The days of Derek’s discontent

(Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

For 14 years, Derek Jeter has been a media darling in New York. The team captain, he has projected an aura of calm professionalism while going about his job in an intense way. He doesn’t get into trouble; he doesn’t stick his foot in his mouth; and his girlfriend has never been caught on national television feeding him popcorn. He might not say too much, but he speaks often enough to remain a favorite.

Lately, though, Derek has seen his image lessened. It isn’t tarnished, but the do-no-wrong short stop has seen the less glamorous side of New York adulation. It started last year when he had a sub-par season. He hit just .270 and his .710 OPS was a career low by 60 points. He clearly had lost a step at short as well. The Yanks, though, never moved Jeter down in the lineup, and fans didn’t know what to do.

Meanwhile, during his contract negotiations this past winter, things came to a bit of a head. The media reports focused on the animosity between Jeter’s camp and the Yankees as well as the differences in the offers the two sides reportedly had on the table. Some of that stemmed from his agent’s decision to talk to the Daily News about the negotiations, but some of it came from the Yanks’ comments on Jeter’s skill set and role going forward.

The captain retaliated by dragging the Yankee reporting contingent down from Orlando to Tampa during the Winter Meetings for a ceremonial press conference. It was Jeter’s way of saying that he’s still boss in this town no matter what happens on the field — or off it for that matter.

Now, he’s back in the headlines again. On the one hand, we have his big house. It’s a mansion; it’s big; it’s a big house. How big is his house? The Times offered up this succinct summary: “The 30,875-square-foot mansion, which overlooks Hillsborough Bay, features seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a pool, two boat lifts, a drive-through portico and a pair of three-car garages flanking the north and south ends of the property.” It is nearly 20,000 square feet larger than George Steinbrenner‘s old home. As I might have mentioned, it’s big.

On the other hand, we have Jeter’s retooled swing. As Joe wrote yesterday, we must have patience with it. Jeter is off to a slow start in Spring Training — an indication of approximately nothing — but already people are eying his work with Kevin Long and Jeter’s mechanics. Is he trying to cheat age (and fastballs) by swinging earlier? Will it work? Can he be as Tyler Kepner asks today, another Omar Vizquel?

It’s not easy watching favorite players get old. We saw Andy Pettitte age over the past few seasons as his body didn’t rebound from injuries. Jorge Posada hasn’t been the same since his 2008 shoulder surgery. Now, Jeter, 36 going on 37, has to find a way to delay the inevitable or we all must come to grips with it. How Jeter goes this year will determine, to a large extent, the media reaction to him.

Report(s): No deal for Liriano in the works

Despite the rumors, Buster Olney says the Yankees and Twins are not having talks about Francisco Liriano right now, and in fact Jon Heyman says the two sides haven’t talked in a month. The left-hander’s name popped up on the rumor circuit (again) last night, though Brian Cashman has maintained that nothing’s going on right now: “I have no talks going on with the Twins. Zero talks. There’s nothing going on. I would love to be able to talk to people, but there’s nothing of quality that’s available.”

Jack Curry wrote today that Terry Ryan, former Twins GM and currently a special adviser to now-GM Bill Smith, was at yesterday’s Yankees-Pirates game, but he was there covering the Pittsburgh squad. “We have people on [the Yankees],” Ryan said. “I’m not.” Cashman told Curry that he’s confident Minnesota will contact him if and when Liriano becomes available, but he’s not going to give up either Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances. Great mustache Jay Jaffe explained why Joba Chamberlain for Liriano trade would be a win-win.

I have a feeling this Liriano stuff is going to drag on for a while, so get used to it. Yay.

Update by Ben (11:15 p.m.): Ken Rosenthal offers up a little bit more about the state of Liriano: The Yankees, he reports, allegedly “dangled” Ivan Nova and Ramiro Pena in an attempt to land Minnesota’s lefty earlier this winter. When you stop laughing over the lunacy of that trade proposal, read the rest of Rosenthal’s piece. He believes the Yanks could and should land Liriano for Banuelos and Nova.

Open Thread: March 1st Camp Notes

Proof that Phil threw at least one changeup today. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Here’s what went down in camp today…

  • The Yankees lost to the Pirates this afternoon, getting shutout 2-0. Phil Hughes and Steve Garrison each chipped in two scoreless innings, David Robertson one. A Curtis Granderson triple was the highlight of the offense. Jesus Montero went 2-for-2 in throwing out attempted basestealers and 0-for-3 at the plate. Brett Gardner had an outfield assist. Here’s the box score.
  • Joe Girardi said he wants Hughes to work on his changeup and his overall consistency, then qualified it by saying “[this] kid won 18 games last year. Hard to complain about what he did.” Le sigh. Hughes said he threw just three changeups today, adding that his goal is to make a usable pitch, not necessarily a put-away offering. “If I can get a little better each year, hopefully it’ll be a good pitch by the time I’m 40,” joked the righty. (Peter Botte, Erik Boland & Jack Curry)
  • It was raining in Tampa, so everyone took batting practice in the indoor cages. Derek Jeter was working with Kevin Long to get his new stride down, as he said he would do yesterday. (Yankees PR Dept. & Marc Carig)
  • Andrew Brackman, who managed to grow an inch this winter (now 6-foot-11), threw 20 pitches from a indoor mound and really “[aired] it out” according to Girardi. Brackman said he’s fine following that groin/hip issue and will throw another bullpen on Thursday. Greg Golson is okay after getting hit in the head with a pitch over the weekend; he took batting practice today and could get into tomorrow’s game. Ronnie Belliard is still at least a week away from just testing out that calf strain. Thanks for coming, Ronnie. (Jack Curry, Eric Boland, Chad Jennings & Carig)
  • The rotation the rest of the week: A.J. Burnett (Weds. vs. Astros), Freddy Garcia (Thurs. @ Rays), Bartolo Colon (Fri. vs. Red Sox), and CC Sabathia (Sat. vs. Nationals). I guess Ivan Nova‘s going to come out of the bullpen one of those days. (Botte)

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Rangers (huge game), Islanders, and Knicks are all in action, plus MLB Network will be showing a replay of today’s Tigers-Phillies game at 8pm ET. Talk about whatever, enjoy.

Another Kickstarter Project: Baseball History Audio App & CD

The following a guest post from long-time RAB reader and commenter Rich Iurilli (@richardiurilli on the Twitters), highlighting another great Kickstarter project that benefits a wonderful cause.

Last week, Hannah wrote about the Eephus League Baseball Scorebook Revival Project, which, at the time, was trying to raise $10,000 to produce a simple, easy-to-use scorebook in an attempt to rekindle interest in the dying art of baseball scorekeeping. Early Thursday morning, that project reached its $10,000 goal, and as I write this, it has raised $11,636, in part due to the generosity of River Ave. Blues readers.

Today, I would like to bring to your attention another baseball-related project on Kickstarter. Ed Lucas, a blind sports writer who used to cover the Yankees, is trying to raise $15,000 in pledges to produce a professional-quality oral history of baseball, as told through the 292 plaques at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. As wonderful as these plaques are, there are countless baseball fans who are unable to experience them due to blindness and other visual impairments, which are expected to affect almost one third of the American population within the next decade, according to the project description. This project seeks to remedy this by providing descriptions of every plaque in the Hall of Fame.

For Yankee fans, there is more to this project than just the ties to baseball history. Lucas has covered New York-area sports, particularly the Yankees, since 1964, despite losing his vision at just twelve years of age to retinal detachments suffered while playing baseball. After this unfortunate event, Lucas befriended Phil Rizzuto and developed a good relationship with the Yankees organization. In 2006, Lucas was the first person to be married at home plate in Yankee Stadium, and George Steinbrenner covered the entire cost of the ceremony. In a 2007 interview with the New York Times, Lucas said, “Baseball took my sight away, but it gave me a life.”

Now, Lucas is trying to give that life to an entire generation of blind or visually-impaired baseball fans. If the project meets its fundraising goal, it will be produced as both a CD and an app for mobile devices, both of which will be made freely available to anyone who wants them. In addition to the obvious benefits for blind or visually-impaired fans, the project could also be used by visitors to the Hall of Fame, which does not currently have an audio tour available. For the project to be produced, Lucas is looking to raise $15,000 by April 7, 2011, of which $3,005 has been pledged at the time of this writing.

As is the case with most Kickstarter projects, there are a number of rewards for backers to choose from depending on the amount of their pledge. These rewards range from an official non-autographed baseball souvenir and a CD copy of the project for a pledge of $10 to lunch or dinner with a Hall of Famer and a day at the ballpark with Lucas for a pledge of $5,000. Of course, pledges of any amount are welcome and bring this wonderful project a little bit closer to fruition.

To learn more about the project or to make a pledge, you can visit the project page on Kickstarter, or to learn more about Ed Lucas, you can visit his website.

Link Dump: Mauer, Damon, Prospects

Need some help getting through the rest of the work day? I’ve gotcha covered…

Mauer on Montero

While we discussed the merits of using Jesus Montero as the backup catcher this morning, Joe Brescia of The Times was busy talking to Joe Mauer about the Yankees’ uber-prospect and the perils of being a big catcher. “Too big. Not quick enough. I heard everything under the sun,” said Mauer, who stands 6-foot-5, two inches taller than Montero. “My advice to him is try and learn as much as you can. He’s lucky he has Jorge Posada, a pretty good catcher to learn from. And he has Russell Martin there now, too, another good one to help him. Those two guys that have been around the block. He should follow those guys around and learn as much as he can.”

The former AL MVP also emphasized the importance of getting to “know your customers,” meaning the pitching staff. “Know your staff and the little things that they respond to. You have to learn the pitchers and what they are capable of doing and not doing. Try to put your pitchers in the best situations they can to succeed.”

The Pitch to Damon

Before he signed on with the Rays, we heard that the Yankees had expressed some interest in bringing Johnny Damon back to the Bronx, presumably as a part-time outfielder and part-time designated hitter. RAB fave Ken Davidoff spoke to Johnny recently, who informed him that the Yankees pitched the idea of using him twice a week in the outfield and once a week at DH. Damon just wasn’t ready to commit to being a glorified bench player yet, so to Tampa he went.

The Yanks still would have needed a right-handed power bat for the bench if they had signed Damon, but not necessarily an outfielder. If Johnny had agreed to that arrangement, perhaps it would have opened the door for Montero to break camp with the team even more. Who knows.

BA’s Top 150 Prospects & More

The crew at Baseball America published their annual list of the top 100 prospects in the game last week, and a whopping six Yankees prospects made the cut. But you knew that already. What you may not know is how the list is compiled, which is what Jim Callis explained in this week’s Ask BA. Their six editors each put together a personal top 150 prospects list, then they mash ’em all together in a spreadsheet and talk out the individual rankings. In addition to the guys that cracked the top 100, three other Yankees farmhands appeared in the personal top 150’s: Slade Heathcott (two ballots, peaking at number 133), Hector Noesi (4, 92), and Eduardo Nunez (4, 109).

Within the same piece, Callis says the Yankees have the best group of catching prospects in baseball, and that’s even if Montero ends up having to move off the position. That’s some hefty praise right there.

The RAB Radio Show: March 1, 2011

Injuries are part of every team’s experience in spring training. The Yanks have suffered a few themselves. Mike and I run down the situations for Russell Martin, Andrew Brackman, Ronnie Belliard, and Greg Golson. Plus, a few injuries from around the league.

We also get into the Yanks’ schedule this year, which is home-heavy at the start and then road-heavy at the end, including a couple of West Coast appearances in September.

Podcast run time 29:45

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

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

How much patience with Jeter?

(Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Derek Jeter was too busy to notice the analogy. This morning, while taking swings in the batting cage, he apparently did a double-take when he noticed a gaggle of reporters observing him. It was just BP, and not even of the live variety. What could be so interesting?

As expected, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about Jeter’s cage session. He hit some baseballs and worked on his timing. Why, then, would reporters deem it worth their time to stand around? Because Jeter is one of the spring’s primary story lines. In the current media environment, which involves constant updates, no matter how trivial, reporters have had to adapt. In years past they might not have sat in on the session, but in 2011, when Twitter updates go out to the masses instantaneously, they want to be around to observe and report. They’ve had to make adjustments.

Jeter, too, is making adjustments out of necessity. At 36 — 37 in June — his body isn’t as strong and nimble as it once was. His old timing mechanism worked before, but as he has aged it has caused something of a hitch. If he’s going to remain the Yankees’ leadoff man, and if he’s going to live up to the contract he signed this past winter, he can’t just do what worked in the past. If a reporter tried to do that, he’d fall behind his peers. The same goes for Jeter.

In the same way that it took the media time to adapt to the new environment, it will take Jeter time to commit his new mechanics to muscle memory. No one does something a certain way for 15 years, with great success, and then changes overnight. When it involves something mechanically complex, such as swinging a baseball bat, we can expect a lengthy learning curve. The question is of how long it will take — and, furthermore, how long the Yankees will let him adjust before doing something about it.

Jeter does understand the process he’s undergoing. As he told reporters yesterday: “When was the first game? Two days ago? That was the first time I’ve seen pitching with (the new mechanics). It’s going to take a while to get comfortable. You have more time because there’s no stride. Now you’ve just got to figure out when to swing.” Emphasis mine. That seems to be a rather weighty task for someone who has done things the same way his entire life to this point.

There’s a decent chance that Jeter continues his adjustments when the season begins. While he’s facing live pitchers now, and for the most part he’s facing real major leaguers, it’s still not a real game situation. Pitchers are still out working on their things, which could make it harder for Jeter to work on his. There will likely be a further adjustment period when live games start on March 31. If Jeter gets off to a slow start, don’t be surprised. It will lead to cries for his demotion in the batting order, and there is a point when the Yankees will have to consider that. I just don’t think it will come early in the season.

The key will be what Brian Cashman preached all winter: patience. He might be past his prime, but Jeter has proven that he’s a world-class hitter who is working hard to make the necessary adjustments. There’s a chance that it never happens, but the Yankees have a big enough investment in him that they’ll give it every chance. That might get frustrating in the first month or so, as he adapts to his stride-less swing. But the potential payoff, an experienced leadoff man with .380 OBP potential, will be worth it.