Diamonds in the roughMinor League free agents could make an impact
Baseball America has the list of six-year Minor League free agents. This is the moment each year when the serfs are set free. There is always a great deal of chaff in the mix, but often, there is the odd diamond in the rough, a player who can help a team in a role if given a chance. Some of these are pitchers who just might click Dan Giese was one of those for the Yankees this year, having been signed away from the Giants last winter. The hitting side was less productive, though the Mets did score, re-signing their own Minor League free agent Fernando Tatis.
Here are a few of this year's Minor Leaguers that catch the eye as having some potential worth on a Major League roster:
Oakland third baseman Jesus Guzman, 24, who hit .364/.419/.560 at Double-A Midland (Texas League) and is a .295/.366/.463 career hitter who bats from both sides of the plate. His plate judgment isn't great, but his contact rates aren't horrible. Guzman has played some short and second in the past and could be a utility infielder with a little extra pop in his bat.
The never-ending outfielder, Val Pascucci, who hit .290/.410/.553 for the Triple-A Mets this year (and never got called up, even when things were at their most desperate). He's a career .275/.396/.492 hitter in the Minors with 187 career home runs down there. The righty hitter turns 30 in about ten days.
Scott Thorman, 26-year-old Braves first baseman. Hit .251/.283/.465 at Triple-A. He has as much understanding of the strike zone as Henry Kissinger but does have some lefty home run power. I'm more skeptical of him than my other choices given his failure to hit in two Major League trials and his positional limitation.
John Gall, Marlins, 30. First baseman/outfielder with career .298/.356/.462 rates. Hit .312/.369/.493 this year. He's had three inconclusive cups of coffee in the Majors.
Paul McAnulty, Padres, turns 28 in January. He's a corner outfielder and first baseman. McAnulty is a lefty swinger with career rates of .304/.397/.493 in the Minors. He hasn't hit much in the Majors (.208/.324/.330 in 251 plate appearances) but probably could do a little platoon work.
Chris Seddon, LHP, former Rays prospect, a lefty starter, just turned 25. He doesn't throw hard and was wrecked in a 2007 audition. Seddon has spent his whole career as a starter and has little to show for it. It might be time to take his left arm to the bullpen and see if he can do a little middle relief work.
Among the former Yankees organization guys on the list: pinstriped first-rounder Bronson Sardinha, now 25. He finished the season at Double-A. Sadly, he just can't do this, which is too bad. We need a Major Leaguer with a middle name like "Kiheimahanaomauiakeo." Others: Randy Keisler, Omir Santos, Jason Lane, Jeff Weaver, Morgan Ensberg, Caonabo Cosme, Erick Abreu, Brian Buchanan (busted first-rounder traded for Chuck Knoblaugh), John-Ford Griffin, (another busted first-rounder, spent on Jeff Weaver), Mitch Jones, Brian Rogers, Bret Prinz, Matt Smith, D'Angelo Jimenez, Sean Henn, J.D. Closser, Gabe Lopez, Kevin Howard (once upon a time the "reward" for trading Tony Womack), Craig Wilson, Colter Bean, and Greg Porter.
Newsday reports that the Yankees think it "unlikely" that they'll induce the Brewers to send Mike Cameron their way. That's a likely bullet dodged. Yankees: there is nothing wrong with having a youthful, athletic player in center field. Small point: the Yankees, who have won more than anyone, have rarely won with a center fielder older than well, just look at these guys:
1921: No regular CF. The guy who got the most time, Elmer Miller, was 30.
1922: Whitey Witt, 26.
1923: Whitey Witt, 27.
1926: Earle Combs, 27.
1927: Earle Combs, 28.
1928: Earle Combs, 29.
1932: Earle Combs, 33.
1936: No regular CF; Joe DiMaggio was 21.
1937: Joe DiMaggio, 22.
1938: Joe DiMaggio, 23.
1939: Joe DiMaggio, 24.
1941: Joe DiMaggio, 26.
1942: Joe DiMaggio, 27.
1943: No regular CF; Roy Weatherley was 28.
1947: Joe DiMaggio, 32.
1949: Joe DiMaggio, 34 (76 games).
1950: Joe DiMaggio, 35.
1951: Joe DiMaggio, 36.
1952: Mickey Mantle, 20.
1953: Mickey Mantle, 21.
1955: Mickey Mantle, 23.
1956: Mickey Mantle, 24.
1957: Mickey Mantle, 25.
1958: Mickey Mantle, 26.
1960: Mickey Mantle, 28.
1961: Mickey Mantle, 29.
1962: Mickey Mantle, 30.
1963: Tom Tresh, 25.
1964: Mickey Mantle, 32.
1976: Mickey Rivers, 27.
1977: Mickey Rivers, 28.
1978: Mickey Rivers, 29.
1980: Rupert Jones, 25; Bobby Brown, 26.
1981: Jerry Mumphrey, 28.
1995: Bernie Williams, 26.
1996: Bernie Williams, 27.
1997: Bernie Williams, 28.
1998: Bernie Williams, 29.
1999: Bernie Williams, 30.
2000: Bernie Williams, 31.
2001: Bernie Williams, 32.
2002: Bernie Williams, 33.
2003: Bernie Williams, 34.
2004: Bernie Williams, 35; Kenny Lofton, 37.
2005: Bernie Williams, 36.
2006: Johnny Damon, 32.
2007: Melky Cabrera, 22.
2008: Melky Cabrera, 23.
Sure, it worked with Joe D, Mickey, and Bernie, but, no disrespect intended to Mike Cameron, he ain't them.
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Wednesday, November 6: Posted at 7:39 p.m. EST
THE JETER MOVE: THE DREAM OF IMMORTALITY
I've had a couple of positive phone conversations with Kevin Kernan of the NY Post, so I don't want to come off as being overly critical, but I caught him on XM's famous all-baseball channel #175 this afternoon with ex-Yanks b'caster Charlie Steiner and he said something that is worth going over in a little detail because I'm sure it's an idea that many of us have considered at one point or another. Kernan responded by saying that Jeter is still a strong defender and a move to first base is probably about two years off.
We can let the first part go for now, the part about being a strong defender, because arguing about that is like Bobby Murcer's saying that hitting a knuckleball is like trying to each Jell-O with chopsticks. For too many people, the evidence just doesn't pin itself down in a way that they can latch onto it. It's the part about first base in two years that I'm more concerned with, though I hope that the Yankees will render it a moot point by signing Mark Teixeira to a hundred-year contract in the next few weeks. Just in case that doesn't happen, let's talk briefly about why it's a bad idea. I think I can make this very, very short: Jeter does not hit enough now to be a first baseman, and is even more unlikely to hit well enough when he's 37.
This year, Jeter had his worst season, relative to the league, since his rookie year. Due to the dearth of hard-hitting shortstops in the American League, he was still ahead of the pack at his position, but in terms of baseball's gen-pop he was just a bit above average. You could argue that we don't know the future and that a bounce-back is coming, and you might be right (though "you" don't know the future either and could as easily be wrong). Even if we take that return to form for granted, we would then have to follow up by asking, "And how many years do you expect that to hold?"
Over the last three years, Major League first basemen have hit .275/.355/.468, popping a home run once every 24 at bats. Jeter, whose isolated power has declined for four straight seasons since he had the second-best power year of his career in 2004 (44 doubles, one triple, 23 home runs), had an OBP of .363 and a slugging percentage of .408 last year. That's not an average first baseman. It's not even close. It's more like Doug Mientkiewicz. There's simply a gigantic difference between having an above-average bat for a shortstop and one at first base. Jeter did at one time, but that day is done. Two years from now, he might not be a shortstop or a first baseman... What will he be then? Darned if I know.
MIKE CAMERON REVISITED
Seems like every time we cover a topic here the news circles back to it. We already discussed Cameron a couple of weeks back. If the Brewers are willing to give him up for Wilson Betemit, Melky Cabrera, and... well ... nothing, then that's not a terrible move. Paying more than that in the form of players who have a future is a very risky idea, as we should probably expect Cameron to hit something like .250/.325/.440. In a bad luck year, or a year in which age takes hold, Cameron could very easily slide to a below-.300 OBP. And suddenly, having gotten rid of Melky, you're dealing with his OBP again. The power production would still be better, but as I said the first time Cameron came up, better is not the same as good.
THE GOLD GLOVES
The first oddity that jumps out at you is that the two pitchers who won are both likely to retire. Greg Maddux's agent already said he was gone, while Mike Mussina seems to be leaning that way. It also seems odd that there are apparently no pitchers in baseball who are better fielders than this pair of oldsters. I have no idea if this means anything, but I also note that another oldster, Kenny Rogers, participated in 11 double plays this year, just the second time that a pitcher has been part of that many twin killings since 1976.
FREEDOM'S JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR NOT HAVING A NEEDLE IN YOUR ARM
Slow work day for me today, as I spent another day running medical errands and getting poked by needles. There's nothing emergent going on, just that when you have had the very good fortune to make it through two cancers (so far, knock wood) there are always check-ups to make sure that some part of your anatomy is not going to be Pearl Harbored again. These appointments come in waves and bunches, and they grow like a pyramid each time you do one, you make appointments to do two more. For example, the doctor I just left is having me do an MRI in two months and return to him in six, so days well into the future are already being blocked out. I'm not complaining, but I'm very fortunate to be sort of a one-man corporation who keeps the office running 24 hours a day, because I used up my next 500 personal days several years ago. Don't think, though, that your boss is anymore understanding than mine is. I get me alone in the office and I can be brutal and I dock my pay and cancel casual Fridays. You'd think that me as the boss, me and my health is very important to him, and that he would be more understanding.
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Wednesday, November 5: Posted at 2:19 p.m. EST
IT'S STARTING TO SINK IN...
...But to invoke a cliché, last night was not the end, but the end of the beginning and that's all I say about that in this space. Now, back to baseball.
MADNESS OF THE MUMBLERS
Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone it's whisperings from the General Managers conclave!
Ken Rosenthal says "The Yankees currently do not have a need in left or right." That's what you say actually, he says a lot about Orlando Hudson and moving Robbie Cano to first base or left or right or some kind of manned spacecraft that would explore the Oort Cloud and report back in 50 years, but after visiting the Hudson-river of dreams a couple of times now I'm not going back there unless forced by dire events.
However, I would like, also once again, to dispute the idea that the Yankees don't need help in the corners. Johnny Damon had a career-best year, and may or may not repeat in 2009 at the age of 35. It wouldn't take much slippage in batting average to render him a great deal less interesting see the 2007 season for more details. As for Xavier Nady, he's a heck of a 350 at-bat sub at three corners, but he doesn't hit enough to be an everyday right fielder. His Pirates half of 2008 was an aberration. How about Adam Dunn or Milton Bradley? Moving on...
My pal Keith Law reports that the Cardinals are looking for a bat in the middle infield, which certainly smells like Cano spirit (though he doesn't say so), but the Cards aren't prospect heavy. Me, I'd still take Colby Rasmus despite a very rough year in the Minors, one of injuries and of not hitting, and they can throw in catcher Bryan Anderson. Just a hypothetical, one that might be overvaluing Cano after an off year, but then again one that might not be asking much a prospect off an equally disappointing year and a likely career backup catcher.
Nick Swisher, a player I touted for the Yankees earlier this offseason, is reportedly available for trade . Swisher was pretty awful this year, going into a Ted Williams memorial deep freeze for the entire second half. Yet, he hit 24 home runs and walked 82 times. He can play all three outfield positions and first base. This is a player worth having. Players get hurt. We know that. The great danger is not that they get hurt, but in the players who substitute for them.
Unfortunately, benches are short and prospects are few, so the Swiss Army-style player, who can embody several substitutes in one and hits as well as a regular, means that your team's manager never has to be in the dumb, destitute position of playing Miguel Cairo at first base when the regular gets hurt sorry, John Sterling, but that's how close pennant races are lost. Nick Swisher, or Swish Nicker as I like to think of him, has been totally devalued by his slide, but he is completely undervalued. He should be a 160-game player with 40 games each at his four positions, or whatever distribution patches for slumps, injuries, and so on.
This has little to do with the GM's meetings, but I saw that another columnist wrote yesterday about how the Yankees have to move Joba back to the bullpen to win. No, I'm not going to link it.
Look, it can be a slow time of year just now and all of us in this position know what it's like to have to try to stir something up without much to go on, but for gosh sakes can we let this one go already? There is no argument other than health for moving Chamberlain to the pen, and the health argument is completely without substance at this point. Period. Maybe Joe Maddon's nine equals eight talk is the buzzword of the postseason, but 70 innings doesn't equal 180 innings especially when you don't have enough good candidates to take the 180 part, but a whole bunch of guys, some we haven't even seen yet, who are very plausible applicants to take the 70. Every Joba to the bullpen argument makes me want to rend my garments. Get over it. If these same people had been around during early 1920, they would have been writing that the Yankees had the perfect opportunity to put Babe Ruth back on the mound where he belonged. Enough, enough, enough.
You've probably seen that A.J. Burnett has now freed himself of the Blue Jays' talons and is available for purchase at MLeBay. He's a potential injury risk, but one with a much higher upside than Carl Pavano... You hear a lot about the Yankees perhaps pursuing Oliver Perez, who is a terrific pitcher sometimes. I hereby invoke the name of Eddie Lee Whitson and suggest that the Yankees do not have a great history of provoking calm seasons from wild and flappable pitchers... Joel Sherman says that the Yankees are thinking about catching depth in case Jorge Posada's shoulder troubles him, which is encouraging, but if things don't work out with the Rangers, they "will keep tabs on free agent Ivan Rodriguez," which is depressing. I suppose it's not as depressing as Jose Molina, who could send you to therapy with his hitting, great throwing or not. Sherman also says, "The Red Sox, Reds, Tigers and Marlins have been more aggressive with Texas about its catching. The Rangers are looking to upgrade their rotation." ...I haven't commented on the termination of the contracts of Jason Giambi and Pavano because we've talked about those coming events all year. Not much to say about them except that Giambi hit very well last year but was overpaid (the offense will have to be replaced, perhaps by Mark Teixeira), and Pavano was, well, you know. The Chocolate Solider which is not a reference to a George Bernard Shaw play... Andy Pettitte is now on record as saying he wants to come back to the Yankees. It's not a bad idea as we've said before, the numbers are still solid... Tony Pena appears set to become Joe Girardi's bench coach/diplomat. One suspects that successful manipulation of the bullpen is the sole thing keeping Girardi employed just now, and if the team is slow getting out of the gate and he remains cranky and Queeg-like, you could start to hear rumblings.
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I'm trying to figure out a new You Could Look It Up column, but darned if I know what it is yet... Since last time at wholesomereading.com : Biding Up the Nation's Wounds; Mr. Jefferson, Tear Down This Wall; The Egg, and more throughout the day. Warning, kids! Politics!
Monday, November 3: Posted at 5:36 p.m. EST
THE NEW PINSTRIPED ORDER
On Opening Day 2008, the Yankees lineup read as follows:
C: Jorge Posada
1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Alex Rodriguez
SS: Derek Jeter
LF: Johnny Damon
CF: Melky Cabrera
RF: Bobby Abreu
DH: Hideki Matsui
As the general managers' meetings commence, and the Hot Stove is lit, it seems possible that the opening day lineup in 2009 will bear little resemblance to the 2008 version. Let's list them out again but with appropriate question marks:
C: Posada (Health permitting)
1B: Mark Teixeira?
2B: Could Cano be traded due to his frustrating off year?
LF: Damon is reportedly trade bait.
CF: Brett Gardner? Someone else? Surely, it won't be Melky.
RF: Xavier Nady? Manny Ramirez? Seems unlikely Abreu will be back.
DH: Matsui is also reportedly trade bait. Seems unlikely he and Damon will go.
To a small extent, this kind of turnover brings to mind Jerry Seinfeld's old observation that we don't root for teams anymore but laundry. The greater sense is one of possibility. A two-way first baseman would go a long way to healing some of the problems on defense. It seems a mistake to trade Cano off of such a down year, especially since a rebound seems almost certain, but a player with a lower batting average and a higher walk rate could be just as productive and more consistent. Damon had what might have been the best offensive season of his career last year, and he's a fun player with an engaging personality, but at 35, he's not likely to have too many .300 years left. Gardner won't be an impact player but should be a passable placeholder until something better comes along. Nady is not an acceptable sequel to Abreu in right field, not on offense and not on defense, so something will have to be done there. Matsui still retains some potency but is clearly in the offensive second-tier with increasing durability issues.
In short, if done correctly, a lot of good could come out of the moves the Yankees are contemplating. The offense was as much a problem as the pitching staff last year, with a relatively low walk rate leading to a roughly 14 percent falloff in scoring versus the league average from the year before (pitching was off only two percent). The only question is, would an almost new team in a new building still be the Yankees, or would a complete reboot dampen the old emotional loyalties? No doubt some would say that as long as Jeter is still in place, the Yankees are still recognizable. Maybe, but at one point in my own life I would have said that about Don Mattingly. Having watched the cast surrounding him change from Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph, and Dave Winfield to Mel Hall, Steve Sax, and Jesse Barfield, I can testify that it isn't necessarily so.
If Hall had taken a pony ride around the warning track at Yankee Stadium after winning the World Series, I don't think anyone would have been moved. Maybe Mel's pet cougar, but that's about it. Nady could ride a jet ski around the warning track after having hit three home runs and caught the last out in the seventh game of the World Series, and people would be more amused than emotional. It takes some time too for a mercenary to be something more than just a hired hand who is going to move on once the crops are in or Eli Wallach's banditos have been routed.
In the end, though, the question of fan love and loyalty has to take a back seat to winning, and the Yankees are old and not particularly potent. The graying of the Yankees is not vulnerable to delicate treatment, and if they can get younger and better at the same time, that has to be the priority.
A QUICK NOTE ON THE ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
Austin Jackson's team, the Peo Javelinas, have two batting coaches, Ozzie Timmons and Henry Cotto. The two were very different players, but they had one thing in common: neither particularly liked to take a walk. Coincidentally, neither do the Peo Javelinas, the only team in the AFL with less than 75 walks as a team. At present, they have 59. I'd like to think that this at least partially accounts for Jackson hitting only .246/.286/.415 with just three walks in 16 games the Jack-man has picked up some bad habits. We'll see what the Yankees can undo in the spring, and if it affects the way the lad plays at Triple A.
YOU KNOW THE DRILL
Tomorrow: Vote! Whoever you candidate of choice, whatever your position. Exercise your franchise and head to the polls. Thus endeth the Pinstriped Blog Public Service Message.
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