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Archive for August 11th, 2010

Will the Yankees be tempted to bring Montero's hot bat to the Bronx?

The reprieve the Yankees received when Cliff Lee was scratched from his start in Seattle on the day of his trade to Texas comes due today when the new Rangers’ ace takes the mound against the Bronx Bombers in tonight’s series finale. Of course, Lee could just as easily be making tonight’s start in pinstripes if not for Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s decision to forgo the Yankees’ offer of Jesus Montero and instead opt for a Rangers’ package fronted by Justin Smoak.

That’s all water on the bridge by now, however. Besides, even though the Yankees starting rotation has struggled somewhat since the failed trade (13-12 with a 4.39 ERA over that span), Jesus Montero also happened to catch fire. Since the July 9 deal that sent Lee to the Rangers, Montero, the fourth best prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America, has taken his offensive game to another level. After starting off slowly in April and May, the 20-year old catcher has gradually increased his production, culminating in a current 10-game stretch in which he has hit .432/.488/.784. Hot isn’t the word.

Jesus Montero’s Monthly Progression At Scranton

  G AB HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
April 19 73 2 9 0.247 0.313 0.384
May 25 84 1 12 0.214 0.302 0.333
June 27 99 3 11 0.283 0.324 0.505
July 23 76 5 15 0.342 0.441 0.632
August 8 30 3 6 0.467 0.529 0.833

Source: minorleaguebaseball.com

While it’s obvious that the Lee would have greatly enhanced the Yankees’ chances of repeating in 2010, it’s equally clear that Montero has the potential to be a major contributor for many years to come. In fact, based on his recent performance, there is no reason that Montero can’t wind up being a contributor this season.

With Jorge Posada supposedly suffering from a “cranky” right shoulder, not to mention Joe Girardi’s repeated insistence that he plans to increasingly rest his aging catcher as the season concludes, the time has come for the Yankees to add a third catcher, and no candidate seems more deserving or more capable of having a positive impact than Montero.

By adding Montero to the roster, the Yankees would not only benefit from his right handed power bat, but they would also have more flexibility to manage the lineup. So, on nights when Posada is only available in an “emergency”, the team wouldn’t have to pin its hopes on the anemic bat of Francisco Cervelli. What’s more, the move would not only help the Yankees this season, but also give them a first hand look at how ready Montero is for the future. If the 20-year old catcher can make a quick adjustment to the majors, he’d not only give the Yankees a boost down the stretch, but it would also help Brain Cashman formulate his plan for the upcoming offseason.

In order to facilitate Montero’s promotion, the Yankees would have to make a roster move, but that could easily be accomplished by designating either Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre for assignment. The ascension of Dustin Moseley has made having both Gaudin and Mitre unnecessary, so whether the team promotes Montero or not, there is no need to keep carrying 12 pitchers.

There is no guarantee that Montero is going to step into the big leagues and hit. After all, he did suffer through a two month adjustment period in Scranton. However, the combination of his offensive talent and the Yankees’ current needs demand that the team at least give it a try. Furthermore, although there is likely to be some concern about his defense behind the plate, it’s not like the Yankees have enjoyed stellar defense from the tandem of Posada and Cervelli. The Yankees primary objective should be increasing the offensive potential and flexibility from the catcher position, and Montero would help the team do just that.

The Rangers have clearly boosted themselves as a legitimate World Series contender with the acquisition of Lee, but if the Yankees are willing to take a chance, Montero could also wind up playing a key role this post season. If so, everyone would be happy with the events of July 9…everyone that is but Seattle, who can’t be thrilled with Smoak’s line of .159/.169/.270 before his most recent demotion.

Sometimes the best trades are the one you don’t make. The Yankees might as well get started on finding that out now.

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For the second game in a row, the Yankees dropped a one-run decision thanks largely in part to the strategy employed by their manager.

Texas Rangers' celebrate a rare walkoff victory at Mariano Rivera's expense (Photo: AP).

The Yankees entered the eighth inning trailing 3-2, but Alex Rodriguez quickly tied up the game when he drove a 2-1 fastball from Frank Francisco over the centerfield wall. After Austin Kearns worked a walk, Curtis Granderson was inserted as a pinch runner and he promptly advanced to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a deep fly ball to right off the bat of Lance Berkman. With the go ahead runner at third and only one out, Francisco Cervelli stepped up to the plate. Since getting off to a hot start, Cervelli has suffered through a miserable stretch, hitting an abysmal .192/.262/.231 in his last 150 times to the plate. So, to say it was a surprise that Girardi did not use Jorge Posada as a pinch hitter would be an understatement. In the postgame, Girardi defended his decision to let Cervelli hit by citing a hitherto undisclosed “cranky shoulder” as well as Posada’s 1-10 lifetime record against Francisco, but both excuses had the feel of covering up after the fact.

Even if you accept Posada’s injury and past performance as valid reasons for sitting him out, it doesn’t explain why Girardi allowed Cervelli to swing away. With Granderson’s speed at third and Cervelli’s ability to bunt, not to mention two subpar defenders in Young and Cantu at the corners, the situation practically screamed for a squeeze. What’s more, the presence of Neftali Feliz warming in the bullpen and capable of pitching two innings only added to the urgency of the situation. Instead of employing a strategy designed to get one run across, however, Girardi stuck with Cervelli, whose soft liner to first base effectively short circuited the rally.

Although failing to score a second run in the top of the eighth was the Yankees’ eventual undoing, a lot happened before and after that decision. In the early going, the game was a pitcher’s duel between the Good AJ Burnett and CJ Wilson, but in the middle innings both teams started to chip away. After Texas scored in the bottom of the fourth, the Yankees quickly tied the game up with a run in top of the fifth, but lost an opportunity to take the lead when Nick Swisher was cut down at the plate on Marcus Thames single to left. The throw by David Murphy beat Swisher to the plate by plenty, prompting him to attempt a quasi-leap over the imposing Bengie Molina, who made an outstanding short hop scoop while firmly blocking the plate. During the broadcast, Michael Kay foolishly questioned Swisher’s decision to not slam into the much larger Molina. As one of the few consistent offensive performers in the lineup, losing Swisher to a senseless injury would have been catastrophic.

The Yankees eventually took the lead in the sixth when the previously maligned Cervelli singled home a run. In the bottom half of the inning, however, Burnett immediately surrendered the lead by giving up a two-run blast to Murphy. In fairness to Burnett, the inning should have been over, but Derek Jeter’s inability to turn a key double play prolonged the frame. Although Josh Hamilton’s hard slide into the Captain disrupted the turn, Jeter had enough time to avoid the runner and then make his throw as Vladimir Guerrero was jogging down the line.

AJ Burnett wound up giving the Yankees seven solid innings before handing the ball off to Boone Logan and David Robertson, who each extended their string of hitless appearances to nine (6 2/3 innings) and eight (7 2/3 innings), respectively. The Yankees could not take advantage of this superb relief, however, because the Rangers countered with two innings from their closer.

Feliz acquitted himself well in his first career outing against the Yankees, but did benefit from Girardi’s decision to not have Jeter bunt Cano over to second base after he singled to lead off the inning. Jeter wound up hitting into his 14th  double play of the season, a turn of events made even more unfortunate when Swisher followed with a single. Once again, poor strategy cost the Yankees a chance at an all important go-ahead run.

With the game tied in the 10th and the heart of the Rangers’ order due up, Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to extend the game further. Unfortunately for Rivera, the inning got off to a rocky start when Jeter was unable to retire Young on a groundball to short. Hamilton then snuck a single past the first base hole, which was created by having to hold the runner. After both runners moved up on Guerrero’s ground out to third base, Rivera intentionally walked Nelson Cruz to load the bases and then battled a brief bout of uncharacteristic wildness by falling behind in the count 3-0. Determined not to walk in the winning run, Rivera fired three straight fastballs down the middle, the last of which Murphy slammed into right center for a game winning hit.

This brief series between the Yankees and Rangers has been looked at as a playoff preview, and the first game certainly didn’t disappoint. In what was a very entertaining and eventful evening, so many different plays and decisions made a significant impact on the final outcome. Disturbingly from the Yankees’ standpoint, however, poor strategy on the part of Girardi seemed to make the most difference. For the third time in 11 games, during which the team has gone 4-7, the Yankees lost a game because of questionable strategy. If the team and its manager do not get their act together soon, they’ll be no need for any previews.

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