2012 Season Preview: All Day, Every Day

(Via Reuters Images)

When we talk about the core of a team, we can mean many things. From 2007 through 2010 the Yankees had the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. As the remaining relics from the late-90s dynasty, they led the team in spirit. We can also refer to the core producers on the team. Last year Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano were the core run producers. Still, there is one core area of a team that often gets overlooked.

With the grind of a 162-game season, teams need guys who take the field day after day. A few fragile players can fit into a team’s blueprint, but as those injury risks increase so does the need for durability. Part of a team’s core, then, centers on these guys who somehow remain healthy. After all, as friend of RAB Tommy Bennett likes to say, health is a skill.

While anyone can get injured at any time, these guys have proven their durability. That’s a big plus for any team, especially one that expects to contend from wire-to-wire. We’ll limit this to position players.

Mark Teixeira

Since debuting in 2003, Teixeira has played fewer than 145 games in just one season. That came in 2007, when he missed 27 games with a quadriceps strain. Prior to that he’d been on the DL just once. Since then he hasn’t spent a single day on the DL, unless you count his hamstring injury in Game Four of the 2010 ALCS. (Apparently Baseball Prospectus lists that as a zero-day DL stint.) In the last four seasons Teixeira has played in at least 156 games. He has become one of the game’s iron men.

Should Teixeira fall victim to injury, the Yankees do have some backup plans. Eric Chavez has been taking reps at first base this spring, as he did last year. There’s also Nick Swisher, who has played there occasionally as a Yankee. That would seemingly open up a hole in the outfield, but if Andruw Jones proves he’s viable in a regular role the Yankees could opt to use Swisher at first if a long-term need arises.

Nick Swisher

Swisher is the type of player that, as the cliche goes, bends but does not break. His injury history, per Baseball Prospectus, is actually quite long. Yet it consists mostly of day-to-day items that have kept him out one, two, maybe three days at a time. Just once in his career has he spent time on the disabled list, and that came all the way back in 2005 when he separated his shoulder running into an outfield fence. That caused him to miss 19 games. He wouldn’t miss 19 games combined in the next four years, and has missed only 30 games since returning from the DL.

In each of his three years with the Yankees Swisher has played in exactly 150 games. He has racked up at least 607 PA in those years, and has come to the plate 635 times in each of the last two. He’s lost 20 games to various injuries, including his knee and biceps, but he’s never been out of position for any significant stretch. With a greater focus on conditioning — Swisher was noticeably thinner in 2010 and 2011 than he was in 2009 — he could remain one of the Yankees’ most dependable players.

Robinson Cano

Remember back in 2006 when Cano missed 35 games — 43 days — with a hamstring injury he suffered running the bases? That felt like a long time for him to be out. The injury didn’t seem that severe, and the Yankees did downplay it to a degree. But he came back with a fury, hitting .365/.380/.635 to finish the season and contending with Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter for the batting title. Since then Cano has missed two games — two games! — due to injury. This includes the time in 2010 when Josh Beckett hit him right in the friggin’ knee with a pitch; he was back as the DH the very next game.

In the last five years Cano has averaged 159.8 games played per season. He’s dipped below 160 just twice: in 2008, because he got benched in September, and last year, when he got a couple of days off in the season’s final weeks. Considering his on-field production at a premium position, Cano’s durability has been a great boon to the Yankees.

Curtis Granderson

It might seem odd to count Granderson among the more durable Yankee players. He did, after all, suffer a groin injury early in his pinstriped tenure, and that sticks in our craws. But that was just Granderson’s second career trip to the DL. He opened the 2008 season on the DL with a broken finger, suffered as the result of a spring training hit by pitch. He also missed time last spring training with an oblique injury, but that cost him just 10 days. And, as we saw, it had little bearing on his regular season performance.

What’s odd about Granderson’s injury rap sheet is that it contains zero day-to-day injuries. It’s just the fractured finger, the groin injury suffered while running the bases, and the oblique injury. That’s uncommon, especially for someone who plays a physically demanding position.

Derek Jeter

If Jeter’s injury history is long, it’s only because he’s been in the league for 16 years. He’s had his minor dings and dents over the years, many times after being struck in the hand with a pitched baseball. But last year was the first time since 2003 that he hit the disabled list. Between those DL stints he missed just 42 games, which covers seven full seasons and parts of two others. In those seven years he never dipped below 150 games and has averaged just under 155 per season.

The Yankees, then, have a great advantage, in that five of the nine hitters in their lineup have proven their durability. What of the other four? As it turns out, with one exception, they’ve been durable in the past as well.

Brett Gardner

Gardner did miss time in 2009 after fracturing his thumb while sliding into second. He also underwent wrist surgery after the 2010 season. He’s had a few other nagging injuries here and there, but nothing serious. He might not seem durable, due to his size, but he’s managed to stay on the field for most of his time with the Yankees.

Russell Martin

Time was, Martin played almost every day. That’s usually a commendable trait, but since Martin squats behind the plate for nine innings that workload can take its toll. The injury problem started in 2010, when he hurt his hip while crossing home plate. Before that the worst he’d suffered was an abdominal strain in spring training — though it came the same year as his hip injury. He also underwent knee surgery that off-season, and then missed time last year with a sore lower back.

Still, Martin has remained on the field for an incredible portion of his career, especially for a catcher. Even last year he managed to miss the DL, sitting out just seven games with the back injury. He started 118 games behind the plate, which is good for a catcher. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him around 125 this year.

Raul Ibanez

Since 2004 Ibanez has been on the DL just twice. The first came in 2004, and the other came in 2009. The pair of injuries caused him to miss 52 games total. Other than that, he has a few day-to-day stints. They have added up to 20 games since 2004. That’s a pretty impressive track record. The biggest knock on Ibanez’s health right now is that he missed four games in 2011 with a groin injury, which is the same one he suffered in 2009. He also underwent surgery to correct a sports hernia after the 2009 season. But for the most part he’s stayed on the field.

That just leaves just two regulars. Andruw Jones has been mostly healthy since 2009, but he’s also played limited roles. It’s tough to say how he’d hold up given more playing time. Then again, prior to 2008 he had never hit the DL. There’s also Alex Rodriguez, who has been on the DL every year since 2008. It’s tough to expect him to remain healthy at this point in his career, but he is working with the same trainer that has kept Grant Hill on the basketball court for the last few seasons.

One of the Yankees’ biggest advantages on offense comes in the form of durability. Injuries can hamper a team’s production. It’s not just that they’re missing the one player’s production. The entire lineup changes, and suffers, when one of its main cogs goes on the DL. The Yankees, with the exception of Rodriguez, have been thankful to avoid that in the last few years. Again, injury can happen to anyone, but if the Yankees maintain their injury record, the offense will be all the more powerful.

SWB Yankees to be renamed Empire State Yankees for 2012

Via Mike Ashmore, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees will be renamed the Empire State Yankees for the 2012 season. The club will play all of its home games on the road this summer because of extensive renovations to PNC Field, including 60 games throughout New York. The new logos can be seen here and here, and will be featured on the team’s caps this season. They’ll go back to being the SWB Yanks in 2013. Pretty neat, guess I have to buy a hat while they’re available.

ST Game Thread: Hiroki’s Turn

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Two days ago, Michael Pineda got his first chance to show us what he had (for two innings). Now it’s Hiroki Kuroda‘s turn, the other guy the Yankees acquired on Friday the 13th. The veteran right-hander has seemingly flown under the radar this spring despite being on track to serve as the number two starter on Opening Day. I’ve been hoping the Yankees would acquire the guy for about two years now, so I’m very much looking forward to today’s start even if it doesn’t mean anything in grand scheme of things. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
1B Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
RF Andruw Jones
C Russell Martin
LF Brett Gardner

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Available Pitchers: RHP Rafael Soriano, RHP Cory Wade, LHP Boone Logan, RHP Adam Warren, LHP Clay Rapada, and RHP Kevin Whelan are all scheduled to pitch. RHP David Phelps, LHP Cesar Cabral, RHP Ryan Pope, RHP Dan Burawa, and LHP Juan Cedeno are also available if needed.

Available Position Players: C Jose Gil, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Bill Hall, SS Jayson Nix, 3B Corban Joseph, LF Brandon Laird, CF Dewayne Wise, RF Colin Curtis, and DH Cole Garner will replace the starters. Garner was battling a minor hamstring problem earlier this week, but is apparently fine now.

The game is scheduled to begin at 1:05pm ET and will air live on YES. MLB Network’s replay won’t air until 9am ET tomorrow. Like Monday, we’re going to chat in honor of Kuroda’s unofficial debut. I’m not going to stick around for all nine innings, but definitely for the first few. Fun starts after the jump…

Update: Cover It Live is having issues, so no chat today. Sorry, blame the iPad launch.

2012 Draft: Makeup Guys

(Photo via The Orlando Sentinel)

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement will change the way teams spend in the draft but probably not their philosophies. The Twins are still going to grab safe college arms, the Phillies will keep trying to hit homeruns with raw high schoolers, and the Rays will look for unheralded mid-rounders to turn over to their player development staff. The Yankees are no different, and just like the last few years they figure to again emphasize makeup in 2012.

Dante Bichette Jr. — the Yankees top selection last year — is a perfect example of what the Yankees seem to be going for. His bat was a standout tool, specifically his right-handed power, but his defense at the hot corner was a big question. He made some major strides with his glovework after turning pro, thanks in part to his determination and work ethic. Bichette is no longer considered a lock to move to first or left field, which heightens his prospect stock and potential big league value.

Talent still reigns supreme, but the belief seems to be that good makeup guys have a better chance of maximizing their talent. That point is debatable, but the team’s recent drafts (as well as their recent player movement in general) indicate a renewed emphasis on character, something they got away from for a while. Here are a few players available this June that offer both talent and strong makeup….

Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State (video)
The typical pitchability left-hander, Heaney is a four-pitch guy that uses multiple arm slots to confuse batters and give them different looks. When using his normal three-quarters slot, he’ll sit 88-92 with the four-seamer and a bit lower with his cutter. An upper-70s curveball and a fading changeup round out his repertoire. Heaney has had trouble staying healthy in college, throwing just 133.1 IP during his first two years. Listed at 6-foot-2, 175 lbs., he still has to prove he can hold up under a starter’s workload and take the ball every five days. Like everyone else in this post, his makeup is considered a plus and he’s a hard worker. Considered more of a third-to-fifth round type right now, a strong spring could result in Heaney coming off the board much earlier.

Ty Hensley, RHP, Sante Fe High School (Edmond, OK) (video)
The son of former Cardinals second round pick and current Kansas State head coach Mike Hensley, Tyler is a big right-hander listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 lbs. He’ll sit anywhere from 90-95 with his fastball and backs it up with a mid-70s curveball and a nascent changeup. His delivery is surprisingly smooth and consistent given his size, allowing him to throw strikes regularly. Hensley grew up around the game and considered very coachable. He’s committed to Mississippi and figures to be selected in the sandwich round at the moment.

(Photo via GatorZone.com)

Nolan Fontana, SS, Florida (video)
Middle infielders are always in high demand, and Fontana is one of the few players in the class expected to remain at shortstop long-term. He fits the whole undersized grinder stereotype perfectly, standing just 5-foot-11, 190 lbs. with an all-out style of play. Fontana plays the small-ball game well, drawing a ton of walks and getting hit by plenty pitches to go along with the innate ability to make contract and avoid strikeouts from the left side. He won’t hit for much power or steal a ton of bases, but he grinds out at-bats, gets on base, and plays strong defense at a critical position. That’s enough to get him drafted in the first or early-sandwich round.

Jesse Winker, OF, Olympia High School (Orlando, FL) (video)
Winker will get lots of looks this spring because his teammate Walker Weickel is a legit first round talent with a chance to go in the top ten. He’s a left-handed hitter with big power and loads of leverage in his swing, the kind of guy who could really take advantage of Yankee Stadium. There are very few questions about his bat, but he’s not a great runner and doesn’t have the strongest arm. Although his instincts help hide those flaws, he’ll likely be relegated to left field or first base down the line. His brother Joe in currently in the Dodgers organization. As expected, Winker is a baseball rat and is said to have excellent makeup. He’s committed to Florida and is currently expected to go in the late-first round or early-sandwich round.

Rhett Wiseman, OF, Buckingham Browne & Nichols High School (Cambridge, MA) (video)
A big time tools guy, Wiseman is young for his draft class and will graduate at 17. He’s been on the radar for years and had been offered a scholarship by Vanderbilt by his sophomore year. At 6-foor-2 and 175 lbs., Wiseman offers top notch speed and power from the left-handed side of the dish with athleticism to spare. He’s also very raw with a swing that needs work, and he’s struggled at times against better pitching in showcase events. Wiseman is his class president and gave up football this year so he could focus on baseball and wrestling. They’re first round tools but there is a ton of risk, plus Vanderbilt commitments are traditionally tough to break. A strong spring could have him come off the board in the first 30 picks, but he could also go completely undrafted if teams think he is unsignable given the new draft spending restrictions.

Report: Mo to announce decision this summer

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Soon after arriving at camp, Mariano Rivera went from being the world’s greatest closer to the world’s greatest troll by announcing that he knows what he’s going to do after the season … but won’t tell anyone. His tone and other comments indicate that 2012 will be the final season of his Hall of Fame career, but Mo says he will have mercy on us all and reveal his decision at some point this summer. “I think maybe it will be before the All-Star break,” said Rivera to Kevin Kernan yesterday.

“These are only games, now we are talking about lives,” added Rivera. “There is nothing better than that. That’s closing the deal … There is definitely a higher calling. I’m not a man to talk about fame or what I have accomplished, none of that stuff. To me that is good, but it is not important … If I can get hold of a teenager and tell him, ‘You know what, Jesus loves you, He cares about you and your family,’ that is the message. That’s what I want to do.”

Put me in the camp that thinks he’s going to retire, only because I’ve kinda been assuming he would retire after each of the last three or four seasons. I think it was my way of bracing for the inevitable, assume the worst each year and you’ll never be disappointed. If he is retiring, the midseason announcement would be appreciated so we could all give him the grand send-off he deserves. As much as I loved Mike Mussina, I was kinda bummed when he retired because we hadn’t had a chance to give him that huge ovation off the field and demand a curtain call and all that.

The Yankees will eventually replace Rivera the closer, someone capable of shutting the door in the ninth inning about 40 times a year. They’re never going to replace Mariano though, that aura of invincibility and comfort of knowing that he’s out in the bullpen to make things okay even when there’s total chaos on the field. There are no funny dances, no beards, no fist pumps, just class. I’ve always loved that calm, collected, and business-like approach. Mo’s retirement will be very bittersweet whenever it happens, and I hope it’s later rather than sooner.

Open Thread: 3/6 Camp Notes

The Yankees lost to the Pirates today. Season over. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Spring Training losing streak has been extended to a daunting two games. The Yankees lost to the Pirates 7-4 in Bradenton today. CC Sabathia started and allowed three straight singles to open the game, then retired the next five men he faced (including one double play). Phil Hughes replaced him and only recorded four outs before reaching his pitch limit. Joe had more on his outing earlier this afternoon.

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira all picked up one hit. Jeter also took an errant pick-off throw to the ribs but remained in the game. A-Rod and Tex also walked. David Adams and Justin Maxwell both doubled, the only extra-base hits. Brett Marshall replaced Hughes and recorded five outs, then Graham Stoneburner took over with two innings of one-run ball. Chase Whitley let things get out of hand with a three-run eighth inning. Oh, and Zoilo Almonte finally made an out. For shame. Here’s the box score, and here’s the rest from Tampa…

  • Frankie Cervelli got hit in the head by a back-swing today while behind the plate, but thankfully it was nothing serious. He has a history of concussion problems, as you know. Mark Teixeira also jammed his thumb, but it ain’t no thang. [Chad Jennings]
  • Joba Chamberlain highlighted today’s bullpen sessions, his second time working off a full mound as part of his rehab from Tommy John surgery. D.J. Mitchell, Matt Daley, and Freddy Garcia all threw sides today while Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos, Rafael Soriano, and Brad Meyers are scheduled to do so tomorrow. [Jennings]

Here is your open thread for the night. Every local hockey and basketball team is playing except for the Islanders, plus MLB Network will be broadcasting games pretty much all evening. Talk about whatever your heart desires, enjoy.