Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cashman's Timely Exit

It may be time for Brian Cashman to consider another team to run. Cashman has had a long, successful career with the Yankees dating back to a 1987 internship. He has helped build 5 championship teams and 7 pennant winning teams. No one can argue the fact that Cashman has done an incredible job for the Yanks. So why would it be time for him to leave?

When you are no longer happy in what you do, it becomes very difficult to hide your discontent. Cashman has made a few indications recently that he is unhappy with his position as General Manager. First with the overly public negotiations regarding Derek Jeter's contract. The next came when he publicly declined being in support of the Rafael Soriano acquisition, and now most recently stating that he could see Jeter moving to the outfield before the end of his contract.

Cashman later said that he was only speaking hypothetically and that he was simply addressing a question posed by a fan. However, Cashman's disregard for Jeter's "behind closed doors" mentality shows that the GM simply does not care about salvaging a friendship with the beloved captain. Cashman maintains that he is not here to make friends and will do whatever it takes to help this team succeed. Although, that does seem like an awfully strong statement for someone who was "just speaking hypothetically."

Cashman's contract is up at the end of this season, and it doesn't seem like it would be a shock to anyone if he leaves for greener pastures. Some believe that a small market team would be a target of Cashman. Possibly even an ownership role.

His career here has been something to marvel at but eventually, all great things come to an end.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tits On A Bull

As it stands now, the Yankees 5 starter is Sergio Mitre. Odds are that someone will outshine Mitre in spring training (hopefully).  Mitre is not the answer for this rotation.  He is nothing more than a mediocre spot starter.  The organization could stand to give Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances close looks come spring.  With Mitre slotted in as the fifth starter, no one is expecting much from his turn in the rotation anyway.  Might as well see what our young talent can do.  

So what do you do with Sergio Mitre?  Maybe the bullpen is the answer.  It's possible he can serve as a middle relief guy out of the pen. He is certainly better equiped for that role than starter. However, the Yankees did acquire Mark Prior on a minor league contract.  Low risk, high reward.  If Prior makes as good a comeback as he is expecting himself to make, then you need to give him that bullpen spot.  

So if Prior can return to form, you have Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlin, Dave Robertson, Boone Logan,  Mark Prior and at some point Demaso Marte will be healthy again.  And until Marte becomes healthy, you can have which ever rookie that didnt win a starting job get some work in the pen. So from where I'm standing, Sergio Mitre has become as useless as tits on a bull.  He no longer serves a purpose to this team and I would not be shocked to see Mitre not make the team out of spring training.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Changing of the Guard

The resent deal that has brought Rafael Soriano to the Yankees has been over shadowed by a potentially glaring issue in the front office.  Brian Cashman has admitted to not being on board the Soriano deal.  Hal Stienbrenner and Randy Levine headed up negotiations regarding Soriano. 

The question is whether or not the Yankees still have faith in their General Manager.  The organization released a statement saying that they have complete faith in their GM and the he is "one of the best in the game." 

One has to wonder what's really going on here.  When Cashman renegotiated his last contract, he drew up intricate details on how he would be in complete control of Baseball Operations.  This essentially eliminated ownership driven deals.  Such deals that George Stienbrenner was very famous for. Does the Soriano deal represent a changing of the guard?

The answer is unclear. Negotiations are under way to bring Andruw Jones to the Yankees as a utility outfielder. Those negotiations are being handled by Cashman and his Baseball Operations team.  That leads us to believe that things are business as usual over on River Avenue.  However, if Hal Steinbrenner does decide to follow in his father's footsteps and start pushing ownership driven deals, it may not be such a bad idea. 

The truth is, the Soriano deal is a smart move.  It gives the Yankees the greatest late inning one two punch since Mariano was setting up for Wetteland.  Cashman mainly disagreed with the move because he was unwilling to give up the Yankees' first round draft pick, a 31st overall pick.  Tyler Kepner had an interesting point on the topic. He said that since 1977, only twelve 31st overall picks have ever even made it to the majors.  So what was the big deal in giving up this pick?

Now, instead of the pick, the team has a rock solid bullpen.  The kind of late inning dominance that can take stress off of the less than stellar starting rotation.  All that needs to happen now is the team needs to solidify the starting rotation.  More likely, we will see the Yankees start the season with what they have and then look to make a trade for a viable starter mid season. 

Regardless of what happens now, the Yankees believe they are fielding a better team than they did last year.  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Captain

Derek Jeter is coming off of the worst season of his Hall Of Fame career.  No one can argue that. The debate starts when talking about what we can expect from Jeter this season.  Many believe that Jeter's decreased numbers are due to a decline directed related to his age.  People are saying his range has decreased in the field and his hitting dropped well below his career mark.  The one point that I haven't heard mentioned is the fact that last year was Jeter's contract year.

Admittedly, this fact seems to work against my point but hear me out.  Most players play their best in their contract year because they know that they will pull in better offers in free agency.  If Jeter had his way, he would sign a lifetime contract with the Yankees.  He has absolutely no urge to be a free agent, he just wants to be a Yankee.  In my opinion, Jeter's drop off in numbers can be at least partly attributed to the stress of his upcoming free agency.  

Now on to my expectations.

Expect Jeter to be angry this season.  Expect him to want to make believers of the sceptics.  Expect him to attempt to improve his range in the field and expect him to make mechanical changes in swing to improve hitting.  Last but not least, expect him to succeed.  

There were talks of Jeter's fielding getting worse before the 2009 season. Jeter made the adjustments needed and won a gold glove in 2009.  His hitting is just another obstacle but the bottom line is, Derek Jeter is the Yankees all time hit king, he hasn't forgotten how to hit.  He will have a much better season.  I'm predicting .308 for the year.  

Jeter has decided to report to spring training 3 weeks early so he can work with hitting coach Kevin Long.  The road to redemption starts in two weeks.  Jeter will be back.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Feeling Nostalgic

I'm sick of talking about the Present.  I was reading an old Tom Verducci article about the closing of the old Yankee Stadium.  Every sports writer in the country found some inspiration in the death of the Cathedral of Baseball, but Verducci wrote from the point of view of the stadium.  It was an incredible piece of writing, my favorite in fact.  Now re-reading it, I am inspired to write about my own account of that day.

I wish I could tell you how many games I've been to.  The fact is, it's too many to count.  I was born and raised just a short drive or train ride from Yankee Stadium.  I've had every conceivable view of that field from the stands. I've played hooky from school to go to games, both with the permission of my parents and without.  I've sat in on double headers and waited through rain delays.  I spent so much time in that building, it quickly became a second home. 

September 21, 2008 started out like any other trip to Yankee Stadium.  I woke up early to eat a good breakfast and then donned my pinstripes.  I was going to the Game with 3 of my uncles.  Uncle Eddie (who would be driving), Uncle Ralphie, and Uncle Dante (who got us the tickets), would be picking me up shortly.  My father, Anthony, was supposed to be the fourth of the group but had passed the ticket along to me.  He said he felt I would enjoy the experience more than him.  How could I refuse? I was being handed a ticket to the last game Yankee Stadium would ever house. 

My pre-game preparations differed very slightly on this day than it would have been for just a normal game.  I pulled a Yankee t-shirt out of my drawer and put that on.  Next was the jersey selection.  I kept all of my jerseys in the closet in the spare bedroom.  Only official jerseys; if the player's name was printed on the back, it wasn't for me.  After all, you play for the name on the front, not the name on the back.  My choice today was simple.  Don Mattingly is my favorite all time Yankee, and there was no other jersey that was going to do for this occasion.  After Mattingly was resting on my shoulders, The Yankee fitted was the following step.  Also an easy choice, I always wore the same one.  I have a large collection but I only ever wear the navy blue official Yankee hat to the stadium.  It's the only one that I feel, belongs.  Finally, my Yankee pendant goes around my neck.  14 kt gold and black onyx.  Truly an Italian, Bronx guy. 

The difference today was what I did after I put on my Yankee pendant.  I went downstairs and asked my father if he would like me to wear his Yankee pendant today as well.  He liked the idea and ran to his bedroom to get it.  I don't like wearing multiple chains, but I thought it would be nice if my father's necklace could be at the last game with me.  This was like the baseball equivalent to getting a cross blessed in the Vatican. 

My Uncles picked me up around 10am and we headed up Fordham Road.  A left at the Grand Concourse and within minutes, we hit 161st Street.  We parked on the Concourse and walked down to the stadium.  161st Street is a large hill so you could see right into the upper deck from where we parked. 

It was a bright day so I stopped to buy some fake designer sunglasses and we continued on our way down from the Concourse.  Everything felt really normal about the day so far, or maybe I just wanted it to feel normal.  It just seemed like we were going to an average Sunday afternoon Yankee game.  My cousin, Jessica was working at Stan's Sports Bar that day and we were headed there first to say hello and have a couple of drinks.  We turned the corner onto River Avenue and all at once, it became real.  The truth of it was that we weren't going to an afternoon game.  That day's game wouldn't be played until after 8pm.  We were about 9 hours from first pitch and River Avenue was already a mob scene. 

We got to Stan's and I was able to do something I never had done before.  Just 19 days earlier, I celebrated my 21st Birthday.  So I bought a round for my Uncles and I.  We hung out for a while, keeping my cousin company and making friends with the other patrons.  No one seemed to talk about the elephant in the room.  No mention of the last game.  1pm eventually rolled around and we decided to venture into "the House that Ruth Built" one last time.  The normalcy of the day was gone now.  The wait to get into the stadium was about 45 minutes.  They had been letting people on the field but at this point that opportunity had eluded us.  We didn't mind, we were just happy to be there.  

We entered the stadium on the first base side.  We were sitting in section 18, box 274, row F.  That was the Main level on the third base side, so we took our time and slowly walked to our seats.  We walked outside so that we could take in the view of the field as much as possible.  When we got to our seats, we couldn't help but marvel.  Uncle Dante had done well for use, this was our view.

All around the stadium were signs fans had posted. One in particular, hit the nail right on the head.  The sign was posted in the upper deck, just behind home plate.  It read, "The House That Became A Home."  It had become a home alright, and it was good to generation after generation of Yankee fans.  

I was already so moved and the days events had yet to begin. In center field, the organization had put up a sign that told the crowd how many more games would be played in this magical ballpark.  On that day, the counter would not reach zero.  Michael Kay explained that because of our fond memories and because of the organization's traditions that would live on, there would always be baseball in Yankee Stadium. 
Another thrilling moment was watching them unveil the same pennant they unveiled on opening day in 1923.  But I have to say, the pre-game moment that was most amazing to me was watching Yogi Berra, all suited up, run out to his old position.   Being only 21 years old, I had never seen Yogi play, but I am a Yankee fan and I understand as well as anyone, the significance of having him back home.                                                                                                                        

The game finally started after what was the most amazing baseball ceremony I had ever witnessed.  Andy Pettitte took the mound.  He was the guy that everyone wanted out there.  But by the third inning, the Yanks were down 2-0.  They were already, missing out on the playoffs.  The stadium would go dark prematurely.  Us fans couldn't handle the idea of losing the last game played.  In the bottom half of the third, Jose Molina got aboard and so did Hideki Matsui.  Johnny Damon stepped to the plate and hit a ball to deep right field.  We lost our minds.  The ball eventually landed in the stands and the stadium was shaking.  Damon had given the Yanks a lead they would never relinquish.  In the fourth inning,  Jose Molina hit the final home run in Yankee Stadium history and some small ball in the seventh finalized the scoring for the night. Then, in the top of ninth at 11:41, Mariano Rivera threw the final pitch in the stadium's history to seal a 7-3 victory.

After the win, we watched the team take a lap around the field like the '96 team after the world series.  Then the captain took a microphone and addressed the sell-out crowd.  I remember looking at a kid who was sitting in front of me wearing a Derek Jeter jersey and as Jeter spoke, the kid began to cry.  The situation was all too much for me to handle and I began to cry just like a child. 

  Jeter said we have greatest fans in the world.  That's because we have the greatest team in the world.  

By the time we were all leaving, I was floating on a cloud.  We left through a gate that let us out directly across from the new mammoth that would replace our home.  I yelled at the top of my lungs as if it would answer, "you have huge shoes to fill!"  I parted ways with my uncles and returned to Stan's.  I wasn't ready for the night to end.  The celebration would need to continue because the next day, the stadium would be dark forever. 

Many people offered to by my ticket stub after the game but I refused to sell it.  In fact, one guy offered a trade.  I would give him my stub and $50 and he would give me what he had.

This was the liquor license for the original house that Ruth built.  I'm not sure how he got it but it was awesome to see.  I declined but asked if I could snap a picture, he agreed.  I went home early the next morning and I framed my stub. 

A little over a year later, my family's home burned down.  We lost just about everything.  When the fire fighters said it was safe to go back in, I went up to my bedroom on the top floor.  Everything was charred and soaking wet.  Nothing was salvageable from my bedroom, or so I thought.  I looked down at the floor and there seemed to be something shimmering on the ground.   It was a picture frame, shattered and smokey, but the contents unharmed.  On it read: The Final Season, The Final Game. Sunday September 21, 2008.  The ticket, for some reason, was completely unharmed.  It was dry, untouched by the fire and not so much as even creased.  That stub is what remains of the greatest day of my life and the greatest second home a kid could ask for. 

Special Thanks to Uncle Dante, Uncle Eddie and Uncle Ralphie for making that day so memorable.  It truly is a cherished memory.

And finally, a special thanks to my father.  If it wasn't for you dad, I would have never been able to go. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Indecision 2011

    The Yankees have failed to sign the caliber of free agent they have previously shown they are capable of.  Cliff Lee slipped through their fingers after drawing most of their focus through winter meetings.  The Yankees were so focused on signing Lee, that they were blindsided when the Red Sox signed another prized free agent, Carl Crawford.

If you had to sum up the Yankee off-season in one word, that word would be UNCERTAIN.  The Yank's biggest current question is: Will Andy Pettitte retire?  Many believe that Pettitte will not return to pitch in 2011.  As of right now, the Yanks could benefit from added depth to their bullpen, bench and an extra utility outfielder.  However, the main focus needs to be starting pitching.  As of today, the Yankees only have 3 set starters and A.J. Burnett is a big question mark. 

The Red Sox have effectively made the Yankees' off-season woes even worse by not only signing Crawford, who was the top free agent position player of the winter, but also trading for all star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.  The Sox have created one of the most dominant lineups they have ever had.  However, their focus has not stopped there.  They have also added depth to their bullpen by signing Hideki Okajima and slotting ex White Sox closer, Bobby Jenks, into their late inning equation. All these moves paired with an already dominant pitching staff (if healthy) makes Boston the favorite in not only the east, but the American League. 

We have already talked about the options that the Yankees have to fix their issues.  But how did the team get here?  How is it that the New York Yankees can not seem to give money away.  Why did the Yanks lose out on Cliff Lee twice and why is it that Kerry Wood chose to go to Chicago for far less than what New York was offering?

The truth is, George M Steinbrenner III is dead.  An era has ended in the Yankee organization and in Baseball.  The team may have to rethink their strategies on how they approach free agents, because it seems like players do not have any interest in talking to the Yankees. 

This is no longer the same organization that has grown to be the biggest juggernaut ever seen in sports.  No one is saying that this organization can no longer be successful.  All that is being said is that the powers that be need to find a way to make it work with out pretending that this is still Steinbrenner's team.  It is entirely possible that the Yankees can win with the team they have plus some added youth from the farm, but if they don't, an overhaul could be coming in 2012. So in a way, not only is uncertain a fitting word to describe the off-season.

The future of the Yankees is also uncertain.