Blogs > Minor Matters

Run by The Trentonian's Nick Peruffo, this blog will provide daily multimedia coverage of the Trenton Thunder.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I know it's a long winter, but...

...MLB Network really needs to step its game up.

Three times this evening I have seen "The Batting Stance Man," Gar Ryness. This guy is apparently famous for imitating players' batting stances. He seems pretty good at what he does, but the fact remains: It's not insight, it's not entertaining and it's almost entirely irrelevant.

With its stable of analysts, couldn't MLBN have given us some, you know, analysis? There are spring training games going on, Manny is still a free agent, players are about to depart their teams to get ready for the World Baseball Classic, and we get ... a guy imitating the way hitters stand at the plate?

Come on, MLBN, you can't be out of content already, can you?


In the inaugural version of a (what I'm sure will be sporadic) segment I'll call fungoes, let's take a trip around the MLB and give a glance to the news of the day:

Manny, Boras, Dodgers still talking: I think this is a brilliant negotiation strategy on the part of Scott Boras, Manny Ramirez has rejected the Dodgers' offer of 2-years and $45 million (with some of it deferred) in favor a similar offer, this time with no money deferred.

Look, Manny absolutely holds all the cards here. He's rich beyond his wildest dreams, still immensely talented, in demand and, most importantly, the biggest key to the Dodgers' success in 2009.

Without Ramirez, Los Angeles' opening-day lineup looks something like this:

C-Russell Martin
1B- James Loney
2B-Orlando Hudson
SS-Rafael Furcal
3B-Casey Blake
LF-Juan Pierre
CF-Matt Kemp
RF-Andre Ethier
P-Chad Billingsley

Now, that's a pretty nice lineup. You've got speed from Hudson, Furcal and Pierre, and power from Martin, Kemp, Ethier, Blake and Loney. However, with Ramirez that starting nine would look much, much more imposing, especially in a relatively weak, albeit improved, NL West.

Put simply: Ramirez immediately makes this team the favorite. He adds one of the five best hitters of this generation, and, as a wonderful bonus, gets Juan Pierre out of the lineup. Sure, Pierre is probably the speediest of the Dodgers, but he just doesn't get on base enough to fully utilize that speed.

Sign the deal, Los Angeles, and stamp your ticket to the postseason.

Santana scratched in Port St. Lucie: That strong breeze you feel is Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, Larry Lucchino, John Henry, Theo Epstein and the rest of the Yankees and Red Sox brass sighing in relief. Johan Santana, the Mets hired gun of 2008, has elbow stiffness and is already in jeopardy of missing his start on Opening Day.

Elbow stiffness: The two scariest words a pitcher can hear, outside of "James Andrews."

Sure, the injury could be nothing, but if it is more serious it already deals a major blow the Mets' hopes of rebounding after two consecutive September collapses. If Santana is to miss prolonged time, the Mets' rotation would look something like this:

1. John Maine
2. Oliver Perez
3. Mike Pelfrey
4. Tim Redding
5. Freddy Garcia/Johnathon Niese/Livan Hernandez

Somewhere, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Co. chuckle.

Of course, the deal for Santana was doubly costly for the Mets, who had to surrender Philip Humber, Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey in addition to a 7-year, $137.5 million contract for the left-hander.

The Yankees and Red Sox had deals on the table for Santana, with each surrendering a plethora of young talent.

New York would have given up some combination of Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Mitch Hilligoss and Austin Jackson. Of course, save for Jackson, each player on that list had a disappointing-to-terrible 2008. Point is, though, each still has vast potential and would look like a foolish concession if dealt for a pitcher who suddenly begins to have arm trouble.

The bounty the Twins would have received from the Red Sox looks even more terrifying, in retrospect. Some of the names bandied about were: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Kalish, Michael Bowden and Justin Masterson.

Now, if I'm a Boston fan, even thinking of thinking of life without the first name on that list makes the hair on my neck stand on end. With the exception of Tim Lincecum in San Francisco, Lester is the best young pitcher today. In fact, there's a good chance he becomes the ace of that staff in short order.

Ellsbury went backward a little bit last year, but Masterson and Bowden both showed promise for either the rotation or the bullpen. A Boston deal for Santana, while satisfying in the short term, would have been positively disastrous a few years down the line.

For the Mets' (and especially general manager Omar Minaya's) sake, they'd better hit their knees and pray that Santana's injury is only a blip on the radar screen and not an overall cloud hanging over their future.

Tantalizing Images in Tampa: In some ways, spring training games can be a bore. After the first few innings the starters are replaced and the lineup becomes a mishmash of washed-up veterans desperately seeking a second chance and Double- and Triple- A players biding their time until they are cut and sent to the minor league complex.

Sometimes, though, seeing the minor leaguers can be half the fun.

Everyone knows that guys like Alex Rodriguez (steroids or not), Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon will hit come April. Seeing what kids can do provides fans who can't attend minor league games a tantalizing glimpse into their team's future.

For instance, in the sixth inning of Saturday's game with the Twins in Fort Myers Andrew Brackman, one of the Yankees' top prospects and their first-round selection in 2007, induced a Minnesota hitter to fly to center field, where the aforementioned Austin Jackson was waiting.

Hearing Twins broadcaster John Gordon describe the action made me wonder if this was but the first of many times I'd hear both men's names called over the airwaves.

A Cruz in Kansas City: In the final section of today's post we learn about one of the final major free agents finding a home.

Reliever Juan Cruz, a 30-year-old right-hander who posted a 4-0 record, 1.26 WHIP and a better than 2:1 K:BB ration in Arizon last season, signed with the Royals yesterday.

His addition helps to patch the gaping holes left by the departures of Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez, but not enough to make a Royals' bullpen that also "features" Kyle Farnsworth, Brandon Duckworth, Jimmy Gobble and John Bale anything approaching formidable.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Center of attention

With the acquisitions of pitchers CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira, most of the Yankees' needs entering the offseason have been addressed.

The team is seemingly set, save for one very key position: Center field.

New York has two primary options at this point: Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. Of course, Johnny Damon or Nick Swisher could be used as emergency options, but they are better served in left and right field, respectively.

To say Cabrera's 2008 was disappointing would be an understatement of massive proportions. He regressed in every category (His raw batting line went from .273/.327/.718 to .249/301/.642) and earned himself a demotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 15. The problems that cropped up in an otherwise successful 2007 (lack of hustle, overaggressiveness at the plate, sliding into first base) multiplied in 2008, leaving manager Joe Girardi with virtually no choice but to explore other options.

The option, in this case, was Gardner, a high-OBP hitter with oodles of speed. In his 127 AB with New York, he was just mediocre, posting a line of .228/.283/.582. He did, however, have 13 stolen bases in that time, as well as two walk-off hits. He also ended the season hot, going 10 for his last 29, including three multi-hit games during a six-game hitting streak to close out 2008.

In my view, the answer is Gardner and the reason is the aforementioned speed. Batting Gardner at the bottom of the lineup would, in effect, give Girardi back-to-back leadoff men in front of Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui. The increased RBI opportunities for the big boys should lead to an improved offensive output.

The speed also gives him plus range in center field, which should improve as he learns the intricacies of the position. His arm is already decent, as his five assists in 2008 exhibit.

If given a chance, I think Gardner can be a viable everyday option center field, and certainly an adequate-at-worst stopgap until Austin Jackson arrives next season.