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Posts Tagged ‘Brian Fuentes’

Ubaldo Jimenez

Some things are a given in life. The sun rises in the east. Commuter trains in New York are overstuffed and never run on time. The Yankees always make a trade in July.

Only, this year that last one might not happen.

It’s not for lack of need. The starting line-up is solid and the bench features guys who could start for better than half the teams in baseball. But the pitching staff, both in the rotation and the bullpen, is loaded with question marks. CC Sabathia is an unqualified ace; Mariano Rivera remains the king of closers and David Robertson has turned into one of the game’s most reliable set-up men. But the rest of the staff doesn’t inspire confidence on a daily basis.

The Yankees are plagued by the fact that among the presumed LCS teams, they’re the only team without a bona-fide number 2 starter. The Red Sox feature Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The Phillies send Roy Halladay
and Cliff Lee. The Giants have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. The Yankees keep hoping that AJ Burnett will be that number two guy – but after 2 ½ seasons of watching him implode at the most inopportune times, I can’t think of anyone who truly thinks he is. Bartolo Colon, based on his performance this year (7-6, 3.29 ERA, 8K/9) is probably the current #2, but he’s already thrown more innings than over the past 4 seasons combined and you have to worry about how much longer he can continue. Freddy Garcia keeps pulling magic acts on the mound, but his xFIP is nearly a half-run higher than his ERA; you get the feeling that sooner or later his luck is going to run out. Phil Hughes exploded on the scene in the first half of 2010, but since then he’s been less than a pedestrian pitcher (7-7, 5.76 ERA). Ivan Nova was sent back the minors earlier and despite showing signs of improvement when he was with the big club, he is nowhere near being a number two starter.

Likewise, the bullpen has a few holes. Rafael Soriano was brought in to be the primary set-up man, but he’s spent most of the season on the DL and was largely ineffective before getting hurt. Boone Logan is the supposed lefty specialist, but left handers are tuning him up to a 138 OPS+. While Cory Wade and Luis Ayala have been reasonably pleasant surprises, neither has experienced this level of success before. And heaven help us all if the abysmal Sergio Mitre is reactivated and added to the post-season roster.

So, like I said, the Yankees certainly have needs. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be anyone available in the trade market that can fill those needs. There’s been a lot of discussion regarding Ubaldo Jimenez, but the Rockies
asking price (3 or 4 of the Yanks blue chip prospects) is insane. Jimenez had a terrific first half of 2010. Otherwise, he’s a sub-.500 pitcher with a career ERA of 3.87 – while pitching in the offensively challenged NL West. If Brian Cashman adds him at tomorrow’s deadline, I’ll be underwhelmed. The other starters rumored to be on the market also aren’t overly impressive. They range from the oft-injured Erik Bedard to the recalcitrant Hiroki Kuroda
to baseball’s version of a spoiled two-year old, Carlos Zambrano. In short, barring some sort of unexpected blockbuster, there simply isn’t anyone available who provides an upgrade over what the Yanks currently have on hand.

In terms of bullpen help, the Yanks are certainly looking for a left hander – but good luck finding anyone. The Orioles probably want to rid themselves of Mike Gonzales and his bloated contract, but he has had zero success in the AL. The A’s might be willing to part with Brian Fuentes, but I can’t imagine the Yankees assuming around $8.5 million in contract for a guy who has actually been worse against lefties than Logan. The only other name I’ve seen available is the Cubs John Grabow. Like Fuentes and Gonzales, he’s been more piñata than pitcher.

So, there you have it. Unlike past deadlines, this one is looking pretty quiet for the Yankee front office.

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The AL West shapes up as a showdown of pitching vs. offense, with the team that used to set the standard now entrenched as an also-ran and a rebuilding effort in the Great Northwest. In what should be essentially a two-team race, the nod goes to the A’s and their young guns.

Oakland surprised many by posting the best rotation ERA in the league last season. Despite trading Vin Mazzaro to Kansas City this offseason, the A’s still look to have easily the best rotation in their division, while adding Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to what was an already impressive bullpen may give the team the best top-to-bottom staff in the league. Given their ages, one can only expect the rotation, led by Brett Anderson and strike-out machine Gio Gonzalez to continue to improve. While the offense is still underwhelming, adding Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus to the under-rated Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki should provide enough punch to lead the A’s to their first division title since 2006.

The defending league champions will miss the departed Vladimir Guerrero‘s bat, but that’s not the piece that looks to derail the Texas Rangers bid to repeat. Losing Cliff Lee and not replacing him with anyone has led them to scramble to find starters from their relief corps and a few reclamation projects, such as Brandon Webb. The Rangers will still hit – any team that includes Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler will score runs. Adding Mike Napoli should help, but the Adrian Beltre signing is one of those “buyer beware” type deals: Beltre’s bat has a history of coming alive only in contract years, although his glove work remains impeccable. Expect Texas to be involved in a lot of 10-8 type games.

The Angels once were considered the standard of excellence in the division, making the playoffs 6 times in an 8 year span from 2002 – 2009. Last year, the team finished below .500 and they’ll struggle to reach that mark again this year. Provided Scott Kazmir can recapture some lost magic and Joel Piniero can continue to wiggle out of jams, the rotation looks to be better than average. But the once-feared bullpen is no longer a sure thing, now led by the erratic Fernando Rodney as the closer. The line-up is ill-suited to playing manager Mike Scioscia‘s style, featuring aging players now playing out of position – with the curious addition of Vernon Wells joining former stars Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, as well as rookie Peter Bourjos in the outfield rotation. The Angels will be further hampered by 1B Kendry Morales uncertain status; reports suggest he may not return until May from last season’s freakish broken leg.

Finally, there’s the Mariners. Last year’s pre-season Cinderella pick collapsed by April 30th and went downhill from there. At least, this season doesn’t bring those types of expectations to Seattle – which is a good thing. If Erik Bedard is healthy again, he could prove a nice one-two pairing with reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. CF Franklin Gutierrez seemed to regress last year, but the talent is still there and he may have experienced the dreaded “sophomore slump.” Seattle fans will also be able to root for Ichiro Suzuki to make it 11 consecutive seasons with 200+ hits and 25+ steals, a feat never before accomplished in major league baseball.

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Today, Mariano Rivera at age 39 (during the season, he just turned 40) was announced as Sporting News’ 2009 Athlete of the Year after 44 saves out of 46 opportunities, 1.76 ERA, a .905 WHIP and 72 K’s in 62.1 innings, his first career RBI on the same night as his 500th save and five more postseason saves. I believe this award is well deserved, congrats Mariano!

For this occasion and the printing of the article in Sporting News’ Magazine on December 21st Steve Greenberg interviewed The Sandman, Mariano Rivera.

On being able to peak at the most important time of year, even at his age: “In the playoffs, you’re talking about something that not many players have the opportunity to be in — and I’m talking about great players, not just average players. And I’ve been blessed to be able to be in the playoffs for many years and do the job in all those years. I think that says it alone — it’s the playoffs. You don’t want to miss that; you want to be in the middle of it. And when you realize that’s your makeup, your ability, your mind, your mentality, you just want to keep going and going and going and never stop.” (more…)

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