Open Thread: The rotation begins to take shape

(AP Photo)

Following today’s tie with the Blue Jays, Joe Girardi announced that A.J. Burnett will start the second game of the season with Phil Hughes to follow as the number three. The last two spots are still up in the air, but Freddy Garcia (6 IP, 5 R today) will get one more chance to show what he’s got before a final decision is made. Manny Banuelos will pitch on Monday, but his running mate Dellin Betances was sent to minor league camp. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll know the identities of the four and five by Friday, and my money’s on … Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova, but that is subject to change. By the hour.

Anyways, here is your open thread for the night. Enjoy.

Setting the record straight

One of the more exciting aspects to the offseason has been the emergence of Manny Banuelos as one of the game’s premier pitching prospects. Last week he debuted nationally, giving everyone but fans in the tri-state area the opportunity to get a good look at him. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein put together a significant writeup of Banuelos. Ultimately he concluded that Banuelos’ stuff was MLB-ready, but that Banuelos wasn’t ready from an innings and durability standpoint to handle the major leagues. He then concluded his article with a rather odd dig at the approach of Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ front office to the offseason:

In the end, the question of Banuelos’ readiness is less about the prospect and more about the failures of the Yankees to shore up their rotation in the offseason by putting all their eggs in the baskets of Cliff Lee and the anticipated return of Andy Pettitte. “If A.J. Burnett is their number five starter, everyone is happy in Yankees land,” said the National League executive. “If they signed Lee; if Pettitte came back, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Just because the Yankees [screwed] up this off-season doesn’t mean they should sacrifice this kid in the process.”

This is a criticism of Cashman has been bandied about frequently since Pettitte retired. Yet the question remains: what exactly would these critics have liked Cashman to do differently? Did the Yankees really screw up this off-season? It’s true that there were plenty of pitchers available in the free agent and trade markets this winter. So did Cashman err by not landing them? Let’s review, keeping in mind that Lee signed with the Phillies on December 15, 2010.

Ted Lilly: A perpetually underrated fly-ball lefty, Lilly signed a big extension with the Dodgers on 10/16/10. The Yankees never had a chance.

Hiroki Kuroda: Another personal favorite, Kuroda never actually hit the free agent market either. He resigned with the Dodgers on 11/15/10 during the Dodgers’ exclusive negotiating window prior to free agency. When he signed, he said he didn’t need to listen to any other offers once the Dodgers told him they wanted him back.

Jorge De La Rosa: Signed with the Rockies for 2 years and $21.5M with a player option for $11M on 12/3/10. His strikeout rates have always been intriguing, but one could justifiably be concerned about how his career 4.5 BB/9 would play in the AL East. Like Lilly and Kuroda, De La Rosa signed before Lee chose the Phillies.

Shaun Marcum: The Blue Jays traded Marcum to the Brewers on 12/5/10 in exchange for infielder Brett Lawrie. Marcum is currently shut down with shoulder tightness and has never thrown more than 159 innings in a single year.

Aaron Harang: Coming off several poor years, Harang signed a low-money contract with the Padres on 12/6/10.

These are the pitchers whom the Yankees missed out on by waiting on Cliff Lee. Of these, only Marcum could have possibly been a decent upgrade for the Yankee rotation (since Lilly and Kuroda never actually hit the free agent market). However, there are justifiable concerns about his injury history and durability, not to mention the fact that it hardly made sense for Cashman to acquire a starter by trade while he was waiting on Lee and Pettitte to decide.

After Lee signed with Philadelphia, spurning New York for a younger team (ahem),  there were really only two pitchers Cashman could have acquired: Zack Greinke and Carl Pavano. Cashman pursued Pavano, going as far as to make him a significant offer for one year. Pavano rejected it. As for Greinke, Cashman met with him and even listened to Greinke make an appeal for Cashman to acquire him, but he ultimately decided against it. Of all the options, is really the only decision with which one could quarrel. Yet this is why you pay your GM the big bucks. He’s responsible for weighing the performance risk of the potential target (which he judged to be high) against the cost of acquiring the target (which we know to be high).

Ultimately it made sense for Cashman to wait on Lee and  Pettitte despite the risk that neither of them would be donning the Yankee pinstripes this season. He really had no other choice to go all-in on these two pitchers. Was he supposed to fill his starting pitcher slot with the Kevin Correias and Jorge De La Rosas of the league while Lee and Pettitte were still out there? What happens if Lee and Pettitte both want to join the club? The risk of wasting a roster slot with a subpar pitcher was not worth forgoing the potential payoff of a rotation of Sabathia, Lee, Hughes, Pettitte and Burnett.

The alleged “screw-up” of the Yankee front office this season is more a function of things out of Cashman’s control: the timing of the trades, the timing of Lee and Pettitte’s decisions, and the relatively bare starting pitching market. One is certainly entitled to second-guess the front office, but aside from disagreeing with Cashman on whether Greinke would be a good fit in New York the criticism seems unfounded. As unenthusiastic as fans are about the prospect of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in the Yankees rotation to start the year, there wasn’t a whole lot Cashman could do otherwise to prevent it. Sometimes things just don’t go your way.

No issues for Joba, Feliciano during bullpen sessions

Via Marc Carig & Chad Jennings, Joba Chamberlain‘s bullpen session went just fine today. The right-hander said his mechanics were a-okay and he feels 100% following his strained oblique. Assuming he doesn’t wake up in crippling pain tomorrow, chances are his next pitching appearance will come in a game. Good news.

Elsewhere on the bullpen front, Pedro Feliciano downplayed his dead arm – now being termed triceps tightness – and said it was nothing more than normal Spring Training soreness. The lefty tested his moneymaker at 80% effort in the bullpen this morning. Everything went well and he’ll throw another in a few days. Boone Logan, meanwhile, will pitch in tomorrow’s game, so the back spasms weren’t bad at all.

ST Game Thread: Another look at Banuelos

(AP Photo)

This afternoon could be the last time we get to see Manny Banuelos for a while, unless you plan on trekking down to Trenton at some point this summer. Brian Cashman remains adamant that both Banuelos and Dellin Betances will begin the year at the Double-A level, though Joe Girardi indicated that both will probably get one more appearance in with the big boys before heading down to minor league camp. The regular season is less than two weeks away, so there’s only so many innings to go around.

Banuelos is scheduled to pitch at some point today, but that probably won’t come until after Freddy Garcia makes his latest case for a rotation spot and Mariano Rivera does his thing for an inning. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Eduardo Nunez, LF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, DH
Andruw Jones, RF
Austin Romine, C
Melky Mesa, CF

Available Pitchers: Freddy Garcia, Mariano Rivera, Manny Banuelos, Mark Prior, Luis Ayala, Steve Garrison, Eric Wordekemper, Ryan Pope, and Wilkins Arias.

Available Position Players: Jesus Montero (C), Eric Chavez (1B), Kevin Russo (2B), Doug Bernier (SS), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Ramiro Pena (LF), Justin Maxwell (CF), Jordan Parraz (RF), and Gustavo Molina (DH).

Today’s game will be broadcast on the YES Network, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05pm ET. If you miss it because you were spending this lovely Saturday afternoon outside, it will be rebroadcast by both the MLB Network and YES later this evening. Enjoy.

For One Man, a Quiet Spring Training

Alex Rodriguez
"You pay attention to someone else. I'm gonna take a nap." (AP/Kathy Willens)

We’re about two weeks from Opening Day and we’ve had plenty of spring storylines to discuss, both of the important and eye-rolling variety. Joba is fat. Joba is injured. Manny Banuelos is amazing! Bartolo Colon is fat (but also good?). AJ Burnett is cured (or not)! Michael Kay’s endless angst regarding Posada’s move to DH. Derek Jeter’s contract. Derek Jeter’s house. Derek Jeter’s swing. And of course, Hank. No lull in Yankee baseball is apparently complete without Hank Steinbrenner opening his mouth and sticking his foot as far down his throat as it will go.

Hold on, there’s something missing. There’s something that we’ve all become accustomed to in our Spring Trainings and it’s not here. As a matter of fact, it seems like there is a noted absence of one particular quantity.

Where’s A-Rod?

Wait. You mean there’s absolutely no A-Rod scandal this spring? How about this offseason? Cameron Diaz, his girlfriend, fed him popcorn in his luxury Super Bowl suite? That’s it? The best you can come up with for Alex Rodriguez, destroyer of baseball, tradition-mauler extraordinaire, is his girlfriend fed him popcorn?

For years, we’ve become accustomed to Spring Training being about – or at least featuring, in some way – how Alex Rodriguez sucks. In 2007, it was about the 2006 ALDS, where he infamously got on base a grand total of twice in his fifteen plate appearances (.071/.133/.071): a single and a hit-by-pitch. If the Yankees had won, this probably would have been framed as The Yankees can win without A-Rod!, a narrative that we see every so often. Instead, they were effortlessly swept out of the ALDS by the magical 2006 Tigers, who beat them by four runs or more in three of the four games. It was, quite obviously, Rodriguez’s fault. Duh. In 2008, it was his World Series opt-out and subsequent massive contract signing (also a Hank news item), the Best Worst contract that we are still dealing with today and will be dealing with for a long, long time. 2009 was probably the worst, what with the steroid drama explosion combined with the hip surgery. Not only was Rodriguez going to come back old and feeble after his labrum was fixed, he was also obviously going to be incapable of hitting any more home runs – even though his leaked steroid use was during his Texas years. Even his 2009 postseason tear and finally achieving True Yankee™ status couldn’t stop the steroid drama from rolling into 2010, with the indictment of Dr. Galea in October.

For the first time in at least four years, we’re having an Alex-Rodriguez-drama-free Spring Training. It is glorious. It seems like this is work of his new PR team, which has adapted the much more fan-friendly campaign of having him hit a lot, look good, talk about how much he loves helping the team, and crack the most well-placed popcorn joke ever. I don’t actually know if he has a new public relations team for real, but it’s hard to argue with the change in results. Even if he sometimes comes off as being a bit fake, that’s certainly preferably to being a cheater (twice), unclutch, an attention whore, and/or only in it for the money.

The only thing we have to say about new and improved Alex Rodriguez is that he is thin and Cameron Diaz feeds him popcorn while he’s at the Super Bowl. That’s it? That’s really the only thing the massive Alex Rodriguez hate machine can come up with? Wouldn’t you want Cameron Diaz to feed you popcorn in your zillion dollar luxury suite for the Super Bowl? I suppose there’s always the standard fallbacks of his Best Worst contract and his down season that included thirty homers and 125 RBIs, but these are overplayed and overshadowed by more recent problems in both departments. The Rafael Soriano contract has taken over the spot for ‘most talked about bad contract,’ and Derek Jeter’s terrible season was far, far worse than A-Rod’s. To make things better for the superstar, Soriano is requesting not to pitch in games and Jeter is batting a measly .303/.343./364 in comparison to Rodriguez’s .406/.424/.906, with one home run in each of the past three games he’s played in. Here’s hoping that in 2012 Spring Training, we’ll be talking about how he hit a home run in each of the four winning World Series games and donated a bazillion dollars to charity.

While it’s safe to say A-Rod will never be ignored by the media, his relatively quiet, team-supportive attitude and absolute victory over the popcorn ‘scandal’ seems to predict that there’s a new Rodriguez in town. Without him stirring his own pot, the media is seemingly is finding less crap to talk about him. Instead, this new guy is interested in hitting a lot of home runs, winning another World Series and making as few waves as possible, and hey, what more can you ask for from a ballplayer?