Monday, February 27, 2006

Yankees vs. Red Sox - The Paper War (The Conclusion)

The Bullpens, Bench, and Intangibles

The Closers

Mariano Rivera

Keith Foulke

What can you say about Mariano Rivera that has not already been said? Yankee fans were concerned in the opening week of the season, when Mo blew, not one, but two saves to the Boston Red Sox. While some Yankee fans may have though it was the beginning of the end, Rivera simply put it out of his mind and successfully converted 31 straight save opportunities. Rivera’s 11th season was among his finest. He topped the 40-save mark (43) for the 6th time in his career, while only blowing 4 save opportunities. He set personal marks for ERA (1.38) and hits and walks per nine innings, and the league battering average against him, .177, was just 1 point higher than the previous low. He was a legitimate Cy Young contender.

Keith Foulke was a hero in 2004 as he closed out the St. Louis Cardinals to help give Boston its first championship in 86 years. 2005 was the polar opposite. Foulke struggled with a bad knee that affected his ability to push off the rubber properly. This caused a loss of command and a flat fastball. The league feasted on him until he was shutdown for most of July and all of August. Foulke returned in September, but was less than good. He’s feeling good this Spring Training and says his knee is healthy. Terry Francona is hoping that’s true.

Advantage - Rivera

The set up men

With the exception of Tanyon Sturtze, the Yankees have completely re-worked their bullpen from this time last year. Tom Gordon is gone. Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Villone, and Mike Myers have been brought in to replace him. They’ll be joined by holdovers Sturtze and Aaron Small, and possibly either Jaret Wright or Shawn Chacon (the latter would be an insane move). Torre has said that he will not stick to the plan of the pervious two years when Tom Gordon pitched the 8th and Paul Quantrill and Tanyon Sturtze worked the 7th. The idea this year will be to mix and match more, though Farnsworth will probably see the bulk of the 8th inning duty.

The wildcard in all of this is the Yankees “other” bullpen signing, Octavio Dotel.Though he struggled as a closer, Dotel was a dominant setup man for the Astros from 2001-2003. It is the hope that he will recover from Tommy John surgery in June and be able to return to that dominance. On paper, the Yankees have a very good collection of veterans - now they have to go out and prove it in the games.

Keith Foulke’s health is the key to the Boston bullpen. If he’s back to the Foulke of 2004, the Sox won’t have to worry about shuffling pitchers around. Mike Timlin is being joined by veterans David Riske, Julián Tavárez, and Rudy Seánez as those players with guaranteed sports. Youngsters Jon Papelbon, Lenny DiNardo, and Craig Hansen will be competing for spots in the pen and may be joined by one of the Sox starters if David Wells is not moved (too many jokes there).

Advantage - Even - much too early to call

The Benches

The Yankees bench usually does not play much of a part, especially during the regular season, because Joe Torre rarely pinch-hits. Of course, with the lineup the Yankees have that’s understandable. Kelly Stinnett, Bernie Williams, Andy Phillips, Miguel Cairo, and Bubba Crosby will be riding the pines, though Williams and Phillips will see quite a bit of time at DH and, in Phillips’s case, first base.

For now, John Flaherty, Tony Graffanino, and Dustan Mohr seem to be the only reserves with somewhat guaranteed spots. Alex Cora, Adam Stern, and others will be looking to join them. One half of the JT Snow/Kevin Youkillis platoon will join them as well. The Yankees bench will have more of a veteran presence, but the Sox generally rely on their bench much more.

Advantage - Even - There is no proven pinch-hitter like Rueben Sierra coming off the bench. Cairo and Graffanino give both teams great versatility.


Yankees GM Brian Cashman has supposed total control this season. If the Yankees need another arm or bat, will he be willing to part with one of the prospects that he has refused to move so far. What will the impact be of having new pitching coach Ron Guidry? Can Bernie Williams fill the Ruben Sierra role? The feeling here is that before everything is said and done, Cashman will have to bring in another big bat, because Phillips and Bernie will not get it done over the long haul. Those are some of the things that Joe Torre will have to deal with. Torre has been the ever calm influence throughout the ups and downs of the past 10 seasons. At times, that might be a detriment, since some of the recent teams seemed to be beset by complacency. That’s where new coaches Larry Bowa, Guidry, and Tony Pena should come in handy. All three were fiery competitors, and fiery is an understatement when it came to Bowa’s managing.

The Red Sox, unexpectedly, have a new pitching coach as well. It was determined last week that Dave Wallace would have to have hip replacement and miss the season. Al Nipper, who has had minor league coaching experience, steps in. The biggest issue in Boston though will be the Manny Ramirez situation. Will Manny keep singing, “should I stay or should I go now” or will he finally make peace with his surroundings (Angels GM Bill Stoneman will be keeping a very close eye on the situation). The uncertainty could definitely be very disruptive to the ball club. The Red Sox pitching will have to step up because the team will not score as many runs as it has the last few years. With no true leadoff hitter (and sparkplug like Johnny Damon was) and the absence of clutch hitters like Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar, the starters and bullpen are going to have to keep the opponents score down. Finally, can Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino put aside their hatred for one another for the good of the club.

To quickly review:

1B - Giambi
2B - Even
SS - Jeter
3B - A-Rod
LF - Ramirez
CF - Damon
RF - Sheffield
DH - Ortiz
Starting Pitching - Red Sox
Closer - Rivera
Pen - Even
Bench - Even

Overall Advantage - Yankees

Now they have to play the games, because all of this means nothing.

Spring Training Notes 2/27

The Yankees are planning on having Carl Pavano start the season on the DL since he's about a week or two behind the other pitchers. The Yankees don't need a fifth starter for a while anyway. Joe Torre has let it be known though that Pavano is a key this year and must step up.

Gary Sheffield sat out Sunday's workout due to back spasms (Wonder if shooting your mouth off can cause that).

Randy Johnson looked much sharper in yesterday's batting practice, throwing 67 pitches and not hitting anyone. He did break Johnny Damon's bat.

Mariano Rivera revealed that he may be open to pitching past his current contract.

Afternoon Update (5:30)- Gary Sheffield was able to participate in Monday's workouts after sitting out Sunday's. Hideki Matsui was kept of out baserunning drills Monday due to a sore knee. He may miss the first intrasquad game on Tuesday.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Spring Training Notes 2/24

Larry Bowa has been working every day with Robinson Cano on turning the double play better.

Carl Pavano says his back is doing well and he's on schedule to throw off the mound next week.

Utility man Felix Escalona has been delayed by visa problems.

Bud Selig's dream tourney took another blow when ex-Yankee and Panamian Manager, Roberto Kelly, quit. Kelly sited a lack of support from local officials as his reason for stepping down. Anibal Reluz will replace him.

Spring Training Notes - 2/23

Much to the relief of the Yankees and their fans, Chien-Ming Wang officially pulled out of the WBC. The Wanger's arm is a key to the Yankees chances this year and participating in the WBC would have been a huge risk.

The WBC itself took more hits as Vernon Wells, Francisco Cordero and Manny Ramirez all dropped out. Aw shucks.

Randy Johnson hit Johnny Damon with a pitch during batting practice. You're a year late Unit.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New Stadium Plan Approved

Associated Press -- A city commission voted on Wednesday to approve a plan to build a new stadium for the New York Yankees in the Bronx.

The unanimous approval by the City Planning Commission sends the plan for the privately financed $800 million project to the City Council, which must vote on final approval within two months.

"A new facility would be a benefit to both the Yankees and the city," Commission Chair Amanda Burden said. "The commitment by the Yankees to invest $800 million to construct this new stadium immediately north of the existing stadium is representative of the new faith in a resurgent South Bronx."

The new ballpark will be just north of the current stadium, which opened in 1923, and the Yankees have said they hope to break ground this spring.

"This project will create thousands of jobs, new and improved parklands and benefits and opportunities for the residents of the Bronx, the City of New York and visitors alike," Yankees president Randy Levine said after the 12-0 vote.

The current Yankee Stadium is the third-oldest ballpark in the major leagues, trailing only Boston's Fenway Park (1912) and the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field (1914).

Last summer the Yankees unveiled a model of the planned ballpark, which on the outside will be treated with limestone and resemble Yankee Stadium before its 1974-75 renovation. The ballpark will seat from 50,800 to 54,000 people; the current ballpark seats about 57,000.

Spring Training Notes - 2/22

Tanyon Sturtze threw his first mound session of Spring Training today, and came through it well. Sturtze threw three-quarters of the session from about halfway up the mound before moving back to the rubber.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Spring Training Notes - 2/21

Tino Martinez has officially joined ESPN as a Baseball Tonight analyst. Tino will make about 45 apperances, mostly on the weekend edition.

Manny Ramirez has been given clearance by the Red Sox to report to camp March 1st. That's only day after the mandatory reporting date and leaves just one day before Ramirez joins the WBC. Hopefully this just adds to more discord in Beantown.
Update 2/22 - Ramirez has withdrawn from the WBC - no reason has been given

Alex Rodriguez bit his tongue when asked about recent comments by Ozzie Guillen. A-Rod has had his share of verbal attacks since coming to the Bronx, but still prefers to let his bat do the talking in response. There has also been some talk about A-Rod possibly playing shortstop in the WBC. Will Derek Jeter accept coming off the bench?

Gary Sheffield reported to camp today and met with GM Brian Cashman. Sheffield's take was that the Yankees will be picking up his $13 million option for 2007. Neither Cashman, nor owner George Steinbrenner, would give a straight answer when asked.

Why even give a hint of this to Sheffield? Stop teh complaining before it starts?

Return Of The Prodigal Son?

When Andy Pettitte signed with the Houston Astros following the 2003 season, a game of he said/they said ensued. Pettitte said the Yankees “never showed him the love” during the negotiation process. The Yankees, who didn’t make a competitive offer until the last minute, claimed that Pettitte never really wanted to return and it was his intention to “go home” all along, citing the fact that Pettitte took $7.5 million less to leave. In actuality, the Yankees were concerned that Pettitte’s balky elbow might be a problem, and Pettitte, with strong urgings from family, may have really wanted to return to his native Texas. Either way, Pettitte became the first homegrown Yankee, still in his prime, to leave as a free agent.

Pettitte will become a free agent again after this season, which means if Houston is out of the race by the trade deadline, Pettitte could find himself in another uniform come August. Could that uniform be the familiar pinstripes of the New York Yankees?

Pettitte was a contender for the Cy Young in 2003, shaking off some early injury woes to finish 21-8. He was at his best after the All-Star break going 10-2 and acting as the Yankees stopper. He won the 2nd game of the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series after the Yankees had dropped the first game in each series. His final appearance in pinstripes was a masterful 7-inning outing in the Marlins series clincher in Game 6. Unfortunately for Pettitte and the Yankees, Josh Beckett was even better on that day.

Pettitte’s first season in Houston made the Yankees front-office look pretty good. Swinging a bat regularly for the first time in his career, Pettitte tore the flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. Limited to 15 starts, Pettitte finished just 6-4 with a 3.90 ERA.

Pettitte started off slowly in 2005, having to work the strength up in his elbow. He finished the first half 6-7, with a 3.09 ERA, for the light-hitting Astros. Just like the prior year, the Astros made a strong run that would land them in the playoffs. At the forefront was Pettitte. He was 11-2 in the second half with a miniscule 1.69 ERA. Even more impressive were his overall numbers in the hitter-friendly confines of Minute Maid Park - a 10-4 mark with a 2.12 earned run average.

Pettitte is in the final year of a 3-year, back-loaded contract that will see him earn $17.5 million this season. Should the Astros find themselves out of the pennant race in late July, new GM Tim Purpura could find himself fielding a number of offers for his tall lefthander. There is an immediate drawback to this - Houston seemed to be out of the division and wildcard races each of the last two seasons. In 2003, they acquired Carlos Beltran and rallied to capture the wildcard. Last season they topped that achievement by winning the wildcard and advancing to the World Series before running into the Chicago White Sox steamroller. Hunsicker and the Astros front office may find themselves in the same position this year, and if history is a basis for their actions, they’ll be looking to improve the team rather than dismantle it.

What to do, what to do?

That being said, the Astros would most likely be able to unload the remaining $8.75 million or so of Pettitte’s contract. One player who is not committed to playing this year as of yet could have a big impact as well. Roger Clemens’ final destination could very well determine the fate of the Astros and Pettitte’s future. If Clemens were to return to Houston, there’s a much greater chance that Pettitte would complete the year with Houston as well. Pettitte, of course, would come at a high cost. The Yankees would most certainly have to part with one or both of their highly touted prospects, Phillip Hughes and Eric Duncan.

Despite all of the possible drawbacks, don’t think for a second that a deal couldn’t happen. Thomas Wolfe obviously never saw the Yankees under George Steinbrenner. Otherwise he might have said, “there are times you can go home again”. Bobby Murcer, Oscar Gamble, Jim Leyritz, Mike Stanton, David Wells, Jeff Nelson, Reuben Sierra, Randy Velarde, and Gerald Williams are a just a handful of the players that have been dealt away or left as free agents during the Steinbrenner era, who one day returned to don the Yankees uniform again.

Will Andy Pettite be next? I certainly hope so.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Pre-season Predictions

Original Date - 2/17


Red Sox
Blue Jays
Devil Rays

The Yankees pitching will make the difference. For a while I thought about putting Toronto ahead of Boston, but I have more faith in Schilling and Beckett performing up to par over Burnett and Lilly. The Devil Rays should improve quite a bit, while the Orioles will slink along.


White Sox

Right now the White Sox have to be a favorite to win back-to-back WS championships. For the most part, they look even stronger than last year. Gone is El Duque, in is Javier Vazquez. They still have Brandon McCarthy waiting in the wings to join the rotation, and they'll have Bobby Jenks to close all season. If Jim Thome's back is healthy, look out!

Last season the Indians had their most successful year since the '90s, but they should be weaker this season. They dealt away Coco Crisp and a pretty good setup man in David Riske, and lost starting pitcher Kevin Millwood to free agency. They added, Andy Marte may be a star one day, but he's probably not ready yet, and Guillermo Mota whose arm health is suspect.

The Twins missed the playoffs last season after successive seasons. The playoffs are a longshot at best this year. The Twins still have Brad Radke, Johann Santana, and Joe Nathan, but have done nothing to help their poor offense. Long time Twin, Torii Hunter, a free agent after the season, could be patrolling the middle outfield spot somewhere else before this season is over.









AL MVP - Alex Rodriguez goes back to back
AL Cy Young - Johann Santana
AL Rookie of the Year - Felix Hernandez

NL MVP - Albert Pujols goes back to back as well
NL Cy Young - Roy Oswalt
NL Rookie of the Year - Jeremy Hermidia

AL Manager on the hot seat - 2004's world championship gave Terry Francona a reprieve after blowing a big lead in the AL East. He won't it have it to fall back on this year.

NL Manager ont he hot seat - Willie Randolph. GM Omar Minaya has brought a load of talent. This may be Willie's only chance to bring the Mets to the top.

Spring Training Notes Feburary 17

The Yankees signed Scott Erickson to a minor league deal yesterday. I can just sum this up by saying that if Scott Erickson pitches for the Yankees this year, they are in deep deep do-do.

Carl Pavano has said they he think he could be back in the mound in 7 days, but manager Joe Torre, known for erring on the side of caution, said he's going to stick to the 2 week plan.

George Steinbrenner expressed his displeasure over the WBC, particulary the participation in it by Yankees, Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Bernie Williams, and possibly, Miguel Cairo.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Do You Hear What I Hear?

No, Christmas isn't approaching. That's the sound of a baseball smacking in the leather of a glove/mitt. Spring Training is finally here - the temperature in the Metropolitan area was near 60 today - and the light at the end of the winter tunnel is nearing. This is one of the best times of the baseball year. The players are friendlier and more accessible to the fans and media. Every team has high hopes for the new season, even those that know they'll be out of the pennant race by the end of April. The games don't mean much, but they give you a glimpse of future stars, and let you work the rust out of your system.

Of course there are differences between "other" team's Spring Trainings and those of the Yankees. There's usually some new free agent and/or trade acquisition signing to grab the spotlight. This year it's Johnny Damon's turn to greet the horde of media. The games do mean something to George Steinbrenner, though not as much since the Yankees stopped playing them against the Mets. This year there is also a big difference between the previous Torre-Yankees and this year's model. There are many more question marks surrounding this team than any other team since Torre took the helm prior to the 1996 season.

Carl Pavano is one of the biggest questions marks. He has so many question marks surrounding him, he looks like that guy on the infomercial selling his get rich quick scheme. Pavano missed most of his first season in the Bronx due to a shoulder injury that was believed to have been brought on by a bad back. Pavano has already seen a specialist this winter and complained of stiffness the day before the official opening of camp. For now, he's been told to stay off the mound for 10-14 days.

Another ? is the reformatting of the bullpen now that Tom Gordon is gone. Tanyon Sturtze was extremely effect in the "set up to the set up" man role last year before a tired arm screwed up his season. He too has been ordered to stay off the mound, though for just 5 days.

Bernie Williams will be learning to play the corner outfield spots - that is if he can find the time when not playing for his native Puerto Rico in the WBC.

Randy Johnson has to get used to not having a personal catcher, shake off his horrendous post-season start, and hope that his balky back doesn't bother him.

The new pitching coach has never held that duty before. The list goes on. But, and this but is bigger than David Wells's, this was the first day of Spring Training when all is good. Yes indeed, I see the Yankees going 162-0.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bye Bye Tino

Tino Martinez, who starred on the Yankees World Series championship teams from 1996 to 2001, has announced his retirement after 16 seasons. "I don't want to make this a big deal," Martinez said by phone to St. Petersburg Times writer Marc Topkin. "I'm done. I'm not going to play anymore. I'm 100 percent decided. I wanted to retire as a Yankee, to have that uniform on for the last time," he said. "It's a great way to go out."

Tino is expected to take a job with ESPN as an analyst, including doing work on Baseball Tonight. "This opportunity made it a lot easier," he said. "I'm really fired up about it. And I'm going to work hard at it to get better."

Tino was acquired, along with Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir, for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis following the 1995 season. After leaving as a free agent following the 2001 season, he returned for a final season in pinstripes in 2005. Among the highlights of his Yankee career are slugging 44 home runs and 141 RBI in 1997, finishing 2nd in the league's MVP voting, and winning the home run derby during that season's All-Star break. He belted a grand slam off of the Padres' Mark Langston to highlight a 7-run seventh inning as the Yankees came back from a 5-2 deficit and went on to sweep the series. In 2001, he belted a 2-out, 2-run homer off of B.K. Kim in the bottom of the 9th of Game 4 to send it to extra innings and eventual victory. His glovework was always gold glove caliber, though he wasn't able to capture one. The two time All-Star finishes his career with a .271 batting average, 339 home runs, 1271 runs batted in, and 4 World Series rings.

Good luck Tino, we'll miss you!

Yankees vs. Red Sox - The Paper War - Part III

Designated Hitter

Yankee Triumvirate vs.

David Ortiz

The Yankees head into the 2006 season with a pretty good sized question next to their DH situation. It appears to be a three-headed monster for now. Bernie Williams, Jason Giambi, and Andy Phillips will get the bulk of time, with Joe Torre using the spot to give periodic rest to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield.

Giambi has already been discussed in the 1st Base comparison, so we won’t repeat it here. Andy Phillips has put up some impressive number in his last 3 minor league season (missed most of 2003 due to injury), but has yet to have that translate to the majors, albeit in a limited number of chances.

2002 - .301-28-87
2004 - .321-26-101
2005 - .300-22-54 (only 75 games)

This will be Phillips first chance to get some real at-bats to show what he can do. At the same time he’s learning a new position, having filled in at 1st Base last year, but not to any great extent. Phillips will be 29 the first week of the season and has reached his make or break point.

The third part of the rotating DH is long-time Yankee, Bernie Williams. Bernie is not the Bernie of the mid to late ‘90s, but can still come up with clutch hits. How many at-bats will Bernie get? 200? 400? Will he be happy in his new role as DH, part-time corner outfielder, and pinch-hitter? This is the first time in his career that Bernie will be facing these questions. Joe Torre revealed last week that he first broached the subject with Bernie this past July. Bernie had trouble getting his head wrapped around the concept at first as he still saw himself as an every day player. Apparently that changed between the summer and fall, as Bernie decided to come back for another season, but as a part-timer.

It’s the feeling here that despite the flexibility of not having a regular DH, the Yankees will get someone to fill that spot before the season is over.

David Ortiz is a manimal, a manster, more precisely, a hitting machine. The Red Sox fell into this one. Ortiz was a highly touted, underachieving 1st Baseman for the Minnesota Twins. After a .300-30-110 year at Triple-A, the Twins gave Ortiz a shot in 2000. His rookie season was decent, .282 with 10 HRs and 63 RBI in 415 ABs. A poor 2001 season, was followed by a pretty good 2002 - .272-20-75, but the Twins let him walk following the season. Ortiz was 27 and looking to catch on somewhere. The Red Sox signed him to be a role player, a part-time 1st Baseman/DH. Not that much was expected of him. Then Ortiz started to hit and he never stopped. He quickly became a fixture in the lineup and finished with 31 HRs and 101 RBI. The past two seasons, he’s been nearly unstoppable, averaging 44 HRs and 144 RBI. He’s also hit .301 and .300 respectively. Add in 102 walks last season and a gaudy 1.001 OPS. “Big Papi” has also become one of the most clutch and feared hitters in all of baseball.

Advantage - Ortiz by a mile

The Starting Rotations

This is the biggest question marks for both teams. Age, inexperience, injury are all playing apart in the makeup of both team’s rotation.

Right now the Yankees will run out Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Shawn Chacon, and Chien-Ming Wang. Waiting in the wings are Jaret Wright and Aaron Small. Very good, pretty good, good, rotten? That remains to be seen.

Let’s start from the top…the very top. The Big Unit, Randy Johnson came over with extremely high expectations. An opening night win against the Red Sox heightened those expectations. Unfortunately, the results for the rest of the first half only reached up to about his belt buckle. His slider was flat and his fastball was missing zip. After making some adjustments, Johnson sizzled in the 2nd half. Opponents hit just .208 in his last 15 starts, which saw Johnson go 8-2 to finish 17-8 overall. But like many of his teammates, Johnson spit the bit during the ALDS loss to the Angels. Hopefully with a year under his belt in New York, he’ll show more positive signs this year.

Mike Mussina started to look like a broken down old man last year. He managed to make 30 starts, but his stuff wasn’t there for most of them. The league hit .284 against him, the highest average he’s ever allowed. For the second straight season, he yielded close to 4.5 runs per game, and after eclipsing 200 innings pitched for 9 straight years, he again finished below that mark. He also landed on the DL again. The 37-year old is in the last year of a six-year deal. It may very well be his last, not only with the Yankees, but in all of baseball if his elbow isn’t healthy.

Carl Pavano signed a 4-year, $44 million free agent contract following the 2004 season. The Yankees felt they had made the signing of the off-season. Unfortunately the word “off-season” continued during the season. Pavano started out with a decent April, going 2-2 with a 3.10 ERA. He would only make 12 more starts over the next two months before missing the rest of the season with shoulder and back problems. The league battered him over those last dozen starts to the tune of a .327 average. It appears now that a bad back caused Pavano to alter his motion, which in turn screwed up his shoulder. He’s already seen a back specialist this month after feeling twinges. To make matters worse, rumors have persisted that Pavano was and is unhappy in the city and wants out. Pavano has denied this to GM Brian Cashman, but the doubt lingers.

Chien-Ming Wang was the most ready for primetime pitching prospect in the organization prior to the 2005 season. He proved that label to be accurate when he became indispensable in the Yankees rotation. With injuries to Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Jaret Wright, and Carl Pavano, the Yankees weren’t sure where to turn. Thankfully they turned to Wang. The rookie showed incredible poise, going 6-3, with a sub 4 ERA, before landing on the DL himself at the All-Star break. Reports were not good - ranging from a torn rotator cuff to inflammation. The latter turned out to be closer to the truth and “The Wanger” returned to win 2 games down the stretch in September. A healthy Chien-Ming Wang is a must for the Yankees to win.

Shawn Chacon was having one of the most miserable years of his life. His Colorado Rockies stunk yet again and he was 1-7. Then the call came, Chacon had been traded to the Yankees for a pair of lower level prospects. Chacon was rejuvenated. With the help of some tweaking by pitching coach Mel Stottelmyre, and renewed confidence, Chacon made 14 appearances, 12 of them starts. All he did was go 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA and win one big game after another. Down two games to one in the ALDS, he pitched a sparkling 6+ innings in a game the Yankees would win after he had been pulled. Now the Yankees need him to repeat those performances.

Aaron Small and Jaret Wright also made appearances in the starting rotation, and that’s where the similarities end. Wright signed a 3-year, $21 million free agent deal after the 2004 season. Small was a journeyman right-hander, who had signed a minor league contract to help bolster the Columbus rotation. Everyone was counting on Wright, no one was counting on Small.

Wright made four starts in April, one more miserable than the other. Somehow he managed to win 2 of them. Then he went on the DL until August. He showed flashes of his 2004 success with Atlanta, but overall he struggled, finishing 5-5, 6.08 and only 2 more strikeouts than walks.

Small, on the other hand, was tremendous. The one-time high school teammate of Jason Giambi, went an astonishing 10 in 15 appearances, 9 of them starts, including a complete game. He pitched with poise, control, and confidence - things that were lacking from much of the starting staff. The Yankees hope he will only be a tremendous asset to the bullpen this year and not needed in the starting rotation.

The Red Sox have as many questions concerning their starting rotation as do the Yankees. Curt Schilling, he of the big mouth and powerful right arm, is still trying to recover from the ankle injury he suffered in 2004. It caused him to miss much of last season, and at one point relegated him to the closer role, because the ankle wouldn’t hold up for long periods. Schilling has declared himself healthy and has dropped a number of pounds. The Sox wonder whether they will see the 21-6, 3.26 Schilling of 2004 or last year’s 8-9, 5.69 model.

The Red Sox made a steal of a deal this off-season, acquiring Josh Beckett from Florida, along with Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota (later used in the Coco Crisp deal) for prospects Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, and Harvey Garcia. Beckett gained national prominence in 2003 when he led the Florida Marlins to the second World Series championship versus the Yankees. That included shutting down the Yankees in the clincher at Yankee Stadium. Shoulder problems have nagged him the last 2 years, and he has yet to reach 200 innings in a season (though his totals have increased each year). The Red Sox avoided arbitration by signing the soon-to-be 26-yr old to a one year deal. They obviously want to wait to see how his shoulder stands up as well as how he does against the hitter friendly American League before signing him long term.

Tim Wakefield, David Wells, Bronson Arroyo, Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo, and Jonathan Papelbon. These are the names that Manger Terry Francona is going to throw against the wall to see who sticks. Wakefield is the most likely of the group to end up in the rotation, followed by Clement. Wakefield and his knuckles will turn 40 in August, but he is coming off a 225-innings pitched season and 16 wins. He’s probably the guy that Francona can count on most.

Clement’s name surfaced in trade rumors during the season (e.g. for Cincy’s Austin Kearns). After a strong start (10-2), Clement, as many predicted, struggled in the 2nd half, winning just 3 times in 14 decisions. To make matters worse, he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford in a July game. Clement’s inconsistency drove the Cubs crazy, and if Francona had any more hair to lose, he certainly would lose it watching Clement.

David Wells is unhappy. What else is new? Despite some injuries, Boomer still managed to make 30 starts and win 15 games, but he was never very happy last year. He has been campaigning for a trade back to the west coast, preferably to the Padres. While talks have gone between the Sox and the Pads, as well as the Dodgers, nothing has transpired. Wells said he will show up on-time to spring training and remain a “good soldier”. How long that lasts is anybody’s guess. It’s most likely he’ll be traded before the Sox break camp.

In 2004, Bronson Arroyo looked like Bo Derek, last year it was The Dutch Boy. He went 7-5 with an ERA of just over 4 for the first half of last year, and although he matched his won-lost record in the second half, his ERA was a full point higher. Because of the flexibility Arroyo gives him, Francona may opt to use him out of the pen. For the moment though, it looks like Arroyo will be the number 5 starter.

Jonathan Papelbon is the dark horse for the rotation, but outstanding spring training could change all that. The, then, 24-yr old rookie showed a lot of poise last year, making 17 appearances, including 3 starts. He finished 3-1, 2.65, averaging a strikeout per inning. His downside - almost a hit per inning and 4.5 walks per 9 innings. He could have a big impact on the rotation during the season though, just as Wang did for the Yankees last year.

This is the toughest one to call. So many question marks.

Based on last year

Schilling vs. Johnson - Johnson

Beckett vs. Mussina - Beckett

Clement vs Pavano - Clement

Wakefield vs Chacon - Even

Arroyo vs Wang - Even

Advantage - by the Big Unit’s nose, the Red Sox

Stay tuned for the final part of this series in which we will cover the bullpens, bench and intangibles.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Chacon Avoids Arbitration Hearing

The AP has reported that pitcher Shawn Chacon and Yankees have agreed to a one year, $3.6 million contract, thereby avoiding arbitration. Probably just as well for the Yankees since they didn't have much to argue against. Chacon was horrid with the Rockies, but went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) after being acquired by the Bombers.

Besides the base salary, there are several performance bonuse for reaching 180 innings pitched, and for each segment of 10 after that.

Baseball Goes To The Movies

Top 10 Baseball Related Movies of all Time

1. Field of Dreams - “Show it and I will watch it.” Odd premise, but hits you right where you live. Puts a smile on my face and a tear in my eye every time.

2. The Natural - Okay, so Redford is the oldest looking 35-year-old in history. But the movie, especially the climax, is what every kid dreams of and Redford pulls it off.

3. The Bad News Bears - The original, not the recent rip-off. Walter Matthau is the quintessential washed-up ballplayer, grouchy (or should I say grumpy) hero/bum. Tatum O’Neal was great before she lost her mind.

4. A League of Their Own - Funny, good baseball, and an hysterically funny Jon Lovitz. Tom Hanks is awesome as usual.

5. Pride of the Yankees - Extremely corny, but extremely touching. Gary Cooper was fabulous. Great movie trick: Cooper batted righty and ran the bases backwards. The filmmakers then flipped the film to make it look like he was a lefty.

6. Bang the Drum Slowly - Grim, gritty, a great study of the human condition. Crap- I sounded too much like Roger Ebert there.

7. Major League - Forget its' sequels. Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes, and Charlie Sheen lead a great cast in a fun movie. “Bring that sheet to me, mang”.

8. 61* - Excellent job by director Billy Crystal of recounting the 1961 home run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The Phil Rizzuto imitation was horrendous,though.

9. Bingo Long and His Traveling All-Stars - Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, and James Earl Jones lead this movie about a barnstorming team of black ballplayers during the 1930s.

10. Bull Durham - I have to admit I am not a very big fan of this movie, but it makes the list over lesser movies such as Sandlot and other movies that are just a re-telling of other stories.

Honorable Mention - Angels in the Outfield- the original, not the over-the-top Disney version.

Funniest Baseball Scene of All Time - Naked Gun. No question about it. Leslie Nielsen kills me in that scene every single time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Inury Update

Short, but sweet -

Reliever Octavio Dotel played catch with special pitching instructor Rich Monteleone. Dotel, who had ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow last year, likely will start the season on the disabled list.

Monday, February 6, 2006

Post Super Bowl - A Return Man

One day after Pittsburgh's semi-dull victory over Seattle in Super Bowl eXtra Large, there were actually some Yankee notes today. In what can only be described as a very surprising move, Mel Stottelmyre will be a Yankees spring training instructor and work with all of the pitchers. There was much speculation that Stot would become the M's new pitching coach since he's from the Seattle area. The M's went in another direction with Rafael Chaves and its unknown whether Stot had any another opportunities. For that matter, we don't really know if he he wanted to coach full-time any more.

There's been debate about the degree of success that Mel has had as pitching coach - all of the players swear by him, while many fans don't believe he has helped pitchers of late. While the latter may hold some credence, I think I'll go with what the players think.

Stot decided that 2005 would be his last as Yankees pitching coach. He was tired of the way he, Joe Torre, and his fellow coaches were treated by the "Tampa contingent", most notably, of course, George Steinbrenner. That's what makes today's announcement that much more surprising.

The thought here is that although Ron Guidry has been an annual spring training instructor, he's never been "The Man" when it comes to handling the pitchers. A little mentoring from a seasoned pitching coach like Mel Stottelmyre couldn't hurt.


For The Love of Bengie

Reports out today indicated that Bengie Molina is close to signing a 1 year plus an option contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. GM J.P. Ricciardi has hit the free agent wires like a man on a mission and this could be a very astute pickup. Molina has been downgraded by many this off-season. "He's too slow", "his offense last year was a fluke", "his defense is started to deteriorate". Now, scouts pay much more attention to the game than the average (or above average fan), but no Yankee fan witnessed this supposed deterioration. Molina has killed the Yankees time and time again, in both the regular and post-seasons.

Is Jorge Posada's friendship with Derek Jeter influencing the front office?

The supposed contract will pay $5 million in 2006, with a $7.5 million option for 2007. Are you telling me the Yankees couldn’t have at least matched that? I would rather see Jorge Posada get DH at-bats, especially if it means no $12 million option kicking in, and Molina behind the plate, than have Kelly Stinnett as a backup with an aging Bernie Williams and an inexperienced Andy Phillips gobbling up at-bats. The Yankees are worried about causing problems with Posada, a clubhouse leader, career Yankee, and best friend of captain Derek Jeter, but screw that. You can’t keep letting the lines between the game and the business bleed into one another. You do what it takes to win and Bengie Molina is a winner.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Super Sunday

Sunday, February 5, 2006 - Super Bowl XL...which means Spring Training is right around the corner! Football is a good bridge between the end of one baseball season and the start of another. Thankfully, the Giants had a surprisingly good season (and a thoroughly bad post-season). That, combined with fairly mild weather, did not make the need for baseball more urgent. With football ending and the Olympics about to shutdown the NHL and the Rangers great season for a couple of weeks, baseball is starting to very much being on the mind. Time to start getting the rotisserie league stuff ready for '06 - yes, baseball is not far away.

For the record, the prediction here is Steelers 27 Seahawks 17 with Big Ben winning the MVP award. Seattle just does not impress me all that much. I think a healthier Panthers team could have really been a challenge to them. They certainly weren't impressive in their win against the Giants, which of course should have been a loss if Jay Feely's radar hadn't gone haywire. It would be nice to the The Bus get a ring too.

Finally, congratulations to the great Harry Carson on his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Harry suffered through some of the worst Giants teams of my teens and early 20s before helping to lead the Giants to their first Super Bowl championship in 1986. He was a class act and the team leader. Even more than congratulations for getting into the Hall, here's good wishes for the healthy recovery of both his children.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Yankees vs. Red Sox - The Paper War - Part II

The Outfield

Left Field

Hideki Matsui vs.

Manny Ramirez

Hideki Matsui has been one of the most consistent and clutch hitters since he made his way over from Japan 3 years ago. During that time, he’s average .297 with 23 HR, 110 RBI, 40 doubles, and 99 runs scored. Matsui has also hit a lofty .314 with runners in scoring position. He’s done all this despite manager Joe Torre shifting him in the lineup between 2nd and 4th through 7th. Matsui’s defense took a step backwards last year, but he always gives 100% and often makes up for getting a bad initial jump on the ball with a good second step. He’s not an asset on defense, but not a liability either.

Manny Ramirez will never be confused with Ken Griffey Jr. when it comes to outfield defense. Don’t let all those assists fool you - that’s from playing so shallow in Fenway’s short left field. Manny will be confused with Hall of Famers though when it comes to the plate. Ramirez is a pure hitting machine who is one of the most intimidating bats in all of baseball. The soon-to-be 36-year old comes into this season with 435 career home runs and 1,414 RBI. His lifetime OPS is 1.008. There are no questions concerning Manny’s bat or glove. What you see is what you get. The problem here could be if Manny finally does force his way out of Boston this year. His comments last season, led the Red Sox front office to explore trade options at the deadline, and again in the off-season. Then and now, the Sox have realized it will be very difficult to get back proper value for this future Hall of Famer. After all it’s just Manny being Manny.

Advantage: Ramirez


Johnny Damon vs.

Coco Crisp

What a difference an off-season makes. After stints in Kansas City and Oakland, Johnny Damon became a folk-hero in Boston. He homered twice in the 7th game of the 2004 ALCS to bring the Sox back from a three games to none deficit to the Yankees and eventually the Sox first title in 86 years. Those hated Yankees, the Yankees Damon would never sign with. Well, that was before the Red Sox didn’t show enough love and the Yankees shoved a 4-year, $52 million deal under Damon’s nose. Now Johnny loves New York. And New York will probably respond the same in kind. Damon takes over a spot that hero Bernie Williams had occupied for the previous 15 years. Though his arm is probably weaker than Bernie’s, at 32, he has more range and still has great ball hawking ability. Most likely to bat leadoff, but possibly 2nd, he should easily score 100 runs and will probably run a little more again (he has a fantastic 78.9 stolen base success rate) than he has in recent years with Boston. 2006 should be a big success for the clean-shaven Damon.

Coco Crisp was acquired in a seven player deal with the Cleveland Indians on January 27. In replacing Damon, the Red Sox got a player that is 5 years younger who has improved in each of first three full seasons in the majors. Crisp only played 10 games in centerfield last year due to the emergence of Grady Sizemore, but had played 208 games in the middle prior to that. In his last 2 seasons in Cleveland Crisp averaged .299 with 15 HRs, 70 RBI, 82 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases. His power may suffer with the tougher right field in Fenway, but if he learns how to use the monster in left, his average could go up 10 to 20 points.

Advantage - Damon

Right Field

Gary Sheffield vs.

Trot Nixon

With Spring Training right around the corner, Gary Sheffield is probably warming up the quote machine. Deciding whether to talk about those injuries that he won’t talk about, or complaining about his contract, or bitching about inevitable trade rumors. Then all he’ll do is go out and rip one line drive after another. Sheff didn’t let a leg injury keep him out of the lineup last season even though he nearly had to walk to first base. Alex Rodriguez may be the “huge” guy in the lineup, but no one is more intimidating then Sheffield. Sheff’s numbers in his first 2 years with the Yankees have been remarkably similar

2004 .290 - 36 - 121
2005 .291 - 34 - 123

The one worry about Sheffield is his play in right field. Yankee and baseball announcers will still talk about his “gun”, but Sheffield rarely throws anyone out any more. Far more disconcerting his lack of mobility in the outfield. Even before he was injured, Sheffield looked like he was running half-speed to get to the ball (this in part was the reason Bubba Crosby and he played smashmouth baseball in the playoffs). The Yankees need to find a way to get some DH at-bats for Sheffield, even if it’s against his will. Better yet if it is against his will - it’ll guarantee him going on a tear.

Trot Nixon is a hardnosed ballplayer who has battled injuries the last 2 years. He averaged 26 home runs from 2001-2003, but was limited to just 48 games the following season, and then hit just 13 home runs in 400+ at-bats last year. He’s an aggressive defensive player and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body to make a play. He had his knee scoped following this past post-season. The Red Sox are looking for a viable backup/platoon for Nixon and today signed Dustan Mohr to a minor league contract with those hopes in mind. Nixon is a subject of trade rumors nearly every year, but doesn’t let it affect his play.

Advantage - Sheffield

Next up - DH, Pitchers and Catchers