Unfair

Joel Sherman has always been a fairly level-headed voice for reason in the insanity that normally surrounds the Yankees. So, I am a bit surprised by his article this morning about the Yankees being tired of Joba’s “act”. I don’t know if the article was one that was planted by Yankee brass or if it is Sherman’s original thinking, but it strikes me a unfair and incorrect.

Let’s start with the ego part. Does Joba have a huge ego? Does he crave attention? Well most professional athletes have bigger than normal egos, it what helps them rise to the top of their game. I couldn’t begin to say if Joba’s ego is bigger than most or not. What I will say is that the two biggest egos in the history of the Yankees were George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson. Both of those guys have plaques hanging in Yankee Stadium (one of them has a ridiculously-sized one) so I don’t think egos are something the Yankees really worry about.

So what are they worried about? Probably the fact that they had three highly-ranked prospects and none of them developed into a frontline starter for the Yankees. They jettisoned Ian Kennedy in a trade. Phil Hughes is still trying to establish himself and then there is Joba. I have a feeling that if you administered truth serum to the Yankees they would admit that they blew it with Joba. They panicked when they turned to him in 2007 as a bullpen arm and then they started messing with him in 2009 to keep his innings down. Through his first 20 starts of 2009 he was 7-2 with a 3.58 ERA. Once they started messing with his innings he fell apart posting a 7.74 ERA over his last 11 starts. Those were the last 11 starts he would make as a Yankee. He moved to the pen full-time in 2010 to protect his arm, got hurt in 2011 and the rest is history.

In light of all of that can you blame him for saying he wants to be a starter? He was fairly good at it once and then there is the money aspect. Starters get big money in free agency, so do closers, but middle relievers do not. Joba knows that and he knows that the next contract he signs will be for a fraction of the amount he once thought he would get. I can’t blame him for being unhappy about that.

Bad News

According to reports Curtis Granderson has broken his forearm and will miss approximately ten weeks. That figure includes rehab, according to Jack Curry, but it means the Yankees will not have Granderson in the lineup until early May.

This is exactly the type of injury the Yankees really couldn’t afford to suffer. They simply don’t have a lot of depth in the upper levels of the system and their options in camp aren’t great. Perhaps the best one is Thomas Neal. Neal is 24 and hit .314/.400/.467 in AAA last year. Unless Melky Mesa or Zolio Almonte is ready to make the leap to the bigs, its hard to see how Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz would be a better option.

In addition, this probably puts an end to the idea of Granderson in leftfield. Without the benefit of practicing the position in spring training, I can’t see the Yankees throwing him out there in the middle of the season. So, I would expect Gardner to play center until Curtis returns.

 

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Win-Win-Lose

Local columnists aside, I can’t think anyone who has paid attention to the Yankees over the past few years is surprised at the news that the Yankees are moving Brett Gardner to center and Curtis Granderson to left. Granderson hasn’t looked great in the field the past few years and fielding stats back that impression up. His range factor was 10th in the AL. His UZR was an abysmal -17.8.  Compare that to Brett Gardner who had amazing back-to-back UZR’s above 20 in 2010 and 2011 and had the second-highest range factor in the AL in 2011. (He only played 85 innings in the field in 2012, so I ignored those numbers.) Gardner is clearly the better fielder and moving him to center makes baseball sense.

But it also makes business sense. Granderson will be a free agent next season and there is a big price difference between a 40-home run centerfielder and a 40-home run leftfielder. By putting Granderson in left, the Yankees reduce his potential price tag, which might just allow them to keep him after 2013. (We can debate whether or not they will want to later.)

So, the Yankees improve their team and they improve their business potential, that’s a win-win in my book. Of course Granderson is the loser in all of this. By doing this the Yankees put a dent in his price tag and they force him to learn the toughest outfield position in Yankee Stadium. Granderson is not the type to complain, but I can’t imagine he is happy about any of this.

The First Crack in the Armor

Word today out of Yankee camp is that Phil Hughes has a bulging disc in his upper back. The Yankees seem to think he will miss only two weeks. I’m not so sure.

Back discs are strange things. I’ve see a number of people go through bulging discs. One had surgery, one had shots, one had only physical rehabilitation. The one thing all three of them had in common was that it took a lot longer than two weeks for them to get back to normal. We can look into recent Yankee history and see that Alfredo Aceves never made it off the DL when he came down with a bulging disc in May of 2010. (BTW- I guess we know why the Yankees DFA’ed Aceves, he’s quite crazy.)

Now, none of this means that Hughes is destined to miss the season or anything so dire, but it exposes the Yankees’ lack of depth. If Ivan Nova returns to his early-2012 form and David Phelps pitches like he did last year, the Yankees could survive the loss of Hughes. But what happens if a second starter goes down? And even more concerning, what happens if a position player goes down?

Winning Attitude

With Red Sox Spring Training now underway, two former Red Sox, now in L.A., spoke of their time in Boston.

When asked his impression of Dodgers ownership and management, Adrian Gonzalez said, “From the time I got here, I found out right away the owners would do everything possible to win.  They told us, ‘Play hard and have a good time, and if we don’t get to the playoffs this year, we’re going to make every effort to give you the best team next season.’ And they’ve done that.”

I guess I find the “and if we don’t get to the playoffs” part to be most interesting.  It’s almost like he is looking to publish ownership’s free pass that the playoffs are nice, but not big deal if we don’t make them, we’ll just re-load.

And Carl Crawford had this to say about this time in Boston, “Toughest two years of my career by far.  From the outside you watch guys playing over there, and you think you can go and play, but you realize once you get there it’s a little than you expected.  As for signing his with Boston, did he regret it? “A lot of times I did.  You hear a lot of talk about how I just wanted money, at some point you just wondered if you made the right decision.”

Well, as a Red Sox fan, I cannot be happier that the Red Sox were able to get out from underneath these mega deals.  I know, call me a homer, say it’s sour grapes, but when one of your most expensive players, Crawford, basically says he at times regretted his signing here and that playing here was very difficult, then yeah, ship him out of town.  As for Gonzalez, he is obviously a very talented player, but perhaps doesn’t have the passion or intensity or, whatever you want to call it, to play in a high-pressure market.

Had the Red Sox not moved these two guys, they would have produced at an above replacement level and more, but if you want to go to war (let’s be clear, a baseball war), then I’d prefer players who relish a high intensity environment and ballparks full of baseball crazy fans, not two guys, half committed to the Red Sox.  Whether or not the Red Sox have 25 guys like that ready to go for 2013 remains to be seen, but at least there’s hope.

Another Bullpen Arm

Word is the Yankees have traded for Shawn Kelley of the Mariners. Abe Almonte heads to Seattle and A-Rod heads to the 60-day DL to make room for Kelley.

Kelley has an option, so he is probably nothing more than bullpen depth at this point, but it is a decent move. Kelley has shown an ability to strike people out in the bigs and he has been surprisingly tough on lefties (he is a righty). His flyball rates could get him into trouble, but Almonte probably is never going to make the majors as anything more than a fill in defender.

The Yankees have some interesting bullpen choices. Assuming health we can put the following names in ink: Rivera, Robertson, Chamberlain and Logan. Clay Rapada  and Caesar Cabral will probably battle in out for the second lefty job.  Rapada is out of options, but Cabral is a Rule 5 pick who would have to be returned to the Red Sox if he doesn’t make the major-league roster. (Though since he was hurt last year he could be put on a 30-day rehab firdt. The loser of the Phelps vs. Nova competition could go to the pen, but could also go to the minors as they both have options. David Aardsma doesn’t have any options left, but Cody Eppley does and they figure to both be battling for a spot.

Considering the strength of the group and the depth of the group, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Yankees trade a reliever for another need. Pure speculation, but if Rapada picks up where he left off and Cabral has a great camp like he did in 2012, Boone Logan gets traded because he will be a free agent after 2013. We shall see.

Evaluating The Offseason

With pitchers and catchers reporting , we can look back and evaluate the moves the Yankees have made to prepare for the 2013 season. For me, the frustration of this offseason is that the Yankees seemed to try and thread the needle between two different goals. The first goal is the desire to get to a payroll of $189 million in 2014. The second goal is to win the World Series. Now, I don’t believe those two goals are mutually exclusive, but there is not a lot of overlap between the two of them because of the way the Yankees are currently constructed.

The Yankees made some curious choices in their approach to achieving both goals. They let Russell Martin leave for Pittsburgh because they didn’t want to give him a two-year deal and then turned around and gave a two-year deal to a 39-year old outfielder. They let Eric Chavez sign with Arizona for a paltry $3 million and then gave Kevin Youkilis $12 million to play third. Without breaking down each deal, I think it is fair to say the Yankees aren’t better than they were at the end of 2012, but I am not sure that they are as bad as a lot of people think. (A healthy Brett Gardner is a very under-appreciated asset.)

The problem is, they will be very hard to project. If they stay healthy (a big if) and find reasonable solutions to their catching and right-handed outfield needs, I could see them winning 90 games. But, if the older guys show their age and they don’t figure out how to plug those holes, I could see things going the other way and a sub.500 finish being the result.

So what are the big questions heading into camp? Here are my top-3.

1- Who is the starting catcher? From everything I read, Yankee decision makers think Romine is ready for the bigs from a glove standpoint. If that is true, I would make him the starter because the other options have very little upside offensively and Romine just might hit. One thing to keep in mind, Francisco Cervelli still has an option, so he can be sent to the minors.

2- Who is the 5th starter? Barring injury, we know that the Yankees’ rotation will be Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte and Hughes, but the fifth starter is probably a two-man race between Nova and Phelps. Based on 2012, Phelps should win this in a laugher, but I think the Yankees will give Nova every chance to win the job.

3- What is the bench? This is a really easy one to predict by role, but very hard to predict by name. We know there will be a backup catcher, right-handed outfielder, backup infielder and one other player on the bench. My early guesses would be Stewart, Diaz, Nix and Nunez, but I think this is a wide-open competition. Stewart makes sense, assuming he is not the starting catcher, as he did it in 2012. Diaz is my early pick over Juan Rivera, but I am hoping the Yankees find some other players for this competition. I think Nix’s versatility earns him a role as the Yankees will need someone who can fill multiple positions. Nunez is an utter guess because I just don’t understand what the Yankees are doing with him. Is he really only a shortstop? Even if he is, there would be value is carrying him on the roster as a SS/DH/PH. He could play a fair amount of short against LHP, moving Jeter to DH. He could also provide a runner off the bench.

These next seven weeks will answer a lot of questions.

 

The Sad Truth

The names continue to drip out of the Miami clinic and there are rumors that the newspaper that broke the story is going to cooperate with MLB , so expect more names to appear soon. But, none of this will solve the basic problem which the originally story outlined, the drugs are just too cheap.

Lost in the hype over the names in the original story was this little nugget:

On a 2009 client list, near A-Rod’s name, is that of Yuri Sucart, who paid Bosch $500 for a weeklong supply of HGH.

$500 a week means a yearlong supply of HGH is $26,000. MLB players who are in the majors make a minimum of $490,000 this year. And remember, up until now there has been no way to test for HGH. When you consider the millions handed out to players with even average stats, I think you would have to agree that the temptation to cheat and start using HGH must be very, very high for a lot of players.

And that’s the sad reality of all of this. There will always be new drugs developed that athletes will find out about. With millions of dollars on the line, the temptations to cheat will always be there. MLB can trumpet its drug policies all it wants, but its hard to see how we will ever have a truly clean game in the 21st Century.

A Lackey Make-Over

Interesting article today on BostonGlobe.com regarding John Lackey.  Globe writer Peter Abraham does a good job giving us the back story on Lackey, and gives us a glimpse into how Lackey is trying to change, both on the field and off.

If this team is to get a postseason birth, it will require someone to step-up and do far more than we expect.  Lackey is as good a candidate as any.  Still though, I’ll believe it when I see it.