Thanksgiving is over, Winter Meetings ahead…
Thanksgiving is behind us and soon the holiday weekend will be finished. It will be time for baseball activity to begin re-percolating in advance of next month’s Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This year’s meetings figure to be very explosive compared to prior years with two superstar-level free agents in their mid-20’s, prized by so many teams, as opposed to the usual thirty-something players that are available on the free agent market. Many teams feel they are just a player or two away, while others are looking to the next decade for success which creates the potential for a very active market.
Look, I want either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado like most other Yankee fans. Hey, signing both premier players would be great but realistically that would never happen. I probably want Bryce more simply because of his left-handed bat and I know he has a love and passion for the Pinstripes. The dude knows the Hall of Fame is eventually within his grasp and there is nothing better than blazing your way into Cooperstown wearing Pinstripes. It is a perfect fit for his legacy. The Yankees need a dynamic lefty bat in their lineup and Harper, in a classic case of stating the obvious, would excel in the heart of the order.
|Photo: USA TODAY Sports|
Position-wise, to me, Machado is the better fit. He can play shortstop for the months we are without Didi Gregorius, allowing Gleyber Torres to stay at second and continue to perfect the nuances of the position. Then, when Didi returns, Machado can slide to third, which would either push Miguel Andujar to left to compete with Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier or to first base to disrupt the duo of Greg Bird and Luke Voit. Didi is a free agent after next season so Machado would be a hedge in the event Didi leaves. I really hope the Yankees find a way to lock up Sir Didi but until he signs the dotted line, there’s a risk he is not part of the long-term future.
Speaking of chances, it is possible the Yankees do not sign either player. I don’t really expect the Yankees to overpay and realistically only see Harper or Machado signing with the Yankees if it fits Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner’s budget. I think the Yankees will exceed the luxury tax threshold if necessary but I don’t think they’ll go hog wild. Hal will authorize a huge sum but there’s no doubt it would have to be on his terms.
Recently, TGP’s own Bryan Van Dusen suggested the Yankees trade for Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez. I thought it was a brilliant idea then and still do. If the Phillies sign Machado, GM Brian Cashman should immediately get on the phone to Phillies GM Matt Klentak to discuss what it would take to get Hernandez. Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds is another strong option. His name has been mentioned in a possible trade involving Sonny Gray. It would take much more than Gray to snare Gennett, but he’d bring a lethal left-handed bat to the lineup. Probably the thing that scares me the most about bringing in an All-Star level second baseman is the potential to permanently move Gleyber Torres back to his natural position at short, thereby increasing the likelihood the Yankees part ways with Didi Gregorius. I love having Didi on this team and I’d prefer to see a plan that opens short for #18 when he is healthy and ready to return.
|Photo: Julie Jacobson, AP|
I am not excited about options for bringing in Neil Walker or Daniel Murphy in to play second while Torres temporarily slides to short. For a team that had its defensive challenges in 2018, Walker or Murphy would not help. If the Yankees sign Bryce Harper to play left (I don’t really like the talk about the move to first base because you don’t pay a guy $300 to $400 million under the assumption he can make such a significant position change), I think it allows the Yankees to go with a glove-first option at short. Re-sign Adeiny Hechavarria or sign Detroit’s free agent shortstop Julio Iglesias. Under that scenario, Miguel Andujar could stay at third but the Yankees would need a good backup defensive-minded third baseman. I expect Andujar to get better defensively-speaking but let’s face it, he’ll never be Brooks Robinson…or Graig Nettles…with a glove.
Patrick Corbin continues to be my favorite for the open spot in the starting rotation. I will be disappointed if the Yankees do not get him. I am fearful the longer this goes on, the less likely the Yankees re-sign J.A. Happ. I’d hate to lose out on the top available starters AND Happ. I don’t really expect Happ to wait to see what the Yankees do. He has too many suitors. Someone will offer him the right deal and he’ll take it. You can’t blame him for doing what’s right for his family. Of trade acquisitions, I’ve long admired Madison Bumgarner but I feel Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco is a much safer option. I’d love Corey Kluber but I don’t think the Indians will trade him or if they do, they’ll want a huge return. Maybe the same applies to Carrasco. He certainly has the talent even if he doesn’t quite have the same name value as Kluber yet. Count me among those who want no part of Arizona’s Zach Greinke. I don’t want his contract and I don’t want the potential for a Bronx meltdown like Sonny Gray. I’d rather see the Yankees only give up money for the last spot in the rotation and keep their prospects in-house. So, where can I buy my Patrick Corbin Yankees jersey?
I’ve wondered if the Yankees should go after Japan’s Yusei Kikuchi. I don’t know a great deal about the Japanese pitcher but he is expected to be posted in early December. The downside is that Kikuchi will be represented by agent Scott Boras. Kikuchi was 14-4, with 3.08 ERA, for the Seibu Lions this past season. The 27-year-old lefty struck out 153 batters in 163 2/3 innings, and has a career 2.77 ERA in Nippon Professional Baseball. The posting period opens December 5th and teams will have 30 days to sign Kikuchi. I’d probably prefer MLB-proven alternatives for a team that is on the cusp of a World Series championship but Kikuchi certainly beats rolling out a series of minor leaguers like last year.
Jordan Montgomery should be back by late summer but honestly I do not feel that we’ll see a meaningful contribution from him this year. I think it will be 2020 before he rounds back into form, making him the man most likely to replace CC Sabathia in the starting rotation unless age regression or injuries force an earlier decision.
I feel bad for Robinson Cano. There’s no way I’d want any part of his contract so I am not preaching for his return to Pinstripes. But he’s 36 and running out of opportunities for another World Championship. Training camp hasn’t even started yet his current team, the Seattle Mariners, have already thrown in the white towel. I am sure it is tough for him to listen to his former teammate, James Paxton, talk about how excited he is to join a team that expects to win every year. Cano knows first-hand what that feels like, even if it is a distant memory. I still like Cano and I am sorry that he has to take part in a rebuild at this stage of his career. I guess he has millions of reasons for why he won’t lose any sleep. I hope it’s enough.
As always, Go Yankees!
|Photo Credit: Getty Images (Patrick McDermott)|
Yankee Fans await the departure of Sonny Gray…
If you listen to the so-called Yankee GM’s on Twitter, the end of the road could be near for Sonny Gray. We know he’ll be gone by the time the guys pick up their bags to head to Tampa, Florida for Spring Training in February, but the only question is when, where and for whom.
When Sonny’s college pitching coach was on the Milwaukee Brewers coaching staff, there were lots of trade speculation with the Brewers. Now that the coach (Derek Johnson, formerly pitching coach of Vanderbilt) has moved on to the Cincinnati Reds in the same capacity, the Reds have become the “favored” trade target for the Twitter GM’s. I am sure Yankees GM Brian Cashman is talking to the Reds, as reported by the real insiders, but he’s talking with other teams too. I have no doubt Sonny Gray will perform better in a less-pressurized environment. We’ve seen it with the guys traded to Pittsburgh in recent years (most notably A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova).
When the Reds are mentioned as a Gray destination, the name of Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett repeatedly comes up. If the Yankees are successful in acquiring the left-handed bat of Gennett, it is going to take more than Sonny Gray to make it happen. Gennett is only 28 years old, and has had great numbers the last two years, but he is a free agent after the 2019 season. I’ve heard people nix the thought of trading for Arizona’s premier first baseman Paul Goldschmidt because of his impending free agency next off-season. Not sure why you’d trade a talented Gray for short-term assets. Gennett’s productive bat would slot nicely into the Yankees lineup, but I just don’t think he is part of a Gray trade unless the team is willing to let go of some top prospects too.
|Photo Credit: Getty Images (Jamie Sabau)|
One writer mentioned 2B/SS Jeter Downs as an option but young Downs is only 20 years old and while drafted in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft (32nd pick), he has not played higher than Single A and is not ready to help in the immediate future. But, of course, you’ve got to like the name considering he was named for the Yankees future Hall of Fame shortstop. Still, I don’t see the Reds parting with one of their top prospects for Gray unless the Yankees sweeten the pot on their end.
The Oakland A’s and San Diego Padres are other teams mentioned, but there are others. While some have speculated Cashman’s return for Gray could be better than expected, I am anticipating it will be for minor league names that may or may not have heard of before. When you try to sell an asset, it’s generally not a good idea to tell the world how poorly it performs. I know that Cashman sells Gray’s upside in phone conversations with other GM’s, but he certainly has not avoided negative comments in his talks with the media. Nothing like giving a player a chip on his shoulder.
I am trying to keep expectations low for Gray’s return. I’d prefer not to see him go to a team the Yankees could potentially see in the playoffs, such as the A’s. I fully expect Gray to become the pitcher he once was when he exits the main stage in New York. He’ll also be a pitcher with an axe to grind given the disparaging words by our own general manager. While I don’t think Gray is a pitcher for the Big Apple, I won’t easily dismiss him when he is playing in another uniform. He will be a formidable foe in the future. There were some jokes that the Yankees should trade Gray to Oakland for Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian. Regardless of where he goes, we have to be prepared that he’ll pitch more like the ace he once was in Oakland.
The next milestone date for Major League Baseball is Tuesday when MLB 40-man rosters must be set in advance of December’s Rule 5 Draft. After November 20th, additions to the 40-man roster can only be made through trades and free agent acquisitions. With Tuesday’s roster deadline, there will be a flurry of activity as teams move to protect their best Rule 5-eligible prospects. The Rule 5 Draft is held on the Thursday (final day) of the Baseball Winter Meetings which will be December 13th in Las Vegas, NV this year.
Most people are speculating the Yankees will trade Gray before they begin aggressive pursuit of other pitching options like Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, James Paxton or Nathan Eovaldi. With its potential impact on the 40-man roster, it’s possible we could see Gray moved within the next couple of days. Otherwise, I think we’re going to have to be a little more patient and may not see anything until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
On the bright side for whomever pulls on #55 next, the most recent guy to wear it is former Yankees great Hideki Matsui. Godzilla wore the number on the recently completed MLB All-Star Series in Japan as first base coach for MLB All-Star Team Manager Don Mattingly.
|Photo Credit: AP (Toru Takahashi)|
Speaking of pitching, MLB.com posted a column this week about the potential 2019 rookies of the year for each team. For the Yankees, Justus Sheffield was the choice. Per the column written by Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Mike Rosenbaum for MLB.com, “The Yankees’ greatest need is starting pitching, and Sheffield should crack the Opening Day rotation. His fastball, slider and changeup all can be three plus pitches, so it won’t be a shock if he’s New York’s second-best starter after Luis Severino”. That’s probably a little more aggressive than my expectation heading into the new season. So long as he’s not included in a trade for a top starting pitcher, I don’t think Sheffield grabs a spot in the rotation out of Spring Training. I think CC Sabathia is holding the spot Sheffield will take when he’s ready. My expectation is the Yankees will acquire at least two starting pitchers this winter which will delay Top Sheff’s arrival. I hope Sheffield comes to Spring Training and absolutely dominates but I don not really think it will happen…yet. For the top four spots in the rotation, the Yankees need certainty and reliability. It’s great that CC Sabathia is back, but the team should not pin its 2019 hopes on his arm or his bum knee. He’ll be a year older and closer to the inevitable end of the line. I know it’s his last year, but there are no guarantees he’ll pitch like he did last season. He’ll be 39 next summer and he is not exactly in “Mariano Rivera-like” condition. Maybe he pitches solidly throughout the year, but then again, the end could come suddenly and without warning. The Yankees do not need more than one question mark in the rotation if they intend to de-throne the Champions.
Former Yankees managerial candidate Chris Woodward, recently named as the new manager for the Texas Rangers, has appointed a new pitching coach for the Rangers who has Yankee roots. Julio Rangel, most recently a minor league pitching coordinator for the San Francisco Giants, spent six years in the Yankees farm system from 1994 through 2000 but only made it as high as Double A. Still, he’s a Yankee by birth and I wish him the best for his first job as a Major League pitching coach.
I think November is probably my least favorite month as a blog writer. There really isn’t much happening and just lots of speculation, ranging reasonable to absolute ridiculousness. But it is the calm before the storm as we are only a few weeks away from all hell breaking loose with the Baseball Winter Meetings. January tends to be quiet but at least by that time, we’ll have shiny new toys on the roster we can talk about and get excited about the approaching call of Spring Training.
There are two MAJOR free agents available right now…genuine superstars and potential future Hall of Famers…but frankly, I am tired of hearing their names and refuse to write them with this post. If the Yankees sign one of them, great. If not, life goes on. I know one thing for sure, the Yankees roster in January will be much stronger than it is today. Until then, let’s enjoy some turkey and gravy, and spend quality time with our families.
As always, Go Yankees!