Archive for Rants
I don’t know if there’s anything in baseball more frustrating than an underachieving team. If there is, I’m not sure I want to know. The Yankees have underachieved through their first 37 games of the season, but don’t confuse underachieving with being bad. They’ve played okay at best overall, but that’s not what they’re capable of. They haven’t played up to their full potential, specifically the starting pitching last month and the offense this month.
Last night’s 8-1 loss to the Blue Jays marked the eighth time in their last 16 games that the Yankees were held to two runs or less. That’s very hard to swallow. They’ve hit just .258/.323/.425 during those 16 games compared to a .279/.354/.479 performance in their first 21 games of the season. Their strikeout rate has gone up (15.7 K% vs. 18.4 K%) and their walk rate has gone down (10.2 BB% vs. 8.1 BB%) during those two admittedly arbitrary samples. Maybe the only difference between the first 21 games and the last 16 games is Derek Jeter‘s ridiculous hot streak. Who knows?
Is the offense going to come around at some point and start clicking on all (or at least most) cylinders? Yeah probably. It’ll be glorious when it happens but I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. The Yankees appear content to just keep running the same ol’ lineup out there every night and hope that these problems will just correct themselves, which is fine I suppose. I wish they were a little more proactive with making slight changes — dropping Mark Teixeira in the lineup, moving Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher up, etc. — but there’s value in patience. It’s just tough to expect improvement when no changes are made.
One thing that I do believe is very important right now is getting Curtis Granderson a day off. I don’t mean sometime this weekend or early next week, I’m talking tonight on the turf in Toronto. Granderson’s started every game of the season in center field and he’s stuck in a 5-for-36 rut at the moment (four of those five hits are homers, ironically enough), so let’s get the man off his feet for once. It may help re-ignite his bat or it may not, but I do know that fatigued players are less effective players. A day of rest for Curtis could end up helping the offense in a big way.
There are still 125 games to go this year and that’s great news because the Yankees are going need all the time they can get to figure this thing out. They’re lucky the AL East is so competitive right now because no team has really run away with the division yet. Sitting 3.5 games back in mid-May is nothing, not when there are so many intra-divison games left to play. The Yankees don’t need a shake-up or anything drastic, but they do need to start showing signs of improvement. Talk is cheap; it’s not all that early in the season anymore and the excuses are starting to run out. This is a results town and the results haven’t been there this month.
The Yankees have been playing with a 24-man roster the last few days as Nick Swisher nurses his low-grade hamstring strain, an injury that will reportedly keep him on the shelf for another 5-7 days*. To make matters a little worse, they replaced Brett Gardner with another pitcher — first Cody Eppley, then D.J. Mitchell — when the left fielder hit the DL with various right arm problems. Of the 24 usable players, only eleven are non-pitchers. That’s a little nuts.
* I can’t imagine we’ll see him any early than Tuesday, following the scheduled off day.
No one will replace Gardner’s defensive value, but the Yankees have compounded the problem by keeping Swisher active rather than replacing him a healthy player that can play the outfield competently. That’s led to Raul Ibanez and Eduardo Nunez roaming the outfield and costing the team runs on defense, sometimes in painfully obvious ways. I understand not wanting to lose one the team’s most productive players any longer than you have too, but we’re starting to reach the point where keeping him on the roster will the cost the team more than they’ll gain by having him back a few days earlier.
The easiest way for the Yankees to fix their two-man bench problem is to simply send down Mitchell and get back to a normal 12-man pitching staff. They’ll still have Freddy Garcia available for long relief, plus CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have started pitching deeper into games on a more consistent basis. Monday’s an off day as well, a built-in day of rest. The need for eight bullpen arms just isn’t all that great right now. No, the pressing need is another warm body for the bench, someone who can at the very least play passable defense in an outfield corner and maybe even pinch-run. They don’t need miracles, just someone like Melky Mesa for a week. That’s all.
More than anything, my biggest concern in this entire roster mess is that Swisher won’t get the proper time to heal and his low-grade hamstring strain turns into a high-grade hamstring strain. It’s very easy to re-aggravate a muscle problem, especially a lower body strain on an outfielder. A setback would put the timetable for Swisher’s return at weeks, not days. If they’re dead set on keeping him off the DL, fine. They just better not rush him back because well, the bench is short. With Gardner reportedly unlikely to come off the DL when eligible tomorrow, just send down a pitcher and get another capable body where one is really needed, the corner outfield.
I can’t help but wonder if the anterior labral tear in Michael Pineda‘s right shoulder could have been avoided had he spoken up sooner about the soreness in camp, but what can you do. When you tell the kid he needs to compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training one year after he made the All-Star Team, you can’t be surprised when you find out he’s been hiding an injury. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to keep his job.
People like to assign blame in situations like this, but it really doesn’t help matters any. Blame Brian Cashman, blame the medical staff, blame Pineda, blame the Mariners, blame whoever you want. It won’t make Pineda’s shoulder any healthier. If you think this whole episode is a fireable offense, I won’t disagree with you. I don’t think you can have a trade of this magnitude go sour this quickly without someone being held accountable, I just don’t know who and neither do you.
When you boil it all down, the Yankees made the trade for Pineda because they’ve been completely unable to develop their own starting pitchers in recent years. Joba Chamberlain was the team’s best hope for a homegrown ace in quite some time, but he was forced to jump through some mind-numbingly stupid player development hoops. Phil Hughes hasn’t worked out for a number of reasons and Ian Kennedy was traded away before getting an extended audition. The IPK thing doesn’t bother me nearly as much as Joba and Hughes because at least he brought back an MVP-caliber player in the trade. That Ivan Nova has lasted as long as he has is a minor miracle.
As far as 2012 is concerned, the trade is a disaster. A complete and unmitigated disaster. The Yankees basically forfeited whatever Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi could have given them and instead won’t get anything out of Pineda or Jose Campos, who is in Low-A. I suppose they could always trade Campos for a big leaguer and extract 2012 value that way, but that’s another matter entirely. Given their recent track record of developing young arms, maybe they should trade him before they ruin him too. Okay, now I’m just trollin’.
Anyway, the Yankees made the trade for both short and long-term reasons. They thought Pineda would be a rotation upgrade in the immediate future and an ace-caliber hurler down the line. Pineda came with five years of team control before qualifying for free agency, but now the Yankees are going to get four of those five years in the absolute best case scenario. That means no setbacks, no performance decline, no further injuries, no nothing. One-fifth of their expected return has already been wiped away and they can’t get it back. They’ll be lucky if they only lose that much.
Pitchers are inherently risky, but unfortunately you actually need them to win. Good ones too, and Michael Pineda most certainly was very good last year. You don’t strike out a quarter of the batters you face with a 3.15 K/BB ratio because of good luck or because you play in a big home ballpark. I said that I thought the trade was fair on our podcast right after the deal went down, but I also said I would have rather kept Montero. This whole thing just sucks. I feel bad for Pineda as a person, I really do, but I’m also furious that there’s a really good chance the Yankees will get absolutely nothing out of Montero other than those 69 plate appearances last September. Mistakes are unavoidable in baseball, but not all are forgivable.
Last year, when he was competing for a spot in the Mariners rotation, Michael Pineda did not face intense scrutiny. People watched and dissected his performances, as they do for every pitcher. But given the Seattle media market combined with the Mariners current place in the baseball world, the attention paid him was relatively mild. One year later, you can’t click on three Yankees-related links without seeing a Pineda mention. And most of it isn’t exactly glowing.
The level of scrutiny that Pineda faces is new to him, though it’s not to us. We’ve seen it happen dozens of times before. In Pineda’s case it makes all the sense in the world. He’s a young pitcher with high expectations, due to his 2011 performance, his former top prospect status, and the trade that brought him to New York. Yet it seems that attention paid him has gone from intense to overkill. Let’s quickly review the timeline of Pineda’s brief Yankees tenure.
1. When the Yankees acquired Pineda, Brian Cashman himself said that Pineda adding a changeup to his arsenal was the key to his success. Many analysts and scouts agreed.
2. Pineda comes into camp overweight, a cause for instant criticism.
3. Pineda receives early praise for his changeup, and throws it often in his early spring outings.
4. Now lacking a point of criticism, the media turns to his missing velocity as a point of major concern.
5. He builds velocity over a few starts, going from 89-91 in his first start to hitting 94 in his most recent one. But that’s not 96-97, so the criticism continues.
It’s all a bit absurd, and it grows even more so. At least one beat writer has led the charge in calling for Pineda to start the season in AAA, criticizing him at every opportunity (and even when there is no clear opportunity). Thankfully, the Yankees don’t operate to satiate the media and their desire for clicks and page views. They operate in a manner that will benefit them on the field, both now and in the future.
Are there solid, logical arguments for Pineda to start the season in AAA? There is the issue of his service clock, which the Yankees could delay by starting him in the minors. That would afford them another year of control, making Pineda a free agent after the 2017 season rather than 2016. Held back long enough, they could even delay his arbitration clock, setting his first hearing for 2015 rather than 2014. That seems like a decent incentive, especially knowing the front office’s desire — nay, mandate, as Hal Steinbrenner tells it — to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season.
Today at FanGraphs Dave Cameron offered an additional argument. He points to Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who, like Pineda, experienced a drop in velocity when he came into camp before the 2010 season. Cameron admits that the situations don’t line up, but I think he undersells the degree of difference between Pineda and Bumgarner. Bumgarner had experienced his velocity dip during the 2009 season. When it persisted in 2010 spring training, the Giants decided to keep him in the minors. This is quite different from Pineda, who not only spent all of 2011 in the majors, but also retained his velocity throughout (discounting his final start, which came on 11 days’ rest).
What both the service time and the Bumgarner arguments miss is the effect a minor league assignment would have on Pineda. Instead of looking at the situation from your armchair, look at it from Pineda’s point of view. He pitched successfully for a full major league season. He has pitched reasonably well all spring — better, certainly, than at least Ivan Nova, if not others. And now the Yankees are going to send you to the minors to work on your velocity, with the added benefit of them gaining more of your services for a cheaper price. Oh, and by the way, the Triple-A team is on a perpetual road trip because of stadium renovations. How would you feel if you were in his shoes? It’s an important consideration — as Joe Torre liked to say, there’s a heartbeat to the game.
If the Yankees feel that they can get the most out of Pineda by sending him to the minors, and if they think his confidence won’t go into the crapper, then it’s something to consider. But by all indications, this is a guy who has given it his all this spring. He might have shown up a bit overweight, but are we going to blame a 23-year-old for taking it easy the off-season after experiencing his most intense workload ever? Even so, Cashman says he’s already dropped 12 pounds and has worked as hard as anyone this spring. Is that someone you want to send away? Or is it someone you want to put in your rotation? He is, after all, one of the five most talented pitchers in camp. It seems like he should be treated as such.
When I walked by the newstand on Saturday morning, the cover of the Daily News caught my eye. On Friday, one day after the Yanks’ crushing loss to an inferior Tigers’ team in Game 5 of the ALDS, the esteemed paper polled its reactionary readers about the future of the Yankees. Who should stay, who should go, who should bear the weight of the world — or at least the ALDS loss — on his shoulder?
The answer, of course, was A-Rod. It always is A-Rod. It always has been, and it always will be. As of now, 69 percent of poll respondents say the Yanks should dump A-Rod. That’s actually down from upwards of 75 percent earlier this weekend. Time heals all wounds or something.
This need to lay the blame on someone for the ALDS loss is both obviously New York and entirely frustrating. The Yankees lost the ALDS due to a confluence of factors. Joe Torre in the Commissioner’s Office couldn’t read a weather forecast on Friday before Game 1, the Yanks couldn’t score off of Max Scherzer in Game 2, CC couldn’t control the strike zone during Games 3 or 5, and the team failed to get that one big hit that would have put them over the top on Thursday. Along the way, their 4, 5 and 6 hitters did absolutely nothing with the bat, and despite hot series, Robinson Cano scored no runs via anything other than his own home runs and Jorge Posada had no RBIs despite going 6 for 14.
Still, it’s A-Rod the Choker, A-Rod the guy who did this rather than the guy who blasted a Joe Nathan offering deep into the night in October 2009. It was A-Rod who went just 2 for 18, offering up a close replica of his 1 for 14 showing in 2006 against the Tigers. He struck out with the bases loaded, and he struck out to end the Yanks’ season.
By no stretch do I think A-Rod had a good ALDS. He made a few nice plays in the field but couldn’t get his groove back at the plate. For Alex, in fact, that was a theme this August and September. After starting the year at .295/.366/.485 through mid-July, A-Rod found himself on a 27-home run pace when he had to undergo knee surgery. In his first game back in late August, he jammed his thumb, and played just 19 games the rest of the way. In 84 plate appearances, he hit just .191/.345/.353 with three long balls as he battled aches and pains.
Had Joe Girardi bumped him out of the four spot during the playoffs, he would have a legitimate reason for doing so. The A-Rod the Yanks had in October wasn’t the A-Rod the Yanks had in May or June. But Girardi was far more willing to be flexible — almost too flexible — with the bullpen and not flexible enough with the lineup. Brett Gardner and his hot bat were minimized in the nine spot, Jorge Posada knocked the ball around hitting behind some cold bats and A-Rod hit fourth as though it were inscribed on stone tablets as the 11th Commandment. Thou shalt bat A-Rod fourth no matter his health.
What makes the Daily News poll somewhat less outrageous though is the hidden nugget of truth in it. The Yanks probably can’t dump A-Rod; after all he has no-trade protection in his contract. But if the Yankees had their druthers, they wouldn’t have A-Rod under contract for the next six years and owed $143 million to boot. A-Rod will be a fine third baseman for the next three years or so, but after that, things could get ugly as his decline continues. Already, New York sports media folk write about Jesus Montero and the DH as though he’s hogging A-Rod’s eventual position and will have to be traded for it. Talk about shooting off your nose to spite your face.
Basically, then, we as Yankee fans are stuck with A-Rod. He’s our problem when he struggles; he’s our superstar when he drops A-bombs into the left field bleachers. Blemishes and all though, A-Rod ain’t going anywhere before 2017, no matter how hard the Yankees try. We can learn to like it or boo him for the next half a decade. We’re going to war with the A-Rod we have and not the A-Rod we might want or wish to have at a later time. No amount of ALDS struggles or reactionary polls will change that.
It was mid-February, and we were jonesing for some baseball. At Bloomberg headquarters we got a close approximation. In 2010 Bloomberg decided to expand into the sports realm, offering a products for both consumers and professionals. To help spread the word, they held an all-day event to introduce their fantasy baseball and Pitch f/x analysis tools. As expected they both impressed. In 2011 Bloomberg was ready for a update, and again they invited Ben, Mike, and me, among many other blogging and media types, to their headquarters for another day of baseball in February. This time around, we got something out of it.
One feature they touted frequently was the implementation of their pro tool — the Pitch f/x analysis — on the iPad. They had developed an app that players could use at their lockers, at their hotels, or really any place when they had some free time. The app gave them not only information on hitters they would face, but also information on themselves. They could, for example, pull up a screen that would list every cutter they threw on the season. They’d not only see the Pitch f/x information on said pitch, but also videos of every instance. As you can imagine, the three of us salivated over the possibilities.
Of course, the app was not available to us. It was marketed to teams, and they paid top dollar for this level of analysis. Even if Bloomberg made it available to other entities, RAB clearly could not afford that type of application. But it did spark an idea. As we broke for lunch, Ben, Mike, and I huddled together to talk about how the tools they introduced — particularly the free fantasy ones — could help us at RAB. Only that’s not where the conversation went. Ben gets all the credit here, because he was the first one to blurt it out: “We should get iPads.” I wasn’t about to say no to that. Nor was Mike. And so, while in Arizona for Spring Training, we each picked up an iPad on launch day. I can’t speak for Mike or Ben, but it has changed the way I watch baseball.
By combining the MLB At Bat 11 app with my MLB.tv subscription, I’m able to watch any game, at any time, on my iPad. This works greatly when I’m already watching the Yankees game. It allows me to keep up with other games around the league at the same time. If Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw are going head-to-head at the same time a Yankees game is on, it’s no issue. Yankees on the TV, Dodgers-Giants on the iPad. Keeping up with the division rivals has been easier, too. In fact, MLB.tv on my iPad has essentially been my Red Sox tube. What better way to keep up with the rivalry than keeping tabs on the other side?
Beyond that, the At Bat app offers condensed games and tons of highlight clips, all of which load almost instantly. If I did miss a game, well, I didn’t really miss it. This works for the Yankees, too. I can jump right into the condensed game if I happened to miss it the night before. It takes just 15 minutes, and most of the action gets chronicled on the condensed game. Highlights, too, allowed me to keep up with the entire league and, for the first five months of the season, write my daily recap column on FanGraphs.
There is only one downside to all this, though: I want more ways to watch live Yankees games. Yes, this is an issue because of broadcast and rebroadcast rights. YES doesn’t want to lose TV viewers, because they then lose ad revenue. Since it’s more difficult to track people who are watching mobile devices, they clearly prefer I watch it through my cable subscription. But that doesn’t always play. See, the iPad is a portable device. It doesn’t just live in my living room. It goes to friends’ houses and on plane and train rides. And yet, unless I happen to be traveling outside of the Yankees broadcast area, I can have this big, beautiful tablet and no way to watch the Yankees on it.
There are some solutions. For instance, my cable provider, Cablevision, has an app that allows me to watch TV right on my iPad. Yet that’s still restrictive. It only works on my home WiFi network, meaning I can only watch those games at home. There are uses for that, of course; during day games I can just prop up my iPad and watch at my desk (which faces away from the TV) while I work. It also allows me to work a bit later in the evenings if necessary. But it doesn’t help me when at a friend’s house who doesn’t have cable. Really, it doesn’t help me watch the Yankees when I’m out of the house.
Recently I’ve been playing with the BlackBerry PlayBook, a tablet PC competitor to the iPad, as a review unit. While it’s not as pretty as the iPad, it does offer a number of advantages. For starters, it’s a ton smaller than the iPad, meaning it’s more portable. I can see toting this around town, on train rides, at coffee shops, etc. Yet there is no way to watch baseball on the PlayBook. The screen is great, and video, even streaming video, renders very well on its 7-inch screen. But there is no At Bat app, never mind one for my cable provider. That’s a bit disheartening.
There are clear conflicts here that prevent me from watching baseball wherever I want. YES has the exclusive rights to broadcast most Yankees games, and they need to make money. If they’re not making money off me watching on my tablet, they have little reason to allow that type of usage. At the same time, I already pay a hefty monthly cable and internet bill, and I’m not inclined to pay too much more for the same viewing privileges on different devices. Hence, consumers and broadcasters are at something of a stalemate. Nothing seems to make sense for both sides, and so we maintain the status quo.
It has become pretty clear that tablet computers will play a large part in our lives for the next few years. They provide entertainment in ways that other devices cannot. Yet, at the same time, given current broadcast regulations, it can be difficult to get the most out of these devices. The ability to watch the Yankees wherever I am makes a tablet that much more valuable. Hopefully these forces will move broadcasters closer to consumers and perhaps create offerings that allow us to watch the Yankees on our tablets while still in the YES home area. It’s really all I want for Christmas.
As you’ve probably heard by now, the Yankees and Orioles will make up one of this weekend’s games on September 8th at 1pm ET, a mutual off day for the two clubs. Apparently some miscommunication between the O’s and the MLBPA resulted in the decision to postpone the game to that date, which the Yankees most certainly did not want. It was their only true off day of the month, and now they’ve got to play three games in three cities on two coasts in the span of about 60 hours late next week. They’ll play the Orioles in the Bronx on Wednesday, the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday, then fly to the west coast to play the Angels in Anaheim on Friday.
As he’s prone to do, Buck Showalter ran his mouth about the Yankees being “disrespectful” towards the Orioles following Mike Flanagan’s death by wanting to play two games on Friday. “I’m sure if they stopped and thought about it, if the same thing happened to one of their greats, they probably would have given a lot of consideration to how they were going to handle that day,” said Showalter, apparently failing to realize that the Yankees have lost a number of all-time greats in recent years, including George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard last summer. Obviously a tribute to Flanagan was important to the O’s, but they did hide behind that excuse to distract from the real reason why they didn’t want to play two games on Friday: they didn’t want to lose the gate revenue.
Rosters expand this Thursday, so getting the important players rest won’t be too big of a deal down the stretch, but there’s no doubt that the travel schedule is a hassle. The Yankees will play the second of 18 games in 18 days today, a stretch that includes stops in five cities with the last six games on the west coast. By the time they finish up their game with the Mariners on Sept. 14th (10pm ET start) and fly to Toronto, it’ll probably be nine or ten in the morning on the East Coast when they land. Sleep all day before starting the three-game series the next day, and there’s the team’s only scheduled day off the rest of the season. Hardly qualifies as an off day, really.
Thankfully, the Yankees are sitting pretty at the moment, leading the Rays by 6.5 games for the wildcard with only 31 games left to play. If they go 14-14 in their next 28 games, the Rays would need to win 17 of their next 27 games just to make that last series of the year against the Yankees in Tampa interesting, and even then they’d need a sweep to force a Game 163. There’s very little to worry about here, and remember, New York will always be the bad guy. That’s why you have columns supporting the Orioles being written while Josh Beckett gets his ass kissed for complaining about the schedule. The double standard never ceases to amaze.
Hurricane Irene is still causing massive problems in Upstate New York, Vermont, and in parts of New England, so it does feel a little callous to discuss the storm’s ramifications on he Yankees and baseball in general. It’s just a game, a kid’s game, but it’s also part of our lives and a pretty big one for me (and I’m sure several of you). The Orioles were unwilling to be flexible with their schedule, so now the Yankees are going to be stuck feeling the impact of this weekend for another two weeks, if not more. They’ll get through it just fine, but that doesn’t mean they (or us fans) have to like it.
Let’s start with something Kevin Goldstein wrote for ESPN today (Insider req’d)…
“[The Yankees] just don’t seem to trust their young players,” said one big league executive. “Look at what the Braves did. When they needed a warm body, they had no issue with calling on [Julio] Teheran or [Randall] Delgado, even though those guys weren’t fully big-league-ready.”
Nobody is saying to call up one of the new killer Bs for good, but to go through all of the machinations for [Brian Gordon] instead of leaning on what you already have for a handful of outings shows either a lack of confidence in their own prospects, or maybe more telling, an almost perverse fear of failure.
The same applies to position players, as the Jesus Montero situation showcases some of the unique variables that the Yankees are dealing with.
In nearly any other system, Montero would be a big leaguer and multiple scouts who have seen Montero play during his disappointing .291/.336/.414 showing at Triple-A say that there is a frustration and lack of effort to his game this year, with one talent evaluator just coming out and saying, “He looks like a player who knows he’s stuck in Pennsylvania.”
Do the Braves deserve credit for going with Teheran and Delgado in those starts? Sure, those were some ballsy moves. It’s also worth noting that they lost all three of those games and neither of the kids lasted more than 4.2 innings in any of the starts. I get why the Yankees signed Brian Gordon and I have no issue with it whatsoever, I explained that this morning. This has more to do with Montero, who is stuck in the minors because they want him to play everyday.
I mean … that’s fine, I get it, but I also don’t agree with it. The kid has 756 plate appearances at Triple-A to his credit and he’s a .290/.348/.480 hitter at the level. Robinson Cano didn’t hit that well in Triple-A, neither did Melky Cabrera or Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada or pretty much any position player the Yankees have called up in the last 20 years. Montero’s batting line this year is just a convenient excuse to leave him down more than anything else. If he’s doing that as a frustrated 21-year-old against Triple-A competition, what is he capable of after a deserved promotion?
All this stuff about him being frustrated and lacking effort isn’t a sign of some greater problem either, even though it will be spun that way. Have you ever been stuck at a job when you know there’s no promotion to be had? It freaking sucks, and situations like that often lead to people looking for employment elsewhere. It’s completely normal, and Montero’s frustration just shows he’s human, that’s it. He did what he had to do in Triple-A, let’s stop pretending he hasn’t and should instead be some kind of model person incapable of frustration and disappointment.
The Yankees are tilting at some serious windmills here. Whatever move they make will be scrutinized, whether they call Montero up or keep him down or trade him. That’s life. There’s an obvious path for him to get playing time in the big leagues which involves getting Frankie Cervelli‘s complete lack of positive impact off the roster and letting Montero serve as the backup catcher and part-time designated hitter. He could get four starts a week that way (two at catcher, two at DH), which is what the Yankees did with Posada a decade ago and how teams regularly broke in young players back in the day. There’s nothing unconventional here, the kid is so obviously ready and able to help. Stop fearing failure and let him do it.
Last night’s loss to the Red Sox sucked for a million different reasons, and Al Aceves recording the final eleven outs was just salt on the wounds. He wasn’t great by any means, serving up singles to the first two men he faced before Derek Jeter* took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails with the bases loaded double play to end the sixth inning, but he was effective. We’re used to seeing that from Aceves following his stint in New York, and now ten weeks into the 2011 season, it’s pretty obvious the Yankees completely screwed up by letting him walk.
As you probably remember, Aceves’ final game as a Yankee came against the team he pitches for now, the Red Sox. The Yankees were in Fenway Park when he threw both a pitch and his back out all in one motion last May, an injury that kept him on the shelf the rest of the season. It was eventually diagnosed as a herniated disc, and two different attempts at rest and rehab resulted in setbacks. Then after the season, Aceves fractured his clavicle when he fell off his bike, an activity that may or may not have been against his back rehab regime. We have no idea and it’s unfair to speculate one way or the other.
That broken clavicle was supposed to keep Aceves on the sidelines for three months, meaning he would be a few weeks behind the other pitchers in Spring Training. The right-hander was non-tendered the very next day (relative to when we found out about the injury, not when it actually happened), and Brian Cashman explained the decision like so…
“Because of the back issue, we could not give him [a major league contract]. He was throwing off the mound for us and he always hit a wall,” Cashman said. “So we ultimately continued to fail throughout the entire process to get him off the DL and active. He had a lot of success for a period of time, but then ultimately we’d had to take steps back and we’d have to shut him down and re-do the treatment.
“We decided to non-tender him and offer him a non-guaranteed deal. But obviously when healthy you certainly know what he can do.”
Aceves sat in the free agent pool for a while, reportedly drawing interest from the Rockies, but it wasn’t until early-February that he signed a big league deal with Boston worth $650,000. He reportedly to camp completely healthy on the first day, showing that he was well ahead of schedule with the clavicle rehab, and he’s been healthy ever since. In 41 big league innings this year, he owns a 3.29 ERA and a 4.25 FIP. He also threw another eight innings in Triple-A.
I don’t know who it was and we probably won’t ever know for sure, but someone on the Yankees’ made a big mistake here. Maybe it was the medical staff that evaluated Aceves, maybe it was Cashman, maybe it was someone else we don’t even know exists or maybe it was all of them. Whoever it was, Aceves’ condition was misevaluated and the Yankees foolishly let an asset walk away. That he joined their biggest rival, both historically and with regards to the 2011 AL East title, just adds insult to injury.
The facts of the matter are this: Aceves was still in his pre-arbitration years (so the Yankees could have renewed his salary for something close to the league minimum), he had four years of team control left, he had two minor league options remaining, and he also had (has, really) a history of back trouble. Remember it kept him on the shelf a few times in both 2008 and 2009 as well. At that point of the non-tendering, the Yankees were still unsure about Andy Pettitte‘s status for 2011 and they still appeared to be the front-runner for Cliff Lee. But still, Aceves’ experience working both as a starter and as a reliever is nothing but a plus. I don’t put much stock into the whole “he can pitch in New York” thing, but we all knew he could do that as well.
The risk was minimal. We’re talking about a 40-man roster spot (and there were seven or eight open at the time of the non-tendering) and a six-figure salary, which is peanuts to pretty much every club, especially the Yankees. It’s not like they had to keep him in the show no matter either; he has options and could go down if he was performing poorly or something. That flexibility is something you usually something you don’t get from free agents. Instead of assuming that little bit of risk, they got cute and tried to bring him back on a minor league deal when they would have been able to sent him to the minor leagues anyway. It essentially boils down to the 40-man spot and the salary, which is a little ridiculous.
It’s not a massive, franchise crippling blunder or anything like that, but the Yankees absolutely screwed up by non-tendering Aceves. That he went to the Red Sox only makes it worse, but it would have been bad even if he joined those Rockies or another team. Even if he blows his back out tomorrow, the evaluation of his condition was obviously wrong and a potentially valuable piece was let go for nothing. With $19.15M worth of relievers on the disabled list and the likes of Amaury Sanit, Jeff Marquez, and Lance Pendleton in the bullpen, the Yankees really could use a multi-inning option with experience in the late-innings right now. There’s no other way to put it, they straight up screwed the pooch by non-tendering Aceves.
* Brett Gardner gets an assist.
Six losses in a row and ten in the last 13 games is cause for panic around these parts, but I thought Joe Girardi put it perfectly last night when he compared the team’s situation to a trip to the tooth man: “It’s like when I have to go to the dentist,” said the skipper. “I know I’m going to get through it, but I still dread it every time I go.” They will get through it, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees should just sit back and wait for things to happen. I think they need to be a little more proactive right now.
Don’t get me wrong, when I said shake-up in the headline by no means did a major one. You start releasing players or firing coaches or whatever and all you’d be doing is adding to chaos. Minor tweaks are the best place to start, especially with a roster like this one. Dip your toe in the pool before diving in, know what I mean? So here’s what I have in mind…
To say A-Rod is slumping would be kind. The Yankees clean-up man is hitting just .180/.253/.281 following last night’s 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in 23 games since that stiff back/oblique issue in mid-April. He’s either popping up or fouling off pitches he should at least hit hard, even if it’s into a defender’s glove, and that’s when he’s not swinging through low-90′s fastballs or over top of anything with some break to it. There’s no other way to say it, Alex has been horrible lately.
This isn’t the first time he’s slumped though, you don’t play in the big leagues as long as he has without going through some rough patches. After coming back off the disabled list in 2009, A-Rod went through a 21-game stretch in which he hit .176/.337/.297 from late-May into June. Joe Girardi took advantage of an off day to give Alex two consecutive days off in mid-June, sitting him in a series opening contest against the Marlins. The third baseman came back seemingly rejuvenated, hitting .324/.490/.730 over his next 11 games and .317/.415/.561 over the remainder of the season. Maybe a few days off would do Alex good right now. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Something has to happen here. You can only run the same lineup out there so many days in a row and watch it not play to its potential before changing something. Doesn’t have to be drastic, but sometimes moving pieces around just works. Brett Gardner is hitting well (.373/.484/.490 over his last 18 games), maybe it’s time to give him another shot at hitting leadoff. Russell Martin is hitting just .196 over his last 14 games but you know what? He’s also getting on base 35.1% of the time during that stretch. Maybe he gets move up ahead of the (supposed) big bats. After A-Rod’s hiatus you could flip-flop him and Mark Teixeira in the three-four spots. I’m just spit-balling here, there are a lot of different things they can try. They just actually have to do it instead of running the same order out there day after day and expecting things to magically fix themselves.
A Sensible Bullpen
A seven-man bullpen is probably overkill, but I can live with it. An eight-man bullpen is just nutso. Hector Noesi has been on the big league roster for a total of 14 days this year and has yet to face a batter. Give me a break, get the kid back to Triple-A so he can pitch and develop while that roster spot isn’t being wasted. If Rafael Soriano‘s elbow is bad enough that he has to do back to New York to see the doctor, then just retroactively DL him and stop wasting a roster spot.
With Noesi down and Soriano on the shelf, that frees up one bullpen spot since the Yankees should get back to a normal 12-man pitching staff. Amaury Sanit if the de facto long man, Luis Ayala that only-when-losing short relief guy. Fine. Give the other spot to one of the short relief kids that can miss bats in Triple-A and see if they can help take some of the load off Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson. Kevin Whelan is a fine candidate, but there’s also Ryan Pope (8.59 K/9, 0.00 BB/9 in limited time back from injury) and George Kontos (23 K in 23 IP this year, 61 K in 68 IP since coming back from Tommy John surgery last year). Remember, Robertson got his first real chance this same way in 2009. The Yankees have options, they just have to try them out. You’d be amazed at what could turn up.
Another Offensive Weapon
If they cut the bullpen down from eight men to seven, Girardi’s going to have another bench guy to play with. Eric Chavez is still a few weeks away, and I’ve already suggesting waiting just a little more before turning Jesus Montero lose on unsuspecting AL pitchers, but he’s not the only option. Justin Maxwell (.401 wOBA, RHB) and Chris Dickerson (.340 wOBA, .366 OBP, LHB) are both on the 40-man roster and could be more useful than a pitcher that never pitches anyway. I’m not bullish on Jorge Vazquez (.403 wOBA, RHB), but sheesh, it’s worth a try. Given all the slumping bats, a few more days off for the regulars and pinch-hitting appearances wouldn’t be the end of the world.
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Again, these aren’t major changes, but they’re changes nonetheless. Give A-Rod some time off to forget about baseball and heal up any nagging injuries, rearrange the lineup some, optimize the bullpen, add a usable bench player and go from there. I’m all for patience, and I still recommend it, but a little tweak here won’t kill anyone.