Friday, March 2, 2018

Pondering Thoughts of Opening Day...

“Did Andujar hit another home run?”…

There’s no doubt it is fun to watch Miguel Andujar hit home runs in nearly every at bat (so it seems). But…c’mon, it is Spring Training. I put as much stock in Andujar’s home runs as I do the fact that neither Aaron Judge nor Giancarlo Stanton have gone yard. It is very early and the hurlers are still working on their pitches and not necessarily using strategy or attacking hitters like they would in the regular season. Plus, many of the Spring pitchers are guys who will never see a MLB roster in 2018 (if ever). In other words, keep expectations in check. When it is 'Show Time', you know Judge, Stanton and Sanchez will be leading the homer parade. 

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Kim Klement)
Since many are starting to project Opening Day lineups (not batting order), I’ll toss in my own.

C-Gary Sanchez
1B-Greg Bird
2B-Tyler Wade (although I could buy into Danny Espinosa for the short term)
SS-Didi Gregorius
3B-Brandon Drury
LF-Brett Gardner
CF-Aaron Hicks
RF-Aaron Judge
DH-Giancarlo Stanton

These are safe choices, I know, but decisions I fully expect Manager Aaron Boone to roll with on March 29th. If Gleyber Torres shows that he is ready by the end of the month, then I think he breaks camp with the Yankees as the starting second baseman. Otherwise, he’ll begin the season in Triple A to fine tune his game. I’ve become convinced that service time will not factor into the decision. The Yankees want to field the team that gives them the best chance for success from the very first game of the season. When Gleyber is ready, he is the man at the second. For me, he’s the most exciting talent at the position since Dontcha Know Robinson Cano.

Photo Credit: Newsday (Thomas A Ferrara)
I feel confident, at this point, that the Opening Day roster will feature 25 guys currently in camp with the Yankees (either on the roster in or in camp as a non-roster invitee). In other words, I do not see any further trade activity or free agent signings before the start of the regular season. The Yankees have a huge advantage over the Boston Red Sox in terms of in-season flexibility. Boston is maxed out on payroll and they have a weak farm system. There will be no major acquisitions by the Red Sox at the trading deadline or at least it will be very difficult for them to maneuver the roster. The Yankees, on the other hand, have the ability to make huge moves dependent upon need, with salary room and the cupboards overflowing with prospects. The Yankees have the talent, today, to hang with the Red Sox, if not potentially creating separation from them in the AL East Standings. Identifying mid-season weaknesses and seeking impact upgrades should allow the Yankees to explode past the Red Sox if all goes according to plan (which, of course, it  almost never does). Nevertheless, with all things considered, I’ll take my chances with the Yankees against the Beantown Bunch.  The Yankees will 'step on their necks' as Hanley Ramirez would say.  

If I was Orioles GM Dan Duquette, I’d be on the phone to Brian Cashman. “Say Brian, I’ve been watching that Andujar kid.  You still interested in Manny?”. I know that Orioles owner Peter Angelos hates the Yankees but a chance to grab a young third baseman with a lethal bat and perhaps a top pitching prospect, among others, for a guy that will wear the Orioles uniform for the final time on Sunday, September 30, 2018 against the Houston Astros at Camden Yards (barring a trade by the deadline) makes good sense to me. 

While I think the Yankees will spend to sign (or if they successfully trade for him, re-sign) Manny Machado, I do not expect a big splash in the 2018-19 free agent market. I’ve seen some suggest that the Yankees will sign both Machado and Bryce Harper. Get real. That’s not happening. The Yankees have a large chunk of the roster comprised of pre-arbitration guys who are still making minimum wage or barely over. This list includes (in alphabetical order):

Miguel Andujar
Tyler Austin
Greg Bird
Luis Cessa
Brandon Drury
Clint Frazier
Giovanny Gallegos
Domingo German
Chad Green
Ben Heller
Aaron Judge
Jordan Montgomery
Gary Sanchez
Luis Severino
Gleyber Torres
Ronald Torreyes
Tyler Wade

You could cut this list down to just Greg Bird, Chad Green, Aaron Judge, Jordan Montgomery, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. That’s six players who will see significant increases in their pay over the coming years as they enter into arbitration. This is on top of the current arbitration players like Didi Gregorius and Sonny Gray who will command top dollars on the open market in the not-so-distant future. If Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner has taught us anything, he is not going to be frivolous with money. I can’t see committing Giancarlo Stanton-like money (or more) to outside free agents when the Yankees will have to pay their own young stars one day. I am more excited about the prospect of Estevan Florial eventually becoming the starting center fielder than the possibility of spending a half-billion dollars to bring Bryce Harper to the Bronx. Don’t get me wrong…I love Harper…but I think he is an excess luxury for a team with so many young talented hitters. I would rather see the dollars invested in upgrading the starting pitching and retaining our young superstars.

I don’t envy Aaron Boone for the decision he’ll have to make at third base. As a Minnesota Vikings fan, I am watching their off-season with interest since the team does not have a quarterback signed beyond the young unproven and untested Kyle Sloter. The big question is whether the Vikings will try to re-sign free agents Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater or Case Keenum, or attempt to go after a big fish like Kirk Cousins. While I’d like Cousins on my team, I recognize the team needs to re-sign its own young stars. This is not unlike the Yankees. Yesterday, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, talking about the QB situation, said that the team has to make the right call for its next QB. Otherwise, it could cost him his job. I don’t think the third base competition between Brandon Drury and Miguel Andujar will cost Boonie his job, but Sports is big business. The financial considerations have to make as much sense as the ability of the players. So, my philosophy for free agency is the same in the NFL as it is in the MLB, “take care of your own”. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be new guys or that we shouldn’t get rid of guys who are simply filling a roster space. I just want to see the ‘tried and true’ players get their due.

Photo Credit:
One final note: I would like to see more Domingo German and less Luis Cessa, please.

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Kim Klement)

Go Yankees!

The Hype Surrounding Miguel Andujar's Spring Training

In case you didn't see, since the team acquired Brandon Drury I've been pushing for the Yankees to start Drury at second base while rookie Miguel Andujar plays third. From everything I've read on Andujar it's clear to me that he should be in the Majors to start this season.

In 2017 Miguel destroyed opposing pitching at every level. He started the year in AA and hit .312/.342/.494 in 67 games, then he was promoted to AAA and hit .317/.364/.502 in 58 games, and even got four hits (two doubles) in seven at bats for the Yankees at the end of the regular season.

While there's no doubt that his bat is ready for the Majors, many have pointed out that his glove could use a little more work. Which makes many others say Miguel should go to AAA to work on that defense before coming to MLB.

So if Drury were to start at third base on Opening Day, what options are there for second base? And are those options better than allowing Andujar to work on his defense in the show?

Tyler Wade's debut in the Majors last season did not go very well. He hit .155/.222/.224 in 58 at bats. That's not a huge sample size by any means, so that batting line does not tell the story. Tyler actually killed it in AAA last season batting .310/.382/.460. Mind you, that was a bit of an outlier to the rest of his minor league career (he hit .249/.331/.333 in 618 at bats in AA). 

Ronald Torreyes made a lot of fans in 2017 after hitting .292/.314/.375 in 314 at bats, not to mention his interviews after teammates would hit home runs. And let's not forget that Ronald is only 25, so he has yet to settle in, meaning 2017 may have been a peak at what he could offer the team in 2018 and beyond.

While he is the least likely to start at second base, or anywhere else, on Opening Day for the Yankees, Jace Peterson is an option. He's actually appeared in six of the teams seven Spring Training games, which tells me the Yankees are giving him a serious shot at making the team. However the 28 year-old is coming off the worst MLB season of his career (69 OPS+), and was a little below average in his previous two seasons in the Majors. In my opinion, Jace would only be the Opening Day starter if the team really didn't want Andujar to start the year in MLB, and both Wade and Torreyes were hurt.

So Miguel Andujar has a serious shot at making the Yankees out of Spring Training. However, I wanted to point out that the hype surrounding the guy right now is getting a bit out of hand. 

On the surface, having four home runs already in Spring Training is pretty awesome. But that's just it.. that's the surface. If you look a little deeper you might temper those expectations a bit.

Take a look at the four pitchers he's hit homers off of...

Ranger Suarez 
-Until this season Suarez has never thrown a pitch above A ball. He's also never appeared on the Phillies organizational top 30 prospect list according to Baseball America. 

Justin Shafer
-Until last season Shafer had not thrown a single pitch above A ball. While he hasn't been "bad" in the minors, his overall ERA of 4.84 is not worth getting too excited about. Oh, and like Suarez, he's never appeared in the Blue Jays' Top 30 prospects.

Nick Pivetta 
-Nick made his MLB debut last season, and tossed 133 innings. Unfortunately they weren't good ones, as his ERA of 6.02 shows. To be fair he was pretty darn good in five starts in AAA before being promoted to the big leagues last season (1.41 ERA), and had an overall minor league ERA of 3.57. And while he did crack the organizational prospect top 10 list for the Braves, that was back in 2014. 

Pedro Beato 
-After debuting in MLB in 2011, Pedro has only thrown 27 innings with the Mets, Red Sox, Braves, and just .2 innings last season for the Phillies. He actually didn't throw a single pitch in MLB in 2015 and 2016, as he was in the minors for the Orioles. His career ERA in MLB is 4.31, and at age 31 I don't think he's a good candidate to get better.

So let's just dial down the hype surrounding Miguel Andujar a little bit. Like I said... I still believe he should start at third base on Opening Day, while Brandon Drury starts at second, but I don't think it would be the worst thing in the World if he began the season in Scranton.