These aren’t the Yanks of my youth, Part 2

Is Jesus Montero a future Yankee catcher or trade bait? (AP)

Yes. The New York Yankees have been a consistent championship-caliber team every year since 1996. But just because you have the horses doesn’t mean you’ll always finish the race first, as evidenced by the surprise loss to the Florida Marlins in the ’03 World Series, the ’02 and ’05 losses to then Anaheim, the ’06 stunner to Detroit in the ALDS and the ’07 debacle to Cleveland in the ALDS (thanks to those terrorist bugs consuming Joba Chamberlain’s face!)

Since the Yanks last World Series season of ’09, celebrated against Philadelphia, the front office has taken on a different way of thinking; not necessarily a terrible thing since the Yankees now boast one of the strongest farm systems in all of baseball. No longer are the Yanks figured to be in on the signing of every big-name free agent or possible hot-stove move. They have focused on grooming from within with the likes Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, David Robertson and, most recently, Hector Noesi, all becoming integral parts of the club.

Other one-time prospects haven’t been so lucky, either because of mismanagement and now injury, a la Chamberlain, that whole “Joba Rules” thing was ridiculous and clearly wasn’t useful now that Mr. Tommy John has come a knocking. Phil Hughes, the heir-apparent to Roger Clemens has been hit and mostly miss. Still only 25-years old, and coming off a productive ’09 season, he has all the tools necessary to be a front-of-the-rotation guy. But his recent drop in velocity due to “dead arm” is concerning for a guy with little mileage on that arm. Add that to a list of other ailments and you have to wonder why a 6’-5″, 240-pound guy is so fragile!

Now, onto the prospects the Yanks have toiling in their system today. For all the talk that the big-league club needs a big bat and a left-handed pitcher, they refuse to look in house. And as each day goes by, it seems these highly touted prospects become stale waiting for their shot in the big show.

For all the trouble New York has had getting consistent production out of the designated-hitter role, with the likes of Jorge Posada and Andruw “I left my game in Atlanta” Jones, why not bring up Jesus Montero? A mountain of a man, “The Full Monty” stands at 6’-3″ and 235-pounds of Venezuelan timber. Rated as the #1 prospect in all the Yankees farm system, Jesus batted .337 while slugging 17 HRs and driving in 70 RBIs during the ’09 campaign while in double-A Trenton. He followed up that impressive season with another in 2010, batting .289 with 21 dingers and 75 RBIs while at triple-A Scranton. Unfortunately, this season, Jesus has started to plateau, only batting .282 with eight homers and 42 RBIs; still good numbers, but not for an elite prospect. It’s time to bring Montero to the majors!

The big-league club needs a bat; more importantly, an everyday DH. Worst-case scenario, he provides some power off the bench. What is the holdup? The brass say they want to keep the 21-year-old at triple-A for more defensive seasoning. But all signs point to the fact that Jesus will never be an everyday, major-league catcher. With the way he swings the bat you need him to stay healthy and concentrate on bashing the ball like the “Serrano of old.” By calling up Montero, the Yanks get a young explosive bat and a serviceable backup catcher. Francisco Cervelli, the Yanks current backup catcher, doesn’t hit his weight and the usually dependable signal caller seems to think that second base is now located in the center field when trying to throw out runners. Let Montero finally get a feel for big-league pitching, a challenge he’s really yet to face, backup a veteran in Russell Martin and let him learn while getting the experience needed to succeed. Best case, Jesus solidifies the DH role and gives the offense a spark. Worst-case, again, you showcase him to other clubs and, even if he struggles behind the plate, hope that another club would move him to first base because of his potential with the bat. Either way, the time is now for Montero, before the minor leagues zap him of his tools.

The other highly touted catching prospect is Austin Romine. Blessed with superior defensive capabilities, Romine projects as an everyday, major-league catcher. The only question mark before this season was the consistency of his offensive game. But this season, Austin has begun to put it all together while in Trenton, hitting at a .291 clip, with five dingers and 41 runs batted in. Sure would be nice to rest Russell Martin with a 24-year-old kid who can command a major-league staff and put the bat on the ball. He’s also not ready? I’m beginning to sense a trend.

Manuel Banuelos has been a K-machine in the minors. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

You don’t win without pitching. And highlighted by The Killer Bs — Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and Andrew Brackman — the Yanks have a bright future … or is the question: did they? Looking at the numbers, the 19-year-old Banuelos was superb in ’09 — 9-5 with a 2.64 ERA, 106 Ks in 109 innings, while pitching in the low, single-A leagues. Last season was shortened by injuries, but the diminutive Mexican prodigy still managed to compile a 2.51 ERA while striking out 85 at three different minor-league levels. This season, while pitching for double-A Trenton, Banuelos has been decent at 3-5, a 3.74 ERA and an outstanding 89 Ks in only 89 innings. The big club needs another lefty coming out of the pen. But you say he’s too young. Fine. But when? When the rosters expand in September? Next spring?

How about a 6’-8″, 260-pound native New Yorker? Betances was outstanding last season at single-A and double-A. Going 8-1 with a 2.11 ERA, Betances sat down a whopping 108 batters in only 85 innings! Wow! Still deemed unready by the front office, he’s been steady this year at 4-4 with a 3.20 ERA, but still striking out 96 batters in only 84 innings. Man, another power arm would be nice to complement CC Sabathia‘s dominace in the rotation. Then again, with A.J. Burnett … nevermind.

How about another giant in 6’-10″, 230-pound Brackman? To say his performance from last season’s pedestrian 10-11 record, 3.90 ERA and 126 Ks in 140 innings at double-A and triple-A has taken a turn for the worse might be an understatement. This season, he’s at 2-6 with an astronomical 7.22 ERA, giving up nearly a hit per inning (71 hits in 72 innings) while only striking out only 56. Maybe the time has passed on Brackman. Or maybe it’s time to throw him to the wolves of major-league hitting and see how he fares. At 25 years of age, we need to see what he has in the tank. And if it’s nothing, then at least we’ll finally know.

It worked with Ivan Nova. He was little better than a .500 pitcher in the minors but still had the prospect label. So, the Yanks gave him a shot this season when Andy Pettitte retired and Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies. Nova has managed to go 8-4 with a 4.12 ERA while being second on the club in wins behind Sabathia. What’s that you say? Demoted to minors for Phil Hughes? Come on! Nova obviously has major league stuff. He won’t overpower you, but with four solid pitches, including a knee-buckling curveball and a mean sinker, he was on pace to win 18 games in his first full season. I understand you want him to pitch every fifth day and by putting him in the Yanks bullpen, he obviously wouldn’t have done that. But this is the future of the rotation we’re talking about. And you may have mortgaged it to keep Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia as starters. Both of who will be pitching for other clubs next season. This certainly seems to go against everything the Yankees have been preaching about grooming prospects. Especially ones that have started to prove themselves in the big leagues. Lets hope when Nova comes back up, he still has the mental and physical fortitude to pick up where he left off.

Now there are plenty of other prospects I could have named, some of who you may not heard of yet. These prospects have the tools to one day don a major-league uniform. But will it be a New York Yankees uniform? They include: Good-hitting third baseman Brandon Laird, who just concluded his first cup of coffee with the big club; another young (18-year-old) catcher by the name of Gary Sanchez, who appears to be a younger version ofMontero; a control specialist, right-handed pitcher by the name of Adam Warren, who may make his debut this week for a Saturday doubleheader; a phenomenal athlete and lightening quick outfielder, 18-year-old Mason Williams; and a solid second baseman and hitting machine David Adams. He was one of the linchpins that derailed the Cliff Lee trade last season from Seattle due to a broken foot and ankle. The latest 18-year-old prospect, just-drafted Dante Bichette Jr. has tremendous power with the ability to hit to all fields and smooth hands, handling the hot corner like a season vet. Heir-apparent to A-Rod anyone? Only time will tell. These are just some of the names to get excited about that litter the Yanks minor-league system. Hopefully, we will see them brought up through the system properly or sent packing in a trade for the right addition to the club. Either way, if the Yanks win, we’re all happy. Just make a move, and soon!

Jeff Karstens -- one the Yankees would love to still have -- is having a standout year in Pittsburgh. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Brian Cashman, for the most part, has a solid track record of pulling off good trades throughout his tenure, especially at the deadline. Here are some of the positive  and not-so-positive ones:

  1. Aaron Shive and Matt Cusack to Cleveland for Kerry Wood. Last season, Wood solidified the eighth inning, becoming almost lights-out, before turning the ball over to Mariano. Someone please explain to me why he wasn’t resigned?
  2. Wilson Betemit and two minor league pitchers for Nick Swisher, aka “Nicky Swish.” An absolute steal, Swisher reinvigorated the club for the ’09 run, lighting a fire under the team, while setting career offensive numbers and playing an above-average right field.
  3. Jimmy Paredes and Mark Melancon for the expired rental of Lance “I don’t like pressure situations” Berkman. It sounded like a really good deal on paper. The Yanks acquire a five-time All-Star with over 320 home runs to hit DH and occasionally play first. Only problem was Lance forgot how to hit right-handed and looked like he was running in quicksand while on the field. Tell me if you saw his career being rejuvenated in St. Louis? Looks like the Puma of old in the National League. Melancon, however, always had big-league stuff but wasn’t very consistent. Finally given a chance to be the closer in Houston, he has excelled saving eight games for one of the worst teams in baseball.
  4. Maybe my least favorite trade in recent memory was when the Yankees sent Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Jose Tabata and Daniel McCutchen to Pittsburgh for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. Now, I know Marte was iatrical during the ’09 run. But how many times do the Yanks need to acquire him before he blows out his arm for good? Nady was a fine player at the time, but he didn’t make up for for what was sent packing to Pittsburgh, which was thought of as a lot then and even more so now — especially with the Bucs sitting in second place, thanks in large part to the ex-pinstripe prospects. Karstens has been the Pirates best pitcher at 8-5, while sporting a 2.28 ERA. McCutchen has been stellar out of the pen, going 3-1 with a 2.26 ERA. And Tabata has primarily manned left field better than average before his latest injury, batting .265.
  5. Jeff Kennard to Anaheim for Jose Molina was a great deal. It gave the Yanks a superb backup defensive catcher who, if you weren’t careful, could drive in a run when needed.
  6. C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith from Philadelphia for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. Abreu was money for two and a half seasons — 16 HRs and 101 RBIs in ’07, followed up by 20 HRs and 100 RBIs in ’09. Abreu, honestly, was a find that solidified the revolving door that was RF for the Yankees.
  7. And, finally, one of the most important deadline deals ever, prospects Brandon Claussen and Charlie Manning were sent to Cincinnati for Aaron Boone, the 2003 ALCS hero. No Yankee fan will ever forget that home run off Tim Wakefield. Had Boone not tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game the following offseason, A-Rod may not be in pinstripes today. Amazing how things turn out.

Well, we’re down to just a few days till the July 31 trade deadline. Its been nice going down memory lane, looking at the successes and failures of past deals. As we have seen, making a move can set up a team for years to come. We just hope, as fans, it’s the right one.

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