A penny for your hits…
What does it take to buy a hit? Apparently not the $45 million the Yankees paid to Carlos Beltran or the $85 mil to Brian McCann or $175 million for former Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. This season has been a struggle for wins despite the team’s winning record. It was finally starting to feel a little better at 29-25 but then the Yankees promptly lost 4 in a row.
Playing a good team like the Oakland A’s, the Yankees bullpen failed miserably until the final game of the series when David Robertson locked away a win for ace Masahiro Tanaka. That bleeding started in the series with the Minnesota Twins and was inevitable with the short innings being provided by the replacement starters (i.e., David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley). When the Yankees are only scoring 1 or 2 runs a game, the starters need to throw a gem almost every outing which obviously is not realistic given the current state of arms.
I thought the Yankees should have aggressively tried to sign Stephen Drew before the Boston Red Sox re-signed him, and now I feel the same way about slugger Kendrys Morales. Now that there is no longer draft pick compensation tied to him since the MLB started yesterday, I felt the Yankees should go after him. Maybe they are, but there’s competition. Based on yesterday’s first draft pick for the Yankees in the second, had they signed Morales earlier, the cost would have been lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren who is already projected to make an appearance in the Yankees bullpen this year. But now it’s an open field for Morales and the Yankees have reluctance, wanting to see how Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran perform. In my opinion, the odds of one or both going back to the DL at some point is very high, and the designated hitter, Alfonso Soriano, is not hitting, so I would aggressively pursue Morales to cover 1B/DH. Ironically, Morales is the guy the Los Angeles Angels turned to when Mark Teixeira left as a free agent. It worked out well for the Angels and I think it can work out well for the Yankees. No ifs, ands, or buts, the Yankees need a proven consistent run producer in the middle of the order. I agree with those who say the Yankees sorely miss Robinson Cano’s bat. Ironically, the Yankees were also unable to re-sign another slugger having a good year in Milwaukee this year (Mark Reynolds) despite the usual anemic batting average. Those home runs would look pretty good about now in Yankee Stadium.
On nights the Yankees are scoring only a run or getting shut out, I even see guys like Milwaukee’s Lyle Overbay, another 2013 Yankee, driving in a couple of runs for his new team. And of course, who delivered the key hit in the Yankees last game with the Twins when the Yankees bullpen collapsed in the late innings? None other than former backup shortstop Eduardo Nunez.
At this point, the Toronto Blue Jays are starting to run away with the division. They are clearly playing like the class of the division and they just came off a very successful series against perennial AL contender Detroit. If I had to pick two teams playing in the ALCS right now, I’d pick the Blue Jays and the Oakland A’s. If the Yankees do not figure out how to fix the current offensive drought, they really will be offensive and done for the season in September.
Not everybody was meant to be Mariano Rivera…
Nothing against David Robertson but I am still not sold on him as the team’s closer. Sure, replacing Mariano Rivera is big shoes to fill. However, I still think that Robertson’s stuff plays best in a Set Up role. I have been intrigued with the possibility of trying Dellin Betances in the role, but he needs more major league experience so maybe next year. The reliever the Yankees picked yesterday (Jacob Lindgren) is also a future possibility. If Robertson blows a few more games like he did against Minnesota, I’d really consider using Andrew Bailey in the role when he gets healthy…for now.
I love you, I love you not…
Speaking of former Yankees thriving outside of New York, both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain seem to be doing fine. Hughes even captured a victory in the Bronx with the aforementioned bullpen collapse, a place that he couldn’t buy a win last year. Chamberlain has a couple of saves and a decent ERA. I can’t say that I’ve watched him too closely but his stats seem to say that all is good. Why couldn’t have these guys performed like this last year? Rhetorical question and of course, there is something to be said about the pressure of playing in New York. It’s not for everyone.
Farewell to a champion…
It was sound to hear about the passing of former Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer this week. The image of Zim sitting next to Joe Torre on the Yankees bench is forever burned into my memory. He was such a part of those late 90’s championships and he helped mold Torre into a Hall of Fame manager and one who will soon have his number retired in Memorial Park. I realize that sooner or later, all of us must depart. But still, it is sad to see Zim go now. I understand he had been in poor health since April and hopefully he is now at peace. He will be missed as he was truly one of Major League Baseball’s landmarks.
Courtesy: Keith Torrie/New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images
During the off-season, when Robinson Cano walked for the cash in Seattle, I was worried about first base when the other holes popped up at second and third base. The Yankees weakly filled the other holes with injury-prone Brian Roberts and utility-man Kelly Johnson while spending millions elsewhere on the roster.
Shortstop has been a concern as an aging Derek Jeter attempts to make his comeback from a serious ankle injury.
Catcher was truly the only infield position of strength with newcomer Brian McCann backed superbly by Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy.
But first base was and still is my primary concern. The Yankees did nothing to bring a solid backup to the team as a hedge against Mark Teixeira’s health. So, when Teixeira went to the DL this week due to a muscle strain in his leg, the Yankees had no legitimate first baseman on the roster. As it stands, Kelly Johnson has become the team’s first baseman. When Johnson signed, Cano was still a possible return so Johnson was viewed as the team’s super-sub. Then, Cano left and Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the season, and Johnson found himself as the starting third baseman. Now Teixeira’s gone, and Johnson stands at first. It is great that he’s so versatile, but the Yankees are so vulnerable with its current infield.
Yangervis Solarte has been a godsend but realistically I do not expect the guy to continue to play all season like he has in its first few games. He is an aging minor leaguer who had never gotten a major league shot and there’s reasons for why that happened. Yes, late bloomers can happen, but I am too much of a realist to believe that the Yankees have struck gold with the minor league free agent. I like him in a bench role, but now he’s the apparent starting third baseman along with another career minor leaguer, Dean Anna.
Mark Teixeira has always concerned me with his notorious slow starts and now he has other issues for us to worry about. I really thought that the Yankees needed to bring in a strong first baseman to help cover for Teixeira. This is where someone like Nick Swisher is really missed. An outfielder who can easily step in to play first.
When I heard that the Mets were dangling Ike Davis, I thought he’d be the perfect guy for the Yanks to pursue despite his underwhelming performance and injuries with the Mets. Son of a former Yankee (former Goose Gossage setup man, Ron Davis), I thought that Davis might benefit from a change in scenery. In a supporting role for Tex, Davis would be in a good spot to resurrect his career. The cost to acquire Davis would be less than acquiring a more frontline first baseman, but of course, on the day Teixeira was placed on the DL, Davis hit a grand slam to win a game for the Mets. It should be noted that on the same day, the Yanks did not score any runs in a 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Right now, I think that Ichiro Suzuki’s presence on the roster is hurting the team. For the Yankees to call-up Scranton/Wilkes Barre first baseman Russ Canzler, the Yankees would have to free up a spot on the 40-man roster. The Yankees need more help for the infield than they do with the outfield. Alfonso Soriano provide good relief as the fourth outfielder/DH, and the ever-versatile Johnson can play there as well.
The Yankees need to go out and get Plan B for first base, and perhaps move Ichiro along the way.
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.
- CC Sabathia
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Ivan Nova
- Masahiro Tanaka
- 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.
- 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.
- Shawn Kelley
- 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.
- 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.
- David Phelps
- Adam Warren
- 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.
- Brian McCann
- 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.
- Mark Teixeira
Let’s just say that I am cautiously optimistic there are no lingering problems related to last year’s wrist injury.
- Brian Roberts
- 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.
- Derek Jeter
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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…
What more could we have asked of the Steinbrenner family? Seriously, the Steinbrenners opened their purse strings this off-season even if the infield is in a state of flux. Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Matt Thornton, Andrew Bailey, and last but not least Masahiro Tanaka. For a team that stood pat the previous off-season, the Yankees over-compensated this year.
It would have been nice to Robinson Cano’s bat mixed in with the new offense, but if he had stayed, it’s likely that Tanaka would be in Chicago or Los Angeles, and Beltran would be with the Red Sox or another team that expressed interest. Time will tell if it was the right move, but I think the Yanks were wise not to throw a quarter of a billion dollars at Cano.
When Brett Gardner re-signed with the Yankees this week, he mentioned that it didn’t matter if he got what he did or twice as much, it wasn’t going to change his lifestyle and he wanted to be a Yankee. It’s the last part of the previous sentence that Cano didn’t feel. That only reinforces the Yankees decision to move on. I do not realistically expect Brian Roberts to recapture his glory days. I would have preferred Kelly Johnson at second with the Yankees bringing in another third base solution, but when you spend as much as the Yankees did in the last few months, something has to give. With the Yankees, you know that a spring trade or a July deadline deal is not out of the question.
Sure, the team is banking on another stellar managerial performance by Joe Girardi, but I feel much better going into this season than I did last year. Last year, it literally felt like a team that wouldn’t make it the distance. This year, I feel the team has a legitimate shot. A few guys need to step it up a level but that’s within the realm of possibility. It’s not exactly like we are asking Brendan Ryan to be the second coming of Derek Jeter.
The wild card is obviously Michael Pineda. If he continues to pitch like he is capable of, he will bring so much to the end of the rotation. A healthy and productive Pineda is far superior to the inconsistency that Phil Hughes provided. With Jesus Montero 40 lbs overweight in Seattle, this could be the year that Pineda makes “the trade” pro-New York.
Masahiro Tanaka may be billed as Andy Pettitte’s replacement but next year, he’ll most likely be current teammate Hiroki Kuroda’s replacement. But for now, I am very glad that Kuroda is there to serve as mentor for his countryman. I’ve wondered if Kuroda’s presence, along with the Yankees money, brought Tanaka to New York. If I was coming to a foreign country, the idea of another American would be very appealing to me.
With the Yankees extending Brett Gardner, and the Cincinnati Reds doing the same with Homer Bailey, there should be no more Gardner for Bailey rumors. As a hopeful optimist for Michael Pineda and his spot in the rotation, this is a best case scenario. I am a bit concerned with two speed-first guys in the outfield (why do I keep thinking about Dave Collins?) but Alfonso Soriano brings the bat along with Carlos Beltran. I am anxious to see how Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat plays in Yankee Stadium for 81 games rather than just the usual 9 or 10.
Andrew Bailey. I am not quite sure why the Yankees signed Bailey but he’s a hedge against a David Robertson meltdown. Of course, Bailey won’t be available until late season so if Robertson fails miserably, they’ll need another solution. While Robertson has proven to be a great set up guy, the 9th inning is a different story. He failed in his brief audition before getting hurt the year Mariano Rivera was lost for the season with the knee injury suffered in Kansas City. Rafael Soriano stepped in and provided super relief following Robertson’s unsuccessful stint. With Soriano now entrenched as the closer for the Washington Nationals, there’s no safety net. Bailey offers the only proven closing experience yet he’s not going to be an option until July or later. My hope is that Robertson seizes the role. I was skeptical when Mariano Rivera replaced John Wetteland and that one turned out okay. Alright, a little better than okay…
Sorry that my posts have been infrequent but I’ve been in the midst of a move from the West to East Coast. I am not in a major league city but I can get to New York for a weekend so that’s all that matters. This should be a good year for making home games at Yankee Stadium after a few years of only away games while living in the Golden State.
I am so ready for the regular season to begin and yet the spring games are still a day or two away. Oh well, that’s more time for the Yankees to strengthen the infield…
For Whom the Beltrans…
Well, it’s finally official. The Yankee fan is finally a Yankee. With today’s introductory press conference, the Yankees have continued to rebuild the team’s offense following the departure of Robby Cano and his bat. Carlos Beltran talked about how he has long looked up to the Yankees organization. The backhanded swipes at the Mets certainly didn’t hurt boosting his stock in the Bronx, particularly after those comments made by Curtis Granderson during his Mets press conference earlier in the off-season (even if the Grandy Man was just being lighthearted).
It’s always nice to see guys who genuinely want to be in the Bronx. Brian McCann certainly conveyed that message and Carlos Beltran did the same today. I think Jacoby Ellsbury is just as excited but his situation was a bit different and he is coming off a World Series championship.
Listening to Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi talk, it clearly sounds as if the Yankees outfield will be consisted of Brett Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran. Three centerfielders, with two playing out of position. I know, there are a multitude of reasons for why it makes sense to keep Gardner, but he is really the only major league trading chip and the Yankees still need rotation help. They have not shown any desire to pursue the likes of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, or others that can be had for a simple cash outlay. Johan Santana’s name has been bandied about, and I would see no harm as long as the Yankees clearly invest in a Plan B to go with it. My primary hope is that Michael Pineda can finally show us the potential he had in Seattle. But that’s for the #5 spot. The Yankees should roll the dice with the young organization pitchers, including Pineda, for the last position in the rotation but not both #4 and #5. For #4, the Yankees need a proven performer. Santana is a huge health risk, but if healthy…I know, that’s a big IF…he would significantly solidify the rotation and help mask any further regressions by CC Sabathia or Hiroki Kuroda.
It’s unfortunate the Yankees have to keep an eye on the Alex Rodriguez situation to determine what their next moves will be. I just hope they aren’t caught looking while waiting to find out if A-Rod and his behemoth contract will be an obligation for 2014 or not.
But regardless of what happens for the remainder of the off-season, it goes without question that Carlos Beltran was a good signing. The reports have surfaced that free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo turned down a 7-year, $140 million deal from the Yankees before they turned to Beltran. I would prefer to go with the 3-year Beltran deal as opposed to locking into 7 years with Choo considering the Yankees are already on an extended hook with Ellsbury. At some point, the young talent in the lower levels of the farm system have to make their way to the surface. I have high hopes for Aaron Judge, and I really hope that Slade Heathcott can bring his game to the next level within the next couple of years.
Much has been written about Beltran replacing the lost production in St Louis when Albert Pujols signed his $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels and is now being asked to do the same with Cano opting for money over a win-first mentality. However, there is a big difference. The Cardinals have Allen Craig and Matt Adams as two very capable first baseman. The Yankees are not so lucky at Cano’s former position. There are no immediate farm system solutions. With Beltran now scheduled to start in Ichiro Suzuki’s position, it is a foregone conclusion that either Ichiro or Vernon Wells will soon be an ex-Yankee. Pitcher Brett Marshall may have paid the price for Beltran’s spot, but I expect Ichiro or Wells to go when the Yankees create roster space for their latest additions. The Yankees will have to include cash if they move Ichiro so that makes Wells the more likely one to go given that the Angels are still paying the majority of his salary.
I keep getting sidetracked when the main topic is Beltran but he opens up much discussion in other areas. I am glad that he’s a Yankee and I truly hope the Yankees can make the additional moves that will be necessary to return one of baseball’s great play-off performers to October. Pitching, pitching, pitching…
Meanwhile, at Second Base…
Kelly Johnson, Eduardo Nunez, Corban Joseph…
None of the names are exciting and it’s more likely that Johnson, with a platoon-mate in Nunez, will be asked to cover third if A-Rod is suspended for a lengthy period as expected. Joseph is not ready so the Yankees signed long-time Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. Roberts was once one of the best 2B’s in the game, but injuries have robbed him of playing time the last four years. I do not expect him to be a major force at the position this year assuming that he makes the team. It is a curious move for a beloved Oriole to join a hated AL rival. I know that Mike Mussina did it but he was still in his prime. I know, there’s Jacoby Ellsbury too, but again, that player, despite his past injuries, still has prime years ahead. Roberts has seen his better days. At that point, I’d probably go out of division or out of league even if it sacrificed a few dollars to maintain my legacy with the original team.
Roberts will always be a great Oriole. There’s nothing that he can do to take away his quality years. Hopefully, the Baltimore fans will recognize that it was time for Roberts and the O’s to part ways, particularly given their acquisition of second baseman Jemile Weeks. Mike Mussina had quality years with both the O’s and the Yankees. Roberts will be like Luis Tiant. The best years were with the home team, and the last year or two were with the Yankees.
At this point, it does appear the Yankees will be heading to spring training with Roberts, Nunez and Johnson covering second. However, things will change when the A-Rod drama is finally put to rest. I was surprised the Yankees didn’t try harder for Omar Infante. It’s not often the Kansas City Royals beat the Yankees in free agency.
As for third…
It’s a given that A-Rod will be lost for a certain amount of time. It’s just a question for how long. I would like to see a trade for the San Diego Padres third baseman, Chase Headley, something that has been mentioned on and off for the last few years. We know that it won’t be a return of last year’s third base wannabe, Kevin Youkilis (thwarted by injuries to the surprise of no one). Youk in stating a preference to being closer to his West Coast home, decided to take his family on a one year vacation touring Japan. I am not quite sure how the DL works in the Japanese League but I guess we’ll find out. I loved Wallace Matthews’ quote that Youk will probably be injured on the plane trip to Japan.
Another third base possibility, and former Yank, Casey McGehee, signed with the Miami Marlins. So, like second base, pickings are getting very slim at the infield positions. I fully expect the Yankees to lose one of their promising young catchers in any trade.
I was disappointed to see Boone Logan go. Good for him in signing the three year contract with the Colorado Rockies. Denver is a wonderful city and I do not begrudge anyone who wants to be a part of that community. But still, he was a solid option in the pen for the Yanks and will be missed. To replace him, the Yankees signed former Sox (both White and Red) reliever Matt Thornton. A great lefty, no doubt, but one that is 37. All things considered, I would have preferred a few more years of Logan. I’d like to see a younger guy like Nik Turley take it to the next level but I am fearful that Turley will be a roster casualty with the additional moves the Yankees have yet and still need to make.
I am not sure how I feel about David Robertson as closer. When Mariano Rivera was hurt in Kansas City early in the 2012 season, Robertson failed in his brief appearance as closer. If memory serves correctly, he was injured and it opened the door for Rafael Soriano to grab the job and run with it. If the Yankees opt to go with Robertson, they need another Plan B like Soriano in place. Yes, I know, there are only so many spots on a 25-man roster for Plan B…
On the bright side, catcher and center field are locked up… 😉
I don’t expect much in the way of Yankees news next week so Operation Improvement will have to be resumed in January. Meanwhile, Happy Holidays to All! Enjoy!
The highs and lows of the Hot Stove League, thus far…
For Yankees fans, the off-season started nicely. After early speculation that manager Joe Girardi might jump to the Chicago Cubs, he re-signed a long-term deal with the Yankees and expressed it was his desire to remain in New York. All good.
Then, Derek Jeter quickly signed a one year deal with negotiations that where smooth, quick and efficient (unlike the prior Jeter negotiations). It remains to be seen if we’ll get the Jeter of 2012 or the injured, aging 2013 model, but there’s no question that Jeter must finish his career in pinstripes. I don’t think Derek would want to go anywhere else at this point anyway, but still, he is the face of the franchise and he’ll forever be remembered as one of its legends. In the distant future, when the old greats from the 50’s Dynasty era are gone (Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, among others), it will be guys like Jeter that maintain the honor and tradition in baseball’s most storied franchise.
The Yankees struck fast in signing free agent catcher Brian McCann after last year’s parade of backups in the starting role. It gives the team its first legitimate starter at the position since Russell Martin left, and the best offensive bat at the position since Jorge Posada retired. This is a move that places backup catchers Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy, and Austin Romine in a better position to succeed. At first pass, I expect Cervelli to take the backup job in spring training but the other two are capable. On the days that McCann slides to DH, the catching position will be capable hands.
Next came a big surprise. I honestly did not see the Yankees signing centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. While I have been a fan of Ellsbury’s work, it didn’t seem to be a great need for the team. Brett Gardner has been an effective centerfielder, and has the speed to burn. Still, Ellsbury’s signing upgrades the position and allows the Yankees to slide Gardner to left where he a defensive upgrade over Alfonso Soriano. The concern here is that by making Soriano the full-time DH, it does limit the DH opportunities for Derek Jeter and Brian McCann. Soriano’s bat is still very valuable, and it’s much needed in the lineup.
Then came the bittersweet day of Friday, December 6th. The night before, there had been reports that second baseman Robinson Cano had flown to Seattle, but in the morning, the early reports indicated that talks had stalled or perhaps even ended. It gave a brief ray of hope that he’d come back to the Yankees, but those hopes were soon dissolved when it was reported Cano had agreed to a 10-year $240 million deal with the Mariners. While it’s tough to lose a great player, perhaps the team’s best, it is simply too hard to justify those numbers. I have enjoyed the early 30’s version of Cano at second, but in his late 30’s and early 40’s, the prospect doesn’t look too promising at $24 million per year. That’s a huge chunk of any team’s overall payroll. I think of when Chase Utley was the premier second baseman, but now, with injuries, he has become a shell of what he once was. What happens if Cano does not age well? I guess I am not a gambling man and would prefer that the M’s take that bet. $240 million can be better spent by spreading it over multiple positions rather than locking it into only one.
This is where I find Robinson Cano to be extremely selfish. You can’t begrudge anyone from wanting as much money as they can get, but this is a team game and every team has a budget…even the Yankees. If it were me, I would have taken the Yankees offer of 7 years at $175 million because the average annual salary was stronger and I’d know that the team would be more flexible in other areas by not being locked into so many years. For those additional three years, it would be up to me to perform and if so, there would be a reward. It also would have kept the Yankee legacy intact and ensured a potential place among the team’s legends. But now, Cano is just another player who took the money and ran. He proved that money is more valuable than wins, and money is more important than helping build a strong supporting cast of quality players. That doesn’t mean Seattle doesn’t have quality players, they do, but they are a long way from contending. It is very possible that when they are ready to contend, Cano has started his career regression due to age that’s inevitable for everyone.
Cano has carried the “lazy” rap for years. While he is an exciting player at times, it was frustrating when he didn’t hustle. I think of someone like Dustin Pedroia, whose motor is always running. He creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be there because he is alert and proactive. He seizes the opportunities and takes advantage of them. That’s what winning ball players do. Cano is not that guy. I have never thought of him as a team player, and I didn’t view him as a player who helped raise the performance level of those around him. Rest assured the Yankees will miss his offensive production at the position. At this point, I have no idea who will be the second baseman in 2014. Kelly Johnson seems better suited to help replace Alex Rodriguez at third base, in a platoon situation. Omar Infante signed a four year deal with the Kansas City Royals, and Brandon Phillips is starting the downward slide that comes with age. David Adams, a young player who had the talent but couldn’t show it at the major league level during brief auditions, was non-tendered and is now a Cleveland Indian. It looks as though the Yankees will fill second base with a bargain basement fill-in, much like they did last year with first and third bases. I wish the organization was better stocked with up and coming second base talent, but that does not appear to be the case. I personally thought Infante would have been the best short-term option, but the Yankees allowed them to get beat by the Royals in signing the player. You know it’s an odd year when the Yankees get beat in free agency by both the Royals and the Mariners.
But enough about Cano, he is gone and so is his Yankees legacy.
Around the same time as the news had broken about the former second baseman signing with Seattle, it was reported that starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda had signed a new one year deal with the team. This was very good news to hear. Kuroda is much needed, and I am grateful that he chose to delay his return to Japan by a year or head back to his home in Southern California. So, Cashman has filled 200 of the 400 innings he previously stated were needed this off-season.
After the tumultuous events of the day, news broke on the evening of December 6th that the Yankees had signed outfielder Carlos Beltran. At 36, he is no longer the player he once was, but he is a “gamer” or as George Steinbrenner would say, a warrior. Even an aging Beltran is an upgrade over an even older Ichiro Suzuki or the outfielder still primarily funded by the Los Angeles Angels, Vernon Wells.
But after the three free agent signings, the news has mostly been about departures. Phil Hughes was the first to depart, signing a three year deal with the Minnesota Twins. It was probably a good move for Hughes. Minnesota will be less pressurized and he should have the opportunity to flourish, much like Carl Pavano was able to resurrect his career in Minneapolis after leaving New York. I certainly did not expect the Yankees to re-sign Hughes after the season he had last year, but I thought he’d go to Southern California and saw the San Diego Padres as a good fit. Nevertheless, Minneapolis is a fun city and it’s a good ballpark.
A couple of other notable defections occurred in the bullpen, where Joba Chamberlain signed a one year deal with the Detroit Tigers and Boone Logan went for three years with the Colorado Rockies. Of the two, it is Logan that I really hated to see leave. He was a trusted left-handed reliever, but it really didn’t seem like the team made much of an effort to retain his services. They obviously had other priorities, but I suppose the Yankees are hopeful that a less expensive options like Cesar Cabral will step up to fill Boone’s role. It was a foregone conclusion that Joba had thrown his last pitch for the Yankees. But admittedly, I was surprised he went to Detroit. There are worse things to do than to go to a team that is probably the best one in the American League right now, but I thought that Joba would go to the Kansas City Royals since it is closer to his hometown roots. The one year deal does give him an opportunity to try and restore the promise he once had with the Yankees. Plus, if he wins a World Series, it will help give his career a further boost.
The Yankees also lost last year’s starting catcher when they traded Chris Stewart to the Pittsburgh Pirates. This move was a given after the McCann signing combined with the surplus of backup catchers.
For as crazy as December started for the Yankees, the week of the baseball winter meetings was extremely quiet. The Yankees still have much work to do. On paper, after consideration of all plusses and minuses, they are not noticeably better than last year’s 85 win team. They still need a quality starting pitcher, a second baseman, and bullpen help. Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him between now and spring training.
I honestly do not know where the Yankees will go from here. I’d like to see the free agent signing of a pitcher like Matt Garza, but so far, the Yankees have not been one of the team’s linked to the pitcher. Same with Bronson Arroyo, who is certainly capable of eating a large number of innings as a #4 starter. For second base, the latest reports have the Yankees interested in Darwin Barney of the Chicago Cubs but I have no idea what he would cost in terms of talent in a trade. I will feel much better about the 2014 Yankees once the additional starting pitcher and second baseman are in the fold, but at least it is reassuring to know that Hal Steinbrenner wants to win as much as the rest of us do.
Where do we go from here?…
December 6th. For years, this has been the anniversary of my graduation from Air Force Basic Training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. But on December 6, 2013, it may have been the most tumultuous day in Yankees history in terms of arrivals and departures…or at least in recent memory.
The day started with news that talks had broken down between Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners. It stirred renewed hope that Cano would find his way back to the Bronx, but as quickly as the reports had come about the Mariners’ CEO blowing a gasket at salary demands from the Cano Camp and ending talks, the reports came that Cano had accepted a ten year deal from the Mariners for $240 million. Cano never called the Yankees before taking the offer, but it was a given they would not match.
It’s hard to watch your team’s best player walk away for nothing. But in this situation, I think the Yankees made the right call. After the fiasco of the Alex Rodriguez contract and what an albatross it has become, it is clear that extended contracts are not good for baseball. I saw one writer yesterday who wrote that the only player worth a ten year deal, right now, would be 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. I think that’s a fairly accurate statement.
When the Yankees signed CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira to long-term deals in 2009, both of those players were significantly better players than they are today. They can continue to perform at a high level but at this point, it is equally possible for them to continue performance regression.
I can remember how painful Jason Giambi’s had become by the end. Even David Winfield’s ten year contract, regardless of how great the player was, had been a mistake as the player and the owner were bitter enemies by the time the contract expired.
I thought the Yankees’ offer of 7 years for $175 million was fair. If the Cano Camp (Team Jay Z or rather, CAA) had been more sensible in their meetings with the Yankees, I am sure that Cano probably could have squeezed out an additional year. However, Cano was dead set on getting a ten year contract, so that clearly nailed the coffin on his Yankees career. Of the two organizations, the Yankees and the Mariners, I feel strongly that the former would be more willing to take care of Cano at the end of the contract. In other words, at the end of 7 years, if the player was continuing to play at a high level, the Yankees would pay a new contract commensurate to performance with a premium paid for past accomplishments such as they’ve done with Derek Jeter. I know the Jeter negotiations were very tense a couple of years ago but this off-season’s re-signing was at a higher dollar amount than any other team would have paid. As for the Mariners, I highly doubt that Cano will be in Seattle at the end of the ten years. When he begins the eventual downward trend as he ages, Seattle will be looking to move the contract, even if they have to pay cash, to cut their losses. The odds that Cano would have been in New York at the end of 7 years would have been substantially greater.
I am not sure that Cano has fully comprehended how he has trashed his Yankee legacy. I personally have no desire to ever see the player honored in Memorial Park and have absolutely no qualms with the team re-issuing #24 to another player. Maybe time will heal the feelings, but Cano showed no loyalty or respect for the fans of New York and simply took the money and ran. He was a good Yankee, but he was not a great one. For a player who enjoyed being a star in New York City, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to being out of the spotlight. The crowds attending Seattle away games will be smaller and will have far fewer “home team” fans in attendance. With the Yankees, it’s like being a rock star as Jason Giambi once said. Nothing against Seattle, it is a beautiful city and a great ballpark, but it is a team that is, and will continue to be, inferior to the much stronger Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Oakland A’s. They do not have a history and tradition of winning and I do not expect that to change. Cano has his money. Good for him. But his days of playing for an organization that wants to win every year and considers missing the play-offs to be a disaster are over.
With Friday’s flurry of activity, it was almost an afterthought that the Yankees also lost outfielder Curtis Granderson. Grandy has a good player for most of his Yankees career, but of course, he missed the majority of the 2013 season due to injuries. He leaves the Yankees for a tougher park to hit with the New York Mets. Maybe his game will play well for the Mets, or maybe he becomes the next Jason Bay. The Yankees did not show a strong desire for Grandy’s return after he rejected the team’s qualifying offer and had more preference for guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, or even the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp. At the moment, with the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, there wouldn’t have been any room in the crowded outfield for Granderson. While the Yankees have stated they intend to keep Brett Gardner and move him to left field (pushing Alfonso Soriano to DH), I still suspect that Gardner will be expendable in the team’s pursuit of quality starting pitching. I see the DH role being better utilized for guys like Derek Jeter and Brian McCann as ways to rest them than moving the admittedly defensively challenged Soriano there on a full-time basis. My feelings about Granderson’s departure are significantly different than those of Cano. I felt that Granderson made the best decision for him both personally and professionally. I am thankful he was a Yankee and I wish him well with his new team. I am sure that he has a few more productive years ahead of him.
Friday also saw the return of starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and the addition of outfielder Carlos Beltran. It’s apparent that Beltran’s arrival is tied to Cano’s departure since the team finally acquiesced to Beltran’s desire for a third year, but both signings are essential for the 2014 Yankees. With only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova holding down spots in the starting rotation, Kuroda is a key anchor for the rotation. He may be no more than a #3 starter next year, but he is a strong stabilizing force. The Yankees still need more starting pitching besides the hope that Michael Pineda and/or some of the Triple A arms will be able to take spots.
I really was unsure if Kuroda would return. It has been said that he wants to play a final year in Japan before he retires, and there was talk that he might be interested in returning to Southern California since his family still lives there. But Kuroda is an honorable man, and it was so telling in his final year with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he didn’t want to be traded because the Dodgers were the team he started the season with and he didn’t want to go elsewhere. I did wonder if the pull off the Dodgers, assuming they were interested, would have been too much. But I think Kuroda has enjoyed playing for the Yankees and his sense of loyalty led him back to the team for one more year. It’s a pleasure to have him back in the fold.
Welcome to the Bronx, Carlos Beltran! Granted, the Yankees have more to do if they want to return to October baseball, but Beltran is one of the post-season greats. Some guys thrive when the pressure is on (unlike Alex Rodriguez) and Beltran is a leader in that category. It has always been said that he wanted to play in the Bronx and had been willing to sign for a discount when he ultimately signed with the Mets. He finally gets the chance at the latter stages of his career. He is an offensive upgrade over Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, and helps to offset the loss of Cano’s production.
It is interesting that the 2014 Yankee outfield will be comprised of two guys who played for the opposing teams in the 2013 World Series. One with a ring and one without. At the moment, they’ll be joined in the outfield by Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano although, as previously stated above, I think Gardner will be moved for pitching help.
December 6th will long be remembered as the day the Yankees lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but brought in Hiroki Kuroda and Carlos Beltran. There is much work yet to do with Cano’s loss, but the arrivals of Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury bring guys with something to prove. Kelly Johnson is also a Yankee and the starting second baseman at the moment, although I do think he’ll be the super-sub by the time the team breaks camp next spring. I do not know who will be the second baseman in 2014 but the Yankees will figure it out. As David Robertson said, they always do.
From Beantown to the Bronx…
I have heard many Yankee fans voice frustration about Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract (primarily the length, not the dollars). I know that he has had his health challenges, but I like the move. I respected Ellsbury during his days in Boston and I like the elements of his game. It can be argued that he is Brett Gardner, but he is a better version. As a player who once said that he’d never play for the Yankees, it is nice to see that the history and tradition of the organization were overriding factors, in addition to the monetary reasons. The Red Sox weren’t going to extend the years to Ellsbury so it was inevitable that he’d leave. There is a sting with the Red Sox Nation that he went with the Yankees, and there are probably parallels to the Cano situation (dollars over loyalty), but at the end of the day, I am glad that Ells is a Yank.
And then there’s next week…
As the baseball winter meetings loom on the immediate horizon, there should be more activity for Yankees fans. This winter is so dramatically different than last year’s status quo approach. After missing the play-offs and the retirement of a few players, there were more holes to fill. Brian McCann solidifies the catching position, and Francisco Cervelli will return, after now that he’s completed his 50-game suspension and is healthy, to be McCann’s caddy. McCann gives the Yankees a better catcher than they had in 2012 starter, Russell Martin, and the strongest offensive threat at the position since the retired Jorge Posada.
Jacoby Ellsbury gives the Yankees options. He strengthens the team up the middle, and like McCann, has a swing that tailored for Yankee Stadium. He may not hit a lot of home runs, but he’ll be a terror on the bases. His presence, despite what the team says publicly, makes Brett Gardner expendable. For a team with weak prospects at the upper levels, it will take a Brett Gardner to bring a quality return. The Yankees need better starting pitching, a second baseman, and some help in the bullpen. They also need to cover for the expected absence of the Loser, Alex Rodriguez. So, if there are any certainties, it is that the Yankees will be active next week. I am sure that the website, MLB Trade Rumors, will be busier than Grand Central Station over the holidays.
Ala The Walking Dead, let’s say goodbye to those that we’ve lost…
- Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
- Curtis Granderson, New York Mets
- Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins
- Chris Stewart, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Mike Harkey, bullpen coach, now pitching coach, Arizona Diamondbacks
Thanks for the memories, but rest assured, we’ll be okay.