February 2009

Figuring out the outfield puzzle

melky_375_021809.jpgBy Jon Lane
Barring a trade, or the Yankees plucking a stop-gap veteran off the scrap heap, Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera will be the team’s starting center fielder.

Many people wanted to pull the plug on Cabrera; he was almost shipped
to Milwaukee for Mike Cameron. Why give up so soon? He’s only 24 and
had one bad season, which made nearly everyone forget his 16 assists
and 73 RBIs the year before, as well as those sparkling catches in
center that had fans enamored with him. Cabrera’s biggest issue is
maturity, so you hope his demotion to Triple-A last August humbled him.

From the looks of his Dominican League numbers (.312-1-12 in 24 games
for Aguilas Cibaenas) the prognosis is encouraging. Also helping
Cabrera’s cause is him pulling out of the World Baseball Classic. It’s
admirable Cabrera wanted to represent his native Dominican Republic,
but he has too much to prove to the Yankees – and to himself.

There is a lot to like about Gardner’s game. He’s a demon on the bases and goes all-out in every area. He just has to hit; a .228 batting average in 42 games isn’t what the Yankees are accustomed to in center field.

Why trade either Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher? Either (likely Nady) will start in right field. Both offer depth and in Swisher’s case, flexibility. Bear in mind that Hideki Matsui will not see any action in the outfield all spring. He’s coming off knee surgery, so he’ll be a DH for the foreseeable future.

I’m expecting a bounce-back season for Swisher (.219-24-69 in ’08), a genial person who needed a fresh start after his fallout with Ozzie Guillen in Chicago. He’s only 28 and two seasons removed from slugging 35 home runs with 95 RBIs.

A friend of mine had this idea the other day: The Yankees sign free agent Garret Anderson. In theory it’s great. At age 36, Anderson batted .293 with 15 home runs and 84 RBIs, second on the club to Vladimir Guerrero’s 91. When the Angels decided to decline picking up their option on Anderson’s contract, Anderson left Southern California as the franchise’ leader in games played, at-bats, hits, total bases, singles, doubles, grand slams, extra-base hits, career RBI, single-game RBI, and consecutive games (12) with an RBI.

In practice it’s unlikely, though you never know. Anderson would have made $14 million in 2009 and the Yankees do not want to add more to their bloated payroll. Nady or Swisher would have to be dealt and Anderson would have to play every day. He turns 37 in June, so how productive would he truly be?

One person who will not be roaming the outfield for the Yankees: Bernie Williams. The fan favorite was with the team in Tampa today, but he’s not on the roster. He’s working out in preparation for Team Puerto Rico in the WBC.

Jeter: Get over it

arodjeter_250_021809.jpgBy Jon Lane
Derek Jeter addressed the media on Wednesday about A-Rod’s press conference, expressing disappointment yet support for his embattled teammate. The overall message was that it’s time to get over it. Amen.

“First and foremost, I don’t condone anything he did,” Jeter said. “He understands that it is a mistake. He’s trying to get past his mistake. He admitted to his mistake and I know there’s going to be people out there saying this and saying that, but he admitted what he did and it’s time to move on.”

Jeter’s best words were about how kids can learn lessons about drug use from the embarrassment many players have endured. As my YES colleague Joe Auriemma wrote, it’s up to A-Rod to be front and center in that campaign.

Eureka! A few TV types actually asked baseball questions! Jeter shared his takes on the revamped Yankees and the hotly-anticipated AL East race.

According to Peter Abraham’s Journal News Yankees blog, A-Rod was the last player to take the field. He was cheered.  Reporters waited at his locker after the workout but he walked past and said, “Talk tomorrow, guys.” 

Now let's move on from it

arod2_250_021809.jpgBy Jon Lane
Alex Rodriguez issued a mea culpa to the media, his team, his superiors and his viewing public Tuesday afternoon.

Great. Thank you A-Rod. Now we can move on.

Easier said than done. A-Rod lied about PEDs and Selena Roberts. He came across very strange with this story about “the cousin” and how they brought this over-the-counter substance from the Dominican Republic to the United States, and how his “cousin” injected him with this stuff for THREE seasons without any knowledge of potential side effects or long-term damage.

With A-Rod there are always more questions, and you know that this story – unfortunately – just will not go away. But quite frankly, I don’t want anymore. A-Rod is not going to give you anymore. His teammates are sick of talking about it; players who have been Yankees for a few years are fed up with the annual distractions that have descend upon Yankeeland like midges.

And you can debate until you’re dark blue about whether or not A-Rod belongs in the Hall of Fame. Let me break it down for you: The fact that he admitted he did it – unlike Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire – is a step in the right direction. Let this play out – and hopefully go away one of these years – for the rest of his career, wait five years after that and then decide.

Today, right here, right now. I’m through with this BS. Everyone I speak with are done with it and are anxious to talk baseball, talk about how this Yankees team is loaded on paper and whether it will translate to ultimate success on the field. Put it to you this way: The New York Daily News was forced to pull two of Anthony McCarron’s features, one on how Jesus Montero is Jorge Posada’s heir apparent at catcher and Phil Hughes’ approach to Spring Training 2009 – thanks to Alex Rodriguez.

The Yankees spent $400 million on people in the offseason. Nobody has cared. There’s heavy anticipation with the move into the new palace and excitement over what should be a hotly-contested battle for the AL East title between not two, but three teams, one which by the way is the Tampa Bay Rays, the reigning AL Champions. Few people are talking about it or anything else baseball-related, so time to change the subject.

Here’s my 2009 prognosis on Alex Rodriguez the baseball player.

A-Rod will have another HUGE season. The last time he got a heavy burden off his chest was 2007 when he admitted that he and Derek Jeter were no longer close friends. That season he batted .314 with 54 home runs (a franchise record by a right-handed hitter), 156 RBIs and 143 runs scored. This time King Kong is off his back (you’d like to think), he’s batting cleanup between Mark Teixeria and a healthy Hideki Matsui, and it’s an odd year. A-Rod won his MVPs in 2003, ’05 and ’07.

A couple of anecdotes from 2007: Gary Sheffield, traded from the Yankees to the Tigers that offseason, had a hunch about A-Rod in the spring, predicting a monster season. Then on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, A-Rod misplayed a pop fly that dropped behind him in foul territory with two out in the first. He was 0-for-3 when he led off the seventh, fresh off the Yankees’ sixth-inning rally that tied the game. He poked a single to left, and then decided to take the game in his own hands by stealing second base – on his own – before scoring the tiebreaking run. In the eighth, his two-run homer iced the game. Fans who jeered him for the error and a strikeout about 90 minutes earlier showered him with cheers.

Doug Mientkiewicz, his Yankees teammate in ’07 who played with Rodriguez at Westminster Christian (Fla.) High School and is great with the media, told me this after the game:

“No one can ever possibly fathom what he has to go through, and I will never sit here and try to speak for him,” Mientkiewicz said. “The biggest thing for Alex is to relax and understand that you’re surrounded by 24 other guys who know how to play the game too.”

A-Rod’s insecurities need to be coddled and massaged. The Yankees will do that, like it or not, because they need a relaxed A-Rod who is “simply a baseball player” to win. And you know the deal in Yankeeland: Win or else.

A-Rod's next mission

arod_250_021809.jpgBy Joe Auriemma
The YES Blog is here and I’m pleased to be making the first entry. My colleagues Jon Lane and Glenn Giangrande will also be contributors to this new forum. One thing is certain: we are excited that we have a place to talk Yankees and sports. We can’t wait to get feedback from so many diehard fans that are passionate about their Yankees and sports in general.

It’s probably not going to be shocking to most that the first entry is going to revolve around Alex Rodriguez and Tuesday’s press conference upon his arrival in Tampa.

One positive is that he has admitted to steroid abuse. Just look at the Mark McGwire case. He has become the Howard Hughes of the 500 Home Run Club, going into complete exile. In the case of Barry Bonds, he most likely will not make the Hall of Fame and is guilty in the court of public opinion.

Now that A-Rod has come clean, this is a golden opportunity for him to revive his legacy. He truly is the first of the Hall of Fame caliber players to have this black cloud of steroid abuse around him in the prime years of his career. Those other players, such as McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro, to name a few, all had this mountain of evidence against them at the end of their career. A-Rod has an opportunity to show everyone that he can pass every drug test for the rest of his career and continue to play at a Hall of Fame level.

He can become an ambassador to young players by teaching them that the use of performance-enhancing drugs does more harm than anything else. To me, this is now the legacy of this player. He can cite that the years he was on steroids statistically were not much better than his clean seasons. In fact, he has since won two MVP awards, had seasons of both 54 and 48 home runs and performed at a very high level every year.

As far as the press conference is concerned, this was supposed to be a time that A-Rod was going to clear the air and move on with this baseball season. I don’t think that happened. There are still many questions that need to be answered, and I believe that some new questions have come up. These questions will continue to be asked until the answers finally surface. The distraction surrounding this team is that these same inquiries will be asked to all of his teammates.

There will always be the black cloud surrounding him, but unlike those other players, he has many more years, barring major injury, to turn his image around.