Home under the weather today so the site will be quiet. Back up to speed tomorrow.
There won’t be a better book about the Yankees this spring than “Damn Yankees,” edited by Sports Illustrated veteran Rob Fleder. Consider a line-up that includes Frank Deford, Dan Okrent, Roy Blount Jr, Richard Hoffer, Bruce McCall, Leigh Montville, Jane Leavy, Rick Telander, Dan Barry, Tom Verducci, and Steve Rushin.
Will Leitch has a hilarious article about the uncensored joys of watching a game in the stands at Yankee Stadium; Charlie Pierce offers a wonderful take down of Jerry Seinfeld’s glib “rooting for laundry” routine; William Nack and Michael Paterniti deliver elegant pieces about the Bronx Zoo Era team; Bill James gives us the 100 best seasons ever by a Yankee catcher, and J.R. Moehringer and Colum McCann come through with beautiful memoir essays. And then there’s our man, Pete Dexter, who writes about Chuck Knoblauch in such a strange, funny, and true manner that his story will stick with you for a long time.
The book will be out this spring. And it’s a keeper.
So who will be the Yankees’ designated hitter? The first DH name that came up in the aftermath of the Jesus Montero trade was Carlos Pena. But he wanted too much money for the Yankees’ liking and returned to Tampa Bay. The second name belonged to Johnny Damon, who instead expressed an interest in returning toDetroit, only to see the Tigers sign Prince Fielder to that ridiculous nine-year contract. So Damon is still in play for the Yankees, at least for the moment. Next up on the list is former Phillie, Mariner, and Royal Raul Ibanez, who is also a free agent. My reaction to the possibility of Ibanez becoming a Yankee? Don’t touch this guy with a ten-foot bat, corked or otherwise.
Ibanez is a native New Yorker, a good guy with a strong clubhouse reputation, and a left-handed hitter with power, so it’s only natural that his name would come up in connection with the Yankees. But that’s where the interest should begin and end. At one time, Ibanez was a fine hitter with the Royals and Mariners, capable of slugging at or near .500. Those days are over. He’s 39, hit only 20 home runs last year despite playing in a hitter’s playground, and slugged a mere .419. His on-base percentage was more strikingly worse, a meager .289. This guy’s not a lefty DH. He’s barely even a good pinch-hitting candidate at this point in his career.
With Ibanez, there’s no consolation coming from his defensive play. Though he spent the last three years playing left field for the Phillies, his fielding is–and always has been–atrocious. There’s a video somewhere on the Internet from a game in which Ibanez is playing for the Mariners against the Yankees. After he fields a ground ball down the left field line, Ibanez attempts to throw the ball back toward the infield, but he instead accidentally spikes the ball, which travels a few feet to the right and straight down to the ground. Video records are incomplete, but it may be the worst throw in the history of major league baseball.
Of course, that play represented Ibanez at his worst, but his general level of fielding acumen ranks somewhere between bad and poor. For his career, TotalZone puts him minus 5 for his play in left field, a ranking that matches his awful reputation. As a point of comparison, former Yankee Marcus Thames has a career TotalZone of minus three. So, by this rating, Ibanez is even worse than Thames, a frightening proposition. Yikes.
So other than DH, there’s no where to play Ibanez without risking further embarrassment. And if he’s not good enough as a hitter to be a DH, then there should be no role for him on the 2012 Yankees…
In assessing the great catchers of Yankee lore last week, I discussed Jorge Posada and Thurman Munson while referencing Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, and Bill Dickey. Though he was neither a particularly strong defensive player nor a longtime Yankee, I should have included at least a footnote mention of Mike Stanley. In terms of pure offense, Stanley was one of the best catchers the Yankees have ever had, putting up OPS numbers of .800, .923, .929, and .841 from 1992 to 1995. In 1993, he even received some votes in the MVP balloting. Stanley’s emergence as the No. 1 catcher coincided with the Yankees’ return to glory in the mid-1990s.
Why have we forgotten Stanley so quickly? Unfortunately, he didn’t join the Yankees until he was 29, the result of one of Gene Michael’s prudent free agent signings. He played four full seasons in New York, left when the Yankees acquired Joe Girardi, spent a year and a half with the Red Sox, and then returned to the Yankees as a DH for the tail-end of 1997. As a matter of bad luck, he missed the Yankees’ 1996 title while in Boston, and was not brought back for the world championship season of 1998. The end result was zero titles for Stanley.
The emergence of Posada over the last decade and a half also made it easier to overlook the prior contributions of Stanley. But Stanley was a very good player, a right-handed hitter with power who had a terrific opposite field stroke, and brought the kind of patient, grinding style at the plate that became a hallmark of the Yankees in the mid to late-1990s. He wasn’t Posada and he wasn’t Munson, but Stanley was an important part of the Yankee turnaround, and that makes him an important part of franchise history…
A few Yankee fans have asked me which of their bottom-of-the-rotation starters will be traded between now and Opening Day. I don’t think it will be Phil Hughes, if only because the Yankees would be trading him while his value is so low. This Yankee administration hasn’t forgotten that Hughes was once their top prospect, and the front office would love nothing better than to see Hughes report to spring training in good shape and take aim on the potential that he seemed to be tapping two years ago. I also don’t think that the Yankees will trade Garcia, who is probably the one pitcher best suited to serving as a long man/spot starter. Nothing seems to phase “The Chief,” so I’d expect he’d handle the Dick Tidrow/Ray Burris/Ramiro Mendoza role without a hitch.
That leaves A.J. Burnett, who still has two years to go on that nonsensical contract and continues to be Yankee fans’ greatest source of frustration. Is Burnett tradeable? Sure, anyone is, assuming that the Yankees pick up enough of his contract. But I do get the feeling that Brian Cashman will want something tangible in return, whether it’s a lefty DH or a utility infielder. If the Yankees eat something like 80 per cent of the $33 million owed to Burnett, then Cashman will expect a player in return, and not just some 25-year-old middle reliever pitching in Class-A ball.
There have been suggestions of a swap sending Burnett to the Cubs for Alfonso Soriano, but there is a problem with that. Soriano has three years remaining on his monstrosity of a contract, meaning that the Yankees would have to commit an extra year compared to the two years left on the Burnett deal. Soriano also happens to be a right-handed hitter, making a platoon with Andruw Jones a bit unfeasible.
Still, there may be a deal out there somewhere. At the right price, a team might just think that it can fix A.J. Burnett.
Bruce Markusen was born on January 30. Hey, that’s today!
[Drawing by Larry Roibal]
Sleepy faces on the train this morning. Start of a new week. I heard a squeaking sound and looked around the car. It came from one of the doors. It was an irritating noise but soon I got the rhythm of it and it sounded like a bird chirping. It wasn’t so bad anymore. Morning sounds on the Iron Horse.
Woke up this morning and tuned in to the men’s final of the Australian Open in the fourth set. Didn’t move for the next two hours. Okay, I lied. I paced around the apartment as I watched Djokovic beat Nadal in a tense match that was played at the highest level. Djokovic has won the last seven meetings against Nadal including the last three Grand Slam finals. Nadal showed great courage today, for sure, but he fell short. Over at SI.com, Jon Wertheim shares this thoughts on the classic match.
[Photo Credit: Ryan Pierse, Getty Images]
As the subway train settled at its first stop this morning, a voice rang out. “Dyckman St! This is a downtown A Train to Lefferts Boulevard. Next stop is 190th St. Stand clear of the closing doors. Please!”
The voice did not come over the PA however. It belonged to a child. I scanned the faces of the other riders, some hadn’t flinched, no trace of amusement. But many others were smiling, a few even chuckling.
Each successive stop the little boy bellowed the information. Starting at 168th St, it gets complicated. He included all the transfers. His only slip up came when he started his 125th St call a few seconds too early. He stopped, regrouped, and delivered again in full when the train finally arrived.
At each stop he lost some support. A few of the initial smiles disappeared. New passengers were more suspicious, maybe because they weren’t present at the outset and weren’t sure how to respond.
There was one man, however, sitting with his back to the boy, and he was delighted. He was an older Black man, with a graying beard, a slim face and one of those fashionable knit driving caps that looks way cooler on him than on me. He braced himself for each stop and when the kid began shouting he broke out in a big grin. He nodded his head along with the accuracy of the information, like a proud teacher.
When there was a thinning of the crowd at one stop, I leaned over to catch a glimpse of the orator. It was one of my neighbors, six years old, named Jack. Thanks for the laugh this morning Jack. And for one guy at least, you made his day.