Friday, June 25, 2010

Hey Joe: Breaking Down the Yankee Managers

As you may have heard, tonight's interleague opener between the Yankees and Dodgers doubles as a reunion between Joe Torre and the franchise he once helped lead to four World Series titles.

Nearly to a man, the praise of Torre has been effusive, with the notable exception of Alex Rodriguez, whose been conspicuously tight-lipped on the topic. (Translation: He no-like the guy.)

Joe Girardi took over in the Bronx after Yankee brass decided to part ways with Torre following the 2007 season. Girardi—who played under Torre from 1996-99—is now in his third year on the Yankees bench, while Torre is in his third year managing the Dodgers.

River & Sunset has fond feelings for both field managers. With the showdown at Chavez Ravine looming, we figured it was time to breakdown Joe v. Joe.


Torre had already been fired three times before George Steinbrenner named him Yankees manager in 1996, a move that was quite unpopular at the time. (You may remember the now infamous "Clueless Joe" headline that ran in the Daily News).

Ironically enough, Torre was something of a lovable loser before he started winning titles in the Bronx. He rolled off four championships in his first five years with the Yankees and New York made the playoffs in all 12 seasons with Torre on the bench.

That said, he exited on the heels of seven straight years of postseason futility—including gonad-busting losses against Arizona (2001) and in The Series That Shall Not Be Named (The Year That Shall Not Be Named).

Girardi won praise and the NL Manager of the Year award for leading a babyface Marlins team to respectability in 2006. In 2008, he managed the first Yankee team that failed to qualify for the playoffs in 15 years. He saved face, and likely his job, by leading the Yankees to a World Series win in 2009.

Advantage: Torre

Management clashes

Torre basically had the run of the lot during the dynasty era, but his power slowly eroded as playoff failures piled up in the 2000s. It came to a head in 2007, when the Yankees decided to cut ties after the disappointing midge-and-Wang-induced ALDS loss to the Indians.

How pissed was Torre about being dumped? Well, he and his buddy, SI writer Tom Verducci, teamed up to write The Yankee Years, a 400-page FU letter to Yankee management. Well, that wasn't what the whole book was about, it just felt that way.

Girardi became the first manager to get fired after winning the Manager of the Year award. This generally happens when you reportedly tell your umpire-heckling owner to "sit down and shut the fuck up" in the middle of a game. Girardi hasn't had any run-ins with Steinbrenner, though that may have a lot to do with the fact that ol' George doesn't know where he is right now.

Advantage: Girardi

Hollywood crossover appeal

Torre's initial success in New York spawned a 1997 made-for-TV movie in which he was portrayed by Goodfellas star Paul Sorvino with pasta-swilling indifference.

Did I mention Tori Spelling's husband played David Cone and the homophobic black guy from Grey's Anatomy played Dwight Gooden? I mean, seriously, how is Joe Torre: Curveballs Along The Way not on DVD and Blu-Ray right now?

Additionally, Torre appeared as himself in Sesame Street, the 2002 Mafia comedy Analyze That, a bunch of awkward Subway ads with Willie Randolph ("This sub tastes like a home run!"), some show called Castle, and some other show called Gary Unmarried. How he didn't work himself into the George Costanza Yankee-arc of Seinfeld is baffling in retrospect.

Girardi has not appeared, or been portrayed in, any film or television production as of press time.

Advantage: Torre

Off-the-field heroism quotient

On the night the Yankees beat the Phillies to clinch their 27th championship, Girardi was driving home when he came upon a woman who had been in a car accident. He flagged down a passing police cruiser and offered assistance to the victim.

"The guy wins the World Series, what does he do? He stops to help," said Westchester County police officer Kathleen Cristiano. "It was totally surreal."

No stories have ever surfaced of Torre stopping to help someone in danger on the side of the road. I like to think he has the Ivan Drago "If he dies, he dies" mentality.

Advantage: Girardi


Girardi has the "Asshole Cop" look down pat: white, physically fit, salt-and-pepper crew cut, square jaw, braces. Okay, the braces do kind of clash here, but apparently he got them for his daughter (which is weird in and of itself) so we'll overlook it here.

Torre, by contrast, gives off the appearance of the quiet grandfather who you don't want to piss off. He's always looked older than his age, with heavy bags under his eyes, heavier eyelids, and a nose out of central casting for the Godfather II flashback act.

Girardi is always on the top step, always intense, always looking like the next Jorge Posada passed ball will lead to his head actually exploding. Torre's look on the bench ranges from disinterested to dead.

Advantage: Even

A-Rod approach

Torre once batted Alex Rodriguez eighth in a playoff elimination game (2006 ALDS in Detroit), and in The Yankee Years, revealed that Rodriguez's own teammates called him "A-Fraud" behind his back. Kind of dick move, dude.

Girardi has treated A-Rod with kid baby prenatal gloves, standing behind his slugger during his 2009 PED admission, while steering clear of the various tabloid happenings that pop up each year.

I wouldn't be surprised if Girardi has never actually had a conversation with his third baseman. This may be a better strategy than you think.

Advantage: Girardi

More fun to chill with

I estimate that Torre has roughly 358,000 incredible baseball stories that he's never divulged to anyone but his closest friends.

I picture him to be a cigar and wine connoisseur who can put down two bottles of the best the house can offer without revealing a buzz.

I feel like Don Zimmer is liable to show up any time and tell some of the filthiest jokes you've ever heard. And let's not even get into all the incredible Italian restaurants that you'll eat at without spending a dime. Good times all around.

I imagine a wild night for Girardi involves a tonic water with an extra slice of lime. If he's feeling especially frisky, he may play the Karate Kid II soundtrack at a very low volume on his modest home stereo system. And forget about staying up late, General Joe has a date with his Chuck Norris' Total Gym® at 5 a.m.

Advantage: Torre

Bottom line

The transformation of the New York Yankees brand during Torre's tenure cannot be overstated. He took over at a time when the franchise was improving but still seen as a shadow of its former self. Torre would become the face of the Yankees in his 12 years, an era that included 12 postseason appearances, six pennants, and four World Series titles. Was his timing impeccable? Sure, but you can't argue with results.

Girardi is off to a fine start with the Yankees, and he certainly has the respect of his players and the media. Ownership is far more patient now than in the days of The Boss, which makes you think Girardi could have a tenure that approaches or exceeds his predecessor's. That said, he still has a long way to go to earn the reputation of Torre, who put the cache back into being the manager of the Yankees.

Torre became a New York sports icon in his time in the Bronx, and for that, he has to retain the edge over his successor. Don't tell Chuck Norris I said that though.

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Are you really still angry about A.J. Burnett?

As I was taking in the hideous stylings of one Allan James Burnett last night at Chase Field, I thought it would be fun to gauge the A.J. Love on some sure-to-be completely rational New York Yankee message boards.

The struggling right-hander had allowed three homers and five runs through one inning against the last-place Diamondbacks. Burnett, I reasoned, would be a periphery topic at the very least.

It turns out that Yankees fans—even-keeled lot that they are—were not happy with their supposed No. 2 starter.

June 21st, 2010 at 10:20 pm

#34 needs to shave his face. What ever happened to the clean-cut yankee policy?

Chris W June 21st, 2010 at 10:23 pm

A.J., you are garbage.

Michelle June 21st, 2010 at 10:23 pm

AJ is an absolute joke. How does .500 pitcher=$82m?? He is absolutely useless.

Jim June 21st, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Like I have said before. Number 5 starter on this team by a mile. Please Cash get rid of this guy in the off season

dillpickler June 21st, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Can we just release this tattooed piece of garbage? Please? I’ll bet every Yankee fan in the country would donate $10 to pay off his pathetic contract. Just get rid of him.

M June 21st, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Burnett= NO heart. NO guts.

Burnett for Lee. Straight up. Get it done NOW, Cashman.

Disgrace to the uniform. I don’t care about the pies. That should be Swisher’s job.

Get off my team, you heartless POS.

Geez, man. A "heartless POS"? Did he kidnap your daughter or something?

As you can see, patience has become extremely short in Burnett. Never mind the outstanding April and a good-ish May, his 0-4, 10.35 ERA June is all that can be processed at this point.

I've long since passed the stage of frustration displayed by the maniacal posters above. For me, the 2009 World Series served as a microcosm of his career, and the point that doubled as the definitive statement of the 32-year-old's limitations.

In Game 2 at Yankee Stadium, Burnett blanked the Phillies for eight innings, essentially saving New York's season. In Game 5 at Citizens Bank Park, he came up smaller than Verne Troyer.

That's A.J. Burnett.

He's a .500 pitcher, who was lucky enough earn more than $100 million in his career because his good half of .500 tends to make him look like one of baseball's best pitchers.

Clearly this isn't the case, and if you're unhappy that the Yankees dished out ace money for a pitcher without the consistency to assume that role, I can understand. But at what point do you stop getting angry and just accept Burnett for what he is?

It's time to come to realization that this is a man who pitches in cycles. One is very, very good, and the other is very, very bad. I can promise you that a strong July is ahead, just as I can assure you August will leave you throwing pretzels at the TV again.

Try to pace yourself in terms of insults and frustration. There will be plenty of time for that before Burnett's time in New York is done.

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

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

With The Doc In, Time for Sabathia to Step Up

Complaining about CC Sabathia's sluggish start with the Yankees is kind of like Tom Brady complaining that Gisele Bundchen hogs the covers when they're in bed.

No one feels sorry for you. Get over yourself. And screw you for even bringing this up in mixed company.

Yankees fans are used to this apathetic mentality. New York's 40-23 mark entering Tuesday's action is tied for the best record in baseball, and as such, the fanbase would probably be wise to keep the griping to a minimum, lest a poor Orioles fan overhear any of the conversation and drive into a wall at 120 MPH.

But the idea that a Yankees fan, or a fan of any successful team, shouldn't complain, or doesn't have the right to complain, is off-base. Airing grievances about your star player, or manager, or mascot is central to the fan experience.

This brings me back to Carsten Charles Sabathia.

The Yankees' ace started out well enough this season. He stumbled in his first start on opening night in Fenway Park, but then won four of his next five outings, pitching to a 1.93 ERA over 37.1 innings during that stretch. He even took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in Tampa on April 10.

But after a Fenway rain delay robbed him of a win on May 8, the Yankees lost the next four games Sabathia started. Implosions by Joba Chamberlain cost CC two wins during that stretch, but it was clear Sabathia wasn't himself.

He righted the ship with wins in his last two starts, but they both came against the Minor League competition that is the Orioles. In fact, four of Sabathia's six wins this season have come against Baltimore, baseball's worst team.

Is it possible there are lingering effects from his heavy 2009 workload, when he threw a whopping 266.1 innings between the regular season and playoffs?

Cole Hamels racked up 262.1 innings during the Phillies' run to the World Series title in 2008 and he wasn't nearly the same pitcher the next season. Of course, CC Sabathia is the size of two Cole Hamels. This is a man built to eat bacon cheeseburgers and innings, so you don't worry about wear-and-tear nearly as much.

Besides, the Brewers did everything in their power to blow out Sabathia's arm following his deadline trade to Milwaukee in 2008, and that clearly had no effect on the big man in his first season in pinstripes.

My theory is that Sabathia is dealing with a bit of a post-World Series hangover. He never reached the top of the mountain before last season, and now he's finding it hard to start climbing again.

What he really needs is a shot of adrenaline, something or someone to push him back to that elite level.

Enter Roy Halladay.

The Yankees welcome the Phillies to the Stadium tonight, in a rematch of last year's World Series. Sabathia will take the ball opposite Halladay, who has dominated the National League over his first 13 starts, going 8-4 with a 1.96 ERA.

Sabathia can make a statement by out-dueling Halladay, kick-starting his season in the process. It's a mortal lock that Halladay will befuddle the Yankees—he did that for 10 years in Toronto. Sabathia will have to be as good or better.

What the Yankees need is for their No. 1 to pitch like a No. 1, and grab back the reigns of staff ace from Phil Hughes. Going head-to-head with the Doc may be just what Sabathia needs.

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

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Which Yankee Has The Highest Trade Value?

In the hours following Stephen Strasburg's Brendan-Fraser-in-The-Scout -level debut for the Nationals on Tuesday, my buddy Howie posed this question to me (@danhanzus ) via Twitter:

Most trade value: Mauer, Hanley, Pujols or Strasburg? I say #Strasburg easy.

I said I thought Mauer may be the most valuable of the group, but the size of the catcher's contract (eight years, $184 million) combined with Strasburg's age (21) made the Nats right-hander the easy choice.

That got me thinking about which one of the Yankees had the most trade value. Hmmmm...

First some ground rules:

  • I'm only concerning myself with the 25-man roster and a couple of the DL stashees right now. The downside, of course, is that I can't use the eight to 10 stellar Kei Igawa jokes I had lined up.
  • Money and age matter. Who would be more attractive to a prospective suitor: A-Rod, 34, with $170 million remaining on his contract, or Robinson Cano, 27, with $15 million left on his?
  • I'm going to keep the Core Four out of the mix here. Even within the confines of a completely hypothetical blog post, it would be ridiculous to discuss the trade value of Jeter/Mo/Po/Pettitte. Those old dogs are staying on the porch.

Let's get started...

22) Alex Rodriguez, 3B: A-Rod is smack in the middle of the most untradeable contract in the history of professional sports (10 years, up to $300 million with escalators, signed back in 2007).

You want insanity? The Yankees owe him $150 million in the next five seasons alone and are on the hook to pay him through his 42nd birthday in 2017.

The Yankees could offer to eat half of the remaining dollars, and I bet they still wouldn't find a taker. It's no surprise that the Rodriguez contract re-up also doubled as Hank Steinbrenner's final act of defined power in the organization.

21) Nick Johnson, DH: Let's face it, baseball's Mr. Glass has zero trade value in his current state. He's playing out a one-year, $5.5 million deal and he's already on the shelf until at least September following wrist surgery. May this be a warning, not just to Brian Cashman, but to all decision-makers around the league: If the player walks with a limp, do not give him a multi-million dollar contract.

20) Chad Gaudin, RP: Money obviously isn't the roadblock to dealing Gaudin so much as a consistent ability to not be crappy. The A's already cut him loose this season, so that should tell you something.

19) Chan Ho Park, RP: Park had his moments with the Phillies last season, but he hasn't shown much in pinstripes, other than a propensity to overshare regarding his gastrointestinal problems.

He's playing out a one-year, $1.2 million deal and Brian Cashman would probably drive him to his next destination himself if he could get any real value back.

18) Kevin Russo, INF/OF

17) Ramiro Pena, INF

16) Marcus Thames, OF

Kevin Russo and Ramiro Pena are basically interchangeable—a couple of career reserves destined for a spot on the Long Island Ducks team bus in 2012.

Marcus Thames can actually hit, but he possesses the defensive skills of my seven-year-old cousin. Buyers beware.

15) Sergio Mitre, RP: The one-time Marlins prospect is now two years removed from Tommy John surgery and is playing out a one-year, $850,000 deal. He can start or come out of the 'pen with intensely average results. That's the hardest I can sell the dude.

14) Alfredo Aceves, RP: The Ace Man had been a major piece of the Yankees' bullpen for two years, but he's stuck with a back only Don Mattingly could love. If you don't mind your setup men in traction, Aceves is the guy for you. Interested?

13) Damaso Marte, RP: Left-handed relief pitchers are always in demand, unless they're Marte, who is in the second year of an unnecessarily gaudy three-year, $12 million deal.

Postseason heroics aside, Marte has been an enigma in pinstripes, and it's still hard to justify why Cashman was so eager to lock him up.

12) David Robertson, RP: Don't tell him I said this, but there are thousands of Dave Robertsons in the world. Every big league bullpen has at least three: a hard-throwing right-hander who misses bats but can't consistently pitch clean innings.

Robertson's K/9 rate may make him desirable when viewed in the right context, but the Yanks shouldn't hold their breath on that Strasburg-for-Robertson offer.

11) CC Sabathia, SP: Obviously on a much smaller scale than A-Rod's, but the size of Sabathia's deal (seven years, $161 million, signed in 2009) makes the big man difficult to move in more ways than one. If you have the resources, trading for an ace left-hander in the prime of his career is certainly tempting.

But, then again, you'll also be paying for Sabathia's 2015 season, when a then-35-year-old Carsten Charles may need a crane to leave his house.

10) A.J. Burnett, SP: Burnett is more or less exactly the pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed the right-hander to a five-year, $82.5 million deal prior to the '09 season.

Is he worth the $16.5 million annual rate his contract commands through 2013? Probably not, but his high upside, coupled with his ability to stay healthy for the past two-and-a-half years, would make him at least an intriguing thought for GMs around the league.

9) Mark Teixeira, 1B: The good news? Put aside the struggles that have accompanied his 2010 season, Teixeira is a 30-year-old, Gold Glove-winning first baseman who doubles as a virtual lock for 35+ homers and 120 RBIs every season.

The bad news? He's in the second year of an eight-year, $180 million deal. If you have the scratch, he has immense trade value. But how many teams can even entertain that thought?

8) Francisco Cervelli, C: Cervelli remains an intriguing figure in the Yankees' landscape. He was a prospect who couldn't hit in the minors, then he got called up into emergency duty in 2009 and transformed himself into a .300 hitter at the big league level.

Cervelli's sizzling start to 2010 was equally as impressive, though he seems to be in the midst of a stiff market correction (hitting .132 since May 25).

With the Yankees loaded at the catcher position in the farm system, it's possible that Cervelli will become offseason trade bait. His defense, speed, youth, and enthusiasm would undoubtedly make him an attractive option to many teams.

7) Brett Gardner, LF: It's hard to say what Gardner's ceiling is at this point. Best-case scenario, he's an evolutionary Brett Butler with a bigger head. Worst-case scenario, he's a vagrant man's Jacoby Ellsbury without the female fanclub. His blazing speed cannot be denied, however, and his league-minimum salary helps as well.

6) Nick Swisher, RF: The White Sox obviously didn't think Swisher had much trade value, having dealt away the gregarious outfielder for the immortal Wilson Betemit, a move that ranks amongst Cashman's very best.

Swisher has made Ozzie & Co. pay ever since, returning to the form that put him on the map with the Athletics in the mid-2000s.

The five-year, $26.75 million deal signed in 2007 seems like a steal for a consistent producer in the middle of the Yankees lineup and an all-around swell guy.

5) Javier Vazquez, SP: Now that Vazquez seems to have put his slow start behind him, he can once again be viewed as a welcome piece to any team's pitching staff. He's also in the walk year of a very reasonable three-year, $34.5 million deal.

If the Yankees were ever sellers in late July, Vazquez would be at the top of many lists.

4) Curtis Granderson, CF: A groin injury wiped out a month of his first half, so Yankees fans still haven't gotten the full Granderson Effect.

But the speedy center fielder was a coveted player on Brian Cashman's wish list for some time, and his five-tool abilities, good-guy reputation, and reasonable salary ($5.5 million in '10, $8.25 million in '11, $10 million in '12) make him a desirable asset to many teams.

3) Joba Chamberlain, RP: Make no mistake, if the Yankees ever put Joba on the block, there would be interest.

Yankees fans—not to mention the Yankees themselves—are still trying to recalibrate Chamberlain's upside following his electric 2007 debut, but you can imagine teams would line up at the thought of making the 25-year-old their next closer.

Couple his potential with his affordability—he's earning just over the Major League minimum right now and becomes arbitration-eligible in 2011—and he's one sexy carrot. Please don't tell him I said that. In fact, let's just move on ...

2) Phil Hughes, SP: After three years of build up, Hughes has emerged as a Cy Young candidate in 2010. He's just 23 years old. He's essentially making the league minimum with three more years before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Yes, I'd say Mr. Hughes has a rather high trade value.

Brian Cashman resisted the temptation of shipping Hughes to the Twins in exchange for Johan Santana back in 2007, and the team is reaping the benefits of that decision now. It was the type of restraint the Yankees are famous for not having, and hopefully the organization learned an important lesson in the process.

1) Robinson Cano, 2B: For all the good things Cano had done in his previous five seasons in New York, he always seemed to leave fans expecting more. That's changed in 2010, with Cano in the midst of legitimate MVP-level campaign.

Just entering his prime at age 27, Cano is in the third year of an increasingly reasonable four-year, $30 million deal, which includes club options for 2011 and 2012.

When you factor in his production, upside, and affordability, Robbie is easily the Yankee with the highest trade value. And somewhere in an underground club in Atlanta, Melky hoists up a glow stick in his best friend's honor.

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

Monday, June 7, 2010

Time To Send A Teix Message?

When Mark Teixeira struck out for the fifth time against the Blue Jays on Saturday, it did more than just match the worst individual performance of his career.

It also marked the exact moment the Yankees first baseman finally hit rock bottom.

It had been a long, strange trip to get there, prolonged slumps followed by promising breakouts followed by prolonged slumps. Teixeira's confidence eroded with each strikeout at Rogers Centre, his approach growing more tentative with each failure.

By the time he faced the immortal Casey Janssen in the 13th inning of a 2-2 game, the look in Teixeira's eyes betrayed the front he was trying to put up. He was lost.

The two-time All-Star got ahead in the count 3-0 and still struck out, feebly waving at a pedestrian slider to conclude his day. He dipped his head and walked back to the dugout, the Diamond-Encrusted Sombrero resting firmly upon his head.

Yankees broadcaster John Sterling has a well-worn maxim he uses whenever something unexpected happens and it goes something like this: "Ya know CAN'T figure out baseball!" He usually chuckles after he makes this statement then references a Broadway play from the 1920s.

I'm not sure if Sterling has uttered that line about Teixeira's 2010 season, but it absolutely applies. Because there's really no way to understand how 57 games into the season, Mark Teixeira has been one of baseball's worst hitters.

And make no mistake, he has been one of the league's worst offensive players. I don't exactly count myself among the Sabermetric enlightened, but Teixeira has to be ground zero in the argument that the RBI is baseball's most misleading statistic.

Teixeira has driven in 34 runs this season. The average total for a Major League first baseman is 21. Weird, right?

From an outsider's perspective it would seem that Teixeira is coming around. He finished May with a very respectable .280 average, hitting six homers with 25 RBIs.

But for those who have watched the majority of his at-bats—including, one can assume, most of the people reading this very blog right now—you know that Teixeira's May was a smoke-and-mirrors job all the way. Fifty percent of his homers and 20 percent of his RBIs for the month came in one blowout win at Fenway Park on May 8. In some ways, his second month was more frustrating than his washout of an April.

Teixeira followed his nightmare Saturday with another 0-for-4 on Sunday, dropping his average to .211. If he can't come out of his slump this week—and with a trip to Camden Yards and the 16-41 Orioles on the horizon, he won't have much of an excuse—then the whispers will turn into a roar for Teixeira to be dropped out of his customary No. 3 spot in the order.

Girardi is notoriously stubborn, so I doubt any changes will come. From his perspective, you have to believe he doesn't want to mess with Robbie Cano (the presumed No. 3 fill-in), who has taken to the fifth spot so well.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and we've reached virgin-on-prom-night levels of gloom here. Joe Torre once dropped Alex Rodriguez to eighth in the Yankees lineup (in a playoff game, no less!), a move, that despite its best intentions was pretty, well, stupid.

In Teixiera's case, nothing nearly that rash is necessary. But he could use the change of scenery to get his mind in a different place. Perhaps flip-flop him with Jorge Posada, another switch-hitter, proven run producer, and a veteran who the mental makeup to produce wherever he bats. Teixeira can hit behind Cano and get his confidence back to 2009-levels of robotic efficiency.

Then, when the time is right, re-insert him at the third spot and away you go.

It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of baseball. Six months of action lends itself to blowing things out of proportion. Look no further than at Javier Vazquez, who 90 percent of Yankees would've traded for a bucket of rocks 30 days ago. Now he has the same number of wins as CC Sabathia.

Chances are that Teixeira will figure this out. Career .286 hitters don't just go into a tailspin in the middle of their primes. But perhaps Teixeira could use a little push in the right direction. A trip south in the lineup may be just the mental vacation he needs.

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

Friday, June 4, 2010

Yankees Unkind to Baseball's Have-Nots

I don't know who pissed him off, but Grim Reaper is on a mean tear lately.

First was Dennis Hopper. Then Gary Coleman. Then Rue McClanahan. Now it sounds like John Wooden.

With all that grim business in the air, perhaps it was fitting that the Yankees just played host to two teams whose fanbases kicked the bucket a long time ago.

Seriously though, can you remember the last time teams as putrid as the Indians and Orioles waddled into Yankee Stadium in back-to-back series?

That's actually not fair to the Indians—they managed to win a game with the help of Joba Chamberlain, who had one of his patented, "Man, P.J. Clarke's really doesn't have an over-serve policy!" looks on face last Saturday.

The Orioles may be the worst team I've ever seen. O's manager Dave Trembley finally got canned after New York completed the sweep on Thursday. I was starting to wonder if Trembley had video of a crossdressing Cal Ripken Jr. slinging rock to the teens of Bulletmore, Murderland.

Apparently not. But Detectives Bunk and McNulty will be watching you, Mr. Ripken.

Because of the utter suck that lined the third-base dugout in the past week, it was almost impossible to get a read on the state of the Yankees. From a pure numbers standpoint, they were dominant. New York won six of the seven games, outscoring opponents by a 55-25 margin.

But I've watched high school teams that could beat up on the Kevin Millwood that showed up on Thursday. The man tripped over himself trying to throw a pitch at one point. I had to rewind my DVR to make sure there wasn't a banana peel next to the rubber. The O's are cartoon bad. I think Miguel Tejada was bludgeoned by an anvil at one point.

But back to the Yankees. After seven innings of one-run ball on Tuesday, do we know for sure if Javier Vazquez is back on track? How about CC Sabathia, who allowed two more homers on Thursday but still managed to pick up his first victory in nearly a month? Is Mariano Rivera (2-for-2 in save chances) out of his funk?

Against that caliber of opponent, it's hard to say.

Thankfully, some things I'm more sure about.

If Robbie Cano gets any hotter, he'll burst into flames. He has a MLB-best 17-game hitting streak, and even more impressive, he's hitting 3.038 during that stretch. That's actually a lie. It's .465 (33-for-71), but it seems better than that. You may be looking at the MVP at second base, folks.

Derek Jeter is also on a tear, hiking his average 36 points in his last 11 games (.267 to .303). Still think Nomah is bettah? Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson are also hitting well, covering Mark Teixeira's butt for another week.

The Yankees return to the realm of big league baseball on Friday when they begin a weekend series at SkyDome Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays. It was about this time last season when a surprising start gave way to a tailspin for Cito Gasten's team. Coming off two awful losses to the Rays this week, are the Jays about to freefall again?

On a semi-related note, is this the year when Gasten will finally age like a normal human being? It's like a Madame Tussauds exhibit in that dugout. It's creepy.

Watching the Yankees attempt to build on a winning streak and witnessing a potential brush with the undead/supernatural? Yes, I believe this is worth scrapping your weekend plans for.

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

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Just Win (Ugly), Baby

Sometimes your name can take you a long way.

Take Miguel Tejada, for instance. For all intents and purposes, Tejada's career is in a irreversible nosedive. The man has no business being the starting third baseman for any Major League team, no matter how awful that team may be.

But Tejada is a former MVP, a six-time All-Star, and has enough residual HGH matter in his bloodstream to revive Gary Coleman, so the Orioles continue to run the 36-year-old to the hot corner despite his atrocious defense and .296 on-base percentage.

Trust me, I'm not complaining. Tejada's throwing error was the decisive play in the Yankees' 3-1 win over the O's on Tuesday night, New York's sixth win in eight games. It also served as a probable snapshot of Baltimore rookie Brian Matusz's first seven years in the big leagues—hold Yankees offense in check then watch the bullpen, or defense, or bullpen and defense saddle him with the loss or no-decision. Welcome to The Show, Brian!

Give credit to the don't see many Tejada-types pop up on the roster anymore. Jason Giambi was certainly about to reach that point, but Brian Cashman wisely jettisoned the affable slugger following the 2008 season.

Facing the likes of Tejada and the rest of his Birds teammates certainly was a nice way for Javier Vazquez to get back on track. The right-hander finally gave Yankee Stadium fans a reason to cheer, allowing one run over seven innings of work for his fourth win. Escaping a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh was especially encouraging—he displayed an ability to dodge trouble that you didn't see in his last start in Minnesota.

Who knows if this will finally be the turning point that sends Vazquez in the right direction for good this season, but it's certainly a promising development. His fastball consistently touched 90 and occasionally hit 91, up from the 88 MPH meatballs he was chucking in April and most of May.

Most importantly, he may have shed that, "Hey, did Bobby Cox call while I was in the bathroom?" look on his face. Vazquez is starting to look like he may actually want to be here, and that can only mean good things for the Yankees going forward.

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