In six days, Chien-Ming Wang, the erstwhile ace of the Yankee staff now relegated to the two spot behind CC Sabathia, will turn 29. In pitching years, he is hitting his prime, and for the Yankees and Wang, 2009 will be a pivotal year.

For the better part of four years, Wang has been a mainstay in the Yankee rotation. He has made 95 starts since May of 2005 and has gone a remarkable 54-20 with a 3.79 ERA. What makes his 117 ERA+ even more outstanding are his admittedly terrible peripherals. For his career, Wang has a 4.02 K/9 IP and a 1.54 K/BB ratio. Pitchers with those key numbers generally don’t hold their opponents to a .265/.320/.365.

Wang does this, of course, by being an extreme groundball pitcher. He sports a career 1.58 GB/FB ratio and has induced 94 double plays over his four years in the Bigs. His sinker is so good that it confounds the statistically-minded experts and the BP PECOTA system who see his low K rates and worry.

In New York, Wang is adored by the fans and treated like an ace, but the Yankees have seemingly never quite embraced him as such. In a recent blog post, Joel Sherman voices some Wang-related speculation, and in doing so, he brings up a few good points:

Wang is going to be a free agent after the 2010 season so to keep him the Yankees are going to have to pay him elite dollars over a long-term to stay: He will likely have a case that he should be paid commensurate with the five years at $82.5 million bestowed A.J. Burnett. And the Yanks, internally, are not positive about going to such extents with Wang. He has pitched four seasons in the majors and two have been interrupted by injury. They wonder how a pitcher who does not strike out batters will age as he loses some bite on his sinking fastball, especially since he has been sketchy in developing the rest of his repertoire. And he would begin a new contract in 2011 at age 31, so you almost certainly are buying declining years.

Because of all of this, the Yankees have weighed trade scenarios in the past involving Wang and, I suspect, they will continue to at least listen, especially if they believe that Hughes is capable of being, at minimum, a cost-effective, mid-rotation starter. The Yankee logic would be simple: If they do not think they can go long-term with Wang then would they be better off letting him pitch for them through 2010 or to use him to potentially fill another area of need via trade?

In Sherman’s view, the Wang scenario hinges on Phil Hughes. If the Yanks feel Hughes can handle Major League hitters to the extent we believe he can, the team may be willing to shop Wang for the right price.

Now, Sherman’s argument breaks down in a few places. Wang’s 2008 injury wasn’t pitching-related; rather, it was some baserunning fluke. Sherman also speculates that the Yanks could try to trade for Roy Halladay. If they don’t want to pay Wang for his decline phase, why would the team want Halladay, a pitcher three years older than the Yanks’ right-hander?

But Sherman’s points about Wang’s repertoire carry some weight. Chien-Ming Wang is no longer considered young, and at this point, he should have mastered the rest of his pitches. Yet, that non-sinker out-pitch has continued to elude him. Last year, Wang showed some strike-out promise. His K/9 IP was up around 5.12 before his baserunning disaster struck. Take out his nine-strike out game against the Indians, though, and that figure settls in at 4.60.

Wang’s stuff has often been compared to the heavy, hard sinker Kevin Brown sported in his younger days. By age 27, though, Brown had mastered the strike out. If Wang is to emerge as a true long-term option for the Yanks, he may need to take that big step this year.

In the end, though, I come out with Sherman: The Yanks will sign Wang. Even if he sticks around as a two, three or four starter behind some combination of Sabathia, Joba, Hughes or Burnett, a team can never have too much pitching.

Categories : Pitching
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It was yet another tough, grueling match-up between the Yankees and Red Sox, that is until top prospect Austin Jackson stepped in. With two runs already in, Jackson came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out against ex-lobsterfisherman Devern Hansack in the eighth inning. He took the first two pitches for balls, then swung through two low-90′s fastballs to bring the count back to 2-2. He took another pitch for a ball and fouled the sixth pitch of the at-bat off. The seventh pitch was a meatball – belt high fastball – and Jackson crushed it, sending it literally over the left field foul pole for a good ol’ four run homer. Jackson’s reward for the granny? An assignment to minor league camp immediately after the game (along with Juan Miranda and Eduardo Nunez). Regardless, it was one of the more exciting moments of the spring, and hopefully a glimpse into the future.

The rest of the offense was highlighted by Brett Gardner, who came around to score after tripling in the 6th. He went 1-for-2 on the night. Melky Cabrera, Gardner’s competition for the center field job, scored a run after drawing a walk in his lone plate appearance. Ramiro Pena attempted to sacrifice Melk to second, but Manny Delcarmen and Chris Carter ran into each other on the infield grass, allowing Pena to reach safely and Melky to advance to third. Derek Jeter went 1-for-2 in his return to the team, while Johnny Damon and Robbie Cano both went 1-for-3. Angel Berroa ripped an RBI single, continuing his hot spring.

AJ Burnett made his fourth start of the spring, and this one was much more like the first two than the last one. He threw five and two-third innings, allowing one run on three hits and a pair of walks. He struck out four and went beyond his scheduled pitch limit of 75, throwing 49 of 81 pitches for strikes. He definitely tired as he reached his pitch limit and his control struggled, but the velocity was still there – his last fastball was clocked at 93, right where it was all game. Jon Albaladejo came in and retired the only batter he faced to get out of the bases loaded jam left by Burnett.

Mariano Rivera graced everyone with his presence tonight, throwing his third perfect inning in four one-inning outings. He struck out two and induced a ground ball from the other batter. Praise be to Mo. Damaso Marte struggled in the eighth, allowing a hit and walk before being removed because he reached his pitch limit after retiring just two batters. Edwar Ramirez relieved him, and struck out two while allowing one hit to close out the 7-1 win.

One of the biggest bright spots tonight was seeing Jorge Posada throw out Jacoby Ellsbury when he tried to steal second. Jeter got away with a phantom tag, but the throw was right there against an elite base stealer. After throwing out three of four attempted basestealers on Sunday, it’s great to see there were no lingering affects.

The Yankees will enjoy their second and final off-day of Spring Training tomorrow, although Andy Pettitte will throw in a minor league game. The rest of the team returns to action Thursday afternoon, when Joba Chamberlain takes on the World Champion Phillies in a game available on YES.

Categories : Game Stories
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  • Fangraphs on the Yanks’ farm system
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    Marc Hulet of Fangraphs has been profiling the farm systems of all thirty clubs over the last few weeks, and finally made his way to the Yanks’ system today. He breaks the system down by level, talking about what the key players did last year and what we can expect out of them this year. It’s a quick read, but it gives you a great overview of the team’s top minor league prospect. Make sure you check it out. · (10) ·

Jeter at the WBCAbsent from the team since March 2nd, Derek Jeter returns to the Yanks’ lineup tonight following Team USA’s unceremonious exit from the World Baseball Classic. Jeter got just 33 plate appearances (.276-.382-.345) and played just six games in the field (couting the exhibition against the Yanks) during his 22-day hiatus, so he has plenty of work to get in before the team heads north.

Toeing the rubber tonight will be AJ Burnett, who struggled for the first time this spring in his last outing against his former team. He’ll be taking on the big bad Red Sox, against whom he’s 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 56.1 IP covering eight starts (just over seven innings per start) lifetime. For the first time this spring, Joe Girardi is sending what projects to be the Opening Day lineup out there:

Damon, LF
Jeter, SS
Teixeira, 1B
Matsui, DH
Posada, C
Cano, 2B
Nady, RF
Ransom, 3B
Gardner, CF

Scheduled Pitchers: AJ Burnett, Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez, David Robertson

The game is on both YES and MLB Network, with first pitch set for 7:15pm. Enjoy.

Note: John Brattain of The Hardball Times and Baseball Think Factory passed away today due to complications that arose during a heart procedure. He was only 43. We’ve written about Brattain’s work as recently as six days ago, and he was kind enough to stop by and diffuse an argument in the comments with his usual witty humor. Brattain is survived by his wife and two teenage daughters. Our deepest condolences go out to John’s family and friends.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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  • Yanks sign Audi as Official Luxury Car sponsor
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    The Yankees and Audi have announced that the German auto manufacturer will be the Official Luxury Vehicle of the New York Yankees. In what sounds like something of a corporate naming joke, the car company will sponsor the Audi Yankees Club, a member’s only restaurant on the H&R Block Suite Level in left field. The financial terms of the deal were not announced, but expect logos throughout the stadium and Audis in Babe Ruth Plaza on select dates. I wonder if any of the Audis come equipped with a panoramic vista roof. · (5) ·

For years, one of the things — besides Cotton Eyed Joe — that always annoyed me about Yankee Stadium was its opening time. The Yanks would open the stadium gates around two hours prior to game time or right as home BP was wrapping up.

With the new park, though, the Yanks are rectifying this oversight. Lost in the news about the food offerings at the new stadium was the following paragraph for the press release:

Yankee Stadium concessions will begin serving food when Stadium gates open, approximately three hours prior to the scheduled start times of games. Gates will open at 10:00 a.m. for games with a 1:05 p.m. scheduled start time, at 1:00 p.m. for 4:10 p.m. starts, at 4:00 p.m. for 7:05 p.m. starts, and at 5:00 p.m. for 8:05 p.m. starts.

Never before could fans enter the stadium that early. While the business man in me knows that the Yanks are kicking back their open hours to give fans more of an opportunity to spend money at the new ballpark, the baseball fan in me can’t wait to get up to the stadium one summer night for all three hours of batting practice.

For the last game at old Yankee Stadium, my dad and I went early to soak in the House that Ruth Built one final time. The doors opened six hours ahead of the game, and we sat there and watched all of BP. It was truly a special moment, and I’m glad to hear the Yanks will be opening the doors earlier from now on.

Categories : Yankee Stadium
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Around these parts, we don’t harbor much love for Curt Schilling. When he announced his retirement via blog post yesterday, the jokes out of New York — from the Mystique and Aura references to a belief that now he’ll have time to really tell us what he thinks — were quick and obvious.

While Curt was and probably always will be, in the words of Ken Davidoff, a big jerk, he told it like it is. That’s something every New Yorker can appreciate. Schilling, on the other hand, is someone no one who roots for the Yanks wants to appreciate.

Ah, but what might have been. From 2004-2007, Schilling taunted the Yanks from up the road. Outside of October, Schilling didn’t really taunt them on the mound. Since arriving in Boston, Curt threw 101 innings over 15 games against the Yanks, and he went 6-6 with a 4.72 ERA. For a pitcher likely destined to Cooperstown and with a career 3.46 ERA, the Yanks fairly had his number over the last few years.

But, oh, the October torture. In 2001, Schilling helped drive a stake through the Yankee Dynasty while insulting the beloved Yankee mystique and aura. In 2004, he cemented his legacy by leading the Red Sox on a stunning and heartbreaking comeback while pitching on a bum ankle. Those are days Yankee fans long to forget.

What makes it worse though is the reality that those glory days for Boston could have been ours. So as Schilling gets set for a career as an outspoken baseball/political pundit, it’s time to rev up that ever-popular Wayback Machine.

The destination is November 7, 2003, and the Yankees are one week removed from a World Series loss at the hands of the Marlins. George wants Curt reports Tyler Kepner. “A lot of clubs are targeting him, but there’s no way we’re going to be out shopping Curt Schilling,” Sandy Johnson, Arizona’s assistant GM says. Famous last words.

Five days later, Jack Curry, in a rumor-laden article that makes for a fun experiment in “What If? The Yankees Years,” confirms the Yanks’ interest in Schilling. This time, though, the Diamondbacks are looking to cut payroll, and Curt will probably be moved.

The next day, Curry uncovers an early price tag: The Diamondbacks would swap Schilling and Junior Spivey for Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson. Today, that doesn’t seem like quite a high price, but five and a half years ago, it did to the Yankees. (Of note: Curry also reports for the first time that the Rangers would be open to trading Alex Rodriguez. It’s an early sign of things to come.)

By Friday, the Yankees had moved on to Javier Vazquez. The Yankees would not, according to Curry, “trade their two best young players for Schilling because they feel the monetary relief they would be giving Arizona eliminates the need for them to trade equal talent.” At that point, Schilling also expressed his desire to go to only the Yankees or the Phillies. Brian Cashman left the GM meetings with the team feeling insulted by the Diamondbacks’ offers.

That would, of course, be the end of it. The Yanks refused to budget; the Diamondbacks refused to budge. Despite Schilling’s public desire to play in New York, the two sides could not work out a deal, and when Theo Epstein turned on the Thanksgiving charm, the Boston/New York rivalry would never be the same.

As Curt goes off to the great beyond of retirement, I can’t decide if I want to tip my cap to him or give him a different kind of salute. I’ll always wonder though how we would feel today if Schilling wound up in New York. Would we still despise him if Schilling hand landed in New York? Would we still smile gleefully at his retirement? How different would the last five years have been had the Yanks shipped Soriano to Arizona for Curt Schilling? We’ll never know.

Categories : Days of Yore
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1. Brian Cashman

It’s tough to argue against the guy calling the shots in the personnel department. With a three-year agreement tying him to the team through the 2011 season, the future of the Yanks is in Cashman’s hands. His decisions will determine their course, making him the most important person to the Yankees right now.

2. Hal Steinbrenner

How do you rank the guy who cuts the checks No. 2? He’s not the guy dictating who takes the field for the Yankees. He surely has veto power, and because of this you could arguably put him in the top spot. But Hal doesn’t know how to assemble a bullpen. He doesn’t know who’s coming up through the minors and on what schedule. In other words, he doesn’t know the day-to-day stuff that goes into building a team. Cashman gets the tie-breaker for nuance.

3. CC Sabathia

Right now, CC Sabathia is the most important player on the Yankees 25-man roster (Buster Olney agrees). The Yankees have struggled with their rotation over the past few years, and Sabathia presents them with something they haven’t had in quite some time: an undeniable ace. Cashman said that the Yankees No. 1 priority over the winter was to rebuild the pitching staff, and it all started with CC. His success or failure will likely coincide with that of the team.

4. Alex Rodriguez

Blasphemy! A-Rod above Jeter. Like it or not, though, Alex is under contract for the next nine seasons. He has a full no-trade clause. Even if he didn’t, his contract is pretty much untradeable unless the Yankees eat a significant — yes, that needed italics and bold — portion of it. Remember, the Rangers kicked in $67 million of A-Rod’s remaining $179 million when they traded him in 2004. In any trade scenario, he’d be going from the Yankees, so you can imagine how much money they’d have to eat. He’s here to stay, and like CC his success or failure will be a big part of this franchise.

5. Mark Teixeira

You might notice that Nos. 3 through 5 have something in common: they’re all tied to the Yankees for the long haul. You can talk about intangible importance all you want, but it won’t make Sabathia’s, A-Rod’s, or Teixeira’s contracts any shorter. That Tex plays first base means he’s blocking a position to which a number of vets switch once they’re unable to man other positions. His ability to hit for the duration of the contract means the world to the Yanks.

6. Derek Jeter

He’s the face of the franchise, and would have been higher on the list if the Yankees weren’t tied up in multiple ridiculously-long-term deals. There will be more talk than most of us can handle about Jeter’s contract situation following the 2010 season, which provides an indicator of just how important he is to the franchise. If his performance declines over the next two years, what do the Yanks do? Tough question to answer. Yet it will could be one of the most important ones the franchise faces in the near future.

7. Jorge Posada

After watching the team struggle last season it was tough not to put Jorge a bit higher. Unfortunately, he’s just a victim of a crowded organization. No. 9 doesn’t nearly do Jorge’s importance justice, as the team will rely on him to man the backstop position until the younger catchers in the system are ready to break in. His bat, which is at a premium for catchers, becomes pedestrian at DH. Combine that with a far inferior bat replacing him behind the plate and the Yanks in a difficult position. Jorge’s ability to stay behind the plate will keep a top bat there for years and years to come if one of Montero/Romine can take over by 2012.

8. Joba Chamberlain

This role was supposed to belong to Phil Hughes, but now it’s Joba Chamberlain who represents the Yankees new crop of pitching talent. He’s emerged as a potential ace, and he’ll try to reach that over the next few seasons. If Joba can place himself atop the rotation with CC Sabathia, the Yanks could have the best 1-2 punch in the league.

9. A.J. Burnett

Like CC, A-Rod, and Tex, this is about the contract. Five years is a long time for a pitcher, and if it turns out poorly it will seem like much longer. I like to say that when you sign a pitcher to a long-term deal you can probably expect to lose about a year due to injury. That Burnett has had just two healthy seasons by age 32 heightens that concern. If the Yanks need to replace A.J. at any point they’ll have a tough time doing so, considering his $16.5 million salary through 2013.

10. Damon Oppenheimer / Mark Newman

The Yanks simply won’t be able to play future free agency periods like they did in 2008-2009. Not only is it unlikely that the talent level will be there, but by signing three long-term deals in 2008-2009 (plus one in 2007-2008 that outlasts them all), management might not be so apt to enter another five-plus year deal. This means that development from within becomes that much more important. The guy who calls the shots on draft day and the guy who manages their path through the system will be of the utmost importance in the coming years.

11. Austin Jackson

Ajax is on the fast track to the majors, and could make his debut as early as this season if he continues his ascendancy in the minors and the Yanks don’t get the production they need from Melky and Gardner. The more realistic scenario is a 2010 debut, which would time out perfectly with the expiring contracts of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Xavier Nady. Jackson is the Yanks top prospect, and he’ll be much needed in the coming seasons.

12. Nick Swisher

Much like Jackson, Swisher’s success or failure could mean a lot for the 2009-2010 off-season. He’s the only corner outfielder under contract for next season, which means he’s going to have to recover in a big way from his uninspiring 2008 campaign. If he does, though, he might save the Yanks some bucks on a big-name free agent like Matt Holliday. If both he and Jackson come through it would be a huge win for the Yanks and their 2010 outfield.

13. Robinson Cano

There aren’t too many second basemen who will content for a batting title, let alone an MVP. There’s Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Dan Uggla, and Chase Utley, followed by a pack of guys like Brian Roberts and Brandon Phillips. Robinson Cano has a chance to be right up there with the big four guys; even if he’s at the Roberts/Phillips level it would be a big plus for the Yanks. That means recovering from a poor 2008. He did show some more life with the bat in the second half. His return to 2007 form would mean big things for the Yanks.

14. Phil Hughes

Phil Phranchise was a bit higher on the list last year, but thankfully Joba Chamberlain was able to step up and take his place. Still, Hughes has an incredible ceiling and could be a second low-cost option for the next few years. A 2010 rotation of CC-Wang-Burnett-Chamberlain-Hughes would be ideal for the Yanks. It would mean not spending any more money on the rotation in the off-season, and would give the Yanks another chip from the system. The Yanks won’t live and die with the success or failure of Hughes, but his success would bring enormous benefit.

15. Nardi Contreras

I considered lumping him with Oppenheimer and Newman, but Nardi’s importance is a bit different. He’s charged with developing a system rife with pitching. The Yanks want to win with young arms, and Nardi’s ability to get these guys to the major league level is integral to that plan.

16. Dave Eiland

Once Nardi gets the guys to the majors, it will be Eiland’s job to make sure they keep doing what got them there in the first place. It appears the Yanks have a lot of faith in Eiland, and after hearing how he’s worked with pitchers and managed the bullpen I can see why.

17. Mariano Rivera

It pains me to put Mo this low, but a 39-year-old closer probably shouldn’t be high up on an organizational list of importance. This is not to discount what Mo has meant to the Yanks in the past. He was a big part of the four championship teams and he could be a big part of number 27. Looking into the future, though, Mo’s impact just won’t be as big as the guys ahead of him.

18. Jesus Montero

The Yanks have had big hopes for this guy since they signed him as an international free agent in 2006. Much of his importance lies in his ability to stay behind the plate since the position many scouts have envisioned him playing, first base, is occupied for the next eight years. Still, Montero’s bat can play anywhere, and his development will mean a lot for the Yanks’ future.

19. Mark Melancon

It’s tough to feel bad for guys who play a kids’ game for a living, but the expectations heaped on Melancon are quite daunting. Who, after all, can step into the shoes of Mo himself? No one, yet the hype around Melancon is that he’s the future closer the Yanks need. He’ll never be Mo, but his development into a Jon Papelbon or Joakim Soria would mean the world to the Yanks (and to Joba’s spot in the rotation).

20. Andrew Brackman

After watching him fall all the way through the first round, the Yanks snagged Andrew Brackman with the 30th overall pick in 2007. They took a significant risk, basically knowing he’d need Tommy John surgery. Now that he’s recovered, he’ll have a few years to prove he’s ready before running out of options. Like Joba and Hughes ahead of him, he means having a cost-controlled ace, which not only gives the Yanks another potential top of the rotation starter, but allows them to spend ace-money elsewhere.

Previously: Mike’s 20 Most Important Yankees

Categories : Analysis
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  • AL East Farm System Values
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    Beyond the Box Score has been running a series on the value of each team’s farm system – broken down by division – based on prospect values determined by Victor Wang’s research. The Yanks’ farm system is valued at $97.8M, thanks partly to having two top fifty position player prospects (Austin Jackson & Jesus Montero), but mostly thanks to the horde of Grade B and C pitching prospects. The $97.8M figure places them fourth in the division, ahead of only the Blue Jays at $94.1M. Baseball America and Keith Law both rated the Yanks’ system fourth in the division as well, so it’s nice to see the numbers support the popular opinion. Make sure you check it out, there’s some really interesting stuff going on there. · (12) ·

March MadnessLast week I put together a Yahoo group at the last second for this year’s NCAA Tournament, spending no more than a nano-second thinking up the RAB Bracket Busters nickname. Even though I posted the group info barely an hour before the first tip-off, we still managed to get forty-four people to join.

I’m not overly interested in college basketball, but I do have an idea of what goes on throughout the year. However I followed less than usual this year, so I figured my brackets were going to go boom before the weekend even started. I got lucky though, losing just seven of the thirty-two frst round games, and only one of those losses could haunt me beyond the second round (Wake Forest). The weekend went well, and I’m currently sitting pretty with thirteen of Sweet Sixteen correct (the misses are Wake, Washington, and Texas). I had Washinton in the Elite Eight, which kinda sucks, but whatever.

My Final Four is pretty standard – Louisville, Memphis, Pitt and Oklahoma – as is my Championship matchup (Pitt over Louisville). I’m tied for fifth place in our league with 51 points, and I’m well within striking distance of the leader’s 55 points. The scoring doubles each round (one points in the first round, two points in the second, four in the third, etc), so one game means a big swing now. Current standings are after the jump, if you’re interested.

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Categories : Not Baseball
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