Soon, The Yankees Head for Tampa…
Welcome to February! That can only mean one thing…it’s time for BASEBALL! Sorry New England fans (hopefully there aren’t any in here…the combo of Yankees/Patriots fan seems like such an odd pairing) but the most important sport is not happening on Sunday…it’s the opening of Spring Training for all 30 Major League teams in less than two weeks although we all know there is only one team that really matters. This is a Yankees blog and we love our Yankees! February 13th is the day Yankee pitchers and catchers must report, a day we’ve been impatiently awaiting. There is nothing as exciting this month as the Yankees taking over Steinbrenner Field on 1 Steinbrenner Drive in Tampa, Florida. Super Bowl or no Super Bowl.
It is the first of February yet, as we painfully know, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have not signed. Well, maybe they have an idea where they’ll be spending their summers and just haven’t let us in on the secret. Regardless, I am resigned to the fact that neither 26-year-old superstar will be wearing the famed Pinstripes this season. I know, it’s not my money but I think it is a huge mistake to pass on potential future Hall of Famers, entering their primes (when the best is yet to come). Two young superior players who can be acquired for only a boatload of Benjamins, keeping all top prospects in the farm system. It kind of bugs me the San Diego Padres and the Chicago White Sox are in on Harper and Machado (at least by public reports) and the Yankees are not. Sure, the Yankees can never be counted out until Harper and Machado are hoisting up jerseys at press conferences held by other teams but it does seem unlikely there will be any surprise last minute signings by Team Hal.
It looks like the guys who will be on the 2019 Opening Day Roster for the Yankees have already been signed and invited to Major League Camp, barring last minute trades or signings. The reports lately focus on adding another starter, such as Gio Gonzalez or Ervin Santana, as the team’s only remaining need. I agree the Yankees need a hedge for the starting rotation. CC Sabathia, regardless of how healthy he is right now, had a stent placed in a heart artery just a couple of months ago. He’ll be on a short leash. I wouldn’t really want Gio or Santana as part of the starting five, but they’d certainly be better and more reliable options than someone like Luis Cessa should the Yankees need a guy to temporarily step into the rotation. Gio may not be the pitcher he once was for the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals, but he could help in a swing role. Santana does not appear to be a fit based on his negative words about Yankee Stadium in the past. In 2015, after a game in which Greg Bird hit two home runs, Santana made a comment about the second dinger, “I know, probably in another park that’s a double. But here, it’s a joke.” The Yankees lost another option yesterday when Wade Miley signed with the Houston Astros. Miley, who has reinvented himself with a cutter, pitched effectively for the Milwaukee Brewers last season and might have represented a solid choice for the Yankees. It has been reported the Yankees did not reach out to Miley before he signed with the Astros so it’s possible the team decides to stay in-house. James Shields is available but it’s been a few years since he was “Big Game James”. Francisco Liriano, Brett Anderson, Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz are other names out there (or in other words, the pickings are rather slim). I think most of us expect to see Michael King at some point this season although nobody predicts he’ll break camp with the team. The best case scenario if the Yankees do go with internal options is a healthy Jonathan Loaisiga. Unfortunately, “healthy” is a fleeting trait for the young Johnny Lasagna. I am very hopeful this is the year he proves the critics wrong. We know he has a Major League arm and it would be great if we could finally see it on a consistent basis.
Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Heading into camp, I know the Yankees need to find a way to get DJ LeMathieu on the field. Play him at second with Gleyber Torres at shortstop, or put DJ at third, with Troy Tulowitzki at short and Gleyber staying at second. The latter situation would force the Yankees to move Miguel Andujar to DH and Giancarlo Stanton to left field. Not ideal, but it would be a mistake to leave DJ’s glove on the bench. He needs to play every day. I really hope that Troy Tulowitzki proves me wrong but his presence does not excite me. He has not been a top performer since his days in Colorado. I saw MLB Network Analyst Jim Bowden say recently that while he hopes Tulo is successful, he feels that the player is done. Sadly, that’s where I am at. If he is finished, it’s no loss for the Yankees. They can just cut Tulo without any significant financial ramifications. DJ should never be sacrificed for Tulo as a starting option with the infield configuration except for rest. It’s the plan for what happens if Tulo doesn’t make the cut that concerns me. Torres would have to be the regular starting shortstop until Didi Gregorius returns which makes LeMathieu the every day second baseman for now. Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada would be leaned upon heavily if that happens, barring any veteran signings in the next few weeks. I’d still like to see Adeiny Hechevarria return but I haven’t seen any signs the Yankees are interested. Then again, Brian Cashman doesn’t have me on speed dial so who really knows.
While I’d love for the Boston Red Sox to open the season with their current bullpen, it remains my opinion closer Craig Kimbrel will slip back into their price range. It would be great if the Atlanta Braves signed their former closer or if the Philadelphia Phillies signed him to push David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez into ‘Dellin Betances/Zach Britton’ type of setup roles. But the realist in me knows the Sox won’t shortchange themselves despite current appearances. I saw one Red Sox fan who posted that their best reliever would be no better than fifth best in the Yankees bullpen. He’s right. I just can’t see the Red Sox sabotaging their chances to repeat by failing to address the needs of the pen. Last year, the Red Sox didn’t sign J.D. Martinez until February 26th. He proved to be the key to their success. I see something similar this year and I expect Kimbrel to be the late add. If not Kimbrel, then I bet Boston acquires another arm via trade. Boston is not going away and don’t sleep on the Tampa Bay Rays, especially if they are able to acquire Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. I expect the AL East to be extremely competitive this year…while the Baltimore Orioles watch, of course.
It’s always fun when the guys start showing up in Tampa for Spring Training. I look forward to the player interviews and seeing video of the new guys like Adam Ottavino, DJ LeMahieu, and Troy Tulowitzki meeting their teammates for the first time or just AO and DJ reconnecting after their disappointing exit together as members of the Colorado Rockies, walking off Coors Field on October 7, 2018 following the NLDS sweep by the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s going to be very fun and exciting to see James Paxton wearing a Yankees cap. The Big Maple is going to be a featured attracton. I am anxious to see him throwing bullpen sessions with Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, while Aaron Boone and Larry Rothschild watch. All eyes will be on Miguel Andujar to see if he’s improved his defensive play. I know regardless of the results, we won’t be able to fault the effort. I have no doubts Andujar has worked very hard this winter to improve his defense and find better positioning to aid his reactionary time. The Luke Voit-Greg Bird battle at first base will be must-watch, even if everyone expects the energetic Voit to emerge the winner. There are just so many interesting stories to keep an eye on this Spring. I am so glad baseball is almost here. The dawn of the 2019 New York Yankees. It’s a great year to be alive!
I look forward to the annual predictions by TGP’s Daniel Burch before the start of the new season and this year should be very fun. The Yankees are a World Series-caliber team ready to take the season as deep into October as possible, to be the last team standing. The goal is simple. Play the final game of the World Series and walk off the field to the spray of champagne. Anything less will be a disappointment. Mariano Duncan’s words that inspired the 1996 World Series champions echo through the halls of Yankee Stadium many years later, “We play today. We win today. Das it!” It started a roll of championships for the Core 4 and here we are again with a new Core and a new era of Yankees Baseball. I am sure Daniel will have the Yankees as the World Series favorite. He will not be wrong. This is our year. We see it, we feel it, we know it. We just need the team to do it.
For the final weekend without baseball activity, I guess we’ll have to pause for some football. Here’s hoping Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams return the City of Angels to the NFL Championship. I was so excited when the Rams returned to Los Angeles (lived there at the time) after their years away in St Louis and now the franchise is in the Super Bowl against this century’s most dominant NFL team led by a quarterback who might be the greatest of all-time. I personally think it is Joe Montana, but whatever. It would be very exciting for a Rams victory and a Patriots loss. The secondary prize would be disappointment for the Red Sox-Patriots fans. Too bad, so sad. A nice way to start the new baseball year!
Go Rams! But as always and more importantly, Go Yankees!