The Sounds of Spring are approaching…

Soon, very soon…

We are less than a month away before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa.  Sitting in Denver, I still have a few more snowstorms to go before America’s favorite pastime returns, but I am excited and looking forward to the upcoming season.  The Yankees are still a couple of seasons away from being a serious World Series threat, but the season should be fun nonetheless.

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There are a lot of big if’s with this year’s squad.  Can Aaron Judge make the necessary adjustments at this level?  Can Jacoby Ellsbury ever be the player he once was in Boston?  Can he stay healthy?  Will Brett Gardner be traded?  Will Chase Headley be traded?  Will Starlin Castro be moved to third base?  Will Gleyber Torres show that he’s ready for major league action sooner rather than later?  Will Didi Gregorius sustain last year’s success and show continued improvement?  Will Greg Bird restore the great promise that he showed in late 2015?  Will Gary Sanchez continue to show that he is arguably the best Yankee or at least show the Yankees were right in sending Brian McCann to Houston?  The list goes on and on, and that’s without even getting to the pitching staff.

During the recent Winter Warm-up in the Bronx, James Kaprielian sounded like a future ace.  I have long been a fan of Kaprielian’s and have looked forward to his arrival at Yankee Stadium.  Last year’s injury that caused him to miss most of the season was a significant setback, but as a college player, Kaprielian is not that far away.  If he can show success at Scranton/Wilkes Barre this year, there’s no doubt he’ll be making his major league debut later this summer.  I would not be disappointed if Kaprielian surprisingly grabbed a rotation spot out of spring training.

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Credit:  Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

I remain hopeful that Ian Clarkin can be a future rotation piece, even at the back end.  With the influx of other prospects via last summer’s trades, Clarkin’s name is rarely mentioned.  But he is another one that I have hoped would achieve the big leagues.  Drafted as the 33rd player in the 2013 MLB Draft, Clarkin missed part of last season with a knee injury.  He is still only 21 years old so I am hopeful that he’ll bounce back for future success.

The Yankees will have a number of young arms competing for the open rotation spots, but I’d still like to see them bring in a veteran for competition.  Same with the bullpen.  I am supportive of the return of Boone Logan and would like to see him back in pinstripes.

Other teams are making minor moves.  I liked the Miami Marlins’ acquisition of pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds.  I remember a few years ago, I was on a flight from Portland to San Francisco.  There was a guy behind me on the plane that was raving about his son, a pitcher who happened to be the minor league strikeout leader at the time for an Oakland A’s farm team.  It was Straily’s dad.  Straily has been through a few major league organizations since that time, but at least Miami is making moves.

I also thought the Boston Red Sox signing of former Philadelphia Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick was a sound move.  Who knows if Kendrick will ever be the pitcher he once was with the Phillies, but you don’t know if you don’t try.

By not signing any veteran pitchers, the Yankees are clearly saying that they want youth to take the final rotation spots.  If this team is truly dedicated to the youth movement and realistically won’t be in World Series contention for at least two seasons, I do not understand holding onto Brett Gardner.  He is 33 (will be 34 this season).  Speed does not age well.  If the Yankees had a shot for the World Series this year, I’d say hold him.  But that’s not the case.  Granted, we do not know the packages that GM Brian Cashman has turned down and perhaps he has only been offered less talent.  But I firmly believe in identifying undervalued assets to take advantage of potential over proven performance.  There are surprises every year, but again, you don’t know if you don’t try.

Most likely, at this point, Cashman is right that no further moves will be made.  I think it’s a mistake but hopefully the top young prospects will prove that the best move was no move.

I can hear those pitches popping in the catching mitts.  Soon, very soon…

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—Scott

Is Status Quo enough?…

Waiting for Spring…

This is the time of year when there is not much activity in the way of baseball news.

Soon, MLB teams will be preparing for the journeys to Florida and Arizona (ala the Boston Red Sox infamous “Truck Day”).  There is still a number of free agents searching for new homes, but the Yankees have not engaged any players in known, substantive talks.

I remain convinced the Yankees need to bring in a veteran arm to compete with the young talent that will be auditioning for the two open spots in the rotation.  Jason Hammel remains available and that’s the arm I feel the Yankees should bring to camp.  But there are others.  I know that he’s not the pitcher he was earlier in the decade, but I liked San Diego’s move to sign Trevor Cahill.  A reliever for the Chicago Cubs, Cahill will get an opportunity to start again for the Padres.  Who knows if he’ll be successful or will ever be the starter that he once was, but the Padres are taking the chance.

Regardless of who the Yankees bring in, it’s a certainty that there will be a Scranton/Wilkes Barre shuttle for starters as well as relievers.  I have no doubt that names like Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams will make their major league debuts in 2017.  The likelihood of Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia staying healthy all season long is remote.  This is why I feel that it is a very good idea to bring in a stable, consistent veteran influence like Hammel.

GM Brian Cashman would make the trade for Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox today if the price was right, but odds are it will be too high for the Yankees (leading to Cashman’s statement that it is 99% the Yankees will not be adding a pitcher before heading to Tampa).  I still expect the Houston Astros to pony up the prospects necessary to pry Quintana from the White Sox.  There’s no doubt Quintana would great in the Yankees rotation, but the time is not right.

There is a genuine concern that Masahiro Tanaka will have a great season and opt out of his deal next fall.  Without Tanaka, the Yankees rotation is looking very scary unless the young arms make major advancements during the season.

Here’s how the Top 3 rotations currently stack up in the AL East:

Baltimore Orioles:  Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy

Boston Red Sox:  Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello

New York Yankees:  Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia

Tampa Bay Rays:  Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi

Toronto Blue Jays:  Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman

Clearly, Boston is the class of the division, with the Blue Jays not far behind.  There’s talent with the Orioles and Rays rotations.  The Yankees clearly hold the most questions heading into the season.  This is even more reason to shore up the back end of the rotation.

It’s tough thinking about giving up top prospects to bring in a much needed top starter.  The Yankees need an ace to pair with, or potentially replace, Tanaka.  2B/SS prospect Gleyber Torres seems to have that “It” factor that separates the great players from the good ones.  OF prospect Clint Frazier is guaranteed to be a hit in the Bronx if he gets the opportunity with a huge personality that matches the talent.

Hard decisions will need to be made as the team prepares for World Series contention within the next couple of years.  For now, Cashman needs to ensure that he gives Manager Joe Girardi the best possible arms for 2017.  It may be the best move is no move, or it may be bringing in a veteran arm or two to compete.  Either decision is a hard one.  It is time for the young guys to step up their game…

—Scott

Youth Movement is great, but…

When is there too much youth?…

The Yankees continue to be linked to the Chicago White and their latest ace-in-waiting Jose Quintana in the rumor mill but like many, I do not expect, nor want, the Yankees to give up the top prospects it would take to bring him back to New York. At the risk of being a “prospect-hugger”, I want to see Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, James Kaprielian and others succeed in the Bronx.

Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

Without getting into the analytics for why the Yankees should or should not pursue a particular pitcher, I think the best move would be to sign one of the remaining free agent pitchers (why not roll the dice, it’s only money). Or perhaps GM Brian Cashman should focus on an ‘under the radar’ trade for an arm with potential that doesn’t carry the current media focus like Quintana.

Of the remaining free agents, I would pursue either Jason Hammel or Doug Fister. Neither pitcher is flashy and both slot in at the back end of the rotation but both are capable of delivering 10+ wins which, for a #4 or #5 starter, is not bad. Fister has been the model of mediocrity for a couple of seasons and Hammel benefited from being part of a World Series caliber staff to garner his highest career victory total last year. For the back end, I want starters who can keep the team in games. Watching Luis Severino go winless in his starts was brutal. I’d easily take the dependablity and reliability of Hammel or Fister over another ‘0-fer’ performance by Sevy.

If Severino shows in spring training that he is capable of making the necessary adjustments and can be the 2015 starter version versus the 2016 bullpen-only guy, great, put him in the rotation. But that’s not a bet I’d take in Vegas.

I want to limit the ‘see if they can grow into the role’ opportunities in the rotation to no more than one. The certainties in the rotation are Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. After that, it is a plethora of young arms. I’d prefer to see Luis Cessa succeed because I admire his attitude on the mound so he’s my favorite to add. But the stress is much greater if we have to rely upon Cessa AND Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell or Adam Warren without a strong backup plan.

If Pineda continues to struggle or if Sabathia gets hurt or further regresses, the rotation will collapse if they have to be carried by unproven prospects. I want nothing more than to see Jordan Montgomery, Dietrich Enns, Chance Adams, and Justus Sheffield get their chances. I also think Albert Albreu was a great addition. But none of those quality arms will be ready in April 2017.

It is imperative for the Yankees to bring stabilization to the rotation. If healthy, Hammel or Fister would help provide it. What is the risk in bringing in a proven veteran to compete with the kids?…

 — Scott

Life as a Yankees fan…

42 Years…

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My interest in Baseball began in my childhood like most fans.

I can remember NFL Football as the first sport I discovered but my passion and love for Major League Baseball started a few years later and quickly rose to favored status.

I consider 1972 as the year I started following Football with close interest.  That’s the year I became a fan of Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings.  I was aware of Football in the immediate preceding years, but my father died in early 1972 at the age of 42.  I found the Vikings gave me something to focus on as I processed my grief.

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Along this same time period, I started following the Oakland A’s.  In the 1970’s, they were a very colorful team with a unique owner and a collective cast of characters that were routinely championship caliber.  But the one player that stood out to me was A’s starting pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter.  As a North Carolina farmer, fisherman, and general outdoor enthusiast, Catfish had a very easy and engaging personality to go with the fantastic arm.

During the 1974 season, Catfish finished 25-12, with a 2.49 ERA, while winning the AL Cy Young Award.  Meanwhile, the A’s were winning their third consecutive World Series championship.

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I had been aware of the perfect game that Catfish had thrown during the 1968 season and it was easy to identify with him as my favorite active player.

One of the very first books that I read was a biography about Yankees legend Lou Gehrig so I naturally carried positive feelings about the Pinstripers and their rich, legendary history.

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This set the stage for December 31, 1974.  After aggressive pursuit by the majority of the MLB teams, Catfish, a free agent, signed a five-year contract with the New York Yankees.

I remember feelings of disappointment that the A’s had allowed Catfish to become a free agent and could not envision myself as an A’s fan without him on the mound despite their recent history of success.

So, on the day Catfish signed with New York, I officially decided to become a Yankees fan.  The team had struggled during the preceding decade but my preference was to follow Catfish, even with a potentially losing team, over continuing to root for the A’s.

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From that day forward, I have never looked back as the Yankees have been my team ever since.

After a couple of years, catcher Thurman Munson replaced Catfish as my favorite baseball player but the love of the Yankees deepened with each passing year.

I will always credit Lou Gehrig for creating my positive perception of the Pinstripes, and Catfish Hunter for bringing it all together.

42 has multiple meanings for me.  It is the number  of years I’ve been a Yankees fan, it was the number of years my father walked the Earth, it is the symbol of one of Baseball’s greatest players (Jackie Robinson), and the number of one of my all-time favorite Yankees (Mariano Rivera).

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Today, December 31, 2016, I look back on the many great memories (the tremendous victories and the heartbreaking losses) the Yankees have provided, and look forward to the the bright future and continuation of the success of Baseball’s most storied franchise.

I am grateful to be a Yankees fan…

–Scott

No need to counter Boston’s moves…

All Quiet on the Eastern Front…

It has been a very quiet end of the year for the Yankees.  There were rumors of the Yankees talking with the Chicago White Sox about Jose Quintana and David Robertson but they quickly lost legs.  While the Yankees need starting pitching, I agree that it is best not to raid the newly stocked farm system.  It is a risk to bet on prospects over an established major leaguer, but while Jose Quintana is a good pitcher, he’s not Chris Sale.  Given Chicago’s desire for top prospects in return, it just does not make sense.  Quintana will not be a 2017 difference maker.

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Credit:  Kevin Jairaj, USA Today Sports

I still believe the Yankees are better served by identifying an undervalued young starter with potential.  Sure, that’s every team’s wish but the Yankees have the scouts and resources to uncover the hidden gems.  It is harder to pitch in New York than it is in, say, Pittsburgh, but for some guys, the main stage brings out their full potential.

The New York Mets’ Noah Syndergaard was once just a prospect included in a trade (when the Mets dealt knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays).  I think that trade has worked out very well in favor of the Mets.  It also brought them starting catcher Travis D’Arnaud.  The 2012 trade was a risk for the Mets given Dickey was the reigning NL Cy Young winner, but he has never been as good as he was in 2011 and the other guys sent to Toronto are after thoughts (Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas).

The Yankees are not going to win the World Series in 2017.  The current blueprint puts the Yankees on the path to World Series contention in two to three years.  They have the time to develop frontline starters so why not take a chance on some other team’s “Jake Arrieta”.  The Chicago Cubs saw something in the former Baltimore Orioles hurler and it has paid off quite handsomely for them.

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I have high hopes for the Yankees young pitching prospects.  James Kaprielian heads the list, but I haven’t forgotten or given up hope for Ian Clarkin.  Jordan Montgomery and Dietrich Enns are other homegrown prospects that come to mind.  The first young starters that will be given the chance to crack the rotation next season are the obvious ones…Luis Cessa and Chad Green.  There’s also the hope that Luis Severino restores the promise that he showed in 2015 and is not just another failed starter that succeeds in the pen.  Trade acquisitions Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and Albert Abreu also hold promise.

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Credit:  MLB.com

If Severino is successful and just one of the young prospects stands out in the Spring, the rotation that already includes Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia does not look so bad.  It might not be ‘Chris Sale-David Price-Rick Porcello-Eduardo Rodriguez’ worthy, but the foundation is being laid for future success.  It will be imperative for the Yankees to re-sign Tanaka should he opt out of his contract following the season, but Sabathia’s departure as he plays out the final year of his contract will continue to create opportunity for the young prospects.  Michael Pineda is a case by himself.  He is either a really great starter or a disaster.  If he can ever hold the focus on the former, the pitching staff will be significantly improved.

Next season, young players like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and Greg Bird will play prominent roles for the Yankees.  If any are not successful, there is another wave of young players waiting for their opportunities at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or Trenton.  It is inevitable that we’ll see outfielder Clint Frazier at some point in the season, even if it is just a September call-up.  I don’t want to lose this talent in the farm system for the chance on a pitcher which always seems to be the biggest risk in baseball.  Gleyber Torres has already shown that he has that “it” factor even if he is still a few years away from the Bronx.  Stay the course.  GM Brian Cashman’s blue print so far has been successful.  He has turned what was one of the worst farm systems a few years ago to one of the best.  They have the talent and depth in the system to make quiet but effective trades without sacrificing the organization’s best.

2017 may not be a banner year for the team but clearly the light is visible at the end of the tunnel.  Now is not the time for the Ghost of Steinbrenner Past to raise its ugly head.  Young Hal seems to have a plan and one that will soon yield fruit.  Patience.  Stick to the plan…

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—Scott

Nova fires back to Pittsburgh…

But at least it wasn’t for BIG money…

Good for Ivan Nova to get his new contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  All things considered, I am still glad that he is an ex-Yankee.  Even though the Yankees are in desperate need of help in the starting rotation, I wasn’t looking for a reunion with the right-hander.

One headline I saw did strike me as odd.  It basically said that Nova had signed but not for big money.  3 years, $26 million.  Maybe it’s just me, but $26 million is definitely “big money”.  Okay, if Nova pitches for Pittsburgh like he did after the trade from the Yankees last year, he’ll be a bargain.  But still, receiving more than $8 million per year is still a heck of a lot of money for a historically inconsistent pitcher.

But the more telling headlines are about how great Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is.  The so-called “Pitch Doctor” is getting the credit for Nova’s turnaround performance in Pittsburgh last year.  The underlying tone of the message is that the Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild is inadequate.  If Searage is so great, perhaps the Yankees should find a way to pry him from the Pirates.

I know that Rothschild has a good reputation, but at some point, someone has to be held accountable for the inconsistencies of the Yankees starters.  Masahiro Tanaka rebounded to have a very solid 2016 campaign but the work put up by Michael Pineda continues to be frustrating to say the least.  Luis Severino was dreadful as a starter.  I can’t say that I’ve ever looked at Rothschild as an “amazing” coach.  It would be nice to have one of those for a change.

Kevin Long is an excellent hitting coach.  Yet, when Yankees hitters couldn’t hit, he lost his job and now flourishes in Queens.  He remains better than the Yankees current array of hitting coaches.  I personally felt that Long was a better hitting coach than Rothschild is a pitching coach.  Long was held accountable and so too should Rothschild.  The Yankees have too much at stake with their young, unproven starters to fail miserably because they didn’t have the right guy at the helm.

–Scott

Words create such a reaction…

Don’t say it!…

As soon as I saw the words that Aroldis Chapman had claimed overuse by Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, I knew it would go viral.  Within minutes, the internet was flooded with stories saying Chapman had slammed Maddon.

Given that Chapman has spent time in New York (and Chicago), one would think that he would know the importance of choosing his words wisely.  In Cincinnati, he probably could have said those words, generating a few chuckles from the reporters, and never another word.  But in New York, everything is magnified.  I personally do not think Chapman meant any harm with the words nor does he hold any ill will towards Maddon and the Cubs.  He qualified his comments by saying that he was to be ready to do his job.  Maddon unnecessarily responded to the comments by saying that he had to win and Chapman always said yes.

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Credit:  Jamie Squire, Getty Images

I do not blame either man.  In the play-offs and particularly the World Series, you leave it on the field.  Whatever it takes.  Was it foolish to bring Chapman into a game with the Cubs up by 5 runs in the 7th inning of Game 6.  Sure, but we weren’t in Maddon’s shoes.  How much did he trust his other relievers?  Did he sense a potential shift in momentum?  Was Chapman simply his best option?  That is Joe Maddon’s decision…not ours.  I felt Chapman was overused and didn’t blame him for the breakdown in Game 7 based on his workload over the preceding couple of nights.  Joe did what he had to do and so did Chapman.  The end result was the first World Series championship in 108 years for the Cubs.  So if Maddon overused Chapman, so be it.  They can cry about it as they collect their World Championship rings.

To me, this is not a red flag.  I know that Joe Girardi will be selective in his use of Chapman and I think the pitcher’s presence on the Yankees is a mutual fit.  I am glad he’s back.  I am sorry for his prior domestic violence issues and while I don’t like what he did, I believe the man is capable of correcting his behavior and deserves the second chance.  I always believed in giving Steve Howe second chances and I got burned on that one, but still, I think Chapman has carried himself well during his time in New York and Chicago.  I look forward to seeing those 105 mph fastballs flying from #54 on the Yankee Stadium mound.

While I like the job Tyler Clippard did in pinstripes, he is clearly not Andrew Miller.  So even with Chapman, the Yankees bullpen is noticeably inferior to last year’s No Runs DMC.  I’d like to see the Yankees pick up another reliever to pair with Clippard as the bridge to Dellin Betances.  I’d like to see the return of former Yankee Boone Logan but would certainly accept other options.

There’s is definitely still work to be done for the bullpen but I can’t begin to say how much better I feel having Chapman back in the fold.

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Credit:  MLB.com

Say it isn’t so…

I was so saddened to hear that Yankees beat writer Mark Feinsand was leaving the New York Daily News this week.  It’s funny how we take the beat writers for granted and we grow to really appreciate the work they do day in and day out.  With Feinsand, I loved his columns, tweets, and podcasts.  He was always so insightful.  But it was a surprising sense of loss when I heard he was leaving the Daily News.

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Credit:  Corey Sipkin, New York Daily News

I don’t know what’s next for Feinsand but I hope it involves the Yankees.

I don’t follow the Brooklyn Nets so admittedly I don’t know much about Feinsand’s replacement, Mike Mazzeo, but I am looking forward to his work.

Congratulations to Feinsand for his terrific work at the Daily News and best of luck in his next endeavor!

—Scott