So close, yet so far away…
The Yankees may only be 3 games back in the Wild Card chase as they enter play this evening, but trailing three teams for two spots sounds a bit daunting. Particularly when two of those teams are perhaps the best in the American League with the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers. At the end of play last night, Oakland, Detroit and the Seattle Mariners were tied. While I think the Yankees could catch the Mariners, the odds are against them when it comes to the A’s (or Angels) or the Tigers (or Royals).
Much larger leads have fallen in the past, but I think the superiority of the A’s and Tigers will win out. If they take their divisions, the Angels and Royals both field superior teams to the Yankees. I don’t think there are any waiver deals at the deadline that can be made to improve this year’s Yankees. As with the non-waiver deadline in July, I didn’t want the Yankees to part with prospects nor do I now. If I legitimately felt that the team had a chance in October, perhaps I’d feel differently. But the 2014 Yankees, even if they landed a Wild Card spot, would be destined for a one game Wild Card loss or if they prevailed, they’d be bounced in the first round.
It’s disappointing as a Yankees fan as it doesn’t feel like championship hopes can be restored in the short term. The Yankees are 11 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox, and yet, the outlook for the 2015 Red Sox is far more promising.
Huh, I didn’t know he was available?…
When I heard that the Yankees had signed Chris Young to a minor league deal, my first thought was when did the Seattle Mariners get rid of their starting pitcher who is 12-6 with a 3.16 ERA on the season? But then I heard the talk about him playing the outfield and realized they were talking about the other one. I don’t know much about OF Chris Young but it seems like he was once a promising Arizona Diamondback who had a disappointing 2013, signed with the Mets and continued to underwhelm until his release. Given the Yanks success with ex-Diamondbacks (i.e., Martin Prado and Brandon McCarthy) perhaps Young will revert to his old form under the tutelage of the Pinstripes. Not sure if the Yankees will call him up before or after September 1st but he seems like a good replacement for Ichiro Suzuki if he is successful.
A little early to look to next year but…
With the success of Shane Greene and Brandon McCarthy in the starting rotation, it will be interesting next year. While CC Sabathia will be returning, I honestly do not know what the Yankees will be getting and if it will be an upgrade over Greene or McCarthy. Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka are obvious locks, although Ivan Nova might be delayed since he’s coming off Tommy John surgery. I think this is the final year in the United States for Hiroki Kuroda before he heads back to Japan permanently. Still, even if the starting rotation projects to be Tanaka-Pineda-Sabathia-McCarthy-Greene, I fully expect the Yankees to go after a free agent pitcher like Jon Lester. Lester, partnered with a healthy Tanaka, at the head of the rotation would be huge.
Lester was my favorite pitcher when he played for Boston so having him on the Yankees would be ideal.
There will be lots of interesting decisions to be made by Manager Joe Girardi and company. And oh yeah, we’ll have to deal with the return of he who shall remain nameless at third and DH.
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!
For months, the talk centered on prized Japanese pitcher Mashiro Tanaka. He was highly touted as the most valuable free agent pitcher on the market. Of course, his free agency began slowly when there was doubt if his Japanese team would allow him to be posted, particularly after the posting fee was capped at $20 million. Nevertheless, Tanaka was subsequently posted, as we all know.
Almost immediately, the Yankees were regarded as the frontrunner. But given that any team to offer to pay the $20 million posting fee, it opened the field to any team that wanted to make a run at the latest Japanese import. Early on, there was talk that the Seattle Mariners would make a play for Tanaka. It was said that the Los Angeles Dodgers would not be outbid, and the Chicago Cubs were completely enamored with the idea of Tanaka headlining their rotation. The Los Angeles Angels and the Arizona Diamondbacks were other teams mentioned as strong possibilities.
I read that the Mariners were favorites because the team is predominantly owned by Nintendo and Los Angeles was cited because of its close proximity to Japan and its strong Asian community. There was talk that some team would make a surprise late bid, kind of like what the Angels when they signed Albert Pujols.
I never really expected the Dodgers to be “all-in”. They had their own pending free agent to be in Clayton Kershaw and they couldn’t make a ridiculously high bid without driving up their costs to retain Kershaw. They subsequently re-signed Kershaw to a $215 million deal, but I still didn’t think they’d go hard after Tanaka. I did think the Chicago Cubs were a strong challenger for Tanaka despite prior rumors that he preferred a coastal destination. If I have learned anything with Major League Baseball, it’s to never underestimate Theo Epstein.
But fortunately, when Tanaka finally made his decision, he was a Yankee. Almost instantly, the stories about his superior talent turned to questions about how he’ll make the adjustment to life in America and how he is a #2 or #3 starter at best. Everyone is now quick to say that he does not have the talent of Yu Darvish, and I’ve seen the name “Kei Igawa” more than I’d care to in recent days. But still, this was a move that the Yankees HAD to make. With a weak farm system at the upper levels, they had no choice but to overpay for young pitching talent with solid upside. With the hype surrounding Tanaka (who went 24-0 in Japan last year), he also represents a gate attraction. With Tanaka in the fold, the Yankees become the second major league team to have two Japanese players in their starting pitching rotation (the first was the Dodgers with Hideo Nomo and Kaz Ishii). If the Japanese media made it a circus following Hideki Matsui, they’ll have a field day following the trio of Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki.
The realist in me knows not to expect top of the rotation stuff from Tanaka. I know the Yankees want more, but I’d be very satisfied if he could give the Yankees what Kuroda has for the last two years. This is most likely Kuroda’s last year, and it is good that Tanaka will have a year to spend under Hiroki’s wing. I think that will greatly aid his transition to the United States and MLB.
I thought that it would take a contract of 7 years, $140 million to sign Tanaka. So, the Yankees did overbid in that regard. Today I saw an article that one GM speculated the next highest bid were the Cubs and D-Backs at $120 million. I really doubt the gap between the Yankees and the others was that great. The same source mentioned the Dodgers were at $119 million which doesn’t make sense as everyone knew it would take $120 million plus to sign Tanaka. My guess is the Cubs and Dodgers were in the vicinity of $140 million plus. Not bad for a pitcher who has never thrown a major league pitch.
While I would still like to see an additional pitcher brought to camp, there is potential with a rotation that features CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda or David Phelps. If Pineda could possibly show the potential that caused the Yankees to trade for him (prior to the injuries), the rotation could be very strong. While I would not be opposed to seeing Bronson Arroyo or Ubaldo Jimenez signed, I think the Yankees need to focus on the infield. Yes, they’ve brought in San Diego’s Dean Anna, signed Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Scott Sizemore, and still have Eduardo Nunez but there are too many questions. What happens if Mark Teixeira struggles in his return, or Derek Jeter? Neither of those positions are air tight without getting into the holes at second and third. Jeter will be 40, and Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter. April could be a very challenging month.
My preference would be to find a decent third baseman so that Kelly Johnson could be the primary second baseman. But the team is probably enamored with the idea that Roberts is capable of rebounding from the injury filled years that have plagued him since 2009. Scott Sizemore is nothing more than camp fodder. One magazine I read said “But other than OK pop and a few walks, offers little even when healthy”. Anna is nothing more than a potential reserve.
Catching and the outfield is set, but there is still work to be done in the infield and in the bullpen. I agree with the choice to anoint David Robertson as the closer, but there needs to be an insurance plan in place. Grant Balfour would have been a great option but he is now a Tampa Bay Ray once again. I don’t want Fernando Rodney, but the Yankees need someone who is capable of closing games if Robertson is not up to the task. If Boston can find an elite closer as their fourth choice last year, there are potential arms that can be found. I really hated to see the departure of Boone Logan. Not much has been written about it, but I can only hope that Matt Thornton is a capable, albeit older, replacement. I know the team has long admired lefty Cesar Cabral so perhaps this is Cabral’s year to take it to the next level. I’d also like to see Dellin Betances take advantage of his opportunity and become a force in the pen. I guess every team thinks they can follow the Tampa blueprint for bullpen success given how the Rays are always able to craft something out of nothing.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp in a few weeks, I am sure that the transaction wires will be busy as teams, and most notably the Yankees, look to create playoff caliber rosters.
For the Yankees, while it will be great to see Brian McCann show up to become his orientation with the Yankee pitchers, the cameras and the reporters will be flocked around #19, Masahiro Tanaka, as he begins his pinstriped career. Time to build upon last year’s 85 wins and return the Yankees to October baseball. With the commitment the Yankees have shown this off-season, it’s clear their last move was not their “last” move.
The highs and lows of the Hot Stove League, thus far…
For Yankees fans, the off-season started nicely. After early speculation that manager Joe Girardi might jump to the Chicago Cubs, he re-signed a long-term deal with the Yankees and expressed it was his desire to remain in New York. All good.
Then, Derek Jeter quickly signed a one year deal with negotiations that where smooth, quick and efficient (unlike the prior Jeter negotiations). It remains to be seen if we’ll get the Jeter of 2012 or the injured, aging 2013 model, but there’s no question that Jeter must finish his career in pinstripes. I don’t think Derek would want to go anywhere else at this point anyway, but still, he is the face of the franchise and he’ll forever be remembered as one of its legends. In the distant future, when the old greats from the 50’s Dynasty era are gone (Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, among others), it will be guys like Jeter that maintain the honor and tradition in baseball’s most storied franchise.
The Yankees struck fast in signing free agent catcher Brian McCann after last year’s parade of backups in the starting role. It gives the team its first legitimate starter at the position since Russell Martin left, and the best offensive bat at the position since Jorge Posada retired. This is a move that places backup catchers Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy, and Austin Romine in a better position to succeed. At first pass, I expect Cervelli to take the backup job in spring training but the other two are capable. On the days that McCann slides to DH, the catching position will be capable hands.
Next came a big surprise. I honestly did not see the Yankees signing centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. While I have been a fan of Ellsbury’s work, it didn’t seem to be a great need for the team. Brett Gardner has been an effective centerfielder, and has the speed to burn. Still, Ellsbury’s signing upgrades the position and allows the Yankees to slide Gardner to left where he a defensive upgrade over Alfonso Soriano. The concern here is that by making Soriano the full-time DH, it does limit the DH opportunities for Derek Jeter and Brian McCann. Soriano’s bat is still very valuable, and it’s much needed in the lineup.
Then came the bittersweet day of Friday, December 6th. The night before, there had been reports that second baseman Robinson Cano had flown to Seattle, but in the morning, the early reports indicated that talks had stalled or perhaps even ended. It gave a brief ray of hope that he’d come back to the Yankees, but those hopes were soon dissolved when it was reported Cano had agreed to a 10-year $240 million deal with the Mariners. While it’s tough to lose a great player, perhaps the team’s best, it is simply too hard to justify those numbers. I have enjoyed the early 30’s version of Cano at second, but in his late 30’s and early 40’s, the prospect doesn’t look too promising at $24 million per year. That’s a huge chunk of any team’s overall payroll. I think of when Chase Utley was the premier second baseman, but now, with injuries, he has become a shell of what he once was. What happens if Cano does not age well? I guess I am not a gambling man and would prefer that the M’s take that bet. $240 million can be better spent by spreading it over multiple positions rather than locking it into only one.
This is where I find Robinson Cano to be extremely selfish. You can’t begrudge anyone from wanting as much money as they can get, but this is a team game and every team has a budget…even the Yankees. If it were me, I would have taken the Yankees offer of 7 years at $175 million because the average annual salary was stronger and I’d know that the team would be more flexible in other areas by not being locked into so many years. For those additional three years, it would be up to me to perform and if so, there would be a reward. It also would have kept the Yankee legacy intact and ensured a potential place among the team’s legends. But now, Cano is just another player who took the money and ran. He proved that money is more valuable than wins, and money is more important than helping build a strong supporting cast of quality players. That doesn’t mean Seattle doesn’t have quality players, they do, but they are a long way from contending. It is very possible that when they are ready to contend, Cano has started his career regression due to age that’s inevitable for everyone.
Cano has carried the “lazy” rap for years. While he is an exciting player at times, it was frustrating when he didn’t hustle. I think of someone like Dustin Pedroia, whose motor is always running. He creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be there because he is alert and proactive. He seizes the opportunities and takes advantage of them. That’s what winning ball players do. Cano is not that guy. I have never thought of him as a team player, and I didn’t view him as a player who helped raise the performance level of those around him. Rest assured the Yankees will miss his offensive production at the position. At this point, I have no idea who will be the second baseman in 2014. Kelly Johnson seems better suited to help replace Alex Rodriguez at third base, in a platoon situation. Omar Infante signed a four year deal with the Kansas City Royals, and Brandon Phillips is starting the downward slide that comes with age. David Adams, a young player who had the talent but couldn’t show it at the major league level during brief auditions, was non-tendered and is now a Cleveland Indian. It looks as though the Yankees will fill second base with a bargain basement fill-in, much like they did last year with first and third bases. I wish the organization was better stocked with up and coming second base talent, but that does not appear to be the case. I personally thought Infante would have been the best short-term option, but the Yankees allowed them to get beat by the Royals in signing the player. You know it’s an odd year when the Yankees get beat in free agency by both the Royals and the Mariners.
But enough about Cano, he is gone and so is his Yankees legacy.
Around the same time as the news had broken about the former second baseman signing with Seattle, it was reported that starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda had signed a new one year deal with the team. This was very good news to hear. Kuroda is much needed, and I am grateful that he chose to delay his return to Japan by a year or head back to his home in Southern California. So, Cashman has filled 200 of the 400 innings he previously stated were needed this off-season.
After the tumultuous events of the day, news broke on the evening of December 6th that the Yankees had signed outfielder Carlos Beltran. At 36, he is no longer the player he once was, but he is a “gamer” or as George Steinbrenner would say, a warrior. Even an aging Beltran is an upgrade over an even older Ichiro Suzuki or the outfielder still primarily funded by the Los Angeles Angels, Vernon Wells.
But after the three free agent signings, the news has mostly been about departures. Phil Hughes was the first to depart, signing a three year deal with the Minnesota Twins. It was probably a good move for Hughes. Minnesota will be less pressurized and he should have the opportunity to flourish, much like Carl Pavano was able to resurrect his career in Minneapolis after leaving New York. I certainly did not expect the Yankees to re-sign Hughes after the season he had last year, but I thought he’d go to Southern California and saw the San Diego Padres as a good fit. Nevertheless, Minneapolis is a fun city and it’s a good ballpark.
A couple of other notable defections occurred in the bullpen, where Joba Chamberlain signed a one year deal with the Detroit Tigers and Boone Logan went for three years with the Colorado Rockies. Of the two, it is Logan that I really hated to see leave. He was a trusted left-handed reliever, but it really didn’t seem like the team made much of an effort to retain his services. They obviously had other priorities, but I suppose the Yankees are hopeful that a less expensive options like Cesar Cabral will step up to fill Boone’s role. It was a foregone conclusion that Joba had thrown his last pitch for the Yankees. But admittedly, I was surprised he went to Detroit. There are worse things to do than to go to a team that is probably the best one in the American League right now, but I thought that Joba would go to the Kansas City Royals since it is closer to his hometown roots. The one year deal does give him an opportunity to try and restore the promise he once had with the Yankees. Plus, if he wins a World Series, it will help give his career a further boost.
The Yankees also lost last year’s starting catcher when they traded Chris Stewart to the Pittsburgh Pirates. This move was a given after the McCann signing combined with the surplus of backup catchers.
For as crazy as December started for the Yankees, the week of the baseball winter meetings was extremely quiet. The Yankees still have much work to do. On paper, after consideration of all plusses and minuses, they are not noticeably better than last year’s 85 win team. They still need a quality starting pitcher, a second baseman, and bullpen help. Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him between now and spring training.
I honestly do not know where the Yankees will go from here. I’d like to see the free agent signing of a pitcher like Matt Garza, but so far, the Yankees have not been one of the team’s linked to the pitcher. Same with Bronson Arroyo, who is certainly capable of eating a large number of innings as a #4 starter. For second base, the latest reports have the Yankees interested in Darwin Barney of the Chicago Cubs but I have no idea what he would cost in terms of talent in a trade. I will feel much better about the 2014 Yankees once the additional starting pitcher and second baseman are in the fold, but at least it is reassuring to know that Hal Steinbrenner wants to win as much as the rest of us do.
Where do we go from here?…
December 6th. For years, this has been the anniversary of my graduation from Air Force Basic Training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. But on December 6, 2013, it may have been the most tumultuous day in Yankees history in terms of arrivals and departures…or at least in recent memory.
The day started with news that talks had broken down between Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners. It stirred renewed hope that Cano would find his way back to the Bronx, but as quickly as the reports had come about the Mariners’ CEO blowing a gasket at salary demands from the Cano Camp and ending talks, the reports came that Cano had accepted a ten year deal from the Mariners for $240 million. Cano never called the Yankees before taking the offer, but it was a given they would not match.
It’s hard to watch your team’s best player walk away for nothing. But in this situation, I think the Yankees made the right call. After the fiasco of the Alex Rodriguez contract and what an albatross it has become, it is clear that extended contracts are not good for baseball. I saw one writer yesterday who wrote that the only player worth a ten year deal, right now, would be 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. I think that’s a fairly accurate statement.
When the Yankees signed CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira to long-term deals in 2009, both of those players were significantly better players than they are today. They can continue to perform at a high level but at this point, it is equally possible for them to continue performance regression.
I can remember how painful Jason Giambi’s had become by the end. Even David Winfield’s ten year contract, regardless of how great the player was, had been a mistake as the player and the owner were bitter enemies by the time the contract expired.
I thought the Yankees’ offer of 7 years for $175 million was fair. If the Cano Camp (Team Jay Z or rather, CAA) had been more sensible in their meetings with the Yankees, I am sure that Cano probably could have squeezed out an additional year. However, Cano was dead set on getting a ten year contract, so that clearly nailed the coffin on his Yankees career. Of the two organizations, the Yankees and the Mariners, I feel strongly that the former would be more willing to take care of Cano at the end of the contract. In other words, at the end of 7 years, if the player was continuing to play at a high level, the Yankees would pay a new contract commensurate to performance with a premium paid for past accomplishments such as they’ve done with Derek Jeter. I know the Jeter negotiations were very tense a couple of years ago but this off-season’s re-signing was at a higher dollar amount than any other team would have paid. As for the Mariners, I highly doubt that Cano will be in Seattle at the end of the ten years. When he begins the eventual downward trend as he ages, Seattle will be looking to move the contract, even if they have to pay cash, to cut their losses. The odds that Cano would have been in New York at the end of 7 years would have been substantially greater.
I am not sure that Cano has fully comprehended how he has trashed his Yankee legacy. I personally have no desire to ever see the player honored in Memorial Park and have absolutely no qualms with the team re-issuing #24 to another player. Maybe time will heal the feelings, but Cano showed no loyalty or respect for the fans of New York and simply took the money and ran. He was a good Yankee, but he was not a great one. For a player who enjoyed being a star in New York City, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to being out of the spotlight. The crowds attending Seattle away games will be smaller and will have far fewer “home team” fans in attendance. With the Yankees, it’s like being a rock star as Jason Giambi once said. Nothing against Seattle, it is a beautiful city and a great ballpark, but it is a team that is, and will continue to be, inferior to the much stronger Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Oakland A’s. They do not have a history and tradition of winning and I do not expect that to change. Cano has his money. Good for him. But his days of playing for an organization that wants to win every year and considers missing the play-offs to be a disaster are over.
With Friday’s flurry of activity, it was almost an afterthought that the Yankees also lost outfielder Curtis Granderson. Grandy has a good player for most of his Yankees career, but of course, he missed the majority of the 2013 season due to injuries. He leaves the Yankees for a tougher park to hit with the New York Mets. Maybe his game will play well for the Mets, or maybe he becomes the next Jason Bay. The Yankees did not show a strong desire for Grandy’s return after he rejected the team’s qualifying offer and had more preference for guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, or even the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp. At the moment, with the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, there wouldn’t have been any room in the crowded outfield for Granderson. While the Yankees have stated they intend to keep Brett Gardner and move him to left field (pushing Alfonso Soriano to DH), I still suspect that Gardner will be expendable in the team’s pursuit of quality starting pitching. I see the DH role being better utilized for guys like Derek Jeter and Brian McCann as ways to rest them than moving the admittedly defensively challenged Soriano there on a full-time basis. My feelings about Granderson’s departure are significantly different than those of Cano. I felt that Granderson made the best decision for him both personally and professionally. I am thankful he was a Yankee and I wish him well with his new team. I am sure that he has a few more productive years ahead of him.
Friday also saw the return of starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and the addition of outfielder Carlos Beltran. It’s apparent that Beltran’s arrival is tied to Cano’s departure since the team finally acquiesced to Beltran’s desire for a third year, but both signings are essential for the 2014 Yankees. With only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova holding down spots in the starting rotation, Kuroda is a key anchor for the rotation. He may be no more than a #3 starter next year, but he is a strong stabilizing force. The Yankees still need more starting pitching besides the hope that Michael Pineda and/or some of the Triple A arms will be able to take spots.
I really was unsure if Kuroda would return. It has been said that he wants to play a final year in Japan before he retires, and there was talk that he might be interested in returning to Southern California since his family still lives there. But Kuroda is an honorable man, and it was so telling in his final year with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he didn’t want to be traded because the Dodgers were the team he started the season with and he didn’t want to go elsewhere. I did wonder if the pull off the Dodgers, assuming they were interested, would have been too much. But I think Kuroda has enjoyed playing for the Yankees and his sense of loyalty led him back to the team for one more year. It’s a pleasure to have him back in the fold.
Welcome to the Bronx, Carlos Beltran! Granted, the Yankees have more to do if they want to return to October baseball, but Beltran is one of the post-season greats. Some guys thrive when the pressure is on (unlike Alex Rodriguez) and Beltran is a leader in that category. It has always been said that he wanted to play in the Bronx and had been willing to sign for a discount when he ultimately signed with the Mets. He finally gets the chance at the latter stages of his career. He is an offensive upgrade over Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, and helps to offset the loss of Cano’s production.
It is interesting that the 2014 Yankee outfield will be comprised of two guys who played for the opposing teams in the 2013 World Series. One with a ring and one without. At the moment, they’ll be joined in the outfield by Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano although, as previously stated above, I think Gardner will be moved for pitching help.
December 6th will long be remembered as the day the Yankees lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but brought in Hiroki Kuroda and Carlos Beltran. There is much work yet to do with Cano’s loss, but the arrivals of Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury bring guys with something to prove. Kelly Johnson is also a Yankee and the starting second baseman at the moment, although I do think he’ll be the super-sub by the time the team breaks camp next spring. I do not know who will be the second baseman in 2014 but the Yankees will figure it out. As David Robertson said, they always do.
From Beantown to the Bronx…
I have heard many Yankee fans voice frustration about Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract (primarily the length, not the dollars). I know that he has had his health challenges, but I like the move. I respected Ellsbury during his days in Boston and I like the elements of his game. It can be argued that he is Brett Gardner, but he is a better version. As a player who once said that he’d never play for the Yankees, it is nice to see that the history and tradition of the organization were overriding factors, in addition to the monetary reasons. The Red Sox weren’t going to extend the years to Ellsbury so it was inevitable that he’d leave. There is a sting with the Red Sox Nation that he went with the Yankees, and there are probably parallels to the Cano situation (dollars over loyalty), but at the end of the day, I am glad that Ells is a Yank.
And then there’s next week…
As the baseball winter meetings loom on the immediate horizon, there should be more activity for Yankees fans. This winter is so dramatically different than last year’s status quo approach. After missing the play-offs and the retirement of a few players, there were more holes to fill. Brian McCann solidifies the catching position, and Francisco Cervelli will return, after now that he’s completed his 50-game suspension and is healthy, to be McCann’s caddy. McCann gives the Yankees a better catcher than they had in 2012 starter, Russell Martin, and the strongest offensive threat at the position since the retired Jorge Posada.
Jacoby Ellsbury gives the Yankees options. He strengthens the team up the middle, and like McCann, has a swing that tailored for Yankee Stadium. He may not hit a lot of home runs, but he’ll be a terror on the bases. His presence, despite what the team says publicly, makes Brett Gardner expendable. For a team with weak prospects at the upper levels, it will take a Brett Gardner to bring a quality return. The Yankees need better starting pitching, a second baseman, and some help in the bullpen. They also need to cover for the expected absence of the Loser, Alex Rodriguez. So, if there are any certainties, it is that the Yankees will be active next week. I am sure that the website, MLB Trade Rumors, will be busier than Grand Central Station over the holidays.
Ala The Walking Dead, let’s say goodbye to those that we’ve lost…
- Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
- Curtis Granderson, New York Mets
- Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins
- Chris Stewart, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Mike Harkey, bullpen coach, now pitching coach, Arizona Diamondbacks
Thanks for the memories, but rest assured, we’ll be okay.
I was never a fan of good-byes…
Sadly, the 2013 Major League Baseball Season has come to an end. Well, at least for the New York Yankees. It was an eventful final week that saw a farewell to the great Mariano Rivera that was unmatched by any I have seen in recent years or even during my lifetime. Mo’s final game at Yankee Stadium turned out to be the final game of his professional career as he chose not to pitch during the season-ending series in Houston to preserve his Bronx goodbye as the final exit for a storied and soon to be Hall of Fame career.
I have been a Mariano Rivera fan since the days when he set up John Wetteland in the bullpen. His 7th and 8th inning appearances before the cardiac appearances by Wetteland were electric. The ball seemed to come screaming with blazing speed yet Mo seemed so effortless in letting the ball leave his hand. He made it look easy, and for the length of his career, he proved he was just a little better than everyone else. Sure, there were a few hiccups along the way. A couple of key blown saves in critical games, but these were few and far between. His success rate was far superior to any failures, and in those failures, you knew that Mo had left his all.
Looking back, I certainly have no regrets. It was an honor and privilege to be a Yankees fan and to witness the career of the latest Yankees legend. He’ll be someone that my grandchildren will be talking about, and I can say that I saw him pitch from the beginning to the end. Mo showed how special it was to play for one team, and he is forever embedded into Yankees lore. Ichiro Suzuki will be immortalized in Cooperstown one day as a Seattle Mariner, but Seattle will never be able to call Ichiro exclusively their own. They may have had his best years, but he still is playing his final years as a Yankee, not a Mariner. Fortunately, we never had to see Mo in another uniform or his former catcher, Jorge Posada.
I have been a Yankees fan since 1974 when free agent Jim “Catfish” Hunter, then my favorite pitcher, signed with the Yankees. I had grown up very intrigued by the Yankees with their great history and tradition. Those early 70’s were still a tough time for the Yankees organization, but they were about to turn the corner following the acquisition of the team by George Steinbrenner and his partners. To digress, I always loved the quote “There is nothing in life quite so limited as being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner”. This quote is attributed to former Yankees minority owner and later Houston Astros owner John McMullen. The first baseball biography I recall reading when I was little was a book about Lou Gehrig, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. So, when Catfish made the decision to join the Yankees, it was very easy for me to follow.
During the course of my Yankees fandom, I’ve considered the following players to be my favorite Yankees. Hunter, Thurman Munson, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Don Mattingly, and Mariano Rivera. All those years and I can still count my favorite active Yankees on one hand, well until today with Rivera’s retirement. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect other Yankees over the years, these guys just happened to be my personal favorites at the time they played.
Being someone who appreciates history and tradition, I’ve always felt that Rivera was the perfect man to take Jackie Robinson’s number to retirement for the final time. Mo proved that he had the character to stand with greatness, and he served the legacy of Jackie Robinson very proudly and understood its significance. I am glad that the last guy out of baseball with #42 wasn’t some thug just trying to hang on to a lost career, with rumors of a steroid past. He wears #13. Okay, sorry, I didn’t mean that, or maybe I did, but you get the point. Jackie Robinson was a great man who dealt with more adversity than any of us will ever knew. He did it while turning the other cheek and proving he was the better man. He did this while carving out a Hall of Fame career on the field. If there was a man who deserved to have his number retired across baseball, it was Robinson, and if there was a man who deserved to be the final one to walk off the field with it, it was Mo. The Baseball Gods made sure this one played out like it was supposed to.
Mo, we thank you for simply being you. You did it your way, and you never strived to be anything other than what you were. You proved better than most in shaking off the game’s failures and you never gloated in its successes. You were proud of your teammates and respectful of your opponents. Baseball needs you, and I hope that this is just the beginning as you move into the next phase of your career. I am proud, very proud, when I say that I am a Mariano Rivera fan. He exceeded my wildest expectations and he leaves as the best ever at his position. He deserves to be a first ballot entry to the Hall of Fame. Anything less is unacceptable. He was ours and he proved he belongs to the Hall like no other that I’ve personally witnessed during my lifetime. Farewell, Mo. This is not the end, but simply the closing of one chapter and the opening of the next.
AP Photo (courtesy of LoHud Yankees Blog)
The gaze from under the brim of his cat…
While the focus of this post is Rivera, I would be remiss for not saying thanks to Andy Pettitte. Time and again, he stopped losing streaks and he was clutch when it mattered most (October). He never had the brilliant stuff of Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay, but he was a winner. His passion showed and he was a champion. It was tough watching him leave via free agency for those three years in Houston, but I am glad he came back. Even during his time in Houston, you’d hear stories about how Andy still followed the Yankees. He is part of the Yankees family and history and always will be. It was so very fitting that his final game was a complete game win in his hometown of Houston. A bit ironic that the opponent was named Clemens (Paul Clemens, no relation to Roger). For the final game of the season, Roger Clemens did make an appearance to wish farewell to Mariano, and he gave Andy a hug. There has been a lot of mudslinging between the former close friends and regardless of what Roger may have or have not done, I was glad to see the small reconciliation. Baseball is greater than any one of us, and at the end of the day, Clemens, Pettitte, and Rivera were teammates and they represented the our team. I fully expect to see all three at future Old Timer’s Day games and I am hopeful that old scars can be healed and that the game itself can move forward.
Back to Andy, he will be a hard act to follow. When you look at the Yankees pitching staff, there is not one that can match Andy’s heart. CC Sabathia appears to be on the downside of his career, Hiroki Kuroda could very well head to Japan for his final season or two, Phil Hughes has worn the pinstripes for the last time, Ivan Nova is a roller-coaster and the jury is still out on David Huff. Next season will be one of transition and it is unfortunate that we’ll no longer have Andy as an anchor to the rotation. Andy’s ceiling was never as a #1 pitcher. He came to the major leagues with question marks, but he left as one of its greatest post-season performers. We were lucky to call Andy one of our own, and I am glad that he was never dealt away in one of those knee-jerk type of trades that we saw during the George Steinbrenner regime. Sorry, George, I miss you but you gotta admit that some of those trades left a little bit to be desired…
Getting back on track, Andy leaves the game being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest lefty in Yankees’ history, the Chairman of the Board, Whitey Ford. The Core Four (Rivera, Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter) did an excellent job in reaching the pinnacle of their positions in franchise history. Posada may not have matched Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey or Thurman Munson, but he can stand in the same room. DJ is obviously one of the greatest shortstops in the team’s history (along with Phil Rizzuto). For a team so stacked in history and tradition, four contemporary players reaching the upper echelon is amazing. It is the end of a terrific Yankees era, and as much as I hate to see Derek Jeter go out with an injury filled career, I would prefer for him to leave now rather than to come back next year for what most likely will be a year of reduced relevance on the roster.
What does the future hold?…
I really do not know what to expect next year. At the moment, it is uncertain if Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson will be back. Joe Girardi is talking about needing time to decide if he wants to come back which is not a good sign in my opinion. Mark Texeira will be back next year, but he is deteriorating as he ages. I am not sure that CC can get back to being the dominant pitcher he once was, and the line-up is filled with age and injury-susceptible players. The farm system at the upper levels is weak, at best. While many of said that this has been a great year of managing by Joe Girardi, I’d argue that it has not been one of Brian Cashman’s best years. I do not know how much he has been constrained by ownership, but the 10 wins that the team could have used this season could have been acquired through smart and strategic moves. The farm system is very lacking at the upper levels and I know that injuries have played a part, but at some point, Cashman has to be held accountable. Like fine wine, it is harvest season except the Yankees do not have anything to harvest. They’ll have to overpay and to give up too much young talent to field a championship squad next season. Unfortunately, neither makes sense even for the Yankees, so it feels as though we are in the midst of an era of transition. Hopefully, greatness will be waiting on the other side…
Bay Area and Thud…
Living in the Bay Area, there was no reason that I should not have attended the Yankees’ just completed three game series against the hometown A’s. But miss it I did, and in retrospect, it was probably just as well. Today’s 18-inning loss marked a sweep for the A’s. The Yankees were punch-less and the combined 0-for-12 in today’s game for Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis certainly did not help.
I was worried about Teixeira’s late start due to injury. A notoriously slow starter, he began his 2013 season strong but lately he is playing to form (in other words, “ice cold”). I think the Yankees’ early season success was an aberration at this point, and if things do not improve, they’ll be sellers at the trading deadline, not buyers.
The A’s series continued to show me that Phil Hughes is not the answer and the team will be best served by letting him walk at the end of the season if they don’t move him in July.
Speaking of Yankees who have to go, I sincerely hope that Alex Rodriguez has played his last game for the Pinstripers…
The MLB Draft was exciting this year with three picks at the end of the first round. I think the Yankees did very well with 3B Eric Jagielo and OF Aaron Judge. I am very intrigued by Judge and look forward to his arrival in the Bronx. Jagielo, as a college player, should be on the fast track to replace A-Rod at third. It was enjoyable to see two players with ties to the organization selected by the Yankees. Paul O’Neill’s nephew, Michael, an outfielder, and Andy Pettitte’s son, Josh. Of course, Pettitte was just a token selection as a hat tip to Andy as he’ll never negotiate or sign with the Yankees…at least not this year. I love Josh’s potential, but it will be interesting to see what he is able to do at Baylor University. Hopefully, the Yankees will have another chance at selecting him when he is ready to turn professional. Then again, he could end up someplace like Pittsburgh, ala Gerrit Cole. Given Paul O’Neill’s popularity in the Bronx, Michael O’Neill should be well received if/when he arrives. Of course, he’ll need to perform to maintain the applause, but not many players get the grand treatment from the start.
With the promotion of catcher JR Murphy to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, I wonder if it is a matter of time before he supplants Austin Romine as the immediate catcher of the future pending the arrival of super-prospect Gary Sanchez…
It’s good to see that pitcher Michael Pineda is finally throwing again. The trade with Seattle was starting to look rather one-sided, but now Jesus Montero is in the minors and the Mariners have called up another catching prospect to the major league team, while Pineda is getting his arm back in shape. I could easily see the Yankees dumping Phil Hughes to drop Pineda in his rotation spot.
I think I am in the mood for a few consecutive Yankee wins. C’mon, guys, pick up the intensity in Anaheim!…