Tagged: Bryce Harper

Shouldering the Arm of Discontent…

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Credit: Charles Wenzelberg – The New York Post

Rotator Cuff Inflammation Derails Luis Severino for 2 Weeks…

Spring Training threw us its first curve ball yesterday with the news that ace Luis Severino was pulled from his scheduled start against the Atlanta Braves due to pain in his right shoulder. With the words made famous by former professional boxer Roberto Duran in his 1980 bout with Sugar Ray Leonard, “No Mas!”, Severino let pitching coach Larry Rothschild know that something was wrong during his pre-game bullpen session. A subsequent trip to the hospital for an MRI revealed inflammation in the rotator cuff but thankfully, knock on wood, no indications of a possible tear.  You certainly worry about high velocity guys like Sevy and concerns that ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. Hopefully this proves to be nothing that a little rest cannot cure.

The Yankees will shut down Sevy for two weeks. Assuming there are no further setbacks or recurrence of pain, he’ll resume throwing again around the first day of Spring (March 20th). Unfortunately, due to the injury, Severino has been scratched as the Opening Day starter. While Masahiro Tanaka is probably the sentimental favorite to start Opening Day, his history to open the regular season has not been great. In his last Opening Day start, Tanaka was dreadful. On April 2, 2017, for Manager Joe Girardi, Tanaka gave up seven runs on eight hits over 2 2/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. He walked two and gave up home runs to Logan Morrison and Evan Longoria in the 7-3 loss. As Girardi probably said that day, it’s not what you want. Tanaka’s start was the shortest on Opening Day since Ron Guidry was pulled after 2 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners in 1983. Severino started Opening Day last year, a 6-1 victory over current teammate J.A. Happ and the Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I’d probably roll with the new guy, James Paxton, but it would be hard to argue with Tanaka despite the lack of success the last time around for no other reason than his tenure as a Yankee.

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Credit: Lynne Sladky – AP

When the news broke about Severino, many Yankee fans were immediately clamoring for the Front Office to sign free agent starter Dallas Keuchel. As much as I’d like to see Keuchel as part of the starting rotation, the truth is it will never happen. Keuchel, despite being unsigned this late in March, will still command a multi-year deal for as much as $20 million annually. He also carries draft pick compensation for the Houston Astros since he received and rejected a qualifying offer. I just don’t see the Yankees making that type of financial commitment for rotation insurance. Gio Gonzalez, as many have said, represents the most logical choice on the free agent market. After that, we’re talking about guys like “Big Game” James Shields who hasn’t seen a big game in years and has pitched like it. The Yankees could stay in-house and simply use guys like Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German, and, ugh, Luis Cessa. I guess I am in favor of bringing in an experienced arm so I’d take Gonzalez. The Yankees head into the season with only three of five starters healthy and ready to go. CC Sabathia is behind the other starters after his angioplasty in December and resulting late start to Camp so he’ll begin the season on the Injured List. He also has to serve the five-game suspension from last season once he’s activated. In all likelihood, the Yankees will not see either Severino or Sabathia until the latter part of April (after series against the two of the best teams in the American League, Houston and Boston). I’d rather have a proven, dependable starter that can keep the team in games to help bridge the gap to full health. Keep Loaisiga and German in limited spot starts until they prove they are ready for more. The ship with Cessa as a starter has sailed for me. I’d rather keep him in a relief role so that he is not overexposed. He becomes more hittable the second and third time through lineups as the hitters gain familiarity. I’d rather keep him as a mystery in the pen facing a minimal number of batters.

Daniel Burch of The Greedy Pinstripes made a very compelling argument this morning for why the Yankees should avoid Gonzalez based on his stats in American League parks. I do not dispute Daniel’s opinion even if I may not agree. For a team with aspirations to win the World Series, a little experience goes a long way. I know that Gonzalez is not going to pitch like the second coming of Max Scherzer but, conversely, he is much better than his other former Washington Nationals teammate, A.J. Cole, whom we got to know too well last season.  Inevitably, the Yankees need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. What if Sevy’s shoulder becomes more problematic than something two weeks of rest can cure? I guess with the other questions in the starting rotation, I am not ready to pin our hopes heavily upon Loaisiga and German.  Ease them in, yes. Throw them into the fire, no way. So, while I respect Daniel’s opinion, I’d rather go with the arm of experience.

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Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully the Yankees can avoid any further injuries in the remaining three weeks of Spring Training.  Center fielder Aaron Hicks has missed a few games with back stiffness but it does not seem too severe.  In their first nine games of the regular season, the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, two teams that collectively only won eleven more games than the Yankees did last year. The Yankees need to take advantage of those teams to get off to a good start this year which means we need everyone healthy. A season is not lost in April, but as the Boston Red Sox showed last year, a great start can help propel a team to tremendous accomplishments.

I am not sure why Aaron Judge was issued a warning by MLB for telling Manny Machado last year that he’d look good in pinstripes, but Bryce Harper can go on the radio saying, “But if you don’t think I’m not gonna call Mike Trout in 2020 to have him come to Philly, you’re crazy” without retribution. Harper’s words carry much stronger implications of tampering than Judge’s innocent words did. Hopefully, MLB, at the very least, issues the same type of warning to Harper as they did Judge.  In my mind, Harper’s words are premeditated as he has been saying for days that he intends to recruit players to come to Philadelphia to play. Judge’s comments seemed to be a random, spur of the moment thing.

Not sure what I think about Sonny Gray’s comments yesterday. In large part, I think his interview with Eno Sarris of The Athletic was taken out of context. Still, Gray was a little harsh in his words when he said the Yankees “love sliders” and added “Sliders are a great pitch. The numbers say slider is a good pitch, but you might not realize how many shitty counts you’re getting in while throwing all those sliders. They wanted me to be (Masahiro) Tanaka and I’m way different from him.” In describing his lack of command with his slider, Gray said, “When I try to throw sliders for a strike, I get around it and it’s just a shitty spinning pitch. I don’t know how people throw sliders for strikes that are still tight, good pitches. I’m at 2-0 and I’m throwing a slider, and either I’m throwing a shitty slider in the zone, or I’m yanking it into the direct and it’s 3-0 and I’m screwed either way.” Frankly, these words make me question Gray’s decisions on the mound.  He is in control of the pitches he throws.

I thought Manager Aaron Boone responded well when asked about Gray’s “shitty” comments. “We tried as best we could to try to get him to be successful,” Boone conveyed.  “I think we all kind of shared in the frustration at times. I know he was frustrated. We were. But we just tried to get him to be the best he could be and as successful as he could be.” Regarding the slider, Boone added “I don’t know if I’d characterize it as we pushed him to throw sliders. He throws a slider.”

I am glad that Sonny is a Cincinnati Red and not a New York Yankee. Some guys just aren’t made for the Pinstripes and Gray was not. I wish him the best in Cincinnati but I hope he takes the high road moving forward. It didn’t work out for him in New York. It happens. New York is not Oakland nor is it Cincinnati. The Big Apple is not for everyone. He has a clean slate in his new city to rewrite his accomplishments. Have at it. As for the past, it’s just water under the bridge.

Gray’s comments also brought around a new round of hate directed at Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild. While I may not be a big fan of Rothschild, I recognize the Yankees have great faith and trust in the man and he is recognized, right or wrong, as one of the best pitching coaches in the business.  I also know the Yankees know more about Yankee players and coaches than I do. As long as they believe in Rothschild, I will too.  As for Aaron Boone, I really believe we’ll see an improved version in 2019 now that he has a season under his belt. There is an inevitable learning curve for any first-time manager. The Yankees knew it when they made the decision to go with Boone prior to last season. To expect him to manage a game, at the beginning of his managerial career, as well as Terry Francona or even Alex Cora, who had a year as a bench coach on a World Series championship team, is foolish and set false expectations. I think Boone will be better this year as I expect he’ll be even better in 2020. Contrary to what some may believe, the Yankees can win a World Series with Aaron Boone as the manager. He is universally liked by the players, the Front Office and the Steinbrenner Family. I am probably less concerned about the last two but as long as Boone has control of the clubhouse, all is good. As they say, analytics drive decisions these days anyway. I do not feel that either Boone or Rothschild will hold this team back from achieving its destiny if the team believes it can.

As always, Go Yankees!

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Bryce Harper and the Unlucky 13 in Philadelphia…

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

In the End, Money Wins…

So, Bryce Harper will never wear Pinstripes. Well, not the right color of Pinstripes, that is. After the long and at times excruciating wait, Bryce will call Philadelphia home for the next thirteen years. $330 million ensured that if Bryce had any misgivings about the City of Brotherly Love or if he wasn’t exactly enamored with the personality of the Phillies manager, Gabe Kapler, it wasn’t something that money could not overcome. I guess you could say that Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin had a say in the matter.

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I am disappointed, for sure. When the off-season began, I had hoped the Yankees would sign either Harper or Manny Machado. In fact, I felt sure they would grab one of those guys. While the Yankees had some lukewarm interest in Machado, they were never players for Harper. Oh well, what are you going to do – boycott the team? That’s foolish. The 2019 New York Yankees are a very good team. This is certainly the best team since 2009 and we know how that one ended. In many ways, you could say this team is better than the 2009 World Champions.

Jake Story, one of the co-leaders of the Talkin’ Yanks Podcast, tweeted this yesterday after the Harper announcement:

Talkin Jake

I saw so many reactions to Harper’s contract with Philadelphia but I felt Jake accurately and uniquely summed up exactly how I felt.

I really thought Harper or Machado would provide the Yankees’ with clear separation from the Boston Red Sox. Last year, the Red Sox were eight games better than the Yankees and they rolled past us in the AL Division Playoffs on their way to the World Series championship. I know, you can claim many of the Sox players had career years or that they have no bullpen this season. From my perspective, they are, sadly, the MLB Champs until proven otherwise. I didn’t want to beat the Red Sox this year…I wanted to crush them. Probably my biggest fear as we head into the new season is saying “I wish we had signed Harper or Machado” in October.

But Jake’s correct. We must have hope GM Brian Cashman is right about this team. He knows far more about the Yankees than we ever will. For Yankee fans to trash the Steinbrenner family or threaten to boycott games makes absolutely no sense to me. You can count on one hand the number of teams that tried to improve themselves as hard as the Yankees did this past off-season. The Boston Red Sox did nothing. They re-signed Nasty Nate (Nathan Eovaldi) but you and I know that carries a huge risk on a long-term deal. He’s a great guy but he is a two-time Tommy John recipient that throws incredibly hard. They let their top setup man, Joe Kelly, depart via free agency, and their closer, Craig Kimbrel, remains unsigned with Boston seemingly disinterested in a reunion due to the financial impact. The Yankees have the better bullpen, no question, but I do stand by the belief the Yankees bullpen will not be as great as the fans’ expectations and the Red Sox bullpen won’t be as horrific as Yankee fans seem to think. You know there will be bumps in the road for the greatest of bullpens. Relief arms can be so fickle at times. So, to simply believe we are going to beat Boston because of the respective bullpens is flawed thinking. They still have some very good baseball players on that team. While I think the Yankees will win the AL East this year, it would be very frustrating if we head into October as a Wild Card team again for the one game ‘do-or-die’. We may have won the last two Wild Card games, but inevitably the law of averages will bite us in the butt. I’d rather head into the playoffs with a five-game series and take our chances.

I can’t blame the Yankees for not wanting to make a ten to thirteen-year commitment for one player. Bryce Harper is not the best player in baseball even if he is paid like it. I know that the Phillies went thirteen years to drive down the AAV for luxury tax purposes but that’s a huge commitment regardless of the dollars involved. I thought the rumored offer by the Los Angeles Dodgers (four years for $168 million) made all the sense in the World. Bryce would have gotten more than enough money to live with the highest AAV in the game and the opportunity to test the free agent market again at age 30. However, I get Bryce’s desire to play in one city for the rest of his career. He is concerned about his legacy and playing in a stadium that gives him 40+ home run potential every year will allow him to pad his stats more than he might have accomplished at Dodger Stadium or Oracle Park in San Francisco. I am sure this was very enticing to him. He would have looked great in Yankee Stadium (building a greater legacy playing for Baseball’s most storied franchise) but I recognize by not signing Harper, the chances the Yankees spend big money to retain Didi Gregorius are increased.  I don’t want to lose Gregorius so maybe this off-season’s ‘Harpchado’ fiasco is a silver lining when all is said and done. Like they say, sometimes the best trade is the one not made at all. So, the best signing for Yankees might be the no signings of Harper and Machado.

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It’s a bummer we are in a stretch of non-televised Spring games. Gary Sanchez makes his Spring debut later today and we cannot watch unless we are at Steinbrenner Field. The next televised game (YES Network) is Sunday’s split squad game in Tampa against the uninspiring Detroit Tigers.

Troy Tulowitzski hit his second game of the Spring in yesterday’s 8-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates or so I read since I couldn’t watch the game with my own eyes.  It’s a little too early to get excited about Tulo but for as much as I’ve been down on the signing, I am intrigued by the energy and excitement he is bringing to games.  I am hoping he stays healthy and doesn’t go Ellsbury on us. If he can maintain his current physical condition, he might be able to help this season as long as Manager Aaron Boone does not overuse him. I know the plan is to give him frequent breaks, with Gleyber Torres sliding over from second base to spell him a few times per week, until Didi Gregorius returns later this summer. Hopefully the Yankees can stick to the plan and not be forced into a situation where we are dependent upon Tulo every day.  I have the same concerns about Brett Gardner but I digress. I am cautiously optimistic for a successful rebound season for the former Rockie/Blue Jay and hope he allays my fears. If it doesn’t work, the Yankees cut bait and move on but I sincerely hope he’s better than that.

The first base battle has been fun to watch so far this Spring. Both Luke Voit and Greg Bird are, pardon the cliché, ‘in it to win it’. Bird has played four games, with five hits in eight at-bats, a homer, two doubles and three RBIs.  Voit, the favorite entering Camp according to Boone, has played two games, with two hits in four at-bats, a homer and four RBIs. Small sample sizes, yes, but the guys are trying hard to impress. Love the effort. As down as I’ve been on Bird, it would be awesome for him to finally unlock his potential, staying healthy, with that beautiful left-handed swing in Yankee Stadium. If not, I hope Voit grabs the job and doesn’t let go. If the Yankees are not looking for a new first baseman in July, life will be good.

I don’t know why but there’s a part of me that would like to see the Yankees re-sign reliever Adam Warren. After being shipped away twice, I am not sure why Warren would want to come back to the Bronx or if there is even room in the bullpen for him, but I guess I’d rather see Warren as a Yankee than watch him end up in a place like Boston or Tampa. That’s just one of those sentimental, non-analytical feelings that serves absolutely no place in today’s game.

As a residual effect of the Bryce Harper signing, GM Brian Cashman should call Phillies GM Matt Klentak to find out what it would take to acquire left fielder Nick Williams. Williams is the player most directly impacted by Harper’s presence. He has underperformed in Philly but the 25-year-old lefty has some game.  Per Fangraphs, “These days prospects are supposed to offer instant gratification. With just one win above replacement through his first 791 plate appearances, Nick Williams has fallen short of expectations. Even though his offensive numbers technically declined between 2017 and 2018, extreme good fortune (a .375 BABIP) helped to fuel his rookie campaign. His peripherals improved last season including a seven-point drop in his swinging strike rate. His walk and strikeout rates moved in the right directions in large part due to massive gains to his plate discipline. As a hitter, Williams still has kinks. A trade of ground balls for more fly balls would better fit his sweet lefty swing if it can be achieved without more strikeouts. Despite above average speed, Williams shows no proclivity to run on the bases, and he’s posted bafflingly bad defensive marks. There’s a good chance time and experience will fix his ill-adventures in the outfield.” Williams, in my opinion, could be a good ‘buy low/high reward’ candidate. Exactly the type of player Cashman likes to accumulate. If the Yankees do not want to over-expose Giancarlo Stanton in left field, Williams could be a good platoon partner for Brett Gardner if the organization is down on Clint Frazier.

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Credit: USA TODAY Sports

For as much as we laugh about the Miami Marlins, I am really digging their new uniforms. Hats off to Marlins CEO Derek Jeter for bringing the new look to his franchise. Or maybe we should say, hats on.

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Credit: AP

I feel sorry for the Marlins this year as they are going to get their clocks cleaned by the Mets, Nationals, Braves, and Phillies in the highly competitive NL East but at least they’ll be look cool as they walk off the field with another loss.

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March has arrived so we’ve entered the month of true Yankees baseball…finally. With Opening Day just four weeks from yesterday, we’ll see the players ramping up over the next couple of weeks. The Boston Red Sox rode a hot start last April to the most successful season in franchise history. I am not expecting a similar historic start for the Yankees this year, but it would be nice for them to jump out of the gate strong. With the first nine games against the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, both expected to have losing seasons, there’s no reason the Yankees can’t build an early division lead before they go head-to-head with the AL Elite Red Sox and Astros in early to mid-April. Exciting times. Let’s make this a Championship year!

As always, Go Yankees!

Much Ado, Machado, About Nothing…

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Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson-Associated Press

Manny Machado and the Pinstriped Dreams Vanish…

After waiting all off-season with the hope that Manny Machado would wear the famed Pinstripes, it was not meant to be. C’est la vie. I’ve heard people say they can’t believe Hal Steinbrenner was outbid by the small market San Diego Padres. But that would imply the Yankees made a bid which they apparently did not.  I can’t blame the Yankees for passing on a 10-year, $300 million deal. Manny’s a great player but he’s not the best player in baseball. I don’t blame Hal Steinbrenner or the Yankees for passing on Manny at that price. I thought he made sense in the low 200’s or on a short-term deal with high AAV but not $30 million per year for the next ten years. He’s not exactly Alex Rodriguez in his prime.

Best case scenario, if he was not coming to the Yankees, was for Manny to sign with the West Coast Padres. I am glad that he’s out of the American League and away from any Northeastern city. I didn’t really want to see him go to the Chicago White Sox or the Philadelphia Phillies. It is kind of funny that Machado will have to visit Yankee Stadium this year. The Padres will be in New York on Memorial Day, May 27th, for three days. There’s no doubt Machado will receive more than a few Bronx cheers. Even though the Yankees never really made a formal offer, I expect the home crowd to treat Machado something like Oakland did when their former star Jason Giambi returned to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum wearing Pinstripes for the first time, only worse.

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Photo Credit: Associated Press

While I feel Manny would have made the Yankees better, they are still a very, very good team. I am fully anticipating a dog fight with the defending champion Boston Red Sox again this season and would have liked every conceivable advantage or edge over the Beantown Bunch, which Machado certainly would have provided. But, he’s not here, and we move on. In the AL East, I feel the Yankees are the better team but I’d be foolish to think the Red Sox are going away, even if nobody likes their bullpen on paper.  At the end of the day, the Yankees bullpen might not be as great as everyone thinks (there will be the inevitable bumps in the road) and the Boston pen might not be as bad. Regardless of what happens, I am sure the Yankees and Red Sox will be jockeying for position deep into September.

The most attractive free agent on the market, Bryce Harper, remains available but the Yankees have never been connected to him this off-season at any point like they were with Machado (much to the chagrin of the Yankees fan base). Not only is Harper an excellent player, he has that star quality about him (the “it” factor). Bryce is deserving of a contract equal to or greater than the one Machado received from the Padres. Given that Giancarlo Stanton’s huge deal with the Miami Marlins a few years ago (13 years for $325 million) was an extension, Machado’s contract is considered the most lucrative free agent contract in MLB history. Still, I am sure Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, has every intent to beat the dollar value of Stanton’s deal. While it would make sense for Harper to receive a 10-year, $325 million contract, I’ll take the over with the involvement of Boras. Perhaps Bryce signs a deal for $330 or $335 million or even a little higher. I’d argue that even these dollars make sense for the Yankees. They can certainly afford it while still paying its pending free agents and extending other young players as they reach arbitration like they did with ace Luis Severino. The Yankees are not exactly tapped out on capital like the Chicago Cubs apparently are.  I am not getting my hopes up about Harper or any last-minute play by the Yankees but signing him does make sense to me.  Drop Harper in the batting order between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and let’s go. I’d love to see what that lineup could do to the American League.

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Photo Credit: Katherine Frey

The Steamer projection for Harper in the 2019 season is 34 home runs and 93 RBIs with a batting line of .267/.399/.528 and .927 OPS. His WAR is projected at 4.8, which is well below guys like Mike Trout (8.5) and Mookie Betts (7.2) but above Stanton (4.4) and Judge (4.6). Steamer projects Harper to have the second best wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) at 148, trailing only Trout (180). I don’t need to lay out Brett Gardner’s projected stats to say those numbers would represent a huge upgrade in left field. Probably the only way that Harper doesn’t make sense is if the plan is play Stanton in the field more this year. All I know is we need a better option than Brett Gardner.  It would be wonderful if Clint Frazier shows that he is up for the task and can stay healthy. I’d love for him to grab the position from Gardy, who fits this roster best as its fourth outfielder. Given the players in camp right now, Frazier is the best option. The downside, if Frazier misses any time with injury, there’s not much in the way of a backup plan other than start Gardy every day or play Stanton in the field (which is always a risk for a player that carried the injury label until his huge 2017 NL MVP season).

The current players on the projected 25-man roster that scare me the most are Frazier (for health concerns), Troy Tulowitzki (health concerns, rust, age regression), Greg Bird (health concerns, inability to hold sustained success), and Luis Cessa (not very good, self-explanatory). If Tulo is not up to the task and shows that he cannot recapture past success, the Yankees can easily move Gleyber Torres to shortstop and insert DJ LeMahieu as the starting second baseman. The downside is the lack of a strong utility player under that scenario. The best roster option appears to be Tyler Wade who, to date, has not really shown much at the Major League level. I had hoped for a strong glove-first signing like Adeiny Hechevarria but the New York Mets scooped him up a few days ago. Maybe Wade can prove to be the guy or perhaps Thairo Estrada can show something in camp now that he’s healthy. If Bird fails, I am not too concerned. I think Luke Voit will hold his own at first base. The ideal scenario, to me, is for Bird to outperform Voit and get his left-handed bat into the lineup. For as critical as I’ve been of Bird, there’s no question he has a beautiful swing.  Bird has the talent to succeed even if we’ve grown impatient waiting for it to happen but Voit is no slouch and I do feel that he’ll build off his successful late season run last year and not turn out to be the latest incarnation of Kevin Maas. I am not crazy about going into the season with Cessa as the designated swingman in the bullpen. I’d prefer for Jonathan Loaisiga to overcome the health concerns that engulf his potential and have him break camp as part of the Opening Day roster. I’ve seen enough of Cessa and I’m ready to move on. While I think Cessa could be better in short relief, I don’t really want to see him as the team’s emergency starter. Since he’s out of options, Cessa either must make the team or pack his bags. Despite his faults, he would be claimed on waivers by another team. I’d prefer a trade to at least get something for him. The Yankees are expected to made trades for additional bonus pool money so it’s possible Cessa could be part of that quest. It wouldn’t break my heart.

I am enjoying the Danny Farquhar story like everyone else but it seems to me his only hope to make the Opening Day roster is to outperform Tommy Kahnle.  Farquhar is a short reliever so he’s not an option for the last bullpen spot (long man/spot starter) which presently appears to be Cessa. With nothing against Farquhar, I really hope Kahnle proves during spring training that he can be the dependable reliever he was in 2017. Sure, if Kahnle is a disaster again like last year, let Farquhar take his job but I really hope that’s not the case. I’ve been a Kahnle fan since his early days in the Yankees’ farm system and I’d really like to see him be a valuable and contributing member of Baseball’s best bullpen.

As tough as it was to see former Yankees great Jorge Posada in Marlins camp wearing their new gear, I am grateful Carlos Beltran is in Yankees camp. He has so much to offer the young players. I can’t help but think top prospect Estevan Florial benefits the most from Beltran’s presence and that’s a wonderful thing. Clint Frazier is certainly another player who would be wise to pick Beltran’s brain. Beltran may not have the Yankees pedigree like Posada, but he’s an invaluable resource and the game is better with his involvement in any capacity.

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I am really looking forward to Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, FL.  The downside is that we’ll see names like Ryan Lavarnway, Billy Burns and/or Matt Lipka but at least it will be “Yankees” on the field playing the game of baseball as opposed to us watching videos of PFP or the coaches playing fungo with the infielders on practice fields.

Lastly, I was saddened to see the passing of former Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers great Don Newcombe yesterday. The Dodgers announced Newcombe died Tuesday morning at age 92 following a lengthy illness.  Newcombe was MLB’s first black pitcher to win 20 games. He accomplished the feat in 1951, after winning 17 and 19 games the preceding two years (including earning NL Rookie of the Year honors for the 17-win campaign in 1949). He helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1955 but his greatest season was the next year when he finished 27-7 with 3.06 ERA. He had 12 complete games and 5 shutouts. He won the NL Cy Young and MVP Awards that year, but lost the deciding Game 7 of the 1956 World Series to the Yankees, giving up two early home runs to Yogi Berra. For his career, “Newk” was 149-90 with 1,129 strikeouts and a 3.56 ERA over a 10-year MLB career.  Missed two seasons in the early 1950’s to serve our military in the Korean War. He was a great Dodger and a better man. May he rest in peace.

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Photo Credit: Luis Sinco-Los Angeles Times

As always, Go Yankees!

Happy Reporting Day for Yankee Pitchers and Catchers…

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Photo Credit: Bryan Hoch via Instagram

The Dawn of the 2019 MLB Season…

After a painfully long off-season filled with too many rumors and rampant speculation, Yankee pitchers and catchers officially report to training camp in Tampa, FL today to begin preparations for the upcoming season. Granted, many of the Yankee players are already in Tampa, working out informally, but Spring Training officially gets underway today with the first scheduled workout for pitchers and catchers tomorrow.

Meanwhile, position players can spend Valentine’s Day with their loved ones although many, like Aaron Judge, Troy Tulowitzki, Didi Gregorius, Clint Frazier and others, are already in camp in advance of Monday’s reporting date. The first full team workout will be next Tuesday.

I really thought there would be movement with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper this week. Of course, I’ve been thinking that every week since the start of the new year.  At this point, I don’t really know when they’ll sign. I still think they’ll be in some team’s camp, either in Florida or Arizona, before Opening Day but who knows. I feel so bad for the other guys. The free agents not named Machado or Harper. So many guys who can make a difference on a Major League roster, like Marwin Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, and they can’t find work. Clearly something has to change. For the Yankees, they appear to have the guys who will compete for the Opening Day roster barring any last-minute additions. Even if the Yankees didn’t sign Machado or Harper, they’ve been one of the more active teams this off-season.

The biggest battle to watch this Spring is the first base competition between Luke Voit and Greg Bird. By the way, Happy Birthday to Luke!  He is 28 years old today. DJ LeMahieu will apparently also see time at first in his role as the utility player for the team (which makes no sense to me). I’d like to see Voit win the job outright, continuing his late season run from last year.  I like his energy and excitement.  It’s infectious and spreads to his teammates. I would love to see Greg Bird hit the way we know he can but, like many people, I am tired of waiting. My guess is Bird goes to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to find himself if Voit wins the job. Bird’s sweet left-handed swing would look beautiful in Yankee Stadium but I am losing confidence we’ll ever see it consistently. For as much as I want Voit to win the job, I wouldn’t be disappointed if Bird killed it this Spring to reclaim the position for himself. That would be a great problem to have.

I just can’t wrap my head around the thought that Troy Tulowitzki is the starting shortstop. In my mind, he’s done. If he shows anything in camp, great, but realistically, I am not expecting anything from him. Team defense, in my opinion, is better served with Gleyber Torres at short and DJ LeMahieu, and his gold glove, at second until Didi Gregorius returns later this summer. Tulo is such a Wild Card at the moment. He could make the Opening Day roster and be the starting shortstop or he could by cut by the end of March when the team identifies its best 25 players. Honestly, neither would surprise me. But I think LeMahieu is the better player at this point and the Yankees have a greater investment in him. I find it very hard to believe that LeMahieu is simply the new Ronald Torreyes. He is better and deserves better.

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Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Out in left field, dependence on Brett Gardner as the starter is flawed logic. A fourth outfielder at best at this stage of his career, it would be better for Clint Frazier to win the job (unlikely) or put Giancarlo Stanton in left more often which is always a risk since he carried the injury-risk label until his monster 2017 season when he won the NL MVP Award for the Miami Marlins. DH is the best way to keep Stanton healthy and hitting the way he did during his MVP year. Jacoby Ellsbury, if healthy, looms as a threat to take a roster spot away from Frazier for Opening Day. I anxiously look forward to the day when Ellsbury and the Yankees part ways. While I don’t expect him on the field Opening Day, the possibility exists he is there if healthy.  The problem with Ellsbury is even if he is healthy, it won’t stay that way. The King of the DL will become the King of the new IL (“Injured List”). Let those insurance checks keep rolling in for Team Hal.

The only other real competition will be the last spots in the bullpen. Tommy Kahnle is expected to take one of the jobs, assuming he can pitch like he did in 2017. I really hope that the last man in the pen is not Luis Cessa. That’s another guy I’d like to see leave. I would prefer the last spot go to either Domingo German or Jonathan Loaisiga as the swing man/spot starter assuming the Yankees do not bring anyone else into Camp.  Let German and Lasagna duke it out in the Spring with the best arm heading north to the Bronx in late March. Danny Farquhar probably looms as a sentimental favorite for many after last year’s brain hemorrhage. If Kahnle fails to win a job and Farquhar proves he should be one of the bullpen finalists, I’d like to see him get it.

It’s an exciting time in the Yankees Universe. We have one of the best teams in Baseball right now. If this team can perform to its expectations, we should be watching Yankees baseball deep into October. Hopefully, this season will not see the Boston Red Sox spilling champagne on Yankee Stadium soil. It would be much better for the Yankees to return the favor with celebrations at Fenway Park while sounds of New York, New York reverberate through its halls. I know, it would be better for the Yankees to celebrate at home, in front of Yankee fans, but there’s a part of me that wants to see the Yankees in googles and bubbly in the very heart of the Red Sox Nation.

I was a little disappointed to see Jorge Posada is joining the Miami Marlins organization as a special adviser.  I know, it was destined to be considering Jorge’s close relationship with Marlins CEO Derek Jeter but it’s still tough now that it is actually happening.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

It’s difficult to watch 50% of the Core Four representing another MLB organization. Plus, a third Yankees retired number currently manages the team. I guess we should be thankful the Marlins are in the National League so the Yankees do not play them very often. Credit to Alex Rodriguez for maintaining his alliance with the Yankees after the end of his playing career.  I know part of it was the renegotiation of his playing contract into special services for Hal Steinbrenner, but A-Rod could have severed ties as he pursued his broadcast career with FOX and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Posada’s move makes me very thankful for Mariano Rivera, my favorite member of the Core Four. Rivera recently announced his intention to be a pitching consultant for the Yankees (teaching pitching in the organization in a to-be-determined role).  I’d really like to see the Yankees get Andy Pettitte back in the family. I’ve always thought he’d be a tremendous pitching coach and I’d love to see him transition back into pro coaching as an eventual successor for Larry Rothschild. We may have lost Jeter and Posada for now, but I don’t want to lose either Rivera or Pettitte. Eventually Don Mattingly will get fired.  Not that I want him to lose his job, but when the inevitable parting of the ways occurs, I am hopeful that Mattingly can find his way home.  Maybe not as a manager, but I look forward to the day when Donnie Baseball is a frequent visitor to Yankee Stadium again even if it is only for Spring Training and Old Timer’s Day.

It’s exciting to see the images of Spring Training. I am glad we’re getting the band together again and look forward to the first exhibition game a week from Saturday in Fort Myers, FL against the hated Boston Red Sox. This is the year we take them down. AL East Championship, American League Championship, World Series Championship. The time is now. Let’s end Boston’s reign.

As always, Go Yankees!

The Sights and Sounds of Steinbrenner Field…

Photo Credit: The New York Post (Charles Wenzelberg)

Pitchers and Catchers Report on Wednesday…

Here we are. The final weekend before pitchers and catchers report and Major League Baseball officially kicks off preparations for the 2019 season. Many players have already made their way to Tampa and have been seen in their informal workouts on the practice fields around Steinbrenner Field and signing autographs as they depart the hallowed grounds of 1 Steinbrenner Drive.

Photo Credit: Bryan Hoch via Instagram

I always enjoy the opening of Spring Training. So much excitement for the new season, everyone’s healthy (for the most part), and after no Major League baseball since last October, the gang’s back together again to make another run at the American League championship and the ultimate goal of winning the World Series. Of course, the feeling starts to fade in a couple of weeks when we are anxiously  and impatiently awaiting the start of the regular season but for now it’s a thrilling experience.

The past week saw another round of rumors surrounding Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. While both young superstars remain unsigned, there is continued speculation the Yankees could make a play for one of the players if the price falls into their comfort zone. The words of Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner this week while attending the owner’s meeting in Orlando did not dispel the rumors. I know, he can’t say the Yankees are out because of the CBA, but he somewhat flamed the rumors by not counting the Yankees out on any moves they might make in the coming days.

Steinbrenner made the comment, “If there’s a narrative that we’re not spending money and being cheap, that’s just false”. In my opinion, the Yankees have not been cheap. If anything, my frustration is simply the allocation of dollars that have been spent. I like DJ LeMahieu but with all honesty, the team would have been better with Manny Machado than LeMahieu. There’s been word (no official confirmation) the Yankees floated a concept of 7 or 8 years for around $220 million when they met with Machado in December. If true, Machado’s agent should have used it as a starting point for more serious negotiations. It didn’t happen, and the team quickly pivoted to LeMahieu. I don’t feel Steinbrenner is being cheap but conversely I don’t feel that he’s putting the best possible team on the field. Maybe signing Machado is not meant to be or if he really wanted to be a Yankee, he would be one by now. Regardless of events, I can’t help feel a little disappointment that neither Machado nor Harper are making flight plans for Tampa.

At various points of the off-season, the Yankees have called Brett Gardner the starting leftfielder and Troy Tulowitzki the starting shortstop. I don’t buy either claim. At this point in his career, Gardy helps this team the best as its fourth outfielder. He is not the player he once was. Age happens to all of us, except for maybe Tom Brady or Mariano Rivera. Perhaps Clint “The Wildling” Frazier proves the injuries and concussions are behind him and he finally fulfills the promise he’s held for a few years now. I have no problem rolling out Frazier as the starter if he proves in Tampa over the next few weeks that he is ready. Personally, I’d prefer it if Frazier can take the job from Gardner because it means he has proven he can be better.

As for Tulo, I just can’t shake the feeling he is done. Realistically, I am not expecting much from him. I think he’ll be very rusty in Spring Training, and I don’t see him as an every day starter once the team moves north to the Bronx. It feels too much like trying to “catch lightning in a bottle”. The infield is much stronger, in my opinion, with current two-year consecutive Wilson Defensive Player of the Year DJ LeMahieu at second and Gleyber Torres sliding to shortstop until the great Didi Gregorius is ready to return.

Photo Credit: Didi Gregorius via Instagram

But despite Plan B’s that make sense with the current roster and invitees, the Yankees can be a better team with Harper or Machado. Of the two, Harper makes the most sense. Aside from the left-handed bat that he’d bring to the lineup, he represents a great option for left field, keeping Giancarlo Stanton in the healthier role as DH, and Harper could potentially develop as a first baseman. I know, you don’t pay a guy hundreds of millions of dollars to see if he can play a new position but Bryce would represent such a great resource for the Yankees in their drive to dethrone the Boston Red Sox. For Hal, Harper will increase tickets sales, both at home and on the road. If the Yankees are successful in reacquiring controlling interest in the YES Network, Harper would be a primary face and draw attraction for the team. He is a popular player, perhaps one of the most popular in the game outside of Mike Trout. This is not meant as a slam to Aaron Judge who I feel is one of the greatest players in the game, but Harper unquestionably has more fans outside of the Yankees Universe.

Photo Credit: USATSI

I am still a major fan of Manny Machado but I recognize that his presence would adversely impact Miguel Andujar. Nevertheless, the Yankees should not decide to pursue Machado because of Andujar because Machado is clearly the better overall player. But under that scenario, the Yankees would need to move Andujar to left field or first base or trade him for top starting pitching as we’ve talked about ad nauseam this off-season. Putting Harper in left keeps Andujar at third with the potential to see if he has improved his defensive game and allowing LeMahieu to slide over to the corner for support if necessary.

My desire to add either Harper or Machado will not die until the players sign somewhere, anywhere.  Once that happens and if it is not in the Bronx, we’ll move on. The 2019 New York Yankees will be a very good team with or without Harp-Chado. If the Yankees do not sign either player, I’ll undoubtedly look at it as  missed opportunity (the “missed” chance to turn the team from very good to great) but I’ll support the current roster with full force and vigor as we all will.

I am really enjoying Adam Ottavino as a Yankee. His ‘This or That’ videos on Instagram with his wife feeding him questions from off-screen have been stellar. Given he is a lifelong Yankee fan like us makes him so relatable, outside of the fact that he’s 6’5”, ruggedly handsome, throws a nasty slider, lives in a beautiful Manhattan apartment with an overview of the city, has an adorable wife and family, and makes millions of dollars per year.

I like that Otto’s first pic upon arriving in Tampa this week was to take a picture of the famed George Steinbrenner statue outside of Steinbrenner Field.

Photo Credit: Adam Ottavino via Instagram

Ottavino understands the history of the franchise better than most through his childhood fandom. He recently mentioned that his favorite Yankee hitter was Bernie Williams and fave pitcher was Jimmy Key. There’s probably guys on the team who don’t even know who Jimmy Key is. I respect both of those choices.

After being known for years as Zach Britton, I was surprised the reliever formally announced that he’d be known by the proper “Zack” going forward. Not so much the correction of his name to match how he uses it and the name which appears on his birth certificate but rather why it took so many years for him to do it. I am sure that I’ll type Zach a time or two this season. Personally, with no offense to any Zack’s reading this, but I prefer the “ch” version of the name. It sounds more sophisticated, IMO. But hey, it’s not my name.  Britton has the right to call himself whatever he wants. If he wants to go by “Fluffy”, that’s fine by me. I guess I’ll get used to the new spelling in time. Speaking of Britton, I didn’t realize that his brother Buck was a manager in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system. Buck Britton managed the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds to a 68-66 record in 2018. For this season, he’s been elevated to manager of the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Not that I expect Zack to ever get over his love for Birdland, but his brother’s presence in the Orioles organization continues to give him ties to his former roots.

I mention it every year but I’ll continue to do it until there are changes. The Yankees need to revisit their facial hair policy. I don’t want to see the uncontrolled beards like Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers wears each season or Johnny Damon’s “Caveman” look during his days in Boston, but with controlled guidelines, there’s no reason guys like Luis Severino should not be allowed to wear beards like this:

Photo Credit: YES Network

I know the Yankees stick to the policy out of respect for the late George Steinbrenner but times have changed. I do not feel that short, trimmed facial hair detracts from the brand. It seems like all of the Yankee players are sporting some type of facial hair during the off-season. And very often when Yankee players are traded elsewhere, the first thing they do is grow a beard. I saw a pic of Ronald Torreyes, now playing for the Minnesota Twins, sporting a cool goatee this week.

Photo Credit: Ronald Torreyes via Instagram

Players should be allowed a certain degree of self-expression. I get the history and tradition of Baseball’s most storied and prestigious franchise but wearing a groomed short beard is not exactly like slapping last names on the back of the famed Pinstriped jersey. Loosen up the facial policy rules, Hal. It’s your team, set your own standard.

This has been a tough year watching Boston win championships in both MLB and NFL. I am tired of Boston fans celebrating and want to see the fans of New York rejoice. The Yankees have a huge opportunity to make plans for a parade in late October. Let’s not screw this up. The dawn of the 28th World Championship is upon us.

As always, Go Yankees!

The Warmth of Baseball on a Chilly New York Day…

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Soon, The Yankees Head for Tampa…

Welcome to February! That can only mean one thing…it’s time for BASEBALL!  Sorry New England fans (hopefully there aren’t any in here…the combo of Yankees/Patriots fan seems like such an odd pairing) but the most important sport is not happening on Sunday…it’s the opening of Spring Training for all 30 Major League teams in less than two weeks although we all know there is only one team that really matters. This is a Yankees blog and we love our Yankees! February 13th is the day Yankee pitchers and catchers must report, a day we’ve been impatiently awaiting. There is nothing as exciting this month as the Yankees taking over Steinbrenner Field on 1 Steinbrenner Drive in Tampa, Florida. Super Bowl or no Super Bowl.

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It is the first of February yet, as we painfully know, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have not signed. Well, maybe they have an idea where they’ll be spending their summers and just haven’t let us in on the secret. Regardless, I am resigned to the fact that neither 26-year-old superstar will be wearing the famed Pinstripes this season. I know, it’s not my money but I think it is a huge mistake to pass on potential future Hall of Famers, entering their primes (when the best is yet to come). Two young superior players who can be acquired for only a boatload of Benjamins, keeping all top prospects in the farm system. It kind of bugs me the San Diego Padres and the Chicago White Sox are in on Harper and Machado (at least by public reports) and the Yankees are not. Sure, the Yankees can never be counted out until Harper and Machado are hoisting up jerseys at press conferences held by other teams but it does seem unlikely there will be any surprise last minute signings by Team Hal.

It looks like the guys who will be on the 2019 Opening Day Roster for the Yankees have already been signed and invited to Major League Camp, barring last minute trades or signings. The reports lately focus on adding another starter, such as Gio Gonzalez or Ervin Santana, as the team’s only remaining need. I agree the Yankees need a hedge for the starting rotation. CC Sabathia, regardless of how healthy he is right now, had a stent placed in a heart artery just a couple of months ago. He’ll be on a short leash. I wouldn’t really want Gio or Santana as part of the starting five, but they’d certainly be better and more reliable options than someone like Luis Cessa should the Yankees need a guy to temporarily step into the rotation. Gio may not be the pitcher he once was for the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals, but he could help in a swing role. Santana does not appear to be a fit based on his negative words about Yankee Stadium in the past. In 2015, after a game in which Greg Bird hit two home runs, Santana made a comment about the second dinger, “I know, probably in another park that’s a double. But here, it’s a joke.” The Yankees lost another option yesterday when Wade Miley signed with the Houston Astros.  Miley, who has reinvented himself with a cutter, pitched effectively for the Milwaukee Brewers last season and might have represented a solid choice for the Yankees. It has been reported the Yankees did not reach out to Miley before he signed with the Astros so it’s possible the team decides to stay in-house. James Shields is available but it’s been a few years since he was “Big Game James”. Francisco Liriano, Brett Anderson, Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz are other names out there (or in other words, the pickings are rather slim). I think most of us expect to see Michael King at some point this season although nobody predicts he’ll break camp with the team. The best case scenario if the Yankees do go with internal options is a healthy Jonathan Loaisiga. Unfortunately, “healthy” is a fleeting trait for the young Johnny Lasagna. I am very hopeful this is the year he proves the critics wrong. We know he has a Major League arm and it would be great if we could finally see it on a consistent basis.

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Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Heading into camp, I know the Yankees need to find a way to get DJ LeMathieu on the field. Play him at second with Gleyber Torres at shortstop, or put DJ at third, with Troy Tulowitzki at short and Gleyber staying at second. The latter situation would force the Yankees to move Miguel Andujar to DH and Giancarlo Stanton to left field. Not ideal, but it would be a mistake to leave DJ’s glove on the bench. He needs to play every day. I really hope that Troy Tulowitzki proves me wrong but his presence does not excite me. He has not been a top performer since his days in Colorado. I saw MLB Network Analyst Jim Bowden say recently that while he hopes Tulo is successful, he feels that the player is done. Sadly, that’s where I am at.  If he is finished, it’s no loss for the Yankees. They can just cut Tulo  without any significant financial ramifications. DJ should never be sacrificed for Tulo as a starting option with the infield configuration except for rest. It’s the plan for what happens if Tulo doesn’t make the cut that concerns me.  Torres would have to be the regular starting shortstop until Didi Gregorius returns which makes LeMathieu the every day second baseman for now. Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada would be leaned upon heavily if that happens, barring any veteran signings in the next few weeks. I’d still like to see Adeiny Hechevarria return but I haven’t seen any signs the Yankees are interested. Then again, Brian Cashman doesn’t have me on speed dial so who really knows.

While I’d love for the Boston Red Sox to open the season with their current bullpen, it remains my opinion closer Craig Kimbrel will slip back into their price range. It would be great if the Atlanta Braves signed their former closer or if the Philadelphia Phillies signed him to push David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez into ‘Dellin Betances/Zach Britton’ type of setup roles. But the realist in me knows the Sox won’t shortchange themselves despite current appearances. I saw one Red Sox fan who posted that their best reliever would be no better than fifth best in the Yankees bullpen. He’s right. I just can’t see the Red Sox sabotaging their chances to repeat by failing to address the needs of the pen. Last year, the Red Sox didn’t sign J.D. Martinez until February 26th. He proved to be the key to their success. I see something similar this year and I expect Kimbrel to be the late add. If not Kimbrel, then I bet Boston acquires another arm via trade. Boston is not going away and don’t sleep on the Tampa Bay Rays, especially if they are able to acquire Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. I expect the AL East to be extremely competitive this year…while the Baltimore Orioles watch, of course.

It’s always fun when the guys start showing up in Tampa for Spring Training. I look forward to the player interviews and seeing video of the new guys like Adam Ottavino, DJ LeMahieu, and Troy Tulowitzki meeting their teammates for the first time or just AO and DJ reconnecting after their disappointing exit together as members of the Colorado Rockies, walking off Coors Field on October 7, 2018 following the NLDS sweep by the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s going to be very fun and exciting to see James Paxton wearing a Yankees cap. The Big Maple is going to be a featured attracton. I am anxious to see him throwing bullpen sessions with Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, while Aaron Boone and Larry Rothschild watch.   All eyes will be on Miguel Andujar to see if he’s improved his defensive play. I know regardless of the results, we won’t be able to fault the effort.  I have no doubts Andujar has worked very hard this winter to improve his defense and find better positioning to aid his reactionary time. The Luke Voit-Greg Bird battle at first base will be must-watch, even if everyone expects the energetic Voit to emerge the winner. There are just so many interesting stories to keep an eye on this Spring. I am so glad baseball is almost here. The dawn of the 2019 New York Yankees. It’s a great year to be alive!

I look forward to the annual predictions by TGP’s Daniel Burch before the start of the new season and this year should be very fun. The Yankees are a World Series-caliber team ready to take the season as deep into October as possible, to be the last team standing. The goal is simple. Play the final game of the World Series and walk off the field to the spray of champagne. Anything less will be a disappointment. Mariano Duncan’s words that inspired the 1996 World Series champions echo through the halls of Yankee Stadium many years later, “We play today. We win today. Das it!” It started a roll of championships for the Core 4 and here we are again with a new Core and a new era of Yankees Baseball. I am sure Daniel will have the Yankees as the World Series favorite. He will not be wrong. This is our year. We see it, we feel it, we know it.  We just need the team to do it.

For the final weekend without baseball activity, I guess we’ll have to pause for some football. Here’s hoping Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams return the City of Angels to the NFL Championship. I was so excited when the Rams returned to Los Angeles (lived there at the time) after their years away in St Louis and now the franchise is in the Super Bowl against this century’s most dominant NFL team led by a quarterback who might be the greatest of all-time. I personally think it is Joe Montana, but whatever. It would be very exciting for a Rams victory and a Patriots loss. The secondary prize would be disappointment for the Red Sox-Patriots fans. Too bad, so sad. A nice way to start the new baseball year!

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 Go Rams! But as always and more importantly, Go Yankees!

Baseball Talk During Super Bowl Week…

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Who Cares About Tom Brady and the New England Patriots…

Yankee pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training two weeks from today. Finally, the end is in sight for the long, often grueling, off-season. Well, maybe not for the high number of MLB free agents including two “generational talents” but for the rest of us and those players signed, we’ll be hearing the sounds of baseballs popping in catching mitts soon.

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I don’t think any of us expected utility man Neil Walker to return but any chance was eliminated last night when it was announced that he had signed with the Miami Marlins. Walker is expected to platoon with former Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien at first base. Not sure where Garrett Cooper is in the mix (maybe the outfield?) but I think he’s healthy now so there should be a few ex-Yankees roaming the training fields with holdovers Starlin Castro and Caleb Smith for Derek Jeter’s team this Spring. I think I’d be hesitant to wear the Number 14 for the Yankees this year. The last two guys who wore it during the regular season now reside in Miami. Personally, I’d prefer to see Tyler Wade wear the number, giving up 12 for Troy Tulowitzki who obviously cannot wear his Number 2 (as worn in Denver and Toronto) for obvious reasons.

Speaking of numbers, I have no clue what number DJ LeMahieu will wear. If he wants to keep his Colorado Rockies 9 in his number, I suppose he can wear Todd Frazier’s old Number 29. If it were up to me, I’d go with David Robertson’s number (30). James Paxton should wear 65 so that means Domingo German will be part of the number-searching brigade.

I am surprised that we are at the end of January and neither Bryce Harper nor Manny Machado have signed. It was funny watching the unofficial reports yesterday in Philadelphia that had the Phillies signing Harper. Turned out to be fake news like so many of the Harper-Machado rumors we’ve heard this winter. I think I’ve gotten to the point that if Ken Rosenthal is not talking about it, there’s nothing to it.

Despite the infield additions, I would still like to see the Yankees bring in another shortstop. I think they need to plan for the ‘what if’…what if Troy Tulowitzki is unable to recapture his past form? No doubt we’ll see DJ LeMahieu starting at second and Gleyber Torres covering short until Didi Gregorius returns (which is the way it should be anyway with the current roster makeup). But I’d like a strong fallback plan for the Tulo experiment. The Yankees lost one option yesterday when Freddy Galvis signed a one-year deal with the division rival Toronto Blue Jays (who will compete with Lourdes Gurriel, Jr for Tulo’s old job). Adeiny Hechevarria remains available and he’s certainly a guy I’d try to bring back. I think the ship has sailed for someone like Marwin Gonzalez but the former Astro fits the roster so well given his versatility. Jose Iglesias is the only other name out there that seems like a decent possibility. As it stands, it seems as though the Yankees will roll with the tandem of Tulo and Gleyber at short, backed by Tyler Wade. If there was ever a time for Wade to step up big, now is it. I wish I had more confidence in his ability to do it. Maybe the Yankees do. We’ll see.

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The Yankees are continuing their search for another starter as a hedge against the health of CC Sabathia which I feel is a very good idea. None of us want to see Luis Cessa starting on a consistent basis. Most likely Jonathan Loaisiga, if he can stay healthy, represents the best in-house insurance backed by Domingo German.  I fully expect to see Chance Adams and Domingo Acevedo given their chances this year. If the Yankees do bring in another starter, I see someone like Brett Anderson, not Dallas Keuchel.

I was surprised to see the Boston Red Sox sign former Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia to a minors deal. The three-time PED offender who received a lifetime ban a few years ago which was subsequently lifted by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred last summer, gets a fourth chance. The minor-league contract does not include a provision to attend Major League camp but no doubt if Mejia shows anything, he has a chance to make the Red Sox roster at some point this season. Mejia represents a shot in the dark for the Red Sox who have seen their bullpen depleted with the departure of Joe Kelly and the potential Craig Kimbrel does not return. Mejia was once a decent receiver. He’s been away from the game for a long time, yet he is only 29 and could certainly surprise some people. I am sure Boston loves the price tag (Mejia would make $625,000 if he is on the Major League roster) but Mejia’s character is enough for me to pass. Better Boston signs him than the Yankees. Boston fans can stop trashing Alex Rodriguez for his PED use now.

To flip the coin, I hate to defend the Red Sox but I’ve seen so many Yankee fans quick to rip Boston about their bullpen and how the Red Sox cannot match last year’s 108 wins due to career years by a few players. The Red Sox have won three consecutive AL East division championships in a row and four overall since the Yankees last won the division. Boston’s bullpen may not match up with the Yankees at the moment but as we’ve seen, relievers can be the most unpredictable in the sport. The Tampa Bay Rays, historically, have been very good at throwing together very effective bullpens with a cast of no-names. Conversely, even the great Yankee relievers are prone to blow a game now and then. The Yankees’ super-pen may look much better on paper right now but there is still time for the Red Sox to re-sign Kimbrel even if his level of play may be slipping. I know there are some young guys coming up in the Red Sox system that can be effective arms and there are a few holdovers that should not be dismissed like Tyler Thornburg, Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes. I don’t think we should be so quick to discount the Red Sox this year. They are the defending World Champions and they made their AL Division Series with the Yankees last October look like a total mismatch. They still have many of the very talented players that made the Los Angeles Dodgers look like a minor league team in the World Series. Based on their first seasons, Alex Cora was a better manager than Aaron Boone. It doesn’t mean that Boone can’t get better but the Red Sox are simply not going away. I see the division as a total dogfight. The Tampa Bay Rays, with their pitching staff, have the potential to be the surprise team of 2019 like the Oakland A’s were last year.  I’ve gotten to the point where I am tired of people saying that Harper and Machado are “luxuries, not necessities”. Until the Yankees can win the division and advance to the World Series to claim the championship, better players are a necessity. The Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2009 (ten years ago) and have not sat atop the AL East since 2011.  Yes, the 2019 Yankees, with no further additions, are arguably the best team we’ve seen since the 2009 Yankees, I agree. It does not mean that we cannot or should not strive to be better. No team is going to roll over for the Yankees, not even the lowly Baltimore Orioles. If anything, teams play harder, try harder against the Yankees than any other team. With or without Harper or Machado, the Yankees have much to prove before we can start beating our chests.

Congratulations to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for the selection of their new manager, Jay Bell.  Bell, known as a player’s manager and referred to as the GOAT by his teams, has managed in the Yankees’ minor league system since 2017. In two years, he has taken High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton to the playoffs and will be looking to make it to the post-season for the third consecutive season with the RailRiders. I know that Aaron Boone likes ‘smart and confident’ which is the reason he chose Josh Bard, most likely a future manager, as his bench coach, but I can’t help but think Boonie would have benefited from someone like Bell at his side. Nevertheless, Bell is now coaching the guys who are just a phone call (and a bus ride) away from the Bronx and guys he has watched grow and develop over the last few years. The former Arizona Diamondback, who scored the winning run on the World Series-winning walk-off single by Luis Gonzalez in 2001 off legendary Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, is making a huge contribution to the Yankees organization. I guess it’s his payback for breaking our hearts so many years ago although I am sure that he’d gladly step on home plate again to defeat the Yankees if given the opportunity. I think Bell’s promotion from Trenton was an excellent move. Nothing against former RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell but he didn’t really excite me as a manager. Bell does. He seems to have the presence or aura held by former RailRiders manager Al Pedrique, maybe even more so. He’ll do well with the top Yankees farm team and the fruits of his efforts will be highly visible in the Bronx this coming season and for years to come.

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The Yankees should be commended for their decision to sign lefty reliever Danny Farquhar to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League camp. Last summer, it appeared Farquhar’s career was over with his brain hemorrhage. He survived the life-threatening ordeal and is pitching again.  It’s a tall order for him to make the Yankees roster but I don’t think anybody is rooting against him. It would be a great story if he does deliver this Spring and finds his moment to step out on the Yankee Stadium turf wearing the famed Pinstripes.

If I was a Major League player, I think I’d want to know where I’d be reporting in two weeks. It seems like maybe we’ll see a flurry of signings in the coming days. Starting to see reports this morning that reliever/closer Greg Holland has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks so there’s another relief option off the board for Boston. I really hope the next week or so finally brings closure to the Harper-Machado saga, wherever they may land. It would be great if one (or both) fell into the Yankees’ lap but I am done with them, and just want to move on.

As always, Go Yankees!