Category: New York Yankees

Crushing AL East Rivals…

(Photo: Mike Janes/AP)

Even if it means absolutely nothing…

Maybe the Yankees should use David Wells in the YES Network broadcast booth more often. He worked Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox and yesterday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays and saw the Yankees score a combined total of 31 runs in the victories over two of their biggest AL East Rivals.  

It was enjoyable to see the Yankees win the 14-1 laugher over the Red Sox but sadly it is just a Spring Training game so it’s meaningless. I’d love to see one of those kind of games (or better yet, two) when the Yankees play the Red Sox on April 16th and 17th. The best way to get rid the memory of the devastating 16-1 loss to Boston in last Fall’s ALDS is to simply return the favor and ensure Boston’s season is shortened this year.   

Saturday’s 17-7 win, two touchdowns and a field goal, over the Blue Jays came at a price. The Yankees lost top prospect Estevan Florial when he tried to make a leaping catch against the wall in the eighth inning. He couldn’t reach the ball and came down on his right wrist against the turf, suffering what subsequent x-rays revealed to be a non-displaced wrist fracture. It’s a big loss as he’ll presumably lose valuable development time. Florial was having a great Spring with a batting line of .355/.429/.516 and .945 OPS in 13 games. In 31 at-bats, he had 11 hits and 7 runs scored to go with a homer and 4 RBI’s. He has also stolen 5 bags, which included one yesterday. There was no way he was making the big league club having just reached High-A last year, but with pitch recognition looming as the last major hurdle for him, his development will be further delayed. Florial missed three months last year after surgery on his hamate bone of the same wrist. If Florial misses 2-3 months with the latest injury, it will adversely affect his status as a potential July trading chip (not that I want the Yankees to trade him, of course). Further tests are scheduled for Monday before the Yankees will know the expected timetable for his recovery and rehab. I am hoping for better than expected results but admittedly it’s not looking good for the talented 21-year-old.  

MLB Network’s 30 in 30 focus on the Yankees is coming up this week…finally. It will air on Tuesday night at 7 pm Eastern during the hour-long MLB Tonight show. I am looking forward to the interviews with some of baseball’s greatest young stars and maybe Brett Gardner and/or CC Sabathia too.   

Listening to the many interviews with other teams around the league, there is a common phrase that Aaron Judge uses which is echoed by so many other players. “Picking (someone’s) brain.” As a fan of The Walking Dead, it’s hard not to get a visual of a Zombie, I mean a Walker, in search of food. I know, this is a game of knowledge and understanding and veteran players have so much to offer younger players. It’s just funny that the same expression gets used by so many players.  

Jacoby Ellsbury is expected in Tampa today. I am sure it will be a day of medical evaluations for him and who really knows where he is at physically except for him.  No way he makes the Opening Day roster but if healthy, for as much as I am down on him, he figures to be in position to help at some point as he works back into playing shape and redevelops his timing after being away from the game for so long. I do not expect anything from him and I had been doubtful he’d ever wear the Pinstripes again, but if he has anything left in the tank, the Yankees should give him a shot. If anything, the dude knows how to get catcher’s interference. I am sure Ellsbury, now 35, has tired of the negative comments from people like me and wants to show he is still capable of playing baseball at a high level, not too much unlike Troy Tulowitzki’s comeback attempt. If he can, play him. If not, cut bait and move on. Of course, it would be a much costlier decision with Ellsbury than Tulo, but I am sure the Yankees won’t use money as a reason not to part ways with Ellsbury if the insurance payments are no longer flowing in and Ellsbury proves to be an outfielder that can no longer play the outfield.

(Photo: Chris Pedota/North Jersey.com)

A couple weeks ago, I gave my projection for the Opening Day Lineup. At this point, you have to scratch Jonathan Loaisiga. He is not going to make the OD roster. For as much as we say Spring Training stats don’t count, Lasagna has stunk big time.  In four games, he is 1-1 with a 10.00 ERA.  He has given up 11 runs (10 earned) in 9 innings pitched. He has walked 6 batters and is carrying a 1.67 WHIP. Granted, you could say that J.A. Happ’s Spring has been nearly as bad, but Happ, as a veteran, “is just working on things”. Loaisiga had something to prove, whereas Happ does not. The performance has most likely earned Loaisiga a trip to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, making Luis Cessa (the pitching surprise of the Spring) and Domingo German the probable replacement starters for Luis Severino and CC Sabathia. Unless the Yankees carry an extra position player, it should mean that Stephen Tarpley will take the last bullpen spot. With Aaron Hicks’ health and the potential he misses Opening Day, it could force the Yankees to bring along an extra outfielder since Brett Gardner will need to slide to center to cover for Hicks although Tyler Wade is fully capable of covering a corner outfield spot on a short-term basis.

There was an update this morning when Hicks told the media that he WILL be missing the opening series against the Baltimore Orioles. He had his second cortisone shot for back stiffness this past week. The Yankees will have to decide whether to carry Hicks on the Opening Day roster if they feel he’ll only miss the two games against Baltimore or place him on the 10-day Injured List if they fear he’ll be out longer. It’s frustrating the Yankees could spend the majority of April “short-handed” as they’ll also be down a man when CC Sabathia serves his five-game suspension. 2020’s 26-man roster is starting to look a year too late.  

If the Yankees aren’t that high on Clint Frazier to start the year, I thought Carlos Gonzalez would have been a sneaky good pickup for some outfield help. However, that option was lost yesterday when the Cleveland Indians signed the long-time Colorado Rockie outfielder to a minor league deal. I guess we’ve reached our quota of ex-Rockies. I know CarGo carries the ‘he can’t hit outside of Coors Field’ tag but for $2-$3 million (pocket change for Hal Steinbrenner), he could have helped.

Congrats to Michael King and Brandon Wagner. They were named yesterday the winners of the 2018 Kevin Lawn Award as the Yankees’ Minor League “Pitcher of the Year” and “Player of the Year”, respectively. King has gotten much recognition after his breakout 2018 season, but Wagner is a bit unheralded. The 23-year-old, in combined A/AA, hit .267/.380/.461, with .841 OPS, last season. He belted 21 homers and 67 RBIs. He is primarily a first baseman but saw multiple games at third base and has even seen time at second and in the outfield.  Diversity is a great ticket to The Show if you have the talent. It should allow Wagner to leap-frog the ‘first base only’ types, Mike Ford and Ryan McBroom, in the farm system in the not-so-distant future if he continues his progression.   

Lastly, Happy St Patrick’s Day to all!  

As always, Go Yankees!  

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Tanaka vs Cobb, Let’s Get This Party Started…

In two weeks, the doors of Yankee Stadium will open…

Ready or not, Opening Day is a scant fourteen days away. On Thursday, March 28th, at 1:05 pm EDT, Masahiro Tanaka will fire the first official 2019 pitch at Yankee Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles and we’ll be off to the races for 162 games PLUS (heavy emphasis on the ‘plus’). The Orioles have announced RHP Alex Cobb will get the Opening Day nod over Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner.

Cobb signed with Baltimore as a free agent in late March last year and it showed with disastrous April results. He lost his first three starts with 13.11 ERA and 2.83 WHIP.  A 6.03 K/9 pitcher for the year, he was unable to strike anyone out in two of those first three games. With the benefit of a full training camp, Cobb should be more prepared for his second season in Birdland. Steamer projects a 9-13 record in 31 starts with 4.89 ERA (4.50 xFIP) and 1.6 fWAR. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to hear Michael Kay’s first “There it goes! See ya!” of the new season. I don’t think any of the Orioles pitchers strike fear in the hearts of the Yankees, and it should be a good opportunity to get the season started on the right foot.

It was reported this week the MLB Players Association and MLB have agreed upon the elimination of the waiver trading deadline in August which makes the July non-waivers deadline a hard date for player trades. This year’s trading deadline is Wednesday, July 31st. In theory, it should spark more trade activity in July than in years past and will force teams to make earlier decisions about whether they are buyers and sellers. I am probably most concerned about potential injuries in August and the need to fill unplanned vacancies from within the organization. Depth at certain positions can be weak so it will force organizations to work harder to cover depth at all positions in the off-season which I suppose is an intended consequence.  The change is effective this year.

Another change is the expansion of roster size from 25 to 26 players in 2020 with a maximum of 13 pitchers. On September 1st of 2020, the expansion of rosters will be reduced from 40 to 28 players and no more than 14 pitchers. At face value, I am glad to see the addition of a bench spot for another position player. The transition of the game to deeper bullpens has left bench roles perilously thin. Hopefully the addition of a player will help keep guys fresher for the long season. While the change is not effective this year, the potential 26th men at the present time are Clint Frazier and the expected loser of the first base competition, Greg Bird.

The new MLB-MLBPA deal is expected to be announced today.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, other changes include the three-batter minimum for pitchers although a start of a new inning would allow a pitching substitution. I think back a couple of years and wonder what it would have been like if the Yankees had been forced to use Tyler Clippard for at least three consecutive batters on days when he simply didn’t have it. I can see a pitcher coming into a game with an inability to throw strikes and suddenly the bases are loaded…or worse. I get the pace of play implications but I guess the traditionalist in me would like to see the game decisions in the hands of the managers. Silly me. There’s also a new $1 million bonus for the winner of the All-Star Home Run Derby. Makes me wonder if it will influence a lower paid guy like Aaron Judge to participate. I know Judge makes most of his money through endorsements right now but I am sure that a way to pick up an extra mil is enticing for some.

It was a bummer that last night’s Spring Training game against the Philadelphia Phillies was not televised. Although the game ended in a 5-5 tie, it was Bryce Harper’s first Phillies start against the Yankees.  If for no other reason, I am looking forward to the regular season so that every game is televised. Harper was booed  unmercifully by the Yankee fans at Steinbrenner Field or so they say since I didn’t actually see it. I don’t really get it. It’s not Bryce’s fault that he is not a Yankee.  The Yankees chose not to pursue him in free agency despite the wishes of the fans. Bryce is on record saying the Yankees never reached out to him despite his childhood love for the Pinstripes. If Bryce historically crushed Yankee pitching, then maybe that’s a reason to boo him but he has been largely ineffective in his short body of work facing the Yankees. I would have liked for the Yankees to sign Harper but they didn’t and we must move on. I know I am very excited to see what Year 2 brings for Giancarlo Stanton. Regardless of whether you preferred Harper over Stanton, I think Stanton is going to be more relaxed this year and will more closely resemble the player that dominated baseball in 2017 for the Miami Marlins.

Back to the first base competition, I thought it was funny when it was reported yesterday that Aaron Boone was wearing a Luke Voit t-shirt in the clubhouse. Boone also commented that Voit batting cleanup (as he did last night) could carry into the season, adding that he could see Voit anywhere from third to sixth in the order. In other words, it is Greg Bird and not Voit who should be making living accommodations in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.

Jose Canseco, shut up! Your fifteen minutes of fame came and went. Let it go, Cheater. Alex Rodriguez owes you nothing.

Credit: Getty Images

For those of you who are New York Jets fans, my apologies for the Anthony Barr situation but I am glad it worked out the way it did. Granted, Barr, a linebacker, is not a superstar level player but I like his role in Minnesota’s defense. I’ve been a lifelong Vikings fan. I think Barr is capable of so much more and I hope the Vikings use Barr as an edge rusher like the Jets intended to do. For those of you not following, Barr had agreed to a free agent deal with the Jets on Monday, only to renege the next morning and subsequently sign an extension to stay in Minneapolis. I had been dreading NFL free agency, fearful of losing Barr. The Vikings had done a good job of signing their young core players despite the massive overpay for QB Kirk Cousins, but Barr had remained unsigned. With salary cap implications, it appeared Barr would be wearing a different uniform this Fall. For a few hours earlier this week, the Jets fans thought he’d be wearing hunter green and white.  For all of Minnesota’s free agents, Barr was the one I wanted to keep. Jets fans were unhappy about his change of heart but I was truly grateful. It kind of reminded me of the time David Wells had a change of heart after agreeing to a two-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and signed with the Yankees on a napkin. There may not have been a napkin involved with Barr but the impact is the same. Glad he’s on my team.

As always, Go Yankees!

The Dog Days of Spring…

Less Than 3 Weeks to Opening Day…

I always love the arrival of pitchers and catchers in early February, followed shortly thereafter by the position players. The first images of Spring Training are always a welcome sight after a long, cold winter. The first glimpses of the players on the practice fields near Steinbrenner Field, the popping of catcher’s mitts and the sounds of bats as balls leave the yard. But gradually, the excitement fades and the arrival of Opening Day can’t get here fast enough. We’re here now. I am starting to lose interest in watching guys like Trey Amburgey and Isiah Gilliam playing games and want to see the MLB regulars consistently through game’s end.

Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

For the Yankees, hopefully there will be no further injuries this Spring. We know at least three players are headed for the Injured List to start the season. Luis Severino, Jacoby Ellsbury, and CC Sabathia. Sevy is currently in the midst of his two-week shutdown. It was reported yesterday that he isn’t feeling any pain after a cortisone shot. But like a doctor once told me after a cortisone shot, it masks the pain but doesn’t cure the problem. Based on Sevy’s positive words, I am cautiously optimistic that rest is the cure and there will be no further setbacks for him. Ellsbury, after such a late start to camp (expected to arrive next week), will need to stay for extended spring training, assuming he’s 100% healthy even when he arrives (unlikely if you ask me). Sabathia, as we know, had a delayed start this Spring after last December’s angioplasty and has been going a little slower than the rest of the starting rotation.

Two inactive players in camp are already destined for the Injured List as they continue their respective recoveries from Tommy John surgery: Didi Gregorius and Jordan Montgomery. I had been bracing myself for the possibility Gregorius could be out until August but he is seemingly ahead of schedule and we could see him as early as June. Regardless of how well Tulo may be playing at the time, Didi will be such a welcome sight when he is cleared to play. Montgomery is doubtful to provide any meaningful contribution this season. When he is cleared to throw and begins his rehab, he’ll head to the Minor Leagues. I see him as nothing more than a spot starter very late in the season, if at all. Many fans are acting like he’ll be a great trade deadline “acquisition” but honestly I don’t see him pitching any big games for the Yankees this year. Even healthy, he is not one of the best starters and I think it will be next season before he’s truly back and ready to help.

So, in my opinion, Opening Day seems to be pointing to the following roster:

Projected 2019 New York Yankees Opening Day Roster
Catcher Gary Sanchez
First Base Luke Voit
Second Base Gleyber Torres
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki
Third Base Miguel Andújar
Right Field Aaron Judge
Center Field Aaron Hicks
Left Field Brett Gardner
Designated Hitter Giancarlo Stanton
Super Utility D.J. LeMahieu
Bench Tyler Wade
Bench Austin Romine
SP-1 Masahiro Tanaka
SP-2 James Paxton
SP-3 J.A. Happ
SP-4 Jonathan Loaisiga
SP-5 Domingo German
Closer Aroldis Chapman
Setup Dellin Betances
Rest of the Bullpen Zack Britton
Adam Ottavino
Chad Green
Jonathan Holder
Tommy Kahnle
Luis Cessa

This is not necessarily the OD roster I want but rather what the tea leaves seem to be saying according to my eyes. I know many fans can’t let go of the homer Greg Bird hit off Andrew Miller in the playoffs a couple of years ago but Voit deserves the first base job based on last season’s performance (until proven otherwise). As the loser of the first base job, I expect Bird to begin the season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. I’ve seen people say one of Voit or Bird should be traded but I do think it would be unwise. As much as I like Voit, he needs to prove last Fall was not a fluke. If not, Bird needs to be ready for the call-up while playing every day for the RailRiders. LeMahieu is expected to be the backup first baseman.

This lineup forces the Yankees to use Stanton in left field more often than they would like. I know I don’t see Brett Gardner as an every day starter anymore but no doubt Manager Aaron Boone will run him out there as often as possible. I still expect Clint Frazier to eventually come up from Triple A to mount a serious threat for playing time but realistically it won’t happen until later this summer if Frazier mashes for the RailRiders unless injuries mandate an earlier call. There’s no circumstance I see Gardy as the starter when the calendar page turns to September.

I am a bit concerned about the nagging little ailments that always seem to bother Hicks. He has been held out of games over the past week due to tightness in his back and is still feeling some discomfort. He is not expected to return to play until next Tuesday at the earliest according to Aaron Boone’s words yesterday. I am hopeful the back does not become a season-long malady. I am sure Hicks wouldn’t have missed as much time if it had been the regular season but there’s still concern (if not the Yankees, at least for me).

Tyler Wade’s speed and versatility (ability to play infield and outfield positions) makes him the most logical option for the bench. If he gets the job, I really hope this serves as his breakout year.

My preferred starting lineup would feature LeMahieu at second, with Torres sliding to shortstop, until Gregorius returns. But hey, what do I know. Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone get paid a lot of money to make those decisions and they’re certainly much smarter and more knowledgeable about the Yankees than I am.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tanaka at the top of the rotation is my speculation that he’ll be named as the Opening Day starter. Otherwise, I’d rate Paxton as the slightly better pitcher (sorry Masa). Sevy is expected to be checked late next week to see if he can resume throwing. Best case scenario, we won’t see him until late April or even possibly early May. The concern here is the potential for further setbacks which would delay Sevy much longer than originally expected. Everyone keeps expecting CC Sabathia to come back pitching like he did last season but that’s not a certainty by any stretch of the imagination. The guy had a stint placed in a heart valve. It’s a serious procedure and we honestly do not know how it will affect him until he actually pitches against live hitting in games that matter. I can’t say that I am too enamored with the heavy reliance upon Loaisiga and German (or Cessa) in the early going. I know GM Brian Cashman has said the Yankees intend to go with the internal options, but really, what else is he supposed to say. Even if he is very interested in signing a free agent arm or acquiring another pitcher via trade, he is not going to tip his hand and show any signs of desperation. It would force the Yankees into an overpay situation. So, while I expect the Yankees to go into the season with Loaisiga and German as starters, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Yankees make another move to bring in a veteran starter. There’s no scenario I see Dallas Keuchel as a Yankee. The money, the years, and the draft pick compensation attached simply do not make any sense. I guess age 31 is the new 41 in Major League Baseball. The next few weeks should be interesting as the 2019 Opening Day Roster takes shape. Inevitably, there is always a surprise or two. We’ll see.

As expected, the Yankees reacquired controlling interest in the YES Network.  Holding 20% ownership in the network, they purchased the remaining 80% from Disney with the help of other investors, including Amazon, Blackstone Group and Sinclair Broadcast Group, for $3.47 billion. The transaction presumably increases the Yankees’ stake in YES to 30% and controlling interest among the financial backers. I’ve seen many fans complain about the Yankees’ investment in the YES Network over signing former free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado but, in my opinion, one does not affect the other. I don’t think the YES Network acquisition impacted the decision not to pursue Harper and Machado, nor do I feel that signing one of those guys would have prevented the purchase. Long-term, for the Yankees, I feel reacquiring control of the YES Network is a wise decision. It does underscore the fact the Yankees are a very valuable franchise and regardless of how one feels about Harper and Machado, a very financially astute one.

The sale does not require FCC approval but it is expected to take 120 days to complete. It was reported the financial partners have their own strategic plans for the acquisition but the Yankees will control programming, and the choice of announcers. We may love baseball but it’s hard to ignore the Yankees are a major business and all decisions are made for the long-term vision and success of the organization.

Speaking of the YES Network, I’ve been very pleased with their decision to have guest announcers this Spring. I particularly enjoyed the recent insight of Reggie Jackson. As a fan who grew up with the famed Bronx Zoo, it was fun listening to Reggie’s stories of those days. I loved Thurman Munson and enjoyed hearing his name again. Willie Randolph did a great job too. David Wells is scheduled to sit in the booth next Friday and Saturday when the Yankees play two of his former teams, the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. Boomer remains one of my all-time favorites and I am looking forward to his appearance.

As always, Go Yankees!

Shouldering the Arm of Discontent…

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Credit: Charles Wenzelberg – The New York Post

Rotator Cuff Inflammation Derails Luis Severino for 2 Weeks…

Spring Training threw us its first curve ball yesterday with the news that ace Luis Severino was pulled from his scheduled start against the Atlanta Braves due to pain in his right shoulder. With the words made famous by former professional boxer Roberto Duran in his 1980 bout with Sugar Ray Leonard, “No Mas!”, Severino let pitching coach Larry Rothschild know that something was wrong during his pre-game bullpen session. A subsequent trip to the hospital for an MRI revealed inflammation in the rotator cuff but thankfully, knock on wood, no indications of a possible tear.  You certainly worry about high velocity guys like Sevy and concerns that ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. Hopefully this proves to be nothing that a little rest cannot cure.

The Yankees will shut down Sevy for two weeks. Assuming there are no further setbacks or recurrence of pain, he’ll resume throwing again around the first day of Spring (March 20th). Unfortunately, due to the injury, Severino has been scratched as the Opening Day starter. While Masahiro Tanaka is probably the sentimental favorite to start Opening Day, his history to open the regular season has not been great. In his last Opening Day start, Tanaka was dreadful. On April 2, 2017, for Manager Joe Girardi, Tanaka gave up seven runs on eight hits over 2 2/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. He walked two and gave up home runs to Logan Morrison and Evan Longoria in the 7-3 loss. As Girardi probably said that day, it’s not what you want. Tanaka’s start was the shortest on Opening Day since Ron Guidry was pulled after 2 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners in 1983. Severino started Opening Day last year, a 6-1 victory over current teammate J.A. Happ and the Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I’d probably roll with the new guy, James Paxton, but it would be hard to argue with Tanaka despite the lack of success the last time around for no other reason than his tenure as a Yankee.

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Credit: Lynne Sladky – AP

When the news broke about Severino, many Yankee fans were immediately clamoring for the Front Office to sign free agent starter Dallas Keuchel. As much as I’d like to see Keuchel as part of the starting rotation, the truth is it will never happen. Keuchel, despite being unsigned this late in March, will still command a multi-year deal for as much as $20 million annually. He also carries draft pick compensation for the Houston Astros since he received and rejected a qualifying offer. I just don’t see the Yankees making that type of financial commitment for rotation insurance. Gio Gonzalez, as many have said, represents the most logical choice on the free agent market. After that, we’re talking about guys like “Big Game” James Shields who hasn’t seen a big game in years and has pitched like it. The Yankees could stay in-house and simply use guys like Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German, and, ugh, Luis Cessa. I guess I am in favor of bringing in an experienced arm so I’d take Gonzalez. The Yankees head into the season with only three of five starters healthy and ready to go. CC Sabathia is behind the other starters after his angioplasty in December and resulting late start to Camp so he’ll begin the season on the Injured List. He also has to serve the five-game suspension from last season once he’s activated. In all likelihood, the Yankees will not see either Severino or Sabathia until the latter part of April (after series against the two of the best teams in the American League, Houston and Boston). I’d rather have a proven, dependable starter that can keep the team in games to help bridge the gap to full health. Keep Loaisiga and German in limited spot starts until they prove they are ready for more. The ship with Cessa as a starter has sailed for me. I’d rather keep him in a relief role so that he is not overexposed. He becomes more hittable the second and third time through lineups as the hitters gain familiarity. I’d rather keep him as a mystery in the pen facing a minimal number of batters.

Daniel Burch of The Greedy Pinstripes made a very compelling argument this morning for why the Yankees should avoid Gonzalez based on his stats in American League parks. I do not dispute Daniel’s opinion even if I may not agree. For a team with aspirations to win the World Series, a little experience goes a long way. I know that Gonzalez is not going to pitch like the second coming of Max Scherzer but, conversely, he is much better than his other former Washington Nationals teammate, A.J. Cole, whom we got to know too well last season.  Inevitably, the Yankees need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. What if Sevy’s shoulder becomes more problematic than something two weeks of rest can cure? I guess with the other questions in the starting rotation, I am not ready to pin our hopes heavily upon Loaisiga and German.  Ease them in, yes. Throw them into the fire, no way. So, while I respect Daniel’s opinion, I’d rather go with the arm of experience.

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Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully the Yankees can avoid any further injuries in the remaining three weeks of Spring Training.  Center fielder Aaron Hicks has missed a few games with back stiffness but it does not seem too severe.  In their first nine games of the regular season, the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, two teams that collectively only won eleven more games than the Yankees did last year. The Yankees need to take advantage of those teams to get off to a good start this year which means we need everyone healthy. A season is not lost in April, but as the Boston Red Sox showed last year, a great start can help propel a team to tremendous accomplishments.

I am not sure why Aaron Judge was issued a warning by MLB for telling Manny Machado last year that he’d look good in pinstripes, but Bryce Harper can go on the radio saying, “But if you don’t think I’m not gonna call Mike Trout in 2020 to have him come to Philly, you’re crazy” without retribution. Harper’s words carry much stronger implications of tampering than Judge’s innocent words did. Hopefully, MLB, at the very least, issues the same type of warning to Harper as they did Judge.  In my mind, Harper’s words are premeditated as he has been saying for days that he intends to recruit players to come to Philadelphia to play. Judge’s comments seemed to be a random, spur of the moment thing.

Not sure what I think about Sonny Gray’s comments yesterday. In large part, I think his interview with Eno Sarris of The Athletic was taken out of context. Still, Gray was a little harsh in his words when he said the Yankees “love sliders” and added “Sliders are a great pitch. The numbers say slider is a good pitch, but you might not realize how many shitty counts you’re getting in while throwing all those sliders. They wanted me to be (Masahiro) Tanaka and I’m way different from him.” In describing his lack of command with his slider, Gray said, “When I try to throw sliders for a strike, I get around it and it’s just a shitty spinning pitch. I don’t know how people throw sliders for strikes that are still tight, good pitches. I’m at 2-0 and I’m throwing a slider, and either I’m throwing a shitty slider in the zone, or I’m yanking it into the direct and it’s 3-0 and I’m screwed either way.” Frankly, these words make me question Gray’s decisions on the mound.  He is in control of the pitches he throws.

I thought Manager Aaron Boone responded well when asked about Gray’s “shitty” comments. “We tried as best we could to try to get him to be successful,” Boone conveyed.  “I think we all kind of shared in the frustration at times. I know he was frustrated. We were. But we just tried to get him to be the best he could be and as successful as he could be.” Regarding the slider, Boone added “I don’t know if I’d characterize it as we pushed him to throw sliders. He throws a slider.”

I am glad that Sonny is a Cincinnati Red and not a New York Yankee. Some guys just aren’t made for the Pinstripes and Gray was not. I wish him the best in Cincinnati but I hope he takes the high road moving forward. It didn’t work out for him in New York. It happens. New York is not Oakland nor is it Cincinnati. The Big Apple is not for everyone. He has a clean slate in his new city to rewrite his accomplishments. Have at it. As for the past, it’s just water under the bridge.

Gray’s comments also brought around a new round of hate directed at Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild. While I may not be a big fan of Rothschild, I recognize the Yankees have great faith and trust in the man and he is recognized, right or wrong, as one of the best pitching coaches in the business.  I also know the Yankees know more about Yankee players and coaches than I do. As long as they believe in Rothschild, I will too.  As for Aaron Boone, I really believe we’ll see an improved version in 2019 now that he has a season under his belt. There is an inevitable learning curve for any first-time manager. The Yankees knew it when they made the decision to go with Boone prior to last season. To expect him to manage a game, at the beginning of his managerial career, as well as Terry Francona or even Alex Cora, who had a year as a bench coach on a World Series championship team, is foolish and set false expectations. I think Boone will be better this year as I expect he’ll be even better in 2020. Contrary to what some may believe, the Yankees can win a World Series with Aaron Boone as the manager. He is universally liked by the players, the Front Office and the Steinbrenner Family. I am probably less concerned about the last two but as long as Boone has control of the clubhouse, all is good. As they say, analytics drive decisions these days anyway. I do not feel that either Boone or Rothschild will hold this team back from achieving its destiny if the team believes it can.

As always, Go Yankees!

Bryce Harper and the Unlucky 13 in Philadelphia…

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

In the End, Money Wins…

So, Bryce Harper will never wear Pinstripes. Well, not the right color of Pinstripes, that is. After the long and at times excruciating wait, Bryce will call Philadelphia home for the next thirteen years. $330 million ensured that if Bryce had any misgivings about the City of Brotherly Love or if he wasn’t exactly enamored with the personality of the Phillies manager, Gabe Kapler, it wasn’t something that money could not overcome. I guess you could say that Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin had a say in the matter.

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I am disappointed, for sure. When the off-season began, I had hoped the Yankees would sign either Harper or Manny Machado. In fact, I felt sure they would grab one of those guys. While the Yankees had some lukewarm interest in Machado, they were never players for Harper. Oh well, what are you going to do – boycott the team? That’s foolish. The 2019 New York Yankees are a very good team. This is certainly the best team since 2009 and we know how that one ended. In many ways, you could say this team is better than the 2009 World Champions.

Jake Story, one of the co-leaders of the Talkin’ Yanks Podcast, tweeted this yesterday after the Harper announcement:

Talkin Jake

I saw so many reactions to Harper’s contract with Philadelphia but I felt Jake accurately and uniquely summed up exactly how I felt.

I really thought Harper or Machado would provide the Yankees’ with clear separation from the Boston Red Sox. Last year, the Red Sox were eight games better than the Yankees and they rolled past us in the AL Division Playoffs on their way to the World Series championship. I know, you can claim many of the Sox players had career years or that they have no bullpen this season. From my perspective, they are, sadly, the MLB Champs until proven otherwise. I didn’t want to beat the Red Sox this year…I wanted to crush them. Probably my biggest fear as we head into the new season is saying “I wish we had signed Harper or Machado” in October.

But Jake’s correct. We must have hope GM Brian Cashman is right about this team. He knows far more about the Yankees than we ever will. For Yankee fans to trash the Steinbrenner family or threaten to boycott games makes absolutely no sense to me. You can count on one hand the number of teams that tried to improve themselves as hard as the Yankees did this past off-season. The Boston Red Sox did nothing. They re-signed Nasty Nate (Nathan Eovaldi) but you and I know that carries a huge risk on a long-term deal. He’s a great guy but he is a two-time Tommy John recipient that throws incredibly hard. They let their top setup man, Joe Kelly, depart via free agency, and their closer, Craig Kimbrel, remains unsigned with Boston seemingly disinterested in a reunion due to the financial impact. The Yankees have the better bullpen, no question, but I do stand by the belief the Yankees bullpen will not be as great as the fans’ expectations and the Red Sox bullpen won’t be as horrific as Yankee fans seem to think. You know there will be bumps in the road for the greatest of bullpens. Relief arms can be so fickle at times. So, to simply believe we are going to beat Boston because of the respective bullpens is flawed thinking. They still have some very good baseball players on that team. While I think the Yankees will win the AL East this year, it would be very frustrating if we head into October as a Wild Card team again for the one game ‘do-or-die’. We may have won the last two Wild Card games, but inevitably the law of averages will bite us in the butt. I’d rather head into the playoffs with a five-game series and take our chances.

I can’t blame the Yankees for not wanting to make a ten to thirteen-year commitment for one player. Bryce Harper is not the best player in baseball even if he is paid like it. I know that the Phillies went thirteen years to drive down the AAV for luxury tax purposes but that’s a huge commitment regardless of the dollars involved. I thought the rumored offer by the Los Angeles Dodgers (four years for $168 million) made all the sense in the World. Bryce would have gotten more than enough money to live with the highest AAV in the game and the opportunity to test the free agent market again at age 30. However, I get Bryce’s desire to play in one city for the rest of his career. He is concerned about his legacy and playing in a stadium that gives him 40+ home run potential every year will allow him to pad his stats more than he might have accomplished at Dodger Stadium or Oracle Park in San Francisco. I am sure this was very enticing to him. He would have looked great in Yankee Stadium (building a greater legacy playing for Baseball’s most storied franchise) but I recognize by not signing Harper, the chances the Yankees spend big money to retain Didi Gregorius are increased.  I don’t want to lose Gregorius so maybe this off-season’s ‘Harpchado’ fiasco is a silver lining when all is said and done. Like they say, sometimes the best trade is the one not made at all. So, the best signing for Yankees might be the no signings of Harper and Machado.

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It’s a bummer we are in a stretch of non-televised Spring games. Gary Sanchez makes his Spring debut later today and we cannot watch unless we are at Steinbrenner Field. The next televised game (YES Network) is Sunday’s split squad game in Tampa against the uninspiring Detroit Tigers.

Troy Tulowitzski hit his second game of the Spring in yesterday’s 8-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates or so I read since I couldn’t watch the game with my own eyes.  It’s a little too early to get excited about Tulo but for as much as I’ve been down on the signing, I am intrigued by the energy and excitement he is bringing to games.  I am hoping he stays healthy and doesn’t go Ellsbury on us. If he can maintain his current physical condition, he might be able to help this season as long as Manager Aaron Boone does not overuse him. I know the plan is to give him frequent breaks, with Gleyber Torres sliding over from second base to spell him a few times per week, until Didi Gregorius returns later this summer. Hopefully the Yankees can stick to the plan and not be forced into a situation where we are dependent upon Tulo every day.  I have the same concerns about Brett Gardner but I digress. I am cautiously optimistic for a successful rebound season for the former Rockie/Blue Jay and hope he allays my fears. If it doesn’t work, the Yankees cut bait and move on but I sincerely hope he’s better than that.

The first base battle has been fun to watch so far this Spring. Both Luke Voit and Greg Bird are, pardon the cliché, ‘in it to win it’. Bird has played four games, with five hits in eight at-bats, a homer, two doubles and three RBIs.  Voit, the favorite entering Camp according to Boone, has played two games, with two hits in four at-bats, a homer and four RBIs. Small sample sizes, yes, but the guys are trying hard to impress. Love the effort. As down as I’ve been on Bird, it would be awesome for him to finally unlock his potential, staying healthy, with that beautiful left-handed swing in Yankee Stadium. If not, I hope Voit grabs the job and doesn’t let go. If the Yankees are not looking for a new first baseman in July, life will be good.

I don’t know why but there’s a part of me that would like to see the Yankees re-sign reliever Adam Warren. After being shipped away twice, I am not sure why Warren would want to come back to the Bronx or if there is even room in the bullpen for him, but I guess I’d rather see Warren as a Yankee than watch him end up in a place like Boston or Tampa. That’s just one of those sentimental, non-analytical feelings that serves absolutely no place in today’s game.

As a residual effect of the Bryce Harper signing, GM Brian Cashman should call Phillies GM Matt Klentak to find out what it would take to acquire left fielder Nick Williams. Williams is the player most directly impacted by Harper’s presence. He has underperformed in Philly but the 25-year-old lefty has some game.  Per Fangraphs, “These days prospects are supposed to offer instant gratification. With just one win above replacement through his first 791 plate appearances, Nick Williams has fallen short of expectations. Even though his offensive numbers technically declined between 2017 and 2018, extreme good fortune (a .375 BABIP) helped to fuel his rookie campaign. His peripherals improved last season including a seven-point drop in his swinging strike rate. His walk and strikeout rates moved in the right directions in large part due to massive gains to his plate discipline. As a hitter, Williams still has kinks. A trade of ground balls for more fly balls would better fit his sweet lefty swing if it can be achieved without more strikeouts. Despite above average speed, Williams shows no proclivity to run on the bases, and he’s posted bafflingly bad defensive marks. There’s a good chance time and experience will fix his ill-adventures in the outfield.” Williams, in my opinion, could be a good ‘buy low/high reward’ candidate. Exactly the type of player Cashman likes to accumulate. If the Yankees do not want to over-expose Giancarlo Stanton in left field, Williams could be a good platoon partner for Brett Gardner if the organization is down on Clint Frazier.

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Credit: USA TODAY Sports

For as much as we laugh about the Miami Marlins, I am really digging their new uniforms. Hats off to Marlins CEO Derek Jeter for bringing the new look to his franchise. Or maybe we should say, hats on.

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Credit: AP

I feel sorry for the Marlins this year as they are going to get their clocks cleaned by the Mets, Nationals, Braves, and Phillies in the highly competitive NL East but at least they’ll be look cool as they walk off the field with another loss.

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March has arrived so we’ve entered the month of true Yankees baseball…finally. With Opening Day just four weeks from yesterday, we’ll see the players ramping up over the next couple of weeks. The Boston Red Sox rode a hot start last April to the most successful season in franchise history. I am not expecting a similar historic start for the Yankees this year, but it would be nice for them to jump out of the gate strong. With the first nine games against the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, both expected to have losing seasons, there’s no reason the Yankees can’t build an early division lead before they go head-to-head with the AL Elite Red Sox and Astros in early to mid-April. Exciting times. Let’s make this a Championship year!

As always, Go Yankees!

And So It Begins, Yankees-Red Sox…

Photo Credit: Jim Davis-The Boston Globe

First Tune-up Between the AL East Elite…

Finally, the Yankees are playing today! It might just be a meaningless exhibition game and the biggest of the team’s stars stayed behind in Tampa, but the Yankees take the field later today (1 pm EST) at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL. Woohoo! Let’s get this party started!

Here are the scheduled lineups for today’s game.

YANKEES

CF Aaron Hicks

2B Gleyber Torres

3B Miguel Andujar

1B Greg Bird

LF Clint Frazier

DH Mike Ford

C Kyle Higashioka

SS Tyler Wade

RF Matt Lipka

SP Nestor Cortes, Jr

RED SOX

LFGorkys Hernandez

C Sandy Leon

DH Rafael Devers

CF Rusney Castillo

RF Bryce Brentz

3B Michael Chavis

2B Tzu-Wei Lin

1B Josh Ockimey

SS C.J Chatham

SP Josh A. Smith

Who will be the next Yankees Captain? I’ve seen more than a few people say that Aaron Judge needs to win a few championships before he is appointed as the next Captain. Why? I think the guy is the clear leader of this team and he sets the standard both on and off the field. If you are a proponent for the role of a Captain, there is no one more deserving than Judge.

Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When Thurman Munson was named the Yankees Captain in 1976, it was the first captain of the team since Lou Gehrig. At the time, the Yankees had not won a championship during Munson’s tenure with the team. They won the 1976 American League Championship in his first year as Captain but fell to the Cincinnati Reds in a four-game sweep in the World Series despite Captain Munson’s heroic efforts. Under Munson’s leadership, the Yankees won the next two World Series in 1977 and 1978. His captaincy was ended prematurely with his tragic death on August 2, 1979.

The next Captains were products of those 1977-78 World Champions. Graig Nettles held the title from 1982 until March 1984 when he was traded to the San Diego Padres. Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry served as Co-Captains from 1986 to 1988.  Randolph left the Yankees in December 1988 through free agency, signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, while Guidry retired.

Don Mattingly, with no championships on his resume, was appointed the Captain in 1991 and he held it until his retirement following the 1995 season after the disappointing loss to Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners in the playoffs. Still, he helped usher in the new era of Yankees baseball which collected multiple championships in the late 1990’s and 2000.

When Derek Jeter was appointed Captain in 2003, he held four championships. This was more than any of his predecessors since Lou Gehrig who had four under his belt at the time of his appointment in 1935.

I guess you could argue the Yankees don’t need a Captain. I think it is a good honorary role that has served the Yankees well over the years. I really wish Mattingly could have enjoyed winning a World Series in New York but his back was not cooperative. Yet, I still view Mattingly as a champion even if he didn’t get the ring.

I do know that Aaron Judge has earned the right to stand in the same conversation with the previous Captains. He sets the example for his teammates and he represents the Yankees as well as anyone has since Jeter retired. He is worthy of being the Captain and probably for the most part he is currently recognized as the team’s unofficial Captain. Maybe eventually the honor will come to Judge but I believe it should happen sooner rather than later. He’s a great Yankee despite his youth. If the Yankees win the World Series in the next couple of years, there’s no doubt Judge will be at the forefront, leading the charge.

Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reported yesterday that among his various positions on the field, D.J. LeMahieu could also serve as the backup first baseman. This leads to the conclusion that either Luke Voit or Greg Bird will head to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the start of the season depending upon who wins the job this Spring. It seems odd to put such a great defensive middle infielder at first base, but he’s athletic enough to make the transition. Still, it seems to carry risk since LeMahieu has only played four games in first base in his Major League career with no appearances there since 2014. I had really wanted someone who could play both left field and first base which is why I liked Marwin Gonzalez so much. I think the Minnesota Twins grabbed a good player at a decent price when they signed Gonzalez this week for two years at $21 million ($3 million less than the Yankees are paying LeMahieu over the same time frame). But I do recognize that if LeMahieu can successfully add first base to accompany his skills at second and third bases, it helps to potentially open the door for Clint Frazier which is not a bad thing if Frazier has a good Spring.

I remain concerned about going into the season with Brett Gardner as the starting left fielder. If Aaron Hicks gets hurt, then Gardy is the starting center fielder. This seems like such a huge risk to me.  I am not trying to diminish what Gardy has meant to the Yankees but he seems best suited for part-time duty as the team’s fourth outfielder at this stage of his career. Frazier seems ticketed for Triple A given how much time he lost last year, but I really hope he is ready soon. Meanwhile, we really need Brett Gardner to have a career renaissance. I think the 2019 Yankees are an improved team over the one that lost to the Boston Red Sox last October, but I am concerned about how left field will play out. Giancarlo Stanton made 72 starts in the outfield last year. As it stands, he’ll need to make more this season.  The team’s physical trainers had better take special care of the big guy. We really need him to stay healthy.

Today’s game will be a battle of no-names after the first couple of innings but at least baseball is here. Beating the Red Sox under any circumstances always feels good. Bring home the “W”, guys!

As always, Go Yankees!

Baseball Writer Nick Cafardo Passes Away…

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One of America’s Best MLB Writers Gone Too Soon…

I know this is a Yankees blog but we have to give a hat tip to the late Nick Cafardo, a baseball columnist for The Boston Globe. Cafardo died yesterday of an embolism at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida while covering Red Sox Spring Training. He was not scheduled to work yet there he was covering the game he loved.

Although I did not know Cafardo personally, I am very heartbroken over his passing. Every weekend, I made time in my day to read his Sunday Baseball Notes. For me, it was required reading. Cafardo may have been a lifelong Red Sox fan but I always felt that he never sugarcoated the Red Sox and he never unfairly discredited the Yankees. If the term ‘Yankees Suck’ was part of his vocabulary, it never appeared in any written form that I saw. I didn’t read the Sunday Baseball Notes column because I wanted insight on the Yankees’ primary rival — I read it because I wanted insight on Major League Baseball through the passionate eyes of a true baseball fan who understood the game better than most. I can count on one hand the number of professional MLB writers I hold in very high regard but Cafardo was one. Through so many of his colleagues, a common theme of Cafardo’s superior professionalism and high value of his friendship resonates. I know Boston is hurting over his loss, but his impact reached a Nation (United States, not just the RSN) and perhaps beyond.

2013 World Series Media Day
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Nick Carfardo, 62, began his employment with the Globe in 1989. Prior to joining the Globe, he worked for The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, MA. He covered the Red Sox until 2001 when he switched to the NFL’s New England Patriots. It coincided with the first Super Bowl Championship for Head Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady. Cafardo has been back on the baseball beat for the last 15 years. I am not sure when I first started reading Cafardo’s work, or how I even became aware of him, but he’s been a staple for me for many years. I appreciated and valued his insight as told through an objective and impartial lens.

The Red Sox released the following statement:

We are saddened by the sudden loss of long-time baseball reporter, Nick Cafardo. For over three decades, Nick was a fixture at Fenway Park and throughout ballparks across the country. His coverage was as consistent as the game itself. His opinions on the Red Sox and the most pressing issues facing Major League Baseball were a constant, particularly through the prominent Sunday baseball notes column in the Boston Globe. 

The Cafardo family will always be a part of the Boston baseball family, and the Red Sox will honor Nicks’ legacy at the appropriate time.

Boston mayor Marty Walsh probably said it best, “Nick Cafardo was a man who talent, enthusiasm, and contribution to Boston’s sports coverage was incomparable and something that I always enjoyed reading”. Me too, Marty. Even though I didn’t know him outside of his words, there’s a huge void in my life today. I am sure many feel the same way.

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Cafardo is survived by his wife, Leeanne, and two children, Emilee and Ben. Ben is a communications director for ESPN.

He will be missed.

As for the Yankees, the first Spring Game is nearly here. The Yankees travel to Fort Myers to play the Red Sox tomorrow. Nestor Cortes, a non-roster invitee, gets the opening nod to start the game. Cortes, attending his first Yankees MLB Camp, was wearing a Baltimore Orioles spring jersey this time last year as a Rule 5 Draft selection. I remember a few of his starts last March for Baltimore and I am excited that he’ll be doing it for the Yankees this Spring. I know he’s not a top prospect but I’ve always liked the lefty. I doubt he ever gets an opportunity in the Bronx unless injuries force the Yankees’ hand. Most likely, he’ll need to go to another team to get his shot. Hopefully with his performance tomorrow and over the next few weeks, he can open some eyes even if they don’t belong to Yankee scouts.

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Brendan Kuty of NJ Advance Media for NJ.com reported that Miguel Andujar, Greg Bird, Aaron Hicks, and Gleyber Torres will be making the trip to JetBlue Park. It’s also been reported that Clint Frazier, Kyle Higashioka and Estevan Florial will be there. Otherwise, I expect to see the lower end of the 40-man roster and the non-roster invitees on the field in the first meeting of the two AL East Superpowers. Go Trey Amburgey, Phillip Diehl and Billy Burns! Despite who may or may not be on the field for the Yankees, I know I’ll be watching and look forward to the first organized, albeit unofficial, game of the year for America’s best team (the visitors, not the home team). The soon-to-be dethroned World Champions play their first game today against Northeastern University.

I know it’s way too early to get excited but I loved seeing that Adam Ottavino struck out the four batters he faced yesterday, including Tyler Wade twice. Afterwards, Wade said, “Think about how nasty he is in highlights. Then times that by a lot.” I had wanted the Yankees to re-sign David Robertson but I’ve never once been disappointed that they signed Otto (and re-signed Zack Britton) instead of bringing back D-Rob. I think Otto is going to be one of my favorite relievers this year.  I am glad he’s a Yankee.

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Photo Credit: Lynne Sladky-The Associated Press

Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media for NJ.com had a nice column today about Miguel Andujar. In it, he quotes Willie Randolph saying, “I think he (Andujar) can be above average at third base.” Randolph added, “Listen, if you give me average defense, I’ll take that because the way he can hit. I think he’s going to be a batting champion one day.” Nice job by Randy and good read for Andujar naysayers. I know that I am hopeful we’ll be seeing Andujar dancing at third base this year.

As always, Go Yankees!