Freedom of Speech

Two interesting little events happened yesterday that compelled me to break away from my blog vacation and comment.

First, Reggie Jackson was either banned, suspended or told to stand in a corner by the Yankees and second, Robinson Cano was booed out of Kaufman Stadium. Let’s start with Reggie.

To me, the idea that Reggie would someday say something to upset the Yankees was inevitable. After all, he spent almost his entire five year stay in New York doing exactly that! Reggie was a fun player to watch, but his ego couldn’t fit in most rooms. I suspect he has missed having reporters hanging on his every word, so when one from Sports Illustrated called, he was more than happy to provide some material.

The Yankees look stupid with this quasi-suspension or whatever it is. Either live with Reggie and his mouth or don’t. Sure, he will probably keep quiet for the rest of the year, but sometime soon he will spout off again. (Prediction- next point of contention between Reggie and the Yanekes will occur after Yogi dies and Reggie feels he should be introduced last on Old-Timers’ Day. ) I actually thought A-Rod had the best quote about it when he said, “With these friends who needs enemies”. Bravo Alex, you handled that much better than you would have five years ago.

As for Cano, the Royals’ fans had every right to do that, but I would like to say a few things.

If MLB’s solution to this problem is to automatically include a hometown player they should just end the idea of captains. Billy Butler ranks 16th in the AL in home runs. The most he has ever hit in a season is 21, though he seems certain to break that this year. If the game had been in New York, like it will next year, you would have had to choose from Ike Davis or Lucas Duda who both have 12 home runs and are tied for 26th in the NL right now. If you automatically include a hometown player, chances are you will weaken the field most years.

Second, did any of those KC fans realize they were booing a guy who represented the “home” team for the next two nights. At least they have given me a reason to turn on the game tonight, I want to see how they treat Robbie tonight. While I don’t think the Royals will make it to the World Series, their fans should support the AL. I guess we will see if that support is conditional later tonight.

Life Is Good

The Yankees have taken 5-of-6 from the Red Sox this season and they have done it all at Fenway. They enter the All-Star break with a 7-game lead in the AL East. While there are plenty of things we could nitpick and obsess over, how about we take the next four baseball-free days and enjoy things? (Yes, I said baseball-free because the All-Star Game is a joke at this point.) Here are the biggest things to be happy about in my mind.

1- Kuroda has been exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be, a solid #2 starter. He is probably the best #2 starter they have had in the Joe Girardi era.

2- Robinson Cano may be underrated. Have you ever stopped and thought about the 2004 trade deadline when the Yankees tried to get Arizona to send them Randy Johnson in exchange for a a package that included Cano? It’s interesting to go back and think about that potential trade.

3- Rafael Soriano was an expensive insurance policy from the start, but he has proven to be worth it, tuck or no tuck. And kudos to the rest of the bullpen, which has been fabulous.

4- The bench has been a huge weapon. I am amazed at Eric Chavez’s resurgence. Thrilled to see Andruw Jones mashing again and surprised by Dwayne Wise.

There are obviously plenty more and while there is plenty of baseball left and championships are not won in July, the Yankees have the best record in baseball entering the break. 85 down, 77 to go. See you Friday!

A Serious Charge

Vicente Padilla just accused someone of racism while making a sexist comment. In an interview on NESN, Padilla said the following about Mark Teixeira:

“The problem is he talks about all the wrong things that others have done, but the things he’s done — against the Latinos [on the Rangers] — he doesn’t open his mouth about. He once threatened me and said he was going to hit me with a bat, and that’s when we were playing on the same team. And then, he also had problems with Frank Francisco, our closer back then. But he doesn’t talk about that, does he? Then, of course, he goes on and makes those comments about me.”

Padilla may not have realized it, but by saying “against the Latinos” he has turned this into a racial issue. Hopefully, someone will ask him to clarify these comments and ask Teixeira about them. It’s a serious accusation.

Sadly, Padilla also felt the need to demean women in his comments. He added the following:

“I just think he’s scared to face me. I don’t throw at people to hit them on purpose. I throw inside, and I’ve always thrown inside. It’s not my problem if the ball hits someone. I’m worried about throwing strikes, and I’m going to keep playing my game. In this sport, as competitive ball players, we get pretty fired up, so I think, maybe, [Teixeira] picked the wrong profession. I think he’d be better off playing a women’s sport.”

You know who I would love to hear comment about this? I would love to hear Nomar’s thoughts about these comments. Nomar is an ex-Red Sox of course, but he also married one of the greatest female athletes in the World. I wonder if there is some way we could get Nomar’s wife, the great Mia Hamm, to kick a soccer ball right at Vicente Padilla? Maybe then Mr. Padilla would show proper respect to female athletes.

Way To Go Joe!

I was down on Coney Island last night, watching the Cyclones, so I didn’t formally plug into the game until the 7th inning on radio and the 8th inning on TV. (Sidebar- the Cyclones follow Friday games with fireworks, but last night’s game went into extra innings. Apparently, Coney Island rules state that fireworks must start by 10pm, so they set them off DURING the game. It was surreal, batters coming to the plate with the sky in front of them full of fireworks, you can see a picture here.)

Anyway, I watched the bottom of the 8th, the 9th and most of the postgame when I got home and I was struck by a question and answer between Joe Girardi and a reporter. The reporter asked Joe about using Robertson in the 7th and Soriano in the 8th with a doubleheader coming up Saturday. Joe replied, “I can’t worry about tomorrow, I need to win this game.” I practically did a cartwheel off the couch on that one.

Sure, the Yankees will have to limit their usage of Robertson and Soriano today, but winning last night was worth that trade off. For all we know both games today will be blow outs and the Yankees won’t need them. Plus, the rest of the bullpen is in good shape. Eppley threw 7 pitches while Logan only threw 13. If the Yankees need to piece things together in one of the games, they should be able to.

And there is always the chance of rain changing plans today. I think the Yankees would take a rain out tonight and gladly play two tomorrow, I’m not sure about Boston. With the 8:05 start time tomorrow, it would be easy to accommodate that change.

A few other notes/thoughts from last night. Mitchell pointed in the comments out that the Yankees didn’t hit a home run and hit .400 with RISP. I will add this, if the Yankees do start to hit with RISP, look out American League.

How about Mark Teixeira showing all that speed? A triple and a steal, the first time he has ever pulled off that feat. (I fully acknowledge that the triple could only have happened in Fenway, since it rolled into the triangle.)

You sort of have to tip your cap to Kuroda and Beckett, don’t you? Not for their stats, but for the fact they both managed to pitch into the 5th and 6th innings. Not that Valentine and Girardi had much of a choice with the doubleheader today.

Really curious to see if Corey Wade is any better when he pitches today. (And I expect he will)

Enjoy the games. I will be watching the second game with a Red Sox fan so THERE WILL BE BLOOD! Nah, I’m just kidding- I think.

Halfway Home

Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that Opening Day arrived? Amazingly, that was three-months ago tomorrow and the Yankees find themselves at the halfway point of their season with a 49-32 record and a five-game lead in the AL East. (Last year they were 50-31 halfway through, but only had a 2-1/2 game lead.)

It’s been another strange year for the Yankees. They started out with their starting pitching in a shambles for six weeks and then turned that completely around when Andy Pettitte joined the staff. Then, they lost 40% of their rotation on the same day.

Their bullpen lost Mariano in early May and Joba before the season even began, but they are still rock solid.

The meat of the lineup struggled mightily in the beginning of the season, but Cano has been amazing the past month and Teixeira has certainly turned around a miserable April. A-Rod’s slugging percentage has increased every month so far, so maybe he is coming around as well.

But, there are obvious holes. The rotation is a concern, especially if Sabathia needs more time to heal. The catching situation is abysmal offensively and their top in-house replacement hasn’t played a game this season. Raul Ibanez put up a line of .162/.250/.265 in June, so the Yankees need to watch him. But overall, you can’t complain with where the Yankees currently stand. The key thing from here will be to see what happens to this club over the next 26 days before the deadline. If the lead in the division stays relatively stable, expect the Yankees to be very quiet. But, if things start to tighten up, I fully expect Cashman to start making some moves. Time will tell.
*****

A word about the acquisition of Darnell McDonald off of waivers. This seems like a very smart and very temporary move. The Yankees are scheduled to face three lefties this weekend in Fenway. Furthermore, the new doubleheader rule allows them to add an extra pitcher for those two games. So, they claim a guy who is a righty bat and knows how to play defense in the Fenway outfield for this upcoming series. That will allow them to avoid having to have Ibanez or Jones play the Monster and also have an extra bat on the bench Sunday.

I fully expect Phelps to get sent down to the minors to make room for McDonald and then McDonald to get DFA’ed after the break when Sabathia is ready. Having started yesterday, Phelps couldn’t have pitched before the break and now he can make two starts in the minors and then come back on the active roster July 16th ready to pitch deeper into games. Great move by Cashman.

Happy 4th of July

Happy Independence Day. Thank goodness Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saved us from those Aliens.

As we approach the All-Star break and the trade deadline, I got to thinking about what the Red Sox need to do. I think the answer is nothing. Let me explain. They have Andrew Bailey coming back which will allow Alfredo Aceves to return to the set-up role. They have Daniel Bard trying to work things out in Pawtucket and when he is on, he is one of the best set-up men in baseball.

They have Carl Crawford playing in rehab games and they have Jacoby Ellsbury playing in rehab games. The additions of 2/3 of the starting outfield, the closer and primary set-up man should be very good things. Of course Crawford’s only claim to being an elite player is that he is paid like one.

Other important moves for the Red Sox included getting Adrian Gonzalez back to being a good baseball player. At the moment, he is average with an OPS in the .700s. Again, he is being paid like an elite player but isn’t playing like one. Also, Jon Lester has been so very disappointing. Perhaps someone can figure out his problems.

The Red Sox have as much talent as any team in baseball, but they probably have more underperforming talent than any other team. And don’t whine about injuries. Take a look at the Yankees if you want a great example of overcoming injuries:

CC Sabathia – DL
Andy Pettitte – 60-DL (probably out for most of the regular season)
Mariano Rivera – Out for season
Joba Chamberlein – Out for season (or most of it)
Brett Gardner – Out until late July
Michael Pineda – Out for season

That’s 3/5 of the projected rotation on the shelf, a primary bullpen arm, a closer (best ever) and starting outfielder. They’ve had as many injuries as any team, yet they lead the AL East by 5 games and are playing .600 ball. Their stud first baseman is not playing up to expectations, their third baseman is getting old, their shortstop is playing wonderfully, but has tailed off of late. They know how to win, the Red Sox do not, it would appear.

Of interest is the Red Sox rotation: Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Matsuzaka and Lackey. This was the projected 5 man rotation, and they all have long-term deals in place (or are in the midst of said long-term deal). On the other hand, Franklin Morales and Aaron Cook do not have long-term deals and are filling in admirably.

Perhaps the Red Sox strategy of locking up young players with fat contracts isn’t the way to go, especially when you take into account their character. To quote Dean Faber, “Fat and happy is no way to go through life son.” ***

I guess now that I am done rambling, my conclusion is that the Red Sox need to be sellers at the trade deadline. Partly out of necessity as they have too many players for too few spots, but also a major starting pitching change may snap some players out of their comfort zone. Yes, being traded when you make $12mm a year isn’t so tough, but it is tough on the player’s family and the desire to avoid that pain can be a major motivational factor. Shake it up Red Sox, because what you’ve been doing has produced a 42-39 record at the mid-point, that’s not going to cut it.

***edit/confession: I intentionally changed the Animal House quote as I thought it unfair to call Sox starters Fat, Drunk and Stupid. But I do confess to thinking it was Dean Faber when in fact it was Dean Wormer. Thanks for calling me out Peter.

A Tale of Four Outfielders

I’ve been thinking about the Yankees and their outfield a lot recently. Even before this piece by Joel Sherman I had been convinced that this would be Nick Swisher’s last year in New York and had become more and more certain that next year would be Curtis Granderson’s last. With $189 million a seemingly real goal for the Yankees, they just can’t sign both Cano and Granderson considering their other commitments and if they had to choose, you know they will choose Cano. Plus, Brett Gardner will still be under team control in 2014 and while he is not anything near Granderson, he is at worst an average centerfielder in the bigs. So, I have been wondering what the Yankees’ outfield of 2014 will look like? Right now I have it as ?-Gardner-?. Looking at the farm system, I imagine Brian Cashman is going to need to get busy again.

But while thinking about it, I have also been following the careers of two former Yankee outfield prospects, Melky Cabrera and Jose Tabata. Ironically, the Yankees traded both away in trades that have to come to be known on the Yankees side more for the secondary players acquired than the primary ones. Tabata went to Pittsburgh in the Xavier Nady deal while Melky went to Atlanta in the Javy Vazquez deal. I liked the Nady deal when it was made, but it was the Damaso Marte part that ultimately proved important to winning the 2009 World Series.I loved the Vazquez deal, but that has become more about Boone Logan than anything from the Yankees standpoint.

When Tabata went to Pittsburgh it reignited his career and he morphed back into the prospect the Yankees thought he was. Unfortunately, it hasn’t lasted and he has just been sent back to the minors in part because of his lack of hustle.

Cabrera has taken the opposite path. His career bottomed out in Atlanta and they simply released him after one season. Melky took some advice from A-Rod, got into shape and has become the player the Yankees thought he could be back in 2005.

The thing is, I am almost positive that both players would never have reached the highs they have reached in their MLB careers as Yankees. Tabata had a terrible attitude in the minors that was apparently turned around (temporarily it seems) by his trade to the Pirates. Melky seemed to like the New York scene a bit too much and his bond with Robinson Cano may have hurt both players. I am happy to see Melky succeed in San Francisco and I hope Tabata can turn his career around, but I still don’t think the Yankees made a mistake by trading them.

And that brings me back to Granderson and Swisher, two trades that worked spectacularly for the Yankees. Cashman acquired both of them when they were serious doubts about their abilities and futures. Both came to New York and thrived. Part of that was due to the fact that they were very talented players. But another part of it came from the fact that the Yankees did their homework and found two guys who could come to New York and handle the situation. They traded for two guys who could and traded away two guys who couldn’t. That’s encouraging because they are most likely going to need to do it again.

The Right Move

Chad Qualls is a Yankee while Cory Wade is now an Empire Stater or whatever the AAA Yankees are called. If you are going to add Qualls to this roster then this was absolutely the right move to make for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, Wade is a mess right now. After recording a 2.35 ERA through the end of May, he recorded an ERA of 13.97 in June. His stuff disappeared as well. Through May he was averaging over a strike out per inning and had walked only three batters in 23 innings. In June his strikeout rate cut in half and he walked 5 guys in just under 10 innings. The strange thing is his velocity is the same that it was early in the season. He generally pitches in the high 80’s and touches the low 90’s occasionally. So, getting him to AAA and letting him figure things out without the pressure of the majors on him is probably a good move.

But, it is also a good move from a roster standpoint. The Yankees have Freddy Garcia and David Phelps going tonight and Wednesday, neither can be counted on to give length out of the pen. They have to have a long guy just in case and DJ Mitchell is that guy. Furthermore, they cannot recall either Warren or Igarashi until after the All-Star Break unless a pitcher gets placed on the DL. That means that the next guy coming up from the minors right now would probably be Chris Schwinden, a guy the Yankees selected off of waivers from Cleveland last week. Better to keep Mitchell in the big league pen and go from there.

Hopefully, CC Sabathia heals on schedule and returns after the All-Star Break. The Yankees haven’t announced a rotation for the Boston series, but with the off day Thursday, we will probably see Kuroda on Friday followed by Hughes and Garcia on Saturday with Nova closing things out on Sunday. The Yankees don’t have another game until Friday the 13th, so they would be able to set up their rotation any way they wanted to coming out of the break.

Chad Qualls?

Here’s a move I don’t really understand. The Yankees have traded for Chad Qualls. Qualls was DFA’ed by the Phillies a few days ago. The cost is either cash or the proverbial player to be named later.

Qualls had pitched 31 innings for Philadelphia this year with a 4.60 ERA. However, his peripherals indicate a FIP of 5.61. And, despite having roughly the same ground ball and line drive rates, he has given up 7 home runs already after giving up only 7 in 74 innings last year.

With the news that Joba threw 25 pitches in BP the other day and is about two weeks away from getting into a game, I am unsure exactly why the Yankees made this move. Maybe it’s just a case of adding a potential piece of inventory, but I can’t see how Qualls could help this club. And, even if he conceivably could, don’t the Yankees have better choices in the minors?