Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Brian Cashman should walk

Over the weekend, Buster Olney wrote a blog titled, "Why Cashman Could Walk," which included industry chatter about the general manager's uncertain future with the Yankees.

"I think maybe he's finally had it," said one GM. "That's a job that will take a lot out of you."

If this all sounds familiar, it's because we've been down this road before. Every three years, Cashman's contract runs out and every three years the 43-year-old ultimately returns to the only baseball home he's ever known. Cyclically-speaking, it's like the Olympics of Yankee beat reporting.

Quoted by Olney, Cashman didn't sound like a man itching to skip town, either.

"I'm not looking to leave. I'm not looking to go anywhere. I firmly believe this will be the best job I'll ever have."

There will always be the debate in Yankees Universe of how good Cashman actually is at his job. Is he the ultimate company man, a hard-working, well-connected executive responsible for New York's annual postseason appearances? Or is he a below-average talent evaluator who can sweep his many mistakes under the rug thanks to the Yankees' largess?

Carl Pavano aside, I tend to fall in the former camp, though I can certainly understand the other end of the argument.

And that's really the problem with Cashman's job, isn't it? No matter how well he does — and let's not get it twisted, the signings and subsequent success of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have saved this Yankees season — there will always be the detractors who say he's just a privileged rich kid who gets to use daddy's credit card.

Cashman has both the hardest and easiest job of any general manager in sports. It just depends on who you ask.

You have to wonder if the murkiness that surrounds his professional reputation gnaws at Cashman. The man certainly has an ego, no longer the wallflower who stayed in the distance during clubhouse controversies of the past. From the messy Derek Jeter negotiations to the fallout from the Rafael Soriano press conference to his blunt honesty when Jorge Posada benched himself, Cashman has become the unlikely source of some of the juiciest back-page headlines in New York.

Taking that healthy sense of self-worth into account, wouldn't it make sense for him to try to prove himself in a new market?

Think about it. Say Cashman walks after this year and catches on somewhere like Kansas City or Seattle or San Diego. If he built any of those franchises into winners, wouldn't he be completely vindicated? All those GM rankings lists you see will finally have to bump him to the top of the list, right?

Meanwhile, the bill is coming due on this veteran Yankees team, as the next five years will be the most difficult in terms of transition since Mickey and Whitey got old in the mid-60s. Does Cashman want any part of that dirty work?

"I don't think he has any idea how different his life would be if he wasn't general manager of the Yankees," one high-ranking executive said.

High-ranking executive guy is right. Cashman doesn't know anything about anything other than the Yankees. Still young, and undoubtedly in demand, the time might be right for Cash to go on a new adventure.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Yankees notes: Life's a popularity contest

If nothing else, the latest round of interleague play reminded the baseball world what the New York Yankees mean to the sport.I know I sound like the Yankees version of Dillon Panthers booster Buddy Garrity when I say that, but the numbers don't lie.

The three-game set at Wrigley Field drew 126,283 fans, a new three-game series record at the iconic park in Chicago. The Great American Ball Park — seriously, they still call it that — drew sellouts for all three games, including a full house for a weekday game after a rainout.

The Yankees make money — and not just for themselves.

Speaking of the Yankees and popularity, the LoHud folk had a nice breakdown of the All-Star vote standings. Expect to see a lot of New York gray at Chase Field.

Here's an interesting ESPN Insider piece (subscription required) that focuses on New York's apparent unwillingness to pull the trigger on talented prospects, even at a time when the parent club needs them. One scout described Jesus Montero's lackluster season at Triple-A Scranton like this:
"He looks like a player who knows he's stuck in Pennsylvania."

- Nick Swisher would like you to know that there ain't nothing better than an off day in New York. Of course, Swishalicious could be trapped in Siberia and tweet with frost-bitten fingers that he was having the time of his life.

- Not Yankee related, but I'm pretty fascinated by the case of Nats manager Jim Riggleman, who resigned Thursday despite Washington's status as the NL's hottest team. I guess he figured a hot stretch was a good time for a power play. He figured wrong.

- File this under trying to get back in the good graces of the captain: Brian Cashman told the Daily News on Thursday that Jose Reyes coming to the Bronx is "not going to happen."

- Speaking of Derek Jeter, don't expect to see him back in the lineup before July 1. Remember what Jimmy Rollins said about the lingering nature of calf injuries? Just sayin' ...

- Ken Shpigel of The New York Times notes that no team has won more games than the Yankees since Jeter exited the lineup on June 14. He then poses a complicated question: Is there a correlation?

- Until next time, hang onto the roof ...

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Inexorable march of time taking toll on A-Rod

I've always found it fascinating how one offseason can completely change a player.

Take Derek Jeter, for example. In 2009, he was the engine of a Yankees team that won 103 games in the regular season and a World Series title. He batted .334, had 212 hits, 18 homers, 107 runs, and a .406 on-base percentage. Then he disappeared for a few months, broke ground on St. Jetersburg, shot a couple of Ford commercials, and (probably) hung out a lot with Minka Kelly in a bikini.

The captain came back in April, just five months after finishing third in MVP voting and still 35 years old, and was never close to the same player again. Did his offseason workout schedule change? Unlikely, given what we know about him. Did he suffer a physical setback? Not that we heard of, and given the hyper-kinetic nature of today's media, it's unlikely it could've been hidden.

All signs point back to one undeniable truth: Derek Jeter got old.

It almost seems unfair, but I guess this is one of those things where baseball mirrors life. Mickey Mantle woke up one day in 1965 and couldn't hit a fastball anymore. Kirby Puckett opened his eyes one morning in 1996 only to realize one of those eyes no longer worked. There's a reason carnies on the Wildwood boardwalk keep making money off those "Life's A Bitch" t-shirts. The saying has truth ... and people have horrible fashion sense.

One of the greatest Onion pieces ever is titled "Inexorable March Of Time Brings TV's Jerry Mathers One Step Closer To Death." It's hilarious, oddly poignant, and completely interchangeable. You can swap in Jeter's name and the story doesn't lose any of its meaning (though all the Leave It To Beaver references may convolute it somewhat). Everything ends.

Alex Rodriguez hasn't followed the same trajectory as his partner on the left side of the Yankees infield, even if he'll reach the same conclusion. While Jeter's fall from elite player to JAG status was sudden and preciptious, the decline of our pinstriped centaur has been more like a slow burn.

A-Rod's dip from superduperstar status has a more obvious root cause, of course, that being the hip surgery that cost him part of the 2009 season. Rodriguez has intermittently flashed his old form — including, thankfully, during the 2009 postseason — but he's never been that immortal player of 2005 and 2007 again.

This year, his body seems to be in the midst of a measured breakdown, following a trajectory not unlike my 1988 Chevrolet Celebrity (R.I.P.). He suffered an oblique injury in April that took him weeks to bounce back from. He's had an issue with his non-surgically repaired hip and this week we learned about a banged up left shoulder that both he and the Yankees tried to keep quiet.

A-Rod's maladies have started to manifest right on your TV. Once a 40/40 talent, Rodriguez now runs like a lumbering power hitter. Watching him round the bases makes me cringe — I feel like every step is groin pull, hip twinge or Chien-Ming-Wang-foot-explosion waiting to happen.

Rodriguez turns 36 next month, so this shouldn't be too much of a surprise. That he's signed through his 42nd birthday is a surprise, no matter how many times I remind myself (thanks Hank!).

The good news in all of this? Rodriguez is still a productive player and a worthy cleanup hitter despite his advanced age. His contract will never be viewed as anything but a disaster, but as long as the slow burn isn't overtaken by the cliff dive, the Yankees will survive.

The Leave It To Beaver guy, however? That dude is screwed.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jeter's limp to 3,000 takes on new meaning

In case you hadn't heard — and if you DVR'd the game, SPOILER ALERT — Derek Jeter strained his calf last night.

This was obviously bad news for the Yankees shortstop, his legions of fans, Minka Kelly, ticket scalpers, Steiner Sports, Joe Buck, Wrigleyville, Jeter's Taco Hole, Jeter's Ford Challenge, you name it. Derek Jeter's compromised calf is a karate chop to the groin of America.

The fact that the 11-time All-Star pulled himself out of a 1-0 game told us this was more than a minor ache, or as Mark Teixeira put it, "He’s not one to come out of the game unless it’s something serious."

An MRI revealed a Grade 1 strain, which like first-degree burns, sounds like a worst-case scenario but actually isn't.

By his nature, Jeter doesn't sit. Unless you Huckaby the man (for the uneducated, this entails piledriving your protective shinguard into an adversary's shoulder for the purpose of mass destruction), he's going to find his way back in the lineup.

The numbers back that up. Jeter hasn't been on the DL since he was Huckaby'd on opening night 2003, a span of nine seasons and 1,603 hits.

Back in 2003, Jeter was a 29-year-old superstar at the apex of his physical abilities. An injury that some speculated would cost him the season ended up putting him on the shelf for just a month and a half. He knocked the rust off real quick, too, finishing the regular season at .324 with 156 hits in 482 at-bats.

It remains to be seen how the modern-day Jeter bounces back. Monday's injury was just another human moment in a very human season for the Yankees icon who will turn 37 (37!) in less than two weeks. If anything, his chase for 3,000 has put his limitations in even greater focus, every weak groundout to second magnifying the reality that the greatest shortstop to ever wear pinstripes isn't so great anymore.

But the diminished skills will never hurt his relationship with the fans, just as a diminished Don Mattingly only grew more popular as his career approached its nadir. Jeter's on Yankee Mount Rushmore, .260 average or occassional trip to the infirmary be damned.

Take your time, captain. You've earned our patience.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Yankees notes: So long for now, sweet Joba

I know I was in the minority on this one, but I was holding out hope for good news on Joba Chamberlain.

Granted, this was mostly denial at play here. The initial diagnosis had been a torn ligament, but Joe Girardi also said the right-hander was completely asymptomatic. Could it be possible that Chamberlain would visit with Dr. James Andrews and get a different prognosis?

Um, no.

Andrews backed up the initial findings, and Chamberlain is officially set to undergo Tommy John surgery on his damaged right elbow next Thursday This is typically a year injury, which means we probably won't see Hoss on the mound again until next summer. There's a chance he's not back until 2013.

It's a crappy end to what had looked like a bounce-back year for Joba, who finishes the season with a 2.83 ERA in 28 2/3 innings. I, like a lot of Yankees fans, have a soft spot for the big galoot and hopefully this is just a bump in the road in a long career.

Chamberlain might have cried when he learned about the injury, but he's been quite upbeat in his interactions with the press.

"It’s easy to deal with," Chamberlain told The New York Times. "I know I’m going to get better. It’s not life and death. I’m just happy that I can fix it and come back and be stronger for it and hopefully have a long career."

Chamberlain knows he's in good hands with Andrews, probably the most renowned sports surgeon in the business.

"Obviously the guy doing it has done it a few times," he told LoHud. "I’m pretty confident that he’ll do a good job, and the rest relies on me and making sure I get back to where I can be and even stronger."

It's still extremely early in the season, but Friday's win was still important for a Yankees team that had its guts spilled by its biggest rival all week. Of course, the series-opening win over the Indians will best be remembered for the fastball Mark Teixeira got drilled with and the heat that followed.

It sounds like the Yankees, and especially manager Joe Girardi, are pretty sick of all this HBP business. He made it clear after the game that Fausto Carmona's intentions seemed rather clear according to LoHud.

"We’ve had (seven) guys hit in the past four days. I can’t tell you 100 percent, but if I was to say one was intentional, that was tonight."

Teixeira agreed that it wasn't hard to figure out what was going on in the head of Carmona, a once promising pitcher who seems to have lost his way in Cleveland.

"I was just telling him that it’s a coincidence that he throws every pitch to me in the last five years down and away. Changeups down and away. He must have really missed his spot on that one."

As for that juicy toe-to-toe showdown with Indians manager Manny Acta, both managers wrote off as heat-of-the-moment baseball stuff. This is kind of a bummer since a fight to the death between the two would probably be more entertaining than UFC 383.

"Manny told my guy to stop," Girardi said. "Take care of your own guy. I’ll take care of my guy, you take care of your own guy. I have respect for Manny. I actually had a nice exchange with Manny at 3 o’clock today, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some feistiness in me, and when my guys are getting plunked, I’m going to protect them."

  • In case you missed it, and really, I don't think that's possible, but in case you did, Derek Jeter doubled in the seventh inning on Friday. It was his only hit of the night, leaving him nine hits shy of 3,000.
  • Tony Gwynn wants Jeter to know that the last 10 hits are the toughest. Thanks, Tone.
  • Darren Rovell reports the Yankees could actually lose money on DJ3K.
  • Jorge Posada is on a roll. The designated hitter — and not the catcher, you hear me? — singled in his first three trips to the plate Friday, making it four straight starts with multiple hits. He's bumped his average up 49 points in six games and leads the Yankees in hits this month.
  • The Yankees' current starting catcher, Russell Martin, has been slow in his return from a back problem. He's missed the last three games, and he'll probably make it four on Saturday. After that, look for a possible return.

"There’s a good chance I’ll be ready to play on Sunday," he said. "That’s what I’m hoping for."

  • Were you one of the brave souls who stuck it out through Thursday's interminable rain delay? Well, even if you were there and left early (like a quitter), you get free tickets to an upcoming game.
  • Until next time, hang onto the roof ...

    Dan Hanzus can be reached at dhanzus@gmail or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Yankees show Indians who's Boss in opener

My MTV uncle, Bruce Springsteen, once taught me you can't start a fire without a spark.

I thought about that in the moments after Fausto Carmona buried a fastball into Mark Teixeira's shoulder blade early in the Yankees' 11-7 win over the Indians on Friday night.

Teixeira, not known for showing human emotion, was justifiably upset. Curtis Granderson had just put Carmona's previous pitch into the second deck in right field to extend the Yankees' lead to 4-0 in the second inning. Before Teixeira even hit the dirt, the entire ballpark knew it was no accident.

That included Joe Girardi. The Yankees manager can be frustrating at times due to a passive nature that can feel contagious. But he let Manny Acta know he wasn't pleased in a pretty awesome face-to-face showdown between the two field managers. The benches emptied; we even got an endearingly awkward double bullpen run-in.

Since Darryl Strawberry wasn't on the field, no punches were thrown and cooler heads prevailed. (My hopes for a Shelley Duncan forearm shiver on A.J. Burnett were sadly unrealized.)

But back to The Boss — Springsteen, not Steinbrenner. For a team desperately in need of a spark after the pride-swallowing sweep by the Red Sox, Teixeira's plunking and the blowout victory that followed is the type of game that can kickstart winning streaks. The Indians have all the looks of a team ready to free fall, meaning the stage is set for a redemptive weekend in the Bronx.

Kudos are in store for Ivan Nova, who produced one of his best starts of the season. He allowed two runs on four hits over seven crisp innings, striking six and walking three. He improved to 5-4 on the season while dropping his ERA to 4.30. As I eluded to in the preview post today, the bar isn't set particularly high for a No. 5 starter. On balance, Nova has held up his end of the bargain.

The Yankees' 11 runs came on 15 hits. Derek Jeter had one of them, lining a double to right in the seventh to move to 2,991 for his career. He now has six games to get nine hits if he wants to achieve the milestone at Yankee Stadium.

Alex Rodriguez hit his 12th homer of the year, a long solo blast into the left-center field bleachers. The home run was measured at — actually, I have no idea because YES didn't find it necessary to mention it despite multiple replays and discussion about the drive.

The only real downside of the night for the Yankees was young Kevin Whelan, who made his Major League debut and walked four of the six batters he faced. Joe Girardi went to get him after walking in a run, which led to a nice moment with Whelan's new teammates and the manager getting the rookie to crack a smile before he walked back to the dugout.

With the win, the Yankees improved to 34-27 and remained two games behind the Red Sox. At this time last year, New York was 37-23 and two games behind the Rays. Tomorrow, the Yankees send Bartolo Colon to the mound opposite Mitch Talbot. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Stray observations:

  • Teixeira's seventh-inning double marked his first two-base hit in 29 games. That doesn't seem possible.

  • On Jorge Posada figurine night, Jorge Posada had his first second three-hit game of the season. To put a truly Georgie stamp on the night, he also committed an egregious baserunning error. Good times.

  • I set the fourth inning as the over/under for when Michael Kay would mention Indians catcher Carlos Santana's name and either Paul O'Neill or Ken Singleton would make a uber-obvious reference to the 70s rock god of the same name. It happened in the third inning.

  • Kim Jones reported early in the game that since Joba Chamberlain is a one-inning pitcher and not a starter, he feels he could be ready for the start of spring training. This struck me as one of the most idiotic things I've ever heard. Take your time, hoss. Update: As "long time listener" pointed out below, it was Harlan, not Joba, who spoke of an accelerated timetable. I'm sure he didn't just pull that out of thin air, though.

  • Teixeira, asked after the game if Granderson's long home run was the reason he was plunked: "Oh yeah, Curtis hit that thing to Harlem. I guess on the next pitch he wanted to send some type of message."

  • That said, I cannot believe Rivera pitched in this game.

  • And just to tie it all together, here's the "Dancing In The Dark" video, complete with a fetching young Courtney Cox cameo and some of the worst dancing ever captured on film. The 80s were outrageous on almost every level.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or via Twitter @danhanzus.

Red Sox drubbing makes you wonder WWFD?

What would Mike Francesa do?

That's the question I often ask myself when a Yankees slump pushes me to the brink of madness. I take peace in turning on WFAN and listening to the Sports Pope comfort/berate panic-stricken Yankees fans, many of which sound like they're standing on the mid-span of the Macombs Dam Bridge.

The unintentional comedy alone that comes with each show is like chicken soup for a wounded Yankees fan soul:

"I would nevah see Madonner or Lady Gager."

"We awl know Buhnett isn't good at gettin outs. But man can he make a pie. Maybe he should be a bake-ah."

"Don't tell me how to intahview Georgia Roddy!! GET YOUAH OWN SHOW!"

(all translations via the endlessly-entertaining fake @MikeFrancesaNY Twitter feed)

But even Francesa won't cheer me up today, not when the Yankees gave a performance as weak in spirit as they did against Boston these past three nights.

Give the Red Sox credit, they took advantage of a passive Yankees team that displayed none of the killer instinct required to win games like these.

On a day we learned Joba Chamberlain was likely lost for the season and then some, salvaging the finale of this series seemed even more important than usual. And that's what made CC Sabathia's let down in the seventh inning all the more difficult to swallow.

Sabathia needed to carry this Yankee team to Mariano on Thursday, and he simply could not do it. It was a fitting end to a disastrous three days that leads to a lot of scary questions going forward.

The bullpen is essentially shot, and it's hard to come up with a way to fix it. Phil Hughes supposedly has his fastball back, but to use a well-worn Francesa-ism, converting him from starter back to reliever would be like "robbin' Petah to pay Pawwl."

Seriously, if there's one aspect of the team that needs more help than the bullpen, it's the rotation, especially with the annual Burnett meltdown on the way. Good times!

The one silver lining as the Yankees set to open a four-game series with the reeling Cleveland Indians is that the American League is not very good this season. We have to concede Boston as the best team right now, but who else would you put ahead of the Yankees?

The Rays? The Tigers? The Blue Jays? The Angels?

None of those teams scare me, and we could be heading toward a scenario where a 88-91 win team could earn a postseason spot. This is good news for the Yankees, of course, who we can still realistically circle a win total in that realm with the current roster in place.

We can, right? Please tell me we can. I need to go lie down. "We'll be back aftah dis."

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Making sense of Freddy Garcia's Eddie Harris act

It's hard not to root for a guy like Freddy Garcia.

Everyone loves the underdog, and besides, when you have a stellar old-time baseball nickname like The Chief, you'll always get some extra rope in my book.

He's also a big reason the Yankees have hung around first place for so long this season. Six of his 10 starts have been of the quality variety, the type of percentage that's acceptable when you're talking about a back-of-the-rotation guy.

But while Bartolo Colon's re-emergence can be traced back to a (doctor-aided) revitalization of his stuff, and Ivan Nova's high points can be pointed to the benefits of a live arm with promise, Garcia's success is almost entirely indebted to the two things that all pitchers come to rely on when their abilities dim to a flicker.

Smoke and mirrors.

He doesn't throw hard. His breaking balls don't have much snap. Garcia pitches to contact and hopes for the best. He's essentially Eddie Harris from Major League without the vat's-worth of vasoline slathered across his chest.

As he walks off the mound after a strong outing, you can't help but wonder if players in the opposite dugout say to themselves, "Did we really just let him get away with that crap?" I imagine they feel the way I do in a family wiffleball game when I pop up a meatball thrown by an overmatched cousin on jack and coke No. 6.

(Remember that no matter what problems I perceive Garcia to be facing, I'm the 31-year-old dude making candidly serious wiffleball analogies.)

Watching his start yesterday against the Red Sox, you knew almost immediately that Garcia's night would be a short one (if you didn't count Jacoby Ellsbury's tee shot into the right-center field seats as conclusive enough evidence). Garcia was throwing slop, the ball more desperate for contact than a pimply-faced teenager at junior prom.

When Joe Girardi lifted Garcia with the bases loaded in the second, it seemed like an act of compassion facilitated by the ERA Gods. Garcia's stuff was so monumentally crappy I remarked on Twitter how Luis Ayala's first pitch to Kevin Youkilis looked Pedro '99 filthy. Luis Ayala, people!

Such is the state of the Yankees' rotation in 2011. Band-aids, spit, gauze, and the hope that by 4 p.m. ET July 31 it will all be fine.

Garcia won't lose his spot in the rotation after Tuesday's wipeout, and nor should he. Replacement options at the minor league level are limited anyway, unless Carlos Silva's bloated corpse or an unproven farmhand does something for you. This is more like a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best scenario.

Freddy Garcia is no longer a very good pitcher. How long the Yankees can hide that reality will go a long way in determining how long they can remain relevant in the AL East.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.