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Time to starting thinking about football?…

Are we in or are we out?…

It’s not been a fun start to the 2016 season for the Yankees.  While they are playing better (currently in the midst of a three game win streak), the hole may simply be too large to overcome.  It’s not like the Yankees have a roster filled with Clayton Kershaw and Bryce Harper types.  At the moment, the Yankees are in the AL East Cellar, 6 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles, and 4 games back in the Wild Card standings.  This is not insurmountable, especially since it is not yet June.  But still, the Yankees will need to make decisions over the course of the next 45 days to buy or sell.

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If they sell, I have finally wrapped my head around a potential trade of star reliever Andrew Miller.  But if they decide to trade Miller, it is my hope the Yankees will do what it takes to lock up Aroldis Chapman on a new deal rather than letting him walk at the end of the year for draft pick compensation.  Maybe it’s Chapman that should be dealt.  This is tough.  I am a big fan of Miller’s but he is older and Chapman has been electrifying in his short tenure with the Yanks.

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FOX Sports

Miller is probably at his peak for trade value.  He just turned 31 years old, but he is at the top of his game.  He can make a difference in the 9th inning for a contender that lacks a frontline closer.  Maybe package both Brian McCann and Miller together in a deal with the Texas Rangers.  Even the Chicago Cubs, as great as they’ve been, would be better with Miller as their closer.

Miller is probably my favorite Yankee right now.  For so many years, my favorite player was Mariano Rivera.  Prior to that, it was Don Mattingly.  So, it would be painful to see Miller go but if it successfully infused new, young talent into organization, I would be in favor of it.

I wish Mark Teixeira the best in his career going forward, but I am ready for his Yankees career to end.  I really hope the Yankees do not try to re-sign him to a new deal after the year is over.  Unfortunately, given his injury history and very slow start to the year (again), the Yankees can’t really get value in a trade.  Not sure how Greg Bird will perform, but it would probably be beneficial for the Yankees to look for a backup first baseman next year that could spell Bird if he struggles upon his return.  I don’t really care to see Teixeira in that role.

Another Yankee that needs to go is Chase Headley.  Yet, he is another player with limited trade value.  Ronald Torreyes, a player that was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers, released, signed by the Chicago White Sox, released, and re-signed by the Yankees in this past off-season has been more exciting despite his small stature.  I am still hopeful that Rob Refsnyder will get a chance at some point, but he’s been on the major league roster for a few days now and hasn’t played.  Those ugly games at the end of spring training where Refsnyder was hit by grounders still reverberate in my memory (and apparently in the minds of the Yankees brain trust).

I am fine with Didi Gregorius for now, but I recognize that he is just keeping the seat warm until top prospect Jorge Mateo is ready.

Jorge Mateo

Chris O’Meara/AP Photo

Starlin Castro has been a good pickup.  I am glad that the team no longer has the revolving door at the position like they’ve had since Robinson Cano left.

In the outfield, it’s clear that Carlos Beltran is making his final lap as a Yankee.  His seat on the roster will be taken by Aaron Judge next year.  Jacoby Ellsbury is a Yankee for the foreseeable future, like it or not.  Brett Gardner would be the one guy in the outfield that I’d try to trade, to free up a full-time spot for Aaron Hicks.  Like Miller, he is another player that is now on the wrong side of 30.

The Yankees may not have the talent to bring in a frontline player or top prospect, but they could package the right deal to bring in players with good potential.  I always think along the lines of a Paul O’Neill.  Those kind of deals don’t happen very often but it is possible.

So far, this is a disappointing year.  I felt like the Yankees could have done more to strengthen their roster in the off-season but I understand the need to reduce payroll and to hang on to the upper level prospects.  The Yankees do need to clear the path for Gary Sanchez while retaining Austin Romine so that’s why I would be in favor of moving Brian McCann by the trading deadline.

These are the days that will define Brian Cashman’s GM story with the Yankees…

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—Scott

Victory defined…

Thanks to a 7-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles last night, the Yankees finally get back into the win column.  Of course, it’s been so long, I had forgotten what “win” means.  So, I looked it up in the dictionary:

win

win/
verb
  1. 1.
    be successful or victorious in (a contest or conflict).
    “the Mets have won four games in a row”
    synonyms: take, be the victor in, be the winner of, come first in, take first prize in, triumph in, be successful in More

 

The definition references the Mets, so I guess this is just another loss…

Bummer.

–Scott

 

May this be the month to turn it around?…

The 2nd best team in New York…

Thankfully, the month of April has ended for the Yankees.  As winners of only 8 out of 22 games, they are the current cellar tenants of the AL East.  Losing the first two games of a three game set with Boston to end the month is a microcosm of the season so far.  No offense, marginal pitching, spotty defense, etc.

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Credit:  Greg M Cooper, USA Today Sports

The starting rotation has seen only one truly outstanding performance with Nathan Eovaldi’s recent missed no-hitter.  Masahiro Tanaka has been steady, but the starting staff has otherwise looked awful.  I really thought that this would be the year that Michael Pineda put it all together, but so far, he’s done nothing to show me that his Yankees career won’t end like Jesus Montero’s career ended in Seattle (the guy he was traded for).  Montero was cut, and is now toiling in the minor leagues with Toronto.

 

So much promise and excitement with Luis Severino, and he’s looked like nothing more than a AAA or AA pitcher this year.  I’d rather have James Kaprielian in the starting rotation, except for the fact that Kaprielian is currently on the DL.

The bats are not hitting.  With the aging Alex Rodriguez, now 40 years old, you do have to wonder if this is the year the bottom falls out.  It’s a shame that the DH spot is tied up with A-Rod, when the other older bats in the starting lineup really need to take some time there.  Chase Headley is like most pitchers batting in the National League…an automatic out.  Jacoby Ellsbury may have the same name as the guy who used to play for the Boston Red Sox but he certainly doesn’t play like that guy.

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Credit:  Getty Images

I know, it’s still early and there is time to right the ship.  But if the Yankees continue down this path, they WILL run out of time.  Aroldis Chapman is probably wondering if his arrival in a couple of weeks will be too little, too late.  If the Yankees are out of the race by July, it makes you wonder if the proposed great bullpen trio of Dellin Betances-Andrew Miller-Chapman will be broken up by trade before it really gets started.

There’s no question that the Yankees right fielder in 2017 will be Aaron Judge (to replace free agent to be Carlos Beltran), but I wonder how long the Yankees can resist the urge to bring him up this year.  This is such a crucial year for him in his development, and he is one that is benefiting by the added time in Triple A.  The Yankees wouldn’t call him up to back up other guys.  There would have to be a clear and defined role.  But at some point, if things continue down the current path, the Yankees will need to think about positioning for next year.

I wish I had the confidence that the older guys can turn it around, but I am just not so sure.  GM Brian Cashman did a good job infusing youth over the past year but he needs to continue.  The Yankees are still the oldest team in the AL East and it shows.

A couple of years ago, the Yankees had a winning team and the Mets were a team on the edge of financial ruin.  How quickly things have changed…unfortunately.

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Credit:  Mike Stobe, Getty Images

Here’s hoping for more exciting times in May…

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Oy!

Don’t forget to bring your parkas!…

The 2016 NFL Draft has concluded.  I can’t say that it was a flashy draft for the Minnesota Vikings but I felt they came away with solid young players.  I wanted TCU WR Josh Doctson, but the Washington Redskins took him one spot ahead of the Vikings.  The Vikings subsequently selected Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell, who may very well have been the Vikings top choice anyway.  He fits well into the offense, and should click with QB Teddy Bridgewater.

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Credit:  Chuck Cook, AP

With their second pick, the Vikings took Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander.  I didn’t know anything about Alexander, and had wanted the Vikings to take Virginia Tech CB Kendall Fuller.  But the more I read and see about Alexander, the more I like him.  The Vikings also took his Clemson teammate in the 7th round, S Jayron Kearse (Jevon’s nephew).

There were other good picks, like Missouri LB Kentrell Brothers, and smash mouth TE David Morgan from UT-San Antonio.  But the one that has everyone buzzing is the 6th round selection of international WR Moritz Boehringer.  Boehringer (from Germany) discovered football about 5 years ago watching YouTube videos of Adrian Peterson, and never played college football.  He played in a German league last year, and was a man among boys.  He is clearly a project at best, but the guys has the physical tools if he can put it all together.

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Credit:  Twitter @AroundTheNFL

I was never a big fan of Rick Spielman.  I didn’t particularly care for him when he was the GM of the Miami Dolphins, but under his supervision with the Vikings, their drafts have been very solid every year.  The days of big swings and misses are long gone.  Not everyone is going to make it, but the Vikings have had more success than not in recent years.  They are clearly a team on the rise.  Mike Zimmer has been the ideal head coach for this team.  I liked former head coach Leslie Frazier, but I like the style of defense that Zimmer has created since his arrival.

I was hopeful that the Vikings would select a young RB for developmental purposes, but the right opportunity never presented itself.  Future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson is down to his final years so the team will need to think about his replacement sooner rather than later.  Hopefully the additional picks they picked up for next year by trading their third round selection to Miami this year will allow them the chance to nab a productive young back.

I know that his potential is average starter at best, but I liked the Vikings’ free agent signing of Wisconsin QB Joel Stave following the draft.  Under Norv Turner’s leadership, I think Stave can be developed properly and will eventually prove to be a good backup for Teddy Bridgewater.  Current backup QB Shaun Hill is 36 so a younger, reliable backup will be needed.

All in all, the Vikings are well positioned heading into the 2016 season.  I just look forward to the day that I can say that about the Yankees…

—Scott

First roster move of the season…

I-80 East, please…

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle has begun its 2016 season as the Yankees called up lefty reliever Tyler Olson in advance of Friday’s opening series against the Seattle Mariners and former friend Robinson Cano.  Headed the other direction was pitcher Luis Cessa.

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For Cessa, I think this is a good move.  With the season-ending loss of Nick Rumbelow to Tommy John surgery, the Yankees needed another candidate for starting with the Triple A club.  Cessa was being used as a reliever, but his highest and best use at this point is as a starter.  It’s good to see him get the opportunity to get stretched out.  Ivan Nova’s implosion the other night shows there’s opportunity for someone who could grab the long man/spot starter role and run with it.  Nova, so far, is not proving to be that guy despite his successful first appearance in long relief.

I don’t know what the Yankees should do with Nova.  I’ve lost my patience with him, but he just doesn’t have great trade value.  Would a change of scenery help him?  I am not so sure.  He’s too talented for the Yankees to cut, but too inconsistent to trust.

Tyler Olson gets his first chance as a Yankee against the team that he played for last season.  It’s kind of funny that I was disappointed when the Yankees traded former prospect Rob Segedin to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Olson and infielder Ronald Torreyes.  All spring, I kept hearing Segedin’s name in the Dodgers lineup, and all in all, he played well.  Yet, with the regular season upon us, both Olson and Torreyes are in the majors while Segedin was sent down prior to the start of the season.

Forget the walk-up music in Chicago…

Starlin Castro continues to impress me with his bat and his glove.  He doesn’t look like a “newbie” at second base.  I know that shortstop is the glamor position but great second baseman are hard to find, and it is such a critical position.  I think Castro is the right man for the job in the post-Robinson Cano era.

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Credit:  Kim Klement / USA Today Sports

I wish I could say that other guys on the team were impressing me.  So far, it’s been a sluggish start, offensively-speaking.  I am growing concerned that the Yankees have an albatross in Chase Headley, and Alex Rodriguez is a 40 year old man (probably older than many coaches at this point) and finding difficulty finding the ball with his bat.  There has been the occasional glimmer of hope from the other position players, but collectively, the group has underperformed.  I know, good pitching beats good hitting.  But the Yankees do not seem to be taking advantage of the mistake pitches or the #4 or #5 starters on the opposing teams.

I do have to put a disclaimer for Ronald Torreyes.  I really wanted Rob Refsnyder to win the utility role but his miscues at third base late in spring training proved that he is not quite ready for the position.  In stepped Torreyes and despite his small stature, he has proven to be a very capable performer.  Houston’s Jose Altuve has proven that you don’t need to be tall to be successful.  Not that Torreyes will ever be the player that Altuve is today, but for what the Yankees need, he has provided.

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Credit:  The Greedy Pinstripes.com

Hand-eye-knee coordination?…

I liked the enthusiasm that Nick Swisher brought to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in his return debut in the Yankees organization, but I am still skeptical that his knees will allow him to return to the big leagues.  Of course, I hope I am proven wrong, but we’ll find out within the next month or so if he is able to do it.  The downside if he does make it is the adverse impact it would have on Dustin Ackley for playing time.  I still remain optimistic about Ackley, and I like his bat.  That’s probably another reason I am pessimistic about Swisher, but I agree that Swisher knows and understands first base better than Ackley even if the latter did play the position before his professional career started.

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Credit:  Bill Tarutis / For Times Leader

I miss those perfect games by Davids Cone and Wells…

Another concern is the marginal starting pitching the Yankees have experienced through the first two runs through the rotation.  In particular, Michael Pineda and Luis Severino have been the most disappointing.  I am really looking forward to seeing a dominant pitching performance from one of the guys.  Hopefully that will help turn the momentum and raise the group to their potential.  Pineda and Severino are the keys to the rotation so if they can’t turn it around, it’s going to be a long season.

I know that it is still very early in the season and I am certainly not ready to push the panic button.  As slowly as the Yankees have started, they can easily get on a hot streak.  Weather-wise, the Yankees have really had it tough.  They started in New York, went to Detroit and Toronto, and are now back in New York.  Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers play in a climate that is supposed to reach the high 80’s today.  Big difference.  Granted today is supposed to be sunny and 65 in New York, but that’s not been the case the last couple of weeks.  As the weather warms, hopefully the Yankee bats will follow suit.

The Man in Purple…

On a final note, I was glad to see Jared Allen sign a one-day contract to retire as a Minnesota Viking.  He wasn’t an original Viking as he came to the team via a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he went on to play for the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers after leaving Minneapolis.  Yet, he felt that the Vikings were home.  He played his best years in purple, and he will be remembered as one of the great ones.  I wish him all the best in his post-playing career and retirement.  Thanks for the memories.

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Vikings defensive end Jared Allen jokes with a referee in third quarter of Minnesota’s final game at the Metrodome, against the Lions, in Minneapolis on December 29, 2013. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

—Scott

 

Looking for the Ice King…

The Knight’s Watch…

As we progress into the early stages of the 2016 season, there’s been a consistent theme already.  Rare is the starter who gives the team any distance, forcing Manager Joe Girardi to go to the pen earlier than desired.  Fortunately, the pen has been as strong as the starters have been weak so it’s balanced out.  However, anyone knows that over an extended period, it is a formula for disaster as the bullpen will become overtaxed.

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I really thought that we’d see the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Shuttle running by now but so far Girardi has stuck with his original 25.  It is only a matter of time until the rotation begins.

I felt bad for the Yankees and their schedule in early April.  After opening at home, they are in Detroit and then head to Toronto.  These are not exactly parts of the country that one would vacation in this time of year for the weather.  This is when it would have been great to play the Tampa Bay Rays or the Los Angeles Angels on the road.  If Aroldis Chapman is missing playing with the major league team, he just needs to look at the weather forecast to see that it is only 33 degrees right now with an expected high of 41 and mixed with snow and rain.  I don’t know, I think I’d rather be working out in Tampa.

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Credit:  Highlight Hollywood

After the first run through the starting rotation, not one of them stood out as a quality performance.  The Yankees are lucky they have won more than they have lost at this point (3-2).   Their losses have been against two frontline starters (Houston’s Dallas Keuchel and Detroit’s Jordan Zimmerman).  So at least they are taking advantage of the opposing teams’ lesser starters.  Of the Yankees’ starting five, I was most disappointed in Michael Pineda.  He got the win thanks to run support (16), but gave up 6 runs.  The Yanks need the pitcher to take charge and deliver quality start after quality start to be successful.

Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and particularly Starlin Castro have played very well.  Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter and he stayed true to form in spring training.  But early on, he’s already hit a couple of crucial home runs.  Beltran, the old man, just keeps hitting.  It’s a given that this is his final year in pinstripes as he is just keeping right field warm for Aaron Judge at this point, but he has shown he was a good three year investment.  Castro has fit in very well with the Yankees, and has bonded with double play partner, Didi Gregorius.  He has shown the best bat at second base since Robinson Cano departed.  He may never be Cano, but he has turned second base from a weakness to a strength.

Starlin Castro

Credit:  Thomas A Ferrara, Newsday

The naysayers are down on Jacoby Ellsbury and I’ve already heard the statements that he is the worst free agent signing in team’s history.  But I am hopeful that as the weather warms, so does Jacoby and that he is able to stay healthy this year.  When healthy, he is still the team’s best player.  I think he has the chance to show fans that he can still be the player he was in Boston.

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Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury celebrates after scoring in the fifth inning of Game 2 of baseball’s American League division series against the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

 

Swishalicious, again?…

I don’t know.  When I saw that Nick Swisher is working out in Tampa at the Yankees facilities and will be signing a minor league deal that includes an opt-out, I had mixed feelings.  He was a productive player, who energized the locker room during his prior time in the Bronx.  However, age has caught up with him in recent years, and it led to his release from the Atlanta Braves earlier this year.

I suppose that since his only role would be to back up Mark Teixeira at first, it is at least worth taking a look to see if anything is there.  I probably prefer to see Chris Parmalee called up at this point if the Yankees want a true first baseman rather than relying on middle infielder/outfielder Dustin Ackley.  I thought James Loney might be a better fit, but he signed a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres.

Swisher should be motivated as he’s running out of options to continue his major league career.

Time will tell if he is able to make it back to the Yankees’ major league roster.  If he does, I’ll gladly cheer for him as it will have proved he does still have something left in the tank.  If he doesn’t make it, I remain grateful for the time he spent with the Yankees earlier in his career.

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Credit:  Getty Images

* * *

Here’s hoping that warmer weather and better starting pitching is right around the corner…

—Scott

 

Low and outside…

Can we take a mulligan?…

At long last, the regular season has arrived.  There’s always great anticipation for Opening Day, and it was made even more special this year since the Yankees opened at home.  The problem was the opponent.  Contrary to what you might believe, the Steinbrenner family doesn’t own the Yankees, Dallas Keuchel does.  Fresh off last year’s one game Wild Card loss to the Houston Astros and Keuchel, the Yankees very next meaningful game was against the same opponent (team and pitcher).  Despite finally scoring a couple of runs, the results were the same.  A loss.

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It’s a disappointing way to start a new season.  I was so envious of the fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They opened in San Diego with the most convincing Opening Day victory ever in whitewashing the Padres, 15-0.  That’s how to excite a fan base!  They followed it up the next day with another shutout.

Masahiro Tanaka pitched well enough to win, but a controversial play in the 8th inning against reliever Dellin Betances cost them the game.  At this point, I am indifferent whether the Astros runner should have been called out when he ran inside of the base path, but really, if the game comes down to one play, it’s a game the Yankees probably shouldn’t have won anyway.  Of the Aroldis Chapman-less bullpen, you don’t expect the first reliever to fold to be Betances.  But it is what it is, and the Yankees still have 161 more games to play to prove they belong in the play-offs.

The Man Cave…

I was hopeful that the Cincinnati Reds would offer Rule 5 pick Jake Cave back to the Yankees, and I got my wish.  However, when it happened, I did feel remorse for the player.  He had been excited to get an opportunity to go to Cincy and to play in his first big league spring training.  The excitement was compounded because there were guys he knew from the Yankees organization (namely the players sent to the Reds for closer Aroldis Chapman…guys like Eric Jagielo and Rookie Davis).  He hit well early in camp and then tailed off.  But the reports were continuing that he’d stick with the Reds as their fourth outfielder.  In the end, it wasn’t meant to be and after clearing waivers, he was offered back to the Yankees.  The Yankees accepted and promptly sent Cave down to AA.  There was no room in AAA due to a surplus of outfielders.

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AP Photo

Time will tell if he gets an opportunity in New York.  I hope he does, but if it doesn’t happen, then I hope he finds an organization to give him the chance.

The Opening Day Roster…

There were no great surprises when the roster was announced.  Once Gary Sanchez and Rob Refsnyder were sent down, it was a given that Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes or Pete Kozma would make the team.  On the relief side, Bryan Mitchell’s toe injury and subsequent surgery (out four months) opened the way for Kirby Yates to make the team.  I was glad to see Luis Cessa make it, and perhaps he can show something to take a larger role going forward.  It will be interesting to see how Ivan Nova adjusts to the long man/spot starter role vacated by former Yankee Adam Warren.  While I think Nova pitched better than CC Sabathia in spring training, I agree that Sabathia would not be a good fit in the pen.  He either needs to succeed as a starting pitcher or the Yankees should just release him and cut their losses.  Nova’s time will come.  If he perseveres and can eliminate the bouts of inconsistency, he’ll get another chance at the rotation.

There’s no doubt the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle will be running in full force again this year so the guys on the roster today won’t be exactly the same by the time Chapman returns in May.

GM Brian Cashman is playing a masterful game of chess as he continues to rebuild the Yankees.  They may not win the World Series this year, but this is a team that is clearly on the rise.  As long as Cashman continues to make the right moves, the future is bright in the Bronx.

Go Yankees!

—Scott

 

Throwing caution to the wind…

Lock-down Pen to Knocked-down Pen…

Well, we’ve gone from the best bullpen in baseball to just another collection of misfits in front of a hard thrower.  I know, I’m selling guys like Chasen Shreve and Bryan Mitchell short, but the dreams of simply making it to the 7th inning and game over have been put on hold.  First, there was the expected loss of closer Aroldis Chapman who was suspended by the Commissioner for domestic violence.  But today, we received more devastating news when former and interim closer Andrew Miller was hit by a batted ball and suffered a chip fracture in his wrist.

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Elsa/Getty Images North America

Suddenly, Dellin Betances is the interim closer.  No word yet on how long Miller will be out, but with the Yankees’ conservative attitude when it comes to injuries, there’s no doubt he’ll open the season on the Ellsbury Express, a/k/a the Disabled List.  This means that the setup cast will include the aforementioned Shreve and perhaps one of the new guys (Kirby Yates or Luis Cessa).  Depending upon what the Yankees do with Ivan Nova, Bryan Mitchell should be the long man in the pen replacing Adam Warren, but more than likely, Nova takes that role which would push Mitchell to shorter relief.

I wonder if the Yankees will try to pick up a short man as a temporary fix since the vaunted three headed monster pen won’t make an appearance until mid-May.

With Miller and Betances, I felt good about the Yankees’ bullpen despite Chapman’s absence.  But with Miller’s anticipated loss, the pen looks very shaky at the moment.  With question marks looming in the starting rotation, there’s going to be early stress on the replacement crew.

While I mention Mitchell, it should be noted that news came out today about his toe injury so there are questions if he’ll be ready.  It certainly opens up potential roster spots for the relievers on the bubble like Yates, Cessa, and Anthony Swarzak.

Contract no longer equals talent…

As for the starters, my preference would be to start Ivan Nova over CC Sabathia but it does raise the question of what to do with CC.  As a reliever, he’d be the most expensive one in history.  It’s too bad that he has degenerated to such an albatross.  He now blocks younger, more talented guys.  It’s too bad that baseball contracts are guaranteed.  If they were like the NFL, CC would be pounding the pavement looking for a new job.

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As for the outfield, the only surefire option to start Opening Day is the old man of the group, right fielder Carlos Beltran.  It’s almost a certainty that Aaron Hicks will be one of the starters, replacing either Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner.  I like Hicks, but I didn’t like the high strikeouts in spring training.  I am hopeful that he is able to rise to the occasion.

Hoping the Reds “Cave-in”…

Speaking of outfielders, I have been keeping an eye on Jake Cave’s spring with the Cincinnati Reds.  Despite the Yankees’ wealth of left handed hitting young outfielders, I would like to see Cave’s return if he doesn’t make the Reds’ Opening Day roster.  Cincy has to keep him on the roster all season as a Rule 5 selection or offer him back to the Yankees.  I am sure that Cave is hoping he sticks with the Reds, but I’d like to see him back in pinstripes.  I think he has a future in New York as a fourth outfielder at the very least.

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Getty Images

Backing up Brian McCann…

I thought that Gary Sanchez would continue his torrid hitting from last fall into spring training but it didn’t happen.  As a result, Sanchez found himself back in the minor leagues.  That means the Yankees’ back up catcher will either be long-time prospect Austin Romine or recent addition Carlos Corporan.  I know the latter has the major league experience, but I am really hoping the Yankees go with Romine.  He deserves this opportunity.  Of course, if he doesn’t make the roster, he’s as good as gone.  I think Romine can do the job and would be a very capable solution until the day Sanchez is ready for the major leagues.

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If at Third…

I thought that Rob Refsnyder was going to win the utility infield role, particularly as he gained experience at third.  Then his unspectacular birthday weekend occurred where he was hit in the face on successive days with infield grounders, which illustrated the weaknesses in his defensive game.  He very quickly found himself in Scranton-Wilkes Barre, vacating the bench role for either Ronald Torreyes or Pete Kozma to grab.  At the moment, it sounds like Torreyes has the leg up.  Hopefully, Refsnyder can settle down and make the transition to third at the AAA level.

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Tomorrow should be a fairly important day as the Yankees begin making their final roster decisions as we head into the weekend.  I am not as optimistic as I was a few weeks ago, but this is an opportunity for guys to step up.   Baseball is not always about simply having the talent to succeed, it also takes timing and support with a little bit of luck.

I wish we were heading into the season with better health but it is what it is.  It is time to play ball.

Go Yankees!

—Scott

 

Feel free to mix in a timely hit…

Have bat, will travel…

The Yankees have two players in camp that were part of the Chicago Cubs’ magical 98-win season that ended thanks to the Yanks’ cross-town rival, and it is hopeful that Starlin Castro and Chris Denorfia can bring some of that magic to the Bronx.  Castro, of course, is a shoo-in for a roster spot given that he’s ticketed to be the Yankees’ starting second baseman.  For Denorfia, it is a much more difficult road.  If he makes the team, it will be as its fifth outfielder.  But with a starting trio of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner, it is a certainty that the backup outfielders will play.  The edge that Denorfia brings is a right handed bat which is a positive when there is a surplus of lefties.

Over the past few years, I have missed the clutch hits that we grew accustomed to with guys like Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon.  Denorfia delivered a huge clutch hit last September when his pinch hit home run in the 11th inning defeated the Kansas City Royals 1-0.  It was the Cubs’ first pinch hit home run to break a scoreless tie since the great Joe Pepitone hit one off Mudcat Grant in June 1971.

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Brian Cassella/The Chicago Tribune

I like the above picture because it’s not only celebratory of Denorfia’s hit, but you can see a very excited Castro.  The goal this season is to keep that smile on Starlin’s face!

I don’t know if Denorfia will make the final roster.  He is 35 so father time is starting to work against him.  The Yankees have a much younger right-handed outfield candidate in Lane Adams, and all things considered, I’d probably prefer to see Adams win the job (if the Yankees choose righty over lefty).  Slade Heathcott certainly deserves to be on the team, but he is one of the many lefties.  While I may prefer Heathcott or Adams, I wouldn’t be disappointed if Denorfia shows enough this spring to warrant a big league job.

Enjoy the Bronx while it lasts…

I almost feel badly for Didi Gregorius.  He did a terrific job replacing a legend at shortstop.  He started slowly in April, but for the remainder of the season, he was very capable with both bat and glove.  He showed that GM Brian Cashman made a terrific decision to acquire Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks, sending starting pitcher Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-way trade.

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New York Daily News

Yet, as good as Gregorius was, his time in New York could be short.  The Yankees’ top prospect, SS Jorge Mateo, is blazing through the minors.  Although he’ll most like start the season in High A ball this year, he has opened eyes this spring to show why he is the organization’s top talent.  No offense to Aaron Judge or Gary Sanchez, but Mateo is the most exciting player to rise through the system in a very long time.  Mateo’s continued progression could eventually make Gregorius obsolete.

If at second…

I thought it was really weird when I heard talk of Starlin Castro playing some third base this spring to be the potential backup for Chase Headley in addition to his duties as the regular second baseman.  Given that he only played 38 games at the position last season after the Cubs removed him as the starting shortstop, it was apparent to me that Castro needed to focus on the nuances of second base and not try to tackle learning another new position simultaneously.

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So, now I read that Manager Joe Girardi has rescinded the plan for Castro to play third so that he can focus on second.  Duh…

Learning to play third base, however, is a great opportunity for Rob Refsnyder.  I would really like to see the Yankees break camp with Refsnyder on the roster as the backup second baseman and now potentially backup third baseman.  Castro can slide to short when necessary, which would open a spot for Refsnyder on occasion.  I do wish the Yankees had stronger bench support for the corner infield spots as Dustin Ackley is playing out of position too in backing up Mark Teixeira even if he did play there in college.  The Baltimore Orioles made a good spring signing with Pedro Alvarez, one guy that I thought might be a good fit for the Yankees.  It is possible the backup 1B/3B is not yet on the roster, but if it comes down to Refsnyder and Ackley, the Yankees could certainly do worse.

The Future of the Rotation…

I know that he is only 21 and not ready for the major leagues, but James Kaprielian has a great presence about him and his attitude, along with his physical talents, sets him up for a very bright future.  There was always something special about Andy Pettitte, and Kaprielian seems to have that same “it” factor.  Andy was never truly the ace of the rotation, but he was the guy you wanted to have the ball in October.  Kaprielian can be that same type of player.

James Kaprielian

New York Yankees first round pick, 16th overall, James Kaprielian fires a pitch to the plate. (Robert M Pimpsner/Pinstriped Prospects)

Robert M Pimpsner

The Rehearsal before the Big Show…

I wasn’t trying to diss Aaron Judge above in talking about Jorge Mateo.  Judge is the future of right field.  More than likely, he’ll be in pinstripes for good by September.  Next year, right field will be his.  But he still has to go out and show the World that he is ready.  He underwhelmed last year the Triple A level so this will be the year he needs to show he is ready for the main stage.  I have no doubt he was the talent to succeed, and it will be great watching him hit home runs for the home team.  This is a big year for Judge, but everything is up to him.  The job is his for the taking.  Not many young players get such a huge opening for opportunity.

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Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News

Lastly…

This is a tough one.  I believe in Gary Sanchez and feel that he is the future, but I am not ready to say goodbye to Austin Romine.  If Sanchez makes the team as backup to Brian McCann, Romine’s long association with the Yankees will inevitably be over.  I like the tandem of Sanchez and Romine, but the Yankees are not going to carry three catchers and McCann is not going anywhere.

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Robert Murray/The Star Ledger

I probably want Sanchez on the roster, but there is a part of me rooting for Romine.  Sanchez’s day will come.  I’d prefer to see Romine establish himself as a big league catcher with the Yankees, and not become yet another former Yankees catcher in, say, Pittsburgh.

The decisions of Spring.  The job is never easy for Cashman and Girardi…

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—Scott

He said what?…

Hey Billy, you’re fired!…

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Pescatore/New York Daily News

I have to admit that there’s a singe of disappointment when I hear the Steinbrenner Family has no intention of selling the team.  I admire Hal Steinbrenner for his disciplined and calm leadership style, and I do not disagree with the approach to shed excessive dollars from the payroll.  There is no need to pay the exorbitant luxury taxes on dollars exceeding the cap when having the highest payroll does not ensure the Commissioner’s Trophy.

But…I admittedly miss the excitement of the bold moves by former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.  George would often do what the rest of us were thinking.  He overreacted, he overvalued other teams’ stars while undervaluing his own, and he was incredibly impatient.  Hal exhibits none of these characteristics, but there was something to living life on the edge.  You always knew the Yankees were going to be entertaining.  I remember the 1980’s and how the fans would boo Steinbrenner, but I never did.  I didn’t like watching former Yankees prospects thrive elsewhere while aging former stars with bloated contracts came to the Bronx.  But you knew that George was never satisfied.  With Hal, you don’t really know where he stands unless GM Brian Cashman tells you.  Occasionally, Hal will give an interview that gives a little more insight but he is never too revealing.  The days of the Bronx Zoo are nothing but a distant memory.

Hal talks about a long term plan that will cede control of the team to the next generation of Steinbrenners.  He clearly has no intention to ever see a Donald Trump like individual take control of the Yankees.  We’ll see if his approach is successful.  I am glad to see the core of the young prospects remain in the organization.  There will be losses, such as the Rule 5 loss of OF Jake Cave (assuming he makes the Reds’ roster this year) or 3B Eric Jagielo (sent to Cincinnati in the Aroldis Chapman trade).  But I am sure these players are carefully evaluated before being sent away.  For whatever reason, they were deemed to be expendable.  In Cave’s case, it is a plethora of young lefthanded outfielders.

The perfect Yankees owner, in my opinion, would lie somewhere between father George and son Hal.  Cautious but aggressive.  Long term vision but highly competitive.  Supportive but with an inability to accept ineptitude.  I know there’s more to Hal than meets the eye, but being a Yankees fan today involves much patience.  For those of us who grew up with Yankees impatience, this is a difficult transition.  Nevertheless, the Yankees are stronger today than they were a few years ago, so they’re on the right track it would seem.  Hal deserves more time to see if his leadership style proves to be championship quality.

Still, there’s the part of me that yearns for immediate results.  So that’s why I felt disappointment when Hal indicated no plans for the future sale of the team.  Yet, I am supportive of the current ownership team, and obviously I will continue to be a Yankees fan for the rest of my life.  Life is about change.  You adapt…

Chapman’s extended vacation in Tampa…

I am glad Commissioner Rob Manfred finally handed down the penalty for closer Aroldis Chapman.  The uncertainty was becoming a distraction.  I was anticipating something in the neighborhood of 40 games, so the sentence of 30 games was a little lighter than expected.  It sounds as though Chapman’s decision to not appeal led to the shorter sentence.  It’s a tough loss, and the Yankees will need to find strong relief for the middle innings.  But there’s comfort at the back end of the bullpen with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.  Miller proved he is a great closer last year, and his attitude is even better than his skills which is rather amazing.

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Bill Kostroun/AP

It would be better knowing that Justin Wilson was still on board to assist, but that ship has obviously sailed.  It will be up to the younger guys, like Chasen Shreve, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos, and others, to step up their game.  The talent is there to succeed.

As for the penalty for Chapman, I am supportive.  There is no excuse for domestic violence, and a cry for no punishment would be a plea for its continuation.  My only hope is that Chapman learns from this, and he takes the steps necessary to ensure that he never crosses this line again.  I really don’t know if Chapman will be a long term Yankee or if he’ll just be a brief member of the team before departing via free agency in the fall.  But whatever the future holds, I hope Chapman is able to become a better man.

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The Enquirer/Sam Greene

—Scott

 

Is Jon Snow really dead?…

Spring is coming…

The off-season is officially over as spring training is back in full force.  This week saw the arrival of the full team in Tampa as they begin preparation for the 2016 season.  Soon, the exhibition games will begin and we’ll see the guys experiencing spring for the first time at Steinbrenner Field, such as Dustin Ackley, Starlin Castro, and (hopefully) Aroldis Chapman.

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It was a strange off-season given the Yankees were the only team not to sign a major league free agent.  But GM Brian Cashman did protect the Yankees first pick in the MLB Draft.  I suppose it would have mattered more if it was a higher pick.  The Baltimore Orioles felt that pitcher Yovani Gallardo was worth sacrificing the 14th pick and that pick had much more value than the lower one the Yankees protected.  I still feel the Yankees should have made a free agent move to strengthen the pitching staff or to find a suitable back up for third baseman Chase Headley.

Speaking of Headley, I am not opposed to trying Rob Refsnyder at the position.  I feel that it only increases his value as a role player.  But I don’t like hearing that Starlin Castro will also play there some this spring to possibly back up Headley.  With second base a relatively new position for Castro, I’d prefer for him to continue focusing on the nuances of learning the position rather than trying to learn two new positions.  The only way moving Castro to third makes sense to me is if the plan is for him to eventually start there, with Refsnyder taking over at second.

I am very concerned about Mark Teixeira’s health (that’s every year at this stage of his career).  I am cautiously hopeful that Ackley is the right guy to back him up, but he hasn’t played there regularly since college.  If the Yankees are playing multiple out of position guys on the field this year, it’s a sign of sure trouble.  I thought signing Ike Davis would have made perfect sense for a back up role.  But the Yankees passed (or didn’t try hard enough) and the former Met signed with the Texas Rangers.

I am remain optimistic that Cashman will swing a trade this spring to bring in a reliable corner infield bench player…with experience.  Backing up Teixeira means you will play…alot!

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Courtesy:  Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/Newsday.com

If Aaron Judge has a monster spring, I wonder if the Yankees will accelerate the plan for his arrival at the major league level.  But then, what do you do with Carlos Beltran?  The guy showed he can still play, but his time with the Yankees is fading faster than the erosion of his skills due to age.

On the other side of the outfield, the news that Brett Gardner is still not healthy as he recovers from off-season surgery is not a good sign.  Like backing Teixeira, the Yankees’ fourth outfielder (i.e., Aaron Hicks) will be a full-time fixture in the outfield given the health concerns and injury risks with Gardner, Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  That makes the younger guys (Judge, Slade Heathcott, and others) so valuable as they will see playing time in the Bronx this year.

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Courtesy:  Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News

The starting rotation is what it is.  Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, and CC Sabathia.  Ivan Nova is on the outside looking in, waiting for a spot to open.  If Nova could only embrace the long role, he’d be a good replacement for the departed Adam Warren.  But I don’t think he’ll be successful which leads me to hope that he shows something this spring as a starter to increase his value as a trade chip.

But at the moment, the primary concern at the beginning stages of spring training is the bullpen.  Much has been talked about how incredible the back-end of the Yankees bullpen will be.  When the trio of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances threw bullpen sessions together in Tampa recently, it created a stir and excitement.  However, until MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred hands down the domestic abuse penalty for Chapman, no one knows when the three great relievers will be able to pitch together in a meaningful game.  With Chapman missing spring training for a few days already this spring (for reasons apparently unrelated to the impending suspension), it is a mystery where his head is right now.

This makes Andrew Miller perhaps the most valuable man in the bullpen.  The Yankees need him to continue as their closer until Chapman is either cleared or returns.  Miller’s attitude is MVP-caliber.  I’ve never seen such grace when he spoke of only the team winning when talking about being displaced as the closer by Chapman.  That attitude says that he’ll do whatever it takes to win, so there’s no doubt he’ll be ready in the 9th inning when he gets the call from Manager Joe Girardi.

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Courtesy:  Jim Mcisaac/Getty Images

With Chapman out, the Yankees will need to make sure that they have the 7th inning replacement for the traded Justin Wilson.  I am hopeful that either James Pazos or Chasen Shreve will be ready to step to the next level.  That’s perhaps the most critical role in the bullpen that needs to be filled as it might be harder than finding adequate long relief.

Donnie Baseball, South Beach Style…

The Yankees will get to see Don Mattingly three times this spring with an exhibition game in Mid-March, and then they end the exhibition season with two games in Miami.  While I was disappointed to see Mattingly leave the Los Angeles Dodgers, I am anxious to see what he can do as the manager for the Miami Marlins.  There’s certainly talent on the team with Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez.

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Courtesy:  MLB.com

It is almost guaranteed the team will receive much media attention this year with Barry Bonds serving as the hitting coach.  But for Mattingly, the spotlight shouldn’t shine as brightly as it did in Los Angeles.  At least he is back in a situation where he is the choice of current management unlike with the Dodgers where he wasn’t “their” guy.  Mattingly will always be one of my favorite Yankees, and I am hopeful that he’ll succeed in Miami.  I am optimistic that it is a path that will eventually lead him back to the Bronx as a future successor for Joe Girardi.

Go Yankees!

—Scott

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