Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Yankees Get Headley - No Additional Joy in Mudville

The Yankees are counting on Chase Headley to strike a pose at the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

Had this been the 2012 trade deadline or the offseason heading into 2013, the Yankees acquisition of Chase Headley would have been met with more enthusiasm. But the trade between the Yankees and Padres, announced moments ago, has been met with a ho-hum.

That's because, since his breakout 2012 season, Headley hasn't been impressive at the plate. He led the National League with 115 RBI in 2012, to go along with 31 home runs, 17 steals, and a .286/.376/.498 split. While the Padres are a horrible team, Headley's production should be better than it was, even though he played most of last season with a torn meniscus. He had corrective surgery in the offseason.

Headley was limited to 141 games last year and put up a .257/.347/.400 slash line. He hit 13 HR, drove in 50 runs and struck out 142 times. This season Headley missed some time early with a calf issue and has not hit, particularly at his home field, Petco Park.

.229/.296/.355 is the ugly truth Headley is staring at as he heads to New York. 7 HR, 32 RBI, and 73 K's in 77 games. That doesn't sound much different than one of the players he was dealt for, Yangervis Solarte. The rookie took New York by storm the first two months of the season and has a .254/.337/.381 split with 6 HR and 31 RBI in 75 games. Joining him on the way to San Diego is right-handed pitcher, Rafael De Paula.

The 23-year old was pitching at Advanced-A ball Tampa and had compiled a 6-5 record with a 4.15 ERA. De Paula averaged 10.5 K's and 3.8 BB's per nine innings this season. He's a prospect that could still move up the charts and come back to haunt the Yankees one day. Yes, I am not in favor of dealing pitching prospects.

Headley will become the every day third baseman, with Zelous Wheeler sent back to Scranton. (Wheeler's spot could be taken by another reliever or perhaps outfielder Zoilo Almonte.) The 30-year old Padre will be reportedly be sent with $1MM to alleviate the remainder of the $10.525MM owed him this season. He's eligible to become a free agent next year; that's the biggest positive of the deal  until Headley can prove otherwise.

Headley will also have to choose another number than his current 7 or his old number 16. Now, can this mean the removal of Kelly Johnson? Probably not, but one can wish for it.

UPDATED 2:50 pm - Here's prospect guru John Sickels' assessment of De Paula:
Rafael De Paula, RHP: The Yankees signed De Paula out of the Dominican Republic in 2010. He earned a $500,000 bonus but it took some doing: his identity was in question, with De Paula having used various names and birthdays since scouts started showing interest in him. Once his identity was finally settled, he was suspended for a year until eventually signing the Yankees contract.

He finally got to North America in 2013, posting a 2.94 ERA in 13 starts for Low-A Charleston last year, with a 96/23 K/BB in 64 innings. Promoted to High-A Tampa in the second half, he struggled with his command and his secondary pitches, resulting in a 6.06 ERA in 49 innings and a 50/30 K/BB. He's improved in 2014, lowering his ERA to 4.15 for Tampa with a 104/38 K/BB in 88 innings.

Listed at 6-2, 215, De Paula's current birthday is March 24, 1991. He had one of the top fastballs in the Yankees system, consistently in the mid-90s with movement. However, his slider and changeup are very erratic and he loses the touch with his mechanics at times, hampering his control. Many scouts see him as a future reliever due to his inconsistency with his secondary pitches.

Monday, July 21, 2014

I Got It, You Take It: Yankees Win

You can only celebrate modestly on a winner that barely made it to the outfield.

It wasn't quite Luis Castillo dropping a pop up with the Yankees down to their last out, but the Cincinnati Reds' "circle the wagons" routine that allowed Brian McCann's pop up to fall in was pretty close. Jacoby Ellsbury raced home from third with the winning run after McCann's "hit" fell between first baseman Todd Frazier, second baseman Skip Schumaker, and right fielder Jay Bruce.

Frazier had tied the game at a run apiece when he turned on a Dellin Betances 98-mph fastball in the 8th inning and sent it into the left field seats. But with triple-digit thrower Aroldis Chapman on the mound, Ellsbury reached in the 9th with a lead off single.It was his fourth hit of the day and the fifth time he had reached base safely. (He had earlier drawn a walk.) Ellsbury then stole second base and moved to third on a wild pitch.

With the infield in, Chapman got Mark Teixeira to ground out to Frazier, with Ellsbury forced to stay at third. Chapman, again, made the pitch he needed to the Yankees catcher, but with Schumaker in on the cut of the infield grass, McCann's pop fly landed in the middle of Cincinnati's Bermuda triangle. Had Schumaker been back in his normal position it would have been a routine play, not that Reds manager Bryan Price had any choice but to play him in. Frazier mistakenly turned his back to the infield and actually overran the ball and Bruce was too far away in right to get there.

The victory gave the Yankees a three game sweep that enabled them to move to within three games of first place Baltimore in the AL East.

Next up, the stumbling Texas Rangers, who have lost 13 of 15 on the road.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

D4Assignment: Jeter's Last All-Star Hurrah

My latest column for my new online sports and entertainment magazine. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and if you are interested in joining our team, email me at dsarver@d4assignment.com

It seems like it was only yesterday that Derek Jeter  was in his rookie season with the New York Yankees. I was younger then, than he is now. It’s odd enough to not see Mariano Rivera  in a Yankees uniform this season, but to not see Jeter in the home pinstripes or the road greys next season is incomprehensible. Life moves fast and so has Jeter’s final season as a Major League baseball player. Tuesday night, he’ll be introduced as the starting shortstop for the American League in the 85th MLB All-Star game at Target Field in Minnesota.

The fans voted in Jeter as the starter this season, as a tribute rather than because of his play this season. They recognize the special player they have witnessed on a nightly basis for nearly 20 seasons. (The anti-Yankees/anti-Jeter sentiment among some fans, specifically those criticizing his place on the team, is more about those fans and their lack of perception of the baseball world outside of their own team.)

Jeter made his first All-Star appearance in 1998, his third full season in the Major Leagues. In an interview with former teammate, and current ESPN analyst Aaron Boone, Jeter admitted to being “scared to death” in his first mid-Summer classic. It’s hard to believe, coming from a player with the confidence that Jeter has, but newbies are newbies. Things have changed since then. (See the entire ESPN interview by clicking here.)

Read the rest of the column for free (always) at Designated4Assignment.

And to read more about Derek Jeter's phenomenal career look for the Derek Jeter commemorative magazine, from I-5 Publishing, in stores now. I had the incredible fortune to contribute to the publication by writing about Jeter's career from 1995 through 2002.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Steinbrenners to Introduce GeorgeCare

A view you may not see again this year.

Yankees' Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner announced earlier today that the team is rolling out new healthcare legislation, "GeorgeCare", due to the rash of injuries the team has suffered this season. The new legislation will allow the Yankees to carry a 50-man active roster and fans will receive rebates every time Matt Thornton pitches or Kelly Johnson bobbles a ball at first base.

All kidding aside, the Yankees are a physical mess right now and there is no hope in sight for a healthy turnaround.

The death knell to the season may have come when it was discovered that Masahiro Tanaka had a slight tear of his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL). Tanaka will be out a minimum of six weeks, and Tommy John surgery has not been ruled out of his future.

The injury leaves Hiroki Kuroda as the only starting pitcher left from the five man rotation the Yankees hoped to trot out to the pitcher's mound.  CC Sabathia has been out since mid-May due to a degenerative knee injury; Michael Pineda was DL'ed on May 6, when he felt pain in the area below his right shoulder, and Ivan Nova, who looked to have returned to his 2011 form in the second half of last season, went down early to Tommy John surgery. And then the big blow to the season came with the loss of Tanaka, who was among the league leaders in all positive pitching categories.

Unless a decision is made prior to that, if Tanaka needs surgery and doesn't have the operation until August or September, there goes the entire 2015 season and probably part of 2016.  For now David Phelps, Shane Greene, and Brandon McCarthy are in the rotation, along with Kuroda. But who will be joining them?

Chase Whitley started out fantastically, but crashed back to Earth in his last three starts (17 earned runs in 10.1 innings pitched). He did pick up the win in relief on Wednesday when the Yankees topped the Indians 4-2 in 14 innings.

Left-hander David Huff has pitched fairly effectively out of the bullpen and is a former starter, though he has only started six games since 2011.  (Two with the Yankees last year and four with the Indians in 2012.)

The Yankees added another left-hander to the mix Friday when they acquired Jeff Francis from the Oakland A's for a player to be named later. Francis had been designated for assignment on July 3 after he had allowed nine earned runs in 13.1 innings pitched. Francis pitched through shoulder pain for the Colorado Rockies in 2008 and missed the entire 2009 season after he underwent shou7lder surgery. He's never regained the effectiveness he had in 2006-2007, when he averaged 15 wins and a 4.19 ERA, with his home games played in hitter-friendly Coors Field.

The Yankees lineup is suffering too. Carlos Beltran has been a walking disaster area. He missed time due to a bone spur in his elbow and a strained hamstring.  Then during batting practice on Wednesday, Beltran fouled a ball into the cage. It ricocheted back into his face, causing two small facial fractures. He was placed on the 7-day disabled list to check for a concussion as well. So far, the three-year deal given to Beltran is a complete bust.

The trade deadline (July 31) will be coming up before you know it. The Yankees always go for the gold, but do they sell instead this year? If their still floundering in three weeks, it might be for the best to try to deal some players. David Robertson will be a free agent after this season. He can always come back, so why not trade him to a team willing to pay a heavy price for one of the better relievers in baseball.

Though his hitting hasn't been tremendous, Brian Roberts has stayed healthy and could be traded for a minor prospect or two. See if Hiroki Kuroda is willing to waive his no-trade clause. Perhaps a reunion with the Los Angeles Dodgers could be in the offing.

Who should build/rebuild this team?

You never know when injuries will strike, but there's a greater chance with older players. Combined with the lack of top prospects at the top tier of the farm system, and you can see why it maybe time for Brian Cashman and the scouting department to be under more scrutiny. Cashman has been creative, at times, in building a team, but the putrid play the last two seasons have shown that maybe it's time someone else was the team's foreman.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Find A Ledge: Tanaka Headed Back to New York For MRI

MRI, the three little letters that no athlete ever wants to here. Especially pitchers, when it comes to their arms. More specifically, the elbow and shoulder. The Yankees' veteran rookie ace, Masahiro Tanaka, left Cleveland after last night's poor performance and headed back to NYC for an MRI.

As first reported by the NY Post's George King III (shouldn't he go by King George III? Though he didn't fare too well back in 1776), Tanaka didn't feel too bad after the game, but evidently had more pain/discomfort/soreness today.

Japanese pitchers are used to pitching every seventh day, not every fifth, so hopefully this is just a bump in the road. Brett Gardner, who will miss Wednesday night's game with an abdominal strain, said it best. “We just hope and pray we get good news. “He’s a special player.”

Just in case, find a ledge.

UPDATE - 6 pm; As expected Tanaka has been placed on the 15-day disabled list. The results of the MRI will determine the next step.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Greene Baseballs and A Ham

Shane Greene has waited for this moment since he was selected by the Yankees in the 15th round of the 2009 MLB amateur draft. Sure, he's had a cup of coffee, a very tiny cup, in the Majors already. That came on April 24 when he put on the Yankees' road greys with a  #39 on the back and strode out to the mound against the Boston Red Sox. It didn't end well.

Greene only got one out, walked three batters, and allowed three unearned runs. Well, at least his ERA is still 0.00. Tonight the Yankees are counting on Greene to last a lot longer than that when he makes a spot start against the Indians in Cleveland. Hopefully there will be no midges.

This would have been Vidal Nuno's start, but the lefty was dealt to Arizona on Sunday for Brandon McCarthy. With McCarthy on his way, it was just logical for the Yankees to grab Greene for one start. The 25-year old has made 15 appearances this year, 13 of them starts, for the Triple-A Scranton RailRiders. His 5-2 record, 4.61. and 1.583 WHIP means the Yankees will have a long man ready early to back him up.

Greene opened some eyes last year, when he made 26 starts (plus one relief appearance) between Scranton and Double-A Trenton. His combined sub-4.00 ERA, 1.328 ERA, and better than eight K's per nine innings gave him a legitimate shot to be a call-up this season. His command issues and more than a hit allowed per inning caused a professional setback.

But Greene can open some eyes again tonight with solid start.

Oh, the ham? That would be the Indians' Nick Swisher.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

So Sorry Sori: Yankees Designate Soriano For Assignment

Alfonso Soriano is going, going, gone.

Alfonso Soriano's  return to New York last season was quite remarkable. The Yankees needed a bat badly and Soriano filled the bill. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 50 runs in just 58 games as the Yankees fell short of a playoff spot. This season, Soriano could find no consistency and chased pitches out of the zone like he did in his first stint with the Yankees.

The worse you hit, the less at-bats you get. The less at-bats you get the less change there is for turning things around. A player will generally blame the latter for not getting better. Through 67 games, Soriano had a .611 OPS, six home runs and 23 RBI. He had whiffed 71 times and walked on just a haf-dozen occasions. Joe Girardi had no choice but to cut down his playing time.

Soriano stumbled his way into a platoon with Ichiro Suzuki. The Japanese native can still play solid defense, something Soriano is not noted for.

Soriano will get picked up by some team, especially since the Cubs are playing the majority of his 2014 salary. It's my hope that Zoilo Almonte will get another chance.

Yankees Trade For Brandon McCarthy. Is Anyone Cheering?

So a little while ago a friend texted me and others that the Yankees traded Vidal Nuno to Arizona for Diamondbacks starter Brandon McCarthy. The reactions were What? Why? LMAO. No, no one thinks the Yankees needed to hold on to Nuno. But Brandon McCarthy?

While at first I had forgotten that McCarthy is no longer a fly ball and thought the Yankees were acquiring a Phil Hughes "arm doppelganger", my opinion is still that he's not a good pitcher. (I'm being nice there)

This season McCarthy is tops in the National League in hits and earned runs allowed. His 5.01 ERA and 1.377 WHIP, and 15 home runs allowed (second worst of his career after only 18 starts) are too many crooked numbers, to paraphrase ol' Jim Kaat. Throw in a -0.5 WAR and you can see why no one is doing cartwheels.

There are some positives. The Diamondbacks, for unknown reasons, are paying the remainder of McCarthy's $10.25MM salary and $1MM assignment bonus. McCarthy has rung up a career high 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings and has walked just 1.6 batters per game. Of course, you can't walk batters when they are too busy getting hits off of you.

McCarthy's best years came when he called the very pitcher-friendly Oakland A's (Oakland-Alameda County Colisuem) ballpark home. He led the AL with a 2.86 ERA in 2011, the first year in which he converted from getting fly balls to getting hitters to keep it on the ground. (While getting ground balls is better in Yankee Stadium, the Yankees infield defense could cost McCarthy some outs.) He also had a solid 2012 season with the A's before a line drive to the head caused serious injuries and ended his season early. In the offseason he departed Oakland for a free agent deal with the lowly Diamondbacks.

His numbers in his first year in the desert were only slight better than this season. A 4.53 ERA, 10.7 hits per nine innings, compared to 10.8 this season, and a .325 BAbip  (Batting average on balls put in play). This year, hitters have a .347 BAbip against McCarthy.

While the right-hander's numbers are worse at home, his road figures aren't much better.better. And remember, that 5.01 ERA is primarily against National League teams, which in essence fields an eight man lineup. (You might even consider it seven batters the way the eight man in the order gets pitched around to get to the pitcher.)

A few things factored in McCarthy being acquired by the Yankees. 1.) The Yankees have no Major League talent ready to help in the rotation. 2) The Yankees don't have the prospects to deal for a better pitcher. 3.) See 1 and 2.

McCarthy is an upgrade over Nuno, but nothing to get excited about.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

75 Years Later, A First Baseman Saves The Day

Ony July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig gave one of the most courageous speeches of all time.75 years later, another Yankees' first baseman saved the Yankees from blowing a 6-1 lead. The Yankees held on to a 6-5 victory after the Minnesota rallied back from a five run deficit to get within one run of the Yankees' lead.

Up by a pair of runs, Yankees' reliever Dellin Betances ran into trouble in the 8th inning. Kendry Morales led off the inning with a single and the Betances proceeded to hit Oswaldo Arcia. The Twins picked up a run on a double steal and an RBI ground-out by Chris Colabello.  Eduardo Escobar stepped to the plate and a two-hit grounder to the right side of the infield. Ticketed for right field and a game tying RBI, the ball was suddenly in the glove of Teixeira, who laid out flat to his right to stop the game ruining baseball. He quickly got to his feet and made a perfect throw to Betances to nail Escobar for the final out of the inning.

Teixeira has had his share of troubles in the infield this season. His five errors this year are usually a season total, at most. The Georgia Tech product has had a number of injuries this season and has experienced continued soreness in his wrist from last season's tendon surgery. But he's had a decent bat, and not long after Major League Baseball honored Gehrig, Teixeira did this thing and the Yankees had a two winning streak.

Brian Roberts had a career high four extra-base hits in the game, with a triple and three doubles.

Chase Whitley was chased from the game after three innings. It was his third straight terrible start. David Huff is a candidate to replace him in the rotation.

Joe Girardi said it's a real possibility that CC Sabathia will not be back this season, because of his injured right knee. Surgery remains a possibility

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Another Night, Another Boring Yankees Game

Derek Jeter is hoping to end this season with a smile

While the current Yankees team doesn't remind anyone of the 1962 Mets, there are some reminders of the mid-1960s, broken-down Yankees squads, as well as the Bomberless Bombers of the late 1980's and early 1990's.

They're tough to watch. They're a team that's missing three starters in their rotation and a fourth, who in no way resembles the pitcher that was the Yankees' ace last season.

The starting lineup, which has been among the most potent in baseball since the championship dynasty that began in the late 1990's, struggles on a nightly basis to score runs. Joe Girardi is getting next to no production from the majority of the lineup. And there's no help on the way.

So how do you improve this squad so that Derek Jeter's final season isn't the first in his career where the Yankees didn't make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons?

 Right Field
This has been a natural disaster area. Actually, it might be man-made. Carlos Beltran was to be the regular right fielder until his elbow felt like it was going to explode from a bone spur. Medication, rest and rehab, and a three-week stay on the disabled list has Beltran slotted into the DH spot with a return to right field nowhere in site.

Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano are shells of their former selves. Ichiro started the season out with a hot bat. Through May 23, the 40-year old was hitting .373 with an .857 OPS. Since then, he's gone 21-91 (.230) and had a .584 OPS for June.

Soriano was on fire last season after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs. He smacked 17 home runs and drove in 50 runs in just 58 games. His combined totals added up to 34 HR and 101 RBI in 151 games. but the 38-year old has not looked sharp all season. Sure, there's a game here or there where he shows flashes of his prime years or even last season, but the 38-year old has the worst OPS (.632) of his career.

Soriano is in the final year of the eight-year deal he signed with the Cubs prior to the 2007 season. The Cubs are paying $13.2MM of the $18MM Soriano will earn this season. Ichiro is in the final year of a two year deal the Yankees gave him after the 2012 season.

With the reports that the Houston Astros' computers were hacked into, came news that the Yankees tried to deal Ichiro to Houston back in March. According to reports, the Yankees were willing to eat $4.5MM of the $6.5MMM owed to the Japanese native.

So money should not be an issue, but finding a taker for one or both broken bats will not be easy.

With Beltran only able to swing a bat, who could man the area that has seen Ruth, Maris, Reggie, and O'Neill excel? Good question.

 The Infield of My Discontent

We all knew that the infield this season was filled with older, injury prone/plagued players. It's an infield that hasplayed poor defense and hasn't produced much offensively.  Jeter and first baseman Mark Teixeira came back this season from major injuries that limited them to almost no playing time last season.

While Jeter enters Friday's game (vs. Minnesota) with a .271 batting average and a .325 on-base percentage, his slugging percentage is an anemic .329. He's lost more range in the field, which is natural when you're 40, but he's made mental mistakes that you would expect from a rookie rather than a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Brian Roberts has played in 73 games thus far. That's the most games he's played in the first half of the season since, 2009. The 77 games he played with Baltimore last year was the most playing time since then. Roberts has occasionally shown some flash with his bat - he had a game tying home run in the bottom of the 9th inning against Tampa Bay this past Monday - but has a .664 OPS. That's a mere 10 points higher than Jeter's.

Teixeira has been been banged up a number of times this year. In addition to soreness from last season's wrist surgery, Teixeira had a 15-day DL stint due to a strained hamstring. He's also had fluid removed from his knee and strained his back. When he's played, Tex has been fairly productive. An .810 OPS is highlighted by 15 home runs and a .342 OBP. He also has a team high 41 RBI, but his five errors in 62 games is a defensive anomaly. Teixeira hasn't committed five errors since he had five total in 153 games in 2008.

Kelly Johnson brought versatility and power to the Yankees, but he hasn't shown much of either. Due the construction of the roster, Johnson has served as a backup to Teixeira. With next to no experience at the position, Johnson has made a number of critical errors. His bat hasn't been much better; Johnson entered Friday's play with five home runs in 165 at-bats and a sub-.700 OPS.

Yangervis Solarte was the biggest surprise of the first half...up to a point. Solarte was a longshot to make the team out of Spring Training, but was chosen over veteran Eduardo Nunez. Through the team's first 16 games, the 26-year old rookie looked like a polished veteran. He put up a 1.007 OPS and drove in nine runs during the 16 game opening stretch. Then he went into a slump and most people, myself included, thought it was the beginning of the end for him.

His slash line read .284/.382/.420 after the Yankees beat the Rays 9-3 on May 3. But then Solarte went on a nine game tear that saw him go 15-31 to raise his line back to .336/.414./.521. His three home runs and 10 RBI during his hot streak gave him back his instant legend aura. After the Yankees fifth straight loss on July 2, Solarte's line read ..260/.343/.393 and he got a ticket to Triple-A Scranton. A .164 batting average in June and eight errors will do that to you. The Yankees brought up fellow rookie Zelous Wheeler to try to get some more punch in the lineup.

Like Solarte, Wheeler joined the Yankees organization this year and will be making his Major League debut. The 27-year old rookie was hitting .299 with 7 HR and 31 RBI in 66 games.

 Not Catching On

I was skeptical when the Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year deal that guaranteed $85MM. I thought that the length of the contract and the amount of money (McCann can vest into a sixth year at $15MM) was too much. But I still thought the former Atlanta Braves' backstop would be productive. He's done a good job behind the dish, but not so much when he's in the batter's box.

His two hits and a home run yesterday (7/2) still left him with a .658 OPS. Though he has 10 home runs, he's knocked in just 37 runs and hit .248 with runners in scoring position (RISP). McCann, of course, is not alone in not performing with RISP.

Backup John Ryan Murphy did a decent job, but was sent to Scranton to get more playing time once Francisco Cervelli came off the DL. He's only played in five games since his return, but Cervelli is just 2-10 and 5-26 on the season.

 Pitching a Fit

His name is Masahiro Tanaka; without him the Yankees would likely be in last place in the American League East. The Japanese native has been nothing short of outstanding and yet he still enters his start Friday night (against former Yankee Phil Hughes) with a two game losing streak. Tanaka has been more than anyone could imagine and he needs to stop the Yankees skid to start the current road trip. Overall, he is tied for the AL in wins (11) and complete games (3), leads the league in ERA (2.10), and is among the best in the AL in strikeouts (127).

Everything after Tanaka has been a crap shoot.  Hiroki Kuroda, Tanaka's fellow countryman and the star of last year's staff, has been unable to produce any consistent results this season. His 4.08 ERA and 1.244 are career worsts, as is his hits per nine innings (9.4). Before wearing down in the final month of the season, Kuroda was a legitimate Cy Young candidate in 2013. At age 39, he suddenly looks a lot older.

Kuroda has allowed four or more earned runs in four of his 17 starts. In addition, he's allowed three earned runs five times. While that doesn't sound bad, keep in mind that Kuroda has pitched past the 6th inning just once in those five starts.

With Ivan Nova out for the season after Tommy John surgery and CC Sabathia (threw for Double-A Trenton Thursday night, but woke up with knee pain and went for an MRI) and Michael Pineda likely not back until August, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have had to work with a patchwork crew. Left-hander Vidal Nuno (2-5, 5.42, 9.9 hits her nine innings) looked very good in his short stint with the Yankees last season, but has struggled all year. The Yankees could be very close to removing him from the rotation.

David Phelps has struggled with location and it has shown in his numbers. He'll look dynamite some nights and awful on others. He's also been a victim of the Yankees sloppy defensive play. Phelps has decent strikeout numbers, but his propensity to walk or hit batters has to stop.

Chase Whitley was the "new Aaron Small", a player who seemingly came out of nowhere to contribute. Whitley was 3-0, 2.56 after his first seven starts, six of which turned into Yankees wins. But perhaps the league is starting to catch up with the 25-year old. One week after he limited the Blue Jays to two runs and five hits in five innings, Whitley got pounded by Toronto to the tune of eight runs and 11 hits in 3-plus innings. That was followed by a five-run, eight-hit start that lasted just four innings against the Boston Red Sox, who have struggled to start runs all year.

 The Bullpen is Mightier Than the Sword
For the most part, the Yankees bullpen has been a Godsend. David Robertson has made a nice transition from late inning set up man to closer. He's converted 18 of 20 save opportunities and has averaged a notable 15.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

The big development in the pen has been the emergence of Dellin Betances. Once a top starting prospect, Betances struggled and was moved to the pen. He's been excellent and earned Girardi's trust to be brought into high leverage situations. The tall right-hander has 76 strikeouts in 48 innings.

Adam Warren has been solid all year, though it's not great that he's appeared in almost half of the Yankees games. He's averaged 8.5 K's/nine innings. Matt Thornton has done very well against left-handers, while Shawn Kelley has struggled since he returned from the DL.

The pen hasn't been as good of late, but that's because the starting pitchers have not given them enough rest.

 What to Do?

That's another good question. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have been the only two Yankees to put up consistently good offensive numbers. So where's the minor leaguers we keep hearing will help?

Outfielder Zoilo Almonte did a nice job during a call up last year, until an injury cut his season short. He was brought up earlier this season, but was never given much of a chance to get at-bats. At Scranton, Almonte is hitting .273/.318/.461 with 12 HR and 43 RBI in 61 games. But Almonte can't be called up until the Yankees can clear out Soriano and/or Ichiro.

Utility player Jose Pirela could eventually see some time if Johnson or Brendan Ryan are jettisoned. The 24-yr old has an .809 OPS with 7 HR, 13 doubles, 4 triples, and 10 stolen bases in 14 attempts.

The Yankees won't get any help from the starting staff at Scranton (not that he was going to call recalled, but starter/reliever Al Aceves was suspended 50 games for failing a "drug of abuse" test.)

The Yankees have reportedly been looking long and hard at the Padres' Chase Headley...again. Headley had a bust out season two years ago when he hit 31 home runs and drove in 115 runs, but has been pretty much a bust since. Last year Headley's OPS dropped nearly 130 points from the year before and he produced just 13 HR and 50 RBI. The now 30-year old has produced a .605 OPS through 64 games. Look elsewhere.

The Yankees can scout plenty of players right now, but every team will command a king's ransom. It's still too early in the season with so many teams in contention for wild card spots. In another two to three weeks, when it gets closer to the trade deadline, Cashman will need to do some heavy shopping.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hats Off to The Kings and Thank You New York Rangers

20 years ago today, Flag Day, 1994, the New York Rangers hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years. Friday night's Game 5 of this year's final between the Rangers and LA Kings went past midnight on the East coast. That meant that when Alec Martinez scored the game and series clinching goal in double overtime, the Kings were carrying the Cup in celebration on Flag Day, 2014.

It ended a dream that Rangers fans have carried since that magical night 20 years ago when team captain Mark Messier hoisted the Cup in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd. It was the first time the Rangers have made it to the finals since that night two decades ago. For a team with only four Stanley Cup wins since in it's inception in 1926, you don't want to let opportunities slip through your fingers.

Unfortunately, the Rangers ran into a powerhouse in the Kings. While the Rangers, with the exception of Game 3, led or were tied for the majority of most of the games, it was the Kings who won four out of five. It was the LA's second title in the last three years.

People will talk about the blown two-goal leads the Rangers held in the first two games, but their opponent was a relentless one. The Kings used their size to slow down a speedy Rangers team, which wasn't shy on size either, but couldn't compare to the linebackers playing for the Kings.

The players and fans are hurting right now, but this was one helluva run. One that was not anticipated during the stretch run of the season. The "only" significant move the Rangers made at the trade deadline was sending captain Ryan Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning for their captain, Martin St. Louis. The acquisition of St. Louis was to send a jolt to the offense, but the (reportedly) 5'8" winger managed just a single goal in 19 games.

Then the playoffs started and things changed. The Rangers knew they had the goalie to win a Cup in Henrik Lundqvist, but the remainder of the roster had little Cup experience. In fact, St. Louis and Brad Richards, teammates on the 2004 Lightning team that captured the Cup, were the only Rangers players to previously play for a title.

But the Rangers showed plenty of grit and heart, especially after they fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins three games to one in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Their play over the remainder of the Penguins series was remarkable, especially considering the death of St. Louis' mother prior to Game 5. The support of his teammates and the fans seemed to help elevate St. Louis' play and in he, in turn, fired up his teammates.

The Rangers then exorcised some demons in defeating the Montreal Canadiens, a team they have always struggled with in the regular season, in the conference final. Then it was the two major markets playing for the greatest trophy in sports. Unfortunately, Rangers fans will have to hold on to that image of Messier, Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, and Adam Graves a little while longer. While there is encouragement that teams in recent years have gotten back to the finals more often - Kings (Cups in '12, '14), Blackhawks (Cups in '10, '13, conference finals '14), Bruins (Cup in '11, finals in '13) - the Rangers roster could quite different next season.

But in the meantime, thank you New York Rangers for a great ride!

And for a semi-dose of reality...
2014-2015 Rangers

One of the first players that will be looking for a new team next year will be Richards. The unofficial captain after the departure of Callahan, Richards played much better in Alain Vigneault's system than he did under John Tortorella, but he didn't play well in the finals. Richards entered the series with 12 points in 20 games, but only managed to pick up one assist against the Kings. But more than anything it's the absurd contract that Glen Sather signed him to prior to the 2011-2012 season that will cost him his Rangers career. The nine-year deal still has six years and $27MM remaining on it.

Richards will receive an amnesty buyout, which in his case will amount to roughly $18MM. The buyout will not count against the team's salary cap, which the league reduced from $70.2MM to $64.3MM as part of the last collective bargaining agreement. It will be the second and last buyout the Rangers will be allowed after they exercised their first buyout on defenseman Wade Redden last year.

The Rangers have a number of unrestricted free agents as well. Chief among them defenseman Anton Stralman, center Brian Boyle, and center Dominic Moore. Stralman was on the Rangers' second defensive pairing with Mark Stahl and earned $1.7MM this past season. He should be one of the Rangers top priorities this off-season.

Boyle and Moore are two of the players that are easier to replace, but both have been solid for the Rangers. Moore was one of the Rangers best forwards in the finale with this tenacious, gritty play. Boyle is an excellent faceoff man, penalty killer, and has a combo of size (6'7") and speed. But Boyle earned $1.7MM last year and the Rangers are likely to look for a cheaper alternative. Moore earned $1MM this season and would not likely earn much more than that if the Rangers retained him.

Benoit Pouliot showed a scoring touch at times, but after making $1.3MM, the Rangers will let him walk. Dan Carcillo is a question mark. He made $8.25MM this year and played reasonably well until he got physical with a linesman in the Montreal series and missed all of the finals. (He was eligible to play in Game 5.)

Among the restricted free agents (2013-2014 salaries in parenthesis) the Rangers will try to retain are forwards Derick Brassard ($3.2MM), Chris Kreider ($1.325MM), Mats Zuccarello ($1.15MM), and defenseman Justin Falk ($975K). Defenseman John Moore ($925K) would seem to be on the bubble.

Unless you've followed junior hockey or the Hartford Wolfpack, you may not be aware of Danny Kristo, another restricted free agent, who has yet to play in the NHL. Kristo had 43 points for the Wolfpack in 65 games this season. Drafted by the Canadiens in 2008, the Rangers acquired him last season for Christian Thomas.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RIP, Bob Welch

I was stunned by the news I heard earlier Tuesday evening that former Major Leaguer Bob Welch had died of a heart attack on Monday. Welch was just 57 years of age. One moment and one season will always stand out in my mind about Welch.

The moment I am referring to is, of course, his one on one battle with Reggie Jackson in Game 2 of the 1978 World Series. The LA Dodgers had already won Game 1 and led Game 2 4-3 in the top of the 9th inning. Bucky Dent led off the inning with a single off of Terry Forster and Paul Blair drew a one-out walk.

Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasorda sent for Welch, a rookie at the time, with Thurman Munson and Jackson due up. Munson flew out to right on an 0-1 count, but Jackson and Welch battled through a nine-pitch at-bat. With the count 1-1, Mr. October fouled off three straight pitches before the count evened at 2-2. After another foul ball, Jackson worked the count full. Finally, Welch, the 20th overall pick just a year prior, blew a fastball past Jackson to put the Dodgers up two games to none.

I can see it as if it were yesterday. Jackson's body language expressed his frustration as Welch and his teammates celebrated. (The Yankees would go on to win the next four and in a small measure of revenge, Jackson hit a tape measure home run off of Welch in the finale.)

Welch's 1990 campaign with the Oakland A's was one of the best in baseball history. He finished 27-6 with a 2.95 ERA. It was the most wins since Steve Carlton won 27 for the 1972 St. Louis Cardinals. After he started the season 3-2, Welch reeled off 10 straight wins. He also had five-game and four-game winning streaks later in the season.

Welch won the Cy Young Award and was named to the second of his two All-Star teams. He also finished ninth in the AL MVP voting. He won two World Series rings (1981 Dodgers, 1989 A's) and won 211 career games over a 17-year career (10 in LA, 7 in Oakland). Welch earned a third ring as pitching coach for the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.

After his retirement in 1994, Welch wrote about a book, with George Vecsey, "Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Cy Young Award-Winner Recounts His Greatest Victory". The tome discussed Welch's battle with alcoholism. He is survived by former wife, Mary Ellen, and three children.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

RIP Zim, We'll Miss Ya

Don Zimmer had so many jobs in baseball, he became famous, sometimes infamous, for so many things. His family and his baseball families suffered a loss today when the colorful 83-year old died two months after having heart surgery.

Zimmer's first personna was that of a player in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. He was a member of the '55 "Bums" that finally beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. He nearly died though before he put together a 12-year career, primarily as a reserve. Playing for St. Paul in 1953, Zimmer lost sight of a pitch and leaned right into the ball.

In the days before helmets, Zimmer suffered a devastating head injury. He was unconscious for nearly two week and had to have holes drilled in his head to relieve the pressure. The 170 pound infielder dropped down to 124 pounds and was told he would never play a game. The doctors didn't know just how tough Zim was.

He went with the Dodgers when they moved to Los Angeles and picked up another World Series ring with the 1959 team. He bounced around after that. Taken by the Mets in the expansion draft in 1961, Zimmer had the misfortune of playing on the sad sack Mets squad that lost 120 games in 1962. Zimmer retired from MLB after the 1965 season with stops in Cincinnati, briefly back with the Dodgers, and three years in Washington. There was one more season in professional baseball for Zimmer though, as a member of the 1966 Toei Flyers in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.

Baseball was still in Popeye's blood even though he was no longer a player. He got his first Major League managerial job with the San Diego Padres in 1972 after Preston Gomez was fired 11 games into the season. The Padres were 114 and 190 under Zimmer, who was fired after the 1973 season. The next stop was in Boston to replace Darrell Johnson after 86 games into the 1976 season. In 1978, the Red Sox built up a 14.5 game lead over the New York Yankees. But the Yankees began a Summer surge while the Red Sox swooned. A 163rd game was needed to decide the AL East winner and Bucky Dent ruined Zimmer's and Boston's dreams. Zimmer, unfairly, became the scapegoat for the blown division lead.

Zimmer was let go by Boston near the end of the 1980 season, but got a job the following year as the Texas Rangers manager. He was fired 96 games into the 1982 season. Zimmer's final managerial stint came as the skipper of the Chicago Cubs from 1988 into 1991. The 1989 team won 93 games, but lost in the NLCS to San Francisco in five games.

Zimmer got a new lease on his baseball life when Joe Torre, barely an acquaintance at the time, asked him to be his bench coach for his new gig as the New York Yankees manager. Zim became a lovable character during his time in New York, whether it was from Derek Jeter rubbing his head for luck, donning an army helmet after a Chuck Knoblauch foul ball hit him, taking on George Steinbrenner, or charging Pedro Martinez during a bench clearing brawl.

Zimmer stayed closer to his home in Florida the last 11 years as a senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays. Baseball wasn't his dearest family though. That distinction belonged to his wife Jean, better known as "Soot", who he met in the 10th grade. The couple was married for 63 years and had two children, a son, Tom, and a daughter, Donna, who gave them four grandchildren.

Zim's health began to deteriorate and he suffered a stroke in 2008. This past April he endured surgery to repair a leaky heart valve, but never fully recovered. My thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to his family and friends. Don Zimmer, one of a kind.

Updated 6/5

Derek Jeter reflects back on Zim

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Yankees Ship Exited April in 1st Place, But Not Without Some Leaks

Masahiro Tanaka was better than advertisted in April.

It wasn't a perfect first month of the season for the New York Yankees, but after April 30's scheduled game with the Seattle Mariners was rained out, they ended the month with a 15-11 record and a 2.5 game lead over Baltimore for first place in the AL East.

The month did not come without its bumps and bruises, and unfortunately for the Yankees, they've hit where they could hurt the most. The first blow came when Ivan Nova had three bad starts in his four appearances. While everyone wondered if it was mechanics, velocity, or just a slow start, the truth was much worse. Nova had torn the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in his right elbow and had season-ending Tommy John surgery.

For the moment, second year pitcher Vidal Nuno has taken Nova's spot in the rotation. Nuno was solid in threes starts last season and the Yankees are going to need him to be as good this year. The rotation took a another hit when Michael Pineda was caught cheating and suspended for 10 days, and then strained his back. Pineda was seen with pine tar on his right hand in a start against Boston on April 10. He explained afterwards that it was dirt, which everyone knew it wasn't.

It was clear that Pineda was trying to get a better grip on the ball, but the Red Sox didn't complain because they know how prevalent cheating is among the pitchers in Major League Baseball. On top of that, the Red Sox starter that night, Clay Buchholz, is one of the pitchers that is rumored to be a walking medicine cabinet of salves and ointments.

To the untrained eye, it didn't appear that Pineda used any aids whe he threw six shutout innings to beat the Chicago Cubs in his next start. But on a chilly night in Boston on April 23, Pineda went to the well, or pine tar, once too often. To make matters worse, he made no effort to hide what he had done. Red Sox manager John Farrell sad after the game that he didn't want to say anything to the umpires, but it was so blatant he really had no choice. A big smear of pine tar shone on the side of  Pineda's neck. An ejection and a 10-game suspension followed, but Pineda's tale of woe was not complete.

During a simulated game, Pineda felt pain in his lat muscle and went for an MRI. It turned out to be a Grade 1 strain of the teres major muscle, an injury with much more potential danger than a strained lat. It's part of a group of muscles that supports the shoulder. That's not good news for a pitcher who missed all of the 2012 and 2013 seasons after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Pineda, off to a 2-2, 1.83 start, will be out for 3-4 weeks. Considering his past shoulder issues, that could be a conservative estimate. David Phelps will take his first turn in the rotation and could move into the spot until Pineda gets back.

With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda struggling to find consistency, Masahiro Tanaka has been a Godsend. The Japanese star has been nothing less than outstanding in his first month in the big leagues. His final start of the month, against the Los Angeles Angeles, was probably the best proof of what Tanaka is made of. After four starts, in which he had 35 strikeouts and two walks in 29.1 innings, the right-hander struggled with his control against the Halos. He walked four and allowed five hits in 6.1 innings, but a double play and 11 strikeouts helped keep the Angels to two runs. Though he didn't figure in the decision, the Yankees eventually won 3-2. Tanaka finished the month 3-0, 2.26 with 11 K's per nine innings pitched.

The other big free agent signings had mixed results in their first season in the Bronx. Jacoby Ellsbury was oustanding. The former Red Sox center fielder put together a .312/.369/.452 line with eight stolen bases in 10 attempts. He also scored 14 runs and had nine multi-hit games, including four games with three hits.

Carlos Beltran slugged five home runs, drove in 13 runs, scored 11, and finished with an .826 OPS.

The transition at the plate wasn't as smooth for new catcher Brian McCann. He exited April with a .620 OPS, that included a month-ending 2-20 slide.

Rookie utility infield Yangervis Solarte was the surprise of the month after winning the final spot out of Spring Training. Solarte posted a 1.007 OPS after 15 games and drove in 13 runs.

The Yankees bullpen did an outstanding job for much of the month, which included filling in for an injured David Robertson. Shawn Kelley, David Phelps, and Adam Warren combined for six saves.