|Credit: Rich Schultz, Getty Images|
Moving on to the Next Round?…
The Baseball off-season continues to move at a snail’s pace. Of course, things will change as we get past the Thanksgiving holiday and move into December and closer to the Baseball Winter Meetings.
In the meantime, we continue to pick apart every little thing that happens ad nauseum. We learned this week that Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner not only supported GM Brian Cashman’s decision to sever ways with former manager Joe Girardi, he agreed with it and it has been something that they’ve had talks about for the past several years. Of course, that leads me to believe that it was Steinbrenner’s call and there are details that we may never really know. We do know there were perceived communication issues and that Girardi had failed to connect with the clubhouse, particularly over the last couple of seasons. Given how vocal both Cashman and Steinbrenner have been about the Girardi situation, it seems like there are more issues at play than just communication and connectivity to players. Steinbrenner implied that the Yankees would have made this decision even if the Yankees had won the World Series.
Although Girardi lasted a decade in the Bronx, he’s now been fired twice by ownership groups that gave scathing departing remarks. Girardi was NL Manager of the Year for the Florida Marlins in 2006, yet he was fired after the season. Then-owner Jeffrey Loria almost fired Girardi on the spot during an August game when Girardi told Loria to stop heckling the home plate umpire. Girardi may have done a decent managing job for the Yankees but you have to think that future teams will take a more cautious approach when/if considering him for managerial openings. I don’t know Girardi so I cannot attest to his personality beyond what I’ve seen during his pre- and post-game interviews but there’s something there, if I was an owner, that would give me pause about Girardi. I have no hard feelings against the man and I hope that he gets another opportunity in MLB but it was clearly time for a change.
|Credit: John Raoux, Associated Press|
Upon the conclusion of the GM Meetings in Orlando, Florida, this week, GM Brian Cashman resumed his managerial interviews.
Former Yankee Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens was in the Bronx on Thursday. I really like Meulens. I know that a lot of people have scoffed at the guy and he has no managerial experience, but I like his communication style (handles himself very well in interviews) and he is clearly a guy that knows baseball and relationships. He is fluent with multiple languages including a little bit of Japanese which gives him the ability to talk directly to the majority of players without the assistance of interpreters. He enjoys a great relationship with shortstop Didi Gregorius, whom he managed in the WBC Classic. Meulens has been part of three World Series championships in San Francisco.
|Credit: ESPN Internet Ventures|
Cashman also spoke with former Yankee Aaron Boone on Friday. Boone is best remembered for his home run to the beat the Boston Red Sox in the 2003 American League Championship Series, a year before the Sox finally ended the Curse of the Bambino. It was Boone’s 2004 knee injury, suffered in a pre-season basketball game, that led the Yankees to their acquisition of Alex Rodriguez and the drama that ensued. Boone, as everyone knows, comes from a family rich in MLB tradition, with a grandfather, father and brother that were all Major Leaguers. There’s no doubt he is an intelligent guy but like Meulens, no managerial experience, and unlike Meulens, no coaching experience.
I think either Meulens or Boone could do a good job if they are surrounded by the right coaches. I kind of like the idea of using either Al Pedrique or Eric Wedge as the new manager’s bench coach. I would not be disappointed to see Rob Thomson return to that role. It appears that Los Angeles Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward is next up for a managerial interview. I don’t really know much about Woodward so I don’t have any opinions about him. At this point, I clearly prefer Meulens and Boone over him. Not sure if Woodward will be the last of the candidates before we start Round 2 or if there will be more guys paraded through the Bronx. The next round will feature a trip to Florida to meet with the Steinbrenner family. I’d probably take the candidates by Trinity Memorial Gardens in Trinity, FL. If the ground rumbles (the Boss turning over in his grave), you know the candidate is probably not the one.
I am anxious for the Yankees to make a decision, but I understand they are under no pressure to hurry and can afford to take their time. Outside of Shohei Otani, they do not figure to be big players in Free Agency despite the greedy nature of us, the fans. CC Sabathia has already said that he’d return despite not knowing who the next manager will be. So, for now, we wait…
All Rise for the Judge!…
Congratulations to Aaron Judge for being named AL Rookie of the Year, as expected, and his second place finish in the AL MVP voting. I expected the AL MVP vote to be much closer than it really was. Jose Altuve took 27 of 30 first place votes with only two going to Judge. There was some outrage from the media but the class exhibited by Judge was so professional and heartfelt (as we have come to expect with the big slugger). After Altuve won, Judge tweeted: “M-V-P!!! Nobody more deserving than you!! Congrats on an unforgettable 2017!! @JoseAltuve27”. Judge makes me proud that he is a Yankee every day.
Yankee Dreams extinguished…
The Yankees lost a long-time farmhand and one-time top prospect when outfielder Mason Williams signed a minor league free agent deal with the Cincinnati Reds. I am sorry that it never worked out for Williams in Pinstripes. I had very high hopes at one point that never came to fruition. Hopefully, for his sake, the change of scenery helps him achieve some the success that had once seemed inevitable for the talented 26-year-old.
|Credit: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images|
Another former Yankees prospect, a few years removed from the organization, pitcher Manny Banuelos, has signed a minors deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when Williams and Banuelos were the top prospects with the Yankees. Of course Banuelos was part of the Killer B’s (the trio of Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman).
The only Killer B that made it was Betances. Like Williams, I hope that Banuelos can find success in Chavez Ravine. He has failed to impress the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angels so maybe fourth time’s a charm. I really liked Banuelos as a young prospect and had hoped to see him achieve MLB success.
And we continue to wait. Go Yankees!
Waiting for breaking Yankees news…
We are moving into Day 3 of the GM Meetings but not much is happening in the Yankees Universe.
Managerial interviews were suspended while GM Brian Cashman participates in the Orlando, FL meetings. But we do know that Hensley Meulens, currently the bench coach for the San Francisco Giants (formerly their hitting coach in the most recent season), will be interviewed when Cashman gets back to New York. Meulens has managed Team Netherlands in the WBC Classic several times and the former Yankee has a good relationship with shortstop Didi Gregorius (both guys are from Curacao). Meulens, like Didi, speaks multiple languages. He is thought very highly of by the Giants organization and many believe that he is being groomed to eventually replace manager Bruce Bochy.
Aaron Boone is also thought to be on the candidate list but no word when he’ll interview. The latest name to be added to the list is Los Angeles Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward.
The interest expressed by YES broadcaster John Flaherty and the very recently retired Carlos Beltran do not appear to be gaining any traction. Among the potential candidates with no prior managerial experience, Beltran does seem to be a viable option. He wants to manage one day and his leadership was evident during his time with the Yankees. Perhaps he should take a coaching job first, but I’ve always believed that managerial experience is not necessarily a prerequisite for the right person. The Boston Red Sox took a chance on a first-time manager with Alex Cora, but they ensured that Cora had a wealth of experience when former Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was named as his bench coach. Beltran enjoys a good relationship with the New York media which is one of the requirements for the job. He wouldn’t be my first choice as manager, but I wouldn’t object if he is hired.
|Credit: Noah K Murray, USA TODAY Sports|
The word is that Cashman has not yet reached out to everyone that he wants to talk to. I still find it hard believe Cashman didn’t already have a plan when he made the decision to part ways with Joe Girardi. Girardi, by the way, showed up at the GM Meetings yesterday as part of the MLB Competition Committee. That must have been very weird for him, especially if he encountered any of the representatives for the Yankees. I am sure that he and Cashman didn’t go grab a beer together after the day’s activities were over.
I thought it was interesting that the Yankees had asked for and were denied permission to speak with Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin.
Even though a new manager has not been named, I was glad to see that the Yankees will be bringing back pitching coach Larry Rothschild for the 2018 season. I’d like to see RailRiders manager Al Pedrique on next year’s coaching staff given his strong relationships with the Baby Bombers.
|Credit: Jackie Shear, The Trentonian|
Cashman did indicate this week that the future in the outfield is Aaron Hicks and not Jacoby Ellsbury. With no apparent trade talks in play, it looks like Ellsbury will once again be Baseball’s highest paid pinch-runner. Hopefully things change and Cashman is able to use to cash to entice another team to take Ellsbury. At this point, it would be addition by subtraction even if the Yankees have to pay the freight (a bulk of the remaining monies due on Ellsbury’s contract). Cashman also stated that Gleyber Torres could make a run at the third base job next Spring. That talk leads me to believe there will be absolutely no attempt to re-sign Todd Frazier. We didn’t really expect Frazier to return but until he actually signs with another team, there’s always hope. Unfortunately, those are odds that I’d never take despite how great the Toddfather fit with the Baby Bombers.
The Yankees did have one free agent signing this week. Well, it was a minor league free agent signing that may never have an effect on the Major League roster. They signed former Phillies prospect, catcher Chace Numata, 25. The organization has lost some catching depth through free agency this off-season and of course the Yankees parted ways with the great Erik Kratz. Numata has never advanced above Double-A for the Phillies. He was selected in the 14th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. For AA-Reading this year, Numata batted .249 with 4 HRs and 28 RBIs in 84 games. Even though Numata might not ever make it to the Bronx, the Hawaiian native will play a valuable role in the development of Yankees pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.
The Cincinnati Reds have signed lefty Joe Mantiply to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Mantiply spent the 2017 season with the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Entering the off-season, my favorite managerial candidate was Dave Martinez, formerly bench coach for Joe Maddon in Chicago and my favorite general manager choice was Alex Anthopoulos, formerly an executive for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Martinez was hired by the Washington Nationals as their new manager, replacing Dusty Baker, while the Atlanta Braves this week hired Anthopoulos as their new GM (with President John Hart rumored to have a lessened voice in the organization). I had thought Anthopoulos would have been a great choice for the Yankees if they had decided to make a change. I think both guys will do very well with their new jobs.
Earlier it had been reported that the Boston Red Sox had interest in trading for Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton but it sounds as though Stanton does not want to play in Boston. The Los Angeles Dodgers are now rumored as a possible destination. The Dodgers certainly have the financial strength to absorb Stanton’s contract but the human cost to acquire him will be huge. You can be assured that Marlins CEO Derek Jeter is not going to give Stanton away. Stanton, protected by Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner, would be very scary in the Dodgers lineup. But I wouldn’t rule out the Red Sox until if/when a trade for Stanton actually happens.
How many more days until Spring Training? I’m ready. Go Yankees!
I may be a Minnesota Vikings fan and looking forward to seeing how the team performs today against the Washington Redskins with Teddy Bridgewater standing on the field for the first time in 15 months, albeit in a backup role…for the moment. But truth be told, I am more interested in the moves that can be made to continue the growth and development of the 2018 New York Yankees.
Ohtani or Otani?…
I’ve spelled it both ways but I guess I’ll go with Otani moving forward. I continue to see it spelled either way and I don’t have Ohtani/Otani on speed-dial to clarify.
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The Associated Press reported that Shohei Otani held a news conference on Saturday. Otani’s words included, “The other day I met with team officials and stated my intentions. My request was met with warm words of support, so I hope to do my best in America from next year on.” While it would be financially wiser to wait until he turns 25 to enter Major League Baseball (when he could be a free agent with no restrictions), Otani wants to raise the level of his game now rather than wait. “I am not a complete player yet, and I want to go to an environment where I can continue to get better”.
Otani apparently had a desire to go to MLB straight from high school but instead opted to sign with the Nippon-Ham Fighters with assurances that he could play a two-way role for the team. While he would like to continue hitting and pitching, it sounds like he is a realist and wants to see what situations are available to him in the United States. “Just before I turned professional, I didn’t imagine I would be able to do both, but since then, the fans have encouraged it,” Otani said. “That has left me with a strong desire to keep doing it…not only for me, but for them.” The DH role seems to tilt the scales in favor of the American League and the big market endorsement opportunities ($$$$) seem to favor the Yankees.
The Yankees remain the frontrunners but until he is formally posted and signs a contract with a MLB team, it’s anybody’s guess where he’ll ultimately end up. I hope he is a Yankee and that the presence of Hideki Matsui and Masahiro Tanaka in the organization are deemed as huge positives for him. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe cites the Toronto Blue Jays as a possible dark horse destination for Otani but, seriously, the Blue Jays do not bring the honor and prestige of MLB’s most-storied franchise.
My off-season goal remains to see the headline, “Yankees to sign Otani”, followed closely by “Yankees trade Ellsbury”….
The second name on GM Brian Cashman’s interview list was the former Indians and Mariners manager. Ummm, next please. I do not want to see the former backup Red Sox catcher as Manager of Baseball’s greatest franchise. I don’t buy the ‘third time’s a charm’ logic for the two-time managerial loser. This name reinforces to me that I want someone with connections to either the Yankees or to the city of New York and its surrounding region as the next skipper.
Aaron Boone is another name receiving much attention and he’ll most likely be included on the interview list in the not-so-distant future.
With the GM Meetings on tap for this week, starting Monday, it will be interesting to see if Cashman is able to continue with the interview process or if he has to take a brief pause. The big name agents will be present at the meetings to begin dialogue for potential signings leading up to next month’s Winter Meetings. So even though there probably won’t be any significant trades or signings this week, the groundwork is being laid. Perhaps Cashman spends just a day or so at the GM Meetings before excusing himself and leaving his chief lieutenants to represent the Yankees.
I don’t know the Yankees time frame, but I am hopeful they resolve the managerial search by Thanksgiving so the team knows its leadership as we head into the very busy and vital December trading/signing period.
Albert Abreu, Ace or Bullpen Duty?…
I personally like Yankees prospect Albert Abreu, the young 22-year-old right-hander acquired from the Houston Astros in the Brian McCann trade, as one of my favorites in the farm system. But scouts seem mixed regarding whether he is the next Luis Severino or is deemed to be a more valuable component to add to the bullpen mix. Of course, it was only last off-season the same question was being asked about Severino. I prefer to see Abreu start, but opportunity will play a major role. If the Yankees sign Otani, the Yankees rotation seems fairly solidified with Otani, Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery. That’s already considering young arms like Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield (plus Domingo Acevedo) are waiting in the wings. But I can never think of a season off the top of my head where a team’s sixth or seventh starter didn’t play a key role at some point in the season. Abreu must take advantage of any opportunities that he is given. He’s one of the arms that I’ll be paying close attention to next Spring.
|Credit: Zachary Lucy, Four Seam Images via AP|
Brian McCann may have picked up a World Series ring, making his acquisition a huge win for the Astros, but the Yankees did very well picking up Abreu and RHP Jorge Guzman for the former Yankees catcher. I’ve seen a number of pro-Astros articles that claim a huge Astros victory for the trade, but in time, I think the Astros and their fans will rue the day they let Abreu and Guzman go.
Where will the path lead Giancarlo Stanton?…
I know that it’s been written on this site that the Yankees should go after Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, but it’s not going to happen on Hal Steinbrenner’s watch. With the team committed to getting under the payroll cap to reset luxury tax penalties, I don’t see the Yankees parting with the young prospects that it would take to acquire Stanton or committing the necessary dollars to take on Baseball’s largest contract. Yes, Yankee fans can dream but it is not going to happen for the Pinstriped faithful.
So, where does Stanton go? There is talk that early conversations are being held with the Boston Red Sox. I fully expect the Red Sox to add a big bat this off-season but I’d be surprised if they went after Stanton. It’s scary to think of Stanton in that lineup, but the Red Sox will need big dollars for their young, cheap talent like Mookie Betts and Chris Sale. Betts made just $950,000 last year and is now arbitration-eligible. The Red Sox have Sale for two more years and will need lock him up on a long-term deal to avoid losing him through free agency. Those are two guys who will command a healthy chunk of Red Sox payroll over the next few years. I think it is more likely the Red Sox pursue someone like free agents first baseman Eric Hosmer or outfielder J.D. Martinez to help fill the void when David Ortiz retired after the 2016 season. Nevertheless, it’s within the realm of possibility for Boston to get “greedy”. After all, Sox owner John Henry has to feed the beast, otherwise known as the Red Sox Nation.
Another team mentioned for Stanton is the St Louis Cardinals. I don’t see the Cardinals ponying up the cash to take on Stanton’s contract, let alone the prospects that it would take. While it now looks like a very prudent financial decision, they let their franchise player, Albert Pujols, one of the all-time Cardinal greats, depart through free agency a few years ago over money.
The other two teams mentioned as possible destinations are the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies.
It will be interesting to see how this develops over the course of the off-season even if we are forced to be bystanders as Team Hal looks at the bigger picture and of course the bottom line.
Well, let’s see what this week brings. Go Yankees!
Mr Cashman will see you now…
The Hot Stove League has been open for a few days but for the most part, it’s been all quiet on the Eastern Front (a/k/a The Bronx).
The managerial interviews have begun with Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson taking the first at-bat. He must have fouled off a bunch of pitches because he apparently met with GM Brian Cashman for six hours this week. I should be fully supportive of Thomson for manager. He’s a company man who has been with the Yankees organization for 28 years. He brings promises of communication and trust in the players and has tried to give assurances that he would not be “more of the same”. Yet, for some reason, I cannot fully embrace his candidacy. I’d like to see him stay in the organization and I am certainly not opposed to his inclusion on the coaching staff for the eventual new manager. But he’s not really my ideal choice for manager.
|Credit: Associated Press|
A new name surfaced yesterday in former Yankee Aaron Boone. It’s unknown when/if he will interview with Cashman. Given that I’ve been supportive of other broadcasters getting the job, like Jerry Hairston, Jr and Mark DeRosa, you’d think I would support the possibility of an ex-Yankee. Yet, I was ‘ho-hum’ when I saw his name. I am appreciative of his home run to win the 2003 American League Championship Series, but he’s not really someone that I can envision in the job. Perhaps he is someone I would grow with in time if he is the one. We’ll see.
David Cone and John Flaherty are also names that received heavy ink in New York publications this week. Between the two, Coney would be the better option to me with no offense to Flaherty.
The Miami Marlins have confirmed that manager Don Mattingly will return for the 2018 season so that effectively removes his name from consideration. As a huge Mattingly fan, even today, I did not really want to see Mattingly back in the Yankees organization as its manager. Managers are so heavily second-guessed and I didn’t want to see Mattingly tarnish his great Yankees legacy in any way.
I think the best tweet I saw about the managerial search yesterday came from MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand: “Something to keep in mind re: Yankees managerial search. This is a chance for Cashman to interview several people to get a feel for them in a different role. Many will interview, only one will get the job. Don’t get caught up in any one name.” So, as the saying goes, trust the process. I have the trust in Brian Cashman that he’ll make the right decision. His legacy is heavily invested in the next hire with the Yankees on the cusp of something great. Gene Michael was widely recognized as the chief architect of the 90’s dynasty but this potential run belongs solely to Cashman and his chief lieutenants (backed by the Steinbrenner family, of course). All things considered, Cashman can’t afford to make the wrong choice.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s Ohtani!…
I have been trying to avoid getting excited about the possibility of adding Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani but the ‘Ohtani to America’ (or should we just call it the ‘Ohtani to Pinstripes’) movement took another step in the right direction. Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reported that Japanese news reports are stating the Nippon-Ham Fighters have announced they will post Ohtani this off-season. All I want for Christmas is Ohtani in the Bronx! I am still trying to be cautiously optimistic but it would be very exciting to have him join the strong cast of Baby Bombers.
The Yankees can offer Ohtani the second highest signing bonus at $3.25 million. They trail only the Texas Rangers who can offer $285,000 more than the Yankees. The Rangers can also offer no state income tax. But I am hopeful the promotional opportunities will be greater for Ohtani in New York. He stands to make a great deal of his income through endorsement deals. Also, when you look long-term, the Yankees can offer more lucrative dollars and stability for future contracts. Faced with the impending free agency of Japanese ace Yu Darvish last summer, the Rangers chose to deal Darvish to the Dodgers rather than make a strong effort to re-sign him. Granted, Darvish didn’t exactly have a stellar finish to his season but it reinforced to me that if you want long-term security, New York is a better place to be than Texas. Plus, the Yankees have the legacy of Japanese greats Hideki Matsui and Masahiro Tanaka.
|Shohei Ohtani (top right) / Credit: Koji Watanbe, Getty Images|
Farewell to a Pitcher and a Catcher…
It was tough to see the loss of former Blue Jays and Phillies great Roy Halladay this week to the tragic plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa, FL. When he played, he was the definition of “the” true ace for me. I had always hoped the Yankees would find a way to acquire him when he played for the Blue Jays but recognized that intra-division trades of superstars rarely happen. Still, he was marvel to watch pitch despite his domination of the Yankees. His loss was felt and I am deeply saddened by his untimely departure.
A lesser known baseball player also died this week but it was equally as sad. 17-year-old Daniel Flores, a catcher out of Venezuela the Boston Red Sox had signed in last year’s International Draft for $3.1 million signing bonus, succumbed to cancer in Boston. Flores was rated as the fifth best prospect in the Red Sox system according to MLB.com. Prior to the draft last year, Flores was ranked as the second best International prospect behind shortstop Wander Franco (who signed with the Tampa Bay Rays). By comparison, the Yankees top signing, outfielder Everson Pereira, was ranked fourth. According to scouting reports, Flores would have been a brilliant defensive whiz behind the plate. It’s unfortunate he is unable to reach his dream to play at Fenway Park but hopefully his signing bonus provides long-term security for his family and loved ones.
May both men rest in peace.
No Gold Glove Awards but a few Silver Sluggers…
Congratulations to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez for winning their first Silver Slugger Awards. These were easy calls and it would have been a great travesty if either player had been omitted. Now, we await the results of AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP which should bring more hardware in Judge’s direction. Individual awards are nice but we really need to get these guys a World Series championship!
Today is Veteran’s Day. For all veterans everywhere, thank you for your service. We remember you today and always…
In closing, as always, Go Yankees!
The Hot Stove League Begins Play…
There is always a quietness about the days that follow the World Series unless of course you’re a fan of the World Series champion. Teams have five days following the conclusion of the World Series to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents. It’s rare to see much activity and unlike the NFL and other sports, there is not a flurry of immediate activity when the free agents become free to talk to other teams. So, I guess that puts us in the calm before the storm…the days and weeks leading up to the Baseball Winter Meetings next month in Orlando, Florida. The meetings will be held from Sunday, December 10th through Wednesday, December 13th. The annual Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday, December 14th.
The two biggest opt-out clauses this off-season belonged to Justin Upton of the Los Angeles Angels and Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees. This week, the Angels announced they had signed Upton to a new 5-year deal, apparently worth $106 million. Then on Friday night, Masahiro Tanaka announced that he would not opt out of his contract and will remain with the Yankees. His current contract has three more years, through the 2020 season, at $67 million.
|Credit: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images|
As a Yankees fan, the latter situation is more relevant to me. I am very glad that Tanaka decided to remain in New York. There had been strong speculation that if Tanaka opted out, the Yankees would not aggressively pursue him. Three more years at $22 million plus per year is not chump change and it would have been hard for Tanaka to capture more dollars. Maybe more years but the partial tear of his UCL and the associated risk of eventual Tommy John surgery would have most assuredly scared teams away. Regardless of the risks, the starting rotation for the Yankees is stronger with Tanaka in it than not. He did have an inconsistent 2017 regular season and there was a brief stretch that he looked absolutely awful but he rebounded with a strong finish. He was dominant in the post-season.
So, the front of the Yankees rotation in 2018 will feature Luis Severino, Tanaka, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery. There’s a chance the Yankees bring back CC Sabathia on a one-year deal if the two sides can come together on a mutually beneficial contract. But regardless of what happens with Sabathia, the Yankees have Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield, among others, gnawing at the door for opportunities. There had been a fear at one time that the 2018 would be a total rotation rebuild situation but now it appears to be a strength before the off-season strategy even begins.
With the Yankees trying to make a very strong effort to get under the salary cap this year and reset the luxury tax penalties, it is unlikely the Yankees will pursue any high-priced free agent talent. It’s unfortunate that third baseman Todd Frazier will most likely not return, but with another year remaining on Chase Headley’s contract and the near-readiness of prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, there simply is no room for the Toddfather. Bummer. He was a great fit for the Yankees.
|Credit: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports|
There seems to be stronger speculation this off-season that the Yankees could actually move Jacoby Ellsbury. They’ll have to eat a good portion of what’s left on his contract but regardless of the cost, this is a move that has to happen. I do not see the Yankees parting with Brett Gardner, and of course Aaron Judge owns right field after his spectacular season. So the Yankees have to make room in the outfield for Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier without even considering promising young talent like Billy McKinney or Jake Cave. The most likely team with interest (assuming the reports are true) are the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners would allow Ellsbury to return to his native Northwest (he’s from Oregon). The primary problem for the Mariners would be the heavy financial commitments they have invested in other players, most notably Robinson Cano. Therefore, the Yankees would probably have to pay a very significant portion of Ellsbury’s contract to move him to Safeco Field. Hopefully, GM Brian Cashman can figure this one out so that Ellsbury doesn’t become baseball’s highest paid pinch-runner again next year.
Other guys that are vulnerable to potential trades appear to be Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, Austin Romine, and Dellin Betances. With the disappointing end to his 2017 season, the value for Betances is down which probably enhances the potential for him to stay with the team (why try to sell the four-time All-Star while his value is low) but I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to include him in a deal if it makes sense for the team. The Yankees also seem to be at the crossroads for making a decision about who backs up first baseman Greg Bird. With 40-man roster spots at a premium, it would seem that a choice needs to be made between Tyler Austin and Garrett Cooper. My preference probably leans toward Austin due to his versatility to play the outfield.
The Yankees lost a valuable prospect last year in the Rule 5 Draft when the San Diego Padres kept catcher Luis Torrens on the MLB roster all season. I expect this year’s Rule 5 Draft to be equally painful if not more so. It’s certainly a testament to the strength of the farm system but it is still difficult to see talented young prospects depart.
|Credit: Alex Gallardo, AP|
Now that Tanaka has made his decision to stay in the Bronx, the biggest immediate problem facing the Yankees is finding a new manager to replace the dismissed Joe Girardi. I am surprised the Yankees have not announced a new deal for GM Brian Cashman since his current deal expired at the end of October, but it doesn’t seem like Cash is going anywhere. Neither the team nor Cashman have tipped their hand to show potential managerial candidates but it does seem like the team is looking at outside alternatives. The question is how much they’ll prioritize actual managerial experience. If they want experience, then former Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus seems to be the best possible option. He was drafted by the Yankees in the 48th Round of the 1987 draft, although he never played for the Major League team. I can still remember the sense of loss when he was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the November 1992 Expansion Draft. Nevertheless, he is a Connecticut guy who grew up in close proximity to New York (even if his childhood team was the Boston Red Sox). He was criticized for being out-managed in the 2014 ALDS when the Detroit Tigers lost to the Baltimore Orioles and like Girardi, has a tendency to lean heavily on his veterans. But by all accounts, he is a player-friendly manager (good communicator) and would interact well with the media. For guys who lack managerial (or coaching) experience, Jerry Hairston, Jr seems to stand out. I also like Mark DeRosa of the MLB Network. I have no idea who the Yankees will ultimately choose but you have to believe that Cashman had someone in mind when the decision was made to part ways with long-time manager Girardi.
|Credit: Corey Sipkin, NY Daily News|
I am ready for the craziness that will ensue over the next six weeks before we settle into the Winter hibernation that precedes the opening of Spring Training camps next February. The Yankees are a team on the rise and the moves made this off-season will contribute toward the team’s success (or lack thereof) as we move forward. No pressure, Brian Cashman. The goal is simple…bring the Yankees’ 28th World Series Championship to New York City now. Teams like the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim are not going to sit idly by. The job is to do it better so that we can celebrate on the streets of New York this time next year.
Yankees 5, Astros 0…
Yankees lead the Series, 3-2
The Yankees rode stellar pitching and a few clutch hits to take the advantage in the ALCS as the series now shifts to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night.
It was great to see Andy Pettitte throw out the ceremonial first pitch and it certainly brought a championship pedigree to the mound. Nothing like starting a game exactly right! As a Houstonian and a former Astro, it would be easy for Andy to root for the road team but I am so glad (and proud) that he has always been entrenched in his love for the Yankees.
|Credit: John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com|
The Yankees proved that they are not afraid of Chris Sale and Corey Kluber, the AL’s best, and while they may not be afraid of Dallas Keuchel, the latter has proven to be an enigma in recent years and, in particular, this season. So, there was some reservation, at least on my part, with the thought of Keuchel picking up the ball for the pivotal Game 5.
First up, though, was Masahiro Tanaka to face the potent Astros line up. It was not that long ago that Jose Altuve blasted three home runs in an ALDS game against the Boston Red Sox. The man short on stature and long on talent will most likely beat out Aaron Judge for AL MVP. Throw in the countless other stars in the Astros lineup, and it is easy to see why the team won 101 games in the regular season. Tanaka easily retired the first two hitters, but then a fielding error by third baseman Todd Frazier allowed the dangerous Altuve to reach first base. Time and again, Altuve has worked his way through the bases, through speed and superior baseball instincts, to find home plate, but not this time. Carlos Correa hit a soft grounder to third to end the inning and send the Astros to the field for the first time.
Of course, Dallas Keuchel treated the top third of the Yankees order like kindergartners trying to connect with Major League heat. He retired the Yankees in order to complete the first inning, including strikeouts of young sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. It looked like it might be one of those days.
Yuli Gurriel led off the top of the 2nd with a double to the wall in left to put the Astros in business. However, Tanaka wasn’t having any of it. Although Gurriel would find his way to third, there would be no homecoming as Masa retired the next three hitters on ground outs.
In the bottom of the 2nd, it looked like it was going to be more of the same with Keuchel. He struck out Didi Gregorius on a foul tip and got Aaron Hicks to ground out to short for the first two outs. Hits were starting to look like they would be hard to come by when Starlin Castro hit a sharp line drive to the warning track in left and off the wall for a double. Greg Bird followed with a single to right and the Yankees had their first run off Keuchel in the post-season. Todd Frazier struck out to end the inning but the Yankees were able to walk back onto the field with a 1-0 lead.
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After the Astros were unable to do anything with a one-out single by George Springer in the top of the 3rd, Chase Headley led off the bottom of the inning with a single to center. Brett Gardner grounded into a force out at second but all things considered, I was okay with substituting the speedier Gardner for Headley. It paid off when Aaron Judge ripped a double to the left field corner, bringing Gardner around to score. The Yankees were up, 2-0. A couple of strikeouts ended the inning, but at least the Yankees were getting their hits against the very difficult Keuchel.
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After the teams traded ‘3-up, 3-down’ innings in the 4th, the Astros looked like they might put together a little rally in the top of the 5th. Tanaka struck out the first batter, Carlos Beltran, but Marwin Gonzalez followed with a single to right. A wild pitch during Brian McCann’s at-bat moved Gonzalez to second. McCann subsequently took a walk to put two runners on with only one out. Tanaka rose to the occasion and struck out both George Springer and Josh Reddick. A huge performance by Tanaka in a tough spot.
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Chase Headley hit a soft grounder to third to lead off the bottom of the 5th. A throwing error by third baseman Alex Bregman (ball was low and skipped past first baseman Yuli Gurriel) allowed Headley to take second. After a ground out by Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge drew a walk. I think the FOX TV Crew described it as the ‘intentional unintentional walk’. That’s fine. Bring Gary Sanchez to the plate. El Gary did not disappoint when he singled to left into the corner, bringing Headley home to score. Judge moved to third. Didi Gregorius lined a single up the middle that deflected off the glove of diving second baseman Jose Altuve in center field. Judge scored to make it 4-0. End of the day for Yankee killer Keuchel.
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The Astros made the call to the pen to bring in Will Harris. Win or lose, the Yankees were finally able to find the solution for Keuchel like they had Sale and Kluber. Harris got the Astros out of the inning when Aaron Hicks flied out to left, but it had been a very productive inning for the Pinstripers. However, last night showed that a 4-0 lead is not safe, so onward we go. Or rather I should say onward Tanaka went.
Tanaka breezed through the 6th and 7th innings although the final out of the latter inning saw the third strike get away from Gary Sanchez. Fortunately, El Gary was able to retrieve the ball in foul territory and throw a zinger to Greg Bird ahead of Marwin Gonzalez to complete the final out.
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Regardless of the final outcome of the game, it was a masterpiece by Tanaka. Seven innings, three hits, no runs, one walk, and eight strikeouts. Okay, I think I am back in “Masa, please do not opt out” mode.
While David Robertson was warming up in the Yankees bullpen, Gary Sanchez unloaded on a pitch from Astros reliever Brad Peacock in the bottom of the 7th to send it flying into the left center seats.
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Didi Gregorius followed El Gary with a sharply hit ball to left and he slid into second just ahead of the throw for a double. David Robertson took a seat after the Sanchez home run and Tommy Kahnle began warming up. The Yankees weren’t able to do anything with Didi when Aaron Hicks struck out and Starlin Castro grounded out to third, but at least they had padded their lead by one and now led the Astros, 5-0.
Kahnle, as expected, got the call for the 8th. He did his job…make it an uneventful inning and he did. A couple of fly outs and a punch out of Josh Reddick and it was time to get the Yankees back up for hopefully their final at-bats of the night.
With Francisco Liriano taking over for Brad Peacock in the bottom of the 8th, Greg Bird led off with a walk. While Todd Frazier was batting, a wild pitch freed Bird to take second. Frazier subsequently grounded out to third. Chase Headley was next and his short squibbler that died in front of home plate was scooped up by catcher Brian McCann who threw Headley out at first. Bird made his way to third. Unfortunately, Bird was left stranded when Brett Gardner struck out. Off to the 9th inning…
Holding a five-run lead, Tommy Kahnle returned for the top of the 9th. Jose Altuve jumped on Kahnle’s first pitch to fly out to center. One out. Carlos Correa lined a hard hit ball to right for a double, causing some movement in the Yankees bullpen. Nevertheless, Yuli Gurriel hit a grounder to short which Didi Gregorius threw to first for the out. Two outs. Correa advanced to third on the play. Obviously, Correa was inconsequential at this point, but everyone wanted the shutout (well, except for maybe the Astros, their fans and the Red Sox Nation). Kahnle made it happen when he got Alex Bregman to fly out to Aaron Hicks in center. Three outs…game over. Yankees win!
|Credit: John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com|
Best case scenario played out as the Yankees now head back to Houston needing one win in the next two games to advance to their World Series since 2009. The Astros are now the team with their backs to the wall. The road ahead remains difficult but the young Baby Bombers have heart and ‘no quit’ desire like none other.
This was a great team victory, led…obviously…by the great Masahiro Tanaka. I am sure that Sonny Gray is asking, “What is this run support you speak of?”. Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius…too many heroes to name. Great job by Tommy Kahnle to finish off the win for Tanaka!
Let’s keep this winning streak alive. Great job, Bronx Bombers! Thumbs down, Guys!
|Credit: Michael Ciaglo-Houston Chronicle|
Odds & Ends…
There was a funny Twitter exchange between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees prior to Tuesday’s game. The Red Sox tweeted “Today’s basically a holiday…” showing a clip of Game 4 of the ALCS on October 17, 2004 when the Red Sox tied the series on a walk-off home run by David Ortiz in 12 innings after falling behind 2 games to none. The Yankees had the perfect response, “Ah, work day for us. Game time is 5:08pm, if you’re not busy”. The Red Sox could only respond with a rolling eyes emoji.
Have a great Thursday! It’s a day off as the Yankees head back to the deep of the heart of Texas. Bring home the AL Championship, Boys! Go Yankees!
|Credit: Tony Gutierrez-AP|
American League Championship Series
Astros 2, Yankees 1…
Astros lead Series, 1-0
The Yankees had the answer this season for Chris Sale and they finally figured out likely AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in the post-season but Dallas Keuchel remains a mystery. Unable to generate any runs against Keuchel, the Yankees fell to the Astros in the first game of the ALCS despite a solid outing from Masahiro Tanaka.
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The Yankees didn’t pick up their first hit against Keuchel until Brett Gardner lined a single to left with two outs in the 3rd inning. Unfortunately, he didn’t go anywhere when Aaron Judge followed with his only strikeout of the game.
Starlin Castro picked up a single to left, just past the outstretched glove of running shortstop Carlos Correa, in the top of 4th inning, also with two outs, but like Gardy, he did not do anything except have a brief conversation with first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Aaron Hicks flied out to center, on huge fly that nearly took center fielder George Springer to the wall, to send Castro looking for his hat and glove to take the field. A couple more feet and the Yankees might have taken the early lead.
The Astros, meanwhile, didn’t miss the only opportunity that Masahiro Tanaka gave them. With one out in the bottom of the 4th, Jose Altuve singled on a grounder to second, beating the throw to first. He subsequently stole second to put himself in scoring position. Carlos Correa’s single to left brought the probable AL MVP around to score the game’s first run. Marwin Gonzalez hit a slow grounder to second and was thrown out at first for the second out, but Correa advanced to second base. Yuli Gurriel’s single to center, a grounder up the middle between Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, scored Correa and the Astros had a 2-0 lead.
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The Yankees had their chance in the top of the 5th but were unable to convert. Greg Bird led off with a single to right, a sharply hit ball just past first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Matt Holliday reached on a fielding error by Jose Altuve (bobbled the ball after stopping the grounder) so the Yankees had runners at first and second with no outs. Todd Frazier lined out to center and Brett Gardner struck out but Aaron Judge followed them with a single to left. Bird hesitated a moment and then raced around third and headed home. Unfortunately, left fielder Marwin Gonzalez threw a perfect strike in to catcher Brian McCann to nail Bird at the plate for the final out of the inning. The Yankees challenged the play but replay showed Bird was less than a second too late. Sadly, Bird’s run around third seemed like slow motion compared Jose Altuve’s run in the prior inning. Credit Gonzalez and McCann for the stellar play.
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Dallas Keuchel finally left the game after seven scoreless innings (and ten strikeouts). Houston fans may love Dallas (the pitcher, not the city) but I was very glad to see him leave. But the Astros bullpen is strong and set up artist Chris Devenski has been a better version of Dellin Betances this year. Still, the Yankees had their chance in the 8th against Devenski. Brett Gardner worked a one-out walk, which brought Astros manager A.J. Hinch out of the dugout to replace Devenski with closer Ken Giles. Giles promptly threw a wild pitch with Aaron Judge at the plate, allowing Gardy to move to second. Judge grounded out to third for the second out, but Gary Sanchez walked to put two runners on for Didi Gregorius. The Yankees replaced Sanchez at first with pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes. Didi has come up so big for the Yankees in key spots this year but on this night, Giles won the battle when Didi swung and missed on an 0-2 count after three successive foul balls.
In the top of the 9th, Giles struck out both Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks to start the inning. Greg Bird finally put the Yankees on the board when he homered to right, a high fly inside of the foul pole, to make it a one-run game.
|Credit: Anthony J Causi-NY Post|
DH Matt Holliday was due up next, but Manager Joe Girardi opted to send Jacoby Ellsbury to the plate. Ellsbury went down swinging to end the game and hand the series advantage to the Astros.
In retrospect, the huge missed opportunity was Greg Bird’s out at the plate in the 5th inning. If he had gotten a good jump when Aaron Judge hit that drive to left, he might have beaten the throw. But hats off to the Astros for making their plays. The Yankees pitched a good game but the Astros pitched a little better. Fortunately, the bullpen will be rested for Game 2 as the Yankees only had to burn Chad Green in relief of Tanaka. Green pitched two frames of scoreless relief with 31 pitches thrown.
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On the bright side, Dallas Keuchel won’t take the mound again until a potential Game 5. The Yankees offense should fare much better against crafty veteran Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.38 ERA) and the rest of the Astros starters. For Game 2, Verlander will be tough, no doubt, but the Yankees can win this game and send the series to New York with a split. We’ll have staff ace Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA) to lead the way. I like those odds.
Have a great Saturday! A perfect day would feature a Yankees win! Let’s make it happen. Go Yankees!