"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice


Reserve lists were due yesterday, which meant that it was teams’ last opportunity to protect their eligible minor leaguers from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. The Yankees added three men to their 40-man roster yesterday and a fourth at the end of last week to bring their total roster to 39 men.

That group of 39 does not, however, include re-signed free agents Jorge Posada and Jose Molina, nor does it include Mariano Rivera, who has supposedly accepted the Yankees three-year, $45-million offer, nor Alex Rodriguez, whose record-breaking deal has yet to be finalized. Mix in those four and they’re up to 43, which is three more than 40 for those who lost count.

So what’s going on? Are the Yankees going to try to hold off making those four signings official until after the Rule 5 draft? If they pull that off, I’ll be mighty impressed. The Rule 5 draft isn’t until December 6, more than two weeks away. Will MLB really stand for these sort of roster shenanigans?

No matter what happens, the Yankees will eventually have to drop at least three men who are currently on their 40-man roster, and more if they’re able to talk Andy Pettitte into coming back, or if they plan on adding anyone else to the bullpen (such as Luis Vizcaino, whom Brian Cashman has said he wants to re-sign).

This is one reason why there are rumors swirling around that the Yankees will release Carl Pavano to clear room on their 40-man roster, but Pavano’s just one man. I wonder if this is a sign that the Yankees are trying to swing some sort of multi-player trade for a big target.

As for the new additions, a few quick words:

Francisco Cervelli is an actual catching prospect. He’s a switch-hitter who hits for average and has strong on base numbers, will start the 2008 season in double-A, and doesn’t turn 22 until March. On the flip side, he hasn’t shown much power, but still strikes out quite a bit, and needs to work on his right-handed stroke.

Steven White is a 26-year-old righty starter who was drafted out of Baylor, but has had his progress slowed by injuries. He’s spent most of the past two seasons in triple-A and could prove to be a useful utility pitcher. Says new pitching coach Dave Eiland, “His arm is very resilient. I think he can fit that role as a middle guy, long reliever, spot starter. I think he’s somebody you’re going to see and hear some things from in ’08 at some point.”

Jeff Marquez, another righty starter, is a 23-year-old sinkerballer with a great changeup and a good curve who can also hit the mid-90s with his straight heater. He was the lesser half of the Trenton Thunder’s 1-2 rotation punch with Allan Horne last year and should join Horne in the Scranton rotation this year.

Scott Patterson is essentially another Edwar Ramirez, a righty reliever signed out of the independent leagues who has put up some goofy numbers in the minors. The 28-year-old Patterson has spent most of the last two seasons in double-A Trenton and posted a 1.47 ERA in 116 1/3 innings with 10.52 K/9 and nearly six Ks for every walk (5.91 to be exact). Not to be confused with the former Yankee farmhand who went on to star in Gilmore Girls.

Completely off-topic, I actually wound up watching the premier of “Frank TV” last night. I know the mere name of the show is enough to give most of you dry heaves given how heavily and annoyingly the show was promoted during the postseason, but I had become a fan of Frank Caliendo after finding out about him through fellow Toaster Scott Long (Scott’s a friend and writer of Frank’s). After checking out some of Caliendo’s stuff on youtube and seeing him destroy on impressionist week on Letterman, I had to give him a shot. Still, I only stumbled upon the show last night because the writers strike has forced my wife and I to TBS for “The Office” reruns as our DVR is now devoid of half-hour programing.

It’s often unfair to review the premier of a comedy series. For example, the first episodes of three of my favorite shows: “The Office,” “The Colbert Report,” and “Late Nite with Conan O’Brien,” were all somewhere between stiff and downright rough. Part of the issue with the latter two and Caliendo, who hosts his show before a live, on-camera audience, then throws to his pre-taped sketches over which we hear the audience’s response, is that the audience is as tentative as the nervous, first-time host. Now, Conan and Colbert get huge recognition cheers for familiar bits and segments, and that stokes the audience and allows it to settle in, producing real laughter. Those cheers and laughs had to be forced in the early going, though, which was clearly the case for Caliendo last night. Most embarissingly, there were a couple instances in which you could tell that the applause and laughter had been artificially increased, rather poorly, I might add.

That said, Caliendo seemed at ease, and there is some promise in the show. The show consisted of four filmed sketches, one running gag, Caliendo’s connective hosting, and one supposedly interactive bit involving an audience member. Of the four skits, one was a re-shot version of the Seinfeld Reunion bit that’s been around on youtube for a while. In that sketch, Caliendo plays the four principles plus Newman in an unnecessarily high-concept reunion-show gag. Caliendo’s impressions aren’t quite as strong in the new version as on the old youtube version, but it’s still an impressive bit, and the new version does throw in a black friend for Kramer, which was a nice touch. The next sketch saw Caliendo match voices with two of the movie preivew voiceover guys in a three-tenors setup (the ultimate effect was not unlike this). It was a funny bit, and Caliendo proved he could make a good living doing voiceover himself, but the staging was stiff and it fell flat as a result. The third sketch was an obvious, but entertainingly elaborate promo for the Bill Clinton Library with Caliendo as Clinton showing the viewer around (“What Happens in the Bill Clinton Library, Stays in the Bill Clinton Library”). In the last sketch, Caliendo played George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in a set-up in which Cheney gives Jenna Bush an emotion-free pre-wedding heart-to-heart because George doesn’t know what to say. That premise isn’t half bad, but it removed perhaps Caliendo’s best impression (Bush) from the scene in favor of one of his weaker ones (Cheney), which was a miscalculation.

In between these sketches, Caliendo as John Madden was cooking Thanksgiving turducken backstage and reporting in to host Caldiendo. Caliendo’s Madden is dead on (I saw an Ace Hardware commercial later in the night and, when Madden was in voiceover, I could easily convince myself it was Caliendo), but it’s overdone. That’s one thing the show will have to watch out for. Thanks in part to the overexposure of his promos, Caliendo will have to make an effort to do new and unique impressions (he imroved a Robin Williams bit at the beginning of the show, but the impression is so dead-on that it quickly becomes as annoying and unfunny as the real thing). At the end of the show, Caliendo did a Hollywood Squares bit as Charles Barkley. It was one of the best parts of the show because not only did Caliendo nail Barkley, but who else does Charles Barkley? Turns out Barkley’s a hilarious impression. Good on ya, Frank. More sleepers like that (and Jeff Goldblum per the Letterman clip above) and you may really have something.

The other thing Caliendo will need to work on is getting off script in his hosting segments. Early in the show he brought up a random audience member to be his “co-host,” which successfully got him off script and gave the show some life, but he still fell back in to a very canned delivery when throwing to the various sketches and such. If Caliendo can get off script as the host and work in more unique and offbeat impressions like Barkley, the show just might work, though the odds are still stacked against a one-man impressionist sketch comedy show that debuted on basic cable during a writer’s strike. While the strike may get him additional viewers right now, if it forced him to get too many shows in the can before any of them aired, it may prevent him from making the sort of early adjustments necessary to keep them.

And that is more than anyone wanted to know about the debut episode of “Frank TV.”

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