Plus more from Chad Jennings.
[Photo Via Peanut Butter Fingers]
I went to pick up a package at Todd-AO studios on 54th Street once many years ago and the clerk told me it wasn’t ready, said “there must be some kind of misconfusion.”
Which is something like Brian Cashman said today about Mariano Rivera on Jim Duquette’s show. Via Hardball Talk.
[Photo Credit: N.J. com]
Andy Pettitte is on his way but he’s not what the Yanks need writes Tyler Kepner in the Times:
Rays Manager Joe Maddon credited Ron Porterfield, the team’s head athletic trainer, for his pitchers’ durability, but Hellickson said he assumed all teams had the same kind of programs. Cashman said the pressure of New York makes the comparison unfair.
“I know they have a lot younger guys, but Pineda’s young and he just went down,” Cashman said. “I know the innings here are more stressful than the innings there, no doubt about that. Throwing 100 pitches in New York versus 100 pitches in Tampa are two different stresses. The stress level’s radically different on each pitch.”
Maddon said Cashman’s theory was worth considering. In a cosmic way, he could have added, the Rays deserve a benefit from playing before small crowds in an outdated home ballpark. In any case, Maddon said, the starters are essential to their model.
“Without that pitching, all the other wonderful stuff that we are, I don’t think really works nearly as effectively,” Maddon said. “It all starts with the starting pitching. That particular group and that part of our team really permits us to do all the other things well.”
While you are there, check out Hunter Atkins’s story about Joe Maddon–the King of Shifts.
[Photo Via Rays Renegade]
When I heard that Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers’ veteran right-hander, refused a trade to the Yankees last summer, my first thought was “Fine, we don’t want you anyway.” If he didn’t want to play in New York, his loss. Better for him to stay away than become the next Ed Whitson. God knows we’ve seen turkeys in pinstripes, from Britt Burns and Denny Neagle to Jeff Weaver and A.J. Burnett.
So I was surprised when I read that Brian Cashman was pursuing Kuroda this off-season. This after trying to sign him as a free agent last winter as well. What was I missing? Then last month, there it was: the 37-year old Kuroda signed a 1-year, $10 million contract to pitch with the Yankees. Coming on the heels of the trade that sent Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Pineda, the signing was pushed off the back page, yet drew rave reviews from baseball analysts. I e-mailed my pal Jon Weisman, who runs the Dodger Thoughts blog, and he said that Kuroda “was one of the classiest guys to wear a Dodger uniform. A good pitcher who might have the occasional stumble but can usually be counted on to pitch seven good innings. He goes right after hitters.”
Okay, the guy’s a pro. But there’s more to him than that. As Jon said, “It’s hard to feel too low when you’ve got Hiroki Kuroda on your side.”
Last year, his fourth year in the major leagues, Kuroda was having his finest season when he met with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti in mid-July. Kuroda had gotten little run support and had a 6-11 record (from May 12 through July 27, Kuroda went 1-10 with a stellar 3.38 ERA), but as the trade deadline approached, he drew interest from several teams, particularly the Yankees and Red Sox.
Colletti told Kuroda how much he liked and respected him. He’d signed Kuroda three-and-a-half years earlier and admired how well the pitcher adapted to the major leagues. “He takes everything so seriously,” Colletti told me over the phone recently. “He has tremendous focus, even to a greater extent than most players.” The general manager told Kuroda, “I want to give you a chance to experience a pennant race again,” all the while understanding that being traded is not considered an honor in Japan.
“He is someone who takes his time and contemplates every major decision,” Colletti said, “but I could tell that day that his heart wasn’t in it.”
Kuroda liked L.A., where he lived with his wife and two daughters. He appreciated his time with the Dodgers and got along with his teammates. Under the visor of his cap were the characters 感 謝, which mean ‘thankful’. For Kuroda, being thankful isn’t a glib daily affirmation; it is a reminder of where he came from and who he is.
Unlike most other Japanese pitchers who played in the United States, Kuroda was not a star in high school. In fact, he spent most of his time on the bench. Kuroda’s father had been a professional player though he never pushed his son. His mother, however, supported the old school brand of discipline practiced by his coach. Kuroda was strong and durable but wild and was often relegated to pitching in practice. During bullpen sessions, his coach Hidemasa Tanaka told the catcher not to catch any pitch that wasn’t a strike. Kuroda had to retrieve each errand toss and then sprint back to the mound to make the next pitch.
“Pro scouts frequently came to watch our teams play,” Tanaka told Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times. “But no one bothered with Kuroda. There was no point.”
Kuroda wanted to quit many times but he stuck with it, pitching at Senshu University in Tokyo without achieving stardom. It was no surprise he wasn’t a high draft pick in 1997 when the Hiroshima Carp, a losing small-market team, signed him to the customary 10-year Japanese contract.
“The team had a lousy defense and he had to pitch in a small park,” says Robert Whiting, author of “You Gotta Have Wa”. “It was hard for him to put up the numbers he might have if he had played for the Yomiuri Giants, and accordingly, he did not get as much attention as he might have.” Nevertheless, Kuroda developed into an accomplished pitcher with good control.
“Kuroda earned everything by merit, including his chance to take the mound,” says Mike Plugh a professor of communications in Akita City who has written about Japanese baseball for Baseball Prospectus.
Alex Ochoa, the first base coach for the Red Sox, played against Kuroda for 4 years in Japan. Last week, Ochoa told David Waldstein of the New York Times, “He pitched like an American. He got ahead with his fastball and then used his breaking stuff and his splitter to get you out.”
Plugh says that Kuroda was appreciated by baseball fans in Japan, but adds, “The Carp are notoriously stingy. When he became a free agent, even after he showed himself to be one of the best pitchers in Japan, they didn’t want to pay him at first.” When they finally came around, Kuroda signed a 4-year deal. He was a rarity. Since the advent of free agency in Japan in 1992, players have changed teams at will. “Players move about quite a lot these days, usually from less influential teams to more influential teams like the Giants,” Whiting told me. “In this sense, Kuroda was an exception.”
Kuroda wisely had a clause written in the contract that allowed him to leave if the majors came calling. After one more season with the Carp, he declared free agency and signed 3-year, $35.3 million deal with the Dodgers. He was in tears at his farewell press conference.
“I made the decision because I wanted to go one step forward as a baseball player,” said Kuroda. “I would’ve been fine finishing my career with the Carp, but my feelings of wanting to challenge myself in a different kind of baseball grew stronger.”
Perhaps his decision was not necessarily compatible with the need to stay loyal to the Carp. He may have felt the need to repay the debt in full and then take a step up the ladder. Only after he was freed by a sense of obligation was he able to concentrate on personal ambition.
Kuroda arrived in the States with none of the hype that accompanied Dice K in Boston. “He didn’t have superstar baggage,” said Dylan Hernandez. Kuroda was open to changing his approach to fit the American game. In Japan, pitchers only throw once a week and they don’t face the same level of hitters they do in the States. With the help of an interpreter, Kuroda talked with Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and catcher Russell Martin. He also watched a lot of video. “The first year it wasn’t so much spring training as the long season,” Honeycutt told me last week. “We tried to give him a day off when we could.”
The most difficult adjustment was cultural. “You think about it, it’s a very lonely existence,” Joe Torre, the Dodgers’ manager told Andy Kamenetzky who profiled Kuroda for ESPN Los Angeles in 2010. “When you’re changing countries, it’s a little overwhelming.”
In Japan, players don’t seek out coaches so Kuroda was honored when Torre eventually approached him with a friendly pat or a few words. He spent some time on the DL with tendinitis that first year but he had a solid season. He took a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Braves in July before Mark Teixeira broke it up with a single. What made Kuroda’s transition to the majors impressive is that he continued to strike batters out while maintaining the same fine control he had in Japan.
He came into his own in the playoffs. Kuroda had never pitched in postseason with the Carp, yet there he was throwing 6.1 shutout innings against the Cubs in the clinching game of the NLDS. The Dodgers lost the first two games of the NLCS against the Phillies. In Game 2, Phillies starter Brett Myers threw a ball behind Manny Ramirez. After the Dodgers jumped all over Jamie Moyer in Game 3, Russell Martin was hit twice. In the top of the third, with two men out, Kuroda threw a fastball over Shane Victorino’s head. The benches cleared (and Kuroda was later fined $7,500) but he allowed just two runs over 6 innings and the Dodgers won the game. “That was a big turning point,” Torre told Kamenetzky. “You knew he was a competitor, but I think at that point and time you realized what kind of competitor.”
The next season, Kuroda had an oblique strain and missed most of April and all of May. Then, in August he suffered a concussion after getting hit in the head with a batted ball in Arizona. The ball ricocheted all the way to the Diamondback’s on deck circle. “I didn’t know if he was going to get up,” said general manager Colletti. Kuroda went to the hospital and only missed a few starts. “That tells you everything you need to know about him, ” said Colletti. Kuroda didn’t pitch in the NLDS due to a bulging disk in his neck and gave up six runs against the Phillies in the NLCS without making it out of the second inning.
The next 2 years, Kuroda was healthier and he improved incrementally. He went from 183 and 117 innings to 196 and 202; his ERA went from 3.73 and 3.76 to 3.39 and 3.07. His walks stayed low and he continued to strike hitters out.
“He is a nice, no bullshit pitcher who pitches deep into games and is economical,” said Jay Jaffe from Baseball Prospectus.
Honeycutt calls Kuroda a true professional: “He commands the fastball in the lower part of the zone with movement. He’s a groundball pitcher, an attack guy, especially from the wind up, who looks for contact early in the count. With two strikes he will use a hard split finger, 86-88 mph that goes straight down and is lethal. But last year, he also challenged guys up in the zone when he was ahead and surprised them.”
“When he’s really on, his splitty is on,” Russell Martin told Anthony McCarron of the Daily News last week. “It gets him out of trouble. He can throw his fastball at 94 or 95 (miles per hour), though he’s mostly at 92 or 93, so it’s impressive. His slider is different, a really short break. It’s not a strikeout pitch, but it gets a lot of balls off the end of the bat, and his splitty is nasty against lefties or righties.”
Kuroda also became more comfortable with his English and was popular with teammates who appreciated his droll sense of humor.
Kuroda may come across as stoic or reserved but Clayton Kershaw thought he was “a goofball.”
What stood out to me in Kamenetzky’s ESPN piece is this quote from Kuroda: “There’s so much that you can understand about a person beyond words. And since I can’t really express myself, I’ve noticed a lot more, I’m tuned to notice the quality of a person without speaking. There’s a definitely a lot more importance in trying to understand a person without words.”
One Dodger teammate recalled how Kuroda comforted pitcher Jamey McDonald after Macdonald had a bad outing. Mcdonald refused to speak to reporters and Kuroda approached him and touched his shoulder as if to say, “I’ve been there.” It was a seemingly innocuous gesture but one that conveyed empathy and sensitivity.
Which brings us back to the meeting with Colletti. Kuroda thought about accepting a trade but he valued the commitment the Dodgers made to him when they signed him to a 1-year deal that spring. Would the champagne taste as sweet if he won a championship with a team that he didn’t start with in spring training? For Kuroda, the answer was no. A sense of loyalty—or ningen-kankei, the Japanese term for human relations—far outweighed the lure of moving to a contender. He stayed with the Dodgers.
“I wanted that feeling to remain important to me,” Kuroda told Hernandez last summer. “I think your self-identity is defined by certain decisions you make. If you go back on them, you lose a sense of who you are.”
The more I learned about Kuroda, the more I saw how narrow my thinking was last summer. Colletti called Kuroda’s decision to stay with the Dodgers “honorable” and I agree. When the season was over, Kuroda was expected to return to Japan and end his career with the Carp.
“I was surprised that he didn’t go back,” says Dylan Hernandez. “On the last day of the season he was crying in the clubhouse and I thought ‘this is it.’” Takashi Yamakawa, a Japanese baseball writer for Kyodo News said that Kuroda “changed his mind after deep consideration. Kuroda is not young in his spirit. He is an adult.”
The chance to pitch for Yankees meant not only pitching for a contender but pitching for the most famous team in the world. It is the challenge of playing for a perennial favorite, something that Kuroda has never experienced. “My feeling is that he made an exception for the Yankees,” said Hernandez. “They are the best, most visible team in the world. You just don’t say no.”
Kuroda will pitch in a new league, against a DH, and work in smaller ballparks than he did in the NL West. He’s coming off his two most durable years and is at his peak just when physical decline is set to take effect. Oh yeah, he’s also pitching for the Yankees, where the pressure to win is unrelenting.
“The pressure is more than double,” says Yamakawa, who told me that Kuroda went to a doctor last summer when he was having trouble sleeping at night. Unbeknownst to his teammates Kuroda spent two nights in the hospital. The doctor said that stress was keeping him awake. “But he is good at switching his mind when he’s on the mound,” Yumokura said.
Although Robert Whiting predicts that “Kuroda will suffer from the Yankees weak infield defense on the left hand side of the diamond and the home run jet stream to right center,” the pitcher will be reunited with his old catcher Russell Martin. “He was sad when Martin left,” says Yumokura. He said that ‘Martin is the only catcher for me.’”
“Without a doubt it’ll help pitching to Russell,” said Honeycutt. “That’s a huge positive for the Yankees and I have no doubt that Kuroda’s qualified to handle the change.” He is almost certain to get more run support, too. “He might have won 17 games last year with that offense,” said Colletti.
Kuroda is not expected to be an ace but a workhorse. Maybe he’ll have a higher ERA but should also win more games. Kuroda wanted an opportunity to be the best in the world and it seems as though he owed himself the chance to take a shot at it. And while winning a World Series is all that matters in certain quarters in the Bronx, there are some of us Yankee fans who appreciate toughness and effort no matter what the result.
“He is a humble man and not afraid,” said Yamakawa. “But he’s never had that great fame and he is ambitious to be successful.” The reporter thought for a moment before adding a small request: “Please help him.”
[Photo Credit: ESPN, SI; Kuroda meal via Rico and Coco]
Over at Baseball Musings our old pal David Pinto suggests that the reason for the Yankees’ lack of spending could be because they don’t want to get hit with a major tax rate in a few years.
Over at Grantland, here’s Jonah Keri on how Brian Cashman now runs the show in the Bronx:
Perhaps the biggest change in Cashman’s approach has been the way he values the team’s own prospects. Three years ago, he dealt Jose Tabata and three other young players to Pittsburgh for Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady. Two years ago, he forgot the cardinal rule: Never trade anything of value to bring Javier Vazquez to New York. But Cashman has grown increasingly stingy in his willingness to give up homegrown potential stars. He held on to Robinson Cano for years amid swirling trade speculation and concerns about his young second baseman’s unrefined approach, and got an MVP candidate for his patience. He’s resisted all overtures for phenom Jesus Montero, preferring to let the 22-year-old slugger swing for the fences in Yankee Stadium next year, not somewhere else. Though they might still get dealt at some point, Cashman’s refusal to sell too quickly on pitching prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances has resulted in both pitchers maturing into hot commodities with big value to both the Yankees and potential suitors. When the team does decide to part with a top prospect, it can only be if an excellent player offering multiple years of team control is available, the way Curtis Granderson was after the 2009 season.
And then, this:
But here’s the real $189 million question: Are prudence and austerity the right ways to run baseball’s marquee franchise? The Yankees have won just one World Series in the past 11 seasons. In 2010, they had a chance to trade for Cliff Lee, the best pitcher in baseball that year. As with all trade rumors, we can never exactly know what was discussed, and who may have turned down which offer. But the Yankees had Montero and other enticing prospects at their disposal to trade for Lee … and Lee went to the Rangers instead, who rode the lefty’s dominant performance in the ALDS and ALCS to the World Series that year, knocking off the Yanks in the process. When Lee spurned New York’s advances that offseason, the Yankees went bottom-fishing instead, taking flyers on Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Amazingly, both panned out. Still, there was a sense that last season’s team needed another front-line starter to make a title run. The Yankees never got that arm, watching the trade deadline pass without any major activity, then bowing out of the playoffs for a second straight year.
You can now make it three straight years that the Yankees could really use a strong no. 2 starter to slot in behind Sabathia. But the team’s lowball bid on Yu Darvish and lack of strong interest in C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle point to a GM who either didn’t want to spend a ton of money on free-agent pitchers this winter, didn’t like the names that were out there, or both.
Of all the lessons Cashman has learned in the past decade, none resonate more than this: The playoffs can be random, capricious, and cruel. He might still pursue a starting pitcher via trade, sign someone like Hiroki Kuroda as a solid tier-two option, or upgrade the roster in other ways. But if he doesn’t, he can look at a team built with true stars, not retreads, one with rare upside for a Yankees club with Montero poised to improve over a 162-game season. If the Yankees do nothing else this offseason, they’d be a strong bet to get back to the playoffs, where they’d have about as good a chance as anyone of going all the way.
The Yankees have not made a big trade or signed a fancy free agent so far this off-season. There is nothing new and nifty under the Christmas tree. But there is a long time left until Opening Day and even more could happen before the trade deadline in July.
I like that Cashman is being prudent. He’ll make a move sooner or later, maybe something big. The Angels and the Rangers will be in the mix for the AL crown comes 2012, along with the Red Sox, Tigers, and Rays, yet there is still much to be grateful for if you root for the Bronx Bombers. I’d rather them lay in the cut than have the kind off season of dumbness we were accustomed to during the George Years.
“I do think that we have a pretty strong pro scouting department. Our scouts know a lot of these players individually, live near them or around them or played with them or what have you. We get pretty good information. There are certain guys currently in this free agent market who I know have no interest in playing in New York because they flat out told our personnel sometime in the summer. Now they probably wish they didn’t, but that’s good information to know.
“When we start going through our pro scouting meetings, we’ll start going through the player and (a scout will say) ‘This guy does not want to play here. He told me this in this city and he says he’d never play there, doesn’t want to play there.’ Ok, let’s move on. We don’t even cover him any further than that.”
As an example, here’s the story Cashman told:
“I won’t tell you the name, but there was a guy that was on vacation, and there happened to be a Yankee fan that we knew that was on vacation with him in Mexico,” he said. “All he did was badmouth this place, but I can’t tell you how many times he called trying to get a job here when things didn’t go well in free agency for him, and he was desperate to come here, (saying) ‘Oh, I want to be a Yankee.’
“And I wouldn’t even take the call. I was like, you’re so full of it. I even told his agent, ‘Look, tell your client, our people were right there with him drinking those pina coladas when he was badmouthing us. He doesn’t want to play here. He just wants our money.”
Jennings had a great year at the Lo-Hud, continuing the fine tradition established by Pete Abraham.
“Not a big fan of Cash any more, but I do have to give him credit for this year. The Yanks had a strong bench, great bullpen, above average starting pitching. Ironically, in the end, it was the Yanks’ hitting that led to the Yanks elimination.”
— Comment from Banterer Dimelo
The task of presenting an even-handed critique of the man we affectionately call “Cash Money” is surprisingly difficult. On one hand, there’s a record of success — six World Series appearances, four titles — only surpassed by George Weiss (no relation) and Ed Barrow. But there’s the counterargument that it’s easy to be successful when you work for a billion dollar enterprise and can show up, put pictures on a corkboard, affix a few stacks of bills to a sharp object and pick your target.
That perception is not reality.
Consider the pressure cooker. The expectation to win the World Series every year. That standard is set at the Steinbrenner level and trickles down to the fiber of each individual working in the organization. The work conditions, to put it diplomatically, are less than ideal. Forget the Steinbrenner factor for a second. Add Randy Levine, Lonn Trost, and the Tampa Brain Trust, and you have difficult politics to negotiate. This dynamic begat the most common criticism levied against Cashman: that he hasn’t built a team from scratch; that he wasn’t the one making the personnel decisions.
There is evidence to support that theory. Cashman was the beneficiary of the work done by Stick Michael and Bob Watson. Draft picks like Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada had either blossomed or were maturing. Acquisitions like Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez were already in place. Yes, he inherited a great team. It was made an all-time team when the Yankees traded Brian Buchanan, Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Danny Mota and cash to the Minnesota Twins for Chuck Knoblauch. Scott Brosius was picked up off the scrap heap to solidify third base. Those two moves alone proved to be a resounding introduction for the GM lauded as a Boy Wonder long before Theo Epstein.
But looking at Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Raul Mondesi, David Wells Part 2, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright. Do those moves have Cashman’s stamp?
The tension led to Cashman having a Howard Beale moment at the end of the 2005 season. He considered leaving. Eventually, the gentlemen on the rung above Cashman decided to give him more autonomy, and he signed the extension that carried him through the 2008 season.
That winter, he signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher to boost a team that had missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1994 strike. The 2009 World Championship team was all Cashman. Critics say he bought the title. But many youngsters on that team — Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang pre-injury, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes — were able to have an impact because Cashman refused to trade them when presented the opportunities in previous years. Either Wang, or Cano, or both, were on the block for Randy Johnson and Johan Santana. Hughes was dangled as a chip as well. That season was the fruit of Cashman’s efforts to build the farm system.
In recent years, the Yankees have had depth. Instead of Tony Womack or Clay Bellinger, there was Jerry Hairston Jr., and Eric Chavez. Instead of John Vander Wal, there was a homegrown Brett Gardner, and Andruw Jones.
Perhaps the greatest difference in Cashman in the last six years of his tenure is his demeanor. There is a confidence that Cashman openly displays. He speaks to the media more directly and is more of a mouthpiece than he used to be. In some cases, the hard demeanor has backfired. The PR gaffes regarding the management of Bernie Williams’ exit, his silence during the Joe Torre negotiations following the 2007 playoff exit, the Joba Rules and everything that has occurred on that front, the Derek Jeter negotiations taking place in the media, and the Jorge Posada drama this past season all reflect negatively on Cashman. He whiffed on Cliff Lee not long after Lee whiffed the Yankees as a Texas Ranger.
And there are still moments when stories surface that Cashman’s authority has been overridden: The most glaring examples are 2007, when Hank Steinbrenner negotiated directly with Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod opted out of his contract; and last winter when Cashman said publicly he did not want to sign Rafael Soriano, and then lo and behold, Soriano was a Yankee and the heir apparent to Rivera, begrudgingly pitching the eighth inning a season after leading the AL in saves.
The three-year extension made official on Tuesday is the second since that “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” manifesto. If you believe Wally Matthews, the Yankees are meandering. They have no direction. A few recent moves would indicate otherwise: Sabathia is re-signed; Swisher’s option was picked up; Andrew Brackman has gone the way of the parrot in the Monty Python skit. Rafael Soriano’s option, according to reports, is likely to be exercised. Looks like the first priority is shoring up what you have before filling in the gaps.
Priorities are being set. Now that Cashman is settling back in, he can begin establishing the direction, which he has said is pitching. Twenty-nine other teams are doing the exact same thing.
We have seen Brian Cashman grow from Boy Wonder to steely-eyed fortysomething. The winter following Cashman’s last extension featured the biggest spending spree ever. What he spends — or doesn’t spend — could define the remainder of his career in New York.
Only Barrow, who lasted 24 seasons, had a longer tenure than Cashman. When faced with the question, “Who else could do this job?” Weighing all the factors, given what he’s endured, and how well he understands the central nervous system of the New York Yankees, it may be that Brian Cashman is the best person for the job. He is, at least, for three more years.
Anthony McCarron has a piece in the News today about the Yankees’ offense. Here’s a quote from general manager, Brian Cashman:
“Jeter is not hitting up to his ability, (Curtis) Granderson is not hitting for average and Gardner is struggling mightily. Those guys are our foot soldiers and since they are not firing, it makes us look one-dimensional. No biggie. We’re capable of running you down, hitting, hitting the ball over the fence.
“We have full capabilities. We just haven’t shown it yet.”
An innocuous quote. But what strikes me is the term “foot soldiers.” We hear this kind of thing all the time in sports–so I don’t mean to pick on Cashman–where professional jocks are described as ”warriors” who “do battle,” ready to “go to war.” Guys who play sports for a living, often guys who are paid handsomely and are in fact celebrities. These statements are made in an unthinking, self-absorbed manner and should not be taken literally. But still, they are words and words have power and at a time when our country is at war these military metaphors are gross and foolish.
After all the playing time he got this spring, I figured Jesus Montero was likely to start the season with the Yankees while Francisco Cervelli (you remember him) was on the DL. But the Daily News talked to Brian Cashman and, well, it doesn’t sound like that’s the case:
“He hasn’t played well recently,” Cashman said after watching Montero catch in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Orioles. “He’s better than what he’s shown recently, catching-wise.
“He’s been struggling with the bat, and I don’t know if it’s cause-and-effect. I just know that last year he didn’t start catching well (in Triple-A) until he started hitting. And from June on, both went through the roof.”
I’d say this continues Cashman’s offseason pattern of being just a liiiiiittle bit too honest with the media; but if the Yankees were planning on having Montero start with the major league team, this wouldn’t seem to be a particularly helpful thing to say. Austin Romine may be better defensively but he has even less experience than Montero, and Gustavo Molina was an afterthought to even Cervelli, so to me this says that Montero must REALLY not be able to catch, at least not yet. Which is what most non-Yankee scouts and prospect experts have been saying all along, after all.
The team now has a few more eggs in the Russell Martin basket than I would personally be comfortable with. And while I have to assume they have reasons for not having Posada catch even a single game this spring, I don’t feel like I really know what those reasons are. Not that Jorge is any defensive whiz himself, of course, but after all he was their catcher as recently as October. (Concussion concerns would be an absolutely valid justification, but the Yankees haven’t confirmed that as their reasoning).
No easy answers here, apparently. What would you do? What Would Jesus (Montero) Do?
[Photo Credit: Catholic University]
Lazy Saturday in the Boogie Down. Sunny but chilly. Think warm thoughts…Derek Jeter is working hard down in Florida.
Also, check out this interview with Brian Cashman at The Trentonian:
JN: With Russell Martin coming on board, is that an indicator that Montero will probably start the year back at Scranton?
BC: It’s an indicator of who’s going to be the starting catcher. It’s going to be Russell Martin, period. Then after that, the back-up situation’s going to be open for discussion between Cervelli, Montero, Romine, we’ll see. Or all of them. … They all could split time and get a little education in the process.
JN: With Montero, obviously the questions are with his defense. I know the Yankees believe he can catch right now. How far does the organization believe he has to go before its certain he can catch long-term.
BC: We believe he can catch, and we believe he can catch long-term.
JN: What are you and the organization seeing, then, that perhaps other organizations are missing when it comes to Montero’s defensive abilities?
BC: He’s come a long way. The defensive side is something he’s had to work on a long time. I’d liken it separately to a guy like Wade Boggs, who came through the farm system of the Red Sox, always hit, but people said he can’t play defense. He ultimately turned himself into a perennial Gold Glove-winning third baseman. Hard work can close the gap on deficiencies. Derek Jeter made 56 errors in the South Atlantic League. … The minor leagues is (where you) work out your problems, and he’s certainly closing the gap. He’s not there yet, but he’s pretty damn close. We believe he’s better than some starting catchers, defensively, in the big leagues right now.
[Picture by Bags]
Good stuff from Joel Sherman today in the Post. First, from his column:
Look, next month is 22 years at The Post for me, so I like a juicy rogue general manager story as much as the next tabloid nut. I just wish the facts — not appearances — corroborated the story du jour that goes like this: Cashman has gone off the pinstriped reservation because he wants to get himself fired or to end up as a small-market GM to prove he can win big without a huge payroll.
Cashman insisted to me he does not want out. His friends insisted to me that he does not want out. A few weeks back, this guy rappelled down the side of a building for his kids. So if the conspiracy theories are now to be believed, that same guy now is willing to pull his kids from school in Connecticut — and his wife away from her beloved twin sister — all in the name of having, what, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ payroll?
And from this exclusive with Baby Boss Hal Steinbrenner:
As for the Soriano matter, Steinbrenner said he listened to Cashman, but decided to authorize the signing because he felt the club needed an “impact” move this offseason. However, he blessed Cashman’s behavior at the press conference.
“I value his opinion and his advice,” Steinbrenner said. “That does not mean I am always going to go with that advice and all of my VPs know that I might go a different way. There are no hard feelings between Cash and I. There never was. Reasonable men can differ in opinions.
“I keep reading about dissension and discord. We are a well-functioning company. The bosses have a decision to make. Sometimes people don’t agree with those decisions. So I told him, ‘You are always honest with the media, be honest now. Tell them what you have to tell them.’ I was already onto the next decision. I told him, ‘You and I are fine. Answer in any way you want.’ We are not always going to be on the same page. It is my job to think what is best for the family, partners and company.”
Brian Cashman made headlines this morning because he is candid–some call it cunning, others call it self-destructive. He’s in the news because Andy Pettitte hasn’t made up his mind about pitching in 2011 yet, the Yanks are short a starting pitcher and because there isn’t much else going on. Oh, and because Cashman isn’t shy about talking.
I’m still amazed that the Yankees have had a GM for as long as they’ve had Cashman. It’s only natural that at this point in Yankee his career, Cashman has as many, if not more, detractors as he has supporters. I’ve always found him appealing enough as a public figure as far as suits go, and wouldn’t pretend to offer any kind of sound evaluation of him as a GM. His time in New York won’t last forever and Cashman’s place in team history is already secure (fantastic survivor, ineffective underachiever). One thing is sure–he’s good copy, and in New York, that’s half the battle.