“Cashman Three” Not Paying Dividends

There’s not a lot to take issue with when you’re 20-8 and coming off a 10-3 drubbing of Josh Beckett and your archrivals, but there is one major cause for concern: all three of Cashman’s off-season acquisitions have conspicuously come up snake eyes so far.  Curtis Granderson struggled mightily at the plate (.225, 2 HR, 7 RBI), then proceeded to strain his groin last weekend and is expected to spend a month on the disabled list.  Nick Johnson has been downright awful when he’s actually been on the field (.167, 2 HR, 8 RBI) and, after missing a few games in April with back stiffness, is now–SURPRISE–headed to the DL with an undisclosed right wrist injury.  Then, of course, there’s the enigmatic Javier Vazquez, who has been so dreadful that the fact he has been the only one of the three to stay healthy could actually be considered unfortunate.

Yankee fans need no reminder, but for these three the front office jettisoned the popular Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera, and traded away one of their top positional prospects in Austin Jackson.  Time will tell whether these were wise moves.  Right now, though, the Yankees have gotten no return, and that’s obviously not a positive development for a team that’s built and expected to win now.
In spite of the disappointing performances of Granderson, Johnson, and Vazquez, the Yankees are off to a fantastic start, largely on the strength of their starting pitching.  As good as guys like Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, and Hughes are, it’s unrealistic to expect them all to continue to pitch as consistently dominantly as they have, so in addition to needing A-Rod and Teixeira to come around, the Yanks will also need the Cashman Three to get healthy and start bearing fruit if 2010 is to end like 2009.

Hughes Control

Has there been a more positive development for the Yankees over the first month of the season than the emergence of Phil Hughes, who pitched seven innings of scoreless ball today to move to 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA?  Hughes is finally starting to realize his immense promise as a starting pitcher now that the Yankees are done putting him on the Scranton shuttle and moving him in-and-out of the rotation.  His strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and he’s been all but unhittable-almost literally, in the case of his start in Oakland. This is the phenom who dominated the minors and skyrocketed through the farm system.

Coming into the season Hughes was considered the big question mark in the rotation, but it’s quickly become apparent that Javy Vazquez is the one to worry about, not Hughes.  It appears Phil is in the process of making the proverbial “jump.”

What’s with ESPN’s Mets fetish?

This Sunday’s Phillies-Mets game will mark the third consecutive week New York’s junior varsity team has appeared on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.  The Metropolitans’ April 18 matchup in St. Louis was broadcast by ESPN, as was this past Sunday night’s game against the Braves from Government Bailout Field.  I guess the geniuses at ESPN think people can’t get enough of a team that finished 23 games out of first place last year.

Talk about overkill!

Most Hated Team in Baseball? Not the Yankees

According to a report from The Nielsen Company (the same company that publishes the Nielsen television ratings), it’s the Cleveland Indians in an upset.  What did the Indians ever do to anybody?  They haven’t won the World Series since 1948, they haven’t had particularly polarizing players, and their fans seem alright.  Is it Chief Wahoo?  What’s the explanation for all this alleged Indians hate?

The Red Sox come in as the second-most hated team (no surprise–they’re a whiny, classless organization with obnoxious, generally ignorant fans and little loyalty towards its players), followed by the Reds and the Astros.  The Yankees, contrary to popular belief, are only the fifth-most hated team, underlining the fact that the Bombers are indeed the good guys in the blood rivalry with the Old Town Team.
New York’s junior varsity club (or is it junior high?) finished in ninth, one spot ahead of the Dodgers and three spots behind those despised Washington Nationals.
On the flip side, the Giants and A’s finished as the No. 1 and 2 most likable teams in another headscratcher.
I’m not sure how much I buy into these rankings, which were the result of an Internet algorithm (the Nationals as the sixth-most hated team?  Really?  Have they been relevant enough in their short existence to be hated that much?).  Regardless, my only real complaint is that the Red Sox should have been No. 1 over the poor Indians.

Democrat Faux Baseball Fans

During the broadcast of tonight’s Yanks-O’s game from Camden Yards, Michael Kay gave voice to one of the most infuriating, oft-repeated lies in the sports media by claiming that Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, a Bronx native, is a “big” Yankee fan.  Obama propagated this lie last year when he introduced Sotomayor as his nominee to fill a vacancy on the Court, she disingenuously peddled it (she claimed “few judges could claim they love baseball as much as I do” and that she “grew up…watching the sport”), the press ran with it, and the Yankees bought it hook, line, and sinker, going so far as to have her throw out the first pitch at a game last season and visiting her yesterday at the Supreme Court as part of their Washington, D.C. victory lap for last year’s championship.  Unfortunately, Sotomayor’s asserted life-long affinity for baseball and the Yankees is a demonstrable lie, and had members of the media actually done research–that is, done their job–they would know they were being used by Sotomayor and the White House to help craft a compelling, humanizing (and artificial) narrative that could be exploited to ease the confirmation process.

Back in 1995, when Sotomayor was a judge on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and presiding over litigation between MLB and the Players’ Association relating to the strike, USA Today ran a profile of the judge in which she was interviewed and quoted as saying that although she grew up near Yankee Stadium she “knows little about the sport.”  The article was appropriately titled, “U.S. district judge not a baseball fan” and ran in the March 28, 1995 edition of the paper.  Sotomayor’s self-admitted ignorance of the game was put on full display last year when she claimed many Washington residents asked her “to look at the Senators” as her new team.
Sotomayor joins a long, illustrious line of shameless Democrats who have posed as baseball fans for the sake of political expediency.  There was carpetbagging Hillary, an Illinois native who announced a secret (fake) life-long love of the Yankees literally just days after declaring her intention to run for the Senate in New York.  There’s the late Ted Kennedy, who infamously referred to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as “Mike McGwire” and “Sammy Sooser.” There’s wannabe-Red Sox fan John Kerry, who named “Manny Ortiz” as his favorite ballplayer and Eddie Yost as his favorite Red Sox of all-time–even though Yost never played for the Old Time Team.  There’s Sotomayor.  And there’s Obama, who claims to be a diehard White Sox fan yet repeatedly makes references to “Cominskey Park” and “Cominskey Field,” is unable to name even one favorite White Sox player, and throws not like a girl, but like he never even picked up a ball before in his life.
What is it about Democrats that they can’t even be truthful and genuine when it comes to the national pastime?

Yankees Rollin’

This is the kind of start that Yankee fans have expected but all to often not received in recent years.  Accustomed to coming from behind and mounting improbable mid- and late-season comebacks, the Yanks are finally setting the pace out of the gate while their rivals to the north struggle.  Ultimately, all that matters is where you finish, as Girardi has noted, but it is refreshing to run from the front for once.

What’s been most impressive about the Yankees’ hot start is who it has come against–the Red Sox, Rays, Angels, and Rangers, four of the expected top teams not just in the American League, but all of baseball.  If the Yanks can go 9-3 against their top opposition, what are they going to do when they start meeting up with Baltimore, Kansas City, and Cleveland?
I know there was some consternation among Yankee fans about the early-season scheduling and how the Bombers have to go up to Boston for six games before getting one at the Stadium, but I kind of like the fact that they’re getting these games out of the way now.  After the early-May series at Fenway, the Yanks don’t go back to Boston until early-October for the last series of the year.  Likewise, they’re done with the Angels after next weekend’s series in Anaheim, save for a two-game set at the Stadium in July.  It’s nice not to have a potentially disastrous West Coast trip looming over the second-half of the season.
A schedule that sets up favorably is one of the biggest fruits of the Yankees’ hot start.

On “Jackie Robinson Day”

I hate it.  It’s stupid.  It’s contrived.  It’s another classic and regrettable case of grandstanding by both the league and the commissioner, complementing similar ostentatious displays put on for Mother’s Day (pink bats!), Father’s Day (baby blue wristbands!), and Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and 9/11 (Oakland wearing green, yellow, and bright red!).  These gimmicks serve only to cheapen the game, making a mockery of the solemnity with which it has been played for over a century.  (Just try and imagine Joe DiMaggio facing down Bob Feller with a pink bat in his hands.)

It wasn’t enough that MLB took the unprecedented step of retiring Jackie Robinson’s number across all of baseball in 1997.  It wasn’t enough that April 15 was re-christened “Jackie Robinson Day” within the league.  It wasn’t enough that the league decided to allow select players to wear Robinson’s number on his new holiday as a way of honoring him.  It wasn’t enough that an annual “Civil Rights Game” was created to celebrate the racial barrier-breaking exploits of pioneers like Robinson and Larry Doby.  No, none of that was sufficient.  The league had to somehow go even further, mandating that every player wear #42 to commemorate Jackie Robinson Day and, in the process, making a complete farce of the whole thing, leaving spectators and television viewers with no way to actually tell players apart.  It’s enough to make one think of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer, participating in a charitable AIDS Walk, is accosted by organizers who attempt to compel him by force to wear “the ribbon” like everyone else.

Good job, Bud!  Way to confuse and inconvenience the fans, as well as show complete disregard for team histories and traditions, for the sake of a cheap publicity stunt!

What ever happened to a tasteful patch on the sleeve or the side of the cap to mark special occasions?  Must we now turn ball games into conspicuous platforms for seemingly every social and political cause under the sun, completely undercutting the whole point of uniforms and uniform numbers to prove a point about how much we “care” and “remember” and “honor?”  Would it not be more fitting to honor the memory of Jackie Robinson with a simple uniform patch and by remembering to play the day’s game with the same trademark intensity Robinson did?

What’s more, everyone understands the importance of Jackie Robinson, but he wasn’t the only important person ever to play professional baseball, and singling him out for such excessive special treatment opens up a whole can of worms.  What about Babe Ruth, indisputably the game’s greatest player and its most important ambassador?  Shouldn’t he have his number retired across baseball and be honored with an annual “Babe Ruth Day” for his contributions to the game?  What about Roberto Clemente?  Isn’t he deserving of the same kind of treatment due to his Robinson-like importance within the Hispanic community and his important humanitarian work?

Not surprisingly and not without justification, supporters and family members have lobbied Bud Selig and the powers-that-be for Ruth and Clemente to be given the full “Jackie Robinson Treatment.”  The commissioner, however, has not been receptive to such requests, though he should be based on the unfortunate precedent he set with Jackie Robinson.  That he hasn’t marks him as a hypocrite, as well as a second-rate promoter.

MLB needs to stop fetishizing Robinson’s number ad absurdum and commemorate special occasions like Jackie Robinson Day/Mother’s Day/Memorial Day/Father’s Day/Fourth of July/9-11 in more reserved, tasteful fashion, showing proper solemn respect to both the subject of veneration and the game itself.  Jackie Robinson loved the game of baseball and always played it hard and with great respect–this is a man who opted to retire rather than accept a trade to the arch-rival Giants; I don’t hesitate to say that he would probably find the specter of every player on the ball field wearing the same number in “honor” of him tactless and abhorrent.

Random Thoughts on Home Opener

  • The highlight video shown before the start of the ring ceremony was a bit of a disappointment–too short and not enough of a narrative.  I thought the Yankees could have put together something a little more dramatic and comprehensive to commemorate the 2009 championship.
  • The diamond-encrusted white gold ring is absolutely beautiful.  Elegant.  First-class.  It’s probably the nicest championship ring design in sometime.  Oftentimes teams get carried away and design a gaudy monstrosity, losing sight of aesthetics in pursuit of excess.  Not the Yankees.  This is a ring that manages to do majesty to Yankee dominance while simultaneously remaining stylish and tasteful enough to wear without shame.
  • The standing-ovations for Matsui were well-deserved and all class, and I expect Johnny Damon to receive the same kind of treatment when Detroit visits the Bronx in August.  Unlike the rabble in Boston, we don’t deride and torment our former heroes, we honor them.
  • Flying all 27 championship pennants along the roof of the Stadium was a great way to honor Yankee tradition.  My only minor criticism is that the pennants themselves were kind of bland–simple blue lettering on a plain white background.  It would have been nice if each pennant included the World Series logo from its particular year.
  • I also thought they should have made the raising of the 2009 champions flag a highlight of the ceremony, as it has been in years past when dignitaries like Yogi, Reggie Jackson, or Rudy Giuliani would do the honors at the flagpole in Monument Park to culminate the festivities.  This year, however, YES did not even televise the flag raising, and the championship pennant was already flying at the start of the ring ceremony.  Very disappointing.
  • YES dropped the ball with the first pitch.  They were late coming out of commercial and viewers missed Bernie’s introduction and the crowd’s reaction to it.
  • Speaking of Bernie–what an embarrassing first pitch for such a great player!  He’s only been (unofficially) retired since the end of the 2006 season, he played during last year’s WBC for Puerto Rico, and yet he unleashed a shocking 50-footer to home plate.  Everyone knows Bernie’s arm was never one of his strengths, but still, this was downright Obama-like.
  • As for the game itself, the Yanks couldn’t have drawn it up much better.  Pettitte was terrific, Jeter and Johnson treated the crowd to a couple of long home runs, A-Rod knocked in a couple, and Signor Magnifico wrapped it up with a nice little bow.  The only cause for concern is the continuing struggles of Dave Robertson, marked yesterday by a grand slam home run from Bobby Abreu that made the final score closer than the game actually was.  Robertson emerged as an integral part of the bullpen last year with nasty strikeout stuff, but has been getting pounded to the tune of a 15.43 ERA in 2 1/3 IP in 2010.  The Yankees need him to get on track if the relief corps is to be as big of a strength this year as it was last.

C.C. Dominates

It seemed destined, didn’t it?  After spectacular defensive plays by Tex, A-Rod, and Cano in the sixth, seventh, and eighth, it sure had that no-hitter “feel.”  But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  Kelly Shoppach broke-up C.C.’s no-hit bid with two out in the eighth and Yankees Universe had to settle for a mere stellar pitching performance, not a historic one, and a 10-0 drubbing of a division rival.  What better way for the Yanks to respond after the Rays rubbed their noses in it last night?

Sabathia was obviously the star of the game, but what shouldn’t go overlooked is that the middle of the order is showing signs of coming around.  Teixeira, besides flashing some serious leather, broke out of his miserable 0-17 season-opening slump with three hits and an RBI, and A-Rod added two hits of his own.  Now all they need is for Nick Johnson to get going: outside of Johnson, Teixeira, and Rodriguez, every Yankee starter is batting over .300.
Could it be, for the first time in a long while, that the Yanks are primed for a fast start?  A 4-2 season-opening road trip through Boston and Tampa would certainly be a strong statement.

An Early Look at the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 Free Agent Pitching Markets

With the Red Sox locking up Josh Beckett this week with a contract extension and the Phillies and Royals having done the same recently with Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke, respectively, it’s looking like slim pickings in next year’s crop of free agent pitchers.  Jason Stark lists the top pitchers on the 2010-2011 market, in order, as Cliff Lee, Javier Vazquez, Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lilly.  And things look even worse for 2011-2012, with Tom Verducci projecting Mark Buehrle as the best of a very weak class.

What does this mean for the Yankees?
With 37-going-on-38-year old Andy Pettitte and free agent-to-be Javy Vazquez in the 2009 rotation, the Bombers will probably need at least one starter and possibly two next off-season.  The worst case scenario is that Vazquez struggles in 2009 and Pettitte decides to retire.  The Yankees would probably then allow Vazquez to walk and go hard after Cliff Lee to fill one spot, either pursuing a trade or moving Joba back into the rotation to fill the other.
If the Yanks only lose one of Pettitte and Vazquez, all bets are off.  They could decide that Lee is by far the best free agent pitching option for the next two off-seasons and give him a big contract to join a rotation with Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte/Vazquez, and Hughes.  Or they could decide that a single opening in the rotation combined with a thin free agent market makes for an opportune time to try Joba as a full-fledged starter without innings limits.  Or they could seek a trade.  Or they could decide a big-time fifth starter is a luxury and elect to go with a retread like Sergio Mitre.  The one thing I don’t see them doing is giving a sizable to contract to any of the other relatively middling pitchers on the market (with the possible exception of Lilly, whom the front office has always liked and who would be a viable replacement); the Yanks will either go big or stay home – they won’t be giving out any bloated Oliver Perez-like contracts for back-end starters.
The best case scenario, I suppose, would be that Pettitte and Vazquez both pitch well and both return for 2011.  That, however, I don’t find particularly likely, if only because the Yankees would be fielding a fairly old rotation – Pettitte would be 39, Vazquez 35, Burnett 34, and Sabathia 31 – at the same time cornerstones like Jeter, Mariano, Posada, and A-Rod would all be entering their late-30s or early-40s.  Does that sound like it fits into Cashman’s highly-publicized youth initiative?  He knows a situation like that is untenable.  He might re-sign Pettitte or Vazquez, but not both.
One thing is for certain: if anybody was under the illusion that the Great Joba Debate had been resolved once and for all this spring, the rapid thinning out of the upcoming free agent pitching markets has rendered them sorely mistaken.  Quality starting pitching will be in even shorter supply than usual over the next two off-seasons and there will be a sizable chorus arguing that Joba is more valuable as a starter.