Yankees

Keefe To The City: Heading In Opposite Directions

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NYC photo courtesy hyunlab/Flickr

NYC photo courtesy hyunlab/Flickr

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Unless you’re from Boston, it’s hard not to start thinking about the Yankees and October baseball in just over a month. And unless you’re Jerry Manuel, it’s almost impossible to not have already given up on the 2010 Mets.

It’s been another season with the same storyline for New York baseball. While the Yankees find themselves in a serious race for the division crown and home-field advantage in the ALDS and ALCS, the Mets are battling just to save face in the city and to try to save some jobs in the front office along the way.

WFAN baseball insider and Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Jon Heyman joined me to talk about the stretch run for the Yankees and Mets, and what the future holds for both teams going in opposite directions.

Keefe: I am desperately afraid of the Yankees’ starting rotation for the postseason. After CC Sabathia, the next and only reliable starter is Phil Hughes and I’m not sure it’s good to be relying on a 24-year-old starter in his first full season as a starter to be the No. 2 pitcher in October. Yes, Andy Pettitte is expected to be back in plenty of time, but what happens if Pettitte can’t get healthy enough to contribute or pitch the way he did last fall?

I’m really not sure who is more painful to watch pitch when it comes to A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez, and the thought of either of them starting a big game down the stretch or in the postseason has caused my blood pressure to reach unhealthy levels.

The 2010 Yankees now look a lot like the 2004 Yankees and the 2005 Yankees and the 2006 Yankees and the 2007 Yankees: four playoff teams with limited starting pitching and a stacked lineup. Am I right to be this worried about the Yankees going forward?

Heyman: Every team has worries, not just the Yankees. There is no such thing as a perfect team, though the 1998 Yankees came as close to that as I’ll ever see. Right now this is the Yankees’ big concern. This could change, of course, but their starting pitching is something to monitor.

It looked like Cliff Lee was going to be a case of overkill for them, but not so. It looks more and more like they could use him. Their rotation still looks decent, though, and with their offense, I still think they are the favorite to win it all. As long as Pettitte comes back strong, I think they will be all right. Maybe not as great as in some seasons, but good enough to win a championship.

Keefe: Javier Vazquez Part II has gone a lot like Javier Vazquez Part I did (minus that grand slam in Game 7). Prior to the season, you couldn’t find someone that would have taken the under on Vazquez winning 16 games with the Yankees, and most people thought 20 was a real possibility. Now you can’t find a person that would take under five earned runs in a given start for Javy. So what happened to Vazquez in his move back to the Bronx and back to the AL?

It’s clear his stuff isn’t there, and throwing in the mid-80s in the AL East isn’t exactly a recipe for success. I think saying that Javier Vazquez won’t be a Yankee in 2011 is about as close to predicting baseball as John Sterling would allow, but what are the plans for Vazquez for the rest of the season?

Heyman: If they can avoid it, I don’t see how Vazquez starts a postseason game. I do think your expectations were high, though. They saw him as their No. 4 starter, so I don’t think they were counting on 20 wins. His performance has pretty consistently been far better in the National League than the American League throughout his career. I was thinking he’d do a bit better than this, but I wasn’t expecting miracles.

Let’s not forget that Melky Cabrera is the one (plus a young pitching prospect) they gave up for him. Vazquez has never been a great postseason pitcher, anyway, so I am not sure they were counting on him to pitch much in October.

Keefe: Lance Berkman talked about being comfortable in Houston and needing to be scared again in his career to decide if it was time to retire or to keep competing in the majors. Since his trade to the Yankees, it’s obvious he is closer to the retiring option following this season. I was a big fan of the Berkman trade, but after watching awful at-bat after awful at-bat and then seeing him land on the DL, I am not sure how much more I can take once he is activated.

The Yankees are barely committed to Berkman financially and he will be a free agent after this season, however a guy just looking to play out the remainder of his contract isn’t exactly what this team needs clogging up their DH spot on the way to the World Series.

Enter Manny Ramirez. Sure the Yankees would be taking on another contract and another DH, but how would Manny not be a good fit for the Yankees if he could fall to them on waivers? Manny isn’t Berkman in the sense that he is 100 percent looking to get another contract after this season and what better place to do it than for the Yankees in a pennant race in his hometown. It might be a wild idea, but it’s an idea that I like.

Heyman: I believe the Yankees did inquire at the July 31 trade deadline, so I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. I have seen the White Sox and Rays as the most likely teams to go after Ramirez. But you can make a good point. I wouldn’t rule out the Yankees.

With the Yankees, you can never rule anything out. I am not sure anyone else would claim Ramirez with a reported $4.5 million owed (though $3.4 million of that is in deferred monies), and frankly, I’m not sure the Yankees will, either. They are always in the mix for big names. But until I hear more about the Yankees in connection with Ramirez, I am going to say the White Sox are the most likely team to acquire him.

Keefe: After I heard Mike Francesa and Peter Gammons talk about the possibility of Johnny Damon going through waivers and being moved about two weeks ago, I discussed it with Sweeny Murti and we both figured that he would be blocked before he could get to the Yankees. Now that he was blocked from going to the Yankees or Rays by the Red Sox and turned down the possibility of going back to Boston, what the does the future hold for Damon?

I hoped all along that he would return to the Yankees over the winter and then again before the trade deadline or through waivers and so far the return of Damon to the Bronx has crapped out at every chance. Since Damon is a free agent after this season, is there any chance he could return to the Yankees over the winter, and which team will make the most sense for Damon in 2011 and beyond?

Heyman: Right now, it doesn’t look like there is room. Their outfield is very lefthanded and they probably would like to avoid having a full-time DH. It’s possible that could change, of course, but it doesn’t look like a match to me.

I know Damon was hoping the Yankees would claim him, and he obviously wasn’t thrilled it was Boston, which is funny because – publicly, at least – there were disagreements during the breakups with both teams. The Yankees always seem to be a lure, though, and Damon obviously loved his time in New York.

Keefe: Last week on Daily News Live on SNY, one of the topics was something along the lines of “Has R.A. Dickey earned a spot in the 2011 rotation?” I was at a restaurant and saw the segment on TV with no sound, so all I could do was imagine what the panelists on the show were saying in response to this question. However, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this a joke?”

I am by no means a Mets fan, but I would have a hard time not picking R.A. Dickey to start a must-win game if I was. No he doesn’t have the history or the name of Johan Santana, but I don’t know how anyone can question what this man has meant to the 2010 Mets and what he had done for the Mets. Just because he doesn’t have a big name or a big arm (power wise) or a big contract, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t the frontline starter the Mets are looking for. The Mets have blown so many wins for R.A. Dickey that it would make sense if R.A. hated the position players and the bullpen at this point. Instead, people are questioning whether or not he should be in the rotation or on the team in 2011.

Heyman: I think there isn’t any doubt Dickey can be pretty much assumed to be one of the Mets’ starters for 2011. He’s beaten expectations like almost no one in Major League Baseball. Beyond that, he’s shown toughness poise and the kind of consistency you want to see in the rotation. Barring an absolutely brutal spring training performance by him, I don’t see how he is left out of the rotation for next season.

Keefe: A day in the life of Oliver Perez consists of going to the stadium, sitting in the bullpen and not pitching. The man hasn’t pitched since August 1, and that is just incredible.

As the 25th man on the roster, it has gotten to the point where Ollie is just leaning up against the bullpen and staring aimlessly out into the field, hoping his name is called like someone sitting around and waiting to be dismissed from jury duty. Even the SNY commentators have turned on Oliver Perez by making jokes about the possibility of him entering extra inning games if a game can be extended long enough that Jerry Manuel has absolutely no options, including allowing position players to pitch.

It’s obvious that if Perez wasn’t making $12 million a year, he wouldn’t be with the Mets or any of the other 29 teams in the league, but because of his albatross contract, he continues to waste a roster spot for the Mets. There is the theory that if the Mets give up on the lefty that some other team might be able to get the most out of him, but I think it’s safe to say that ship has sailed

Heyman: He looks like a release candidate to me. I know teams don’t like to eat $12-million-a-year contracts, but it obviously isn’t working out. Jerry Manuel is being given every chance to keep his job, and he made the determination he doesn’t want to use Perez.

The one chance Perez might have to stay into next year might be if the new manager sees something about Perez nobody else sees right now. At this point, though, I think it’s best for all parties involved if both sides just move on, and the Mets release him.

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe

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