Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Modest Proposal

Well, that was fast.  Mark Teixeira is hurt, again, and was placed on the DL this morning with torn cartilage in his knee.  It comes as little surprise, considering Teixeira hasn't played over 125 games since 2011.  Once thought to be Teixeira's replacement when this inevitably occurred, Greg Bird was lost for the season over the winter.  Last night, Rob Refsnyder took over at first base when Tex left the game.  But with Teixeira out for an extended period of time, the Yankees are scrambling to find a replacement.

A modest proposal: put Carlos Beltran at first.  I know, Beltran has only played first base once in his career.  But he was a gold-glove caliber fielder before age and his knees changed that.  Maybe you don't put him there tonight, but in a week's time, Beltran should be able to handle the position.

Why Beltran, you ask?  Here's why.  For starters, it gets Beltran the hell out of the outfield where he no longer belongs.  While first base is not quite DH, it certainly cuts down on the wear and tear of the outfield.  That should allow Beltran to keep swinging a hot bat.

It also gives A-Rod the full-time DH role.  While he has struggled, A-Rod remains one of the few sources of power in this anemic Yankee lineup.  They'll need him to produce from that DH spot, especially with Teixeira now gone.

Lastly, it keeps Refsnyder in the lineup.  Since his return, Refsnyder has played all over the diamond, but has looked good at the plate in a limited role.

I hear the names of Nick Swisher and Chris Parmalee being thrown around.  Whoopee.  Though Parmalee has been playing well of late and was called up to replace Teixeira on the roster, I don't see him as a long-term fix.  Perhaps he'll hold down the fort until Beltran is comfortable enough to play first base.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Questions, Anyone?

The New York Mets, in a heart-breaking 4-1 defeat in the World Series, had two of their major off-season questions answered.  Unfortunately, those answers just lead to more questions ahead.

Throughout the month of August and into September, as Yoenis Cespedes tore through the National League and the NL East standings, sports-talk radio was consumed with talk of 2016.  Callers seemed evenly divided between "There's no way the cheapskate Mets are going to bring back Cespedes" and "Let's pay whatever it takes to bring back Cespedes".  Fair points, both, and hotly debated all around.

Cespedes' titanic run carried the Mets to the playoffs.  But his almost equally astounding playoff slump left a big hole in the Mets' offense.  Cespedes may very well be in line for a big payday as long as teams consider his huge production during the pennant race.  But for the Mets, the question of whether to make a long-term, big-dollar investment was all but answered during Cespedes' postseason swoon.

On the flip side, no player looked better during the first two rounds of the playoffs than Daniel Murphy.  A long-time Mets' second-baseman, perhaps no one improved his off-season stock more than the suddenly powerful Murphy.  But he, too, went mostly quietly during the World Series, reverting to the Daniel Murphy -- nice hit, no glove -- that had performed steadily throughout his career.  And much like with Cespedes, the chatter on talk radio went from "How can we live without Murphy?" to "How much will it cost to bring him back?"

The Mets took the first obvious step, handing Murphy a qualifying offer.  Murphy, in turn, did the next obvious thing: he turned it down.  As a player traded in mid-season, no such offer could be made to the unrestricted free agent Cespedes.  And with that, a Mets organization that had experienced a remarkable late-season and post-season run, begins what could be their most important off-season.

With a staff of aces that any team would envy, the Mets are poised to contend for years to come.  However, it's important to note that in spite of their spectacular pitching, for much of the season the Mets were victims of their anemic offense.  It was only when fortified by bench players Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, and ultimately, Cespedes, that the Mets went from squeaking out the 1-0 win to bludgeoning teams from both the mound and at the plate.

Should the Mets opt not to bring back either Murphy or Cespedes, and there are solid arguments to make those cases, they need to be sure that the holes in the offense are addressed.  Whether that comes from a full season of the improving Michael Conforto or the promotion of Dilson Herrera, or an additional free-agent bat or two, it's paramount that someone does.  Sandy Alderson pulled all the right levers in late July.  He'll need an equally good December and January if the Mets expect to capitalize on their 2015 success.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fill 'Er Up

It's mid-September, and the Yankees trail Toronto by three games in the AL East.  They still have 17 games left to play -- plenty of baseball, considering they still have 3 games left with the Blue Jays.  But while the Yankees won't admit to chasing the Wild Card, most fans are looking.

That said, I'm still decidedly undecided when it comes to this team and this season.  For me, there are two ways of looking at the "glass" that might well be the 2015 Yankees:

Half-full: the Yankees, a team not widely expected to even contend this season, make the post-season as the first Wild Card
Half-empty: the Yankees blow a 7-game lead to the Blue Jays and lose the division

Half-full: the Yankees could beat the Rangers in the Wild Card playoffs
Half-empty: the Yanks could get swept by the Royals in the ALDS

Half-full: the Yankees held onto their elite prospects at the trade deadline and didn't mortgage the future for short-term gains
Half-empty: the Yanks stood idly by at the trade deadline while their rivals improved and the Yanks subsequently fell into free-fall

Half-full: the Yankees have gotten an injection of youth and their future stars -- Bird, Severino, Betances -- have made an impact today
Half-empty: the Yanks were led most of the season by a 37-year old first-baseman and a 40-year old DH, neither of whom can be counted on in 2016

So how do you see the Yankees?  I don't think we'll really know until October.  And even then, how full will that glass be?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Are we winning yet?

"Um, I dunno..."
First and foremost, let me state that I hate Brian Cashman, the most overrated front office man in sports.  As most Cashman detractors will say, "If I had an unlimited budget and could simply eat my mistakes, I'd have a pretty good team, too."  Yet he is somehow inoculated from the bad moves while he's simultaneously lauded for the good ones.

But this is a different column.  Sort of.  I don't have a solid opinion, at least, not yet.  So I'll pose these questions:

  • If the Yankees lose the AL East -- a likely scenario as of today -- but qualify for the Wild Card, was it a good season?  
  • If the Yankees stumble and only manage to win the second Wild Card, was it a good season?
  • If the Yankees go on the road and lose the Wild Card game and spend one day in the post-season in the last 3 years, does Brian Cashman get credit for getting the Yankees back to October?
  • Or did he fail to upgrade a mediocre team at the deadline and watch his team fade down the stretch?
As for that opinion of mine, I'm decidedly torn.

On the one hand, the Yankees, on paper, weren't expected to contend this year.  The fact that they have played themselves into contention is remarkable.  As a bonus, young players that represent the future of the organization -- Betances, Bird, Severino -- have been able to contribute and excel.  Even if the Yanks make a quick exit from the playoffs, they will have laid a solid foundation for 2016.  

Or have they?  The 2015 Yankees' offense has been led primarily by Alex Rodriguez, a 40-year old DH, and Mark Teixeira, a 35-year old who hasn't played a full season in 5 years.  A-Rod is currently in a slump and Teixeira won't be back on the field for another two weeks. It's unlikely that either A-Rod or Teixeira can turn back time on another season.  Who, in 2016, is going to provide that power?  Will Greg Bird or Aaron Judge?  How much does Brian McCann or Carlos Beltran have left?

Only time will tell...




Thursday, August 20, 2015

Riddle

What's the difference between the NFL and the WWE?

One is entertainment thinly disguised as sport, populated with steroid-addled goons with cartoon-like personae, acting out preposterous story-lines that create heroes to be adored and villains to be hissed, all marching towards inevitable conclusions while being lorded over by a power-drunk commissioner seemingly incapable of consistent leadership.

The other is professional wrestling.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Instant Gratification

Although the MLB trade deadline was less than two weeks ago, the Toronto Blue Jays are getting all A's for their flurry of deadline deals. Since shortly after the trades were made, the Jays have won 9 games in a row and cut the deficit in the AL East from 6-1/2 games to a half a game. 

A General Manager wants to give his team the chance to win.  Alex Anthopoulos has done just that. Regardless of where the Blue Jays finish, these trades -- obtaining David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, LaTroy Hawkins, Ben Revere and Mark Lowe -- have pumped life into this franchise right now.  A franchise that is set to play their most important games in recent memory -- a sold-out weekend series against the Yankees with no less than first place on the line.


On the flip-side, the Yankees are in free-fall.  After standing pat at the deadline -- Brian Cashman's only acquisition, utility man Dustin Ackley, promptly landed on the DL -- the Yanks were swept by Toronto and saw their lead nearly vanish.  

But while you can already call the moves the Jays made a success, it's still too early to say whether Cashman's gambit was a failure.  If the Yankees hold on and win their division, it would be hard to argue with Cashman's strategy.  They were a first place team with a solid lead and didn't need to make a deal.  Or at least they didn't appear to need one at the time.

Fast forward a couple of weeks: Michael Pineda, one of the Yanks' few dependable starters, went on the Disabled List the day before the Jays landed Price.  The Yankees once-formidable offense all but disappeared, going 31 straight innings without scoring a run.  Even when that string was broken last night, and clutch Yankee hitters gave the team the lead in the 10th inning, previously unhittable closer Andrew Miller blew his first save.  Yet the Yankees finished the night still in first place.  

But questions remain: Can Mark Teixeria, who hasn't played a full season since 2011, continue his resurgence?  Can Alex Rodriguez, already 40 years old and having played twice as many games as he's played in the last two years, keep hitting, too?  How will 21-year old Luis Severino respond in the heat of a pennant race?  

So kudos to Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays for taking a shot and seeing it pay off in the short term.  By October, we'll know who was right.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

The 2015 Yankees will not be a good team.  Certainly not "good" by typical Yankee standards.  Much of that is due to some odd acquisitions this winter and a sudden fiscal responsibility.  One choice the frugal Yankees made this off-season was to let incumbent closer David Robertson depart for the White Sox rather than attempt to resign him.  Though it left a Mo-sized hole at the back of the bullpen, the Yankees are prepared to fill that hole with a very big body. 

Newly-acquired reliever Andrew Miller, a 6'7" lefty, join's last year's 6'8" set-up man, the right-hander Dellin Betances, to form the last line of defense for New York.  How those two will be deployed is one of spring training's early story lines.  I would advocate moving away from the traditional (and some would say silly) model of having one guy designated as the closer and one as the 8th-inning set-up man.  I'm not the only one with this idea, and Joe Girardi has even been asked whether he'd consider a closer tandem:
It would not be my first choice, but it’s something you can definitely think about.
Okay, Joe, let's think about it.  For one, both Betances and Miller present the same interesting fact: neither one is appreciably better (or worse) against lefties or righties, making the two of them virtually interchangable:


PITCHER2014 VS. LEFT2014 VS. RIGHT
AVGOPSAVGOPS
Betances.163.405.135.482
Miller.163.467.145.446

You can still play lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty, figuring that even perceptibly hitters are less comfortable facing a guy throwing from the same side.  Then it's up to Girardi: who's coming up in the 8th?  Is Robinson Cano slated to bat second?  Let Miller start the 8th.  (The lefty Cano is 1-for-12 against Miller.)  Won't see Miguel Cabrera until the 9th?  Save Betances for the end, as Cabrera has come away with 3 strikeouts in 3 trips against him.

Another benefit of an interchangeable 1-2 punch: gone are the days of the too-tired closer.  Some nights, even the infallible Rivera was unavailable if he'd pitched in three straight games.  With a pair of arms to choose from on any given night, there should always be a powerful (and fresh) arm to close out a game.  It also makes the lives of opposing managers more difficult.  If you can't guarantee who's pitching in the 8th or the 9th, you can't effectively line up your late-game pinch-hitters. 

There's also something to be said for sharing the burden.  Neither Betances nor Miller has been a full-time closer before, and certainly neither has done so in the pressure cooker of Yankee Stadium.  Knowing that the whole world isn't riding on your shoulders has to be a relief.  If an anointed Betances blows a couple of April saves, how would that affect his confidence moving forward?  How would it affect him if Miller got the next save opportunity?

But if each pitcher knew that the manager was going to use each pitcher to the best of his abilities, dictated by the situation, each would know that his role was safe.  A blown save on Tuesday and an 8th-inning role on Wednesday wouldn't portend anything for Thursday.  That's not to say that one player won't excel in the closer role and make him the de facto choice.  But why force the issue before we really know?

It's an interesting "problem" to have, and I wonder how it will work out.  With a team that's likely to struggle for runs again, protecting a late-game lead becomes even more important.  The Yankees would seem to have the weapons.  How those weapons are to be deployed is the real question.