Backed by uncharacteristic run support (at least for him), Sonny Gray finally pitched on Sunday like the guy who was an ace in Oakland. We’ve seen few glimpses of that guy since he became a Yankee last July. I know, it was against one of the worst teams in the American League but it was a great Sonny Gray start. For a game anyway, this warrants a ‘Sonny Gray DOES NOT suck’ from me.
As you know, I am quick to criticize Gray so I owe it to him to recognize a wonderful performance. Gray (3-3) pitched eight innings, holding the Kansas City Royals to four hits and a single run. He didn’t allow the run until the eighth inning when he was starting to tire. He walked a batter and struck out five in the 10-1 victory. The four homers, including two by Tyler Austin, were fantastic but there was no doubt Gray was the star of this game.
A.J. Cole, in a rare appearance, pitched a clean ninth inning. Sure, he had a big lead but ask the Miami Marlins about holding a big lead in the ninth inning. They had a 9-4 advantage Sunday against the Atlanta Braves (a team many are starting to liken to the 2017 Yankees) and had Brad Ziegler on the mound to close it out. Six runs later, the Braves walked off the field a winner. So, I try to never underestimate a mop up role like the one Cole faced.
Now for the home runs. Tyler Austin is making a very convincing case to stay with the Major League club despite the impending return of Greg Bird. I’ve felt all along Austin is the most susceptible for a demotion to Triple A to make room for Bird. Even with his two home runs on Sunday, I still think he’ll be the odd man out since he has options remaining. The Yankees aren’t getting rid of Ronald Torreyes and I don’t see them cutting bait with Neil Walker. Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media speculated this morning that the Yankees will DFA Walker and trade him for a minor leaguer to use the remaining balance of his $4 million contract at the trading deadline (in addition to the space they already have) to open a spot for Bird. I suppose he may be right but I have liked the versatility Walker brings and he has hit better of late. But I have to admit that a tandem of Bird-Austin at first base is a bit scary (in a good way).
|Photo Credit: The Kansas City Star (John Sleezer)|
Miguel Andujar and Austin Romine tacked on solo homers in the ninth which did more to help their personal statistics than the team’s result.
Yankees Twitter was aghast before the game when the lineup was posted. Many had expected to see Gary Sanchez at DH, Didi Gregorius at short, and Clint Frazier in left. Instead, Giancarlo Stanton was the DH, Brett Gardner in left, and Ronald Torreyes was the shortstop for the second day in a row. I understood the move with Sir Didi who is mired in a 1-for-45 slump. Nothing against the great Brett Gardner, but I would have preferred to see Red Thunder in left. But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. The Yankees cranked out fourteen hits with Aaron Boone’s lineup to power the offense.
Nice job by Austin Romine. During the off-season, so many Yankees fans (maybe even me) wanted the Yankees to sign Alex Avila to replace Romine as the backup catcher. Yesterday, Romine had perhaps his greatest game as a Yankee. He was 3-for-5 with two RBI’s. He had a run-scoring single in the fourth inning in addition to the ninth inning dinger. It’s worth noting that Romine is batting .326 in 48 plate appearances with the homer and nine RBI’s, while Avila is only batting .132 with two homers and four RBI’s in nearly twice as many plate appearances and has opened the door for more playing time for former Yankee John Ryan Murphy with the Snakes.
It was great to see the Yankees dominate two consecutive games against the lowly Royals after Friday night’s disappointing loss. It had been a very tough week for the Yankees with the rainouts in Washington, D.C. It was not surprising they played sluggishly in their only loss in the Royals series, but I was glad to see that it lasted only one game before they were back in expected form.
The lone disappointment yesterday was the option of outfielder Clint Frazier to Triple A after the game. I know, it was inevitable. It was a numbers game and Frazier is better served by playing every day for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. He’ll head to Pennsylvania and await the next call to Yankee Stadium. It’s not what you want (to borrow Joe Girardi’s line), but Frazier is only an injury away from returning.
The Yankees now head to Dallas/Fort Worth to face the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have under-performed this year (18-30) but they are generally a handful for the Yankees. The first two games of the series feature Yankees Past and what could be Yankees Future. Today, the Yankees will face a former Yankee in the ancient Bartolo Colon while Tuesday features 2009 World Series foe Cole Hamels, whose name has been mentioned as a possible trading deadline candidate for the Yankees. There are other trade candidates I’d like to see over Hamels, but he is a proven veteran arm. After the Yankees finish the three game series in Texas, they’ll head back to the Bronx to meet up with Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a series that starts Friday night.
David Hale just keeps coming back like a bad penny. I really thought we’d seen the last of Hale when he was designated for assignment for the second time this year by the Yankees. When he elected free agency after his most recent DFA, I felt sure he’d go elsewhere. It was not to be as Hale signed another minor league deal with the Yankees and will head to Scranton, PA to join the starting rotation for the RailRiders. His addition led to the release of former Yankees prospect Daniel Camarena. I had hoped for better results from Camarena who had been re-acquired from the Chicago Cubs earlier this year after signing a minor league free agent contract with the Cubs in the off-season. But a 2-3 record and 5.08 ERA (44 hits and 20 walks in 39 innings) led to Camarena’s second exit from the organization. I wish him the best with his next opportunity. It’s unfortunate he was unable to realize his dream in Pinstripes.
Speaking of the RailRiders starting rotation, their latest addition (besides Hale) is prospect Erik Swanson. Swanson’s name hasn’t really been mentioned much since he was acquired in the trade that sent Carlos Beltran to the Texas Rangers a couple of seasons ago. Dillon Tate was the more highly regarded name in the trade, but Swanson is the minor league pitcher of the moment. The guy has been sensational in Double A this year. The 24-year-old righty started six games for the Trenton Thunder, winning five with no defeats. He has given up a paltry two earned runs in 40 2/3 innings (0.44 ERA) while striking out 52. He has only allowed 12 walks. The superb performance led to his recent promotion to Triple A. In an organization with so many talented young prospects, Swanson has illuminated his name.
|Photo Credit: Martin Griff, via Pinstriped Prospects|
The Yankees did so well with the 2016 trades of Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, they are generally recognized as the trades that highlight the genius of GM Brian Cashman. Nevertheless, the returns for Beltran (namely Swanson and Tate) and Brian McCann (Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman, who helped bring Giancarlo Stanton to New York) were spectacular. Cashman and Company were certainly well prepared when they made those “under-the-radar” trades that opened roster space for younger, more talented players.
Unfortunately, the Boston Red Sox keep winning so the Yankees and Sox remain tied atop the AL East although the Yankees (30-13) continue to hold a slight advantage in winning percentage. New York is at .698 while the Red Sox (32-15) are .681. Boston is off today so the Yankees could pick up a half-game to take sole possession of first place or they could lose to fall into second place. With 119 games to play, I suppose it does not really matter either way in the grand scheme of things but I always prefer to see the Red Sox in the rear view mirror.
|Credit: Frank Galasso Illustration|
It is being reported that former Yankee Oscar Gamble, 68, has passed away. If true, this is a very sad loss. I thoroughly enjoyed Gamble as a Yankee and, no, it was not because of the ‘fro. He was a very good ball player, in my opinion. He hit 200 home runs over the course of his 17-year career that included stops with the Cubs, Phillies, Indians, White Sox, Padres and Rangers in addition to the Yankees. He finished his career with the White Sox in 1985, and was a .265 lifetime hitter. Certainly not Hall of Fame numbers, but you could always count on Oscar for a homer when you needed it. I loved watching his left-handed swing in the old Yankee Stadium.
During the winter prior to the 1981 season, I met Gamble in Montgomery, Alabama. He gave me his autograph and I vividly remember our conversation about the upcoming season. He was excited to play with the big free agent that the Yankees had just signed (David Mark Winfield). He came across to me as an incredibly humble and kind man. I was a nobody yet he took the time with me. It’s a meeting that I’ll never forget, and I am very saddened to hear the news of his passing.
Photo Credit: NY Daily News (Martin)
It was also sad to see the news about the passing of former Padres and Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers yesterday. During his time in San Diego, he was a frequent trading partner for Yankees GM Brian Cashman and he spent some time in the Yankees front office (2010 season) after his departure from the Padres before getting his next gig in Arizona. Most recently, he had been a special advisor for the Cincinnati Reds. Towers had been diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer in 2016. The survival rate for this form of cancer is very low so Towers must have known his time was limited. Still, it was a shock to the Baseball world. As they say, Cancer Sucks! Towers was a great force in Major League Baseball and his loss is significant. May he rest in peace…
Photo Credit: Associated Press (Ross D Franklin)
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there have been too many deaths already this year.
On to ‘less grim’ topics…I’d say positive but that doesn’t really seem to apply.
The Yankees lost a potential upgrade for backup catcher when free agent catcher Alex Avila signed a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday. Although there were no indications the Yankees were ever connected to Avila, many Yankees fans called for the signing of Avila as an upgrade for the offensively-challenged Austin Romine. Instead, Avila will represent the offensive side of a platoon with defensive-specialist Jeff Mathis in the Sonoran Desert. The D-Backs had a void at catcher when last year’s starter, Chris Iannetta, recently signed a free agent contract with his original team, the Colorado Rockies. Arizona also has Chris Hermann and former Yankee John Ryan Murphy in the catching mix.
The Yankees added a veteran infielder this week when they signed second baseman/shortstop Danny Espinosa to a minor league contract with a training camp invitation. This was one of those signing that brought a “meh” from me. I didn’t like the way Espinosa expressed his displeasure with the Washington Nationals in December 2016 when the team acquired outfielder Adam Eaton, pushing the young and talented Trea Turner from center field to shortstop, and Espinosa to the bench. The Nats ended up trading Espinosa to the Los Angeles Angels, one of three teams he played for in 2017.
Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Troy Taormina)
Espinosa is a poor hitter. Although he did have 24 home runs in 2016, his batting line was close to the Mendoza Line (.209/.306/.378). He had 174 strikeouts in 516 at-bats (601 plate appearances). In 2017, his line was worse in 295 plate appearances. He had 6 home runs, batting .173/.245/.278. He was released by all three teams he played for in 2017 (Angels, Seattle Mariners, and Tampa Bay Rays). The final release came a few weeks before the season was over.
If Espinosa breaks camp as the starting second baseman, it will mean that Plans A and B went horribly wrong. Alright, that might be a bit too strong. I still expect Gleyber Torres to take the position after spending the first few weeks in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But I strongly prefer the tandem of Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes as the interim solution over Espinosa. I suppose if Wade fails miserably in Tampa over the next couple of months, it is possible that Espinosa partners with Torreyes to cover second until Torres is ready. But Espinosa’s selfish behavior at the end of his time in Washington really soured me on the player.
While it looks like the Yankees will go to training camp with rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar as the front-runners for second and third base, respectively, I still expect the Yankees to sign a veteran third baseman. It may not be a starting type, but it will be someone who can act as a safety net for Andujar. Oh boy, here comes Yunel Escobar. Regardless of who the Yankees sign, they will sign somebody. They’ve added second base bodies (Jace Peterson and the aforementioned Danny Espinosa) so I have no doubts they’ll do the same for third base. Admittedly, my hope for Todd Frazier’s return is starting to fade.
Gladly Accepting Jeter Rejects…
I haven’t seen his exact title yet, but it appears that the Yankees have added former Miami Marlins VP of Player Development Marc Delpiano to their Scouting department. Delpiano was fired by Derek Jeter (well, Jetes made the outgoing President David Samson deliver the news) when he took over the team. Delpiano’s position was replaced when the Marlins added former Yankees executive Gary Denbo. Delpiano is a highly respective baseball executive who drew much praise when he was hired by the Marlins a few years ago. He has experience working for both Neal Huntington and Theo Epstein. Good hire by GM Brian Cashman. Welcome to the Yankees family, Marc!
Despite the deathly slow off-season (no pun intended), training camp is almost upon us. We’ll soon have the opportunity to see Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton putting on daily home run displays instead of wearing tuxedos…
Photo Credit: Marquee NY (Chris Lavado)