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Make sure you scroll down for this week’s Looking Back, Looking Forward. Went up a little late today, don’t want anyone to miss it.

Looking Back. Looking Forward.

Every other week, Jamie O’Grady channels the 2005-version of Michael Kay by “Looking Back. Looking Forward.to get you caught up on what just was, and what soon will be with the New York Yankees.

LOOKING BACK: So what did you miss?

One of my favorite movies of all-time is undoubtedly Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.” In the moviefilm, an immortal Phil Connors – slowly realizing that he’s reliving the same day over and over – advises the innkeeper that the “chance of departure is around 80%…75-80.”

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with a supposedly Yankee-centric column, but there’s an obvious connection here to the total disaster which is Mr. Allen James Burnett. We already know that watching AJ pitch feels like deja vu all over again, yet despite only marginally improved results of late, the likelihood that Burnett is kept off the postseason roster feels much like Connors’ chances of leaving Punxsutawney without running into Ned Ryerson. Not. Gonna. Happen.

Wanna put the oft-ridiculed Yankee hurler’s 2011 statistics into some perspective? Check out this most recent 16-start sample size:

You don’t have to be John Sterling to recognize Starter B; he’s the aforementioned AJ Burnett. Player A? None other than Javier Vazquez. Yes, that Javier Vazquez. Really, is there any greater insult than being told “Dude, your ERA is like 4 runs higher than Javy Vazquez‘s, Bruh!” (UPDATE: Cy Vaz tossed a 5-hit shutout Friday night)

And no, despite my Burnetterrific frustration, I’m not planning on bathing with my toaster oven anytime soon.

Where in the world is Alex Rodriguez? Since returning from the disabled list on August 21, ARod has compiled just 36 at-bats (with two home runs), putting an exclamation point on his injury-riddled and disappointing 2011 campaign. Surely, $25m+ doesn’t go as far as it used to, what with the economy and all, but come on.

He’s allegedly still battling the worst jammed thumb in history, and his impending return to the lineup tonight – though welcome – doesn’t leave a ton of games for him to get his act together for the postseason.

Seriously, does anyone remember the ARod who closed April on pace for .290/41/146 this season? Yeah, neither does Cameron Diaz, apparently. I’m not judging, by the way. Perhaps ditching that insanely hot “distraction” will pay immediate Jeterian dividends.

Oh, some guy named Mariano crossed the 600-save threshold. And some guy named Jesus saved the franchise. We all just better pray that Joe Girardi doesn’t ask Montero to sacrifice himself. The worldwide religious implications are enough to make one’s head explode.

What we learned:

9/02 – 9/04 v. TOR I keep waiting for a NY Post headline which reads Ivan the Terrible, but Yankee phenom Ivan Nova just won’t allow it. He continues to lead all big-league rookies with 15 wins, and he hasn’t suffered a loss since way back on June 3. Nova is 7-0 since rejoining the club on July 31, and his 3.32 ERA over that time is actually much less impressive than his 1.14 WHIP (1.37 for his career) over the same span. Nova may not be able to retain his newfound-poise in a playoff atmosphere, but there’s no doubt his pure stuff is good enough to go head-to-head against almost any other AL team’s No. 2 starter. Prediction: NYY sweep series) (Actual: NYY sweep series)

9/05 – 9/08 @ BALWhat a disappointment. It took Jesus Montero all of four Major League contests to hit two home runs in one game, which puts him just 66 games behind Babe Ruth for the all-time Yankee lead in multi-HR efforts. I’m guessin’ the son of God will catch the Babe sometime in 2013. Scott Proctor made his first appearance as a Yankee since July 23, 2007. Predictably, he served up a long ball. I hadn’t been this excited to hear the name Proctor on TV since he and Lt. Harris were slow dancing at the Blue Oyster Bar. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Prediction: NYY win 3-of-4) (Actual: NYY split series)

9/09 – 9/11 @ LAASomewhat lost amidst the local joy surrounding Boston’s injury-induced September-meltdown is the fact that the Yankees remain particularly vulnerable against certain other potential playoff-opponents. Case in point: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County, California, U.S.A., Earth, Milky Way. Now just three games back of the AL West-leading Texas Rangers, the Angels – and their dominant 1-2 punch in Weaver/Haren – would be a lethal Yankee opponent in the ALDS. The Detroit Tigers – even with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera & Co. – would be a better match-up for the Bombers. You might even be surprised to learn that Verlander is just 4-3 with a 3.97 ERA lifetime versus New York. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3) (Actual: NYY lose 2-of-3)

9/12 – 9/14 @ SEADon’t look now, but Phil Hughes (5-5) has held opponents to two earned runs or less in six of his last eight starts. He even managed to best the mighty King Felix in a Yankee win which saw Chris Dickerson take Hernandez deep for his first Major League home run. Dickerson can now retire tomorrow and still pick up chicks at will, although not at the Blue Oyster Bar. Not to be outdone by the aforementioned Montero, oft-hyped Yankee catching prospect Austin Romine collected his first big-league hit. At first glance, he looks very comfortable behind the plate. (Prediction: NYY sweep series) (Actual: NYY win 2-of-3)

LOOKING FORWARD: What can’t you miss?

Entering play tonight, Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees at 100% likely to make the playoffs (92% to win the AL East), so the remaining 14 regular season games are largely irrelevant aside from playoff seeding and setting up the starting rotation for the American League Divisional Series. What’s most important for New York over the next two weeks is the health and performance of ARod, who despite his 2011 disappearing act, remains an absolutely critical factor for the club’s chances at making the World Series.

It’s been readily apparent since Spring Training that the Yankee rotation was not going to be a team-strength, but even with the losses of Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano, and Damaso Marte, the bullpen has been nothing short of dominant. In particular, David Robertson (1.15 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 95K/62IP) has had the kind of season that makes you wonder if Mariano Rivera‘s eventual replacement has been here all along.

And so it remains that formula – CC Sabathia, an elite offense, and a lock-down bullpen – which Brian Cashman hopes New York can ride all the way to its 28th World Championship.

What we expect to learn:

9/16 – 9/18 @ TOR I really miss the original Blue Jay uniforms. Those badboys were awesome. Not much else to espouse about our friends from north of the border. They’re sporting a pedestrian 75-74 record, which makes sense given their above average lineup and well below average pitching staff. Ultimately, the Jays won’t be making any noise in the division until they find themselves an ace – no, not you, Brandon Morrow – and a closer who brings more to the table than a really questionable neck tattoo. I actually feel for the baseball fans in Toronto; to see your franchise trade away Doc Halladay and still support the team? That’s commendable. And stupid. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3)

9/19 v. MINLooking for a sign that the Apocalypse is upon us? Well, for the first time in about 68 years, the Yankees will not be facing the Twins in the playoffs, which is probably a good thing for residents of St. Paul, considering the fact that New York seemingly never loses to Minnesota in the postseason. That said, I will miss seeing Joe Mauer’s abnormally girthy sideburns in October. (Prediction: NYY win makeup game)

9/20 – 9/22 v. TAMHoly shizah, these are not your father’s Devil Rays! While the Red Sox have been imploding, the Rays have exploded, winning 9-of-12 and amazingly creeping to within three games of Boston in the AL Wild Card race. Make no mistake, despite losing half their roster in free agency, Tampa’s farm system is extremely well-stocked, particularly in the pitching department. Widely hailed as baseball’s best pitching prospect, Matt Moore was recently called up to bolster Tampa’s pen over the final 15 games. Keep an eye on him during this series, you’ll be seeing him torment the Yankees for many years to come. (Prediction: NYY split 4-game series)

9/23 – 9/25 v. BOSBoston closer Jonathan Papelbon has not had a save opportunity since August 18, almost one month ago! Daniel Bard, the usually dominant Red Sox setup man, has compiled a 17.36 ERA and 2.35 WHIP thus far in September. Kevin Youklis is hitting .197 with two homers since August 1. In short, the team that everyone picked to win the division has utterly collapsed due to a combination of bad play, untimely injuries, and bunch of games against really good clubs. Might we hear some completely unjustified “Fire Tito” chants in Fenway Park before the season ends?  (Prediction: NYY lose 2-of-3)

9/26 – 9/28 @ TAMThere’s only so much I can say about the Rays in one column, but I happen to like Joe Maddon’s glasses. Also, BJ Upton needs a new batting stance. Every time I see his weirdo ankle-shimmy I want to throw something at the television. Finally, what is up with having actual stingrays in an aquarium at the ballpark? Didn’t we learn anything from the untimely death of Steve Irwin? Call me crazy, but when I attend a baseball game, the closest I want to come to sea life is plunking down $20 for mediocre sushi at Yankee Stadium. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3)

Next stop…

 

 

 

 

And that’s all she wrote. I’ll see you back here in a fortnight, unless you follow me on Twitter, in which case I’ll see you every five seconds or so.

Mailbag: Robertson, Feliciano, Postseason DL

Four questions this week, but three of the four answers are kinda long. The Submit A Tip box is your friend, assuming you need a friend that can help you send in questions for future mailbags.

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Chris asks: Do you think the Yankees would consider trying David Robertson out for the rotation? He seems to have good mechanics with his delivery and no obvious physical detriments that would inhibit his ability to start. Stuff-wise, I think few would doubt Robertson’s qualifications — especially now that he’s added a serviceable change-up to go along with his plus curveball and fastball. What do you think David Robertson’s ceiling as a starter would be? Is it high enough to justify a “Robertson-as-a-starter” experiment?

You know, I could have sworn Joe wrote a post about Robertson as a potential starter, but apparently he didn’t because I can’t find it in the archives anywhere. Oh well.

Stuff-wise, Robertson would be fine. He’d definitely lose some heat off the fastball, figure more 91-92 than the 94-95 he’s working with these days, but he’s got that great curveball and will show a changeup from time to time. He’s thrown that changeup just 1.7% of the time this year, so he’d have to be comfortable with using the pitch a lot more than he does now for it to work.

There’s two big hurdles here. First, Robertson hasn’t started a game since 2005, when he made three spot starts as a sophomore at Alabama. He also hasn’t thrown more than 61.1 IP in a season since 2008, when he topped out at a career high 84 IP (he threw 84.1 IP in 2007, so close enough). It’s not like they could just stick him in the rotation and expect 30 starts right out of the chute, it’ll take a year or two to get him safely stretched out. The second thing is his efficiency, or lack thereof. Because Robertson’s such a high-strikeout, high-walk guy, he ends up throwing a ton of pitches. In fact, his rate of 4.51 pitches per batter faced is the highest in baseball among relievers with at last 40 IP, and his 18.5 pitches per inning are the eleventh highest when you use that same criteria. He’d have to learn how to become more economical, which means pitching to contact a little more. If he can’t do that, he’d be a five and fly starter.

There’s also the element of the unknown here. We have no idea if Robertson can be successful the second and third time through the order. At least with Joba Chamberlain, you had his dominant college and (brief) minor league track record to fall back on. That’s not to say it can’t work (C.J. Wilson was very similar to Robertson when he was in the bullpen, and his transition was a smashing success), but that it won’t be easy. I can’t imagine the Yankees will entertain the thought of trying Robertson in the rotation, but it’s not a completely insane idea. Would take a lot of work on David’s part though, that’s for sure.

Brent asks: I was reading your article about Pedro Feliciano and got to wondering: How is the luxury tax, insurance payments, salaries effected by an injured player like this?  What $$ are the Yankees exactly on the hook for in this situation?

I can’t answer the insurance, we really don’t have any idea what kind of insurance teams have on their players. I imagine the extent of the coverage is a case-by-case thing, like every other insurance arrangement, and it’s basically impossible to find that info freely available somewhere. For all we know, the Yankees could have been reimbursed for every dime they paid Feliciano this year.

The luxury tax is a different story though. You can download the pdf of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement right here, then scroll down to Article XXIII for everything you need to know about the Competitive Balance Tax, the luxury tax’s fancy name. I’ll spare you the gory details, but in a nutshell, teams are taxed on their “Actual Club Payroll,” which is the average annual value of all the contracts on their 40-man roster. There’s almost some specifics about signing bonuses, benefits, etc., but a team is taxed for every player on the 40-man, and Feliciano has been on the 40-man all year. The Yankees will have to pay luxury tax on his contract even though he never pitched for them. Since they’re taxed the maximum 40%, that’s another $1.6M on top of his $4M average annual salary.

J.R. asks: If a player goes on the DL in the playoffs he is ineligible for the next round (ie Clemens in the ALDS). If the Yankees lost a player in the ALDS could they be off the roster for the ALCS but then put back on for the WS?

Yep, that’s exactly how it would work. The Braves lost Billy Wagner to injury in the NLDS last year, and replaced him on the roster with a new pitcher. Wagner was ineligible for the NLCS, but if Atlanta had made it to the World Series, he could have been re-added to the roster. If a player is replaced on the roster in the LCS, they’re off limits in the World Series, which kinda stinks.

Mike asks: Who are the minor leaguers who need to be added to the 40 man roster after the season to protect from the Rule 5 draft and who are the candidates to be cut from the 40 man to make room for them? I think you touched on this a couple of months ago but things have changed in Sept a little.

I trimmed Mike’s question down just for the sake of saving bandwidth, but you get the idea. I answered a question about who’s eligible for the Rule 5 Draft a few weeks ago, but you’re right, things have changed. Both George Kontos and Austin Romine were added to the 40-man roster and called up while Steve Garrison and Pants Lendleton lost their spots. Here’s a quick recap of the 40-man situation heading into the offseason…

On 60-day DL (7): Feliciano, Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, Reegie Corona, Colin Curtis, Justin Maxwell

Scheduled to become free agents (8): Marte, Mitre, Luis Ayala, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Jorge Posada

Non-tender/release candidates (4): Corona, Aaron Laffey, Scott Proctor, Raul Valdes

That’s eight spots definitely being opened up by departing free agents, but five of those spots will immediately be filled by 60-day DL guys (Marte and Mitre overlap). There’s no DL in the offseason, those guys have to be activated. Proctor’s as good as gone, so that’s another open spot. Pretty safe bet that Corona and at least one of Laffey/Valdes will go as well, so that’s two more spots. Right now, we’re at six open spots.

The outfield trio of Maxwell, Greg Golson, and Chris Dickerson will all be out of options next year, so something has to give. They could be released, traded for a marginal prospect (like what they did with Juan Miranda), or run through waivers just to see if they clear. All three could be gone next year, or all three could be back and off the 40-man roster. I have to imagine that at least one of those guys will be cut loose at some point, perhaps two. Either way, those are some flexible spots that can be dealt with as needed. The out-of-options thing really doesn’t become a problem until you actually want to send them to the minors, usually at the end of Spring Training.

With Romine and Kontos added to the 40-man, David Phelps is the only remaining lock to be added to the roster to prevent Rule 5 Draft exposure. David Adams and Pat Venditte are up in the air, as are a few others. Remember though, those open 40-man spots aren’t just for prospects. The Yankees have to replace Garcia and Colon in the rotation, add some bench players to replace Chavez and Andruw, and rebuild some bullpen depth. The 40-man roster can be a difficult thing to manage in the offseason, especially for a team like the Yankees, a team with so many players locked into long-term contracts.

A thought on trading Phil Hughes

Once upon a time, we considered Phil Hughes untouchable. Taken by the Yanks with the 23rd pick of the 2004 amateur draft — a thank you gift from the Astros for signing Andy Pettitte — the right-hander with a mid-90s fastball and a killer curve was the considered to be the nation’s top high school pitcher. He also symbolized a new era in Yankee drafts. No more John-Ford Griffins or Dave Parrishes for the refocused Front Office.

Over the years, Yankee fans fanatically watched Hughes mature. They wanted to believe that he was the harbinger of an organization that would one day produce good young players in the mold of Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. With hired mercenaries striking out in October throughout the mid-2000s, Hughes was practically considered a savior.

Brian Cashman fed the hype as he frequently declared Hughes off limits. The Nationals at one pointed wanted Hughes for Alfonso Soriano, and the Mariners in 2005 mentioned his name in a deal involving Randy Winn. “I’ve got players people ask us about other than Phil Hughes,” the Yanks’ GM said to Tyler Kepner in 2006. “People ask about him, too. I really have no interest. There are some guys you can have longer conversations about than others.”

We, of course, staked out a strong position with regards to Hughes in late 2007 when the Twins were dangling Johan Santana. Save the Big Three, we said. They’ll bring more glory than Johan Santana.

These days, though, Hughes’ star has dimmed considerably. Despite some solid results against the Mariners earlier this week, 2011 has been a lost year for Hughes. He’s made just 14 starts and sports a 6.00 ERA. His K/9 is two strike outs below his career norm, his fastball has less zip, his breaking pitches no bite. He has improved upon his dismal start, but his pitcher is a far cry from the Number 2 starter we hoped he would be by this point in his career.

Across the land, Yankee-watchers are wondering about Mr. Hughes. At 25, he should be getting better, but as Steve Goldman noted earlier this week, he’s doing the opposite. “Hughes had a 1.38 ERA through his first half-dozen starts in 2010,” Goldman wrote, “but after that his ERA was just a fraction under 5.00 and he gave up 1.6 home runs per nine innings. His line from then until now: 40 games, 209.1 innings, 223 hits, 33 home runs, 68 walks, 152 strikeouts, 5.33 ERA.” That is a lot of innings with some not-very-impressive results.

And so I wonder if Phil Hughes should be as untouchable as he once was. Recently, Jon Heyman offered up a tidbit on Hughes: “Phil Hughes is expected to move to the bullpen, and it’s possible the Yankees could consider trading him in the offseason (some see him as the next Ian Kennedy, someone who might benefit from a move out of New York).”

Of course, the Kennedy comps would come, and if Hughes is on the block, looking to the Yanks’ situation with Kennedy makes sense. For Kennedy plus others, the Yanks were able to net themselves Curtis Granderson. While Kennedy has excelled in Arizona, that’s not a bad haul at all, and it’s a trade I would be willing to make over and over again. The two situations, though, aren’t exactly alike.

When the Yanks traded Kennedy, he was nearing his 25th birthday, but the two players’ ages are about all they had in common. Kennedy had excelled in the minors but due to injury and ineffectiveness, had thrown just 59.2 innings at the Big League level. He had missed most of 2009 with an aneurysm, and the Yanks had seemingly soured on him before that due to an attitude that many said was simply too brash. Kennedy was still a prospect and not yet a project.

Hughes, on the other hand, has now amassed 441 innings in the Bronx. He’s made 71 starts, and we’ve watched his velocity decline and stuff diminish since he was moved from the setup role in 2009 to a starting role last year. And, oh yeah, he’s arbitration eligible after making $2.7 million this year. Kennedy still has another year left before he’s due for arbitration, and the Diamondbacks are paying him just $423,000.

Other teams’ fans haven’t written off Phil Hughes. The folks at Bleed Cubbie Blue said they would be happy to have him, and I’d imagine others would too. After all, a 25-year-old with Hughes’ potential is alluring. Whether he can realize that potential is something I’ve begun to doubt a bit this year.

To trade Hughes, though, the Yanks would have to fill some holes. Perhaps they could use an everyday player for the aging left side of the infielder. Perhaps they could use a young starter with potential who also needs a change of scenery. Without drawing up a complicated multi-team deal, there simply aren’t too many landing spots for Hughes or desirable pieces for the Yankees.

Maybe the Yanks and Hughes are simply stuck with each other for now. Despite his poor showing this year, he’ll get a raise for 2012, and suddenly, the Yanks are paying Phil Hughes $3-$4 million. For that, they’ll need more than an inconsistent starter with potential or a mid-inning reliever. Now if only the real Phil Hughes, whoever that may be, would please stand up.

UPDATE: Staten Island Yanks being sold, SWB Yanks being purchased

Update (Sept. 15th): More from Pimpsner. Apparently Mandalay doesn’t want anything to do with the Staten Island franchise after the sale if the Yankees are not involved. They will likely look to purchase another team, and their are several on the market. Important thing to remember: SI will remain the Yankees affiliate.

In other news, Mandalay and the Yankees are teaming up to buy the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees for $14.6M. Much of that money is going towards PNC Field renovations, which will force the team to play all their games on the road next year.

Original Post (Sept. 14th): Via Robert Pimpsner, the Staten Island Yankees are being sold to a NYC hedge fund manager for $8.3M. It’s the second time the franchise has been sold in the last five years, but the first time it was the Yankees and Mandalay Sports Entertainment that did the purchasing. Average attendance has been dropping in recent years, and the sale was financially motivated. It’s unclear if Mandalay will remain involved with the team, but the franchise will remain in Staten Island and affiliated with the Yankees. An official announcement is expected soon.