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Got Melky? Not in New York

Inept bat earns Melky Cabrera ticket back to Minors
08/15/2008 1:30 PM ET
By Steven Goldman / Special to YESNetwork.com

Melky Cabrera played a strong center field, but his anemic bat landed him in the Minor Leagues. (AP)
(AND NO SEXSON EITHER)
In a move long, long overdue, the Yankees have demoted Melky Cabrera to Triple-A. Cabrera, batting .242/.296/.337 overall, has been among the worst offensive performers in the Majors this season since he lost his stroke after April. His performance in that first month, when he batted .299/.370/.494 with five home runs, seemed to signal that Cabrera, who had finished 2007 in a terrible slump, had finally achieved offensive maturity. Instead, he simply ceased to hit when the calendar turned to May, batting . 226/.274/.293 from that point forward. As has been the case throughout his brief career, the switch-hitter was dominated by left-handed pitching.

In recent days, it seemed clear that Cabrera had finally lost Joe Girardi's confidence. Having started nearly every game of the season in center, he had sat out six of the last 10 games, yielding to Johnny Damon and Justin Christian. While it is often said that a team with a deep offense can carry a bat, the Yankees have not been as deep as expected, with at least three players — Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Jose Molina, one-third of the batting order — unlikely to contribute. Forget about clutch hitting. It has been a problem, but a small one compared to the 33 percent discount on offense the Yankees have been offering their opponents.

Brett Gardner has been recalled to take Cabrera's place, though at this writing it is unclear if he will be a regular. Although Gardner seemed even more helpless than Cabrera in his brief trial in the Majors, he played well at Scranton since being sent down. In his last 10 games he is hitting .366 (15-for-41) including going 8-for-13 in his last three. Gardner won't be a star, but if given time to adjust in the Majors, he should easily outhit Cabrera's post-May rates, slapping some singles, taking walks (he has 70 in 94 Triple-A games), and stealing bases. The Yankees need runners on base, and Gardner can give them that. In addition, the Yankees have now gifted themselves with six weeks in which to see if Gardner can figure into their plans for next year.

The decision to waive Sexson is curious given that the Yankees apparently didn't have anything useful to do with his roster spot. New Yankee Cody Ransom is a 32-year-old ex-Giants utility infielder with career .236/.331/.364 rates. Sure, he can reach base more often than Cano, but who can't? On the plus side, he's shown some home run pop in the minors, with 162 round-trippers in just under 1200 career games in the sticks. This year he's hitting .255/338/.482 at Scranton, with 22 home runs in 423 at-bats. He also has real trouble making contact, with 46 strikeouts in 140 Major League at-bats. He's going to be a transient figure in pinstripes, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if he's replaced by another player in a very short period of time, perhaps even days. On the other hand, Ransom's primary position, both in the Majors and the Minors, has been shortstop, which makes one wonder about the condition of Derek Jeter's foot.

If the removal of Sexson persuades Girardi to let Jason Giambi play more often against left-handers, that will be a beneficial effect by itself. Sexson showed more life with the Yankees than he did with the Mariners, primarily because he took a few walks, but with two extra-base hits in 28 at-bats, he wasn't helping much, and he had not done well as a pinch-hitter. Conversely, Giambi, a career .270/.385/.473 hitter against southpaws, has hit .244/.398/.511 against them this year, with six home runs in 90 at bats. While some platooning undoubtedly has helped him maintain his vigor, he never should have been strictly platooned, particularly not in favor of Sexson or faux switch-hitter Wilson Betemit.

Neither of these moves will change the outcome of the season, but in replacing Cabrera with Gardner, the Yankees might just end it with a bit more optimism and dignity. That's something worthwhile.

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Friday, August 15: Posted at 1:30 p.m. EST

MOST OF US LOOK AT THE WORLD AS IF NOTHING BAD WILL EVER HAPPEN
The Red Sox and Rays won on Thursday, succeeding in not giving the Yankees a break on their travel day. Long odds just got slightly longer. The Yankees have 15 games to go until the postseason roster deadline. Translation: the Yankees have 16 days to win or trade — including three games at home against the Boston Red Sox.

While the Yankees could always run off a 15-game winning streak, nab Albert Pujols on waivers, and host a reunion of the Beatles, there are several factors that make this unlikely, the least of which is the current non-living status of John Lennon and George Harrison. There's also the whole rule about teams that have Melky Cabrera in the lineup not having big winning streaks. That sounds like a joke, but it's not; it's really a reference to the pernicious effects of having a sub-replacement-level player in the lineup. The Yankees have usually had two or three replacement-level types in the lineup most games this season. That's really all you need to know about this season's supposedly inexplicable collapse. The RPKs (Replacement-Level Killers, to borrow a turn of phrase from the great Jay Jaffe in It Ain't Over) are partially related to injuries, partially to Cabrera and Robinson Cano.

As we and everyone else have reviewed again and again this year, the Yankees will have some players heading for the free agent market this offseason, principally Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. Competition for replacements will be intense — maybe the Yankees can sign Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia, maybe they can't. It would also be dangerous to assume that signing even both of those luminaries would solve all of the team's problems. The Minor League system may render up Austin Jackson next year, which is not enough to compensate for injuries, further declines on the part of returning veterans, or allergies to cat dander.

At this stage, it's unclear if the Yankees' veterans would have a great deal of value to contenders as rentals, and we've also seen that, aside from Matt LaPorta, top prospects aren't moving for rentals. Still, one could imagine the odd fit. If the Yankees aren't going to win, it's worth trying to get something for some of these aging players. The existence of guaranteed multi-year contracts and no-trade clauses makes it difficult to adhere to Branch Rickey's dictum about dealing a player a year early rather than a year too late, but the Yankees are already a year too late on some players, even some having good years — the difference between a good Johnny Damon year and a bad one, for example, is just a few singles. As he heads into his age-35 season, the chances of those singles going missing grows infinitely larger. If the Yankees could acquire a viable 22-year-old, not a future star, not a LaPorta, but someone who can be 80 percent of Damon at 1/10th money, that would be a move worth making.

... That's not to single out Damon. He's just one example.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
• Headline on MLB.com: "Maine says soreness is normal." What, always, or just after certain activities? If you have soreness after, say, consuming a large pancake breakfast, is that okay?

• Since 1900, only 13 teams have lost 110 or more games in a single season. These are the really special ones, the ones you keep cherish in the locked drawer you don't tell your mother about, the 1935 Braves and 2003 Tigers (maybe you can tell mom about the 1962 Mets). The Nats will have to go 8-32 over the final 40 games to achieve drawer-level immortality. That's only one win out of five, but with two long losing streaks in the last three weeks, including their current seven-game winless streak, and a 9-21 record in their last 30 games, it would take only a little more slippage to get there.

• Now that Brad Ziegler's scoreless streak is history, I can go back to confusing him with Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon's press secretary. He had a long scoreless streak too...

• Yeah, the Rays lost Troy Percival to a strained poetic meter on Thursday. It shouldn't change much. They've lost him before. Once, he was confiscated at the airport and all the email downloaded off of him before he was returned. That's the society we live in now, and you just have to cope.

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Thursday, August 14: Posted at 12:40 p.m. EST

Another bad day in Yankeeland Wednesday night. The Yankees are now 10 out in the loss column in the AL East, six games behind the Red Sox for the Wild Card, and in an occurrence that can only be described as supernatural, the giant bat next to Yankee Stadium began audibly weeping last night just after midnight. According to the Baseball Prospectus Postseason Odds report, the Yankees now rate about a five percent chance of making the playoffs.

The Yankees' disappointing season aside, there is plenty to be excited about down the stretch. Although the races between the Red Sox and Rays, and the Cubs and Brewers, are diminished because of the probability that the loser will take the Wild Card, just one game in the loss column separates the White Sox and Twins in the AL Central. The Mets and Phillies are tied in the NL East, with the Marlins just two out in the loss column. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are tied in the NL West. We can make some pretty accurate guesses about some of these races, but the only thing we know for certain at this stage is that the Angels will be playing in October. Everything else is still open to varying degrees.

As of this moment, what else is there to say? Unless the Yankees start scoring runs, playing defense, and pitching — that's everything I know, and obvious, but there have been breakdowns in all sectors during the just-concluded road trip — there isn't much to say about them except, as I wrote in today's New York Sun, if the Yankees follow Hank Steinbrenner's perspective and blame this year's shortfall purely on injuries when planning for next year, things aren't going to be any better. A lot of things have gone wrong. Injuries have played a large part, but they're not everything. Other teams have had injuries too, and kept on punching.

...In the final analysis, a large part of the problem remains a farm system that can't furnish alternatives to the big-league regulars or even compelling role players. If the Yankees guess wrong on a bench player, as they did with, say, Morgan Ensberg, they're pretty much stuck until someone else decides to make a Richie Sexson available — and that ain't necessarily trading up. The production of pitchers has been impressive, we have to add that every time we talk about the farm, but the depth in other areas still hasn't arrived.

MARIANO RIVERA IN NON-SAVE SITUATIONS
Joe Girardi's tactical thinking is sound in not saving his best pitcher for game situations that may never arise. That said, if your best pitcher isn't your best pitcher in such situations, there is an additional dimension. We can generalize all we want about the best ways to run a baseball team, but if the human beings involved can't execute, for whatever reason, then there's a real limitation that has to be dealt with. If Rivera psyches himself in these situations, maybe you shelve the plan for this year and try again next year, or even wait until some day in the future when there's a new dog more adaptable to new tricks. It's frustrating when there's a gap between what you should do and what you can do, but such is often the case.

JETERING AROUND FOR THE HECK OF IT
The Yankees have 41 games remaining. Let's assume that Derek Jeter will regain his, pardon the pun, footing, and play in all of them. He's been averaging four at-bats a game, which would mean he would have 164 more at-bats (as distinct from plate appearances) remaining in the season, giving him a total of 618 for the season. To hit .300 in 618 at bats, a hitter needs 186 total safties. Jeter has 129 right now, so in order to hit .300 for the fourth consecutive year, he needs to go 57-for-164 over the rest of the year, which is to say he needs to hit .348.

That's a higher average than Jeter has hit in any month this season — he hit .300 in June and is hitting .319 so far this month. If he wants to hit "only" .295, he'll need 183 hits, requiring him to hit .329 the rest of the way. To match the .317 career average he had coming into the season, he needs to hit .409. If he does, well, the Yankees will make a heck of a run at saving their season, and all that Jeter-is-super-heroic stuff will be justified. He won't.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
• It's hard to think of a prospect who has had as many chances to fail and has failed, like Andy Marte of the Indians. He started young, so he's been able to get many years of failing in, and may yet have another couple in front of him.

• I was just looking at the Nationals' schedule trying to guestimate how many losses over 100 they would finish with, and note that they still have a lot of games left with the NL East contenders — seven with New York, including today, nine with Philadelphia, six with Florida. If the Phillies take the division by a small margin, you'll know why. Saying the Nats have a chance to be kingmakers doesn't quite convey the right sentiment — it's more like in losing they can be king enablers.

• I know I've mentioned this before, and I know it's a bad thing to feed an obsession, but I think about this at least once every few days: with the Cardinals and Reds finishing the season against each other, I want to see an election-year special, last-day of season matchup between Mike Lincoln and Kyle McLellan. Sure, they're both relievers, but bring 'em out of the pen for an inning or three. Imagine the possible promotions! Imagine the Civil War reenactors bivouacked in center field!

• Has Randy Winn of the Giants gotten through waivers? Even though the sum total of his offense is contained in his .293 batting average, I keep expecting some contender to overpay for his services by August 31. His guaranteed $8.25 million for next year is probably a disincentive, but Randy's surname probably provokes a Pavlovian response in most general managers, given that their whole existence is devoted to Winn-ing.

• All it takes is for one neighborhood thug to beat you up and take your bicycle for you to not want to go out to play anymore. From there it is but a small step to childhood obesity. Call it "Steve's Theory of Bullying-Inspired Consumption of Sugary Cereal at Four in the Afternoon While Watching Brain-dead 'I Dream of Genie' Reruns."

• Raul Ibanez is not a great player, but he could do a lot to help a Rays offense that is struggling with injuries and general weak performances. Ironically, the loss of Carl Crawford for the season (likely, not definite) hurts more on defense than it does on offense as Crawford had been having his first bad season since he was 21. Ibanez would help/hurt in exactly the opposite way, but be a plus overall. The only Ray having a better offensive season than Ibanez is Evan Longoria, and he's on the disabled list. The best part of the equation for the acquiring team is that Ibanez is a free agent at the end of the season, so the price on the rental shouldn't be high, and the team isn't committed to a 37-year-old for next year. Now all that needs to happen is for the Rays to make a deal, but it's not clear that they can do that between the waiver system and the Mariners' expectations.

• Depressing thought for the day: I wish I had gone to Europe back in the 1990s when the dollar was stronger and gas was cheaper than water.

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Tuesday, August 12: Posted at 12:40 p.m. EST

DAYS OF FRUSTRATION AND ROSES (TWINS 4, YANKEES 0)
The first rule of Joe Girardi's lineups is that you don't talk about Joe Girardi's lineups — even when they don't make a great deal of sense. As I wrote in this morning's New York Sun, the team that Girardi fielded against Glen Perkins, a good but hittable pitcher, was tantamount to waiving a white flag before one of the most important games of the season. Girardi's attempts at platooning this year haven't made much sense, but have been sort of tolerable in a "let the poor guy feel like he's accomplishing something" way.

But when the Yankees, almost certainly locked out of the division title, are playing one of the teams in front of them in the Wild Card race, and the best they can do is Justin Christian and Melky Cabrera, when Girardi figures he's going to protect Johnny Damon from artificial turf and a left-hander who came in allowing opposing lefty hitters a .338 average, when Jason Giambi sits under the same circumstances in favor of Richie Sexson's rehearsals for retirement, not only is the outcome predictable, but it's predictably painful to watch.

The Yankees are now 17-19 in games started by left-handed opponents, in part because of decisions like these. The Yankees left-handed hitters aren't the reason the club has struggled against southpaws. They've actually done quite well. Damon has hit .296/.377/.426 against them. Sitting them against a left-hander who has been very amenable to letting lefty hitters make contact, in favor of hitters like Christian and Sexson who have very little to give, just makes life harder. You're trading down, not up.

Platooning is a great strategy, but it doesn't make sense if the pieces don't fit. When Casey Stengel swapped out Gene Woodling for Hank Bauer, he was putting in a hitter who very well could, and often did, play every day. When Earl Weaver benched John Lowenstein for Gary Roenicke, he was sitting a guy who really couldn't hit lefties for an all-around good hitter. When you sit Johnny Damon for Justin Christian, you're not acting in the Stengel-Weaver mode. You're acting just to act. That's just managing, but no doubt it feels empowering.

Girardi apparently didn't feel like discussing these issues on Monday, which is too bad given that the Yankees were shut out on four hits. It would have been interesting to hear him defend his strategy, but the first rule of Girardi's lineups was in effect. None of this is to say that Damon can't be benched for prophylactic reasons of health, even if he protests that he's perfectly well — it's the manager's job to think about such things. However, a series against a key rival during a disastrous road trip might be the time to throw caution to the wind and play your best team. The worst thing that can happen is that someone gets hurt and you don't make the playoffs. The alternative is that no one gets hurt and you don't make the playoffs. Might as well try something.

Girardi has done a respectable job in trying circumstances, and his willingness to experiment with the bullpen is a refreshing change from his predecessors' insistence on going down with the Sturtze or whatever veteran was around. Still, nights like Monday throw the whole operation into doubt. The urgency is there, but it's counterproductive.

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Monday, August 11: Posted at 4:48 p.m. EST

THAT COULD HAVE GONE BETTER
So far on the Yankees' road trip: They have gone 2-5. They've hit a respectable .282/.350/.466 overall, yet have averaged a below-average 4.4 runs a game. They have hit into 10 double plays. The pitching staff has been battered overall, allowing opposition hitters .318/.381/.506 averages, leading to an average of nearly 6.5 runs allowed per game. Now nine games behind the AL East-leading Rays in the loss column, the Wild Card is the team's only realistic route to the postseason. It's getting late early out there.

At this stage, there isn't a whole lot to say. The team's weird failings in clutch situations, unforced errors such as Joe Girardi trying to stretch Damaso Marte for the second time in a week, both times picking up losses, the bullpen that seems to be once again steaming in reverse (I mentioned this fact to my wife on Sunday and she said, "Well, they don't have Kyle Farnsworth anymore." I hope the divorce won't be too hard on the kids.), the failure of Ian Kennedy to pitch aggressively, the injuries, Melky Cabrera.... It's just too much.

A strong showing against the Twins in the current series would keep the Wild Card race interesting, and there is also a good deal more Boston on the schedule — six games' worth — so the Yankees will have a chance to control their own destiny. Still there is another long road trip to come in early September, with the Yankees heading to Detroit (a one-game makeup), Tampa (three games), Seattle (three), and then Anaheim (three), again.

It ain't over, but the signs and portents aren't promising. At the very least, there's every reason to stay tuned, from "Can Derek Jeter pull out his season?" curiosity to trying to figure out who is going to be here next year and who should be here next year. Whether the Yankees make the playoffs or not, it's going to be a very bumpy winter. More on that in the full-length Pinstriped Bible on Tuesday.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
• If you want it, hear it is, come and get it, but you'd better hurry 'cause it's going fast.

• I imagine that the Tigers often take sad glances at Gary Sheffield's contract, specifically the part where they pay him $14 million next year to be 40 years old and rebound from a (current) .222/.322/.375 season. It turns out that the Yankees didn't get much for Sheffield, but the alternative to dealing him was to offer him an extension, the one the Tigers ended up giving him. They'll end up spending $28 million to subsidize one good season, which in itself cost them $13 million. Better to have done without.

• Tough year to be a first baseman with the initials RG. If you're a general manager, would you rather play (A) Ryan Garko (.244/.317/.354); (B) Ross Gload (.268/.317/.335); (C) Roger Goodell (NFL Commissioner &151; presumably can't hit better than Gload or Garko); or (D) Find a more predictable line of work? Hint: There is no correct answer.

• Boston's loyalty to Clay Buchholz (2-8, 6.32) represents the Yankees' hope of winning the wild card.

• Dear Twins: You got a 2-for-4 from Adam Everett. Therefore, the Royals beat you on a 2-for-2 from Tony Pena, Jr. Nothing can be created or destroyed, the cosmic balance can and must be preserved. Sincerely, Your Friend, the Universe.

• Speaking of the Universe, I'm not embarrassed to admit I still like the Moody Blues, especially the run of albums from "Days of Future Past" to "Seventh Sojourn." Even when I first discovered them back in high school (cassette bargain bin, $3.99) this was somehow something to be embarrassed about. I don't see it. While the Moodies could be heavy-handed in their approach at times, well, frequently, at their best they were either romantic, whimsical, or both, with very little negativity in the music. Like the Beatles, for whom they opened on one tour, the messages tended to be positive. That's not a bad thing, and as an exercise in writing it's an accomplishment &151; it's always easier to be angry and pessimistic than to do a convincing happy that doesn't turn into treacle.

• What did the Rockies really expect to get out of Livan Hernandez that their batting-practice pitcher couldn't give them? Maybe they were fooled by Livan's winning record. His 10-9 is a lot like Wes Ferrell's 15-10 for the Senators and Yankees in 1938 &151; his ERA was 6.28 and a clear sign that a great career was coming to an end.

• Nice show of confidence by Joe Maddon batting Rocco Baldelli in the cleanup spot after his return from a career-threatening mitochondrial disorder. He wasn't a cleanup hitter even when healthy, but the Rays are desperate for hitters just now, with about half their lineup being day-to-day or on the disabled list. Carl Crawford is potentially out for the year (they'll miss his defense more than this season's weak hitting) and Evan Longoria is sitting with a bruised hand. The Rays are still very likely to make the playoffs, but their inability to add a big stick may haunt them. Adam Dunn going to the Diamondbacks would seem to mark the end of their efforts &151; would they take Aubrey Huff's guaranteed $8 million in 2009 from the Orioles if they didn't have to send over a prospect? Would that kind of reunion appeal? A first baseman/DH doesn't help them as much as a corner outfielder, either corner, would seem to.

• What is it about 1980s production techniques that made even real drummers and bassists sound like machines?

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Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Blog appears daily on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel, and "Mind Game," the story of the Red Sox' 2004 championship, and "Baseball Between the Numbers," from the authors of Baseball Prospectus, are now available at Amazon.com. More Steve is available on YESNetwork.com in the Pinstriped Bible, and the Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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