Roster Updates: Feliciano, Molina, Ayala, Garcia, Colon

Via Marc Carig, Pedro Feliciano has been diagnosed with a rotator cuff strain, which is a whole lot worse than the sore triceps he reportedly had a week or three ago. No idea if this will change his return date or anything, but obviously it’s bad news. Good thing Feliciano is different than everyone else and has proven himself to be a workhorse. Grumble grumble.

In other news, both Gustavo Molina and Luis Ayala have been added to the 25-man roster while Romulo Sanchez is officially out the door and on the way to Japan. I count 41 players on the 40-man roster right now, and that doesn’t include Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Damaso Marte will open up a spot when he’s placed on the 60-day DL, and I suppose Colin Curtis’ shoulder injury is serious enough that he could as well. Still, that leaves one spot that has to be cleared, so another move is coming.

Update: Brian Heyman says Marte, Curtis, and Reegie Corona were all placed on the 60-day DL, so everyone’s on the 40-man now.

Granderson will be in lineup tomorrow

Via Andrew Marchand, Curtis Granderson will be in the starting lineup for Opening Day tomorrow. The center fielder had been battling an oblique issue, but he came through yesterday’s and today’s workouts in Tampa just fine and will play Thursday. I like Chris Dickerson, but yeah, I want the Grandyman in there, so this is great news.

Joe Girardi has already announced that Brett Gardner will leadoff tomorrow, and the rest of the lineup will look pretty standard: Derek Jeter bats second, and will be followed by Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robbie Cano, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, Grandy, and Russell Martin. Just hope the rain goes away.

The RAB Radio Show: March 30, 2011

It’s time for predictions. Mike and I run down the six divisions and make our picks. And what predictions show is complete without the major awards? We run down all of our picks for the 2011 season.

Podcast run time 43:07

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

The Preemptive Airing Of Grievances

The most athletic thing Bartolo did all month. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A new season is upon us, and it will surely bring exciting moments as well heartbreak. We just have to hope to have a healthy number of the former and just a few of the latter. Heartbreaking moments are inevitable over the course of a 162-game season, and they aren’t an indication of some kind of fatal flaw in the team. Sometimes things just don’t break right, that’s baseball, and we move on.

Thanks to the internet, we all have a way to covey our idiotic knee-jerk reactions to the masses at the click of a mouse or the enter button on your phone. We’re all guilty of it. We feel better, but that’s pretty much all it does. That’s what this thread is for, to preemptively complain about the inevitable. Get it out of your system now and you’ll feel better later. Here’s a nice long list of unfortunate things that are sure to happen at some point (more than likely multiple times) in 2011, but if you have anything to add, stick it in the comments.

  • Derek Jeter will ground out weakly on the first pitch.
  • Brett Gardner will take a fastball right down the middle for strike three.
  • Mark Teixeira will swing over top of a changeup.
  • Curtis Granderson will strike out against the lefty.
  • Robbie Cano will swing at a pitch a foot over his head.
  • Gardner will reach base and not attempt to steal in a timely fashion.
  • Gardner will reach base and not attempt to steal. Period.
  • Nick Swisher will strike out three times in one game.
  • Alex Rodriguez won’t hit that game-winning homer.
  • Jesus Montero will make an out, probably in his first ever big league at-bat.
  • Mariano Rivera will blow a save. Might even be a walk-off loss.
  • Rafael Soriano will blow a save.
  • Soriano will blow a lead in the eighth.
  • Joba Chamberlain will blow a lead in the seventh.
  • Joba will blow a lead in the seventh, the Yankees will regain the lead the next inning, and then Soriano will blow it in the eighth.
  • The Yankees will strand a runner at third.
  • The Yankees will load the bases with no outs and fail to score a run.
  • Phil Hughes will give up a homerun.
  • A.J. Burnett will give up four runs in an inning.
  • Freddy Garcia will suck. In general.
  • Ivan Nova will stop looking like Cy Young once the lineup turns over.
  • CC Sabathia will fail to throw at least eight innings in a start.
  • CC will lose a game. Two in a row, in fact.
  • Some non-prospect will get called up and shut the Yankees down in his first start. Presumably left-handed.
  • Some team will steal Russell Martin blind.
  • Evan Longoria will make A-Rod look old.
  • Elvis Andrus will make Jeter look really old.
  • Andrus will get another friggin’ infield hit.
  • Adrian Gonzalez will take a Yankees’ pitcher deep.
  • Kyle Farnsworth will save a game. Against the Yankees, in the Bronx.
  • Tex will slump in April.
  • Pedro Feliciano won’t get that one lefty he was brought in to face out.
  • Someone on the staff will walk in a run. My money’s on David Robertson.
  • Bartolo Colon will pitch well out of the bullpen, then suck in the rotation.
  • One of the Killer B’s will get called up and not be awesome right away.
  • Andruw Jones‘ long swing will make him look like the worst player ever for a stretch of time.
  • Joe Girardi will make a weird pitching change.
  • Frankie Cervelli will start entirely too many games once he’s healthy.
  • Some Triple-A reliever won’t get called up when we all know he totally should have.
  • Some Triple-A reliever will get called when he should have, then he’ll suck.
  • Greg Golson won’t throw out every runner who tried to take an extra base.
  • Jose Bautista will hit a homer against the Yankees.
  • Some guy you never heard of will hit his first career homer against the Yankees.
  • Old Timer’s Day festivities will last entirely too long.
  • The Legends seats will be empty for a game.
  • A-Rod will wear those funny white cleats during the All-Star Game.
  • Some Yankee will get snubbed for the All-Star Game.
  • That guy the Yankees should have signed will pitch well against them.
  • Manny Ramirez is going to remind us of the old days, at least once.
  • Granderson will take a weird route on a ball hit in front of him.
  • Swish will make a boneheaded play in the outfield.
  • Swish will make a boneheaded play on the bases and get tagged out.
  • The Yankees won’t double steal with Gardner and Eduardo Nunez on base.
  • Girardi will call for a sac bunt.
  • Swisher will attempt to bunt.
  • Cano will square around to bunt.
  • Jeter won’t bunt when he should, then he’ll ground into a double play.
  • The Yankees won’t draft the guy Baseball America says they should have.
  • The Yankees won’t give that international free agent $4M.
  • Kevin Millwood will get a chance before your favorite pitching prospect.
  • Some pitcher the Yankees should acquire will get traded, just not to New York.
  • Ian Kennedy will throw a great game on the same day the Yankees’ fifth starter gets rocked.
  • Damaso Marte ain’t ever comin’ back.
  • Kei Igawa will still show up in DotF.

So that’s all I got. Like I said, add anything I missed in the comments.

2011 Season Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

These aren’t your grandfather’s Devil Rays anymore. Since losing the Devil, the Rays have won the AL East twice in three seasons, including last year by one game over the Yankees. The front office, led by acting GM Andrew Friedman, continues to squeeze valuable water out of the payroll rock with some help from manager Joe Maddon, who is willing to buck convention more than any other skipper in the game. Nine players from Tampa’s 25-man ALDS roster will be playing elsewhere this season, and a tenth (Rocco Baldelli) moved into a front office role. They’ve proven adept at rebuilding on the fly, but a roster overhaul of this caliber might have been too much at one time.

If you want a full preview of the 2011 Rays, I highly recommend purchasing The Process Report 2011, the best $15 you’ll spend this spring. The 103-page document includes in-depth articles and player profiles written by the brightest minds on the Rays’ blogosphere. In the interest of full disclosure, our own Joe Pawlikowski contributed an article about former Yankee and new Ray Johnny Damon. Think of TPR11 as the Mariano Rivera of season previews while what you see below is more … Kyle Farnsworth.

Strengths

It wasn’t long ago that a three-game series against the Tampa franchise meant good times for Yankees hitters, who routinely pounded inferior pitching staffs. Things have changed now, and the Rays’ starting rotation is the backbone of the club. David Price broke out and became one of the very best pitchers in the game last season, a hard-throwing lefty with strikeout stuff that has not yet reached his 26th birthday. Number two starter Jamie Shields is one of just eight pitchers that have thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last four seasons, so if nothing else he provides innings. He fell victim to some back luck last year (.341 BABIP, 68.4% strand rate), but his 3.55 xFIP was his best ever. Still just 29-years-old, a rebound is possible, if not likely.

(AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

The three and four spots go to 28-year-old Jeff Niemann (4.18 xFIP last year, 4.35 career) and 25-year-old Wade Davis (4.61 xFIP as a rookie last year). Matt Garza takes his three straight years of 180+ IP to Chicago’s north side and in steps young Jeremy Hellickson, who is arguably the best pitching prospect in the game. The soon-to-be 24-year-old had a fine big league cameo last year (3.83 xFIP in 36.1 IP), and is just the latest product from the game’s premier player development franchise. Right-hander Alex Cobb (2.80 FIP in Double-A last year) and left-hander Alex Torres (3.47) are next in line and will start the year in Triple-A. Behind them in Double-A will be Matt Moore, Alex Colome, and Nick Barnese. All five of those guys represent some of the better prospects in the game’s second best farm system.

Now that we’re past the starting rotation, we have to talk about Evan Longoria, arguably the best all-around player in baseball. His 19.6 fWAR since 2008 trails only Albert Pujols (25.3) and the now-hobbled Chase Utley (20.9). Still just 25, Longoria has three seasons of .370+ wOBA’s, .210+ ISO’s, and 10+ ADR’s (aggregate defensive rating) to his credit all ready. Plus he packs some serious heat. Simply put, he’s a superstar of the first order and the best player in the division.

The team defense as a whole has been a strength for several years and figures to be one again in 2011. Losing Carl Crawford definitely hurts, but they’re still very strong up the middle with Reid Brignac at short, Ben Zobrist/Sean Rodriguez at second, and B.J. Upton in center. Maddon also has a deep and versatile roster at his disposal, allowing him to take advantage of platoon matchups and defensive shifts and what not. That farm system also provides a friggin’ ton of ammo for trades, and Friedman has shown a willingness to make huge splashes.

Weaknesses

As I said earlier, the Rays’ roster took a really big hit this winter. Crawford is the best player in franchise history, but he left for Boston. Carlos Pena fled for Chicago. Say what you want about his poor 2010 season (.196 AVG, .326 wOBA), but he hit at least 28 homers for the fourth straight year, and that will be missed. In their place will be old buddy Damon (coming off a .340 wOBA with Detroit, his lowest in the last seven years) and old nemesis Manny Ramirez (his .382 wOBA last year was excellent, but his second worst since becoming a full-time player). Both are on the wrong side of 35, but Tampa didn’t bring in either guy expected them to perform like they did three or five years ago. Either way, going from Crawford and Pena to Damon and Manny is likely to be a three or four-win downgrade, maybe even five.

The rest of the lineup, beyond those two and Longoria, is almost like a patchwork group. Zobrist won’t ever have another .408 wOBA season like he did in 2009 again, but his career .346 OBP and .168 ISO are fine marks for a guy that can legitimately play seven positions. B.J. Upton is now two years from free agency and it’s looking less and less likely that he’ll turn into the megastar everyone though he would after a stellar (.387 wOBA) 2007 campaign. His .317 OBP over the last two years won’t get the job done, even when combined with 40+ steals. Dan Johnson’s late season heroics over the last two years are well-known, but his big league career features a decidedly un-first baseman-like .333 wOBA. Brignac has some pop but is in there more for his glove than his bat, and the catching platoon of John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach is fine as long as they have bats in their hands and not gloves. I like Matt Joyce as a breakout candidate, but he’s a bit of a question mark until he actually does it.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

And then there’s the bullpen. The Rays lost almost everyone from their relief corps over the winter, with the one holdover being the forgettable Andy Sonnanstine. The dominant late-game trio of Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, and Grant Balfour has been replaced by Kyle Farnsworth, Adam Russell, and Joel Peralta, a step down no matter how you look at it. Dan Wheeler goes from righty killer to Red Sox, Randy Choate from lefty killer to Marlin. Those two will essentially be replaced by a pair of rookie left-handers: Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos. A couple of guys named Mike Ekstrom, Rob Delaney, and Brandon Gomes provide the depth. Russell and McGee have big-time arms but are unproven, and will be thrust in high-leverage spots this summer. That’s not to say it can’t work, but I’m sure Maddon and fans alike will be reaching for the Tums much more often this year than last.

Of course, the team’s biggest weakness is it’s financial situation. Payroll shrunk down to something like $45M after topping out at close to $73M last season, and it’s not because ownership is cheap. The franchise simply can’t sustain anything higher. Tropicana Field has some appeal in a grungy “it’s a dump, but it’s our dump” kind of way, but it’s poorly located and the attendance totals reflect that. When the star players start calling fan attendance “embarrassing” … yeah it’s bad.

Overall Outlook

There’s no question that the Rays lost a lot of firepower this offseason. Crawford is irreplaceable, but remaking an entire bullpen and finding suitable offensive fill-ins in a single offseason is a minor miracle. Are they as good as last year? Almost certainly not, but Tampa is still extremely dangerous and very capable of winning the division. They have two bonafide stars in Price and Longoria plus a strong supporting cast, not to mention the deepest and most talented rotation in the division. Don’t kid yourself, Maddon’s club is a very real threat to the 2011 Yankees.

The flexibility of the Yankees 25-man roster

Everything appears settled. The Yankees have made their cuts, giving us a clear view of the Opening Day 25-man roster. Here’s how it will shake out.

Update: Luis Ayala has made the roster, which clears up the final spot.

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

Bench
IF: Eduardo Nunez
IF: Eric Chavez
OF: Andruw Jones
C: Gustavo Molina

Rotation
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP Ivan Nova
RHP Freddy Garcia

Bullpen
RHP Mariano Rivera
RHP Rafael Soriano
RHP Joba Chamberlain
RHP David Robertson
RHP Bartolo Colon
LHP Boone Logan
RHP Luis Ayala

Disabled List
C Francisco Cervelli
LHP Pedro Feliciano

As with all Opening Day rosters, the Yankees has its share of strengths and weaknesses. As the season progresses they will try to shed the weaknesses and add players who shore up those aspects. It’s a process that can take three, four, even five months to complete. Oftentimes the weaknesses are left exposed, since there is no reasonable fit.

The ability to make these types of moves depends on flexibility, which came come from two areas: players with minor league options, and players whose release won’t affect the team’s long-term standing. Earlier this month Mike looked at Yankees who have remaining options. Now let’s combine that list with players whom the Yankees can send packing without batting an eyelash.

Freddy Garcia: If the off-season had played out differently, we probably would never have written the name Freddy Garcia in these spaces. His name only appeared after the Yankees lost out on Cliff Lee. But with two open spots in the rotation, utilizing a slightly below average veteran who pitched 150 innings last season is hardly a bad move. If Garcia tanks, the Yankees can DFA him and move onto the next candidate. I’d expect this to happen at some point during the season.

Bartolo Colon: He has the same deal as Garcia, though fewer people expected Colon to make the team out of spring training. He impressed fans and Yankees’ brass alike, but that doesn’t mean they’ll keep him around if he’s ineffective. A few bad outings could write his ticket out of town.

Ivan Nova: If the Yankees wanted to keep all of their options in tact they could have optioned Nova to the minors to start the season. But he’s clearly the fourth best pitcher in camp, and so they’ll give him the spot in the rotation that he earned. He still provides no guarantees, though, and since he has two remaining options the Yankees can send him down at any time.

Phil Hughes: It’s possible, in that he has a remaining option (or two). The Yanks are in trouble if it comes to this.

Joba Chamberlain: This is akin to Hughes, in that I don’t see it happening. By all accounts Joba has impressed this spring, showing high-90s velocity. If he falters they can option him, but given his peripherals from last year and the generally positive report this spring I don’t expect it to become an issue.

David Robertson: He, too, is in the Hughes/Chamberlain mold. If the Yankees need a spot and Robertson is performing poorly they do have the option to send him to AAA. The odds of that appear long.

Boone Logan: Yes, he’s lefty and therefore will have a longer leash than most. But if he pitches in the same way he did the first half of 2010, how long will it take for the Yankees to cut bait? They do have Feliciano as a lefty in the pen, and they have a few guys in AAA who, although righties, can take a pen spot.

Luis Ayala: He makes the team because Pedro Feliciano is on the DL. Given the bullpen composition, I don’t expect him to last past mid-April.

Francisco Cervelli: This would have been more of an issue had Jesus Montero broken camp with the team. But now that he’s headed to AAA, Cervelli is pretty much guaranteed the backup catcher job when he returns from his injury. If the Yankees did want to recall Montero during the season, Cervelli could be optioned to AAA.

Eduardo Nunez: It was something of a surprise to see Nunez make the team. The Yankees have touted him as a prospect. Wouldn’t a true prospect be better served with regular at-bats? There’s something to be said for major league experience, but Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano are hardly guys who take days off. Unless either of them sees more time than expected at DH, I can’t see how Nunez gets more than 150 AB this season. If the Yankees do want to get him regular playing time, it is an option.

Eric Chavez: Again, it was a surprise that he made the roster at all. He probably won’t get a ton of playing time, filling in for A-Rod occasionally and getting a few pinch-hit appearances late in games. I can see the Yankees cutting him if he’s flailing horribly, but if he’s reasonably effective he’s an occasional enough player that they might just keep him.

This gives the Yankees six optionable players. Problem is, half of them are essentially un-optionable. It would take some seriously outlying circumstances for Robertson, Chamberlain, or Hughes to be sent down. So, really, they have three optionable players, and another three whom they can cut without any long-term repercussions. That’s not great flexibility, but it’s enough that they can make moves to improve the team.

Is Andruw Jones really a lefty masher?

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Aside from starting pitching, the Yankees had just a few glaring needs this offseason. The most obvious of the bunch was the need for a right-handed hitting outfielder to give Joe Girardi some flexibility and thump against left-handed starters. Marcus Thames did the job perfectly last season, tagging lefties for a .354 wOBA and even chipping in far more than expected against righties (.382 wOBA). As well as he performed, it was Thames’ best offensive season in five years, an effort he was unlikely to repeat at age 34. Given his defensive shortcomings, it was easy for the Yankees to move on. That led them to Andruw Jones.

Jones, the guy that tormented Yankees fans back in 1996, fit the job description perfectly. He’s a right-handed bat with power and he can play some defense. No, he’s not the all-World defender he was in his prime, but he’s considerably better than Thames and probably closer to average more than anything. Add in his low cost ($2M) and long track record, and there are plenty of reasons to like the move. But is he really all he’s cracked up to be offensively?

The Yankees brought Jones in the hit left-handed pitching and that’s exactly what he did last year, when he tattooed southpaws to the tune of a .402 wOBA. Unfortunately, that’s in an incredibly small sample size, just 102 plate appearances. If you take out his 2008 season, when a knee injury kept him on the disabled list for close to three months, it’s his fewest attempts against lefties since 2002. In 2007 and 2009, when Andruw’s career really started to slip, he put a .336 wOBA in 368 plate appearances against left-handers (it was .289 in 86 PA in 2008). Granted, that’s still respectable, but it’s hardly jaw-dropping.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

If you go back a little further, to Jones’ monster seasons in Atlanta (2004-2006), he had a .373 wOBA against lefties (473 PA), which is obviously outstanding. Unfortunately that was a baseball lifetime ago, when he was still in his mid-to-late 20’s and in the prime of a borderline Hall of Fame career. There’s little reason is expect Jones to repeat that effort going forward, into his mid-30’s. So what we have a bunch of wildly divergent data, each with it’s own red flag. Last year’s performance didn’t come over an extended period of time, but was it really a rebound from the three prior years in the careerĀ  toilet? The stuff he did with Atlanta happened too long ago for it to mean anything today. There’s no reliable recent track record here, so that makes it a gamble.

And just to be clear, his awful Spring Training performance (.171.261/.293 in 46 PA before yesterday’s 1-for-3) means little to me. Thames had an awful spring last season and I ended up writing a very similar article about him, rather foolishly when I look back at it. Jones’ track record as a guy capable of giving the Yankees what the need – someone to pounded lefties – isn’t very good in the recent past when you look past last year’s small sample size results. I guess the good news is that the Yankees have alternatives this year, namely in the form of Justin Maxwell. Thames’ primary competition last year was Jamie Hoffmann, who ended up back with the Dodgers before the spring ended. At least Maxwell will be stashed in Triple-A to provide actual insurance.

It’s pretty clear that the Yankees did well by not bringing Thames back, and Jones was one of the best options on the market given their specific needs. That said, he’s no guarantee to give them what they’re looking for, but at least he’ll still be able to provide some value with his defense and occasional homers.