Off-Season Prep for 2020 is Underway…
I think I can speak for the entire Yankees fanbase when I say that we miss Yankees Baseball. We are in the part of the off-season where there is talk and speculation but not much action. Things should start warming up next week. Not that there will be signings and trades, but the General Manager meetings will be held Monday through Thursday in Scottsdale, Arizona. The groundwork for the future trades could be laid and of course there could be finalization of the new deal for Brett Gardner. When you get all the GM’s together in one place, anything can happen. Let the alcohol flow! After a couple of shots, maybe Jacoby Ellsbury would look attractive to somebody. I’d love for a rival GM to wake up from a drunken stupor one morning, screaming “WTF! How did we end up with Ellsbury???!!!” Sadly, it won’t be that easy to get rid of Jacoby but I’ll always hold out hope. Fortunately, we are only one season away from the $5 million buyout and the end of Ellsbury’s time in New York.
The biggest news for the Yankees this week was the appointment of Matt Blake as the new pitching coach, replacing the fired Larry Rothschild. Blake, 33, had been promoted last Tuesday to Director of Pitching Development for the Cleveland Indians. Two days later, he was the newest member of Aaron Boone’s staff. Blake has been with the Indians for four seasons and was, prior to his promotion, the Assistant Director of Player Development. Before joining the Indians in late 2015, Blake was a pitching coordinator for Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. He began his career as a pitching coach for a Boston area high school (Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury, MA) in 2009. In 2010, he served as an area scout for the Yankees before moving on to Cressey. He served as the pitching coach in 2015 for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, a collegiate summer baseball team in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Blake is a native of Concord, New Hampshire and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross with degrees in psychology and philosophy. He was on the Holy Cross baseball team for all four years.
While I think we have to recognize that most of us are not qualified to assess who is or is not a good pitching coach, I like the hire. I know everybody wanted the sexy pick of David Cone. Me too. I thought Cone or Andy Pettitte would be good choices, but conversely, I know that just because Cone was a very good pitcher and a great broadcaster does not mean that he would have been a terrific pitching coach. Also, the pitching coach job would have required Cone to take a pay cut. Frankly, I am glad that we’ll continue to hear Coney on YES Network broadcasts with Michael Key. I suppose he could always pursue coaching jobs elsewhere if he is so inclined but for now, I like his presence on my TV screen for games.
The Yankees have evolved into one of Baseball’s most advanced analytic teams. They’ve sunk huge costs into acquiring some of the best available analytic minds to support VP, Assistant General Manager Michael Fishman and his team of analysts. The word is Blake is very good at taking analytics and breaking it down into laymen’s terms for pitchers to understand and how to apply them. I know the Yankees didn’t wake up one morning and say ‘hey, let’s steal Blake from the Indians!’. They did their research, and multiple members within the Yankees organization had the opportunity to meet with Blake. The consensus of the greatest minds in the organization was the hiring of Blake as the next pitching coach. That’s good enough for me.
I do think the Yankees should join the recent trend in MLB to hire an assistant pitching coach. The unknown about Blake is that he has never played or coached at the Major League level. I am not saying he can’t do it, but I think two voices on the coaching staff for the pitchers is smart. I personally like RailRiders pitching coach Tommy Phelps. He has good knowledge and experience with many of the high level prospects and we know that he has done good work with the Major League pitchers sent down for additional instruction, with Chad Green representing the most recent example. Who knows if Green’s rebound was because of Phelps or was based on a plan developed by Larry Rothschild, but I do know that Phelps is highly respected and would make a good partner for Blake.
Speaking of Larry Rothschild, it didn’t take him long to find new employment. One day after the Yankees hired Blake, the San Diego Padres announced their had re-assigned their pitching coach of 17 years, Darren Balsey, to other duties within the organization and had hired Rothschild to be their next pitching coach. I think everyone expected Larry to follow Joe Girardi to Philadelphia, but all things considered, I think landing in San Diego is an ideal opportunity for him. I was a little surprised when Girardi went with Bryan Price as his pitching coach. Not that I think Price is a bad coach, but as a recent manager, I am sure he has aspirations to manage again, and I can’t help but think there could be potential for conflict with Girardi who we know can be hard-headed at times. Maybe I am reading too much into that, but at this state of his career, Rothschild is content with serving as a pitching coach until retirement calls his name. He’ll now get his opportunity to help break in another rookie manager (Jayce Tingler) and will be charged to help develop one of the best pitching prospects in the game in MacKenzie Gore. I don’t get the hate directed at Rothschild by Yankee fans. While I think it was time for the Yankees and Rothschild to part ways, I realize that Larry did many things right and there was much we were unable to see from the outside looking in. I am appreciative for the years he gave the Yankees. The Padres are a young, analytics-driven team, and they chose to go with experience. Good for Larry. I wish him the best for his new opportunity.
It was reported the Yankees and Brett Gardner’s camp are talking and it should result in a new deal soon. I am in favor of bringing Gardy back, however, I do not feel the Yankees should spend more than $8-$10 million on a one-year contract. Maybe throw in some incentives for a couple more million. But to expect Gardy to replicate his 2019 season (enhanced by the alleged juiced baseball) is asking too much. The Yankees need a starting center fielder next year and I hate seeing Gardner’s name automatically written in while Aaron Hicks recovers from Tommy John surgery. The guy will be 37 in August. I think he is best served as the team’s fourth outfielder with random starts rather than every day. The Yankees need to field the best players in 2020, not swim in sentimental waters. I’ve seen some Yankee fans suggest Gardy’s number should be retired when his playing days are finished. Sorry, while he has been a good Yankee for a long-time, he is not a Hall of Fame level player and never has been. I value Gardy’s leadership but I believe he is overrated in the eyes of many fans. I am not sure if the center field should be Mike Tauchman or maybe someone who is not in the organization right now, but I think the Yankees will go with the best man for the job and not simply pay for past performance.
I know the Yankees will be okay if Didi Gregorius leaves, but I’ll be sad. I like his left-handed bat and I think he’ll rebound for a stronger 2020 season as he gets further away from TJ surgery. The Yankees are still a championship-level team with Gleyber Torres at short and D.J. LeMahieu at second, but I think Didi still has much left in the tank. I know, I am making these statements after saying the Yankees shouldn’t stay with Gardy for sentimental reasons. But unlike Gardy, I think the best years can still be ahead for Didi. There’s growing speculation that Didi’s original team, the Cincinnati Reds, are interested in bringing him back. I guess if Didi does leave, I’d rather see him go to the National League so the Reds would probably be best-case scenario. But minus his bat, the Yankees will need to find another left-handed hitter to sandwich between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. I am not sure if lefties like Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman, or (gasp!) Greg Bird can be that guy or if Brian Cashman will have to go for outside help. Also, unless the Yankees sign LeMahieu to an extension, there could be an infield void after next season. I’d hate to go back to rolling out guys like Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew to fill in at second base like we did when Robinson Cano left. If you say Tyler Wade, then we obviously have differing opinions about the player.
A much speculated target for shortstop has been Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor. Granted, he is not a left-handed bat but clearly he’s one of the best players in the game today. He is only 25 and would fit nicely into the Yankees lineup as a replacement for Gregorius. If the Indians move Lindor, it will only be for a huge haul so we’d have to expect to lose some very talented and promising players. Another suggestion is Corey Seager if the Los Angeles Dodgers acquire Lindor. I’d be fine with either Lindor or Seager at shortstop (using Aaron Boone’s favorite word, “obviously”). But honestly, I wish the Yankees would just re-sign Gregorius and save the trade bullets for an ace. A package of Lindor and Corey Kluber would be awesome, but the price tag would be outrageous. Nevertheless, I am sure you’ll be able to see Cashman in conversation with Chris Antonetti, Cleveland’s President of Baseball Operations, and/or Mike Chernoff, the Tribe’s GM, next week. You never know what can happen in Baseball.
I am cautiously optimistic about Thurman Munson’s presence on the 2020 Modern Era Committee ballot for Hall of Fame consideration. The results will be announced on December 8th. I’ve always said that Jim “Catfish” Hunter is the reason I became a Yankee fan, but it didn’t take long for Thurman to become my favorite player. The others on the ballot are Don Mattingly, Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Lou Whitaker, and former MLBPA head Marvin Miller. Mattingly was my favorite player after Munson. While I think both players are Hall of Fame-worthy, if I had to pick one, I’d say it is time for Thurman to get his deserved recognition as one of the game’s all-time greats. I loved the passion and intensity of that guy. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1970 and the AL MVP in 1976. Even though the Yankees were swept in the World Series that year, it was not because of Munson who hit .529 (9 for 17) in the series. He was the heart and soul of two World Series championship teams in 1977 and 1978. Thurman’s death in 1979 remains one of those “I know exactly where I was when I heard the news” moments in my life. I was devastated and it’s sad that we didn’t get to see what Thurman could have done past age 32. I know there was speculation at the time about Thurman’s desire to get closer to home and perhaps sign with the Cleveland Indians, but it would have been hard to see him in anything other than Pinstripes. He was truly one of the Yankee Legends despite his premature departure and deserves his place among the other greats. I hope this is the year.
As always, Go Yankees!