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Bullpen management proving to be Girardi's strength

Bullpen management proving to be Girardi's strength
Joe Torre's biggest weakness as Yankees manager was that he overused his most trusted relievers. Bullpen management, by contrast, could prove to be one of Joe Girardi's biggest strengths.

Girardi is spreading the workload among his relievers more evenly than Torre did — and the Yankees' bullpen, even after losing Joba Chamberlain to the rotation, continues to perform well.

Since May 29, the day after Chamberlain's last relief appearance, Yankees relievers are 6-3 with a 3.25 ERA, nine saves in 10 opportunities and a .236 opponents' batting average, according to STATS Inc. In 74 2/3 innings, they have struck out 76 and walked 29.

I didn't like the Joba move, but no one can dispute the early results. The Yankees, who visit the Mets this weekend (MLB on Fox, Saturday, 3:55 p.m. ET), could not have asked for a smoother transition.

At least part of the credit goes to Girardi, who makes use of all 12 of his pitchers — as opposed to Torre, who rarely trusted more than eight.

Consider this comparison of the Yankees' four most frequently used relievers through 78 games last season and their four most frequently used relievers at the same point this season, again courtesy of STATS Inc.

2007 through 78 games:

The Brewers will not necessarily land Sabathia; teams such as the Rays and Red Sox also are deep in prospects, and the Yankees could be motivated by an additional incentive.

Any team that acquires Sabathia would gain an exclusive window to sign him long-term before he reached free agency.

And the Rays?

The Rays aren't afraid to trade elite young players in the right deal — they proved that last offseason by sending outfielder Delmon Young to the Twins in a package that brought them right-hander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett.

In fact, the Rays could emerge as the front-runners for Sabathia if the Cubs are unable to satisfy the Indians and the Yankees and Red Sox are unwilling to part with the necessary prospects. Not even the Brewers boast as strong a farm system as the Rays.

Like the Brewers, the Rays would be content with draft picks if they lost Sabathia as a free agent, provided the initial price wasn't too high. Young players, while overvalued in the current marketplace, are more valuable to the Rays and Brewers than they are to the Yankees and Red Sox.

Thus, the Rays will not get emotional in their pursuit of Sabathia. They'll simply pass if the Yankees or Cubs panic and make an outrageous offer.

The Yankees' system: Mixed reviews

Rival scouts and executives are somewhat divided over the quality of the Yankees' farm system, which ranked fifth in the 2008 Baseball America organization rankings.

Critics, pointing to the stalled developments of pitchers such as Ian Kennedy and Jeff Marquez, say the Yankees overrate their prospects, something to which practically every organization could plead guilty.

"I've seen a lot of guys who will play in the big leagues and pitch in the big leagues," says one rival scout who is assigned to the Yankees' system. "But I haven't seen an impact player."

The Yankees, however, possess so many highly regarded young arms, some are bound to succeed. What's more, they might need to deal only one top young player — say, right-hander Phil Hughes — if the Indians value quality over quantity in a Sabathia trade.

Another area of depth for the Yankees is center field; Melky Cabrera, 23, is in the majors; Brett Gardner, 24, is at Class AAA; Austin Jackson, 21 at Class AA.

Gardner an 80 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, is a Juan Pierre/Brett Butler type, only he draws more walks than Pierre. Some scouts question whether he will hit, but at worst he should become a good extra outfielder.

Jackson has perhaps the highest upside of any position player in the Yankees' organization.

More trade musings

After Sabathia, the Indians' player drawing the most trade interest is third baseman Casey Blake, who leads the majors with a 1.281 OPS with runners in scoring position.

Blake, who turns 35 on Aug. 23, is coveted because of his ability to play first base and both outfield corners as well as third; he would be a good fit for teams such as the Dodgers, Mets and A's. Class AA third baseman Wes Hodges projects as the long-term replacement for Blake, who is a free agent at the end of the season.

It's the time of the year to be creative, and one GM offers this trade concept: Outfielder Adam Dunn to the Dodgers for outfielder Juan Pierre and shortstop Chin-lung Hu, with the Dodgers contributing enough money to knock down Pierre's average salary through 2011 from $8.8 million to, say, $6 million.

The Dodgers would benefit from Dunn's power, the savings on Pierre's contract and the two draft picks they would receive if Dunn left as a free agent. The Reds would get Pierre — who played for Dusty Baker with the Cubs — at a more reasonable price. They could play Pierre in center and move Jay Bruce to right field, with Hu becoming their shortstop of the future.

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The Royals keep getting hits on right-hander Zack Grienke; the Phillies and Brewers apparently expressed interest, and the Braves have tried to acquire Grienke at least twice in recent years. The Royals, however, remain decidedly uninterested in moving Grienke, whom they control through 2010. GM Dayton Moore is emphasizing pitching and defense; the Royals didn't win when they had Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye in the late 1990s, in large part because their pitching wasn't good enough ...

The Cubs talked to the Royals about David DeJesus when they were searching for a left-handed hitting outfielder. But DeJesus, too, fits the Royals' long-term plan; he runs well, gets on base and plays above-average defense at all three outfield positions. The success of Jim Edmonds has ended, at least temporarily, the Cubs' quest for a left-handed bat. Rival executives are impressed by the way the Cubs put together their center-field platoon of Edmonds and Reed Johnson — signing both players off the scrap heap ...

Starting pitching is the biggest reason for the Tigers' resurgence: The team, after getting a combined 19 quality starts in April and May, has 14 with four games remaining in June. Once relievers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney round into form — and Rodney was impressive in a 1 2/3-inning stint Thursday against the Cardinals — the bullpen again could be formidable. The Tigers are interested in free-agent right-hander Freddy Garcia as a rotation upgrade over Eddie Bonine, but like many clubs, wonder how much he would contribute this season ...

We all love the Twins, but the team's nine-game winning streak has come against three struggling NL teams — the Nationals, Diamondbacks and Padres. The Twins have allowed only 19 runs in the nine games, getting quality starts in eight. Their schedule approaching the All-Star break will be more of a challenge: A homestand against the Brewers, Tigers and Indians, then road series against the Red Sox and Tigers ...

Speaking of the Twins, a scout says of second baseman Alexi Casilla, "He's a lot better than I thought he was going to be. His defense is improved. He stays in on the double play. Offensively, he's got a short stroke, uses the whole field. And he's a pretty good hitter with runners in scoring position." How good? In 37 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Casilla is batting .469-.488-.719 ...

The Astros are telling teams that they are willing to discuss anyone on their roster who does not have a no-trade clause. Their position rules out potential deals for first baseman Lance Berkman, left fielder Carlos Lee and right-hander Roy Oswalt, but not shortstop Miguel Tejada. Unfortunately for the Astros, they would not get as much for Tejada as they gave the Orioles; the Mariners are in the same position with Erik Bedard. Tejada's month-by-month OPS since joining the Astros: .947-.713-.656 ...

A scout's take on Red Sox prospect Michael Bowden, who is 7-3 with a 2.33 ERA as a 21-year-old at Class AA: "He comes right over the top — and considering that, has pretty good command. He throws on a good downhill plane. He's aggressive on both sides of the plate, real competitive, with a developing curveball and changeup." Bowden could be the centerpiece of any Red Sox offer for Sabathia ...

And finally, American League teams are 65-37 at home entering the final weekend of inter-league play — an astonishing .634 winning percentage. In NL parks, where no designated hitter is used, AL clubs are a mere 60-47 — a .561 winning percentage.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: June 27, 2008

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