Results tagged ‘ Dellin Betances ’

The End is near…

The Kid from Kalamazoo rides away…

I hate that I’ve been so pessimistic about the Yankees’ chances of making the play-offs this year, but the realization is slowly becoming a reality as time on the 2014 season draws to a close.  For whatever reason, this just has never felt like the Yankees’ season.  It had more promise than last year yet the team will actually end up with a worse record.  As I write this, the Yankees hold a two game lead for second place in the AL East and that’s the most the team can aspire for.

After losing Martin Prado for the season due to an appendectomy, the latest blow is the potential season-ending loss of Jacoby Ellsbury with a hamstring injury.

It’s sad that the final season for future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter will end so quietly.  In a way, it carries the same sadness that saw Don Mattingly’s career end with the 1995 play-off loss to the Seattle Mariners (his only post-season appearance in a tremendously successful Yankees career).  Granted, DJ has enjoyed far greater post-season success than Mattingly could have ever imagined, but still, for the man coined as Mr. November, it’s sad that we will no longer be able to see his presence grace October.

Ironically, it is Mattingly who will experience the post-season this year as he has his Los Angeles Dodgers in a good position with a play-off spot secured and a 3 ½ game lead in the NL West over the San Francisco Giants.

With Jeter’s desire to one day be a major league owner, I wonder where his post-Yankees career will take him.  It’s tough to see Mattingly wear another team’s uniform after he wore pinstripes for the duration of his Yankees career.  I can’t imagine seeing Derek wearing another uniform.  I was listening to Cal Ripken on the radio this week and his radio career ensures that he’ll forever be known as an Oriole and nothing else.  That’s the way it should be, but Jeter’s aspirations for ownership will inevitably lead him elsewhere.  I can’t see the Steinbrenner family selling him a substantial piece of the prized Yankees.

Thank you, Lord, for making him a Yankee…

Hats off to Hiroki Kuroda who has been such a great Yankee.  I respected him when he was a starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but never really got a sense of his professionalism and the honor he bestows wearing his team’s colors.  He has only been a Yankee for three years, but he made a difference and if this is his last year, he will leave a solid legacy.  If he does play another year in the majors, I hope that he does return to the Yankees rather than going back to the Dodgers.  But for whatever he decides, I will respect his decision because he has earned that right.  If he does pitch for the Dodgers next year, or plays in Japan, or simply calls it a career, I will remain a fan.

My choice…they passed the audition…

I really hope the Yankees move quickly to re-sign Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy, and decide to bring back Chris Young.  I think all three can play valuable roles for the 2015 season even with the return of Alex Rodriguez or the potential signing of a frontline starter like Jon Lester.  The first order of business when the season ends is for the Yankees to re-sign GM Brian Cashman (or move on and name Billy Eppler as his replacement).  The GM situation needs to be settled quickly so that the team can focus on its pursuit of improvement for 2015.  I clearly want Cashman back, but I’d be happy with Eppler in the role too.  I would not want to see the team bring in an outsider for fill the role.

I am anxious to see if Rob Refsnyder can take second base next spring.  He may not be Robinson Cano but I think he’d bring excitement to the position.

A plethora of catchers…

The Yankees will need to do something about the glut of catchers this off-season.  Francisco Cervelli is a great back-up and a potential starter, but John Ryan Murphy deserves a chance.  Austin Romine seems to have become an afterthought and maybe he’d thrive with a change of scenery (not unlike what happened for his brother, Andrew Romine, who was dealt from the Angels organization and is now starting at shortstop for the Detroit Tigers).  One of these days, Gary Sanchez will be knocking at the door and he will force his way onto the roster.

We know who replaced Mariano Rivera…

I guess the predictions that reliever Jacob Lindgren would make the majors by the end of the year after he was drafted in June did not come to pass.  But there’s no doubt that he’ll be a contender for the bullpen next season.  I really have no clue what the Yankees intend to do with David Robertson.  If he becomes a free agent, there is a very real possibility that he will become a former Yankee.  I am sure the Yankees are intrigued with the possibility of making Dellin Betances the closer after his All-Star breakout season.  I think Betances can be a great closer but Robertson has certainly done everything the team expected from him.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  I remember hating to see closer John Wetteland leave via free agency which thrust set up man Mariano Rivera into the closer’s role.  I think that situation played itself out correctly (statement of the obvious).  Time will tell if the team makes the right decision with Robertson.

Wanted:  Clutch hits…

One Yankee that has come under a great deal of heat is hitting coach Kevin Long.  Long respected at his craft, I wonder if the team’s offensive failures this year will force the Yankees to change coaches.  As great as Long is, if the players are not responding to his message, it’s either time to get new players or change coaches.  The latter is the cheaper route and it will most likely be the one the team makes.  There are no obvious choices for who would make a better hitting coach.  I’ve always liked Don Baylor but I don’t know his current situation.  I think Bernie Williams would have made a terrific coach if he had chosen that path, but his musical adventure is his passion.  Paul O’Neill?  Another one of the hard choices for the Yankees to make.

As Derek Jeter rides off to the sunset, many questions and few answers confront the Yankees as they move forward.

–Scott

No plans for October?…

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…

The Yankees keep giving deceiving indications that they could actually snag the last Wild Card slot with great performances like the two walk-off wins over the Tampa Bay Rays.  The series ender when Chris Young broke up a no-hitter in the 8th with a double and won the game in the 9th with a three run homer seemed to possess the magical “mystique and aura”.  But the latest post-season hopes were dealt a harsh reality on Friday (September 12th) when the Baltimore Orioles swept the Yankees in a double-header.

The Yankees had a chance in the first game when they took a 1-0 lead in extra innings but the O’s dished the Yankees a taste of their own recent medicine in scoring two runs in the bottom of the inning to snatch victory away.  The second game was no contest as the Yankee bats couldn’t muster anything against Bud Norris.

Ichiro and the Yankees offense combine for one run in 20 innings of baseball on Friday.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

I have felt for some time that this year’s Yankees lack the necessary ingredients to thrive in the post-season and I did not see them hurdling over the likes of the Detroit Tigers, Oakland A’s, and Mariners.

With post-season hopes fading fast, I think the Yankees should shut Masahiro Tanaka down rather than risk trying to bring him back this month for what appears to be a lost season.

It’s hard not to wonder how this year’s team would have done with Robinson Cano in the heart of the batting order.  Jacoby Ellsbury has been great at times but he doesn’t carry the consistency that Cano brought to the park every day.  Carlos Beltran has been a shell of his usual self due to injuries.

The curtain will soon be closed on the Yankees and they can start to think about what it will take to improve the team for 2015.  Of the late season additions, I would like to see the returns of Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy.  I am hopeful that the team re-signs both players.  Martin Prado is under contract so he’ll be back.  It’s a small sample size, but Chris Young is showing enough to be the team’s fourth outfielder next year.  With the virtual certainty that this is Ichiro Suzuki’s final year in the Bronx, Young could play a valuable role next season.  Headley may not be the bat that you want at third, but he is a much better defender than Alex Rodriguez.  I am really not looking forward to A-Rod’s return and it’s anybody’s guess what the Yankees will get from the 39-year old.  At this stage of his career, I think he’s a full-time DH at best.  But he’ll never be the slugger he once was.

Team character takes a huge hit with the departure of future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter and the return of A-Rod.  Honestly, I’d love to see the Yankees find a way to divorce Rodriguez regardless of the cost…

I do think we’ll see a better version of Brian McCann with a year under his belt.  As for second base, I remain hopeful that Rob Refsnyder will be able to make the leap in spring training and claim the position.  I’d prefer that over a free agent signing or trade for a past-his-prime veteran.  I don’t think that Stephen Drew is the answer at short so I don’t know who will replace #2.  I am sure that will be a focal point of the off-season.  With A-Rod potentially blocking DH, that’s a predicament for Beltran.  I question his durability to play the field at this stage of his career and he’d be a better candidate (and performer) at DH.  The Yankees need to find a young slugger for right field.  I am not sure that the top prospects, like Aaron Judge, will be ready yet so they Yankees may have to explore the trade market.

Mark LoMoglio/Tampa Yankees

It was interesting to see the reports that minor league director Mark Newman will be retiring at the end of the year and the subsequent reports that he most likely would not have returned anyway since his contract was up.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago Newman had great power within the organization and for a time battled GM Brian Cashman for control.  But now, Newman is quietly shown the door.  The first potential successor I heard is Trey Hillman.  I am ready for a change to see better performance from the minor league system.  Damon Oppenheimer has done well drafting in recent years but it always seems like the prospects get stuck at Triple A and never pan out.  Obviously, Dellin Betances is an exception but he had to re-invent himself as a reliever after an unsuccessful attempt to get to the majors as a starter.

The Yankees do need to make re-signing Brian Cashman an early priority so that it doesn’t detract from the team’s off-season plans.  If they can’t re-sign Cashman, I still think that Billy Eppler would be a very capable replacement.  But with Eppler’s name mentioned in every GM opening, the Yankees need to re-sign Cashman before Eppler departs.  A worst case scenario would be for Eppler to get the Arizona Diamondbacks job with the Yankees subsequently failing to lock up Cashman.

Yankees.JPG

Rob Antonelli/New York Daily News

There’s a great deal of uncertainty as the Yankees move forward.  It is unlikely they’ll go on another spending splurge like they did last off-season.  The Yankees do not have too many trade-able chips at the major league level.  Francisco Cervelli comes to mind.  He has done a good job for the Yankees in a much needed support role to McCann but I think John Ryan Murphy is capable of performing well in that role.  But it would take a lot more than Cervelli to bring an infusion of talent into the organization.  I am always on the lookout for the next Paul O’Neill…the type of player who has not lived up to his potential in his current environment but is someone capable to excelling in New York.  Then again, isn’t everybody?

Lots and lots of questions as the sun sets on the Yankees’ 2014 season…

–Scott

To pay or not to pay…

The high “Price” of success…

The majority of the Yankees starting rotation is gone, with Hiroki Kuroda as the last man standing.  Honestly, I keep expecting reports that Kuroda has been lost for the year and perhaps his career as this is most likely his final year in Major League Baseball. 

I am not ready to declare Brandon McCarthy as a top of the rotation starter after Brian McCann’s comments to the same effect following McCarthy’s debut win as Yankee yesterday but will acknowledge that he is at the top of the rotation with this Yankees staff.  That’s why it is amazing the Yankees are two games over .500 at this point in the season.  It is certainly a testament to Joe Girardi’s managerial ability.  But as it stands, it is not sustainable and by Brian Cashman’s own admission, the team needs starting pitching.

McCarthy feeling like himself while wife tweets support

 Bill Kostroun/New York Post

I have such mixed feelings on this subject because I do not believe there is a move that can be made that would propel this Yankee team to the World Series.  Well, there’s moves that could be made to give the Yankees “something” for “nothing”, but of course that’s not going to happen.  I am watching the increasingly glowing reports about minor league pitcher Luis Severino, and there is part of me that wonders how much is legitimate and how much is the Yankees PR machine.  He is a quality talent, don’t get me wrong, but of course, the Yankees will ‘enhance’ the images of its young future stars given the lack of quality major league ready talent at the upper levels of the farm system.

But with that being said, I don’t want to see Severino, or Peter O’Brien or Gary Sanchez or Rob Refsnyder or any other quality prospect headed to another team for an aging overpaid player that has seen his best years and is a short term option since it still will not mean a World Series and the Yankees will regret having those players in future years.  David Price is one of the few quality exceptions that I’d make, but despite the talk, there’s no way the Tampa Bay Rays trade with the Yankees.  From Tampa’s perspective, I’d only do it if I knew that I could clean out New York’s quality prospects and damage the organization for years to come.

Even if the Yankees bring in pitching upgrades for the starting rotation, you still can’t win games if you do not score runs. 

Open audition for Closer’s role?…

With impending free agency for Mariano Rivera successor David Robertson and the lack of any discussions, I wonder if the team is evaluating whether Robertson or the breakout performer Dellin Betances is better suited for the role long term.  Robertson has done a great job but Betances is younger (albeit by a few years) and he casts a far more imposing presence on the mound by virtue of his height and size (6’8”, 260 lbs) compared to the smaller, more slender Robertson (5’11”, 195).   

Dellin Betances earlier this month.

 Barton Silverman/The New York Times

There’s also the cost factor as Betances will be the cheaper option and the Yankees will need those dollars to upgrade other areas of the team for its 2015 rebuild. 

Robertson has done much better than I thought he did.  There have been a couple of hiccups but even the great Rivera had a few of those.  It’s part of the life of a closer.  But he’s been more successful than not and consistency in the role is the key.  I’d like to see Robertson stay as the knockout punch of Betances-Robertson is a good one.  But of course, I liked the knockout punch of Mariano Rivera-John Wetteland in 1996 but the decision to let Wetteland walk turned out alright. 

This will be an interesting off-season for the Yankees with so many decisions to make.  I am still not convinced that Brian Cashman will be the GM beyond this year.  The only certainty I can project is that Joe Girardi will be back.  Well, that and Derek Jeter is headed to the Hall of Fame.  But beyond that, I am sure there will be a series of moves again this off-season as the team tries to recapture its glory.  The 2014 Yankees are certainly not one that you would stand pat for. 

Farewell to a Champion…

Okay, this is not baseball related, but I was saddened to see the news of the passing of actor James Garner.  As a child, I used to regularly watch The Rockford Files and would catch old episodes of Maverick on syndication.  Garner had such a great sense of “coolness” that he brought to the roles of Jim Rockford and Bret Maverick, and his happy-go-lucky attitude was always so refreshing.  This has been a difficult year in terms of the losses we’ve seen.  Celebrity deaths have been almost a frequent as pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery.  A sad day but Garner made a difference with his life and that’s something all of us aspire to do…

 

–Scott

 

The Carlos has landed…

 

Welcome to the Bronx!…

With one swing of the bat, Carlos Beltran has arrived as a Yankee.  On Friday night, with the Yankees down by one run and two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, Beltran crushed his most important hit to date into the left center stands with two on to give the Yankees a 5-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

 

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Mark Bonifacio/New York Daily News

 

For many new Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka excluded, it takes a while to get acclimated to pinstripes.  I remember that it took Jason Giambi a season or so to really feel comfortable.  Brian McCann started his Bronx career a little on the slow side, and in many Fantasy Baseball rankings, his replacement in Atlanta and former backup, Evan Gattis was rated higher among catchers.  He delivered a key hit this past week to win a game and perhaps that was his “moment”.  He is starting to hit so there’s no reason not to believe that he’ll be an offensive force for the remainder of the season.  But Beltran came with high expectations even at his age.  Not to say that McCann didn’t, but perhaps the bar is a little higher for Beltran given his history in the City with the Mets.

 

Carlos B

 Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

 

Ironically, Beltran may never have gotten his “moment” if not for a clutch RBI single by McCann in the prior at-bat.  The game had many heroes.  A diving stop by Jacoby Ellsbury that could have easily bounced past him to allow more Oriole runners to score in the late innings, David Huff limiting the O’s to one run in the top of the 9th after an error by Yangervis Solarte, and the very strong performance by Hiroki Kuroda.  Conversely, Solarte could have been the goat with the error, in combination with his inning ending at-bat with two on in the bottom of the 8th.  Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the Gatorade was dunked on Beltran and all was good in the Bronx.

If second basemen were as plentiful as catchers…

I like Francisco Cervelli as backup catcher given his versatility.  But it was still sad to see John Ryan Murphy sent down to AAA.  I know, he’ll get the chance to start every day, but I thought he did a great job backing up McCann.  I know that when the Yankees make a deadline move in July, it will almost certainly include one of the young catchers (Murphy or top prospect Gary Sanchez).   If the Yankees somehow swing a deal for David Price (unlikely in my opinion), Sanchez would have to be one of the pieces headed to Tampa.  But in other deals, it’s more likely that Murphy will go unless the Yankees move Cervelli.  Austin Romine seems to have become an afterthought.

Have bat, will travel…

I am glad to see that prospect Peter O’Brien is thriving.  Another catcher, he has been performing well at first base and is perhaps an option to replace Mark Teixeira at some future point if he doesn’t get moved in July.  Conversely, it is sad to see that talented prospect but oft-injured Slade Heathcott is dealing with, surprise, injuries…

 

Peter O'Brien hit a walk-off home run to score two runs and give Tampa the 6-5 win.

Mark LoMoglio/Yankees, via MLB.com

 

Sabathia, Nova and Pineda who?…

Hats off to the young Yankee pitchers.  Entering the season, the bullpen was perceived as a weakness but young arms Dellin Betances and Adam Warren have become go-to guys, and represent superior upgrades to guys like Joba Chamberlain and other former relievers.  But the biggest surprise is how well the replacement pitchers, Chase Whitley and David Phelps in particular, have performed.  Vidal Nuno has done a decent job but he is the top candidate to go to the pen or to AAA when CC Sabathia returns after the All-Star break.  It’s almost a given that the Yankees will pursue another starting pitcher in July but the reason the Yankees are buyers and not sellers is directly attributable to the support that Whitley and Phelps have provided for ace Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda.

The bearded brigade…

I am glad to see that Phil Hughes has found a home in Minneapolis but I am among those who believe his strong performance would not have happened in the Bronx.  I wish that he could have worked out for him, but he did need the change of scenery.  It wasn’t that long ago that Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain were cited as the next great Yankee pitching hopefuls, and now they play in Minnesota, San Diego and Detroit, respectively.  The only one that the Yankees received a return for was Kennedy and in retrospect it was not for market value.  Kennedy went to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers when the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson.  Given that Granderson left as a free agent, the Yankees essentially have nothing left to show for the losses of the three former top prospects.

What’s with the former Yankees who feel the need to grow a beard when they leave New York?…

 

ESPN.com

 

I know the Yankees have history and tradition with their no facial hair policy, but I feel that it is something that the new Steinbrenner regime should consider relaxing.  Some guys just need a beard.  Sorry McCann…

No reminder needed, thank you…

I have to admit that I had almost forgotten about Alex Rodriguez (it was nice) until I heard his name yesterday after it was announced that he had dropped his lawsuit against the team’s doctor.  I don’t know what A-Rod has left in his bat but honestly I do not care.  I am not looking forward to his return next year and remain hopeful that the Yankees will find a way to sever ties.  But I know that’s wishful thinking on my part.  For now, I just have to enjoy that the team is doing fine without A-Rod and know that he is not missed.

 

alex rodriguez

–Scott

 

It is high, it is far, it is caught…

A penny for your hits…

What does it take to buy a hit?  Apparently not the $45 million the Yankees paid to Carlos Beltran or the $85 mil to Brian McCann or $175 million for former Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.  This season has been a struggle for wins despite the team’s winning record.  It was finally starting to feel a little better at 29-25 but then the Yankees promptly lost 4 in a row.

 

 

Playing a good team like the Oakland A’s, the Yankees bullpen failed miserably until the final game of the series when David Robertson locked away a win for ace Masahiro Tanaka.  That bleeding started in the series with the Minnesota Twins and was inevitable with the short innings being provided by the replacement starters (i.e., David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley).  When the Yankees are only scoring 1 or 2 runs a game, the starters need to throw a gem almost every outing which obviously is not realistic given the current state of arms.

I thought the Yankees should have aggressively tried to sign Stephen Drew before the Boston Red Sox re-signed him, and now I feel the same way about slugger Kendrys Morales.  Now that there is no longer draft pick compensation tied to him since the MLB started yesterday, I felt the Yankees should go after him.  Maybe they are, but there’s competition.  Based on yesterday’s first draft pick for the Yankees in the second, had they signed Morales earlier, the cost would have been lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren who is already projected to make an appearance in the Yankees bullpen this year.  But now it’s an open field for Morales and the Yankees have reluctance, wanting to see how Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran perform.  In my opinion, the odds of one or both going back to the DL at some point is very high, and the designated hitter, Alfonso Soriano, is not hitting, so I would aggressively pursue Morales to cover 1B/DH.  Ironically, Morales is the guy the Los Angeles Angels turned to when Mark Teixeira left as a free agent.  It worked out well for the Angels and I think it can work out well for the Yankees.  No ifs, ands, or buts, the Yankees need a proven consistent run producer in the middle of the order.  I agree with those who say the Yankees sorely miss Robinson Cano’s bat.  Ironically, the Yankees were also unable to re-sign another slugger having a good year in Milwaukee this year (Mark Reynolds) despite the usual anemic batting average.  Those home runs would look pretty good about now in Yankee Stadium.

 Courtesy:  hailstate.com

On nights the Yankees are scoring only a run or getting shut out, I even see guys like Milwaukee’s Lyle Overbay, another 2013 Yankee, driving in a couple of runs for his new team.  And of course, who delivered the key hit in the Yankees last game with the Twins when the Yankees bullpen collapsed in the late innings?  None other than former backup shortstop Eduardo Nunez.

At this point, the Toronto Blue Jays are starting to run away with the division.  They are clearly playing like the class of the division and they just came off a very successful series against perennial AL contender Detroit.  If I had to pick two teams playing in the ALCS right now, I’d pick the Blue Jays and the Oakland A’s.  If the Yankees do not figure out how to fix the current offensive drought, they really will be offensive and done for the season in September.

Not everybody was meant to be Mariano Rivera…

Nothing against David Robertson but I am still not sold on him as the team’s closer.  Sure, replacing Mariano Rivera is big shoes to fill.  However, I still think that Robertson’s stuff plays best in a Set Up role.  I have been intrigued with the possibility of trying Dellin Betances in the role, but he needs more major league experience so maybe next year.  The reliever the Yankees picked yesterday (Jacob Lindgren) is also a future possibility.  If Robertson blows a few more games like he did against Minnesota, I’d really consider using Andrew Bailey in the role when he gets healthy…for now.

I love you, I love you not…

Speaking of former Yankees thriving outside of New York, both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain seem to be doing fine.  Hughes even captured a victory in the Bronx with the aforementioned bullpen collapse, a place that he couldn’t buy a win last year.  Chamberlain has a couple of saves and a decent ERA.  I can’t say that I’ve watched him too closely but his stats seem to say that all is good.  Why couldn’t have these guys performed like this last year?  Rhetorical question and of course, there is something to be said about the pressure of playing in New York.  It’s not for everyone.

Farewell to a champion…

It was sound to hear about the passing of former Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer this week.  The image of Zim sitting next to Joe Torre on the Yankees bench is forever burned into my memory.  He was such a part of those late 90’s championships and he helped mold Torre into a Hall of Fame manager and one who will soon have his number retired in Memorial Park.  I realize that sooner or later, all of us must depart.  But still, it is sad to see Zim go now.  I understand he had been in poor health since April and hopefully he is now at peace.  He will be missed as he was truly one of Major League Baseball’s landmarks.

 Courtesy:  Keith Torrie/New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

–Scott

The Road More Travelled…

Where’s the reset button?…

2014 has been a year of disappointment for many.  Pitchers are lining up for Tommy John surgery at an alarming rate and proven star performers like Prince Fielder and Bryce Harper are on the DL.

Certainly, the Boston Red Sox rank of one of the year’s greatest disappointments (as discussed in Nick Cafardo’s column today in the Boston Globe).  I realize the team has struggled with the losses of Jacoby Ellsbury and Jared Saltalamacchia, but the effort and focus of the team collectively seems to be lacking.  I know, a Yankee fan making negative comments about the Red Sox…shocking.  But still, watch the 15th inning of yesterday’s Sox-Rays game seemed to be a microcosm of Boston’s season.  While everyone was critical of reliever Andrew Miller’s errant throw at second base that allowed Tampa Bay to score the winning run, it was an earlier play that I felt was equally as critical.  The Rays laid down a perfect bunt toward third and Miller had the closest line to the ball, yet he pulled up and didn’t make an attempt for it.  It appeared to me that they would have been able to record an out had Miller gone for the ball, but instead the runners advanced.  Sure, the loss cannot be placed on Miller alone. But it was a random sample of what ails the Sox.

 

Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller walks off after his throwing error in the 15th allowed the Rays to celebrate their walkoff win. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

 

I know better than to ever underestimate the Red Sox.  They’ve overcome adversity too often to think their season is done.  But they need to find the “magic” soon if they intend to defend their crown.

Battling to stay above .500…

Of course, as I write about the Red Sox, my team…the Yankees…have their own problems.  Entering the season, there were two primary concerns:  the infield and the bullpen.

The latter has become a strength with the emergence of young relievers like Dellin Betances and Adam Warren.  I have lost no sleep about Joba Chamberlain being in Detroit, whlle Betances has become a late inning force.  David Robertson has been very effective as Mariano Rivera’s replacement (regardless of the two run walk-off home run by Chicago’s Adam Dunn the other night).  But time will tell how long it will hold up with the collapse…at least injury-wise…of the starting rotation.  With CC Sabathia, ivan Nova and Michael Pineda on the DL, the bullpen has lost reliable arms to the rotation (Vidal Nuno and David Phelps).  The Yankees ability to find a permanent solution for the losses of Sabathia and Nova and the successful return of Pineda will go a long way toward determining where the Yankees will be in late September.

The infield has been as expected.  Sure, Yangervis Solarte has been a pleasant surprise but I do not realistically expect him to keep it up for the duration of the season.  Brian Roberts, to no surprise, is nicked up and hasn’t played for a couple of games.  Kelly Johnson is a better role player than starter.  But sadly, the biggest disappointment might be Derek Jeter.  A sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer, Derek is unquestionably on his last legs.  I am not trying to knock Jeter but he’s just as susceptible to age as the rest of us.  Only Mariano Rivera was exempt…

So, it becomes a question of what changes can be made at what price…and when?…

The end of the streak…

In a way, it was good to see Masahiro Tanaka finally lose his first regular season game since 2012.  The streak was becoming the focus and with it, a distraction.    Everyone has a bad day and Tanaka is no exception.  But now, he can just pitch and continue to improve his game without the added pressure of maintaining the streak.

The loss was inevitable and the many storylines about it have been written.  Let’s move on.

 

Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

 

The Boy Who Cried Wolf…

Now that Kim Kardashian’s wedding in Florence, Italy is over, I wonder what she’ll do for her next wedding when she gets re-married…

 

–Scott

 

Baseball and bad decisions…

 

A swing and a miss, another miss, yet another miss…

This morning, I saw a post on the MLB Trade Rumors website (http://www.MLBTradeRumors.com) that asked the poll question of which MLB team had the best draft in 2002?  Of all the examples shown, no Yankees were anywhere to be found.  For a draft that started with Bryan Bullington and B.J. Upton, there was some great talent uncovered in the 2002 draft.  Jon Lester, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, Joey Votto and a guy who would eventually find his way to the Bronx, Brian McCann, were among the great choices by their respective teams.  But sadly, not a single Yankee selection stuck that year.

Number 26 selection Phil Coke is a major leaguer but with the Detroit Tigers.  He had his moments in the Bronx but was never anything special and was sent to the Tigers as part of the Curtis Granderson-Austin Jackson trade.

But removing Coke, there are 50 rounds of names that Yankee Stadium never heard from.  I really do not recognize any of the names outside of the first round selection and that’s only because he was later the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns (Brandon Weeden).

I know that there are many sad tales among the 2002 draft picks, like 2nd round pick Alan Bomer, a pitcher, who reinjured his shoulder after a previous injury several years earlier, bringing an end to his major league hopes.

But it’s also a testament to the drafting ability of major league teams and 2002 was clearly not a good vintage for the Yankees.  I know the team’s re-focus on the minor league system didn’t occur until a few years later but hopefully barren draft years like 2002 are a thing of the past.  But looking ahead a few years, it’s not too pretty.

2003 really wasn’t much better with top pick third baseman Eric Duncan long gone from baseball.  The only name that stands out to me from that draft is Washington Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard.

2004 was the year the Yankees selected pitcher Phil Hughes and can only wonder what could have been.  Time will tell if he can fulfill his promise in the Twin Cities or if he was simply one of the most overhyped young players of our time.

For the Yankees, solid draft picks do not appear until 2005 which Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson were chosen.  Interestingly enough, the Yankees also chose pitcher Doug Fister that year but he opted to return to college for his final year, and was taken by the Seattle Mariners the next year.  Granted, Fister is currently on the Nationals’ DL, but he’d certainly look good in the Yankees rotation about now.

In 2006, the Yankees made some good choices, but it’s rather humorous that the first round pick went to Joba Chamberlain, a journeyman reliever for the Detroit Tigers, while current Yankees closer, David Robertson was selected in the 17th round.  Ian Kennedy and Zach McAllister were both chosen after Chamberlain, and they are solid starting pitchers for the San Diego Padres and Cleveland Indians, respectively.  Dellin Betances was also taken that year and after years of hype, he’s finally contributing as a force in the Yankees bullpen.  Mark Melancon, currently the closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates due to Jason Grilli’s injury, was also a draft selection.

Of the decisions the Yankees made regarding trades, the one I didn’t like was dumping McAllister.  He went to Cleveland in 2010 for Austin Kearns who only stayed in the Bronx for the remainder of the season.  That trade felt like the foolish ones that we had grown accustomed to in the 1970’s and 80’s.  McAllister is having a very solid year for the Indians and is another guy who would have looked great in the Yankees rotation.

I will never find fault with the decision to trade Ian Kennedy even though he almost won the Cy Young after leaving the Yankees.  I just never found him to be a good fit in New York.

2007 was another disappointing draft year as the Yankees really only have catcher Austin Romine, currently at AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre, to show for it.  Top pick Andrew Brackman was coming off a major injury at the time of the selection and was never able to find his way back.

As I advance to 2008, it’s disappointing to see how poor, outside of 2006, the draft has been for the Yankees.  Atop the list in ’08 is a pitcher the Yankees were unable to sign and who is now entrenched in the starting rotation for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole.  Talk about another guy who would have been a brilliant option for the Yankees rotation.  What could have been…

This really shows how incredibly difficult it is to determine those who will be able to achieve results and success at the Major League level.  It also shows how many people fail to find their way for whatever reasons.

It’s a small wonder that the Yankees have had to spend so much in the free agent market to ensure the team remains competitive.  In a statement of the obvious, the Yankees would be smart to improve the quality of their scouting and development to ensure that the older players are replaced by younger, cheaper talent with high ceilings.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals are solid teams because of their drafting ability.  For the Yankees, they are successful despite it.  I get why owner Hal Steinbrenner believes in the power of the farm system.  This is not rocket science.  Sustainability will only be maintained through youth and controlling costs.

Stupid is as stupid does…

The fans of the Boston Red Sox took great delight when Michael Pineda was tossed from a Yankees-Red Sox game last week due to the blatant smear of pine tar on his neck.  After the fiasco caused during his previous start against the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium (“brown dirt”), he had to have known he would be under the magnifying glass.  Yet, he risked detection by continuing the use of pine tar and ended up applying a more generous amount than he had intended to.  So, Boston manager John Farrell had absolutely no choice but to call out Pineda.  This is one instance where I felt the Red Sox were 100% correct in a controversial decision involving the Yankees.  Pineda’s 10-game suspension hurts the Yankees, at a time when they’ve already lost starter Ivan Nova for the season due to an elbow injury that requires Tommy John surgery.

For a rotation that looked so strong and full of promise for a few starts, the Yankees now have to replace both Nova and Pineda, plus the top of the rotation has been questionable at times with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.  The only source of consistency has been Masahiro Tanaka, who faces an incredibly difficult challenge today against the Los Angeles Angels and the likes of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. 

Baseball is a team-first sport and Pineda made a “me-first” decision.  I hope that he learns a valuable lesson during his suspension and comes back with choices that are for the good of the team.

For the record, I do believe that Major League Baseball should allow pine tar to some degree for gripping purposes only in colder temps.  But until the rules are changed, it’s a violation and should be handled accordingly.  Baseball has been tolerant of discreet behavior regarding its use, but to blatantly violate the policy warrants the appropriate punishment until such a time the rules are changed.

 

–Scott

 

Ready or not, here’s the 2014 New York Yankees!…

Introducing the 2014 New York Yankees.  With the demotion of Eduardo Nunez to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees have finalized, for now, their major league roster as the team heads to Houston to open the season against the Astros.

Starting rotation:

  1.        CC Sabathia
  2.        Hiroki Kuroda
  3.        Ivan Nova
  4.        Masahiro Tanaka
  5.        Michael Pineda

No great surprises here.  There was talk of a spring battle between David Phelps and Pineda, but I never expected Pineda to lose the last spot in the rotation regardless of how well Phelps pitched.  I personally prefer to see Phelps as the long man in the pen.  I think he is better suited for that role than Pineda and of course he’ll be the first arm called upon if the Yankees lose any of the starters to injury.

Closer:

  1.        David Robertson

Again, no surprises.  This job is Robertson’s to lose.  While the Yankees do not have any relievers with proven closing experience on the active roster should Robertson falter, Andrew Bailey looms in the wings when he returns to active duty later in the year.  My hope is that Robertson takes the job and runs with it.  He disappointed in the role a couple of years ago when Mariano Rivera was lost for the season and Rafael Soriano ended up as the team’s primary closer.  But that was then and this is now.  It is my hope the Yankees never have to look for Plan B.

Setup:

  1.        Shawn Kelley
  2.        Dellin Betances

This is an area of concern.  It was great having a setup artist like Robertson.  Kelley was good in the pen last year, but he’s no David Robertson.  I am hopeful that this is Dellin’s niche after his previous prospect status as a future starter.  I would like to see him develop into the clear-cut 8th inning option to set the bridge to Robertson.  It’s also great to see a NYC-born player on the main stage.

Lefty specialist:

  1.        Matt Thornton

His departure in free agency was very quiet, but I was sad to see Boone Logan leave.  I am not convinced that Matt Thornton is the answer.  He’s been a great reliever over the course of his career but his best days are behind him.  The Boston Red Sox even left him off the post-season roster last fall.  I thought that Cesar Cabral would make the team as second lefty, but the Yankees expressed a greater need for long relief in the early days of the season so that solidified a position for Vidal Nuno.  Thornton may be starting the season as the Yankees’ lefty specialist but I doubt he finishes it.

Long relief:

  1.        David Phelps
  2.        Adam Warren
  3.        Vidal Nuno

I expect it to take a few months for Joe Girardi to find the right pieces for the bullpen but I fully expect him to make it a team strength by September.  Tampa’s Joe Maddon has shown a tremendous ability to piece together a strong bullpen from a collection of spare parts, and I have every confidence Joe Girardi has the same ability.

Catcher:

  1.        Brian McCann
  2.        Francisco Cervelli

Honestly, I thought the Yankees would trade Cervelli in spring training and make Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy the backup catcher.  But, aside from my disappointment with Cervelli last year due to his drug suspension, I do like the player and his intensity.  McCann has been everything as advertised.  I have been particularly impressed by how he was gone out of his way to get to know his pitchers.  I had always heard he was a great team leader on the Atlanta Braves and that continues to hold true with his presence in the Yankees locker room.

First base:

  1.        Mark Teixeira

Let’s just say that I am cautiously optimistic there are no lingering problems related to last year’s wrist injury.

Second base:

  1.        Brian Roberts
  2.        Yangervis Solarte

I really do not expect Roberts to stay healthy so I hope he proves me wrong.  I was glad to see Solarte make the team over Eduardo Nunez, and I hope his success in the spring carries over to the regular season.  But it will be a long time before we see Robinson Cano-like production at this position.  I just hope the position doesn’t become the team’s Achilles heel this year.

Shortstop:

  1.        Derek Jeter
  2.        Dean Anna

It will be bittersweet watching Jeter on his farewell tour, but a key to the season will be the performance of Jeter’s backups as he won’t be able to do this alone.

Third base:

  1.        Kelly Johnson

Solarte will also spend time at this position, but overall, I am disappointed the Yankees did not do more to try and upgrade this position.  I do not like uncertainty at both second and third, in combination with a 40 year old shortstop and a first baseman attempting to come back from a serious wrist injury.  After years of rumors, maybe this is the year that Chase Headley becomes a Yankee.  Time will tell.

Left field:

  1.        Brett Gardner

The team has made a significant investment in Gardner despite their acquisition of Jacoby Ellsbury.  While I love team speed, I always shutter when I think of the Yankees attempt to convert to speed in the 1980’s with the signing of Dave Collins.  I know this is a complete different situation that draws no parallel to the 80’s disaster, but I still prefer the three run homer.

Center field:

  1.        Jacoby Ellsbury

It still seems weird to see this name in the Yankees lineup.  Nevertheless, he’s here and I hope, really hope that he can stay healthy.  I know, that’s asking a lot.  If he’s hurt, Gardner slides to center and Soriano is the starting left fielder which will weaken team offense and defense.

Right field:

  1.        Carlos Beltran

This might the position that I have the least amount of concerns with.  I fully expect it to be business as usual for the 36 year old Beltran.  He’s happy and excited to be in the Bronx, and he’s played under more difficult conditions in the past and has prospered.

DH:

  1.        Alfonso Soriano

I expect some of the team’s older players to rotate through DH, but Soriano should get the bulk of the at-bat’s in what most likely will be his final year in pinstripes regardless of whether or not his playing career continues.  I can see Derek Jeter getting a healthy number of DH at-bat’s but this goes back to how well Jeter’s backups at short can perform.

Role to be determined:

  1.        Ichiro Suzuki

In actuality, he’ll be the team’s fifth outfielder.  I expect Soriano to be the first option should any holes open in the outfield.  This is a sad way for a Hall of Fame career to end.  I had hoped that the Yankees would trade Ichiro to a team that had a greater need for his services than they do out of respect for the legendary player.  It may still happen, but at this point, I’d rather see someone like Zoilo Almonte as the reserve outfielder behind Soriano.

Ichiro aside, I think the two most vulnerable players for roster moves are Dean Anna (when Brendan Ryan returns in May) and Vidal Nuno (I can see Cesar Cabral being promoted in mid-April).

I’d like to say that I am very optimistic about the 2014 season but the uncertainty of the infield and the unproven bullpen give me hesitation.  I do not think the Yankees have done enough (despite all those dollars) to close the gap with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.  Neither the Toronto Blue Jays nor the Baltimore Orioles will be pushovers in what is arguably baseball’s toughest division.

I do feel better about this team than last year’s version.  People have said the Yankees over-achieved to reach 85 wins and that the Yankees are still an 85 win team despite the upgrades.  I think they can reach 90 wins and perhaps a few more if the pieces come together (younger players take it to the next level, the right in-season acquisitions, and strong overall performance from the team collectively).   It may not be enough to reach October, but the Yankees will help determine who does go.

I am glad that the baseball season is upon us.  It should be an exciting and memorable year.  Time for Joe Girardi’s masterful encore performance…

 

–Scott

 

Feeling better than last year, but…

 

With the current state of the Yankees’ infield, I remain worried if Plan A does not come to fruition.  I still have not been able to wrap my head around Kelly Johnson being the everyday third baseman.  I feel that he is so much more useful in a utility role.  It would be great If Eduardo Nunez, Yangervis Solarte or Dean Anna could step it up to the next level, but that’s not something I am counting on.  Maybe the source of my discomfort with the infield is that Stephen Drew is still available.  I know, he costs money and maybe it’s too much for the Yankees given their huge off-season investments.  However, Drew would secure third base (with a little help from his “friends”, i.e., Nunez, Johnson et al).

With questions about Mark Teixeira’s wrist and how that will impact his power, whether or not Brian Roberts can prove he is still the player of yesteryear, and Derek Jeter’s ability to bounce back from a severe ankle injury at an advanced age, we do not need third base to be a question too.

Catching is set.  This is the best I’ve felt about the position since Jorge Posada was in his prime.  I like Francisco Cervelli as the back-up, but if his trade value could help other areas of the team like the infield or the bullpen, then I’d be in favor of a trade.  I feel that Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy are capable of supporting Brian McCann.

For a change, the outfield is not a question mark.  It’s great to know that the outfield is so good that Alfonso Soriano is the fourth outfielder and Ichiro Suzuki, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, is essentially a man without a position.  Of course, that could change quickly if injuries were to impact Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and/or Carlos Beltran.  I am hopeful that this is a major move forward in the developmental progress of prospect Mason Williams so that he, along with Slade Heathcott, can be serious contenders for Soriano’s spot next year.

Nothing against David Phelps, but I am pulling for Michael Pineda to secure the fifth spot in the pitching rotation.  I really like Phelps as the long man.  He provides the consistency, support and flexibility that Ramiro Mendoza brought to the team years ago.

I am cautiously optimistic that the duo of Shawn Kelley and Dellin Betances will provide the level of set up support for David Robertson that Robertson provided for Mariano Rivera.  That will go a long way toward determining how successful the 2014 Yankees can be.

There are not too many Plan B’s available on the current roster.  As current set, the Yankees will need the cards to fall right for them to contend in October.  This could be a 90-win team if all goes right, but conversely, it could just as easily be an 80-win team if it does not.

In my opinion, the Boston Red Sox remain the team to beat.  They are the champions until proven otherwise.  The AL East, perhaps baseball’s most competitive division, has improved.  Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore have all made solid off-season moves.  The O’s were quiet for most of the off-season but their late signings of Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz, and Johan Santana could pay dividends.  Never underestimate a team managed by Buck Showalter.  Tampa Bay has arguably baseball’s best manager so it’s a certainly that he’ll have his team in the race at the end.

This is my first prediction for the final season standings in the AL East:

  1. 1.       Boston Red Sox
  2. 2.       Tampa Bay Rays
  3. 3.       New York Yankees
  4. 4.       Toronto Blue Jays
  5. 5.       Baltimore Orioles

But you could probably throw these team names into a hat and pull them out in random order and it could be the potential finish.  I doubt Boston or Tampa finish anything worse than third, but the other three, including the Yankees, have the potential of finishing anywhere in the standings.

This should be a very fun and exciting year…

 

–Scott

 

And the WINNER is…

 

For months, the talk centered on prized Japanese pitcher Mashiro Tanaka.  He was highly touted as the most valuable free agent pitcher on the market.  Of course, his free agency began slowly when there was doubt if his Japanese team would allow him to be posted, particularly after the posting fee was capped at $20 million.  Nevertheless, Tanaka was subsequently posted, as we all know.

Almost immediately, the Yankees were regarded as the frontrunner.  But given that any team to offer to pay the $20 million posting fee, it opened the field to any team that wanted to make a run at the latest Japanese import.  Early on, there was talk that the Seattle Mariners would make a play for Tanaka.  It was said that the Los Angeles Dodgers would not be outbid, and the Chicago Cubs were completely enamored with the idea of Tanaka headlining their rotation.  The Los Angeles Angels and the Arizona Diamondbacks were other teams mentioned as strong possibilities.

I read that the Mariners were favorites because the team is predominantly owned by Nintendo and Los Angeles was cited because of its close proximity to Japan and its strong Asian community.  There was talk that some team would make a surprise late bid, kind of like what the Angels when they signed Albert Pujols.

I never really expected the Dodgers to be “all-in”.  They had their own pending free agent to be in Clayton Kershaw and they couldn’t make a ridiculously high bid without driving up their costs to retain Kershaw.  They subsequently re-signed Kershaw to a $215 million deal, but I still didn’t think they’d go hard after Tanaka.  I did think the Chicago Cubs were a strong challenger for Tanaka despite prior rumors that he preferred a coastal destination.  If I have learned anything with Major League Baseball, it’s to never underestimate Theo Epstein.

But fortunately, when Tanaka finally made his decision, he was a Yankee.  Almost instantly, the stories about his superior talent turned to questions about how he’ll make the adjustment to life in America and how he is a #2 or #3 starter at best.  Everyone is now quick to say that he does not have the talent of Yu Darvish, and I’ve seen the name “Kei Igawa” more than I’d care to in recent days.  But still, this was a move that the Yankees HAD to make.  With a weak farm system at the upper levels, they had no choice but to overpay for young pitching talent with solid upside.  With the hype surrounding Tanaka (who went 24-0 in Japan last year), he also represents a gate attraction.  With Tanaka in the fold, the Yankees become the second major league team to have two Japanese players in their starting pitching rotation (the first was the Dodgers with Hideo Nomo and Kaz Ishii).  If the Japanese media made it a circus following Hideki Matsui, they’ll have a field day following the trio of Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki.

The realist in me knows not to expect top of the rotation stuff from Tanaka.  I know the Yankees want more, but I’d be very satisfied if he could give the Yankees what Kuroda has for the last two years.  This is most likely Kuroda’s last year, and it is good that Tanaka will have a year to spend under Hiroki’s wing.  I think that will greatly aid his transition to the United States and MLB.

I thought that it would take a contract of 7 years, $140 million to sign Tanaka.  So, the Yankees did overbid in that regard.  Today I saw an article that one GM speculated the next highest bid were the Cubs and D-Backs at $120 million.  I really doubt the gap between the Yankees and the others was that great.  The same source mentioned the Dodgers were at $119 million which doesn’t make sense as everyone knew it would take $120 million plus to sign Tanaka.  My guess is the Cubs and Dodgers were in the vicinity of $140 million plus.  Not bad for a pitcher who has never thrown a major league pitch.

While I would still like to see an additional pitcher brought to camp, there is potential with a rotation that features CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda or David Phelps.  If Pineda could possibly show the potential that caused the Yankees to trade for him (prior to the injuries), the rotation could be very strong.  While I would not be opposed to seeing Bronson Arroyo or Ubaldo Jimenez signed, I think the Yankees need to focus on the infield.  Yes, they’ve brought in San Diego’s Dean Anna, signed Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Scott Sizemore, and still have Eduardo Nunez but there are too many questions.  What happens if Mark Teixeira struggles in his return, or Derek Jeter?  Neither of those positions are air tight without getting into the holes at second and third.  Jeter will be 40, and Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter.  April could be a very challenging month.

My preference would be to find a decent third baseman so that Kelly Johnson could be the primary second baseman.  But the team is probably enamored with the idea that Roberts is capable of rebounding from the injury filled years that have plagued him since 2009.  Scott Sizemore is nothing more than camp fodder.  One magazine I read said “But other than OK pop and a few walks, offers little even when healthy”.  Anna is nothing more than a potential reserve.

Catching and the outfield is set, but there is still work to be done in the infield and in the bullpen.  I agree with the choice to anoint David Robertson as the closer, but there needs to be an insurance plan in place.  Grant Balfour would have been a great option but he is now a Tampa Bay Ray once again.  I don’t want Fernando Rodney, but the Yankees need someone who is capable of closing games if Robertson is not up to the task.  If Boston can find an elite closer as their fourth choice last year, there are potential arms that can be found.  I really hated to see the departure of Boone Logan.  Not much has been written about it, but I can only hope that Matt Thornton is a capable, albeit older, replacement.  I know the team has long admired lefty Cesar Cabral so perhaps this is Cabral’s year to take it to the next level.  I’d also like to see Dellin Betances take advantage of his opportunity and become a force in the pen.  I guess every team thinks they can follow the Tampa blueprint for bullpen success given how the Rays are always able to craft something out of nothing.

With pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp in a few weeks, I am sure that the transaction wires will be busy as teams, and most notably the Yankees, look to create playoff caliber rosters.

For the Yankees, while it will be great to see Brian McCann show up to become his orientation with the Yankee pitchers, the cameras and the reporters will be flocked around #19, Masahiro Tanaka, as he begins his pinstriped career.  Time to build upon last year’s 85 wins and return the Yankees to October baseball.  With the commitment the Yankees have shown this off-season, it’s clear their last move was not their “last” move.

Go Yankees!

–Scott

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