What a novel idea! Gardner’s learning to bunt

File this one under the “what took so long” category: Brett Gardner, the likely left fielder going into 2010, has spent this offseason developing his bunting skills. I mean, what’s the point of having a speed guy with little power work on his bunting game as he climbed the ladder in the minors? “Now it’s just a matter of being comfortable enough with it,” said Gardner, “not to be scared to do it in a game and have confidence that I’m going to put it where I want it. Not only can it be a tool to get on base, but it keeps defenses honest and can bring the corners in and maybe I can shoot some balls by them.”

Better late than never, I guess.

Gene Monahan ill, will miss Spring Training

Via George A. King III, longtime Yankees’ trainer Gene Monahan is going to miss his first Spring Training in 48 years due to a “significant illness that possibly could sideline him for the beginning of the regular season.” Monahan is getting treatment now, which could last for several weeks. Assistant trainer Steve Donohue is going to fill in for the time being.

Get well soon, Gene. You’ll be missed.

Yanks looking at Cuban SS Adeiny Hechevarria

For some Cuban defectors, becoming cleared for MLB free agency can happen quickly. We saw that with Aroldis Chapman, who defected in early July, established residency in Andorra in September, and was granted free agency less than a week later. For other players it takes a bit longer. As George King of the Post reports, Cuban prospect Adeiny Hechevarria is about a week away from clearing the OFAC, which is still verifying his age, identity, and residency. Once that happens, word is the Yankees will be involved heavily.

The Cuban Ball Players blog has a bit more information about Hechevarria — including the spelling of his name, which I trust from that site, since it’s dedicated to Cuban players. Then again, the blog has him listed as 19 years old, while King’s article has him listed as 21. So we can take any information on the kid lightly at this point. In any case, the blog says that while Hechevarria posted a lower batting average than fellow Cuban Jose Iglesias, who signed with the Red Sox for $8.2 million last year, he hit for more power, especially the opposite way. Check out this video:

Will he stick at shortstop, though? Here’s an interesting quote from King’s article:

“He is a very good athlete and runs real well,” the scout said. “I don’t see him as a shortstop, I think he has a chance to be a center fielder in the mold of B.J. Upton. His throwing actions at short are kind of long.”

That doesn’t. This prospect won’t come cheap — probably somewhere around Iglesias’s deal — but it sounds like he might be worth the gamble, given his power and all-around athleticism.

Oh, and I don’t think we need to worry about his range to his left. The web-gem comes at the 4:58 mark.

On the volatility of relief pitchers

As part of ESPN’s sometimes entertaining, something head-scratching (runs? I mean really, runs???) Hot Stove U. series, Jayson Stark wrote about the volatility of relief pitchers with proof to back it up. But as Yankee fans, we’ve been watching the proof for years. We’ve witnessed high-priced imports like Steve Karsay and Kyle Farnsworth fall on their faces as the Yanks tried to build a good bullpen behind Mariano Rivera, and it wasn’t until they scrapped that approach and went into small market mode that their bullpen became a certifiable strength.

For the last few years, GM Brian Cashman has stockpiled cheap, live-armed relievers with minor league options remaining. The idea was that if you have enough bodies, some of them will stick at certain points and give you quality relief, even if it’s just for a few months. If someone stinks, just swap him out with someone else. Believe it or not, there was a time guys like Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Brian Bruney, and Ross Ohlendorf were contributing quality innings out of the Yanks’ bullpen.

Last year we started to see some long-term relief pieces like David Robertson and Al Aceves emerge, but even if they can’t repeat their 2009 success going forward, the team has plenty of arms waiting to replace them in Triple-A. The Yanks recently brought Kevin Towers aboard, who for years worked magic with the Padres bullpen on the cheap, and that’s only going to help the bullpen corps going forward.

There’s no right way to build a bullpen; sometimes the big money thing works, sometimes the scrap heap approach works. As the Yankees have discovered, the best thing to do is have enough depth in case Plan A, Plan B, or even Plan C fails. And just to wrap this up, here’s the money quote from Stark’s article:

“The first thing you’ve got to remember,” said another GM, “is they’re relievers for a reason. The reason they become relievers in the first place is because they have some flaws. They don’t have a third pitch. They can’t repeat their delivery. They’ve got an unorthodox arm angle. So we made them relievers — because if we had a choice, we’d make them starters. Just the fact that we made them relievers means you’re looking at an imperfect crop to begin with.”

Hmmm … sounds applicable to a certain debate in Yankeeland, no?

Open Thread: Rethinking the box score (part II)

A week ago today, Dave Allen at Baseball Analysts presented a new box score of his own, which Joe passed along as that night’s open thread. The new linear layout basically told the story of the game, starting at the first inning and continuing through to the ninth. It showed what batters each reliever faced, how they did against them, who came to the plate with who on base, all things the traditional box score lack.

Allen revised his creation a bit today, which you can see below. Click for a larger view.

This one does a better job of showing how the runners advanced around the bases and stuff, or at least I think it does. Some of baseball’s traditions are so firmly in place that we’ll have to wait for generations to pass before some fans and media are open to changing something as sacred as the almighty box score. For shame.

Anyway, here’s the open thread. The Olympics start tonight, while both the Devils and Rangers play their last games before the two week break for the games in Vancouver. The Knicks and Nets are off for the All Star Break. Talk about whatever you want, just be nice to each other.

100 Names You Need To Know

USA Today released their list of 100 names you need to know for 2010 today, which is essentially a list of minor leaguers with the chance the contribute the most to their big league team this year. It’s also the only list where you’ll see Jamie Hoffmann ranked ahead of Desmond Jennings. Anyway, Mark Melancon comes in at #52, Zach McAllister at #56, Hoffmann at #58, and Jesus Montero at #66. Austin Jackson ranked #19, and there’s even a Tobi Stoner sighting. I have no idea how Marc Rzepczynski can rank so¬† high (#13), that one’s a head scratcher.

Long working with Nick Johnson

Position players still have some time before they report, but most of them have been getting their work in over the past few weeks. That includes new Yankees DH Nick Johnson, who recently worked on his swing with hitting instructor Kevin Long. The focus was on Johnson’s footwork, specifically, according to Long, “trying to keep [Johnson’s back foot] from flying back.” Long says that when it moves “he collapses the inside right away.” This isn’t to make Johnson into a dead pull hitter, but rather to give him more balance at the plate. Plus, the ability to pull the ball at Yankee Stadium can be a valuable skill.