As part of our ongoing series of series previews, next up for the Braves are the Yankees, and I exchanged some questions with Joe Pawlikowski of River Avenue Blues, one of the premier Yankees blogs. Joe and one of the other bloggers over there, Mike, were both lucky enough to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings last year, and I enjoyed following their adventure on a daily basis, so I'm thrilled to have Joe on here for this Q&A. Even for a Yankees blog, their stuff is a really good read.
[UPDATE:] Here is a link to my answer's to Joe's questions over at River Avenue Blues.
Q: The Yankees haven't made it back to the World Series since Alex Rodriguez joined the team. Considering all that has gone on this year with A-Rod, is he a hindrance to the team's success? Why haven't the Yankees made it to the World Series with "the best player in the game" on their team?
A: The Yankees' recent failures have little or nothing to do with A-Rod. In fact, the Yankees were set to sweep the Red Sox in 2004, partly on the power of an early Game4 homer by A-Rod, but Mariano blew the save, and the rest is history. If Mo locks that one down, A-Rod would have been coming off two stellar series (he killed the Twins in the ALDS) and is probably MVP of the ALCS. Strange how things can change...
I think a lot of this stems from A-Rod's departure from Seattle. They won 116 regular season games the season after he left, so the rhetoric swirled that they were better off without him. The difference, to anyone actually paying attention, was the pitching. Seattle's team ERA dropped a full run from 2000 to 2001. Similarly, the Yanks' recent woes have been based in pitching. In 2003 the team ERA was 4.03. When A-Rod showed up in 2004 the team ERA shot up to 4.69.
So the answer to your question is pitching. Pitching, pitching, pitching. Which is exactly why the Yanks broke the bank for Sabathia and Burnett last winter.
Q: How happy, or unhappy, have you been with your three big free agent acquisitions from last off-season, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett?
A: I'm completely happy with the Teixeira and Sabathia acquisitions. They both started off slowly, but really came on in May and powered the Yanks for a long stretch, in which they returned to first place.
Burnett is more of a mixed bag. His stuff is evidently dominant, but sometimes he just can't harness it. Sometimes that means he has no curveball whatsoever and is forced to nibble with his fastball. Other times he'll (admittedly) lose focus for a pitch, and he'll pay for it. The upside is tantalizing, and it's good to have him on staff. The commitment was a bit too long and the contract a but too lucrative. Still, it's tough to complain too much...
Q: The Braves need offense, and two of the guys most often mentioned are the Yankees Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher. What is the likelihood that either of those guys is traded this season, and what would the Yankees be looking for in return?
A: I don't think there's a chance either is traded. Swisher has been phenomenal for stretches, and the Yanks greatly benefit from his bat when he's hot. Plus, he's under contract for next year, while no other corner outfielders are. His contract is affordable, so it's best the Yanks hang onto him.
Nady, I always thought, would be a good fit with the Braves. Unfortunately, the fit doesn't appear to be there. Nady is coming off an elbow procedure and it's unknown whether that will hold up. Beyond that, he's a free agent after this season, and he presents the Yanks with a valuable bench bat. The only way the Yanks would trade him would be to upgrade the team this year. So unless the Braves are willing to part with Mike Gonzalez, I don't see the two sides working out a deal.
Q: If you could pick one pitcher from the following group -- Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Jair Jurrjens, or Tommy Hanson -- who would you pick and why?
A: Joba Chamberlain. They're all highly touted, for sure, but my familiarity with (and therefore bias toward) Joba gives him the edge. He has incredible, absolutely incredible stuff, including a curveball which he apparently doesn't enjoy throwing frequently. He's got things he's supposedly working on now, and it's turning him into a six-inning, three-run pitcher. The Yanks will take that for now, in hopes that he harnesses his stuff and can be a three-pitch (plus a serviceable changeup) pitcher who can blow it by guys when he needs to.
Again, the above is heavily subject to confirmation bias. I like Jurrjens, a lot, but I haven't seen enough of Hanson to get a good feel for him. Maybe I'll have to start pulling up his starts on MLB.tv.
A: There is no doubt that the Yanks can win the East. The talent is there. In fact, if they get Nady and Damaso Marte back, they don't even need to make a move. It'll be a tight rate, of course, since all four teams are respectable.
Remember, back in 2007 the Yanks were down 10.5 games at this point, and came within two games of winning the division. They were trotting out Kei Igawa and a gimpy Roger Clemens that summer. This summer they've got five solid starters and a much, much better bullpen. Watch for a big win streak following the All-Star break.
Many thanks to Joe for his great answers to my questions.
For a preview of the pitching matchups in the series, visit bigjoe's series preview at Braves Heart.