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Archive for April 12th, 2010

All that remains of the original Yankee Stadium is a pile of rubble (Photo:Joseph Leotta, Sliding Into Home).

As the new Yankee Stadium was unveiled last year, the old place remained largely intact. Visitors to the ballpark could still observe the looming presence of the once glorious playground that was home to baseball’s biggest legends. In many ways, it was a sad sight. As the majestic structure slowly began to wilt, it almost seemed to look longingly at the new palace that was built across the street. Once the center of attention, the House that Ruth Built was now no more than a sideshow, abandoned by the crowds that once clamored to get in. It was hard not to feel a small sense of betrayal when entering the new ballpark, especially in the playoffs when the old place looked its most forlorn.

Well, the specter of the old House is no more. Fans flocking to yet another Opening Day will likely be shocked and saddened by what they see. Gone is the frieze that stood atop the bleachers; gone is the majestic upper deck that touched the sky; gone are the drab gray walls of stone. There used to be a ballpark right here, but now it is gone.

Like most Yankees fans, I have enthusiastically embraced the new Stadium. Still, I’ve been dreading the first time seeing the void it has created. It was comforting to know that the old ballpark was still around…sure, it may have caused pangs of guilt, but at least it was still there. So, while last year’s Opening Day was about welcoming the new place, this year’s Opening Day will be about saying good-bye to the old one.

Both Sliding Into Home (h/t Lohud) and WCBS’ Yankees galleries have been chronicling the Stadium’s demolition, so if you won’t be in the old neighborhood tomorrow, these photos should help bring about closure.

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Over at ESPNNewYork, Ian O’Connor has an interesting article about whether Johan Santana regrets accepting a trade to and signing an extension with the New York Mets. Considering how dismally the Mets’ last two seasons ended, and how uncertain their near-term future now seems, I think that’s a very fair question. What I don’t get in O’Connor’s column, however, is his repeated reference to Santana’s insisting on an additional $5mn above the Mets’ initial offer before compromising on a bump of $2.5mn. O’Connor uses this as a reoccurring theme in the piece, but in doing so seems to suggest that Santana sold his soul for this less than princely (in baseball terms) sum. For example, O’Connor writes:

If he could give back that $2.5 million today, Johan Santana would surely cash out of Queens.

Would Johan Santana be better off if he had never signed with the Mets?

To cash out of Queens, however, Santana would have to give back $137.5mn, not $2.5mn. I am sure Santana would have much preferred being dealt to the Yankees, or even the Red Sox, but the only option presented to him was the Mets. I guess he could have essentially vetoed all deals by refusing to sign an extension, but then he’d have been taking a $100mn gamble on his health. Who knows…on the open market, maybe he would have commanded an even better contract with a more preferable team. Then again, maybe the Yankees would have still opted for C.C. Sabathia, leaving Santana without the leverage he needed to get a better deal? Or, even worse, he could have sustained an injury that would have scuttled any chance at a megadeal. For that reason, I don’t think Santana is experiencing much regret (although he may regret what has become of the Mets).

Another interesting angle to this story is where would the Yankees be had they made the Santana deal? Would they be the ones regretting the decision? The obvious comparison to make is Santana versus Sabathia. Both are essentially making the same amount of money, so the question becomes who is the better long-term value. With Santana coming off a significant surgery, I think it’s safe to say that Sabathia looks like the better bet over the long haul. So, in that respect, the Yankees seem to have made a wise decision.

(more…)

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During the first week of a new season, it’s not very often that the eyes of the baseball world are diverted to the minor leagues. This was no ordinary opening weekend, however. Two of the game’s better pitching prospects in some time were both making their professional debuts, and lighting up radars guns while doing so.

Stephen Strasburg topped out at 99 mph in his pro debut (Photo: Getty).

Stephen Strasburg, perhaps the most heralded collegiate pitcher ever, made his first start for the Harrisburg Senators, the National’s Double-A team in the Eastern League. In front of an overflowing crowd at the Altoona Curve’s (Pirates) home ballpark, Strasburg consistently hit the upper-90s, topping out at 99 on three occasions, according to ESPN’s Keith Law (whose scouting reports are a must read). Law also stated that while Strasburg did lack fastball command at times, his curve ball had a “sharp two-plane break and a downward finish”. Even though Strasburg may be ready for the majors now, he does need to fine tune his change-up, so perhaps his stint in the minors will give him the opportunity to do that. Law concludes that 8-10 minor league starts should be more than enough to accomplish the task, which probably makes Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo smile as that would be more than enough time to keep Strasburg under the team’s control for a seventh season.

Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman also made his U.S. professional debut on Sunday, taking the mound for the Triple-A Louisville Bats, the Reds affiliate in the International League. Apparently not impressed by Strasburg’s heat, Chapman engaged in a little bit of “anything you can do, I can do better”. According to MLB.com, Chapman hit at least 100mph five times, including a pitch of 101. It should be noted, however, that Strasburg’s velocity readings were recording by Law’s radar gun, while the AP report may have been relying on a souped-up stadium reading. Regardless, Chapman was dealing some serious heat, and like Strasburg, should be ready for the majors before the summer. Still, Larry Parrish, manager of the opposing Toledo Mudhens, did throw a little cold water on the heightened expectations. “He wasn’t J.R. Richard or Nolan Ryan out there,” Parrish said. “Today, he walked one. In the big leagues, he would’ve walked eight.”

Obviously, both Strasburg and Chapman have enough talent to be effective in the majors right now. So, why are they making minor league debuts? It has become fashionable to blame both decisions on economics. Basically, by keeping Chapman and Strasburg in the minors until at least early May, the Nats and Reds will delay the service time clock enough to ensure that each pitcher remains under their control for another season (players with six or more seasons are eligible for free agency).

Arodlis Chapman topped the 100mph mark five times in his pro debut (Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer)

While an economic basis for Chapman’s and Strasburg’s demotions is compelling, it does seem as if each could use a few minor league starts to fine tune pitches and mechanics. No scouting report has suggested that either is flawless, so in this instance, maybe we can give the Nats and Reds the benefit of the doubt? After all, the Reds had no problem letting Mike Leake, who was drafted 8th overall in the 2009 draft, jump straight from college to majors. Interestingly, Leake also made his professional debut on Sunday by beating the Cubs. I guess it didn’t take long for Leake to pick up on this time honored baseball tradition.

Strasburg against Altoona: 5 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K (82 pitches, 55 strikes)

Chapman against Toledo: 4 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K (85 pitches, 55 for strikes)

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