Photo Credit: AP
Time to Focus on D.J. LeMahieu…
I have to say this baseball off-season has been more eventful than years past, and has been nice to see the big free agents off the board before Christmas. Last year, it seemed like free agent signings and trade activity were frozen while the World waited to see where Manny Machado and Bryce Harper would land. The Yankees had started early with their trade for James Paxton but it was relatively quiet for them until January. Even then, their signing of D.J. LeMahieu in 2019’s first month was met with indifference from the Yankees fan base, maybe some frustration for those who really wanted to see Manny Machado suit up in Pinstripes.
Nearly a year later, we see how invaluable the acquisition of D.J. LeMahieu really was. Many felt that he was the team’s MVP and warranted consideration for the AL MVP Award (he finished a disappointing fourth). I felt he should have been at least third in the voting with no offense to Marcus Semien (being a Yankee always seems to be a negative factor with these types of awards).
LeMahieu, who will turn 32 in July, enters the final year of his two year, $24 million contract with the Yankees. I’d really like to see the team sign him to an extension now rather than wait until after the season. I think LeMahieu proved his worth in his first Bronx season. He showed he was not a product of Coors Field and actually improved his power numbers away from the Mile High City. His final batting line was .327/.375/.518 with ..375 wOBA and 136 wRC+. He had 26 home runs, eclipsing his previous high of 15 with the Colorado Rockies, and 102 RBIs. His K% was only 13.7%, in line with his career numbers. A superior defender, he is slated to be the Yankees starting second baseman in 2020 with the move of Gleyber Torres to shortstop. Setting the numbers aside, it felt like LeMahieu was always coming up with the big hit when the Yankees needed him the most, almost singlehandedly solving the Yankees’ problem with runners left in scoring position.
Photo Credit: Tim Warner, Getty Images
For whatever reason, the Yankees are less aggressive with their own free agents than they are when enamored with an outsider like Gerrit Cole. That’s probably a false generalization but I remember how difficult it seemed for Derek Jeter to get new contracts in his later years, with negotiations very tenuous at times. We saw it this Winter when the Yankees let Didi Gregorius walk and to this date appear ready to let Dellin Betances leave. While I am not sure the Yankees had any intention of bringing back Didi (if they had, they would have given him the qualifying offer), Gregorius said at his Phillies introductory press conference that he had only heard from Brian Cashman once and he was told the Yankees were focused on Gerrit Cole. To me, unless a player is very invested in Pinstriped legacy like Jeter or Mariano Rivera, it is easy for a Yankee free agent to go elsewhere if things get contentious.
Last off-season, the Yankees gave extensions to Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks. Unfortunately, both subsequently missed significant time with injuries. Maybe that gives the Yankees pause when considering extensions this off-season. With the need for Torres at short, the Yankees need to stabilize the future of second base and lock up LeMahieu while they have exclusive negotiating rights. Treat him right. He is a very valuable part of this team and he has proven his worth. As it sits right now, the Yankees need to add a potential left-handed bat, perhaps in a utility infield role. I know, it is well documented the Yankees’ right-handed hitters hit lefties as well as they do righties, and the need for a left-handed bat is overrated. Still, with the departure of Didi, the only left-handed bats are Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman and Tyler Wade. Of course, when he returns next summer after completion of his rehab from Tommy John surgery, the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks can hit from the left side too.
Slowly, some of the free agent options I’ve liked are starting to come off the board, I thought former Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez might have been a decent option although he has only really played second base. But there are more than a few critics with his game, and he is no longer an option after signing with the Cleveland Indians yesterday. Another guy I really liked as a bounce-back candidate, Travis Shaw, signed in the division with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Going into the season, I see Tyler Wade as the primary backup for shortstop. He’ll be challenged in Spring Training by Thairo Estrada but when camp breaks toward the end of March, I feel the difference-maker will be Wade’s speed. So, perhaps the best current free agent option for left-handed infield help appears to be former Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. I know Kipnis, 33 in April, is not the player he once was. But the Yankees would not be asking him to play a major role. He was some pop as evidenced by his 17 bombs last year even if he is not going to hit for average (.245/.304/.410 in 2019). It’s probably more likely the Yankees bring in a guy like Joe Panik on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training, if anyone at all.
Photo Credit: George Nitikin, AP
It appears the Yankees will be going with Kyle Higashioka as the backup catcher. I thought they might make a play for Gerrit Cole’s 2019 personal catcher, Martin Maldonado, but he re-signed with the Houston Astros. Another possibility, former Yankee Francisco Cervelli, signed with the Miami Marlins. Considering Cervelli signed for only $2 million, it seems like the Yankees could have easily had him if they had wanted, which reinforces their ‘all or nothing’ approach with Higgy. I am a little uneasy if Gary Sanchez misses considerable time due to injuries but it is time for Higgy to show that he is ready. He has literally spent years training and waiting for this opportunity. I hope we do not see the 39-year-old Erik Kratz in the Bronx but unfortunately, at this point, it appears inevitable we will for at least some stretches next season.
The last spot to be addressed is the bullpen. Despite the rumors continuing to flurry about Josh Hader, I’d still prefer to see the return of Dellin Betances. I know, he’ll be delayed by his Achilles Heel injury which has been addressed only by rest and not surgery, and carries great risk entering the 2020 season. I guess I am not really ready to see Betances leave and I continue, or at least try, to think optimistically about his recovery. It’s not that I am against Hader, it’s just the incredibly high cost it will take to bring him to the Bronx. The Yankees are almost guaranteed to lose Miguel Andujar in any deal for Hader, as well as some very good and high-ranked prospects. As much as I appreciated Gio Urshela’s breakout last year, I am not 100% convinced the late bloomer can sustain his performance into the new season. No doubt I prefer Gio’s glove over Andujar at third, but if hecan’t hit, it makes more sense to return Andujar to third despite his defensive shortcomings because we know the man can roll out of bed and hit bombs. To his credit, he is trying to get better with the glove and that’s all we can ask.
The Yankees were connected with Kansas City Royals reliever Tim Hill earlier this off-season and it’s probably more likely the Yankees pursue a lesser name like Hill than one of the best in the game for the bullpen need. Speaking of the Royals, they acquired Chance Adams from the Yankees yesterday. Adams had been designated for assignment last week when the Yankees officially announced Gerrit Cole. When I first heard that Adams was going to the Royals, I was a bit hopeful he was part of a bigger deal to bring Hill to New York, but getting anything more than a “slapdick prospect” (using Blake Snell’s words) for Adams was asking too much. Straight up, the Yankees received a lower level infielder with no power (Cristian Perez). There was a time when we thought Adams was going to be something special for the Yankees but sadly it was not meant to be. I still think he can be an effective reliever so we’ll see if he thrives with the Royals, a lesser pressurized environment for sure.
It’s nice to know that pitchers and catchers report to Tampa in less than two months. I am ready for MLB’s return (especially after last night’s disappointing loss by my Minnesota Vikings which handed the NFC North division championship to the hated Green Bay Packers). It will be fun to watch the arrival of Gerrit Cole to camp and the barrage of media it is sure to bring when the Yankees highest paid player makes his debut at Steinbrenner Field, surrounded by his new teammates. James Paxton, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka will almost certainly go unnoticed as they prepare for the 2020 season.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Enjoy the time with friends and family, and take the time to appreciate all we have with this life.
As always, Go Yankees!
Credit: Zach Bland/Charleston RiverDogs
With the news that James Kaprielian has elected Tommy John surgery, it is already being speculated that Albert Abreu moves to the top of the chart for right-handed prospects in the Yankees organization. At only 21 years of age, he is further away from the Major Leagues than Kaprielian is (was) and his status of the top righty would cause him to leap-frog over the more seasoned Chance Adams (and possibly Domingo Acevedo depending upon what prospect list you are looking at).
While I have high hopes for Chance Adams, I’ve been very intrigued by Abreu since he was acquired, along with pitcher Jorge Guzman, from the Houston Astros last November in the Brian McCann trade. At the time of the trade, I felt the Yankees did an outstanding job with their return for a player who longer fit. At the time of the trade, the only teams that you consistently heard connected to McCann were the Astros and his former team, the Atlanta Braves. It felt like a buyer’s market but GM Brian Cashman still came up with quality prospects.
In Abreu’s first start this year for the Single A Charles RiverDogs, he absolutely dominated. In 5 2/3 innings the other day, he held the Augusta GreenJackets to two hits and no runs, striking out eleven. He did not walk anyone. At one point, his pitches were hitting 100 mph on the radar gun. For the season, Abreu has pitched 9 2/3 innings, allowing only five hits and one run for an 0.93 ERA. He has struck out a total of 17 batters. I am sure the AA Trenton Thunder and High-A Tampa Yankees are already salivating over who gets their hands on Abreu next.
I am okay with the spotlight not being focused on Adams. My hope is his continued positive, upward climb in the organization. I have no problem with him slipping quietly into the rotation when it is time. Take a chance on Adams! If we do lose Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and/or CC Sabathia at the end of the year, we’ll need every quality (healthy) arm that we can get.
Credit: Martin Griff
Regarding Kaprielian, given this is the same injury that cost him the 2016 season, I think the decision to undergo TJ surgery is the best possible option. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. But as I’ve said before, he had to make the decision that was best for him and not necessarily what was best for the Yankees. Surgery probably means a reappearance in the minor leagues toward the end of the 2018 season since the standard recovery time is 12-18 months. More than anything, I hope he is able to rebound from this setback and return with the best health possible. It’s going to be a long journey for Kaprielian (basically, three lost seasons counting last year) but I hope that he is one day able to step foot on Yankee Stadium turf as a member of the New York Yankees. I am glad that he chose Dr Neal ElAttrache for the surgery given that he is one of the leading experts in the field.
Kaprielian’s surgery is scheduled for next Tuesday which coincides with Tax Day. So, I guess that day is going to be painful for all of us! Well, I suppose you could argue that Kaprielian is getting the pain from an orthopedic surgeon, whereas the rest of us are getting it from a proctologist.
The Cleveland Indians trade for Andrew Miller may have cost them more time without All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis. It seems odd that one would be connected to the other but Kipnis was hit by a pitch on his left hand the other day on a rehab assignment. Word is that Kipnis will give it go today so hopefully he won’t miss time. The irony is that the pitch was thrown by the Yankees’ Justus Sheffield, a former Indians prospect who arrived with Clint Frazier, among others, in the Miller trade.
After the second run through the rotation, which included a rookie, it’s hard to believe that the worst starting performance was courtesy of Masahiro Tanaka (last Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, which is also the last time the team has lost). After Micheal Pineda’s masterful performance on Opening Day, Luis Severino delivered a gem of his own. In getting his first starting victory since September 27, 2015, Sevy went seven strong innings and struck out eleven Rays batters. He only surrendered five hits, one walk and two runs. He did give up a fifth inning home run to Peter Bourjos but all things considered, he limited the damage and set the Yankees up for the win despite minimal offense. It’s the type of quality start that we consistently need from Severino and one that was so elusive last year when Sevy went 0-8 as a starter.
Credit: Frank Franklin II/AP Photo
The only offense was provided by Aaron Hicks and his two home runs. Thanks to Sevy’s great start, that’s all we needed for the 3-2 win. Dellin Betances did get into a bit of bind in the eighth inning when he had runners at the corners with no outs, but he worked out of trouble to escape the inning with no runs. The strikeouts for the first two outs of Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria on called third strikes were huge. I was a little worried when Brad Miller came to the plate but he was tagged out by Betances on a soft roller hit toward first base for the final out.
Aroldis Chapman pitched the ninth and picked up his second save of the season. Man, I love having that guy back from the Chicago Cubs.
After sitting at 1-4 following Saturday’s loss, the Yankees are 5-4 with the sweep of the Rays. The Yankees now begin a three game set with the St Louis Cardinals at the Stadium. The Cards have gotten off to a slow start this year and are currently in last place in the NL East with a 3-6 record (tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates). They are capable of so much more but I hope they don’t wake up in this series. It’s a reunion for Yankees DH Matt Holliday who spent eight years in St Louis. Michael Wacha faces Masahiro Tanaka in what should be a great pitching matchup. It’s time for a dominant Tanaka performance like we saw during Spring Training.
Have a great Friday! Let’s keep this winning streak alive! Go for five!
24: Live Another Day…
To some, that title refers to the upcoming 12-episode FOX TV Series with Kiefer Sutherland returning as Jack Bauer, but it is also has some parallels with the current state of the Yankees. 24 is the continuation of the roster size until Sunday when Michael Pineda’s suspension ends and he is subsequently placed on the DL. 24 was the return of Robinson Cano to New York even though he now wears #22. 24 seems like the length of yesterday’s 14-inning loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. 24 is the description of the day by day adventure that is a major league baseball season.
Clearly, the Yankees are in a funk right now with a shortened two game sweep by Cano and the Seattle Mariners, followed by last night’s series opening loss to the Rays.
There was a brief stretch earlier in the season where I was feeling very confident with the starting rotation but that lasted about one cycle through the rotation as the Yankees lost Ivan Nova for the season due to Tommy John surgery and Michael Pineda to suspension and subsequently an injured back. So, Vidal Nuno becomes the #4 starter with David Phelps filling the role of the last man in the rotation. If CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda were pitching to their proven levels, it would be a different story but they are not. So, it places so much more focus on the back end. Right now, there is only one starter that conveys a sense of confidence. It doesn’t mean that he’ll win every time out, but you feel as though you’ll have the best possible chance for success. That pitcher, of course, is Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka who has been everything as advertised. I hate to think where the Yankees rotation would be if he was a Chicago Cub or a Los Angeles Dodger. We’d probably be bracing for the return of Freddy Garcia at this point.
The Yankees need to do something. With Nuno and Phelps in the rotation, the bullpen, which had actually started to gel after some early concerns, is a mess. Nuno strikes me as no more than a good long man, not a starter. I think Phelps has promise but relying on the combo of Nuno-Phelps is too much. The Yankees need to find a proven starter, somewhere…somehow, so that they can push, ideally, Nuno back to the pen. Of course, where that starter is going to come from is anybody’s guess. It’s not exactly like the Detroit Tigers are going to hand Max Scherzer to the Yanks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the return of Alfredo Aceves to the Bronx. It’s too bad that Manny Banuelos didn’t develop as planned as this would have been a good time for him to make his introduction into the major leagues if he hadn’t encountered injury along his path. He may still make it one day but unfortunately, he’s not an answer right now. He’s probably not an answer but you gotta love Graham Stoneburner’s name if nothing else about his game. Hopefully, the Yankees can make some necessary improvements now rather than having to wait until closer to the July trading deadline.
Death, Taxes, and MLB Injuries…
This has been a tough year for injuries given how many pitchers have had to have Tommy John surgery, and frontline players like Bryce Harper and Jason Kipnis currently on the disabled list. While the Yankees have been plagued with injuries, they are fortunate it hasn’t been more severe. Losing Nova for 12-18 months hurts, but still, it could be worse. These are the times that GM Brian Cashman is asked to prove his mettle. How he responds to the Yankees current situation will shape the remainder of the season. As presently constructed, I am not sure that this is a team that will be knocking in October. It was an older, vulnerable team that has had to deal with injuries and one without able, capable young bodies in the farm system ready and capable to make their mark in The Show. But, as the saying goes, time will tell as it often does…
The (new) Yankee Stadium hits leader in road gray…
Speaking of Robinson Cano, I had mixed feelings about his return to the Bronx. There was criticism directed at him in the form of the very loud boos and chants against him, but the louder the Bronx cheers, the more you realize how much the player meant to the fans. I hated to see Cano leave but I felt and continue to feel the Yankees made the right decision not to match the Mariners’ $240 million offer. It wasn’t about disrespect, but rather a decision that was in the best interests of the long-term health of the team roster through the next 10 years. I had no issue with the fans booing and it was clear that Cano was prepared to handle it. His appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon illustrated how ready he was to confront the fans. The clip where fans thought they were booing a picture of Cano only to have the real thing step out was classic. It also showed that how much we may boo Cano and how unhappy we were he didn’t take less money to stay in pinstripes, the bottom line is that he is a quality human being and he sets a good example for the game.
Naturally, I hope he fails in Seattle. Okay, not really. I recognize that he is the best at his position. That won’t be the case in 7-8 years and perhaps the Yankees will have found their long term answer at the position by then. It was good to see Cano back in the Bronx and despite the sweep, I do wish him well. But, when he returns to the Bronx the next time, I will boo him. Sorry, it’s just what we do…
Have a wonderful weekend!