If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favors nor your hate.
I’ve always liked that snippet from Banquo’s second speech in Act 1, Scene 3, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But as fans have gotten more and more aware of the minor leagues and player development, it’s become more and more applicable to baseball.
“Which grain will grow and which will not…”
Here are some images from the 1992 Fleer ProCards set of the Fort Lauderdale Yankees of the Florida State League. 20 seasons have come and gone since these kids were the future, and there were more opinions about them than each had seasons under his belt.
Do you remember this guy? Second-round pick in the 1990 draft, gaunt, rangy at 6’3″, 170, with the exotic birthplace of Rotterdam, Holland. The Yankees’ shortstop of the future (as viewed from 1992)…Robert Eenhoorn?It is literally true that he was a Yankee shortstop of the future. In fact, he was the shortstop on May 28, 1995, as the Yankees beat the A’s 4-1 in Oakland. Eenhoorn went 0-for-4, lowering his season performance to 0-for-7. The next game, in Seattle, the Yankees tried another young shortstop to fill in for the injured Tony Fernandez. Jeter somebody.
Remember this next guy?
I was at the Expansion Draft, the November after this card was made. The Yankees had just lost him to Florida, and I stepped into the hotel elevator to find General Manager Stick Michael, who looked like he’d just given blood – or was expecting that George Steinbrenner would make sure it was taken from it. He lasted longer than Eenhoorn (he did 202 homers and was on a World’s Championship team in Chicago) but given the baggage he seemed to proudly carry around (he was just arrested on family violence charges last week) it seems Michael’s anxieties were unfounded.
Everett and Eenhoorn were the Yanks’ top two picks in 1990, but this next guy was the star of stars in their system as of 1992 – the first overall pick in the 1991 draft. If you bought this set in 1992, you bought it to get this card:
What is sadder than this?
Brien Taylor was the real deal. I saw him pitch at New Britain, Connecticut. Not only have I never seen anybody throw harder, I’ve never seen anybody throw as effortlessly. His 100-MPH pitches seemed to be thrown about 5% harder than his warm-ups. You couldn’t see any of them from the stands. And then there was a brawl in a bar, and his brother was in trouble, and he went in to help him, and they tore his pitching arm to shreds.
And so the star-crossed 1992 Fort Lauderdale Yankees would mostly be a tale of woe (there’s also a card of Mike Figga – he’d hit a major league home run – and of Domingo Jean – he’d win a major league game). But, if you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak to me then.
There was also this skinny pitcher – he made Eenhoorn look robust – who’d struggled in Greensboro the year before (3-4, 5.45, 52 strikeouts to 40 walks) and he’s about to hit a milestone in a career that, frankly, dwarfed everybody else who was playing in the minor leagues when this card was made (and nearly everyone who was playing in the majors).
I have told before the story of the argument of the man who built the Yankees’ last twenty years of success, Gene “Stick” Michael, on making a big trade for a star pitcher. Still a consultant when New York was offered Johan Santana for Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and a minor league body, Michael said he would leave the finance and the health to others. But in terms of baseball, he pointed out that whether through injury or under-performance, 50 percent of all pitching prospects don’t even approach their highest ceiling.
Thus, he said, you have to consider the two pitchers as one: Hughnedy, or Kenughes. And suddenly you’re seeing the trade for what it was: one pitcher with 13 so-so major league starts and a proclivity to injury under his belt, for Johan Santana. He said you’d make that deal every day of the week.
And yet the Yankees didn’t make the trade. The money issue is now clear: the only thing the Mets gave up for Santana that has yet to pan out is Philip Humber, and that wasn’t until this year and it wasn’t in Minnesota. The Mets wound up tying up a huge amount of cash in Santana and got one great season, two fair ones, and this one that might see him back from serious surgery to make six or seven starts this year.
Still, the Yankees could’ve afforded that from Santana. As a major league General Manager explained it to me, the reason they didn’t make it was that they must have seen signs that the Twins weren’t certain about Santana’s health. Was he getting extra time between starts? Had his pitch count been limited? Were his innings per-start level, or coming down?
In fact, Santana’s innings per-start had dropped by 0.15% from 2005 to 2006, then another 0.13% from 2006 to 2007, meaning he was coming out of every game roughly one batter sooner in 2007 than he had been in 2005. This other statistic is a little looser as an indicator, but the total number of batters Santana faced in 2007 was 45 fewer than he had in 2006. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but it suggests that the ‘torch factor’ – the exact number of pitches at which you go from being a guy who gets batters out, to a guy who gets torched. For whatever reason, Santana was coming out of games six or seven pitches earlier. That’s a red flag.
All of which brings us to Ubaldo Jimenez. Why wouldn’t you trade for a man who shined the way he did the first half of last year? Why, he was 15-1, and he was still 17-2 and the consensus Cy Young Winner before he got “tired.” He’s a solid citizen, and judging by that ‘bicycle license plate’ commercial, a very funny, grounded man. Heck, he’s got an Emmy Award for narrating a special for the regional cable network in Denver (I don’t have an Emmy Award). Well, in the year since he reached that 15-1 mark, he’s 10-16. And if that number is too obvious for you, let’s go back to the tip-off the Yanks evidently used on Santana. In 2010, Jimenez lasted 6.71 innings per start. This year, he’s lasted 5.86.
That number suggests if he’s not hurt, he’s going to be.
So what did the Indians give up for this? A pitcher in Alex White who had successfully stepped into their rotation before a serious but hardly chronic finger injury knocked him out. He’s just beginning rehab and should be starting for Colorado within a couple of weeks, and he’s a sinkerballer going to the thin air of Denver. Then there’s Joe Gardner, a pitcher who’s struggled in AA, but another sinkerballer. And then there’s Drew Pomeranz, that rarest of pitchers, the lefthanded flamethrower. There’s a high-risk throw-in, an ex-catcher named Matt McBride.
All of this for a Jekyll-and-Hyde starter who is showing early signs that a serious injury is in his immediate future. Or, if it isn’t, that he reached a peak of efficiency last July and has been heading downhill ever since. I’m confident that this is a trade the Indians will regret next year. I think they may regret it next month.
They could – and did – give the trophies to other guys, but let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the Phillies, or the ’09 Yankees, or the ’10 Giants, you know that the World Series MVP last year was Damaso Marte, and the NLCS MVP this year was Javier Lopez.
AB HR RBI AVG SLGAt Home Vs LHP 82 5 13 .305 .524On Road Vs LHP 84 3 10 .238 .393Overall Vs RHP 352 24 77 .401 .716
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?
Lee would have pitched a complete game?
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.