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Observations From Cooperstown–George King, Free Agents, and Ted Uhlaender

I love the New York Post’s sports section (if not the cartoons), but George King sometimes makes strange observations in his role as a beat writer for the Yankees. In last Sunday’s Post, King warned the Yankees not to commit Joba Chamberlain to the rotation because of the age of closer Mariano Rivera. “The Yankees… pray the end isn’t here [for Rivera],” King wrote on Sunday. “Because if they use Joba Chamberlain as a starter, there isn’t a closer candidate in the organization.” Well, I’m not so sure of that. Right off the top, I can think of three. Hard-throwing right-hander Mark Melancon (who reaches 97 miles per hour with his fastball) is generally ranked among the top ten prospects in the Yankee system and is scheduled to begin the season as closer at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, assuming he doesn’t claim one of the last spots in Joe Girardi’s bullpen. Then there’s the talented Humberto Sanchez, finally recovered from Tommy John surgery two years ago and likely to begin the season a step away at Triple-A. The Yankees also have right-hander Anthony Claggett, who dominated hitters at Double-A Trenton and might start the season in Scranton, too.

Without much doubt, closers are easier to find than quality starters, especially in the current Yankee farm system, where relievers are growing like the vines at Wrigley Field. That’s not to say that the Yankees will find anyone the equal of Rivera, who might just be the best reliever in major league history. Heck, unless the Yankees can find the next Dennis Eckersley, chances are that ANYBODY they choose will fall short of the great Rivera. But the Yankees clearly have promising options outside of Chamberlain—options that aren’t light years away. And they also have several short-term possibilities at the major league level, including Jose Veras, Brian Bruney, and Jonathan “Kerfeld” Albaladejo, the latter coming off a wondrous Winter League performance. So let’s not start this Joba-must-be-in-the-bullpen chorus just yet…


This has been a lousy free agent market for most players, but it may provide some unexpected benefits for the Yankees later this spring. A number of serviceable players remain unsigned—the master list includes Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera, Garret Anderson, Ben Sheets, and Joe Beimel—some of whom could fill potential holes should the Yankees spring a few leaks in Tampa. For example, let’s say that something happens to Jorge Posada, that something being that his shoulder won’t allow him to catch. Brian Cashman has already missed opportunities on Henry Blanco and Gregg Zaun, but there could be an option in Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who remains unsigned. I-Rod has a standing offer from the awful Astros, but reportedly is holding out hope that the Mets will show interest. Therein lies the problem; the Mets already have two healthy catchers in Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro. So if Rodriguez remains stubborn, he might still be available.

Then there’s the center field situation. If both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner flop in the Grapefruit League, the Yankees could consider Jim Edmonds as a cheap alternative. Edmonds is a fragment of his former self and hits lefties about as well as Jim Spencer once did, but still plays an above-average center field. He hit well for the Cubs during the second half of 2008; the Yankees would do cartwheels over a repeat of that performance.

Finally, the Yankees could take a run at Juan Cruz if they decide their bullpen needs another veteran. A beefier version of Domingo Jean (remember him?), the razor-thin Cruz excels in the seventh and eighth inning but has a history of blowing up in save situations. As long as Rivera remains capable, Cruz wouldn’t have to worry about pitching in many of those situations in pinstripes.


Former major league outfielder and onetime Yankee scout Ted Uhlaender died earlier this month at the age of 68, the victim of a heart attack. Cruelly, his passing came only one day after he’d received some encouraging news in his ongoing battle against multiple myeloma. A fleet-footed outfielder who played a nifty center field in the late 1960s, Uhlaender started his career with the Twins before being included in the deal that sent future Yankee Graig Nettles to the Indians. He saw his career fall off abruptly by 1972, but not before he made a cameo appearance in the World Series for Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

After a brief stint as a minor league manager, Uhlaender opted to go into private business. He returned to the game in 1989, joining the Yankees as a minor league coach before becoming the team’s advance scout in 1994 and ’95. He prepared in-depth reports on upcoming opponents for Buck Showalter and his staff. Those reports paid some dividends in ’95, as the Yankees claimed their first playoff berth in 14 years.

A few years ago, I met Uhlaender in spring training, where he was working as a coach with the Indians. As I asked him if he would be willing to answer some questions about the ’72 World Series, I noticed his face; he had that stern, sandpaper look of a hardened baseball veteran. Though I was intimidated at first, Uhlaender answered all of my questions, calmly and without fanfare. He was a pro, a characterization that was confirmed for me when I read Tracy Ringolsby’s touching tribute to him last week. Like the late John Vukovich and Pat Dobson, Uhlaender was a hard-working baseball lifer whose hard-edged appearance only masked a deep love of the game. As with Vuk and Dobber, we’ll miss a solid guy like Uhlaender.


1 a.O   ~  Feb 21, 2009 3:57 pm

I don't think he meant that there were literally no candidates, just no candidates so obviously capable and ready as Joba.

And as far as "candidacy" goes, anyone know what Joba's line was last year out of the pen vs starting?

2 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 21, 2009 4:16 pm

a.O., scroll down here for Joba's relief vs. starting splits from 2008.

3 monkeypants   ~  Feb 21, 2009 5:14 pm

The notion of a "candidate to replace Mo" is absurd in any case. First, Mo is possibly the greatest at his position in the game's history. You don't have a candidate for that. Second, Mo wasn't even a candidate to be the next Mo--he was a failed a starter who happened, through little organizational planning, to end up as the game's premier closer. Third, great closers are just not as valuable as great starters, so it is fundamentally wrongheaded to frame the discussion in terms of "what will they do at closer if Joba remains a starter." This is as sensible as worrying about Posada recovering and playing catcher creating a hole at DH. With regards to Joba, the real question should be how do they replace 200 dominant innings as a starter should he be moved back to late relief.

4 Rich   ~  Feb 21, 2009 7:20 pm

If it wasn't the NY Post, I would wonder how George King even has a job.

5 The Hawk   ~  Feb 21, 2009 7:23 pm

Much as i'd love it to be so, I'd have to see those 200 dominant innings before I thought about replacing them. The truth may be that Joba's performance as a starter might be pretty easy to duplicate

6 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Feb 21, 2009 8:43 pm

[0] Wow, hadn't heard about the NY Post cartoon fiasco..not too surprising though for a Murdoch-owned rag..still like the sports section too though.

Can't believe anyone is still talking about putting Joba in the pen..is Spring Training that dull outside of A-Rod talk??

7 monkeypants   ~  Feb 21, 2009 11:01 pm

[5] That may be, indeed. Then again, his performance as a closer may be pretty easy to reproduce, also. I would rather invest in the 200 innings as a starter. If that doesn't pan out--that is, if he's a failed starter like Mo or Gossage--then convert him to a late reliever.

8 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 21, 2009 11:10 pm

Hudson's signed with the Dodgers. Tough times, eh? >;)

9 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 21, 2009 11:12 pm

[6] FTNYP. G'nite >;)

10 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 21, 2009 11:20 pm

Doesn't Juan Cruz walk a bunch? That seems stroke inducing.

11 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Feb 22, 2009 3:14 am

[9] tee-hee..i'm a Democracy Now! guy myself :)

Looks like David Ortiz worked out with the same trainer as A-Rod and others in the DR..the trainer that's been banned from every MLB clubhouse.. wonder if Big Papi knows about glass house dwellers and stones...

12 roundabout7215   ~  Feb 22, 2009 3:29 pm

Just because George King (and Joel Sherman) work for the NY Post, doesn't mean either one knows much about baseball (the same can be said for Mike Lupica over there at thew News)
What King does well ismake up possible trades, as does Sherman, regardless of whether there is seriousness to it.
Obviously, we know Joba can save and set up - and would be great at it. Maybe down the road, he succeeds Mariano (note I didn't use the word replace) if Hughes, Kennedy et al comes through or Melancourt or other young arms can't save. But Joba also can be and will be a greater starter and that's where he's needed, for the moment.

13 Bruce Markusen   ~  Feb 22, 2009 7:08 pm

Roundabout, I have my doubts about King, but Sherman does know baseball--both the game today and the history of the game going back to at least the seventies. He's also a hard-working guy who does a nearly daily blog and usually at least four to five articles a week. He's one of the guys I make sure to read on a regular basis.

14 Rich   ~  Feb 22, 2009 8:02 pm

I view Sherman, unlike, King, as a good reporter. He has sources, breaks stories, and sometimes chases unpopular angles.

For example, over the last two days he had articles about Segui and Mattingly sticking up for A-Rod while many of the other beatwriters are more interested in drudging up (no pun intended) old news about Felix Lopez's son, or harping on every inconsistency in A-Rod's mea culpa because an honest admission about steroid usage isn't enough to satisfy their overdeveloped superegos.

Like many of his colleagues, however, Sherman is not so good when it comes to analysis.

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