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Blasting Off

January 21, 2011

This will be a rarity on The Citizens Bankers, but sometimes if you let a cockroach stick around long enough it can grow and grow until it can’t be killed. So we’re gonna crush this one before things get out of hand. This article comes from Wallace Matthews of ESPN-New York. Yeah, really. Let’s blast…

If it were possible to win a division in January, then the Yankees would be American League East champions today.

I mean, he writes for ESPN-New York. Can we expect anything less? But Championships aren’t won in the dead of winter, fool. And the Yankees have done nothing worthy to be dubbed “Champions” of the AL East like they did after 2008.

That’s how good a pickup Rafael Soriano looks like from the vantage point of a mid-winter’s day, before a single pitch has been thrown or a single game has been played.

Wait, what? I mean, I think Rafael Soriano is good and all but HE vaunts them to “Division Champion” status? Umm, excuse me? Rafael Soriano led the Majors in 2010 in saves with 45 (Holy Cow, that’s a lot). But the Yankees already have Mariano Rivera who is widely touted as the best closer in all of baseball, definitely the best post-season closer of all time and perhaps just the best closer of all time, but my nod would be to Trevor Hoffman. So, actually, the Yankees just bolstered a position they already excelled at in which only one player can serve a purpose at a time. It’s not like a starting pitcher or an outfielder where you have a rotation or carousel of closers. Almost all major league teams go into the season saying “This guy is our man.”

Obviously, there is a long way to go between now and Opening Day 2011, and even longer between then and the crowning of baseball’s next world champion.

Truth. As I’ve said before, now is the time to dream. When the Royals and Pirates can imagine themselves spraying champagne all over their long-deprived fans. Four times.

Pairing Rafael Soriano with Mariano Rivera in the bullpen makes the Yankees much harder to deal with.

I’ll give him that one.

But if you’re keeping score at home, score this offseason solidly in favor of the Yankees.

New York Yankees additions this winter:
Re-signed CP Mariano Rivera. 41 years old closer to 2 year, $30 million.

Re-signed SS Derek Jeter. 36 year old shortstop who won a gold glove despite being one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball. This is one of the more questionable signings of the off season. Check it out: Ignoring his September Call Up in ’95, virtually all of Jeter’s offensive numbers were either an all time worst or at the top of worst seasons for him. Hits (tied for a career worst if you ignore an injury-shortened 2003), Homeruns (tied with 4 other seasons for career worst), Stolen Bases, Strike Outs (most since 2005), Batting Average (Career worst by FAR. .270 which is way below his single season worst in ’97 when he had .291), On Base Percentage+Slugging Percentage+OPS were all career worst by far. His OPS+, which is OPS adjusted for ball park was 90 which sounds good until you find out he’s never had an OPS+ below 101 going back to his 1996 Rookie of the Year campaign. Total Bases was a career worst (again, besides his injury-shortened 2003). And he had his 2nd highest ever GDP’s (ground ball doubple play) with 22 (24 in 2008). But hey… he’s the face of the franchise! This guy is old. And only getting older. Hardly a good signing.

Signed– SP Mark Prior. So many horrible, horrible memories for Cubs fans. This is me addressing the Mark Prior signing: click here.

Signed– RP Pedro Filiciano. Lolmets.

Signed– CP Rafael Soriano. The purpose of this article.

Signed– OF Andruw Jones. Happened today apparently.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox did this and this. And the Phillies did THIS. Even the Nationals fleeced the Yankees of a top available players by signing this guy. Every single one of those signings trumps everything the Yankees have done this off season.

Already, the dynamic of the AL East — baseball’s most competitive division — has been greatly altered from last year. The 2010 champion Tampa Bay Rays have been significantly weakened by the loss of Carl Crawford and now Soriano.

Truth that the Rays are totally different team now, but umm… that guy, Carl Crawford, went to your ARCHRIVAL the Boston Red Sox. Did you not see the link above? Well, try this one.

The Boston Red Sox, also-rans last year, are back in the mix with the addition of Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, plus the presumed return to health of the squadron of players that went down last year.

The Boston Red Sox are going to be really, really friggin good this year. “Also-rans”? Really? They won 89 games and were fielding a AAA team. Of the 30 MLB teams, the Red Sox had more wins than 20 of them. With all of those injuries? For those hopeful Phillies fans looking past the 2011 season to the World Series, you’re gonna have to get past these guys if you want to get back to parading down Broad Street.

But no team addressed a key weakness as effectively as the Yankees did with the signing of Soriano, who not only solves an immediate problem — who will pitch the eighth inning in 2011? — but might also solve an even bigger one in the future: namely, who will pitch the ninth after Mariano Rivera says farewell?

Rafael Soriano got a 3 year/$35 mill contract from the Yankkes. He can opt out of his contract after this year. Or the next. Or the next.

Not a bad recovery for a team that appeared to have lost way too much ground bickering with Derek Jeter and then pursuing but ultimately failing to catch up with Cliff Lee.

I love this sentence. Cliff Lee <3

Roster problems remain, for sure — the Yankees still need Andy Pettitte or a comparable starting pitcher, as well as a backup outfielder. But the addition of Soriano not only changes the dynamics of their division, but of their games, as well.

Here’s the thing though… Andy Pettitte is not coming back. At least not to start the year. And you don’t just pick up a “comparable starting pitcher” off the streets. Esepcially not to Andy Pettite, the most successful starting pitcher in post-season history. And if nothing else, the Soriano signing changes the dynamics of the games but not the divison. Makes it easier for them to line up their pitching, but even so you don’t know if Rafael can pitch the 8th. Just as Ryan Madson can’t successful pitch in the 9th inning, it’s a whole different beast to pitch in the 8th and 9th inning. If he transitions well, then, yeah, it makes the end of the game easier on them but it doesn’t change the divisions. I’m not a betting man, but I’ll gladly take the Red Sox lineup down 1-3 runs against the Yankees bullpen.

Now, even a starting rotation relying on A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and possibly even Sergio Mitre, may no longer be the unmitigated disaster it appeared to be just two days ago.

A.J. Burnett lost 15 games last year. Let that sink in. Kyle Kendrick only lost 10. Yeah. And the 2 other guys? Oh my God, that is the OPPOSITE of Fat Joe and the Terror Squad.

The mere knowledge that the Yankees have Soriano and Mariano lurking to lock down the eighth and ninth innings will be a tremendous source of comfort to Joe Girardi, and a relentless source of discomfort to his counterpart in the other dugout.

This is true.

Not to mention it takes a ton of pressure off the starters, who need go only six innings, and — sorry, Joe West — probably lengthens the game, because now Girardi has the luxury of using four relievers if necessary to get three outs in the seventh.

Hahahahaha. You think A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre can consistently go 6 IP? And whose the other starting pitcher? Andy was the Yankees #2. CC Sabathia is coming off surgery (although, I heard it’s going well). So it’s CC, A.J., Ivan and Sergio and Co.? No way anyone not named “CC Sabathia” consistently goes at least 6 IP. Joey G is gonna need more than 4 relievers to get to the 8th inning.

But what the Soriano deal really does is take a team that seemed stuck in the mud all winter and set it off and running again.

If by “off and running again” you mean settling into 2nd place in the AL East and fighting for the Wild Card all year, then yes, you’re right.

Just like that, the Yankees go from a wild-card team at best to favorites to win their division.

This is just so stupid I don’t have words for it.

That is because the Red Sox, who were splashy early, really just added to areas that were already strengths. Gonzalez and Crawford are big bats, but Boston had no problem hitting the baseball or scoring runs last year. In 2010, they were near the top of the game in just about every major offensive category: second in batting average, second in runs scored, second in home runs, second in slugging percentage.

But… wait… Mariano Rivera is the best closer of all time… and Rafael Soriano is a closer… so… didn’t you “realy just added to areas that were already strengths?” So… doesn’t that mean….

The argument can be made that they needed Soriano just as much as the Yankees did. But the Yankees got him, despite the early reservations of GM Brian Cashman, who unequivocally stated he wasn’t giving up a No. 1 draft pick for anybody.

Brian Cashman was undermined in the signing. And they lost a #1 pick. And a complimentary pick. And the Red Sox have, arguably, the best set up man in the game in Daniel Bard.

Obviously Rafael Soriano isn’t just anybody. Either that or Cashman was overruled, or “persuaded,” that this was the right way to go.

Click here.

In any event, on paper and with snow covering every baseball diamond in the tri-state area, this looks like a great move for the Yankees — and the most significant move made by any AL team in the offseason.

That is the boldface-est statement ever. And an outright lie.

Yes, there are little things that tug at you about the deal. That Soriano can opt out after either of the first two years of the contract, and that the Yankees refused to extend him a no-trade clause, seems to indicate that neither side is 100 percent committed to the other for the long haul.

Really, you think? Maybe the fact that Cashman didn’t want him helps, too?

And recent history alone should tell all of us that even if we can’t predict how good a season Soriano will have with the Yankees or how well he will fit in their clubhouse, we can be reasonably sure that next November he will exercise that opt-out clause, if only to negotiate himself an even better deal to remain with the Yankees.

Or to get out of New York… where they spit on your wifehide ya wives, hide ya kidsfo real… run and tell dat.

Essentially, the association between Soriano and the Yankees is very much on a trial basis, a one-year deal that might stretch out to two, or three, or 10.

Here are Soriano’s splits for the 8th inning vs. 9th inning (BAbip is batting average on ball hit in play, tOPS+ is relative to the average of the batter faced. A number greater than 100 (for the pitcher) is bad. A number lower than 100 is good):

8th Inning: 147 G, 127.2 IP, 38 ER, 2.68 ERA, 94 Hits, 14 HR, .203 BA, .609 OPS, .256 BAbip, 106 tOPS+
9th Inning: 168 G, 161.0 IP, 42 ER, 2.35 ERA, 92 Hits, 11 HR, .162 BA, .509 OPS, .212 BAbip, 73 tOPS+

The way this all plays out is yet to be determined. The bottom line today is that for the 2011 season, the two best closers in baseball will pitch for the Yankees.

Alright, that’s the bottom line. Can we leave it there? Buried under the snow?

That in itself makes them the champions of this offseason.

No. No, it doesn’t. Not at all.

And odds-on favorites to win it all once they actually start playing the games.

Coming from Vegas Insider, updated to Thursday, January 20th, 2011 6:00 PM EST-
2011 Odds to Win the World Series:
Philadelphia Phillies- 3/1
Boston Red Sox- 9/2
New York Yankees- 5/1

You are wrong in so many ways.

Signing Out,
The Citizens Banker

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