The Fallout

The reports are in. Pineda has tendinitis and Cabral has a “significant” injury. It sounds like Cabral would have made the team, now his future with the Yankees is hard to predict. As for Pineda, he is on the 15-day DL and Girardi said he he expected him to miss a month.

Now we have to assume that Clay Rapada makes the team as the second lefty. The question is who becomes the long guy in the pen? I think we will get a look at either Phelps, Warren or Mitchell in that role.

And just like that the Yankees have solved “the problem” of too much pitching. Hopefully, they will have a tough rotation choice to make around May 1st when Pineda is healthy and Andy Pettitte is ready to go. But, it is unlikely that things will work out that well.

Bet On “Tests”

Well, Pineda didn’t do much to make a case he should be in the rotation tonight. His fastball seemed to be all over the place location-wise and it was sitting around 91-92. (I saw 93 and 94 a few times) His final line will be ugly, but he would have been out of the third if A-Rod had made a better throw on a grounder. The question is, what do they do next with him? David Cone made an excellent point on TV when he said, “You can’t put this kid in a position to get buried in the Bronx his first few starts.” I can’t help but think the Yankees will take that to heart and we will hear he has been sent for tests.

I doubt the tests will find anything, but if the Yankees are going to keep PIneda out of the rotation they have to find a reason that won’t shatter his confidence. Pineda seems like a smart fellow, he knows what the expectations are and we should all believe that he wants to live up to them. The Yankees are in a delicate spot and they could use the excuse of a “tired arm” to put Pineda into extended spring training to let him work out his kinks.

It’s not a great situation, but one that will be very, very educational for the Yankee fanbase. Young pitching needs time and patience to develop. Fans keep clamoring for guys like Betances and Banuelos to be part of the team, but it very unlikely either one will come into the rotation and dominate from the start. They will require some development time in the bigs, just like Pineda might. Can the fans handle that?

UPDATE 9:34pm Well look at that. They just announced on YES that Michael Pineda had some pain behind his right shoulder before the game, but didn’t tell the Yankees.

UPDATE 10:37PM Mark Feinsand reports the Yankees will send Pineda for a MRI. Anyone want to bet the tests show that he needs to stop throwing for a few weeks?

Watch Your Back Raul

The Yankees signed Jack Cust to a minor league deal today. While we can certainly debate whether or not Cust is a viable outfielder, he is definitely a left-handed hitter who used to produce some pretty good numbers. He is a career .247/.383/.466 hitter vs. righties, but he had a terrible 2011 hitting .213/.344/.329.

I don’t think Ibanez is in any danger yet, but the way his contract is structured will increase the pressure on him to get off to a good start. He gets a base salary of $1.1 million, but incentives for every 25 plate appearances starting at 50. Those incentives start at $50,000 per level and increase by $50,000 every 100 plate appearances after that. So, he makes 50k at 50, 75, 100 and 125 PA’s and then 100k per milestone at 150 PA’s, $150k per milestone at 250PA’, etc..

While these incentives will hardly bankrupt the Yankees, they won’t pay them if he isn’t hitting. How short is the trigger? That’s very hard to guess. Randy Winn got 71 PA’s in 2010 before being jettisoned. If I had to guess, I would say May 1st is as good a guess as any. The Yankees have options. They could give the AB’s to Chavez. They have Chris Dickerson sitting in the minors and now they have Cust. Johnny Damon is still a free agent. Add it all up and Raul probably won’t have a lot of leeway when it comes to producing this year.

Opening Day

Today is Opening Day, the least heralded Opening Day I can ever remember. In fact, the first MLB game of the season was played today, who knew?

The Red Sox Opening Day is still a week away, but now is a good time to review the pitching staff for the Red Sox.

Starters:

Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett are certainties. The 4th and 5th spots are getting clearer and clearer with Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront the favorites. That leaves Alfredo Aceves back in the bullpen and I think he is invaluable in that role.

The bullpen will be Andrew Bailey (closer), Mark Melancon, Aceves, Matt Albers, Frankling Morales (with Rich Hill a later in the season replacement), Andrew Miller (spot starter/long reliever) and Michael Bowden (misc.), who is out of options. If Bowden isn’t on the roster, he is free to leave, so expect him to stick.

I really prefer Bard in the bullpen as he was about as good a set-up guy as there was in baseball. It’s the old don’t fix what ain’t broken. That said, the rotation was broken last year and someone has to be the 5th starter.

The Red Sox signed a bevy of cast-off starters like Carlos Silva (released already), Aaron Cook, Brandon Duckworth (was in AAA Pawtucket last year too) and Vincente Padilla in hopes one could step in if needed, but they avoided quality like the plague. Why not drop a few extra bucks on Kiroda or up the bid for Oswalt? Especially when you consider they traded away Marco Scutaro to presumably free up payroll to sign a starter, it just doesn’t add up.

So the pitching staff isn’t bad by any means, but the rotation is 40% unknown at the moment and that needs to be firmed up.

Bobby Valentine continues to make news for talking, incessantly. He says things that the rest of us would keep to ourselves. It is facinating and terrifying at the same time watching Valentine do his thing. It is facinating because he cannot seem to help himself and terrifying because he is the manager of my favorite baseball team and I just cannot see this working out.

The Red Sox will not be bad because they have too much talent, but I’m not sure their leader has what it takes to manage all of the personalities. Maybe, hopefully, his approach is so different than that of Terry Francona, that the Red Sox are trying to over-correct last year’s flaws with the ultimate hope of just getting back to even keel. I have no idea, but this 2012 edition might just be high entertainment on a number of levels.

Rotation News

Word is that the Yankees have decided that Phil Hughes will be in the rotation. This is not a shock because Phil Hughes has been considered a special prospect by the Yankees since they drafted him.

The problem is, we still don’t know if the Yankees are right or wrong about him. In 2009 and the first half of 2010, it looked like they were right. In the second half of 2010 and 2011, it looked like they are wrong. Still, it’s worth remembering that he is still only 25 and he has shown flashed of brilliance in his career. This will be the year he either justifies the expectations or dashes them.

Meanwhile, the Yankees officially announced that Hiroki Kuroda will start the second game of the season. Again, not a shock because it doesn’t really mean that much and he is the only other guy officially in the rotation right now.

But, assuming the Hughes news is correct, the Yankees still have three guy for two spots. (Let’s leave Andy Pettitte aside for now because he threw 35 pitches to live hitters today and has a long way to go before he is a rotation candidate.) I think you would have to assume Pineda is in the rotation. All the nonsense about his fastball speed has obscured the fact that he has pitched pretty well this spring. Even if he hadn’t, I think he was in the rotation either way.

That leaves the final spot for either Nova or Garcia. (Again, forget about Pettitte for now). Here are the four different ways I could see this playing out from most likely to least likely.

1- Garcia gets traded and Nova enters the rotation
2- Garcia gets put in the rotation and Nova in the bullpen
3- Nova gets the rotation spot and Garcia is in the bullpen
4- Garcia gets the rotation spot and Nova gets sent to the minors.

I just don’t see the Yankees putting Garcia in the bullpen. He has always been a starter and if he sticks with the team I think he gets the nod. But, I think the most likely scenario is that the Yankees trade him. This will probably depend on Pettitte’s progress, but if the Yankees feel comfortable with Pettitte, then they almost certainly trade Garcia. However, I don’t think they will only trade him for a useful piece in 2012, so we might see Garcia break camp with the Yankees.

So, if I had to guess here is how I see the Yankees breaking camp pitching-wise. A rotation of CC, Kuroda, Hughes, Pineda and Garcia with a bullpen of Rivera, Robertson, Soriano, Logan, Nova, Wade and Cabral.

I think the Yankees break camp with two lefties. Clay Rapada has pitched well this spring as well, but the Yankees will lose Cabral if they don’t bring him north. He has pitched well this spring, so I would guess he gets a shot.

Finally, keep an eye on Adam Warren. I put Corey Wade in my bullpen mix, but he hasn’t pitched well this spring. Warren would normally be part of a stacked rotation in Scranton, but I could see the Yankees bringing him up and using him in relief because of all the other guys down there who could step into the rotation if an injury strikes.

The season actually starts tomorrow in Japan and the Yankees open on April 6th. Meaningful games are on the way!

Stop It

Normally, Bill Madden writes an insightful and balanced column. I’m not sure what happened to him yesterday, but this column is incredibly unfair. And Madden isn’t the only one. There is this and some other ones that fail to recognize Joba suffered a freak accident while trying to be a Dad.

Athletes do not exist in a vacuum. They do not appear in a game and then go up on a shelf where they remain until their next appearance. Life happens to them just like the rest of us and I refuse to knock a Dad for playing with his son, even if that play may have jeopardized his career. Anyone who has ever had a young kid has been in a situation where they beg you to do a particular activity with them like jump on a trampoline.

That decision, to be a Dad, turned into a disaster for Joba. Instead of criticizing him, how about we just wish him a good recovery? How about we hope that his little boy didn’t suffer too much trauma witnessing it? How about we show some compassion? Nah, it’s easier to be critical.

Problems Real And Imagined

Stop me if you have heard this, but there is a problem with Michael Pineda’s velocity. Apparently, his fastball “only” went 94-mph last night. Jon Heyman is ready to call the trade a one-sided win for the Mariners.

Perhaps we could all take a deep breath and recognize that Pineda is building up arm strength? Perhaps we could recognize that he is trying to develop a change up and may not be ratcheting up the fastball yet? Perhaps we could cool it on the Phil Hughes in 2011 comparisons because Hughes wasn’t throwing anywhere near 92 even last spring? Perhaps I ask for too much?

What I do find interesting is that while the Yankees seem to entertain these questions, they vehemently deny any problems when questioned about Raul Ibanez’s struggles this spring. I have read more than once that he will find his stroke and that since the AB’s are against both lefties and righties, the Yankees are not worried about his 2-for-34 start. The thing is, 24 of those AB’s have come against righties, the guys Ibanez is supposed to hit and he has only one hit against them. 1-for-24 is a pretty big slump and while he does have time to fight through it it’s worth remembering that two former Yankee leftfielders are still unemployed.

We are now just over two weeks away from the start of the season. Things will really start to solidify in the next week as the Yankees will cut their squad down to 30 or so players. It’s hard to see any additional roster surprises, but as the Yankees showed last week, you just never know.

Hello Again

Just heard on the radio that Andy Pettitte has come out of retirement and rejoined the Yankees. He has been signed to a $2.5 million minor-league deal.

This is a fascinating move. I can’t see any way that Pettitte breaks camp with the Yankees, but you would have to expect him to be ready to pitch by May 1st at the latest. Obviously, this changes the entire rotation picture. We know CC and Kuroda have spots and Pettitte will too if he is effective. What does that mean for Nova, Pineda, Hughes and Garcia? It means they are fighting for two spots.

I can’t imagine they use them, but the Yankees have options on Pineda and Nova. They could send them to the minors if they really wanted to. What I would guess as the most likely outcome of all of this is Garcia getting traded, Hughes going to the bullpen and Pineda and Nova rounding out the rotation once Pettitte comes back, but that’s just a guess. Furthermore, Pettitte’s addition means the Yankees have a real glut of pitching at AAA. Phelps, Warren and Mitchell have all pitched well so far. They will be in the AAA rotation with the Killer B’s. Perhaps one of them will be used to trade for a positional prospect?

Time will tell us on all of this, but the Yankees could have a lot of options if Pettitte can return to form.

Red Sox Line-up

Wow, Bobby Valentine likes to talk. He’s already said more controversial stuff in his first few weeks on the job than Terry Francona said in 8 seasons. I don’t mind a strong personality, but don’t turn into Rex Ryan. My prediction, Bobby last 2-3 seasons here in Boston max. His routine will wear thin quickly.

With the departures of Red Sox legends Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield (I mean that literally. Sure they aren’t in the same class as Ted or Yaz, but they were long-time Red Sox players in an era when players bounce around a great deal. They weren’t superstars, but good major league players and given their overall success and tenure, deserve to be called Red Sox legends), the departure of JD Drew, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scurato, John Lackey for one year, Daisuke Matsuzaka for at least a month or 2 and a few other changes, this team looks a bunch different.

Here’s what we think we know:

c – Saltalamacchia
1b – Gonzalez
2b – Pedroia
3b – Youkilis
ss – Aviles/Punto
lf – Crawford
cf – Ellsbury
rf – Ross
dh – Ortiz

It is funny, with Carl Crawford’s addition last year, there just doesn’t seem to be a way to get him into the top of the line-up. Ask yourself who is a better hitter, Crawford or Ellsbury? Crawford or Pedroia? Crawford or Gonzalez? Crawford or Youkilis? Crawford or Ortiz? There is no way you can make a case that he is better than any of those guys, based on last year efforts anyway or even when their full careers are considered. So you have to drop Crawford down to 6 or 7. He is on record this spring as saying he prefers the #2 spot, but that isn’t a smart baseball decision, he had a .694 OPS in 2011 for cripes sake.

If Crawford can find some confidence and figure out how to thrive in a lower spot in the order, then it is a good problem to have.

I like Scutaro and don’t quite understand his departure, especially since the Red Sox didn’t turn around and get a starter with the money they saved. At the same time, I think Aviles, with Punto sprinkled in, will do just fine. Jose Iglesias isn’t ready, he needs more time to simmer in AAA, especially to work on his bat.

Ross in right should be suitable and when Kalish returns, they’ll make a nice platoon. I’m interested to see if Ryan Lavarnway sticks with the big club as he’d be a great right bat to have off the bench but he’ll probably need to learn some 1b to stay in Boston.

All told, the offense should be good. With stronger dedication, there is no reason not to believe this team can score 900 runs. Considering Youkilis’s injuries and JD Drew being, well, JD Drew, the Red Sox still posted 875 runs in 2011. 900 in 2012 isn’t a stretch.

You Don’t Need A Weatherman…

I thought of Bob Dylan’s famous line today as I read reports of Hal Steinbrenner’s press conference. If you had any doubt about “which was the wind blows” for the Yankees, check these out:

Plenty of teams win without the kind of payrolls we have.

I’m a finance geek. I guess I always have been. That’s my background. Budgets matter. Balance sheets matter.

If you do well on the player development side, and you have a good farm system, you don’t need a $220 million payroll. You don’t.

You can field every bit as good a team with young talent.

So, anyone else out there not convinced the Yankees will be under $189 million in 2014? The problem is going to be how they get there.

Assuming Jeter retires (no sure thing) the Yankees already have $75 million committed to Texeira, A-Rod and CC. The good news is Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda will just be entering their first year of arbitration. The bad news is the following players will be free agents after 2013: Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderon, Phil Hughes, Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. David Robertson and Brett Gardner will be entering their final year of arbitration. And, we aren’t even considering contracts for Mariano, Siwsher or Martin in this conversation.

A rotation of CC, Pineda, Nova, Betances and Banuelos is certainly possible in 2014, but what will the lineup look like? That will be Brian Cashman’s biggest challenge over the next two seasons. He has shown a knack for trading for productive offensive players like Swisher and Granderson. He will need to show that ability again if the Yankees are going to meet Hal’s goal.