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.