Game 74: Happy Birthday to the Cap’n

Photo Credit: Rob Carr, AP

I can’t believe he’s 36-years-old already. I was too young to remember much of anything when Don Mattingly broke in, so Jeter is the first homegrown Yankee superstar that I’ve had the pleasure of watching from day one. I don’t know what’s going to happen with his contract after the season, but let’s not worry about now. Today, let’s just wish the Cap’n a happy birthday.

Here’s tonight’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Cervelli, C
Gardner, LF
Burnett, SP

I’m sure Frankie Cervelli will fix whatever was causing A.J. Burnett to have a 10.35 ERA this month by whispering sweet nothings into his ear, so I expect seven innings of two run ball, at the minimum. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and can be seen on FOX. Yes, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver have gone prime time. Mo save us all.

Under current rules, A-Rod would have been a Dodger

Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/AP

With the second pick in the 1993 draft, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected right-handed pitcher Darren Dreifort. Despite appearing in a major league game before ever seeing minor league action, Dreifort is considered one of the draft’s most famous busts, made even more infamous because of the five-year, $55 million contract the Dodgers signed him to after the 2000 season, at which point Dreifort was 29 years old and had already failed to meet expectations. By the end of the contract they had to wonder what might have been, had MLB enacted the current draft rules a decade earlier.

Tyler Kepner has a quick three-paragraph post on the matter. It was the Dodgers, not the Mariners, that finished with the worst record in 1992. Then why did the Mariners pick first? Because, like the World Series at the time, the draft had an alternating system for the first pick. One year it was the worst NL team, the next year it was the worst of the AL. The Mariners got the lucky break and picked first, while the Dodgers got the shaft.

A-Rod, as we know, debuted in 1994, a year after the draft, and played most of the 1995 season in the majors. He would have offered the Dodgers quite the option in 1996. In 1995 the team employed Jose Offerman as its everyday shortstop, and in that year he was decent, hitting .287/.389/.375. Rodriguez fell below those marks with the Mariners, and presumably, with Offerman already under contract, the Dodgers would have left him in the minors for most of the season.

After the 1995 season the Dodgers traded Offerman for Bill Brewer, who had stumbled in his third season after pitching well in relief during his first two. The Dodgers actually ended up trading Brewer to the Yankees that year before he threw a pitch for them. If you’ll remember his 5.2 innings, he was pretty horrible. I have no recollection of him. In any case, the Dodgers replaced Offerman with Greg Gagne, then 34 years old and declining quickly. I’m fairly certain at that point that the Dodger would not have signed Gagne as a free agent, but rather would have plugged in Rodriguez as their everyday shortstop.

Rodriguez, as you surely recall, went on to have one of the best seasons of his career, hitting .358/.414/.631 with 36 homers and a league-leading 54 doubles. He also won the batting crown that year and led the league in total bases. He got screwed out of the MVP by writers who were seduced by Juan Gonzalez’s home runs and RBI. The Dodgers sure could have used that. Dreiford did pitch in relief that season but produced -0.2 rWAR. Greg Gagne produced 2.3 WAR. Alex Rodriguez, however, produced 9.4 WAR. That year the Dodgers made the playoffs, finishing one game behind the Padres in the NL West. I wonder, though, if finishing first and drawing St. Louis in the first round might have changed things. The Rodriguez-less Dodgers got swept by the eventual NL champion Braves, their own 1993 No. 1 pick pitching just 0.2 innings, the final two outs of the series.

In the mid-00s MLB changed the draft rules to award the No. 1 overall pick to the team that finishes with the overall worst record. Had those rules been in place a decade earlier the Dodgers would have ended up with Rodriguez and probably would have made more of a run in the late 90s. They had just one good year from a shortstop during that span, the 1999 season from Mark Grudzielanek, but even after that he slid over to second, making way for Alex Cora. For Dodgers fans, this must be a very difficult what-if story to stomach.

Open Thread: USA vs. Ghana

I have to admit, the World Cup has sucked me in. USA and Ghana meet in second round today, with the winner advancing to take on Uruguay while the loser goes home. Game starts at 2:30pm ET, and can be seen on ABC. Chat about it here if you want.

The complicated New York legacy of Joe Torre

He started out in the tabloids as Clueless Joe, the mediocre manager with a sub-.500 record who wouldn’t put up a fight against George Steinbrenner. On the way to a bitter divorce, he became one of the Yanks’ all-time winningest managers with four World Series championships to his name. Along the way, he managed the biggest post-season collapse in baseball history and watched his once-reliable team sputter through some Octobers. Then he burned many in a book and hasn’t been back since.

Last night, that man — Joe Torre — found himself in an odd position. For the first time since leaving New York amidst the turmoil of a midge-inspired playoff to the Indians in 2007, Torre faced off against his old teammates. The coverage has see-sawed from bittersweet to hyperbolically over the top. In other words, it’s just another day in the world of New York sports.

Two of the better takes come from opposing sides of the Torre Divide. Buster Olney, in a piece to which Joe linked yesterday, looks at Torre’s “bittersweet reunion” with his former team while Mike Vaccaro remembers the good times. Nothing sums up the city’s mixed feelings over Joe Torre better than those two conflicting takes. Is his legacy The Yankee Years, a book I called unnecessary last year? Or is his legacy the return to greatness for a Yankee franchise that had been saddled by George Steinbrenner?

As is often the case, the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but there appears to be a growing sense among Yankee fans that Joe Torre outlived his welcome in New York City. He was never as good a manager by himself as he was when he had a strong cast of supporting coaches. In fact, after Don Zimmer’s departure following the 2003 World Series, Torre seemed to lose a lot of his golden touch. Working with flawed teams, he reached the playoffs every year, but after the 2004 collapse, he couldn’t guide the team past the first round.

While pondering Torre yesterday, I asked my Twitter followers if they thought Joe should have been fired after 2004 instead of after 2007. Even though we could argue that the 2004 Red Sox were a far superior team to their 2004 New York counterparts, the Yankees were up 3-0 and couldn’t put the team away. Mariano Rivera struggled to close the door in Game 4, but Torre then went with Tom Gordon in the 8th inning of Game 5 to disastrous effect. Mo had to get six outs anyway, and he couldn’t squeeze out of a first-and-third, no-out jam.

The responses were varied. Some thought Torre should have been fired after 2003 when he went with Jeff Weaver over Mariano Rivera in the 11th inning of a pivotal Game 4. Others thought that if not 2004, maybe after 2006 when he dropped A-Rod in the batting order and generally seemed to have no idea how to escape from Detroit. By the time the midges descended on Cleveland and Torre didn’t want to waste a mound visit to try to pull his team off the field, the ship had sailed. The Yankees weren’t going to fire Torre outright, but they weren’t going to play nice either.

After the book came out, sentiment turned against Saint Joe. He burned Alex Rodriguez, the player with which the team has a love-hate relationship but who drives fans to the team; he threw Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown, admittedly easy targets, under the bus; he slammed Brian Cashman. It was an ugly, ugly affair.

Today, I have very mixed feelings about Joe Torre. As last year’s team and this year’s show, the Yanks don’t need that Joe win; they have another one who is perfectly capable at handling the team’s owners, the New York media, and his high-priced superstars with their fragile and not-so-fragile egos. Yet, I’ll always have a soft spot for Torre. He came onto the scene after 12-year-old Ben lived through his most heartbreaking moment as a Yankee fan, and then, Torre turned the team into winners. He had a way with the Yanks that made him a commanding and comforting presence. I wasn’t, though, sad to see him go. He had outlived his time in New York and burned a bridge with that book.

When Mariano Rivera took the mound last night and threw 10 of 13 pitches for strikes, as the Dodgers’ 4-5-6 hitters failed to put a ball on play, Torre grew disgruntled. His team had beaten him, and it was great.

Mariners have been scouting Yanks’ farm system

This one should come as no surprise, but the Mariners have scouted the Yankees’ farm system in advance of a potential Cliff Lee trade. The Yanks have, in turn, scouting Lee, but it’s nothing more than routine coverage of a pitcher they intend to pursue as a free agent. Yesterday we heard that the Bombers just weren’t focusing on the lefty right now given the strength of the team’s starting five, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be prepared and cover all their bases. The Indians received four prospects when they dealt CC Sabathia two years ago, so we have to assume that’s the blueprint for any Lee trade.

Sabathia, A-Rod carry Yanks to 2-1 win

Despite their storied histories and long-time rivalry, the Yankees and Dodgers had played each other just three times since 1981 prior to Friday night. The Joe Torre sideshow will remain just that in this space, there’s really no need to rehash it all. The Yankees captured game one of the weekend set because their best players played the best, and will wake up Saturday with a three game lead in the AL East following Boston’s loss to the Giants and Edwin Jackson’s fugly no-hitter against the Rays.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill, AP

That’s For Hitting Me Eighth

One of the bigger stories in Yankeeland over the last few weeks has been Alex Rodriguez and the state of his surgical repaired hip. Even though his latest ailment was touted as having nothing to do with the surgery, there’s obvious concern anything that part of his body misbehaves. He missed a few games, then finished off the last five games of the last homestand by going 2-for-18. With his overall season production down, questions about A-Rod‘s bat and long-term outlook started to arise.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill, AP

Thankfully, Alex’s bat has come back to life on this west coast trip. He whacked a homer and a double and reached base eight times in the three games in Arizona, and his 2nd inning double led to the Yanks’ first run in this game. The score remained tied at one until the 6th, when A-Rod seemingly decided that enough was enough; he was going to take matters into his own hands. Vicente Padilla had been screwing around with his 55 mph rainbows all game and had largely kept the Yanks off balance, but Alex jumped all over a first pitch fastball, sending it halfway up the leftfield bleachers for a solo shot and a one run lead that was never relinquished. Manny Ramirez literally took two steps back on the ball before abandoning hope.

A-Rod has now reached base safely in nine of his last 13 times to the plate, and any questions about his health have largely been answered.

Big Stoppa

It’s nice have a true ace, isn’t it? Sure, CC Sabathia starts off pretty much every year a little slow, but once the big guy hits his stride, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Coming into Friday’s game, he had allowed just eight runs and 30 baserunners in 29 innings this month, going 4-0 in four starts. Despite some early command issues, Sabathia completed eight innings for the second time in as many starts and the fourth time this season, limiting the Dodgers to a first inning run and just four hits.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill, AP

As has been his forte, Sabathia got stronger as the game went on, finishing off his final batter with a slider after four straight fastballs that clocked in at 94, 96, 96, and 95. He never faced more than four batters in an inning after the 4th. The Dodgers found it impossible to get the ball elevated, making 13 of their 17 non-strikeout outs on the ground, which is not a good way to generate offense. Games played on June 25th don’t qualify as “big,” but this one had a little extra electricity too it, and Sabathia fed off it. He was, quite simply, the man.

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit of That

The camera angle during the YES broadcast completely sucked. Far too low to be centered that much behind the plate. You practically had to look through the pitcher’s legs on the mound to see the strike zone. I knows there’s nothing they can do about it since that’s probably where the Dodgers told them to set up, but hopefully FOX and ESPN have better angles the next two days.

Manny drove in the Dodgers’ only run of the game. Of course he did.

Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill, AP

I know it didn’t cost CC in the 2nd, but walking the pitcher with a man on first and two outs is just awful. I’d rather see the pitcher lace a double into the gap than draw a walk. At least he has to work for that.

On the other hand, you gotta love Sabathia sticking up for Robbie Cano. Padilla plunked Cano, the hottest hitter in the game, so CC plunked Padilla, stared him down as he walked to first, and then got the next batter to ground into an inning ending double play. Awesome.

Jorge Posada had just one hit tonight, but he scalded the ball three times. His health has been an issue recently as well, but like A-Rod, he’s been up to the task on the road trip.

Brett Gardner made the third out of an inning twice, failing to clear to the pitcher. No, it’s not the end of the world, but it irks me.

How do you think Joe Torre felt when he saw Mariano Rivera coming out of the bullpen to face his team? Contrary to the saying, the grass is not always greener on the other side. Mo struck out the side and lowered his ERA to 0.99. Champagne rained down from the heavens, doors opened by themselves, and velvet ropes parted.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Nice and easy, I approve. MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs some other stuff.

Up Next

Game two of this series will take place Saturday evening as part of FOX’s raid of prime time slots. A.J. Burnett will take on Hiroki Kuroda, who’s have a damn fine season (3.06 ERA, 3.69 xFIP). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET.

Culver debuts, but Montero is the star of the day

First of all, make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread. Secondly, here’s some notes…

  • Baseball America dubbed Jose Ramirez the system’s big climber (sub. req’d), noting that with “a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a quality changeup, Ramirez has the stuff and the command to breeze through the Class A levels.”
  • Meanwhile, Dellin Betances made his third consecutive appearance on the Prospect Hot Sheet. Brandon Laird gets some love In The Team Photo section.
  • David Adams suffered a setback in his return from an ankle injury, and there’s no timetable for his return. For shame.
  • John-Ford Griffin retired. He was the Yanks’ first round pick in 2001 (23rd overall, $2.2M bonus) before being traded to Oakland in the big Ted Lilly-Jeff Weaver-Jeremy Bonderman trade in 2002, and he eventually reached the bigs with Toronto in 2005. JFG had a monster junior season at Florida State, hitting .450/.542/.797 with 50 BB (23 K), 11 SB, and 19 HR in 65 games.

Triple-A Scranton (9-0 beat down of Rochester)
Justin Christian, LF & Reid Gorecki, CF: both 2 for 5, 1 K – Christian drove in two & scored another … Gorecki went deep, drove in three scored another run
Eduardo Nunez, SS & Rene Rivera, DH: both 0 for 4 – Nunez drew a walk, stole a base & K’ed
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 5, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 1 K – he also threw out the only runner that attempted to steal base
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, 3B: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB – after an 0-for-23 start to his Yankee career, he’s four for his last ten
Greg Golson, RF: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K – three for his last 29 (.103)
Romulo Sanchez: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 3-5 GB/FB – 65 of his 99 pitches were strikes … he retired the last 20 men he faced … helluva outing right there
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – six of his 11 pitches were strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 12 of his 17 pitches were strikes (70.6%)

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