While we’re still awaiting official confirmation on the rumors surrounding A-Rod’s injury, silence — and not a denial — out of the Yankee camp is not a very good sign.

Meanwhile, the Yankees may have to fill a very good big hole in their lineup for the first six weeks of the season. Mike and Joe are going to have their thoughts on this problem in the RAB Radio Show in a few hours, but we can start talking about it now. I’m sure Manny Ramirez, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra are cursing themselves for signing contracts within the last few days.

Internal Options

The Yankees have a few internal options they could pursue, and none of them are very promising. They could move Derek Jeter to third base and have Angel Berroa play short. They could stick Berroa at third and hope he can deal. Of course, Angel Berroa is 31 with a career OPS+ of 77 and an offensive line of .260/.305/.378. He has never played third base and generally isn’t very good.

The Yankees could look at the high-jumpin’ Cody Ransom. His teammates believe Ransom is a superior athlete, but that counts for approximately nothing. Ransom is 33 with 183 big league at-bats under his belt. Maybe the Yanks could catch lightening in a bottle.

Finally, we arrive at Mark Teixeira. In 2003, Teixeira, then a rookie, played 15 games at third base. The Yanks could shift him to third for a few weeks and hope he can still field the position. They could then use Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady in some sort of RF/1B platoon. That would be, by far, the best offensive solution to a defensive problem, but I doubt the Yanks are going to start messing around with their new $180 million first baseman from Day 1. (Interestingly, Nady has three MLB games at third base under his belt. They all came in 2005 when he was with San Diego, and I have no idea how he did. I’m guessing that’s not really a viable option either.)

The wild card here is Eric Duncan. The Yanks could just toss Eric Duncan into the frying pan. They already managed to rush him through the system so much so that he’s barely considered a prospect anymore, and they have nothing to lose with him. Both Duncan and Berroa are off the 40-man though, and the Yanks would have to find a corresponding move to get either of them to the Bronx.

External Options

The pickings are slim right now. Despite a slow market, every free agent infielder has signed with the exception of one: Mark Grudzielanek. I’m sure his agent is on the phone with the Yanks right now.

Grudzielanek isn’t a very appealing candidate. He turns 39 in June and has a career line of .290/.332/.395 with a 90 OPS+. During his last two seasons in Kansas City, he has been the definition of league average. That is, however, a far cry above what Berroa or Cody Ransom are likely to provide for the Yanks.

I don’t really know what Grudzielanek’s salary would be either. O-Cab signed for $4 million with the A’s, and he’s their starting short stop for the entire season. Grudzielanek would be a two-month or six-week rental, but he has some leverage because the Yanks need a third baseman.

In a similar vein, the Yanks could explore Bobby Crosby too. The A’s incumbent short stop has been terrible at the dish since winning the 2004 Rookie of the Year, and while he is a short stop, he wants out of Oakland. Maybe a change of scenery and a position shift would kick start him for a year. The A’s, though, have no reason to simply give Crosby to the Yanks even in a salary dump deal.

So that’s that. The Yankees are facing the prospects of starting the season without their clean-up hitter and don’t have much of a back-up plan. With their overhauled rotation, the team is good enough to ride out the storm, but if this — a quad injury last year, a hip injury this year — is a sign of things to come for A-Rod, the Yanks have more than just the next ten weeks about which they should worry.

Categories : Injuries
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  • Looking forward, looking back

    As part of his ongoing series of organizational reports, the Biz of Baseball’s Devon Temple profiled the Yanks yesterday. While the piece covers familiar ground — a fruitful offseason, the new stadium — Temple makes an interesting comparison between the Yankees and just about every other team in baseball. The Yanks’ value, according to Forbes, has tripled over the last decade to well over $1 billion, and when we compare the Yanks to the Marlins, “the Yankees are a brand and the Marlins are a team in the National League East.” Along with money come expectations, and soon we’ll see how the 2009 Yankees face those too. · (9) ·

Ben, Mike, and I have made it no secret that we want to see Nick Swisher win the starting right fielder job. It’s nothing against Xavier Nady. He’s still a good player and having him start in right wouldn’t be a horrible idea. That is, if Nick Swisher weren’t on the team. At Driveline Mechanics, devil_fingers takes a statistical look at the projections for the duo. He also adds in the Yankees’ other corner outfielders, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, the outfielder being replaced (Bobby Abreu), and Manny, just because he’s Manny.

The methodology uses the PECOTA, ZiPS, and CHONE projection systems to evaluate the players based on wOBA and the CHONE defensive projections. Clearly, this is not perfect. I’m no fan of projections myself, but since this is for fun I’ll play along. For a frame of reference, here are the basic slash stats for each player:

Swisher: .247/.360/.454
Nady: .273/.327/.456
Manny: .290/.399/.524
Hideki: .277/.360/.443
Damon: .276/.351/.417
Abreu: .271/.371/.413

After calculating for wOBA, adjusting for position (though not wholly necessary because everyone in this group is a corner outfielder), and converting to runs added, Swisher comes out as the second best in the group. He’s at less than half Manny’s total, but at 16.5 runs he’s ahead of the other Yankees, plus Abreu, on the list. You can get the whole graph here. On the defensive front, Manny is also tops. And by tops I mean has the longest bar on the graph. Swisher and Damon are the only ones projected to prevent runs with their gloves, as they are at positive 5 and 6 runs, respectively.

Put it all together, and you have the final tally. The boost in each player’s ranking is due to a replacement level adjustment (it was the same for all players, so don’t worry). Not only is Swisher projected to provide far more value than his teammates, but when considering defense he’s projected to be nearly as valuable as Manny.

As I said before, this is just a projection system and not something to be taken as gospel. It would be great if Swisher actually hit to his CHONE projections, and given his career stats prior to last year it’s certainly possible. I also don’t think Nady will hit quite as poorly as his projection. Even if he improves upon it a little, say a .345 OBP, he still wouldn’t be as good as Swisher. Given the difference in their projected defensive production, it would be tough for Nady to catch up.

While this projection alone won’t win Swisher the job, hopefully he makes his case during Spring Training. I’ve always liked Swisher thanks to Moneyball and I was psyched when the Yanks acquired him. If he can return to form he’ll be what Brian Cashman would call an asset to the team.

Categories : Analysis
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Okay, so maybe he’s not leaping a car in a single bound, but Cody Ransom’s got some ups. My sincere hope now is that after Ransom officially beats out Berroa for the utility infielder job, he goes up to him and says: “You see Angel, it’s like this. You either smoke or you get smoked…And you got smoked.”

Categories : Whimsy
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Haven’t you had enough of the media’s obsession with steroids in baseball? I sure have. The constant headlines about A-Rod do nothing to enhance my enjoyment of the game, and I’m sure that’s true for plenty of others. It’s even worse when they’re trying to out players who used in the past. Not to simplify an issue to one sentence, but: If there were no penalties to using steroids prior to 2004, why wouldn’t you use them?

(Answer: Because of your long-term health. That’s the only good one I’ve got.)

Jason at It is about the money, stupid takes a long look at the media’s role in this “scandal.” (Again, how can it be a scandal if there were no baseball-related consequences to using?) The article includes a massive bullet list of baseball writers admitting they had done wrong by not exploring the situation further. It’s an excellent read if you like hear people admit their mistakes.

A few of them strike me a bit odd. The one that stuck out the most was from Ken Rosenthal. “That is our greatest sin, extolling these guys as something more than they were. Some of us had a feeling that something was amiss. We are more guilty of making McGwire and Sosa into heroes when they weren’t.” Where do I even begin on this?

First of all, McGwire and Sosa are not and never were heroes, even if they hit all those home runs clean. Baseball players are not heroes. They are entertainers. We might attach some narrative lore to them, especially the legendary ones, but that doesn’t make them heroes. There are people who sacrifice their lives for the betterment of others. That’s when you can get into the hero discussion. It does not apply to people who hit baseballs 400 feet.

Second, the crime was not making the players into heroes, even though it was wrong. The crime was not digging deeper into the steroids issue. If other reporters had followed up on Steve Wilstein’s revelation about McGwire’s andro, perhaps this issue would have blown up a bit sooner than it did. Yet most in the press ignored it, and since the public didn’t want to believe it the issue was shelved for a few more years.

At least Jon Heyman is honest: “I guess we were all caught up in the excitement of the home run chase. Rather than spend all of the time and energy [on steroids] when the only guarantee was that we would annoy everyone around us, we took an easier route.”

The first comment on Jason’s post makes a point: “The reason they didn’t report it wasn’t because of a fear of their jobs, or their reputations, or how the players percieved them. They didn’t write it because it wasn’t a story then.” I think that they could have made it a story, though. Tonight on SportsCenter: Baseball players are cheating and tarnishing the legacy of the game. I mean, that’s basically what happened years later, anyway. If the media flat out accused the players of cheating, the public would have gotten into an uproar much sooner. But the media left it alone, and the rest is history.

Now that my rant is over, it’s time to get to the open thread stuff. The Nets host the Celtics, the Knicks host the Hawks, and if you’re into Big East hoops Marquette takes on Pitt on ESPN2. The Rangers picked up forward Nik Antropov from the Maple Leafs (damn Canadian inability to properly pluralize) for a second rounder and a conditional pick. They also nabbed defenseman Derek Morris from the Coyotes for Nigel Dawes, Petr Prucha, and Dmitri Kalinin. Dave at Blue Seat Blogs likes the Antropov acquisition but abhors Morris.

Categories : Open Thread
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When the Braves and the Yankees who bothered to travel to Orlando started playing today, the Yanks’ lineup featured Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Xavier Nady and, um, Jose Molina. The team has to send four starters, and well, that’s the crowd they put together.

Unsurprisingly, by the time the ninth inning rolled around and Doug Bernier and Todd Linden were in the lineup, the Yanks were facing a one-run deficit. They never closed the gap and despite decently strong pitching, fell 3-2 to Atlanta. The team hasn’t won a game since Feb. 26. It matters little.

For the Yanks, Ian Kennedy started and didn’t have his breaking pitches going early on. He gave up a pair of runs in the first, and the Yanks would never recover. He settled down and allowed no more runs while giving up three total hits and a walk. He struck out nary a batter. Dan Giese relieved, going three strong and surrendering a run. He struck out three and walked one in a very solid outing. Andrew Brackman and Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless inning each. Melancon has now made three spring appearances without surrendering a run. He’ll get some early game action soon to face some big league hitters.

Offensively, the Yanks went 5 for 31 against the Braves, and no one had more than one hit. Johnny Damon tripled, and Dan Giese picked up a hit. That was about all.

This is of course the problem with spring road games during the WBC. The Yanks’ big guns are away from the team, and they don’t have to take too many other players with them. The pitchers got in the work they needed; the hitters got their swings. The outcome just doesn’t matter.

Things will start to heat up tomorrow when Joba takes on Team Canada at 1:15 p.m. After him come the rest of the the starting five for the first time this spring. Mariano Rivera is also primed to throw a bullpen on Thursday as the Yanks while away the lazy days of March. Just 33 more days until Opening Day.

Categories : Game Stories
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Robinson Cano and his sub-par 2008 season have been major issues of discussion this off-season. While many Yankees fans figured he’d improve upon his 2007 season, he got off to a horrid start before bringing himself back to an acceptable level of offensive production (.298/.324/.452 from June 1 on, .302/.331/.464 from July 1 on). Mike linked to a Beyond the Boxscore analysis of Cano, which used Cano’s contact rate, BABIP, and Isolated Power to show that we can expect a rebound, but not to get pie-in-the-sky and think that he can reproduce 2006. That sounds reasonable, and I think Yanks fans everywhere would take Cano’s 2007 — even considering his slow start — in a heartbeat.

Yesterday, Moshe Mandel of The Yankee Universe took an in-depth look at Cano from both a statistical and scouting point of view. On the scouting end he discusses Cano’s stance, which became a big issue later in the year. After experiencing success with an open stance for his entire career, hitting coach Kevin Long though tit better to close it up. You can see the difference in this post on Cano’s 2008 season:

So what was the difference in 2008 which caused concern for Cano’s stance? Mandel tackles the issue:

Another obvious problem with Robbie’s swing was the motion of his head combined with his front shoulder flying open. Players are supposed to keep the head looking at the pitcher, and then the ball, at all times, while the front shoulder remains square to the pitcher. Robbie consistently pulled his head early while allowing his front shoulder to fly open, which contributed greatly to his unbalanced swing and resulted in plenty of softly pulled balls on pitches that Robbie would typically drive.

Why weren’t these issues a problem in the past few years? That’s tough to say. It would take some serious video analysis to see exactly how his body moved through the swinging motion, and how that changed from 2006 through 2008. Makes me wish there were an easy way to find such compilations. Maybe MLBAM could one day offer this as a premium service for nerds. I’d rather pay for that than my ESPN Insider account.

On the statistical end, Mandel takes things a bit further than the typical BABIP argument that Cano was unlucky. He cites a Rich Lederer article which notes the values of line drives, ground balls, and fly balls.

When it comes to batting average, line drives are king, followed by groundballs, outfield flyballs, and infield flies. … However, when it comes to production, flyballs are more valuable than groundballs. To wit, including home runs, line drives produced .40 runs in 2007 and .39 in 2008, while the average outfield flyball yielded .18 runs in 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, the average groundball generated .05 runs per event in 2007 and .04 in 2008.

Cano saw a decrease in ground balls and an increase in fly balls last season, so this could have drive his batting average down. Mandel: “Essentially, Cano hit fewer grounders and more flyballs without gaining the run production that increased flyballs would give a hitter whose swing is not faulty. One other point to notice is that Cano’s O-Contact% and FB% saw a significant increase, affirming the point that pitchers were throwing Robbie fastballs out of the zone, and he was more than willing to just put them in play rather than fouling them off or laying off of them.”

I’ve loved Cano ever since he came up in 2005, and I’ve had high hopes for him ever since. He delivered in 2006 and 2007, which makes me think that his 2008 problems are surmountable. He’s worked heavily with Kevin Long, and by all accounts has done all he can this winter in order to fix the flaws in his swing. Given his talent, this should all add up to a solid campaign for Cano in 2009 and beyond.

Categories : Analysis
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Eric Duncan | 1B/3B

Born just outside of Morristown in Florham Park, NJ, Duncan grew up a Yankee fan and idolized Paul O’Neill. He spent most of his childhood in California, moving back to New Jersey when he was in the eighth grade. Duncan attended Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange and set school records for batting avg (.536), hits (52), homers (12) and RBI (60) as a senior. He was named the Gatorade New Jersey High School Player of the Year and earned a spot on the Baseball America All-American First Team.

Committed to Louisiana State strictly for negotiation leverage purposes, Baseball America rated Duncan the best prospect in the state and 23rd best prospect overall for the 2003 draft. The Yankees selected him with their first round pick, number 27 overall, and he signed days after the draft for  a $1,250,000 bonus. Duncan is the best high school hitter to come out of New Jersey in the last decade, if not longer.

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Categories : Prospect Profiles
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Last night, Alex Rodriguez made some headlines by offering up an innocuous compliment to his fellow Dominican team member Jose Reyes. “I wish he was leading off on our team or playing on our team. That’s fun to watch,” A-Rod said. Warn the children! Sound the alarms! Make a mountain out of a molehill!

Immediately, the ever-objective media went into overdrive. Peter Abraham accused A-Rod of stirring up past history with Jeter. Marc Craig at the recently-decimated Star Ledger pondered the same thing. I’m sure the News and Post had some equally inflammatory coverage of this statement.

In reality, A-Rod didn’t say anything newsworthy, and he never insulted Jeter. In fact, as iYankees notes, he may have insulted Johnny Damon, but no beat reporter has mentioned that. After all, A-Rod said he wants Reyes leading off, and that role is filled by Johnny Damon. Rodriguez never mentioned that short stop position. He also never used the phrase “instead of” in reference to Jeter or anyone else on the Yanks.

But wait! There’s more. A-Rod said something else after those two sentences. “Anytime you have that type of speed… I mean, we have a guy in Gardner that’ll be fun. That’s probably the most fun you can have, watching those guys run.”

A-Rod is acknowledging what any normal baseball fan in New York knows: Jose Reyes is a young and exciting player who could emerge as one of the game’s top offensive forces and would be a contributor on any team. He has the rare mix of speed and power and has shown the ability to get on base at a rate that would allow him to fully exploit both skills, and gosh, he’s also fun to watch. Let’s put A-Rod in the stockade just for thinking it, and let’s leave off the part of the quote that contextualizes it too.

Categories : Rants
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