Archive for July 2010

The deadline trade that never was

July 31, 2010

Phil Coke

ED NOTE: Thunder blog king Mike Ashmore did a far better job on this story than BareBones, and although a conflict of interest prevents me from providing a direct link to his piece, you can find that and all kinds of great stuff on his site . But you know that already.

There is a very good reason why Thunder manager Tony Franklin refuses to get himself all worked up in the hours leading up to the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline, which is set for 4 p.m. Saturday.
“My thinking has always been if something happens, it happens,” Franklin said. “But a couple years ago (2008) there was a fellow at the other end of our dugout yelling at Phil Coke, who was pitching for us that night.
“Hey, Phil, you just got traded and (George) Kontos is in it, too.’ And I am thinking to myself, “where is this guy getting this stuff?’ ”
Turns out, the guy was onto something.
Almost simultaneous with the fan’s chatter, Franklin received a call from Yankees’ brass to remove Coke from that July 25, 2008 start against Portland at Waterfront Park. Teams generally do that to avoid injury and protect the integrity of any deal.
That night, word began to spread that the Yankees had a trade in place to acquire outfielder Xavier Nady and left-handed reliever Damaso Marte in exchange for Coke, outfielder Jose Tabata, former Princeton University star Ross Ohlendorf and a one other minor league prospect to be named later _ a player widely believed to be Kontos.
However, when the trade was became official the following day, Coke and Kontos were out, while pitchers Jeff Karstens and Daniel McCutchen were added and on their way to Pittsburgh.
Rumors that Coke failed a pre-trade physical, nixing him from the proposed deal began to swirl. Coke denied ever failing a physical for the Yankees or Pirates.
Needless to say, it was a rather hectic 24 hours at the ballpark for everyone involved.
“That situation kind of threw me because that was my first experience with anything like that,” Franklin said. “Phil is looking at me and was like, “what’s going on?’ The next thing I know I am getting a call that we had something working and to get Phil out of the game. So, I am thinking, “Oh my God. This guy is right!’ ”
Coke stayed a Yankee prospect over the short term, but eventually was dealt to the Detroit Tigers over the winter in exchange for outfielder Curtis Granderson.
As for Kontos, the right-hander returned to the Thunder last month and has been effective out of the Trenton bullpen as he continues to make it back from Tommy John surgery. The quartet of Tabata, Ohlendorf, Karstens and McCutchen are still with the Pirates organization.


Newman: David Adams’ ankle is busted

July 29, 2010

TRENTON — Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman simply did not have the heart to say it out load, but every indication is the once-promising season of top second base prospect David Adams is over.
“I would not say is he done, but I also wouldn’t say the chances are real good that he makes it back,’’ Newman said.
Newman confirmed to BareBones during tonight’s series opener against second-place New Hampshire at Waterfront Park that Adams, one of the organization’s top middle infield prospects, actually fractured his ankle sliding into second base at Portland’s Hadlock Field May 23.
The Adams injury, sustained in the first inning of an 8-6 win over the Seadogs, was reported as a high ankle sprain for more than two months.
Adams, 23, was hitting .309 with three home runs, 32 RBIs and had not committed an error in his first 39 Double-A games before going down.
As the duration of Adams’ recovery stretched into July, Thunder manager Tony Franklin confirmed to reporters that one of his best players had suffered “a setback’’ upon his return to the team’s minor league headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
That setback, according to Newman, was the discovery of the previously undetected fracture.
“It turns out he has a broken bone in his foot … right around the ankle,’’ Newman said. “We didn’t know it was broken. We just found out about it. We thought it would get better, kept waiting for it to get better, and it never did. He just could not get past a certain point and now he has to stay off of it so the bone can heal.’’
Despite losing a player reportedly coveted by the Seattle Mariners in the proposed trade with the Yankees for Cliff Lee earlier this month, the Thunder have used solid starting pitching and a big offensive season by third baseman Brandon Laird to surge to the top of the Eastern League East Division.
According to Newman, Adams has been fitted with an apparatus and was running before discovery of the fracture, but has since been completely shut down.

Slumping Romine takes a seat

July 26, 2010

Austin Romine
(Photo by Mike Ashmore)

TRENTON — Austin Romine had an ideal opportunity to get himself right against New Britain right-hander Mike McCardell, who took the mound tonight at Waterfront Park with a 0-11 record and an equally unsightly 5.65 ERA.
McCardell then proceeded to give up four runs on five hits in the first inning.
Romine, the Yankees’ top prospect at Double-A, will have to wait until at least tomorrow to begin shaking a hellacious slump that has dropped his batting average 50 points since June 1 after Thunder manager Tony Franklin sat his prized catcher for the second consecutive game.
“There’s more in there and that’s what he told him,’’ Franklin said of Romine, who is hitting just .212 since the All-Star break and .190 with three extra-base hits and five runs batted in over the last 10 games. “There’s more there. He expects more from himself, we expect more from him and the organization expects more from him. We’re going to let him get a couple of days (off) and then go back at it. Don’t get me wrong _ we are not punishing him. We are not unhappy with him. We think he is putting a pretty good season together, but from time to time and particularly at this point in the year there is a time to step back and start the engines over.’’
Romine last week expressed his displeasure with the batter’s eye to the left of center field at Waterfront Park and bluntly stated he hated hitting at home, where his average is a paltry .205.
But Romine, 21, proceeded to struggle in both Richmond (1-for-7) and Altoona (3-for-13) and his overall average dipped to .276 overall and .244 with runners in scoring position.
Last season, Romine split time at Class-A Tampa with top prospect Jesus Montero before the Yankees sent Montero to Trenton.
Romine caught 54 games in 2008, 80 in 2009 and will handle his 70th game when Franklin puts him back into the lineup, which could be as early as tomorrow’s 12:05 matinee against a Rock Cats team on pace to lose 95 games.
“(Franklin) asked me if I was tired and I said I was fine … but I always want to play,’’ Romine said. “I don’t like sitting and I have never asked for a day off in my career. But he thought this was the best thing and he’s the manager so whatever he says, goes.’’
Told Franklin and the Yankees are expecting more from him, Romine was asked if he was meeting his own expectations.
The son of former big leaguer Kevin Romine and the Yankees second-round pick in the 2007 draft has six home runs, 49 RBIs and a pedestrian .755 OPS. He also has thrown out just 18-percent of would-be base-stealers.
Romine threw runners out at a 30-percent clip last season.
“I started out the way I wanted to, but I’ve hit a rut here,’’ Romine said. “I feel like I am calling a good game and handling the staff pretty well. I actually feel better now than I did last year at this time. Physically, I feel really good about where I am. I’ll just take this time and get done what I need to get done and keep fresh for when I get back in there.’’

Reading helps Thunder shatter attendance mark

July 18, 2010

The nearly 30,000 fans that visited Waterfront Park since Thursday to see the Thunder host Reading sent a clear message to the Eastern League:
They want more than four games per-season played in Trenton between two of the EL’s closest, and most natural, rivals.
The R-Phils avoided a four-game sweep with a 4-0 victory in front of 6,058 at Sam Plumeri Sr. Field today, a total that helped the Thunder shatter a franchise record for the most fans (29,805) to watch a four-game series in the 17-year history of the stadium.
The previous mark that did not feature a major league rehabilitation assignment was 29,451 set Aug. 11-14 of 2000 against Norwich.
“Having Reading here means more to us than any other affiliate,’’ Thunder general manager Will Smith said. “Obviously, this being a weekend series in the middle of July with summertime weather, it was a perfect storm for us. But there is no doubt having Reading play here is good for business. This helps a ton.’’
Against Reading, the Thunder posted three of their top four attendance figures of the 2010 season, including bar-setting numbers of 7,953 Friday and 7,964 for Saturday’s dramatic victory that featured a decisive three-run home run by Justin Christian and a game-saving play at the plate in the ninth inning by reliever Kevin Whelan and catcher Austin Romine.
The previous single-game high this season was a gathering of 7,853 on May 16 against Binghamton.
In yet another quirk of an historically difficult-to-figure EL schedule, the four games since Thursday represent Reading’s only trip into Trenton this season despite the fact the two franchises play in the same division (Eastern) and are located a mere 83 miles apart.
Conversely, the Thunder will host New Hampshire _ located nearly six hours and 325 miles away _ 13 times in 2010.
“I don’t know why it was only one series this year, to be honest with you,’’ Smith said. “It’s not like we traded out of it, or that it got taken away. It’s kind of a bummer. I tried to swing a deal after the (2010) schedule was finalized, but it didn’t work out. The league is aware that we would like to have more games against them. We’ve tried. We’ve lobbied. (The schedule) is a product of various things, with league travel probably the most significant factor.’’
Thunder starter D.J. Mitchell (7-4) allowed a one-out, three-run home run to Reading first baseman Matt Rizzotti in the first inning and that was the beginning of the end for the Thunder (56-38) and their all-star starter, who did not allow a run the rest of the way (seven innings) despite three walks.
Eastern League Pitcher of the Week Vance Worley (9-4) was brilliant for Reading (45-48), yielding just three singles over eight shutout innings to snap a four-game Trenton win streak.
With a loyal following of Phillies fans in the area, Reading always has been a big draw for the Thunder at Waterfront Park with only Portland (Boston Red Sox) even coming close.
Yet, the EL has not been able to find a way to get the R-Phils into Trenton more often, a pattern that began when the league moved the Thunder out of the Southern Division in 1999 and into the more geographically unfriendly Northern Division.
Trenton enjoyed great success on the field following the realignment with five playoff appearances and two league championships.
However, the shift cost them more games at home against Reading, which is a proven moneymaker at the gate.
Smith confirmed that Reading will play two series in Trenton next season, but as this weekend’s record crowds can attest, that is not nearly enough.
“It’s definitely meaningful and the league knows this is important to us,’’ Smith said. “Then again, if we had six series against Reading would it be less special? I don’t know. Where do you draw the line? Would four series be good? Probably. I will look at the schedule again and see if there is any more jockeying that we can do, but it is probably too late for next season.”

Waterfront Park an issue for Romine

July 17, 2010

The Thunder hit the road for the 19th time since June 18 Monday with their first trip to expansion Richmond, Va.
Normally, a six-hour bus road in the middle of July is not real high on anyone’s itinerary.
For Thunder catcher and top prospect Austin Romine, breathing diesel fumes, fast food and getting to Virginia will be a welcome respite considering his startling struggles at Waterfront Park.
Considered one of the best hitting prospects in Double-A, Romine went 1-for-4 during Saturday’s thrilling 4-3 win over Reading, but he is hitting just .205 at home, compared to .352 on the road.
“I hate hitting here,’’ Romine said. “I literally can not see the ball. I don’t know whether it’s the lights, the (advertising) signs or whether it’s in my head. On the road, I can see the word “Rawlings’’ on the baseball. But I am just not comfortable in this ballpark.’’
Romine may be the most vocal, but he is not the only one that has an issue with the so-called batter’s eye in Trenton _ the backdrop in center field that was expanded following the 2007 season.
Hitting coach Frank Menechino, outfielder Austin Krum and first baseman Marcos Vechionacci all voiced their concerns with the situation, which for left-handed hitters appears to be one particular sign with white lettering which, ironically enough, markets itself as the official eye doctor of the Thunder.
Menechino and his hitters contend the white of the baseball gets lost in the white lettering of the sign when coming out of the hand of a right-handed pitcher. The dilemma is especially problematic when the sun is still out.
Manager Tony Franklin said he has expressed his concern to both the Yankees and the Thunder front office since first arriving in 2007.
“We’ve talked to everyone and it has been an issue for four years,’’ Franklin said. “It’s in their hands and we’ve been told they are taking everything under advisement. Hitters don’t seem to be able to see the ball as well as they should, or as well as they’d like to. They did increase the size of it (in 2008) by taking down some signage and, I don’t know, maybe it needs to be enlarged a little more.’’
The Thunder are hitting nine points higher (.268) with 14 more home runs on the road than at home (.259).
Waterfront Park has long been known as pitcher-friendly, with the 2010 “Baseball Prospectus’’ referring to the Thunder’s 17-year-old stadium as “run retardant’’ and one of the five toughest parks to hit in.
Although it is difficult to make a case for the switch-hitting Vechionacci, who can credit much of the success for his career year to a .327 batting average at home, compared to a .277 mark on the road, Romine is a different story altogether.
In 2008 at Low-A Charleston, Romine hit .322 at home and .282 on the road.
At High-A Tampa last season, Romine finished with a .306 mark at George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field) compared to just .242 on the road.
“I am not out here making excuses, but the numbers don’t lie,’’ Romine said. “It started right away and at this point it’s gotten into my head a little bit. I’ll go from being locked in on the road to coming home and being out in front of pitches I would normally hit eight out of 10 times. I still have to hit the ball but I am not going to lie _ I can’t see it.’’
Thunder general manager Will Smith said last night the issue was mentioned to him in passing earlier this year, but no one has made any specific demands to adjust the parameters of the backdrop.
“We may need to discuss it again,’’ Smith said. “I know I didn’t hear about this at all last year and we have not changed a thing out there. All the signage is the same. I have not investigated what we could do because I was waiting to hear more about it … and I never did. But I will talk to Tony (Franklin).’’

Newman: Laird is OK and may play in ASG

July 13, 2010

Big thanks to Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations and guru of all things minor leagues, Mark Newman, for calling us back this morning on an obviously chaotic day in the Yankees’ universe with the passing of owner and chairman George Steinbrenner.
Newman gave us an injury update on Thunder slugger and Eastern League Most Valuable Player candidiate Brandon Laird, who was carried off the field at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md., Monday after fouling a ball off his left ankle in the sixth inning of a 10-5 win over the Baysox.
“The X-rays are negative,” Newman said. “He may play in the (Eastern League) All-Star Game (tomorrow) depending on how he feels. We don’t know what the day after brings, that’s always a little tricky, but it looks like just a bruise according to the X-rays.”
Newman refuted a report out of Harrisburg yesterday that Laird, the EL leader in home runs, runs batted in and total bases, had been scratched from tomorrow’s All-Star Game at Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg.
Laird, a 27th-round draft pick of the Yankees in 2007, also is scheduled to participate in the Home Run Derby.

George M. Steinbrenner III (1930-2010)

July 13, 2010

Yankees’ owner and chairman George Steinbrenner suffered a massive heart attack at his Tampa home and died early today after being rushed to a local hospital.
“The Boss” was 80.
“It is with profound sadness that the family of George M. Steinbrenner III announces his passing,” the family said in a statement. “He was an incredible and charitable man. First and foremost he was devoted to his entire family – his beloved wife, Joan; his sisters, Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm, his children, Hank, Jennifer Jessica and Hal; and all of his grandchildren. He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again.”
Funeral arrangements will be private.
Since Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for a net price of $8.7 million. the team has won 11 pennants and seven World Series titles and are now reportedly worth more than $1.5 billion.
With Steinbrenner’s approval, the Yankees moved their Double-A affiliate from Norwich, Conn., to Trenton in 2003 to form one of the most dynamic unions in all affiliated baseball.
With his health starting to fail in 2006, reportedly from Alzheimer’s disease, Steinbrenner relinquished the day-to-day control of the team to his sons Hank and Hal.
“To say George was an extraordinary person is an understatement,” senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman told BareBones this morning. “What he did for the Yankees, for the fans, and for all of us is almost indescribable. There has never been, and there will never be, an owner in professional sports like him. And those of us who lived in Tampa who say the things he did in that community and for the people there added another dimension of appreciation for who he is.”
“He gave us the resources to succeed, to build and to develop players and held us to the highest standards. You can see it in the way our kids play, the way they wear the uniform and they are going to play the game the right way. None of us are perfect, we all have our slips, but the aspiration is to always play the game the right way and to honor that logo. That’s “The Boss.”
“There is no stronger or more pervasive legacy than to do things the right way, be successful and honor this franchise’s history and we try to do that every day we go to work. We will continue to try to do it and that’s how we will honor him going forward.”
To my knowledge, I am the only Trenton reporter to interview Steinbrenner since the start of the affiliation with the Thunder in 2003.
I was at Legends Field, a ballpark that now carries his name, on March 26, 2003 to see the Double-A and Triple-A players take on the Yankees under the lights.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Steinbrenner sitting in the stands to my left. Around the 7th inning, he gets up to leave and I follow him into the elevator and he was gracious enough to give me a few minutes. Here is my story that appeared in The Times of Trenton the following day.
As far as scoops go in my career, this ranks right up there.

Steinbrenner happy with the Thunder
“The Boss” thrilled with new affiliation

Staff Writer
March 27, 2003

TAMPA, Fla. — The relaxed, cordial and accommodating George Steinbrenner who took in the Thunder’s 3-2 victory over Triple-A Columbus at Legends Field Wednesday night was a far cry from the boisterous owner who both stoked and avoided brush fires around nearly every corner this spring.
Instead of watching exhibition baseball along with a sell-out crowd of over 10,000 at Legends from his customary perch in the owner’s box, the Yankees’ principal owner sat unencumbered some 15 rows behind home plate with members of his inner circle, including director of minor-league development Rob Thomson and vice president of player personnel Billy Connors, and seemed to enjoy every minute of a rare hassle-free evening, absent of media and the every-day minutiae of running the world’s most recognizable sports franchise.
Or so he thought.
In an exclusive interview, the first he has given to a Trenton media outlet since the Yankees signed a four-year player development contract with the Double-A Thunder Sept. 17, Steinbrenner gushed about the new affiliation and the idea of his Class-AA minor leaguers playing in the Capital City.
“I’ll tell you, we’re just thrilled to be there,” Steinbrenner said. “We’re very happy to be going to Trenton and we know there are a lot of Yankee fans there, so naturally we’re very excited about that.”
Steinbrenner has weathered another contentious camp, a prelude to his club’s pursuit of a return trip to the World Series after last season’s rare early exit at the hands of the Anaheim Angels in the American League Division Series.
Steinbrenner, who purchased the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for $10 million – or about 1/17th of his current payroll of $166.7 million – began to take back the pages of all the New York tabloids as early as January when he essentially put manager Joe Torre and his coaching staff on notice that a repeat of 2002 was not an option. Steinbrenner then instigated a verbal sparring match with perhaps his best player, shortstop Derek Jeter, after questioning whether Jeter’s active nightlife was hindering his performance on the field.
Yet, when David Wells’ controversial new book “Perfect I’m Not …” tarnished the Yankee image and alienated an entire clubhouse, Steinbrenner chose not to blast his left-hander. His silence left the many in the vast Gotham media to presume Steinbrenner was either embarrassed by the fact it was he who single-handedly orchestrated Wells’ return to New York or that Wells, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, walked away free of Steinbrenner’s wrath (with the exception of a club-imposed $100,000 fine) due to what one beat writer called “Teacher’s Pet Syndrome.”
If the latter was the case initially, the tide certainly has changed. Steinbrenner has rebuffed repeated attempts by Wells to arrange a meeting to clear the air, this after Wells refused to pose for a unique Sports Illustrated cover featuring the Boss and pitchers Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Jose Contreras, Andy Pettitte and Jeff Weaver.
Steinbrenner looked anything but concerned while watching the Thunder defeat Columbus Wednesday night.
With a single wave to two of the stadium’s operations directors, Steinbrenner summoned the Yankees employees, handed them some cash, and 15 minutes later concession workers began distributing hot dogs, soda and bottled water to the approximately 60 people in attendance, including players’ wives, girlfriends, children, club employees and those working security detail.
Not long after, Steinbrenner welcomed a few questions regarding the new partnership with the Thunder.
“I love Trenton as a city. I’ve been there many times and it is a quality situation for us,” Steinbrenner said. “They also have great owners down there, great fans, and you’ll be getting a good, young club, too.”
Reminded the Thunder affiliation can be viewed as yet another example of leaving the archrival Boston Red Sox, the Thunder’s former player development partner, in his wake, Steinbrenner gave a hearty laugh and offered: “Don’t forget, it’s close to Philadelphia, too. I like that.”
Although he disappeared into the main concourse elevator with a promise of “we’ll see you in Trenton,” the reality is Steinbrenner doesn’t often travel to see his minor-league affiliates outside of Tampa, where the Class-A Yankees in the Florida State League are owned by the big club.
That, says Thomson, doesn’t mean Steinbrenner isn’t acutely aware of what is going on down on the farm.
“Mr. Steinbrenner always gives us the resources to be the best we can possibly be … and it shows.” Thomson said.

Other reaction from the Thunder, courtesy of public relations director Bill Cook.

– “Baseball has lost one of its best competitors,” Trenton hitting coach Frank Menechino said. “He was dedicated to winning and that dedication made the Yankees the best organization in baseball.”

– “As a professional affiliated with the New York Yankees organization, I can say that his leadership was felt throughout the Minor Leagues in many ways,” Thunder general manager Will Smith said. “As a lifelong Yankee fan, all I’ve known about the Yankees came under his ownership.’’
– “Mr. Steinbrenner ran a first class organization and this is a sad day for baseball,” Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps said. “When I talked to my wife about it, she said that we ‘lost a legend’ today. We both grew up in Tampa and he was such a big influence on the community there and was just a wonderful man.”