Kerry Wood has been nothing short of a godsend for the Yankees since being acquired at the trade deadline. He’s chewed up high-leverage innings down the stretch and tossed up scoreless inning after scoreless inning, even if the process wasn’t always pretty. We all know about Wood’s lengthy injury history, one that includes 14 trips to the disabled list and no fewer than three arm surgeries, but did you know he was once hours from retirement in 2007? I sure didn’t, but Brian Costa covered that very topic today. I don’t want to ruin the surprise of how it all happened, so make sure you head over and check it out. Great stuff.
Via Marc Carig, the Yankees have sent minor leaguers Andy Shive and Matt Cusick to Cleveland as players to be named later in the Kerry Wood trade. Shive had some sleeper potential as a relief potential, but he hasn’t really pitched much since having Tommy John surgery and will be 25-years-old in a few weeks without ever getting out of A-ball. Cusick, a 24-year-old utility infielder was the guy the Yanks got from Houston for LaTroy Hawkins a few years ago, and his best asset is probably his versatility. The Indians might have some use for him, but the Yanks definitely didn’t. No big loss at all.
When the Yankees extended their season by taking Game Five yesterday, they did so thanks to the performances of their star players. Robbie Cano hit his fourth homer of the ALCS, Alex Rodriguez doubled to set-up a rally and drew two walks, Jorge Posada drove in the first run of the game and then came around to score, CC Sabathia provided six hard-fought innings, and Mariano Rivera was there to close things out in the ninth. The team’s best players were their best players in the most important game of the season, but let’s not understate the contributions they received from their deadline pickups.
Mark Teixeira’s season came to an abrupt end in Game Four when his right hamstring popped running down to first, so Lance Berkman is now stepping in as the Yanks’ full-time first baseman. I don’t know about you, but I’d have called you crazy if you woulda told me in April that Berkman would be the team’s everyday first baseman in the ALCS. Does not compute.
Anyway, Fat Elvis dusted off his first baseman’s mitt and took to the field for just the eighth time in forty games as a Yankee. I know he had some adventurous plays down in Tampa early on and even had that nasty spill yesterday, but overall Berkman is a solid defensive first baseman (his +13.1 UZR over the last three years is basically identical to Tex’s, for what it’s worth) capable of making all the routine plays plus a little more. He won’t make the flashy plays or the throws that Teixeira can, but it’s not like the Yankees had to resort to trotting Jason Giambi out there in the postseason.
Despite batting righthanded, by far his weaker side this season (.236 wOBA), Puma managed to contribute some offensively in Game Five, drawing a walk and driving in a run with a well-struck sac fly. His approach was rather simple; he just took everything not in his happy zone, which resulted in 22 pitches seen in just four plate appearances. The potential was there for zero offensive contribution, but Berkman’s been a great hitter for a long time and he found a way to chip in anything he could from his weak side. That’s all you could ask for from your backup first baseman.
After the Yanks had built up their lead and gotten all they could out of Sabathia, they handed the ball over to another July 31st pickup in Kerry Wood. The Yankee bullpen, a strength the entire second half, had faltered in a big way during Games Three and Four, allowing 11 runs and 16 baserunners in just five innings of work, but Wood was not involved in that disaster. The first batter he faced, the pesky Elvis Andrus, reached base on his eleventyith infield hit of the series, but some pitches and pickoff throws later, Wood caught him straying too far off second. Kerry had one pickoff since the 2006 season, but Andrus was his second of the ALCS. Lucky? Yes. Do you need luck to dig out of the three games to one hole? Also yes.
Wood went to work against the heart of Texas’ order with the Andrus pickoff mixed in. He struck out both Michael Young and Josh Hamilton to end the seventh, and then came out to retire Vlad Guerrero, David Murphy, and Ian Kinsler in order in the eighth. David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan were horrifically ineffective during the past two games, but Wood stepped up in the must-win situation and give his club two big innings to bridge the gap between Sabathia and Mariano Rivera.
Berkman and Wood were ideal deadline pickups for many reasons off-the-field, such as low cost to acquire and short commitment, but on-the-field they made perfect sense. Both are veteran players with playoff (and in Berkman’s case, World Series) experience, but more importantly they bought into their role. Berkman’s a hero in Houston, where he played every single day and hit in the middle of the order for the last decade or so. With the Yankees, he was just a platoon designated hitter now pressed into a more important role. Wood was saving games for a last place team in Cleveland, and saves equal money on the free agent market. He joined the Yanks as just another cog in their deep bullpen, but emerged as someone much more important than that.
When the Yanks acquired these two guys at the deadline, none of us expected them to be this important with the season on the line. If you’re going to lose a player of Mark Teixeira’s caliber to injury, Lance Berkman’s a pretty damn good replacement to have. Should the regular relievers falter, having a hard-throwing strikeout machine like Kerry Wood to back them up is more than you could ask for. Neither player will be with the Yanks next season, but right now they’re doing everything asked of them and then some to help this team try to win a World Championship, and we appreciate that.
A few links for your Sunday morning.
Ronald Monestime takes a look at Andy Pettite and says that he deserves to be considered this generations Mr. October as much as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera do. I love Pettitte and what he has done for the Yankees all of these years, but he’s the same pitcher in the regular season as he is in the playoffs. Jeter is the same player in the regular season as he is in the playoffs. If you’re going to label someone Mr. October simply for stepping it up in the playoffs, it has to be Rivera. As great as he has been in the regular season, his postseason numbers are even further off the charts.
Speaking of Rivera, heres a pretty cool piece in which Kerry Wood compares Rivera to Greg Maddux. It’s probably not a comparison made often as one is a starter, one a closer, but it makes sense and it’s pretty cool to hear it from someone with Wood’s perspective. Rivera and a PED accusation free Maddux could end up going down as the greatest starter and closer of their generation (and obviously in Mo’s case G.O.A.T.). It’s just too bad we never got to see Rivera close out a game for Maddux, despite the Boss’ best efforts. Speaking of which, here’s a link to when the Yankees struck out with Maddux (and Bonds) and signed Jimmy Key. The last line is classic Steinbrenner, and would soon ring true.
Sam Borden took a look at A-Rod and how he heads into October without the pressure he’s had in the past after his heroics last season. The best part for me is that Borden made sure to point out that A-Rod had plenty of good playoff moments with the Mariners and wasn’t really the choker we had all been led to believe. Many of the glowing A-Rod articles after last season neglected to mention this, and I’m glad Borden pointed it out.
Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune briefly talks about his history with George Steinbrenner and how it feels different in the postseason without him around. The further away we get from his death I think the more we’ll appreciate that the 2009 team was able to win the World Series in his last full year alive.
The New York Yankees playoff roster reads as one from a mid-2000s All Star Game would. Somehow, some way, both Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman landed on the 2010 New York Yankees, and while those two players aren’t nearly as good as they once were, they’ve each made their impacts felt during the first two games of the American League Division Series.
For Berkman, coming to the Bronx hasn’t been easy. A Texas man with Rice University in his blood, Berkman spent 12 years and played 1592 games for the Astros. At age 34, his health is failing him, but he can still hit right-handers. The Yankees picked him up in a salary dump for Mark Melancon, and while Berkman moved from the bottom of the NL Central to the top of the AL East, he was hesitant about the trade. He didn’t want to leave Texas and had no idea what New York held for him.
His regular season stint in New York wasn’t a booming success. In limited duty, he hit .255/.358/.349, and he didn’t power his one home run over the fence until his 32nd game in pinstripes. Yankee fans grew to despise Berkman when he made some fielding flubs in Tampa Bay and later hit A-Rod on the shin with a line drive during batting practice. Berkman’s two months on the Yanks resembled something out of the Murphy’s Law Handbook to Baseball.
Yet, with four at-bats on Thursday, Lance put the bad will behind him. He went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run and two runs batted in. His fifth inning home run put the Yanks up 2-1, and his seventh inning double put the Yanks on top for good as Jorge Posada scored from first. A week ago, Lance was an after-thought. Today, we love him.
With Lance’s bat providing the offensive thunder, Kerry Wood’s once-golden right arm has given the Yanks a solid set-up option in front of Mariano Rivera. We all know the Kerry Wood story — 20 strike outs at age 21, an arm injury, some good years a starter, overuse, more injuries, a move to the bullpen. After burning out in Chicago, Wood found success in the pen, but he seemed to flounder in Cleveland.
Dealing with some minor injuries, Wood’s first 23 appearances this year were less than impressive. As the trade deadline rolled around, Kerry was 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA, but he had 18 strike outs in 20 innings. Yankee scouts liked what they saw, and for cash, the Yanks got Kerry.
Since arriving in the Bronx, Wood has been revelation. He walks too many guys — 6.2 per 9 innings in 26 innings — but he’s striking out over 10 per 9 IP. His ERA in the Bronx was, with a little bit of luck, a minuscule 0.69. He’s inherited the role left, with little confidence, to Joba Chamberlain, and he came through in a big spot on Thursday. With the Yanks up 4-2, the Twins sent up J.J. Hardy, Denard Span and Orlando Hudson in the 8th. To strike out Hardy, Wood threw a literal knee-buckling breaking pitch. Span grounded back to Wood, and Hudson struck out on pure heat.
Wood and Berkman are the ideal deadline pick-ups for the Yanks. They’re veteran players with playoff experience and success who were toiling away on bad teams. For dollars, the Yanks could augment their roster and build up a bullpen and a bench. That’s how Brian Cashman, with the Yanks’ deep pockets at his disposal, should run his team.
The future for these two current playoff heroes remains hazy. Lance Berkman says he wants to play everyday next year. “I don’t like to platoon,” he said. “If I was the manager I would platoon me because I’ve been so bad righthanded this year. But I don’t think that’s a permanent problem. I like to play every day. The DH role is great but I also like to play the field. I feel like I’ve got something to offer still defensively.”
Kerry Wood’s deal features a club option for $11 million in 2011. That’s closer money, and unless Mariano Rivera unexpectedly retires, Wood will seek employment elsewhere. He has the mentality for the 9th inning and indications are that he wants to close. He and Berkman will be just a pair of rent-a-Yankees.
The Yankees certainly know that Wood and Berkman probably won’t return. They know that these two key cogs are fleeting, and they’re going to ride them for all they can. Girardi will give Wood the ball for the 8th, and he’ll let Berkman take his hacks against right-handers. Bring in the mercenaries with money, push them for the playoffs, and ride their coattails to victory. So far, it’s a winning formula.
It’s time for a little digression into everyone’s favorite topic.
Nick writes: Let’s say the Yankees win the World Series, and Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte both retire because they are completely satisfied with their respective careers. What do the Yankees do, does Joba become a starter if Cliff Lee is a no-go (or any other free agent), or does he take over for Mo? Can he be trusted in either spot right now? Who would you like to see fill either spot?
Armin asks: Any chance the Yankees move Joba back into the rotation where a guy with at least three above-average pitches belongs? I mean, the Yankees are paying AJ Burnett 16.5 million for below-average pitching (81 ERA+). I’m pretty sure Joba could give them better pitching for less money and maybe he would get his act together like Phil Hughes did this year. It’s worth a shot, don’t you think?
Will asks: What are the chances of Joba going back in the rotation and what can we expect out of him?
Since August 2007, nobody, it seems, has inspired more debate and controversy than Joba Chamberlain. From the bullpen to the starting rotation and back, the Yankees have handled Joba with the most delicate of kids gloves, and his future is constantly in doubt. Earlier this year, as he struggled to find his form in the bullpen, I believed the Yanks should just cut their losses and trade Joba, but since the end of July, he’s been very dominant in 27.1 innings.
Yet, the future remains clouded for Joba Chamberlain. Before Spring Training, the Yankees said they still consider Chamberlain a starter, but ostensibly for his health, they opted to keep him exclusively in the bullpen this year. When the opportunity arose for Chamberlain to move into the rotation in place of Andy Pettitte, the Yanks went instead to Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley and later Ivan Nova. Perhaps they wanted to guard his shoulder; perhaps that’s Joba’s future.
But for 2011, the rotation could beckon. Andy Pettitte’s return is no sure thing, and Cliff Lee, while likely to end up in pinstripes, could remain in Texas. If A.J. Burnett were to continue to struggle, Joba would be a very appealing and viable option. We know what he can do in the rotation. Through 20 starts last year, he was 7-2 with a 3.58 ERA and 97 strike outs in 110.2 innings. In 2008, he sported a 2.76 ERA with 74 strike outs in 65.1 innings as a starter. He can start.
The Yankees though like his approach in the bullpen. They like his velocity, and they like his mentality. They allowed themselves to be dazzled by it in 2007 and still believe that Joba can be a key cog in the bullpen. Were Mariano Rivera to retire, Joba would be up there on the list of replacements.
Still, Joba should start. If the Yankees can coax 175 innings out of him next year as they did out of Phil Hughes this year, Chamberlain, still only 25, would be a valuable member of the Yankee rotation. His ability to start — and to get outs — would certain lessen the impact of losing Pettitte, losing out on Lee or watching A.J. Burnett struggle through whatever ails him. We certainly could expect him to be as good or better than he was in the rotation during those first 175 innings, and the Yankees should give it a shot.
Famouspj asks: What’s Kerry Wood’s situation for next year? His stock has to be pretty high after his half-year in pinstripes. Any chance he’s back in the Bronx in 2011?
The Kerry Wood Conundrum can serve as a companion piece to the Joba Chamberlain question because it’s part of a longer narrative about Mariano Rivera. If Mo were to retire, would one of these two be his likely successor? Undoubtably the answer is yes.
For the Yankees, Kerry Wood — on the team because Cashman was willing to take more salary than Theo Epstein could in Boston — has been great. In 25 innings, he has struck out 29 allowed one earned run on a home run while surrendering 14 hits and 15 walks. His ERA isn’t going to stay at 0.36 forever, but he hasn’t been fazed by high-pressure late-inning situations in the Bronx and has taken to the Yanks’ pen quite nicely.
Wood’s contract contains an $11 million club option, and unless Rivera is definitely hanging it up, the Yanks will allow the option to lapse. They could re-sign him to a lesser deal for more years, but Wood both wants to close and is an injury concern. Plus, after the Damaso Marte deal backfired while the Yanks’ young arms have done an admirably job getting outs on the cheap, Brian Cashman may be wary of re-upping with Wood for a prohibitive amount. So today, I say that the only way he’s back in the Bronx in 2011 is if Mariano is not, and that’s a future I don’t want to contemplate.
Time for another edition of the RAB mailbag, which I hope will one day be as awesome as KSK’s Sex/Fantasy Football Mailbag. Yes, I like to dream big. These week will discuss the futures of two prominent pitching prospects and one former prominent pitching prospect, whether or not Kerry Wood will be with the Yankees beyond this season, and my personal favorite, ugly contracts.
If you ever have a question you want answered, send it in to us via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar under The Montero Watch.
Anonymous asks: Who do you like more, Betances or Banuelos on reaching their ceilings?
I like Manny Banuelos’ chances of reaching his ceiling because he’s got a much better track record when it comes to the health of his arm. Yeah, he missed a big chunk of this season with an appendectomy, but that kinda stuff happens. Other than that, he’s had no arm problems during his time with the Yankees.
Betances, meanwhile, dealt with some nagging elbow issues before finally having reconstructive elbow surgery last year, and he also missed over a month with a sore shoulder back in 2008. He has yet to have a full, healthy season starting in April and finishing in September in his three-plus year career while Banuelos did it just last year. If you can’t stay healthy, you can’t stay on the field and develop into the best player you can be, so that’s why my pick is on ManBan.
Mike asks: Whats the latest on Christian Garcia? Is he back from injury and are the Yankees looking to re-signing him to a minor league deal?
In his interview with NoMaas this week, Mark Newman said they “haven’t had a discussion with (Garcia) or his agents about (rejoining the organization on a minor league deal). He’s got a ton of rehabbing to do.” It doesn’t get more reliable or up-to-date than that.
Anonymous asks: We all know about how poorly (predictably) Cashman’s moves have gone this year, and you’ve already talked about Kearns, but what are the chances of Kerry Wood staying with us? He seems completely revitalized by a playoff hunt and is throwing well. Will his closing experience put him out of our price range? Will we go cheap in the pen to sign Lee/Crawford/Werth etc?
Why is it predictable that his moves failed? So typical.
Anyway, the Yankees have gone cheap on the bullpen for three years now, and I really don’t expect that to change. Taking a one year, $1.2M flier on Chan Ho Park is a lot different than committing multiple years and big bucks to someone like Wood. Cashman has built the bullpen around cheap strikeout pitchers with enough depth that anyone who’s ineffective can be replaced with someone from Triple-A. It really is the best way to build a relief corps, having plenty of cheap and interchangeable options rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.
However, when I first read this question, something popped into my mind. Given his injury history and the current market, there’s zero chance Wood will get another multi-year deal worth $10M+ annually this winter. What if the Yanks could woo him with say, a one year deal worth $3M and incentives that could put another $5M or so in his pocket with the promise that if Mariano Rivera decides to call it a career after 2011, Wood gets the closer’s job as long as he’s healthy?
Obviously that’s a bit of a reach, because a guy with Wood’s pedigree should be able to find a closer’s job on the open market, and saves equals money the next time his contract is up. Maybe the lure of being Mo’s heir apparent is enough to keep him in pinstripes, but I’m sure his number one goal is to secure as much money in his next deal as possible to make sure he, his kids, and his kid’s kids never have to worry about a thing financially.
Kevin asks: If it was decided that every team could clear one contract from their payroll with no penalty, who do you think the Yankees would choose? A-Rod is such a vital part of the team, but they couldn’t blink on getting rid of those last seven years could they?
It has to be Alex Rodriguez. I love the guy, he’s a great player, the best I’ve seen in a Yankee uniform, but that contract is just awful. There’s still $174M and seven years left on that sucker after this season, and that doesn’t include the extra $30M he could earn thanks to the historic homerun milestones. There’s basically no chance of A-Rod retiring before the contract is up and forfeiting whatever is left on it because we’re talking generational wealth here. And you know what? If I was in the same boat as him, I’d do the same thing.
I love the guy, but I’m sorry, I’d shed him and his contract in a cocaine heartbeat if given the opportunity. I think A.J. Burnett’s would be a close second, or maybe I could preemptively say whatever Derek Jeter gets after the season, which is almost assured of being too much for too long.