Watching the pieces that fit fall away

As the 2010 baseball season gives way to the Hot Stove League, what the Yankees want is no secret. The club wants its manager back, its short stop back, its closer back, its long-time lefty starting pitcher back, if he wants to return, and some guy whose name rhymes with Shmliff Shmlee in pinstripes come December. In fact, Brian Cashman said as much yesterday.

“Like Joe Girardi, the intent for the organization is to have them back. We want them back. The intent of the players is to stay. They don’t want to be anywhere else. That creates a great atmosphere of getting something done,” the Yanks’ GM said of Rivera and Jeter. “If a player wants to be here and we want to keep him, and the discussions are fair and legitimate, it gets done. If things don’t work out that way, it means one side sees it differently than another, and then it can drag out. That’s also possible, too. At the end of the day, I think the recipe is all there for positive relationships to continue.”

What the Yankees do not want is pretty clear as well. They don’t want drama and drawn-out negotiations with Jeter and Rivera. “The intent will be to keep things private and work through things privately and with respect to the players here,” he said. “These aren’t your run-of-the-mill guys you have typical conversations with. These guys are legacy players.”

They also don’t want to lose out on Cliff Lee. After him, the starting rotation market is thin, and the opportunity to trade for, say, a Zack Greinke would come at a very high price to the organization. Without him, the Yankees would face some tough decisions and a very thin pitching staff, and it goes without saying that Cashman will hand Lee and agent Darek Braunecker a blank check at some point in November or early December. Whether he signs it will determine the Yanks’ short- and long-term pitching futures.

Yet, the Yankees have a group of decidedly less sexy questions that need answering and holes to be filled. We already know the club needs a new pitching coach, one who can figure out why the Yanks’ starters’ strike out totals have diminished while their home run rates have risen over the last few years and one who can perhaps reach and improve a few key young arms. The organizational depth chart reveals a bunch of other key spots that will need filling before the winter is out.

For starters, the Yankees are going to lose most of their bench. Austin Kearns’ contract is mercifully up, and Lance Berkman won’t re-up with the Yankees. Marcus Thames signed just a one-year deal and could look to cash in on a career platoon year. The Yankees too might be hesitant to re-sign him. After all, can we expect the club to catch Thames’ lightning in a bottle two years in a row?

Behind the dish and at the designated hitter spot, the lineup is in flux. Nick Johnson, Brian Cashman’s Plan C last year, clearly won’t be back, and the list of available free agent DHs will again include Johnny Damon, whose more designated than hitter at this point, Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero. Adam Dunn too will hit the open market, and although I love the thought of his blasting 45 home runs at Yankee Stadium, he’s unlikely to sign with the Yankees.

To fill this hole internally, the club could, as I’ve written in the past, have Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero share starting catcher and DH duties while Francisco Cervelli can slot into the true backup role. As long as Cervelli isn’t expected to catch 724 innings next year, the Yanks should get a decent amount of offensive production from the catcher and DH slots. Defense will remain a question.

Cashman yesterday seemingly expressed a willingness to follow this route as well. “I do have people who believe [Montero is] Major League-ready at the catcher position with a tremendous offensive bat. But nothing gets handed to somebody. You take it and earn it. He’ll have a chance to come to Spring Training and fight for something and show that he’s ready for something more at a higher level or not.”

Inside the starting rotation, we again see flux. Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley should not all be back with the organization next year, and Javier Vazquez was already out the door more than a month ago. A.J. Burnett remains a big question mark, but he’ll start 2011 in the rotation. If he can’t regain some ability to get hitters out, the Yankees will have a problem on their hands. Beyond that, if Andy Pettitte does the unthinkable, the Yanks will be faced with a starting pitching problem. Cliff Lee, then, is nearly a necessity.

Inside the bullpen, we finally find some consistency. Kerry Wood will be gone, and although I’d love to see the Yanks bring him back as a reasonably-paid set-up man next year, he could command closer money on the market. Damaso Marte, a non-factor for most of the past two years, will be one again next year, and David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan will back up Mariano Rivera.

Those are, of course, just the broad brush strokes in anticipation of an active market. We can see where the Yankees will have holes to fill because of guys who are leaving. We know the club will keep an eye on the Carl Crawfords and Jayson Werths, if only to drive up their prices for division and AL rivals. For a club that finished the year just two wins from a World Series berth, the roster will look significantly different come March 31, and the prize, of course, remains Cliff Lee.

Despite ALCS loss, World Series has Yankee vibe

The Yankees’ season came to a disappointing and premature end a few days ago, and despite what you feel or read or have heard elsewhere, coming to within two wins of a second consecutive American League pennant is hardly a failure. Sure, the Yanks are held to a different standard and they fell short of expectations this season, but there are far worse fates than losing in the League Championship Series. But I digress.

Even with the Yanks losing out on the chance to play in a second straight Fall Classic, their presence will still be felt in the World Series. I explained the ties between the Yanks and Rangers before the ALCS started, but the Giants also have plenty of Yankee roots as well. Let’s take a look …

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Brian Sabean

San Francisco’s senior vice president and general manager since 1996, Sabean cut his teeth in a baseball front office with the Yankees. His eight year stint with the Yanks spanned from 1984 to 1992, and his job description progressed from scout to scouting director to vice president of player development. It was under his watch that the Yankees drafted players like Gerald Williams, Brad Ausmus, Pat Kelly, J.T. Snow, Russ Springer, Sterling Hitchcock, Carl Everett, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada. Sabean was also running the farm system when Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera were climbing the ladder.

It might sound odd considering some of his questionable moves with the Giants, but Sabean played a major role in building the late-90’s/early-00’s Yankee dynasty.

Hensley Meulens

Meulens is in his first season as San Francisco’s hitting coach, a role he filled with their Triple-A affiliate last season. His coaching career has taken him all over the world, but his baseball career all started on Halloween Day in 1985, when the Yankees signed him out of Curacao as an 18-year-old.

Better known as Bam Bam, Meulens spent parts of five seasons with the Yanks from 1989 through 1993. The utility player hit just .221/.290/.344 in 159 games in pinstripes despite his deceptive nickname, striking out in almost exactly one-third of his at-bats. He was ultimately released before the 1994 season, and moved on to Japan, Montreal, and Arizona before hanging up the spikes in 1998.

Dave Righetti

(AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine, File)

The Giants’ long-time pitching coach (his first year on the job was 2000), Rags did it in all pinstripes. He was nearly traded to the Angels as part of a package for Rod Carew in 1980, but instead went on to win the 1981 Rookie of the Year Award for the Yanks thanks to a 2.05 ERA in 15 starts. Two years later he no-hit the Red Sox on the Fourth of July, but he moved to the bullpen in 1984 and replaced Goose Gossage as closer.

Righetti closed for the Yanks until the 1990 season, after which he signed with the Giants as a free agent. All told, Rags won 33 games in two-plus years as a starter, then saved 223 in seven years as the closer. A two-time All Star, Righetti is second to Rivera on the franchise’s all-time saves, appearances (522), and games finished (379) list.

Roberto Kelly

Long before Kelly was coaching first base for the Giants (a position he’s held for the last three years), he spent five-plus years as a serviceable outfielder in the Bronx. Signed out of Panama as an 18-year-old in 1982, Kelly debuted in 1987 and somehow earned a trip to the 1992 All Star Game despite a .272/.322/.384 batting line. Then-GM Gene Michael used the All Spear appearance as ammo to sell high on Kelly after the season, shipping him to Cincinnati for some guy named Paul O’Neill (and a minor leaguer). That one worked out well.

* * *

The Yankees won’t be playing for a World Championship series this season and having some of their alumni there offers little consolation, but it’s always interesting to see how small the baseball world is. Aside from Bam Bam, the guys up there played a rather significant role in Yankee history in one way or the other. Now they’re all trying to win a World Series ring together, but somewhere else.

Romine shows up Romine

Make sure check out this little puff piece about Brandon Laird by Bill Mitchell of Baseball America. Best of all, no subscription required!

Phoenix Desert Dogs (8-6 win over Mesa)
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K – allowed three stolen bases in three attempts, and two were by his brother Andrew … ouch
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K – huh, same exact line as Romine … neat

Open Thread: 2010 Pledge Drive reminder

Run and make your pledges now! (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

With the season unfortunately over, we can move on to some important business. Every year for the last three we’ve run a pledge drive during the season to raise money for a charity close to the Yankee family. Two years ago we raised $1,050 for The Jorge Posada Foundation and last year we raised $1,500 for Joe Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation. It’s our one good deed for the year.

This year we selected Curtis Granderson‘s Grand Kids Foundation, which is an educational-based organization that helps purchase books and school supplies for needy families, and also provides equipment and facilities to baseball programs that help keep inner city kids off the street. You can learn much more about the foundation at it’s official website.

The idea is simple, readers pledge a certain amount for each time Grandy reached base this year, and at the end of the year we collect all the money and ship it over Grand Kids as one large donation. If you’re relatively new to the site or just missed the original post promoting the pledge drive, now’s your chance to get in on the action.

Granderson reached base 189 times this season (125 H, 61 BB, 3 HBP including playoffs), so a pledge of just $0.10 per time on base will cost you just $18.90. It’s that easy, and you’re more than welcome to pledge more or less than that. If you want in, just shoot me an email at mike (at) riveraveblues (dot) com with something like “2010 Pledge Drive” in the subject line. Makes it easier to organize on my end. I’ll get back to you with the details and go from there. It’s a piece of cake, and every little bit counts. Best of all, your pledge is tax deductible!

Once you’re done emailing me your last minute pledge, use this sucker as your open thread. The Giants are in Dallas to take on the Cowboys tonight on MNF, so that should be fun. You can talk about that or whatever you want, just don’t be a jerk.

Yankees have no obvious favorite to replace Eiland

Via Ken Davidoff, the Yankees do not have an obvious candidate to replace Dave Eiland as pitching coach, and will look both inside and outside the organization to fill the position. Dave Duncan signed a new contract with the Cardinals today, so thankfully we can put an end to that speculation before it even begins. Triple-A pitching coach Scott Aldred and roving pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras are the only in-house replacements I can come up with, but there’s bound to be more.

Meanwhile, Joe Girardi said he doesn’t expect there to be any more changes to his coaching staff even though all of their contracts are up. You’d have to think that hitting coach Kevin Long will get a nice big contract extension after his work in recent years.

Press Conference Roundup: Girardi, Joba, Lee, Rangers, Montero, More

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman held their annual end-of-the-season press conferences today, so as you’d expect there was plenty of news to come out of Yankee Stadium this afternoon. We’ll surely break everything down in detail throughout the offseason, but let’s round it all up here first and digest everything before moving on.

Obviously, the biggest news to come out of the presser was the announcement that pitching coach Dave Eiland will not return in 2011, but we covered that already. Ditto Andy Pettitte‘s various injuries. Everything else you see below comes from the various beat writers, who as usual did a bang-up job today. Seriously, we’re lucky to have such a great crew covering the team full-time. Those guys deserve their own appreciation thread. Anyway, on to the chatter.

  • Cashman spoke to Hal Steinbrenner about Girardi today, and he will meet with the manager’s agent tomorrow. Both sides want to work out a new deal as quickly as possible and get it out of the way.
  • Girardi on Joba Chamberlain: “We consider him a bullpen guy in the back end of the bullpen.” Well, so much for everyone hoping that they’d let him try the starting thing again next season. Maybe in a different uniform.
  • When asked about Cliff Lee, Girardi replied “I’m sure we’ll definitely look at a free agent market pitcher.” Remember, because Lee is still under contract with the Rangers, it would be tampering to talk about him directly.
  • Cashman on the Rangers: “[They were] a locomotive that we couldn’t withstand … You didn’t see the real Yankees at that point in time, but I think the Rangers had everything to do with that. We didn’t look old against Minnesota, and that was a week before. Texas made us look old.”
  • Cash on Cliff Lee: “Bottom line, pitching is the key to the kingdom.”
  • On Jesus Montero: “Is Montero ready for the big leagues? I have people who believe that. But he’s going to have to prove that.”
  • Cashman’s bland Derek Jeter quote: “”Derek has been – and will be – an important part of this organization … There’s still game left in that guy. He’s going to be a part of this franchise. We’ll work something out.” Blah blah blah.
  • On the contract negotiations with Jeter and Mariano Rivera: “These aren’t regular negotiations. These are legacy players.” I’m scared.
  • Cash owned up to his poor 2009-2010 offseason as well: “I didn’t have a great winter last season.” He added that Nick Johnson was Plan C at designated hitter behind Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

Pettitte battled back and hamstring issues in ALDS

Via Marc Carig and Ben Shpigel, Andy Pettitte‘s back and hamstrings tightened up during his Game Two start in the ALDS, which is why he was pushed back to Game Three of the ALCS. Andy also had to cut his between-start bullpen session short, and if the LDS had gone five games there’s a chance he might not have been able to start. At 38-years-old, it’s hard to be surprised that the lefty was battling nagging injuries down the stretch, it’s what guys that age do.

It’s almost like everyone bashing Joe Girardi for flipping Pettitte and Phil Hughes in the ALCS rotation didn’t have all the information and now look stupid for criticizing him. Funny.