David Wells threw a perfect game 15 years ago today. Jay Jaffe remembers…
Over at SI.com, our pal Jay Jaffe says the Mets’ moment in the sun may not last.
[Photo Credit: Michael G. Baron]
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]
Alex Rodriguez may return to the lineup tonight. Over at Pinstriped Bible, Jay Jaffe makes a good pernt:
The Yankees are now up four and a half games on the Red Sox, who with a 3-11 September record are themselves just three games ahead of the Rays for the Wild Card spot. Given that cushion, the bigger question is why the team doesn’t give Rodriguez even more time to heal, as there’s no urgency for him to return other than to potentially quell — or on the other hand, further — the anxiety about a condition that won’t fully heal. If Rodriguez were to sit for another series or another week, he would still have five or seven or 10 games to recover his timing before the postseason start. It’s not as though he’s got individual milestones at stake, or that he has to prove anything to the yutzes who think he’s gone soft. As we’ve reminded several times in the recent past, and as the Yanks to a man will acknowledge, it’s all about being ready for October.
Yup, what he said.
Over at BP, the staff looks at the 12 of their favorite basebrawls. Here’s a Yankee classic from Jay Jaffe:
1) Armando Benitez vs. Tino Martinez and the Yankees
At 28-9, the 1998 Yankees had already shown that they were in the business of kicking ass and taking names when the Orioles came to town having lost five straight games to push them under .500. The O’s were on track to snap their streak with a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning when the Yankees drew two walks while making two outs against tiring O’s starter Sidney Ponson and reliever Alan Mills. A Paul O’Neill single off Norm Charlton cut the lead to 5-4 when Benitez, the Orioles’ imposing but immature closer, was summoned for a four-out save. Instead, he served up a three-run homer to Bernie Williams to give the Yankees a 7-5 lead, then blatantly plunked Tino Martinez between the shoulder blades with a 90-something MPH fastball on his next pitch. “That was a real cheap shot,” said Yankees broadcaster Jim Kaat.
Martinez jawed at Benitez on the way down to first base, and the 6-foot-4 reliever dropped his glove. Both benches and bullpens emptied, and things escalated when Yankees’ lefty reliever Graeme Lloyd—a 6-foot-8 Australian native my friends and I called “The Big Dingo”—came charging out of the bullpen and grabbed Benitez’s chin before throwing a few wild punches with fellow Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson joining the fray. Benitez connected on a blow to the back of Lloyd’s neck as he retreated from the mound into foul territory. As he neared the dugout, he squared off with Scott Brosius, who threw no punches but captured his attention while Darryl Strawberry rolled up behind and connected on a sucker punch to Benitez’s head before pushing him into the Oriole dugout. Strawberry was restrained by multiple Orioles at the edge of the dugout, but amazingly enough, the two would square off again minutes later after Mills punched Strawberry while an irate Martinez kept making his way towards Benitez. The second time, Stawberry’s blow was more glancing, and his momentum carried him into the dugout where Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken tried to calm him down. Ultimately, it took around 15 minutes before order was restored and play resumed.
“This is like one of those hockey brawls where the umpires have to figure out who stays and who goes,” said Yankees broadcaster (and former Oriole) Ken Singleton. “To a man, the Orioles refused to muster even feigned support for Benitez,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. “The action of ‘I’ll hurt you if I can’t beat you’ totally misrepresents the Baltimore Orioles’ tradition of good play and sportsmanship,” said manager Ray Miller in apologizing to the Yankees. Benitez drew an eight-game suspension while Strawberry and Lloyd (three games) and Mills and Nelson (two games) received suspensions as well. The Yankees went on to win 114 regular season games and the World Series while the Orioles were swept by the Yankees en route to a nine-game losing streak. They haven’t had a winning season since. —Jay Jaffe
[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]
Itt was difficult to concentrate on the game last night after Mark Teixeira got hit. What happens if he was seriously hurt? Almost immediately, we started talking about it in the game thread. Today, over at PB, Jay Jaffe offers “The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook”:
First Base: While losing Teixeira would have been a major blow to the offense given his current productivity, the Yankees would have no shortage of internal options to cover the position. The most obvious solution would be to move Nick Swisher to first, where he has 256 games (192 starts) of big league experience, and to sally forth with a Chris Dickerson/Andruw Jones platoon in right field, more on which momentarily. Additionally, Jorge Posada, who has 30 games and 16 starts at first, could figure into the picture against righties if his bat continues to show some life. After going 3-for-3 off the bench last night in Teixeira’s stead—including his first two hits of the season against lefties—he’s hitting .260/.374/.351 since May 1, which is certainly slappy but not entirely useless. Eric Chavez, who’s nearing a return to baseball-related activities, could eventually take at-bats against righties as well, and at some point, the Yankees would probably take a look at righty-swinging Jorge Vazquez, who has already mashed 19 homers at Triple-A Scranton while batting a lopsided .280/.326/.564.
…Third Base: The path of least resistance would call for plenty of Nunez and Pena until Chavez is ready. If Joe Girardi smoked what Joe Torre was smoking, the team could spot Russell Martin at the hot corner (his pre-conversion position), which could create some space for Jesus Montero (still hitting a relatively uninspiring .294/.336/.416 at Scranton) to assume some of the catcher duties. Not likely, but not impossible. Another relatively improbable option would involve Brandon Laird, Scranton’s regular third baseman and an object of wintertime fascination around these parts; he’s hitting a disappointing .275/.306/.392 with three homers this year after bopping 25 homers between Trenton and Scranton last year.
What to do with the struggling Ivan Nova? Over at PB, Jay Jaffe examines the options:
While Phil Hughes remains at least a month away from returning — he’s scheduled to throw live batting practice soon, though some would argue that’s exactly what he did during his three ugly starts — the Yankees do have other options should they turn away from Nova. Hector Noesi has been impressive in three relief outings, throwing 9.1 innings while allowing just one run. His 5/4 K/BB ratio isn’t anything impressive (particularly given an 11/9 K/BB ratio in the minors), but he’s shown a proclivity for pounding the strike zone for the bulk of his minor league career; his K/BB ratio on the farm is a stellar 5.1. One of his major league walks was intentional, and particularly during his four-inning major league debut during that epic in Baltimore, the kid — who’s all of two weeks younger than Nova, by the way — has shown some moxie with runners on base. According to Texas Leaguers, he’s thrown six different pitches: four-seam fastball (48.1 percent), slider (24.0 percent), curve (10.1 percent), changeup (7.0 percent), two-seam fastball (7.0 percent), and cutter (3.9 percent). While there may be some classification crossover amid these admittedly small samples, he’s clearly not afraid to use multiple offspeed offerings. Furthermore, he’s getting swinging strikes about three times as often (12.8 percent) as Nova.
Also looming in the organization is Carlos Silva, who has compiled a 22/6 K/BB ratio and a 2.13 ERA in 25.1 innings over five minor league starts, most recently at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has an opt-out clause in mid-June if he’s not promoted, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to imagine that with another solid start from him, and another rough outing from Nova, the Yankees might take a peek before they risk losing him. The chances of the team catching lightning in a bottle with another corpulent castoff aren’t all that high, but Silva hasn’t drawn reports of looking completely washed up as Kevin Millwood did during his slog through the hinterlands.
All the Yankees do is hit home runs. This is a good problem, no? Jay Jaffe talks turkey over at PB:
The real, underlying problem is that the Yankees aren’t hitting particularly well with runners in scoring position. Their .245/.334/.431 line in such instances actually ranks fourth in the league in OPS and sOPS+; they’re 15 percent better than league average in this regard. They’ve accomplished this despite ranking just seventh in batting average with RISP, and 13th — second to last! — in BABIP (.258, 24 points below average) with RISP, because they’re second in isolated power, and third in unintentional walk rate under such circumstances.
Now as we know, balls in play aren’t entirely under control of either the batter or the hitter, though on a year-to-year basis, they correlate better for the latter. The Yankees hit .300 on balls in play last year, fifth in the league and five points above league average; they were at .292 with RISP, one point above average. With a virtually identical cast of main characters this year, they’re hitting .274 on balls in play, 12th in the league and 11 points below average, and 24 points below average with RISP. Yet the Yankee offense is still the AL’s strongest; in fact, they’re stronger relative to the league than last year. The Yanks are scoring 0.96 runs per game (or 22 percent) more than average in 2011, compared to 0.85 runs per game (or 19 percent) more than average in 2010. Yet because a small handful of hits haven’t dropped in as they normally would — and because they’re allowing more runs relative to the league than last year (from 0.14 below average to 0.02 below average) — they’re suddenly too reliant upon the home run.
It’s true that without the home runs, the Yankees would be in worse shape. This is akin to saying that without legs, your ability to outrun a ravenous cheetah would suffer somewhat. The home runs have allowed the Yankees to overcome the days when their offense is otherwise kept at bay. Fourteen times this season, the Yankees have collected at least three hits in a game with runners in scoring position. During those games, they’ve hit .310/.440/.551, averaged 8.14 runs, and hit 1.93 homers en route to an 11-3 record. Meanwhile, they’ve failed to collect a hit with runners in scoring position in 11 games, batting a Posada-esque .187/.311/.363, averaged 2.81 runs and 1.36 homers. They’ve gone 5-6 in those games, which is pretty impressive when you consider that teams scoring exactly three runs have won 36.1 percent of the time this year, and those scoring exactly two runs have won 21.8 percent of the time. Extrapolating from those two figures, a team scoring 2.8 per game should win 33.2 percent of the time, so the Yankees are about 1.3 wins better than average on that score.
[Image via Keep Cool But Care]
Over at PB, Jay Jaffe looks at Brett Gardner’s turnaround:
Gardner has reached base in 10 out of his last 11 starts. As hitting coach Kevin Long said last week, “He’s turned it around. He’s had several good games as of late, and he seems like the Brett Gardner we saw last year. Getting on base, causing havoc, playing great defense.” More specifically, Long noted that Gardner had shifted in the batter’s box: “Basically he moved up closer to the plate. In a nutshell they were pitching him away, and he was coming out of his swing and not able to stay tight and compact on the outside pitch. So he’s moved up on the plate, and that’s helped him a great deal.”
Tellingly, Gardner’s strikeout-to-walk ratio in those two small samples has improved, from 14/4 in the first to 10/10 in the second, and so has his rate of pitches per plate appearance, from 4.13 during his cold spell to 4.46 in his hot one. Overall, he ranks eighth in the league in P/PA at 4.30, down from last year’s league-leading 4.61, though that figure had more than a little something to do with his midseason wrist injury. Interestingly enough, the remade Curtis Granderson currently ranks a surprising second in the AL at 4.48 P/PA.
[Picture by Joseph Holmes]
Your new Hall of Famers:
Roberto Alomar — and (at long last, love) Bert Blyleven.
Barry Larkin’s totals were third-highest, with 62.1% of the vote (short of the 75% needed, but in good shape to get in a few years down the road); Jack Morris managed 53.5%, Lee Smith 45.3% (…seriously?), and Jeff Bagwell 41.7%, so get ready to have that fun discussion all over again next year. You can see the full results over at the BBWAA’s high-tech website of the future.
According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system and series of articles over at Baseball Prospectus, there were eight deserving candidates on the ballot this year: Roberto Alomar, Jeff Bagwell, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell. I wasn’t so sure about Raines and Trammell initially, but I’ve completely come around on Rock over the last year and I’m edging towards being convinced on Trammell. It’d help if the guy had a better nickname, which I believe is not a factor JAWS takes into consideration, but it really ought to be. That’s something I’ll have to bring up with Jay, and I won’t have to wait long because he’s chatting live over at BP this very moment.
For those of you who are sick of reading and debating about the Hall of Fame, exhale. For those who aren’t, have at it in the comments. What would your ballot look like?
Over at Pinstriped Bible, Jay Jaffe takes a look at the Yankees on the Hall of Fame ballot.
As the winter meetings begin, the Yanks have their sites set squarely on Cliff Lee. According to George King in the Post:
“My priority list is pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching — I’ve been focusing on pitching,” GM Brian Cashman said yesterday.
…”When you’re a free agent, we kind of have to dance to their dance card,” Cashman said. “I’ve kind of been reacting to them.
“I flew into Arkansas especially to meet with Cliff Lee and his wife and his agent. I did that very early in the process. I was the first one out of the gates there.
“So, everybody knows I got ahead of everybody else. But it’s their dance card. They’re setting the pace of this thing. I can only wait and respect the process they put themselves in. It took them a long time, they fought through a lot of different cities to get to this point. I’m hoping this will be the last city he ends up in, in New York.”
It will cost the Yanks plenty in dollars and years to secure Lee.
UPDATE: Hall of Fame disgrace continues as Marvin Miller comes up one vote shy. No shock there.
Over at the Pinstriped Bible, Jay writes about Bill Hall:
At some point, Hall began working out in the offseason with Yankee hitting coach and noted resurrectionist Kevin Long, who’s done a magnificent job of straightening out both Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson over the past couple of years. Traded to Boston for Casey Kotchman, Hall found plenty of playing time in left field, at second base and in spot duty at five other positions (including an inning on the mound!) for the injury-wracked Sox, and he turned in a season whose overall line is almost a dead ringer for his career numbers, hitting .247/.316/.456 with 18 homers in 382 PA. Underneath the hood, he had a strong rebound against righties at the expense of a brutal year against lefties, some of which may have had to do with habits developed to succeed in Fenway; he took advantage of his natural pull tendency and hit a lot of fly balls off of and over the Green Monster.
In all, Hall would bring an intriguing skill set to the Yankees, as well as liabilities. Unlike Peña, he can competently fill in at six positions (second, short, third, and the outfield) for weeks at a time in the event another player hits the DL, and he can pop a ball out of the yard every now and then. But he’s got a history of contact woes and widely variable performances; anyone who’d be surprised if he were to be suddenly released in June while hitting .141 in minimal playing time because he’s suddenly forgotten how to hit to the opposite field hasn’t been paying attention. Still, for a few million dollars — and particularly with Long on hand to monitor his swing — he’d be a big upgrade on what the Yankees had on the bench last year.
Upton is one of the most talented young players in baseball. The first overall pick of the 2005 draft, he tore the cover off the ball at two levels at 19 and made his major-league debut that same year. His age-20 season wasn’t great by the standards of right fielders, but was fantastic given his age. In 2009, he followed with one of the better seasons ever produced by a 21-year-old. His hitting .300/.366/.532 in the majors when most players his age were in Single- or Double-A compared favorably with any number of current or future Hall of Famers, a list stretching from Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx to Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.
This season was a different story. Like his older brother B.J., who had a big season at 22 and then went backwards, Upton disappointed with a .273/.356/.442 season in 2010. Ironically, if he had been a 22-year-old rookie, we might look at the season and say, “Not bad. A little inadequate for a right fielder, but he’s only 22 and maybe he builds on this.” Upton had already set a higher bar for himself, so his season was inevitably seen as a letdown.
It is difficult to pinpoint is the reason why Upton had such an off year, but at 23 it is far too soon to give up on him. He has speed, power, good speed in the outfield, and is probably still several years from the center of his prime. He is also right-handed, and though he didn’t hit lefties very well in 2010, in 2009 he murdered them, hitting .377/.445/.762. In games started by left-handers, the Yankees were 31-27 (.534) versus 64-40 against right-handers (.615).
AJ Burnett isn’t all bad, after all. Dig this from Chad Jennings:
“It would be silly for Hughesy not to start,” said Burnett.
…“Joe’s the best manager I ever played for…He’s done more for me this year probably than any manager has ever done. He cares about me as a person and as a player. I’ll be down in that pen and be ready to get one out or two outs or whatever I’ve got to do for him.”
Andy Pettitte starts Game 2: This isn’t necessarily a bad decision, because if healthy, Pettitte is a terrific, experienced pitcher who any team would like to have on the mound in a tight spot. That said, foregoing the opportunity to let Phil Hughes pitch before Target Field’s wall of wind (“The Air Monster?”) seems like an error.
…Greg Golson makes the postseason roster: This is not a bad call as Golson can play defense, pinch-run, and swing at a southpaw in an emergency. Hopefully, Joe Girardi can remember not to make moves with Golson that he wouldn’t have made during the regular season. Otherwise, Golson will pinch-run for Nick Swisher in the fourth inning of some game and then end up getting three at-bats.
[Picture by Chris Giarrusso]