Via Baseball America’s latest minor league transactions, the Yankees have re-signed RHP Paul Bush, 3B Marcos Vechionacci and OF Edwar Gonzalez to minor league deals. It does not seem any of the three will be brought to big league camp.
Vechionacci is the biggest name of the bunch and was once among the most highly regarded prospects in the Yankees system. His career, though, has been undone by injuries and a general lack of performance. Still just 23, Vechionacci is a good defensive third baseman, but he hit just .212 in Double-A Trenton last year (with career highs of 10 home runs and 113 strikeouts). He’s probably no more than upper-level minor league depth at this point. My guess is he’ll return to Trenton to play off the bench, but that’s just a guess. He could get regular time at third base if the Yankees decide to move Brandon Laird permanently to first.
Bush, 30, was plucked out of independent ball last season when Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s pitching staff was thin, but Bush wound up pitching pretty well in Triple-A and Double-A and gives the Yankees some flexibility as a reliever or spot starter.
Gonzalez, 27, seemed to have a breakout year in 2008 when hit .295 with 14 home runs after an early season call-up to Double-A. Sent back to Trenton last year, though, Gonzalez hit just .232 with four home runs. He had some nagging injuries that might have played a part in those numbers. Regardless, he’ll probably go back to Trenton where the outfield crop is thin.
Other familiar names among the latest minor league deals:
1B Josh Phelps and OF Bronson Sardinha have signed with the Rockies, OF Jason Lane has signed with the Marlins, INF Angel Chavez signed with the Rays and LHP Chase Wright re-signed with the Brewers (though we already knew about that one).
This entry was posted on Saturday, February 13th, 2010 at 9:00 pm by Chad Jennings.
"Selig ran a speakeasy, now he wants to take all the alcohol out of the town." Mike Francesa
Left field and the No. 5 starter spots figure to garner the most attention during the next seven weeks, but there's plenty to watch in Tampa as Joe Girardi's club gets ready to defend its title. Here are five questions the Yanks must answer as they defend their title:
1. Joba or Phil … or neither?
When a team's biggest concern is who will fill the No. 5 starter job, it is entering spring training in pretty good shape. Then again, not many teams have two young pitchers who have been in the spotlight as much as Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, who will fight it out for that coveted final spot in the rotation.
Chamberlain has finally put the "Joba Rules" to rest, having thrown 1571/3 regular-season innings in 2009. The Yankees seem prepared to let the righthander loose for 200 innings this season, making him the favorite for the No. 5 slot. Then again, there are those inside the organization who fell in love with Chamberlain as a setup man during the postseason, leaving the door open for Hughes to claim the starting spot.
Hughes was lights-out in the relief role last year, though he faltered a bit in the postseason. Most scouts believe he's better equipped to be a starter, but having thrown only 1051/3 innings between the majors and minors in 2009 and 692/3 the year before, Hughes would surely be subjected to some Joba-like rules if he was placed in the rotation.
Most people believed that Johnny Damon would eventually find his way back to the Bronx, but as camp kicks off this week, he remains the biggest name available on the free-agent market. The Yankees have moved on, giving Brett Gardner and recently-signed Randy Winn their chance to claim Damon's old job.
Gardner, who beat out Melky Cabrera for the starting center field job last year, has youth and speed on his side, while Winn, a 12-year veteran, possesses valuable experience.
Jesus Montero shows off his form behind the plate as he works at the art of catcher, trying to becoming Jorge Posada's eventual replacement.
TAMPA - Under a slate-gray sky, the Yankees' best prospect steps in front of home plate, prepared to block it. About 10 yards away, a coach with a thin fungo bat swats a ball at him, simulating the unpredictable nature of throws from the outfield, as rain drops fall. The young catcher's mitt flashes out to snare the ball and he applies a mock tag, then he jogs to the side as another catcher takes a turn in the drill.
Most of Jesus Montero's days are made up of moments like this, working at the craft of catching. He flops side to side in the bullpen, honing his skills at blocking errant pitches. He pores over the rudiments of receiving, learning how to handle different pitches and the myriad ways they can break, and he works to shorten his throwing motion to take better advantage of a powerful arm.
To Montero - and the Yankees - this is all vital work, even though Montero's catching skills are not what most believe will eventually get him to the major leagues. Montero, rated as the fifth-best prospect in the game by Baseball America, might be the best hitter in the minor leagues, a player who swings his way to Yankee Stadium before his defense can catch up.
"His bat may not be too far from the big leagues," says a rival baseball executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was evaluating a player in another organization. "But they'll have to decide his position. Jesus has a chance to be a very, very big hitter. He reminds me of Carlos Delgado at that age.
"When you have a guy who hits that well, you may want to get him out of there even if he can't catch."
Then the executive invokes the name of a player who comes up often when discussing Montero - Minnesota's Joe Mauer, the reigning AL MVP. Mauer is big like Montero - Mauer is 6-5 and 220 pounds, Montero 6-4, 235 - and an amazing hitter. He is also a terrific defensive catcher.
As the executive says, "There are not very many Joe Mauers."
Still, the Yankees use Mauer's success as a response to the argument that Montero is too big to be a catcher.
And they are determined to see if Montero can be the eventual replacement for 38-yea-old Jorge Posada. Montero is likely to be the starting catcher at Triple-A Scranton this season, but Joe Girardi will get a look at him when Montero reports with pitchers and catchers Wednesday for his third big-league camp.
Most teams don't get huge offense from catchers because the position is so physically punishing, defense so vital. So if Montero becomes the hitter the Yanks believe he can be while catching, "that elevates the whole club's offense," says Mark Newman, the Yankees' VP of baseball operations.
Catching up with righty phenom in Viera, Fla., is on Bill Madden's to-do list this spring.
How long will Cardinals batting coach Mark McGwire answer steroid questions?
Not sure which has been the bigger snow job - the one that has buried New York and the mid-Atlantic region or Scott (Avenging Agent) Boras' latest spin on Johnny Damon's colossally botched winter in which he now supposedly can't make up his mind between the Tigers' two-year, $14 million offer or their one-year, $7 million offer.
Methinks Tigers owner Mike Ilitch did Boras a huge favor, allowing him to save face, by putting out the word that he had approved a two-year offer for Damon, even though his general manager, Dave Dombrowski, had made it clear there was no way he could justify doing that after trading Curtis Granderson.
In any case, the rest of baseball is getting out of the snow and cold this week and heading off to spring training. Here are some "hot spots" in Florida and Arizona that bear particular scrutiny this spring:
Viera, Fla.: Ordinarily there's been no reason to visit Florida's most remote spring outpost, where the lowly Washington Nationals reside. Not so this spring. Or at least not on the days that Stephen Strasburg, the 21-year-old $15.1 million righty phenom pitches. Strasburg, the top pick in last June's draft, figures to be the biggest attraction in Florida.
Lake Buena Vista, Fla.:Bobby Cox's last spring as manager of the Atlanta Braves will not include Damon, but will feature another outfielder being billed as the most exciting position prospect in baseball, 20-year-old Jason Heyward. The 6-4, 220-pound Heyward, described as a "lefthanded Dave Winfield" because of his fluid swing, outfield ability and baserunning skill, hit his way from Single-A to Triple-A last year, and Cox has vowed to give him every opportunity to make the team. If his time has not come, it is close. Meanwhile, Cox's other focus will be on 37-year-old Chipper Jones, from whom the Braves desperately need a comeback season. Jones had 18 homers and 71 RBI in '09, both career lows.
Fort Myers, Fla.: The Red Sox, always a hotbed of spring intrigue and controversy, are especially so this spring in the wake of GM Theo Epstein's emphasis shift from brute power to pitching and defense. The focal point of camp will be the new left side of the infield, where Marco Scutaro becomes the Sox's seventh shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra in 2004, and Adrian Beltre takes over at third for Mike Lowell, who waits around to be traded. New center fielder Mike Cameron is another key component in Epstein's defensive scheme but figures to be a significant offensive downgrade from new Met Jason Bay. Otherwise, every David Ortiz at-bat will be scrutinized as his middle-of-the-order presence looms even more important this season.
There was a deal to be made between the Yankees and Johnny Damon and it wasn't completed. The club decided Hideki Matsui's knees were too much of a risk.
So two productive players left the Yankees after being key cogs in winning the 2009 World Series.
And because they had to beef up the rotation, starting center fielder Melky Cabrera was dealt to the Braves for Javier Vazquez.
Now, the Yankees try to defend their 27th title with a buffet of names, some familiar, others new.
The trio of Brett Gardner, Randy Winn and Marcus Thames takes over for Damon in left. The designated-hitter spot, which could have been Damon's, is manned by Nick Johnson. It's the oft-injured Johnson's second tour in The Bronx. Curtis Granderson takes over in center.
WELCOME BACK: Javier Vazquez, in his second stint with the Yankees, is one of many new names on the Yanks' roster as they begin spring training with hopes of a 28th championship.
Gardner will get the first shot to play every day in left, but Thames was signed ($900,000 if he makes the team) to provide a right-handed bat against lefties.
Gardner, possibly the fastest runner in the game, was the starting center fielder at the opening of last season but lost the job to Cabrera when he didn't hit. Gardner finished the season batting .270 with 100 games and swiped 26 bases in 31 attempts.
Considering they get home runs from second base (Robinson Cano hit 25) and catcher (Jorge Posada hit 22) and plenty of power from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees don't need power from Gardner. If he hits .280, steals bases and provides solid defense, he will be a plus.
Granderson essentially replaces Damon.
Granderson's speed allows him to overcome occasional bad jumps, and after hitting 30 homers a year ago for Detroit the lefty swinger could tack on 10 hitting in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium.
He could hit second between Derek Jeter and Teixeira or down in the lineup.
Johnson for Matsui will be interesting. Hitting at the Stadium will spike Johnson's home run totals, but will the on-base machine be as productive as Matsui, who swatted 28 homers, drove in 90 runs and exited as the World Series MVP?
There are more issues facing the Yankees, who open camp this week in Tampa.
Who is the No. 5 starter? Will Vazquez feel more comfortable in his second stint? Can Nick Swisher duplicate last year's solid season, or improve on it? Will stud prospect Jesus Montero display the power that has many believing he is a can't-miss big league star?
The Yankees won't admit it, but the No. 5 spot is Phil Hughes' to lose. The Yankees limited Joba Chamberlain's innings last year to prepare him as a starter this season, but voices inside the organization believe having Chamberlain in front of Mariano Rivera provides the strongest bullpen.
Even if Hughes doesn't win it, Chamberlain isn't a lock for the rotation. Hughes and Chamberlain in the bullpen would give Joe Girardi late options. Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin and Alfredo Aceves are the other candidates.
When the Yankees acquired Vazquez following the 2003 season they believed they had an ace. He was gone after one season in which he was an All-Star, but awful in the second half, finishing with a 14-10 ledger, a 4.91 ERA and giving up a grand slam to Boston's Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the ALCS.
Since leaving the Yankees, he went 64-61 and topped 200 innings in each of the past five seasons. He was 15-10 with a sparkling 2.87 ERA last year for the Braves.
"The stuff he had last year was as good as I have ever seen him pitch," an NL scout said of the 33-year-old right-hander, "even when he was younger with the Expos."
Swisher introduced himself to the Yankees' universe as a zany character, and when Xavier Nady got hurt turned a chance to play into a sensational season.
Can he duplicate 29 homers and 82 RBIs?
Montero has no chance to make the team, but what provides for better spring training fodder than the stud prospect flexing his muscles early in camp? Montero is a 20-year-old, 6-foot-4, 230-pound catcher whose bat is alive. Be prepared to read about power that Rodriguez didn't have at the same age.
The sun is a wonderful antidote. The warm weather, the palm trees, the hazy humidity . . . normally, it all serves as a splendid elixir for baseball fans, a brain eraser, the kind of thing that makes your troubles burst like bubbles in the fun of the sun.
It’s different this spring though.
On Florida’s east coast, there is too much lingering baggage to be completely forgotten, the Mets dragging all the detritus of three years of disappointments to Port St. Lucie. The last two Februarys, even with all the accumulated psychosis of back-to-back September swoons, there was still a feeling of imminent rebirth and renewal among Mets fans, the stubborn optimism that combats skepticism.
paul martinka, Neil Miller
ONE TOWN, TWO OUTLOOKS: Yankees and Mets fans are far apart on the sports spectrum as 2010 spring training approaches.
Do you sense that this year? I don’t. I sense loitering anger, and outrage, and cynicism. I sense a lot of fans adopting a Missouri stance of “Show me,” before they will be willing to pay for the privilege of being shown. I sense a fan base that has been beaten and battered and bruised and will not fall for the allure of 80-degree days and Mike Jacobs’ looping swing and Ollie Perez’s perpetual dance with potential.
As the Yankees return to Florida’s west coast, do you sense any angst amongst their faithful this year? I don’t. I sense appreciation at the 27th and one of the most satisfying of all the Yankees titles, one that was earned with a target on pinstriped backs for 162 regular-season games and 15 playoff games, one that finally included Alex Rodriguez, one that showcased the forever value of Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte and only reinforced the rarefied resume of Rivera.
So as spring training dawns, we couldn’t possibly find our local nines residing in more disparate places, occupying more polar opposite geographies that extend beyond Treasure Coast and Gulf Coast. If anything, this restoration of the natural baseball order ought to serve as a warning flare to, of all teams, the Jets, whose coach blared recently about how his team was the best football show in town now, a statement that might have accurately reflected a moment in time but not time itself.
Remember, it wasn’t that long ago — less than four years — that it looked as if the Mets were primed to re-take a town it had owned, on separate occasions, from 1964-75 and again from 1985-92. Back in ’06, the Mets won easily and freely and looked to have the far brighter future. The Yankees were yesterday’s team. Fans packed Shea, there was a much-anticipated new home being built . . . it was a grand and glorious time.
This was a good offseason to be a young ace as Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander all received multi-year contracts. It was a bad offseason to be an older, defensively deficient player such as Jermaine Dye, Vladamir Guerrero, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Jim Thome.
It was great to be a Halladay or a Holliday, and the holiday spirit must have moved the A’s, Rangers and Cardinals to give good money to the wing-and-prayer trio of Ben Sheets, Rich Harden and Brad Penny, respectively.
The Mets signed the third-biggest free-agent contract of the offseason (Jason Bay) and were criticized for spending too little. The Yankees, who were ripped last offseason for spending too much, were ripped this offseason for trying to live within — of all things — a $200 million payroll.
HALLADAY IN: Roy Halladay, with wife Brandy, found a great situation, if not the most money, with the Phillies.
Money, as usual, dominated the offseason conversation. But now, for the most part, wallets are put away, replaced by bats and balls. But before we do pitchers and catchers, let’s do winners and losers from an intriguing offseason:
1. ROY HALLADAY
Better late than never, he got all he wanted. He was traded to a contender (Philadelphia) that trains near his Oldsmar, Fla. home, and received an extension that might not have netted him the last dollar (three years, $60 million), but showed how sincere he was in wanting to be with a contender who trains near his home.
Have they graduated from a good team that can’t beat the Yankees to a legitimate title contender as Target Field opens? Francisco Liriano received raves for his work in the Dominican Winter League, so the Twins might have rediscovered an ace internally. And externally they upgraded their roster and took their payroll near $100 million.
The new double-play combo is J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson. With Hudson and Thome added to Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Denard Span, Minnesota might have more lefty production than even the Yankees.
Jack Zduriencik stuck to a pitching/defense philosophy. The best move any team made was Seattle translating three good, but not elite prospects into Cliff Lee to team with Hernandez atop the rotation. Hernandez was signed to a fair, long-term contract. Jack Wilson was retained, Chone Figgins and Eric Byrnes were bought, and Casey Kotchman was acquired in a trade — and all are above-average defenders. You don’t usually applaud the acquisition of volatile Milton Bradley, but he was worth the gamble to excise the ineffective Carlos Silva.
But don’t hand the AL West to them just yet. Big questions remain about pitching depth and RBI production after an Ichiro Suzuki/Figgins top of the order. The organization brought Ken Griffey Jr. back for a second goodbye tour and should have flushed sentiment in exchange for someone such as Thome or Damon.
Q: Will Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson adequately replace Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui?
Damon's impact near the top of the lineup, hitting in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, proved to be a huge part of a potent Yankees offense. Matsui's clutch heroics helped the Yankees win the World Series.
But with neither back - Matsui's departure more expected than Damon's - the Yankees turned to the all-star Granderson and the former Yankee Johnson. The newcomers are younger than the players they replace, but both come with their own issues. Granderson struggled badly against lefties last season while Johnson has spent his career perpetually one step away from the disabled list.
The Yankees brought in Randy Winn and Marcus Thames, who could potentially help on both fronts. But the Yankees could have in issue if either has to see significant time in 2010.
Q: Who will be the fifth starter?
It appears the competition is wide open, with the loser headed to the bullpen. Chamberlain is free this season from any of the rules that the Yankees have enforced over the past few years to protect his prized arm. Phil Hughes will be faced with an innings limit of about 180, but that shouldn't prevent him from functioning as a fifth starter. Technically, Chad Guadin, Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves are in the mix for the job.
But does it make sense for the Yankees to put in all this time and effort to protect these two homegrown talents, only to see them become middle relievers? Didn't think so.
Chamberlain endured ups and downs as a starter and faced questions about diminished velocity, but shined in the bullpen. Hughes quickly settled into his role setting-up Mariano Rivera, but seemed to lose his luster in the postseason.
Q: Can this aging team stay healthy?
The Yankees endured Alex Rodriguez's late start due to hip surgery, the injury-hastened implosion of Chien-Ming Wang and, for a while, dealt with life without the bat of Jorge Posada. So the Yankees didn't completely dodge the injury bug.
However, the Yankees caught a break in that none of those injuries happened in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, they didn't have to deal with injuries to players who entered the season as potential high risks, notably A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte.
But will the Yankees be as fortunate this season? The vaunted Core Four (Derek Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte) is a year older, and with age comes the increased risk of injury. While the Yankees helped themselves on the injury front by passing on Matsui's knees. But they also took on Johnson, whose long injury history trumps that of even Burnett's.
Seth Wenig/Associated PressCurtis Granderson, middle, the Yankees' first acquisition this offseason, posed with teammates CC Sabathia, left, and Alex Rodriguez in December.On a December night, in a hotel suite high above the frozen streets of Indianapolis, the retooling of the Yankees was in full swing.
A bank of laptops sat opened on a dining room table, their operators so focused they hardly looked up from their screens. A large white board rested on an easel, its contents hidden from outsiders’ eyes with a strategically placed bedsheet. A BlackBerry buzzed, its vibration drawing only a passing glance from its owner.
It was just another of the thousands of text messages, perhaps even one that helped shape the future of the franchise, sent to the phone of general manager Brian Cashman. Already consumed with the task of defending a title, the sleep-deprived Yankees GM allowed his mind to wander.
“It’s easier . . . for people to text you an offer that’s a little bit more difficult to convey verbally,” Cashman said with a laugh, amused by the ease in which outlandish trade offers can be made. “I know I’ve used it in that way, too.”
But since that night at the winter meetings two months ago, Cashman’s moves have been no laughing matter, at least not to those who wish to knock off the world champions.
Cashman revamped the Yankees roster, making it younger than the one that claimed title No. 27. But with pitchers and catchers set to report to Tampa on Wednesday for the start of spring training, the Yankees will begin the process of answering the most important question: Will all of those hours, dollars and text messages add up to the successful pursuit of championship No. 28?
In the past, Cashman has been known to use the phrase “big-game hunters,” an apt description for the Yankees’ place atop the free-agent food chain. The best evidence came during the haul following the 2008 season, when the Yanks went on a $423.5 million spending spree to acquire A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia.
But with the Yankees entering this offseason on a self-imposed budget of roughly $200 million, and a free-agent market mostly devoid of top-level talent, or “big game,” the Yankees made their most significant moves with trades.
“We knew the free-agent market was weak compared to last year’s, as well as compared to next year’s, on paper,” Cashman said last week. “We had to gauge how strong the trade market was, and gauge the ability and willingness to match up.”
It turns out that process started quickly.
Cashman’s work in preparation for 2010 began, by chance, before the 2009 season was over. Once the Yankees set their World Series roster, Cashman spent the next three days calling rival general managers to get a feel for possible trades.
One of his first conversations was with Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. One of the names brought up was Curtis Granderson.
By the winter meetings, the 28-year-old All-Star center fielder was a Yankee, part of a three-team blockbuster trade in which the Yankees parted ways with two high-profile homegrown talents, pitcher Ian Kennedy and outfielder Austin Jackson. The trade gave the Yankees a younger replacement for free agent Johnny Damon, whose time with the Yankees ended with a contract squabble, and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the offseason.
The Yankees allowed World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to sign a free-agent deal with the Angels, signing Nick Johnson in his place. Though he has had injury issues during his career, Johnson is a younger replacement for Matsui at DH.
Johnson’s signing also spelled the end for Damon’s run in the Bronx, perhaps the Yankees’ biggest misfire of the offseason.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get Johnny Damon back, but we made a very strong offer,” said Cashman, who had a two-year, $14 million offer rebuffed in December. “We had intent and interest, but it took them awhile to come around.”
The Yankees also addressed perhaps their top priority entering the offseason, improving their pitching depth.
Because of Chien-Ming Wang’s struggles and Joba Chamberlain’s inconsistency, the team found itself leaning on just three starting pitchers throughout the postseason, a clear sign of the need for another reliable arm.
In response, the Yankees re-signed left-hander Andy Pettitte and traded for former Yankee Javier Vazquez. Earlier in the offseason, Cashman called the Vazquez trade perhaps the most important move of the winter.
With Vazquez joining Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte in the rotation, only one spot remains, which likely will be decided between Phil Hughes and Chamberlain.
But even if they falter, the Yankees could fill the slot with Chad Gaudin, Alfredo Aceves or Sergio Mitre.
Regardless of which direction the Yankees go, they have choices to fill out the rotation, a major goal entering the offseason.