Bill Shannon, Yankee Stadium official scorer, passes away at 69

Via Alex Belth, Yankee Stadium official scorer Bill Shannon was killed in a house fire today. He was 69. Shannon lived in the West Caldwell, New Jersey home with his elderly mother, who was saved from the fire by neighbors. It’s been a tough year in Yankeeland, and even though Mr. Shannon was not as prominent a figure as, say, Bob Sheppard, it’s still sad to hear. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Open Thread: New Sod

Lost in all the chaos of yesterday’s press conferences, the Yankees are re-sodding the infield. A few of the beat writers were snapping photos of what you see above and posting them on Twitter. From what I understand, the entire diamond – the grass surrounding the pitcher’s mound – is completely gone as well after today’s work. I”m not sure if the outfield will follow. They might just be replacing the high traffic areas, plus the outfield was re-sodded a few weeks after the Cotto-Foreman boxing match tore it up in June. Still no word if they’re going to fix the warning track though.

Anywho, here’s your open thread for the evening. No baseball, football, or (local) hockey tonight, but it’s Opening Night for the NBA. TNT is carrying the Heat and Celtics at 7:30pm ET, then the Rockets and Lakers three hours later. Go ahead and talk about that, or whatever else is on your mind.

Cliff Lee expectations and expectorations

When the Yankees and CC Sabathia began the highly public dance that culminated in a seven-year, $161-million contract, his wife Amber’s desire to be in New York played no small role in the negotiations. Early reports suggested she was hesitant about raising her family in the city, but eventually, the two sides were able to compromise on the situation. Today, a few weeks before the Yanks can negotiate with Cliff Lee’s camp, Kristen Lee is making her presence felt.

As USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported today, Mrs. Lee said she had a very unpleasant experience in Yankee Stadium during the playoffs. Reportedly, Yankee fans sitting near the Rangers’ wives were throwing cups of beer, screaming obscenities and even spitting. “The fans did not do good things in my heart,” she said. “When people are staring at you, and saying horrible things, it’s hard not to take it personal.”

Of course, since this is New York and the Yankees are involved, the story — two simple sentences — has spread like wildfire. Rob Neyer, never one to miss an opportunity to bash the Yankees, now puts the team’s chances of signing Lee at “well south” of 50 percent. CBS’ professional hater Gregg Doyel believes there is “No way he goes there after the way NYY fans treated his wife in person, and now on the internet.” (Apparently, some fans have been less than kind to Mrs. Lee on the Internet today. Can you imagine that? Bad things said about someone on the Internet. Why I never.)

Putting things in perspective is ESPN New York. Andrew Marchand spoke with Darek Braunecker, Cliff Lee’s agent. He had this to say: “The story is not an issue to us. Her experience in New York is certainly a nonissue. She enjoys New York as much as anyone enjoys NY.” Marchand also stresses, rightly, so Kristen’s close friendship with Amber Sabathia.

So what’s going on here and should we be worried? The polite side of me wants to lash out at Yankee fans rude enough to taunt and spit on opposing players’ wives during a playoff game. The cynical side of me sees this as a negotiating tactic designed to send a message that the Yanks will have to sweeten their deal to lure the Lee family to New York. But that’s not really news crazy enough to feed the 24-hour sports beast. There ain’t nothing to see here.

Yankees players under contract for the 2011 season

Here’s a breakdown of who will be back with the Yankees in 2011 and what they’ll earn. It should be a good reference point as we discuss deals in the future.

Currently has a contract

Player Salary (in millions)
Alex Rodriguez $32
CC Sabathia $24.287
Mark Teixeira $23.125
A.J. Burnett $16.5
Jorge Posada $13.1
Robinson Cano $10
Nick Swisher $9.1
Curtis Granderson $8.25
Damaso Marte $4

That gives the Yankees six starting position players (three infielders, two outfielders, and a catcher), two starting pitchers, and a player who almost certainly won’t throw another pitch for the team. ‘

Total roster spots: 8
Total salary: $140.362 million

Arbitration eligible

Player Arb. Yr. Prev. Salary
Sergio Mitre 3 $0.85
Boone Logan 2 $0.59
Joba Chamberlain 1 $0.487
Phil Hughes 1 $0.447
Dustin Moseley 1 N/A

Hughes, Logan, and Chamberlain will be tendered an offer, while Mitre and Moseley are less certain. I don’t expect the Yankees to tender an offer in either case, but they could try for something similar to what they did last year with Mitre. Still, it’s not all that likely.

Assuming Mitre and Moseley leave, that’s a starting pitcher and two relievers, with a combined salary ranging between $2 million and, say, $4 million.

Renewals

Brett Gardner
Alfredo Aceves
David Robertson
Ramiro Pena
Franciso Cervelli

Totals

The listed players total 16, and will make somewhere in the neighborhood of $145 million. If the Yankees want to stick with their $200 million ceiling, that means $55 million for the remaining nine players. They won’t divide it evenly, of course, but if Jeter and Mo come back at their previous salaries that’s then $20 million for seven players. Add Cliff Lee and they’re already over $200 mil with six players, including a starting pitcher, to go.

This leads me to believe that the Yankees will figure prominently into off-season headlines. They normally do, of course, but with the way their roster breaks down I’m sure that they’ll either be moving some players, or otherwise will be going well above their $200 million payroll goal. Either way, we’ll have a busy off-season in Yankeeland. I think everyone can deal with that.

Report: Yankees sign Dominican centerfielder Wilmer Romero

Via Melissa Segura, the Yankees have signed 16-year-old Dominican centerfielder Wilmer Romero. The bonus is not yet known, but he was expected to receive seven-figures when the 2010 international signing period began. Listed at 6-foot-3, 185 lbs., Baseball America’s Ben Badler named Romero the ninth best prospect available in this year’s Latin American class (subs. req’d), saying that he “has a projectable, athletic frame with plus speed, a plus arm and plus raw power.” Keith Law (Insider req’d) called him “a potential five-tool center/right fielder.”

Here’s some video. Kid looks like he could add a few pounds. Or twenty.

The Obligatory Pitching Coach Post

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees made a somewhat surprising move yesterday when Brian Cashman announced that pitching coach Dave Eiland will not return for the 2011 season. He said the reason was “private” and declined to elaborate, but there’s a good chance that Eiland’s month-long leave of absence in June contributed to his departure. Cashman also indicated that it was his decision alone, and there’s nothing manager Joe Girardi could have said or done to change his mind. That tells you that Cash’s mind was made up a while ago.

Anyway, regardless of why Eiland is no longer with the team, the Yankees will move forward and presumably begin the search for a new pitching coach almost immediately. There are no shortage of candidates out there, but as fans how do we know what a pitching coach really does? How do we know his strengths and weakness when we almost never see him at work? It’s almost impossible for us to judge these guys from the outside, but that’s not going to stop us from talking about it.

Below is a list of potential candidates for the job, but don’t take this as my recommendation or anything like that. It’s just a list of guys that could be considered and their qualifications. That’s pretty much it. Feel free to form your own opinions, but remember that they don’t mean anything. The Yanks will conduct a thorough search and interview process, and make the best decision they can based on that.

These guys are listed alphabetically, so don’t read into the order at all. On to the list…

Scott Aldred

Aldred is essentially the next Dave Eiland, working his way up through the Yanks’ minor league ladder as a pitching coach. He held the position with Double-A Trenton in 2007 and 2008 before moving up to Triple-A Scranton the last two years. Aldred’s minor league career has allowed him to work with basically every young pitcher on the big league staff, namely Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Ivan Nova. That familiarity works in his favor, but Aldred has zero coaching experience at the major league level.

His playing career is nothing to write home about; six teams in parts of eight-plus seasons with a 6.02 ERA, but that tells you nothing about his skills as a pitching coach.

Nardi Contreras

The Yanks’ minor league pitching guru, Contreras currently spends his time working with minor leaguers, refining their deliveries and mechanics with a high degree of success. He served as the Yanks’ pitching coach in 1995 before moving on to the Mariners (1997-1998) and White Sox (1998-2002) in the same capacity, returning to New York in 2005. Aside from Eiland, no one knows the Yankee pitching staff – not to mention the young players coming up through the system – better. He might be too valuable in his current role, but we can’t write him off as a candidate.

Mike Harkey

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees’ current bullpen coach and long-time pal of Girardi, Harkey served as the pitching coach for Triple-A Iowa (Cubs) before coming to the Bronx in 2008. He has no experience as a full-time pitching coach in the big leagues, though he did fill in for Eiland when he was on his leave of absence this June. The lack of coaching experience certainly hurts, but Harkey is familiar with the staff, and that shouldn’t be discounted. He might be the front-runner for the job just based on his current position with the Yanks, but I definitely wouldn’t consider him a shoo-in.

Joe Kerrigan

The Yankees’ bullpen coach in 2006 and 2007, Kerrigan has experience as a pitching coach with the Expos (1992-1996), Red Sox (1997-2001), Phillies (2003-2004), and Pirates (2008-2010). Pittsburgh cut him lose in August because their pitching staff was horrifically bad, but his reputation within the game is pretty strong. Kerrigan might not even be a candidate for the job, but I wanted to cover all my bases and at least list him as a possibility.

Rick Kranitz

The current Orioles’ pitching coach was Girardi’s pitching coach with the Marlins in 2006, when he was named Baseball America’s Major League Coach Of The Year in his first season on the job. He resigned from that position during the 2007 season and joined Baltimore in 2008, though new manager Buck Showalter is still in the process of determining his 2011 coaching staff. There’s a chance Kranitz will be let go as Buck brings in his own people, freeing him up to rejoin Girardi in New York.

Leo Mazzone

Mazzone made a name for himself the Braves, coaching three Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Those three will make anyone look good, but Mazzone also guided guys like Denny Neagle, Jaret Wright, and Russ Ortiz to the best seasons of their careers, only to watch them fall apart once leaving town. Mazzone left the Braves in 2005 and served as Baltimore’s pitching coach until being fired after the 2007 season. He hasn’t coached since and co-hosts a radio show in Atlanta.

Curt Young

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The A’s long-time pitching coach (2004-2010), Young declined the team’s contract offer this past weekend and to seek opportunities elsewhere. His time in Oakland gave him ample opportunity to work with young pitchers, namely Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden. Their pitching staff has consistently been one of the best in the league, though having a strong defense and favorable home park played into that. Young also has some ties to the Yanks, albeit loose ones; he threw 43.1 innings in pinstripes in the second half of the 1992 season. I would be surprised if he didn’t at least interview for the Yanks’ job.

Carl Willis

The current pitching coach in Seattle, Willis was promoted to that position this past August when the Mariners fired basically their entire coaching staff. Before that he spent seven seasons as the pitching coach for the Indians (2003-2009), which means he’s very familiar with CC Sabathia and top free agent target Cliff Lee. With former Indians manager Eric Wedge taking over in Seattle, Willis may not even consider changing jobs right now.

What Went Right: YES Network Upgrades

Over the next week or two or three, we’re going to recap the season that was by looking at what went right as well as what went wrong for the 2010 Yankees.

The Yankees had many things go right this year despite the disappointing end result, but let’s kick off our series by looking at the improvements made to the medium that brings Yankee games to millions of fans: the YES Network. The network hasn’t made many cosmetic changes since launching in March 2002, at least not until this year. They overhauled the game broadcasts to make them fresh and modern, leading to a more enhanced and enjoyable broadcast.

Of course the biggest upgrade was the commercial you see above, which brought the power of RAB into the homes of countless fans in the Tri-State Area. Okay fine, that wasn’t much more than an afterthought, but it still rocked for us. Anyway, let’s break down the upgrades piece by piece…

New Graphics

We provided a sneak peek at YES’ new graphics right before the season started, and they delivered in every way. The old 2-D graphics that ruled the broadcast since the network’s inception were replaced with new ones featuring 3-D effects while retaining familiar elements like the traditional Yankee blue and white color scheme. Names would pop out of the lineup as the broadcasters talked about them and Yankee players jumped out at you when featured on a statistical leader board. They managed to be both easy on the eyes and attention grabbing, a pleasant combination.

The scoreboard overlay, batter’s line, and pitcher’s line all received makeovers, including more information that ever before. On-base percentage was added to each batter’s statistical line and pitcher’s splits between right and lefthanded batters would be featured where appropriate. We had to look that stuff up for ourselves before this season. Overall, the new graphics made for a much cleaner and more informative game broadcast.

Pitch Count & Radar Gun

Technically these two are part of new graphics, but they were so great they deserve their own section. The new pitch count feature, which kicked in after the Yankee starter threw his tenth pitch, stole the show at the start of the season. I often found myself looking for it on non-YES broadcasts, and it allowed us to become part of action by thinking ahead to bullpen moves and matchups pitch-by-pitch throughout the game. It was a small addition in the grand scheme of things, but one that made a world of difference.

In addition to the new pitch counter, the once-comical radar gun received a big-time upgrade. After years of what seemed like completely arbitrary pitch velocities, YES synced up with MLBAM’s PitchFX system to provide accurate radar readings. Gone were the days of 65 mph fastballs and 92 mph curveballs. It sounds simple enough, but being able to trust the information provided was a big improvement.

Jack Curry

(Photo Credit: www.yesnetwork.com)

YES has always featured a large cast of in-game analysts, but it wasn’t until this year that they added to their in-studio crew. Jack Curry, formerly of The New York Times, joined the network this season and provided analysis during the pre- and post-game shows in addition to some sideline reporting. Curry even made a one inning cameo in the broadcast booth this summer.

Two decades of experience with the Times allowed Curry to talk more about what others were seeing with the Yankees rather than his personal opinion, something the network already has plenty of people doing. His connections within the game enabled him to speak intelligently about trade rumors and scouting reports, giving fans “inside information” we weren’t getting before. He was refreshing voice of reason as well, offering a better and more reasonable perspective than anything the network had before.

* * *

YES (and My9) carry something like 150 games a year, and it was about time they made some significant changes to their broadcast. The dull tone of the old graphics were eliminated this year, and Curry’s insight and reason was more than welcome in the studio. We all love watching the Yankees, but this improvements made the games that much more enjoyable.