Tagged: Cardinals

Free As A Bird…

The slump is over.

On a night the Yankees completed their seventh consecutive win (sixth straight at home for the first time since 1998), thanks largely to another good pitching performance by Michael Pineda, the star of the game, for me, was first baseman Greg Bird.

After Aaron Judge’s apparent home run in the second inning was ruled a triple due to fan interference, Bird smashed a ‘no-doubt-about-it’ 444 foot homer to right, scoring Judge.  The Baseball Gods smiled.  Mystique and Aura were alive and well, and dancing throughout the Stadium.  

Bird was 3-for-3 for the game with two runs scored and the two RBI’s courtesy of the long homer.  He raised his batting average by 100 points (from .038 to .138).  It was a beautiful sight to see.  Bird’s bat is instrumental to the long term success for the team so it was great to see the strong offensive explosion.  Maybe he did take my slump-busting advice after all (reference to Mark Grace’s infamous slump buster quote).   

A week ago Saturday, when the Yankees stood at 1-4, it was hard to be optimistic.  Now, at 8-4 and just a half-game behind the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles, the glass is half full once again.  If not for the Orioles (8-3 in one less game), the Yankees would be tied for the best record in all of Baseball.  

Michael Pineda delivered a very solid pitching performance, allowing only two runs in seven innings of work.  He did allow six hits (including Yadier Molina’s home run in the seventh) but he walked only one and struck out six.  I was thinking to myself that the Yankees pitchers, excluding Masahiro Tanaka (so far), seem to be playing a game of ‘one-up-manship’.  But then I came across a Jordan Montgomery quote.  “Yeah, well every staff I’ve been a part of, (when we) get rolling like this, we’re all just trying to beat the last guy that were out there.  Kind of one-up him, and one-up and then one-up.”  Yep, he one-upped me.  Now, if Masahiro Tanaka could join the One-Up Party.

Hats off to Ronald Torreyes.  He was not my choice for starting shortstop when Didi Gregorius but the so-called “Toe” has been a great fill-in.  He drove in two with a ground rule double in the eighth inning to push his team-leading season RBI total to ten (two more than the Aarons who both have eight).  I am looking forward to the return of Gregorius, but Torreyes has impressed.  He’s doing his best to ensure that Ruben Tejada never puts on the Yankee pinstripes at Yankee Stadium.  

I hate to say that I was nervous with a 9-2 lead in the top of the ninth inning but I gotta admit that Bryan Mitchell had me a little worried.  The inning did not start well with a double by Eric Fryer.  A wild pitch advanced Fryer to third, and Mitchell ended up walking the next batter (Jedd Gyorko) on four pitches.  Randal Grichuk then hit a ball toward third which Torreyes made a great stop but then hurriedly threw the ball to second baseman Starlin Castro for a force out attempt.  The throw was too low and Castro couldn’t come up with it, and Torreyes was charged with the throwing error.  Fryer scored on the play. A home run at that point could have brought the score to 9-6 (too close for comfort).  Fortunately, Mitchell settled down and got the next three batters out by strikeout and two fly balls, and it was game over.

I felt bad for Matt Holliday as he missed his second game with the lower back stiffness.  So it wasn’t much of a reunion for Holliday with his old mates, and he finished the series with his Friday night performance (0-for-4, three strikeouts).  Per Manager Joe Girardi, he was available to pinch-hit so hopefully that means he’ll be back in the saddle tonight against the Chicago White Sox.  Of all the things I want to see with the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury as the clean-up hitter has not been one of them.  Hopefully, Girardi is able to pencil in #17 for the clean-up spot tonight.    

Playing the Chicago White Sox brings a few former Yankees back to the Bronx.  Starting pitcher Jose Quintana, Closer David Robertson, relievers Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak, and outfielder Melky Cabrera.  Friday night, in a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins, the White Sox made “Garcia” history when every starting outfielder was named Garcia.  Willy in left, Leury in center, and Avisail in right.  Quintana pitched on Saturday in a 6-0 loss to the Twins and will not be available this series.  I’ve already read a few ‘trade for Quintana’ articles this morning.  Stop it.  Forget Quintana and move on with life.  

Have an awesome Monday!  Eight would be great!

O Say Can You CC…

I have to admit that I wasn’t a believer.  I did not think that CC Sabathia could make the transformation from a young dominant power pitcher to a crafty veteran at the top end of a starting rotation.  Weight issues, age, injuries, alcoholism…whatever the cause…I didn’t think he could do it.  He has proved me wrong.  

After Saturday’s 3-2 win over the St Louis Cardinals, Sabathia leads the team with a 2-0 mark, compiling a 1.47 ERA in 18 1/3 innings with 11 strikeouts.  While the most dominant single game belongs to Michael Pineda, Sabathia has been the most dominant overall.  

I had gotten to the point where I thought of Sabathia as a five inning starter.  Yet, here he was on the mound on April 15, 2017 at 36 years of age, throwing 7 1/3 innings, allowing only three hits and one run with just one walk.  He punched out six.  THAT was not the Sabathia that we had come to expect in recent years.  

I am so glad that he has been able to make the transformation.  I don’t know if it is the time he has spent with Yankees legend Andy Pettitte but we tend to hear Pettitte’s name come up a lot in interviews with not only Sabathia but other pitchers when they talk about success.  Pettitte’s annual visits to training camp for a few days always seem to have such a tremendous impact.  I think Pettitte is an assistant on a high school coaching staff these days, but I would love for his return to New York as an eventual successor to Larry Rothschild.  

At the beginning of the year, I felt it was obvious this would be Sabathia’s final year in Pinstripes.  With the youth movement in full bloom, I didn’t see a future for Sabathia or a veteran’s salary in Team Hal’s budget for 2018.  If Sabathia expects to make his 2017 salary ($25 million) next year, I still think it’s unlikely he returns.  He’ll have to take a pay cut to stay and perhaps he will.  But for now, I am just enjoying the ride.  I love watching Sabathia’s accomplishments this year, and I know that he is a huge influence on the younger pitchers.  If Sabathia, Pineda and Severino can continue pitching like their most recent starts, this is definitely a team that can outperform expectations in 2017.  Of course, Greg Bird does need to start mixing in a hit or two.

I was reading an interview with Jordan Montgomery this morning.  Or should I call him “Gumby”?  I had to laugh when I saw him refer to the famous Serendipity 3 on 60th Street as “some dessert place”.  Give him time.  He’ll figure the City out.   If he keeps pitching like we know he can, he’ll be here for a very long time.  

With the inability of Matt Holliday to play on Saturday due to lower back stiffness, I hope this is not a sign of things to come.  His final years with the Cardinals, while he was still playing in the field, came with significant DL stints. I had hoped the ‘DH-only’ role would help preserve his health.  Hopefully, this is just an aberration and he’ll back with bat in hand shortly.  The loss of Holliday did show the significance of having Chris Carter on the roster as Carter provided what proved to be the winning run in Saturday’s game with a run-scoring single in the sixth inning.  

As for Greg Bird, he needs to figure this out soon.  His 1-for-26 start is dreadful.  I remain hopeful that he’ll work through the challenge and will start to hit like he did in Spring Training.  He is too much of a professional hitter for the current sample to be representative of his ability going forward. No offense to Chris Carter, but I strongly prefer Bird at first in any scenario.  I wish that Tyler Austin was closer to returning but he’s not an option for now and there’s no one else in the organization that would be superior to the current duo of Bird and Carter.  Rob Refsnyder is only hitting .192 in AAA and Ji-Man Choi is not on the 40-man roster.  Choi is batting .280 but he has only 2 RBI’s and no home runs.  

I hate to be politically-incorrect, but the words of former Arizona Diamondback Mark Grace resonate in my ears when I think of Bird’s slump.  “A slumpbuster is if a team’s in a slump, or if you personally are in a slump, you gotta find the fatest, gnarliest, grossest chick and you just gotta lay the wood to her. And when you do that, you’re just gonna have instant success. And it could also be called jumping on a grenade for the team.”  Bird, just do it…take one for the team.

Have a great Sunday!  Hopefully, it will be a sweeping success for the Yankees!

I Guess It Was In The Cards…

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Credit:  Elsa/Getty Images

The World certainly looks better when the Yankees are winning.  We have our  own problems but somehow they seem more manageable when the Yankees win.

While it was technically a quality start by definition, Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have his best stuff on Friday night.  He got off to an ominous start when he gave up a two-run first inning home run to Matt Carpenter of the St Louis Cardinals.  Carpenter, by the way, makes a strong point for the Yankees Facial Hair policy as he proves not everyone looks good with a beard.  Fortunately, the Yankees answered Carpenter’s homer very quickly when Starlin Castro, no stranger to the Cards from his days with the Chicago Cubs, launched a two-run bomb of his own to tie the game.

An Austin Romine solo homer and a run courtesy of a throwing error by Cardinals second baseman Kolton Wong were the only additional runs the Yankees needed to hold off St Louis for their fifth consecutive win.  Tanaka was strong after the shaky first inning until he got into trouble in the seventh.  He finished the game with 6 2/3 innings, five hits, three runs, two walks and five strikeouts to pick up his first win of the year.

The game was in doubt in each of the seventh, eighth and ninth innings as the dynamic trio of Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman succeeded Tanaka.  Clippard, replacing Tanaka with runners at second and third and only one out, got both Wong and Dexter Fowler on fly outs with a great play by Aaron Judge on the latter as it looked like it could have been an extra base hit.  Betances was solid as he recorded all three outs in the eighth by strikeout, but he did have  brief trouble throwing strikes as he nearly walked Matt Carpenter and then did walk the next batter, Stephen Piscotty, on four consecutive balls.  In the ninth inning, Aroldis Chapman, pitching for the third consecutive day, walked Randal Grichuk after easily getting the first two outs of the inning.  The next batter, pinch hitter Jose Martinez, hit a solid double to left, which Brett Gardner got back to the infield quickly keeping Grichuk from scoring.  The Cardinals third base coach initially wanted to send Grichuk but quickly changed his mind when the ball was returned by Gardner so quickly.  That brought Chapman’s former Cubs teammate Dexter Fowler to the plate in a match-up of World Series Champions.  Chapman won the battle as Fowler grounded out to Starlin Castro, and the baseball safely made it to first base before the speedy Fowler did.

It was an intense game but with Yankees-Cardinals, you wouldn’t expect anything less.

I watched Matt Holliday with great interest as this was the first time he had played against the Cardinals since May 8, 2008 when he was a member of the Colorado Rockies.  For the game, Holliday did nothing as he was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.  I am sure that it was an emotional night for Holliday, being reunited with his former Cardinals teammates.  It would be hard to spend eight years with a team and not have emotional attachments.  Holliday’s last game against the Cardinals in 2008 was a much greater success.  He was 4-for-5, with three runs scored, in Colorado’s 9-3 victory over St Louis.  On that same night (to put into perspective how long it has been), Mike Mussina was beating the Cleveland Indians, 6-3, with a save by Mariano Rivera.  Hopefully, Holliday will have greater success against his former team today and tomorrow.

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I know that Greg Bird has struggled with the foot injury and the flu, but I am concerned about his 1-for-23 start.  He hasn’t indicated any signs of the hitter he was during Spring Training.  I had hoped the days of Mark Teixeira and his ice-cold starts were a thing of the past with the new first baseman but so far that’s not been the case.  Hopefully, Bird will get untracked soon and start hitting like we know he can.  I prefer Bird at first over Chris Carter, but if Bird continues on this path, we’ll be seeing more of Carter.

The Yankees are currently 2nd in the AL East Standings behind the Baltimore Orioles.  The biggest surprise to me isn’t that the Boston Red Sox are in the 4th place with a .500 record (they’ll catch fire sooner rather later), but rather the last place Toronto Blue Jays with only one win on the year (1-9).  I think I heard a stat that no team that has lost 9 of its first 10 games has ever made the playoffs.  The Blue Jays were predicted to battle the Red Sox at the top of the division.

I have to comment on two incidents that occurred with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and two of their former tight ends in the last 24 hours.  One was a very heartwarming story (no pun intended) and the other was one of life’s most devastating moments.  In December, former Ravens tight end Konrad Reuland died of a brain aneurysm.  On Friday, it was revealed that the recipient of his heart and kidney was none other than legendary Hall of Famer Rod Carew.  Ironically, Reuland’s age (29) matched Carew’s playing number for the Minnesota Twins.  Also, on Friday, former Ravens tight end Todd Heap accidentally struck and killed his three-year-old daughter while moving his truck in his driveway in Mesa, Arizona.  This was such devastating news to hear and I cannot possibly imagine how Heap will be able to deal with this tragedy.  I am so very saddened by this news, and my thoughts and prayers go out to Heap and his family.

It’s kind of hard to say ‘have a great day’ after that news, so I’ll only say hug your loved ones and be thankful they are in your life.

The Yanks are assured of putting up 162 box scores…

 

Team Question Mark…

It’s March 22nd and I am still waiting for that deal that instills confidence for the 2013 New York Yankees, but so far, it’s been like an unsuccessful Vegas weekend.  I want to throw out the surgery recovery for Alex Rodriguez because I remain happy that he is not in the lineup regardless of the cost.  Addition by subtraction.  Sorry, I am just not a fan of the narcissistic one.  Even with the injury risk, I prefer to see Kevin Youkilis man third base for the Yanks.  But throwing that aside, the Yankees have lost Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira to injury.  While both are expected to be back in May, there have been numerous professional reports that Teixeira could be lost for the year.  The Yankees lost their backup first baseman when right fielder Nick Swisher signed with the Cleveland Indians.

The catching battle is between two perennial backup catchers.  I fully expect Francisco Cervelli to win the job, but I do not have full faith and confidence in his ability as a starter.  I am sure that Chris Stewart will see plenty of time behind the plate this year.  I had quietly hoped that Austin Romine would surprise in training camp and claim the job, but now that he’s back in the minors, his arrival won’t come until later in the year and perhaps even next year.  Meanwhile, I am hoping that top catching prospect Gary Sanchez can start to accelerate his development to hasten his arrival in the Bronx.

Despite Derek Jeter’s optimistic outlook, it’s unlikely that he’ll be ready on Opening Day so the Yanks will most likely open against the Boston Red Sox with Eduardo Nunez at short.

I am assuming that Ichiro Suzuki will be shifted to left to temporarily replace Granderson, so right field will most likely be a committee led by recent signee Brennan Boesch.  I am hopeful the team also finds room for Ben Francisco, but neither bat will rival the production the Yanks received from Swisher.

Brett Gardner is coming off an injury-lost season so it’s not 100% that he’ll be the Gardy of old.  So, the only “sure thing” in the Yankees lineup right now is second baseman Robinson Cano.  Given his recent health history, I would certainly not label DH Travis Hafner as a sure thing.  If the Yankees lost Cano, this season would be lost.  As it stands, I still expect a late March trade to bring in a capable first baseman.  Gaby Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates is the name that comes to mind.  There’s no way that it will be a frontline first bagger, not under the regime of Hal the accountant.

The Yankees are the oldest team in baseball and rarely has the oldest team succeeded.  This will be a tough year.  Yes, the Yankees will compete for a play-off spot but I do not see them repeating as AL East Champions.  I know that Red Sox fans have been salivating all off-season (along with Rays and Jays fans).

At least I learned what a lisfranc injury is…

While I was pleased to hear the Yankees have re-signed former ace starter Chien-Ming Wang, he’s a bigger question mark than any of the current players on the team.  The foot injury suffered against the Houston Astros years ago led to Wang’s subsequent departure for the Washington Nationals, and he really only enjoyed one reasonably healthy season while away.  I seriously doubt that he’ll ever be the 19 game winner that he was a few years ago.  He does give the Yankees some insurance to trade someone like David Phelps or Ivan Nova for a quality bat.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen…

I have been a Yankees fan for a number of years but this is clearly one of the most fragile times that I’ve experienced in recent memory.  The Yankees are only an injury or two away from disaster.  Sure, some players could step up and have career years but the range of potential success to non-success have never been wider.  The pressure on Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman will be as high as it has ever been.  It’s unfortunate that they are the front mean for Team Hal.  I am not quite sure why the Yankees suddenly feel that they can be the AL version of the St Louis Cardinals.  My favorite teams, in order, are the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The pressure on Girardi and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly are higher than any other manager in baseball.  Not that I am against a scenario that could ultimately bring Donnie Baseball to the Bronx as manager, but still, both men deserve better than the hands they have been dealt.

–Scott

 

A Magical and Memorable Day…

 

A Legend among Legends…

Most baseball fans remember attending their first major league baseball game.  For many of us, it happened during our childhoods so it was a special event to spend time with a parent, grand-parent or older sibling.  In my case, I attended my first game with my step-father.  My own father had died a few years earlier and he did not have the health in his final years to take me to any games.

I was excited when my step-father informed me that we could be traveling to St Louis by bus to see the Cardinals play.  My step-father had been a life-long Cardinals fan so he was probably as thrilled about the trip as I was.  My step-father had been very active with the local Elks club chapter, as a member and officer of the organization.  The bus trip to St Louis, a five hour drive, had been sponsored by the Elks club.  I am not sure why that’s relevant to this post, but it’s probably just a tribute to my step-father for the passion and support he gave the Elks over the years.

The date of the game was May 29, 1974, and it featured the Los Angeles Dodgers against the St Louis Cardinals.  It was a nice spring Missouri day at the old Busch Stadium, with the Arch looming in the background.  When I look back, I am in complete awe of the players who took the field that day.  At that point of my childhood, I considered myself a bigger football than baseball fan.  Like many of my friends, my favorite baseball team were the Oakland A’s.  I would not become a Yankees fan until the end of the year when A’s starting pitcher and Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter would leave Oakland as a free agent to sign with the Yankees.

Thinking about the game, several players stood out to me that day as a kid attending my first professional game.  I was mesmerized by the Dodgers starting pitcher (and future Yankee) Tommy John and his pitching motion.  Surprisingly, I remember John more that day than the starter for the Cardinals, the legendary Bob Gibson.

For the Cardinals, centerfielder Bake McBride made the biggest impression…well, at least until the latter innings.  I thought the name “Bake” was rather cool, and he seemed to move effortlessly with great speed in the field.  He did not do anything with his bat that day, but I enjoyed the grace he displayed in the field.  Late in the game, the Cardinals brought in closer Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky even though they were trailing.  The intensity that Hrabosky brought to the game when he entered to pitch still gives me chills.  He brought the crowd alive, and although the Cardinals would lose the game, 5-2, Hrabosky made me a believer and he became my first favorite closer. I would have subsequent trips to St Louis and I always loved watching Hrabosky pitch while he was in his prime.  I think I’ve always had a favorite closer through the years as a result.  Rich “Goose” Gossage and Mariano Rivera are two other all-time favorites.

The memory of these players vastly overlooks the legends on the field that day (as I now recognize).  The Dodgers were managed by the great Walter Alston, while the Cardinals were led by long-time manager Red Schoendienst.  Some of the Dodger names that would have prominent roles in the ’77 and ’78 World Series agains the Yankees were there…Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Ron Cey and Steve Yeager.  The Cardinals had Joe Torre at first and Ted Simmons behind the plate.  It is amazing how differently the game looks to me today as I recall it as opposed to my perception in May 1974.  I was blessed with the opportunity to see so many legends that day.

As memorable as the game was for me, it was, believe it or not, a trip to the restroom that has endured the test of time as one of my all-time favorite baseball moments.  It was the fourth inning and I made my way to the restroom.  Over the speakers, I heard that I missed the opportunity to see my first home run as Ron Cey connected off Gibson.  After using the restroom, I was walking down the corridor back toward my seat.  I saw a line of people waiting to see a guy who was signing baseballs and books.  There were actually two guys signing autographs.  I went to the shorter line, and it was famed St Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer Bob Broeg.  Nothing against Broeg, but I was more intrigued by the other gentleman as he was garnering the most attention.  After getting Broeg’s autograph, I got in the other line and worked up my way up to shake hands with none other than the legendary Stan “The Man” Musial.  I had been familiar with who Musial was through my step-father as he always spoke very fondly of the Cardinals great.  I was in awe but admittedly I did not appreciate the moment at the time in the way I do today.  Mr. Musial was very kind to me and it is an encounter that I will never forget.  I can still remember going back to my seat and telling my step-father, “I just met Stan ‘The Man’ Musial!”.

I was very saddened to hear the news of Musial’s passing this weekend.  I have always been grateful for the few minutes I had with him and he’ll always hold a special place for me as one of my all-time favorite players.  He will be missed and as many have written, he was “The Man”…

–Scott

 

Live by the sword, die by the sword…

 

Who needs Josh Hamilton or A.J. Pierzynski!…

Austin Romine and Ronnier Mustelier.  Sometimes, the most meaningful additions to the major league roster are from within.  That’s probably never been so important in the Bronx than it is now as the Yankees attempt to reduce their payroll to below $189 million by 2014.  To accomplish the goal, the Yankees will need more than one or two low-cost, high reward type players on the roster.

I admit that I haven’t been watching the minor leagues as close as I probably should have.  I’ve been aware of Romine, the son of former Red Sox player Kevin Romine.  For years, his name was always mentioned in the same breath as Jesus Montero as the type two prospects at catcher.  With the trade of Montero to Seattle last year, it helped clear the path for Romine.  Now, among Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, Romine represents the greatest upside even if he missed most of last year due to injury.

I have not been aware of Mustelier, a Cuban refugee the Yankees signed a couple of years ago.  But all the guy has done is hit as he’s progressed through the Yankees’ system.  He is a utility man that can play both corners, but I’ve seen speculation about him in right field too.  He’s old for a prospect (27) but it doesn’t mean that he cannot seize an opportunity in spring training to make his imprint on the Yankees’ roster.

If both Romine and Mustelier grabbed key roles for the 2013 team, it will help the Yankees to focus on eliminating other parts of “fat” on the roster and hopefully upgrade the team with lower cost high-producing replacements.  Easier said than done, which does lead me to believe the next couple of years will be ones of transition for the Yankees.  I honestly cannot see them keeping up with the ‘Joneses’ (i.e., namely the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays or even the Baltimore Orioles) with the current roster.  This doesn’t mean that I envision 95-loss seasons in the immediate future.  The Yankees still have too much talent on the roster.  But it will be a dogfight for 90-win seasons if the team continues on its current path.  A game or two here or there is the difference between making the play-offs as a wild card or staying home for October.

The strong get stronger, the Yankees get older…

As it stands, the most successful teams this off-season, in my opinion, have been the Los Angeles Angels and the Toronto Blue Jays.  Of course, the Kansas City Royals added a great pitcher in James Shields even if it did cost their top prospect. The Texas Rangers will be strong again even if they lost Josh Hamilton.  I fully expect them to find an adequate replacement for Hamilton between now and the start of the season.  The bat won’t be as strong as Hamilton’s bat, but it will be a capable one, I am sure.  In the AL East, I still expect the Tampa Bay Rays to be strong despite losing Shields.  If I’ve learned anything in baseball, it is to never underestimate Rays manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman.  I assume that the Baltimore Orioles will be as strong as they were in 2012, and I expect an improved Boston Red Sox club under the new leadership of manager John Farrell.

With the strength of the Detroit Tigers and other teams, it’s almost impossible to predict who will be the winners next season.  I’d like to say the Yankees will be one of the last teams standing, but everything would have to align perfectly for that to happen and I just don’t see it.  As usual, I hope I am wrong and that the Yankees surprise me with their performance in ’13.  Time will tell…

I still do not see the Steinbrenner family allowing the value of the franchise to erode.  Either they make the necessary moves to ensure the continued competitiveness of the team or they sell.  The latter is not such a bad idea if it would bring in aggressive new ownership.  I cannot find fault with the current regime’s decision to cut payroll to reduce luxury taxes in future years, but the problem is too many bad decisions in the past (i.e., A-Rod’s contract).  It feels like the Yankees are going ‘cold turkey’ with their new small market budget mentality.  It would have worked better as a slower transition, but of course, the 2014 deadline does not allow for it.

Teams like the St Louis Cardinals have proven in recent years that you can win despite not having the best players or the highest payroll.  I know that’s the model the Yankees would like to emulate.  Going for the best players with inflated payrolls seems to be a ‘play for now’ approach with no sustainability.  The key to long-term success is to develop a farm system that allows the introduction of young, low-cost talent every year (in other words, the Tampa Bay Rays).  It’s just so hard as a Yankees fan to see the team go from one extreme to the other.

Oh well, let’s see what happens when the players step onto the field…

Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  J

–Scott

 

Are Youk freakin’ serious?…

 

Sleeping with the Enemy…

News that the Yankees have signed veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis have not been well received in the Yankees Universe…obviously.  Sure, there have been a few ex-Boston Red Sox players make their way to the Bronx but certainly none who have been as despised as Youk.  His crime?  Playing with passion and all-out perseverance to find ways to beat the Yankees.  He is one of those tough, gritty players that are relentless and when they smell blood, it’s over.  Youk has struggled with injuries in recent years and he had a falling out with former Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who has historically taken to gritty players.  I know, there is the stat line that he only got one hit in his final 59 at-bats with the Chicago White Sox last season.  Nevertheless, I am willing to give Youk a chance.

Admittedly, I am not an Alex Rodriguez fan and I am still bent the Yankees didn’t let him walk away when he opted out of his first mega contract.  But with third base possibilities such as Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger signing elsewhere, the Yankees had to do something given that A-Rod will be lost for most of the season due to his upcoming hip surgery.  Going to camp with Eduardo Nunez as the starting third baseman, given the team doesn’t have a starting catcher or right fielder, was not appealing in any way.  No one really knows how A-Rod will play next season when or if he returns, so odds are they need a solid third baseman for the entire season.  With Youk on board, the Yanks still need to get insurance at third in case Youk goes down.  But I think as long as he gets sufficient rest, he’ll stay healthy and be an effective part of the Yankees lineup.

When Youk homers for the first time against the Red Sox, I am sure that the Yankee cheers will come around.  Yankee fans love players who play with passion so long as the player is on their team.  It will always be hard to look at Youk and not think of the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, but he is not the same player he was then and this is a new chapter in his life.  When he walks away from the game, he will be remembered as part of the Red Sox organization but for a year or two, he can certainly make an effective contribution for the home team.

There are guys on the current Red Sox roster that I have great respect for, like Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia.  Youk was one of those guys.  Sure, I hated the guy in difficult games between the Yankees and Red Sox, but I always had a quiet respect for him.  Of course, this could all be premature as Youk still has to pass a physical but I look forward to seeing what he can do in the Bronx sans the famed goatee.  It will also be interesting to see if the Yankees continue to hold #20 in reserve out of respect for Jorge Posada or if they assign it to Youk given it was his number in Boston and Chicago.  I suspect he’ll end up with something other than #20, but until it happens, you never know.

I saw a quote in George King’s column in The New York Post from Mariano Rivera that I agree with completely:  “Yankee (fans) didn’t like him but he was wearing a Red Sox uniform.  I can’t decide for them but he will be my teammate and I have to respect him for that.”  Youk is a Yankee, and like Mo, I respect him for that.

Ichiro, Part II…

All indications are the Yankees will be coming to terms with Ichiro Suzuki on a new deal to keep him in the Bronx.  The question is whether it will be one or two years.  At 39, I’d probably prefer a one year deal so that the team can reassess its options at the end of the year.  Every move has been made with the intent to get the payroll under $189 million by 2014 for luxury tax purposes and a second year for Ichiro would erode into the dollars available for any talent upgrades next off-season.

As it stands, I do not like an outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro, but I will be interested to see who they bring in as the fourth outfielder.  Perhaps that individual will solidify this outfield corps into a strong and powerful unit.  I am not opposed to trading Granderson and moving Gardner to center, but the Yankees would need to replace his offensive production elsewhere in the lineup.  All signs so far this winter indicate the Yankees will not do anything to the extreme.  Yes, they could still swoop in with a blockbuster trade, but I highly doubt it.  The sad part is the current Yankees roster is not as strong as last year’s squad, while the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox have clearly improved.  Tampa Bay may have traded a top starting pitcher in James Shields, but they picked up one of the best prospects in baseball in Wil Myers.  Tampa also seems to be able to pull aces out of their farm system every year so there’s no doubt they’ll find a capable replacement for Shields.  Baltimore hasn’t made any major moves but they still have the team to over-achieve.  I do not know what next year will bring.  The Yankees still have December and January to improve, but the likelihood diminishes with each passing day.  If the Yankees falter in 2013, what does 2014 look like?  I can’t see the team suddenly reversing course and going into “Dodger” mode to sign free agents.  I think the Yankees will remain competitive, but I am not convinced they have the horses to win the World Series.

Maybe the All-Star Game should be the Dodgers against everyone else…

My favorite National League team is the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I am struggling with the thought of cheering for the two highest payrolls in baseball.  My affection for the Dodgers is primarily because of my long-time hero, Don Mattingly, but the huge salary outlay by the Dodgers will create unrealistic expectations in Dodgerland and it will be tough for Donnie Baseball if the Dodgers struggle.  I remain hopeful that he’ll one day find his way back to the Bronx to manage, but I am not pulling for him to get fired next year.  I am not sure who I would pull for in the NL if not the Dodgers.  I live in the Bay Area so there’s always the San Francisco Giants, but they’ve won the World Series in two of the last three years and I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon.  My fallback has always been the St Louis Cardinals because that’s where I experienced attending my first major league baseball game as a teenager so many years ago.  I suppose that I’ll stick with the Dodgers as long as Mattingly is there, but Magic Johnson and company have certainly made it more challenging by their willingness to spend excessively.

Why does February 12th (when pitchers and catchers report) seem so close yet so far away?…

–Scott