Friday, July 25, 2014

Cashman Brings In Mediocrity in Capuano, Aims Higher

Capuano is the latest lefty to join the Yankees

Chris Capuano had solid years for the Milwaukee Brewers. Notice the past tense in that sentence. Capuano is the latest player in the new game show, "Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks." It's also known as the Brian Cashman "I'll take what I can get" show.

Cashman isn't done looking for pitching though. Reports have the Yankees in discussions for their former first round draft pick Ian Kennedy and Rockies' starter, Jorge De La Rosa.

The Yankees acquired Capuano from the Colorado for cash. The 35-year old left-hander was released on July 1 after he pitched poorly in relief for the Red Sox. The Rockies signed him to a minor league deal just three days later. Capuano was at his peak in his third and fourth full seasons (2005-06) in the Major Leagues. He won 18 games with a sub-4.00 ERA in '05 and followed it up a year later with a tough luck won/loss  record (11-12), despite a 4.03 ERA.

Not yet 30, Capuano appeared ready to make a name for himself, but underwent surgery on his non-throwing shoulder after a miserable 2007 season. The following spring he injured a ligament in his left elbow during Spring Training and had to undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career. (He previously had the surgery in 2002.)

Capuano returned to the Majors and Milwaukee as a reliever/starter in 2010, before he joined the Mets as a free agent for the 2011 season. He was a decent back-end-of-the-rotation starter for the guys from Queens and topped 186 innings. His comeback was truly complete as a member of the Dodgersin 2011, when he put together solid ERA and WHIP numbers (3.72, 1.220), threw 198.1 innings, and led the NL with 33 starts A variety of injuries limited him to 20 starts in 2013 and his production dropped off as well.

ESPN's Jim Bowden reported on Thursday the Yankees were in discussions with the Padres for Kennedy's services, with prospects Eric Jagielo (3B) and Ian Clarkin (P) being mentioned as part of a deal. However, on Friday, Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reported that the Yankees were not "aggressively pursuing" Kennedy. Earlier in the week, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman stated that the Pads would not trade Kennedy unless they were blown away by an offer.

It was also Bowden who reported the Yankees had talked to the Rockies about De La Rosa. A couple of weeks ago, Bowden's colleague Jayson Stark had written that the Rockies were looking for a young pitcher that could join the staff ASAP. The Yankees are not in possession of that type of player, nor are most teams.

After he beat the Nationals on Wednesday, De La Rosa's record stood at 11-6, 4.19 with a 1.284 WHIP in 116.1 innings pitched. The 33-year old left-hander has actually had better results at hitter-friendly Coor's Field than on the road. With some home cooking, De La Rosa's ERA (3.23) is more than two points lower than when he dons the Rockies' road uniform. He's also won seven of his nine decisions in Colorado.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Yankees Must Now Address Right Field

The Yankees should fly Byrd to New York


When the Yankees signed Carlos Beltran to a three year, multi-million deal this past offseason, they expected a 25 HR, 90 RBI season from their new right fielder. What they didn't expect was for Beltran to be limited to designated hitter duties to a balky right elbow that may eventually lead to surgery.

For now, Beltran has begun throwing again, but is limited to the designated hitter role. Even if he gets cleared to play the outfield, it will be on a limited bases. Right now, Ichiro Suzuki is the right fielder. Kelly Johnson is on the DL with a groin strain and Zelous Wheeler has a little outfield experience. Yes, the Yankees need an outfielder, preferably someone who can play right field.

The possibilities:

Most teams aren't making deals since they are within close range of either the division leader or the two wild cards. But there are some teams ready to bite the dust.

Josh Willingham
The Twins are one of those team that are quickly descending back to the AL Central basement. The 35-year old had fabulous back to back seasons with the A's and Twins in 2011-12. But injuries limited him to 111 games last year and he missed three-quarters of May this season. His OPS is a modest .770, but his .412 slugging pct. is a vast improvement from last year.

Willingham is a free agent after this year and would be owed the remainder of the $7MM he's set to earn this season. The drawback is that Willingham has primarily been a left-fielder in his career. He has 35 games of experience in right field and that all came in the 2009 season, while he was a member of the Washington Nationals.

Had Beltran been healthy, Kendry Morales would have been a good acquistion from Minny to fill in for the much injured Mark Teixeira.

Marlon Byrd
The Phillies are "phading" fast - they enter Thursday's play 15 games under .500. The 36-year old (these guys are the perfect age to be a Yankee) has played 98 games in right field this season. The much traveled Byrd - he's been with seven organizations in the Major Leagues (and more than once as a member of the Phillies)  - has put up a .796 OPS with 19 HR and 58 RBI in 387 at-bats.

The drawback is that Byrd is owed $8MM next year with the possibility of a vesting option in 2016 (also at $8MM). The Phillies will get more in return in if they eat some of the contract, but they already have a ton of money owed to several players. So far, the rumor is that the Phillies are asking for too much in return.

Alex Rios
The player that was once compared to Dave Winfield is a conundrum. A two-time All-Star, a player let go off recallable waivers, 25 home run power one year and just four home runs in 97 games this year.

It's hard to believe Rios is 33-years old. It seems like yesterday that he was an up and coming five-tool athlete with the Toronto Blue Jays. Rios was an All-Star in 2006-7 and hasn't been since. Toronto signed him to a six-year, $64MM extension prior to the 2008 season. But after a solid, but not upper tier season in 2008, the Blue Jays put him on waivers during the 2009 season. At the time his production had dropped off more and the Blue Jays must have been regretting the contract extension they gave to the then 28-year old.

They could have pulled Rios off of waivers and tried to make a deal with the White Sox, but they simply let him go and allowed the White Sox to assume the rest of the contract. He had just a .530 OPS in 41 games. But he bounced back the next season with 21 HR, 88 RBI, and 34 steals. For the most part he did well with Chicago, but was dealt to Texas last August (after clearing waivers) for Leury Garcia, a light hitting infielder.

This season, Rios leads the AL in triples and has 16 stolen  bases. He has a $13.5MM team option for next season, which no team will exercise. He sprained his ankle a few days ago and has been unable to play, though the team does not think a DL trip is necessary. Rios is a risk, but at the right price, one worth taking for a handful of months.

Drew Stubbs
Stay away from the Colorado Rockies outfielder. The 29-year old once stole 40 bases in a season, but doesn't hit. His .297/.335/.498 slash line and 10 home runs in 82 games is merely a product of playing his home games at Coor's Field. Stubbs road line is .229/.277/.343.

There you have it
And sadly, that's about it. I would love for the Yankees to pick up  Jay Bruce, who has having an off-year. While the Reds might be willing to dump his salary, the Yankees aren't likely to pick up more. ($25.5MM guaranteed with the potential of $12MM more.) The Reds would also demand a king's ransom for him. Marlon Byrd should be the top target in this flip-a-coin reality.

The Yankees also need to address starting pitching, but let's solve one crisis at a time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Headley's Two Day Journey Ends With 14th Inning Game Winner

Headley celebrates his game winning hit over Texas

Chase Headley (@chaseheadley7 on Twitter) woke up in Chicago on Tuesday, 7/22 and will go to bed in New York early Wednesday morning as a baseball hero. Headley has been the subject of trade rumors involving the Yankees for the last three years, but it took until Tuesday for rumor to become fact.

Almost a dozen hours later, Headley was getting doused with Gatorade by new teammate Brett Gardner and was being interviewed on the field by Meredith Marokovits (YES Network) and Suzyn Waldman (WFAN-AM). With the game tied at one apiece in the 14th inning, Brian Roberts reached with a one-out ground rule double. Francisco Cervelli, who ripped a potential game winning line drive to Adrian Belte at third base two innnigs earlier, singled to push Roberts to third base and gave Headley a second chance to play the hero.

Headley, who had arrived shortly after the game started, pinch-hit for Zelous Wheeler in the 8th inning and struck out. He made the second out in the 11th inning with a ground out and bounced out again with the bases loaded to end the 12th.

But with his fourth at-bat of the night, Headley got his first Yankees' RBI when he dropped a Nick Tepesch pitch into left-center to drive home Roberts with the game winner. It was a satisfying ending to a long day.

Headley had been informed around 11:30 CDT this morning that he had been traded. He got the first plane out to New York and walked into the dugout in pinstripes with the number 12 on his back as the Yankees battled the Rangers in a scoreless duel. Headley told Marokovits after the game that he was excited "to go from the situation I was in (the Padres fell to 43-56 after the Cubs shut them out 8-0 on Tuesday), to go right into a pennant race."

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.