Here’s To You Mr. Sheppard

The Yankees lost an icon today as Bob Sheppard passed away.  What’s amazing to think about is that Mr. Sheppard was almost 100 years old, falling just three months short of the milestone.  He didn’t even start announcing Yankees’ games until he was 40 and didn’t stop until he was almost 97-years old.

And it wasn’t just Yankees’ games.  He was the Giants announcer for years and as such, he became ingrained in the sports consciousness of most New York sports fans.  Whether it was Yankee Stadium or Giants Stadium that voice was all you needed to hear to get ready for the game.  We have missed his voice these last few years and it saddens me to think that younger generations will never get that tingle in their spine from hearing "The Voice of God".

Billy Crystal once said that when he got to Heaven he hoped Bob Sheppard would be there to announce him.  I don’t know who’s manning the PA up there tonight, but I hope he brought his A game.  

 

Finger Pointing and More

Disappointing to see Jacoby Ellsbury continue to publicly fight with the Red Sox medical staff.  I’m not sure how it happened, but Ellsbury seems very unhappy with Boston and I think his stay here might be limited.

It stems from the diagnosis of his broken ribs on 2 separate occasions this season.  Whether the Red Sox were right or wrong, it would be best to have these discussions behind closed doors, wouldn’t it?

Speaking of injuries, the Red Sox have 9 players from their opening day roster on the DL.  They are:  Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Manny Delcarmen, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hermida and Jacoby Ellsbury.  Wow.  Amazing to seem them still in the hunt.

With the trading deadline approaching, the Red Sox are going to have to evaluate whether or not the previously mentioned 9 DLed players will have a chance of coming back and making an impact.  If not, expect a deal to plug any holes.  I think all 9 have a chance of coming back with the possible exception of Ellsbury, I’m just not sure what to think of his situation.

If Ellsbury cannot contribute this year, the Red Sox will look for a power corner outfielder.  Jason Werth’s name has been mentioned, but I don’t see why Philadelphia would move him in the first place as they are only 5.5 games back.  Plus, he’d be expensive.

The Red Sox lead all of baseball with 478 runs scored but have allowed 406 runs which ranks 20th in MLB.  It doesn’t help that the left side of the infield has 25 errors.  Beltre has 14 and Scutaro has 11.

When the 2nd half of the season starts, we should start to see players come off the DL slowly transforming the team back to what we would expect to see.

I don’t think I like David Ortiz in the HR contest.  It can only mess up his swing in my opinion, that’s the last thing he and the Red Sox need.

Baseball On The Boardwalk

While the Cliff Lee madness was in full swing last night, I headed down to Coney island to check out the new amusement park, Luna Park, and the Brooklyn Cyclones.  If you are in the NYC area, I definitely recommend both.

Luna Park is in the space where the rundown rides used to be between the The Cyclone and Dino’s.  They have totally refurbished it and put about 18 rides into that strip.  They have some kiddie rides and some pretty good adult ones too.   They are a bit pricey on an individual basis, but for $26 you can purchase a 4-hour bracelet that allows you to ride as often as you like.  Surprisingly on a Friday Afternoon at 5pm, the park wasn’t overrun with people.  It was "comfortably crowded" but the lines were no more than 10 minutes for a ride. Of course when you tire of rides you can head up to the Boardwalk for some of the best people watching ever.  It’s also a great spot to grab an adult beverage and clam roll and enjoy the breeze off the ocean on a hot day. 

We then headed down to the Cyclones Park, MCU Stadium, right under the Parachute Jump.  It’s a great setting for a game, with the ocean over the outfield wall and most of the seats in the shade.  The ballpark features some very good BBQ items and of course you can get a Nathan’s or a Knish.  And there are plenty of Brooklyn Brewery beers available to consume.  Parking is $5 and tickets behind home plate were $16.  After the game on Friday night’s they have a fireworks show.  It was a pretty good one, about 15 minutes and a lot of fireworks.  

All in all, a pretty great way to spend a Friday night. 

 

That Was Weird

In the end, the Yankees didn’t get Cliff Lee.  You have to wonder if some of the reports that the Mariners took their offer and shopped it are true.  On the heels of last year’s failed Washburn negotiations, it might be a long, long time before you see the Mariners and Yankees complete a deal. 

I still think that trade would have been a slam dunk, but luckily the rotation is not the Yankees weakness.  They didn’t need Lee in the way that other teams did.  Where Lee could haunt them is in the playoffs and Texas will present a challenge with Lee and CJ Wilson, both lefties at the top of the rotation.

That’s a worry for the future, for now the needs are the same they were this morning.  Figure out how to solidify the bullpen and find a bat that can offer some positional flexibility.  

Cliff Lee?

So, moving from last night’s egofest we have news that the Yankees are "close" to acquiring Cliff Lee.  The details are sketchy, but Jesus Montero is the centerpiece of the deal and two other prospects are rumored to be included. Montero is a steep price to pay, but Lee is worth that price in my mind for three reasons.

First, the Yankees do not have a great spot to play Montero.  The fact that they have offered him to the Phillies for Lee and are willing to do the same with the Mariners tells you the Yankees don’t think he be a full-time catcher.  And if he can’t fill that roll, the Yankees would have to DH him which is something a team with older guys who need to take breaks on a regular basis can’t do.  In 2011, the best plan would be for Posada to DH 80-100 times, A-Rod 20, Jeter 20 and other guys fill in as needed.  (I know Jeter is a free agent, but I am willing to bet anything he is back for 2011)  And the DH picture doesn’t get much clearer in the future.  A-Rod is going to need more time there.  Jeter past 2011 would as well.  With DH and first blocked for the forseeable future, Montero doesn’t fit if he can’t catch everyday.

And that brings me to the second reason the Yankees can trade Montero, Austin Romine.  Romine is 21 and his catching skils have never been in doubt.  Add in a .281/.361/.423 line at Trenton (a huge pitcher’s park) and his bat is coming along nicely too.  Romine’s the true catcher of the future for this team and his hitting in AA makes Montero expendable.

The final reason is what Lee means to the rotation.  Sabathia and Lee are as good a 1-2 as any team in the league has.  Come playoff time this trade would make it extremely likely you won’t see AJ Burnett starting any games for the Yankees.  Add in the likely return of Hughes to the bullpen, where the Yankees can easily manage his innings and you have a win-win. 

One caveat, it would be a mistake to turn around and trade Vazquez.  Vazquez has pitched very well since mid-May and he will be a Type A free agent next year.  That means the Yankees would get two draft picks if someone else signed him, and with Lee, Sabathia, AJ and Hughes already in the rotation, you would have to think the Yankees let him walk. Plus, you can never have enough pitching.  Keep Vazquez, restock the farm system with the draft picks after the season.

Hang on to your hats, it’s going to be a bumpy day.

“A Setback”

Joe Girardi announced on Mike Francesca’s show today that Nick Johnson had suffered a setback in Tampa and had come back to New York.  He also mentioned that the type of injury he suffered can take a full year for players to recover from. 

I think that’s the official word that the Yankees need to give up the ghost and assume that Nick Johnson isn’t coming back.  Now they can go out and target a bat on the trade market.  A righty who can play multiple positions Would be a perfect fit.  

A L*B*on Free Zone

This may be the only place on the internet where you are safe from constant chatter about a certain basketball player with a TV special tonight.  I won’t use his name, but I think you can figure it out.  What I will say is this, A-Rod managed to make himself pretty unlikeable with all of his contract machinations (both in 2000 and 2007) I am surprised that this basketball player didn’t learn anything from that because he will be public enemy #1 for NBA fans in every city except the one he joins in a few hours.  At least he will have his millions to comfort him.

On to baseball  and the Yankees have four games until the All-Star Break and another crack at the Seattle duo of Hernandez and Lee (assuming Lee is still a Mariner tomorrow night) 

I think the Yankees have hit upon a good idea with their lineup shuffles of late.  Brett Gardner has a .395 OBP and can run like the wind, why wouldn’t you have him leadoff against RHP?  And, putting him in center against LHP with Thames in left and Granderson on the bench is also a good move.  Sitting Grandy last night was a good idea and I hope they do it again Friday if Cliff Lee is pitching.  Granderson has been awful and he is hitting .184 over the last 28 days.  A big part of the problem is his continuing struggles vs. LHP (.198/.244/.284).  I don’t know if Curtis is simply having the typical first year jitters of playing in New York or what is going on, but the Yankees can’t coddle him any longer.   Until his bat shows some life, keep Thames in left and Grandy on the bench when a LHP is starting.  DH Posada and let Cervelli, who can only hit LHP, catch.  That’s the best lineup for those games.  It may be a blow to Granderson’s ego, but the Yankees can’t worry about that right now.

If the Yankees are not comfortable with Thames in left on a platoon basis, their internal choices are Russo and Huffman.  I don’t see either of those options getting a real shot, so how about a trade?  Reed Johnson is still hitting lefties very well in LA.  Coco Crisp could provide some defense and an average bat.  There are other guys who could slot into left and allow Gardner to play center.  Whatever the choice, the Yankees need a different answer than Granderson in center no matter who is on the mound. 

Halfway Home

Didn’t it seem like yesterday was Opening Day? Can it really be true that the Yankees have now completed 81 games?  Am I the only one who thinks that was fast?  Well whatever happened to the time, we know the result- the Yankees are 50-31 with a 1-1/2 game lead in the AL East.  Last year they came to the halfway point at 48-33, 1 game back.  They have scored 15 fewer runs than at this point last year, but allowed 50 fewer.  By the pythagorean win-loss method, they are exactly where they should be. 

In 2009, the Yankees scored more runs in the second half (+13) and allowed fewer (-27) while compiling a 55-26 record.  It will be interesting to see if the 2010 Yankees can equal that production.  I think it is fair to say that the current team has only two hitters significantly hitting above their projections- Gardner and Cano.  Yet guys like A-Rod, Jeter, Granderson, Teixeira and Johnson are well below their career numbers.  If things revert to norm, you would have to expect the offense to improve.

On the pitching front, Andy Pettitte seems due for a big correction.  Phil Hughes hasn’t shown he can do this as a starter over a full season.  Vazquez and Burnett should get better if you believe the back of their baseball cards, Sabathia is pretty much where you would expect him to be.  What I keep wondering is if the Yankees should go all in on someone like Cliff Lee and move Hughes to the bullpen?  Joba hasn’t been the setup guy we expected and none of the other relievers look like they are ready to step up.  It would cost Montero, plus something else, but imagine what the Yankees would have with Lee in the rotation and Hughes back in the 7th and 8th. 

But that’s a discussion for the near future. For now, let’s enjoy the final 81 games of 2010.  

Not The Time

It’s rare that I disagree with Joel Sherman, but his column this morning calling for the elevation of Jesus Montero to the bigs strikes me as the wrong move.

Now I don’t deny that the Yankees could use some offensive help.  Cervelli is really someone you should only use against LHP and the bench doesn’t have a lot of "oomph" on it right now.  But, Montero is only 20 and struggled for two months in AAA this year.  He had a very nice June, but it can’t be said that he has dominated AAA- yet.  And that to me is the key. 

Jumping to the majors isn’t easy.  Look at Pedro Alvarez, a top-rated prospect in the Pirates organization.  Alvarez hit .277/.363/.533 in AAA before his callup and he is hitting .160/.218/.220 in 55 plate appearances in the bigs.  Jose Tabata (remember him?) got the call and has so far hit .247/.322/.346.  Remember Starlin Castro and his 6-RBI debut this year? .274/.337/.372 and only 12 RBI’s since.  

Yes, the transition can be done and done successfully midseason, but the Yankees have to look at the big picture here.  Montero needs to catch everyday he can, something he won’t do in the bigs.  And, he needs to show his bat can handle AAA before he gets promoted.  In June he did that, .283/.324/.505, but that still leaves his overall numbers at .245/.311/.412, which tells you how bad his first two months were.  Let’s give him another month at least before forcing him into the pressure cooker of Bronx baseball.  Long term, it is 100% the right move.

For now, how about Cervelli catching and Posada DH’ing when they face a LHP and let’s see Colin Curtis get some playing time against RHP.  It’s not the ideal DH situation, but until the lefty bat market heats up, it will have to do.

******
The Yankees optioned Boone Logan to the minors and promoted Dustin Moseley.  This move also used up the remaining spot on the 40-man, which tells you the Yankees are not expecting Nick Johnson back soon.  Johnson could have come off the DL July 8th, but would also require reinstatement to the 40-man roster.  Since we haven’t even heard a report of him swinging a bat, I would guess August 1st has to be the best case scenario at this point. 

Assuming he is hurt as badly as we think, how about calls to Arizona and KC to check into the availability of DeJesus and LaRoche?

Mercy

Alright, this is just getting ridiculous.

ESPN Boston is reporting that Jason Varitek has a fracture in his foot and will miss up to 6 weeks.  This really is getting worrisome it  means the Red Sox are now featuring a backstop tandem of Kevin Cash, he of the .541 career OPS, and Gustavo Molina, he of the .301 career OPS.  Yikes.

There is no concrete word on how Varitek injured his foot but most assume it must have been a collision with Adrian "I break bones in my teammates bodies" Beltre.  Having broken the ribs of both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jeremy Hermida already the natural progression, it would be easy to assume, would be for Beltre to focus on Varitek’s feet.

There was no on-field collision between the 2, so perhaps it was on the team plane or in the locker room, or a car accident between the 2?  Who know?

At least Cash has some experience with most of these starters and has caught the knuckleball before, but the line-up has been further diminished.  Considering that Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, all Red Sox regulars are out, there is little hope they can sustain their offensive production.

Depending on the seriousness of Varitek’s or Martinez’s injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boston pulls off a trade of some sort to add some offense to the line-up.  The options would be limited especially at the catcher spot, but you never know.  Maybe they can pick up Joe Mauer…no?  Fine.