THUNDER FANS KNOW WHY YANKEES CAN BE PATIENT

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman took left-hander Cliff Lee’s decision to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies in stride yesterday.

           He stressed patience in finding another starting pitcher, said Lee “was a special case’’ and certainly put down any talk of the organization rushing into any quick deal on the rebound of the hurler’s rejection.

           That is because Cashman, even with losing Lee, is dealing from a position of strength.  Once again we go back a few years, when the Yankees adopted a policy of both enticing blue-chip free-agents with their resources and building an elite farm system to develop talent internally.

           “We certainly can do both,’’ said Cashman. “We know we need to continue to develop our own pitching. Free-agent starters (like Lee) don’t come along often. Teams are locking up their good, young starters.’’

            So, given the plan that has been in place for the last several years, the Yankees can certainly withstand Lee’s wanting to sign with the Phillies. Thunder fans have seen it in Waterfront Park on a game-by-game basis the last few seasons.

            “With the pitching talent they have in their system now, the Yankees can certainly be patient,’’ said a scout from another American League team.  “Not signing Lee, especially for them, is not the end of the world.’’

              Not with righties Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances and lefty Manny Banuelos leading a bevy of pitching prospects in a group that also includes righties Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, Graham Stoneburner, Craig Heyer, David Phelps and lefty Shaeffer Hall.

              With Lee going elsewhere, the Yankees will no doubt look to add a solid starter – and just about all the above prospects are highly rated by other teams. All, with the exception of Heyer, Stoneburner and Hall – expected in Trenton in 2011 – have had success in Waterfront Park.

             Phelps, who was 10-2, 2.50 combined with the Thunder (6-0, 2.04) and Triple-A Scranton and could be big-league ready by mid-2011. Brackman, coming off an outstanding rebound season in 2010, may not be far behind.  Banuelos impresses everyone with both his poise and increase in velocity.

             Brackman, Noesi, Warren and Mitchell will likely anchor Scranton’s rotation in 2011, while Betances, Banuelos, Heyer, Stoneburner and Hall figure to do the same with the Thunder. Righty Cory Arbiso could battle for a spot as well. 

             So the question is, do the Yankees now use their system to acquire the needed addition to their rotation.  A veteran, such as Atlanta’s Derek Lowe might fit the bill for a year or two while the prospects develop.

            The skeptics will tell you not all prospects develop. Some will flame out. Some will be traded. That can happen. Righty Chris Garcia could never stay healthy. Lefty Jeremy Bleich struggled in Trenton, then had health issues himself.

            Betances and Brackman are veterans of Tommy John surgery and still need to watched carefully. Stoneburner had a few medical issues in college.

            Over the past few years, the Yankees have used righty Arodys Vizcaino, a talented thrower who who has had health issues, hard-throwing lefty reliever Michael Dunn and righty Zach McAllister – both former Thunder stars – in trades.

            Yet, in mentioning the above 10 prospects, even if three of them become mainstays in the Yankees rotation by 2013, the plan enacted in 2005 can be considered a success and the team has the money allocated to Lee to be used elsewhere.

            On the other hand, would the Yankees part with any of the 10 in order to obtain a top-drawer starter in trade? Aside from Brackman, Betances and Banuelos, they might.

           “Opponents always tell me Mitchell’s stuff is filthy,’’ said veteran Thunder manager Tony Franklin. “A lot of teams like his potential.’’

             The point is, the Yankees, and Thunder fans can confirm this, have the pitching depth to both acquire a needed starter and bolster their rotation internally, depending on the situation and what is available.

             Granted, the Yankees’ pursuit of Cliff Lee with millions is a side many fans see as far as the club is concerned.  The other, which Thunder fans notice, is the development side. The organization has worked hard at it.

              Cashman and his staff realize not every free-agent, no matter what dollars are offered, will want to don Pinstripes.  There are 10 solid pitching prospects in the organization now whose penultimate desire is to do just that.

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             COULD ROMINE BE COMING BACK: In signing Russell Martin Tuesday, the Yankees obtained a young veteran (27) who was an All-Star in 2007 and 2008 and both a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner in 2007.

            Injuries limited him to 97 games last year, but when healthy, like in 2007 as a Dodger, when he batted .293 (158-for-540), hit 19 homers and had an OPS of .843, there was no better catcher in the National League.

           Many feel this was done to ease Jesus Montero’s way into the majors. This is possible, but the guess is Martin will be the Yankees’ regular catcher in 2011, with Francisco Cervelli, another former Thunder receiver, the backup. Jorge Posada is slated to be the DH.

           That scenario would push Montero back to Scranton and Austin Romine back to Trenton.

           A trade would change all this, but Romine’s return to the Thunder can’t be ruled out at this point.

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           WINTER LEAGUE ROUNDUP:  ESPN’s Enrique Rojas relayed a report that former Thunder shortstop Eduardo Nunez, who is batting .348 (8-for-23) with the Toros del Este in the Venezuelan League, took a ball off his face while trying to lay down a bunt.

           Nunez will likely fill a bench role for the Yankees in 2011. Other players with Thunder ties playing in the winter leagues include:

  • Outfielder Justin Christian is batting .355 (75-for-211) with 16 doubles for Mochis of the Mexican Pacific League.
  • Outfielder Colin Curtis is batting .234 (18-for-74) for Escogido of the Dominican League.
  • Catcher Jose Gil, re-signed by the Yankees and a likely member of the 2011 Thunder, is batting .243 (6-for-23) for Caribes of the Venezuelan League.
  • Outfielder Edwar Gonzalez is batting .316 (12-for-38) for Lara of the Venezuelan League.
  • Infielder Walter Ibarra, a likely member of the 2011 Thunder, is batting .282 (33-for-117) for Hermosillo of the Mexican Pacific League.
  • Infielder Luis Nunez is batting .231 (3-for-13) for Zulia of the Venezuelan League.
  • Lefty reliever Wilkins Arias is 2-0, 2.03 in 16 appearances with Aguilas of the Dominican League.
  • Righty reliever Eric Wordekemper is 0-0, 6.05 in 21 appearances with Culiacan of the Mexican Pacific League.

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         FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA:  Cris Cron has been named Erie manager for 2011, while Chris Tremie will pilot Akron … Altoona is running a contest to name the engineer on the new Curve logo … The plan for remodeling PNC Field, home of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees will feature the demolition of the ballpark’s upper deck and many other improvements, the $40 million project will commence after the 2011 season.

          BaseLines appears weekly on www.trentonthunder.com.  Readers may comment below, or by E-Mail at jed.weisberger3@gmail.com and follow on Twitter @jedleyq  

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