The aftermath of a Cliff Lee almost-trade

He coulda been on a better contender. Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Twenty four hours ago, I thought Cliff Lee would be in pinstripes. Although I was very hesitant to give up Jesus Montero, Lee is one of the top left-handed pitchers in the game, and a rotation featuring three lefties in Lee, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte along with Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett would have been nearly unstoppable. I had images of dominant second half running through my mind.

As we now know, with the deal 99.9 percent done and with the teams’ already having exchanged medicals, the Mariners pulled out. Ostensibly, they got cold feet over David Adams’ ankle, and that’s an excuse I don’t buy for a second. Players recover from ankle sprains, and Montero — not Adams — was the key piece to the deal. But somehow, the Rangers came a-knockin’, and for Justin Smoak and three others, Lee was theirs for the next two and a half months. Maybe he can bring the franchise their first playoff series victory since joining the league as the Washington Senators in 1961.

The fallout from the Mariners’ dealings have been wide-reaching. The Yankees, as Tyler Kepner writes, are mad at the Mariners. A year ago, Seattle asked for Austin Jackson for Jarrod Washburn; this year, they could have landed Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee. By now, I’m sure Brian Cashman has grown tired of the Mariners’ antics, and the prevailing sense in the organization is that Seattle used them to get Smoak.

Although a general manager is obliged to make one last call before signing off on a deal, others in baseball feel the Mariners went to far, says Joel Sherman and George A. King III. The Yankees, say the two well-connected Post reporters, believed the deal to be done pending acceptance of physical reports, but the Mariners on Friday started to ask around for Eduardo Nunez instead of David Adams. The Yankees were hesitant after agreeing to a framework of a deal the night before. “The Yankees do not do business that way,” a Yankee official said to the Post. “When we say something is a deal, it is a deal.”

In the same article, Cliff Lee said that he spoke with CC Sabathia on Thursday night, expecting to rejoin his former Cleveland teammate in pinstripes. Sabathia mentioned yesterday that Lee was looking forward to being a Yankee, and Lee speculated that the media coverage made the Rangers up their offer. Generally, that’s the way these trades work, and the Mariners would have gone back to the Rangers whether The Post had broken the story or not. For what it’s worth, Torii Hunter, who wants to be a GM one day, believes the Mariners broke an unwritten rule when they traded Lee within the division. Of course, he’s saying that because now the Angels have to go through Lee and the Rangers to reach the playoffs.

Interesting, in all of the coverage of the prospects, the Yankees now seem more willing to trade Jesus Montero than they were a few months ago when Roy Halladay was available. With the emergence of Austin Romine and the depth at catcher which includes a 17-year-old Gary Sanchez now with the Rookie Leagues and probably three or four years away, the team is loaded at that position. Club officials are not confident that Montero will stick behind the plate even as they believe he could bring an impact bat to the lineup. As trading him would have been a reasonable move, keeping him is just as positive for the future of the franchise.

For now, the consensus around baseball is that the Yankees will get their man a few weeks after the World Series ends. If it’s only a matter of money for Lee, the Yanks’ offer will trump all others. They didn’t get their man yesterday through no fault of their own, and now they might have to go through him to reach World Series title number 28. They’ve done it before; they can do it again.

Give CC his due

Does one of the C’s in CC Sabathia stand for consistent? He is among the most sure things in baseball for a starting pitcher, and I think it’s this consistency that often has CC overlooked. When he was with briefly with Milwaukee he was mentioned as among the best pitchers in baseball, if not the best. In the year and a half since signing with the Yankees, those mentions have slowed, if not come to a full stop. Should they have?

Any conversation about the best pitchers in baseball undoubtedly includes Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zack Greinke, Chris Carpenter and others. CC’s name is often left out. There are a few main factors which contribute to this: 1. He’s moved to the AL East, clearly the best division in baseball and toughest to pitch in. 2. He’s a high priced Yankee free agent signing. The MSM loves to gloss over the “Core Four” but the hired guns of the Yankees don’t get as much love, as they are often treated as mercenaries. CC doesn’t get bashed like A-Rod does, but he probably had has many glowing articles written about him nationally in his 3 months in Milwaukee as he has in a year and a half in pinstripes. 3. CC is historically a slow starter, so he doesn’t jump out of the gate fast with eye popping numbers. While I know ERA isn’t the best stat out there for pitchers (or close) I will consider it for the sake of this post as I’m questioning the lack of CC love in the mainstream.

What really brought this to my attention was a chat in April/May with Rob Neyer. He listed Lincecum, Greinke, Halladay, Hernandez, Haren and “Your favorite Cardinal” as the best pitchers in baseball. Those guys are all great, but considering the league switch, should Haren, Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lincecum automatically be considered better than CC? When asked about CC, Neyer replied “At the moment, no. He was among the very best when his K/BB ratio was in the 4-5 range. Since joining the Yankees he’s been under 3. Still plenty good, but not mystical.” Isn’t that simple statement explained by joining the Yankees in the AL East? Also of note, a follow up question the next week asked “You mentioned that CC isn’t on the level of the top pitchers in the league, and that when he gets hi K/BB ratio in the 4-5 range, it would be a better argument. Am I missing something, but little Timmy has never had a K/BB ratio in the 4’s for an entire season?” Neyer’s retort “No, he hasn’t. But his HR rate has been absurdly low. Sabathia’s a different sort of pitcher.”

Seriously? Lincecum’s HR is absurdly low not only because he’s a great pitcher, but he pitches in the NL, in an extreme pitchers park, in a division where he also gets to pitch in pitchers parks like LA and San Diego. If CC were pitching in San Francisco, even if his K/BB rate didn’t improve (which it undoubtedly would), wouldn’t his HR rate likely become “absurdly low?” While it’s a small sample size, it’s interesting to note that in CC’s 17 National League starts, his HR rate was 0.4/9. That’s the definition of absurdly low Rob. CC’s HR/9 in Interleague play is 0.5/9 (in 242 innings). Again, absurdly low.

Ubaldo Jimenez got off to a great start in 2010 (and has since, predictably, tailed off) but still hasn’t been as a good as CC was in Milwaukee and has a much shorter track record than CC had by the time he got to Milwaukee. Yet Ubaldo had a ton of articles written comparing him to Bob Gibson a month ago, while CC had articles written about how he can only beat the Orioles (written by a moron, but written and published nonetheless). Ubaldo has been fantastic this year, but can anyone really say he’s a better pitcher than CC? I’m not ready to, not by a long shot.

While the Greinke love has tailed off this year, he’s still a great pitcher and deserves to be discussed among the best in baseball. But better than CC? I don’t think you can say that with any certainty. His 2009 was otherworldly, and better than any season CC has had, but he hasn’t been as good as CC this year when using MSM stats and has been a very similar pitcher by more advanced metrics. Again, considering ERA as the MSM would, Greinke’s ERA is 3.10 since 2007 (including time in the pen) and CC’s is 3.05. Greinke was fantastic last year, but to simply use a one year sample to put him in the best in baseball conversation and leave CC out is shortsighted. It comes back to CC’s consistency. He hasn’t had an off the charts season from April to October, so his peak just hasn’t been as memorable. CC doesn’t have a 2.16 ERA like Greinke (only once under 3, never in the AL), so his consistency is almost a downfall. If he had a 4.10 ERA in 2007 and a 2.00 ERA in 2008, he’d have roughly the same 3.05 cumulative ERA, but in the minds of many, having one off the charts season would make him seem like a better pitcher. Hell, if you had polled around baseball before last October, many of the experts would tell you Josh Beckett is as good as CC. It ain’t close.

Without delving into the case of every top pitcher in baseball, it’s wrong to dismiss CC as not being amongst the best. Neyer mentioned Haren, Carpenter/Wainwright, and doesn’t consider CC in their class? Really? Even Neyer, who for the most part knows his stuff (except for the “Yankees clearly don’t care about defense” nonsense), and should understand the difference in leagues (and divisions within the leagues) made it a point to leave CC out. He didn’t forget CC, he specifically stated reasons why CC wasn’t among the top pitchers in baseball. You can tell me that Felix and Halladay are better than CC and I won’t make much of an argument. Neyer somehow even managed to leave out future Yankee Cliff Lee (was he subconsciously already fitting him for pinstripes?), whom you could certainly make a case for being among the best, but when you tell me that all of those are guys are definitely better than CC, I have to disagree.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.

Hughes rolls over Mariners in 6-1 victory

While the strange saga of the Cliff Lee non-trade dominated the baseball news throughout the afternoon, Phil Hughes and Mark Teixeira made the headlines on Friday night. The Yanks’ young All Star threw seven strong innings to win his 11th game of the season as two Mark Teixeira home runs help power the Yanks to a 6-1 win over the Lee-less Mariners. The Yanks caught half a break as they didn’t have to face the dominant Lee tonight, and with their season-high seventh straight victory, the team improved to 55-31. They are now assured to go into the All Star break in sole possession of first place.

The Good: Phil Hughes

Hughes prep for a dominant outing. Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Despite entering the game with a 10-2 record, Phil Hughes had not looked solid of late. He entered the game riding a 24.1-inning stretch of 7.03 ERA pitching, and the Yankees wanted to get him back on track before Tuesday appearance at the All Star Game. Facing the weak-hitting Mariners, Hughes did exactly what the Yankees wanted him to do: He dominated them, throwing 7 innings of one-run ball while striking out five and walking no one. He enters the break 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA.

It’s tough to nitpick this Hughes start. He threw 109 pitches and escaped trouble in the 6th. He fired 79 strikes, 10 of them of the swing-and-miss variety, and threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of 27 batters. With a poor offensive club, he did exactly what he needed to do.

Yet, he didn’t mix his pitches much. All but 17 of his pitches were fastballs, and those 17 were curves. Staked to a comfortable lead, he didn’t try a single change-up, and he seemed hesitant to throw the devastating curve all that often. Against the Mariners, who entered the game hitting .238/.308/.346 as a team, Hughes could get away with it, but to reach the elite levels of his potential, Hughes should begin to find those secondary pitches. All in all, it’s small beans after a great win.

The Good: Mark Teixeira

The first of Mark's two high five sessions of the night. Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

In the first inning, facing a pitcher Yankee beat writer Marc Carig had termed Not Cliff Lee earlier this evening, Mark Teixeira staked the Yanks to an early lead with a booming solo home run. In the 9th, with the Yanks up 5-1, Teixeira hit a laser into the left field seats for his second dinger of the night. He now has 17 home runs and 59 RBI on the season.

For Teixeira, finishing the first half on a strong note is a positive sign indeed. His spring slump garnered more than a few worried discussions about the Yankee cognoscenti, but Joe Girardi stuck with him through thick and thin. Since June 3 in a span of 150 plate appearances, Teixeira is hitting .289/.393/.578 with 9 home runs and 25 RBI. Over the course of 162 games, that’s MVP-worth. It’s good to have Teixeira back.

For no reason whatsoever, I’d love to see Teixeira get to .250 before the All Star Break. To do that, he’ll have to knock out 4 hits in 9 at-bats or better. It’s not impossible, and it would be a real boost to Teixeira’s lackluster spring to reach that milestone.

The Ugly: Chan Ho Park

Chan Ho's days as a Yankee are probably numbered. Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

I’m not going to spend too much time ranting about Chan Ho Park because I want to go to bed the Yankees still won, but the 9th inning had the makings of a debacle. Facing the Mariners’ 5-6-7-8-9 hitters, Park almost couldn’t get the job done. It took him 32 pitches to get three outs, and three of the hitters he ended up facing had OBPs under .295. With the game in hand, Park almost pitched his way into a save situation.

I don’t totally get Park at this point. The Yanks loved his stuff last year, and they signed him to a $1.2 million deal with the understanding that, if he wasn’t up to par, they could just eat the contract. He’s allowing 1.5 base runners per inning and has an ERA north of 6.00. He shows flashes of brilliance — such as tonight when he hit 95 and was sitting 94 with his fastballl — and flashes of nothing — such as tonight as well when he went to 3-2 on two guys with awful offensive numbers. The Yanks don’t trust him in a tight spot, and Jonathan Albaladejo can’t be worse.

Anyway, if I’m complaining about the mop-up man, it was a good night.

The State of Things

The 2010 Yankees are now the first team since the 1999 Astros to have three pitchers with 11 or more wins at the All Star Break. They’re also the first Yankee club since the 2004 edition to enter the break with sole possession of first place, and over their last five games, the club’s pitchers have given up six runs. At 55-31, they have the best record in baseball, and Brian Cashman figures to upgrade the bench and bullpen before the trade deadline. Sounds good to me.

Goin’ down

By the end, this game was as close and as boring as the WPA graph indicates. It’s my favorite kind of win.

Up Next

While Cliff Lee may be gone, King Felix is not. The Mariners will send Felix Hernandez to the hill for a rematch with Javier Vazquez. The last time these two faced off, Felix fanned 10 Yankees and threw a two-hitter. The game starts at 10:10 p.m., and it is the final late-night start for the Yankees of 2010.

Sanchez’s slam powers GCL Yanks to big win

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.

Baseball America released their midseason top 25 prospects list today, with still-a-Yankee Jesus Montero coming in at number five. “Montero hasn’t improved this year, and for some he hasn’t impressed,” said the BA crew. “After generating positive defensive trends and reports at the end of 2009 at Double-A Trenton, Montero has convinced scouts this year that he won’t be a long-term catcher … He’s experiencing his first adversity offensively, but scouts are confident his bat will still be strong.”

Meanwhile, Dellin Betances got a little love in The Team Photo section of this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. Bronx Baseball Daily interviewed David Adams following today’s non-trade, so make sure you check that out.

Triple-A Scranton‘s game was postponed. I assume they’ll make this one up when they go back to Buffalo at the very beginning of September.

Double-A Trenton (6-3 loss to Bowie)
Luis Nunez, SS: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 HBP – five for his last eight
Matt Cusick, 2B: 1 for 5, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K, 1 PB – he should be leaving for the Futures Game tomorrow
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 2 K – first multi-hit game since June 29th
Dan Brewer, CF, Kevin Smith, 1B & Justin Snyder, 2B: all 0 for 3, 1 BB – Brewer go caught stealing … Smith committed a throwing error … Smith & Snyder each K’ed twice
Marcos Vechionacci, DH: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI – he’s just two away from his previous career high of ten homers
Hector Noesi: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2-2 GB/FB – just a little tune up before the Futures Game this Sunday … no worries, he’s not hurt
Cory Arbiso: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1-4 GB/FB
Ryan Pope: 3 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 1-5 GB/FB – picked a runner off first

[Read more…]

Game 86: We don’t need him anyway

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson, AP

There was a whole lot of chaos for what ended up being nothing today … well, unless you count that huge Chad Tracy signing. Cliff Lee might not be joining the Yankees, but he’s not pitching against them tonight either, which is the next best thing I suppose. Of course, the Yanks still have two more series left with Texas, so they’re trading tonight’s start for potentially two others in the future.

Taking Lee’s place is David Pauley, a Red Sox cast-off that you may or may not remember. He’s a rather generic Four-A type, with limited strikeouts but also limited walks. Tonight is his first start of the year, but he’s probably good for five or six innings. The Yanks have annihilated him in the past, so I expect more of that tonight. Here’s your lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Curtis, RF
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, St. Phil.

Yet another 10:10pm ET start tonight, the fifth in a row. The game is on YES, so watch and enjoy.

Open Thread: Big Daddy comes back

Photo Credit: Dave Martin, AP

It’s getting to be that time of year again, Old Timer’s Day. Yeah, it feels like last year’s just ended, but sure enough the 2010 edition is just a week and a day away. The usual cast of characters will be in attendance of course, but there will be at least one rookie Old Timer this year according to Ed Price: Cecil Fielder. Big Daddy spend a season and a half in the Bronx, and is known more for the 13 homers he hit in the second half of 1996 than the 13 he hit during the entire 1997 season. He also hit a stout .308/.390/.519 in 14 postseason games in ’96, playing first regularly over Tino Martinez in the World Series. I’m looking forward to seeing him.

Here’s tonight’s open thread, if you happen to be home on this Friday evening. Talk about whatever you want.

Rangers set to acquire Cliff Lee

Via Joel Sherman, the Rangers are set to acquire Cliff Lee and reliever Mark Lowe from the Rangers for Justin Smoak and three others. Lowe is on the disabled list after having back surgery and isn’t expected back anytime soon. I have to assume that Seattle is paying Lee’s salary given Texas’ financial plight. Either way, it’ll be nice not to have to face the former Cy Young Award winner tonight.

You have to figure that the working relationship between Brian Cashman and Jack Zduriencik is strained at the moment, assuming the rumors of a deal being all but complete were true.