What Went Right: Robinson Cano, #KabakHat

On a cold day in February, I made a bet that I thought would be a sure thing. In a fit of Twitter arrogance, I threatened to eat my hat if Robinson Cano reached 80 walks. His previous career high had been 61.

How could things go wrong, I thought. The Yanks didn’t have a great lineup entering the season, but they seemed to be able to offer up Cano enough protection that he wouldn’t blow past his 2012 walk total. And the things went south in a hurry. Derek Jeter wasn’t ready to return really at all this year while Curtis Granderson suffered two freak accidents. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner were total busts, and Cano was left holding the Yanks’ offense on his shoulders.

For a few months, things looked dicey. As Robbie emerged as the only real slugger in the Yanks’ lineup, his walk totals rose precipitously. After walking only 18 times in April and May combined, Robbie drew 18 free passes in June, and this four-walk affair at the hands of Joe Maddon and the Rays seemed to represent my nadir. Would I be able to eat an inedible item made of sponge and wire?

From May 24 through July 28 — a span of 59 games — Cano drew 39 free passes, ten of which were intentional. That’s a pace of over 100 in a 162-game season, and the hat seemed doomed. Even accounting for his slow start, Cano was on pace to draw 81 walks, and I figured all was lost. But then Alfonso Soriano arrived and Alex Rodriguez returned. It was all wine and roses from there.

From July 29 through the end of the season, Cano returned to his free-swinging ways. He drew just 13 walks while still hitting a robust .346/.391/.528. The intentional walk well fell dry as well since he now had protection in the lineup. Opposing mangers IBB’d Robbie just twice over the final two months of the season.

And so the hat was saved. Despite sweating out a tough summer, despite a short-lived Tumblr with hat recipes and an RAB Countdown, the hat has survived the winter. Robbie ended the year with 65 walks — a new career high but a far cry from the 80 he needed to achieve for us to see what happens when man eats toxic sponge. I’d say that’s a season that went very, very right.

(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)
(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

Outside of the walks, though, Cano’s season was a bright spot. He hit .314/.383/.516 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs. He played a spectacular second base and seemed to be a leader in the clubhouse when the top veterans were injured. After hitting 21 dingers prior to the All Star Break, he launched only six more longballs all year but still hit .331/.379/.494. He appeared on his fifth All Star game and placed fifth in the AL MVP voting.

What comes next though is more important than what he did. We’ve followed the saga of Robbie very closely. He’s a premier offensive player who can man his position with the best of them. He’s Jay-Z’s first client and star in New York City. He’s also turned 31 a little over a month ago and wants a long-term commitment with lots of dollar signs attached. The Yanks can’t afford to let him go but may not want to pay. Yet for all the public posturing, they need Robinson Cano. I won’t say I’ll eat my hat if he doesn’t sign with the Yanks; I’ve learned my lesson there. But I’d be very, very surprised if the team’s best player in 2013 isn’t wearing his Yankee pinstripes come April.

Newsday: WFAN to host 2014 Yanks’ radio games

In a move surely designed to annoy tri-state area Mets fans, the Yankees and CBS are close to a deal that move the team’s radio broadcasts for 2014 and beyond onto WFAN, Newsday reports. The Yankees and CBS have had a relationship since 2002 when games shifted from 770 AM to 880. The move, still not yet official, would put the Yanks on the strong 660 AM station as well as on CBS’ new FM origination of the FAN on 101.9 and, according to the Daily News, could be worth as much as $15-$20 million a year for the next ten years.

According to the reports, though, we may not yet have the chance to hear John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman coming to us on the crystal clear FM dial. According to Newsday, Sterling’s return is all but guaranteed, but Waldman’s future remains hazy. Neil Best notes that “if the team gives its blessing, they will continue the on-air partnership that began in 2005.” Despite Waldman’s shortcomings, she’s been a long-time Yankee booster, and I can’t imagine the club is quite ready to dump her.

Nothing though has been finalized, and Lonn Trost said as much to Newsday. “Right now we’re in negotiations and everything is confidential,” the Yanks’ COO said. “Part of the agreement we’re drafting has a confidentiality agreement. I can’t even get into it. I am close with some entity for next year.” The Mets could end up on ESPN Radio or the Clear Channel-owned WOR, an early bidder for the Yanks’ rights.

Imagining the Yankees as deadline sellers

For the past two decades, the Yankees have not been trade deadline sellers. They have been perennially competitive, often missing just a piece or two to seal a playoff berth, and selling has long gone against the Steinbrenner ethos mandating winning now and winning at any cost. But what if the Yanks decide to sell? What if it makes more sense for 2014 and beyond to face the stark reality of 2013?

As the trade deadline nears, the Yankees find themselves in a complicated position. Their loss last night to the Red Sox dropped them to an even .500 since May 1, and they’re 21-23 since June 1 with a run differential of -20. They’re seven games behind Boston and 5.5 in back of Tampa Bay, but because of the second Wild Card, they’re just 3.5 games behind a chance to compete in an exciting but incredibly stressful play-in game. They’re just tantalizingly close to want to buy but not really good enough to compete, and to make matters worse, their offensive hopes are resting on the bats (and legs) of two guys closer to 40 than 35.

Meanwhile, the market right now decidedly favors sellers. There is a dearth of top-tier, race-changing talent available, and the promise of a qualifying offer allows those with bargaining chips to extract maximum value. If the Yankees were to become sellers, they have plenty of bargaining chips. So as an exercise in curiosity, let’s pretend the Yankees become sellers. They won’t trade all of these players listed, and they may only trade the one with the least amount of value. But maybe the team should consider selling and restocking. With the cards they’re holding, the spoils could be great.

1. Hiroki Kuroda
With CC’s struggles, Kuroda has emerged as the clear-cut Yankee ace and just a sheer pleasure to watch pitch. He’s giving up less than a home run per 9 IP and has a 2.65 ERA in the AL East. He’s signed to a one-year contract worth $15 million and would be a hot commodity on the market. He also has a no-trade clause that he has used in the past, notably to block a trade to the Yankees in 2011. In a sellers market, Kuroda could likely fetch a top-30 prospect and a top-100 prospect and maybe another fringy player.

2. Robinson Cano
Much like trading Kuroda would represent a pitching white flag, trading Cano would mean the end of any Yankee offense. I don’t believe the team will trade, and in fact, I strongly suspect Cano will sign a long-term deal to stay with the Yankees. Yet, he’s a second baseman playing superb defense with a .919 OPS. He also won’t take any qualifying offer. For 60 games of Cano, the returns would likely be at least what Kuroda could command. Trade one, and the future prospects are looking good. Trade two, and you can reload in a week.

3. David Robertson
Robertson is a great “sell” piece if the Yanks go down that route. He’s been a stand-out reliever for years and earns $3 million a year. He has a season of team control left and could likely close for a contender in need of a steady 9th inning presence. A Mike Adams trade under similar circumstances netted two B level prospects, and the relief market is unclear right now. A desperate team would part with more.

4. Phil Hughes
For Yankee fans, Hughes is a symbol of frustration. Heralded as the next big thing, he’s emerged more as a 4/5 type rather than 1/2 type many projected. Still, some of that stems from a combination of his pitching approach and home ballpark. Outside of Yankee Stadium, he’s got a 3.38 ERA, and the home run rate drops precipitously from nearly 2 per 9 IP to around 1.1 per 9 IP. He’s a change-of-scenery guy who could net a B grade prospect or even a B+ type if the market continues to tighten.

5. Joba Chamberlain
Once upon a time, Joba would have been untouchable. The third ranked prospect in all of baseball, Joba arrived like a revelation and then faltered. We could point fingers for hours, but it’s clear he needs to move on. Whether the Yanks are sellers or not, I’d be surprised if Joba is here on August 1. He didn’t get the ball before Adam Warren in the 11th inning last night, but if you squint, you can see velocity and a good strike out rate. Any returns will be nominal, and the Yanks’ best chances at getting anything back probably involve a package of Hughes and Joba. Save the big three, indeed.

So what do you do? The Yankees have Mariano’s farewell tour to complete, tickets to sell and ratings to realize. They want to get under a dollar threshold for 2014, and if they hope to accomplish this unlikely goal, they need cost-controlled young talent. It may makes sense to face the facts of a doomed season with too many obstacles and injuries to overcome to sell. But they’re still the Yankees, and the Yankees don’t sell.

DotF: An A-Bomb from A-Rod

With Mike covering the All Star Game and related festivities for CBS this week, I’ll be your host for Down on the Farm tonight. We start off with video of A-Rod‘s A-Bomb, courtesy of Josh Norris. Larry Granillo of the Tater Trot Tracker timed A-Rod’s first trip around the bases since last September at 26 seconds so clearly Al is taking it a bit slow. He also had a single. Come back soon, right-handed power hitter.

The rest of these will be a bit abbreviated. Feel free to highlight any performances I may have missed in the comments.

Triple A Scranton is off until Thursday for the AAA All Star Game. Thomas Neal and Chris Bootcheck both made the team, and Dave Miley will be managing the squad.

Double A Trenton (6-5 win over Reading)

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Great Moments in A-Rod: Everyone out to commit insurance fraud

It’s no secret that the Yankees and A-Rod are amidst a tenuous stretch in their tumultuous relationship. It’s been ten years since the Yanks acquired the star — ten years of playoff problems, opt-out operas, drug dramas. After 2007, the Yankees could have walked away from A-Rod, but the two sides just couldn’t quit each other. So here we are in 2013, and A-Rod, 38 next month, is under investigation for shady dealings with the Biogenesis clinic and trying to work his walk back from yet another hip injury.

The latest round of trouble began a few days ago on Twitter when A-Rod, instead of logging off, decided to post a note that his doctor had cleared his hip. The Yanks were supposedly eying a July 1 rehab date, and Alex seemed to jump the gun. It was innocuous enthusiasm from a player who could help his team, and it inspired Yanks GM Brian Cashman to say, on the record to ESPN NY, that Alex needs to STFU. Yesterday was a day of apologies wherein Cashman admitted to overreacting, and A-Rod clarified that he just wants to play.

Today, we have not one, not two, but three anonymously sourced articles all alleging that A-Rod, the Yankees or both are out to commit some form of insurance fraud.


NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez believes the New York Yankees do not want him to return this season, and perhaps ever again, a source told ESPNNewYork.com. According to the source, Rodriguez thinks the Yankees are deliberately slowing his return to their active roster in the hope they can have him declared medically unfit to play this season, enabling them to recoup 80 percent of his $28 million salary through insurance.

Daily News:

According to sources close to the ongoing drama surrounding the star-crossed Yankee third baseman, Rodriguez and his advisers are so concerned that Major League Baseball’s drug posse is quickly closing in on him that they have racheted (sic) up the timetable for him to return to game action. Once he’s back playing in rehab games, the sources say, he could then claim he is physically unable to perform because of the serious hip injury he is recovering from, “retire” from the game, and still collect the full amount of his salary — $114 million over the next five years.

“It’s all about him getting his money and not losing it to suspension,” one source close to the situation told the Daily News. “He knows he’s never going to the Hall of Fame. All that’s left for him is to make sure he gets his money — all of it.”

One way to do that is for Rodriguez to return to game action, find he can no longer perform up to his standards, then retire before he’s hit with a suspension without pay. A player who retires because he is physically unable to perform, even if he’s later suspended, would still get the full amount of his contract.

The Post:

Alex Rodriguez informed Yankees officials in Tampa yesterday he isn’t ready to begin a minor league rehab assignment because his surgically repaired hip isn’t up to the task, a source told The Post last night…The source also said he has heard speculation Rodriguez could use the hip problem to retire. That would allow him to collect the $114 million owed to him. Should Rodriguez retire because of a medical problem, he would avoid a possible suspension by MLB in the Biogenesis mess. The Yankees would also be able to collect 80 percent of the $114 million from insurance.

This is, of course, tabloid drama at its finest. A-Rod and the Yanks had a disagreement in the middle of a time period where the Yanks are regretting handing out $275 million to a 32-year-old with baggage, and everyone is now trying to get back at everyone else. A-Rod, a fierce competitor, wants to get back on the field, and he wants his money. The Yanks, desperately in need of any offensive production, would love to escape A-Rod, but for better or worse, they need him if they want to stay in the playoff race. Generally, these stories strike me as a load of hooey.

What won’t happen, despite what various reports say, is a quick resolution to any of the medical drama unless it involves a quick rehab and return to the field for A-Rod. We’ve been down this road before where the muckrakers in the press allege some form of insurance fraud, and if the Yankees and/or A-Rod do plan to pursue a medical out, it won’t be leaked so publicly. For A-Rod to retire and for insurance to cover his contract, some very powerful insurance companies that don’t look kindly upon those who try to bilk them out of dollars will get involved. A whole slew of doctors will examine A-Rod, and policies will be combed through by the finest lawyers around. If ESPN NY thinks the Yanks want to get out of their contractual obligations due to PED concerns, just imagine how the companies that have insured the remaining $114 million on A-Rod’s contract feel.

Sports media will have a field day with this stuff today. The FAN was already all over last night before I went to bed, and as many say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But this isn’t even smoke. It’s a bunch of would/could/should that has no basis in the way baseball, business and the law work. A-Rod may be a pain that the Yanks want to rid themselves of, but it’s a marriage both partners need right now. No amount of anonymously sourced conspiracy theories can change that.

Game 60: The start of a long West Coast trip

(Photo via flickr user henry alva)

The Yanks’ next ten games remind me a bit of my childhood. Before the unbalanced schedule sent the Yanks on multiple West Coast trips with ridiculous Mariners/Royals back-to-back sets, these swings through Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim used to be the norm, and I hated them. I couldn’t stay up to watch much, if any, of these 10 p.m. games, and I wouldn’t find out the winner until the morning. But the Yanks can’t play out a season avoiding the AL West, and well, here we are.

The series against the Mariners kicks off with my least favorite Yankee hurler on the mound. I used to love Phil Hughes, but I’ve grown tired of watching him. His good starts outnumber his bad starts this year, but his stuff hasn’t developed as we all hoped. He gives up predictable home runs, and I’m still expecting his change-up to become a viable pitch any day now. That said, he’s facing Aaron Harang. Here’s to offense.

Brett Gardner CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Travis Hafner DH
Kevin Youkilis 3B
Vernon Wells LF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jayson Nix SS
Austin Romine C

Phil Hughes P

First pitch is at 10:10 p.m. Eastern, and the game can be seen on YES where Kenny Singleton and Bob Lorenz will usher you through the evening.

A non-inclusive list of things George Steinbrenner hasn’t done since 2010

Ghost Boss.
Ghost Boss.

When the Yanks completed their series to forget against the Mets last night, I knew someone would write it, and of course, Ian O’Connor drew the short straw. Keep in mind that George Steinbrenner had not been well for some time and passed away at the age of 80 in 2010. Allow me then to present a non-inclusive list of things the Boss would have done if he were still alive.

If the Boss were alive…

Perhaps it’s time to put this tired trope to bed.