Casting a wary eye across town

I couldn’t decide whether to title this one “Meet the Mess” or something less antagonistic. See, I don’t hate the Mets per se; generally, I find it more exciting when New York has two competitive, well-run baseball teams that are both embroiled in division crown pursuits. Lately, though, I’ve just sat back and laughed at the Mets much to the chagrin of their fans.

I’ve long been amused by the relationship between the Mets and their fans and the Yankees and their fans. Simply put, Yankee fans don’t hate the Mets while Mets fans absolutely abhor the Yankees and their fans. We seem to view the Mets as the unlucky younger brother that can’t catch a break. Seven game lead with 17 left to play? They won’t hold it. Bases loaded with the NLDS winning run at 3rd? Walk it in. Great catch by Endy Chavez in Game 7 of the NLCS? Serve up a longball to Yadier Molina.

Perhaps, Yankee fans deserve the scorn we get from Mets fans. We do tend to take perverse pleasure in watching the Mets find new and exciting ways to blow games, leads, chances. It’s what Jets fans had come to expect out of their own team prior to the past few seasons, and it’s how Red Sox fans, until 2004, behaved for decades. But while Mets fans loved their lovable losers, Yankee fans smirked at the bumbling Mets.

Today, though, it’s hard out there for a Mets fan. The team, under the auspices of Omar Minaya for the past few seasons, had tanked. That Yadier Molina home run took a lot out of the club, and in the second year of a new ballpark in New York City, they were having a tough time filling seats by the end of the 2010 season. This year will be the start of Sandy Alderson’s rebuilding process, and with some key contracts expiring soon, the Mets will have room to maneuver.

Or at least that’s what the players and their fans thought. Shortly before pitchers and catchers, the Madoff hit the fan. We had heard rumblings of some fiscal issues the Wilpons might run into in conjunction with the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, and everything exploded a few weeks ago when the Madoff Trustee filed suit for $1 billion against the Wilpons. The owners know they’re going to be on the hook for at least a few hundred million dollars, and even as Mario Cuomo enters the picture to mediate the dispute, the Wilpons are looking to sell part of the Mets.

For now, the owners want to hold onto a majority stake in the team and, more importantly, control. They want to sell perhaps 25-30 percent of the team — to raise approximately $250 million — but I can’t imagine too many people willing to shell out those dollars would be willing to take a backseat to ownership that hasn’t done much winning lately. If the Mets are sold entirely before the year is out, I wouldn’t be shocked.

The fans who just want baseball are the ones who lose out. In an ideal world, the Mets, playing in New York and with their own TV station, should have a payroll around $150-$160 million, and they should be able to dominate the NL with their financial edge. Instead, the club has to essentially bribe season ticket-holders to re-up for their plans this year. Bondholders are suffering as well.

As a Yankee by birth — Thanks, mom and dad! — I draw no joy in these stories. Too many people were ruined financially by the Madoff scandal, and the Mets, a baseball team that serves as a diversion from real life, are going to be dragged down. Still, as I’ve cast my glance across town lately, I’m glad I’m a Yankee fan. Our team’s biggest problem is the back end of the rotation, and that certainly puts things into perspective.

Open Thread: Puma

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

If you’d have told me at this time last year that Lance Berkman was going to be the Yankees starting first baseman in the ALCS, I’d have called you insane. And yet, there he was in October, manning first after Mark Teixeira blew out his hamstring in Game Four. Berkman had a full no-trade clause and didn’t have to come to New York at the trade deadline, especially since he was going to be little more than a platoon DH, but he did because he wanted to play for a contender. His tenure in pinstripes started out poorly (.091/.167/.091 in his first six games) but soon enough he started to deliver, hitting .298/.404/.417 in the final 31 games of the season and then .313/.368/.688 in the postseason. His homerun and double in Game Two of the ALDS almost single-handedly beat the Twins. Fat Elvis turns 35 years old today and I have no idea how the hell the Cardinals figure he can play the outfield everyday at this point of his career, but that’s not my problem. I appreciate his service to the Yankees cause last season no matter how brief.

Here’s the open thread for the evening. Both the Devils and Islanders are in action, so find your own entertainment. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

Talking Yankees with Keefe

I haven’t yet had a chance to make my much-anticipated — at least by this guy — debut on our own RAB Radio Show, but yesterday I had a chance to talk baseball on a different podcast. I joined WFAN’s Neil Keefe for 15 minutes of baseball chat, and the recording hit the web today. While I was standing outside in the freezing cold in Midtown, we talked about the upcoming baseball season. We ran down the starting pitcher competition, the situation at catcher and the projected lineup. Give it a listen right here, and soon I’ll join Joe and Mike on our own podcast as well.

Frankie Piliere’s Organizational Rankings

One day after posting his list of the top 100 prospects in the game, Frankie Piliere ranked each club’s farm system. The Yankees placed fourth, trailing only the Royals, Braves, and Rays, in that order. “It’s been awhile since the Yankees could legitimately claim to have one of baseball’s best farm systems,” said Piliere. “This year they are undoubtedly part of that group. Jesus Montero is the best catching prospect in the game, and their collection of young arms — headlined by Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman — stacks up with any in baseball. There is more coming from the lower levels.”

The general consensus is that the Yankees have at least a top ten farm system, though most publications have them in the top five or six. They’re going to need that young talent this year, either for help at the big league level or in trades, so it’s a good time to have a good farm system (is there ever a bad time?).

The RAB Radio Show: February 10, 2011

Last night we learned that the Twins might make Francisco Liriano available. He’s lefty, and he’s ace material. What their true intentions are we’re not sure, but we do know that the Yankees will be interested. Mike and I run down Liriano’s career, what he’d mean for the Yanks, and what it would take to get him.

Podcast run time 29:27

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: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

The real Francisco Cervelli

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

For the past year and change we’ve gotten to know Francisco Cervelli, but we haven’t seen him in his proper role. In each of the last two seasons he has been miscast out of necessity. This year figures to unfold a bit differently. The Yankees have enough options at catcher that they can finally reserve Cervelli for the role he is meant to play: backup catcher.

In 2009 the Yankees needed his services early in the season when both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina hit the DL at the same time. For a few weeks in May he took over as the starter, with Kevin Cash serving as his backup. He stayed with the team through June, and then came back up when rosters expanded in September. Last season he went into the season as Posada’s backup, but the latter’s health did not comply. He ended the season with 317 plate appearances, about a hundred too many.

Still, he was far from the worst backup catcher in the league. In fact, his offensive numbers suggest that he could start for a number of teams. Among catchers with at least 200 PA, Cervelli’s .315 wOBA ranked 18th. His .359 OBP ranked eighth. He doesn’t hit for a lick of power, but a backup need not do everything. If he did, he’d be a starter. And yet, even absent extra base hit potential — only Jason Kendall produced a lower ISO among catchers with more than 200 PA — Cervelli would represent an upgrade over many of the league’s 30 starting catchers.

Wouldn’t the Dodgers rather have him than an aging and mostly ineffective Rod Barajas? The Royals could use him in place of whomever they’re trotting out there this year. The Mariners signed Miguel Olivo, but I’m fairly certain they’d rather have Cervelli as they wait for Adam Moore to mature. The Pirates could use them while Tony Sanchez gets more time in the minors. Wouldn’t the Angels love to get him as an upgrade over Jeff Mathis? There are definitely teams out there with starters inferior to Cervelli.

Looking around the league, I don’t see many backups I’d rather have than Cervelli. David Ross is the only one who stands out. Other than that, maybe Ramon Castro, though he is basically Cervelli’s opposite: all power, no on-base. Otherwise, teams either employ a catching tandem, or they have a backup catcher I wouldn’t take over Cervelli.

Yes, Cervelli displayed some defensive issues this past season. But to my eye, it was more about boneheaded plays than a lack of skill. He was just 24 last season, and he has only 1,251 plate appearances in his professional career. There’s room to grow. In all likelihood he won’t grow into a viable starter for a first division team. But he can settle in as a backup and rank among the league’s best at his job.

Thankfully, he will almost certainly stay in the backup role all season. If Russell Martin doesn’t work out, Jesus Montero will be the first replacement. Jorge Posada is still around, too, and he insists that he’ll catch this season. Then there’s Austin Romine, whose name has come up plenty this winter. The Yankees have plenty of catching options in 2011, and Cervelli need not be a major part of their plans. Finally he can sit back, play once a week, and fulfill the role for which he is ideal. He is the 2011 backup catcher.

2011 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects

Guess who. (AP Photo/Karen Vibert-Kennedy)

As I put together my list of the top 30 prospects in the Yankees’ organization every winter, some tough choices inevitably have to be made and a few players end up on the outside looking in. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them as prospects, it just means I like some other players better. This post looks at five such players, the five that I think have the best chance of jumping into next year’s top 30 list. I wouldn’t call it a list of sleepers (some of these guys were pretty high-profile pick-ups), perhaps a list of potential breakout players would be more accurate. Does that make sense? Yeah I think so.

Two players from last year’s Not Top 30 List jumped into this year’s top 30: Melky Mesa and Gary Sanchez. Mesa punched his ticket by taking home High-A Florida State League MVP honors while all Sanchez had to do was show up camp ready to catch. Two other players, Jimmy Paredes and Jon Ortiz, are now with a different organization. Paredes went to the Astros in the Lance Berkman deal and was recently named Houston’s seventh best prospect by Baseball America, and Ortiz signed with the Athletics as a minor league free agent after the season. The fifth player, DeAngelo Mack, just didn’t do enough to make the top 30 this year.

An important thing to remember is that these are not prospects 31 through 35, it’s just a list of five players on the outside of this year’s top 30 with a chance to jump into next year’s by showing improvement. They’re listed alphabetically, so don’t bother reading into the order, and ages are as of Opening Day, or thereabouts. Fun starts after the jump.

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