The Dawn of the Baseball Winter Meetings…
This week is always the most eventful one of the entire off-season. A flurry of activity followed by relative silence as we head into the holidays.
Credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Before the meetings start later this evening, the Yankees have already lost one option with Houston’s free agent signing of former Yankee Carlos Beltran. I had mixed feelings about his possible return to New York. He was arguably the team’s best hitter last season but he is also 40 years old. For a team that has aggressively gotten younger, adding “old” does not necessarily make sense. There is no guarantee that Beltran will be as good as last year, and it’s a near impossibility that he’d be better. Going with older veterans, I’d rather sign either Matt Holliday or Mike Napoli to a short-term deal that keeps the Yankees on the right path toward World Series contention in 2018 or 2019.
Back in the old days under George Steinbrenner, I am sure that both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista would be Yankees by now. Of the two, I’d prefer Encarnacion but I don’t feel the Yankees should lock up huge long-term dollars for either player even if it would severely weaken the Toronto Blue Jays in the short run. In a couple of years, they’ll just be over-paid, under-producing aging veterans. We’ve seen enough of those in recent seasons.
Credit: Reuters/Ray Stubblebine
There are unofficial reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers have a deal in place with starter Rich Hill so that’s one less option on the pitching front. A deal with Jason Hammel probably makes the most sense. I like Hammel as a reliable, back of the rotation guy. He would be a good complimentary piece to Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda as the team looks to fill other pitching spots with youth. I would probably take a chance with either C.J. Wilson or Tyson Ross if given the opportunity.
It’s possible that GM Brian Cashman can uncover a quality arm via trade but it’s a virtual certainty the team won’t be involved in the Chris Sale sweepstakes. Sale alone would not make the Yankees an immediate World Series contender and he would cost the best quality of the farm system to acquire. So, the Yankees need to stay the course as they continue to add the pieces for future success.
I was disappointed to see minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson leave the organization. I am happy to see him return to the major leagues as the hitting coach for the Minnesota Twins, however, I thought he would have been a better hitting coach for the Yankees than current hitting coach Alan Cockrell or assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames. When the Yankees had dismissed Jeff Pentland last year, I was hopeful that Rowson would get the job. It was not meant to be. I think he’ll be a good addition to Paul Molitor’s staff in Minneapolis and should help former Yankee and current Twins’ co-catcher John Ryan Murphy to hit again.
I remain hopeful the Yankees re-sign pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Lindgren* as they recover from Tommy John surgery. Granted, neither pitcher will help in 2017 but I would really prefer to see them stay.
Let’s hope this week brings good news for Yankees fans…
*Several hours after this post, the Atlanta Braves announced they’ve signed Lindgren to a one year deal that will allow them to retain rights to Lindgren if they add him to their 40-man roster.
Winter is coming…
The dawn of the Winter Meetings. It’s is always one of my favorite times of the year. Last year was very quiet for the Yankees but still, so much happens in the first few days of the meetings with free agent signings and trades.
I am very relieved that the owners and the players association agreed on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. I didn’t really expect a lockout but of course it was always a possibility until the two sides came to an agreement. I understand why the CBA issue held up the Yankees due to the luxury tax implications and uncertainty associated therewith. Now that both sides have a better understanding of the new deal, it should allow the Yankees to begin shaping the 2017 team.
I fully recognize that there will not be wholesale changes. This isn’t 2009 when the Yankees dumped a half billion dollars on top free agents. Sure, I’d love to have Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista on the team but realistically it is not going to happen. Between the two, I’d take Encarnacion but I still don’t think it will happen. The Yankees have a clear need for a solid, clutch-hitting DH but I think they’ll go with either Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday. Staying in house is an option but that mean DH will be used as a rotation to rest the regulars.
I would love for the Yankees to find a way to move LF Brett Gardner and 3B Chase Headley but in both cases, age + contract make the players hard to move. Gardner would probably be the easier of the two to move. While the Yankees have in-house options to replace Gardner, they’d probably have to go outside to get a replacement for Headley. Miguel Andujar showed in the Arizona Fall League that he is the future at third, but his arrival is still a few years away. I’ve also seen the projections of Gleyber Torres taking over second base, pushing current second baseman Starlin Castro to third. But Torres won’t see the Bronx until late in the 2017 season or sometime in 2018. Despite the absence of immediate help at third, I am still ready to end the Chase Headley story even if he did recover from a horrendous April to have a very good season last year.
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My wish list for this off-season still begins with closer Aroldis Chapman. I am still very hopeful that he’ll find his way back to the Bronx. Kenley Jansen would certainly be acceptable if Plan A does not materialize. I am probably warming up to the idea of a Bronx return for Mark Melancon but I think he’ll either stay in Washington or go to San Francisco. Greg Holland is also an option. I think the Yankees have to move Dellin Betances back to a key setup role where he is better suited. Mariano Rivera, he is not.
As for starting pitchers, I am not opposed to the potential signing of starter Rich Hill. He is older than I would like for a team in transition to youth, but he obviously has a quality arm and would provide rotation stability. He reminds me somewhat of Hiroki Kuroda. A consistent pitcher who can occasionally throw a gem. Not a frontline starter, but a very dependable one. As for trades, I have no idea. I’d love Tampa’s Chris Archer but I don’t think the Rays would trade inter-division and his cost would probably be too high. I liked the Arizona Diamondbacks’ acquisition of Taijuan Walker. A young pitcher who was not fulfilled his potential but the upside is still there. Those are the types of pitchers I’d try to target. I know, it does fall into the high risk, maybe high reward, possible low reward category but look where Jake Arrieta has taken the Chicago Cubs.
It was tough to see pitcher Nathan Eovaldi cut within the last couple of weeks and today’s non-tender of lefty Jacob Lindgren, both players who will miss the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery. It wasn’t that long ago when Lindgren was tabbed as a can’t miss, fast-track prospect with the potential to make the major league roster the year he was drafted. Injuries have held Lindgren back, but he’s still young enough to recover for a fine professional career. I am hopeful the Yankees find a way to bring both pitchers back into the organization now that they’ve been removed from the 40-man roster.
Next week should be fun. Unlike last year, I am hopeful and optimistic that the Yankees will be active in an attempt to improve the roster and build strength around the emerging young core. We shall see…
Filling a position of need…
Finally, there is life in the Bronx! Of course, it was only a matter of time given the needs of the team, but today was a day of large activity by the New York Yankees.
The morning was greeted with news that the Yankees had acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks, shipping starting pitcher Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-way trade. While it’s never good to relinquish young, controllable pitching talent, the price of a 4th or 5th starter (or possibly long reliever) in Greene to acquire a starting shortstop was a no-brainer.
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Gregorius is not coming to the Bronx to replace Derek Jeter. He is merely the man who will be penciled into the slot created by the retirement of the future Hall of Famer. But truth be told, short looks so much better in the hands of a 25 year old than it would have with a 41 year old regardless of the achievements for the latter. Gregorius will bring good defense to an infield that needed help. He may not hit, but he’ll hit better than backup shortstop Brendan Ryan. He may be headed into the season as a platoon with Ryan (per Brian Cashman’s words earlier today), but Gregorius will have every opportunity to prove that the position is his. The Yankees are much better with his presence. Time will tell if he is a short or long term solution, but for now, he is an improvement over the speculated possibilities of Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie.
SOMEONE had to take Jeter’s spot and it may as well be Didi.
With Greene’s departure, the obvious first question is whether this will motivate the Yankees to pursue Max Scherzer. While I would love the Yankees to pursue Jon Lester, it seems almost too late in the process for the Yankees to enter the picture since it has been speculated that Lester will choose his destination next week during the Winter Meetings.
My fear is that the Boston Red Sox will soon be touting both Lester and Cole Hamels in their starting rotation which is even more reason that the Yankees need a true ace at the top of their staff. Too many questions with the other starters so Scherzer is sorely needed.
It’s Miller Time!…
In the morning, it was also reported that reliever Andrew Miller would be deciding his selection today. Later, it was announced the Yankees were his choice. I wouldn’t say that they ‘won’ the bidding since technically, they were runner-up to the Houston Astros who offered more, but Miller felt the Yankees were the better destination. Of course, it helps that Miller makes his home in Tampa so it will be a short commute to spring training.
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Miller’s signing makes the most sense if the Yankees can somehow re-sign closer David Robertson. The bullpen is so much stronger with the trio of Robertson, Dellin Betances and Miller than it is with Betances and Miller as co-closers. Given the shortcomings of the starting rotation, mastery of the 6th innings on will be crucial. I really like the thought of two powerful lefties in the pen (Miller and newcomer Justin Wilson, acquired earlier in the off-season from Pittsburgh). Of course, last year’s top draft selection, lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren is burning through the system and will be in the major league bullpen in the not so distant future. So, for a team that has struggled with finding dominant left-handed relief in recent years, they’ll soon be dealing with a position of strength. Manager Joe Girardi must be getting good night’s sleep these days.
I love the Baseball Winter Meetings. It is always my favorite time of the off-season. Of course, as a Yankees fan, my team is generally very active during the week. Last year’s flurry of acquiring Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran on the same day was such a rush. Kind of like today when the Yankees acquired Gregorius and Miller…
When they needed a manager, the Rays simply took the Cash…
Finally, the Tampa Bay Rays announced their new manager when they named former catcher Kevin Cash to the position.
I was a little surprised that the Rays are replacing perhaps baseball’s best manager with a guy who has never managed before. But Cash has been learning the craft under the watchful eye of Tito Francona in Cleveland as bullpen coach, and he brings the right amount of enthusiasm and intelligence to the position. Clearly, new Rays President Matt Silverman is trying to place his own stamp on the team. The best choice would have been to hire former Rays bench coach Dave Martinez but of course, that would have been a carryover from the Andrew Friedman-Joe Maddon regime. All things considered, I am glad that Martinez was able to slide over to the Chicago Cubs to continue his role as bench coach for Maddon.
It will be interesting to see how Cash does. It’s interesting that he can claim World Series rings with both the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Now, he’ll see those teams routinely as a member of the AL East. Hopefully, he does well and his stay in St Petersburg is long and mutually rewarding. Well so long as it doesn’t involve any AL East or World Series championships.
The next week should be interesting regardless of what happens. The Yankees have awakened from their slumber…
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.
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.
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