SweetSpot: New York Yankees


NEW YORK -- Less than a year after it began, the Alfonso Soriano experiment is over. The Yankees designated the 38-year-old outfielder for assignment today, meaning they have 10 days to waive him, trade him, release him or outright him to one of their minor league affiliates, an assignment Soriano would surely refuse. Simply put, his second Yankees career is over.

Justified? It would seem so. After a half-season last year in which he was a revelation -- in just 58 games, Soriano hit more home runs (17) than any Yankee but Robinson Cano and drove in 50 runs, more than all but Cano and two others -- Soriano played to his age this year, hitting .221 with six home runs, 23 RBIs and a career-low .611 OPS. His playing time was reduced to the point that he faced almost only left-handed pitching, but his splits were almost equally dismal except that he hit .247 against lefties and .204 against righties. Plus, his play in the outfield was subpar; his two misplays in the eighth inning of Saturday's 2-1 loss foretold what was to come today.

Now what? In a lot of ways, Soriano's demise was directly related to Carlos Beltran's elbow injury. It forced the Yankees to use a player they had intended to be their full-time righty DH as an outfielder, where he was no longer suited to play. Beltran is still hurt and cannot play the field, which means 40-year-old Ichiro Suzuki becomes the every-day right fielder. This year, it has been Ichiro who has been the revelation, hitting .283 with a .342 OBP -- by contrast, Soriano's .244 was the team's worst -- but for a team that needs to get younger, this is another move in the wrong direction age-wise.

Worth it? On balance, you would have to say it was. The Chicago Cubs paid the bulk of Soriano's $18 million salary for each of the past two seasons. The Yankees picked up just $1.5 million of it last year and $5 million this year. They have paid a lot more for a lot worse. Plus, he was a good clubhouse guy, always cooperative with the media and popular among his teammates.

You can't go home again: Soriano's second Yankees tenure was nowhere near as good as his first, when he was part of two World Series teams, hit 77 HRs in two seasons and displayed some playoff heroics that will never be forgotten by Yankees fans of that era. That tenure ended with him being traded for Alex Rodriguez. Who knows how Yankees history might have been altered if that deal had never been made.
NEW YORK -- They failed to acquire Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, probably have no shot of getting David Price and would be taking a huge gamble by going after Cliff Lee. So what's left for the Yankees?

Well, in what looks like a straight swap of struggling back-of-the-rotation starters, they have acquired RHP Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for LHP Vidal Nuno.

So? On the surface, the Yankees have acquired a tall (6-foot-7), thin (200 pounds) righty with a five-plus ERA for a short (listed 5-11, more like 5-10), stocky (195) lefthander with a five-plus ERA. They also got a little older. McCarthy turns 31 on Monday; Nuno turns 27 at the end of this month. But did they get any better?

Maybe: At first glance, this looks pretty much like a wash, one of those deals where each team is hoping that ephemeral "change of scenery" will result in a change in performance. McCarthy is 45-60 with a 4.21 ERA in 139 career starts over 10 seasons with four teams; Nuno is 3-7 with a 4.78 ERA in 17 career starts over two seasons, both with the Yankees.

You have to look pretty deep into some advanced metrics to see where and why McCarthy might be an upgrade. He throws harder than Nuno; according to measurements by BrooksBaseball.net, McCarthy's four-seam fastball has averaged 94 mph this season and his sinker 93, both up from around 89 when he broke into the majors in 2005, while Nuno loiters between 89 and 91. McCarthy has allowed 1.04 HRs per nine innings compared to Nuno's 1.56/9, which could make a noticeable difference in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, where Nuno struggled. And McCarthy's xFIP -- a measurement designed to predict how likely a pitcher is to allow a home run -- is 2.89 this season, considered excellent, while Nuno's is a whopping 5.14, which can be described only as awful.

If nothing else, it looks as if McCarthy will be better at keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Game changer? Probably not. While McCarthy likely represents an upgrade over Nuno, he is not going to carry the Yankees to the division title or pitch them through the playoffs and into the World Series. For that, they need to snag Price or a vintage Lee, neither of whom seem to be available to them. But McCarthy might represent an additional win -- or two or three -- which considering the mediocrity of the American League East could mean the difference between playing at least one game in October or going home on Sept. 28.

QUESTION: Do you like this deal?
Suddenly and swiftly, the Yankees are the ones with the young pitching, while the Rays have question marks in their rotation.

The Yankees have had 25-year-olds Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda become two of the biggest stories of the early going in all of baseball.

The Rays have been hurt by injury after injury to their r, making their favorite status in the AL East a little tenuous.

They have watched as 24-year-old Matt Moore and 27-year-old Jeremy Hellickson have needed elbow surgery. Moore will be gone for the year. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Alex Cobb has a left oblique strain.

On Friday night, they are forced to throw 35-year-old journeyman Erik Bedard.

The Rays supposedly have plenty more young pitchers in the pipeline, but at the moment the Yankees have created some depth in the majors and possibly the minors. Besides Tanaka and Pineda, Ivan Nova is just 27.

Adam Warren is only 26. Warren looks like he could be a dependable setup man and, if given the chance, may be able to become a starter. Other than his disastrous one-start debut in 2012, he has been impressive now for a year-and-a-half.

Joining Warren in the pen is Dellin Betances. Betances, 26, has struck out 11 in 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Though he doesn't always have complete control of his pitches, he is becoming a weapon.

David Phelps is a bit up-and-down, but he is only 27.

On the farm, the Yankees have some potential with Manny Banuelos, Jose Campos and Luis Severino.

As we have already seen this year, pitching depth is a fragile thing. But at the moment, there is a role reversal going on with the Yankees' young pitchers thriving and the Rays taking a step back.

On deck: Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.86) takes on Bedard (0-0, 0.00) in Game 2 of this four-game series. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m.

From 1949 to 1964, the New York Yankees won a remarkable 14 American League pennants in 16 seasons, a dynasty that reached across generations, from Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra, to Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, to Jim Bouton and Tom Tresh.

After that dominant stretch -- which really dated back to 1920 and the acquisition of Babe Ruth -- the demise came suddenly, from 99 wins in 1964, to 77 wins in 1965, to 70 wins and last place in 1966.

The Yankees in last place? It was unfathomable to baseball fans of the 1960s.

At some point, the Yankees will fall again. Many expect that fall to be as quick and as painful as it was after the Yankees lost the 1964 World Series, and many expected that fall to happen in 2013. From 95 wins and the best record in the AL to last place in the AL East? With Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira on the disabled list to start the season, and the free agent departures of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, it not only seemed fathomable, but appeared likely.

Not so fast, my baseball friends. The Yankees' lineup in Sunday's 4-2 win over the Royals included Vernon Wells, a punchline with the Angels a year ago, hitting third; Ichiro Suzuki, a guy Mariners fans were happy to get rid of, hitting fifth; Jayson Nix, let go through the years by the Rockies, White Sox, Indians and Blue Jays, hitting sixth; Lyle Overbay, who granted was a .300 hitter seven years ago, batting seventh; Chris Nelson, obtained on May 1 from the Rockies after he was designated for assignment, batting eighth; and, batting ninth, catcher Chris Stewart, who has been let go by the Rangers and Yankees, re-acquired by the Yankees from the White Sox, let go again by the Yankees, let go by the Padres, and re-acquired by the Yankees from the Giants.

As former Indians and White Sox manager Al Lopez once said, "Everybody says we hated the Yankees. We didn't hate the Yankees. We just hated the way they beat us."

It's one thing to lose to Robinson Cano and a lineup of All-Stars; it's something more frustrating to lose to a lineup of Cano and a patchwork team of has-beens and never-weres. Ask the Royals, who entered at 18-13, riding high with their best stretch of baseball in a decade. The Yankees won 11-6, 3-2 and rode Hiroki Kuroda's strong performance to the sweep on Sunday.

The Yankees are 23-13, tied for the second-best record in the majors behind the Rangers. They are doing it with that lineup mostly filled with freely available talent -- heck, throw in designated hitter Travis Hafner in that group if you want. It's a remarkable achievement, considering offense is half of the equation. Do we credit Brian Cashman and his staff for astute moves and finding the right needle and thread to patch things together? Or did they merely find the needle in the haystack?

Maybe it's time to give Cashman credit as more than a guy who just spends a lot of money (not that that hasn't helped through the years).

As A's general manager Billy Beane recently told ESPNNewYork.com:
"I think he sort of gets penalized many times, in a sense, because of the payroll people take for granted all the success he has accomplished. It is not that easy. I always kid him. It is a shame that he hasn't been the executive of the year. Many times he probably deserves it.

Once all the injuries set in, Cashman knew the pitching would have to carry the team early on, and so far it's been superb, trailing only the Rangers in the AL in runs allowed per game.

The defense has been solid, ranking tied for 12th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved, not bad considering the Yankees are essentially playing their third-string shorstop (Nix) and third-string third baseman (Nelson) right now.

That offense? Good enough, ninth in the AL in runs per game. It's not that all the fill-in guys have excelled -- although Wells ranks 17th in the AL in OPS and Hafner would rank 11th if he had enough plate appearances to qualify -- but none of them are killing the team. Ichiro is mostly a singles hitter without enough singles right now, but at least he's playing good defense. Overbay has a .290 on-base percentage but has six homers and 20 RBIs. Nix isn't doing much at .242/.311/.305, but at least he's replacement level and not below replacement level.

And the Yankees don't need these guys to get better; they just needed them to help hold things together until everyone starts getting healthy. Granderson will return this week to help manager Joe Girardi have flexibility in the outfield -- he can start sitting Ichiro against left-handers, for example, or using Wells at DH against lefties. Kevin Youkilis should return soon after that. Teixeira will hopefully be back in early June.

Girardi will happily write those names down on his lineup card (and give him credit for moving Cano up to second in the ordering, resisting the urge to bat him third or fourth simply because that's where a team's best hitter is "supposed" to hit). One strike of good fortune for the Yankees has been the schedule. The only AL East team they've played more than one series against so far has been the struggling Blue Jays. They've played just three games each against the Orioles, Red Sox and Rays, meaning they have 48 games left against those three opponents -- 38 percent of their remaining schedule.

The most remarkable thing about this team, however: Once they get the lead, they win. They've lost just one game all year after they've taken the lead. Look at their record when leading at the start of each inning:


Now that the Yankees have started 23-13, how do you think they finish?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,031)

Second: 4-0
Third: 9-0
Fourth: 13-0
Fifth: 14-0
Sixth: 16-1
Seventh: 18-0
Eighth: 20-0
Ninth: 20-0

That late-inning record, of course, is a testament to the great Mariano Rivera, who recorded his 15th save already on Sunday, and setup man David Robertson -- but also credit to the starting rotation for battling through those middle innings to get the ball to Robertson and Rivera. The Yankees are 11-6 in games in which they score three or four runs. It's a team that doesn't beat itself.

Maybe it's not sustainable. This lineup will have to hold its own a few more weeks. The rotation is still counting on 38-year-old Kuroda and 41-in-June Andy Pettitte to remain healthy. Rivera might eventually blow a game or two, although I wouldn't necessarily count on it.

"You kind of took it for granted around the Yankees that there was always going to be baseball in October," Ford once said.

We've only had one such October since 1995, back in 2008. Most of us believed we'd see another Yankee-less October this upcoming fall. But maybe Ford's statement is true; you join the Yankees and you just start playing better because you're playing for the Yankees.

I'm still not betting on the Yankees -- I think the grind of the AL East schedule and the age on the roster will eventually catch up to them -- but I've also learned not to bet against them.

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

August, 4, 2012
Theme of the week: Late-game drama.

  • Sunday's Yankees/Red Sox tilt featured a 10th-inning go-ahead single by Pedro Ciriaco. There's been only one other go-ahead hit by a Bostonian, in extra innings, in the Bronx, over the past eight years: Jacoby Ellsbury's 14th-inning homer on Sept. 25. And it was the first non-home run version of such a hit since April 22, 2001, when Jason Varitek singled off Mariano Rivera in the 10th, driving in Trot Nixon from second.
  • Anthony Rizzo hit the Cubs' second walk-off homer of the season on Sunday to beat those hated Cardinals 4-2. It's the first time Chicago has defeated St. Louis via walk-off homer since Aramis Ramirez took Dennys Reyes deep in April 2009.
  • Milwaukee's Corey Hart homered in the bottom of the 10th against Washington on Sunday as well. His, unfortunately, was not a walk-off because the Nationals had scored twice in the top of the 10th. Hart finished 4-for-5, including an extra-inning homer, in a home game that his team still managed to lose (in this case, by an 11-10 score). He's the first player to do that since Sept. 7, 2004, when Corey Patterson of the Cubs launched his second homer of the game in the bottom of the 12th in a 7-6 loss to Montreal.It was a dubious first in Brewers franchise history.
  • [+] EnlargeOakland A's
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe Athletics on Friday won their second 15-inning game in the span of five days.

  • Oakland is still very much in the walk-off business, securing their 12th of the season with a sacrifice fly by Jemile Weeks on Monday -- in the bottom of the 15th. By inning, it was the latest "sac-fly-off" since Raul Ibanez brought an end to that 19-inning game between the Phillies and Reds last season. It was Oakland's first walk-off sac fly since Rickey Henderson‘s 15th-inning winner to beat Toronto on May 23, 1981.
  • The Athletics played 15 more innings on Friday night against Toronto, and won on another sacrifice fly (by Coco Crisp) in the bottom of the 15th. Oakland leads the majors in walk-off wins with 13. The Nationals have eight. No team, by the way, has ever had two "sac-fly-offs" in the 15th or later in the same season.
  • After surrendering three runs in the top of the 10th on Wednesday, Texas walked off with an 11-10 victory over the Angels on Elvis Andrus' two-run single to cap a four-run rally. It was the most runs the Rangers had scored in an extra inning since May 5, 2009, when they put up a six-spot in the 10th at Seattle. Andrus hit the first walk-off single, with his team trailing in extras, of the season. And it was the first single to turn an extra-inning deficit into an extra-inning walk-off, in Rangers/Senators franchise history.
  • Justin Morneau (4-for-4, HBP) and Jamey Carroll (4-for-4, walk, go-ahead single in the 10th) both had "perfect" days at the plate for Minnesota. The Twins are the only team this season to have two players each record four-plus hits and a hit in every at-bat. Ben Revere and Ryan Doumit both did it on June 22 in Cincinnati.
Statistical support for this column provided by Baseball-Reference.com and the Elias Sports Bureau.

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

April, 14, 2012

  • Austin Jackson scored a run in each of the Tigers' first six games this season. That was the longest streak by a Detroit batter to start a season since Darrell Evans crossed the plate in each of the first eight contests in 1986. And it's the longest streak by a Tigers leadoff hitter since 1939, when one of Jackson's center field predecessors, Barney McCosky, also scored in the first eight games of the season. In game seven on Friday, however, Jackson was on base only once (he walked in the eighth) and was stranded at third.
  • [+] EnlargeAustin Jackson
    Duane Burleson/AP PhotoAustin Jackson is having a solid season for the Tigers early on.
    The Red Sox managed to blow a three-run lead in the ninth and a two-run lead in the 11th in losing a wild one to Detroit on Sunday, 13-12. It was the first time Boston had scored a dozen runs and lost since May 31, 1970, when they were on the wrong end of a 22-13 slugfest with the White Sox at Fenway.
  • Alfredo Aceves gave up all three ninth-inning runs in Sunday’s game without retiring a batter, making him just the second Red Sox pitcher in the live-ball era to work zero innings pitched in each of his first two appearances of the year. Guido Grilli faced one batter each in the first two games of the 1966 season, and didn't get either of them out.
  • The Tigers used eight pitchers in that 13-12, come-from-behind win over the Red Sox. It marked just the second time in 70 years that Detroit had come back to win a game in which their starter surrendered seven-plus runs without getting through the third inning. Omar Olivares was the starter in 1997 when the Tigers rallied to beat Baltimore 11-8.
  • On Sunday, the Yankees managed just three hits -- all doubles. That same day, the Twins had just two hits as Jason Hammel posted the longest no-hit bid of the year so far. Both Minnesota knocks were doubles. It's the first time in almost three years that two teams have done that on the same day. But then … the Royals did it against Oakland (three hits, three doubles) on Monday … and the Athletics did it against Kansas City (one hit) on Tuesday.It's the first time since at least 1917 that there have been three straight days where a team had every hit be a double.
  • On Sunday, Jeff Samardzija (making just his sixth career start) was afforded the chance at a complete game. He had to be pulled after giving up a two-out homer that pulled the Nationals to within a run. Four days later, Matt Garza was en route to a shutout against Milwaukee, but was pulled after committing a two-out error that allowed the inning to continue. So the Cubs had two pitchers this week leave the game after 8.2 innings pitched.The Cubs hadn't had two pitchers work exactly 8.2 innings in the same season since 1995 (Jaime Navarro and Frank Castillo).
  • In Sunday's Cardinals-Brewers game, you could say the teams spread it around. In the 9-3 Milwaukee victory, the 12 runs were charged to eight different pitchers. In fact, every hurler who appeared in the game ended up with at least one earned run on his record.It's the first game in eight seasons where the teams combined to use eight or more pitchers, and every single one of them got charged with at least one earned run. The last time that happened was on Sept. 9, 2004, when the Royals erupted for a 26-5 victory over the Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader.
  • James Shields got called for a balk Wednesday on an illegal pickoff throw to third. That was in the bottom of the fifth -- after Justin Verlander had been called for his own balk in the top of the fifth.It was the first MLB game to feature balks by both teams in the same inning since Aug. 16, 2004, when the Rangers' Mickey Callaway and then-Indian CC Sabathia committed them in the fourth inning of a 5-2 Texas win.
  • In that same game, Verlander threw eight shutout innings before getting tagged for four runs and the loss in the top of the ninth. He became the first pitcher to throw eight scoreless innings, then surrender four (or more) runs in the ninth to take a loss since Tim Hudson did it for the Braves on Sept. 22, 2005. Hudson allowed a three-run homer to Shane Victorino of the Phillies for most of that damage before Macay McBride had to come in and get the final out.
  • In Monday's Yankees-Orioles game, Derek Jeter went a perfect 4-for-4 for the visitors, while Matt Wieters went a perfect 4-for-4 in the home dugout. It was the first game this year to feature two players with four-hit games.Since the start of 2010, there's been only one other MLB game where a player for each team went a perfect 4-for-4 or better -- and it was between the Orioles and Yankees. On July 30, 2011, Vladimir Guerrero’s 4-for-4 was the bright spot for Baltimore as the Yankees -- led by Robinson Cano's 5-for-5 -- demolished them 17-3.
  • In Yu Darvish's much-anticipated major league debut on Monday, he allowed five earned runs, four walks, hit a batter, threw one wild pitch -- and won the game because the Rangers spotted him eight runs.He's the first pitcher in the live-ball era to win his major league debut while giving up all of those stats (or worse). Even take away the wild pitch, and only one other hurler has hit five earned runs, four walks, one HBP and a win in his debut. That was the Blue Jays' Matt Williams on Aug. 2, 1983.
  • Jeff Gray of the Twins earned the first one-pitch victory of the season on Wednesday. Gray threw his one and only pitch to Peter Bourjos to end the top of the seventh, after which the Twins took the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Twins, conveniently, recorded the last one-pitch win last season, by Matt Capps on Sept. 23.
  • Speaking of pitching oddities, the Royals-Athletics game was finally called in the top of the eighth inning on Tuesday after its second rain delay. Aaron Crow, who had pitched the seventh for the Royals, was credited with his first career save. Technically, he does meet the save criteria set forth in the rule book, notably that of being the "finishing pitcher" in a game his team won.The last player to be credited with a save prior to the ninth inning was Tony Sipp of the Indians, who received one in a rain-shortened affair with Tampa Bay on July 23, 2010. That also remains Sipp's only career save.
  • On Tuesday, Freddy Garcia of the Yankees famously threw five wild pitches to tie the single-game American League record for such a thing. He was also the first pitcher to throw five-plus wild pitches in an outing of less than five innings. But two of those wild pitches scored runs for Baltimore. Another run scored on an error. That made the Orioles the first team in two years to score four-plus runs with one or fewer RBI. (The one RBI they did get came on a home run.)For the Orioles, it was just the second time since moving to Baltimore that they scored four runs on one or zero RBI. The other was in their inaugural year: On June 27, 1954, they scored three times on errors by the Athletics before finally walking off on an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Oakland "walked off" in unusual fashion on Wednesday when Jonathan Broxton plunked Yoenis Cespedes and Jonny Gomes to force in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th. It was the first game to end with back-to-back hit batters since Sept. 2, 1966, when Stu Miller of the Orioles hit Al Weis and Tommie Agee of the White Sox in the bottom of the 11th. (I admit that Elias found this a lot quicker than I would have.) However, Gomes became the first Athletics batter to get hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in extra innings since at least 1947. (It had never happened in the Baseball Reference "play index" era.) It's also noteworthy that Oakland scored its two runs in the 12th without a base hit. The three runners ahead of Cespedes reached on two walks and an error.
  • Before Friday, there had been 36 double-digit strikeout games by teams this week (including seven games where both teams did it) but not one by a single pitcher. Max Scherzer's 11-strikeout outing on Friday afternoon broke that string.
  • In Wednesday's 17-8 eruption between the Giants and Rockies, there were four pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Jeremy Guthrie, Guillermo Mota, Jeremy Affeldt)who all gave up at least six hits and at least five runs. It's the first time that that has happened since July 17, 1998, when Seattle dropped an 18-5 score on the Royals at the Kingdome.(It is also very intriguing that, in that game, both teams posted a seven-run inning. Except I don't know of a good way to search line scores.)

    By the way, on their next two games on Thursday and Friday, the Giants promptly had two pitchers (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain)carry no-hit bids into the sixth inning. The only team to have bids in consecutive games last season was also the Giants. That happened on May 8 and 10 by Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum.
  • The Orioles and Blue Jays combined to hit seven home runs in Baltimore's 7-5 victory on Friday. All were solo shots. It's the first game with seven-plus home runs that were all solo since a July 20, 2010 game at Camden Yards between the Rays and Orioles.
  • There's always one guy left out.In the 10-9 "pitchers’ duel" between the Twins and Angels on Thursday, 17 of the 18 starters recorded at least one base hit. Howard Kendrick was the lone collar, going 0-for-4 plus a walk.

    It's the first nine-inning game this season to have 17 different starters record a base hit. There were three games last season where all 18 did.
  • Minnesota got a four-hit game from Denard Span and three-hit games from Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Danny Valencia. It's the first time the Twins have had four players with three hits, including at least one with four, since they dropped a 20-1 score on the White Sox on May 21, 2009.

Over/under: Wins for Yankees

March, 29, 2012
The New York Yankees were the best team in the American League in 2011. They won 97 games. Their projected runs scored and allowed totals of 867 and 657 project to 101 wins. They came up short in the playoffs, done in by a lack of timely hitting.

Can this team win 100 games in 2012?

After all, they've brought in Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda and maybe Andy Pettitte for the rotation. Maybe Alex Rodriguez will play more than 99 games and hit better than .276/.362/.461. Maybe Mark Teixeira will rebound from a .248/.341/.494 season. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano were MVP candidates a season ago and could be again.

So ... 100 wins is a possibility. But why not 100 wins?

1. They brought in some nice starters, but remember that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were good last year, combining for a 3.82 ERA over 51 starts and 311 innings. Kuroda and Pineda may be better, but they're also moving from good pitcher's parks to Yankee Stadium.

2. The bullpen was awesome. And we don't just mean Mariano Rivera. David Robertson had a 1.08 ERA, Luis Ayala 2.09, Cory Wade 2.04. Boone Logan pitched well. The pen is likely to regress a bit.

3. Age of the lineup. A-Rod will be 36, Jeter 38, Teixeira 32, Raul Ibanez 40. Granderson and Nick Swisher are 31.

What do you think? The over/under is 93.5 wins.

2012 predictions you couldn't predict?

February, 18, 2012
Last year, You Can't Predict Baseball came up with bold predictions for the year. We had a lot of fun coming up with them, and then laughing at how hilariously wrong they were at the end of the year. This year, we're bringing these predictions to SweetSpot, along with explanations for some of them. Keep in mind, these predictions are supposed to be bold, but not insane -- even we know the Orioles aren't going to the playoffs in 2012.

Los Angeles Angels: Kendrys Morales stays healthy all year.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris is top five in K/9 in the NL. We figured something good had to happen to the Astros, right? Norris actually has a pretty nice career K/9.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes is their starting center fielder by Memorial Day.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow makes the jump to elite starting pitcher. He's struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings two years running, though his ERAs have remained ugly. We think this is the year his results finally match the stuff, especially considering his declining walk rate.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran has more wins than Tim Hudson.

[+] EnlargeRickie Weeks
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWith Prince Fielder gone to Detroit and Ryan Braun facing possible disciplinary action, Rickie Weeks could lead the Milwaukee Brewers in home runs in 2012.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks leads the team in home runs. He was fourth on the team last year, with 20. In front of him were Corey Hart with 26, Ryan Braun with 33, and Prince Fielder with 38. Fielder is gone, and for this prediction we'll assume Braun will miss a third of the year due to a suspension. It's not too bold to think Weeks could pass Hart in 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran outproduces Albert Pujols from last year. Albert Pujols was great last year, but not quite best-player-of-his-generation Albert Pujols. If healthy, it's not absurd to think of Beltran outproducing Pujols' 5.1 WAR in 2011.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza isn't their best pitcher. It'll be Ryan Dempster, who had great peripherals but bad results last year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill will be good again. He was great with them in limited time, and Arizona's park is quite hitter-friendly.

Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney will be a top-three first baseman in the National League. Many thanks to Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness for somewhat alerting us to this one. We just decided to take it semi-absurdly far.

San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner is their best pitcher. In terms of ERA, he already wasn't very far behind Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and his K/BB ratio eclipsed theirs by quite a bit.

Cleveland Indians: They'll have the best pitching in the American League Central. We're banking on Ubaldo Jimenez, making a major comeback to something closer to what he was in 2010, and the rest of the staff displaying the good that they did in 2011. We're also counting on the Tigers' starters not being very impressive behind Justin Verlander, which is bold but not quite insane, and the pitching of the White Sox, Twins and Royals not being able to keep up with Cleveland's.

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero catches 100-plus games. The Mariners probably aren't going to compete, so why not try and play him where he'll accrue the most value?

Miami Marlins: Despite all their new acquisitions and the hype, they still finish fourth in the NL East. When you think about it, this one isn't so crazy. If Josh Johnson isn't healthy and maybe even if he is their pitching still trails that of Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta; even with Heath Bell, we don't think their bullpen is as good, either. Their offense might be better than some of those teams', but the Marlins were quite a bit below league average offensively last year and we're not sure how much Jose Reyes is going to make up for that.

New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey is the worst starter in the NL. Pelfrey's been pretty terrible two of the past three years, and now they're moving the fences in at Citi Field. He was far better in his huge home stadium, but we're guessing with the moved-in walls he'll be significantly worse at Citi. Here at YCPB, we actually don't think the Mets are going to be quite as dire as many are saying, even if they do come in last place in the NL East - but Pelfrey won't be a bright spot.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg has a 17-strikeout game.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters is the best catcher in the AL. A lot of people are so obsessed with Wieters not matching the hype that they didn't notice he became a plus offensive performer last year, to go along with very good defense. His taking the next step isn't that bold as predictions go, especially if Joe Mauer has to move off catcher.

San Diego Padres: Luke Gregerson is a top-three closer in the NL.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels is their best starter. And this isn't meant to be a slight to Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but considering their ages and the fact that Hamels is pretty darn good himself, plus a possible boost from a contract year...

Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton is their All-Star.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish isn't their best starter -- but he's still good. And we think he'll be pretty good, we just think Derek Holland will become more consistently good, or Matt Harrison will put up numbers like his 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields will have no complete games. Predicting someone to have no complete games might not seem bold, but it is when it's a guy who was known as "Complete Game James" last season. Shields did have 11 complete games in 2011, an almost unheard-of number these days, but he had no complete games in 2009 or 2010.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Kim Klement/US PresswireAfter none in either 2009 or 10, James Shields pitched 11 complete games for Tampa Bay in 2011.
Boston Red Sox: No one hits 30 home runs. This might seem crazy when you consider their great offensive numbers last year, but only one player on their team hit 30 home runs and it was Jacoby Ellsbury with 32.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the NL.

Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer will have the best HR/9 on the staff.

Kansas City Royals: They reach .500. While their pitching won't be great, their offense will take a big step forward this year. Combined with the rest of their division being the Tigers and some dumpster fires, it's not that difficult to see it happening.

Detroit Tigers: They score fewer runs than they did in 2011. Yes, that’s even with Fielder. It's not improbable that Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Delmon Young regress quite a bit from their numbers with Detroit last year, and that Prince Fielder's production "only" makes up for the offensive loss of Victor Martinez in 2012. They'll still have a very good offense, though.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer hits 15 home runs.

Chicago White Sox: Robin Ventura gets ejected more times than Ozzie Guillen. Look at the state of the White Sox. We'd get ejected too.

New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda leads the team in ERA.

You Can't Predict Baseball is an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.

The Albert Pujols List

February, 11, 2011
Let's face it: Like it or not, money is the driving aspect of this great game. And the best player on the planet is Albert Pujols. Mr. Pujols, as you might have heard, has set a negotiating deadline of Feb. 16, 2011, and he's all done giving the Cardinals a hometown discount. According to FanGraphs.com, Pujols has "delivered" nearly $270 million in "value" while being paid only $89.5 million to date in his amazing career. That's a darned good return on investment.

Pujols is threatening to become the highest-paid player in baseball, and as a Yankees fan, I know more than a little bit about highly paid baseball players. Rumor has it that Pujols wants a multiyear deal for a lot of money -- maybe 10 years at $30 million a year. That's more than a lot of money. What team could possibly afford to pay Pujols that much money?

We're Yankees fans and we're not completely stupid, so maybe the better question is: What other teams could afford to pay Pujols that kind of money?

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesAlbert Pujols is reportedly looking for a new contract that pays him $30 million a season.
Let's give it some thought. Some of you may be old enough to remember the 10-year, $252 million contract that Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers in 2001. History's judgment is that this contract crippled the Rangers -- that after signing A-Rod, the Rangers lacked the wherewithal to do anything else. If we do the math and figure that the Rangers' payroll was around $100 million in the early years of A-Rod's contract, that would mean that the Rangers had about 25 percent of their payroll committed to one player. Let's establish a rule of thumb and say that no team should devote more than 25 percent of its payroll to any single player since the 25 percent allocated to A-Rod was enough to stifle an organization. This is simple asset allocation theory with a baseball application. Quick math indicates that if Pujols is going to make $30 million a year, then only teams with a payroll in excess of $120 million a year should sign Pujols.

This is not to say that there will be some new owner, or lovestruck owner, who will ignore this basic business premise and decide that having Pujols on their team is a risk worth taking, even if it means allocating 40 percent of the organization's liquid resources toward one asset. Put nothing past the owners. How else could you explain Mike Hampton, Barry Zito, Alfonso Soriano, Jayson Werth, etc.? It only takes one. And the one owner I'm personally scared of is Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg. If he can rationalize 40-plus percent of his payroll to one player, look out!

What teams are we talking about?

There were only six teams with a 2010 Opening Day payroll of over $120 million: the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Phillies, Mets and Tigers. I'll add the Angels to the list of teams that might sign Pujols, since the Angels' 2011 payroll will exceed $120 million, plus this team seems to be willing to spend money without reason. I'll add the White Sox to this list, since they play in Chicago and ought to be able to spend money like a big-market club. I'm tempted to add the Rangers to this list, only they have already signed Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton to big contracts this year, plus they already have one unhappy, highly paid infielder more than they know what to do with.

I'm going to scratch the Mets off the above list, because the only way Pujols is going to get millions out of the Mets is if he lost money investing in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The Mets have Ike Davis at first, and he'd be an attractive trade target if the Mets were able to spend at will, but that's not the case. Shea goodbye.

I'm going to scratch the Tigers off the list because they have $20-plus million annually committed to Miguel Cabrera to play first base for them through the year 2015, plus $12-plus million annually committed to Victor Martinez to do something for them through the year 2014. Pujols might have the ability and desire to move back to the other side of the diamond and man third base again (he started 89 games at third base back in 2001-02). Putting Cabrera and Pujols together could be as great a 3-4 batting duo as baseball has ever seen, but the Tigers' existing commitments seem to rule out this pairing.

I'm going to scratch the Phillies off the above list, because they have upwards of $25 million committed annually to Ryan Howard to play first base for them through the year 2016. Also, they don't need a DH. Also, they don't want to admit (yet) that the Howard contract was probably a mistake.

I'm going to scratch the White Sox off the above list, because they probably did not belong on this list in the first place. Also, they have both Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko signed to huge long-term contracts. General manager Kenny Williams is unpredictable, so maybe he can Jedi mind-trick Pujols into moving back to the hot corner … but I doubt it.

I'm going to scratch the Yankees off the above list, because they have a $22-plus million annually long-term commitment to Mark Teixeira, plus a long list of aging players that will need to share the DH position until most of us are receiving Social Security. Not to mention, one of those aging players is A-Rod, who ripped up the balance of that $252 million contract only to get Hank Steinbrenner to panic and up that contract when no one else was within $100 million.

The Cubs stay on the list. They have committed $10 million this year to Carlos Pena to play first base, but that's a one-year commitment. The Cubs' salaries for Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome come off the books in 2012. So, the Cubs will have both money to spend and the need for a first baseman when the 2011 season comes to an end. Not to mention their new ownership who might be very eager to make a splash.

The Angels stay on the list. Given the way that Moreno has reacted the last few years about the front-line free agents he didn't get, I can't see him going the extra yard to land Pujols. He spit the bit on Carl Crawford and pitched a fit about it. But just because I have my doubts doesn't mean we take them off the list. The team has $75 million committed to the 2012 roster, but that ignores many arb-eligible players due for nice raises, like Kendry Morales, Jered Weaver, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick. Adding in an estimated $25 million for those four guys puts the team's payroll at $100 million. Are the Angels prepared and able to afford a $150 million payroll? Ask Arte.

The Red Sox stay on the list. True, the Red Sox already have Adrian Gonzalez (assumption that he signs this spring) and Kevin Youkilis manning the corners for years to come. But come 2012, J.D. Drew and David Ortiz will be free agents. The Red Sox will need another big bat in the 2012 lineup, and they'll have some money to spend to acquire that bat. The team has shown an ability to surprise with the Carl Crawford contract, but keep in mind, the Red Sox already have over $101 million committed to the 2012 roster, and that doesn't include Gonzalez's pending deal and the escalating arbitration costs of Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz.

The Yankees go back on the list. No way the Yankees let Pujols go to the Red Sox without a fight. OK, maybe the Yankees don't need Pujols, maybe there's no place for him to play. But the Yankees would pay Pujols $30 million a season to replace John Sterling on their radio broadcasts before they'd let him go to the Red Sox. Brian Cashman could whisper: "Albert, we will beat every other offer, but you need to be willing to move to third base four days a week, with a day a week at first with another day or two at DH to keep you fresh."

If Albert Pujols doesn't re-sign with the Cardinals, then he's going to become something else for the Yankees and Red Sox to fight over, even if there's no obvious "need" at either club for his services. I'm still of the belief that he remains in St. Louis the balance of his career. Any other place would be a huge upset. But, if Pujols is truly going to test the free-agent market, prepare for an epic showdown of the league's financial super powers.

Jason Rosenberg is the founder and lead writer of "It's About The Money," a SweetSpot Network member. IIATMS can be found on Facebook and on Twitter. Larry Behrendt contributed to this article and can be followed on Twitter.

Empire peace of mind

February, 4, 2011
OK, I'll come right out and say it: I don't like the Yankees.

That's probably a dangerous statement to utter on this platform, but hopefully the hordes of pinstripe-faithful will understand. As a Twins fan, the Yankees have been the bane of my existence over the past decade. In Ron Gardenhire's nine years at the helm, Minnesota has lost 54 of 72 regular-season contests against New York. They've also been bumped from the playoffs by the Yankees four times during that span (always in the first round, always without much of a fight).

With this being the case, it seems odd that I find myself in position to talk Yankees fans down off the ledge. But discontent has been building up in the Bronx this offseason, and it hit an apex Thursday when the surprising (at least to me) news came down that Andy Pettitte plans on calling it quits.

Yes, the Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee. Yes, their biggest move of the offseason came in the form of a signing that for most clubs would be spectacularly bad. And losing Pettitte hurts. But rest easy, Gotham.

The Yankees will be fine.

For the most part, this is the same team that won 95 games in the treacherous AL East and swept a 94-win Twins team out of the playoffs last year.

It's true Pettitte is gone (at least for now), but injuries wiped out a sizable portion of his 2010 season, and they were fine.

Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez might be getting older, but they still rank among the best in the league at their positions. Mark Teixeira is due for a rebound. Robinson Cano will be a trendy pick for MVP among preseason prognosticators.

The Yankees undoubtedly overpaid for Rafael Soriano. It's not hard to see why GM Brian Cashman, a savvy baseball mind, cringed at giving up two draft picks and $35 million for a setup man, whose impact will optimistically shake out to a couple extra wins this year.

But the money and the draft picks don't really matter for New York. They'll keep spending in free agency and above slot in the draft. Overpaying Soriano doesn't matter all that much, and doesn't change the fact that he'll likely combine with Mariano Rivera to form the most dominant back-end in baseball.

And of course, there's the trade deadline. The Yankees will have the cash and prospects to wheel-and-deal come July; teams like the Rangers, Phillies and Brewers have benefited hugely from adding a pitcher at the deadline in recent years.

If you're going to sit an offseason out, the Yankees picked the right one. The market was not at all buyer-friendly this winter, and the team carries over enough talent from last year's successful group that they can feel comfortable moving forward without a bunch of major additions.

They'll be fine.

Much to my chagrin.

-- Nick Nelson writes Nick’s Twins blog, a blog about the Minnesota Twins.

Joba's shoulder might never be the same

January, 25, 2011
From Craig's wrap of Amanda's tweeting of Brian Cashman's breakfast appearance this morning:
    Cashman was asked, once again, about Joba Chamberlain starting. He said that Chamberlain hasn’t been the same pitcher since his injury that occurred in Texas back in 2008. This has been suspected, but I believe it’s the first time that the Yankees have publicly acknowledged that Chamberlain’s injury was a big deal.

That game in Texas was Chamberlain's 12th start, following 20 relief outings that season. In his first 11 starts, he'd posted a 2.23 ERA in 61 innings, with 23 walks and 69 strikeouts. At that point, it looked like the Yankees plans for their young phenom -- get him blooded with some relief work, then get him into the rotation -- had worked perfectly.

But after hurting his shoulder, Chamberlain missed a month. He did return to the bullpen that September, and actually pitched quite well.

That was only 11 innings, though. He didn't pitch well at all in 2009, as a starter. He pitched better than his 4.40 ERA in 2010, as a reliever. It now seems highly possible that Joba Chamberlain is just another in a long, long line of young pitchers whose arm simply couldn't withstand the rigors of throwing 100 pitches every five days. It's easy to blame the Yankees, because their handling of him got such great attention with such poor results. But if you're going to blame the Yankees, are you going to blame every other management team -- with the possible exception of the Tampa Bay Rays, these last couple of years -- in the history of Organized Baseball?

Podcast: What's next for Yankees?

December, 15, 2010
Rob Neyer shares his thoughts on what comes next for the Yankees after missing out on Cliff Lee.

Jeter's bonuses mostly for show

December, 10, 2010
We can finally put Derek Jeter's new contract to bed, as Jayson Stark has details of the incentive clauses that might escalate his 2014 salary from $8 million to $17 million:
    Jeter is guaranteed salaries of $15 million next year, $16 million in 2012 and $17 million in 2013, with $2 million of that money deferred without interest in each of those seasons. But it's in 2014 when the creative player option kicks in, at a salary that could range between $8 million and $17 million, depending on how Jeter plays in the first three years.

    " $4 million if he wins an MVP award in 2012, '13 or '14. " $2 million if he finishes second through sixth in any of those years. " $1.5 million if he wins a Silver Slugger in any of those years. " $500,000 if he wins a Gold Glove in any of those years. " $500,0000 if he wins an LCS MVP award in any of those years. " $500,000 if he wins a World Series MVP award in any of those years. There is no limit to how many times he can earn any of those escalator payouts. However, the most he can get paid in 2014 is $17 million, meaning he can earn no more than $9 million in increases. If the option is picked up for any amount less than $17 million, he can also earn any of those amounts in 2014 -- up to a max of $17 million earned.

    In addition, the deal contains a $3 million buyout if the option isn't picked up, which brings the guaranteed portion of the contract to $51 million over three years.

I think it's worth mentioning, at least once more, just how brilliantly the Yankees played this thing.

Remember, Jeter earned $20 million this year. His agent asked for a raise (probably knowing he wouldn't get it, but you have to start somewhere). The Yankees, according to most reports, offered a three-year deal worth $45 million; $15 million per season.

Well, the Yankees have committed to spending $48 million over the next three seasons; $16 million per season, but actually somewhat less because of the deferred money (how much less is impossible to guess until we know the time period of the deferments).

And all those performance incentives? Of that possible extra $9 million Jeter may earn in 2014, he'll be lucky to grab more than $1 million, maybe $2 million. He might enjoy a nice bounce-back next season and finish fifth or sixth the MVP voting. The Gold Glove voters might just keep rubber-stamping that one until Jeter's fitted for an artificial hip. But that $17 million isn't even a fantasy; it's just a bunch of face-saving gobbledygook that nobody who knows anything is taking seriously.

Basically, the Yankees are paying Jeter almost exactly what they wanted to pay him, in the first three years of the deal. In the fourth year, if he still wants to play, they'll pay him $8 million if he wants to play. But one can easily imagine him not wanting to play, if he hasn't been playing well, and instead deploying his $3 million parachute and waving goodbye. If he does want to play, he'll probably have been playing well enough to justify an $8 million salary.

I don't mean to suggest this deal is perfect for the Yankees. A perfect deal would have included some way of accounting for the distinct possibility that Jeter's just not a good enough fielder to play shortstop in 2013, or a good enough hitter to play DH. A lot of things might go wrong in the next three years. But considering the Yankees' need for a shortstop and the myriad pressures to keep Jeter a Yankee Forever, they did about as well here as they could have.

Yankees seem flexible about 'budget'

December, 8, 2010
So do the Yankees have a budget, or don't they?

Andrew Marchand reports that the Yankees do have a budget, somewhere between $200 million and $210 million (give or take a few million, of course). Prince Hal Steinbrenner describes himself as "a budget guy" and suggests that if the Yankees do have money to spend this season, it'll be money that's coming off the books.

But nobody who doesn't work at Yankee Stadium has done more work with the Yankees' payroll than IIATMS's Larry, and he says the numbers just don't add up. Not to $210 million, anyway.

As things stand now, the Yankees are essentially committed to spending $200 million next season if Andy Pettitte comes back. Granted, if Pettitte doesn't come back, the Yankees could pay Cliff Lee $25 million and come in at just a little more than $210 million ... except they want Andy Pettitte to come back and they want to sign Cliff Lee and -- according to Buster Olney -- they're hot for Carl Crawford, too.

It doesn't take an accountant to figure if the Yankees re-sign Pettitte and sign both Lee and Crawford, the payroll will hit upwards of $240 million next season. If they don't re-sign Pettitte but do get the other two guys, it'll be north of $230 million.

Budget, shmudget.

Of course, from the Yankees' point of view it's entirely justifiable. While the baseball team itself probably isn't as profitable as you might assume, the YES Network is a cash cow. For them, $30 million is a rounding error. The businesses are run separately, but given the symbiotic nature of the relationship, it's hard to imagine that people don't talk. And perhaps even write checks to one another.

My guess is that the Yankees won't get both Lee and Crawford, if only because other teams have money to spend, too. But I don't think the Yankees will let their "budget" get in the way of getting what they want.

Rivera does age, but ages well

December, 3, 2010
Mariano Rivera has apparently re-upped with the Yankees for two more seasons, undoubtedly leaving Yankees fans wondering why some are so easy and so so difficult.

According to the Daily News, the deal came together quickly:

    Thursday night, Rivera's agent Fernando Cuza - who was one of the many guests at Red Sox slugger David Ortiz's celebrity golf tournament kickoff dinner - had said the Yankees and Rivera's camp were "a little far apart" on getting a new deal done for Rivera, and that "hopefully we'll be able to work it out." But within hours, a deal came together, perhaps expedited because Rivera had recently received a three-year deal and more money (believed to be in the neighborhood of $17 million per year) from another team, according to the source. The source added that Rivera wanted to maintain his ties to the only team he has ever played for, and went with less money and fewer years to continue wearing pinstripes.


    While Jeter's numbers were down in 2010, batting well below his .314 career average, Rivera showed no signs of age, posting another impressive season with a 1.80 ERA and 33 saves. It's unclear if Rivera would want to pitch beyond this deal ...

Well, I wouldn't say he's showed no signs of age. Rivera's strikeout-to-walk ratio this year was his lowest since 2004. Then again, it was also slightly higher than his career mark and second-best among American League closers.

What's more striking (to me, anyway) is Rivera's innings. He used to be good for 75 or 80 innings per season. Then 70. And in Joe Girardi's first two seasons as manager, it's been 66 and 60. Granted, as long as the Yankees make the playoffs, the only thing that matters is having Rivera ready to pitch in October. It just gets harder, on paper, to justify a $15 million salary when the innings don't start with (at least) a 7. And I couldn't help noticing that Girardi never asked Rivera to pitch more than one full inning during this fall's postseason festivities.

What's made Rivera the greatest reliever in the game's history has been his ability to pitch brilliantly and often, at least in October. And it's not clear that he's still going to be used often in October. Which probably makes him worth somewhat less than $15 million.

Again, that's on paper. There was no way the Yankees were letting Rivera get away. And because he pitched so well in 2010, it shouldn't be surprising if there really was another solid offer from another club. Which was all his agent needed to secure a deal that will pay Rivera what he was already making.