I wonder if Mike Mussina can still pitch…
It’s still early in May but the Yankees have only two remaining starters in the pitching rotation from the Opening Day roster. With the placement of CC Sabathia (knee) on the DL, the two Japanese starters, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka, are the only remaining starters with Ivan Nova (elbow/Tommy John surgery) and Michael Pineda (back) already on the DL. This means the remainder of the rotation after Kuroda and Tanaka, are David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and perhaps Chase Whitley or Alfredo Aceves. That’s not exactly a rotation that strikes fear in the heart of opposing batters.
The Yankees are so very fortunate that they won the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes in the off-season. I’d hate to think where this rotation would be without Tanaka. Or the team for that matter.
The Yankees will need to do something to address the starting rotation. Nova is gone for the year, and Sabathia is still showing difficulty in adjusting to the latter stages of his pitching career. I am really not sure what to expect when Pineda comes back and Kuroda has not shown consistent dominance since early last year.
But with the July trading deadline still over two months away, there are simply no quality options available. Well, at least not at more reasonable prices. Hopefully, someone among the Phelps, Nuno, Whitley et al group step up to show that they belong in The Show. The Yankees need a new starter next year to replace Kuroda, who, more than likely, will retire or return to play in Japan. Rather than vastly overpay for an upcoming free agent, it would be preferable for a young starter in the organization to step up and take his spot (obviously).
Passing the torch…
With Stephen Drew still available and the June draft upcoming, the rumors are picking up again that Drew would be a great fit for the Yankees. I do not disagree. No disrespect for Derek Jeter but he simply is not the player he was once. He will not ride to the sunset like Mariano Rivera at the top of his game. It’s unfortunate, but age has a funny way of doing that to the best of us. I have felt that Drew would be a very solid addition since spring training and better than adding Brian Roberts or Kelly Johnson. I know it would cost a draft pick, but the Yankees should pull the trigger now and sign Drew rather than wait until the competition is much stronger once Drew no longer has compensation tied to his signing following the player draft.
Brendan Ryan is a great fielder at shortstop but this team needs quality, clutch bats and Drew would be perhaps the best option for production among the middle infielders if signed.
The quarterback who wears gloves picked the right city…
As a Minnesota Vikings fan, I bought into the hype of Johnny Manziel. After experiencing life as a fan of Donnie Baseball, it was appealing to think of my favorite football team being led by Johnny Football. When the Vikings were on the clock at #8 and Manziel was still available, I was hopeful, along with many other Vikings fans apparently, that the team would call his team. But instead, the Vikings swapped places with the Cleveland Browns at #9, and took a defensive player (Anthony Barr). While I recognize the team needed defensive help, particularly the linebackers and defensive backfield, but the team needs a true leader. I had been hopeful Christian Ponder would be the guy but it has never worked out. Perhaps offensive coordinator Norv Turner can pull something out of Ponder but in many ways it is too late. Matt Cassell will be the starter in 2014 barring injury, so it was a given the Vikings would take a QB in the draft.
After failing to trade up to #22 (the Philadelphia Eagles accepted a better offer from the Cleveland Browns who then took Johnny Football), the Vikings traded back up into the first round (last pick at #32) with the Seattle Seahawks and grabbed the guy who was number one on many top QB lists, Teddy Bridgewater. So, while I was disappointed the Vikings didn’t get Manziel, it is certainly not difficult to be excited about the potential of Bridgewater. He’ll have great weapons with Adrian Peterson, Cordarelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings and others. Ponder now becomes an afterthought, unless he is somehow able to find his way back into the starter’s role before Bridgewater takes the position for good.
Happy Mother’s Day!
During the off-season, when Robinson Cano walked for the cash in Seattle, I was worried about first base when the other holes popped up at second and third base. The Yankees weakly filled the other holes with injury-prone Brian Roberts and utility-man Kelly Johnson while spending millions elsewhere on the roster.
Shortstop has been a concern as an aging Derek Jeter attempts to make his comeback from a serious ankle injury.
Catcher was truly the only infield position of strength with newcomer Brian McCann backed superbly by Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy.
But first base was and still is my primary concern. The Yankees did nothing to bring a solid backup to the team as a hedge against Mark Teixeira’s health. So, when Teixeira went to the DL this week due to a muscle strain in his leg, the Yankees had no legitimate first baseman on the roster. As it stands, Kelly Johnson has become the team’s first baseman. When Johnson signed, Cano was still a possible return so Johnson was viewed as the team’s super-sub. Then, Cano left and Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the season, and Johnson found himself as the starting third baseman. Now Teixeira’s gone, and Johnson stands at first. It is great that he’s so versatile, but the Yankees are so vulnerable with its current infield.
Yangervis Solarte has been a godsend but realistically I do not expect the guy to continue to play all season like he has in its first few games. He is an aging minor leaguer who had never gotten a major league shot and there’s reasons for why that happened. Yes, late bloomers can happen, but I am too much of a realist to believe that the Yankees have struck gold with the minor league free agent. I like him in a bench role, but now he’s the apparent starting third baseman along with another career minor leaguer, Dean Anna.
Mark Teixeira has always concerned me with his notorious slow starts and now he has other issues for us to worry about. I really thought that the Yankees needed to bring in a strong first baseman to help cover for Teixeira. This is where someone like Nick Swisher is really missed. An outfielder who can easily step in to play first.
When I heard that the Mets were dangling Ike Davis, I thought he’d be the perfect guy for the Yanks to pursue despite his underwhelming performance and injuries with the Mets. Son of a former Yankee (former Goose Gossage setup man, Ron Davis), I thought that Davis might benefit from a change in scenery. In a supporting role for Tex, Davis would be in a good spot to resurrect his career. The cost to acquire Davis would be less than acquiring a more frontline first baseman, but of course, on the day Teixeira was placed on the DL, Davis hit a grand slam to win a game for the Mets. It should be noted that on the same day, the Yanks did not score any runs in a 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Right now, I think that Ichiro Suzuki’s presence on the roster is hurting the team. For the Yankees to call-up Scranton/Wilkes Barre first baseman Russ Canzler, the Yankees would have to free up a spot on the 40-man roster. The Yankees need more help for the infield than they do with the outfield. Alfonso Soriano provide good relief as the fourth outfielder/DH, and the ever-versatile Johnson can play there as well.
The Yankees need to go out and get Plan B for first base, and perhaps move Ichiro along the way.
Introducing the 2014 New York Yankees. With the demotion of Eduardo Nunez to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees have finalized, for now, their major league roster as the team heads to Houston to open the season against the Astros.
- CC Sabathia
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Ivan Nova
- Masahiro Tanaka
- Michael Pineda
No great surprises here. There was talk of a spring battle between David Phelps and Pineda, but I never expected Pineda to lose the last spot in the rotation regardless of how well Phelps pitched. I personally prefer to see Phelps as the long man in the pen. I think he is better suited for that role than Pineda and of course he’ll be the first arm called upon if the Yankees lose any of the starters to injury.
- David Robertson
Again, no surprises. This job is Robertson’s to lose. While the Yankees do not have any relievers with proven closing experience on the active roster should Robertson falter, Andrew Bailey looms in the wings when he returns to active duty later in the year. My hope is that Robertson takes the job and runs with it. He disappointed in the role a couple of years ago when Mariano Rivera was lost for the season and Rafael Soriano ended up as the team’s primary closer. But that was then and this is now. It is my hope the Yankees never have to look for Plan B.
- Shawn Kelley
- Dellin Betances
This is an area of concern. It was great having a setup artist like Robertson. Kelley was good in the pen last year, but he’s no David Robertson. I am hopeful that this is Dellin’s niche after his previous prospect status as a future starter. I would like to see him develop into the clear-cut 8th inning option to set the bridge to Robertson. It’s also great to see a NYC-born player on the main stage.
- Matt Thornton
His departure in free agency was very quiet, but I was sad to see Boone Logan leave. I am not convinced that Matt Thornton is the answer. He’s been a great reliever over the course of his career but his best days are behind him. The Boston Red Sox even left him off the post-season roster last fall. I thought that Cesar Cabral would make the team as second lefty, but the Yankees expressed a greater need for long relief in the early days of the season so that solidified a position for Vidal Nuno. Thornton may be starting the season as the Yankees’ lefty specialist but I doubt he finishes it.
- David Phelps
- Adam Warren
- Vidal Nuno
I expect it to take a few months for Joe Girardi to find the right pieces for the bullpen but I fully expect him to make it a team strength by September. Tampa’s Joe Maddon has shown a tremendous ability to piece together a strong bullpen from a collection of spare parts, and I have every confidence Joe Girardi has the same ability.
- Brian McCann
- Francisco Cervelli
Honestly, I thought the Yankees would trade Cervelli in spring training and make Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy the backup catcher. But, aside from my disappointment with Cervelli last year due to his drug suspension, I do like the player and his intensity. McCann has been everything as advertised. I have been particularly impressed by how he was gone out of his way to get to know his pitchers. I had always heard he was a great team leader on the Atlanta Braves and that continues to hold true with his presence in the Yankees locker room.
- Mark Teixeira
Let’s just say that I am cautiously optimistic there are no lingering problems related to last year’s wrist injury.
- Brian Roberts
- Yangervis Solarte
I really do not expect Roberts to stay healthy so I hope he proves me wrong. I was glad to see Solarte make the team over Eduardo Nunez, and I hope his success in the spring carries over to the regular season. But it will be a long time before we see Robinson Cano-like production at this position. I just hope the position doesn’t become the team’s Achilles heel this year.
- Derek Jeter
- Dean Anna
It will be bittersweet watching Jeter on his farewell tour, but a key to the season will be the performance of Jeter’s backups as he won’t be able to do this alone.
- Kelly Johnson
Solarte will also spend time at this position, but overall, I am disappointed the Yankees did not do more to try and upgrade this position. I do not like uncertainty at both second and third, in combination with a 40 year old shortstop and a first baseman attempting to come back from a serious wrist injury. After years of rumors, maybe this is the year that Chase Headley becomes a Yankee. Time will tell.
- Brett Gardner
The team has made a significant investment in Gardner despite their acquisition of Jacoby Ellsbury. While I love team speed, I always shutter when I think of the Yankees attempt to convert to speed in the 1980’s with the signing of Dave Collins. I know this is a complete different situation that draws no parallel to the 80’s disaster, but I still prefer the three run homer.
- Jacoby Ellsbury
It still seems weird to see this name in the Yankees lineup. Nevertheless, he’s here and I hope, really hope that he can stay healthy. I know, that’s asking a lot. If he’s hurt, Gardner slides to center and Soriano is the starting left fielder which will weaken team offense and defense.
- Carlos Beltran
This might the position that I have the least amount of concerns with. I fully expect it to be business as usual for the 36 year old Beltran. He’s happy and excited to be in the Bronx, and he’s played under more difficult conditions in the past and has prospered.
- Alfonso Soriano
I expect some of the team’s older players to rotate through DH, but Soriano should get the bulk of the at-bat’s in what most likely will be his final year in pinstripes regardless of whether or not his playing career continues. I can see Derek Jeter getting a healthy number of DH at-bat’s but this goes back to how well Jeter’s backups at short can perform.
Role to be determined:
- Ichiro Suzuki
In actuality, he’ll be the team’s fifth outfielder. I expect Soriano to be the first option should any holes open in the outfield. This is a sad way for a Hall of Fame career to end. I had hoped that the Yankees would trade Ichiro to a team that had a greater need for his services than they do out of respect for the legendary player. It may still happen, but at this point, I’d rather see someone like Zoilo Almonte as the reserve outfielder behind Soriano.
Ichiro aside, I think the two most vulnerable players for roster moves are Dean Anna (when Brendan Ryan returns in May) and Vidal Nuno (I can see Cesar Cabral being promoted in mid-April).
I’d like to say that I am very optimistic about the 2014 season but the uncertainty of the infield and the unproven bullpen give me hesitation. I do not think the Yankees have done enough (despite all those dollars) to close the gap with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. Neither the Toronto Blue Jays nor the Baltimore Orioles will be pushovers in what is arguably baseball’s toughest division.
I do feel better about this team than last year’s version. People have said the Yankees over-achieved to reach 85 wins and that the Yankees are still an 85 win team despite the upgrades. I think they can reach 90 wins and perhaps a few more if the pieces come together (younger players take it to the next level, the right in-season acquisitions, and strong overall performance from the team collectively). It may not be enough to reach October, but the Yankees will help determine who does go.
I am glad that the baseball season is upon us. It should be an exciting and memorable year. Time for Joe Girardi’s masterful encore performance…
With the current state of the Yankees’ infield, I remain worried if Plan A does not come to fruition. I still have not been able to wrap my head around Kelly Johnson being the everyday third baseman. I feel that he is so much more useful in a utility role. It would be great If Eduardo Nunez, Yangervis Solarte or Dean Anna could step it up to the next level, but that’s not something I am counting on. Maybe the source of my discomfort with the infield is that Stephen Drew is still available. I know, he costs money and maybe it’s too much for the Yankees given their huge off-season investments. However, Drew would secure third base (with a little help from his “friends”, i.e., Nunez, Johnson et al).
With questions about Mark Teixeira’s wrist and how that will impact his power, whether or not Brian Roberts can prove he is still the player of yesteryear, and Derek Jeter’s ability to bounce back from a severe ankle injury at an advanced age, we do not need third base to be a question too.
Catching is set. This is the best I’ve felt about the position since Jorge Posada was in his prime. I like Francisco Cervelli as the back-up, but if his trade value could help other areas of the team like the infield or the bullpen, then I’d be in favor of a trade. I feel that Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy are capable of supporting Brian McCann.
For a change, the outfield is not a question mark. It’s great to know that the outfield is so good that Alfonso Soriano is the fourth outfielder and Ichiro Suzuki, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, is essentially a man without a position. Of course, that could change quickly if injuries were to impact Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and/or Carlos Beltran. I am hopeful that this is a major move forward in the developmental progress of prospect Mason Williams so that he, along with Slade Heathcott, can be serious contenders for Soriano’s spot next year.
Nothing against David Phelps, but I am pulling for Michael Pineda to secure the fifth spot in the pitching rotation. I really like Phelps as the long man. He provides the consistency, support and flexibility that Ramiro Mendoza brought to the team years ago.
I am cautiously optimistic that the duo of Shawn Kelley and Dellin Betances will provide the level of set up support for David Robertson that Robertson provided for Mariano Rivera. That will go a long way toward determining how successful the 2014 Yankees can be.
There are not too many Plan B’s available on the current roster. As current set, the Yankees will need the cards to fall right for them to contend in October. This could be a 90-win team if all goes right, but conversely, it could just as easily be an 80-win team if it does not.
In my opinion, the Boston Red Sox remain the team to beat. They are the champions until proven otherwise. The AL East, perhaps baseball’s most competitive division, has improved. Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore have all made solid off-season moves. The O’s were quiet for most of the off-season but their late signings of Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz, and Johan Santana could pay dividends. Never underestimate a team managed by Buck Showalter. Tampa Bay has arguably baseball’s best manager so it’s a certainly that he’ll have his team in the race at the end.
This is my first prediction for the final season standings in the AL East:
- 1. Boston Red Sox
- 2. Tampa Bay Rays
- 3. New York Yankees
- 4. Toronto Blue Jays
- 5. Baltimore Orioles
But you could probably throw these team names into a hat and pull them out in random order and it could be the potential finish. I doubt Boston or Tampa finish anything worse than third, but the other three, including the Yankees, have the potential of finishing anywhere in the standings.
This should be a very fun and exciting year…
What more could we have asked of the Steinbrenner family? Seriously, the Steinbrenners opened their purse strings this off-season even if the infield is in a state of flux. Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Matt Thornton, Andrew Bailey, and last but not least Masahiro Tanaka. For a team that stood pat the previous off-season, the Yankees over-compensated this year.
It would have been nice to Robinson Cano’s bat mixed in with the new offense, but if he had stayed, it’s likely that Tanaka would be in Chicago or Los Angeles, and Beltran would be with the Red Sox or another team that expressed interest. Time will tell if it was the right move, but I think the Yanks were wise not to throw a quarter of a billion dollars at Cano.
When Brett Gardner re-signed with the Yankees this week, he mentioned that it didn’t matter if he got what he did or twice as much, it wasn’t going to change his lifestyle and he wanted to be a Yankee. It’s the last part of the previous sentence that Cano didn’t feel. That only reinforces the Yankees decision to move on. I do not realistically expect Brian Roberts to recapture his glory days. I would have preferred Kelly Johnson at second with the Yankees bringing in another third base solution, but when you spend as much as the Yankees did in the last few months, something has to give. With the Yankees, you know that a spring trade or a July deadline deal is not out of the question.
Sure, the team is banking on another stellar managerial performance by Joe Girardi, but I feel much better going into this season than I did last year. Last year, it literally felt like a team that wouldn’t make it the distance. This year, I feel the team has a legitimate shot. A few guys need to step it up a level but that’s within the realm of possibility. It’s not exactly like we are asking Brendan Ryan to be the second coming of Derek Jeter.
The wild card is obviously Michael Pineda. If he continues to pitch like he is capable of, he will bring so much to the end of the rotation. A healthy and productive Pineda is far superior to the inconsistency that Phil Hughes provided. With Jesus Montero 40 lbs overweight in Seattle, this could be the year that Pineda makes “the trade” pro-New York.
Masahiro Tanaka may be billed as Andy Pettitte’s replacement but next year, he’ll most likely be current teammate Hiroki Kuroda’s replacement. But for now, I am very glad that Kuroda is there to serve as mentor for his countryman. I’ve wondered if Kuroda’s presence, along with the Yankees money, brought Tanaka to New York. If I was coming to a foreign country, the idea of another American would be very appealing to me.
With the Yankees extending Brett Gardner, and the Cincinnati Reds doing the same with Homer Bailey, there should be no more Gardner for Bailey rumors. As a hopeful optimist for Michael Pineda and his spot in the rotation, this is a best case scenario. I am a bit concerned with two speed-first guys in the outfield (why do I keep thinking about Dave Collins?) but Alfonso Soriano brings the bat along with Carlos Beltran. I am anxious to see how Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat plays in Yankee Stadium for 81 games rather than just the usual 9 or 10.
Andrew Bailey. I am not quite sure why the Yankees signed Bailey but he’s a hedge against a David Robertson meltdown. Of course, Bailey won’t be available until late season so if Robertson fails miserably, they’ll need another solution. While Robertson has proven to be a great set up guy, the 9th inning is a different story. He failed in his brief audition before getting hurt the year Mariano Rivera was lost for the season with the knee injury suffered in Kansas City. Rafael Soriano stepped in and provided super relief following Robertson’s unsuccessful stint. With Soriano now entrenched as the closer for the Washington Nationals, there’s no safety net. Bailey offers the only proven closing experience yet he’s not going to be an option until July or later. My hope is that Robertson seizes the role. I was skeptical when Mariano Rivera replaced John Wetteland and that one turned out okay. Alright, a little better than okay…
Sorry that my posts have been infrequent but I’ve been in the midst of a move from the West to East Coast. I am not in a major league city but I can get to New York for a weekend so that’s all that matters. This should be a good year for making home games at Yankee Stadium after a few years of only away games while living in the Golden State.
I am so ready for the regular season to begin and yet the spring games are still a day or two away. Oh well, that’s more time for the Yankees to strengthen the infield…
For months, the talk centered on prized Japanese pitcher Mashiro Tanaka. He was highly touted as the most valuable free agent pitcher on the market. Of course, his free agency began slowly when there was doubt if his Japanese team would allow him to be posted, particularly after the posting fee was capped at $20 million. Nevertheless, Tanaka was subsequently posted, as we all know.
Almost immediately, the Yankees were regarded as the frontrunner. But given that any team to offer to pay the $20 million posting fee, it opened the field to any team that wanted to make a run at the latest Japanese import. Early on, there was talk that the Seattle Mariners would make a play for Tanaka. It was said that the Los Angeles Dodgers would not be outbid, and the Chicago Cubs were completely enamored with the idea of Tanaka headlining their rotation. The Los Angeles Angels and the Arizona Diamondbacks were other teams mentioned as strong possibilities.
I read that the Mariners were favorites because the team is predominantly owned by Nintendo and Los Angeles was cited because of its close proximity to Japan and its strong Asian community. There was talk that some team would make a surprise late bid, kind of like what the Angels when they signed Albert Pujols.
I never really expected the Dodgers to be “all-in”. They had their own pending free agent to be in Clayton Kershaw and they couldn’t make a ridiculously high bid without driving up their costs to retain Kershaw. They subsequently re-signed Kershaw to a $215 million deal, but I still didn’t think they’d go hard after Tanaka. I did think the Chicago Cubs were a strong challenger for Tanaka despite prior rumors that he preferred a coastal destination. If I have learned anything with Major League Baseball, it’s to never underestimate Theo Epstein.
But fortunately, when Tanaka finally made his decision, he was a Yankee. Almost instantly, the stories about his superior talent turned to questions about how he’ll make the adjustment to life in America and how he is a #2 or #3 starter at best. Everyone is now quick to say that he does not have the talent of Yu Darvish, and I’ve seen the name “Kei Igawa” more than I’d care to in recent days. But still, this was a move that the Yankees HAD to make. With a weak farm system at the upper levels, they had no choice but to overpay for young pitching talent with solid upside. With the hype surrounding Tanaka (who went 24-0 in Japan last year), he also represents a gate attraction. With Tanaka in the fold, the Yankees become the second major league team to have two Japanese players in their starting pitching rotation (the first was the Dodgers with Hideo Nomo and Kaz Ishii). If the Japanese media made it a circus following Hideki Matsui, they’ll have a field day following the trio of Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki.
The realist in me knows not to expect top of the rotation stuff from Tanaka. I know the Yankees want more, but I’d be very satisfied if he could give the Yankees what Kuroda has for the last two years. This is most likely Kuroda’s last year, and it is good that Tanaka will have a year to spend under Hiroki’s wing. I think that will greatly aid his transition to the United States and MLB.
I thought that it would take a contract of 7 years, $140 million to sign Tanaka. So, the Yankees did overbid in that regard. Today I saw an article that one GM speculated the next highest bid were the Cubs and D-Backs at $120 million. I really doubt the gap between the Yankees and the others was that great. The same source mentioned the Dodgers were at $119 million which doesn’t make sense as everyone knew it would take $120 million plus to sign Tanaka. My guess is the Cubs and Dodgers were in the vicinity of $140 million plus. Not bad for a pitcher who has never thrown a major league pitch.
While I would still like to see an additional pitcher brought to camp, there is potential with a rotation that features CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda or David Phelps. If Pineda could possibly show the potential that caused the Yankees to trade for him (prior to the injuries), the rotation could be very strong. While I would not be opposed to seeing Bronson Arroyo or Ubaldo Jimenez signed, I think the Yankees need to focus on the infield. Yes, they’ve brought in San Diego’s Dean Anna, signed Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Scott Sizemore, and still have Eduardo Nunez but there are too many questions. What happens if Mark Teixeira struggles in his return, or Derek Jeter? Neither of those positions are air tight without getting into the holes at second and third. Jeter will be 40, and Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter. April could be a very challenging month.
My preference would be to find a decent third baseman so that Kelly Johnson could be the primary second baseman. But the team is probably enamored with the idea that Roberts is capable of rebounding from the injury filled years that have plagued him since 2009. Scott Sizemore is nothing more than camp fodder. One magazine I read said “But other than OK pop and a few walks, offers little even when healthy”. Anna is nothing more than a potential reserve.
Catching and the outfield is set, but there is still work to be done in the infield and in the bullpen. I agree with the choice to anoint David Robertson as the closer, but there needs to be an insurance plan in place. Grant Balfour would have been a great option but he is now a Tampa Bay Ray once again. I don’t want Fernando Rodney, but the Yankees need someone who is capable of closing games if Robertson is not up to the task. If Boston can find an elite closer as their fourth choice last year, there are potential arms that can be found. I really hated to see the departure of Boone Logan. Not much has been written about it, but I can only hope that Matt Thornton is a capable, albeit older, replacement. I know the team has long admired lefty Cesar Cabral so perhaps this is Cabral’s year to take it to the next level. I’d also like to see Dellin Betances take advantage of his opportunity and become a force in the pen. I guess every team thinks they can follow the Tampa blueprint for bullpen success given how the Rays are always able to craft something out of nothing.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp in a few weeks, I am sure that the transaction wires will be busy as teams, and most notably the Yankees, look to create playoff caliber rosters.
For the Yankees, while it will be great to see Brian McCann show up to become his orientation with the Yankee pitchers, the cameras and the reporters will be flocked around #19, Masahiro Tanaka, as he begins his pinstriped career. Time to build upon last year’s 85 wins and return the Yankees to October baseball. With the commitment the Yankees have shown this off-season, it’s clear their last move was not their “last” move.
The highs and lows of the Hot Stove League, thus far…
For Yankees fans, the off-season started nicely. After early speculation that manager Joe Girardi might jump to the Chicago Cubs, he re-signed a long-term deal with the Yankees and expressed it was his desire to remain in New York. All good.
Then, Derek Jeter quickly signed a one year deal with negotiations that where smooth, quick and efficient (unlike the prior Jeter negotiations). It remains to be seen if we’ll get the Jeter of 2012 or the injured, aging 2013 model, but there’s no question that Jeter must finish his career in pinstripes. I don’t think Derek would want to go anywhere else at this point anyway, but still, he is the face of the franchise and he’ll forever be remembered as one of its legends. In the distant future, when the old greats from the 50’s Dynasty era are gone (Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, among others), it will be guys like Jeter that maintain the honor and tradition in baseball’s most storied franchise.
The Yankees struck fast in signing free agent catcher Brian McCann after last year’s parade of backups in the starting role. It gives the team its first legitimate starter at the position since Russell Martin left, and the best offensive bat at the position since Jorge Posada retired. This is a move that places backup catchers Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy, and Austin Romine in a better position to succeed. At first pass, I expect Cervelli to take the backup job in spring training but the other two are capable. On the days that McCann slides to DH, the catching position will be capable hands.
Next came a big surprise. I honestly did not see the Yankees signing centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. While I have been a fan of Ellsbury’s work, it didn’t seem to be a great need for the team. Brett Gardner has been an effective centerfielder, and has the speed to burn. Still, Ellsbury’s signing upgrades the position and allows the Yankees to slide Gardner to left where he a defensive upgrade over Alfonso Soriano. The concern here is that by making Soriano the full-time DH, it does limit the DH opportunities for Derek Jeter and Brian McCann. Soriano’s bat is still very valuable, and it’s much needed in the lineup.
Then came the bittersweet day of Friday, December 6th. The night before, there had been reports that second baseman Robinson Cano had flown to Seattle, but in the morning, the early reports indicated that talks had stalled or perhaps even ended. It gave a brief ray of hope that he’d come back to the Yankees, but those hopes were soon dissolved when it was reported Cano had agreed to a 10-year $240 million deal with the Mariners. While it’s tough to lose a great player, perhaps the team’s best, it is simply too hard to justify those numbers. I have enjoyed the early 30’s version of Cano at second, but in his late 30’s and early 40’s, the prospect doesn’t look too promising at $24 million per year. That’s a huge chunk of any team’s overall payroll. I think of when Chase Utley was the premier second baseman, but now, with injuries, he has become a shell of what he once was. What happens if Cano does not age well? I guess I am not a gambling man and would prefer that the M’s take that bet. $240 million can be better spent by spreading it over multiple positions rather than locking it into only one.
This is where I find Robinson Cano to be extremely selfish. You can’t begrudge anyone from wanting as much money as they can get, but this is a team game and every team has a budget…even the Yankees. If it were me, I would have taken the Yankees offer of 7 years at $175 million because the average annual salary was stronger and I’d know that the team would be more flexible in other areas by not being locked into so many years. For those additional three years, it would be up to me to perform and if so, there would be a reward. It also would have kept the Yankee legacy intact and ensured a potential place among the team’s legends. But now, Cano is just another player who took the money and ran. He proved that money is more valuable than wins, and money is more important than helping build a strong supporting cast of quality players. That doesn’t mean Seattle doesn’t have quality players, they do, but they are a long way from contending. It is very possible that when they are ready to contend, Cano has started his career regression due to age that’s inevitable for everyone.
Cano has carried the “lazy” rap for years. While he is an exciting player at times, it was frustrating when he didn’t hustle. I think of someone like Dustin Pedroia, whose motor is always running. He creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be there because he is alert and proactive. He seizes the opportunities and takes advantage of them. That’s what winning ball players do. Cano is not that guy. I have never thought of him as a team player, and I didn’t view him as a player who helped raise the performance level of those around him. Rest assured the Yankees will miss his offensive production at the position. At this point, I have no idea who will be the second baseman in 2014. Kelly Johnson seems better suited to help replace Alex Rodriguez at third base, in a platoon situation. Omar Infante signed a four year deal with the Kansas City Royals, and Brandon Phillips is starting the downward slide that comes with age. David Adams, a young player who had the talent but couldn’t show it at the major league level during brief auditions, was non-tendered and is now a Cleveland Indian. It looks as though the Yankees will fill second base with a bargain basement fill-in, much like they did last year with first and third bases. I wish the organization was better stocked with up and coming second base talent, but that does not appear to be the case. I personally thought Infante would have been the best short-term option, but the Yankees allowed them to get beat by the Royals in signing the player. You know it’s an odd year when the Yankees get beat in free agency by both the Royals and the Mariners.
But enough about Cano, he is gone and so is his Yankees legacy.
Around the same time as the news had broken about the former second baseman signing with Seattle, it was reported that starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda had signed a new one year deal with the team. This was very good news to hear. Kuroda is much needed, and I am grateful that he chose to delay his return to Japan by a year or head back to his home in Southern California. So, Cashman has filled 200 of the 400 innings he previously stated were needed this off-season.
After the tumultuous events of the day, news broke on the evening of December 6th that the Yankees had signed outfielder Carlos Beltran. At 36, he is no longer the player he once was, but he is a “gamer” or as George Steinbrenner would say, a warrior. Even an aging Beltran is an upgrade over an even older Ichiro Suzuki or the outfielder still primarily funded by the Los Angeles Angels, Vernon Wells.
But after the three free agent signings, the news has mostly been about departures. Phil Hughes was the first to depart, signing a three year deal with the Minnesota Twins. It was probably a good move for Hughes. Minnesota will be less pressurized and he should have the opportunity to flourish, much like Carl Pavano was able to resurrect his career in Minneapolis after leaving New York. I certainly did not expect the Yankees to re-sign Hughes after the season he had last year, but I thought he’d go to Southern California and saw the San Diego Padres as a good fit. Nevertheless, Minneapolis is a fun city and it’s a good ballpark.
A couple of other notable defections occurred in the bullpen, where Joba Chamberlain signed a one year deal with the Detroit Tigers and Boone Logan went for three years with the Colorado Rockies. Of the two, it is Logan that I really hated to see leave. He was a trusted left-handed reliever, but it really didn’t seem like the team made much of an effort to retain his services. They obviously had other priorities, but I suppose the Yankees are hopeful that a less expensive options like Cesar Cabral will step up to fill Boone’s role. It was a foregone conclusion that Joba had thrown his last pitch for the Yankees. But admittedly, I was surprised he went to Detroit. There are worse things to do than to go to a team that is probably the best one in the American League right now, but I thought that Joba would go to the Kansas City Royals since it is closer to his hometown roots. The one year deal does give him an opportunity to try and restore the promise he once had with the Yankees. Plus, if he wins a World Series, it will help give his career a further boost.
The Yankees also lost last year’s starting catcher when they traded Chris Stewart to the Pittsburgh Pirates. This move was a given after the McCann signing combined with the surplus of backup catchers.
For as crazy as December started for the Yankees, the week of the baseball winter meetings was extremely quiet. The Yankees still have much work to do. On paper, after consideration of all plusses and minuses, they are not noticeably better than last year’s 85 win team. They still need a quality starting pitcher, a second baseman, and bullpen help. Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him between now and spring training.
I honestly do not know where the Yankees will go from here. I’d like to see the free agent signing of a pitcher like Matt Garza, but so far, the Yankees have not been one of the team’s linked to the pitcher. Same with Bronson Arroyo, who is certainly capable of eating a large number of innings as a #4 starter. For second base, the latest reports have the Yankees interested in Darwin Barney of the Chicago Cubs but I have no idea what he would cost in terms of talent in a trade. I will feel much better about the 2014 Yankees once the additional starting pitcher and second baseman are in the fold, but at least it is reassuring to know that Hal Steinbrenner wants to win as much as the rest of us do.