Friday, July 30, 2010

Tracking the Cash: Yankees at the Trade Deadline

Brian Cashman was a lowly intern when he joined the Yankees organization in 1986, but he proved skillful at climbing the most slippery corporate ladder in professional sports.

Cashman was named general manager of the club in 1998, and under his watch the Yankees have captured six American League pennants and four World Series titles.

The 43-year-old New York native has been something of a lightning rod in his time as GM. Supporters say he's a smart, hard-working executive that has earned the respect of colleagues around the game. Detractors believe Cashman was simply along for the ride during the dynasty run, is a poor talent evaluator, and was directly responsible for the team's title drought last decade.

The Yankees' World Series run in 2009 puts Cashman in a comfortable place in his 13th year on the job, and whatever your opinion, the man has staying power. With the trade deadline upon us, we're going to take a look at the Yankees' July trading activity under Cash.

Click here to view the slide show over at Bleacher Report.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus. This an updated edition of a slide show originally published last year.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chamberlain reaching point of no return

Last July, I wrote a story titled "Joba Chamberlain for Roy Halladay: Would You Pull the Trigger?" I did this with a straight face. There were no drugs in my system at the time.

It seems laughable now, but there was logic to it in the salad days of 2009. Chamberlain's breakout 2007 season was still somewhat fresh, and he had shown enough potential as a starter to make you think he would eventually develop into a front-line pitcher.

Most people who commented on the story didn't believe the Blue Jays—then Halladay's team—would have any interest, but there was a vocal minority who said Chamberlain was good enough to be the centerpiece of a trade package.

Even crazier, some believed Joba was too good to be traded at all. In a poll of 135 people, 32.6% said that Joba was untouchable.

Halladay was eventually dealt to the Phillies in the offseason, where he's put up his typical Cy Young-worthy numbers. Chamberlain, meanwhile, has regressed to the point that he's inserted into 8-0 games like yesterday.

You have to earn such an indignity, and Chamberlain has certainly done that with his 5.86 ERA.

Of course, the working theory is that the Yankees "messed up" Chamberlain, that the "Joba Rules" and all the ridiculous strategy that it entailed somehow stunted the right-hander's development.

This is nothing more than a big fat excuse.

I'm reading Bill Madden's excellent biography on George Steinbrenner right now, and let me tell you something, that was a man who could stunt a player's development.

Back when Ron Guidry was a struggling prospect, Steinbrenner—angered by a rocky spring training appearance—said within earshot of the then 25-year-old, "He'll never be more than a Triple-A pitcher!"

Guidry was so distraught by the criticism that he packed up his things and began to drive back to Lafayette, Louisiana. Only a pep talk by his wife got him to change his mind about quitting.

That, my friends, is how you mess with a young pitcher. On a related note, has enough time passed for me to say that George was a complete and utter buffoon? Let me know.

Was Joba coddled unnecessarily? I think even the Yankees would admit that now. But more than anything, the "Joba Rules" were about ensuring Chamberlain's health, and from that standpoint you could say it was successful.

Chamberlain is healthy right now, if not healthy looking. He appears to be carrying more weight this season than in the '07-'09 era. He has visible love handles, and his face has swollen to Bambino-sized proportions. Once a big boy with a baby face, Joba is starting to take on a Bobby Jenks-type mold.

Is a lack of conditioning behind his struggles? I wouldn't go that far, a relief pitcher doesn't need to be cut like Apollo Creed, and one look at CC Sabathia proves that, um, husky guys can excel on the mound.

But something's off, and Chamberlain better figure it out quick. If he thought coming into an eight-run game in Cleveland was a buzz kill, perhaps he should picture what it'd be like to waste away in the Kansas City Royals' bullpen in 2011.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yankees' Bench Still Needs Reinforcements

Before Rick Pitino was best known for doing dirty, awful things to mid-western restaurant patrons, he was a well respected college basketball coach. And before that, he was coach of the Boston Celtics.

Pitino's stay was brief (three-and-a-half seasons) and wholly ineffective (102-146 record, zero postseason berths), but he did leave behind one very famous tirade to Boston sportswriters on March 1, 2000.

Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they're going to be gray and old.
If you're a Yankee fan, you may need a similar pep talk when it comes to the Bombers' bench.
Darryl Strawberry is not walking through that door, fans. Wade Boggs is not walking through that door, and Tim Raines is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they're going to be gray and old...and possibly under the influence of crack cocaine.
My original idea for this post was to discuss the relative dearth of talent on the Yankees' bench, an idea that came to me as Juan Miranda made Mike Sciossia look like a genius for twice intentionally walking him in front of Robinson Cano.

Then Miranda pulverized a Scott Shields fastball for a homer in the seventh, and Colin Curtis followed an inning later with a three-run shot (after entering as a pinch-hitter with an o-2 count no less!). All of a sudden, the bench didn't seem so pitiful.

But is it? With the trade deadline approaching, let's take a closer look at the Yankees' reserves.

Juan Miranda, 1B/OF: It's said that Joe Girardi likes Miranda's stroke (that came out wrong). His role is to be the Yankees' power threat off the bench from the left side. Miranda has three homers and eight RBIs in 57 at-bats. If that doesn't blow you away, his .227 average and .302 on-base percentage probably won't jack you up, either.

Francisco Cervelli, C: The continued corrosion of one Jorge Posada has made Cervelli more-or-less a regular, but I suppose he's still technically a reserve so we'll include him here. The Frisco Kid got off to a blazing start, batting .360/.448/.400 in April and .307/.368/.400 in May. The wheels came flying off in June (.180/.275/.246), but he's gotten back on track this month (.318/.375/.364). He has no pop whatsoever (only 10 extra-base hits, zero homers), but he's a quality defender and a good character guy. And whenever you can have a Italian guy on your team who speaks with a Venezuelan accent, you have to be pretty pumped.

Colin Curtis, OF: Curtis is one of those easy-to-root-for-guys. Most dudes who beat testicular cancer as a teenager and go on to make it to the Major Leagues earn that distinction. But beyond the human interest element, Curtis seems to know what to do at the plate. He had a great 10-pitch at-bat against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton last month, and his homer on Wednesday was profoundly impressive—especially under the unique circumstances. Plus, he beat ball cancer when he was 15. Can't forget that.

Ramiro Pena, INF: A middle infielder in the Andy Stankiewicz mode, Pena is your classic good glove-no hit player. He's invaluable on your roster if Alex Rodriguez's hip starts barking in the third inning, or Derek Jeter needs a half day off, but he represents dead weight at the bottom of any lineup he bats in. There's really not much else to say here.

Marcus Thames, "OF": I put Thames' position in quotes because the 33-year-old has the defensive ability of that right fielder on your Little League team who smelled really weird. Luckily, Thames can hit left-handed pitchers quite well, and that's kept him on the Yankees, and in the big leagues in general. Thames missed significant time with a sprained ankle, but his numbers (.287 BA, .396 OBP, three homers, 13 RBIs in 87 at-bats) does reveal that he has some value. It's possible he smells like that kid, though.

So no, Larry Bird isn't walking through that door, and Darryl Strawberry ain't, either. But how about Johnny Damon?

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, July 16, 2010

With Boss Gone, Uncertainty Creeps Into Yankee Universe

We begin the season's second half tonight living in a post-Boss world, and I for one am a little uneasy about it.

We heard from Hal Steinbrenner's people on Thursday that the family doesn't plan on selling the Yankees. But since Hal kind of looks like a bad guy from an eighties ski movie, I'm not quite buying it just yet.

A sample conversation:

Accountant: "Here are your options, Hal. You can keep the team, deal with the day-to-day headaches of running a major sports enterprise, inhale your brother's second-hand smoke for the next 30 years, and futilely attempt to live up to the impossible standards set by your old man.

Hal: Okay ...

Accountant: Or, a filthy rich entrepreneur cuts you a check for $ 1.7 billion and you spend the rest of your life sipping daiquiris in the South of France.

Hal: (Checking flights to Charles de Gaulle Airport) Let me sleep on that.

If you were Hal and Hank, wouldn't you at least have to think about the upside of selling?

Hank already tried his hand at running the day-to-day operations of the club and quickly burned out. Now he's in charge of the family's horse business in Florida, which is kind of like when the Corleones shipped Fredo off to Vegas. Out of sight, out of mind.

From an outsider's perspective, it doesn't seem like Hal has the same fire that drove his father to make the Yankees a winner. Hal is a private guy, and it's impossible to know whether his running of the show is out of choice or responsibility.

Even the general manager is left to speculate:

“I think their family loves this,” Brian Cashman told the New York Post . “They are all involved. They like it. This is their life. It is a part of them. Their name is branded on the team.”

The sentiment is nice, but Cashman, like the fans, can only hope that's true.

George may have died on Tuesday, but his days of running the Yankees were long over before that. The new regime of Hal, Randy Levine, Lonn Trost, and Cashman proved in 2009 that they have what it takes to keep the Yankees relevant going forward.

But until we hear from Hal himself that the team is staying in the Steinbrenner family, there will be reason for nerves along River Avenue.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

George Steinbrenner: His 10 Greatest Feuds

George Steinbrenner owns the back pages of New York's tabloids one last time today, the day after his passing at the age of 80.

Steinbrenner helped restore the Yankees to status as baseball's marquee team in his 37-year run as owner. His mercurial nature made him both a feared and respected presence and an easy target for lampooning. Above all, he was unforgettable, the most famous owner in the history of American professional sports.

On a sad day in Yankee history, River & Sunset takes a look back at the 10 greatest feuds in the Boss' incredible run.

Click here to check out the slideshow, featured over at Bleacher Report.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Patience Wearing Thin Over Yankees Offense

Let's get this out of the way up top: There's no shame in being shut down by Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez in back-to-back nights.

They are, arguably, two of the top five pitchers in the American League right now. If anyone should be ashamed, it's the Mariners, who are buried in last place despite having the best 1-2 starting rotation punch in the sport.

So yes, any team can be stifled by good pitching, and ranting about two games in late June would be pointless (though I suspect many will anyway).

That said, the losses do put the spotlight on the Yankees offense, and the view isn't exactly flattering right now.

Depth is obviously a concern. The likes of Kevin Russo, Colin Curtis, and Chad Huffman won't remind anyone of the Boggs-Strawberry-Raines salad days of the Yankees bench. Brian Cashman has admitted as much, and has hinted that upgrading his reserves is a primary goal as the trade deadline approaches.

But the Yankees have more to worry about than the bench.

Take a closer look at the regulars who the Yankees are leaning on so heavily to remain healthy and effective. Derek Jeter is hitting 33 points below his career average; Mark Teixeira is sitting 55 points below his. Alex Rodriguez is showing signs of coming out of his power slump, but remains on pace for his first sub-30 home run season. Jorge Posada is getting old on us, Curtis Granderson is lowering expectations by the day, and Francisco Cervelli is suddenly on a trajectory for Scranton.

On the flip side, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner are having legit strong seasons, while Robinson Cano continues to pick up the slack for all the teammates struggling around him. Cano is the only thing separating the Yankees from third place right now.

One thing that did stand out about the Lee and Hernandez performances was the striking similarity to games the Yankees lost in the postseason throughout the 2000s. A frontline starter punches the Yankees in the mouth, and they don't get up.

Will this Yankee team be remembered for that same trait? You can say they won the title last year, and are therefore exempt of such a comparison. But there's no Hideki Matsui here, no Johnny Damon, and many of those who remain simply don't look like the same players.

Are some of the key figures on the roster getting old? Perhaps—it was bound to happen, of course. But there's still enough talent on the roster to rise above the decline of a few.

(Eyes burning hole through center of Mark Teixeira's torso).

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus .