Friday, October 1, 2010

New York Yankees Clinch Playoff Berth, Setup Pitching for Postseason

Oct. 1, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

For the 15th time in 16 years, the Yankees are going to the playoffs.

After CC Sabathia delivered 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball for his league-leading 21st victory Tuesday night, the Yankees immediately put their postseason plans into motion.

The old axiom says you win with pitching and defense and the Yankees need to do some juggling to lineup their most dependable starters for the first round.

Andy Pettitte, who was originally slated to start Wednesday in Toronto, is due to take the mound in the first game of a doubleheader tomorrow in Boston after the rainout tonight. As a result, Pettitte will be on his regular four days rest for Game 2 of the ALDS, when he'll presumably pitch, on Thursday.

Girardi will have to be more creative to prepare undisputed ace Sabathia for Game 1 on Wednesday, but has confirmed that the Cy Young candidate will indeed open the series. In fact, that's all Girardi will reveal about his playoff rotation right now as he cites uncertainty surrounding the opponent and setting for the Yankees in the ALDS.

Despite Girardi's reticence about officially announcing his intentions, the Yankees are compelled to employ just three starters in the first round. Sabathia is a workhorse and thrived in the playoffs last year on short rest so the Yankees expect more of the same this time around.

The schedule calls for Sabathia to pitch on three days rest in Game 4, with Pettitte or Phil Hughes (whoever starts Game 2) on a normal turn for a decisive Game 5.

Hughes has logged a career-high 175 1/3 innings, meeting his regular season innings limit. Though Hughes' 4.96 post-All-Star break ERA is distressing, he's thrown back to back quality starts to complete his season with a commendable 17 wins.

The lefthanded mainstay in the Yankees rotation, Pettitte, was on pace to record the best season of his illustrious career before being saddled with a groin pull. It sidelined him two months and since he was activated from the DL, he's started twice with mixed results. It's safe to say he's built enough equity with the Yankees' brass to be entrusted with precious playoff starts.

Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes are the only worthy candidates while AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez continue to languish through a myriad of struggles. Expect Burnett, however, to be given the ball in the ALCS if the Yankees advance.

Burnett still has three years left on his massive contract beyond this year and the Yankees must instill confidence in the right-hander if they plan to get any return on their investment going forward. However, no one can justify Burnett garnering a first round start based on his inconsistent performance and a schedule conducive to skipping him.

Meanwhile, Vazquez was an ill-conceived acquisition and he will most certainly be wearing another uniform next season as his torturous second tenure in pinstripes mercifully comes to its conclusion. Vazquez's latest disastrous outing in Toronto should cement his exclusion from the playoff roster.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Build a Bridge: The Yankees Should Deal for Joakim Soria

July 26, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Trade speculation surrounding the Yankees in recent days has centered on starting pitching, but their most pressing need is bullpen help.

With Joba Chamberlain continuing to falter in the all important eighth inning role and his ERA approaching six, memories of his dominance are fading fast. Joakim Soria, one of the most underrated closers in baseball, is available and can solve the eighth inning dilemma as well as succeed Mariano Rivera whenever he rides off into the sunset.

Despite Chamberlain's struggles, he still has value on the market as evidenced by Arizona demanding him from the Yanks in Dan Haren trade talks.

Chamberlain's velocity has returned and, although his slider is nowhere near as sharp, his performance issues could be a result of being used as a human yo-yo, vacillating from the bullpen to the rotation and back over the years.

Meanwhile, Soria has established himself as a lights out closer for the beleaguered Royals as he saved a career-high 42 games for Kansas City in 2008. He's averaging 10.58 strikeouts per nine innings and has maintained impeccable control throughout his career.

Soria won't come cheap and Chamberlain would likely have to be a starting point in negotiations. The Yanks were unwilling to included the enigmatic Chamberlain in the Haren trade, but should not hesitate to do so in this scenario.

As opposed to Haren, Soria is in the midst of a very affordable contract. Soria is making $3 million this season and is due $4 million in 2011. Afterwards, he has three club option years for $6 million in 2012, $8 million in 2013, and $8.75 million in 2014.

Since Rivera is still effective as ever, Soria may not get the opportunity to close for the Yanks until 2013, but because setup men are so vital to playoff success, acquiring him would be a shrewd move. Also, he isn't paid like an elite closer until 2013 which makes the indefinite waiting period much more tolerable for the Yanks as they carry a super setup man.

Chamberlain, Ivan Nova, and one of the many impressive young arms the Yankees possess in the low minors might be enough to land Soria. While it's a steep price to pay, it's well worth it to fortify the bullpen immediately and answer the omnipresent question of who will replace the invaluable Rivera when he's done.

While the health of Andy Pettitte is a concern, Pettitte has said he feels better of late and has been lobbying the Yankees to return earlier than originally anticipated. The Yankees should remain cautious with Pettitte as their comfortable hold on a playoff spot allows them to do so.

If Pettitte is back by late August as scheduled, the Yankees will not require another starting pitcher anyway. Further, passing on adding another starter would enable the Yanks to leave Phil Hughes in the rotation all season to avoid the recurring nightmare that they're experiencing with Chamberlain.

Hughes is blossoming this year as a frontline starter and should not be toyed with. Even though he ran into a wall of sorts after May, Hughes is working through his issues and should be allowed to do so while remaining in the rotation. The innings limitation is enough of an obstacle to overcome without questioning his role too.

One criticism of Soria is the lack of experience he's had pitching in big games and the playoffs. He's surmounted every challenge put before him and is still just 26-years-old. Although some fail under the bright lights, Soria is certainly worth the risk.

Who could resist the possibility of recreating Rivera to John Wetteland 14 years later?

Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron James Alienates a Nation, Hurts NBA

July 9, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

If LeBron James' goal was to eliminate himself from contention as the greatest of all-time, he's succeeded. He's no longer in the ballpark.

James' sickening decision to sign with Miami proves that he is devoid of the leadership characteristics and competitive fire that all the immortal players possess. In fact, James' choice clearly demonstrates insecurities in his ability to win on his own with a conventional unit.

Put to rest the comparisons to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Not only are those guys legendary players, they maximized every last drop of their potential by embracing challenges, not running from them like James.

Sure, both Jordan and Bryant had stretches of immaturity in their youths but they each had epiphanies eventually and realized their duties to lead on the court and make teammates better in order to be great. Orchestrating collusion to assemble a perennial powerhouse doesn't qualify.

If this dog and pony show James dragged us through is any indication, that reawakening is a long way off for him. He may never see the light.

Kevin Durant, a top four NBA player in his own right, has a deeper understanding of the burden a superstar must carry than James already and he's four years his junior at 21-years-old. Durant refreshingly announced that he agreed to a five-year max extension with Oklahoma City on Wednesday with little fanfare.

Durant could have had every team in the league worshipping him in a degrading recruiting process like James did, but instead decided that he's going to finish what he started with the Thunder. He should be applauded for being as grounded as an immensely gifted player can be and prioritizing his team over publicity and attention for himself.

The truly phenomenal player doesn't need to be coddled and constantly reminded of his greatness. He goes out and proves it to people every day if, for no other reason, he knows no other alternative.

Don't bet against the Thunder in the future.

Quitting in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston doesn't look like an aberration for James anymore: It looks like another indictment of his character.

Tantalizing opportunities existed in New York and New Jersey while James could have opted to verify the validity of his "Loyalty" tattoo by staying home in Cleveland. Tabbing any of those three teams as his destination would have been logical, inspiring, and exciting for the NBA.

Dismiss Chicago because of the Jordan complex (anything less than six titles is unacceptable by comparison and winning one wouldn't endear himself to the fan base like it would elsewhere) and the rumblings that Derrick Rose wasn't enthralled with the idea of playing with James. Cast aside the Clippers because they live in Bryant's building and well, they're the Clippers. Carving out a legacy in either of those locales would have been a near impossibility, even for James.

Miami doesn't work either.

No matter how many titles James wins in Miami, the Heat is and always will be Dwyane Wade's team. James is riding shotgun rather than behind the wheel, where he belongs. Meanwhile, Chris Bosh is the hyperactive, giddy kid in the backseat that you can't keep quiet.

You'd expect Bosh to be elated about the situation and no one can fault him for his defection from Toronto to a potential juggernaut on South Beach. The difference is that he's incapable of winning a championship as the No. 1 option.

The talents of LeBron James, however, are unmatched by any player in the history of the league and as a result, he is held to a higher standard. James will never be tested in Miami the way he should have to be to win titles. He, therefore, has no incentive to augment his game by ameliorating his free throw shooting, perimeter shooting, and post arsenal.

Meaning, in other words, James may have reached his peak at 25. It's a sobering and depressing thought for a career which had limitless possibilities.

Although he'll be fine on the court, James may not comprehend the magnitude of how many fans he's alienated and instantly turned against him. He has a thin skin and the vitriol will no doubt affect him in some fashion.

Since Cleveland's majority owner Dan Gilbert isn't above berating James in an open letter to Cavs fans, that should indicate some of the palpable animosity around the country.

The Heat is set to add a vital missing ingredient to the mix with the addition of sharp shooter Mike Miller. With Miller in the mix to space the floor for the dynamic dribble drives of James and Wade, the Heat has no excuse for winning any less than 70 games this season. The South Beach Superstars have brought these seemingly outrageous expectations on themselves.

James will regret this decision in the long run. Aside from the legacy that he's tarnished, James will need to forfeit individual accomplishments for the betterment of the team. Forget winning multiple scoring titles and MVPs on this team; Miami is not constructed for him to do so.

I'm not sure he's ready to sacrifice all that especially when he recognizes that he's despised by so many who once adored him.

Simply being along for a championship ride shouldn't satisfy a player of his caliber. It wasn't enough for Jordan and Bryant, and it's not sufficient for Durant either.

Why not suit up Dan Marino with a roster spot while you're at it? God knows he needs a ring too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Decision Time for LeBron James: Where Will The King Be Crowned?

July 7, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

The moment of truth is here.

LeBron James, after years of suspense, will finally reveal his destination for the 2010-2011 NBA season Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. on national television.

As we inch closer to the hour of LeBron, three teams seem to be logical landing spots for The King. Cleveland, Miami, and New York all have alluring arguments to sway James.

Cleveland, of course, is his home team and has been the reported favorite all along by most media. The Cavs won 61 games this past regular season and would still be a threat to contend with James despite their postseason shortcomings in recent years.

However, James was unable to persuade Chris Bosh to Cleveland via a sign-and-trade and the Cavs have minimal flexibility due to salary cap constraints. If James returns to Cleveland, the team will be very similar to the one that fell to the Celtics in the playoffs with the exception of a departed Shaquille O'Neal.

Bosh and Dwyane Wade have chosen to join forces in Miami and can make a compelling case
for James to showcase his expansive eyewear collection on South Beach. Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo Sports reported that Wade, Bosh, and James had a conference call to finalize their plans and that could be a tip off that Miami is the common denominator.

Pat Riley is a legendary coach and would have no qualms with usurping Erik Spoelstra's position as he did Stan Van Gundy's in 2006 when a championship was within reach.

There are significant drawbacks for James in Miami, though. First, Wade and James are dynamic dribble drive players that need shooters to adequately space the floor. Without distance shooters, teams could opt to double team off of Wade or James, leaving one open for three-point shots which are neither stars strength.

Miami would desperately need a sharp shooter such as Mike Miller or Ray Allen to make the supposed "Dream Team" work. The mid-level exception would have to appease either player because Miami would be capped out after signing three max players.

Further, Miami will always be Wade's team. He won a title there by himself and no matter how many championships James won there, they would be cheapened by the fact that James couldn't win one as the conclusive lead guy.

It's similar to Alex Rodriguez playing next to Derek Jeter in New York, but winning titles is far more significant for a great player in the NBA than any other sport because one immortal player can have such a dramatic impact on the result. Ted Williams and Dan Marino's legacies aren't diminished by the lack of a championship, LeBron's would be.

New York is the lone team left in the process. Coming to terms with Amar'e Stoudemire on Monday, the Knicks secured one of the two elite power forwards on the market which may be a prerequisite for any team James considers.

In addition, the Knicks already have Danilo Gallinari in place who is the best perimeter shooter on an existing roster of anyone who is in contention for James' services. Gallinari, 21, is the centerpiece of a young corps in New York including Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas.

After signing James, the Knicks would also have room for a third max player next season or could utilize the extra cap space this offseason with trades. Either way, New York has maneuverability to improve its roster further once James agrees to take his entourage to Madison Square Garden.

New York is not fullproof for James, though. Stoudemire is a serious injury concern given his microfracture surgery to his knee in 2005 and detached retina in 2009. He's such a risk, in fact, that insurance would not cover his contract. Even if he stays healthy, Stoudemire is known as a poor defender and is a worse rebounder than his predecessor, David Lee.

If Stoudemire remains on the court, the Knicks still need to address holes at center and point guard. A defensive minded interior player and tenacious rebounder would complement Stoudemire well, but centers are hard to come by in this day and age.

Although Douglas showed flashes last season, the Knicks would be wise to bring in a more experienced point guard if they truly want to win immediately. James could fill the need for a ball-handler and distributor himself though.

Chicago is deemed dead since it didn't land Bosh or Stoudemire and also has the Michael Jordan complex working to its detriment. The Bulls also lack perimeter shooting. Beyond that, Derrick Rose isn't said to be enthralled with the idea of playing with James.

New Jersey is doomed by the fact that they have to play in Newark for at least the next two years. If they were in Brooklyn right now, the Nets might have been James' preferred choice.

New Jerey and Chicago can still add either David Lee or Carlos Boozer, but they don't have the star appeal of Bosh or Stoudemire.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ex-Yankee Prospect Vizcaino Excels, Exacerbates Vazquez Woes

June 10, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Javier Vazquez is a free agent after this season, but a reminder of his acquisition may haunt the Yankees long after he's gone.

Arodys Vizcaino, the 19-year-old Yankee pitching prospect given away in the trade for the embattled Vazquez, is annihilating his competition at Rome, Atlanta's Single-A affiliate.

Vizcaino is 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA and those numbers don't begin to tell the story of how dominant he's been.

Striking out 66 in 69 1/3 innings, Vizcaino has walked nine. Tantamount to his freakish strikeout to walk ratio is Vizcaino's 0.99 WHIP. He hasn't issued a walk since May 6 and he's thrown 33 2/3 scoreless innings over his last five starts.

As devastating as those numbers must be to GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees' organization, Vizcaino remains about three years from reaching the bigs.

The jump from A-ball to Double-A is generally regarded as the steepest as prospects climb in the minor leagues so Vizcaino still has some hurdles to clear. However, Vizcaino's rapid progress is an ominous sign for an already ill-fated offseason.

Receiving Vazquez and Boone Logan from the Braves, the Yankees shipped Melky Cabrera, left-handed pitcher Mike Dunn, Vizcaino and $500,000 to Atlanta in the Dec. 23 trade.

Incidentally, Dunn is also turning heads in Triple-A. Dunn is 1-0 with a razor thin 0.67 ERA over 26 2/3 innings at Gwinnett.

Considering the inconsistency of the Yankees' middle relief, Dunn might have fit well as a useful lefty in the bullpen.

The Vazquez deal isn't all roses for the Braves right now. Cabrera is proving to be the fourth outfielder he is with a .243 average, one homer, 14 RBI and a pathetic .616 OPS in 169 at-bats.

In fact, it's the unheralded former Yankee and 2002 AL Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske making more of an impact in the Braves' lineup. Protecting red hot Troy Glaus, Hinske is batting .306 with four homers and 22 RBI in limited duty.

Improving, Vazquez has been torched in only one of his last five starts. With that said, it's fair to assert that Yankees' GM Brian Cashman would like a mulligan on this one.

If the season ended today, Vazquez would be on the outside looking in at the Yankee playoff rotation. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, AJ Burnett, and Phil Hughes are all markedly better options.

Meanwhile, Vizcaino is painting a picture of his future and it's an intimidating image for the Yankees.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

MLB Draft: Reviewing Pinstripe Picks of Years Past

June 6, 2010

By Anthony Tripicchio

The NBA Draft is always a much anticipated extravaganza while the NFL's selections are so heavily scrutinized they've been thrust into prime time.

On the eve of the 2010 MLB Draft, baseball has yet to experience similar success with its entry draft and there are plenty of reasons that explain why.

First, there's a sense of immediacy to the NBA and NFL drafts, respectively. The high picks, in most cases (sans a few quarterbacks), will play right away.

In contrast, only two out of 32 players selected in the first round of last year's MLB Draft are currently on major league rosters. The impending call-up of Stephen Strasburg will make three.

In our culture of instant gratification, people simply don't want to wait three or four years for players to develop.

Unless your name is Mike Leake, you have a far greater development curve in baseball than the other two major sports. Obscurity is the name of the game in the minors as many fans are unaware of the state of affairs with their major league team's affiliates or they don't find those events relevant.

Secondly, the vast sea of players selected in the MLB Draft is enormous in comparison. The NBA Draft is a terse two rounds and the NFL features a seven-round event. MLB holds a marathon 50-round happening.

Observers are devoid of the necessary attention spans to see it to a conclusion. Further compounding matters is the fact that most of the players procured are unknowns.

High school baseball's popularity pales in comparison to that of its basketball and football counterparts; just check the bleachers near you for verification. Exasperating the issue, the dearth of interest in amateur baseball continues at the college level, where football and basketball rake in significantly more revenue.

Television exposure launches power conference players in football and basketball into the public consciousness, whereas the major prospects in baseball never enjoy the same publicity except on a smaller scale in the College World Series.


Since we won't be able to gauge the quality of the Yankees' 2010 draft for at least four years, we will instead evaluate years where we have enough evidence to comment on the results.

Due to the mammoth amount of players selected, the focus will be the top 10 rounds and we'll specify if someone of note was uncovered later.

2006 Picks:

1. Ian Kennedy (21st overall), RHP, USC
2. Joba Chamberlain (44th), RHP, Nebraska

3. Zach McAllister (104th), RHP, Valley Central HS, Illinois

4. Colin Curtis (134th), OF, Arizona State

5. George Kontos (164th), RHP, Northwestern

6. Mitchell Hilligoss (194th), SS, Purdue

7. Tim Norton (224th), RHP, UConn

8. Dellin Betances (254th), RHP, Grand Street Campus HS, NY

9. Mark Melancon (284th), RHP, Arizona

10. Casey Erickson (314th), RHP, Springfield College

13. Daniel McCutchen (404th), RHP, Oklahoma

17. David Robertson (524th), RHP, Alabama

20. Kevin Russo (614th), 2B, Baylor

47. Charles Smith (1416th), C, Second Baptist School, Texas

Analysis: As comical as people may find this assertion, the Yankees typically are at a disadvantage as far as positioning is concerned in the drafts. Because they are perennial World Series contenders, they often select late in rounds which makes it more difficult to find players. They use their deep pockets, however, to offset this problem when players drop to them due to signability issues.

2006 is a year the Yankees scored with their early picks. Besides Brett Anderson, who went 55th overall to the Diamondbacks, there are very few arguments to make. They may regret dealing Kennedy in the long run, but that's another story.

Chamberlain, although inconsistent at times, has shown flashes of brilliance and the Yankees are grooming him to be the heir to the throne when the immortal Mariano Rivera retires.

McAllister appears ticketed for a major league rotation as soon as near year. So far in Triple-A, McAllister is 5-2 with a 3.90 ERA. New York could have an opening with Javier Vazquez's contract expiring after this season.

Robertson and Russo are contributing in The Show with the Yankees right now and were good late finds.

Melancon, although struggling to stick with the big club, has passed challenges on every level in the minors.

Charles Smith is only listed because any team from New York should know to avoid a guy named Charles Smith. Go up strong!

This was a weak draft pool overall so the Yankees did well.

Draft Grade: A

2005 Picks:

1. Carl Henry (17th overall), SS, Putnam City HS, Oklahoma

2. James Cox (63rd), RHP, Texas-Austin

3. Brett Gardner (109th), CF, Col. of Charleston (SC)

4. Lance Pendleton (139th), RHP, Rice

5. Zachary Kroenke (169th), LHP, Nebraska

6. Douglas Fister (199th), RHP, Fresno St.

7. Garrett Patterson (220th), LHP, Oklahoma

8. Austin Jackson (259th), CF, Billy Ryan HS, Texas

9. James Cooper (289th), LF, Loyola Marymount

10. Kyle Anson (319th), 3B, Texas St.

Analysis: In a year of one of the most talent rich first rounds in the history of the MLB draft, the Yankees missed badly with Carl Henry. Colby Rasmus, Matt Garza, and Jacoby Ellsbury highlight a list of current stars that were on the board when New York opted for Henry.

The second round wasn't much better when the Yankees selected James Cox over Chase Headley, Kevin Slowey, Yunel Escobar, and a potential future ace in Jeremy Hellickson.

Finally, New York got a player in Brett Gardner in the third round and he was obviously an excellent pick.

It also nabbed Doug Fister, who is having a breakout year with Seattle, in the sixth but were unable to sign him.

Austin Jackson was tabbed in the eighth and was a centerpiece in the Curtis Granderson trade.

The first two rounds were awful, but the Yankees rebounded to choose three current major leaguers with their next six picks. Although that fact salvages some face, the Yankees turned up zilch in the later rounds.

This draft had far too much talent to justify the Yankees producing so little.

Draft Grade: C-

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Breakout Pitchers in 2010

June 1, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Unveiling a list like this is entertaining, but it can also be controversial. As a result, let's be clear about who qualifies and what the criteria is.

Casual fans might have trouble recognizing some of the names to come. Pitchers you'll encounter throughout this group may have been standout prospects, but had not yet enjoyed consistent success on the major league level prior to this year. If they are established, then they have catapulted themselves to a higher rung on the ladder.

Without further ado, here we go.

10. Luke Gregerson, San Diego (1-1, 1.63 ERA)

Setup men need love too.

Gregerson, 26, was stolen from the Cardinals as the player to be named later in the Khalil Greene trade. He's beginning to make a name for himself as one of the premier eighth inning relievers in baseball and, in the process, has fortified the bridge to closer Heath Bell.

If you're trailing the Padres after the seventh inning this year, good luck.

In 27 2/3 innings, Gregerson has struck out 32 while walking just two. His 0.43 WHIP is obscene. Although he had his 18 1/3 innings scoreless streak snapped on May 14, he's promptly picked up where he left off and has thrown eight scoreless frames since.

9. Ian Kennedy, Arizona (3-3, 3.38 ERA)

The forgotten man in the Curtis Granderson blockbuster deal is blossoming into the frontline pitcher the Yankees once envisioned him as.

Kennedy, who has recovered from an aneurysm last year, is a victim of poor run support on a last place team. Still, the lack of wins shouldn't overshadow his performance.

Kennedy, 25, has whiffed 57 and walked 23 which equates to a tremendous 2.48 strikeout to walk ratio. He's keeping runners off the basepaths with his 1.17 WHIP and has been conclusively better than both Max Scherzer and Diamondbacks' teammate Edwin Jackson, the other two ballyhooed starters involved in the offseason swap.

The only alarming statistic to monitor is the 11 homers he's surrendered. Of course, if his WHIP rises and he continues to give up the gofer ball at this rate, his ERA is destined to inflate.

8. Mat Latos, San Diego (5-3, 3.08 ERA)

Notice a trend as we advance to our third straight NL West pitcher? Latos doesn't turn 23 until Dec. 9 and that's a scary thought for his division foes.

Amidst a streak of six straight quality starts, Latos is 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA as we close the books on the month of May.

Imposing doesn't do justice to Latos who stands 6-6, 225 pounds. For a power pitcher, he's not suffering through any control issues that you might expect from a youngster (he's walked 15 in 61 1/3 innings).

Posting a .207 batting average against and a minuscule 1.01 WHIP, Latos is demonstrating how
dominant he can be. PETCO Park is a pitcher's heaven and coupled with Latos' nasty stuff, the combination could concoct some epic numbers in the coming years.

7. Ricky Romero, Toronto (5-2, 3.14 ERA)

Romero is one of a few exciting greenhorn pitchers on the Blue Jays' staff. A trio of Shaun Marcum, Romero, and Brett Cecil is the makings of a formidable rotation. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they play in the stupendous AL East where finishing third would be a notable accomplishment.

Marcum is the ace, but Romero is working on closing the gap. He's averaging more than a strikeout per inning and is holding hitters to a meager .230 BAA despite the fast turf in Toronto that often transforms routine grounders on grass into base hits in the Rogers Centre.

6. Mike Leake, Cincinnati (4-0, 2.45 ERA)
The magnitude and rarity of Leake's accomplishments thus far are startling. Leake, who entered 2010 with no professional experience of any kind, is mowing down the opposition like he's done it for a decade.

A 22-year-old right hander, Leake is a huge reason why the Reds are atop the NL Central. The former Arizona State Sun Devil has allowed just four homers on the season and has arguably been the Reds' best starter, even surpassing Johnny Cueto, who's been very good himself.

Leake will have his share of growing pains, but it's nearly unheard of for a pitcher to bypass the minor leagues and have such pronounced immediate success. Manager Dusty Baker will need to exercise caution with the green rookie as Leake's innings mount.

Baker's reputation isn't exactly one of a caretaker, but Cueto has developed under his tutelage.

5. Clay Buchholz, Boston (7-3, 2.73 ERA)

Given Josh Beckett and John Lackey's struggles, Buchholz and John Lester have done a lot of the heavy lifting for the Red Sox starting pitching this year. Boston may have expected such production out of Lester, but Buchholz's newfound dependability is a welcomed scenario.

Buchholz sports a high WHIP at 1.37 due to his penchant for handing out the free pass (28 in 62 2/3 innings), but he's already matched his win total from a year ago and since he's been a hyped prospect for so long, this could logically be a signal of growth from the 25-year-old right hander.

Boston needs him to be this good over the long haul; otherwise their playoff hopes are futile.

4. Jaime Garcia, St. Louis (5-2, 1.32 ERA)

Garcia is yet another Tommy John success story. Since rehabbing from the ligament replacement surgery, Garcia has returned as a godsend to the Cardinals rotation. Tony LaRussa was quoted as saying the southpaw had been his top pitcher and it's been accurate through May.

He's walking a little too many (27 through 61 1/3 innings), but it's a forgivable offense given his .206 BAA and considering he's allowed only one home run on the season.

Despite the fact that the Cardinals will certainly impose an innings restriction on the impressive lefty, he's a stellar addition to a rotation led by perennial Cy Young candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

No one in the right mind expects him to sustain his ridiculous ERA over the full season, but rest assured, he's a legitimate pitcher.

3. Phil Hughes, New York Yankees (6-1, 2.70 ERA)

You may remember when the Yankees were touting a rotation including prized prospects Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Kennedy. Now that the dust has cleared, Hughes is the only one left on the starting staff.

It seems like ages ago that Chamberlain was regarded as the better pitcher because Hughes has definitively put that talk to bed for the time being.

Hughes actually stumbled a bit in two of his last three starts, but his overall body of work is eye-opening nonetheless. Displaying a 1.06 WHIP with .201 BAA, Hughes is a good bet to make an all-star appearance.

The Yankees will limit his innings to around 175 simply because he worked almost exlusively out of the bullpen last year and hasn't approached this workload in the past.

Hughes, 23, certainly looks like the first homegrown frontline Yankee starter since Andy Pettitte. Chien-Ming Wang had two great years, but lacked staying power.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay (7-2, 2.57 ERA)

Price was a relative disappointment in 2009 after he burst on the scene to stabilize the Rays bullpen for their World Series run in 2008.

He's an underachiever no more in 2010. While 27 walks in 66 2/3 innings is not great, his 1.14 WHIP and 2.57 ERA are. Pitching for major league leading Tampa Bay, anything less than 18 wins for Price would be surprising.

Rafael Soriano's presence in the Tampa Bay bullpen provides them the impetus they need to realistically contend for a championship and should continue to make most of Price's quality starts stand up.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado (10-1, 0.78 ERA)

Honestly, Jimenez probably doesn't belong in this fraternity since he's proven to be an established major league starter already, but his numbers are too staggering to ignore.

Jimenez is the third pitcher in the history of baseball to win 10 of his first 11 starts with an ERA under one. The fact that he's doing it in the Coors Field setting is all the more dumbfounding.

His ERA is lower than his WHIP. If this dominance continues at anywhere near his current rate, Jimenez deserves the Cy Youngs from both leagues.

Monday, May 17, 2010

New York Yankees DH Nick Johnson To Have Surgery: Ill-Concieved Move Leaves Void

May 17, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Players often fail to live up to their reputations when thrust into the bright New York spotlight.

In this case, the Yankees got exactly what they paid for when they signed designated hitter Nick Johnson.

Ken Rosenthal, FOX Sports senior baseball writer, is reporting that the fragile Johnson will undergo right-wrist surgery on Tuesday and won't return to action until July.

The news should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Johnson throughout his injury-riddled career.

Only once in Johnson's 10-year career has he ever accumulated 500 at-bats in a single season. He's played in 100 games just three times and hasn't done so since 2006.

As I documented in the offseason, the acquisition of Johnson was a poor decision that was destined to go awry. Castoffs Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui signed for slightly more than Johnson and both obtained one-year pacts.

It's mystifying why Yankees' GM Brian Cashman was so eager to ink Johnson while slamming the door on two more proven, dependable performers. Cashman clearly wanted to avoid the histrionics of Scott Boras, Damon's super-agent, but re-signing Matsui would have been far from a massive undertaking.

Although Johnson is about four years younger than Matsui, his health history should have been enough to nullify the age difference. Matsui was an iron man in Japan and carried that distinction through his first three seasons with the Yankees by playing every game.

Matsui, despite being slowed by knee problems in recent years, played 142 games last season and aided the Yankees to the championship while securing the World Series MVP award.

With Matsui and Damon elsewhere and Johnson occupying his familiar spot on the disabled list, the Yankees find themselves employing a revolving door at DH.

Marcus Thames is hitting a robust .414 against lefties, but is reduced to an ordinary .263 against right-handers. He's ideally suited for a platoon role.

Francisco Cervelli continues to impress each time he's inserted into the lineup to catch, but there are several drawbacks that prevent prevent the Yankees from utilizing him as an everyday player.

Even though Cervelli is a defensive upgrade from regular Jorge Posada, Posada loves to catch and is reluctant to relinquish his full-time duties behind the dish. Since Posada is a member of the prestigious Core Four and an obvious leader in the clubhouse, it would be wise to keep the prideful veteran content.

Further, if Cervelli becomes the starting catcher and Posada is the DH, then the Yankees will need to carry a third catcher. In the event Cervelli was hurt during a game and the Yankees have to move from Posada from DH to catcher, they would lose the DH for the remainder of the game and the pitcher's spot would be inserted into the lineup with the roster as it's presently constituted.

Of course, the ideal scenario to fill the DH void would have been promoting blue-chip prospect Jesus Montero from Triple-A, but he is not hitting at the astounding clip he did last year. The 20-year-old phenom needs more time to hone his craft in the minors.

As it stands right now, the Yankees will play Thames against lefties and Cervelli will catch more often than the typical backup would with Posada garnering appearances at DH to keep him fresh. Juan Miranda, if he hits, will have opportunities as well.

Joe Girardi may also opt to use the DH as a rotating resting place for regular position players such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira. Some will need the half-days off more than others.

Johnson, meanwhile, is cemented as an ill-advised addition.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

No Returns: Yankees Stuck With Vazquez and Johnson

May 2, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

If Yankees' GM Brian Cashman purchased Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez at a department store, he would be frantically searching for his receipt right now. Sorry, no returns.

As the calendar turned to May, Vazquez continued to display the same ineptitude he showed in April as the right-hander was destroyed by a weak-hitting White Sox team Saturday afternoon. Vazquez allowed 11 baserunners in three plus innings and five earned runs, including three homeruns. His ERA on the season now stands higher than the Empire State Building at 9.78.

Clearly, Vazquez's second tour of duty in New York is beginning to look like another wretched ordeal. He's not locating his fastball, he's hanging off-speed pitches, and his head is a mess.

There are five months left in the season, but the litany of failures Vazquez has previously suffered in the AL along with his visibly fragile temperament all suggest that this experiment is the same lost cause it was the first time around.

I'll reiterate that my stance on Vazquez is not merely based on his disgraceful tenure in pinstripes. I cited a myriad of factors here over two months ago, including his AL nightmares and his incompatibility with the dimensions of Yankee Stadium. While many supported the move to reacquire him at the time, that bandwagon is looking awfully light right now as exemplified by the boos that cascaded down on him upon his premature exit Saturday in the new cathedral.

According to Michael Kay, Vazquez did a disappearing act for the media prior to Saturday's game and that is as inexcusable as his performance thus far. If your play is terrible, you need to be accountable and if that is too much to ask in May, then I don't see how you can make it through September. New York is an impossible place to play for those with skin thinner than Kate Moss.

Vazquez's next turn in the rotation is slated for Friday in Fenway Park and there has already been discussion over whether he will make that start since the Yankees can skip him due to their off day on Thursday. Although the Red Sox lineup is not as intimidating as it once was, putting Vazquez in that chaotic environment would be like throwing him to the wolves.

On the last year of his contract, Vazquez will see his future play out elsewhere. The only question is how soon that will occur. Since Vazquez has a history of success in the NL, he may actually be movable despite his miserable start to 2010 if the Yankees are willing to eat a portion of his $11.5 million salary.

Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Vicente Padilla all resurrected their careers to some extent last year after their respective defections to the NL (Penny continues to thrive in St. Louis this year, Padilla was the Dodgers' opening day starter before subsequently landing on the disabled list, while Smoltz is in quasi retirement). The three noted above were unceremoniously released by their AL clubs, but Vazquez should be better than all of them at this stage of his career and proved as much last season in Atlanta.

Look for NL contenders to inquire about Vazquez prior to the trade deadline. Ironically, if the Mets are still in the mix in July, Vazquez would be a good fit for them in their gargantuan ballpark.

Johnson, meanwhile, was 0-1 in a pinch hitting appearance which dropped his batting average to an embarrassing .136. Johnson is buoyed by his .378 OBP, but that and his expiring contract are the only redeeming qualities about him at this point.

His predecessors Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui continue to excel in their new locales. Damon, who is on fire, hit a walk-off homer Saturday in Detroit and raised his average to .344 accompanied by a .439 OBP and .511 slugging percentage. Incidentally, he's also been lauded for contributing to the rapid development of former Yankee farmhand and the early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year Austin Jackson.

Curtis Granderson, the big name who Detroit traded for Jackson among others, strained his groin running the bases Saturday and was immediately placed on the disabled list. Struggling while Jackson, Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke contribute in Detroit and Arizona, Granderson has yet to find himself as a Yankee.

Lefties still give Granderson fits as he bats .172 against them in 2010 and just .215 with a .303 OBP overall.

In spite of his slow start, he's a Yankee for the long haul and will be given every opportunity to succeed once he's healthy because, unlike Vazquez and Johnson, the Yankees have simply sacrificed too much for Granderson to allow him to flop.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Yankees' Robinson Cano Soars to Stardom

April 30, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Robinson Cano finally gets it and now he is assaulting opposing pitchers.

The immensely talented second baseman has been beset by immaturity and lackadaisical play at times in the past but if his torrid start is any indication, those days are over.

Hitting a scalding .407 with eight homers and 17 RBI, Cano leads the AL batting race by a mile, ranks second in the league in homeruns, and is tied for fifth in RBI. Although he receives acclaim for his potent bat, often overlooked is his defensive acumen.

Thursday night in Baltimore, Cano made a spectacular play to rob Nolan Reimold in the third inning of a clear base hit up the middle by ranging far to his right to secure the sharp grounder and with his momentum carrying him further away from first base, threw out the struggling outfielder on a fly. The arm strength he displayed on that play, and continues to exhibit on a routine basis, is unrivaled at his position.

You would be hard pressed to find another second baseman in baseball capable of making the same play, especially without at least bouncing the throw. Sadly, the play will be overshadowed by Cano's exceptional night with the bat (3-4 with two homers, a double and three runs), but it was the highlight of the night.

As a vocal critic of Cano in the past, I assure you that this is not a puff piece. Cano has had limitations in years gone by, which I have been quick to indicate, that have hindered him from reaching his potential.

He's always been a free-swinger and that's never going to be completely reigned in. However, Cano is becoming more disciplined at the plate as evidenced by the fact that he's on pace to break his career-high walk total. He's drawn six free passes in 81 at bats which puts him on pace to draw close to 50 walks over the full season. His previous best is 39 in 2007.

With regard to his maturity level, Cano was frequently seen clowning around with his inseparable pal Melky Cabrera in recent years. Since Cabrera was shipped out of town, Cano is more about business. Meanwhile, Cabrera isn't exactly raking in Atlanta as the Braves have discovered the hard way that he is merely a fourth outfielder.

New responsibility delegated to Cano has expedited his growth. He is now the unquestioned fifth hitter in the batting order.

The Yankees have attempted to slot Cano into the fifth spot in the lineup before, though he's never been able to justify sticking there because of his poor situational hitting. Jorge Posada is worthy of protecting Alex Rodriguez but even with Posada's excellent April, Cano is entrenched in the five hole.

In 2009, Cano hit a feeble .207 with runners in scoring position. Thus far, albeit a small sample size of 20 at bats, Cano is showing marked improvement batting an even .300.

Cano cites the work he does with hitting coach Kevin Long in the cages about as much as he says hello. His performance corroborates the time he has committed and it may be a stretch to say he has been as diligent and dedicated previously.

Larry Bowa, Yankees' third base coach for two seasons under Joe Torre, was vital to Cano's development because he constantly demanded nothing short of the Dominican's best. Bowa's boisterous and fiery personality kept Cano in line so it is no coincidence that the second baseman had by far his worst year in the majors in 2008 (.274, 14 homers, 72 RBI, .305 OPB) the year his mentor defected to Los Angeles with Torre.

Bowa's absence left a void in Cano's professional life. Cano lacked guidance, wasn't necessarily interested in becoming a dominant player, and didn't put forth the effort required to excel.

At 27, Cano is growing up and his newfound work ethic is a testament to that.

Rededicated and entering his prime, there's reason to believe Cano has arrived as not only an elite player at his position, but as a bonafide MLB star.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cash Conscious Yankees Will Pay the Price for Losing Matsui and Damon

Feb. 22, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

For the first time in decades, financial constraints may have hampered the Yankees.

Whatever the cause, the Yankees enter 2010 as an inferior team compared to the unit that won the 2009 World Series.

The everyday lineup suffered the most damage. Allowing both Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon to leave the Bronx created a void that GM Brian Cashman didn't adequately fill.

Curtis Granderson, the most notable offseason addition, comes packaged with an epic flaw. His well documented inability to hit left-handed pitching is an issue that did not plague the departed duo of Matsui and Damon. In fact, Matsui excelled in that department, batting .282 versus lefties (eleven points higher than he did against righties) with 13 homers, 46 RBI, and an astounding .976 OPS in 2009.

Damon, meanwhile, hit a respectable .268 against southpaws which is markedly better than his replacements, Granderson and Randy Winn.

The switch hitting Winn, who will be 36 in June, hit a pitiful .158 from the right side last season. Although his career numbers are much better than that, it's easier to expect deteriorating numbers as he reaches the twilight of his career.

More perplexing is the acquisition of former Yankee and new DH Nick Johnson.

While evaluating Johnson, it's a question of when, not if, he'll spend an extended stint on the DL. Johnson has only played 100 games or more in three major league season and has failed to do so every year since 2006.

Anyone anticipating a power surge from him due to the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium could be headed for disappointment. Johnson has only hit 20 or more homers once in his career. Further, he's always spread the ball to all fields and isn't known as a pull hitter.

Since Johnson signed for $5.5 million, just one million less than Matsui's $6.5 million deal with the Angels, the decision to let Matsui walk for a one million dollar discount on Johnson is far from a sound baseball move. More preposterous is the notion that Johnson will be invaluable as a first baseman to spell Mark Teixeira.

Scouts have observed Johnson's once above average defense taper off in recent years. More significantly, Teixeira is in the prime of his career at age 30 and rarely needs a day off. In the unsual circumstance that Teixeira would be on the bench, Nick Swisher has proven to be a decent option at first base anyway.

The brittle Johnson will have the opportunity to play with the pitcher he was traded for in 2004, Javier Vazquez. Yet another spotty addition by Cashman, Vazquez finds himself returning to a league where he's been little more than an average starter.

Vazquez's track record aptly demonstrates that he's strictly a NL pitcher. Three of the four years Vazquez has spent in the AL, he's amassed an ERA of 4.67 or higher and surrendered at least 25 homeruns. That includes his one unforgettable year with the Yankees when he went 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA and capped it by yielding Damon's earth shattering grand slam in Game 7 of 2004 ALCS against Boston.

Although his numbers in Atlanta last year represented an ace-like performance, Vazquez is a misfit in Yankee Stadium. Left-handed power hitters will have field days off of him at home and he'll be nothing more than an exorbitantly priced, backend starter.

Granted, on the surface, the Yanks didn't give up much to acquire him. Melky Cabrera is a useful fourth outfielder whose production Brett Gardner and Randy Winn can replicate. The wildcards in the deal, however, are pitchers Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino.

Vizcaino was ranked as the third best prospect in the Yankees system prior to the trade and impressed in Staten Island in 2009. If the 19-year-old continues to develop over the next few years, this is a trade that could really burn the Yankees down the road.

The more attractive alternative to Vazquez was to roll the dice with one of the several low risk, high reward starters that were on the market. Despite Ben Sheets startling signing for $10 million after missing the enter 2009 campaign, his base contract is still two million less than what the Yankees have committed for Vazquez and wouldn't have cost them an intriguing young arm like Vizcaino.

In the end, Cashman just needed to resign either Matsui or Damon, not both. He should have been able to play one against the other in negotiations as a result, but instead let his personal vendetta against Scott Boras, an Arliss Michaels wannabe, intercede.

Both Matsui and Damon have become defensive liabilities, but their bats will not be easy to replace.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Walsh Opens Vault for Knicks' Christmas in July

Feb. 20, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Picture this.

Toys "R" Us is prepared to unveil aisle No. 2010 labeled "Superstar NBA Free Agents," and standing on the mammoth shelves are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson. Amidst the palpable hype for the new product line, there's predictably an obscene demand from the public. The new aisle, however, doesn't debut until July 1.

Well, Donnie Walsh just pitched the Knicks' tent at the front entrance.

Walsh's feverish maneuvering at the trade deadline affords him an edge over nearly every other consumer. He can obtain two stars from the desirable list (only Miami can do the same), while most of his competition will be limited to one or none at all.

The only commitments resting against the Knicks' 2010-2011 cap are Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas, and Eddy Curry.

Although Walsh paid a steep price to put the Knicks in this position, you have to admire that 22 months into his tenure as president, he's followed his blueprint perfectly. Regardless of the losses that mounted in the process, Walsh was determined to steer the Knicks well below the projected 2010 salary cap of $53 million.
Yes, he's made some personnel missteps along the way, but none have adversely affected his big picture. Even Brandon Jennings, who some were lauding as a franchise player in the season's first few months, has cooled off considerably since then, shooting an unenviable 37 percent from the field. While he may have been a better pick than Jordan Hill was, Jennings no longer appears to be a devastating oversight by Walsh.

As he awaits July in the tent with James Dolan's checkbook in hand, Walsh has a few items to entertain him over the season's remaining 29 games.

Tracy McGrady, a seven time All-Star, will showcase what many anticipate to be eroding skills on the Madison Square Garden floor. McGrady hasn't played significant minutes in over a year and a half, but he's been an elite player in the past and he's still only 30 years-old.

Jeff Van Gundy calls him "one of the best pasing wing players to have ever played the game."

He's a great pick-and-roll player, and he's going to get guys really good shots," Van Gundy said.

As we've seen exemplified repeatedly by Chris Duhon and David Lee, the pick and roll is Mike D'Antoni's bread and buter.
Understandably, McGrady's explosion and elevation may be hindered by microfracture surgery that few have ever regained their orginal form from. At 6'8 though, McGrady still is capable of getting his own shot off and can utilize his unique handle and passing ability to make teammates better.

Expectations should be tempered for him initially as he shakes off rust, but we will know if he can still play by the end of the year. If he can, McGrady would certainly be an asset to pair with James or Wade.

Another attraction for Walsh as the Knicks play out the string is the untapped potential of Sergio Rodriguez. Though he was just an afterthought of the blockbuster deal, Rodriguez is a point guard D'Antoni has targeted for years and even had a hand in drafting for Phoenix before they shipped him off to Portland for cash.

Rodriguez has good size for his position at 6'3 and is known as an excellent transition point. Rodriguez, however, has been buried on depth charts in all of his NBA stops thus far and no one has seen enough to ascertain whether or not he's a difference maker. D'Antoni will ensure that question gets answered.

Meanwhile, Walsh is camped out and ready to go shopping.