Baseball Talk During Super Bowl Week…

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Who Cares About Tom Brady and the New England Patriots…

Yankee pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training two weeks from today. Finally, the end is in sight for the long, often grueling, off-season. Well, maybe not for the high number of MLB free agents including two “generational talents” but for the rest of us and those players signed, we’ll be hearing the sounds of baseballs popping in catching mitts soon.

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I don’t think any of us expected utility man Neil Walker to return but any chance was eliminated last night when it was announced that he had signed with the Miami Marlins. Walker is expected to platoon with former Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien at first base. Not sure where Garrett Cooper is in the mix (maybe the outfield?) but I think he’s healthy now so there should be a few ex-Yankees roaming the training fields with holdovers Starlin Castro and Caleb Smith for Derek Jeter’s team this Spring. I think I’d be hesitant to wear the Number 14 for the Yankees this year. The last two guys who wore it during the regular season now reside in Miami. Personally, I’d prefer to see Tyler Wade wear the number, giving up 12 for Troy Tulowitzki who obviously cannot wear his Number 2 (as worn in Denver and Toronto) for obvious reasons.

Speaking of numbers, I have no clue what number DJ LeMahieu will wear. If he wants to keep his Colorado Rockies 9 in his number, I suppose he can wear Todd Frazier’s old Number 29. If it were up to me, I’d go with David Robertson’s number (30). James Paxton should wear 65 so that means Domingo German will be part of the number-searching brigade.

I am surprised that we are at the end of January and neither Bryce Harper nor Manny Machado have signed. It was funny watching the unofficial reports yesterday in Philadelphia that had the Phillies signing Harper. Turned out to be fake news like so many of the Harper-Machado rumors we’ve heard this winter. I think I’ve gotten to the point that if Ken Rosenthal is not talking about it, there’s nothing to it.

Despite the infield additions, I would still like to see the Yankees bring in another shortstop. I think they need to plan for the ‘what if’…what if Troy Tulowitzki is unable to recapture his past form? No doubt we’ll see DJ LeMahieu starting at second and Gleyber Torres covering short until Didi Gregorius returns (which is the way it should be anyway with the current roster makeup). But I’d like a strong fallback plan for the Tulo experiment. The Yankees lost one option yesterday when Freddy Galvis signed a one-year deal with the division rival Toronto Blue Jays (who will compete with Lourdes Gurriel, Jr for Tulo’s old job). Adeiny Hechevarria remains available and he’s certainly a guy I’d try to bring back. I think the ship has sailed for someone like Marwin Gonzalez but the former Astro fits the roster so well given his versatility. Jose Iglesias is the only other name out there that seems like a decent possibility. As it stands, it seems as though the Yankees will roll with the tandem of Tulo and Gleyber at short, backed by Tyler Wade. If there was ever a time for Wade to step up big, now is it. I wish I had more confidence in his ability to do it. Maybe the Yankees do. We’ll see.

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The Yankees are continuing their search for another starter as a hedge against the health of CC Sabathia which I feel is a very good idea. None of us want to see Luis Cessa starting on a consistent basis. Most likely Jonathan Loaisiga, if he can stay healthy, represents the best in-house insurance backed by Domingo German.  I fully expect to see Chance Adams and Domingo Acevedo given their chances this year. If the Yankees do bring in another starter, I see someone like Brett Anderson, not Dallas Keuchel.

I was surprised to see the Boston Red Sox sign former Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia to a minors deal. The three-time PED offender who received a lifetime ban a few years ago which was subsequently lifted by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred last summer, gets a fourth chance. The minor-league contract does not include a provision to attend Major League camp but no doubt if Mejia shows anything, he has a chance to make the Red Sox roster at some point this season. Mejia represents a shot in the dark for the Red Sox who have seen their bullpen depleted with the departure of Joe Kelly and the potential Craig Kimbrel does not return. Mejia was once a decent receiver. He’s been away from the game for a long time, yet he is only 29 and could certainly surprise some people. I am sure Boston loves the price tag (Mejia would make $625,000 if he is on the Major League roster) but Mejia’s character is enough for me to pass. Better Boston signs him than the Yankees. Boston fans can stop trashing Alex Rodriguez for his PED use now.

To flip the coin, I hate to defend the Red Sox but I’ve seen so many Yankee fans quick to rip Boston about their bullpen and how the Red Sox cannot match last year’s 108 wins due to career years by a few players. The Red Sox have won three consecutive AL East division championships in a row and four overall since the Yankees last won the division. Boston’s bullpen may not match up with the Yankees at the moment but as we’ve seen, relievers can be the most unpredictable in the sport. The Tampa Bay Rays, historically, have been very good at throwing together very effective bullpens with a cast of no-names. Conversely, even the great Yankee relievers are prone to blow a game now and then. The Yankees’ super-pen may look much better on paper right now but there is still time for the Red Sox to re-sign Kimbrel even if his level of play may be slipping. I know there are some young guys coming up in the Red Sox system that can be effective arms and there are a few holdovers that should not be dismissed like Tyler Thornburg, Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes. I don’t think we should be so quick to discount the Red Sox this year. They are the defending World Champions and they made their AL Division Series with the Yankees last October look like a total mismatch. They still have many of the very talented players that made the Los Angeles Dodgers look like a minor league team in the World Series. Based on their first seasons, Alex Cora was a better manager than Aaron Boone. It doesn’t mean that Boone can’t get better but the Red Sox are simply not going away. I see the division as a total dogfight. The Tampa Bay Rays, with their pitching staff, have the potential to be the surprise team of 2019 like the Oakland A’s were last year.  I’ve gotten to the point where I am tired of people saying that Harper and Machado are “luxuries, not necessities”. Until the Yankees can win the division and advance to the World Series to claim the championship, better players are a necessity. The Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2009 (ten years ago) and have not sat atop the AL East since 2011.  Yes, the 2019 Yankees, with no further additions, are arguably the best team we’ve seen since the 2009 Yankees, I agree. It does not mean that we cannot or should not strive to be better. No team is going to roll over for the Yankees, not even the lowly Baltimore Orioles. If anything, teams play harder, try harder against the Yankees than any other team. With or without Harper or Machado, the Yankees have much to prove before we can start beating our chests.

Congratulations to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for the selection of their new manager, Jay Bell.  Bell, known as a player’s manager and referred to as the GOAT by his teams, has managed in the Yankees’ minor league system since 2017. In two years, he has taken High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton to the playoffs and will be looking to make it to the post-season for the third consecutive season with the RailRiders. I know that Aaron Boone likes ‘smart and confident’ which is the reason he chose Josh Bard, most likely a future manager, as his bench coach, but I can’t help but think Boonie would have benefited from someone like Bell at his side. Nevertheless, Bell is now coaching the guys who are just a phone call (and a bus ride) away from the Bronx and guys he has watched grow and develop over the last few years. The former Arizona Diamondback, who scored the winning run on the World Series-winning walk-off single by Luis Gonzalez in 2001 off legendary Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, is making a huge contribution to the Yankees organization. I guess it’s his payback for breaking our hearts so many years ago although I am sure that he’d gladly step on home plate again to defeat the Yankees if given the opportunity. I think Bell’s promotion from Trenton was an excellent move. Nothing against former RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell but he didn’t really excite me as a manager. Bell does. He seems to have the presence or aura held by former RailRiders manager Al Pedrique, maybe even more so. He’ll do well with the top Yankees farm team and the fruits of his efforts will be highly visible in the Bronx this coming season and for years to come.

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The Yankees should be commended for their decision to sign lefty reliever Danny Farquhar to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League camp. Last summer, it appeared Farquhar’s career was over with his brain hemorrhage. He survived the life-threatening ordeal and is pitching again.  It’s a tall order for him to make the Yankees roster but I don’t think anybody is rooting against him. It would be a great story if he does deliver this Spring and finds his moment to step out on the Yankee Stadium turf wearing the famed Pinstripes.

If I was a Major League player, I think I’d want to know where I’d be reporting in two weeks. It seems like maybe we’ll see a flurry of signings in the coming days. Starting to see reports this morning that reliever/closer Greg Holland has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks so there’s another relief option off the board for Boston. I really hope the next week or so finally brings closure to the Harper-Machado saga, wherever they may land. It would be great if one (or both) fell into the Yankees’ lap but I am done with them, and just want to move on.

As always, Go Yankees!

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