"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Yankee Panky

Suspension Bridge

A fundamental tenet of communication theory is that because the purpose of communication is to transmit information, it is irreversible. There are no “take-backs.” Apologies for verbal or written foul-ups are hollow. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. We live in an era right now where companies and universities are doing background checks on prospective employees and students by scouring Facebook profiles, Twitter feeds and other social media activity. A regular person has nowhere to hide. Public figures are under much greater scrutiny.

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen learned that the hard way.

Not that he has ever hidden. He is no stranger to opening his mouth, inserting his foot, and still managing to demonstrate the capability to land in trouble. His latest misstep earned him a team-levied five-game suspension. The blogosphere and conservative baseball media population exploded. The first four words of Sean Gregory’s profile in Time Magazine are Guillen’s damning quote: “I love Fidel Castro.” He would go on to say he respected Castro’s survival skills, and that‘s what he loved about Castro. Communication is irreversible. No way to talk around that.

Guillen manned up. He didn’t put out a statement. He was contrite, apologizing to the Marlins and to the Cuban-American community that has helped make Miami the multicultural center it has become.

The aftermath and the analysis has been a series of contradictions. A combination of liberal versus conservative and wanting to have it both ways. The same people that in the past who have called Guillen “refreshing” for speaking unfiltered and disregarding the art of saying nothing, are now condemning him. Steven Goldman expresses his libertarian view at Bleacher Report:

…Those who are standing on the sidelines sniping and calling for suspensions and termination need to consider their own motives. Moral outrage is cheap when the target has been so spectacularly, in Guillen’s words, “dumb.” This is shooting Marlins in a barrel. It’s much harder to stake a stand on an issue that is in the grey zone, when others might snipe back at you.

He continued…

Let us be clear: There is a difference between suggesting the Marlins needed to suspend Guillen to appease the Cuban-American community and another to argue that the quality of his remarks themselves deserved suspension. The former is what political bloggers call “concern trolling,” posing as a helpful pal of some third party that really doesn’t need your advice, thanks. The latter is, first, un-American, not in terms of the Bill of Rights—this is not a First Amendment matter given that your employer can censor you in the workplace all they want—but that any call that encourages punishment for speaking one’s mind, no matter how offensive, should be antithetical to our very being.

Ken Rosenthal may have been one of those Goldman observed “standing on the sidelines sniping.” Monday, in his FOX Sports column, Rosenthal called for the Marlins to suspend Guillen. He wrote:

Good people make mistakes, and Guillen just made the biggest of his career. Chances are the matter will blow over; everything seems to blow over in this society of limited attention spans. But the Marlins shouldn’t allow it to blow over. No, the Marlins should take a stand.

Suspend Guillen.

Not because a protest group wants him out.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

There is outrage in Miami. There is outrage among the Latino community, not just the Cuban-American population in Miami. The juxtaposition of Guillen’s comments with the opening of the Marlins’ new stadium in Little Havana has much to do with that. Dave Zirin notes this in his latest piece at Edge of Sports.

Loria desperately needed a hot start for his team and some sugary sweet media coverage for his new ballpark. Then his new manager Ozzie Guillen decided to share his views about Cuba and Fidel Castro. … This issue is…now about whether the ire produced by Guillen’s words will be directed against Loria, his grab of public funds, and the entire Miami baseball operation. If that happens, this issue won’t die, but the Marlins might.

Keith Olbermann, speaking as a guest on Dan Patrick’s radio show, said that sports provide a forum for us, the public, to address sensitive social issues. That “sports are well ahead of the rest of society on these issues.”

The blog Platoon Advantage would beg to differ.

…It’s certainly understandable why the Marlins felt like they needed to react.

Though they didn’t feel the need to respond when team president David Samson called the people of Miami stupid. …There are dozens and dozens of equally or more foolish and offensive things done by Major League players, managers, coaches, front office types, and officials every year. And these offenses don’t get investigated by the Commissioner. These offenses don’t earn team-levied suspensions. These offenses don’t get noticed at all, despite the real damage they do to the communities where they happen. If we’re going to have such a low standard so as to punish Guillen for making a bad joke (make no mistake, there’s no way to honestly construe what Guillen said as a statement of support for Castro, his tactics, or his regime), where are the suspensions for everyone else who makes baseball look bad?

What can we learn from all the coverage? We know Guillen’s comments were wrongheaded on many levels. We know those comments will be available forever. We know that there is heavy criticism, much of it founded, much of it personal. We know that all of it is irreversible. And yet again, we learn that no matter how hard the general sports fan wishes politics and sports to be separated, they are inextricably linked.

[Photo Credit: Al Diaz and C.M. Guerrero/ Miami Herald]

Yankee Panky: Hip Hip … Hey!

Jorge Posada was benched in Boston Sunday night. The motion led to speculation about Posada’s future; Monday it was confirmed. The benching wasn’t a one-off. It’s indefinite.

Jorge Posada, NYY, 1995-2011?

The media are treating the news as if it’s Posada’s baseball obituary. It very well may be. Joel Sherman wrote that if he were not Jorge Posada “he would be treated like Jack Cust and Lyle Overbay.” Wally Matthews echoed that sentiment, writing that “the Yankees stuck with him far longer than they probably would have had his name been something other than Jorge Posada, simply out of respect for his legacy with the team.” In that same article, Matthews noted how the incident in May affected his relationship with his teammates. Girardi, if you remember, slotted the struggling Posada ninth in the order — also, coincidentally, in a series against the Red Sox — and Posada later pulled himself from the game with a bruised ego. At the Pinstriped Bible, friend to the Banter Steven Goldman writes that if the Yankees are strong in their conviction that he can’t help them win, then they should just let him move on.

Dave Rothenberg, filling in for Stephen A. Smith on 1050, said he still believes Posada has something left. Maybe he does, but the Yankees gave him four months to work it out, to adjust to being a designated hitter. They weren’t going to do what the Red Sox are doing with Jason Varitek — giving him one or two days behind the plate per week and figuring whatever offense he contributes is gravy. The Yankees knew they couldn’t sustain the defensive liability having him catch even one game would bring. The next best option: DH. In that, the Yankees sought the same — or at least similar — level of production he provided last year or in 2009. But it wasn’t there. I discussed the toll not being an everyday catcher has taken on Posada’s pride in May:

Posada has looked lost. A player suffering through an identity crisis. Having had to make an abrupt switch from catching 130 games a year to being the team’s full-time designated hitter, Posada has not adjusted well.

And he never did adjust. At least, not fully. Posada was able to get his average up to .230 before Girardi called him into his office to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he’s done. Give Girardi credit: he didn’t continue to dangle Posada out there out of loyalty in the way that Joe Torre used to with Bernie Williams when his defense was declining as early as 2002. And they’re not ignoring Posada the way they did Williams in the 2006-2007 offseason. Girardi was not afraid to have the tough conversation. That’s the sign of a good manager. His job is to win game; if he doesn’t believe Posada gives him a good enough chance to win, then he shouldn’t be in the lineup. (Random aside: let’s see if Girardi does this with AJ Burnett in six weeks. Just sayin’ …) With all the undertones of their relationship as teammates when Girardi was the aging veteran and Posada the up-and-comer, of course this situation was bound to be a soap opera at some point.

Posada was the last person to realize that his skills were diminished. He wasn’t lucky enough to enjoy a renaissance in the way that his best friend, Derek Jeter, has in the past month. The anger and — depending on your perception, petulance — of Posada’s tone in May has turned to resignation.

Posada was a good soldier for a long time. Now, being a good soldier means being a disgruntled cheerleader. That is, until, or unless, the Yankees let him work his way back into the lineup.

[Photo Credit: N.J.com]

Jeteronomy the Milestone: Six More Hits, Please

The countdown to 3,000 hits resumed Monday night in Cleveland, and Derek Jeter went 0-for-4. What’s being branded as “DJ3K” is occurring now in greater earnest than it did before Jeter pulled up lame with a strained calf and landed on the disabled list on June 13. He’ll be the first Yankee to reach the milestone, and of all the great moments in his career, this may be the singular event that speaks to his consistency and longevity. He certainly didn’t “hang on” in an attempt to achieve this personal benchmark.

And he has handled the march to inevitability in a way that has stayed true to his professional mantra: as vanilla as possible.

The interesting thing about Jeter’s career is that as integral as he has been to the team’s success, in games when he’s reached personal milestones, the team lost. And in games where “Jeter was being Jeter,” giving maximum effort and playing his customary brand of instinctive baseball, and getting hurt in the process, they won.

I covered the game on May 26, 2006, against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium when he got his 2,000th hit. He reached first base on an infield nubber that was misplayed. According to multiple newspaper reports, even Jeter’s mother thought it was an error. The decision can’t be called into question now. The Yankees lost the game. Afterward, he gave his typical “It’s a nice accomplishment, we lost, I don’t care about stats” speech. Ho-hum.

The Yankees also lost the game against the Baltimore Orioles when he broke Lou Gehrig’s team record for hits. At least No. 2,722 was a no-doubter. Same speech. Yawn.

The two moments I immediately think of when I’m asked about Derek Jeter occurred in games the Yankees won.

1) Opening Day 2003, in Toronto. The Ken Huckaby collision. It wasn’t a dirty play, it was incidental contact. With one out and the Blue Jays employing an extreme shift with Jason Giambi at the plate, Jeter, always a great base runner, tried to catch the Jays napping. The description of the play, from eNotes:

Giambi hit a soft grounder to the pitcher, Roy Halladay, who threw to first baseman Carlos Delgado for an out. Jeter, seeing Toronto out of position, rounded second and ran to third. Huckaby ran up the line to cover third and fielded Delgado’s throw. Jeter dived headfirst into the bag, while Huckaby attempted to catch the baseball and block Jeter from reaching third. In do so, Huckaby fell onto Jeter; his shin guard driving into his shoulder.

The Yankees won the game and proceeded to start 20-5. In all, they went 26-11 without him, and went 3-11 in their first 14 games upon his return.

2) July 1, 2004, at Yankee Stadium, against the Red Sox. Depending on your perspective, it’s the “game where Jeter broke his face” after going head over heels into the stands to catch a Trot Nixon pop-up in the top of the 12th inning. The Yankees won that game also. The image of Jeter walking off the field, clutching his lip and his face swollen, is one that endures. I covered that game, too. It’s the greatest regular season game I’ve ever seen. We’re not allowed to root in the press box, and in particular, the YES booth, where I was situated. Those of us in the booth may not have been rooting, but we did not suppress our emotions and baseball fandom in that moment.

So where does that leave us now? The Yankees went 14-4 without him and won seven of eight prior to Jeter’s return. They’ve built a lead over the Red Sox and are in the hunt for the best record in baseball with the Phillies. They’ve adjusted to life without Jeter and the distraction of the four-digit elephant in the dugout. Is the current leg of the pursuit and his place in the lineup more of a distraction than an asset? If so, it’ll be consistent with the way these moments have gone throughout Derek Jeter’s career.

[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]

If You Don't Have Anything Nice To Say …

Fred Wilpon

Mets owner Fred Wilpon

Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Fred Wilpon in the New Yorker was published online yesterday. The profile, intended to help shed the belief that Wilpon was complicit in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and improve his reputation, did that, but it made news in a much different way. It showed that Wilpon has more than a little bit of George Steinbrenner in him. In print, he criticized three of his prized players: Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. He even called his team “shitty.”

The Mets have not had a good seven months. Wait, let’s dial this back, they haven’t had a good go of it since September 2007. Most recently, however — the past seven months — their financial troubles have dominated the sports and news sections of the local papers, due in large part to the Wilpons’ victimization in the Madoff scandal, as Toobin dutifully reported. The Mets’ average home attendance this season is 28,565 (68.3 percent capacity), ranking them 14th in the Majors, according to the latest MLB Attendance Report.

The finances aside, the timing for this article, and the commentary therein, couldn’t be worse. The Mets just got blasted in the last two games of the Subway Series, having been outscored 16-6 by the Yankees. Furthermore, since the article was published on an off-day, the story’s shelf life was extended an extra 24 hours. Players, coaches, the manager Terry Collins, anyone involved with the organization, will have to answer questions about this for another day. Once again, the focus on the Mets has shifted off the field.

Yankee fans have seen this many times over the years with George Steinbrenner: Pick a Billy Martin hiring-firing episode; the Howard Spira investigation of Dave Winfield; the Don Mattingly mustache/mullet fiasco; Hideki Irabu is a “fat pussy toad;” the David Wells and Gary Sheffield negotiations. Hell, pick one. We came to expect stuff like this over the years with George, and then Hank filled the void, even if he was a pale comparison to his old man.

But for Wilpon, who as Toobin shows, is a diehard baseball fan, student of the game, and bleeds with every pitch, this behavior is stunning. Forget the fact that Wilpon’s assessments of Beltran, Reyes and Wright are sound. (Some have argued that Wright’s numbers are superstar-worthy. They’re not. Wright is a star, but winning an MVP and/or a World Series to elevates players to “superstar” status.) The Mets need all the good PR they can muster right now. Downgrading the left side of your infield, two players that define this generation of the Mets and their fans, is an invitation for Defcon 5 level Damage Control.

For those who haven’t seen excerpts or read Wilpon’s quotes yet, here they are.

First, on Beltran:

…There is the matter of the quality of the Mets teams. At one point, I mentioned to Wilpon the theory that the Mets might be cursed. He gave a sort of half laugh, and said, “You mean”—and then pantomimed a checked swing of the bat.

Any Mets fan (I am one) would understand the reference. The Mets took the 2006 National League Championship Series to a seventh game against the Cardinals. On October 19th, in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets were down, 3–1, the bases were loaded, and Carlos Beltran, the team’s star center fielder, came to the plate. With two outs and the count 0–2, the Cards’ pitcher, Adam Wainwright, threw a looping curveball on the outside corner. Beltran twitched, froze, and watched strike three.

Wilpon later said Beltran, who has been beset by knee injuries the past two seasons and has arguably been the Mets’ most consistent player in his return this season, is “65 to 70 percent of what he was.”

On Jose Reyes, the impending free agent and perhaps the Mets’ most tradeable asset:

“He’s a racehorse. … He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money. … He’s had everything wrong with him. He won’t get it.”

And finally, on David Wright, the face of the franchise:

“A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.”

Let’s take each of these individually.

Re: Beltran, Wilpon called himself a “schmuck” for giving the switch-hitting center fielder a 7-year, $119 million deal based on his breakout postseason in 2004 for the Houston Astros. Toobin didn’t mention this, but it’s interesting Beltran took that contract and thrust himself in the spotlight. The chronicles of Buster Olney and Tom Verducci revealed that Beltran wanted to be a Yankee so that 1) he could inherit the centerfield job from a declining Bernie Williams, a fellow Puerto Rican whom he idolized; and 2) given the superstar players and uber egos in the Yankee clubhouse, Beltran thought he could hide. The Yankees did not want him, though. Instead, they traded for Randy Johnson, and also signed Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, hoping to solidify a pitching staff that was reeling after blowing a 3-0 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox. (Sounds like a familiar refrain. “We need pitching, we’re not focused on position players.” More on this later.)

Wilpon’s astute observation that Beltran is 65-70 percent of the player he was in his prime, is lost amid the gesture mimicking the failed check swing. It was the nonverbal equivalent of calling Beltran “Mr. May.”

On Reyes, Wilpon made it clear he’s not going to pay the shortstop the big contract he’s seeking. Reyes’ value on the open market is yet to be determined; the most common number tossed about by reporters apparently in the know, and talkies projecting Reyes’ worth, is about $90-$100 million over a five- or six-year contract. Reyes is one of the most dynamic players in the game, but persistent injuries — his good health this season notwithstanding — and flakiness he has shown in the past still trails him. Some personalities on WFAN have suggested the Yankees may want him. General Manager Brian Cashman refuted this notion, telling Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts two weeks ago that the priority is pitching, not position players.

And David Wright … One can only think of the contentious negotiations of Derek Jeter’s contract over this past winter, Hank Steinbrenner’s comments about the palatial compound Jeter is building near Tampa, and the back and forth that played out in the tabloids.

Local writers — both beat folks and columnists — excoriated Wilpon for the way he publicly dumped on the faces of his franchise. Mike Pelfrey told the Times’ David Waldstein, “Maybe next spring when we have our media workshop, Fred can come and sit in.” (Thanks, Tyler Kepner, for the great tweet).

Defenders of Wilpon may argue, “He’s paying these guys millions of dollars. If he’s not getting the return, he’s justified in his criticism.” That’s one view, yes. But if you’re as hands-on and supportive an owner as Wilpon is reputed to be, instilling that support and confidence is of utmost importance. Public criticism of your players, especially when that’s not known to be part of your M.O., crosses a line and is viewed as a breach of trust. How are his players supposed to view him now? How much tougher has he made the jobs of his general manager, Sandy Alderson and the braintrust of J.P. Ricciardi and Paul De Podesta? After these comments, does he expect that free agents would even want to come to New York for the Mets? What kind of reference sell would current Mets players make? Now, probably a reference to the Phillies to see if they have a void.

The Daily News reported that Wright was the first to respond to Wilpon’s comments. In an e-mail, Wright demonstrated his maturity and professionalism, saying “Fred is a good man and is obviously going through some difficult times. There is nothing more productive that I can say at this point.”

Wright may or may not have read Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten,” but he ascribed to many of the tenets outlined in the text. Mr. Wilpon would be wise to adhere to the following:

Play fair.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Clean up your own mess.

Let’s see how many he follows through on in the coming days.

Yankee Panky: Follow the Tweeter(s)

The 2011 season marks the 10th season of baseball on the YES Network, and YESNetwork.com. I was there for the first five and remember the trials, tribulations, sweat, tears, conniptions and aneurysms that went into putting forth a top-flight product on a daily basis. Looking at where the overall coverage is now compared to 2002, the difference is like listening to a song in Mono and then flipping to Stereo.

Technology made my job easier, just as it has made the jobs of beat writers and columnists more efficient. Hardware, software and fiberoptic advances made it easier for scribes to file stories on deadline, fact-check, and ensure accuracy of quotes. Laptop computers, digital/tape recording devices, headphones, WiFi access to the Internet, and the Internet itself have helped reduce the latency that previously existed for the written word to reach fans. These products and services were available in 2002, but have become consistently better over time.

Due to the immediacy of the publication and distribution of information of all kinds, sports teams and leagues reacted accordingly. I don’t know what the current Social Media policies are for MLB, or the Press Box protocol for it. When I was covering games regularly, Social Media as we currently know it didn’t exist. If the Yankees had information to be released, they made it clear to both Mark Feinsand — who at the time was the Yankees.com beat man — and I that we could not publish the info to either Yankees.com or YESNetwork.com before the team OK’d it.

It was made clear that we were not allowed to break certain stories. (This most commonly occurred when players were named to the All-Star ballot or All-Star team, and other similar stories.) So, we would load the items into the system and wait for the go-ahead from Yankees’ PR staff. Twitter, Facebook, and other microblogging services must be a nightmare for team PR staffs looking to maintain a certain level of control over the flow of information.

In addition to the publication advances, informational sites like Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and tools like those available at Inside Edge, ESPN.com’s Gamecast and MLB.com’s GameDay do the heavy lifting, to where the writer can provide the originally intended core function: storytelling.

Even storytelling has gotten a facelift. Perhaps no single entity has affected the craft like Twitter. Many of the writers’ handles are affiliated with their employers, so they are easily identifiable. Follow them during games, you can time the tweets of key plays and events to when they appear in GameDay or Gamecast. In a way, it’s replaced the “running” game story that was once a staple of the beat writer’s portfolio.

Some beat reporters use Twitter in a unique and innovative way. For example, Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger makes it part of his modus operandi to Tweet quotes from certain players as they’re drafting their recaps. Maybe those quotes will appear in their stories, maybe they won’t. But the preview gives you the reader a definite reason to check. I’m amazed at the level of multitasking these men and women can endure.

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Yankee Panky: It Didn't Take Long …

… for the new Yankees to make an impact, both on the field and in the media.

Case #1: Russell Martin has proven, at least through one week, to be the kind of stopgap pickup the Yankees needed in order to transition Jorge Posada to the Designated Hitter role, and allow Jesus Montero to develop further in the minor leagues. He’s shown a deftness at handling the pitching staff — in particular AJ Burnett — and is hitting well enough to give opponents pause when reaching the 8th or 9th spot in the batting order.

[And on a side note (Emma Span will appreciate this), am I the only one relieved that the Yankees don't put their players' last names on their jerseys? The Dodgers, like the Red Sox, do not embroider last names their home whites but do so for their road greys, and the "J Martin" on Russell Martin's #55 always confused me until I reviewed his profile page on Baseball Reference. He did it starting in the 2009 World Baseball Classic to honor his mother's maiden name, Jeanson, and then carried that through to the Dodgers. Here, no last name on the jersey, no confusion.]

Case #2: Rafael Soriano. There were reported warnings over the winter about Soriano’s volatile personality, but take that with a grain of salt, since the Yankees have employed award winners in that category like Raul Mondesi, Jeff Weaver and Kevin Brown, to name a few. After Soriano’s first blown hold — I’m waiting for that stat to become a boxscore staple — he pulled a Boomer Wells and left the ballpark Monday without talking to the media. He apologized the next day, but that kind of behavior, in New York especially, is like throwing live bait into a shark tank. Fans allowed Wells to get away with it because at least there was a track record of success with the Yankees: a perfect game, World Series titles, etc. Soriano had one strong setup outing for Mariano Rivera to that point.

Perhaps he got squeezed a bit on the calling of balls and strikes. Some umps will do that. Own up to the fact that you didn’t make the pitches, be accountable and man up. Talking to the media is part of a professional athlete’s job, same as going down to the clubhouse to speak to players and coaches after the game is part of a reporter’s job. Soriano placed more of a focus on himself and extended the news cycle for really, two more days, due to Wednesday’s rainout. Until he proves otherwise, questions abound whether he’ll ditch the media again after another implosion in the future.

It’s right for reporters and columnists to draw that conclusion. Soriano brought it on himself.

IN OTHER NEWS…

* Congratulations to friend of the Banter Larry Koestler, whose insightful post at YankeeAnalysts on Phil Hughes’ cutter landed him a guest spot on ESPN.com’s SweetSpot podcast, with Eric Karabell and Keith Law.

Let’s see what happens with that pitch against the winless Red Sox.

* Mark Teixeira is a 3-run homer machine.

* Strange-but-true stat: AJ Burnett is 7-0 in April since becoming a Yankee. Not that that means much, considering he was winless in both June and August last year. Just an interesting nugget. Thursday’s win put him over .500 (25-24) as a Yankee.

* The rainout pushed Freddy Garcia’s season debut to Friday, April 15.

* In case you missed it, Derek Jeter passed Rogers Hornsby on the all-time hit list and is now 69 hits from 3,000.

Yankee Panky: Oblique Outlook

Dictionary.com lists 13 definitions for the adjective form of the word oblique. As it pertains to anatomy, oblique muscles are those that run at an angle, as opposed to transversely (horizontally) or longitudinally (vertically). In the abdominal wall, the obliques are the muscles that form the side cut of a six-pack. They’re the love handles.

Synonyms, as listed within the aforementioned link, include “indirect,” “covert,” or “veiled.” But oblique strains have directly, overtly and obviously affected the Yankees this Spring, with Greg Golson, Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain and now Curtis Granderson all falling victim to the injury. Granderson’s injury may put his Opening Day availability in question. This is no surprise, given that recovery time ranges from 10 days up to 3 weeks, depending on the severity of the strain.

Chamberlain missed 10 days. He returned to action Tuesday and was throwing 95 miles per hour. Golson also returned Tuesday, after missing 15 days of action. Mitre, meanwhile, was making his first appearance since March 14. MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, in a mid-afternoon post Tuesday, reported that Mitre thought he had a roster spot secured when he arrived in Tampa 6 weeks ago. Tuesday’s start, Mitre’s first since he suffered his oblique strain, may be giving the Yankees pause about adding him to the 25-man roster. The following quotes are priceless.

First, Mitre is confidently unsure:

“I don’t look at it as a setback. I’m hoping they don’t base everything off of one spring start. If that’s the case, then we’ll see what happens, but I don’t think that’s the case — at least toward me. They know I can get people out and they know they can rely on me, I hope.”

Let’s examine this: two home runs yielded, a sinker that didn’t sink, Nova and Colon basically acting in full carpe diem mode. But this wasn’t a setback. Fans have little to no confidence that he can get anyone out. The numbers over the past two seasons prove as much. Plus, he wears the accursed No. 45. From Steve Balboni to Cecil Fielder to Chili Davis to (gulp) Carl Pavano, that number never helped anyone in a Yankee uniform over the last 25 years. And yet I digress …

More from Mitre:

“I don’t think there should be any reason why not. If I still have to worry about that, then I’m probably not doing something right.”

(Insert laugh track here)

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Season Effective Disorder

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.

Snore.

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Yankee Panky: Off the Cliff

We know the following as it pertains to the Yankees in the 72-plus hours since the World Series ended:

* Signing Derek Jeter is the top priority, and the general consensus is that the tennis match being played between Yankees management and Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, is a cover. Jeter will be a Yankee and will get a new contract, it’s just a matter of how long and for how much.

* Mariano Rivera is a free agent also. Like Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees’ exclusive window to negotiate with Rivera ends Sunday. Like Jeter, it’s hard to imagine Rivera, who it can be argued is an even more iconic figure of the recent-vintage Yankees, in a different set of laundry.

* Cliff Lee is on the market.

A few months ago, many members of the media who cover the Yankees, as well as Yankee fans — I’d include myself in this camp — would say Lee coming to New York was a given. Now, it’s not as certain.

Rob Abruzzese over at Bronx Baseball Daily referenced Joel Sherman’s recent column in the New York Post, where Sherman noted that the Yankees aren’t treating the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes with the same level of aggressiveness — others might say desperation — with which they recruited CC Sabathia two years ago. Sherman cites Lee’s age (32) as being a key differentiator in the Yankees’ thought process. Abruzzese notes that the Yankees, still just one season removed from their last title, aren’t in a position where they feel like they have to have Lee. Lee certainly doesn’t have to have the Yankees. He’s proven that.

Since this is the Hot Stove topic, let’s get to it: Should the Yankees sign Cliff Lee, given the cash they’re going to be spending on Jeter, Rivera, and possibly Andy Pettitte? Three weeks ago, I’d have said, “Yes” in a blink. Now, I’m not sure.

Some other things to consider:

* Lee has been to the World Series two straight seasons with two different teams. He’s been with four teams over the past two seasons. In addition to a monster paycheck, he’s probably looking for some stability. This is likely the last chance he has to sign a huge deal. Being three hours away from his home in Benton, Arkansas, the pull of home and the quality of life improvements are tough to compete with. Do the Yankees want to go there?

* Too many years, too much money. Even at 5 years and $125 million, as some have suggested, that contract will extend him through Age 37. Putting a pitcher on the hook for that long is a huge risk.

* Does winning in New York mean more to Lee than winning in Texas or Philadelphia or San Francisco? We say it does because we’re from New York, have an inflated opinion of ourselves, and with that, a tendency to overdramatize the successes of our sports teams. This debate raged for a year-and-a-half with LeBron James. “He’d be a legend if he won here.” Mark Messier was referenced; how he had won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton but cemented his legacy with the Rangers. Conversely, A-Rod did what many others before him did; came to the Yankees to get his title. I get the sense that Lee doesn’t care, and that he’d be happier beating the Yankees than being a Yankee and winning here.

* On Mike and Mike earlier this week, Buster Olney had an interesting comment about the prospect of the Yankees signing Lee, and more specifically, why it wouldn’t be a good fit. To paraphrase, Olney said Lee did not enjoy answering too many questions from the media, even in a postseason setting, leading to questions about his facility and willingness to deal with the scrutiny of the New York media corps that will light him up if he loses a couple of games to the Rays or Red Sox. We might not be looking at Randy Johnson or Jeff Weaver-caliber surliness, Clemens-level denial or Burnett-ish confusion, more like a miffed, frustrated, impatient “I wanna go home” tone.

* Tuesday, per ESPNDallas.com, Lee said, “There’s a lot to build on,” referring to his stint with the Rangers. “We did a lot of firsts for this organization. We were the second-best team in the big leagues. We should be proud of that. We’re going to use this for motivation and come in next year and try to do better.” Tim McMahon, the article’s author, made a point to mention that Lee’s use of the word “we” shouldn’t be mistaken as a commitment to return to the Rangers, but can give a hint to where he’s leaning. Add that Rangers GM Jon Daniels plans on increasing payroll in a clear effort to go after Lee, and the Rangers may make this decision easy for him.

* Check out Lee’s Baseball Reference profile. The most similar pitcher to him through Age 31 is Mark Mulder. Quick tangent: when Billy Beane broke up the Big Three in Oakland, I thought Mulder was the best of that group and thought he’d be dynamite on the Yankees. Injuries derailed Mulder’s career, and not signing him was a wise move for the Yankees. Mulder is now out of baseball, a near scratch golfer and won two majors on the Golf Channel Amateur Tour this year. Lee has proven more durable than “Agent” Mulder, however.

* The Yankees do not have a pitching coach. Externally, that suggests volatility at the core of the coaching staff. (Never mind the fact that the Yankees’ club policy is to sign all their coaches to one-year deals.) If I was Lee, I’d be observing the current landscape and weighing that into my decision.

Is Cliff Lee a must for the Yankees to win next year? The local media, like the Yankees’ front office, have zeroed in on Lee as the focal point outside the organization to their 2011 success. Given the variables listed above, what do you think? Why do you believe the Yankees shouldn’t sign him? (I ask that question because the other one is obvious.)

Put on your thinking caps and hit me up in comments.

Yankee Panky: Midway Ramblings

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.

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Yankee Panky: Intentional Pass?

On Monday, as I was continuing to gather research for the column I thought I’d be writing this week, Alex Belth sent me an e-mail with a topic idea that I found so intriguing, I had to put my other one on the back burner.

Why has Mark Teixeira received a free pass from the NYY fans and the NY media?

Interesting question, no? He hasn’t really gotten a free pass from the Bronx Banter community. We don’t apologize for anybody. Hell, I was still killing Brett Gardner when he was catalyzing the offense. But the question is warranted. It got me thinking.

Naturally, on my way home from work that night, I threw on WFAN and Steve Sommers had the recently engaged Sweeny Murti on to schmooze, and Sommers immediately asked him about, among other things, when Teixeira would start hitting. I wondered if Alex’s question had merit. When the Yankees arrived in Minny, Tex’s line was .209/.327/.378. Thanks to his efforts of the last couple of games, Teixeira is over the .215 mark and a little further away from the Mendoza Line. But the consistency hasn’t been there; he has gone hitless in exactly half of the Yankees’ 46 games. He had the big three-home-run game in Boston and has only four dingers in the other 45. We know Tex a slow starter, but April’s supposed to be the only bad month. We’re nearing Memorial Day, and Mark Teixeira’s numbers look like they should be on the back of Steve Balboni’s baseball card, not his.

(Speaking of the “baseball card” theory, can we put a moratorium on that whole thing? The premise that players off to bad starts will ultimately rise to the stats that appear on their baseball card is just tired. It’s not a real answer to the short term, even if that ultimately will be the case.)

And yet the majority of the local scribes, while maybe not letting him slide, haven’t heaped criticism upon him like the Boston writers have done with David Ortiz both last year and this year. Last season, when Teixeira got off to the slow start, the “he’s a slow starter” refrain was common, and he was still taking a lot of walks and getting on base, which helped deflect some of the criticism that could have come his way.

In all my years of Yankee fandom and in the time I covered the team, the only person I can recall who got similar treatment during this bout of adversity was Bernie Williams. Bernie would routinely hover near .200, .225 or .250 for the first six weeks of the season (in 2002, he was a .236 at the end of April and ended up hitting .333), and then when Memorial Day came around, find his stroke, usually from the right side of the plate, and go through long stretches when he’d carry the offense.

Alex offered up a list of reasons why he thought Tex was getting off easy:

1. The Yankees are winning.
2. He’s a good fielder.
3. He’s good with the media.
4. The Yankees are winning.
5. He plays with A-Rod.
6. The Yankees are winning.

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Yankee Panky: Jay-vee Vazquez?

Javier Vazquez’s second turn in New York is going about as well as the last portion of his first. In other words, like the Brazilian soccer star, Kaká.

The 1-3 record and 9.00 ERA would be remotely permissible if Vazquez showed a certain level of aggression on the mound. He was booed in his first start at Yankee Stadium. We remember Game 7 in 2004 and much of the second half. We remember “Home Run Javy” and that 18 of the 33 home runs he allowed that year came with two strikes. And contrary to popular belief, there are many of us who remember that he completed at least six innings in all but three of his starts prior to July 1 of that year, and that he made the All-Star team.

But the lasting memory is that Johnny Damon grand slam in Game 7 that sealed the 3-0 ALCS choke. Following another debacle in Anaheim that saw him cough up a 3-0 lead and use his fastball sparingly over 3 2/3 innings, Vazquez was this week’s piñata. Craig Carton defended Yankee fans’ right to boo him when some got on the soap box and decried fan behavior (Hell, I booed him from my living room on Sunday). Mike Francesa said that Vazquez is “caught in a situation where he has to convince Yankee fans to believe in him, that he has the guts to succeed here, and that’s not a place you want to be in New York.” He also mentioned that Vazquez “expected to be booed” on Saturday.

The Onion, in its merciless way, included Vazquez in its lampoon of the “True Yankees” myth:

“To have Javier Vazquez don the same pinstripes as Mariano Rivera or Jorge Posada is…well, it’s unthinkable,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said as Curtis Granderson modeled the sterile, black-and-white uniform with a large, boxy, non-interlocking “NY” stitched across the front of the chest. “The untrue Yankees will wear a blank, unfitted ball cap until they have their big Yankee moment. They’ll wear their last names on the backs of their lesser uniforms as a badge of shame.”

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Yankee Panky: Paging Howard Beale

The 1970s featured some of the greatest films of all-time. On my list is Network, which starred Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty, among others. I believe it’s one of the greatest of all-time in large part because it’s still relevant. The theme of ratings ruling success, damn the people responsible for creating the programming, hasn’t changed. Corporations who own the networks need a positive return on their investment. Money rules. Always has, always will.

Howard Beale, portrayed by Finch, who won an Oscar for the role, is a network anchor who is fired due to low ratings. Then, he is allowed to stay on the air and responds by announcing he’s going to kill himself on television during his final broadcast. The stunt, plus his famous rant, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” leads to huge ratings over the next two weeks, in which time the network exploits Beale’s insanity rather than take him off the air.

How does Howard Beale pertain the New York Yankees? Consider the case of Joba Chamberlain. The once-upon-a-time can’t-miss phenom has come full circle. He’s back in the bullpen for the 2010, where he’ll have to “earn” his spot as Mariano Rivera’s 8th-inning bridge. Or maybe he’ll pitch the seventh inning or be a swingman. Joe Girardi still doesn’t know.

Pitching coach Dave Eiland has told anyone who will listen that even in the event of an injury to starters ace through four, or mediocrity from Phil Hughes in the fifth spot, Joba will remain the bullpen. GM Brian Cashman called him a “starter who can relieve.” Joba is taking this like Cush from Jerry Maguire: “I just want to play baseball.”

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Yankee Panky: Spring Flinging

A month into spring training has yielded little in terms of newsworthy occurrences in Yankee camp.

The team announced it would not discuss or negotiate contract extensions for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, or manager Joe Girardi until after the season, which is consistent with recent club policy. Nick Johnson missed time with back stiffness (uh-oh), but then rejoined the lineup (phew!). Indications, per Girardi, are that Johnson will bat second and that speed isn’t important, since Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are hitting behind him. That means Curtis Granderson, who Girardi hinted would be the team’s starting center fielder, will likely bat seventh or eighth, depending on Nick Swisher’s exploits. Granderson in center, coupled with Brett Gardner’s wet-noodle bat, means Randy Winn, um, win(n)s the left field job.

That brings us to the first of three major subsections of this week’s column.

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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.

Yankee Panky: Can’t Winn For Losing

Last week’s signing of Randy Winn was met with a thud the likes we haven’t heard since the Road Runner was leading Wile E. Coyote off of cliff after cliff. The reaction appeared to have little to do with the clusterf— that proved to be the back-and-forth hearsay between Brian Cashman and Scott Boras regarding Johnny Damon. No, it was more that the Yankees actually committed a seven-figure dollar amount to, well, Randy Winn, and didn’t loosen the waistband for the once Unfrozen Caveman Outfielder.

Some of us are still trying to wrap our brains around the pretzel logic that led to the release of a soon-to-be 36-year-old who, despite his defensive foibles, has a stroke tailor made for the New Yankee Stadium and is a perfect fit for the Yankee lineup, only to sign a soon-to-be 36-year-old who is, um, Randy Winn.

There was a great deal of rancor in the Yankeeland Blogosphere in the days following the Winn deal. Over at the Yankeeist, Larry Koestler, a friend to the Banter (well, this Banterer, anyway) likens the Winn acquisition to that of Tony Womack:

Randy Winn…may have at one time been a reasonable ballplayer, but that was back when Honus Wagner was suiting up for the Buccos. I know he’s coming aboard as the fourth outfielder/platoonmate, but sweet Jesus we’d have been better off flushing the money directly down the toilet. It would’ve taken what — an extra $3-$4 million to get Damon back into the fold? We couldn’t do that, but we could spend a third of the presumed cost of Damon on an absolute and utter complete waste of space like Winn? Better to have let Gardner at least try to hold the position down — I’m not even much of a Gardner fan but I’d still rather Grit in there every day than waste any at-bats on the second coming of Wilson Betemit.

Honestly, Brian Cashman knows better than this. Signing Randy Winn and his sub-.700 OPS in 2009 for any amount is craziness. It doesn’t make any sense nor fit with the Yankees’ work-the-pitcher, high-OBP MO.

Oh, but it gets better. The New Stadium Insider notes that Winn was the last straw in pushing a certain 2009 season ticket holder to the point of canceling his plans to upgrade in 2k10.

Backtracking a bit to Koestler’s item, it’s important to note that earlier in the piece, he shows startling similarities between Winn’s weighted on-base average over the past four seasons, and Womack’s during the last four years of his career. Combining Winn and Brett Gardner, you basically have the same skill set (.325 OBP, .700 OPS, etc.). In other words, two people providing replacement-level numbers. Not good if you’re banking on Curtis Granderson summoning his 2007 self and Nick Swisher repeating his regular-season production of last year.

Maybe left-field should be considered an afterthought. Consider that when the Yankees went on their dynastic tear in the late 1990s and early part of the oughts, left field featured the All-Star cast of Gerald Williams, Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry, Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, Ryan Thompson, Chuck Knoblauch, Rondell White, and Juan Rivera. The Yankees made six World Series trips in eight years with that motley crew because the other eight members of the lineup were able to make up for whatever deficiencies existed by the 399 sign. This Yankee team is good, but is it good enough to overcome left field, the unknowns of Granderson and Swisher, and despite their productivity, the ever-increasing age of Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter?

Perhaps a more apt comparison to this year’s left field situation is the right field situation of 2002, when a noncommittal Joe Torre rolled out a combination of Spencer and the inimitable John Vander Wal on a platoon basis. Spencer, despite his desire to be an everyday player, never recaptured the bottled lightning of September 1998. At least, he never came close enough to putting up numbers worthy enough to merit his everyday presence in the lineup. Vander Wal eventually regressed into what he always was: a pinch hitter. The two of them gave way to Enrique Wilson playing right field against the Mets. Wilson misplayed a couple of balls so badly that within days, the Yankees traded for the ball player formerly known as Raul Mondesi.

If history repeats itself this year, Ramiro Peña will have to make an emergency start in left and bungle it so badly that in a fit of panic, Cash will trade for Milton Bradley by the Fourth of July.

This is all figuring, of course, that Granderson is playing center field and not left. Certain pundits on certain afternoon drive radio shows have already put Granderson in left, and have said that Winn was not a terrible signing, Nick Johnson was an upgrade and a solid No. 2 hitter, and Gardner is not a terrible player, either.

We’ll find out soon enough, right?

Yankee Panky: Johnny Dangerously

As of this writing, it’s January 26, and Johnny Damon is in free agent limbo. To date, t’s been a bizarre soap opera of power plays, hasn’t it?

Here’s the brief chronicle of events:

* Scott Boras sets Damon’s “value” at $13 million a year and states Damon won’t sign for less than a three-year deal. The Yankees were amused.

* Brian Cashman, after pulling off the three-team stunner that brought the Yankees Curtis Granderson, counters with two years at $14. Boras is amused and counters at two-for-20.

* Hideki Matsui signs with the Angels Who-Claim-To-Be-From-LA-Only-To-Boost-Marketing-Efforts for one year at $6 million. The Yankees are amused and silently gloat that they might have assessed the market correctly.

* The Yankees raise eyebrows by signing Nick Johnson to a one-year, $5M deal to be the DH, and a week later, swinging Melky Cabrera to Atlanta in a package that brought Javier Vazquez back to the Yankees. Amusement reigned in the sense of irony the Vazquez acquisition represented; here is the man who gave up the home run to Damon that effectively cemented the worst postseason collapse – or greatest comeback, depending on your perspective – in baseball history. As Daffy Duck once said, “Ho ho. That’s rich. It is to laugh.”

So here it is now that Damon, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, has interest from the Oakland A’s (monetary value unknown). Meanwhile, Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees have $2 million left in their budget. Elsewhere, Marc Carig heard directly from the source that Damon expects to have a team within a week. If you believe Bill Madden, Damon overplayed his hand and the Yankees misjudged how much they need him.

That may seem dramatic. Michael Kay, on his afternoon show, discussed the Heyman and Olney reports. He wondered if the A’s are offering $5 million and the Yankees do in fact make a last-ditch, take-it-or-leave-it $2 million offer, will Damon swallow his pride, deal with the “emasculation” of an 85 percent pay cut and sign with the Yankees, or if he’ll take Oakland’s money, since that’s the best offer. Bonnie Bernstein opined that if Damon comes back, when he reports to Spring Training and is welcomed heartily, he’ll reclaim his status in the clubhouse. Kay wondered if the ego blow would be too much, noting that the Yankees management “keeps score” (Kay’s words), and would silently revel in their victory.

The Yankees have been known to wait until February to pull rabbits out of their hat. February is a week from now. There are still some pretty notable rabbits on the market. Judging from the flow of reports that surfaced over the last 24 hours, the Yankees might have smartly waited for the New York football season to officially end before breaking their silence.

One thing is certain: Brett Gardner will not be the Yankees’ starting left fielder in Spring Training. … Right?

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Yankee Panky: Coney Baloney?

Reports surfaced as early as mid-December that David Cone would not be returning to the YES Network booth for the 2K10 season. Phil Mushnick of the New York Post first reported the story, and the rumblings regarding the potential shuffle only increased.

In that initial article, Mushnick mentioned the possibility of Cone taking a position with the MLB Players Association. Rumors abound now that Cone does have an offer for an executive position at the MLBPA.

Cone confirmed one half of the speculation Wednesday, announcing that he would not be returning to YES. The Network’s official statement was released early yesterday afternoon.

Quotes from the respective parties read as follows:

CONE: “My YES deal was up at the end of the 2009 season, and I’ve chosen not to return in 2010 in order to spend more time with my family. If I do return to broadcasting, YES would be my first choice.”

YES: “David was a valued member of our team. He will be missed.”

Judging from the commentary of Joe Delessio at NYMag.com and many Banterers over the course of the week, Cone will be missed. Cone was a consensus “best analyst” choice on the YES roster. Personally, I enjoyed his take on pitching, his ability to recall Yankees history – an especially detailed review of Red Ruffing’s career during a Yankees-Red Sox telecast comes to mind – and the fact that you never quite knew what he would say next.

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Yankee Panky: Grandy, Pettitte

And so it was that at the Winter Meetings, Brian Cashman satisfied two of his major offseason priorities: settling the left field/center field question by acquiring Curtis Granderson in the three-team, seven-player swap with the Tigers and Diamondbacks. On the surface, it looks like the Tigers win this trade in a landslide, getting two young lefty relievers, a hard-throwing righty starter, and a major-league ready outfielder all while shedding $25.75 million in salary over the next three seasons.

The coverage was fairly bland, as it can tend to be when hammering out details of a trade. There were subtle nuances, though. For example, the Post, in my surfing, was the only outlet to cite that the Diamondbacks entered the fray a few weeks ago when Cashman balked at not including Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes in the deal for Granderson (maybe this gives a hint regarding their 2010 status?). ESPN claimed Buster Olney broke the story. How do we know? Jon Heyman tweeted the components of the deal yesterday, and Alex Belth dutifully posted them here.

A couple of items and intimations that appeared everywhere:

  • Granderson’s 2009 decreased OBP and OPS, his strikeout total (141) and average against left-handed pitchers (.183), plus poor home/road splits somehow signaled a decline when he’s in his prime at age 29. Joe Posnanski took those stats and put them in context with Granderson’s career numbers against lefties, adding that he faced tough lefties in the AL Central (Sabathia and Santana), and playing 81 games a year at an unfriendly ballpark for left-handed hitters. Cliff Corcoran took a more analytical turn on a similar premise in this space.
  • Granderson’s personality is perfect for New York.
  • Now the Yankees can more easily make a decision on Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui. Thursday morning, the Yankees were reportedly negotiating with Johnny Damon’s representatives, but in the evening, George King of the Post submitted a story, complete with quotes from Cashman, refuting the earlier reports.
  • The questions as to which Granderson the Yankees will get: the 2008 version that emerged into a perennial 20-20-20-20 threat or the 2009 item that frustrated fans with inconsistent offense and defense, despite the “plus” numbers aggregated in various fielding metric data. And then there is this item, which was not mentioned in the first wave of coverage but could appear within the next couple of days: a NY Times column from William C. Rhoden touting the importance of this acquisition from a cultural standpoint, highlighting the fact that Granderson could bring African-American fans to the Bronx and carry that torch/example set by Derek Jeter. The caveat: with CC Sabathia on the team also, and with him being there first, this may be a non-issue.Most of what was printed centered on the Yankees’ piece to the deal, which was Granderson. Looking deeper, though, I noticed more attention paid to what the Yankees were able to maintain — Chamberlain, Hughes, and Jesus Montero — than what they gave up.

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Yankee Panky: Halladay or Holliday Shopping?

holl

SI.com’s Jon Heyman has been on just about every local broadcast media outlet and the MLB Network the past two weeks discussing this offseason’s Free Agent class and potential trade market, all the while saying, “Don’t discount the Yankees in any talks about Roy Halladay, Matt Holliday, or anyone else.”

This, of course, is stating the obvious. Remember the story in The Onion in February of 2003, shortly before Spring Training started, with the headline “Yankees Ensure 2003 Pennant by Signing Every Player in Baseball“? With new developments in the Halladay sweepstakes, and the Yankees’ additional need for a left fielder — contingent upon what Brian Cashman decides to do about Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon — the Haters could be on the march with a similar headline for 2010. As we’ve seen, however, the Yankees don’t care much about public or media perception when payroll is the topic.

Much of why that Onion-type headline could return is a result of last winter, when the Yankees signed three of the top free agents in baseball to $423.5 million worth of contracts. All of them — CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira — contributed to the World Series title, only feeding the thought that the Yankees bought their championship and leveled the small-market teams’ chances of success. That thought would be, and is, incorrect. Cashman didn’t buy a title, he bought the necessary pieces — buying on need as opposed to greed — to put his team in the best position to win. Cashman has said through the years that’s all a general manager can do, and he’s right. Once the ink dries, it’s the players’ jobs to perform and live up to those contracts.

What to do now? Cliff Corcoran has done his usual yeoman’s work analyzing the team’s needs. It just so happens that the two biggest names being rumored to move would fill two of those voids. Let’s take a look at both Halladay and Matt Holliday, since there’s nothing else better to do leading up to the Winter Meetings in Indiana City, Indiana.

ROY HALLADAY

Per a Daily News report, Halladay told the Blue Jays Saturday that he would waive his no-trade clause to come to the Yankees, if the pieces of a deal came to fruition. (Read: “I would waive the no-trade clause to go to the Yankees because I know they’re on the short list of teams that don’t need to win the lottery to pay me, and I won’t have to deal with the exchange rate.”) This is super-interesting because a week ago, it looked like the Red Sox were all-in and Yankee fans, some of us still in a championship daze, cried a collective variant of “Uh oh.” ESPN made it worse, posting a projected 2K10 Red Sox rotation of Halladay, Beckett, Lester, Dice-K and Buchholz (not taking into account that Buchholz may be the linchpin in getting or not getting the ’03 Cy Young Award winner).

What it means: Nothing yet. This is still very much in the conjecture phase. As the article states — and we know — the Blue Jays want high-end prospects and young players who are either major-league ready or have some experience. The article also notes how the Yankees did not want to travel down this path two years ago when Johan Santana was the soon-to-be-traded pitcher.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver