Exit the Sandman…
Who will be the Yankees’ next great closer? When the great Mariano Rivera finally decides to hang up his glove, everyone will be looking for the next great closer. Granted, we may never see the likes of Mo again (at least not in our lifetime), but there are certainly a number of viable candidates to fill the void that will be created in the ninth inning of tight games.
The easy answer is to say Joba Chamberlain. The debate continues to rage about whether Chamberlain is most valuable in the starting rotation where he will play in about 30-35 games, or in late inning relief where he would appear in 60-plus games. While Joba’s injury late season did cause me to wonder if he was better suited for shorter stints, I do feel that he has the potential to be a frontline starter. In the grand scheme of things, it is not economically feasible to spend $181 million to secure an ace. It is much better to “grow your own”. The Yankees have a two-time 19-game winner, who most likely would have won 19-20 games last season if not for the foot injury, and they’re paying him only $5 million this year. Granted, that price will continue to go up, but the Yankees have been getting a great bargain for the past few years. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia’s first year with the Yanks comes at a price of $23 million ($15 million base with $9 million signing bonus). That’s big difference, particularly considering at the end of the year, there might be only a couple of wins that separate the two. As Wang’s price goes up, it will be difficult to place high dollars in other key spots of the rotation. So, Joba as a starter makes sense both economically and competitively. The only thing that could cause me to rethink this position is if Phil Hughes pitches so well this spring that he makes it impossible to leave him out of the rotation.
I was reading that Brian Bruney is an option. I have to admit that I really didn’t know much about Bruney when he came to New York. He had a few productive years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and even saved 12 games (out of 16 games) in 2005. In May 2006, he was designated for assignment and signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent. Bruney missed about three months last season after suffering a Lisfranc injury (similar to what happened to Chien-Ming Wang) in April. But he returned in August and finished with a 3-0 record, 1.83 ERA in 32 appearances, and held hitters to a .153 average. Since 2007, Bruney has lost about 40 pounds. He appears to be in great shape to be a dominant 8th inning bridge to Mo Rivera, and he certainly has a closer’s mentality.
Antonelli/New York Daily News
A young player that is starting to draw attention is 23-year old Mark Melancon. Mark missed the entire 2007 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on October 31, 2006. But he returned last season, and gradually worked his way up from Single-A Tampa to the Triple A-Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Increasing his walk-to-strikeout ratio at each stop, Melancon finished 2008 with a total of 95 innings in 44 games, with a 2.27 ERA. “His ball cuts, it sinks, it’s got late life to it,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That usually translates into swings and misses, and not solid contact.” More than likely, Melancon will begin the year with Scranton/Wilkes Barre, but it won’t be long until he receives the phone call from New York.
One guy who has fallen off the map is J. Brent Cox. When the Yankees drafted Cox (who followed Huston Street as the closer for the University of Texas Longhorns), I thought he had a chance to be Mo’s eventual successor. But he has had a roller coaster ride with the Yanks, and doesn’t appear to possess the stuff necessary to close at the major league level.
I know that it is difficult to think about a future without Mo Rivera in the bullpen, and he is coming off a great season. But the fact remains that he is 39, and it would be difficult to assume that he’ll be an upper-tier closer by the time he reaches the number on his back. I feel very blessed to have witnessed the Mariano Rivera era, and he is arguably the greatest closer in franchise history. “The end is coming,” Rivera recently said. “Sooner or late, it’s going to come.”
The Mets have shown that you can rebuild a bullpen with dollars, but the best closers are those who have been developed from within. Well, aside from Goose Gossage…
When Mo does retire, his number will obviously be retired for Jackie Robinson. But it should be a simultaneous ceremony to place Mo’s name in Monument Park along with Jackie’s. Mariano deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder to Jackie Robinson…he would have made Jackie proud, and he has certainly made all of us very proud and appreciative.
Time will tell if the next Yankee closer will be the next coming of Goose Gossage or just another Steve Farr, but unfortunately, it won’t be the next Mariano Rivera as the original is impossible to replicate.
Status Quo in Right Field
With the Atlanta Braves signing of free agent OF Garret Anderson, they’ve most likely been removed as the leading suitor for a potential trade involving either Xavier Nady or Nick Swisher.
Based on the comments I’ve seen, Nady fully expects to be the starting right fielder and apparently no one has said there is an open competition for his spot. However, Swisher should be able to make room for himself regardless of the outcome. I had read that Swisher has a ‘Jack Black’ persona about him, and watching MLB Network’s ’30 Teams in 30 Days’ certainly gives an illustration of that playfulness. I think his personality is good for the team, and it doesn’t come across as defiant or obstinate (like other past Yankees who shall remain nameless…err David Wells and Randy Johnson).
My preference is still for Swisher to win the job outright, and then trade Nady. But if the return is not sufficient, then the Yankees are better served by keeping both Nady and Swisher on the roster.
I feel strongly that Swisher will rebound from last year’s .219 batting average. He definitely has some power, as evidenced by 24 home runs despite the BA that came perilously close to the Mendoza Line. Swisher is certainly capable to matching his 2006 performance when he hit 35 home runs with 95 runs batted in. His average was only .254, but his OBP was .372, thanks to nearly one hundred walks. So, while Nady may have the slightly higher batting average, Swisher gets on base more often and is more capable of “making things happen”.
The One Day Flu
Saturday, I heard that CC Sabathia had cancelled his batting practice session and went home with the flu. Although I had heard the session had been re-scheduled for Sunday, I didn’t really expect Sabathia to make a go of it. Of course, that’s exactly what he did. The guy’s clearly a “gamer” and has the heart of a David Cone. Like Nick Swisher, I think that CC’s personality will be a huge asset for the Yankee Clubhouse. Here’s hoping that CC gets the opportunity to throw the first pitch in October…
Go Jed Lowrie
In a couple of fantasy leagues I belong to, the primary shortstops were quickly taken while I focused on filling needs at other positions. When I realized my weakness at short on one team, I selected Boston’s Jed Lowrie as my shortstop. On another team, I selected Jed to fill a bench role. So, I am not concerned about the Yankees center field battle between Brett Gardner (my favorite) and Melky Cabrera, I am most interested in the Red Sox shortstop competition between Lowrie and Julio Lugo. Lugo has the unfair advantage of having $36 million reasons why he should start, but youth and excitement go with Lowrie. So, hopefully Lowrie wins because my fantasy teams really need him (hey, why else would I be concerned about what happens in Boston?).
If Lowrie succeeds in taking Lugo’s job, third baseman Mike Lowell (drafted by the Yankees in 1995) would be the only infielder who didn’t come up through the Boston farm system. Of course, when Youk slides to third to make room for first baseman Lars Anderson, it will be a completely homegrown infield. Holy Garciaparra!
My new favorite player…
Jim Davis/Boston Globe
For my last fantasy draft, I went with Hanley Ramirez as my shortstop…