Optimism running high in Yankees’ camp

Under The Radar: Ivan Nova
The Unimportant Second Lefty

Right now, every team is a contender. Even the Houston Astros, losers of 106 games and with nary an off-season upgrade, could make waves this year. It would take about a dozen things breaking their way, and at least half of them would be of the greatest improbability. But even then, chances are we’ve seen crazier things happen in baseball.

With the Yankees, though, the sense of optimism is justified. After winning more games than any other AL team in 2011, they’ve upgraded the team in the off-season. Acquiring both Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda to the rotation is exciting enough. Add to that a few optimistic reports from camp in Tampa, and it’s pure spring ecstasy.

The wave of optimism started before the Yankees officially opened camp. A few players showed up early, Phil Hughes among them. After a disappointing 2011 season, marred by injuries and ineffectiveness, Hughes reportedly dedicated himself to conditioning this winter. Reports surfaced last week that he showed up in much better shape, much to everyone’s relief.

Yesterday Chad Jennings added fuel to the fire when he quoted Joe Girardi on Hughes’s progress. “I think his curveball has been a little bit more crisp. I think there’s more arm speed there. I think the ball’s coming out better.” A healthy and effective Hughes in that last rotation spot would be a boon for the 2012 Yankees.

Another player with high expectations who delivered a disappointing 2012 is Alex Rodriguez. In December we learned that A-Rod underwent an experimental knee procedure — the same one that Kobe Bryant underwent after last season. Bryant, but most accounts, has bounced back considerably this year. He’s playing more minutes and is putting up superstar numbers. That makes it much easier to imagine A-Rod returning to form in a similar manner.

(That A-Rod is dedicated enough to bring his own food to restaurants is another optimistic sign. He knows the tabloids follow him everywhere, and surely knew they’d catch on to this and try to make it seem embarrassing. But all it is, is a guy dedicated to his nutrition so he can play baseball at the most elite level. Rock on, A-Rod.)

Want the mother of all optimistic reports? How about the one Buster Olney filed on Tuesday about Michael Pineda? Even Brian Cashman admitted that if Pineda never develops a changeup and doesn’t become an ace, he’ll have made a mistake trading Jesus Montero for Pineda. So it warms the hear to see the following paragraph:

But after Pineda arrived in the Yankees’ camp, pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked with him to alter the grip on his changeup. Rothschild mentioned to Martin that Pineda’s changeup is a work in progress before the veteran catcher crouched to work with Pineda in a bullpen session Monday, and Martin was taken aback by how good Pineda’s changeup is already. He turned to Rothschild and said, “Larry, what are you guys talking about?”

In other words: Pineda already has made strides with the changeup, a sign of his aptitude.

It’s not just the big names that are making splashes this spring. This morning Joel Sherman, in a column about Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame chances, drops some gems. By his account, Jones seems more determined than ever. He believes that the adjustments he made to his swing last season will help him not only mash lefties, but also handle righties as well — something he did well during his prime years. Apparently, one of the reasons Jones chose to come back to the Yankees, despite more lucrative offers from other teams, was Kevin Long’s influence.

The most telling line in the column, as Sherman writes it: “[Jones] told hitting coach Kevin Long last year to inform Yankees GM Brian Cashman that he was returning in 2012 to take someone’s job.” Can you imagine what the Yankees lineup would look like if Jones were indeed to the point where he could legitimately take at-bats away from Brett Gardner?

These types of stories appear every spring. They help us warm up from the cold of winter — metaphorical cold, of course, given this winter’s behavior. Still, the odds are long that all of these factors fall into place. It’s wonderful to jump back into baseball and imagine the Yankees with an effective Phil Hughes in the rotation, with an ace-like Michael Pineda behind CC Sabathia, with a back-to-form Alex Rodriguez, and with a rejuvenated Andruw Jones. It’s really the only thing that gets us through the last parts of the off-season and through the preseason. The harsh reality might be a bit less exciting, but it’s still nice to bask in these stories now, while they still bring us hope.

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Under The Radar: Ivan Nova
The Unimportant Second Lefty
  • Steve (different one)

    Schwing!

  • Mike HC

    Even though I know championships aren’t won based on the most “best shape of my career” Spring Training stories, it is hard not to get caught up in the optimism. Things just might be really falling into place for a special year.

  • AndrewYF

    Well, Baltimore isn’t really a contender.

  • DM

    I don’t get caught up in anything at this point.

    And for players in ST, “just don’t get hurt” is most typical thought that runs through my mind.

    • Midland TX

      Word. Let the Sawx worry about who wins the off-season & ST.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    When you’re a fan of the New York Yankees, you should always be optimistic, as opposed to pretty dysthymic for the Mets and delusional for the Knicks.

    Also, eat the goddamn food at the restaurant, Alex. Really.

    And last, FACT: Torrie Wilson and I had the same wedding photographer.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      You know who didn’t seem to have a problem with what Arod did? The restaurant. They didn’t ask him to leave and it sounds like they did what he asked. This couldn’t be more of a non-story.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Thanks for the clarification, Andy. I’m sure the world really needed you to correct my one-liner as to Alex bringing his own food to a restaurant. Thank God for Andy.

        • jsbrendog

          you’re a dick.

          • JobaWockeeZ

            And water is wet.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I’m the dick for making for of the guy who just HAD to write in to a blog to answer an inconsequential one-liner over Alex Rodriguez and food.

            • Rainbow Connection

              ???

            • nedro

              “One-liner” implies a joke.
              Jokes are supposed to be funny.
              It wasn’t.
              Ergo, STFU.

      • jsbrendog

        i mean, he could’ve just had torrie get the shit to go and bring it back to his place of habitation or hers….

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        Pretty much every restaurant would want A-Rod (or any celebrity) to show up their place, regardless of what they eating. Gets them attention.

        • Dude

          Just saying the “Restaurant” arod was in is really a lounge in the hotel around a pool with cabanas on the side and they also serve food. I’ve been there and this whole thing is a non issue

    • Jim Is Bored

      More like: stay healthy, Alex. Really.

  • Mike

    Kobe is having a ridiculous season. He’s killing it on my fantasy basketball team . LOL LOL

  • jsbrendog

    so if jones can be a full time player would he really be taking a bats away from gardner? Things would most likely remain the same and he’d take them away form ibanez no? cause gardner shouldn’t sit against righties.

    • Needed Pitching

      seems logical

    • radnom

      When Jones originally said that, Montero was the DH so he was presumably referring to taking an OF job. So what Mike was saying was that if Jones meets his own goal and is better than Swisher or Gardner then this team will be ridiculous (and yes, Ibanez would obviously be the one on the bench).

      • radnom

        And by Mike I mean Joe.

  • Jake

    Very nicely written, Joe.

  • Bean Tooth

    It’s killing me I can’t read the Olney piece. I won’t pay the ESPN bounty on principal (cheapness). Yankees blogs should band together and each publish a paragraph of such columns, so that the intrepid, parsimonious, fan can read the entire thing by jumping from blog-to-blog.

    • Jesse

      From what I hear, you don’t miss a whole lot especially if you can get some of the blurbs from here.

      • Rainbow connection

        You won’t miss a lot regardless. It’s a site about sports. It’s not necessary.

    • JoeyA

      Anything truly important in an insider.com piece will be public knowledge almost immediately anyway. and moost of the blurbs from these pieces are the real meat of the articles anyway.

      Trust me, you arent missing much. Then again, it’s like $3/ mo. for ESPN The Magazine, which comes w/ an Insider subsciption.

      I better not ever find you posting about how the Yankees need to open up their wallets to sign a player or I’ll send Cashman to repel down the side of your house and beat you with a bag of money :)

      • thenamestsam

        Yeah. Insider really isn’t that great but I have it just because it’s so freaking cheap. I usually read one or two things on it a day, and maybe one article in the magazine. For $35 a year I think it’s a good deal.

  • Peter R

    Also that report the Jones really worked on his conditioning this off season to get back in shape like he was earlier in his career. After getting his knee cleanup up this winter he can now really get back in athletic shape he says. Def interesting to see if he can produce something this year.

    And the stories about K-Long making people come back is crazy but so cool. We gotta keep that guy around.

    • Yazman

      Great point.

      Also “Can you imagine what the Yankees lineup would look like if Jones were indeed to the point where he could legitimately take at-bats away from Brett Gardner?”

      Like to think at-bats could come from Ibanez as well. I love what GGBG brings.

  • jim p

    Another spring camp, another “the change up is coming along” report. I hope this year it’s true. Probably will turn out to be so.

    • TheOneWhoKnocks

      This organization hasn’t been able to teach Hughes a 2nd pitch for what 7 years now, and I’m supposed to think they can improve Pineda’s game?

      Not confident in our ability to help young pitchers hone their skill. Can we send Pineda to Arizona for a few months so they can do whatever it was they did to Kennedy?

      • Brandon W

        What, like give him a chance to just take the ball and pitch? Kennedy wouldn’t have gotten that chance in New York unless he had immediate success, especially after he somehow had so much ill will directed towards him based on one stupid postgame interview.

        I have a bit more confidence with Larry Rothschild than I did with Dave Eiland. I don’t think Pineda improving his changeup is beyond question, particularly at his age.

      • thenamestsam

        This is such a silly narrative. The Yankees have actually done a very good job helping young pitchers hone their skills. That’s why they’ve had so many young pitchers at the high levels with excellent prospect status in the last 5+ years. Even a guy like Hughes for all his struggles actually was extremely successful in the developmental phase of his career, specifically with his excellent curveball. Where he (and the Yankees in general) have struggled is in the transition to the major leagues, but their development has been quite good.

      • pat

        Nova, Noesi,Robertson,Kennedy, Melancon even Karstens and Clippard all came through our system and are currently having success at the mlb level.

      • Sweet Dick Willie

        Can we send Pineda to Arizona for a few months so they can do whatever it was they did to Kennedy?

        Okay, now I think you’re just trolling.

        What the D-Backs “did” to Kennedy was allow him to pitch against NL West line-ups.

        That will do wonders for any pitcher (especially if they don’t have to face the best offensive line-up in the NL West).

        • radnom

          If you don’t think Kennedy made significant strides as a pitcher after he left the Yankees then you’re just as delusional as the guy you replied to. Thats not necessarily an indictment on the Yankees development system, just a fact.

          • Sweet Dick Willie

            Kennedy was a highly regarded prospect and 1st round draft pick based on his stellar career at USC.

            The fact that he didn’t immediately succeed in the AL East didn’t mean he never would, nor did it mean that the Yankees did anything to hinder his development.

            I never said he didn’t make strides once he was traded, but it is my contention that the D-backs didn’t “fix” him as much as 1) he continued on the development path he was on since his college days and 2) facing the weak(er) line-ups in the NL West hastened that development process.

            • radnom

              I agree with all of that but the post I was replying to attributed his success entirely to the different levels of competition.

        • Havok9120

          NOW you think that? Its been clear he’s a troll for at least a year, unfortunately.

  • TheOneWhoKnocks

    I take issue with the line that this is an improved team from last year. I’m not sure this team is improved from last years. It’s a lot to expect Pineda and Kuroda to be an improvement over what we got from Garcia and Colon. Tex, Arod, Swisher, Granderson, Jeter are all another year older and on the wrong side of 30. They traded the one young hitter with his upside ahead of him (Montero). Their DH is a combination of a 40 year old who had a sub .300 obp last year and a guy who had his knee drained 6 times in a part time role last season.
    They still only have 1 starter who you know will have a good season(cc), and he still has a track record for coming up small in october.

    • V

      Last year’s team won the division, aided by Garcia and Colon’s regular season work. This team doesn’t need to beat that. Winning the division would be fine.

      However, I fully trust Pineda/Kuroda to offer more potential for postseason success than did Garcia/Colon. That’s what matters.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      It’s a lot to expect Pineda and Kuroda to be an improvement over what we got from Garcia and Colon.

      No, it isn’t. Bart had a 1.29 WHIP in 164 innings, and Garcia a 1.343 in 146 innings. Likewise, Pineda had 1.099 in 171 and Kuroda 1.213 in 202 last year.

      While it’s certainly possible that Pineda and Kuroda won’t improve upon Colon’s and Garcia’s numbers from last year, there’s no logical reason to think they won’t.

      What you’re basically saying is that if everything goes wrong, the Yanks won’t have an improved team.

      Which is about as likely as the Astros contending.

      • TheOneWhoKnocks

        Since when does WHIP count for everything? Colon and Garcia pitched in the biggest hitters park in the toughest division in baseball. Pineda and Kuroda are coming from low pressure situations, weak hitting divisions and pitcher parks.

        Kuroda and Pineda certainly have more upside, but if they both have seasons similar to Garcia/Colon last year, that will have been something that went right for us. I could easily see Kuroda or Pineda(or both) not living up to their potential

        • radnom

          They don’t have to outpitch Colon and Garcia. Thats not who they replaced in the rotation. They have to outpitch Colon and AJ. Not even going to list the numbers, but its not too hard.

          Garcia is still on the team/in the rotation until Hughes steps up. He is going to do much more than show up in shape to take that rotation spot given how good Garcia was last year.

          • TheOneWhoKnocks

            I honestly believe that there’s no way in the world Hughes isn’t the 5th starter opening day, regardless of what him and garcia do this spring. Even if he came to camp fat again like last year, he would be the 5th starter. The Yanks are just determined to give Hughes every opportunity in the world, and I don’t think for one second that Garcia is involved in a legitimate competition right now.

            • fin

              I agree with you 100%, I think there is even less of a competition here, than the Hughes/Joba comp a couple years ago, if thats possible. Cashman talking about rotation spots in regards to Pineda, mentioned everyone inclucing Hughes as a possible number 2, didnt mention Garcia once.

    • fin

      I’m taking you for a glass half empty type of guy.

  • Darren

    I DON’T BELIEVE YOU MR JONES!!!

    Same story from 2010:

    http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/.....layer_news

    And I know I heard this in 2011.

  • BK2ATL

    Ryan Braun wins HIS appeal, but 5000 (exaggerating) others didn’t??? Calling complete BS on this.

  • http://www.onedayonejob.com/ Willy

    I find it funny that a blog that is constantly pushing Sabermetrics says something like this:

    Bryant, but most accounts, has bounced back considerably this year. He’s playing more minutes and is putting up superstar numbers.

    If you look at WP48, Bryant is a below average performer this year (.081). I think Joe’s point holds true–Kobe’s knee isn’t holding him back. But “superstar numbers” should at least be above average, right?

    • BigDavey88

      Why should Joe know anything about advanced statistics in basketball when writing for a baseball blog? How would that be relevant on a regular basis?

      What the hell is WP48 anyway? Enlighten me.

      • http://www.onedayonejob.com/ Willy

        Seeing how advanced statistics are used in other sports can help you better understand how advanced statistics can be used to measure your sport of choice. I think that makes it relevant.

        Here’s the rundown on WP48: http://www.stumblingonwins.com.....duced.html

        • BigDavey88

          I disagree in regards to this website, but thanks for the link. Interesting stuff.

  • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

    K Long for Prez.

  • Paco Dooley

    The discussion of Jones as an HoFer (I don’t believe he is) made me think back to the discussion we were all having about Damon. If you compare Damon’s career to Jones it is laughable to think that Damon has a better chance, even if you get hung up on his 3k hits. Just going by WAR, Johnny has a career WAR of 46 and his best is 2 seasons at 4.6 (FanGraphs). Jones has a career WAR of 71.7 and 9 seasons above 4.6 (all 9 above 5.4 and five at or above a WAR of 7). WAR isn’t perfect, but it just demonstrates why Damon isn’t in the HoF conversation. I don’t think Jones is a HoFer either (could be if he had stayed in shape and his career had not fallen off a cliff after ’07).