2011 Draft: Pirates clinch first overall pick

With last night’s Mariners win, the Pirates have officially clinched the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. Pittsburgh and Seattle could still finish with identical records, but the Bucs would be awarded the top pick in that case because they had a worse record last season. Next year’s draft class is absurdly deep with high-end elite talent, offering no fewer than five players that would be legitimate first overall talents in a normal draft class and about 15 or 20 that would be top ten picks (at this point, these things always change in the spring).

As for the Yankees, they are currently unable to pick any higher than 27th overall and no lower than 33rd overall. Of course everyone and their mother expects them to sign some kind of Type-A free agent this winter, so that first round pick is probably moot anyway. It’s not an ideal class to forfeit a high pick, but you always take Cliff Lee over the prospect. Always.

Game 159: Where are the scrubs?

(AP Photo/Canadian Press/Chris Young)

The day after clinching it’s expected that we’ll see the AAA lineup. After last year’s clincher Girardi penciled these names into the lineup:

1. Brett Gardner, CF
2. Melky Cabrera, LF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Jorge Posada, DH
5. Eric Hinske, 3B
6. Shelley Duncan, RF
7. Juan Miranda, 1B
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Ramiro Pena, SS

Today’s lineup has far more regulars. I guess there’s good reason for that. Unlike last year, the Yanks aren’t quite done. They’re in the playoffs, yes, but they’re still in a battle of sorts for the AL East crown. Before the game Joe Girardi said that the team is still “playing to win this division,” so he’s not going to rest everyone at once. The off-day, he said, will give him a chance to get guys two days off. Some get today, some get Friday. If they stick to this, Matsuzaka will face quite a scrubby lineup.

Javier Vazquez gets the ball tonight in what could be his final audition for the postseason roster. I think he makes it regardless, but if he bombs there has to be a chance that they leave him off in favor of a more effective pitcher. He did settle down after plunking three straight batters last time out, so maybe he’s onto something. If he pitches well, look for the inevitable article asking whether he pitched his way into the ALDS rotation.

(There is no way this can happen if the Yankees are sane, so I suggest ignoring these.)

Anyway, here’s the lineup. I guess Jeter, Swisher, Tex, A-Rod, and Cano will sit on Friday in Boston.

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Marcus Thames, DH
7. Austin Kearns, LF
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Greg Golson, CF

And on the mound, number thirty-one, Javier Vazquez.

A rotation for the next few days but not yet the ALDS

Yankee manager Joe Girardi has unveiled his rotation for the first two weekend games against the Red Sox, but while we know that CC Sabathia is starting Game 1 of the ALDS, the Yanks’ skipper stopped short of revealing the Games 2 and 3 hurlers. As Marc Carig reported, Andy Pettitte will draw the start on Friday night, and A.J. Burnett will mercifully make his last regular season start of the year. Sunday’s starter remains to be announced.

I wouldn’t read into this announcement at all as far as a playoff rotation is concerned. Any of the Yanks’ starters could pitch Game 2 of the ALDS, and I’m reluctant to believe the Yanks would opt with A.J. over Phil Hughes, innings limit and all. For his sake and ours, I hope A.J. has a solid outing on Sunday, but when the games count again, Phil should get the ball.

ALDS tickets a hot commodity

At 10:01 a.m. this morning, I logged onto to Yankees.com hopping to find a seat — any seat — for the Yanks’ American League Division Series games. After watching the Ticketmaster website do its thing, I was greeted with a “No tickets found” page. No matter where I searched, I couldn’t find one single ticket for sale. Seats, it seemed, were wiped out in the presales for season ticket holders.

Luckily for us, the secondary market is alive and well. Our partners at TiqIQ tell us that, for the ALDS, Yankee Stadium tickets are going for 74 percent above the regular season average and are selling for well above face value. That’s hardly surprising, and this is a trend that will continue throughout the playoffs. Tickets for Game 3 are going for, on average, $202 even though it’s unlikely that the Yanks will host three home games during the first round of the playoffs. The sellers can keep their profits if the Yanks do not enjoy home field advantage, and buyers can get some of their money back.

Meanwhile, RAB Tickets should be your place for playoff tickets (and, yes, we get a cut of the sales). For Home Game 1, date still to be determined, there are 8343 tickets available, and for Home Game 2, we have 9511 listings. Check it all out at RAB Tickets.

After the jump, a neat graph of average World Series ticket price vs. the number of tickets available. Tickets for the Giants, Phillies and Rangers are going for top dollar. [Read more…]

The CC Sabathia Appreciation Thread

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The word ace gets thrown around quite a bit these days. Every team has one if you consider an ace to be the best pitcher on a given staff, and it’s usually whoever is designated as the Opening Day starter regardless of merit. By that definition, guys like Zach Duke and Scott Feldman are on par with Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez. Of course that’s completely wrong, because not every team has an ace. In fact, there are probably fewer true aces than teams out there.

But the Yankees have an ace. They have a guy they can lean on in big games, that they can count on for dominant performances and scores of innings. A pitcher they can start in Games One, Four, and Seven of a playoff series on almost any amount of rest . A pitcher that when his turn comes every fifth day, a win isn’t just likely, it’s expected. That man is CC Sabathia, who almost singlehandedly pitched he Yankees into the postseason with eight-and-a-third dominant innings against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Since signing that mammoth seven-year, $161M deal in December of 2008, Sabathia has been everything the Yankees expected him to be and then some. He hasn’t missed a single start, throwing a total of 467.2 innings across the last two seasons, earning every one of his MLB leading 40 wins over that time. His playoff performance last season was simply masterful, as he took ALCS MVP honors thanks to a pair of dominant eight inning outings against the Angels (one on three day’s rest) before limiting the Phillies to five runs in 13.2 innings in the World Series. The Yankees went 4-1 in his five postseason starts, and if a Game Seven was needed against the Phillies, he was ready to go yet again on short rest.

Aside from his work on the field, Sabathia has gone above and beyond the call of duty in the clubhouse. He’s helped transform a far too corporate and uptight environment into one filled with more smiles and comradery than anytime in the recent past, and that’s just me speaking based on what I’ve seen as an outsider. He’s arranged outings to basketball games and what not with teammates during Spring Training and even the regular season, something we never ever ever saw happen before he got here. Despite all that talk about his preference to remain close to home on the West Coast, Sabathia has fully embraced New York and his place as a Yankee. For once, it’s a player with a larger than life personality that no one dislikes.

CC turned 30-years-old just over two months ago, so he’s still very much in the prime of his career. He’s proven to be more than capable of handling the workload required of an ace and then some, and he’s become every bit a piece of New York as the Yankees themselves. There isn’t enough that can be said about how tremendous Sabathia has been in his two years as a Yankee, but I want you to try anyway. Give up to the big man, because we all know he’s gone above and beyond for us fans.

With four games left, getting priorities straight

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

With a playoff spot finally clinched, all that’s left for the Yankees in the regular season is to run out the clock and prepare themselves for the playoffs. During last night’s postgame celebration, to a man every player and coach interviewed said making the playoffs was just their first goal, and winning the AL East is still on their minds. The Rays effectively have a game-and-a-half lead in the division because they hold the tiebreaker, so if the Yanks go 3-1 in their last four games they’ll need Tampa to go 2-3 in their five remaining games (against the Orioles and Royals, no less).

There’s nothing wrong with saying you still want to win the division, just for fan and PR purposes, but I hope Joe Girardi & Co. understand how much of a long shot that is right now. The 6-13 stretch earlier this month effectively killed any chance they had at the division, and that’s fine. The important thing is to take advantage of these remaining regular season games by doing a few things to improve the team’s outlook in the big picture.

Getting Healthy

This is far and away the most important thing. Nick Swisher‘s knee is worlds better than it was a few weeks ago, but it’s still limiting him a bit in the outfield. Some time off his legs won’t hurt. Mark Teixeira‘s bat is coming around, but he’s still playing on a broken toe and giving him a little bit of a blow wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. No one wants David Robertson‘s back spasms to flare up again, so there’s no reason to warm him up multiple times over these next few games. Jorge Posada is perpetually banged up. Getting the regulars some rest this weekend is strongly advised, particularly the older guys like Posada, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter. If it costs A-Rod a chance at 30 homers, so be it.

Avoiding Rust

As important as rest will be, there’s such a thing as too much. You don’t want to blindly sit players day after day only to have them rust out before the ALDS starts. Remember, there are four games and three off days (tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday) left before the division series starts, so the regulars are guaranteed some rest as it is. They still need to get at-bats to stay sharp, which is why I expect Girardi to take a similar approach to last season when he started the regulars before lifting everyone Spring Training style in the fifth inning. Give them two or three trips to the plate before telling them to hit the showers.

Line Up The Rotation

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

This one is obvious. We don’t know who exactly will start Games Two and Three of the ALDS behind CC Sabathia in Game One, but it’s a safe bet that it’ll be Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes in some order. In a perfect world, the Game Two starter would pitch this Saturday and the Game Three starter on Sunday to optimize the amount of rest each receives. Pettitte has already been pushed back to an unknown date this weekend, and after starting last Sunday Hughes’ next start should be Friday. I fully expect Andy to start Saturday and Hughes Sunday to give them some extra rest and get things straight for the postseason. I wouldn’t mind seeing Phil in Game Two, though.

Javy Vazquez gets the ball tonight, and presumably Dustin Moseley Ivan Nova would then go on Friday just to soak up those spare innings. Don’t be surprised if A.J. Burnett gets some work in on Sunday out of the bullpen just to keep him from getting stale (as if he could get any worse).

Lay Off The Bullpen

Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, and Robertson have been worked pretty hard this month, so giving them a chance to catch their breath these last four games will be nice. Boone Logan falls into that category as well, but as a one or two batter lefty specialist, his workload isn’t a major concern. With Mariano Rivera‘s recent struggles, expect him to get no more than two token pitching appearance this weekend just to stay sharp. Friday and Sunday seem logical, regardless of score and whether or not it’s a save situation. The other core relievers should expect similar treatment. Get ready for lots of Royce Ring, Jon Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez, and perhaps maybe even an Andrew Brackman sighting.

* * *

Winning the division and securing home field advantage would be pretty sweet, but that has to take a backseat to everything I mentioned above, plus other non-obvious stuff that we aren’t even aware of. Now that the Yanks are in the playoffs and there are so few games remaining in the season, it’s best just to look at the overall picture and get everyone ready for October. I’ll happily trade another division title for the best chance at a World Title.

Why the Rangers’ TV deal matters

Earlier this week, rumors out of Arlington set the Internet abuzzing. The Rangers, reported USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, were on the verge of signing a 20-year, $3-billion TV deal that would guarantee them $150 million in annual payments for the rights to their games. With a new ownership group in place and a playoff berth secured, everything has been coming up roses for the former Washington Senators, and that TV deal, towering over the Dodgers’ $45 million intake, would be the highest for any team that doesn’t own its TV station.

When the final details emerged, the dollar figureds were tempered slightly. The deal will be worth closer to $1.5 to $1.6 billion with the Ranger’s annual take set between $75 and $80 million. Fox Sports will throw in an $80-million signing bonus that the Rangers will receive before the 2011 season. Obviously, this influx of cash concerns Yankee fans because of Cliff Lee and Cliff Lee alone.

For the Yankees, Lee is the one who got away this year, and not everyone was too upset by the machinations of the Mariners at the trade deadline. Because the Mariners wanted to wrestle Justin Smoak away from the Rangers and saw him as a better fit for Safeco Field than Jesus Montero will be and because of concerns over the additional prospects included in the deal, Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik sent Lee not to the Yankees in early June but to the Rangers. The Yankees and their fans wanted to have Lee this year to wrap up the AL East and their 28th World Series championship, but they instead were willing to settle for a postseason acquisition.

With this money though, the Rangers could potentially be on footing nearly even with the Yanks when it comes to the dollars. If the Rangers see Lee as a potential cornerstore to a developing rotation and if he propels them through October to the franchise’s first ALCS or even World Series appearance, the Greenberg/Ryan ownership might be willing to part with a few years of TV profits to keep their ace. This TV deal guarantees at the very least that the Rangers will have an additional $60 million in revenue over their previous deal. The club has money to spend, and if two very rich teams want Lee, he will have money showered upon him.

Even with the Rangers’ new-found wealth, money isn’t an obstacle for the Yankees. They’ll have Javier Vazquez‘s contract off the books and owe A-Rod less in 2011 and subsequent seasons than they paid him in 2010. Derek Jeter won’t be making $22.6 million either. Plus, the team has a revenue stream that allows them to up their payroll if need be, and Lee is clearly the club’s off-season priority.

That said, the winter’s decision will likely be a personal one for Lee. Even as the Rangers cakewalked their way to an AL West title, Lee went just 4-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 14 starts. He’s allowed 99 hits in 101.2 innings, and his home run rate more than doubled from 0.4 with the Mariners to 1.0 per 9 innings with the Rangers. His Texas FIP though is still a cool 3.13, but when rumors emerged in August that Lee wasn’t a big fan of Texas, you could almost hear the Yanks’ executives rubbing their hands with glee.

So Yankee fans should beware. With the Rangers’ revenue and success, they are bound to be active players in the free agent market this year, and that market begins with Cliff Lee. Three months ago, I was ready to count my chickens before they hatched, but today, I’ll hold my breath for two months and hope that Lee wants to come to New York as badly as New York wants him.