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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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

 

The migration to Tampa begins…

What do you write about when nothing happens?…

After a winter of no major league free agent signings, the Yankees will soon open camp with Team Status Quo.  Well, albeit with newcomers via trade Starlin Castro, Aroldis Chapman, and Aaron Hicks.  All three are expected to play major roles in 2016.

Castro is not going to make fans forget Robinson Cano but he’ll be a major improvement over Stephen Drew.  Admittedly, I was looking forward to seeing what Rob Refsnyder could do with the position on a full-time basis or at least a part-time platoon with Dustin Ackley.  But even with Castro on the roster, there’s still a role for Refsnyder if he takes it through performance this spring.  Ackley will become the Yankees’ latest attempt to replace Martin Prado as the jack of all trades.

Dustin Ackley

New York Yankees’ Dustin Ackley celebrates his two-run home run off Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey with teammates in the dugout in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

With the loss of Justin Wilson via trade with the Detroit Tigers, Chapman’s arrival just resets the pecking order in the pen.  I recognize that Wilson is a loss but I also feel that Chasen Shreve has the potential to come back much stronger than last season and fill that pivotal role as the setup for the three headed monster of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Chapman.  The team will miss swingman Adam Warren, but there’s no question that the final three innings will be electrifying.  There are surprises every year in the bullpen and there’s no doubt the Yankees will uncover a gem among the arms in camp.  Warren was great at his role, no doubt, but he is replaceable.  I am somewhat intrigued by one of the pitchers the Yankees acquired for Wilson, Luis Cessa.  Everyone rips the Yankees for trading Wilson, but I think that Cessa has the potential to make the trade an equalizer.  Could he get the opportunity to replace Warren?  I am sure that he’ll be in the mix if he is ready to play at the major league level.

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Courtesy:  MetsMerizedOnline.com and Savannahnow.com (via MetsMinors.net)

Adding Hicks was a surprise, but it made sense given the plethora of young outfielders in the Minnesota Twins organization and the impending big league arrival of catcher Gary Sanchez (which made John Ryan Murphy expendable).  I like the job that Chris Young did the last couple of years and felt that he had revitalized his career after a disappointing stay with the New York Mets.  But as much as I hated to see Young leave (to sign with the Boston Red Sox which added a little salt to the wound), I feel that Hicks will prove to be the better player for the long run.  If there is a certainty about the 2016 Yankees, one or more of the starting outfielders will spend time on the disabled list.  Hicks will move to front and center, or maybe left or right.  He’ll get an opportunity to put the promise he held with the Twins on display for fans in the Bronx.  If he is successful, he will no doubt become a fan favorite.  I think Hicks is in a great spot.  This also means that there will be opportunity to other young outfielders like Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and recent MiLB free agent signee Jared Mitchell.  There’s also the chance the Yankees get Rule 5 draftee Jake Cave back from the Cincinnati Reds if he is unable to make the major league roster.

So, the new additions all clearly fit the team’s roster and make it better than the day they lost to the Houston Astros last October.  But from a results standpoint, I am not sure that the 2016 Yankees will be much better than the 2015 version.  Last year’s team over-achieved, so if this year’s team plays to expectations, the results will be marginally the same despite being the better team.  It is possible that this year’s team can over-achieve, particularly if the starting pitching stays healthy and Sanchez arrives on the scene as the offensive monster he displayed in the Arizona Fall League.

I am starting to see the reports that the Yankees aren’t spending money in anticipation of the 2018 off-season free agent signing of mega superstar Bryce Harper.  I think that would be foolish and narrow minded of the Yankees to think along those lines, which is why I do not believe it is true.  I am sure that they’ll be players for Harper, but there’s always one team that jumps off the deep end (i.e., the Seattle Mariners and their $240 million contract for Cano).  Plus, the talk is that Harper could be the first $500 million man.  That’s insane.  When is the money simply enough?  I am pretty sure that you could give me $10 million and I’d be happy for the rest of my life!

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Super Bowl Sunday…

I will watch today’s Super Bowl but I honestly do not feel strongly about either team.  I think the Carolina Panthers have the better team and the more explosive QB, but it would be a great story for future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to ride off into the Sunset with a Super Bowl championship.

Peyton’s dad, Archie, had the misfortune to play on some pretty bad football teams, and he ended his career playing for a pathetic Minnesota Vikings team that finished 3-13 in 1984.  I remember those final years, and Archie was clearly not the player he once had been.  Conversely, Peyton is no longer the Peyton we knew earlier in his career, but he still has the ability to pull out a surprise win.

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Courtesy:  Biography.com

I’ll go with…Carolina Panthers 27, Denver Broncos 17.

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Courtesy:  Getty Images

—Scott

Game of Moans…

Ronald Torreyes, we hardly knew ye! Oh wait, hello again…

Former Yankee Ronald Torreyes is now a current Yankee once again.  Very exciting for a guy who has never worn the pinstripes and most likely won’t be on the Opening Day roster.  Earlier in the off-season, the Yankees traded former prospect Rob Segedin to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Torreyes and pitcher Tyler Olson.  Shortly thereafter, Torreyes was DFA’d when the Yankees had a chance to sign Kansas City Royals cast-off outfielder Lane Adams.  The Yanks tried to sneak Torreyes through waivers but former Assistant GM and now Los Angeles Angels GM Billy Eppler took a flyer.  But the Angels soon saw another player they wanted to sign, and Torreyes was DFA’d again.  This time, the Yankees DFA’d the guy they signed when they threw Torreyes to the wind.  So goes Peyton Place in the Bronx…

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Courtesy: elimpulso.com

I actually thought Adams was a good signing.  For a team filled with lefty swinging outfielders, Adams was a right hander with plus speed.  I really think that the Yankees will need a 5th outfielder as I feel Aaron Hicks will be pushed into starting duty due to injury risks from left to right in the Yankees’ outfield.  If Adams could take his game to the next level, I saw him as a better fit than Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams.  I am not quite sure where Torreyes fits.  I think Rob Refsnyder has a leg up for a utility role with the Yanks, and there’s good, young infielders on the way up.

Maybe the Yankees are hoping that Adams will slide through waivers, much as they had hoped Torreyes would.  With his speed, I think the odds are better that some team will take a chance.  All of which makes the move to DFA Torreyes and sign Adams all the more curious.  Right now, the Yankees feel like such a small market team.  Or least a big city team with a small market budget.

Pedro Alvarez seems like such a great fit for the Yankees now that it has been announced that first baseman Greg Bird will miss the season due to shoulder surgery.  But almost immediately, GM Brian Cashman downplayed any major league signings by saying that Dustin Ackley is the back up first baseman and that the Yankees would seek to find a first base replacement for Bird at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  I think as the 1B/3B backup, Alvarez would get his share of at-bats.  The Yankees need to exercise caution with Mark Teixeira in the final year of his contract and most likely his swan song in pinstripes.  Playing Teixeira the majority of the time will only heighten the risk of injury.  Equally, Chase Headley needs a breather or probably better yet, competition.  I like Ackley and I think it’s good to find ways to get him into the lineup, but still, I think the Yankees would be a better team with Alvarez on the roster.

But for Team Fiscal Constraint, that’s not going to happen.

As for Bird, the odds are that he was going to spend the majority of 2016 in AAA.  It doesn’t make sense to carry a back up first baseman who can’t play other positions.  So, the impact of Bird’s loss is probably insignificant so long as Teixeira stays healthy.  But that’s why the Yankees  need a firm Plan B in place.

Given that Bird is slated to be the starting first baseman in 2017, let’s hope that the surgery and his subsequent recovery are overwhelmingly successful.

2016 Baseball…

I am disappointed that the Yankees won’t be coming to my home city (Los Angeles).  Sorry, Anaheim is an away city when you live in LA.  Nevertheless, the Boston Red Sox are coming to Dodger Stadium so I have my ticket to see a game when the Sox invade Chavez Ravine in early August.  Needless to say, I will be wearing my Dodgers cap although I could probably make an argument to wear my more valuable Yankees cap.

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I was a big Don Mattingly fan (well, I still am).  So, I hated to see Donnie Baseball leave the Dodgers.  But I am looking forward to seeing what Dave Roberts can do.  He’ll have arguably the best pitcher in baseball with Clayton Kershaw, and will have a full season of MLB’s top prospect, SS Cory Seager.  But I fully expect to see a re-charged Red Sox squad heavily involved in the pennant race when they visit LA in August, led by Cy Young contender David Price.

I do not have any trips planned to New York this year so most likely no Yankee Stadium visits.  I’ll probably make a trip down to the OC to see the “Los Angeles” Angels play the Yanks, but it is simply not the same as Dodger Stadium.

Now that the calendar has turned to February, it’s not long before pitchers and catchers report.  This has been a somewhat disappointing off-season for the Yankees even if they can now call 2B Starlin Castro and ace closer Aroldis Chapman their own.  But the proof is in the pudding, so we’ll get the opportunity to see how the chemistry of the 2016 Yankees works.

Here’s to the expiration of bloated contracts…

—Scott

Why start now?…

Team Status Quo…

While perusing the NJ.com website, I came across a feature on the Yankees page that cited free agents the Yankees should sign.  It is interesting that, at this point, the Yankees have not signed a major league free agent this off-season.  There were free agents that I wish they had signed, but they chose not to.  I realize the need to drop some heavy contracts before taking on more, but with a couple of contracts due to expire this fall, it would be beneficial to improve certain areas of the team.

Next season, Greg Bird will be the starting first baseman.  This season, he is most likely headed to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a few more AAA at-bats.  It doesn’t really make sense to have Bird on the major league roster to play sporadically.  So, I agree the Yankees should take a gander at the bargain bin to see what’s left.

Here are the major league free agents that NJ.com cited:

  1. Cliff Lee
  2. Pedro Alvarez
  3. Doug Fister
  4. Tim Lincecum
  5. Greg Holland
  6. Alex Rios
  7. Bobby Parnell
  8. Mike Minor

My simple thoughts:

CLIFF LEE

No, I’d rather pass.  Yes, he could potentially help a starting rotation if healthy, but this is a player that has rejected New York several times in the past.  I would prefer if the Yankees are the ones to push the reject button this time.  The Yankees have enough injury concerns in the starting rotation.  There is no need to add more kindling to the fire.

PEDRO ALVAREZ

Alvarez would not excite me as a starting third baseman, but he does have value as a backup first AND third baseman.  Bird is one-dimensional.  He only plays first, so the talk is stirring that Starlin Castro will back up Chase Headley at third.  Alvarez would keep Castro at second, and allow Bird to get those precious AAA at-bats.  He has some pop and would strengthen the bench.  So, I’d take Alvarez.

DOUG FISTER

He is a good pitcher, and he’ll help somebody.  But for some reason, I am not enthused about him as a Yankee.  For a team trying to get younger, I’d prefer to take a chance on a  younger pitcher with upside.  If the Yankees were in championship mode now, then I’d say take a shot.  But they are not ready to play at that level yet, so why spend the money.  Pass.

TIM LINCECUM

I am intrigued with the thought of Lincecum as the long man out of the pen.  At this stage of his career, I think he can be a very effective reliever if used in the right situations and not overly exposed.  With Adam Warren in Chicago, there’s a strong need for a good long man and Lincecum can be the man.  Take the chance.

GREG HOLLAND

Since 2016 is lost due to Tommy John surgery, this is a hedge for the inevitable free agent departure of Aroldis Chapman.  I am hopeful that the Yankees can sign Chapman to an extension, but if they get cheap like this off-season, there’s no doubt that Chapman will be pitching elsewhere.  The Yankees will have the compensation pick as a result, but that’s pennies on the dollar when you are talking about the best closer in baseball.  Signing Holland would provide a top closer if/when Chapman leaves.  I’d pass.  Nothing against Holland, but the availability of good closers is much better than other positions.  No need to pay Holland to recuperate and hopefully return to form.  Andrew Miller can be the closer if Chapman departs, and the Yankees can find a replacement for setup work.  Pass.

ALEX RIOS

Signing Rios doesn’t excite me.  It’s hard to accept when there was a chance to sign either Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes.  The Yankees passed on those players, and I’d prefer that they do not reach for a lower shelf talent like Rios.  I like Aaron HIcks and if he is pushed into starting duty due to an injury or trade of Brett Gardner, I’d prefer to see Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams get the opportunity to take Hicks’ fourth outfielder role.  Pass.

BOBBY PARNELL

This falls into the same category as Greg Holland.  I don’t want a reclamation project.  Let him return to health and try to return to form elsewhere.  Pass.

MIKE MINOR

This one I like.  I know that he’s had his problems and injuries, but he’s still young.  I feel that if he is healthy, he could be an effective fifth starter.  I’d take the chance.

Odds are the Yankees do not sign any of these guys.  Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner is very fond of his money, and he’d prefer to win just enough to draw the fans.  The days of a World Series Championship or bust are over.  Time will tell if Steinbrenner is willing to spend money after the bloated contracts expire or if he prefers to field a team of young, controllable players.  It will take a mix to make this strategy work.  The Yankees’ farm system has improved but it is not capable of producing a high caliber champion without some help.

Heading into spring training, the biggest needs are the backup first/third baseman and potentially another starter for the rotation.  I am still hopeful that Ivan Nova can be dealt but the optimism erodes with each passing day.  I do not trust CC Sabathia, even with the knee brace.  His better days are long gone.  It would have been nice if the Yankees could have acquired an ace as I feel Masahiro Tanaka would be better suited to be the #2 starter.  But that wasn’t going to happen with the suddenly small market minded Yankees.

I totally get why the Yankees want to get out of the luxury tax penalty box.  I don’t blame them, however, it ensures that there will be plenty of disappointments on the field for the next few years.  The Yankees couldn’t compete with the Houston Astros in a one game playoff.  It actually felt like a loss even before they played.  The Yankees have not done anything to improve.   They already had a stellar bullpen with Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller.  Betances, Miller and Chapman will be a formidable trio, but statistics-wise, there is not much they can do to improve upon last season.  Starlin Castro is a better option than a platoon of Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley, but the bullpen lost its long man.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles re-signed slugging first baseman Chris Davis and the Boston Red Sox added an elite starter (David Price) and elite closer (Craig Kimbrel) in moves that did not weaken other areas of their respective teams.

It is possible the Yankees once again over-achieve, but it’s equally likely that the team will take a step back in 2016.  I don’t think you’ll see the Yankees appear on any pre-season World Series predictions.

Still, I am hoping for a promising season.  Fortunately, pitchers and catchers report in just a few weeks.  I am ready for the game to return and end of the quietness of the Yankees’ disappointing off-season.

—Scott

High Wire with No Safety Net…

Bargain Basement Shopping…

Well, so much for my dream that the Yankees would come out of the weeds to snag Wei-Yin Chen.  The Miami Marlins paid $80 million to bring the hurler to South Beach to pitch for Donnie Baseball.  It would have made so much sense for the Yankees to sign Chen.  Proceeding down Path Status Quo will ensure that we’ll see AAA or AA arms in the starting rotation at some point during the season.  I hope James Kaprielian is ready.  He’ll be getting his taste of the Bronx sooner rather than later barring any other moves.

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Credit:  MLB.com

As we proceed through January, the latest additions are infielder Ronald Torreyes and relievers Tyler Olson and Anthony Swarzak.  I don’t know much about Swarzak but I remember going to a Twins-Yankees game at Target Field in 2012 when they brought Swarzak into the game.  I remember thinking that it was a good opportunity to score some runs, and I think that’s exactly what happened.  Could be wrong, but suffice it to say that Swarzak did not put the fear of God into me that day.

Living in Los Angeles, my TV tends to be overrun with anything Dodgers so I was aware of Torreyes and his limited contributions in 2015.  Olson was with the Mariners last season and had only recently been acquired by the Dodgers.  All sound like fodder for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to me.  To get Torreyes and Olson, the Yankees gave up infielder Rob Segedin.  Once a third round draft pick, I once had hope that Segedin would eventually lock down third base.  But at 27, his days as a prospect with potential were gone.

At this point, I don’t see the Yankees making any surprise additions or trades.  It feels like what we have is what we have, and that’s what will be going to Tampa for spring training.

There’s a part of me that hopes for a Justin Upton signing, with the trade of Brett Gardner for a pitcher, but I realize that’s a pipe dream.  In so many ways, last season’s success was a detriment as it prevented Hal Steinbrenner from feeling a sense of urgency.  Admittedly, the team feels like it is preparing for 2018 or 2019, and willing to forego the next couple of seasons.  I guess New York will be Mets town for the forseeable future.

I am trying to stay positive but as long as the starting rotation is in a fragile state, it doesn’t matter how hard the closer throws.   Plus there is too much risk at first base, right, and center.  The shuttle between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and New York will be working overtime.

The Los Angeles Rams has such a familiar ring to it…

I may not be a Rams fan, but I was so excited to hear that the Rams were returning to the City of Angels.  As a resident of Los Angeles, it seemed so weird that the second largest city in the country and one of the largest cities in the World did not have professional football.  Granted, one could argue that the Rams are not professional but still, they belong to Los Angeles.  I know, they started as the Cleveland Rams, but they spent so many years in L.A.  Growing up as a Minnesota Vikings fan in the 70’s, their chief nemesis at the time was Chuck Knox and the Rams.  I could never get used to “St Louis Rams”.  It just didn’t sound right.  The Los Angeles Rams has a much more majestic sound to it.  The pressure will be on owner Stan Kroenke and head coach Jeff Fisher to deliver a winner for L.A.  But one thing’s for certain, the 2016 NFL Season will be a blast with football on Sundays at the L.A. Coliseum.

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I feel bad for the fans in St Louis, but I seriously doubt those fans were too concerned when Los Angeles lost the Rams in 1994.

Time will tell if the Rams are joined by the San Diego Chargers, but either way, it’s fun that the NFL is back in Los Angeles.  I know that I’ll be heading out for a game or two.

Ray Finkle revisited…

What can I say about the horrific loss by the Minnesota Vikings last weekend?  It was a game that they clearly could have and should have won.  Back in training camp, Kicker Blair Walsh couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.  The Vikings stuck with him and he corrected his performance over the course of the regular season.  However, the trouble during training camp stayed with me.  Even as Walsh was lining up for what should have been a chip shot game winning field goal, the training camp yips were playing in the back of my head.  When he missed the kick, regardless of whether it was the fault of the holder or Donald Trump, I had such a sense of ‘I knew it’.  As a lifelong Vikings fan, they have given me more than a fair share of disappointment.

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Credit:  AP

I am still very optimistic about the future of the Vikings under Mike Zimmer’s leadership.  However, they had the ability to make noise THIS post-season and blew the opportunity.  Windows are short in the NFL.  The Vikings had better learn from this experience and show that they know how to win.  Next year will be the first year in the new stadium so perhaps they were just waiting to explode in US Bank Stadium.  I trust the decision makers will make the right decisions to continue the improvement of the Vikings and return a much stronger team when training camp breaks later this summer.

Baseball is getting close…just a month away.  I’m ready even if the Yankees aren’t.

—Scott

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