Thursday, March 31, 2011

LIVE BLOG: Yankees vs. Tigers, 2011 season opener

Hello from River & Sunset headquarters in sunny Hollywood, Calif., where we begin coverage of the 2011 season with opening day. I have a cold Bud Light (never too early) and the knowledge that the canned Joe Morgan won't handle ESPN's telecast (he left the company to start a moderately successful WWE tag team with Jon Miller).

So let's do this thing. I'll check back in in a couple of minutes to give my 2011 predictions and possibly a complaint about Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. Good times.

1:05 - Tim Kurkjian: "Miguel Cabrera was arrested on a DUI charge early this spring but the rest of the spring has gone really well." Apart from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

1:08 - Did you know that not one ESPN expert — a list of dozens — picked the Yankees to make the World Series? Even by their own RSN flag-waving standards, I find that ridiculous. Not one of those experts fathomed a scenario where the Yankees play well through July then make a big trade to fortify their rotation? Mark my words when that happens and 90 percent of those experts say the Yankees "are the team to beat."

1:10 - So yes, I think the Yankees have been undeservedly been thrust into the also-ran category, something a veteran team will surely be motivated by. Prediction: 92-70, AL Wild Card entry. Beat Braves in six in the World Series. A '96 vibe for sure.

1:14 - From commenter "the" - Can you talk about Barry Larkin on Baseball Tonight? The man was much smoother with his glove than his mouth. I'm really upset I missed this, since I love watching overmatched professional athletes on camera. I will tune in tonight.

1:15 - Cap'n Crunch ship-jumper CC Sabathia starts the season with an 89-MPH fastball for a strike. I like baseball.

1:16 - My goodness, Sabathia fanned Austin Jackson on a 94-MPH fastball in 42 degree conditions. Carsten Charles is ready.

1:17 - Curtis Granderson makes diving catch in center for second out. I predict big things from Grandy.

1:18 - I miss the Magglio Ordonez jheri-curl. I can't believe I know the correct spelling of jheri-curl.

1:19 - 1-2-3 inning for CC as Jheri Ordonez lines out to center. A good start.

1:21 - Brett Gardner, one of the Yankees' leadoff men, digs in against Justin Verlander. I give Gardner's 2010 a solid 'B'. Lots of promise, the speed we knew about, but a ton of strikeouts. Didn't expect that. Too many of them looking, too.

1:22 - On cue, Gardner chases a 96-MPH fastball out of the zone and heads back to the dugout.

1:24 - Derek Jeter steps in the box in his 15th opening day. Amazing. He falls behind 0-2 (an especially nasty Verlander curve ball was involved) and then flicks a soft liner to second. Verlander looks good early.

1:26 - Even though he's made up mostly of metal and other composite parts, Mark Teixeira shows very human mental weakness when it comes to April. If he could ever shake that, he could have an MVP season in him.

1:27 - Tex walks. ESPN notes that he's a .235 career hitter in April, which seems about 234 points too high.

1:28 - Alex Rodriguez steps in the box, entering a season suddenly huge on expectations. Anything less than 50 and 150 and you're a failure Mr. Diaz!

1:32 - If I was Robbie Cano, I'd be bummed I finished last season one point short of .320, one homer short of 30, and one RBI shy of 110. That's just me.

1:33 - You have to love how Yankees are making Verlander work here. Meanwhile, I'm really hoping they brought back the white nacho sauce at the Stadium this year. Biggest disappointment of 2010 by far...and I'm including Nick Johnson's corpse.

1:35 - Verlander needs 31 pitches, but he fans Cano on a 3-2 pitch to escape trouble. Scoreless after one.

1:41 - Jeter shows the range of a musk ox on a hot shot to his left. Runners on first and second, nobody out.

1:42 - So happy that Buster Olney is at the Stadium today. I love me some Buster. Meanwhile, the Yankees are in a heap of trouble. Bases loaded, nobody out.

1:46 - Rick Sutcliffe annoys me. There, I said it.

1:47 - Great comeback by CC, striking out Aviles to escape further damage. 1-0 DET heading into the bottom of the second.

1:48 - Really enjoying theis USAA retirement guide commercial attempting to lend nostalgia to the Vietnam War. Something tonally of there, can't figure it out.

1:50 - Oh right. 'Nam was an endless horror show in a jungle with land mines and Charlie hiding in trees with machine guns.

1:52 - And good ole Georgie Posada hits his first of roughly 250 lazy fly balls to left. Two outs, nobody on.

1:56 - If the shooting guard from the "Teamwork is Good" commercial told referees the ball was off him and gave up a crucial position, I'd be one super-pissed coach. Sportsmanship is overrated.

1:59 - Austin Jackson strikes out ... a lot. He led the league last year, and he's leading the league again right now with two.

2:01 - Will Rhymes seems like he has a particularly nasty Napoleon Complex.

2:03 - Funny how people always kill A-Rod, but we, as a sports populace, chose to overlook the fact that Ken Griffey Jr. was kind of a dick. Ironic he's now a spokesman for Dick's Sporting Goods.

2:06 - Man, is it crappy in New York today. What a horrible stretch of weather the last few months. (I will not mention my front door is wide open in L.A. right now.)

2:09 - Russell Martin singles sharply to left in his first Yankee at-bat and Gardner follows with a successful sac bunt that he nearly legs out for a hit. If Gardner can improve his bunting, it's the type of skill that can make him a .300 hitter in this league.

2:13 - Rick Sutcliffe calls three-run homers field goals, saying it so casually as if everyone uses the term.

2:14 - Wow. Teixeira obliterates a high fastball into the second deck and just like that it's 3-1. Like I said, if he could ever jump out to a fast start he's an MVP candidate. He currently leads the league in homers and RBIs.

2:19 - Always good to see Aaron Boone. It's amazing to think how one swing can change a person's life.

2:24 - Apparently add Brad Penny to the list of big leaguers who came into camp significantly slimmed down. I want to know who got fat ... well, other than Joba naturally.

2:26 - Reader the pointed out the struggles of ESPN analyst Barry Larkin earlier. Well, they just swung it back to the studio, and after a Brewers highlight, the former SS remarked that Ricky Weeks had a "monster offseason." Not quite sure what that means. If it means he drove Gravedigger at the Oklahoma Civic Center, hell yeah.

2:28 - Eternally scrappy Brandon Inge rips an RBI single down the line and it's 3-2. Sabathia is one bad pitch away from going 0-3 in quality opening day starts with Yankees.

2:30 - So let me get this straight: The Tigers broke camp and said, "We have our starter at catcher in Alex Avila." Dude has looked awful, fanning on three pitches here without coming near the ball. 3-2 Yankees after 3 1/2.

2:38 - Important inning for Verlander who needed just 11 pitches to get through the fourth. 3-2 heading into the fifth.

2:42 - CC in big trouble in the fifth. Jackson singles to left, then Cano muffs a flip from Teixeira on a bunt attempt. Runners on first and second nobody out with Jheri Ordonez and Miggy due up.

2:54 - Another 1-2-3 for Verlander. Tied at 3 entering the sixth. Good game. Meanwhile, Papa John commercial comes on. If you follow me on Twitter (@danhanzus !!!) you know I'm convinced the Papa John guy has a horrible secret in his past. We will know it one day.

2:57 - Anybody that doesn't think Sabathia is opting out isn't paying attention. Doesn't mean he's leaving Yankees, but the big man is going to get paid ... again.

2:59 - Fact: ESPN/NESN broadcaster Sean McDonough has a Red Sox tattoo on the small of his back.

3:00 - Just kidding about that last one. The tattoo is actually on his ankle. It's really cute.

3:01 - Another comment from "the": There is one person sitting in the third row behind home plate. On opening day. I don't care how bad the weather is, Yankee Stadium has GOT to do a better job filling those seats.

Good point. The Legends Seats are a disaster on almost every level. Knocks the Stadium down a full letter grade for me. I know the weather is crappy, but those seats should not be protected by an armed guard and moat. A literal moat. Ugh. Meanwhile, CC works through the sixth, still 3-3.

3:03 - I hope everyone is prepared to watch this A-Rod Direct TV ad roughly four million times this season.

3:07 - And if this is true, the Stadium grade drops another letter. @ BREAKING NEWS: B, D, 4 trains out of subway race. Now just Pinstripes, Road Greys and Midnight Blue. Photos later. Shocking.

3:11 - A-Rod ropes a double off the wall in right-center. His body language tells us he thought it was gone, probably had a triple if he busted it out of the box. I thought it was gone, too.

3:13 - Swishalicious up with runners on first and second and one out in the sixth. Verlander over 100 pitches. Big moment in game here.

3:15 - Swisher gets robbed by home-plate umpire Jim Joyce, punched out on a pitch six inches outside according to K-Zone. Now it's up to Posada.

3:16 - This is probably Verlander's last batter regardless of outcome. Up to 110 pitches on a 42-degree rainy day in April.

3:19 - Verlander is good. Comes back to get Posada and we go to the seventh tied at 3.

3:21 - Wow, Joba looked, um, well-fed in that bullpen shot.

3:23 - Sutcliffe is driving me nuts. Basically rubber stamped Chamberlain's 2010 season as a success despite "a few hiccups." Why do you torture me so, ESPN?

3:25 - Joba Ks Austin Jackson, who's fanned three times today. The evolutionary Rob Deer has arrived!

3:27 - Big Punisher Joba and 5-foot-8 Will Rhymes should start a novelty hip hop group together.

3:28 - Excellent inning for Joba. As I wrote this offseason, Chamberlain is not dealing with much of expectations for the first time in his big league career. This may work to his advantage from a mental standpoint.

3:30 - Meant to mention this before — Sabathia's final line: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K (106 pitches, 70 strikes)

3:33 - Grandy! The Yankees centerfielder is making my prediction of a big season look good. His long solo homer off Phil Coke puts the Yankees ahead 4-3 in the seventh. Now we get to see this bullpen go into his shutdown mode. Soriano to the GOAT.

3:36 - Random memory: When Coke was called up to the majors with the Yankees in September 2008, I was sitting in the same section as his parents. His mother was wearing a Yankees jersey with "Phil's Mom" sewn on the back. I remember thinking how mortified I'd be if I were Phil.

3:39 - The second good bunt by Gardner today, matching his total from last year. Man on second, one out, Coke out of the game.

3:43 - Really impressed with Martin as a baserunner today. Surprised Detroit in swiping third earlier and now tags and scores on Jeter's line out to short center. Important insurance run there. Yanks lead 5-3.

3:47 - "MLB: Always Epic"??? That's what we're going with? To quote an old SNL sketch with Sandler and Farley: "I'd love to meet the ad wizards who came up with that one."

3:49 - Soriano makes his Yankees debut. You hear a bunch of questions about the guy's character issues, but the bottom line is that it was a great move. Gave team a lock-down setup man and a heir apparent/injury replacement for Mariano. Dirty little secret of baseball: Stopping opponents in the eighth inning is equally important as stopping them in the ninth.

3:50 - Soriano freezes Cabrera with a fastball on the corner. The bridge to the GOAT looks strong.

3:54 - OK, Sutcliffe needs to stop talking for awhile. "Ya know if the Texas Rangers could have afforded (Soriano), you have seen Neftali Feliz in that starting rotation." I seem to remember the Rangers offering $150 million to Cliff Lee this winter. Affordability wasn't the issue.

3:57 - 1-2-3 for Soriano. Everything going to script. The GOAT warming in Yankees bullpen. Always a beautiful sight.

3:59 - I don't like the high socks look for Rivera. If he fades this season — a huge "if" I realize — the socks will be seen as the clear delineation point between when Mo was great and when he was not. And yes, this kind of stuff worries me.

4:01 - I see Kenny Mayne's face way more than logic should dictate.

4:02 - Good shot of A-Rod and Cabrera yucking it up at first. I assume it was a debate, with Rodriguez defending the merits of pink cocktails and Cabrera protesting that blackout-inducing cheap tequila is the way to go.

4:04 - Oh A-Rod. Meanwhile, he moves to third and a slow groundout by Cano. Swisher with a chance to push the lead to three runs with a fly ball.

4:06 - Swisher bloops a single into right field and it's 6-3. He's thrown out after wandering off first too far, but he does his job.

4:10 - Rivera enters to the familiar helping hand of Lars Ulrich and friends. In a related note, Rivera has no idea who Lars Ulrich is.

4:12 - That's back-to-back outstanding opening days for Granderson as a Yankee. He makes a great running grab in center to get the Yankees within an out of win No. 1.

4:14 - Rivera strikes out Aliva, capping a 6-3 win over the Tigers on opening day. A great start for the Yankees, who got timely hitting and a lockdown performance from a potentially special bullpen. Thanks to those who read along today!

Monday, March 28, 2011

What was good (and not so good) about Yankees camp

Spring training is mercifully reaching its conclusion.

Maybe it's just me, but Yankees camp felt especially long this year. I'm guessing many of the veterans feel the same way. Except Nick Swisher, that dude loved spring training. Then again, Swish could find something to love about an asteroid crashing into Wisconsin. Swishalicious loves life.

The team is heading up north on Tuesday, so here are few good (and not so good) things I took from Tampa.


A-Rod looks like A-Rod - It's not just that Alex Rodriguez led the Yankees in home runs and RBIs this spring, it's how he did it. Last weekend, he drove a fastball over the Steinbrenner Field batter's eye in center field. The eye is more than 408-feet away from home plate and standing as high as the Green Monster. His hot spring has led to some unfair questions about whether he's about to return to to the 50-homer, 150-RBI form of his 2007 MVP season. That seems to be asking a lot, but a healthy A-Rod is a dangerous A-Rod.

Money quote: "There's just more explosion that I feel." -- Rodriguez on his swing (or possibly Cameron Diaz.)


Injury bug strikes - Don't underestimate the power of a spring training injury. If you're lucky, it's just a blip on the radar of a long season. But sometimes these things can have lasting effects. Entering last month, I thought Curtis Granderson was an under-the-radar guy to have a big bounce-back season.His oblique injury clouds that promise, however, and the Yankees' tight-lipped treatment of it makes you wonder if it's a more serious injury than initially believed. Meanwhile, Francisco Cervelli (broken foot) and Pedro Feliciano (sore elbow) will both begin the season on the DL. Veteran teams are going to have injuries. Let's just hope the Yankees don't become the 2011 version of the 2010 Red Sox.

Money quote: "I just think (injuries are) part of the rigors of spring training. Every year there seems to be one thing in one camp." -- Joe Girardi


The Killer B's - The Yankees are desperately thin in their starting rotation, but that may not be a long-term problem for the franchise. Uber-prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances had fans salivating this month with their huge potential. (The rabies outbreak in the Tampa area may explain this, but still). Banuelos, in particular, looked like a young version of Johan Santana in both style and delivery. They obviously won't break camp with the team, but the future appears bright.

Money quote: “He has as good stuff as I’ve seen. I compare it to [Clayton] Kershaw or even more polished than Kershaw, which is pretty good.” -- Russell Martin on Banuelos


Catching concerns - Remember the heady times of winter when the Yankees appeared to have an embarrassment of riches behind the plate? Well, that was before Francisco Cervelli busted his foot and Jesus Montero and Austine Romine crapped the bed in their audition for the backup job behind Russell Martin. Now it appears Gustavo Molina will break camp as backup. That's right, the league's fourth-best catcher named Molina will be at the Stadium on Thursday. This is like getting Frank Stallone to star in Cobra 2: Crime Remains A Disease And I'm Struggling To Find The Cure.

(Probably uttered) Money quote: "Gustavo freaking Molina? Somebody kill me." -- Jorge Posada


The starting rotation - Brian Cashman properly played the months after the Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte cold shoulders. He knew he was backed into a corner, but he also knew a panic trade would exacerbate an already big problem. So he played a more conservative card; collecting a cast of MLB misfit toys (Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood) and banked that one of them could be halfway decent. Well, both Garcia and Colon pitched well enough to win a rotation spot (Garcia was given the role with Colon going to the 'pen) and no Yankees pitcher looked better than Ivan Nova this spring. There's room for some cautious optimism here.

Money quote: “I don’t know if he can help us or not, but I’m willing to put a no-risk, possible-reward option that’s been on the table the whole time." -- Cashman on the Millwood signing


The starting rotation - Yeah, I know. Kind of a cop out. Sue me. But as a diehard baseball fan for more than two decades, I know that teams don't win without quality starting pitching. What worries me the most is how easily Joe Girardi appears to have put his faith back in A.J. Burnett. He announced the erratic right-hander as the team's No. 2 starter on Sunday, this despite Burnett coming off the worst statistical season of a starter in franchise history. And don't even get me started on Nova, who I'm supposed to believe is going to step right into the No. 4 job. Isn't this the same guy who feared the fifth inning last year the way Charlie Sheen's publicist fears every ring of his cell phone?

Money quote (via translator): "Hey guys, remember me?" -- Kei Igawa

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Showalter goes after Jeter? That's just Buck being Buck

In my years on this planet, I've concluded there's only thing I'm absolutely certain about, and I know it beyond a shadow of a doubt: When a person is described as someone who “will give you the shirt of his back,” this always means said person is terrible.

Example: "Tommy's got a really tough exterior, but he's got the biggest heart. He'll give you the shirt off his back if it's the last one he has."

Translation: "Tommy drinks a lot of Coors Light and starts many fights."

The “Shirt Off His Back” phenomena is an off-shoot of the “That’s Just (Name) Being (Name)” corollary.

Adam Corolla once mused that this is typically the route a person takes to explain the repeated polarizing behavior of a friend.

Man 1: "I'm going to kill Tommy, he tried to hook up with Emily at my wedding last night."

Man 2: "You know how it is, bro. That's just Tommy being Tommy."

Which brings us to Buck Showalter.

It was reported on Wednesday that the Orioles manager took shots at both Derek Jeter and Theo Epstein, ostensibly to remind America that Baltimore didn't shutter its baseball franchise after Cal Ripken retired.

"The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout," Showalter told Men's Journal, which was probably interviewing Buck as their 14th choice for another story about abs. "Our guys are thinking, 'Wow, he's screaming at Derek Jeter.' Well, he's always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets — and yes, he pisses me off."

Showalter also played the payroll card with Boston, saying people wouldn't think Theo Epstein was such a boy genius if he didn't have $200 million to play with. (As an aside, I'm sure Brian Cashman was giddy to finally see Epstein receive the same criticism he's been getting for 13 years.)

As for Showalter's comments about the Yankee captain, it was simply a case of "Buck being Buck."

There's a reason it took Showalter almost four years to get another manager job after the Rangers canned him, and it's the same reason every job he's had in the game ends with him being pushed out the door.

Buck Showalter is a very good manager...but he's also a pain in the ass.

This is the same guy who, while managing the Yankees, would watch video tapes to see how his players reacted to the success of teammates. He was always the last man off the team bus, partly to ensure no one was talking about him and partly so he could look struggling players in the eye to see how they handled adversity.

After he took over operations of the expansion Diamondbacks, he installed a yard-wide corridor of dirt that ran from the mound to home plate. He did so to gain a competitive advantage, and it is cited as one of the reasons Mariano Rivera made his crucial throwing error in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. "Fucking Buck's strip of dirt," former Padres GM Kevin Towers told Buster Olney in "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty."

While it's possible that Men's Journal was fortunate enough to catch the manager in a glib moment, it's more likely that the meticulous Showalter was using the platform to send a message about his own team standing up to the big brothers in the division.

I'm not exactly sure how this all translates when Jon Lester is facing Jake Arrieta in front of 11,000 fans at Camden Yards, but I suppose it couldn't hurt.

When you've been as bad as the Orioles have been for the past 15 years, you need someone to step up and try to change the culture. Showalter succeeded in doing that 20 years ago after taking over for the slovenly Stump Merrill in the Bronx.

You have to admire the guy for at least attempting to take a stand, and I'm sure Jeter chuckled when he read about it. After all, it's just Buck being Buck.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yankees handling rotation uncertainty the right way

When Cliff Lee failed to recognize Philadelphia's inherent orphan brother status and Andy Pettitte decided to GTL his remaining days in Deer Park, the Yankees were left with something of a quandary.

Suddenly without out two-fifths of their projected starting rotation with just weeks before spring training was set to open, the panic button was pressed across the tri-state area.

Had old George been around, Brian Cashman's head would've been rolling down River Avenue at roughly 40 miles per hour. But this is the new Yankees, a multi-headed beast of a hierarchy where the general manager retains a margin for error that didn't exist in the days of Munson and Mattingly.

Cashman surveyed the post-snub market, and made what we may ultimately remember as the best move of his tenure. That move, of course, was to do nothing at all.

Cashman knows that the Yankees' rotation is CC, Hughes, a whole lot of bad news. But he also knows there's enough talent on the roster to stay in the hunt into the summer, opening him up to a brand new market ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.

Yes, there is the unsettling specter of banking on A.J. Burnett. And yes, asking the likes Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia — and to a lesser extent, Ivan Nova — to meaningfully contribute is a huge leap of faith.

But the alternative — trading away Jesus Montero to get Francisco Liriano, to cite one rumor — just doesn't make sense in the big picture.

The Yankees are now a global business giant, which means the idea of a "rebuilding year" doesn't exist in their vocabulary. But Cashman's non-action is as close to a rebuilding move as you'll get from the Bombers. They're dealing with age and depth issues, not to mention a Red Sox team that loaded up much the way the Yankees did heading into the 2009 season.

The Yankees are obviously in a highly vulnerable position as a new year approaches. But in a six-month season, patience will help win a lot of battles. Brian Cashman's head remains firmly affixed to his body. This will come in handy at the end of July.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't knock A-Rod from superstar perch just yet

For the first time in almost a decade and a half, Alex Rodriguez is not being taken in the first round of fantasy drafts.

Think about that for a second. A-Rod has been a star Major League player for almost as long as he hasn't. His breakthrough season came in 1996, when he hit .358 with 36 homers and 123 RBIs ... as a 20-year-old.

He led the league in total bases at a time in his life when he couldn't even legally drink. He finished sixth in the league in RBIs that season; everyone else in the top 10 is retired.

Even through the admittedly dumb prism of rotisserie baseball, the sustained excellence of Rodriguez's career has been incredible.

Age and injury concerns have finally dimmed A-Rod's impeccable fantasy reputation, as the Yankees third baseman is going early in the third round of most drafts.

He missed significant time for the third consecutive season in 2010 and hasn't put together a truly great year since his magnificent 2007 MVP campaign. Meanwhile, his ability to steal bases -- the skill that separates good fantasy players from great ones -- is history. He's dropped from 18 to 14 to four in that category since 2008.

Despite that, Rodriguez is dropping hints that he may have one more big year in him, the type of season that will have people remembering how they "stole" one of the greatest players of all-time while others were taking the likes of Matt Kemp and Justin Upton.

He's played in 13 games this spring, and he has a hit in every one. And he's not just slapping singles to right, either. Cameron Diaz's love pillow has six doubles, five home runs, and leads the Yankees with 11 RBIs.

And since I brought it up, we can't discount the Diaz Effect in play here. A-Rod resurrected his postseason reputation back in 2009 with the foxy Kate Hudson dutifully cheering him on from the front row. Penny Lane has gone the way of Stillwater, but Diaz could prove to be a worthy replacement. She's even attending some games in Tampa, which is pretty good GF work when you consider how excruciating spring training games can be.

If A-Rod can stay healthy -- and admittedly big "if" -- the 35-year-old might have a huge "Nobody believed in me!" season in store. It's hard to expect him to deliver the type of 50-homer, 150-RBI season he produced during his pre-hip surgery, pre-PED admission days, but it wouldn't be wise to completely rule it out.

Remember this, fantasy friends: When it comes to Alex Rodriguez, we're talking about a man who thrives on infuriating the army of people who detest him. And what could anger the A-Rod haters more than a MVP-level season when most thought it was impossible?

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The ongoing quest to know 'the real' Derek Jeter

Every two years or so, a glossy men's magazine will profile Derek Jeter. Like death, taxes, and Adam Sandler comedies with melodramatic courtroom climaxes, it's inevitable.

I surmise the goal of these features is get to know the real Derek Jeter, misguided as that notion may be. As anyone who's followed the shortstop's career can attest, Jeter enjoys sharing intimate details about himself about as much as he likes sliding shoulder-first into Ken Huckaby's shin guard.

The captain's not going to start running his mouth A-Rod style just because some smooth-talking reporter strokes his ego while throwing a few big words his way. Jeter's a pro on so many levels, and that certainly goes for his interactions with the media.

Because of this, each profile inevitably becomes a rehash of the same stories and themes you've heard before. You'll typically come away from these features with the understanding that Jeter:

a) is a nice guy.
b) is a hard worker.
c) likes his privacy.

GQ profiled the 11-time All-Star for their April 2011 edition, sending a season-ticket-holding Red Sox fan (what?!?) to meet with the Yankees icon over two days in Florida.

The results were more or less what we've come to expect from this type of fare, though to the magazine's credit, they did get Jeter to pose with a Carrot Top-like prop. That was pretty cool.

Here are a few noteworthy nuggets from the piece:

In The Captain, his forthcoming biography of Jeter, Ian O'Connor writes about a small party Jeter hosted. When Jeter's then flame and one of her girlfriends arrived at his house, Jeter answered the door and politely asked his guests to remove any cell phones or cameras they were carrying and place them on a table, explaining that he wanted to protect his privacy.
First off, how did Ian O'Connor get this information? If I were him, I'd be be installing new security equipment at my house ... Jeter may be Out For Justice, Seagal-style. That's right Ian, we're talking compound wrist fractures and a possible screwdriver wound to the esophagus.

Can you imagine attending a dinner party and being asked to remove all electronic devices like you're going through security at LAX? In case it hasn't been made exceedingly clear by this point, Derek Jeter is not like you.

Here's another one ...
By all accounts, when Jeter has felt at risk of being exposed, he's taken swift steps. About ten years ago, a freelancer working on a piece for The New York Times was in the Yankees locker room after batting practice. Jeter and some other players were joking around—"it was something totally innocuous," the reporter says—when Jeter realized there was a tape recorder in the room. Later that night, the reporter was buttonholed by a Yankees PR staffer and one of the team's security guards. When the reporter tried to apologize to Jeter for any misunderstanding, he says, Jeter refused to acknowledge that anything had happened in the first place.
The "I don't even know what you're talking about" gag! Glad to see this still has a place in 21st century discourse. And while we're here, what do you think Jeter and his teammates were being so "innocuous" about? I got 20 bucks saying they were ragging on Giambi for a particularly nasty fart. Any takers?

Moving on ...
Jeter didn't watch (Andy) Pettitte's (retirement) press conference—he was doing his weekday-morning workout—and he ignored my efforts to get him to talk about the implications for his own career. "It's something you won't even realize until you get to spring training," he said when I asked him whether Pettitte's decision made him think about his own future. "But the thing about Andy is, he left for three years to play in Houston. You don't want to say you're used to him not being there, but at least you have something to compare it to. There was a while there where he was gone."
There was something about that quote that makes me wonder if Jeter harbors any resentment toward Pettitte for his three-year sabbatical in Houston. We know Jeter is a loyalty guy that keeps a tight circle. Maybe I'm just reading into that the wrong way, but there was an edge to that answer. I mean, could you imagine Jeter using the same icy tone a year from now when Posada goes off into the sunset?

And one more ...
Before I left for the airport, I asked Jeter what he had planned for the rest of the day. "I'm probably going to go home and watch a movie," he said, grinning. "I'm going to watch The Roommate. It's a new one. Just came out today. Go check it out." It was a rare acknowledgment of his private life—his girlfriend, Minka Kelly, is one of the movie's stars. We exchanged some more pleasantries, and then, as he was climbing into his car, he shouted over one last time: "Remember: The Roommate. Seriously. Check it out. It's worth it."
Talented, handsome, hard-working ... and a sense of humor! That Derek Jeter is the whole package.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A-Rod's new commercial eases spring training doldrums

Does it make me a bad Yankees blogger that I'm already completely over spring training?

Wait, don't answer that question.

It's March 11 now, with means real baseball is less than three weeks away. When the Rangers eradicated the Yankees last October, all I could think about was pitchers and catchers reporting in February. Now, I think about March 31 and CC Sabathia on the mound in games that matter.

The spring still has its advantages. A-Rod stars in a so-bad-it's-good CGI-fest of a new commercial for Direct TV (watch here) in which he homers off Jonathan Papelbon then circles the bases, each stop serving as a different destination of our great country. If you haven't seen it, it's as cheesy as it sounds.

I personally enjoy him rounding second in front of a farming silo as two young Red Sox fans look on in despair. I know Boston fans travel well, but Kevin Costner's farm from Field of Dreams? That's impressive, Rem Dawg Nation.

A-Rod's acting performance in the commercial is tremendous, as he flashes the Matt Nokes Face throughout. What's the Matt Nokes Face, you ask? Way back when, my cousins and I used to play wiffleball every day during the summer. Nokes was a pretty awful catcher for the Yankees at that time, but he did have some pop (136 lifetime homers).

We began noticing that when Nokes rounded the bases after a homer, it appeared as though he was doing everything in his power to keep from bursting into joyful celebration. He kept a straight face, but you could a huge self-satisfied smile trying to break through the steely veneer.

Anyway, we still get together for wiffleball when we can, and when one of us homers, somebody will inevitably hiss, "Nice Matt Nokes Face, dude" as the home-run hitter rounds the bases.

A-Rod has a sick Matt Nokes Face. Hopefully you'll get about 40 chances to check it out this season.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Your New York Yankees Fantasy Survival Guide, 2011 Edition

Is it really fantasy baseball season again?

I'm still exhausted from last year, when the struggles of Mark Teixeira had me acting like the over-stressed black police captain in every 1980s buddy cop movie you ever saw, popping Tums by the handful and saying things like, "I'm getting too ollllld for this crap."

But who am I kidding? I love it. Baseball is the thinking man's fantasy game. Football has long since lapped the national pastime in fantasy popularity, but any lunkhead can win it all in football so long as none of their top three picks blows an ACL or get concussed back to 1955.

Baseball requires knowledge of the game, patience, foresight, and actual managing skill. When video-game manufacturer 2K Sports hired Brian Cashman to consult on their 2009 game "MLB Front Office Manager," it was an unconscionably awful idea, but I could kind of see why they thought it would work.

Being a general manager is the fan's dream job, which makes fantasy baseball the closest 99.7 percent of us will ever get to it.

You likely have anywhere between one and 14 drafts coming up in the next three weeks, so River & Sunset is here to help you get a gauge on the fantasy value of your New York Yankees.

I won't tell you who to pick, because, to quote famed Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman, nobody knows anything. But I will give you my opinion on the value of this year's crop of Bombers.

Let's get to it, shall we?


Robinson Cano: Gone are the days when you wonder if Cano can be a consistent Major Leaguer. You don't have to be concerned that a change in the batting order will send him into a funk. You don't even have to worry about those Friday night glow stick benders with Melky anymore. Cano's a certified stud, playing a position that doesn't have many of them. He averaged .320/30/110/100 the past two years, and at age 28, he's just now entering his prime. In a Yankee lineup loaded with aging stars, Cano stands out as a guy you can conceivably expect to get better.

CC Sabathia: Here's the type of guy you love to have on your fantasy team. Draft him, stick him in the front of your rotation and let him do his thing. You're going to get 33 starts, 220 innings, 20 wins, and close to 200 strikeouts. He's coming off knee surgery, which is a minor red flag, but it's nothing worth getting worked up over. Unless he drew his powers from salty tyrant of the breakfast table Capn' Crunch, Carsten Charles will remain studly.


Nick Swisher: Sure, it's likely that the .288 he hit last year was a bit of a fluke. He may drop down to the .255-.265 range in '11, but as long as he stays healthy you know you'll get 25-30 homers, 80-90 RBIs, and a OBP around .360. Even better, he's the type of guy who always drops a little further than he should, a rarity when it comes to a Yankee.

Brett Gardner: There are rumors that Gardner will get the leadoff spot this season, which bumps up his value for sure. A move from No. 9 to No. 1 in the order could give the left fielder close to 100 extra plate appearances. If he stays healthy and hits enough, he's a virtual lock for 115 runs and 50+ steals. Gardner won't help you anywhere else, but like Swisher, he could be a great value pick in the late rounds.


Curtis Granderson: In retrospect, it was almost too obvious Granderson would struggle in his first year in New York. He got off to a brutal start, then blew up his groin, costing him a month. His second half numbers (18 homers after the break) make you think a 30/30-type season is well within reach.

Freddy Garcia: You may have to mark this down as the delusions of a Yankee fan still trying to figure out why Andy Pettitte chose Deer Park and a nagging wife over the Bronx and 50,000 adoring fans, but I have a good feeling about Garcia. Obviously, I'm not expecting 2001-Freddy, but if he can give the team 25-30 starts, I can see him getting 12-15 wins. Don't expect much in the way of strikeouts and WHIP, but he could become a somewhat dependable commodity, especially in two-start weeks.


A.J. Burnett: I refuse to recommend you draft Burnett on account of the whole single-most-maddening-Yankee-of-his-generation thing. I will say, that yes, the raw skills are still there, and yes, it's probably more likely he has a season closer to 2009 (13-9, 4.04 ERA, 207 IP, 195 Ks) than the abortion of 2010 (10-15, 5.26 ERA, 186.2 IP, 145 Ks). Just don't read too much into all the spring chatter about the Larry Rothschild-aided mechanical improvements. The changes Burnett has to make are all in the cranium.

Russell Martin: You can make the case that Martin is in line for a rejuvenation season similar to the one Nick Swisher enjoyed in his first season in pinstripes, but the 28-year-old is also a catcher who has dealt with some health problems in recent years. He also must contend with the consequences of Francisco Cervelli's broken foot and how that opened the door for the arrival of uber-prospect Jesus Montero. The Yankees gave Martin a healthy one-year, $4 million deal, which means he'll get every opportunity to keep the starting gig. But just know there may be some Wally Pipp/Buster Posey machinations at play here.

Joba Chamberlain: Who knows what to make of Chamberlain at this point? He's like the once-promising son who dropped out of school one credit shy of graduating and now spends all day on the couch playing XBox. He's no longer the ace of the future, no longer the closer of the future, hell, he's not even the setup man of the future anymore. The only good news is that the pressure is largely off his (um, broadening) shoulders at this point. If your league counts holds as a category, Chamberlain could have a sneaky productive fantasy season in him. Just don't reach for him.


Alex Rodriguez: The biggest question that surrounds A-Rod as he enters his eighth (eighth!) season in pinstripes: Is he still a superduperstar? His 125 RBIs in 139 games last year prove he's still a ferocious run-producer, but his durability has become a concern as he's gotten deeper into his thirties. If he's still sitting there early in the third round, he's a good value. But don't go drafting him in the first or early-second round expecting 2007 A-Rod. The days of 50 homers and 150 RBIs are likely done.

Jorge Posada: Is anybody else vaguely weirded-out by how Posada's final season in pinstripes is unfolding? Obviously, we all know it was wise to bring an end to the catching-phase of his career, but it's kind of uncomfortable watching the team move on without him even though he's still here. Catcher or not, I find it hard to imagine Posada staying healthy for an entire season at this point. Expect around 400 at-bats, maybe 15 homers, possibly 60 RBIs ... and that's a best-case scenario. The only thing sexy about Georgie at this point is his wife.

Derek Jeter: I don't put anything past Jeter, who just went through an entire offseason of people saying he wasn't worth the paper his new contract was printed on (well that, and sex with Minka Kelly, but that's beside the point). You know he'll be more determined than ever, but at 36, we can't expect anything close to 2009, right? Let's split the difference between '09 and '10 and say .290/180 hits/105 runs/12 homers/65 RBIs. Knowing Jeter, he'd be disappointed. But could you really ask for much more at this point?


Mariano Rivera: The man defies categorical grouping since he may not be a man at all. The days of six-out saves are over, even more so with $35 million setup man in front of him. But who are we as mere mortals to say 35-40 more saves and a sub-2.00 ERA isn't a realistic possibility, even at age 41?


Phil Hughes: His 18 victories hid the fact that Hughes still has a lot of room for improvement, and it's definitely possible he takes the next step to ace-level figure in his age 25 season. You don't have to worry about the Phil Rules anymore either, his 175 innings thrown last year sets him up nicely for the jump to 200+. Don't expect to see that elusive changeup though.

Mark Teixeira: Injured or not, Teixeira got into some bad habits last season, and it led to the worst numbers of his career. You have to decide if he's due for an MVP-bounce back season, or a slow-but-steady Giambino-like decline. Seeing that Teixeira is a robot made up almost entirely of metal and other composite parts, I'll go with the former. He may even slip to the third round in many leagues, making him a huge bargain.

Rafael Soriano: Don't take him too high, since there's some dude wearing Jackie Robinson's number ahead of him on the closer's depth chart. But the incumbent is 41, meaning a promotion to closer could come at any time. And if your league counts holds, Soriano has way more value than a crappy closer that will probably be picked around the same time.


Jesus Montero: As I stated earlier, Francisco Cervelli's broken foot means that an April roster spot is now Montero's to lose. But Brian Cashman gave Martin a multi-million dollar contract to be the starter this season, meaning it's going to take a serious slump or injury for Montero to get the at-bats necessary to make him a worthy fantasy player. If your league has developmental players, jump all over young Jesus, otherwise steer clear.

Dellin Betances/Manny Banuelos: Yes, the youngsters have turned some heads in Tampa, with Russell Martin even saying Banuelos' stuff reminds him of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Heady praise, but I'm going to have to hit 'em with a Deion Sanders-style H.O.P. (hold on player). The Yankees aren't about to rush either pitcher to the show, even if their fifth-starter is currently a cardboard cutout of the New York Lotto guy.

Bartolo Colon: Fact: Colon has won 14 games since 2005. Fact: Colon was out of baseball last season. Fact: No pitcher who bears a striking resemblance to deceased WWF legend Andre the Giant has ever had success in the Major Leagues. Fiction: Colon will be a key cog in the Yankees' 2011 starting rotation.


Mark Prior: Even his Steve Bartman voodoo doll has a sore shoulder at this point.

Eric Chavez: Sometimes I think the only reason Chavez is in camp is to fulfill Cashman's bizarre need to have at least one player each year who may spontaneously combust at any time. Nick Johnson leaves behind some very big (orthopedic) shoes to fill.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A few helpful thoughts to guide you through spring training

I've found in my two-plus decades of baseball fandom that the key to spring training coverage is to arm yourself with a ruthless filter.

The quicker you understand that 70 percent of news that comes out of camp is utter crap, the better off you'll be.

This isn't meant to be a dig on the beat writers on the scene — they're doing their job properly by and large, reporting on the minutiae of the day-to-day activities of each camp.

But ultimately, it is minutiae that they're reporting on. Much of it won't matter even a little bit by the time the Yankees open their season against the Tigers on March 31.

For example, this is the second straight camp we've read copy about Phil Hughes and the elusive changeup he's been attempting to perfect the way Walter White engineers a clear batch of crystal meth in Breaking Bad.

If you recall last spring, much was made about Hughes learning the same offspeed pitch, and he said at the time that he believed it would take his game to the next level. Hughes went on to win 18 games last season, but it'd be surprising if he threw that many changeups over six months.

Another example: One of the big stories in camp so far has been Larry Rothschild's work with A.J. Burnett, as the pitching coach attempts to wipe away the bad habits that undercut the right-hander's doomed 2010 campaign.

This makes for acceptable blog and newspaper material, allowing the beat guys to file their copy then hit up the approximate 42,000 "gentleman" clubs that line the streets of Tampa. But as anyone that's followed Burnett's career knows, the pitcher's struggles have always been much more a mental issue than where his front foot lands during his delivery.

Or as's Jon Heyman put it on Twitter yesterday: "dont want to hear about aj burnetts new pitching coach or new motion. his issues are all above the neck."

The stories I pay more attention to lie in the realm of the concrete. Francisco Cervelli fouled a ball off the arch of his foot on Wednesday — watching it live, it reminded me of poor Jimmy Caan in Misery (he Kathy Bates'd himself!) — and the team is awaiting a clearer report on his MRI. Now that's something I want to read more about.

It's all about your fan filter, my friends. Don't worry about the daily updates about Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter's batting cage work, do pay attention to Freddy Garcia's spring starts and Jesus Montero's push for the backup catcher job. Try not to get too caught up in Mark Prior's quest to be the mop-up man, instead follow prospect Dellin Betances' progress through the month or CC Sabathia's outings as he comes back from knee surgery.

Know where to look for your spring training news, and you'll leave brain hard drive space open for more important things, like coming up with a sweet fantasy team name that your friends will envy and your bosses will respect.

Just do yourself a favor and steer clear of The Winners, Tiger Blood, The Warlocks, or any other Charlie Sheen-related moniker. Be an original. Have some dignity, will you?

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nick the Stick back in news, Cashman must relive folly

We all have regrets. Some of us more than others.

Take your author for example. While I was in Miami for a bachelor party last weekend, my girlfriend was in Boston, visiting my friend's wife who recently had a baby. Right about the time my buddies and I were being seated at celebrated steakhouse Prime 112, I began receiving text messages with images of a familiar-looking teenage doofus dressed head-to-toe in Aeropostale.

Yep, not only was my darling two bottles deep into Skinny Girl Margarita, she had also happened across an old photo album filled with incriminating photos from my youth. A youth, for the record, that featured a lower scoring average than former Knicks center Herb Williams, who haplessly waited for a table at 112 as we devoured N.Y. Strip.

(See what I just did there? That was an explanabrag.)

Anyway, among the greatest hits in the glossy late-nineties collection was prom night, a forgettable evening in which I wore a tux brilliantly accessorized with a white scarf. In retrospect, the scarf looked ghastly and ridiculous, the saddest part being that I'm positive I paid extra so I could look like I was attending prom on the North Pole. I guess it could've been worse — my buddy Bob rocked a top hat and cane.

Like I said, we all have regrets.

Brian Cashman likely had a tux scarf moment of his own on Tuesday, when he looked at his Blackberry and saw that Nick Johnson signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians.

Why the Tribe signed the injury-prone 1B/DH is anybody's guess (Insurance write-off purposes? Elaborate practical joke?), but my only advice is to keep sweet Nick away from Shelley Duncan. I can already picture Duncan homering this spring then vaporizing Johnson's radius bone with a celebratory forearm smash.

The Johnson misfire was a mistake that Cashman chased all season, like a football team that goes for two prematurely then spends the rest of the game trying to get back the points.

Of course, Hideki Matsui didn't exactly light it up in Anaheim last season, but it still feels like we got cheated out of one last season of Japan's shining son in the Bronx. Sorry Lance Berkman, but I'll take Godzilla over Fat Elvis any day of the week.

Cashman is going in-house at designated hitter this season, as Jorge Posada begrudgingly prepares to assume the role on a near full-time basis. As anyone who cringed during last year's playoffs can attest, Posada's best position on defense is the dugout at this point, making this decision for Cashman a no-brainer.

Cash has moved on from his error in judgment, just as I did when I erased every last image of prom night from my phone. Best of luck to you Nick the Stick, may Cleveland replace its LeBron mural with a rendering of you slapping a single to left in an impenetrable safety bubble.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.