Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yankees Can't Afford To Put This One In The Ell Column

When Jacoby Ellsbury and the Yankees agreed to a seven-year, $153MM contract this past offseason, a very loud, "WHAT?" was said in unison in the baseball world. For Jacoby Ellsbury? The guy who had one very good season and was known more for his injury plagued years. That Jacoby Ellsbury?

It's only the first year of his contract, but the Yankees would be nowhere without Ellsbury, unquestionably the team's MVP. (Masahiro Tanaka would have been in the mix had he not injured his elbow - be very glad they are shutting him down now after he experienced soreness in his elbow after his latest rehab throw.)

Ellbsury had the misfortune Friday night to slide into the league in the leg of Toronto Blue Jays' catcher Dioner Navarro. Not only was Ellsbury out at the plate, but sprained/jammed his ankle. Tests results came back negative, but Ellsbury is hurting. He sat out Saturday's game with Toronto, and though he feels he'll play on Sunday, a conservative Joe Girardi is more likely to give him another day off. Especially since the Yankees have their next to last off day on Monday.

It's an especially painful loss for a team that has had trouble scoring runs all season. The former Red Sox outfielder has been on a tear of late - 11-22 (.500), 4 HR, 9 RBI, 6 runs in his last six games - and entered Sunday leading the team with 64 RBI and 37 steals, and is second to Brett Gardner with 64 runs scored.

Like everyone else, Ellsbury has had his dry spells too. He hit just .231 in May with a .664 OPS. But as the race for the second wild card has heated up, so has Ellsbury. In 25 starts and one substitute appearance in August, his slash line is .317/.360/.525 with 5 HR, 16 RBI, 9 SB (without being thrown out), 32 hits, and 13 runs scored. Girardi has used him primarily in the three-hole in the lineup this season, but as of late has inserted him into the lead off spot. Ellsbury has a robust .926 OPS at the top of the order, compared to a .728 OPS batting behind #2, Derek Jeter in the two-hole.

Over the years, many teams have thrown left-handers at the Yankees so as not to let them take advantage of the short porch in Yankee Stadium's right field, but Ellsbury has hit better - nearly .100 points higher in his OPS - against southpaws rather than right-handers. Sunday's game is no different, though it's on the road. The Blue Jays have lefty J.A. Happ scheduled to make a start. The Yankees can only hope the first batter he faces is Jacoby Ellsbury. Otherwise, the Yankees are already going into the game trying to come from behind.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Yankees to Change Name to Butchers

While there has been much talk in the media about the campaign/pressure to get the Washington Redskins to change their team name, the New York Yankees name change has gone ignored.

Yes, the one time Highlanders are now to be known as the New York Butchers. It has nothing to do with the many butcher shops there have been over the years in the Big Apple. No, this has to do with the 2014 Yankees' exceptional job at butchering baseball games. Last night's 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros was another example of the Yankees turning a victory into a loss.

The last time that happened was, well, the night before. So the Yankees take the field Thursday afternoon hoping to salvage the finale of a three game series with a young Astros team that suddenly doesn't look like the doormats of the American League. Then again, the Yankees make most teams look good.

Michael Pineda was grooving last night. Handed a 2-0 lead, he didn't allow a hit until the 4th inning and departed, with a 2-1 lead, after he walked the lead off man in the 7th. That's when Joe Girardi made a call to the Butcher Shop bullpen. Moments later, David Huff and Esmil Rogers had turned a possible win into another damaging loss.

Forget the A.L. East - the Yankees are 9.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles - the Yankees are now five games out of the second wild card spot amd have three teams (Mariners, Blue Jays, Indians) in between them and the holders of the second wild card, Detroit.

The Yankees startering pitching put in decent efforts over the last six games; They held opponents to 2.29 runs per game and averaged nearly 8.5 K's per nine innings. Despite the solid efforts, the team won just twice in those half dozen games. While the defense has improved, the once reliable bullpen has been anything but reliable and the hitters have continued to not produce runs. (The lineup might actually hit better with a meat cleaver.)

The Yankees season is sinking faster than the Titanic, and the ship's captain, Derek Jeter, will depart MLB without making the playoffs for two consecutive years. That will be one first he does not want.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The 2015 Jeter-less Yankees - Who Are They?

The Jeter maze is probably easier to figure out than next year's squad.

This has not been a happy summer of Yankees’ baseball. It’s not helped by the fact that the summer is flying buy either. Football is around the corner and the final 1-1/2 months of the regular season is here. The Yankees semi-salvaged their road trip to Baltimore and Tampa Bay with a pair of wins this past weekend, but they enter Tuesday’s play a long 7.5 games behind the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles. They’re still in the wild card race (three games back of Detroit), but there are many others in the mix.

The fans are restless, bored, and unenthusiastic. It’s hard to blame them though. This current squad of Yankees has been turning in some dull efforts. It’s a team that can’t stay healthy, struggles to hit, and has a patchwork rotation.

It makes you wonder what things will be like next year. It will be the first Jeter-less Yankees team since 1995. (Yes, he had a cup of coffee with the team, but his impact wasn’t felt until a year later.) So the first thing to consider is:

Who will be the Yankees starting shortstop in 2015?
That is a difficult question to answer. There was speculation when Stephen Drew was acquired from Boston that the Yankees would try to re-sign him for next season to take over at his natural position, shortstop.

Earlier this year, it looked like Yangervis Solarte might be the answer. Then he flamed out and is now a member of the San Diego Padres.

All-Star Troy Tulowitzki, who wears the number 2 in honor of his idol, basically came out and said he wanted out of Colorado and would like to be the next Yankees shortstop. There are several problems with that, not the least of which is the guaranteed $118MM he is owed through 2021. He’s injury prone and in fact, underwent season ending surgery last week to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. At this point, how quickly he is ready to play next year is anyone’s guess.  Oh, and let’s not forget…he’s still a member of the Colorado Rockies.

The veterans that are potential free agents include the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez, the Nationals’ Asdrubal Cabrera, and the Orioles’ J.J. Hardy. The best option of the three is Ramirez, the former star with the Florida Marlins. Ramirez earned $16MM this year, a season in which his production has dropped off some from last year, when he suffered a shoulder injury. Ramirez will be 31 when next season starts. Health and wanting a long-term, big money deal are the drawback.
Cabrera’s numbers have steadily slid since his 2011 All-Star season and Hardy has just 7 HR in 112 games after having averaged 25 HR the prior three seasons.

Who will be manning second base and third base?
Things get really sticky here. Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner stated last week that he expected Alex Rodriguez to be back as the Yankees third baseman in 2015. Can you really see that happening? Despite the fact they owe A-Rod $61MM, do you really think they want to deal with the circus that will come to town with him? It’s odd not to think the Yankees will attempt to either buy him out or eat a chunk of his salary and deal him to a team like the Florida Marlins. A-Rod would be in his hometown area and maybe the Marlins would have a drawing card. For his part, A-Rod would probably like to return to the Bronx just to stick it to the team he feels conspired with Major League Baseball to get him suspended. He’s going to have to weigh that against a mixed reception from the fans.

Barring an unusual circumstance, Martin Prado becomes the regular second baseman. (Perhaps third baseman if A-Rod departs.) Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline, Prado has two years and $22MM left on his contract.

Free agent options for the two positions include Chase Headley, acquired at the deadline from the San Diego Padres. After a hot start, Headley entered this weekend with just eight hits in his last 47 at-bats, for a .250/.349/.375 slash line with 2 HR and 8 RBI in 20 games. His defense at third base, however, has been superb.

Pablo Sandoval is the biggest name among the pending free agents at third base, though his hitting has curtailed a bit the last couple of years. After making $8.2MM this year, “Kung Fu Panda” will be looking for a long term, big money deal.  He’s under 30-years of age, practically unheard of in the Bronx these days, and is a switch-hitter.

Among the second baseman that could become free agents are the Tampa Rays’ Ben Zobrist. The team will likely pick up his bargain basement $7.5MM option, but if they don’t, Zobrist will bring versatility to any team he joins. This season alone, Zobrist has played both corner outfield positions and both middle infield positions. The last two seasons, he has not shown the power or speed he had in previous years, but he could still put up 15 HR and 10-15 steals.

Will there be a healthy body in the starting rotation?
CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda. That’s a starting five that can go toe-to-toe with any starting five in baseball. But Nova never made it past April, Sabathia’s season ended on May 10, Pineda was out from April 24 to August 11, and Tanaka made his last start on July 8. The oldest of the group, the 39-year old Kuroda, is the only member of the staff to take his regular turn.

The Yankees traded for Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano, plugged in David Phelps and Vidal Nuno, called up Chase Whitley and Shane Greene, and gave a spot start to Esmil Rogers. The replacements have had their ups and downs, and have been the victims of a lack of run support too many times to count.

In a perfect world, Sabathia returns next season with a healthy knee (no microfracture surgery was needed), Tanaka avoids Tommy John surgery and is in the rotation from the get-go, and Pineda remains healthy. The final two spots in the rotation would be filled in with free agents, trade acquisitions, or free agents.  Nova would not likely return until at least the mid-season point.

The Candidates
McCarthy has been outstanding since joining the Yankees. Granted, it’s a small sampling, but as of his first six starts as Yankee, McCarthy posted a 2.21 ERA, 1.282 WHIP, and had allowed three home runs in 36.2 innings pitched. If the price was right, the Yankees certainly would be interested in McCarthy, who won’t be 31-years old until next July.

Phelps was up and down in his 17 starts before he landed on the 15-day DL with an inflamed elbow. He had put together five solid starts before his final two, when it became apparent there was an injury issue. He’s due to begin a throwing program this week if he’s cleared by the medical staff.

Manny Banuelos was expected to be in the Yankees rotation by now. But poor performance and then Tommy John surgery sidelined him from May, 2012 until April of this year. Still just 23-years old, the left-hander has progressed steadily as the season has gone on. Over a period of three starts from July 22 through August 1, Banuelos allowed one earned run and three hits over 14 innings for the Double-A Trenton Thunder.  Though he was hit hard his next time out, the Yankees moved him up to Triple-A Scranton, where he allowed one run and one hit over five innings on August 12. (Banuelos had control issues in his start yesterday.) If not at the beginning of 2015 season, Banuelos is a good bet to join the Major League squad at some point during next season. The question is, will it be as a starter or reliever?

The internal long shot would be Luis Severino, who is now considered by many to be the organization’s top pitching prospect. The native of the Dominican Republic will be 21-years old shortly after pitchers and catchers report to training camp. The six-foot right-hander has struck out 118 batters over 103 innings combined at Charleston (‘A’), Tampa (‘A+’), and Trenton. The most remarkable stat for such a young strikeout artist is that Severino has walked just 25 batters. That works out to a nifty 4.72 strikeout to walk ratio. Severino’s ascension may be slowed for the remainder of the season – he’ll return tonight after being out 10 days with an oblique injury.

Free agency will see some heavy duty price wars for the services of left-hander Jon Lester and last season’s AL Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer.  Royals’ ace James Shields and Seattle’s steady right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma lead the next level of starters, many of whom will wait to see what the top guns get before agreeing to deals.

With all the money the Yankees have tied up in players with questionable health right now, it’s hard to see the team making a push for Lester or Scherzer. Iwakuma would probably be the cheaper option of the tier 2 pitchers.

Does D-Rob return?
Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman better be sure he has enough money in the pot to bring back free agent closer David Robertson. “D-Rob” has done an outstanding job in his first full season as Yankees closer, a job made even more difficult by being the replacement for Mariano Rivera. The native Alabaman has saved 33 of 35 chances and averaged a career high 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

The 29-year old earned $5.215MM this season and will get a substantial raise next season.  His departure would be a huge blow to the Yankees pen. (Many fans feel Dellin Betances is ready to step into the role already due to his 13.4 K’s per nine innings.  But this is Betances’ first full season in the Majors and it shouldn’t be assumed he’s ready for the 9th inning role.)

Who will be Brian McCann’s backup?
Francisco Cervelli has been solid as McCann’s’ backup. With injuries to McCann and first baseman Mark Teixeira (McCann has filled in), Cervelli has seen his playing time increase since he returned from the disabled list in mid-June. He’s hit .296 with an .825 OPS in 98 at-bats. The Yankees need to decide whether it will be Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, who backed up McCann while Cervelli was out this season, veteran minor leaguer Austin Romine, or if will be a wild card entry to share the catching duties next season. With Gary Sanchez and others on their way up the ladder, one of the many Yankees’ catchers could be dealt in the offseason.

Can the Yankees trade Mark Teixeira?
Your guess is as good as mine. Teixeira has had one injury after another this season after missing most of last year with a wrist tendon injury. He’s been decent when he’s played - .768 OPS, 19 HR, 52 RBI in 87 games – but his status is nearly questionable every day.  Teixeira has two years and $45MM remaining on his contract beyond this season. He’s also got a no-trade clause in his pact. Barring a financial arrangement of some kind, Teixeira is in New York for the next two years.

Will the Yankees make the playoffs in 2015?
I have no answer for that. There are a lot more questions about next year’s team and so far, not many answers. A healthy team would be a good place to start.

Yankees and MLB Roll Out New Security Measures

"You! Why are wearing long sleeves on an 80 degree day?"

Hopefully body scanning isn't next, though some fans may want to be frisked by the member of NYPD of their choice.

So leave those screws in your ankle and your retainer home when you go see Derek Jeter play his final season.

Press Release:
As part of Major League Baseball's initiative to standardize security procedures at all 30 Major League parks for the start of the 2015 season, metal detectors will be added at various entry points at Yankee Stadium beginning today, Tuesday, August 19, for the start of the Yankees' upcoming homestand.

The Yankees are introducing metal detection at select Stadium entrances this season - before the 2015 mandate - in an effort to acclimate staff and fans to the new procedure. The Yankees urge all fans to leave a few extra minutes for entry into the Stadium, especially with large crowds expected for this weekend's series vs. the White Sox.

Upon entering the ballpark, fans will be asked to remove cell phones and all large metal objects from their pockets before walking through the metal detector; they can be retrieved immediately after entering. All bags still will be checked, and only MLB-compliant bags - 16x16x8 or smaller - will be admitted.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tanaka Tosses, Thornton Tossed

Every time you hear the name Masahiro Tanaka, you are at once hopeful and also want to curl up in a fetal position. The expensive Japanese import was having a phenomenal first season in Major League Baseball when he felt something wrong in his very valuable right elbow. If you listen closely you can still hear the cries of "Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" echoing throughout the country after his last start on July 8.

Tanaka had been taking it easy since then, but threw 25 baseballs (correction - previously reported as 50) in a light and easy game of catch on Monday. Today, Tuesday, he followed up with another 50 throws. Hopefully he'll feel as good as he did yesterday when he wakes up tomorrow morning after back-to-back efforts.

GM Brian Cashman's nails must be bitten down to the cuticle as he sees one of his starting pitchers after another fall to the wayside. David Phelps was the latest injury victim when he was diagnosed with elbow inflammation after his short start this past Sunday. He was placed on the 15-day DL forcing the Yankees to once again maneuver things around to put someone in the rotation to take his place.

Chase Whitley should not be that choice. We've seen how that experiment went downhill after a great start. Michael Pineda should not be rushed back either. He's just beginning to ramp up his throwing rehab. David Huff could be moved into that spot or Cashman might find someone on the waiver wire.

There has been a shift in the bullpen as well. Matt Thornton got one out in Monday night's game and was headed to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. The Yankees placed Thornton on waivers and the Washington Nationals scooped him and the $4MM he'll paid next season. Veteran Rich Hill will take his place for now, while Cashman looks for a more viable replacement. Either way, the Yankees have some extra cash to play with.

There's already been talk by members of the media that the Yankees will promote their first pick (2nd round) in June's amateur draft, Jacob Lindgren, to fill the void. The Mississippi State University product was promoted to Double-A Trenton on Tuesday after one game in the Gulf Coast League, four games at Single-A Charleston, and six games at Advanced-A Tampa.

One look at the 5'11" southpaw's stats and it's easy to see why the Yankees and the media are thinking the 21-year old could join the team this year. What stands out the most are 30 strikeouts in 13.1 innings pitched. While he's averaged over 20 K's per nine innings, Lindgren has walked just four batters, meaning that not to many opponents have put the bat on the ball and put it in fair play when they did make contact. But before declaring Lindgren as a star as making, remember that he's not facing David Ortiz or a young Justin Morneau. Hopefully the Yankees keep that in mind when it comes to deciding if Lindgren should be fast-tracked.