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December 17, 2010 at 6:57 am ET
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The New Underdogs

UnderdogSo it’s been quite some time since I have chimed in here.  After the ALCS failure, I needed a time out from baseball.  I would like to think that I’m a fan of the game first, and a fan of the Yankees second, but I will fully admit that is not always the case.

Sure, there is a certain component to being a Yankees supporter that expects a World Series win every season, and anything short of that is a failure.  That’s, unfortunately, a by-product of continued and repeated success.

But when the Rangers knocked us out of the playoffs, I checked out.  I changed gears to focus on football (both pro and my own flag football team), and I gained my winter weight in anticipation of a winter’s hibernation.

Which brings me to today – a bit fatter, a bit more tired, and a renewed interest in a 2011 MLB campaign.

The beauty of failing to sign Cliff Lee is that now, there are lower expectations for the Yankees performance.  While the Ghost of Steinbrenner expects nothing but success, as do the fans, the team is not packed with the best free agents money can buy (that would be Boston for a change).

But suddenly, due to the Yankees’ lack of activity during this offseason, we are no longer the favorites to win.  The new underdogs, if you will.  Frankly, I would rather outperform on lower expectations than underperform on higher ones.

Unfortunately, I am somewhat concerned that the Yankees are not fully disengaged from the hot stove.  There is far too much pressure on them to make a deal – any kind of deal – to the point that I fear some brash decisions and poor choices, such as people with names like Pavano.

If Cliff Lee wants to play in Philly, have at it.  The team is competitive and the new stadium is beautiful, even if the city itself blows and Philly sports fans are miserable humans.

If the Sox want to sign Carl Crawford and trade for Adrian Gonzalez, then all the power to them.  Two major acquisitions.  Enjoy the target.  No excuses for the Sox now – World Series title or underachieving failures.  No in between.

Now, that’s pressure.

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March 12, 2009 at 9:29 pm ET
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Yankees Best Promotional Gift of 2009 is the Roster… and Maybe the Calculator

If you like adjustable hats embroidered with the Zales logo, it's a good year to be a Yankees season ticket holder.Let’s start here. Despite bearing the same last name as former Yankees great employee Kevin Maas, I am not a Yankees fan. I neither like nor dislike them. As is the case with most every team who designates a player specifically to hit, I approach Yankees baseball with an overriding indifference.

But in the wake of an offseason brimming with New York acquisitions, spending, and A-Rod reporting (none of which I generally cared much about), I’ve finally found a vaguely Yankees-implicit undertaking to get worked up about. The club’s payroll, history and roster may dwarf most if not all other organizations, but the recently announced promotional giveaways might be the worst I’ve ever seen. Ever.

The game it self should be, and in reality is, enough of a reason to get people in the seats. But as baseball stadiums are becoming as much a forum to be subconsciously hammered with product placements as they are a place where baseball is played, I as a fan have grown to expect periodic offerings to reward my feverish following of a franchise. The Yankees – who’ve constructed a palace of a new facility, lose more money than some teams spend, and repeatedly outbid themselves to enlist a revamped roster – have the following to offer their dedicated fans:

Cap (four times): Sweet! Four chances (in the same month) to obtain a gawdy adjustable cap with a corporation’s logo plastered all over. The perfect gift for a Yankees fan who most likely owns a Yankees hat.
Ice cream/Soup bowl (twice): Don’t tell me what to put in my bowl, Turkey Hill and/or Boar’s Head! Just for that, it’s a dip bowl.
Luggage tag/Passport holder: For the Yankees fan with no personality.
Calculator: Use this to calculate how many items in the history of giveaways were better than a calculator.
Yankees Snoopy doll: What, were they out of Hagar the Horrible Yankees eraser toppers and For Better or For Worse slap bracelets?
Water bottle: Actually, kind of useful. But only the first 18,000 in attendance can enjoy the rare and lavish gift of a bottled substance that covers 2/3 of Earth.
Yankee Stadium puzzle: This makes the Snoopy doll seem cool.
Umbrella Day: Again, acceptable but limited to just 18,000. Let’s hope if it rains, it only falls on half of those in attendance.

Honestly, the best item on the docket looks to be a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, which is undoubtedly a buy one/get one sort of deal, but results in getting something that – although, thrown away within the hour – will provide at least brief enjoyment.

I won’t be going to any Yankees games this season, and if I planned to take in a game, I’d be too entranced by the new park, and attentive to the $200M lineup playing before me to care about not being offered a window cling. I just find it odd that in an important inaugural season such as this, coming just after what may be the most highly publicized Yankees winter of all time, the organization whose payroll your dollars help comprise sees fit to give (18,000 of) you a shoddy key ring.

I suppose the stacked lineup of the team you love is worth more than any promotional gift (excluding “Utz Pretzel Invisibility Cloak Day”) does; and based on the shit you’re going to be handed when walking through the turnstiles this season, you’re especially lucky the team looks good.

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February 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm ET
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Yankees 2009 8-Ball Tournament: Pick the winner

The Yankees are taking the day off from practice – interesting timing considering their star shortstop needed to rest his hamstring – and are instead spending the afternoon playing billiards.  Two man teams have been organized and will compete in a 8-ball tournament.

Peter Abraham reported that the team was headed toward the pool hall at 10:36 this morning.  He’s also reporting that Brian Bruney is quite the player and Bugs and Cranks is assuming that Bruney is Abraham’s pick to take the 8-ball tournament.

It appears that there will be no baseball for the team today and their will be no press covering their fun field trip.  Odds are that word will get out as to which duo took the 8-ball tourney.  Weigh in now with your picks.  My money is on Johnny Damon, he seems like someone who has spent a lot of time in a pool hall.

photo: mattman

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February 17, 2009 at 3:52 pm ET
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Francesa about A-Rod press conference: ‘I would have torn the tent down’

WFAN’s Mike Francesa, pissed that media members were not allowed to ask follow-up questions in the Alex Rodriguez press conference, said he wouldn’t have tolerated that jazz.

Francesa, whose radio show is carried on YES (and came on right after the press conference), said, “This was an out and out joke. If I had been there and flown down to be part of this, I would have torn the tent down. No follow-ups was an absolute embarrassment.”

Got that, fellow journalists? You’re all a bunch of pussies.

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February 17, 2009 at 7:00 am ET
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Moving to a new home

Alex Rodriguez will say hello to a throng of reporters today at George M. Steinbrenner Field, home of the New York Yankees’ Spring Training complex.

In an item of much bigger importance, at least to me, today I say goodbye to ‘Bugs & Cranks.’

I will be joining the staff at Pinstripe Alley, one of the finest and longest-running pure Yankee blogs on the great Inter-Google. My work will begin to appear there almost immediately, maybe even later today if I get some brilliant non-A-Rod related brainstorm.

I hope those of you who are true Yankee fans will add Pinstripe Alley to your reading list if it is a place you don’t already visit.

You will also still find me at Big Blue View, my New York Giants site. Stop over if you love the Giants, or just like talking football.

As Michael Kay would say, ‘See Ya!’

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February 16, 2009 at 11:10 am ET
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Around the Yankee Universe, 02.16.09

Zell’s Pinstripe Blog has an uplifting note today about Bob Sheppard. Apparently, the 98-year-old ‘Voice of the Yankees’ is feeling well enough that he might be in the public address booth this April for the first game at the new Yankee Stadium.

Listening to Sheppard would be an awesome way to open the new stadium. Let’s hope it happens.

  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post jumps into the Joba Chamberlain as starter or reliever debate today by arguing that 60-70 innings late in close games might be more valuable than 200 innings pitched starting them. Here is his argument.

When it comes to Chamberlain’s long-term role a question that is often asked is what is more valuable: 70 innings or 200 innings? I think that is a misleading talking point by those who want Chamberlain to be a starter. Now, keep in mind, I think Chamberlain should be given a chance to start, but it is because I want to know for sure if he is a true front-of-the-rotation starter or not, understanding that you can always take a starter and break him down to be a late-game reliever if his needs or the team’s needs demand it, but you can’t build that guy up easily if you need a short man to start.

Now back to the 70/200 matter. You should really ask who is pitching the 70 and who is pitching the 200? For the champion Phillies, Cole Hamels’ 227.3 innings were probably more valuable than Brad Lidge’s 69.3, but were Jamie Moyers’ 196.3. If you told the Red Sox, they could play this season with either Jonathan Papelbon or Josh Beckett, which do you think they would take? It is not a layup.

In those 200-or-so innings for a starter how many would you define as game-on-the-line high leverage? With someone such as Lidge or Papelbon or Rivera, just about every pitch they throw in a season is in a game-deciding moment. That is why the 70/200 thing doesn’t work for me. I can just as easily say would you rather have a pitcher impact 60 games (like a reliever) or 30 games (like a starter).

It’s a great argument and Sherman makes his case very well. I would love to get Sherman and Peter Abraham, a 200-inning argument guy, in a room and let them debate it.

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February 16, 2009 at 7:00 am ET
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Comparing AL East bullpens

A while back we compared the starting pitching staffs for the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. We might as well go ahead and compare the other areas of those three American League East heavyweights.

Let’s begin today with a look at the bullpens.

Yankees

Mariano Rivera (CL)
Damaso Marte
Brian Bruney
Jose Veras
Edwar Ramirez
Phil Coke
Jonathan Albaladejo

Also …
Mark Melancon, David Robertson, Dan Giese, Humberto Sanchez, Brett Tomko, Alfredo Aceves

Red Sox

Jonathan Papelbon (CL)
Justin Masterson
Hideki Okajima
Takashi Saito
Manny DelCarmen
Javier Lopez
Ramon Ramirez

Also …
Wes Littleton, Junichi Tazawa, Billy Traber

Rays

Troy Percival (CL)
Dan Wheeler
J.P. Howell
Grant Balfour
Joe Nelson
Chad Bradford
Brian Shouse

Also …
Jeff Niemann, Lance Cormier, Jason Hammel, Randy Choate

My thoughts

A bullpen is only as good as the guy closing the door in the 9th inning. That, automatically, makes the Rays bullpen No. 3 in this discussion. Troy Percival will be 40 this season and is, obviously, on his last legs. He has not pitched at least 50 innings in a season since 2002. Besides which, his 4.53 ERA last season leads you to think he wasn’t that effective, anyway. Dan Wheeler (13 saves) and Grant Balfour (4 saves) each closed some in 2008, but the Rays can’t think they can win it all with one of them pitching the 9th inning.

That leaves us to debate whether the Yankees or the Red Sox have the best bullpen.

Entering the season, I am giving the edge to Boston. Jonathan Papelbon is a tremendous closer, and the bridge leading up to him appears deep and talented. Justin Masterson, Hideki Okajima, ex-Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, Manny DelCarmen, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez comprise a talented group. Oh, and by season’s end John Smoltz could be pitching the 8th inning.

That is an impressive group.

The Yankee bullpen could be just as good, but entering the season the setup group is not quite as accomplished as Boston’s. And, despite team assurances that he is fine, there will be questions about how well 39-year-old Mariano Rivera will recover from shoulder surgery.

Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney head a talented group of setup men, and highly-touted Mark Melancon could be a difference-maker before the end of the season. This group, though, does not have a former closer like Saito. Bruney is being given a prominent role in this bullpen, and if he is ready for it after posting a 1.83 ERA in 32 games last season the bridge to Rivera will be solid.

So, for now I rank these bullpens as follows:

  1. Boston
  2. New York
  3. Tampa Bay

Your thoughts?

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February 14, 2009 at 7:00 am ET
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Guessing the Yankees’ Opening Day roster

Now that Spring Training has begun, here is a stab at what the New York Yankees Opening day roster will look like. In reality, there are only a few spots open. We also know the 25-man group will change a gazillion times during the season.

Nonetheless, it’s fun to guess at.

Starting Pitchers

CC Sabathia
A.J. Burnett
Chien-Ming Wang
Andy Pettitte
Joba Chamberlain

Relief Pitchers

Mariano Rivera
Brian Bruney
Damaso Marte
Edwar Ramirez
Jose Veras
Phil Coke
Jonathan Albaladejo

On the Bubble:

David Robertson, Dan Giese, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Humberto Sanchez, Mark Melancon, Brett Tomko (who just signed a minor-league deal Friday).

My thought: I have the last two bullpen slots going to Coke and Albaladejo, but this is a crapshoot. I think Coke gets one spot if he has a good spring because that gives Manager Joe Girardi two left-handers. I will take Albaladejo for the last slot on the staff, but that spot is really wide open. And most of the names I mentioned will probably see big-league action at some point, anyway.

Position Players

C — Jorge Posada
C — Jose Molina
1B — Mark Teixeira
2B — Robinson Cano
SS — Derek Jeter
3B — Alex Rodriguez
INF — Cody Ransom
OF — Johnny Damon
OF — Xavier Nady
OF — Melky Cabrera
OF/1B — Nick Swisher
OF — Brett Gardner
OF/DH — Hideki Matsui

On the Bubble:

Angel Berroa (INF), Kevin Cash (C).

My thought: I still can’t believe the Yankees are trusting the backup infield slot to Ransom or Berroa, with no other alternatives. My guess is Ransom because he can play all four spots. Cash, a veteran backup, could stick if the Yankees decide they need three catchers to protect Jorge Posada.

Other than the bullpen, I don’t see a whole lot to argue about here. Your thoughts?

Yankee Universe

  • Baseball Prospectus is out with its list of the top 100 prospects. BP has Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero at 38 and outfielder Austin Jackson at 46.
  • Sticking with the prospects theme, River Ave. Blues has its list of the top 30 Yankee prospects.
  • Andy Pettitte says his shoulder “broke down” at the end of last season.
  • Jim Leyritz was jailed Friday for a bond violation. I don’t feel sorry for Leyritz at all, but he sure has taken a long fall.
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February 13, 2009 at 10:43 am ET
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Girardi’s seat is already warm

Joe Girardi will have to do a better job this season dealing with media throngs like this one.Joe Girardi might wish he never chose uniform No. 27 when he was named New York Yankees’ manager prior to the 2008 season. The number, signifying the Yankees’ hunt for an elusive 27th World Series title, is nothing less than a bulls-eye on Girardi’s back.

If the Yankees don’t win that 27th title in 2009 — or at least make a serious run at it — Girardi won’t get a third chance.

GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrothers won’t say it, but the second-year Yankee manager is on a leash as short as his buzzcut-style hair. And he knows it.

If the Yankees fail to reach the playoffs again, it is unlikely that Girardi will be asked to finish the third year of his contract. Girardi understands this.

“I don’t necessarily think about those things,” he said. “But, as you state the question, you’re probably right.”

There is no question that Girardi is a bright man, and that between the lines he does an excellent job of managing a baseball game. The mileage he got from a questionable Yankee bullpen last season attests to that.

It is, however, the off-the-field stuff that goes along with being skipper of the Yankees that might be Girardi’s undoing. It is always a circus in the Bronx, and Girardi showed last season that he was ill-prepared to handle it.

There were numerous run-ins with the media over misinformation given by the manager, most famously in regards to Mariano Rivera’s shoulder injury. Like it or not, media relations is part of the job. Girardi needs to understand that many in the media throng following the Yankees aren’t there to report stories, they are there to create them. He needs to stop helping them.

There were also whispers that some of the Yankee veterans, notably Jorge Posada, were not thrilled with Girardi’s militaristic approach and a seeming inability to communicate with them in 2008.

The comparison to Joe Torre is still there for Girardi, and probably always will be. What Torre did best in New York was deflect criticism and distractions away from his players, and get them to believe in him.

It seems that last season Girardi, in many cases, added to their burden.

With the Torre book, the A-Rod mess and the pressure to win in the first year  of the new Yankee Stadium, Girardi faces a huge challenge in showing that he has learned from last season’s mistakes.

Is he up to the challenge? We are about to find out.

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February 12, 2009 at 9:27 am ET
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Non A-Rod questions about the Yankees

God forbid we actually try to talk some baseball when it comes to the New York Yankees. But, pitchers and catchers report to George M. Steinbrenner Field Friday, so let’s try.

Not counting the Alex Rodriguez saga, since it has been covered to death, what concerns you most about this team as we near the opening of camp, Yankees fans?

Here are five things that concern me. Feel free to discuss, or add your own.

  1. The health of Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Both are recovering from shoulder surgery, and the Yankees are counting heavily on them. There are, realistically, no contingency plans if either of them does not make a full recovery. Posada is reportedly throwing well as he rehabs, but nobody knows if he can withstand catching 120 games. I have heard little about Rivera, but it seems everyone expects him to be fine. If he’s not, would the Yanks have Joba Chamberlain close?
  2. Joe Girardi. The Yankee manager is an excellent in-game tactician, but it is the rest of what goes along with being Yankee manager that I worry about. Handling the egos in the clubhouse, the distractions that come along with the circus atmosphere that forever seems to follow the Yankees, and dealing with the media. Girardi did not do well in these areas last season, and the Rodriguez mess, the Joe Torre book, the big free-agent signings and the fact that he is — probably — managing for his job won’t make any of that easier in 2009. If the Yanks miss the playoffs again, Girardi is probably gone.
  3. Center field. Will it be Brett Gardner? Melky Cabrera? Nick Swisher? Johnny Damon? Some combination of all four? No matter who it is, will the Yankees get some production from this position? The Yankees seem to hope first and foremost that Cabrera rebounds from his awful 2008 and plays more like he did in 2007 (.273, 8 home runs, 73 RBI). If either he or Gardner can hit adequately, that would be enough. Both are excellent center fielders, and that is what this team needs most.
  4. The bench. Specifically here, I am talking about the backup infield situation. Is Brian Cashman serious about entering Spring Training with Cody Ransom and Angel Berroa as his only utility infielder options? Nomar Garciaparra, Orlando Cabrera, Orlando Hudson and Mark Grudzielanek are among the guys still available. One of them might be willing to take a cheap one-year deal — most likely Garciaparra.
  5. Starting pitching health. How many starts will the Yankees get from Chamberlain and A.J. Burnett? Is Chien-Ming Wang fully recovered? Will Andy Pettitte’s elbow hold up for another season? When he is called on will Phil Hughes finally pitch like The Franchise, or will he contine to look like The Failure? The Yankees could have a dominant starting rotation — if everyone is healthy and it lives up to expectations. That is still a huge question, though.

Your thoughts, Yankee fans?

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