Sunday, December 31, 2006

Get Well Lemon

Although a tad belated, I would like to send my best wishes and prayers out to the Murcer family. When I heard on sports-radio that Bobby had been taken to the hospital in relation to the words: "brain tumor" I was shocked. Although the procedure has already been completed and the surgery was deemed "a success" I think we should all have "Lemon" on our hearts and minds during this holiday season. Not much needs to be said about Murcer. Whether it was his hitting of two home-runs which he accomplished at the behest of a stricken hospitalized child, or his resonant performance following the tragic passing of his dear friend and Yankee captain Thurman Munson, it is hard to say a bad thing about Bobby Murcer. As all who have come in contact are quick to say, "He's a hell of a nice guy." Good luck Bobby & get well.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

And Then There Were Three . . . . Prospects

Now that the Randy Johnson trade has travelled from possible to probable to imminent the NY Daily News has leaked the three young arms which have caught the Yankees' eye. As pictured above the 3 high-end prospects are Ross Ohlendorf, Dustin Nippert, and Micah Owings. And as the NY Post is reporting, the Unit trade has become reliant on just how much green New York is willing to eat of the remaining $16million left on his deal. Of course Arizona still has to pay Johnson from money deferred during his previous DBack tour. As can be imagined these types of money negotiations can be complex and take some time to be worked out. There is also the fact - as Peter Franklin blogs on his site - that nothing will be get done until Tuesday at the earliest because the commissioner's office is closed until that time.

Owings and Ohlendorf are both 24 and Nippert is 25. While Nippert is suggested as the DBack's top pitching prospect, many believe that Owings is the most prized arm in Arizona's farm system. While the Yankees are asking for 2 of these 3 prospects in exchange for Randy Johnson, it is believed that the more the Yankees eat of Johnson's remaining contract the greater the litter from which to choose from. Although it would have been nice to have gotten Chad Tracy back in some capacity for the Old Unit, that may have been a little delusional on my part. In any event, most realistic Yanks fans would have to be overjoyed if New York could shed the greater part of Randy's contract in exchange for young, high-level talent. Personally, I would take any deal that involves Owings. He commands a plus fastball and plus slider and is said to have that bulldog mentality that makes pitching coaches smile. Although most believe Owings needs to develop another solid pitch to truly compete in the majors, his upside is outstanding.

I do not know much of the three pitchers, but Ohlendorf is said to have ridiculous control of a low 90s fastball and does not walk anybody. Although it is apparently this refusal to throw balls out of the strike zone which gets him in trouble as he becomes somewhat hittable. He is a Princeton guy who sports a 1580 SAT score which means Mussina might actually have someone he can't talk down to in the clubhouse.

Nippert is the top prospect in Arizona's system. His arsenal includes a low to mid 90s fastball and a filthy breaking curveball. He has been projected as a 2 or 3 starter but it has been said that he has the tendency to give up big innings which may be due to lack of composure. This break in concentration results in a loss of his control which means crooked numbers for the opposition.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


According to baseball America the Yankees are ranked #6 in MLB among the top minor league systems. The top ten are: 1.Devil Rays 2.Rockies 3.DBacks 4.Dodgers 5.Angels 6.Yankees 7.Brewers 8.Royals 9.Tigers 10.Reds

Cashmoney's changing the culture of Yankee Baseball. And it's going in the right direction.

Another Barry in Frisco?

New Giants ace jamming here with Chris Isaak. What did Bernie start?

Peter Gammons is reporting that the Giants have reached an agreement with Barry Zito in the area of 7 years at $18million a season... UNBELIEVABLE... Talk about one of the most preposterous markets in MLB history, this is getting out of control. So much for a Yankees push for Zito, a $126 million deal is not something CashMoney would even think about bringing to the table.

So now Yankees nation turns its lonely eyes to you Mr. Clemens. The Zito deal also has an option for the 2014 season, just in case he wants to pitch when the inaugural line of FLYING CARS are released. Somewhere in California Mr. Scott Boras is sharing a Pina Colada with the devil and celebrating another franchise heist.

Igawa Quietly Inks Deal

That's a long way of saying Kei Igawa signs 5 year $20 million deal. It's amazing after all of the commotion, publicity, conspiracy-theories involved in the Matsuzaka signing period that Art Tellem's deal with the Yankees received such little attention. This is one of the most undercelebrated free-agent signings of the offseason (and in Yankee recent history) and it is probably due to the unpredictability of Igawa's makeup.

When the Matsuzaka high-bid was announced and he appeared to be Boston-bound, I began reexamining as much Igawa information (and video) as possible because I assumed the Yankees would make a big push for him. This is due to the Bronx-Boston equilibrium being swayed: if Boston gets a Japanese starter then New York is almost required by law to pick one up off the free agent market as well.

I do know that Igawa throws between 88-91mph on his fastball but can push it up 93-94 when he really needs something extra. ((It's interesting to note that the Japanese baseball is different than the one in MLB in that the stitching provides more movement here than it does in Japan; which should help Igawa's breaking pitches)) He throws a slider-curve combination pitch or slurve that's not ultra impressive and is average in its velocity/movement. He does throw a true plus changeup though, which is his out-pitch. Tom Glavine has lived off the fastball-changeup diet for nearly 20 professional seasons but his control throughout has been precise. Does Igawa have this type of control? I don't know for sure but I'd doubt it.

I'm not intimating that Igawa will be or could be Glavine, but a well-spotted fastball and dominant changeup along with a well-controlled slurve could certainly generate a successful fifth-starter - since that's all the Yankees are truly asking Igawa to be. One thing is for sure, after watching dozens of videos on Igawa, he must fall out of love with throwing his fastball up in the zone. That kind of pitching may fly in the Japan but it certainly will not survive in the Majors. Sure, Barry Zito is notorious for throwing 87mph fastballs up in the zone but he also has a dominant 12-6 curveball that allows such strikezone flexibility.

All in all, getting a 4 or 5 starter for the amount of money the Yankees spent is (and pains me to say it) economical. Who would have thought spending over $40 million on a back of the rotation pitcher is a wise move? Regardless, to Mr. Igawa I say welcome to New York, now don't ever make us bring up Hideki Irabu ever, ever again.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Who's On First?

Doug Mientkiewicz. Shea Hillenbrand (see: Angels). Andy Phillips. Juan Miranda. Josh Phelps.

So many options so little proven. Andy Phillips is a great team guy. Respectful, personable, unselfish and means a solid glove at first base. The bat is unproven after what was probably a semi-fluke season. Batting averages of .220 are alien to starting first-basemen and though this was probably due to a lack of continuity as far as atbats, Phillips has never been able to put together the outlandish numbers he tallied in multiple minor league campaigns. He is not as bad with the bat as the guy you saw last year, and he is also not as good with the glove as most people seem to think he is. Very good glove, average range and not always prone to great in-game decision making, but Andy is a blue collar fan favorite who plays hard and may certainly have the ability to give the Yankees what they need in terms of defense and offense. New York obviously doesn't need much in the way of power or run production, but Bob Sheppard announcing Phillips as the starting first basemen on opening day? That remains to be seen.

I find it hard to believe that the Yanks will not pull another Johnny Damon out of their hat. By this I mean the constant reiterations by Cashman that the solution to the Yankees' first base quandary may very well be an internal candidate: think Miranda, Phelps, Phillips (which when read quickly sounds more like a female serial killer on trial than three professional athletes). This would mirror the tact Cashman embarked on when he declared Bubba Crosby an apt everyday centerfielder going into spring training and subsequently pulled Damon out of the Boston Winter and into $52 million pinstripes. To clarify my previous statement of "pulling a Johnny Damon," I do not believe that New York will somehow land talents in the Mark Teixeira or Adrian Gonzalez stratosphere, but one would certainly assume that Cashman will sign a one year deal to a FA and not plug in an "aging" unproven commodity like Phillips, an unknown Rule V youngster in Phelps, or an unknown-unproven Miranda - who is said to be 23 is probably 26 and is currently rumored to be at the competitive level of AA or AAA.

Since Hillenbrand has signed with the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim of Orange County, California 92801 he is easily stripped from the list. This is music to my ears since he has developed a talent for that thing you do that turns you into a clubhouse-cancer. (Yes I just referenced the best one-hit-wonder-band's rise-to-fame movie that stars Tom Hanks)

Doug Mientkiewicz is one of the best gloveman in MLB, has earned a reputation as a fiery individual, and as Damon would attest to, is a reputed "team guy." (I'll overlook the pure stupidity involved with the World Series Ball Tour) His bat is decent. And that may be a bit generous when the topic of conversation is a 32-year-old (33 in June) and shares the Unit's affliction for a chronically balky back. If he appears to be healthy - as the Yankees have asked permission to view Mientkiewicz's medical records - and is signed to a one year deal, it would not be the end of the world, but my first choice as first base would be another.

The suspense is over... He's 35 years young, enjoys long walks to first base, stadium-lit strolls for doubles and can hit in the clutch. Yes, I am talking about the um.. former enemy.... Mark Loretta.

No the name isn't sexy and it doesn't draw intrigue like a Cuban born Miranda or a powerful righty like Sexton, but Loretta is 1)proven under brightest lights, 2)team-oriented and unselfish, 3) able to draw walks, move runners over 4)can play any infield position including first adding flexibility 5)owns a career batting avg. of .299, 6)played in Boston providing insight into the Holy War that is Beantown vs. Bronx.

Loretta served as the perfect table setter for hungry RBI men like Ortiz and Manny last year and the numbers do not lie. Although he is nearly a career .300 hitter, his career RISP numbers further impress: a)with runners on - .314 b)RISP .308 c)RISP w/two outs .312 and d) with the bases loaded Loretta put up an impressive .327 average. With a man on third and less than 2 outs Loretta does what seems rare these days: he gets the baserunner home. He bats .378 career in this situation. The good old "close and late" stat has become a hot topic recently and Loretta does not disappoint here either. He actually raises his game during these situations by posting an .831 OPS in 24 close-and-late ab's.

Sure he does not slam home runs or gobble RBI, although his RBI numbers are past respectable especially for a lifetime second basemen. And if there are Yankee fans who desire another powerbat they should either limit their baseball fandom to allstar teams or admit you are George Steinbrenner and need to consult Brian Cashman aka the voice of reason. Loretta would provide length in the lineup as another patient batter to accompany pitch-eaters like Abreu, Giambi and Damon. He also enables small-ball tactics at the bottom of the order. Moving runners, sacrificing, taking the ball the other way is the type of play that frustrates managers and motivates your sluggers.

If I had my vote, I would sign Loretta for one year between $5million and $6million and leave the Teixeira deals or Miranda promotions for when they are warranted.

Unit's Best Pitch: Trade Me.

Go back two years. The Yankees sign the Big Unit and all is well in Yankeedom. The "final piece" has been deftly fit into the Championship puzzle and I have to admit there was plenty of excitement in my house. The flirtation has become a reality as Steinbrenner's decade-long quest for RJ is realized.

Unfortunately, that whole New York thing came into play from day one. Yea he smacked the cameraman his first day in the Big Apple, and none of us cared. Yes, he pitched with an essence of mediocrity and no one assumed the worst. A starting pitcher who shows flashes of dominance is an appetizing vision when the sparks are flying from a 23-year-old's left arm. When these moments of brilliance are generated by a 43-year-old with the back of an elderly migrant farmer, the dream is over.

So I would like to personally thank Randy for paving the way for another Cashman special. In the wake of trades like Sheffield for Humberto Sanchez/Kevin Whelan (or Wright for Britton)... Cashmoney is obviously sticking to his guns when it comes to getting younger, getting cheaper, and seeking roster flexibility.

However, this journey may hit a small speed-bump if Barry Zito elaborates on his earlier hazy flirtations with the Bombers. He has been quoted as saying he would love to play in New York and also explained that the best place for him is a franchise who is in the position to contend for multiple titles. Oh yeah, and Zito's dad seems to be cut from the John Giambi cloth as far as openly attempting to shove his son toward Yankee Stadium.

If the Yankees are able to get the same type of home-town discount that Scott Boras had offered during the Beltran sweepstakes 2 years ago - somewhere along the lines of 4 years $60million with a club option for the 5th year - they would have to seriously consider getting aggressive. Although such a scenario is hard to imagine coming to light, there's the slight possibility that Zito desires pinstripes and is also able to wear blinders to Boras' money-grubbing ways.