Monday, February 26, 2007

One Time, At Band Camp...

Can't Play Carl Pavano is having tests done, after a line drive hit him on the foot. As Neil over at Baseball Prospectus put it recently, le plus ca change...

Bobby Abreu is out a few weeks with a strained oblique muscle. Less worried about this than about Can't Play Carl--at least Abreu got injured in early, early Spring Training, when you can afford to miss some time. The biggest news to come out of this is that no, Abreu missing a couple of weeks doesn't mean that Bernie Williams is suddenly going to Spring Training.

A couple of stories about relievers on the outside looking in: Pete Abraham on Ron Villone, and Tyler Kepner on Colter Bean. The one on Bean is not quite heartbreaking, but it's a sobering look at the lives that many minor leaguers lead. The key quote in the Villone story comes from Joe Torre, "You're sorry it happened but we had nowhere to go. He had his hand up all the time. We were up against it."

It's a shame that neither Villone or Bean could really be considered "young" pitchers, else they could just go to Mike Mussina for help with the problems that ail them.

Getting back to Torre, he could have a big day on Tuesday, as it's time once again for the Veteran's Committee to decide on players who didn't make the Hall of Fame through the BWAA, and on Managers, Executives, and Umpires. I have my doubts that anyone will be getting good news from the Vets' committee, given its current composition. The last time they gave this a try, no one was voted in, and the Committee isn't formed in such a way that the members really feel they have a mandate to put people in the Hall.

If I had a vote--off the top of my head--Ron Santo and Joe Torre would be going to Cooperstown, as would Marvin Miller. I wouldn't be too weirded out if Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog, or Dick Williams made it onto my ballot, although I'll admit I haven't studied up on the execs and umps enough to have a refined opinion on the subject. But Santo's a top 10 all-time third baseman; Torre should be in on his combined record as a player and manager. And Marvin Miller...let's just say that if a Veterans Committee composed primarily of ex-players doesn't put Miller in the Hall, those players are the most ungrateful cretins in the history of the game. What do you guys think?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Prospectus: Hughes 2nd Best Prospect in Baseball

Yeah, I've blown the top story with my headline, but Baseball Prospectus has released its yearly top prospects list, this time a top 100, and things look pretty good for the Yankees. Phil Hughes comes in second behind Royals hitting machine Alex Gordon and ahead of last year's #1 the Devil Rays' Delmon Young. This is the highest ranking by a Yankee since Nick Johnson was Prospectus's top prospect in 2000, and probably the highest ranking since the Little Unit, Ryan Anderson, taught Mariners fans the meaning of TINSTAAPP after topping the 2001 rankings.

Further on down the line, Jose Tabata checks in at #22 on the rankings, followed by Joba Chamberlain at #56, Humberto Sanchez at #65, Dellin Betances at #92, and Tyler Clippard as an honorable mention. Before you get too excited by the number of players from the Yanks that made the list, remember that BP doubled its top prospects rankings this year, from 50 to 100, only a couple of years after moving up from their traditional top 40. Chamberlain would have been an honorable mention, at best, under last year's system, and Sanchez, Betances, and Clippard wouldn't have been mentioned at all; so this still definitely ranks behind the 2000 prospects list, when Johnson was #1, D'Angelo Jimenez #16, and Alfonso Soriano #33.

[ASIDE: Yep, there was a time--particularly, but not exclusively, before he broke his neck, that we liked Jimenez more than Soriano. And I wonder, had Prospectus and all the other prospect hounds known that Sori was two years older than he claimed, if he would've ranked anywhere at all. Fast forward to February, 2007, and Johnson's an above-average, but not elite, first baseman, Jimenez is a non-roster invitee, and Soriano's sitting on a $136 million contract. None of them are Yankees. The world's a funny place.]

One of the reasons that the BP list has expanded is because it's now in the capable hands of Kevin Goldstein, who has really improved BP's prospects coverage. Still, as cool as Kevin is and as much fun as it's been working with him is, I kind of miss the old days of the Prospectus Prospects roundtables, where the whole gang would put their two bits in concerning the prospects lists, often leading to some interesting tangents and vicious battle royales.


Elsewhere in Yankeedom, not much is happening. Well, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are talking about their relationship, which gives you an idea of the level of news we're talking about. I'd like to thank the Metropolitan area news corps for treating us to a homoerotic undertone in their coverage. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. Just it doesn't have much to do with baseball.

Perhaps of marginally higher significance, Carl Pavano recently had to sit out with "heavy legs." It's gonna be a an up-and-down ride with Can't Play Carl this season, if we're lucky. Otherwise, like last season, it will simply be a down-and-down ride. Pavano's already had his own relationship subplot this pre-season with Mike Mussina. Any second now, I expect to see the headline "Pavano: Pinstripes Make My Butt Look Big."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Um, Yeah, Pitchers and Catchers

Every year we get excited for Spring Training--for pitchers and catchers to report to the team's Spring strongholds to start getting . Then all you get for the first two or three weeks is pictures of guys stretching, and folks writing either a) human interest stories, b) stories about people's visa problems or other lateness getting to camp, c) "he's in the best shape of his career" stories, usually aimed at veterans who are past their prime, or d) stories about folks wanting extensions on their contracts.

I'm probably spoiled, from having been at the Caribbean Series last week, but the idea of people stretching didn't get me too psyched up after a week of catching a doubleheader per day of real baseball action. Here's what's happened over the past few days in Yankeeland:

The Dude Abides -- Bernie Williams made the predicted choice of not accepting a minor league contract from the Yanks. Bernie Baseball will instead hang around the sidelines waiting for the Yanks to come to their senses, which, y'know, they probably won't do, absent an injury during the springtime. This is the way that things end; this is the way they ended with Don Mattingly, who was even more revered by the Bombers Faithful than Bernie was. I could say that I hope Bernie gets his chance this season, except I won't, because that would mean something went wrong. Does that make any sense?

Sandman Off to Never-Never Land? -- Mariano Rivera announced that he will explore free agency if the Yanks don't sign him to an extension. This is a non-story, other than for its tone: yeah, that's the way it works. Either you get a contract extension, or you become a free agent. It's like saying "If you don't get me a chair, I'll have to stand."

I'm pretty sure that Mariano was saying similar dark things about free agency three years ago, prior to signing his current contract. The big difference this year is that he's seen how Williams--a longtime teammate who's his age--has been treated by the organization. So maybe this time the negotiations will have a bit more edge to them. But I can't imagine that the Yanks don't sign Rivera, not unless his arm's not healthy.

Ron Villone Isn't Insulted by a Minor League Deal -- Villone gets a minor league contract, reportedly an incentive-laden $1.5 million deal if he makes the team. It seems reasonable to give Villone a shot to prove that he's more like the good pitcher from the first half of last season, than the miserable wretch he turned into after Torre pitched his arm off in June and July. Not a lot of risk, and there could be some reward, there.

Heir Apparent Busted -- Steve Swindal--George Steinbrenner's son-in-law, who's the managing general partner of the Yankees--took a DUI arrest early Thursday morning in St. Petersburg, Florida. This news actually has me more worried than Mariano's threats, since Swindal has reportedly been a voice of reason behind the scenes ever since Steinbrenner designated that he was the person who would exercise control of the Franchise after the Boss is gone. Supposedly, it was Swindal who argued for giving Brian Cashman greater authority after the 2005 season and for retaining Joe Torre after the Yanks' early exit in 2006.

If Swindal's position is undermined by this arrest, things could backslide, with the "Tampa Baseball Men" again vying for prominence in the organization. Steinbrenner has been known to be morally outraged, short term, by people's substance abuse problems, before turning into a big softy and giving them nearly limitless chances to redeem themselves. Hopefully, Swindal does whatever he needs to do to make things right, as quickly as possible.

Moose Calls Out Pavano -- Welcome to Paraphrase Theater. Let's give this a try. Carl: "I'm fine with all my teammates." Moose: "You'll be fine with us when you make 30 good starts in the Show, meat." Anybody want to argue with that?

Additional Odds and Ends:

Frank Torre, who previously had a heart transplant, is now waiting on a kidney transplant. Here's our best wishes to Frank on a swift and successful surgery. I remember when he had the heart transplant, they held a press conference, one of the reporters asked if they would be able to speak to the donor. The doctor, who I seem to recall had an accent, said "You must be one of the sports press, yes?" At least, when Frank gets his kidney, there's a possibility the beat writers will have someone to talk to.

The Yanks will wear black armbands this season to honor Corey Lidle. One of the stranger moments working on Baseball Prospectus 2007 was seeing an early draft of the PECOTAs that included a projection for Lidle.

While I was away, John Sickels wrote a prospect evaluation entry about Tyler Clippard. Check it out.

For any of you who are interested, here's the rest of my Caribbean Series Saga that I didn't link last week: Day Four, Day Five, Day Six and -- for the commenter who wanted to see them -- we got photos. Just, sadly, no pics of the Jailbait Dancers.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The A-Rod Kobayashi Maru

Yeah, that's a title that calls me out as a nerd, but what can we do? One of the things that's happened during my absence is that Alex Rodriguez started touring behind his children's book, Out of the Ballpark. It appears that one book tour appearance was disrupted by Rodriguez's (or his publisher's) public relations people, when the event was swamped by sports press intent on asking Rodriguez about the out-clause in his contract, rather than about his book. According to Mike Lupica, this led to Rodriguez's Today Show appearance being canceled, when the same media people wanted to make contract talk off-limits for his promotional appearance there.

Now, this type of gaffe is what we've come to expect from Rodriguez, whose public relations people should not only be fired, but exiled to other countries. But the guy shoots himself in the foot. Instead of coming up with a simple, neutral answer to the question (like "I'm happy in New York and happy with my contract. But I'm not going to make decisions a year in advance, just the same way that I wouldn't expect the Yankees to exercise a contract option until it's time for them to do so") his people are trying to preempt the questions, which makes him look like a wimp who can't deal with pressure.

That's without mentioning the book itself, which sounds like the punch line to a dozen meanspirited sportswriter jokes. Here's the publisher's description:

Before he hit 400 home runs...
Before he was named
American League MVP...
Before he was AROD to
millions of fans...
He was Alex.

Just a kid who wanted to play baseball more than anything else in the world.

Baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez has drawn on his own childhood experiences to create this exciting picture book. It's the story of a boy named Alex who knows what it's like to swing at a wild pitch or have a ball bounce right between his legs. Alex is determined not to let his mistakes set him back—even if it means getting up at the crack of dawn to work on his hitting and fielding before school each day!

Full of the spirit of determination and joy in the game that put AROD in a league of his own, Out of the Ballpark is a gift from a great sports hero to every young player who dreams of becoming a star.

Dude, we keep trying to help you, but you keep leaving yourself wide open...

Getting back to the nerdriffic title of this piece, in Star Trek (specifically, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, one of my favorite movies ever) the Kobayashi Maru scenario was a simulation given to trainees, in which the trainee faced superior enemy forces there was no way to beat. The idea was to see how they handled losing. Notionally, Alex Rodriguez has experience losing--the ALCS in 2004, the ALDS the last two years, last-place finishes with the Rangers. But his brand of "losing" usually carries more accomplishment than even the best of "winners"--even in an "off" season of 2006, he still performed like a star player.

Now, the twist that Rodriguez's relationship with the media has taken shows us that he's facing the No-Win Scenario. Up until now, the assumption was that all it would take for Rodriguez to be accepted in New York would be for him to get hot for a few weeks in October. Now, even if Rodriguez is the World Series MVP, the story will be that he's a greedy player, who only "turned it on" when there was a payday on the line. The champagne won't be dry in his hair before he gets the first question about his contract's out clause.

What's worse, let's say that Rodriguez doesn't exercise his out clause after this season. He has similar rights after 2008 and 2009. As always, I wish Alex the best, but I'm not holding out too much hope, here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Where On Earth Are You?

Well, if you think things have been a little quiet around here, it's because since late last week I've been working press at the Caribbean World Series, in Puerto Rico. You can see (and, to my chagrin, hear) the fruit of my labors at Baseball Prospectus. Links follow:

The Return of Game of the Week (Unfiltered--free)

Caribbean Series Round Robin Preview
(BP--pay article)

BP Radio February 2, Caribbean Series

Caribbean Series Day One -- (BP--free)

Caribbean Series Programming Notes (Unfiltered)

Caribbean Series Day Three -- (BP--pay)

Caribbean Question of the Day -- (Unfiltered)

Hopefully, I'll have some cool pictures to post soon. In the comments section, please tell me: what's going on in baseball in New York?