The Obligatory Pitching Coach Post

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees made a somewhat surprising move yesterday when Brian Cashman announced that pitching coach Dave Eiland will not return for the 2011 season. He said the reason was “private” and declined to elaborate, but there’s a good chance that Eiland’s month-long leave of absence in June contributed to his departure. Cashman also indicated that it was his decision alone, and there’s nothing manager Joe Girardi could have said or done to change his mind. That tells you that Cash’s mind was made up a while ago.

Anyway, regardless of why Eiland is no longer with the team, the Yankees will move forward and presumably begin the search for a new pitching coach almost immediately. There are no shortage of candidates out there, but as fans how do we know what a pitching coach really does? How do we know his strengths and weakness when we almost never see him at work? It’s almost impossible for us to judge these guys from the outside, but that’s not going to stop us from talking about it.

Below is a list of potential candidates for the job, but don’t take this as my recommendation or anything like that. It’s just a list of guys that could be considered and their qualifications. That’s pretty much it. Feel free to form your own opinions, but remember that they don’t mean anything. The Yanks will conduct a thorough search and interview process, and make the best decision they can based on that.

These guys are listed alphabetically, so don’t read into the order at all. On to the list…

Scott Aldred

Aldred is essentially the next Dave Eiland, working his way up through the Yanks’ minor league ladder as a pitching coach. He held the position with Double-A Trenton in 2007 and 2008 before moving up to Triple-A Scranton the last two years. Aldred’s minor league career has allowed him to work with basically every young pitcher on the big league staff, namely Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Ivan Nova. That familiarity works in his favor, but Aldred has zero coaching experience at the major league level.

His playing career is nothing to write home about; six teams in parts of eight-plus seasons with a 6.02 ERA, but that tells you nothing about his skills as a pitching coach.

Nardi Contreras

The Yanks’ minor league pitching guru, Contreras currently spends his time working with minor leaguers, refining their deliveries and mechanics with a high degree of success. He served as the Yanks’ pitching coach in 1995 before moving on to the Mariners (1997-1998) and White Sox (1998-2002) in the same capacity, returning to New York in 2005. Aside from Eiland, no one knows the Yankee pitching staff – not to mention the young players coming up through the system – better. He might be too valuable in his current role, but we can’t write him off as a candidate.

Mike Harkey

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees’ current bullpen coach and long-time pal of Girardi, Harkey served as the pitching coach for Triple-A Iowa (Cubs) before coming to the Bronx in 2008. He has no experience as a full-time pitching coach in the big leagues, though he did fill in for Eiland when he was on his leave of absence this June. The lack of coaching experience certainly hurts, but Harkey is familiar with the staff, and that shouldn’t be discounted. He might be the front-runner for the job just based on his current position with the Yanks, but I definitely wouldn’t consider him a shoo-in.

Joe Kerrigan

The Yankees’ bullpen coach in 2006 and 2007, Kerrigan has experience as a pitching coach with the Expos (1992-1996), Red Sox (1997-2001), Phillies (2003-2004), and Pirates (2008-2010). Pittsburgh cut him lose in August because their pitching staff was horrifically bad, but his reputation within the game is pretty strong. Kerrigan might not even be a candidate for the job, but I wanted to cover all my bases and at least list him as a possibility.

Rick Kranitz

The current Orioles’ pitching coach was Girardi’s pitching coach with the Marlins in 2006, when he was named Baseball America’s Major League Coach Of The Year in his first season on the job. He resigned from that position during the 2007 season and joined Baltimore in 2008, though new manager Buck Showalter is still in the process of determining his 2011 coaching staff. There’s a chance Kranitz will be let go as Buck brings in his own people, freeing him up to rejoin Girardi in New York.

Leo Mazzone

Mazzone made a name for himself the Braves, coaching three Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Those three will make anyone look good, but Mazzone also guided guys like Denny Neagle, Jaret Wright, and Russ Ortiz to the best seasons of their careers, only to watch them fall apart once leaving town. Mazzone left the Braves in 2005 and served as Baltimore’s pitching coach until being fired after the 2007 season. He hasn’t coached since and co-hosts a radio show in Atlanta.

Curt Young

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The A’s long-time pitching coach (2004-2010), Young declined the team’s contract offer this past weekend and to seek opportunities elsewhere. His time in Oakland gave him ample opportunity to work with young pitchers, namely Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden. Their pitching staff has consistently been one of the best in the league, though having a strong defense and favorable home park played into that. Young also has some ties to the Yanks, albeit loose ones; he threw 43.1 innings in pinstripes in the second half of the 1992 season. I would be surprised if he didn’t at least interview for the Yanks’ job.

Carl Willis

The current pitching coach in Seattle, Willis was promoted to that position this past August when the Mariners fired basically their entire coaching staff. Before that he spent seven seasons as the pitching coach for the Indians (2003-2009), which means he’s very familiar with CC Sabathia and top free agent target Cliff Lee. With former Indians manager Eric Wedge taking over in Seattle, Willis may not even consider changing jobs right now.

What Went Right: YES Network Upgrades

Over the next week or two or three, we’re going to recap the season that was by looking at what went right as well as what went wrong for the 2010 Yankees.

The Yankees had many things go right this year despite the disappointing end result, but let’s kick off our series by looking at the improvements made to the medium that brings Yankee games to millions of fans: the YES Network. The network hasn’t made many cosmetic changes since launching in March 2002, at least not until this year. They overhauled the game broadcasts to make them fresh and modern, leading to a more enhanced and enjoyable broadcast.

Of course the biggest upgrade was the commercial you see above, which brought the power of RAB into the homes of countless fans in the Tri-State Area. Okay fine, that wasn’t much more than an afterthought, but it still rocked for us. Anyway, let’s break down the upgrades piece by piece…

New Graphics

We provided a sneak peek at YES’ new graphics right before the season started, and they delivered in every way. The old 2-D graphics that ruled the broadcast since the network’s inception were replaced with new ones featuring 3-D effects while retaining familiar elements like the traditional Yankee blue and white color scheme. Names would pop out of the lineup as the broadcasters talked about them and Yankee players jumped out at you when featured on a statistical leader board. They managed to be both easy on the eyes and attention grabbing, a pleasant combination.

The scoreboard overlay, batter’s line, and pitcher’s line all received makeovers, including more information that ever before. On-base percentage was added to each batter’s statistical line and pitcher’s splits between right and lefthanded batters would be featured where appropriate. We had to look that stuff up for ourselves before this season. Overall, the new graphics made for a much cleaner and more informative game broadcast.

Pitch Count & Radar Gun

Technically these two are part of new graphics, but they were so great they deserve their own section. The new pitch count feature, which kicked in after the Yankee starter threw his tenth pitch, stole the show at the start of the season. I often found myself looking for it on non-YES broadcasts, and it allowed us to become part of action by thinking ahead to bullpen moves and matchups pitch-by-pitch throughout the game. It was a small addition in the grand scheme of things, but one that made a world of difference.

In addition to the new pitch counter, the once-comical radar gun received a big-time upgrade. After years of what seemed like completely arbitrary pitch velocities, YES synced up with MLBAM’s PitchFX system to provide accurate radar readings. Gone were the days of 65 mph fastballs and 92 mph curveballs. It sounds simple enough, but being able to trust the information provided was a big improvement.

Jack Curry

(Photo Credit: www.yesnetwork.com)

YES has always featured a large cast of in-game analysts, but it wasn’t until this year that they added to their in-studio crew. Jack Curry, formerly of The New York Times, joined the network this season and provided analysis during the pre- and post-game shows in addition to some sideline reporting. Curry even made a one inning cameo in the broadcast booth this summer.

Two decades of experience with the Times allowed Curry to talk more about what others were seeing with the Yankees rather than his personal opinion, something the network already has plenty of people doing. His connections within the game enabled him to speak intelligently about trade rumors and scouting reports, giving fans “inside information” we weren’t getting before. He was refreshing voice of reason as well, offering a better and more reasonable perspective than anything the network had before.

* * *

YES (and My9) carry something like 150 games a year, and it was about time they made some significant changes to their broadcast. The dull tone of the old graphics were eliminated this year, and Curry’s insight and reason was more than welcome in the studio. We all love watching the Yankees, but this improvements made the games that much more enjoyable.

Watching the pieces that fit fall away

As the 2010 baseball season gives way to the Hot Stove League, what the Yankees want is no secret. The club wants its manager back, its short stop back, its closer back, its long-time lefty starting pitcher back, if he wants to return, and some guy whose name rhymes with Shmliff Shmlee in pinstripes come December. In fact, Brian Cashman said as much yesterday.

“Like Joe Girardi, the intent for the organization is to have them back. We want them back. The intent of the players is to stay. They don’t want to be anywhere else. That creates a great atmosphere of getting something done,” the Yanks’ GM said of Rivera and Jeter. “If a player wants to be here and we want to keep him, and the discussions are fair and legitimate, it gets done. If things don’t work out that way, it means one side sees it differently than another, and then it can drag out. That’s also possible, too. At the end of the day, I think the recipe is all there for positive relationships to continue.”

What the Yankees do not want is pretty clear as well. They don’t want drama and drawn-out negotiations with Jeter and Rivera. “The intent will be to keep things private and work through things privately and with respect to the players here,” he said. “These aren’t your run-of-the-mill guys you have typical conversations with. These guys are legacy players.”

They also don’t want to lose out on Cliff Lee. After him, the starting rotation market is thin, and the opportunity to trade for, say, a Zack Greinke would come at a very high price to the organization. Without him, the Yankees would face some tough decisions and a very thin pitching staff, and it goes without saying that Cashman will hand Lee and agent Darek Braunecker a blank check at some point in November or early December. Whether he signs it will determine the Yanks’ short- and long-term pitching futures.

Yet, the Yankees have a group of decidedly less sexy questions that need answering and holes to be filled. We already know the club needs a new pitching coach, one who can figure out why the Yanks’ starters’ strike out totals have diminished while their home run rates have risen over the last few years and one who can perhaps reach and improve a few key young arms. The organizational depth chart reveals a bunch of other key spots that will need filling before the winter is out.

For starters, the Yankees are going to lose most of their bench. Austin Kearns’ contract is mercifully up, and Lance Berkman won’t re-up with the Yankees. Marcus Thames signed just a one-year deal and could look to cash in on a career platoon year. The Yankees too might be hesitant to re-sign him. After all, can we expect the club to catch Thames’ lightning in a bottle two years in a row?

Behind the dish and at the designated hitter spot, the lineup is in flux. Nick Johnson, Brian Cashman’s Plan C last year, clearly won’t be back, and the list of available free agent DHs will again include Johnny Damon, whose more designated than hitter at this point, Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero. Adam Dunn too will hit the open market, and although I love the thought of his blasting 45 home runs at Yankee Stadium, he’s unlikely to sign with the Yankees.

To fill this hole internally, the club could, as I’ve written in the past, have Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero share starting catcher and DH duties while Francisco Cervelli can slot into the true backup role. As long as Cervelli isn’t expected to catch 724 innings next year, the Yanks should get a decent amount of offensive production from the catcher and DH slots. Defense will remain a question.

Cashman yesterday seemingly expressed a willingness to follow this route as well. “I do have people who believe [Montero is] Major League-ready at the catcher position with a tremendous offensive bat. But nothing gets handed to somebody. You take it and earn it. He’ll have a chance to come to Spring Training and fight for something and show that he’s ready for something more at a higher level or not.”

Inside the starting rotation, we again see flux. Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley should not all be back with the organization next year, and Javier Vazquez was already out the door more than a month ago. A.J. Burnett remains a big question mark, but he’ll start 2011 in the rotation. If he can’t regain some ability to get hitters out, the Yankees will have a problem on their hands. Beyond that, if Andy Pettitte does the unthinkable, the Yanks will be faced with a starting pitching problem. Cliff Lee, then, is nearly a necessity.

Inside the bullpen, we finally find some consistency. Kerry Wood will be gone, and although I’d love to see the Yanks bring him back as a reasonably-paid set-up man next year, he could command closer money on the market. Damaso Marte, a non-factor for most of the past two years, will be one again next year, and David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan will back up Mariano Rivera.

Those are, of course, just the broad brush strokes in anticipation of an active market. We can see where the Yankees will have holes to fill because of guys who are leaving. We know the club will keep an eye on the Carl Crawfords and Jayson Werths, if only to drive up their prices for division and AL rivals. For a club that finished the year just two wins from a World Series berth, the roster will look significantly different come March 31, and the prize, of course, remains Cliff Lee.

Despite ALCS loss, World Series has Yankee vibe

The Yankees’ season came to a disappointing and premature end a few days ago, and despite what you feel or read or have heard elsewhere, coming to within two wins of a second consecutive American League pennant is hardly a failure. Sure, the Yanks are held to a different standard and they fell short of expectations this season, but there are far worse fates than losing in the League Championship Series. But I digress.

Even with the Yanks losing out on the chance to play in a second straight Fall Classic, their presence will still be felt in the World Series. I explained the ties between the Yanks and Rangers before the ALCS started, but the Giants also have plenty of Yankee roots as well. Let’s take a look …

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Brian Sabean

San Francisco’s senior vice president and general manager since 1996, Sabean cut his teeth in a baseball front office with the Yankees. His eight year stint with the Yanks spanned from 1984 to 1992, and his job description progressed from scout to scouting director to vice president of player development. It was under his watch that the Yankees drafted players like Gerald Williams, Brad Ausmus, Pat Kelly, J.T. Snow, Russ Springer, Sterling Hitchcock, Carl Everett, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada. Sabean was also running the farm system when Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera were climbing the ladder.

It might sound odd considering some of his questionable moves with the Giants, but Sabean played a major role in building the late-90’s/early-00’s Yankee dynasty.

Hensley Meulens

Meulens is in his first season as San Francisco’s hitting coach, a role he filled with their Triple-A affiliate last season. His coaching career has taken him all over the world, but his baseball career all started on Halloween Day in 1985, when the Yankees signed him out of Curacao as an 18-year-old.

Better known as Bam Bam, Meulens spent parts of five seasons with the Yanks from 1989 through 1993. The utility player hit just .221/.290/.344 in 159 games in pinstripes despite his deceptive nickname, striking out in almost exactly one-third of his at-bats. He was ultimately released before the 1994 season, and moved on to Japan, Montreal, and Arizona before hanging up the spikes in 1998.

Dave Righetti

(AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine, File)

The Giants’ long-time pitching coach (his first year on the job was 2000), Rags did it in all pinstripes. He was nearly traded to the Angels as part of a package for Rod Carew in 1980, but instead went on to win the 1981 Rookie of the Year Award for the Yanks thanks to a 2.05 ERA in 15 starts. Two years later he no-hit the Red Sox on the Fourth of July, but he moved to the bullpen in 1984 and replaced Goose Gossage as closer.

Righetti closed for the Yanks until the 1990 season, after which he signed with the Giants as a free agent. All told, Rags won 33 games in two-plus years as a starter, then saved 223 in seven years as the closer. A two-time All Star, Righetti is second to Rivera on the franchise’s all-time saves, appearances (522), and games finished (379) list.

Roberto Kelly

Long before Kelly was coaching first base for the Giants (a position he’s held for the last three years), he spent five-plus years as a serviceable outfielder in the Bronx. Signed out of Panama as an 18-year-old in 1982, Kelly debuted in 1987 and somehow earned a trip to the 1992 All Star Game despite a .272/.322/.384 batting line. Then-GM Gene Michael used the All Spear appearance as ammo to sell high on Kelly after the season, shipping him to Cincinnati for some guy named Paul O’Neill (and a minor leaguer). That one worked out well.

* * *

The Yankees won’t be playing for a World Championship series this season and having some of their alumni there offers little consolation, but it’s always interesting to see how small the baseball world is. Aside from Bam Bam, the guys up there played a rather significant role in Yankee history in one way or the other. Now they’re all trying to win a World Series ring together, but somewhere else.

Open Thread: 2010 Pledge Drive reminder

Run and make your pledges now! (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

With the season unfortunately over, we can move on to some important business. Every year for the last three we’ve run a pledge drive during the season to raise money for a charity close to the Yankee family. Two years ago we raised $1,050 for The Jorge Posada Foundation and last year we raised $1,500 for Joe Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation. It’s our one good deed for the year.

This year we selected Curtis Granderson‘s Grand Kids Foundation, which is an educational-based organization that helps purchase books and school supplies for needy families, and also provides equipment and facilities to baseball programs that help keep inner city kids off the street. You can learn much more about the foundation at it’s official website.

The idea is simple, readers pledge a certain amount for each time Grandy reached base this year, and at the end of the year we collect all the money and ship it over Grand Kids as one large donation. If you’re relatively new to the site or just missed the original post promoting the pledge drive, now’s your chance to get in on the action.

Granderson reached base 189 times this season (125 H, 61 BB, 3 HBP including playoffs), so a pledge of just $0.10 per time on base will cost you just $18.90. It’s that easy, and you’re more than welcome to pledge more or less than that. If you want in, just shoot me an email at mike (at) riveraveblues (dot) com with something like “2010 Pledge Drive” in the subject line. Makes it easier to organize on my end. I’ll get back to you with the details and go from there. It’s a piece of cake, and every little bit counts. Best of all, your pledge is tax deductible!

Once you’re done emailing me your last minute pledge, use this sucker as your open thread. The Giants are in Dallas to take on the Cowboys tonight on MNF, so that should be fun. You can talk about that or whatever you want, just don’t be a jerk.

Yankees have no obvious favorite to replace Eiland

Via Ken Davidoff, the Yankees do not have an obvious candidate to replace Dave Eiland as pitching coach, and will look both inside and outside the organization to fill the position. Dave Duncan signed a new contract with the Cardinals today, so thankfully we can put an end to that speculation before it even begins. Triple-A pitching coach Scott Aldred and roving pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras are the only in-house replacements I can come up with, but there’s bound to be more.

Meanwhile, Joe Girardi said he doesn’t expect there to be any more changes to his coaching staff even though all of their contracts are up. You’d have to think that hitting coach Kevin Long will get a nice big contract extension after his work in recent years.