2010 Season Preview: The Front Office

The front office has done its job. Over the past five months the group, led by GM Brian Cashman, has retooled a championship team. That is no small task, especially in New York. The fans here expect a championship every year. There’s no use making excuses, either. Save those for the small market teams. In New York, a front office is expected to not only anticipate every possible scenario, but have a plan to deal with it and still deliver that championship. In other words, the front office has to work in a volatile atmosphere where they can’t possibly succeed every year. That’s part of what makes this team interesting.

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/AP

As we’ve all come to learn during our years of fandom, the media environment in New York is unlike anywhere else in the country. Even as newspapers try to save costs by cutting sports coverage, nine beat reporters continue to travel with the team, including eight print journalists. Each newspaper features at least one columnist, and then there are the various TV and radio personalities. They’re all vying for attention, which oftentimes means riling up the fan base by any means possible. This only makes the front office’s job tougher.

The two aforementioned elements work together, creating a chemical reaction of sorts. If the team makes a mistake or goes on a losing streak the media outlets pounce. This riles up the fan base — the rabid fanatics who, again, expect a championship every season. The front office then has a choice. It can succumb to the pressure from all ends and make a move, or it can stand pat and explain, calmly and rationally, that to do something now could damage the future. Meaning, in other words, that a move now might not only fail for the current season, but could hurt the team’s chances of winning a championship in future seasons. Unfortunately, if either approach means losing now then the front office might not be around much longer.

This balancing act constitutes the toughest part of the front office’s job. The mandate to win now means bringing in solid veterans, which often means trading away prospects. Yet without an influx of young talent a team will also find a hard time winning. The front office has done what it can to walk that balance beam, but with such a small margin for error it’s inevitable that they’ll screw up. To what degree they screw up determines their futures with the organization. This current front office seems to have some semblance of balance, though a few unpopular moves this off-season could lead to agitated fans if the team gets off to a slow start.

What will Brian Cashman and company do if something goes awry? What’s the plan if Nick Johnson hits the disabled list? What’s the plan if Curtis Granderson continues to struggle against left-handed pitching? What’s the plan if Phil Hughes flops in the rotation? The other half of each question is of whether the plan is adequate compensation. Again, the front office can have a plan in mind, but if the plan doesn’t add up to at least a playoff appearance then the organization will face a deflated and angry fan base that doesn’t take well to explanations.

Over the past five days I’ve seen a lot of negativity toward the front office for the decision to start Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen. Yet this is just part of the aforementioned balancing act. Once the team acquired Javy Vazquez it was clear that only one of Joba or Hughes would make the rotation. The Yankees chose Hughes, moving Chamberlain to the bullpen. Could the team have optioned Chamberlain in order to keep him stretched out? Sure. But they also want the best seven arms in the bullpen. To option Joba would be to go north with a lesser reliever. It appears that the team just wasn’t prepared to do that this year. As Brian Cashman said on Michael Kay’s radio show, the decision fell on the win-now side of the ledger.

The front office will inevitably face many decisions that will cause a divide among the fan base. The Chamberlain incident presents a prime example. One side of the fan base, wanting to get the most value out of Joba while continuing his development, wants to see him in the rotation, whether in the bigs or in AAA. The other wants to win now, and views Chamberlain as an elite option out of the bullpen. The front office shouldn’t, and probably doesn’t, make its biggest decisions based on fan opinion. But it knows that fan opinion, if low enough, can cost its members their jobs. In other words, it’s all about winning now, which also means planning for the future. It’s a delicate balancing act, and this front office has shown that it won’t scrap one in favor of the other.

Could the Yankees call on Montero in 2010?

After Mark Teixeira took a Jeremy Guthrie fastball off his elbow in last night’s game, every Yankee fan was concerned about their MVP caliber first baseman. Luckily it’s just a bruise, so everyone on the ledge can take a step back. “We did all the different tests and it’s just going to be sore for a couple of days,” said Tex. “Just going to do treatment all day tomorrow, reassess it on Wednesday and at the very least I’ll play Thursday.” Given how exposed and vulnerable the bone is at the elbow, that’s pretty much the best case scenario.

In the short time between the HBP and the injury update, many of us couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if it was serious enough to put Tex on the DL for a few weeks. The answer’s pretty simple, actually. Nick Johnson would have played first, Juan Miranda would take Tex’s roster spot, then he and Marcus Thames would have platooned in the designated hitter’s spot. It’s not an ideal scenario, but it’s certainly doable. It’s much better than having Cody Ransom replace Alex Rodriguez one-for-one. Heck, given Tex’s historical struggles in April (.338 wOBA in March/April, over .390 the rest of the way), you could argue that the team wouldn’t lose any production.

Even though that’s the most likely scenario, there’s always that thought in the back of everyone’s head … what about Jesus Montero? Instead of the bitter taste of Thames/Miranda, the Yankees could slot Montero into the DH spot full-time, and let him go to town. However, Eno Sarris reminds us that only four position players (Miggy Cabrera, Delmon Young, the Uptons) have made their debut before the age of 21 this century, and things didn’t exactly go as planned. They combined to post a .756 in over 700 plate appearances before reaching drinking age (most of that thanks to Cabrera), which is certainly good for a 20-year-old, but is it worth the lost development time?

Joel Sherman notes that the Yanks’ top prospect showed up to camp overweight this spring, but took his conditioning program seriously after reporting and shed all the excess weight by the time he was reassigned to minor league camp. Some tough love from Joe Girardi and Tony Pena certainly didn’t hurt. More importantly, Montero continues to work hard at improving his defense and maintains that he wants to be a big league catcher, which at this point remains very much in play.

Both the team and the player have a lot more to gain by letting him catch every day in the minor leagues at this point. Montero only has 181 plate appearances above A-ball, which is important to remember. Jumping from the Florida State League to the AL East within ten months isn’t exactly a recipe for immediate success, regardless of how good his bat looks. I want to see him in the Yankees’ lineup as much as the next guy, but rushing him is a typical Mets kind of move. Shortsighted, and showing complete lack of a development plan.

So to answer the question in the title of this post … yes, they always could call on Montero this season, but don’t count on it. He will reach the big leagues sooner rather than later, don’t worry. A September callup in 2010 is very much a possibility, but the 2011 debut is much more likely. For now, enjoy watching him pound on Triple-A pitching while the big league team scores 900 runs again. Everyone will be better off for it.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Aceves’s ailing back opens the door for Logan

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Just as the Yankees added a member to their bullpen, they might have lost one. Yesterday we learned that Al Aceves will miss his appearance today as he suffers from lower back issues. He missed nine days last August with soreness in the same area and struggled as he tried to pitch through it. In the three appearances between his missed time he threw six innings and allowed nine runs on 11 hits and two home runs. There’s a chance that he could recover by Opening Day, but chances are the Yankees want to make sure he’s 100 percent before he returns.

This isn’t all bad news. If Aceves does open the season on the DL the Yankees can backdate the move either nine days or the date of Aceves’s last appearance, whichever is shorter. Since Ace has not appeared in a game since Friday the Yankees can basically get a running start on his DL time. He would be eligible to come off the DL on Friday, April 9, meaning he’d miss just three games. The Yankees could certainly use this rule to their advantage, allowing Aceves time to rest and build back up before returning to the team in Tampa, or perhaps on the 13th at home at the latest.

All spring long Joe Girardi has expressed a desire to carry two lefties in the bullpen. Given the team’s construction, however, that didn’t seem realistic. Seven pitchers lay claim to the seven bullpen spots, only three of whom have options. With David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Aceves ready for significant roles, there is no way the Yankees would option any of them. It seemed for a while that Girardi would have to settle for a bunch of righties who fare well against both same and opposite handed batters. The Aceves injury, however, now appears to open a spot for either Boone Logan or Royce Ring, both of whom have fared well this spring.

Logan has the leg up here because he is on the 40-man roster. Drafted in the 20th round of the 2002 draft, Logan began his minor league journey as a starter, but after abysmal performances in rookie ball during his first two seasons the Sox moved him to the bullpen permanently in 2005. He hasn’t started a game, majors or minors, since. He adjusted well — extremely well, even, considering the White Sox basically moved him from rookie ball straight to AAA (with a 5.1 inning layover in A+). After a cup of coffee in 2006, Logan found himself in the majors to stay in 2007.

His first tour of the majors didn’t go too well. He pitched 50.2 innings for the White Sox in 2007 and got hit around. His 4.97 ERA nearly matched his 4.84 FIP. His strikeout rate of 6.22 per nine fell far below the levels he attained in the minors, and his 3.55 BB/9 and 1.24 HR/9 rates also contributed to his poor performance. He came back in 2008, though, with 8.93 K/9 and 2.98 BB/9. His home run rate went even higher, sapping his performance. The .393 BABIP didn’t help either. After the season the White Sox traded him to the Braves in the Javy Vazquez trade. Apparently the duo is a package deal.

Atlanta took advantage of Logan’s options, sending him down to start the season and recalling him toward the end of June. You might remember his season debut on June 25, when he loaded the bases for A-Rod, who singled home a pair of runs to give the Yankees a four-run lead. Things got better, as Logan didn’t allow a run over his next nine appearances. But in August he got touched up a couple of times, inflating his ERA. It’s tough to judge Logan’s 2009 given the tiny sample, but clearly he wasn’t any great shakes.

As a lefty specialist Logan has some potential. He has faced 289 same-handed batters over his career and other than a way too high .340 BABIP everything looks pretty good. He could do with fewer home runs, but his strikeout and walk rates have been acceptable at the major league level. His FIP and xFIP, 3.81 and 3.65, indicate that he might be of some use, but he’ll need an improvement in his home run and walk rates if he’s to find success even in a matchup situation. In other words, even if he does break camp with the team because of Aceves’s injury, don’t expect him to stick around long.

Still, it appears that Girardi will get his wish. It might be for only a few games, but if the Yankees choose to exercise caution with Aceves then Logan should be heading to Boston with the team. Given both David Ortiz’s and J.D. Drew’s abilities against lefties, though, I hope he doesn’t register an appearance before joining the reserve bullpen in Scranton.

Bronx Banter Breakdown on the Yanks’ pitching

Last week, Alex Belth of Bronx Banter fame asked me to join him and Cliff Corcoran on his SportsNet NY web-only video series Bronx Banter Breakdown. In the first installment of three, we discussed the Yankee pitching staff and what the team has to do on the mound to repeat. You can watch the video here on SNY.tv or embedded below.

Horne to miss 2010 with rotation cuff tear

Let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and visit this post from August 2007. In it, Mike reported that Yankees farmhand Alan Horne had just been named the Eastern League’s pitcher of the year. Horne went 12-4 that year with a 3.11 ERA and 165 strike outs in 153.1 innings, and he seemed destined to be the Next Big Thing in the Bronx. Since then, though, he has suffered through one injury after another and has thrown just 100.2 innings over the last two years.

Today, we learn that 2010 will not be Alan Horne’s year either. He will, according to Chad Jennings, miss all of 2010 with a rotator cuff tear. Dr. James Andrews will perform the surgery — the second shoulder procedure of Horne’s career — on April 9, and his eventual return from baseball is up in the air. “I honestly have no idea until he gets in there and sees how bad things are and what time of repair has to be made,” Horne said. “All of that determines down time.” Horne is now 27 with years of injuries on his record. The clock is definitely ticking and not for the better.

Open Thread: My RAB Fantasy Baseball League Team

We held the draft for our massive 20 team fantasy baseball league last night, which took us about three and half hours to complete. The turnout was very good, at one point I believe we had 19 of the 20 owners present. If you’re wondering what the first three rounds of a 20 team league look like, then click here. I had the second overall pick, meaning the wait between picks was either really short or unbearably long. Here’s my team, position by position…

C: John Baker (17th round, 322nd overall)
1B: Todd Helton (9, 162)
2B: Robbie Cano (3, 42)
SS: Hanley Ramirez (1, 2)
3B: Casey Blake (8, 159)
OF: Jayson Werth (2, 39)
OF: Carlos Gonzalez (6, 119)
OF: Brad Hawpe (7, 122)
UTIL: David Ortiz (10, 199)

SP: Wandy Rodriguez (4, 79)
SP: Cole Hamels (5, 82)
RP: C.J. Wilson (19, 362)
P: Ben Sheets (11, 202)
P: Brian Matusz (13, 242)
P: Dallas Braden (16, 319)

Bench: Jhonny Peralta (12, 239)
Bench: Carlos Santana (14, 279)
Bench: Josh Willingham (15, 282)
Bench: Edinson Volquez (18, 359)
Bench: Matt Diaz (20, 399)
Bench: Ronnie Belliard (21, 402)
Bench: Jonathan Niese (22, 439)

Obviously, I completely punted the saves category. I figured I was better off grabbing as many starters as possible since they’re much tougher to come by mid-season. Volquez was a straight DL stash with an eye towards midseason. I already slid him into a DL spot and grabbed Luke Gregerson for that empty RP spot. I was hoping to do the same with Erik Bedard, but he went before I got the chance. Santana is another guy I’m stashing on bench, hoping the Indians call up the game’s 10th best prospect sooner rather than later.

Our league counts OBP (and quality starts), so the Helton, Werth, Hawpe and (to a lesser extent) Blake picks are really going to help there. Ortiz was toiling away in the 10th round, and there was really no one else on the board with a realistic chance of 30-100, so I took the bait. Even if he gives me 20-80, I can’t complain. Hopefully Gonzalez’s second half breakout (.320-.384-.608, 12 HR, 11 SB in his last 62 games) is a sign of things to come, and maybe Belliard beats out Blake Dewitt for the Dodgers second base job. He, along with Peralta have multi-position eligibility all over the infield. Diaz could be useful if I’m smart and only play him against lefties, who he annihilates.

I thought my Wandy and Hamels picks were sneaky good in the 4th and 5th rounds of a league that deep. Wandy is on par fantasy-wise with Johan Santana, who went 25 picks earlier. Hamels’ peripherals in 2009 were nearly identical to what they were in 2008, yet his ERA was more than a full run higher, so I’m hopefully that corrects itself. Sheets was a total roll of the dice, but I figured his upside was worth a shot in the 11th round when guys like Kevin Correia and Kevin Slowey and Randy Wells went one round earlier. The idea of a rookie starter in the AL East scares me, but Matusz isn’t like most rookies. Braden, Wilson, and Niese … let’s see what you got.

The one guy I was really hoping to get with my second pick was Ben Zobrist because a) he can rake, and b) he was eligible at the two middle infield spots plus the outfield, and I heart flexibility. He went with the last pick of the first round, so I didn’t even had a chance to get my hopes up. Part of me wishes I took CC Sabathia over Cano in the third round, but the second base market was pretty shallow, and I’m hopefully Robbie breaks out in the fifth spot this year.

Once you’re done laughing at my team, go ahead and use this as your open thread. The Devils are the only local team in action tonight, but there’s a new episode of 24 on, and in case you haven’t heard, this will be the final season because the show’s been canceled. It sure was fun while it lasted…

Darvish hints at MLB dreams

Via NPB Tracker, Japanese starter Yu Darvish recently hinted at wanting to one day play in the States, saying “well, I’m planning on climbing the ladder, step by step,” when asked about his interest in MLB. This wouldn’t be that big of deal normally, since he’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season and would need his team to making him available via the posting process to come across the Pacific earlier, but the Yankees are sending a scout to watch Darvish’s start this weekend, and it’s not the first time they’ve scouted him either (Gene Michael went to see him in 2008).

The 23-year-old Darvish has a 2.20 ERA (~3.04 FIP) and a 3.01 K/BB ratio in on 111 career starts for the Nippon Ham Fighters, and his past three seasons were better than any one of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s. He threw close to 750 innings before his 22nd birthday, so they haven’t exactly taken it easy on him. NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman told us why Darvish will be successful in the big leagues in a piece for FanGraphs. I’m sure this won’t be the last time we hear about this.