Monday, January 29, 2007

Pinstriped Prospect Top 10s

Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein has released his top 10 Yankee prospects list for 2007, joining Baseball America and John Sickels, the other major players in the prospects game. Here are the lists, in reverse chronological order of release (in BP and BA, the lists are available to the public, but the articles detailing the choices are pay articles):

Baseball Prospectus
(Kevin Goldstein, January 28, 2007):

Excellent Prospects
1. Philip Hughes, rhp
2. Jose Tabata, rf
Very Good Prospects
3. Joba Chamberlain, rhp
4. Humberto Sanchez, rhp
5. Dellin Betances, rhp
Good Prospects
6. Kevin Whelan, rhp
Average Prospects
7. Tyler Clippard, rhp
8. J. Brent Cox, rhp
9. Ian Kennedy, rhp
10. Alberto Gonzalez, ss

Minor League Ball
(John Sickels, January 7, 2007)

  1. Phil Hughes, RHP, Grade A
  2. Jose Tabata, OF, Grade B+
  3. Humberto Sanchez, RHP, Grade B+
  4. Joba Chamberlain, RHP, B
  5. Tyler Clippard, RHP, B
  6. Dellin Betances, RHP, B
  7. J. Brent Cox, RHP, B
  8. George Kontos, RHP, B-
  9. Christian Garcia, RHP, B-
  10. Ian Kennedy, RHP, B-
Baseball America (John Manuel, November 8, 2007)

1.Philip Hughes, rhp
2.Jose Tabata, of
3.Dellin Betances, rhp
4.Joba Chamberlain, rhp
5.Ian Kennedy, rhp
6.Chris Garcia, rhp
7.Tyler Clippard, rhp
8.J. Brent Cox, rhp
9.Mark Melancon, rhp
10.Brett Gardner, of

All three lists agree on the Yankees' top two prospects, Phil Hughes and Jose Tabata, with just about everyone in agreement that Hughes is one of the very top prospects in baseball. The lists would likely agree on Humberto Sanchez as one of the Yanks' top four prospects if Baseball America had gone to press after the Sheffield trade, rather than before. Another side effect of BA's early press date (and the fact that they're a print publication) is that starter Christian Garcia and reliever Mark Malencon are on their list, but missing from the two others--BA's list was posted about a week after Malencon had Tommy John surgery and a month before Garcia had a TJ of his own, which will set both prospects back a year or more in their development.

What everyone agrees on, other than the top two, is that the Yanks' system is stronger than in previous years--last year, Sickels only gave out three grades over B-, this year six prospects made it--and that the organization's strength is righthanded pitching. The only consensus top ten position prospect is Tabata. Outfielder Brett Gardner is highly featured on all three lists (he's #16 on Sickels and an honorable mention for Goldstein), and Alberto Gonzalez, the shortstop from the Randy Johnson trade, also gets some play (#15 on Sickels). Beyond that, the pickings are slim--guys like Eric Duncan, Austin Jackson, Marcos Vechionacci, and Bronson Sardinha aren't getting the prospect hounds terribly excited anymore.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Not-So Secret Projects

Here are a couple of projects that I'm very proud to have been working on this winter, which I'm proud to finally be able to announce:

BP 2K7

The 12th edition of the classic baseball annual is coming February 2007.

Pre-order for only $13.57

Yes, I've got a chapter in the classic baseball annual. Since they're not bylined, I can't tell you which one (insert I'd-tell-you-but-I'd-have-to-kill-you joke here).

Bombers Broadside 2007

This one's new to the dance, it's a Yankees-only baseball annual, and I've got two pieces in it, one on the aging of the Yanks lineup and pitching, and another, shorter piece on Alex Rodriguez. More on this as it becomes available...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Congrats, Willie!

The big news around town this morning, baseball-wise, is ex-Yank Willie Randolph's three year , $5.65 MM extension with the Mets. The extension, which tears up the last year of the existing three year deal Randolph struck with the Mets after the '04 season (worth $700,000) will keep Willie in blue and orange through the '09 season, with a club option for 2010.

One thing I didn't realize, until Mike Lupica brought it up in his column on Randolph's extension, is that this contract calls on Willie to make more per year than he ever made in his playing career. I actually didn't believe that at first--after all, Randolph was a star player in New York for all those years, and he never made $2 million in a season? But checking on his Baseball-Reference page, the most money Willie made as a player was $1.06 million in 1986. If that option for 2010 gets picked up, Randolph could wind up making more as a manager than he did in his entire playing career.

So, despite the fact that he'll be earning the big money as a member of the Mets organization, we're happy for Willie on a well-deserved payday.


In other notes, Robinson Cano has reportedly changed his number, from 22 to 24, so that #22 will be available for Roger Clemens. Thank heavens Cano doesn't appear to be too superstitious, because he's had a darn good start to his career wearing 22. As for Clemens, I'd still be surprised if he's not pitching in Houston this summer, but at least the club is doing all the small things to make him know he'd be welcome. In another purely symbolic move, earlier in the month the Yanks signed Jeff Nelson to a minor league contract, so that he could retire as a Yankee. Not really sure how that works, but if it makes him happy, I'm happy for him.

Speaking of retirement, the big question has been, what to do about Bernie Williams, now that he's the odd man out on the Yankees' roster? Jorge Posada wants Bernie Baseball to return, which isn't surprising since the two boricuas are close, but the Yanks seem determined to make a go of things with only four outfielders for 2007: Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera. With the team carrying three firstbase/DH types--Jason Giambi, Josh Phelps, and Doug Mientkiewicz--the best chance of Bernie remaining a Yankee would be to accept a Spring Training non-roster invite, and hope for an injury or that he outperforms one of the fellows above. It would improve Bernie's chances if he'd spend the off-season getting familiar with a first baseman's mitt, which there is no indication that he's done or plans to do.

The other option is the old "I'll be in shape in case they need me" non-retirement solution, where Bernie signs with nobody, but waits around in case the Yanks come to their senses. That latter option--raised by Posada in the Newsday link above--just about never works out. In Bernie's case, in particular, it seems far-fetched. He's never been a quick starter--historically, April is his worst month with the bat by far--and that's with a full Spring Training under his belt. Now, say the Yanks have a big injury in June, or Dougie Spellingerror isn't hitting his weight in mid-May, or Phelps once again has trouble hitting in a job-sharing situation--how quickly could Williams be ready to help the team, if he's just been at home, staying in shape? Usually, when the Yanks need help, they need it immediately--would the ballclub really wait around for Bernie to go to extended Spring Training, then get some minor league games in as prep, before making the roster?

Hope as we might, I think that you have to call this what it is, which is the end of the road for the Yanks and Bernie. Baseball breakups sometimes happen quietly, not with a big messy fight, but with the club quietly giving your job to someone else and moving on. Bernie should ask Don Mattingly, whose career ended a lot like this after the 1995 season--the Yanks picked up Tino Martinez (along with the aforementioned Jeff Nelson) in the off-season, and the Hitman was stuck between retiring in the only baseball uniform he'd ever known, or scratching out employment elsewhere. Sometimes, when Mattingly's interviewed, you get the feeling he wishes he'd taken a different path at the end of his career.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday Yankee Links

A few links of interest to Yankee fans:

From John Sickels' website, the updated list of the Yankees' top twenty prospects does a great job illustrating what effects this winter's trading have had on the organization's depth. For comparison, you can check out the original list, which happened before the Sheffield and Johnson trades. Speaking of the Johnson trade, Sickels also posted his player comments for the three prospects the Yankees picked up in that deal.

Bob Nightengale in USA Today has a good bit on Cashman's strategy for the organization--it's the last point on his list, toward the bottom of the column (Hat Tip to Bronx Banter). My BP colleague, Dayn Perry, isn't as impressed with Cashman, ranking him 11th among the 30 current major league GMs. Pete Abraham, who also writes the invaluable LoHud Yankees Blog (yeah, it's past time to update that blogrol...), writes in the Journal News that Cashman's a happier fellow now that he has full power over--and full accountability for--the Yankees' organization (hat tip to Baseball Primer).

New York Post beat writer Michael Morrissey has a book coming out on the pressures of being a Yankee in 2006, and Steve Lombardi, over at Was Watching has an interview with Morrissey about the book.

And, for anyone reading who's a subscriber to MLB Extra Innings--the out-of-market game service--raise your hand. Now lower your hand if you're not a DirecTV subscriber, because MLB has followed the NFL's lead, and is on the verge of signing an exclusive contract for out-of-market games and a 24 hour baseball channel with the satellite service provider. If you're a New Yorker without a view of the southern sky, or if your building won't allow you to set up a satellite dish, well, you're SOL. More on this later in the week.

Finally (and belatedly) our condolences go out to Bronx Banter's Alex Belth, whose father passed away last week.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hall of Fame Election: 2007

This time it counts!

OK, so maybe it always counts. Enshrinement is forever, so let's talk about the candidates. Once again, I'm using the tiered Hall approach from my 2004 Hall of Fame column:

The Hall of the Extremely Competent: These guys shouldn't get into Cooperstown without a ticket. Heaven knows, for many this will likely be their only turn on the ballot, most likely failing to make the required percentage of votes to carry over to next year. Still, we owe them our eternal gratitude, because at some point, just about every player on this list was someone's favorite, maybe even the best player on their team. Even if they weren't they were good enough to get ten years in at the big league level.

Jay Buhner -- I remember* August 19, 1988, after Buhner had been traded for Ken Phelps, and the Mariners were in town. Buhner came up against John Candelaria, with a man on. The Candyman delivered one of his mediocre sidearm fastballs--as he so often did toward the end of his career--and I remember Buhner swinging, with that huge "fatal" hitch to his swing that had caused hitting expert Lou Piniella to declare him a non-prospect based on what? Seventy at bats? And the ball flew dead center into the blackened bleachers in center field. Back in '88, before they started putting flubber in the baseballs, that meant something. And it was just this sinking feeling of "Oh, man, what did George do? This guy is going to kill us for years!" Buhner would just never stop haunting the Yanks, not for another ten or so years.

*By remember, I mean I remember it fuzzily, but it gets a lot clearer when I use the gamelogs at

Bobby Witt -- Over the first 300-plus innings of his career, Bobby Witt walked 283 guys. In 1987, he walked an amazing 140 in 143 innings, for the highest single season BB/9 rate in the Baseball Prospectus sortable database (which goes back to 1960, I think). I don't know that we'll ever see again the kind of wildness that Witt brought to the table, much less for enough years that he'd be eligible for the HoF.

Devon White -- What I remember best about White was his 1987 strat-o-matic card, which was the perfect utility outfielder: rated with gold glove range at every outfield position, deadly arm, good speed...and if by any chance you got a hit with him, you could announce, "Devo whips it!" Not that I did that more than twenty or thirty times.

Wally Joyner -- I remember being annoyed at him early in his career because people dared compare him to Don Mattingly. Later on, those comparisons ran dry--1987 was the only season Wally cracked a .500 slugging percentage. Still, his career was one of unstilting competence, so long as you accepted the limitations.

Scott Brosius -- I can't talk objectively about Brosius, the guy who got salary-dumped on the Yankees, and wound up winning three world championships, and coming within a hair of a fourth. For the most part, Scott's bat was pretty rank, but I remember his smooth glovework fondly. Brosius retired off the third-best season in his career, according to WARP. That's a classy exit.

Dante Bichette -- Looked like a softball player, then went to Colorado, in the pre-humidor days when it looked like everyone was hitting with an aluminum bat. He provided the object lesson that finally got average fans to understand the concept of park effects. A valuable service, for which we thank you.

Bobby Bonilla -- Committed one of the classic blunders, like "never start a land war in Asia" (to paraphrase Vizzini): if you sign a big-money deal with a New York ballclub, never brag about how you're going to "handle" the New York media. Bonilla came to Flushing as a doubles machine with a reputation as a team leader. When he left the club, his rep was that of a thin-skinned, bullying clubhouse cancer. All told, a nice career, but not one where anyone would believe that at any point he was the highest paid player in the game.

Ken Caminiti -- Was actually a pretty bad player up until the the walk year of his first go-around with the Astros. Then there was the power spike, the pneumatic physique, the MVP...and all the problems with substances not steroids. Gets extra credit from some corners for admitting steroid use after his career was over. He really shouldn't. Also, someone needs to remind sports writers and editors out there that while he abused steroids, it was the other illegal drugs Caminiti also abused which led to his premature demise. Since all this is really very negative, I will say that my favorite part of Caminiti's game was his throwing arm--the man just shot laser beams out there. It was a pleasure to watch him field.

Prior Inductees: Jim Abbott, Tom Candiotti, Chili Davis, Mark Langston, Jack McDowell, Willie McGee, Jeff Montgomery, Otis Nixon, Tony Phillips, Terry Steinbach

The Hall of the Pretty Darn Good: This is the area for guys who had good, long careers, which didn't pack quite enough oomph! to go with the longetivity. Not Hall of Famers, but still great careers.

Tony Fernandez -- Of the trio of American League shortstops of the mid-80s, Fernandez was just behind Cal Ripken and Alan Trammell. Ripken was the hitter but Fernandez was the superior gloveman--it was left for Trammell to be the guy in between, neither fish nor foul. Trammell's candidacy doesn't seem to have picked up any traction, so it's unlikely that Fernandez will see many votes. At no point was Fernandez the Best Shortstop in Baseball, or even the American League--still, he was a personal favorite, as the top shortstop in All-Dominican teams I used to cobble together during that era.

Orel Hershiser -- Had one of the more amazing two-year runs I've ever seen from a pitcher, keeping his ERA below 2.50 in 1988 and 1989. Never quite the same after that--he had a shoulder injury after pitching more than a thousand innings from '86 to '89. Afterward, he was an innings-eater, often a very effective one.

Hal Baines -- Baines is 39th on the all-time hit list, with 2,844. Everyone ahead of him is either in the Hall of Fame, or is not yet eligible (today, the list of people not in the Hall ahead of him will get shorter by two). There were days when I used to worry what would happen if Baines got hit # 3,000, because I was certain he isn't a Hall of Famer. It looks like time has caught up with me, because Baines isn't getting much traction for the Hall, people accepting that he was merely pretty darn good.

Paul O'Neill -- My dad hated Paul O'Neill. Dad's baseball agnostic, but he started rooting for the Yankees when he saw how much it meant to my brothers and me. And every time O'Neill came up, Dad would get upset. We would see the same thing four or five hundred times a season: O'Neill misses a pitch and yells at himself, O'Neill takes a strike and gives the ump a stare and a full dose of John McEnroe "What? Are you crazy?" body language, O'Neill strikes out, grounds out, or pops out and slams his helmet against the ground, his face turning so red you're sure he's going to rupture a blood vessel. Every time, my dad complained about O'Neill's sportsmanship as if he'd never seen him play before. I say thanks for the memories, Paulie. One of the great crimes in baseball history is that the 1994 strike prematurely stopped the insane year O'Neill was having--.359/.460/.603 through August 14.

Prior Inductees: Dave Concepcion, Andre Dawson, Steve Garvey, Jack Morris, Dave Parker, Lee Smith

The Hall of the Prematurely Bronzed Plaques: These guys looked Cooperstown-bound, but fell off the pace and instead wind up here.

Brett Saberhagen -- Brett Saberhagen notched his 92nd major league win prior to his 26th birthday. His career continued for another 11 years after that, during which time he'd only manage 75 wins. After throwing over 779 innings in 1987-1989, Saberhagen fought arm trouble the rest of his career. He was the type of player who had two modes--effective, or unavailable. Still, it's disappointing for anyone who saw his 1985 season to remember that the expectations were higher than this.

Jose Canseco -- The 1986 Rookie of the Year was second in the league in RBI, and fourth in homers. Two years later, he's leading the league with 42 homers, and 124 RBI (the numbers are a lot more impressive when you remember that these were the low-offense 80s, and Canseco played in a bad park). Jose missed the triple crown, finishing ninth with a .307 average, but he tossed in 40 steals to become the majors' first 40/40 man. The A's went to the world series for the first of three straight seasons. One hundred and ten homers before the age of 25 ain't bad, and there looked like nothing could stop this fast, powerful beast of a man, except maybe his anything-goes lifestyle. After '88, Canseco had good years, but the rest became a farce. We now know what every opposing fan merely believed back then, that Canseco's amazing physique was chemically-inflated, and that parts of it were ready to pop like a balloon. I don't know which bumbling Canseco memory I like best--the homer off his head when he was a Red Sock, or his begging and pleading to get a chance to pitch with the Rangers in '93 (Canseco was a pitcher when he was drafted by the A's) and then getting raked in his one inning of work, and managing to hurt himself, to boot! At least he was entertaining...

Eric Davis -- Talk about entertaining! In his rookie season, E.D. stole 80 bases. In his second season, he hit 37 homers to go with 50 steals. That's in addition to Gold Glove center field defense. He was just getting started...but it was all downhill from there. Davis had all sorts of injuries in his career, the most serious being a lacerated kidney sustained during the Reds' successful World Series run in 1990. He never got 500 at bats in a season, not even once. We're all left wondering what might have been.

Prior Inductees: Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Jim Rice, Darryl Strawberry

The Hall of Maybe: Now we're talking about guys legitimately on the fence. One of our prior inductees, Bruce Sutter, was last year's Hall-of-Famer. This year, there's only one guy on that level.

Albert Belle -- I know, it's not his first time on the ballot, but I didn't do this exercise last year. Probably belongs with Canseco and Davis in the previous section, because there was a point in his career when Albert "Don't Call Me Joey!" Belle looked like a real threat for a bronze plaque upstate. Still, because his career ended about a month after his 34th birthday, Albert never got to the point where he'd make it difficult for those voters who might want to keep him out of the Hall because of characters issues: use of a corked bat, bad behavior toward reporters of the female persuasion, violence toward fans, near violence toward umps. Add to that his recent conviction for using a GPS device to stalk an ex-girlfriend and I expect him to fall off the ballot this season. Still, if you saw this guy with a bat in his hand during the knew you were witnessing greatness. There was no question, he was just amazing.

Prior Inductees: Tommy John, Bruce Sutter, Alan Trammel

The Hall of, Well, Duh! Okay, now we're getting to the obvious candidates. Since last we checked in, Ryno's made it to the Actual Hall, but Blyleven and Goose are still cooling their heels on the outside. I'm not going to rehash those arguments, waiting instead to start new fights, but it sure would be nice for Gossage to get some good news tomorrow, along with the two guys who are certain to make it.

Tony Gwynn -- He hit .289 as a rookie in 1982, playing 54 games. That was the last time he'd be under .300. Toward the end of his career, Gwynn was at least forty pounds over his playing weight, had no knees, and he could still hit over .320. Gwynn had one overwhelming skill--a skill that statheads have spent 20+ years saying is the most overrated of all skills. It's still plenty good enough to make him a no-question Hall of Famer. The man simply owned the hole between shortstop and third, having a stronger claim to it than Ozzie Smith and Brooks Robinson combined.

Mark McGwire -- The day McGwire retired, he was a no-brain Hall of Famer. Not much has happened since then that changes anything about what he did on the field. Just because McGwire didn't want to "talk about the past" doesn't mean the past is changed. You say we "discovered" that McGwire was using steroids? At the height of his popularity, back in 1998, a bottle of androstenedione was in plain sight in his locker. All the holier-than-thou types who are making a big noise about not voting for McGwire now were all baseball writers back in '98. Here's a simple deal--show us your article, back then, condemning McGwire's steroid use, and you can bloviate all you want about how he's dirty and undeserving and you're so morally superior. Don't have one from '98? How about 1999?

I don't think that too many of our suddenly-righteous brethren can come up with their vintage 90's article taking down Mark McGwire, steroids user. Back then, they didn't dare. Now, they want to re-write history--some of them, to the extent of claiming that McGwire wasn't great player, steroids or no. He was too "one dimensional." All he did was hit home runs!

Now that my eyes have stopped rolling, a couple of points. Folks talk about how Mcgwire was skinny as a rookie and a tree trunk when he retired, but he didn't just get bulky right before he made a run at the home run record in '98. Look at video of the 1990 World Series, and I suspect you'll see that McGwire was pretty damn built up already. He was ripped during the worst season of his career, 1991, when he barely managed to stay over the Mendoza line. His muscle-bound physique was actually blamed for the two years he missed to injury, in 1993 and 1994. Up til that point, the most homers McG hit in his career were in 1987, his "skinny" rookie year. Y'know, when he was skinny, ergo not using 'roids, or so we say.

The second point is that McGwire isn't Pete Rose. Rose committed an offense which was clearly at the time punishable by expulsion from the game. Everyone knew what the penalty was going in, ever since the Black Sox scandal--you bet on baseball, you're out. McGwire is thought to have committed an offense for which there was no at penalty at the time, and only the merest suggestion that it was even against baseball's rules. Now that there is a punishment protocol for steroids in baseball, the first offense does not call for expulsion from the game on a first offense, or not even on the second. Yet so many reporters are giving him the death penalty for...a rumor of an offense.

The fact is, folks had plenty of opportunities to rail about steroids while Mark McGwire was still in the game. The folks who bring up Operation Equine tend to forget the part where the FBI agent supposedly warned the Commissioner's office that players were juiced in the early 90's. Nobody did anything. Not Bud Selig, not the other team owners, not the press. Everyone turned a blind eye. Now some members of the press want to write cloying articles in which they ask, "How can I look my kids in the eye if I vote for Mark McGwire?" Sadly, you should have been thinking about your kids back in the day, when you were trumpeting McGwire's achievements. Too late to grow a spine now. Let him in.

Prior Inductees: Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage, Ryne Sandberg

The Broom Closet of the Immortals: We need something more exclusive than the Hall of Fame sometimes. Someplace where transcendent talents like Babe Ruth and Willie Mays don't have to rub elbows with the lesser lights. These guys are more than just no-question Hall of Famers or guys who should be in on the first ballot, they're the inner circle, the best of the best. And like the exclusive club like this is, only one guy gets in this year...

Cal Ripken -- Somewhere along the way, the word "overrated" got stuck to Cal Ripken, even if it was only in my head. At a number of points in his career, it seemed like the consecutive games played streak had become an end onto itself, and like maybe it wouldn't kill him to sit out a game once in a while--and maybe it was hurting the club that he wasn't. During the last eight or nine seasons of his career, he had a lot of middling or even bad seasons, at a time when the new breed of shortstops was actively outshining him, but he was still the starting shortstop at the All Star game just about every year. There are more excuses out there why someone might not think of Ripken as a full-fledged, say-his-name-in-hushed-tones baseball diety--and they're all wrong.

The second I took a good look at his record for this column, I knew that all the "overrated" thoughts were bunk. Ripken's first nine years in the league were flat-out dominant. He followed that stretch up with one of the best seasons ever by a baseball player, in 1991. He retired the all-time leader in homers at his position. Oh, and he played every day for the longest stretch of anyone in history. It's an odd accomplishment, but an accomplishment nontheless.

But it's more than that. The best players change the game. Guys like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez got to play shortstop in the majors, in large part because Cal Ripken showed people that a guy who's 6'4" could handle the position. Without Ripken's example, those guys probably get shunted off to third base or the outfield before reaching the Show, some coach in the minors sitting them down and telling them "You know, son? They don't call it tall-stop..."

For all of that, Cal Ripken, Jr. is more than a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. Anyone who didn't vote for him should have their BWAA card torn up right in front of their face.

Prior Inductees: Wade Boggs

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Is This Thing On?

Yeah, last time you guys heard from me, it was Wednesday and I was promising my Hall of Fame column "tomorrow". Life intruded, so I've been pretty quiet. In the interim, I've finished one major project (more on this shortly), started another, seen an opera (La Traviata at the Met), got bounced hard out of the playoffs for my pool league, had a couple of celebrity sightings (Famke Janssen, John Turturro), saw a play (A Spanish Play, directed by Turturro), helped tear up a concrete sidewalk in my friend's backyard (who ever knew that a well-swung sledgehammer was so cathartic?), and experienced pain in muscles I'd forgotten I had in the aftermath (the mysterious one is the muscle that sends me into a nice bit of pain whenever I try to reach my right hand into any of my pockets).

So I've been busy. The Hall of Fame column is still coming, even if it's stale. A few notes while we wait for that:

The Iron Sheff, now happily situated in Motown, is bringing out an as-told-to book this spring. Guess this must have happened pretty quickly after he was traded, because according to the New York Times, Sheff is one of the first players I can recall to focus some criticism on Joe Torre, saying that Torre got on his nerves by constantly talking about how much he wished the Yanks had signed Vlad Guerrero.

Tom Verducci has an article mentioning both Phil Hughes and Roger Clemens, so I'm linking it. Tim Marchman, whose articles are now available to everyone now that the New York Sun isn't subscription-only, is optimistic about the Bombers' future, so that gets linked as well.

The pool league playoffs I meantioned in the intro were held at Amsterdam Billiards' new location, across the street from Webster Hall, after their old location on Amsterdam Avenue and West 76th Street closed down at the end of the year. Not mentioning the closing of the place where I met La Chiquita, and spent huge amounts of my young adult life was definitely an oversight. Some of it I'll have to chalk up to denial--the old Amsterdam was the best pool hall in the city, upscale and well-maintained, but also down-to-earth and entirely focused on the game (unlike, say, Slate--the former Chelsea Billiards--which is now a high-end lounge/sports bar with several dozen full-size pool tables thrown in as an afterthought). I loved the old hall's wood paneling and exposed brick; its working fireplace, and the front tables were pool pros (Jeanette Lee, Mika Immonen) and celebrities (Paul Sorvino, Jerry Seinfeld) were put on display. But most importantly, it was my pool home. I'd played every single table in the room at least a couple of times, I knew the place like the back of my hand. Shortly, there will be a soulless apartment building in its place.

Amsterdam's new home is the former Corner Billiards, down on Fourth Avenue. It's just a walk away from where I live now--the move saves me a ton on cab fare--but it'll take lots of time for me to get as comfortable downtown as I was on the Upper West Side. It's just a different room with a different vibe--and management hasn't gotten to shake out all the kinks, yet. The Bank the Nine Blog has some awesome photos of them getting the new pool hall ready to open at the start of this month.

As the saying goes, you close a door and open a window. I had a chance to say good-bye to the old Amsterdam, dragging Brother Joe out there while he was in town for the holidays, and spending the last nights the place was open there with La Chiquita. Now, we've moved on to a new place, which despite the 7-2 whupping I took there on Saturday, we're intent to call home. Back with some baseball tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Yes to Cal & Tony; No to Mark & Goose

My Hall of Fame column was supposed to run yesterday just prior to the results coming out, but due to technical difficulties with Blogger, it'll have to wait til tomorrow. We now know that Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn will take the dais at Cooperstown next July; the foregone conclusion that Mark McGwire would not be joining them is now officially confirmed; and Goose Gossage, after seeing a lesser reliever make it into the Hall last year, fell just short--just 21 votes shy of the promised land. I hold out hope for Goose that he'll make it, not so much so for the Great American Scapegoat, Mark McGwire.

In other news, Randy Johnson was announced as the newest member of the Diamondbacks yesterday, so that's one more chapter in Yankee history closed, another one of those Yankee-fan specific lessons in finally getting something you've coveted for so long. I have an irrational suspicion he'll go back to dominating now that he's in the National League again.

On a non-baseball related note, the new IPod Phone freaks me out in a way few gadget introductions have managed to do. Just thought I'd share that.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Randy and Minky: Ships Passing in the Night?

I started hearing the rumors just before 4:00 on Prospectus's internal mailing list, that the Yanks and D'Backs had agreed to a package of players in return for one Randall David Johnson. By the time I got home to check things out, the story was being reported by, just with less certainty about the names involved. A short while later, it was on ESPN--confirmations on the names, and that Arizona and Johnson had entered one of those 72 hour negotiating periods--y'know, the ones made infamous a few off-seasons ago when Boston was trying to deal for A-Rod--that meant a deal was in place, just awaiting financial negotiations between the team and player to convince Johnson to waive his no-trade clause.

No one expects Johnson's 72 hours to stretch over more than a week, like the A-Rod negotiations did back in 2003-2004. Newsday's convinced that Johnson's already reached a "back-channel" agreement with his old team on the terms under which they'll reunite. No one is taking these negotiations as a real barrier.

So for all intents and purposes, it's possible that this is a done deal. So let's look at what the Yankees get:

Luis Vizcaino -- A righthanded reliever (yeah, another one), Vizcaino's the veteran portion of the Yanks' haul. Veteran, as in, he's 32 years old, with about seven major league seasons under his belt. He's pitched 410 career innings, all of them in relief. Started out a hard-thrower in the Oakland system, and that's been pretty much his calling card throughout his career. Had some gopherball problems early in his career that he seems to have put in check as he's gotten older. If this deal goes through, Vizcaino's the fifth righty in the pen, sixth if you rank Britton ahead of him, which wouldn't be unreasonable. Hard throwing Dominican reliever coming into his age-32 season? Haven't we seen this before? Steve Phillips, who's been on this story for ESPN, could tell you from experience--trying to corner the market on middle relievers never works. Heck, at least when Phillips tried it with the Mets, he was hoarding lefties, which are relatively rare...

The three prospects alleged to come along with Vizcaino all played most of their ball last season at AA:

Ross Ohlendorf -- Because Mientkiewicz wasn't hard enough to spell, I suppose. Big righthander, with a big fastball but no reliable secondary pitch, which projects him--wait for it--as a reliever. That means the 24 year old joins the teeming righthanded masses including Kevin Wheelan, Jose Veras, TJ Beam, Anthony Claggett, Mark Malencon, JB Cox, Darrell Rasner, and Jeff Karstens, all hoping that one or more of the six righthanded relievers ahead of them on the Yanks' depth chart--Mariano, Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Bruney, Vizcaino, and Britton--gets traded, injured, demoted, or simply decides to quit playing baseball.

Alberto Gonzalez -- A smooth-fielding shortstop, Gonzalez has a decent righhanded bat, but not much pop--about a .100 isolated power over the last two years. Could be a utility infielder of the future. At least the Yankees finally dealt for a position player.

Steve Jackson -- ...but that doesn't mean they're not out to get even more righthanded pitchers! At least this one's a starter. Jackson's fastball sits around 91 MPH, topping out around 94, and complemented by a splitter, sinker, and change. Despite a nice 2.65 ERA at Tennessee this season, he isn't considered a top prospect--Kevin Goldstein didn't rank him or the other two prospects in this deal among Arizona's top ten, and John Sickels has the three of them at the bottom of his top 20. Jackson will be 25 before Opening Day, he got raked in the AFL, and he hasn't reached AAA yet. But at least he isn't another relief prospect.

All told, this is far less swag than the visions of Miguel Montero and Alberto Callaspo we had stuck in our heads, or even the more modest talk of higher-tier pitching prospects like Micah Owings and Dustin Nippert. To some, having Randy Johnson gone is motive enough--it would appear that Brian Cashman is among these people. Still, I was hoping the Yanks would make the D'backs squirm a little to get the Unit back, part as payback for the 2001 World Series, the other part as payback for the way they made the Yanks crawl in order to get Johnson in the first place. If this is what they get, it's an opportunity missed. Stay tuned.


As alluded above, and mentioned in the linked article, the Yanks have signed Doug Mientkiewicz as their new firstbaseman. It's not a bad deal, part a defense move, part a hedge in case Josh Phelps turns out to be a scrub. The most likely scenario has him platooning with Phelps or Andy Phillips, either on a righty/lefty or offense/defense basis. At a reported $1.5MM, Minky's expendable should a better option come along. Heck, maybe Dougie Spellingerror can teach Matsui to play first base...

Back when Mientkiewicz was the proud possessor of the 2004 World Series game ball, I kept hoping the Yanks would sign Minky, and buy the ball off him as part of the deal. I imagined the Yankees having an elaborate ceremony before their first home game against Boston, where the accursed ball would be presented and destroyed by explosion--like the Bartman ball was, in Chicago. Then the remains of the World Series souvenir would be thrown into the stands, for the right field bleacher fans to floss with.

A man can dream, can't he?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006 In Review Part 2: The Pitchers

Final letter grades, like we did for the hitters:

Chien Ming Wang -- A: Went 10-2 with a 3.13 ERA in the second half, was absolutely the Yanks' most reliable starter. It's a pleasure to watch the Wormkiller work, despite the fact that he just about never strikes anyone out. Outlook for 2007: Seems like everywhere you look, someone's saying that Wang's due for a big regression to the mean. I have to admit that I have my doubts, too. Still, the good news is that unlike with Shawn Chacon, last year, "regression to the mean" still makes Wang out to be a solid mid-rotation guy; which is more than we were expecting coming into 2006. I still hold out hope that he'll remain much, much better than an average innings-eater.

Mariano Rivera -- A: Ho hum, more excellence. The only chink in Rivera's armor was the elbow trouble that took him out of service for much of September. Still, overall Rivera notched 34 saves in 37 opportunities, and pitched well despite heavy use prior to the injury. Outlook: Will Rivera slow down, now that he's 37 years old? A lot could depend on the Yanks getting some reliable arms to back him in the bullpen. Off-season acquisitions Wayne Britton and Kevin Wheelan could be play a huge role in avoiding the kind of innings crunch Rivera faced last year.

Mike Mussina -- A-: The Moose didn't maintain his first half performance, but then again, that was hardly expected. Like Rivera, he had to take a breather late in the season. Gets an A- rather than a B+ because his 2006 performance was both surprisingly good and really beautiful--every fifth day, Mussina gave a clinic on pitching, despite his diminished stuff. Outlook: On board for another two years, he may not manage a 3.51 ERA again, but he should be able to hold down that #2 spot in the rotation, and pass the 250 win mark in 2007.

Scott Proctor -- B+: Most improved player of the second half--jumped up by more than a grade from the mid-season report card. Proctor cut his ERA in half after the All-Star Break; he also dramatically reduced his walk and home run rates. Outlook: He'll be Rivera's primary setup man in 2007; hopefully Torre won't take his rubber arm for granted, causing it to snap.

Brian Bruney -- B+: A revelation after being picked up on waivers in the second half. He's wild (15 BB in 20 2/3 IP) but he's also cookin' with some heat (25 K). Good things happen when you shop for bargains. Outlook: Twenty innings is a very small sample, so it's way too early to declare Bruney the next big thing. A darn good bet to see his ERA rise, if only because it was 0.87 in 2006. Still, the possibility is open that he could wind up providing the kind of pitching the Yankees expected to get from Kyle Farnsworth.

Matt Smith -- B+: Didn't get a chance to louse up his perfect Yankees season, going over as the major league portion of the Bobby Abreu trade. Just what you want from an unheralded prospect--have a few good weeks, then bring back a star player while your trade value is at its highest. Outlook: He should be the second lefty in the Phillies' bullpen; like Bruney, ERA inflation is a given.

Jeff Karstens -- B: Called on to fill in during Mussina's injury, Karstens provided four quality starts in six opportunities. Yet another decent return from what some people regarded as a bankrupt minor league system. Outlook: He's a scary flyball pitcher, which means that this nice performance could be his ceiling. Still, it's not the end of the world if he winds up as the fifth starter.

Jaret Wright -- B-: Did a solid job in the #4 spot, which was way more than anyone expected coming into the season. Then he got traded for a living, breathing young pitcher, which was way more than anyone expected coming into 2006. Outlook: Wright won't exactly be a stranger, given how often the unbalanced schedule matches up the Yanks and Orioles--unless, that is, Wright's shoulder acts up on him again. Still, his outlook should be strong, now that he's been reunited with Leo Mazzone. Trading him was still the right thing to do.

Darrell Rasner -- B-: Rasner has a better pedigree than Karstens, but wound up not having as much playing time or success. Still, he contributed some good innings down the stretch, and his total performance is skewed by his final, awful start against the Orioles. Outlook: Like Karstens, there are worse fifth starters in the league; there are a number of barriers, and a lot of competition before he'll get that shot.

Kyle Farnsworth -- C+: Big disappointment, particularly with all the hothouse flower rules that were applied to his usage--Kyle doesn't like to pitch back-to-back days, doesn't pitch well when he comes in with guys on base, and he has a balky back that sometimes keeps him from being available at all. The fact that he was so often unavailable put extra pressure on Rivera, Villone, and Proctor.

Mike Myers -- C:+ Ugly second half; some question whether the Yanks have the luxury of carrying around a pitcher who won't break 40 innings for the year. Still, it was nice having someone to pitch to David Ortiz in a tight spot. Outlook: Should be doing his LOOGY thing once again next year.

Jose Veras -- C: Probably the guy who loses the most from all the righty relief prospects the Yanks have picked up. Eleven good innings weren't quite enough to give him any priority in the pecking order. Outlook: We hear the new AAA site in Scranton is just a two-hour drive away from the Stadium.

Cory Lidle -- Pass

Randy Johnson -- D+: Put the seventeen wins on one side of the scale, then put the supposed "ace" of the staff with a below-league-average 5.00 ERA on the other. The image that we came away from 2006 with was that Johnson was a big surly guy who couldn't pitch when he didn't have his good stuff. Outlook: If the stories are to be believed, he'll be headed out of town soon for dimes on the dollar, complete with the legacy of being the second coming of Kevin Brown.

Ron Villone -- D+: Villone's godawful second half is well-documented. Given the fact that he couldn't get anyone out down the stretch, it was a total shock when the Yankees offered arbitration. This may have been one of those matters where player and team agreed that Villone would refuse arb, which he did. Outlook: Under the new rules, Villone's standing as a type B free agent won't have a negative impact on any team that signs him--the Yanks will just get a sandwich pick.

Tanyon Sturtze -- D: Sturtze's Yankee career, which started under bizarre circumstances in 2004, ended with shoulder pain in 2006. There's no evidence that he was ever actually, y'know, good at any point during this tenure, even though he got a fair number of high-leverage innings from Joe Torre. Outlook: Picked up by Atlanta, which isn't as promising as it was back when Mazzone was the pitching coach.

TJ Beam -- D: What went for Veras, goes twice as hard for Beam, who showed nothing in his major league tryouts despite good performance at Columbus. Outlook: There are two paths in front of Bean right now: one that says "Scott Proctor" and another that says "Colter Bean, among others." At stake is a nice summer spent touring the International League, or another shot at the Show.

Sidney Ponson -- D-: Allowed 20 runs in 16 1/3 Yankee innings, which is an awful, awful performance. Ponson's reign of terror in the Bronx lasted only a month, but the repercussions will be felt for...who am I kidding? A year from now, will anyone remember that this bloated scofflaw wore pinstripes? Outlook: Only just turned thirty, and still throws pretty hard--I have a feeling someone will give big Sidney a few more chances to prove he can't pitch.

Shawn Chacon -- D-: Okay, so 2005 turned out to be a fluke, right? Chacon was traded for Craig Wilson, and performed better as a Pirate than he had as a Yankee. Just because he performed better doesn't mean he performed well. Outlook: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a darn.

Octavio Dotel -- D-: a/k/a, the Human Torch. Dotel was the pipe dream we were fed all summer, the guy who would come back from injury any moment now to make things right in the Yankee bullpen. That didn't work out--Dotel showed no sign of being major league ready, but was brought up to the Show anyway because he was on a one-year contract while he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. Outlook: Signed on as closer for the Royals, may Lord have mercy on his and their souls. Seriously, full recovery from TJ surgery usually takes a year and a half or more, so Dotel's awful performance at the end of the year is not necessarily the last word on his career.

Aaron Small -- F: Every fairy tale ends, and the sports ones almosy always end with someone eventually being unable to hack it at the highest level of competition. Outlook: Not sure where he's hooked on, if anywhere, but I think I can speak for most Yankee fans in wishing him well. Unless he joins the Red Sox, that is :)

Incompletes: Sean Henn (lefthanded and has a pulse), Kris Wilson (righthanded, check him for a pulse), Colter Bean (must have cheated Cashman at cards some time--just absolutely buried in this organization, needs to go to Japan or something), Carl Pavano ("You're dead to me, Carlo").