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Memo to Yankees: Keep Cano

If you get Loretta, great. But don't trade Robbie
11/30/2007 4:20 PM ET
By Steven Goldman / Special to YESNetwork.com

Robinson Cano is one of game's rising stars.(AP)
HEATING UP? Rumors abound today that the Yankees will sign Mark Loretta. I'm not certain what this means, except perhaps that Wilson Betemit might be dangled to the Twins as part of a Santana deal. Minnesota needs a third baseman and a shortstop — Nick Punto batted .210/.291/.271 as the main third sacker last year, and they just dealt shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Rays. They received Brendan Harris in that deal, but he's not really a shortstop and probably won't hit enough to play third. Then again, he'll hit better than Punto. Anyway, Betemit should hit more than either, at least in a platoon role. Fielding remains a concept, but in this case, if the Twins want Betemit they'll get Betemit and the Yankees won't suffer too much.

Loretta, 36, is about three years past being important or interesting. Through 2004, when Loretta hit .335/.391/.495 for the Padres, he was a career .303/.366/.414 hitter, which is useful, especially when it's coming from a middle infielder. Since then, Loretta has slipped a notch, and over the last three years he's been pretty consistent as far as what he can do, hitting .284/.351/.360. That actually only does so much for you, especially when it starts showing up at the infield corners. Last year, Loretta played 49 games at second, 72 games at short (Adam Everett got hurt), 23 games at third, and 34 games at first. That kind of versatility is handy, and when you combine that with the bat you get something better than Miguel Cairo, albeit with less speed. You really don't want more than 200 at-bats of it if you can help it, though, because the bat will start to wound.

With Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano in the house, the Yankees won't need him at three-fourths of the position he can play barring injury and the odd day off. Loretta's range at shortstop is lacking, so you wouldn't want to see him there every day if the Captain got hurt. If A-Rod were injured, the falloff to Loretta's bat would be like taking a wrong step in the Badlands, which I very nearly did one time. That leaves Loretta subbing for Robby Cano... Or would Cano be offered in a package for Johan Santana?

There are a whole bunch of reasons why that would be daft. Cano is the best young second baseman in baseball. He's still years away from his peak. You might not trade him for Santana straight up — as the Yankees should know better than anyone. With stars up the middle you can compete even if you have weaknesses at the corners. From the Twins' point of view, Cano is arbitration eligible and will cost them quite a few dimes to keep.

MEANWHILE... The Mets have dumped Lastings Milledge on the Nationals in exchange for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. This is one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory, at least in terms of trading high expectations for quotidian players. Church isn't a bad hitter, and he'll only look better away from RFK — he's a career .279/.355/.484 hitter away from home. Ironically, that might be out Milledge's ceiling, but Milledge might not get there because he has a way of antagonizing people. Schneider is just a guy who can catch, and on a lot of teams he would be a backup.

Mets fans had been conditioned to expect a major pitcher in return for this untouchable talent, and no doubt many of them are enraged today. As usual with New York prospects, Milledge has been over-hyped. His minor league numbers are good but not overwhelming, particularly in the area of patience. As for character, it's a skill. That's true for all of us, not just ballplayers. You can be the most talented anything and if you can't relate to the people around you, you're not going to keep your job. As much as the fans might have expected Santana or Dan Haren in exchange for Milledge, they have to accept that his flaw might overcome all of his other supposed talents.

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THURSDAY, November 29: Posted at 8:41 p.m. ET

AT LEAST THERE'S ACTION FROM THE RAYS

Have to remember not to say Devil Rays. They've been exorcised. They also had a good day Wednesday. First, they unveiled their plans for a new science fiction ballpark, and after years of faux-retro ballparks it's a relief to see something that's more representative of the 21st century than the industrial revolution. No idea if the park will get built or how many compromises will have to be made before it happens, but it's a shock that something so original could come from a franchise that has done so many things wrong.

The only thing that seems odd about the renderings is that the Rays seem to be playing before a full house. That's the part that's really science fiction-who are those people, clones?

They followed this up last night by consummating some swappage with the Minnesota Twins, picking up pitcher Matt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett, and reliever Eduardo Morlan in exchange for outfield Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris, and outfielder Jason Pridie. The deal is all win for the Rays. Young has great potential and is still very, very, well, young. He might get to where he needs to go someday, but he's not there right now. He took 24 unintentional walks last year despite playing in every game and knocked only 13 home runs. He's also the kind of guy who would throw a bat at an umpire, and one wonders if character issues played into the decision to move him.

I suspect that Young's power will come but that plate judgment will always be a problem. That means he's going to have to hit better than .300 most years to really have an impact. Call it the Vlad Guerrero plan (more than a third of Vlad's career walks have been intentional). That's not a direct comparison-Vlad showed more power at the same age, and of course not every youngster with Vlad's impatience can be Vlad. His is actually an unusual profile.

Pridie isn't going to be much or do much (at least as a player; in his spare time he might cure cancer for all we know)-he's a throw-in.

The Rays also gave up Harris, who can hit a bit for shortstop but lacks the range to play there. Bartlett is less of a hitter but more of a shortstop. Whereas normally that might be a wash for the Rays, given the team's cast of young pitchers they might reap some extra benefit from fielding the tightest defense possible, thereby imparting some extra confidence to the tyros. This is along the lines of what John Scheurholz did with the Braves in 1991, importing Sid Bream and Terry Pendleton more for their gloves than for their bats.

And young pitching is something the Rays have more of now that they have Matt Garza. That should make three useful starters in Scott Kazmir, Jamie Shields, and Garza. If things go as planned, runs should fall away. That's doubly true if Morlan works out-traditionally, the Rays' pen has been a place that makes grown men weep and women grow moustaches.

Perhaps in the long term the Twins win the deal-Young picks up 15 walks a year and the better judgment at the plate that goes with them, but for the near future it's a good move for the Rays, who have to grow their fan base by actually winning some games. Their fans have had years of "Look! Talented youngsters!" If that has any novelty value, and it's very doubtful that it does, it wore off long ago. When the Rays can get out of the 90-loss a year bin, they'll draw. They had 31,000 a game in their first year despite their miserable ballpark. They can get back to that with some improvement, and that in turn will allow them to spend more dough to improve the club. Respectability now means more than what Young will do a few years from now.


OTHER STUFF

  • In Yankees news, Jorge Posada is officially signed, which isn't really news.

  • Yesterday, I put on my NY Sun hat and told the world to shut up about A-Rod's contract.

  • Also yesterday, Cliff Corcoran and I were bantering about the relative value of Phil Hughes and Johan Santana. Cliff put the conversation up on on Bronx Banter.

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    THURSDAY, November 29: Posted at 8:41 p.m. ET

    THE TRICK
    The trick with the whole question of whether to deal young pitching for Johan Santana comes down to a game of three-card monte. Or three-pitcher monte. The rumored price to make Santana a Yankee is something like Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

    First, Cabrera can be sent on his merry way without much thought as long as the free agent market still holds a replacement or two. For the second year in a row, Cabrera showed great potential and great inconsistency. Whether the great coin flipper in the sky ultimately lands Melky on the heads of June or the tails of September is unknown. More likely he'll settle down to something in between, something bland and mushy that tastes vaguely like canned carrots. In other words, this is likely not a player who you halt a deal for a Cy Young winner over. "Great Scott! This could come back to bite us, like Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio!" Nah, probably not. Forecasting normal growth, Melky will get to be something like the league-average center fielder on offense, maybe a little better, but not a star.

    The pitchers are the tricky part, because the Yankees need them. They may need all of them. The thing is, the overwhelming odds are that all three of them will not pay off. Maybe the Yankees really have rolled up three aces, but it's hard to believe — pitchers are just too unpredictable, too easily hurt. It also seems unlikely (though not impossible) that the Yankees, who have homegrown less than 10 pitchers of note in the last 30 years, could suddenly punch out three of them. The odds are that they didn't, and if you could just know which one, guess which one isn't going to make it, you could make the Santana deal without wetting the bed the night before. There's really no way of knowing. Right now Hughes sort of looks like the least impressive of the three, but that could change with Spring Training or the slip of a butter knife... or a hedge trimmer. Well, we hope not, but things happen.

    If I had to guess which of the three youngsters should be deselected, I would probably go with Ian Kennedy, and I say that as someone who admires his results and his polished approach. He doesn't throw as hard as Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, and in the long term he may be neither as consistent nor as healthy. That's just a guess, but one based on history.

    THE HALL OF FAME BALLOT (WITH DON MATTINGLY)
    Do people still feel energized by the idea of Dodger Don Mattingly for the Hall of Fame? When I first started doing this feature, it had only been a few years since his retirement so emotions were a little closer to the surface. When I suggested, in the early days, that Mattingly's career didn't quite add up to the level of Cooperstown, readers called me fat and threatened to burn my cat down. Nine years later, I am still fat but the cat's feelings still haven't recovered. I don't get the sense, though, that we would be in for the same level of vituperation if I made the same argument.

    Players on this year's ballot who deserve to make it: Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell.

    Players on this year's ballot who might be less than perfectly credentialed, but no one should complain too much if they do get voted in someday: Dave Concepcion, Andre Dawson, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Jim Rice.

    Players who will make it this year: none.

    JUST SLIGHTLY OFF TOPIC
    AND WITHOUT THE USUAL LEVEL OF DETACHMENT

    Have the Giants cleaned house yet? Sunday's loss to the Vikings was an embarrassment of cosmic proportions. Rarely have you seen a team so unprepared to play. The quarterback was miserable, but it wasn't just him. After the game, Tom Coughlin talked about how the players gave the game away, but you can't just pass off a loss like that in football when the season is so short and every game has such huge implications for the postseason. Concentration and preparation would seem to be everything.

    HOLIDAY SHOPPING... NEVER!
    I do almost all of mine on line these days. That way I don't have to jockey for parking or interact with the uncivilized masses and they don't have to interact with me. The less time I feel like a strange visitor to another planet the better. Life tends to frustrate even my most firmly entrenched policies, so on Saturday I found myself stranded with a wounded car in front of the local Borders. I had taken it in for a break job at a store nearby and had just retrieved it. I was going to head right home, when I found that steering wasn't quite what I was accustomed to-I tried to turn right and the car went straight, tried to go straight and the car went right-I'm not quite sure how I avoided hitting anything. As it turned out, the mechanic hadn't quite reattached the wheel to the car. In exchange for my not throwing an apoplectic fit when I returned to the shop, they not only reattached the wheel, they did a free alignment. So I had an hour on my hands with nothing to do, hence the trip to Borders.

    I was skulking about inside when I heard this woman shouting. "What the HELL is WRONG with YOU? WHAT is your PROBLEM?" I looked up and I saw a slim blonde woman of about 30. She was talking into a cell phone, periodically leaning down into a stroller to shout at a crying baby of eight months or so. "WHAT DO YOU WANT? YOU WANT SOMETHING? WHAT? WHAT? JUST SHUT UP AND BE QUIET?"

    Without really planning on it, I walked over to her, looked her in the eye, and said, "You may be the [expletive related to elimination]-est mother I've ever seen." She reared back and began to shout back at me, "And you may be-" but before she could finish, another shopper accosted her, a woman of 60 or so. "That man is absolutely right. I've been seeing you in this store for the last hour. That's no way to treat a baby!"

    The mother (I used the term loosely), looking at both of us, said, "What? What did I do? You can't even tell me what I did wrong!" I said, "You're verbally abusing an infant! What the hell is your problem?"

    She said, "My baby is sick. It's very frustrating."

    "I'm the father of two kids," I said. "I know from frustrating. It's no excuse."

    "Good for you," she answered, which seemed like a non-sequitur. I wish I had gotten to tell her that when it comes to children you reap what you sew. I suppose I could have called a cop, and maybe that would have been better.

    I was trying to get away from all this when a third patron came along, an older man this time, and congratulated me for saying something. "I wanted to do that too, but you're a braver man than I." I thanked him and then as inconspicuously as possible relocated myself to the classical music section where no one ever goes. Soon after, I left the store.

    And that, grandma, is why I didn't buy you a Christmas present this year, and also why I'm not coming to dinner. I'm never leaving the house again.

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Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Blog appears daily on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel, and "Mind Game," the story of the Red Sox' 2004 championship, and "Baseball Between the Numbers," from the authors of Baseball Prospectus, are now available at Amazon.com. More Steve is available on YESNetwork.com in the Pinstriped Bible, and the Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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