Thursday Night Open Thread

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Scheduled days off never seem to come at the right time. When the Yankees couldn’t score a run to save their lives last week, they played. Everyday. Even when the rain threatened, they still played. No matter what, the baseball gods make sure they played so they could struggle. Now that they’ve won two in a row and things are starting to look up, they’re off. Off on Thursday and off to the West Coast for a nine-game road trip through Oakland, Anaheim, and Detroit. Funny how that works.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. Weather permitting, the Mets are playing the Padres at home (Jeremy Hefner vs. Eric Stults, so yuck) and MLB Network will also air the Phillies and Cardinals (Blanton vs. Westbrook) a little later on. There’s also some NBA playoff action going on somewhere. Hooray for sports. Talk about those games or anything else here. Enjoy.

Williams ranks 24th on Law’s midseason top 25 prospects list

It’s only late-May, but Keith Law posted an updated list of the top 25 prospects in the minors today (subs. req’d). RHP Dylan Bundy of the Orioles claims the top spot with OF Bryce Harper now in the big leagues, and Baltimore also owns the number three prospect in SS Manny Machado. SS Jurickson Profar of the Rangers is sandwiched between them at number two.

OF Mason Williams check in at #24, up ten spots from KLaw’s preseason ranking. “He’s not walking, but he’s also making a ton of contact, and he’s barely begun to fill out physically,” he wrote. “There’s a lot of projection involved in this ranking but he’s a favorite of many scouts (and of me) because of the substantial upside here.” LHP Manny Banuelos was ineligible for the list because he’s on the DL, but I confirmed with Law that he would have made the top 25 as well. He ranked 23rd on the preseason list.

The Yankees are not for sale, until they are

Along with a subpar May, comparisons to 1965 and premature eulogies for Alex Rodriguez, unsourced whispers of an impending Yankee sale seem to crop up annually. This year, it all happened during the same week as a few hours after Joel Sherman compared the 2012 Yankees to the 1965 crew and A-Rod homered twice to end a long dinger drought, The Daily News reported that the Yankees may be for sale.

The article itself announcing the alleged sale was replete with Wall Street insiders and baseball sources. No one wanted to go on the record saying much of anything. “There has been chatter all around the banking and financial industries in the city for a couple of weeks now,” a baseball source said.

Noting that the Dodgers’ sale could lead to a $3 billion valuation for the Yanks, another unnamed source agreed on the timing. “It would definitely be the right time for the family to sell,” the source said. “The value of the team couldn’t be higher, but at the same time, it’s an older team in a division with younger teams getting better at the same time a lot of the Yankees’ core veterans are starting to go into decline.”

Of course, the age of the current team would have little impact on the intentions of someone looking to make a long-term investment in the Yanks. No one today cares about who was on the Yankees in 1973 when George Steinbrenner bought the team.

Reading the Daily News article closely though, we see the thesis begin to fall apart. The unsourced quotes concern timing. Everyone agrees now would be a great time to sell the Yanks, but “now” is always a great time to sell a baseball team. As baseball is growing with no signs of slowing down, any team — and especially the Yankees — is a valuable commodity. The News’ strongest argument for the sale seemingly is Hal Steinbrenner‘s reluctance to hand out large contracts and his hands-off ownership approach. I’m not so sure either of those are negatives.

The Yankees, meanwhile, went into full-scale on-the-record denial mode. “I can say to you there is absolutely, positively nothing to this,” Randy Levine said. “The Steinbrenners are not selling the team.”

“I just learned of the Daily News story,” Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “It is pure fiction. The Yankees are not for sale. I expect that the Yankees will be in my family for many years to come.”

Even as Bill Madden stuck by his story, Lonn Trost too denied the rumors. “We’re aghast at such a story,” he said on the radio this morning.

“My impression is not only do they all love being part of it, I think they are interested in handing it to their kids,” Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman said to Joel Sherman. “I think they want the family to be involved for generations to come. The Steinbrenners love owning the Yankees — and they are damn good at it. I have gotten no impression that they want to do anything but own the Yankees. They are the only ones who know the truth, but my impression is they are not even entertaining selling the Yankees.”

Furthermore, Major League Baseball, involved in the sale of all of its member clubs, put out its own statement: “Major League Baseball has received no indications from any representatives of the Yankees or anyone else that the Club is for sale.”

So on the one hand, we have speculation that the club could be put up for sale, and on the other, we have everyone on record denying that the club is for sale. That doesn’t even account for Richard Sandomir’s note on the Yankees trust. In my mind, the fact that the family would incur significant tax penalties is likely the biggest factor keeping the club off the market.

As fans of the team who have long grown accustomed to the Steinbrenner’s free-spending and largely hands-off ownership, what are we to make of this? Yankee fans live in fear that a rich New York family with sports ties such as the Dolans could buy the team and ruin it. No names, though, have been attached to this offer. So are the Yanks floating this story to gauge interest? The across-the-board denials suggest not. Is someone trying to make interest in the team known? Perhaps.

Right now, we know what’s on the record: The Yankees are not for sale, and no one is on the verge of buying them. But money talks, and if the right offer comes around, the Steinbrenner family will be tempted to cash out. It’s only, after all, a business, and the Yankees today aren’t for sale until the day they are.

Looking back at the 2007 draft

They say you need five years before you can properly evaluate a draft class in baseball, so with the 2012 event less than two weeks away, let’s look back at what the Yankees did five years ago. It was Damon Oppenheimer’s second draft class as scouting director and he was coming off a banner 2006 haul that would place two pitchers — Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain — on the big league roster less than 15 months after being selected. The 2007 class wasn’t nearly as successful.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Top Pick
There has been no more polarizing first round pick in recent Yankees history than Andrew Brackman. The Yankees took him 30th overall after most pre-draft projections ranked him as one of the draft’s top three talents (with David Price and Matt Wieters) but concerns about his elbow caused him to slide. New York rolled the dice knowing Brackman would likely need Tommy John surgery, giving him a four-year big league contract worth $4.55M and incentives that could have pushed the total value to $13M. A week later he was under the knife having his elbow rebuilt.

After missing all of 2008, Brackman impressed in Hawaii Winter Baseball (number two prospect in the league according to Baseball America) but did not build on the success. He pitched to a 4.66 FIP in 106.2 Low-A innings in 2009, then rebounded to post a stellar 3.22 FIP in 140.2 innings split between High-A and Double-A in 2010. That had us all thinking Brackman was on his way to helping the Yankees, but he flopped in 2011 (5.77 FIP in 96 Triple-A innings) despite making his big league debut in September*. He walked three and struck out zero in 2.1 innings. After two bad years, one good year, and one year lost to injury, he was released after last season.

* Brackman was actually called up in September 2010 but did not appear in a game. He was on the 40-man roster already thanks to his contract and the minor league season had ended.

Brackman’s deal remains the largest the Yankees have ever given to an amateur player and at the time, it was potentially the richest contract in draft history. All told, he pitched to a 5.11 ERA with 7.97 K/9 and a 4.98 BB/9 in 343.1 minor league innings with the Yankees. He’s currently in the Reds organization and pitching very poorly for their Triple-A affiliate: 9.87 ERA with more walks (16) than strikeouts (13) in 17.1 innings across five starts.

(Mike Ashmore)

Reached The Show
In addition to Brackman, two other 2007 draftees have reached the show for New York. The first player to actually play in a big league game out of this draft class was Brandon Laird (27th round), who helped fill out the bench through injuries last July before coming back up in September. He has four singles and three walks in 25 big league plate appearances, all coming last year. Laird is biding his time in Triple-A and is just an up-and-down corner player for the Yankees.

The other big leaguer is catcher Austin Romine (2), who debuted last September following Frankie Cervelli‘s latest concussion. He had three singles and one walk in 20 plate appearances, starting four games behind the plate and appearing in four others off the bench. Romine had a chance to replace Cervelli as the backup catcher this season, but he’s been dealing with a back issue since Spring Training and will be out until July.

Big Money Duds
The Yankees handed out a trio of seven-figure bonuses in 2007. The largest went to Brackman, but Bradley Suttle (4) and Carmen Angelini (10) received $1.3M and $1M, respectively. Suttle has been slowed by a series of shoulder injuries that have required surgery, and he is currently away from the organization and reportedly considering retirement. He’s a .256/.334/.417 career hitter in just shy of 1,400 minor league plate appearances, topping out at Double-A. Angelini was a spectacular failure, hitting just .220/.285/.287 in 930 plate appearances at the Single-A level. He’s been hampered by injury as well, most notably a hip issue.

Last year I opined that the developmental failures of Brackman, Angelini, and Suttle have contributed to the Yankees becoming more conservative in the draft. After giving out those three seven-figure deals in 2007, they’ve handed out just four — Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, J.R. Murphy, and Greg Bird — in the five drafts since.

Traded Away
You can make an argument that Chase Weems (6) has contributed more to the Yankees without ever wearing pinstripes than any other player in this draft class has so far. The catcher was traded to the Reds for Jerry Hairston Jr. at the 2009 trade deadline, and Hairston went on to become a valuable bench player on that World Championship team. Weems flamed out in Cincinnati’s farm system and was last seen playing independent ball. The Yankees also got some trade mileage out of Adam Olbrychowski (5), trading the right-hander to the Nationals for Justin Maxwell last spring. Olbrychowski is still toiling around in Single-A with Washington.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Unsigned Gems
The Yankees drafted four players in 2007 who did not sign but have since gone on to become big leaguers. The most notable is Drew Storen (34), who turned New York down out of high school only to become the tenth overall pick in 2009 as a draft-eligible sophomore. He is currently out with an elbow injury but serves as the Nationals’ closer when healthy. Right-hander Chris Carpenter (18) had injury problems in college, went back to school for his senior year, then was drafted in the third round by the Cubs in 2008. He broke in with them last season and was actually sent to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein this offseason. Outfielders Eric Thames (39) and Erik Komatsu (38) both went back to school for another season before re-entering the draft. Thames plays semi-regularly for the Blue Jays while Komatsu has seen time with the Cardinals and Twins as a Rule 5 Draft pick this season.

The Rest
Other than Romine and Laird, the only other players from this draft still in the organization are Damon Sublett (7), Manny Barreda (12), and Craig Heyer (22). Pat Venditte (45) returned to school for his senior year and was re-drafted by New York in 2008. The Yankees signed 34 of their 50 picks in 2007, all of whom can be seen here. Romine projects as a solid big league backstop when healthy but Laird and Heyer are spare parts on a contending team. The Yankees have received no impact from this draft class and are unlikely to get any unless one of those three exceeds expectations.

How to exceed expectations in three starts

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

When Andy Pettitte announced that he was coming out of retirement … well, wait. He never really announced it. The Yankees just signed him out of the blue one Friday afternoon in mid-March and that was it. There were no indications that was planning to come back, in fact there was quite the opposite — insistence that he wasn’t coming back. Pettitte was with the team as a guest instructor in Spring Training but there’s nothing unusual about that. Former players are all over the place in camp.

Anyway, when we found out Pettitte was coming out of retirement to rejoin the Yankees, I admit I was very skeptical about his ability to contribute anything meaningful this summer. We all love Andy, but he was still an almost 40-year-old guy who had spent a year away from the game and had missed a bunch of time due to injury in his final season as a player. The “attempt” part of his “comeback attempt” wasn’t being emphasized enough I thought; the odds were stacked against this thing working out.

Pettitte went through his various minor league tune-up starts and was actually pretty underwhelming statistically. He was allowing a ton of hits and runs to minor league kids but the team said not to worry about it, he was throwing strikes and the wind was blowing really hard. Fine, whatever. The Yankees called him up three weeks ago and to much fanfare and celebration, Pettitte allowed four runs in 6.1 innings against the light-hitting Mariners in his return. All four runs came on a pair of two-run homers and he walked more batters (three) than he struck out (two).

I was still pretty skeptical. There was some obvious rust still to be shaken off and we needed to see how Andy would rebound in five days. One feel-good start back does not a comeback make. Pettitte rebounded well of course, striking out nine Reds in eight shutout innings in his second start before holding the Royals to two runs in seven innings with eight strikeouts last night. It was the first time he struck out at least eight hitters in back-to-back starts since he wore an Astros’ uniform in July of 2006.

I’m not skeptical anymore. Three starts into his comeback, it’s pretty obvious that Pettitte can not only contribute to the Yankees this season, but he can be a damn good starting pitcher for them. Heck, if the Yankees were going to start a best-of-five playoff series today, Andy would be my number two starter. He’s looked that good. He’s running his cutter in on righties, he’s bending his curveball on the corners of the plate, and his changeup looks like it stops in mid-air. Pettitte doesn’t just look like he never left, he looks better than he has in a while. Maybe the year away from the game put some life back into that body.

Who knows what Andy will do from here on out. There is still a lot of season to be played and his body will have plenty of chances to betray him, but it’s hard to look at Pettitte right now and not consider him a bright spot. He’s exceeded my expectations in the sense that he’s shown he can still be dominant and pitch deep into games, curtailing concerns about him becoming a five-and-fly fifth starter type. Andy is no fifth starter right now. He’s the second best pitcher on the team already and the Yankees are going to need him to continue to pitch well as they help shake off this recent slump and climb back in the AL East race.

Report: Steinbrenners may explore sale of Yankees

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The baseball franchise valuation world shook when Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten & Co. purchased the Dodgers for $2 billion last month, and as expected, that sale has caught the Steinbrenners’ attention. Bill Madden and Michael O’Keeffe have heard from several sources that ownership is “exploring the possibility” of selling the Yankees. “There has been chatter all around the banking and financial industries in the city for a couple of weeks now,” said one source.

Unsurprisingly, team officials has shot down the report. “I can say to you there is absolutely, positively nothing to this. The Steinbrenners are not selling the team,” said president Randy Levine. “I read the Daily News story. It is fiction. The Yankees are not for sale. I expect (the Yankees) to be in my family for many years to come,” said Hal Steinbrenner.

Of course, there’s no harm in exploring the possibility of a sale. It actually would be foolish of the Steinbrenner to not see what the team could fetch following the Dodgers’ sale. If that franchise is worth $2 billion, what are the Yankees worth, $3 billion? Well, it’s not that simple because the Yankees can’t sell the land Yankee Stadium is built on like the Dodgers were able to sell Chavez Revine. As Richard Sandomir notes, the Steinbrenner family would assume a huge tax hit with the sale because of multi-generational trusts set up by George Steinbrenner years ago, which may be a deterrent. I suspect this will not be the last we hear of this.

A-Rod homers twice; Yanks take series from KC

It’s been a while, but the Yankees final have themselves a winning streak. Wednesday night’s 8-3 win over the Royals gave them the series victory and their second straight win, ensuring that we’ll all feel good during Thursday’s scheduled day off.

A-Bombs the best type of bomb. (REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It

There, there’s your requisite Will Smith pun. Anyway, the rookie left-hander did not find Yankee Stadium to be a welcoming place for his big league debut despite the Yankees’ reputation for struggling against southpaws they’ve never seen before. The second batter he faced (Curtis Granderson) hit a solo homer to right after trying to bunt for a hit not once, but twice. Smith followed that off by walking Mark Teixeira and giving up another homer to Alex Rodriguez. Being down three runs in the first is less than ideal debut.

The Yankees were relentless, scoring two more runs in the third when Derek Jeter trotted home on Teixeira’s double play ball and A-Rod hit his second homer of the night. Alex equaled his homer total from his previous 108 plate appearances in his first two at-bats on Wednesday. Smith’s debut ended with the three homers and five runs allowed after just 3.1 IP. That was all the Yankees would need because…

Dandy Again

(REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

So, what do you think about Andy Pettitte‘s chances in the Comeback Player of the Year race? The veteran southpaw tossed seven strong innings against the Royals, allowing two runs on a pair of solo homers. The other five hits he allowed were totally weak, I mean three infield singles and two bloops. Pettitte struck out eight and got ten outs on the ground compared to three in the air. He threw 98 total pitches and 71 strikes (72.4%), which is crazypants.

We’re only three starts into Andy’s comeback, but this is remarkable. He not only looks like he never took a year off, he actually looks better than he did in 2010. Perhaps all the time off allowed his body to recuperate? Whatever it is, Pettitte looks marvelous. He’s throwing everything for strikes and has been better than anyone could have realistically expected when he announced his return.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Tack-on Runs

The Yankees scored their five runs off Smith and then tacked on a few more off the bullpen. Their three-run rally in the fifth consisted of exactly one hit, and that was a bunt single by Jeter two batters into the inning. Jayson Nix led off by getting hit a pitch, Jeter singled and went to second on a throwing error on the same play, then Curtis Granderson walked, Teixeira walked (run scores), A-Rod grounded out (force at home), Robinson Cano grounded out (run scores), Nick Swisher got hit by a pitch to reload the bases, then Andruw Jones drew a walk to force in the third run.

Did they get the big hit with runners in scoring position? No, but it’s really hard to complain with that rally. They worked three different pitchers pretty hard, drew a bunch of walks, leaned into some inside pitches, and kept the pressure on for three outs. Rallies like this were ending after five or six pitches because guys were anxiously hacking away over the last few weeks, but sitting back and letting the pitcher work himself into trouble in what the Yankees do best when they’re right. This was the first time they looked like themselves in weeks.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Leftovers

Underrated moment: Mark Teixeira’s diving 3-6-3 double play to end the third. The Royals had men on the corners with one out and were threatening to make it a game, but the double play ended the inning and preserved the three-run lead. It was a beaut.

David Phelps took over for Pettitte and allowed one run in two innings to wrap things up, though I swear he seems to fall behind every hitter (first pitch strikes to four of eight batters faced). It felt like he was in a three-ball count all night. He’s going to have to clean that up if he wants more responsibility.

A-Rod’s two-homer game was the 60th of his career, the seventh most all time. Jeter (two singles and a double) and Granderson (single and homer) had multiple hits as well. Teixeira drew three walks, Andruw drew two, and Swisher and Granderson each drew one. Cano and Russell Martin were the only players in the lineup who failed to reach base, though Robbie hit the ball right on the screws three times and came with just a fielder’s choice to show for it.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the advanced stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are off on Thursday and will open a nine-game road trip in Oakland on Friday night, their first of two trips to the West Coast this season. Ivan Nova and Tyson Ross kick off that three-game series.