Trenton players give, get HOPE

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 2:55 PM [General]

    One of the things the Yankees organization prides itself on is what it does in the Minor Leagues, specifically teaching the Baby Bombers “The Yankee Way.” Besides learning how to carry on a winning tradition (Trenton is in first place as of July 11, with four of the other five affiliates right near the top of their divisions as well), Yankees farmhands also aren’t allowed to have facial hair below the upper lip, and must wear their socks high as well.

    This week we’ve posted a lot of content here on about both Yankees HOPE Week activities and the goings-on of the team’s Minor League affiliates – most notably the Trenton Thunder, who, like all of the Bombers’ Minor League clubs, participated in HOPE Week this year for the first time.

    Of course, Trenton is where Andy Pettitte first met five-year-old Andy Fass, one of the Yankees’ HOPE Week celebrants, back in April, a chance meeting that gave the younger Andy a passion for baseball and made April 25 a day he’ll never forget.

    “That’s been an amazing story, and I can’t wait to see the Fass family again,” Thunder GM and COO Will Smith told me. “You never know what you’re going to see at a ballgame. Andy (Pettitte) flipped him the ball, and later his mom emailed me to say thanks, and gave us a little backstory on her son…I sent it to Bill (Cook, Thunder Director of PR) and said send it to the Yankees right away. The rest is history, and to have been a part of that is unbelievable.”

    During that conversation with Smith, which happened while I was down in Trenton to do a feature on their promotional slate, the Thunder boss told me a story about how he was, unknowingly at the time, at the final game of Cal Ripken’s streak – saying “you never know what can happen from chance, and you never know how small actions can affect people” – and proved that point by telling me about infielder Addison Maruszak’s own HOPE Week experience.

    During their week, Thunder players visited a local elementary school, held a clinic for Special Olympians, and honored folks involved in Project Freedom – but they also made a visit to Robert Wood Johnson Memorial Hospital, where Maruszak and some teammates brought flowers to new parents in the maternity ward and the 25-year-old himself got his first taste of fatherly duties.

    “So Addison is visiting with one of the families, and the father asks him if he wanted to hold their child,” Smith said. “And so there’s Addison holding this infant child…he’s married, but doesn’t have any kids yet, and you could see the twinkle in his eye. There’s no doubt that experience may stay with him forever, even more than anything he might do on the diamond this year.”

    If anything, Maruszak will remember that moment – and likely the ribbing of teammate Ryan Pope, who asked Maruszak If he had told the child’s parents that he led the league in errors – on the day he holds his first child, and if and when he reaches the Big Leagues, he’ll remember that day when he takes part in his first Yankees HOPE Week event.

    Just another day in the education of how to be a Yankee.

    Photo provided by Bill Cook of the Trenton Thunder.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The All-Star Best

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 1:01 PM [General]

    Fan voting for the All-Star Game of course means that you (as in fans as a whole) get to see who you want…but it doesn’t mean that the “best” player is starting at every position.

    But what if they did? Here’s a look at what the starting lineups could look like if the “top” qualifying statistical player was the starter at every position:

    Note: “Qualifier” means at least 2.7 PA per team game (220-230 or so depending on the team). Choices are given if different players lead their position in one of the big three stats (AVG-HR-RBI), and stolen bases will also be used as a category for outfield and the middle infielders.

    C: Joe Mauer (.326-5-41) or A.J. Pierzynski (.285-16-49)
    1B: Paul Konerko (.329-14-42) or Prince Fielder (.299-15-63)
    2B: Robinson Cano (.313-20-51) or Jason Kipnis (.277-11-49, 20 SB)
    SS: Derek Jeter (.308-7-25), JJ Hardy (11 HR), Alexei Ramirez/Mike Aviles (44 RBI), or Elvis Andrus (.299, 16 SB)
    3B: Adrian Beltre (.326-15-54) or Miguel Cabrera (.324-18-71)
    OF: Mike Trout (.341-12-40, 26 SB), Josh Hamilton (.308-27-75), and either Austin Jackson (second with .332 BA) or Jose Bautista (.244 but tied for first with 27 HR and second in RBI with 65)
    DH: David Ortiz (.312-22-57) or Adam Dunn (.208-25-61)

    C: Carlos Ruiz (.350-13-46), but Yadier Molina (13 HR) and Brian McCann (13 HR, 46 RBI) are “leaders” too
    1B: Joey Votto (.348-14-48) or Adam LaRoche (.255-15-53)
    2B: Jose Altuve (.303, 15 SB), Dan Uggla (12 HR), or Brandon Phillips (48 RBI)
    SS: Willie Bloomquist (.294), Ian Desmond (.285-17-51), or Dee Gordon (30 SB)
    3B: David Wright (.351-11-59) or Pedro Alvarez (16 HR)
    OF: Andrew McCutchen (.362-18-60), Ryan Braun (.306-24-61), Carlos Beltran (.296-20-65), and Michael Bourn (.311, 25 SB)

    There are some interesting candidates there, for sure, and while only two of the AL starters aren’t listed at all (Granderson and Napoli), five NL’ers (Cabrera, Furcal, Posey, and the “ineligible non-qualifiers” Kemp and Sandoval) are left out.

    Off that list, I’d personally pick Ortiz, Pierzynski, Konerko/Cano/Jeter/Cabrera, and Trout/Hamilton/Bautista for the AL, and then Ruiz, Votto/Phillips/Desmond/Wright, and McCutchen/Braun/Beltran for the NL, likely with Melky Cabrera (league leader in hits, second in AVG) as the DH. And, as far as pitchers go, take your pick on what stat is most important to you, but my starters would ideally be Jered Weaver (10-1, 1.96 ERA and a no-hitter) and R.A. Dickey (12-1, 2.40 ERA, 123 K).

    Enjoy the All-Star Game, everyone.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Cain is able, but Dickey is better

    Monday, July 9, 2012, 5:39 PM [General]

    There are quite a few things about the All-Star Game that puzzle me, like why the Dodgers are letting Matt Kemp participate in the Home Run Derby or how Ian Desmond (who has played every inning of every Nationals game since April 20) was allowed to bow out due to a pre-existing injury.

    But the biggest one is why Tony La Russa chose Matt Cain to start the game over R.A. Dickey.

    I get that the All-Star Game is about who the fans want to see, at least with the starting position players, but you still have to have “numbers” to be there.

    And when you look at the numbers, well, Dickey deserves it.

    Those numbers say that Dickey’s 12 wins and 0.93 WHIP lead the National League, his 2.40 ERA is fifth in the league (behind four guys who aren’t even on the All-Star Team), his 120 innings pitched rank him fourth (and have him just 2/3 of an inning shy of the lead), and his 123 strikeouts are second to Clayton Kershaw.

    Honestly, yes, you can make an argument that any of the starters on the team deserve to start; they’re All-Stars, and even when you consider some (like Arizona’s Wade Miley) are there in part because their team has to have a representative, they’re still guys with top-flight numbers.

    Cain is a great pitcher, and his line (9-3, 2.62 ERA, 160.1 IP, 118 K, 0.96 WHIP) has him at or near the top of all of those categories as well.

    But Dickey’s numbers are better, and even though he plays on a team with the same record as the Giants (both are 46-40), he’s doing it in a tougher division – the Mets are in third place, 4.5 games behind Washington, while the Giants are a half-game behind NL West leader Los Angeles.

    Tony La Russa knows infinitely more about baseball than I, and has more World Series rings than I ever will; I admit that. And, of course, you can say the same about Ron Washington’s choice in the AL, as although Justin Verlander (9-5, 2.58 ERA, leads the league in Ks and is second in WHIP) is always a solid bet, you can also make a strong argument for Chris Sale, David Price, Matt Harrison, and Yu Darvish – the latter two made stronger by the fact that they actually play for Washington.

    But as a fan, watching a game played mostly for the fans, I believe the starter should be the guy having the best season, and one would tend to think that as the All-Star Game decides who has home field advantage in the World Series, a manager would want to put his strongest pitcher on the mound to start.

    The latter might not matter so much to the retired La Russa, but when it comes to the former, well, that man in the NL is R.A. Dickey.

    Hopefully, Dickey will get the chance to showcase his knuckleball to the world at some point on Tuesday night – and who knows, maybe the All-Star start snub will fuel him to an even better second half, perhaps en route to a Cy Young Award.

    Because right now, it’d be hard to argue that Dickey doesn’t deserve that honor, either.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Interleague Play = Strange Bedfellows

    Monday, June 25, 2012, 11:36 AM [General]

    When interleague play becomes an everyday occurrence next year, we’ll no longer be able to use the phrase I’m about to below:

    Man, are the Yankees going to miss interleague play or what?

    The two-plus weeks of AL vs. NL action has always created some strange bedfellows, and while the Yankees have always been great against the NL, this year, the interleague stretch as been the catalyst for their surge to the top…and not just by their own hand.

    When everyone woke up on June 8, Tampa Bay had just reclaimed first place from the Yankees, who were 32-25 and a half-game out in the AL East. Baltimore was hot on their heels a half-game behind that mark, and even the last-place Red Sox were a .500 team that was just five games out.

    Cut to 17 days later, and after a 12-3 stretch that included a 10-game winning streak at the outset, the Bombers are now 43-28, 2 ½ games up on Baltimore with Tampa Bay a game behind the Orioles in third place.

    That 10-game streak will never hurt, of course, but remember what I said above in regards to strange bedfellows? Well, look at what fans of various East teams had to deal with over the last couple weeks:

    Yankees fans rooted hard against the Mets for on the bookend weekends of interleague, but in between, surely rooted hard for them as they swept both the Rays and Orioles.

    Nationals fans, meanwhile, may have hated the Yankees for sweeping them in DC, but loved that the Yanks went 9-3 against the Mets and Braves (a record that helped the Nats increase their NL East lead as well).

    In between, Mets fans likely hated the Red Sox (who said 1986 was long enough) for getting swept by Washington, but may have reversed their tune after the Sox went 7-2 against Miami and Atlanta.

    And, when all was said and done, the Nationals had extended their lead in the NL East thanks in large part to the AL East, and the Yankees had gone from half-game down to 2 ½ up in that same span.

    Even if you don’t get caught up in the hoopla of rooting for or against the “lesser of two evils” in one of those matchups, this year’s craziness will most certainly be missed next year when there’s an AL vs. NL game every night.

    Unless, for some reason, the Yankees are playing an easier AL opponent in the final week of the 2012 season while their AL East rivals have to play the likes of the Nats, Mets, or Dodgers…

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Life without Gardner

    Friday, June 15, 2012, 4:21 PM [General]

    “I have made no phone calls to any general managers about making an acquisition,” Cashman said. “I’d prefer to ride what we’ve got.”

    Those were the words of Brian Cashman, who spoke to Jack Curry on Wednesday about the state of the team and how the “panic” of the early season has given way to mid-season success.

    But as Curry even says, those words were uttered before the team found out that Brett Gardner will in fact be out until after the All-Star break, the bone bruise and muscle strain in his right elbow needing at least three more weeks or rest.

    In the same interview, though, Cashman said that “You can’t make moves until you know what you don’t have,” and added that “I expect Gardner to come back.”

    Expectation aside, what the Yankees “don’t have” is their left fielder for another few weeks, meaning that if the status quo remains, at least another 25-30 games of Raul Ibanez or Andruw Jones in left field.

    That, unfortunately, also likely means another four weeks of Curtis Granderson playing every inning of every game in center field – and could mean that if no moves are made, then there could be three players who are as less than ideal “freshness” come the stretch run.

    Cashman also said last week that he didn’t want to “overexpose” Ibanez and Jones, and should worry about Granderson as well. So, while there’s no need to “panic,” or even make a trade as of yet, it may be time to at least come up with some kind of plan.

    Dewayne Wise, who played the only two innings Granderson didn’t in center field, may only be hitting .160 right now, but he does have five steals and is a great defensive outfielder, so he could match at part of Gardner’s game on a limited basis. Meanwhile, down in Triple-A, the Yankees also have Chris Dickerson and Colin Curtis, both of whom are lefties with good speed, solid defensive tools, Major League experience, and the ability to be capable hitters.

    By having Joe Girardi deploy whichever one of those three fits best on a “full-time” basis, the Yankees could at least try to stay true to all of Cashman’s ideals while keeping with Girardi’s desire to rest all of the older stars (Jeter and A-Rod included) on a regular basis.

    And then, come the All-Star break, if Gardner still isn’t close, the team can then look to see if a trade deadline acquisition might be the best idea to replace the speedy left fielder.

    With the Yankees in first place, it is hard to argue with the status quo, but as Cashman also has said in the past, just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be made better.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Hensley's high school in rare company?

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 2:59 PM [General]

    When the Yankees selected pitcher Ty Hensley in the first round of Major League Baseball Draft on Monday night, his hometown rang more of a bell in my head than his actual name.

    That’s not because Hensley isn’t a talented pitcher – he was the Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Oklahoma last year, after all – but more because in compiling our draft coverage over the last couple weeks, I’ve seen the name “Edmond Santa Fe High School” many, many times.

    Santa Fe High School was the alma mater of Brandon Weeden, the former Oklahoma State and current Cleveland Browns quarterback that the Yankees drafted with their top pick in 2002. Although he’s now on the road to becoming an NFL star, a decade ago Weeden was an 18-year-old pitcher with a killer fastball and a Yankee contract getting ready to tackle the Minor Leagues.

    It’s likely that you may not have known that (before reading our draft coverage, of course), nor even heard of Santa Fe High School or even Edmond, Oklahoma; while some high schools are noted for being national powerhouses (like the Harvard-Westlake School in greater Los Angeles, which this year produced a pair of first-round picks), to most, Santa Fe is simply one of three high schools within the city of Edmond.

    But in a fun fact I discovered while looking a little deeper on Tuesday morning, it may be one of the only high schools (if not the only one) to have produced a first-round pick in each of the MLB, NFL, and NBA Drafts over the last three years.

    There’s Hensley, of course, and there’s Weeden, who may have graduated in 2002 but was selected by the Browns in the NFL Draft this past April. But there’s also Ekpe Udoh, the former Baylor Bears center who led Santa Fe to a state title in 2005 and was the No. 6 overall pick of the Golden State Warriors in the 2010 NBA Draft.

    That’s not a bad resume, especially for a high school that has only been open since 1993. Heck, my alma mater, Seymour High School in Seymour, CT, has been around for almost 130 years, and we’ve only ever had two players selected in the MLB Draft period, both of whom were catchers.

    The first one, Joseph Simbolick, went No. 211 overall to the Tigers in 1973, and the other, Jay Perez, went No. 55 overall to the Astros in 1999. Simbolick never played professionally and Perez never advanced beyond Rookie ball, but in addition to being the Little League teammate of a certain writer, he at least has two fun MLB claims to fame: he was drafted two spots ahead of Brandon Phillips (and three behind Carl Crawford), and was taken with a pick the Astros got as compensation from Arizona for losing a free agent pitcher named Randy Johnson.

    Impressive? Maybe not, unless you graduated from SHS at least, but it’s something.

    Having the most successful franchise in pro sports make two of your alumni their top overall draft pick in different years is, however, an impressive feat, so a big congratulations goes out to the entire Edmond Santa Fe Wolves community – especially to Ty Hensley, who we hope to see in the Gulf Coast League or even on Staten Island later this summer…and maybe someday in the Bronx.

    Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Jeter a reminder that MLB Draft is fickle

    Friday, June 1, 2012, 1:07 PM [General]

    The Major League Baseball Draft is a fickle, fickle beast, and there’s no bigger reminder of that than Derek Jeter – in both “good” terms and “bad.”

    As Jon Lane expounded upon earlier today, June 1, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Yankees selecting Jeter No. 6 overall in the 1992 MLB Draft. The Captain is going to Cooperstown, no doubt, and it’s a common chuckle to look back at the five guys taken ahead of him and wonder how that could’ve happened; sure, four of the five reached the Majors, and No. 1 overall Phil Nevin (.270-208 HR-790 RBI) had a pretty good 14-year baseball career…but none of them are DEREK FREAKIN’ JETER.

    Keep that in mind come Monday, because you’ll probably hear a lot of names called that you aren’t familiar with – and many more that you never will be.

    Because of the Minor League system and the incredible length of the MLB Draft (dozens of rounds compared to 16 total for the NBA, NFL, and NHL Drafts), baseball’s selection day, even in the first round, is more about finding people you think can contribute than those who will make an immediate impact. Sure, the latter happens – Joba Chamberlain was a Major Leaguer roughly 14 months after he threw his last pitch at Nebraska – but it took Jeter nearly three full calendar years to make his MLB debut.

    The Astros took Nevin in 1992 because they were afraid Jeter would cost too much to sign. That caused scout Hal Newhouser to resign in protest, and even though Nevin was a very good MLB player, it will still be considered one of the biggest blunders in draft history – for the Astros (who actually have the No. 1 pick again this year) and the other four teams that passed on The Captain alike.

    Here’s the thing though: as opposed to football or basketball or even hockey, you have to wait 5, 10, or even 20 years to fully evaluate the impact of an MLB Draft.

    Look deeper at that 1992 draft, and you’ll see a lot of familiar names that still might make you question what some teams were thinking on 6/1/92. They’re not Jeter, but Nevin, pitcher Paul Shuey (No. 2) and outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds (No. 4) did all have decent careers, and so did Preston Wilson (No. 9, Mets), Michael Tucker (No. 10, Royals), and Charles Johnson (No. 28, Marlins).

    But how did 22 teams pass on Jason Kendall, one of the most durable and consistent-hitting catchers of this generation? How did nine outfielders (not including Tucker and Wilson, who were drafted as shortstops) get taken before Johnny Damon? How is it that a guy that hit 428 home runs (Jason Giambi) and one who won 131 MLB games (Jon Lieber) were second rounders?

    The answer: it happens. Maybe the teams that drafted Ken Felder and Shon Walker felt they fit the franchise’s future better than Damon, or the Royals felt it would cost too much to sign Lieber and chose Sherod Clinkscales instead. And, sometimes, as in the case of Todd Helton (No. 55 to the Padres), that player chooses another route; Helton, specifically, was drafted out of high school in 1992 but chose to go to the University of Tennessee instead, and he turned out pretty okay.

    That’s the beauty of the MLB Draft, and no matter who the Yankees take on Monday, all you can do is look at him and hope. You’ll see next week in our extended draft coverage that there are huge hits (and even bigger misses) everywhere, and that’s simply a phenomenon that’s bound to occur in a draft where more than 1500 men are selected.

    Chances are, the Yankees’ top pick won’t be Derek Jeter in 2032; to be fair, no one may be. But even if that guy turns out to be a Phil Nevin or a Jeffrey Hammonds in the Bronx, that’s still a great pick.

    And if Mr. First Round doesn’t pan out at all, well, then maybe the Bombers will end up getting the next Raul Ibanez in the 36th round; after all, that’s what the Mariners did in 1992…one round after they got a guy who never made it out of Single-A.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Handing out the "First Quarter Awards"

    Thursday, May 24, 2012, 4:25 PM [General]

    The Yankees have played 44 games through Wednesday night, roughly 27 percent of their 2012 schedule. And, for all the coverage their struggles, both offensively and on the mound, have garnered this year, the Bombers sit at 23-21, just a half-game behind the cutoff for a postseason berth.

    But on this day off, let’s forget about that for a moment and accentuate the positive.

    Taking a page from the annual MLB Awards, here are the five men that would win (at least in this blogger’s mind) the Yankees’ “First Quarter Awards” in a handful of categories.

    MVP: Derek Jeter. Sure, Curtis Granderson leads the team in homers, and Raul Ibanez has been a revelation in the middle of the lineup. But The Captain has made it happen all year, and has carried over his stellar second half of 2011 into April and May to the tune of a .348 average through Wednesday. He is also tied (as of Thursday morning) with former teammate Melky Cabrera for the MLB lead in hits and has now what would be the second-highest slugging percentage of his career.

    Cy Young: CC Sabathia. If Andy Pettitte had more than three starts, he might be the choice. But barring him, Sabathia has been the rotation’s rock, going 5-2 with a 3.67 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 64.1 IP so far. The ace’s starts haven’t all been the prettiest, but he averages over seven innings per and has the best ERA on the staff of those who have taken the ball every fifth day all season long.

    Delivery Man (Reliever): Cory Wade. This may come as a surprise, given that Mo was Mo in April, David Robertson has been great save for one or two appearances, and Rafael Soriano has gotten the job done as a closer in their absences. But, after a rough spring, Wade has flown under the radar while having a very strong first seven weeks. His 2.18 ERA is second among Yankees relievers to Rivera's 2.16, and he sports both a sub-1.00 WHIP and a 7.67-1 K/BB ratio. Wade will continue to have more chances to shine in a big spot as long as Robertson is sidelined, so it's up to him to continue to prove that he deserves this recognition.

    Rookie: Raul Ibanez. Even though he was one of the last pieces of this year’s puzzle to be added, Ibanez has been a keystone so far. He has held his own in the outfield, and in just 118 at-bats – the seventh-most on the team – Raul has hit nine home runs and is tied for the team lead with 27 RBI. Ibanez has averaged a .280-24-94 line over the last decade, and is well on his way to getting there again in 2012.

    Comeback Player: Andy Pettitte. No surprise here, as Pettitte looks like he never left, notching a 2-1 record, 2.53 ERA, and two quality starts so far. Granted, I’m not real sure there’s anyone else on the team who would qualify for this award, but it would still be an easy choice.

    These, of course, are just my unofficial you agree or disagree?

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Should Tex take two more weeks off?

    Monday, May 21, 2012, 12:40 PM [General]

    Mark Teixeira, who has been bothered all season by a respiratory ailment, had most of the weekend off, his only action coming when he pinch-hit for Eric Chavez in the ninth inning of Sunday’s loss. So, it is of course possible that he is feeling a lot better and will be back in the lineup on Monday against Kansas City as he expects.

    But what if he’s not?

    “I’m not 100 percent, obviously,” Teixeira said following Sunday's game, where he reached on an error in his lone at-bat of the weekend. “I think at this point, I know I have to deal with it for a while. The days off definitely helped and we’ll see how it goes. We’re going to keep managing it. I’m not worried. I played a month and a half with it and hopefully time is going to make it better.”

    It sounds as if Teixeira knows that it’s all about managing his illness at this point. But with the Yankees offense as a whole struggling, might it be best for the team to give Tex a longer time (say, 15 days?) to see if it helps the situation any?

    Teixeira is a notorious slow starter and is adjusting to a new spot in the order (hitting behind A-Rod instead of in front of him), so his line through the weekend of .226/.281/.384-5-20 isn’t necessarily “surprising” so to speak.

    But, it is magnified by the fact that the entire lineup is struggling, especially with runners in scoring position – so perhaps a temporary infusion of new blood could help kick-start the regulars.

    Right now, first baseman Steve Pearce is having an all-star quality campaign in Triple-A. His .315 average is fifth in the International League, and he’s in the Top 10 in home runs (8), total bases (83), and all three categories of slugging, on-base percentage, and OPS.

    It is true that even with though he has MLB experience, Pearce’s numbers might not translate to the Major League level. And, of course, the team would miss Teixeira’s Gold Glove defense at first – but that is the least of the team’s worries right now, and there is a two-fold possible benefit here.

    As far as Tex’s offense is concerned, well, as Derek Jeter seems to have proven since his calf injury last June, maybe a couple weeks off is just what the doctor ordered.  

    And, there is at least precedent that a move like this could pay off psychologically as it was just five years ago that Shelley Duncan came up to bolster a Yankees team that was 43-43 at the 2007 All-Star break and had their slugging first baseman disabled after playing through a nagging ailment for two months; Duncan proceeded to hit five homers in his first two weeks in the bigs, and the Yankees on to play .667 baseball in the second half en route to winning the Wild Card.

    Whether that was causation or correlation, no one can possibly ever truly know, but the point stands – for the health of both the first baseman and the team, sending Mark Teixeira to the DL might not be the worst move in the world to make.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    A Swish-alicious Reminder

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 1:43 PM [General]

    For all those who continue to second-guess the Michael Pineda trade now that Jose Campos is also hurt, I’d like to direct you to a nugget of information I was reminded of during a random discussion with colleague Jon Lane the other day that should, hopefully once and for all, prove that you can’t judge a trade in its initial aftermath.

    I present to you Exhibit A: Nicholas Thompson Swisher.

    Chances are, you love Nick Swisher. He certainly loves the fans (and playing in the Big Apple), and he’s been a key contributor to the Yankees since the day he put on pinstripes. And right now, the Chicago White Sox brass are probably still kicking themselves for both ends of the trades that both brought him to and sent him away from the Windy City.

    But in 2008, it was Yankees fans who were kicking their own favorite team’s brass for the acquisition of what looked to be an overpaid underachiever.

    Swisher was acquired that November for utility man Wilson Betemit and pitching prospects Jeffrey Marquez and Jhonny Nunez, and at the time, it looked like a shrewd salary dump on one end and a huge question mark on the other.

    Sure, first base and right field were both open that off-season thanks to the free agency of Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, but with Xavier Nady looking ready to assume one of those spots, many wondered why the Yankees would trade a serviceable utility player and two prospects for a .250-hitting, semi-powerful tweener outfielder who was owed $22 million over the next four years – and why a team like Chicago would even give him up.

    Indeed, those cried became louder once Mark Teixeira was signed later that winter, as Swisher was shunted into a “super-utility” role that would have seen him platoon with Nady in right, back up Melky Cabrera in center, and be insurance for Tex at first, all for the bargain price of $22 million owed.

    That lasted all of about a week, as Swisher was inserted into the lineup full-time after Nady re-injured his elbow (and eventually had his second Tommy John surgery), and three years later, the rest is history.

    In his first three years in pinstripes, Swisher hit .267 overall and averaged 150 games played, 27 home runs, 85 RBI, and 83 BB per season – and he’s poised to better most if not all of those numbers in 2012.

    Not bad for a .250-hitting, semi-powerful, tweener outfielder/utility guy, eh?

    Meanwhile, on the other side, Chicago got next to nothing from the entirety of that trade. Betemit played all of 20 games in 2009 before leaving as a free agent and is now in Baltimore (hence the genesis of this discussion), Nunez pitched 5 2/3 innings later that year but hasn’t seen the Majors since (and is now pitching in the Tampa Bay organization), and Marquez, who is now with the Mariners’ Triple-A team in Tacoma, gave them all of one inning in 2010 before being waived in 2011.

    That all makes it a bad enough deal for Chicago, but what’s even worse is what they gave up to get Swisher.

    For one year of Swish’s services – one where he hit a career-low .219 with 24 homers and 69 RBI, no less – the White Sox sent Fautino De Los Santos, Gio Gonzalez, and Ryan Sweeney to Oakland.

    And yes, that’s the same De Los Santos who has become an important part of the A’s bullpen in the last season-plus, the same Gonzalez who has a career record of 42-33 with a 3.79 ERA and fetched a pair of top pitching prospects from Washington this offseason, and the same Sweeney who played in 439 games for the A’s from 2008-11 and is now batting .333 as an everyday player in Boston.

    Think the White Sox wouldn’t love to have any of those three or Swisher back?

    Of course they would. But when Kenny Williams made both of those moves, he thought he was acquiring a solid player and/or doing what was best for his team…just like Brian Cashman did when he traded a top prospect for an All-Star power pitcher.

    So the next time you hear someone bashing the Pineda trade, tell them to simply look to right field – because if Cashman didn’t take that risk in 2009, the man who salutes the Bleacher Creatures every night during roll call would likely be somewhere else.

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    Utility or Liability?

    Friday, May 11, 2012, 11:21 AM [General]

    One of Joe Girardi’s biggest goals this season was to rest all of his regulars, especially Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, more regularly. In setting that goal, Girardi touted the ability of Eduardo Nunez to be a super-utility player, one who could fill in at multiple positions without the team missing a beat.

    But after just 31 games and a handful of costly errors all around the diamond by Nunez, what must Girardi be thinking as he watches that ability often become a liability?

    Nunez had another rough game on Thursday, this time at third base, where he made errors in consecutive innings that accounted for both of the Rays’ runs. Yes, the Yankees recovered to win 5-2 and those were the only two runs the Rays scored, but the miscues put CC Sabathia in an unnecessary hole early and could have even more adversely affected a pitcher who isn’t the Yankees’ ace.

    To be fair to Nunez, he did redeem himself at the plate by going 2-for-2 with a walk, two stolen bases and a run scored.  And, to be more fair, he has been the ultimate team player this season, starting games at four positions, making a cameo in right field, and even taking a turn as the designated hitter.

    But Nunez has now made four total errors at three different positions this season (and had a fifth in left field about 10 days ago reversed), and that number has him on pace to top last season’s total of 20 – a total that was fifth in the American League despite Nunez playing just 112 games.

    In a manager’s mind, when does a mistake (or two) become a trend…and when do you begin to try to find a way around it?

    From Girardi during his post-game presser on Wednesday: "I think we’re going to have to evaluate a little bit how much we move him around, in a sense. Maybe it’s just difficult for him, all the different throws, for a kid that was used to playing shortstop. A lot of times, a utility guy is a guy that has experience; has played some short, maybe some other places, then you ask him to play one other position. We’ve basically asked him to play three or four different positions that he had never played before until he got here. We’re just going to have to keep working with him. You can see how valuable his bat is and his speed is, it’s just been difficult for him, the adjustments.”

    Nunez can hit, and he can run; those traits have never been doubted, and both his .271 career average and 33 career stolen bases in 162 games prove that. And yes, as Girardi somewhat noted (and many analysts agree on), being a utility player is somewhat harder than playing the same position regularly, because the fact that every position has different throws, responsibilities, and angles makes repetition impossible.

    But many of his errors seem to come on what appear to be routine plays (much like the two on Thursday), and this year at least, all of them have been costly in some way.

    Sure, when you’re “replacing” players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano – who have won eight total Gold Gloves between them in the last decade – it is easy to see a tiny “molehill” mistake magnified into a mountain. But no matter what walk of life you are in or how difficult a job you may have, consistent lack of performance at some point will earn you a re-assignment.

    In Nunez’ case that might seem to be a stint in Triple-A to work out some defensive kinks, but the Yankees might not have many (if any) “better” options in-house to make that kind of move.

    Until they do, either Girardi will have to put aisde his goal of resting players regularly or Nunez will continue to play nearly every day. If it's the latter, then for both his and the team’s sake, hopefully he can put it all together before one of those molehill mistakes turns into a mountain the Yankees can’t climb.

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    Should the Yankees add an outfielder?

    Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 4:26 PM [General]

    It’s a topic that Yankees fans began debating the minute Brett Gardner went on the disabled list, revisited when Nick Swisher left Sunday’s game, and belabored every time a fly ball came Eduardo Nunez’ way over the last two days:

    Is it time for the Yankees to bite the bullet and bring in another outfielder?

    Swisher doesn’t think his tight hamstring will keep him out of action for too long, but Joe Girardi said earlier this week that Swish may not be fully available until next Tuesday – a full eight days after he first sat out. That’s a lengthy absence, but with Brett Gardner eligible for activation from the DL on Thursday, it was thought that the Yankees could make do.

    However, news came out on Wednesday that  Girardi thinks it is “doubtful” that Gardner will be activated when he is eligible; the skipper believes that his regular left fielder will need “at least one” rehab game before being reinstated, which pushes his return back into the weekend (if not later).

    Those two statements, compounded with Eduardo Nunez’ critical error in left field on Tuesday night, have many believing that the Yankees are only hurting themselves by not adding another option.

    As the old saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and as much of a team player as a guy like Nunez may be, there’s a big difference between bridging a gap and patching a hole – and until either or both of their corner outfielders return to the starting lineup, that’s exactly what the Yankees seem to have.

    Although he’s making the best of it, Joe Girardi only has 11 healthy active position players at his disposal, one of which is backup catcher Chris Stewart. And, even though Andruw Jones is a multiple-time Gold Glover and Raul Ibanez  was a regular in Philly as recently as 2011, it has been acknowledged that Girardi doesn’t want to count on both as everyday outfielders for too long of a stretch.

    But right now, his options are to either do just that or continue to use a utility infielder who doubled his total of Major League experience in the outfield over the last two days.  

    The Yankees are admittedly thin on outfielders on the 40-man roster; they only have two in the Minors, and one (Zoilo Almonte) happens to be on the DL at Double-A Trenton himself. The other, Melky Mesa, has never played above that level.

    But there are other options, and there are ways to make it happen.

    At Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees have no less than six players (and that’s not even counting Chris Dickerson, who is also on the DL) who have significantly more outfield experience than Nunez. And, as much as he may also have declined defensively in recent years, Bobby Abreu is a free agent and may be amenable to even a temporary return to the Bronx – one that would only cost the Yankees a pro-rated portion of the Major League minimum salary for however long he stays.

    As far as the current roster goes, even if the Yankees don’t want to put Swisher on the DL and lose him for up to a week longer than possibly necessary, they could just option one of their 13 pitchers (likely D.J. Mitchell) back to Scranton. And, there are multiple players (most notably Michael Pineda) who could be moved to from the 15-day DL to the 60-day to accommodate space for an additional outfielder.

    Whether or not anything happens in the next few days prior to Gardner’s eventual reinstatement remains to be seen, of course…but how do you feel about the outfield situation?

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