Tagged: Jonathan Loaisiga

Taking the Long View…

2019 MLB Season is here…

As we round the final turn and head down the home stretch to Opening Day, excitement and anticipation is filling the air. For the Yankees, it carries a hope there are no further injuries as the team prepares to take its best (or healthiest) twenty-five men north to the Bronx. As we sit, the Seattle Mariners have a two-game lead on the rest of Major League Baseball, thanks to their two-time sweep of the Oakland A’s in Tokyo, Japan earlier this week.

It’s unfortunate because I think he has the most talent but the guess here is that Jonathan Loaisiga is the odd man out for the starting rotation with Luis Cessa and Domingo German grabbing the two temporary starting spots opened by Luis Severino and CC Sabathia starting the year on the Injured List. Since Dellin Betances is expected to begin the year on the Injured List too, it could open the door for Loaisiga to join the bullpen as the long man but the Yankees will probably send him to Triple A to keep him stretched out. Cessa and German might need help and Gio Gonzalez is not quite ready to contribute. I expect the Yankees to begin the year with Sabathia serving his five-game suspension before he is moved to the Injured List so I’ll include him on the Opening Day roster, which is  why I am going with six starters and seven relievers. It will shake out an eight-man pen after Sabathia is moved to the Injured List and the Yankees bring up Loaisiga or promote Gonzalez to take one of the temporary rotation spots, which would push either Cessa or German to the pen.

Clint Frazier has been optioned for minor league reassignment and Aaron Hicks is expected to open on the Injured List which means the debate between Luke Voit or Greg Bird at first base won’t be resolved as both guys are making the final roster. Playing time will be tilted toward Voit, in my opinion, but Bird will have every opportunity, once again, to show that he belongs if he can stay healthy. I am losing confidence in Bird’s ability to stay healthy and play consistently but I would truly love to see that beautiful left-handed swing humming at Yankee Stadium.

So, as I sit here on a Saturday morning, this is my latest projected Opening Day roster.

STARTING PITCHERS (6)

Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, Luis Cessa, Domingo German and CC Sabathia (suspended for five games, then headed to the Injured List)

Injured List:  Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery

BULLPEN (7)

Aroldis Chapman (Closer), Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Holder, and Stephen Tarpley

Injured List: Dellin Betances and Ben Heller

CATCHER (2)

Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine

INFIELDERS (7)

Luke Voit, Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, D.J. LeMahieu, Troy Tulowitzki, Miguel Andujar, and Tyler Wade

Injured List: Didi Gregorius

OUTFIELD (3)

Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Brett Gardner

Injured List: Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury

Tyler Wade becomes the de facto fourth outfielder until Aaron Hicks returns.

Staying with the predictions theme, here is my projection for the upcoming MLB Season.

Division Champions and Wild Cards:

AL EAST

New York Yankees

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians

AL WEST

Houston Astros

AL WILD CARD

Boston Red Sox

Minnesota Twins

NL EAST

Atlanta Braves

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

NL WEST

Los Angeles Dodgers

NL WILD CARD

Milwaukee Brewers

St Louis Cardinals

League Champions:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

New York Yankees

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Los Angeles Dodgers

And, last but certainly not least, your 2019 World Series Champions:

WORLD SERIES 

New York Yankees (over Los Angeles Dodgers in six games)

I know this is a Yankees blog but, hey, I am not biased! I am a realist.

The poor Dodgers.  They have become the Buffalo Bills of Major League Baseball. I think 2019 will be the end of their consecutive World Series appearance streak but sadly for them it will end like the past two years, another season ending in disappointment.

In making my choices, the two teams I thought the most about but didn’t add were the Tampa Bay Rays and the Washington Nationals. I really see the Minnesota Twins and the St Louis Cardinals as the surprise teams this season. With no offense to the New York Mets or Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies, I don’t see those teams in the mix at the end. The Nationals, even without Harper, are a better team than the Mets or Phillies. Maybe Bryce can make October plans with Mike Trout for some non-baseball related activities so they can compare notes as Baseball’s two highest paid performers.

The year of contract extensions continues. While Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, and Aaron Judge wait for agreement on future dollars, the St Louis Cardinals finalized their extension with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (5 years for $130 million) which will be officially announced today and the Boston Red Sox locked up their ace, Chris Sale, with an extension of 5 years for $145 million. Sale can opt out after three years. He’ll earn $30 million per year for those three years, and then $27.5 million per year if he opts to stay for the final two seasons. I see so many Red Sox fans taking offense at Yankee fans making disparaging remarks about Sale but honestly the only people I ever see complaining about Sale are Red Sox fans.  Health is a risk for any pitcher. I think Sale is one of the best in the game and Boston was smart to keep their ace (although I’d rate Mookie Betts, a potential free agent after the 2020 season, as a greater need). Meanwhile, the Houston Astros are close to a two-year extension for $66 million with veteran starter Justin Verlander.

As teams narrow their rosters to the final 25, some ex-Yankees are in the news.  Former Yankees reliever, Chasen Shreve, who went to St Louis with Giovanny Gallegos in the trade that brought Luke Voit to New York, was designated for assignment by the Cardinals. I wonder how much the Cardinals would love to undo the Voit trade. I feel bad for Shreve. As a LOOGY, his days are potentially numbered with next year’s minimum three-batter rule. Good guy but I am not convinced in his ability to adapt to the impending changes in the game. Adeiny Hechevarria, in camp with the New York Mets as a non-roster invitee, did not make the cut.

Congratulations to infielder Yangervis Solarte, who did make the San Francisco Giants, and Curtis Granderson, who will be wearing the new Marlins gear for Team Derek Jeter. I am glad to see the Grandy Man still can.

After two massive home runs last night against the Philadelphia Phillies, I’d say Giancarlo Stanton is locked and loaded. I am really looking forward to watching him in his sophomore year with the Yankees. I am sure opposing pitchers, feeling the pain, will be saying “not so much”.

As always, Go Yankees!

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Yankees Sign LHP Gio Gonzalez…

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(Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Athletic-National-Brewer Signs Minor League Deal w/Yanks…

So, the Yankees signed LHP Gio Gonzalez to a very short-term minor league deal. So what? I’ve seen so many negative comments on Social Media and I don’t get it. This late in Spring Training, the top replacement starters for Luis Severino and CC Sabathia appear to be Luis Cessa and Domingo German. After I trashed him in my last post, Jonathan Loaisiga pitched very well on Sunday. Nothing changes with the Gonzalez signing.

I know Gonzales is not a savior. Heck, he’s not even a very good starting pitcher anymore. His signing prompted many to ask why the Yankees aren’t trying to sign Dallas Keuchel. It’s an ‘apples to oranges’ comparison. If Gonzalez makes the Major League roster, he’ll get paid $3 million. If not, he can opt out of the contract on April 20th.  He basically has a month to prepare on the Yankees’ dime. It will either get him a roster spot on everybody’s favorite team or he opens eyes in another organization who may be seeking starting pitching. No sooner than the word of the verbal agreement between Gonzalez and the Yankees had been reported, the Texas Rangers lost a starting pitcher (Yohander Mendez), who was diagnosed with a UCL sprain in his throwing arm. Shit happens and you need to be prepared. I think best-case scenario is we never see Gio in Pinstripes. It will mean that two of Cessa, German and Loaisiga are doing well. However, if one falters, Gio will be ready to step in assuming he proves he is ready. It’s really a no-lose situation for the Yankees. Dallas Keuchel, despite it being so late in Spring Training, is still going to cost you a lot of money and years. He’s not taking a minor league deal for chump change. There’s also the small issue of draft pick compensation tied to Keuchel since he received a qualifying offer from the Houston Astros. I have no problems with the Yankees’ decision to pass on Keuchel and to roll the dice the Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is far removed from his 21-win season of 2012 or even his 15 wins two years ago. At age 33, his fastball velocity is down, strikeout rate is falling, and WHIP is increasing. The degradation of his curveball has been noted and per Fangraphs, “Without that big hook in his back pocket, it will be tough for Gonzalez to return quality innings with a sub 90 mph fastball and middling changeup and we may see Gonzalez go the way of James Shields and Ubaldo Jimenez shortly.”

Nevertheless, Gonzalez has been a very consistent pitcher over the years even if he is on the downward slide. After his August 31st trade from the Washington Nationals to the Milwaukee Brewers last summer, Gio was 3-0 in five starts with a 2.13 ERA. He pitched 25 1/3 innings, giving up 14 hits and 6 earned runs. He walked 10 and struck out 22.  Steamer projects Gonzalez at 6-7 with 4.40 ERA in 19 starts in 2019.  K/9 of 7.80 and BB/9 of 3.72, with fWAR of 1.1. With so much pressure on the young pitchers to perform, I like the idea of a veteran insurance policy.  We’re not looking at him to be the J.A. Happ of 2019.  He may never find a spot on the 25-man roster. But I much prefer having him as a safety net as opposed to other young arms in the farm system that might not be ready should Cessa, German, and/or Loaisiga falter.

Luis Severino is expected to resume light throwing this week in anticipation of being ready in May assuming there are no further setbacks, but the Yankees needed a contingency plan. There are too many health-related questions in the starting rotation to hook your wagon exclusively on prospects and internal options. Do we really want to see another David Hale start? To sign Gonzalez now in no way prevents the Yankees from improving the pitching staff in July if necessary.

So, welcome to the Yankees family, Gio!  We’re glad you’re here. We hope like hell we don’t need you but still, make yourself at home. You’re one of us for at least the next 30 days. If anything, you’ll be able to tell your grandkids one day that you were a Yankee for a month.

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I really enjoyed Ken Davidoff’s piece in the The New York Post this morning entitled “Jacoby Ellsbury reveals firststeps of plan that’s impossible to embrace”.  I honestly cannot think of any Yankee player I’ve ever been less excited about seeing return than Jacoby Ellsbury. I honestly never thought we’d see Ellsbury in Pinstripes again, and maybe we won’t. We are at the point the Yankees could decide to cut bait with Ellsbury if he’s too healthy to collect insurance payments but not good enough to resume his Yankees career. Despite owing Ellsbury nearly $50 million on his remaining contract, the loss would hurt the Yankees less than it did for the Toronto Blue Jays when they swallowed $38 million to set Troy Tulowitzki free.  The Yankees are in much better position to absorb that type of loss.  I’ve always felt cutting Ellsbury would be addition by subtraction, but as Davidoff notes in his closing paragraph: “Stay pessimistic, Yankees fans. Let Ellsbury surprise you with a positive outcome. And if this goes the same way as the bulk of his time in pinstripes, then you’ll have no reason to feel disappointed.” Point taken, Ken. I agree. If Ellsbury can play, let him play. If not, don’t let the door hit him on the way out.

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(Photo: Edward Linsmier-The New York Times)

So much has been made of the Yankees’ Super Bullpen but I continue to hold the belief the Bullpen may not be as great as we imagine while the maligned Boston Red Sox pen could be better than expected.  Too many fans are relishing the fact the Yankees sit atop the Grapefruit League standings while the Red Sox hold the cellar. The standings mean absolutely nothing. When the Yankees and Red Sox begin play on March 28th, they’ll both be 0-0.  The Yankees don’t get bonus points because they had a better Spring and it certainly does not guarantee a spot in the American League Championship Series.  The Red Sox are the champions until proven otherwise. I am optimistic heading into the regular season but I will never underestimate the Red Sox. You may not like their bullpen (for good reason) but they still have a very good team capable of winning its second consecutive World Series.  Our job, or that of the Yankees, is to ensure it does not happen. For those of you who feel the need to boast about superiority, let’s win a few games that count first.

It is kind of weird there will be games that do matter this week when the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland A’s open the 2019 MLB Season in Japan. I love it that former Yankee Ichiro Suzuki will be in Seattle’s starting lineup for the opener tomorrow in Tokyo. No doubt the end of Ichiro’s career is near but he’s obviously a future Hall of Famer who is very beloved in his home county. At age 45, Ichiro will probably not be part of Seattle’s roster when they return to the United States. For the trip to Japan, the teams were authorized expanded 28-man rosters which will reduce to 25 when they come home after the two-game series. I would love to see Ichiro get one more hit before he says sayonara to his lengthy and amazing playing career.  He currently stands at 3,089 hits in Major League Baseball.

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(Photo: Masterpress/Getty Images)

On Thursday, Mariners lefty starter Yusei Kikuchi will make his MLB debut in his native country against the A’s. Very cool.

A reminder that the Yankees will be featured on the MLB Network this evening at 7 pm Eastern as part of MLB Tonight’s 30 Clubs in 30 Days.

As always, Go Yankees!

Crushing AL East Rivals…

(Photo: Mike Janes/AP)

Even if it means absolutely nothing…

Maybe the Yankees should use David Wells in the YES Network broadcast booth more often. He worked Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox and yesterday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays and saw the Yankees score a combined total of 31 runs in the victories over two of their biggest AL East Rivals.  

It was enjoyable to see the Yankees win the 14-1 laugher over the Red Sox but sadly it is just a Spring Training game so it’s meaningless. I’d love to see one of those kind of games (or better yet, two) when the Yankees play the Red Sox on April 16th and 17th. The best way to get rid the memory of the devastating 16-1 loss to Boston in last Fall’s ALDS is to simply return the favor and ensure Boston’s season is shortened this year.   

Saturday’s 17-7 win, two touchdowns and a field goal, over the Blue Jays came at a price. The Yankees lost top prospect Estevan Florial when he tried to make a leaping catch against the wall in the eighth inning. He couldn’t reach the ball and came down on his right wrist against the turf, suffering what subsequent x-rays revealed to be a non-displaced wrist fracture. It’s a big loss as he’ll presumably lose valuable development time. Florial was having a great Spring with a batting line of .355/.429/.516 and .945 OPS in 13 games. In 31 at-bats, he had 11 hits and 7 runs scored to go with a homer and 4 RBI’s. He has also stolen 5 bags, which included one yesterday. There was no way he was making the big league club having just reached High-A last year, but with pitch recognition looming as the last major hurdle for him, his development will be further delayed. Florial missed three months last year after surgery on his hamate bone of the same wrist. If Florial misses 2-3 months with the latest injury, it will adversely affect his status as a potential July trading chip (not that I want the Yankees to trade him, of course). Further tests are scheduled for Monday before the Yankees will know the expected timetable for his recovery and rehab. I am hoping for better than expected results but admittedly it’s not looking good for the talented 21-year-old.  

MLB Network’s 30 in 30 focus on the Yankees is coming up this week…finally. It will air on Tuesday night at 7 pm Eastern during the hour-long MLB Tonight show. I am looking forward to the interviews with some of baseball’s greatest young stars and maybe Brett Gardner and/or CC Sabathia too.   

Listening to the many interviews with other teams around the league, there is a common phrase that Aaron Judge uses which is echoed by so many other players. “Picking (someone’s) brain.” As a fan of The Walking Dead, it’s hard not to get a visual of a Zombie, I mean a Walker, in search of food. I know, this is a game of knowledge and understanding and veteran players have so much to offer younger players. It’s just funny that the same expression gets used by so many players.  

Jacoby Ellsbury is expected in Tampa today. I am sure it will be a day of medical evaluations for him and who really knows where he is at physically except for him.  No way he makes the Opening Day roster but if healthy, for as much as I am down on him, he figures to be in position to help at some point as he works back into playing shape and redevelops his timing after being away from the game for so long. I do not expect anything from him and I had been doubtful he’d ever wear the Pinstripes again, but if he has anything left in the tank, the Yankees should give him a shot. If anything, the dude knows how to get catcher’s interference. I am sure Ellsbury, now 35, has tired of the negative comments from people like me and wants to show he is still capable of playing baseball at a high level, not too much unlike Troy Tulowitzki’s comeback attempt. If he can, play him. If not, cut bait and move on. Of course, it would be a much costlier decision with Ellsbury than Tulo, but I am sure the Yankees won’t use money as a reason not to part ways with Ellsbury if the insurance payments are no longer flowing in and Ellsbury proves to be an outfielder that can no longer play the outfield.

(Photo: Chris Pedota/North Jersey.com)

A couple weeks ago, I gave my projection for the Opening Day Lineup. At this point, you have to scratch Jonathan Loaisiga. He is not going to make the OD roster. For as much as we say Spring Training stats don’t count, Lasagna has stunk big time.  In four games, he is 1-1 with a 10.00 ERA.  He has given up 11 runs (10 earned) in 9 innings pitched. He has walked 6 batters and is carrying a 1.67 WHIP. Granted, you could say that J.A. Happ’s Spring has been nearly as bad, but Happ, as a veteran, “is just working on things”. Loaisiga had something to prove, whereas Happ does not. The performance has most likely earned Loaisiga a trip to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, making Luis Cessa (the pitching surprise of the Spring) and Domingo German the probable replacement starters for Luis Severino and CC Sabathia. Unless the Yankees carry an extra position player, it should mean that Stephen Tarpley will take the last bullpen spot. With Aaron Hicks’ health and the potential he misses Opening Day, it could force the Yankees to bring along an extra outfielder since Brett Gardner will need to slide to center to cover for Hicks although Tyler Wade is fully capable of covering a corner outfield spot on a short-term basis.

There was an update this morning when Hicks told the media that he WILL be missing the opening series against the Baltimore Orioles. He had his second cortisone shot for back stiffness this past week. The Yankees will have to decide whether to carry Hicks on the Opening Day roster if they feel he’ll only miss the two games against Baltimore or place him on the 10-day Injured List if they fear he’ll be out longer. It’s frustrating the Yankees could spend the majority of April “short-handed” as they’ll also be down a man when CC Sabathia serves his five-game suspension. 2020’s 26-man roster is starting to look a year too late.  

If the Yankees aren’t that high on Clint Frazier to start the year, I thought Carlos Gonzalez would have been a sneaky good pickup for some outfield help. However, that option was lost yesterday when the Cleveland Indians signed the long-time Colorado Rockie outfielder to a minor league deal. I guess we’ve reached our quota of ex-Rockies. I know CarGo carries the ‘he can’t hit outside of Coors Field’ tag but for $2-$3 million (pocket change for Hal Steinbrenner), he could have helped.

Congrats to Michael King and Brandon Wagner. They were named yesterday the winners of the 2018 Kevin Lawn Award as the Yankees’ Minor League “Pitcher of the Year” and “Player of the Year”, respectively. King has gotten much recognition after his breakout 2018 season, but Wagner is a bit unheralded. The 23-year-old, in combined A/AA, hit .267/.380/.461, with .841 OPS, last season. He belted 21 homers and 67 RBIs. He is primarily a first baseman but saw multiple games at third base and has even seen time at second and in the outfield.  Diversity is a great ticket to The Show if you have the talent. It should allow Wagner to leap-frog the ‘first base only’ types, Mike Ford and Ryan McBroom, in the farm system in the not-so-distant future if he continues his progression.   

Lastly, Happy St Patrick’s Day to all!  

As always, Go Yankees!  

The Warmth of Baseball on a Chilly New York Day…

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Soon, The Yankees Head for Tampa…

Welcome to February! That can only mean one thing…it’s time for BASEBALL!  Sorry New England fans (hopefully there aren’t any in here…the combo of Yankees/Patriots fan seems like such an odd pairing) but the most important sport is not happening on Sunday…it’s the opening of Spring Training for all 30 Major League teams in less than two weeks although we all know there is only one team that really matters. This is a Yankees blog and we love our Yankees! February 13th is the day Yankee pitchers and catchers must report, a day we’ve been impatiently awaiting. There is nothing as exciting this month as the Yankees taking over Steinbrenner Field on 1 Steinbrenner Drive in Tampa, Florida. Super Bowl or no Super Bowl.

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It is the first of February yet, as we painfully know, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have not signed. Well, maybe they have an idea where they’ll be spending their summers and just haven’t let us in on the secret. Regardless, I am resigned to the fact that neither 26-year-old superstar will be wearing the famed Pinstripes this season. I know, it’s not my money but I think it is a huge mistake to pass on potential future Hall of Famers, entering their primes (when the best is yet to come). Two young superior players who can be acquired for only a boatload of Benjamins, keeping all top prospects in the farm system. It kind of bugs me the San Diego Padres and the Chicago White Sox are in on Harper and Machado (at least by public reports) and the Yankees are not. Sure, the Yankees can never be counted out until Harper and Machado are hoisting up jerseys at press conferences held by other teams but it does seem unlikely there will be any surprise last minute signings by Team Hal.

It looks like the guys who will be on the 2019 Opening Day Roster for the Yankees have already been signed and invited to Major League Camp, barring last minute trades or signings. The reports lately focus on adding another starter, such as Gio Gonzalez or Ervin Santana, as the team’s only remaining need. I agree the Yankees need a hedge for the starting rotation. CC Sabathia, regardless of how healthy he is right now, had a stent placed in a heart artery just a couple of months ago. He’ll be on a short leash. I wouldn’t really want Gio or Santana as part of the starting five, but they’d certainly be better and more reliable options than someone like Luis Cessa should the Yankees need a guy to temporarily step into the rotation. Gio may not be the pitcher he once was for the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals, but he could help in a swing role. Santana does not appear to be a fit based on his negative words about Yankee Stadium in the past. In 2015, after a game in which Greg Bird hit two home runs, Santana made a comment about the second dinger, “I know, probably in another park that’s a double. But here, it’s a joke.” The Yankees lost another option yesterday when Wade Miley signed with the Houston Astros.  Miley, who has reinvented himself with a cutter, pitched effectively for the Milwaukee Brewers last season and might have represented a solid choice for the Yankees. It has been reported the Yankees did not reach out to Miley before he signed with the Astros so it’s possible the team decides to stay in-house. James Shields is available but it’s been a few years since he was “Big Game James”. Francisco Liriano, Brett Anderson, Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz are other names out there (or in other words, the pickings are rather slim). I think most of us expect to see Michael King at some point this season although nobody predicts he’ll break camp with the team. The best case scenario if the Yankees do go with internal options is a healthy Jonathan Loaisiga. Unfortunately, “healthy” is a fleeting trait for the young Johnny Lasagna. I am very hopeful this is the year he proves the critics wrong. We know he has a Major League arm and it would be great if we could finally see it on a consistent basis.

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Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Heading into camp, I know the Yankees need to find a way to get DJ LeMathieu on the field. Play him at second with Gleyber Torres at shortstop, or put DJ at third, with Troy Tulowitzki at short and Gleyber staying at second. The latter situation would force the Yankees to move Miguel Andujar to DH and Giancarlo Stanton to left field. Not ideal, but it would be a mistake to leave DJ’s glove on the bench. He needs to play every day. I really hope that Troy Tulowitzki proves me wrong but his presence does not excite me. He has not been a top performer since his days in Colorado. I saw MLB Network Analyst Jim Bowden say recently that while he hopes Tulo is successful, he feels that the player is done. Sadly, that’s where I am at.  If he is finished, it’s no loss for the Yankees. They can just cut Tulo  without any significant financial ramifications. DJ should never be sacrificed for Tulo as a starting option with the infield configuration except for rest. It’s the plan for what happens if Tulo doesn’t make the cut that concerns me.  Torres would have to be the regular starting shortstop until Didi Gregorius returns which makes LeMathieu the every day second baseman for now. Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada would be leaned upon heavily if that happens, barring any veteran signings in the next few weeks. I’d still like to see Adeiny Hechevarria return but I haven’t seen any signs the Yankees are interested. Then again, Brian Cashman doesn’t have me on speed dial so who really knows.

While I’d love for the Boston Red Sox to open the season with their current bullpen, it remains my opinion closer Craig Kimbrel will slip back into their price range. It would be great if the Atlanta Braves signed their former closer or if the Philadelphia Phillies signed him to push David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez into ‘Dellin Betances/Zach Britton’ type of setup roles. But the realist in me knows the Sox won’t shortchange themselves despite current appearances. I saw one Red Sox fan who posted that their best reliever would be no better than fifth best in the Yankees bullpen. He’s right. I just can’t see the Red Sox sabotaging their chances to repeat by failing to address the needs of the pen. Last year, the Red Sox didn’t sign J.D. Martinez until February 26th. He proved to be the key to their success. I see something similar this year and I expect Kimbrel to be the late add. If not Kimbrel, then I bet Boston acquires another arm via trade. Boston is not going away and don’t sleep on the Tampa Bay Rays, especially if they are able to acquire Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. I expect the AL East to be extremely competitive this year…while the Baltimore Orioles watch, of course.

It’s always fun when the guys start showing up in Tampa for Spring Training. I look forward to the player interviews and seeing video of the new guys like Adam Ottavino, DJ LeMahieu, and Troy Tulowitzki meeting their teammates for the first time or just AO and DJ reconnecting after their disappointing exit together as members of the Colorado Rockies, walking off Coors Field on October 7, 2018 following the NLDS sweep by the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s going to be very fun and exciting to see James Paxton wearing a Yankees cap. The Big Maple is going to be a featured attracton. I am anxious to see him throwing bullpen sessions with Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, while Aaron Boone and Larry Rothschild watch.   All eyes will be on Miguel Andujar to see if he’s improved his defensive play. I know regardless of the results, we won’t be able to fault the effort.  I have no doubts Andujar has worked very hard this winter to improve his defense and find better positioning to aid his reactionary time. The Luke Voit-Greg Bird battle at first base will be must-watch, even if everyone expects the energetic Voit to emerge the winner. There are just so many interesting stories to keep an eye on this Spring. I am so glad baseball is almost here. The dawn of the 2019 New York Yankees. It’s a great year to be alive!

I look forward to the annual predictions by TGP’s Daniel Burch before the start of the new season and this year should be very fun. The Yankees are a World Series-caliber team ready to take the season as deep into October as possible, to be the last team standing. The goal is simple. Play the final game of the World Series and walk off the field to the spray of champagne. Anything less will be a disappointment. Mariano Duncan’s words that inspired the 1996 World Series champions echo through the halls of Yankee Stadium many years later, “We play today. We win today. Das it!” It started a roll of championships for the Core 4 and here we are again with a new Core and a new era of Yankees Baseball. I am sure Daniel will have the Yankees as the World Series favorite. He will not be wrong. This is our year. We see it, we feel it, we know it.  We just need the team to do it.

For the final weekend without baseball activity, I guess we’ll have to pause for some football. Here’s hoping Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams return the City of Angels to the NFL Championship. I was so excited when the Rams returned to Los Angeles (lived there at the time) after their years away in St Louis and now the franchise is in the Super Bowl against this century’s most dominant NFL team led by a quarterback who might be the greatest of all-time. I personally think it is Joe Montana, but whatever. It would be very exciting for a Rams victory and a Patriots loss. The secondary prize would be disappointment for the Red Sox-Patriots fans. Too bad, so sad. A nice way to start the new baseball year!

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 Go Rams! But as always and more importantly, Go Yankees!

Yankees Close to Sonny Gray Trade…

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Noah K Murray)

Right-hander Appears Headed to Cincy…

It has not yet been finalized but it appears the Yankees are finally close to trading right-hander Sonny Douglas Gray to the Cincinnati Reds. Hopefully there are no last minute snags and this one gets pushed across the finish line.

For Gray, he’ll get a chance for redemption with Cincinnati, which is less than 300 miles from his Nashville, Tennessee home. The Reds have been one of MLB’s most active teams this off-season, having already rebuilt their pitching staff with the acquisitions of Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals and Alex Wood, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers. They’ll join holdovers Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo to provide the Reds with a solid starting rotation. Maybe not good enough to win the NL Central over the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers or St Lous Cardinals, but they’ll be better. Gray will also reunite with his pitching coach at Vanderbilt, Derek Johnson, who was named the Reds’ pitching coach in November. Maybe Johnson can do what Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild was unable to do.

While I wanted Gray to leave, there is some sadness that it did not work out for him in New York. I think all of us were excited when the Yankees acquired him from the Oakland A’s in the summer of 2017. We thought he was the missing ace that could be paired with Luis Severino to provide the Yankees with two young stars atop the rotation. Unfortunately, it was never meant to be and now Gray gets a change of scenery that will hopefully benefit him and help restore some of his luster as he heads into his walk year at the age of 29. I wish him the best and I do hope that he pitches more like the ace he once was in Oakland.

The Yankees will reportedly receive second base prospect Shed Long from the Reds. The 23-year-old Long, only 5’8” and 184 lbs, is rated as Cincinnati’s seventh best prospect per MLB.com. He is recognized as an excellent lefty hitter who has worked hard to bring up his defense to at least average. He spent last year in Double A with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos where he hit .261/.353/.412, .765 OPS and 120 +wRC+, with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs. Long has a little speed in those short legs, picking up 19 steals in 25 attempts. I probably would have preferred catching prospect Tyler Stephenson but the Reds resisted the Yankees’ attempts to pry him loose. Regardless, Long is a legitimate prospect and presumably will begin the year with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. His defense leads to speculation that he may need to be moved to a corner outfield position but all reports indicate he is working hard to improve his defensive game.

Photo Credit: Cincinnati Enquirer (Kareem Elgazzar)

The Yankees will also apparently receive a competitive balance draft pick and a lesser minor league player. I doubt the second minor leaguer will be much but I will be anxious to see who the Yankees draft next summer with the draft pick.

Many fans are calling this a heist for Yankees GM Brian Cashman. I guess my expectations are a bit more tempered. I need time to see how this plays out. There’s a good chance that Gray recaptures his magic in Ohio and until the prospects reach the Show, they’ve proven nothing.

Since Long was on the Reds’ 40-man roster, the trade does not free up a spot for newly signed reliever Adam Ottavino. My hope is that we’ve reached the end of the line for RHP Luis Cessa, but the realist in me believes it will be RHP Ben Heller who continues to recover and rehab from last summer’s Tommy John surgery. The Yankees would hold out hope Heller goes unclaimed so that they can outright him to Triple A, but if I was a team with roster space, I’d make a claim to add Heller.

Now that Gray is nearly out of the picture, Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German represent the insurance for CC Sabathia in the starting rotation. The Yankees also are bringing non-roster invitee RHP Drew Hutchison to Spring Training. There’s still time for Cashman to find another arm to bring to camp which is the current expectation.

Let’s hope Cashman can seal the deal with the Reds today so that we can move on.

The upcoming week looms big for the Yankees. On Tuesday, the latest Hall of Fame selections will be announced. Leading the charge is the legendary Mariano Rivera who will make the Hall on his first ballot as the greatest Closer in Major League history.

Photo Credit: Newsday (Thomas A Ferrera)

I am not setting myself up for the expectation that Mo will be unanimously voted in even though he should be. While he has appeared on all publicly revealed ballots, I expect someone to exclude him on the undisclosed ballots. While we may want Rivera, my favorite Yankee during his playing days (sorry Derek Jeter fans), to be unanimous, the bottom line is the guy will be a Hall of Famer. I don’t care about the final voting results as long as they ensure Rivera will be Cooperstown, New York this summer. Hopefully Mike Mussina will be there as well even if he has to wear an Orioles cap. I’d prefer he wears a Yankees cap but there is no dispute he was a great pitcher in Baltimore, his original team. I know I always hated it when the Yankees faced him. Generally-speaking, it did not go well for the Yankees.

Today is a big football day with the AFC and NFC Championship Games. It’s time for some disappointment in Boston so hopefully Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs punch their ticket for the Super Bowl and send the New England Patriots home for the off-season. On the NFC side, I’m pulling for the Los Angeles Rams although it won’t be a disappointment if the New Orleans Saints advance. My only hope for today is a Boston loss…and for the Gray trade to be finalized.

As always, Go Yankees!

Waiting for Gifts from Santa Cashman…

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Photo Credit: Hearst Connecticut Media (Scott Mullin), via Stamford Advocate

One holiday down, one to go…

It’s the day after Christmas and there are still a number of questions yet to be answered for the New York Yankees. Sure, the Yankees acquired left-hander James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners in November and they re-signed LHP J.A. Happ earlier this month but we’re the ‘what have you done for me lately’ crowd.

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When will the Yankees sign infielder Manny Machado?  As we’ve been told, Machado does not intend to make any decisions until after the first of the year.  Does that mean we’ll know something on January 2nd? Probably not. This thing could drag out for days or weeks into January before it plays out. I feel the team needs to brace itself for Plan B in the event Machado takes the money from Philadelphia or Chicago and runs (well, in his case, slowly jogs). Although I am not excited about the idea, the Yankees should consider signing Troy Tulowitski but they’d be foolish to rest their hopes on Tulo as a Didi Gregorius “fill-in”. I really like the diversity of Marwin Gonzalez and he has a championship pedigree thanks to his role in helping the Houston Astros win it all in 2017. I’m not excited about moving Gleyber Torres temporarily off second base to cover for Didi at short, but a second baseman like D.J. LeMahieu or Jed Lowrie could help this team. I think Brian Dozier has seen his better days so that’s a hard pass for me. Neil Walker, I’ve already seen that show. It’s probably not outside the realm of possibility the Yankees decide to stay in-house and give Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Hanser Alberto opportunities during Spring Training. For a team ready to contend for the World Series, I hope not. There’s too much at stake for the Yankees to come up, pardon the pun, short.

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When will the Yankees focus on the bullpen?  The obvious answer is now. With Machado’s decision pushed off until next week at the earliest, I really wish the Yankees would fill at least one of the two vacancies this week. With each passing day, there is an increasing likelihood that David Robertson, Adam Ottavino and Zach Britton sign elsewhere. It really sucks listening to St Louis Cardinals fans and players talk about how excited they are to have Andrew Miller. As much as I like Robertson, I don’t really get the sense he is a priority for the Yankees, therefore, I really hope they are actively working with the agents for Ottavino and Britton. I know Britton has the potential to get “closer” money, but we need his talent and skills in the Yankees bullpen. Last year showed that we cannot place 100% faith in Aroldis Chapman and his problematic knee. Dellin Betances did a fine job, but I prefer to keep him in a setup role which means we need a proven backup closer to help Chappy. Ottavino has closed and certainly offers that ability, but I’d rather see Britton return among the two choices. Healthy, he is ready to dominate once again. But I won’t be disappointed if Ottavino is the one.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Do the Yankees need to bring in another starter?  Quite simply, the answer is yes. Perhaps the Yankees are convinced Jonathan Loaisiga is the solution for the role of “sixth man”. But he’s about as much of a question mark as the starting rotation itself.  Loaisiga is a talented pitcher but until he can prove the ability to stay healthy, he’s going to carry the injury-risk label. Starting with the back end of the rotation, CC Sabathia is expected to be ready for Spring Training but realistically the Yankees need to prepare for other options in the event CC suffers any setbacks. Encountering heart problems at 38 is never a good sign and we do not know how Sabathia will hold up to the rigors of a 162-game schedule. J.A. Happ was solid for the Yankees down the stretch, but he’s 36. A smart pitcher, yes, but a year closer to retirement. With Masahiro Tanaka, you know we’ll eventually hear “he needs Tommy John surgery”. We’ve been living on borrowed time and it is inevitable he’ll eventually need the surgery to continue. Despite a successful 2018 campaign, James Paxton carries his own injury concerns. Luis Severino is perhaps the pitcher with the fewest question marks but he needs to overcome his second half regression from last season. The Yankees need a bona fide starter to serve as the long man/spot starter. I really hope the 2019 answer is not Luis Cessa or A.J. Cole.

Why is Sonny Gray still on this team?  I really thought Gray would be an ex-Yankee before 2019 but we’re running out of time. There has presumably been strong interest in Gray, with as many as eleven teams expressing interest, but GM Brian Cashman has yet to receive an enticing offer. Although I am surprised he hasn’t been traded yet, I fully expect Gray to be gone before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, FL on February 13th. I think many fans were hopeful the Yankees could package Gray with a few high end prospects to grab Cincinnati’s Scooter Gennett but I think that ship has sailed. With the Reds acquiring Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood from the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, the team is clearly focused on squeezing a few more wins out of their roster next season. Parting with their talented second baseman would not be consistent with that objective. At this point, I don’t think Gray’s presence on the roster is helping anyone. There seems to be an increasing number of Yankee fans wanting the team to hold onto Gray for the hope he can still be what we once thought he would be. For me, I’m done with Gray as much as I am done with Jacoby Ellsbury.

Which leads me to the next question, why is Jacoby Ellsbury still on this team?  Insurance payments. As long as the Yankees have the potential to collect on insurance to defray Ellsbury’s cost, he isn’t going anywhere. If and when he is finally healthy, the Yankees will either make the hard decision to stash Clint Frazier at Triple A or they’ll cut bait with Ellsbury and eat the remainder of his contract. If you count the 2021 buyout of his contract, the Yankees still owe Ellsbury $47.3 million. If the Toronto Blue Jays can afford to absorb $38 million to sever ways with Troy Tulowitski, the Yankees can afford $47 million to make Ellsbury an ex-Yankee. It amazes me how the Los Angeles Dodgers can routinely shed bloated contracts but the Yankees cannot. Well, credit to Cashman for the Chase Headley contract elimination but he needs to find the way to part ways with Ellsbury. If Ellsbury is on the Opening Day Roster (I highly doubt it), I will have no choice but to root for him but, ideally, I hope that day never comes.

I know there are more questions that need to be answered before the Yankees show up for Spring Training in February but these are a few on my mind. I am not sure the tandem of Greg Bird/Luke Voit offers the best hope for first base in the long run but we need more time to see how this plays out. Voit has earned the right to play first base for the Yankees, but Greg Bird should be given the opportunity to play during Spring Training and earn his right to be part of the Opening Day roster. He is running out of time and chances, but I don’t think it is the end of the road for Bird yet nor should it be.

Miguel Andujar is my third baseman until he isn’t.

If there is one starting position on the team that concerns me, it is left field. I love Brett Gardner as much as the next guy, but at this point in his career, he’s better suited to serve as fourth outfielder in my humble opinion. I suppose there’s always a possibility that Giancarlo Stanton plays left more often next season or Clint Frazier works himself into a platoon with Gardy or even takes the job. So much is dependent upon whether or not the Yankees sign Machado. If they do, there will be a chain reaction when Didi Gregorius returns late next summer which will presumably push Machado to third, displacing Andujar who will have to move to first, left or DH. Until this is figured out, it will concern me.

One position that does not cause any alarm for me is catcher. I really expect to see an improved Gary Sanchez in 2019. I honestly feel that he’ll continue to improve defensively with each passing season. I was never in favor of the trade rumors for J.T. Realmuto and stand by El Gary as the present and future of Yankees catching. Austin Romine is a fine backup so I have no desire to see any changes with the current catching duo. I’d certainly have no qualms about Kyle Higashioka taking Romine’s job away if his performance dictates it. That would be a nice problem to have. Until younger guys like Anthony Siegler and Josh Breaux are knocking at the door, Sanchez is this team’s catcher.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

These were just some random thoughts on my mind. There hasn’t been much baseball talk the last few days with the holiday season upon us so I’ve been missing it. I turned on MLB Network Radio this morning and had to listen to one-time Yank C.J. Nitkowski talk about his Christmas gifts for his wife. That’s nice. Let’s get this talk back to Baseball. Is it time for Spring Training yet?

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As always, Go Yankees!

Using Bats and Rain to Beat the Blue Jays…

Photo Credit: NY Post (Paul J Bereswill)

Yanks overcome pesky Jays in rain-shortened game…

As nice as it would be, I don’t want the Yankees to coast to victory every game. I like to see resiliency in the face of adversity and that’s what we were treated to Friday night in the rain-shortened 7-5 victory over the, pardon the pun, “Happ-less” Toronto Blue Jays.

Sure, I was worried along with everyone else when the Blue Jays opened the game with four runs against starter Lance Lynn. There were some fluke hits and I have no doubt that had Aaron Judge been playing right field, the inning would have been over before the Jays had pushed four across the plate. Nevertheless, it is what it was. A four-run deficit is not a monstrous gap, well, so long as your opponent is not the Tampa Bay Rays (or Baltimore Orioles) when it comes to the Yankees.

Nice jobs by Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar to cut the deficit to two runs in the bottom of the first inning. After Aaron Hicks took a two-out walk against Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman, Gregorius laced a triple to left center past defensive whiz Kevin Pillar to score  Hicks with the Yankees’ first run. Miguel Andujar followed with a double to deep right over Curtis Granderson’s head to score Sir Didi.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Elsa)

Much easier moving into the later innings trailing by only two.  Andujar has taken some heat for his defensive play at third, but his bat has been  a source of consistency. He leads the team with doubles, ensuring his name will rank high among Yankee rookies in the history of the franchise. The first inning hit was his 35th of the year, six more than Giancarlo Stanton. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio holds the Yankees rookie record with 44 doubles in 1936. Don Mattingly holds the team record for doubles with 53 in 1986.

Despite giving up those four runs in the first inning, I thought Lance Lynn bounced back nicely. He retired three batters in order in the top of the second inning and although he gave up an infield hit in the third, a double play allowed him to face the minimum number of batters for the second consecutive inning. After an easy three-up, three down top of the fourth for Lynn, the Yankees struck hard in the bottom of the frame. Gleyber Torres doubled to left, banging a hanging slider to the wall, with one out, and Greg Bird followed with a walk. It brought Neil Walker to the plate, and his three-run blast to right, high over the head of Curtis Granderson, gave the Yankees their first lead of the game, 5-4. Glad to see runners in scoring position was not an issue for this game.

Photo Credit: AP (Frank Franklin II)

Unfortunately, the fifth inning was not so kind for Lynn. Curtis Granderson, a player who has been the target of much trade speculation for the Yankees, opened the inning with a double to left center off Lynn. Devon Travis singled to right, scoring the Grandy Man and the game was tied. Lynn’s day was over but I liked the way he battled despite not having his best stuff. The three walks were a bugaboo and so were 99 pitches without an ability to record an out in the fifth inning, but for guys like Double-L, my request is always to just give the team a chance and he did. The dude could have melted down after the ugly first inning and he didn’t. Sure, he allowed the hit that tied the game, but he didn’t yield any home runs and for the most part, he did his job after the first inning had gotten away from him.

The Yankees quickly retook the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Aaron Hicks opened with a walk off Jays reliever Joe Biagini. After Didi Gregorius flied out, Miguel Andujar singled to right to place runners at the corners. Gleyber Torres grounded into a fielder’s choice at shortstop, with the Jays recording the out at second on Andujar but Hicks scored on the play.  Nice hustle by Torres to beat the throw to first. If it had been Gary Sanchez, he would have been thrown out by a mile.

The Yanks took the 6-5 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. With Blue Jays reliever Luis Santos on the mound, Giancarlo Stanton gave the Yankees a two-run lead with his 31st home run of the season, a shot that traveled 431 feet. It’s funny how easily the balls come off Stanton’s bat (seemingly looking like fly outs that just keep on going and going and going…). After Aaron Hicks struck out, the threat of heavy rain forced the grounds crew to roll out the tarp. From there, the team waited until the game was eventually called. Yankees win, 7-5. Chad Green picked up the win in relief of Lance Lynn.

Despite the win, the Yankees (76-46) remain 10 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox. The Sox, unlike the Yankees, had no trouble with the Tampa Bay Rays, winning 7-3 at Fenway Park. The Yankees maintained their three-game lead over the Oakland A’s, but, man, look out for the high flying Athletics. With their 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros in ten innings, they trail the World Champions by only a game in the AL West. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility the Astros are the team fighting for a Wild Card berth. The other Wild Card contender, the Seattle Mariners, lost, 11-1 to the LA Dodgers, so they trail the A’s by 3 1/2 games.

With word pain still lingers in Aaron Judge’s right wrist, I remain hopeful the Yankees do something about upgrading right field in his absence. I like Neil Walker’s bat in the lineup but let’s face it, he is an infielder and not an outfielder. We need a better option in right than Walker or Shane Robinson. I don’t know who that is and I know the Yankees have to be cautious with the luxury tax threshold but hopefully GM Brian Cashman can reinforce the outfield for the stretch run.

Although he didn’t make it into the game, congratulations to former Yankees outfielder Billy McKinney for his promotion to the Blue Jays roster. No doubt we’ll see McKinney sometime this weekend. Who knows, maybe he gets a chance to hit against the man he was traded for, J.A. Happ. Speaking of Happ, I was listening to a pre-game interview on MLB Network Radio yesterday and they ended the interview calling him “J-A” Happ. C’mon guys, it’s “Jay” Happ.

I figured the Yankees would lose reliever George Kontos when he was designated for assignment. It was not the case as Kontos cleared waivers and was sent outright to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Kontos could elect free agency but I’d stay with the Yankees if I were him. He may get another chance in September when rosters expand.

Nice to see that Jonathan Loaisiga has been activated off the disabled list. He made the start yesterday for the Double-A Trenton Thunder with pitches hitting the mid-90’s. He only threw an inning and a third, giving up a run but it was a start, literally and figuratively. Hopefully he can shake off the rust and help the Yankees in September.

Photo Credit: The Trentonian (Kyle Franko)

The Yankees apparently will be playing the Los Angeles Dodgers next year at Dodger Stadium. I was excited to hear the news and hope to be at Chavez Ravine for the series. If I don’t make it to Los Angeles, I’ll try to catch up with the Yankees in San Francisco if they play there. I look forward to seeing the actual 2019 schedule to determine the whens and wheres with the NL West teams against the Pinstripers. I would love to see the damage Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge could do at Coors Field. Of course the Yankees will also travel to London, England to face the “home team” Boston Red Sox but I doubt I make that trip (as much as I would like to go).

Luis Severino (15-6, 3.27 ERA) will face Toronto’s Sean Reid-Foley (0-1, 5.40 ERA) in today’s game.  I honestly do not know what we’ll get with Sevy. Also, I don’t have the stats to back it but it seems like we never fare well against pitchers with hyphenated names or rookie pitchers for that matter. This is a very good day for Sevy to get back on track. We need him in prime form as the calendar page gets ready to flip to September. According to my knowledgeable cell phone, there’s rain forecasted for this afternoon. Hopefully they get a full nine innings in today before the rain makes its appearance at Yankee Stadium.

Go Yankees!