Tagged: Damaso Marte

Here Are Five Keys To Yankees Succeeding In 2012

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to the Yankees’ spring training complex in a few weeks, it might be a good time to look at the five things that would be good signs the Yankees are on their way to their 28th world championship. They are:

NO. 5 – CC Sabathia reports to camp minus about 30 pounds he was carrying at the end of last season.

Sabathia struggled with a knee injury at the tail end of the 2010 season. He ended up having surgery to repair the damage and actually dropped about 30 pounds before he reported to spring training last year. The result was Sabathia got off to one of the better starts of his career. At the All-Star break he was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA and he had won 10 of his last 11 starts. Can you figure out what happened next? He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. The reason was he had gained weight during the course of the season and it really showed in his postseason appearances against the Tigers. He was 0-0 with a 6.23 ERA with a WHIP of 2.08 in 8 2/3 innings over three games. Sabathia chose not to opt out of his contract in order to sign a lucrative extension that will keep in pinstripes until the year 2017. The Yankees got in return from Sabathia a pledge that he will take the excess weight off this winter and keep it off during the course of the season. In a few weeks we will see if Sabathia has succeeded in his pledge.

No. 4 – The Yankees find a second left-handed reliever to help Boone Logan.

Logan, 27, is a good enough pitcher. He was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 2010 and 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 2011. But he is terribly miscast as a “lefty specialist.” Left-handed hitters batted .260 off him last season while right-handers fared a bit better at .262. That is because Logan is nothing like Damoso Marte or Pedro Feliciano. The Yankees traded with Kansas City for Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral from the Red Sox and signed former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to compete this spring for a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen. Cabral, 23, was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 36 appearances with Salem in the Carolina League and Portland in Eastern League. He notched 70 strikeouts and walked 21 batters in 55 innings. Okajima, 36, was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket after posting a 1-0 record and a 4.32 ERA in seven appearances with Red Sox. He was 8-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances with the Pawsox. With Feliciano recovering from left shoulder surgery and not expected to pitch in 2012, the Yankees have no other left-handers on their 40-man roster. So either Cabral or Okajima take the bull by the horns and win a job or the Yankees will either have to deal for another lefty or be forced to use starter Manny Banuelos in the role at some point during the season. That is something they do not want to do unless they are forced into it.

No. 3 – A.J. Burnett is not on the roster when the season starts.

The Yankees have made it as clear as possible without saying it publicly: They have no confidence that the enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander will recapture the magic of his 2008 season in Toronto when he was 18-10 with 4.07 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 221 1/3 innings. He has gotten worse in his three years with the Yankees, ending up 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 2011. He also has lost velocity on his heater and that is a sign he is in a steep decline. The problem is the Yankees are on the hook for two more years and $33 million on his contract. But the Yankees acquired 23-year-old Michael Pineda and signed 36-year-old free agent Hiroki Kuroda to pitch behind Sabathia and the Yankees are saying that Ivan Nova will retain a spot in the rotation he earned with a 16-4 rookie season. That leaves 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes, 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia and Burnett to compete for the No. 5 spot. Barring an injury, the Yankees likely will only keep one of the two starters that fail to win a spot for the bullpen. So the odds for Burnett are not good. The Yankees have made it known they have dangled Burnett in a trade. They are offering to pay about $8 million of his contract but, so far, they have had no serious takers. But as the season nears and teams assess their starting staffs, it could be possible that Burnett could be dealt, much like Sergio Mitre was in 2011. That would be a good thing because Burnett has just about tested every last bit of patience out of manager Joe Girarddi and pitching coach Larry Rothscild. Yankee fans are getting sick of trying to guess whether they will see “Good A.J.” or “Bad A.J.” from start to start. They are seeing the bad version more often these days. It also does not really matter what the Yankees get in return. The Yankees would settle for young prospects – a power-hitting young outfielder and a young pitcher would be just fine. Let’s hope general manager Brian Cashman gets it done before the season starts.

No. 2 – The Yankees either acquire or sign a legitimate and experienced DH.

With the trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners and the retirement of Jorge Posada, the Yankees currently do not have a major-league designated hitter. For the moment they are touting 29-year-old minor-league corner infielder Jorge Vazquez as a potential starter there. Vazquez, a veteran of the Mexican League, did hit .262 with 32 home runs and drove in 93 runs in 118 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But the Yankees might be looking for a more experienced DH from among free agents such as Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Pedro Guerrero. Of that mix, Damon appears to be the best fit. He spent four seasons with the Yankees and has shown he can take advantage of the short dimensions in right-field at Yankee Stadium. In 2011 with the Rays, Damon hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games. Damon would be of use as a DH, part-time outfielder (despite his weak arm) and solid veteran pinch-hitter or pinch-runner off the bench. The others are limited in the field and have declined significantly at the plate. Granted, Girardi does like to rotate his veterans at the DH spot to give them rest. But the Yankees need another bat to replace Montero and they can’t wait too long to fill it.

NO. 1 – Alex Rodriguez shows up in Tampa healthy and displaying prodigious power throughout spring training.

Let’s face it, love him or hate him, Rodriguez is the key to the Yankees’ offense in 2012. Since 2007 when he played in 158 games, Rodriguez has been sidelined for significant periods of time by a hip injury, shoulder problems, a knee injury, a calf injury and a sprained finger. In 2011, he was limited to 99 games and he hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. He entered the American League Division Series with Detroit at less than 100 percent and it showed. He was 2-for-18 (.111) with six strikeouts in the series. For the Yankees to have any chance of getting back to the World Series, Rodriguez must remain healthy throughout 2012, particularly during the playoffs. Although Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano pretty much carried the team throughout the 2011 season, it is Rodriguez who strikes the most fear in pitchers when he is “locked in” and pounding out home runs. Borrowing a line from Reggie Jackson, A-Rod is the straw that stirs the drink in the Yankees’ lineup. They need him more than any other player and Rodriguez must also prove he is not in a precipitous decline at age 36. The Yankees are paying him through the 2017 season and they can’t afford to be paying $32 million to a player who hits 16 home runs and drive in 62 runs.

 

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Secrecy Veils Cashman’s Trip To Winter Meetings

NEW YORK YANKEES WINTER MEETINGS PREVIEW

One person you are not likely to see much of at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas on Monday is Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

As baseball’s 2011 Winter Meetings open, Cashman habitually spends most of his time in his suite. And it is not because he is diving into the honor bar. Cashman is in “bunker mode” hoping to make a deal or signing or two that will help the Yankees improve for the 2012 season.

Of course, Cashman has already done a few important things that will help the Yankees in the upcoming season.

The most important mission he had this offseason was keeping ace left-hander CC Sabathia from opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent. Cashman was able to get Sabathia to sign an extension through 2016 worth $122 million. So that took what would have been the most-prized pitcher off the market and kept him with the Yankees.

Determined to ensure the Yankees enter 2012 with a solid starting rotation, Cashman set the Yankees priorities as “pitching, pitching and pitching.” That is why the Yankees picked up the options on Nick Swisher and Russell Martin and is allowing Jorge Posada to go as a free agent.

The only major signing of a non-pitcher this winter was the signing of infielder Jayson Nix to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Nix, primarily a second baseman, can also play third base and has logged some time in the outfield.

Nix, 29, played for Toronto in 2011 and hit .169 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats in 46 games. He has hit .209 over the span of four major-league seasons.

Nix is an insurance policy in case reserve first baseman and third baseman Eric Chavez decides to retire or signs with another club as a free agent. The Yankees have made it clear they would love to have Chavez and free-agent outfielder Andruw Jones return to the team next season.

So when it comes to the Yankees’ starting lineup and bench, the Yankees pretty much are looking at a status quo with rookie catching prospect Jesus Montero expected to be the team’s primary designated hitter in 2012 replacing Posada.

Cashman proved how important he values pitching by re-signing Freddy Garcia to a one-year contract worth between $4 million and $5 million. Garcia, 35, was selected as a starter out of spring training after he signed $1.5 million contract over the winter. Garcia posted a 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts (over 26 games).

With Garcia’s signing the Yankees rotation features Sabathia, rookie surprise Ivan Nova, a recovering Phil Hughes, enigmatic veteran A.J. Burnett and Garcia. That starting five does not exactly appear to be a championship caliber staff if you ask most Yankee fans. So the speculation has been that Cashman would dip into the Yankees’ rich financial reserves to pony up some big money for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle, Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson.

Or Cashman might look to make a substantial posting bid for 25-year-old Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish.

The Yankees have also been linked in trade rumors for pitchers such as Matt Cain of the Giants, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and Matt Garza of the Cubs.

Of course, Cashman has a collection of six pitchers in the organization who are currently 24 years old or less who could advance to help the major-league club as starters or relievers in 2012 including Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, David Phelps and Adam Warren.

Noesi compiled a 2-2 record with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games (two starts) over four separate stints with the Yankees last season. Cashman has been getting glowing reports about how Noesi is throwing this winter in the Domincan Republic and he is touting Noesi as the “next Ivan Nova.”

So the Yankees could go in a lot of directions this winter with their pitching staff: (1) they could stand pat, (2) sign a free agent, (3) trade for a starter or (4) look to shore up the staff with a young pitcher in their minor-league system.

But any addition to the staff surely would mean that one of the current five starters would either have to go to the bullpen or leave the team entirely. That will not include Sabathia, Garcia or Nova. So that means Hughes and Burnett might be in the crosshairs should the Yankees decide to add another starter.

Hughes was 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA in an injury-plagued 2011 season. However, if you throw out his first three starts when he was pitching with a weak right shoulder and two consecutive starts in August in which he gave up 12 runs in 8 1/3 innings, Hughes was 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA in his other nine starts.

What this would indicate that is if Hughes is healthy at the start if spring training there is a good possibility he could return to his 18-8 form of 2010. The Yankees have heard good reports about Hughes, 25, who is working out in his native California this offseason.

Hughes has pitched well in the bullpen before as he did in the Yankees’ championship season in 2009, however, the Yankees are stocked with right-handers Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and a recovering Joba Chamberlain. There does not seem to be much room left for Hughes here. So, for now, Hughes is a starter.

Burnett, 34, is another story altogether.

Though Burnett’s Game 4 start against the Tigers in the American League Division Series was excellent, he is coming off two seasons in which he was a combined 21-26 with a 5.20 ERA. Because the Yankees owe Burnett $65 million he has been the proverbial albatross around the Yankees necks and he possibly could remain that way for another two seasons.

The Yankees could hope that Burnett somehow finds a way to consistently put the ball in the vicinity of the plate and cuts down on his gopher balls or they could also decide – like a malignant tumor – he must be removed from the roster even if it means that the Yankees have to pick up most, if not all, of his contract to pitch for another team.

Yankee fans are certainly rooting for the latter. They have seen enough of “Bad A.J.” to know that it is time to bring the curtain down on his bad act.

Other than that potential shift in the rotation, the only other move Cashman likely could make is to add a left-hander to the bullpen.

Boone Logan, 27, has been the lone lefty in the bullpen for two seasons. Though he did OK with a 5-3 record and a 3.46 ERA in 2011, he is not, by definition, a real lefty specialist. He has been pressed into that role due to injuries to Damaso Marte and Pedro Felciiano the past two seasons.

But Marte has been released and Feliciano has undergone shoulder surgery and he won’t pitch at all under the final year of his two-year deal with the Yankees. So the Yankees do need to explore obtaining a lefty who can consistently retire left-handed batters.

Cashman could really help the Yankees out a lot by finding the one piece of the puzzle that would make the Yankees’ bullpen even better than it already is.

Also do not be surprised if Cashman comes up with a surprise or two, much like he did with Granderson deal two winters ago.

Cashman always plays his cards close to the vest and he never really signals what he is likely to do. That is why if a rumor surfaces about the Yankees interested in making a deal, I automatically discount it. Cashman does not make deals that are rumored in the press. He does it with cunning and stealth.

Although Cashman has signed disasters like Burnett and Kei Igawa, he also has made some nice deals such as the Granderson and the Swisher deals. Although it appears Cashman is likely to use a scalpel and a Band-Aid rather than a hacksaw to this winter’s roster, you never really know if players like Swisher, Eduardo Nunez, Montero or Betances could be traded in order to obtain the pitching help the Yankees seem to need.

If you do not see Cashman much in the hotel lobby you can almost be assured he is stoking the fears of his rival GMs. That is just the Cashman way.

 

Yankees In Market For Some Lefty Relief Help

With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.

PART 2 – Relief Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two

NOTE: As I predicted, the New York Yankees were able to keep CC Sabathia off the free-agent market by signing him an one-year contract extension that will pay him $122 million over the next five seasons and the Yankees will control an option to bring him back in 2017. This means the Yankees can turn their sights to Priority No. 2 (Fixing A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes) and Priority No. 3 (signing or trading for another starting pitcher). Sabathia’s signing is double bad news for the Texas Rangers. They were looking to add Sabathia to their rotation and now they face the prospect of losing C.J. Wilson to the Yankees. That would be enough to send Rangers manager Ron Washington back on drugs.

***********************************

The Yankees, simply stated, had the best bullpen in the major leagues in 2011.

The proof is in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series with the Tigers. The only run given up after Ivan Nova left the game with an injury after the first inning was off of Sabathia. The bullpen itself kept the Tigers within striking distance for a comeback that never came.

Looking at 2012, the Yankees can again point to their bullpen as being the strongest part of this team.

At age 41, Mariano Rivera showed no real signs of aging by saving 44 of 49 games and becoming the major-league leader in all-time saves with 603. For the fourth straight season and the eighth season out of the last nine, Rivera recorded an ERA under 2.00. Rivera is under contract for another season and that is just fine with the Yankees because having the greatest reliever in major-league history in your bullpen is a huge plus.

The Yankees also have managed to shorten games by the use of their setup men.

Nobody did that better than David Robertson last season. With injuries shelving both Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain, Robertson, 26, stepped up his game to go 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA and strike out 100 batters in  66 2/3 innings. He also tied Daniel Bard of the Red Sox for the American League in holds with 34 and he earned a selection to pitch in the 2011 All-Star Game.

Robertson’s best work, though, came in pressure situations – either ones he inherited or those messes he created for himself. Robertson was able to wriggle out of bases-loaded situations with amazing regularity.

The Yankees also will have 32-year-old right-hander Rafael Soriano back for the 2012 season. Soriano has elected not to opt out of his three-year contract and remain with the Yankees for $11 million this coming season and $14 million for 2013.

Soriano, who led the major leagues with 45 saves in 2010, was 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA and two saves in a season plagued by elbow soreness. Soriano pitched exceptionally well after he returned from the disabled list in July. He was 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA and he ended up with 23 holds.

The only question is will Soriano regain his eighth inning role from Robertson in 2012? Either way the Yankees know that most teams will have to obtain the lead by the sixth inning or face the prospect of losing the game because Robertson, Soriano and Rivera are pretty tough to beat when they are all healthy and pitching well.

The Yankees also possibly may have Joba Chamberlain back healthy again.

Chamberlain, 26, missed most of the 2011 season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He was effective in the 27 games he pitched. He was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA and he recorded 12 holds.

Reports indicate Chamberlain is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and he hopes to be ready to go once spring training begins in February. But with Robertson and Soriano filling the setup roles in the bullpen, the Yankees can afford to be cautious with Chamberlain. They will gladly start the season with Chamberlain on the disabled list and bring him along slowly to make sure he is 100 percent.

The rest of the Yankees’ bullpen in 2011 was pretty good. The Yankees got good work out of right-handers Cory Wade and Luis Ayala.

Wade, 28, was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA after being acquired off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays in June. Ayala, 33, made the team out of spring training after being signed as free agent and was 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA.

Wade is likely to be retained for 2012 as insurance policy on Chamberlain but Ayala likely will not return.

That leaves the only left-hander the Yankees had in 2011, Boone Logan. Next to A.J. Burnett, the 27-year-old Logan is the pitcher Yankee fans love to the hate the most.

At times, Logan can be brilliant. Other times, Logan can be awful. Overall, Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA for the Yankees. However, he is terribly miscast as “lefty specialist.” It is sort of like asking Owen Wilson to play the part of Tony Soprano in the “The Sopranos.” It just doesn’t work.

Left-handed hitters hit .260 off of Logan while right-handers hit .262 off him.

That points up the Yankees’ biggest need in 2012: Looking for a reliable and effective lefty specialist.

The Yankees ignored my pleas to go all out to sign free-agent lefty Scott Downs last off-season. Downs ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels and he was 6-3 with a 1.34 ERA with 26 holds for the Angels. Instead, the Yankees overpaid Soriano to accept a setup role.

The Yankees did sign left-hander Pedro Feliciano from the New York Mets. But the 35-year-old free agent developed a shoulder soreness in spring training and ended up undergoing rotator cuff surgery without ever throwing a pitch for the Yankees in 2011. He likely won’t pitch in 2012 and his two-year contract with Yankees will end with him very much a question mark as a free agent in 2013.

The Mets abused Feliciano by pitching him in a major-league high of 344 appearances over the four previous seasons, including 92 in 2010. Feliciano paid the price for it and he likely will never be the same pitcher he was.

The Yankees also hoped to have veteran left-hander Damaso Marte back in 2011. But the 36-year-old hero of the 2009 postseason championship run for the Yankees has not be able to recover from left shoulder surgery he underwent in 2010. The Yankees have since declined an option on him and released him.

So the Yankees are in the market for a lefty specialist in 2012 who can either augment or replace Logan.

There are no other left-handers listed on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. There no lefties who would be of much help in the bullpen in the minor leagues. So general manager Brian Cashman must look to acquire several candidates to audition in spring training.

One pitcher the Yankees would love to have is Rafael Perez of the Indians. Perez, 29, was 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 12 holds with the Indians in 2011. Perez was replaced as the primary lefty in the bullpen by 28-year-old Tony Sipp.

But Perez can still get out left-handed batters. They batted only .237 against him last season.

The Yankees also might be interested in Eric O’Flaherty, 26, of the Braves and Sean Marshall, 29, of the Cubs. Both of them had excellent 2011 seasons. But they would cost dearly in a trade.

Guillermo Mota, 38, could be a big free-agent target. He was 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 52 appearances with the Giants. More impressive was his 77 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings. Lefties hit just .234 off him in 2011. His age might be a concern but, given the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen, he might be worth an offer.

Look for the Yankees to bring in at least two left-handed relievers to compete for a spot in the bullpen in spring training.

Of course, the Yankees’ right-handers do have an ability to get out lefties.

Left-handers hit only .240 off Rivera, .156 off Robertson, .250 off Chamberlain, .246 off Wade and .250 off Ayala. They only feasted on Soriano, who was hit for a .302 by left-handers last season. The effectiveness of the right-handers against left-handers is one reason why the bullpen was such a strength in 2011.

Given the depth here, it looks like the bullpen – barring injury – looks to be just as strong in 2012.

NEXT:  PART 3 – STARTING LINEUP

PRIORITY NO. 1 – Who will the Yankees keep at catcher?

 

Mo Reportedly Will Sign 2-Year Deal To Remain In Bronx

Exit light
Enter night
Take my hand
We’re off to never-never land

                                                                                      – “Enter Sandman” by Metallica


Yankee fans may be able to sleep a lot better knowing that the best closer in baseball history is returning for two more seasons.
Mariano Rivera, 41, reportedly has agreed to a two-year deal for $15 million per season. That is certainly good news to Yankee management, players and fans. The Yankees really have no creditable replacement for “The Sandman” and, after a season in which Rivera recorded 33 saves with a 1.80 ERA, he proved he is not losing his effectiveness.
Rivera now stands poised to challenge Treveor Hoffman’s major-league saves record. Hoffman, 42, has 601 career saves but he lost his role as a closer with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 and is currently a free agent.
Rivera is only 42 saves behind Hoffman with 559. The two-year deal assures him opportunity to pass Hoffman.
Rivera’s career numbers pretty much have given him first-ballot entrance into the Hall of Fame. He is 74-55 with a career ERA of 2.23. He also has blown only 49 saves in 608 chances. That is a career save percentage of 92 percent.
He also has led the Yankees to five world titles and is 8-1 with an incredible 0.71 ERA in postseason play and a major-league leading 42 career postseason saves.
To put it mildly, Rivera is the most valuable piece to any puzzle the Yankees need to assemble to a world championship club in 2011.
Though he has been nagged by minor ailments to his knee, ribs and shoulder, Rivera has also proven to be durable over his 16 major-league seasons. Rivera has also been helpful to teammates by teaching them his signature cutter.
In 2010, pitchers Phil Hughes and Kerry Wood employed their own version of the cutter under the tutelage of the master, Rivera. 
The Yankees only need now to shore up the pieces of the bullpen to get to Rivera since the team elected not pick up Wood’s expensive $11 million option. The Yankees will retain Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Boone Logan and Sergio Mitre. They also hope to get lefty specialist Damaso Matre back sometime during the 2011 season.
However, they chose to release Alfredo Aceves and Dustin Moseley on Friday. Aceves was sidelined most of the 2010 season with a severe back injury and broke his collarbone this off-season.
Moseley was 4-4 with a 4.96 ERA as a part-time starter and long reliever.
So the Yankees will be looking for relief help in the free-agent market to fill in the missing pieces. Their chances of re-signing Wood are slim since he is looking for a chance to close with another club.
But one target could be Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Scott Downs, who was 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 67 games last season. Downs, 34, also has some experience as a closer, collecting 16 saves in 32 chances in his nine major-league seasons.
Downs has a dual utility to the Yankees He is an experienced left-hander who can get tough lefties out — lefties hit only .152 against him last season. In addition, with Rivera advancing in age Downs could close if the Yankees needed him to do so.
The only problem in signing Downs will come down to price. He figures to get a lot of offers from contending teams looking for quality left-handers in their bullpen. But it is clear the Yankees would have an interest in him.
Now they can tout to Downs he will have an opportunity to set up a living legend in Rivera.
ON THE JETER TRAIL  . . .  It also appears that this blog’s prediction the Yankees would increase their initial three-year, $45 million offer to Derek Jeter has come true. Sources indicate the Yankees have increased their offer $2 million to $3 million per season. 
At the same time, Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, lowered his initial demand for a contract paying $23 million per season,
It appears the two sides are heading to the midpoint of about $19 million per season over three seasons or in that vicinity. Jeter made $18.9 million over the past 10 years under his old contract, so it appears he could accept what would be essentially an extension of that contract for three seasons. 
The Yankees can say they did not have to pay Jeter above what he was making and Close can claim his client did not take a pay cut. Both sides win and the Yankees will have their captain back in the fold.
Things are definitely looking up for Yankee fans in advance of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, FL, on Monday.
STAY TUNED . . . 


Mo’s Health, Joba’s Improvement Keys To Yankees’ Bullpen

It is the halfway point of the season for the New York Yankees and you all know what that means. That’s right, it’s time to had out grades for the first term. Some of our Yankees were scholars and some need some remedial work. But with the best record in baseball the Yankees already have a great grade as a team. The funny thing is that they have not really pushed themselves and there is still potential to be even better in the second half. Let’s start evaluating the positions and players.



BULLPEN

Mariano Rivera
Joba Chamberlain
David Robertson
Damaso Marte
Chan Ho Park
Chad Gaudin
Dustin Moseley

Other contributors: Alfredo Aceves, Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre, Ivan Nova, Romulo Sanchez and Mark Melancon

Based on what they did in 2009 and the fact that Joba Chamberlain was back in the bullpen where he belonged, the New York Yankees’ relief corps looked strong heading into the 2010 season.
The fact the Yankees are currently in first place in the American League East and they have the best record in baseball at the All-Star break means that the bullpen can’t be really that bad.
Howver, it has been less than stellar in the first half, despite the fact that at age 40 Mariano Rivera is having another Hall of Fame season: a 2-1 record with a 1.05 ERA and 20 saves in 22 chances.
The fact that the starters have been pitching so deep into games and the bullpen has been used less frequently in 2010, the problem has not been Rivera. It has been getting the ball to Rivera that has been the problem.
One indication of the ineffectiveness of the bullpen is the won-loss record of the bullpen this season which is 8-10. Another indication is the ERAs of the current roster:
Chamberlain 5.79
Robertson 5.46
Park 6.18
Gaudin 6.75
Marte 4.08
Moseley 3.00
This is a far cry from what the bullpen contributed in 2009 and there are many reasons why this has occurred.
No. 1, the fact that the starters have gone so deep has meant much less work from this group than last season. In 2009, Chamberlain’s struggles to last past five innings as a starter and Chien-Ming Wang’s poor start and injuries meant the bullpen was used and used again and again,
This season, there have been fewer starts of five innings or less by the rotation: 16 in 2010. That sometimes means days of inactivity and it is hard to get into a rhythm. But that is not the only reason.
The Yankees are also without to key contributors to their bullpen, Alfred Aceves and Sergio Mitre. Aceves is the Swiss Army knife of the Yankees’ bullpen. He can fill any role and last season he was 10-1 with a 3.54 ERA with one save.
This season Aceves is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA and one save in 10 appearances but his season is in doubt because of a bulging disc in his lower back that has landed him on the disabled list since May 9.
His latest attempt to throw had to be shut down because of pain in the back and the Yankees, who are trying to avoid back surgery, are currently weighing their options. If manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland were counting on having Aceves back soon, they will be waiting a long time.
Mitre, the team’s long man, has also been missed. Mitre has been on the disabled list since June 5 due to an oblique strain suffered when he was taking batting practice to prepare for interleague play.
Mitre is 0-1 with a 2.88 ERA and has been excellent in 12 appearances, which includes two spot starts. The Yankees should be getting Mitre back soon after the second half starts.
Marte has been solid and consistent. He has a 4.08 in 30 appearances and 17 2/3 innings. But he has been doing the job he has been asked to do: lefties are htting .146 off him this season.
Marte usually has been getting into trouble when he is wild (11 walks) or when he is asked to pitch more than one or two batters.
The biggest disappointments have been Park, Robertson and Chamberlain. The ERAs are one indication of their ineffectiveness. But look also at their records:
Chamberlain 1-4
Robertson 1-3
Park 1-1
This group has lost eight of the 10 games the bullpen has lost this season. In defense of Park, though, he lost an early game to the Red Sox in the first series of the season and then spent a month on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain.
His issues seem to be centered around when he is asked to pitch multiple innings. He also been pitching much better of late. He has a 3.38 ERA for this month and he seems to be regaining some of 95 mph velocity.
Robertson had most his problems early in the season. In his first 10 outings, Robertson was 1-1 with a 13.50 ERA. He has only been scored upon in three of his next 21 outings, though he did hiccup and give up four runs in 1 1/3 innings on July 2 at home to Toronto.
But Robertson looks to be solid heading into the second half.
Not so for Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain has been the biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ bullpen. A failed starter, Chamberlain looked to resume the eighth-inning set-up role with which he was so successful as a rookie in 2007.
The inconsistency he has shown this season has been a major concern and it culminated in a a horrendous one-inning outing in Seattle on July 10 in which he gave up two hits, threw a wild pitch and was forced to intentionally walk a batter before giving up a grand slam home run that erased a 1-0 lead Javier Vazquez had handed him.
Though Girardi maintains Chamberlain is his eighth-inning guy, there is no sense in having a bridge to Rivera that is going to blow up. 
Perhaps the pursuit of Cliff Lee may be part of this issue. The rumor was if the Yankees had acquired Lee the Yankees would have traded Vazquez for a hitter they might need.
But maybe the Yankees could have shifted Hughes back to the bullpen because he has pitched 101 of his 180 allotted innings as a starter this season. The addition of Hughes, while disappointing to Hughes himself, might solve the inconsistency problem in the eighth inning and allow Chamberlain to develop as a seventh-inning reliever instead.
Who knows? But now there are rumors the Yankees are pursuing Ted Lilly of the Chicago Cubs so the
idea to switch Hughes back to the bullpen is not a moot point yet.
In the absence of Hughes, Chamberlain is going to have to improve if the Yankees hope to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox in the second half. Losing games in the eighth inning is painful and really hurts the team.
We will see how the bullpen plays out but the pressure is definitely on Chamberlain going forward.
Here are the grades for the first half:
Rivera A+
Chamberlain C-
Park I (Incomplete)
Robertson C+
Marte B
Gaudin C
Moseley I (Incomplete)
OVERALL BULLPEN GRADE: C

It is not out of the realm of possibility that Hughes could be placed in the bullpen long before the postseason starts. If that happens, he will most certainly resume his role as Rivera’s bridge as he was in 2009.
Chamberlain and Park need to improve their consistency. Robertson needs to continue the steady progress he has shown since April. It would be a great boost to the bullpen to get a healthy Aceves back but I do think the Yankees believe they will be getting him back anytime soon.
In the meantime, Mitre’s return will help and Marte must continue to get the tough lefties out. 
There is some concern about Rivera, too. His exit from the All-Star team was a surprise because he not only mentioned the discomfort in left side that shelved him for a week. Rivera also mentioned a sore right knee. Anytime a 40-year-old closer is talking injuries to keep him out of an All-Star game, it does sound alarm bells.
Could the trade for Lilly be all about shifting Hughes to the bullpen to replace Rivera if he goes down? We don’t know but it bears watching. The Yankees need Rivera as much as humans need oxygen. All hopes for a championship live or die with the best closer in the history of the game.

Pettitte, Yanks Play Flawless Baseball At Twins  Expense

GAME 36
YANKEES 7, TWINS 1

Pitching. Offense. Defense.
When all three of these things come together in one baseball game it pretty much assures the team that puts it all together will win.
For Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees it happened on Saturday afternoon and the Minnesota Twins were the victims again, 7-1.
Pettitte threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada each provided a two-run home run and the Yankees fielders contributed sensational glove work to rout the Twins, who are about ready to compare visits to Yankee Stadium to having root canal surgery.
Pettitte (5-0) may have just as well had a drill instead of a baseball in his hand on Saturday. He gave up just two singles all day. The only real threat he faced was a self-inflicted wild streak with two outs in the sixth inning when he walked Denard Span and Orlando Hudson and went to a 3-0 count to Joe Mauer.
Mauer drove a 3-1 pitch 399-feet into left-center where it nestled in the glove Brett Gardner to end the threat.
Twins starter Francisco Liriano (4-2) gave up nine hits and three runs in six innings to take the loss, despite the fact he struck out seven batters.
Pettitte, who was skipped in his last scheduled start due to a tender elbow, showed no indication anything was bothering him the entire afternoon. He is no
w tied for the American lweague lead in wins and his 1.89 ERA is the lowest ERA he has recorded in his career after seven starts.
The Yankees improved their season record to 24-12 and they remain just one game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. The Twins’ record fell to 22-14 and they are now 3-25 at Yankee Stadium since 2002.
Would you like laughing gas or novocaine, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire?
YANKEE POSITIVES

  • Pettitte was something special in the Bronx on Saturday. He retired 19 of the 22 batters he faced and made it look effortless in the process. 
  • Pettitte also credited the defense behind him with the victory. The very first batter of the game, Denard Span, hit a sinking liner to center that Gardner dove for and scooped up just before it hit the turf. With one out in the third inning, Nick Swisher made a diving catch of a fly ball off the bat of Drew Butera. In the fourth inning, with one out Robinson Cano stabbed a hot liner off the bat of Justin Morneau and calmly threw to first base to double off Orlando Hudson. 
  • The Yankees were shutout twice by the Tigers earlier in the week and much was made of the lack of offense with injuries to Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson. But Derek Jeter, Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez had two hits apiece and Posada had three hits.
  • The Yankees were staked to a 3-0 lead when they batted in the
    seventh inning. They did it with RBI singles by Rodriguez in the first, Jeter in the second and Marcus Thames in the sixth.
  • Teixeira blew the game open in the seventh by following a walk to Nick Swisher (batting right-handed against right-hander Jesse Crain because of his left biceps injury) with a two-run home run into the luxury deck in right field. 
  • Three batters later, Posada connected on the third pitch off reliever Ron Mahay with a two-run shot of his own that landed on the edge of the wall in Monument Park and was caught by a fan in the section above the center field restaurant.
  • Damaso Marte rebounded from coughing up the lead to the Twins on Friday to recording a key out to end a potential threat in the seventh. He came in with two on and two outs and the Twins’ power-hitting pinch-hitter Jim Thome at bat as the potential tying run. Marte struck out Thome looking on a wicked slider to end the inning.
THE NEGATIVES

  • Mauer and Morneau combined to go 5-for-8 with three RBIs on Friday. They followed that up with a combined 3-for-8 with one RBI on Saturday. They are doing their damage against Yankee pitching. Fortunately for the Yankees, the rest of the Twins’ hitters are a combined 8-for-49 (.163) in the two games.
  • David Robertson was a little shaky again. He entered the game after Pettitte left with one out in the seventh inning. After one out, Robertson walked Delmon Young and he gave up a single to Brendan Harris and he was removed from the game.
  • Boone Logan had some command issues and it cost Pettitte and the Yankees the shutout in the eighth inning. With two outs and Span at second, Mauer touched Logan for an RBI single. Morneau followed with a single but Logan struck out Michael Cuddyer to end the threat.
  • It does not happen often, but the Yankees two Energizer bunnies, Gardner and Francisco Cervelli, were a combined 0-for-7 at the bottom of the order. They were the only two starters that did not record a hit. Gardner, however, did reach base on a fielder’s choice in the sixth and he stole his 17th base of the season. He entered the day second Juan Pierre in the American League in steals.
DIAMOND NOTES

Swisher surprisingly was back in the lineup despite leaving Saturday’s game with a left biceps injury. Swisher insisted that the injury did not affect him batting right-handed so manager Joe Girardi started him against the left-handed Liriano. It is not clear if Swisher will start and bat right-handed against Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn on Sunday.  . . . Girardi indicated that the Yankees will skip Javier Vazquez’s next start for the second time in two weeks. Vazquez will next pitch on Friday against the New York Mets. Because Vazquez had his start against the Tigers pushed back to Wednesday, Girardi decided it would be better to keep the rest of his starters on their regular rest this week. Vazquez will also avoid having to pitch in Yankee Stadium, where he has been booed this season. Vazquez also is an accomplished hitter for a pitcher and the Yankees will not have the use of a DH at Citi Field.  . . .  The Yankees plan to activate right-handed reliever Chan Ho Park on Sunday. Park has been on the 15-day disabled list since April 14 with a strained right hamstring. Park is 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA in three relief appearances. Right-hander Ivan Nova likely will be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room for Park.  . . .  Nick Johnson had a cortisone shot in his right wrist and the Yankees will know in a week or so whether he requires surgery. If the cortisone shot works, Johnson could return in three weeks. If he requires surgery, Johnson could miss an additional four to six weeks.  . . . Curtis Granderson ran some straight sprints on Saturday — the first time the outfielder has been able to run since he was placed on the disabled list with a strained left groin. On Sunday, Granderson may take batting practice but he likely will not be activated until the end of the month.  . . .  With runners in scoring position, Cervelli is 10-for-13 with 14 RBIs. He leads the A.L. in that category.
THE NEXT GAME

The Yankees will look for a series sweep against a Twins team that is not in a New York state of mind right now after two losses by a combined 15-5 score. The Yanks will start Sergio Mitre (0-1, 3.86 ERA). Mitre allowed four runs (three earned) over 4 2/3 innings against the Tigers on Monday in his only start of the season. 
The Twins will counter with right-hander Nick Blackburn (3-1, 4.76 ERA), who threw seven shutout innings last Sunday against Baltimore for his best outing of the season. He gave up just four hits and two walks. 
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by TBS and locally by MY9.

Yankees Lose Granderson To DL, Bullpen Blows Game

GAME 23
WHITE SOX 7, YANKEES 6

The New York Yankees, despite their sterling April 15-7 record, have had some problems: Mark Teixeira and Nick Johnson not hitting, Javier Vazquez not pitching well and Alex Rodriguez not hitting many home runs.
But the biggest problem of all surfaced on May 1: The bullpen.
Handed a hard-fought 6-5 lead in the seventh inning, David Robertson and Damaso Marte handed it right back to the Chicago White Sox as the Yankees dropped a 7-6 decision on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Despite being the culprit who gave up four runs in the sixth inning to the Yankees, White Sox reliever Scott Linebrink (1-0) saw the baseball gods shine its good favor upon him to deliver him a win he did not deserve. Closer Bobby Jenks pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his fifth save of the season.
David Robertson (0-2) was tagged with the loss. It was his second loss within the past five days and lefty specialist Damaso Marte helped him by allowing A.J. Pierzynski to hit a two-run double with two outs in the seventh inning.
Girardi had called for Robertson to walk right-handed hitting Carlos Quentin intentionally with Paul Konerko at second and two outs so Marte could pitch to the left-handed hitting Pierzynski but the strategy backfired.
The Yankees fell to 15-8 but stayed within 1 1/2 games of first place in the A.L. East because the Tampa Rays lost also. The White Sox improved to 10-14 in the A.L. Central.
YANKEE POSITIVES

  • Nick Swisher hit a long two-run home run to right-center off Linebrink with two out in the sixth inning to cap a four-run rally that gave the Yankees their first lead of the day at 6-5. The Yankees had trailed by as much as 5-1. It was Swisher’s third home run of the season and it had to feel great coming off the team led by Swisher’s infamous former manager Ozzie Guillen.
  • Mark Teixeira had 11 hits in April and three of them came in one game. In his first game in May, Teixeira collected two hits and a walk and he drove in the Yankees first run of the game with a two-out single in the third inning.
  • Brett Gardner continues to shine with a 2-for-4 game, two runs scored, a stolen base (his league-leading 11th of the season) and he drove in a big run on a line-drive single in the sixth inning. He raised his batting average to .333.
  • Derek Jeter also drove in a run in the sixth inning on a groundout. The RBI was his 19th of the season and he now leads the team in RBIs from the leadoff spot.
  • Sergio Mitre came in to rescue beleaguered right-hander Javier Vazquez after he had stunk up the place in three-plus innings and Mitre pitched exceptionally well. Mitre threw three scoreless innings of relief to allow the Yankees to take the lead. However, Robertson and Marte rendered that effort useless.
THE NEGATIVES

  • Though Girardi did not want to address the issue after the game, Vazquez and his 9.78 ERA are a looming problem. Scheduled to start Friday at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox, Vazquez has given up 25 runs on 32 hits and 15 walks in 23 innings over five starts. With an off-day on Thursday the Yankees could skip his turn but Girardi would not comment about it after the game.
  • On top of the shoddy relief work by Robertson and Marte, the Yankees also may have suffered a more significant loss. Curtis Granderson pulled up lame rounding second base on Gardner’s single in the sixth inning and had to be replaced by Randy Winn. Granderson suffered a strained left groin and he was taken to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for an MRI. The result of the MRI showed a Grade 2 strain and he will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. Gardner will take over in center field while Granderson is out and Winn and Thames likely will share left field. The Yankees plan to recall right-hand reliever Mark Melancon from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he is 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA in 10 games.
  • Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 in the game and he made the last out in the fifth inning by flying out to right with the bases loaded. He also struck out with two on and two out in the third inning. 
  • Robertson’s season totals: 0-2, 12.71 ERA, 8 games, 5 2/3 innings, 11 hits, 2 walks and 8 earned runs allowed. 
  • Marte is also having a week of which he can’t be proud. He gave up the grand slam home run to Kendry Morales on Sunday and the two-run double to Pierzynski on Saturday. 
DIAMOND NOTES

Girardi not only allowed Gardner to hit against lefty reliever Matt Thornton on Friday night, he also opted to start Gardner against left-hander John Danks on Saturday. Gardner was 1-for-2 off Danks and he is now 6-for-17 against lefties this season (.353).  . . .  Robertson agrees that he has not been pitching well this season. “I’m falling behind every hitter. I’ve got to get ahead with fastballs and get strike one. When you’re ahead on the count it is a lot easier to pitch,” he told reporters after the game.  . . .  Jorge Posada, who had not started behind the plate since Wednesday was inserted back into the lineup on Saturday. Posada was hobbled by a bruised right knee after he was hit by a pitch from the Orioles’ Jeremy Guthrie. Posada caught all nine innings of the game but was 0-for-4 at the plate.  . . . MLB needs to revise its decision not to pick up radio feeds from local radio affiliates until the first pitch. WCBS does not provide the pre-game show to online listeners because MLB has the rights for it. But the radio feed did not begin until White Sox cleanup hitter Paul Konerko was up in the first inning after Andruw Jones hit his first of two home runs off Vazquez. MLB either needs to allow WCBS to broadcast the pre-game show or start their broadcast with the pre-game as they did last season. This is n
ot progress MLB. Not by a longshot!
THE NEXT GAME

Despite the bullpen woes and the Granderson injury, hope for May springs eternal as the Yankees will try to win the three-game series against the White Sox on Sunday. They will send to the mound Phil Hughes (2-0, 2.00 ERA). Hughes did not have his usual command but still held the Orioles to one run on two hits in 5 2/3 innings. Hughes has no record and 1.50 ERA in two career starts against the White Sox.
Hughes will be opposed by veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle (2-3. 4.68 ERA), who is coming off the 100th loss of his career, a 4-2 loss to the Texas Rangers. Buehrle is 1-6 with a 6.43 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time is 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.