Rumor de la nuit: Hiroki Kuroda

As the August 31st trade deadline draws near, teams — especially those out of contention — are placing most of their rosters on waivers, and the Dodgers are no exception. According to Ken Rosethal, the Dodgers have placed starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on waivers, and the Yankees are going to be interested. Kuroda is owed approximately $2.7 million through the end of 2010 and will be free agent, most likely Type B, once the season is over. Said a so-called rival executive to Rosenthal, “I guarantee the Yankees are all over it.”

With Javier Vazquez out of the rotation for now, A.J. Burnett struggling to find consistency and Ivan Nova and Dustin Moseley question marks, Kuroda would be an intriguing option for the Yanks down the stretch. Since making his debut in 2008, Kuroda, now 35, has gotten better with experience. This year, he’s turning in his finest season in the Majors, and despite an 8-11 mark, he has a 3.48 ERA/3.36 FIP with a K/9 IP of 7.2 and a K/BB rate of 3.11. Opponents are hitting .254/.303/.367 off of him, and he would be a fine option to give the Yanks’ length down the stretch.

The question though of course concerns the Yanks’ placement in the waiver line. Because they’re not in the Dodgers’ league and have the best record in the AL, the Yanks have the lowest preference for a claim. With the knowledge that the Yanks are interested, the Red Sox or Rays could attempt to block the claim, but they then run the risk of getting stuck with Kuroda’s not-insignificant contract. Anyway, this is one rumor that may have some legs.

Swisher leaves game with apparent leg injury

Update (10:26pm): Girardi said after the game that it was just soreness and not that big of a deal. I bet Swish gets tomorrow off just so he can have two full days off (counting Thursday’s off day) to recoup.

9:19pm: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game after fouling a ball off his left leg just above the knee in the 7th inning. He initially walked it off to continue the at-bat, but Joe Girardi went out and got him after two more pitches. They had to yank him just to make sure they got ice on the injured area before the swelled up. Hopefully it’s nothing serious and he’ll be back out there in a day or two.

Game 126: Payback

Alex approves. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Blue Jays got the best of the Yankees last night, with Jose Bautista getting revenge for an alleged pitch thrown at his head by homering late in the game to break a tie. Now it’s time for the Yanks to get some payback of their own.

I’m not talking about plunking Bautista or anything, let him puff his chest out and think he’s shown everyone he’s the man. He’s going to be playing golf in October one way or the other. I want to win, and not just win, but win big. Bludgeon them right from the start and show no mercy. Remind Bautista and the rest of his teammates that they’re nothing but fourth place afterthoughts in the game’s toughest division, and even though they won the battle yesterday, they were always doomed to lose the war.

Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH
Posada, C
Kearns, LF
Granderson, CF
Nunez, 3B

And on the the bump, it’s Dustin Moseley.

This one’s scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on good ol’ My9. Enjoy.

Steinbrenner stadium tribute set for Sept. 20

The Steinbrenner family announced today that the Yankee organization will unveil a monument in memory of the Boss on September 20 prior to the team’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Long-time owner George Steinbrenner passed away on July 13, just nine days after celebrating his 80th birthday. “We remain profoundly grateful and touched by the many expressions of sympathy and support from so many. We wish to thank everyone for their kind thoughts and prayers, which we continue to hold close. We are especially appreciative that our family’s privacy was respected as we grieved the loss of George,” the family said in a statement.

The Steinbrenner monument will be the first new one in Monument Park since the team unveiled a statue in honor of Joe Dimaggio in 1999. “We know we will always share George’s memory with Yankees fans everywhere,” the Steinbrenner said, “and a monument in his honor to be located in Monument Park will reflect the special connection, appreciation and responsibility that George felt for New York Yankees’ fans everywhere as they were always uppermost in his mind.”

Vazquez skipped as Nova tabbed for Sunday

Fresh off of his strong start against the Blue Jays, Ivan Nova will take the ball against the White Sox on Sunday instead of Javier Vazquez. Joe Girardi said that Vazquez will be skipped this weekend but will be available out of the bullpen. After a strong May and June, Vazquez has struggled lately. He is 2-2 over his last seven starts but with a 6.69 ERA over 35 innings. He’s allowed 11 home runs over that span, and more alarming than the results have been his stuff. His fastballs were down to the mid-to-low 80s, and his breaking pitches had nothing on them.

Vazquez had complained about a dead arm period two weeks ago, and it seems as though the right-hander has yet to regain his arm strength. Nova’s presence allows the club to give Javy some extra rest in advance of a September stretch drive. The team has not yet announced the rotation beyond this weekend, and we don’t know for how long Javy’s rotation spot will remain in limbo. It sounds however as though Nova, barring a collapse, will remain a rotation option for the remainder of the season. After all, Phil Hughes‘ innings limit will come into play shortly as well.

For two key Yanks, some looming decisions

CC delivers. Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

When the Yankees signed CC Sabathia, most news outlets reported it as a seven-year, $161-million deal, but that’s not entirely true. As we know — and try to forget — the Sabathia deal is a three-year contract for $69 million with a player option for four years and $92 million. Sabathia’s opt-out looms nearly as large as the lefty himself, but speaking on the contract for the first time, CC said he’ll stay in New York.

According to The Post, CC said he “won’t even consider” exercising his opt-out clause after the 2011 season. “I’m here,” Sabathia said to Mark Hale. “Hundred percent. I think you know I’ve built a house here, right? My kids go to school here. We live here year round. So I’m not going anywhere.”

That’s music to my ears. As a Yankee, CC Sabathia is now 36-13 with a 3.21 ERA. He’s a horse, averaging just under 7 innings a start, and he’s pitched even better in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium than we could have expected. At home, he is 17-2 with a 2.84 ERA. “You can give my wife credit for that, I guess,” Sabathia said. “Her cooking. And just being at home, being around my family and going out and being able to be relaxed. It’s just one of those things. I love being home. I love playing in The Bronx. I love being at Yankee Stadium. But just one of those things that worked out like that.”

When the Yankees signed CC, the opt-out was viewed as an incentive to come to New York. Most who covered baseball assumed that Sabathia wanted to pitch closer his home in California’s Bay Area, but the Yankees overwhelmed with him money. Unlike A-Rod‘s opt-out or J.D. Drew’s opt-out, the one in CC’s contract wasn’t necessarily about getting more money if the market rebounded; it was about allowing CC to adjust to the pressures of New York and decided if he wanted to stay. For now, it seems, he’ll stay.

Of course, I can’t believe right away that CC won’t take advantage of the opt-out in some shape or form. It gives the left-hander some leverage if the market appears strong after the 2011 season. He could ask the Yanks for another year in exchange for waiving the opt-out or he could renegotiate the final four years of his deal entirely. After all, when other high-profile opt outs have come due, the players have used that leverage to get richer. Love of New York aside, would CC be the exception to that rule?

But I’m certainly willing to take him at his word that he wants to stay in New York. He’s the king of the Yankees rotation and, after the World Series, the toast of the town (and it takes a while to tend to an organic garden in the bullpen). If he stays, the Yanks have at least one ace for the next few years, and their rotation is still that much stronger. They will still look to land Cliff Lee as a replacement for Andy Pettitte when he retires and have Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and, for better or worse, A.J. Burnett under team control for the next three years. It could very well be a riches of pitches.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Before CC’s opt-out comes due, another Yankee free agent will have a decision to make. As the Bombers head to the Windy City this weekend and as the White Sox’s cross-town rivals see their managerial spot in flux, Joe Girardi‘s contract situation will sneak to the forefront. Our own Mike Axisa tackled the Cubs question a few weeks ago, but with Lou Piniella’s resignation this past weekend, the Chicago media will pepper the Yanks’ skipper with questions about the Cubs’ vacancy. As he must and as he did to ESPN, Joe will say that he loves New York. “I’m sure I’m gonna be asked that a lot now that he’s stepped down,” Girardi said. “My focus is here. I have a responsibility to the organization and to the guys in that clubhouse and that’s where my focus is. I’m very happy here, you know what? Great working relationship here with everyone involved and I’m very happy here. This organization has been great to me.”

Girardi, though, recognizes his close ties to Chicago, and as a native son of Illinois, might he be tempted to try to manage the Cubs to an elusive World Series? “I know I have a background there and I’m not gonna skirt around my background there,” he said. “I grew up a Cubs fan, I played for the Cubs, but I’m not worried about that now. Im worried about what we’re doing now. We’re in a fight.”

I don’t always agree with Joe Girardi’s moves. I find his bullpen management a bit too by-the-books at times, but he’s enjoyed great success with the Yankees in his three seasons so far. Unless the Yanks somehow fail to make the playoffs, he’ll have an offer on the table from the Steinbrenners as the Cubs try to fill their own managerial role. As with CC, Girardi, though, should return to the Bronx. It’s just the Yankee way.

Avoiding the big bats

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last night Jose Bautista almost singlehandedly beat the Yankees (his pitching staff helped), driving in all three Blue Jays runs with his two homeruns. The first one, a two-run shot on a hanging curveball in the 3rd inning is forgivable since there was still so much baseball left to be played, but the second homer … not so much.

It’s the 8th inning of a tie game with the baseball’s premier homerun hitter at the plate after he’d already gone deep earlier in the game AND was pissed off about alledgedly being thrown at, so why does that guy even get a chance to swing the bat? Sure, David Robertson absolutely missed his spot on the deciding homerun pitch, but that doesn’t excuse anything.

Rewind back to this past weekend and even to last week for that matter. The Mariners have one legitimate power hitter in their lineup, yet Russell Branyan was allowed to hit three homeruns in the three game set. The series before that featured an injury riddled Tigers’ lineup with MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera smack dab in the middle of it, and yet Miggy hit four homers in the four game set. Do you see the pattern here? The Yanks are allowing the one guy in the other team’s lineup, the guy your game plan says not to let beat you, beat them.

Of course this is just a very, very small sample. We’re talking about an eight game stretch during which time the Yanks actually won five of those games, but the point stands. These players who so obviously stick out from the rest of their lineup because of their offensive might are punishing the Yanks time and time again. The old school Michael Jordan Defense doesn’t work in baseball, you can’t let these guys hit their homers and concentrate on shutting everyone else down and hope to win.

I’m not saying they should blindly pitch around the other team’s big bats a la Barry Bonds in the early aughts (I’ll never forget watching a game a few years ago when the opposing team intentionally walked Barry with two outs and the bases empty in the 1st damn inning), but in high leverage spots like last night, don’t even give him a chance to make to you pay. Go after Vernon Wells and his .313 wOBA since May 10th. Forget Cabrera, let Brennan Boesch and his .197 wOBA since the break beat you. Let’s see if Jose Lopez’s .267 wOBA can made you regret avoiding Branyan.

Maybe this is just a knee-jerk reaction following last night’s loss because you never want to intentionally put the winning run on base in the late innings, but when you’re talking about hitters of that caliber, the winning run is already in scoring position when they come to the plate. They’re capable of driving themselves in with one swing, like Bautista did last night. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request for Joe Girardi and the rest of the Yanks’ decision makers to use their brain a little and not give the other team’s best hitters anything to hit in late inning, high leverage spots. There’s no shame in pitching around great hitters when they have a chance to do major damage to your win expectancy, we see it happen to the Yanks all the time.

We’re getting down to crunch time here with basically no wiggle room in the division race. Stop giving these great hitters a chance to beat you in the late innings. Just stop it.