Tuesday, September 30, 2008


WITH THE Mets and Yankees out of the play-off picture, which team will you be rooting for this October?

It really would be a fairy-tale ending to the season if the Tampa Bay Rays, having won their first American League East Championship, went on to become World Champions.

But while I have a soft spot for the Rays, I’ll be cheering on everyone’s favorite second team: the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubbies’ 99-year title drought is the longest of any professional sports team in North America and it’s high time they ended the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Legend has it that curse originated in game four of the 1945 World Series when Wrigley Field stewards ejected Billy Sianis, who had purchased two box seats – one for himself and one for his goat. Apparently, there were complaints about the unpleasant odor emanating from the goat. 

Sianis was so upset that he vowed: “The Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Chicago lost game four, the World Series, and they haven’t been back since.

Now, under the guidance of one of the game’s great characters, Lou Piniella, the National League Central champions have a real chance of going all the way.

Piniella, a World Series winner as a player with the New York Yankees in 1977 and 78, and as a manager with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, has turned the Cubs from under-achievers into a solid, all-round ball club since joining them on a three-year deal in October, 2006.

Sweet Lou set to lead Chicago to the Promised Land

They can pitch and they can hit. With Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden taking the mound against the LA Dodgers, Piniella will be favored to overcome his old sparring partner Joe Torre and make it to the NLCS, where the Cubs will face either the Phillies or the Brewers.

Philadelphia will probably emerge as their biggest threat, providing they can find a way to beat CC Sabathia, the man largely responsible for the Brewers making it to the play-offs in the first place. Sabathia will pitch in game two – once again on only three days’ rest – and will thenbe available for game five if the series goes that far.

In the American League, the clash between the Los Angeles Angels and reigning World Champs the Boston Red Sox is a real heavyweight contest for round one of the Division Series.

The Red Sox won’t go down without a fight, but the Angels have undoubtedly been the best team in baseball this season. They’re the only 100-game winners and they took the season series against Boston 8-1. In fact, the Angels have won their last eight meetings.

Josh Beckett won’t start until game three due to an oblique strain, which puts the pressure on either Jon Lester to beat John Lackey, or Daisuke Matsuzaka to overcome Ervina Santana, in Los Angeles.

The Rays won’t know until later today whether they’ll be playing either the Chicago White Sox or the Minnesota Twins.

If they manage to get to the ALCS, they certainly won’t be overawed by either the Red Sox or the Angels, having dominated both teams during the regular season.

The play-offs won’t quite be the same without the presence of a New York team. But try telling that to the fans in Boston, Chicago or LA.

Monday, September 29, 2008


IT WAS MEANT to be a celebration of 44 years spent at Shea Stadium. Instead, it turned into a wake.

As Yogi would say, it was a case of déjà vu all over again when, for the second year running, the New York Mets were unable to seal the deal against the Florida Marlins.

So for the first time in eons, there will be no baseball in the Big Apple this October. 

The Mets and Yankees have something in common this season…and not just the fact that they finished with identical records of 89 wins against 73 losses. Neither team was able to play its best baseball when it really mattered.

While the Yankees finished with a flourish, they still fell well short of their own expectations.

Yankees fans had long since come to terms with the fact that they weren’t going to make the play-offs for the first time since 1993.

The pill of failure was much more bitter for beleaguered Mets fans to swallow as they had to sit through their team’s second successive September capitulation.

Who’s bright idea was it to hold the ‘Shea goodbye ceremony’ AFTER rather than BEFORE the game. Clearly, someone with a lot more faith in the team’s ability to perform under pressure than the fans.

Mets and Yankees must both look to the future

With the notable exception of Johan Santana – a giant among men – the big names (Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Delgado et al) failed to turn up for the party.

Now the Mets and general manager Omar Minaya must decide whether it’s time to break up the current team or apply cosmetic surgery.

It was billed as a team built to win a World Series. But you can’t win a World Series without reaching the play-offs first.

The fate of interim manager Jerry Manuel also hangs in the balance. Manuel may regard himself as “gangsta” but where were his hitmen when he needed them?

The Yanks, too, have to decide whether to keep any of the old guard (Abreu, Giambi, Pettitte, Mussina). Carl Pavano and Ivan Rodriguez will certainly be gone.

Now that he has finally achieved his goal of a 20-win season, Mussina has hinted at retirement. He still needs another 30 wins to reach 300 and earn automatic entry to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

He would probably be making a wise move to go out on a high. The odds are against him repeating the feat should he decide to return at the age of 40.

Abreu will no doubt be looking for a long-term contract, and after yet another 100 RBI season, someone is sure to give it to him.

It probably won’t be the Yanks. They need to free up as much payroll as possible to sign one, maybe two, front-line pitchers. More than likely, they will move Xavier Nady to right field, Johnny Damon to left and look for a new center fielder, along with a first baseman.

It’s going to be a quiet October in New York but a busy winter.

As witnessed at the tearful farewells to both Shea and Yankee Stadium, auld acquaintance is never forgot in the great sport of baseball.

We should always honor our heroes. But with both teams moving to new stadiums next season, it’s time to look forward rather than back.

Friday, September 26, 2008


ANDY PETTITTE has made it clear that if he pitches again in 2009, it will only be for the New York Yankees. Well, Andy, thanks for everything and have a happy retirement.

That should be the message from general manager Brian Cashman. Yet the vibes coming out of the Bronx are that it won’t be.

Pettitte wants to pitch in the New Yankee Stadium and, apparently, the Yanks want him back. “They have pretty much already told me they’d like to have me back,” he said.

Pettitte will go down in Yankee folklore. He will forever be remembered as the last starting (and winning) pitcher at Yankee Stadium. He recorded his 2,000th career strikeout in the second inning of that game against the Baltimore Orioles.

But this is no time for sentiment. The statistics point against bringing Pettitte back for one more season, especially if it’s at a cost of $16 million – the amount he earned this year.

Pettitte, who has been shut down by a shoulder injury that he claims has hampered him for the past two months, has failed to finish with a winning record for the first time in his illustrious career – a career that began with the Yankees on April 29, 1995.

He has gone 4-7 since the All Star break for an overall record of 14-14 and an ERA of 4.54. Only once has his ERA been higher (4.70 in 1999).

Re-signing veteran lefty would be a mistake

The Yanks are no doubt thinking that a healthy Pettitte can do a Mike Mussina and have a bounce-back year in 2009.

At 36, he’s three years younger than Mussina. But his style of pitching is vastly different. His velocity has dropped and he seems to have lost the knack he once had of getting key hitters out at key moments.

‘Big Game’ Andy lost his aura of invincibility this season – and four games in a row in August and September to Toronto, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles.

Cashman and the Yanks have some tough decisions to make in the next few months. 

After the Yanks failed to qualify for the post-season for the first time since 1993, they can’t let their hearts rule their heads.

Girardi has a soft spot for Pettitte; most Yankees fans do too. Good starting pitchers are at a premium and with their gamble on Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy backfiring, the Yanks will no doubt err on the side of experience this time.

They probably believe that Pettitte can do a good job as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. Girardi and Co. would do well to remember that a new broom sweeps clean.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


WHO SAID it’s tough at the top? Not in baseball, apparently.

No sooner had the New York Yankees failed to qualify for the post-season for the first time since 1993 than the Steinbrenner family were offering general manager Brian Cashman a new contract.

And according to reports on ESPN, Omar Minaya, GM of the New York Mets, is close to agreeing a four-year extension that will keep him with the organization up to the end of 2013.

This with the Mets’ play-off hopes hanging in the balance after another less-than-stellar September.

Minaya has one year remaining on the five-year, $4 million contract he signed after the 2004 season. Cashman’s three-year, $5.5 million contract expires on October 31.

You can only draw the conclusion that neither man is being held responsible for their club’s under-achievement during the past two seasons.

The Yanks, understandably, want to have the issue settled before what promises to be a busy winter of wheeling and dealing.

A number of players (Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina to name but four) are out of contract.

The Yankees have to decide whether to resign them and if not, who to replace them with. 

A frontline starting pitcher will be top of their shopping list with CC Sabathia, currently with the Milwaukee Brewers, the likely No. 1 target. 

The management team decided to gamble on youth this season, a gamble that failed to pay off. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, who represented two fifths of the starting rotation, have yet to win a game between them.

How big a say Cashman had in the decision not to trade for Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins is unclear.

Yankees and Mets offering GMs new deals

It’s true that the Twins were asking a lot more in return from the Yankees than they eventually ended up getting from the Mets.

But it’s also true that the management team overestimated the value of Hughes, Kennedy, and for that matter, Melky Cabrera.

Just look at what Santana is doing for the Mets down the stretch. He is keeping them in play-off contention almost single-handed.

To be fair to Cashman, he had no control over the many injuries the Yanks have had to deal with this season.

But he is responsible for the development of young talent and after years of neglect, it’s taking a long time to replenish the farm system.

Joba Chamberlain, Edward Ramirez, Phil Coke and Alfredo Aceves have undoubtedly strengthened the bullpen.

But while players like Jason Gardner and Justin Christian have brought energy, enthusiasm and base-running speed to the team, they have yet to prove they can hit well enough to be any more than bench players.

In my mind, the jury is still out on Cashman’s abilities as a GM. He seems to make all the right moves (like trading Kyle Farnsworth for Pudge Rodriguez) but a lot of them don’t pan out (hands up those who want Carl Pavano or Kei Igawa).

Minaya, who has signed stars such as Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner to huge free-agency contracts, has even more to prove.

The Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play last September. And this season, they parted company with manager Willie Randolph, who was very much Minaya’s man.

Surely it would seem logical for the Mets ownership to wait until the end of the season before sitting down with Minaya to discuss his and their future?

Minaya and Cashman have one thing in common. They both have the biggest payrolls to work with in the National League and American League respectively.

So far, they have yet to prove they can help their club win the division, let alone a World Series ring.

Monday, September 22, 2008


DEREK JETER compared playing at Yankee Stadium to performing on Broadway. No doubt, the New York Yankees captain would have been a star had he chosen to tread the boards rather than play baseball.

Jeter showed remarkable poise and clarity of speech when he took the microphone to salute the “greatest fans in the world” after ‘The Final Game’ at Yankee Stadium last night.

“We’re relying on you to take the memories from this stadium, add them to the memories to come at the new Yankee Stadium, and continue to pass them on from generation to generation,” he said.

It was hard to believe the speech was unscripted, yet Jeter had no need to refer to notes.

Jeter personifies the pride and class of the New York Yankees. He always knows what to say and when to say it. 

Nobody does it better in baseball than the Yankees – at least off the field – and the final night at Yankee Stadium was very special.

From Babe Ruth’s daughter to Mickey Mantle’s son, the Yankee greats and their descendants gave this great ballpark a fitting send-off.

When the family of the late Bobby Murcer walked out to center field, followed soon after by Bernie Williams waving a belated farewell to Yankee fans, it was hard to hold back the tears.

Fitting send-off to a great stadium

Sports fans tend to be an emotional bunch and nowhere are heroes worshipped like they are in the Bronx.

There were so many nice touches, notably the recorded message from Bob Sheppard announcing the arrival at the plate of No. 2 Derek Jeter.

There were a few faces missing – notably that of Joe Torre – but almost everything went according to plan. The Yankees won the first game at The Stadium, and they won the last one too.

José Molina was the last man you would have picked to hit the final home run – it was only his third this year – but then it was that kind of night.

Joba Chamberlain, the face of the Yankees’ future, pitched a perfect eighth inning. Then, to the strains of Enter Sandman, Mariano Rivera came in to retire the Baltimore Orioles in order and round off a truly memorable night.

It won’t be until later this week that the realization sets in that the Yankees have missed out on the play-offs for the first time since 1995 and that we really have seen out last game at The Stadium.

It’s the end of an era, and the start of a new one. Another 26 World Championships in the next 85 years might be asking a bit too much!


IT MAY JUST BE COINCIDENCE, but Team U.S.A. enjoyed its biggest margin of victory in the Ryder Cup for 27 years WITHOUT the world’s greatest golfer, Tiger Woods.

After three consecutive defeats in golf’s premier team tournament, the United States gave the Euros a does of their own medicine at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

For the last ten years or so, the Ryder Cup has seemed of far greater importance to the European players and their fans than it has to the Americans.

Now the wheel has turned full circle as the Europeans returned home complaining of being abused by a partisan crowd.

Lee Westwood was unwilling to state exactly what was said to him, but he did reveal one of the comments was “a particularly nasty reference to my mother.” He also claimed his parents had been awoken by a 4.30am phone call on Sunday.

The British media have criticized captain Nick Faldo for his team selections and some inappropriate comments, notably when he told fans to “bring your waterproofs” to the 2010 Ryder Cup, which is being held in Wales.

Unlikely heroes win back Ryder Cup

That’s just Faldo, the man who once said: “I would like to thank the press from the heart of my bottom.”

The reason why Europe lost the Ryder Cup is simple. Their ‘Big Three’ – Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Westwood – could not manage one win between them.

Garcia and Westwood had both been ill in the lead-up to the competition while Harrington said he was “fatigued” after winning back-to-back Majors.

In contrast, the U.S.A. had unlikely heroes in Kentuckians JB Holmes and Kenny Perry, along with Boo Weekley and Anthony Kim.

Paul Azinger managed to achieve something that previous U.S. captains had not: unity among his team. Even Phil Mickelson, in the absence of Woods the Americans’ only real superstar, bought into the team ethic.

That’s why if Azinger returns as captain in 2010, he won’t be too concerned should Woods be unavailable again.

Friday, September 19, 2008


IT’S GOING to be an emotional weekend for New York Yankees fans as they say goodbye to The House That Ruth Built.

Whoever thought that the final game at Yankee Stadium would be against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, September 21st?

But unless a miracle occurs, there will be no October baseball in the Bronx for the first time since 1994, the year of the strike.

Those lucky enough to have a ticket for 'The Final Game’ are in for an afternoon of nostalgia.

Just about every Yankee great still alive has been asked for their favorite Stadium memory…and there have been too many to list.

Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez. The list of players who hade left their mark on this hallowed diamond is endless.

Sports fan love nothing more than to revel in former glories, reliving magical moments from the past, comparing today’s players with their illustrious predecessors.

But are we making too big a deal about it? After all, Yankee Stadium is not exactly The Colosseum. It was built out of bricks and mortar in 1923.

And as Jeter said earlier in the season, when asked about his emotions, it would be a much bigger deal were the Yanks not moving to a new stadium little more than 100 yards away.

Yankee fans should count themselves lucky

As an expat, who only arrived in New York four years ago, I don’t have the same attachment to Yankee Stadium as those who grew up wearing pinstripes.

My first love was Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club (The Seagulls), a team languishing in the lower reaches of the English Football League (we actually reached the FA Cup final in 1983).

I can remember being devastated when the Goldstone Ground, their home for nearly 100 years, was sold to property developers.

I’m still filled with anger when I drive up the Old Shoreham Road and see Toys R Us standing in the spot where my team used to play.

But there’s a big difference between being a Yankee fan and a Seagulls supporter. Yankee Stadium is being replaced by a state-of-the-art facility. A large part of the $1.6 billion cost is being met by us taxpayers.

More than ten years on and Brighton fans are still waiting for their new ground.

Planning permission was finally granted in 2007 after a long-running battle with the local council. Such were the complications concerning the project that the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, was called on to make a ruling.

Work on the Community Stadium is due to finally start in December, but it won’t be ready for use until 2010.

So when diehard Yankee fans shed a tear at the Stadium on Sunday night, just remember you're the luckiest men on the face of the Earth compared to most sports fans.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


IS IT JUST COINCIDENCE that the year they drop Devils from their name, the Tampa Bay Rays are playing like Greek gods?

With 12 games to go, the rejuvenated Rays lead the American League East by two from the Boston Red Sox.

When the Rays lost the opening game of their final series with the reigning world champions 13-5 at Tropicana Field on Monday night, they seemed ready to relinquish a lead they have held for much of the year.

But as one baseball writer put it: “Go ahead and beat the Rays, and beat ’em up bad. But you better show up the next night, because they aren’t going anywhere.”

The Red Sox should have heeded those words. The next night, the Rays won 2-1 on a walk-off single with the bases loaded and one out. Then last night, they took Tim Wakefield deep and often to rout the Sox 10-3.

Wakefield acknowledged afterwards: “They’re not the team we’re used to playing; they’re not a team to take for granted right now.”

Regardless of whether the Rays go on to win the pennant and the World Series, this is one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of sport.

Tampa Bay set to go from last to first

Just look at the stats. Since they played their first Major League game in 1998, the Rays have not had a winning season.

Their best effort came in 2004, when they went 70-91 under Lou Piniella. That was only time in franchise history that they managed to avoid finishing last in the division.

In 2006, they lost 101 games. Only last year, they went 66-96. Yet, here we are less than 12 months later, and the Rays’ record reads a remarkable 90-70.

With four more games at home against the Minnesota Twins, followed by two four-game series in Baltimore and Detroit, the team with the lowest payroll in the American League and second lowest in all of baseball is set to go from last to first.

Meanwhile, the two teams with the highest total payroll – the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers – are not even going to make the playoffs.

So what’s the secret of the Rays’ success? Let rookie outfielder Fernando Pérez give you an insight. “The way this team is put together, it isn’t put together like the Yankees. It isn’t a hoard of superstars that are expected to do well,” he said.

“This team is built on solid pitching and unity. Nobody sticks out. To see us win a game, everybody comes in and does something. We don’t have the personalities that stand in the way of that.”

Improved pitching has been the key

Their team batting average of .261 places them 13th out of 14 teams in the American League. The Rays have five pitchers who have won 11 games or more, yet none has won more than 13. However, only Toronto can better their team of ERA of 3.78.

Their bullpen has been outstanding and as Pérez says, there seems to be a different hero every day.

So many times it has seemed the Rays would collapse; so many times they have managed to overcome adversity.

They lost seven games in a row going into the All Star break to fall half a game behind Boston. But it didn’t take them long to bounce back.

They lost key batters Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, along with closer Troy Percival, through injury at a vital stage of the season, yet their replacements came through.

A team that shows steel and resilience has rewarded manager Joe Maddon’s patience.

Remember spring training when Shelley Duncan of the Yankees tried to make a statement by sliding into second base spikes up, catching Akinori Iwamura? Well, who are the tough guys now?

Tropicana Field is a home-from-home

Tampa’s record at ‘The Trop’ is outstanding. Despite the lack of atmosphere there, they have lost just 22 times in 77 games so far.

“Our focus has always been to win the East,” says Maddon. “At the end of the regular season, it’s about moving forward with home-field advantage. You look at our record at home and we want to play as many games as possible here.”

Back in March, it seemed inconceivable that the American League East would be won by a team other than the Yankees or the Red Sox. Even then, you would have picked the Toronto Blues Jays and Baltimore Orioles before the Rays.

Now, with little more than a week to go, David is about to slay not one but two Goliaths and win the toughest division in baseball.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


EVERYBODY’S TALKING bout the new kid in town, which is good news for reigning Super Bowl champions the New York Giants.

Brett Favre is still the center of attention with the media, despite his New York Jets failing their first major test against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Such is the Favre factor that the Las Vegas oddsmakers actually made the Jets favorites to beat the Brady-less Pats.

But Eric Mangini was comprehensively out-coached by his mentor Bill Belichick. The Pats managed to protect rookie quarterback Matt Cassel and while the Jets did okay defensively, offensively they lacked ideas or invention.

It wasn’t Favre’s fault. Every time the Jets had the ball, they were starting on their own 20. In contrast, the Pats always seemed to have good field position.

More bad news for Mangini is that the Jets next game is in San Diego on Monday night. 

The Chargers, robbed of victory by a bum refereeing decision in Denver last weekend, are 0-2 and hurting. Their season is on the line and they are sure to be straining every sinew to beat the Jets.

Super Bowl champions flying under the radar

Even if the Jets are good enough to contain the Chargers’ explosive offense, are they going to score enough points to give themselves a chance? It’s highly doubtful.

The Giants, meanwhile, play host to the winless Cincinnati Bengals and will be a huge favorite to go 3-0. Confidence couldn’t be higher and while the Giants play better on the road than at home, it’s hard to seem them losing to the toothless Bengals.

With a bye week to follow, the Giants could not be in better shape as they bid to shock everyone by retaining their title. Yet no one seems to be paying them much attention. That won’t bother coach Tom Coughlin one bit.

Tougher tests lie ahead. Both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles proved last night that they have the offensive weapons to trouble any opponent.

But one thing they don’t have is the defense of the Giants. Even without the retired Michael Strahan and injured Osi Umenyiora, Big Blue still looks to have one of the best – if not the very best – defensive line in the NFL.

In modern-day football, you have to be able to put points on the board. But you have to prevent them too.

We will have to wait until November 2 – the day when the Cowboys come to town – to see whether the irresistible force can overcome the immovable object. 


JORGE POSADA may be a spectator as his club’s season meanders to its meaningless end, but the injured New York Yankees catcher has been creating a stir with some of his comments.

Posada, interviewed by Michael Kaye on the YES Network’s CenterStage program, used the opportunity to criticize Pedro Martinez’s behavior during the 2003 ALCS.

But it was his outspoken views on the future role of Joba Chamberlain – namely that he should remain in the bullpen rather than return to the starting rotation – that received the most media attention.

“Leave him in the bullpen,” said Posada. “If you start him and he pitches 200 innings, he won’t be able to last. You’re going to lose him; he’s going to get hurt.”

Opinion on the Joba issue seems to be split down the middle. But one thing everyone agrees on is that he needs to be handled with care. The 22-year-old from Lincoln, Nebraska, is far too valuable to the future of the franchise to take any chances with.

The stats are inconclusive. As a starter, he’s 3-1 with an ERA of 2.76 in 12 appearances, striking out 74 in 65.1 innings. As a reliever, he’s 1-2 with an ERA of 2.29, striking out 34 in 28.1 innings.

Chamberlain's explosive power better suited to bullpen

But I have to agree with Posada. Joba is an explosive pitcher who overpowers hitters with his fastball, and outfoxes them with his breaking ball.

As a starter, I feel his effectiveness is compromised, and I also have my doubts whether he can maintain that level over the course of a long season.

Emotionally highly strung, his character make-up is also better suited to coming on as a late reliever.

That’s why I believe the Yankees should be grooming Joba as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera.

With the Yanks bereft of decent starting pitching, I have my doubts whether that will actually happen next season, especially as Chamberlain sees himself as a starter. But whatever the decision, they need to make it before the start of spring training and stick with it.

Much depends on whether they can acquire some grade one pitchers such as CC Sabathia during the off-season.

After deciding not to trade for Johan Santana last winter, the Yanks have some serious rebuilding to do for 2009.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


AS NEW YORK YANKEES fans come to terms with the realization that there’s going to be no October baseball in the Bronx for the first time in nearly 15 years, our thoughts are already turning to next season.

There is no doubt that for general manager Brian Cashman, the Steinbrenner family and their cohorts, this is going to be the most important off-season for the club in decades.

The current Yankees roster contains far too many overpaid 30-somethings. It says it all that the biggest competition is for the DH spot. So who do you want to see back next year?

Like it or not, the Yanks are stuck with Alex Rodriguez for the next nine years, and Robinson Cano until at least 2011. We can only hope they return to last season’s form.

Derek Jeter has another three years to go on his contract. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui both have one more year.

Unless, the Yanks trade any of the above (and who would buy them?), they will again form the backbone of the batting line-up in 2009 – an order hopefully boosted by a fully fit catcher Jorge Posada.

With Damon struggling to take the field every day, and Matsui facing surgery on a knee injury, we already have two candidates for the role of DH.

I can’t imagine the Yanks will offer Jason Giambi another deal, even for one year, so the biggest dilemma for Cashman and Co. is whether to resign Bobby Abreu.

Nady a better long-term option than Abreu

With 15 home runs and 84 RBIs, Abreu (.302 average) has probably been the team’s most-clutch hitter this season.

On the minus side, he will be 35 by the time next season starts, he’s going to cost at least $16 million, and he never looks comfortable playing in right field.

The Yanks need an injection of players on the way up, rather than the way down, so if it were my decision, I would let Abreu go.

They would be better off spending the money on Xavier Nady, who has made a big impression since his short-term move from Pittsburgh at the end of July.

In contrast to Abreu, Nady seems more interested in hitting the ball out of the park than running the count deep. 

The disappointing Melky Cabrera could be used as bait in a trade, although his value has dropped considerably since this time last year.

Talk has it that the Yanks will pursue first baseman Mark Teixeira, currently playing for the Los Angeles Angels. Teixeira would be a tremendous signing. Trouble is, he’ll want a similar deal to A-Rod if he comes to New York.

The same goes for pitching ace CC Sabathia, who is likely to be the Yanks’ No. 1 target this winter.

Pitching ace has to be No. 1 priority

Although they have failed to score anywhere near enough runs this season, their pitching problems have been more obvious.

Surely we have seen the last of Sidney Ponson after his failure to win yesterday’s game, even with a nine-run lead. Darrell Rasner must go and so too, ‘Big Game’ Andy Pettitte. Any game would have done just recently but Andy has been unable to deliver.

Pettitte, apparently, has expressed an interest in coming back for one more year. At $16 million a year, I bet he has!

Unless either Phil Hughes or dare I say it, Carl Pavano, can convince between now and the end of September, the Yanks could well be in the market for two new pitchers to form a rotation with Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain and the evergreen Mike Mussina.

That’s assuming Joba continues as a starter and doesn’t return to the bullpen full-time.

I still think that with his explosive stuff, he is far better suited to pitching the eighth or ninth inning and becoming the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera.

The Yanks can only hope that Rivera continues to defy Old Father Time, and that the likes of José Veras, Edwar Ramirez, David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves and Phil Coke continue their development to form a young and energetic bullpen.

Those are not two adjectives you would often associate with the 2008 New York Yankees. That’s why Cashman, along with Hank and Hal, need to deliver this winter.