Sunday break not a bad gamble

    Monday, August 2, 2010, 12:57 PM [General]

    Or as Cole Porter wrote, it was just one of those things. Normally, Wallace Matthews of would have a very good point: why would Joe Girardi rest his regulars against their top division rival?

    No Alex Rodriguez? No Brett Gardner? Berkman at first in place of Mark Teixeira? Kearns starting in left? If it wasn't for the name "Jeter" appearing where it is just about every day, at the top of the list, it would have been difficult to determine at first glance that this was a Yankees lineup card at all.

    Thus did the Yankees go down quietly in the rubber game of a key series. The problem with getting exercised about this is that it really wasn’t all that key. Sure, the Yankees are now at greater risk of swapping places in the standings with the Rays, but they are also still 6.5 games ahead of the Red Sox for the wild card spot. In the worst of worst-case scenarios, the Yankees will still play on into October. There was no reason for Girardi to treat Sunday’s contest like a World Series game because, as much as we’d like to pretend it had that kind of import, thanks to the wild card scheme it just wasn’t as important as it otherwise would have been.

    Besides, Girardi was taking a pretty good gamble in picking Sunday’s game. As good as James Shields was yesterday, that’s how bad he was in the 11 starts preceding it. On May 25, he pitched eight innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox. Thereafter, he made a habit of getting shellacked on a regular basis. His ERA for the 12 games between then and yesterday’s start was 6.68. Girardi had at least a reasonable basis for thinking he might be able to finesse this one with his B squad.

    This year we have good races in two of the three American League divisions and all three of the National League divisions. Two of those races are going to be rendered moot by the wild card, but that’s the way it goes -- unless baseball goes to a four-division format in each league, which would require a round of expansion and realignment that just isn’t economically feasible in these deprived days, the wild card is the best way for keeping up fan interest in the teams on the fringes of the race. The price paid is that some good races are robbed of their tension. That’s the case in the AL East this year -- although if you’re a Red Sox fan you’re plenty tense. The Yankees and the Rays can’t take anything for granted, but as of right now they’re safe. If Girardi would rather keep his powder dry for a postseason confrontation, you can’t blame him. It’s no fun, but that’s the way it is.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Wood deal just tra la la

    Saturday, July 31, 2010, 6:03 PM [General]

    As I said on Twitter earlier, having acquired Kerry Wood, the Yankees now stand an excellent chance of winning the 2001 World Series. Kerry Wood has been fairly miserable the last couple of years. As a closer in 2009-2010, he converted 28 saves and blew nine, which is an unacceptable conversion rate. Last year, he had pitched at least somewhat effectively, unlike this season which has been marred by injuries. Still, if you put the two seasons together you get 81 games and 75 innings with 39 walks (too many) and 10 home runs (too many). You also get 81 strikeouts, which is nice but less than what Wood used to be capable of. Wood’s ERA for the last year and a half is 4.80, but that’s not representative; when you consider inherited runners he’s allowed to score that were charged to other pitchers, a more representative ERA would probably be creeping towards 6.00.

    All of that said, this acquisition is much like that of Austin Kearns: it doesn’t cost much and it’s worth a try given the miserable production that the player is replacing. In Kearns’ case, that’s Curtis Granderson’s at-bats against left-handers. With Wood, his place on the roster comes at the expense of Chan Ho Park, who was designated for assignment in order to make room for him. Ironically, Park had pitched about as well as he had all year in July, but apparently his vanishing act against Cleveland two days ago, in which he initially pitched well and then did his level best to turn a blowout into a competitive game, apparently sealed his fate.

    Park should never should have been signed, and in taking him off the roster, Brian Cashman tacitly admits to his mistake. Note I didn’t say “releasing him,” because he’s merely been designated -- given what the Dodgers gave away for Octavio Dotel, Cashman might even know be on the phone to Los Angeles getting two decent prospects for the shell of a reliever who has rarely been good when not wearing blue letters on his chest.

    When Casey Stengel would coach hitters, he would sometimes say that they shouldn’t try to do too much, “just tra la la.” This is a just tra la la deal. It probably won’t make that rickety bridge to Mo-where any more reliable than it has been, but it might, which is more than you could have said for “They can take him deep in any” Park. The cost seems to have been negligible, the risk low -- Wood’s option for 2011 won’t be picked up, and the player to be named won’t be Jesus Montero and might not even be a player, but just more money. Cashman didn’t mortgage the future for transient relief help and he didn’t stand by his failed acquisition either, just tra la la.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    What to make of the Lance Berkman trade

    Saturday, July 31, 2010, 3:51 PM [General]

    Now that the Berkman trade is official, a couple of words on the price paid to get him:

    Mark Melancon was treated strangely by the Yankees this year and in general. His resume entering the season as excellent. They signed Chan Ho Park despite possessing a kid who threw in the low-90s, a cruel curve, and ground-ball tendencies. In both the minors and the majors, he was very difficult to take out of the park; in 232 processional innings, Melancon has allowed just 15 home runs. His control was also good in the minors, at least until this season. He struggled with walks in the majors, and seemed to take that problem back to Scranton with him, so we will never know if he would have licked the problem with more patient handling.

    The stranger part of Melancon’s Yankees years was the way the organization piled on the innings. He was coming off Tommy John surgery in 2008, yet he pitched 95 innings, dangerously near the 100-inning, Killing Scott Proctor mark. This year, between the Major Leagues and the Minors he was already near the 50-inning mark at the halfway point. One wonders if between being blocked by an extra-organizational non-entity like Park and being worked like he was Mike Marshall ’74 we have the explanation for the right-hander’s current bout of overthrowing. Whatever the cause, however curable, it is clear that the Yankees did not believe in him. If they didn’t give him a real chance to make this mess of a bullpen, they weren’t going to give him a chance, period.

    Jimmy Paredes is a 21-year-old middle infielder playing down in the Sally League. Anything can happen in the next few years, but it’s a stretch to consider him any kind of prospect. He can hit for a bit of average, but lacks power, has drawn 39 unintentional walks in 1,112 career plate appearances, and lacks sure hands at any position—his career fielding percentage at third is .858, at shortstop .899, and at second .926. With those kinds of results, he’s begging for a move to the outfield. He has the speed but lacks the bat. If he doesn’t move, he wasn’t going to push Robinson Cano, so like Melancon he won’t be missed.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Few quick words on Austin Kearns

    Saturday, July 31, 2010, 10:14 AM [General]

    Google around and you will see that Austin Kearns was a guy I was thinking of as a possible platoon partner for Curtis Granderson going back to the center fielder’s acquisition. In truth, beyond being right-handed and being more capable with the glove than Marcus Thames, he’s not an ideal fit. First, after a very promising beginning to his career with the Reds back in 2002, he idled along at an offensive level that wasn’t terribly good for a guy playing right field, hitting .256/.350/.441 from 2003 to 2007. Then the injuries hit, elbow problems in 2008 and thumb surgery in 2009. Between the two wounds, his hitting ability disappeared almost altogether. He got in about a full season if you add the last two seasons together (568 plate appearances) and hit .209/.320/.312.

    As Kearns’ contract expired last fall, it seemed unlikely he would ever again be a regular. The Indians were in a desperate phase, so they took a chance. Kearns rewarded them amply in April, hitting .373/.429/.627. There were visions of the guy who hit .315 as a rookie making an unexpected return. It was not to be. Since cooling from that hot start, Kearns has hit .247/.336/.368, firmly back in the land of insufficient results for a corner man. But wait! What are his qualifications as a platoon man, since all the Yankees are going to ask him to do is stand in against left-handers. Well, I’m sorry you asked that. He’s hitting .250/.330/.390 against southpaws, and his career rates against them are only .261/.383/.416, with just 26 home runs in 843 at-bats. When you consider that the average American League hitter is averaging .269/.346/.422 against southpaws, it is clear that Kearn’s is a subpar performance.

    However, not all of those average AL hitters are capable of playing the outfield with greater aplomb than Thames, and those that can might not have been available to the Yankees. Kearns plays the position the Yankees needed to fill if they are to protect Granderson and themselves from those pesky lefties. A career .211/.267/.336 hitter against same-side pitchers, Granderson is batting .214/.252/.286 against them. Kearns is far from the ideal substitute, but he is indisputably an upgrade at the plate.

    The same sort of mixed message applies to Kearns’ glove. His defensive play in right field has always been highly rated, but a comparison of defensive metrics suggests that he hasn’t shown the same ability in left. Whether that represents a true decline in defense remains to be seen; players frequently have fluctuations in their defensive performances just as they do at the plate or on the mound. Kearns has also played 68 career games in center, but it has long since been clear that he’s a player of last resort for the position.

    Brian Cashman has said for the last month or so that his goal has been to upgrade the bench. He has done so here, however flawed and disappointing Kearns has been. Best of all, the terms are for the Yankees to give up a player to be named or cash, so it seems unlikely that any prospect of real value will be lost as a result of the transaction. They didn’t get an ideal lefty-masher, but they have at least begun to address a nagging weakness.

    1.9 (2 Ratings)

    Tired of singing the Berkman blues

    Friday, July 30, 2010, 5:42 PM [General]

    Still no Yankees pick-ups as the team hordes its prospects for the day that Boston makes Babe Ruth available. If you’re not going to use these players at the Major League level, they only have value as trade chips. They’re a bit like sushi: you can’t put it in the fridge and use it a month from now. Still, things are apparently happening. The twitterverse says that the Yankees are out on Adam Dunn, are now dogging Lance Berkman’s footsteps. For those that missed the first few minutes of the film, here’s the Berkman recap (naturally, I am alluding to the great Swedish film director, Ingmar Berkman): He’s a career .296/.410/.549 hitter, but though he bats from both sides of the plate, most of the damage has been done from the left side. Batting against southpaws, he has hit only .262/.366/.415, which is worth playing in the absence of a better alternative. However, if we’re talking DH-only, then you would probably rather sit for Marcus Thames.

    We probably are talking about a player who would be restricted to designated hitter, because although Berkman has played nearly 900 games in the outfield, the majority of them in left, he was never known for his mobility and hasn’t gotten away from first base in three years, and last started even 30 games in the pastures back in 2006. He’s not going to make it easier to rest Curtis Granderson against lefties.

    Berkman missed the first few weeks of the season with a strained groin and didn’t hit much out of the gates. In fact, he hasn’t hit much at all by his standards. He’s at .245/.372/.436 for the season, .188/.278/.281 against lefties, .261/.395/.479 against righties. Put together his last two months and you get .259/.385/.465 in 48 games, eight balls jumping the fences in 170 at-bats. Away from his cozy home field, he’s hit .194/.357/.343, though he has not always been a product of Minute Maid Park.

    So, will he help? Well, he’s a patient hitter. His walk totals have been inflated by 15-20 intentional walks a year, free passes he won’t get in the AL, but he’s no hacker. His home run totals have been on a steady downward slide—45, 34, 29, 25, 13 (and counting) this year, but he’s only 34, which makes him a young Yankee—he could find a second wind. Either way, it’s the on-base percentage that’s important. If he does what’s been doing, he’ll approximate what Nick Johnson would have done had he not been built by the same engineers who constructed the Titanic. Yankees designated hitters have hit .250/.358/.424 this year—Juan Miranda, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, and Thames have given decent value when they have rotated through, everyone else, not so much. Again, if Berkman can just do what he’s been doing, that’s a minor upgrade, perhaps an insignificant one. If he can rediscover his essential inner-Berkmanness then the Yankees would obviously get a major upgrade at the position. Again, Thames should still be part of the rotation there.

    Berkman’s contract would require the Yankees to either pick up his $15 million option for 2011 or buy him out for $2 million at the end of the year. He will almost certainly be bought out regardless of how he does, and both he and the Yankees can proceed in any direction from that point. He would just be a three-month rental, August, September, and with luck all of October. If the Yankees aren’t going to give up much in the way of prospects in return for taking on what remains of Berkman’s $14.5 million this year and the $2 million buyout, well, it’s just money and they will still have all of those lovely prospects to use at some point. When? We’re still not sure. Maybe next year, maybe in trade for someone even better for Berkman, say Cliff Lee or Dan Haren. Or maybe not.

    0 (0 Ratings)

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