Results tagged ‘ Orioles ’

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

Patchwork Blue…

Who is #26 again?…

Perhaps the Yankees are trying to give as many players as possible the opportunity to play with future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.  Wow, I am starting to need a program roster to keep up with who is playing for the 2014 Yankees.  Chase Headley taking an infield drive and relaying it to Brian McCann at first in defense of Brandon McCarthy on the mound is not exactly a scenario that I had envisioned at the beginning of the year.

Nothing against either Headley or McCarthy as both have performed well during their very short Yankee careers, but there have certainly been a number of roster changes this year.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the complete overhaul of a starting pitching rotation as we have gone from CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda to Kuroda, McCarthy, David Phelps, Shane Greene, and Chris Capuano.  Of course, that’s today.  There could be a current non-Yankee in the rotation by next weekend.  McCarthy has performed much better than I had anticipated.  I know that he’s healthier than he was earlier in the year with the Arizona Diamondbacks as he is further removed from prior surgery, and as they’ve said, he was showing marked improvement prior to the trade.  He is not that removed from being one of the Oakland A’s top starting pitchers.  While I do not expect his return to that level, it is nice to know the team has a chance every time he takes the mound.

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of their baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) Photo: Eric Risberg, Associated Press

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

I like the job Shane Greene has done but of course it comes with the typical rookie pains.  Admittedly, I was not aware of Greene prior to his call up from the minors.  I try to keep up with the top prospects, but he flew under the radar…at least for me.  I guess it is a good thing that I am not the general manager.

I am not too crazy about the addition of Chris Capuano.  He is just a middle of the road, average pitcher who is susceptible to very bad innings.  He is 8 years removed from winning 18 games in Milwaukee, and he had a disastrous June for his home state Red Sox.

No complaints about David Phelps but he is not going to make me forget Tanaka anytime soon.

It is ironic the Yankees finally acquired Headley.  The Yankees and Headley have been tied together in trade rumors for over two years.  In the end, the cost was not that great.  I think Yangervis Solarte and Rafael de Paula will do well in San Diego, but Headley gives the Yankees a much needed and consistent bat at third.  I am anxious to see how he performs at Yankee Stadium after leaving the spacious Petco Park.  The early returns are good, but it remains to be seen if he can be the Chase Headley of 2012 or if the 2013 version is more indicative of future results.  No matter how this plays out, I would prefer the Yankees to re-sign Headley in the off-season to man third over the impending 2015 return of Alex Rodriguez (I really hope that we’ve seen the last of the latter in pinstripes).

It will be interesting to see what moves GM Brian Cashman is able to make during the upcoming week.  I would like to see a pitcher who can push Capuano into the bullpen and another bat, preferably an outfielder.  I know that he’s had a sluggish start to the season and there’s no way the Cleveland Indians are going to trade him, but a Nick Swisher-type who can play OF or first base would be ideal given the fragile state of Mark Teixeira’s health.   While Francisco Cervelli has thrived with increased playing time, I am not exactly enamored with Brian McCann at first base.

Thanks but no thanks…

I was a little disturbed when I saw the post earlier in the week that the Yankees were talking to the San Diego Padres about starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, and the names being mentioned were prospects 3B Eric Jagielo and P Ian Clarkin, both former first round picks.  While I am not opposed to Kennedy’s (I was actually glad to see him go when he left), I do not feel the Yankees should give up top talent for him.  I still think Kennedy is a hothead and he may be Ed Whitson revisited (guys who just can’t handle the bright lights of Broadway).  I have been intrigued with Jagielo as the future Yankees third baseman, so I hope the Yankees do not thwart that plan.

Mark LoMoglio/Tampa Yankees (via MiLB.com)

I think money owed, overall health, and a no-trade list will prevent us from ever seeing Cliff Lee in pinstripes.  I recognize the no-trade list can be overcome with money but even the Yankees would be foolish to throw that kind of money at a pitcher who has become a frequent visitor to the DL.

I don’t think the Yankees have the talent to swing a deal for a top shelf starting pitcher, but on the other hand, I’d hate to see them give up what they do have for an aging pitcher with questions.

I do recognize that the moves Cashman makes in the next few days will define this season as the Yankees currently only trail the front-running Baltimore Orioles by three games.   I have stress at work, but it’s probably nothing compared to the chess moves that Cashman is facing.

Today is my birthday and all I want is a Yankees win.  So, c’mon…um…uh…you there in #26!

 

–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

 

To the Victor goes the spoils…

 

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox…

I know, I never expected to see the words appear on my blog.  But you have to give credit where credit is due and the 2013 Boston Red Sox proved that they were the best team in baseball.  This is a team that hit the bottom with the 2011 collapse in September that cost beloved manager Terry Francona his job, followed up by a year of Bobby Valentine that ranks as one of the worst teams in recent memory.

Proving that he is nobody’s fool, GM Ben Cherington deserves much of the credit.  I am not sure how much the decisions can be attributed to Cherington or to Larry Lucchino, but the deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year to unload salary-draining dead wood was genius.  The malcontents were shipped to the West Coast, while the recaptured dollars were re-invested to good clubhouse types like Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara among others.  The pieces made for good chemistry and the team, beards and all, became a very cohesive unit.  

This may have been the first time that I ever pulled for the Red Sox in the post-season but they gained my respect and I thought they were the team to beat. 

Naturally, I hope this is the end of the Sox championship run that started in 2004, but for this off-season, they are the champions of Baseball.  Again, congratulations to the Red Sox, the city of Boston, and the Red Sox Nation.

Turns up like a bad penny…

I am so tired of Alex Rodriguez and anything A-Rod.  His battle against the MLB is extending the inevitable suspension and is likely throwing a monkey wrench into the Yankees off-season plans.  For a team that appears bent on getting under the $189 million salary cap, A-Rod’s salary is substantial.  Will they be freed of it, for a season, or will they be responsible for some portion thereof, or does A-Rod win to bring his salary back in full?  I think the latter is very remote if impossible.  I, for one, would accept a year of no A-Rod even if it means the entire salary counts against the cap.  The guy is poison and I don’t think the team will win again with him on the roster.  Yes, they won in 2009, but teams generally do not win with such narcissistic players. 

Rest assured that no decision Alex Rodriguez makes will be in the best interests of the Yankees and Major League Baseball.  MLB needs the authority to end this foolish A-Rod farce and banish him for his sustained PEDS use and lies.  I’d love a lifetime ban but I doubt that happens so I want nothing less than the original 214 game suspension. 

Introducing the 2014 Yankees…

Check back with me in a few months.

There will be changes, but I am not sure that they will be the moves necessary to return the Yankees to AL East and American League prominence.  I saw one New York paper running an article this morning that indicated the Yankees may go after the Detroit Tigers’ Omar Infante should free agent Robinson Cano.  No offense to Infante, but what a drop off.  I don’t think it is smart to pay Cano $300 million, but hopefully the Yankees and Cano can find common ground that is mutually rewarding for both. 

I have seen the Yankees linked to free agents Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Ervin Santana, and A.J. Pierzynski.  Yes, Beltran is a good post-season performer but you need to get there first.  As a McCann fantasy owner this past season, I was frustrated with how much time he spent on the DL.  I’ve always thought Santana was a decent pitcher, but he’s not a frontliner.  Then again, when you’ve lost Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and possibly Hiroki Kuroda, you just need arms.  The Yankees will most likely lose Curtis Granderson so the Yankees will spend most of the winter just trying to fill holes rather than being able to focus on adding significant upgrades. 

It would be nice if some members of the farm system were ready to take the major league stage but that does not appear to be the case.  We may see Dellin Betances in the bullpen as the Yankees look to find a quality setup specialist for new closer David Robertson. 

I do not want to lose Robinson Cano but then again, I do not want the Yankees to give him an A-Rod like contract that will become a financial albatross in future years.  I may be the only one who feels this way, but I am not excited about a 40 year old Derek Jeter at shortstop with bad ankles.  The Yankees really need to find a younger shortstop who can spell Jeter and perhaps push #2 to DH more times than not. 

Mark Teixeira, cold starts and a bad wrist.  Second base…currently there are nothing but crickets.  Shortstop…see aforementioned comment about DJ.  Third base is really anybody’s guess.  Catcher needs more than a backup catcher who can’t hit and a proven PEDS user.  Right field is even older than shortstop.  Left field, at the moment, only shows the largely unreliable Vernon Wells.  Centerfield is truly the only position that I feel comfortable with, and even that carries some injury risk.  On the pitching staff, CC Sabathia is starting to show that he’s on the downward slide, and Hiroki Kuroda could very well be pitching in Japan next season.  The enigma, more commonly referred to as Ivan Nova, will be in the rotation but who really knows what we’ll get.  Adam Warren, David Phelps, Manny Banuelos (if he can make it back), Michael Pineda and others form the pool that Joe Girardi will be picking from.

In the bullpen, it is no sure thing that David Robertson will succeed as a closer.  In 2011, when the great Mariano Rivera went down for the season, Robertson had first crack at the job and failed.  He gave way to Rafael Soriano who proved very capable in the role.  Going into 2014, at the moment, there is no safety net for Robertson.  This is truly an off-season of uncertainty and it doesn’t help that A-Rod is doing his part to ensure greater uncertainty. 

The Red Sox, the Rays, the Jays, and the O’s must be loving this.  I can only hope that GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner Boys prove that they can check Ben Cherington’s move and bring championship baseball back to the Bronx where it belongs.

–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

 

Are Youk freakin’ serious?…

 

Sleeping with the Enemy…

News that the Yankees have signed veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis have not been well received in the Yankees Universe…obviously.  Sure, there have been a few ex-Boston Red Sox players make their way to the Bronx but certainly none who have been as despised as Youk.  His crime?  Playing with passion and all-out perseverance to find ways to beat the Yankees.  He is one of those tough, gritty players that are relentless and when they smell blood, it’s over.  Youk has struggled with injuries in recent years and he had a falling out with former Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who has historically taken to gritty players.  I know, there is the stat line that he only got one hit in his final 59 at-bats with the Chicago White Sox last season.  Nevertheless, I am willing to give Youk a chance.

Admittedly, I am not an Alex Rodriguez fan and I am still bent the Yankees didn’t let him walk away when he opted out of his first mega contract.  But with third base possibilities such as Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger signing elsewhere, the Yankees had to do something given that A-Rod will be lost for most of the season due to his upcoming hip surgery.  Going to camp with Eduardo Nunez as the starting third baseman, given the team doesn’t have a starting catcher or right fielder, was not appealing in any way.  No one really knows how A-Rod will play next season when or if he returns, so odds are they need a solid third baseman for the entire season.  With Youk on board, the Yanks still need to get insurance at third in case Youk goes down.  But I think as long as he gets sufficient rest, he’ll stay healthy and be an effective part of the Yankees lineup.

When Youk homers for the first time against the Red Sox, I am sure that the Yankee cheers will come around.  Yankee fans love players who play with passion so long as the player is on their team.  It will always be hard to look at Youk and not think of the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, but he is not the same player he was then and this is a new chapter in his life.  When he walks away from the game, he will be remembered as part of the Red Sox organization but for a year or two, he can certainly make an effective contribution for the home team.

There are guys on the current Red Sox roster that I have great respect for, like Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia.  Youk was one of those guys.  Sure, I hated the guy in difficult games between the Yankees and Red Sox, but I always had a quiet respect for him.  Of course, this could all be premature as Youk still has to pass a physical but I look forward to seeing what he can do in the Bronx sans the famed goatee.  It will also be interesting to see if the Yankees continue to hold #20 in reserve out of respect for Jorge Posada or if they assign it to Youk given it was his number in Boston and Chicago.  I suspect he’ll end up with something other than #20, but until it happens, you never know.

I saw a quote in George King’s column in The New York Post from Mariano Rivera that I agree with completely:  “Yankee (fans) didn’t like him but he was wearing a Red Sox uniform.  I can’t decide for them but he will be my teammate and I have to respect him for that.”  Youk is a Yankee, and like Mo, I respect him for that.

Ichiro, Part II…

All indications are the Yankees will be coming to terms with Ichiro Suzuki on a new deal to keep him in the Bronx.  The question is whether it will be one or two years.  At 39, I’d probably prefer a one year deal so that the team can reassess its options at the end of the year.  Every move has been made with the intent to get the payroll under $189 million by 2014 for luxury tax purposes and a second year for Ichiro would erode into the dollars available for any talent upgrades next off-season.

As it stands, I do not like an outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro, but I will be interested to see who they bring in as the fourth outfielder.  Perhaps that individual will solidify this outfield corps into a strong and powerful unit.  I am not opposed to trading Granderson and moving Gardner to center, but the Yankees would need to replace his offensive production elsewhere in the lineup.  All signs so far this winter indicate the Yankees will not do anything to the extreme.  Yes, they could still swoop in with a blockbuster trade, but I highly doubt it.  The sad part is the current Yankees roster is not as strong as last year’s squad, while the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox have clearly improved.  Tampa Bay may have traded a top starting pitcher in James Shields, but they picked up one of the best prospects in baseball in Wil Myers.  Tampa also seems to be able to pull aces out of their farm system every year so there’s no doubt they’ll find a capable replacement for Shields.  Baltimore hasn’t made any major moves but they still have the team to over-achieve.  I do not know what next year will bring.  The Yankees still have December and January to improve, but the likelihood diminishes with each passing day.  If the Yankees falter in 2013, what does 2014 look like?  I can’t see the team suddenly reversing course and going into “Dodger” mode to sign free agents.  I think the Yankees will remain competitive, but I am not convinced they have the horses to win the World Series.

Maybe the All-Star Game should be the Dodgers against everyone else…

My favorite National League team is the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I am struggling with the thought of cheering for the two highest payrolls in baseball.  My affection for the Dodgers is primarily because of my long-time hero, Don Mattingly, but the huge salary outlay by the Dodgers will create unrealistic expectations in Dodgerland and it will be tough for Donnie Baseball if the Dodgers struggle.  I remain hopeful that he’ll one day find his way back to the Bronx to manage, but I am not pulling for him to get fired next year.  I am not sure who I would pull for in the NL if not the Dodgers.  I live in the Bay Area so there’s always the San Francisco Giants, but they’ve won the World Series in two of the last three years and I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon.  My fallback has always been the St Louis Cardinals because that’s where I experienced attending my first major league baseball game as a teenager so many years ago.  I suppose that I’ll stick with the Dodgers as long as Mattingly is there, but Magic Johnson and company have certainly made it more challenging by their willingness to spend excessively.

Why does February 12th (when pitchers and catchers report) seem so close yet so far away?…

–Scott

 

The Law of Diminishing Return…

 

Dollars to donuts…

Joel Sherman has a good post today with his Hardball Blog in The New York Post entitled ’What would George do?’ among questions in Yanks’ $189M quest.

I do not dispute the reasons for why the Yankees are financially motivated to get under the $189M threshold given the reduced tax penalties it will create for future years in addition to the savings in 2014.  But can the Yankees maintain a championship caliber club in their quest to reconcile the bottom line?  Something’s got to give, and I am fearful that it will be the quality of the Yankee clubs put on the field in the next few years.

That sounds kind of ridiculous to say when other clubs have proven you can succeed with lesser dollars, but in Tampa, for example, it was years of high draft picks that filled the cupboards with premier players like Evan Longoria and David Price.  I see the same thing happening in Kansas City as they’ve been building solid, young talent.  The Yankees, on the other hand, have been picking at the bottom end of rounds for years and there have been more than a few misses along the way.  There has been a renewed emphasis on the farm system in recent years, however, it is still not within the upper echelon among the other clubs.

This paragraph in Joel Sherman’s post cuts to the heart of the problem:

“The aging/diminishing Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira plus the roughly $11 million each team is charged for a benefits plan costs about $84 million toward the luxury tax each season. That would give the Yankees roughly $105 million to complete a contender in 2014. But say Robinson Cano gets $22 million a year. Now it is $83 million for everything else. That is doable, but less so after a year in which the Yankees’ farm system regressed horribly, potentially derailing the expected pipeline of lower-cost talent.”

I checked the cities of Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa against Manhattan on a cost of living calculator and found that the equivalent salaries in New York would need to substantially greater to maintain the same cost of living.  A Boston salary would need to be 63.10% greater, Baltimore 89.70%, and Tampa 145.28%.  Okay, not every player will live in Manhattan and that’s probably an extreme, but it still shows on the affordability scale, it simply takes more dollars to live in New York than anywhere else.  Other places like Florida and Texas have no state income tax.  I am sure that when A.J. Burnett got to Pittsburgh, it wasn’t just the reduced spotlight that helped his successful turnaround, the realization of how much further his millions would go in the Steel City probably factored into the equation.

As it stands at the moment, it is very likely the Yankees enter the 2013 season as a weaker team than the one who was swept by the Detroit Tigers last month.  I know, a lot can happen between now and then, but for the sake of this post, I have only the insight for where we stand today.  I felt that it was essential for the Yankees to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda.  As soon as there were indications that Kuroda would consider a one-year deal, the Yankees should have been aggressive in locking him up.  But by delaying, the two LA teams are stepping up their pursuit and the area has an advantage given Kuroda’s familiarity and close ties to Southern CA.  I believe that his wife and two daughters still reside in California.  Losing Kuroda from the rotation will hurt.  I am not convinced that David Phelps can match the level of performance that Kuroda achieved this past season.

The sooner the Yanks can move Alex Rodriguez to full-time DH will be better.  They need a quality, front-line third baseman who can hit in the clutch.  Sadly, there are not any high level prospects so free agency or a trade might be the only options.  Given the former is probably not where the team intends to put its “limited” dollars, a trade is most likely the only solution.  Of course, that will only deplete the Yankees of other young talent.

I guess Moneyball is alive and well and living in the Bronx.  It is time for Brian Cashman to prove to the critics that he is a good general manager despite the Yankee resources.  I do believe that he is so it will be interesting to see how the next few months unfold.  I have read those who believe the Yankees will ultimately spend without regard to 2014, but given Hal Steinbrenner’s financial background, I see the team sticking to its plan.  Time will tell if his stance is justified.  Perhaps this is a radical, game-saving approach that will bring fiscal responsibility back into the game.  Then again, maybe not…

–Scott

 

The Hot Stove League Pre-Season is underway…

 

Yes, Brian, I want to believe…

“I am excited about the opportunities we have.”

I wish that I could say that was my quote, but unfortunately, I am not feeling as optimistic as GM Brian Cashman who spoke those words.

With the imminent departure of Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, and Hiroki Kuroda, combined with another year of age on Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the future is not looking so rosy at the moment.  For a team that needs to upgrade its rotation, losing Kuroda would clearly be a setback.  I remain hopeful that the team will re-sign him to a one year deal since he appears willing to accept a short-term contract and all signs indicated he enjoyed his time in New York.  I really do not expect the Yankees to re-sign either Swisher or Soriano.  It’s unfortunate as I’ve appreciated the positive impact that Swisher’s personality had on the Yankees’ “corporate” clubhouse culture.  As Soriano, the excessively fat contract for a set up guy paid dividends when Mariano Rivera was lost for the season and he superbly stepped in to give the Yankees a top closer as a brief trial with David Robertson.

If the Yankees could sign Joaquim Soria to a set up role, I do think it would help neutralize the loss of Soriano.  There is also the possibility that reliever David Aardsma could move into the role, along with Robertson, if he successfully makes it back from his injury.

Replacing Swisher’s bat will be the tougher challenge.  No offense against Torii Hunter, but signing him to be the new right fielder does not make me excited.  I do like the talk of moving Brett Gardner to center and Curtis Granderson to left.  Hopefully, the Yankees can bring Ichiro Suzuki back for another year.  I am not sure what the best answer is for right.  The best options are only available through trade.

I read this morning that the Boston Red Sox had signed Atlanta Braves’ backup catcher David Ross, whom the Yankees liked.  I am surprised Atlanta let him get away given the health of starter Brian McCann, but it’s disappointing to see the Red Sox snatch away a player that could have helped the Yankees.

With a team that is trying so hard to reduce payroll by 2014 and one that devotes so much salary space to decreasingly productive guys like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, I just don’t see Brian Cashman being successful playing “Moneyball”.  When you consider how many dollars the Yanks have committed to A-Rod and his drain on the roster, it would appear to me that the team has less dollars to play with than any of their big city rivals if the end game is to avoid luxury tax and penalties in 2014.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been so appreciative of players like Jeter, Rivera and Andy Pettitte.  But the fact remains that they will be another year older in 2013 and at some point, they will begin to break down.  There doesn’t seem to be any high level prospects ready to step into their shoes.  I wish there was a way the team could move A-Rod and his albatross contract but that’s unlikely to happen.

I remain hopeful that Brian Cashman is able to make a move this winter to improve the team.  If the team stays status quo or struggles to replace those they will lose, I do not see the Yankees finishing any higher than third in the AL East next season.  But, of course, if Hal Steinbrenner lets Cash make the moves necessary to position the team for 2013, then they’ll be in the thick of the pack at the top of the division.

Tino, Tino, Tino!…

I am happy to see Tino Martinez become hitting coach for the Miami Marlins.  It is bittersweet to see him leave the Yankees organization, but much easier to see him go to his home state as opposed to being the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox.  The latter was a real possibility as the Sox had gotten permission to talk to Martinez, but fortunately, he opted to go help Mike Redmond turn around the Marlins.  The Los Angeles Dodgers have been my favorite NL team in recent years due to manager Don Mattingly.  I enjoy seeing my favorites do well, even if they can’t do it in the Yankees organization.  Another example would be San Francisco Giants’ pitching coach Dave Righetti, fresh off his second World Series championship in three years.  Tino is certainly in the same class with those guys, and will always be someone that I will root for.  That’s why watching him go to Boston would have been so difficult.

Coach Giambino…

Speaking of hitting coaches, I am hopeful that manager “wannabe” Jason Giambi decides to take the hitting coach position with the Colorado Rockies.  Maybe he is not ready to hang up his bat just yet, but I think he would be a very positive addition to Walt Weiss’s staff and it would put him on the path of eventually reaching his goal to be a manager.  While I was surprised to see the Rockies go with Weiss as manager over Matt Williams, I recognize that Weiss knows the Rockies organization and they know him.  If he surrounds himself with the right coaching staff, I think Weiss can be highly successful in Colorado.

The Dodgers quest to overtake the Giants…

Regressing back to the Dodgers but staying on the theme of hitting coaches, I was mildly surprised by Mark McGwire’s decision to move from the Cardinals to the Dodgers.  I know that McGwire is a Southern CA guy, but still, the Cardinals were his organization.  Maybe that’s why it is best to move to another organization so that your legacy as a player is the primary association.  Granted, McGwire does not have the untarnished reputation like Mattingly had in New York, but hopefully it works out for Big Mac.  Performance-enhancing drugs or not, the guy knows how to hit.

It’s funny, particularly given my long history of being a Yankees fan, but I am a little put off by the free spending ways of the new Dodgers ownership group.  While I believe that you have to spend to put a quality team on the field, spending frivolously seems excessive.  For the Yankees, I only need to use A-Rod as the example.  Over $30 million in one season devoted to a player whose skills are rapidly eroding.  $30 million would go a long way toward bringing in multiple quality…and productive…players.  The Dodgers should no qualms about picking up the contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford when it remains to be seen if they can rise to the current level of their contracts.  It looks like high stakes poker to me with much potential for disaster.

In a couple of weeks, the Hot Stove League should start heating up and it will be interesting to see what form this off-season takes.  I am cautiously optimistic, but understand that it’s very possible the Yanks go into next season hoping some young guys from the farm system are ready to take it to the next level.  I guess I now know what it’s like to be a fan of the Minnesota Twins or Kansas City Royals…

–Scott

 

Over-promise and under-deliver…

The only non-dramatic series of the 2012 post-season…

Sadly, the 2012 season is over for the New York Yankees.  But admittedly, I did not feel the team had the horses to win the World Series this year.  I know, any team can get hot and take the championship (i.e., 2011 St Louis Cardinals), but the team’s hot and cold hitting pattern bothered me.  As the saying goes, “good pitching beats good hitting” so the Yankees’ hitting problems are magnified in the play-offs as they continually face #1 or #2 type starters.  If Robinson Cano had gotten hot, maybe it would have been different but no one rose to the challenge in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers.

The ALCS loss by sweep was painful.  For me, it probably ranks with the 1976 World Series when they were swept by the Cincinnati Reds.  If memory serves, they won the World Series the following two years so I guess there is hope for next year!  Well, maybe not.  But all things considered, I’d rather be embarrassed on the ALCS stage than the World Series.  That’s probably awful to say because who wouldn’t want their team in the World Series and I am no different.  But I wouldn’t want to see the Yankees looking as pathetic in the World Series as they did in the ALCS if that makes any sense.

The 2013 season – optimism or pessimism?…

On the heels of Derek Jeter’s successful ankle surgery that will have him out for 4-5 months, there are reports that CC Sabathia will be consulting with Dr. James Andrews for his ailing left elbow.  Apparently, the ligament is intact so there’s hope that either rest or minor surgery to shave the bone spur in his left elbow will be the cure.  This definitely bears close watching over the course of the next few months.  If CC is unavailable to pitch in 2013, the Yankees would be lacking a legitimate #1 starter.  I have not heard how Michael Pineda has been doing, but he’ll  be expected to help fill the void in the rotation regardless of what happens to CC, assuming that he is healthy.  This was a difficult year for young Yankees pitching prospects, with injuries to Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, the latter of whom will be lost for 2013 due to Tommy John surgery.

The Yankees really need to do what it takes to ensure that Hiroki Kuroda returns for one more year, and hopefully, Andy Pettitte will decide to go for one more tour around the American League.  With the Houston Astros moving to the American League in 2013, Andy would be assured of playing a few league games at home.  It would be a great farewell tour with Andy pitching in Houston while standing on the mound with the interlocking N-Y on his hat.

Another year in, and I still don’t know what the Yankees have with Phil Hughes.  At times, he is so promising, but others, such a disappointment.  I am not sure that he can be trusted to be anything more than a #5 starter with his inconsistency.  The Yankees have tough decisions to make on both Hughes and reliever Joba Chamberlain, two pitchers who have seemingly been intertwined since they arrived in New York.

I am concerned about Alex Rodriguez and the huge adverse impact of his contract on the team.  The production no longer matches the pay, and of course, the pay prevents those dollars from being spent more wisely.  The Yankees will have to settle for “less” in other areas, which will further handicap the team’s productivity.  If the Yankees can find a way to move A-Rod, regardless of the cost, I would be in favor of it.  I’ve never been a big A-Rod fan, and I would prefer to see his association with the Yankees eliminated.

I want the Yankees to re-sign Robinson Cano, but if the cost is a 10-year, behemoth mega-million contract, I am not so sure the team should go down that road.  I am tired of these long-term deals where the player only performs to the level of the contract for the first few years.  Cano’s silent bat in the play-offs also was a red flag for me.  It’s disappointing because Cano has been one of my favorite players, but the future of an organization should not be tied to one or two players.  The St Louis Cardinals are an organization that always seems to make the right decisions for the good of the team, and it has worked out well for them.  They are a win away from the World Series despite letting one of the best hitters in baseball walk away last winter.

I do not want to be disrespectful of Derek Jeter and I recognize that he had a great 2012 season, but the fact remains that he’ll be a 39-year-old shortstop coming off ankle surgery heading into next season.

When the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, it looked like a great signing…much better than the previous first base commitment to Jason Giambi.  But after a great 2009 season, Teixeira has not been the feared hitter that I thought he would be.  He has been great defensively, but never delivers the key, clutch hit.  Those ice cold starts to begin seasons are getting longer and longer.

I do believe the Yankees need to re-sign catcher Russell Martin.  I’d also like to see them either invest in a stronger back-up catcher or commit to Francisco Cervelli over Chris Stewart.

I had great respect for Eric Chavez when he was the starting third baseman for the Oakland A’s early in his career, and I’ve thought he was a great role player for the Yankees over the last couple of seasons.  But now is the time for the Yankees to move on and find a strong, reliable third base option to spot A-Rod (or replace him if they can somehow find a way to move A-Rod to Miami or Phoenix).

In the outfield, I am hopeful the healthy return of Brett Gardner will be a positive.  I have mixed feelings about re-signing Ichiro Suzuki.  I thought he rebounded to have a very productive end of the season, but the Yankees are too full of guys nearing or at 40 years of age.  A healthy Gardner can replace what the Yankees have in Ichiro…well maybe not the hitting ability, but all other components of his game.  I like Curtis Granderson and even though he underperformed in the play-offs, I would still like to see his return.  I’ve been a big fan of Nick Swisher, and have appreciated how his personality lightens the Yankees clubhouse.  But right field is an area in need of improvement.  If the Yankees can get Swisher to re-sign for a reasonable amount of dollars and years, maybe it makes sense to bring him back.  But if his expectation is 5-7 years at dollars approaching $100 million, then the team should let him walk.

I am not in favor of bringing either Andruw Jones or Raul Ibanez back.  Ibanez had some tremendous hits in the play-off series against the Baltimore Orioles, but the Yankees need to strengthen their bench with younger players who have greater upside.

I am glad to see the Yankees commit to both GM Brian Cashman and Manager Joe Girardi for the 2013 season.  I think both, if given the resources and support, can bring the team back to championship level.  At this point, the Yankees seem to be in an inferior position to the last place Boston Red Sox in terms of roster flexibility.  The Sox ability to unload dead contracts on the Los Angeles Dodgers late in the season was huge.  Now that the Sox have their guy as manager (John Farrell), there’s no doubt that we’ll see an improved Red Sox team next season.  If the AL East was highly competitive in 2012, it will be even more so in 2013.  The difference between first and last place could be which team makes the best decisions this off-season.  The margin for error will be less than it has ever been.

I hate to be so doom and gloom, but the Yankees have much work ahead of them.  Despite baseball’s highest payroll, they have a team comprised of older ballplayers that are experiencing the inevitable declines in production.  The dollars committed to unproductive players like A-Rod and Teixeira are an albatross for a team that wants to reduce its payroll by 2014 to avoid excessive financial penalties.  The Yankees do have the talent in the front office and certainly the resources to persevere so how they navigate the next few months will determine if the Yankees are a team of promise and destiny at the start of the 2013 or just another aging ball club that has seen its better years.

A fan of whatever team plays the Tigers…

Despite being an American League fan, it will be hard for me to cheer for the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  With the Cardinals holding a 3-2 advantage against the San Francisco Giants heading into tonight’s NLCS Game 6, my preference is for the Giants to somehow find a way to overcome.  But if they are unsuccessful and the Cards advance to face the Tigers, I will pull for St Louis.  Residing in the Bay Area, the Giants are a “hometown” favorite for me; while the Cardinals are a “sentimental” favorite (my first major league baseball game as a kid was in St Louis).  Plus, as a fan of the Minnesota Vikings and San Jose Sharks, it would be tough for me to pull for any city that boasts the Lions or the Red Wings.

At this point, I am ready for the Hot Stove League to begin…

–Scott

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