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.
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.
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…
*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.
Winter is coming…
The dawn of the Winter Meetings. It’s is always one of my favorite times of the year. Last year was very quiet for the Yankees but still, so much happens in the first few days of the meetings with free agent signings and trades.
I am very relieved that the owners and the players association agreed on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. I didn’t really expect a lockout but of course it was always a possibility until the two sides came to an agreement. I understand why the CBA issue held up the Yankees due to the luxury tax implications and uncertainty associated therewith. Now that both sides have a better understanding of the new deal, it should allow the Yankees to begin shaping the 2017 team.
I fully recognize that there will not be wholesale changes. This isn’t 2009 when the Yankees dumped a half billion dollars on top free agents. Sure, I’d love to have Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista on the team but realistically it is not going to happen. Between the two, I’d take Encarnacion but I still don’t think it will happen. The Yankees have a clear need for a solid, clutch-hitting DH but I think they’ll go with either Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday. Staying in house is an option but that mean DH will be used as a rotation to rest the regulars.
I would love for the Yankees to find a way to move LF Brett Gardner and 3B Chase Headley but in both cases, age + contract make the players hard to move. Gardner would probably be the easier of the two to move. While the Yankees have in-house options to replace Gardner, they’d probably have to go outside to get a replacement for Headley. Miguel Andujar showed in the Arizona Fall League that he is the future at third, but his arrival is still a few years away. I’ve also seen the projections of Gleyber Torres taking over second base, pushing current second baseman Starlin Castro to third. But Torres won’t see the Bronx until late in the 2017 season or sometime in 2018. Despite the absence of immediate help at third, I am still ready to end the Chase Headley story even if he did recover from a horrendous April to have a very good season last year.
Credit: Getty Images
My wish list for this off-season still begins with closer Aroldis Chapman. I am still very hopeful that he’ll find his way back to the Bronx. Kenley Jansen would certainly be acceptable if Plan A does not materialize. I am probably warming up to the idea of a Bronx return for Mark Melancon but I think he’ll either stay in Washington or go to San Francisco. Greg Holland is also an option. I think the Yankees have to move Dellin Betances back to a key setup role where he is better suited. Mariano Rivera, he is not.
As for starting pitchers, I am not opposed to the potential signing of starter Rich Hill. He is older than I would like for a team in transition to youth, but he obviously has a quality arm and would provide rotation stability. He reminds me somewhat of Hiroki Kuroda. A consistent pitcher who can occasionally throw a gem. Not a frontline starter, but a very dependable one. As for trades, I have no idea. I’d love Tampa’s Chris Archer but I don’t think the Rays would trade inter-division and his cost would probably be too high. I liked the Arizona Diamondbacks’ acquisition of Taijuan Walker. A young pitcher who was not fulfilled his potential but the upside is still there. Those are the types of pitchers I’d try to target. I know, it does fall into the high risk, maybe high reward, possible low reward category but look where Jake Arrieta has taken the Chicago Cubs.
It was tough to see pitcher Nathan Eovaldi cut within the last couple of weeks and today’s non-tender of lefty Jacob Lindgren, both players who will miss the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery. It wasn’t that long ago when Lindgren was tabbed as a can’t miss, fast-track prospect with the potential to make the major league roster the year he was drafted. Injuries have held Lindgren back, but he’s still young enough to recover for a fine professional career. I am hopeful the Yankees find a way to bring both pitchers back into the organization now that they’ve been removed from the 40-man roster.
Next week should be fun. Unlike last year, I am hopeful and optimistic that the Yankees will be active in an attempt to improve the roster and build strength around the emerging young core. We shall see…
The high “Price” of success…
The majority of the Yankees starting rotation is gone, with Hiroki Kuroda as the last man standing. Honestly, I keep expecting reports that Kuroda has been lost for the year and perhaps his career as this is most likely his final year in Major League Baseball.
I am not ready to declare Brandon McCarthy as a top of the rotation starter after Brian McCann’s comments to the same effect following McCarthy’s debut win as Yankee yesterday but will acknowledge that he is at the top of the rotation with this Yankees staff. That’s why it is amazing the Yankees are two games over .500 at this point in the season. It is certainly a testament to Joe Girardi’s managerial ability. But as it stands, it is not sustainable and by Brian Cashman’s own admission, the team needs starting pitching.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post
I have such mixed feelings on this subject because I do not believe there is a move that can be made that would propel this Yankee team to the World Series. Well, there’s moves that could be made to give the Yankees “something” for “nothing”, but of course that’s not going to happen. I am watching the increasingly glowing reports about minor league pitcher Luis Severino, and there is part of me that wonders how much is legitimate and how much is the Yankees PR machine. He is a quality talent, don’t get me wrong, but of course, the Yankees will ‘enhance’ the images of its young future stars given the lack of quality major league ready talent at the upper levels of the farm system.
But with that being said, I don’t want to see Severino, or Peter O’Brien or Gary Sanchez or Rob Refsnyder or any other quality prospect headed to another team for an aging overpaid player that has seen his best years and is a short term option since it still will not mean a World Series and the Yankees will regret having those players in future years. David Price is one of the few quality exceptions that I’d make, but despite the talk, there’s no way the Tampa Bay Rays trade with the Yankees. From Tampa’s perspective, I’d only do it if I knew that I could clean out New York’s quality prospects and damage the organization for years to come.
Even if the Yankees bring in pitching upgrades for the starting rotation, you still can’t win games if you do not score runs.
Open audition for Closer’s role?…
With impending free agency for Mariano Rivera successor David Robertson and the lack of any discussions, I wonder if the team is evaluating whether Robertson or the breakout performer Dellin Betances is better suited for the role long term. Robertson has done a great job but Betances is younger (albeit by a few years) and he casts a far more imposing presence on the mound by virtue of his height and size (6’8”, 260 lbs) compared to the smaller, more slender Robertson (5’11”, 195).
Barton Silverman/The New York Times
There’s also the cost factor as Betances will be the cheaper option and the Yankees will need those dollars to upgrade other areas of the team for its 2015 rebuild.
Robertson has done much better than I thought he did. There have been a couple of hiccups but even the great Rivera had a few of those. It’s part of the life of a closer. But he’s been more successful than not and consistency in the role is the key. I’d like to see Robertson stay as the knockout punch of Betances-Robertson is a good one. But of course, I liked the knockout punch of Mariano Rivera-John Wetteland in 1996 but the decision to let Wetteland walk turned out alright.
This will be an interesting off-season for the Yankees with so many decisions to make. I am still not convinced that Brian Cashman will be the GM beyond this year. The only certainty I can project is that Joe Girardi will be back. Well, that and Derek Jeter is headed to the Hall of Fame. But beyond that, I am sure there will be a series of moves again this off-season as the team tries to recapture its glory. The 2014 Yankees are certainly not one that you would stand pat for.
Farewell to a Champion…
Okay, this is not baseball related, but I was saddened to see the news of the passing of actor James Garner. As a child, I used to regularly watch The Rockford Files and would catch old episodes of Maverick on syndication. Garner had such a great sense of “coolness” that he brought to the roles of Jim Rockford and Bret Maverick, and his happy-go-lucky attitude was always so refreshing. This has been a difficult year in terms of the losses we’ve seen. Celebrity deaths have been almost a frequent as pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery. A sad day but Garner made a difference with his life and that’s something all of us aspire to do…
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!
A Legend among Legends…
Most baseball fans remember attending their first major league baseball game. For many of us, it happened during our childhoods so it was a special event to spend time with a parent, grand-parent or older sibling. In my case, I attended my first game with my step-father. My own father had died a few years earlier and he did not have the health in his final years to take me to any games.
I was excited when my step-father informed me that we could be traveling to St Louis by bus to see the Cardinals play. My step-father had been a life-long Cardinals fan so he was probably as thrilled about the trip as I was. My step-father had been very active with the local Elks club chapter, as a member and officer of the organization. The bus trip to St Louis, a five hour drive, had been sponsored by the Elks club. I am not sure why that’s relevant to this post, but it’s probably just a tribute to my step-father for the passion and support he gave the Elks over the years.
The date of the game was May 29, 1974, and it featured the Los Angeles Dodgers against the St Louis Cardinals. It was a nice spring Missouri day at the old Busch Stadium, with the Arch looming in the background. When I look back, I am in complete awe of the players who took the field that day. At that point of my childhood, I considered myself a bigger football than baseball fan. Like many of my friends, my favorite baseball team were the Oakland A’s. I would not become a Yankees fan until the end of the year when A’s starting pitcher and Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter would leave Oakland as a free agent to sign with the Yankees.
Thinking about the game, several players stood out to me that day as a kid attending my first professional game. I was mesmerized by the Dodgers starting pitcher (and future Yankee) Tommy John and his pitching motion. Surprisingly, I remember John more that day than the starter for the Cardinals, the legendary Bob Gibson.
For the Cardinals, centerfielder Bake McBride made the biggest impression…well, at least until the latter innings. I thought the name “Bake” was rather cool, and he seemed to move effortlessly with great speed in the field. He did not do anything with his bat that day, but I enjoyed the grace he displayed in the field. Late in the game, the Cardinals brought in closer Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky even though they were trailing. The intensity that Hrabosky brought to the game when he entered to pitch still gives me chills. He brought the crowd alive, and although the Cardinals would lose the game, 5-2, Hrabosky made me a believer and he became my first favorite closer. I would have subsequent trips to St Louis and I always loved watching Hrabosky pitch while he was in his prime. I think I’ve always had a favorite closer through the years as a result. Rich “Goose” Gossage and Mariano Rivera are two other all-time favorites.
The memory of these players vastly overlooks the legends on the field that day (as I now recognize). The Dodgers were managed by the great Walter Alston, while the Cardinals were led by long-time manager Red Schoendienst. Some of the Dodger names that would have prominent roles in the ’77 and ’78 World Series agains the Yankees were there…Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Ron Cey and Steve Yeager. The Cardinals had Joe Torre at first and Ted Simmons behind the plate. It is amazing how differently the game looks to me today as I recall it as opposed to my perception in May 1974. I was blessed with the opportunity to see so many legends that day.
As memorable as the game was for me, it was, believe it or not, a trip to the restroom that has endured the test of time as one of my all-time favorite baseball moments. It was the fourth inning and I made my way to the restroom. Over the speakers, I heard that I missed the opportunity to see my first home run as Ron Cey connected off Gibson. After using the restroom, I was walking down the corridor back toward my seat. I saw a line of people waiting to see a guy who was signing baseballs and books. There were actually two guys signing autographs. I went to the shorter line, and it was famed St Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer Bob Broeg. Nothing against Broeg, but I was more intrigued by the other gentleman as he was garnering the most attention. After getting Broeg’s autograph, I got in the other line and worked up my way up to shake hands with none other than the legendary Stan “The Man” Musial. I had been familiar with who Musial was through my step-father as he always spoke very fondly of the Cardinals great. I was in awe but admittedly I did not appreciate the moment at the time in the way I do today. Mr. Musial was very kind to me and it is an encounter that I will never forget. I can still remember going back to my seat and telling my step-father, “I just met Stan ‘The Man’ Musial!”.
I was very saddened to hear the news of Musial’s passing this weekend. I have always been grateful for the few minutes I had with him and he’ll always hold a special place for me as one of my all-time favorite players. He will be missed and as many have written, he was “The Man”…
Chavez Ravine to the Bronx reminds me of Tommy John for some reason…
Welcome to New York, Hiro! It was a terrific debut at Yankee Stadium for #2 starter Hiroki Kuroda, as he shut down the Los Angeles Angels, 5-0 in the team’s 2012 home opener. The Angels, historically, play the Yankees very well in New York, so Kuroda’s performance was significantly more impressive than if it had come against a team like the Minnesota Twins. Obviously, the former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher is not going to pitch like this every time out, but I do feel more confident in the #2 slot in the rotation than I did when it was held by A.J. Burnett.
The game also marked the 630th home run by Alex Rodriguez, which tied him with his former teammate, Ken Griffey, Jr. The script couldn’t have been written any better for a marvelous day in New York.
A proud day for a Yankees legend and his father…
It was also a very classy move to have Jorge Posada throw out the first pitch, which is the good karma that set the stage for the wonderful day. I am sure that it was a thrill for Jorge to throw the pitch to his father. I lost my own father as a child, but who doesn’t love the scene in Field of Dreams when Kevin Costner plays catch with his father. It has to be an absolute thrill, and I am sure that it was for Jorge as his father was able to take the field at Yankee Stadium. I had heard the Yankees wanted Mariano Rivera to catch Posada’s throw, but Jorge wanted his dad. You certainly cannot find fault in his decision. Mariano’s day will come. Both players have reservations for Monument Park.
I was sorry to see the injury suffered by Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox. The word is that he’ll be out 6-8 weeks with the shoulder injury he suffered during Boston’s home opening day win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Boston may be a fierce rival, but I take so satisfaction in seeing the loss of one of their better players. To be the best, you have to beat the best which means that I want Boston and Tampa to have their best players on the field. The Red Sox probably have more dollars committed to guys on the DL than the team payrolls for a number of teams in major league baseball, with the likes of John Lackey, Dice-K, Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey, and Bobby Jenks currently disabled.
Hopefully, Ellsbury will make a smooth and speedy recovery, and will be back on the field soon.
The team name on Damon’s jersey should come with Velcro…
I know it’s a paycheck but it seems like Johnny Damon will have played with every team in the AL by the time he’s finished. He’s been with so many teams, I honestly can’t say what team he should be remembered for. Maybe Boston because of the Caveman look and helping them secure their first World Series win in a century, maybe the Royals because that’s where he got his start, who knows. I can’t look at him and say that ‘he’s forever a Yankee’ because his time was too brief and now it’s too watered down with other teams. Damon as a Cleveland Indian just seems strange. If Cleveland is out by July, I am sure that Damon will be moved to a contender, adding yet another team. Or Damon doesn’t get enough at-bats and opts out of his Cleveland deal, and heads elsewhere. Regardless, he just seems like a rent-a-player at this point. Maybe MLB should incorporate 10-day contracts like the NBA…
Purple People are better…
I am looking forward to the upcoming NFL Draft. The Minnesota Vikings, with the third selection and the top two picks already pre-determined, have some tough choices to make. I’ve been in favor of OT Matt Kalil, but an argument can be made for WR Justin Blackmon or CB Morris Claiborne. I thought it was interesting when Colts owner Jim Irsay made comments that teams interested in QB Ryan Tannehill should talk to the Vikings about their #3 pick. I have not followed the story closely enough to understand his motivation, but I’d prefer to see the Vikings hang on to the pick (despite the opportunity to add more picks) given the strength of the talent available. I am sure the Miami Dolphins are drooling over the idea of nabbing Tannehill so I guess it would depend upon how desperate they are to make a move. Unless the Vikings are overwhelmed, I want to see Kalil, Blackmon or Claiborne wearing purple at a mini-camp coming soon.
Actually, it’s hard to believe that we are already starting to talk about football again. It seems like the season just ended. But then again, it’s hard to believe that the 2012 MLB Season is well underway. It should be a fun sports year for all…