"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Tiger Balm

This is getting ridiculous. I think we all expected Kevin Brown and Jaret Wright to take their lumps against the Rangers’ young power bats, but to have the Yankee offense manage just five runs over two games against rookie Chris Young and notorious free agent disaster Chan Ho Park is difficult to take. Actually (and even worse), just two of those five runs came against the two Texas starters, the other three coming against the Ranger bullpen.

On Friday night the Yankees failed to score despite getting their leadoff hitter on base in the first, second, and sixth innings. In the fifth, Luis Sojo again windmilled Tony Womack home with two outs only to watch him get thrown out by several strides. In the eighth, the Yanks couldn’t get a runner home from second with one out. Save for a Hideki Matsui double in the fourth (which drove home Gary Sheffield who reached on a leadoff walk), the offense wasn’t able to break through until the ninth inning, when three pinch hitters–Rey Sanchez, Andy Phillips!, and Jorge Posada (John Flaherty got the start with Brown on the mound)–combined to produce two one-out runs (Sanchez singled, Phillips reached on an error after chopping the ball in front of the plate, and Jorge doubled them home). But by then it was too late, as Kevin Brown repeated the formula of his first start by allowing four runs in the first and another in the third before he and the bullpen (Stanton and Quantrill on this night) shut the Rangers down the rest of the way.

Yesterday, the Yankees again got the leadoff hitter on in the first inning (Derek Jeter’s on-base percentage is .471 and he’s on pace to walk a career high 144 times), but failed to bring him home. In five different innings the Yankees didn’t get a man on base until after the second out, scoring that man only once (in the third, a Bernie two-out double followed by a Sheffield RBI single). Alex Rodriguez reached third with two outs in the sixth, but was stranded when Posada struck out to end the inning.

Again, the Yankees finally broke through with pinch-hitters after the game was essentially out of hand. Down 10-1 in the eighth (six runs off Jaret Wright, two each off Steve Karsay and Felix Rodriguez), Torre began pulling his starters. Bubba Crosby singled for Sheffield, Matsui walked, Rodriguez moved them over via a groundout and Giambi got Crosby home via another. Almanzar then walked Posada and Buck Showalter brought in lefty Ron Mahay to pitch to Tino Martinez, prompting Torre to give Andy Phillips his second pinch-hit at-bat in as many games. With runners on the corners, Phillips blasted Mahay’s first pitch into the gap in left, but Kevin Mench was able to chase it down, nabbing the ball in the top of the webbing of his glove as he charged toward the warning track. The Yanks stranded another two-out baserunner in the ninth.

Of course the big story was the pitching.

Kevin Brown again was roughed up early on before settling down somewhat. To look at his final lines, he would appear to have pitched better on Friday than in his first start in Baltimore:

Bal: 6 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 2 HR, 2 BB, 3 K (61% strikes)
Fri: 6 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 4 K (63% strikes)

But the reality of the situation is that Brown actually pitched better in the later innings of his Baltimore start than he did in the later innings of his second start. After giving up four runs in the first on Friday and escaping a lead-off single in the second thanks to double play, Brown gave up another run in the third, then allowed three singles in his final two innings of work. In Baltimore, Brown only allowed two baserunners in his final four innings of work, both singles, one of them an infield single, and required ten fewer pitches through six innings than on Friday.

Still, despite the dismal results, there remains some hope that Brown can figure out why he’s getting roughed up early despite throwing great pre-game bullpen sessions and shutting opponents down in the middle innings. There has to be hope for Brown because Jaret Wright is on the Disabled List (you may now settle your office pools: April 23, 4 starts).

Yesterday, for the third time in four starts, Wright was terrible. After giving up six runs on eleven hits (three of them home runs) through five and a third, Wright stooped over in pain after throwing a pitch that Alfonso Soriano hit for a single. He was immediately removed from the game. Wright later described his injury as a sharp pain in his pitching shoulder, confessing, “I kind of felt it in the second and it gradually got worse. It got pretty bad in the sixth.” Wright also experienced some tightness warming up before the game, though at the time it didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.

According to MLB.com, Wright said that the pain, “was similar to what he felt in 2001 while pitching for Cleveland. He had surgery that September to remove unhealthy tissue and part of the clavicle in the A/C joint.” [the A/C joint is where the clavicle, or collar bone, and shoulder blade meet] In that same article, Brian Cashman said, “Dr. Hershon told me it’s clear that it’s a definite 15-day DL at the very least.” (emphasis mine)

Wright will have an MRI on Monday, but there is a very real possibility that he won’t be back for a very long time. This just makes it all the more amazing that the Yankees didn’t run and hide when Wright failed his initial physical for the team this winter. That failed physical did lead to some restructuring of the contract the Yankees offered Wright, but the restructured contract did not give them a sufficient out in this sort of situation.

Instead of a 3-year, $21 million deal, the Yankees gave Wright two years at $14 million with a $7 million player option for 2007 (meaning they gave Wright an out, but not the team). Perhaps in exchange for the player option, they added a provision stating that, “if [Wright] is disabled an aggregate of two-to-three months with a shoulder injury during the two guaranteed years of the contract, the third-year option could be discounted by as much as $4 million.” Meaning they’ll owe Wright $17 million over three years rather than $21. Great work there. Remind me not to hire the Yankees’ lawyers. Essentially, the team was so clearly convinced that Wright could deliver that they were willing to take a huge gamble that had the potential to leave them a pitcher short in the rotation. Less than twenty games into the season it has come back to bite them.

Fortunately, the Yankees have Chien-Ming Wang in Columbus and, thanks to the serendipity of Tanyon Sturtze also being on the DL at the moment, that’s exactly who they’ll turn to. In fact, miracle of miracles, since they won’t need Wang until Wright’s next turn (Friday night against the Blue Jays) they are calling up Colter Bean to work out of the pen in the interim! Said Cashman in that same MLB.com article, “He’s been pitching the best right now, so that’s the guy we’ll be looking to.” I’m speechless.

Bean, of course, also pitched the best last year (2.29 ERA, 109 K, 23 BB, 3 HR, 1.02 WHIP in 82 2/3 IP), but didn’t earn as much as a September call-up. Thus far this season, Bean has allowed no runs and just three baserunners while striking out 14 in 8 2/3 innings, which apparently the answer to the question “how #@$&!*& well does this guy have to pitch to get promoted?!”

Curiously the three injuries the Yankees have suffered thus far this season (not counting Kevin Brown’s DL stay as the unnecessary fifth starter), have forced them to promote the three best players on their triple-A squad, who, as such, also happen to be the three pet players of bloggers such as yours truly. As a result, these injuries could actually make this team better (which I realize would not be hard to do right now). Bean will likely not get much of a look in the four game’s he’s on the major league roster (assuming he’ll even be on hand for today’s 1:00 start against Texas), but getting on the shuttle is an important first step for a Yankee minor leaguer.

Meanwhile, with Ruben Sierra’s injury diagnosed as a bicep tear that will have him out for four to six weeks, Andy Phillips is virtually guaranteed to get the at-bats he’ll need to prove his worth to Joe Torre. He already has two in two days after getting none in eleven games with Sierra on the roster, and I’m no longer the only prognosticator expecting him to get starts at first against lefties, something that should actually happen Wednesday night when the Yankees face Angel’s southpaw Jarrod Washburn. As for Tiger Wang, if he can come up big against Toronto on Friday, he could be given a chance to stick in the rotation. That may not be an improvement on the 2004 version of Jaret Wright that the Yankees thought they were getting, but it would be preferable to Torre taking Sturtze out of the bullpen roll in which he has thrived and putting him into the rotation at Wang’s expense. Now if only Rey Sanchez would pull something, this team could really start to take shape.

The Yanks need to win five of their next six games to finish April at .500. Today Randy Johnson hopes the gopher ball sees its shadow as he attempts to play stopper. Of course, if he is going to do so, he’ll need the Yankee bats to come back alive against the astonishingly effective Pedrdo Astacio (1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, .213 BAA, 3 BB, 0 HR in three starts). Prepare your garments for rending.

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1 Don Fiedler   ~  Apr 24, 2005 6:11 am

1.  Cliff & Alex,

I'd love to get your take as to why the Yankees front office and management team make the blatantly and obviously wrong decisions that they do. It seems as if the organization, from George to Torre, has an out-of-date set of baseball scruples or something. Is it arrogance? It's just so pervasive: lack of trust in young players, impatience, little long-term planning. Even the broadcasters, especially Kay, seem oblivious to "modern" baseball. I just can't put my finger on what the problem is. My gut tells me it's egos, egos, egos. Or possibly the misplaced belief that the fans would stay away if another business/development model was followed?

Look, we catch a lot of heat, as fans, about complaining about the moves the Yankees make b/c we have so much money. But at some point, when just about every move is so highly questionable, even that cash cow rationale goes by the wayside.

And, look, it's early in the season. This team could still win 110 games and I'd be ecstatic about that. Maybe this team is just taking its time to rev up its old bones.

But the comparisons to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, circa 1914, keep creeping back in: archaic administrative logic, failure to adapt, bloated, tired, the "sick man" of Europe (or baseball). Things were looking pretty good in Vienna at the turn of the century. Then things went downhill pretty fast. And it was an arrogant belief in the continued performance of an outdated system that did the Empire in. Let's hope no one shoots our archduke.

But seriously, do you guys have any ideas as to the source of this pervasive, organizational crappiness?


2 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 24, 2005 6:17 am

2.  Great job there, Cliff. You know, it really serves the Yanks Wright, man. There is no use beating a dead horse, but if only George had picked up Lieber's option (and Woody had gone straight to the police), none of this would have ever happend. I suppose we should give them credit for not buckling under and signing Milton, but how good is that Clement signing looking for the Sox?

Anyhow, perhaps the silver-lining here is that Bean, Wang and Phillips--Your Boy!--will all get a shot at contributing earlier on in the season. It's also reasonable to say that Sierra and Wright aren't going to kill the team by being out. The guys they team just can't afford to loose for an extended period of time are: Sheff, Jeter, Posada, Rodriguez, Matsui, Johnson, Rivera, Moose, and I guess you could add Pavano there too. If two or three of those guys go down, this team could really be in for it.

Anyhow, not wanting to jinx things, but Cliff is going to be at the Stadium today. Let's hope he's a good luck charm. Again, not trying to come off like a jinx but I feel good about the pitching match up, no matter how well Astacio has looked so far.

And you are right, bro, getting waxed by Chan Ho "I'm afraid to throw a freakin strike" Park was nothing short of infuriating.

3 markp   ~  Apr 24, 2005 7:06 am

3.  While the injuries so many of us had hoped for (Womack and Sanchez) haven't happened (yet?), Sierra and Sturtze departures are probably almost as good. What would make them even better is if Phillips gets a few more good ABs, he gets a start at 1B against a lefty.
I keep hoping Karsay gets used more regularly so he can stay sharp. The same could be said for Bean, being the type of pitcher he is. Of course neither is likely to see regular work.

4 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Apr 24, 2005 7:08 am

4.  Alex, you are the jinxmeister. I'm 1-2 thus far this season and Astacio is just the sort of pitcher that kills the Yanks, a back from the dead sort who's found a groove. Bad mojo.

Don, I say arrogance. They've won the division seven straight years and have made the World Series five of those seven years. They have no impetus to change their ways. They're old school baseball men (save Cashman) who's ideas have been reinforced by success.

5 Dan M   ~  Apr 24, 2005 7:16 am

5.  I fear Astacio because over the last 9 years the Yankees have shown a frustrating weakness to mediocre pitchers that they haven't seen before. Friday night was another example of this. Matt B and I have been puzzled by this for years, and I'm beginning to wonder if the advance scouting is to blame. It wouldn't surprise me if this aspect of the organization has declined (like the farm system) under Cashman's watch.

If not for a nice play by Mench yesterday, Phillips gives Cliff a nice two-run double in the eigth off Mahay.

6 Nick from Washington Heights   ~  Apr 24, 2005 8:06 am

6.  "I fear Astacio because over the last 9 years the Yankees have shown a frustrating weakness to mediocre pitchers that they haven't seen before. Friday night was another example of this. Matt B and I have been puzzled by this for years, and I'm beginning to wonder if the advance scouting is to blame."

This seems true based on my experience watching the Yanks, but I wonder if stats back this claim up. Over the last 9 years, the Yanks have been arguably the best offensive team in baseball. Are they scoring all their runs against pitchers they're familiar with? Are they worse than other teams who face new pitchers? Anyone with a calculator and time have the answer?

question: Who was responsible for the Wright signing? Was this awful contract the work of "Tampa people?" or is Cashman to blame?

7 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 24, 2005 8:12 am

7.  I think the Wright signing came directly from Tampa. This spring, Cashman admitted that not picking up Lieber's option was a mistake. From what I heard, the Yankee Brass was intent of getting younger, hard throwers, as opposed to a guy like Lieber.

I may be the jinxman, but screw that, if Johnson can't come out today and mow em down, and the Yankees get mastered by Pedro Astacio, then I just don't know what. Then they really do stink right now. Forget hexes, I've got confo in this team to go out there and kick some ass and stop the bleeding.

8 seamus   ~  Apr 24, 2005 10:00 am

8.  ok, let us hope that Andy Phillips fulfills his expectations right off the bat. He is starting today! Great news and a great chance to see what he can do.

9 Dave D   ~  Apr 24, 2005 10:43 am

9.  O'Neill hit the nail on the head with Phillips, younger guys get excited for this, it's something that can be contagious. So what does Andy do in his first AB? A drive to the gap, a two bagger! Nice.

10 Dan M   ~  Apr 24, 2005 10:45 am

10.  There you go seamus and Cliff. RBI double.

For years I used to absolve Cashman and blame everything on "Tampa people," but I'm starting to rethink that. Why would Cashman stay unless he wielded a certain amount of power? He could get another job, with less headaches. It's easy to blame the Tampa people, but he has to have enough power and sense to walk away from the Wright deal after he failed a physical.

Nice four-spot there. Thanks for running us out of it, Tony.

11 seamus   ~  Apr 24, 2005 10:45 am

11.  go Phillips! RBI Double!

12 seamus   ~  Apr 24, 2005 10:49 am

12.  RJ looks solid. Should have a no hitter through 3. Bernie's old legs hurt him.

Odd as it may sound I actually appreciated Womack getting thrown out. I guess it shows how little faith I have in this team hitting with two outs that I'd rather have Bernie lead off with noone on. I need to get over that because we'll ultimately get it going.

13 redshift   ~  Apr 24, 2005 12:13 pm

13.  Three run homer by Phillips! Not bad. Looks like Tino might be getting some more rest in the near future.

14 Dave D   ~  Apr 24, 2005 12:14 pm

14.  Holy crap, Phillips HR. Am I the only one that can't wait to read what Cliff is going to write up after the game? I'm looking forward to seeing the scorecard :)

15 murphy   ~  Apr 24, 2005 12:16 pm

15.  (re: phillips homer) yeah. if i know cliff, he just climbed out of his seat in the right field bleachers and walked across the field and into the yankee dugout to give torre a big fat "'told ya so!". btw, THIS is the RJ we paid for.

16 JeremyM   ~  Apr 24, 2005 12:18 pm

16.  No, you're not the only one. I wonder if RJ will finish, or maybe Bean will make his debut to mop up? Then Cliff will really have something to say.

17 seamus   ~  Apr 24, 2005 12:51 pm

17.  Phillips just made a statement. Looks like a new era at 1b for the Yankees. I know that one game doesn't mean jack but Phillips isn't just a one game wonder.

18 markp   ~  Apr 24, 2005 1:22 pm

18.  Before the game, Torre was talking about Tino (paraphrased a bit) "we didn't sign him to play every day. He's only supposed to be playing 3-4 times a week. He'll get today and tomorrow off and Tuesday...oh wait, a lefty's going Tuesday so he'll have until Wednesday..."
That sounds like a platoon to me, and that was before the big day he had at the plate. I guess sometimes dreams really do come true.
While we're making wishes, there's this 2b in Columbus...

19 rbj   ~  Apr 24, 2005 1:32 pm

19.  Let's hope the Yankees don't trade Philips for a broken down starter.

20 murphy   ~  Apr 24, 2005 3:10 pm

20.  sorry, rbj, but i heard a rumor that the yankees are trading philips and colter bean for rick rhoden and an equipment manager to be named later.

21 singledd   ~  Apr 24, 2005 3:54 pm

21.  One of the problems is that the Yanks always feel they can clean up the Spring errors mid-season by buying an expensive contract year playing some team needs to dump. As more teams are more competative, and the Yanks have little to trade, this strategy will not work as well as the past (which wasn't that well, save Dave Justice).

Lets see.... How about Bean, Phillips, Wang and Cano + 10 mil for a close relative of Sosa or Griffey (or Clemens if Houston is out of it). I think the Yankees are doomed.... this year or next.... because our upper brass STINKS while Theo continues to make smart, good bang-for-the-Buck moves.

Doomed I tell ya..........

22 rbj   ~  Apr 24, 2005 4:01 pm

22.  Murphy, I'd laugh at that but given recent moves by the Yankees it doesn't sound so outlandish.
Ah well, with six inches of snow outside I didn't feel guilty spending the day watching a good game.

23 Jen   ~  Apr 24, 2005 4:05 pm

23.  I got all giddy when I saw Phillips come out to warm-up with the other positions players before the game. My dad asked me who he was. I told him to just wait and watch. After his first hit my dad just nodded and said "I see what you mean."

24 seamus   ~  Apr 24, 2005 4:13 pm

24.  ok, I am going to disagree with singledd but only sort of. I think that Theo is more efficient as a GM and does a better job of tabbing talent at better prices. However, it doesn't necessarily follow that you are putting the best team on the field. Would I rather pay $15 million or $5 million for a player of the same quality? As a GM, give me the $5 mil guy. But as a manager, so long as the money doesn't affect the other signings, does it actually matter?

Which isn't to say that Cashman is doing a good job of deciding who to drop that big money on. Obviously he screwed up with Wright and Brown. I'm just pointing out that the GM's perspective is different than the manager's perspective. A GM can broker all of the best deals but never win it all. Theo did which is why he deserves some credit, but it doesn't always follow.

25 Simone   ~  Apr 24, 2005 5:45 pm

25.  Actually, Epstein is the luckiest GM at the moment. Contreras chose the Yankees over the Red Sox. The D'Backs stupidly traded Schilling to him for a bag of balls. The A-Rod trade fell through. If that isn't luck, nothing is. Of course, the luckiest thing of all for Theo is that George Steinbrenner isn't the owner of the Red Sox.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver