But Can He Field?

Today’s game wasn’t on TV, so I pursued the boxscore and something caught my eye- Jorge Vazquez played third today. Obviously, this is an attempt by the Yankees to see if he could cover both corners in the infield. If he could, you would think he has a real chance to stick with the club when they go north.

It’s not a crazy idea, but the odds would seem to be against it. Vazquez made two errors in 20 chances at third last year and hasn’t really played there regularly since 2003. Today the only play that he had in his three innings there was on an infield single. (Note, impossible to tell if it really was an infield single or if this was a case of the hometown scorer giving his player a hit) It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on Vazquez and his positioning as spring goes on.

A few other notes from the game-

Manny Banuelos pitched a scoreless inning with 2 K’s. The three hitters he faced (Martinez, Inge and Perralta) are all established major leaguers.

Mark Prior also pitched a scoreless frame striking out one while allowing two fly balls.

Russell Martin drew two walks.

Zip It Bobby

In what has turned out to be a bit of a circus, the Bobby Jenks vs. Ozzie Guillen fued is hopefully over. At least publicly.

In recent weeks and months, Jenks has found the need to talk about the Chicago White Sox manager and the White Sox organization as a whole. Guillen, never one to stop talking, has returned serve on each occassion.

This has to be a major distraction for Terry Francona. It seems he took Jenks aside and told him to knock it off and focus on pitching for the Red Sox in 2011. The fact Francona had to step in tells you a bit about how Bobby Jenks operates. He clearly is acting in an immature fashion and apparently doesn’t realize his jabbing distracts his manager, teammates and organization as a whole.

Jenks doesn’t arrive here is with a stellar reputation as far as off-field behavior and this affair is providing a glimpse into how he operates. Hopefully Francona has managed to turn off the spigit on this particular issue and hopefully Jenks will learn from this and consider the ramifications of his words before he speaks them. I’m not holding my breath.

Game 2 Thoughts

Didn’t catch the whole game, but I saw a couple of things in today’s game.

Ivan Nova looked very good, striking out two and keeping the ball on the ground (4 groundouts 0 flyouts) but the story of the day had to be Dellin Betances. I have to keep reminding myself that this was one inning against the Phillies, but wow. He hit 97 on at least two pitches and showed a really nice curveball. He’s 6’8″, so he looks imposing too. We will have to see what happens and we know he is ticketed for AA, but if he keeps this up, he can definitely help this club in 2011.

I said it yesterday and I will say it again, Jorge Vazquez can help this team now. He hit another homer today, not as impressive a shot as yesterday, but a home run nonetheless. If only he could play a position other than first.

One last note. Jesus Montero looked pretty good behind the plate in the few innings I saw. He also had a great first at bat, fouling off pitch after pitch before being retired on a sharp liner to third.

Thoughts On Game 1

Wasn’t it great to see baseball again? Are you as excited as I am to see boxscores again? Well, I watched most of the game today, though I will admit that I flipped to the St. John’s-Nova game a bunch too, and here are my observations.

Bartolo Colon looked enormous. While he wasn’t awful, that stuff would be killed in the AL East. Granted, it’s only start 1, but he needs to do a lot more to make me feel confdent.

Joba Chamberlain looked enormous. However, he pitched incredibly well. I saw 94 on the gun and a filthy slider.

David Phelps did not pitch very well, but Hector Noesi did. I hope, hope, hope both of them get a legitimate shot at the rotation.

Eduardo Nunez made a really nice play at short. Looked pretty good at the plate too.

Jorge Vazquez unleashed a bomb of a homer. I’m not sure how he would fit on this team, but he could be a very nice bat to have on call in AAA.

Francisco Cervelli looked a lot slimmer and didn’t have his “famous” batting helmet.

Anyway, onto game 2!

A Look At The Odds

Lost in the hysteria over the Yankees rotation or lack there of, is the fact that they are still a pretty good team. Baseball Prospectus confirmed that today with the initial release of their playoff odds.

The odds show the Red Sox as favorites for the AL East with an average of 93.5 wins and an 82% of qualifying for the playoffs. Right on their heels are the Yankees at 91.4 and 70.8%. The only team in baseball with a better chance of making the playoffs are the Phillies at 71%.

Now, we can’t see the inner workings of their projections and they are based on assumptions about playing time, but there is a useful example that the folks at BP give us. Yesterday the Cardinals were projected to win the NL Central 51.1% of the time. Today, with the loss of Adam Wainwright, those odds have dropped to 37.9%.

Injuries will happen, rookies will rise, veterans will fail. The projections we see today will certainly change by April and then be refined as the season moves along. But, despite all the obvious warts, the Yankees look pretty good on paper.

A Hint

A lot will change in the next month, but Joe Girardi’s announcement of starting pitchers for the first six games says a lot. Bartolo Colon gets the opener, followed by Nova, CC, AJ, Hughes and Garcia.

Starting Sabathia on Monday puts him on course to open the season on the 31st and AJ and Hughes are right in line after him for games #2 and #3. We can safely assume that Garcia is the early favorite for the #4 spot since he would be in line for that start. Furthermore, we can probably assume that for now the 5th spot in the rotation is a battle between Colon and Nova.

I think the Yankees are making a HUGE mistake if they don’t let guys like Phelps and Noesi get in the competition as well. I imagine they will get a start or two and Sergio Mitre will as well. But for now it’s a three-horse race. I can’t wait to see some boxscores!

A Good Review

Baseball Prospectus posted its evaluation of the Yankees’ farm system today and it was a good one. They listed four players (Montero, Sanchez, Banuelos and Betances) as “five-star” prospects. For the sake of comparison that equals the total number of five-star prospects the Yankees had from 2008-2010 using their system. (Montero last year, Montero and Jackson in 2009 and Joba in 2008). There are the standard concerns about Montero’s catching ability and Sanchez’s too, but both are considered high impact bats. Banuelos and Betances project as front-line starters though they caution that Betances could be a bust.

One interesting feature is the ranking of the top-10 players in the organization born after 4/1/85. On that list Montero is still first, but Hughes is second and Joba sixth. David Robertson is mentioned as someone who just missed the cut.

Most encouraging is the summary they provide of the system: The Yankees system had plenty of talent that can help soon, plenty of talent to dream on at the lower levels, and plenty of pitching that will serve them well in the trade market. This is easily one of the better farm systems in the game.

Two B’s Are Not To Be

No shocker, but the Daily News is reporting that Betances and Banuelos will open the season in Trenton. Between the two of them they have combined for only 29 innings at AA so sending them back there is completely the correct move.

What the story does clarify is the competition for the back of the rotation. Specifically it names Nova, Brackman, Warren, Phelps and Noesi as in contention along with Mitre, Garcia and Colon. I have a hard time believing Warren and Brackman are ready to make the jump from AA to the majors without some more seasoning at AAA and while Noesi has 20 innings at AAA, he hasn’t made it to camp yet because of visa issues.

That leaves Nova and Phelps as the two candidates from the minors with the best chance. Nova “should” be a lock for the rotation considering the ability he showed last year, but he also needs to have a good camp. Unfortunately, I think the Yankees will be too tempted to round out the rotation with a “name” rather than give Phelps much of a chance, but he could certainly open some eyes in camp. I bet Garcia and Nova get the call. What I hope beyond hope is that the Yankees don’t bring Kevin Millwood into camp, two recycled veterans are enough.

And I should probably mention that I was the guy who said there was no way Joba doesn’t win the 5th spot last February!

The Weight

Thankfully, we only have ten more days until the Yankees play some games. Now we can only wish that stories about opting out and Joba’s weight will go away. For now, please indulge me a minute or two on each of them and then lets talk about Pujols.

In regards to Sabathia opting out, my question is why wouldn’t he? CC has been wonderful since he came to New York, pitching as well as anyone could have expected him to. He also just saw the Yankees offer a guy two years older than him a seven-year/$150 million deal. While the four remaining years on his deal are nothing to sneeze at, I am sure Sabathia realizes he can get more. Even if the Yankees weren’t interested in bidding, some team would probably give him at least another year and $20 million more than he is currently set to earn. (4 years/$24 million per). And remember, the Yankees were the team that gave A-Rod a ten-year deal at the age of 32. His agents have to be telling him the Yankees will not only bid, but they will bid aggressively for him if he opts out.

When he does, you have to hope as a Yankees’ fan that they don’t need him desperately enough to offer a “Cliff Lee” size deal. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will be the case, but the Yankees would be smart to push their young pitchers this season to get an idea if they can avoid a $150 million commitment next offseason.

As for Joba, I have two things to say. First, most sportswriters are not exactly physical fitness professionals in their own right. Second, think about CC Sabathia for a minute and realize his listed weight was 290 pounds last year- 60 more than Joba! Now Sabathia is five inches taller, but before we condemn Joba to certain failure could we at least see him pitch against some real hitters? I’m not advocating obesity for anyone, but Babe Ruth certainly proved that a slim waist is not a requirement for a successful baseball career. To use a very New York example, let’s not make him Eddy Curry- yet.

Finally, I wanted to touch on the Pujols situation. I don’t understand why Albert, by all accounts a great guy, dictated things this way, but so be it. I think the Cardinals are backed into a corner now and there are a lot of ugly ways this can end. One way it shouldn’t end from a New York standpoint is in a trade of Teixeira for Pujols. Yes, Pujols is a better player, but Teixeria has “only” six more years on his deal. Albert is going to require at least eight and probably ten. As great as he is, I wouldn’t want to make that commitment and I can’t blame St. Louis for saying no either. Now, if the Cards called up and said what about an A-Rod for Pujols swap….well that’s a different topic entirely.

Did I mention how badly I wanted to see some boxscores?

Here Comes The Sun!

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

The great poet, George Harrison, wrote those lines with some help from Eric Clapton, to celebrate the return of baseball from its annual hibernation. Ok, maybe that wasn’t the inspiration, but doesn’t it seem fitting? From Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” to John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” the renewal of the baseball season has always been a reason to celebrate.

And so the winter of our discontent ends. Tomorrow we will have stories about pitchers and catchers and within two weeks boxscores will resurface in our morning paper. The glorious summer cannot be far behind.