Results tagged ‘ Joe Maddon ’

Yanks have a new shortstop – yes, in-Didi!…

Filling a position of need…

Finally, there is life in the Bronx!  Of course, it was only a matter of time given the needs of the team, but today was a day of large activity by the New York Yankees.

The morning was greeted with news that the Yankees had acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks, shipping starting pitcher Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-way trade.  While it’s never good to relinquish young, controllable pitching talent, the price of a 4th or 5th starter (or possibly long reliever) in Greene to acquire a starting shortstop was a no-brainer.

Christian Peterson/Getty Images North America

Gregorius is not coming to the Bronx to replace Derek Jeter.  He is merely the man who will be penciled into the slot created by the retirement of the future Hall of Famer.  But truth be told, short looks so much better in the hands of a 25 year old than it would have with a 41 year old regardless of the achievements for the latter.  Gregorius will bring good defense to an infield that needed help.  He may not hit, but he’ll hit better than backup shortstop Brendan Ryan.  He may be headed into the season as a platoon with Ryan (per Brian Cashman’s words earlier today), but Gregorius will have every opportunity to prove that the position is his.  The Yankees are much better with his presence.  Time will tell if he is a short or long term solution, but for now, he is an improvement over the speculated possibilities of Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie.

SOMEONE had to take Jeter’s spot and it may as well be Didi.

With Greene’s departure, the obvious first question is whether this will motivate the Yankees to pursue Max Scherzer.  While I would love the Yankees to pursue Jon Lester, it seems almost too late in the process for the Yankees to enter the picture since it has been speculated that Lester will choose his destination next week during the Winter Meetings.

My fear is that the Boston Red Sox will soon be touting both Lester and Cole Hamels in their starting rotation which is even more reason that the Yankees need a true ace at the top of their staff.  Too many questions with the other starters so Scherzer is sorely needed.

It’s Miller Time!…

In the morning, it was also reported that reliever Andrew Miller would be deciding his selection today.  Later, it was announced the Yankees were his choice.  I wouldn’t say that they ‘won’ the bidding since technically, they were runner-up to the Houston Astros who offered more, but Miller felt the Yankees were the better destination.  Of course, it helps that Miller makes his home in Tampa so it will be a short commute to spring training.

AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Miller’s signing makes the most sense if the Yankees can somehow re-sign closer David Robertson.  The bullpen is so much stronger with the trio of Robertson, Dellin Betances and Miller than it is with Betances and Miller as co-closers.  Given the shortcomings of the starting rotation, mastery of the 6th innings on will be crucial.  I really like the thought of two powerful lefties in the pen (Miller and newcomer Justin Wilson, acquired earlier in the off-season from Pittsburgh).  Of course, last year’s top draft selection, lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren is burning through the system and will be in the major league bullpen in the not so distant future.  So, for a team that has struggled with finding dominant left-handed relief in recent years, they’ll soon be dealing with a position of strength.  Manager Joe Girardi must be getting good night’s sleep these days.

I love the Baseball Winter Meetings.  It is always my favorite time of the off-season.  Of course, as a Yankees fan, my team is generally very active during the week.  Last year’s flurry of acquiring Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran on the same day was such a rush.  Kind of like today when the Yankees acquired Gregorius and Miller…

When they needed a manager, the Rays simply took the Cash…

Finally, the Tampa Bay Rays announced their new manager when they named former catcher Kevin Cash to the position.

I was a little surprised that the Rays are replacing perhaps baseball’s best manager with a guy who has never managed before.  But Cash has been learning the craft under the watchful eye of Tito Francona in Cleveland as bullpen coach, and he brings the right amount of enthusiasm and intelligence to the position.  Clearly, new Rays President Matt Silverman is trying to place his own stamp on the team.  The best choice would have been to hire former Rays bench coach Dave Martinez but of course, that would have been a carryover from the Andrew Friedman-Joe Maddon regime.  All things considered, I am glad that Martinez was able to slide over to the Chicago Cubs to continue his role as bench coach for Maddon.

It will be interesting to see how Cash does.  It’s interesting that he can claim World Series rings with both the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.  Now, he’ll see those teams routinely as a member of the AL East.  Hopefully, he does well and his stay in St Petersburg is long and mutually rewarding.  Well so long as it doesn’t involve any AL East or World Series championships.

The next week should be interesting regardless of what happens.  The Yankees have awakened from their slumber…

–Scott

Waiting for Signs of Life…

How to build an 80-win team…

The Boston Red Sox have gotten stronger with the recent additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and most likely, the re-signing of their former ace Jon Lester in the coming weeks.  The Toronto Blue Jays quietly signed catcher Russell Martin (a significant upgrade over Dioner Navarro) and last night, pulled off a major trade for arguably one of the best third basemen in the game in Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A’s.  The cost for Donaldson was Brett Lawrie and prospects.  Given Lawrie’s inability to stay healthy, this trade provides further enhancement for a team that has held promise for a few years.

Lance Iversen, The Chronicle

Then there’s the Baltimore Orioles.  They may not have made any big moves but they are still the AL East champs until proven otherwise.

I am not sure what’s going on with the Tampa Bay Rays.  They will be losing a great potential manager in bench coach Dave Martinez when they finally name a replacement for Joe Maddon and the team no longer has the feeling of eternal optimism that it had when Maddon and former GM Andrew Friedman were running the show.  So, we’ll leave them out of the equation.

So, clearly, the Blue Jays and Red Sox are determined to challenge the Orioles’ hold on the division championship.  Meanwhile, in the Bronx, just crickets…

Last winter, the Yankees were quiet at the beginning of the off-season but then launched a flurry of signings in December that netted Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran.  It was a lot of money, but it still had the feeling the money could have been better spent.  Of course, if the Yankees would have just paid Russell Martin a few years ago rather than allow him to leave as a free agent, the Yankees could have gotten him much cheaper than the deal they signed McCann to (or the one Martin ultimately signed with the Jays).  Ellsbury is a known risk given his injury risk.  He held up fairly well in his first season in pinstripes, and I like having him on the team.  But the truth is the Yankees had a center fielder on the roster at the time in Brett Gardner and would have been better served going after a bat for left field.  Beltran has been a great major leaguer but his age simply does not bode well for staying healthy.

Now, I could write major concerns with Ramirez and Sandoval, but the Red Sox are dealing from a position of strength and have loosened some major league players, combined with quality prospects, to make a major trade to further strengthen the team (such as a move for the Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels).  The Yankees last year were just trying to fill holes.

I am surprised that the Yankees have not been linked in any way with star free agents Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.  Clearly, either one would immediately enhance the Yankees’ chances in 2015.  They need to find answers for other positions (third base, shortstop and the bullpen) but a high end rotation is a must for any team to succeed.  As it stands, there are too many questions with Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, Michael Pineda’s ability to stay healthy or if CC Sabathia is riding the major downslope of his career.

The Yankees need to sign either Scherzer or Lester, and retain the free agent trio of Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, and David Robertson.  With this off-season of inactivity, it feels like the Yankees are going to lose out on all of the above.  At least today, two days after Thanksgiving.

I remain hopeful that Rob Refsnyder wins the second base job in spring training.  As for shortstop, the easiest solution is to re-sign Stephen Drew.  It’s really too bad that the organization was unable to develop a high level shortstop prospect in time for Derek Jeter’s departure.  Jorge Mateo looks like a strong possibility but he’s years away from being ready for the major league level.  So, the Yankees are best served finding a short-term solution like Drew and hope for a bounce back year with a full training camp.  I’d prefer that over a trade that could potentially cost what high level talent the Yankees do have in the upper levels of the minor league system.

If the Yankees do nothing, they’ll be battling the Rays for last place.  If they merely try to fill holes with cheaper alternatives, they’ll still be cellar rats.  Something has to give….soon.

I agree with Hal Steinbrenner when he says that you don’t need a $200 million payroll to win but the Yankees roster as currently constructed is not championship-caliber in my opinion.  Too much risk and uncertainty, and players who’ve seen their better days.  Alex Rodriguez is such a huge albatross and it’s a shame that he is now the “face” of the team.

Hopefully, Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner boys have a plan in place that is driven for success and not merely a bean counter’s approach to fielding a team.

Time will tell, as it often does (as the saying goes)…

–Scott

Your Objective, Mr Cashman, is to restore October baseball…

It’s a simple formula…

It is nice that Dellin Betances was nominated for AL Rookie of the Year, but it is a foregone conclusion that the award belongs to Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox.  I hope all of the accolades bestowed upon Betances (well deserved) do not go to the heads of the Yankee brass.  I am a bit concerned that they are ready to turn the closer’s role over to Betances, and I believe that’s a mistake.  The Yankees need to do what it takes to bring back David Robertson.  The thought of him potentially being the closer for Joe Maddon in Chicago is troubling, to say the least.

  • Sign Robertson…
  • Sign Brandon McCarthy…
  • Sign Chase Headley…

It’s that simple.  This isn’t rocket science.

If the Yankees are truly serious about not pursuing a frontline starter like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, or James Shields, they need to bring back McCarthy…and then some.

New York Daily News

In my mind, Headley is THE Yankees third baseman.  I have no love for the other guy and there’s no way that he will be able to physically perform at the position through the duration of a long season, given that he’s about to turn 40 and has been away for a year.  Headley may not be a monster bat, but his defense was electrifying.  With new guys potentially slated for second and short, the Yankees need consistency and stability at third.  Headley, not A-Rod, is the man to bring it.

Even if the Yankees bring back Robertson and continue with the 1-2 punch of Betances-Robertson in the late innings, they need lights out relief in front of them.  I suspect that CC Sabathia will not go deep into his games, and with so many questions in the rotation (Masahiro Tanaka’s health, ability of Michael Pineda to stay healthy, etc.), the bullpen will be heavily relied upon.

Baseball is a game of lemmings, and the Kansas City Royals proved that a great bullpen can compensate for weaknesses in the starting rotation.

Truth or dare…

Regarding the reports that the Yankees will not pursue the Big Three (Scherzer, Lester or Shields), put me in the ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ category.  Those reports always strike me as a way for the Yankees to hopefully keep prices down or to give them leverage with the free agent.  The Yankees would be foolish not to pursue Scherzer or Lester.

Hey Cash!…

I remain heavily behind putting Rob Refsnyder at second.  I know that Jose Pirela is tearing up winter ball, but I still prefer Refsnyder.

As for short, I’d be okay with the Yankees bringing back Stephen Drew.  I really do think that Drew will have a much better season in 2015, with the benefit of spring training.  But if they go the free agent market, then Asdrubal Cabrera probably makes the most sense.  The cost to obtain Troy Tulowitzski or even Alexei Ramirez would be too high.  If there’s anything I want to accomplish this winter besides signing the above free agents, it’s to protect top prospects like Luis Severino or Aaron Judge.

With so many teams needing quality catching, and Russell Martin the lone option on the free agent market, it would seem the Yankees should put Francisco Cervelli on the table.  By himself, he wouldn’t bring top return, but he could be packaged with other prospects to bring a quality return.  Obviously, not game changers but quality talent that a winning club needs.

Wanted:  GM, no experience required…

The GM landscape is certainly taking a different look.  It seems like the veteran GM’s are showing up on radio talk shows (like Jim Duquette, Steve Phillips, and others), while newcomers are breaking into the GM inner circle.  I was very surprised to see the Dodgers name Farhan Zaidi as their GM as I felt Josh Byrnes would get the job, but the Dodgers got Byrnes anyway to lead its scouting and player development areas.  After listening to an interview with the 37 year old MIT-grad Zaidi, I am tremendously impressed and there’s no doubt that he’ll mesh very well with President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, Byrnes, and Manager Don Mattingly.  He gets it.

Another GM that surprised me was Dave Stewart of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  But as a quality guy who can do the job, it’s Stewart.

Still, I wonder what guys like Duquette and Phillips think.  Perhaps they have no interest in returning to the GM role.  It would seem that the stress of a radio gig would be a little less stressful than trying to put together a championship caliber team and keeping it together.

At some point in the future, the Yankees would be wise to promote Brian Cashman to President of Baseball Operations and to move Billy Eppler to GM.

Whatever happened to Kim Ng?…

Getty Images

I know, she works for MLB but I always thought that she’d be the first female GM.

These first few weeks in November are always so quiet.  Awards will be announced next week and the GM meetings are coming up so there’ll be a little activity.  However, it always takes the Baseball Winter Meetings in December to really get things cooking.  I am anxious to see what the 2015 Yankees will look like.  Hopefully, the roster will include Robertson, McCarthy, and Headley.  I shouldn’t say it, but I would not be disappointed if it didn’t include Rodriguez…

–Scott

End of WS, Start of Hot Stove…

Quiet domination…

I am not sure too many people would have predicted the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals in the Fall Classic, but congratulations to the Giants for their third World Series win in five years.  For being the most dominant team since the Yankees of the late 90’s, they’ve gone about it very quietly.  I guess that’s a product of East Coast bias, but Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy deserve much credit for crafting one of baseball’s better organizations.

Getty Images

When the Royals hit the sloppy triple in the top of the 9th of Game 7 against the great Madison Bumgarner, there was never really a sense that the Giants were going to let the game slip away.  Of course, that’s very easy to say when Bumgarner is on the mound.  It was a legendary World Series performance and he was the MVP by far.  Pablo Sandoval played superbly but Bumgarner was simply spectacular.  I did feel bad for the Kansas City fans who came so close to a championship after so many years of bad teams.  They’ll certainly be a force going forward and should have other opportunities.  With their stash of young talent, they remind me of the Tampa Bay Rays of a few years ago.

Maybe we will see it during our lifetime…

Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs.  It does seem like a potential great marriage.  Hopefully, former Cubs manager Rick Renteria will get another opportunity sooner rather than later.  He certainly deserves it, but this was a move that the Cubs needed to make.  It is a terrific chance for Maddon to prove that he is the best manager in baseball, and to win the World Series at Wrigley Field would be the crown jewel.

When Maddon first opted out of his contract with the Rays, I thought, or feared, that the Dodgers would foolishly dump Don Mattingly to reunite Maddon with former Rays GM Andrew Friedman.  But fortunately, Mattingly is held in high regard by ownership, so I am sure that solidified his position regardless of what Friedman may have felt privately.  Publicly, the Dodgers didn’t say or do anything to undermine their current manager which was good.  With the Dodgers off the table, the Cubs were the best spot for Maddon.  Unfortunate that it came at the expense of an employed manager, but it was still the right fit.

Maddon and his personality should be an instant success in the Windy City.

Protect your own, well, except #13…

I was glad to see the Yankees extend a qualifying offer to closer David Robertson, but there was no chance they wouldn’t.  It would be awesome if Robertson accepted the qualifying offer but I seriously doubt it.  Hopefully, the Yankees and Robertson can find common ground in bringing the closer back to the Bronx.  Dellin Betances may be a great closer one day, but Kansas City showed that you can go a long way with a stellar bullpen.  The Yankees are better with Betances setting up Robertson.

I am also hopeful that the Yankees bring back third baseman Chase Headley and starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy.  However, McCarthy may get caught in numbers.  CC Sabathia will be back to join Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda.  Shane Greene deserves another shot at the rotation, and it is very likely the Yankees will go after one of the top three free agent pitchers (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields).  At some point early in the season, Ivan Nova will return.  It’s anybody’s guess what Sabathia will bring and there is some uncertainly with Tanaka and his elbow.  So loading up with starting pitching is never a bad thing, but if McCarthy wants a guaranteed spot, he’ll most likely need to go elsewhere.  It’s too bad because he is a good fit in the Bronx.

Tough decisions lie ahead for GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner family.

Too many players with uncertainty.  Alex Rodriguez is certainly at the head of the list.  His days as a premier third baseman are over.  That’s even more reason to bring Headley back.  With someone like A-Rod, I would set my expectations low and then anything he delivers beyond that would be a bonus.  I truly hated to see the World Series end for no other reason than it meant the restoration of A-Rod to the active roster.  I wish there was a way the Yankees could sever ties, but the contract is too problematic unless the Yankees want to simply give A-Rod money for nothing and release him.

With Jose Pirela performing well in winter ball, there should be very spirited competition for second base with Rob Refsnyder in Spring Training.  My preference is to go young with the position and not reach out for an older veteran on the free agent or trade market.  They’ll need to do the latter at shortstop to provide a fill in until young prospect Jorge Mateo is hopefully ready in a few years.

It’s been fun watching the star shine more brightly on Yankees prospect Aaron Judge.  One of the bigger guys in baseball, he is playing better than just a big man and is on track to arrive at Yankee Stadium in a couple of years.

This off-season will see the departure of some prospects as a few are getting older and running out of options like Austin Romine.  The Yankees have a glut at catcher behind Brian McCann, so it would seem that either Francisco Cervelli or John Ryan Murphy will have to go.  I only hope that it doesn’t mean trading away high level talent like Judge or pitcher Luis Severino unless the return is significant (highly unlikely).

Best of luck to Gary Denbo as he takes over for VP of Baseball Operations for the retiring Mark Newman.  The Yankees have made progress in improving their minor league system the last couple of years so hopefully Denbo can enhance the continued growth of quality prospects at the upper levels of the system.  Also, I was pleased to see the return of former third baseman Eric Chavez as a special assignment scout.  I was disappointed last year when he chose a bench role with the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Yankees to be closer to his home in Arizona.

Still no word on a new hitting coach or first base coach, although it looks like Raul Ibanez is getting strong consideration for the former position.  Teaming him with someone like James Rowson would be a great idea.

Decisions made by the Yankees over the next 45 days will go a very long way toward shaping the 2015 Yankees.

I am ready for Spring Training to begin…

–Scott

Anxious for the Hot Stove League to begin…

The Element of Surprise…

The World Series is not yet over, but the 2014-15 Hot Stove League is already well under way.

The biggest shocker was the announcement that Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon had opted out of his contract to become a free agent.  While I knew that there was a financial gap between what Maddon would require upon the conclusion of his contract next year and what the Rays would be willing to pay, I certainly didn’t expect Maddon’s sudden availability.  Interesting that he had to be told about the two week clause to opt out of his contract should former GM Andrew Friedman depart, but clearly a signal that the Rays organization wants to show that they are more than the Friedman-Maddon show.  I’ve read that the Rays didn’t want Maddon playing as a lame duck manager next season and that makes sense.  Still, he is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, manager in baseball.

Tampa Bay Times

I had expected Maddon’s availability to put Don Mattingly on thin ice in Los Angeles, but publicly the Dodgers have stood behind Mattingly as their manager for 2015.  While I don’t think that Mattingly is the manager that Maddon is, I do believe that he eventually will be.  Mattingly has continued to improve in my eyes, and he deserves the opportunity to succeed with the Dodgers.  But it must be hard for new Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman sit idly by while his close friend is available to the highest bidder.  With the only remaining managerial opening being in Minneapolis, it’s a given that if Maddon manages in 2015, a team will make a late decision to jettison their current manager.  Speculation that it will be the Chicago Cubs certainly makes sense, but I feel bad for Rick Renteria who did a very good job last year with the younger Cubs.

If I owned a baseball team, I’d certainly consider making a change to bring in Maddon.  It will be interesting to see where he lands.  I really doubt that he’ll sit out a year waiting for the next job.

Meanwhile, I certainly do not feel bad for the Tampa Bay Rays.  I am in favor of anything that weakens AL East Rivals, but I am sure that Tampa will be fine.

Strike One…

For the Yankees, they missed their guy when Chili Davis signed a three year deal to be the new hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox.  Chili was my personal favorite for the job, and had hoped for his reunion with the Yanks.  But it was not meant to be.  With Dave Magadan off the board, it’s anybody’s guess who will replace Kevin Long as the Yankees hitting coach.  Of the latest names, I do like the idea of the Yankees pursuing Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton or if they stay in house, someone like James Rowson.  Without strong clear cut options, it does make one wonder if the Yanks were premature in letting Long go.  It certainly didn’t take him long to find a new job in Flushing Meadow.  With his reputation, it was a certainty that he wouldn’t remain unemployed very long.

Mets Yankees Long.jpg

John Munson/The Star-Ledger

In retrospect, the Yankees should have kept Long and brought in an assistant hitting coach.  Regardless of who they hire as a replacement, I still think the Yankees should join the many team now employing two hitting coaches.  My personal favorite for that role continues to be Hideki Matsui.

A wasted roster spot…

With the World Series now tied up, I am hopeful that it goes the full seven games.  While I want the San Francisco Giants to win, I am not ready for the announcement that Alex Rodriguez has rejoined the Yankees active roster.  I am not looking forward to his return and I do not feel that he’ll be the productive player that he once was.  In my opinion, he’d look better someplace like Miami but the guy has no trade value unless the Yankees are willing to absorb what’s left on his inflated contract.  He is definitely the poster child against long-term contracts.  This has turned out to be one of the worst that I’ve ever seen.  The thought of three more years of A-Rod is so incredibly painful.  I sincerely hope that A-Rod’s presence does not deter the Yankees from re-signing free agent third baseman Chase Headley.

There was once a time that I thought A-Rod would never wear pinstripes again but sadly, it appears that I was wrong.  Of course, it’s not my money and the Yankees still owe A-Rod too much to just release him.

Assuming the Yankees do bring back Headley, the position that scares me the most next season is first base.  It’s hard to count on Mark Teixeira and when he plays, he is a shell of the player he once was.  It is looking like A-Rod will be playing some first base which brings its own questions.  I remain hopeful that Rob Refsnyder grabs second base in spring training.  As for Derek Jeter’s replacement at short, I think the answer is outside of the organization.  More than likely, it will be a short term solution.   Asdrubal Cabrera probably makes the most sense unless it is determined that his long term future is better suited for second base.

With the World Series set to end either Tuesday or Wednesday, I am sure that the Hot Stove League will start heating up if the last few weeks have been any indication.  No offense to either the Giants or the Kansas City Royals, but, outside of A-Rod, I am ready for the rebuilding of the Yankees to begin…

–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

 

Live by the sword, die by the sword…

 

Who needs Josh Hamilton or A.J. Pierzynski!…

Austin Romine and Ronnier Mustelier.  Sometimes, the most meaningful additions to the major league roster are from within.  That’s probably never been so important in the Bronx than it is now as the Yankees attempt to reduce their payroll to below $189 million by 2014.  To accomplish the goal, the Yankees will need more than one or two low-cost, high reward type players on the roster.

I admit that I haven’t been watching the minor leagues as close as I probably should have.  I’ve been aware of Romine, the son of former Red Sox player Kevin Romine.  For years, his name was always mentioned in the same breath as Jesus Montero as the type two prospects at catcher.  With the trade of Montero to Seattle last year, it helped clear the path for Romine.  Now, among Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, Romine represents the greatest upside even if he missed most of last year due to injury.

I have not been aware of Mustelier, a Cuban refugee the Yankees signed a couple of years ago.  But all the guy has done is hit as he’s progressed through the Yankees’ system.  He is a utility man that can play both corners, but I’ve seen speculation about him in right field too.  He’s old for a prospect (27) but it doesn’t mean that he cannot seize an opportunity in spring training to make his imprint on the Yankees’ roster.

If both Romine and Mustelier grabbed key roles for the 2013 team, it will help the Yankees to focus on eliminating other parts of “fat” on the roster and hopefully upgrade the team with lower cost high-producing replacements.  Easier said than done, which does lead me to believe the next couple of years will be ones of transition for the Yankees.  I honestly cannot see them keeping up with the ‘Joneses’ (i.e., namely the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays or even the Baltimore Orioles) with the current roster.  This doesn’t mean that I envision 95-loss seasons in the immediate future.  The Yankees still have too much talent on the roster.  But it will be a dogfight for 90-win seasons if the team continues on its current path.  A game or two here or there is the difference between making the play-offs as a wild card or staying home for October.

The strong get stronger, the Yankees get older…

As it stands, the most successful teams this off-season, in my opinion, have been the Los Angeles Angels and the Toronto Blue Jays.  Of course, the Kansas City Royals added a great pitcher in James Shields even if it did cost their top prospect. The Texas Rangers will be strong again even if they lost Josh Hamilton.  I fully expect them to find an adequate replacement for Hamilton between now and the start of the season.  The bat won’t be as strong as Hamilton’s bat, but it will be a capable one, I am sure.  In the AL East, I still expect the Tampa Bay Rays to be strong despite losing Shields.  If I’ve learned anything in baseball, it is to never underestimate Rays manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman.  I assume that the Baltimore Orioles will be as strong as they were in 2012, and I expect an improved Boston Red Sox club under the new leadership of manager John Farrell.

With the strength of the Detroit Tigers and other teams, it’s almost impossible to predict who will be the winners next season.  I’d like to say the Yankees will be one of the last teams standing, but everything would have to align perfectly for that to happen and I just don’t see it.  As usual, I hope I am wrong and that the Yankees surprise me with their performance in ’13.  Time will tell…

I still do not see the Steinbrenner family allowing the value of the franchise to erode.  Either they make the necessary moves to ensure the continued competitiveness of the team or they sell.  The latter is not such a bad idea if it would bring in aggressive new ownership.  I cannot find fault with the current regime’s decision to cut payroll to reduce luxury taxes in future years, but the problem is too many bad decisions in the past (i.e., A-Rod’s contract).  It feels like the Yankees are going ‘cold turkey’ with their new small market budget mentality.  It would have worked better as a slower transition, but of course, the 2014 deadline does not allow for it.

Teams like the St Louis Cardinals have proven in recent years that you can win despite not having the best players or the highest payroll.  I know that’s the model the Yankees would like to emulate.  Going for the best players with inflated payrolls seems to be a ‘play for now’ approach with no sustainability.  The key to long-term success is to develop a farm system that allows the introduction of young, low-cost talent every year (in other words, the Tampa Bay Rays).  It’s just so hard as a Yankees fan to see the team go from one extreme to the other.

Oh well, let’s see what happens when the players step onto the field…

Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  J

–Scott

 

Stage 1 of Operation Successful Off-Season is complete…

 

Whew…

After a season of ‘will he’ or ‘won’t he’ opt-out, CC Sabathia accepted the Yankees offer and I couldn’t be more pleased.  I am a bit concerned that CC’s weight will eventually prove to be a problem if he doesn’t get control of it, but clearly he is the Yankees best pitcher and the best hope for the next few years.

Since avoiding the opt-out only cost the Yankees $30 million (potentially $50 million if he is still at the top of his game at the end of the contract), it was clearly a bargain since they would have paid more to retain him had he hit the open market or perhaps they risked losing him altogether.  I know that CC’s decision to stay was not solely on his love for the city and organization, but I am glad that he’s a permanent Yankee with no opt-out looming on the horizon.

I was driving home from work on Monday evening when I heard the news of the signing on MLB Radio.  I had feared the worst so the news of his announcement on his website that he was staying was such an incredible relief.  I have felt that the key to a successful off-season is getting both Sabathia and GM Brian Cashman locked up before the start of the free agency period.  Mission accomplished.  I am not sure there’s much on the free agent market that can help the Yanks, but hopefully, the team will be able to make a trade or two to improve the quality of the rotation.

As good as Cash…

Speaking of Cashman, his re-signing was essential for organizational continuity.  I am not sure how long it takes a new GM to get acclimated to the job, but it would seem making your way in the Yankees Universe would take longer than usual.  I am sure that the Yanks would have looked in-house for candidates (such as Billy Eppler or Damon Oppenheimer) but the man for the job continues to be Cashman.  I am sure that he’s thought of what life would be with in a less stressful environment, but nobody is as suited for the Bronx as Cash is.  I thought it was an interesting stat that he’s been the Yankees general manager longer than anyone since Ed Barrow (1920-45).

The start of a new era…

After standing pat for the most part with last year’s roster, it will be interesting to see what the Yankees do this year.  I don’t expect them to go hog wild but they definitely need to get CC some help and they need a few clutch bats off the bench.  At some point, the Yankees will have to say goodbye to Jorge Posada who few people expect to be on the 2012 roster.  It is time for Jesus Montero to take up residence at Yankee Stadium and sadly that means there is no room for Jorge.  He will go down as a great Yankee, and he’ll be heavily cheered at future Old Timer’s Days.  My preference is for him to retire as a Yankee rather than to try and hang on for another year or so with another team.

Despite the Yankees decision to pick up his option, the odds of Nick Swisher still have to be mixed at best.  If the Yankees can pick up a better player for right, I am sure that they’d do it.  Swish’s personality would be missed but if he could be used, in part, to bring a frontline pitcher to New York, I’d be in favor of it.

Rafael Soriano decided against exercising his opt-out?  Big surprise…  L

You win some, you lose some…

I was disappointed to see the failure of Project Andrew Brackman.  When Brackman was drafted, it was clear the Yankees had been able to get him at the spot they drafted because Brackman needed Tommy John surgery.  I had really hoped that the pick would pay off and that Brackman would eventually be the top pitcher his potential screamed.  Sadly, it was never meant to be…at least in New York…as the Yankees declined his option, making the 25-year-old a free agent.

There are other teams besides the Yankees?…

I was shocked when I heard that the St. Louis Cardinals might have interest in Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon as a replacement for Tony LaRussa.  There’s no doubt that he’d be a great fit, but I just cannot see Tampa allowing Maddon to leave.  He has been great for the city and the team…much to my chagrin and to the dismay of my friends in Boston.  But I wouldn’t lose any sleep if Maddon does manage to get out of Tampa to take the Cardinals job.

I would really hate to see the Boston Red Sox get Michael Cuddyer…

–Scott

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.