Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh Say Can You C.C.

The New York Post is reporting that C.C. Sabathia has signed the big money deal with the Yankees that was on the table for some time. A lot of speculation about whether he would sign the deal or not was bounced around for a few weeks, and I declined to chime in on it. The deal is apparently done now, so I have a few things to say.

1. The Yankees are Back

Having a guy like C.C. Sabathia at the front of the rotation is just what the doctor ordered. He's big, durable, dominant, lefty, and mature. Putting him in front of Wang and Joba is going to look very good, and opens the door for another signing that I like to dream about....

2. LeBron James to the Knicks

I don't think there's much doubt that LeBron is going to play at MSG in two years, but this may have sealed it. The two men played in Cleveland at the same time and are apparently close. This makes me cry like a baby to think about...

3. A Reorganization of the Everyday Players is in the Works

I think the financial investment we've seen in Sabathia may be a prelude to some moves with the everday players. I don't know exactly what moves may be in the works, but I would guess that we're not done with 1B. 2B may be up in the air, if we move Cano. Centerfield will not be the domain of any of the men who played the position in 2008. Matsui could be gone. Would anyone take Damon? There are things a-brewing in Yankeeland. I hope to stay on top of all of them from here on out. The 2009 season has officially begun.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Canyon Reborn

Hello. My name is Mike Plugh. You might remember me from such blogs as Matsuzaka Watch and Darvish Watch. Perhaps you might remember me from such websites as Baseball Prospectus. As you might notice, the last entry at this venerable institution of Yankees commentary was sometime at the start of the past season. I owe you an explanation.

I'm a resident of two continents. I bridge the divide in real geography as well as metaphorically, via my family life. The past year has been an adventure of life between Japan and the United States. It's included a whirlwind Masters degree at Fordham University in the Bronx and employment at Akita International University in northern Japan. Mid-July saw the birth of my second child, a daughter, in Akita and the demands of each of these things kept me from my passion for baseball. Oh, and there was that pesky little election thing that I was involved in. I've restricted much of my blogging to my politics and media site Communicative Action for the past year. As an active member of Democrats Abroad Japan and a Media Ecologist, I've had my hands full with progressive, netroots activism and a deeper, more committed career in media scholarship.

I'm hoping to make a PhD my next adventure in this journey, perhaps as soon as Fall 2009, but there should be just enough room for my Yankee alter ego at this point to squeeze in at least one more offseason and run at the pennant. For those of you new to my work, please bookmark me or subscribe to my RSS feed. For those of you returning to the Canyon of Heroes perspective, thanks for your loyalty and support. The blog will need a little airing out from the mothballs and will require a few upgrades here and there to reflect my Web 2.0 sensibilities, but jump on board for the ride now while the getting is good. Now to some baseball...

My layoff at COH was actually very well timed. My passion for the Yankees waned slightly at the start of the last season and my expectations were similarly low. More than anything else, the team reminded me of the last years of the Ewing era at Madison Square Garden where nostalgia masked some very real problems and the promise of a few young faces gave us a false sense of our own potential. My busy schedule combined with this pessimissm about the team made it easy to go cold turkey on blogging, even while I kept my eyes on the team all season long. Here's a little sense of why I felt that way, and how I feel right now as a new season's cycle is upon us.

Last season the club put Jason Giambi, Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Kyle Farnsworth, and a few others on the field every night. None of those players spelled any sort of promise to me. As it turned out, Mussina surprised everyone to turn in one of his finest seasons and a cherry on the sundae of his career with 20 wins. Outside that magical feat there was little to celebrate from any of the other cast of characters. I saw that coming, frankly, and when I connected the dots to the age creeping up on Jeter, Posada, and Abreu I didn't like what I saw. It was one year too many with that core group.

The Johan Santana situation was a bit complicated last offseason. I've long been an advocate for laying off the free agent players with big price tags unless they are of the very elite at their positions. We're talking HOF credentials. Santana is in that class, but it required a trade of our young pitching to acquire him and I don't really support that philosophy. We face a C.C. Sabathia expenditure this offseason that rivals in dollars what we would have spent on Santana, although there have to be a few questions about whether he will ultimately be in the same class long term. There is the issue of his weight of course, but his big success, his prime years, have come after his 25th birthday and there have only been two years worth of performance to go by in judging him. I'll get into my feelings about this move in a moment.

If you keep shuffling the same pieces around hoping to get a different result, it seems you are pursuing a foolish strategy. Giambi at DH. Giambi at first. Matsui in left. Matsui at DH. Johnny Damon in left. Johnny Damon at DH. Flexibility is one thing, trying to jam the same broken down pieces into a lineup is another.

This offseason has the potential to be one of renewal. The permission to blow things up was given as the team lost it's last chance at a championship in the old stadium. The new stadium is here, and with it a new era dawns....sort of. There is still Jeter, A-Rod, Matsui, Damon, Posada, Cano, Melky, and Mariano to name a few. The renewal of the Yankees is still far from in full swing. Getting better is something we can do. Getting younger is also doable. Doing both at the same time is a tougher task and one that will require a big outlay of cash. Our farm system isn't nearly good enough to pay immediate dividends on that front, but the demands of a rabid fan base, a cranky ownership, and tradition almost force the club to pursue every means to win.

Being a Milwaukee Brewers fan or a Tampa Bay Rays fan is an exercise in patience. They stink, they draft, they develop, and they get a fleeting 5 or 6 years of success to live by. Yankee fans want the whole thing every season. We're a greedy and unforgiving bunch. The joy of a Phillies championship in a city decades removed from any sort of championship is a foreign concept for us. Some of us approaching middle age lived through the long, dry years of Yankee mediocrity and can appreciate the current commitment to winning. The joy of it is a bit compromised now, I must say. Sure, it's a happy affair when your team wins it all, but it feels much better when it comes after a period of down times. The definition of "overcoming the odds" for the Yankees is not winning 100 games and fizzling out in the ALDS. That's the definition of being "spoiled."

The aforementioned Brewers put together Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and others. The Rays have Crawford, Longoria, Upton, and now Price. The Phillies managed to string together Howard, and Utley, and Rollins to go with Hamels. We look to buy our way into the playoffs with only a sideways glance at our young players, Cano and Hughes and Joba, as contributors to the larger picture. Now, we're going to dump the old and bring in the new. Out is the $100 million Jason Giambi experiment that ultimately only amounted to a few exciting moments and a lot of ties to the steroid era. Out is Mike Mussina, in all likelihood, who represented the good but never great pitching staff that took over post Clemens, Key, Cone. Out may be Abreu, who was a good Yankee and a model of the modern baseball philosophy that's rightly or wrongly attributed to Billy Beane's "Moneyball." The right field short porch will probably whisper, "Goodbye Bobby. I hardly knew ye."

In might be C.C. Sabathia and his strong, young left arm. In is Nick Swisher, a Bobby Abreu pretender with the versatility to play first base if needed. Teixeira? Burnett? Manny? Who else is coming in on the white horse to save the day? If only it was the proverbial "man on a white horse" that the Yankees needed. There is A-Rod, after all.

Can the Yankees be better? With their resources, yes. Can the Yankees be exciting? If lots of offense and overwhelming star power is your thing, again, yes. If making the playoffs every year, championship or no, is acceptable, then yes. As a long time fan of the sport, and the Yankees, I long for a bit of perspective on what it means to win it all. I won't throw back the banners or the memories of the tickertape parades, if they come again, but I liked it a bit better when it was Charlie Hayes clutching the last out at third for some odd reason. I'm not a Scott Brosius apologist, but I was satisfied with his rise from mediocrity to contribute to a great season in 1998. I enjoyed Joe Girardi and Paul O'Neill, who were great Yankees if not great players. The satisfaction of winning doesn't come from winning at all costs, but rather winning despite the odds. That's why the world could fall in love with the Rays. The excitement built over time and their tremendous feat was a tribute to a long-suffering franchise who finally got it right.

Okay, now that my little cathartic speech about winning in some kind of ideal, pure fashion is over, back to Yankee world. Thank God we have an ownership that understands how to generate revenue via its geographical advantages. The Red Sox finally got that right a few years back and have turned their franchise into the model club of the sport. We are in the position to put money back into the team and will do so again this year. Dropping the older, dead weight is the beginning to a fresh start. Understanding the right kind of players to bring in with big money is the trick. C.C. Sabathia is a good place to start, and to start by overspending to avoid getting caught out on the cheap. Pairing Sabathia with Wang and Joba makes us super tough. A strong #4 would put us in a position to compete with any team out there. Is it Hughes? Hard to say. He can certainly be #5. I don't think that we need to go crazy with Derek Lowe or A.J. Burnett to find that #4 guy. It's not worth it.

I also think that spending big on the offense is unnecessary. Swisher is a good start at a decent price. Keep Cano. Don't give up on him yet. He has something, if he can tap into it for a full season. Find someone young to sit behind Posada and develop him. Easier said than done. Don't blow the wad on a first baseman if Teixeira isn't coming. Let Damon and Matsui ride out their contracts unless you can unload them on someone. I'd only spend on Manny if I were going to dish out big cash on an outfielder, but I don't think it's intriguing as it would be in my opinion. The Yankees can spend less, score a little less, play better defense, pitch MUCH better, and win. What's more, we can win it all without the Giambi's and Matsui's and Damon's and the high priced position players that we've tried to plug in over recent years. If we stick with our veterans, add Teixeira and Sabathia, isn't that enough? Can't we spend the next two years phasing out the guys that are on the big decline and replace them with the lower priced players that produce 80% of the big names, but play hard, play good defense, and inject a little life into the process.

My last word here may be blaspheme to Yankee fans and I may lose some of you in the process, but I don't care if the Yankees win big every season. I like it when they win. I want to win more and more championships. I want to stop the Red Sox at all costs. But...if we don't win....okay. That's the very nature of competition. There is no winning without losing. The two define each other. It's how you win and how you lose that determine the satisfaction or sting in the end. Winning by outspending everyone and stacking a lineup of big names is less satisfying poetically. Likewise, losing under the same circumstances is correspondingly unpoetic. It's rather pathetic actually. When Moose spit the bit against Detroit a couple of years ago in the ALDS, some Yankee fans lost it, and rightly so. The "greatest lineup ever assembled" went cold and the pitching was exposed for what it was...aging and never dominant. The loss produced a kind of cotton-mouth effect that really carried over into last season and was never alleviated at any point.

So, I'd rather fight hard and lose with some fulfillment of the Homeric hero poem than by playing the role of the once leading man turned B-actor. I'd love to win either way, but doing so can only truly be satisfying for this Yankee fan if it happens as a result of a Tampa Bay Rays-style commitment to developing draft picks, or by putting together a group of complimentary pieces that includes solid guys that don't attract the spotlight to go with the A-Rods in the middle of the lineup. When I say solid guys, by the way, I don't mean sucky guys with guts. I mean...ugh...Kevin Youkilis. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth but it illustrates the kind of professional ballplayer that does the things that win games (no errors, plus .400 OBP, occasional power) without making headlines or drawing the $200 million salary. When a guy like that wins, and in the process kills his rival, it feels so, so good for his fans and hurts all the more for his enemies. That's poetic justice and that's what we've been missing for a while. The mythological. The poetic. The compelling story that makes the 162 game season an epic rather than a grind or a tabloid-to-tabloid living that frustrates as much as intrigues.

Join me this season to follow this story and hopefully we can piece together the essence of what satisfies us most about being fans of a storied franchise. The story.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Trade Matsui?

I don't get around here to post very often, so this may go completely unnoticed, but I want to remind Yankee fans that a very large number of loud voices screamed to trade Hideki Matsui this offseason, with Noah Lowry one of the main figures at the other end of the equation. I called those people hoping for this trade nuts, and here we have a note that tells the story best:

Noah Lowry - SP - Giants
Giants transferred LHP Noah Lowry from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.
Lowry has already missed 60 days. He's out indefinitely after a setback with his surgically repaired forearm, but the hope is that he'll resume playing catch within a week or so.
May. 31 - 12:33 a.m. ET

Plus, Hideki Matsui is batting .339/.414/.495 and has been a rock in the middle of the lineup while Posada, Jeter, and A-Rod have all missed time. Where would we be right now without Godzilla? I'm just asking?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Superman Returns

Friday, April 25, 2008

Who Are These Yankees?

The same question might be asked of the Orioles, Tigers, Indians, Mariners, Marlins, Dodgers, and Padres to start. The open to the season has produced a strange imbalance in the Force. Teams that have been perennial division leaders have underperformed and a number of exciting clubs have overperformed to begin the year. This isn't unique to the 2008 season, but the annual surprises always....well.....surprise.

With that bit of convoluted logic, I want to look at the Yankees slow start and talk about a few interesting things that may slip below the mainstream radar (or not).

1. The Bench

When was the last time we've had this kind of bench. Morgan Ensberg has played very well at both 1st and 3rd, and has produced nicely at the bottom of the order. Bengie Molina did a fantastic job filling in for Jorge before he was hurt and then Chad Moeller stepped in without missing a beat. Gonzalez actually outplayed Jeter while he was in the lineup and in the field, mainly thanks to a slow start and an injury to the Captain, but who thought you'd get a temporary upgrade during that stretch? So far, so good. I'm liking Cash Money's work here.

2. The Young Guns

Everyone knew that Hughes and Kennedy would have their ups and downs this season, but who figured that all the downs would come at the start of the season? I'm not so surprised by Kennedy's struggles since he's really only getting his feet wet, but Phil Hughes pitched in a playoff game last season, and pitched very very well. He almost threw a no hitter against the Texas Rangers in hitter-friendly Arlington. Is he trying too hard to impress? Is he feeling the pressure? He threw more first pitch strikes in his abbreviated start yesterday, which is a good sign, but he'll need 4-5 quality starts to pull his ERA out of the cellar. He is the most important player on this club in 2008 and he needs to get it going. I have some faith that he will, since his promotions have always resulted in a rough patch before he adjusts and dominates. Maybe breaking Spring Training with the big boys was a bigger transition than we thought.

3. Cano's Woes

How does Robbie Cano go from 60 to zero in 2 seconds? He was awful to start 2007 and now he's repeating himself. In fairness, he's had very good at bats lately and has stung the ball for a few loud outs. He'll crank it up soon. I think he must play poorly in cold weather, which he has to work out before October.

4. Giambi is Toast

I thought the Spring might prove me wrong, but we all see what Jason Giambi is now. He's a .230 hitter with a great eye and a gut full of TNT. He's basically Dave Kingman with more walks. That's not an awful thing, but it's not something I want on my club. Especially a club that has a $200 million budget. I can't wait until he's out the door at the end of the year. I don't know if the Yankees plan to go after Mark Texeira, knowing that Boras is his agent, but I'd take a decent glove with 20 home run power and a .280/.370/.475 batting line for half the price. I'm thinking of a Youkilis, Garko, Casey Kotchman type player. Somewhere in that range. Maybe that's easier said than done, but those players were all minor leaguers at one point and there have to be more growing somewhere.

5. Aging

Damon, Giambi, Abreu, Matsui, Posada, Mussina, Pettitte, Mariano

Those players are all getting up there, although some have been good and some have been bad. Giambi and Mussina are off the books in the off season, so I have no worries. Posada and Mariano are locked up for awhile and I have no beef. Damon and Matsui will open the new Stadium with the team, but you have to wonder if they'll be around any longer than that. I'd give Matsui even odds, but Damon is a lock to be gone. Abreu is an intriguing case. He's still good, but you don't want to sign him to anything more than a year this off season, if you don't have to. His decline might be offset by a good eye, but he's no spring chicken and you have some talented outfielders in the system eyeing an opportunity. If he takes a one year deal, I think the Yankees jump on resigning him. If he takes a two year deal, they probably do it. Anything more, and I have to say, "No!"

This is an issue for the 2008 season because our minor leagues may have some answers to the voids in the lineup coming soon. Obviously Montero is mashing in the lower levels and should step in for Posada if he can play any kind of defense behind the plate. Jackson, Tabata, and Gardner will be showing off for Damon/Matsui/Abreu's spots. We might see some of the bullpen futures up with the Yankees as the season progresses. Will we see Juan Miranda?

The face of the team is slowly changing, and there will be a lot more focus on the youngsters if the team is mired in mediocrity as long as they were last season. A youth movement has started since camp broke, but it might explode if the aged vets don't get their asses in gear.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Move Damon Down

I've been chattering behind the scenes since the end of last season that the Yankees should move Johnny Damon to the bottom of the order. It's not that he's a bad player. Far from it. I simply believe that his best days are behind him and more importantly that the best strategy is to put your best hitters in a position to get more at bats during each game and during the season. Better hitters getting more at bats means more runs means more wins. Every win is precious.

I had a nice back and forth with a friend who believes in Damon at the top of the order, citing his ability to take pitches and foul others off. I suppose the thinking there is that the following hitters will see more pitches prior to their plate appearances. I think that's a secondary consideration at best. The most precious commodity in baseball is outs. You get 27 per game and 3 per inning. Your best players are the guys that make less outs. There's more to it than that of course, but it's a great starting point. Your leadoff hitter's most important job is to not make an out. It may only come up once per game that the inning starts with him, but he will get at least an extra at bat in most contests. If that player ends up making less outs per plate appearance, it follows that your team will score more runs. To that end, I looked at the 2007 Yankees and ranked them according to their Total Outs/PA. Here's how it shook out for the regulars, which excludes any of the first basemen.

Posada .604
A-Rod .605
Matsui .650
Jeter .654
Abreu .658
Damon .662
Cano .683
Melky .709

Noteworthy is Jorge Posada's historical season last year. The only catcher in MLB history to hit over .330 with 20 home runs, 40 doubles, and 90 RBI at the age of 35+. He was the toughest out among Yankee regulars by a thousandth of a point over the MVP. If you project these numbers, or some representative version of them, to 2008 it's hard to argue for Damon getting more plate appearances than the top 5. I think the ideal Yankee lineup, and I've said this before, is:

Derek Jeter
Bobby Abreu
Alex Rodriguez
Hideki Matsui
Jorge Posada
Jason Giambi
Robinson Cano
Melky Cabrera
Johnny Damon


Bobby Abreu
Derek Jeter
Robinson Cano
Alex Rodriguez
Hideki Matsui
Jorge Posada
Jason Giambi
Melky Cabrera
Johnny Damon

The 2nd lineup is my preferred configuration because it sorts out lefty-righty better and puts Cano in a better RBI position, but the 1st lineup gets A-Rod more at bats and puts Posada and Giambi in front of Cano for those same RBI chances. The point, either way, is that Johnny Damon's combination of greater out potential and lower isolated power (.126 to Cano's .182 in 2007) is better suited for the bottom of the lineup. As a #9 hitter (or #8 at best), Damon would still put tremendous pressure on opposing pitchers who have been worked over by the better hitters. By the time they get to the point where there's supposed to be an easy out there's a guy that sees 4+ pitches per at bat and can beat you with a little speed. He's no slouch down there and would probably be the best #9 hitter in the sport. At #1 he's league average at best, and possibly worse.

Bill James has famously noted that batting order makes no difference, but I'd rather have a lineup where the tougher outs get more at bats. Just my opinion.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Memo to Phil Hughes

Man up. Throw strikes. Stop being a poo-cee.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Very Wang Collection

If Bobby Abreu could jump and Coco Crisp couldn't bunt....well, we might have had a no-hitter against the Red Sox at Fenway. I wasn't thrilled with Wang after the terrible performances against Cleveland in the 2007 ALDS, and even entertained the thought of including him in a trade package for Johan Santana. His 2008 season has started unbelievably well and it's clear to me that, health provided, he should challenge 20 wins again this year. The thing that I've noticed about Wang this season is that he's really able to work a wider arsenal of pitches than at any time since being called up to the Big Leagues. The slider looks great and the splitter looks even better than it did last season. He's too sexy for Fenway....too sexy for Fenway....too sexy todaaaaaaaay.

See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Existential Farnsworth

I'm watching the rainy Game Two against the Royals in Kansas City and Kyle Farnsworth is walking the ballpark. A home run, two walks, and an RBI single have been allowed on an array of really unimpressive pitches. Farnsworth either seems to overthrow or try to be too fine. He never just throws. That's nothing new. He's Kyle Farnsworth and unfortunately he's ours.

My question tonight is....

What hurts more, watching Farnsworth blow a game in reverse or watching Farnsworth blow a game in normal, forward progression?

Your moment of zen.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bright and Dark Spots

Nobody likes to lose. I don't like to lose. I don't want to lose tomorrow. Baseball is often graced with subplots in winning and losing efforts, however, and it's important to note them to keep perspective on the marathon that it 162+ games. Here's my stab at Game Two bright and dark spots:

Johnny Damon
Bright: He looked okay in the outfield and may have stolen a homer from Alex Rios.
Dark: His bat hasn't amounted to much from the start of camp, and he doesn't belong leading off.

Derek Jeter
Bright: Did his best to get on base twice and is off to a decent start.
Dark: His throws to first have been very bad so far this season.

Bobby Abreu
Bright: Making A-Rod's job easier and looks poised to score 150 runs this season.
Dark: Thrown out with A-Rod at the plate and 2 outs. Ouch.

Alex Rodriguez
Bright: Mashing at bats. Great glove at 3rd.
Dark: Struck out as the tying run in the bottom of the 9th.

Jason Giambi
Bright: Still looks very good at 1st.
Dark: Terrible at bats. He looks lost at the plate. Missing fat HR pitches every time out.

Robinson Cano
Bright: Still remember Spring Training.....?
Dark: Not a great at bat so far. Not getting good wood on any balls in play yet.

Hideki Matsui
Bright: He's playing.
Dark: No good at bats yet. He looks confused as the DH and that's something to watch.

Jose Molina
Bright: Still hitting well. Solid behind the plate.
Dark: Posada's not in the game after one day. Mussina vs. Posada animosity, or injury?

Melky Cabrera
Bright: Still hitting and playing good defense. Plus-plus season in store.
Dark: Missed a tough but catchable ball giving Overbay a triple. (nit-picking)

Mike Mussina
Bright: Three double play balls and an 11-3 GO/AO ratio.
Dark: .393 OBP against and only 2 Ks. He has nothing left to put batters away.

LaTroy Hawkins

Bright: Strikes were well located.
Dark: Let hitters off the hook and got hurt. Wearing Paul O'Neill's #21.

Kyle Farnsworth
Bright: Looks better this season. Decent rhythm and good pace.
Dark: Still has trouble with control forcing him to throw hittable strikes.

Ross Ohlendorf
Bright: 9 pitches to retire 3 batters. 2 GO and a strikeout. Dominating.
Dark: Hit Scutaro with his first pitch. (nerves?)

There you have it. I think the things to watch going forward are Giambi's first 2 weeks, Matsui's progress as DH, Posada's health, Melky's bat, Mussina's ERA, and Ohlendorf's scoreless innings streak. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!!

Open for Business

It's exciting to be back. I was so happy to have the Yankees back, playing games that count and that matter, I watched both the live contest and the rebroadcast on YES. I couldn't get enough. I didn't chime in very much during Spring Training, mainly because there's already so much speculation and "coverage" out there during the warm up to the regular season that I just didn't think my two cents was going to add anything. There's nothing worse that being redundant and unoriginal, so I leave the hard work to my good friend Pete Abraham, Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, Steve Lombardi, and the River Avenue Blues boys. Of course there are others, but those are the people that I started out with as a blogger and they've both supported me and produced top quality work on the Yankees that keeps me going. Dave Pinto is outstanding and my colleagues at Baseball Prospectus keep us all on our toes with respect to the overall sport. Of course there is also Baseball America on the case. I'll stop there because I could go on and on. I'm a baseball junkie.

One of the things I'm most excited about this year is Joe Girardi's leadership. I was on my soapbox during Joe G's playing days, shouting to the hilltops that he was a future Yankee manager in the making. I really wanted it to happen then and saw it possibly slipping away as he went to the Cubs and the Marlins and won the Manager of the Year in the tropics. Fortunately, the people who run the Marlins are a mess and we took advantage of their mistake. Joe is enthusiastic and passionate. He's organized, demanding, and powerful. I liked Joe Torre, and wavered between loving him and believing it was time for a change. In the end, I think the time for change was upon us and I think the leadership of the franchise was very smart to put Joe G in a position to spark the roster to life. He's awake during games and actively engaged in every moment. He's hungry to prove himself, and to get that ring.

I'm excited about the youth movement. This is a competitive AL field and the youth may not be up to getting us to the playoffs. I'll stand up and say it before we get into a pennant race. There is doubt. The thing is, I don't care. I firmly believe that this group of young players, and the group waiting in the wings for their chance, are future world champions. If there are growing pains to be had, let it happen. We'll be better off for it as a franchise. That said, there's no reason to believe that a roster as powerful as ours can't storm into the playoffs anyway. Outside the Detroit Tigers, there isn't a lineup as good as ours in the entire sport. Hughes, Joba, Kennedy, Ohlendorf, Patterson, Horne, Sanchez, Jackson, Gardener, and maybe a few others figure to play some role for the team in 2008. That's not even considering Melky and Cano, who are impact players already.

As for the vets, I'm excited about another year of A-Rod excellence. I'm excited to watch the final few years of Posada and Mariano. I'm excited to see what Giambi does playing 1st on a regular basis. I'm excited to see what big moments Jeter can produce. I'm excited about a full year of Bobby Abreu brilliance. I think he's going to have an outstanding season.

What I'm not excited about...I'm not excited about watching Matsui and Damon in decline, trying to cobble together a good left field. I'm not excited about Mike Mussina and the uncertainty he brings start to start. I'm not excited about anything related to Kei Igawa. I'm not excited about anything related to Kyle Farnsworth. I'm not excited about being reminded that Carl Pavano is still on our payroll. I'm not excited about Bob Sheppard's shaky health.

The Stadium is something to be excited about. Which stadium? Both, of course. The retirement of the House that Ruth Built will be a huge highlight this season and a big reason to push for the World Series. It's almost a divine right that Yankee Stadium should be retired after the Series. The All Star Game will be spectacular, whatever happens on the field. The new stadium updates are something to be excited about. What we've seen already is unreal. It's a Romanesque structure with all the gaudy, showy power of an Imperial palace.

Can you tell I'm excited. Well, we're 1-0 and on the right track. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Giambi Saga

On this day when Andy Pettitte stands up to face the music, I'm choosing to look at another prominent Yankee known to have abused PEDs. Pettitte, for his part, said what he had to say and was extremely humble in doing do. Giambi cooperated with multiple investigations over the years and has been one of the only players involved in this juiced era to have fessed up to his "crimes", at least behind closed doors.

Pettitte will go out a beloved son of the Yankees farm system, a champion, and an ultimately flawed human being like the rest of us. Some of the shine is off the legend of Andy Pettitte, but it's hard to forget what the team did from 1996-2001, prior to his admitted use of HGH. Giambi, on the other hand, came to the Yankees after the magic was over and has done little to bring glory back to the Bronx. He's had his moments in pinstripes and we've made the playoffs every year that he's been in our uniform, but the question has to be asked of the post 2001 Yankees, "What was this group made of?"

One of the first thing you have to discuss is the payroll of the 2002-2008 Yankees and the idea that big name, high ticket players would bring another set of rings to the franchise. It hasn't and a lot of money has been thrown away in the process. Of course, Brian Cashman is trying to right the ship on this front and will make a huge step in that direction this season with the young pitchers. The bigger step will be taken next season when some big contracts come off the books. Jason Giambi is at the center of that and really is the symbol for the 2002-2008 version of the Bronx Bombers. Lots of offense, lots of wins, no titles.

It's not fair to lay any of this on Giambi. For his part, he's produced a lot of positive results with his bat and when you look at his total body of work for the Yankees, he's only missed significant time in two seasons, 2004 and 2007. For the Yankees, Giambi has produced a batting line of .263/.410/.525 and has averaged 38 home runs per 162 games. In some seasons, those would be close to MVP numbers. If he'd managed to hold any of his prolific batting average ratios in New York, he'd probably have one in our uniform. From 2002-2007 Jason Giambi hit the 16th most home runs in all of baseball despite missing half of two seasons. He's 7th in OBP and 25th in SLG over the same time. He actually has been hit by more pitches than everyone in the sport over that stretch, other than David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, and Craig Biggio.

A few things have worked against Jason Giambi since his arrival. His slow start certainly set off his time as a Yankee on the wrong note, and despite that "True Yankee" moment when he beat Minnesota in extra innings, in the rain, with that grand slam, somehow I think we're still waiting for something. He helped make our big Pedro Martinez comeback in the playoffs, so it's hard to say he never produced in a big game. Still....we're waiting. The steroids issue is a big part of the cloud hanging over Giambi's time in pinstripes, but I'm not sure that it's the morality of his drug use that bothers most Yankee fans. I think it's an unspoken sense that we paid HUGE money for a product that didn't work as well as we thought it would. The breakdown of Giambi's batting average makes that perception very real. Getting on base at a 41% clip and clubbing 35+ home runs every year is impressive, but it's easy for the eyes to process that to the brain if a big chunk of that OBP comes from raking. He hasn't.

We're still waiting for a .320 batting average to go along with all the walks and homers. If he got a hit once every three times up and mixed in some walks, we'd think a lot more highly of him somehow. The perception, I think, is that the drug abuse robbed him of his ability to hit for average. At least, that's my perception. I remember the problems he had with his eyes and his back and wonder how they affected his ability to make consistent contact. We all know that he's patient and when he connects it's going to travel a long way, but even though it goes against my good sense, I think he needed to get a big single or double more often to make us feel like we got our money's worth.

I've had a love/hate relationship with Giambi in his time here. I don't like him all that much. He isn't a classic Yankee. He's a perfect Oakland Athletic to me. That's just an aesthetic sense. When he came to us, and took all that money, I expected him to do what A-Rod has done in the uniform. Even A-Rod's "down years" have matched Giambi's better seasons, but he plays the field and has put up some historic Yankee seasons winning 2 MVPs. Giambi has had success, but it hasn't been of the historic variety. Maybe that's not fair, but when you win an MVP and take $100 million, a lot is expected in the Bronx spotlight. Funny how Giambi has rarely been booed, while A-Rod has had trouble. I guess Giambi is seen as authentic, even authentically flawed, while A-Rod seems a big fake or managed in comparison. I don't get it. I've wanted to boo Giambi 100s more times than I ever thought to boo A-Rod.

What do we expect for 2008? I imagine he should give us the 130-140 games with 35 homers and a ton of walks. I'd guess that he'll sit more this year with the DH role being filled by Matsui and Damon on occasion. He'll carry the team in stretches, but none of it will matter unless a title is brought to the Bronx in October. Whatever the end to the season, however, I think the "Giambi era" will always leave a bad taste in our collective mouths as a period of wasted opportunities. It's not really fair to pin it on Jason, but I'll be honest, I can't wait until he's gone.

I'll cheer for him this season, but when it's all said and done, title or no, I will breathe a sigh of relief when that big contract is off the books and some of the star power that was brought in during the 2002-2008 period is gone. The same can be said of Mike Mussina in many respects. Pavano will be out. Choices will be made on Abreu and Farnsworth and others. 2009 will see Matsui and Damon's contracts expire. We'll see something new, good or bad, but I think I'll feel a lot better with a group of guys less "well known" and less well paid than I have with the Sheffield's and Giambi's and Randy Johnson's of the world. Now, if only we could get back Nick Johnson I'd feel better. Go Yankees!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Yu Ready for Darvish?

Rumors have been floated about a Yu Darvish posting to the Major Leagues after the 2008 season for a few months now. I declined to comment on this situation until I saw it develop or die in the Japanese press and I'm prepared to weigh in as Spring Training breaks.

The rumors indicated that the Yankees have expressed interest in acquiring Darvish via the posting system next season and are reportedly willing to blow away the posting fee that was given to Seibu for Matsuzaka. The Yankees have been scouting the young right-hander since his rookie season (2005) and have relied, apparently, on information from Kazuyuki Shirai who has been the infield coach and the team's #2 in command under Trey Hillman. Shirai participated in a coaching exchange with the Yankees just following his retirement from the NPB in 1997. There is some information out there that Shirai, thanks to his excellent relationship with Hillman, is doing some scouting work for the Royals these days, but I haven't been able to confirm that at this point. He was thought to be a candidate to replace Hillman, but did not in the end.

At this point, the rumors which floated out there in January have not been expounded on anywhere legitimate. The initial reports came via the sports wire in Japan and were printed on Yahoo! Japan's sports page and in the Sponichi and Nikkan Sports daily sports rags. The quality of information we are dealing with is dubious, but hardly a shocker. The main issue with this type of rumor is the feasibility of a move. I can't address anything from an "in-the-know" standpoint, as I think no one in the world beyond the front office of the Fighters and Darvish himself are able to determine the likelihood of a posting move next year. I can, however, deliver my perspective on the situation from the standpoint of a person who stands between Japan and the US and has made a minor career out of covering Japan for Baseball Prospectus.

Some reports have attributed quotes to Darvish about his lack of interest in playing in the United States but I have never seen or read anything to that effect, other than unattributed quotes. Even the Wikipedia entry on Darvish fails to attribute a source to that comment. I have always operated under the assumption that he did make a comment about his lack of interest in the Majors simply to be conservative in my analysis of his possible future in the States. I've paid very careful attention to Darvish for 3 years now and make it a point to stay on top of everything Darvish. You might know my work at Darvish Watch, although I gave up posting there mid-season last year to concentrate on graduate work.

Darvish has opened up to the possibility of playing in the Majors by my best analysis of his character and posture. His confidence has grown exponentially in the last year and a half and he has dominated the NPB as well as the international circuit. If there were a WBC this year, he'd be Japan's man on the mound charged with repeating. There's nothing Darvish has not done as a professional in Japan, save win an Olympic gold medal. He has a championship, a Sawamura Award, a Konami Cup, and an Asian Championship with the national team. He posted a 1.82 ERA in 2007 and was untouchable. At this point, his only weakness is early trouble with his command, which hurt him in a number of 1st innings last season.

I wrote the following for Baseball Prospectus in 2007, edited to avoid repetition:

Yu Darvish, RHP, Nippon Ham Fighters
Height: 6'5" Weight: 187 Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 20

Darvish is a 20-year-old stick of dynamite. Born to an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, he has achieved a kind of matinee idol status in Japan for his good looks and big-game ability. Like many Japanese pitchers, he was thrown into the mix at the age of 18, and was asked to start winning right away. His first half-season was an up and down affair, with some very tough moments interspersed by flashes of brilliance.

Manager Trey Hillman has been quoted as saying that Darvish could one day be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, and is already more advanced at 20 than Daisuke was at that time in his career.

In addition to that information, you might be interesting in knowing that he throws in the mid-to-high 90s with ease and has a wicked slider, change, and sometimes works a cutter. His size projects to much better long term success than Daisuke Matsuzaka. He has room to fill out his upper body as he is still only 22-years old, but his lower body is relatively thick and generates power at a Major League level. Darvish married a beautiful actress/talent this season after the couple learned that she was pregnant with their first child. Saeko Darvish has done work on the variety television circuit, some dramatic work, and some of the standard sexy bikini videos that young idols are generally obligated to do in Japan.

The speculation about Darvish and the Yankees has been described in terms of financial interest by the Japanese rumor mill, mainly identifying the 2009 open of the new Yankee Stadium and the simultaneous expiration of Hideki Matsui's contract. The press have focused on the Yankees' desire to maintain a strong Japanese base and see Darvish as the logical target to provide continuity. The speculation also surrounds Darvish and the 2009 season because the Olympics will provide an international forum for the young man to showcase his abilities as Matsuzaka did in the WBC. The price for Darvish may never be higher than it is now according to some, although I tend to think a good showing at the 2009 WBC is a perfect spot to elevate value thanks to the higher level of competition as compared to the amateurish Olympics.

If I were a betting man, and sometimes I am, I would tend to bet against Darvish being posted after this season. I think it would be far more likely that he would be posted after the 2009 season, or not at all. The factors that could prove me wrong are obvious. Money talks, for one. If the Yankees are aggressively floating dollars out there in the rumor mill that exceed Matsuzaka's fee, it would be foolhardy for Nippon Ham to turn their backs completely. The meat packing company is financially strong, but is hardly in a position to turn down $100 million. (That number is simply pulled out of my ass for the purpose of illustrating a point.)

The final question to deal with is the feasibility of a big money posting by the Yankees or someone else. In my opinion, if the Red Sox $50+ million is a benchmark for Darvish, I can't see why a substantially higher number isn't reasonable for Darvish. Why? Darvish is better than Matsuzaka was at 22. He's got projectable size at 6'5" and a good frame to continue developing. He has a complete arsenal and can pitch 9 innings every time out without batting an eyelash. He is the only player on Earth capable of being a bigger marketing boon than Ichiro in Japan. He's truly a rock star. At 23, Darvish would be under a team's control until his 29th birthday provided he could get a deal of that length from the winner of his posting fee. He hasn't even hit his prime yet.

I'll be following Darvish full time at Darvish Watch this season, so make sure to stop by there and take in each start. I will be living in Japan full time again in late May and will do my best to live blog each of his starts from that point forward. In the meantime, stop by and take a look at the style of the blog and read up on what I've done so far. I'll be updating the remainder of the 2007 season in some form very soon.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fresh for 2008, Booooooy!!!!

The offseason has been tough. I had so much grad work to do that I hardly felt inspired to write about why the team should or shouldn't resign Doug Mientkiewicz, or why there should be personal beer taps on the backs of every seat at the new stadium. Priorities were made and posting was sparse.

Pitchers and catchers are now back in action in Tampa and the former Legends Field, now known as George M. Steinbrenner Field. There will be a lot to talk about in the coming weeks and Canyon of Heroes is dedicated to getting back into action. In the days and weeks to come, I will be cranking up the action here and doing some housework at my various Japanese baseball blogs as well. They have suffered the most.

I JUST updated the template here to the "New" blogger, so I'll be working on adding tags to each post, including the work I've done over the last 2+ years. Things look similar under the new arrangement, but there are a few differences as well. I eliminated some of the links from the "old" COH, including many of the Yankee blogs out there. If you are one of those blogs, and you plan to be active this season, give me a shout and I'll put you back up there. If you notice anything out of whack with the updated template, send that along as well.

The plan is to write about Yu Darvish and the Yankees, Giambi and his role this season, and any Spring Training news that may be on the tongues and blogs in Yankeeland. Come back. Spread the word that I'm back in action, and go Yankees!!!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

An Omen!!

NEW YORK BEATS BOSTON!!!!!!!!!! Next stop Spring Training!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Johan Santana Goes to Shea

USA Today is reporting, as are Mike and the Mad Dog, that Johan Santana has been traded to the New York Mets in exchange for outfield prospect Carlos Gomez and pitchers Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey. Huh?

Yes, Bill Smith pulled the trigger on this deal but wouldn't take Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, and a middle tier prospect of some kind. He should lose his job if the Mets guys don't pan out to be well above league average performers. If you pass up on the offers the Yankees and Red Sox had on the table and let them eventually disintegrate, and then subtle for a package of players that don't pan out to be anything more than league average at best and below league average at worst, you should be fired.

You have a few chances to make your mark as a GM. Cashman's record is spotty with the Pavanos of the world to his name, but he has also done remarkable things with the minor league system and so on. Theo has his share of clunkers too, but he has 2 World Series titles in his tenure and some bold moves that have panned out fairly well. Neither GM has been in the position to deal a 1st ballot Hall of Famer, which is where the lower payroll GMs make their mark. Smith had a marquee moment as a new player on the scene and he blew it big time. He may have blown it to the tune of Scott Kazmir is the Mets guys end up as a pile of junk. His hands were tied, so he gets a little wiggle room, but when you realize that the Twins could have had Phil Hughes had they been less pig-headed, there's a place for Smith alongside Steve Phillips.

I hope the Mets finalize the deal. Santana fits there like a glove and he stays out of our hair. The Mets need this kind of moment to erase the collapse of 2007. Good luck Omar. Don't let down the Shea faithful.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hakuho Champion

This may seem strange to many of you, but sumo is one of the finest sports on the planet. If you've never watched, it might look like a bunch of fat guys smashing against each other for 5-10 seconds before one of them takes an unfortunate fall. You'd wonder how this behemoth was going to right himself like a turtle who's rolled onto the back of his shell. Spending the better part of the last 4 years of my life in Japan, I've become a fan(atic) and really appreciate the subtlety of the technique and the raw power of these athletes. They look fat, but the muscle mass beneath the flab would put an offensive lineman to shame. The very fact that these guys can master balance at their size is mind-blowing.

Anyway, the Hatsubasho (New Year's Tournament) has just come to an amazing conclusion. Each tournie is 15 days. The rikishi (wrestlers) face one another according to rankings at the start, and the daily matchups are adjusted according to record as the proceedings go on. There are currently two Yokozuna (Grand Champions), both of whom are Mongolians. On one side there is Asashoryu, who is something like the Mike Tyson of sumo. He doesn't play by the rules in his civilian life and some have accused him of buying wins in the ring. Whatever his transgressions, he is a freight train who puts the fear of God into his opponents. He is a force of nature. On the other hand, there is my favorite rikishi of all time, Hakuho. His father was a Grand Champion in Mongolia and he has risen to the top at a very young age thanks to a commitment to excellence and a variety of techniques. He has strength and balance, but he is the complete package, a chess player in the ring. He is Ali.

These two guys ended up tied on the final day of the tournament and the buzz in the arena was palpable. I present to you via the magic of YouTube the final match. Only in the offseason......Hakuho is on the left and Asashoryu is on the right....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Yogi "Can"berra

Browsing my favorite blogs, I stumbled across the news that the Yankees have signed two Australian teenagers in recent days. Ever the curious follower of the prospect follies, I did a little digging and came up with a couple of articles and photos for you.

Nathan Aron - IF/OF (16) 6'1", 185

Aron is from Dingley, Victoria and has played for the U14 and U16 clubs in his region. He plays for the same team (Cheltenham) as Australian hero Travis Blackley, who has spent limited time in the Majors with both Seattle and San Francisco. Aron projects as a decent power hitter based largely on size. The only picture I could dig up on the young man is from 2004, when he was 13 years old. He is at the far left and looks rather unimpressive. A current photo would help out a lot.

Kyle Perkins - C (16)

Perkins signed a 7-year deal with the Yankees after being scouted in an U-18 event. The Australians have seen a lot of potential in Perkins and tabbed him eventually for the national team. Interesting to see if he ever pans out and plays in the WBC or at the Olympics. I don't expect much in terms of MLB service (for either of these guys), but the organization is committed to finding talent everywhere and using all its resources to go global. This was equally true of the signing of the two Chinese kids, although I would tend to believe the chances of the two Aussies making the Show have to be exponentially better. I don't have the height and weight details on Perkins, but this photo is current.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tom Cruise Knows More About Advanced Metrics than You

At least he appears to know a lot more than me. All this shit about SP and PTSP, and KSW, and LRH.....he must be onto some new shit. PECOTA and WARP....poooo....blllrrbbbb

Seriously, get this lunatic some help please. Watch this whole thing and translate it into English. I beg of you.

I'm Back and So is Cano

It's been a long time. Thanks for your patience. My trip to Japan went awry when I fell ill with a horrible, evil virus that can only be attributed to the Red Sox. I'm back in NYC, hard at work, and ready to head down the stretch until pitchers and catchers report in 20 days!

I'll get to Yu Darvish and the Yankees in good time, but the news that Robinson Cano is back in the fold (according to the NY Post) is a smart, smart move. It's hard to believe that the young man was only making $400k+ last season, but that's all now moot. 4-years at a total of $30 million averages out to a little more than $7 million per, by my math. Chase Utley just got 7-years at $85 million, which averages out to $12 million per. Brian Roberts is on a contract that pays him $7 million per. Jeff Kent averages about $10 million per on his current deal.

This is good business for the Yankees. By buying out his arbitration years, the Yankees are being fair with a player that stands to be the best or second best 2Bman in the sport for the foreseeable future. That means he can work with them on his FA years with a reasonable attitude. What he stands to become is worth the investment. If he ends up as the top 2Bman (at least in the AL) over the next 4 seasons, they have a bargain. I still stand on my prediction of a year ago that Cano could eventually hit as well as Don Mattingly, minus a little of the home run power.

For the record, and I'll harp on this a lot before the season starts, my perfect Yankee batting order for the upcoming season would look like this:


Cano deserves to hit in the 3-hole at this point, and Abreu (like it or not) should be at the top of the order with a .400 OBP and the ability to steal 20-25 bases. Damon is a shadow of his former self and would do better with less at bats. With more at bats, I expect Cano to do the 100-100 thing with 50 doubles and 20-25 homers. Let's make it happen Joe G.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Hello COH fans and newcomers. You might be checking in during your normal browsing routine, or maybe this is your first time by the Canyon. Either way, welcome.

This will be short as I`m holed up in an internet cafe in rural Akita, Japan right now as a blizzard rages outside. I`ll be here another week and have little access to post. Here`s what`s in store over the next couple of weeks here at COH (in addition to any breaking Yankees news):

* The Yankees and Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish
* My thoughts on Spring Training
* Jason Giambi v.2008
* Yankee Memories: Joe Girardi

and more. Stay Tuned. Thanks for dropping by. Make COH a favorite.