Tagged: Ken Griffey Jr.

Cano’s Temper Leads To Sad Departure To Seattle

Some Yankee fans got together and attempted to ship some baby pacifiers to Robinson Cano. How appropriate!

Temper, temper, Robbie! Tsk! Tsk!

Cano, 31, as you all know by now, got pissed off when the Yankees offered outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury an eight-year, $169 million contract and took his bats and gloves and run off to the Great Northwest for a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.

Hope you did not let the clubhouse door hit you in the rump on the way out, Robinson.

To be clear, it is a shame that a marvelously talented player like Cano has decided to leave the Yankees. He was the best player on the team the past two seasons and his durability was welcome in a disastrous 2013 season that saw the Yankee roster look, at times, like an Independent League All-Star team.

Cano also had a point in looking at Ellsbury’s career statistics compared to his own and conclude that the Yankees were “low-balling” their monetary offer to him. They never really budged off the $175 million they were offering.

But after the excessive deals offered to Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Carl Crawford over recent seasons, teams are learning that mega-year contracts for boatloads of cash is not a wise idea. A-Rod has been playing on reputation alone for the past three seasons. Pujols is a walking physical wreck and Crawford is one of the worst fiscal mistakes the Boston Red Sox ever made.

If Cano and his agent Jay-Z had been realistic in the first place with their opening offer it would have been smoother sailing. But they sought $305 million, which would have been a record contract. No team was willing to shell out that much cash for Cano and he had to know it.

Once the Yankees zeroed in on seven years at $165 million the gauntlet was laid. But the chief rivals for Cano, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers stepped out of the process.

The Dodgers signed Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to play second and the Tigers traded slugging first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt he was in the catbird seat at that point because Cano, at the time, had no other offers. Overtures by Cano’s people made to the New York Mets were turned aside so Cano and his agents came back to the Yankees and lowered their demands to $240 million.

The Yankees, appreciative of the semblance of reality, still were not too keen on extending the contract past eight years and, with no other bidder in sight, they smartly held the line at about $175 million.

The whole situation blew up after ongoing talks by the Yankees with free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran had broken down. The Yankees shifted gears away from Beltran and they signed Ellsbury for a tidy sum. When Cano read about the monetary details he pitched a hissy fit.

Cano’s father, Jose, issued a statement to the effect that the “Yankees were obviously not interested in keeping Robinson.”

That could not be further from the truth. Cashman and the Yankees were hoping that any offer Cano might have received from other teams could be brought back to the Yankees to give them a chance to match or top it. Now $240 million looks to have been a problem but the Yankees could have extended a year and increased the offer to $200 million.

But Cano did not give the Yankees a chance and he had to shop himself to the Mariners to get what he what he was seeking.

Fortunately, Cano had a willing partner in Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has made his career on just two things: turning out lousy clubs year after year and miscalculating the value of young prospects he has in his system and ones he has acquired in trades.

Let’s look at the Mariners most recent history.

Since 2004, the Mariners have been a losing franchise. They have been below .500 in all but two seasons and have not finished better than second place in the American League West in any of those years.

After the departures of stars like Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod, Randy Johnson and manager Lou Piniella at the beginning of the new century this franchise has languished, boasting only outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and right-handed ace Felix Hernandez as true stars.

Zduriencik tried to seed the team with prospects by making trades, such as the 2010 deal he made to trade All-Star left-hander Cliff Lee.

The Yankees thought they had a deal for Lee in place, offering their No. 1 prospect Jesus Montero, right-hander Ivan Nova and second baseman David Adams. But Zduriencik balked at Adams because he was recovering from a severe ankle injury. He asked for shortstop Eduardo Nunez instead.

Cashman said no and Zduriencik turned around and shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers for their top prospect, first baseman Justin Smoak.

Smoak, 27, has been an absolute bust. In 2011, Smoak hit a scintillating .234 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. In 2012, he floundered like a real flounder at the Pike Street Market.

He hit just .217 with 19 homers and 51 RBIs. Last season he batted .238 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs. A budding Mark Teixeira he’s not.

He is currently listed on the teams 2014 depth chart as a backup to journeyman Logan Morrison, who is a career .249 hitter with a grand total of 42 major-league home runs.

Then there is Zduriencik’s 2012 deal acquiring Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi from the Yankees for right-handers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

The Yankees decided to ship out Montero because they had determined he would never become a major-league quality defensive catcher and he would either have to move to another position or become a designated hitter to succeed in the majors.

The Mariners found out the hard way that the Yankees were right. Montero batted .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 2012, but he started only 55 games as a catcher.

In 2013, Montero not only lost his job as a catcher but he was sent back to the minors after hitting .208 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 29 games. He also suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that shelved him for most of the season.

Montero, 24, is listed behind Mike Zunino on the team’s depth chart.

This is the team Cano has decided to grace with his presence.

Good luck!

It could be 10 years before Seattle ever gets close to competing with the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angels Angels and the Rangers in the division, much less compete for a playoff spot. Cano does not solve the team’s weak hitting in the outfield and infield, with the exception of third baseman Kyle Seagar.

The pitching with King Felix is competitive enough but the rotation lacks depth and the bullpen is a disaster.

Another point is that over the 10 years of Cano’s contract, a lot of young prospects will be brought up to follow his example. Let’s hope they cover their eyes when Cano raps a easy grounder to an infielder, who boots the ball but still nails him because Cano was loafing out of the batter’s box.

Let’s also hope they are not watching when he drops the bat at the plate thinking he has a home run and gets tossed out at second base because he did not run hard. That is a Cano trademark that manager Joe Girardi played off casually to the media but it chafed his chestnuts to the core.

Speaking of home runs. Robinson, you won’t be hitting as many of those in spacious Safeco Field. Your home run totals should drop back to the 20 to 25 mark or so because you line most of your shots.

You can also kiss goodbye having your number retired in Monument Park. That would have made you the first Dominican so honored. You also will not pass some the greats of the game on the franchise’s offensive categories list. You also will miss out on the division tiles, playoff games and championship rings. Lucky you got that 2009 ring squirreled away. That will be the only one you get.

It is shame you let your temper get the better of your good judgment.

Now you will be booed when you come to Yankee Stadium on April 29 with the rest of the no-name band you are hanging with these days. That is a shame, also.

You were a magnificent player and you really were a benefit to the Yankees with your skills as a hitter and a fielder. Those skills will be wasted in losing efforts much like the 2013 season you suffered through.

But you still can count your precious money after the game. Enjoy it because it obviously means more to you than winning.

Adios, amigo!

 

Yankees Go Solo Route To Ruin Fenway Toast

GAME 14

YANKEES 6, RED SOX 2

A hundred years ago Fenway Park opened its turnstiles for the first time and the seeds of a Red Sox rivalry with the New York Yankees were planted on that day and sown over the generations.

The modern day version played out upon the hallowed cathedral of Boston’s baseball heritage on Friday and the New York franchise that was the Highlanders in 1912 evolved quickly into the Bronx Bombers in the afternoon sun and pounded out five solo home runs to ruin the celebration for the Red Sox faithful.

Ivan Nova (3-0) gave up two runs on seven hits and struck out five over six innings to notch his 15th consecutive decision dating back to his rookie season. He is just one victory shy of the franchise record established by Roger Clemens.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were taking aim for the upper reaches of the Green Monster and Landsdowne Street against Clay Buchholz (1-1).

Eric Chavez, inserted in the lineup to play third base so Alex Rodriguez could DH, led the way with a pair solo home runs in the second and fourth innings. Nick Swisher began the home run barrage two batters before Chavez in the second with his own Monster Mash. Rodriguez led off the fifth with a blast onto Landsdowne Street and it was the 631st home run of his career, moving him past Ken Griffey Jr. into fifth place on the all-time home run list.

Russell Martin completed the barrage in the sixth with a high lined shot into the scaffolding above the Monster for his first home run of the season. Martin stepped to the plate hitless in his last 15 at-bats.

The Red Sox scored their first run on a disputed double by David Ortiz that was ruled a home run by the umpiring crew after a replay review in the second inning. They scored again the fifth after Cody Ross led off the inning with a double to center and one out later Nick Swisher lost Mike Aviles’ routine pop fly in the sun, which allowed Ross to score.

But the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen held the Red Sox scoreless over the final three innings. Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera came on to record the final three outs in the ninth to seal the victory for the Yankees.

So while the Red Sox legends like Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez and Dwight Evans came onto the field prior to the game to pay tribute to a city’s love for its ballpark and its team, it was the modern legends the likes of Derek Jeter, Rodriguez, Ortiz and Rivera who shone brightest on this day.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 8-6 and they are now a half-game behind Baltimore in the American League East. The Red Sox fell to 4-9 and they are four games out in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With the starters struggling to keep the other team off the scoreboard early and not being able to pitch past the fifth inning, Nova’s effort on Friday was very much welcome. Nova had only one 1-2-3 inning (the fourth) and yet he was able to keep the Red Sox offense at bay for most of the afternoon. The fact that the 25-year-old right-hander is within two victories of passing Clemens proves that he is doing something right. He lowered his season ERA to 3.79.
  • Manager Joe Girardi gets kudos for starting Chavez at third base and Chavez made the skipper look clairvoyant with his first two home runs of the season. Chavez has only two home runs all last season for the Yankees. In limited play this season, Chavez is hitting .400 and he is proving that the Yankees’ bench is pretty deep with talent.
  • Rodriguez’s home run was by far the most dramatic of all the home runs and it made a statement as it flew well over the Monster in left. It was his second home run of the season and it gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Buchholz gave up nine hits in six-plus innings five were solo home runs and two others were doubles. He was not exactly fooling the Yankees.
  • Jeter singled off the glove of Kevin Youkilis in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Jeter was 1-for-5 and scored a run and he is hitting .359 on the season. With the hit he moved into 18th place and past Dave Winfield on the all-time hit list with 3,111.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Cody Eppley, who was brought up from Triple-A when Brett Gardner was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday, did not fare well in his debut with the Yankees. The 6-foot-5 sidewinding right-hander entered the game in the ninth with a four-run lead and he gave up a leadoff single to right by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Girardi went immediately to the mound and brought in Rivera to close out the game.
  • Mark Teixeira was the only Yankee starter who did not get a hit in the game. He was 0-for-4 including three weak infield grounders. Teixeira’s season average dropped to .264, which is pretty good considering Teixeira is a career .190 hitter in April.
  • Swisher had to be a bit embarrassed by losing Aviles’ fly ball in the fifth, which allowed a run to score. Swisher tried using his left hand to shade his eyes from the sun but he ended up covering up and baling out as the ball dropped in front of him and rolled into deep right. It was a tough sun field on Friday but Swisher still should have had it.

BOMBER BANTER

Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte tossed five innings on Friday in an extended spring training game against Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguers at the Yankees’ minor-league complex in Tampa, FL. Pettitte gave up two runs on four hits but, more importantly, he threw 58 of his 66 pitches for strikes and struck out five batters. In his next game action, Pettitte likely will move up in class and start a game for Double-A Trenton. The 39-year-old veteran is targeting a return to the Yankees in early May.  . . .  Both teams on Friday wore throwback uniforms that were worn by Red Sox and Highlanders in 1912. The jerseys did not have names or numbers on the back, which made it hard for fans, broadcasters and writers to figure out who was coming to the plate to pinch-hit or who was coming to in to pitch. I would guess it was pointless to buy a game program in 1912, if they were even available then.

COMMENTARY

One of the loudest and warmest greetings from most of the 36,770 fans in attendance during the pregame ceremonies was bestowed upon former manager Terry Francona, who initially declined the invitation to come but later relented. Francona received a raucous standing ovation and it rivaled the ovation for Yastrzemski. In the seventh inning of the game, current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine went to the mound to remove Buchholz and he drew a chorus of boos. Valentine is still reeling from comments he made to reporters on the record about a seeming lack of commitment from Youkilis. The firestorm ended with the players backing Youkilis and Valentine was forced to apologize for the comments publicly. But it is obvious that Francona’s departure after last season’s September swoon, Valentine’s uncalled for candor and the poor start of the team has combined to provide a very poisonous atmosphere at Fenway Park on her 100th birthday. The situation will be increasingly worse for Valentine if the Red Sox fail to win a game this weekend against the Yankees. For his part on Friday, Valentine appeared reticent and chastened when he spoke to the media. It would appear he has learned a valuable lesson about being too candid and failing to address concerns with his players privately. But the question still becomes how will Valentine survive it all if this team continues to languish at the bottom of the division and fails to make the playoffs? The fans in Boston are not a patient bunch and Valentine really stepped into it badly by knocking an immensely popular player.

ON DECK

The rivalry series continues on Saturday.

The Yankees will send right-hander Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97) to the mound. Garcia was tagged for five runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings in a loss against the Twins on Monday. With Pettitte on the way back to the major leagues, the pressure on Garcia to pitch well increases. He is 9-4 with a 4.45 ERA over the last 10 seasons against the Bosox.

Boston will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40 ERA). Dubront has not made it out of the fifth inning this season although he has 13 strikeouts in 10 innings of work. He is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

Kuroda ‘Hiroki-Dokey’ As Yankees Blank Halos

GAME 7

YANKEES 5, ANGELS 0

Of all the Japanese starting pitchers who have come to America to play Major League Baseball, Hiroki Kuroda owns the lowest career ERA of any pitcher with at least 12 starts at 3.45. On Friday afternoon, in the Yankees’ home opener in the Bronx, the Angels found out why.

Kuroda (1-1) scattered five hits – all of them singles – walked two and struck out six batters in 8-plus innings and Nick Swisher provided him all the support he really needed with a two-out, bases-clearing double in the first inning as New York shut out Los Angeles before a sellout crowd of 49,386 at Yankee Stadium.

Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez added solo home runs off Angels starter Ervin Santana (0-2) as the Yankees collected their 14th victory in their last 15 home openers (three of the last four in the new ballpark).

Rodriguez’s home run in the fourth inning was his first of the season and the 630th of his career, which ties him with his former Mariners teammate Ken Grifffey Jr. for fifth on the all-time list.

On a day when the Yankees and their fans honored retired catcher Jorge Posada as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch, Kuroda dazzled Albert Pujols and the Angels in his home debut with the Yankees.

After giving up a leadoff infield single to Bobby Abreu in the ninth, Kuroda left the mound to a loud and thunderous ovation from the crowd. David Robertson got the last three outs to complete the shutout.

After beginning the season 0-3, the Yankees have now won four in a row. The Angels are 2-5 on the young season.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • For as bad as Kuroda pitched against the Rays last week, his performance on Friday was a welcome sight. Of the 109 pitches Kuroda threw, 71 were strikes (65%) and he threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 29 batters he faced. He ended up in only 3 three-ball counts and he walked two of them. The 37-year-old right-hander just might be what the Yankees need as a No. 2 starter.
  • Swisher came into the game having ended the Yankees’ 10-inning 6-4 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday with a two-run home run. He delivered the big blow in the first inning on Friday after Rodriguez stroked a two-out single and Santana walked Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira to load the bases. Swisher slapped a hanging breaking pitch to the wall in right-center that cleared the bases. Swisher now leads the Yankees in RBIs with nine.
  • Rodoriguez seemed to shake out of his early-season funk with three hits, including the home run, and he even stole his second base of the season. A-Rod entered the contest hitting .174 and raised his average to .259. The Yankees had been the only team in the majors in which their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters did not have an RBI. Rodriguez’s homer in the fourth ended that drought.
  • Cano made a sensational diving stop of a hard-hit grounder off the bat of Abreu in the sixth inning and threw him out easily at first base. Cano was also on the pivot of three double plays that helped Kuroda keep the Angels off the scoreboard all afternoon.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I could quibble and say the Yankees were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position but when you score five runs, play good defense and your starter goes eight shutout innings there is not much negative to say. It was a wonderful home opener.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi opted to flip-flop Rodriguez and Cano in the batting order on Friday. Rodriguez, a right-handed batter, hit third and Cano, a left-hander, batted fourth. Girardi said this would the order in which they would bat against right-handed starters. The change was made to make it difficult for left-handed relievers to navigate the lineup in the late innings. Manager Joe Maddon of the Rays used his left-handed relievers to pitch to Curtis Granderson in the second spot and Cano in the third spot and then brought in a right-hander to face Rodriguez. By switching Rodriguez to third managers can’t do that without having the left-hander pitch to Rodriguez.  . . .  When Robertson got the final three outs of the game he extended the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings. The bullpen entered play on Friday with a 2.11 ERA, the second best in baseball.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home-opening series with the Angels on Saturday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (0-1, 3.86 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Yankees. Hughes had his old velocity back in his initial start against the Rays but he ended up having to leave the game after 4 2/3 innings having thrown 99 pitches. Hughes is 3-1 with a 6.20 ERA against the Angels in his career.

He will be opposed by left-hander C.J. Wilson (1-0, 1.29 ERA), who gave up one run on three hits and four walks in seven innings against the Twins on Sunday. He is 0-3 with a 3.80 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be nationally telecast by FOX Sports.

 

Yankees Make Smart Move In Re-Signing Jones

The New York Yankees, much like their fans, would like to forget 2011 and look forward to the promise 2012 brings. With that promise the Yankees have made a couple of moves to improve the team and let’s assess those moves and how they will impact the team.

JONESING FOR A RIGHTY

The Yankees on Friday signed Andruw Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes $1.4 million in performance incentives, CBSSports.com reported. The 34-year-old outfielder will have to undergo a physical in order for the deal to be made official.

This is very good news for the Yankees because Jones filled a very important role as the team’s only right-handed hitting outfielder. Starters Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner hit left-handed and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter. Jones batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBis in 77 games last season. More importantly, he batted .286 off left-handers.

Jones began the season as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter but later replaced Jorge Posada as the designated hitter against lefties. Manager Joe Girardi also used Jones to sit Gardner against some left-handers. Jones could be used in that role again in 2012 because Gardner hit only .233 against left-handers in 2011.

If the reports are true, the Yankees also prevented the Boston Red Sox from signing Jones away from the Yankees. Jones is eighth on the active home run list with 420 and he also is among just four major leaguers who have 400 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves along with Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt.

OKIE DOKE

The Yankees also added to their bullpen mix for spring training another left-handed reliever.

On Wednesday, the Yankees agreed on the terms of minor-league contract with former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima.

Okajima, 36, was an integral part of the Red Sox bullpen for his first three seasons in the majors. But he fell out favor with then-manager Terry Francona the past two seasons and spent most of the 2011 season at the team’s Triple-A franchise Pawtucket.

Okajima pitched in only seven games for the Red Sox in 2011 and was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings of work. At Pawtucket, Okajima fashioned a 2.29 ERA in 34 innings over 51 appearances for the PawSox.

In his five seasons with the Red Sox, Okajima was 17-8 with six saves and 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances. During that span he held left-handers to a .218 batting average.

Okajima will have a chance in spring training to claim the team’s bullpen spot as the lefty specialist. He will compete with another former Red Sox left-hander in 22-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees acquired from the Royals for cash considerations after the Royals selected Cabral in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings.

For the past two seasons, the Yankees have relied on Boone Logan as their lone left-hander out of the bullpen and Logan, 27, has been miscast in the role of lefty specialist. Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA over 64 games and 41 2/3 innings. Left-handers hit .260 against him last season while right-handers hit .262.

If Okajima or Cabral win a job in the bullpen, Logan will revert to a middle-inning reliever and he has been much more effective in that role.

Okajima’s best pitch is his change-up, which Francona termed the “Okie Doke.” But he is going to have to earn his role with the Yankees because in the 8 1/3 innings he pitched last season, left-handers hit .364 off him and he recorded an ERA of 11.57 against them. So his “Okie Doke” better be more than just OK this spring.

TICK, TICK, TICK

The Yankees have until Jan. 6 to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nikajima, who they won the rights to sign by posting a $2.5 million bid in early December.

Nikajima, 29,is primarily a shortstop but he also can play some second and third base. He hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with the Seibu Lions last season.

If the Yankees fail to sign Nikajima to a contract by Jan. 6, he will remain with Seibu for the 2012 season and the $2.5 million posting fee will be returned to the Yankees. That also would open the door for the Yankees to re-sign free agent infielder Eric Chavez.

Chavez, 34, played first and third base for the Yankees in 2011 and he hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games. The Yankees will not negotiate with Chavez’s agent unless they fail to sign Nikajima.

The Yankees also have Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird on the 40-man roster to compete for a backup infield role this spring. Nunez, 24, is favored to win one of the two spots unless he is used in a trade for a starting pitcher before the season begins.

ACHTUNG!

Alex Rodriguez, taking advice from Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, traveled to Germany this month to have an experimental medical procedure performed to help his ailing left shoulder and right knee.

With the Yankees’ approval, Dr. Peter Wehling performed what is termed an Orthokine procedure in Dusseldorf in early December. Bryant claimed the Orthokine procedure on his right knee and left ankle helped him recover movement and relieve pain enough so that he could return to the court with the Lakers.

Rodriguez, 36, took the experimental procedure to the Yankees and team doctor Chris Ahmad and the Yankees checked with the Lakers and with Major League Baseball on Wehling and the legality of the procedure. They then gave Rodriguez the permission to have it done.

The procedure calls for the taking of blood from an arm vein, incubating it and spinning it in centrifuge to isolate protective proteins. The proteins are then injected into the affected areas once or twice a week.

The procedure is said to have anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing and cartilage-protecting effects but not much is known about its long-term implications.

Rodriguez played in a career-low 99 games last season and in some of those games he was playing at less than 100 percent. He hit .276 with only 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.

Rodriguez missed more than a month after undergoing surgery on his right knee in July. In his first game back from the disabled list on Aug. 21, Rodriguez suffered a sprained left thumb, which affected the third baseman’s swing the rest of the season.

He hit only .191 after returning from the injury and he hit just .111 in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.

If this procedure helps Rodriguez, the Yankees might consider seeking out an experimental procedure for command-challenged right-hander A.J. Burnett.

Perhaps a doctor can come up with a procedure to inject power-steering fluid in Burnett’s right elbow to ensure he might actually come closer to hitting the strike zone with his pitches.

TRADEWINDS

General manager Brian Cashman enters January with the “open for business” sign out on improving the starting rotation. This despite the fact that the Yankees have acted like they are the cash-strapped Kansas City Royals over the winter free-agent signing season.

The Yankees, hamstrung to a great degree by the lavish long-term contracts already laid out to CC Sabathia, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Burnett, have been spending pennies while other teams have been waving $100 bills.

Cashman would like to add a starter to the rotation and perhaps unload Burnett. But the costs of free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Japan’s Yu Darvish have been higher than their actual worth, according to Cashman. Meanwhile, trade avenues have been blocked by other teams’ insistence the Yankees cough up the jewels of the Yankees’ farm system in Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams.

Cashman continues to say no to those deals because he does not want to short-circuit the Yankees’ future for a short-term fix.

So the Yankees have struck out on deals for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzlaez, Matt Garza, Jair Jurrgens and Jonathan Niese.

For now, the Yankees seem to be counting on a return to form of Phil Hughes, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 campaign after winning 18 games in 2010. They also do not believe that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova’s 16-win season was a fluke.

The re-signing of 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia, who was a respectable 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA, means the only really Yankee concern is Burnett, who was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season.

The truth is Cashman, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are at their wits’ end trying to figure out what is wrong with Burnett. They seem to agree a change of scenery is in order. But with two years and $33 million still owed to the enigma wrapped inside a conundrum would seem to make dumping him a big problem.

The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract but still have no takers. They might have to offer at least $15 million if they are serious about being rid of him. Of course, the Yankees would seem to be better off adding a starter before making a deal for Burnett because dumping Burnett would likely increase the cost of starter to replace him.

Adding a starting pitcher would be the only major task left for Cashman but he states he is no hurry because the Yankees do have six potential young starters waiting in the wings: Banuelos, Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell. Any of those six could contribute either as starters or relievers to the Yankees in 2012.

But Cashman is aware that adding an established starter to what the Yankees have would be preferable. So he is pursuing that avenue first. If the pursuit stretches to the trade deadline in July the Yankees might find the asking price of some of starters they like may drop. Cashman is exercising and preaching at the same time for patience.

So like good little Yankee fans we are. We will have to trust him and take him at his word.

STAY TUNED

 

A-Rod’s Power Outage Doesn’t Define Year Yet

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

THIRD BASE  — ALEX RODRIGUEZ (.304 BA, 13 HRs, 52 RBIs)

The minute Alex Rodriguez arrived at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, you could see a big difference in him. He was leaner and looked to be in the best shape of his career. The issues with his surgically repaired hip seemed well behind him.

After watching him hit line drive after line drive in spring training games, Rodriguez seemed primed for a monster season like his 2007 MVP season in which he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted .314. Teammates marveled at how “locked in” A-Rod’s swing was.

However, an early-season oblique and back strain short-circuited Rodriguez’s fast start soon after he homered and drove in six on April 23 in a game in Baltimore. The average dipped and the power declined. Then the average started to pick up and the power came sporadically.

In June, Rodriguez’s season really began to take shape. He hit .326 for the month and drove in 21 runs. No complaints there. But he hit only four home runs. So Yankee watchers are asking, why at the halfway mark is Rodriguez the fourth on the team in home runs? Why is he fourth on the team in RBIs? Yet he leads the team in batting average at .304. What gives here?

It is an odd set of numbers for any cleanup hitter — much less a cleanup hitter who has routinely been among the leaders in baseball in home runs and RBIs during his previous 16 seasons in the majors.

Oh, there are whispers that the hip is still bothering him. There are those who cite the fact he is not taking steroids anymore. Others might even blame his breakup with Cameron Diaz, if that makes sense.

But, whatever the reason for the dip in power and productivity, a season in which a player hits .304, hits 26 home runs and drives in 104 runs is considered a pretty good season for most players — that is for most players not named Alex Rodriguez.

So the big question about A-Rod heading into the second half of the 2011 season is when is that famous flurry of home runs and RBIs going to come? Yankee fans have come to expect it because Rodriguez has not failed to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs in any season in the last 14 years. It is the longest such streak in baseball. Based on Rodriguez’s 13 home runs in the first 81 games it is in serious jeopardy without a flurry of home runs sometime in the second half.

So Yankee fans will have to be patient until it comes.

By any measure, Rodriguez is doing everything he can to help this team win. He is playing perhaps the best third base of his career with the Yankees this season. He has committed only four errors and his lateral movement seems to have improved with his drop in weight. He has made all the routine plays and he even is making some diving stops to his left. He also is using him arm to make plays from deep down the line.

He also seems to have blended into the Yankees as a respected teammate. A-Rod even took it upon himself to counsel left-hand reliever Boone Logan about coming into games with a game plan on how to pitch hitters. It is hard to believe an A-Rod of a few years ago doing that.

And, just when you think all is quiet in the A-Rod “off-the-field” stuff, up surfaces a report about high-stakes poker games with actors. What a season be without a juicy A-Rod story from outside the lines of the field!

But, even with all that, Rodriguez remains one of the game’s best, brightest and most talented stars. At age 35 (he will turn 36 on July 27), Rodriguez is 136 home runs short of the 762 that Barry Bonds hit. With that motivation hanging out there, it would seem Rodriguez would be anxious to put himself closer as he sets his sights on Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755) who lie between him and Bonds.

It seems Rodriguez is more focused on the team and the lure of a another championship. That is a good thing, too.

Rodriguez deserves a C for his poor power stats. But he is on a pace to drive in 100 runs and he is hitting above .300 for the Yankees for the first time since he hit .302 in 2008. So a fair grade would be a solid B. I can’t see punishing a player for what he does not do when it what he has done is not all that awful. But I can’t help feel a little cheated after I saw how dominant he was this spring.

So we all will hope for a little more power but accept whatever we get from Rodriguez the rest of the way.

OTHERS

The Yankees began the season with the perfect fill-in for Rodriguez now that age forces the Yankees to rest him more often. Eric Chavez was signed as a free agent and made the team on the basis of a healthy and productive spring training after years of dealing with back and neck injuries with Oakland.

Chavez was hitting a robust .303 and playing Gold Glove quality third base in place of Rodriguez until he fractured his left foot running the bases in Detroit on May 5. He has not made it back since then. During his rehab of his foot, Chavez suffered a back injury and now has an abdominal strain. So, Chavez’s battle with nagging injuries since 2005 continues. The Yankees hope he will return sometime in late July or early August.

In the meantime, the Yankees will use Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena to back up A-Rod. Nunez will play when manager Joe Girardi needs his bat and his speed on the bases. Pena will play here when Girardi is looking for someone to field the position. On the basis of Nunez’s .344 average subbing for Derek Jeter, we will likely see him more than Pena.

In a late-inning pinch, the Yankees can also use Francisco Cervelli or Russell Marrtin here. Neither would get a start here. It would just be a move to shift them here late in games the Yankees are either far ahead or far behind.

At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, the Yankees have a good third base prospect in Brandon Laird. Laird, 23, is hitting .268 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs in 82 games. Laird is in his first season at Triple-A and could benefit by more seasoning. But, from a practical standpoint, his path to the majors is blocked by Rodriguez and he is more suited to be included in a trade package down the road.

FIRST HALF GRADES

Rodriguez B

Chavez I (Incomplete)

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B

Rodriguez was selected by the fans to attend his 14th All-Star Game. For a player who is supposedly hated so much by fans around the league, it is strange how he gets keeps getting elected to the team That says something about the skill of the man. So you would have to say that Rodriguez, minus the power, is still a very productive third baseman. He is among the best in baseball still. But it is not out of the bounds for Yankee fans to wish for more from A-Rod in the second half.

If Rodriguez can get as hot this summer as he did this spring, the league better watch out.

NEXT: SHORTSTOP

A-Rod Powers Yankees’ Seventh Straight Victory

YANKEES 4, MARINERS 2


It seems like a simple formula: Get good pitching, hit several home runs and have the best closer in major-league history wrap it up.
Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees have been following that script lately and the Seattle Mariners fell prey to it Wednesday night in a 4-2 defeat at the new Yankee Stadium. The victory was the seventh straight for the Yankees and placed them 13 games over .500 for the the first time this season.
Crafty veteran lefthanders Andy Pettitte and Jarrod Washburn were locked in an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel for seven innings. Both were working as if they were double-parked on Rivers Avenue.
The game was actually tied at 1 and at 2 until the bottom of the sixth inning. Mark Teixeira opened the frame with a single to left past the dive of third baseman Chris Woodward. Washburn, faced with the prospect of possibly having to face Jorge Posada with two on and nobody out if he pitched around A-Rod, decided instead to pitch to the slugger.
But Washburn’s 0-1 pitch caught too much of the plate and Rodriguez launched it to dead centerfield and it landed in Monument Park to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead, finally one margin they would not squander.
Rodriguez, since he was forced to not start two games against the Florida Marlins, has been on a batting tear since then. From June 21 through Wednesday night, A-Rod is 11 for 31 (.355) with 4 home runs and 15 RBIs. He also is gaining his old respect back from opposing pitchers. He has been walked 10 times during that span and twice intentionally.

“There’s no question I feel more energetic,” Rodriguez told MLB.com.

Pettitte (8-3) is also feeling better, coming off what was his worst start of the season on June 25 in Atlanta. Pettitte, staked to an 8-1 lead on the Braves, was unable to hold it and left after 3 2/3 innings barely clinging to an 8-6 margin.

But he was much better Wednesday night, showing of a command of all of his pitches. In seven innings of work Pettitte gave up six hits, a walk and two runs while fanning five. He was plagued by the Mariners answering Yankees runs with tallies of their own.

Johnny Damon started off the scoring with one out in the third inning when he rocked Washburn on a line-drive blast to rightfield for his 15th home run of the season. The most home runs Damon has ever hit in a season was 24 in 2008, his first season with the Yankees.

The M’s scrapped back the next inning when Jose Lopez stroked a double to the gap in left-center. After Ken Griffey Jr. flied out to deep center to advance Lopez to third, Pettitte walked Franklin Guiterrez on four pitches to set up a potential double play.

But Teixeira bobbled Wladimir Balentien’s grounder and had to settle for a force of Guiierrez at second. The bobble allowed Lopez to score the tying run.

The Yankees regained the lead in the fifth inning. With one out Melky Cabrera blasted a 3-2 Washburn fastball high down the line in leftfield. Because the shot went over the foul pole it was hard to determine if it was a home run. 

Third base umpire Ron Kulpa immediately signaled home run. But before Mariners manager Don Wakumatsu could even begin to gather his voice to argue the call, home plate umpire Dale Scott said the crew would review the call by instant replay.

“I really didn’t think there was any way they would overturn it,” Washburn said to MLB. com. “From my angle, I couldn’t really see it that good. It was over the pole, so the replay probably wouldn’t show fair or foul that clear. I didn’t have my hopes up that it would be overturned.”

The umpiring crew emerged after 2 minutes and 25 seconds to confirm it was a home run.
It took a similar amount of time, it seemed, for the M’s to tie the game back up. Pettitte grooved a first-pitch fastball to Griffey Jr. with two outs in the sixth inning and the future Hall-of-Famer blasted it out to right field. 

“That would have hurt if we hadn’t been able to score,” Pettitte said. “It was the sixth inning, and I was too aggressive.”

A-Rod’s heroics in the bottom of inning had indeed saved Pettitte and the Yankees. However, A-Rod had also hit a two-run home run a night before that had given the Yankees a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning only to have reliever Brian Bruney cough it up in eighth inning.

On this night there would be no more Mariners comebacks. Pettitte pitched a perfect 12-pitch seventh inning and manager Joe Girardi overlooked Bruney and went to situational relievers Alfredo Aceves and Phil Coke in the eighth.

Aceves retired right-hander Ronny Cedeno and Coke came in to get out lefties Ichiro Suzuki and Russell Branyan to complete a perfect eighth inning. Girardi successfully navigated the eighth with mix-and-match pieces of a bridge to Mariano Rivera.

Rivera came on in the ninth inning and recorded a save in his third consecutive game, his 20th of the season and No. 502 of his career. He pitched a perfect ninth on 15 pitches to give Pettitte the victory.

“It’s nice to pitch good here,” Pettitte said to MLB.com. “I know I hadn’t been pitching well here. I want to pitch good here. I want to make the team happy and the fans happy, and myself happy a little bit.”

The Yankees should be very happy after seven straight victories. They remain 2 1/2 half games in back of the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox, who rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the ninth inning to beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-5 in 10 innings.

The Tampa Bay Rays are in third place 5 games out.

The Yankees will now go for a sweep of the three-game series with the Mariners. They will send their ace left CC Sabathia (7-4, 3.55 ERA) to the hill. Sabathia is coming off a dominating seven-inning, three-hit, one-run performance to beat the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Sabathia will be opposed by fellow lefty Jason Vargas (3-3, 3.79 ERA) will make his first career start against the Yankees. He has been susceptible to the longball lately. Of the nine home runs he has surrendered, four have come to lefties. That does not bode well for a start in Yankee Stadium.

Gametime is at 7:05 p.m. EDT.

NOTES . . . The Yankees officially placed newly acquired reserve infielder Eric Hinske on the roster. He selected uniform number 14. To make room on the roster for Hinske, the Yankees sent infielder Ramiro Pena back to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre with orders for him to learn to play the outfield. They envision Pena as a supersub who can play seven positions for them in the future. Pena, 23, hit .267 in his stint with the Yankees and made just three errors in 46 games in playing at second, third and short . . . The Yankees told MLB.com that Xavier Nady will undergo Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his right elbow next Wednesday. He will miss the rest of the season. Nady injured the elbow April 14 and had elected to put off surgery in order to rehab the elbow so he could play this season. But Nady recently walked off the field in the fifth inning of a game with Scranton with pain in the elbow. It is expected that he will need 10-12 months to recover. His contract with the Yankees expires after this season . . .  When A-Rod connected with his 566th home run of his career Wednesday night after Griffey had hit his 621st, the Elias Sport Bureau announced that it was the first time in 38 seasons that two players with more 550 home runs had hit home runs in the same game. The tandem to do it in 1971 was Hank Aaron (No. 603) and Wil
lie Mays (No. 633).