Open Thread: Realignment

I for one welcome the Astros' between innings entertainment to the AL. (Photo Credit: Flickr user AmandaD_TX via Creative Commons license)

Rumors of realignment have popped up over the weekend, focusing on the creation of two 15-team leagues. Let’s get the nuts and bolts of it from Buster Olney (Insider req’d)…

Sources familiar with the discussions to date say the talks are serious, and while one executive believes the odds of change are less than 50-50, another says this is the type of discussion that can gather momentum and become a reality. “It’s really important that the players are behind this,” he said.

There are details to work out, of course. Some on the ownership side would favor a division-less structure — that is to say, 15 teams in each league looking to survive to get to the postseason, in a structure similar to what was in place before 1969 — but some players indicated on Saturday night that the only internal discussions they’ve had center around three divisions of five teams in each league.

The Astros seem to be the obvious candidate to move from the NL over to the AL, taking one team away from the six-team NL Central while adding one to the four-team AL West. Plus it would create a geographic rivalry with the Texas. The problem is that two 15-team leagues would mean that interleague play will take place all year, otherwise one team in each league will be off each night. Apparently the top five teams in each league would make the playoffs, which is great in theory but still isn’t perfect because the schedule will presumably remain imbalanced. I’m not sure I love the idea, but I’m curious to know what everyone thinks.

Anyways, here’s the open thread for the night. The ESPN Sunday Night Game has the Reds at the Giants (Volquez vs. Sanchez), plus you’ve also got Game Six of the NBA Finals (8pm ET, ABC). You can also watch Yankees’ second round pick Sam Stafford pitch for Texas against 21st round pick Zach Wilson (he’s a first baseman) and Arizona State (7pm ET, ESPN2 and ESPN360.com). Winner advances to the College World Series. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

Montero not in Triple-A lineup (again)

Update (6:27pm): Via Erik Boland, Montero is out of the lineup because of the eye infection according to Brian Cashman. I can buy that, I had an eye infection about a year ago and that thing lingered like crazy. Still seems weird that they wouldn’t just come out and say that in the first place.

Original Post (4:22pm): Jesus Montero was again not in the lineup for Triple-A Scranton today, apparently because of a “manager’s decision.” He sat yesterday and it was described as a routine day off. I’m not quite sure a Triple-A manager has the authority to sit an organization’s top prospect for two straight days after he just missed four with an eye infection (he did start on Friday), so I think something’s up. Maybe it’s a discipline thing (he did pinch-hit yesterday), maybe he’s being traded, maybe he was still being considered for a call-up in case Russell Martin suffered a setback during this afternoon’s game. I really don’t know, but this is … weird.

Game 63: Roster Moves

Do better than last time, Freddy. (Photo Credit: Flickr user maxxum via Creative Commons license)

As expected, it was a busy morning in Yankeeland thanks to all the recent injuries. Bartolo Colon was predictably placed on the disabled list following the hamstring strain he suffered yesterday, though Joe Girardi said the MRI came back “pretty good.” I have no idea what that means, but Colon told reporters that he expects to be back after his 15 days are up. Holy cow, that would be awesome. Just please don’t rush it, the last thing the Yankees need is for him to have a setback and miss three months instead of three weeks. “I feel bad because the team needs help and I got hurt,” said Bartolo. Given all he’s done for this team already, he’s shouldn’t feel bad. Amaury Sanit was also placed on the disabled list with an elbow injury, the nature and extent of which is unknown.

Replacing those guys on the roster are Hector Noesi and Chris Dickerson. Since you can’t call a player back up for ten days after a demotion, they had to use the injuries to get these two back so quickly. There’s still no word on Thursday’s starter though. As I sit here on my perch of infinite wisdom, I think the best course of action would have been to start Noesi today. It’s his scheduled day to start for Triple-A Scranton, and it would give Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and CC Sabathia and extra day of rest while allowing Colon’s replacement to miss the Rangers next week. They’re killing the ball right now, so keeping a rookie away from them seems like a good idea. Maybe Noesi will throw multiple innings in relief today as a tuneup, then start Thursday. That’s pretty much the best case right now.

Anyway, both Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez are in today’s lineup. Martin’s back is finally okay following his little weightlifting injury, and A-Rod‘s hip is fine after it stiffened up following that hit-by-pitch yesterday. So that’s pretty much it, hopefully they can get through today’s game healthy. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Freddy Garcia, SP

Today’s game can be seen on YES locally and on TBS nationally once it starts at 1pm ET. Enjoy.

The poor man’s Beltran

Yesterday I examined Nick Swisher‘s unfortunate results from the left side of the plate and argued that he’s a likely candidate to do better in the coming year. I also mentioned that Carlos Beltran was a fan favorite as a trade target. You don’t need me to explain why he’s a favorite as a trade target, but I’ll do it anyway. Beltran has always played excellent defense, he’s a switch-hitter, and he hits for power. He’s the lifetime owner of a .371 wOBA, a .282/.359/.495 batting line, and 289 home runs. This year he’s doing a touch better with a .284/.371/.512 line, a .382 wOBA. He’s showing a bit more power despite coming off a serious knee injury and hitting half his games at Citi Field. As trade targets go, you really can’t do too much better than Carlos Beltran. He’s a free agent after this season and he’s doing his best to set himself up for another nice payday. It’s not like he exactly needs another payday, having pulled in $119M from the Mets over the past seven years, but hey, I’ve lived in New York. Life ain’t cheap.

Plenty of teams will be in on Beltran this summer. Plenty of teams could use a half-season rental of a switch-hitting, power-hitting good defender. The primary deterrent to acquiring Beltran is likely his steep salary, but the Mets have indicated that they’re willing to absorb some of that salary in exchange for better prospects. Now, this could simply be posturing to get more teams involved and extract more from interested parties, but it’s hard to know for sure. The Mets may have more financial flexibility now that they partnered with David Einhorn. They may not be an East Coast version of the Los Angeles Dodgers anymore – they may be able to eat some of his contract.

This is a long way of saying that this confluence of factors – Beltran’s skillset and the Mets’ flexibility of demands – may mean that another team snatches Beltran from Queens before the Yankees can get their sticky little fingers all over him. But the Yankees could find a decent replacement in Twins outfielder Jason Kubel.

All the stars are lining up for Kubel to get traded this summer: he’s on a losing team, he has a decent in-demand skillset, and he has an expiring contract after this year. Twins’ blog The Bat Shatters makes the case for keeping Kubel, and summarizes the arc of his career nicely:

Kubel destroyed Minor League pitching for 4 years before getting a shot at the bigs in 2004. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .300/.358/.433 as a 22-year-old in 23 games with the Twins. That fall, he endured a serious knee injury which kept him out of baseball for the entire 2005 season, and while he re-emerged with the Twins in 2006, the results were nothing like before. Kubel struggled for a couple of seasons in 2006 and 2007 before putting it all together in 2008. In ’08, he hit .272/.335/.471 with 20HRs and 78RBIs while seeing part-time action in the outfield. In 2009, he had his ‘breakout’ hitting .300/.369/.539 with 28HRs and 103 RBIs. In a contract-year last season, he only managed a .249 batting-average, but did surpass the 20 homerun plateau for the 3rd straight season while driving in 92 runs…

Over the last three years, Kubel has the 11th highest OPS (.883), the 11th highest batting average and the 8th most HRs against right-handers…among all of the outfielders in baseball. You won’t find his name on the WAR leaderboards, but that’s because his defense is so atrocious. If he was strictly in a DH role, his value would increase. Without Thome next year, the Twins will likely have an opening at DH, a role Kubel is familiar with and could probably excel in.

I’m not trying to make it sound like Kubel is a superstar player. He’s not. What I am trying to say is that Kubel, as a left-handed hitter with power, possesses an offensive skill-set that is not all that common in MLB, and is not easily replaceable if they trade him or let him go.

As Krueger notes, Kubel hits right-handed pitchers well, the type against whom Nick Swisher has struggled lately. Kubel is the owner of a career .286/.345/.499 line against right-handed pitchers. By way of comparison, Beltran is a career .293/.364/.529 hitter against right-handed pitchers. Kubel is playing for a paltry $5.25M this year, a far cry from Beltran’s hefty salary, and he’ll be a free agent when the season is done. He isn’t as good against left-handed pitchers (.664 OPS against), but if he’s deployed properly he could do some damage in the Yankee lineup and bop a few fly balls over that short porch in right.

Kubel may cost less than Beltran for an acquiring team (depending on how much money the Mets eat), and this is for good reason. He’s not as good in the field as Beltran, and he’s not capable of hitting left-handed pitchers nearly as well as Beltran can. But he’s not a scrub: he has a solid bat, he’s cheap, and he’s a free agent at the end of the year. He currently profiles as a Type B free agent, so the Yankees could offer him arbitration and pocket the picks if he declines. If he accepts it’s not the end of the world – he only makes $5.25M in 2011, and the Yankees could always trade him elsewhere.

As it stands right now the Yankees have the corner outfield and DH spots manned by capable hitters, and I’m not sold that the team needs to do anything in the trade market to bolster the offense. I’d far rather see them call up that kid in Scranton that everyone won’t shut up about. But if something changes – if Posada, Gardner or Swisher get injured, or if Montero is traded – then Kubel might be a good fit. If the Yankees are looking for another outfielder-DH-bench bat type with thump and don’t want to pay the high price likely commanded by the Mets for Beltran, they could do worse than Kubel.

 

Yankees win the game, but lose Colon

The Yankees can’t have anything nice. Friday night’s blowout win over the Indians was clouded by the official announcement of Joba Chamberlain‘s upcoming Tommy John surgery. Saturday afternoon’s shutout win cost the Yankees their number two starter, as Bartolo Colon suffered a strained hamstring covering first base in the seventh inning. The win counts in the standings, but the net result of the day was a loss for New York.

Few things in baseball are more fun to watch than that called strike three.

RIP Bartolo

As great as he’s been this season, there’s always been an elephant in the room when Colon pitches. This could be the last start, the last batter, the last pitch … he could blow up at any moment. He did blow up today, but not in the way we all figured. Bartolo’s right arm is fine (thankfully), it was a bum hammy that took him down. That’s like a rhino going down because it stepped on a thumb tack while the hunter was loading his rifle.

Colon was again masterful on Saturday, carving up his former team with his usual diet of four and two-seamers to both sides of the plate. He struck out the first two he faced and retired 14 of the first 16 men he faced on a measly 59 pitches. Bartolo threw ten pitches in each of the third, fourth, and fifth innings, and only one batter made it as far as second base against him. Colon’s day ended at just 83 pitches with two outs in the seventh, when the hamstring gave out as he covered first base on a ground ball by Shin-Soo Choo. He had struck out six, walked one, allowed two hits, and gotten seven ground ball outs to that point. I feel like a broken record because we say this after every start, but Colon was brilliant. Unfortunately this day had a tragic ending.

Just a flick of the wrists.

All They Needed

It’s pretty cool when a guy has a dozen homers through a third of the season and it feels like we’re waiting for him to heat up. That’s kinda the situation with Alex Rodriguez, who seems to be victimized by his own greatness more than anyone in his the history of the universe. Homers like the one he hit today, a fourth inning solo shot that broke a scoreless tie, go underappreciated because he’s so damn good. Less than 24 hours after hitting a ball into the left field bleachers, Alex connected on a 1-0 fastball and drove it through the wind into the Indians’ bullpen. It wasn’t as majestic as Friday’s homer, but it gave the Yankees a lead on a day when their starter was cruising and their core relievers were rested. We’ll forget about it in a week, but it’s just a gentle reminder that A-Rod is always capable of changing the complexion of a game with one swing.

Mitch Talbot appreciates Alex’s greatness, so much so that he hit him with a pitch the next time he came to plate. Aside from Fausto Carmona’s shot at Mark Teixeira on Friday, I think this one was the most obviously intentional out of all the recent hit-by-pitches. Curtis Granderson had just taken Talbot deep (more on that in a second), Tex hit a ball to the track, and of course A-Rod hit the homer last time up. It was a first pitch fastball right to the hip, pretty much where these intentional plunkings tend to happen. There were two outs in the inning and none on, and yeah it was raining, but Talbot didn’t appear to slip in any of the replays.

I’m not one of those guys who thinks you have to retaliate for every hit-by-pitch, but this is getting ridiculous. If you can’t control your 90 mph fastball, then you don’t get to pitch inside. Colon couldn’t retaliate because both benches had been warned, but it’s time to push back a bit and send a message because this is going on too frequently. “We’re the Yankees, we’ll hit your guys back and win the game too.” Sounds good to me.

How About Some More?

Would have been more impressive if he actually caught it with the parka over his head.

A-Rod’s homer was the only run the Yankees would ultimately need, but that didn’t stop them from tacking a few more on. Granderson hit a solo shot of his own in the sixth, a golf shot more than anything else. I didn’t think it was a bad pitch at all. A Choo misplay in right allowed Nick Swisher to score from first on a Jorge Posada single an inning later, and Tex capped it all off with a solo homer in the eighth. He’s gotta keep pace with Curtis, you know? Grandy is tied with Jose Bautista for the MLB lead with 20 homers while Tex is second with 19. At what point do we start talking about these two being the Yankees’ most dangerous 1-2 punch since … I guess A-Rod and Gary Sheffield in 2005?

No LOLpen

The bullpen is in a world of trouble at the moment, so 2-0 wasn’t exactly a comfortable lead when Colon exited. David Robertson came in to replace him and immediately allowed a single before getting the final out of the seventh. Jack Hannahan and Lou Marson opened the eight with singles, but Robertson escaped the inning by striking out Michael Brantley (looking), Asdrubal Cabrera (looking), and Grady Sizemore (swinging). There was also a balk mixed in there, and you can make a case that those three are the Indians’ three best hitters. David let out an Eight Inning Guy™ caliber fist pump after Sizemore swung over top of that curveball, which is always fun. Boone Logan (of all people) threw a flawless ninth to close things out. He even struck out the only lefty he faced. Go figure.

Today's weather: dank.

Leftovers

The Yankees made a full innings’ worth of outs on the bases, which is at least the second time they’ve done that this season. Brett Gardner got caught stealing twice, once going for second and once going for third, then Jorge Posada got picked off second later in the game. That was partially Gardner’s fault as well; he was trying to bunt Posada over to third with no outs and just flat out whiffed. Still, Jorge can’t be that far off the base. Ah the joys of bunting.

Derek Jeter took an 0-for-4 and now has five games left in the homestand to pick up the nine hits he needs for 3,000. I’m sure he’ll get it done, the baseball gods always make sure this stuff sorts itself out. Aside from the three solo homers, Swisher and Posada each had one hit while Gardner had two. Robinson Cano drew a walk to round out the offense.

Eduardo Nunez replaced A-Rod at third base in the ninth inning, and Joe Girardi said after the game that it was just a precaution because Alex’s hip stiffened up a bit following the hit-by-pitch. No, it’s not the same hip he had surgery on. A-Rod said he’ll play tomorrow, so no problem there.

The wind was especially brutal Saturday afternoon, every ball hit high in the air was an adventure for the defenders. Didn’t matter for A-Rod, Grandy, and Tex on the homers through.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

For the first time all year, the Yankees will follow up a 1pm ET Saturday game with a 1pm ET Sunday game. Every other weekend series has featured some kind of weird start time due to FOX or ESPN or west coast or whatever. Freddy Garcia gets the ball against Josh Tomlin.