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Our Long National Nightmare
2006-05-22 09:21
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Just when it seemed the Yankees injury woes couldn't get any more woeful, things went from bad (a DL stay for Gary Sheffield) to worse (losing Hideki Matsui for the bulk of the season) to epidemic (season-ending surgery for Sturtze and Pavano and a DL trip for Bubba Crosby) to the point at which the players started searching for hidden cameras in the trainer's room, sure that Ashton Kutcher is behind all of this.

As the Yankees headed across town to meet the Mets last Friday, it was revealed that a comebacker off Shawn Chacon's left shin in the same game against Boston in which Matsui broke his radius was responsible for Chacon's subsequent poor performance and would cause him to miss his scheduled start in the subway series finale. In the first game at Shea, Jorge Posada was pulled in the second inning due to back spasms and did not play for the remainder of the series, not even coming to bat on Sunday for Kelly Stinnett with the bases loaded and two out in the top of the seventh with the Yankees trailing by two. Friday's game ended with Kyle Farnsworth also complaining of back problems. He did not pitch for the remainder of the series. And just to add insult to injury, Bernie Williams pulled a muscle in his behind (the second backside injury on this team this year) and was forced to skip Saturday's game save for a pinch-hit appearance in which he was hit with the only pitch he saw and then promptly forced out at second on the next play.

Meanwhile, the Columbus shuttle has been in full effect, dropping off new arrivals such as Melky Cabrera, Kevin Reese, Scott Erickson, Mitch Jones, and Colter Bean. Yes, the answer to the question "how many guys have to go down before they'll finally give Colter Bean a shot" appears to be eight (or four pitchers: Sturtze, Pavano, Chacon, and Farnsworth). Bean was called up Saturday because the injuries to Chacon and Farnsworth and the resulting move of Small into the rotation had limited the Yankees to a five-man bullpen, with Scott Erickson (a.k.a. The Thing That Wouldn't Die) and the overworked Scott Proctor being two of the five, and two of the remaining three being left-handed. Bean replaced Mitch Jones, who had replaced Bubba Crosby the day before and saw no action in his one day in the major leagues. That transaction reduced the Yankees to a four man bench under NL rules at Shea. The bench was then further reduced to three men--Miguel Cairo, Andy Phillips and Kevin Reese--by Posada's inability to play.

That bench situation has been rectified, but only technically. Shawn Chacon was placed on the DL this morning as the hematoma on his left shin is healing, but slowly. To fill his spot and flesh out the bench to four men under AL rules (here's hoping Phillips gets the call at DH) the Yanks have promoted outfielder Terrence Long. The only encouraging thing about Long's promotion is that the Yankees didn't feel the need to promote a catcher, which suggests that Jorge Posada's back is not a major concern. Indeed, Posada will supposedly be "available" for tonight's series opener in Boston, though that doesn't mean Stinnett be starting his third straight game.

As for Long himself, he's an abysmal baseball player. He basically has the same skill set as the Ghost of Bernie Williams (can't hit, can't run, can't field, is increasingly unlikely to draw a walk), except that Long is eight years younger and lacks the borderline Hall of Fame credentials to keep his career afloat. Last year, as the starting left fielder of the major leagues' worst team, the Kansas City Royals, Long hit a Bernie-like .279/.321/.378. The Royals declined to offer him a contract for this year and he landed with the Reds triple-A farm team in Louisville where he hit just .229/.260/.292 in April, earning his release. The Yankees, desperate for triple-A outfielders with Cabrera and Reese in the majors and Kevin Thompson down with a hamstring injury, signed Long a week ago today. He's since hit .353/.421/.588 in 17 at-bats with Columbus, numbers which include two walks and two extra base hits and thus define small-sample fluke.

The good news is that Terrence shouldn't be here for long. As I suspected, Hideki Matsui's injury did indeed convince Gary Sheffield to get a cortisone shot in his injured left wrist last week (which we've only just learned because Sheffield has been avoiding the media as if they're the ones responsible for this rash of injuries). Sheffield, who was eligible to come off the DL this past weekend, shut down a batting practice session on Friday due to pain in the wrist, but had a successful turn in the cage yesterday and will join the Trenton Thunder today for a rehab assignment that should have him back in the Yankee lineup later this week. Joe Torre has said that Sheffield should only need a game or two with the Thunder, which could mean he'd be able to come back during the current series in Boston, but I suspect we're more likely to see him rejoin the Yankees at home against the Royals on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are continuing to take fliers on the farm with Brian Cashman recently inking Erubiel Durazo to a minor league deal. The 32-year-old Durazo is a defensively-challenged first baseman (to be polite about it), but a legitimate lefty bat who could be an asset to the Yankees well beyond their current plague of injuries. A career .281/.381/.487 hitter, Durazo's 2005 season was ruined by an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery in late July. Signed to a minor league deal and invited to camp by the Rangers, Durazo failed to make the team, then hit .289/.365/.434 with their triple-A club while regaining his strength from the surgery. He became available to the Yankees by exercising an out in his contract much like the one Carlos Peña has in his deal with the Yankees. Peña, a lefty first baseman who can actually play the position, has picked up his game somewhat of late and now boasts a .257/.383/.467 with the Clippers thanks to a .288/.408/.525 May (those May numbers through the 19th). It would behoove the Yankees to expand their bench to five men in the near future in order to employ Peña or Durazo as a lefty pinch-hitter or even a DH platoon partner with righty Andy Phillips (the dream is alive!).

The Yankees are also rumored to be close to signing Richard Hidalgo and Jason Romano. Hidalgo is a 30-year-old right-handed hitter who has played all three outfield positions, at times very well, but has been incredibly inconsistent at the plate. A career .269/.345/.490 hitter, Hidalgo hit .309/.385/.572 in his final year with the Astros in 2003, but has scuffled over the past two seasons, hitting .221/.289/.416 in an injury riddled season with the Rangers last year. Hidalgo signed a minor league deal with the Orioles this spring, but left camp before playing in a game when his wife fell ill. He subsequently asked out of his contract and supposedly considered playing in Japan. If nothing else, Hidalgo has the power and defensive ability that Long lacks.

Romano is a soon-to-be 27-year-old righty-hitting utility man. A first-round draft pick of the Rangers, Romano was compared to Chuck Knoblauch before the shine came off his prospect status and he became fodder in a number of very minor deals that sent him through the Rockies, Dodgers, Devil Rays, Reds and Marlins' franchises. This spring he was given virtually no chance to make the Brewers. Romano has a variety of skills, he can play all three outfield positions as well as second, third and shortstop, has a bit of power, some patience and decent speed, but doesn't do anything particularly well.

Returning to the big league club, Sheffield should take Long's roster spot by Friday. Small will likely make Chacon's next two starts this Saturday against the Royals at home and then on June 1 in Detroit. Chacon will be eligible to come off the DL on June 1 at which point the Yankees will have to decide what to do with Colter Bean. I think we know what the decision will be, but I'll hold out hope that the combined performances of Bean, Small and Scott Erickson over the next week and a half will convince the Yankees that Bean is the most valuable of the three. Bubba Crosby will then be eligible to return that weekend, likely bouncing Kevin Reese back to Columbus, at which point the contributions of Sheffield, Crosby and Hidalgo should convince the Yankees to return Terrence Long to the Phantom Zone where he belongs. Meanwhile, Peña will have had another chance to opt out of his deal by then.

Hey, at least this team isn't boring. Speaking of which, despite the fact that the Yankees were playing with multiple replacement players and several men short on the bench and in the pen, all three games against the first-place Mets came down to the final at-bat--the Mets and Yankees victimizing each other's closers to win in their last at-bats on Friday (a game-winning David Wright single against Mariano Rivera) and Saturday (a game-tying four-run rally against Billy Wagner in the ninth and a game-winning single by Andy Phillips in the top of the eleventh) and the Yankees scoring once against Duaner Sanchez in the eighth on Sunday only to strand the tying run on second against Wagner in the ninth--which should stand as some sort of moral victory.

As I said in my Friday preview of the subway series, the Yankees played well to start the season. If they can simply hold on during this rough patch, countering their loses against the better teams (2-4 against the Mets and Red Sox over the last two weeks) with wins against the similarly weakened or simply weaker teams (4-3 against the A's and Rangers over the same span with Boston and Kansas City on deck), they should be able to stay within shouting distance of the Sox and could make a strong run once the team returns to health. Besides which, these injuries are forcing this team to take a look at players such as Cabrera, Bean, Phillips, Reese and Durazo, players we in this space have clamored for them to employ on their bench, in their pen, and even in their line-up. Now if only they'd let Darrell Rasner take Chacon's starts instead of Small . . .

Comments
2006-05-22 11:45:54
1.   unpopster
Thank you Cliff. You just made a very grim outlook for the rest of this month look a whole lot sunnier.

If the Yanks take 1 of 3 in Boston (could they realistically take 2 of 3 if, by some miracle, Johnson keeps the Red Sox at 5 runs???) and take care of business against the Royals, then we're in okay shape.

I've said it here before and I'll say it again, the 2006 Red Sox do not scare me. I think they're playing above their heads right now and will eventually come back down to earth.

Hopefully, our M*A*S*H unit will get healthy quickly, The Unich will turn into The Unit some time soon, and Dotel will be all that he's expected to be. If so, then I see a very, very good second half for this team that should leave the Sox fighting off the Jays for 2nd place.

Then again, Jeter, Arod and Giambi could catch the injury bug and we'll all be paying more attention to Giants/Jets camps sooner than we would have liked -- to paraphrase John Sterling, you can never predict baseball. You just never know!

2006-05-22 11:47:07
2.   pistolpete
Injuries and lack of clutch hitting aside, at least the Yanks have been in most of these games. It's been fun getting a look at all the new guys, but it's damn frustrating having guys like Stinnett and Cairo have to come up in crucial situations like last night. I don't think even in the darkest days of the late 80's did we have someone as mediocre as Stinnett in the 5-hole. I'd take Danny Tartabull 2006 over Stinnett in the 5-hole. Yanks definitely made it a lot easier for Wagner to redeem himself from Saturday's disaster.

All that said, I couldn't be too upset at losing 2 out of 3, when it could have very easily been a sweep. I guess I expected Johnson to bounce back, though. Seems like if you take the 1st & 2nd inning away from his last few starts, Randy's numbers aren't that bad. Is there something that could be improved in the pre-game warmups? Chacon was having the same problem for a while there too...

Hate to pour cold water over this next 3-game series with the Sox, but we'll be lucky to get 1 again. Wang's probably our best shot, as Wright's only good for maybe 5 good innings and RJ's starts are an automatic loss these days (IMO).

2006-05-22 11:48:39
3.   Sliced Bread
Thanks for the infirmary update, Cliff.

Man, the Yanks have looked like a split-squad lately. The way things have been going, when I first read your headline, I thought you were going to report the Yanks are taking a flier on Gerald Ford.

Optimist that I am, I'm hoping Sheff breezes through Connecticut on his way to (sur-prise!) Fenway this afternoon, and launches the first pitch he sees from Senatah Schilling. "Rehab this!"

Realist that I am, I'll settle for Posada back in the lineup, and ground-outs aplenty courtesy of Mr. Wang.

2006-05-22 11:59:09
4.   Jon Weisman
In the 2004 Baseball Prospectus yearbook, they quoted a scout describing Jason Romano as "Joe Thurston, but without the talent."

Romano is best known in Los Angeles for leveling a fan who ran into the outfield in Dodger Stadium with a solid cornerback hit.

2006-05-22 12:01:58
5.   Benjamin Kabak
Forget Rasner! I'm starting the Free Ramiro Mendoza club.

In 17.1 innings (yes, small sample size), Mendoza has given up 11 hits, 1 ER, 2 BB, and 17 K.

He's certainly better than Small and maybe Jaret Wright as well. At least give him a shot!

2006-05-22 12:21:00
6.   rbj
So who's announcing tonight's game on ESPN?
2006-05-22 12:27:56
7.   Shaun P
Hidalgo could be a decent 4th OF/PH type, and if he hits well enough, could sometimes play RF so Sheff DHs. He's also got experience at all 3 OF positions. No complaints here on that pickup.

If healthy, Durazo could be a great DH/PH type. Sure, he can't play the field, but Giambi ought to be out there all the time anyway (as 1B: .284/.500/.642/1.142 OPS, 81 ABs vs as DH: .211/.415/.526/.941, 38 ABs). He could also make a great DH platoon partner for Bernie - Bernie kills lefties (at least we think he still does) and Durazo destroys righties.

It would mean the end of Andy Phillips - and maybe Bubba as well - but if these two can hit reasonably well, I wouldn't mind having them on the bench instead of Andy and Bubba.

If Carlos Pena is hitting, I also wouldn't mind seeing him up, as he could also make a good DH platoon partner for Bernie.

Nice moves, Ca$hmoney.

That said, until both Magellan Long and Scott Erickson are expunged from Yankee-dom, I'm in Rob Gee's camp on Cashman. Having those two on the major league roster is a joke.

2006-05-22 12:30:09
8.   Benjamin Kabak
6 Rick Sutcliffe, Joe Namath and Captain Morgan.
2006-05-22 12:34:35
9.   Shaun P
5 Hmm, your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
2006-05-22 12:41:30
10.   dpmurphy
"unpopster: I've said it here before and I'll say it again, the 2006 Red Sox do not scare me. I think they're playing above their heads right now and will eventually come back down to earth."

We shouldn't scare you. Our payroll is half of yours.

I'd say the sox are in a pretty good place. You have our allstar leadoff man, and his replacement has been gone the entire year. Getthing coco back, putting youk in the bottom of the lineup to cause trouble, and things are looking good.

2006-05-22 13:14:15
11.   dwight45
8 Benjamin

You forgot the rest of the crew: Jim Beam, Johnny Walker and Old Grandad.

2006-05-22 13:15:34
12.   YankeeInMichigan
Didn't Long hit the double down the line in the 2000 ALDS that resulted in the famed Jeter Flip? Yankee logic seems to reason that if he could hit the ball hard against Moose that day, he must be decent (similar logic got us Womack).
2006-05-22 13:25:25
13.   rbj
8 & 11 LOL Are they going to bring their Buddy Weiser?
Hmm, it could be worse than having a George Thorogood song going through my head.
2006-05-22 13:25:27
14.   Sandman42
10 By all means, give the guy with the .908 OPS fewer plate appearances.

7 I agree, those are refreshing ideas from Cashman, but we should never have started the season with so little depth at C and OF.

2006-05-22 14:02:33
15.   Shaun P
14 True, but that's been the case since what, 2000?

I don't like the lack of depth at catcher, but the real problem remains the same problem the Yanks have had for years - having a black hole at one position where replacement level talent is cheap and abundant. (Sometimes its been two or even three black holes!) Carrying such a hole year after year is inexcusable for an organization with the resources of the Yankees.

2006 (before the injuries) - DH - Bernie (except against lefties). Andy Phillips might have been the solution, but not one Joey Four Rings wanted to look at. We'll never know now.

2005 - DH - Tino sans May (when Giambi didn't hit) and Ruben. Ugh.

2004 - DH and 1B - Big Rube again and Tony Clark. 1B was great when Olerud played.

2003 - DH and RF - Mondesi and whoever DH'd when Nick the Injured Stick wasn't there.

2002 - DH and RF and LF - Mondesi, Spencer, White, and Nick the Injured Stick, who didn't hit a lick.

2001 - DH and LF - Knoblauch, Spencer, and Justice

2000 - DH and LF - Ledee and Spencer - reduced to DH when Justice came along.

(*players at positions according to baseball-reference.com)

This is a trend that can't be ignored when evaluating Cashman's work. Finding a DH who can hit replacement level is child's play, yet Cash has failed year after year in doing just that.

The black hole problem is compounded when one (or more) of the regulars who can hit is given a day off, or misses some time because of injury. Especially when the bench is filled with black holes . . . but that's a comment for another day.

2006-05-22 14:09:17
16.   Rob Gee
We all knew that the real problem with this team would be the horribly piss-poor bench at the start of the season. Here's a brief look as of today:

Andy Phillips (1B/DH):
.191 .224 .298 .522 (47 AB's) - and hasn't played nearly enough

Miguel Cairo (1B/2B/3B/LF):
.200 .273 .275 .548 (40 AB's) - and still has played too much

Bernie Williams (LF/CF/RF):
.258 .309 .363 .672 (124 AB's) - we knew he should be restricted to PH duty. Instead he has been the main DH on the team.

Bubba Crosby (LF/CF/RF):
.263 .333 .342 .675 (38 AB's) - even as we were told he'd be the 4th OF, he began the season as the 5th OF and only started to get hot as he got playing time.

Kelly Stinnett (C):
.189 .250 .243 .493 (37 AB's) - With how little the Mets paid for Paul Lo Duca, it's amazing that the Yankee brass ignored Jorge's end of season trends and failed to get a 1A catcher. For as hot as Jorge has been, September will not be bright for him. And the only alterntive is more Stinnett - as we're seeing now.

See, the injuries aren't shocking with all the older starters. It's that the newly all-powerful GM didn't have any contingency plan B, C, or even D. It's truly amazing those plans consist first of Erickson into the bullpen, Cairo into LF, and now Terrence Long.

We knew the problem would be the bench. What's shocking is that the organization failed to anticipate the same problem and how the manager would try to address them. True leadership is planning for the future not reacting to the present.

10 dpmurphy -

You still haven't told us your feelings on this guy:

Hanley Ramirez (22 yo - 154 AB's - .875 OPS)

Good thing you have Cora and Gonzalez!

How's this 2003 doozy looking now?:

Freddy Sanchez (28 yo 2B): .350 .385 .558 (120 AB's)

Good thing you got Jeff Suppan that year!

The question is: How many All-stars can Theo deal away?

2006-05-22 14:12:58
17.   unpopster
10 blahblah...payroll...blahblah. Red Sox fans should NEVER EVER mention the words payroll when you've got the 2nd highest in baseball.

As for injuries, Coco's hurt you and fat Wells may or may not ever come back and pitch to form, but don't even compare that to the split-squad team you'll be facing tonight.

Do the names Gary Sheffield, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Carl Pavano, Kyle Fransworth, Shaun Chacon, and Tanyon Sturtz mean anything to you? That's almost 1/3 of our projected 2006 roster that you probably won't be seeing tonight. Add Damon's broken foot to that mix and you're playing a half a team.

I said before the season started that for the Sox to really give the Yanks a good run for the division, the "best case scenarios" need to pan out for your team. Those scenarios were Lowell coming back to form, Alex Gonzalez actually hitting a lick, Youkilis emerging as a legit offensive player, Schilling, Beckett and Trot Nixon being healthy for the entire season, and Loretta adjusting to the AL and being a significant contributor. Well congratulations, your Sox are witnessing the "best case scenraio" ---- IN MAY! Let's see how Beckett, Schill, and Nixon hold up for the full 6-month season. And let's see if Lowell, Loretta and Youkilis keep this up for the rest of the summer.

The baseball season is a marathon. So far, our players have limped out of the gate with some setbacks. But I guarantee you that health won't solely be on your side for the whole season. And, remember...our guys will eventually heal. When that happens...watch out!

2006-05-22 14:17:37
18.   unpopster
16 Rob, you wrote: "See, the injuries aren't shocking with all the older starters."

Age had nothing to do with Sheffield's collision with Hillenbrand at 1st base...nor did it have anything to do with Matsui's dive for the ball. And, it was Texeira that bowled over Posada and might have caused his back injury...not age. How about the ball that hit Chacon in the shin? Should we blame that on age?

Last I looked, Pavano is one of the young pitchers on our team. Did age have anything to do with his injury?

2006-05-22 14:20:32
19.   Shaun P
16 Thanks Rob, that's exactly the kind of black-hole filled bench I was talking about in 15.

I'm not sure that LoDuca would have been a good choice for a backup C - he annually caters post-ASB and isn't a spring chicken himself. And the Mets did give up one of their best pitching prospects to get him - 2nd best pitcher, 3rd best overall as of Nov. '05 according to Baseball America.

Otherwise though, spot on.

2006-05-22 14:26:34
20.   Shaun P
18 True unpopster, age had nothing to do with the injuries that have plauged the Yanks. But I think Rob is right - the older the team, the more likely injuries are to occur, the greater the need for depth in the form of a good bench.

Just because many of the injuries have been flukeish in nature doesn't change the fact that the team was ill-prepared to deal with any injuries, fluke or otherwise. That's a hell of a gamble they willingly took - or it shows a big lack of planning. Either way, that doesn't say much for the FO.

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