Monday, October 14, 2013

The Broken Ankle That Started It All

Many baseball people like to argue that the "Dynasty" era of Yankees baseball ended with Luis Gonzalez's bloop single off of Mariano Rivera that won the Diamondbacks the 2001 World Series. Others claim that it was Josh Beckett tagging Jorge Posada out in the middle of the first base line that won the Marlins the 2003 World Series.

Personally, I believe the Dynasty continued on long after that, but ended one year ago today - October 14th, 2012.

The day before, October 13th, had made most of the Yankee faithfuls believe the Dynasty was alive and well. The Yankees took the field for Game 1 of the ALCS, just a handful of wins away from a trip to the 2012 World Series. After suffering through an inept offense for much of the ALDS, they were given a second chance to back up their "Bronx Bombers" mantra. And wow, did they ever!

Down 4-0 in the 9th, facing Tigers' closer Jose Valverde, Ichiro Suzuki roped a two-run home run that curved just inside the right field foul pole, cutting the Detroit lead in half. With two outs, Mark Teixeira was able to work his way on with a walk, and up came Raul Ibanez. The 40-year old New York native had provided plenty of clutch moments for fans to enjoy all season, including game-tying and game-winning home runs in Game 3 of the ALDS just a few days prior.

And after swinging and missing for strike one...this happened:

As TBS announcer Ernie Johnson proclaimed, "He's done it again!", Raul HAD done it again. It was unbelievable, and with a win seemingly inevitable, his home run would go down with the likes of Reggie's three homers in '77, Bucky's go-ahead shot in '78, Leyrtiz's in '96, Brosius' in '01, and so on. If anyone said otherwise at the time, I probably would have called them insane.

If not already, ALCS Game 1 was becoming an instant classic as the game went into extra innings and each team failed to score. With Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Delmon Young due up in the top of the 12th, most people felt a momentum shift, if only slightly. 

Cabrera led off with a single, but David Phelps then got Fielder to ground out. Young then laced a fly-ball into right field, in which Nick Swisher swatted at and missed completely as it went to the wall. Cabrera scored the go-ahead run, and the Tigers were now up 5-4.

Then came the knockout blow. Not just for 2012, but for everything that had happened up until this moment:

It was known that it was sore, but Derek Jeter's ankle finally snapped. After suffering only a handful of minor injuries that resulted in little-to-no time lost throughout his career, at age 38, the Yankees shortstop had suffered as bad a "break" (no pun intended) as any infielder can have. He was helped off the field and wouldn't return for the remainder of the playoffs -- which in reality was only a few days, since Detroit made quick work of New York and swept them aside.

Since Game 1 concluded in the wee hours of October 14th, Game 2 began later that afternoon, in which I was in attendance for. At no fault of their own, Yankees fans were terribly demoralized, as the Captain was done for the year and hopes for a pennant were as bleak as they'll ever be in mid-October at Yankee Stadium. 

The stats say that 47,082 fans made their way to the Bronx, but you wouldn't believe it by all the empty seats there were. The crowd was deathly silent all throughout the game, as was the lineup, which was only able to muster up 4 hits against Anibal Sanchez and Detroit's bullpen, headlined by 2009 Yankee alumni Phil Coke. It was like being in some alternate universe, where you could hear a pin drop at Yankee Stadium and Derek Jeter was not playing shortstop for the Yankees in October.

It was so surreal, but it was a perfect preview of this season and beyond. The game featured an 11-strikeout game by Hiroki Kuroda, but Jayson Nix was at shortstop and the lineup was putrid. With Mariano Rivera on the bench nursing a torn ACL, there also was no chance Mo could jog in from the bullpen and close out a win, which will become the norm come 2014. 

While the streak of winning multiple championships ended in 2001, the Yankees continued to be at the top of the division almost every season, always putting themselves in a position to add more titles to their illustrious history. They even did, of course, win it all in 2009, with the Core Four leading the way. 

Now, Andy, Jorge and Mo are all gone, and Jeter is still trying to limp back onto the field and be an everyday player. Even if he can, next season very likely will be Derek's last, so there is no denying that their time as the core of the Yankees is over, though it did live on way longer than many people ever expected.

Still, October 14th, 2012, may be the date we look back on in a few years when the Yankees are either A) Suffering through a period of mediocrity, or B) Returning to glory without their familiar playoff heroes. The future ensures a lot of change, and maybe its for the better. But wow, it's a shame how abruptly the Dynasty ended, isn't it?

Korean Pitcher Suk Min Yoon Trying Out For MLB Teams

Korean star pitcher Suk Min Yoon is interested in pitching in the major leagues next season and is trying out for various MLB teams. Yoon has hired Scott Boras as his agent after the 2011 season, which may be enough to stay away by itself, and is now a free agent. No posting fee would be required to sign Yoon and his money would not go against the international pool cap that each team has making him more attractive.

If you recognize the name you probably saw him shine in the 2009 World Baseball Classic for Team Korea. Yoon was also the MVP of Korean Baseball in 2011 with his fastball that sits in the low 90's. Yoon also possesses a changeup and a slider and posted a 4.00 ERA in 2013 with a 7.8 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 ratio.

Yoon may not be the most ideal pitching free agent this season and probably is not a Plan A, Plan B, or even a Plan C but the Yankees need pitching and Yoon may be worth looking at if we pass on the likes of Matt Garza or Masahiro Tanaka.

What I'd Like To See For 2014: Starting Rotation

If I didn't know any better, I'd say that starting pitching is the biggest issue facing the Yankees this offseason. Three of their five starters, who threw a combined 532.1 innings last season, are free agents. While one of them will likely only be missed by Yankee haters (Hughes), the other two leave large holes (Kuroda and Pettitte).

You're tired, and so were your numbers last season.

Phil, formerly known as "Philthy", Hughes was downright bad in 2013. On top of having an ERA of 5.19, opposing batters hit .293/.340/.492 with 24 home runs off of him. Those are the type of numbers you see from some All Stars. And with only 11 of his 29 starts being the of the "quality" variety, he rarely gave the Yankees a chance to win. So it's safe to say his loss is not a tough one by any means.

On the other hand, the loss of Andy Pettitte is not an easy one. Don't get me wrong, we're not talking about a perennial Cy Young award winner, but the big lefty has been a solid member of the Yankees' rotation for years. Andy's 3.74 ERA looks good on it's own, but add that to to a quality start percentage of 63%, and you can see that Mr. Pettite gave the Yankees many chances to win. Andy will turn 42 next June, but even at that age I and other Yankee fans would be okay seeing him come out of retirement for a second time in 2014. Not that any of us should hold our breath. And by "any of us" I'm including Yankee management.

That brings us to the third starter that will likely be leaving us... Hiroki Kuroda. The man they call "Hiro" had an ERA of 3.31 with the Yankees in 2012 and 2013, and was arguably the staff ace in both seasons. However, Kuroda struggled in the second half both years, so his loss may not hurt as much as some think. Sure, first half games mean just as much as second half games, but unlike some other fans I'd have a hard time leaning on him again next year. His strikeout rate has gone down in each of the past four years (19.6% to 18.2%), and opposing batters hit him harder than they have in his entire career (23% line drive percentage). That's not to say he would be bad should he decide to return to the Yankees, but I'm not one that'll be on the edge of my seat hoping it happens.

As for pitchers I do see on the team in 2014, let's start with the highest paid hurler on the team... CC Sabathia.

CC Sabathia and the Yankees hope to see the big guy rebound in 2014. His ERA last season was the highest it's ever been in his 13 year career. On top of that his strikeout rate was lower than it's been since 2005, when he was only 24 years old. Sabathia's problems have been talked about ad nauseam, so I'm not going to get into them here. However, while I don't feel too good about him going into next season as the staff ace, I have faith that he'll turn things around and be a strong piece of the rotation.


I will be on the edge of my seat when the announcement comes about Masahiro Tanaka. I don't expect him to be as good as Yu Darvish has been for the Rangers, but it should be noted that Tanaka's had just as much success in Japan as Darvish did. Take a look at the numbers...

Not only are the numbers awfully close, but Tanaka will be the same age as Darvish was when he left Japan for Major League Baseball.

But Masahiro's ability as a pitcher is not the only big thing that attracts me to him. The other thing is how his salary will affect the team's payroll. You see, the posting fee does not factor into the team's payroll in regards to the Luxury Tax. But that posting fee is taken into account when it comes to that player's contract, as can be seen by the fact that while Yu Darvish is one of the best pitchers in MLB, his salary last season was only $9.5 million. In fact, the Average Annual Value (what is used to determine payroll for the Luxury Tax) is a bit lower at $9.34 million.  So you can see that signing Tanaka, instead of someone like Matt Garza, could save a ton of money.

I would like the team to not only sign Masahiro Tanaka, but also bring somebody like Garza on board. However, since I'm keeping the austerity budget in mind, I don't see how it can be done. Garza is looking to make around $17 million a year, and with Ivan Nova able to slot into the #2 or #3 spot in the rotation along with Sabathia and Tanaka, I don't think it would make sense to go over budget here. Not to mention that David Phelps or Adam Warren could prove to be solid starters next season, and Michael Pineda should be healthy and ready to actual throw a pitch in a MLB game for the Yankees.

Speaking of Michael Pineda, while I don't think he is going to return to the team and be their co-ace, like some thought he could be at the time he was dealt to New York from Seattle, I don't think Michael is going to be useless either. As the #4 starter on the team, or possibly the #5, I believe Pineda will do just fine. In fact, if the choice is between Pineda being better or worse than a bottom of the rotation starter, my money is on that he's better.

I got this.

I kind of skipped over him, but Yankees fans shouldn't dismiss what Ivan Nova could mean for the team in 2014 and beyond. Nova surprised most of us by posting an ERA of 3.10, which would be good for eighth among AL starters. I wouldn't expect him to throw a sub-4.00 ERA again next season, but I feel a whole lot better about having him around the team for next year than I did going into last year. And being in only his first year of arbitration, Ivan will be key to the Yankees getting under $189 million.

David Phelps started 12 games for the Yanks last season, to Adam Warren's 2, but we're likely to see both men compete for a spot in the starting rotation in 2014. Warren's ERA in 79.1 MLB innings is 3.97, while Phelps has an ERA of 4.11 in 186.1 innings, so at the moment I'd be okay with either man winning the job. But if I had to pick one over the other, I'd take the guy with more experience. And that guy is David Phelps. But keep in mind that the Yankees will have more than five guys start at least one game for them in 2014, which means that it's highly likely that Warren gets a handful of starts.

So here's what I'd like the Yankees starting rotation to look like in 2014...

*salaries shown are average annual value (AAV)
1. CC Sabathia $23.67 million
2. Masahiro Tanaka $9 million (signed for 6 years/$56 million)
3. Ivan Nova $2.5 million (arbitration 1)
4. Michael Pineda $500,000 (pre-arbitration)
5. David Phelps $500,000 (pre-arbitration)

Brian Cashman Wants ARod Back

“If it comes down to, would we want the player we signed to be playing that position without any problems? Absolutely, no question about that,” Cashman said on ESPN Radio’s “Ian O’Connor Show” Sunday. 
“I think if people think there’s some sort of benefit by losing that talent, I mean, you can’t replace it. It’s not like, all right, well, Alex is gone. If he winds up getting suspended and it’s upheld, how do you replace that? It’s not easy. 
“It’s not like, all right, we’ll take that money and go in this direction. I think … our fan base saw when we lost significant players at various positions, it was not easy to plug holes because the talent just doesn’t exist.”
Be careful, Cash. Your nose is growing.

There's just a bit of hyperbole going on here.

Would it be easy to replace Alex Rodriguez, should he be suspended? No. People forget that ARod is a good hitter. If Alex could stay on the field for 135 games, then we're talking about a guy that could hit 25 home runs. And those home runs would go along with a batting line somewhere around .275/.355/.445, numbers that would make him a top 5 third baseman in the American League.

But the hyperbole comes from the fact that Rodriguez has played a little over half the games the Yankees have played the last three seasons. Furthermore, ARod has made $88 million between 2011 and 2013, while only being worth $29.3 million (according to Fangraph's Dollar Value).

So while I agree with Brian Cashman that Alex is not going to be easy to replace, should the team have to for 2014 and beyond, you can't tell me that Cash isn't secretly hoping he's suspended. And you can't snicker at myself or other Yankee fans for hoping he's suspended either.

Brett Gardner 2013 Highlights

Watch Brett Gardner's best highlights from the 2013 season. 

This Day In New York Yankees History 10/14

On this day in 1976 the Yankees would win their 30th American League pennant on a Chris Chambliss home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Chambliss  hit the game winning solo home run against the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 by the score of 7-6.

On this day in 200 Roger Clemens beat the Seattle Mariners to put the Yankees up 3-1 in the ALCS. The Yankees would win the game 5-0 and Roger would strike out 15 batters allowing one hit in the victory.

Just for fun here is the video proof of the Chambliss walk off home run, enjoy!