For One Man, a Quiet Spring Training

Alex Rodriguez
"You pay attention to someone else. I'm gonna take a nap." (AP/Kathy Willens)

We’re about two weeks from Opening Day and we’ve had plenty of spring storylines to discuss, both of the important and eye-rolling variety. Joba is fat. Joba is injured. Manny Banuelos is amazing! Bartolo Colon is fat (but also good?). AJ Burnett is cured (or not)! Michael Kay’s endless angst regarding Posada’s move to DH. Derek Jeter’s contract. Derek Jeter’s house. Derek Jeter’s swing. And of course, Hank. No lull in Yankee baseball is apparently complete without Hank Steinbrenner opening his mouth and sticking his foot as far down his throat as it will go.

Hold on, there’s something missing. There’s something that we’ve all become accustomed to in our Spring Trainings and it’s not here. As a matter of fact, it seems like there is a noted absence of one particular quantity.

Where’s A-Rod?

Wait. You mean there’s absolutely no A-Rod scandal this spring? How about this offseason? Cameron Diaz, his girlfriend, fed him popcorn in his luxury Super Bowl suite? That’s it? The best you can come up with for Alex Rodriguez, destroyer of baseball, tradition-mauler extraordinaire, is his girlfriend fed him popcorn?

For years, we’ve become accustomed to Spring Training being about – or at least featuring, in some way – how Alex Rodriguez sucks. In 2007, it was about the 2006 ALDS, where he infamously got on base a grand total of twice in his fifteen plate appearances (.071/.133/.071): a single and a hit-by-pitch. If the Yankees had won, this probably would have been framed as The Yankees can win without A-Rod!, a narrative that we see every so often. Instead, they were effortlessly swept out of the ALDS by the magical 2006 Tigers, who beat them by four runs or more in three of the four games. It was, quite obviously, Rodriguez’s fault. Duh. In 2008, it was his World Series opt-out and subsequent massive contract signing (also a Hank news item), the Best Worst contract that we are still dealing with today and will be dealing with for a long, long time. 2009 was probably the worst, what with the steroid drama explosion combined with the hip surgery. Not only was Rodriguez going to come back old and feeble after his labrum was fixed, he was also obviously going to be incapable of hitting any more home runs – even though his leaked steroid use was during his Texas years. Even his 2009 postseason tear and finally achieving True Yankee™ status couldn’t stop the steroid drama from rolling into 2010, with the indictment of Dr. Galea in October.

For the first time in at least four years, we’re having an Alex-Rodriguez-drama-free Spring Training. It is glorious. It seems like this is work of his new PR team, which has adapted the much more fan-friendly campaign of having him hit a lot, look good, talk about how much he loves helping the team, and crack the most well-placed popcorn joke ever. I don’t actually know if he has a new public relations team for real, but it’s hard to argue with the change in results. Even if he sometimes comes off as being a bit fake, that’s certainly preferably to being a cheater (twice), unclutch, an attention whore, and/or only in it for the money.

The only thing we have to say about new and improved Alex Rodriguez is that he is thin and Cameron Diaz feeds him popcorn while he’s at the Super Bowl. That’s it? That’s really the only thing the massive Alex Rodriguez hate machine can come up with? Wouldn’t you want Cameron Diaz to feed you popcorn in your zillion dollar luxury suite for the Super Bowl? I suppose there’s always the standard fallbacks of his Best Worst contract and his down season that included thirty homers and 125 RBIs, but these are overplayed and overshadowed by more recent problems in both departments. The Rafael Soriano contract has taken over the spot for ‘most talked about bad contract,’ and Derek Jeter’s terrible season was far, far worse than A-Rod’s. To make things better for the superstar, Soriano is requesting not to pitch in games and Jeter is batting a measly .303/.343./364 in comparison to Rodriguez’s .406/.424/.906, with one home run in each of the past three games he’s played in. Here’s hoping that in 2012 Spring Training, we’ll be talking about how he hit a home run in each of the four winning World Series games and donated a bazillion dollars to charity.

While it’s safe to say A-Rod will never be ignored by the media, his relatively quiet, team-supportive attitude and absolute victory over the popcorn ‘scandal’ seems to predict that there’s a new Rodriguez in town. Without him stirring his own pot, the media is seemingly is finding less crap to talk about him. Instead, this new guy is interested in hitting a lot of home runs, winning another World Series and making as few waves as possible, and hey, what more can you ask for from a ballplayer?

Gardner exits game with shin/calf injury

Via Marc Carig, Brett Gardner exited today’s game with soreness and tightness in his right shin/calf. He fouled a pitch off the shin last night, and things tightened up on him this morning. Gardner played a few innings in the field then exited the game, and it doesn’t seem like a long-term concern. Still, anytime you’re getting close to Opening Day and a regular leaves a game due to injury, your heart skips a beat.

The RAB Radio Show: March 18, 2011

No one wants to talk about them, because they generally don’t bring anything good. But the Yankees have run into a few injuries in the past few days. Mike and I talk about Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and Brett Gardner.

Podcast run time 23:04

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Graphic courtesy of Tyler Wilkinson.

2011 Season Preview: Miscellaneous Relievers

Heading into spring training it appeared that the Yankees had the bullpen all figured out. Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano, and one of the long man candidates potentially composed one of the best Opening Day bullpens the Yanks have had in years. But, as happens so often, some of them got hurt. While they all might be fine by Opening Day, they won’t remain that way all year. The Yankees will likely go through about a dozen relievers at various points. In today’s preview we’ll take a look at some of the ones near the top of the list.

Ryan Pope

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

A move to the bullpen last year did Pope good. Before that he was a middling starter who appeared to have little hope of cracking the big league rotation. A move to the rotation might have revived his career with the Yankees. It impressed them enough that they added him to the 40-man roster. That status alone could put him atop the list for a bullpen call-up. He’s probably not a future setup man or anything along those lines, but with some progress this year he could turn into a serviceable middle reliever.

Romulo Sanchez

The recent spate of bullpen injuries could benefit Sanchez, who previously appeared the odd man out. He’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the big league team they’ll have to place him on waivers. Since basically every team could use bullpen help, especially expected second division teams, it’s easy to envision someone taking a chance on him. The Yanks might avoid that situation if one of their relievers starts the season on the DL — and the team decides that Sanchez is a better overall option than Sergio Mitre.

I just wrote about Sanchez earlier this week, so for a more complete take check out that.

Sergio Mitre

The Yankees keep bringing back Mitre. Two years running they’ve non-tendered him, only to bring him back on a non-guaranteed contract. So apparently he likes it in New York, too. Unfortunately, he hasn’t proven much during his tenure with the team. In 2009 he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and last year he missed time with an oblique injury and otherwise wasn’t much used.

Since he has apparently gained the Yankees’ favor, I thought that he’d break camp as the long man. But as spring progresses we’ve seen indications that suggest otherwise. As we noted earlier this week, some scouts are convinced the Yanks will let Mitre go at the end of spring training. They do have a number of options for that last spot, and Mitre seems behind everyone in the competition. If he does make the team expect much of the same from 2010. That is, sparse usage in mop-up duty.

Mark Prior

The Yankees and Prior are on the same page, in that they both expect him to open the season at AAA to help him build up strength with an eye on a possible big league return. The most important aspect of Prior is that he’s none of the guys he has been in the past. That is, he’s not the phenom ace who led the Cubs to the 2003 ALCS. Nor is he the injury prone schlub who hasn’t pitched a big league game since 2006. He appears to be in decent health now, and his repertoire has necessarily changed.

If Prior stays healthy there’s a good chance he makes it back to the bigs in a relief role this year. It’s hard to say what he’ll do, because we don’t know what kind of pitcher he’ll become as he redevelops his game.

Steve Garrison

(David Goldman/AP)

Last September the Yankees claimed Garrison off waivers from the Padres, though it was too late for him to get into a minor league game. He’s not much of a prospect, but he is left-handed and on the 40-man, and therefore will get plenty of shots to crack the big league club, especially in relief. Mike wrote a profile of Garrison earlier this spring. An interesting note: if he starts the season at AA, he’ll be playing in front of his hometown crowd. He was born in Trenton, NJ.

Andrew Brackman

In the early days of camp Brackman seemingly impressed just as much as his fellow Bs. His groin injury cost him about a week, which is a big deal early in the spring. He pitched only 2.2 live innings before heading down to minor league camp, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything about his closeness to the bigs. At some point he could take some turns in the rotation, but later it’s also possible that he breaks into the majors as a reliever.

His current arsenal certainly profiles well out of the bullpen. He features a 93-95 mph fastball that he keeps low in the zone, and an above average curveball. Baseball America notes that he also added a “nascent slider that shows potential,” but he’ll probably need to develop his changeup, something he’s struggled with, if he’s going to find success in the rotation. Without that he might be ticketed for the bullpen in the long-term. He might be ticketed there in the short-term, too, though that might not come until later in the season.

It’s tantalizing to imagine him in the bullpen come August. That 93-95 mph fastball could reach the upper 90s, and his curve could prove a devastating knock-out pitch. While ideally he progresses throughout the season and enters the rotation at some point, Brackman the reliever could provide plenty of value on his own.

Bullpen Injury Updates: Mitre, Joba, Feliciano, Logan

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

We’re inching closer and closer to Opening Day, so minor injuries are starting to become a little bit more of a concern. Here’s the latest on what’s going on with the walking wounded out in the bullpen, courtesy of Marc Carig and Chad Jennings

  • Sergio Mitre is scheduled or three or four innings this afternoon, so it’s safe to say his oblique issue is a thing of the past.
  • Joba Chamberlain‘s strained oblique was well enough that he threw long-toss yesterday, and tomorrow he’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session. Assuming that goes well, he should get back into a game sometime next week.
  • Pedro Feliciano is dealing with a dead arm, but Joe Girardi downplayed the extent of the fatigue and just called it “extra rest.” The only reason this is a concern is because Feliciano is 34 years old and has made like 900 appearances in each of the last four years, but dead arms are pretty common this time of year.
  • Boone Logan went through a dead arm phase of his own recently, but now he’s dealing with back spasms. He did pitch in last night’s game, so the back stuff is pretty fresh. “As long as they’re just back spasms, it’s usually four or five days,”  said Girardi. “They’re no fun, I know that.”

Wouldn’t that be something; more than $9M tied up between three lefty relievers, and they all start the season on the disabled list? Yikes. Hopefully that won’t come to fruition.