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October 10, 2006

Why The Yankees Will Not Improve In 2007

Most Yankees fans feel that the Yankees need to improve their starting pitching next season. I would agree with that assumption. The issue that I have with this suggestion is "How?"

Let's first look at the Yankees starting rotation, in terms of what it should be, next year:

#1 - Worm Killer Wang
#2 - TBD
#3 - TBD
#4 - Randy Johnson and/or Carl Pavano
#5 - Jeff Karstens and/or Darrell Rasner

What I'm attempting to say here is: The Yankees have one SP that they can count on (Wang) and four question marks (for next year) that should be able to fill the last two positions at the back end of the rotation. What the Yankees need is two strong starting pitchers to buddy with Wang at the front of New York's 2007 rotation.

Some people feel that Mike Mussina should be the #3 pitcher in the rotation for the Yankees in 2007. But, the call here is that Mussina is old (as he will be 38 next year), a priss, and not a team player. Personally, I think the Yankees have had enough old, cranky, me-type pitchers over the last few years. It's time to stop that trend. And, by the way, the last time Mussina was able to throw 200 IP was 2003. His time is over.

Other people feel that maybe Johnson/Pavano should be pushed up to the #3 slot - with Karstens/Rasner moving up to #4 - and then giving Philip Hughes the # 5 position in the rotation. This would be a mistake.

Hughes has zero Triple-A experience to date. He's done great in Double-A. But, look at a recent scouting report on him from the current edition of Baseball America:

He maintained quality stuff all year. Hughes throws a two-seam fastball at 89-90 mph and a four-seamer at 91-95. He throws two versions of his three-quarters breaking ball, one that's harder and one that breaks more. He also throws a straight changeup at 82-83 mph with terrific late fade.

Hughes pitches off his fastball and has an aggressive approach. He repeats his delivery well and his arm action is loose, clean and quick. The biggest thing he needs to improve is his command, as he tends to leave pitches over the plate and up in the strike zone.

See the problem? You throw 90-93 and leave it in the zone in Double-A and you'll get outs. You throw 90-93 in the majors and leave it up in the zone in the bigs and you're Jaret Wright. The Yankees must leave Hughes in Triple-A for at least 20 starts before thinking about bringing him to the majors.

How about Free Agents - can they fill the #2 and #3 spots for the Yankees?

Here are the major SP Free Agents out there this off-season: Ted Lilly, Tony Armas Jr., Mark Mulder, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Greg Maddux, Randy Wolf, Jason Schmidt, and Barry Zito.

Of this group, only Clemens, Pettitte, Schmidt, and Zito are "top of the rotation guys." Maybe the Yankees can sign one of these pitchers - but, it's probably 50-50 at best - unless they want to overpay through the nose.

How about trading for a front-end starter? This is worse than the Free Agent front. There are no major pitchers slated to be Free Agents after 2007. So, why would any team be willing to trade the Yankees a front-end starter - again, unless the Yankees overpay in the trade.

Lastly, there's Daisuke Matsuzaka.

How about these names: Tomo Ohka, Masato Yoshii, Hideo Nomo, Kazuhisa Ishii, Hideki Irabu, Mac Suzuki?

What I'm trying to say here is that when Matsuzaka becomes a great starting pitcher to come from Japan, he will be the first one ever. You cannot count on Matsuzaka to come to the U.S. and be a front-end starting pitcher. He would be a fine gamble for the 4th or 5th slot of your rotation. But, to count on him to be a #2 (or even #3) type pitcher is a huge gamble.

In summary, the Yankees need two new and very good starting pitchers for next year - and their best bet at getting maybe one very good starting pitcher is the Free Agent route. That still leaves the Yankees short in their rotation for 2007.

The Yankees should be in better shape around 2009 - when guys like Philip Hughes, Tyler Clippard, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain might be able to be major players in their starting rotation. But, until then, expect the same ol' rotation woes in Yankeeland - just because the answers to the Yankees pitching problems are not out there at this time.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at October 10, 2006 02:02 PM

Comments

What I'm trying to say here is that when Matsuzaka becomes a great starting pitcher to come from Japan, he will be the first one ever.
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Before Wang, name a great starting pitcher from Taiwan. After Blyleven, name a great starting pitcher from Holland. Any great starters from Panama?

Yanks don't need an ace, a competent 2 or 3 will do. Someone who can throw a lot of innings, someone who will always keep the team in the game.

And I'd bring Moose back for another year.

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:01 PM

Raf - how many 20+ RSAA seasons does Wang have in his career?

And, if you want to consider Blyleven as being born and *raised* in Holland, there's not much that I can do to help you.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:10 PM

Statement from George Steinbrenner

"I spoke to Joe Torre today and I told him, 'You're back for the year. I expect a great deal from you and the entire team. I have high expectations and I want to see enthusiasm, a fighting spirit and a team that works together. The responsibility is yours, Joe, and all of the Yankees.'

"Yes, I am deeply disappointed about our loss this year, we have to do better. And I deeply want a championship. It's about time."

Posted by: Scott Coulter [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:20 PM

I think Matsuzaka is more of a sure bet to be if not a top of the rotation starter - a middle of the rotation starter.

Based on his work in the WBC and watching his YouTube highlight reels, his breaking ball looks just devastating.

Also, Hideo Nomo doesn't belong in that group (and frankly Tomo Ohka's shown flashes recently).

For two full seasons, Nomo was a beast - ERA+s of 150 and 120 with 230+ Ks and K/9s of greater than 9... he certainly didn't keep that up, but there was a time where was a dominant pitcher.

Matsuzaka on the seemingly standard three year deal would probably pay dividends.

As for Moose - declining his option is a no-brainer, but there's been some discussion recently in the media (I think ESPN radio) where Moose moved into a bit of a pitching coach role - diagnosing Wanger's struggles from the stretch, etc... if we think Hughes and Clippard might play roles in 2007 or 2008, even 2009 - it might behoove the Yankees to resign Mussina to a more reasonably priced two-year contract.

He pitched nearly 200 innings (197.3) this season, and did it to an ERA+ of 125.

It seems a century ago, but let's not forget that for three months this year, Moose like like a CYA contender. He's not done yet.

Posted by: SMinDC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:26 PM

~~~He (Mussina) pitched nearly 200 innings (197.3) this season, and did it to an ERA+ of 125.~~~

Amazing what the last year of a contract can do for a guy, huh?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:40 PM

we will get a SP when we trade a-rod...I've heard that at least one of Torre and Alex absolutely had to go...well we have our man staying...I would call up LAA immediately and ask for Santana Weaver and Kendrick...maybe it's too much, but I'll leave that up to Cash

Posted by: sju38621 [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:47 PM

And you have to say no to Clemens, he can't pitch a full season, let alone a season + post season. Pettitte's 3 years older and still has elbow trouble.

How about picking up Shef's option, then sending him and a boatload of cash for a SP?

Posted by: rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:58 PM

SminDC, in these days of panic and hysteria, it's great to hear a logical voice. I second everything you've said.

And, Steve, frankly your pessimism and defeatist attitude lately has been irritating. You act as though the Yankees were doomed -- dooooomed! -- to become the Tampa Bay Devil Rays next year. They had a great regular season and were horrible in the post-season. They need pitching. This is all true. But the sky did not fall when they lost to the Tigers. You still have a very, very good team here. This panic is bordering on insanity.

Your breakdown of the pitching situation is flat wrong, in my opinion.

"[T]he call here is that Mussina is old, a priss, and not a team player. And, by the way, the last time Mussina was able to throw 200 IP was 2003. His time is over."

A little biased, maybe, Steve? You clearly don't like Mussina and you're letting it cloud logic. You conveniently fail to mention that Moose was a few innings away from going 200. And what proof do you have that Moose is a "me-first" player? All this guy does is take pitchers under his wing and help them out. He's the opposite of a me-first player. Just because he hates talking to the media doesn't mean he's a bad guy. He's been the very example of how to be a classy, smart, respectful ballplayer. And he was also great this year. He won 15 games with a 3.5 ERA. How is that "done"?

"Philip Hughes the # 5 position in the rotation. This would be a mistake.
See the problem? You throw 90-93 and leave it in the zone in Double-A and you'll get outs. You throw 90-93 in the majors and leave it up in the zone in the bigs and you're Jaret Wright."

Listen, we all know that you don't want Hughes in the majors (or maybe even on the Yankees). And you can continue to spread this propaganda that he's not really a good pitcher, but you're wrong. How can you read that report and only take away that he leaves some balls over the plate? Did you read the rest of it? 20 year old kid throwing 95 miles an hour with two great breaking balls. Guess what -- Wright won 11 games for this team. Hughes, right now, is ten times the pitcher he is. He's also better than Randy Johnson at this point. He's young, he's a power arm, and he's better than anything out there on the free-agent market. Not starting him out of spring training would be dumb. We're not going to find a better fifth starter anywhere else. Maybe you want Ponson or Lidle. I don't.

"Of this group, only Clemens, Pettitte, Schmidt, and Zito are 'top of the rotation guys.'"

Hilarious. Clemens, Pettitte, Zito and Schmidt are top-of-the-rotation guys, but Moose is done? Ridiculous. All but Zito are NL guys, which means you can add a run to their ERA, and Zito had a mediocre year at best. And Clemens is going to be 45! And can't stay healthy for half a season. This is almost a joke.

"Lastly, there's Daisuke Matsuzaka. How about these names: Tomo Ohka, Masato Yoshii, Hideo Nomo, Kazuhisa Ishii, Hideki Irabu, Mac Suzuki?"

I guess when Wang came along, you said, "There has never been a Taiwanese pitcher in the major leagues -- this kid will BOMB!" There's no maturity in the thinking "what never was will never be." Also, Nomo had a terrific career. Go look at the numbers. You'll be shocked. He was good as recently as '03/'04. Irabu was just overhyped. I wish people would stop bringing him up like he was the best Japanese pitcher in their league.

When examining Matsuzaka, forget that he's Japanese for a second. Just think of his stuff. He's not some deception guy. Like Wang, he throws hard (his fastball is 93-95) and both his slider and curve are plus pitches. AND he can give you innings (he threw THIRTEEN complete games this year). If Mats was American or Latin and had this type of stuff, you'd be beating down his door. But since he's Japanese, oh, forget about it. Go watch the tapes of him mowing people down in the WBC. His race is irrelevant.

"But, until then, expect the same ol' rotation woes in Yankeeland - just because the answers to the Yankees pitching problems are not out there at this time."

Actually the Yankees are in fairly good shape. Hughes is around if they need him. Matsuzaka is available. And they might get a pitcher if they trade A-Rod. And Zito, who I DO NOT want, is also out there. I would say the Yankees have a chance, mid-2007, to have a rotation that looks like this: Wang, Matsuzaka, Moose, Hughes, Pavano-Johnson-E. Santana-Rasner-whoever.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 03:58 PM

[snip]Amazing what the last year of a contract can do for a guy, huh?[snip]

I dunno, Steve.

His ERA+ for his time as a Yank are 142, 108, 129, 98, 101 and 125.

His win totals are 17, 18, 17, 12, 13 and 15.

Looks like this year was more of a return to form than a contract year breakout.

Posted by: SMinDC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:00 PM

Raf - how many 20+ RSAA seasons does Wang have in his career?

And, if you want to consider Blyleven as being born and *raised* in Holland, there's not much that I can do to help you.
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You tell me, you're the one who gave him the cool nickname, you're the one who penciled him #1 in the rotation (:

Matsuzaka should be a solid #3. Someone who eats innings, and has an ERA a little better than league average.

Would you feel better if he was raised *stateside*? (:

BTW, not that it means anything, but Nomo and Ohka each have two seasons where they had a 20+ RSAA

And you need a 3rd pitcher; Wang (shoulder), RJ (back/knee), and Pavano (everything, lol) have issues

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:01 PM

Why should Matsuzaka only be "a solid number three"? I think you guys are underestimating what he brings to the table. His stuff says he should be a number one, and that's what scouts think. The same is true of Hughes (Hughes and Mats throw similar stuff).

Stuff-wise, you'd probably rank our top three as Hughes, Mats, Wang, and in about two years that's probably how you'd line 'em up.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:10 PM

~~~Listen, we all know that you don't want Hughes in the majors (or maybe even on the Yankees). And you can continue to spread this propaganda that he's not really a good pitcher~~~

Show me where I said that.

I may have said that he's not ready yet - or that there will be bumps in his learning curve - but when did I say he was not really a good pitcher?

Gosh, I love how people are always so quick to put words in my mouth.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:16 PM

Mike Plugh has a Matsuzaka blog (http://matsuzaka.blogspot.com/), and he says the gyroball is just an urban legend. He said Matsuzaka messed around with it in Spring Training one year then scrapped it. He supposedly throws a fastball, curve, slider and change like everyone else.

He was good in the WBC, but not as great as he was made out to be. His stuff wasn't as electric as everyone claims it is, and the Japanese team had been preparing for months supposedly.

He'll be better than what we have, but I'm skeptical...

Posted by: Mike A. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:18 PM

Also, one add on about Matsuzaka - -

he's never thrown in a 5-man. They use a 6-man rotation in Japan. How is that going to translate for him?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:19 PM

For some better first-hand info Re: Matsuzaka, check this thread over at Baseball Think Factory (http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/newsstand/discussion/3_minutes_of_matsuzaka/)

Some Japan-based Primates are bullish on Matsuzaka over the short-term, which is basically my position.

Also, he's about to be posted per Japanball.com

Posted by: SMinDC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:24 PM

"You throw 90-93 and leave it in the zone in Double-A and you'll get outs. You throw 90-93 in the majors and leave it up in the zone in the bigs and you're Jaret Wright. The Yankees must leave Hughes in Triple-A for at least 20 starts before thinking about bringing him to the majors."

That's a direct quote from you. You're comparing him to Jaret Wright, and saying he's nowhere near ready, which means he's not that good (that's certainly the implication I get). You've constantly warned, with great foreboding, about bringing him up, and you have mentioned trading him numerous times.

Hughes is the first true topflight, homegrown pitcher we've had since Andy. I guess I just don't understand your reluctance toward him. Look what Wang has done coming out of the minors. Look at other teams and what they've done with their young pitching. Developing a true, top-of-the-rotation pitcher out of your farm system is one of the most beneficial things a team can do.

Sorry if I offended you. But I just disagree with the entire premise of this post (aside from that the Yankees need pitching). I guess I just get a negative feel from you toward Hughes. And I'm not sure why.

And remain calm. I wasn't attacking you. Just giving my opinion (if I misinterpreted what you meant, then I apologize).

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:26 PM

There is no such thing as a gyroball. The American media drove that story about Mats because they can't just treat Japanese players as ballplayers and human beings; they have to be "mysterious" and "odd."

Mats was 3-0 in three games with a 1.38 ERA in the WBC. Hard to be better than that. The Japanese team was together for a while, but so were the Cubans, and he dominated them.

I won't use the dreaded "R" word here -- and will instead stick with jingoistic -- but it's getting awfully close, since all the reluctance toward Mats is about his race. Forget where he pitches (and the results he got there), forget his race, and instead just think about his stuff. Separate that from everything and you have a pitcher who will help this team.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:42 PM

Why should Matsuzaka only be "a solid number three"? I think you guys are underestimating what he brings to the table. His stuff says he should be a number one, and that's what scouts think.
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I'd rather underestimate, than overestimate.

Being a #3 starter is not an insult. He'd be a 3 on this squad, do you see him starting before Wang & Mussina (going with the assumption that he is re-signed)?

Stuff-wise, there are plenty of guys with good stuff that didn't do them any good in MLB. But, I'd be willing to take my chances on Matsuzaka.

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:44 PM

he's never thrown in a 5-man. They use a 6-man rotation in Japan. How is that going to translate for him?
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1999: 180
2000: 167.2
2001: 240.1
2002: 73.1
2003: 194
2004: 146
2005: 215
2006: 186.1

He'll be fine in a 5 man rotation

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:49 PM

Raff - those are IP totals based on 5 days rest. I would offer that throwing 175 IP in a season, with getting 5 days rest, is like only throwing 140 IP when getting 4 days rest, ballpark.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:54 PM

Raf beat me to it on the IP thing.

185 1/3 innings pitched in just 24 games. Wow. Only went less than 7 five times, and also pitched 10 innings in one game. He had ten complete games. And went 8 or more four times.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:55 PM

This is what I think next year's rotation will be (not what I want, just what I see happening)

1-3 in some order: Wang, Mussina, Johnson
4: Some big name free agent (Zito, Pettite, etc)
5: One of our existing pitchers who lasts through spring training (Pavano, Wright, etc).

Posted by: christopher [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:56 PM

baileywalk - I meant that Hughes' 2007 results, based on lack of experience, would not be pretty - if rushed to the bigs - by that Wright compare.

No sweat on the intentions thing. We'll all Yankees fans and this is a bad week. I probably shouldn't be posting at all this week - until the ALDS gets out of my system.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 04:57 PM

It's not a strict 6-man rotation, Steve.

Managers in Japan juggle rest, skip the fifth and sixth starter and play matchups more than they do in the states.

Looks like Matsuzaka got 25 starts in 136 games - that's roughly a start every 5 games, just like the U.S.

Posted by: SMinDC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 05:01 PM

Raff - those are IP totals based on 5 days rest. I would offer that throwing 175 IP in a season, with getting 5 days rest, is like only throwing 140 IP when getting 4 days rest, ballpark.
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How do you arrive at that figure?

FWIW, pitchers in NPB pitch on their throw days as well.

I wouldn't sweat it too much. There have been pitchers of all shapes and sizes and abilities that have been able to throw in a 5-man rotation. I don't see why he would not be able to adjust.

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 05:07 PM

Thanks SMinDC.

FWIW, we're all assuming that the Yankees can get this pitcher. Maybe the Red Sox will rent out all the rooms in a hotel or something and try and block NY?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 05:28 PM

Hey no problem - I'm using this as my outlet before I go off half-cocked over at BTF.

I think Matsuzaka will wind up either in New York or Seattle.

For the Yankees, there's the MAtsui factor, the tradition, etc... there's also the money. The Yanks can probably outbid everyone for the posting fee in order to get the exclusive rights to him.

This was the case with Matsui, and with Irabu, the Yanks traded some minor leaguers to San Diego for the right to negotiate with Irabu.

Either way, New York probablyhas the inside track.

Posted by: SMinDC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 05:32 PM

FWIW, we're all assuming that the Yankees can get this pitcher. Maybe the Red Sox will rent out all the rooms in a hotel or something and try and block NY?
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Didn't work so well for them last time :)

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 05:46 PM

Problem with Hughes is the Yankees were basically limiting him to five innings the last two months. He'll need a bullpen of his own, just like Wright and RJ do. IOW, he needs to be stretched (and not on a rack) in AAA and I don't know what we'll get from in 2007 in the Bronx. Maybe out of the bullpen himself in 2007?

Posted by: Don [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 06:48 PM

Matsuzaka's era this year was 2.13. Of course, MLB is not as pitcher friendly, so let's assume that goes up a full run. That's still 3.13, 2nd best in the AL!

The dimensions of his home park: 328 down the lines, 380 to the alleys, 400 to center.

Forget he's Japanese. His stuff says Roger Clemens/Curt Schilling, with a slightly slower fb, but a better slider.

Posted by: 98Yanks [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 08:00 PM

I did a little research on the Japanese posting system and apparently once Matsuzaka is posted, major league teams have 40 days to make a bid. If he is posted at the end of this week, the posting period will end in late November. That would be about a week before the Winter Meetings start. I doubt that Zito will sign elsewhere before the Winter Meetings. So, if the Yankees miss out on Matsuzaka, they would still have time to bid on Zito -- something I'm not crazy about.

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 08:18 PM

Steve, Nomo completely dominated in his first couple of years in the bigs, he was as much of an ace as anyone during those 2 years, what happend to him was that he got hurt and lost both command and velocity, that'll kill any pitcher.

Matz's stats is very comparable with Nomo, perhaps even better, considering he pitchs in a tougher era for pitchers in Japan.

There is of course risk in signing him, there is risk in anyone. really.

As for Moose, I'm mixed , on the one hand I agree with you that if we have better options we really shouldn't bring him back .. on the other hand do we really have better options out there than signing Moose at 2 year 20M?

RJ should retire, though he has 16M reason not to :/

Pavano needs to be dumped... big time... I don't care if we eat some of the money and/or not get much back, he needs to go.

improving a team isn't just about signing the biggest gun out there.

The only realistic trade the Yanks could pull off for something useful must start with A-rod.. unfortunately.

Posted by: Yu Hsing Chen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2006 10:35 PM

Hey Steve.

How about these names:

Tomo Ohka - never pitched in Japan

Masato Yoshii - 3.71 career ERA, more than half of his games were relief appearances. Started 20+ games 3 times in 16 seasons.

Hideo Nomo - walked 100+ batters a year in Japan. Horrific arm surgery before arriving in the US. Still won ROY with a 2.54 ERA, and a 3.19 in his second season. He threw 2 no hitters in his career despite having major arm issues stemming from his surgery in Japan.

Kazuhisa Ishii - 1.30 career WHIP in Japan. Only made 20+ starts in 5 of his 10 seasons in Japan. Career 3.38 ERA was very good.

Hideki Irabu - 1.32 career WHIP in Japan. Only made 20+ starts 3 out of 9 seasons before coming to the US.

Mac Suzuki - Started 24 games in Japan before coming to the US. He had a 7.53 ERA.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - 1.14 WHIP and 2.94 career ERA (2.50 ERA and 1.07 WHIP since his 22nd birthday).

The problem with using other Japanese pitchers as a precedent for Matsuzaka is that each decent pitcher has been locked into a 9 year commitment to the Japanese club after pitching in his 1st pro game. Most guys have seen their best years come and go before they're eligible to come to the US. There's always more guaranteed money waiting for them in Japan so they never come. For that reason alone, we've NEVER seen a top flight Japanese pitcher come to the Majors. This will be the first time. He is everything advertised.

I leave you with this note. If Japanese baseball is AAAA level and a guy throws 4 years at a 2.50 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP at AAA, he is the goods at 26 years old. If this guy was at Columbus, we'd be freaking out about him. He happens to have played in a more competitive environment with these results. Have faith.

Posted by: Mike Plugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 09:17 AM

I hope you're right Mike - but, again, this all assumes that the Yankees can get him. The posting system is tricky.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 10:13 AM