Tagged: Chone Figgins

Should Yankees Trade For Outfielder For Gardner?

I have been receiving some excellent questions lately and I thought it would be a great time to share some of them of with you all. So let’s dip into the old e-mail and see what is on the minds of some fellow Yankee fans.

Q: With Brett Gardner out do you think the Yankees should trade for another outfielder, preferably someone with some speed? Why not bring Eduardo Nunez back up and play him in left? (CiscoK)

A: Cisco, I would be with on board with a trade for an outfielder with some speed but the news concerning Gardner is actually pretty good. After getting an opinion on his balky right elbow from Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, FL, on Monday, Gardner received a confirmation of the diagnosis from Dr. Timothy Kremchek in Cincinnati on Thursday. The opinion is that Gardner should rest the elbow an additional three to four weeks and he does not require surgery. Gardner received a platelet-rich plasma and cortisone shot on Thursday and he will wear an elbow brace to ensure the elbow is rested properly. That is pretty good news. I have heard rumors about the Yankees may be interested in Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs and Chone Figgins of the Mariners but both those guys earn hefty paychecks and the Yankees want to cut payroll. So unless they can get a team to pay most of the tab like the Yankees did with A.J. Burnett, it does not make much sense. As for Nunez, he injured his thumb and is currently on the minor-league disabled list. So even if the Yankees wanted to call him up, they really can’t because of the injury.

Q: Why did the Yankees send David Phelps down instead of Freddy Garcia or Cody Eppley? (JIMMAJAMMA)

A: The Yankees decided to activate David Robertson on Thursday instead of waiting before Friday’s game against the Nationals in Wasington and Phelps was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The answer, JJ, does not come down to performance or who deserves to go. It is simply because Phelps is 25, he has options left and the Yankees really see him as a starter and not a reliever. Phelps was 1-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings over 13 games (two starts). He impressed the Yankees with aggressiveness and he really has a bright future ahead of him. Garcia (0-2, 7.68 ERA) is being paid more than $4 million this season and the Yankees are not going to eat that contract by sending him out or releasing him at age 35. Eppley is 1-1 with a 5.16 ERA but he has been much better in June than he was in May. He has a 2.08 ERA against right-handers and he gets exposed when he faces lefties (5.40 ERA). Eppley is a specialist like Clay Rapada is from the left side and he seems to have earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi.

Q: Why do the Yankees keep Francisco Cervelli at Scranton when Russell Martin can’t hit? (Martini88)

A: Martin has been hitting a lot better this month and, truthfully, the Yankees are in love with his pitch selection, defense and throwing. Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who know a bit about catching in the majors, think he is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. He does a great job of blocking pitches in the dirt and he does dissuade teams like the Angels and Rays from turning the game into a track meet. Backup Chris Stewart is out of options and he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without losing him as a free agent. The Yankees do not care what he hits and love his defense also. Frankly, Francisco Cervelli is at Scranton because the Yankees were not happy with his throwing accuracy. In 174 games in the major leagues, Cervelli has committed 20 errors and he has nailed base-runners at a subpar 19%. Stewart in 104 games has committed 10 errors and he has nailed base-runners at rate of 38 percent. I think that pretty much explains it.

Q: Are the Yankees paying a big price for not going after C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish? (Tex25Fan25)

A: I don’t think so. Their recent surge (16 out of their last 20 games) has been accomplished largely with the addition of Andy Pettitte and pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova pitching much better than they did in April. If you look at what has happened to the Rays’ staff the last few days against the Mets, I think you can see that even good pitchers can go through some struggles. It is much better to get them out of the way early and the Yankees starters seemed to have done that. Besides the Yankees, if you can believe it, are not looking to add payroll because of the more stringent salary cap rules that go into effect in 2014. As a result, the Yankees won’t be looking at big-ticket free agents unless they shed a lot of salaries to ckear room. So they only made a token bid on Darvish and they basically ignored Wilson. That will continue for the next three years.

Thank you for your interest in my blog and keep your questions coming.

 

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Pettitte Returns To Stare Down M’s And History

In the long and celebrated history of the New York Yankees, there have been only three legendary left-handed pitchers who have come out their minor-league system to attain greatness: Whitey Ford in the 50’s, Ron Guidry in the 70’s and Andrew Eugene Pettitte in the 90’s.

And it is Pettitte, who will be making history again on Sunday when he puts on his pinstriped No. 46 after 573 days in retirement. Yankee Stadium is sold out, the Bronx and the Tri-State area is abuzz and his Yankee teammates can’t wait to see him peer over his glove in that iconic stare into Russell Martin’s glove at about 1:07 p.m. before his first major-league pitch since the 2010 playoffs.

This would all seem like an exercise in futility for a 39-year-old pitcher who had been out of the game this long. After all, it does not happen often and it does not always end up successfully when it does happen.

But something about this time. Something about this man. Something about Pettitte has always been special.

For one thing, Pettitte left baseball after recording an 11-3 mark with a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts in 2010, a season that was truncated by a groin injury that sidelined Pettitte for over a month. But Pettitte recovered from that injury and he pitched twice in the 2010 playoffs and was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in those games.

So it wasn’t like Andy left baseball with nothing left in the tank. In fact, Pettitte was running on some premium high-test when he decided being home with his family in Deer Park, TX, was more important to him than trying to get a 3-2 slider past Josh Hamilton.

When the competitive juices started flowing in Pettitte this winter and he got a chance to come to the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, the lure of the game was just to much for him to resist. Once the announcement was made that Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees no one really laughed. It was only cheers and smiles.

That is because everyone who knows Pettitte knows that the harshest critic in his life has always been himself. If Andy did not believe he could do it he would not have wasted his or the Yankees’ time by even trying to fool them he could still pitch when he couldn’t. But Andy can still pitch and we will find out just how well on Sunday.

In four minor-league starts, Pettitte was 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 19 innings. But those are just numbers because Pettitte was not concerned with numbers. He was focused only on getting his arm and his legs in shape to pitch for the Yankees for the rest of the 2012 season.

So today Pettitte just takes one step of a long journey back. It will not end with a loss or a victory. It is just the beginning for him.

In the Mariners he is facing a roster almost completely made up of players who were in elementary school or in diapers when Pettitte broke into the majors in 1995. In the end, they will tell Pettitte just how much he has left in the game. It is, after all, the hitters who tell a pitcher when he it is time to hang up the cleats. Pettitte hopes that will not be for some time to come.

Yankee fans second that emotion.

ON DECK

Pettitte will face a familiar mound opponent on Sunday.

The Mariners are starting 37-year-old right-hander Kevin Millwood (0-4, 5.88 ERA). Millwood is coming off a game on Tuesday in which he gave up five runs on eight hits and five walks and struck out three in five innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers. In the last 10 seasons, Millwood is 2-4 with a 4.74 ERA against the Yankees.

Of the Mariners on the roster, Pettitte has only faced Chone Figgins, Ichiro Suzuki and Michael Saunders because most of their players are so young. In the last 10 seasons, Pettitte is 7-8 with a 3.94 ERA against the M’s.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Get Real, Yankee Fans, Pineda Is Not Ken Phelps

Remember George Steinbrenner ‘s appearance on the “Seinfeld” episode where George’s father lights into him for trading Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Ken Phelps?

For the last 24 hours the ghost of that ill-fated Buhner-for-Phelps trade has cast a pall around the reported most recent Yankees-Mariners swap of mega-prospect Jesus Montero for pitcher Michael Pineda. Yankee fans are unclear how the Yankees would think that trading their best young hitter for a young right-hander with a history of arm trouble and inconsistent mechanics helps the Yankees in the long run.

They are looking at the so-called “Big Picture,” You know that is the vast uncharted future when Robinson Cano is on a downward slide and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are living a life of luxury in retirement. Yankee fans saw Montero as the centerpiece of the Yankees’ 2018 world championship team, hitting .330 with 42 home runs and driving in 130 runs batting fourth in pinstripes.

But mean, old general manager Brian Cashman took that comforting pipe dream away by dealing Montero for a pitcher who could blow out his arm in a bar fight tomorrow. (Yep, a Yankee fan never forgets what could have been with Brien Taylor.)

Nevermind that Montero’s career could come to an end with the next horrific home-plate collision. Yankee fans want to vent so let them vent.

But when have the Yankees ever looked way out to 2018?

I do not think they were thinking of 2018 when they made this trade. I think they were looking at 2012.

That is the Yankee tradition after all. You lose in the playoffs and fall short of your goal in 2011 so you immediately look to improving your team in 2012. That is Cashman’s job.

Cashman, along with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and any scout in baseball will tell you that the magical 97 wins the Yankees got out of a rotation that included 38-year-old Bartolo Colon and 35-year-old Freddy Garcia was seen as a miracle that could not be duplicated.

The fact remains that besides CC Sabathia and his annual flirtation with 20 wins and a Cy Young Award there is not much to distinguish the Yankees’ rotation. That, keep in mind, is aware that Phil Hughes did win 18 games in 2010 and rookie Ivan Nova was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA last season.

What troubled the Yankees’ front office is that the Tampa Bay Rays made the playoffs in 2011 with a popgun offense and very good rotation of young pitchers behind James Shields, including lefty David Price, Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and the rookie lefty who blanked the Rangers in the playoffs, Matt Moore.

Despite the fact that the Yankees spent most of Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers down one run and their vaunted offense could not produce it, the Yankees felt they had to bolster the starting staff without adding much to their $200 million payroll.

That is a tough task because free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Yu Darvish were so tempting. Trade offers for Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens, John Danks and Matt Garza held promise but proved, in the end, to be pretty pricey. Heck, even the new president of the Cubs, Theo Epstein, thought Garza was worth Montero and left-hander Manny Banuelos and right-hander Dellin Betances!

Epstein may think of himself as the Lord’s holy gift to baseball but mere mortals like Cashman know the First Commandment of the National Pastime: Though shall not deal the best lambs in the stable for a .500 pitcher who is no better than a No. 3 in your rotation.

So give Cashman credit for not allowing Epstein to pull the wool over his eyes. Baaaaaad!!!!

With this trade, however, Cashman has acquired a pitcher who is 22 years old. (OK, he turns 23 on Wednesday if you want to get technical.)

When the Yankees traded for Phelps during the 1988 season he was 34 years old and Buhner was almost exactly 10 years his junior. Of course, history will show that Phelps would hit a whopping 13 home runs for the Yankees from the middle of the 1988 season to the middle of the 1989 season when he was traded away in disgrace to the Oakland Athletics.

Meanwhile, Buhner – beginning in 1991 – started a series of 10 seasons with the Mariners in which in eight of them he hit 21 or more home runs. In fact, from 1995 through 1997, Buhner had three seasons in which he hit 40, 44 and 40 home runs for the Mariners. He ended up with  310 major-league dingers, a total of three came when he was wearing pinstripes.

Now you can understand why Frank Constanza (played by actor Jerry Stiller) was so angry with George in that hilarious “Seinfeld” episode.

It may be why so many Yankee fans might be angry now. It is the ghost of Jay Buhner rearing his ugly head. (Check out Buhner’s baseball card. He was ugly.)

But Pineda is not Ken Phelps. Far from it.

There were times last season that scouts would have told you that Pineda looked better than Felix Hernandez himself. Pineda was rolling through lineups looking like a 6-foot-7, 260-pound Gulliver against a helpless band Lilliputians with matchsticks for bats.

In his first 11 starts he was 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA and 73 K’s in 70 1/3 innings and batters were hitting a woeful .190 off him and he had a WHIP of 1.00. That was pitching for arguably the weakest offense in baseball in the Mariners.

Granted, in his next six starts, Pineda came back to Earth some. He was 2-3 with 3.10 ERA. But he was chosen to represent the American League in the 2011 All-Star Game and he had earned it.

What many rookie pitchers have to contend with is how to continue to pitch well as the innings mount and your team continues to play poorly. The Mariners were simply awful as they ditched the second half in order to play their young prospects over their overpriced veterans like Chone Figgins.

Pineda won only one game the rest of the season. Of course, that game was against the Rays on July 30. But he ended the season 1-5 in his last 11 starts with an ERA of 5.71. The Mariners, seeing that Pineda was a valuable commodity, did not pitch him much in the month of September to protect his arm.

He finished 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings. Batters hit .211 off him and his WHIP was an amazing 1.10. He was right behind Hellickson as the second-best rookie pitcher in baseball in 2011.

But his second-half slide and the fact that Pineda had to be shut down by the Mariners back in 2009 due forearm and elbow stiffness has Yankee fans concerned about this trade. It is true that while a position player can fashion a long career despite injuries, a starting pitcher can be wrecked for an entire career with a severe elbow or shoulder injury.

But, Pineda seems as if he is a reasonable risk at this point because, Yankee fans, Betances at 6-foot-8 and age 23 is in the same boat as Pineda. The only difference is that Betances has already experienced elbow problems and had surgery to repair the damage. So if you are crying because the Pineda was acquired then, in that same breath, you must have to demand that Cashman get rid of Betances immediately because he is another elbow injury waiting to happen.

I guess the foot is in the other shoe, now, Yankee fans!

All I am saying is that perhaps it is better to allow the careers of Pineda and Montero to play out about five years before we say the Mariners have won this trade. After all, it took Buhner until 1991, three long seasons after the trade, to become the player the Yankees wished they had back.

Pineda will begin the 2012 season as the Yankees’ No. 2 starter behind the equally tall Sabathia. That is about as an imposing pair of starters a team can face to open a series. The Yankees can follow that up with Nova, who was the third best rookie pitcher in 2011 and Hughes, who did win 18 games for the Yankees when he was healthy.

And for good measure, Cashman added 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to the mix and Kuroda was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA for a very mediocre Dodgers team in 2011.

That is not a bad starting five. It figures to better than the Sabathia, Nova, Colon, Garcia and A.J. Burnett quintet with which the Yankees won 97 games last season. Speaking of Burnett and Garcia, neither figures to make the rotation unless there are a few injuries in the spring.

Burnett figures to be on his way out of town if the Yankees can find a buyer for him and Garcia looks to be simply insurance for the injury-plagued Hughes and the other four starters.

So losing Montero for a significantly better rotation does not seem so bad.

His offense will be missed, for sure. I had no doubt that as a designated hitter and part-time catcher Montero could easily hit 30 home runs and drive in 75 or more runs in 2011. But the Yankees have been either number one or number two in runs scored the past three seasons without Montero. It seems they can manage to make it four in 2012 without Montero.

Also remember this important point. The Yankees got younger in their rotation and still have Banuelos, Betances, Adam Warren, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell at the Triple-A level. Oh, and reports indicate this 6-foot-4 right-hander Jose Campos thrown into the Montero deal, at age 19, is an excellent pitching prospect with a live arm and great control. They also still have the defensively proficient Austin Romine bidding to be the backup to catcher Russell Martin this spring.

And, lo and behold, the Yankees’ No. 1 catching prospect Gary Sanchez turned 19 in December and he is considered to be every bit as good as Montero as a hitter and he is a defensive gem as well. He was ranked as the third-best catching prospect in 2011. Montero was No. 1.

So while you are crying about what Montero will do for Seattle, Sanchez is getting closer to an arrival date in 2014 and he may be very much the ultimate catcher for which Yankee fans have been waiting. Montero with his defensive deficiencies may eventually be the DH or first baseman for which the Mariners have been waiting.

So dry your eyes and let’s wait to see how Pineda develops before we get too emotional. Somewhere Ken Phelps is thinking you are all acting like idiots.

 

CC KO’s Mariners On 1 Hit, 14 K’s For 15th Victory

GAME 101

YANKEES 4, MARINERS 1

The only thing that cooled off CC Sabathia’s flaming left arm on Tuesday night was the rain cascading down upon Yankee Stadium.

The game was virtually over early. The only thing left in doubt was whether the rain would prevent Sabathia pitching a perfect game against the sinking ship that is the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners did manage a hit. They even eked out a run. But Carsten Charles Sabathia thoroughly dominated them for seven plus innings, striking out a career-high 14 batters en route to handing the Mariners their 17th straight loss and immediately making the performance an instant classic for the YES Network.

Sabathia (15-4) kept the M’s hitless until Brendan Ryan stroked a one-out single to center on a 2-0 fastball in the seventh inning after the first of two rain delays of the evening. Up to that point, Sabathia had faced 19 batters and he had fanned 12 of them. At one point he had struck out seven straight Mariners.

After Ryan’s single, he punched out the next two batters to strike out the side for the third time in the game. The no-hitter was gone, but Sabathia was dealing in one of the best games of his career.

After a second rain delay lasting 14 minutes, Sabathia convinced manager Joe Girardi he could continue in the eighth inning. In retrospect, it was a noble but unwise decision. Sabathia walked the first three batters he faced and he left to a thundering ovation from the 46,132 in attendance.

David Robertson fanned pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy, which was the 10th straight batter Robertson had fanned with the bases loaded. But the Mariners broke that streak and pushed across a run when Eric Chavez could not field Chone Figgins’ grounder cleanly enough to turn a double play and he took the out at third himself. Roberston then fanned Ichiro Suzuki to limit the damage for Sabathia.

Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth with two more strikeouts for his 26th save and the Yankees tied a record with 18 strikeouts that was set by Ron Guidry on June 17, 1978 against the Angels.

 

“He’s always got Sabathia stuff, but today that was, by far, the best I’ve ever seen him pitch. I almost feel disrespectful saying that, because we all know what he’s capable of, but when you’re locating the fastball and the way he was throwing that slider, stealing strikes with that curveball here and there, he was absolutely filthy.”

                                                                                                                                                                                         — Brendan Ryan

 

Sabathia becomes the first pitcher in the major leagues to win 15 games this season. Despite losing his last start to the Rays to snap his seven game winning streak, Sabathia is 8-1 with a 1.71 ERA since a June 9 loss to the Red Sox. He has struck out 81 batters in 68 2/3 innings in that same stretch.

The Yankees were able to give Sabathia some run support against Mariners’ hard-luck starter Doug Fister . Fister entered the game with an awful 3-11 record and a sterling 3.30 ERA because the Mariners had scored a total of 25 runs in the 15 games he started that the Mariners lost. Well, make it 26 runs in 16 losing starts. Fister is now 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA.

Curtis Granderson shocked Fister by slapping a curveball to the opposite field and into the bleachers down the left-field line for his 28th home run of the season with out out in the fourth.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fifth. Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada stroked back-to-back singles to start the frame. Chavez, who was playing his first game after being activated from the 60-day disabled list earlier in the day, followed with an RBI single to score Swisher. One out later, Brett Gardner singled to load the bases and Derek Jeter scored Posada with a infield groundout.

Mark Teixeira tacked on an insurance run in the eighth with a his 28th home run off reliever Jamey Wright.

But the night belonged to Sabathia, who is now 55-20 since he was signed for the 2009 season to be the Yankees’ ace. On Tuesday he proved he was worth every penny the Yankees paid.

But he had a ominous warning for his next opponent. “I can’t wait for my next start,” Sabathia told reporters.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 61-40 and they remain two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Mariners continue their slide into oblivion at 43-60.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees optioned Brandon Laird to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in order to make room on the roster for Chavez. Girardi elected to play the lefty hitting Chavez against the right-hander Fister and rest Eduardo Nunez, who has played a lot of games replacing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Nunez likely will continue to see some time at third until Rodriguez returns in August.  . . .  The Yankees seem ready to activate reliever Rafael Soriano on Friday when the Yankees open a four-game home series against the Baltimore Orioles. Girardi dodged questions about whether Soriano would return to his setup role.

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for a sweep of the Mariners on Wednesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (1-2, 9.47 ERA) will get the call to pitch for the Yankees. Hughes was staked to a 14-2 lead over Oakland on Friday but he was unable to go the necessary five innings to earn the victory. Hughes was touched for seven runs on nine hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings. He is 2-1 with a 2.74 ERA against the Mariners in his career.

The Mariners will look to ace right-hander Felix Hernandez (8-9, 3.47 ERA) to end their 17-game skid. Hernandez has not won in his last five starts. On Friday, he lost to Boston 7-4, giving up 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings. He is 5-3 with a 2.98 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Cashman May Be Less Busy At 2009 Winter Meetings




Gentlemen, start your negotiating!

The Winter Meetings opened this morning in the racing capital of Indianapolis and there are a litany of teams out to do some (Matt) Holliday shopping. Some teams are looking for a few good luxury items. Others are out for stocking-stuffer bargains. 

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman arrived with a far scaled-back shopping list compared to last season’s $435 million bonanza he eventually doled out to CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. After winning their 27th world championship, the Yankees are looking to use pruning shears on the roster rather than a hacksaw.

Cashman is always one to hold his cards close to the vest. Few expected him to land Teixeira after sitting out all of the early rounds of negotiations last season. What surprises are in store this season?

Let’s look at some possibilities:

THE PETTITTE DECISION

Cashman already knows that Andy Pettitte has decided that he wants to return to pitch for the Yankees in 2010. According to ESPN.com Pettitte rejected the Yankees’ initial offer of $10 million for one season.
Pettitte, who earned $16 million in 2007, rejected the Yankees’ offer of $12 million last season only to be left helpless as the free-agent market imploded. He was signed in late January for a base deal of $5.5 million with incentives that brought the deal to $11 million. So though Pettitte took a major salary haircut in 2008, he is looking to cash in on his success in 2009.
Pettitte was 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA but shined in the playoffs, having won all the important clinching games for the Yankees: the pennant clincher, the American League Division Series clincher, the American League Championship Series clincher and the World Series clincher. 
Pettitte is 229-135 with a 3.91 ERA in his career and he is third on the all-time Yankees win list with 192. He only trails Yankee legends Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing.
Sources say that Pettitte and the Yankees are likely to come to an agreement soon and the fact that Pettitte is aboard for 2010 would mean the Yankees now might not be looking for a top-flight starter such as John Lackey or Roy Halladay.
THE SECOND TIER

Before the Winter Meetings began, the Yankees convened organizational meetings in Tampa. Even “The Boss,” George Steinbrenner, participated in those meetings. Cashman also was given his budget for 2010 and it looks as if the Yankees want to trim $15 million off their 2009 payroll of $201 million.
That likely means the Yankees will not be actively pursuing the “big prizes” of Lackey, Holliday, Halladay and Jason Bay. 
Instead, the Yankees might be looking at second-tier starting pitchers like righthander Rich Harden and lefthander Randy Wolf. 
My sources tell me that Harden is of particular interest to the Yankees because scouting reports indicate he is healthy and coming off a solid season with the Cubs. He was 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA but what has the Yankees excited about him is strikeout to walk ratio. He had 171 strikeouts and 67 walks.
Harden also just turned 29 and the Yankees feel he can put his past arm problems behind him. After his breakout 2004 season with the Oakland Athletics where he was 11-7 with a 3.99 ERA, Harden has been plagued by recurring arm problems.
In his past two seasons, he has made 51 starts and is a combined 19-11 with a 3.67 ERA with Oakland and the Cubs. He was 10-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 2007 for the A’s and Cubs before struggling last season.
But because the Yankees would only need him as a No. 4 starter behind Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte, Harden would not be counted upon to be the ace he was in Oakland and his past arm problems will certainly lower his price tag.
Wolf is older than Harden at age 33 but he is coming off a very good season with the National League West-champion Dodgers. He was 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA. Wolf, like Harden, also battled arm problems from 2004 through 2007. 
But Wolf has recovered to make 67 starts the past two seasons. He has averaged 161 strikeouts and 65 walks the past two years, which is better than a 2-1 ratio. Though Wolf is older than Harden, the Yankees look at Wolf as less of gamble health-wise.
Signing either one of these pitchers would give the Yankees some flexibility with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. 
Though the Yankees are not saying it because they can’t — yet — the front office now believes Chamberlain is better suited as a bullpen setup man and the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera as the team’s closer.
After struggling last season with his command and showing an inability to go deep into his starts, Chamberlain’s postseason work out of the bullpen convinced the Yankee top brass that he could be of more value working in relief.
Hughes, on the other hand, would be returned to a starting role. But because of the same rules that applied to Joba, Hughes would be limited to about 130 innings as a starter in 2010. So Hughes likely would open the season as the No. 5 starter and then be shifted to the bullpen at midseason to keep his innings pitched down.
Chad Gaudin, who was acquired as a swingman last season, would likely take over as the No. 5 starter for Hughes.
The signing of either Harden or Wolf would also allow the Yankees to trade either Hughes or Chamberlain in a mega-deal to acquire Halladay from the Blue Jays. If Chamberlain is dealt, Hughes would be converted to a reliever and become a setup man in the bullpen. If Hughes is traded, Chamberlain would not be needed as a starter at all.
But the likelihood of a Halladay deal would fade if the Red Sox back out of the negotiations. The Yankees’ interest in Halladay is predicated strictly on keeping him from going to the Red Sox.
If the Blue Jays swung a deal for Halladay with the Cubs, the Yankees would be pleased because they would have saved their prize prospects like Hughes, Chamberlain, catchers Jesus Montero and Austin Romine and outfielder Austin Jackson. They also would save money in any long-term contract they would have to strike with Halladay to keep him from free agency in 2011.
So the Yankees just are in defense mode with Halladay. They will only get into the bidding if it looks like the Red Sox are close to getting him. Otherwise, they will look elsewhere.
THE OUTFIELD

Cashman’s only other real assignment this off-season is to find a leftfielder or designated hitter. 
Currently, the Yankees have an opening in leftfield with Johnny Damon a free agent. The same for DH Hideki Matsui. Insiders say in order to meet the team demands to trim some payroll, the Yankees can only offer a deal to keep one of the two.
Before the playoffs began, the Yankees reportedly were leaning on keeping Damon. But Matsui’s World Series MVP performance had them recalibrating their strategy. Matsui is the team’s only legitimate No. 5 hitter to protect Alex Rodriguez.
Matsui has also made it known that he does not wish to return to Japan and he only wants to play for the Yankees. But the sticking point is the health of Matsui’s knees. Matsui was unab
le to play the outfield last season and the Yankees are not sure if Matsui can play the outfield anymore.
Because manager Joe Girardi would like to rotate the DH position among his veterans like Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees might let Matsui walk and re-sign Damon.
But Damon and his “pain in the rear end” agent Scott Boras are seeking a four-year deal and the Yankees are looking to offer perhaps just two years. Damon also will be seeking more money. Matsui, because he was limited to DH and has fewer options, would cost considerably less to sign and he may accept two years.
Either way he goes, Cashman has a difficult choice to make.
TRADEWINDS

Lost amid Cashman signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira was the “steal of a deal” Cashman made with the White Sox last season. 
Cashman shipped off utility infielder Wilson Betemit to the White Sox for outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher. Swisher originally was acquired to replace free agent Jason Giambi as the team’s first baseman.
However, when the Yankees decided to get into the Teixeira talks and landed him, Swisher became a backup outfielder. But when Xavier Nady blew out his elbow in April, Swisher eventually took over and became the starting rightfielder.
Swsiher ended up hitting 29 home runs, driving in 82 runs and had an on-base percentage of .371 because he drew 97 walks. 
In many ways, this may have been Cashman’s best off-season move because after the loss of Nady, Swisher saved the Yankees’ season by playing so well in right.
Rumors surfaced the Yankees were offering Swisher in trade talks this winter. But I have heard this is not true. Swisher is signed through 2011 and the Yankees can’t afford to deal Swisher with Damon and Matsui on the market as free agents.
But what deals might Cashman make?
The only crying need will be the bench because the Yankees likely will let backup catcher Jose Molina and utility players Jerry Hairston Jr. and Eric Hinske go to save payroll dollars.
Rookie Francisco Cervelli seems to deserve a shot to back up Posada and Ramiro Pena could end up replacing Hairston. The Yankees may look to make a trade for a backup outfielder to replace Hinske or Juan Miranda might be given a shot to make the team as first baseman and DH.
The Yankees do have some prospects they could deal. They also have a glut of relievers to dangle out as bait this winter. But the Yankees seem determined to keep Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson as the heart of their younger bullpen. The Yankees also will keep veteran lefty Damaso Marte, who redeemed himself with a sparkling postseason.
But do not be surprised if Brian Bruney is shopped. If Chamberlain returns as a reliever, Bruney would seem to be expendable. Young Mark Melancon could also go.
NOTE: After this was written, the Yankees announced they had sent Bruney to the Washington Nationals for a player to be named later. The fact no prominent player was involved shows how little value Bruney had after two injury-marred seasons.
There also have been rumors the Yankees might deal Robinson Cano but I doubt this serious talk. There simply is no one in the organization ready to start at second base and it would seem silly to deal Cano’s smallish contract for a veteran who might demand more. So do not look for a return of Orlando Hudson to the Bronx.
RED SOX ARE BUYERS

The Red Sox signing of Marco Scutaro to take over their revolving door at shortstop shows they intend to be aggressive in addressing their needs at the Winter Meetings. 
But because Jason Bay rejected their ridiculous low-ball offer of four years and $60 million and the signings of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito by the Braves, the Red Sox are going to have to dole out some serious bucks to get back into contention in the AL East.
If they lose Bay, they will be forced to overspend to get Holliday. If they really want Halladay, they are going to have to part with Clay Buchholz and three or so other minor-league prospects.
If they do that, they will not have a package of players on hand to pry first baseman Adrian Gonzalez away from the Padres. And GM Theo Epstein really covets Gonzalez. Sources say he wants him more than he wants Halladay.
But any way you slice it, the Red Sox have a lot of holes to fill plus their desire to unload Mike Lowell this winter. They also are rumored to be shopping Jonathan Papelbon before he walks as a free agent in 2011. 
But if they do not land Bay or Holliday to play left, they may be sunk. 
The Mariners are making a big run at Bay because Bay is a native of nearby British Columbia. The fact they have signed Chone Figgins shows they are legitimate players this offseason.
Rumors also have it that Holliday would prefer to remain the National League because of his hellish brief stay in Oakland last season. That would be very bad news for the Red Sox.
You can honestly say their payroll will have to increase dramatically this winter. If they win the championship in 2010 can the Yankees claim they bought it?
Stay tuned . . .

Lackey Likely Yankees’ No. 1 Free Agent Target

Earlier. we reviewed the Yankees seven free agents and assessed whether they would likely be kept or not. Another aspect that could determine their fate is whether the Yankees intend to shop seriously in the free-agent market to patch holes or replace what they are losing. Last season, General Manager Brian Cashman jumped in with both feet and came up with two starters and a first baseman. Will he do it again or will he just dip his toe in the water? Let”s see what is out there.

OUTFIELDERS

There are only three potential outfielders in whom the Yankees might have an interest: Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. You could plug in Chone Figgins here also because he can play the outfield as well as the infield.

Holliday is considered the cream of the crop. After having two monster seasons with the Colorado Rockies in 2006 and 2007, Holliday’s numbers slipped in 2008 (25 HRs, 88 RBIs, .321 average). Knowing his free agent season was looming, the Rockies dealt him to the Oakland A’s and Holliday’s stock dropped even further.

Though Holliday was surrounded by non-power hitters like Orlando Cabrera and Kurt Suzuki in a punchless A’s’ lineup, he did himself no favors by hitting .286 with 11 HRs and 54 RBIs in 93 games before the A’s traded him to the Cardinals. 

Holliday then became a beast again, pounding 13 home runs, driving in 55 runs and batting .313 hitting behind Albert Pujols. He helped lead the Cardinals to the Central Division championship, though his horrific error in leftfield cost the Cardinals dearly in the playoffs.

The Cardinals would love to have him stay and they do have enough Budweiser dollars to keep him. But the Cardinals have made it clear they will not get in a bidding war with the Yankees or Red Sox. The Red Sox would seem to have the most interest because they are not sure they can sign Bay and Holliday is a better player in their view.

The Yankees could sit it out entirely if they plan to re-sign Johnny Damon and/or Hideki Matsui. But I do think that Cashman will at least take a pulse on what Holliday is looking for in terms of dollars and years and see if the Yankees can make a reasonable bid. But it stands to reason that if the Yankees do land Holliday, Damon and Matsui are gone.

Holliday would give the Yankees another strong right-hand bat. The Yankees likely would bat Alex Rodriguez third, Mark Teixeira fourth and Holliday fifth and Holliday’s presence would certainly give the Yankees a true Murderer’ Row in the power slots.

Signing Bay would accomplish two things: It gives the Yankees another powerful right-hand bat to replace Matsui and it creates a big hole in the Red Sox outfield if they can’t sign Holliday to replace him. 

Bay, who came to the Red Sox in midseason trade from the Pirates to replace Manny Ramirez, had 36 home runs and 119 RBIs and hit .267 in 2009. Though the Red Sox would love for him to return, Bay has a chance to cash in on a huge payday because he and Holliday are the only true power hitters in this year’s free-agent crop.

Because the Red Sox also have so many other spots on their roster to fill, Bay or Holliday could drive up their payroll for 2010 considerably. There are also other teams in the mix who have the money to make a run at the two outfielders.

The Mets, the Cubs and the Angels certainly have the resources to sign either one. The Yankees interest in Bay will only come if (1) Holliday signs elsewhere and (2) they have decided not to make an effort to keep Damon and Matsui.

Figgins might be an interesting signing for the Yankees. No. 1, Figgins is a very talented and versatile player. The Angels played him at third base out of necessity but Figgins has also played second base, shortstop and in the outfield.

Last season he raised his on-base percentage to a sparkling .395 by drawing a career-high 101 walks. He batted .298 with five home runs and 54 RBIs and he stole 42 bases and scored 114 runs. His horrible postseason aside, Figgins has been a thorn in the Yankees’ side for years at the plate, in the field and on the bases.

He could solve the Damon “problem” by taking over in either left or centerfield for Damon and batting leadoff ahead of Derek Jeter. The captain has distinguished himself in both spots and really would not care if he hit second again. 

Figgins is 31, which is usually when the wheels starting slowing down some. But, make no mistake, Figgins would be the best speed player the Yankees have had since the days of Rickey Henderson and manager Joe Girardi likes the speed game to go along with the power game.

Of course, any signing of any of these players would not only be bad news to Damon and Matsui, they also would be bad news for Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson — young players who will be trying to take starting jobs in the next two seasons. 

Gardner’s stock has fallen some since he did not play well after he came back from a broken thumb that shelved him for two months. He enters 2010 as a backup outfielder. Jackson is considered two years away from helping the Yankees but is the best outfield prospect the Yankees have had since Bernie Williams.

STARTING PITCHING

There is only one real big fish swimming the free-agent stream and that is righthander John Lackey, the ace of the Angels with a 102-71 record and a 3.81 ERA in eight major-league seasons. Lackey shook off early elbow problems to post an 11-8 record and a 3.83 ERA this season.

The Angels would love to have him back, but because Lackey is the only real Type A starter this winter, he is going to reap a big bonanza in contract offers. Teams all over baseball need pitching and Lackey could be a No. 1 starter for most teams.

The Yankees are going to have an interest. A real interest.

For one reason, they are unsure if Andy Pettitte will return for another season. If he retires, they lose 14 regular season wins and a bulldog in the playoffs. Lackey would not be a bad replacement because he has 12 career postseason starts and he is 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA in those outings.

Another reason Lackey would make sense to sign is that, even if Pettitte decides to return, he can be a great fourth starter and allow the Yankees to shift Joba Chamberlain back to his former eighth inning bullpen role. Comparing Chamberlain’s stats as a starter to what he did in the bullpen in the postseason is no contest.

Chamberlain is better suited to be a reliever despite Cashman’s claims that he is a starter. We all know plans can change. Just ask Phil Hughes.

Speaking of Hughes, he will enter 2010 as a starter again, but he will be restricted to about 130 innings pitched. The likely scenario will be that Hughes will start the season in the rotation and shift to the bullpen in favor of swingman Chad Gaudin at about the All-Star break to keep his innings down.

That is all the more reason to h
ave Lackey in the fold. 

It also stands to reason the Yankees would like to have four pitchers they can count on in the playoffs. Though the three-man rotation ended up with the Yankees winning a championship, neither CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett or Pettitte pitched “lights-out” baseball in their second World Series starts. Lackey’s presence would mean the Yankees would not have to use that tactic again.

Finally, the Yankees are not sure what they have in Chien-Ming Wang. First, they are not sure they will re-sign him. They may choose to let him go and try to re-sign him for less money. Coming off serious shoulder surgery, it is unclear when Wang will be able to pitch. In addition, it is unknown if he will regain his 19-win form.

Lackey will draw interest from a number of teams, including the Cubs, Mets, Red Sox and the Rangers. But the Yankees do have the money to pony up to bring him to the Bronx. My guess is he is the No. 1 player on Cashman’s list of free agents.

The only other Type A starter is veteran lefty Randy Wolf and I do not think the Yankees will have much interest in him. 

I think Cashman will pull out all the stops to sign Lackey and he likely will pass on Bay and Holliday unless another depressed market drives down their prices. But also do not be surprised if Cashman makes a run at the cheaper option of Figgins to replace Damon and the Yankees decide to bring Matsui back.

Those moves would make the Yankees stronger for a run at championship No. 28 in 2010.


Five Reasons the Yankees Won and the Angels Lost

No 1: STARTING PITCHING


In the six games against the Los Angeles Angels, the New York Yankees’ trio of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte combined to pitch 41 innings and gave up 14 runs for an ERA of 3.07. They yielded 34 hits and 10 walks for a WHIP of 1.07.
In contrast, the Angel four starters of John Lackey, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and Scott Kazmir pitched 31 2/3 innings and gave up 17 runs for an ERA of 4.83. They yielded 39 hits and 19 walks for a WHIP of 1.83.
The Yankee trio also was 3-0. The Angel quartet was 0-3.
The truest axiom in baseball is that you are only as good as your starting pitching and the Yankees had the much better starting pitching this series.
NO 2: FIELDING

The Angels were charged with eight errors in the series and the Yankees were charged with three. But there is a larger story here. The physical and major mental mistakes the Angels made in the field directly led to their defeat in three games.
  • In Game 1, Juan Rivera’s throwing error and Erick Aybar’s inability to call for and catch a routine pop fly gave the Yankees two runs in the first inning. John Lackey’s errant pickoff attempt throw led to another run in sixth inning. The Angels lost 4-1 and actually gift-wrapped the Yankees three runs.
  • In Game 2, the Yankees made all three of their errors in the series but none of them resulted in an Angels score. The Angels committed two errors and the second one resulted in the loss. Second baseman Maicer Izturis ranged far to his left and fielded Melky Cabrera’s grounder and he should have thrown to first for the second out of the inning. Instead he whirled and threw off-balance to shortstop Erick Aybar at second base and the ball sailed past Aybar and allowed Jerry Hairston to score the winning run in the bottom of the 13th inning.
  • In Game 6, the Angels committed two errors in the game. Unfortunately, after scoring a run off Mariano Rivera in the top of the eighth inning to make the score 3-2 in favor of the Yankees, the two errors came in the bottom of the inning. They came on consecutive sacrifice bunt plays. On the first, Howie Kendrick closed his glove too soon as he covered first base and Nick Swisher was safe. Then Kazmir shot-putted the ball over Kendrick’s head and Robinson Cano scored the game’s fourth run and runners advanced to second and third. One additional run scored on a sacrifice fly and the Yankees clinched the series with a 5-2 victory.
The Yankees took advantage of the Angels’ mistakes in the field and the Angels were unable to get the Yankees to commit enough errors to take advantage of them.
No. 3: BASE-RUNNING

In the Angels’ case this was what they did not do. The Angels were second in the American League in stolen bases in 2009. In watching the ALCS, you never would have known that. The Angels stole a total of four bases in the six games. Manager Mike Scioscia will tell you that the Yankees’ starting pitchers limited some opportunities but it does not tell the whole story.
One big reason is that three of the Angels’ best base-stealers, Izturis, Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins were a combined 8-for-58 (.138) at the plate. It is kind of hard to steal first base and the Angel speed demons had a hard time dealing with their limited opportunities.
There also was a the fact that CC Sabathia kept the Angels off base in his two games and Andy Pettitte’s patented pickoff move baffled the Angels in two other games.
But also take into account the uncharacteristic base-running blunders the Yankees took advantage of in the series. Remember Bobby Abreu getting throw out for rounding second base too far in the eighth inning of Game 3? And how about Pedro Guerrero getting doubled off first base in the second inning of Game 6?
The Yankees may have stolen only two bases in the series and pinch-runner Brett Gardner may have been thrown out in his two attempts to steal. But the bottom line is the Angels live or die with the stolen base and their aggressive base-running. In this series their inability to steal and run aggressively to put pressure on the Yankees killed them.
THE CLOSER EDGE

Mariano Rivera vs. Brian Fuentes.
Rivera blew only two save opportunities and saved 44 games this season. Fuentes registered 48 saves but he blew seven chances and had a 1-5 record. K-Rod he was not. This weakness reared its ugly head in this series.
Fuentes pitched in three games and he gave up a run one three innings and saved one game. But that one run was a game-tying home run by Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 2 that led to a 4-3 defeat.
Fuentes also was shaky in his save of Game 5. After he recorded two outs, he walked two and hit a batter to load the bases. He then worked into a full count with Nick Swisher before Swisher popped up to end the game. Had Swisher singled in two runs in that situation, the Yankees would have likely won Game 5 and Fuentes might have been hung in effigy in Anaheim.
As it is Rivera was nearly perfect in his five appearances. He saved two games, including the game-clincher in Game 6. But that does not tell the whole story. Rivera was summoned to hold the Angels in Game 2 and pitched in three innings (2 1/3 innings of work) and gave the Yankees a chance to win Game 2 in extra innings.
His work in Game 3 was spectacular, though the Yankees eventually lost the game in the 11th inning. Rivera pitched around a bases-loaded one-out jam in the 10th inning by getting Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero to bounce into easy infield outs.
Rivera finished the series with a 1.29 ERA and a WHIP of 0.71. He was special and dominant when he had to be. Fuentes was neither and it cost the Angels.
No. 5: A-ROD

Though Sabathia did earn the MVP award for the series, Alex Rodriguez had just as much impact on the series with his bat. He finished the series hitting .429 with three home runs and six RBIs. But the numbers do not tell how much of an impact he truly had.
In inning No. 1 of Game 1, Rodriguez drove in the first run of the series. In Game 2, his dramatic two-out home run in the bottom of the 11th prevented the Angels from stealing a game in New York and allowed the Yankees to win the game in the 13th inning.
He homered in a losing cause in Game 3 and was 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs in Game 4. But it was his slide under the tag of Mike Napoli in the fourth inning to score the first run of the game that set the tone for the 10-1 romp.
In Game 6 he took a base-loaded walk to drive in the third run of a comeback fourth inning.
But the Angels actually made sure to limit the damage of Rodriguez by walking him at any opportunity they could in the series. Rodriguez was walked eight times in the series, three of those were officially listed as intentional. 
He was walked intentionally to load the bases in the seventh inning of Game 5. Hideki Matsui followed with an RBI single and Robinson Cano drove in two more with a double as the Yankees rallied from 4-0 deficit for a short-lived 6-4 lead.
Once the Angels regained the lead at 7-6 they walked Rodriguez intentionally again in the ninth inning with TWO ou
t and NOBODY on. 
Rodriguez came into the championship series hot, having hit .455 with two home runs and six RBIs in the league divisional series against the Twins. In the two series combined he is hitting .438 with five home runs and 12 RBIs.
The Angels simply had no one in their lineup who was as hot and as effective with the bat during the series. It is another reason why they are going home and the Yankees have advanced to the World Series.