Results tagged ‘ Ichiro Suzuki ’

You win some, you lose some, i.e., 2014 Yankees…

Mediocrity continues…

Realistically, there was no way the Yankees could have been players at the trading deadline.  Despite the usual rumors tying the Yankees to David Price, Tampa Bay was not going to trade their prized pitcher to New York, only to have him haunt them for years.  It was potentially an opportunity for the Rays to strip the Yankees cupboards bare but that would have been foolish on the Yankees’ part.

Ditto for the Boston Red Sox.  If there was the slightest possibility the Rays would have considered moving Price to New York, there was none when it came to Boston.  There is no circumstance that would allow their pride to part with one of their core players to the hated Yankees.  Yes, the Yankees were able to pick up Stephen Drew, but he has not been a vital part of the success of the Red Sox in recent years.

Boston Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew can't make

AP

Interestingly enough, Boston’s trade of Lester to the Oakland A’s increases the possibility that he becomes a Yankee next year in my opinion.  Oakland will not pony up the necessary dollars and I am not sure that Boston would get any hometown discount (if there ever would have been one to begin with).  I am sure that the Los Angeles Dodgers will make a play for Lester and I would not underestimate the Seattle Mariners since Lester is a Northwest native.

If, by chance, Lester does return to Boston in the off-season as a free agent, it would be quite a coup to land Yoenis Cespedes for a two month rental of Lester to the A’s.

Back to the Yankees, there really wasn’t a blockbuster deal in the cards for them.  The pitchers they were linked to (most notably John Danks) all have their own question marks and the Yankees would still have had to overpay.  So, all things considered, losing C/1B prospect Peter O’Brien (in the deal to acquire Martin Prado from the Arizona Diamondbacks) was a small price to pay.  The Yankees have no shortage of replacement prospects for O’Brien (he wasn’t going to be a catcher and his departure allowed the Yankees to promote 1B Greg Bird to AA).  Kelly Johnson for Stephen Drew made sense as Johnson wasn’t really being used by the Yankees, and Stephen Drew gets an audition as a potential 2015 replacement for the retiring Derek Jeter even if he’ll be out of position (2B instead of SS) for the next two months.

Drew’s arrival (a surprise given that it involved an infrequent trade with Boston) spelled the end of the line for former Baltimore Orioles great Brian Roberts.  Roberts seemed like a good guy but the Yankees needed more at 2B.  Drew, even though he had never played 2B at the major league level, was still an upgrade at a position that has been sorely lacking since the day Robinson Cano signed in Seattle.  I wish that Drew had a stronger bat, but his athleticism seems to play well on defense.

Prado is a great all purpose guy but not exactly what I had envisioned for right field.  Yet, he’s an improvement over the aging Ichiro Suzuki.  I heard the Yankees had tried to acquire Dustin Ackley from the Seattle Mariners before they turned their sights on Prado.  Apparently, Seattle’s request for minor league pitcher Bryan Mitchell was a deal breaker.  That’s too bad because I’ve long thought that Ackley would fit well with the Yankees.  Personally, I would have given up Mitchell to get Ackley.

The Yankees did need help on offense and even if they weren’t flashy moves, the additions of Drew and Prado were upgrades.  But I had really hoped the Yankees would have been able to secure an additional arm for the rotation which didn’t happen.  But I never wanted to see a deal that involved losing top prospects so perhaps it was best that nothing happened.  Clearly, the Yankees are not going to win a World Series this year unless they get ridiculously lucky in the next couple of months.  As it stands, they’d be easily dismissed by either Oakland or Detroit.

It’s possible the Yankees made a waiver deal or two this month, but I seriously doubt there will be any major additions.  Win or lose, this is the 2014 Yankees.

Chasing A-Rod…

It is early in Chase Headley’s Yankee career, however, I really like what I’ve seen so far.  Granted, he doesn’t bring a monster bat, but his defensive plays have been something that has been missing from Yankee Stadium for many years.  There’s no doubt I prefer Headley over Alex Rodriguez and I hope the Yankees decide to bring Headley back next year.

New Yankee Chase Headley belts game-winning single in 14th

Getty Images

Considering that Yangervis Solarte has been hitting with consistency since he arrived in San Diego, the Headley trade is one of those that seems to have worked out well for both teams involved.

Friendships revisited…

With the acquisitions of Drew and Prado, it was interesting how it reunited former teammates.  For Drew, it was a reunion with former Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and lefty specialist Matt Thornton.  He was traded for a close friend, Kelly Johnson, a former teammate when they were both in Arizona.  Ironically, I read that Drew and Johnson were together in Drew’s home when news of the trade broke.  I am sure that probably hasn’t happened too often.

For Prado, he was teammates in Atlanta with catcher Brian McCann and first baseman Mark Teixeira.

AP/John Bazemore

Even Carlos Beltran was able to catch up with old friends, even though they are playing in the opposing dugout with former Cardinals teammates Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.  It wasn’t that long ago Beltran, Craig and Kelly were playing in the World Series, along with now Boston reliever Edward Mujica, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Assimilating with a new team…

When Wednesday’s games were over, I am sure that Stephen Drew’s mind was on the upcoming series against the Yankees.  So, when Thursday’s trade put him in the opposite dugout, I wonder how long it takes to drop the loyalty to the former team.  Not that I would think Drew would do anything to hurt the Yankees’ chances to beat the Red Sox but I wonder if there is a part of you that quietly roots for your former teammates.  When you are used to cheering the home team at Fenway, does that feeling automatically leave because you are suddenly wearing a different uniform?  For Drew, when he played second base for the Yankees on Friday night, he had much deeper and more meaningful relationships with the Red Sox than he did with his own teammates.  He’ll develop those friendships on the team in time, but it just seems to me that it would be very difficult to change loyalties at the drop of a hat.

I watched a little of Jon Lester’s debut with the Oakland A’s on Saturday.  Admittedly, Lester looked a little strange in Oakland’s uniform.  Jeff Samardzija looked more at ease than Lester did during their respective debuts, but it didn’t show up in Lester’s performance as he beat the Kansas City Royals while the Red Sox were losing to the Yankees.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics

USA Today Sports

David Price’s debut as a Detroit Tiger takes place this week against the Yankees.  As if they didn’t see Price enough while he was with the Rays.  Oh well, to be the best, you have to beat the best or so they say…

–Scott

 

Fear becomes Reality…

 

During the off-season, when Robinson Cano walked for the cash in Seattle, I was worried about first base when the other holes popped up at second and third base.  The Yankees weakly filled the other holes with injury-prone Brian Roberts and utility-man Kelly Johnson while spending millions elsewhere on the roster.

Shortstop has been a concern as an aging Derek Jeter attempts to make his comeback from a serious ankle injury.

Catcher was truly the only infield position of strength with newcomer Brian McCann backed superbly by Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy.

But first base was and still is my primary concern.  The Yankees did nothing to bring a solid backup to the team as a hedge against Mark Teixeira’s health.  So, when Teixeira went to the DL this week due to a muscle strain in his leg, the Yankees had no legitimate first baseman on the roster.  As it stands, Kelly Johnson has become the team’s first baseman.  When Johnson signed, Cano was still a possible return so Johnson was viewed as the team’s super-sub.  Then, Cano left and Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the season, and Johnson found himself as the starting third baseman.  Now Teixeira’s gone, and Johnson stands at first.  It is great that he’s so versatile, but the Yankees are so vulnerable with its current infield.

Yangervis Solarte has been a godsend but realistically I do not expect the guy to continue to play all season like he has in its first few games.  He is an aging minor leaguer who had never gotten a major league shot and there’s reasons for why that happened.  Yes, late bloomers can happen, but I am too much of a realist to believe that the Yankees have struck gold with the minor league free agent.  I like him in a bench role, but now he’s the apparent starting third baseman along with another career minor leaguer, Dean Anna.

Mark Teixeira has always concerned me with his notorious slow starts and now he has other issues for us to worry about.  I really thought that the Yankees needed to bring in a strong first baseman to help cover for Teixeira.  This is where someone like Nick Swisher is really missed.  An outfielder who can easily step in to play first.

When I heard that the Mets were dangling Ike Davis, I thought he’d be the perfect guy for the Yanks to pursue despite his underwhelming performance and injuries with the Mets.  Son of a former Yankee (former Goose Gossage setup man, Ron Davis), I thought that Davis might benefit from a change in scenery.  In a supporting role for Tex, Davis would be in a good spot to resurrect his career.  The cost to acquire Davis would be less than acquiring a more frontline first baseman, but of course, on the day Teixeira was placed on the DL, Davis hit a grand slam to win a game for the Mets.  It should be noted that on the same day, the Yanks did not score any runs in a 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Right now, I think that Ichiro Suzuki’s presence on the roster is hurting the team.  For the Yankees to call-up Scranton/Wilkes Barre first baseman Russ Canzler, the Yankees would have to free up a spot on the 40-man roster.   The Yankees need more help for the infield than they do with the outfield.  Alfonso Soriano provide good relief as the fourth outfielder/DH, and the ever-versatile Johnson can play there as well.

The Yankees need to go out and get Plan B for first base, and perhaps move Ichiro along the way.

–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

 

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

With a New Year, brings New Hope!…

 

Happy New Year to all Baseball Fans!…

January 1, 2014.  Time to replace the calendars.  With the arrival of the New Year, it brings optimism for baseball fans everywhere as they anticipate whether or not their team has done enough to ensure October success.  Boston fans dream of a back-to-back championship, while others hope they can be the ones to de-throne the defending champs.  In January, anything is possible, although arguably some teams have a much better chance than others. 

As a Yankees fan, it has been a bittersweet off-season.  The team finally made some bold moves after a couple of years of inactivity in signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, but the loss of Robinson Cano will hurt.  The team still has not done enough to improve the starting rotation nor has it repaired the losses in the pen.

I thought the Washington Nationals did a good job in bringing in Doug Fister for its starting rotation.  He was a solid performer for the Detroit Tigers and he should help provide back-end stability for the frontline starters. 

The Boston Red Sox did well in re-signing Mike Napoli.  He is a great role performer and he seems to thrive in the Fenway environment, however, I am not sure that A.J. Pierzynski makes up for the loss of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  I think they’ll be okay losing Jacoby Ellsbury if Jackie Bradley, Jr is able to take the next step up in his promising career.  While it remains questionable whether Stephen Drew will be back or will be playing in Citi Field, any team would love to have Xander Bogaerts standing ready to take over the shortstop position.  Regardless of what happens, I think the Red Sox will be a force in 2014 and won’t relinquish their crown easily. 

The Minnesota Twins showed an unusual side in signing free agent pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, and bringing back Mike Pelfrey.  They missed out on A.J. Pierzynski, but the signing of Kurt Suzuki will allow them to bring their young catcher, Josmil Pinto, along slowly in the major leagues as they replace Joe Mauer who has moved to first.

Among others, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland A’s, and the San Francisco Giants (in bringing Tim Hudson back to the Bay Area) have had productive off-seasons. 

There are countless other major moves that have been made and other teams that have significantly enhanced their chances for winning, but the point is that January is a time of optimism.  Spring Training looms on the horizon as this is the last full month before pitchers and catchers begin to report.  Players, if they took time off for the holidays, are aggressively starting or continuing their off-season workout regimens.  This is the time that will set in motion the attitudes and the chemistry that makes up each team.  Baseball is not about having the most physically gifted team, it’s about the team that can do the most to maximize the synergy of the team and create a culture that is unwilling to accept losing. 

It should be a fun season.  It’s too early to form an opinion of the teams that stand the best chance as there are still some roster-changing moves that will be made before spring training breaks, but in the AL, you know that the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Rangers, A’s, and Angels will have a say in who wins and who loses. 

I hope it’s a very happy and enjoyable New Year for everyone!  Time to make new friends, create fantastic new opportunities, experiences, and memories.    Time to get excited about the arrival of the upcoming Major League Baseball season.  May the 2014 season bring you great satisfaction and enjoyment!

The Masahiro Tanaka Sweepstakes…

It’s been written that the New York Yankees are the favorites to sign prized Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, but it’s really anybody’s guess where he will sign.  Personally, I could see the Los Angeles Dodgers blowing away the competition, and they would certainly provide a main stage for Tanaka to perform.  No offense to the Minnesota Twins, but I couldn’t really see a player with Tanaka’s potential playing in a small market.  I would love to see Tanaka sign with the Yankees and I think Hiroki Kuroda would be the perfect mentor to help Tanaka’s transition to the United States.  But the Dodgers have a strong history with Japanese players.  The Texas Rangers may be players and you certainly cannot underestimate the Seattle Mariners or the Los Angeles Angels.  The Tanaka decision will be made within the next three weeks as it has to be completed by January 24th, so it should be interesting to watch Tanaka’s tour and to see how much teams are willing to pay for his potential.  Guys like Clayton Kershaw, with free agency looming in the not-so-distant future, have to love this, and it will help enhance the monetary packages it will take to sign or retain them with proven superior performance in the MLB. 

If the Yankees lose out on Tanaka, I am not sure what a good Plan B will be.  I’ve heard Ubaldo Jimenez’ name mentioned, but it’s not a guarantee that 2013 was a return to the promise he once held or if it was just an aberration and he’ll continue his prior downward slide.  Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana.  None of these names excite me.  I am more hopeful that guys like Michael Pineda and Manny Banuelos can come into training camp and make statements for why they should be the guys. 

Roster moves await…

With the 40-man roster filled, and the signings of second baseman Brian Roberts or reliever Matt Thornton to be made official, it’s clear the Yankees will need to open roster space.  Given the excess at catcher with the signing of Brian McCann, it’s fairly clear that either Austin Romine or J.R. Murphy could be moved.  I think we’ll see the departure of Vernon Wells despite his salary friendly status thanks to the Angels.  Even something free is not worth keeping if it has no value.  As speculated, I could still see a trade of Ichiro Suzuki to a team like the San Francisco Giants.  I have no problem with Zoilo Almonte taking the fifth outfielder role, particularly in light of his strong winter play.

I don’t think the Yankees have done enough yet, but I also do not think they are finished.  I am confident that by the time training camp opens, the Yankees will have the collection of players capable of restoring the team’s 90+ win ability.  Time will tell if they’ve caught up with their prime AL East competitors but at least with the Yankees, you know it won’t be for the lack of trying.

The words of Randy Levine…

Admittedly, I do not know much about Yankees president Randy Levine, but I am not impressed with the man.  I wasn’t before the text messages between Levine and Alex Rodriguez were released and I am even less so now.  Some of his comments come off as very unprofessional.  I remember how vilified Red Sox president Larry Lucchino was by Yankees fans when he made his ‘Evil Empire’ remark and how hated he is, but I really do not see Levine as any better and very likely, much worse.  At least Lucchino has overseen three world championships since 2004.  The Yankees’ 2009 World Championship was more Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman, among others. 

Perhaps Levine is a great leader and effective in his role within the Yankees organization, but it is not apparent from the outside looking in.  I can only shake my head when I see his text message comments.  Aside from any of his words or how I may feel about the man, I strikes me as very odd that the president of the team would go direct to a player, bypassing the manager and the GM.  Maybe it would help if more stories about Levine’s positives were written, but then again, they wouldn’t be interesting and wouldn’t sell papers.  So, maybe we’ll never know the good the man potentially does.  But as it stands, he just seems like a buffoon to me.

Happy Holidays…

I hope the holiday season has been a very happy time for you and your families.  Enjoy the New Year, and may good health, success, happiness, and prosperity be yours!

–Scott

 

 

 

 

So little time yet so much to do…

 

For Whom the Beltrans…

Well, it’s finally official.  The Yankee fan is finally a Yankee.  With today’s introductory press conference, the Yankees have continued to rebuild the team’s offense following the departure of Robby Cano and his bat.  Carlos Beltran talked about how he has long looked up to the Yankees organization.  The backhanded swipes at the Mets certainly didn’t hurt boosting his stock in the Bronx, particularly after those comments made by Curtis Granderson during his Mets press conference earlier in the off-season (even if the Grandy Man was just being lighthearted). 

It’s always nice to see guys who genuinely want to be in the Bronx.  Brian McCann certainly conveyed that message and Carlos Beltran did the same today.  I think Jacoby Ellsbury is just as excited but his situation was a bit different and he is coming off a World Series championship.

Listening to Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi talk, it clearly sounds as if the Yankees outfield will be consisted of Brett Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran.  Three centerfielders, with two playing out of position.  I know, there are a multitude of reasons for why it makes sense to keep Gardner, but he is really the only major league trading chip and the Yankees still need rotation help.  They have not shown any desire to pursue the likes of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, or others that can be had for a simple cash outlay.  Johan Santana’s name has been bandied about, and I would see no harm as long as the Yankees clearly invest in a Plan B to go with it.  My primary hope is that Michael Pineda can finally show us the potential he had in Seattle.  But that’s for the #5 spot.  The Yankees should roll the dice with the young organization pitchers, including Pineda, for the last position in the rotation but not both #4 and #5.  For #4, the Yankees need a proven performer.  Santana is a huge health risk, but if healthy…I know, that’s a big IF…he would significantly solidify the rotation and help mask any further regressions by CC Sabathia or Hiroki Kuroda. 

It’s unfortunate the Yankees have to keep an eye on the Alex Rodriguez situation to determine what their next moves will be.  I just hope they aren’t caught looking while waiting to find out if A-Rod and his behemoth contract will be an obligation for 2014 or not. 

But regardless of what happens for the remainder of the off-season, it goes without question that Carlos Beltran was a good signing.  The reports have surfaced that free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo turned down a 7-year, $140 million deal from the Yankees before they turned to Beltran.  I would prefer to go with the 3-year Beltran deal as opposed to locking into 7 years with Choo considering the Yankees are already on an extended hook with Ellsbury.  At some point, the young talent in the lower levels of the farm system have to make their way to the surface.  I have high hopes for Aaron Judge, and I really hope that Slade Heathcott can bring his game to the next level within the next couple of years. 

Much has been written about Beltran replacing the lost production in St Louis when Albert Pujols signed his $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels and is now being asked to do the same with Cano opting for money over a win-first mentality.  However, there is a big difference.  The Cardinals have Allen Craig and Matt Adams as two very capable first baseman.  The Yankees are not so lucky at Cano’s former position.  There are no immediate farm system solutions.  With Beltran now scheduled to start in Ichiro Suzuki’s position, it is a foregone conclusion that either Ichiro or Vernon Wells will soon be an ex-Yankee.  Pitcher Brett Marshall may have paid the price for Beltran’s spot, but I expect Ichiro or Wells to go when the Yankees create roster space for their latest additions.  The Yankees will have to include cash if they move Ichiro so that makes Wells the more likely one to go given that the Angels are still paying the majority of his salary. 

I keep getting sidetracked when the main topic is Beltran but he opens up much discussion in other areas.  I am glad that he’s a Yankee and I truly hope the Yankees can make the additional moves that will be necessary to return one of baseball’s great play-off performers to October.  Pitching, pitching, pitching…

Meanwhile, at Second Base…

Kelly Johnson, Eduardo Nunez, Corban Joseph…

None of the names are exciting and it’s more likely that Johnson, with a platoon-mate in Nunez, will be asked to cover third if A-Rod is suspended for a lengthy period as expected.  Joseph is not ready so the Yankees signed long-time Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts.  Roberts was once one of the best 2B’s in the game, but injuries have robbed him of playing time the last four years.  I do not expect him to be a major force at the position this year assuming that he makes the team.  It is a curious move for a beloved Oriole to join a hated AL rival.  I know that Mike Mussina did it but he was still in his prime.  I know, there’s Jacoby Ellsbury too, but again, that player, despite his past injuries, still has prime years ahead.  Roberts has seen his better days.  At that point, I’d probably go out of division or out of league even if it sacrificed a few dollars to maintain my legacy with the original team. 

Roberts will always be a great Oriole.  There’s nothing that he can do to take away his quality years.  Hopefully, the Baltimore fans will recognize that it was time for Roberts and the O’s to part ways, particularly given their acquisition of second baseman Jemile Weeks.  Mike Mussina had quality years with both the O’s and the Yankees.  Roberts will be like Luis Tiant.  The best years were with the home team, and the last year or two were with the Yankees. 

At this point, it does appear the Yankees will be heading to spring training with Roberts, Nunez and Johnson covering second.  However, things will change when the A-Rod drama is finally put to rest.  I was surprised the Yankees didn’t try harder for Omar Infante.  It’s not often the Kansas City Royals beat the Yankees in free agency. 

As for third…

It’s a given that A-Rod will be lost for a certain amount of time.  It’s just a question for how long.  I would like to see a trade for the San Diego Padres third baseman, Chase Headley, something that has been mentioned on and off for the last few years.  We know that it won’t be a return of last year’s third base wannabe, Kevin Youkilis (thwarted by injuries to the surprise of no one).  Youk in stating a preference to being closer to his West Coast home, decided to take his family on a one year vacation touring Japan.  I am not quite sure how the DL works in the Japanese League but I guess we’ll find out.  I loved Wallace Matthews’ quote that Youk will probably be injured on the plane trip to Japan. 

Another third base possibility, and former Yank, Casey McGehee, signed with the Miami Marlins.  So, like second base, pickings are getting very slim at the infield positions.  I fully expect the Yankees to lose one of their promising young catchers in any trade.

The Bullpen…

I was disappointed to see Boone Logan go.  Good for him in signing the three year contract with the Colorado Rockies.  Denver is a wonderful city and I do not begrudge anyone who wants to be a part of that community.  But still, he was a solid option in the pen for the Yanks and will be missed.  To replace him, the Yankees signed former Sox (both White and Red) reliever Matt Thornton.  A great lefty, no doubt, but one that is 37.  All things considered, I would have preferred a few more years of Logan.  I’d like to see a younger guy like Nik Turley take it to the next level but I am fearful that Turley will be a roster casualty with the additional moves the Yankees have yet and still need to make.

I am not sure how I feel about David Robertson as closer.  When Mariano Rivera was hurt in Kansas City early in the 2012 season, Robertson failed in his brief appearance as closer.  If memory serves correctly, he was injured and it opened the door for Rafael Soriano to grab the job and run with it.  If the Yankees opt to go with Robertson, they need another Plan B like Soriano in place.  Yes, I know, there are only so many spots on a 25-man roster for Plan B…

On the bright side, catcher and center field are locked up…  ;)

I don’t expect much in the way of Yankees news next week so Operation Improvement will have to be resumed in January.  Meanwhile, Happy Holidays to All!  Enjoy!

–Scott

 

 

 

 

For the 2014 Yankees, there is still much work to do…

 

The highs and lows of the Hot Stove League, thus far…

For Yankees fans, the off-season started nicely.  After early speculation that manager Joe Girardi might jump to the Chicago Cubs, he re-signed a long-term deal with the Yankees and expressed it was his desire to remain in New York.  All good.

Then, Derek Jeter quickly signed a one year deal with negotiations that where smooth, quick and efficient (unlike the prior Jeter negotiations).  It remains to be seen if we’ll get the Jeter of 2012 or the injured, aging 2013 model, but there’s no question that Jeter must finish his career in pinstripes.  I don’t think Derek would want to go anywhere else at this point anyway, but still, he is the face of the franchise and he’ll forever be remembered as one of its legends.  In the distant future, when the old greats from the 50’s Dynasty era are gone (Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, among others), it will be guys like Jeter that maintain the honor and tradition in baseball’s most storied franchise. 

The Yankees struck fast in signing free agent catcher Brian McCann after last year’s parade of backups in the starting role.  It gives the team its first legitimate starter at the position since Russell Martin left, and the best offensive bat at the position since Jorge Posada retired.  This is a move that places backup catchers Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy, and Austin Romine in a better position to succeed.  At first pass, I expect Cervelli to take the backup job in spring training but the other two are capable.  On the days that McCann slides to DH, the catching position will be capable hands.

Next came a big surprise.  I honestly did not see the Yankees signing centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.  While I have been a fan of Ellsbury’s work, it didn’t seem to be a great need for the team.  Brett Gardner has been an effective centerfielder, and has the speed to burn.  Still, Ellsbury’s signing upgrades the position and allows the Yankees to slide Gardner to left where he a defensive upgrade over Alfonso Soriano.  The concern here is that by making Soriano the full-time DH, it does limit the DH opportunities for Derek Jeter and Brian McCann.  Soriano’s bat is still very valuable, and it’s much needed in the lineup. 

Then came the bittersweet day of Friday, December 6th.  The night before, there had been reports that second baseman Robinson Cano had flown to Seattle, but in the morning, the early reports indicated that talks had stalled or perhaps even ended.  It gave a brief ray of hope that he’d come back to the Yankees, but those hopes were soon dissolved when it was reported Cano had agreed to a 10-year $240 million deal with the Mariners.  While it’s tough to lose a great player, perhaps the team’s best, it is simply too hard to justify those numbers.  I have enjoyed the early 30’s version of Cano at second, but in his late 30’s and early 40’s, the prospect doesn’t look too promising at $24 million per year.  That’s a huge chunk of any team’s overall payroll.  I think of when Chase Utley was the premier second baseman, but now, with injuries, he has become a shell of what he once was.  What happens if Cano does not age well?  I guess I am not a gambling man and would prefer that the M’s take that bet.  $240 million can be better spent by spreading it over multiple positions rather than locking it into only one.

This is where I find Robinson Cano to be extremely selfish.  You can’t begrudge anyone from wanting as much money as they can get, but this is a team game and every team has a budget…even the Yankees.  If it were me, I would have taken the Yankees offer of 7 years at $175 million because the average annual salary was stronger and I’d know that the team would be more flexible in other areas by not being locked into so many years.  For those additional three years, it would be up to me to perform and if so, there would be a reward.  It also would have kept the Yankee legacy intact and ensured a potential place among the team’s legends.  But now, Cano is just another player who took the money and ran.  He proved that money is more valuable than wins, and money is more important than helping build a strong supporting cast of quality players.  That doesn’t mean Seattle doesn’t have quality players, they do, but they are a long way from contending.  It is very possible that when they are ready to contend, Cano has started his career regression due to age that’s inevitable for everyone. 

Cano has carried the “lazy” rap for years.  While he is an exciting player at times, it was frustrating when he didn’t hustle.  I think of someone like Dustin Pedroia, whose motor is always running.  He creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be there because he is alert and proactive.  He seizes the opportunities and takes advantage of them.  That’s what winning ball players do.  Cano is not that guy.  I have never thought of him as a team player, and I didn’t view him as a player who helped raise the performance level of those around him.  Rest assured the Yankees will miss his offensive production at the position.  At this point, I have no idea who will be the second baseman in 2014.  Kelly Johnson seems better suited to help replace Alex Rodriguez at third base, in a platoon situation.  Omar Infante signed a four year deal with the Kansas City Royals, and Brandon Phillips is starting the downward slide that comes with age.  David Adams, a young player who had the talent but couldn’t show it at the major league level during brief auditions, was non-tendered and is now a Cleveland Indian.  It looks as though the Yankees will fill second base with a bargain basement fill-in, much like they did last year with first and third bases.  I wish the organization was better stocked with up and coming second base talent, but that does not appear to be the case.  I personally thought Infante would have been the best short-term option, but the Yankees allowed them to get beat by the Royals in signing the player.  You know it’s an odd year when the Yankees get beat in free agency by both the Royals and the Mariners.

But enough about Cano, he is gone and so is his Yankees legacy.  

Around the same time as the news had broken about the former second baseman signing with Seattle, it was reported that starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda had signed a new one year deal with the team.  This was very good news to hear.  Kuroda is much needed, and I am grateful that he chose to delay his return to Japan by a year or head back to his home in Southern California.  So, Cashman has filled 200 of the 400 innings he previously stated were needed this off-season. 

After the tumultuous events of the day, news broke on the evening of December 6th that the Yankees had signed outfielder Carlos Beltran.  At 36, he is no longer the player he once was, but he is a “gamer” or as George Steinbrenner would say, a warrior.  Even an aging Beltran is an upgrade over an even older Ichiro Suzuki or the outfielder still primarily funded by the Los Angeles Angels, Vernon Wells. 

But after the three free agent signings, the news has mostly been about departures.  Phil Hughes was the first to depart, signing a three year deal with the Minnesota Twins.  It was probably a good move for Hughes.  Minnesota will be less pressurized and he should have the opportunity to flourish, much like Carl Pavano was able to resurrect his career in Minneapolis after leaving New York.  I certainly did not expect the Yankees to re-sign Hughes after the season he had last year, but I thought he’d go to Southern California and saw the San Diego Padres as a good fit.  Nevertheless, Minneapolis is a fun city and it’s a good ballpark. 

A couple of other notable defections occurred in the bullpen, where Joba Chamberlain signed a one year deal with the Detroit Tigers and Boone Logan went for three years with the Colorado Rockies.  Of the two, it is Logan that I really hated to see leave.  He was a trusted left-handed reliever, but it really didn’t seem like the team made much of an effort to retain his services.  They obviously had other priorities, but I suppose the Yankees are hopeful that a less expensive options like Cesar Cabral will step up to fill Boone’s role.  It was a foregone conclusion that Joba had thrown his last pitch for the Yankees.  But admittedly, I was surprised he went to Detroit.  There are worse things to do than to go to a team that is probably the best one in the American League right now, but I thought that Joba would go to the Kansas City Royals since it is closer to his hometown roots.  The one year deal does give him an opportunity to try and restore the promise he once had with the Yankees.  Plus, if he wins a World Series, it will help give his career a further boost. 

The Yankees also lost last year’s starting catcher when they traded Chris Stewart to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  This move was a given after the McCann signing combined with the surplus of backup catchers. 

For as crazy as December started for the Yankees, the week of the baseball winter meetings was extremely quiet.  The Yankees still have much work to do.  On paper, after consideration of all plusses and minuses, they are not noticeably better than last year’s 85 win team.  They still need a quality starting pitcher, a second baseman, and bullpen help.  Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him between now and spring training.

I honestly do not know where the Yankees will go from here.  I’d like to see the free agent signing of a pitcher like Matt Garza, but so far, the Yankees have not been one of the team’s linked to the pitcher.  Same with Bronson Arroyo, who is certainly capable of eating a large number of innings as a #4 starter.  For second base, the latest reports have the Yankees interested in Darwin Barney of the Chicago Cubs but I have no idea what he would cost in terms of talent in a trade.  I will feel much better about the 2014 Yankees once the additional starting pitcher and second baseman are in the fold, but at least it is reassuring to know that Hal Steinbrenner wants to win as much as the rest of us do.

Happy Holidays!

–Scott

 

An Interesting Day…

Where do we go from here?…

December 6th.  For years, this has been the anniversary of my graduation from Air Force Basic Training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas.  But on December 6, 2013, it may have been the most tumultuous day in Yankees history in terms of arrivals and departures…or at least in recent memory. 

The day started with news that talks had broken down between Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners.  It stirred renewed hope that Cano would find his way back to the Bronx, but as quickly as the reports had come about the Mariners’ CEO blowing a gasket at salary demands from the Cano Camp and ending talks, the reports came that Cano had accepted a ten year deal from the Mariners for $240 million.  Cano never called the Yankees before taking the offer, but it was a given they would not match. 

It’s hard to watch your team’s best player walk away for nothing.  But in this situation, I think the Yankees made the right call.  After the fiasco of the Alex Rodriguez contract and what an albatross it has become, it is clear that extended contracts are not good for baseball.  I saw one writer yesterday who wrote that the only player worth a ten year deal, right now, would be 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout.  I think that’s a fairly accurate statement.

When the Yankees signed CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira to long-term deals in 2009, both of those players were significantly better players than they are today.  They can continue to perform at a high level but at this point, it is equally possible for them to continue performance regression. 

I can remember how painful Jason Giambi’s had become by the end.  Even David Winfield’s ten year contract, regardless of how great the player was, had been a mistake as the player and the owner were bitter enemies by the time the contract expired. 

I thought the Yankees’ offer of 7 years for $175 million was fair.  If the Cano Camp (Team Jay Z or rather, CAA) had been more sensible in their meetings with the Yankees, I am sure that Cano probably could have squeezed out an additional year.  However, Cano was dead set on getting a ten year contract, so that clearly nailed the coffin on his Yankees career.  Of the two organizations, the Yankees and the Mariners, I feel strongly that the former would be more willing to take care of Cano at the end of the contract.  In other words, at the end of 7 years, if the player was continuing to play at a high level, the Yankees would pay a new contract commensurate to performance with a premium paid for past accomplishments such as they’ve done with Derek Jeter.  I know the Jeter negotiations were very tense a couple of years ago but this off-season’s re-signing was at a higher dollar amount than any other team would have paid.  As for the Mariners, I highly doubt that Cano will be in Seattle at the end of the ten years.  When he begins the eventual downward trend as he ages, Seattle will be looking to move the contract, even if they have to pay cash, to cut their losses.  The odds that Cano would have been in New York at the end of 7 years would have been substantially greater. 

I am not sure that Cano has fully comprehended how he has trashed his Yankee legacy.  I personally have no desire to ever see the player honored in Memorial Park and have absolutely no qualms with the team re-issuing #24 to another player.  Maybe time will heal the feelings, but Cano showed no loyalty or respect for the fans of New York and simply took the money and ran. He was a good Yankee, but he was not a great one.  For a player who enjoyed being a star in New York City, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to being out of the spotlight.  The crowds attending Seattle away games will be smaller and will have far fewer “home team” fans in attendance.  With the Yankees, it’s like being a rock star as Jason Giambi once said.  Nothing against Seattle, it is a beautiful city and a great ballpark, but it is a team that is, and will continue to be, inferior to the much stronger Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Oakland A’s.  They do not have a history and tradition of winning and I do not expect that to change.  Cano has his money.  Good for him.  But his days of playing for an organization that wants to win every year and considers missing the play-offs to be a disaster are over.

With Friday’s flurry of activity, it was almost an afterthought that the Yankees also lost outfielder Curtis Granderson.  Grandy has a good player for most of his Yankees career, but of course, he missed the majority of the 2013 season due to injuries.  He leaves the Yankees for a tougher park to hit with the New York Mets.  Maybe his game will play well for the Mets, or maybe he becomes the next Jason Bay.  The Yankees did not show a strong desire for Grandy’s return after he rejected the team’s qualifying offer and had more preference for guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, or even the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp.  At the moment, with the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, there wouldn’t have been any room in the crowded outfield for Granderson.  While the Yankees have stated they intend to keep Brett Gardner and move him to left field (pushing Alfonso Soriano to DH), I still suspect that Gardner will be expendable in the team’s pursuit of quality starting pitching.  I see the DH role being better utilized for guys like Derek Jeter and Brian McCann as ways to rest them than moving the admittedly defensively challenged Soriano there on a full-time basis.  My feelings about Granderson’s departure are significantly different than those of Cano.  I felt that Granderson made the best decision for him both personally and professionally.  I am thankful he was a Yankee and I wish him well with his new team.  I am sure that he has a few more productive years ahead of him.

Friday also saw the return of starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and the addition of outfielder Carlos Beltran.  It’s apparent that Beltran’s arrival is tied to Cano’s departure since the team finally acquiesced to Beltran’s desire for a third year, but both signings are essential for the 2014 Yankees.  With only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova holding down spots in the starting rotation, Kuroda is a key anchor for the rotation.  He may be no more than a #3 starter next year, but he is a strong stabilizing force.  The Yankees still need more starting pitching besides the hope that Michael Pineda and/or some of the Triple A arms will be able to take spots.

I really was unsure if Kuroda would return.  It has been said that he wants to play a final year in Japan before he retires, and there was talk that he might be interested in returning to Southern California since his family still lives there.  But Kuroda is an honorable man, and it was so telling in his final year with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he didn’t want to be traded because the Dodgers were the team he started the season with and he didn’t want to go elsewhere.  I did wonder if the pull off the Dodgers, assuming they were interested, would have been too much.  But I think Kuroda has enjoyed playing for the Yankees and his sense of loyalty led him back to the team for one more year.  It’s a pleasure to have him back in the fold.

Welcome to the Bronx, Carlos Beltran!  Granted, the Yankees have more to do if they want to return to October baseball, but Beltran is one of the post-season greats.  Some guys thrive when the pressure is on (unlike Alex Rodriguez) and Beltran is a leader in that category.  It has always been said that he wanted to play in the Bronx and had been willing to sign for a discount when he ultimately signed with the Mets.  He finally gets the chance at the latter stages of his career.  He is an offensive upgrade over Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, and helps to offset the loss of Cano’s production. 

It is interesting that the 2014 Yankee outfield will be comprised of two guys who played for the opposing teams in the 2013 World Series.  One with a ring and one without.  At the moment, they’ll be joined in the outfield by Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano although, as previously stated above, I think Gardner will be moved for pitching help. 

December 6th will long be remembered as the day the Yankees lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but brought in Hiroki Kuroda and Carlos Beltran.  There is much work yet to do with Cano’s loss, but the arrivals of Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury bring guys with something to prove.  Kelly Johnson is also a Yankee and the starting second baseman at the moment, although I do think he’ll be the super-sub by the time the team breaks camp next spring.  I do not know who will be the second baseman in 2014 but the Yankees will figure it out.  As David Robertson said, they always do. 

From Beantown to the Bronx…

I have heard many Yankee fans voice frustration about Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract (primarily the length, not the dollars).  I know that he has had his health challenges, but I like the move.  I respected Ellsbury during his days in Boston and I like the elements of his game.  It can be argued that he is Brett Gardner, but he is a better version.  As a player who once said that he’d never play for the Yankees, it is nice to see that the history and tradition of the organization were overriding factors, in addition to the monetary reasons.  The Red Sox weren’t going to extend the years to Ellsbury so it was inevitable that he’d leave.  There is a sting with the Red Sox Nation that he went with the Yankees, and there are probably parallels to the Cano situation (dollars over loyalty), but at the end of the day, I am glad that Ells is a Yank. 

And then there’s next week…

As the baseball winter meetings loom on the immediate horizon, there should be more activity for Yankees fans.  This winter is so dramatically different than last year’s status quo approach.  After missing the play-offs and the retirement of a few players, there were more holes to fill.  Brian McCann solidifies the catching position, and Francisco Cervelli will return, after now that he’s completed his 50-game suspension and is healthy, to be McCann’s caddy.  McCann gives the Yankees a better catcher than they had in 2012 starter, Russell Martin, and the strongest offensive threat at the position since the retired Jorge Posada. 

Jacoby Ellsbury gives the Yankees options.  He strengthens the team up the middle, and like McCann, has a swing that tailored for Yankee Stadium.  He may not hit a lot of home runs, but he’ll be a terror on the bases.  His presence, despite what the team says publicly, makes Brett Gardner expendable.  For a team with weak prospects at the upper levels, it will take a Brett Gardner to bring a quality return.  The Yankees need better starting pitching, a second baseman, and some help in the bullpen.  They also need to cover for the expected absence of the Loser, Alex Rodriguez.  So, if there are any certainties, it is that the Yankees will be active next week.  I am sure that the website, MLB Trade Rumors, will be busier than Grand Central Station over the holidays.

Ala The Walking Dead, let’s say goodbye to those that we’ve lost…

  • Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
  • Curtis Granderson, New York Mets
  • Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins
  • Chris Stewart, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Mike Harkey, bullpen coach, now pitching coach, Arizona Diamondbacks

Thanks for the memories, but rest assured, we’ll be okay. 

Go Yankees!

–Scott

 

Parting is such sweet sorrow…

I was never a fan of good-byes…

Sadly, the 2013 Major League Baseball Season has come to an end.  Well, at least for the New York Yankees.  It was an eventful final week that saw a farewell to the great Mariano Rivera that was unmatched by any I have seen in recent years or even during my lifetime.  Mo’s final game at Yankee Stadium turned out to be the final game of his professional career as he chose not to pitch during the season-ending series in Houston to preserve his Bronx goodbye as the final exit for a storied and soon to be Hall of Fame career.

I have been a Mariano Rivera fan since the days when he set up John Wetteland in the bullpen.  His 7th and 8th inning appearances before the cardiac appearances by Wetteland were electric.  The ball seemed to come screaming with blazing speed yet Mo seemed so effortless in letting the ball leave his hand.  He made it look easy, and for the length of his career, he proved he was just a little better than everyone else.  Sure, there were a few hiccups along the way.  A couple of key blown saves in critical games, but these were few and far between.  His success rate was far superior to any failures, and in those failures, you knew that Mo had left his all.

Looking back, I certainly have no regrets.  It was an honor and privilege to be a Yankees fan and to witness the career of the latest Yankees legend.  He’ll be someone that my grandchildren will be talking about, and I can say that I saw him pitch from the beginning to the end.  Mo showed how special it was to play for one team, and he is forever embedded into Yankees lore.  Ichiro Suzuki will be immortalized in Cooperstown one day as a Seattle Mariner, but Seattle will never be able to call Ichiro exclusively their own.  They may have had his best years, but he still is playing his final years as a Yankee, not a Mariner.  Fortunately, we never had to see Mo in another uniform or his former catcher, Jorge Posada.

I have been a Yankees fan since 1974 when free agent Jim “Catfish” Hunter, then my favorite pitcher, signed with the Yankees.  I had grown up very intrigued by the Yankees with their great history and tradition.  Those early 70’s were still a tough time for the Yankees organization, but they were about to turn the corner following the acquisition of the team by George Steinbrenner and his partners.  To digress, I always loved the quote “There is nothing in life quite so limited as being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner”.   This quote is attributed to former Yankees minority owner and later Houston Astros owner John McMullen.  The first baseball biography I recall reading when I was little was a book about Lou Gehrig, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since.  So, when Catfish made the decision to join the Yankees, it was very easy for me to follow.

During the course of my Yankees fandom, I’ve considered the following players to be my favorite Yankees.  Hunter, Thurman Munson, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Don Mattingly, and Mariano Rivera.  All those years and I can still count my favorite active Yankees on one hand, well until today with Rivera’s retirement.  That doesn’t mean I don’t respect other Yankees over the years, these guys just happened to be my personal favorites at the time they played.

Being someone who appreciates history and tradition, I’ve always felt that Rivera was the perfect man to take Jackie Robinson’s number to retirement for the final time.  Mo proved that he had the character to stand with greatness, and he served the legacy of Jackie Robinson very proudly and understood its significance.  I am glad that the last guy out of baseball with #42 wasn’t some thug just trying to hang on to a lost career, with rumors of a steroid past.  He wears #13.  Okay, sorry, I didn’t mean that, or maybe I did, but you get the point.  Jackie Robinson was a great man who dealt with more adversity than any of us will ever knew.  He did it while turning the other cheek and proving he was the better man.  He did this while carving out a Hall of Fame career on the field.  If there was a man who deserved to have his number retired across baseball, it was Robinson, and if there was a man who deserved to be the final one to walk off the field with it, it was Mo.  The Baseball Gods made sure this one played out like it was supposed to.

Mo, we thank you for simply being you.  You did it your way, and you never strived to be anything other than what you were.  You proved better than most in shaking off the game’s failures and you never gloated in its successes.  You were proud of your teammates and respectful of your opponents.  Baseball needs you, and I hope that this is just the beginning as you move into the next phase of your career.  I am proud, very proud, when I say that I am a Mariano Rivera fan.  He exceeded my wildest expectations and he leaves as the best ever at his position.  He deserves to be a first ballot entry to the Hall of Fame.  Anything less is unacceptable.  He was ours and he proved he belongs to the Hall like no other that I’ve personally witnessed during my lifetime.  Farewell, Mo.  This is not the end, but simply the closing of one chapter and the opening of the next.

 

Mariano Rivera

 

AP Photo (courtesy of LoHud Yankees Blog)

The gaze from under the brim of his cat…

While the focus of this post is Rivera, I would be remiss for not saying thanks to Andy Pettitte.  Time and again, he stopped losing streaks and he was clutch when it mattered most (October).  He never had the brilliant stuff of Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay, but he was a winner.  His passion showed and he was a champion.  It was tough watching him leave via free agency for those three years in Houston, but I am glad he came back.  Even during his time in Houston, you’d hear stories about how Andy still followed the Yankees.  He is part of the Yankees family and history and always will be.  It was so very fitting that his final game was a complete game win in his hometown of Houston.  A bit ironic that the opponent was named Clemens (Paul Clemens, no relation to Roger).  For the final game of the season, Roger Clemens did make an appearance to wish farewell to Mariano, and he gave Andy a hug.  There has been a lot of mudslinging between the former close friends and regardless of what Roger may have or have not done, I was glad to see the small reconciliation.  Baseball is greater than any one of us, and at the end of the day, Clemens, Pettitte, and Rivera were teammates and they represented the our team.  I fully expect to see all three at future Old Timer’s Day games and I am hopeful that old scars can be healed and that the game itself can move forward.

Back to Andy, he will be a hard act to follow.  When you look at the Yankees pitching staff, there is not one that can match Andy’s heart.  CC Sabathia appears to be on the downside of his career, Hiroki Kuroda could very well head to Japan for his final season or two, Phil Hughes has worn the pinstripes for the last time, Ivan Nova is a roller-coaster and the jury is still out on David Huff.  Next season will be one of transition and it is unfortunate that we’ll no longer have Andy as an anchor to the rotation.  Andy’s ceiling was never as a #1 pitcher.  He came to the major leagues with question marks, but he left as one of its greatest post-season performers.  We were lucky to call Andy one of our own, and I am glad that he was never dealt away in one of those knee-jerk type of trades that we saw during the George Steinbrenner regime.  Sorry, George, I miss you but you gotta admit that some of those trades left a little bit to be desired…

Getting back on track, Andy leaves the game being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest lefty in Yankees’ history, the Chairman of the Board, Whitey Ford.  The Core Four (Rivera, Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter) did an excellent job in reaching the pinnacle of their positions in franchise history.  Posada may not have matched Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey or Thurman Munson, but he can stand in the same room.  DJ is obviously one of the greatest shortstops in the team’s history (along with Phil Rizzuto).  For a team so stacked in history and tradition, four contemporary players reaching the upper echelon is amazing.  It is the end of a terrific Yankees era, and as much as I hate to see Derek Jeter go out with an injury filled career, I would prefer for him to leave now rather than to come back next year for what most likely will be a year of reduced relevance on the roster.

What does the future hold?…

I really do not know what to expect next year.  At the moment, it is uncertain if Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson will be back.  Joe Girardi is talking about needing time to decide if he wants to come back which is not a good sign in my opinion.  Mark Texeira will be back next year, but he is deteriorating as he ages.  I am not sure that CC can get back to being the dominant pitcher he once was, and the line-up is filled with age and injury-susceptible players.  The farm system at the upper levels is weak, at best.  While many of said that this has been a great year of managing by Joe Girardi, I’d argue that it has not been one of Brian Cashman’s best years.  I do not know how much he has been constrained by ownership, but the 10 wins that the team could have used this season could have been acquired through smart and strategic moves.  The farm system is very lacking at the upper levels and I know that injuries have played a part, but at some point, Cashman has to be held accountable.  Like fine wine, it is harvest season except the Yankees do not have anything to harvest.  They’ll have to overpay and to give up too much young talent to field a championship squad next season.  Unfortunately, neither makes sense even for the Yankees, so it feels as though we are in the midst of an era of transition.  Hopefully, greatness will be waiting on the other side…

–Scott

 

I so want to be wrong!…

 

The right to be pessimistic…

Anybody who has read my blog knows that I have been very pessimistic about the 2013 Yankees.  I didn’t feel right about the team coming out of training camp as the Yankees did nothing to upgrade the talent on the team and then when the season started, it became a comedy watching all of the regulars, well, for the most part, end with significant time on the disabled list.

A slight bit of optimism started to slip into my thinking last week when the Yankees started inching closer to the second wild card slot.  But that was quickly dashed by the weekend sweep at the hands of the AL East leading Boston Red Sox.  The Yankees weren’t just defeated in the series, they felt like a minor league team against giants.  It “felt” as though it was impossible for the Yankees to take charge of a game and even when they did hold a lead, it seemed very fragile and in retrospect, it was.

I was reading Joel Sherman’s recent column about the bleak prospect for 2014 and I have to agree.  CC Sabathia has shown nothing to lead one to believe that he’ll restore his status as the team’s ace.  It is very possible that we are watching the final pinstripe days for Hiroki Kuroda who has been the team’s best pitcher.  Ivan Nova, after a brief successful run, has shown he is nothing more than a roller-coaster.  Phil Hughes is auditioning for his job elsewhere next season and not doing a very good job.  I do not see any scenario that brings Andy Pettitte back for another season.  I am sure that this one has been a grind and at his age, that’s enough to pack his bags and head back home to the Lone Star State for the final time.  He’ll be a spring training regular as an instructor, I am sure, but as for Yankee Stadium starts, the end is near.  I honestly have no clue what season’s rotation will look like other than CC anchoring the bottom end.

As much as I want to see the return of Robinson Cano, I don’t want the Yankees to break the bank.  It’s that type of mentality that led them to their current predicament.  But I recognize when Hal and Hank Steinbrenner make comments that there’s a limit to what they’ll spend (even if it is the right thing to do), it will psychologically send a message to Cano that maybe they don’t want him as bad as the crosstown Mets or the ‘spend-foolishly’ Los Angeles Angels.  The outfield is a disaster with the cast of characters that can call themselves the “Forty-Something” Club.  Granted, Brett Gardner isn’t 40, but he’s also proven that he is DL-prone.  That’s not an affliction that gets better with age.  We’ll most likely see the return of Vernon Wells for no other reason than he won’t cost the Yankees anything toward the salary cap.  Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, but as a 40-year-old shortstop playing on a bad ankle, he’s not a guy that you want to see on the field for 140 or 150 games.  Mark Teixeira is on the express train to insignificance.  Chris Stewart has done a decent job as the replacement for Russell Martin, but he’s a backup on almost any other club.

A look at the Yankees’ farm system does not show anyone that is ready to be handed a first class ticket to the Bronx.  This is definitely an organization in a state of flux, and I am not convinced that it is one that GM Brian Cashman can survive.  I think the Yankees will bring back Joe Girardi (there’s not really anyone else that stands out as a surefire upgrade) and someone has to pay the price for Hal Steinbrenner’s frugalness.  Cashman’s mantra was building the farm system, but as it stands today, it is a system filled with overhyped prospects with the best talent years from maturing.

How do the Yankees overhaul their aging, overpaid and underperforming roster?  Boston’s GM Ben Cherington gets great credit for his salary purge last year that led to his team being on the fast track to the World Series.  Unfortunately, I do not see any other team willing to accept the Yankees’ excess baggage.  Are we facing a 1980’s drought? I hope not, but then again, I am not seeing anything that would instill confidence.  I hope the team’s off-season meetings are about how to improve the team and not to avoid exceeding the 2014 salary cap.  Another 2013-like year, and this is going to be a very difficult hole to dig out of.  I would not expect the Yankees to compete again until after the contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, and the other older vets are distant memories.

Meanwhile, my favorite NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, is 0-2.  2013 is not playing out to be a very good sports year for me.  I need help.  Hey, San Jose Sharks, can you do something to lift my spirits?…

The end is near for the Yankees but sadly that also means….

The end of the legendary career of my personal favorite Yankee, Mariano Rivera.  He’s been my favorite since he was zooming fastballs in the 8th inning prior to the entrance of closer John Wetteland.  Mo has been the epitome of the ideal baseball player.  When I think of all the Yankee greats, there is some sadness that I never got to see them play, like the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig.  But in Mariano Rivera, I saw a pitcher that my grandchildren will be talking about.  I’ve been very proud of his career and accomplishments and even in those moments of failure, there was never sadness because you knew that Mo gave it his all.  It’s been a pleasure to be a fan during his reign and his career will always be one that I’ll be so thankful and happy for.   I thought his words in the Fenway Park dugout were sincere, simple and so-Mo.  He is and has been the best…

BUQSMenIUAAWxTf

–Scott

 

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