What Went Wrong: Nick The (Injured) Stick

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.

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

In the aftermath of their 2009 World Series celebration, the Yankees were facing several tough decisions with stalwart players. Both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui were free agents after their identical four-year, $52MM contracts expired, but Brian Cashman and the rest of the brain trust remained in “get younger and more athletic” mode. Despite all of their postseason heroics, Damon and Matsui were still a pair of 36-year-olds last winter, with the latter having significant concerns about the health of his knees.

The first domino fell barely a week into December, when the Yankees swung a three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York. That filled the vacant outfield spot, leaving the designated hitter’s job the only one left open. Matsui took himself out of the running five days after the Grandy trade by signing a one-year deal with the Angels at 50% pay cut. His reason for signing quickly was sound; he didn’t want to be shut out in a market that getting more and more unkind to DH types. Understandable.

Damon and Scott Boras were sticking to their guns about a multi-year deal without a significant pay cut, and the two sides were still worlds apart on a deal after the Grandy trade. With Johnny and Boras playing hard-to-get, the Yankees moved on to a familiar face to fill the DH hole, signing Nick Johnson to a one-year deal a week after Matsui went to SoCal. The contract was worth just $5.5M with incentives tied to plate appearances, very reasonable considering the $13M both Damon and Matsui made last year.

Everyone knew about Johnson’s laundry list of injury trouble, but there were reasons to be optimistic about his ability to stay on the field in 2010. After missing all of 2007 and most of the 2008 season, he stayed on the field for 574 plate appearances in 2009, his most since 2006 and the second most of his career. Getting him out of the field and resting comfortably as a designated hitter also figured to help him stay fresh and in the lineup. And, of course, a man with a .402 career on-base percentage (.426 in 2009, third best in baseball) figured to make baseball’s best lineup even more potent. The Yankees had their new DH, and Damon eventually found a one-year deal in Detroit.

The trouble for Johnson started almost right away. He missed the team’s second Spring Training game with a stiff back, brought about when he caught a spike in batting practice. The lower back issue popped back up in late April, causing NJ to miss two games and three days. Through the season’s first 27 games, Johnson remained a strong on-base threat (.396 OBP) but he wasn’t doing much with the stick (.171 AVG, .143 ISO). The Yanks were in Fenway Park on May 7th, and Johnson was in the lineup as the DH and in his customary second spot in the lineup. His first at-bat resulted in the second of three straight Josh Beckett strikeouts, and his second trip to the plate resulted in a weak groundout to the second baseman to lead off the fourth. That was the last time we would see Johnson in 2010.

Marcus Thames pinch hit one inning later, replacing Johnson who was sidelined a sore wrist. It was the same wrist he had surgery on in 2008, causing him to spend 137 total days on the disabled list. An MRI revealed an inflamed tendon, and the original diagnosis had NJ missing several weeks. Less than two weeks later, Johnson was on the surgeon’s table after a cortisone failed to do the trick. Three months after that, the same wrist was sore yet again, and one week later he was again having surgery. All told, Johnson spent 166 days on the disabled list in 2010, falling short of the very modest 100 plate appearance plateau, finishing with just 98.

Looking back, it’s clear the team (and us fans as well) was mesmerized by the potential of having someone reach base 40+% of the time in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and who wouldn’t be? The problem was that Johnson offered little in the way of power (though 20 homers in Yankee Stadium was very possible) and even less in terms of dependability and durability. Even if the Yanks declined to meet Damon’s demands, better (and cheaper) DH targets like Jim Thome ($1.5M) and Russell Branyan ($2M) didn’t come off the board until late in the offseason. That obviously comes with the benefit of hindsight, however.

For all intents and purposes, what played out was the worst case scenario for both the Yankees and Johnson. The team had to scramble to find a replacement DH, eventually trading a pair of young players at the deadline to fill the hole, and Johnson now faces an uncertain winter coming off surgery. Cashman admitted during Monday’s press conference that Johnson was his Plan C at DH, behind Damon and Matsui. He might as well have called him Plan K, because the 2010 edition of Nick Johnson was a big fat whiff.

Report: CC set for minor surgery on right knee

Yankees ace CC Sabathia will undergo surgery later this week for what The Post is calling a “minor meniscus tear of the right knee,” Joel Sherman and George A. King III reported a few minutes ago. CC underwent a diagnostic yesterday at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and doctors spotted the meniscus tear. “The Yankees,” says The Post, “do not consider the procedure significant and expect Sabathia to recover within three weeks and be fully ready for spring training.”

The knee problem, speculate Sherman and King, could have been behind Sabathia’s less-than-stellar posteason showing, and the two reporters note that CC’s size and his workload may make Yankee officials worry even about a minor procedure. Sabathia has tossed 1033 innings since 2007, the most, notes The Post, since Randy Johnson threw 1085.2 from 1999-2002. Still, a meniscus procedure is a rather smooth one these days, and the big man should be a-OK for 2011.

What choice does the Fox-Cablevision dispute leave us?

It just plays over and over and over again…

I wrote this up for FanGraphs, but the subject is closer to us, since a good lot of us live within the Cablevision coverage area. Since October 16 we’ve been without Fox, which normally is no big deal. If the network has a show I want to watch, I can visit one of many websites that will stream it to my computer. The only problem is the timing. Fox pulled its programming on the day the NLCS began, meaning I’ve already missed an important series — though I have to say that San Francisco’s radio team of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow made it a little easier on me. But starting today the stakes are a bit higher.

Today begins the greatest sporting event on the planet. The nation might not be enthralled by a Texas – San Francisco match-up, but I sure am. I can’t wait to watch Cliff Lee pitch against Tim Lincecum, to see if the Texas offense, to hope that San Francisco can string together some hits — or that Cody Ross can further his folk hero status. Unfortunately, I’ll have to find a non-traditional way to watch the action; my cable company and the station carrying the World Series are in a fight.

Neither Fox nor Cablevision would be anywhere without people who pay for their services. Yet how do they treat us? Like we don’t matter. Fox and Cablevision don’t care that they’re taking the World Series away from die-hards. They just want the greatest possible amount of money — Fox by demanding a higher fee for its services, and Cablevision by enforcing the status quo. Lost in the squabble is the consumer that pays his cable bill and watches commercials.

I’ve been told that I should just buy a pair of cheap rabbit ears and pick up the Fox signal that way. The picture is better than your cable HD, they say. But when I went into Radio Shack last night the salesman basically refused to sell me a pair of rabbit ears. They don’t work well in this area. I trust the guy, because he was basically turning away a sale — because he knew I’d be back today to return it, and it costs the company money to process a return. I could buy an amplified HD antenna, but that starts at $60. I could write that off on my taxes, I suppose, but that’s still $60 that I’m paying because the ~$140 per month I pay for cable and internet isn’t enough to get me the World Series.

As it stands, I have a good mind just to cancel my cable altogether and buy those more expensive rabbit ears. I could then get sports on the major networks and watch my cable programming online — it helps that my computer easily hooks up to my TV. I also have a PS3 and can therefore watch anything from Netflix on my TV as well. The PS3 also has a beautiful MLB.tv plugin. That covers pretty much everything — except the most important thing.

I’m stuck with cable because of the Yankees. Gaining access to YES every night without a cable subscription is probably easy, but not something of which I want to make a habit. And so I’m left with a choice:

1) Purchase rabbit ears that will be pointless once Fox and Cablevision come to an agreement.

2) Purchase Postseason.tv, which doesn’t provide a full view of the game.

3) Listen again on the radio — which will be a difficult endeavor in Game 4, when I’m scheduled to write a recap for ESPN Insider.

4) Go to a bar, which will be unkind to my wallet.

5) Find a feed line, which is illegal.

6) Switch to Verizon FiOS. Damn. FiOS isn’t hooked up in my building and the building manager hasn’t made that a priority.

In other words: Thanks, Fox and Cablevision, for leaving me with six distinctly shitty World Series viewing options. I pay my bills, and I watch my commercials (at least during sporting events). Yet this is the way I’m treated.

Laird continues to rake in Phoenix

Via Josh Norris, senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman confirmed that David Adams will ready in time for Spring Training, but Jeremy Bleich is going to have to wait until midseason. Adams, of course, had that broken ankle, while Bleich had surgery to repair some sort of tear in his pitching shoulder.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (5-3 loss to Surprise in ten innings)
Brandon Laird, DH: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB – OPS’ing over a 1.000, but he’s like, one of a dozen doing that out here
Jose Pirela, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 BB – hey look at that, he got a hit
Ryan Pope: 2 IP, zeroes, 2-4 GB/FB – 13 of 21 pitches were strikes (61.9%)
George Kontos: 2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-2 GB/FB – a dozen of his 18 pitches were strikes

Report: Girardi re-up will be for 3 years, $9 million

As the Yanks’ Hot Stove Leagues kicks into gear, Jon Heyman has a brief update on the team’s managerial situation. Joe Girardi and the Front Office are working on a contract that would keep Girardi helming the club for the next three years, and the deal would be worth approximately $3 million per year. Girardi’s last deal gave him $2.5 million, and considering that the skipper won a World Series and reached the ALCS this year, a raise is in line with club expectations. Negotations, says Heyman, “are not expected to take long.”

Bill Shannon, Yankee Stadium official scorer, passes away at 69

Via Alex Belth, Yankee Stadium official scorer Bill Shannon was killed in a house fire today. He was 69. Shannon lived in the West Caldwell, New Jersey home with his elderly mother, who was saved from the fire by neighbors. It’s been a tough year in Yankeeland, and even though Mr. Shannon was not as prominent a figure as, say, Bob Sheppard, it’s still sad to hear. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Open Thread: New Sod

Lost in all the chaos of yesterday’s press conferences, the Yankees are re-sodding the infield. A few of the beat writers were snapping photos of what you see above and posting them on Twitter. From what I understand, the entire diamond – the grass surrounding the pitcher’s mound – is completely gone as well after today’s work. I”m not sure if the outfield will follow. They might just be replacing the high traffic areas, plus the outfield was re-sodded a few weeks after the Cotto-Foreman boxing match tore it up in June. Still no word if they’re going to fix the warning track though.

Anywho, here’s your open thread for the evening. No baseball, football, or (local) hockey tonight, but it’s Opening Night for the NBA. TNT is carrying the Heat and Celtics at 7:30pm ET, then the Rockets and Lakers three hours later. Go ahead and talk about that, or whatever else is on your mind.