with the best”? Really?

Bullpen performances are fluctuation, but Loe? Really? Are you expecting him to repeat what he did last season? Good luck there. Braddock walked 19 in 33 innings and his control wasn’t much better in the minors. Axford’s good. I’d prefer to have an established closer, but they can win with him.

Your expectations appear to be peppered with the enthusiasm from a big acquisition. Understandable, but mistaken.

Joe writes RE the Red Sox:

Everyone has games where they score double-digit runs. The offense was 2nd even with all of the injuries, which you mentioned in your first article, but fail to mention now. That is WAY more important than a few offensive “outbursts.”

(T)hey didn’t expect “too much” from any players. They hoped everyone could hit like they have, and be average or better. Then, the lineup would be really good up and down, but not necessarily *great*

Their 2009 offseason WAS “fine.” There 2010 offseason was great. You can’t grab great players in every offseason, that is unrealistic.

You try and decipher the intangibles/unknowns (You just did it with Greinke, as you cannot get in his mind, yet try and speak of how he might handle a big game), yet when I do it, you frown upon it. All I did was bring it up as a possibility that Theo was okay with waiting to acquire Gonzalez for 2011, rather than 2010. And any GM knew that they could also add an impact OF for 2011 through free agency. It is a definite possibility that this was Theo’s plan.

Joe’s bloviating comments are peppered with quotes from yours truly. You can read the entire context here—-link.
Where’s the “objective analysis” from which your life is based, Joe? All I see here is explosive defense of that which is, at best, arguable. That you happen to be wrong is irrelevant. If this were any other team I was discussing, you’d comment and move on; since it’s the Red Sox, you’re taking it as a personal affront for reasons that aren’t based in logic, but in emotional response.

And all this time I thought you were Spock.

Jeff at Red State Blue State
writes RE the Cubs and Kerry Wood:

I actually like Kerry Wood coming back to the Chi. As much as I dog the sCrUBS for being… well, dumb… Wood has long been a stand-out in the community and this is a good, cheap PR move if nothing else (I do think he’ll help Marmol get a hold of himself… maybe). Wood gives back so much to community and he is a genuinely nice guy. I hope to run into him at Wildfire sometime… maybe I’ll even buy him a drink.

I’m amazed he took such a light deal. $1.5 million? It’s nothing in today’s game; especially for a veteran who did very well with the Yankees and taking into account the dearth of relievers available.

Max Stevens writes RE the new site:

Prince, the new layout looks great. Congrats.

Thank you Max, we’re moving up in the world!!!

I was on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz yesterday talking about Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and all the other stuff that’s gone on in baseball. Go to Sal’s site for the I-tunes link or click The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010 to listen directly.


Bold, Flashy And Flawed

  • Holes big enough to drive a truck through:

I tend to look at the positive of what a player can do rather than what he can’t, so when it’s noted that the Brewers had to take Yuniesky Betancourt in the deal to acquire Zack Greinke from the Royals, I don’t harp of Betancourt’s poor defense and atrocious on-base percentage; I look at Betancourt’s 47 extra base hits in 2010 (a number he’s approached in every one of his full big league seasons) and say, “they might get some use from him”.

Apart from that, the Brewers have drastically improved themselves from the .500 team they’ve been in the past two seasons as they acquired Greinke from the Royals for a package of youngsters—-ESPN Story.

This comes on the heels of their acquisition of Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays. The Brewers rotation is now among the top tier in baseball with Yovani Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum and Randy Wolf as a number four—-where he belongs.

They can really hit as well.

But their flaws are still glaring and must be addressed as should their questions regarding the new manager and their newest acquisition, Greinke.

The Brewers bullpen has been awful in the past few years; they overspent on the likes of LaTroy Hawkins and David Riske to terrible results; Trevor Hoffman was great in his first season with the club in 2009, but horrific last year and is now gone. His replacement closer, John Axford, showed promise; if they truly intend to contend in the tough NL Central, they need to beef up the bullpen. I’m wondering whether they’ll make a bold move on Rafael Soriano now that they’ve got the starting rotation to go along with their lineup.

Then there are the lingering questions about Greinke. He was masterful in 2009 as he won the AL Cy Young Award. He was shaky in 2010 and until he loses the deer-in-the-headlights look, a jaundiced eye will be cast on his mental makeup.

Will he handle being the focal point even in a mid-market town like Milwaukee? He’s never been in a pennant race; he’s never pitched in a prototypical “big” game; he’s never been anywhere close to a relevant baseball venue. What happens in September if the Brewers are two games behind the Cardinals and heading into St. Louis for a key series with Greinke pitching the opener against Adam Wainwright? When he sees Albert Pujols striding to the plate with two runners on base in the first inning? Will he panic? Or will he rise to the occasion?

These are not small, insignificant questions to ask about a player who’s had the off-field mental problems dealing with his station that Greinke has had.

Even if he is the ace he was in 2009, the Brewers bullpen is a problem. If they go after Soriano, then they’re legitimate contenders for the playoffs. Could they survive with Axford? Maybe. But I’d prefer to have a proven closer.

Then there’s the new manager Ron Roenicke.

His resume is excellent; he comes from stock as a longtime journeyman player who hung around the big leagues on guile more than talent; he paid his dues managing in the minors and was a longtime coach for Mike Scioscia with the Angels.

But other managers have had similarly solid resumes and failed miserably, so you don’t know until you know. I think Roenicke will do well, but I also thought Trey Hillman was going to be a big time winner with the Royals, so it has to happen before it’s taken for granted.

The Brewers are a playoff contender in the pre-season analysis, but with those questions and the winter only half over, they do have other issues to address. Are they better than the Cardinals right now? I’d say no.

They’re among the group of teams who are in the mix for the playoffs; they’ve been aggressive in getting drastically better, but Greinke is no guarantee and the bullpen is a problem. What maneuvers they make from now on will determine the decision to anoint them as the class of the NL Central or not.

If the players perform as expected, holes can be covered; there are also mid-season deals to be made; but if they don’t do as they’re asked; if they stumble, someone has to pick up the slack. Do the Brewers have the personnel to do that?

Right now, I’d say I don’t know; right now, I’d say hold off and wait.

  • Viewer Mail 12.20.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Pedro Feliciano:

I hope “Perpetual Pedro” still has tendons and ligaments attached to his arm.

Feliciano has been a gutty and solid performer for the Mets; never complaining and always doing his job. He’ll blow a couple here and there, but for the most part in his 80 or so appearances, he’ll get the job done. He’s an asset to the Yankees bullpen.

Joe writes RE the Red Sox:

I like how you say the Red Sox were plagued by injuries and that is why their plan didn’t work. Then say not getting a bat was a “mistake.” Their offense was really good. And they had guys up and down the lineup that could hit some. It is actually possible that they wanted to wait to deal for Gonzalez with only a year left, to surrender one or two fewer prospects. Plus, they knew Crawford would be available. And they assigned a scout to follow him around for half of 2010. There have been jokes that Theo’s plan began at such a young age, but I have no trouble believing that he had a plan for 2011, before 2010 ever began. The Red Sox 2009 offseason was fine. The team was good enough in what was clearly a “bridge year.”

On the surface and without mining deeper into the accuracy of your statement through numbers—-supposedly your forte—-you’re right. The Red Sox offense was “good enough”; but when you look at it in detail, you’re selectively picking and choosing numbers to bolster your argument.

The Red Sox offense was second in the AL in runs scored, but that was skewered by some gigantic offensive explosions of double digit runs. They were inconsistent and flawed when constructed as they expected too much from players for whom it was unreasonable to expect too much.

If they didn’t want to overpay for Gonzalez, then why have they been pursuing him for the better part of two years (at least)?

Regarding Crawford, I don’t see it as a big deal that they were following him for half the year; that could have been a scouting operation not only for the decision of whether or not to sign him, but for a potential playoff matchup. I’m sure they had scouts assigned to keep an eye on Gonzalez and Jayson Werth along with any other player in whom they had an avid interest.

The Red Sox 2009 off-season was not “fine”; it was an attempt to build through stat zombie tenets—-like the “closer-by-committee”—-that failed in practice.

They’re doing it the way they should be doing it now; for that they should be applauded; but don’t try to alter history with non-facts as to their thinking that you or I couldn’t possibly know.

I was on last Wednesday with Sal at Sportsfanbuzz talking about the winter thus far. Click here to go to his site and get it from I-Tunes and here—-The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010—to get it directly.

Sunday Lightning 12.19.2010

  • Concepts vs Reality:

While last winter was dedicated to rebuilding via concept, this winter has been exemplified by an adherence to reality.

The Red Sox and Phillies both had “ideas” in the winter of 2009. Ideas that stemmed from overthinking. Both resulted in disappointment.

The Red Sox were determined to use pitching and defense rather than acquire a much-needed bat; they signed Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro to team-friendly, short-term deals; they signed John Lackey to bolster their rotation.

Beltre was an MVP candidate; Scutaro played as expected; Cameron got hurt; and Lackey was inconsistent at best. It wasn’t this concept that undid the Red Sox in 2010, but injuries; that doesn’t diminish the fact that they needed a bat in the middle of the lineup and were short in the bullpen.

The Phillies wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t gut their farm system if they traded for Roy Halladay; to do that, they made the lateral move of trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners for the prospects that would ostensibly replace those that were going to the Phillies in exchange for Halladay. As 2010 wore on, they teetered on the brink of irrelevance and addressed the shortness in the starting rotation by trading for Roy Oswalt.

This winter, both clubs have learned from their mistakes and addressed needs rather than be all things to all people at all times.

The Red Sox needed a bat and acquired two—-Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. In addition to that, they made the wise decision to augment their bullpen with proven veterans and post-season performers (both former closers) Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler.

Seizing on their burgeoning opportunity in the American League, the Red Sox have placed themselves head and shoulders above their competitors—-even the Yankees. They have a deep starting rotation; a powerful lineup that can catch the ball in the field; and a power-packed bullpen.

Don’t discount that the two pitchers who are going to be handling matters in the eighth and ninth innings, Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon, have closed for championship teams; they’ve gotten it done in the big spots. This is something very few relievers can say and it’s not meaningless. Trevor Hoffman, for all his accumulated saves, doesn’t have that. Jenks and Papelbon do.

As for the Phillies, their bold strike to sign Cliff Lee out from under the Yankees and Rangers was a glaring yet tacit admission on the part of GM Ruben Amaro Jr. that you cannot walk the tightrope with a veteran team and restock on the fly. The Phillies are older; they’re expensive and built to win now. With the addition of Lee, they’re assured of a playoff spot and are a great bet for a deep playoff run.

Both clubs have smart people in their front office—-they wouldn’t be in their current positions with continuing success if they didn’t—-but they out-thought themselves in 2009; what’s admirable is that they took the steps to fix their problems rather than cling to an ideal. Because of that, they’re the early and overwhelming favorites to face each other in the 2011 World Series.

  • Moderate blasts:

Cubs sign Kerry Wood

The idea of Wood being an “icon” returning to the his first home is a bit over-the-top, but Wood clearly wanted to go back to the Cubs as evidenced by his acceptance of a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. Even if they weren’t going to go crazy in an effort to keep him, the Yankees would absolutely have given him something closer to $5 million and possibly more than one year on the deal to be Mariano Rivera’s set-up man.

Will Wood be any better this time as a set-up man for Carlos Marmol than he was as a closer before he left? Wood was shaky at times and his injury issues are a concern, but for $1.5 million? It’s a great deal for the Cubs.

Yankees sign Pedro Feliciano

Feliciano has been worked, worked, worked and worked some more by the Mets paranoid and overactive managers Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel. Both wore out a path to the mound and wore out Feliciano in the process.

Since 2006, Feliciano has appeared in 64, 78, 86, 88 and 92 games, hence the nickname Perpetual Pedro. The deal with the Yankees is said to be for 2-years at $8 million. Feliciano is a lefty-specialist and he’s been durable; this will give provide the Yankees with something that was lacking in the past year as they overused Damaso Marte and relied on Boone Logan after Marte got hurt.

Will the abuse catch up to Feliciano? He’s been remarkably resilient, so I would expect him to be as useful to the Yankees as he was to the Mets when they were in their contending years.

This is a good move for the Yankees.

I was on last Wednesday with Sal at Sportsfanbuzz talking about the winter thus far. Click here to go to his site and get it from I-Tunes and here—-The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010—to get it directly.

Matsui Or Matsui

  • Which one?

As talented and charismatic as some of the Japanese imports are when they first reach North America, baseball is littered with more failures than successes.

For every Hideo Nomo, there’s Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa and Kenji Johjima. Even players who’ve been of use like Daisuke Matsuzaka can only be classified as disappointing.

Then there are the two New York acquisitions—-Hideki Matsui and Kaz Matsui.

Hideki joined the Yankees, was perceived to be little more than a solid player with a cool nickname (Godzilla) and major marketing possibilities.

Kaz joined the Mets and forced the shifting of Jose Reyes from shortstop to second base.

While Hideki was quiet cool, Kaz was personality and flair. But they each went in opposite directions. Hideki proved himself to be an all-around player; he could hit, hit for power and while he wasn’t a great fielder, it wasn’t due to lack of effort. He was durable, tough and hit in the clutch.

Kaz, on the other hand, was a disaster. He couldn’t field; he didn’t hit well enough to justify the contract and shifting of Reyes; and he was injury-prone. It was only when the Mets dumped him on the Colorado Rockies that he played somewhere close to expectations as he was an important contributor for the 2007 NL pennant winners. Kaz left the Rockies for the Astros as a free agent after the 2007 season and was again disappointing.

It’s a risk to expect major production from these newcomers regardless of scouting and prior performance.

The Twins are in need of a shortstop after the trade of J.J. Hardy; as I discussed two days ago, they’re in flux with their bullpen after the losses of Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier; and now they’ve signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a 3-year contract to take over at shortstop—-ESPN Story.

Nishioka batted .346 in 2010 for the Chiba Lotte Marines; he hit 11 homers and had 206 hits and stole 22 bases. But that essentially means nothing in coming to the big leagues. The power players—and not all of them are Japanese—-have shown in Japan has not translated to the majors. Hideki Matsui hit 50 one year in Japan; his career high in North America was 31.

How Nishioka’s game will translate remains to be seen, but judging from history and the Twins needs, they should probably not expect much in terms of similar production. Given the players they’ve lost so far, they’re going to need him to produce as well.

  • New site design:

You may have noticed that my site has been redesigned. It’s still being tweaked, but it looks more professional and there’s a preferable commenting section that was lacking in my prior design.

I was on last Wednesday with Sal at Sportsfanbuzz talking about the winter thus far. Click here to go to his site and get it from I-Tunes and here—-The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010—to get it directly.