What a weird turn the season has taken through the first 91 games, and specifically over the last two weeks. With the passings first of Bob Sheppard and then of George Steinbrenner and news of the fall that landed Yogi Berra in the hospital, a somber mood has befallen the Yankee Family, which includes us.
There’s a lot on my mind — nothing new there — and I wanted to get it as much of it down as I could, not only for my own cathartic reasons, but also for your reading enjoyment.
Here we go …
* The discussion regarding the fifth starter spot was rendered moot very quickly, Phil Hughes, with an improved cutter and curveball and most importantly, and an Eff-You attitude that he took from his eighth-inning role in ’09, took control in Spring Training and never let go. He won 10 of his first 11 decisions and earned an All-Star appearance. Now, with Andy Pettitte on the shelf and AJ Burnett looking like an extra in “Girl Interrupted” — more on this in a bit — Hughes is effectively the Yankees’ No. 3 starter, maybe even No. 2, depending on your opinion of Javier Vazquez. Yes, even though Hughes got roughed-up last night.
The question with Hughes now becomes how the Brain Trust wants to handle the Phil Rules. He is supposedly on an innings limit (160 innings? 175? What’s the number?). But what will that do to his effectiveness? Skipping starts to curb innings is likely not the best move, as evidenced by the 10-day break between his home starts in June against the Mets and Mariners. The Yankees need him to be effective in September and October, yes, but they have to figure out a way to do this right.
On WFAN Saturday, Steve Phillips, commenting on the Cardinals’ management of prospective NL Rookie of the Year Jaime Garcia, said Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are not taking chances with Garcia; they’re not allowing him to start the seventh inning when he has a big lead. The Yankees can learn from that with Hughes. Skipping starts, especially as the pennant race heats up, could be devastating to both the Yankees’ chances and to Hughes’s development. Look what happened to the Tigers and Rick Porcello last year. Porcello was skipped several times over August and September as a means of preservation for the stretch run. He pitched well in the one-game playoff against Minnesota, but then this year had a miserable start and was optioned to Toledo in mid-June. He’s back with the team now amid rumors he’ll be packaged in a trade? Do the Yankees want to take that chance with Phil Hughes? Probably not.
* The bullpen. Or can we call it the bulls–t? We’re back to 2008, 2007, or any year since 2003 that the Yankees didn’t go deep into October where the biggest question surrounded the bit players on the path to Mariano Rivera. Boone Logan? A LOOGY that can’t LOOG. Chan Ho Mer? Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Damaso Marte? He’s been inconsistent at best, and now he’s on the DL, retroactive to Saturday the 17th, with shoulder inflammation. Chad Gaudin and Sergio Meat Tray? Mark Melancon coming up from Scranton? Yikes. The best option for a bridge might be to extend David Robertson into a type of role that Rivera held in ’96, thanks to the travails of …
… Joba Chamberlain. What can be said that hasn’t been said already? Longtime Banterers know that I was a proponent of him staying in the bullpen two years ago, and the experiment with him as a starter was only going to be a path to ruin. A fantastic thread started by one of my former YES colleagues on Facebook yielded some sharp criticism and sound arguments, both for and against the merits of Mr. Nebraska. Heading into the break, his ERA was above 5.00 and BAA was .282. “Not set-up man numbers,” as my colleague put it. I went so far as to say he’s turned into a cross between Kyle Farnsworth (plus fastball but would rather throw his slider), and Hideki Irabu (“Fat Toad” level athleticism and plus fastball that has no movement). I was stunned to see his name was not included in the Yankees’ package that nearly landed Cliff Lee.
With the questions now surfacing about potential deadline pickups — Dan Haren, Roy Oswalt, Ben Sheets and Brett Myers have all been rumored — I wonder if Joba is just broken and that the best solution would be to trade him now while he’s still young and his value is such that he’s a major-league ready commodity. Trading Joba would be an admission of failure on the part of the Yankees, yes, but after the way they mismanaged his development — you can argue that this all started in ’07 when based on a similar need, they turned him into a reliever and rushed him through the system — it may be the only option.
* DISCLAIMER: If you don’t like politics mixed with your sports or sports in your politics, skip this bullet.
Where was/is the local media’s coverage of the situation in Arizona surrounding Yankees and Mets players and front-office personnel of Latino origin, their reactions to State Bill 1070 and next year’s All-Star Game (I confess, I was en route back to NY last Tuesday and didn’t see the All-Star Game and don’t know if it was covered on the FOX telecast. Was it?)? Outside of a May 1 report in the New York Times citing Mets catcher Rod Barajas’s opposition to the law and a NY Daily News report from Andy Martino published today about Carlos Beltran’s vow to boycott next year’s All-Star Game if he’s selected, there hasn’t been much. I didn’t see any reports questioning the Latino Yankees, the Yankees’ travel secretary or anyone within the organization about concerns over the law, which pending the decision of two hearings to be held on July 22, will go into effect on July 29. At the All-Star media day, Alex Rodriguez, when asked about it, quickly diverted the question, saying, “Wrong guy.”
Fact is, there’s a wealth of information on the topic, from the position taken by the MLBPA, to statements made by Adrian Gonzalez, Yovani Gallardo (who was later silenced) and the differing opinions of Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa. An opposition web site entitled movethegame.org has been created petitioning fans to urge Commissioner Bud Selig to move the game. Supporters of keeping the game at Chase Field, or keeping any major sporting event in Arizona, cite the economic effect a boycott would have, particularly on the amount of Latino workers in area restaurants and hotels.
Selig, for his part, is playing the way he should. The catch, and one reason why he may not even be able to move the game if he wants is that one of his bosses is Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Kendrick helped bankroll the campaign of governor Jan Brewer and is helping to finance other Republicans who support the bill, even though he’s taken the opposite stance publicly.
Honestly, I don’t care what happens to the All-Star Game. Last week’s game was the lowest-rated ever. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters, at least for this excerpt, is that for the most part, the local media dropped the ball on a major story.
* Injuries. Numerous reports have surfaced citing the Yankees’ intention to fill Andy Pettitte’s void with Sergio Meat Tray. In fact, GM Brian Cashman said the following: “I’m not looking for starting pitching. I don’t feel compelled. This is why we have Sergio Mitre.” For six or seven starts, it may not be a bad thing, but do you want to have to rely on your bullpen — a bullpen that’s spotty at best — that much at such a critical juncture? Additional reports have the Yankees scouting Kevin Gregg (maybe they should talk to Lou Piniella?), lefty Scott Downs (an interesting option with Marte out), and Joakim Soria (closer experience, could thrive in setup role and take some heat off of Rivera).
* The pennant race will be a three-team sprint to the finish. The Red Sox will get healthy and make a run, and the Rays will remain dangerous due to their rotation depth. Here’s where the Yankees have a tremendous advantage over both teams, and I haven’t seen it reported enough: the schedule is in the Yankees’ favor. Sure, they play the Red Sox and Rays another 10 times each and the AL East and Wild Card will likely be decided in those 20 meetings. The caveat to the schedule: the Yankees do not have to travel farther west than Arlington, Texas (twice), over the last two months of the season. The Rays, meanwhile, have one West Coast trip (a 7-gamer in mid-August), and the Red Sox are in the midst of a 10-game West Coast swing and have another six-game stretch out West from September 10-15. The Yankees have kvetched over the years about how the schedule makers have not treated them well. Here’s an opportunity for them to take advantage of a break.
It’s going to be a fun ride to October. And it’s going to be even more fun reading, watching and listening.