Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yankees Prospects Impressing

The spotlight in Yankees camp has been the arrival of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, as well as the competition for the remaining spots in the Yanks starting rotation. Since Pineda will be starting the season on the DL, the Yankees have their five starters out of camp and the rotation puzzle can be set aside for the time being. Now, attention can be turned to the Yankees wealth of prospects that have been impressive this spring.

2011 draft pick Dante Bichette Jr. has played well this spring despite limited playing time. In an away game against the Astros, Bichette Jr. traveled with the team because his family lives 20 minutes away from the Astros spring training complex in Kissimmee, Florida. With his parents and brother in attendance, Bichette Jr. belted two home runs in two at-bats after coming in as a defensive replacement at third base. Although he is hitting well in insignificant exhibition play, professional success isn't foreign to Bichette Jr. After being drafted by the Yanks in the second round last year, he hit .342 including a 16-game hitting streak, helping him win the Gulf Coast League MVP. Bichette Jr. looks to join a promising Class A team this year featuring other top prospects such as catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Mason Williams, shortstop Cito Culver, and pitchers Jose Campos and Bryan Mitchell.

Some AAA players have also impressed this spring. Dellin Betances pitched three scorless innings in a relief appearance against the Red Sox, striking out four. Betances is yet to allow a run this spring over 8 innings pitched. Banuelos also had a nice outing against the Braves, striking out three in two scorless innings of work. Banuelos looks to improve upon a subpar spring, sporting a 7.20 ERA over 5 innings. David Phelps pitched well against the Red Sox, allowing one run over 2 2/3 innings pitched. He also struck out five. Over 16 innings pitched, Phelps has a solid 2.25 ERA. All three of these pitchers look to contribute to the Yankees in the near future; possibly even this year.

With Hal Steinbrenner's motives to cut payroll, these prospects will have to be the future of the Yankees so the organization can avoid signing hefty paychecks to big-name free agents. The dynasty of the late '90s was built on success from within, when the Yankees farm cultivated future stars, such as Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera. If the Yankees can field more homegrown talent, they will be able to win without dipping as deeply into their pockets.

Pineda with Tendinitis

After an MRI on Saturday, pitcher Michael Pineda has been diagnosed with tendinitis in his right shoulder.

Pineda complained of shoulder soreness after his spring training appearance Friday. His numbers clearly suffered, as he allowed six earned runs without getting out of the third inning.

As a result, Pineda has been sent to the 15-day DL. This leaves Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Hughes, and Garcia as the five starting pitchers to break camp with New York.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Discussion: 2012 Yankees Preview

Michael: The 2011 Yankees had the AL's best record, even with a lot of question marks behind CC in the rotation. They certainly addressed their needs this offseason, bringing in Pineda and Kuroda, even signing Pettitte out of retirement. Even with a division with competition as stiff as ever, the Yanks have been picked by many to run the table in the AL East.

Let's start with that revamped rotation. Who's the X-Factor here?

Alex: I'm happy to say that I think this rotation is deep enough to be without a true X-factor. Assuming that Sabathia pitches like the ace he is, the Yankees have three guys who could be legitimate number-two starters if all breaks right. Pineda struggling like he did during the second half of last year wouldn't be crippling as long as Nova and Kuroda pitch well. Nova could suffer a sophomore slump and Kuroda could have trouble adjusting to Yankee Stadium and the New York pressure, but neither would be devastating if the rest of the rotation meets expectations. And if Hughes gets hit, Garcia and Pettitte are waiting around to take his place. The Yankees don't need career years from everyone. They'll be fine as long as all of those guys don't all under-perform simultaneously. It's a true credit to Cashman that the rotation is so sound after being so fragile only a few months ago.

Michael: Absolutely, it's amazing how quickly a weakness became a strength. It also takes a lot of pressure off of Pineda to be the X Factor, assuming we take Sabathia for granted. Then again, we know Pineda will be booed if he doesn't perform, especially if Montero hits well in Seattle. That's New York for you...some pitchers thrive, and as we know all too well, others falter. Only time will tell how Michael and Hiroki respond.

Alex: There are certainly a lot of variables that affect any baseball season, and no matter the talent a team is always prone to injuries and unexpected ineffectiveness (just ask our buddies from Beantown), but it's been a while since I've been this confident on opening day. Unlike last year, when we kind of knew all along that the Yankees pitching wasn't World Series-worthy, the 2012 Bombers seem to lack any glaring flaws. They have their usually impressive line-up, one of the five or six best rotations in baseball, an adequate bench, and a strong bullpen. Things can always go wrong of course, but I really like how the Yanks look right now.

Michael: Even I can't help but feel good about 2012, and I'm always cautious as to not jinx the Yankees. They haven't been this strong in every area for the last few seasons.

During last season, I always felt that Rodriguez and Teixeira are the biggest difference-makers in this stacked lineup. A-Rod was too injury-plagued in 2011 to make a big impact, only playing in 99 games. While he's getting up there in years, I still consider him one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Tex has kept his power numbers up, but he has become too much of an all-or-nothing hitter from the left side. I might as well add Granderson to the mix. I'm taking Cano for granted.

Alex: Like in the starting rotation, I think the Yankees have enough lineup strength to withstand a bad year from a guy or two. I'm expecting some sort of regression from Granderson, but hopefully A-Rod can stay on the field and Teixeira can bounce back from last year. If one of those guys can regain his old form that takes the line-up to a different level. I think Jeter is somewhat of a wild card. He's going to bat first whether he deserves to or not, so he's going to need to get on base to avoid leaving an ugly hole atop the order.

Michael: It's a luxury that this team has, in both the hitting and pitching department, but I'm greedy. As you alluded to, if everything goes right, this lineup is probably best in the league.

I don't like Jeter at the top, I'd rather have Gardner leading off. That's just a pipe dream though. The lineup will probably look like:

Jeter SS
Granderson CF
Cano 2B
Rodriguez 3B
Teixeira 1B
Swisher RF
Ibanez/Jones DH
Martin C
Gardner LF

Alex: Jeter can hold his own against lefties (.349/.423/.523) but struggles pretty mightily against righties (.277/.329/.338), and I think the line-up should reflect those splits. I think if politics weren't an issue Jeter would lead off against lefties and bat 7th or 8th against righties. You have the Ibanez/Jones DH platoon batting 7th, but my expectations are very low for that pair, especially Ibanez. I don't really want my DH posting a 91 OPS+ as he did last year. It's also worth noting that, since A-Rod, Jeter, and Teixeira are going to be getting semi-consistent half-days off, Chavez and Nunez will be filling out the order almost as much as Ibanez and Jones, playing the field while the regulars DH.

Michael: It's almost a blessing from the sky that Montero was traded away, or else the DH spot would be clogged for a large part of the games. Now, it can be a position where each of the vets can be spelled once in a while.

I'm not crazy about the bench, but we do have some useful players. A super-utility man would be convenient; Nunez is the closest we have to one of them.

Alex: We've got to hope Nunez is out taking ground balls right now, because he's a decent glove away from being a good MLB player. The bat is there for a middle-infielder, but he can't field, and if he ends up moving to the outfield, as some think is inevitable, his hitting loses all value. Still a helpful guy to have around though. The rest of the guys on the bench (besides Cervelli) are up there in age and provide little in the field. I don't see any sort of late-game defensive replacement anywhere on this roster, unless they choose to carry only 11 pitchers, which doesn't seem likely. Then again, if the lack of a defensive-oriented bench player is your team's biggest concern, you're in pretty good shape.

Michael: I was thinking the same thing. I look up and down the roster and see strengths all around, and bench is obviously the last aspect of a team that a general manager should try to improve.

I'm looking at this bullpen and thinking, "Damn, if Soriano pitches somewhat like he used to, the back of this bullpen is insanely good." It could be 1996 all over again, with a near-lock to win the game with the lead after six innings. Many say that the bullpen is overrated, but I find a lock-down back-end to be a great luxury to have. Lefties are my only concern, as Logan and Rapada are less-than-desireable. Luckily, Robertson was better against lefties last season than righties. If I were Girardi, I'd sometimes move Robertson out of the eight inning in order to face lefty-heavy parts of the order. I don't really see him doing that, though.

Alex: I agree that the bullpen is a strength, but relievers are fickle, and it's no guarantee Robertson repeats 2011. Then again, Soriano should only improve after adjustment to New York. I still think that was a terrible signing, but he makes the 'pen better this year.

What we need to remember, in relation to the bullpen and to all other aspects of the team, is that things don't usually go as planned. Guys get hurt, have bad years, decline sooner than expected. Before last year you wouldn't have expected Granderson to out-hit Teixeira or Garcia to out-pitch Hughes. We can figure the team out, identify strengths and weaknesses, and make predictions, but things will inevitably turn out opposite of what we expect.

That said, I have to ask, what do you see as the fate of the 2012 Yankees? How many games will they win, and how far into the playoffs will they go?

Michael: I feel terrible when we talk so well about this team. Kina Hora! To add to that, you're killing me, Alex. They improved, while the other AL East teams didn't take big steps forward. They won the division last season, so...

I can't say how far they go, but I will be disappointed if this team can't get out of the first round. I probably speak for both of us when I say that only a championship will make us content. All I will say is that I believe this team has a better chance than they've had in the past two seasons.

Maybe you're not as cautious as I to anger the baseball gods. What do you see in store for 2012?

Alex: I feel pretty comfortable saying they're the best team in the division. But the playoffs are largely a crap-shoot, and the American League has a lot of great teams. A division series match-up with the Angels, Rangers, or Tigers is a really scary proposition, especially since all three of those teams have knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs at least once in the last decade. So I'm going to refrain from a concrete prediction, while saying that this team absolutely has the potential to win the World Series. I'm not so fanatical that I'll be angry with anything less, but title number 28 is clearly a reasonable goal.

Michael: I'll be real. They aren't head-and-shoulders above everyone else as they were in 2009. I can't even call them the best team in the American League. I don't really know how to say this; I can't predict them to win it all, but I can't hope for anything less.

Opening Day is April 6th, and we're as ecstatic as ever to see the Bronx Bombers in action again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pettitte's Return Crowds Yankee Rotation

When the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett to the Pirates on February 18, their rotation calculus appeared simple; CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda would hold down the top four spots in some order, and Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia would battle for the remaining opening. Well, consider that equation confounded. Andy Pettitte, third on the Yankees all-time wins list and owner of five World Series rings, will abandon his year-old retirement, returning to the Bronx for $2.5 million over one year. It's yet to be seen whether Pettitte is capable of pitching at a high level after a year away from the diamond, but the left-hander wouldn't be back if he didn't think he could perform. For the Yankees, this means three starters pursuing one rotation spot, and Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman and co. will need not only to choose a fifth starter but to determine if/where to stow the other two in case of injury. We'll be watching the delicate situation carefully, but, as the adage goes, you can never have too much pitching, and when a borderline Hall-of-Famer and franchise legend comes asking for a job at a bargain-basement price, no one will fault you for enlisting him.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Robertson With Mid-Foot Strain

David Robertson is probable to miss the next few weeks of spring training with a mid-foot strain on his right foot. He suffered the injury as he "missed a step" on a staircase Wednesday.

Oy vey.

X-rays were negative on Wednesday, but he's undergo a MRI (results pending). Robertson uses his right foot to push off of the rubber.

"I’m concerned,” manager Joe Girardi said. “By the way I saw him walking today – it hurt him to walk – you assume he’s going to be down a little time, even if everything comes back OK. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have time to get ready for the season, but he’ll have to start over a little bit. Not totally, but a little bit.

“If you’re going to miss him for a substantial amount of time, you’re going to be concerned. If he’s going to be out a week or 10 days, you’re probably not going to be too concerned about that.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pineda Makes Yankees Spring Debut

The highly touted, 6-7, 280-pound right-hander Michael Pineda made his Yankee debut today, taking the mound against the Phillies and Joe Blanton. Pineda got in two solid innings of work, allowing no runs on one hit and two strikeouts. Despite Pineda's nice pitching performance, the Yankees lost their first game of the spring 9-3.

Asked after the game if he was nervous, Pineda replied, "Hell, no"

Which A-Rod Will Show Up This Year?

Throughout history, the Yanks have always had one of the best offenses in the bigs. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about the Ruth years, or the Mantle years, or even today. The Yanks aren't nicknamed the "Bombers" for no reason.

Last year, the Yankees did not disappoint. They were in the top ten in runs scored, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. But like previous years, this was no surprise. How could a team sporting players like Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano hit poorly?

The real surprise was Alex Rodriguez. Despite having many nagging injuries, A-Rod had a somewhat successful 2010 campaign with 30HRs and 125RBIs. He was elected to his 13th All-Star appearance, and finished 10th in the voting for the MVP. Compared to his other seasons this wasn't spectacular, but he still put up good production for a clean-up hitter, helping the Yanks reach the ALCS.

After a much needed offseason, A-Rod looked like he was in great shape to come out and hit like he did in previous years. He was finally healthy (or so we thought), and it looked like his problems of the past were behind him. And of course, A-Rod came out and mashed the ball in spring, not lowering our expectations one bit. A-Rod hit .388 with 6HRs 15RBIs in 18 games in Florida, giving some people the urge to award him his 4th MVP already.

But, from there everything seemed to go wrong. A-Rod started off with a sub-par 2011, hitting .295 with 13HRs and 52RBIs prior to the All-Star break. Despite not having awful production, A-Rod experienced a lack of power. He had a slugging percentage of .485 and went through a stretch of not hitting a homer for 82 at-bats.

It only got worse. Despite being elected to his 14th All-Star game, A-Rod was forced to skip the game and undergo surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee, forcing him to sit out for over a month. To make matters worse, A-Rod was also accused off playing in illegal underground poker games, although it was immediately shook off. A-Rod was never able to regain his form after coming back, hitting a measly .195 in 68 at-bats with only 3HRs and 10RBIs.

But this year it could all change. Taking the advice of Kobe Bryant, A-Rod flew to Germany to have a procedure done on his knee to help him regain his power and end his lingering injury problems. Rodriguez says he feels really good about his knee, and feels like this is his time to return to hitting like he did when he won 3 MVPs. Looking to slot into the cleanup spot like always, we'll get to see if A-Rod can provide the middle of the lineup pop the Yankees pay him for and lead the Yanks to a 28th World Series title.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Offseason Recap: Yanks Bolster Rotation

The Yankees didn't spend like the Yankees. They didn't throw money at Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, or Jose Reyes. While other teams made headlines this offseason, the Yanks quietly had one their best offseason in a while.

The 2011 ALDS ended with a dismal performance by the Yankee lineup. After a 10-1 thumping of Detroit in Game 4, Game 5 brought woes at the plate with runners in scoring position, as the Yanks managed to only go 2 for 9 in those situations. However, scoring runs wasn't a problem for New York in the regular season. The Bombers lived up to their nickname, finishing first in the league in home runs (222). They also crossed home plate 867 times, good for second in the Junior Circuit.

The Yanks looked to improve upon their rotation, and improved it they did.

The number-one task on the agenda was to resign staff ace CC Sabathia, who opted out of his gargantuan contract in search of a raise and extension. Sabathia was his old self as usual in 2011, posting a 19-8 record with a 147 ERA+. His HR/9 (0.6), BB/9 (2.3), and K/9 (8.7) were the best in his three-season Yankees career. Without Sabathia, the Yankees rotation would have been left in shambles. CC ended up with what he wanted, a five-year contract worth $122m with a vesting option in 2017.

The Bombers remained rather dormant until mid-January. After silent trade talks, top prospect Jesus Montero  and Hector Noesi were shipped off to Seattle for second-year fireballer Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos. Pineda, 23, was a huge addition to a pitching staff that was oldest in the American League (average age: 31 years old). Standing in at 6'7", he finished 2011 with 28 major league starts under his belt and a 103 ERA+. His 9.1 K/9 rate was also second in the American League. It will be interesting to see how his stuff translates to the Big Apple.

Just as that trade was being finalized, the Yankees struck again, this time in free agency. New York locked up starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda with a one-year, $10m deal. Kuroda, 37, pitched to the tune of a 121 ERA+ and 3.29 K/BB ratio.

With so much pitching, the Yankees had the luxury to unload AJ Burnett. Projected as their seventh starting pitcher, he was traded to Pittsburgh for not much more than a song and a dance. The Pirates took on $13m of the pitcher's salary ($5m in 2012 and $8m in 2013). This was a classic case of addition by subtraction. Yankees fans can thank AJ all they want for Game 2 and walk-off pies, but there was not much else to be desired from him.

The Yankees also managed to tweak their already-potent lineup. After resigning outfielder Andruw Jones and third baseman Eric Chavez, the Yanks wanted to partially fill the void at DH left by Jesus Montero. Former Phillie Raul Ibanez was signed on by New York on a incentive-laden, one-year, $1.1m contract. Raul isn't the hitter he used to be, hitting a subpar 91 OPS+. He still managed to slug 20 home runs and drive in 84 runs. Expect the lefty to be used almost exclusively against right-handed pitching.

This offseason wasn't the money-throwing party that most Yankee fans have come to expect. This was even better. The Bombers managed to turn a weakness into a strength without decimating their lineup or farm system. This team is one of the most well-rounded Yankee teams in the past decade and is primed to do damage in 2012.