RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

Yankees will exercise patience with Hughes

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/AP

Hard to believe it has been this long, but one week ago the Yankees announced that Phil Hughes, not Joba Chamberlain, would enter the season as the team’s No. 5 starter. I’ll fast forward past the drawn out reactions of both sides of the Joba debate and cut to one of the more pressing questions about the decision. What will the Yankees do if Hughes struggles? As Dave Eiland and Billy Eppler opined over the weekend, the team would not call on Joba Chamberlain, whom they plan to keep in the bullpen all season. How long does Hughes have to prove himself before they turn to Sergio Mitre or Al Aceves?

Hughes has struggled as a starter in the majors, so the question has merit. After a fairly strong debut in 2007 — a 4.46 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 1.28 WHIP — he imploded after breaking camp in the rotation the following season. Before a stress fracture in his rib costed him a few months, he posted a 9.00 ERA, though only a 4.97 FIP. Even worse, he pitched just 22 innings through six starts, so just 3.2 per start. That taxed the bullpen considerably. The Yankees went 1-5 in his starts. He made a strong debut in 2009, six innings of shutout ball against the Tigers, but stumbled a bit after that. The Yankees moved him to the bullpen when he had a 5.45 ERA and 4.96 FIP.

What’s different this year, then? The Yankees saw Hughes mature in the bullpen, unleashing his fastball on opponents who had a tough time catching up. While he clearly won’t throw that fast in the rotation, it certainly gives us faith that he can sit 92, 93, as his scouting report suggested, rather than the 90, 91 we saw during 2008 and early 2009. That extra tick on his fastball will also help his changeup, still a work in progress. As pitching coach Dave Eiland said, “Phil is more prepared than ever to start in this league.”

That quote comes from Joel Sherman’s latest column. He leads off by saying the Yankees won’t guarantee Chamberlain the primary setup role, which is expected. They’ve made it clear that they’ll hand Joba nothing, and that doesn’t end with a rotation spot. The point on Hughes is a bit more interesting, though. Apparently the Yankees are prepared to live through growing pains if he experiences them.

The Yankees will give Hughes some leash to grow because they see such future promise. His ability to pinpoint his fastball separated him as a starting candidate from Chamberlain and his further development of a changeup provided him a four-pitch arsenal (along with cutter and curve) that convinces the Yankees he is heading toward the top of a rotation. Even yesterday in allowing three runs in 4 2/3 innings to the Twins, Hughes encouraged the Yankees by hitting 94 mph three times, continuing to deploy a more than passable change and not panicking when his curve was absent early.

This is clearly the right move. If the Yankees really did favor Hughes for the rotation heading into camp, there’s no reason to end his tenure after a few poor starts. He might have to pitch through problems. Thankfully, as Sherman notes, the Yanks aren’t too concerned about getting high-level production from the fifth starter spot. They have four solid pitchers ahead of Hughes who can hold down the fort. Plus, even if he’s not at the top of his game Hughes is likely as good as Mitre. So there might not be much benefit in pulling Hughes, anyway.

History on the horizon

As Yankee fans, we’ve been privy to watching history unfold right before our eyes on a regular basis. Just last season we watched as Mariano Rivera became the second player ever to record 500 career saves while Derek Jeter climbed past Lou Gehrig to record the most hits in Yankee history. It’s just par for the course around these parts.

The 2010 season will be no different, though this year’s historical milestones may not be as sexy as some of the one’s we’ve witnessed in recent years. That doesn’t lessen their significance though, because frankly we’re in store for some really cool stuff. Let’s run it down…

Alex Rodriguez – 600 homers
This is the big one. Only six players in the history of the game have eclipsed the 600 homerun plateau, and the Yankees’ third basemen is just 17 away. As if that isn’t impressive enough, A-Rod will turn just 35-years-old in July, and none of the other players managed to hit their 600th jack before their 36th birthday. Of course, Alex is already the youngest player in history to hit 300, 400, and 500 career homers, so it’s only natural that he’ll be the youngest to hit 600 as well. He should have this one in the bag by June, July the latest.

But that’s not all. Alex is three stolen bases away from the 300 steal mark, which by itself isn’t all that impressive. However, combine the 300 steals with the 600 homers, well then you’re on to something. Only two players in baseball history belong to the 600-300 club, and you may have heard of them: Barry Bonds (762 HR, 514 SB) and Willie Mays (660 HR, 338 SB). Pay attention folks, this guy’s a walking history book.

Jorge Posada – 1,500 hits, 350 doubles, 250 homers
Posada’s coming up on a few big career milestones, especially when it comes to catchers. He’s twelve hits away from 1,500, eight doubles away from 350, and seven homers away from 250. He’s also ten games away from appearing in 1,500 as a catcher. Individually, those four milestones won’t wow anyone, but when put together, you’re talking select company. Just four catchers in history have picked up 1,500 career hits, 350 career doubles, and 250 career homers while playing at least 1,500 games behind the plate, and all four are either in the Hall of Fame or will be shortly. Posada is not only on pace to join them this season, but he also has a higher career on-base percentage (by 37 points (!!!)) than any of them.

Barring injury, the Yanks’ catcher should reach all of these milestones no later than what, June? That sounds about right.

Derek Jeter – 4,000 times on base
Times on base doesn’t quite roll of your tongue as easily as hits or homeruns or anything like that, but they’re just as important, if not more. The stat combines hits, walks, and hit by pitches, and the Yankees’ captain goes into the season having reached base 3,775 times in his career. Jeter reached base 273 times even in his down year of 2008, so reaching base the 275 times needed to reach the milestone this year isn’t as far-fetched as you may think.

Only forty players in the history of baseball have managed to reach base a total of 4,000 times in their career, and 32 of them are already in Cooperstown. The other eight a) will be in the Hall of Fame one day, or b) should be in but are held back by the shackles of PED revelations, gambling exploits, etc. It’s basically the forty greatest hitters who’ve ever lived, simply put. I suspect we won’t hear anything about this milestone if/when Jeter reaches it sometime in September, but you best believe it’s pretty frickin’ amazing.

CC Sabathia – 150 career wins
We all know that wins are a horrible way to evaluate pitchers, but bulk win totals are a sign of longevity when looked at over the course of a career. Sabathia is 14 wins away from the halfway point to 300, a total he’s reached in four of the last five seasons. Just for comparison’s sake, the Yanks’ ace will be 29 years and 258 days old on Opening Day. Roger Clemens had 136 career wins at the same age, and former Yank Randy Johnson (another big lefty) had just 55. 55! We hear plenty of analysts talk about how no one will ever reach the magical 300 win plateau again, but Sabathia has as good of a chance to do it as anyone in the game today. He should have win number 14 in the bag by the end of August.

Robinson Cano – 1,000 hits
It feels like he was just called up yesterday, but Robbie Cano is lazily closing on 1,000 career hits already. He’ll step to the plate Sunday night in Fenway Park just 125 hits away, and he hasn’t recorded fewer than that many hits in a season since 2001, when he was 18-years-old and played just 59 games in rookie ball. Now, 1,000 hits are more than most big leaguers will retire with, but frankly it’s nothing to stop the game and tip your helmet to the crowd about However, for a guy that constantly gets pooped on for being an underachiever and not living up to his potential and all that nonsense, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Robbie’s 875 career hits have come in 3,036 plate appearances. In Jeter’s first 3,036 plate appearances, he had 824 hits. Wrap your head around that.

There’s plenty more smaller individual milestones that will be reached this season – Cano is 13 homers away from 100, Mark Teixeira is eight away from 250, Chan Ho Park is 77.2 IP away from 2,000, etc. – but of course some will get more attention that others (did anyone bother to point out that A.J. Burnett finished the 2009 season with exactly 100 career wins?). For a franchise so deep in tradition, we can sometimes lose sight of just how impressive some of these accomplishments are. The fellas wearing pinstripes never seem to disappoint when it comes to delivering greatness, and we shouldn’t take it for granted.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Spring Training injury update: Teixeira, Cervelli, Aceves

As the Yankees wrap up camp, a few players are dealing with some various aches and pains that come with Spring Training. I have some brief updates on three players bound for the 25-man roster who are all recovering from injuries. Mark Teixeira got hit on the elbow by a Jeremy Guthrie pitch earlier this week. X-Rays were negative, and after sitting out a few days and getting treatment on the bruise, he is scheduled to be back in the lineup today. Back-up catcher Francisco Cervelli has what the team is calling a minor Grade 1 hamstring strain. He probably won’t play again during the Grapefruit League, but the Yanks do not anticipate putting him on the DL to start the season. Finally, Alfredo Aceves is set to test his balky back in a game tomorrow. How he responds to pitching will determine the composition of the Opening Day bullpen.

Hughes will skip first turn through the rotation

The spring checklist is all but complete. The team has decided on the batting order, the fifth starter, the bullpen, and the fifth outfielder. Last on the agenda is of when Phil Hughes will make his 2010 debut. The Yankees do not need a fifth starter until April 17, so they could have sent him to AAA to start the season, giving him a few starts before he’s called to action. That won’t be the case, though. Yesterday the team announced that Hughes will start April 15 against the Angels, picking up the fifth spot on the second turn through the rotation.

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP

Hughes won’t sit idly by, nor will he pitch out of the bullpen, during the season’s first 11 days. Instead he’ll pitch in two extended spring training games, one on April 5 and the other on April 10. As the name extended spring training implies, these will just be further tune-ups for Hughes. They’ll allow him to stay in shape without actually getting into a game. They also will not count against Hughes’s innings cap for the season, which is probably the draw of doing EST rather than minor leauge games. Furthermore, the Yankees need not use his one remaining option.

Here’s how the rotation will break down through Hughes’s first start:

2010 April Pitching

Date Pitcher Opp Rest
4/4 Sabathia @BOS N/A
4/6 Burnett @BOS N/A
4/7 Pettitte @BOS N/A
4/9 Vazquez @TB N/A
4/10 Sabathia @TB 5
4/11 Burnett @TB 4
4/13 Pettitte LAA 5
4/14 Vazquez LAA 4
4/15 Hughes LAA N/A

Unless there’s a non-Opening Day rainout, Pettitte will pitch the home opener on April 13. Slotting Hughes on the 15th not only makes sense in terms of his spot in the rotation (though rotation position hardly matters after the first turn through), but it gives the starters ample rest throughout the rest of the month. Here’s how April finishes:

Second half of April

Date Pitcher Opp Rest
4/16 Sabathia TEX 5
4/17 Burnett TEX 5
4/18 Pettitte TEX 4
4/20 Vazquez @OAK 5
4/21 Hughes @OAK 5
4/22 Sabathia @OAK 5
4/23 Burnett @LAA 5
4/24 Pettitte @LAA 5
4/25 Vazquez @LAA 4
4/27 Hughes @BAL 5
4/28 Sabathia @BAL 5
4/29 Burnett @BAL 5
4/30 Pettitte CWS 5

All but two starts come with five days’ rest, which fits with the Yankees’ plan to keep their guys rested after the long 2009 season and short off-season. It also means Hughes will pitch just three times in April, so by month’s end he’ll probably have somewhere between 15 and 20 innings. If his innings limit sits somewhere around 170, this gives him 150 or so innings for the season’s final five months. If he stays healthy, the Yankees might be able to manage that by giving him a long rest during the All-Star break and maybe skipping a start here and there later in the season. In other words, it should be much more manageable than Joba Chamberlain‘s situation in 2009.

The extra help should help the Yankees get through a packed May, too. Of the month’s 31 days, the Yankees will play on 29 — including a Memorial Day Matinee at home against the Indians. Essentially, this means that the staff will be on mostly five days’ rest through April before hitting the normal four days’ come May. Sounds like a plan to me.

Steinbrenners in talks to sell Yanks to Dolans

James Dolan may be the next Yankee owner. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen, file)

When Hank and Hal Steinbrenner took over control of the Yanks from their ailing father George, many fans feared the the family would try to cash in on their billion-dollar asset. Although Yankee fans knew the destructive tendencies wrought by King George during his team, they also came to love George’s singular focus on winning and knew that any other potential ownership group brought with it fears of a heavy hand and bad baseball minds.

Today, multiple New York media outlets confirm what we were dreading: The Steinbrenners are in talks with the Dolan family concerning the Yanks. Although neither side would confirm the talks, a source close to the Yanks said that a deal could be reached before the All Star Break. At that point, the other owners would have to vote to approve the deal.

“Ever since Hal and Hank were appointed co-chairs of the team,” the source said, “the family has been pressuring them to sale. With the Knicks and Rangers in their pockets, the Dolans seemed to be a logical choice, and James has been chomping at the bit to run a baseball team.”

Early reports indicate that the Dolans will pay upwards of $1 billion for a controlling share of the team and the final price could top $1.2 billion. Yankee Global Enterprises, the holding company controlled by the Steinbrenners that owns both the Yankees and YES Network, will hold onto the TV station for now. Considering that George paid $10 million to buy the Yankees in 1973, the family is certainly turning a pretty penny from their 36 years of ownership.

This isn’t the first time that the Dolans, owners of the lucrative Cablevision empire, have expressed interest in buying the Yankees. In late 1998, Steinbrenner and the Dolans were rumored to be close to a sale of the team. George would have gotten $600 million while retaining control over the Yankees, but the deal fell through in March of 1999 over George’s continued involvement with the Yanks. Ownership, it seems, won by winning since that sale didn’t happen.

As the Steinbrenners get rich, though, the franchise and its fans are in for a bumpy ride full of uncertainty. James Dolan, the chair of both Cablevision and Madison Square Garden, has developed a reputation as a hands-on owner who isn’t very good at installing top player managers. On his watch, the Rangers missed the playoffs every year from 1998-2005 despite leading the NHL in payroll. They still aren’t a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have been a walking disaster since the early 2000s. They haven’t finished a season above .500 in nearly a decade and haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990s. On Dolan’s watch, they suffered through the Isiah Thomas Era and spent millions on just one season of Larry Brown. The team has overpaid for overrated and old players, and Dolan was rated one of the worst owners in the league by Sports Illustrated.

Maybe this will work out for the best. Maybe the Yankees have too many good baseball minds in charge for the Dolans to ruin things. Maybe Cablevision will take a hands-off approach for its $1 billion investment. I can’t help but think though that we’ll miss the Steinbrenners more than we realize. [Read more…]

Bronx Banter Breakdown on the Yanks’ competitors

Over the course of this week, Joe and Mike are previewing the Yanks’ AL East competitors. I got in on the action last week when Alex Belth of Bronx Banter asked me to join him and Cliff Corcoran on his SportsNet NY web-only video series Bronx Banter Breakdown.

In the third and final installment that we recorded on Friday, we discuss the state of the AL East. Cliff thinks the Red Sox are the Majors’ most improved team this winter, but I’m more worried about a looming Tampa team featuring a pair of guys playing for contracts. Check out the video below.

For those who missed the two other installments, the first piece examined the Yankee pitching while the second looked at the team’s offense. Thanks to Alex and Cliff for having me on, and be sure to check out Bronx Banter.