It seems like we were just getting excited about pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp. Now, here we are at the end of the Grapefruit League season and awaiting the first pitch to start the 2017 MLB season.
It was a very successful Spring for the Yankees. It was far better than I could have imagined. Heading into Spring, we were concerned about Greg Bird. He hit well late in the 2015 season but missed most of last year due to his shoulder injury. There was doubt about how he would perform and if the shoulder would hold him back like, say, the way Mark Teixeira’s wrist did. Bird smashed any concerns that he is ready. I know that Spring stats do not really mean much, but Bird led the Yankees with 8 home runs and was second on the team behind Gary Sanchez with 15 RBI’s. He played first base like a veteran and by all accounts, he is posed to be a future star in New York. I’ve always thought of Bird as a professional hitter and not one who will be susceptible to prolonged slumps. I am very glad to see that he is ready to fly (no pun intended).
Credit: John Raoux, AP
What can you say about Gary Sanchez? He continued the great success from last Fall without missing a beat. His bat delivered (5 homers and 16 RBI’s), and do did his arm (.983 fielding percentage in 102 innings worked, with a sub .500 stolen base percentage against him as he threw out 6 runners while only allow 4 SB’s). He is arguably the most exciting Yankees catcher since Jorge Posada or to place him higher, Thurman Munson. Good times ahead for the catching position, no doubt.
Aaron Judge held off Aaron Hicks to win right field in the Battle of Aarons. I feel bad for Hicks because I know that he needs to play every day to be successful. It’s hard to get into rhythm with limited, spot starts. But I would have been very disappointed to see Hicks get the right field job over Judge. At this point, sending Judge down to Triple A serves no purpose. He has proven himself at that level. He needs to master the Major Leagues and he can only do that by being here and playing every day. His ceiling, if successful, is so much greater than Hicks. Dating back to the days of Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield, I love powerful right fielders at Yankee Stadium.
If I was the General Manager of the Yankees, Brett Gardner would be living in a different zip code. Nothing against Gardner, he’s been a good Yankee but his best days are behind him. He needs to open the way for younger guys. I’d prefer to start Hicks in left over Gardner, so I’d find a way to move Gardy even if the return is not ideal. The perfect scenario would be to trade Jacoby Ellsbury and move Gardner to center, but that’s not going to happen with nearly $90 million left on Ellsbury’s contract.
In the starting rotation, Luis Severino won the fourth spot but it was not an overpowering Spring performance. Last year, Severino chased his first win as a starter without success (he picked up a few wins in the bullpen but was 0-8 in his starts). I really hopeful that we do not go weeks or months trying to get that elusive first win this year. Severino has so much potential but he still leaves so many wondering if his stuff plays better out of the pen. It would be nice if he could prove those naysayers wrong (including me) to become a vital part of the rotation.
Manager Joe Girardi has delayed his decision for a fifth starter. With three scheduled off days during April including two days in the first week, a fifth starter is not needed until Sunday, April 16th at home against the St Louis Cardinals. Of the competitors for the fifth spot, only Bryan Mitchell made the Opening Day roster as a reliever. Chad Green will go down to AA Trenton while Jordan Montgomery will go to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Both Green and Montgomery will have early April starts in the minors for further auditions. I am sure that Mitchell will get some audition opportunities through long relief. Mitchell had been my favorite for the rotation but Jordan Montgomery changed my mind. So, I am hopeful that Montgomery gets the call-up when it is time for the fifth starter.
Credit: Associated Press
I was glad to see Chasen Shreve make the Opening Day roster as the second lefty behind Tommy Layne. Well, technically the third but Aroldis Chapman doesn’t really count since he’s on the mound at the end of games regardless of who is at the plate. When the Yankees toyed with the minor league signings of Ernesto Frieri and Jon Niese, I was fearful that Shreve would be one of the odd men out. Perhaps he still is given the Yankees’ propensity for the using the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle to keep the bullpen fresh. Another young reliever I am happy for is Jonathan Holder.
Utility player Ronald Torreyes won the interim shortstop role while Didi Gregorius begins the year on the Disabled List. I am not excited about Torreyes in an every day role, but there were limited internal options. The Yankees will make room on the 40-man roster to bring up Pete Kozma to back up Torreyes, but Kozma has no bat. It did not make sense for the Yankees to trade for a shortstop since Didi will be back by the end of April or early May, and, unfortunately, prospect Tyler Wade is not quite ready. I also didn’t want to see the Yankees slide Starlin Castro back to short. He is still relatively inexperienced at second and needs to continue his work at the position. The Yankees obviously agreed as they never played Castro at short during training camp. Many thought the Yankees should have slid Castro to short to allow Rob Refsnyder to start at second. I am not sure that Refsnyder, for whatever reason, will ever get a legitimate chance in the Bronx. He was sent down to AAA for the start of the season with earlier reports that he was on the trading block.
I am not expecting this to be a playoff year for the Yankees. They could surprise and nab a Wild Card spot but I don’t think this is their year to unseat the Boston Red Sox as AL East Champions. They are still a year or two away from being a legitimate World Series contender. I do think this will be a more exciting team than last year’s team from beginning to end. The Baby Bombers proved that last year when the deadline deals moved Chapman to the Cubs and Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians, and Alex Rodriguez was released. It was only a preview of the excitement and energy the younger players can bring, which is further enhanced by the presence of Greg Bird this year.
Despite the quick arrival of the regular season, I am ready. Play ball!…
Where do we go from here?…
December 6th. For years, this has been the anniversary of my graduation from Air Force Basic Training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. But on December 6, 2013, it may have been the most tumultuous day in Yankees history in terms of arrivals and departures…or at least in recent memory.
The day started with news that talks had broken down between Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners. It stirred renewed hope that Cano would find his way back to the Bronx, but as quickly as the reports had come about the Mariners’ CEO blowing a gasket at salary demands from the Cano Camp and ending talks, the reports came that Cano had accepted a ten year deal from the Mariners for $240 million. Cano never called the Yankees before taking the offer, but it was a given they would not match.
It’s hard to watch your team’s best player walk away for nothing. But in this situation, I think the Yankees made the right call. After the fiasco of the Alex Rodriguez contract and what an albatross it has become, it is clear that extended contracts are not good for baseball. I saw one writer yesterday who wrote that the only player worth a ten year deal, right now, would be 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. I think that’s a fairly accurate statement.
When the Yankees signed CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira to long-term deals in 2009, both of those players were significantly better players than they are today. They can continue to perform at a high level but at this point, it is equally possible for them to continue performance regression.
I can remember how painful Jason Giambi’s had become by the end. Even David Winfield’s ten year contract, regardless of how great the player was, had been a mistake as the player and the owner were bitter enemies by the time the contract expired.
I thought the Yankees’ offer of 7 years for $175 million was fair. If the Cano Camp (Team Jay Z or rather, CAA) had been more sensible in their meetings with the Yankees, I am sure that Cano probably could have squeezed out an additional year. However, Cano was dead set on getting a ten year contract, so that clearly nailed the coffin on his Yankees career. Of the two organizations, the Yankees and the Mariners, I feel strongly that the former would be more willing to take care of Cano at the end of the contract. In other words, at the end of 7 years, if the player was continuing to play at a high level, the Yankees would pay a new contract commensurate to performance with a premium paid for past accomplishments such as they’ve done with Derek Jeter. I know the Jeter negotiations were very tense a couple of years ago but this off-season’s re-signing was at a higher dollar amount than any other team would have paid. As for the Mariners, I highly doubt that Cano will be in Seattle at the end of the ten years. When he begins the eventual downward trend as he ages, Seattle will be looking to move the contract, even if they have to pay cash, to cut their losses. The odds that Cano would have been in New York at the end of 7 years would have been substantially greater.
I am not sure that Cano has fully comprehended how he has trashed his Yankee legacy. I personally have no desire to ever see the player honored in Memorial Park and have absolutely no qualms with the team re-issuing #24 to another player. Maybe time will heal the feelings, but Cano showed no loyalty or respect for the fans of New York and simply took the money and ran. He was a good Yankee, but he was not a great one. For a player who enjoyed being a star in New York City, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to being out of the spotlight. The crowds attending Seattle away games will be smaller and will have far fewer “home team” fans in attendance. With the Yankees, it’s like being a rock star as Jason Giambi once said. Nothing against Seattle, it is a beautiful city and a great ballpark, but it is a team that is, and will continue to be, inferior to the much stronger Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Oakland A’s. They do not have a history and tradition of winning and I do not expect that to change. Cano has his money. Good for him. But his days of playing for an organization that wants to win every year and considers missing the play-offs to be a disaster are over.
With Friday’s flurry of activity, it was almost an afterthought that the Yankees also lost outfielder Curtis Granderson. Grandy has a good player for most of his Yankees career, but of course, he missed the majority of the 2013 season due to injuries. He leaves the Yankees for a tougher park to hit with the New York Mets. Maybe his game will play well for the Mets, or maybe he becomes the next Jason Bay. The Yankees did not show a strong desire for Grandy’s return after he rejected the team’s qualifying offer and had more preference for guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, or even the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp. At the moment, with the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, there wouldn’t have been any room in the crowded outfield for Granderson. While the Yankees have stated they intend to keep Brett Gardner and move him to left field (pushing Alfonso Soriano to DH), I still suspect that Gardner will be expendable in the team’s pursuit of quality starting pitching. I see the DH role being better utilized for guys like Derek Jeter and Brian McCann as ways to rest them than moving the admittedly defensively challenged Soriano there on a full-time basis. My feelings about Granderson’s departure are significantly different than those of Cano. I felt that Granderson made the best decision for him both personally and professionally. I am thankful he was a Yankee and I wish him well with his new team. I am sure that he has a few more productive years ahead of him.
Friday also saw the return of starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and the addition of outfielder Carlos Beltran. It’s apparent that Beltran’s arrival is tied to Cano’s departure since the team finally acquiesced to Beltran’s desire for a third year, but both signings are essential for the 2014 Yankees. With only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova holding down spots in the starting rotation, Kuroda is a key anchor for the rotation. He may be no more than a #3 starter next year, but he is a strong stabilizing force. The Yankees still need more starting pitching besides the hope that Michael Pineda and/or some of the Triple A arms will be able to take spots.
I really was unsure if Kuroda would return. It has been said that he wants to play a final year in Japan before he retires, and there was talk that he might be interested in returning to Southern California since his family still lives there. But Kuroda is an honorable man, and it was so telling in his final year with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he didn’t want to be traded because the Dodgers were the team he started the season with and he didn’t want to go elsewhere. I did wonder if the pull off the Dodgers, assuming they were interested, would have been too much. But I think Kuroda has enjoyed playing for the Yankees and his sense of loyalty led him back to the team for one more year. It’s a pleasure to have him back in the fold.
Welcome to the Bronx, Carlos Beltran! Granted, the Yankees have more to do if they want to return to October baseball, but Beltran is one of the post-season greats. Some guys thrive when the pressure is on (unlike Alex Rodriguez) and Beltran is a leader in that category. It has always been said that he wanted to play in the Bronx and had been willing to sign for a discount when he ultimately signed with the Mets. He finally gets the chance at the latter stages of his career. He is an offensive upgrade over Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, and helps to offset the loss of Cano’s production.
It is interesting that the 2014 Yankee outfield will be comprised of two guys who played for the opposing teams in the 2013 World Series. One with a ring and one without. At the moment, they’ll be joined in the outfield by Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano although, as previously stated above, I think Gardner will be moved for pitching help.
December 6th will long be remembered as the day the Yankees lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but brought in Hiroki Kuroda and Carlos Beltran. There is much work yet to do with Cano’s loss, but the arrivals of Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury bring guys with something to prove. Kelly Johnson is also a Yankee and the starting second baseman at the moment, although I do think he’ll be the super-sub by the time the team breaks camp next spring. I do not know who will be the second baseman in 2014 but the Yankees will figure it out. As David Robertson said, they always do.
From Beantown to the Bronx…
I have heard many Yankee fans voice frustration about Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract (primarily the length, not the dollars). I know that he has had his health challenges, but I like the move. I respected Ellsbury during his days in Boston and I like the elements of his game. It can be argued that he is Brett Gardner, but he is a better version. As a player who once said that he’d never play for the Yankees, it is nice to see that the history and tradition of the organization were overriding factors, in addition to the monetary reasons. The Red Sox weren’t going to extend the years to Ellsbury so it was inevitable that he’d leave. There is a sting with the Red Sox Nation that he went with the Yankees, and there are probably parallels to the Cano situation (dollars over loyalty), but at the end of the day, I am glad that Ells is a Yank.
And then there’s next week…
As the baseball winter meetings loom on the immediate horizon, there should be more activity for Yankees fans. This winter is so dramatically different than last year’s status quo approach. After missing the play-offs and the retirement of a few players, there were more holes to fill. Brian McCann solidifies the catching position, and Francisco Cervelli will return, after now that he’s completed his 50-game suspension and is healthy, to be McCann’s caddy. McCann gives the Yankees a better catcher than they had in 2012 starter, Russell Martin, and the strongest offensive threat at the position since the retired Jorge Posada.
Jacoby Ellsbury gives the Yankees options. He strengthens the team up the middle, and like McCann, has a swing that tailored for Yankee Stadium. He may not hit a lot of home runs, but he’ll be a terror on the bases. His presence, despite what the team says publicly, makes Brett Gardner expendable. For a team with weak prospects at the upper levels, it will take a Brett Gardner to bring a quality return. The Yankees need better starting pitching, a second baseman, and some help in the bullpen. They also need to cover for the expected absence of the Loser, Alex Rodriguez. So, if there are any certainties, it is that the Yankees will be active next week. I am sure that the website, MLB Trade Rumors, will be busier than Grand Central Station over the holidays.
Ala The Walking Dead, let’s say goodbye to those that we’ve lost…
- Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
- Curtis Granderson, New York Mets
- Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins
- Chris Stewart, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Mike Harkey, bullpen coach, now pitching coach, Arizona Diamondbacks
Thanks for the memories, but rest assured, we’ll be okay.