Yankees Fill Holes with Pettitte and Rivera but Now Have a Bigger One at Catcher

The New York Yankees look to replicate the pitching success they enjoyed down the stretch and in the playoffs this past season.

They agreed to bring both starter Andy Pettitte and the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, back to the team for the 2013 MLB season.

Pettitte, who made his season debut on Mother’s Day, was limited to just 12 starts thanks to an ankle fracture. He pitched very well in his return to the majors after retirement in 2011, pitching to a 2.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 146 ERA+. He also pitched well in the playoffs, allowing just five runs in 13.2 innings.

Rivera pitched just nine games this season, out since May due to a freak accident during batting practice, tearing his ACL. However, he immediately decided that he would not retire and would work his way back.

Both moves, along with Hiroki Kuroda returning last week, make the Yankees’ pitching staff again a threat when healthy. The pitching staff showed what it was capable of in this past postseason and hope to replicate this success for the entire 2013 baseball year.

The offense, on the other hand, is still a work in progress, and now has suffered a setback.

Russell Martin, the replacement to longtime Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, left the Bronx for the Pittsburgh Pirates, signing a two year deal worth $19 million. Martin spent the last two seasons with the Yankees, hitting .224 over a 258 game stretch.

Despite the poor numbers, this a huge loss for the Yankees, and they must make a decision and perhaps some reactionary moves to solve this situation. They also lose one of the best defensive backstops in the game.

Also, reportedly, the Yankees didn’t even make an offer to Russell the Muscle.

The Bronx Bombers are now without a starting catcher, with the depth of catchers on the roster currently as follows:

Chris Stewart: .241/.292/.319/.611 in 2012 with the Yankees

Francisco Cervelli: .246/.341/.316/.657 in 99 games at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes Barre

Austin Romine: Injuries cut him to just 31 games and 120 plate appearances

None of these players are suitable options to start, and only passable options as backups. The Yankees cannot afford to have this kind of depth on Opening Day. Martin only got a two year deal, as did former Braves backup David Ross with the Boston Red Sox.

So, the best options that remain are former Los Angeles Angel and Texas Ranger Mike Napoli and longtime Chicago White Sox backstop AJ Pierzynski.

Napoli is the cream of the free agent catcher crop, coming off five straight seasons with over 20 home runs. He has his best season in 2011, hitting 30 bombs and putting up a line of .320/.414/.631/1.046. He was an All-Star for the first time this past season.

Pierzynski had the best season of his 15-year career, setting new career highs in HRs, RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+. He also took home his first silver slugger award.

However, there are problems coming if the Yankees bring either in.

Napoli is a very poor defensive catcher, and you can’t put him at first base at all if Mark Teixeira. He can still double as a regular in the Yankees’ rotating DH system. But he also is looking for a pretty big deal.

Pierzynski is turning 36 next month, and is a huge risk given his age and the money he may want based on his contract year. Not exactly a guy the Yankees may want based on their plans for the future.

However, it seems the Yankees may have to bite the bullet. In all honesty, nobody thinks either Napoli or Pierzynski are plans for the long-term future. Heck, neither is Russell Martin.

This has all been about covering the gap between the Jorge Posada era of Yankee catching history to his eventual heir. Jesus Montero is gone, and Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, and J.R. Murphy are still at least a year away from being able to step in as the starting backstop for the next several years.

The Yankees are an aging team with not too many prospects coming very soon. The organization also plans on spending even less than they have for so many years starting in the 2014 season.

This is obviously a reaction to the declines and long-term deals of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. The Yankees do not want anymore of those contracts on their payroll in the long-term future.

However, the Yankees also plenty of money to spend, with the departures of Martin, closer Rafael Soriano, and outfielder Nick Swisher, a grand total of almost $30 million between the three.

Which is the reason why not bringing back Russell Martin makes so little sense. He only got two years from Pittsburgh, and will only paid an average of $8.5 million, which is the same amount he earned this season.

So now, the Yankees are forced to fill their spot at catcher with a high priced free agent (Napoli, Pierzynski) or go with minor league talent (Stewart, Cervelli) in order to evetually bring up one of the three prospects they have still in their farm system.

The Yankees are in this dilemma because of themselves. They have time, but they cannot dawdle, because the remaining options could run out at any time.

Advertisements

With Season on the Line on Thanksgiving, Mark Sanchez Must Step Up for the Jets

In a career filled with inconsistency with the New York Jets, fourth year quarterbackMark Sanchez has proven time and time again he plays his best in the most crucial moments.

With nine fourth quarter comebacks, 11 game winning drives, and four playoff victories, all on the road, Sanchez is certainly not a guy you can count out, even when he’s having the worst of his games.

This year, however, has been a much different story. Sanchez has regressed even more this season, completing passes at a career low 53.5%. He is 29th among all qualified QBs with a 73.4 passer rating. Many are still calling for Tim Tebow, despiteRex Ryan and the Jets organization and players giving Sanchez their vote of confidence.

No matter what you may think of Sanchez’s ability and talent, he still is the best option at quarterback for the Jets to win. The offensive line, running game, and receiving have all been poor, and injuries have made things worse.

Do you honestly think Tebow would do better, when he only completed 46.5% of his passes for a Denver team that Peyton Manning may very well take to the Super Bowl this year? Especially considering the Broncos‘ running attack and offensive line are much superior to the Jets’?

New York snapped a three game losing streak with a badly needed victory in St. Louis over the Rams. Sanchez had a solid performance, completing 15 of 20 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He had just his third game of the season without committing a turnover.

The Jets will need more of Sanchez’s magic and even more on Thanksgiving Night in a showdown in the Meadowlands against the arch nemesis New England Patriots, who will be without Rob Gronkowski. His fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez, who hasn’t played since the teams’ last meeting in Foxboro, could return.

When the two teams met in October, they were both 3-3 and were struggling to hit their stride. The Pats led by 10 with less than six minutes left until the Jets came roaring back to score 13 unanswered to take a three point lead.

However, in typical Tom Bradyfashion, the Patriots’ hall of fame quarterback led his team down the field to send the game into overtime and later take the lead. LB Rob Ninkovich forced a Sanchez fumble the next possession to seal the victory for New England.

The Jets can only imagine where they would be right now had they escaped Foxboro with a huge win that day. They dropped their next two to the Dolphins and Seahawks before finally grabbing the victory in St. Louis this past Sunday.

The Patriots since won their last three in dominating fashion over St. Louis andIndianapolis, with a close call at home against the Bills.

Now, they face a huge test which they cannot fail if they are to have a chance of rallying for a playoff berth. After this game, they will face the Cardinals at home, road games in Jacksonville and Tennessee, a home Sunday Night matchup against theChargers before finally ending the regular season in Buffalo.

Much like last season, New England’s secondary has been awful, 30th in the league against the pass. Their defense against the run has been solid, 10th in the league.

As for the Jets, yes their offense has been atrocious. However, if they can someone pull away and be able score enough so the defense can manage to keep Brady and the Pats’ offense in check, they certainly with have a fighting chance in this game, much like their last meeting.

This isn’t saying the Jets have a good chance of winning. The fact is they can’t afford not to if they want to have a chance of making the playoffs and perhaps saving Sanchez’s and Ryan’s jobs. They need Sanchez to step up big time on Thursday night.

Old School Thinking Wins as Miguel Cabrera Beats out Mike Trout for AL MVP

One of the most interesting debates in sports for the past few years has finally ended as Miguel Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner for batting since 1967, edged out rookie phenomenon Mike Trout as the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

For Cabrera, it’s his fourth straight season with over 30 HRs, 100 RBIs and a batting average over .320.

For Trout, he enjoyed arguably the greatest season by a rookie in MLB history. He is the first rookie ever to hit over 30 HRs and steal over 40 bases.

For many, not only was this a battle between two of the game’s most talented players, it was a struggle between two distinct schools of thought in baseball analysis.

Supporting Cabrera were the old school thinkers, who believed the Triple Crown and the fact that the Detroit Tigers went to the playoffs and Los Angeles Angels didn’t were enough to put Miggy over the top.

In the other corner were those who are students in the philosophy of sabremetrics, which showed stats that Trout was the better overall and more valuable player than Cabrera despite the fact that his team missed the playoffs.

No position had won the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski for the 1967 American League Champion Boston Red Sox. The Tigers ended winning the Pennant this year as well before getting swept by the San Francisco Giants.

The Triple Crown is absolutely nothing to not consider when voting for these awards. It is one of the rarest feats in all of sports, comparable to winning the Triple Crown in horse racing or passing for over 5,000 yards in the NFL.

At the same time, only one player hit over 30 HRs, stole over 45 bases, and score over 125 runs. His name is Mike Trout.

To be fair to Trout when talking about team, he played in a much tougher division and the Angels still won more games than Detroit. The Tigers won the worst division in baseball.

According to fangraphs.com, Trout was easily the most irreplaceable player in baseball, ranking in at 10.0 WAR. In the AL, Robinson Cano also had a higher WAR.

Wins above replacement is one of many attempts at trying to estimate the true value of a player. It factors in everything: Hitting, base-running, and fielding. Trout does all of those very well, stealing 49 bases (leading the majors) and having an 11.0 UZR/150, one of the best among AL OFs.

Trout did this at 20 years old. As a rookie.

Cabrera on the other hand, is a non factor on the base paths and was the worst defensive third baseman in baseball, dead last in UZR/150 at -11.2.

But clearly, the voters decided that the hype surrounding the Triple Crown as well as the Tigers making the playoffs was more than enough to elect Cabrera.

Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not. Team success has always played a role in these awards. The Triple Crown really could not have been ignored.

Miguel Cabrera is the American League MVP, and he deserved it. But Trout’s season made a great case for it. In the end, the old school way of thinking in baseball won, for this year.

Russell Martin May Be the Yankees’ Best Option at Catcher Despite Poor Season

How many players can have as poor of a season as Russell Martin and still have a chance of being paid? Especially considering he turned a three year extension worth about $20 million from the New York Yankees last offseason?

Martin hit just .211, had a .311 OBP and a 92 OPS+. All below average numbers. His numbers were even worse until he had a red hot month of September/October.

Still, he managed to set a career high in home runs with 21 and delivered several clutch hits over the course of the season, including one in Game 1 of the ALDS inBaltimore.

Well, there’s a very good chance that Martin could be back in Pinstripes in 2013 and for the foreseeable future, and still have a solid contract to work on for it.

Martin is currently the third best catcher available on the free agent market behind Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski. All are in their 30s and looking for long term contracts

Napoli is coming off two excellent seasons with the Rangers, hitting 30 HRs and having a 1.046 OPS in 2011 and becoming a first time All-Star in 2012. Pierzynski just had his best season ever with the White Sox this past season, setting career highs in HRs and slugging.

So, because of typical Yankee standards, will they be all over either Napoli or AJ? The answer is probably no.

The Yankees have a plan to cut payroll to $189 million by the 2014 season. Currently, they have $70.5 million invested toward that season between Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia.

They also have to worry about locking up Robinson Cano for the long term. So between those four players, and perhaps Derek Jeter, could add up to almost $110 million for that season.

The desire to cut payroll and the amount of money already committed for the future could limit the amount of talent the Yankees can add based on their contract desires.

Russell Martin made just $7.5 million in 2012, and could get pretty much the same amount of money over a multi-year deal. Both Pierzynski and Napoli could look to get even more than that.

The fact is, Martin is the best option at catcher for the Yankees financially and long term.

Despite his poor numbers, some metrics may suggest that he may bounce back next season. Out of all MLB players with a minimum of 450 plate appearances, he had the lowest BABIP at .222. His line drive rate (19.4%) is around his career norms, so it doesn’t seem it is a result of weak contact and more of as an outcome of bad luck.

He is a much better option long term than AJ, as Pierzynski is 36 and will ask for more years and money after having a career year. His year was an extreme outlier, as he didn’t have a season with an OPS+ over 100 (average) since 2003 when he was inMinnesota. So, Martin’s and Pierzynski’s career numbers are actually very similar, but Martin is the superior defender.

Napoli is the worst defender out of the three and will be forced to play a lot of games at first to keep him in the lineup. The Yankees can’t do that with Mark Teixeira on the team still providing excellent defense and offense. He will also probably ask for the largest deal of the three, as he’s only 31 and the best option.

Even if Martin doesn’t rebound with the bat if he is brought back, he is still a good stopgap between whoever emerges as the catcher of the future in the minor league system. Currently there are no immediate in house replacements but there will be in a few years.

Jesus Montero is gone and he couldn’t be the long term man. Austin Romine has had back problems and will not be ready to be the starter just yet. Gary Sanchez and JR Murphy are more than a few years away from the Majors.

Still, given what Martin provides defense (he certainly was an upgrade over Jorge Posada last year), and the hope that his offensive numbers could trend upward, it would seem he is the best option to continue tot be the New York Yankees’ starting catcher for 2013 and afterward.

Despite Stellar Start the Knicks Will Need Stoudemire and Shumpert to Compete

This latest edition of James Dolan’s New York Knickerbockers really reminds you of the last team in the franchise’s history that started 5-0.

After knocking off the Orlando Magic on Monday night they are now enjoying their best start since that magical 1993-1994 season that ended one win shy of the NBA Championship.

They are also the only undefeated team left in the NAB, and they didn’t beat any cream puffs, knocking off the defending world champions, a playoff team in Philadelphia twice, and a Mavericks team that is doing fine enough without Dirk Nowitzki.

New York is second to only Miami in points scored per game and second to no one in the NBA at allowing points per game. ESPN’s John Hollinger’s metrics say the same thing.

The key to the Knicks’ success has been the play of Carmelo Anthony (leading the NBA in scoring), outstanding man to man and team defense, and three point shooting, which is the 2nd best in the NBA. They also force a ton of turnovers without turning it over themselves.

J.R. Smith has played outstanding, averaging 18.2 PPG on .493 FG% and shooting 72.2% from three. He has three games of over 20 points and also improved on defense.

Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton have played very well as the starting backcourt, with each taking turns in handling the ball and playing excellent defense on their men

The defense has been absolutely outstanding without Iman Shumpert, considered their best perimeter. Former Bull Ronnie Brewer has filled in well for him

The Knicks with face a litmus test this week: two back to back road games in San Antonio and Memphis and a Garden Sunday Matinee against the Pacers. Later this month they will face Anthony Davis and the Hornets, the Mavs in Dallas and the rescheduled grudge match in Brooklyn.

As good as the Knicks have been to start the year, there’s a good chance that they may struggle against these teams, as they feature all-star and superstar bigmen in Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert and of course the great Tim Duncan.

The Knicks inside game has been relatively absent. Coach Mike Woodson has been going to Rasheed Wallace, fresh out of retirement, but he has settled to shooting threes. Tyson Chandler is obviously limited on offense but should continue to get his attempts as long as he’s healthy (had the flu in the 2nd game of the season that limited him to 21 minutes). Marcus Camby has yet to play a role yet

The biggest problem for the Knicks is their rebounding, which is currently the 2nd worst in the NBA. One man who can help with their inside offense and rebounding is already on the team: Amar’e Stoudemire.

Unfortunately, it looks as if STAT is going to miss at least four more weeks and it will take a while for the Knicks to adjust him back into the rotation. They should start by having come off the bench as soon as he comes back and work him back into the starting lineup. A healthy Amar’e makes the Knicks a much more dangerous team in the postseason.

When everyone is healthy, the Knicks roster will look like this:

Starters:

PG Raymond Felton

SG Iman Shumpert

SF Carmelo Anthony

PF Amar’e Stoudemire

C Tyson Chandler

Bench:

PG Jason Kidd

PG Pablo Prigioni

SG J.R. Smith

SG Ronnie Brewer

SF Steve Novak

PF Rasheed Wallace

PF Kurt Thomas

C Marcus Camby

Tell me how good this team is. The bench is loaded with guys who can shoot, pass, and/or play solid defense and rebounding. They will need everyone healthy to have a chance of beating Miami in the playoffs. Miami has zero solid bigmen, so sizing up on them with Stoudemire, Chandler, and Camby and Wallace behind them will give the Knicks a big advantage on them, and any team for that matter