Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Yankees set 2013 plan in motion

We don’t know all the details yet, of course, but the New York Yankees have finally put their plan for the 2013 baseball season in motion.

The first element of the plan was picking up the options on second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Curtis Granderson. Picking up Cano’s option was a no brainer, even though his agent Scott Boras had been clamoring for a multi-year extension, which the Yankees were unwilling to do right now. I’m slightly surprised they were so quick to pick up Granderson’s option, but the Yankees could have decided to give him another year to right himself, meaning to correct the bad tendencies that made him a swing-and-miss hitter, before they let him walk as a free agent. There is also speculation that Granderson could be traded, which would not surprise me in the least.

So what’s next? The next news out of Yankees land will likely be Rafael Soriano officially opting out of his deal to secure a rich, multi-year contract after his successful year closing games for the Yankees. But I don’t think the situation will be resolved anytime soon, not until Mariano Rivera commits to another year or retirement. And we’ll know soon enough if the Yankees, as expected, decline to retain Nick Swisher’s services, although this seems like a foregone conclusion given his constant struggles in the playoffs.

The Yankees will have to decide what to do with their other free agents or players just a year away from free agency such as Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. There seems to be a movement to send these two out the door in exchange for cheaper talent. I’m frankly surprised at how eager people are to get rid of two young, but experienced pitchers. I know they are going to cost money when they hit free agency, but I doubt the Yankees are willing to bid adieu to either one just yet, especially Hughes, who at times this year pitched like the top-flight starter the Yankees projected him to be. The Yankees will likely give these two one more year to prove that they can consistently perform in the Bronx.

Given that the Yankees failed in their quest to win another World Series championship, I expect some major changes. It will be interesting to see who the Yankees show the door. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

SF Giants creating a new baseball dynasty?

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants on their second World Series championship in three years!

It is truly an impressive feat in this day and age with multiple rounds of playoff baseball. Perhaps the Giants will emulate the New York Yankees of the late 1990s in creating a new baseball dynasty, with strong starting pitching and bullpen relief and timely hitting in the clutch by position players, many of whom are not superstars, who are unafraid of the spotlight.

I must say that I was very surprised that the Giants were able to sweep the Detroit Tigers. I expected the series to be more competitive, thinking that it would go at least six games. But Justin Verlander getting smacked around in Game 1 was a dagger to the heart and the Tigers never really did recover despite better starting pitching from the rest of the rotation. And Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder picked the absolute worst time to slump. Or perhaps the Giants pitching is really that good, much better than anyone has really given them credit for.

I guess the one upside of the Yankees not winning the World Series this year is that there is no victory parade for Hurricane Sandy to crash. Stay safe folks!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

ARod gets unfair share of the blame

Alex Rodriguez is taking the brunt of the criticism for the New York Yankees embarrassing collapse this season and while he deserves some of the blame, some things are just unfair.

ARod doesn’t help his cause by being clueless to the consequences of his actions, whether he is trying to hook up with a good-looking woman during a playoff game or waving to his mother on national television (never seen any Yankees bench players do that and they sit a hell of a lot more than ARod does). His obliviousness is part of the reason why silly stories about ARod gain so much traction, like the one about Yankees manager Joe Girardi calling the press box to avoid causing ARod further embarrassment after pinch hitting for him. It furthers the impression of ARod as a self-centered child who needs to be coddled by his bosses, something the Yankees would not even bother to do with any other player.

Don’t get me wrong. I think ARod should waive his no-trade clause and leave New York, not just for the New York Yankees sake, but for his own. But I don’t think everyone’s focus should be on him. How about directing some of that anger and vitriol toward Nick Swisher, who had yet another bad postseason and showed that he too, like ARod, has a pretty thin skin when he complained about the loud boos heaped upon the Yankees by a fan base tired of paying exorbitant prices to see the Yankees underachieve in October? Perhaps it’s because the free agent right fielder probably was destined for a one-way ticket out of New York anyway. So what about Curtis Granderson, who after years of claiming not to be a home run hitter, turned into exactly that, to the detriment of the rest of his game? Why aren’t they getting their fair share of the blame? Because ARod is the easiest, richest target, one that Yankee fans will continue to resent if they feel his diminishing skills and payroll-strangling salary will keep the Yankees from another World Series.

Hopefully ARod will take the extra time he has this offseason to decide he could use with a fresh start. It is time for ARod and the Yankees to part ways, but he’s not the only one the Yankees should bid goodbye.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mariano could go, say it ain’t so

The news that Mariano Rivera could decide to call it quits is almost as distressing as the New York Yankees being swept out of the playoffs.  

Rivera vowed to return to the Yankees in 2013 after his unfortunate injury brought his 2012 campaign to an early end. But it seems that Mo may be backing off of that pledge despite the knee apparently responding well to his intense rehab program. Perhaps Mo enjoyed his time away from baseball with his family more than he thought and is leaning toward retirement. Or maybe he planned to retire after the 2012 season anyway (he was hinting at such a move during spring training) and decided to stick to that plan, even though it must sting his pride as an athlete for his career to end on such a note.

As great as Rafael Soriano was this year during the regular season, and he was terrific (I even advocated for an All-Star spot for him), he wasn’t really tested in a save situation in October due to the Yankees inability to secure a lead for their pitchers. He did pitch pretty well in all the tie games, but there will always be doubt about how fully he can fill Mo’s shoes until he proves he can save big games in the playoffs. Plus, Soriano is expected to opt out of his contract and his agent Scott Boras is going to want the moon, especially if he knows Mariano is not coming back and the Yankees have a gaping hole at the closer spot.

But everything revolves around Mariano and whether he wants to play another year of baseball. Who knows what he will decide. He could always pull an Andy Pettitte and come back in a year. Like with Andy, the Yankees would welcome Mo back with open arms.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Yankees absence from World Series depressing

The World Series will start tonight without the New York Yankees, which is pretty depressing.

I will watch some of the World Series and root for the San Francisco Giants to win it all, but I do not harbor much ill will toward the Detroit Tigers. It was not their fault that the Yankee hitters decided to sleep walk through the postseason. I like Detroit’s chances with Justin Verlander leading their rotation and their sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But I can’t help but wonder if they are really that good of a team or if the ALCS sweep was mostly the result of the Yankees stinking up the joints in the Bronx and Motown.

So instead of preparing to represent the American League in baseball’s final showdown, manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman were busy the last few days sharing their thoughts on the state of the Yankees and their season with the media. We didn’t get much in the way of insight, but I suspect there will be some major changes this offseason.

However, despite how badly I and other Yankee fans want to get rid of Alex Rodriguez, I have serious doubts that Cashman can pull off a trade, even if ARod changes his mind about playing in New York, which he should. ARod is a small fraction of the player that he was once and other baseball officials would have to be blind to have missed that. I really believe that the only way the Yankees will be able to trade ARod is if they agree to pay all but a few million dollars a year on his remaining contract, which means that deal will continue to strangle the Yankees for years to come, even if ARod experiences an AJ Burnett-like resurgence somewhere else.  

But Cashman and Girardi will have plenty of time to ponder how to make things work with ARod at third base next year while they watch the Tigers battle for the World Series championship they could have had with a little more effort from the offense. Completely depressing, indeed.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Yankees go out with barely a whimper

The New York Yankees couldn't put up a fight to save their season.

I was attending a networking event at a conference last night so fortunately I didn't have to sit through the nightmare that was Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. I don't blame CC Sabathia for the sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. He did everything he could to carry the Yankees to victory this postseason. Save for last night's game, he and his fellow Yankee starting pitchers were terrific, but their efforts were wasted by a non-existent offense. Alex Rodriguez will get the lion's share of the blame, but he has plenty of company, namely Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher. It is finally time to say good-bye to some of these guys (more on who I think should go later), especially if they are so bothered by loud booing.

Truthfully, I knew the Yankees were done as soon as I saw Derek Jeter crumple to the ground in Game 1. It wasn't just the horrifying image of the tough-as-nails captain unable to get back on his feet as he usually does. It was the knowledge that the one regular in the Yankees lineup who was actually hitting was obviously done for the baseball postseason and that no one else in that lineup has the will to put the team on his back the way Jeter did this season.

Without Jeter, the Yankees simply had no fight in them. It's high time the Yankees organization returned to the philosophy that won them so many championships in the late 1990s: building a team of solid, but not superstar players who have the heart and soul to will themselves to victory. Can you imagine Paul O'Neill or Scott Brosius taking it on the chin from the Tigers or anyone else? Of course not, because it wouldn't happen. They may have lost, but they would never go down without a fight. The current Yankees went out with barely a whimper and they should be embarrassed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Yankees may not recover from Jeter loss

Could the New York Yankees suffer a more crushing blow than the loss of their captain?

No. It's an easy question to answer. Not only was Derek Jeter the only regular in the Yankees lineup actually hitting the ball and getting on base, but he was an inspiration to his team, clearly playing at well below 100% (which may have contributed to his devastating injury). Jeter was trying to carry his team across the finish line with the sheer strength of his talent and personality, but he couldn't do the job by himself and now the Yankees will have to do the job without him.

Can the Yankees survive this loss? I have my doubts. The starting pitching has been tremendous, with strong outings by playoff veteran Andy Pettitte and Yankee newcomer Hiroki Kuroda in the first two games of the American League Championship Series, and Raul Ibanez providing the thump the Bronx Bombers have been missing. But the rest of the offense, with the exception of two innings in which they scored multiple runs, has completely vanished this postseason. Alex Rodriguez has been the main target of vitriol (despite a brief effort by Yankee fans to will him to get a base hit with their cheers), but there are plenty of culprits. Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher have been particularly frustrating with their numerous strikeouts and weak popups with runners on base. You can only fail a limited number of times in the postseason before the fans start to turn on you.

The Yankees have survived the devastating blow of losing Mariano Rivera. But that happened back in May, giving the Yankees plenty of time to adjust under less stressful circumstances and giving Rafael Soriano the chance to show that he could step into Mo's shoes to soften the blow. Losing Jeter in Game 1 of the ALCS, especially when the rest of the regular lineup can't manage a hit with men in scoring position, could knock the Yankees right out of the playoffs.

Jason Nix is a good player and he makes solid contact when given the chance to play. Eduardo Nunez has explosive power and speed. But neither of them are Derek Jeter. There is no other Derek Jeter. And the Yankees will have to figure out a way to win without their October magic man.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

CC Sabathia carries Yankees to victory

CC Sabathia put the New York Yankees on his back and carried his team across the finish line.

Yes, it’s just the first playoff step in what the Yankees hope will end up being a World Series championship. But it was an incredibly tough division series against the pesky Baltimore Orioles, who look like they are ready to fight for American League East supremacy for years to come. But the Yankees have an ace in the hole in CC and it is such a comfort to the Yankees and all of Yankees Universe to know that Sabathia will never buckle under the pressure.

CC was dominant in a game when the Yankees desperately needed domination. They scored enough runs to make it work, but that’s only because Sabathia throttled the young Orioles. The Yankees ace came within a third of an inning of pitching two complete games in the division series. In this day and age, that’s a remarkable accomplishment. And all you need to know about Sabathia is that there was no conversation about him going out to finish his game, even after his bumpy 8th inning. Knowing his bullpen was spent after two consecutive extra-inning games, Sabathia demanded the ball and closed his own game.

Thanks for the ride, big guy. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Girardi deserves kudos for gutsy move

I was lucky enough to be at last night’s game and I still don’t believe what happened.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi looks like a gutsy genius for finally lifting a struggling Alex Rodriguez in favor of Raul Ibanez, who promptly launched a blast into the right field seats, followed by another blast into the same general area three innings later to lift the Yankees to victory. As Derek Jeter joked afterwards, Girardi obviously knew that Ibanez would hit the game tying and game-winning home runs. But in all seriousness, Girardi deserves a lot of credit because it was a daring move to pinch hit for a guy who could be heading to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The situation was ripe for such a bold decision. ARod has looked lost at the plate. Ibanez has come through in the clutch several times for the Yankees this year. And I was grateful to him, particularly for that second home run, because it was freezing at the ballpark in the Bronx last night and even one more inning in those windy conditions would have been brutal. But if I can describe the general sentiment of those lucky enough to be in the stands for such a fantastic ballgame, I would sum it up in one word: Wow!

So the Yankees have a chance to finish off the pesky Baltimore Orioles behind Phil Hughes. Let’s get it done guys. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

ARod on the verge of becoming Yankees super villain

If the New York Yankees fail to win the World Series this year, Alex Rodriguez is going to become Public Enemy #1 in the minds of Yankee fans.

Sure, there will be other culprits if the Yankees fail to advance after leaving Baltimore with the American League division series tied at 1-1. Curtis Granderson, pulling an ARod by getting himself dropped to 8th in the batting order, will be a target (although his easygoing, good nature and ambassador-worthy personality will insulate him to a certain extent). But ARod will bear the brunt of the vitriol from the fans and the media.

If ARod thinks his 2009 postseason performance will insulate him from verbal attack, he is seriously kidding himself. Yankee fans have short memories and are easily frustrated. They are not going to celebrate the fact that ARod helped them win a World Series three years ago. They are going to rue the fact that the man makes nearly $30 million per year and can’t seem to get the ball out of the infield or swing the bat with runners on base. I don’t blame ARod as much for the contract as other baseball fans—the Steinbrenners were the ones foolish enough to give him that massive deal that is now strangling the Yankees payroll. But I do think the fans are entitled to their anger (but not bottle throwing) when ARod doesn’t come through in the clutch, as he hasn’t for the Yankees except for that one postseason.

The Boston Red Sox are too sad to hate these days so Yankee fans are looking for a new villain. It won’t be those annoyingly pesky Baltimore Orioles even if they manage to swipe this series away from the Yankees. The blame will be placed squarely on a guy closer to home, the one that mans third base in the Bronx. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Random thoughts: wild card edition

I didn’t think it was possible to mess up the new wild card format, but it took only one game to do it.

What should have been a feel-good story about Chipper Jones playing what turned out to be his last game in an Atlanta Braves uniform quickly turned ugly when the Braves fans created an incredibly dangerous situation for players and umpires alike by hurling debris on to the field. While not condoning their actions, I understand their frustration completely. I too couldn’t believe my eyes when the umpire called the infield fly rule on a popup well into left field. Technically, the play doesn’t have to be in the infield for the rule to apply, but umpires never make that call in the regular season and they were wrong to do so in a win-or-go-home scenario.

I understand that Major League Baseball needed to make a quick decision, but did anyone at the home office bother to view the video before they denied the Braves’ protest? The umpire clearly made a mistake, not of judgment as MLB would have you believe, but in his application of the infield fly rule. I know it would have been a scheduling nightmare, but Bud Selig and Joe Torre should have upheld the protest and ordered the game to be replayed from that point on. The St. Louis Cardinals may still have walked away victorious, but it would have removed any doubt that they deserved to move on to the division series

 * Much of my excitement over the new wild card format was the idea of recreating the magic of the last regular season game of 2011. That was all shot to hell with that terrible call in the first game and then a lackluster performance by the Texas Rangers against the annoyingly peppy Baltimore Orioles in the second game. Perhaps it’s just not possible to recreate what was a magical night of baseball. Or perhaps we should just let Major League Baseball try again next year and hope those teams put forth better efforts.

 * What a fall from grace for the Rangers. They, like the New York Yankees, had a division title in their grasp. But unlike the Yankees, who managed to win enough games against their division rivals in September to emerge victorious, the Rangers couldn’t muster one win against the surprising Oakland Athletics. The Rangers put themselves in a do-or-die situation and they died, even with their ace on the mound. Watching yesterday’s game, it didn’t seem like the Rangers even cared about moving on in the playoffs. It’s a stunning fall from grace for a team that I thought was building a legacy that would eventually result in a World Series, much as with the Braves in the early 1990s. It could still happen, but who knows if they have anything left, especially with Josh Hamilton possibly heading out the door