The Rites of Spring Training

Albert, CC and crazy, crazy ideas
Brackman's chances of making the team
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Spring Training, the new season, brings optimism and excitement to everyone and their team. Every club is in first place, everyone feels good about so-and-so having a breakout year or that new free agent or the hotshot prospect, but not in Yankees camp. Yankees camp is all about controversy in Spring Training, spreading the doom-and-gloom scenarios that help sell papers and get page views. You won’t get anyone to admit it, but there are some writers (and bloggers) that have an undeniable hatred of certain players/executives, and it comes through in their writing.

Pitchers and catchers have officially been in Tampa for three whole days, and already we’ve had doomsday scenarios presented about a) CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause, b) A.J. Burnett‘s mental state following his down year, and c) Joba Chamberlain‘s weight. Mariano Rivera didn’t show up until this morning, and we’re already three controversies into the new season. That has to be some kind of record.

It’s early in camp and everyone needs something to write about, but controversy sells. No one cares that Phil Hughes is ahead of all the other pitchers because of the work he’s done over the last few weeks, and we’ve heard very little about Jesus Montero despite his status as arguably the game’s best offensive prospect and his legitimate (albeit small) chance to make the team. Hell, has anyone read anything about Pedro Feliciano or Rafael Soriano? They’re club’s two most notable free agent signings, and no one’s bothered to get a quote from them. I know more about Hector Noesi’s visa status than I do about how Feliciano and Soriano feel about being Yankees.

It’s not that CC’s opt-out and A.J. mental state and Joba’s weight gain and whatever other stuff comes out of camp isn’t a story, it certainly is. But there’s only so much that can be said about it until the coverage starts becoming a parody of itself. We’re seeing stuff about Joba’s career being on the line over 15 pounds. Career on the line. As if that extra weight will earn him a trip to Siberia if he doesn’t pitch well. Hell, no one’s bothered to notice that Bryan Hoch said the easy target’s righty’s stomach is flatter than you’d expect, where’s the fun in that?

Last year we enjoyed a controversy-free Spring Training, all because the team was coming off a World Series win. That was great, everyone was happy, and there was talk of a dynasty (as their always is after any team wins a title), all that. But this year it’s all about shock value and scare tactics. Are the Yankees perfect? Of course not. No team is. PECOTA projects them to have the second best record in baseball and the top offense, but you’d never know it by some of the coverage they receive. You’d think they were one pitch away from a Pirates-esque run in the cellar. There’s nothing we can about it other than bide our time until the season begins, but this is what we’re stuck with.

Albert, CC and crazy, crazy ideas
Brackman's chances of making the team
  • Sheepmeister

    This would be why I like this site for my yankee commentary. Its a sane island in the ocean of media insanity.

    • CU Tiger

      I keep chanting to myself “DO NOT READ WALLY MATTHEWS DO NOT READ WALLY MATTHEWS”- but I do it anyway. I mean “with so much riding on his spring, Chamberlain DARES to come to camp super-sized”…

      • The Three Amigos

        No matter what Wallace Mathews writes about he somehow gets a jab in at Arod in every article. It really is a thing of beauty.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Are the Yankee perfect? No, but better if Gardner leads off, Cano bats in the first inning and Tex doesn’t bat 3rd until mid-May. Better still when Montero comes up in June after a torrid 2 months in AAA.

  • T-Dubs


  • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

    Forgive me… I know we’re all tired of hearing about Joba’s weight and I agree the coverage has been overblown (but, then again, this is the Yankees we’re talking about here, it’s not like this is any surprise), but I just want to add my two-cents to this conversation.

    The problem I have with Joba’s conditioning is this: I just want to see the kid dedicate himself to his career a little more than it appears (yes, I know we don’t know how dedicated he is, etc.) he has the last couple of seasons, and the fact that he shows up to camp overweight just doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzies about him. And I say all this because I still think he has a ton of potential, and I think it could only help him if he dedicated himself to being the best athlete he can be.

    Look at what Phil Hughes has done so far in his short career. It’s always a little unfair that we compare certain players just because they happened to have arrived on the scene around the same time, but the fact is the Yankees have one kid who appears to have worked really hard on his craft and who has stayed in good shape, and they have another kid who appeared on the scene after a couple of years of hard work (on his game and on his body) and then appears to have let himself go a bit. (And yes, obviously the 2008 injury played a big role in his development, but I think there’s more than just that going on here.)

    “No one cares that Phil Hughes is ahead of all the other pitchers because of the work he’s done over the last few weeks…”

    I think the Yankees care, and I think Hughes’s hard work is one of the reasons they view him differently than they do Joba. Again, I know I’m speculating here, but I don’t think this is an unreasonable opinion to hold at this point, knowing what we know about the history here.

    I think Joba could be more than he is at this point, and I think that, moving forward, dedicating himself to being a better athlete and staying in shape would probably help him fulfill more of his potential than he’ll fulfill if he continues on his current path.

    That’s it… I’m not going to kill the kid for gaining some weight or act like his career is over because of it. Even if he winds up in the bullpen for the rest of his Yankee career and he’s overweight he can still provide the team plenty of value and I’ll continue being a fan of his. I just think he could be better, and I think getting in better shape would be a welcome first step toward that goal and would allow those around him, including the front office, to have more faith in his future.

    I didn’t intend for this comment to be this long, my bad.

    • RL

      Let’s keep in mind that in Brian Hoch’s article, he states that Chamberlain’s “stomach is flatter than you’d expect” and Hoch also quotes Cashman as stating that Chamberlain does work hard. We don’t have all the facts. I don’t know anyone that’s been to ST yet to validate the statements.

      I have to agree it appears Hughes has worked harder at his craft the past couple of years. Maybe Joba is starting to catch on. Time will tell.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        Sure, we definitely don’t know exactly what kind of shape Joba’s in. I do think, though, that if anyone with the Yankees believed he was actually in good shape and the weight-gain was not a bad thing, they’d speak up. I don’t think you’d get comments like the ones Cashman made about it, I think you’d have Cashman and others saying ‘hey you guys are wrong, he’s actually been working out and he’s fine.’

        Plenty of people have commented on the kid’s weight already, I think it’s relatively safe to say, at this point, that he came into camp overweight (and that it’s probably not all muscle).

        • Sad

          Isn’t Giradi meant to be the one in his position because he knows more about players abilities than Cashman? Certainly I’d include him among the others who should be (and did) speaking up about how well he was throwing

          I think if Joba had turned in for ST at the same time as Hughes he’d have been labelled a bad parent rather than a slob!

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        That’s it. I’m going to ST to see if I can get a personal pic w/Joba so we can chart our visible weight loss/gain.

        • Big Apple

          I actually met Joba last year at ST at Mom’s restaurant…I don’t think he’s fat at all..he’s just a big, solid, thick guy. People need to get over it.

          • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            Orrrr maybe this guy’s right, what do I know.

            (Seriously, I don’t mean this as snark. I know everything I’m saying is relatively speculative.)

            • Big Apple

              the obsession with joba’s weight is comical.

              • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                Now how is that a reasonable response to anything in this conversation? Is anyone here obsessing over his weight? This isn’t exactly Wally Matthews territory here, I don’t think I’m going crazy about any of this.

            • The Big City of Dreams

              Speculative yes but it’s a written well based on what you have seen and heard so there is no reason to apologize. What you wrote is a lot better than what I have seen over the past couple of days. “He’s a fat slob and a waste”

              • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                Yeah the coverage is clearly pretty awful. At the same time, though, I don’t know why anyone would be surprised by that. People just need to stop reading the likes of ESPN-NY and all that stuff, it’s totally useless.

                • The Big City of Dreams

                  Yea ESPN NY is a complete hack job that passes itself off as a respectable source from NY sports news.

    • A.D.

      Has there really been any commentary Hughes has worked harder on his craft than Joba? He’s worked on a change-up, and doesn’t appear to be some pinnacle of fitness, so not sure it’s fair to give Hughes all this credit and take it away from Joba, but maybe I’m forgetting.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        He’s the one who seems to show up early for camp and put in the extra work. Maybe I’m wrong, I just get the impression Hughes puts in more work than Joba does.

        • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          And I should add to that, I get the impression that’s how the Yanks see the two of them, and they’re the ones who really know these kids.

          • CU Tiger

            You are absolutely right. I know that Phil’s path has always been smoother because he had advantages growing up that Joba did not have. At this point though, isn’t the playing field pretty even for both of them? Joba could have found a trainer and shown up to camp a few weeks early to start throwing.
            Phil also seems to be better at self-assessment, figuring out what he needs to do to keep getting better and then actually doing it.

      • Preston

        Well there is the eye test. Which is unfair, because they have different body types and in a baseball uniform Phil will always look fitter than Joba. But that is not the only reason. In 2008 I remember reading how Phil would stay in the locker room during the spring and just talk to Pettitte and Moose about their pitching approach and how to set up hitters. In 2009 he worked with Mariano during the spring and in his time in AAA developed a cutter. In 2010 he tried (fairly unsuccessfully) to develop a change-up. And this year he shows up early and appears to be the hardest worker on the staff. Whether this is true or not it is the commentary.

        • JGS

          Keep in mind that “the commentary” is all coming from writers who have their own agenda, many of whom are actively hostile to the team {cough Wally Matthews cough}

          • Preston

            I don’t think that there is an agenda to make Phil “look” like a hard working kid who loves baseball, I just think it might be true. I do think there is an agenda to make Joba look like a bust, because it’s good press. I love Joba, but what he was in 2007 will forever cloud our judgement on what he should be, instead of what he is. Labeling a kid as Roger Clemens with a better fastball is never going to allow him to live up to expectations. If you told me that the Killer B’s would end up being like the Big three, one in the rotation, one in the pen and one traded for some value in return I’d be ecstatic. So I’m not sure why a top prospect turning into a quality reliever is viewed as such a failure (either on the part of the team or the player). Developing pitching prospects is risky and hard (unless you’re Tampa over the last couple of years). That is why so many say TINSTAAPP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect).

            • rbizzler

              Ha, why abbreviate it if you are just going to spell it out anyway? I kid.

              Seriously though, there seems to be a certain segment of the beat writers that feel that Joba was afforded ‘too much, too soon’ by the fanbase. PeteAbe alluded to this at times, and it seems that there was some resentment towards Joba, who was labeled as a bit arrogant and cocky. Now, media and fans alike are in a rush to tear the guy down and ship him out of town. For shame.

              You readily busted out the narrative that Hughes has spent time talking to other pitchers to hone his craft, but neglect to mention that Joba was reported to have spent a lot of time with Clemens during their overlapping tenures.

              I do agree with you that the current development states of the Big 3 should not be scoffed at despite not all of them developing into frontline starters.

              • Preston

                I abbreviated it and then remembered an article I read by Bill James that said abbreviating things is a way that intellectual baseball people continue to allow themselves to feel superior by excluding people who don’t already “know” from the conversation (for example saying BABIP). I’m sure most people here know and are familiar with more involving baseball then me. But just in case, I wrote it out.
                As for the fact that Joba spent time working with Clemens. I honestly never heard that. Which probably only furthers your point. The media doesn’t like Joba for whatever reason and therefore will not portray him in a positive light.

                • rbizzler

                  I reiterate that I was only kidding with you. And I understand where you are coming from regarding James and not trying to sound superior, but I think that is more relevant for MSM types when trying to introduce advanced stats to a larger audience that for a bunch of baseball geeks on RAB. Kudos to you for wanting to fight the good fight in a productive and inclusive manner.

  • PhillyMatt

    Thank you Mike. I thought I was the crazy one trying to find Yankee articles that did not have doom and gloom written all over them,(except on this site) whether it be player problems like you stated or b/c of all the rotation problems(without throwing a pitch yet)that the team was done. Let’s plat some games first.
    Hopefully not off-topic but living here in Philly and reading the papers and listening to so-called sports radio it is ridiculous that all the experts think that league should forfeit the 2011 regular season b/c it is a lock that the Phillies and Red Sox are guaranteed to be in the world series this year.

  • A.D.

    No matter what the writers will always find something wrong in yankee land.

  • Sean C

    You forgot to add the “OMG! Complacency!” tag to last spring. If there is one ounce of something that can be negative, it will be reported about the Yankees. Oh well, at least Tex probably wouldn’t get a arrested for DUI the week Spring Training starts. Now THAT would be a nuke on the Yankees’ camp.

    • Sean C

      And to follow that up, I am not making light of drunk driving or alcoholism. Miggy is a great player, but he’s had his troubles.

    • Tank the Frank

      I totally agree. I was looking forward to basking in the Yankees glory last spring, only to find that the only articles being written on ESPN were about how the Yankees were in danger of “World Series hangover.”

      The coverage the Yankees get on a national level has gone below the bottom over the last few years. It’s doom-and-gloom, panic and controversy, and nothing more. That’s why blogs like RAB are so important. I’d bet the farm that Ben, Mike and Joe can run circles around anyone over at ESPN NY when it comes to Yankees knowledge.

  • Ultimate Yankee Warrior (James)

    Funny how no one has pointed out that Hughes developed man tits over the off-season.

    • CU Tiger

      Dude- check out some of the pictures from last spring training- his rack is almost bigger than mine.

  • Andrew

    Hopefully once the exhibition games start up, the coverage will get more centered on actual baseball and how the team will fit together come March 31. Right now it is extremely tough to try and follow everything and not get annoyed, for sure, and I’m glad this was written to go over all the key points of annoyance. I’m sure we’ve still got some idiotic story lines yet to come once all the position players show up in a few days, as well, but I’m just thankful we are inching closer to actual baseball being played.

  • Tank the Frank

    Thank you Mike. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • steve s

    There are plenty of examples of pitchers being successful despite seemingly being overweight and in better shape for a beer league rather than the major leagues. The problem in this case with Joba seems to me to be more with his head than his girth. He had a reporting weight and the only thing he needed to do in the off-season was to meet or come close to meeting that weight. By not doing so he has rightfully been called out in public by Cashman and the Yanks and fans/reporters are not out of line in raising questions about his commitment and whether this ultimately leads to a trip to Scranton or a trade. Basically the guy has gone from being a stud prospect to fighting to be a mop-up guy. If his head was on straight he would have come into camp in the best shape of his life rather than the shape he is in today. The Yanks, of course, have contributed to his decline with how they have handled him but Joba seems to be his own worst enemy in the current situation.

    • Preston

      “The best shape of his life” comment is funny because Jeff Sullivan and Rob Neyer have been writing how this is the most overused and useless thing that people always say coming into spring training. They also note that it has little predictive value on how a player will perform.

      • steve s

        Saying it is one thing. Actually being it is another. While being in your best shape may not necessarily mean good performance, it is not a stretch to say that being out of shape is predictive of poor performance in any professional sport. Why have any spring training at all if the condition you’re in has no relationship to performance? Doesn’t sound like either Jeff Sullivan or Rob Neyer (or you) really thought it through to any great extent.

        • Preston

          Roger Clemens worked hard all year round. He never looked it though. That’s because baseball shape is an entirely different thing than fitness. You don’t need to have great cardiovascular fitness or be in a muscle magazine to throw a baseball. You need to be able to have muscle strength and muscle endurance to do one thing repetitively. A construction worker who does demolition work may not be able to run a marathon or be a body builder, but if the marathon runner or the body builder came to work with him and tried to swing a hammer to bust out concrete they’d tire quicker than him. Russell Martin doing MMA training and being in the best shape of his life is nice. But it doesn’t mean he can squat behind the plate 150 games per year or hit a baseball. Joba Chamberlain may have drank beer all off-season and added a gut. But if he put in work to make his arm and legs stronger and more durable, he’ll throw a baseball better. So yeah I’ve thought about this a little…

          • Doug

            Russell doing MMA training does mean, however, that he can choke a guy out before he charges the mound.

            • Preston

              You can’t overestimate the value of a Shelly Duncan type who in a brawl is just going to kick somebody’s ass. Can’t wait to see Joba throw at Youkilis and while he’s charging the mound Martin puts him in a sleeper hold from behind.

  • MannyGee

    slightly off topic… but did anyone read the Hoch article?

    Cashman said that Chamberlain is not the only player who reported over the prescribed weight — non-roster invitee Bartolo Colon is laughably listed at 185 pounds by the club

    ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, are they trying to foll the Royals into picking him up off waivers on April 15th? I think someone forgot a zero in there…

    • rbizzler

      Yeah, that has already been updated to 250.

      As for Mike’s rant, I completely agree with his feelings of frustration.

      It is not necessarily that so-and-so came into camp overweight, but the notion that certain writers (ESPNNY, I am looking at you) are trying to find or create drama and controversy at every turn.

      I am hopeful that one day Girardi or Cash is going to start regulating on reporters and laughing at their ridiculous story angles.

  • bexarama

    Thank you very much for this article. Thank you.

    • bexarama

      Oh also the one ~issue last spring (other than ~World Series hangover~, which, hmmmmm, I never heard for the Red Sox in 2008 or the Phillies in 2009) was A-Rod and the whole Galea thing, but I’m guessing he was either excused from that or he took care of it completely away from the public eye. OH NO A-ROD CAN’T DO ANYTHING WITHOUT CONTROVERSY!!!!!

      • Tom Zig

        A-Rod only gave a 25% tip. OMG

  • Big Apple

    how accurate is PECOTA anyway with its team win predictions? all the doomsday news and PECOTA has the yanks with the second best record in the league, with just one win less than the Sox. i find that wildly interesting concerning all the negative articles and posts this off season. you’d think this team had no talent.

    • Tank the Frank

      The Yankees underperformed last season as a whole (Alex, Jeter, Teixeira) and got a 0.7 WAR out of Vazquez, Burnett, Moseley and Mitre combined.

      These team is talented enough as it is to be one of the top three teams in baseball. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a couple of bounceback years offensively combined with “surprise” contributions from some of their young talent like Montero, Brackman and Noesi (who I personally think will be in the rotation at some point). The Yankees will surely be looking to strengthen their rotation at the trade deadline. Get this team into the playoffs with a healthy three starters + whomever they pickup at the trade deadline and tell me they can’t make a run at the World Series.

    • Doug

      I’m not sure, but I think PECOTA tends to be more optimistic, especially with prospects.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    Writers are to draw your attention to read the article. So its up to the reader to decipher the content with his knowledge of the subject.

    On another point that photograph is just great. The shadow aspect shows a gap between the fingers and the ball as the catcher is about to move his shoulder and arm forward to throw the ball. As it moves forward the fingers connect to control different facets of the toss back. My point athletes of all levels rarely know the ins and outs of all their actions on the field.

    As Yogi said, “if you got to think about it, you ain’t going to do it.” or words to that affect.

  • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

    These controversies will be nothing compared to when the next Mitchell Report reveals that Cervelli has been taking HGH.