Tagged: Eduardo Nunez

Seriously? It Was Only Doug Friggin’ Fister…

Credit:  Paul J Bereswill-NY Post

Red Sox 4, Yankees 1…

For Friday’s starters, the Yankees previously sent three of their top prospects to the Oakland A’s for their ace while the Boston Red Sox picked up their’s off the scrap heap.  Nothing against Doug Fister but there’s no way he should look like Corey Kluber or Chris Sale on the mound.  However, for yesterday’s game, the listless Yankees made him appear to be one of the game’s aces as the Red Sox easily got past the Yankees.

Credit:  Corey Perrine-Getty Images

When the Yankees scored first, on Aaron Judge’s first RBI against the Red Sox since April, it looked like it might be the start of something good with Sonny Gray on the mound.  But after that point, the Yankees didn’t have to worry about their problem with runners in scoring position because they couldn’t get any.  

After Gray breezed through the Red Sox in the top of the first, the Yankees got to business in the bottom of the inning.  Brett Gardner led off with a double to deep center, bouncing on the warning track and off the wall.  Aaron Judge followed him with another double to the wall in left center to score Gardy with the game’s first run.  Sadly, at that moment, the Yankees forgot that it was only Doug Fister on the mound.  The next three hitters grounded out and the Yankees had seen their last RISP when Judge was left standing at second.

The Red Sox erased the Yankees’ lead in the top of the 3rd.  After striking out Sandy Leon, Gray walked Brock Holt.  Eduardo Nunez made him pay for it with a two-run shot to left. Brett Gardner could only watch as the ball sail into the stands.  From there, the Red Sox tacked on a couple of unnecessary insurance runs in the form of solo home runs.

Andrew Benintendi, doing to the Yankees what I can only wish Aaron Judge would do to the Red Sox, pounded a Gray pitch into the right field stands (nearly into the Judge’s Chambers) in the top of the 5th.

Credit:  Bill Kostroun-Associated Press

Hanley Ramirez, having a down year against any team not called the Yankees, drilled a shot to right center in the top of the 7th.  

I’d like to find a positive in the game but unfortunately I can’t.  Both Gray and Fister went seven innings with 98 pitches.  Gray only gave up one more hit than Fister (five to four) but the three home runs were the difference maker.  We needed Gray to have his finest moment in Pinstripes but instead it was the Red Sox partying on the field after the game.  

Credit:  Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Aroldis Chapman pitched the eighth inning.  He gave a hit (a single to Mookie Betts) but recorded all three outs by strikeout. Velocity didn’t seem to be a problem with Chapman hitting nearly 105 mph on a pitch that Dustin Pedroia fouled off.  Adam Warren also pitched an inning of one-hit, scoreless relief.  

I’m sorry, there was one positive in the game.  Bernie Williams did a great job of playing the National Anthem on his guitar during pre-game ceremonies.  I will always appreciate #51.  

This was a very winnable game.  Instead, the Yankees (71-63) are back to 5 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East standings.  The Baltimore Orioles won, beating the Toronto Blue Jays 1-0 in extra innings, so they are just 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees.  New York maintained its one game lead in the Wild Card standings thanks to the Minnesota Twins’ 7-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals, but there are seven AL teams within striking distance (3 1/2 games or less).  

The Yankees need to take care of business. If they go down fighting, it’s one thing.  When they go down meekly, it is unacceptable.  

Odds & Ends…

The Yankees made the first of their September call-ups with names you’d expect to see:  DH Matt Holliday, C Erik Kratz (acquired solely to back up Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine while they serve their staggered suspensions), RHP Bryan Mitchell, LHP Jordan Montgomery, and RHP Ben Heller.  To make room for Kratz on the 40-man roster, the Yankees moved RHP Luis Cessa (ribcage injury) to the 60-day DL.  I am glad to see that the Kratz move didn’t result in a “forced” DFA.  I didn’t see an easy candidate to dump.  There will be other names to follow but the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders will begin play in the International League play-offs next week so it may be a few weeks before we see guys like Miguel Andujar or Jake Cave.  

I thought CC Sabathia getting upset about Eduardo Nunez’s bunt in the first inning of Thursday’s game was a little over-reactionary (why not exploit an opponent’s weakness?).  But Hall of Famer Jim Rice’s comments about CC’s weight were, in my opinion, out of line.  

Tyler Clippard must think he won the lottery.  A couple of months ago, he was pitching like the worst reliever in baseball for the Yankees.  Now, he finds himself with a vital role in the bullpen for a team poised to make a World Series run with starting pitchers led by Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel.  

Credit:  Christian Petersen-Getty Images

Have a great Saturday!  Here’s hoping that Masa washes those dirty Sox.  Go Yankees!

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The Toddfather and the Triple Play…

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Yankees 4, Reds 2…

Todd Frazier’s Yankee Stadium debut will be hard to forget.  I am not talking about the 500 or 600 people that traveled up to the game from Tom’s River, New Jersey.  With the bases loaded and no outs in the second inning, Frazier came to bat and promptly hit into an inning-ending triple play.  Fortunately, the Yankees squeezed one run out of it but not exactly a stellar debut.  Nevertheless, thanks to a magnificent Jordan Montgomery and 2 later RBI’s from  the third out of the triple play (Didi Gregorius), the Yankees prevailed over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

The second inning started so nicely for the Yankees.  Matt Holliday, Didi Gregorius, and Chase Headley all singled to load the bases with no outs against Reds starter Luis Castillo.  It set the stage for Todd Frazier’s Yankee Stadium debut.  I was thinking Grand Slam.  How beautiful that would have been.  But it was not meant to be as Frazier hit a grounder to shortstop Jose Peraza on a 3-1 hitter’s count.  After erasing Headley and Frazier, the Reds had Didi hung up between second and third.  He had broken for third base and then had second thoughts and ended up running out of the base path for the third and final out but not before Holliday had crossed the plate with the game’s first run.

The Yankees picked up another run in the 4th inning.  Aaron Judge singled to right off Castillo and worked his way to third base courtesy of a Matt Holliday broken bat groundout and then balk by the pitcher.  Didi Gregorius scored Judge with a sacrifice fly to right field.

Another run came the next inning when Todd Frazier, shaking off the triple play, led off with a single to left.  Tyler Wade hit into a fielder’s choice which eliminated Frazier at second.  Austin Romine, a high school teammate of Colorado’s great third baseman Nolan Arenado, doubled to the right field corner with Wade motoring around to score the Yankees’ third run. The Yankees loaded the bases after Romine’s double but were unable to cash in when Matt Holliday grounded out to end the inning.

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Jordan Montgomery was amazing.  He had a no-hitter going until the top of the 6th inning when Scott Schebler led off with a double to the wall in right center.  Schebler ended up scoring when he moved to third on a fly out and came home on a ground out.  Monty pitched into the 7th inning and had two outs before he was pulled after giving up a single to Adam Duvall.  Tommy Kahnle came on to secure the final out.  Montgomery settled for a two-hitter over 6 2/3 innings, allowing the single run and walking a batter, while striking out 6.  We’ve been watching Monty “grow up” this season before our very eyes and it has been fun.  He does not pitch like a rookie and is showing that he can be an arm to rely upon down the stretch.  

Credit:  Frank Franklin II-AP

With the Yankees holding the slim 3-1 lead, things got a little too interesting in the 8th.  Dellin Betances, showing that his struggles are not behind him, got into trouble.  He walked the first batter, Devin Mesoraco, to immediately start in the hole.  After striking out Scott Schebler, he walked Jose Peraza.  Zack Cozart pinch-hit for Arismendy Alcantara and hit a grounder into a fielder’s choice, forcing Peraza out at second.  Mesoraco moved to third, with Cozart at first.  Billy Hamilton doubled to right, scoring Mesoraco and moving Cozart to third.  Manager Joe Girardi had seen enough and pulled Betances in favor of Adam Warren.  Meanwhile, the Reds replaced Cozart after he aggravated a quad injury running to third base with pinch-runner Robert Stephenson, a starting pitcher (the Reds were down to catchers on their bench).  Fortunately, Stephenson, representing the tying run, was left stranded at third when Warren struck out Eugenio Suarez.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees added a much-needed insurance run when Didi Gregorius homered to right center, a solo shot.  

Credit:  Charles Wenzelberg-The New York Post

The Yankees took a 4-2 lead into the 9th inning for closer Aroldis Chapman.  Chapman, unlike Betances, had no command issues as he easily dispatched the three Reds he faced for his 12th save of the season.  Yankees win!

Credit:  John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The Yankees (52-46) moved to within a game of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East Standings with the victory.  The Red Sox lost another game in Seattle, this time a 6-5 loss in 13 innings (after the Mariners rallied in the bottom of the 13th trailing the Red Sox, 5-4).  The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles, 5-4, to remain 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

Ironically, although he has no official RBI as a Yankee, Todd Frazier has driven in two runs with a double play and now a triple play during his brief Yankees career.  Hopefully, he’ll start mixing in a few official ribbies.

Credit:  Anthony J Causi-The New York Post

After the game, Joe Girardi said that it was his intent to avoid using David Robertson in the game.  He continues to have confidence in Dellin Betances, as do we, but there’s no question that he needs to work his way out of this funk sooner rather than later.

Sonny Gray Watch…

Okay, I admit it.  I am ‘all in’ on the Sonny Gray rumors.  He was probably the most scouted major league player during last night’s match-up between Gray’s current (soon to be former) team, the Oakland A’s and the AL East’s very own Toronto Blue Jays.  I have to admit that I was channel flipping between games.  It was actually a ‘two-fer’ watch with Yonder Alonzo starting at first base.  

Credit:  Mark Blinch-AP

I am still expecting the Los Angeles Dodgers to pull a desperation move but hopefully they are more focused on Yu Darvish assuming the Texas Rangers can be persuaded to sell.

Gray’s outing against the Blue Jays didn’t go so well.  Although he didn’t allow any earned runs, the Jays scored four runs against him courtesy of his own throwing error which extended the second inning in the A’s 4-1 loss.  His final line:  6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO.  He took the loss, dropping to 6-5 while his ERA was lowered to 3.43.  

A number of teams were present to scout Gray at Rogers Centre in addition to the Yankees.  They included the Cubs, Dodgers, Brewers, Pirates, Indians, and Royals.  Although they were not present, the Houston Astros remain a frontrunner to acquire Gray according to A’s beat writer Susan Slusser.  

Here’s hoping that GM Brian Cashman is able to ensure that Gray’s next start will be in pinstripes.

Odds & Ends…

Ex-Yankee relievers seem to be in high demand.  Last week, we saw David Phelps traded from the Miami Marlins to the Seattle Mariners and saw him over the weekend.  Yesterday, the Chicago White Sox, having already divested themselves of former (and now current) Yankees David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, shipped ex-Yankee reliever Anthony Swarzak to the Milwaukee Brewers.  Swarzak had just picked up his first save on Monday after Tyler Clippard failed to close the previous game.  I guess it is a curse to effectively close a game for the White Sox this year but I am not complaining.  Justin Wilson is probably the next former Yankee reliever on the auction block.  

Speaking of ex-Yankees, the Boston Red Sox felt they needed one.  They acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez overnight from the San Francisco Giants for a couple of minor league pitchers.  Thwarted in their attempt to acquire Todd Frazier from the Chicago White Sox, they had recently called up top prospect Rafael Devers to man third base.  The Red Sox press release referred to Nunez as a utility player so he’ll presumably provide insurance for the 20-year-old Devers if the Red Sox opt to continue with plans with the youngster at the hot corner or possibly platoon with him.

Triple A outfielder Jake Cave has been named the International League’s Player of the Week for the week ending July 23rd.  Cave was 15-for-26 (.577) with 2 homers and 8 RBI’s. His on-base percentage was .607 and his slugging percentage was .885.  He hit safely in all seven games played, with multiple hits in all but two of the games.  Since his promotion from Double A, Cave has the most hits (47) of any player in the International League over that period of time.  I know that the 24-year-old Cave is desperately seeking a MLB opportunity.  If he can’t get it with the Yankees, I hope that he is included in a deadline deal that will allow him to make his MLB debt.  He’s earned it.

Have a great Wednesday!  One more with the Reds and then bring us the Rays!  Let’s Go Yankees!

Optimism fades to Pessimism?…

Where did the excitement of the new season go?…

Man-watching-the-sunset

The season began with so much optimism.  The Yankees had the best Spring of any team in Major League Baseball (24-9-1) which was their best Grapefruit League performance since the 2009 World Championship year.

The Yankees may not be World Series contenders this year, but I expected more than a 1-3 start through four games.  With 157 games to go, there’s still much baseball to be played.  But it’s important to see the team gel with a winning mindset sooner rather than later.  It’s not feasible or possible to win every game, but the attitude for expecting to win should be there.  With a downward spiral, it’s too easy to get caught up in the losses and the negativity spreads like wildfire.

My concern this month is the schedule.  It is not an easy path in April.  With two more games to go in Baltimore, the Yankees will play a total of eleven games this month against the AL rival Orioles, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.  The series against the Red Sox is at Fenway Park which isn’t exactly an inviting place for the Yankees (or their fans).  The Yankees also play the St Louis Cardinals in inter-league play.  Mike Matheny’s squad always comes to play.  The Yankees really need to get on top of this, and pull out a few stretches of two or three consecutive wins.

Despite Friday’s loss to the Orioles, it was good to see Gary Sanchez connect for his first home run on the season.  It is unrealistic to expect 20 home runs in 50 games again, but just getting the first one out of the way helps the mental approach to each at-bat.

sanchez1

Credit:  Ron Sachs, The New York Post

Right now, the young trio of Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird are all hitting below the Mendoza Line.  Sanchez has the best batting average of the three (.167).  Judge stands at .133, while Bird, with one hit in 16 at-bats, is a pathetic .063.  You’d expect Judge to be the team’s strikeout leader (given Chris Carter is not an every day starter) but he trails Bird by two.  It’s sad when the team’s best hitter is Chase Headley (7-for-15).

Collectively, as a team, the Yankees need to start hitting.  The formula of a few hitters making contact with the majority of the bats being silent does not work.  A few more pitching performances like the one CC Sabathia delivered in the second game of the season would also be nice.  With no fifth starter needed until April 16th, the Yankees have cycled once through the rotation.  Sabathia gave the only defined quality start.  Tanaka’s start may have been the worst of his Yankees career.  As we proceed into the second run through the rotation, much better results are expected and needed.

Losing is like negativity.  It is very infectious.  If the Yankees can start running out a few stretches of consecutive wins, they can change the attitudes and mindset of the team (and its fans).

Let’s see what the second week of the young season will bring…

Tommy John was a good Yankee but I am tired of hearing his name…

The Yankees received bad news regarding top pitching prospect James Kaprielian this week.  He has been shut down and placed on the Minor League DL.  He underwent a MRI on his pitching elbow (which include dye-contrast).  The results have been shared with the Yankees team physician and Kaprielian will now head to Los Angeles to meet with noted Tommy John surgeon Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D.  Dr. ElAttrache is the team physician for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.  He also is on the Board of Directors for the famed Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic which was co-founded by Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered Tommy John surgery.

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If Kaprielian needs Tommy John surgery, it’s very possible that we won’t see him again until 2019.  With CC Sabathia’s contract up at the end of the year, I had hoped that Kaprielian would be in position to compete for his rotation spot next Spring.  Now, his career is in doubt.  This is starting to feel like the Andrew Brackman situation.  A pitcher with so much promise who was never able to overcome arm injuries, leading to his eventual release and exit from baseball.

With Kaprielian sidelined, the focus will shift to young pitching prospects like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, and Justus Sheffield to lead the way for future rotation help.

I remain hopeful that Kaprielian receives the best possible medical opinion from Dr ElAttrache and if Tommy John surgery is the only answer, I wish him much success on the long journey to recovery and hope that the Major League dream is still within his grasp.

He said, she said…

This seems to be the week of fake news.  Two separate reports were leaked, only to be quickly shot down by the Yankees.  News reports spread quickly that Yankees prospect Clint Frazier had asked the Yankees to un-retire Mickey Mantle’s number.  Both the team and the player quickly denied the reports and Frazier stated that he was only concerned with the front of the jersey and not the back of it.  The story obviously got its start from somewhere, whether it was words take out of context or spoken in jest, but I do not believe that Frazier made the request.

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The other report was that the Yankees have no intention of re-signing starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka should he decide to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract at the end of the year.  Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner stated that no discussions have taken place.  The Yankees would be foolish not to consider all their options, and re-signing Tanaka to a new longer term deal does represent risk.  He’ll be 29 in November and the slight tear in his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) is not going to improve without eventual surgery.

Both stories sound like writers fishing for stories.  Finding a shred of truth it and then embellishing it for the sake of sensationalism.

Bad trade rising…

The Yankees have made their share of bad trades over the years, but one that doesn’t get much recognition is the trade of infielder Eduardo Nunez to the Minnesota Twins three years ago yesterday.  Nunez was subsequently traded to San Francisco and is now their starting third baseman (hitting .400, 8-for-20 so far this season).  Meanwhile, the prospect that the Yankees received from the Twins for Nunez (23-year-old lefty Miguel Sulbaran), currently with AA Trenton, has been suspended for 25 games due to a drug policy violation.

Miguel Sulbaran

Credit:  Jessica Kovalcin

While it has not been reported what Sulbaran did to lead to the suspension, it’s safe to say that the Yankees would not make this trade if they had a chance to do it over again.

A memorable Opening Day…

In all my years as a baseball fan, I’ve never attended an Opening Day game.  That changed yesterday when I saw the Colorado Rockies open Coors Field for the 2017 season against their division rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Although I am a Yankees fan, the Dodgers are my favorite National League team so I have to admit that I was wearing some Dodger blue yesterday.

But the day belonged to the Rockies and their young starting pitcher, Kyle Freeland, who made his Major League debut.  Freeland, who was born and raised in Denver, delivered a very solid performance while picking up his first Major League victory.  He went 6 innings, giving up only 4 hits and 1 run.  He walked 2 and struck out 6.  He was never on the ropes and seemed in command for the duration of the game.  The Rockies won, 2-1, in a pitcher’s duel (with Hyun-Jin Ryu) which is not something you ever expect to see at Coors Field.  The game’s only home run was delivered by backup catcher Dustin Garneau.  The Dodgers starting lineup was missing two regulars (Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez) although both made their way into the game in later innings.  But it wasn’t enough, and Freeland departed with the win.

Colorado Rockies vs Los Angels Dodgers

Credit:  The Denver Post

I remember seeing Jake Peavy make his Major League debut in San Diego years ago (against the Yankees) and it always stuck with me throughout Peavy’s career that I was there at the start.  I guess I can now say that about Freeland too.  Time will tell if he is as successful as Peavy.

Despite pulling for the Dodgers, it was a fun day in the Mile High city.  The weather was uncharacteristically warm for this time of year (mid 70’s) and the stadium was energized by its fans.  I expected to see more Dodger Blue but Purple was clearly the color of the day.

It is high, it is far, it is caught…

A penny for your hits…

What does it take to buy a hit?  Apparently not the $45 million the Yankees paid to Carlos Beltran or the $85 mil to Brian McCann or $175 million for former Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.  This season has been a struggle for wins despite the team’s winning record.  It was finally starting to feel a little better at 29-25 but then the Yankees promptly lost 4 in a row.

 

 

Playing a good team like the Oakland A’s, the Yankees bullpen failed miserably until the final game of the series when David Robertson locked away a win for ace Masahiro Tanaka.  That bleeding started in the series with the Minnesota Twins and was inevitable with the short innings being provided by the replacement starters (i.e., David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley).  When the Yankees are only scoring 1 or 2 runs a game, the starters need to throw a gem almost every outing which obviously is not realistic given the current state of arms.

I thought the Yankees should have aggressively tried to sign Stephen Drew before the Boston Red Sox re-signed him, and now I feel the same way about slugger Kendrys Morales.  Now that there is no longer draft pick compensation tied to him since the MLB started yesterday, I felt the Yankees should go after him.  Maybe they are, but there’s competition.  Based on yesterday’s first draft pick for the Yankees in the second, had they signed Morales earlier, the cost would have been lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren who is already projected to make an appearance in the Yankees bullpen this year.  But now it’s an open field for Morales and the Yankees have reluctance, wanting to see how Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran perform.  In my opinion, the odds of one or both going back to the DL at some point is very high, and the designated hitter, Alfonso Soriano, is not hitting, so I would aggressively pursue Morales to cover 1B/DH.  Ironically, Morales is the guy the Los Angeles Angels turned to when Mark Teixeira left as a free agent.  It worked out well for the Angels and I think it can work out well for the Yankees.  No ifs, ands, or buts, the Yankees need a proven consistent run producer in the middle of the order.  I agree with those who say the Yankees sorely miss Robinson Cano’s bat.  Ironically, the Yankees were also unable to re-sign another slugger having a good year in Milwaukee this year (Mark Reynolds) despite the usual anemic batting average.  Those home runs would look pretty good about now in Yankee Stadium.

 Courtesy:  hailstate.com

On nights the Yankees are scoring only a run or getting shut out, I even see guys like Milwaukee’s Lyle Overbay, another 2013 Yankee, driving in a couple of runs for his new team.  And of course, who delivered the key hit in the Yankees last game with the Twins when the Yankees bullpen collapsed in the late innings?  None other than former backup shortstop Eduardo Nunez.

At this point, the Toronto Blue Jays are starting to run away with the division.  They are clearly playing like the class of the division and they just came off a very successful series against perennial AL contender Detroit.  If I had to pick two teams playing in the ALCS right now, I’d pick the Blue Jays and the Oakland A’s.  If the Yankees do not figure out how to fix the current offensive drought, they really will be offensive and done for the season in September.

Not everybody was meant to be Mariano Rivera…

Nothing against David Robertson but I am still not sold on him as the team’s closer.  Sure, replacing Mariano Rivera is big shoes to fill.  However, I still think that Robertson’s stuff plays best in a Set Up role.  I have been intrigued with the possibility of trying Dellin Betances in the role, but he needs more major league experience so maybe next year.  The reliever the Yankees picked yesterday (Jacob Lindgren) is also a future possibility.  If Robertson blows a few more games like he did against Minnesota, I’d really consider using Andrew Bailey in the role when he gets healthy…for now.

I love you, I love you not…

Speaking of former Yankees thriving outside of New York, both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain seem to be doing fine.  Hughes even captured a victory in the Bronx with the aforementioned bullpen collapse, a place that he couldn’t buy a win last year.  Chamberlain has a couple of saves and a decent ERA.  I can’t say that I’ve watched him too closely but his stats seem to say that all is good.  Why couldn’t have these guys performed like this last year?  Rhetorical question and of course, there is something to be said about the pressure of playing in New York.  It’s not for everyone.

Farewell to a champion…

It was sound to hear about the passing of former Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer this week.  The image of Zim sitting next to Joe Torre on the Yankees bench is forever burned into my memory.  He was such a part of those late 90’s championships and he helped mold Torre into a Hall of Fame manager and one who will soon have his number retired in Memorial Park.  I realize that sooner or later, all of us must depart.  But still, it is sad to see Zim go now.  I understand he had been in poor health since April and hopefully he is now at peace.  He will be missed as he was truly one of Major League Baseball’s landmarks.

 Courtesy:  Keith Torrie/New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

–Scott

Ready or not, here’s the 2014 New York Yankees!…

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.

Starting rotation:

  1.        CC Sabathia
  2.        Hiroki Kuroda
  3.        Ivan Nova
  4.        Masahiro Tanaka
  5.        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.

Closer:

  1.        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.

Setup:

  1.        Shawn Kelley
  2.        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.

Lefty specialist:

  1.        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.

Long relief:

  1.        David Phelps
  2.        Adam Warren
  3.        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.

Catcher:

  1.        Brian McCann
  2.        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.

First base:

  1.        Mark Teixeira

Let’s just say that I am cautiously optimistic there are no lingering problems related to last year’s wrist injury.

Second base:

  1.        Brian Roberts
  2.        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.

Shortstop:

  1.        Derek Jeter
  2.        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.

Third base:

  1.        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.

Left field:

  1.        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.

Center field:

  1.        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.

Right field:

  1.        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.

DH:

  1.        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:

  1.        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…

 

–Scott

 

Feeling better than last year, but…

 

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. 1.       Boston Red Sox
  2. 2.       Tampa Bay Rays
  3. 3.       New York Yankees
  4. 4.       Toronto Blue Jays
  5. 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…

 

–Scott

 

And the WINNER is…

 

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.

Go Yankees!

–Scott