The Yankees are currently on a cold streak that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as Mr. Freeze in the god-awful Joel Schumacher film “Batman & Robin” look like an Oscar-worthy portrayal. The Bronx Bombers have become the Bronx Bums, losing four straight, however they did snap the losing skid by beating the Oakland A’s 2-1 this afternoon. The Yanks have dropped six of their last 10, falling to third place in the AL East standings in the process.
Six games out of the division lead behind both first place beasts the Toronto Blue Jays and second place contenders the Baltimore Orioles, the Yanks obviously have some catching up to do. What’s unfortunate about some of their recent bad luck has been, specifically, the players who have been beating up on them.
A slew of former Yankees have come back to burn the Yankees – and as a junior baseball historian (if I may call myself that) I’ve noticed the evident concept of former Yankees punishing the Yankees, and it’s not a series of random isolated incidents; rather a pattern that’s developed over time: all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.
Allow me to demonstrate.
April 27, 1982 – Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson became one of the most beloved Yankees in the late 1970s, helping carry the team to two World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. With three home runs in (the series clinching) Game 6 of the ’77 fall classic, a candy bar named after him, and a tremendous amount of popularity, his legions of Yankee fans were disappointed when management didn’t bring him back for the 1982 season.
So, in his first at-bat in his return to Yankee Stadium, Mr. October showed them what they’d lost.
As a California Angel, he hammered a home run off former teammate Ron Guidry. Yankee Universe was so upset that he wasn’t in pinstripes anymore, that as he rounded the bases they chanted “REG-GIE! REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” in support of its old flame.
George Steinbrenner would later say, “letting him go was the biggest mistake I made as Yankee owner.”
This is where it started.
June 14, 2003 – Tino Martinez
Tino Martinez was not re-signed after the Yankee Dynasty fell in the 2001 World Series, getting supplanted by powerhouse Jason Giambi (to play first base). He went to the St. Louis Cardinals, and was pleasantly surprised when a trip to Yankee Stadium appeared on the 2003 MLB schedule.
When the “Bam-Tino” returned he was greeted with open arms by the Yankee fans; cheers and fond memories abounded the night of June 14.
He dug in to a chorus of applause in the second inning, and took his former teammate Andy Pettitte deep for a two-run homer – much to the delight of all in attendance.
After the game Martinez lightheartedly said, “Andy Pettitte was a little flustered because, here I hit the home run and they’re giving me a standing ovation. He’s like, I really love you, but c’mon!”
And he wasn’t done.
In the ninth inning he clubbed yet another two-run tater, showing the Yankees what they’d been missing. He accounted for all four runs the Cardinals scored, albeit it was a 13-4 Yankee win.
“My teammates were like, this is the greatest place I’ve ever seen,” Martinez continued. “And I said, I told you – this is the greatest place of all to play.”
It’s also worth noting that Martinez smacked his 300th career homer on March 30, 2004 against the Yankees as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He touched up Felix Heredia for the milestone home run in an 8-3 Rays win.
It’s no wonder the Yankees brought him back in 2005.
July 10-12, 2009 – Bobby Abreu
Bobby Abreu was a stellar trade deadline pickup in 2006, filling a void the Yankees needed to plug in right field. He may not have been the best when it came to defensively playing the outfield wall, but man could he swing the bat.
And when the Yankees didn’t return him for the 2009 season, he made them pay.
Like Jackson, Abreu went to the Angels. When the Halos hosted the Yankees for three games right before the ’09 All-Star break, he slammed his former ‘mates hard. The numbers tell the whole story.
In those three games, Abreu went 6-for-14 (.428) with six RBIs and three runs scored. He played a huge part in the Yankees losing all three games – getting swept before a few days off. The Angels beat the Yankees 10-6 in the first game, 14-8 in game two of the series, and 5-4 in the finale.
Abreu also smacked a grand slam on April 13, 2010, the day of the Yankees’ 2009 ring ceremony, off now-Yankee closer David Robertson. He nearly spoiled the day, crushing the slam in the ninth inning, but the Yanks held on for a 7-5 win.
April 15, 2010 – Hideki Matsui
The man known as “Godzilla” pieced together quite an amazing career in pinstripes. Coming over from the Far East in 2003, he was a Yankee through 2009, when he went out with a bang: winning the World Series and collecting MVP honors of the ’09 fall classic.
Yet, like Jackson and Abreu before him, the Angels came calling when the Yanks didn’t bring him back for 2010.
The night of April 15 in his first year not playing Major League Baseball in pinstripes, Matsui took his former teammate Phil Hughes deep in the second inning.
Hughes watched the ball sail over the right field wall at the big ballpark in the Bronx with the countenance of a stiffened corpse.
More from Hughes later.
May 10, 2010 – Johnny Damon
Johnny Damon was one of the Yankees best turncoats, putting on the pinstripes after becoming a revered player in Boston. Following Matsui’s example, he helped the Yankees reach and win the World Series in 2009, stealing two bases in one deft move in Game 4 to damage the morale of the Philadelphia Phillies.
The proverbial “man of steal” went to the Detroit Tigers after 2009, and was pitted up against his old team on May 10 the following season; the Yankees in MoTown for a four-game set.
In his first game facing off with his old friends, Damon blasted a solo home run off starter Sergio Mitre. His round-tripper proved to be significant, being that the Tigers beat the Yankees by one run, 5-4.
Damon wound up collecting four hits on his former team in the four-game series while scoring two runs.
May 14-15, 2013 – Raul Ibanez
Raul Ibanez was as clutch and as solid as they come in 2012 for the Yankees, seemingly creating magic on a nightly basis in the ’12 postseason. Time after time he came up to bat in key spots, and always delivered.
The Yanks let him go after 2012, and he signed with the Mariners for 2013 – and he basically wasted no time showing the Yankees what they were missing.
On May 14 Ibanez teed off on CC Sabathia, warping a two-run homer. He finished the night 2-for-4 with the tater and a run scored, although the Yankees escaped the night with a 4-3 win.
The next night, however, Ibanez stuck it to the Yankees big time.
In the first inning he took Phil Hughes deep for a grand slam, and ended the night with six RBIs and two runs scored. The Mariners went on to win in a squadoosh, 12-2.
April 4-6, 2014 – Melky Cabrera
Melky Cabrera spent 2005-2008 up and down with the Yankees, but in 2009 found a permanent home on the 25-man roster. Like Damon and Matsui he left after winning the ’09 title, getting traded for Javy Vazquez.
One of radio announcer John Sterling’s quirky calls for Cabrera (whenever he did anything positive as a Yankee) was, “the Melk man always knocks twice.”
At the beginning of this season, the Melk man knocked his old team three times as a Toronto Blue Jay.
On Friday April 4 he welcomed newcomer Masahiro Tanaka to the bigs with a leadoff home run; a rude welcome to MLB for the Japanese import. The Yanks had the last laugh, however, beating the Jays 7-3.
The next day he gave David Phelps something to think about, taking him deep in the eighth inning. His solo job paid dividends, because the Jays won 5-4.
The third time was the charm on April 6 – the series finale. Cabrera punished the Yankees yet again, homering off his former teammate CC Sabathia. The Yankee offense picked the big man up, and the Yankees went on to win 6-4.
The Yankees may have won the series, yet three homers in three consecutive days – off the bat of a player they gave away for a lousy pitcher (Vazquez) – is enough to make any Yankee fan face-palm.
May 11, 2014 – Mark Reynolds
Mark Reynolds was acquired by the Yankees on Aug. 15 last year after being designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians. The Yanks may have thought they could catch some lightning; perhaps get a much-needed offensive spark from an unlikely source.
In all, Reynolds played 36 games in pinstripes. He finished his short-lived Yankee career with six homers, 19 RBIs, 15 runs scored and with a .236 BA. However, combining his numbers with the Indians, he finished 2013 overall with 21 home runs, 67 RBIs, a .220 BA and 55 runs scored.
Not too bad, but maybe his low batting average and his strikeout count from ’13 (154) was too much for the Yankees. Whatever the reason, they allowed him to walk and he caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers.
On Mother’s Day this year, as fate would have it, Reynolds had a chance to remind the Yankees what they let go of when he was at the plate with a runner on third in a 5-5 game at Miller Park in the bottom of the ninth.
Reynolds wrapped a single to left field to plate Rickie Weeks, giving the Brew Crew a walk-off, 6-5 win over the Yankees.
A former player burned the Yankees yet again, and something else to chew on: Reynolds has 13 homers this year and 28 RBIs – more than the Yankees’ team leader in both categories. Mark Teixeira leads the Yanks in homers with 10 and RBIs with 27.
May 12-13, 2014 – Curtis Granderson
Not long after Reynolds made the Yankees remember him, Curtis Granderson gave them a grim reminder of how deadly he can be. Granderson, a Yankee from 2010-13, became a fan favorite while in pinstripes. His stroke was perfect for Yankee Stadium, and it showed.
When his four-year Yankee career was all said and done, Granderson finished with 115 homers (for the Bronx Bombers, not counting his time in Detroit) and 307 RBIs. Yet a cumulative batting average of .242 – and an injury plagued 2013 – most likely made the Yankee brass shy away from bringing back the “Grandy Man.”
That’s when the cross town Mets came calling. Granderson answered for four years and $60 million.
When he returned to Yankee Stadium May 12, Granderson took his old buddy Hiroki Kuroda deep in the sixth inning, a two-run bomb that proved significant: the Mets beat the Yanks by two, 9-7.
The very next night he showed the Yankees up again, this time with a three-run tater in the top of the first off Vidal Nuno. The Mets wound up winning 12-7, taking two Subway Series games at the big ballpark in the Bronx.
Lucky for the Yankees he cooled off when the Subway Series took the Citi Field: Granderson went 0-for-7 in the final two rivalry games with three strikeouts.
June 1, 2014 – Phil Hughes and Eduardo Nunez
Phil Hughes came up in 2007, dubbed by The Sports Illustrated the “next Roger Clemens” or in SI’s own words, “the pocket rocket.” Hughes was anything but, finishing his tenure in New York with a record of 56-50. Last year alone, his final year in pinstripes, he went 4-14 with an ERA of 5.19, letting up 170 hits in 145 2/3 innings.
Altogether he allowed 112 home runs as a Yankee pitcher, so naturally the Bombers had a chance to chastise him for all that grief this past Sunday, when he made his return to Yankee Stadium as a Minnesota Twin.
No such luck.
Hughes tossed eight innings of two-run ball on just three hits. He walked only two and struck out six, on the way to his sixth win of 2014. The Yanks couldn’t figure out their former middle-of-the-rotation hurler.
And it only got worse.
Earlier this year the Yankees opted to designate shortstop Eduardo Nunez – the untouchable piece they wouldn’t let go of in a deal that would’ve sent ace Cliff Lee to the Yankees in a potential 2010 trade that fell through. Nunez was acquired by Minnesota on April 7.
On Sunday the Twins took a 3-2 lead in the ninth – doable, perhaps, for the Yankees to battle back from. But Nunez came up and doubled in Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier, padding the Twins’ lead. Thus, the game was out of reach and the Yanks ended up falling 7-2.
A double dose of former Yankee torture.
April 29, May 1, & June 2, 2014 – Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano is not welcome at Yankee Stadium anymore, as evidenced by these three games. After inking a lucrative deal with Seattle this offseason, leaving Yankee fans high and dry, it seemed, Cano made his return to Yankee Stadium on April 29.
An RBI and a run scored on Cano’s part helped the Mariners win a 6-3 game against the Yanks.
A rainout pushed the second game of the series back a day, and on May 1, Cano snatched another hit off his old team and drove in two more runs. Seattle won 4-2.
The makeup of the rainout happened this past Monday night; Cano went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two walks. Seattle once again bested the Yankees, 10-2.
The numbers don’t exactly leap off the page, but looking at the box scores closely, the former beloved second baseman quietly helped slam the Bombers down in the Mariners’ games vs. New York this year. Cano still has a chance to do more damage on his former ‘mates next week, when the Mariners host the Yanks June 10-12 at SafeCo.
And more damage was exactly what Cano did. The slugging second baseman once adored by Yankee fans and now reviled homered off Masahiro Tanaka in the ninth inning to break up a shutout, although the Yankees won 4-2.
After all this proof one has to wonder what’s next. When the Yankees host the Tigers Aug. 4-7, is Joba Chamberlain going to record some saves on the Yankees?
Will Hughes throw a perfect game vs. them when the Bombers go to Target Field on July 3? Is Cabrera going to smack three more home runs off Yankee pitching on June 17, when the Yankees get back from their upcoming road trip and host the Blue Jays?
It wouldn’t be shocking if they did. Because it’s as factual as it gets.
All ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.
July 10 – UPDATE!
As I typed this blog up on June 4-5, I continually had to go back and keep adding to it. Now, a little over a month later, (not thinking it was possible) I am returning to pile on even more pain caused by former Yankees.
Steve Pearce – June 20-22, 2014
If you blinked at all during the 2012 season, you may have missed Steve Pearce. He was acquired by New York from the Astros for cash on Aug. 27 and designated for assignment on Sept. 25, probably going hardly noticed bysome fans.
A journeyman, he made his way to the Orioles this year – and made sure the Yankees knew what they’d willingly given up not even two years ago.
On June 20 Pearce went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored in what would’ve been an Orioles win over the Yanks had it not been for some late-game heroics off the bat of Carlos Beltran.
The next day Pearce duplicated his performance from the day before; in fact he did it in more spectacular fashion. Pearce homered off Vidal Nuno, a two-run tater that helped lead the O’s to a 6-1 win over the Yankees.
In the series finale he finished off his assault with a 2-for-4 clip. In that three-game set, overall he went 6-for-13 with a homer, four RBIs, two runs scored and two walks.
Not bad for a guy the Yankees axed right before the playoffs. He’ll have a chance to leave more of a lasting impression on his old team this weekend, as the O’s host the Yankees right before the All-Star break.
Nick Swisher – July 7-10, 2014
The “Swisher Salute” was a staple of every roll call at the outset of every Yankee home game from 2009-2012, but when Nick Swisher got offered a huge deal from the Cleveland Indians, it was time to say goodbye to the beloved right fielder.
This week Swisher darn sure made the Yankees pay for giving him up.
On Monday night he took a mighty hack and broke up Shane Greene’s no-hitter in the fifth inning, homering over the big wall in left-center field.
That’s right. One Swisher swing; no-hitter gone, shutout gone. Yet it made little difference, because the Yankees went on to get the better of the tribe, 5-3.
However Tuesday night, he took another swing that surely made a difference.
Off Tanaka, the Yankee ace, Swisher smacked a go-ahead two-run homer over the wall in right-center to give the Indians a 4-3 lead. Cleveland would go on to hand the Yanks a 5-3 loss, playing to win from behind.
If that wasn’t enough, on Wednesday Swisher was at it again; knocking in two runs with a single right away in the first inning off new Yankee starter Brandon McCarthy. The Yankees would fight back and take that game 5-4 in 14 long innings, but just for good measure, Swisher added a base hit in the series finale tonight – which ended in a 9-3 victory for the Indians
Chris Dickerson – July 7-10, 2014
Believe it or not, Chris Dickerson was originally drafted by the Yankees in 2000, but opted for college instead of pro ball. He was good enough to be drafted again, the second time by the Cincinnati Reds. After making his MLB debut in Cincy in 2008 and enjoying a stint with the Brewers, he was eventually picked up by the original team that drafted him in a deal that sent Sergio Mitre to Milwaukee.
Dickerson was up and down with the Yankees throughout 2011 and 2012, but they ultimately designated him for assignment and released him.
The reason? An overabundance of left-handed hitters.
Great reason to cut somebody, right?
A free man, he went to the Orioles and Pirates before finding a home recently with the Indians. In this past four-game set this week, Dickerson collected seven hits and scored four runs on the Yankees.
That’s not even the best part.
In an even funnier story, last year when he was with Baltimore, he clubbed two homers off Phil Hughes on May 21 – this of course being in 2013, when Hughes was still wearing pinstripes.
Dickerson gets bonus points: he went back-to-back; killed the Yankees last season and this season.
I’m just going to go ahead and end this post with,
To be continued….
UPDATE! Sept. 23
Yes. There is more.
Kelly Johnson – Sept. 14, 2014; Sept. 23, 2014
Kelly Johnson, we barely knew ye. This year Johnson became the first player ever to put on the uniform of every team in the AL East. In fact, in 2014 alone he’s played with three of the five beasts from the east. He started with the Yankees in New York, where he played 77 games and hit .219 with six homers and 22 RBIs.
At the trade deadline Brian Cashman swapped him for Stephen Drew, shipping him over to Boston. Johnson played in just 10 games with the reigning champs and batted .160 with no homers and just one RBI.
The Red Sox let him go and the Baltimore Orioles took him from there.
On Sept. 14, in a Sunday night game the Yanks needed to take from the O’s for the sake of the standings, Johnson delivered the death blow in a 2-2 game; an RBI double capping a ninth inning Orioles rally to finish off the pinstripers by a count of 3-2.
Johnson proved yet again that all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees Sept. 23 in the Bronx when he homered off Brandon McCarthy. He finished the night 3-for-5 with the round-tripper, in what turned out to be a 5-4 Baltimore win over New York.
It was almost laughable when the Yankees were a cool10 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East standings on July 18, but right now, there is nothing to laugh about. July 18 is practically a lifetime ago, and the Yanks are now only a slim 1.5 games up on the O’s with just nine games left in the 2012 regular season.
Now, the Yankees and Orioles in a nose-to-nose race, the AL East Division will more than likely come down to the last day of the season – the winner claiming the East and the short straw punching a ticket to a one-game Wild Card playoff.
On a positive note for New York, the Yankees have caught some late-season magic, never more evidenced than by Saturday afternoon’s thrilling 14-inning, 10-9 victory over the Oakland A’s at home.
Locked up at 5-5 in the 13th inning, Oakland managed to plate four runs to untie the game on the strength of three home runs. Trailing 9-5 in the bottom of the frame, defeat looked imminent for the Bombers.
But they made sure to make it interesting.
In a stroke of sheer resiliency, the Yankees scored four runs to knot the game up, highlighted by a huge two-run home run off the bat of Raul Ibanez. The next inning, Eduardo Nunez reached on an error allowing Ichiro to come home for the win.
It wasn’t the cleanest victory of 2012, but it was probably the most meaningful. All season long, the Yanks have fallen when they trailed after the eighth inning but on Saturday afternoon they proved they can win in the face of a sure loss; they gave us a taste of the old days of 2009.
While the Yankees were experiencing a radical win, I was experiencing something just as fun – meeting pro wrestling and pop culture icon, Hulk Hogan.
The Hulkster was signing autographs and making an appearance at a wrestling show at Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, N.Y. – the same Stadium I spent most of my summer nights this year, covering the Hudson Valley Renegades.
My cousin Joe and I patiently waited on line for several hours, but it was worth it. Once we got to the front, I shook Hulk’s hand, which is about as large as a tree trunk, and told him what an honor it was to meet him. Hulk was as nice as can be about it.
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine, brother! It’s good I got you protecting me now, you’re a young guy!”
Joe was mesmerized, being a huge “Hulkamaniac” (or in other words a fan of Hulk’s) since he was five years old. We each gave Hulk a “bro-hug,” if you will, after we took pictures with him. He joked for a minute with Joe, nearly hip-tossing him, and then we were on our way.
I have to say, meeting Hulk was pretty cool; a nice little memory I’ll hold onto. During the show he went face-to-face with one of his old foes from back in the day, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. It was pretty surreal; almost felt as if we were thrown into a time machine and sent back to 1985, the year Hogan and Piper headlined the first WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden.
On a side note, super heavyweight wrestler Vader also made an appearance. From the front row, I led the crowd in a Boy Meets World chant, as he held a recurring role as Frankie’s dad (for fans of the show who would know that). In fact, he wrestled Jake “the snake” Roberts in an episode, on the night of Topanga’s Sweet 16 party.
Vader saw me yelling Boy Meets World, smiled and shook his head. Then he looked at me from the ring and simply said,
“Ok, Ok. We got it, we got it…”
I was driving home from covering a high school basketball game tonight and I felt like the General Manager of a baseball team – or maybe more accurately a Yankees beat writer. My good friend Brian text messaged me, breaking the big news. I immediately called him, and we began discussing the moves and the circumstances surrounding the transactions the Yankees made.
Just when we all thought this off-season for the Yankees was dead, tonight happened. A pulse; some life in the dead of winter. The Yankees made a huge trade, swapping rookie catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero and reliever Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for flame-throwing, right-handed starter Michael Pineda and Single-A righty Jose Campos.
You’d think that would be enough for one night, but the Yankees weren’t done.
Along with swapping Montero for Pineda, they deepened their rotation with the signing of Free Agent starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who had been with the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008.
Just like that, the Yankees have some pitching depth.
Pineda has the potential to serve the Yanks as a viable number two starter behind CC Sabathia – a role A.J. Burnett has failed to live up to these past two seasons. Kuroda can help fill the middle and back end of the rotation, along with Burnett, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia.
Obviously with seven starters, the Yankees’ hurlers will be seriously duking it out in Spring Training for a spot in the suddenly-populated rotation. There were some rumblings after the Pineda deal was finalized that Hughes could be on the block, yet nothing is confirmed or set in stone. But trading away one of the excess starters is another story for another day; a bridge that can be crossed when the Yankees get to it.
Right now let’s look at what the Yankees gained and what they gave up.
Pineda was an All-Star in his first MLB season last year, finishing 2011 with a record of 9-10 and a 3.74 ERA. The 22-year-old (23-year-old on Wednesday, Jan. 18) logged 171 innings and struck out 173 batters over that span. He gave up 133 hits and walked 55 of the 696 batters he faced.
Pineda finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting – behind his new teammate Nova, who came in fourth place in the voting.
His numbers were acceptable for a rookie last year and for a 22-year-old kid to be handed the number two spot in the Seattle rotation behind Felix Hernandez – a rotation that didn’t exactly receive a great amount of run support – and flourish the way he did was nothing short of remarkable.
Although his overall numbers were stellar (all things considered) his line against the American League East teams kind of turns me off. Pineda had a 4.73 ERA in nine starts against AL East opponents. It almost goes without saying that as a Yankee starter, he will be expected to be able to beat the Boston Red Sox.
Case in point: July 24, 2011 vs. the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Pineda allowed seven earned runs on eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out four batters and walked one, as the Red Sox topped the Mariners, 12-8. Five of Pineda’s seven runs surrendered came in the first inning; pounded from the get-go.
Looking at that example doesn’t make me feel great about the trade.
I think the best thing the Yankees can do is let Pineda be himself; stretch him out and allow him to throw as many innings as he did last year, if not more.
What they can’t do is put him on an innings limit, given his age, and turn him into another version of Joba Chamberlain. I would also hope the Yankees learned the first time, and will choose to either permanently place him in the bullpen or in the rotation without switching him in and out.
Please. No “Pineda Rules.”
Considering what they gave up, I’m going out on a limb, but thinking the rotation is where we’ll be seeing Pineda.
While it remains to be seen how he fairs in Spring Training (let alone in the Bronx this upcoming year) I know one thing is for sure: whatever they do with him, they need to be careful. Otherwise they’ll end up with another young arm that needs Tommy John surgery. They wanted to avoid Tommy John altogether in Chamberlain’s case, and in the end he wound up needing it anyway.
As far as what they gave up: we barely knew Montero, although we knew the Yankees were preserving him for a long time. The 22-year-old powerhouse was called up in September and put on a little bit of a hitting show in the 18 games he played in ’11.
Montero clubbed four homers in 61 at-bats with four doubles, 12 RBIs, seven walks, nine runs scored, and 20 hits. Overall he notched a .328 batting average and secured a .590 slugging percentage.
For his short time in the show, he has certainly made it count.
Overall, I see this as a trade that could basically be a win for both sides. Seattle gets a power bat and a DH, something they hadn’t exactly possessed these past few years. The Mariners also have to realize they received a player who could be the 2012 Rookie of the Year, if he has a so-called “coming out party” this season.
Montero could do it. I have no doubt in my mind.
In return the Yanks get a potential number two starter, something they’ve had the last two years but haven’t had consistently. Hughes was the Yanks’ number-two man in 2010, but seemed to pitch with a tired arm down the stretch. Plus, we all saw how poorly he pitched in the ALCS vs. Texas.
Nova turned into the number-two starter last year – and let’s not forget that he left the deciding game of the ALDS vs. Detroit with an apparent arm injury. The Yankees needed that consistent second guy, and now they might have him.
And not only do they have a number two starter, they added a middle man: Kuroda.
Since 2008 for the Dodgers the 36-year-old Kuroda is 41-46 with an ERA of 3.45. Last year he tossed 202 innings giving up 77 runs on 196 hits while fanning 161 batters and walking 49. He also recorded 13 wins, a career-high for him in MLB. The Yanks signed him to a one-year contract worth about $10 or $11 million.
He was never an All-Star and he isn’t the flashiest pitcher in the world, but he provides the Yankees with a little bit of depth. If he can give them 10-12 wins from the third, fourth, or even fifth spot in the rotation, they have made a good move.
There are only two things I see working against him:
1) The fact that he’s pitched his entire career in the National League.
2) The Yankees’ history with Japanese starting pitching.
If Kuroda can adapt to AL hitters, learn to work in and out of trouble – and shed the stereotype Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa left for him – I know he will do fine.
Now that the Yankees have a stacked rotation, essentially they gave away their designated hitter in Montero. It frees up a huge spot in their already-potent lineup and it begs the question: who will DH for the Yankees in 2012?
Will they sign Carlos Pena?
Is Johnny Damon coming back to New York?
Was giving away the DH a ploy by Brian Cashman to set up the signing a very powerful Free Agent?
Let the speculation begin…
“What a mix we have goin’ on for the last two innings.
Sitting alone upstairs, owner Gary Wheeler…reportedly has already sold his ball club, the Tigers, to the corporate group in the box to his left.
Now an unconfirmed report beginning to ripple the water…that the corporate’s first business…would be to trade Billy Chapel when the season is over.
So as so often happens in a ball game, there are so many other undercurrents; so many more things that meet the eye.” – Vin Scully in “For Love of the Game” (1999)
The biggest move the Yankees made last off-season was the signing of Rafael Soriano – and some might argue that it wasn’t even a big signing at all. Aside from that and maybe the minor acquisition of Russell Martin, the Yankees who are normally alive during the winter meetings were basically dormant.
The same can be said about this off-season, thus far.
Baseball’s winter meetings kicked off this past Monday in Dallas and there has not been much to report on as far as the Bronx Bombers are concerned. The Yankee brass has not yet signed or agreed to terms with any of the top free agents.
It doesn’t mean they haven’t tried however, winning the bidding to first negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 29-year-old middle infielder possesses a lifetime batting average .302 with 149 career home runs, 664 RBIs, and has stolen 134 bases in his career in the Far East.
How that will translate in the United States remains to be seen – as does whether or not the Yankees will sign him. Sources at the meetings said the Yankees may not even land him, despite winning the right to talk with him before any other team.
I mean really, what’s the point of signing him anyway? Unless they believe Nakajima is Derek Jeter’s heir, then why negotiate with him and attempt to sign him in the first place, especially when starting pitching is more vital to the Yankees than another infielder.
If they do sign him, it could mean the end of Eduardo Nunez’s Yankee tenure, one way or another. They could potentially package Nunez in a trade for a starter, then utilize Nakajima as a backup infielder.
Speaking of starting pitching, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson are both off the market, as they have signed lucrative deals with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Buehrle followed his former manager Ozzie Guillen to South Beach for a contract worth four years and $58 million.
Meanwhile Wilson left the Texas Rangers for the Angels, a division rival. I suppose five years and $77.5 million will make him a richer and happier man – along with having Albert Pujols as a new teammate.
Pujols is coming off statistically his worst season: 147 games played, 37 home runs, 99 RBIs, and a .299 batting average. He is probably the only player in baseball who could call that his worst season, because any average player would kill for that kind of “off year.”
Yet he recovered with a remarkable postseason; five homers, 16 RBIs, .356 BA, and his second World Series ring. And after all that, “Phat Albert” took his talents to the west coast.
It surprised me, considering Pujols is basically the face of the Cardinals’ organization. He will probably be considered a legend in St. Louis for years to come, despite his abrupt and rather unceremonious departure. He now has the opportunity to make himself a legendary name in Anaheim.
Remember: Reggie Jackson’s number is retired in both New York and Oakland.
But I digress; back to the subject at hand: the Yankees and starting pitching. They may have lost out on Buehrle and Wilson but the Bombers may have one last chance to make a splash and sign a big ticket free agent starter:
The 25-year-old phenom holds a professional record of 93-38 with an ERA of 1.99, and has collected several accolades in Japan including the Pacific League MVP twice (’07, ’09).
Last year I interviewed Brian Sweeney, a former Seattle Mariners reliever who played with Darvish in Japan on the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Sweeney called Darvish “a classy individual” and “an excellent player.”
Any team could always use a classy and excellent player. He’ll most likely fit in wherever he lands.
ESPN insider Buster Olney reported earlier today that the Yankees feel “lukewarm” about bidding on Darvish. Rightfully so, considering the Yankees have had bad luck with highly-regarded Japanese starting pitchers in the past.
Hideki Irabu was thought to be a one of the best hurlers in the Far East, having led the Pacific League in wins (15) in 1994 and ERA in 1995 (2.53) and 1996 (2.40). He also led the PL in strikeouts in 1995 and 1996 (239 in ‘95 and 167 in ‘96).
Those league-leading numbers didn’t help him when he went 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in the U.S. – and those nice stats were far from everyone’s mind when then-Yankee owner George Steinbrenner called Irabu a “Fat, p***y toad.”
Kei Igawa was another pitcher the Yanks had on their radar and eventually signed for five years and $20 million. They had such high aspirations for him, taking his numbers in Japan into account: 86-60, a 3.14 ERA, and 1,174 Ks.
His overall numbers at the MLB level in the U.S., dating back to when the Yanks signed him prior to 2007: 2-4, 6.66 ERA and just 53 strikeouts.
Igawa obviously did not turn out to be what the Yankees had hoped for. In the eyes of most Yankee fans, the team spent $20 million for two wins and a minor league starter.
That being said, anyone can understand the Yanks’ reluctance to go after another Japanese starter in Darvish. If the Bombers do go after him and he happens to land in the Bronx he will be expected to accomplish a lot. Maybe not 20 wins in his first season, but a convincing winning record and a low ERA are not out of the question.
And that can be said of whatever team he goes to, not just if he goes to the Yanks.
We probably won’t know for a long time where Darvish will go – and we’ll have to wait even longer to find out if he lives up to the hype.
I don’t usually agree with people associated with the Red Sox – very rarely does that ever happen. But Boston manager-turned-baseball analyst Terry Francona said probably the smartest thing an analyst can say about the winners and losers of the winter meetings:
“Winning the winter meetings doesn’t mean winning the pennant.”
Francona should know that better than anyone. Looking at last year, the Red Sox won big at the winter meetings and didn’t even make the postseason, suffering a gigantic September collapse.
The Red Sox spent a fortune and signed big ticket free agent after big ticket free agent, only to choke worse than Mama Cass did on that…ham sandwich.
Bottom line: on paper does not win ballgames. I hope the Angels and Marlins both understand that.
As for the Yankees: they have a chance to make a splash – and even a chance to make a blockbuster trade – before they head to Spring Training.
But at least for now, like last year, all is quiet on the Yankee front.
Today the Yankees beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 in Tampa, leaving only three more Grapefruit League games left on the schedule before they start playing for real on Thursday. The highlight of the afternoon was a towering, two-run homer off the bat of Alex Rodriguez that flew over the batter’s eye in centerfield, his sixth round-tripper of the spring.
A few decisions and moves were made recently, most notably the trade of Sergio Mitre, the signing of Kevin Millwood, and the naming of the fourth and fifth starting pitchers.
Yesterday Mitre was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Chris Dickerson. In this afternoon’s win over the Bucs, Dickerson made his Yankee debut and put on quite a hitting show. The 28 year-old pounded out three hits (including a double) in three at-bats while knocking in a run.
Unfortunately Dickerson was forced to leave the game with an apparent hamstring injury after notching his third hit. As of this point, the Yankee medical staff can only diagnose his injury as “spasms and cramping.”
Tough luck for the kid to go down – especially following such an impressive debut. What’s more, it hurts the Yankees, being that Curtis Granderson is not yet confirmed to be playing on Opening Day in light of his oblique injury. Yesterday Granderson did some running and agility drills, as he hopes to avoid beginning the 2011 season on the disabled list.
Millwood, 36, was signed just yesterday. He owned the worst record in baseball last year, going 4-16 for the Baltimore Orioles with a 5.10 ERA. However, he has been a dominant pitcher in the past, leading the league with the lowest ERA in 2005 (2.86), making the All-Star team in 1999, and finishing third in the N.L. Cy Young voting in 1999 as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
Even though he has proven himself in the past, he hasn’t proven anything yet. He will probably have to go through extended Spring Training and wouldn’t make the team unless he flourishes, another pitcher struggles, or another pitcher gets hurt.
Along with the trade and the signing, it was announced that Ivan Nova will be the Yankees’ number four starter this year, and Freddy Garcia will pitch every fifth day. Bartolo Colon, who many people feel had a better spring than Garcia, will pitch out of the bullpen.
Garcia owned a 5.93 ERA in four spring outings, throwing 13 2/3 innings. Colon held down a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings, giving most people the impression Colon should have won the number five job.
Yankee Manager Joe Girardi maintained that Garcia, 35, was the favorite to win the spot because Colon, 37, hasn’t pitched in a Major League game since 2009. Girardi added that, for his standards, Garcia had a good spring.
Now that we are only six days away from Opening Day, here is how Girardi should build his roster. Only 25 players can be at Yankee Stadium on Thursday and these men (I feel) have earned the honor of making the trek from Tampa to the Bronx.
1) Derek Jeter – SS
2) Alex Rodriguez – 3B
3) Robinson Cano – 2B
4) Mark Teixeira – 1B
5) Jorge Posada – DH
6) Russell Martin – C
7) Brett Gardner – LF
8) Nick Swisher – RF
9) Curtis Granderson* -CF (*if he does not start the season on the DL)
10) Andruw Jones – Fourth Outfielder
11) Eric Chavez – Backup IF/Utility
12) Eduardo Nunez – Backup IF/Utility
13) Jesus Montero – Backup Catcher
14) CC Sabathia – No. 1 Starter
15) A.J. Burnett -No. 2 Starter
16) Phil Hughes – No. 3 Starter
17) Ivan Nova – No. 4 Starter
18) Freddy Garcia – No. 5 Starter
19) Bartolo Colon – Long Relief
20) Mark Prior – Middle/Long Relief (he is interchangeable; can be used for both)
21) Joba Chamberlain – Middle Relief
22) David Robertson – Middle Relief
23) Rafael Soriano – Setup Man
24) Boone Logan* (*Pedro Feliciano will most likely start the season on the DL) – Lefty specialist(s)
25) Mariano Rivera – Closer
Most of these players will be in the Bronx next week and all of them deserve to be. Girardi will probably make a few modifications to my Opening Day roster, but expect to see most of these names called during the pregame ceremony on Thursday.
Mark Prior deserves to be on the roster because of how well he pitched this spring (eight games, 7 2/3 innings pitched, three hits, three runs, one earned run, 1.17 ERA, 11 Ks, and five walks).
He earned the chance to prove himself and could provide the Yanks with some solid middle and/or long relief. I’m not sure if Girardi will send Prior to the Bronx, but if they don’t call him up, at least at some point in the season, they are making a mistake.
If Granderson does start the season on the DL, obviously a spot will be open and it’ll be a toss up. I would expect someone like Justin Maxwell (.206 in Spring Training, but he only had 34 at-bats, three RBIs, and four runs scored) or even Dickerson (if he is healthy, given his injury today) to backup Jones in centerfield. That spot would only be open until Granderson returns, anyway.
Another position in question is the backup catcher role. I feel it is time for Montero to at least gain some experience on the Major League level. Today it was reported that Gustavo Molina could back up Martin at catcher, until Francisco Cervelli returns from his foot injury.
If you ask me though, Montero needs a taste of the big leagues – even if he doesn’t spend the entire season in the show.
Whichever way it goes, in a matter of days, anticipate Girardi giving the official word on who is going to the Bronx and who will be heading to the minors.
Through 5 2/3 innings, the Yankee pitchers kept the Phillies off the bases. That is until Wilson Valdez smacked a line drive homer off Hector Noesi, a shot that landed over the left field fence at Steinbrenner Field. That blow ended the combined perfect game the Yanks’ hurlers were compiling and plated the only run for the Phillies, as the Bronx Bombers went on to beat them 7-1 this afternoon in an exhibition.
In the bottom of the second Eduardo Nunez crushed a three-run home run deep to left field off starter Roy Oswalt, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Curtis Granderson came up to the plate the next inning and pulled a two-run shot over the left field fence, and the Yanks took a 5-0 lead.
Oswalt was pulled after 2 2/3 innings pitched, and he gave up five runs (three earned) on four hits. He walked no one and struck out three.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jorge Posada singled to plate Brett Gardner. Later in the frame, Granderson scored on an RBI single off the bat of Eric Chavez, giving the Yankees seven runs.
A.J. Burnett started for the Yankees and did not give an inch. The lanky right-hander tossed three perfect innings without allowing a walk. He only had one strikeout, but it was a big one. Burnett whiffed brand name first baseman Ryan Howard.
So far this spring Burnett has tossed five scoreless innings.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· Obviously A.J. Burnett is doing something right, at least to this point. I mentioned after his first start that he looks like a different pitcher, and it’s the truth; his delivery and arm angle are not the same. His different look gives me a sense of confidence in him, because he didn’t have a good spring like this last year. In fact, I believe I made a remark last spring saying, “His numbers this spring are worse than Joe Biden’s mouth.”
· On a side note about Burnett, he tossed 45 pitches and 30 were strikes. He is demonstrating command – another positive. He looks as though he will be OK, but he is still a work in progress and he’s got a long way to go. Baby steps.
· Jorge Posada laced a double in the bottom of the third, and came around to score on a single by Eric Chavez. Oh wait…he actually didn’t. Posada missed the base and pitcher Vance Worley (who relieved Roy Oswalt) appealed at third and Posada was called out. It helps to touch the base when you’re running. It’s a general rule.
· Nick Swisher made a stellar catch in the top of the fourth to rob Placido Polanco of a hit. In foul ground, Swisher bent over the bullpen railing to make the catch, then front-flipped into the Yankee bullpen. He held on for the catch. It kind of reminded me of July 22, 2009 – the day Swisher ran up the right field wall at Yankee Stadium to make a fantastic catch, worthy of the highlight reel. I was at that game and the crowd went nuts. Everyone loves Swisher.
· Right after Swisher’s catch, Jimmy Rollins chopped a ball off Chavez’s glove at first. He stayed with it and flipped the ball to Joba Chamberlain, who actually covered the base. The big man got to the bag in time, getting Rollins out. Score that crazy play 3-1. It looked more exciting than it sounds.
· Speaking of Joba Chamberlain, he had a good line today: one inning pitched, no hits, no walks, and no strikeouts. It was a step up from his outing on Saturday against the Washington Nationals: one inning pitched, two earned runs on two hits, two walks, and no Ks. I hope this isn’t another up-and-down year for Chamberlain. Whatever Burnett is doing, he needs to do the same. Chamberlain’s ERA this spring is now 4.50.
· Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez did not play. Today was a split squad day (meaning there are two games; some players play in the first game and others play in the second). The regular infielders will play later tonight at the Orioles.
· What happened to Roy Oswalt today? He couldn’t get through the third inning. I think it was just an aberration for him, much like CC Sabathia’s poor start on Saturday vs. the Nationals (five runs in 2 2/3 innings). Against National League hitters this year, he’ll hold his own.
· Brett Gardner was 1-for-3 today with an RBI, a walk, and a stolen base. He was hitting from the leadoff spot today and seems capable of that role. He will most likely have to improve his bunting if he wants to hit in the number one hole.
· I have the feeling the fifth infielder spot is going to come down to Chavez and Nunez. Today Chavez had three hits in three at-bats, knocked in a run and came around to score once. He is batting .471 as of press time. Nunez showed a great amount of power with his home run and he is averaging .286 at the plate so far. Ramiro Pena might be the odd man out, only hitting .063 so far. He will have to turn on the jets if he wants to make the team right out of camp.
· “Perpetual” Pedro Feliciano tossed a perfect fifth inning with two Ks. I get the feeling he will be the primary lefty specialist. Sorry Boone Logan.
· Curtis Granderson is batting .357 this spring and has hit two homers so far. He hasn’t even played in every game, and if his numbers are any indication, he is primed for a big season.
· Mark Prior pitched around a Pete Orr double in the eighth, not allowing a run. He didn’t walk a batter and he fanned one. As I wrote a few days ago, I am pulling for him and I want him to be this year’s big comeback story. He is a hard worker and I get the feeling he wants nothing more than to bounce back and help the Yankees. So far he is proving he can do it.
· Jesus Montero went 0-for-1 at the plate today and struck out, leaving a man on base. He hasn’t really had the opportunity to break out, yet he is still hitting .250. His counterpart Austin Romine will get the start at catcher in tonight’s exhibition vs. the Orioles.
· Former Yankee Nick Johnson signed with the Cleveland Indians today. I feel sorry for them.
· Tomorrow afternoon the Yanks will travel to the Wide World of Sports to visit the Atlanta Braves (the game will be broadcasted on the YES Network). Freddy Garcia will make the start for the Bombers.
· The Yanks are now 4-5-1 in Grapefruit League play. (Subject to change, pending the outcome of the game vs. Baltimore tonight)