Thinking about Yu

(AP Photo/Chris Park)

The dog days of August have morphed into the dog days of September, and we’re all just crossing days off the calender until the Yankees clinch a playoff berth and begin preparations for the postseason. The Jesus Montero experiment is off to a thrilling start and gives everyone a reason to tune in to each game, but otherwise we’re just going through the motions right now. Perhaps I’m taking the Yankees’ success for granted, but so be it. As long as the players and the team aren’t, then it’s no big deal. That’s why I figured I could get away with looking ahead to the offseason.

Regardless of what happens from here on out, we know the Yankees are going to be looking for some kind of starting pitching help this winter. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, even add Ivan Nova to that mix, have far exceeded expectations this year, but only one of those three is guaranteed to be around next season. No one really knows what to expect from A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes going forward, so the Yankees are still lacking that bonafide number two starter. Perhaps Nova grows into that role with his improved slider, but I’d rather not expect it and be surprised than expect it and be disappointed.

The free agent starting pitching crop is generally weak this coming winter, with C.J. Wilson and Edwin Jackson representing the best of the bunch (ignoring CC Sabathia, since the Yankees wouldn’t technically be adding him to the team). There’s been some speculation that Wilson could get a nine-figure deal, and although I like him as a pitcher, I don’t like him that much. My preference has been to secure a one-year stopgap (Chris Carpenter? Ryan Dempster?) and prepare to go all in during the pitching rich 2012-2013 offseason, but as Jered Weaver’s recent extension has shown, those guys aren’t guaranteed to hit the open market. That’s where Yu Darvish comes in.

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Nothing is official yet, but the general consensus is that the Nippon-Ham Fighters will make their 25-year-old ace available via the posting process this winter. It would make sense to do it now, with the weak free agent class and the potential for a healthy posting fee. Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker chimed in on all the Darvish stuff floating around today, and sees evidence suggesting that the right-hander will and won’t be posted this winter. Like I said, it’s not official and there’s bound to be evidence supporting both arguments, but it seems like likely.

Within that piece, Patrick notes that Darvish has added bulk to his slender frame (he’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 185 lbs., but Newman says he’s up to 220 now) and is consistently working on the high end of his 93-97 mph fastball, perhaps showing off for all the scouts that flock to his starts. His arsenal of secondary pitches is said to consistent of everything from a slider to a cutter to a changeup to a curveball to a splitter to a shuuto (fancy word for a two-seamer), but if we’ve learned anything from Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s that six-pitch repertoires can suddenly turn into three- or four-pitch mixes in a heartbeat. I count four different pitches in this video of one of his late-May outings (four-seamer, two-seamer, change, curve), but if you watch any other Darvish video on YouTube, you’ll see him throw a slider. Having five or six pitches and being willing to use them all is a different matter entirely.

We know the Yankees are at least doing their homework on Darvish. They had people watch him in May of 2009, in March of 2010, and in August of 2010, and yesterday George King reported that the Yanks recently sent scout Rick Williams to Japan to watch him pitch, not long after pro scouting director Billy Eppler made a similar trip. I do have some reservations from where I sit, and it’s not because of Kei Igawa or Hideki Irabu. It’s the cultural adjustment, the adjustment to a tougher league, and perhaps most of all, the adjustment to pitching every five days. Darvish already has over 1,200 IP on his arm as well, a rather significant total. At the same time, we’re talking about a 25-year-old (two months younger than Phil Hughes) with ace upside, and those don’t come around very often.

I have no idea what kind of posting fee it’ll take to land Darvish’s negotiating rights, but I do think it’ll be smaller than the $51.1M it took for Dice-K. Not much smaller, but smaller. The contract is almost an afterthought, but we’re certainly talking about a four or five or more year package worth what? Definitely more than $20M since that’s what Igawa got, so perhaps $40M? We’re all just guessing at this point. I don’t think a $100M total investment (posting fee plus contract) is out of the question.  The Yankees are doing their due diligence and will surely be involved in the bidding (there’s no reason not to bid, right?), and I’m very interested in seeing how this plays out.

Mother Nature tried to stop ‘em, but Yanks beat O’s anyway

Four hours later, the Yankees and Orioles finally played. The first pitch was thrown until 11:08pm ET on Tuesday night, the final pitch at 2:16am on Wednesday morning, and in between there was a whole lotta grounds crew shenanigans. Drying agent, puddles on the warning track, more drying agent, outfielders slipping, all of that and more. The whole game was a complete mess. Let’s quickly recap…

  • Jorge Posada opened the scoring with a solo homer in the third, the third straight long ball hit by the Yankees DH’s. It might have been the last homer Posada ever hits at Yankee Stadium. Hell, it might be the last homer he hits ever. Crazy. Their second run scored with the help of the elements, when Jorge chugging all the way around from first after Matt Angle dropped Frankie Cervelli‘s fly ball to the warning track in left. The wind knocked it down, otherwise it would have been Frankie’s third homer in the last week. Now that is crazy.
  • Phil Hughes pitched fine for the first five-plus innings, but he gave up the lead when Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer to left. Cervelli called for the high fastball in the 0-2 count, Hughes threw the high fastball in the 0-2 count, and Wieters hit it out of the park in the 0-2 count. Seemed like a very weird pitch to call for at the time, but whatever. Otherwise, two runs across six innings is perfectly fine from the fifth starter.
  • The Yankees retook the lead the very next half inning, when Derek Jeter singled, Curtis Granderson walked (on a 3-2 pitch right down the middle, terrible call by the ump), and Mark Teixeira singled. Tex’s shot was one of those “he hit it so hard it was just a single” numbers. The Orioles re-tied it in the next half inning when Nick Markakis doubled home Robert Andino off LNOGY Boone Logan.
  • A half inning after that happened, things got weird. I mean really weird. Cervelli hit another rocket to left, and this one was ruled a homer after a fan appeared to reach over the fence to catch the ball. The umps reviewed it, and bam, the homer stood. That makes it four would-be homers over the last week. Because that’s not enough, Brett Gardner jumped all over a 3-0 fastball and clanked it off the right field foul pole for the second of back-to-back jacks. Cervelli and Gardner have no business hitting back-to-back homers, but we were well within the bounds of #weirdbaseball by that point. Fair game.
  • Once that all got sorted out, David Robertson pitched a scoreless eight and Mariano Rivera shut things down in the ninth for his 598th career save. He’s getting closer to the all-time record (601) by the day. The Red Sox won and the Rays lost about an hour before this game even started, so the Yankees remained 2.5 games up in the division and moved to 10.5 up for the wildcard. The magic number to clinch a playoff spot dropped to just 12. Here’s the box score, here’s the FanGraphs stats, and here’s the standings.

If you were supposed to go to the game, or even if you did go and stuck around all night, you’ll get a free ticket to a non-premium game next season. So hooray for that, I’m sure it’ll make up for the pneumonia. Anyway, these two teams are supposed to play again at 1pm ET on Wednesday, but there’s little chance of that happening since it’s going to keep raining. Expect another long delay. Whenever they start that one, it’ll be A.J. Burnett and Zach Britton on the bump.

Game 140: Hometown Hero (UPDATE: 11pm first pitch)

They love Jesus Montero here in New York, and they also love him back home in Venezuela. The Yankees wunderkind made the front covers of at least three hometown papers (here’s the third) after yesterday’s two-homer effort, so he’s kind of a big deal back home. As for the homerun balls, Montero did get them back and all it cost were three signed balls. The first guy got one signed by Montero and one signed by the entire infield, the second guy just one from Montero. Not a bad deal.

Anyway, it’s pouring in New York and has been all day. It’s supposed to all night as well, but because of the lack of schedule remaining, the Yankees and Orioles are going to wait this sucker out. Joe Girardi said in his pregame press conference that it’s supposed to lighten up at some point, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Good thing they have a bunch of September call-ups lying around to soak up some innings, pun intended. Here’s the lineup, should they actually play…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Frankie Cervelli, C

Phil Hughes, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, but that’s not going to happen. If/when the game does begin, you’ll be able to watch on YES. Until then, talk about whatever you want in comments.

Update: First pitch is scheduled for 11pm ET. Oh yeah.

(h/t Gustavo for the links to the Venezuelan papers)

Staten Island Yankees playoff opener postponed

The Yankees are trying to wait out tonight’s rain, but the Baby Bombers are having none of that. The Short Season Staten Island Yankees had their first round playoff opener with the Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets) postponed due to rain, and Mason Williams confirmed that the best-of-three series will just be pushed back a day. They won’t play a doubleheader or anything like that.

None of the Yankees’ five other domestic affiliates are playing anymore (the Rookie GCL Yankees won their league title, but none of the other four affiliates qualified for the postseason), so there’s no minor league action to recap tonight. For shame.

Update: MLB suspends Juan Carlos Paniagua, voids contract

Update (Sept. 6th): More from Badler. The suspension is a result of “falsified documents,” and technically it’s not even a suspension. The term “suspension” is reserved for players under contract, so Paniagua is considered “unable to sign.” His $1.1M deal with the Yankees was not yet official because he hadn’t secured a visa. MLB VP Kim Ng confirmed that they’re listening to Paniagua’s appeal and the the ruling is not yet final. Either way, it seems like a long shot that the Yankees will get their guy.

Original Post (Sept. 1st): Via Ben Badler, MLB has suspended Dominican righty Juan Carlos Paniagua and voided his contract with the Yankees. He agreed to a $1.1M bonus back in March. The reason for the suspension is unknown, and Badler says MLB won’t even tell the Yankees what’s going on. Paniagua is appealing the punishment, but it’s his second suspension after getting caught up in some identity and age fraud stuff two years ago.

The 20-year-old Paniagua had previously gone by Juan Collado and even agreed to a $17k deal with the Diamondbacks in 2009. He apparently picked up some big time velocity (sitting 93-95 touching the high-90’s according to Badler) while serving his suspension after the deal was voided. I have no idea what happens next, but the contract has been voided, so that’s pretty clear. Meanwhile, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed to Badler that right-hander Rafael DePaula (who agreed to a deal worth $700k in November) is still working to get a visa so his contract can become official.