Tagged: AL East

The Trials and Tribulations of a Young Club…

In life we do not always get what we want.  I wanted to take the three game series in Pittsburgh but it was not meant to be.  Former Yankees starter Ivan Nova set the tone from the start of Sunday’s game when he struck out the side in the first inning en route to Pittsburgh’s 2-1 victory over the Yankees.  The loss gave the series to the Pirates, 2 games to 1.  

Give Nova credit, he pitched very well against his former club.  He went seven strong innings, surrendering only four hits and one run.  The one run came courtesy of a Jacoby Ellsbury home run in the seventh inning.  For the season coming into the game, Nova had walked just three batters.  He only walked one on Sunday but the batter was a guy who hadn’t picked up a bat since his high school days (Yankees pitcher Jordan Montgomery). For the game, Nova struck out seven, picking up his second win of the year.

The Yankees had their chances to win the game.  They had a runner at third in the eighth with two outs, but Starlin Castro struck out.  In the ninth, they loaded the bases but the game came down to light-hitting shortstop Pete Kozma, who had pinch run for Chris Carter the prior inning.  After Aaron Hicks had struck out, Kozma came to bat with two outs, but grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game.  It’s unfortunate that Hicks was not able to come through as it placed the game in the hands of a career .221 hitter.  

Kudos to Jordan Montgomery.  After the game, he admitted that he didn’t have his best stuff.  Loading the bases in the first inning with no outs, he escaped with only one run across home plate.  He would go on to pitch six innings, allowing only two runs.   Pirates were able to get seven hits off him.  He walked two batters while striking out five.  The two walks proved costly as both batters eventually scored (the only runs the Pirates would score in the game).  Montgomery’s ability to throw a “quality game” despite not having his pitches speaks volumes about the heart of this pitcher.  I am anxious and excited for his next start. 

 Credit:  AP

Even though the Yankees lost the series to the Pirates, they were in all three games and could have won either of the losses.  As the younger guys gain more Major League experience and assuming the veterans continue to hit, the Yankees will begin to win these types of games with greater frequency.  The bench is going to look much stronger soon when Didi Gregorius returns and Ronald Torreyes retakes his utility role from Kozma.  

Sadly, Greg Bird was not able to get untracked in Pittsburgh.  His 0-for-3 day dropped his batting average to .104.  I still think he is very close so hopefully Fenway Park will ignite his bat.  If not, we’ll probably start to see a few more Chris Carter starts at sprinkled in at first in the coming days.  

I am glad that we’re headed back to American League parks so that Matt Holliday can knock the rust off and resume his role as the team’s designated hitter.  His offensive capability is too great to be limited to pinch-hitting in National League cities.  

The Yankees have today off and will begin a three game series in Boston tomorrow against the Red Sox.  The Red Sox are coming off a 6-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles  on Sunday that kept the Yankees 1 1/2 games behind the O’s in the AL East.   The Red Sox (11-8) are just a 1/2 game behind the Yankees (11-7).  The Orioles play this evening (at home against the Tampa Bay Rays) so they could extend their AL East lead to two games.  Or going the ‘glass is half full’ route, drop back to only a one game lead.  

The Yankees have a chance to make a statement in Boston.  While they may or may not win the series, they need to prove that they can hang with the Red Sox.  Boston won the head-to-head battle in 2016, 11 games to 8.  The Red Sox swept the first season series last year (April 29th to May 1st).  It would be great if the Yankees could return the favor.  My primary goal for the series is three competitive games with the Yankee hitters attacking the strong Boston rotation.  If they can get to the Boston bullpen early, I really like their chances.    The last run through the Yankees starting rotation was mostly a collection of off-nights so hopefully this run through the rotation will yield superior results. So begins the Battle of the AL East…

Have a great Monday!  Rest up and be ready to take charge on Tuesday!

The Calm Before The Storm…

“Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can.”

—Arthur Ashe

The Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox both won Thursday, so the Yankees find themselves a 1/2 game behind the O’s this morning.  All three teams have ten wins, although the Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox have four, five and six losses, respectively.  Surprisingly, the Tampa Bay Rays have nine wins albeit with eight losses.  The biggest surprise is the cellar dwelling Toronto Blue Jays at 3-12.  It’s still very early with 147 games yet to be played for the Yankees but crucial games are on the horizon.

The AL East is the only division in baseball with at least four teams over .500 although just one game separates every team in the AL Central with just a single win needed to put the bottom of the division at .500.  Again it’s early, but the AL East is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball at this point.

The next week will be a challenge for the new and improved Yankees.  When they complete the current three game set in Pittsburgh, they’ll head to Boston for three games beginning on Tuesday.  They are certain to face Red Sox ace Chris Sale who pitched yesterday and gave a performance that justified Boston’s decision to give up their best hitting and pitching prospects over the winter.  Although he didn’t figure in the extra inning decision, he went eight innings, allowing no runs and four hits.  Walking only one batter, he struck out thirteen.  Unfortunately, he’s in prime shape for his next start.  

After the Boston series, the Yankees return home to face the Baltimore Orioles.  Not to look too far ahead, but these series are followed by the Toronto Blue Jays, the World Champion Chicago Cubs, and arguably baseball’s hottest team, the Houston Astros.

Next week’s schedule represents the most difficult stretch the young Yankees have faced this year so it will be interesting to see how they respond.  The Red Sox and Orioles begin a three game series tonight so on the bright side, they can beat each other up before the Yankees face them.  

I am hopeful that Greg Bird’s bat starts coming around before the team gets to Boston.  Aaron Judge has the “wow” factor with his behemoth home runs in games (and batting practice) but Bird remains the team’s best hitter (potentially) even if the stats don’t show it yet.  I remain convinced he’ll soon be raising eyebrows with his hitting prowess but it would be nice if his offensive show could begin sooner rather than later.  Maybe it’s waiting for him at Fenway Park.

Based on stats, Chase Headley is arguably the current best hitter with a .396 batting average.  He’s off to a great start and admittedly, I didn’t see this coming.  We’ll see if it is sustainable, but for now, he’s a vital part of the lineup.  I wish I felt as good about Jacoby Ellsbury.  Even though he is hitting .302, has stolen four bases and has been Joe Girardi’s clean up hitter of choice in recent games, he just doesn’t do it for me.  Too often, and this is a very generalized statement without digging into the actual stats, it seems like he is underperforming in critical situations.  I really have to wonder if an outfield of Aaron Hicks-Brett Gardner-Aaron Judge is better than Gardner-Ellsbury-Judge.  The way Hicks is hitting right now, it is.  Gardner is hitting worse than Ellsbury but this probably gets into a debate about who do you trust more.  

Being in Pittsburgh tonight means that Matt Holliday’s bat takes a seat on the bench with no DH.  This probably puts even more pressure to get Hicks into the lineup, especially with the pitchers taking at-bat’s.  Both Gardy and Bird need to start mixing in a few hits.  

Have a wonderful Friday!  Let’s make this two in a row tonight!

Trying To Temper The Enthusiasm…

Credit:  Andy Martin/USA TODAY Sports

With the better-than-expected start to the season, it’s easy to get caught up with the thinking that the Yankees could actually win the American League East.  Sadly, I still do not believe that will be the case.  I think the Boston Red Sox remain the heavy favorite to win the division.  While the Yankees may be playing great without Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, the Red Sox are starting to gather some steam even though Jackie Bradley, Jr. and arguably their best player, Mookie Betts, are currently on the DL.  Add Betts to the stellar starting rotation, and the Red Sox will be a very formidable force throughout the summer.  We’ll have some bumps and bruises with the younger starters as time goes by, and there’s no certainty that Michael Pineda has finally turned the corner.  My only reservation with the Red Sox is that they do not seem to have the same heart they did with David Ortiz in the lineup.  Hanley Ramirez is a great baseball player but he’s no Big Papi.  

Nevertheless, I do feel the strong start has positioned the Yankees to make a run at a Wild Card spot, especially with the horrific start of the perennial playoff contending Toronto Blue Jays. 

While the Yankees are currently chasing Baltimore, the Orioles lost their lock-down closer Zach Britton for at least ten days with a left sore forearm (his throwing arm).  Britton is obviously an elite closer so this severely weakens the O’s pen.  Although it’s possible that Britton will be back before the O’s get to New York late next week, they do go into a head-to-head showdown with the Red Sox starting Friday night for a three-game set in their weakened state.

It is amazing to think that the Yankees have played this well without Gregorius and Sanchez.  If they can continue to get solid pitching from the starting rotation, the return of Gregorius and Sanchez in a few weeks should be a great lift.  It’ll almost be like getting All-Star caliber players at the trading deadline with the only difference being the Yankees do not have to give up any premier prospects (or any prospects, for that matter, other than the probable DFA of Pete Kozma). 

The Yankees announced they’ve traded reliever Johnny Barbato to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a player to be named later or cash.  Those types of deals usually turn out to be cash.  Barbato was optioned to AAA by the Pirates.  It’s unfortunate that the Yankees didn’t get more out of Barbato considering they gave up dependable reliever Shawn Kelley to get him.  The Pirates always seem to get high mileage out of Yankee rejects.  Barbato will probably be their ace closer within a couple of years.  

I apologize in advance for going off topic (non-Yankees talk) but I have been very interested in watching Cody Bellinger, a first baseman in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.  Bellinger, son of former Yankee Clay Bellinger, is the Dodgers top prospect and the heir apparent to Adrian Gonzalez.  On Sunday, Bellinger was responsible for all three runs in Oklahoma City’s 3-2 win over the Memphis Redbirds.  Bellinger scored a run after walking in the fourth; tied the game with a solo homer in the fifth; and singled in the go-ahead run in the seventh.  For the season, the 21-year-old Bellinger is batting .372 (16-for-43) with 4 doubles, 3 homers, and 12 RBI’s.  Meanwhile, for the Big League Dodgers, the 34-year-old Gonzalez is hitting .250 with no homers and 4 RBI’s.  If Bellinger keeps it up, there could soon be a changing of the guard at first base in Dodger Stadium.  Looks like the Dodgers could be back to the days of bringing up an All-Star to the Majors every year.  If Bellinger does not get the call, top pitching prospect Julio Urias most certainly will.  

Credit:  Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Speaking of the Oklahoma City Dodgers (in an attempt to keep this Yankees-oriented), it’s kind of cool that their stadium, Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, is located at 2 S. Mickey Mantle Drive.  Too bad there was no room to build the stadium across the street and down a little for 7 S. Mickey Mantle Drive.

In other non-Yankees news (or is it?), Bryan Harper stepped to the plate on Sunday in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, with the Washington Nationals trailing the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 and Philly closer Joaquin Benoit on the mound.  With two runners on base, Harper homered to center to win the game, 6-4.  It was his second home run of the game and it gave him 5 RBI’s for the day.  Preview of coming attractions at Yankee Stadium?  Time will tell, as it often does.  Hal, what’s a half-billion in the grand scheme of things?  It’s just money…

Welcome back, Matt Holliday!  After sitting out two games against his former team, the St Louis Cardinals, this past weekend, Matt Holliday returned on Monday to absolutely crush a baseball which allowed the Yankees to jump ahead of the Chicago White Sox with an early 3-0 lead.  The ball traveled 459 feet, with exit velocity of 113.9 MPH, and according to Statcast was the second longest homer of the year (two feet behind a Carlos Gomez blast). 

Aaron Judge also homered in the fourth inning with one on and two outs.

Jordan Montgomery impressed once again.  You gotta love his calm demeanor on the mound (unflappable).  His deceptive arm angle is a thing of beauty with the over the top motion.  Montgomery gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings of work, with two walks and two strikeouts.  The runs didn’t come until the seventh inning when Montgomery was tiring (a three run bomb by Yolmer Sanchez that ended Montgomery’s night).  Regardless of the end, Montgomery was better the second time around (as I thought he would be).  He’s an exciting part of the rotation and is quickly earning his pinstripes for the long haul.  

Credit:  Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Adam Warren did what he does best.  After Montgomery’s exit, he bridged the gap to the ninth inning.  Although he finally allowed a run, he did his job and turned the game over to Aroldis Chapman with one out and a runner on base.  Although Chapman did allow a single to the first hitter, pushing the lead runner to third, he needed just two pitches to earn his fourth save.  The next batter, Tyler Saladino, hit into a game-ending double play.

The Yankees won 7-4, and have now won eight consecutive games.  

Have a great Tuesday!  Nine would be just fine!  

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

Waiting patiently for the Cavalry…

A week’s worth of crickets…

For excited as I was for the Baseball Winter Meetings, it was a very unfulfilling time for Yankees fans.  The AL East got stronger as both the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays made significant improvements, and the Baltimore Orioles, while they didn’t make a move, are still a better team on paper.

Losing David Robertson hurt.  I fully recognize that not even the Yankees should be paying multiple guys in the pen $12+ million per year so I understand the decision to let Robertson walk after signing last year’s prized lefty Andrew Miller.  Still, when I saw those words, “White Sox to sign David Robertson”, it was a painful sight to see.

David Robertson mug

USA Today Sports

Part of me, for a few days, imagined a bullpen with Robertson, Betances, and Miller for manager Joe Girardi and the limitless possibilities.  After watching the Kansas City Royals and their stellar pen, it was hard not to dream of a similar equation for the Yankees.  With so many question marks in the rotation, a ‘lights out’ bullpen is a must.  With Robertson gone, there’s no reason why the Yankees still can’t have a superior bullpen.  But losing Robertson does show that we care about our tenured players.  Well, except when their name is Alex Rodriguez.

I am in favor of naming Dellin Betances as the team’s closer in spring training.  I think Miller will be great as the primary setup guy and the earlier innings are in great hands with Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and others.  A year ago, there were questions about Robertson’s ability to close.  His attempt to close in 2012 when Mariano Rivera got hurt was unsuccessful.  The team ultimately went to Rafael Soriano who held the role for the duration of the season.

Mariano Rivera was an exception.  Most guys are unable to pitch at the level required to close for an extended period of time.  The days of Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are over.  From a financial standpoint, it makes the most sense to have a shorter term view when it comes to a closer so that you don’t get locked into a bad contract (a la Jonathan Papelbon) as the closer ages and naturally deteriorates.  Robertson may still be playing at a very high level in four years, but equally, there’s a chance that he is not.  He always seems to pitch in and out of trouble, but as he ages, his ability to get out of those jams may not quite be there.  He’ll evolve as a pitcher and I am sure that he’ll make the necessary adjustments, but at the end of the day, the Yankees are better off not being locked into Robertson for four years at $48 million.  Betances showed that he is the team’s future closer.  Next year may be a bit premature, but it was inevitable.

The most important thing for the Yankees is to now re-invest the $12 million per year savings into other areas.  Bring back Chase Headley.  Possibly sign a short term closing alternative like Jason Grilli.  Make a run for Max Scherzer.  But the key is to do something.  The Yankees, as they presently stand, will not win in October.

 

How much?  See ya…

Speaking of bad contracts, I was blown away by the commitment the Los Angeles Dodgers made to Brandon McCarthy.  I thought McCarthy was a great pickup last season and hoped the Yankees could re-sign him to a team friendly deal.  But like Robertson, I am glad the Yankees did not commit those years and dollars to McCarthy.  He is a huge injury risk and in the Dodgers case, McCarthy failed last year in the NL West when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  While I hope McCarthy has a great Dodgers career, my fear is that he and the team’s DL list will become good buddies.  I hope I’m wrong but baseball generally proves ‘past performance equals future results’…

Slowly but surely…

The week preceding the Baseball Winter Meetings was good.  The Yankees acquired their 2015 shortstop with the acquisition of Didi Gregorius and the aforementioned lefty artist Andrew Miller, dominant against both righties and lefties.  It was a good start but the team obviously still has much work to do before spring.

I hear so many Yankees fans say that Gregorius is not Derek Jeter.  Nothing against Jeter, but I’d rather see a 24 year old Gregorius starting at short over a 41 year old Jeter.  Gregorius may not be the player Jeter was in his prime, but Jeter wasn’t in his prime anymore and the Yankees had to do something to improve following Jeter’s retirement.  So, to me, Gregorius is his own man in the position.  It is up to him to succeed or fail, without regard to Jeter.  I was a huge Don Mattingly fan, but I gave Tino Martinez a chance from his first at-bat and his early struggles did not waver my support.  Tino turned out to be one of my most beloved players over the years and I never compared him to Mattingly.

It is possible that Gregorius fails.  If so, the Yankees move on to another option.  ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’.  But at this point in time, it is his time.  Let’s give him a chance…

Paul Ruhter/Gazette Staff

All I want for Christmas is…

Now if we could just send A-Rod anyway.  I know, it’s not that easy.  The most expensive DH/bench player in baseball history.  It’s too bad those dollars can’t be re-directed to a guy like Max Scherzer.  Maybe some challenges are too much for even the Yankees to overcome.  But I’d love to have the money the Yankees have probably spent trying to find a way.

–Scott

Waiting for Signs of Life…

How to build an 80-win team…

The Boston Red Sox have gotten stronger with the recent additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and most likely, the re-signing of their former ace Jon Lester in the coming weeks.  The Toronto Blue Jays quietly signed catcher Russell Martin (a significant upgrade over Dioner Navarro) and last night, pulled off a major trade for arguably one of the best third basemen in the game in Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A’s.  The cost for Donaldson was Brett Lawrie and prospects.  Given Lawrie’s inability to stay healthy, this trade provides further enhancement for a team that has held promise for a few years.

Lance Iversen, The Chronicle

Then there’s the Baltimore Orioles.  They may not have made any big moves but they are still the AL East champs until proven otherwise.

I am not sure what’s going on with the Tampa Bay Rays.  They will be losing a great potential manager in bench coach Dave Martinez when they finally name a replacement for Joe Maddon and the team no longer has the feeling of eternal optimism that it had when Maddon and former GM Andrew Friedman were running the show.  So, we’ll leave them out of the equation.

So, clearly, the Blue Jays and Red Sox are determined to challenge the Orioles’ hold on the division championship.  Meanwhile, in the Bronx, just crickets…

Last winter, the Yankees were quiet at the beginning of the off-season but then launched a flurry of signings in December that netted Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran.  It was a lot of money, but it still had the feeling the money could have been better spent.  Of course, if the Yankees would have just paid Russell Martin a few years ago rather than allow him to leave as a free agent, the Yankees could have gotten him much cheaper than the deal they signed McCann to (or the one Martin ultimately signed with the Jays).  Ellsbury is a known risk given his injury risk.  He held up fairly well in his first season in pinstripes, and I like having him on the team.  But the truth is the Yankees had a center fielder on the roster at the time in Brett Gardner and would have been better served going after a bat for left field.  Beltran has been a great major leaguer but his age simply does not bode well for staying healthy.

Now, I could write major concerns with Ramirez and Sandoval, but the Red Sox are dealing from a position of strength and have loosened some major league players, combined with quality prospects, to make a major trade to further strengthen the team (such as a move for the Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels).  The Yankees last year were just trying to fill holes.

I am surprised that the Yankees have not been linked in any way with star free agents Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.  Clearly, either one would immediately enhance the Yankees’ chances in 2015.  They need to find answers for other positions (third base, shortstop and the bullpen) but a high end rotation is a must for any team to succeed.  As it stands, there are too many questions with Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, Michael Pineda’s ability to stay healthy or if CC Sabathia is riding the major downslope of his career.

The Yankees need to sign either Scherzer or Lester, and retain the free agent trio of Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, and David Robertson.  With this off-season of inactivity, it feels like the Yankees are going to lose out on all of the above.  At least today, two days after Thanksgiving.

I remain hopeful that Rob Refsnyder wins the second base job in spring training.  As for shortstop, the easiest solution is to re-sign Stephen Drew.  It’s really too bad that the organization was unable to develop a high level shortstop prospect in time for Derek Jeter’s departure.  Jorge Mateo looks like a strong possibility but he’s years away from being ready for the major league level.  So, the Yankees are best served finding a short-term solution like Drew and hope for a bounce back year with a full training camp.  I’d prefer that over a trade that could potentially cost what high level talent the Yankees do have in the upper levels of the minor league system.

If the Yankees do nothing, they’ll be battling the Rays for last place.  If they merely try to fill holes with cheaper alternatives, they’ll still be cellar rats.  Something has to give….soon.

I agree with Hal Steinbrenner when he says that you don’t need a $200 million payroll to win but the Yankees roster as currently constructed is not championship-caliber in my opinion.  Too much risk and uncertainty, and players who’ve seen their better days.  Alex Rodriguez is such a huge albatross and it’s a shame that he is now the “face” of the team.

Hopefully, Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner boys have a plan in place that is driven for success and not merely a bean counter’s approach to fielding a team.

Time will tell, as it often does (as the saying goes)…

–Scott

Ready or not, here’s the 2014 New York Yankees!…

Introducing the 2014 New York Yankees.  With the demotion of Eduardo Nunez to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees have finalized, for now, their major league roster as the team heads to Houston to open the season against the Astros.

Starting rotation:

  1.        CC Sabathia
  2.        Hiroki Kuroda
  3.        Ivan Nova
  4.        Masahiro Tanaka
  5.        Michael Pineda

No great surprises here.  There was talk of a spring battle between David Phelps and Pineda, but I never expected Pineda to lose the last spot in the rotation regardless of how well Phelps pitched.  I personally prefer to see Phelps as the long man in the pen.  I think he is better suited for that role than Pineda and of course he’ll be the first arm called upon if the Yankees lose any of the starters to injury.

Closer:

  1.        David Robertson

Again, no surprises.  This job is Robertson’s to lose.  While the Yankees do not have any relievers with proven closing experience on the active roster should Robertson falter, Andrew Bailey looms in the wings when he returns to active duty later in the year.  My hope is that Robertson takes the job and runs with it.  He disappointed in the role a couple of years ago when Mariano Rivera was lost for the season and Rafael Soriano ended up as the team’s primary closer.  But that was then and this is now.  It is my hope the Yankees never have to look for Plan B.

Setup:

  1.        Shawn Kelley
  2.        Dellin Betances

This is an area of concern.  It was great having a setup artist like Robertson.  Kelley was good in the pen last year, but he’s no David Robertson.  I am hopeful that this is Dellin’s niche after his previous prospect status as a future starter.  I would like to see him develop into the clear-cut 8th inning option to set the bridge to Robertson.  It’s also great to see a NYC-born player on the main stage.

Lefty specialist:

  1.        Matt Thornton

His departure in free agency was very quiet, but I was sad to see Boone Logan leave.  I am not convinced that Matt Thornton is the answer.  He’s been a great reliever over the course of his career but his best days are behind him.  The Boston Red Sox even left him off the post-season roster last fall.  I thought that Cesar Cabral would make the team as second lefty, but the Yankees expressed a greater need for long relief in the early days of the season so that solidified a position for Vidal Nuno.  Thornton may be starting the season as the Yankees’ lefty specialist but I doubt he finishes it.

Long relief:

  1.        David Phelps
  2.        Adam Warren
  3.        Vidal Nuno

I expect it to take a few months for Joe Girardi to find the right pieces for the bullpen but I fully expect him to make it a team strength by September.  Tampa’s Joe Maddon has shown a tremendous ability to piece together a strong bullpen from a collection of spare parts, and I have every confidence Joe Girardi has the same ability.

Catcher:

  1.        Brian McCann
  2.        Francisco Cervelli

Honestly, I thought the Yankees would trade Cervelli in spring training and make Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy the backup catcher.  But, aside from my disappointment with Cervelli last year due to his drug suspension, I do like the player and his intensity.  McCann has been everything as advertised.  I have been particularly impressed by how he was gone out of his way to get to know his pitchers.  I had always heard he was a great team leader on the Atlanta Braves and that continues to hold true with his presence in the Yankees locker room.

First base:

  1.        Mark Teixeira

Let’s just say that I am cautiously optimistic there are no lingering problems related to last year’s wrist injury.

Second base:

  1.        Brian Roberts
  2.        Yangervis Solarte

I really do not expect Roberts to stay healthy so I hope he proves me wrong.  I was glad to see Solarte make the team over Eduardo Nunez, and I hope his success in the spring carries over to the regular season.  But it will be a long time before we see Robinson Cano-like production at this position.  I just hope the position doesn’t become the team’s Achilles heel this year.

Shortstop:

  1.        Derek Jeter
  2.        Dean Anna

It will be bittersweet watching Jeter on his farewell tour, but a key to the season will be the performance of Jeter’s backups as he won’t be able to do this alone.

Third base:

  1.        Kelly Johnson

Solarte will also spend time at this position, but overall, I am disappointed the Yankees did not do more to try and upgrade this position.  I do not like uncertainty at both second and third, in combination with a 40 year old shortstop and a first baseman attempting to come back from a serious wrist injury.  After years of rumors, maybe this is the year that Chase Headley becomes a Yankee.  Time will tell.

Left field:

  1.        Brett Gardner

The team has made a significant investment in Gardner despite their acquisition of Jacoby Ellsbury.  While I love team speed, I always shutter when I think of the Yankees attempt to convert to speed in the 1980’s with the signing of Dave Collins.  I know this is a complete different situation that draws no parallel to the 80’s disaster, but I still prefer the three run homer.

Center field:

  1.        Jacoby Ellsbury

It still seems weird to see this name in the Yankees lineup.  Nevertheless, he’s here and I hope, really hope that he can stay healthy.  I know, that’s asking a lot.  If he’s hurt, Gardner slides to center and Soriano is the starting left fielder which will weaken team offense and defense.

Right field:

  1.        Carlos Beltran

This might the position that I have the least amount of concerns with.  I fully expect it to be business as usual for the 36 year old Beltran.  He’s happy and excited to be in the Bronx, and he’s played under more difficult conditions in the past and has prospered.

DH:

  1.        Alfonso Soriano

I expect some of the team’s older players to rotate through DH, but Soriano should get the bulk of the at-bat’s in what most likely will be his final year in pinstripes regardless of whether or not his playing career continues.  I can see Derek Jeter getting a healthy number of DH at-bat’s but this goes back to how well Jeter’s backups at short can perform.

Role to be determined:

  1.        Ichiro Suzuki

In actuality, he’ll be the team’s fifth outfielder.  I expect Soriano to be the first option should any holes open in the outfield.  This is a sad way for a Hall of Fame career to end.  I had hoped that the Yankees would trade Ichiro to a team that had a greater need for his services than they do out of respect for the legendary player.  It may still happen, but at this point, I’d rather see someone like Zoilo Almonte as the reserve outfielder behind Soriano.

Ichiro aside, I think the two most vulnerable players for roster moves are Dean Anna (when Brendan Ryan returns in May) and Vidal Nuno (I can see Cesar Cabral being promoted in mid-April).

I’d like to say that I am very optimistic about the 2014 season but the uncertainty of the infield and the unproven bullpen give me hesitation.  I do not think the Yankees have done enough (despite all those dollars) to close the gap with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.  Neither the Toronto Blue Jays nor the Baltimore Orioles will be pushovers in what is arguably baseball’s toughest division.

I do feel better about this team than last year’s version.  People have said the Yankees over-achieved to reach 85 wins and that the Yankees are still an 85 win team despite the upgrades.  I think they can reach 90 wins and perhaps a few more if the pieces come together (younger players take it to the next level, the right in-season acquisitions, and strong overall performance from the team collectively).   It may not be enough to reach October, but the Yankees will help determine who does go.

I am glad that the baseball season is upon us.  It should be an exciting and memorable year.  Time for Joe Girardi’s masterful encore performance…

 

–Scott