Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Confident Yankees ready to rock and roll

I love the confidence coming from the New York Yankees heading into the regular season after a disappointing end to the 2010 campaign.

The good feelings are led by ace CC Sabathia, who picked his Yankees to win the whole kit and caboodle this year even though many observers are predicting that the Yankees will struggle against their archrival Boston Red Sox. For the Yankees to beat the Red Sox and the rest of the American League East, CC is going to have to repeat his 2009 and 2010 performances and there’s no doubt in my mind that he will do exactly that.

Joe Girardi is feeling good about his team too. He cited the monster spring of Alex Rodriguez, the improved, more efficient swing of Derek Jeter and the solid performances by the candidates for the back-end of the rotation as a reason for his optimism. He’s right to feel good about all these guys.

Left unsaid are the question marks surrounding the Yankees, namely whether AJ Burnett can rebound from a horrific 2010 campaign to become the solid starter he was during his first year with the Yankees. AJ has looked pretty good this spring, but he needs to carry those positive vibes into the regular season.

But all in all, I think the Yankees have reason to be optimistic that they can meet the always lofty expectations that their fans have for them, but most importantly, that they have for themselves. The Yankees are ready to rock and roll. Bring on 2011.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

2011 Yankees rounding into shape

The Opening Day roster for the New York Yankees is rounding into shape and it’s not looking half bad.

Take the starting rotation for example. Ivan Nova took hold of the #4 spot for the Yankees with a solid spring while Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon both pitched pretty well and, most importantly, managed to stay healthy. Can any of them step into Andy Pettitte’s large shoes? We’ll see, but I’m more optimistic that they can keep the back end of the rotation together than I was heading into spring training.

The most disappointing aspect of the formation of the Yankees roster is probably the failure of either of the Yankees lauded catching prospects to earn the back-up job. It’s probably better that Jesus Montero and Austin Romine go down to the minor leagues to play every day, but their lackluster play this spring makes me wonder if the Yankees are inflating the value of their prospects again.

The most critical thing is that all the major players on the Yankees survived spring training without suffering a major injury, unlike the Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley. Francisco Cervelli suffered the worst injury, but it looks like he could be back around May 1 and the Yankees can survive a month without him. Pedro Feliciano will also start the year on the disabled list, but I can’t say I’m surprised given how the Metsies have worn him out over the last few years. Curtis Granderson was touch and go there for a while, but it looks like he will be able to make the Opening Day lineup after all.

So the Yankees will start 2011 relatively healthy with a solid roster, which bodes well for their ability to get off to a good start.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Yankees safe choice disappointing

I guess I'm not the only one disappointed in the New York Yankees for making the safe choice by sticking Freddy Garcia in the rotation rather than Bartolo Colon.

Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand took the same stance that I did, that the Yankees should have given the slot to Colon, who had a terrific spring. Feinsand also had a problem with the Yankees acting like a small-market team and making the safe choice rather than taking the risks expected from a team whose ultimate goal is to climb back to the top of the baseball world.

I feel bad for Colon, who did everything that was asked of him and pitched better than anyone else in camp, only to earn a ticket to the bullpen and a long relief/mop-up role. But I'm comforted by the fact that Colon remains on the team. I never liked Sergio Mitre as much as Joe Girardi did and was happy that they traded him away to free up a bullpen spot for Colon.

With Colon in the bullpen, though, that puts some pressure on Garcia to pitch well or he could be yanked from the rotation in favor of Colon. So this fifth-starter debate is far from over and will keep things very interesting in the early days of the baseball season.

Thanks to phillymads63 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Yankees should take a chance on Colon

The New York Yankees should take a chance and name Bartolo Colon as the fifth starter in the Yankees rotation. It's a risky move, but one that could pay off big time and make all of us forget that there was ever a competition for that fifth slot.

I can't blame them if they go with the safe choice in Freddy Garcia, who is probably more durable and reliable and has been successful on the big-league stage. But Colon has shown something this spring, flashes of the guy who was a Cy Young winner and one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.

Is his health a concern? Absolutely. Is his weight an issue? Definitely. But Colon would be making the team as the fifth starter, a job that comes with very little pressure. All he’s going to be expected to do is throw five solid innings (solid being only giving up about three runs) every five days (and not even that often at the beginning of the year). The talented Yankees bullpen and deep lineup will take care of the rest. Following Colon this spring, I think he gets exactly what the deal is and would do the job well.

Iconic, successful teams don't play it safe. The Yankees are an iconic team and their best chance at success this year is for Joe Girardi, Larry Rothschild and Brian Cashman to all trust their eyes and cast aside their doubts and go with the guy who has pitched the best rather than the guy with the least question marks.

Garcia is the safe choice. Colon is the better one.

Thanks to Keith Allison and UCinternational via Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Derek Jeter more popular than ever

The New York Yankees may not like Derek Jeter all that much, but everyone else just loves him.

More evidence of the Jeter love: that #2 jersey, the one that will be retired to Monument Park one day, was the best-selling jersey in 2010. To put this in context, Albert Pujols, widely considered to be the best player in baseball these days, was #6 on the list. This news comes a week after Jeter was voted the greatest New York athlete, ahead of one George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

And why not? Jeter is the perfect role model for kids and the best spokesman baseball could have. He does everything he can think of to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol. He lives his life quietly and respectfully with no major off-the-field controversies. The only mark on Jeter's character, if one can even call it a negative, is that he was quite the player in his youth although he seems to have settled down with the same woman for years now. People look up to Derek Jeter, as they should.

All the Jeter love makes me once again question why the Yankees felt the need to drag him through the mud this offseason and continue to belittle him this spring, courtesy of Hank Steinbrenner's infamous mansions dig and the off-the-record slights at his skills as a leadoff man. Maybe the Yankees are tired of or annoyed by all the Jeter love. I definitely could see a little jealously in Hank’s remarks.

The Yankees have one of the most celebrated athletes in baseball, and really in all sports, and they should be incredibly grateful and honoring him instead of taking regular shots at their iconic shortstop. One way they can do that is by planning the mother of all celebrations for the day he gets hit #3,000, a party to celebrate a truly historic moment both for Jeter and for the Yankees. Jeter would probably hate the attention, but the love he's going to get at that magical moment will show the Yankees what the rest of the world already knows: Jeter is more popular than ever.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Baseball's darkest days get new light

Baseball's darkest days, the steroid era, come to the forefront once again, thanks to Barry Bonds' perjury trial.

A mere 10 days before Opening Day, a jury has been seated in a trial that seems certain to freshen baseball’s black eye, which was caused by the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs. Not only because Bonds, technically the all-time home run champ, is on trial, but because a parade of former big-league baseball players are set to testify. This is probably Bud Selig’s nightmare, bringing the most shameful issue of his tenure, the one that will forever mar his legacy, back into a shining spotlight.

I would never get chosen for that jury. I’m on the record as despising Bonds and his fellow cheaters for all the damage they did to the game and for refusing to recognize Bonds as baseball’s home run champ. As a reminder, he’s not on trial for using steroids, but rather for allegedly lying about his usage to a grand jury. I wouldn’t mind seeing him do some jail time though that probably won’t happen.

Imagine trying to act like you have no opinion on Bonds and what he did. Maybe the judge was able to find enough non-sports fans to fill the jury room, but it is truly disturbing just how far his apologists would go to defend Bonds. It seems like there were some fans who would love to have gotten on the jury just so they can free their hero.

I think the only benefit of this trial is that we will finally get a legally thorough look at the extent of the damage that PED use caused to the game. The Mitchell Report provided some insight, but Mitchell wrote that report with one hand tied behind his back due to his lack of subpoena power. The tenacious reporting by the San Francisco Chronicle, compiled in Game of Shadows, also opened a window into baseball’s dark underbelly. But now we finally will get a more complete picture. I’m hoping the prosecutors will dig deep into what compelled these players to knowingly break the law and cheat the game they grew up loving.

Thanks to Kevin Rushforth via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Girardi gives embattled AJ Burnett a boost

A major part of Joe Girardi’s job this year will be to manage AJ Burnett’s fragile psyche. It started today with Girardi naming Burnett the #2 starter in his rotation.

There’s no way that Girardi & Co have fewer questions about Burnett than they do about Phil Hughes, who after last year’s performance probably deserves to be considered the #2 guy in the New York Yankees rotation. In fact, I think it’s safe to say they have way more confidence in the young Mr. Hughes than they do in Mr. Erratic. But they have to do everything they can to boost Burnett’s ego and naming him the guy after ace CC Sabathia will avoid any hurt feelings AJ may have over losing his spot to a kid.

I don’t have a problem with Girardi’s move. I think he wisely understands that getting AJ right is going to be critical for the Yankees this year, especially since we don’t know what the Yankees will get out of the back end of their rotation. And Hughes is so mature for his age that I don’t think he will have any problem with officially being the #3 guy, even if he really does deserve to get the ball after CC. Sad to say that the youngster is a lot less of a head case than the veteran, but that’s the reality of the situation.

Girardi is going to do whatever he has to get AJ on track. And we should all be supportive of that because the Yankees’ chances of success are pretty dismal without a solid year out of Burnett.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Yankees, Torre finally fully at peace

Joe Torre revealed that the New York Yankees have invited him back to Yankee Stadium for Old-Timers Day, more evidence that the Yankees have finally made peace with their old manager.

Torre excitedly talked about the invitation he received from the Yankees, showing there are no longer any hard feelings on his part for his nasty divorce from the Yankees. This was not a surprise since Torre went out of his way to express gratitude toward the Yankees at the Baseball Writers’ Association dinner in January. As for Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner sons, they seem to have gotten past the anger they felt toward Torre after his unflattering description of his treatment at the end of his career in the Bronx in the Yankee Years.

Can a day to honor Torre by retiring his #6 be far behind? Probably not this year, but I expect it to happen in the next couple of years. Torre seems perfectly content with his new job in Major League Baseball's front office so the prospects that he'll embarrass the Yankees by returning to the manager’s chair again (particularly in Queens) are dim, especially since Torre said he doesn't miss managing at all.

The ice in the relationship between Torre and the Yankees has fully thawed, removing the final barrier for Torre receiving the well-deserved honor. The Steinbrenner sons might make him wait a year or two just because they can, particularly Hank because he seems determined to be like his father and George Steinbrenner would definitely have made Torre wait. But eventually they will come around and give Torre and his fans the proper sendoff and celebration for the last great Yankees dynasty that we all deserve.

Is all forgotten? Probably not, but the rapprochement is a positive sign that all things can eventually be forgiven.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The New York Yankees are old. Who cares?

Cliff Lee is right. The New York Yankees are old. But who cares? They're not ancient and can still be very good.

It's not like the Yankees team is stacked with just old guys. At the top of the lineup, the Yankees will have the veteran Derek Jeter and a young speedster in Brett Gardner. Mariano Rivera is still the king of the hill, even at age 41, while his new set-up guy Rafael Soriano is a decade younger. Jorge Posada, who will turn 40 this summer, has been replaced at catcher by 28-year-old Russell Martin. And so on and so forth.

Can the Yankees’ “old guys” still perform? Mo is not a question mark, even at his advanced baseball age, as people continue to marvel at his superior conditioning and command. Jeter is dealing with some age questions only because he had a bad year (by his standards) in 2010 and plays a demanding position, but I expect his new swing will help him bounce back. The real question with Posada is if can adjust to being a full-time designated hitter, a move that should help him continue to be a productive hitter if he can manage the tedium associated with not playing on the field.

I don’t think the Yankees’ biggest question is age. It is really all about their rotation: trying to settle on who will start games after CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett and whether those new guys have what it takes to beat the Boston Red Sox and rest of the American League East. Hey, not all teams can be the Philadelphia Phillies with their Fantastic Four rotation (although they have some age on their team too) and Lee knows that. I wonder why he even felt the need to raise the age issue. Maybe his little dig will serve as motivation when the Yankees and Phillies meet again in the World Series.

Thanks to artolog and Fui in terra aliena via Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Can't let Andy Pettitte go

The four main candidates for the last two spots in the New York Yankees rotation are doing incredibly well so far this spring. So why can't I let Andy Pettitte go?

I can't bring myself to turn off my Andy Pettitte Google alert, even though it's pretty thin most days. The stories that do mention Pettitte usually refer to him in the context of which of the four candidates – Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre – will replace him. But I think that’s the problem. I’m still not convinced any of these guys can truly replace him. I worry about Colon’s weight, Garcia’s injuries and Nova’s youth (I think Mitre will end up in the bullpen because Joe Girardi loves his flexibility).

Yes, they are all pitching well now, but the real test will come in April when one of those guys has to start against the speedy and powerful Boston Red Sox lineup. Sure, it will only be the second week of the baseball season, but Yankees/Red Sox games are epic battles, even in April. We all know how good Pettitte was in big games. Can one or two of these guys consistently step up to help the Yankees beat their archrivals and the other beasts of the American League East?

In my head, I know the chances of Pettitte coming back this year to help the Yankees are slim. But I can’t help wondering if the lefty will feel compelled to unretire if he turns on the television in May to find his team struggling because the guys chosen to replace him can’t do the job. Pettitte was pretty firm in stating he would not play again this year, but that could change if he feels he has to save his team from ruin, especially if his family gives him their blessing to head back to the baseball field.

Maybe one or two of the candidates for those spots will pitch so well that this all becomes a moot point. But the Google alert stays on for now, just in case.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Will Yankees ever stop disrespecting Jeter?

Will the New York Yankees please stop disrespecting Derek Jeter, especially if they are too gutless to attach their names to their quotes?

An unnamed source, obviously within the Yankees organization, felt the need to publicly intimate that the Opening Day lineup for the Bronx Bombers will feature Brett Gardner displacing the captain in the top spot because it would be better for the team.

The quote was rather tame compared to the anonymous comments about Jeter made during the offseason and the mansion comments directed at Jeter by Hank Steinbrenner, which he quickly tried to backpedal from. But it begs the question: why do people within the Yankees organization, including those at the top, feel the need to turn any little issue related to Jeter into a headline in the newspapers, especially knowing how the man hates anything remotely resembling a public spectacle? Maybe that’s the answer. Perhaps the Steinbrenners are still so annoyed at the deal they had to give Jeter that they are taking shots at him just to embarrass him or piss him off.

For the record, I have no problem with people in the organization thinking that Jeter should shift to the #2 spot in favor of the speedy, young Gardner. There’s definitely a baseball case to be made for such a change. But I have a major problem with them trying to make the case in the media. Instead of whispering in a reporter’s ear, these officials should be discussing a lineup change with manager Joe Girardi behind closed doors.

I haven’t seen anything in the way of a response from Jeter, but I would imagine that he’s getting sick and tired of this whispering campaign (read this hilarious, expletive-laden column from the brilliant satirists at the Onion for the rant we all wish we could see Jeter have). But he’s likely to laugh it off publicly, even if he is privately wondering why the Yankees feel the need to constantly disrespect him.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tampa Bay Rays need to spend some cash

The head of the baseball players' union is not happy with the Tampa Bay Rays for sharply reducing payroll. Neither am I.

Sure, I’m happy that the Rays are not as strong a team as the one that beat the New York Yankees out for the American League East title last year (not that it mattered since the Rays lost to the eventual AL champ Texas Rangers right before the Yankees did). And the Rays’ eagerness to cut payroll meant the Yankees could sign Rafael Soriano to be the set-up man for Mariano Rivera without the Rays trying to persuade him to continue closing games in Florida. But it also meant that the Rays let Carl Crawford run toward the Red Sox and that huge pile of cash without putting up any kind of a fight, tipping the AL East in Boston’s favor.

To a certain extent, I do understand the economic reasoning behind the payroll slash. The Rays couldn’t draw decent crowds to their decrepit stadium even with an exciting, young team that pounded the Yankees and Red Sox several times over the last two years. That has to be frustrating for ownership, which has been begging for a new stadium for years.

But what is infuriating about the Rays’ decision is that they will still get their share of the luxury tax dollars that the Yankees will pay out for continuing to reinvest their vast revenues in their baseball club. Hank Steinbrenner may be a total blowhard, but he’s absolutely right to be frustrated watching these other teams hoard the cash he has to send in their direction.

Major League Baseball is going to have to figure out a way to force these small-market teams to spend all the cash they receive from the big-city giants on players and compel them to pay administrative and other expenses out of their own pockets. It looks like they can count on the full support of the players’ union for any attempt to implement minimum payroll or spending levels during the next collective bargaining session. I’m sure there will be resistance from the Rays and other baseball clubs in similar predicaments, but baseball is a better game when there is parity on the field.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Big Bravo for BYU

In Weight Watchers, we get a Bravo sticker for accomplishments such as making smart food choices or not putting on too many pounds on vacation. I'd like to give Brigham Young University a big Bravo for what in this day and age is a rare and gutsy decision: declining to sacrifice its values in favor of sports glory.

The college benched starting center Brandon Davies for breaking the school’s honor code by having premarital sex with his girlfriend. It was not an insignificant decision from a sports perspective. BYU is the third-ranked basketball team in the country and has a legitimate shot at a #1 or #2 seed in the tournament. But benching their center is going to make it a lot more difficult for them to compete with teams in the major conferences, meaning they could easily go out in the first or second round. BYU officials knew this and chose to suspend Davies anyway. Good for them.

At a time when colleges are reluctant and often refuse to suspend players accused of heinous crimes as sexual assault, it’s refreshing to see a school willing to buck the trend and bench a player for what was a consensual activity simply because it violated the school’s standards.

As much as it pains me to admit, Syracuse University is not immune to this trend of protecting their student athletes. Jim Boeheim famously defended Eric Devendorf after he was suspended for harassing a female student who accused the then-Syracuse shooting guard of hitting her. Devendorf was a key player on SU’s run at a Big East title that year so of course Boeheim thought the suspension was too harsh. I doubt Devendorf’s victim agreed.

BYU is getting a bit of grief in some circles, particularly from those who believe that the school’s values are stuck in a 1950s ideal of America. But I think school officials should be commended, not ridiculed for their decision. As they say, it’s easier to stick to our principles when there is nothing at stake. But for BYU to stick to its principles when a national title is within its grasp is admirable. I wish more schools, including Syracuse, would show the same courage.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Does baseball have a drinking problem?

We've been so consumed by the steroids/human growth hormone problem in baseball, that it's easy to overlook another problem that may be even more destructive: alcoholism.

Spring training is only a few weeks old, yet we have already seen several players busted for drinking and driving. Miguel Cabrera’s arrest has gotten the most attention because he is huge star and it was his second alcohol-related disturbance. But former New York Yankees outfielder Austin Kearns and Coco Crisp have also been identified as being arrested for DUI.

Does baseball have a drinking problem? According to the latest statistics, 17.6 million Americans out of about 311 million are alcoholics. We don’t know how many alcoholics there are in baseball, but given recent anecdotes the number probably is similar to the country as a whole.

In many ways, alcoholism is so much worse than steroids or HGH. With performance-enhancing drugs, the person is usually causing the most damage to himself. But as a person who has lived with alcoholism and drug abuse in the family while growing up, I know those conditions can have a devastating impact on everyone around that person, especially the children. Meanwhile, every time inebriated people get behind the wheel, they are risking not only their lives, but the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to share the same roads.

Whether baseball players like it or not, they are role models. For every Derek Jeter who embraces that responsibility and does everything he possibly can to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol, there are guys like Cabrera who continue to engage in destructive behavior. Commissioner Bud Selig firmly embraces guys like Jeter, who represents only the best in baseball. But now it’s past time for him to tackle the worst.

Selig needs to make coming up with an effective strategy to manage alcohol and drug addiction a top priority in the next round of baseball negotiations. Sure, the players’ union will balk and fight it as hard as they do against everything else, screaming about privacy. But if they truly had their players’ best interests at heart, they would work with the commissioner to try to come up with a program that focuses on the best treatments for their players, and ultimately punishment if that’s what’s needed.

These players are relatively young, healthy and successful in their careers. It’s not too late to help them deal with whatever issues are causing them to drink before they ruin their lives, or worse, hurt somebody in a way they can’t take back. Hopefully, baseball and the players’ union can intervene before tragedy strikes.

Thanks to shgmom56 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mets desperately seeking lots of dough

Maybe we should start a collection for the Mets after all.

The bad situation for the Mets has gotten a lot worse. That $25 million loan they got from Major League Baseball won't be enough to meet their costs so they are begging for a new loan to tide them over until they find someone willing to spend a ridiculous sum of money for a minority stake in the team.

Good luck with that. It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to loan them money when it seems like they could go bankrupt any day now. But Wall Street is known for taking risks, including the one that got the world into the financial mess that it's still trying to climb out of. Maybe the big banks will overlook the massive lawsuit, the mounting debt and the team's dismal prospects to float the Mets some cash.

The Mets seem to be out of luck. They have tried portraying themselves as victims of Bernie Madoff, but Irving Picard, the trustee in the case, isn’t buying it. He has persuaded the bankruptcy judge that he should be able to go after Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz and their businesses for about $1 billion partly because they allegedly looked the other way during the Madoff scheme. The Mets officials have denied this, but unless they can convince a higher court to overturn the judge’s decision, they could potentially be on the hook for a judgment higher than the value of their team.

I feel sorry for the people that do business with the Mets or who work for them. Not the ballplayers because they will get paid, but all the other employees. Pretty soon the Mets are going to have to undertake a widespread effort to cut their costs and that could include layoffs since declining attendance means the Mets won’t need as many staffers as they used to. Jobs are tough to come by these days and I would hate to see the employees lose their jobs, but it’s probably inevitable.

The Mets are desperately seeking the cash they need to keep their operation going. For the sake of all the people whose livelihoods depend on the Mets, I hope they find someone willing to lend them some dough.