Results tagged ‘ Johnny Damon ’

Why not take a flyer on Willy Taveras?

While bigger names remain on the free agent market, a recent development may have given the Atlanta Braves something to consider for their outfield mix as Spring Training approaches. Signing Willy Taveras could supply the Braves with some valuable speed for an extremely low price.

Taveras.jpgTaveras had a rather bizarre February 1, being dealt by the Cincinnati Reds to the Oakland Athletics only to find himself designated for assignment later that day. Unwilling to accept an assignment to the minor leagues, it left the A’s with no choice but to release him on Tuesday.

Oakland will pay the bulk of the $4 million Taveras is owed this season. Any team that signs Taveras, 28, would have to pay only the league minimum to secure his services.

Despite leading the National League with 68 stolen bases as a member of the Colorado Rockies in 2008, Taveras was non-tendered that winter in a cost-cutting move.

He would not stay unemployed for long as the Reds signed Taveras to a two-year $6.5 million deal last winter. A lackluster 2009 campaign, including a career-low .240 batting average to go along with an ugly .275 on base percentage, forced the Reds to take another look at their outfield options and ultimately ship Taveras to Oakland.

His once promising career could officially be termed as derailed, but a better phrasing may be to call it at a crossroads. Taveras has been on two World Series series teams. First, finishing second in the N.L. Rookie of the Year voting in 2005 as a member of the pennant winning Houston Astros, before hitting a career-high .320 as a member of the N.L. champion Colorado Rockies in 2007.

Pro’s and Con’s….

I’ll be the first to say that signing Taveras would come with its fair share of if’s, but adding a relatively young and low-priced player with postseason experience is an option worth exploring. It would also give the club another reason not to rush heralded prospect Jason Heyward this Spring if more minor league seasoning would be in his and the club’s best interest.

If Taveras were to rebound to his 2007 standards, he would provide a short-term solution who brings a completely different look to the cast of Braves outfielders. Taveras would obviously pose no threat to the impending arrival of Heyward, instead serving along with Melky Cabrera and Matt Diaz to flank center fielder Nate McLouth until which time Heyward gets the call. Though primarily a center fielder himself, Taveras would see more time in left while being available to spell McLouth if needed.

No one is accusing Taveras of being an impact player, but if he can reach some of his past productivity it would give the Braves a chance to mix and match their lineup in a number of favorable ways. And that would make an impact.

Possible line-up options could include allowing McLouth to move down a spot in the order to take advantage of his run-producing power. Yunel Escobar saw time in both the 5th and 6th spots in the lineup last season and could benefit from a permanent move to the middle of the batting order.

Among the offensive weaknesses of Taveras, and there are a few, is the unusual trait of being a right-handed hitter who performs better against right-handed pitching. His career marks see him at .262 against lefties and .280 against righties, while his ’09 stats had him at just .219 against southpaws and .247 against right-handers. The presence of Diaz (.347 career and .412 last season against lefties) would allow the Braves to avoid that unfavorable match-up.

Taveras offers very little in the form of extra-base hits. His slugging percentage dropped to a career-worst .285 last season as 83 of his 97 hits were singles. This is nothing new for Taveras, who lead the NL with 152 singles among his 172 hits during his rookie season of 2005. A portion of this can be overlooked because Taveras is a base stealing threat (194 in 236 career attempts).

As a rule, Taveras typically hits his way aboard. Walks have always been at a premium and that contributes to his .321 lifetime on base percentage. He drew just 18 free passes in 102 games last season and owns just 134 in his five full seasons of Major League action.

His fielding has also been suspect at times. In 2008, Taveras compiled a .976 fielding percentage – the worst among all center fielders in baseball. But, again, he would likely not see much time in center field with McLouth there.

On a side note…

Most, if not all, of the attention the Braves are getting in the rumor mill is revolving around the somewhat quizzical unemployment of Johnny Damon. We have been repeatedly reminded that the only way that Damon is going to be suiting up with a tomahawk across his chest in 2010 will be a thanks to a serious drop in asking price.

With agent Scott Boras trying to recoup the cash that was lost when he and Damon rebuffed the Yankees’ offer(s), there is likely to be another destination (I’d say in the American League) that will bend their financial plans just enough to accommodate the outfielder for at least one season. However, there is little doubt that Damon will be taking a hefty pay cut no matter where he lands.

Pay cut and Scott Boras are seldom used in the same sentence. Here’s to firsts!

Till next time,

G-Mc

World Series Game 5: Utley slugs Phillies past Yanks

Thumbnail image for World Series.jpgThe Philadelphia Phillies pounded their way to an 8-6 victory in Game 5, pushing the World Series back to New York and postponing any celebration plans the New York Yankees may have had on Monday.

Slugging second baseman Chase Utley slugged his way into the record books with his second multi-home run game of the World Series, belting two homers and driving in four runs.

Utley’s big night gave him a share of two postseason records. His five homers in this series ties Reggie Jackson for the most in a single World Series, while Utley’s seven career Fall Classic home runs are the most by any second baseman in baseball history.

Outside of Utley, the Phillies had Cliff Lee working on the hill as they stared elimination in the face and live to fight another day. Lee was not as sharp as his Game 1 masterpiece, but with eight runs of support he didn’t have to be.

The lefty was pitching well into the eighth inning before a Yankee rally forced his exit. His final line was five earned runs on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts over seven innings. Three of the runs scored in that eighth frame when the first three batters reached against Lee.

Raul Ibanez enjoyed a 2-for-4 night with a homer and two RBI’s in the winning effort. While much of the attention had been on Ryan Howard‘s struggles, Ibanez had struck out seven times in his prior 12 at-bats, so a good night for the left fielder was a welcome sign for the Philadelphia offense.

Ryan_Howard_K.jpgSpeaking of Howard, Game 5 was yet another tough night in this series for the Phillies clean-up hitter. His futility at the plate reached record proportions when he was punched out twice on Monday to tie a World Series record with 12 strikeouts thus far in the series.

The bad news for Howard, if you want to call it that, is that he will set a record with his next strikeout, but the Yankees should be aware there is a flip side to that coin. It only takes one swing of the bat with a couple men on base for Howard to change the game. Look for the Yankees to continue feeding Howard the steady diet of breaking pitches he has seen throughout this World Series.

Howard has some elite company though, as both first basemen have struggled. Mark Teixeira is just 2-for-19, but has scored four runs, homered and knocked in two others while striking out seven times. Those are hardly big time numbers, but when compared to Howard’s 3-for-19 with two runs scored, one RBI and 12 punch-outs… well, you get the picture. It’s safe to say that each team would love to see their first baseman break out in a big way in Game 6.

Looking Ahead to Game 6:

The series shifts back to New York and a match-up of veteran hurlers will be on tap in the Bronx. All-time postseason wins leader Andy Pettitte will get the ball on three days rest against Pedro Martinez of the Phillies. It is truly a fascinating duel in the making. While Pettitte needs no postseason introduction, Pedro is still searching for a big game start that could help define his legacy in the playoffs.

As of now, most people remember October 16, 2003. Of course, that is the well documented and ill-fated night on which Boston manager Grady Little left Martinez in with a 5-3 lead with the Red Sox just five outs away from the World Series. The Yankees had other ideas.

Pedro departs SM.jpgThis is a different Pedro Martinez. His high-90s fastball has long since vanished. This is a Pedro who relies on his wits, guile and a slew of off-speed pitches to get the job done. This is a Pedro who has to outthink hitters rather than blowing them away. He departed his first series start with a grin on his face, but Game 6 has much more on the line. I’d count on seeing a focused Pedro.

Looking at each hurler’s initial start in this series, Pedro had the better of the two, but it was Pettitte who put one in the win column. Martinez went six innings and allowed three runs on six hits while walking two and striking out eight in his Game 2 starting assignment. Pettitte spotted the Phillies three early runs in Game 3, but settled down to go six innings and allow four total runs on five hits and three walks to go along with seven strikeouts.

The Yankees will get to insert a red-hot Hideki Matsui back into the line-up as the designated hitter is back in play. It would stand to reason that the Phillies will start the right hand hitting Ben Francisco instead of Matt Stairs against the lefty Pettitte. That would give the edge in the DH department, at least on paper, to the Yankees. Mutsui is 5-for-9 with two homers, while Francisco is hitless in four World Series at-bats.

Though there are quite a few stars lining up, World Series games have a way of finding unsung heroes, so there is no guarantee that the Yankees will be able to ice the Phillies in Game 6. If Philadelphia is able to push a Game 7, then all the momentum shifts back to the defending champions. At that point, the Phillies have nothing to lose, the Yankees will have squandered a 3-1 series lead and, more than ever, the pressure to win will be squarely on hte shoulders of Joe Girardi’s club. Gotta love the drama, but winning Game 6 is all either team is thinking about as of now.

If history repeats itself, then we are in for a close game as far as the starting pitchers are concerned. However, the bullpens have had a way of making things interesting for both sides. Again, a Phillies victory would take the wind out of the Yankees sails and even things up for an exciting seventh contest. That makes Game 6 must-see TV.

Prediction: Yankees win 5-3 to take their 27th World Series Championship

Till next time,

G-Mc

World Series Game 4: Damon helps Yanks steal victory

Thumbnail image for World Series.jpgIf the Phillies weren’t feeling the pressure before, then they most certainly are now. Johnny Damon‘s legs and Alex Rodriguez‘s bat helped the Yankees break a 4-4 tie with a three-run ninth inning rally that propelled New York to a 7-4 victory in Game 4 and a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

Baseball can show you something each night that you have never seen before, evidenced by Damon’s adventurous base running during that ninth inning.

Damon executed an unorthodox double-steal by anyone’s standards, taking advantage of a poor throw from catcher Carlos Ruiz and Philadelphia’s defensive over-shift to steal both second and third base on one play. The Phillies had moved three infielders to the right side during Mark Teixeira‘s at-bat, leaving usual third baseman Pedro Feliz to cover second base on the attempted steal.

Damon_Feliz.jpgThe short-hop throw by Ruiz was not only late, but also pulled Feliz off the bag and allowed Damon pop out of his slide and head toward an unattended third base. Damon’s heads up base running started Phillies closer Brad Lidge down a familiar path of destruction, though for the first time this postseason.

Rodriguez, who was no doubt looking to make the Phillies pay for plunking him on three occasions over the past two nights, drilled a fastball into the left field corner to chase home Damon and put the Yankees ahead 5-4.

Jorge Posada drove home two more a two-out double to give New York a three-run lead. Prior to those three runs scoring, Lidge was just one pitch away from escaping the inning, but Damon’s at-bat proves how quickly the momentum can swing back in the other direction.

Just one inning after Feliz tied the game at 4-4 with his solo-blast off Joba Chamberlain, the stunned Philadelphia crowd could only watch in horror as the Yankees took the lead and then placed it in the more than capable hands of Mariano Rivera, who recorded his second save of the series.

Lidge had previously converted all 10 postseason save opportunities in his two-year Philadelphia career, but the blown save on Sunday has put the Phillies at a distinct disadvantage in the Fall Classic. There have been 33 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in the World Series and only five have rallied to win it, the last being Kansas City in 1985.

As I said yesterday, if Alex Rodriguez wakes up at the plate then the Phillies are going to be in trouble. It was A-Rod who turned the tide in the ninth inning with his clutch two-out run-scoring double to put the Yankees back in the lead.

CC Sabathia was less than his best, but then again the lefty ace is better than most hurlers  in baseball even in that scenario. Regardless, Sabathia kept his team in the game and departed with the lead in the seventh inning.

Looking ahead to Game 5:

Philadelphia has their work cut out for them as Cliff Lee takes the hill for the second time in this World Series. Some questioned Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for not having Lee going on short rest in Game 4, but Lee had never started on less than full rest in his career which  underscores the fact that Philadelphia wasn’t quite ready to hit the panic button.

From here on out, it’s a different story.

Ryan Howard has been unable to make an impact during the series and Yankees left-handers have consistently kept the big slugger quiet. Without their clean-up hitter to pose a definite threat, Philadelphia’s line-up can be broken down and contained. A big night from Howard against righty A.J. Burnett would be just what the doctor ordered to keep the Phillies alive and well in this World Series.

Burnett will take the mound for the biggest start of his career, holding in his hands a chance to help the Yankees clinch their 27th World Championship. Burnett was filthy in his Game 2 start at Yankee Stadium, getting ahead of hitter after hitter and putting them away with his assortment of wicked breaking pitches. He will need to channel that success to match up with the 2008 AL Cy Young Award Winner in Cliff Lee.

One injury note forced the Yankees to make a move prior to Game 5. Melky Cabrera came up limping following his final at-bat Sunday and was replaced by Brett Gardner in the field in the sixth inning. Because of a strained left hamstring, New York has deactivated Cabrera for the remainder of the series and added infielder Ramiro Pena to the roster. Gardner will get the start in centerfield in Game 5.

Prediction: Phillies stay alive with a 5-2 victory

Till next time,

G-Mc