Open Thread: Big Changes in Little Boston

My favorite part? The fat Josh Beckett.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for this rainy Friday night in New York. The NLDS resumes at 8pm ET on TBS (Greinke vs. Garcia), at that’s pretty much it. The NHL schedule seems to have either 15 games or two games on a given night so far. Eh, whatever. You all know what to do, so have at it.

Noesi to start in winter ball

Via Kevin Goldstein, Hector Noesi is in the rotation for the Tigres de Licey of the Dominican Winter League. The season starts today, and he’ll make his debut on Monday.

Noesi threw just 81 innings this season between the majors and minors because of bullpen duty, half of the 160.1 IP he threw in 2010. Winter ball should allow him to get another 40-50 IP before calling it an offseason. Noesi figures to be a rather prominent member of the pitching staff next season, either as a starter or reliever. The winter ball stint will help ensure that his innings limit isn’t much of a hassle.

The Yankees don’t want the Yankees to be called the Yankees anymore

Via Paul Sokoloski, the Yankees have informed their minor league affiliates in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Tampa, and Staten Island that they want them to drop “Yankees” as their nickname. “There’s only one team they want as the Yankees,” said Jim Timlin, chairman of the Lackawanna County Stadium Authority board in Northeast Pennsylvania. “And they live in the Bronx.”

“It was a recommendation,” added Timlin. “We don’t have to listen to them. But it would be a good idea to go along with them. The Yankees, when they come back [to Scranton] in 2013, may have a different name. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre-something. The naming rights are up for grabs.” The Triple-A Scranton franchise will play all of their 2012 home games on the road as PNC Field undergoes $40M worth of renovations.

There’s something fishy going on here, no? The Yankees just offloaded their stake in the Staten Island franchise, and now asked them to change their name. Meanwhile, they’re purchasing the SWB franchise … and are still asking them to change their name. I’m sure there’s some weird legal reason behind it, but it just seems off from where I sit.

What Went Right: Jesus Montero

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Yankees had an ace up their sleeve all season. An ace capable of doing almost anything they wanted. Need a bat? A pitcher? Something else? Whatever the Yankees needed, Jesus Montero could give it to them. They had the option to insert him into the lineup if the offense needed help, and they also had the option of trading him for an arm if the pitching staff needed reinforcement. Thankfully, the pitching held up and the Yankees held on to Jesus.

The 21-year-old Montero started the season back with Triple-A Scranton, where he’d spent the previous year posting a .375 wOBA with a career high 21 homers in 123 games. He started the year off with a strong April (.365/.360/.473) even though he didn’t draw a single walk, but stumbled through May and early-June (.254/.327/.328). That led to inevitable questions about pretty much everything. His work ethic, his talent, his future with the team, you name it and it was questioned after the worst 205 plate appearance stretch of his career.

The Yankees benched Montero for two games in June due to a “lack of energy,” a few days after returning from an eye infection, fueling the narrative that he was bored with Triple-A life. Pretty much every prospect analyst dropped him in their midseason rankings. Brian Cashman admitted that Montero was a better option than incumbent backup catcher Frankie Cervelli shortly thereafter, but said the team was leaving him in the minors so he could play every single day. It was easy to twist that around and say he was being punished for the poor two months.

Montero returned to the lineup on June 13th, and like he’d done everywhere else in his career, he hit. A homerun in his first game back. Another hit the next day. Then again the next day. And again and again and again. After the benching, Montero hit .314/.376/.533 with 15 homers in 287 plate appearances, a batting line that looks an awful like the .314/.371/.511 he hit from 2007-2010, the first four years of his career. The second half surge put his final season numbers at .288/.348/.467 (.356 wOBA), and yet he had remained in Triple-A even though the Yankees were having serious DH problems at the big league level.

The Yankees finally righted a wrong (depending on who you ask) on September 1st, promoting Montero to the big leagues for the first time. They didn’t hold him back either, he started that night at DH in Fenway Park against Jon Lester in a game where a win would have tied the two teams atop the AL East. Montero’s first career at-bat came with the bases loaded in the first inning, but Lester struck him out. He didn’t have a hit that night, but he did get hit by a pitch in his fifth trip to the plate, and later came around to score the eventual winning run. An 0-for-4 debut is never fun, but it wasn’t completely unproductive.

Used primarily as the regular DH against left-handers, Montero picked up his first career knock in his second career game, a single to left off Ricky Romero. The next day came his first career two-hit game, and the day after that came his first two career homeruns. Both came off Orioles reliever Jim Johnson, a sinkerball specialist (61.5% ground ball rate) that had given up just one homer to a righty in the last calendar year. Montero hit both out to deep right field, showing off the opposite field power we’d heard so much about.

During the final month of the season, Montero hit .328/.406/.590 with four homers (Jered Weaver and Junichi Tazawa gave up the other two) in 69 plate appearances, earning a place on the postseason roster. He only batted twice in the ALDS, picking up hits in the late innings of New York’s Game Four blowout win. The Yankees only let him catch three times after the call-up, a gentle little reminder that there are still questions about his defense behind the plate. There are no questions about the bat though, Montero’s been hitting since the day the Yankees signed him, and his late season showing all but guarantees him a regular lineup spot in 2012, and hopefully many years beyond that.

Granderson, Cano headline MLB roster for tour of Taiwan

Via Sweeny Murti, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are headlining a team of MLB players that will tour Taiwan from November 1st-6th, and compete against the Chinese Taipei national team. MLB has done oversees tours like this for a long time, mostly involving Japan.

I haven’t seen the full roster yet, but based on what I’ve been able to gather on Twitter, some other players that will make the trip include Jeremy Guthrie, Dillon Gee, Ross Detwiler, Erick Aybar, Jeff Mathis (hah), Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonifacio, and former Yankees Jose Veras and Mark Melancon. I’m happy Grandy and Cano are going, but I’m even happier that none of the Yankees pitchers are.

What Went Right: Bartolo Colon

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

Like a boss. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The panic set in as soon as Cliff Lee agreed to rejoin the Phillies in early-December, and then it multiplied when Andy Pettitte officially announced his retirement a few weeks later. The free agent pitching well dried up almost instantaneously, leaving the Yankees to scramble as they tried to fill out their rotation. They finally made a move in late-January, signing the long forgotten Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract.

“It’s nice to see the Yankees going after reclamation projects as back of the rotation possibilities,” wrote Joe at the time of the signing, “but I find it nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Colon can help the team.” I felt the same way, and I’m sure many of you did as well. But hey, it was a minor league contract with no risk, and the Yankees had the benefit of Tony Pena‘s input after he managed Colon during winter ball. The Yankees had nothing to lose but time.

Colon started the first game of the Grapefruit League schedule in February, and something weird happened. He came out throwing bullets. I mean 93-94 mph with the four-seamer, plus a two-seamer that ran all over the place. Bart looked healthy and strong, and he continued to not just pitch well in camp, but show stuff that could get big league hitters out. When time came to trim down the roster, the Yankees decided to go with Freddy Garcia as their fifth starter, but Colon had made the team as a reliever.

The bullpen role was short lived. After three impressive long-relief outings in April, Colon moved into the rotation as Phil Hughes went down with what was then a mystery shoulder ailment. His first start came on April 20th in Toronto, when he gave the Yankees 6.2 innings of two-run ball. Colon struck out seven and walked just two, raising his season K/BB to 20/5 in just 18 IP. Seven days later he dominated the White Sox (8 IP, 1 R), and five days after that he held down the Tigers (7 IP, 3 R).

A few days after that start, we all learned Bart’s secret, how a 38-year-old pitcher that had missed the vast majority of the last five seasons due to major arm problems was able to come back throwing so hard and with so much movement. Stem cells. Colon underwent an experimental procedure in 2009 that used stem cells in addition to platelet-rich plasma treatment, a non-surgical procedure that took less than 40 minutes. MLB investigated the procedure because of HGH concerns, but nothing came of it. Meanwhile, Colon just kept dominating.

After throwing a complete game shutout against the Athletics, Bartolo ended the month of May with a 3.26 ERA and a 62/15 K/BB in 66.1 IP. Colon was a full blown revelation, pitching at a near ace-like level five seasons after last being an effective starter. On June 11th, however, the comeback hit a speed bump when Bart pulled up lame covering first base on a rainy afternoon against the Indians. He’d suffered a strained left hamstring, an injury expected to keep him out somewhere between two or three weeks.

Colon was never really the same after the injury, and at first it was blamed on being apprehensive about the hammy. He had his moments after returning in early-July, specifically a five-start stretch from July 19th through August 11th in which he allowed no more than two earned runs any time out. Bart hit the wall in his final eight starts, showing reduced velocity and less command than he had a few weeks prior. Ultimately, he pitched poor enough in the season’s final month to be left off the team’s playoff roster, a damn shame if you ask me.

Despite the slow finish, Bart pitched better than anyone could have possibly expected. He held up long enough to make 26 starts (and the three relief appearances in April) and throw 164.1 IP, nearly as many as he’d thrown from 2007-2010 combined (200.2 IP). Colon’s 3.82 FIP was built on the strength of 7.4 K/9 and just 2.0 BB/9, a 3.38 K/BB ratio that was ninth best in the AL. Although his ERA finished at 4.00 on the nose, it was closer to 3.50 pretty much all season before the poor finish. At 2.4 bWAR and 2.9 fWAR, Colon exceeded every possible expectation, hitting on the best case scenario as a shot in the dark minor league signing. I don’t know what 2012 holds for him, but I do know that for the first four months of the season, Bartday was my favorite day of the week.