Tagged: Ben Heller

Playing “Prevent Defense” in the MLB…

Photo Credit: John E Sokolowski, USA TODAY Sports

What’s more important? Rest or Home Field Advantage…

I really dislike losing winnable games in September. Actually, I hate it anytime but it seems to be magnified in the season’s final month of the regular season. I get the need to balance health while competing with the Houston Astros for best record in the American League, but the Yankees seem to be failing the former and jeopardizing the latter. Last night’s walk-off home run in the 12th inning by Bo Bichette allowed the lowly Toronto Blue Jays to overcome the Yankees for the second walk-off loss by the Pinstripers since last Tuesday night. The balk given up by Adam Ottavino which allowed the Jays to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh was a microcosm of the sloppy play lately.  

Photo Credit: AP

The loss, coupled with a win by the Astros, pulls Houston to within a game of the Yankees for best record and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Yankees are 97-52, while the Astros are 96-53, with an unlucky 13 games to play. If the Yankees fail in either the ALDS or ALCS, I know that I’ll look back on September with much frustration. It kind of feels like a NFL team playing prevent defense to protect a lead which inevitably fails (or so it seems). 

Injuries happen but there’s no doubt the Yankees need to revisit their practices and procedures given the plethora of injuries this year, setting an all-time high for guys on the injured list. I think the one recent injury that really bugs me is the latest groin injury suffered by Gary Sanchez which has potentially cost him the rest of the regular season. If the injury was suffered while catching or running out a hit, it’s one thing but to lose El Gary on a stolen base attempt is ridiculous. Kevin Kernan of The New York Post put it best this morning in his column when he says “Advice to Yankees: Never give Sanchez a green light again in his career.” Agreed! A stolen base attempt is such a high risk play. If the Yankees need Sanchez stealing bases to win games, we’re in trouble. There’s no way I would have had Sanchez running in that situation. I know I have the benefit of hindsight but I truly would have said that before the injury happened.  

I am excited Luis Severino will finally make his season debut next Tuesday when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim visit the Bronx. Not quite sure what to expect as there will be rust despite the rehab appearances in the Minor Leagues but a healthy Sevy is very important for October. There’s no doubt he has the potential of having a ‘Mike Mussina in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS’ moment. I am equally excited about the impending return of Giancarlo Stanton. He is one guy that I hope the team can keep healthy for the duration of the season. With the losses of Edwin Encarnacion, Mike Tauchman, and Gary Sanchez, Stanton’s bat looms large. It would have even if those guys had stayed healthy. Stanton has had more than his share of critics but I know I am not one of them. I am glad Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee and I look forward to his return. Jordan Montgomery is expected to make an appearance during Sunday’s game but I am not expecting much from him. I’ve seen some on Social Media act as though the return of Monty equals the return of an ace. Sorry, but he’s not in the same league as Severino. Sevy is the far more valuable pitcher.  Sevy is also not making a return from Tommy John surgery like Gumby is. I don’t expect #47 to be a factor until 2020 at the earliest despite whatever he is able to do this month. It would be a huge surprise for him to even be on the post-season roster.

Speaking of injuries, I really feel badly for the Milwaukee Brewers. One game out of the NL Wild Card chase after their loss last night, the Brewers suffered a larger loss earlier in the week when superstar Christian Yelich fractured his kneecap and won’t be back on a baseball field until next Spring. 

Photo Credit: Mark Brown, Getty Images

I know, Yankee fans are not going to feel sorry for injuries on other teams, but you can argue that losing a single player hurts the Brewers more than losing what? 30 players has hurt the Yankees. I know, that’s an absurd statement but still, there’s an element of truth to it. Yelich and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers have battled for the potential NL Most Valuable Player Award all season. While Bellinger has been my favorite, I do hate to see Yelich lose out like this. He deserved better and so did the Brewers. I guess Tyler Austin will have to carry the Brew Crew now. Seriously, this does put an incredible amount of pressure on Mike Moustakas to be “the guy”.   

On the subject of injuries, I should also add how horrific it was to see the Blue Jays lose reliever Tim Mayza last night. After a misfired pitch behind the back of Didi Gregorius, who led off the top of the 10th inning, Mayza went to his knees in obvious pain and was escorted off the field. He’ll undergo a MRI to determine the extent of the injury but first (uneducated) guess is a ligament tear. I sincerely hope the injury is not as severe as it appears to be and that Mayza is able to return in 2020. Worst case scenario would mean Tommy John surgery and a lost season ahead. I really hope for Mayza’s sake it is not the case. He had been making the most of his opportunity in the Jays bullpen this season.

Photo Credit: Cole Burston, Getty Images

After the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders bowed out of the International League playoffs against the Tampa Bay Rays’ affiliate, it was great to see the Double A Trenton Thunder grab the Eastern League championship. The Thunder beat the Bowie Baysox, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles and a team managed by Zack Britton’s brother Buck, in four games to take the five-game championship series. Dellin Betances made an appearance in the deciding game, giving up a sixth inning homer in an inning of work. Luis Severino started and lost Game 2 of the series but it was more of a failure of team defense than Sevy’s pitches that cost them the game. First baseman Chris Gittens and pitchers Clarke Schmidt and Michael King, names we’ll be hearing at Yankee Stadium one day, delivered championship performances for Manager Pat Osborn’s team. Congrats to the Thunder for their highly successful season! 

Photo Credit: Kyle Franko, The Trentonian

Adonis Rosa, who was DFA’d this week when Ben Heller was moved from the 60-day IL to the active roster, cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple A effectively ending his season but at least he remains in the organization. I guess the move didn’t really make a difference to me. There was no way Rosa was going to hold onto his valuable 40-man roster spot after the season and others like Ryan Dull, Cory Gearrin, and Tyler Lyons (who gave up Bichette’s walk-off HR last night) should be ex-Yankees when the big league club concludes its season and moves to protect certain high level prospects in advance of December’s Rule 5 Draft. I prefer a healthy Ben Heller to any of the aforementioned names and look forward to his 2020 contributions. Once the Yankees eliminate Clint Frazier in the off-season, Heller will be the last remaining piece from the Andrew Miller trade.

This has been a disappointing year for the Boston Red Sox but I was still somewhat surprised they fired President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski before season’s end. This action appears to have been inevitable since the Sox and owner John Henry have rebuffed attempts by Dombrowski to extend his contract since Spring Training. The Red Sox are presently ten games out of the AL Wild Card hunt and, barring a miracle, will not see October play. I’ve seen some say it would not be a surprise to see Dombrowski join the Yankees as a consultant given his close friendship with GM Brian Cashman. Nothing against Dombrowski but I don’t really want to see him join the Yankees. I am fearful the Yankees could lose Cashman’s chief lieutenant, Tim Naehring, a former Red Sock player, in Boston’s search for a replacement. But even if the Yankees lose Naehring, I wouldn’t want Dombrowski on my team. Naehring’s status as a candidate for Boston was significantly increased yesterday when the Arizona Diamondbacks extended their GM, Mike Hazen, a long-time Boston employee and the top speculated candidate for the vacancy.  

It’s starting to feel like Joe Girardi will be the next manager of the cross-town Mets or at least it seems that way to me. I always thought Girardi would end up in Chicago but that is not necessarily the case. If Cubs manager Joe Maddon steps down, it seems as though David Ross stands a better chance of getting the job than Girardi. It kind of sucks that we could be watching Girardi in a Mets uniform next season, managing former Yankee great Robinson Cano. I guess if Girardi does join the Mets, he’ll get a firsthand look at how differently the Wilpons run their organization in comparison to the Steinbrenner family. Good luck with that.

As always, Go Yankees!

Advertisements

Better Pitching Equals Better Results…

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

Happ, turning back the clock, turns back the Sox…

I’ll admit that J.A. Happ has surprised me the last couple of starts. I had written the guy off a few weeks ago and I didn’t want him anywhere near a post-season start but I think I am starting to soften on that position. His terrific performance yesterday, holding the Boston Red Sox to two hits and no runs over 6 1/3 innings, was an illustration why the Yankees re-signed Happ in the off-season and not Lance Lynn. Behind his latest great start, the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 5-1, to even the  four-game series with two to play.  

Photo Credit: AP

Happ has historically been a good pitcher against the Red Sox which, as we know, is why the Yankees acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays last summer. He may not be facing Boston this post-season but this is exactly the Happ we need to show up for the big games in a few weeks.  

It’s great that both Happ and James Paxton are rounding into form at the right time. The Tampa Bay Rays, currently 8 1/2 games back, are on fire right now. The Rays have won 9 of their last 10 games, and one of their top injured pitchers, Tyler Glasnow, was activated today to start later this afternoon. With last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Blake Snell, nearing his return from the Injured List, the Rays are getting reinforcements at exactly the right time for them. I don’t expect the Yankees to blow a 8 1/2 game lead but conversely, the Rays do not appear to be going away.  

Fortunately, for the Yankees, they’ll be getting some reinforcements with Luis Severino and Dellin Betances in the not-so-distant future. I am not sure how Sevy will used, but just having him on the pitching staff will be significant. Early on, it appeared he’d probably be used as either an opener or out of the bullpen, but lately, there appears to be some optimism he can start. Regardless of how Manager Aaron Boone decides to deploy him, the Yankees are a better team with Sevy on the active roster.  

Severino could make his 2019 season debut soon. After Sevy’s second rehab start for the Trenton Thunder (AA) on Friday, Boone told The New York Post, “Overall, it was pretty successful. We’ll talk about whether one more (rehab start) is beneficial or [if he will] come with us.” 

Photo Credit: Staton Rabin, AP

Betances needs more time in the minors before he’s ready but, if all goes well, we should see him within the next few weeks. A pending free agent, Betances has much to prove to ensure a big pay day after the season. Not that I think Betances needs added incentive to pitch well for the Yankees but it can’t hurt.

A setback by Aaron Hicks has seemed to stall any hopes he’ll be able to help the team anytime soon. Aaron Boone said yesterday that “He’s not feeling quite right.” It’s unfortunate but at least the Yankees have a reinvigorated Brett Gardner and the surprisingly successful Mike Tauchman to provide the necessary coverage in center field.  

Now if we could just get Giancarlo Stanton back, all would be good on this roster. Yes, I want Stanton in big moments next month. Regardless of how other guys are playing, Stanton remains a huge threat and I think he’ll have his defining Yankee moment next month. And no, it won’t be swinging and missing at a low outside pitch.  This guy remains a game-changer with one swing of his bat.  

Photo Credit: Mike Stobe, Getty Images

Was there really a report this week that the long-forgotten Jacoby Ellsbury has begun indoor activities? Now there’s a guy I never expect to wear the Pinstripes again. If he reaches full health after several years of inactivity, I think the Yankees should just cut bait and eat the remainder of his contract. There’s no scenario I want to see Ellsbury take a roster spot over more deserving guys. Troy Tulowitzski proved how effective an aging veteran can be after missing a few seasons. I wouldn’t expect any better from Ellsbury. At least Tulo showed some heart and still failed. There’s no apparent evidence Ellsbury has any heart.  

The season is over for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The Tampa Bay Rays were able to grab scoreboard with their Triple A affiliate, the Durham Bulls. The Bulls swept the RailRiders in the opening round of the International League’s Governor’s Cup playoffs, pounding the RailRiders, 17-2, in Game 3 last night. I’m sure this how the Rays envision their future against the Yankees, as early as this October. Hopefully the big league team fares better against the Rays.

RailRiders reliever Ben Heller is expected to join the Yankees later today. Since he is not currently on the active Major League roster (60-day IL), he’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster before he can join the team. Personally, I’d cut Ryan Dull who has no future with this team beyond 2019.  Heller has been my dark-horse favorite for a role in the bullpen as he further distances himself from last year’s Tommy John surgery. I like the guy and I think he can be an effective arm among the quality relievers currently in the Yankees’ bullpen (unlike the much-travelled Dull). Heller was the only effective pitcher in yesterday’s blow-out loss to the Bulls with two innings of hitless/scoreless relief, a walk, and five strikeouts.  

Everyone expects Deivi Garcia to get the call but I don’t think he’s ready. His line yesterday against the Bulls was very forgettable. One inning, two hits (including a homer), four walks, and five runs. Bring the 20-year-old to Spring Training, but I wouldn’t call him up now. I am not basing that on yesterday’s performance but rather his overall time at Triple A. He finished 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA and 5.77 FIP.  He did have 45 strikeouts in 40.0 innings, but issued 20 free passes and hit four batters. I know the Yankees have a seemingly comfortable lead in the AL East but the team is still battling for best record in the AL (currently tied with the Houston Astros at 93-50). Every game matters. I think Garcia will have a long Major League career but let’s pump the brakes until he is truly ready.

Getting back to the Boston Red Sox, their season hangs on the balance. After last night’s loss, they are 7 games out in the AL Wild Card hunt. The Rays and the Oakland A’s hold the top two spots, with the Cleveland Indians hanging in, 1 1/2 games back. With just 20 games to play, the Red Sox literally need two of the three teams ahead of them to collapse. Maybe the Indians fade, but I don’t see the Rays or the A’s relinquishing their current positions. It will be a fun day when I hear the Red Sox have been eliminated from playoff contention. Until then, regardless of the odds, they have a chance. Hopefully the Yanks can take the next two games from Boston to help drive a few nails into their coffin.  

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

Don’t look now but the Atlanta Braves could be making a move for the best record in Major League Baseball. All season, everyone has talked about how the Los Angeles Dodgers have run away with the NL but suddenly they have the Braves nipping at their heels. Entering play today, the Dodgers are 92-52 after losing two in a row to the San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, the Braves, who have won 9 consecutive games, are 89-54. They are within striking distance of Yankees, Astros and Dodgers for MLB’s best record. They say the playoffs are not about the best team but the team that gets hot at the right moment. At this point, you’d have to say that the Rays and Braves are Baseball’s hottest teams. Much can change between now and October, but these two teams are intent on making noise in the coming weeks. Time for Team Pinstripes to put ‘the pedal to the metal’. 

The Yankees have announced a few moves today but none featured Ben Heller. I remain optimistic he’ll get the call, but here’s the day’s transaction per the Yankees:

    • Reinstated Gio Urshela from the 10-day IL
    • Returned Thairo Estrada from rehab and reinstated him from the 10-day IL
    • Recalled Kyle Higashioka and Breyvic Valera from the RailRiders

I am glad to see Urshela back on the field. DJ LeMahieu does a great job at third, but having flexibility with him, helps the team. These moves were simple paper transactions, whereas, Heller will require some maneuvering so perhaps there will be more transactions announced later today. For Heller’s sake, I hope so. 

Photo Credit: Rich Gagnon, AP

I was surprised to see former Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda receive a 60-game ban yesterday for taking a diuretic. Pineda, who has been the Twins’ best pitcher the last few weeks, said in a statement that he took an over-the-counter medication to help control his weight, but it contained hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic that can mask other substances. The ban was initially 80 games, but Pineda was able to get it reduced to 60 games on appeal after making a compelling case he was not attempting to mask performance-enhancing drugs. I don’t think Pineda had an intent to deceive but it’s an unfortunate situation for the one-time Yank and it certainly hurts Minnesota’s chances for October success.

As always, Go Yankees!

Yankees Close to Sonny Gray Trade…

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Noah K Murray)

Right-hander Appears Headed to Cincy…

It has not yet been finalized but it appears the Yankees are finally close to trading right-hander Sonny Douglas Gray to the Cincinnati Reds. Hopefully there are no last minute snags and this one gets pushed across the finish line.

For Gray, he’ll get a chance for redemption with Cincinnati, which is less than 300 miles from his Nashville, Tennessee home. The Reds have been one of MLB’s most active teams this off-season, having already rebuilt their pitching staff with the acquisitions of Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals and Alex Wood, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers. They’ll join holdovers Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo to provide the Reds with a solid starting rotation. Maybe not good enough to win the NL Central over the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers or St Lous Cardinals, but they’ll be better. Gray will also reunite with his pitching coach at Vanderbilt, Derek Johnson, who was named the Reds’ pitching coach in November. Maybe Johnson can do what Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild was unable to do.

While I wanted Gray to leave, there is some sadness that it did not work out for him in New York. I think all of us were excited when the Yankees acquired him from the Oakland A’s in the summer of 2017. We thought he was the missing ace that could be paired with Luis Severino to provide the Yankees with two young stars atop the rotation. Unfortunately, it was never meant to be and now Gray gets a change of scenery that will hopefully benefit him and help restore some of his luster as he heads into his walk year at the age of 29. I wish him the best and I do hope that he pitches more like the ace he once was in Oakland.

The Yankees will reportedly receive second base prospect Shed Long from the Reds. The 23-year-old Long, only 5’8” and 184 lbs, is rated as Cincinnati’s seventh best prospect per MLB.com. He is recognized as an excellent lefty hitter who has worked hard to bring up his defense to at least average. He spent last year in Double A with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos where he hit .261/.353/.412, .765 OPS and 120 +wRC+, with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs. Long has a little speed in those short legs, picking up 19 steals in 25 attempts. I probably would have preferred catching prospect Tyler Stephenson but the Reds resisted the Yankees’ attempts to pry him loose. Regardless, Long is a legitimate prospect and presumably will begin the year with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. His defense leads to speculation that he may need to be moved to a corner outfield position but all reports indicate he is working hard to improve his defensive game.

Photo Credit: Cincinnati Enquirer (Kareem Elgazzar)

The Yankees will also apparently receive a competitive balance draft pick and a lesser minor league player. I doubt the second minor leaguer will be much but I will be anxious to see who the Yankees draft next summer with the draft pick.

Many fans are calling this a heist for Yankees GM Brian Cashman. I guess my expectations are a bit more tempered. I need time to see how this plays out. There’s a good chance that Gray recaptures his magic in Ohio and until the prospects reach the Show, they’ve proven nothing.

Since Long was on the Reds’ 40-man roster, the trade does not free up a spot for newly signed reliever Adam Ottavino. My hope is that we’ve reached the end of the line for RHP Luis Cessa, but the realist in me believes it will be RHP Ben Heller who continues to recover and rehab from last summer’s Tommy John surgery. The Yankees would hold out hope Heller goes unclaimed so that they can outright him to Triple A, but if I was a team with roster space, I’d make a claim to add Heller.

Now that Gray is nearly out of the picture, Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German represent the insurance for CC Sabathia in the starting rotation. The Yankees also are bringing non-roster invitee RHP Drew Hutchison to Spring Training. There’s still time for Cashman to find another arm to bring to camp which is the current expectation.

Let’s hope Cashman can seal the deal with the Reds today so that we can move on.

The upcoming week looms big for the Yankees. On Tuesday, the latest Hall of Fame selections will be announced. Leading the charge is the legendary Mariano Rivera who will make the Hall on his first ballot as the greatest Closer in Major League history.

Photo Credit: Newsday (Thomas A Ferrera)

I am not setting myself up for the expectation that Mo will be unanimously voted in even though he should be. While he has appeared on all publicly revealed ballots, I expect someone to exclude him on the undisclosed ballots. While we may want Rivera, my favorite Yankee during his playing days (sorry Derek Jeter fans), to be unanimous, the bottom line is the guy will be a Hall of Famer. I don’t care about the final voting results as long as they ensure Rivera will be Cooperstown, New York this summer. Hopefully Mike Mussina will be there as well even if he has to wear an Orioles cap. I’d prefer he wears a Yankees cap but there is no dispute he was a great pitcher in Baltimore, his original team. I know I always hated it when the Yankees faced him. Generally-speaking, it did not go well for the Yankees.

Today is a big football day with the AFC and NFC Championship Games. It’s time for some disappointment in Boston so hopefully Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs punch their ticket for the Super Bowl and send the New England Patriots home for the off-season. On the NFC side, I’m pulling for the Los Angeles Rams although it won’t be a disappointment if the New Orleans Saints advance. My only hope for today is a Boston loss…and for the Gray trade to be finalized.

As always, Go Yankees!

Thoughts After the LeMahieu Signing…

DJ LeMahieu Signs 2-Year Deal w/Yankees…

The Yankees caught everyone by surprise on Friday when it was reported they had signed former Colorado Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu to a two-year contract worth $24 million, pending a physical. I knew the San Francisco Giants were interested in LeMahieu and were willing to move Joe Panik if necessary and the Los Angeles Dodgers had long been mentioned as a favorite but I hadn’t really given any thought to DJ as a Yankee. So, when I first heard the news, I was a bit underwhelmed.

This, in no way, means I do not recognize LeMahieu is a very good baseball player. He is. I guess going into the off-season, I felt the Yankees had a tremendous opportunity to substantially improve their club at a time when the Boston Red Sox are struggling with the pains of a very high payroll. I don’t want to beat the Red Sox, I want to crush them. I had felt if the Yankees could sign Patrick Corbin and Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper, they’d be the clear most powerful team in the AL East. As we know, the Yankees expressed interest but did not play in the Corbin negotiations when other offers exceeded their comfort zone. Now, it appears the Yankees are out on both Machado and Harper.

I’ll remain on Team Machado until he signs with another club. Even Ken Rosenthal, while he believes the Yankees are no longer “in” on Machado, will only believe he’s not going to be a Yankee when he pulls up another jersey at an introductory press conference. To me, Machado is missed opportunity. A large number of fans are quick to say Machado was merely a ‘want’ and not a need. Okay, I get it. But how often are young (very young) superstars available for only money? And how many of those young superstars have always wanted to be Yankees? I guess we’d like to think everyone wants to be a Yankee. But that’s a rather narcissistic view. Both Harper and Machado are players who wanted to wear the famed Pinstripes and it’s disappointing, to me, that neither dream will come true.

Setting aside Machado and Harper, the Yankees ARE an improved team. I like the infield with LeMahieu at second and Gleyber Torres at shortstop over Troy Tulowitzki at short and Gleyber remaining at second even though I didn’t really want to see Gleyber sliding back and forth. I am not convinced Tulo can stay healthy and I certainly do not want to pin any hopes on him. LeMahieu, on the other hand, can play a vital role for this team.

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Kelley L Cox)

Down the stretch last year, Colorado’s great third baseman Nolan Arenado was quoted as saying this about LeMahieu: “If fans knew how much we appreciate DJ and saw how much we care for him and how important he is to this team, they’d realize what a big factor he is. He sets the standard for us. We go where he goes, really.” That’s very high praise from one of the game’s true superstars. Charlie Blackmon is also on record making similar comments. I listened to an interview with Blackmon a few days ago and he was still expressing hope the Rockies would re-sign LeMahieu despite the team’s acquisition of Daniel Murphy. It appears the Rockies intend to play Murphy at first, assuming they figure out what do to with Ian Desmond, and open second base for competition between a couple of young players. The Rockies hold aspirations of competing with the Dodgers for the NL West title and LeMahieu would have helped their cause.

While I probably would have preferred Marwin Gonzalez for his ability to play shortstop and left field, it’s hard to find fault with the defensive prowess LeMahieu brings to the team. He may not have much power but he’s certainly not going to disappoint you with his bat. He has a batting title to his credit (NL, 2016) and has appeared in a couple of All-Star games. He has won three Gold Gloves, including the past two years. He has also been the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at second for the last two seasons and in 2013.

Infield defense was a huge concern prior to LeMahieu’s signing so his presence is much needed and as it stands right now I am glad he’s a Yankee. If Tulo shows anything at shortstop, the Yankees have the option of moving LeMahieu to third with Miguel Andújar shifting to DH and Giancarlo Stanton playing left field which eases some doubts I have with the dependence on Brett Gardner as an every day option in left field. To sign Machado now would probably mean the end of the Yankees career for Didi Gregorius, a free agent after the upcoming season. I want Didi back as the team’s starting shortstop so maybe all things considered, the LeMahieu signing is a blessing.  

Photo Credit: Instagram via @sirdidig18

Like Tulo, LeMahieu will have to find a new number. The number 9 he wore in Colorado is retired for the late Roger Maris. The Yankees retired the number for Maris in 1984, a few months after they had traded Graig Nettles, the last to wear the number, to the San Diego Padres.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The fringe players are slowly coming off the 40-man roster. RHP A.J. Cole was claimed by the Cleveland Indians on waivers yesterday.  He had been designated for assignment to make room for Tulowitzki. I thought the Yankees might be able to pick up a lower-ranked prospect for Cole but it was not to be. Yesterday, to make room for LHP Zach Britton, infielder Hanser Alberto was waived and almost immediately claimed by Britton’s former team, the Baltimore Orioles. Once the LeMahieu signing becomes official, the Yankees will need to make another move so Luis Cessa, Ben Heller and Tim Locastro are probably the most vulnerable unless the Yankees finally move Sonny Gray for prospects (I’d prefer MLB talent in return). I like Heller despite his current recovery from Tommy John surgery (which means he can’t provide any immediate help) but would prefer to see the exit of Cessa over Heller.

The Yankees are always slow to announce their non-roster invitees for Spring Training but the list is building:

LHP Rex Brothers

LHP Danny Coulombe

RHP Drew Hutchison

OF Billy Burns

OF Matt Lipka

I don’t see any great upside with these players but Scranton/Wilkes-Barre needs some help after the losses they’ve suffered in the last few months so they represent organizational depth. Brothers is a one-time Colorado Rockie and teammate of Tulo, LeMahieu, Tommy Kahnle and, cough-cough, free agent reliever Adam Ottavino.

Lastly, while I was glad to see the Yankees agree with all of their arbitration-eligible players on new contracts for the upcoming season except one, I was disappointed the one player is Luis Severino. I don’t like the arbitration process which requires the team to tell an arbitrator the entirety of the player’s faults to build their case for the lower salary. If Dellin Betances leaves via free agency after the season, I will look back to the contentious hearing he had with the team a couple years ago and the poor choice of words by Yankees President Randy Levine after the decision in the team’s favor as a reason for his departure. I know, Dellin’s final decision will most likely be based on money but he surely has the negative feelings in the back of his mind regardless of his love of wearing the hometown Pinstripes. I think what bothers me more about Sevy’s case is how close the two parties are. Severino wants $5.25 million while the team offered $4.4 million. It seems like there was room for compromise. The two sides can continue to negotiate so I hope there is resolution before the actual arbitration hearing is held. We need to build Sevy up to be the ace he is destined to be, not tear him down.

I was very glad the Yankees settled with new starting pitcher James Paxton for $8.5 million. I want Paxton’s experience to be very positive from the start. By all accounts, he is very excited about pitching for the Yankees. In reading and listening to Zach Britton’s words about re-signing with the Yankees, it is very clear how he and his family were treated by the Yankees played a very strong factor in his decision to return. I want Paxton fully appreciate his first year in the Bronx too.

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training a month from tomorrow. I am anxious to see Tampa and Steinbrenner Field buzzing with Yankees again. There’s no doubt Manager Aaron Boone will carry greater confidence and preparedness into camp this year with a year under his belt. I am convinced he’ll be much stronger this year and that bodes well for the team.

Good times in the Yankees Universe.

As always, Go Yankees!

Always Sonny in Yankee Stadium…

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Adam Hunger)

Yesterday was a much better day… 

If the Yankees can win again today, it will be even better. After losing the first two games of the four-game set with the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees have a chance to even up the series this afternoon before the Orioles hop on a plane to head home.

In one of the most overused phrases in the Yankees Universe, Saturday was a Sonny Day.  Sonny Gray gave the Yankees what they needed en route to the 8-3 victory. He held the O’s to four hits over six innings. He did give up a tying two-run double to Manny Machado in top of the third and a go-ahead run-scoring double to Pedro Alvarez the next inning, but from there, he held the Orioles in check. By the time he had exited after the sixth inning, Gray had only thrown 86 pitches (55 for strikes) and felt he could have kept going.

For a few minutes, it looked like the move to pull Gray and insert RHP Adam Warren for the top of the seventh might backfire on Manager Aaron Boone. Warren got the first batter out but proceeded to give up a single and a double to put runners at the corners. Enter David Robertson into the dangerous situation with the Yankees nursing a two-run lead. D-Rob did what he does best. He struck out Manny Machado (admittedly on a questionable call) and Jonathan Schoop to leave the runners stranded and get the Yankees out of the jam. Robertson shutting down the Orioles at that point and keeping the momentum with the Yankees was a very powerful moment in the game. In the bottom half of the seventh, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin padded the lead with three more runs…a run-scoring double by Judge and a two-run single by Austin (thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double but not before both runs had scored).

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Adam Hunger)

I was a little nervous when Luis Cessa entered the game in the top of the ninth despite the five-run lead, but he did his job. This is why I prefer Cessa in relief so that hitters do not get multiple looks at him. He retired all three batters he faced, two by strikeout. I remain hopeful that Domingo German will be the designated spot starter in place of the injured CC Sabathia.

Congrats to Miguel Andujar for his first 2018 hit…a single to center to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Andujar was 1-for-3 and knocked in the run that gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth. It would be great for the Yankees if Andujar can start hitting like we know he can.

Photo Credit: New York Post (Paul J Bereswill)

Also, nice job by Jace Peterson. He played Friday night in the season opener for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, got a call at 2 am Saturday morning telling him that he needed to be in New York for the 1:05 pm ET game on Saturday, and was game ready in the Bronx, starting in left field. The infielder with limited outfield experience made some good plays and was 1-for-3. Peterson’s time in the Bronx should be short with the expected return of Aaron Hicks by mid-week, but I am glad to see him take advantage of the opportunity.

The World always feels better, despite its many problems, when the Yankees win.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

They kept pace with the Boston Red Sox and remain 2 1/2 games behind the Beantown Bunch in the AL East standings. The Toronto Blue Jays lost so the Yankees (5-4) were able to move into a tie for second place. Hopefully the Yankees can make it two in a row this afternoon before the team departs for Boston. Monday is an off-day, then they’ll play the Red Sox at Fenway Park for a three-game series beginning Tuesday evening. The Red Sox have Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello lined up and waiting for the Yankees.

I still haven’t figured out the 40-man roster following Saturday’s flurry of transactions.  Excluding Ben Heller who is on the 60-day DL (more on Heller later), I count a total of 41 players on the 40-man roster reflected on MLB.com’s website. I am sure there’s a reasonable explanation but so far I have not seen one addressed.

The Ben Heller story took an unexpected turn yesterday. Before the season started, the Yankees had optioned Heller to Triple A. Then it was announced that the option had been voided and Heller was placed on the 10-day DL due to bone spurs in his pitching elbow. He was subsequently moved to the 60-day DL. Yesterday morning, Ben posted a pic on social media, talking about how his old elbow had served him well but it was time for a new one.

Later in the day, it was announced that Heller had undergone Tommy John surgery in addition to the removal of the bone spurs. I didn’t see this one coming. Heller had been my expected bullpen breakout this year, but now, the Yankees won’t see him until mid-2019 at the earliest assuming that they hold him a spot on the 40-man roster over the off-season. That’s not a given as the Yankees have cut the last couple of arms which required TJ surgery (Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Lindgren). Perhaps the goal was to re-sign them to minor league contracts outside of the 40-man roster but both times the moves failed as the pitchers signed with other organizations. Good moves with both of those pitchers due to subsequent surgeries which keep them sidelined but who knows what awaits Heller. I wish him the very best in his recovery and rehab and I truly hope he achieves the Major League success he seems destined for. I’d prefer to see it in Pinstripes but I will cheer for him regardless of what uniform he wears next time he takes the mound.

I am disappointed with the developments regarding third baseman Brandon Drury. I was such a fan of the trade that brought the former Arizona Diamondback to New York. It was one thing for Drury to be placed on the 10-day DL with migraine headaches yesterday but to subsequently find out that this is an on-going problem that has afflicted Drury for years was a shock.  Not that I want to be critical of GM Brian Cashman, but how did the Yankees not know about this?  Drury has exams scheduled for tomorrow so hopefully we’ll know more soon. I am hopeful that this is not a long-term problem or in Drury’s case, a life-threatening one. I am concerned but hopefully we’ll have better news tomorrow or later in the week.

I know many fans would love to see the Yankees sign pending free agent Bryce Harper in the off-season but with each loss, the pressure is on the Los Angeles Dodgers to make impact moves. They’ll need to do whatever it takes to keep Clayton Kershaw, but I fully expect the Dodgers to be in play for Harper. The Dodgers lost a heart-breaking fourteen-inning game to the San Francisco Giants last night after they had taken a one-run lead on a walk-off three-run homer by Andrew McCutcheon. The loss dropped the Dodgers, an expected World Series contender, to 2-6. It is their worst start since 1976. The Dodgers were Giancarlo Stanton’s preferred destination last off-season since he is a Los Angeles native. I am glad the Dodgers weren’t aggressive in pursuit of Stanton, leading the big man to New York, but underachievement this season will make the Dodgers desperate to make a big splash next year. Like the Yankees, the Dodgers are trying to reset the luxury tax penalties this season so if successful they’ll have the cash to spend big. LA is close to Harper’s Las Vegas home so all signs are pointing to the Dodgers as the slugger’s eventual new home.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Rob Carr)

Well, it will be Gumby-Time in a couple of hours. Here’s hoping for another win by the home team. Austin Romine makes his second consecutive start in place of Gary Sanchez who was pulled for a leg cramp during Friday night’s loss.  I am optimistic the rest will help El Gary recapture his health and ignite his bat.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Elsa)

Go Yankees!

I’m Glad Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee…

 fb1_0403yanks10
Photo Credit: NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Don’t Worry, I’ve Got Your Back…

Aaron Judge recently put it in the best perspective. One of the things he likes most about the Yankees was something to the effect that if you don’t do your job, there are 24 guys ready to pick you up. I don’t remember the exact words but that really isn’t the point. This is a team and a group of guys that are ready to back each other, regardless of the circumstances. Team chemistry made the 1998 Yankees a very special team. I am not saying that the 2018 Yankees are the version of 20 years ago, but this is one of the most closely knit teams that I’ve seen in recent years.

Didi Gregorius had a huge night last evening for the Yankees, powering the team to victory with two home runs and eight RBIs, yet many Yankees fans chose to boo Giancarlo Stanton instead or trash him on social media. Whoa, please step away from the ledge and relax.

There’s no doubt Stanton had a night to forget with five strikeouts in his Yankee Stadium Pinstriped debut. But, never once did I find myself in a position wanting to boo the man. In jest, TGP’s fearless leader, Daniel Burch, tweeted #TradeGiancarlo. It was amazing how many Yankees reacted like that but with full sincerity. Granted, Daniel was not serious (he tagged the comment with #TotallyJoking) but the fans who booed Stanton acted like he was the biggest Yankee disappointment since Chris Carter.

 549_0403yanks28
Photo Credit: NJ Advance Media for NJ.com (John Munson)

Stanton’s fault, if anything, was trying too hard to impress the Yankees faithful. He wanted to be the difference-maker, perhaps a little too much. There will be better days. That’s not just my opinion…it is fact. Looking at the attendance figures for the Miami Marlins, it’s obvious that Giancarlo has never played before an Opening crowd of over 47,000 people. The Marlins averaged barely more than 15,000 last year despite an MVP season by Stanton. Stanton has said the right words and we know that he loves New York and he wants to deliver. The pressure he puts on himself is far greater than the pressure we can put on him. He needs our support; not our boos. He didn’t stumble upon 59 home runs last year by accident. Pitchers weren’t lobbing him freebies to hit over the fence. I remember how Dave Winfield would carry the team on his back for weeks. Stanton is that kind of player, only better.

My favorite quote after the game was Stanton’s remarks about the incredible accomplishments by the Yankees shortstop who batted fourth behind Giancarlo. “That’s what a cleanup hitter does. You clean up the garbage in front of you.” He took ownership of his performance but was not going to let it defeat him.

Aaron Boone was asked about Stanton after the game and he talked about how the slugger can have an off-night and yet the team produces eleven runs. As Boonie said, “There’s going to be a lot of days when we jump on his back”. Boone added that he was not at all worried about Stanton. Why should he be? Stanton is a stud and I am glad he’s a Yankee.

 941543696
Photo Credit: Getty Images (Elsa)

What can you say about Didi’s performance?  It was the greatest game for a Yankees shortstop in franchise history. He was 4-for-4 and helped to ensure the snow-postponed, rain-delayed home opener was a success despite the questionable weather conditions. When interviewed after the game, Didi deflected the attention away from him individually and spoke how it was a team effort.

It was crazy in the off-season when everyone was developing top ten lists and Didi’s name was rarely mentioned in the conversations. I honestly cannot think of anyone that I’d rather have at shortstop for the New York Yankees than Sir Didi (with no offense to Manny Machado or others). Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa are incredibly gifted but I am glad we can call Didi Gregorius our own. He’s a worthy successor to Derek Jeter and has proven he is his own man. He’ll go down as one of GM Brian Cashman’s best trade acquisitions.

 05f_0403yanks22
Photo Credit: NJ Advance Media for NJ.com (John Munson)

I know all of us kind of wish that Jordan Montgomery had been allowed to go a little deeper into the game, but he was excellent for five innings despite the four walks he gave up. 80 pitches, two hits, one run, and four strikeouts to start the year with an ERA of 1.80. He has looked noticeably better than last year when he did a really good job as a rookie. You have to really like the progress he is making to become a reliable force in the rotation. In many cities, the fifth starter is either a Triple A performer or an older veteran trying to hang on. Gumby has the potential to be an October star. He’ll never be Luis Severino but you don’t need five Severinos to win a World Series championship. You need winners and Montgomery is one. A single run through the starting rotation this season and I am feeling very good about the state of the starting staff. Knock on wood that the present outfield injury plague doesn’t spread to the pitchers.

Speaking of outfielders, the Yankees claimed outfielder Trayce Thompson yesterday off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. I realize that Thompson did absolutely nothing in 2017 (55 plate appearances, one home run, two RBIs, .122/.218/.265, .483 OPS) but I like the move. Thompson, 27, was well-liked by Dodger fans and his availability was due to the glut of right-handed outfielders on the Dodgers roster. Thompson, brother of Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and the son of former NBA player (and champion) Mychal Thompson, hit 13 homers in 2016 before a back fracture ended his season so he has some pop. The guy just needs to play. Sure, he could be back on the unemployment line once guys like Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier return to good health but I think it was worth taking a flyer on Thompson.  The Yankees have one coach who is very familiar with Thompson, bench coach Josh Bard. Bard served as the Dodgers bullpen coach for the two years that Thompson was in LA. So I am sure that Cashman sought input from Bard before making the waiver claim.

 trayce-thompson-inline
Photo Credit: Getty Images (Lisa Blumenfeld)

To make room for Thompson on the 40-man roster, the Yankees moved reliever Ben Heller from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day DL (right elbow bone spur). No word yet if Thompson will be immediately added to the 25-man roster or if he’ll start the season with extended spring training. He is out of options. While I am saddened to see Heller’s season start off on the wrong foot, kudos to the Yankees. They had optioned Heller to the minors, but when the decision was made to place him on the DL, they voided the demotion to keep him at the Major League level which means that he is accruing MLB service time and pay while on the disabled list.  I don’t know the circumstances behind the decision but it appears to me they could have placed him on the DL after the minor-league assignment which would have prevented the service time accrual at lesser minor league pay. Outwardly, it appears to be a very generous move by the Yankees to look out for Heller’s best interests. Heller was my breakout candidate for the year so I am hopeful that he has his opportunity before the season is done.

It’s a new day. When Giancarlo Stanton takes his position in the batter’s box later today, I know I’ll be cheering. Regardless of whether the result is a home run or a strikeout, I will be proud #27 wears Pinstripes. And #18 too, oh, hell yes!

Go Yankees!

Predicting the Opening Day Roster…

 mlb-new-york-yankees-workouts-cd77e5351cbe3669
Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Kim Klement)

Next Stop, Toronto Pearson International Airport…

 We should begin seeing some whittling down of bodies at Steinbrenner Field soon so it got me thinking about the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. March 29th, and a date with the Toronto Blue Jays, is only three weeks away so the regular season will be upon us before we know it.

Yankees-Blue-Jays-Rogers-Centre

Count me among those who do not place much stock in Miguel Andujar’s slew of home runs against mostly Double-A pitching. I think Andujar will make a contribution this year, perhaps a significant one, but I do not feel that he’ll head to Toronto with the team after they play their final Spring game in Atlanta against the Braves.  My guess is that he spends more time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to work on his defensive game.

Here is my projection for the Opening Day Roster (with starting position players in italics).

Starting Pitchers

Luis Severino

Masahiro Tanaka

Sonny Gray

CC Sabathia

Jordan Montgomery

Closer

Aroldis Chapman

Setup

Dellin Betances

David Robertson

Bullpen Studs

Tommy Kahnle

Chad Green

Rest of the Pen

Adam Warren

Chasen Shreve

Catcher

Gary Sanchez

Austin Romine

First Base

Greg Bird

Adam Lind

Second Base

Tyler Wade

Ronald Torreyes

Shortstop

Didi Gregorius

Third Base

Brandon Drury

Outfielders

Aaron Judge, RF

Brett Gardner, LF

Aaron Hicks, CF

Giancarlo Stanton, DH

Jacoby Ellsbury

The guess is Judge will be exclusively a right-fielder and DH, with Stanton primarily filling the DH role but covering both outfield corner positions dependent upon the ballpark. When (not if) Ellsbury gets hurt (assuming that he recovers from the right oblique strain in time for Opening Day), Clint Frazier gets the first look as his replacement with Billy McKinney next in line.

I don’t know what happens with Tyler Austin. The way the Yankees keep trying to replace him leads me to believe that he is not in the long-term vision. I could very well be wrong about the backup first base job. Perhaps Austin does win it and Lind opts out of his minor league contract in a couple of weeks. But it’s hard to overlook Lind’s history of success at the Major League level so I won’t.

It remains my belief we’ll see Gleyber Torres as the starting second baseman during the season, maybe as early as the first of May. Assuming he doesn’t go to Baltimore in a mammoth mid-season trade for Manny Machado, I think Andujar will see extended time in the Majors for the Pinstripers too. Admittedly, if he keeps up his torrid hitting over the next couple of weeks as MLB starters are stretched out in preparation for the season, he could force his way onto the Opening Day Roster. If that happens, Lind (or Austin) could be the odd man out, with Drury and Romine serving as the less-than-desirable first base backups in addition to their other duties.

The first reliever on the Scranton Shuttle will be right-hander Ben Heller, followed closely by fellow righty Giovanny Gallegos. For emergency starter, I’d prefer to go with Domingo German over Luis Cessa but the team seems to love Cessa in spot starts despite the lackluster results.

The toughest call is the batting order but my choices from second to fifth would be Judge, Bird, Stanton, and Sanchez, respectively. Regardless of how this shakes out under Aaron Boone, I feel sorry for American League pitchers.

There’s still plenty of time for roster surprises but I think injuries would play the primary role in any deviations, in my humble opinion (which of course could be seriously flawed).

As the saying goes, time will tell as it often does…

If you haven’t already done so, you should check out Bryan Hoch’s new book, The Baby Bombers: The Inside Story of the Next Yankees Dynasty. The book is available through multiple outlets including Amazon.com (where I bought my copy).

DXp18oUXUAAn2QU

Go Yankees!