By Neil Keefe
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I have said plenty of times how much I hate when the Yankees have an off day, but Thursday’s off day couldn’t have come at a better time. After a disastrous 2-5 road trip on the West Coast, the Yankees return home with a weekend series against the Red Sox with Ichiro Suzuki, but without Alex Rodriguez.
With the Yankees’ lineup getting a new look and with a chance to basically end the Red Sox’ season in the next three games, an email discussion with WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti (the Voice of Reason) became necessary.
Keefe: I thought I was free of worrying about the Yankees, and maybe I still don’t have to worry. But for a brief moment last week everything was going perfectly (outside of Andy Pettitte still being out with a broken ankle) and I had nothing to worry about. Then the Yankees left for the West Coast and were swept in a four-game series in Oakland. Then they arrived in Seattle and traded for my favorite non-Yankee in Ichiro to sort of make the last four days forgettable. They won the series opener against the Mariners, but then A-Rod was hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch, which broke his hand, and is out for at least a month with some reports suggesting up to a possible eight weeks. Just when I thought everything was fine.
Let’s forget about the sweep to the A’s. (Yes, I’m willing to forget about a four-game losing streak). Let’s start with the deal for Ichiro.
This deal makes all the sense in the world to me for 2012, even if a deal for someone like Justin Upton or Carlos Gonzalez would have been perfect for the future. Ichiro is a 38-year-old aging superstar who desperately needed a change of scenery, a chance to play in the postseason for the first time since Oct. 22, 2001 and a chance to prove he can still compete at a high level over the last two months of the season as a pending free agent. We always hear about his ego, and the fact that he signed off on all of those “concessions” to leave the only team he has ever known in the majors for a lesser role as a complementary piece with the Yankees shows that he is serious about winning, and I like that.
This trade seemed to happen without anyone being aware, which feels like the way most of the Yankees’ trades go down. What are your feelings and your take on the Ichiro deal, and was the team ever really truly in on any other outfielders? And how did the whole thing go down, and how did it go down so quietly?
Murti: These are the best types of trades – without days and weeks of rumors and waiting and you asking me every day if Player X is coming – where the story leaks then goes official within an hour. You were probably napping while it all went down. Perfect.
Ichiro’s stature with the Mariners made this a very sensitive subject, in fact most of it seemed to get done at the ownership level. That’s probably the biggest reason why such a tight lid was kept on it. I outlined earlier this week why I felt this was a good gamble for the Yankees.
The injury to A-Rod changes things a little bit, as Ichiro was in the leadoff spot Wednesday, but when Nick Swisher comes back this weekend, the Yankees are likely to move Ichiro back to the bottom of the order. My guess is Joe Girardi prefers him eighth instead of ninth so if Ichiro gets on base, he can either steal with Russell Martin taking pitches, or even hit-and-run with Martin so that the bottom third can make some things happen before turning the lineup over again.
The Yanks were looking at others for sure, but remember they didn’t really start looking for another outfielder until last week when they found out Brett Gardner was lost for the year. And Ichiro told the Mariners around the All-Star Break he wanted to be traded. So the timing of events seemed to work out just the right way for the Yankees. Just their luck, right?
Keefe: Yes, just their luck. But it wasn’t their luck what was happened on Tuesday night in Seattle when Felix Hernandez lost his control and drilled Ichiro then Jeter then A-Rod, leaving A-Rod writhing in pain and with a broken hand.
A few years ago (before Cano’s emergence and the trade for Teixeira) this injury would have been a bigger blow to the Yankees at this point in the season, but it’s still a blow to the team and the lineup even if 2012 A-Rod isn’t 2007 A-Rod.
You tweeted early Wednesday morning (Eastern Time) that this is the reason Eric Chavez is on the team, and he is the best backup third baseman in the league. This is true, and that’s also probably why I’m not at the bar right now wondering what is going to happen to the offense. But my question is: Why are the Yankees trying to make a move for a third baseman?
Sure, there’s the injury history of Chavez since his time with the A’s, but if the Yankees were going to get a player like Chase Headley (who they apparently aren’t actually after), what happens with Chavez, and then what happens when A-Rod comes back? A guy like Headley would seem to be more of a long-term thing and A-Rod is signed until I’m 50 years old and I’m only 25 now. I guess you could have the three of them on the roster and play one and DH the other and then Chavez becomes the backup again or a DH candidate. But my real question is if the Yankees are looking for a third baseman on the market because they think A-Rod might not be back this season or not ready in time for the playoffs?
Murti: Eric Chavez is the best backup third baseman in the league and nobody is as accomplished. The problem is they have to be careful how much they play him. For argument’s sake, if A-Rod misses 40 games, it might be pushing it physically with Chavez to play him more than 25 of those games. Jayson Nix and Ramiro Pena are here, and both might be reasonable to play a game or two here and there as long as they catch the ball. This is the most important part of this job for someone not named Chavez: catch the ball!
The Yankees have plenty of offensive potential anyway. A-Rod is still someone the opposing pitcher has to think about, even if he’s not as feared as he used to be. As the Yankees look for possible replacements (and looking doesn’t mean they will get one), their focus is likely on someone who can play several days in a row and bats right-handed. If that person comes at a cheap enough cost, it might be worth it.
From within, it might be worth looking at Brandon Laird, who didn’t get off to a good start this year but has been hot over the last couple weeks. From the outside, Placido Polanco is a guy many I’ve spoken with believe can fill the void. Ty Wigginton’s name has come up, but I’m not sure he’s as reliable in the field as they need.
Remember, this is different than the Gardner injury. A-Rod should be back and it changes the approach.
Keefe: Joba Chamberlain is throwing 100 mph in his rehab appearances, and I’m already envisioning 2007 flashbacks to when I was surprised when someone reached base on him, opposed to 2010 flashbacks when I was surprised when he pitched a scoreless inning. The best part about the Joba news (other than that he is healthy again) is that this will mean the end of Chad Qualls’ time as a Yankee, as Qualls has been one of the most fortunate baseball players ever to have even been a Yankee for as long as he has.
But if Joba can come back and be his old self then Joe Girardi won’t have to rely on Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley in high-leverage situations since it appears as though Clay Rapada has finally remembered he’s Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley has remembered he’s Cody Eppley.
My biggest fear this year is knowing that at some point this season (October, cough, cough) Girardi is going to call on the likes of Rapada or Eppley and Logan (to a less worrisome extent) to get big outs. The return of Joba will make for one less bad choice Girardi can make, and after Tuesday’s game Girardi showed he isn’t scared to make bad choices.
What day are we looking at (barring any setbacks) for Joba’s return, where will he fit into the bullpen and what can we expect from him?
Murti: Joba was scheduled for another appearance Wednesday night, going on back-to-back days, a big test at this stage of his rehab. If all goes well there, it will still probably be next week or not too long after that before Joba comes back. He fits in perfectly for the sixth-inning role and the seventh-inning role with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano holding down the eighth and ninth.
There shouldn’t be a lot of mystery with Joba. We know what he throws and what he does. They will use him somewhat carefully, but the fact he is throwing back-to-back now indicates they won’t be afraid to do it in the majors. Rapada and Eppley have made some big contributions this season. Like any middle relief pitcher, they are going through some rougher stretches. I tell you the same thing all the time, but you expect every relief pitcher to have a 0.00 ERA and not give up a hit or a walk. And when you ask to get rid of one guy who’s not performing very well, you want a Mariano Rivera clone to be his replacement. And where do you think these guys are coming from?
I’m not saying you should like that these guys give up runs sometimes. I just think you should be realistic in what your expectations are. Think about where you are with Boone Logan right now. That you barely mention him anymore is a testament to how a guy can turn things around.
By the way, I haven’t noticed how A.J. Burnett is doing in Pittsburgh. Have you?
Keefe: Oh, I can mention Boone Logan more if you want. I didn’t know you wanted me to!
As for A.J. Burnett, I’m not really surprised he’s succeeding with Pittsburgh since it’s the NL and the NL Central and well … it’s Pittsburgh. If you were to take him off the Pirates and have him start for the Yankees for his next start, I’m completely confident he would be just as bad as he was while he was here. And I think you would agree to that.
I know you’re going to think I’m crazy (if you already don’t) for even wondering this, let alone suggesting or asking about it, but what are your feelings about the Yankees adding a starting pitcher before July 31? Actually I know you’re feelings most likely. You will say this is the best team in baseball and they have CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda has been great (though there a few Burnett-like eggs in there) and Andy Pettitte will be back (hopefully), and there’s also Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.
But I’m talking about starting pitching for a potential playoff rotation because really that’s all that matters, right? My dreams of Matt Cain or Cole Hamels in 2013 through free agency have been destroyed by contract extensions, so that leaves me with wondering about Matt Garza or Josh Johnson now. (I won’t get myself worked up thinking that there is even the slightest chance the Phillies would be willing to trade the Yankees Cliff Lee aka The One That Got Away.)
So I’m asking you if you think the Yankees need a starting pitcher, and in the small chance you think they do, who’s available? At least humor me with some optimism.
Murti: Actually, I don’t see why the Yankees can’t get A.J. Burnett on loan from Pittsburgh if the Pirates don’t make the playoffs. After all, the Yankees are paying him quite a bit of money this season. And ya know, there’s Game 2 of the World Series, and … you know I couldn’t let that go.
Do the Yankees need a starting pitcher? Probably not. The guys pitching now have shown the ability to win games. If you want guarantees about winning in the postseason, there’s no such thing. Just remember that earlier this year Hiroki Kuroda beat Felix Hernandez. Phil Hughes beat Justin Verlander and Gio Gonzalez. Ivan Nova beat James Shields. The Yankees have stepped up and beaten good starters and playoff caliber starters more than anyone wants to remember or admit.
If a pitcher can fall in their lap the way Ichiro did, well who am I to say no? But the Yankees aren’t running Matt DeSalvo, Chase Wright and Sidney Ponson out there every night. This team is doing OK.
Keefe: Ah, Game 2 of the World Series. The game where A.J. Burnett outdueled the Ghost of Pedro and earned his $16.5 million for the year despite not winning any other playoff games that year and losing potential clinchers to the Angels in Game 5 and the Phillies in Game 5. But let’s only remember the good times!
I’m not sure how to wrap this up since we already used Boone Logan’s name early, and despite throwing zero pitches for the Yankees this year, A.J. Burnett made an appearance in this exchange to ruin his consecutive email exchange streak to 193. And the best part about it was that YOU were the one to bring his name up. I’m pretty confident I have had an impact on you in what is now our third season of this.
Just recently I was making fun of the Red Sox for going 2-5 against the A’s and Mariners and here are the Yankees doing the same. When the team was 5-1 after the All-Star break, I was on top of the world and foolish and naive enough to think I might not need these exchanges anymore. I guess I learned my lesson.
Judging by the calendar, this is the last time we will talk until the trade deadline and before the Red Sox come to the Stadium for the first time this season. So all I can say is that I hope the Yankees haven’t squandered this massive division lead before the next time we talk, and that the Red Sox season comes crashing down at the hands of the Yankees this winning.
I guess it’s time to stop by your secretary.
Murti: Yes, my headaches are more frequent since we started these sessions. And yes, please make another appointment. Don’t ever think you are cured.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe
Follow Sweeny on Twitter @YankeesWFAN