Thursday, February 05, 2004

Other News 

The AP's got a few new Yankee items worth repeating.

First, Aaron Boone will have exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his knee on Tuesday. Of course, there's no mention in either of the linked articles as to whether or not Boone has had his MRI and if so what the results were. I suppose the "exploratory" part means they're trying to find out what's wrong, not necessarily trying to fix it yet, so this might be in lieu of an MRI. But I know so little about sports injuries that I'm not even sure of that much. For what it's worth, the surgery will be performed by the Angels' Dr. Lewis Yocum, the same surgeon who performed Jason Giambi's offseason surgery.

In transaction news, the Mike Lamb trade is still not official and hasn't even been approved by the Boss yet (does it make anyone else sick to their stomach that George has to approve every little dink-ass trade?) and Drew Henson has been officially placed on waivers.

Lastly, Jay Jaffe has diagnosed me with an acute case of veteranitis for favoring Tony Clark over Fernando Seguignol. As someone who's ready to go ballistic if Tyler Houston makes the opening day roster without Deardorff or Myrow getting a good look, I'm borderline embarrassed, but also willing to stand firm in my opinion even in the face of the PECOTA data Jay's posted. My reasoning is not so much trust in Clark but a lack of it in the 29-year-old Seguignol, whom I see as a perpetual AAAA player. Sadly, we won't get the chance to see this one play itself out as the Yankees have sold Seguignol's contract to the Nippon Ham Fighters (I see ham, ham lookee scared) of Japan's Pacific League. Be sure to check out Jay's post for PECOTA figures on Deardorff and Myrow as well.

posted by Cliff at 3:48 PM


The Yankees invited sixteen players to spring training yesterday. There's very little chance of more than one of these guys making the opening day roster, but since they'll be milling about camp in just a few weeks when there's actual baseball to write about, I thought I'd give you a quick run down of who they are and, if possible, why the Yankees have invited them to Tampa.

Let's start with a helpful little chart (apologies for the big gap below, I can't seem to fix it):

PlayerPosB/TAge2003 level2003 Organization
Tyler Houston3BL/R33MajorsPhillies
Erick AlmonteSSR/R26AAA/MajorsYankees
Felix EscalonaIFR/R25AA/AAA/MajorsDevil Rays/Orioles
Jeff Deardorff1B/3B/OFR/R25AA/AAATwins
Homer Bush2BR/R31nonePadres (spring)
Darren BraggOFL/R34MajorsBraves
John RodriguezOFL/L26AAAYankees
Joe GirardiCR/R39MajorsCardinals
Steve TorrealbaCR/R26AAACardinals
Omar FuentesCR/R24AAYankees
Dioner NavarroCS/R20A/AAYankees
Jon-Mark SprowlCL/R23ADiamondbacks/Yankees
Sal FasanoCR/R32nonenone
Jim MannRPR/R29AAA/MajorsPirates
David ShepardRPR/R30AA/AAAYankees
Donovan OsborneSPL/L34noneMets (spring)

Notably absent from this list is 2003's International League MVP Fernando Seguignol, who was designated for assignment to make room for Tony Clark on the 40-man roster. For those who think that this is an atrocity, be reminded that Clark is just two years older than Seguignol and has career .275 GPA in 987 major league games compared to Seguignol's .249 in just 178 games.

Back to the above list.

Starting with the pitchers, Osborne was a young pup on Torre's Cardinals teams. He was awful in 11 games for the Cubs in 2002 and otherwise hasn't pitched in the majors since 1999. Shepard pitched well in Trenton last year in 53 relief appearances (2.82 ERA, 12 saves, 8.73 K/9, 2.42 BB/9) earning a promotion to Columbus at the end of the season, where his ERA ballooned to 5.74 in 8 games, but his K and BB/9 rates remained consistent. Mann pitched admirably for the Pirates AAA team in Nashville last year in 51 relief appearances (3.06 ERA, 7.06 K/9, 2.94 BB/9), earning a cup of coffee which didn't taste so good (5 hits, 4 runs in 1.2 IP). Osborne should return to Bolivian before April arrives. I expect Mann and Shepard to stick with the Clippers where they will be the last line of defense against extensive bullpen injuries, much like Al Reyes was last year.

Let's look at the outfielders next. Rodriguez hit .215/.302/.410 in Norwich in 2002 and somehow earned a promotion to Columbus for 2003 where he hit .263/.333/.448 over 232 at-bats last year. Bragg, as I've written before, is a career .258/.343/.382 hitter in the major leagues, and that's about what he did with the Braves over the past two seasons. With five outfielders set to break camp with the team (Sheffield, Williams, Matsui, Lofton, Sierra), I can't imagine either player making it to the Bronx without the help of an injury, if not two.

Next up the catchers. Look at all those catchers! The Yankees will have eight catchers in camp this spring. I'm not sure if this indicates some serious doubts about John Flaherty, a glance toward the club's back-up options for 2005, or simply the need to have enough catchers around to work out all the pitchers. At any rate, things pare down pretty quickly.

Girardi's invite is a token. He played just 16 games for the Cardinals last year due to injury and picked up just three singles and three walks in 26 plate appearances. He's agreed to join the YES Network should he not make the team, and his broadcasting career is such a certainty that the details of his involvement in the Yankee broadcasts have already been made public. The only question about Girardi is whether he will stick with broadcasting or slip back into uniform as a coach under the new Yankee manager in 2005. Either way, it certainly won't hurt to have him hanging around Posada with some regularity. I enjoyed his work on ESPN radio during the last year's playoffs and expect him to excel at whichever vocation he chooses.

As for the others, Fasano doesn't appear to have played last year, struck out in his only major league at-bat in 2002 (with the Angels), and has a career line of .215/.300/.390 in the bigs. Steve is the lesser of the two Torreablas (Yorvit is the Giants' back-up catcher) and appears to have been a part time AAA player in each of the last two seasons, despite a 1-for-17 cup of coffee with the Braves in 2002. Omar Fuentes lost his AA job to top Yankee prospect Dioner Navarro last year, though a lesser player probably could have benched him after a .236/.319/.360 showing. These guys are likely in camp to serve as extra bullpen catchers.

The last two are a different story. Dioner Navarro is the Yankees top prospect and current "catcher of the future." The switch-hitting 20-year-old went .341/.388/.471 after taking Fuentes' job and, with Michel Hernandez having been claimed of waivers by the Red Sox this off season, will probably start the season in Columbus. Having come over in the Raul Mondesi trade, left-handed-hitting 23-year-old Jon-Mark Sprowl (more hyphens! need . . . more . . . hyphens!) has displayed fantastic plate discipline in the low minors. With the single-A South Bend Silver Hawks he put up a .296/.402/.421 line in 321 at-bats last year. His progress will be interesting to watch over the next couple of seasons, particularly as he'll need to move up the ladder quickly and successfully to maintain any sort of prospect status. Remember, Jorge Posada, known as a late bloomer, got his first taste of the big leagues at 23 and was in the majors for good by 25. Conversely, the Yankees will have to be careful about rushing Navarro.

Finally, the infielders, which is the group most likely to produce a member of the Yankees' opening day roster (Aaron Boone, blah blah blah). If you're a regular reader of this blog you know all about Tyler Houston and Erick Almonte by now. Houston's a decent hitting lefty bat with an iron glove and will likely challenge Mike Lamb, who is a younger, more patient version of same, for the third base spot, or at least the left-handed part of it. Almonte needs to diversify his defensive resume in Columbus as he's unlikely to start for a major league team with a chance to win more than 62 games. Bush retired last year after failing to make the Padres in spring training. Leg and hip injuries have derailed what was only a modest big league career to begin with. His primary position is second base. Homer always seemed like a good guy to have around, but I can't imagine he's got much left to offer on the field. Escalona was unable to crack the roster of either the Devil Rays (for more than 10 games) or the Orioles last year and is primarily a middle infielder.

That leaves Jeff Deardorff. I'll be interested to see what happens with Deardorff this spring. He's a corner infielder/outfielder type who finally made it to triple-A at the conclusion of the 2003 season at age 25. I don't know anything about his fielding, but he seems like he might be a grass-is-greener answer to Brian Myrow (who you may notice is also not among the 16 players who were invited to camp yesterday). In 412 at-bats with the Twins AA club in New Britain, Deardorff hit .316/.377/.517 with 17 homers and 73 RBI. After being promoted he hit .299/.324/.537 in 67 at bats with AAA Rochester. The dip in OBP is a bit troubling, but Deardorff posted a .353 OBP against a .254 average in A-ball in 2002, so sample size may be an issue. So might adjustment period, which would not be a good sign for his chances to impact the Yankees third base situation. Still, he's two years younger than Myrow, who posted similar AA numbers in 2003: .306/.447/.525 (18 HR, 78 RBI in 461 AB). Myrow obviously has a huge advantage in OBP, but if Deardorff has a knack with the leather (not that I have any evidence that he does), it might be worth the trade in a line-up as stacked and an infield as limited as the Yankees'.

posted by Cliff at 10:50 AM

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

More from Vinny 

This post over at Yankees, Mets and the Rest is mostly about Scott Erickson and the Mets, but contains a key bit of info at the end:

When asked [at a WFAN charity event last night] about the situation at third base for Yanks, [Brian] Cashman said that he may have to make a deal for a slight upgrade over the current crop of Tyler Houston, Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo and Erick Almonte, then look to deal for a "bigger name" during the season.

Vinny assumes that Lamb is the "slight upgrade." I'm sure he's right. I'm also sure that Cash has just given new meaning to the word "slight."

Speaking of "bigger names," word on the street (my code for I can't remember where I read this because it was in more than one place) is that after becoming the first player to hire former A's ace Dave Stewart as his agent, Eric Chavez's chances of signing an extension to stay in Oakland have increased dramatically.

At the same time, the word on Troy Glaus's comeback from injury has been mixed and he's already expressed interest in staying in Anaheim.

Ah, but we'll get into all that in July.

posted by Cliff at 2:09 PM

Georgy had a little Lamb, its glove was hard as stone 

So the Yankees have finally traded for a third baseman. Unfortunately, that third baseman is the Rangers' Mike Lamb. I say unfortunately because Lamb is nothing more than a younger, more patient version of Tyler Houston. He's a lefty bat, not a third base glove. Statistically, Lamb's actually worse at the hot corner than Houston (.930/1.96/.765 for Houston to .914/2.55/.719 for Lamb). This is distressing as the Yankees need a glove at third far more than they need another bat in the lineup (forgive me if I'm getting into broken record territory on this).

For what it's worth, Lamb is a solid doubles hitter without much home run power. He's displayed the ability to get on base at a decent rate, particularly in the minor leagues and saw his OBP increase in each of his first three major league seasons.

Drafted by the Rangers in the seventh round in 1997 he was their starting third baseman in 2000 at age 24. He lost time to the failed Ken Caminiti experiment in 2001 and to Herbert Perry in 2002 before losing his roster spot altogether with the emergence of Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira last year. He was designated for assignment by the Rangers last week. Supposedly the impetus for the Rangers decision to try to replace Lamb at third in 2001 was his miserable glove work. No wonder Gary Sheffield is still taking grounders at third.

The Yankees sent scrawny 22-year-old A-ball righty Jose Garcia to the Rangers for Lamb. Garcia is 18-13 with a 2.36 ERA over his four-year minor league career. The Yankees have to clear space for Lamb on their 40-man roster before officially announcing the trade.

Elsewhere, it looks like the Mets are going to win the Scott Erickson "sweepstakes." Vinny, the Mets' half of Yankees, Mets and the Rest, made an interesting case for Ron Villone last week while hoping that Erickson (who married Monday Night Football's Lisa Guerrero yesterday) would wind up in the Bronx. Villone (from whom I have no more than three degrees of separation, being a "Jersey guy" myself) has the added advantage of being a lefty.

Speaking of which, Ben Thacker takes a look at the importance of lefties in Yankee Stadium over at NYYFans. What Ben finds (though he dances around actually admitting it), is that left handers have no significant advantage in Yankee Stadium. Remember, kids, better your pitching staff be good and righthanded than bad and lefthanded.

Finally, I present the following two excerpts without comment:

From Tom Verducci's latest column:
Now that steroid testing with penalties (albeit soft ones) is here, be prepared to hear more than a few spring training stories about players who "took yoga," "lost weight," "changed diets," "cut back on weightlifting," "came in lighter," "wanted to be more flexible," and other code words for cutting down on steroids and other illegal supplements. Some such anecdotal evidence existed last year, when the testing was anonymous and for survey purposes only, but now the incidence of slimmed-down players probably will grow. One star NL pitcher, for instance, shrunk so noticeably this winter that another player remarked, "I swear to you when I saw him I didn't even recognize him."

From Peter Gammons' AL East Breakdown:
Speaking of conditioning, Jason Giambi has lost 25 pounds and is clearly focused on coming back from the knee surgery and proving he can play first base.

posted by Cliff at 1:14 PM

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Home Stretch 

With the Stupor Bowl in our rearview and just eleven days until Yankee pitchers and catchers report, we're officially in the home stretch toward the 2004 baseball season.

I hope to start doing my division-by-division preview shortly (I've been waiting for Pudge, Maddux and Urbina to sign before starting . . . one down). In the meantime here's the latest on the Yankees.

The big news, which we all saw coming, is that Drew Henson has forfeited the remaining three years and $12 million left on his contract and will return to football. Henson, who was drafted by the Houston Texans in the sixth round of last year's draft, will likely be traded to the highest bidder and wind up starting in the NFL come September. No harm, no foul. Still, it's rather staggering when you look at the confluence of events that forced Henson's hand. Within a few weeks the Yankees lost their third baseman for the season, Brian Cashman all but came right out and said that the organization would rather play Derek Jeter's grandmother at third base than Henson, and then Henson's former backup at the University of Michigan won his second Super Bowl while drawing (ludicrous) comparisons to Joe Montana. Cripes, Homer Simpson would have gotten the hint!

So you can't blame Henson for leaving (you might even want to thank him). At the same time, you can't really blame him for trying his hand at baseball in the first place. Baseball careers are longer, potentially higher paying, and far less damaging to one's long term physical health than football careers. But the plain fact is that Drew Henson is a terrible baseball player. I wish him luck in the NFL. Hey, maybe he could quarterback the Giants!

As for the Yankees third base situation, the New York Post reports that the Yankees are among the teams looking to sign Mark McLemore and that a decision from McLemore should come in the next couple of days. A 39-year-old switch hitter, McLemore is better against righties, despite a fluke 30 at-bats in which he killed lefties in 2003. He's about Tyler Houston's equal with the glove at third. His terrible showing overall in 2003 has to make one wonder if he's reached the end of the line, but, despite a complete lack of power, he's been a pretty decent OBP guy over the last decade of his career (.363 OBP against a .268 average from 1993-2002). As he's a more legitimate utility man than Miguel Cairo due to extensive time spent in the outfield, he might be worth bringing into camp on a minor league deal. But he's no solution at third.

Elsewhere, outside of some wacky rumors involving the White Sox and Troy Glaus, and the growing web-based hype for Brian Myrow, the big hotspot for third base rumors is Milwaukee, where the Brewers have a pair of soon-to-be 28-year-old third-sackers in Wes Helms and Keith Ginter. Although I reported on Friday that Brewers GM Doug Melvin has publicly stated that he's not interested in making a deal at this time, I would think that one of three players, Helms, Ginter or Craig Counsell, would be available toward the end of spring training.

Looking at it from Milwaukee's point of view, if Ginter, who split last year between third and second, can play shortstop (Helms is strictly a corner infielder/outfielder), it makes the most sense for them to play Helms at third, Ginter at short and deal 33-year-old Counsell, who is due $3.15 million with another million in possible bonuses for 2004. Much as I hate Counsell in a Scott Fletcher sort of way (and it's not just me, my girlfriend, who's never heard of Scott Fletcher, hates him too), he's the best fielder of the three and, although he's a total punch-and-judy hitter, he makes contact and has very respectable on base numbers for his career. Then again, his OBP and slugging are in a four year decline. Not a good sign for a guy who's going to turn 34 in August.

Of course, if Ginter can't play short, the Yankees should try to pry Ginter or Helms loose from the Brewers. The two players were born seven days apart and are very similar overall. Ginter has only slightly lower slugging numbers (.422 SLG, 3.91 HR% to .437/4.35 career for Helms), but is a considerably superior OBP man (.354 to .310) despite being less experienced (525 career PA to 1024 for Helms). If given a choice between the two, I'd take Ginter. The catch is that the Brewers just signed Helms to a two-year, $4.5 million contract. I'm not sure what the hell they were thinking when they did that, nor do I know if that contract is a declaration of their faith in Helms or the reason they'd be willing to unload him come late March. Nonetheless, if I'm the Brewers I value Ginter, Helms and Counsell in that order. If I'm the Yankees I'll take what I can get.

Lastly, a few notes on the surprisingly not Sub-par Bowl. With the exception of the scoreless first quarter, I found it to be a very exciting game. One of the best I can remember. Allan Barra, however, points out that it was actually a very poorly played game, reminding us that if not for three big-time screw-ups by the Patriots (Vinatieri's two missed field goals and Brady's fourth-quarter interception in the end zone) it wouldn't have been close at all. Everything he writes is true, but the fact remains that the game is so often a snoozefest that if a Super Bowl can come down to the final seconds, "Blunder Bowl" or no, I'm happy. With that, here's a quick list of the top ten Super Bowl finishes according to yours truly:

1) XXXIV: Rams 23, Titans 16 - Down by seven, Titan's QB Steve McNair executes a rousing drive in the closing seconds. On the game's final play he wriggles away from a would-be sacker and hits Kevin Dyson at the three yard line. Dyson turns toward the end zone, there's no one between him and the goal line, but as he lunges forward, the Rams' Mike Jones wraps him up and drops him on the one as Dyson's outstretched arm hovers just inches short of the goal line and time expires.

2) XXV: Giants 20, Buffalo 19 - The closest final score in Super Bowl history. A see-saw game reaches its conclusion as Bills kicker Scott Norwood's 47-yard field goal attempt with seconds remaining sails wide right.

3) XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17 - Trailing 17-10 with 1:51 remaining, Kurt Warner takes the Rams 55 yards on just three passing plays for a game-tying touchdown to Ricky Proehl. With the game tied, 1:30 remaining, and no time-outs, rookie Tom Brady uses almost a full minute to get his team to it's own 41 before an incompletion stops the clock at 33 seconds. He then completes two passes for a total of 39 yards to reach the Rams' 30 yard line and spikes the ball to stop the clock with seven seconds left. Adam Vinatieri then connects on a 48-yard field goal to win the game on it's final play.

4) XXIII: 49ers 20, Bengals 16 - Trailing 16-14, Joe Montana and the 49ers get the ball on their own 8 with 3:20 left on the clock. Montana then seals his reputation with a 11-play, 92 yard drive that devours all but 34 seconds from the game clock, concluding with a 10-yard pass to John Taylor.

5) XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29 - Trailing 29-22 in another see-saw affair, the Panthers' Jake Delhomme hits Ricky Proehl (him again!) for a game-tying touchdown with 1:08 remaining in the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Carolina kicker John Kasay kicks the ball out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at their own 40. Tom Brady moves his team 37 yards to the Panthers' 23 in six plays setting up a game-winning kick by Adam Vinatieri (who missed both of his previous field goal attempts in this game). Vinatieri's 41-yarder splits the uprights gives the Patriots a victory eerily similar to that in Super Bowl XXXVI.

6) V: Colts 16, Cowboys 13 - A messy, lackluster game--the first played on turf--is tied at 13 (appropriately) when Colts kicker Jim O'Brien connects on a 32-yard field goal to give the Colts the win in the final seconds.

7) XXXII: Broncos 31, Packers 24 - The game knotted at a 24-24 tie, The Comeback Kid, John Elway, then 0-3 career in the Super Bowl, gets the ball on the Packers' 49 with 3:27 left. Helped by a 15-yard facemask penalty, Elway brings the ball to the Packer's one-yard-line with 1:47 left. Packers' coach Mike Holmgren tells his defense to allow the Broncos to score rather than risk losing any more time off the clock and watching the Broncos win on a chip-shot field goal. Thus, Brett Farve, no slouch in the comeback department himself, gets the ball on his own 30 with less than 1:45 remaining. After two quick passes for 35 total yards the Packers are on the Broncos 35 with 1:05 left, but manage only four more yards before turning the ball over on downs with 32 seconds remaining.

8) X: Steelers 21, Cowboys 17 - Leading by the final score, the Steelers turn the ball over on downs at the Cowboy's 39 with 1:22 left to play. Roger Staubach moves the chains twice in the final minute of play but his final pass is intercepted in the end zone by Pittsburgh's Glen Edwards as time expires.

9) XIII: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31 - Trailing 35-17 with 6:51 remaining, the Cowboys, led by Roger Staubach, score a touchdown to bring it to 35-24 with 2:23 remaining, recover an on-sides kick, and drive for another touchdown to come within four points of the lead with 22 seconds on the clock. A second on-sides kick is snagged by the Steelers with 17 seconds left to kill the Cowboy comeback.

10) VII: Dolphins 14, Redskins 7 - The Redskins trail the undefeated Dolphins 14-0 with just over two minutes left and are looking a 17-0 deficit in the face when the Dolphins' field goal attempt goes haywire. A botched snap is picked up by Dolphins' kicker Garo Yepremian, who attempts to pass only to have the ball fall behind him, where it is scooped up by Washington's Mike Bass, who takes it 49 yards to bring the Redskins within a touchdown with 2:07 left.

Among other things, this list proves just how rare a thing a close Super Bowl is. At the same time, four of the last seven Super Bowls made this list. The ripple effect of league parity?

posted by Cliff at 4:27 PM

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