Yankees get Lance Pendleton back from Astros

Via Alyson Footer, the Astros have returned Rule 5 Draft pick Lance Pendleton to the Yankees. The right-hander has already clear waivers and been assigned to minor league camp, so he’s not on the 40-man roster. Pendleton, 27, was dubbed Houston’s 29th best prospect by Baseball America this spring, and they called him a fifth starter/long/middle reliever-type. He throws a low-90’s fastball, a sinker, curveball, slider, and changeup, none of which particularly stand out. Just another arm for the Double- or Triple-A staff.

George Kontos, the other guy the Yankees lost in the Rule 5 Draft, was returned by the Padres earlier this month.

Feliciano likely to begin season on DL; Romulo move in the works

Via Chad Jennings, lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano is almost certain to start the season on the disabled list because of his triceps issue. He was scheduled to throw today, but the session had to be canceled because his arm just wasn’t up to it. It seems likely that Feliciano’s temporary replacement will be fellow lefty Steve Garrison, who’s already on the 40-man roster. I wrote about him earlier this month, and he has the requisite breaking ball (curveball and an occasional slider) to get out same-sided hitters.

Meanwhile, Joe Girardi indicated that something is in the works with right-hander Romulo Sanchez, who is out-of-options and was a long shot to make the team. It could very well be a trade, but the return is likely to be small.

New Year’s Resolutions

There’s the Jewish New Year, the Chinese New Year, the fiscal new year and January 1st. Baseball has its own new year and it is now a mere four days away. With that in mind and in order to enjoy a more purposeful and ordered baseball life in 2011, I have prepared 5 of my Baseball New Year’s Resolutions. Please feel free to leave yours in the comments.

Resolved: to cultivate a deep hatred for the Tampa Bay Rays

I’ve hated the Boston Red Sox for as long as I can remember, and there is little about them for which I do not have disdain. There is the swath of unlikeable players, the smug ownership (“the MT curse?” indeed, John), the media cheerleading, the obnoxious fanbase, the whining about Yankee payroll, and, of course, Kevin Youkilis. When it comes to the Rays, though, there is little to hate. Yet they aren’t going anywhere any time soon. If I can’t ignore them, then it’s high time I figure out different ways to mock and loathe them.

The irreverent and hilarious NFL blog Kissing Suzy Kolber and sports blog Deadspin often publish what they term “Hater’s Guides”. Essentially these guides a compilation of all the things, fair and unfair, for which a team could be mocked. Last fall Drew Magary wrote one up for the MLB Playoffs, and this is what he had to say about the Rays:

I am so aggressively indifferent towards the Rays that I can’t even produce the vitriol needed for this preview. I think about the Rays, and all that comes to mind is a giant white void, free of any objects or even intangible thoughts. Just a wide expanse of nothingness that wipes out the color and soul of anything it comes into contact with.

Now, one could mock the the Rays’ low attendance figures or the fact that Yankee fans appear to outnumber Rays fans when the two teams face off at Tropicana, but this is low-hanging fruit. It’s also the hatred of absence, hating a team because of things that it can’t do. I’d like to discover specific things to hate them for.

It won’t be easy. The most distinguishing factor about that club right now is their intelligent management and the smart, likeable group of analysts like Jonah Keri and R.J. Anderson. For now the best target seems to be the way that people go out of their way to point out Extra 2 Percent-ness. The first entry in the book comes from Jayson Stark: listening is the new market inefficiency. Trust me, I’ll stay tuned.

Resolved: to enjoy a potentially dominant bullpen

Angst about the Soriano contract aside, the Yankee bullpen has the potential to be the best in baseball this year, and one of the best in recent memory. Without including their names, here are the relevant statistics for the Yankees’ four best relievers in 2010:

Reliever A – 62 innings, 2.81 FIP, 8.23 K/9, 2.02 BB/9.

Reliever B – 61 innings, 3.58 FIP, 10.42 K/9, 4.84 BB/9.

Reliever C – 60 innings, 2.81 FIP, 6.75 K/9, 1.65 BB/9.

Reliever D – 71 innings, 2.98 FIP, 9.67 K/9, 2.76 BB/9.

These relievers (Soriano, Robertson, Rivera and Chamberlain, for the record) will form a potent end of game corps and should lessen the burden on guys like Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes. Hopefully the fourth and fifth starters will be able to eat up innings, keeping the bullpen fresh and preventing burnout. If so, the final three or four innings of Yankee games will be very tough for opposing teams. It’s always fun to watch a dominant bullpen at work. It lends a sense of invincibility to late game leads. With Feliciano and Logan, Joe Girardi should have every tool necessary to lay down the hammer on opposing clubs. Use it well, Joe.

Resolved: to get overly excited about Derek Jeter‘s 3000th hit

There will be plenty of people this summer who will downplay Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Some will do it out of earnest honesty, some will do it because they’re contrarian, and some will do it because they just don’t like the Yankees. Whatever the motive, and it can be hard to divine motive, I fully expect to hear a lot of reminders that the 3,000th hit doesn’t mean all that much per se and that it’s not nearly the best way to appreciate prodigious offensive production. Rob Neyer is the early odds-on favorite to do this, memorializing Jeter’s feat with something like, “Well, do 3,000 hits mean all that much? When I talked to Bill James, he wasn’t so sure. It’s hard to say. But it does seem that all this hubbub about Captain Captain is a bit overblown. Would we be paying that much attention if he was on the Pirates? It’s possible, but there’s no way of knowing.”

It’s true that hits aren’t the best barometer of offensive production. Yet just like reaching 300 wins the 3,000th hit is a rare feat, one that speaks to longevity, ability and consistency. The club is populated by only 27 players, some of them among the very best to ever play the game. Of these players, four spent time on the Yankees: Ricky Henderson, Dave Winfield, Wade Boggs and Paul Waner. There is, however, no player in the 3,000 hit club who spent his entire career with the Yankees. This is rather fascinating. Despite the illustrious history of the club and the sheer amount of time it has been around, Derek Jeter will become the first lifetime Yankee to join the 3,000 hit club.

Jeter is in the twilight of his career. There may be more World Series trophies, October heroics and Canyon parades in the cards for him, but the days of elite offensive production are likely behind him now. The 3,000th hit will be a time to reflect, a time in which the entire baseball world will stop and watch and recognize just how good Jeter has been. I’m going to count down to 3,000 like a little kid waiting for Christmas and go crazy when it arrives. It will be a moment to remember.

Resolved: to ignore media trolls

The New York media market is a tough media market. In fact, the members of the New York media market seem to delight in commenting on just how tough the New York media market is while simultaneously causing it. It’s a lovely self-referential trick.  Those responsible for covering the Yankees are no different. Unlike the coverage in Boston, which often leans towards excessively positive, the New York reporting crew has a combination of hostility towards certain players, the manager, ownership, the fans, and advanced statistics. There are exceptions, Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger being the most notable one.

This year, I will not let them get under my skin. If someone wants to make a tremendously unfunny joke about Joey Looseleafs, I will not pay attention. If someone wants to argue that single-season pitcher wins are a good barometer of pitching skill, I will plug my ears. Often times, the goal of making incendiary comments is simply to get attention. I can’t control what others do, but I won’t feed the fire. Eventually the market will sort this out and news organizations will realize that disdain for new ways of thinking, the consumer, or the object of the reporting isn’t what fans are looking for. Until then, I will go about my business in a state of happy ignorance.

Resolved: to say a proper goodbye to Jorge Posada

Jorge Posada’s contract expires after this season, and it’s very well possible that this could be his final season as a professional baseball player, or at least as a Yankee. I’ll miss him. I’ve always loved watching Posada hit, particularly from the left side of the plate. There’s something about that swingthat struck me as dangerously powerful. Posada’s never been the flashiest guy in the Yankee lineup, although he certainly put up some MVP caliber seasons in his time. He’s always been the guy you think of fourth or fifth when you’re running through a list of Yankee sluggers in your mind. He’s never had the pizzazz or the swagger of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield or Jason Giambi but he’s always been there, year after year, getting it done.

Jorge has had more than his fair share of major injuries. The torn rotator cuff/labrum and the brain injuries were particularly brutal, and he’s constantly getting beaten up behind the plate. Yet Jorge has always fought back, and it seems like he’s always been there when the team needed him. I will never forget the bloop double off Pedro in Game 7 of the ALCS and the way he pumped both of his fists and screamed at the top of his lungs as the Stadium rocked and rolled. I’m excited for the dawn of a new era of Yankee catching; Jesus Montero, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are some seriously talented cats. But I’ll miss Jorge when he’s gone, and I’m going to cheer a little louder this year when he clubs his home runs and trots slowly around the bases. Who knows how many more he has left?

Open Thread: Grandy’s 50-50 for Opening Day

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There’s good news and bad news about Curtis Granderson‘s oblique injury. The bad news it’s rendered him questionable for Opening Day, but the good news is that it’s not serious enough that a stint on the disabled list is a foregone conclusion. The Grandyman took some swings off a tee and played a little catch today, saying that he thinks he’s got a 50-50 chance of being ready by Thursday. In other news, Gustavo Molina caught CC Sabathia in a minor league game this morning before catching the big league relievers in the official game this afternoon, so yeah, pretty good indication that he’s making the team.

Anyway, here’s the open thread for the night. MLB Network is showing the Twins and Red Sox (live), plus the Knicks, Nets, and Devils are playing. Oh, and there’s college basketball as well. You all know what’s up, so have at it.

Imagining Hanley in pinstripes

In four years Derek Jeter‘s last big contract with the Yankees will expire and the Yankees will have to move on. As weird as it will be, life after Jeter will begin, at least at the shortstop position. With all due respect to Cito Culver and Eduardo Nunez, it is likely that Jeter’s eventual replacement is not within the organization as of today. He will either join via the amateur draft, trade or free agency. Fortuitously, the best offensive shortstop in baseball will hit the free agent market the very year Jeter’s contract expires. After spending nearly a decade with the Florida Marlins, Hanley Ramirez will become a free agent as a 30-year-old. Will he find himself fitted for pinstripes?

The Good

While Troy Tulowitzki is quickly creeping up on him, it’s hard to argue with the statement that Hanley Ramirez is the best offensive shortstop in the game. After being traded from Boston to Florida in the Josh Beckett deal, Hanley Ramirez won Rookie of the Year in 2006. As a mere 22-year-old Hanley clubbed 17 home runs and swiped 51 bases and hitting .292/.353/.480. In 2007 he elevated his game even further. He stole 51 bases again but cut down on his strikeouts and hit an incredible 29 home runs. His batting line was an MVP-worthy .332/.386/.562. The Red Sox won the World Series that year, but there had to be an element of regret within the organization to see how rapidly Hanley was becoming a superstar.

In 2008 Ramirez posted an aesthetically pleasing batting line of .301/.400/.540, a step back in power but a step forward in on-base percentage. The following year he again accumulated over 7 fWAR and placed second in MVP voting. His on-base percentage was only 10 points higher than 2008, and his slugging percentage was only three points higher, but he won the batting title with a .342 average. Hanley’s always been a high BABIP guy (.347 career average) but his .379 mark in 2009 was a new high for him.

In 2010 his game took a step back. He only hit 22 home runs, a low for him since 2006, and his on-base and power skills dipped slightly as well. This was probably related to his ground ball rate. He’s a career 44% ground ball hitter, but hit ground balls at a 51% clip in 2010; this increase came largely at the expense of fly balls. Whether this was a momentary blip or a sign of things to come remains to be seen. It is worth noting that Ramirez battled and elbow injury for a lot of the season.

Regardless of the 2010 blip, Hanley Ramirez has been the model of offensive production in the past four years. Cumulatively, it’s nearly impossible to find a more productive shortstop over the past four years. He hit 107 home runs, most of any shortstop. He’s stolen 145 bases, second to only Jose Reyes. His ISOp is .213, tied for highest with Troy Tulowitzki. He has the highest batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.532) and wOBA (.400). In the past four years, he’s had the the highest wOBA for a shortstop in three out of the past four years. At some point, the superlatives become repetitive. Hanley Ramirez can hit. He can really, really hit.

The Bad

One of the biggest knock on Hanley is his defense. He’s a big guy, and doesn’t really grade out positively by any defensive metric. Over at Fangraphs just six weeks ago Joe Pawlikowski wrote up different players who saw their fWAR knocked down by the defensive component. Ramirez featured prominently:

Defense was the major knock on Ramirez from the moment he started in the majors. In his first two years in the league he had UZRs of -9.3 and -20.5. He followed that up with two mostly average years, which provided some hope that he could remain at shortstop while hitting like a right fielder. Both ideas came crashing down in 2010.

Not only was Hanley’s 25.4 RAA his worst mark since his rookie campaign, but his UZR was in the negative double digits. The combination caused quite a dip in his WAR.

Saving Grace: TZL isn’t nearly as down on Hanley, pegging him at -5 for the year and 8.8 — in the positives! — for his career. DRS, on the other hand, mostly agrees with UZR, except it’s a bit more pessimistic.

All told, it’s hard to find anyone who would argue that Hanley is a plus defender. His single-season UZR is going to fluctuate year-to-year, just like a BABIP is going to fluctuate in the first third of a season, but scouting and most defensive metrics agree that his fielding is subpar. As he ages and loses some of his quickness, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him move off the position. Some expect him to wind up at third base; right field could be another destination.

The element of downside risk with Hanley is the perceived attitude issue. A lot of this stems from the blowup he had with his manager Fredi Gonzalez on May 18. After fouling a ball off his shin in the first inning, Hanley took the field in the second inning. With runners on first and second, Tony Abreu blooped a ball over his head into shallow left field. Ramirez couldn’t get to it, and when reaching down to field it with his glove he accidentally kicked it with his left foot, sending the ball 100 feet away into the left field corner. He then slowly jogged after it, allowing two players to score and Abreu to advance all the way to third base. Now, Ramirez did seem to have a slight limp and it is possible that his shin pain was severe. Regardless, he moved rather slowly after the ball. The video is a bit shocking. It’s rare to see a player pursue a ball like that. It’s as if the play was already dead. Manager Fredi Gonzalez was angry, and pulled Hanley out of the game. Hanley sat out the next game, and openly criticized Gonzalez:

“It’s his team. He can do whatever,” Ramirez said, mixing in an expletive. “There’s nothing I can do about it.” “That’s OK. He doesn’t understand that. He never played in the big leagues,” he said.

Unfortunately Gonzalez didn’t survive the year, getting fired in the end of June. He moved on to greener pastures in Atlanta, but the perception that ownership sided with the superstar rather than the manager lingers. The fact that Loria had given Ramirez a diamond-studded necklace to celebrate his batting title championship a year prior doesn’t exactly help to dispel that myth. Yet, the most important question is whether this will be something that promises to cause trouble in the future. For what it’s worth, Hanley has been talking a big game this spring, saying that he was very disappointed in his 2010 production and promising a whole new level of effort. His 2010 issues could just be a blip in the radar; the proof will be in the pudding.

The Money

By the end of the 2014 season the Yankees will get some serious salary relief. After the 2011 season Jorge Posada‘s $13M will come off the books. After 2012 Rivera’s salary ($15M) comes off the books, although it’s possible that he could re-up on another 1 year deal for the same salary. AJ Burnett’s $82.5M contract expires after 2013 as well. After 2014, Derek Jeter’s contact expires.

As of present, the Yankees have about $69M committed to the 2015 payroll. Of course, this doesn’t include a potential deal for Nick Swisher or his right field replacement (free agent after 2012), Phil Hughes, Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson (free agents after 2013) or the various holes in the pitching rotation. The Yankees will be shelling out some serious coin well before Cashman ever sits down at the negotiating table with Hanley and his agent Andy Mota. They’ll also have a very big hole at shortstop.

As a 30-year-old, Ramirez will likely be seeking one very big, very long contract. Provided he continues his prodigious offensive production and stays at shortstop, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him seek a deal for at least 8 years. Even if he’s moved off shortstop to third base, his offensive production would still put him among the elite third basemen in the league. All told, there’s a lot that can happen between now and the 2014-15 offseason. Loria could open up the purse strings and make Hanley a Miami Marlin for life, or the Yankees could draft a viable replacement for Jeter at shortstop. The Yankees have handed out their fair share of big contracts in the past. Whether they’ll be able to resist the siren’s call again with Hanley will be a fascinating situation to monitor.

ST Game Thread: Banuelos on the bump (again)

Guiliani with the photobomb. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Another televised Spring Training game, another Manny Banuelos appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but it’s just weird how he seems to pitch in every game that’s on the tv. He’s starting today’s game while CC Sabathia pitches in a minor league game that gives the team some flexibility (in case he has a short inning or something, they can add a fourth out, etc.). From what I understand he’s only going to throw two or three innings as well, since it’s his final tune-up before Opening Day on Thursday. I don’t know how many innings are on the docket for Banuelos, but the more the merrier. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Chris Dickerson, LF – say hello to the new guy
Eduardo Nunez, 2B
Austin Romine, C

Available Pitchers: Manny Banuelos, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Boone Logan, Mark Prior, Luis Ayala, Romulo Sanchez, Steve Garrison, Josh Schmidt, Pat Venditte, and Chase Whitley. It will be the second of back-to-back days for Joba, Robertson, Soriano, and Logan by design.

Available Position Players: Gustavo Molina (C), Eric Chavez (1B), Doug Bernier (2B), Ramiro Pena (SS), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Austin Krum (LF), Justin Maxwell (CF), and Abe Almonte (RF).

The game is scheduled to start at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

The Evolution of Bartolo Colon in Pinstripes

Welcome back to the big club, big guy. Stay a while. Throw some strikes. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

As we inch closer to Opening Day, things become settled. The AA and AAA kids are down at their respective camps, besides Manny Banuelos. The great mystery of Yankees Offseason-Spring Training ’11, the starting rotation, has been solved. Bartolo Colon is in the bullpen. That’s okay, though: if you thought that he would even have a fraction of a chance of making the rotation when we signed him, I’m calling BS until you show me proof. I don’t think anyone had anything other than, ‘eh, minor league deal, we’ll cut him in March,’ to say when this first happened. Understandably so, of course: Colon was an aged pitcher with an injury history who pitched only in winter ball last year and spent a grand total of 97 days on the 15-day DL in 2009, more than half of that with elbow problems. But Colon knew there was something still left in the tank. He was still a two-time 20-game winner and had a Cy Young award perched on his mantle, after all.

The first time Colon was mentioned on MLB Trade Rumors was November 15th, where he was said to continue to “maintain conversations” with Rockies, Cardinals, Tigers, and our very own Bronx Bombers. Keep in mind, though, that Cliff Lee didn’t sign till December; at this point, the Yankees probably had very few eyes on Colon and were full steam ahead at working on wooing Lee, while we all pounded F5 on our computers waiting for the announcement that a deal was in place. Between then and January 26th, Lee would sign with the Phillies, shunning his AL Champion Texas Rangers and the giant bags of cash offered by the Yankees. While we waited on Andy Pettitte to return to the team like a knight in shining armor, Colon signed a minor league deal worth $900K and the ability to be cut if he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. Our article on this, written by the lovely Joe Pawlikowski, is about as skeptical as you’d expect. Joe wrote “there is little indication that Colon can handle a starting job in the majors at this point,” and that he “[found] it nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Colon can help the team.” I think it’s safe to say that many people, if not everyone, was on this bandwagon. The comments ranged from a handful of “eh, minor league deal, who cares” all the way to “Mark Prior has better odds of starting a regular season game for the 2011 Yankees than Colon” and “I would have taken a shot at Pedro.” There were questions regarding his position on the ‘Better than Mitre’ scale. There were also, of course, the requisite fat jokes.  At that point, Justin Duchscherer was the pitcher most Yankees fans wanted to see the club sign.

Of course, about ten days later, Andy Pettitte retired, sending shockwaves through both the organization and the fans. There were suddenly two rotation spots open for Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Colon, and the newly-signed Freddy Garcia. Let the pitching battle begin.

Out of everyone, Colon surprised me (and I imagine many of you) the most. While he could no longer pump out the high-powered gas he’d had before the bone spurs in his elbow, his reduced velocity hardly hindered him at all. In Colon’s first outing, he threw what Mike referred to as “meh,” allowing one run in two innings, walking one and striking out none. It was his second outing, on March 4th, that would raise some eyebrows: against the Boston’s admittedly mostly minor-league team, he struck out five in three innings, giving up only two hits and no walks. While the hitters were not exactly the biggest challenge to throw at a guy, Colon located his pitches well and proved he was worth consideration. He followed this up with another fairly decent outing on March 9th, throwing four innings and allowing two runs on four hits, and striking out seven. According to his mlb.com game log, every one of his 30 pitches was a strike save for a single ball.

His crowning Spring Training achivement, though, would be his start against the Rays. Tampa Bay rolled out most of (if not all) their major leaguers, including Evan Longoria, Johnny Damon, Reid Brignac, BJ Upton, and noted Yankee killer Dan Johnson. Even against familiar names, Colon threw six strong innings, giving up two hits, a run, striking out five, and throwing all of his 32 pitches for strikes. Small sample size and Spring Training caveats apply, but had there been a true competition, I find it hard to believe this wouldn’t win him a rotation spot: in his 15 IP (fourth-most on the team), he has a 2.40 ERA with 17 strikeouts, one walk, and one home run. He’s getting the ground balls. He’s pounding the strike zone. Even if he gets injured sometime during the season, the stuff itself is there.

I don’t know about you, but I’m personally ready to give up my bias against Bartolo Colon. It’s hard to get one’s mindset back into the groove of thinking positively about a player when they’ve been racking up the disappointing numbers, but everything about Colon’s spring performance is positive. Let’s see if he can take these strong Spring Training numbers and turn them into something that counts. I’ve decided rather than spitting on everything he does, it’s more fun to look forward to it.