Klaw’s organizational rankings

One day after Frankie Piliere posted his organizational rankings, Keith Law did the same. He was a bit harsher on the Yanks than Piliere, ranking their system #25 overall. “Lost picks and trades depleted the system,” says KLaw. “After Jesus Montero, the next impact guys are probably Slade Heathcott and Gary Sanchez, with three pro games combined to date, while their highest-ceiling arm, Andrew Brackman, struggled with command in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery.”

Chances are Baseball America will rank the Yanks’ system somewhere in the 15-25 range, so that generally gives us an idea where the Yanks stand. There’s not much of a difference between the 15th best team and the 20th best team, or the 20th best team and the 25th best team. They were middle of the pack coming into the year, and after graduating so many players to the bigs while dealing two top 100 guys in Austin Jackson and Arodys Vizcaino, they were bound to drop.

The Phillies and the state of New York baseball

As the Hot Stove League rounds third and heads for home, the Yankees are again in everyone’s crosshairs. With the World Series trophy once again ensconced in the Bronx, the Yankees are baseball team’s to beat, and as AL teams gear up to take on the champions, the runners-up have their eyes on them too.

During his first press conference of the year, the svelte-looking Charlie Manuel, manager of the NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies, spoke about the Yankees. First, he spoke about losing to the Yanks in November:

“If you go back and look and followed us playing the Rockies and the Dodgers, we played real good. We didn’t really play as good as we can against the Yankees. It might have been because of their bullpen and their pitching. We ran into a situation in the World Series with how it went, the Yankees were a well-balanced team with their offense. At the end, Rivera did what he’s been doing all these years. We can play better and we can pitch better offensively and defensively. I felt like in the ones they beat us, they were like a step ahead of us. We were always chasing them and trying to catch up. They were always ahead of us … It was who got the breaks and they got the good breaks. We can beat them. At the end of the World Series last year when I talked to our team, I told them that I feel like we owe the Yankees one … They got us.”

Later, he spoke again about facing the Yankees and beating them the next time around. “We can play with the Yankees. We could have beaten the Yankees but we didn’t,” he said. “That give us more determination and everything. We definitely want to get back to the World Series. I know that. I know we want to go back to the World Series and win it. It’s hard to go two years in a row to win the World Series. We got there but didn’t get it done. This year, we’re going to key on that. We’re going to keep our same philosophy.”

As we sit here on the edge of February, it’s not a stretch to imagine an October rematch between the Yankees and the Phillies. With Javier Vazquez aboard to beef up the rotation and Curtis Granderson patrolling the outfield, the Yankees have more depth from the get-go and are becoming younger in the field while maintaining their prodigious offensive output. The Red Sox have put together a defensive-minded team that should score runs, and they have the pitching to compete; the Mariners are the prohibitive favorites in the West; but the Yanks remain the American League’s team to beat.

In the National League, the Phillies are the clear-cut pre-season favorites. They will enjoy a full season of work from Roy Halladay and have a solid rotation behind him. Perhaps the Cardinals could unseat them; perhaps everything could go just right for the Marlins; perhaps the Rockies have the pieces to regain their 2007 NL title. As the Yankees are in the AL, though, the Phillies should be primed for a wire-to-wire run at their third consecutive National League crown.

As the Yankees and Phillies remain baseball’s crown jewels heading into 2010, I can’t help but think about the Mets, a historical rival to both teams and a rival to neither right now. In an e-mail to me and Joe last night, Mike expressed his condolences for Mets’ fans. In the face of their worst finish since 1993 and their second highest loss total since 1993, Omar Minaya and the Mets have basically stood pat. Their biggest move came when Jason Bay signed with them for too many years and too many dollars, and their loudest recent splash involved a move that netted them an outfielder who can’t hit, can’t field and hasn’t flashed much power lately.

It’s true that some of the Mets’ 2009 failures stemmed from bad luck. The team was not equipped to handle the injuries that befell them. But at the same time, they’re heading into 2010 with Fernando Nieve as their fifth starter and Omir Santos as their starting catcher. Bengie Molina saved the team from themselves, but they couldn’t find a league average innings eater type such as Jon Garland to shore up a shaky rotation.

I don’t root against the Mets. I have nothing against the Flushing Faithful, and I believe the city benefits with two competitive baseball teams fighting it out for a playoff spot and media attention. But as the Mets reach a recent nadir, I’m glad to be a Yankee fan. I’m glad to see Brian Cashman actively working to improve the team and generally knowing what does and does not work. If the stars align properly, the Yankees and Phillies should be back in the World Series, and as long as Omar Minaya is in charge in Queens, the Mets will be at home watching.

Hindsight makes the Vazquez deal look better

The Yankees made it clear when the off-season began that they planned to sign a starting pitcher. In 2009 they dealt with a constantly fluctuating fifth starter spot, plus Joba Chamberlain‘s growing pains. The team understandably wanted to solidify that rotation rather than placing both Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in the rotation, especially after the former pitched more innings than previously in his career, and the latter faces an innings limit in 2010. As we moved through the off-season’s beginning stages, most of us thought that the Yankees would sign Justin Duchscherer or Ben Sheets. Instead they traded for Javier Vazquez.

At the time I argued it was a good move. Vazquez has been a solid pitcher in most seasons of his career, mixing average seasons with excellent seasons. At worst he’s the best fourth starter in the league, and probably a mid-range third starter. At best he complements A.J. Burnett as a No. 2. That sounds like an acceptable range of outcomes. The price was right on Vazquez, too. In addition to his $12 million salary, the Yankees traded the exact type of player they should in this case. Melky Cabrera, while a solid contributor last season, has shown himself a league average player during his Yankees tenure. Arodys Vizcaino is a young prospect a few years away from the majors. Mike Dunn was a throw-in, offset in a way by Boone Logan.

In Vazquez, the Yankees not only received a potentially excellent starter, but also a durable one. Only once in the last decade did Javy miss the 200-inning mark, and even then he hit 198 innings. That, I think, represents a large part of the decision to trade for Vazquez rather than sign one of the free agent starters. Both Sheets and Duchscherer are coming off injuries which kept them out of action in 2009. Perhaps the year off rejuvenated them, but that’s still a hefty bet. Maybe Sheets pitches 170 innings in 2010. But is that a bet that, as a GM, you’d be willing to make?

Now we see where Sheets and Duchscherer have landed. Duchscherer signed a one-year, $2 million deal that can pay him up to $5.5 million with incentives. That seems like a steal, and perhaps the A’s did get a familiarity discount. The Yankees could have easily made that move, but Duch has never crossed the 150-inning mark in his life. The price might have been low, but the Yankees had no way of expecting the kind of production they wanted from a rotation signing. It was a nice thought — Duchscherer did, after all, dominate in his first full season as a starter, allowing under one walk plus hit per inning pitched. But with the history of low inning totals and a completely missed 2009 campaign, the Yankees wanted something of a better bet.

Sheets got $10 million plus incentives, not quite the $12 million he sought but closer than I thought he’d get. The Yankees reportedly like Sheets, but in this case I can see why they weren’t willing to wait him out. It was pretty clear at the winter meetings that Sheets wasn’t signing any time soon, and the Yankees wanted to get their situation in order. They couldn’t know what kind of contract Sheets would eventually command, but it figured to be substantial. The Yankees apparently deemed him not worth the wait. It wasn’t because of ability — at his best, Sheets is a better pitcher than Vazquez. Durability certainly played a role in the decision to trade for Vazquez rather than wait out Sheets.

I know a number of fans did not like the Vazquez trade, and I doubt anything will convince them that it was the right move. But upon seeing how the free agent pitching market played out, I have a hard time arguing against it. The Yankees traded the type of players they can afford to part ways with for a pitcher who fits their mold — durable, possibly dominant, whereas Sheets is dominant, possibly durable. When considering all other possible options and outcomes for that open rotation spot, the Yankees did well for themselves.

The sounds of Cashman calling Boras’s bluff

Judging by the way he’s spoken to the media this week, Brian Cashman is as sick of the Johnny Damon drama as the rest of us. I can understand, to an extent, the attention surrounding the situation. Damon is the best remaining free agent, and the Yankees have a perceived hole in left field. But they also claim to have a tight budget, making what appears to be a perfect marriage a bit dicier. And so, the more time Johnny spends on the free agent market, the more we hear about his prospects, both real and fabricated.

This week Cashman has seemed a bit irritated when a reporter raises the topic. Over the weekend, when Jon Heyman floated the story about the Yankees putting a weekend deadline on their offer to Damon, Cashman wasn’t too friendly when asked for a comment.

“Long long it’s taking certain people to wake up and smell the coffee, that’s what surprises me,” Cashman said. “Wake up and smell the coffee,” seems to be one of his favorite phrases. But who, in this instance, should roll themselves out of bed and take a whiff of the French roast? “When you get on the phone with agents, they tell you one thing, and certain agents can’t honestly believe what they’re trying to convey. Do they think I’m stupid?” Emphasis, of course, is mine.

I wasn’t with Cashman when he said this. I don’t know what tone he took, though having heard him speak before I can venture a pretty good guess. But even absent that information, it sounds like he’s referring to Scott Boras. If Bill Madden is right about Boras continuing to float mystery teams instead of talking numbers, I’d say it’s almost certain that the above quote could read, “…Scott Boras can’t honestly believe what he’s trying to convey.”

Yesterday Bryan Hoch asked Cashman about Johnny Damon, and he started off frankly. “I’m not having any discussions with him,” Cashman said. Fair enough. Straight forward, answering the question — things you expect. But then he added a bit of a zinger, again presumably targeted at Boras.

“His abilities exceed the money that I have.”

I definitely chuckled at this a bit. Boras has gone on and on about Johnny’s invincibility this winter, and now that his other major clients have homes he has probably ramped up that effort over the past week or so. I can only imagine Cashman’s annoyance at constantly hearing it from Boras. His quote is also, I think, a hint at the dissonance between Boras’s demands and the current market. Yes, Johnny is a valuable player, and in a different year he’d probably have received a multiyear offer. This year that will not happen. But Boras continues to bang the drum.

All parties seem to think the Yankees are moving on. That’s just public discourse, however. Until Johnny signs elsewhere, the possibility remains that he’ll again don pinstripes in 2010. But, in case he does sign in Oakland or Cleveland or some other team, the Yankees do have options. As Joel Sherman tweets, the Yankees are still considering their options, including Reed Johnson. Also, if Rocco Baldelli comes to Spring Training, it will be as a non-roster invite. That makes plenty of sense, considering Baldelli’s injury history and performance last season.

Over the weekend, Damon said he’d have a team by the end of this week. Please, oh please let that be true. I don’t think I have the stomach for much more of this.

Piliere ranks the Yanks’ farm system middle of the pack

Frankie Piliere of AOL FanHouse released his organizational rankings today, one day after dropping his top 100 prospects on us. The Yanks came in at #15 overall, right in the middle of the pack. “The Yankees have plenty of depth,” he says. “What they don’t have right now is a great deal of impact talent behind Jesus Montero.” Hard to argue with that, I said the same thing a week ago.

The Rays top his list, and deservedly so. Their system is insane. And don’t even try the “it’s easy to have a good system when you have so many high picks from sucking so long” defense. Nine of their top ten prospects according to Baseball America were either a) drafted after the first round, or b) signing off the international market, where they were available to everyone. It’s time to stop being ignorant and start recognizing their amazing player development abilities.

Open Thread: DiMaggio vs. Paige

Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News writes of a story out of baseball’s forgotten lore, a matchup between Joe DiMaggio and Satchel Paige.

Joe DiMaggio was a prospect, a promising one for sure, but he still was two months shy of making his New York Yankees spring-training debut.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige was a Negro Leagues pitching sensation whose exploits seemed the stuff of myth until they actually were seen.

On a Sunday afternoon, Jan. 26, 1936, at the Oaks Ball Park in Emeryville, the two future Hall of Famers crossed paths in a fascinating but seldom told chapter of their legendary careers.

DiMaggio, 21 at the time, wasn’t the stoic Yankee Clipper yet.

Paige, 29 and in the prime of his career, played mostly in the game’s shadows. He wouldn’t make his major league debut for 12 more years.

The game, as Faraudo describes it, was quite the battle, pitting big leaguers against two Negro league players and a crew of players from the Oakland playgrounds. Paige, unsurprisingly, stole the show, allowing just one run on three hits through nine innings while driving in his team’s only run. DiMaggio was hitless until the 10th, when he slapped a single up the middle for the winning run.

After you finish taking in that memory, come back for the open thread. In local sports, the Devils are up in Ottawa, the Islanders host Washington, and the Knicks host the Wolves.

When the Yankees play: inside the 2010 schedule

In the middle of September, Major League Baseball released its preliminary schedule for 2010, and at the time, we had some fun dissecting the Yanks’ slate of 162. With the quirks of the scheduling came our requisite complaints: too many early games against Boston, too many illogical road trips and too many away games in April. On the other hand, the Yanks do get to play the Astros and Diamondbacks while the Red Sox face the Giants and Rockies, but I digress.

Today, baseball unveiled the preliminary start times for the 2010 season, and the Yanks’ official schedule has been updated as such. The schedule is available for download and personal calendar integration in numerous forms right here. The option to add the Yanks’ schedule to Google Calendar option is fantastic for those of whose lives are on Google, and the Outlook/iCal integration is an added perk this year.

Although the broadcast schedules have yet to be announced, we can glean some information from the start times. As we know, the Yanks and Red Sox will square off on Sunday night at 8 p.m. On average, the temperature in Boston on April 4 at 8 p.m. is in the low 40s. Ninja Cano will make his return. The next two games of the season, also in Boston, are night affairs, but the Yanks’ first two games at hand on Tuesday, April 13 and Wednesday, April 14 are both at 1:05 p.m.

In May, the Yanks will be the ESPN team of the month. With a weekend series from May 7-9 and a trip to Citi Field two weekends later, ESPN will broadcast both of the Sunday night games from those series, and FOX will probably take the May 8th game with a TBD start time.

The June TV highlights will be the Yankees/Joe Torre reunion in Chavez Ravine. Both of the weekend games for the Bombers’ trip to Los Angeles currently feature TBD start times, and I’d put money on a FOX/ESPN weekend special. Considering the media markets and the emotional story lines, those games are primed for a ratings bonanza. The week before that trip west, the Mets come to the Bronx, and both of those games will probably be on national TV as well. May and June will feature a lot of Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan and Jon Miller.

After that, only the remaining series against Boston are bound to be on TV. Otherwise, the Yankees have done a good job avoiding weekend night games. No home game on a Saturday starts later than 4:05 p.m., and although many Saturday road games are at night, I appreciate the Yanks’ efforts in schedule afternoon affairs.

So that’s that. Now, we just have to wait until Opening Day. April 4, 8:05 p.m. Mark your calendars.