Better Than You Remember: Doug Mientkiewicz

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Long before the days of Mark Teixeira, the Yankees had an annual hunt to find a solid first baseman that could handle the position and relegate Jason Giambi to the role he was most qualified for: designated hitter. The names are all too familiar and none really wowed us: Andy Phillips, Morgan Ensberg, Craig Wilson, Tony Clark, John Olerud, the Tino Martinez redux … all forgettable in their own way. Then there’s Doug Mientkiewicz, who had his Yankees stint abbreviated by injuries.

Signed to be that Giambi caddy, Mientkiewicz got more attention for being Alex Rodriguez‘s high school buddy than he did for being a member of the Yankees. There were articles and columns written about how having a long-time friend around might help Alex relax, since we were in the middle of the “A-Rod can’t handle the pressure!” era. The Yankees gave Mientkiewicz just $1.5M, peanuts compared to the rest of the roster.

His first appearance came in the first game of the season, when he pinch hit for Phelps in the sixth inning. The then-Devil Rays had replaced left Scott Kazmir with righty Shawn Camp, so Joe Torre went for the platoon advantage down two runs. Mientkiewicz sac bunted Jorge Posada to third and Robbie Cano to second with one out, and both came around to score when Derek Jeter singled two batters later. His leadoff single in the eighth started a three-run rally that put the Yankees ahead for good. Minky went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI in the next game, but then he went into a prolonged slump.

From April 6th through April 28th, a span of 19 team games, Mientkiewicz went just 4-for-46 with four walks (.087/.176/.174). He was so bad that God started killing kittens every time he batted. The poor play limited Minky to late-inning defensive replacement duties, but he earned a start against the Red Sox on April 28th, with the Yankees six-and-a-half games out of first. Mientkiewicz took Julian Tavarez deep in the third inning, turning a two-run deficit into a one-run lead. Although the Red Sox would eventually win because Scott Proctor and Sean Henn stunk, it was enough to buy Mientkiewicz some more playing time.

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Over the next 30 team games, Minky hit .284/.333/.486 with three homers and six doubles in 83 plate appearances. A 3-for-4 game with a double and a homer off the facing of the upper deck off Curt Schilling on May 23rd highlighted a stretch in which the Yankees won just five of 18 games. It was also the highlight of his Yankees tenure. Boston would get revenge though. About two weeks later, Mike Lowell collided with Mientkiewicz while running out a ground ball, giving the first baseman a concussion and a fractured bone in his right wrist. Minky would spend the next 90 days on the disabled list, forcing Phelps, Phillips, Wilson Betemit, and Miguel Cairo to play the majority of the time at first base in the second half.

Mientkiewicz returned on September 4th, first serving as a defensive replacement exclusively. He assumed starting first base duties again in the middle of the month, and finished the season with a 17-for-45 flourish (.459/.545/.676). Like most of the Yankees, Minky didn’t do much of anything in postseason, going 0-for-6 with a walk against Cleveland.

Overall, Mientkiewicz hit .277/.349/.440 with five homers in 192 plate appearances as a Yankee. He struck out just 23 times and walked 16, plate discipline numbers consistent with the rest of his career. His .346 wOBA was damn close to the .349 mark Giambi posted and better than Johnny Damon‘s .340 wOBA. Minky also played his usual stellar defense, posting a +4.0 UZR (+15.0 UZR/150) and +5 on John Dewan’s +/- system, numbers right in line with the rest of his career. All told, Mientkiewicz was worth 0.9 WAR in 72 games and 192 plate appearances, a 2.8 WAR pace over 600 plate appearances.

By no means was Mientkiewicz great in New York, but he was almost certainly the best of that first base lot that ran through town during the mid-aughts. He had a few notable hits and made plenty of brilliant defensive plays, though the injury ruined what could have been an even more productive season. For $1.5M, Minky was a relative bargain.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 21st, 2011

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Open Thread: RAB turns 4

Four years ago today, Ben, Joe, and I launched this fine site in hopes of creating a one-stop shop for Yankees news and analysis, minors to majors to off-the-field business stuff, something we felt the interweb was lacking. The very first post was a look at some college draft prospects, in which I brilliantly proclaimed that “there’s a better chance the Yanks will draft Jesus Christ than have [Andrew] Brackman fall all the way to 30” in the comments. Yep.

In the four years since, the site has become far more popular than I think we ever imagined, and it still blows my mind that we managed to hook on with the YES Network. That’s all because of you guys, the readers and commenters that visit RAB every day and call us out when he write stupid stuff and motivate us to get better. Thanks for the four wonderful years, here’s to many more.

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This is your open thread for the evening. The NBA All-Star Game is on TNT at 8pm ET, plus there’s usually some good stuff on television on Sunday. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

February 20th Camp Notes

It's baseball. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The first official full squad workout of the 2011 season took place today, so there’s plenty to update you on…

  • Derek Jeter held his season opening press conference this morning. “You won’t see anything different [regarding the swing],” said the Cap’n despite his work with Kevin Long. Jeter indicated that he’s looking forward to his pursuit of 3,000 hits, that he’s no longer bothered by his contract negotiations, and that he fully expects to exercise the fourth year player option in his deal. Of course he does. (Chad Jennings, Jack Curry & Mark Feinsand)
  • Despite hiring Scott Boras this offseason, Robbie Cano does not plan on asking the Yankees for a contract extension. “I would never do that,” he said. It really doesn’t matter, Robbie could ask all he wants, but the Yankees still have contractual control of him (through club options) through 2013. (Marc Carig)
  • Alex Rodriguez is showing off improved flexibility after shedding ten pounds (down to 223) and three percentage points of body fat (down to nine percent). I guess it was the popcorn diet (/easy joke). Kevin Long said A-Rod‘s swing is “as good as I’ve seen it since ’07.” I’ll believe it when I see it. (Buster Olney & Pete Caldera)
  • You can add Mark Teixeira to the list of players that shed some weight this offseason, at least based on visual inspection. (Carig)
  • Jorge Posada is going to see some playing time at first base, which only makes sense. If he can do it once every two weeks to spell Tex, then great. (Andrew Marchand)
  • Hector Noesi has arrived in camp after his visa issues, and he was scheduled to throw a bullpen today. (Erik Boland)
  • Here’s the full list of bullpen assignments, batting practice groups, and infield/outfield assignments. (Jennings)
  • The Yankees aren’t going to play any intra-squad games this year. The first exhibition game is next Saturday against the Phillies. (Bryan Hoch)

A Detox

It’s odd to think that not too long ago – maybe five or six years – basically all our sports information came from the mass media. If there were blogs, they were primitive at best, and I think it’s safe to say there was certainly no Twitter where we knew everything immediately, which is not always a good thing. These days, it takes perhaps an hour to figure out how people feel about every move and quote. As a kid, I woke up every morning and read the Star Ledger and watched ESPN, and that was my daily feed of information. Nothing like the waves of quotes from the beat writers, news and opinion from the blogs, and so on.

Imagine for a second that all your sports information pipelines – even the newspaper and the TV – are cut off except the barest of minimums. Weird, huh? What would I do with all those extra hours I waste reading blogs? This past week, I went on vacation with my mom, who I rarely see because she lives on the other side of the country, and my older sister. I let my mom pick the vacation type, and she settled on a cruise ship. This sounded fun, except for one thing: if there is internet on the ship, it’s most likely obscenely expensive, and the last place I want to be on a cruise ship is chained to some slow, old machine, running Internet Explorer. It would be a stark, cold-turkey change from my usual of having an IV of tweets and news feeding into my system. Neither of the people on the trip with me were into baseball (my sister asked me once why the Yankees didn’t get Tim Lincecum), and trying to discuss the possibility of Montero breaking camp or the Yankees fifth starter would have begun with making fun of me for my general baseball devotion and ended with me getting extremely exasperated.

The vacation was nice. There was lots of mother-daughter bonding. We laid in the sun together, talked about books, and so on. My only source of baseball information, though, was the ESPN ticker that I would get glimpses of as I passed the tiny little sports bar-esque area in between our stateroom and our favorite restaurant. During that week, I learned a grand total of two pieces of information: Miguel Cabrera got a DUI, and Albert Pujols declined the Cardinals’ offer. That was it. A whole week without reading absolutely anything about the Yankees.

Maybe for some of you dear readers who aren’t crazy Yankees people, this would mean that baseball as a habit might sit by the wayside for a week, but for a blogger like myself, it’s not that easy. I thought about the Yankees constantly. I tried to guess what they would be talking about over at this absolutely amazing Yankees blog you all read. I wondered if Mark Prior and Eric Chavez had fallen apart yet. I wondered what awkward thing A-Rod would do – and guessed right when I went with ‘avoid journalists.’

About halfway through the trip, as we were passing an internet cafe during a stop in a Mexican port, I was talking to my older sister about how much I missed the constant stream of information. “It’s a detox!” she told me, “When you go back, you’ll be less addicted!” This proposition, as you can imagine, just made me roll my eyes and laugh. I’d fallen much closer to the ‘absence makes the heart grow stronger,’ category of cold-turkey quitters of things. By the end of the vacation, I was practically aching to get online and see what was going on. Maybe this means I have a problem, but I was willing to ignore it in favor of the enormous bundle of Spring Training pictures I knew awaited me, all the miscellaneous information I’d missed out on.

Sports have been changed by the internet, and as a modern-day sports fan, I was accustomed to always having what I needed at my fingers. It was extremely strange to not be able to open my computer to look at the stats of any particular player or even check the latest breaking news. It was an experience, to say the least, to be lingering around to read the two scrolling lines of the ESPN ticker and know that was all I was going to be able to get for a week. I had a lot of fun on vacation, certainly, but it was a strange kind of culture shock to not read anything about my beloved Yankees. I’m sure you can all imagine what I did when I got home, though, and I’m quite to say that despite that I have to go back to work on Monday, I can also be hooked into Twitter, read blogs, and talk about baseball with friends. Thank Mo.

Will They Panic?

What if the unthinkable happens? What if…

…On the morning of June 17th, Brian Cashman stumbles through his master suite at the Four Seasons and goes old-school: He eschews his iPhone and its screaming in-box for the soothing, grammar school comfort of multicolored pie charts and bar graphs scattered across the complimentary USA Today sports section. The Yankees’ lame duck GM cracks the paper, hoping to confirm that he’s not, in fact, trapped inside a real-life Kafka-esque nightmare after all. But after glimpsing the current AL East standings, his worst fears are realized.

Actually, that’s not completely accurate.

Cash’s worst fears were realized in the clubhouse the previous night. Following a six-run, eighth-inning implosion against a depleted Rangers lineup, Rafael Soriano leapt onto the edge of a training table and screamed, “Look at me! Look! I am Rafael! I have only closer’s genes!” It took nearly twenty minutes and four Abba-Zabas for Mo to finally talk him down.

But Soriano’s performance thus far has the Yankees rethinking his role as preordained eighth-inning assassin as well. After a stellar three-week stretch in April, in which he pitched 12 consecutive hitless innings, the Yankees’ $35 million set-up man has seen his K/9 droop to 5.1 and his HR/9 spike to 2.2 (versus career rates of 9.6 and 0.9 respectively). Some trace Sori’s recent struggles back to his first official save attempt of the season, a June 1st ninth-inning, four-homer meltdown in front of a capacity Sunday afternoon Stadium crowd against Toronto.

Unsurprisingly, the rump of the following day’s Daily News depicted a close-up of a crestfallen Soriano beneath a screaming headline that read: “Sori-Performance.”

But while the Soriano situation is disconcerting, it’s hardly dire. More than anything, it reflects the inherent Jekyll-and-Hyde volatility of relievers. As inauspicious as his season has been, Soriano could strikeout the side today and remain virtually unhittable for the remainder of the season. Or, he could completely flame-out.

But back to the now and the reality wrought by the polychromatic wonderland of the USA Today’s MLB standings pages. The Yankees’ current record stands at 31-38, which puts them in fourth place, 15 games behind the surging Red Sox. Though not insurmountable, it’s the club’s worst start since 1992, when the team found itself at 31-34 on June 19th while stammering to a 76-86 overall record. But that was a rare Yankee team in upheaval and transition, one that was expected to make due with a combined 37 starts from Greg Cadaret, Shawn Hillegas, Sam Militello, and Jeff Johnson.

The premature grave dancing this time around has been frenetic. In a bloviating drive time rant, ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd has referred to the Yankees as “old, dead, and not cool anymore” and to Mariano Rivera as “cooked.” Peter Gammons has already called the Red Sox’s third World Series championship in eight years a fait accompli. “Yankees suck” has become the universal battle cry for baseball fans everywhere. Its chants have broken out during MLB games where the Yankees aren’t even participants and in minor league ballparks across the country in which neither team has a Yankee affiliation.

A seven-and-under T-ball team named the Yankees were even Yankees Suck’ed off the field in Lansing, Michigan.

As dark as things seem at the moment, Cash can’t help but crack an impish smile. June and July are always such heady times for Red Sox fans; it’s when their team inflicts its damage and sows its consternation among the Yankees’ fan base. Somewhere in New England, there must be an exhibit of all the bejeweled mid-season MLB championship trophies the Sox have captured throughout the years, alongside mid-season MVP and CY Young awards inscribed with the names of Benzinger, Gedman, Everett, Hurst, and Beckett. Hermetically secured and displayed behind four-inch-thick bulletproof glass cases, they comprise the Wailing Wall of Red Sox Nation, as fans travel from as far away as Newton and drive up to two-and-a-half hours to pay homage to their splendor and glory.

In other words, Boston will collapse. They always do.

But while a June 9th sweep at the hands of Boston unleashed both a rapacious local press and the new media jackals, a recent four-game sweep, meted out by the hapless Indians and culminated by a Justin Germano four-hit complete game shutout on getaway day, was what set the baseball world into an overdrive of roofie-like Yankee-hating ecstasy.

After losing 15 of 20, a verbal undressing would normally be in order. It seemed to have worked well enough back in ’09. But an epic tirade won’t bring C.C. back from the 15-day D.L. (shoulder fatigue), fix A.J.’s mechanics (5.22 ERA, 1,555 WHIP), or turn back the clock on Jeter’s bat speed (.254/.325/.370 and deposed from the leadoff spot).

Some of this was inevitable, the trickle-down effect of a porous starting rotation and a roster that expected key contributions from aging, brittle stars. Jeter has already spent time on the DL, as has Sabathia, A-Rod, and Andruw Jones. And the third and fourth rotation slots have been a revolving door of Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia, Hector Noesi, Bartolo Colon, and even Doug Davis. “Paging Donovan Osborne” jokes abound.

Unfortunately, Brett Gardner (.262/.354/.368), and Nick Swisher (.251/.351/.457) have regressed from their stellar 2010 seasons; and Phil Hughes has lost bite from his curve while adding points to his WHIP (1.421).

Not all has gone bad. Robbie Cano still thinks it’s 2010, as he continues to thrash AL pitching staffs. A-Rod’s been dutifully spitting on his Marcel projections, despite a series of nagging early season injuries. Tex has miraculously averted his typical early-season swoon (.288/.371/.588), and Posada has adapted nicely to the DH role (.270/.349/.543).

So what’s the solution? Should Brian Cashman hold steady, saving resources and prospects for an offseason in which he may not even play a role? Or should he go all-in at the deadline, dealing an A-prospect or two for an undisputed number two starter? Should they look to shed payroll, or would that be a panic move? It is, after all, only June 19th which means  there’s still enough talent and time to surge through the remainder of the season en route to Wild Card contention – regardless of what the sports punditocracy says. Isn’t there?

Report: Millwood rejects Yanks’ MiLB deal

The Yankees recently offered Kevin Millwood a non-guaranteed minor league deal, but the 36-year-old right-hander has rejected that offer, Joel Sherman of The Post reported this morning. Millwood, coming off a season in which he went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA and a FIP nearly to match, wants a guaranteed Major League deal while the Yanks are “adamant” that Millwood not receive one. Rather, the team wants to structure his potential deal as they did with Freddy Garcia who will make $1.5 million if he makes the club and can earn $3.6 million more in performance bonuses.

Millwood’s refusal to take a minor league deal strikes me as a clear sign of a player who doesn’t know his own value after a five-season run of below-average pitching. The Yanks are quite content to let Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova battle it out for rotation spots while Millwood remains unemployed.