February 2012

All things considered, he’d rather be in Pitt…

What he said was telling…

A.J. Burnett’s words upon his arrival in Bradenton for training camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates told me all that I needed to know.  The Yankees made the right decision.  It’s not like I needed any reassurance, as I’ve felt for a long time that a change of scenery would be the best case scenario for Burnett.  But reading his words, “Going back to the NL, where I can hit and run the bases, and get the joy back in the game” showed that he was never going to repeat his 2009 success in pinstripes or be the pitcher he was in 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Courtesy Pirates.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day, he is among several others in competition for the #5 spot in the rotation and the next, he’s a frontliner.  The difference and perhaps why he’ll succeed as a Bucco are the lower expectations.  I am not from Pittsburgh and I cannot speak for Pirates fans, but somehow, I don’t think they have the same ‘World Series or bust’ mentality of Yankees fans.  I have always respected Burnett’s arm, and I like the guy from what I’ve seen in interviews.  He has a reputation for being a stand-up guy and of course he brought a lighter air to the stuffy Yankee corporate clubhouse environment.  Hopefully, if anything, his sense of humor and camaraderie will prevail among his former teammates.

It would have been interesting to see what Burnett could have done at the back of the Philadelphia Phillies rotation given his close relationship with Doc Halladay, but Pittsburgh is the best spot for Burnett to focus on his game.

For once it was young guys leaving Pittsburgh instead of the other way around in a Yankees-Pirates trade.  Time will tell if Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones can make the Show, but it would be nice to see former Pirates prospects excel in New York after so many years of the opposite situation.

Time to face the music…Exit the Sandman…

Speaking of words, it definitely sounds as though we may be witnessing the final year of a legend.  While Mariano Rivera hasn’t admitted that this is his last season, it would appear that his decision of ‘when’ has already been made.  So, it fells into what he didn’t say, and that tells me that he is prepared to ride off into the sunset.  Mo is already a legend and will leave the game of baseball as the greatest closer in major league history.  I have dreaded this day for a number of years but obviously it eventually has to happen.  I just don’t see Mo as a guy who hangs on and can’t let go.  I also don’t want to see an erosion of his amazing talent so I’d prefer that he walked away while he was still at or near the top.  Along with Derek Jeter, they are a pair assured of entry into the Hall of Fame.  While closers have generally had to wait for extended periods to gain entry, I doubt Mo will suffer the same fate.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe this is not Mo’s final season, maybe it is.  Regardless, I will value and appreciate every time he takes the mound…

Now, only the EZ acquisitions remain…

Welcome Raul Ibanez!  The Yankees finally settled the left handed side of DH, and went with a proven slugger.  Last year was bit of a down year for Ibanez but he still managed 20 homers.  His new role, which will be more limited for him than in years past, should allow him to continue to perform well.  A DH tandem of Ibanez and Andruw Jones should be a productive one, particularly given that they’ll be spelled from time to time by Alex Rodriguez.  Maybe Raul will let Cliff Lee know that being a Yankee isn’t all bad…

With Ibanez on board, I really hope the Yankees can entice third baseman Eric Chavez to return.  Nothing against Bill Hall or Eduardo Nunez, but I’d really prefer to see Chavez as the primary backup for those inevitable A-Rod absences.  I know, I need more faith in A-Rod’s ability to stay healthy.  I’d like nothing more than to see him prove me wrong and post a banner year.  If 2012 continues to be ‘more of the same’ that we’ve seen in recent years, his behemoth contract is going to weigh more and more heavily on the team.  Sadly, that’s not one that the Pirates or any other team can help with…

Wow, it’s actually kind of fun to have some Yankees stuff to talk about!  I love talking baseball and see the photos from spring training, even if it is snowing outside while I write this post.

–Scott

Addition by Subtraction…

 

Whew, it’s over…

On one hand, I do feel bad because there’s no denying the talent in A.J. Burnett’s arm, even if it has lost some of its zip over the past couple of seasons.  If he had the mental fortitude of his good buddy, Roy Halladay, there’s no telling what he could have done with his extraordinary gift.  But it was the mental lapses in difficult situations, magnified on the big stage in New York, that led the Yankees to make the only move they could have made.  So, it’s exit Stage Left, or I guess Stage Right in Burnett’s case, as he moves on to the Steel City.

I am hopeful that the new and less-pressurized environment will allow Burnett to pitch more like the guy he was in Toronto with the Blue Jays.  If that happens, it will be a win-win for both the Yankees and the Pirates.  Granted, the two “prospects” the Yankees acquired in the Burnett trade (pitcher Diego Moreno and outfielder Exicardo Cayones) are considered low-level, but the salary relief for the Yanks (Pirates absorbing $13 million of what’s left on Burnett’s remaining $33 contract) is a positive.  Even for the almighty Yankees.  If neither Moreno or Cayones ever develop into major league talent, it was still a good trade for the Yankees.  So, anything out of either of those players would be a bonus.

Of course, the haters will come out in full force if Phil Hughes fails to seize the opportunity and Freddy Garcia proves he overstayed his welcome by one year.  But even in that worst case scenario, I’d prefer to see the talented arms in the farm system get the audition.

The Yankees will apparently sign both third baseman Eric Chavez and outfielder Raul Ibanez once the Burnett trade is finalized.  Those are two good pieces for the 2012 squad.  I like the idea of an Ibanez-Andruw Jones tandem at DH, with occasional time for Alex Rodriguez.  Ibanez may not be the slugger he once was, but with 20 homers in Philly last year, he proved he can swing it on occasion.  For sentimental reasons, it would have been nice to see the return of either Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui, but Ibanez is clearly the better choice.

He did it the RIGHT way in more ways than one…

Pitcher Tim Wakefield has been a long-time nemesis as the member of the Yankees’ arch rival, but it was still sad to see him call it a career.  I know, it was time, and there’s always the chance the Red Sox call his number later in the season if they need help, but he leaves the game as a champion.  The city of Boston and the Red Sox organization are very privileged to have one of baseball’s most charitable and classiest individuals in the game as one of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both Wakefield and David Ortiz proved that anything can happen after they were both released by their previous organizations but flourished with the Red Sox in the major leagues.  It gives me hope for guys like Preston Mattingly and others.  Wakefield makes for an incredible role model, and hopefully, he’ll continue to be a fixture in baseball in some capacity.

The Los Angeles Vikings didn’t really sound very good any way…

Finally, the Minnesota Vikings have a tentative stadium deal.  Like the Burnett trade negotiations, this has been drawn out through eternity.  I know, there are still many hurdles to be cleared before actual construction begins, but at least it was the first positive move forward for the Vikings.  As a Vikings fan, there’s always been the fear in the back of one’s mind that the team would decide to move to greener pastures in Los Angeles (much like the Minneapolis Lakers did years ago).  The tentative stadium deal would keep the Vikings in Minneapolis, as opposed to a suburban area like Arden Hills.  Hopefully, this deal will get passed by the city and state, and will ensure that the Vikings are in Minnesota…and Minneapolis…for the long haul.

–Scott

Is Generallissimo Francisco Franco still dead?…

 

Isn’t this kind of like pulling my finger- and toe-nails?…

One thing I’ve learned with these extended A.J. Burnett trade talks, patience is not my middle name and it’s not one of my virtues!  While the Michael Pineda-for-Jesus Montero came very fast and furiously, the potential Burnett trade has been dragging for an eternity.  There’s no question the Yankees have identified the Pittsburgh Pirates as the prime target.  It’s been reported that the Yankees and Los Angeles Angels were willing to make a trade that would have brought the return of Bobby Abreu to the Bronx, but it was nixed by A.J. as the Angels were one of the ten teams on his no-trade list.  This actually blows my mind to think that he’d turn down the Angels, arguably one of the best teams in the major leagues with Jered Weaver and Albert Pujols, but he’d be willing to go to Pittsburgh.  To me, and maybe I am off-base, baseball is about winning and championships.  Nothing against the Pirates, but the Angels, as currently built, will see deep October sooner than the men from the Steel City.

Granted, Burnett would be the #2 starter on the Pirates staff and no better than #5 on the Angels.  But, c’mon, how much pressure can there be pitching behind Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, and Ervin Santana?  With Burnett in a low-risk situation, the Angels would have an absolutely ridiculous starting rotation and one that would clearly put the Philadelphia Phillies in an inferior position as baseball’s best rotation.  But Mrs. Burnett apparently has issues with flying, so the perfect situation for Burnett won’t happen.

What will it take to consummate the deal with the Pirates?  I’ve read the Yankees have proposed a sliding scale…the more money the Pirates take in salary, the less the Yankees will seek in terms of prospects.  I do think that Burnett could excel in Pittsburgh.  There’s pressure but it is certainly nothing like playing in New York.  A.J.’s problems tend to be mental as there is no questioning the value of his great arm.  I think A.J. can relax and trust his stuff better in a lower-pressured situation.

For the Yankees, I think the #5 slot is Phil Hughes’ to lose regardless of the contract the Yanks gave to Freddy Garcia.  Garcia will be the long man and spot starter.  That leaves no room for Burnett, and of course, that would only bring a bad attitude if he reports to camp with the Yankees.  So, hopefully, GM Brian Cashman can put the distractions of his poor sleeping partner decisions to rest long enough to hammer out the deal with the Pirates within the next 24-48 hours.  With the recent promotions of Assistant GM Jean Afterman to SVP and Angels GM Candidate #2 Billy Eppler to Assistant GM, maybe the second string is working this one.  I don’t care if George Steinbrenner’s widow, Joan, is working this one, let’s just get it done…

Sorry, A.J., I love your arm, but I haven’t wanted to see a player leave New York this bad since Ed Whitson was a Yankee.

Welcome to New York…err, Tampa!..

I really enjoyed reading some of the early reports about new pitcher Michael Pineda.  He reported to camp early and talked about how excited he was to be a Yankee.  He gave glowing reports of his interactions with Robinson Cano, and it is easy to see that he’ll mesh very nicely with “King of the Hill” CC Sabathia.  Passion and intensity are two qualities that I’ve always respected, and Pineda seems to have “it”.

If Ken Griffey, Jr and Gary Matthews, Jr can do it, so can Donnie Baseball, Jr…

I realize that minor league OF prospect Preston Mattingly is getting a bit long in tooth after two failed tries with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians, but he is still only 24 years old.  I know that he’s getting “old” for a prospect, but it would be a wonderful story for Mattingly to seize the opportunity with the Yankees and prove that he can be the talent that he was once projected to be with the Dodgers.  So far, I’ve liked what he has had to say.  He certainly has his father’s positive attitude and realistic perspective, even if he isn’t the player his father was.  I’d like nothing more than to see Preston eventually earn a spot on the Yankees roster.  I am biased because his father was my favorite player and is the reason that the Los Angeles Dodgers are my favorite NL team.  Let’s hope that good things happen for a deserving son of a great legend…

Scratching nails on a chalkboard…

It rubs me wrong every time the Yankees sign a former Boston Red Sox player.  Well, I might be okay if the Yankees picked up Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia.  But otherwise, I really have no desire to see former Red Sox players pull on the pinstripes.  Conversely, it is even harder to watch former Yankees sign with the Red Sox.  When the Yankees cut ties with Alfredo Aceves due to his injury history, my immediate thought was a potentially huge mistake.  At that point, I was hoping someone like the San Diego Padres would sign Aceves, but unfortunately, the Red Sox swooped in and captured Aceves.  He went on to have a brilliant season with the Sox in the bullpen, and is a valued member of their pitching staff heading into 2012.  So, it pained me today when I saw that the Red Sox had signed former Yankee pitcher Ross Ohlendorf.  I realize that Ohlendorf had a miserable 2011 season with the Pirates, but I’ve always liked the guy who the Yanks acquired when they dealt Randy Johnson back to the Arizona Diamondbacks a few years ago.  I am really hoping that Ohlendorf doesn’t become the next Tim Wakefield for the Sox.

Clearly our loss…

Baseball-speaking, today was a very sad day.  I had heard that Gary Carter was battling cancer, but it was still hard to hear the news that he had passed.  I think back to when I first became aware of baseball and a Yankees fan.  It was in the mid-1970’s.  In those early years, I was focused primarily on the Yankees.  I was aware of other teams and players, but I can’t say that I know too much about them.  Thurman Munson was the catcher and he quickly became my favorite player.  I could never fully appreciate the greatness of Johnny Bench because of my admiration for Thurman.  Same holds true for Carlton Fisk, who I always saw as a Red Sock even after his trade to the Chicago White Sox.  My world changed on August 2, 1979, and it caused me to step back and look at the bigger picture.  Only then did I begin to truly appreciate the value of great players on other teams.  At that point, the catcher of the Montreal Expos quickly rose to the surface, for me, as one of the premier players at his position.  There was something very clutch and special about Gary Carter.  He went on to drive the New York Mets to a World Series championship in 1986, and proved that he was the catcher of my era.  I am glad that he saw his entry into the Hall of Fame and there’s no question that he packed more into 57 years than I’ll ever experience regardless of how old I live to be.  A good man, a proud father, a legendary baseball player.  Gary, we will never forget you.

Maybe Phil Jackson would like to have one more shot…

I had fun on Saturday night when the New York Knicks came to Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Timberwolves.  As a Knicks fan (my first year!), I was excited to see what Lin-mania was all about.  He was a little off that night, but at the end, it was Jeremy Lin’s basket that proved to be the game-winner.  The T-Wolves, or the Muskies as they were referred to that night in tribute to a former Minneapolis basketball team from the 60’s or 70’s, had led the game from the start.  The Knicks had caught the T-Wolves a couple of times, but then Minnesota seemed to drop a few consecutive buckets to pull ahead again.  But at the end, Lin was not to be denied, and “Lin-sanity” continues.  It’s funny because I bought the tickets to the game hoping to see Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, and neither player dressed for the game.  But all things considered, Lin was the perfect substitute.

Yes, it was exciting to see the opening of Fantasy Baseball…

It’s fun to see the return of fantasy baseball.  I’ve already set a few teams with ESPN and I think my first draft is this weekend.  I am looking forward to when they open the live drafting functionality.  I like fantasy baseball if for no other reason than it helps you know and understand players on other teams than just your favorite team.  If Jon Lester heads my starting rotation or if Jacoby Ellsbury is roving my outfield, I am okay with that.  Granted, when Lester and Ellsbury come to Yankee Stadium, I’ll be pulling for L’s and O-fer’s but when Lester shuts down the Rays or Ellsbury slams a homer to beat the O’s, there might  be a smile on my face.

Baseball, let’s get started…

–Scott

In Red Sox We Trust?…

 

Once you’ve failed Boston, come to New York…

Okay, I admit it.  I am not overjoyed to see the Red Sox reunion on the Yankees roster.  First, there was former Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima, then reliever Manny Delcarmen, and now utility infielder Bill Hall.  Of the three, Okajima is actually the only who’s last team was the Red Sox but still, the three have served their time in Beantown and are now “enemies” in a friendly camp.

If Okajima can win a job, that’s fine but I don’t really see him beating out Cesar Cabral unless the latter is a complete washout in camp.  Delcarmen, in my mind, is simply fodder for the spring with no hope of seeing the major league roster come Opening Day.  Hall is an interesting pickup.  I am concerned because I want to see the return of backup third baseman Eric Chavez, who is the perfect as a substitute for Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod takes his usual spot on the DL.  Indications are that the Yankees are still interested in Chavez despite the Hall signing and I hope so.  Reports have also indicated that the Yankees are in deep conversation with Raul Ibanez.  If both Hall and Ibanez are signed, is there room for Chavez?  I really hope that Chavez is independent of the other decisions.

Nevertheless, even if the Yankees break camp with Okajima, Delcarmen and Hall, they are still inferior to what the Yankees could have had with long reliever/spot starter Alfredo Aceves.  At the time the Yankees cut bait with Aceves, I thought it was a mistake.  I realize that he had been hurt and subsequently suffered a setback that cost more time.  But never once did I consider him to be the second coming of Carl Pavano.  I thought that once he was healthy, he’d return to being the effective reliever he was prior to the injuries.  Of course, that’s exactly what he did…only in a Red Sox uniform.  That’s why I always hate to see ex-Yankees go to Boston.  Sure, it would be fun to see Okajima, Delcarmen or Hall thrive in the Bronx, but I just don’t see it happening.  I’d have to score this one as ‘Advantage, Red Sox’.

Swisher deserves compensation!…

I enjoyed seeing pitcher Jeremy Guthrie’s quote after being traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Colorado Rockies.  He said the loser in the trade was Nick Swisher’s batting average.  Hopefully, Swish can find a replacement pitcher to pick on!

$19 Million?  Put it on the tab…

Good move by the Los Angeles Dodgers to lock up arbitration-eligible starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw for two years.  It helps buy some time for the new ownership group to take control and do what’s right by ensuring Kershaw is a long-term fixture in Chavez Ravine.  I am sure these are tenuous times for Donnie Baseball given the uncertainty regarding the ownership picture and the current financial constraints.  But the Dodgers have done well in securing Matt Kemp and now setting up Kershaw for discussions on a longer-term deal under a time frame that will suit the new owners.

RBI, or IBRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR….

It’s hard to believe that we are just a few weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to camp.  The temps in Minnesota have dipped back into the 20’s with some sub-zero temperatures looming on the horizon.  Target Field is looking a bit frigid to think the lights will once again be illuminated in two short months.  Nevertheless, I am glad to see the return of the America’s Favorite Pastime.  No offense to Eli Manning, but I’ll be glad when the “star of New York” is someone like CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano, or Curtis Granderson rather than Peyton’s little bro.

–Scott

Wanted: Big Production, Little Paycheck…

 

Joe says it so it must be true!…

So now even manager Joe Girardi is expressing interest in a left-handed bat!  Joe’s joined the club of us overly intelligent, know-more-than-Brian Cashman fans!  LOL!  Just kidding.  But it is interesting to see a key Yankee figure express the need for additional help.  With free agents Raul Ibanez (wow, I almost typed Mondesi!), Hideki Matsui, and Johnny Damon lurking on the sidelines, GM Brian Cashman recently indicated the Yankees would pursue help via trade.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Obviously, the Yankees need to unload a pitcher.  With three starters vying for the #5 spot in the rotation (Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes), it’s clear that this is going to end badly for one or two pitchers.  All things considered, I think you have to put Phil Hughes in the rotation.  The Yankees HAVE to prove that 2010 was not a fluke (or not).  Plus, Hiroki Kuroda, at 37, is not destined to be a long-term Yankee.  Sure, the Yanks could go hard after Cole Hamels or Matt Cain as a replacement following the 2012 season but I still subscribe to the ‘dance with the one who brung ya’ theory.  Well, at least until he proves us wrong.  I know, the leash is overly long, but Hughes is still young, and he can still be a force in the rotation.  He’d certainly be cheaper than either Hamels or Cain in the foreseeable future.

So, where does that leave Burnett and Garcia?  I think Garcia is the best option to plant in the bullpen as the long man and #6 starter in the event of injury in the rotation…at least until Dellin Betances and/or Manny Banuelos are ready later in the year.  This means shipping Burnett and lots of money to another team is probably best case scenario.  Trading Hughes would be foolish since the return, following his poor 2011 season, would be under market value.  Plus, Hughes has more long-term value to the team than Burnett.  There’s no way the Yankees re-sign Burnett at the expiration of his contract.  He’ll see the same door as Jason Giambi with a slight push from behind.

But, and that’s a big but, what does Burnett bring in trade?  He is not going to bring a young slugger, that’s for sure.  More than likely, it would only be someone else’s albatross, ala Alfonso Soriano.  I still think one of the available free agents is the best option for the left-handed bat, but I am sure whatever move Cashman makes will be the best one for the organization.

Wanted:  Someone who’s butt can withstand splinters…

As for the additional infield bench support to accompany Eduardo Nunez, I still would really like to see the return of Eric Chavez even though Bill Hall’s name has been mentioned more frequently as of late.

“Buck, we really need to be the focus of the tabloids”…

I have to admit that I am surprised to see the teams mentioned as possibilities for Manny Ramirez.  No, I don’t want Man-Ram calling 161st and River home, but the teams mentioned…Oakland A’s, Baltimore Orioles, and Toronto Blue Jays…seem like odd fits for a guy that has to spend 50 games on the suspended list.  With the emphasis on youth in Oakland and Baltimore, I’d question whether having Manny on the team is worth it in terms of the negative impact he can have.  Younger players are far more impressionable, and no team, even the Blue Jays, need a distraction.  Maybe Manny can still swing it.  I acknowledge that he was once the most feared hitter in the AL, but I don’t think he’ll ever be close to the hitter he once was.  Age sucks, but it happens to us all…

A funny thing happened to the Phillies on their way to the World Series…

Edwin Jackson to the Washington Nationals on a one-year deal was a good move for the Nats.  Outside of the New York Mets, the NL East is a scary division.  Yeah, the Philadelphia Phillies have the Big 3 (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels), but there are too many other question marks to make them the clear favorite.  I don’t think the Miami Marlins will win the division but they’ll make noise.  The Braves, the Nats.  That’s a tough division.  Then, there’s the Mets…

Go, boston?…

With a New York-Boston Super Bowl upon us, it’s weird that I, as a Yankees fan, find myself on the Boston side of the battle.  That seems so wrong on so many levels.  But it is what it is…go Patriots!

 

–Scott

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