This is a guest post by frequent commenter Steve S.
I guess I am writing this in order to be contrarian because I partially believe it and part of me wishes it weren’t true. For the past three seasons, prior to the Johan Santana trade I was a firm believer in the youth movement. Especially with regard to the apparent failures of free agent pitching and those acquired by trade.
In 2004, I thought Cashman was brilliant in avoiding Curt Schilling and acquiring Javier Vazquez (sidenote: Yankees gave up way too quickly on that one), especially considering Arizona’s demands for Schilling (ed. note: Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano). By 2005, I was convinced that Randy Johnson on a short deal was the right move, especially considering the fact that they managed to hold on to Wang and Cano in the initial trade deadline fervor. I admit I was concerned about Pavano and no one in their right mind expected Jaret Wright to work out.
As I was saying, I was a firm believer in developing pitching and the necessity to do it. Part of it was that these guys were failing, but what made convinced me was the way these guys were melting. Even Arod to an extent had been affected (thankfully his physical talent was able to overcome some of the mental difficulties). All of these guys seem to not just fail with respect to difficult expectations, but they weren’t even performing up to their normal standards. Contrary to popular belief Randy Johnson actually did well, but it was as if the minute he arrived here he went from stud pitcher to good pitcher with fundamental flaws in his delivery and his makeup. Javier Vazquez was great for the first half and then completely folded in the second half. Pavano, who most knowledgeable fans would have predicted a four ERA and probably between 10-15 wins, couldn’t stay on the field — and I say knowledgeable fans because anyone who expected this guy to be anything more than a number three starter hadn’t paid attention. And this is all when the farm system was barren of top pitching prospects.
So when Wang came up and succeeded it became apparent that the Yankees needed to change their course. Because starting pitching through free agency and trades had dramatically changed since 1996. You couldn’t go get David Cone, David Wells or Roger Clemens to front the rotation. So when I saw the reports on Phil Hughes I salivated, and his continued success made me long for this change in philosophy. However, I missed something that has now become apparent to me. This whole New York phenomenon regarding the unrealistic expectations of fans and the media and to an extent the organization is fundamental and isn’t just limited to superstars or free agents. It extends to these kids now. Whoever gets to the forefront becomes public enemy number one because there are so many revisionists out there.
This leads me to the current situation. Brian Cashman has done a remarkable job with restoring and righting this thing because the reality was that the Yankees couldn’t realistically continue down the path they were on forever. Especially in light of every small to mid market team locking up their young players to long term deals so early on (thank god for Scott Boras or else the hot stove would be so boring). As we can see one month into this, people are more than just squirming; there is a wholesale panic out there. And while it is not justified, the reality is that it is having an effect.
Ian Kennedy has been awful, but as everyone has noted here, there are glimpses of improvement. The only issue becomes how is this affecting him mentally. His comments before being sent down were the best portent of his ability to handle adversity in the New York media. And his performances have not even come close to what he was able to do in the minor leagues. Which leads me to believe that he might just be feeling overwhelmed. I think we all forget, and its even more prevalent now in age of sabermetrics and closely following the minor leagues, that these guys are human and they cant always perform the way the back of the baseball card or baseball reference.com says they should.
The same may unfortunately apply to Joba now since people are foaming at the mouth at this midseason change. If he stumbles at all, people will have the ignorant reaction to restore him to the bullpen. I’m saying this all now and acknowledging that hindsight is 20/20. I was one of those people who celebrated these moves. But now I’m starting to get weary because I fear what all this can do to these kids and this organization. I never expected people to be so quick to judgment, but I should have. And what I hate to say is that Brian Cashman should have to. By basing so much of this year, the year after the Red Sox won their second World Series in four years, on these kids the Yankees may have put the Arod target on the “Big Three’s” backs. And there is no telling if in this market, with this much money invested, whether the Yankees can fully execute this plan. The Red Sox had a third place finish; what would happen in New York if the Yankees crumbled in late August and finished in third place? The White Sox survived a year of John Danks and Gavin Floyd being awful, and now they are reaping the rewards. Could that happen in New York?
I just hope Brian Cashman has the backbone and the longevity to carry this plan to fruition. And more importantly, I hope these kids can survive this kind of scrutiny, because if they do flop, it’s going to set things back, both because the organization might start avoiding the youth again and because they might invest in what has become an even worse free agent market. And I think the blame falls on the fans. Not just on the impatient fans, but for those of us who lose sight of the intangible reality of playing in New York and the fact that these kids can sometimes mislead us when they are pitching in Scranton or Trenton.
Ed Price checked in with Hideki Matsui yesterday, and it’s tough to get a good read on the situation. Matsui, inactive for a few weeks due to inflammation in his knee, swung off a tee earlier this week and said he felt good. But the Yanks are guarded about Matsui’s condition. Team officials believe he will not be able to do anything other than DH this year, and if he doesn’t respond well to rehab, season-ending surgery will be a reality. I wonder if there are any other OF/DH types out there who could fill in for him… · (64) ·
Via The Clarion Ledger comes word that contract negotiations between the Yankees and second round pick Scott Bittle have reached an impasse after a physical showed “wear and tear” on his throwing shoulder. No surprise here, Bittle and his agent say he’s fine. The 75th overall pick threw 70.2 innings as Ole Miss’s closer this season, which is right in line with the typical workload of a top college reliever. If the Yanks don’t come to terms with Bittle, they’ll receive a compensation pick after the second round next year as per MLB’s latest draft rule change. Obviously you’d rather have the player now instead of the pick later.
Just for a historical note, the Padres discovered that Tim Stauffer had a fatigued shoulder after signing him to a $2.6M deal as the 4th overall pick of the 2003 draft. Stauffer’s bonus was adjusted down to $750,000, and he’s gone on to have an unspectacular career thus far. He’s currently coming back from Tommy John surgery. · (20) ·
Mike Ashmore of the great Thunder Thoughts site (seriously, how awesome is it to have great beat writers with blogs at the AAA and AA level?) sat down for a chat with Mark Newman, the Yanks’ VP of Baseball Operations recently. They talked everything from Mark Melancon to Marcos Vechionacci to high school hitters to double secret conference rooms in Tampa. Check it out. · (8) ·
With 71 games left in the season, the Yankees are right in the thick of the hunt for October. They’re 6.5 games in back of the Rays in the AL East, and four and a half behind Boston in the Wild Card. Overall, just eight teams in baseball have better records than the Yankees.
But for all 49 of their wins, everyone thinks something is wrong with the Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner, while reluctant to make trades, is disappointed with the season. Hank Steinbrenner blamed the injuries. And over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto noticed a lineup with only two players sporting OBPs over .350 and blamed the lack of depth. That’s a whole lotta blame to spread.
What I want to know is what’s really going on with the Yankees. Hal fingers the kids; Hank fingers unlucky injuries; Pinto fingers depth. Where’s the truth in all of this?
As an astute observer might guess, the truth is in all three of them. We’ll start with Pinto’s observation. The Yankees these days have been sporting lineups with a bunch of guys sporting less-than-stellar OBPs. Melky Cabrera‘s is hovering around the .310 mark; Robinson Cano‘s is stuck around .290; Jose Molina and Wilson Betemit, both playing more frequently than either should be, are both at .269. With Johnny Damon out, Brett Gardner and his .194 are taking up a lineup spot too. Even Derek Jeter (.346) and Bobby Abreu (.345) are sporting on-base numbers well below their norm.
In that sense, David Pinto is right. If your every-day players aren’t getting on base, it’s that much harder to score runs. Fewer runs means fewer wins. It’s a baseball fact. In July, the Yankees are doing a great job of proving this fact; eight games into the month, the Yanks have a team OBP of around .340 and have plated 38 runners — but 18 of those were in one game. Somehow, they’ve gone 4-3 in seven games while scoring a whopping 20 runs.
The Yankees are stuck with a lineup this shallow not, as Pinto postulates, because of “a clear lack of depth.” For this, we turn to Hank Steinbrenner and his finger-pointing at the injuries. So far this season, the Yankees have seen Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon hit the DL. They’ve lost Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Brian Bruney and Chien-Ming Wang. In this context, the fact that the Yankees are only 6.5 games with a record seven games over .500 is actually pretty remarkable.
It’s easy to fall into the “what if” trap, but had the Yankees not suffered these injuries, it’s easy to see them hanging in there two games behind the Rays or — dare I suggest? — ahead of them. But that’s baseball. Injuries happen, and well-constructed teams find ways to win. The Yankees were built to withstand a few injuries but not all of them. So in the end, it’s not really a lack of depth, as Pinto notes it, but the fact that players who shouldn’t be starting so often — Molina comes to mind — have been pressed into duty so frequently.
In the end, it’s Hal who seems to get it the most though. He expressed his disappointed over Ian Kennedy’s and Phil Hughes’ combined 0-7 record and their struggles. But Hal also speaks like a man who understands that building a better baseball team for a long run a year later can trump instant gratification. Talking of CC Sabathia and Rich Harden, Hal said, “We just felt it wasn’t best for the organization to do anything with those two at this point.”
But the real kicker was his promise of good times to come. As the Yankees hold on to their promising young pieces, they’re ready to augment those pieces as well. “Where we want to end up is a tremendous mix of young talent and veterans,” Hal said. “And the veterans, the free agents, they cost money. And we realize that. We are going to have a lot of money come off the payroll, and that’s going to give us some options. But believe me, we’re going to use a good portion of it to get this city the team it deserves.”
Injuries, disappointments, underperformances. It’s all part of the same mix.
Haha, it’s only Mark Brackman of the Oneonta Tigers. Hey, it fooled me when I opened the Staten Island box score, why should you guys miss out on all the excitement?
Triple-A Scranton (2-1 loss to Toledo, walk-off style)
Matt Carson & Cody Ransom: both 2 for 4 – Carson tripled, scored a run & K’ed … Ransom doubled & K’ed twice
Alberto Gonzalez: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 SB, 1 E (throwing)
Juan Miranda: 3 for 4, 1 K - 5 for his last 7 after a 5 for 25 stretch
Ben Broussard & Jason Lane: both 0 for 4, 1 K
JD Closser & Nick Green: both 0 for 3 – Green K’ed
Al Aceves: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2-4 GB/FB – 32 of 49 pitches were strikes for The Mexican Ganster, who’s coming back from a minor groin injury
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 7-5 GB/FB
Chris Britton: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K – allowed Igawa’s inherited runner to score for the walk-off loss
I was really hoping to hear Bob Sheppard announce the All Star Game next week at Yankee Stadium, but alas, it was not meant to be. The Voice of the Yankees spoke to The Star-Ledger’s Steve Politi recently and told the reporter that he will not be at the All Star Game. Jim Hall will fill in behind the PA mic instead. · (7) ·
As Bobby Abreu — the league’s least effective right fielder — blasted a ball into the right-center field gap and Derek Jeter rounded third to score the game’s winning run in the 10th, all was right in the Yankee Universe. Four games removed from a second straight loss at the hands of the Red Sox, the Yanks have won four in a row, two against the hated Red Sox and two against the division-leading Rays, to move right back into the thick of the AL Playoff race.
Today’s game had “blow out” written all over it. Coming into the festivities, Sidney Ponson had allowed nearly two baserunners per inning as a Yankee, and the Rays are a good offensive team. But Sir Sidney was effective over his 87 pitches today. He threw 6 innings, allowing five hits and two walks — 1.17 WHIP, baby. The only blemish was a Carlos Pena home run in the sixth, and Jose Veras, Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera did their thing.
The Yanks were facing an equally effective Edwin Jackson, and after plating a run in the first, the offense mustered nothing until the 10th. Melky Cabrera struck out in the 9th with one out and the winning run on third. Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada were held hitless as, one day after five Yanks each had two hits apiece, no one managed more than one. The Power of the ‘Stache — looking mighty fine on Mike Mussina — drove in the first run; Abreu drove in the last. And all was good.
As is his wont these days, my player of the game was Mariano Rivera. He threw 2 scoreless innings and struck out four. Again. Can’t say enough about Mo.
Meanwhile, for the Yankees, they needed this mini-sweep. They held the Rays to one run over two games and halted the Tampa Bay juggernaut’s roll through the AL. They’ve crawled back to within 6.5 of the division lead and face the Pittsburgh Pirates and last-place Blue Jays prior to the All Star Break. With Moose, Joba and Pettitte all lined up to start before the break, they could win three of four this week and end the first half on a very strong note become playoff buyers at the deadline indeed.
Ah, Gameday and its passive interface. You can just minimize the window and go about your regular work, and come back to see what’s happened while you were gone. Hey, it’s not like you’re leaving your cubicle anytime soon, right? Surely it’s better than watching on TV, or, God forbid, stuck in the Stadium for today’s start by Sidney Ponson.
You know, I’m not even exaggerating. In no way does Ponson deserve to be pitching this game. They hired him for exactly one reason, and that was to pitch one game of the doubleheader against the Mets. He succeeded, and should have been shown the door immediately afterwards, so we could get a relief pitcher in his place. “Thanks, Sid, you did great. Now get out of here before you go and lose us a game.”
Unfortunately, the Chien-Ming Wang injury looms large here, and has the Yankees searching for a capable arm to keep the team in games this summer. Ponson that is not. From what Girardi is saying, even if he blows the game we might see him again. Which is wholly discouraging. It’s just another decision that has me questioning whether Girardi is really the right guy for the job. To date, he’s done little to impress, and a whole lot to prove that he’s no different from any other manager in the game.
Some people apparently think something’s up with Molina catching again today and Posada DHing. To me, it’s actually a smart move on Girardi’s part (one paragraph after I bemoan him). Why let Jorge and his hurt shoulder sit behind the plate and let the Rays set the record for most steals in a game? At least Molina keeps ‘em honest on the basepaths. Plus, and I know this is a subjective statement, I feel that he calls a far better game than Jorge. This isn’t just a recent thing; I’ve long disliked Jorge’s gameplans.
Happy commenting today. And now, onto your lineup: