When a team plays well for an extended stretch of games, the intensity of the rumor mill tends to lessen. That’s certainly been the case for the Yankees, who have played well for the last month in taking a share of the top spot in the American League East. The only prominent name that I’ve heard linked to the Yankees in recent weeks is Cleveland’s Mark DeRosa, a player that the Cubs foolishly traded over the winter for three middle-of-the-road pitching prospects. Ravaged by injuries, the Indians are going nowhere in the AL Central. DeRosa is 34 years old and just a few months away from free agency; he is almost certain to be traded sometime between now and July 31.
So should the Yankees make a play for DeRosa? I’d say yes, but within reasonable limits. Let’s begin with DeRosa’s potential contribution. As well as the Yankees have played since Johnny Damon hit that three-run homer on a Sunday afternoon against the Orioles, their bench remains mediocre at best. Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner have been assets, but the Yankees have received precious little offense from their backup infielders and have virtually no power in reserve—at least until (or if) Xavier Nady returns. DeRosa would solve the latter two concerns. He can play third, second, or first, along with the outfield corners. He has above-average power, along with a team-first grittiness that would play well in New York.
Yet, the Yankees should be conservative in what they offer for DeRosa. After a career year for the Cubs in 2008, DeRosa brought back only three mid-level prospects on the trade market. In the midst of a mediocre campaign with the Indians, DeRosa’s value has decreased further. I might be willing to give up two young pitchers—pick two from a group that includes Anthony Claggett, Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, and Christian Garcia—but no more. I’m not giving up Mark Melancon, or Alfredo Aceves, or even an injured Ian Kennedy. DeRosa would help, but he’s not currently worth a price tag involving any of those right-handers. If the Indians insist on any of the three, I’d suggest that Brian Cashman hang up the phone…
Alfredo Aceves is a throwback. In an age when almost every role on a pitching staff has become specialized, the Mexican League import brings a degree of versatility reminiscent of earlier eras. For younger fans, he’s the new Ramiro Mendoza. For fans of my generation, he’s the second coming of Dick Tidrow. If you go back a little further, he’s the 21st century version of Ralph Terry.
With a fastball that touches the low nineties and a full repertoire of complementary pitches that that includes a splitter, slider, and change-up, Aceves can fill any need that springs a leak on Joe Girardi’s pitching staff. If Brian Bruney’s elbow cannot stay pain free, Aceves could become the elusive eighth-inning solution. If Chien-Ming Wang continues to do a Doyle Alexander impersonation, Aceves could graduate to the rotation as the No. 5 starter.
Prior to Aceves’ arrival, the Yankees had not exactly forged a strong tradition of Mexican-born players. (Keep in mind that Lefty Gomez, though Mexican-American, was born in California.) Ruben Amaro was a light-hitting shortstop and utility infielder. Celerino Sanchez was a brilliant fielding third baseman, but he couldn’t hit as well as most modern day utility infielders. Aurelio Rodriguez had one productive season as a platoon player, but had long since seen his best days as a starting third baseman for the Tigers. Then there was Alfonso Pulido, whom George Steinbrenner briefly touted as the closer of the future in the 1980s. Of more recent vintage, Karim Garcia had a productive half-season in 2003, while Esteban Loiaza had a miserable half-season in 2004. At 27, Aceves might be on the verge of a breakthrough that would make him the best Yankee to come from south of the border…
The roster of names for the first-ever Hall of Fame Classic, scheduled for later this month here in Cooperstown, has been finalized. Former Yankee Kevin Maas, a one-year wonder in the Bronx, became one of the latest retired players to commit to the June 21st old-timers game here in Cooperstown. He will join other ex-Yankees Mike Pagliarulo, Phil Niekro, Jim Kaat, Dennis Rasmussen, and Lee Smith, who all made prior commitments to the game. Another former Yankee, outfielder Chad Curtis, had originally signed up to the play but had to cancel because of a scheduling conflict.
Most of the above group had only brief dalliances with New York, leaving Pagliarulo as the most popular name among Yankee fans. Pags made a positive impression on Cooperstown in April, when he served coffee and donuts to fans standing on line for tickets to the Hall of Fame Classic. Anyone who followed the Yankees in the 1980s won’t be surprised; Pagliarulo has always exuded a down-to-earth everyman quality that made him one of the most likeable Yankees of the decade.
In the sake of fairness, let’s mention that several retired Red Sox will also play at Doubleday Field, an eclectic group that includes Steve “Psycho” Lyons, Joe Lahoud, Ferguson Jenkins, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, and Mike Timlin. (Have Psycho and Spaceman ever been spotted together?) Only one prominent ex-Met has signed up for the game: George Foster, better known for his hitting exploits in Cincinnati.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.