Javier Vazquez’s Comeback and Potential Suitors

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Javier Vazquez surprisingly retired after a solid season for the Marlins in 2011 in which he posted a 13-11 record; a 3.69 ERA; a hits/innings pitched ratio of 178/192 with 50 walks and 178 strikeouts. It must be added that he also had a dreadful start, pitching terribly until mid-June. For the entire second half, he was a different pitcher, one who was in demand as a free agent and chose to “retire” at age 35.

He can still pitch, just not as a Yankee, having failed there twice. I certainly wouldn’t bring him back to the Yankees, nor to Boston or Baltimore, but every other contending or would-be contending club is an option and Vazquez, while not saying he’s definitely returning, will pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico and has said he’s considering a comeback to MLB. For a $10 million payday, why not?

So which teams could use Vazquez and meet the criteria as contender?

Let’s take a look.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays don’t really need another starter, but I suppose they could trade Ricky Romero and attach Adam Lind to him to get Lind’s contract off the roster in exchange for a 1B/DH bat and install Vazquez into the spot, but I’d keep Vazquez away from the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays

Vazquez isn’t coming back for an incentive-laden deal with a low base salary, which is essentially the only method in which the Rays invest in free agents as they did with Roberto Hernandez (née Fausto Carmona). Tampa would be a good spot in every aspect, but they can’t pay him.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians agreed to terms with Brett Myers yesterday and are using him as a starter. They’re clearly intent on trying to win within their means under new manager Terry Francona and Vazquez would fall into the veteran starting pitcher template. Francona’s gentle handling of his players would suit Vazquez.

Los Angeles Angels

Vazquez is better than Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, but again, teams didn’t know Vazquez was available. The Angels don’t have any room for him now.

Texas Rangers

His penchant for allowing home runs is a concern in Texas, but their infield defense would also help him greatly. They’re a contender, would prefer a pitcher on a short-term contract and have had success with pitchers like Colby Lewis who’ve left for Japan and came back to MLB making Vazquez’s departure and return a non-issue.

The Rangers are a definite possibility.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are waiting out Adam LaRoche and his free agency tour. In a free agency family tree sort of situation, LaRoche might go to the Red Sox if their contract snag with Mike Napoli isn’t ironed out and the deal comes undone. If that’s the case, the Nats won’t be able to trade Mike Morse. If they can trade Morse, they can move him for a starting pitcher. Or they can sign Vazquez and worry about the other stuff later.

Vazquez spent the first six years of his career with the Nats organization when they were in Montreal. He’s a perfect fit back in the NL East where he had his best years and pitching for a legitimate World Series contender in Washington.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have enough starting pitching, so much so that they traded Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden. But Brandon Beachy is returning from Tommy John surgery and Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are kids, so there’s a spot for a veteran like Vazquez if they want him. Vazquez had the year of his life with the Braves in 2009, won 15 games (he should have won 22) and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. It’s doubtful they’d do it, but it’s logical.

Philadelphia Phillies

Vazquez is better than John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick—the two pitchers at the back of the Phillies rotation and gigantic steps down from the top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels—but the home run ball would be an issue for Vazquez and the Phillies offense and defense aren’t what they once were to account for Vazquez’s faults. He’d surrender a ton of homers in Philadelphia. He’s probably ill-suited mentally to the fans of Philadelphia booing him if he pitches 6 no-hit innings and then gives up a run in the seventh with the team leading 10-1.

Milwaukee Brewers

They desperately need starting pitching and have money to spend, but I’m not sure they’re contenders even though they can hit.

Pittsburgh Pirates

They just spent a large portion of available funds on Francisco Liriano. But they might be able to swing Vazquez. They’re intriguing for Vazquez and vice versa. The Pirates are a NL Central club with a big ballpark and enough young talent to be taken seriously as a contender, so perhaps they can work something out with Vazquez if they clear some money elsewhere.

San Diego Padres

The Padres don’t have a ton of money to toss around nor status as a winter contender, but they could surprise in 2013 with their onrushing young talent. They also brought the fences in and lowered the walls at Petco Park, which would affect a homer-prone pitcher like Vazquez.

They could jump in on him in a surprise move.

Vazquez didn’t plan this very well if he wanted to start a bidding war. He realistically could’ve guaranteed himself $12 million if he’d made his services available at the conclusion of the 2012 season and seen the bidding go up with a 1-year deal plus an option with the requisite buyout. He could’ve made $15 million if he’d played it right.

All things considered, Vazquez and the Nationals are destined to wind up together. That’s if he decides to pitch; and if the Nats don’t trade Morse; and Yankees GM Brian Cashman doesn’t try to prove himself “right” by going after Vazquez again for the Yankees.

//

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From the People Who Brought You Michael Ynoa…

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Michael Ynoa is a right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic who signed with the Athletics for a then-A’s record signing bonus of $4.25 million signing bonus in June of 2008.

He’s now 20-years-old and has thrown 9 professional innings in almost four years.

Ynoa had Tommy John surgery and is expected to pitch this season in the minors.

When he signed, his name was spelled Inoa; now it’s Ynoa. Whether there’s a Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez Heredia story and we’ll discover that he’s actually 43 in the future is unknown.

But back then, Billy Beane wasn’t criticized for the signing; he wasn’t criticized after Ynoa got hurt; and people have forgotten about the risk he took by making an investment in such a question mark while having little money to spend.

The only difference between then and now is that Beane’s status as untouchable and protected from the righteous indignation that other GMs are subject to has become more pronounced and gotten exponentially worse.

I’m not getting into saying the signing of Yoenis Cespedes is a good deal or a bad deal; that Billy Beane is betraying the tenets of Moneyball upon which his built his status as the Teflon GM; or questioning if the newest member of the Oakland Athletics, Cespedes, is going to be worth the 4-year, $36 million contract he’s reported to have agreed to.

That’s not what this is about.

It’s about Beane’s judgment being cast as unassailable because of a book, a movie and perception that he can do no wrong in spite of having done almost nothing but wrong since his last playoff team in 2006.

How is it possible to credit a man who is clearly just flinging things at the wall with no definable strategy? A man who’s hoping to get a new ballpark for his team and then have money to spend to attract players to come to his ballclub?

Does it make sense to trade the young pitchers Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey who weren’t making a ton of money and were part of the one strength the Athletics had—on the mound—for packages of young players and then turn around and use the money that the team was supposed to be saving on Cespedes? To keep Coco Crisp? To trade for Seth Smith? To sign Jonny Gomes and Bartolo Colon?

Anything can be justified by anyone if they’re sufficiently motivated, but how do you take seriously those who refuse to criticize someone for reasons that have nothing to do with the job he’s done, but because it conveniences them to shield someone like Beane from criticism because there’s a clear investment in the concept of him being what his fictional account says he is?

Ask yourself this: if these deals were made by Omar Minaya, Dayton Moore, Bill Bavasi, Tony Reagins, Ed Wade or even Ruben Amaro Jr.—any GM who’s invited ridicule for the money spent and trades made in recent years without a plan that is palatable to the outsider “experts” that judge baseball from the safety of their armchairs and newsrooms—what would be said?

Would this be called another brilliant maneuver or would it add another layer to the reasons they should be replaced?

Cespedes might make it. He might not. Judging from the clips I’ve seen of him, he’s an intriguing talent.

But there have been many intriguing talents who’ve been pursued due to the free agent status of Japanese, Cuban, Venezuelan and other countries for players not trapped in the MLB draft. Many of these players failed miserably.

The Yankees, Red Sox and even the Marlins could afford to sign Cespedes and have him be a bust. The Yankees and Red Sox because they have the money; the Marlins because of the Cuban population in Miami would come to the games—for awhile—because they signed a young, Cuban player with multiple talents.

Can the A’s afford it if he’s a bust?

If he is, will we see more excuses as to why it’s not Beane’s fault and he’s still “smarter than the average bear”?

And if so, will you still believe it?

How long are young going to allow yourself to be treated as a fool?

How long?

//

Crippled Central

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In the past week two of the contending teams in the American League Central suffered losses of different kinds. The Tigers will be without DH Victor Martinez for the entire season after he tore a ligament in his knee, supposedly while training; the Indians have no idea when or if they’ll have Fausto Carmona AKA Roberto Hernandez Heredia for 2012 after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic for using a false name.

Where does this leave the division now that two teams are already compromised a month before spring training?

There’s an opening for every team to try and sneak their way to the top. They all have an argument as to why they shouldn’t be discounted as contenders and drastic flaws that would render them obsolete if they were in the AL and NL East as well as the AL West.

But they’re in the AL Central, an expanse of possibility.

The Twins are trying to recover from a 99-loss 2011 and while Terry Ryan has taken steps to get back to doing things the “Twins Way”, their starting pitching is, at best, mediocre and they haven’t repaired the bullpen to counteract that starting pitching and get back to their strategic template during their good years of competent starters and a deep, diverse corps of relievers.

The Tigers and Indians can hit and they’ve made incremental improvements with Octavio Dotel bolstering the Tigers bullpen and Derek Lowe joining the Indians as a cheap, innings-eater who was supposed to slide into the rotation behind Ubaldo JimenezJustin Masterson and Carmona.

But the loss of Martinez hurts the Tigers badly and Carmona is no longer Carmona.

Those that think the White Sox are going to be horrendous are wrong. Ken Williams is seemingly vacillating on how to move forward with a retooling and is straddling the line in an indecisive manner. A neophyte manager Robin Ventura, no closer and questionable offense are secondary to a division that might only take 85 wins to make the playoffs. Jake Peavy is in his contract year and if their starting pitching holds up, they’ll be hovering around contention.

Given this turn of events, the one team that should take a step back and reconsider their strategy of patience is the Royals. No, they’re not particularly good and the comparisons to the Rays of 2008 ignores that the Rays had more talent and a competent front office when it came to making big league acquisitions. As much as the Dayton Moore-led Royals have accumulated talent throughout the system, their decisions on which established big leaguers to pursue and retain have been bewildering.

That excess minor league talent could get them what they need: a name starting pitcher who’ll give them 200 innings. They also have some money to spend.

Matt Garza is available via trade. Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson are floating around in free agency looking for work.

If the Royals can get one or even two of them, they could vault right to the top of a weak division.

The key for a club making the innocent climb and building through homegrown talent and selective free agents is to know when to go for the deep strike.

Considering this week’s turn of events, the Royals should think very hard about seizing the opportunity and going for it now.

//

Carmona’s Story is the American Way

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I’m shocked by the fact that others are shocked that players from the Dominican Republic use fake names to get themselves signed by big league clubs.

In spite of the attempts MLB has made to rein in the rampant malfeasance than has gone on forever in countries not subject to the MLB draft, it’s still tantamount to the Wild West. Clubs aren’t going to be interested in a player who is above a certain age, so a determined player finds a way around that obstacle. These young, uneducated and dirt poor kids aren’t worried about the future and “what happens if I get caught?” They see an opening and they take it. Some of them—Fausto Carmona and Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo—make it to the big leagues, get multi-million dollar contracts and craft a nice life for themselves.

Like the holier than thou response to those who used PEDs to keep their jobs or advance themselves—and make a lot of money—we see the same thing with the players who’ve used the names of others and lied about their ages as critics eagerly profess their own the concept of “right” and “wrong”—a concept that’s easy to say, hard to live by.

“Oh, I’d never do that!”

Really?

Never?

Carmona, whose real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia and is 31 rather than 28, is the second player who’s been outed as using an alias since last summer. Leo Nunez of the Marlins was revealed to actually be Juan Carlos Oviedo. At the time, the Marlins had been receiving calls from teams interested in trading for Nunez and they turned them down flatly. Only later was it revealed why they weren’t talking about dealing him. What I don’t understand is why Nunez was allowed to pitch after the Marlins knew he wasn’t who he said he was, was living in the United States and working illegally. Shouldn’t the Marlins have been held accountable for affecting the outcomes of games by using a pitcher who didn’t have the proper documentation to be their employee? It all sort of went away and Oviedo is still with the Marlins and under contract.

That’s the point.

If Nunez/Oviedo couldn’t help the Marlins with his arm, there would’ve been greater outrage and “punishment” for deceiving them and everyone else by getting rid of him. Because he’s a power arm who strikes out a lot of hitters, all is forgiven.

With Carmona/Heredia, do the Indians really care all that much that he’s not who he said he was and is older than his stated age of 28?

Not if he gives them the 190-200 innings they’re expecting from him.

It’s an inconvenience but not a tragedy. The Indians exercised Carmona’s contract option for 2012 at $7 million in spite of him having pitched, at best, inconsistently since a 19-win season in 2007 in which he finished 4th in the American League Cy Young voting. He’s durable and can be quite good, so he’s worth the $7 million as Carmona or Heredia.

You can bet that if it were a pitcher with an onerous contract like A.J. Burnett or John Lackey, their respective teams would be so livid and offended that they’d have no choice but to nullify the contracts—it would be the “right” thing to do.

Plus they don’t want to pay them or keep them because they’ve pitched poorly.

If it was a fringe big leaguer or an organizational minor leaguer, it’d be much easier to make a great show of indignation by releasing the player for doing wrong. Since they’re established big leaguers, those inconvenient “rules” are flexible and based on what suits the team.

Whether Carmona/Heredia are allowed to pitch in the big leagues after this is the question and we don’t yet know the answer.

I don’t blame anyone who lies about his age or tries to find a way to get off the island and out of poverty by playing baseball. For many of them, it’s all they know how to do. Are they hurting anyone by using any means necessary to achieve their goals? They wanted the American dream and they got it. If you look at most major successes and dissect them, it’s unlikely that the story is neat and tidy. Moral ambiguity sometimes requires wiping away blood and fingerprints.

As for the clubs themselves, the Marlins made their decision with Oviedo and the Indians will probably make a similar decision with Carmona/Heredia. The AL Central is winnable for the Indians and if they’re going to contend, they’ll need that pitcher—whatever his name is. Since he can still fire a baseball at 90+ mph, he’ll be forgiven. When he’s no longer able to do that, he’ll be gone.

That too is the American way.

This is baseball—the National Pastime in more ways than one.

//

Quality Moves, Under the Radar

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While the Marlins and Angels have garnered the headlines with their spending sprees; the Nationals by their overreaching trade for Gio Gonzalez; the Red Sox with their front office and off-field controversies; and Billy Beane for being Billy Beane and therefore worthy of attention just because, two teams have made drastic improvements amid questions, criticisms, ridicule and camouflage.

The Rockies and Indians are poised to leap into serious contention in 2012 because of said acquisitions and they’ve done it relatively cheaply and without fanfare.

Still needing help with their starting pitching, the Rockies are one of the suitors for the underrated and mean Hiroki Kuroda; if they get him, I’ll like their off-season all the more.

Here are the Rockies moves so far:

Signed OF/1B Michael Cuddyer to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract.

I went into detail about the match between Cuddyer and the Rockies in an earlier posting. In short, his defense in right field won’t be an issue because of the Rockies pitching staff’s penchant for getting ground balls; his hitting will improve markedly playing in Coors Field; and he might see substantial time at first base with the recent injury history of Todd Helton. He’s a better player than Seth Smith and will hit and hit for power.

Traded RHP Huston Street to the Padres for minor league lefty Nick Schmidt.

The Rockies sent $500,000 to the Padres (for Street’s 2013 buyout) and cleared the rest of his $7.5 million salary.

Street was not reliable as a closer, gave up too many hits and homers and was expensive; the Rockies dumped him and his paycheck and have Rafael Betancourt to close and Matt Lindstrom to back him up.

Schmidt is 25 and still in A ball. This was a money spin for an organizational warm body and it was a smart thing to do.

Traded C Chris Iannetta to the Angels for RHP Tyler Chatwood; signed C Ramon Hernandez to a 2-year, $6.4 million contract.

Iannetta has pop and gets on base, but he was never able to put a stranglehold on the everyday catching job; Chatwood was one of the Angels top pitching prospects who had an up-and-down season in Anaheim. He’s a ground ball pitcher who should do well in Colorado.

Hernandez is fine with being a part-timer, has power and throws well. He’ll be a perfect tutor to young prospect Wilin Rosario.

Traded INF Ty Wigginton to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash; signed 3B/1B/OF Casey Blake to a 1-year, $2 million contract.

Wigginton was a fiery player and hit a few homers, but he’s terrible defensively and limited offensively. They’re paying $2 million of his $4 million salary and signed Blake to a 1-year contract for $2 million—basically they traded Wigginton for Blake and it’s a great trade…if Blake is healthy.

Blake missed most of the 2011 season with multiple injuries and required neck surgery.

His health is the key. He’s versatile and is a good fielder; he has power; and Blake is plainly and simply a professional baseball player who goes unnoticed but is a key component to a winning team—the other players, coaches and managers will tell you how good a player a healthy Blake is.

If they add a Kuroda or Roy Oswalt to go along with the package they got last summer for Ubaldo Jimenez, it equates to a strong top-to-bottom club that has repaired the holes that caused their underwhelming 2011 record of 73-89.

The Indians have done the following:

Acquired RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves for minor league LHP Chris Jones and $10 million.

There’s no defending Lowe’s performance for the Braves, but the Indians got an innings-eater and will only pay $5 million of his $15 million salary. When a durable sinkerballer like Lowe is pitching so poorly, the issue is generally mechanical; if the Indians can fix whatever was preventing him from getting the proper movement on his pitches, he can again be effective; perhaps he just needed a change-of-scenery.

Either way, you can’t go wrong for $5 million. With Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin, the Indians have a formidable rotation backed up by a strong bullpen.

Re-signed CF Grady Sizemore to a 1-year, $5 million contract after declining his option.

Sizemore was a budding star before microfracture surgery derailed him; he’s worked very hard to come back and it took Carlos Beltran (whom the Indians pursued but lost to the Cardinals) a full season to return to relative normalcy after a bone bruise. Although Beltran didn’t need microfracture surgery, the injuries and recovery times are similar. If Sizemore can be 75-80% of what he was, he’s a bargain.

The Indians finished ninth in the American League in runs scored and are looking for another bat, but with full seasons from Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo along with some semblance of production from first base (they need to sign someone, perhaps Derrek Lee) and Travis Hafner, they’ll score enough to contend in the winnable AL Central.

The Rockies and Indians need to be watched closely in 2012 because they’re legitimate playoff threats without having spent $300 million as the Angels did or hoodwinking their local government to get a new ballpark as the Marlins did.

They did it with under-the-radar acquisitions, bold and clever.

And they’re going to pay off.

***

I’ll be a guest tomorrow with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City. I’ll link the appearance and post it here.

Spread the word!

//

The Clock Is Ticking On The Indians

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If you think the Indians are going to get the continued pitching excellence from the starting rotation and especially the bullpen all season long, you can forget it.

Fausto Carmona has proven he can be trusted for the most part; Josh Tomlin looks like the real deal; I’m not sold on Justin Masterson or Carlos Carrasco. The future is positive, but right now they’re still finding their way in the big leagues.

Their offense has been far and away beyond expectations; they’re leading the league in runs scored based on a couple of big outbursts like the 19-run shellacking of the Royals last week. Even if they slow down a bit, once Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana start hitting; Grady Sizemore gets back; and if Travis Hafner stays healthy, they’ll score enough to win a few games.

But it comes down to the pitching and their schedule.

The upcoming schedule is a nightmare with the Reds, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Rangers, Yankees and Tigers up to mid-June.

They might be back at .500 by then.

With the hot start giving them some cushion, the Indians might finish at or close to .500 this season, but reality will strike and they’ll fade from playoff contention by August. Or sooner.

****

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

//

The Stages Of Phil Hughes

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Given my predilection for predictions, here’s the template for what’s happened, is happening and will happen with struggling Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes. Like the stages of grief, it goes in segments.

I’m not here to diagnose. I’m here to observe and report; express and explain; serve and protect.

Stage 1—Explanatory Calm:

Going back to spring training there were whispers about Hughes’s alarming lack of velocity.

Being it was spring training, there was nothing to be concerned about, but clearly there was pause emanating from all parties as to why a seemingly healthy and well-protected 24-year-old couldn’t achieve previous heights with his fastball.

Contrary to popular belief, velocity isn’t the most important thing in a pitcher’s arsenal—provided he has the ancillary pitches and control to get by without it; Hughes has always been able to rely on a live fastball to get through if he needed it.

The Yankees hierarchy gave the cliché responses of not worrying, but obviously they’re worried. And they should be.

Stage 2—Game Circumstances:

Hughes got blasted by the Tigers in his first start; he got rocked by the Red Sox in his second start. He looked and said he was “lost” and is grasping for answers; clutching at that missing few inches on his fastball that’s so unexplainable in its appearance and disappearance.

Despite the idiotic talk from the likes of Buster Olney who said, via Twitter:

“You’d have to assume the Yankees will talk about replacing Hughes in their rotation with Colon; for whatever reason, Hughes has no weapons.”

The Yankees won’t replace Hughes as long as he’s healthy because they can’t replace Hughes.

Fastball or not, he has to pitch and hope his fastball comes back.

Stage 3—The Obvious Process:

The biggest hurdle with his fastball isn’t necessary the pitch itself; nor is it the diminished velocity.

No.

The issue is that everyone, everywhere is talking about it and expressing their personal and uneducated opinions about what’s wrong with Hughes and how to repair it.

The Yankees themeselves aren’t saying what their diagnosis is—publicly. Perhaps there’s a lingering injury that won’t get any worse if he pitches through it, but is sabotaging his fastball. It could be to his lower body, his shoulder, his hips—we don’t know.

The relentless chatter will be a ghostly presence around Hughes as he climbs from his hole.

Chatter from the media; the fans; teammates; opponents—everyone—will make matters worse.

Desperation to regain what he lost will lead him to try too hard; to incorporate all the advice he receives and create a mishmash of techniques, movement and exercises; this will add to the confusion and self-doubt.

It won’t take long before someone suggests he head to the Florida Keys to engage in alligator wrestling under a full moon to regain his fastball.

And Hughes tries it.

I find if laughable that laypeople are diagnosing the Hughes “problem”.

Believe me when I say that Larry Rothschild and Joe Girardi know more about pitching than you do.

Maybe GM Brian Cashman would like to simplify matters and blame Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen. Although it didn’t fly with the Pedro Feliciano back-and-forth, it doesn’t mean you abandon the strategy after one failure. And last year, Dave Eiland was a convenient scapegoat for A.J. Burnett.

Stage 4—Panic and Reality:

The Yankees are not in a position to remove Hughes from the starting rotation if he’s healthy enough to pitch. Bartolo Colon looked good yesterday, but he’s 38; has a long injury-history and hasn’t been a regular part of a big league club’s starting rotation since 2005. Do you really believe he’s the answer? The answer to questions that were present before the Hughes enigma?

As for Freddy Garcia, the Yankees are making painstaking gymnastic flips to prevent him from pitching; I recently said that Garcia won’t last past May-June in a Yankees uniform, but he might hang around if he never pitches.

Neither Colon nor Garcia are long-or-short term answers for an absent Hughes.

Stage 5—Fallout:

The Yankees are in deep, deep trouble without Phil Hughes delivering some semblance of what he did last year. Their 2011 starting rotation was woefully short with Hughes pitching up to his potential.

Now?

Now what?

Their bullpen-based strategy was contingent on getting length from CC Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes; Ivan Nova is gutty and looked good in his first start, but they don’t know what they’ll get from him over the course of the season; and the fifth starter—Garcia—hasn’t been used yet.

Pushing the bullpen hard to account for another pitcher in their rotation is going to exhaust its reserves by mid-season. Girardi overmanages anyway and with the finger on the button of pulling his starter to win games with Hughes as well, they’re going to blow out.

The Yankees will have no choice but to start scouring baseball for starting pitching. Presumably this will be after giving Kevin Millwood a chance. Teams know the desperation; they’re aware of the Yankees farm system; Felix Hernandez is not available.

What then?

Will they find themselves in a dogfight for a playoff spot at the trading deadline (or sooner) and have to ante up more than they want to for a James Shields? Ryan Dempster? Carlos Zambrano? Fausto Carmona? Chris Carpenter?

And what if the bullpen is shot by mid-season? They’re going to need relievers too.

The Yankees have a problem here.

A big one.

Currently, they can wait and use what they have to get through the Hughes starts, hoping that his fastball and confidence reappear just as miraculously/disturbingly as they vanished.

After that, then what?

What if it doesn’t come back?

What if he’s hurt?

What are they going to do?

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long. It’s not a “preview”; it’s a guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

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Sith Lord Saturday 2.26.2011

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

You’ve heard of Sunday Lightning, well then welcome to Sith Lord Saturday—to be utilized when there’s a load of stuff to address on a Saturday.

  • The Mets, Madoff, MLB and money:

The Mets are starting to look like something out of The Producers.

Is it possible that the annual screw-ups are a matter of design? That the way the club is spiraling into the depths—first on the field and now off—is part of some grand scheme hatched by an amoral puppeteer?

No. It’s not me.

I say it’s probably not a plot. They mean well but aren’t that clever.

The latest in the Mets-Bernie Madoff saga is that the club received what amounts to being a “bridge loan” for liquidity in November; the loan, $25 million, was provided by MLB itself and was not revealed until yesterday—NY Times Story.

This story is ever-evolving and doesn’t have a clear end in sight in time or result. I’m not convinced that the Wilpons won’t be able to wriggle their way out of it; much depends, of course, on how long the lawsuit drags and whether or not it can be settled; the easy answer—that I too have been saying—is that they’ll have no choice but to sell the team.

Just yesterday I suggested that the reluctance to sell now is due, in part, to not wanting to have the profit that would accompany such a full blown sale left sitting there for the plaintiffs to take immediately.

But the more I think about it, the less appropriate is for a still-developing story to be analyzed on the fly.

People have criticized Mike Francesa for his attempts to clarify the saga by speaking to experts and taking calls from people with knowledge of the law, stocks and banking. After the first few days of the usual Francesa self-proclaimed expertise, he showed deference and admitted that he doesn’t know much about this as he tried to sift through the information he was getting.

That’s the point.

We only have bits and pieces of information and there are very few people with the breadth of knowledge and experience to interpret what’s happening to come to a reasonable and well-thought-out conclusion.

It’s all chatter now. Small, isolated jagged shards of information that, left alone, don’t tell the whole tale. But that’s all we’re getting.

It’s irresponsible for people to be predicting a sale; a bankruptcy; or vindication when few know or comprehend the scope of the situation.

We won’t know until we know. It has to play itself out completely.

  • In Brown we do not trust:

I’m not sure why the Phillies didn’t take a chance on Manny Ramirez.

They clearly don’t trust Domonic Brown as their everyday right fielder and are looking for a competent, “just-in-case” veteran who can play right. They looked into Jeff Francoeur before he signed with the Royals; and have asked the Nationals about Mike Morse.

Morse would be a fine pickup for the Phillies—a Jayson Werth-type gamble of a player who’s never gotten a chance—if the Nats are dealing him.

I doubt they will. The Nats offense is weak and I sense that Werth will be playing a lot of center this season with Morse in right to boost the offense.

The Phillies have a tendency to make absolutely sure their in-house products are ready before letting them play full time in the big leagues. They did so with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and J.A. Happ—all three of whom could’ve been productive big leaguers before they got the chance.

In fairness to the Howard situation, his way was blocked by Jim Thome and they had nowhere to put him.

The others were held back until their mid-20s.

You can’t argue with the Phillies development apparatus, but Brown is the one player they refused to trade in the flurry of deals for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, et, al. They can’t give him a legitimate chance to play?

One could argue that the decision to hold said players back is financial; that they want to get full production from them in their prime years before having to pay them big money. You could blow the financial sanity argument away by looking at the lunatic contract they gave to Howard to preclude his free agency.

I can’t escape the fact that the Phillies are looking for a right field bat; that Manny signed for nothing with the Rays; Charlie Manuel was a father-figure to Manny; in the Phillies offense, he’d be an ancillary piece; and in the ballpark, he’d hit his homers.

They put up with Werth’s attitude, could Manny have been much worse?

  • Slow and steady editing; thinking before hitting publish:

Some people shouldn’t indulge in stream-of-consciousness reactions before commenting.

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated is one such person.

He appears to have deleted the tweets, but I know he said them because I saw them and commented on them as they happened. It’s not a big deal, but Heyman said something to the tune of the Indians were making nice under-the-radar signings to improve.

Chad Durbin and Orlando Cabrera might be nice signings for a team like the Yankees as veterans to bolster to the current roster, but the Indians?

At risk of betraying the mysteryyyy of my upcoming book, the signings of Durbin and Cabrera are likely to spur the Indians from a record of 67-95 to a record of….67-95.

The Indians could be slightly better than that if a vast array of “ifs” come to pass.

If Travis Hafner stays healthy…

If Grady Sizemore recovers from micro-fracture surgery…

If Carlos Santana develops into the Victor Martinez-type hitter he’s shown minor league evidence of being…

If Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson show anything as starters behind Fausto Carmona

If Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta hit…

If, if, if…

These tweets were following the criticism of Luis Castillo for not showing up to Mets camp early; then Heyman made snide comments about being “sick” of Castillo and that the club should release him and sign David Eckstein.

Thanks for the input and idiocy after: A) Castillo wasn’t required to arrive early; and B) the player’s brother was having surgery.

There are clever analytical responses that are inherent to credibility—this is required for an outlet like Twitter.

Heyman’s missing it.

There’s being witty without being mean.

He’s missing that too.

Not only is he weak (he blocked me on said apparatus known as Twitter—literally for nothing other than pointing out that he’s got no sense of humor); and he’s somewhat vicious in a wimpy, passive-aggressive sort of way.

It’s not a positive trait to have especially if he can dish it out and not take it.