Three weeks into Yankees Spring Training, and we’ve learned this: New York is a Basketball town. Alex has written about this, and I remember Sweeny Murti talking about covering the Yankees while the Knicks made their run to the 1994 Finals. It’s true. The Knicks are the sleeping giant, and now with Carmelo Anthony, they will own the back pages unless something either major or catastrophic happens in Yankeeland.
This is actually a good thing, because Spring Training for the Yankees is basically a time suck. While it’s great to see baseball — hell, grass — after being battered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures for the better part of the last two months, doesn’t seem as cool when the biggest questions year after year are who the 5th man in the rotation will be, and who the 24th and 25th man on the roster will be.
Obvious storylines have been played up like they’re original concepts. For example:
* Derek Jeter reported to spring training and in his press conference intent to prove that last year was an anomaly and that the man who is above statistics is actually going to try to enjoy the moment when he reaches 3,000 hits this summer. In a year or two, he might need a position change.
Two thoughts on this: 1) This is EXACTLY why when he broke Lou Gehrig’s team record for hits and the local and national media were swooning and putting his stats against Pete Rose and projecting he could break the all-time hits record by 2018 or 2019, I called B.S. Derek Jeter is human, and while I didn’t get to know him that well in my years covering the team, I observed him quite a bit. He’s intense and he’s competitive, but he’s not selfish. He doesn’t give the impression that he wants to hang on just to break a record. 2) As I write about Jeter’s unselfishness, I write about this, which seems counterintuitive: Steven Goldman, as far back as 2004, when the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez and it was determined that he would play third base and Jeter would remain the shortstop, wrote that Jeter should have pulled a Robin Yount and moved to center field. This would have made Bernie Williams, whose outfield skills were declining for two consecutive years by then, a full-time DH. But, there wasn’t as much roster flexibility then. There were a lot of DH candidates, namely Jason Giambi, so having Bernie there full-time wasn’t an option. I recall at least 6-12 Pinstriped Bibles where this was a hot topic.
* CC Sabathia lost weight. He’s in the third year of his contract. He can opt out after the season. He’s thinking about this.
Great for him. The dropped weight will help his stamina, because he’s going to have to pitch 300 innings during the regular season when the Yankees eventually settle on a 3-man rotation. Yes, he is. Yes he can. He probably is, but asking him of his plans in February? If the opt-out clause is in there in the first place, he was thinking about it THREE YEARS AGO. The caveat, he’s not A-Rod, so this will probably work out.
* Joba Chamberlain is not going to pitch meaningful innings this season. Not with the Yankees, most likely.
Not to toot my own horn, but I’m tooting. This was predicted four years ago, when they caught lightning in a bottle with him. Not recognizing his rightful ascension to replace Mariano Rivera at that time effectively ruined his career as a Yankee. Perhaps another team can repair him.
* Jorge Posada is going to be a full-time DH.
This is not news.
* Yankees looking for starters.
That slug actually appeared as a link on ESPN.com’s headlines area. It was a story from Buster Olney. This was not news. Does anyone expect the committee of Sergio Meat Tray, the Ghost of Freddy Garcia, and Ivan Nova to carry bottom half of the rotation? Wait, don’t answer that. They’ve started seasons with Tony Womack and Enrique Wilson at second base, at one point were intent on Bubba Crosby as their center fielder, and had Gary Sheffield play first base. This is entirely in the realm of possibility.
The guy to root for in all of this: original Yankees draft pick Mark Prior. Let’s not make a big deal about his having trouble getting his breaking stuff over the plate yesterday. If he makes the team and somehow makes an impact, it could be the story of the year.
* AJ Burnett, after playing winter ball in the California Penal League, beaned a player. During batting practice.
That’s only half true. Burnett did nail Greg Golson in the head. No truth to the rumor that Larry Rothchild is stocking up on cardboard hitters to help Burnett visualize the target. Who’s more of a punchline in New York baseball at this point: Burnett or Oliver Perez?
* Mark Teixeira needs to get off to a fast start.
Again, not news. Bernie Williams used to start off slowly every year, too. By Memorial Day, he’d be hitting .300 or better. However, there was an interesting revelation in the day of Teixeira stories: he admitted that he has taken for granted that his hitting would always be there. That he would turn it around eventually. Great stuff from Tex. Perhaps in his work with Kevin Long, he’ll practice driving the ball to the opposite field.
* The Yankees take Grapefruit League games seriously.
After the second day of games, Joe Girardi was already in midseason form, talking about how “bouncing back” after a loss is a result of “believing in ourselves.” This, with Ivan Nova on the mound, no less.
The thing is, while I know this is a panoramic critique (with no links, I know), and it sounds like I’m the old man on the porch holding a shotgun, if I was on the beat, I’d probably be writing the same stories. There are two stories, though, that I’d like to see:
1) Re: Joba. Is he the second coming of Shane Spencer? Forget the position player vs. pitcher comparison for a second and focus on the “lightning in a bottle” concept. For two months in 1998, Shane Spencer was a revelation. He was kept on as a reserve outfielder and made modest contributions for the next several seasons, but when given the chance to earn the starting lineup in 2002, couldn’t crack it. There was no way he was ever going to live up to that brief stretch. Chamberlain, same thing. We could include Aaron Small in this discussion. Maybe the type of pitcher Joba Chamberlain is now is always what he was, and he peaked immediately.
2) A Rafael Soriano profile, written in the context of “recent Atlanta Braves retreads who had success elsewhere but are bound to not work out.” Look, I would like to see the Yankees turn games into 7-inning affairs. But, history shows us that unless your name is Mike Stanton, it’s likely not going to work out for you in New York if you were previously a closer employed by the Braves. Consider: Steve Karsay — great first year in 2002, got injured in 2003 and was never heard from again. Kyle Farnsworth — just a comedy of errors here. Boone Logan wasn’t a closer, but his ride with the Yankees has been a roller coaster. Maybe he could be a Stanton / Graeme Lloyd type of guy.
Random thought to end … Manny Banuelos: His last name is a mixture of the Spanish words for bathroom (bano) and handkerchief (panuelo). The scouting reports have him pitching better than that odd mixture.
And a final random thought: the Yankees’ issues are much easier to stomach than the Mets’.
[Photo Credit: Brian Rose]