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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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ESPN New York released their “50 Greatest Yankees” list the other day. I can’t really argue too much with their list, although I probably would have swapped Thurman Munson (#12) and Bill Dickey (#10). Yes, I know Dickey is in the Hall of Fame and Munson isn’t. But it was Munson’s leadership, as much as anything else that returned the Yankees to their winning ways in the ’70s. And who knows what kind of numbers he would have put up if not for the plane crash?

Anyway, here’s their list. I’ve added in the dates they played for the Yanks, along with their position. An asterisk denotes a playing career interrupted by a military commitment; # denotes a Hall-of-Famer. Current players are in red type. Feel free to let us know how you feel about the list!

50. Mike Mussina (RHP, 2001-2008)

49. Bob Meusel (LF, 1920-1930)

48. Albert “Sparky” Lyle (LHP, 1972-1978)

47. Gil McDougald (IF, 1951-1960)

46. Jim “Catfish” Hunter (RHP, 1974-1978)#

45. David Cone (RHP, 1995-2000)

44. Roy White (LF, 1965-1979)

43. Hank Bauer (RF, 1948-1959)

42. Jack Chesbro (RHP, 1903-1909)#

41. Eddie Lopat (RHP, 1948-1955)

40. Rickey Henderson (1985-1989)#

39. Vic Raschi (RHP, 1946-1953)

38. Joe Gordon (2B, 1938-1946)*#

37. Tommy Henrich (RF, 1937-1950)*

36. Charlie “King Kong” Keller (LF, 1939-1949)*

35. Bobby Murcer (CF, 1969-1974, 1979-1983)

34. Spurgeon “Spud” Chandler (RHP, 1937-1947)

33. Willie Randolph (2B, 1976-1988)

32. Waite Hoyt (RHP, 1921-1929)#

31. Mel Stottlemyre (RHP, 1964-1974)

30. Paul O’Neill (RF, 1993-2001)

29. Graig Nettles (3B, 1973-1983)

28. Dave Winfield (OF, 1981-1990)#

27. Herb Pennock (LHP, 1923-1933)#

26. Allie “Superchief” Reynolds (RHP, 1947-1954)

25. Rich “Goose” Gossage (RHP, 1978-1983, 1989)#

24. Elston Howard (C, 1955-1967)

23. Earle Combs (CF, 1924-1935)#

22. Roger Maris (RF, 1960-1966)

21. Jorge Posada (C, 1995-present)

20. Phil Rizzuto (SS, 1941-1956)*#

19. Bernie Williams (CF, 1991-2006)

18. “Poosh ‘Em Up” Tony Lazzeri (2B, 1926-1937)#

17. Ron “Gator” Guidry (LHP, 1975-1988)

16. Andy Pettitte (LHP, 1995-2003, 2007-2010)

15. Reggie Jackson (RF, 1977-1981)#

14. Vernon “Lefty” Gomez (LHP, 1930-1942)#

13. Alex Rodriguez (3B, 2004-present)

12. Thurman Muson (C, 1969-1979)

11. Don Mattingly (1B, 1982-1995)

10. Bill Dickey (C, 1928-1946)#

9. Charles “Red” Ruffing (RHP, 1930-1942)#

8. Edward “Whitey” Ford (LHP, 1953-1967)*#

7. Derek Jeter (SS, 1995-present)

6. Lawrence “Yogi” Berra (C, 1946-1963)#

5. Mariano Rivera (RHP, 1995-present)

4. Mickey Mantle (CF, 1950-1968)#

3. “Joltin” Joe DiMaggio (CF, 1936-1951)*#

2. Lou “Iron Horse” Gehrig (1B, 1923-1939)#

1. George “Babe” Ruth (RF, 1920-1934)#

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There can be no doubt that the American League East is easily the best division in baseball. In fact, this year could wind up being historic in terms of division play, as my projections show 4 of the 5 teams capable of winning 90+ games this season – a feat that’s never been accomplished before. Is the talent level in the East really that much better than the rest of the AL? In a word, YES.

Both the Boston Red Sox and Yankees look to be the class of baseball this year. I project both teams to win 105 games this year and finish tied for the division crown. How evenly matched are the two juggernauts? The projections also have them splitting the season series, 9-9. Many prognosticators are giving the edge to the Red Sox this year, based on their starting rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. While the Yankees rotation is known to be unsettled, relying on a return to form by AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes avoiding regression from his 18-8 2010 season, and a collection of rookies and reclamation projects to fill the 4 & 5 spots, the Sox rotation also has question marks. Can Lackey reclaim his form? Can Beckett come back from an injury plagued season? Will Buchholz ever deliver on his promise? Can Matsuzaka come back from injuries and inconsistency? In short, both teams could have excellent rotations – or horrible ones, once you get past the aces. But offensively, both squads are loaded 1 – 9. The Yankees projected line-up of Derek Jeter, Nick SwisherMark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner may actually be better than the team that led the league in runs scored last season. Boston counters with Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both line-ups are capable of scoring 1,000 runs. The real differentiators between the teams are in the bullpens and on the bench. The Yanks have a slight edge in the bullpen, with the 1 – 1a tandem of Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano. The Sox have a slight edge on the bench.

As for the rest of the division, Tampa Bay suffered some tremendous free-agent losses. Despite that, they come into the season with their only real question being the strength of the bullpen, where the oft-traveled Kyle Farnsworth heads a makeshift relief corps. The additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, along with new shortstop Reid Brignac and rookie Desmond Jennings, should actually make the offense better. And Tampa’s rotation remains one of the game’s best, led by David Price. But while good enough to win pretty much any other division in the game, this year’s Rays aren’t in the same class as either New York or Boston.

The same goes for the Orioles, although Baltimore may have the most improved team in the league. The infield was completely remade, as Mark Reynolds, Derek Lee and JJ Hardy join Brian Roberts. The O’s also brought in veteran slugger Vladimir Guerrero and closer Kevin Gregg. Add in what looks to be the league’s best young rotation and proven winner (and old friend) Buck Showalter as manager, and Baltimore is poised to shock people the same way Toronto did last year.

As for the Blue Jays, this team lost too much – and replaced those parts with questionable signings – from last year’s overachieving squad to compete this year. They’ve brought in pitching guru John Farrell to lead the team, but this team will suffer from losing Cito Gastons “let-’em-fly” attitude on offense. Include a rookie catcher, changes at 1st, 3rd and all three OF spots and it will prove to be too much turnover to overcome. One bright spot for the Jays this year could be rookie starter Kyle Drabek, one of the game’s more hyped young pitchers.

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From CBS New York:

NEW YORK (WFAN) – So much has already been said about the Yankees this off-season. Apparently, not enough. Enter Hank Steinbrenner.

Steinbrenner gave his two cents to the New York Post about what the Bombers need to do in 2011.

“We will do what we have to do to win … We have the highest payroll and the reason is we are committed to our fans to win,” Steinbrenner told the Post. “We just have to —ing win.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made waves on Tuesday morning during his “Breakfast with a Champion” appearance with Mike Francesa. According to Cashman, Joba Chamberlain will not return to the starting rotation, instead the fiery reliever will remain in the bullpen.

“I’m really happy with our bullpen,” Steinbrenner said. “I think Chamberlain is going to come back and have a big year.”

There’s the Steinbrenner voice we all know and love. Hank is Back!

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Courtesy: NY Daily News

Yesterday, the Yankees finally made a splash in the free-agent market, signing the best reliever on the market in Rafael Soriano. Signing the all-star closer definitely takes care of the 8th inning spot, so we can cross that off the list of needs heading into 2011. If the contract runs full term, then the Yankees have also addressed the question of who takes over for Mariano Rivera when the future Hall of Famer decides to retire. In all, I like the signing; although the contract is probably a bit too player friendly.

But the signing has opened up a whole new line of questions about the team, Brian Cashman and who is really running the show. Buster Olney tweeted the question that is running through quite a few minds this morning:

“Looks like there was a split in Yankees’ org. over this — since it took place just days after Cashman said he wouldn’t give up No. 1 pick.”

Let’s take a look at the other reasons many are wondering who actually pulled the trigger on the deal.

  1. The contract is extremely player friendly. Not only does it make Soriano the 3rd highest paid reliever in MLB (behind Mo and Francisco Cordero), it gives him the option to opt out after years 1 and 2. In other words, this could be a 1 year deal for $10M, a 2 year deal for $22M or a 3 year deal for $35M. Given Cashman’s known reluctance to pay out big dollars to relievers, his reluctance to spend on anyone this winter and his absolute abhorrence to player friendly contracts (see Jeter, Derek or Rodriguez, Alex), you have to wonder why he would throw that kind of money or those terms at Soriano.
  2. The Yankees have taken a beating in the tabloids for, well, basically standing pat this off-season. Cashman seemed content to avoid signing anyone of consequence, even as the Red Sox, Orioles, Phillies and even the Nationals have gone all-out to improve their teams. Despite the team’s obvious need for starting pitching, he never made a play for Zach Greinke and according to published statements, quickly gave up on acquiring Matt Garza. Cashman may be made of teflon in terms of criticism, but a certain member of the ownership group isn’t.
  3. Cashman’s history in the FA market is to make runs at the consensus best player available (like CC Sabathia or Mark Teixeira) or try to find diamonds in the rough (Nick Johnson, Marcus Thames from last season). He doesn’t really have a history of targeting a big name to fill a limited role.
  4. Soriano’s agent is Scott Boras. Like most GM’s, Cashman normally treats Boras – and his clients – as if they have a combination of leprosy and bubonic plague. That he would suddenly, in less than week’s time, go from “we’re not surrendering a 1st round pick” to handing out a player friendly contract to Boras is really hard to fathom.

In other words, this looks a lot more like Hank Steinbrenner pulled the trigger on this deal than Cashman. Hank is like his father in many ways: not afraid of dealing with Boras, willing to hand out player-friendly contracts and hates the Yanks being upstaged by anyone.

So, here’s the question of the day: who do you think was most responsible for signing Rafael Soriano, and what do you think it means for the future of the front office? Let us know!

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Jon Heyman (Via Twitter):   “#yankees agree to terms with rafael soriano”

With the organization failing to land a big name starting pitcher in Cliff Lee, Cashman knew it would be very important to have a lock down bullpen. With the addition of Soriano, the Yankees would have a lethal 1-2 combo at the back end of the bullpen with the great Mariano Rivera. Let’s not forget the Yankees also aquired Pedro Feliciano earlier this off-season.

Update: 9:05PM ET: Heyman reports the deal is $35 million for 3 yrs, which comes out to $11.67M per year. That’s a hefty sum for a setup man, but you could also argue that he was the best closer in baseball last season.

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According to George King, Derek Jeter and the Yankees have agreed to a three year contract valued at up to $51 million:

The Yankees and Derek Jeter will finalize a three-year deal today after hammering out the final details on a contract that will pay the captain between $15 million and $17 million a year, according to a person briefed on the situation.

The contract includes a tricky option for a fourth season, neither a vesting situation nor a club option. It is linked to what happens across the three guaranteed years.

The deal with the 36-year-old shortstop ends a month of negotiations that at times became strained, smothered the Yankees’ universe, and divided the fan base.

 

So, with Derek and Mo now happily back in the fold, Brian Cashman can focus on getting Cliff Lee’s name on a contract and potentially adding another bat, perhaps Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. One of the keys to both Yankee greats contracts is that they agreed to defer money – which figures to help Cashman immensely by giving him even deeper pockets as heads to the Winter Meetings on Monday.

 


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From the NY Daily News: (Christian Red)

According to a source familiar with the negotiations between the Yankees and future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, the 41-year-old will sign a two-year deal believed to be worth $30 million by Friday night.

While the Yankee winter has been dominated by the negotiations between Yankee captain Derek Jeter and the club’s front office, Rivera’s free agent status went quietly under the radar, although his importance is immeasurable.

Thursday night, Rivera’s agent Fernando Cuza – who was one of the many guests at Red Sox slugger David Ortiz’s celebrity golf tournament kickoff dinner – had said the Yankees and Rivera’s camp were “a little far apart” on getting a new deal done for Rivera, and that “hopefully we’ll be able to work it out.” But within hours, a deal came together, perhaps expedited because Rivera had recently received a three-year deal and more money (believed to be in the neighborhood of $17 million per year) from another team, according to the source. The source added that Rivera wanted to maintain his ties to the only team he has ever played for, and went with less money and fewer years to continue wearing pinstripes.

“He wanted to stay loyal to the Yankees,” the source said.

I didn’t see this going any other way. It would be hard to imagine Mo retiring when he still remains the best closer in all of baseball, and I never thought he would ever leave the Yankees organization for some other club.

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Apparently, somebody forgot to tell Brian Cashman that the holiday season is one of good tidings and cheer. In particular, Cashman seems to have amped up his inner Scrooge when it comes to a pair of Yankee stalwarts, men who’ve symbolized everything the Yankees are now and hope to be in the future. Quite frankly, the posturing is baffling: he runs a billion-dollar franchise in large part because of these players, not in spite of them. As much as any executive hates to admit, the Yankees truly do have two franchise players – men who mean much more to the Yankees brand than the new Stadium or even the Steinbrenner family. Men who are as iconic to the Yankees as the pinstriped uniforms with the interlocking NY they wear.

I’m talking, of course, about Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

While the Yankees reportedly offered Cliff Lee megabucks (6 years, $140 million), they’ve offered Jeter and Mo peanuts. Lee is undoubtedly a wise investment for a team with a hole as wide as the Lincoln Tunnel in the starting rotation. But would Lee even consider the Yankees without the 14 post-season appearances since 1995? That is what Jeter and Mo mean to this franchise. Before their arrival in the Bronx, the Yankees had once again returned to the sort of losing remembered form the late 1960’s: a team that couldn’t hit, couldn’t field and couldn’t pitch. Rather than playing to a packed house every game, the echoes were often louder than the cheers at Yankee Stadium. How bad was it? Imagine being able to walk up to a ticket window on game day and getting tickets, 3rd base dugout, field level. Against the Red Sox. Yes, you could do it in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

The handling of Jeter’s contract couldn’t get much more bizarre. They’ve reportedly refused to offer arbitration, for fear the captain would accept and the Yankees would be on the hook for roughly $25 million in 2011.Their opening offer, reportedly 3 years for $45 million, is supposedly based on evaluating him the same way a team would evaluate Jimmy Rollins or Hanley Ramirez. This isn’t to knock either of those guys, but they are not in the same class as Jeter. Ramirez is the best player on his team. Rollins is an all-star and former World Champion. But neither is the face of their respective franchise, neither has legions of fans who care little about baseball but live and die with their play and neither is the biggest draw in the biggest sports market in the country. Cashman’s concern is that at 37, Jeter’s play is deteriorating and the .270 performance of last year may be more realistic than his career .314 average. Whatever, Brian – get over it. There aren’t too many middle infielders who hit .270 and score 100 runs, either. Even at his reduced level of play, Jeter’s performance alone makes him an all-star caliber player. Add in the fact that the guy is a leader, both on and off the field – that the Yankees are just another good club without him; that the guy is proven winner and the kind of player New Yorkers love and other fans love to hate. But those pesky intangibles you apparently want to ignore mean more to your bottom line than your ego wants to admit, and you had better pay him for them.

Then there’s the matter of Mariano Rivera, the Greatest Post-Season Closer Ever. Mo would reportedly be perfectly happy to sign a two-year deal for around $36 million. In all, that seems a perfectly reasonable expectation for the man who owns nearly every record for relievers. Mariano is like a fine wine – he just keeps getting better with age. He has been and continues to remain baseball’s ultimate weapon; bring him in and the game is over. And unlike so many other 9th inning specialists, the greater the pressure, the better he performs. It’s been that way for the past 15 seasons in the Bronx and Mo shows no sign of slowing down. So why hasn’t Cashman done what should have been his easiest contract negotiation of this offseason and signed him already? Is he hoping to talk Mo down to $15 million for one year? Are the peanuts really that expensive in your supermarket, Brian?

When Cashman let Johnny Damon walk last year, I wasn’t happy about it but I could understand and even appreciate the motives. (Although I did rip him for even thinking Nick Johnson was a suitable replacement.) But giving Jeter and Rivera the Damon Treatment is unimaginable. The idea that you only pay any free agent based on future performance is laughable, especially for the Yankees and Brian Cashman. Otherwise, Carl Pavano would have been paid in Topps cards and hot dogs. In the case of Jeter and Rivera, you have to pay them for what they’ve meant to the franchise, the city and (in Cashmans’ case) your own career. If you really think the Yankees would be a billion-dollar franchise without them, then send them on their way. But stop quibbling over a few million dollars as if you’re trying to rebuild the Royals or A’s – if you honestly understand what those two mean to the team. And if you honestly don’t, then maybe it’s time for you to pack your bags and head elsewhere.

UPDATED 4:22pm: Of course, right after I posted this, Wallace Matthews at ESPN reported that Cashman thinks Jeter isn’t all that valuable, either as a player or as a commodity:

“We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account,” Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com. “We’ve encouraged him to test the market and see if there’s something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That’s the way it works.”

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