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.