Tagged: Masahiro Tanaka

Is Status Quo enough?…

Waiting for Spring…

This is the time of year when there is not much activity in the way of baseball news.

Soon, MLB teams will be preparing for the journeys to Florida and Arizona (ala the Boston Red Sox infamous “Truck Day”).  There is still a number of free agents searching for new homes, but the Yankees have not engaged any players in known, substantive talks.

I remain convinced the Yankees need to bring in a veteran arm to compete with the young talent that will be auditioning for the two open spots in the rotation.  Jason Hammel remains available and that’s the arm I feel the Yankees should bring to camp.  But there are others.  I know that he’s not the pitcher he was earlier in the decade, but I liked San Diego’s move to sign Trevor Cahill.  A reliever for the Chicago Cubs, Cahill will get an opportunity to start again for the Padres.  Who knows if he’ll be successful or will ever be the starter that he once was, but the Padres are taking the chance.

Regardless of who the Yankees bring in, it’s a certainty that there will be a Scranton/Wilkes Barre shuttle for starters as well as relievers.  I have no doubt that names like Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams will make their major league debuts in 2017.  The likelihood of Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia staying healthy all season long is remote.  This is why I feel that it is a very good idea to bring in a stable, consistent veteran influence like Hammel.

GM Brian Cashman would make the trade for Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox today if the price was right, but odds are it will be too high for the Yankees (leading to Cashman’s statement that it is 99% the Yankees will not be adding a pitcher before heading to Tampa).  I still expect the Houston Astros to pony up the prospects necessary to pry Quintana from the White Sox.  There’s no doubt Quintana would great in the Yankees rotation, but the time is not right.

There is a genuine concern that Masahiro Tanaka will have a great season and opt out of his deal next fall.  Without Tanaka, the Yankees rotation is looking very scary unless the young arms make major advancements during the season.

Here’s how the Top 3 rotations currently stack up in the AL East:

Baltimore Orioles:  Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy

Boston Red Sox:  Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello

New York Yankees:  Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia

Tampa Bay Rays:  Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi

Toronto Blue Jays:  Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman

Clearly, Boston is the class of the division, with the Blue Jays not far behind.  There’s talent with the Orioles and Rays rotations.  The Yankees clearly hold the most questions heading into the season.  This is even more reason to shore up the back end of the rotation.

It’s tough thinking about giving up top prospects to bring in a much needed top starter.  The Yankees need an ace to pair with, or potentially replace, Tanaka.  2B/SS prospect Gleyber Torres seems to have that “It” factor that separates the great players from the good ones.  OF prospect Clint Frazier is guaranteed to be a hit in the Bronx if he gets the opportunity with a huge personality that matches the talent.

Hard decisions will need to be made as the team prepares for World Series contention within the next couple of years.  For now, Cashman needs to ensure that he gives Manager Joe Girardi the best possible arms for 2017.  It may be the best move is no move, or it may be bringing in a veteran arm or two to compete.  Either decision is a hard one.  It is time for the young guys to step up their game…

—Scott

No need to counter Boston’s moves…

All Quiet on the Eastern Front…

It has been a very quiet end of the year for the Yankees.  There were rumors of the Yankees talking with the Chicago White Sox about Jose Quintana and David Robertson but they quickly lost legs.  While the Yankees need starting pitching, I agree that it is best not to raid the newly stocked farm system.  It is a risk to bet on prospects over an established major leaguer, but while Jose Quintana is a good pitcher, he’s not Chris Sale.  Given Chicago’s desire for top prospects in return, it just does not make sense.  Quintana will not be a 2017 difference maker.

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Credit:  Kevin Jairaj, USA Today Sports

I still believe the Yankees are better served by identifying an undervalued young starter with potential.  Sure, that’s every team’s wish but the Yankees have the scouts and resources to uncover the hidden gems.  It is harder to pitch in New York than it is in, say, Pittsburgh, but for some guys, the main stage brings out their full potential.

The New York Mets’ Noah Syndergaard was once just a prospect included in a trade (when the Mets dealt knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays).  I think that trade has worked out very well in favor of the Mets.  It also brought them starting catcher Travis D’Arnaud.  The 2012 trade was a risk for the Mets given Dickey was the reigning NL Cy Young winner, but he has never been as good as he was in 2011 and the other guys sent to Toronto are after thoughts (Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas).

The Yankees are not going to win the World Series in 2017.  The current blueprint puts the Yankees on the path to World Series contention in two to three years.  They have the time to develop frontline starters so why not take a chance on some other team’s “Jake Arrieta”.  The Chicago Cubs saw something in the former Baltimore Orioles hurler and it has paid off quite handsomely for them.

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I have high hopes for the Yankees young pitching prospects.  James Kaprielian heads the list, but I haven’t forgotten or given up hope for Ian Clarkin.  Jordan Montgomery and Dietrich Enns are other homegrown prospects that come to mind.  The first young starters that will be given the chance to crack the rotation next season are the obvious ones…Luis Cessa and Chad Green.  There’s also the hope that Luis Severino restores the promise that he showed in 2015 and is not just another failed starter that succeeds in the pen.  Trade acquisitions Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and Albert Abreu also hold promise.

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Credit:  MLB.com

If Severino is successful and just one of the young prospects stands out in the Spring, the rotation that already includes Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia does not look so bad.  It might not be ‘Chris Sale-David Price-Rick Porcello-Eduardo Rodriguez’ worthy, but the foundation is being laid for future success.  It will be imperative for the Yankees to re-sign Tanaka should he opt out of his contract following the season, but Sabathia’s departure as he plays out the final year of his contract will continue to create opportunity for the young prospects.  Michael Pineda is a case by himself.  He is either a really great starter or a disaster.  If he can ever hold the focus on the former, the pitching staff will be significantly improved.

Next season, young players like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and Greg Bird will play prominent roles for the Yankees.  If any are not successful, there is another wave of young players waiting for their opportunities at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or Trenton.  It is inevitable that we’ll see outfielder Clint Frazier at some point in the season, even if it is just a September call-up.  I don’t want to lose this talent in the farm system for the chance on a pitcher which always seems to be the biggest risk in baseball.  Gleyber Torres has already shown that he has that “it” factor even if he is still a few years away from the Bronx.  Stay the course.  GM Brian Cashman’s blue print so far has been successful.  He has turned what was one of the worst farm systems a few years ago to one of the best.  They have the talent and depth in the system to make quiet but effective trades without sacrificing the organization’s best.

2017 may not be a banner year for the team but clearly the light is visible at the end of the tunnel.  Now is not the time for the Ghost of Steinbrenner Past to raise its ugly head.  Young Hal seems to have a plan and one that will soon yield fruit.  Patience.  Stick to the plan…

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—Scott

Nova fires back to Pittsburgh…

But at least it wasn’t for BIG money…

Good for Ivan Nova to get his new contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  All things considered, I am still glad that he is an ex-Yankee.  Even though the Yankees are in desperate need of help in the starting rotation, I wasn’t looking for a reunion with the right-hander.

One headline I saw did strike me as odd.  It basically said that Nova had signed but not for big money.  3 years, $26 million.  Maybe it’s just me, but $26 million is definitely “big money”.  Okay, if Nova pitches for Pittsburgh like he did after the trade from the Yankees last year, he’ll be a bargain.  But still, receiving more than $8 million per year is still a heck of a lot of money for a historically inconsistent pitcher.

But the more telling headlines are about how great Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is.  The so-called “Pitch Doctor” is getting the credit for Nova’s turnaround performance in Pittsburgh last year.  The underlying tone of the message is that the Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild is inadequate.  If Searage is so great, perhaps the Yankees should find a way to pry him from the Pirates.

I know that Rothschild has a good reputation, but at some point, someone has to be held accountable for the inconsistencies of the Yankees starters.  Masahiro Tanaka rebounded to have a very solid 2016 campaign but the work put up by Michael Pineda continues to be frustrating to say the least.  Luis Severino was dreadful as a starter.  I can’t say that I’ve ever looked at Rothschild as an “amazing” coach.  It would be nice to have one of those for a change.

Kevin Long is an excellent hitting coach.  Yet, when Yankees hitters couldn’t hit, he lost his job and now flourishes in Queens.  He remains better than the Yankees current array of hitting coaches.  I personally felt that Long was a better hitting coach than Rothschild is a pitching coach.  Long was held accountable and so too should Rothschild.  The Yankees have too much at stake with their young, unproven starters to fail miserably because they didn’t have the right guy at the helm.

–Scott

Roll camera, on your mark, ACTION!…

The Dawn of the Baseball Winter Meetings…

This week is always the most eventful one of the entire off-season.  A flurry of activity followed by relative silence as we head into the holidays.

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Credit:  AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Before the meetings start later this evening, the Yankees have already lost one option with Houston’s free agent signing of former Yankee Carlos Beltran.  I had mixed feelings about his possible return to New York.  He was arguably the team’s best hitter last season but he is also 40 years old.  For a team that has aggressively gotten younger, adding “old” does not necessarily make sense.  There is no guarantee that Beltran will be as good as last year, and it’s a near impossibility that he’d be better.  Going with older veterans, I’d rather sign either Matt Holliday or Mike Napoli to a short-term deal that keeps the Yankees on the right path toward World Series contention in 2018 or 2019.

Back in the old days under George Steinbrenner, I am sure that both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista would be Yankees by now.  Of the two, I’d prefer Encarnacion but I don’t feel the Yankees should lock up huge long-term dollars for either player even if it would severely weaken the Toronto Blue Jays in the short run.  In a couple of years, they’ll just be over-paid, under-producing aging veterans.  We’ve seen enough of those in recent seasons.

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Credit:  Reuters/Ray Stubblebine

There are unofficial reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers have a deal in place with starter Rich Hill so that’s one less option on the pitching front.  A deal with Jason Hammel probably makes the most sense.  I like Hammel as a reliable, back of the rotation guy.  He would be a good complimentary piece to Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda as the team looks to fill other pitching spots with youth.  I would probably take a chance with either C.J. Wilson or Tyson Ross if given the opportunity.

It’s possible that GM Brian Cashman can uncover a quality arm via trade but it’s a virtual certainty the team won’t be involved in the Chris Sale sweepstakes.  Sale alone would not make the Yankees an immediate World Series contender and he would cost the best quality of the farm system to acquire.  So, the Yankees need to stay the course as they continue to add the pieces for future success.

I was disappointed to see minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson leave the organization.  I am happy to see him return to the major leagues as the hitting coach for the Minnesota Twins, however, I thought he would have been a better hitting coach for the Yankees than current hitting coach Alan Cockrell or assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames.  When the Yankees had dismissed Jeff Pentland last year, I was hopeful that Rowson would get the job.  It was not meant to be.  I think he’ll be a good addition to Paul Molitor’s staff in Minneapolis and should help former Yankee and current Twins’ co-catcher John Ryan Murphy to hit again.

I remain hopeful the Yankees re-sign pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Lindgren* as they recover from Tommy John surgery.  Granted, neither pitcher will help in 2017 but I would really prefer to see them stay.

Let’s hope this week brings good news for Yankees fans…

—Scott

 

*Several hours after this post, the Atlanta Braves announced they’ve signed Lindgren to a one year deal that will allow them to retain rights to Lindgren if they add him to their 40-man roster.

Well, that didn’t turn out as planned…

Be careful what you ask for…

In my last post, I stated my preference for Masahiro Tanaka to be named the Opening Day starter.  This, of course, was before Joe Girardi announced that Tanaka, in fact, would be the starter.  So of course, Tanaka promptly bombed as the Yankees were throttled by the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-1.

The start didn’t change my opinion that Tanaka was the best choice.  Michael Pineda is the next best starter on the staff, but he didn’t deserve the nod over Tanaka.  CC Sabathia may have been the sentimental choice if for no other reason than the consecutive years he has been the starter.  But his performance last season (injuries combined with the continued gradual decline) didn’t warrant the start either.  Nathan Eovaldi wasn’t going to get it, and neither was Adam Warren.  The right choice was made by Girardi even if the results indicated otherwise.

My concern, more than anything, is the health of Tanaka’s arm.  Yes, it was only one start and one start does not a season make.  But going to last year after he returned from the DL, the results of not been great.  If Tanaka has to learn to be a different pitcher at age 26 to lessen the strain on the elbow ligament, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be successful.  A solid outing would certainly help allay some of the concerns, but inevitably, I do feel this road leads to Tommy John surgery.  The sad part is that if he undergoes the surgery at any point this season, we most likely would not see him again until 2017, with 2018 being the target for a full return to health.

It’s too bad the Yankees do not have the quality starters to go six deep.  I’d rather lessen the load on Tanaka by spreading the distance between his starts.

Tanaka’s health certainly increases the spotlight on Adam Warren, as he’ll need to be the man to bridge the gap.  Today he is covering for Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova, but later in the summer, it could very well be for Tanaka.

Larry Rothschild is certainly earning his paycheck.  Earlier in the year, I didn’t think we’d see Luis Severino in the major leagues this year.  Now, it appears to be only a matter of time.

Another prospect lost…

It is hard not to get excited about certain prospects, and that certainly held true for catcher Austin Romine who was once billed as one of the organization’s best catching prospects along with since traded Jesus Montero.  Romine has the bloodline (his father Kevin played for the Boston Red Sox among other teams and his brother Andrew plays for the Detroit Tigers).  I was hopeful that Romine would use spring training to show the team that he belongs in New York.  It didn’t happen with a sub .200 batting average.  Perhaps the odds were against him since he was out of options and John Ryan Murphy, his competition for the back-up catching spot, is the better hitter.  Still, it was sad when the team announced just before the start of the season that it had designated Romine for assignment.  Maybe there’s a chance that he stays in the organization, but it seems inevitable that a trade is the more probable outcome as there isn’t much of a chance Romine could slide through waivers (teams need catching help too much, just ask Boston).  Romine has been an outstanding team guy and he’ll serve some organization well when/if he finally gets his chance at the Show.

A-Rod…

I am still not an A-Rod fan but I have to admit that he carried himself well in spring training and has done everything the team has asked.  If the Yankees suddenly found a way to rid themselves of A-Rod, I’d be all in favor.  But since that’s not going to happen, I’ll have to give A-Rod credit for not rocking the boat.

I still can’t bring myself to cheer for A-Rod but he’s effectively shut me up from booing for now.

*    *     *

I am glad that the baseball season is back but it would have been more exciting to open the season with a victory.  It was tougher to see the loss combined with a convincing Red Sox win on Opening Day.  Red Sox always gloat in victory so Opening Day was no exception.

I do feel more confident with Michael Pineda on the mound Wednesday, however, the team offense needs to step up their game.

Let’s Go, Yankees!

–Scott

Like it or not, here comes the 2015 season…

What’s the plan?…

Well, it’s January 2015.  The Yankees roster is slowly evolving.  The latest addition/return was the surprise re-signing of Stephen Drew which certainly makes sense.  While I still prefer to see Rob Refsnyder win the second base job outright, Drew certainly provides great insurance at both second base and shortstop.  It’s no sure thing that Didi Gregorius will be successful and I’d prefer not to see Brendan Ryan as the only other choice, even if he is a slick fielder.

I am still concerned about the starting rotation.  Reading CC Sabathia say the knee is fine is hardly a ringing endorsement that he’ll be the CC of old.  I think best case he is a strong #3 in the rotation if he is able to come back healthy.  His days as the team’s ace are over…in my opinion.  The hope of the rotation lies with Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda.  Obviously, there are health concerns with both pitchers.  Even though Ivan Nova will return later in the year, I do not expect him to be back up to par until 2016.  Nathan Eovaldi is the project.  The Yankees apparently think they can turn him around and perhaps they can.  It would be good to get him to the point that he is as reliable and consistent as Hiroki Kuroda was.

While I get why the Yankees will not pay $200 million for Max Scherzer, I wish they would make a play for James Shields.  With a rotation containing so much uncertainty, the Yankees really need a dependable starter without question marks.

I have heard some rumblings that the Yankees now have the prospects to make a trade for Cole Hamels, but I am not sure that’s one I would pursue.  I like prospects such as Aaron Judge and Luis Severino and want to see them succeed in pinstripes.  It was tough when I was a kid and the Yankees were always trading youth for veterans.  Doug Drabek, Jay Buhner, Fred McGriff, Al Leiter, J.T. Snow, Brad Ausmus.  I know the list is much longer than this, but it was tough watching guys like that succeed elsewhere.

I don’t think that Cole Hamels would be the missing ingredient to suddenly make the Yankees the World Series favorites.  So, if he is not the difference maker, then the Yankees shouldn’t raid the cupboards to bring him aboard.  I’d rather see Hamels go to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The fear of course is that he’ll be calling Fenway Park home next season.

At this point, I still do not see the 2015 Yankees making the play-offs.  I think the Baltimore Orioles will still be the team to beat.  They suffered off-season losses, yes, but they’ll also be getting back Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters.  The Toronto Blue Jays look to be the most improved team and they’ve been a team of potential for a few years.  Boston will be stronger, and it’s best to never underestimate the Tampa Bay Rays even if Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman are no longer calling the shots.

There’s still time for GM Brian Cashman to make the moves to propel the Yankees into contention but so much is riding on better seasons from Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Teixeira.  Of the group, McCann is the only one I feel is capable for turning it around.  Beltran and Teixeira are in their decline years, and that slippery slope is steeper for some guys.

Hear the voice of the Bard!…

There’s a nice piece in Nick Cafardo’s column today (Sunday Baseball Notes in The Boston Globe) about the comeback of Daniel Bard.  It would be good to see Bard successfully return to his position of bullpen relevance after years of struggle.  Perhaps that’s a buy low signing the Yankees should pursue.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  There was a time when Bard was a Yankees draft pick although he never signed.  Even if he goes back to Boston or another team, I truly hope that Bard is successful.

Short walk to the Hall…

Congratulations to the Hall of Fame inductees:  John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio, and Pedro Martinez.  I think all of the selections were justified.  It was sad that it was the final ballot appearance for Don Mattingly, but it was a given that he was not going to make it.  Maybe he can take the Joe Torre route…great managerial success to go with a strong playing career…to gain access to the Hall.

25 years is long enough…

Put me in the group of people who want to see Pete Rose allowed to enter the Hall of Fame.  He remains one of the best players I’ve been privileged to see play in my lifetime.  This is not an endorsement of Pete the man and I feel what he did was wrong, however, Pete the player was one of the best players of all-time.

I am glad that this is the last full month without any baseball activity.  Looking forward to the opening of spring training camps next month.

–Scott

Mr Kuroda, it was our pleasure…

Quite simply, a great Yankee…

One thing is assured.  Yankees fans will not be enjoying any of the hoopla that fans of the San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs et al have been experiencing this off-season.  The Winter of Our Discontent (hat tip to John Steinbeck) continues with the loss of starter Hiroki Kuroda, who has signed a one year deal with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese Leagues.

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Derek Jeter, David Robertson, Francisco Cervelli, Martin Prado, David Phelps, and now Hiroki Kuroda.  The Yankees have lost some great personalities from the 2014 team and it ensures that 2015 will be “different”.  It remains to be seen if it will be different-good or different-bad, but will definitely be different.

I remember when Hiroki Kuroda arrived in the U.S. in his early 30’s with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I think in my mind I viewed him as nothing more than a #3 starter but I remember watching a Dodgers game a few years (with the legendary Vin Scully announcing…what a treat!).  He was masterful that game.  I don’t remember the outcome but I do believe it was a Kuroda win and he only gave up a few hits.  I was impressed by his performance, but I don’t think I truly appreciated how great he was until he came to New York.  I was so wrong.  He was more than a #3 starter.  He may not have been an ace, but he was the type of #2 starter every team needs.  He was a stopper, and he kept his team in games consistently from game to game.  After watching A.J. Burnett flame out with essentially the same spot in the rotation with his roller coaster performances, Kuroda gave us stability and an arm that could be counted on.  It’s too bad the team was unable to reward him with a World Series championship.  Everyone knows the high class and character of Derek Jeter, but Kuroda is every bit the man of honor.

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I am glad that Kuroda was able to be a part of Masahiro Tanaka’s first year and to help with his transition.  In a way, there is a bit of an unknown in what it will be like for Tanaka without fellow countrymen Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki on the team.  This is why it would make tremendous sense to add Hideki Matsui to the coaching staff.  I haven’t heard Matsui’s name mentioned as a hitting coach but what about first base?  He had one of the greatest clutch bats in recent Yankees history and is well liked by his former teammates and coaches.

But back to Kuroda.  I read The New York Post headline that blared “Kuroda spurns Yankees, to return to Japan”.  I don’t really view this as Kuroda spurning the Yankees.  It has been known his desire was to finish his playing career in Japan.  The man Kuroda has proven to be is one who would want to put the best possible product on the field in front of his home country.  He wouldn’t want his last year to be a pitcher who stayed a year too long.  I do not view this as a spurning so much as it was a man trying to do the right thing for his fans and country.  As a fan, I know the tremendous respect that he holds for both the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.  Not many people can play for both and only the Yankees and Dodgers.

Masahiro Tanaka wore #18 prior to his arrival in New York.  I wonder if he’ll now change his number from 19 to 18 out of respect for his mentor.  Tanaka is one of the few guys worthy of wearing Kuroda’s jersey.

Here’s hoping that we see Kuroda at future Yankees Old Timer’s Day games.  He will be missed and we look forward to his eventual return to stand among the Legends.

–Scott