The Element of Surprise…
The World Series is not yet over, but the 2014-15 Hot Stove League is already well under way.
The biggest shocker was the announcement that Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon had opted out of his contract to become a free agent. While I knew that there was a financial gap between what Maddon would require upon the conclusion of his contract next year and what the Rays would be willing to pay, I certainly didn’t expect Maddon’s sudden availability. Interesting that he had to be told about the two week clause to opt out of his contract should former GM Andrew Friedman depart, but clearly a signal that the Rays organization wants to show that they are more than the Friedman-Maddon show. I’ve read that the Rays didn’t want Maddon playing as a lame duck manager next season and that makes sense. Still, he is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, manager in baseball.
Tampa Bay Times
I had expected Maddon’s availability to put Don Mattingly on thin ice in Los Angeles, but publicly the Dodgers have stood behind Mattingly as their manager for 2015. While I don’t think that Mattingly is the manager that Maddon is, I do believe that he eventually will be. Mattingly has continued to improve in my eyes, and he deserves the opportunity to succeed with the Dodgers. But it must be hard for new Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman sit idly by while his close friend is available to the highest bidder. With the only remaining managerial opening being in Minneapolis, it’s a given that if Maddon manages in 2015, a team will make a late decision to jettison their current manager. Speculation that it will be the Chicago Cubs certainly makes sense, but I feel bad for Rick Renteria who did a very good job last year with the younger Cubs.
If I owned a baseball team, I’d certainly consider making a change to bring in Maddon. It will be interesting to see where he lands. I really doubt that he’ll sit out a year waiting for the next job.
Meanwhile, I certainly do not feel bad for the Tampa Bay Rays. I am in favor of anything that weakens AL East Rivals, but I am sure that Tampa will be fine.
For the Yankees, they missed their guy when Chili Davis signed a three year deal to be the new hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox. Chili was my personal favorite for the job, and had hoped for his reunion with the Yanks. But it was not meant to be. With Dave Magadan off the board, it’s anybody’s guess who will replace Kevin Long as the Yankees hitting coach. Of the latest names, I do like the idea of the Yankees pursuing Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton or if they stay in house, someone like James Rowson. Without strong clear cut options, it does make one wonder if the Yanks were premature in letting Long go. It certainly didn’t take him long to find a new job in Flushing Meadow. With his reputation, it was a certainty that he wouldn’t remain unemployed very long.
John Munson/The Star-Ledger
In retrospect, the Yankees should have kept Long and brought in an assistant hitting coach. Regardless of who they hire as a replacement, I still think the Yankees should join the many team now employing two hitting coaches. My personal favorite for that role continues to be Hideki Matsui.
A wasted roster spot…
With the World Series now tied up, I am hopeful that it goes the full seven games. While I want the San Francisco Giants to win, I am not ready for the announcement that Alex Rodriguez has rejoined the Yankees active roster. I am not looking forward to his return and I do not feel that he’ll be the productive player that he once was. In my opinion, he’d look better someplace like Miami but the guy has no trade value unless the Yankees are willing to absorb what’s left on his inflated contract. He is definitely the poster child against long-term contracts. This has turned out to be one of the worst that I’ve ever seen. The thought of three more years of A-Rod is so incredibly painful. I sincerely hope that A-Rod’s presence does not deter the Yankees from re-signing free agent third baseman Chase Headley.
There was once a time that I thought A-Rod would never wear pinstripes again but sadly, it appears that I was wrong. Of course, it’s not my money and the Yankees still owe A-Rod too much to just release him.
Assuming the Yankees do bring back Headley, the position that scares me the most next season is first base. It’s hard to count on Mark Teixeira and when he plays, he is a shell of the player he once was. It is looking like A-Rod will be playing some first base which brings its own questions. I remain hopeful that Rob Refsnyder grabs second base in spring training. As for Derek Jeter’s replacement at short, I think the answer is outside of the organization. More than likely, it will be a short term solution. Asdrubal Cabrera probably makes the most sense unless it is determined that his long term future is better suited for second base.
With the World Series set to end either Tuesday or Wednesday, I am sure that the Hot Stove League will start heating up if the last few weeks have been any indication. No offense to either the Giants or the Kansas City Royals, but, outside of A-Rod, I am ready for the rebuilding of the Yankees to begin…
The first swing is a strike…
OK, I am bummed. Today’s news, aside from the fact that my beloved Minnesota Vikings and San Jose Sharks lost games, was the Boston Red Sox naming former Yankee Chili Davis as their new hitting coach. I had really hoped we’d see the return of Davis to New York to replace the departed Kevin Long. However, it is not meant to be. Not sure if Davis decided not to wait on the Yankees, or if they made a lower offer, or if Davis simply looked into the crystal ball and saw greater potential with the 2015 Red Sox hitters.
I wish Chili the best in his new job, and I am sure that he’ll be a huge benefit for Yoenis Cespedes given their prior success together in Oakland.
Where does that leave the Yankees? At this point, Dave Magadan is probably the strongest name on the board. Dante Bichette has been mentioned as a possibility. I have not kept up with Dante’s post-playing career, but he is an intriguing name given his close friendship with Manager Joe Girardi and his son is a prospect in the Yankees system. Another name that intrigues me is Jason Giambi. Not sure if he is ready to pull the plug on his playing days, but he’s obviously already moved into a mentoring role and would be a great guy for the position. With so many teams moving to the two hitting coach approach, I think the Yankees should follow suit regardless of who gets the job. A perfect combo might be Magadan with Hideki Matsui as his assistant hitting coach.
While I am disappointed that Chili Davis is no longer an option, I wonder if the team has already made its decision. Reports are that a new coach could be named by Tuesday which leads me to believe the Yankees have either made their decision or they’ve significantly narrowed the choices.
Hopefully next week brings some good news regarding Joe Girardi’s coaching staff. It’s funny. When your team is not in the World Series, you are anxious for the WS to end so that the Hot Stove League can begin.
Speaking of the World Series, I am pulling for the San Francisco Giants by default. My NL team is the Los Angeles Dodgers but sadly they couldn’t make it to the NLCS. As a Bay Area resident, it’s not too hard to default to the Giants even if they are the Dodgers bitterest rival. It doesn’t matter that the Giants have that ‘been there, done that’ feel to them whereas the Kansas City Royals are returning to a stage they haven’t seen since 1985. I am ready for another Orange October…
1-0 to start the 2014-15 Off-Season…
First order of business has been accomplished. With the signing of GM Brian Cashman to a new three year deal, the off-season can officially begin. I am glad that Cashman will be returning, although I certainly would not have been opposed to Billy Eppler stepping into the role.
I found Cashman’s words about Alex Rodriguez to be intriguing. It was a public admission that the team does not plan to rely upon Rodriguez as its everyday third baseman. Granted, I am not an A-Rod fan, but I openly prefer to see the return of Chase Headley or would support the free agent acquisition of someone like Pablo Sandoval. To hear Cashman talk about A-Rod possibly playing first base, I think that’s a great idea as Mark Teixeira is another older veteran who can no longer be relied upon to perform every day. Of course, the use of 1B/DH between Teixeira and A-Rod doesn’t really leave much room for Carlos Beltran on those days that he can’t play the field.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I would still like to see the Yankees find a way to sever ties with A-Rod even if it means eating his contract. Easy for me to say given it is not my money but A-Rod, the 40-year old hip “impaired” DH that has not played in a year will not perform to the level of the money he is still owed. So, filling the roster spot with a younger, more durable player certainly makes sense.
At this point in Cashman’s career, he is building his Yankees legacy as the longest running Yankees GM that I’ve ever known. When his time is over, he’ll be remembered among the best of the all-time Yankees GMs. Rebuilding a winner in the next three years would go a long way toward putting Cashman at the head of the class. Of course, failure could mean his dismissal. After 17 years on the job, he is truly entering “what have you done for me lately?” territory.
The Fall Guys…
I have long agreed that Kevin Long has been a great hitting coach, but for whatever reason, the message didn’t work this year. Perhaps it was the direct product of the available talent on the roster or it was the loss of a vital cog in the heart of the order when Robinson Cano fled for Seattle. But regardless of the reasons, it was time for a change. So, I was not disappointed when I heard that Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher had been fired.
My personal preference for hitting coach would be the Oakland A’s Chili Davis. I know that the A’s offense stalled late in the season, but I’ve always respected Davis and what his bat meant to a lineup.
The Yankees will be competing with the Boston Red Sox in their search since the Sox also need a hitting coach.
For the World Series, after the Yankees failed to reach the play-offs and the Los Angeles Dodgers bowed out in the first round, my latest preference is the San Francisco Giants. Maybe it’s because I am a Bay Area resident but it would be good to see the Giants prevail even if the Giants and St Louis Cardinals have been frequent participants of the Fall Classic in recent years. There’s no way that I’ll pull for the Baltimore Orioles or the Kansas City Royals regardless of how many years it has been since they last won. I had really hoped that Don Mattingly and the Dodgers would have succeeded with arguably the best pitcher in baseball with Clayton Kershaw but his 0-2 mark against the Cards sealed their fate.
The Kid from Kalamazoo rides away…
I hate that I’ve been so pessimistic about the Yankees’ chances of making the play-offs this year, but the realization is slowly becoming a reality as time on the 2014 season draws to a close. For whatever reason, this just has never felt like the Yankees’ season. It had more promise than last year yet the team will actually end up with a worse record. As I write this, the Yankees hold a two game lead for second place in the AL East and that’s the most the team can aspire for.
After losing Martin Prado for the season due to an appendectomy, the latest blow is the potential season-ending loss of Jacoby Ellsbury with a hamstring injury.
It’s sad that the final season for future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter will end so quietly. In a way, it carries the same sadness that saw Don Mattingly’s career end with the 1995 play-off loss to the Seattle Mariners (his only post-season appearance in a tremendously successful Yankees career). Granted, DJ has enjoyed far greater post-season success than Mattingly could have ever imagined, but still, for the man coined as Mr. November, it’s sad that we will no longer be able to see his presence grace October.
Ironically, it is Mattingly who will experience the post-season this year as he has his Los Angeles Dodgers in a good position with a play-off spot secured and a 3 ½ game lead in the NL West over the San Francisco Giants.
With Jeter’s desire to one day be a major league owner, I wonder where his post-Yankees career will take him. It’s tough to see Mattingly wear another team’s uniform after he wore pinstripes for the duration of his Yankees career. I can’t imagine seeing Derek wearing another uniform. I was listening to Cal Ripken on the radio this week and his radio career ensures that he’ll forever be known as an Oriole and nothing else. That’s the way it should be, but Jeter’s aspirations for ownership will inevitably lead him elsewhere. I can’t see the Steinbrenner family selling him a substantial piece of the prized Yankees.
Thank you, Lord, for making him a Yankee…
Hats off to Hiroki Kuroda who has been such a great Yankee. I respected him when he was a starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but never really got a sense of his professionalism and the honor he bestows wearing his team’s colors. He has only been a Yankee for three years, but he made a difference and if this is his last year, he will leave a solid legacy. If he does play another year in the majors, I hope that he does return to the Yankees rather than going back to the Dodgers. But for whatever he decides, I will respect his decision because he has earned that right. If he does pitch for the Dodgers next year, or plays in Japan, or simply calls it a career, I will remain a fan.
My choice…they passed the audition…
I really hope the Yankees move quickly to re-sign Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy, and decide to bring back Chris Young. I think all three can play valuable roles for the 2015 season even with the return of Alex Rodriguez or the potential signing of a frontline starter like Jon Lester. The first order of business when the season ends is for the Yankees to re-sign GM Brian Cashman (or move on and name Billy Eppler as his replacement). The GM situation needs to be settled quickly so that the team can focus on its pursuit of improvement for 2015. I clearly want Cashman back, but I’d be happy with Eppler in the role too. I would not want to see the team bring in an outsider for fill the role.
I am anxious to see if Rob Refsnyder can take second base next spring. He may not be Robinson Cano but I think he’d bring excitement to the position.
A plethora of catchers…
The Yankees will need to do something about the glut of catchers this off-season. Francisco Cervelli is a great back-up and a potential starter, but John Ryan Murphy deserves a chance. Austin Romine seems to have become an afterthought and maybe he’d thrive with a change of scenery (not unlike what happened for his brother, Andrew Romine, who was dealt from the Angels organization and is now starting at shortstop for the Detroit Tigers). One of these days, Gary Sanchez will be knocking at the door and he will force his way onto the roster.
We know who replaced Mariano Rivera…
I guess the predictions that reliever Jacob Lindgren would make the majors by the end of the year after he was drafted in June did not come to pass. But there’s no doubt that he’ll be a contender for the bullpen next season. I really have no clue what the Yankees intend to do with David Robertson. If he becomes a free agent, there is a very real possibility that he will become a former Yankee. I am sure the Yankees are intrigued with the possibility of making Dellin Betances the closer after his All-Star breakout season. I think Betances can be a great closer but Robertson has certainly done everything the team expected from him. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I remember hating to see closer John Wetteland leave via free agency which thrust set up man Mariano Rivera into the closer’s role. I think that situation played itself out correctly (statement of the obvious). Time will tell if the team makes the right decision with Robertson.
Wanted: Clutch hits…
One Yankee that has come under a great deal of heat is hitting coach Kevin Long. Long respected at his craft, I wonder if the team’s offensive failures this year will force the Yankees to change coaches. As great as Long is, if the players are not responding to his message, it’s either time to get new players or change coaches. The latter is the cheaper route and it will most likely be the one the team makes. There are no obvious choices for who would make a better hitting coach. I’ve always liked Don Baylor but I don’t know his current situation. I think Bernie Williams would have made a terrific coach if he had chosen that path, but his musical adventure is his passion. Paul O’Neill? Another one of the hard choices for the Yankees to make.
As Derek Jeter rides off to the sunset, many questions and few answers confront the Yankees as they move forward.
Realistically, there was no way the Yankees could have been players at the trading deadline. Despite the usual rumors tying the Yankees to David Price, Tampa Bay was not going to trade their prized pitcher to New York, only to have him haunt them for years. It was potentially an opportunity for the Rays to strip the Yankees cupboards bare but that would have been foolish on the Yankees’ part.
Ditto for the Boston Red Sox. If there was the slightest possibility the Rays would have considered moving Price to New York, there was none when it came to Boston. There is no circumstance that would allow their pride to part with one of their core players to the hated Yankees. Yes, the Yankees were able to pick up Stephen Drew, but he has not been a vital part of the success of the Red Sox in recent years.
Interestingly enough, Boston’s trade of Lester to the Oakland A’s increases the possibility that he becomes a Yankee next year in my opinion. Oakland will not pony up the necessary dollars and I am not sure that Boston would get any hometown discount (if there ever would have been one to begin with). I am sure that the Los Angeles Dodgers will make a play for Lester and I would not underestimate the Seattle Mariners since Lester is a Northwest native.
If, by chance, Lester does return to Boston in the off-season as a free agent, it would be quite a coup to land Yoenis Cespedes for a two month rental of Lester to the A’s.
Back to the Yankees, there really wasn’t a blockbuster deal in the cards for them. The pitchers they were linked to (most notably John Danks) all have their own question marks and the Yankees would still have had to overpay. So, all things considered, losing C/1B prospect Peter O’Brien (in the deal to acquire Martin Prado from the Arizona Diamondbacks) was a small price to pay. The Yankees have no shortage of replacement prospects for O’Brien (he wasn’t going to be a catcher and his departure allowed the Yankees to promote 1B Greg Bird to AA). Kelly Johnson for Stephen Drew made sense as Johnson wasn’t really being used by the Yankees, and Stephen Drew gets an audition as a potential 2015 replacement for the retiring Derek Jeter even if he’ll be out of position (2B instead of SS) for the next two months.
Drew’s arrival (a surprise given that it involved an infrequent trade with Boston) spelled the end of the line for former Baltimore Orioles great Brian Roberts. Roberts seemed like a good guy but the Yankees needed more at 2B. Drew, even though he had never played 2B at the major league level, was still an upgrade at a position that has been sorely lacking since the day Robinson Cano signed in Seattle. I wish that Drew had a stronger bat, but his athleticism seems to play well on defense.
Prado is a great all purpose guy but not exactly what I had envisioned for right field. Yet, he’s an improvement over the aging Ichiro Suzuki. I heard the Yankees had tried to acquire Dustin Ackley from the Seattle Mariners before they turned their sights on Prado. Apparently, Seattle’s request for minor league pitcher Bryan Mitchell was a deal breaker. That’s too bad because I’ve long thought that Ackley would fit well with the Yankees. Personally, I would have given up Mitchell to get Ackley.
The Yankees did need help on offense and even if they weren’t flashy moves, the additions of Drew and Prado were upgrades. But I had really hoped the Yankees would have been able to secure an additional arm for the rotation which didn’t happen. But I never wanted to see a deal that involved losing top prospects so perhaps it was best that nothing happened. Clearly, the Yankees are not going to win a World Series this year unless they get ridiculously lucky in the next couple of months. As it stands, they’d be easily dismissed by either Oakland or Detroit.
It’s possible the Yankees made a waiver deal or two this month, but I seriously doubt there will be any major additions. Win or lose, this is the 2014 Yankees.
It is early in Chase Headley’s Yankee career, however, I really like what I’ve seen so far. Granted, he doesn’t bring a monster bat, but his defensive plays have been something that has been missing from Yankee Stadium for many years. There’s no doubt I prefer Headley over Alex Rodriguez and I hope the Yankees decide to bring Headley back next year.
Considering that Yangervis Solarte has been hitting with consistency since he arrived in San Diego, the Headley trade is one of those that seems to have worked out well for both teams involved.
With the acquisitions of Drew and Prado, it was interesting how it reunited former teammates. For Drew, it was a reunion with former Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and lefty specialist Matt Thornton. He was traded for a close friend, Kelly Johnson, a former teammate when they were both in Arizona. Ironically, I read that Drew and Johnson were together in Drew’s home when news of the trade broke. I am sure that probably hasn’t happened too often.
For Prado, he was teammates in Atlanta with catcher Brian McCann and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
Even Carlos Beltran was able to catch up with old friends, even though they are playing in the opposing dugout with former Cardinals teammates Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. It wasn’t that long ago Beltran, Craig and Kelly were playing in the World Series, along with now Boston reliever Edward Mujica, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Assimilating with a new team…
When Wednesday’s games were over, I am sure that Stephen Drew’s mind was on the upcoming series against the Yankees. So, when Thursday’s trade put him in the opposite dugout, I wonder how long it takes to drop the loyalty to the former team. Not that I would think Drew would do anything to hurt the Yankees’ chances to beat the Red Sox but I wonder if there is a part of you that quietly roots for your former teammates. When you are used to cheering the home team at Fenway, does that feeling automatically leave because you are suddenly wearing a different uniform? For Drew, when he played second base for the Yankees on Friday night, he had much deeper and more meaningful relationships with the Red Sox than he did with his own teammates. He’ll develop those friendships on the team in time, but it just seems to me that it would be very difficult to change loyalties at the drop of a hat.
I watched a little of Jon Lester’s debut with the Oakland A’s on Saturday. Admittedly, Lester looked a little strange in Oakland’s uniform. Jeff Samardzija looked more at ease than Lester did during their respective debuts, but it didn’t show up in Lester’s performance as he beat the Kansas City Royals while the Red Sox were losing to the Yankees.
USA Today Sports
David Price’s debut as a Detroit Tiger takes place this week against the Yankees. As if they didn’t see Price enough while he was with the Rays. Oh well, to be the best, you have to beat the best or so they say…
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.
Happy New Year to all Baseball Fans!…
January 1, 2014. Time to replace the calendars. With the arrival of the New Year, it brings optimism for baseball fans everywhere as they anticipate whether or not their team has done enough to ensure October success. Boston fans dream of a back-to-back championship, while others hope they can be the ones to de-throne the defending champs. In January, anything is possible, although arguably some teams have a much better chance than others.
As a Yankees fan, it has been a bittersweet off-season. The team finally made some bold moves after a couple of years of inactivity in signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, but the loss of Robinson Cano will hurt. The team still has not done enough to improve the starting rotation nor has it repaired the losses in the pen.
I thought the Washington Nationals did a good job in bringing in Doug Fister for its starting rotation. He was a solid performer for the Detroit Tigers and he should help provide back-end stability for the frontline starters.
The Boston Red Sox did well in re-signing Mike Napoli. He is a great role performer and he seems to thrive in the Fenway environment, however, I am not sure that A.J. Pierzynski makes up for the loss of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. I think they’ll be okay losing Jacoby Ellsbury if Jackie Bradley, Jr is able to take the next step up in his promising career. While it remains questionable whether Stephen Drew will be back or will be playing in Citi Field, any team would love to have Xander Bogaerts standing ready to take over the shortstop position. Regardless of what happens, I think the Red Sox will be a force in 2014 and won’t relinquish their crown easily.
The Minnesota Twins showed an unusual side in signing free agent pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, and bringing back Mike Pelfrey. They missed out on A.J. Pierzynski, but the signing of Kurt Suzuki will allow them to bring their young catcher, Josmil Pinto, along slowly in the major leagues as they replace Joe Mauer who has moved to first.
Among others, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland A’s, and the San Francisco Giants (in bringing Tim Hudson back to the Bay Area) have had productive off-seasons.
There are countless other major moves that have been made and other teams that have significantly enhanced their chances for winning, but the point is that January is a time of optimism. Spring Training looms on the horizon as this is the last full month before pitchers and catchers begin to report. Players, if they took time off for the holidays, are aggressively starting or continuing their off-season workout regimens. This is the time that will set in motion the attitudes and the chemistry that makes up each team. Baseball is not about having the most physically gifted team, it’s about the team that can do the most to maximize the synergy of the team and create a culture that is unwilling to accept losing.
It should be a fun season. It’s too early to form an opinion of the teams that stand the best chance as there are still some roster-changing moves that will be made before spring training breaks, but in the AL, you know that the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Rangers, A’s, and Angels will have a say in who wins and who loses.
I hope it’s a very happy and enjoyable New Year for everyone! Time to make new friends, create fantastic new opportunities, experiences, and memories. Time to get excited about the arrival of the upcoming Major League Baseball season. May the 2014 season bring you great satisfaction and enjoyment!
The Masahiro Tanaka Sweepstakes…
It’s been written that the New York Yankees are the favorites to sign prized Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, but it’s really anybody’s guess where he will sign. Personally, I could see the Los Angeles Dodgers blowing away the competition, and they would certainly provide a main stage for Tanaka to perform. No offense to the Minnesota Twins, but I couldn’t really see a player with Tanaka’s potential playing in a small market. I would love to see Tanaka sign with the Yankees and I think Hiroki Kuroda would be the perfect mentor to help Tanaka’s transition to the United States. But the Dodgers have a strong history with Japanese players. The Texas Rangers may be players and you certainly cannot underestimate the Seattle Mariners or the Los Angeles Angels. The Tanaka decision will be made within the next three weeks as it has to be completed by January 24th, so it should be interesting to watch Tanaka’s tour and to see how much teams are willing to pay for his potential. Guys like Clayton Kershaw, with free agency looming in the not-so-distant future, have to love this, and it will help enhance the monetary packages it will take to sign or retain them with proven superior performance in the MLB.
If the Yankees lose out on Tanaka, I am not sure what a good Plan B will be. I’ve heard Ubaldo Jimenez’ name mentioned, but it’s not a guarantee that 2013 was a return to the promise he once held or if it was just an aberration and he’ll continue his prior downward slide. Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana. None of these names excite me. I am more hopeful that guys like Michael Pineda and Manny Banuelos can come into training camp and make statements for why they should be the guys.
Roster moves await…
With the 40-man roster filled, and the signings of second baseman Brian Roberts or reliever Matt Thornton to be made official, it’s clear the Yankees will need to open roster space. Given the excess at catcher with the signing of Brian McCann, it’s fairly clear that either Austin Romine or J.R. Murphy could be moved. I think we’ll see the departure of Vernon Wells despite his salary friendly status thanks to the Angels. Even something free is not worth keeping if it has no value. As speculated, I could still see a trade of Ichiro Suzuki to a team like the San Francisco Giants. I have no problem with Zoilo Almonte taking the fifth outfielder role, particularly in light of his strong winter play.
I don’t think the Yankees have done enough yet, but I also do not think they are finished. I am confident that by the time training camp opens, the Yankees will have the collection of players capable of restoring the team’s 90+ win ability. Time will tell if they’ve caught up with their prime AL East competitors but at least with the Yankees, you know it won’t be for the lack of trying.
The words of Randy Levine…
Admittedly, I do not know much about Yankees president Randy Levine, but I am not impressed with the man. I wasn’t before the text messages between Levine and Alex Rodriguez were released and I am even less so now. Some of his comments come off as very unprofessional. I remember how vilified Red Sox president Larry Lucchino was by Yankees fans when he made his ‘Evil Empire’ remark and how hated he is, but I really do not see Levine as any better and very likely, much worse. At least Lucchino has overseen three world championships since 2004. The Yankees’ 2009 World Championship was more Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman, among others.
Perhaps Levine is a great leader and effective in his role within the Yankees organization, but it is not apparent from the outside looking in. I can only shake my head when I see his text message comments. Aside from any of his words or how I may feel about the man, I strikes me as very odd that the president of the team would go direct to a player, bypassing the manager and the GM. Maybe it would help if more stories about Levine’s positives were written, but then again, they wouldn’t be interesting and wouldn’t sell papers. So, maybe we’ll never know the good the man potentially does. But as it stands, he just seems like a buffoon to me.
I hope the holiday season has been a very happy time for you and your families. Enjoy the New Year, and may good health, success, happiness, and prosperity be yours!