Tagged: Mark Buerhle

Yankees Will Prevail In 2013’s ‘Game Of Thrones’

The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.

REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES

If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.

The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.

The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.

A DOMINANT KING

Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.

But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.

THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL

The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.

They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.

The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.

But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.

One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.

Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.

Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.

That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.

The offense has its own issues.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.

There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.

So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.

THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE

The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.

Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.

They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.

Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.

Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.

Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”

The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.

The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.

Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.

DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY

The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.

They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.

One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.

They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.

The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.

Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.

Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.

The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.

They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.

They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.

The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.

The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.

The gold remains in the Bronx.

THE STARKS OF BOSTON

In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.

That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.

Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.

They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.

They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.

The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.

Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!

It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.

There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.

Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.

THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING

The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.

It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,

Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.

So why should 2013 be any different?

The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.

Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.

They may even finish last.

STARK REALITY

But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.

But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.

The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.

You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.

They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.

The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.

The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.

Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.

The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.

It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.

Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.

That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.

They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. YANKEES
  2. BLUE JAYS
  3. RAYS
  4. ORIOLES
  5. RED SOX

For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven. 

 

Yankee Rotation Started Team’s First-Half Surge

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  

STARTING PITCHERS

CC SABATHIA (9-3, 3.45 ERA)

HIROKI KURODA (8-7, 3.17 ERA)

PHIL HUGHES (9-6, 4.29 ERA)

IVAN NOVA (9-3, 4.05 ERA)

ANDY PETTITTE (3-3, 3.22 ERA)

When the New York Yankees were assembling their starting pitchers for the 2012 season they decided to stay away from high-priced free agents like C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish and when they inquired about potential trades they stayed away from teams that were asking too much in return for pitchers like Mark Buerhle, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza.

Their first order of business was make sure CC Sabathia was not going to opt out of his contract. He didn’t and the Yankees rewarded their ace with a very lucrative extension to the contract he signed in the winter of 2009.

With that accomplished they decided to offer a 2012 contract to Freddy Garcia, who impressed the Yankees by recording a 12-8 record and a 3.62 ERA in his first season in pinstripes.

They then bolstered their rotation even further by trading mega-prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in return from rookie sensation Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.

They then signed former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to one-year, $10 million contract.

The Yankees knew that they needed some additional starters to buy time for five young minor-league starters to develop. Trading for Pineda and signing Kuroda would allow the Yankees to continue the development of 21-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, 24-year-old right-hander Dellin Betances, 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren, 25-year-old right-hander D.J. Mitchell and 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps.

The Yankees hoped that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova would continue to develop after a season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and they were hopeful 26-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes had put his issues with weakness in his right shoulder behind him and was healthy for the 2012 season.

But, spring training proved to be a little more topsy-turvy than manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.

Pineda, 23, showed up in camp about 20 pounds overweight and as the spring unfolded he was not reaching the mid-90s velocity he exhibited in the first half of the 2011 season. Though publicly the Yankees were saying they were not concerned, privately they were wondering if they had made a terrible mistake in trading away a great prospect in Montero for sore-armed Pineda.

Late in spring training, Pineda came off the mound in a game in which he was shelled by the Phillies complaining of a sore right shoulder. An MRI indicated a partially torn labrum and Pineda would have surgery and miss the entire 2012 season. Oops!

That left the Yankees with five healthy pitchers for five slots. However, Andy Pettitte, who retired after the 2010 season, decided this spring that he wanted to make a comeback and the Yankees were more than willing to accommodate him. He stayed behind at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL, to get in shape for a return sometime in early May.

Now the Yankees had six pitchers and five spots available. But Girardi was confident things would work out on their own. Little did he know that his rotation would end up in tatters in April.

In his four April starts, Garcia was 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA. Garcia’s fastball, which he used to be able to reach the low 90s with was topping out at about 86 miles per hour. That made him fodder for major-league hitters who were willing to wait for something in the strike zone to whack. And Garcia ended up taking some major whackings.

Hughes was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his four April starts and the Yankees possibly were thinking of either shifting him to the bullpen, sending him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or trading him altogether. It was as if the Yankees had finally reached a point with Hughes that they were willing to give up on him.

Nova was hit really hard in the spring and when the season started there was major concerns about his effectiveness. The funny thing was Nova was 3-0 in April but his ERA was 5.18. Ouch!

Kuroda was getting lit up also. American League East teams found his off-speed stuff worth teeing off on, but Kuroda mixed in a few impressive starts to record an inconsistent 2-3 mark with a 3.69 ERA.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was a lot like Nova. He was 3-0 but his ERA was elevated at 4.58. But, then again, Sabathia has been known to start slow and get hot as the weather warms. So there were no real concerns with him.

Pettitte, meanwhile, returned to the Yankees on May 13 for a start against the Mariners. Garcia was banished to the bullpen to make room for the 40-year-old left-hander.

The week after May 13 also seems to coincide with the resurgence of the pitching staff. Every starter seemed to pull things together and harness their stuff to begin a long winning streak. The starting pitching was strong enough to overcome what was an inconsistent offense that could only hit home runs and not hit with runners in scoring position.

Pettitte seemed to light a spark under Hughes and Nova. Kuroda seemed to make the adjustments he needed to make pitching in the American League for the first time and Sabathia got hot like the weather.

Pettitte was 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in his nine starts through June 27 when a hard-hit ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians struck Pettitte just above his left ankle and fractured his tibia. As a result, Pettitte will miss about two months. But the Yankees are hopeful he will be able to pitch down the stretch enough to be ready for the playoffs.

It is a shame but the staff that Pettitte inspired has really not missed a beat since he was placed on the disabled list.

Since May 25, Nova is 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts. Since May 6, Hughes is 8-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts. Since May 27, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in eight starts.

Sabathia is 6-3 with a 2.89 since May 4. But Sabathia had to be placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time since the 2007 season on June 25 due to a slight strain in his left groin. He missed two starts leading up the All-Star break but is expected to be activated on July 17 for a start at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In Pettitte’s place, the Yankees have discovered a starter with almost an equal ability to mix pitches and speeds to keep batters off balance. He is Garcia. Yep, that same Garcia that took  thrashing in April.

The man who was abruptly banished to the bullpen found his old fastball velocity and the difference in his results on the mound have been like night and day.

In his two starts in place of Pettitte, Garcia is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA. The Yankees can certainly live with that until Pettitte returns sometime in late August.

Though the Yankees were criticized for not signing any high-priced free-agent pitchers or trading for some, the Yankees have been patient with what they have and it has paid dividends.

On May 21, the Yankees took a 6-0 walloping from the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium and it dropped their season record to 21-21, which found them tied for last place in the American League East with the Boston Red Sox. They trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 games.

The Yankees reached the 81-game mark with a 4-3 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL, to improve their season record to 49-32. Their 28-11 surge since May 21 gave them a .718 winning percentage over that 39-game stretch and put them in first place in the division by 5 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.

The biggest reason the Yankees were able to surge into first place was the strength of their starting rotation, which not only held opponents hitters down but they also pitched deep into games. That ended up helping the bullpen shine in closing out games in the late innings because they were not needed as much as they were in April.

The combined record of the starters at the 81-game mark is 40-24. Their team ERA of 3.73 is fourth in the American League.

With the second half to go, Girardi and Rothschild have to keep this momentum from the starters going while preparing them for the playoffs. At this moment it appears that the Yankees will have a good chance to have four pitchers (Sabathia, Hughes, Nova and Kuroda) win 16 games or more. That would make the staff formidable come the playoffs.

Add to that the most successful starter in modern playoff history in Pettitte, than you have the makings of a strong group heading into the postseason.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

SABATHIA: B

KURODA: B

HUGHES: B-

NOVA: B-

PETTITTE: I (Incomplete)

GARCIA: I (Incomplete)

BACKUPS

DAVID PHELPS (0-1, 2.08 ERA in 3 starts)

ADAM WARREN (0-0, 23.14 ERA in 1 start)

The Yankees dipped into their minor-league quintet of young starters at Triple-A to make some fill-in starts.

Phelps made two starts in early May in place of Garcia while the Yankees were still waiting for Pettitte to make his 2012 debut. Meanwhile, Warren and Phelps filled in one start apiece for Sabathia just before the All-Star break.

Phelps actually pitched quite well overall in his three starts and he shows some long-term promise as starter for the future. His only negative was that his pitch count got the better of him in all three starts and he was not able to complete five full innings in any one of them.

Earlier in the season, Phelps spent most of the season with the Yankees as a long man out the bullpen and he was 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA overall in 41 1/3 innings over 15 appearances.

But after his start for the Yankees on the Fourth of July against the Rays, the Yankees sent him Double-A Trenton to stretch him out as a starter. So if anything should happen to any of the Yankees five current starters, Phelps would likely be first in line as a replacement.

Warren, however, had a disastrous major-league debut on June 29 at Yankee Stadium against the Chicago White Sox. As a result we are not likely to see Warren the rest of the season.

He is 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 16 starts at Scranton this season.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

PHELPS: B+

WARREN: I (Incomplete)

In addition to Phelps and Warren, the Yankees have also called up Mitchell and he is currently on the 25-man roster as a long reliever.

Mitchell is 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in just 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell’s main calling card is his sinking fastball that allows him to induce a lot of groundball outs.

He was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA in 14 starts at Scranton this season. The Yankees still consider him a starter but he actually may have more value at the major-league level as a reliever. The Yankees liken him to former Yankee sinker specialist Ramiro Mendoza.

The two biggest jewels in the Yankees’ minor-league system are Banuelos and Betances. Banuelos entered 2012 as the No. 1 prospect and Betances was listed at No. 2. However, neither has distinguished himself at Scranton.

Banuelos was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in six starts before being placed on the disabled list with a left elbow injury. Fortunately for the Yankees, an MRI showed no structural damage to the elbow, but the team is being extremely cautious with their top pitching prospect.

Betances, meanwhile, was 3-5 with an ugly 6.39 ERA at Triple-A in 16 starts before being demoted back to Double-A Trenton. He is 0-1 with an 0.75 ERA there in two starts.

Both pitchers have plus fastballs and they both project to top of the rotation starters in the major leagues. But they both share a problem with harnessing their stuff. Betances walked 69 batters in 74 2/3 innings at Scranton and Banuelos walked nearly five batters every nine innings last season.

The Yankees best pitcher at Triple-A is 39-year-old right-hander Ramon Ortiz. The Dominican is 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 16 starts. Though at age 39 he would fit right in with the Yankees’ roster, Ortiz is with his 12th different organization and the Yankees likely would feel more comfortable using Phelps or Mitchell.

Campos, 19, led the Northwest League in strikeouts and ERA last season and the Yankees were excited to get him as part of the deal that brought them Pineda.

Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings before also being shelved with an elbow injury. Like Banuelos, the Yankees are saying the injury is not serious, but Campos is in Tampa rehabbing at a slow pace.

The Yankees most successful minor-league pitcher this season is 22-year-old right-hander Brett Marshall, who is 9-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 17 starts with Double-A Trenton. Marshall is not a fireballer like Banuelos or Betances (he has just 61 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings).

After Tommy John surgery Marshall has found that the movement on his pitches is more important than velocity. He is on track to make it to the Yankees within the next two or three years.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B

The much-maligned Yankee rotation has been the biggest factor in the Yankees re-awakening after May 21 and their current comfortable lead in their division.

Veterans Sabathia and Kuroda have mixed well with young guns Hughes and Nova to make this one of the best rotations in baseball.

The addition of Pettitte boosted the staff in May and Kuroda, Hughes and Nova immediately started erasing Yankee fans memories about how awful they were in April. When Pettitte returns the Yankees will have the best No. 1 through No. 5 rotation in baseball.

In the meantime, Garcia has fixed his velocity problem an he appears to be pitching to his 2011 form based on his most recent two starts.

With Phelps in the wings it is doubtful the Yankees will make a trade-deadline move to get an additional starter.

Though I continue to see fellow bloggers and Yankee fans insist the Yankees should make an effort to trade for Matt Cain or Cole Hamels, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has maintained the Yankees are determined to cut payroll by 2014.

If the Yankees passed on Wilson, Darvish, Buerhle, Gonzalez and Garza before there is no reason to think they will add to the team’s payroll by trading for a high-priced starter at the end of the month. The Yankees think they can win with what they have and it is doubtful they will add anyone significant at the deadline.

Those dyed-in-the-wool Yankee lovers can start crying now. It just is not going to happen.

 

Branyan Among 27 Players Yanks Invite To Tampa

The New York Yankees announced Wednesday the signing of 13 players to minor-league contracts and have issued invitations to 27 players to spring training.

Besides utility man Bill Hall, who was signed to a minor-league deal on Tuesday, the biggest name on the list was left-handed power hitter Russell Branyan, who was signed on Wednesday. Branyan could figure as a cheap solution to the designated hitter spot should the Yankees fail to reach agreement with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui or Raul Ibanez.

Branyan, 36, played in 68 games last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels and hit .197 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. Branyan is capable of playing first base, third base and as a corner outfielder but has primarily been a DH or pinch-hitter. In his 14-year career, Branyan has 194 home runs, 467 RBIs and a .232 batting average.

Branyan also has the distinction of hitting two of the longest home runs in the short history of the new Yankee Stadium.

Among the other prominent veterans invited to spring training are former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen, former Red Sox left-hander Hideki Okajima and former Blue Jays outfielder Dewayne Wise.

Delcarmen, 29, was a combined 3-4 with a 4.99 ERA in 57 appearances with the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies. He will compete for a spot in a stacked and talented Yankee bullpen.

Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Okajima will have to compete with fellow Red Sox left-hander Cesar Cabral, 23, to join Boone Logan in the bullpen as a second left-hander. Okajima was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in just seven appearances with the Red Sox last season before he was sent to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, where he spent the rest of the season before being released.

Wise, 33, is best known for his spectacular ninth-inning catch to preserve Mark Buerhle’s perfect game for the White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009. Last season, Wise hit .202 with two home runs, seven RBIs and six stolen bases in 69 games with the Blue Jays and the Florida Marlins. Wise is considered an excellent fielder with good speed and he has the ability to play all three outfield spots.

Among the group of players also invited to spring training is the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, left-handed starter Manny Banuelos. Banuelos, 20, will join the team’s No. 2 prospect, right-handed starter Dellin Betances, who already was on the 40-man roster. Naeither pitcher is expected to make the major-league club out of spring training but they could be factors later in the season.

In addition, the Yankees have also invited two star catcher prospects: Gary Sanchez, 19, and J.R. Murphy, 20. Sanchez, ranked as the team’s No. 3 prospect, and Murphy, is ranked No. 13, both require seasoning at the minor-league level but are considered excellent future catching prospects.

The other players who received invitations include:

Left-handed pitchers: Juan Cedeno, Mike O’Connor.

Right-handed pitchers: Daniel Burawa, Matt Daley, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Warren, Kevin Whelan, Chase Whitley.

Catchers: Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, Gustavo Molina.

Infielders: Doug Bernier, Jayson Nix, Jorge Vazquez.

Outfielders: Colin Curtis, Cole Garner, Brett Marshall.

 

Yankees Getting Closer To Signing New DH

Here are some news and notes updates on the Yankees:

  • Buster Olney of ESPN reports the Yankees are within a week of signing a left-handed hitting veteran to be the team’s primary designated hitter in 2012. The choices have narrowed to Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Raul Ibanez. The Yankees are familiar with Matsui and Damon. Both of them were integral to the team’s 2009 championship season. Ibanez, 39, has apparently told the Yankees he would take less money in order to play for them in 2012. But there are also indications that the prices the players are seeking must come down before the Yankees are ready to make a deal. The Yankees’ one-year, $10 million contract offer to Hiroki Kuroda and the $4-plus million offered in a one-year deal to Freddy Garcia (which in retrospect was a mistake) have limited what the Yankees can spend on a DH to replace the bat of Jesus Montero, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda.
  • Newsday reported that the Yankees signed a minor-league deal with veteran utility man Bill Hall, who played for the Houston Astros and the San Francisco Giants last season. Hall, 32, hit a combined .211 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 62 games with both teams. Hall’s main calling card is his versatility. He can play second, shortstop and third base and all three outfield spots. With the Yankees’ signing of Hall they will not have the roster space to re-sign Eric Chavez, who was an infield backup with the Yankees last season. Chavez, 34, hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.
  • As expected, MLB.com ranked lefty starter Manny Banuelos and right-hander Dellin Betances as the top two prospects in the organization. Banuelos, 20, started 20 games at Double-A Trenton and seven games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was a combined 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA with a 125 strikeouts and 75 walks in 129 2/3 innings. The Yankees marvel at his fastball, curve and change-up arsenal but he needs another full season in the minors to harness his control. Betances, 23, made 21 starts at Trenton and four starts at Scranton and was a combined 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA and 142 K’s and 70 walks in 126 1/3 innings. Betances has much better velocity on his fastball than Banuelos and he has a good power curve. However, Betances’ change-up needs work and he also will have to throw more strikes in 2012. The Yankees’ No. 3 prospect is 19-year-old Gary Sanchez, who now replaces Montero as the team’s catcher of the future. Sanchez hit .256 with 16 doubles, 17 home runs and 52 RBIs in 82 games in the Sally League. Scouts project he will hit for better power and average and he already possesses top-flight defensive skills.
  • Also of note in the rankings: Jose Campos, who was acquired in the trade that brought Pineda from Seattle in exchange for Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi, was ranked fifth behind outfielder Mason Williams. Campos, 19, led the Northwest League in strikeouts and ERA. He was 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA and 85 K’s in 81 1/3 innings. The right-hander will be making his first appearance in a full-season league in 2012 and he could progress quickly on the basis of his 95-mile-per-hour fastball and an excellent curve.
  • A day after prosecutors brought extortion and stalking charges against a woman centered around an extramarital affair, the wife of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman filed for divorce. Mary Cashman filed the paperwork in a court in Stamford, CT, on Friday. Neither party would comment publicly. Last Thursday, Manhattan prosecutors charged 36-year-old Louise Neathway with harassing Cashman and threatening to harm his reputation if Cashman did not pay her $30,000. A source close to the family said the Cashmans have been living apart for the past year. This leads me to two observations: No. 1, it is gratifying to know that Cashman has been able to function well as a G.M. during all this personal upheaval. He has done a fine job of improving the Yankees, particularly the starting pitching. No. 2, if you took out the name Cashman and substituted the name Alex Rodriguez in the story than it would have been reported on the Yankees.com website. But because it was someone in the front office, it was not mentioned at all. That seems like an odd double standard. This is similar to Rangers manager Ron Washington failing a drug test and never being punished by the Rangers or Major League Baseball. Again, a double standard!
  • This is the first offseason I can remember that no impact free agents signed with American League East teams. Yankee fans may have been stunned by the lack of Yankee offers to top-flight free agents like Albert Pujols, Cecil Fielder, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle or Japan’s Yu Darvish. But the other teams in the AL East whiffed at signing those players also. Boston was hamstrung from a payroll that is settling close to the mark in which they would have to pay a luxury tax to the league. The Jays lost in the posting process for Darvish. The Rays can’t attract top free agents because of their substandard facilities and a shoestring budget. The Orioles seem to be stuck in reverse as an organization and they are limited in what they can do. So you can make a case that the signing of Kuroda and the acquisition of Pineda was the two best moves involving AL East teams this winter and both of them were moves by the Yankees.

 

Ibanez Joins List Of Possible Yankee DH Targets

With the end of the holidays and the beginning of the new year, the Yankees got busy after sitting out a good portion of the offseason bidding and dealing. Here are some bits and pieces of information and some analysis on what it all means:

THE DH ‘RAUL’

Apparently former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez is on the New York Yankees’ short list of players they might want to sign to take over as the team’s designated hitter, the New York Post reported.

Ibanez, 39, was allowed to walk as a free agent by the Phiilies after a 2011 season in which he hit a career-low .245 but still managed to hit 20 home runs and drive in 84 runs in 144 games. Ibanez is career .280 hitter with 252 home runs and 1,054 RBIs in 16 major-league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals and the Phillies.

The right-handed-hitting Ibanez was an All-Star selection in 2009 with the National League-champion Phillies.

With the four-player trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, the Yankees seem to have an obvious opening for a primary DH in their 2011 lineup. Jorge Posada held the role at the start of the 2011 season.

With one possible candidate, Carlos Pena, re-signed as free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays, it appears the Yankees are looking at free agents including Ibanez and former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

Damon, 38, played last season with the Rays and wanted to return to the team. However, the signing of Pena likely means the Rays are not interested in keeping Damon after he hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games in 2011.

Matsui, 37, played last season with Oakland and hit a career-low .251 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs in 141 games. The Athletics, who are retooling with younger players, seem to be uninterested in bringing Matsui back for a second season as the team’s DH.

The Yankees have not commented publicly about Ibanez, Damon or Matsui. They have said they are interested in looking at 29-year-old former Mexican League star Jorge Vazquez this spring as a potential DH.

Vazquez, who can play either first or third base, hit .262 with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in only 118 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. The right-handed slugger is not consider to be a very good defender but the Yankees have been impressed with his hitting potential.

At this point, it comes down to payroll economics. If the Yankees feel a pressing need to have a professional hitter at the DH spot and they are willing to shell out about $5 million to $8 million to get one of the three free agents, they will certainly do it. But if they feel they can’t afford it, Vazquez will get a shot this spring.

Odds are the Yankees are definitely looking outside the organization. That is why Ibanez’s name surfaced. So look for a free-agent signing real soon to fill the role.

OKIE DOKEY, HIROKI

The Yankees officially announced the signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda this week.

The former Dodger signed a one-year deal worth a reported $10 million. He left the Dodgers as a free agent after going 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA in 2011. In his five seasons with the Dodgers, the 37-year-old Kuroda was 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in 115 major-league games, all with the Dodgers.

Kuroda will join Pineda in a revamped Yankee rotation for 2012. With CC Sabathia the unquestioned ace, Pineda figures to open the season as the team’s No. 2 starter and Kuroda likely will be the No. 3 starter. Ivan Nova, 25, after a sparkling 16-7 record and a 3.70 ERA as a rookie, figures to have a starting job locked up also.

That leaves Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett to battle it out this spring for the final starting spot.

The signing of Kuroda was a fallback position by the Yankees’ front office. Both general manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hank Steinbrenner felt the price of top free-agent pitchers like C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buerhle and Japanese import Yu Darvish was too high.

They also felt the asking price in trade for starters such as John Danks, Jair Jurrgens, Matt Garza and Gio Gonzalez was also too pricey.

As it is, Cashman needed Steinbrenner’s assent to pay Kuroda the $10 million he was seeking. That is one reason why the Yankees do not wish to overpay for a DH and add much more money to the payroll.

Kuroda, like a number of other National League pitchers who have been signed or acquired by the Yankees, will be under the microscope when he faces much tougher hitters in the American League, and those particularly in the East.

Pitchers such as Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and, even to some degree, Randy Johnson have found it difficult to put up good numbers in the A.L. Kuroda, however, is in a somewhat better position than some of those previous pitchers because the Yankees have one of the deepest and best bullpens in baseball heading into the 2012 season.

Kuroda could have his ERA jump a run and he still could win 15 games for the Yankees in 2012.

PRAISE JESUS

The Montero-Pineda trade was made official this week when Montero passed his physical with the Mariners.

There has still been a major flood of angry comments from Yankee fans who are upset the Yankees traded a 21-year-old catcher who looked to be the best power prospect the Yankees have had in their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle was promoted to the major leagues in 1951.

Yankee fans also have pointed out that Pineda faded badly in the second half of 2011 and he has had a history of elbow problems stemming from a very violent follow-through in his motion. That does not bode well for the 23-year-old right-hander’s long-term prospects.

However, just about every analysis of the trade by experienced sports writers such as Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal have praised Cashman for making the deal.

What do they know that Yankee fans don’t?

For one reason, Montero’s work behind the plate is in question and will remain in question throughout his development in the major leagues. Though he has made vast progress, the Yankees were concerned they could NOT compete with teams that run a lot like the Rays and the Los Angeles Angels with Montero behind the plate.

They also saw a move to right-field or first base as impossible. Montero would really struggle in the outfield and Mark Teixeira is entrenched at first base and simply is the best-fielding first baseman in the game.

So Montero’s long-term future would have to have been as a DH and part-time catcher. That would limit his impact because manager Joe Girardi would still have Russell Martin as a starter with either Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine backing him up. Plus, Girardi would have to give veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher some time off at DH during the season.

Also figure that 19-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez is considered the No. 4 catching prospect in baseball. The Yankees and scouts see him as the whole package behind the plate. He is excellent on defense and he has the ability to become a very good major-league hitter. He won’t hit for the prodigious power Montero might. But he will hit for average and power, scouts say.

So the Yankees felt with Montero’s defensive liabilities and the limited nature as a DH and part-time catcher, they could use Montero’s high value to get a pitcher, who not only figures to improve on his 9-10 record and 3.74 ERA in his rookie season, but could eventually become the ace of the staff in a few years.

Pineda projects as a potential No. 1 starter now. With he and Sabathia at the top of the rotation they figure to dominate any three-game series in which they pitch. If you are talking a potential playoff series the possibilities are even better. That is why the Yankees chose to make the deal.

They gave up a potential superstar but they may have got one in return also. What’s done is done. So let’s wait to evaluate the trade five years from now.

JONES REDUX

The Yankees also made it official this week they have re-signed Andruw Jones to a one-year contract for  a reported $2 million plus $1.4 million in incentives.

Jones, 34, batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 77 games for the Yankees last season. Jones appeared as a DH, outfielder and pinch-hitter, but his calling card was his ability to hit left-handers. He hit lefties to the tune of .286.

Jones can play both corner outfield spots, DH and pinch hit. Because Brett Gardner struggled against left-handers last season, Jones could also be used to replace Gardner against some left-handers next season.

The Yankees have also managed to sign most of their arbitration eligible players in the past weeks including Gardner, Martin, David Robertson and Boone Logan.

The result is the Yankees have managed to improve the team while at the same time being able to hold the line on spending, which Steinbrenner is determined to do.

The Yankees would seem to only looking to add a bench infielder and a DH to the team before spring training.

Eric Chavez, who played first and third base for the Yankees last season is still available to be re-signed if the Yankees wish. We have already discussed the potential free agents available to DH.

ADIOS, JORGE!

Jorge Posada also made it official this week that he was retiring after all 17 seasons with the Yankees.

Posada, 40, thought about offers from other teams such as the Rays and the Mets, but ultimately chose to end his career as a Yankee.

Now the discussion starts as to whether he has the credentials to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. The fact that he is the only catcher among the group of catchers already in the Hall except the great Yogi Berra, who has either more home runs, RBIs or a better batting average than all of them gives him some standing.

In addition, he has four World Series rings and he was one of the best hitting catchers of his generation.

It will be close, but Jorge stands in Yankee history among legendary catchers such as Berra, Bill Dickey and Thurman Munson. So he has a good chance of having his No. 20 retired by the Yankees at some point.

That would be a fitting tribute to a man who was a leader among the best Yankee teams in a generation. Thank you, Jorge!

 


Get Real, Yankee Fans, Pineda Is Not Ken Phelps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Pineda is not Ken Phelps. Far from it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yankees Finally Get Serious With Pricey Jackson

In what has been a quiet, almost somnambulant, off-season the New York Yankees seem to making strides in signing a free-agent pitcher.

CBSSports.com reported on Wednesday that Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner met with agent Scott Boras to discuss 28-year-old right-hander Edwin Jackson.

When Yankee fans first heard this they must have thought back to last winter when the right-hand of the Yankees, general manager Brian Cashman, did not know that the left-hand, Steinbrenner, was signing free-agent reliever Rafael Soriano to the richest contract ever paid to a non-closer.

Despite losing the draft pick for signing a Type-A free agent and the fact Soriano was ineffective and then got hurt, it was a marvelous masterstroke for a team reeling from the failure to sign Cliff Lee.

Soriano is actually a prize piece to a bullpen that lost Joba Chamberlain last season and ended up being the best bullpen in baseball. They enter the 2012 season armed with Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Soriano for what again looks to be the best bullpen in baseball. That can sure cover up for what looks to be an average starting rotation, too.

But Steinbrenner is still a bit worried. (Count me there too if any Yankee starting rotation includes A.J. Burnett.)

“Look, we were concerned about pitching last year, and it ended up working out pretty well,” Steinbrenner said. “But I’m still a little concerned about our rotation.”

The Yankees have been doing their version of kabuki theater this winter. They are going through all the showy motions of looking at free agents, exploring trades and scouting for any live arm that can make the Yankees better than the 97 games they won last season.

But they are finding the price tags of the free agents loaded with some dealer fees and markups they weren’t counting on. They passed on C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they just made a token bid for Japan’s Yu Darvish.

They also have found that general managers looking to trade arms were looking for bushel basket full of prospects from the Yankees’ tree that included Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams. That price was just way too high for Cashman, who said that he could make any trade to get a pitcher but the problem was that if he made the trade he would not be a popular guy with Yankee fans.

But now it seems that the Steinbrenner family is on board with Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. However, Jackson is just 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA in his career and he reportedly is seeking a five-year deal with an annual salary in the $15 million to $17 million range.

Ouch! Talk about your sticker shock.

Steinbrenner feels that Jackson is too pricey now. But the meeting with Steinbrenner was requested by Boras, which may signal that the agent every general manager loves to hate may be willing to deliver Jackson to the Yankees for something less.

Cashman has been restricted by the Steinbrenner family’s desire to reduce or, at the very least, keep the payroll at around the $200 million range. That is why the Yankees have been so quiet since the 2011 ended and the only moves they have made is to sign back players they had last season (Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones and maybe Eric Chavez.)

But the fact Steinbrenner took the meeting with Boras is a sign the Yankees are indeed serious about adding a starting pitcher. Should the talks for Jackson break down over price, the Yankees still have two viable options in free agents Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda, who are seeking less years and less money than Jackson.

If the Yankees do add a bona fide starter they will have the ability to seriously shop Burnett and his bloated two-year, $33 million contract. The team offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s salary but they got no bites on the line. With another starter signed they could increase that salary payment offer to $14 million and still come out ahead on the deal.

The real issue now comes down to how much does Jackson want to pitch for the Yankees and what can he accept in terms of annual salary. If Boras is willing to compromise there is room to make a deal. If there is no wiggle room the Yankees will have to a pass on him.

Just knowing Steinbrenner was willing to help the Yankees acquire a durable 200-inning pitcher is enough for me to show that there is a willingness for the team to get better. It was not apparent for most of this offseason.