Thursday, January 29, 2009

The problem with being Chase Wright

When Andy Pettitte's contentious negotiations with the Yankees ended with an agreement this week, it was good news for pretty much everyone involved. Well, except for Chase Wright, who was designated for assignment yesterday to make room for the veteran left-hander.

Wright -- if you know your 2000s Yankees trivia -- is basically famous for one thing, that being his April 22, 2007, start at Fenway Park in which he served up four consecutive homers to the Red Sox. Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek all connected off Wright that night, and by the time the fourth blast cleared the Green Monster, the idea of "Chase Wright - Top Yankees Prospect" essentially disappeared over that famous wall as well.

Wright has made just one more appearance in a Yankees uniform, a relief outing five months after the Beantown bloodbath. Sometimes the Baseball Gods can be a cruel lot.

A little over a week shy of his 26th birthday, the 2001 third-round draft pick has entered waivers. If no team claims him -- a young left-hander should get claimed by some pitching-starved club -- he'll end up back in the NYY minors purgatory. Wright's career is at a crossroads, and I for one hope he can become known for more than one really bad night.

Wright's circumstance got me thinking today about parallels in other walks of life. More to the point, who else is remembered for one really terrible thing beyond anything else? Here's what I came up with.


Right Said Fred - An English-pop duo formed in 1989, RSF scored a worldwide hit with "I'm Too Sexy" in 1991. A stunning artifact of the cheesy early-nineties pop landscape, it was agreed even then that "I'm Too Sexy" was pretty awful. As for Right Said Fred, they dropped off the face of the earth after their signature hit, doomed to periodic references on bad VH1 clip shows. I just Wiki'd them (I find it freaking amazing that someone spent several hours building a page in their honor) and there's a picture of the pair playing the 2008 Gay Pride Parade in Vienna, Austria. This is the equivalent of Chase Wright returning home to throw a no-hitter in his Sunday morning arcball league.
Honorable mention: The "Macrena" guys, Uncle Kracker, Jesse Camp & The 8th Street Kidz


Yahoo Serious
- Australian actor who received major advertising push from MTV for his wacky 1988 comedy, Young Einstein. The movie was a dud in the U.S., and Serious has appeared in just two movies in the 20 years since. Both those films, 1993's Reckless Kelly and 2000's Mr. Accident, were written and directed by, you guessed it, Yahoo Serious.
Honorable mention: Anyone associated with The Blair Witch Project, the kid that always itched his nose in Dazed and Confused.


Monica Lewinsky
- President Bill Clinton's, um, girlfriend. Became famous for her, um, oratory skills, and was branded with a deserved scarlett letter. Went on to make handbags.
Honorable mention: Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, President George W. Bush


XFL - A professional football league founded by WWE owner Vince McMahon, the XFL (Xtreme Football League) folded after just one season in 2001. Featured some of the worst freaking football (and ratings) you've ever seen. Tommy Maddox was the league's marquee player and MVP. Did lead to the NFL using the wire cam above the field (which is cool), but mostly existed as an example of McMahon's stunning hubris.
Honorable mention: O.J. Simpson, Gus "I Headbutt Walls" Ferrotte, Ruben "I Steal Stuff" Rivera, Peter McNeeley

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The prodigal left-hander comes home

When a pro wrestler clearly screws up a move during a match, there's a recent phenomenon in wrestling culture whereby the crowd in attendance will bark out the phrase "You fucked up!" in unison. This is like what happens when you mess up in your job, only completely different. On a semi-related note, I would've chanted this at the top of my lungs in the theater had Nicolas Cage been cast over Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

I mention this wrestling tradition because it'd probably be a fitting chant at Yankee Stadium this April when Andy Pettitte takes the mound for the first time. Pettitte turned down a one year, $10 million deal from the Yankees in December before learning the hard way that interest in this current economic climate wasn't exactly high for an aging pitcher coming off his worst season. On Monday, Pettitte agreed to a $5.5 million guaranteed deal with those same Yankees. With agents like these, who needs enemies?andypettitte33.jpg

Sure, Pettitte can earn up to an additional $6.5 million in incentives, but the veteran is surely kicking himself (or agent Randy Hendricks) for misreading the market so egregiously. Kudos to GM Brian Cashman, who didn't give in when Pettitte's camp balked at the initial offer.

Pettitte admitted today in a conference call that his pride was hurt by the negotiations, and I'd probably feel the same way if I were him. Pettitte was paid $16 million last season to pitch near the top of the Yankees rotation. Now he's only guaranteed a third of that salary to be the club's fifth starter. What a difference a year makes.

I don't, however, expect Pettitte to be negatively impacted by this going forward. Joe Torre now infamously felt he needed no motivation to do his job right, but I can certainly see the intense Pettitte pitching well with a chip sitting squarely on his left shoulder.

I have a friend from college who is a huge Red Sox fan, ludicrous accent, used to live in Southie, the whole nine yards. He texted me after the story broke stating that the signing boosted the Yanks from 89 to 93 wins this season. I replied it pushes them up to 105, mostly just to piss him off. That said, I think this was a very important signing for the Yanks, one that gives their rotation the additional depth that was necessary. Here's a look at the presumed rotation come Opening Day.

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

That's real good. Not only does Pettitte provide that second lefty to balance the rotation, it also allows Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Alfredo Aceves to continue their development in the minors. When one of the starters inevitably goes down (I'm looking at you, A.J.), whatever prospect is performing best will get his shot. Pettitte's presence also gives the Yanks more flexibility in how they handle Joba, who will be on an innings limit.

It's a very weird time in Yankee Land with all the Torre shrapnel flying around, but from a team standpoint the Bombers had another very good day in what has been an outstanding offseason.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Torre knows how to move units

My Sunday morning began like any other. I woke up, wiped the sleep from my eyes and tried to figure out why Kirby Puckett was in the Hall of Fame and not Don Mattingly.

After that, I did what I usually do, which is pick up my laptop and check the top stories at "Reports: Torre book reveals past Yanks rifts", the top headline blasted. Color me intrigued.

Torre, the erstwhile Yankees skipper who guided his team to 12 straight playoff appearances and four titles, has written a book with the help of SI's Tom Verducci you see, and in it he discusses some of the less harmonious aspects of his time in pinstripes.


It's all a bit predictable if you ask me, though it's the perfect story for a slow Sunday morning. It was already known that Torre was incredibly insulted by the incentive-laden one-year deal the Yankees offered him prior to joining the Dodgers. The book does shed light on Torre's disenchantment with GM Brian Cashman, who he had previously held above the ugliness that surrounded his exit.

Because Cashman is a pro, expect a response along the lines of, "I was a fan of Joe when he was with the Yankees and I remain a fan of him today. Joe is a great manager and I wish him the best blah blah blah." Torre will eventually back off his statements and then you'll see them at some charity event next winter and try to remember what the whole thing was about. I mean, think about it. It makes sense that Torre would hold some resentment toward Cashman. He is the general manager of the organization that essentially fired him after all.

The other headline grabber centers on (of course) Alex Rodriguez. Torre reveals that A-Rod's postseason inadequacies earned him the nickname A-Fraud (this is funny) in the clubhouse and that he was consumed by the shadow of Derek Jeter, who he considers more a rival than a teammate.

Again, this isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff. It's well known that A-Rod is pretty much perceived as a doofus around baseball, current teammates included. The dude's just not very popular -- his great skill-set and distant personality probably rubbed people the wrong way long before he was a millionaire several hundred times over. And when you carry yourself a certain way, and you make more money than every one of your peers, and you have 17 RBIs and 38 strikeouts in 39 postseason games, well, you become a ginormous target.

I can't imagine these revelations will strengthen the relationship between A-Rod and Torre, but I also imagine Torre doesn't much care. Torre's legacy in the game is already secure. A-Rod still has much work to do.

The Jeter issue has been dissected for years now, and Rodriguez admitted himself last March that the pair have a strained relationship. As I've written in this space before, A-Rod was never cut out for this town. He wants the spotlight, but he can't handle it. His ego dictates that he be the alpha dog, but that will always be Jeter. The sooner A-Rod can block out extraneous BS like this, the better player (and person) he'll be for it. Unfortunately, that will likely never happen.

As for Torre, you won't find me bashing him. Any guy that Jeter prefaces with "Mr." is okay with me. His departure from New York was insulting unfortunate and he should certainly be allowed to vent in some capacity. If he can make a few dollars in the process, more power to him.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Depth perception issue in OF

I have a bad habit of getting sucked into horrendous MTV reality programming from time to time. I grew up on The Real World and later became transfixed by the athletic ballet that is the Real World/Road Rules Challenge, so I'm guessing the head of programming at Viacom must have me subliminally trained at this point. One decade you're being taught about HIV awareness and gay rights by Pedro Zamora (RW: San Francisco), the next, two lonely chicks with low self esteem wrestle in a kiddie pool of spaghetti and meatballs (That's Amore!). I fear for our children.

I bring this up because there's another MTV reality program that mirrors the mind-set of many Yankees fans. It's called My Super Sweet 16, a show that chronicles the party-planning efforts of spoiled rich girls who make walking all over their clueless parents a competitive event. Many Yankees fans seem to share the same the same sense of entitlement as the little monsters on My Super Sweet 16, especially those who still want Manny Ramirez playing left field.

Ah, the Yankees outfield. Now that the Bombers have the dynamic starting rotation and mighty first baseman they were looking for, popular opinion now states something must be done on the big lawn. The Teixeira signing essentially made Nick Swisher a man without a country, and with five players slotted for three slots, many are calling for a trade to bolster the pitching staff.

That's all well and good, of course. Unless we can get the short-center fielder roster spot transferred from the Sunday Morning Elks League to Major League Baseball, people are going to end up on the bench. But is having options really a bad thing in this case?

Swisher, Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera and Xavier Nady will all be in the mix when Spring Training kicks off next month. And while depth is always nice, quanity doesn't always mean quality. After Damon (one of Cash's best FA signings), there are question marks right down the list.

Gardner may be a Double-A offensive talent. Swisher batted .219 last year. Nady hit .223 in a September that included some of the worst at-bats you'll ever see. As for Cabrera, that AL scout evaluation last August still sticks with me: “In a few years, Melky will be playing in some independent league. Or in the Mexican League.”

It stands to reason that it would behoove the Yanks to enter the season with an OF surplus and see how it plays out before trading away potential contributors. On a related note, am I the only one who thinks the Yanks pulled the plug a little too early on the Bobby Abreu Era?

Quantity doesn't guarantee quality. In that sense, the outfield is kind of like Real World: Brooklyn using eight strangers instead of seven in the house this season.

Well, except for the towering transexual part. Nevermind.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Regarding Derek Sanderson Jeter

The following post appeared last week on Peter Abraham's LoHud Yankees Blog.

Derek Jeter is not like you.

He’s a multi-millionaire with a sprawling Manhattan penthouse and his own brand of cologne. You duck the landlord and wear Old Spice. He’s a four-time World Series champion who plays shortstop for the New York Yankees. You play short-center field in your Sunday morning beer league like a dazed buffoon. He examines his genetically-gifted face in the mirror each morning as a Maxim Hot 100 girl sleeps peacefully behind him. You stare at your double chin in the reflection while your gaseous dog devastates the bedroom. Life isn’t fair sometimes, I know. Don’t shoot the messenger.

But there’s one thing you and Derek Jeter certainly have in common … you’re both getting older.

Jeter is entering his 14th (14th!) full season with the Yankees in 2009 and he’ll reach the 35th year of his insanely awesome life on June 26. In any sport outside miniature golf and Madden football, 35 is generally the time when a career begins its downswing. When you play Major League shortstop — a position that requires speed, quickness and agility — time can be especially cruel. And if you use 2008 as an indicator, Jeter may have already reached the tipping point in his brilliant career.

Throwing out his injury-stunted 2003 season (where have you gone, Ken Huckaby?), Jeter posted decade-worst numbers in hits, doubles, runs, steals, RBIs, slugging and OPS+ in 2008. And while his defense remains far better than the Jeter Haters insist, his range — particularly to his left — is fast becoming a liability that cannot be ignored.

That’s not to say we’ll have a corpse in a No. 2 uniform this season. With an improved offense around him, a healthy Jeter can deliver numbers close to or better than ‘08. But the golden days of 2006 are likely a thing of the past. And with the A-Rod Goofball Variety Hour slated to run through 2017 and Mark Teixeira suddenly anchored at first, Jeter’s future is anything but clear.

The Yankees will never let Jeter retire in anything but pinstripes, so any speculation that the makeup of the roster or financial considerations could lead to his exit is silly. Like Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle and Mattingly before him, Jeter is the Yankees. His goosebump-worthy Stadium farewell speech in September cemented his iconography. He is on Bomber Mount Rushmore.

But change it is a comin’, and it may be sooner than we think. Is it totally unreasonable to project Jeter sharing DH/left field duties by 2011? If you want to get really gutsy, you can predict that Jeter is tracking down balls in Death Valley next year, though it would take a whole lot of 20-hoppers up the middle to bring on that reality.

But Derek Jeter playing left field? Bob Sheppard hasn’t lived to 200 to see that. For now we can enjoy another season of No. 2 raising his glove to the bleacher creatures from the infield dirt. I think it’s time begin savoring that experience, because time promises us it won’t last forever.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Glossary of Terms: 2009 Yankees (Part 2)

Here's Part 2 of River & Sunset's breakdown of the 2009 Yankees. Click here to check out Part 1.

Molina, Jose - Defensive-minded catcher could still see decent amount of PT despite return of starter Jorge Posada. Would likely snag bronze medal in foot race with Bill Parcells, Lieutenant Dan.

Posada, Jorge - Baseball's only 37-year-old backstop coming off major shoulder surgery who will be asked to drive in 90 runs and catch 135+ games this season. Has one of those wives that is so hot it actually makes you angry.

Cano, Robinson - Possibly kidnapped last season and replaced with evil-intentioned doppelganger, not unlike major plot point in Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear. Has had relations with every co-ed on Fordham University campus.

Jeter, Derek - Got four rings before 30, got Mariah in her prime. This essentially sums up his entire existence. May be entering period of decline, will do nothing to change fact that you'd crawl 500 yards through a sewage pipe to live a day in his shoes.

Ransom, Cody - May be star of one-hour crime drama on CBS mid-season replacement schedule.

Rodriguez, Alex - Got zero rings before 30, got Madonna after her prime. This essentially sums up his entire existence. One-time American switched to being Dominican for 2009 World Baseball Classic. Landmark contract contained secret stipulation that exposes him as a jackass every 90 days.

Teixeira, Mark - Key free-agent acquistion has never eaten Snickers bar or experienced what humanoids describe as "emotion". May or may not be T-800 Terminator model. Sometime in August, will request private moment with Derek Jeter to ask, "What ... is ... love?"

Cabrera, Melky - One-time starting center fielder made thousands of Yankees fans regret buying "Got Melky?" T-shirts in 2006. Kind of looks like a stuffed teddy bear.

Damon, Johnny - Affable and productive leadoff man whose most famous homer in Yankee Stadium came in a Red Sox uniform (2004 ALCS, Game 7). About two years away from getting RV with Matt McConaghy in Malibu and "just seeing where life takes him."

Gardner, Brett - Could become modern day Brett Butler or finish career with zero homers and lifetime batting average of .219. John Sterling really wants to break out "The GARDNER plants HIS SEED!" catchphrase.

Nady, Xavier - Will smoke quality pitch up the left-center field gap one at-bat and strike out on three terrible pitches the next. A possible candidate to get lit up continuously on WFAN for the entire summer.

Swisher, Nick - Maybe the first hot stove acquisition in history to lose his job before ever putting on uniform. Likely a product of hitting a robust .219 last season.

Matsui, Hideki - 350 groundouts to second will be even more costly when running on knees that are knees in only theory at this point. Could still beat Molina in footrace.

Girardi, Joe - First season in pinstripes came with a pass under public's notion that $230 million team was "in transition year". Depending on who you listen to, can be a super dick at times.

Cashman, Brian - Respected GM who has become somewhat of a Teflon Don in organization once defined by turnover and front office unrest. Secretly wants to straight-up murder Theo Epstein.

Steinbrenner, Hal - Yankees part owner bares passing resemblance to late Superman actor Christopher Reeve, sames share sensibilities as blustery father and has (probably) bailed big brother Hank out of drunk tank 10-12 times since 1992.

Steinbrenner, Hank - Kind of like the dude at the party who start fights with people then pretends his friends are only thing holding him back from actually kicking some ass. Resents little brother for being better looking; actually having defined power in organization.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Glossary of Terms: 2009 Yankees (Part 1)

With Spring Training on the horizon, River & Sunset wants Yankees fans to get to know their 2009 team. Today we'll feature the pitching staff. On Wednesday, we will define the position players, manager and front office.

Bruney, Brian - One-time plus-sized reliever was poised for contribution in 2008 before setting off the Exploding Foot Epidemic in April. Slotted as primary setup man in '09.

Burnett, A.J. - Free agent acquisition both high on ability and elbow scar tissue. Took Yankees exactly two months to oversee risk of signing injury-prone former Florida Marlins starters. Wife looks nothing like John Madden, but shares same mistrust of aerodynamics.

Chamberlain, Joba - Would-be franchise savior whose fine pitching ability polarizes fans by way of tired starter/reliever debate. Drunk as a skunk when pulled over in Lincoln, Nebraska in October. Would be wise to use the "Um, it's Nebraska, your honor" defense.

Coke, Phil - Lights-out performance in September was pretty cool, but will be interesting to see how abilities translate in games that count. Steve Howe would have been an annoying teammate.

Hughes, Phil - Planned breakout season in 2008 went over worse than an Eddie Murphy vehicle, now hoping to break camp as No. 5 starter. Periodically-updated blog reveals affinity for really shitty Nu Metal (and Collective Soul).

Kennedy, Ian - Majority of fans would rather see Ted on mound at this point following lost 2008 season. Would be helpful if said fans recall that right-hander just turned 24 freaking years old.

Marte, Damaso - Manager Joe Girardi channeled predecessor's Reliever Abused Perpetually Everyday (RAPE) strategy when dealing with left-hander last August. Can be key cog in bullpen if used without malice.

Pettitte, Andy - Veteran has shown little loyalty to franchise that stood by him after dropping "Oh yeah, I'm a drug cheat" bomb last year. Risking Yankee legacy over $2-3 million that he'd never be able to spend.

Ramirez, Edwar - Smoke-and-mirrors right-hander set record for most flat changeups thrown in one season in 2008. Weighs less than calf of teammate CC Sabathia.

Rivera, Mariano - Has been goat twice (2001 World Series, 2004 ALCS). Has been G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All-Time) in all other instances.

Sabathia, CC - Plump left-hander was prize of current free-agent class and projects to be team ace. Anything less than 18 wins and 220 innings pitched will likely lead to burning at the stake. Has (probably) eaten hot dogs and talked about girls with LeBron James.

Veras, Jose - Hard-throwing right-hander went from awful to awesome to awful in 2008. Yankees hope to up awesome quotient in 2009.

Wang, Chien-Ming - Ideal No. 2 starter forced into role of No. 1 starter for past two seasons, right-hander will slot into second or third spot in rotation in '09. Foot exploded in bizarre basepaths misadventure last June, will never again be seen running in Yankee uniform. Can probably pull insane amount of tail in native Taiwan.

Wright, Chase - Corpse of one-time prospect still being picked at by vultures at Fenway Park.

Position players, manager and front office coming up Wednesday ...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Seat could get warm fast for Girardi

Joe Girardi has never had it easy here.

That's to be expected when you're the manager of the New York Yankees, of course, but Girardi's path has been especially thorny. Consider the facts:

▪ When Girardi was named the Yankees' manager in late 2007, he had to beat out a beloved franchise superstar to get the job in Don Mattingly.
▪ He was replacing a hugely successful figure who had become an institution on the New York sports landscape in Joe Torre.
▪ Yankee ownership was turning over for the first time in decades as George Steinbrenner officially ceded power to sons Hal and Hank.
▪ General manager Brian Cashman was in the midst of molding a franchise philosophy shift, one that would rely heavily on unproven young prospects to march the club to a 13th consecutive postseason appearance.

Well, we all know what happened next. Torre and Mattingly headed off to Los Angeles, where the Dodgers eventually advanced to the NLCS. Back in the Bronx, Hal lurked in the shadows as Hank provided lots of bark and zero bite. On the field, the kids fizzled and injuries battered the lineup and rotation. Eighty-nine wins wasn't nearly enough to keep the Stadium from being dark in its final October.

Somewhat surprisingly, Girardi didn't catch much in the way of heat, not for the club's subpar play anyway. A contentious relationship developed between Girardi and the media as the season moved along, but the Yankee brass and fanbase remained largely behind the first-year skipper. It was understood that 2008 was somewhat of a "transition year", even if in Yankee Land a transition year included a $230 million payroll.

Girardi enters a new world in 2009, a season that will largely define his future in the organization. With a shiny new Stadium and corporate boxes to fill, the Yankees went borderline insane during free agency, investing $421 million on CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. The youth movement was shelved as the club decided 2009 was a season to go all-in.

In one wild spending spree, the expectations of this Yankees team changed dramatically. Never mind the fact that two of the best teams in baseball resided in the AL East or that the Yankees were still loaded with thirty-something players on the precipice of decline. The Yankees were now expected to return to the World Series after a five-year drought.

If they don't? Well, you can expect changes and it's certainly possible that Girardi could be the fall guy.

Not that we can feel too bad for ol' Joe. He could be managing the Kansas City Royals with Bob Hamelin batting cleanup. He has a coveted job and he's in a great position. Beyond that, Girardi played here and he knows full well the expectations that go along with the gig. But if he thought his job was tough before, he's in for a rude awakening.

The real pressure is just beginning.