Aceves dealing with a lower back issue

Via Anthony DiComo, Al Aceves is battling a lower back issue and won’t make his scheduled pitching appearance tomorrow. The team will keep an eye on him before determining his status for Opening Day. Aceves also missed a total of nine days last August with lower back soreness, so this is something worth monitoring. Boone Logan is the logical candidate to take his place in the bullpen should he miss any time.

Is it too late to get Chad Gaudin back?

The positives of having Joba in the bullpen

Once the Yankees officially announced that Phil Hughes had won what never appeared to be much of a competition for the fifth starter’s job, there was a tremendous amount of backlash regarding Joba Chamberlain‘s role. More than I expected, really. While Joe Girardi has indicated that an assignment to Triple-A remains an option (not just for Joba, but for Al Aceves too), it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Chamberlain will spend the entire season working out of the team’s bullpen in some capacity.

The Yanks already have two long men in the pen, so in all likelihood Joba will setup Mariano Rivera in short relief somehow. A multi-inning relief role isn’t out of the question, but I find it unlikely. Girardi also maintains that they won’t just hand him his old 8th inning job, but we’ll see. Joba somehow worked his way back into the 8th inning role during the playoffs last year even though he wasn’t pitching all that well. But I digress.

The reason everyone’s upset about Joba spending the year in the bullpen has to do with his development plan. After spending the last two-plus years fighting the completely arbitrary Joba Rules and finally having a developed starter, the Yanks are shelving Joba The Starter. Looking around the league, I see no fewer than 24 teams that would unquestionably be using Chamberlain as a big league starter if he were in their organization, and there’s probably a few more than would be as well.

No matter how much we don’t like the move of using Joba as a reliever in 2010, it’s going to happen. I’m here to provide a little dose of reality, because having him available out of the bullpen this year is far from a negative. Is it ideal? No. But does it have value? Absolutely.

1. He’s still in the big leagues

If you watched any or all of Chamberlain’s 31 starts last season, you saw a common theme. He was too tentative and almost refused to attack the strike zone. That’s something a trip to the minors won’t solve, because you can flirt with the corners in Triple-A and still get outs because the hitters are inferior. The number of innings Joba’s capable of throwing in 2011 is secondary to his learning how to get hitters out, and that’s something he has to do against the best competition he’ll ever face. I discussed this very topic further at TYU.

2. He gets to work with Mariano Rivera

I know Mike Harkey holds the title of Bullpen Coach – he’s the guy that picks up the phone when Dave Eiland calls and the one who waves his hat whenever someone is ready – but Mo is the guy in charge out there. In addition to everything he’s done on the mound, he’s also done some great things just by spending time with his fellow relievers. Mo took Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras under his wing during the 2008 season, when the pair combined to post a 3.74 ERA (3.99 FIP) and a 10.04 K/9 in 113 innings, and he did the same with Phil Hughes last year. Spending more than six months enrolled at The University of Rivera can be nothing but good for Chamberlain.

3. The Yankees have some serious bullpen depth

Even before the fifth starter’s race was decided, Girardi had the trio of David Robertson, Damaso Marte, and Chan Ho Park available to bridge the gap from the starters to Rivera in the 9th,and we all felt comfortable with that. The Yankees had so much bullpen depth that Mark Melancon, he of the 10-1 K/BB ratio in six outings this spring, was reassigned to minor league camp with 16 days left in Spring Training. Now add Joba to that mix, and you’ve got four bonafide setup men available on any given night. Not that he’s even done so before, but Girardi won’t have to rely and overwork one specific guy, and if the 40-year-old Rivera ever needs a few days off, he has plenty of options to work the 9th in Mo’s stead.

4. His arm gets a break

The 2009 season was first time Joba has ever pitched a full, healthy season as a pro. His 2007 season was cut short on the front end by a hamstring injury that prevented him from pitching until May and at the back end by his shift to the bullpen. Shoulder tendinitis robbed Joba of nearly a month during the 2008 season, and as a result he increased his workload by 47.2 innings last year. An increase that large is generally considered to be hazardous to the health of pitcher’s Chamberlain’s age, so the move to the bullpen gives him a little of a breather.

Again, having Joba move back to the bullpen this year is less than ideal, especially when he’s now free from pretty much any kind of innings limitation (I doubt they would have let him throw 220 innings, or something crazy like that). Does the move make the Yankees a better team in 2010? Yeah, it almost definitely does, and when the core of your team features four key players that will be at least 36-years-old by the time the playoffs roll around, it’s not the worst idea to try to win as much as possible right now.

Photo Credit: Flickr user crabshack

2010 Season Preview: Help from within

Although they’ll always be known as a team that relies on stars and big name players, the core of the most recent Yankees’ dynasty came from within. The team developed three borderline Hall of Fame players at premium up-the-middle positions (Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte) in under a decade, and that alone would have been a strong enough foundation for perennial championship contender. The Yankees got greedy though, so they went ahead and developed a surefire Hall of Fame shortstop and the greatest relief pitcher who ever lived as well. That’s not just a great run of player development, it’s a historically great run.

After the lavish spending that occurred in the early part of the century, GM Brian Cashman re-emphasized the farm system and player development, and in recent years he’s begun to see those efforts pay dividends. Last year’s World Series roster featured eight homegrown players who made their big league debut within the last five seasons, and six who debuted within the last three years.

The crown jewel of the farm system right now is the man you see above, 20-year-old catcher Jesus Montero. Opinions about his ability to remain behind the plate vary, though most believe he’s destined to move to a less valuable position down the road. His bat will work no matter where he plays, because he compliments top of the line power with a solid approach and the innate ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. As a 19-year-old he hit .337-.389-.562 with 17 homers in 92 games split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton before a fluke injury (broken finger on his catching hand) ended his season in August, and just before Spring Training he was named the fourth best prospect in the game by Baseball America. The Yankees have Montero penciled into the starting catcher’s job for Triple-A Scranton this season.

It’s unlikely the Yanks would call Montero up for any sort of extended playing time during the 2010 season, but they have several other players on the cusp of contributing, one of whom we caught a glimpse of last season. Mark Melancon, the team’s best relief prospect, walked as many batters as he struck out (ten) in his 16.1 inning cameo, but his minor league track record (2.69 FIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 57.6 GB%) screams future success. With a low-90’s fastball and an out-pitch curveball, the 25-year-old Tommy John surgery survivor will be the first arm called up whenever the bullpen needs some help, and there’s a good chance he’ll be this year’s version of David Robertson.

Another player the Yankees are sure to call on at some point is utility man Kevin Russo (left), who has opened eyes this spring with a .276-.353-.379 batting line. A 2006 draft pick like Melancon and Robertson, the 24-year-old broke out in 2008 and has hit .318-.379-.424 since, playing three infield spots as well as the outfield corners. The undersized Russo (5-foot-11, 190 lbs.) has battled hamstring injuries and bad luck in his pro career (a batted ball in BP broke some bones in his face), but he’s the first in line for a promotion when Ramiro Pena falters or the bench otherwise needs some reinforcements.

The Yanks also have young rotation depth in 23-year-old Ivan Nova (3.83 FIP, 1.53 K/BB last year) and 22-year-old Zach McAllister (3.03 FIP, 2.91 K/BB), both of whom will open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation and project as back of the rotation workhorses. Jason Hirsh is a little older than those two at 28, but he’s a former top prospect with the Astros and Rockies who has big league experience and has done nothing but get outs since joining the Yanks last season. All three players also double as prime pieces of trade bait should the Yankees decide to go that route. The 24-year-old Greg Golson offers elite defense and speed if a stopgap outfielder is needed, and I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with the soon to be 27-year-old first baseman Juan Miranda. All but McAllister and Hirsh are on the 40-man roster.

Those are the players that are in the position to help the big league team in 2010, but the Yankees also have several prospects further down the ladder with a chance to make a name for themselves this year. Catcher Austin Romine will finally step out of Montero’s shadow this year for Double-A Trenton, and look to improve on last year’s .347 wOBA with High-A Tampa while handling the rigors of his first full season as a clear cut number one catcher. With a strong all-around package of offense and defense at a premium position, the 21-year-old Romine is the early favorite to be the team’s catcher of the future.

His battery mate every five days will be former Stanford lefty Jeremy Bleich, who despite less than stellar stats at Double-A Trenton (4.40 FIP, 1.76 K/BB) showed great improvement with his stuff last year as he got further away from a 2008 elbow injury. Drafted as a polished finesse pitcher, the 22-year-old’s velocity flirted with 95 last season, and anytime a lefty throws that hard, you pay attention. He’ll look to regain his trademark command this year to get back on track.

Dominican bonus baby Jose Ramirez, 21, took the short season circuit by storm last year when he held opponents to a .161 batting average and posted a 3.46 FIP and a 3.31 K/BB, and he’ll bring his mid-90’s gas and knockout changeup to Low-A Charleston in 2010. Lefty Manny Banuelos emerged as Charleston’s ace last season when he posted a 2.76 FIP and a 3.71 K/BB in 108 innings, earning himself a trip to the Futures Game. Still a year away from his 20th birthday, he’ll jump to High-A Tampa and try to further establish himself as a cornerstone piece for the future. Last year’s top draft picks, outfielder Slade Heathcott and catcher J.R. Murphy, will spend their first full season in the organization proving they were worth their seven figure signing bonuses.

Of course, when it comes to farm system this year, all eyes will again be on 2007 first rounder Andrew Brackman (right), who disappointed in 2009 to say the least. The now 24-year-old posted a 4.66 FIP in Low-A Charleston, walking close to six and a half batters for every nine innings pitched, and his stuff was a far cry from what it was in college. The silver lining was that he continued to miss bats (8.69 K/9) and showed improved control and arm strength in a late season stint as a reliever, which he was able to carry over into Instructional League and again into Spring Training. The Yankees will bump Brackman up to High-A Tampa in part because his big league contract will force him to stick in the Majors for good by 2013, and they’re looking for him to really step up and grab the reigns in a farm system devoid of star power beyond it’s top prospect.

Trades, attrition, and graduation have thinned out the farm system that was rated as one of the game’s five best by Baseball America as recently as 2008, but the Yankees still have a bonafide superstar in the making in Jesus Montero, as well as several complementary pieces just a phone call away from the Bronx. The 2009 draft brought a much needed influx of high upside position players and power arms, while several Latin America prospects and pre-2009 draftees are poised to make the jump from good to very good and possibly even great prospects as they enter into their early-20’s and finish maturing.

The current Yankee team is still built around that same homegrown core from the late-90’s, though they’re surrounded by more star power than ever before. Should they need some reinforcements during the season or prospects to dangle as trade bait, the farm system offers plenty of variety. As the Yankees look to start their next dynasty, they aren’t going to have the luxury of producing five players as productive as the quintet they produced in the 90’s, though it’s possible no team will ever have that much player development success in such a short period of time ever again.

Photo Credits: Jesus Montero via Kathy Willens, AP. Kevin Russo via AP (uncredited). Andrew Brackman via Barton Silverman, NY Times.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 29th, 2010

Record Last Week: 2-3 (12 RS, 22 RA)
Spring Training Record: 10-13 (95 RS, 131 RA)
Spring Training  Schedule This Week: @ Orioles (Mon.), @ Braves (Tues., split squad), vs. Blue Jays (Tues., split squad), vs. Twins (Weds.), @ Blue Jays (Thurs.), vs. Orioles (Fri.), vs. Yankees Prospects (Sat.)
Regular Season Schedule This Week: @ Red Sox (Sunday)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

A week from now we’ll all be much happier

In this very space, one week from right now, you’ll see the very first game story of the year. I’m imagining it right now. CC going six strong, Robertson, Marte, Joba, and Mo closing it out, Jeter providing a key base hit, A-Rod taking one over the monster. All that stands in our way of realizing the most joyous day on the calendar, Opening Day, is the final week of spring training. As has been the case all spring to this point, it figures to be a quiet one.

We enter the final week of spring training with all roster questions answered. The Yankees resolved the issue of 13 pitchers for 12 spots by releasing Chad Gaudin. They named Phil Hughes the fifth starter and moved Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen, perhaps permanently. They returned Jamie Hoffmann, implicitly naming Marcus Thames the righty off the bench. They sent Kevin Russo to minor league camp, making Ramiro Pena the utility infielder. In other words, the 25-man is set. The only issue left is of whether Brett Gardner or Curtis Granderson plays center field. It figures to be Granderson, while it also sounds like Gardner will play the outfield every day as well.

The last week, then, will act as a tune-up. The starters will get the last of their work in, and the relievers will get into their rhythms. Maybe Andy Pettitte will get a few real innings before his debut at Fenway Park next Wednesday. Marcus Thames will probably continue to get at-bats against lefties. That’s about it, though. This last week could end up being a long one. It’s almost like the regular season. The team has few players in camp who won’t make the 25-man roster, making it feel real. But it’s not.

We’ll get to watch a few of these games, thankfully. Half of Tuesday’s split-squad game, the night cap, will be on YES. Unfortunately, CC Sabathia‘s final spring start comes on the road that afternoon. The following evening we’ll get a 1:05 game on YES and ESPN, and the same applies to the final intersquad spring game on Friday. Saturday the Yanks take on their minor league squad. It’s not officially scheduled for TV, but with all the cancellations this spring I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on YES. From there it’s to Boston, where we’ll kick off the 2010 season on ESPN2 (ESPN2?!?!?) at 8 p.m.

For our part, we’ve got a few things lined up to keep things interesting in the final exhibition week. We’ll hit on some odds and ends to finish our 2010 season preview, and then we’ll be profiling the competition in the AL East. So bear with us. It might feel like a long week, but the payoff will be totally worth it.

Open Thread: Gere’d up

With Richard Gere in full uniform as the honorary manager today, the Yankees took care of business and punished a few Double-A pitchers the Tigers sacrificed to the baseball gods. The Yanks had drawn eight walks by the time the rain really picked up and I stopped watching in the fourth. Nick Johnson drew two of those walks in a six run first inning, and Robbie Cano did a great job out of the fifth spot with a knock and a few steaks. Here’s the box score.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. Most of the RAB Fantasy Baseball Leagues are drafting this evening, so feel free to mention your picks in the comments if you’re drafting tonight. I’ll have all my picks on Twitter, so you can follow my madness there. Otherwise you got the Devils and the end of Baylor-Duke to keep you occupied. Enjoy.

Photo Credit: Mike Carlson, AP

The RAB 140™

The following a guest entry from regular commenters tommiesmithjohncarlos and The Honorable Congressman Mondesi. If you’re involved in one of our many fantasy baseball leagues, I suggest you read up…

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the RAB 140™!

You are part of the inaugural season of one of the most interesting and exciting ventures in all of fantasy sports.  The RAB 140™ is a system of 7 linked, tiered permanent fantasy baseball leagues of 20 teams each, with year-over-year keepers and team promotion/relegation.

Most of you are fantasy regulars, so there’s no need to go over basics.  Please remember to read the roster rules and the scoring setup on your league page (all leagues’ settings are the same). Instead, let’s discuss the specifics of the tiers and the relegation and keeper formats.

[Read more…]