"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky: Hope Springs Eternal (when your roster is stacked)

Alex Belth said it perfectly. Spring seems eons away here in New York. Especially since we haven’t seen grass here in two weeks — longer if you live in Pennsylvania and further south in the mid-Atlantic region.

But pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training brings vitality to the discussions had in the local media marketplace and here in the blogosphere over the past three months. The Yankees have an unofficial count — if you pay attention to talk radio and are on top of the beat — of three questions:

1) Who will be the fifth starter?

2) Which young gun will be in the bullpen, Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes?

3) What will the batting order look like?

Taking these questions individually, the answer to the first questions will likely answer the second. Sunday afternoon, Sweeny Murti and Ed Coleman had Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland on WFAN and asked him point blank about taking the reins off of Joba, and whether that would give him an edge heading into spring workouts. Eiland said Chamberlain and Hughes are on equal footing in terms of the competition for the fifth starter, along with Chad Gaudin, Sergio Meat-Tray, and Alfredo Aceves.

The most sensible option outside of Chamberlain and Hughes, it seems, based on the numbers, is Gaudin. He didn’t post Aaron Small 2005 numbers by any means, but as Joba insurance, he was serviceable, allowing less than a hit per inning, 7.3 K/9, and a 125 ERA+. Not great, but not bad. Just what you expect from a fifth starter. But when you think of the dropoff from Javier Vazquez to Chad Gaudin, yikes.

Eiland said on Sunday in that WFAN interview that Hughes would be on an innings limit this year, but not with the same level of stringency as Joba Version 2K9. If that’s the case — just speculating here — the ideal situation is to have Joba in the fifth slot and Hughes in the bullpen. This wouldn’t be as difficult a decision if both twentysomethings hadn’t done so much to inspire confidence that either is better suited to be the last piece in the bridge to Mariano Rivera, or even Mo’s heir apparent.

Re: the batting order, there’s a consensus among the pundits on the following spots:

1. Jeter
3. Teixeira
4. A-Rod
5. Posada
6. Cano
8. Swisher
9. Gardner

The issue becomes who bats second: Curtis Granderson or Nick Johnson? And really, it’s a toss-up. Based on Johnson’s on-base percentage (.402 career OBP to Granderson’s .344 career OBP, Johnson has the edge. But despite Granderson’s propensity to strike out, his speed may allow him to see ample time in the two-hole. Granderson has grounded into just 18 double plays in his career, while Johnson grounded into 15 last season alone. Nick Swisher could even slide in, given the number of pitches he sees per at-bat. Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada could flip-flop at 5 and 6.

None of this is news. Given the way the Yankees entered camp last year, when we were discussing the merits of Selena Roberts’ book, Alex Rodriguez’s sincerity, whether CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett had what it takes to thrive in New York, and overall, what it would take for the Yankees to make the playoffs, let alone win a World Series, maybe that’s a good thing. The only off-field issues left to talk about are the contracts of Girardi, Rivera, and Jeter, and those likely won’t be negotiated until after the season. Rivera may retire. But we have eight months to go before that speculation becomes more rampant.

For now, as Girardi said in his 30-minute powwow Wednesday, “It’s nice to be talking about baseball.”

And while we look out the window and see a wall of white with no threat of a thaw, it certainly is.


1 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Feb 18, 2010 11:45 am

Merry Pitchers and Catchers, everyone!!!!

2 thelarmis   ~  Feb 18, 2010 12:03 pm

no way Mo is retiring after this season.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 18, 2010 12:06 pm

I think the far ore important issue early on is the batting order; there's not a real urgency for a fifth starter until May, and by then the issue will have worked itself out, while the construction of and production from the lineup will have much more of an impact on where the Yankees are when the fifth starter is needed. Given the propensity for slow or mediocre starts the last several years, it's far more important to maximize the production from whatever lineup is decided upon by opening day. I'm even more interested in who starts CF/LF than which of Joba/Phil?Gaudin takes the fifth spot.

That said, I'm rooting for Joba, if he makes it through Spring injury-free (knock on wood) with Phil getting his starts in AAA to adhere to the innings limits they set up for him; especially if Gaudin proves serviceable and Ace up to par. That seems to be a far more manageable scenario than relying on long-duty opportunities and bridging the late innings to Mo; while that's certainly useful and more than somewhat important in Mo's advancing stage of his career, is not really prepping him to be the starter they've set out for him to be.

On other important matters, I can't think of anything besides shooting pool as a safe and fun activity for the whole family, unless they have a massive Monopoly or Bingo tournament, Bring In Your Favorite Board Game Nite? An outing at the Bronx Zoo? Sponsor a Pre-Opening Day Wiffle/Stick Ball Tourney Game at Rucker Park, with players making the trip north serving as honorary coaches on several squads? That would be cool... >;)

4 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 18, 2010 12:22 pm

Turn Hughes into a modern version of Mark Eichhorn, circa '86 and '87

5 rbj   ~  Feb 18, 2010 12:58 pm

So spots #2 & #7 are going to be filled with the underpants gnomes?

[2] Don't even entertain such an idea. Mo is always going to be around. Forever and ever.

6 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 18, 2010 1:06 pm

[4] Only as long as you can restrict that transformation to those years; I'd buy that for a dollar...

7 a.O   ~  Feb 18, 2010 1:19 pm

[4] That's a great way to think about it. Ca. 140 innings out of the bullpen would be perfect, as it would set him up for ca. 200 the following year and would really make for a fresh rotation and bullpen.

It begs the larger question of the rigid use of bullpens these days. One guy pitches one inning in virtually every game in which you have a lead of less than 3 runs. Why? I think it makes more sense to use your best reliever when he is needed most. So, for example, I would use Mo in the 6th or 7th in a 1-run game, especially if my starter had put a guy or two on base, because I know he will do a better job of killing that rally than anyone else in the pen. Just because it's the 9th inning, doesn't mean it is the most important relief inning.

8 thelarmis   ~  Feb 18, 2010 1:44 pm

[5] oh, i know! will mentioned it 3 paragraphs from the end. i was shocked. NO idea why he would do that. sure, mo's 40 and his contract is up, but he's kicking ass and has stated numerous times how he wants to pitch for years longer...

btw, i'm really digging your "itchers & scratchers" et al. a few years back, the Times' headline of "pitchers & molinas" was hilarious! : )

9 rbj   ~  Feb 18, 2010 2:15 pm

[8} Ha. Thanks.

So when to the poison payers have to report to camp?

10 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 18, 2010 2:40 pm

I put Johnson second for OBP and Granderson fifth for RBIs:


By the way, it was accidental, but also brilliant how Girardi prevented the Torre solution, which likely would have been Granderson leading off and Jeter hitting second. Girardi moves Jeter to leadoff, Jeter has a great year, now there's no discussion of Jeter hitting second at all despite most of his career at bats coming in the two-hole and most of Granderson's coming as a leadoff man. If only that had happened before Soriano came up so that he also could have hit in an RBI spot.

11 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 18, 2010 4:28 pm

[10] I like that a lot better than Cano hitting 5th. In fact, given Cano's career-long propensity to hit horribly with runners in scoring position, I'd almost say he should hit 8th.

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