The Hot Stove League Begins Play…
There is always a quietness about the days that follow the World Series unless of course you’re a fan of the World Series champion. Teams have five days following the conclusion of the World Series to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents. It’s rare to see much activity and unlike the NFL and other sports, there is not a flurry of immediate activity when the free agents become free to talk to other teams. So, I guess that puts us in the calm before the storm…the days and weeks leading up to the Baseball Winter Meetings next month in Orlando, Florida. The meetings will be held from Sunday, December 10th through Wednesday, December 13th. The annual Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday, December 14th.
The two biggest opt-out clauses this off-season belonged to Justin Upton of the Los Angeles Angels and Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees. This week, the Angels announced they had signed Upton to a new 5-year deal, apparently worth $106 million. Then on Friday night, Masahiro Tanaka announced that he would not opt out of his contract and will remain with the Yankees. His current contract has three more years, through the 2020 season, at $67 million.
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As a Yankees fan, the latter situation is more relevant to me. I am very glad that Tanaka decided to remain in New York. There had been strong speculation that if Tanaka opted out, the Yankees would not aggressively pursue him. Three more years at $22 million plus per year is not chump change and it would have been hard for Tanaka to capture more dollars. Maybe more years but the partial tear of his UCL and the associated risk of eventual Tommy John surgery would have most assuredly scared teams away. Regardless of the risks, the starting rotation for the Yankees is stronger with Tanaka in it than not. He did have an inconsistent 2017 regular season and there was a brief stretch that he looked absolutely awful but he rebounded with a strong finish. He was dominant in the post-season.
So, the front of the Yankees rotation in 2018 will feature Luis Severino, Tanaka, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery. There’s a chance the Yankees bring back CC Sabathia on a one-year deal if the two sides can come together on a mutually beneficial contract. But regardless of what happens with Sabathia, the Yankees have Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield, among others, gnawing at the door for opportunities. There had been a fear at one time that the 2018 would be a total rotation rebuild situation but now it appears to be a strength before the off-season strategy even begins.
With the Yankees trying to make a very strong effort to get under the salary cap this year and reset the luxury tax penalties, it is unlikely the Yankees will pursue any high-priced free agent talent. It’s unfortunate that third baseman Todd Frazier will most likely not return, but with another year remaining on Chase Headley’s contract and the near-readiness of prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, there simply is no room for the Toddfather. Bummer. He was a great fit for the Yankees.
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There seems to be stronger speculation this off-season that the Yankees could actually move Jacoby Ellsbury. They’ll have to eat a good portion of what’s left on his contract but regardless of the cost, this is a move that has to happen. I do not see the Yankees parting with Brett Gardner, and of course Aaron Judge owns right field after his spectacular season. So the Yankees have to make room in the outfield for Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier without even considering promising young talent like Billy McKinney or Jake Cave. The most likely team with interest (assuming the reports are true) are the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners would allow Ellsbury to return to his native Northwest (he’s from Oregon). The primary problem for the Mariners would be the heavy financial commitments they have invested in other players, most notably Robinson Cano. Therefore, the Yankees would probably have to pay a very significant portion of Ellsbury’s contract to move him to Safeco Field. Hopefully, GM Brian Cashman can figure this one out so that Ellsbury doesn’t become baseball’s highest paid pinch-runner again next year.
Other guys that are vulnerable to potential trades appear to be Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, Austin Romine, and Dellin Betances. With the disappointing end to his 2017 season, the value for Betances is down which probably enhances the potential for him to stay with the team (why try to sell the four-time All-Star while his value is low) but I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to include him in a deal if it makes sense for the team. The Yankees also seem to be at the crossroads for making a decision about who backs up first baseman Greg Bird. With 40-man roster spots at a premium, it would seem that a choice needs to be made between Tyler Austin and Garrett Cooper. My preference probably leans toward Austin due to his versatility to play the outfield.
The Yankees lost a valuable prospect last year in the Rule 5 Draft when the San Diego Padres kept catcher Luis Torrens on the MLB roster all season. I expect this year’s Rule 5 Draft to be equally painful if not more so. It’s certainly a testament to the strength of the farm system but it is still difficult to see talented young prospects depart.
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Now that Tanaka has made his decision to stay in the Bronx, the biggest immediate problem facing the Yankees is finding a new manager to replace the dismissed Joe Girardi. I am surprised the Yankees have not announced a new deal for GM Brian Cashman since his current deal expired at the end of October, but it doesn’t seem like Cash is going anywhere. Neither the team nor Cashman have tipped their hand to show potential managerial candidates but it does seem like the team is looking at outside alternatives. The question is how much they’ll prioritize actual managerial experience. If they want experience, then former Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus seems to be the best possible option. He was drafted by the Yankees in the 48th Round of the 1987 draft, although he never played for the Major League team. I can still remember the sense of loss when he was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the November 1992 Expansion Draft. Nevertheless, he is a Connecticut guy who grew up in close proximity to New York (even if his childhood team was the Boston Red Sox). He was criticized for being out-managed in the 2014 ALDS when the Detroit Tigers lost to the Baltimore Orioles and like Girardi, has a tendency to lean heavily on his veterans. But by all accounts, he is a player-friendly manager (good communicator) and would interact well with the media. For guys who lack managerial (or coaching) experience, Jerry Hairston, Jr seems to stand out. I also like Mark DeRosa of the MLB Network. I have no idea who the Yankees will ultimately choose but you have to believe that Cashman had someone in mind when the decision was made to part ways with long-time manager Girardi.
|Credit: Corey Sipkin, NY Daily News|
I am ready for the craziness that will ensue over the next six weeks before we settle into the Winter hibernation that precedes the opening of Spring Training camps next February. The Yankees are a team on the rise and the moves made this off-season will contribute toward the team’s success (or lack thereof) as we move forward. No pressure, Brian Cashman. The goal is simple…bring the Yankees’ 28th World Series Championship to New York City now. Teams like the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim are not going to sit idly by. The job is to do it better so that we can celebrate on the streets of New York this time next year.
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Yankees 4, Blue Jays 0…
I ripped Masahiro Tanaka for his last start and he looked at me and said “F-U!” with his latest performance. I love it! Outside of Dellin Betances, I liked everything about this game as the Yankees took down the Jays for their 90th win of the season on Friday afternoon.
While many people were speculating about whether this was Masahiro Tanaka’s final regular season start wearing a Yankees uniform, Masa-hero came out strong. I always like to use the first inning as a barometer and Tanaka was firing on all cylinders, striking out the side on thirteen pitches.
In the bottom of the first, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a one-out single through the hole to shallow left field off Blue Jays starter Joe Biagini. With Aaron Judge at the plate, Ellsbury stole second for his 22nd stolen base of the year. Judge ended up taking a walk anyway. Didi Gregorius was next and he singled to right on a looper that dropped in front of right fielder Michael Saunders to load the bases. Starlin Castro hit a soft grounder between third and the pitching mound, and Biagini had no play by the time he got to the ball. Ellsbury scored on the play. Greg Bird’s sacrifice fly to deep center scored Judge. It was the seventh consecutive game with a RBI for Greg Bird who has gone from a season afterthought to one of its prime performers in a matter of just a few weeks since he returned from the disabled list.
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Chase Headley struck out to end the inning but the Yankees had a 2-0 lead.
Tanaka held the Blue Jays hitless through two outs in the top of the 5th inning, when Ezequiel Carrera hit a grounder to second. Starlin Castro went hard after the ball, crashing his knee against the ground, but his throw was not in time to get Carrera at first. With Raffy Lopez batting, Carrera stole second. However, Tanaka got out of the inning when he turned to fire a perfect strike to Didi Gregorius at second to nail Carrera who was trying to dive back to the base.
Austin Romine led off the bottom of the 5th with a single over the second baseman’s head into right center. Romine was forced out at second when Aaron Hicks hit a grounder to second but Hicks was safe at first. With Jacoby Ellsbury at bat, Hicks stole second. Jacoby Ellsbury lined out to first for the second out. Aaron Judge followed with a single to left, scoring Hicks. Blue Jays catcher was up the line for the outfield throw so there was no play at the plate but they got Judge between first and second for the final out.
Ryan Goins picked up the Blue Jays’ second hit off Tanaka in the 6th, a single to center that dropped in front of Jacoby Ellsbury, but Tanaka was still mowing hitters down so Goins didn’t go anywhere when Tanaka struck out the side again. Thirteen strikeouts through six innings for Tanaka. Incredible.
Matt Dermody replaced Biagini in the bottom of the 6th inning. Didi Gregorius led off with a single to left. With Starlin Castro batting, Didi Gregorius stole second on what appeared to be third strike on Castro. However, Joe Girardi came out with the argument that it was a foul tip. The umps agreed with Girardi, and Didi returned to first base with Castro coming back to the plate. Two pitches later, the outcome was the same. Castro swung at the third strike but Didi successfully stole second. Next, Greg Bird (rapidly becoming one of the Yankees best post-trading deadline “acquisitions”) drilled a line drive single off the wall in the right field corner to score Gregorius. Danny Barnes entered the game in relief of Dermody and induced Chase Headley to hit into an inning-ending double play, but no matter, the Yankees had increased their lead to 4-0.
Tanaka allowed one more hit, a double down the line into the left field corner by Josh Donaldson in the top of the 7th, for a total of three. Donaldson got as far as third on a ground out, but Tanaka retired the next three batters in order including two by strikeout to end the inning and his time in the game. He finished with fifteen strikeouts to go with no hits, no runs, and no walks. It was simply an outstanding performance by Tanaka. If this was his final regular season start as a Yankee, thank you very much. It was a masterpiece to remember.
|Credit: Julie Jacobson-AP|
David Robertson pitched the 8th inning. It started with the first walk by a Yankees pitcher in the game, but the runner was erased on a beautiful double play. Raffy Lopez hit a grounder to Greg Bird at first. Bird threw to Didi Gregorius for the force at second. Didi’s throw back to first hooked out but Bird sprawled out on the ground for the catch with his right foot still on the bag. Excellent defensive play by Bird. D-Rob struck out Ryan Goins to end the inning.
The 9th inning was not quite as much fun…at least not at the start. Dellin Betances came in with a chance to prove he has finally righted the ship. Richard Urena had other ideas and led off with a single to right, a one hop off the wall. With Teoscar Hernandez at the plate, a Betances pitch went off Austin Romine’s glove for a passed ball on the catcher. Urena moved to second. Betances ended up walking Hernandez and all you could do was shake your head. End of Betances, who is running out of time to prove that he can be trusted with late inning relief again. I hate to say it, given my disdain for the man, but Dellin is proving Yankees president Randy Levine was right for his critical comments about Betances after the reliever’s arbitration hearing in the off-season.
|Credit: Abbie Parr-Getty Images|
Enter Aroldis Chapman. Man, oh, Man, I am so happy this guy is the Missile again. He struck out Josh Donaldson on three pitches for the first out. Jose Bautista hit a grounder to short and the Yankees were able to force Hernandez out at second but they couldn’t turn the double play when the ball went over Greg Bird’s head. The ball bounced back so Urena had to hold at third. With Rob Refsnyder batting, Bautista took second on defensive indifference. Chapman laid three 100+ mph fastballs across the plate for Refsnyder, with the last pitch hitting 102 mph. Three swings and misses by the former Yankee. Game over. Yankees win!
The Yankees (90-70) looked like a playoff team in this game. They picked up a game on the Boston Red Sox, who lost 3-2 to the Houston Astros at Fenway Park. The Yankees trail the Sox by two games with two to play. I don’t expect the Yankees to catch the Red Sox but they’ve certainly made it interesting these final days of the season.
Mike Axisa had a great tweet after the game about Tanaka pitching on seven days rest: “One day it will be acknowledged that Tanaka does not actually pitch better on extra rest. Today is not that day.”
Odds & Ends…
Brad Ausmus became the first managerial casualty when it was announced earlier this week that he would not be retained after the season by the Detroit Tigers. I can still remember being disappointed when the Colorado Rockies chose Ausmus, a catcher, in the 1992 Expansion Draft out of the Yankees farm system. Of course, I didn’t really know anything about a guy named Jorge Posada at the time. The latest non-returnee is Pete Mackanin of the Philadelphia Phillies. After the season, Mackanin will become a special assistant to Phillies GM Matt Klentak. As a rebuilding team, I thought that Mackanin would be back but apparently the Phillies leadership team felt otherwise. Two managerial job openings and counting although it’s been widely speculated that Terry Collins of the Mets will not return. So make it three…
The Minnesota Twins have activated their best hitter, 3B Miguel Sano, off the disabled list. Sano was placed on the DL in August when he fouled a ball off his left shin. Sano will have the weekend to get ready for next Tuesday’s Wild Card game.
Credit: Bill Kostroun-AP
Tonight, I will be at Coors Field to watch Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Colorado Rockies. It will be Kershaw’s final appearance of the regular season as he tunes up for his NLDS Game 1 start next week. This will be the first time I get to see Cody Bellinger play in person. It should be a great game. As a former Los Angeles resident, I have so missed the ability to go to Dodger Stadium on a regular basis.
Have a great Saturday! My only request for today is a Pinstriped victory! Go Yankees!
What’s the plan?…
Well, it’s January 2015. The Yankees roster is slowly evolving. The latest addition/return was the surprise re-signing of Stephen Drew which certainly makes sense. While I still prefer to see Rob Refsnyder win the second base job outright, Drew certainly provides great insurance at both second base and shortstop. It’s no sure thing that Didi Gregorius will be successful and I’d prefer not to see Brendan Ryan as the only other choice, even if he is a slick fielder.
I am still concerned about the starting rotation. Reading CC Sabathia say the knee is fine is hardly a ringing endorsement that he’ll be the CC of old. I think best case he is a strong #3 in the rotation if he is able to come back healthy. His days as the team’s ace are over…in my opinion. The hope of the rotation lies with Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. Obviously, there are health concerns with both pitchers. Even though Ivan Nova will return later in the year, I do not expect him to be back up to par until 2016. Nathan Eovaldi is the project. The Yankees apparently think they can turn him around and perhaps they can. It would be good to get him to the point that he is as reliable and consistent as Hiroki Kuroda was.
While I get why the Yankees will not pay $200 million for Max Scherzer, I wish they would make a play for James Shields. With a rotation containing so much uncertainty, the Yankees really need a dependable starter without question marks.
I have heard some rumblings that the Yankees now have the prospects to make a trade for Cole Hamels, but I am not sure that’s one I would pursue. I like prospects such as Aaron Judge and Luis Severino and want to see them succeed in pinstripes. It was tough when I was a kid and the Yankees were always trading youth for veterans. Doug Drabek, Jay Buhner, Fred McGriff, Al Leiter, J.T. Snow, Brad Ausmus. I know the list is much longer than this, but it was tough watching guys like that succeed elsewhere.
I don’t think that Cole Hamels would be the missing ingredient to suddenly make the Yankees the World Series favorites. So, if he is not the difference maker, then the Yankees shouldn’t raid the cupboards to bring him aboard. I’d rather see Hamels go to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The fear of course is that he’ll be calling Fenway Park home next season.
At this point, I still do not see the 2015 Yankees making the play-offs. I think the Baltimore Orioles will still be the team to beat. They suffered off-season losses, yes, but they’ll also be getting back Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters. The Toronto Blue Jays look to be the most improved team and they’ve been a team of potential for a few years. Boston will be stronger, and it’s best to never underestimate the Tampa Bay Rays even if Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman are no longer calling the shots.
There’s still time for GM Brian Cashman to make the moves to propel the Yankees into contention but so much is riding on better seasons from Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Teixeira. Of the group, McCann is the only one I feel is capable for turning it around. Beltran and Teixeira are in their decline years, and that slippery slope is steeper for some guys.
Hear the voice of the Bard!…
There’s a nice piece in Nick Cafardo’s column today (Sunday Baseball Notes in The Boston Globe) about the comeback of Daniel Bard. It would be good to see Bard successfully return to his position of bullpen relevance after years of struggle. Perhaps that’s a buy low signing the Yankees should pursue. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. There was a time when Bard was a Yankees draft pick although he never signed. Even if he goes back to Boston or another team, I truly hope that Bard is successful.
Short walk to the Hall…
Congratulations to the Hall of Fame inductees: John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio, and Pedro Martinez. I think all of the selections were justified. It was sad that it was the final ballot appearance for Don Mattingly, but it was a given that he was not going to make it. Maybe he can take the Joe Torre route…great managerial success to go with a strong playing career…to gain access to the Hall.
25 years is long enough…
Put me in the group of people who want to see Pete Rose allowed to enter the Hall of Fame. He remains one of the best players I’ve been privileged to see play in my lifetime. This is not an endorsement of Pete the man and I feel what he did was wrong, however, Pete the player was one of the best players of all-time.
I am glad that this is the last full month without any baseball activity. Looking forward to the opening of spring training camps next month.