Results tagged ‘ Kansas City ’

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

Wanted: Batting Magician and Shift Neutralizer…

The first swing is a strike…

OK, I am bummed.  Today’s news, aside from the fact that my beloved Minnesota Vikings and San Jose Sharks lost games, was the Boston Red Sox naming former Yankee Chili Davis as their new hitting coach.  I had really hoped we’d see the return of Davis to New York to replace the departed Kevin Long.  However, it is not meant to be.  Not sure if Davis decided not to wait on the Yankees, or if they made a lower offer, or if Davis simply looked into the crystal ball and saw greater potential with the 2015 Red Sox hitters.

I wish Chili the best in his new job, and I am sure that he’ll be a huge benefit for Yoenis Cespedes given their prior success together in Oakland.

Where does that leave the Yankees?  At this point, Dave Magadan is probably the strongest name on the board.  Dante Bichette has been mentioned as a possibility.  I have not kept up with Dante’s post-playing career, but he is an intriguing name given his close friendship with Manager Joe Girardi and his son is a prospect in the Yankees system.  Another name that intrigues me is Jason Giambi.  Not sure if he is ready to pull the plug on his playing days, but he’s obviously already moved into a mentoring role and would be a great guy for the position.  With so many teams moving to the two hitting coach approach, I think the Yankees should follow suit regardless of who gets the job.  A perfect combo might be Magadan with Hideki Matsui as his assistant hitting coach.

While I am disappointed that Chili Davis is no longer an option, I wonder if the team has already made its decision.  Reports are that a new coach could be named by Tuesday which leads me to believe the Yankees have either made their decision or they’ve significantly narrowed the choices.

Hopefully next week brings some good news regarding Joe Girardi’s coaching staff.  It’s funny.  When your team is not in the World Series, you are anxious for the WS to end so that the Hot Stove League can begin.

Go…ummm….Giants!… 

Speaking of the World Series, I am pulling for the San Francisco Giants by default.  My NL team is the Los Angeles Dodgers but sadly they couldn’t make it to the NLCS.  As a Bay Area resident, it’s not too hard to default to the Giants even if they are the Dodgers bitterest rival.  It doesn’t matter that the Giants have that ‘been there, done that’ feel to them whereas the Kansas City Royals are returning to a stage they haven’t seen since 1985.  I am ready for another Orange October…

–Scott

Let’s start this the right way…

1-0 to start the 2014-15 Off-Season…

First order of business has been accomplished.  With the signing of GM Brian Cashman to a new three year deal, the off-season can officially begin.  I am glad that Cashman will be returning, although I certainly would not have been opposed to Billy Eppler stepping into the role.

I found Cashman’s words about Alex Rodriguez to be intriguing.  It was a public admission that the team does not plan to rely upon Rodriguez as its everyday third baseman.  Granted, I am not an A-Rod fan, but I openly prefer to see the return of Chase Headley or would support the free agent acquisition of someone like Pablo Sandoval.  To hear Cashman talk about A-Rod possibly playing first base, I think that’s a great idea as Mark Teixeira is another older veteran who can no longer be relied upon to perform every day.  Of course, the use of 1B/DH between Teixeira and A-Rod doesn’t really leave much room for Carlos Beltran on those days that he can’t play the field.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  I would still like to see the Yankees find a way to sever ties with A-Rod even if it means eating his contract.  Easy for me to say given it is not my money but A-Rod, the 40-year old hip “impaired” DH that has not played in a year will not perform to the level of the money he is still owed.  So, filling the roster spot with a younger, more durable player certainly makes sense.

At this point in Cashman’s career, he is building his Yankees legacy as the longest running Yankees GM that I’ve ever known.  When his time is over, he’ll be remembered among the best of the all-time Yankees GMs.  Rebuilding a winner in the next three years would go a long way toward putting Cashman at the head of the class.  Of course, failure could mean his dismissal.  After 17 years on the job, he is truly entering “what have you done for me lately?” territory.

The Fall Guys…

I have long agreed that Kevin Long has been a great hitting coach, but for whatever reason, the message didn’t work this year.  Perhaps it was the direct product of the available talent on the roster or it was the loss of a vital cog in the heart of the order when Robinson Cano fled for Seattle.  But regardless of the reasons, it was time for a change.  So, I was not disappointed when I heard that Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher had been fired.

My personal preference for hitting coach would be the Oakland A’s Chili Davis.  I know that the A’s offense stalled late in the season, but I’ve always respected Davis and what his bat meant to a lineup.

The Yankees will be competing with the Boston Red Sox in their search since the Sox also need a hitting coach.

Giant hope…

For the World Series, after the Yankees failed to reach the play-offs and the Los Angeles Dodgers bowed out in the first round, my latest preference is the San Francisco Giants.  Maybe it’s because I am a Bay Area resident but it would be good to see the Giants prevail even if the Giants and St Louis Cardinals have been frequent participants of the Fall Classic in recent years.  There’s no way that I’ll pull for the Baltimore Orioles or the Kansas City Royals regardless of how many years it has been since they last won.  I had really hoped that Don Mattingly and the Dodgers would have succeeded with arguably the best pitcher in baseball with Clayton Kershaw but his 0-2 mark against the Cards sealed their fate.

–Scott

Do it again, only better…

The Apology…

When I heard today that Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner had apologized to Yankee fans for the 2014 season, it did bring back memories of when the Yankees lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 World Series and George Steinbrenner’s famed apology.

It’s tough to criticize ownership because they did spend money in the off-season to bring in Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and others.  However, it was a flawed team from the start.  Even in April, when the starting rotation was still healthy, the infield looked to be a disaster with question marks around the bases.  The gaping hole created by Robinson Cano’s departure was never sufficiently addressed although Martin Prado was a good late season pickup.

With Mark Teixeira’s injuries in recent years, it was no sure thing that he’d bounce back after last year’s wrist surgery.  He was never the same player and may never be again.  Third base was poorly addressed with Kelly Johnson, particularly when considered in tandem with the hole at second base and the diminished skills, thanks to age, of the legendary shortstop.

I am not sure what moves the Yankees could have made that would have worked out better.  GM Brian Cashman was dealing with limited options last off-season and it is why they had to throw money at the situation.  Sadly, it’s not the 20-something, in the middle of your prime, guys that are routinely available.  It’s the aging veterans or the journeymen.

Via LoHud Yankees Blog

One of the guys who had been tied to the Yankees last off-season was second baseman Omar Infante.  Infante subsequently spurned the Yankees for the Kansas City Royals, and in retrospect, he made the perfect decision as his team has advanced to the AL Divisional Play-offs.  It is in what Infante saw regarding the Yankees situation that needs to be fixed.

Now that Alex Rodriguez is back, I hope that does not prevent the Yankees from bringing back Chase Headley.  Straight up, I’d take Headley at third over Rodriguez.  There’s going to be a huge fight for the DH spot next year with Beltran and A-Rod.  If Beltran is healthy, I’d give him the edge so this team may simply have no spot for A-Rod (which is what I would like to see).  I know the Yankees still owe A-Rod a great deal of money, but they’d be best served paying the majority of his contract to move him elsewhere (the proverbial “addition by subtraction”).

The first order of business for Yankee ownership is to re-sign Cashman.  All reports indicate that’s going to happen, but I’d prefer to see it happen before the end of the World Series so that the GM is not a distraction at the start of the Hot Stove League.  If anybody needs to be “all in”, it’s Cashman.

Typical Derek Jeter…

I was convinced all season long that there was no way Jeter could top Mariano Rivera’s 2013 farewell.  But I should have never underestimated him.  The game went from frustrating when David Robertson gave up the potential game winning lead to exhilaration when Derek hit the game winning, walk off single in the bottom of the 9th in his final Yankee Stadium appearance.  It was an incredible experience to watch.  The fans in attendance at the Stadium certainly got their money’s worth.

New York Times

At first, I was surprised when I heard that Jeter had no desire to play shortstop during the final series in Boston.  But I completely get his reasons for wanting to take something away from the final Yankee Stadium appearance.  By the end, Jeter was a guy ready to lay down his glove but he left the field with the same class and dignity as when he arrived.  Tough to see Jeter go, but it was time.  I saw the quotes that said ‘don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad that it happened’ and they are so true.  We were blessed to have Derek Jeter, but now it is time for somebody else.

So long, Derek.  Looking forward to the retirement of your number at Yankee Stadium and entry into the Hall of Fame.

–Scott

Baseball and bad decisions…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid is as stupid does…

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

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

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

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

 

–Scott

 

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

 

Where’s George Steinbrenner when you need him?…

Missing the point…

Life has been incredibly difficult since the Yankees, expectedly, lost to the Detroit Tigers in the play-offs last October.  While the Angels were adding Josh Hamilton to go with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout and the Dodgers were adding Zack Greinke to go with Clayton Kershaw, the Yankees did nothing.  Okay, they did fork over the cash to bring back senior citizens Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda, but there was nothing to excite the fan base.

Excite the fan base…

Why is that so difficult?  So, we watch Russell Martin leave for the 2013 version of the 1950’s Kansas City A’s…the Pittsburgh Pirates.  No worries, rather than chase a proven catcher like A.J. Pierzynski, the Yankees announced that they’ll go with an in-house candidate.  So, that leaves a career back-up, a AAA catcher last year, and a minor leaguer who missed most of last season due to injury.  Nick Swisher leaves, but no worry, we have an aging 39-year-old former great player in Ichiro Suzuki who is now sporting more gray hair than Bill Clinton and was clearly a player on decline until a brief renaissance after his trade to the Yankees.

Last year’s closer, Rafael Soriano, departs so what is the response?  We have ace set up man David Robertson returning and a rehabilitating former closer in David Aardsma on the roster.  If memory serves, Robertson was not effective during his brief stint as closer following Mariano Rivera’s season-ending injury.  Plus, Rivera is a not-so-young 43 years old.  He is a first ballot Hall of Famer and my favorite Yankee for a number of years, but time is destined to catch up with even the greatest.

The bench strength (Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez) depart, and the Yankees answer by signing former rival Kevin Youkilis and role player Matt Diaz.  I sent a picture of a clean shaven Youkilis to a Red Sox friend asking if this was really THE Kevin Youkilis (as he looks so less intimidating than those goatee’d Red Sox years).  The response was, “I hear he’s hurt (oblique)…yes, that’s him”.  The only thing I know about Diaz is that he pronounces his name DYE-az rather than DEE-az.  All I ever saw him as was a part-timer for the Atlanta Braves.

We go to camp and the calendar doesn’t even turn to March before we hear that Curtis Granderson is lost for 10 weeks due to a broken forearm.  Immediately, the response from the Yankees is that they’ll cover the loss in-house.  Believe me, I get the reasons for why you wouldn’t chase down Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells for 10 measly weeks but Granderson represented a major part of the team’s offense.  You KNOW that Mark Teixera’s bat won’t show up until at least June.  Derek Jeter is another year older and coming off injury. The outfield is full of those Dave Collins type players…speed first, light hitting outfielders.  It’s too bad that Billy Martin isn’t around to consult with Joe Girardi on the fine art of small ball.

My trust in the Yankees farm system to produce a quality major league starter is weak at best.  We hear how great Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are, yet now we sit with Banuelos recovering from Tommy John surgery and Betances proving himself to be Prince Overrated.  I look at guys like Al Leiter and Doug Drabek.  They struggled when called up to the Yankees but prospered as quality major leaguers elsewhere.  It has been awhile since a Jeter or Robinson Cano burst onto the scene.  So, my faith in the minor league system producing a surprise that immediately helps the Yankees this year is weak.

Today, the news comes out through GM Brian Cashman that the Yankees did make a significant offer to free agent to be Robinson Cano.  Given that the news didn’t say the Yankees actually signed Cano, I see this as a negative move.  If there is resistance on the player’s front, this is most likely going to lead to Cano’s free agency in the fall.  With Hal Steinbrenner’s “financially responsible” approach, that most likely means that some other team makes an incredibly ridiculous offer to snatch Cano from the Bronx.

As I write this, the Yankes are 1-6 in spring training.

Excite the fan base.  Why is that so difficult Mr. Steinbrenner?…

–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

 

Getting bug bites while lying in the weeds…

What to believe?…

Admittedly, I am concerned with the Yankees’ desire to get under $189 million in payroll by 2014, and what it will mean to the team in the long run.  Granted, many teams would love to struggle with the wherewithal to afford a payroll of $189 million, but the Yankees have $30 million tied up in annual salary to Alex Rodriguez and he’s hardly the player he once was.  As it stands, the Yankees need to find a quality, effective third baseman to play behind a guy who absorbs so much of the team’s payroll budget.  So, how much do the Yankees actually have to pay just to cover third base?  Obviously, the answer is a lot more than $30 million.

Granted, the Yankees are not about to become the new Minnesota Twins or Kansas City Royals, but to those teams’ defenses, they have better minor league systems at the moment (particularly the Royals).  In a statement of the obvious, the quickest way to reduce payroll is to replace highly paid, unproductive veterans with cheap, inexpensive young talent.  While there is quality youth in the Yankees’ farm system, most are at the lower levels.  The highly rated AAA prospects have stalled for various reasons, like Manny Banuelos and his Tommy John surgery.  A trade for young, inexpensive talent is not out of the question, but so far this off-season, the Yankees have been very quiet.  I do understand it when GM Brian Cashman says that you have to a tortoise and a hare.  Striking too quickly can be more expensive in some situations.  It is a never-ending balancing act.  Strike quick when you must, lay in the weeds when you can.

Is it time for Romine?…

While I am disappointed to see catcher Russell Martin depart (signing a two year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates), I realize that I won’t miss his .211 batting average.  At times, he was a force in the lineup with his bat, but other times, he completely disappeared.  The only downside is the lack of replacement talent at the major league level.  I do not feel that perennial backups Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli are starter material.  After a lost year due to injury, all indications are that Austin Romine needs another year of AAA seasoning.  At this point, I am probably with those who feel Romine should be given a legitimate shot at the job in spring training.  He has the pedigree (his father is former Red Sox player Kevin Romine) and he is 24 years old.  If he is healthy, he deserves a shot and certainly has more upside than the other catchers on the roster.

Regarding the loss of Martin, Cashman’s quote was “This isn’t something that caught us off-guard”¹.  Clearly, the Yankees have already identified a plan of action in the event Martin left.  But it will probably fall into the tortoise category.

Maybe Jenny Craig should be hired as a second bench coach…

This past week also brought forward a photo of a seemingly overweight Derek Jeter.  Staying with quotes from Brian Cashman, “It’s probably a wrinkle in the shirt”².  Hmmm, right…

 

 	November 29, 2012: Derek Jeter is seen limping around a South Beach hotel pool wearing a cast after surgery on his fractured left ankle today in Miami Beach, Florida.

INF PHOTO, New York Daily News

I have no reason to believe that Derek Jeter will not arrive at spring training in shape, but it’s tougher as you get older and having a foot in a cast is not ideal for physical workouts.  So, I guess that quality, effective third baseman we need for third had better be able to play short too.

Now playing in right field…

The Yankees have chosen not to be players for any major free agents.  It doesn’t mean that I think they should throw millions at Josh Hamilton, but they do need to find a quality replacement for departing right fielder Nick Swisher.  Plugging in an aging veteran is not the answer.  Hamilton is not old, but there are lower risk and lesser paid options available.

The sleeping giant or the ‘Feeble 40’?…

Brian Cashman says, “We’re still capable of a lot.  People should be leery of us and afraid of us, as if we’re the stalking horse”³.  I really hope so, but it appears to me that the 2013 roster will feature highly paid but underproductive veterans, supplemented by waiver signings and minor leaguers.  That might be a bit extreme, but it does feel that way at the moment.  I do not want to take away anything from the recent re-signings of Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Mariano Rivera, but the fact remains that all three are at the tail end of their respective careers. They’ll be serviceable major league players in 2013, and perhaps will shine at times, but they need help.  “40” is not necessarily the new “30”.

With the baseball winter meetings next week, we should start to see some moves unfold.  The Yankees need to strengthen their roster and put a team on the field next year that is capable of overcoming the Detroit Tigers (among other teams).  They also need to somehow excite the fan base.  George Steinbrenner felt like the master showman at a Barnum and Bailey Circus, whereas Hal Steinbrenner comes across as a nebbish bookworm (even if he really is not).  Yes, Yankee fans are spoiled but it’s also one of the largest fan bases if not the largest.  Rupert Murdoch would not have invested so much money into the YES Network if he believed the team was headed for a downward spiral.  But the truth remains that if left unchanged, the current roster is no better than third in the AL East and perhaps headed for worse in 2014 when guys like Pettitte, Kuroda and Rivera are settling into their retirement homes and the team makes the moves necessary to come in under the $189 million wire.

Despite my pessimistic comments, I do believe that the Yankees will do the right thing in the end.  I am confident the team that takes the field next April will be one capable of competing with the league’s best.  I guess maybe I always preferred the hare over the tortoise…

–Scott

 

¹ Source:  The New York Post

² Source:  The New York Daily News

³ Source:  The LoHud Yankees Blog

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