Design Commission approves Heritage Field Park plans sans Gate 2

The Save the Gate 2 movement may be running out of options. Earlier this week, the city’s Public Design Commission gave its preliminary approval to the Parks Department’s plans for Heritage Field Park, the park that will replace Yankee Stadium. These plans include, according to a statement from the Parks Department, “signage, benches, engraved plaques with historical narrative, viewfinders that allow participants to glimpse past events and an audio tour” but do not include any elements of Gate 2. For years, the advocacy group has pushed a $1 million, low-cost effort to include the part of the original 1923 stadium in the Heritage Park plans, but city officials have claimed that the real cost of the effort would be $15 million. City historians also question the authenticity of the gate and claim major elements were removed and altered during the 1970s renovation of Yankee Stadium, a charge Save the Gate 2 disputes.

The organization says it will attempt to secure an injunction in an effort to save some aspect of the historic Yankee Stadium, but because the stadium is not landmarked, convincing a judge to halt the project may take some legal maneuvering. Bronx residents, at this point, say they simply want their parks back. I’ve long believed that New York should incorporate some aspect of the stadium into the park. It is, after all, a building heavy with city history. But as with many historic buildings, the city is content to wreck and forget this one as well. The Yanks’ silence on the issue has been deafening as well.

Listen to me make a fool of myself on the radio

Just a heads up … I’m going to be on The Sports Show Live at 8:40 ET tonight to talk about the Yanks and the upcoming season and all that. Listen here.

Open Thread: BP Q&A at the Yogi Berra Museum

Just passing this along…

Steve Goldman and several others from Baseball Prospectus’ team of nerds analysts are holding a roundtable discussion about the upcoming 2010 season this Sunday at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University. Tickets are the regular price of admission ($6) or free if you buy a book. The talk will be held from 3-5pm, so if you’re in the area and want to hear some really smart people talk about baseball, make sure you check it out.

Here’s a little more from the museum’s site.

Now that that’s taken care of, here’s your open thread for the night. The Olympics are the only sports action on the tube, though the Canada-Russia hockey matchup should be a doozy. Loser goes home without a medal, which is kind of the big deal in those countries. Enjoy the thread.

Minor leaguers to be tested for HGH

Via The NY Times, Major League Baseball plans to start testing minor league players for human growth hormone later this year, which is the first step towards testing for HGH in the big leagues. Because most minor leaguers are not members of the MLBPA, the league is able to institute the blood testing without having to collectively bargain. It’s only a matter of time before they start invading privacy and poking guys in the show with needles.

Frankly, I have no interest in the whole steroid thing, and for what it’s worth, Will Carroll, in an interview with Maury Brown, doesn’t see much HGH use in baseball players. I just don’t care anymore. And besides, I liked it better when players did things like this.

Concerns with Yanks run up the middle

One reason I love the Curtis Granderson acquisition is the offense he provides at a premium position. As they currently stand, the Yankees have above average hitters at all four up the middle positions. It means they can afford to have average players at other positions. The Yankees have done this in the past, with tremendous results. Many of their championship teams and dynasties have been built around premium up the middle players. As Jay says:

Historically, the two most decorated positions on the Yankees are center field and catcher. With the exception of the 1920’s dynasty when they had both Ruth and Gehrig, when they were at their best, the Yankees have featured great players in both positions. Dickey and DiMaggio; Berra/Howard and Mantle; Munson and Murcer; Posada and Bernie. Add to that Rizzuto and Jeter at shortstop and the Yanks have a storied history of finding excellent talent at premium defensive positions.

He’s responding to an article wherein Rob Neyer claims that the Yankees might have a weakness growing forward. That weakness, strangely, is that Mark Teixeira might be their best player. He doesn’t play a premium position, so Neyer’s reasoning goes that the Yankees could be weaker because of it. I agree with Jay that I understand the point Neyer’s trying to make. I just don’t buy it.

The Yankees have put an emphasis on catcher recently, drafting and signing many young players in hopes that one or two pans out. They also have relatively young players at second base and center field. Neyer bases his case on 2011, when both Granderson and Robinson Cano will still be young and should still outproduce most of their peers. By that time we might see the first of Jesus Montero and perhaps Austin Romine. It appears shortstop is the only weakness in this equation, though it appears the Yankees are in no hurry to replace Derek Jeter.

Could the Yankees face issues in the future with up the middle talent? Sure. Any team can. But I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness that Teixeira might be their best player for the next few years. The talent is there, and as we’ve seen the team will do what it takes to reload.

In closing, I’d like to address one self-answered question in Neyer’s post:

Is there anyone now on the Yankees’ roster with a decent shot at being the best player in the American League in 2011? One of the five best players in the league? I don’t think so.

So Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira don’t have a decent shot at being a top five player in the AL in 2011? No, I think they very much could rank among the best five AL players next season, and I don’t see any reason right now to think why they wouldn’t.

The joy of a controversy free Spring Training

The 2010 New York Yankees held their first official full workout of the season today, and already it’s easy to notice a big difference between this year and years passed: It’s quiet.

Fresh off their 27th World Championship, there’s no early season controversy surrounding the Yankees in 2010. Last year we had Alex Rodriguez‘s steroid revelations, and before that there was the PED clouds of Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi. In between we were forced to deal with everything from rotation questions to bullpen questions to questions about Bernie Williams‘ role to questions about the almighty Joba Rules. It seemed that anything and everything was fair game, and often it was.

Things are much different this year though, mostly because the team doesn’t have to answer questions about playoff failures or a mega free agent signing. Everyone seems to understand that Johnny Damon and Scott Boras overplayed their hand, and that they need not look beyond a mirror to find someone to blame for his being in Detroit. GM Brian Cashman replaced Damon and Hideki Matsui, productive yet aging players, with equally productive players in the prime of their careers and on affordable contracts. Nostalgia clearly has taken a step back in the Bronx.

Right now, the biggest issues facing the Yankees are the expiring contracts of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the two longest tenured players on the team. Jeter addressed just that this morning, saying “I’ve never gone into a season focused on the next season … This is the only organization I want to play for. I don’t think I can say it enough times. I’m not worried about what my legacy is at this point.” The Captain then said he won’t be discussing his contract situation after today, and he’s never given us a reason to doubt him. Rivera – and also manager Joe Girardi – dealt with his contract situation the same way. The controversies were snuffed out before they even had a chance to begin.

We’ve already dealt with the MSM manufactured storyline of complacency, though there are sure to be attempts to drum up something else to fill the column inches. The Phil HughesJoba Chamberlain fifth starter battle is nothing more than a Spring Training position battle, something that’s happening in 29 other camps in Florida and Arizona. Ditto the Curtis GrandersonBrett Gardner leftfield-centerfield situation. But those dull topics have already been discussed ad nauseum this offseason. There’s nothing more left to talk about, all we have to do is sit back and watch. Like it’s supposed to be.

For the first time in a long time, it’s just baseball around Yankees’ camp. And I absolutely love it.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

The benefits of a better backup catcher

While some Spring Training battles involve a starting position, most center on the final few roster spots. The Yankees have a few such situations this year, including righty off the bench (Thames or Hoffmann) and utility infielder (Pena or Nunez). One spot not in dispute is backup catcher. Throughout the winter we have assumed that Francisco Cervelli will assume the role Jose Molina filled for the past two and a half years. The Yankees have made no moves to indicate otherwise, signing only Mike Rivera to fill the Chad Moeller/Chris Stewart/Kevin Cash emergency spot. The position belongs to Cervelli, uncontested.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

With Jorge Posada, one of the league’s best offensive catchers, getting the majority of the playing time this might seem like a small issue. Yet it’s exactly because of Posada that the backup catcher could play a large role on the 2010 Yankees. Jorge turned 38 at the end of last season, an age when many catchers have already called it a career. That’s not to say that his production will fall off a cliff in 2010, but we also probably shouldn’t expect his 2009 production. He had a stellar year, posting his second highest OPS since 2003 and his best ISO since 2000. Even if he hits at, say, 80 percent of that, he’ll still be well above average for a catcher.

With Posada’s age and recent injury history, however, it’s tough to ignore the possibility that he either misses significant time, or does see a stark decline in production. Again, that’s not to say that he will, but rather that I think the chances of his decline are great than they are for, say, Derek Jeter, the second oldest Yankees position player. Posada has spent 134 days on the disabled list over the past two years with injuries to his shoulder and hamstring. He also experienced a number of maladies later in the year, including a finger injury that he said bothered him in the last month and a half. His health is far from a guarantee, and if something does happen to him it means more Francisco Cervelli. While that helps on defense, it will certainly hurt the offense.

The potential doom scenario has made me wonder how much the Yankees would have benefitted from adding a more solid backup catcher this off-season. As it stands, if Posada gets hurt the Yankees will have Francisco Cervelli and his 106 career plate appearances playing every day, with journeyman Mike Rivera backing him up. That means the Yankees would go from having catchers well above replacement level, perhaps five or six wins combined, to catchers much closer to replacement. A Cervelli/Rivera combination might produce 2 WAR, a steep drop-off from Posada/Cervelli.

Unfortunately, acquiring a competent backup isn’t as easy as it might sound. If a catcher can hit, chances are he’ll find a starting gig somewhere, or else find a team with a weak incumbent he can supplant with a quality performance. The only way, then, for a team with a starter like Posada to acquire a viable backup is via trade. We did see one such trade this off-season, when the Indians traded Kelly Shoppach to the Rays after he realized a drop-off from his 2008 numbers. So why didn’t the Yankees make a more aggressive play for Shoppach, knowing that he could probably fill the starting role more capably than Cervelli?

Catchers like Shoppach, even after a down year, don’t come cheap. If the Yankees wanted to acquire him, and assume the risk that he won’t recover to his 2008 form, they’d have to sacrifice a player or players on the farm. While teams can benefit from trading prospects for veterans, such deals have to come in the right situation. The Yankees only have so many farmhands they can trade to fill holes on the major league roster, and acquiring a backup catcher just isn’t that high on the priority list. Perhaps it moved a bit higher this year because of the risks Posada poses, but not high enough to sacrifice someone like, say Zach McAllister or Ivan Nova.

While having a more reliable backup catcher would have been nice, the upgrade wasn’t worth the acquisition cost. If Posada’s performance declines or he gets hurt the Yankees will suffer a bit with Cervelli behind the plate, but it’s not a total loss. While he’ll never be Posada with the bat, Cervelli looks like a very good defensive catcher. That will close the performance gap between the two. For now, the Yankees will have to rely on Posada to catch another 100, 110 games. With their minor league catchers moving up the ranks, it might be the last year they need him to take on that workload.