Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yanks Weakening Up The Middle, Cause For Concern?

From his perch atop the baseball blogopshere, Rob Neyer wonders if the fact that the Yankees don't have any up-and-coming stars at premium defensive positions will be their fatal flaw in years to come:
Still - and I know this is a stretch, but please bear with me - if you're looking for a small chink in the Yankee armor in the coming decade, it's that Mark Teixeira might be their best player. He'll be in his 30s, and he'll be playing first base. Ideally, your best player is a bit younger, and playing in the middle of the field. Cal Ripken. Alex Rodriguez when he played shortstop. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

All of those fellows were the best players in their leagues at one point or another. Is there anyone now on the Yankees' roster with a decent shot at being the best player in the American League in 2011? One of the five best players in the league? I don't think so. Which probably won't matter much. But if one or two of the veterans falls off more than expected, it would be nice if the Yankees had a young superstar ready to step into the breach.
If Albert Puljos was the Yankees' first baseman, would the fact that he was their best player still be a chink in their armor? He plays first base and just turned 30 a month ago. The point being that Teixeira's position only counts against him in so far as it affects his level above replacement. The fact that the Yanks best player is a first baseman isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Still, Neyer's point is well taken. Historically, the two most decorated positions on the Yankees are center field and catcher. With the exception of the 1920's dynasty when they had both Ruth and Gehrig, when they were at their best, the Yankees have featured great players in both positions. Dickey and DiMaggio; Berra/Howard and Mantle; Munson and Murcer; Posada and Bernie. Add to that Rizzuto and Jeter at shortstop and the Yanks have a storied history of finding excellent talent at premium defensive positions.

Like any other team, if you can get great offensive production up-the-middle, it becomes much easier to build an offensive powerhouse. You can find good hitting first baseman or left fielders on the open market a lot easier than shortstops, center fielders or catchers.

However, well-rounded second baseman are quite valuable as well. The Yankees have been lucky to have Tony Lazzeri, Jerry Coleman, Joe Gordon and Gil McDougald in the past. Neyer either forgot about Robinson Cano or chose to disregard him. I think Cano has a chance to be one of the 5 best players in the AL in 2011. Maybe he isn't one of the best 5 players in baseball now, but he's either the best or second best second baseman in the AL and he's only 27 years old. In his good years, he's an incredible hitter for his position, plays above average defense and hopefully his best seasons are ahead of him.

Furthermore, the Yanks have placed a lot of emphasis on their pitching in recent years through both free agency and the draft. Sabathia and Burnett figure to comprise a solid foundation for the rotation well into the middle of the coming decade and hopefully Hughes and/or Chamberlain will establish themselves as better than average Major League starters.

Having a solid core of talent up the middle is a surefire way to build a winning team over the long term, but there are other ways to do it. Having above average talent at basically every position, a solid defense and a top notch pitching staff can certainly work in combination as well.

A Visual Representation Of Why Newspapers Are Obsolete

Morning Linkaround

Good morning, Fackers. As much of the East Coast recovers from the winter storm that swept over it last night, the Yankees are down in Tampa beginning Spring Training in earnest. While we celebrate pitchers and catchers as the beginning of camp, as Joe Girardi said earlier this week, it doesn't really kick into full gear until the position players arrive.

Most of the new arrivals had already went through their physicals and took off by the time the writers hit the clubhouse yesterday, but today they will start doing their first drills as a full squad. Of course, we've still got a while to wait before any action appears on our televisions. A week from today, the first Spring Training game (against the Pirates) will be televised on YES. Marc Carig from the Newark Star-Ledger has the full TV schedule.

Here are some other links to start off the day:
Cliff Corcoran from Bronx Banter put out his annual Camp Classic. In it, he examines every player not guaranteed a spot coming out of Spring Training from the 40 man on down to the non-roster invitees.

Similarly, Matthew Pouliot from Hardball Talk continues his "Diving into the Depths" series with a look at the Yankees and organizes a depth chart by position.

Dan Novick from the Hardball Times spotlights an especially sabermetric statement Joe Girardi made about Robinson Cano's performance with runners in scoring position, via LoHud.

On XM Radio last night, Brain Cashman acknowledged that Brett Gardner might be one of the best center fielders in baseball, but said that Curtis Granderson was likely to be their center fielder this season. Ben from RAB thinks that Cash's statements might be an indication that the Yanks don't see Gardner as a long term solution.

On Twitter, Joel Sherman reports that the Yankees are converting Kei Igawa to a reliever in a last ditch effort to extract value from his $46M contract. Considering Joe Girardi is almost certainly going to select two lefties for his bullpen and Boone Logan might be the front runner for that spot, it appears that Igawa will be given a real chance. You can't blame them for trying to make use of him, but the reaction from fans won't be very positive if he stumbles out of the gate.

It's about the time of year that ESPN typically starts stacking new baseball "analysts" - read: past players and executives - on top to their already bloated crew. To wit, they announced that Aaron Boone and J.P. Ricciardi will be contributing to Baseball Tonight this coming season. We Yankee fans like Boone, and Ricciardi seems like a bright, sabermetrically-inclined sort of a guy, but they might need to add a second row of seats on the set of the show.

Larry from Wezen-Ball put together an interesting graphic showing the history of every Major League park marked with the Championships and Pennants won by the team that in habits it.

The ubiquitous Jonah Keri recently appeared on two podcasts that are worth checking out. The first is FanGraphs Audio, which as host Caston Cistulli proclaims "is like a bald eagle: less endangered now than it had been until recently". The second appearance is on Kissing Suzy Kolber's House of Punte. The relevant portion begins just after the 18:00 mark and there is a bit of overlap with the FanGraphs interview. The typical crowd over at KSK will probably not take kindly to the decided lack of poop humor, dick jokes and NFL character sketches, but you folks will likely enjoy the material.

Ozzie Guillen is on Twitter and already dropping gems like "going to eat in half hour why dye no have a job ?". In honor of his presence, Jonah compiles a list of the 9 sports figures who aren't on Twitter but would be in a perfect world.

Baseball America released its Top 100 Prospects list. Jesus Montero is 4th and they his his power a perfect 80 on the scouting scale. The only other Yankees was Austin Romine and he is 86th. Austin Jackson is 76th. Pat Andriola from the Hardball Times lists a couple of things he disagrees with, including ranking Jackson higher than Fernando Martinez.

We might have linked to this already, but for a more detailed and Yankee-centric prospect picture, check out Mike from RAB's Top 30.

Josh from Jorge Says No! wonders if the Yankees reluctance to give Johnny Damon a two year deal foreshadows their interest in Carl Crawford.