Yankees sign Japanese lefty Naoya Okamoto

Via the great NPB Tracker, the Yankees have signed Japanese southpaw Naoya Okamoto to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old started his career by pitching sparingly for the Yokohama Bay Stars, but spent 2010 in the Mexican League. His overall numbers on the season are underwhelming (17.2 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 11 BB, 12 K, 2 HR), though he did hold lefthanded batters to a cool .000 batting average (yes, super small sample).

The Yanks have a strong presence in Mexico and have enjoyed a ton of success there recently (Al Aceves, Manny Banuelos), so I’m certain they see something here. If nothing else, Okamoto is just another piece of minor league inventory, a depth move, but at best he’s a future option as a lefty specialist. And, you know, if the Yanks manage to acquire Yu Darvish this winter, Okamoto can be his friend (/Michael Kay latent racism’d).

One less competitor for Cliff Lee

Via MLBTR, the Tigers will not pursue Cliff Lee or another high-end starting pitcher this winter. Obviously, one less suitor for Lee is good news for the Yankees.

The Tigers have a ton of money coming off the books after this season, just an absurd amount. My quick math has it at $78.975M before buyouts and arbitration raises, but still, that’s a ton. Of course they also have a lot of holes to fill, so they probably think they’re better off spreading the money around rather than unloading a third of it on one starter. Either way, sucks for them, yay for the Yanks.

Game Thread: Padres @ Giants

We’ve got ourselves a pretty big game this afternoon out in San Francisco. The Braves have a comfortable lead over beat the Phillies, so once that goes final they will have clinched at least a tie of the Wild Card. If the Padres beat the Giants, they’ll force a one-game playoff with SF tomorrow to determine the NL West winner. The loser of that game will play the Braves on Tuesday in a one-game playoff to determine the Wild Card winner. But if the Padres lose today, the Giants win the division and Atlanta the Wild Card. Got it? Good.

San Diego’s bullpen is taxed beyond belief (Heath Bell and Luke Gregerson have pitched in four straight, Mike Adams in five), but they’re all available today. The game is on MLB Network at 4pm ET; the brilliant Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow have the call. This one means more than any game the Yankees have played all season, so enjoy. Should be a blast.

Game 162: Season Finale

Job well done, boys. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Six short months ago, the 2010 regular season started in this very same place, Fenway Park. The Yankees dropped that first game because of a bullpen meltdown, something that was so frequent in the first few months of the season. A lot has changed since then – players, roles, the standings – and this afternoon’s season finale is just the way we like it: stress free. The Yanks are in the postseason, so it’s just a final tune-up before the ALDS begins on Wednesday.

That said, if Joe Girardi decides to go for the division crown, they’re going to need some help. A win against the Sox is just half the battle, they also need the Royals to beat Tampa, anything else gives the Rays the AL East. I’d like to see the Yanks win the division just as a pride and bragging rights thing, but at the same time I think they’re probably better off taking the Wild Card and the date with Minnesota. I guess it’s a no lose situation.

Here’s the lineup…

Gardner, CF
Jeter, SS
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, DH
Swisher, RF
Posada, C
Thames, LF
Pena, 2B

And on the bump, it’s Dustin Moseley.

The game starts at 1:35pm ET, and can be seen on YES locally or TBS nationally. Sit back and enjoy folks, it’s the last stress-free game for five months.

Football Open Thread

The Jets are in Buffalo (1pm ET) and the Giants don’t play until later tonight. Chat about today’s football action here.

Sunday Morning Links

Here’s some Sunday morning links as we wait to see where the Yankees end up in the AL East and continue to recover from last nights Burnett vs. Dice-K “duel” (this was written Saturday night, if it’s truly a duel I’ll be shocked).

Joe LaPointe suggests increasing the number of playoff teams to an NHL’esque 16.  It’s preposterous to think that more than half the teams in baseball belong in the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the number increase from 4 teams in each league at some point.  I was hesitant about the Wild Card, and while I think it has been a success (other than 2004 and 2007), it would be an extremely slippery slope for MLB to expand further.  They are already having issues getting the bottom feeding team to spend money that is literally given to them, if the odds of making the playoffs doubled, teams could point to their spot in the playoffs as “success”.

Jon Paul Morosi argues that the Yankees are better off winning the Wild Card and makes a pretty compelling case.  I’m not one to root to face one team or another unless there is a specific advantage/disadvantage, but in a vacuum I’d rather face the Twins than the Rangers. The flip side I’d rather have the Yankees have home field, but at the end of the day, I don’t really prefer one team to the other, though homefield in a potential ALCS would be huge.  Either way they are in for a battle and can beat either team, or lose to either team.

Billy Crystal was honored on Friday for directing “61*” and an exhibit for the movie opened.  The exhibit will be on display until the end of 2011.  The article is more generous about the movie than I am (it was okay, not great), but a good quick read and certainly would be worth checking out the exhibit if you’re at the Hall of Fame in the next year.

A couple of links about parity and competitiveness in MLB.  Chris Stankovich points out that several small market teams are competing this year, and more importantly points out that several teams convince their fans that they simply cannot compete.  If I were fan of the Royals, I wouldn’t be pissed about the Yankees, I’d instead be pissed that they can’t model their system like the smaller market teams who can have success.  In that same vein, Jon at WFNY (and Indians blog) goes into the breakdown of how impact players on several teams were acquired.  It’s promising (in a way) to see that more impact Sox players have been signed through free agency than Yankees players.  Get to the Indians part and it has to be pretty disappointing to see how they have drafted.  It’s beyond awful.

Yanks sloppy in nightcap, lose to Red Sox

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

When he was standing on the mound, Burnett did not have his worst game. He got through six innings and allowed four runs, three earned, while striking out five and walking just two. That’s not a $17.5 million performance, but with the way Burnett has pitched this season it was a welcome one. What wasn’t welcome was a sequence that needlessly cost the Yankees a run.

I understand that the ump was indecisive with his call. The first thing they teach you, at the lowest level of umpiring, is to make your calls quickly and decisively. The first base ump delayed a bit, which might have caused some confusion. And yes, the runner very well might have been out. A few replay angles made it look that way. But none of that excuses Burnett losing focus of the still-live play. Not only did Daniel Nava score, but Josh Reddick advanced all the way to third with none out.

Thankfully Burnett did come back to strike out the next two hitters before getting Eric Patterson to line out to short. But even that wasn’t without sloppy play. Francisco Cervelli dropped a pop-up, which would have made for a nice, easy out with the runner on third. That inning had the potential to be quite a bit worse, but the one run ended up being the difference.

One decision that came back to bite Joe Girardi was sticking with Royce Ring. Playing match-up is one thing, but doing it with a AAA lefty is another. He did his job by retiring J.D. Drew to end the seventh, and with four lefties coming up I suppose I understand the desire to leave him in. But after he walked the pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie I’m not sure I’d leave him in. That’s probably second-guessing, though. In any case, Ring just gave up another single, but that set up the Red Sox to score two runs in the inning, tying the game.

The second run was of the most inexcusable kind. With one out and runners on first and second Ivan Nova pitched around pinch hitter David Ortiz and loaded the bases. That brought up No. 9 hitter Kevin Cash. Walking a guy with the bases loaded is already one of the most frustrating outcomes in baseball. This was the No. 9 hitter, a guy who has a .246 OBP this year and a .248 OBP lifetime. Yet Nova walked him. It induces hair-pulling and brick lobbing.

For the second straight game the Yankees had plenty of chances with runners in scoring position, but came up with a hit in just one of 16 chances. To which I say: eh. It happens sometimes. The A lineup wasn’t in, so a poor or slumping hitter was just a couple of batters away at all times. The game would have been much more frustrating, though probably a bit quicker, had they gone, say, 1 for 3 with RISP.

Here’s the WPA stuff and here’s the box score.

It now takes a Tampa Bay loss for the Yankees to win the East. I don’t think it’s a big deal either way. Home field is nice, but not necessary. The Yanks will hand the ball to Dustin Moseley, while the Sox will have John Lackey make one final start in the 2010 season.