Middlebrooks

The Red Sox demoted Will Middlebrooks today.  The 3b has been struggling all season with poor performance and injuries.  It’s a shame because in 2012, he put up 15 home runs and decent vitals in basically half a season.  Whether he was hitting over his head or his injuries this year are to blame, this is the right move.

Middlebrooks wasn’t going to find his stroke in Boston and the Red Sox weren’t going to give him the rest of the year to figure it out.  Ideally he spends a month at Pawtucket under little to no pressure, and regains his confidence and swing.  He was supposed to be a key to the Red Sox line-up this year after all.

What this means is that Jose Iglesias now has a fulltime spot in the line-up.  I can’t believe it, but he is hitting deep into the .400’s right now after 121 plate appearances.  I’m not saying he is a .400 hitter, but it is starting to be a pretty good sample size.  What is most amazing is he’s walked 9 times so far.  I know, he isn’t going to challenge Ted Williams for his walk prowess, but considering he never took a pitch prior to this year (majors or minors), that is impressive.  For a full season, that works out to be about 45 walks.

His fielding is terrific and if he can stay hot, wow, what an addition to the Sox line-up.  Of course, now that the job is his, he’ll probably tank and hit .150 the rest of the way.

The Next Audition

The Yankees have acquired Brent Lillibridge from the Cubs for the proverbial PTBNL. They have also designated Brignac and brought Alberto Gonzalez back from the minors. I suspect Gonzalez will be DFA’ed shortly and Lillibridge will be promoted from AAA.

Why do I think the Yankees will rush a career .207 hitter up to the bigs? Because he can play every position except for catcher. Lillibridge has value as a defensive replacement and as a pinch runner. Sadly, that may make him the 5th or 6th best offensive player on the team right now. I wish the Yankees had called the Cubs about Nate Schierholtz, but maybe that’s the next move? Something else will have to be done because Lillibridge isn’t going to solve this team’s lack of offense.

 

Good Idea

Joel Sherman in today’s Post speculates that the Yankees should trade Hughes and/or Joba for offensive help. He acknowledges that both would be traded when their value is low, but also mentions that there is little chance of either one being in pinstripes next year.

Let’s set Joba to the side right now, he is basically a mediocre middle reliever and those aren’t hard to find. But Hughes is a different pitcher. Sure, he hasn’t been what Yankee fans hoped for, but he is at the very least a guy you can plug into the back of a good rotation and not worry about. That has value and in today’s market where pitching is at a premium, it wouldn’t shock me to see Hughes get five years at at least $10-million per as a free agent.

Now the Yankees probably can’t pay that and get under $189 million. (At least if they sign Cano to an extension they can’t. ) They could keep Hughes for the season and then offer him arbitration and get the draft pick, but the Yankees need to develop a rotation for 2014. It is highly, highly unlikely that they can afford to pay both Kuroda and Pettitte (and that assumes those two want to come back next year) so the 2014 rotation is Sabathia and Phelps right now.

But the Yankees have other arms. Pineda is making his way back. Nuno looked good in his starts. Nova is at AAA and Adam Warren has pitched well out of the pen.  All of these guys could be part of the 2014 rotation, but the Yankees need to see them pitch in the majors regularly and assess them. That means getting rid of at least one current starter and Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte will not be that starter. Phelps is a guy they need to evaluate, so that leaves Hughes.

Now, the Yankees could decide they want to keep Hughes around. If that is the case, they should try and sign him now and then worry about breaking in a pitcher or two next season. But what they can’t do is just continue to send Hughes out there every fifth day and then let him walk away after the season. That would be another case of the Yankees not looking at the big picture. With a real payroll ceiling quickly approaching, they can not afford to do that.

Say Goodbye To Kevin

Well the Youkilis experiment is probably over. Sure, the surgery could cure him in the estimated 10-12 weeks (end of August to mid September) but it is more likely that it finishes him for the season. When the Yankees signed Youkilis, I wondered why they chose him over Nunez. I didn’t like the fact that they wouldn’t give him a shot at third.

Well Nunez had a chance at short and he didn’t do much with it. I still think the idea of making him only a shortstop was a mistake, but his injuries this year and last have deprived us of a chance to truly evaluate him. I will say this- I don’t think the Yankees win much with the leftside of the infield occupied by Nunez and Adams.

So now we get Nix at short and Adams at third for the immediate future. Maybe you believe A-Rod and Jeter are on their way back, but consider this. A-Rod watched, yes watched, pitches go by in BP today. He wasn’t allowed to swing. Jeter hasn’t even gotten to that point. Neither one of them is coming back anytime soon. Brian Cashman needs to see if there are anymore productive castoffs he can acquire. Otherwise, the Yankees are going to be forced into a tough decision. Do they sacrifice the future for today or do they sacrifice today for tomorrow?

This Will Be Weird

Tonight, for the first time ever, the Dodgers are coming to play a regular season game against the Yankees. Think about that for a minute. Interleague play has been around since 1997 and the Dodgers have never been to Yankee Stadium in that timeframe. The Dodgers, a team originally from Brooklyn. A team that has played 11 World Series against the Yankees have never been scheduled to play in New York against the Yankees. How could MLB do that?  And now we get the first matchup between these teams at the Stadium where a championship isn’t on the line and Donald Arthur Mattingly will be sitting in the dugout on the third base side wearing Dodger blue.

For Yankee fans my age and older, the Dodgers are a hated rival. I was 9 when Bob Lemon pinch hit for TJ in Game 6 and the bullpen imploded as the Yankees lost the World Series. I still remember crying over that. The 1981 World Series came only 3 years after the Yankees won back-to-back World Series against the Dodgers in 77 and 78. So, LA vs. NY happened three years out of five.

Older fans remember even more intense rivalry. Back in the 40’s and 50’s the Dodgers played about 15 miles away from each other. From 1941 to 1956, they met in the World Series seven times! And when you include the New York Giants you see that for eight-straight years (1949-1956) the World Series trophy never left New York City with all three locals winning at least one championship. It must have been a magical time to be a baseball fan in this city, in some ways I am jealous to have missed it.  I wish I had seen guys like DiMaggio, Mantle, Robinson, Hodges, Snider and Yogi.

And tonight we will see Yankee fans cheer a guy wearing a Dodger uniform and we will be reminded of all the great names that have represented this rivalry. Just one question. Considering all the history, why on Earth did the Yankees choose Bubba Watson and Jason Kidd to throw out the first pitch tonight and tomorrow? How about Reggie and Gator?

It Can Get Worse-UPDATED

So, Mark Teixeira left in the middle of tonight’s game and the Yankees have announced he is on his way back to New York to be examined tomorrow. The Yankees were scheduled to fly back to New York tomorrow afternoon as a team, so I would say that sending Teixeira ahead like this is “concerning” at the very least. I would hazard to guess that we won’t be seeing Teixeira for quite awhile, possibly the rest of the year.

Stay Tuned

UPDATE 2:50PM 6/16 The Yankees have dodged a bullet as Mark Teixeira has only inflammation in his wrist and not a tear. Despite this close call, the Yankees are not putting Teixeira on the DL yet as they are going to wait and see what happens to his wrist before acting.

 

This Is The Offense We Were Afraid Of-UPDATED

The Yankees couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. Ok, most of them couldn’t. How bad is it? Consider this, Teixeira, Stewart, Youkilis, Wells, Ichiro and Nix all have a sub-.700 OPS. That leaves only Gardner, Cano and Hafner with figures over that for the “regular” lineup and Hafner hasn’t hit since April (1100 OPS in April, .584 in May, .491 so far in June.) Clearly, the magic of April has worn off and the Yankees have huge problems.

Let’s start with the things that won’t get better. Chris Stewart and Jason Nix. I don’t know what the Yankees have to lose by letting Austin Romine play more. At the very least they could evaluate him further with an eye towards 2014. Likewise, I don’t know why Girardi keeps running Nix out there against RHP when Brignac is on the roster. Nix has a .557 OPS against RHP this year, not too far from his career mark of .600. He hits lefties, but righties aren’t his bag. Brignac hasn’t done much better against RHP (.608 OPS in his career) but unless they are going to use him, maybe try Corban Joseph out at SS? Anything is better than seeing Nix hit second with a righty on the mound.

It’s also time to realize that Wells and Ichiro should be a platoon and nothing more. Ichiro has reverted to his pre-September 2012 form and Wells is back to being a fringe bat. But Wells is hitting LHP (.795OPS) and while Ichiro is hitting lefties better than righties right now, its hard to see that continuing.

The Yankees should then consider keeping Hafner out of the lineup, unless the Yankees are at home. He is taking full advantage of Yankee Stadium (.264/.361/.611) but falls to Earth with a thud on the road (.188/.310/.313) The problem is who can the Yankees platoon him with? Maybe run David Adams out there against LHP and Overbay against RHP when they are on the road?

The Yankees have to hope that Youkilis and Teixeira show some offensive ability again and that Granderson heals up again quickly. But beyond that, it’s hard to see how they plug all of these holes. The minors don’t appear to have many solutions. Zolio Almonte is getting on base, but nothing much else. Thomas Neal is hitting well, but he doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man and it is hard to figure out how the Yankees can shoehorn him on there with guys like Cervelli and Pineda due back soon. They have already brought up Romine and Adams and neither one has been the answer so far. Trades are always a possibility, but barring that the Yankees are just going to have to hope for their pitching to hold up. And that is what we expected all along.

UPDATE- 7:05PM More injuries and more roster moves. According to various sources on the internet, the Yankees have put Youkilis back on the DL, sent Adam Warren to AAA and promoted Thomas Neal and Chris Bootcheck from AAA. To make room for Neal and Bootcheck on the 40-man, Nunez was shifted to the 60-day DL and Caesar Cabral was sent outright to AA. As Cabral was a Rule 5 pick, I believe that means he was offered back to the Red Sox, but they declined to take him back.

Wow, it never is simple around here is it? Well, Adams is obviously the third baseman again and Neal is probably going to take some swings against lefties either as a DH or OF. Bootcheck is simply cannon fodder. He is 34 and has spent the majority of his career in the minors. He has been starting at AAA, and is rested, so it will be his job to do what Adam Warren did yesterday if needed. In 10 days, the Yankees can bring Warren back and DFA Bootcheck. (It’s a tough business)  That will open up a spot on the 40-man for either Pineda or Cervelli.

So things are different. I don’t think they are better, but they are different.

What Are They Balancing?

I’ll get to the three Yankees’ draft picks in a minute, but I wanted to point out something that struck me as odd last night. After the Yankees picked 33rd, the draft entered the competitive balance phase before the start of the 2nd round. Here are the teams that got competitive balance picks- Royals, D’backs, Orioles?, Reds??, Tigers???!?  Why do three teams that made the playoffs last year need competitive balance picks?  Ah, welcome to the wonderful world of MLB thinking.

You see MLB is equating competitive balance with small markets. So, it doesn’t matter that the Orioles and Reds were both highly successful last year, they get a leg up. And here’s the really fun part. The Tigers get a pick because they somehow received some revenue sharing, even with the 5th-highest payroll in the game, and are not one of the 15-biggest markets in baseball.

My question in all of this is what exactly is the point of the draft? I thought it was supposed to be a way for bad teams to try and improve themselves with higher picks. So how do you justify sticking three teams that were very good last year ahead of the second pick by the Astros? It makes no sense for me.

*****

As for the Yankees, there is nothing subtle about what they did with their first two picks. They selected a college third baseman and a college outfielder. Funny, how that worked. Obviously, the hope is the third baseman gets to the Bronx soon and takes over for the guy with $100-million left on his contract and that the outfielder gets there as well and takes over for almost anybody. You can’t fault the thinking, you just have to hope the evaluations are correct.

Their third pick was a power-lefty pitcher and their fourth pick is apparently Paul O’Neill’s nephew. Hopefully, one of these guys makes it to the Bronx one day.

How Bad Is It?

Tonight marks the start of the MLB Draft and a look back at the Yankees performance in the first round is not a very encouraging experience. For the purposes of this exercise, I started in 2000 and ended in 2009 as I think it is too early to judge the 2010-present drafts. Plus, that gives us a ten-year period to examine. Let’s take a look at the picks with their major league totals. (Not necessarily with the Yankees)

2000- Dave Parrish- never made the majors

2001- John Ford Griffin, Bronson Sardhina, Jon Skags (2 supplemental picks and a 1st rounder) 32 MLB AB’s and 2 HR’s between them.

2002- no pick

2003- Eric Duncan- never made the majors

2004- Phil Hughes, Jon Poterson and Jeff Marquez Hughes is 54-40 with a 4.48 ERA in his career. Marquez pitched in 4 ML games

2005- CJ Henry- never made the majors

2006- Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy That’s 70 wins in the majors with a sub-4 ERA between the two of them.

2007- Andrew Brackman 3 games in the majors

2008- Jeremy Bleich and Gerrit Cole Bleich is in AA after blowing out his arm. Cole didn’t sign, went to college and was the #1 pick of the 2012 draft.

2009- Slade Heathcott Finally had a good year last year in A-ball, struggling in AA, still only 22.

Let’s use WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as a way to quantify it and adding it all up the Yankees have produced a WAR of 24.6 from all of those draft picks. That’s a tiny bit less than Jason Giambi produced in his entire Yankees’ career.

Now the problem with comparing drafts is that the Yankees pick towards the back of the pack every year. They simply don’t have a shot at guys like Harper or Trout or Strasburg. So let’s compare them to some teams that also picked towards the back.

The Red Sox certainly did for the second-half of this study. From 2003-2007 their picks produced a WAR of 56.1. Now granted, slightly more than half of that is from Buchholz and Ellsbury, but both of those guys were picked in 2005 AFTER the Yankees selected CJ Henry.

The Braves also did for a lot of the time period and they produce a WAR of 57.2. Unfortunately for them, almost half of that figure comes from Adam Wainwright, whom they traded in 2003.

Now WAR isn’t a perfect stat, but I think you get the idea. The Yankees are at a disadvantage with their draft spot, but they haven’t helped themselves with their picks. The Red Sox and Braves have certainly had their misses, but in the 10 years from 2000-2009 the Yankees had 15 picks and only 4 of them can be considered even serviceable players or better (I am including Cole in that figure because he looks like a good one.) That’s not a good figure and something the Yankees have to improve on if they are going to compete in a more fiscally-prudent manner.

Naming Names

ESPN is reporting that Tony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis is going to cooperate with MLB and name people he sold PED’s to. And yes, we know who is at the very top of the reported list.

Besides A-Rod, there are some pretty big names on the list. Ryan Braun is arguably a bigger star right now than Alex. Melky is reportedly on the list as is Jesus Montero and Francisco Cervelli. In their report, ESPN details that not only will MLB seek to suspend them all, they will try and get 100-game suspensions for Braun and A-Rod under the second-time offender rule because they will claim two offenses were committed here. (Good luck with that.)

One of my biggest problems with the Mitchell Report was that MLB didn’t investigate enough. They essentially piggybacked on the work of the FBI and got lucky with Radomski. I opined at the time that there was probably a BALCO-like lab in most MLB cities. So, I am pleased that MLB aggressively pursued this and I hope that they are pursuing other unknown leads out there.

As for what this means for the Yankees, well a number of things. I suspect the Yankees will strongly try and invalidate the home run incentives in his contract if he is found guilty. They won’t have a prayer of getting his contract invalidated, but I suspect they will do at least that. You can be suspended while on the DL, so the timing of this will be interesting. The Yankees are playing Game #58 tonight. As long as the suspensions don’t come down in the next week, a 100-game suspension would mean no A-Rod in 2013.

There is also the matter of Francisco Cervelli. If he gets suspended 50 games the Yankees should really consider giving Austin Romine more of the catching duties. Cervelli is arbitration eligible in 2014 and I suspect the Yankees might let him walk away if he is guilty of this charge. Stay tuned, the next few days should be very interesting.