Results tagged ‘ Kelly Johnson ’

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

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

Mediocrity continues…

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

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

Boston Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew can't make

AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing A-Rod…

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

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

Getty Images

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

Friendships revisited…

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

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

AP/John Bazemore

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

Assimilating with a new team…

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

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

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics

USA Today Sports

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

–Scott

 

The Road More Travelled…

Where’s the reset button?…

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

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

 

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

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

 

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

Battling to stay above .500…

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

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

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

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

The end of the streak…

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

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

 

Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

 

The Boy Who Cried Wolf…

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

 

–Scott

 

Yet another man down…

I wonder if Mike Mussina can still pitch…

It’s still early in May but the Yankees have only two remaining starters in the pitching rotation from the Opening Day roster.  With the placement of CC Sabathia (knee) on the DL, the two Japanese starters, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka, are the only remaining starters with Ivan Nova (elbow/Tommy John surgery) and Michael Pineda (back) already on the DL.  This means the remainder of the rotation after Kuroda and Tanaka, are David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and perhaps Chase Whitley or Alfredo Aceves.  That’s not exactly a rotation that strikes fear in the heart of opposing batters.

The Yankees are so very fortunate that they won the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes in the off-season.  I’d hate to think where this rotation would be without Tanaka.  Or the team for that matter.

The Yankees will need to do something to address the starting rotation.  Nova is gone for the year, and Sabathia is still showing difficulty in adjusting to the latter stages of his pitching career.  I am really not sure what to expect when Pineda comes back and Kuroda has not shown consistent dominance since early last year.

But with the July trading deadline still over two months away, there are simply no quality options available.  Well, at least not at more reasonable prices.  Hopefully, someone among the Phelps, Nuno, Whitley et al group step up to show that they belong in The Show.  The Yankees need a new starter next year to replace Kuroda, who, more than likely, will retire or return to play in Japan.  Rather than vastly overpay for an upcoming free agent, it would be preferable for a young starter in the organization to step up and take his spot (obviously).

Passing the torch…

With Stephen Drew still available and the June draft upcoming, the rumors are picking up again that Drew would be a great fit for the Yankees.  I do not disagree.  No disrespect for Derek Jeter but he simply is not the player he was once.  He will not ride to the sunset like Mariano Rivera at the top of his game.  It’s unfortunate, but age has a funny way of doing that to the best of us.  I have felt that Drew would be a very solid addition since spring training and better than adding Brian Roberts or Kelly Johnson.  I know it would cost a draft pick, but the Yankees should pull the trigger now and sign Drew rather than wait until the competition is much stronger once Drew no longer has compensation tied to his signing following the player draft.

Brendan Ryan is a great fielder at shortstop but this team needs quality, clutch bats and Drew would be perhaps the best option for production among the middle infielders if signed.

The quarterback who wears gloves picked the right city…

As a Minnesota Vikings fan, I bought into the hype of Johnny Manziel.  After experiencing life as a fan of Donnie Baseball, it was appealing to think of my favorite football team being led by Johnny Football.  When the Vikings were on the clock at #8 and Manziel was still available, I was hopeful, along with many other Vikings fans apparently, that the team would call his team.  But instead, the Vikings swapped places with the Cleveland Browns at #9, and took a defensive player (Anthony Barr).  While I recognize the team needed defensive help, particularly the linebackers and defensive backfield, but the team needs a true leader.  I had been hopeful Christian Ponder would be the guy but it has never worked out.  Perhaps offensive coordinator Norv Turner can pull something out of Ponder but in many ways it is too late.  Matt Cassell will be the starter in 2014 barring injury, so it was a given the Vikings would take a QB in the draft.

After failing to trade up to #22 (the Philadelphia Eagles accepted a better offer from the Cleveland Browns who then took Johnny Football), the Vikings traded back up into the first round (last pick at #32) with the Seattle Seahawks and grabbed the guy who was number one on many top QB lists, Teddy Bridgewater.  So, while I was disappointed the Vikings didn’t get Manziel, it is certainly not difficult to be excited about the potential of Bridgewater.  He’ll have great weapons with Adrian Peterson, Cordarelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings and others.  Ponder now becomes an afterthought, unless he is somehow able to find his way back into the starter’s role before Bridgewater takes the position for good.

Happy Mother’s Day!

–Scott

 

Why not just build an unbeatable team?…

 

Where is Lyle Overbay when you need him?  I know, he’s enjoying the early season winning in Milwaukee, but the Yankees are clearly in need of someone who can play first base better than just a fill-in.  I am still not convinced that Mark Teixeira will be a reliable force anytime soon even though his DL stint ends on Sunday.  He hasn’t been hitting and he never hits in the early stages of a season.  It’s made worse this year given that he is coming off a year lost to injury.  Maybe we’ll experience a renaissance at first with Tex but put me in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category.

Poor Kelly Johnson.  Signed to play second base, he became the starting third baseman when he who shall remain nameless was banned for the season.  Johnson subsequently had to move across the diamond to play the other corner when Teixeira went on the DL.  What’s next?  Catcher?  Or maybe he’ll be the team #5 starter should anything happen to a member of the rotation.  He’s versatile, but seriously, I’d rather see Johnson stick to the left side of the infield.  It’s too bad that someone with talent like Stephen Drew remains unsigned when he could help the Yankees in so many ways.  I know, the cost is too great and we’re spoiled Yankee fans.  But seriously, the team needs to protect its investment.  The starting rotation has been solid and is capable of taking the team further than expected.  But the bats and defense have to perform.

With the placement of backup catcher Francisco Cervelli on the DL, I was wondering what moves the Yankees would make.  They have subsequently called up catcher John Ryan Murphy and signed Scott Sizemore to the major league roster after sending pitcher Shane Greene down to AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre.  I’ve never been excited about Sizemore’s bat so the move doesn’t exactly resolve my infield concerns but to his defense, he had gotten off to a good start at AAA.

Interesting that the Yankees called upon Murphy rather than catcher Austin RomineBrian Cashman made the comment that Murphy was the “better player”.  When a GM talks, you always have to wonder if it is the truth or simply posturing for potential future trades.  I fully expect the Yankees to move one of their minor league catchers in the days leading up to the trading deadline.  Could be Murphy, Romine or even Gary Sanchez.  But at some point, someone has to go to upgrade other areas in need.

Shawn Kelley has allayed my early concerns about his ability to close games.  After blowing a game shortly after he became the interim closer, he’s been fairly solid the last few games.  While it is good to see him gain closing experience, I’ll be glad to see David Robertson return.

Even with the help of some liquid brown dirt (yeah right), Michael Pineda has been everything I’ve expected since 2011.  When people were calling the trade a bust, I stayed patient as I wanted to see Pineda perform when healthy.  Yes, he could turn out to be another Carl Pavano but I don’t really expect that to happen.  It’s great to have someone with his ability as the fifth starter.  In many ways, he is better than the so-called “ace” of the staff.  Speaking of the latter, I really hope CC Sabathia can successfully return to his status as a frontline starter if he can make the necessary transition and changes to his pitching style with the loss in velocity.

So far, I’ve been pleased with the performance of the Yankees.  They’re holding their own and they just came off a series victory over arch-rival Boston.  It’s still a long season and the team will have to do something about the holes in the infield but at least they are not in a dire situation at the start.

The nice thing about the Yankees…they’ll always give me something to complain about.  Well, 1998 excluded.

–Scott

 

Fear becomes Reality…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Scott

 

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

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

Starting rotation:

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

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

Closer:

  1.        David Robertson

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

Setup:

  1.        Shawn Kelley
  2.        Dellin Betances

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

Lefty specialist:

  1.        Matt Thornton

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

Long relief:

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

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

Catcher:

  1.        Brian McCann
  2.        Francisco Cervelli

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

First base:

  1.        Mark Teixeira

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

Second base:

  1.        Brian Roberts
  2.        Yangervis Solarte

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

Shortstop:

  1.        Derek Jeter
  2.        Dean Anna

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

Third base:

  1.        Kelly Johnson

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

Left field:

  1.        Brett Gardner

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

Center field:

  1.        Jacoby Ellsbury

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

Right field:

  1.        Carlos Beltran

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

DH:

  1.        Alfonso Soriano

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

Role to be determined:

  1.        Ichiro Suzuki

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

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

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

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

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

 

–Scott

 

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

 

We asked and he delivered…

Budget, Smudget…

What more could we have asked of the Steinbrenner family?  Seriously, the Steinbrenners opened their purse strings this off-season even if the infield is in a state of flux.  Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Matt Thornton, Andrew Bailey, and last but not least Masahiro Tanaka.  For a team that stood pat the previous off-season, the Yankees over-compensated this year.

It would have been nice to Robinson Cano’s bat mixed in with the new offense, but if he had stayed, it’s likely that Tanaka would be in Chicago or Los Angeles, and Beltran would be with the Red Sox or another team that expressed interest.  Time will tell if it was the right move, but I think the Yanks were wise not to throw a quarter of a billion dollars at Cano.

When Brett Gardner re-signed with the Yankees this week, he mentioned that it didn’t matter if he got what he did or twice as much, it wasn’t going to change his lifestyle and he wanted to be a Yankee.  It’s the last part of the previous sentence that Cano didn’t feel.  That only reinforces the Yankees decision to move on.  I do not realistically expect Brian Roberts to recapture his glory days.  I would have preferred Kelly Johnson at second with the Yankees bringing in another third base solution, but when you spend as much as the Yankees did in the last few months, something has to give.  With the Yankees, you know that a spring trade or a July deadline deal is not out of the question.

Sure, the team is banking on another stellar managerial performance by Joe Girardi, but I feel much better going into this season than I did last year.  Last year, it literally felt like a team that wouldn’t make it the distance.  This year, I feel the team has a legitimate shot.  A few guys need to step it up a level but that’s within the realm of possibility.  It’s not exactly like we are asking Brendan Ryan to be the second coming of Derek Jeter.

The wild card is obviously Michael Pineda.  If he continues to pitch like he is capable of, he will bring so much to the end of the rotation.  A healthy and productive Pineda is far superior to the inconsistency that Phil Hughes provided.  With Jesus Montero 40 lbs overweight in Seattle, this could be the year that Pineda makes “the trade” pro-New York.

Masahiro Tanaka may be billed as Andy Pettitte’s replacement but next year, he’ll most likely be current teammate Hiroki Kuroda’s replacement.  But for now, I am very glad that Kuroda is there to serve as mentor for his countryman.  I’ve wondered if Kuroda’s presence, along with the Yankees money, brought Tanaka to New York.  If I was coming to a foreign country, the idea of another American would be very appealing to me.

With the Yankees extending Brett Gardner, and the Cincinnati Reds doing the same with Homer Bailey, there should be no more Gardner for Bailey rumors.  As a hopeful optimist for Michael Pineda and his spot in the rotation, this is a best case scenario.  I am a bit concerned with two speed-first guys in the outfield (why do I keep thinking about Dave Collins?) but Alfonso Soriano brings the bat along with Carlos Beltran.  I am anxious to see how Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat plays in Yankee Stadium for 81 games rather than just the usual 9 or 10.

Andrew Bailey.  I am not quite sure why the Yankees signed Bailey but he’s a hedge against a David Robertson meltdown.  Of course, Bailey won’t be available until late season so if Robertson fails miserably, they’ll need another solution.  While Robertson has proven to be a great set up guy, the 9th inning is a different story.  He failed in his brief audition before getting hurt the year Mariano Rivera was lost for the season with the knee injury suffered in Kansas City.  Rafael Soriano stepped in and provided super relief following Robertson’s unsuccessful stint.  With Soriano now entrenched as the closer for the Washington Nationals, there’s no safety net.  Bailey offers the only proven closing experience yet he’s not going to be an option until July or later.  My hope is that Robertson seizes the role.  I was skeptical when Mariano Rivera replaced John Wetteland and that one turned out okay.  Alright, a little better than okay…

Sorry that my posts have been infrequent but I’ve been in the midst of a move from the West to East Coast.  I am not in a major league city but I can get to New York for a weekend so that’s all that matters.  This should be a good year for making home games at Yankee Stadium after a few years of only away games while living in the Golden State.

I am so ready for the regular season to begin and yet the spring games are still a day or two away.  Oh well, that’s more time for the Yankees to strengthen the infield…

–Scott

And the WINNER is…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Yankees!

–Scott

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