Buehrle Retires 45 Straight; Wang and Johnson Done?

The Cub fan in me was supposed to watch their game with Houston last night; instead I watched Mark Buehrle figuring I should watch to see how long he could keep getting batters out.  Buehrle didn’t disappoint – cruising through five innings as if he’d never allow a batter to reach base again.  His streak reached 45 batters when he got the first two out in the sixth inning and suddenly people were wondering if he’d throw a second straight perfect game,  Then, Buehrle he got up 0 – 2 to Alexi Casilla and I was thinking, “grounder to short.”  Instead, Casilla coaxed a walk, followed by Denard Span’s liner into center for a single.  When Scott Podsednik misplayed Joe Mauer’s fly ball into a ground rule double, the magic was over.  (They only give errors when you get a glove or body part on the ball, but never when you slow up or short arm the reach.  It clearly should have been caught.)

Still – 45 straight!  The record of 41 was first set in 1972 by Jim Barr of the Giants, and later tied by Bobby Jenks (Buehrle’s teammate) a couple of years ago.  I was listening to SportsCenter this morning, and the comment about Barr and Jenks was “these guys were relievers…” as if it was easier for a reliever to get that many outs in a row.  As I see it, they got it wrong on both counts.  At that time in his career, Barr was a starter.  He got the last 21 in a row in a complete game shutout of Pittsburgh on August 23, 1972, and then got the first twenty out before allowing a double to Bernie Carbo of the Cardinals in his second complete game shutout six days later…  Barr threw a perfect game in the middle there – but it didn’t count.  Later in his career, with a burned out arm, Barr was a reliever.  As for what Jenks did – working one inning at a time, he didn’t allow a hit for over a month in the 9th inning protecting a lead.  How is that any easier?

Buehrle got roughed up in the seventh and took the loss to Minnesota – which is what happens when you are coming off of perfect games.  Too much magic needed to win two consecutive games when so much is spent on the first game…

On to Other News…

Chien-Ming Wang’s season is over – shoulder surgery is next.  [ESPN]

Randy Johnson’s season, and possibly his career, may be over as he learned he has a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.  Johnson laughed that his days of doing an instructional hitting video are over.  The Big Unit hopes to return in September.  [ESPN]

Houston pitchers are running into back problems…  Roy Oswalt left last night’s start against the Cubs in the second inning and will have his strained back looked at.  For Latroy Hawkins, he heads to the DL with shingles in his back.  Yuck.

Oswalt’s injury (and, for that matter, Hawkins’) opens the door for prospect Bud Norris to join the Astros.  Norris has great stats – big strikeout numbers, even in the PCL, and occasionally fights his control.  Baseball America says he’s the #2 prospect in the Astros organization.  If there is a “but…”, it’s his minor league W-L record, which stands at 12 – 25.  You’d like for your top prospects to have winning records – even on bad minor league teams.

Ian Kinsler strained his left hammy running out a grounder and is day-to-day for now.  This is a tough loss for the contending Texas Rangers.

The latest blockbuster trade?  Boston sent Mark Kotsay to the White Sox for outfielder Brian Anderson.  Kotsay used to be a good fielding outfielder, but his back has taken away that mobility.  Anderson’s reputation is that of being a good outfielder, but at 27 he’s never had the stats to back that up and his bat reminds you of someone who might never get out of AA – heck, he had just been sent back to AAA.  Kotsay is a good pinch hitter and can play first a little – so the White Sox would seem to have gotten some value out of the deal.  [SI]

ESPN has a good rundown of current trade rumors, as we await the trade deadline on Friday, as does FanNation.  Or you could read about trade rumors on MLB.com…  [ESPN/SI/MLB]

Welcome Back!  A bunch of guys came off the DL in the last 24 hours…  Houston reliever Doug Brocail, Blue Jays pitcher Scott Richmond, Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (looked rusty last night), Arizona catcher Chris Snyder, Padres catcher Henry Blanco and infielder David Eckstein…

Make it Work!  Andy Marte was called up by Cleveland…  Three years ago, he was a top prospect, but it hasn’t worked in more than 500 MLB at bats – hitting all of .211 with nine hommers.  It’s time for Marte to make his mark in the majors or he’ll be an afterthought before long.

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Buehrle is Perfect – and a few other news items…

Mark Buehrle tossed the 18th perfect game in baseball history yesterday thanks, in part, to a gravity defying, homer robbing catch by Dewayne Wise, who had just been inserted into the game as a defensive replacement.  Wise told an interviewer later that he told himself to be ready because it seems like whomever enters the game has a ball hit immediately in his direction.  Except that Wise had to run about 120 feet at full speed, leap and catch his foot on the wall as an extra prop, and then catch the ball while suspended in the air – banging against the wall and railing – then falling and watching the ball tumble out of his glove as he pulled it back into play and finishing by rescuing the ball (and the perfect game) barehanded.

The best comment/stat I saw was a note saying that this was the first time a perfect game had occured where the pitcher was throwing to a catcher (Ramon Castro) for the very first time.  It’s Buerhle’s second no-hitter (he topped Texas in 2007), and had the same home plate umpire (Eric Cooper).  Okay – I admit, I dialed up MLB.com and watched the last two innings at the office while prepping advertising orders…

In other news…

The hard-charging Houston Astros took a hit when Lance Berkman hit the DL with his calf injury.  Taking his roster spot will be middle infielder Edwin Maysonet – not a prospect, really, but a versatile position player.  [SI]

Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang wants a second opinion on his ailing shoulder – which doesn’t bode well for a return in 2009 and leaves the team and player in a lerch.  [SI]

The Phillies lost two relievers to the DL yesterday:  J.C. Romero (forearm strain) and Chad Durbin (back).  To help, Philadelphia recalled Tyler Walker and Andrew Carpenter, each of whom had made quick stints with the Phillies earlier in the season.  [ESPN]

Walker is a serviceable middle reliever, 33-years-old, and has bounced around a bit – pitching with the Mets, Giants (twice), Rays, and now the Phillies.  Andrew Carpenter has been pretty successful in the minors (34 – 20, 3.49) and was doing very well at AAA Lehigh Valley.  He looks to be someone who could help as a swingman or even fourth starter in the majors.  Carpenter may not be an early round fantasy pick, but he could make a few teams in his career.

FoxSports reporter Ken Rosenthal says that the Rays could enter a bidding war for Roy Halliday or Cliff Lee if they could part with someone with a high salary, therefore getting some payroll flexibility.  Is Scott Kazmir available?  Apparently, yes.  [FoxSports]

ESPN’s Buster Olney gives eight reasons Halliday should become a Phillie.  And it’s not just to save the wounded bullpen.  [ESPN]

Toronto starter Dustin McGowan added injury to injury when he had his right knee scoped.  He’s already on the DL following shoulder surgery and injured the knee exercising.  [FoxSports]

Cleveland traded Rafael Betancourt to Colorado for Connor Graham.  The surging rockies could use a dependable reliever now that Manny Corpas is on the DL following an elbow scope to remove debris, and the Indians are stockpiling prospects.  Is Connor Graham a prospect?  The 2007 5th round pick out of Miami (Ohio) University is big (6′ 7″ and 235), strikes people out, must have a lot of movement on his pitches because he’s hard to hit and walks too many guys.  So far, he’s a rotation version of Mitch Williams – well, he has better control than Williams, but you get the picture.  [SI]

Welcome Back!  The White Sox recalled Bartolo Colon from the DL, sending Carlos Torres back to AAA.  Kelly Johnson returns to the Braves after his DL stint. 

Hurry Back!  The Royals lost outfielder Jose Guillen to a lateral collateral ligiment tear.  Rays reliever Chad Bradford is on the DL with tightness in his lower back.

Schmidt Returns With Win; Wang Injury Bug Continues

Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang’s 2009 disaster season continues…  He was playing catch when he felt soreness in his bicep.  He won’t throw again until Friday, and if I were him, I’d be looking to get in shape for 2010.  [ESPN]

Texas closer Frank Francisco heads to the DL with pneumonia – he’ll be back soon, but he needs his rest and fluids.  C.J. Wilson will close, and Willie Eyre gets the call from AAA.  [ESPN]

Mets starter Fernando Nieve’s injury was pretty severe – he tore a muscle in his quad.  He’s out six weeks.  Welcome back to the bigs, Cory Sullivan, who used to be an outfielder for Colorado.  Sullivan’s stay may be short-lived – the Mets will likely call up a starter (Jon Niese?) to take Nieve’s start in the rotation.  [SI]

Speaking of bad quads, A’s first baseman/DH Jason Giambi’s quad has been problematic, and now he’s on the DL.  Giambi’s been day-to-day for weeks with a variety of quad and hamstring injuries.  [SI]

Cincinatti catcher Ramon Hernandez’s knee now requires surgery – which means an extended DL stint.  Coming up to pick up some innings will be Craig Tatum.  Tatum is hard to read – the Mississippi State grad has some power and tools, but has had periods where he hit .320 (FSL, 2007) and .231 (Southern League – same year).  My take is a low average power guy – .220 with 12 homers in 250 at bats type.  Ryan Hannigan, who has been a nice surprise, will get most of the innings, though.  FYI – Hannigan went to Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, the same college that Rube Waddell attended and occasionally coached back in the winter of 1902/1903. [SI]

Welcome back Carlos Quentin – the White Sox slugger has been out two months suffering from plantar fasciitis.   He took over in his old stomping grounds, left field, and cost Brian Anderson a slot on the big league roster.  [SI]

I watched the Phillies and Cubs last night – and I saw two teams heading in different directions.  The Phillies are marching toward the NL East crown after winning their ninth straight, and the Cubs don’t look like they have any direction at all.  And so many of us picked them to win the NL Central, if not challenge for a World Series title.  And now, the Phillies found out Brett Myers may return in August and pitch out of the bullpen.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Jason Schmidt was recalled by the Dodgers and won his first start in over two years.  Andy Finch and I saw him in his last rehab start, and he doesn’t have the great fastball – but he has enough to fool people.  However, he was hit a little even by the Memphis Redbirds, so he’ll need to really be on top of his control to win in the bigs.  I’m rooting for him, but not putting him on my fantasy roster any time soon.

Colorado signed Matt Herges to a minor league deal.  He still has some gas in the tank.  Tommy Hanson returned to the Braves (and looked great), and J.D. Martin joined Washington for a start last night.  Cleveland fans might remember Martin – he was once hailed as a top prospect back in 2002, and was a 2001 first round pick out of high school.  Injuries cut into his development, but he’s never really pitched poorly.  He’s got good control, strikes guys out, and at times has looked dominating.

Hurry Back!  Houston’s Darin Erstad and San Diego’s Edgar Gonzalez were both put on the 15-day DL.  Florida’s Andrew Miller was sent to AAA to find his command.

Johnson, Wang Injure Shoulders; Manny Already Tired

Randy Johnson injured his throwing shoulder while batting in Sunday’s game against Houston. With the All-Star break coming, he’ll likely just miss one start and not need to go on the DL, but you never know. [MLB]

Manny Ramirez’s comeback lasted just two days, as he needed to take Sunday off to rest his legs. Eric Milton, who just came off the DL with back soreness, went back on the DL – which makes me wonder if he really was ready or not – so the Dodgers could recall Blake DeWitt.

This really shouldn’t be news, but it gives you an idea of how dedicated Manny is to the Dodgers. He couldn’t keep himself in shape while he was out, and he chose not to use all ten rehab games to get his wheels back. Apparently it’s hard to run back and forth to the outfield from the dugout between innings. [MLB]

2009 continues to haunt Chien-Ming Wang. Sunday, the Yankees placed Wang on the DL with a strained throwing shoulder – the injury suffered Saturday against Toronto. As of last night, the Yankees were evaluating their options for replacing him in the rotation, and it sounded like Phil Hughes won’t be the guy – at least not right away. [ESPN]

The Florida Marlins looking to bolster their bullpen, signed former Angel Brendan Donnelly. Donnelly will replace Chris Leroux, who went on the DL with shoulder inflammation. [ESPN]

Oakland gave up two prospects (Ryan Webb, Craig Italiano), and a player to be named later to acquire Scott Hairston from the Padres. FoxSports reporter Ken Rosenthal believes that this is a potential sign that Matt Holliday is on the trading block. Hairston is a good fourth outfielder type with some right-handed power. Ryan Webb is barely a prospect who happens to be doing okay in AAA Sacramento right now. He’s never had an ERA under 4.76 until this year. Italiano is better – had a killer year at A Kane County in 2008, and is doing okay at Stockton (A+). At least he has room to grow. To be honest, the A’s didn’t give up much to get Hairston.

If you haven’t seen this year’s All-Star Game rosters, give MLB’s coverage a look-see.

Welcome Back! Josh Hamilton returns Monday (Chris Davis was sent to AAA Oklahoma City to teach his bat to make contact), Phillies reliever Scott Eyre, Angels outfielder Reggie Willits, Yankees reliever Jonathan Albaladejo.

Hurry Back! Padres catcher Henry Blanco has a strained hamstring, earning a DL trip. Jose Lobaton gets the call from AAA Portland to be the backup catcher. The undrafted free agent has bounced around the minors and has been better when given stable work – but still really isn’t a prospect.

Rain, Not Nationals, Stops Johnson… And Other Baseball Notes

Rain prevented Randy Johnson from getting a shot at winning his 300th game.  Doubleheader tomorrow – which makes me wonder if Johnson will face the A team or the B team for Washington?

Hamstring injuries?  Evan Longoria, Tampa, and Willy Taveras, Cincinnati.  Day-to-day.  Rox shortstop Troy Tulowitski’s hand will require an MRI.

I’d be nervous playing for Cleveland or the New York Mets – a DL trip is in your future.  Goodbye, Asdrubel Cabrera – 15 days to heal a strained shoulder.  Hurry back, Ramon Martinez – 15 days to heal a broken pinky finger.  Cleveland recalls Josh Barfield to replace Cabrera, while the Mets give Emil Brown a chance at a major league paycheck.

It’s not the swine flu, the Mets say, and Carlos Beltran should return to the lineup soon.  I’m not shaking his hand until next week, though, if Beltran homers.

Speaking of a bad case of the flu, Jake Peavy left his start after an inning yesterday and has a nasty virus of some kind.

You know the Yankees are feeling it when they decide to tempt fate and give Chien-Ming Wang a start and send Phil Hughes to the bullpen.  Both had been successful in their current roles, so why is Joe Girardi switching things up?

Tom Glavine’s release and an injury to Jorge Campillo opens the door to a Tommy Hanson start on Saturday for the Braves.  I’ll be watching – on the DVR later…  First, there’s this bachelor party…

Cardinal pitcher Kyle Lohse left his start against the Reds early – he has tightness in his forearm, near where he got hit by a pitch a few days ago.

Poor performances and a bad attitude may have Vincente Padilla on the waiver wire, according to FoxSports.  Officially, the Texas Rangers can’t say anything, but younger pitchers have fared better.

On the Mend?  Houston closer Jose Valverde feels great, and Tiger outfielder Marcus Thames is banging it around Toledo in his rehab stint.  Michael Cuddyer’s finger feels fine, which makes the Twins doubly happy.  Brandon Webb is throwing again, which is good news for Arizona.

And, buried at the bottom, Sammy Sosa says he’s going to officially retire, but remains mum as to his use of PEDs.

Interleague Baseball is Fun!

Lots of fun stuff going on in baseball right now – wish I had more time to chase it all down for you…

Michael Cuddyer hit for the cycle – the fourth of 2009 and second for the Twins.

Jake Peavy stayed home, and trashed the Cubs last night. For the Cubs, Carlos Zambrano came off the DL and was decent – looks like he’ll be fine. However, Zambrano was replaced on the DL by Rich Harden (big surprise) with a back injury. Zambrano drilled David Eckstein with a pitch in the first inning, though, when Eck squared up to bunt. The pitch nailed Eckstein high on the chest. He stayed through the inning, but left when he said he was light-headed on the bases.

Daisuke Matsuzaka returned to the Red Sox last night and was okay – threw a lot of first pitch strikes, but was pulled after 80 pitches in his first start. He was topped by Johan Santana, who was fired up after a little tussle with Kevin Youkilis. Youk yelled loudly when plunked in the fifth inning and made it a little dicey – but it only made Santana focus more. By the way, J.J. Putz has a stiff neck, so Bobby Parnell pitched the 8th. Did you know Parnell could hit 100 on the gun? Me neither. Suddenly, I’m a fan. Meanwhile, outfielder Ryan Church left the game with a sore hammy.

Texas won in extra innings, but not without a price. Michael Young has a strained foot and may not play today.

How about Ricky Nolasco? After another bad outing last night (he ruined my ERA), he was shipped to AAA New Orleans. Ouch. The Marlins, who were clocked 15 – 2 by the Rays, called on Ross Gload to pitch an inning. Apparently Cody Ross was unavailable. Continuing to try and find anyone who can pitch, the Marlins designated David Davidson for assignment, then called up Sean West and Christopher Leroux from AA Jacksonville. West, who has stuff but may not be ready, gets the start today for the Fish. He was a 1st round draft pick in 2005 – looks to be wild and a flyball guy. Baseball America calls him the #4 prospect on the team, but I can’t tell. Leroux doesn’t look like a prospect yet. The kid hails from Wintrop University and hasn’t been bad, but he’s maybe 80% the pitcher West is, and West doesn’t look ready.

Seven more homers in Yankee stadium last night – A.J. Burnett gets the loss to the Phillies. Chien Ming Wang allowed two runs in three innings of relief, his first game since returning from the DL, and dropped his ERA to 25.00.

David Price may get the call by the Rays. The Ripped Hydes have been holding him all year and may finally get to use him!!! Scott Kazmir, who hasn’t looked the same, was placed on the 15 day DL with a quadriceps strain. It may last longer than that, though, as his mechanics are fouled up. Also, Troy Percival’s shoulder problems put the veteran reliever on the DL – though the stories coming out of Tampa suggest that Percival may actually hang up the mitt for good. Percival helped two teams get to the World Series, and has been a VERY good reliever since coming up in 1995.

Add J.J. Hardy to the Day-To-Day list… Back spasms.

The Transaction List for 5/22 in MLB was ENORMOUS. Here are the highlights:

Welcome back! Magglio Ordonez (personal), Juan Uribe (bereavement), Nomar Garciaparra (calf – DL). Billy Buckner got the call from Arizona and got a win for the Snakes. Johnny Gomes gets a trip back with Cincy with Joey Votto’s illness.

On the Mend: Kelvin Escobar (arm) gets a rehab stint in Rancho Cucamonga, along side Vlad Guerrero. Hiroki Kuroda was assigned to Inland Empire for his stint.

Hurry Back! Travis Snider (Toronto), whose bat stopped working. Wilkin Ramirez (covering for Maggs), Ramon Ramirez (Reds) – replaced by prospect Carlos Fisher. Eugenio Velez (SF) who wasn’t hitting as well, and the Giants like Kevin Frandsen better. Hunter Jones (BOS), who was replaced by Dice-K. He can pitch, will be back with somebody. Maybe, when the Sox decide to replace David Ortiz, they’ll package Jones and Brad Penny in a trade for someone…

Is it over? Adam Eaton was (finally) released by the Orioles.

Afterthoughts… Jerry Koosman may land in jail following a conviction for income tax evasion over a three year period. Sad story, really. Sounds like he became a radical conservative!!!

2009 Season Forecast: New York Yankees

New York Yankees
2008: 89-73 (3rd AL East, 8 games back)

The General Motors of baseball – throwing good money into superficial things and veterans only to wind up with nothing because they never really invest in the core of the team, just dressing up what they have and making another run.

Well, this year, by golly, we’re going to spend top dollar on the best players available and fix things!  The Yankees spent a half billion on two pitchers and a first baseman (and Nick Swisher).  That they bought CC Sabathia was not a surprise.  That they risked a lot of money on A.J. Burnett was not totally out of character.  However, to have given the rest of the bank to Mark Teixeira seemed like one big check too many – on a team loaded with big checks.  Let’s see if they spent it on the right things.

Did you know?  Something like 20 of the 86 players mentioned in the Mitchell Report played for Joe Torre?  Ah, but that’s just beating a dead horse.

Looking Back on 2008

The Yankees got off to a slow start, winning 14 of 29 in April, but seemed to play better through the rest of the spring and summer.  Most months were about 15 – 12 – not great months – which left the team behind the Red Sox and Rays for most of the summer.  The pitching fell apart in August, leading to another losing month – but not a 10 – 20 month, just a 13 – 15 month – before actually playing really well down the stretch in September.  The problem was that by then, they were too far out of the race.

Part of the problem was injuries.  Deteriorating knees (and operations on both of them in the last two seasons) cut into Hideki Matsui’s playing time and offensive contribution.  Chien-Ming Wang tore a tendon in his foot in June and was shut down for the rest of the year.  Catcher Jorge Posada’s shoulder required surgery.  For a while, he tried to play through it – but he couldn’t throw and eventually couldn’t hit.  As it was, his batting was well off his amazing 2007 season.

Part of it was that some of the younger guys didn’t produce.  Robinson Cano seemed lethargic at the beginning of the season and hit so poorly in April that nobody noticed he hit about .280 or better the rest of the way.  Ian Kennedy was given a shot at the starting rotation and left after nine starts with an ERA over 8.00.  Phil Hughes took over, pitched a little better – which still wasn’t good enough – and then left with a broken rib.  Melky Cabrera had such a poor stretch, he lost his job in centerfield, coming back only when it was obvious that Matsui couldn’t play the field.

The rest is that the best players weren’t at top form.  Alex Rodriguez was good, but off from his 2007 MVP numbers.  Derek Jeter was rather ordinary, with fewer doubles and homers cutting into his overall production.  The Yankees added Xavier Nady, who didn’t exactly set the world on fire when he arrived, and Ivan Rodriguez, who looked old at the plate.  Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu played well – but there were a lot of holes at the bottom of the lineup for too much of the season.

Tell me about that offense

It’s rough when your “off season” is 35 homers, 103 RBI, batting .302 with 18 stolen bases in 21 attempts, but that’s what life is like for A-Rod.  Now, Alex Rodriguez will be dealing with a different kind of “off season” – as in his admission for using steroids, and now choosing to undergo surgery on a hip that began troubling him last fall.  Derek Jeter has superficially good numbers in a high batting average, but didn’t do much else last year.  He is much like Michael Young for Texas.  Playing nearly every day and batting at the top of the lineup, he gets a lot of at bats so the numbers look superficially better.  However, Jeter generated just 5.4 runs for every 27 outs – above average but not WAY above average.  As mentioned, Cano was awful in April – so much so that he finished as a below average producer.  He hardly ever walks, so unless he hits .320, he’s not much of a force.  Last year, he walked just 26 times, so made a lot of outs.  Jason Giambi had a decent year – don’t mind the low batting average (.246), he hit 32 homers and still gets on base a lot.

In the outfield, Johnny Damon was very productive.  He hits for a little power now, still is an effective baserunner, and has become more selective at the plate.  Bobby Abreu, even now, remains a very productive hitter, with decent power, some speed, and a good eye.  At some point, we may have to ask ourselves if Bobby Abreu is a Hall of Famer.  After that, however, you have a few more weak links.  Matsui is still productive, though his power is waning and his speed is gone.  Xavier Nady was okay – hit a few homers in Yankee Stadium, but otherwise had bland numbers.  Step down again to Melky Cabrera, who didn’t quite make it to .250, had little power, and doesn’t run well enough to make up for not being on base.

Behind the plate, Posada lost nearly 100 points in his batting average with his shoulder bothering him.  This forced the Yankees to play Jose Molina, who hit .216 with little power.  When that didn’t work, New York imported Ivan Rodriguez, who hit like Molina and didn’t throw very well.  Chad Moeller didn’t impress people with his bat either.

Unlike Yankee teams in the past, you had at least three holes in the lineup (second base, centerfield, and catcher), and with two other off seasons, and little help at DH, the offense was rather ordinary.  The Yankees finished seventh in runs scored in the American League.

Defensively:

Not very good.

Let’s start with the admission that it’s very likely that Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are negatively affected by the fact that opponents will let more left handed hitters play in Yankee Stadium than most other parks.  STILL, that infield is rather porous.  Jeter’s range rating the last three years has been -9.4, -12.3, -9.1.  A-Rod? -8.5, -6.1, -5.6.  At least he’s gotten better – and he cut down on his errors last year.  If the disparity were true, then Cano should be way above average, right?  He’s good, but not great.  4.2, 6.5, 5.4.  The NET of Jeter and Cano remains below zero – meaning that the infield is letting a lot of balls through to the outfield.  Giambi, who battles as best he can, is no Albert Pujols with the glove.

The end result is that if you had a ground ball pitcher, like Wang, he’s actually hurt by not having anybody behind him who can really scoop up grounders.  Wang has been successful not because of his defense, but rather because usually the team scores a lot of runs for him.

In the outfield, Cabrera wasn’t good enough, and Damon can’t cover center anymore.  Damon is still pretty good in left – but if Matsui is his backup, that’s a problem because Matsui can’t run at all.  Abreu in right is no longer a mobile outfielder.  Most days, the Yankees were playing five guys in the field who were defensive liabilities – and then you had Posada trying to catch.

Molina was actually very good against the run, allowing just 56% of the baserunners to make it – well above the league average and the best rate in the league.  Pudge did better in Detroit, but is finally showing signs of getting long in the tooth behind the plate.

Now Pitching…

Mike Mussina was great – nearly 30 runs better than the average pitcher despite having no defense behind him.  Getting 20 wins for the first (and only) time in his career was a wonderful way to leave the game – and the Yankees will miss him.  After that, the only other pitcher to make 30 starts was Andy Pettitte, and he was okay – about seven runs better than the average pitcher.  By the way – look at the hits per nine data for these two and you’ll see that the defense isn’t that strong behind them.

After that, you have Wang, who was good for two months, and Joba Chamberlain, who looked great in his 100 innings.  This year, look for Chamberlain to get 30 starts and 180 innings – if so, he could be amazing, or he could get hurt.  The rest of the staff was pretty weak.  Darrell Rasner was given 20 below average starts.  We talked about Hughes and Kennedy having poor runs.  Sidney Ponson was ordinary in 15 starts, and Carl Pavano was trying to remember how to pitch in his seven starts.  So, you had basically 2.5 good pitchers in the rotation – and for this division, that’s not enough.

The bullpen, though, was solid.  Mariano Rivera was the best reliever in baseball last year – 27 runs better than the average pitcher in just 70 innings.  Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Edwar Ramirez, and Jose Veres were excellent in support roles.  Most people just didn’t notice because the Yankee gloves didn’t help these guys out.  Sure – there were a few duds, but nobody in the pen was really that bad, and none were as bad as an Ian Kennedy.

Forecasting 2009:

So, let’s summarize.  The problems to address were:

A) Find some starting pitching, especially since their best pitcher retired.
B) Get a better gloves in the outfield and probably at first base.
C) Get more offense out of centerfield, catching spots and hope for some veterans to bounce back some.  Also, don’t lose too much offense when Giambi and Abreu leave the team.

I think they did it.

Let’s look at the rotation, as it now features CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Pettitte, Wang, and Chamberlain.  To be honest – that’s a force compared with what the Yankees had last year.  This could easily be 60 runs better than in 2008.  The bullpen needs Rivera to be healthy, but I think the rest of the bullpen will be okay.  Rivera won’t be as good as last year – even if he’s healthy and good – so let’s take 15 runs back from the starters.  The good news is that the bullpen may need to be used less than before.

Offensively, Nady is not Abreu.  Cabrera is fighting with Brett Gardner for the centerfield slot – and frankly, I’d let the burner Gardner play.  At least you’d have to improvements in the outfield defensively.  The pitchers would appreciate having Gardner in center, for sure.  The defensive improvement would be another 20 runs.

With A-Rod gone for a couple of months, having to play Cody Ransom or somebody else for two months (or, if worse comes to worse) longer means losing 60 runs of offense.  Granted Teixeira will be a nice addition, but is he that much better than Giambi?  Hopefully, he’ll make the defense look a little better.  If Jeter and Damon hold steady, and Cano has a better season – I’d still look for the Yankees to score 50 fewer runs than in 2008.

If the Yankees finish with 740 runs scored and 645 runs allowed, they might win about 92 games.  That puts them in line with the Rays, who also look to win that many games.  My take on it is that the Rays won’t get to 92, which puts the Yankees in line for the wild card slot.  And, if they make the playoffs, they would have the front line pitching to compete all the way to the World Series.  I don’t think they are better than Boston, but they could win a short series.

Down on the Farm…

You may not have heard of Cody Ransom, but with A-Rod out, you will.  Ransom led Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre (AAA) with 22 homers.  However, he hit only .255 and struck out enough to think he won’t be much better than, say, a rough Jim Presley…  And, he’s not a prospect – he’s 33.  The best hitter, though, was probably Brett Gardner.  Gardner is a burner with no power, but he walks and bunts and could help the pitching staff with his defense.  The pitching staff is filled with people you’ve probably heard of before – Kei Igawa, Kennedy, Hughes, and the like.

AA Trenton doesn’t have much to brag about, but Phil Coke is a pitcher you might see once in a while.  Coke has slowly moved through the minors, but at AA Trenton he was 9 – 4 with good K/W numbers.  Coke got a shot at AAA and even saw time with the Yankees and pitched very well in 14 innings.  At best, he’s a long shot to pitch long relief and may start the season in AAA.

Catcher Jesus Montero batted .326 with power, leading the Charleston River Dogs (A+) in RBI.  He’s just 19, and figures to be a replacement for Posada by 2011.  I’d pick him as the top prospect on the team (Baseball America says he’s #6 in the system).  Baseball America says Brooklyn’s Dellin Betances is a better prospect – he’s a 20 year old pitcher who had big strikeout numbers for Charleston, but he looks like he needs to gain more control of the strike zone.  Still – look for the Yankees to trade him in a future July deal.  Betances is 6’ 8” and about 250 pounds, so he must be intimidating.  Zachary McAllister is working his way up quickly, winning 14 with a 2.09 ERA at two levels, finishing at Tampa (A+) last year.