What’s Wrong With Swish?

Everyone seems ready to get rid of Nick Swisher. The Yankees hold an option on his contract for this upcoming year and it seems like the fanbase would be thrilled to see the Yankees not pick that up and let Swish take his talents elsewhere. The reason of course if another poor postseason. Swisher hit .211 in the ALDS and when coupled with the 100 or so other postseason AB’s he has had as a Yankee (not pretty), fans feel comfortable saying he can’t perform in the playoffs.

It’s a frustrating argument because while the numbers are awful, the sample size is way, way too small. Look at a sainted Yankee, Paul O’Neill. In his first World Series (as a Red) he hit .083. In the 96 Series .167. In the 98 Series .211. In the 99 Series .200. Add it all up and he was 10-for-67 in the World Series with 3 doubles, no homers and 5 RBI’s. Clearly, a guy who couldn’t handle the biggest stage in baseball, right? You see where this is going. In the 2000 World Series, O’Neill amazingly put up a line of .474/.545/.789 and in the 2001 World Series he was one of the very few Yankees to hit, putting up a line of .333/.412/.400.

And that to me is why not exercising Swisher’s option is madness. For $10.25 million, the Yankees will get a player who is an above-average bat in right. Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the 8th-most productive rightfielder in baseball. He will be entering his walk year and looking for a big deal after the season, so expect him to show up to camp in the best shape of his life. When the season ends, the Yankees can offer him arbitration, which he will almost surely reject, and thereby receive two draft picks when he signs elsewhere. It’s hard for me to see a downside for the Yankees in this move.

I’d love to see Swisher have a huge October next year. And if he puts up his usual .820+ OPS during the regular season, he will be a reason they got there.

The Montero Dilemma

Assuming the Yankees don’t trade him, Jesus Montero has shown his bat belongs in the everyday lineup next year. The problem is, how do the Yankees accomplish that?

It’s hard to believe that the Yankees feel comfortable catching him. They say they do, but their actions showed a very different story when they flew Austin Romine across the country and threw him behind the plate in the middle of a game. I suspect they will continue to say he can catch all winter, but this spring they need to make a commitment.

Russell Martin is arbitration eligible in 2012 and will be a free agent at the end of the season. He had a weird year with the bat, tearing the cover off the ball in April and August, but barely making contact the rest of the season. He was very good defensively and the Yankees should and I expect will, bring him back for 2012. That would setup a great way for Montero to learn on the job. He could DH most of the time and catch 1-2 times a week. When Martin becomes a free agent after the end of the season, Montero could slide into the starting catchers spot in the lineup. But, that assumes that the Yankees think he can be a catcher.

And making him the DH is a foolish decision for the team and for his career. He is 21, he should be able to field a position on the diamond and the Yankees have plenty of older players who they will need to DH from time-to-time. The obvious solution for the organization is to teach him to play right field. They have an option on Nick Swisher for 2012, but he is going to be a free agent after that and has hired Scott Boras as his agent. In 2012 the Yankees could have Montero DH, catch and play some outfield before moving out to right in 2013. Yogi Berra spent the later part of his career catching and playing the outfield, so it isn’t as crazy a plan as it may sound.

Now, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Yankees traded him. If the right pitcher became available, say Clayton Kershaw for example, I think the Yankees would definitely pull the trigger and put Montero in the package. But, if they don’t trade him, I think we will hear that Montero is learning the outfield when pitchers and catchers report to camp. Until that point, there is no reason for the Yankees to stop saying he is a catcher. Let’s just hope they have a plan in place in case they don’t really believe it.

Dysfunction

Amid swirling rumors that Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein is headed to the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Globe today ran the following article on the inner workings of the Red Sox as a whole in 2011. It isn’t pretty.

Under this ownership group, there is a pattern of nasty rumors being floated once a player (or manager) has left town, a verbal kick out the door. And if you believe all you read in today’s Globe piece, well, it seems more of the same with Terry Francona. Just who is leaking this information to the author? And if Theo does leave, will we see him get slammed? Marital problems and pain killer addiction? Sounds like a soap opera.

Regardless of what really happened, Theo’s potential departure really marks the end of an era. Many wins and 2 World Series Championships. It really worries me that while the Red Sox haven’t had much success since 2008, that at least there was a system in place, a discipline as to how to run a team. The last thing we need is some sort of gunslinger who shoots from the hip and signs Jack Clark, Matt Young and Danny Darwin all in one off-season.

If the Red Sox pick the wrong person to be GM, we could see this team slip back to permanent mediocrity, something we haven’t see since the early ’90s. I’m not in the mood for that. So while Theo has made his share of mistakes, I always feel that the decision he makes are done with good reason (the Lackey and Crawford deals notwithstanding) and thought.

Think about it, the Red Sox aren’t the only big-market team. The Cubs and Mets are also big spending teams who have stunk. Just because you have money to spend, doesn’t guarantee success. The Red Sox are at a crossroads here and can’t afford to mess this up.

The CC Decision

The biggest decision the Yankees have to make this offseason is what to do when CC Sabathia opts out. When the Yankees signed CC, I wrote the following:

According to multiple reports, the new deal with Sabathia includes an opt-out clause after three years. This could really work to the Yankees advantage if they are smart. If Sabathia pitches the way he should over the next three years there is a good chance he opts out. By then we will know if Chamberlain and Hughes are truly top starters and if players like Brackman were worth the risk. They could then let Sabathia walk, get a bigger deal elsewhere and therefore be off the hook for the downside of his deal.

Some will argue that the clause gives Sabathia all of the upside and the Yankees all of the downside, but what MLB contract doesn’t give all the upside to the player? With this clause, the Yankees will be able to reassess their need for Sabathia after 2011 when they may not have the same need for him as they do now.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know the answers to the questions I posed in 2008. Hughes has been erratic. Joba is recovering from surgery and Brackman was a disaster this year. In short, the Yankees haven’t produced a replacement for Sabathia internally. Add in the fact that there isn’t a replacement for CC on the free agent market and you can certainly see why the Yankees would do everything they could to retain him. But, that would be a big mistake. Yes, not having CC on the 2012 Yankees means they could miss the playoffs, but that is a risk they should take.

And CC is going to opt out. He is going to opt out because the Yankees offered Cliff Lee, a pitcher older than he is, an enormous deal last year. He is going to opt out because Brian Cashman said things like, “I can reaffirm that if Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, that we will not participate in his free agency,” and then the Yankees signed him to the biggest deal in MLB history. CC Sabathia is going to opt out because he believes, and history is on his side, that he will get a huge pay day in free agency- probably from the Yankees.

CC has been great in a Yankee uniform and projecting the future is hard to do, but betting on pitchers is a bad idea. The Yankees signed CC when he was 28, right in his prime. He is now 31, and that is a significant difference. He has already had a knee procedure and for a pitcher in his potential walk year, it was surprising to see him pack on the pounds as the season progressed. The deal he signed in 2008 is a perfect mix or risk and reward from the Yankees’ standpoint- four more years beyond 2011 at a rate of $24 million per. If I were to bet, at least one of those years will be a bad one, but that is a risk the Yankees are certainly able to take.

But any commitment beyond four years makes no sense and the Yankees need to think about the season they just finished. For under $5 million they got 300 innings and a sub-4 ERA from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. While I don’t expect that to happen again with those guys, the Yankees have the financial resources to sign a bunch of guys who could replicate some of that performance and they also have a number of arms in the minors who could too.

There are also trade possibilities out there. Clayton Kershaw is going to enter arbitration this offseason as is Gio Gonzalez. It’s always worth making a call to Seattle to check on Felix Hernandez and the Giants might be interested in trading Matt Cain. If I am the Yankees, I go to CC and tell him that we’ve loved having him as a Yankee and we hope he will decide to stay for the remaining four years of his contract. Make it clear that if he opts out, they won’t pursue him with a better offer. He won’t believe them, and based on their past history he shouldn’t, but that’s what I hope happens.

Keep The Cash

The construction of the 2012 Yankees starts at the top because Brian Cashman’s contract expires in three weeks. The Yankees could have some interesting choices to hire from Andy McPhail to Theo Epstein, but with all due respect to all of them, they are not Brian Cashman.

Sure, I get on Cashman for a number of thing. For years, I hated the fact that he didn’t pay any attention to the bench and then had to scramble to put one together at the trading deadline. But, you can’t argue with results, and the guy has won A LOT. And since he took over all baseball operations at the end of 2005, the Yankees have operated in a very different manner than they used to.

It’s funny, and I am as guilty of this as anyone, but in baseball we cheer the hitters who succeed 30% of the time while holding the GM’s to a much, much higher standard. It is illogical to expect every move a GM makes to work, but we tend to focus on the bad ones and ignore the good ones. Look at all of Cashman’s moves and apart from an odd obsession with Sergio Mitre, I think you will agree that he has done very well.

So, I hope the Yankees bring him back and let him continue his efforts to bring a 28th ring to the Bronx. It won’t be easy, the Yankees face a number of big decisions this winter and teams like Tampa and Toronto are getting better and better.

More on those decisions tomorrow.

And for those of you who want to see what I wrote the last time Cashman’s contract was up for renewal, here it is. Sound familiar?

Good For Baseball/Bad For TV?

If you are a baseball fan, the makeup of the ALCS and NLDS have to excite you. The Brewers have advanced to their first ever NLCS (Actually kids, the Brewers used to be in the AL before Uncle Bud decided “his” team needed to avoid having to pay a DH and relocated them to the AL. But, I digress) Standing in the way of their first trip to the World Series in almost 30 years are the Cardinals, the team that beat them in the 1982 Series. St. Louis managed to defeat the Phillies, the team with unbeatable pitching, with a 1-0 victory in Game 5.

Over in the AL we have the Texas Rangers, a team that made their first World Series ever last year facing off against Detroit, a team that has plenty of history, but apart from a 2006 World Series appearance (against the Cardinals) not many positive moments in the last 25 years. Yup, there are plenty of storylines, but most of the U.S. will miss them because the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies are not involved. At least that’s what the conventional wisdom wants you to believe.

The thing is, baseball’s TV ratings have been plumbing new depths for awhile, even with the big cities of the East Coast heavily involved. In 1991 the fifth game of the World Series drew 37 million viewers and a 23% share of televisions on in the U.S. market. That’s almost more eyeballs than the first THREE games combined of the 2010 World Series. The 5th game last year drew 14.4 million fans and an 8.8% share of TV’s Meanwhile the NFL’s championship games easily earn over 30 million fans and over 50% of the TV’s on.

There are a lot of reasons that the NFL has surpassed baseball as “America’s Sport”. A HUGE part of it is gambling. Laying 5 points in a football game makes a lot more sense than having a laying 160 to win 100. (These are purely hypothetical examples) But football also has the advantage of being consumable in small doses and convenient start times. The football playoffs are a total of 11 games. MLB Just completed 19 games to finish the divisional round, that won’t change. But, I believe start times play an enormous part in what has happened over the years.

The Super Bowl kicks off around 6:20pm EST, which means fans on the East Coast can watch the game and be in bed before 10:30. Contrast that with the ALDS playoffs which had the Yankees starting games mostly at 8:37 and ending them long after midnight. Some will argue that it is different in the World Series and they are right. Despite two weekend games, the earliest MLB start time is 6:07pm.

My Father grew up in England and baseball was anathema to him. He called it “bore-ball” because it never resonated with him like his version of football (soccer). I understand that the game isn’t for everyone. The pace can be frustratingly slow and that isn’t going to change, no matter how many rules MLB installs to speed up the game. But, the powers that be have ignored the younger generation for far too long. The last truly daytime World Series game was 1984. That means that most fans under 30 never saw a complete World Series game while they were growing up. Can you blame them for not tuning in?

The ALCS and NLCS will be interesting to watch from a ratings standpoint. Sports fans have a chance at a number of “fresh” storylines. There are always complaints that MLB Is too much Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. Those teams are home, now will the fans at home tune in?

Isn’t It Ironic?

In the end, it wasn’t the pitching that killed the 2011 Yankees, it was the hitting. An offense that scored runs by the bushel, couldn’t get a hit when it mattered in Game 5 and now the Yankees are done for the year.

I had an uneasy feeling as I sat in my seat at the Stadium last night. The place was rocking and I think I saw only two Tiger hats the entire game. But, as I settled down in my seat I realized I was sitting, purely by chance, almost directly across the aisle from the seat where I had watched Opening Day six months ago. I wondered at that moment if I would see the start and end of the season from the same vantage point?

The crowd was great last night. Most of the time we were standing and yelling, trying to coax a big hit that never came. There were a number of moves that struck me as odd. Pulling Hughes to bring in Logan, virtually guaranteed CC would pitch and I don’t know why the Yankees were so desperate to get him in there. If they had won Game 5, they would have wanted CC to start Saturday night and by bringing him in to relieve, they were asking him to do something he had never done before. Hughes threw 21 pitches, why not leave him in there for 50 or so?

And the late inning bullpen choices confused me. Start with Soriano. He looked great and needed only 16 pitches to get five outs, why pull him? Same thing with Robertson. By pulling Robertson after 13 pitches and going to Mo, Girardi left himself dangerously exposed if the Yankees had tied the game and sent it to extra innings. Sure, we would have seen Mo in the 10th, but Girardi managed the 7th-8th and 9th as if the Yankees had the lead or were tied, which they were not.

But ultimately, this falls on the lack of hitting. Personally, I would have hit Montero for Martin in the 8th. Martin looked absolutely lost at the plate and one of his swings in the 4th or 6th (I forget) was about the worst swing I have ever seen. I understand why Girardi didn’t and it probably would not have made a difference, but wow.

The thing that I feel worst about is that Jorge Posada didn’t have an “O’Neill” moment. Remember in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series when the fans kept chanting his name? When Posada grounded out in the 8th, some of us stood up to cheer him one last time, but I don’t think anyone believed that the season would be over later that night, so the fact that that was probably his last Yankee at bat was missed by most of the crowd. I can’t see anyway the Yankees bring him back, nor do I think they should, but it would have been nice for him to have one last moment.

The Yankees did do a good job honoring someone who is retiring. After the final out, the scoreboards around the stadium were lit up with a message of “Thank You Gino”. It will be very strange next year to look in the dugout and not see Gene Monahan there.

And now the winter begins, a bit too early for all of us. I’ll start looking at the upcoming decisions next week leading off with the GM choice and then the Sabathia choice. Thanks for joining me for another season and here’s to a good offseason.

A Bit Of Humor

I used to listen to Mike and the Dog all the time, but once the dog left I found Francesca’s ego too much to take. So, I have to admit to really enjoying the following clip it perfectly captures Francesca at his bombastic worst. As the link says, this has to be a joke, right?

Anyway, on to Game 5. Corey predicted in the comments yesterday that he thought it would be a high scoring affair and I agree with him. I am a little worried because Nova started to get hit the third time through the Tiger lineup Saturday and I am afraid that that may carry over to tonight. But, I also think the Yankees can get to Fister again so this game will probably be decided by the bullpens. That’s where I think the Yankees have the advantage and i expect them to head to the ALCS. They better- I am going to the game and a loss would be very depressing to witness in person.

More tomorrow and some tweets from the stadium via @nysportsfanatic.

Can Mariano Go Two Innings?

As we got to the outs counting stage of last night’s game I started to wonder how Joe Girardi would use the bullpen. After AJ gave up the homer to make it 2-1 I figured he would have a very short leash if he got into trouble in the 5th and probably would give way to a combo of Logan or Wade (depending on the batter) with Soriano, Robertson and Rivera pitching the 6th-9th. The Yankees made it all academic, but I wonder, could Mariano get 6 outs if they needed him to?

In 2011, Mariano pitched more than an inning only three times and only once was it for six outs. His highest pitch total was 33 and he only threw 20 or more pitches in a game 10 times. You can see a pattern in the way Girardi has used Mariano since he became manager in the number of multiple inning games he has thrown:

2008- 15
2009- 10
2010- 5
2011- 3

You can’t fault Girardi. He knows he has to ease back on Mariano because as great as he is, he is also 41. But in the playoffs, all bets are off. Even so, I don’t think we would see Girardi use Mo for six outs unless he had burned out his primary bullpen. Four outs maybe, but I have a feeling the days of Mo for the 8th and 9th are over.

The Motown Miracle

Let’s get this out of the way. The last time AJ Burnett allowed only one earned run or less in a start was June 13th. So, yeah this was a miracle and please don’t expect it to happen again this postseason. That being said, thanks AJ.

There were a lot of positive things that happened tonight. From AJ’s pitching to the offense finally awakening. The Yankees won a game they had to have and now they head home and face another do-or-die game. You have to feel good right now as a Yankees’ fan, but there are plenty of pitfalls ahead. Can Nova pitch well in a pivotal game? Will the Yankees be able to hit Fister the second time around?

It’s great we have to worry about all of this. Much more tomorrow and Thursday, enjoy this one!