Biz Briefs: ESPN games, Legends Hospitality, Roger Waters

Notes! Everyone loves notes!

For Yanks, first half features three three ESPN Sunday Night Baseball games

ESPN released yesterday its slate of Sunday Night Baseball games for the first half of the 2012 season, and the Yankees, obviously, will be a prime player. Shockingly, two Yankees/Red Sox games will air on the World Wide Leader. Those will be on April 22 and July 8 when the Yanks trek up to Boston. ESPN will also show the Bombers’ first Sunday night meeting with Albert Pujols and the Angels on April 15.

As ESPN reminds everyone, former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona will be replacing Bobby Valentine in the booth this season. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles broadcast duties during that April 22 meeting between the two long-time rivals. I enjoyed Francona’s work during the playoffs when he filled in for an ailing Tim McCarver during the start of the ALCS.

Dave Checketts to head Legends Hospitality Management

Long-time fans of the New York Knicks will remember Dave Checketts as the president of the team who oversaw their spate of deep runs into the playoffs in the early and mid 1990s. Now the chairman of the group that owns the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, Checketts will be joining Legends Hospitality Management, the joint venture amongst Goldman Sachs, the Yankees and Dallas Cowboys that oversees concessions and sports marketing. Checketts, according to The Journal, “envisions building Legends into an international sports-marketing and entertainment business that advises franchises on media strategy, financing and building stadiums, then helps sell tickets and suites and handles concessions.”

As long as he doesn’t pull the sports marketing equivalent of trading Patrick Ewing for Glenn Rice on Legends Hospitality, the company will be in fine hands.

Roger Waters to play “The Wall” at Yankee Stadium

Finally, I’ve saved the best for last: The Yankees announced yesterday that Pink Floyd songwriter Roger Waters will bring “The Wall” to Yankee Stadium this summer. On Friday, July 6, Waters will perform at Yankee Stadium. Tickets go on sale on Monday, January 30 at 10 a.m.

The Waters performance though is almost an after-thought compared with the teaser in the press release. “In the near future,” the club said, “the Yankees will make additional announcements regarding other major acts that will be performing at Yankee Stadium in 2012. Information will also soon be available about other sporting events that will take place at Yankee Stadium during the summer months.”

Via RAB’s Twitter account, we speculated that the additional announcement could concern Bruce Springsteen. The Boss is on the road this year, and while he’s in Europe for much of May, June and July, the Yanks are out of town from September 3-13. It would be the perfect time for a concert, and it’s hard to find an act as major as Bruce on the road this year. We’ll keep an eye on this one.

Open Thread: Michael Pineda

Marineros? (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

He hasn’t even thrown a pitch for the Yankees yet … hell, he’s not even officially a Yankee yet because the trade hasn’t been announced, but we’re already giving Michael Pineda his own open thread because today is his birthday. He’s turning the ripe old age of 23. That’s two years younger than Ivan Nova, a year and a half younger than Adam Warren, one year younger than Dellin Betances, and six months younger than Stephen Strasburg. Pineda is younger than all but 18 of the pitchers who appeared in the big leagues last year, and only three of those 18 threw more than 70 innings (Madison Bumgarner, Jordan Lyles, and Tyler Chatwood). Yeah, he’s quite young.

Once you’re done (electronically) wishing the soon-to-be newest Yankee a happy birthday, use this as your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, which sounds just awful. Talk about whatever you like here, anything goes.

Update: Please sign this petition to help fight SOPA, otherwise sites like this one won’t exist.

Vlad, Cust, and Ibanez contacted Yankees about DH job

Via Ken Davidoff, the representatives for Jack Cust, Vlad Guerrero, and Raul Ibanez have contact the Yankees recently about their now vacant DH job. Cust signed with the Astros last night, so he’s already a non-option. Joe wrote about Ibanez yesterday, so I’ll just refer you to that.

As far as Vlad goes, he’s much more name than production at this point. The soon-to-be 37-year-old hit just .290/.317/.416 with 13 homers last year, drawing just 14 unintentional walks in 590 plate appearances. His big year with the Rangers in 2010 was more like a big first half, and it’s worth noting that his batted ball profile has changed dramatically since mid-2010. He’s a ground ball machine now, which means few homers and lots of double plays. I’d prefer a left-handed batter myself, one willing to work the pitcher and not chase the first pitch in the same time zone.

The most interesting item left this winter

In terms of the 2012 team, the Yankees staged a coup this weekend. They went from having a rotation with several question marks to having one that ranks among the best in the American League. At the same time, they created something of a conundrum for themselves. What was once three spots for Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Freddy Garcia has turned into just one. While that will certainly help the on-field performance of the 2012 Yankees, it creates a difficult scenario. What are they going to do with the two pitchers who don’t win the last rotation spot?

It might seem as though Phil Hughes is the easiest to deal with here. He has experience in the bullpen, so he can slide in there and leave the last spot to either Garcia or Burnett. But at the same time, Hughes might be the best option for that fifth rotation spot. He’s still relatively young — entering his prime years. He’s working on rebounding after a poor season, and there are reasons to be optimistic about him. If he succeeds in the role, he can extend his stay with the Yankees. If he fails, the Yankees can simply slide him into the bullpen and hope he regains his mojo there. In pure baseball terms, he probably makes more sense than either Garcia or Burnett for a rotation spot.

The problem with using Hughes as the fifth starter is that leaves little recourse for Burnett and Garcia. They have a combined 10 innings of relief experience among them, and only 2.1 of those innings have come after 2005. Perhaps one of them could act as the long man, but it’s highly unlikely that the Yankees use their last two bullpen spots on both Garcia and Burnett. It even sounds unlikely that they’d use the last two bullpen spots on Hughes and either one of them.

Burnett’s and Garcia’s contracts present further problems. The Yankees owe Burnett $33 million, making it unlikely that they’d just release him. Even if they traded him, they’d have to pay him a considerable amount to pitch for another team. While Garcia makes far less, at just $4 million, his recently signed contract makes a trade impossible without his consent. Maybe he would consent if the Yankees told him he’d play only a minuscule bullpen role, but that’s far from a guarantee. It will not be easy to get rid of either Burnett or Garcia.

This all adds up to another move on the horizon, whether now or in spring training. The Yankees would do well to hold off, since that gives them time to evaluate Hughes and to adjust in case of injury. It could also open up opportunities if another team finds it needs a pitcher, for whatever reason, in March. But one way or another the Yankees will have to make a transaction or two to solve their logjam at the fifth starter spot. It’s probably the most interesting item left on their pre-season agenda.

The emotion of a big trade

We goofed with the scheduling last night, and this was quickly buried by Larry’s post on the big trade. Just so nobody misses it, we’re bumping it back up top this afternoon.

Once upon a time, charting prospects took a lot of work. In the days before instant access to last night’s Charleston stats, Gameday at every Minor League park and Down on the Farm, devoted fanatics could subscribe to Baseball America and receive stats two weeks stale. The Yankees featured an “On The Way Up” section in their annual yearbook, but the names would come and go. Dave Silvestri, anyone?

Today, prospect hugging is a national pastime for better or worse. We can follow a player from the day he signs as an international free agent to the day his Visa clears to the day he makes his states-side debut. We chart the ins and outs and ups and downs of our favorite youngsters. We latch onto players we know only through reputation, a line in the box score, some scouting reports and, lately, Twitter feeds. Most, as a glimpse as one of our early DOTFs shows, do not pan out. Yet, we hug and hug and hug anyway.

Jesus Montero had been one of those players Yankee fans loved to hug. From a system fairly barren of impact bats over the past 15 years, Montero had been heralded as the Next Big Thing since he arrived from Venezuela as a 16-year-old. He couldn’t catch then, and he likely can’t catch now. But he was a big boy and could he hit. With a solid core and quick, strong hands, he can flick balls the opposite way and pull them deep into the night. If he clicks right, he’ll be great.

When Montero arrived in the Bronx this past summer, he put on a show. At a game I had the privilege of attending, he lasered two balls into the right field seats against the Orioles, and it seemed to be a glimpse of things to come. Until a few days ago, we had grown accustomed to the idea of having Montero as the everyday designated hitter in a lineup filled with guys otherwise nearing the tail end of their 20s. Maybe some even believed he could catch.

He’s gone now, though. In the brief span of a few minutes on Friday evening, as rumors of a trade swirled, the Mariners landed a player they had wanted for a while, and the Yanks, in turn, spun Montero into a cost-controlled young starting pitcher with a stellar Minor League pedigree and an impressive first year under his belt. At first, I didn’t embrace the deal. I didn’t like the idea of trading Montero for anything other than a sure thing. I wanted to hug him.

But as I parried back and forth with other fans, I came to view the trade through the lens of the game. It was the cost of doing business. Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman took a risk, as he reportedly admitted to ESPN’s Jim Bowden. He traded a highly touted bat for a highly touted arm. Both players are works in progress. Both could flame out; both could reach their potential. He may have gambled that Montero won’t develop into a player with much defensive value, and he may have been, rightly so, seduced by the promise of Michael Pineda‘s low price tag for the foreseeable future.

It’s tough to let go, especially when we’ve followed a player from Step One of a promising big league career. The jury will long be out on this deal (and if the Yanks want Montero back, well, he’s projected to hit free agency at the start of his offensive peak). But there will be other players to hug, to chart, to track, and the risk of this trade just might be the biggest gamble the Yanks have made under Brian Cashman. Embrace that for now, and hold your breath.

Prospect Profile: Branden Pinder

(Photo via Robert Pimpsner)

Branden Pinder | RHP

Background
A Southern California kid born in Torrance and raised on Corona, Pinder lettered in baseball all four years at Centennial High School. He earned All-Division honors his final two years in school, was named league Pitcher of the Year as a junior, and helped the Huskies to the league title as a senior. Despite all that, Pinder wasn’t much of a pro prospect and he went undrafted after graduating in 2007. Oregon tried to woo him to their re-instated program, but he instead opted to attend Santa Ana College.

[Read more…]

The Importance of Gary Sanchez

(Matt Burton/MiLB.com)

The Yankees traded away more than just everyone’s favorite prospect when they agreed to send Jesus Montero to the Mariners for Michael Pineda last week, they also traded away their only impact bat at the upper levels of the minors. Jorge Vazquez has the gaudy stats, but he isn’t exactly young and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about his ability to contribute in the bigs. Austin Romine is a quality prospect, but more for his well-rounded game than pure offense. Brandon Laird can hit, but not like Montero.

With no impact bat on the horizon and a lineup that isn’t getting any younger, Gary Sanchez has suddenly became a very important cog in the Yankees’ machine. Despite being just 19 years old and with fewer than 600 pro plate appearances to his credit, he’s the best offensive prospect in the system with Montero on the way out, a right-handed bat offering power and patience worthy of the $3M signing bonus the team gave him in 2009. He’s not as polished as Montero was at that age, but their offensive upside is comparable.

“Sanchez has a purer swing and more patience at the plate than Jesus Montero, to whom he’s often compared,” said Baseball America in the subscriber-only write-up of their top ten Yankees prospects list. “Sanchez has similar raw power, too, and scouts project him as a plus hitter in terms of both average and pop.”

That raw power was on full display in 2011, as Sanchez clubbed 17 homers in 343 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston. That matched Montero’s homer output at the same age and level in 2008, just in 226 fewer plate appearances. Sanchez also produced a .229 ISO in 2011, which is better than Montero’s best single-season power showing (.228 ISO in 2010). That said, it’s important to keep in mind that the reason Sanchez had such a relatively low number of plate appearances is because he was sent to Extended Spring Training for two weeks for disciplinary reasons before missing the final three weeks of the season with a sprained thumb.

As brilliant as his hitting tools are, Montero has never been one to draw many walks or post gaudy OBPs. Both he and Sanchez drew 36 walks in the minors this season, but the latter came to the plate 120 fewer times. Sanchez’s 10.4% walk rate this year was better than Montero’s best single-season walk rate (9.1% in 2010) by a not small margin. At the same time, Sanchez also struck out in 27.1% of his plate appearances this year, which is Chato territory. Montero’s worst strikeout rate came this year and was just 21.1%. Like I said, the hitting tools are similar, but Jesus was much more polished at the same age.

Sanchez’s defense lags behind his offense, but the general consensus is that he has a better chance to remain behind the plate long-term than Montero because he isn’t as big (listed at 6-foot-2, 220 lbs.). Reports on his defense this year weren’t great, but at this point the glovework is secondary. As impressive as Dante Bichette Jr. and Ravel Santana were in their pro debuts this year, Sanchez is the team’s best hope of replacing the offense they’re trading away in Montero. He’s got the kind of power and patience needed to be a star hitter, but he also has more to work on than his prospect predecessor. Sanchez isn’t just a fun lottery ticket to follow anymore, he’s an important piece of the team’s future.