The Official RAB Bracket Challenge

If you’re a sports fan it’s hard not to get swept up in March Madness. It’s the first competitive playoff sports action since the Super Bowl, and the knockout format usually leads to big-time upsets, Cinderella teams and high drama. Last year, 5.9 million people filled out brackets on ESPN.com alone, so we’re introducing our own first official RAB Bracket Challenge. Entering is free and easy. You have to create a bracket entry on ESPN.com and join our group, which you can find here.

No contest is complete without prizes, so we’re offering RAB gear to the top three entries. Third prize is an RAB mug or tote bag, second prize is an RAB T-Shirt and first prize is an RAB Hoodie. The deadline to finalize your bracket is tipoff on Thursday afternoon, and we’ll be checking in frequently throughout the tournament with group scoreboard updates. Join today and show the RAB community what you know. Feel free to leave your questions and/or predictions in the comments.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 12th, 2012

Record Last Week: 3-5 (23 RS, 34 RA)
Spring Training Record: 5-5 (38 RS, 43 RA)
Opponents This Week: vs. Astros (Mon.), vs. Red Sox (Tues. on YES/MLBN), @ Blue Jays (Weds.), @ Nationals (Thurs. on MLBN), vs. Nationals (Fri. on YES), vs. Astros (Sat. on YES/MLBN), @ Orioles (Sun. on MLBN)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

Spring Training Samples

Bust. (AP)

The obvious pro of Spring Training is that baseball is back! Horray! Baseball players! They are truly wonderful and amazing creatures, capable of feats none of us could ever accomplish. I once attempted to play second base in the local rec softball league, constantly mentally telling myself to just do it exactly like Robinson Cano does. As you can imagine, this did not work out, and not only did I make a total idiot of myself, but a ground ball took a funny bounce, destroyed my shin, and had me limping for the rest of the day. After that, I decided to stick to writing about and watching baseball.

Anyway, even in Spring Training, most of the players could probably whoop us, even the veteran double-A guys who don’t know what else to do with themselves. They’re rusty, especially the big-timers like Sabathia. And I think getting on them for having a first poor Spring Training outing is, quite frankly, a little stupid.

First of all, the whole point of Spring Training is to get back into the groove. Baseball’s all timing, and when someone hasn’t thrown a ~90 MPH ball of cork at you in months, it can take some time to get used to that again. Likewise, if you haven’t thrown that ball in a while – not at full speed, facing a live batter, of course – it takes time to put all the parts back together. Throwing a baseball is a complex biomechanical action, and I’m not holding it against anyone who takes a few weeks to get back into the swing of things, consider the minuscule percentage of people who can even figure out what the correct swing of things is.

Secondly, one outing in any event should be treated as too small a sample to judge, and an outing of two innings should be a mere blip on the radar. If it doesn’t count, that seems like it should be even more insignificant on the ‘things Yankees fans should worry about from the team’ checklist. Even if Sabathia had gone out and bombed two innings in a regular season game, there’s simply not enough to worry about.

So, can we stop getting on Nova, Sabathia and Cano for not being able to put it together just yet? They’ve been playing baseball for a week. It doesn’t count. They’re obviously (ok, according to Girardi, not Nova) going to be in the lineup/rotation. It’s not like we’re dealing with scrubs who, if they don’t perform in the spring, aren’t going to be on the team. These guys are using Spring Training to experiment, re-adjust and recalibrate themselves to being utterly awesome. A little turbulence should be expected, in my humble opinion. So chill out.

On the flip side of this, if you do make it your goal in life to be stressed out about five Spring Training innings from your fourth place Cy Young finisher from last year, I have a better place for you to put those feelings. This feeling-adjustment fulfills all the necessary requirements of irrational Spring Training rage: A) The players in question are playing way differently than they’re expected. B) The samples sizes are extremely small. C) We know if they’re going to the Yankees or not.

1. Gus Molina (3-for-3)

Here we have a catcher with some potential, making very good contact and getting on base. Quite frankly, I don’t even know why we bother with Russell Martin behind the plate. It’s obvious Martin has all the power (he’s 2-for-8 with a double and 3 strikeouts) and none of the other skills. He might work out better at first base, because while him and Mark Teixeira have similar numbers, Martin has all the power.

2. Jose Gil (2-for-3)

On second thought, let’s just release Mark Texieira and put Gil at first base. He’s raking in spring training, with two doubles, an RBI, and a walk. That’s the making of a potential MVP right there, I think. Especially considering that he probably won’t bunt as much as Teixeira has been talking about doing. No bunting allowed. Ever.

3. Dan Burawa (0.00 ERA)

Really, those shiny zeroes say it all. Here we have a genuine ace who’s going to toil away at some minor league level where no one can appreciate his genius. Obviously, what the Yankees should do is demote Nova and put Burawa in his pace. While the man has given up three hits, he’s also got a strikeout and generates plenty of groundballs to make a successful job in the majors. Anyone who has a 0.00 ERA is pretty good. Exhibit A: Nick Swisher.

Levine: $189 million plan includes Cano and Granderson

Roughly three-quarters of the emails we receive concern various aspects of the $189 million luxury cap for 2014. How will the Yanks get below this? we’re asked. Can they do it with Player X and Player Y? The most frequent of these questions center on Robinson Cano and, to a slightly lesser extent, Curtis Granderson, both of whom become free agents after the 2013 season. Yankees President Randy Levine spoke to Jon Heyman, and he seems to believe the Yankees can retain both. “The plan contemplates (Robinson) Cano, (Curtis) Granderson and a full championship team,” Levine said. It is certainly possible, but little will have to go wrong in the Yankees’ plan for them to achieve that goal.

Pineda up to 93 mph

According to Erik Boland, Michael Pineda reached 93 with his fastball during the first inning of his appearance today. That’s a tick faster than he threw this past Monday, when he topped out at 91 mph. That’s a bit reassuring, at least. It goes along with what Dave Cameron wrote on FanGraphs on Tuesday, noting that Pineda is not a guy who has to fire bullets every single time. Relatedly, it’s interesting to hear that Brian Cashman mentioned that he’d read Cameron’s article (via Bryan Hoch).

Where Are They Now: Steve Swindal

Swindal and Joe Torre in 2007. (Bukaty/AP)

Five years ago, Steve Swindal was the heir apparent to the Yankees. The husband of Jennifer Steinbrenner and a general partner of the team since 1998, Swindal had been appointed George Steinbrenner‘s successor back in 2005. That plan changed in early-2007, when he was arrested for DUI and Jennifer filed for divorce a month later. The team bought out his ownership stake that November, and The Boss instead handed the reigns to his son Hal.

After his time with the Yankees ended, Swindal served as the head of a marine towing company in Florida for a while. He’s now back in baseball though, having launched a youth academy in the Dominican Republic with Abel Guerra (the Yanks’ former VP of International Ops) and Hans Hertell (former U.S. ambassador to the D.R.) in 2009 according CBS New York. They house, feed, train, and educate young prospects in exchange for a portion of their future signing bonuses. More than 40 prospects have gone on to sign with a big league club after a stint at Swindal’s academy. “[It’s] the nicest academy of any agent,” said Rafael Perez, MLB’s director of Dominican operations. “And they produce a lot of players.”

Swindal’s son still works for the team in stadium operations (in the Bronx), and his daughter Haley sings the national anthem before games a few times a year. There doesn’t appear to be any animosity on either side, and in fact Swindal was at the club’s Spring Training complex last weekend. “I’m always going be pulling for the Yankees,” he said. “That’s never going to go away.”

As Ben wrote soon after the DUI and divorce, Swindal was seen as the perfect heir to Steinbrenner’s throne back then. “Swindal was everything that George was and more,” he wrote. “He exhibited the same win-at-all-monetary-costs attitude that Yankee fans have come to crave, but he also exhibited a whole lot of Baseball Smarts. He knew the value of constructing a Major League team through sound investment and an organization that could develop a steady stream of home-grown players to complement the free agent signings.”

That all sounds well and good, but we’ll never know how the course of Yankees history would have changed had Swindal taken over the team as planned rather than Hal. Perhaps all this talk of getting under the luxury tax threshold in 2014 would not exist, or perhaps the reduced payroll would have happened years ago. It’s hard to complain about the team right now, but there’s still that what-if element. “It’s a strange turn,” said Swindal to CBSNY. “Life is going to be full of turns and changes. It’s how you deal with it that’s important. I had the best ten years of my life with the Yankees, of my professional life. I don’t regret a minute of it.”

[h/t HBT]