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Guest: Christina Kahrl of ESPN. She writes for the SweetSpot blog (her archive here). We talk about the upcoming Cubs series, but really more about the woeful state of the team and what they’re doing to get back on track. Plenty of Jeff Samardzija talk, as you might imagine.

We also dive into social issues in sports, where Christina plays an active role. You can follow her on Twitter, @ChristinaKahrl.

Before that, Jay, Mike, and I talk a bit about the Pirates series. Lots of prospect talk going on during that 35-minute opening segment. I guess it’s appropriate, since Mike and I talk a bit more about the week in the minor league system.

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The 2008 free agent signings

So long ago. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The 2008 season might not have been as bad as 2013, but Yankees fans would still like to forget it. It seemed that every little thing went wrong that season. Whenever it looked as though the Yankees might have a charge in them, the suffered another blow.

Let’s consider a (perhaps incomplete) list of those maladies:

  • Both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, top prospects who showed promise in 2007, started off the season in disastrous fashion.
  • Then Hughes got hurt.
  • Darrell Rasner started 20 games.
  • Much worse: Sidney Ponson started 15.
  • Save for a brilliant start here and there, Andy Pettitte was thoroughly mediocre.
  • The only two starters under age 30, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, had wholly disappointing seasons. Cano was benched for lack of hustle, while Carbera got sent back to AAA after more than two service-time years in the bigs.
  • Jorge Posada, fresh off signing a new contract, played the first half with a bum shoulder which required surgery, forcing a cast of offensively inept backups into starting roles.
  • Hideki Matsui‘s balky knees limited him to under 400 PA and sapped him of his power.
  • Chien-Ming Wang suffered a foot injury that would indirectly end his career.
  • Derek Jeter had his worst season since 1996. (Sure, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year, but we’d come to expect more of him.)
  • Joba Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and then in the rotation — until he suffered a shoulder injury that cut his season short (and probably ended up causing a lot more long-term damage than we typically account for).
  • They traded a reasonably effective Kyle Farnsworth and got back a wholly terrible Ivan Rodriguez.
  • Xavier Nady hit .330/.383/.535 before the Yankees traded for him, .268/.320/.474 for them.
  • Damaso Marte was terrible and then broke after the trade. Thankfully, they didn’t end up giving away anything of consequence.
  • All told the Yankees used 27 — twenty-seven! — pitchers.

What went right? Mike Mussina’s resurgence was nice to watch. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi both stayed healthy and produced decent numbers. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t his 2007 MVP self, but he was still a top-five hitter. Unfortunately, he started his streak of six straight years on the disabled list. (Which he’ll have snapped at season’s end.) The Yanks did discover Al Aceves, which was nice, and Brian Bruney, which was nice for a very short period of time.

Despite all that, had there been a second Wild Card, or had the Rays improved by 22 wins, instead of 31, the Yanks would have made the playoffs. So how bad could the season have been?

It could have been a fatal sign going forward. The franchise players were getting older. Each had been hurt or saw diminished production during the 2008 season. The only starters under age 30 took steps backwards. Maybe it didn’t feel like it at the time, but the potential for disaster loomed during that off-season. The Yankees needed big changes, and that’s not easy to achieve through free agency.

Thankfully for the Yankees, the 2008-2009 free agent class featured a number of players who fit their exact needs. Even more thankfully, they shed a number of their biggest, and in some cases worst, contracts at the exact right time.

The 2008 payroll was a then-franchise-record $209 million (just a bit more than the 2005 payroll). Without some of those bigger contracts coming off the books, there’s now way that even the Yankees can afford to add contracts for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira (and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher). But the exact right contracts expired at the exact right time.

Jason Giambi cost the club $22 million in 2008. They essentially shed $17 million, though, since they had to pay him a $5 million buyout on his 2009 option.

Carl Pavano cost the club $11 million in 2008.

Bobby Abreu cost $16 million, but with a $2 million buyout the Yankees saved $14 million.

Mike Mussina cost $11 million, but the Yankees probably weren’t glad to be rid of him at that point.

Andy Pettitte cost $16 million. Worthwhile in 2007, but not so much 2008.

They also saved some money when Ivan Rodriguez’s contract expired. Trading away Wilson Betemit’s $1.6 million was like finding some loose change in the couch cushions.

In total the Yankees shed more than $70 million in salaries, mostly for players they were glad to be rid of, of who were considerably overpaid in 2008.

Time to reallocate those resource to more productive players.

Add up the guys they signed. At $23 million for Sabathia. $22.5 million for Teixeira, $18.5 million for Burnett, and $5.3 million for Swisher, plus another $5.5 million for bringing back Pettitte, you get $74.8 million.

They were able to fill their needs with such high-priced guys, because they had a number of lower-cost players on both sides of the ball. It took some faith in them rebounding, but Cano and Cabrera cost them a combined $7.4 million in 2009. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes earned the minimum, as did almost everyone in the bullpen. If they didn’t have those major-league-ready younger players, then spending $75 million on top-tier players makes less sense. You can have a core of great players, but you still need 25 players on the roster.

At the end of 2008, the Yankees were in a tough spot. Their younger players saw their flaws exposed during the season. There was plenty of uncertainty about the tested veterans. Without the perfect free agent class and money to lure them, the 2009 Yankees might not have been much better than 2008. Without some of those younger guys returning to form, or performing well for a change, the successful free agent signings might not have mattered.

The Yankees found the exact guys to fill needed spots. It cost them plenty, but each of the free agent signings (and trade bounty, in Swisher’s case) added significantly to the 2009 team’s production. Perhaps just as importantly, the Yankees stuck with those younger players and saw their patience rewarded. The entire off-season could have gone a lot differently. But it played out perfectly. We all know the reward.

Categories : Days of Yore
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How much more injured can the Yankees get? Frankly we don’t want to know the answer. Mike and I kick off the show talking about the latest injuries to CC Sabathia and Carlos Beltran (and Shawn Kelley, don’t forget him).

Then we’re talking to Jorge Arangure of The New York Times, Sports on Earth, and other fine sports publications. Jorge wrote an article on Carlos Beltran this week, which you can find here. We talk about some aspects of Beltran you don’t see reported every day. Catch Jorge on Twitter, @jorgearangure.

The Pirates come to town this weekend, which gives us an opportunity to talk with Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects, a wonderfully run team blog. Might even be the second-best team-specific blog out there. It might be called Pirates Prospects, but it covers all aspects of the team. If you’re wondering about the team that broke a horrible below-.500 streak last season, but has started out slowly this year, Tim’s your man. You can catch him on Twitter, @timwilliamsp2.

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Kendrys Morales

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

I have this buddy — most of you probably know him — who IMs me at least once a week clamoring for the Yankees to sign Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.

And?

Drew we know makes some level of sense. The Yankees still need some infield help. Despite his relative health so far, and his improving performance, they can’t ignore the injury risk of Brian Roberts. Fun as he’s been to watch, Yangervis Solarte could go away at any time. The Yankees can’t really afford that kind of drop-off at this point.

Once they signed Carlos Beltran, Morales didn’t make sense for the Yanks. They had Mark Teixeira installed at first base, and with four outfielders they had their DH needs covered. There just weren’t enough at-bats for a guy who certainly deserves them. There was always the “if Mark Teixeira misses significant time” caveat, but other than that there wasn’t much connection between Morales and the Yankees.

Beltran’s injury changes the scene a bit. If he does require immediate surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, the Yankees have room to add a bat. With two MLB players waiting for a team to sign them, the Yankees have a perfect opportunity to improve.

Morales: DH and spelling Teixeira

The Yankees need a healthy Teixeira if they’re going to make a run at the postseason. They’ve already missed him for two weeks. To lose him again, especially with Beltran out, would further cripple the offense. We got a little scare earlier this week, when Teixeira sat out a game and complaining of tired legs. He ran poorly, even for himself, during the weekend series in Milwaukee.

Adding Morales gives Girardi a viable backup for Teixeira. Playing Morales at first allows Teixeira to take a full day off, or to rest up a bit at DH. Kelly Johnson could do that, sure, but what happens if Roberts gets hurt? Johnson can’t play the entire right side of the infield.

Morales’s primary role would be at DH, with Alfonso Soriano taking over in right field. His arm might not be fit for the job, but he’s shown considerably more range than Beltran this season. It’s a trade-off that the Yankees will have to take. They can still get Soriano days at DH and on the bench, as he’s been doing all year. That will free up some at-bats for Ichiro as well.

Drew: Mitigating Jeter

The rise of Solarte has made the Yankees infield a bit better than we anticipated going into the season. Unfortunately, Jeter’s defense has been even worse than imagined. The pitching staff has had its troubles, and it’s tough to blame the entire problem on shaky infield defense, but it sure hasn’t helped them. Drew is no defensive wizard, but he represents an upgrade over the current corps.

Signing Drew only works if Girardi makes Jeter the primary DH in Beltran’s absence. Perhaps Jeter can stay fresher if he’s off the field, providing a bit more offense than he is now. Drew plays his natural position, at which his bat provides the most value.

Given the state of the Yankees infield, there doesn’t need to be a very strong case made for Drew. He’d help.

What about pitching?

With three-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the DL, the Yankees might need some pitching help. We know Ivan Nova is lost for the season. Who knows if CC Sabathia, with a degenerative knee condition, or Michael Pineda, with an injury so close to his surgically repaired right shoulder will come back — let alone come back and pitch effectively. If the Yankees are going to open their wallets, shouldn’t it aid the pitching staff?

In an ideal world, sure. But in the real world, there aren’t any major league caliber pitchers on the free agent market. A few might become available in July, but the Yankees can’t count on that. They have to take measures to improve the team where they can when the opportunities arise. Right now, the opportunities lie in Drew and Morales.

There is little to no chance the Yankees sign both, giving up their second- and third-round draft picks in the process. (Unless Boras comes up with one of his creative package deals, a la Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.) Either could help the Yankees if Beltran misses significant time. Strangely enough, it might even make them a more balanced team in the process.

Categories : Offense
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The total score of the weekend series: Yankees 14, Brewers 14. But they can’t split the series, so the Brewers ended the weekend on top, winning Sunday’s game in a walkoff. The Yankees came back from behind in both Saturday and Sunday’s games, but it wasn’t enough.

Jay and I look at the series that was, and then look ahead to this week’s series, both against the Mets. To talk about the crosstown rivals other team, we have Marc Carig of Newsday. You might remember him from the Yankees beat a few years ago. The man knows his Mets.

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CC Sabathia injured

(Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

The Yankees will be without CC Sabathia for at least the next two weeks. After last night’s game he had an MRI on his right knee, which revealed fluid build-up. He will have it drained, which will keep him out of action and necessitate the DL trip.

The good news: the MRI showed no tear, so Sabathia should need only the minimum stay on the DL.

For right now the Yankees have recalled RHP Matt Daley. Joe Girardi says that Al Aceves is the leading candidate to take Sabathia’s start Thursday against the Mets. That’s not set in stone, though. Just before the Sabathia news broke, we learned that RHP Chase Whitley had been scratched from his start at AAA Scranton. Donnie Collins of the Times-Tribune speculates that Whitley could be up to replace Aceves as the long man, with Preston Claiborne headed back to AAA. It could just as well be Daley headed back to AAA tomorrow if that’s when they decide to make the move. Whitley is not on the 40-man roster, which causes further complications.

While Sabathia has struggled at times this season, he has shown some definite signs of life, particularly as he continues to strike out hitters. His problems seem to center on consistency. Perhaps he can right the ship upon return at the end of May.

Categories : Injuries
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Facing Mariano RiveraWe had a full year to gush over Mariano Rivera‘s greatness. It didn’t seem like long enough. And it still feels wrong that he’s not closing the door this year.

During that year we saw fans show their appreciation. Teams honored Mo with ceremony after ceremony, paying tribute with gifts as though he were an ancient king. Most pervasively, we saw the media stumble over themselves to gush about Mo.

His peers talked about his greatness, but it felt as though we didn’t hear enough of their stories. What did it feel like to stand there in the batter’s box against Rivera?

We get answers in the recently published book, Facing Mariano Rivera, edited by David Fischer. It contains stories of nearly 100 opponents who faced Rivera. (It also contains contributions from guys like Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and other teammates who never faced him, plus a number of pitchers and managers.) If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to stand in the box and know what pitch is coming, and still not be able to hit it, this book will help get you there.

There is, to be sure, plenty of fluff praise for Rivera, the standard praise of his composure and class. But nearly every player says one thing that really stands out, that helps you more fully understand the opponents’ mindsets when they faced Rivera – with the game close enough for him to be in there, but still seemingly out of reach.

Here are two of my favorite excerpts:

Tim Salmon

Salmon debuted in 1992, when I was 10, thus at the very peak of my baseball card collecting phase. We all chased after his rookie card, and I’m fairly certain that we all had at least one. It really is no surprise that baseball cards lost all value when internet commerce was even in its infancy.

In his fourth season, Salmon accomplished something that at the time was insignificant. He recorded the first hit off of Mariano Rivera. He in fact recorded two that day, including a double. In his third at-bat he walked, which ended Mariano’s day. That was in 1995, when Rivera was still a starter.

In 13 at-bats after that, including postseason, Salmon went 0 for 13.

A lot of closers grunt and snort and spit, they scowl at you, and throw the ball under your chin, trying to intimidate you, which makes you want to bear down and beat them all the more. Mariano was never like that on the mound. He was pleasant; his demeanor was disarming, it was life facing an old friend. I think that works to his advantage. Hitters don’t have that extra motivation you might have against guys you despite who are flaunting their stuff and pointing to the sky and talking trash.

Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Mo faced 1,013 different hitters during his career. Who was the toughest of them all? When asked last spring, Mo didn’t hesitate when he answered.

The toughest – and thank God he retired – (former Mariners DH) Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough. Great man, though – respected the game, did what he had to do for his team. That’s what you appreciate about players, when a player come and do what is right for the game of baseball, for his team and teammates.

Martinez must have traumatized Mo when the latter was a rookie in 1995. In 7 PA he went 6 for 7 with two homers, a double, and a walk. Even when Mo was Mo in 1996, Martinez went 2 for 2 with two doubles. After that Martinez went 3 for 10 with three walks, two intentional. He was on an 0 for 6 slide against Rivera before he singled on August 14, 2004, the last time the two faced each other.

Just how badly did Mo want to beat Martines?

I think what makes him great is his command and his location; knowing where to throw the pitch. A good example is when I faced him in the 2000 American League Championship Series. I made the last out of the game. He got me out with a sinker inside. I never remember him throwing me a sinker before. that was the first tim I ever saw a sinker from him. He knew when to change his plan, when to go with something completely new, something different that you’re not expecting.

If you’re missing Mariano, and I sure am, this book is a nice little reminder of the greatness we witnessed night in and night out for so many seasons. You can flip around and read stories at random. I’ve been trying to find as many current players as possible, reading their stories when the Yankees face them this year.

Hardcover price: $17.71 – Click here to buy it on Amazon
Kindle version: $11.99 – Click here to buy it and start reading right now

There is something of a graphical element, since the book contains breakdowns of every hitter’s at-bats against Mo, so the hardcover might be better. But if you’re using Kindle on a tablet, it should render just fine.

Categories : Reviews
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Take pity on me, for I am an old man. Having not watched an inning of the Angels series, I rely on Jay and Mike to talk about how the Yankees turned things around and escaped Anaheim with a series win.

We also take a long look at the pitching staff, for both the short term and the long term. Plus, the requisite trade deadline talk, which you can expect from here through July.

RAB welcomes Jack Moore to the podcast. I met Jack back when he and I wrote for FanGraphs. Jack’s now all over the place, writing for The Score and Sports on Earth (you should check out his article that should be live Friday morning).

Having founded the Brewers blog Disciples of Uecker, Jack is not only a knowledgeable Brewers fan but also an elite blog namer. If you don’t know much about the Brewers, and I imagine many Yankees fans do not, Jack gets you up to speed heading into the weekend series.

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What a frustrating series. The Yankees got the hits, but didn’t plate the runners – 4 for 33 with runners in scoring position.

Jay and I run down the gruesome details in the most upbeat manner possible.

Then Sam Miller, an editor at Baseball Prospectus, joins us to talk about the upcoming Angels series. Sam covered the Angels for the Orange County Register for a few years. You’ll learn a bit listening to him.

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We have two guests this week, plus Mike returns to the podcast after a stint on the DL.

Mike and I discuss the state of the pitching staff, with Michael Pineda headed for the DL and Ivan Nova lost for the season. The Yankees do have a few holes on the roster, which leads to a very premature discussion of potential moves they can make.

Then Jay and I talk to ESPN’s Keith Law about some pine tar (and vaseline, and Crisco), Masahiro Tanaka, and of course plenty of Yanks minor league stuff.

Finally we have Tommy Rancel from The Process Report to talk about the upcoming Rays series. The season hasn’t gone quite as expected for the boys in Tampa, but as Tommy explains they do have some hope in the coming weeks. Thankfully, they still have Erik Bedard starting in this series.

Podcast run time :

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As always, we appreciate any feedback you have.

Categories : Podcast
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