Tagged: Bud Abbott

What’s On Second, I Don’t Know At Third For Yanks

Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the . . . team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third –

Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the . . . team.

Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third –

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The classic Lou Costello and Bud Abbott comedy sketch is a perfect metaphor for the 2014 Yankees. Because it is beginning to look like What’s on second and I Don’t Know is on third.

The angry free-agent departure of Robinson Cano and the looming suspension hovering over the head of Alex Rodriguez have those two spots in a bit of limbo now.

The Yankees pretty much were prepared for the suspension of A-Rod but they were not really expecting Cano to get in a tizzy over the contract offered to outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and leave like a spoiled child. But general manager Brian Cashman has had to deal with these situations since he became general manager in 1998.

He does not panic. He moves on.

When second baseman Omar Infante elected to sign with the Kansas City Royals for four years and $30 million on Dec. 17, Cashman turned to two-time All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts to fill the void for the Yankees.

At the moment, news reports indicate, the Yankees are close to signing Roberts, 36, to a one-year deal worth about $2 million plus incentives. If Roberts does indeed sign he likely would become the Yankees’ primary starting second baseman for the 2014 season.

When Cano left for the Seattle Mariners, Cashman said that all players are replaceable. But he added that some were harder to replace than others. Cano certainly falls into that latter category.

It is not easy to replace a player who hit .314 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs and played Gold Glove-quality defense. Putting it succinctly, how do replace the team’s best second baseman in history? The answer, of course, is that you don’t.

Even if the Yankees had signed Infante, it would not have been the same. Infante, 32, hit .318 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs for the Detroit Tigers last season but he is not even close to Cano in ability. So with Infante off the board, Roberts becomes the Yankees No. 1 target.

The question with Roberts is at his age does he have anything left? Another question is can he remain healthy?

After the Yankees disastrous 2013 campaign when even Cashman himself broke his leg skydiving at a charity event, making sure their players can answer the bell to start the 2014 season and have confidence they can finish it would have to be a top priority.

Roberts does not instill a lot of that confidence.

From 2007 through 2009, Roberts was among the top second basemen in baseball, averaging .290 with 120 stolen bases and playing in 157 games a season. But much like A-Rod, staying on the field since 2010 has been a challenge for the former Baltimore Orioles star.

He has played in only 192 games since the 2010 season due to a variety of injuries with the most serious being a concussion that shelved him for portions of two seasons.

Roberts played in 77 games for the O’s last season, batting .249 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs.

Because Roberts is a switch-hitter, the Yankees would likely use him as their primary second baseman because free agent infielder Kelly Johnson has the ability to play third base and he could be used there should Rodriguez have to face a suspension covering all of the 2014 season.

Johnson, 31, bats left-handed and he figures in as more as a potential platoon third baseman with the Yankees also looking to possibly re-sign free-agent Mark Reynolds. Johnson also could back up Roberts at second, as could shortstops Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez.

The disarray at second and third is odd for a Yankee team that has boasted an infield of Mark Teixeira at first, Cano at second, Derek Jeter at short and Rodriguez at third since the 2009 season. But injuries and off-field troubles for Rodriguez and the recent departure of Cano have thrown this once powerful part of the team for a loop.

Teixeira and Jeter are both coming off serious injuries and they hope to be ready to play sometime during spring training in order to begin the season. Rodriguez missed all but 44 games last season recovering from hip surgery last January and has played in 138 games or less since the 2007 season.

Adding the injury-prone Roberts does not seem to make much sense. But he might be healthiest among the other three at this point.

In addition to Roberts, the Yankees are also talking with former All-Star infielder Michael Young, 37, who is capable of playing all four infield positions.

Young hit a combined .279 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a right-handed hitter who primarily is considered a third baseman. The Yankees would not sign Reynolds if Young decides to sign.

But the signing of Roberts would not preclude the team from also signing Young, who would platoon with Johnson at third base in the absence of Rodriguez.

So Roberts looks to be more a Plan A signing while Young and Reynolds are more of a Plan B after the Yankees get a ruling from the arbitrator who is deciding Rodriguez’s appeal of his 211-game suspension for his alleged role in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.

The hearing was concluded in mid-November with the players’ association seeking to overturn or reduce Rodriguez’s suspension handed down by Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig last summer. Rodriguez actually stormed out of the hearing in a huff on Nov. 20 when arbitrator Frederic Horowicz ruled that Selig did not have to testify in front of Rodriguez’s attorneys.

Rodriguez said, at that time, that the issue of his suspension likely would end up in a federal court.

Horowicz is expected to issue his ruling some time in January.

In the meantime, the Yankees have kept a public posture of saying that they expect Rodriguez, 38, to be their starting third baseman on Opening Day. But privately they have to be ready to fill the position should Rodriguez be suspended for the entire 2014 season.

That is why they signed Johnson and why they remain interested in Young and Reynolds.

One thing is certain, however: The Yankees would be better off with Rodriguez’s diminished bat in the lineup than without it.

Rodriguez hit .244 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 44 games last season and was hampered the final month of the season with tightness in his left hamstring. But it was a far cry better than the production they got from Jayson Nix, Nunez, Corban Joseph, David Adams, Chris Nelson and Luis Cruz.

Reynolds, 30, did hit .236 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 36 games but he was also needed at first base in a platoon with Lyle Overbay and he is not considered to be as adept fielding at third base as he is at first.

So when the Yankees say “I Don’t Know” is playing third they really mean it.

To be sure, the Yankees have shored up the team’s offense by signing catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Carlos Beltran and Ellsbury and trading last season for outfielder Alfonso Soriano. They also are shoring up the rotation by re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and looking to sign 25-year-old Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka, who has been posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

But around the horn of the infield there are question marks everywhere.

Those question marks all have answers. But none of them appear to be answerable in the short term. What was once a Yankee strength appears to be a possible weakness.

Of course, should Teixeira show up in spring training hitting home runs and Jeter starts running the bases and fielding his position without any pronounced limp, the rest of the infield troubles can be overcome with some hard work.

Roberts could be the answer at second and there are worse things than having a platoon at third until Rodriguez is able to return.

Yankee fans are not accustomed to it. But they might just have to get used to it. Things just look like they will be in a state of flux for a good while.

 

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Yankee Fans Ask ‘Hey, Abbott, Who’s In Left?’

I can almost envision Lou Abbott and Bud Costello talking about the 2010 New York Yankees now:
Costello: “Who’s in left?”

Abbott: “No. Who’s on first.”

Costello: “I don’t know.”

Abbott: “I don’t know is in left”
So it goes with the Yankees. Who, what or I don’t know has shifted to left-field and it is anybody’s guess who will play there come Opening Day on April 4 at Fenway Park.
Last season left-field, for the most part, was manned by Johnny Damon. But after a season in which the 36-year-old veteran hit 24 home runs, drove in 82 runs and batted .282 the Yankees allowed him to become a free agent without even an offer of arbitration.
Damon said he wanted to remain a Yankee but his agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a ridiculous four-year, $52 million contract. The Yankees chose to pass. Though Damon has lowered his demands to a reported two years and $20 million, the Yankees have let him seek offers from other teams.
Rumors say the Braves have an interest in him but they are not likely to pay $10 million for two seasons for the privilege.
The Yankees did have other options in left. For one, they could have tried out rookie Austin Jackson, the 23-year-old gem of the team’s minor-league system. But, alas, the Yankees decided to package the potential five-tool star in a trade with the Detroit Tigers that yielded outfielder Curtis Granderson.
The Yankees immediately announced Granderson was the team’s center fielder and that 2009 center fielder Melky Cabrera would move to left field. 
If the Yankees were serious about cutting payroll, it would seem odd for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to trade Jackson for Granderson’s four-year contract that calls for him to make $5.25 million this season but about $13 million in the fourth season. Jackson would have cost considerably less.
Still, the shift of Cabrera makes sense with the newly frugal Yankees considering that he made a paltry $1.7 million in 2009. But, once again, the Yankees vacated left field when they used Cabrera in a package that brought right-hander Javier Vazquez back to the Bronx — along with his $11 million salary.
There is no doubt that getting Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) from the Atlanta Braves solidified the starting rotation because there are now four pitchers who are capable of pitching 200 innings or more. It also would allow either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to shift to the setup role in the bullpen. However, it also vacated left field again.
Now the Yankees are touting Brett Gardner as their starting left fielder. Or they could keep Gardner in center and move Curtis Granderson there if the team is dissatisfied with Granderson’s defense in center.
Either way, Gardner certainly is a low-cost alternative to Damon. But it seems odd that Cashman is protesting poverty in his inability to bring Damon back. Cashman said he only has $2 million left to spend on an outfielder.
Well, it seems to me that if he paid just a bit less than $10 million to sign Damon for two years, kept Jackson and Phil Coke instead of making the Granderson trade and used Jackson and Coke to obtain Vazquez instead of trading Michael Dunn, then the Yankees would have not needed to obtain Boone Logan.
They then could have signed Nick Johnson to DH for $5 million and had an outfield of Damon, Cabrera and Nick Swisher with Gardner in the wings and Dunn could have replaced Coke without pushing the Yankees over their budget because they let Hideki Matsui sign with the Angels. 
If I have done the math correct, I think this would have got the Yankees close to their so-called budget limit without affecting the performance level of the team.
Now without Damon in left, the Yankees reportedly are looking at signing right-hand hitting outfielder Reed Johnson or perhaps bring back injured Xavier Nady or utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. for about $2 million. This would give the Yankees a right-hand hitter to platoon with Gardner or Granderson, who hit a woeful .182 against lefties in 2009.
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for spring training, I know that Yankee fans are getting nervous about the opening in left field. Pundits like Jon Heyman of the MLB Network are beginning to wonder if the decision to allow Matsui and Damon go in the offseason in favor of Granderson and Johnson has weakened the offense.
It is a valid question.
I am not sure if even Abbott and Costello can answer these questions.
Costello: “The left fielder’s name?”

Abbott: “Because”

Costello: “Why?”

Abbott: “Oh, he’s center field.”