Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New York Yankees Glossary of Terms: 2010 Edition

With opening day on the horizon, River & Sunset once again offers Yankees fans a quick and easy way to get to know their team. We can verify that 91 percent of the information below is both accurate and relevant to this year's defending World Series champions. The rest is a mixture of hearsay and outright falsehoods.


Sabathia, CC: Beefy left-hander who lived up to massive expectations in first season in pinstripes. Ability to fill role as Yankees ace and potentially recruit LeBron to Knicks makes him the most important athlete in New York sports history. Remains the most amazing "bear" since Steve Balboni in gay Yankee fan community.

Burnett, A.J.: Managed to make it through 33 regular-season starts and five playoff appearances in 2009 without revealing whether or not he was actually any good. Actively worries that popular whipped cream pie bit will be rendered as stale as the YMCA groundskeepers going forward.

Pettitte, Andy: Seemingly wiped away any lingering HGH awkwardness with another strong regular season and dynamic playoff run. Channeling Hollywood hunk George Clooney's debonair salt-and-pepper hairstyle. Teammate most likely to hate Nick Swisher's choice of clubhouse iPod music. Teammate most likely to hate Nick Swisher.

Vazquez, Javier: Yankees required right-hander to watch climatic scene from Good Will Hunting before reporting to spring training. "It's not your fault. Look at me's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. The 2004 ALCS was not your fault."

Hughes, Phil: Rightful winner of fifth-starter competition, quirky 23-year-old will be asked to make the leap in 2010. Secretly self-conscious that "Phil Rules" is not as catchy as "Joba Rules."


Mitre, Sergio: Slated long reliever's chief role will be to make sure Mariano Rivera gets whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in Yankees' bullpen. This includes (but is not limited to): Big League Chew, dill pickle sunflower seeds, McDonald's premium roast, bibles, eternal youth serum, and a Luis Gonzalez voodoo doll.

Park, Chan Ho: Free agent acquisition effectively replaces Chien-Ming Wang as veteran Asian right-hander with durability issues.

Aceves, Alfredo: Back in bullpen after participating in fixed fifth-starter competition. Had as much chance of winning gig as Harland Chamberlain does at outpacing a Kenyan at the Boston Marathon.

Logan, Boone: Trade acquisition will join Damaso Marte to form southpaw contingent of Yankees' bullpen. May or may not have same name as a central historic figure involved in the Battle of the Alamo.

Marte, Damaso: Improbably gained Joe Girardi's trust during 2009 postseason, rewarded manager's faith with strong performance. Team's decision to keep second lefty in bullpen possibly signals that mistrust still lingers. Definitely hates Boone Logan, but is aware of his (potential) ties to American history.

Robertson, Dave: Hard-throwing right-hander may have opportunity to grab eighth-inning setup role if Joba Chamberlain falters. Otherwise, so nondescript that I can't even think of a joke here.

Chamberlain, Joba: Status went from "This guy has NO ceiling!" to "Wait, was this architect a midget?" faster than any phenom in recent Yankees history. Seemed uninterested in winning starting rotation spot this spring. Potentially headed toward flameout of epic proportions.

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


Posada, Jorge: Veteran catcher just two more 20-homer, 80-RBI seasons away from near-certain Hall of Fame status. Glaring defensive deficiencies during 2009 postseason led to multiple f-bomb tirades at River & Sunset headquarters. Foxy wife Laura fought off valiant charge from Minka Kelly to retain Hottest Yankee Wife/Girlfriend title.

Cervelli, Francisco: Handsome Italian who will be asked to fill cement shoes of previous backup catcher Jose Molina. Became close friend of Alex Rodriguez during 2009 season, likely leading to at least one scenario where he was forced to make awkward conversation with Kate Hudson while A-Rod used the bathroom.


Teixeira, Mark: Perennial MVP candidate who impressed fans in 2009 as best two-way Yankees first baseman since Don Mattingly. No discernible sense of humor or personality, has brain activity stored entirely on complex hard drive.

Cano, Robinson: Talented second baseman whose move to fifth position in batting order represents organization's wish that he becomes consistent 100-RBI producer. Often seen crying at locker this spring, holding faded glow stick in one hand and photograph of best friend/ex-teammate Melky Cabrera in the other.

Jeter, Derek: Iconic future Hall of Famer who has entered "I'm Derek Jeter!" phase of career. Can subsist entirely on chili dogs and bat .120 this season and still receive loudest ovation of any Yankee. First celebrity figure since Phil Collins to make receding hairline cool.

Rodriguez, Alex: Polarizing superstar who rode the power of Kate Hudson's private parts to finally achieve postseason glory last fall. Set personal record during February press conference with 74 lip puffs in 15 minutes. (Possibly) true story: Flew to Canada last year to be injected with livestock blood.

Pena, Ramiro: Beanpole reserve infielder fighting for playing time behind Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira. On a positive note, Pena will finally have time to work on that buddy cop screenplay he's always blathering on about.


Johnson, Nick: New designated hitter's innate ability to reach base compromised only by body that is composed entirely of papier-mâché. May score 115 runs this season or twist his ankle and spontaneously combust on Sunday. Vegas lists even odds.


Gardner, Brett: Breaks camp for second straight season as starting outfielder for parent club; hopes to hold onto job longer than three weeks this time around. Misshapen head not conducive to buzz-cut look.

Granderson, Curtis: Affable new center fielder is runaway favorite for player most likely to be booed unmercifully for sluggish April performance. Ability to recite alphabet, correctly name the President separates him from former Yankees left fielder he essentially replaced.

Swisher, Nick: Loquacious right fielder became media darling in 2009 on merits of 29-homer season, stupid haircut. Absurd Twitter feed includes curious updates like, "Talk to me! How's your day going? What's up?" that makes you wonder if he's being held hostage and needs help.

Winn, Randy: Free agent acquisition expected to push Brett Gardner for playing time in left field. Player most likely to be summarily eliminated following pricey trade deadline acquisition. Bonus: Probably does a pretty good Obama.


Girardi, Joe: World Series title in second season as manager has made fans forget all about predecessor. Recently stumbled across 1997 made-for-TV movie Joe Torre: Curveballs Along The Way (I implore you to click) and secretly fumed that Showtime didn't approach him for a similar project. "They got Paul Sorvino to play Torre??!!! You're telling me Ray Liotta's not available to play me!!!! I CALL BULLSH*@!"'

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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Top 10 Unsung Heroes in Yankees History

Finding unsung heroes in the Yankees landscape is difficult business.

If you do something noteworthy in New York, chances are you'll be remembered for it. Just ask Aaron Boone, who will be signing photographs of aging knuckleballers for the rest of his life.

This isn't a bad thing, mind you. Boone deserves his fate, just like Stéphane Matteau, Jim Leyritz, and Mookie Wilson deserve theirs.

Combine a knowledgeable fanbase and a competitive media contingent and you get a hyper-aware sports town. Simply put: We don't forget.

(John Starks can tell you this goes both ways.)

Of course, not everyone gets their due. The Yankees have been in existence for more than 100 years now, and there will always be players who never got their proper due. We can't all have a movies about our life starring John Goodman, you know.

The following is a list of unsung heroes in Yankees history.

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 at danhanzus.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Future Is Now for Joba, Hughes

When Joe Girardi opened camp last month, he made it clear that the fifth-starter job would be a wide-open competition.

And so it was that Phil Hughes, a 23-year-old once deemed too promising to be dealt for Johan Santana and Joba Chamberlain, a 24-year-old once touted as the next Josh Beckett, ended up in a dogfight with the very ordinary likes of Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, and Alfredo Aceves.

Or at least that's how the Yankees presented it.

The reality of the situation is that the fix was in from the start. The Yankees needed Joba or Hughes to win the gig; if they both failed it would be an indictment of the entire operation. This made the Mitre-Gaudin-Ace troika paper contenders, as fake as the color of John Sterling's hair.

This was always about the Golden Boys, even if the Yankees would never admit it.

It's telling that Girardi felt this was the most prudent course of action. The Yankees manager was sending a message to the pair. Despite their pedigree, and high esteem within the organization, nothing was going to be handed to them. They'd have to earn it.

They are being pushed.

Of the two contenders, it's Chamberlain who faces the most pressure.

It's hard to believe, but it was way back in 2007 that Chamberlain burst onto the scene, imposing his will as Mariano Rivera's set-up man.

What's followed since that season has been a series of peaks and valleys, a combination of success and failure that has made Chamberlain a lightning rod for debate among fans and the media.

Should he be a starter or reliever? Why does he keep making excuses? Does he have off-the-field issues? Why was he dressed as the Hamburgler during his DUI arrest?

It's not brought up enough, but Chamberlain hasn't been the same pitcher since Aug. 4, 2008, the day he walked off the mound in Texas with pain in his shoulder. He was diagnosed with rotator cuff tendinitis, ending what had been a very promising first season as a starter. (Chamberlain did return out of the bullpen in September.)

Whether it's the fear of cutting loose, or actual physical limitations, his fastball has never consistently returned since that DL stint.

His struggles during the '09 season reached a point where there were whispers he would be left off the postseason roster. Wisely, the Yankees kept him involved, and he responded by getting some key outs during the World Series run.

This will be the most important season of Chamberlain's career. He'll be 25 by the end of the year; he's no kid anymore despite what that baby face tells you. In all likelihood, the next six months will tell us whether Chamberlain will be a big-time pitcher in this league or if he'll earn JAG (Just Another Guy) status.

Neither Chamberlain nor Hughes have exactly seized the opportunity this spring. Chamberlain was bombed in his first two appearances before righting the ship in his last two. Hughes has been similarly spotty, but appears to be the front-runner for the job.

On Monday against the Phillies, Hughes allowed three home runs, including a walk-off blast by journeyman Wilson Valdez. Still, Girardi spoke like his right-hander had pitched a game that we'd see on ESPN Classic one day.

"I thought it was the best that he's thrown," Girardi said. "It was the best his changeup's been. He saw their big boys and threw the ball well. It's unfortunate it ended the way it did, but I thought it was the best stuff he's had."

Yes, the fix has been in from the start. If your name was Chad, Sergio, or Alfredo, you had about as much chance to win as a Harlem Globetrotters opponent.

Hughes will likely get the first shot at sticking in the rotation. Knowing the grind of a baseball season, Chamberlain will eventually receive his opportunity as well.

It's put up or shut up time for the Golden Boys.

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Top 10 Pitching Performances in Yankees History

When coming up with a list of the top 10 pitching performances in Yankees history, I stuck to a six-pack of very specific ground rules:

1) A perfect game is a free pass: There have been only 16 in the modern era, and the Yankees have three of them. It's the holy grail for a pitcher, and that's good enough for me.

2) Timing matters: A regular-season no-hitter is an amazing accomplishment, but is it more impressive than a lights-out performance in the postseason? Not necessarily.

3) Transcendence is rewarded: Did the pitcher dominate his opposition to the point where it looked like he was operating at a different level? This is also known as The Reverse Igawa.

4) Starters get the edge: I was dying to include Mariano Rivera somewhere on this list, but we're talking about the 10 best pitching performances of all-time. I can't choose a closer over someone who dominated for eight or nine innings. I still love you though, Sandman.

5) Staying power: Does the memorable game double as the defining moment of the player's Yankee career? Has the performance stood the test of time?

6) Modern love I kept the list within the last 60 years for two reasons. First, I wanted to stick with the post-integration era. (Respect, J-Rob.) Second, trying to compare the merits of CC Sabathia and Whitey Ford is hard enough. Attempting to historically judge Jack Chesbro's 41-win season for the '04 (that's 1904) Highlanders would probably give me a stroke. So, haunt me the next time I'm staying at an 1870s farmhouse if you like, but the old fogies lose.

With the ground rules set, let's get to the business.

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 at danhanzus.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Easy Does It: Yankees Put Their Faith In Cano

Robinson Cano has a way of making things look easy on the baseball field.

This is both his greatest blessing and biggest curse.

New York sports fans don't like when things look easy. We appreciate effort. Effort means you're taking the game as seriously as we are.

Paul O'Neill chasing down Luis Polonia's drive up the gap in Game 5 of the '96 Series, that was hard work. Mickey Mantle barely able to drag his shot legs around the bases after hitting his 500th homer off Stu Miller...that took effort. Every devilish pitch David Cone summoned out of that accountant frame of his, he earned each one of those 194 wins.

It's not like that for Cano.

How many times have you seen him go behind second base to turn a sure base hit into a routine out, snatching the ball with his backhand and sidewinding it to first in one fluid motion? How many times have you watched the replay and marveled how easy it looked for him?

Derek Jeter requires a full-on sprint and jersey caked in dirt just to get in the same time zone on a play like that. Has Cano ever laid out for a ball in his life?

Sometimes perception becomes reality.

Cano was just a few months removed from Triple-A in 2005 when Joe Torre compared his new second baseman to Rod Carew. This was heady talk, but it didn't seem to bother the 22-year-old, who finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting that season.

His next two seasons continued the trajectory of a future star. He was an All-Star in 2006, batting .342 and winning the Silver Slugger award at second base. The 2007 season brought more success, with career highs in runs, hits, homers, RBI, and walks.

The Yankees rewarded Cano with a six-year, $55 million contract extension prior to the '08 season...and he responded with the worst season of his career. Cano's batting average dropped 35 points, his on-base percentage plummeting 48 points to a lowly .305.

Suddenly, those nagging perceptions about Cano appeared to hold water. Did the money change him? Was he partying too much? Had he lost interest?

Once viewed as the franchise's next big thing, Cano was now part of the problem. The Yankees missed the postseason for the first time in 14 years in 2008, and Cano was as culpable as anybody.

For the first time in his career, Cano was being challenged.

We all know how he responded. The 2009 season was bounce back year for the Yankees and their second baseman, as Cano's production returned to pre-2008 levels and his defense drew rave reviews.

Building on the momentum of a season ago, the Yankees will ask more of Cano in 2010. Joe Girardi strongly hinted that the lineup he posts on Tuesday will be the same lineup that opens the season in Boston next month.

Cano will bat fifth, a premium production slot in the game's most loaded lineup. It's a move that signals the Yankees' hope that Cano becomes a triple-digit run producer in his sixth season.

It's an act of faith by a team that believes its young star can tackle the last hurdle that stands between him and perennial MVP contention—his struggles with men on base. Cano was barely a .200 hitter with runners in scoring position last season, and that simply won't fly when you're hitting in front of three potential Hall of Famers.

Will Cano be able to produce when it counts? This will be a key subplot of the new season.

The time has come for Cano to take the next step, from complementary piece to franchise focal point. He's a player that makes everything look easy, but this will be his toughest challenge yet.

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

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New York Yankees All-Time Defensive Team

Saying you watch the New York Yankees for their defensive prowess is like saying you watch Jersey Shore for the thoughtful and intelligent dialogue.

In other words, you're not kidding anybody.

Defense is baseball's subtle art form, and the Yankees have made their mark on the sport by being the opposite. They are the Bronx Bombers, after all, and they didn't get that moniker for their soft hands and adroit use of the crow hop.

That said, you don't win 27 World Series titles with a team full of Giambinos bumbling around the field. The Yankees have had their share of defensive standouts in their history, and today we present the Yankees' all-time defensive team.

Click here to check out the slide show, 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 at danhanzus.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vazquez has blank slate in Yankees return

Javier Vazquez is the luckiest man in baseball right now, and he probably doesn't even know it.

Imagine a World Series where Bad A.J. shows up instead of Good A.J. in Game Two, or Johnny Damon is thrown out trying to take that extra base in Game Five, or Hideki Matsui rides the pine with a bum knee in Game Six.

Had the Baseball Gods seen things differently, the Yankees may have entered a new decade riding the same ghost train that departed the Bronx in October 2004.

While Vazquez wasn't the conductor of that grim locomotive six years ago, it's hard to argue he wasn't a main member of the crew. It was Vazquez whose first pitch essentially finished off the Yankees on 10/20, a meatball that Damon (the Homeless Jesus version) lifted into the right field seats for a backbreaking grand slam.

The pitch set in motion a chain of events that led to the Yankees foolishly giving up on the then 28-year-old right-hander. (See: Move, Panic ) He was shipped off as part of the Randy Johnson deal, assumedly never to be seen again.

Now he's back, asked to be the No. 4 starter on a loaded Yankees team coming off a World Series title. I doubt Vazquez thinks about, or even realizes, how his return would be different had the Yankees still been shackled to the '04 ALCS.

Luckily, the events of last fall finally moved the franchise out of that valley. Vazquez will have to endure some beat writer copy about Game Seven before his first start against the Red Sox, but that will likely be it.

Vazquez, like the Yankees, begins 2010 with a blank slate.

The trade for Vazquez was undoubtedly Brian Cashman's finest move of the offseason. Due to an absurd postseason schedule loaded with off days, the Yankees were able to navigate through three rounds of the '09 playoffs without a No. 4 starter. They got away with it, but it was clear that more depth was necessary moving forward.

Enter Vazquez. Now 33, he's coming off arguably the best season of his career. The right-hander went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA for the Braves in '09, striking out 238 in 219.1 innings. Those are ace numbers from a guy the Yankees will ask to shoulder far less weight than in 2004.

It'd be unfair to ask Vazquez to match his statistical production of a year ago. Pitching at Turner Field in the offensively inferior NL East, Vazquez was a big fish in a small pond. How he adjusts in the "AL Beast" will be a major subplot of the Yankees' season.

Vazquez made his spring training debut on Monday against the Phillies, striking out four over two strong innings. The sole damage came on a home run—a first-pitch home run—by Jimmy Rollins.

It was impossible to block out the déjà vu of the occurrence. But Vazquez and the Yankees have moved on from 2004. The scar is still there, but the pain has begun to fade from memory.

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

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why I trust Nick Johnson (and why you should, too)

It's March, which means three things: 1) A friend or family member will do something (or someone) they regret on St. Patrick's Day 2) Your genius will betray you in the form of busted NCAA brackets and 3) You have a fantasy baseball draft on the horizon.

If you're a serious fantasy player—and not that hack from accounting who asks if A-Rod is available in Round 7—this means you've already begun preparation for the big day.

Everyone's draft strategy is more or less the same. You have your first-pick golden boy, the early-round targets, the sleepers-who-aren't-really-sleepers, the legitimate sleepers, the narcoleptic sleepers, and finally, the old reliables, i.e. players who seem to land on your roster year after year.

Nick Johnson has always been one of those guys for me. Due to his injury history, he's typically avoided like an envelope of anthrax on draft day. As a result, I usually end up grabbing him in the 11th or 12th round, subsequently enjoying the 400 or so quality at-bats he manages to churn out between DL stints.

How popular is the husky designated hitter in my fantasy world? In 2006, I christened my team Nick Johnson's Rib Shack. This based on the assumption Nick enjoys pork products in mass.

It could be more difficult landing Johnson this year. He's a Yankee now, and that tends to bump up a player's value on draft boards. The logic is simple: The Yankees are perpetually amongst baseball's highest scoring teams. In fantasy terms, drafting a Bomber is generally a safe bet...unless he's Jose Molina.

Please understand I'm not suggesting that you draft Nick Johnson. I have no idea how he'll fare, and I lump "fantasy experts" into a group that includes Zoltar, Lady Cleo, and Punxsutawney Phil.

What I can say is that the same factors that make Johnson a tempting fantasy play also point to him being an ideal fit in the Yankees' loaded lineup this season.

Think about it: This is a professional hitter, a player who finished second behind some dude named Pujols in OBP last season, and now you're slotting him behind Derek Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez?

That's a Hall of Fame sandwich, my friends. Barring a complete evaporation of skills—or a sudden retirement to join the PBA Tour—how does Johnson not thrive this season? I feel like I could bat .260 in that spot.

Of course, there are the durability concerns, and they're very real. Johnson has just one season of 600+ plate appearances in his eight-year career, missing the equivalent of about four seasons of action. Conditioning is clearly not a strong suit (RIB SHACK! RIB SHACK! RIB SHACK!) and at 31, he's not getting any younger.

That said, this will be the first time in his career he'll be used primarily as a DH, and with Mark Teixeira entrenched at first, it's unlikely Johnson will see anything more than defensive spot duty.

The Yankees showed last season that they could protect a frail player by keeping him off the field whenever possible. Hideki Matsui has knees only in theory at this point, and he still managed 28 homers, 90 RBI, and a World Series MVP in 2009.

If the template works again in 2010, the Yankees could have another All-Star slotted in at the two-hole. The Johnny Damon vigils will be few and far between if that happens.

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

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yankees cross fingers on latest A-Rod mess

With the meteoric rise of Jersey Shore and the "gorilla juiceheads" that the MTV hit so lovingly glorified, I was starting to believe that America had turned a corner in its collective stance on steroids.

If you're a baseball fan, that was your hope anyway. Coming off a year in which Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Mark McGwire were either tied or outright admitted to PED use, we were juiced out on the juice.

McGwire, specifically, seemed to represent a tipping point in the national debate, the beloved slugger who once helped "save" baseball admitting once and for all that he was a fraud. It was sad and disappointing and depressing, but if nothing else, it tied a bow on a confusing time.

Or so we thought.

A report surfaced Monday that the feds want to talk with Rodriguez about Dr. Tony Galea, the shady Canadian doctor that has treated athletes including Tiger Woods and Jose Reyes. SI's Jon Heyman tweeted on Monday night that the Yankees were "not so thrilled" that Rodriguez hadn't disclosed to them that he'd seen the doctor in question.

The lesson as always: A-Rod is a goober.

As a Yankees fan, you can only pray that this thing doesn't blow up. A-Rod underwent a PR renaissance last fall, helping carry New York to a World Series while burying the stigma that he couldn't thrive when it mattered.

His press conference last Thursday was a virtual lovefest between player and press, a mind-blowing reality when you realize how far the guy had sunk. As I wrote Friday, A-Rod was all BS as usual, but with the cloud of steroids seemingly cleared from above his head, the proceedings had an air of normality about them. It was refreshing.

Now the Yankees have to worry if they'll have another major distraction on their hands. Did A-Rod really have a quack doctor pump him full of calf blood? Has shooting people up with livestock DNA really made it beyond 14th century bubonic plague treatment? Considering the source here, I can't really say I'd be surprised.

But I would be annoyed. Annoyed that the attention in spring training wouldn't be solely on baseball, annoyed that I'd have another reason to dislike A-Rod, annoyed that the PED story just won't go away.

"This is about someone else," Rodriguez said Monday. "I’m going to cooperate as best I can and focus on baseball."

Let's hope it's that simple. Unfortunately when it comes to A-Rod, it very rarely is.

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