Saturday, December 14, 2019

Early Christmas for Yankee Fans...

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Illustration via The Ringer

Reminder: Gerrit Cole is a Yankee…

I always look forward to the Baseball Winter Meetings. For me, it’s the highlight of the off-season. Some years are very disappointing, but some, like this year, are not. When the meetings conclude on Thursday, it always feels a little like the day after Christmas. This year was no exception. 

We certainly felt the highs and lows of emotion over the course of the eventful week.

Even though it didn’t appear the Yankees were interested in signing Didi Gregorius, it was still a gut punch when word spread on Tuesday that he had signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. When it was rumored at the beginning of the week that Didi’s camp would consider a one-year deal, I thought it might increase the chances he’d re-sign with the Yanks. Nope. He’ll get $14 million to have Joe Girardi pencil his name in at shortstop in Philly and for his sake, hopefully the chance to rebuild his value after last year’s disappointment following Tommy John surgery. He’ll re-enter free agency again after the season, likely in position for a multi-year contract if he proves to be the Didi of old although the Phillies could issue him the qualifying offer which would provide some resistance in the market. I have to say for a few hours after hearing about the signing, I was deeply saddened. I really enjoyed Didi’s play both on and off the field.  He has such a great personality and is so immensely  talented in all areas of his life. I loved his dances on the field with teammates. Emotions re-surfaced a bit yesterday when the Phillies officially announced Didi, and he said his goodbyes to Yankee fans on social media. He will be missed.

Nevertheless, we have to move on. I get why the Yankees did not re-sign Didi. Gleyber Torres is certainly a cheaper, more talented option at shortstop, and it opens a position, second base, for D.J. LeMahieu after a year of playing all three infield bags. Now, I hope the Yankees extend LeMahieu so we don’t open a hole at second after the upcoming season like we did when Robinson Cano walked.  The presence of Miguel Andujar and Mike Ford certainly lessen the need for LeMahieu to cover first and third, and no doubt we need LeMahieu in the lineup as much as possible (as Aaron Boone would say, “obviously”). So, the positive with Didi’s departure is what it means for LeMahieu. Of course, the Yankees will need to find someone who can fill his role as the floater behind the infield starters. I like Tyler Wade but I am not sure if he is the one. He still has much to prove although he did show more late last year than I had expected. The other in-house option is Thairo Estrada, who has the support of many fans. I expect a minor trade or free agent signing. Former Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez seems intriguing although he has very limited experience at short. I am probably hopeful Estrada wins the job, although it’s hard to dismiss Wade’s speed and the disruption he can cause on the base paths. He also has the ability to cover play both infield and outfield positions, flexibility that is very hard to find. I look forward to Spring Training to see how this competition plays out. 

So many words typed and I have yet to write the biggest name of the week (except for the top of the page). When I went to bed on Tuesday night, it was unclear where Gerrit Cole would be playing next year. The Yankees remained the favorites and it sounded like the Los Angeles Angels had moved on. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers were still in it, and apparently several mystery teams (although we know the latter is a standard Scott Boras negotiating ploy). As I laid my head on my pillow, I was still carrying the disappointment of the loss of Sir Didi. Around 3 am on Wednesday morning, I woke up and decided to check my phone. Much to my surprise and amazement, I found Gerrit Cole had signed with the Yankees for 9 years and $324 million. Woohoo! We finally got our man.

Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

I’ve wanted Gerrit Cole for literally years. It felt like destiny for him to eventually become a Yankee. I really thought the Yankees had him a couple of years ago in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but when that didn’t happen, I always knew the Yankees would have one more chance when Cole became a free agent. I didn’t necessarily fall for the “he wants to play on the West Coast” narrative. Money seems to be a bigger motivator than location. Yet, I remember how much I wanted Max Scherzer a few years ago or even Patrick Corbin last year, only to come away with disappointment. In Corbin’s case, it was a blessing. He’s good pitcher and his contributions helped win the World Series for the Washington Nationals, but he’s not Gerrit Cole. If he had signed the big $140 million contract with the Yankees instead of the Nats, Hal Steinbrenner may have been less motivated to open his wallet for Cole. It’s easy to say that I prefer to have Cole for the next nine years than Corbin for the next five years remaining on his contract. I’d rather see the Yankees use the money to re-sign James Paxton if he proves the second half of last year was the Big Maple we’ll see going forward. 

According to The New York Post, the Yankees will be announcing Cole on Tuesday. Hopefully it will be a press conference at Yankee Stadium. I haven’t heard any details yet. It seems like it has been a few years since the Yankees have held an event at the Stadium to announce a new player. Most lately seem to be telephone interviews with the media after the announcements are made. I prefer the players in front of cameras, pulling on the famed Pinstriped jersey and hat with the interlocking N-Y. Loved watching Giancarlo Stanton put on the Pinstripes a few years ago. Hopefully we’ll get to see it with Gerrit and his wife Amy. No doubt Scott Boras will be there as he lives for these big moments in the spotlight. 

Speaking of Boras, it’s hard to think of anyone who had a better week than him. He negotiated the contracts for Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon, a total of $814 million. If his fee is 5%, he brought in $40.7 million for the Boras Corporation. He also negotiated the $64 million contract for Mike Moustakas with the Reds and represents free agents Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nick Castellanos, and Dallas Keuchel. I don’t think Scott has to worry about where his next meal is coming from. 

Back to Cole, I am excited he is a New York Yankee. I think his presence on top of the Yankees’ starting rotation is huge. Not only is he a great pitcher, but I think he helps everyone behind him.  Luis Severino no longer has to feel the pressure to be “the man”.  He can be a soon-to-be 26-year old with immense talent who can thrive as the number two behind Cole. When your third and fourth starters are James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka, life is good. I expect Jordan Montgomery to round out the rotation, but honestly, it does not matter who pitches. I know it won’t be J.A. Happ whom we expect to be traded in the coming days to unload his salary or a good chunk of it. I am glad to see Happ go. I am appreciative of how he pitched after the Yankees acquired him in 2018 at the trading deadline, and I know he can still be an effective Major League pitcher, but the Yankees have plenty of options for the fifth starter (Montgomery, Deivi Garcia and Michael King are the names coming to mind immediately). If we need someone at the trade deadline, we’ll get him.

For the last few years, I’ve viewed the starting rotation as a weakness. It is funny how one man can change that perception. Gerrit Cole puts everyone in their right place, giving the Yankees the best starting rotation in the American League and up there with the Washington Nationals as the best in Major League Baseball. 

As for numbers, I would like to see Cole get #45. “Cole 45” is a thing and I’d like it to continue even though it means Louis Linwood Voit III has to find a new number. Voit wore 30 during his college days at Missouri State University and it is available with the departure of Edwin Encarnacion so that’s the number I think Luke should grab. But you could certainly make an argument for other numbers freshly open, like 22 or 28. No, I am not in favor of 69 like many Yankee fans.

Photo Credit: @lukevoit via Instagram

The Yankees suffered another loss, although expected, when backup catcher Austin Romine signed with the Detroit Tigers. I hate to see Romine go but we’re in a ‘now or never’ situation with Kyle Higashioka since he is out of options. No way the Yankees were ever going to pay $4 million for a backup catcher.  So good for Romine to get his money. He’s been a good Yankee and he’ll be missed. He’ll get a chance to start and to mentor Detroit’s young catchers.  Hopefully the pay day and the starting opportunity will help offset the fact he now has Octobers free. While I’d support a signing of Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher last year, Martin Maldonado, I am hopeful Higgy grabs this opportunity to support Gary Sanchez and runs with it. He’s earned the right to have first crack at the job. 

The Yankees also seem likely to lose Dellin Betances at this point. I hate to see it. I’d love to see Dellin back, even on a one-year deal to rebuild value. I hope this is not the end. The Dodgers have apparently emerged as the latest suitor although you can’t count out Joe Girardi and the Phillies given the holes in their bullpen.  I suppose either of those teams would be preferable to the Mets if Dellin does leave. I am not ready for the Bronx native to go and I am sure it will hit me as hard as Didi’s departure if it happens. Kind of reminds me how I felt when Rich “Goose” Gossage signed with the San Diego Padres following the 1983 season. 

I should mention congratulations to Brett Gardner are in order for his new contract with the Yankees. I am not sure that I would have locked in $12.5 million for him regardless of what he has meant for the Yankees, but all things considered, it’s good to have his leadership on the team, particularly since CC Sabathia is no longer there. Gardy gets a $2 million signing bonus and $8 million salary for 2020, and a team option for $10 million in 2021 (which carries a $2.5 million buyout). Let Brett bang. Glad he’ll return, although I would give the temporary starting center field role, until Aaron Hicks returns mid-season, to Mike Tauchman to keep Gardy as the fourth outfielder. Even as the fourth outfielder, Gardy will play. 

I always hate the Rule 5 Draft as teams always try to poach from the Yankees’ farm system. RHP Rony Garcia was the first selection of this year’s draft when he was grabbed by the Detroit Tigers. Most likely, he’ll be able to remain on the Tigers’ MLB roster for the duration of the season, ending his association with the Yankees. Good opportunity for him. There was not a clear path to the Majors with the Yankees. Too much talent ahead of him. So long to the Yankee minor leaguers selected in the Triple A phase since they now belong to their new organizations and will not be coming back: RHP Hobie Harris (Blue Jays), RHP Will Carter (White Sox), RHP Raynel Espinal (Red Sox), and 2B Wendell Rijo (Braves).  I hate seeing the Red Sox nab Yankee prospects. They grabbed RHP Anyelo Gomez last year in the Minor League phase. Good chance we never see these guys in the Major Leagues but I hate the Red Sox.

At this point, there is not much left for the Yankees to do. I expect them to bring in a few guys on minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training.  Yesterday, they signed outfielder Thomas Milone. Milone, 25 in January, was selected in the third round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He carries the rep of an excellent defensive outfielder whose offensive game has been slower to develop. I am sure the Yankees’ Analytics Team sees something in Milone that they’d like to work with. He’ll join outfielder Zack Granite as another depth piece for Spring Training.

Photo Credit:

If I had a wish list for the Yankees, it would be to add another bullpen arm. No doubt Dellin Betances heads my list. Rumors circulated this week about the Yankees’ interest in Milwaukee’s elite reliever, Josh Hader, but the cost seems too high to me. One site was suggesting Luis Severino and Gleyber Torres. Yeah, right. In your dreams. Not sure if the Yankees and Brewers can negotiate a reasonable package, but any deal for Hader would be painful in terms of players lost. It would be amazing to put him with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino et al but I do not feel it is likely to happen. With Blake Treinen off the board (signed with the Dodgers), I am not sure where the Yankees turn if Betances leaves. I really like Ben Heller and I am hopeful that 2020 is his breakout year. I expect the Yankees to bring in competition for backup catcher and infield spots but that’s about it. The heavy lifting has been done with the Cole signing. Anything at this point would be for complimentary pieces and depth only. I don’t think the Yankees will have a shocking Madison Bumgarner type of signing at this point.  I’ve heard people suggest the Yankees should trade for Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, but honestly, we’re fine with Luke Voit, Mike Ford and potentially Miguel Andujar. I really want to see what a healthy Luke Voit can do this year. As for Andujar, there’s always a chance Gio Urshela was a one season wonder. Even if he isn’t, Andujar carries great value as one of the best bats on the team. He is more than capable as a superior DH and potential first base option, in addition to third base play in combo with Gio.  I am not in favor of selling him low even if the Texas Rangers have their eye on him. Now if the Colorado Rockies were interested in sending Nolan Arenado to the Yankees, let’s talk. 

As always, Go Yankees! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

We Got Our Man!!!

Yank’s Agree with Cole!!! 9 Years 324 Million.  

More to come. 


Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Gerrit Cole Watch...

And now we wait…

Will Gerrit Cole wear the famed Pinstripes or will he find refuge in a Southern California town?  I think the vast majority of the Yankees Universe want the long and anticipated addition of Cole to happen although I do not have the stats to show it. With no slight to Stephen Strasburg, an elite pitcher, Cole is the best available free agent pitcher on the market. 

By now, we know the Yankees are targeting a major free agent for what feels like the first time since Masahiro Tanaka. When the Yankees were courting Masa, they went out of their way to show him the Yankees experience. GM Brian Cashman showed a ‘no holds barred’ approach during his recent meeting with Cole and agent Scott Boras, bringing along Manager Aaron Boone, Pitching Coach Matt Blake, and former Yankee great Andy Pettitte. Of course, I temper this knowing that they also brought along Team President Randy Levine, not exactly one of my favorites. Despite Levine's presence, it is clear the Yankees mean business.  

Last year, with free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Yankees fans were mixed and, in retrospect, there was no apparent strong interest from the team other than the obligatory dinners in New York. At the time, so many fans were saying Harper and Machado were “luxuries”. I still take exception to that word. When you haven’t won a championship in a decade, no player is a luxury. Still, I get it. The Yankees were able to get great production from a cheaper alternative in the form of David John LeMathieu. Hats off to the Yankees for identifying a great player without having to pay in excess of $300 million. There’s no doubt in my mind, if the Yankees had paid either Harper or Machado, we wouldn’t even be here talking about Cole despite the Yankees obvious need for an elite starting pitcher. Sure, the Yankees can afford it, but I don’t think they’d be considering the estimated $250-$280 million it will take to land Cole if they had paid $330 million to Harper or $300 million to Machado. In retrospect, it seems the Yankees had their eye on the prize (Cole) last year, a clear need and not a luxury.   

The Yankees have been connected to Cole for a very long time. They drafted him in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft (28th overall), but we all know Cole did not sign, opting to attend UCLA after graduating from Orange Lutheran High School, a comprehensive private Christian co-educational college preparatory high school in Orange, CA despite his childhood status as a Yankee fan.    

Photo Credit: William Perlman, The Star Ledger

Even after the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Cole as the first overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft and signed him, there was always talk that connected Cole to the Yankees. It was apparent the Yankees had a continued interest in him over the years. It reached the epitome a couple of years ago when there was strong speculation the Yankees were going to acquire Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates. For a few days during the 2017-18 off-season, it felt like it was a done deal, but it never came together and the Pirates subsequently dealt Cole to the Houston Astros in January 2018 for what seemed like a lighter return than the Yankees could have offered (Pirates received Michael Feliz, Jason Martin, Colin Moran and Joe Musgrove). I know, the most rumored Yankee name was Clint Frazier, a player over-valued by most Yankee fans and a player the Pirates did not need at the time. I am convinced the Yankees could have found the right mix of players to entice the Pirates, but we’ll never really know unless former Pirates GM Neal Huntington decides to write a ‘tell-all’ book. 

When ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted the other day the Yankees had ownership-level approval to go after Cole, it sent a wave of excitement through the Yankees Universe. After initial excitement, the realist in me knows that nothing is done until Cole’s signature is on the dotted line. There’s still time for the Los Angeles Angels or Los Angeles Dodgers, or some other team, to make a ridiculous offer. We know Cole is going to get more money than any free agent pitcher in history regardless of where he signs. David Price of the Boston Red Sox holds the highest contract value for a pitcher with $217 million, and Zack Greinke of the Houston Astros is the average annual value (AAV) leader at $34,416,667. Once Cole signs, he should be tops in both categories.

want Cole as a member of the New York Yankees, but I am concerned about the potential he does not sign until late January. The Yankees have an urgent need for an elite starting pitcher, particularly with the looming free agencies of James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka next fall, and good starting pitchers are starting to come off the board rapidly. If the Yankees only signed someone like Madison Bumgarner, I’d be happy with the off-season, but there’s no question the drop-off from Cole to Bumgarner is huge. The longer this goes on, the less likely someone like even MadBum is available. There’s the trade route, but I’d say that I am hot and cold about a guy such as Corey Kluber. I know when healthy, he is one of the game’s best but he will also turn 34 early next season. Cole is 29 and won’t turn 30 until next September. I want a pitcher in his prime, not one that is riding the tail end of it.

Yankee fans have loved to talk about Luis Castillo of the Cincinnati Reds and Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox, but both of those teams are improving with solid young teams and would be foolish to part with their potential aces. People like to laugh about the failed attempts of the White Sox to land premium free agents, other than the recently signed catcher Yasmani Grandal, but their farm system is ready to produce great young talent for the Major League team and they are on the cusp of winning. Once they start to win, they’ll become a more attractive destination for premier free agents. Giolito is such a big part of the coming force, same with Castillo in Cincy.   

If the Yankees do sign Gerrit Cole, we can drop the narrative that Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner is cheap. If he was cheap, we would have been the team chasing guys like Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles (with no offense to the Texas Rangers as those guys will help them break in their new stadium) and not an elite talent like Gerrit Cole. Yankee fans are short-sighted (sorry, but, generally speaking, we are). Thankfully, the Steinbrenner Family and GM Brian Cashman have the long-view in mind. If Cole signs, we will be rewarded for their patient approach. 

I’d like to see the Yankees bring the Cole negotiations to an end next week. I know it’s not the Scott Boras way, but it seems like the two sides can get together to produce numbers that work for both sides. I am hopeful for quick resolution so the Yankees can move on to other pressing needs. 

If Cole does become a Yankee, I think Luke Voit should give up #45. Voit has no other connection with the number other than his short tenure with the Yankees. He was #40 in St Louis and as we know, he’s not getting that number. Frankly, there’s been some good numbers come available recently (namely 22, 30, and 33) and there are a couple that might be available in the coming days (18 and 28). If I was Voit, I’d take 22, 28, or 30. Those seem like better “power” numbers for a muscular first baseman anyway. Personally I like 22, even if I couldn’t stand the last guy who wore it and still harbor resentment against a certain Texas right-hander that once wore the number. Surprisingly, I think of former Yankees center fielder Jerry Mumphrey when it comes to number 22.

The Winter Meetings begin tomorrow in San Diego. I doubt we’ll see much activity on Sunday. Many are traveling, including Aaron Boone. By next Thursday, we’ll know if this has been truly the most active off-season in recent memory or if it is another case of all talk and no action. Up to this point, it has been more active. It feels like there are a few major moves ready to break so we’ll soon see.  I am sure the days will fly by next week as we wait with anticipation. Sadly, when Thursday arrives and the meetings conclude, there may be a few Yankee prospects headed to other camps courtesy of the Rule 5 Draft. I think we’ll lose the defensively gifted infielder Kyle Holder among the possibilities. The Yankees will be in the market for an infielder if Didi Gregorius signs elsewhere (looking more and more like he is going to join Joe Girardi in Philadelphia). His departure will make Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada as the likely choice to make the roster as backup shortstop behind Gleyber Torres. It seems like the Yankees will bring another body in Spring Training to strengthen the competition. So, I am expecting a minor trade or signing for an infielder at the very least.   

We also need another strong arm for the bullpen with the potential departure of Dellin Betances.  Betances, like Gregorius, is rumored as a potential option for Girardi and the Phillies. I guess that would be better than Dellin going cross-town to join the Mets. If Dellin leaves, I’d personally prefer to see him to go the Los Angeles Dodgers. My preference, however, is for Dellin to stay. I think of the free agents (Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine, and Betances), Dellin is the one I want to stay the most even if he is still recovering from the Achilles injury. But at this moment in time, from the outside looking in, it appears the only probably returnee will be Brett Gardner. I love Didi, but I’ve accepted the Yankees will be moving on. I just hope the Yankees extend D.J. LeMahieu if they decide to let Didi walk. As a pending free agent, I’d hate to be back searching for a quality second baseman again like we were after Robinson Cano left if LeMachine leaves after next season.  The matter is moot if the Yankees were to acquire Francisco Lindor, but I think the Dodgers are a more likely destination for the Tribe’s ultra-talented shortstop. I liked the job Austin Romine did for the Yankees, but I think the team goes with the cheaper Kyle Higashioka to back up Gary Sanchez. Higgy also seems like a perfect student for catching coordinator Tanner Swanson with his superior framing skills. I’d hate to see Romine join his father’s old club (Red Sox) so I am hopeful if he leaves, he goes home to sunny Southern California.

I wonder if we’ll hear about the next destination for former Yankees bench coach Josh Bard. He left his position with the Yankees in November to pursue jobs closer to his Colorado home, but I’ve not heard any updates. It seems weird that his departure has been so quiet and that he did not have an immediate job to go to. I am glad to see the elevation of infield/quality control coach Carlos Mendoza to bench coach. He has been a very loyal employee of the Yankees organization for a long time and it’s good to see recognition for the excellent work he has done. Hopefully his partnership with Boone will be as strong as the Boone-Bard connection (or better). 

Photo Credit: AP

Lastly, we’ll hear tomorrow who has been elected to MLB’s Hall of Fame by the Modern Baseball Era Committee. The candidates are Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons and Lou Whitaker. Sadly, I’ve come to the realization that it is probable neither Munson nor Mattingly will receive at least 75% of the vote. It’s sad for me. Growing up watching Munson, he was such a wonderful player to follow and admire before his tragic death at age 32. To me, he was the heart and soul of those championship clubs in the ‘70’s. Contrary to Reggie Jackson’s words, I always felt that Thurman was the straw that stirred the drink. He was easily my favorite player as a kid. I always wondered if the 1981 World Series would have had a different outcome if Thurman had lived. His passion to be the best was so strong. I keep hoping that they’ll elect Thurman to the Hall, but, disappointingly, I do not think it will happen. I hope I am wrong. It would be great to see the former Yankees captain join another recent Yankees captain for the induction ceremony next summer in Cooperstown, New York. 

Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports 

Buckle up, the Winter Meetings are about to start. This should be fun.

As always, Go Yankees!       

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Preparing for Yankees Baseball in December...

Biggest month of the off-season begins in 3, 2, 1…

From a baseball off-season perspective, it’s always good to put the Thanksgiving weekend in the rear view mirror. Generally, there are not too many transactions in November and while there were a few free agent signings and trades this year, the heart of the off-season begins as the calendar page rolls into December.

Like many fans, I continue to hold out hope the Yankees sign one of Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. Realistically, I do not feel the Yankees will be the highest bidder for either pitcher. There’s probably a better chance they go for a guy like Madison Bumgarner if they dip into the free agent pool at all or better yet, make a trade for a young starter with strong upside. My only concern is that Cole and Strasburg can be had for money (something which the Yankees have even if they are bumping up against the highest luxury tax tier) whereas a trade would cost young, talented prospects. I am not trying to “prospect hug”, but if you don’t have to trade Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Albert Abreu or another top pitching prospect, why do it? I’d rather the Yankees part with cash than young players who could one day help the Yankees. Ultimately, I do feel GM Brian Cashman will do the right thing for the organization or at least I can hope. I am sure new pitching coach Matt Blake is helping the analytics team scour organizational pitching in search of the next Shane Bieber. 

Matt Blake, Yankees Pitching Coach

The Yankees over the last few years have shown us they operate within a certain budget and when given the choice, they’ll make financially conservative decisions over spending “stupid money”. As much as I like Cole and Strasburg, I cannot see the Yankees handing out $200 million plus contracts for either pitcher.  It kind of reminds me of back when the Yankees were negotiating with Ron Guidry one year and held him to $900,000 because George Steinbrenner didn’t think pitchers were worth a million dollars per year. I am sure Hal Steinbrenner knows how much he wants to pay for a pitcher and there is a line he is unwilling to cross. My guess is Cole signs with the Los Angeles Angels and given that he has not yet returned to Washington, Strasburg goes home to San Diego. Money outweighs playing at home, sure, but for both, I think their home town teams will be the victors with the most green. 

Max Goldstein took a lot of heat for writing on article on Elite Sports NY yesterday entitled “New York Yankees should pursue Zack Wheeler and Alex Wood”. He provides very compelling reasons for why it’s the more likely outcome for the Yankees given their recent history. Whether or not I’d like that result is irrelevant. It simply stands as a strong possibility. If Wheeler and Wood were to become Yankees, I’d certainly support them. I want Gerrit Cole as much as anybody but the realist in me knows that we need to keep a very open mind regarding the potential actualities for the starting rotation. We are most likely not going to get the big ticket purchases and have to be prepared for players of value and potential. 

I am also prepared to lose Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, and Austin Romine. There’s been talk lately that both Didi and Dellin, and possibly even Romine, could join Joe Girardi in Philadelphia. I hate to be petty, but I’d hate to see that happen. If Didi leaves, I’d prefer to see him go back to Cincinnati. As for Dellin, I’d rather see him join the Los Angeles Dodgers than the New York Mets. I continue to believe that Romine goes to the Los Angeles Angels, like Gerrit Cole. Of the three, I think the loss of Betances will hurt the most. The recent reports about the Yankees’ interest in Kansas City’s Tim Hill or Oakland’s Blake Treinen seem to indicate the Yankees are looking for Dellin’s replacement rather than simply looking to bolster the pen. Didi Gregorius has been one of my favorite Yankees. He was the perfect guy to replace Derek Jeter, and his personality is so enjoyable. I strongly believe 2020 will be a bounce back year for him and I hope it is in Pinstripes. While I know Gleyber Torres is a more than capable shortstop, my preference would be to keep him at second and bring Didi back. If Didi leaves, D.J. LeMahieu can be a free agent next year and we could be back searching for a second baseman next off-season like we were when Robinson Cano left. The Yankees could potentially swing a rumored trade for Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber that would solve the shortstop/second base debate while addressing the starting rotation. No doubt I’d take Lindor over Sir Didi any day of the week regardless of how much I like the latter. However, I don’t think the Lindor/Kluber trade will happen, at least not with the Yankees.   

I am not against the Yankees re-signing Austin Romine. I think he’s been a very good backup for the Yankees and the pitching staff loves him. In my opinion, another team will pay him more than the Yankees are offering and they’ll give him a better line for a starting job.  While Gary Sanchez is the undisputed starter for the Yankees, the need for two quality catchers in today’s game is very important. We’ve seen the Atlanta Braves spend to bring in Travis d’Arnaud, who enjoyed a career resurgence with the Tampa Bay Rays last year, to pair with Tyler Flowers following the retirement of Brian McCann. The Washington Nationals brought back Yan Gomes to pair with Kurt Suzuki.  While I think Kyle Higashioka can be that guy, we don’t really know until he proves he can be. I can see the Yankees bringing in catching competition for training camp to see where the chips fall. The depth behind Higgy is not good. The organization’s best catching prospects, Anthony Siegler and Josh Breaux are a couple of years away.

In a perfect world, I’d love to see Gregorius, Betances, and Romine all return to the Yankees next season, while bringing in Cole and Strasburg. Sadly it will not happen and we need to be prepared for none of them to be Yankees.

A controversial topic lately, at least among the Yankees fan base, is if the team should introduce alternative road uniforms. I think the majority, based on what I’ve seen, prefer to remain with the traditional uniforms without exception. While some like the all black uniforms the Yankees wore last year in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, there’s probably no chance the topic is even under discussion or consideration with the Steinbrenner family. For me, I have always loved these road uniforms worn by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. 

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth

There’s no way I’d ever want the Yankees to mess with the home uniform but for the road, who cares?  The most important representation is the interlocking N-Y on the baseball cap. I hate the traditionalist mindset that says, ‘we do it because that’s the way we’ve always done it’. Change is good. I don’t want names on the uniforms so maybe that part of me is a traditionalist, but I have no objection to change for the better. 

Following the release of Greg Bird by the Yankees, it seems that his best course to get back to the Major Leagues is to sign a minor league deal with a training camp invitation. Perhaps some team will offer him a major league contract but I doubt it.  Every MLB team had a chance to claim him on waivers and chose not to. Granted, as a free agent, he’ll come more cheaply than he would have if claimed off waivers, but Bird has much to prove. He needs to find a team that is willing to be patient with him. I wish him the best, and while I will miss his swing, I won’t miss his injury reports. I truly hope he has better luck staying healthy with his next destination. I think my biggest fear is that he goes to the Boston Red Sox and becomes the player we always thought he would be.    

Monday is a big day with the 8 pm Eastern deadline for teams to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. A couple of former Yankees are among the list of potential non-tender candidates…Brandon Drury and John Ryan Murphy.  I wouldn’t be opposed to a reunion with either player. I know both have underperformed since leaving the Yankees but I liked both when they were here and I continue to hold the optimism they could succeed in the right environment. I’d like to see what new catching coordinator Tanner Swanson could do with Murphy.   

A week from Sunday is the start of Baseball’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, CA.  No doubt San Diego would love to dominate the local headlines with a Strasburg signing during the Meetings. It feels like this year’s meetings should be more active than last year. The off-season so far has been more active even if the Yankees have been relatively quiet. I guess we’ll soon find out. Time will tell if Hal Steinbrenner intends to deliver us a few Christmas presents early. 

I hope everyone had an enjoyable and memorable Thanksgiving! It’s a beautiful time to spend with friends and family.

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Where Do We Go From Here?...

A Week of Surprises for the Yankees…

The biggest news of the week was the release of Jacoby Ellsbury which was met with celebration by most Yankee fans. It’s probably the most united I’ve seen the Yankees fan base on Social Media for a very long time. I know that I’ve been anti-Ellsbury for quite some time, but I’ll admit that I do feel badly for Ellsbury the man even if I wasn’t fond of the player. I do wish him much success going forward even if I am excited about the Yankees’ decision to move on and allow the roster spot to go to a talented young prospect who might actually help the team one day.   

When the Yankees signed Ellsbury to the seven-year deal for $153,000,000 in the 2013-14 off-season after losing free agent Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, it felt wrong. It seemed like every year, Jacoby Ellsbury, while a member of the Boston Red Sox, was missing time with injuries. Sure, he had the one great year in 2011 but he was never able to replicate it. When he became a free agent, the Red Sox made no public attempt to retain the player. I liked Ellsbury when he was on the field, but sadly, that was the challenge. He was a huge risk from the moment he signed that mega-deal.  

It’s been two years since Ellsbury put on a Yankees uniform and I figured it was only a matter of time until the Yankees made the decision to cut their biggest mistake in recent memory. On Wednesday, before the 8 pm deadline to finalize the 40-man roster, I read Ellsbury’s contract was not covered by insurance for 2020. As soon as I read that, I knew the Yankees would be releasing Ellsbury so I wasn’t surprised when it happened. I had reached the point where I didn’t really care if Ellsbury was healthy for 2020 and capable of providing at least what he gave the Yankees in 2014, I knew I didn’t want him on my team. The Yankees need a center fielder with Aaron Hicks sidelined after Tommy John surgery, but there’s no way I wanted Ellsbury competing for playing time (not that I actually believe he’ll be ready).  

Frankly, missing two years of Major League Baseball is a long time. Last Spring, we saw an unsuccessful attempt by Troy Tulowitzki to make a comeback after missing so much time. Tulo had heart and wanted to be a Yankee, yet he couldn’t make it. If Ellsbury does try to sign with a team, I think he’ll stay close to his Scottsdale, AZ home. The San Francisco Giants, seemingly forever in search of outfielders, train in Scottsdale and appear to be a logical destination. But I could see any one of the teams who train in Arizona as possibilities if they are willing to take a chance.  From my perspective, Ellsbury should retire. But ultimately, he’s not a Yankee and I am happy regardless of Ellsbury’s next job in or out of baseball.

After releasing Ellsbury, the Yankees have taken severe public relations heat when word spread they do not intend to pay Ellsbury his salary for 2020 due to the use of non-approved doctors for his rehabilitation. Including the 2021 buyout, the Yankees owe Ellsbury a total of $26,142,857. There’s a fight with the MLB Players’ Union looming as Ellsbury is expected to file a grievance, but the Yankees must feel they have a legally defensible argument to make this decision. I am not sure how this will play out. I am certainly not making assumptions that the Yankees will not be paying any of the monies owed to Ellsbury or that his 2020 salary will not count for luxury tax purposes. Either he’ll win his grievance or the Yankees will fold to public pressure. I am not sure the cost of victory is worth it in the long run even if $26 million is a helluva lot of money for any team including the Yankees. The top available free agent, Gerrit Cole, shares the same agent (Scott Boras) as Ellsbury. I don’t think Boras would let the contentious situation with Ellsbury affect his negotiations to get Cole the most money even if the highest offer was from the Yankees. However, I’d prefer the Yankees not engage in a battle with the game’s best and most feared agent.

Photo Credit: John Minchillo, AP

In the flurry of moves to finalize the 40-man roster, the Yankees also announced they had designated Greg Bird and Nestor Cortes, Jr for assignment. Bird was a bit of a surprise given the long leash the Yankees have given him over the course of his Yankees career. I was frustrated with Bird’s inability to stay healthy but I thought the Yankees would give him another shot next Spring. There’s a chance he clears waivers and the Yankees re-sign him to a minor league deal so it’s not necessarily the end of his time in Pinstripes until it is. Cortes, Jr was a nice guy to have last season with his variety of arm angles and overall effectiveness as the long man for Chad Green’s opening assignments. But, unfortunately for him, he is disposable and not as valuable as the pitchers the Yankees needed to protect (Deivi Garcia, Nick Nelson, Miguel Yajure, Luis Medina, Brooks Kriske, and Luis Gil). I think there’s a greater chance, if they are not dealt away in trades, that Bird clears waivers than Cortes, Jr. Somebody will take a chance on him. A rebuilding team in need of a fifth starter could view him as a good option.  

In retrospect, it appears the Yankees should have let former pitching coach Larry Rothschild go after the 2017 season when Joe Girardi was fired. While Rothschild has a solid reputation in baseball as a good pitching coach and baseball man, there are indications modern analytics may have passed him by. While he was seemingly receptive toward analytics, it appears that he didn’t fully understand how to apply them to certain pitchers. Word was leaked the Yankees had to go around Larry last season to work with James Paxton which led to the pitcher’s turnaround after a disappointing start. You can’t help but wonder what Sonny Gray could have done with a pitching coach like new coach Matt Blake. There’s part of me that believes Gray lacks the mental toughness necessary to succeed in New York, but on the other hand, he is a pitcher with talent as he showed last year in Cincinnati. I guess we’ll never know but I am optimistic about what Blake can do with current Yankee pitchers. The poster child for me is Michael King. We know King has the talent and by all accounts, he is one of the most prepared pitchers in the organization and he has history with Blake. He might not be the most talented pitcher but he might be the smartest (somewhat like David Cone in my mind). Not that I am expecting King to win a rotation spot next Spring, but I think he’ll be one the first names called when the Yankees need rotation help. He has a chance to be Blake’s first major success story with the Yankees.

Speaking of coaches, CONGRATULATIONS! to the Yankees for their hire of Rachel Balkovec as a minor-league hitting coach. Earlier in the day, the Chicago Cubs made news with the announcement of their hire of Rachel Folden as a hitting instructor for one of their minor league affiliates. Then came word about the Yankees and Balkovec. Balkovec, only 32, has two master degrees in human movement, and she served as the Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator for the St Louis Cardinals in 2014-15. She also served time in minor league strength and conditioning roles with the Houston Astros.  

Regardless of whether Balkovec or Folden was the first female hired for minor league coaching positions (Balkovec apparently signed her contract on November 8th which allegedly would make her the first), I think it is great for Baseball. Dillon Lawson, the Yankees’ organizational hitting coordinator is quoted in The New York Times as saying, “It’s an easy answer to why we chose Rachel for this role. She’s a good hitting coach, and a good coach, period.”  It seems like we are in the midst of a change in organizational philosophy with the release of so many organizational coaches and the hiring of new age instructors like Balkovec, Blake and catching coordinator Tanner Swanson. I am happy the Yankees are on the cutting edge of change. Welcome to the Yankees family, Rachel!

Back to players, many are surprised that Brett Gardner has not re-signed with the Yankees yet, particularly since he signed so quickly last off-season. I am not reading anything into it. I think it is only a matter of time until the two sides come to an agreement. I don’t really envision Gardy wearing any uniform other than the one he has always worn.

As for the other free agents, there seems to be increasing talk about Didi Gregorius going to Philadelphia Phillies to join up with Joe Girardi. It would allow the Phillies to move Jean Segura out of the shortstop position which would improve their team.  I’d hate to see it, but I do view this as a very strong possibility for Sir Didi. I personally hope the the Yankees can at least sign Didi on a short-term deal to allow him to rebuild his value as I truly believe he’ll be closer to his pre-Tommy John surgery version next season than the post-surgery version who struggled after his return to the field. Like Gregorius, I am also hopeful the Yankees can retain Bronx native Dellin Betances. I am not ready for either player to leave yet, even if it means the Yankees cannot grab the biggest fish on the free agent market.

As for the big fish, there’s no doubt I’d love to have Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg on the Yankees.  But redistributing the money to cover other roles, I’d be okay if the Yankees were to acquire someone like Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians. My primary goal this off-season is to improve J.A. Happ’s spot in the rotation. Of course that means dealing Happ (and including a good prospect or two to make it happen), but I feel it’s critical to get better. I’d love a pitcher that is capable of being the team’s ace to take pressure off James Paxton and Luis Severino, but they need another pitcher that is capable of standing in the same room with Paxton, Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka. We’re not getting Lucas Giolito (the Chicago White Sox have shown they are ready to take it to the next level with the serious cash they’ve thrown at Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal). Similarly, I don’t feel the Yankees will be able to pry Luis Castillo away from the Cincinnati Reds. Yet, I am sure there is a pitcher out there destined for Pinstriped success and I am sure Brian Cashman will find him, whoever he may be.

Even if the Yankees make a competitive offer for Cole, I can’t really see them waiting until late January or early February to see if they are successful in landing the prized pitcher. I think they’ll make the move for the best available option sooner rather than later. I’ll be a bit disappointed if Robbie Ray is the best we can do, but I am more than willing to see how this plays out. There’s always the chance that Cash shocks us all with a surprise acquisition.

I am not really expecting much baseball news for the next week or so with the Thanksgiving holiday upon us. While this off-season has seemingly been more active than last year (at least for the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox), there probably won’t be much happening until the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego, CA next month (December 8-12). On a side note, as much as I love California, I prefer for the Winter Meetings to be in the Eastern time zone.  

Although we probably won’t see it until next off-season but I’d like to see the Yankees extend Aaron Boone. When Boonie was named the Yankees manager, it was reported that his contract was for three years with an option for a fourth. Next season will be Year 3, and while there’s no doubt in my mind the Yankees will pick up the option for 2021, I’d rather see Boone given certainty and financial security for the years ahead. The first manager to win 100 games in his first two seasons and a guy who has shown continual improvement, there’s not really anybody I’d rather see at the helm than Aaron Boone. His playoff exit last year was at the hands of the cheating, lying, trashy organization known as the Houston Asterisks. With bench coach Josh Bard apparently out, we’ll see how Boone meshes with new bench coach Carlos Mendoza although I am excited about the pairing. I do believe we’ll see World Series success with Boone in charge.

I get that Derek Jeter should be unanimously selected to the MLB Hall of Fame Class of 2020, I am not going to get worked up if he is not. I have no doubt he’ll gain entry with greater than 98% of the vote and it’s a certainty we’ll be celebrating the induction of the former Yankees shortstop into Cooperstown next summer. So, despite whatever the final vote may be, I’ll be happy to see Jeter’s placement among the greatest ever to play the game. I am hopeful the Veterans Committee selects Thurman Munson to go into the Hall with Jeter.  

As always, Go Yankees!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Brett Gardner WILL Get a Plaque in Monument Park (Opinion)

When I made the above tweet, I had no idea how much discussion and general uproar that it would start among Yankees Twitter. On a lazy Monday night in mid-November when there was no Yankees-related news to really be found, I found myself defending the fact that the New York Yankees will likely give Brett Gardner a plaque inside Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park before it is all said and done. Do I believe that he deserves one? That is up for debate, and something I will try to determine over the course of this post, but whether I believe he deserves one is irrelevant. If history is any indicator of the future, Gardner’s bald head, goofy smile, and #11 uniform number will all be on a plaque inside Yankee Stadium during my lifetime.

Now before the outrage starts and before we start unfollowing me on Twitter, @GreedyStripes for the shameless plug, let me explain my thought process behind this. At one point and time, Monument Park and the subsequent retired numbers that generally came with being a legendary New York Yankee was an exclusive club. Names like Miller Huggins (the first ever inducted into Monument Park, trivia time), Lou Gehrig, Jacob Ruppert, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Thurman Munson, Elston Howard, Roger Maris, Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin, Lefty Gomez, Whitey Ford, Bill Dickey, and Yogi Berra, to name a few, were scattered throughout the center field area of Yankee Stadium, rivaling the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

And then George Steinbrenner and crew came along and kind of watered it down a bit.

When the Boss took over as the owner of the New York Yankees the dilution of the retired uniform numbers, the plaques or monuments inside Monument Park, and the Yankees captaincy, among other things, slowly began to mean less and less. At least in my opinion. Monument Park went from being a shrine to not only the greatest Yankees to ever play or touch the game, but some of the best in the sport to ever leave their mark on the game that we all love. Sure, under George’s tenure the Yankees added plaques or monuments for the likes of Ron Guidry, Allie Reynolds, Bob Sheppard, Red Ruffing, Jackie Robinson, and others… but there were also a few questionable decisions in there as well along the way.

Reggie Jackson played a whopping five years for the New York Yankees, 1977 – 1981. Sure, Reggie won a couple World Series championships with the New York Yankees, and yes, I am well aware that he hit three home runs in three at-bats while doing so, but still. There is no way that Reggie deserves a plaque in Monument Park, let alone his number retired by the club. Not after the “Bronx is Burning” years of feuds with then manager Billy Martin, and not after he dipped town after just one contract with the Yankees. Sure, Reggie had five great seasons in the Bronx averaging a .281/.371/.526/.897 quad slash while averaging around 30 home runs and over 100 RBI per season with a cumulative 17.2 WAR, but is that deserving of having his number retired and having a plaque inside Monument Park? Well, that’s debatable. In my opinion, the answer is no, but I respect if anyone else wants to say yes. I am well aware of the Yankees World Series drought before Reggie arrived on the scene, and if that weighs into the decision more than it should, fine… but what about Phil Rizzuto?

Now while the comparison may not be exactly fair, Rizzuto lost the 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons to World War II and his service with the US Navy, this may be the closest comparison that we can come up with. Gardner has played in 12 seasons with the Yankees while Rizzuto played in 13 and the stats are pretty similar. Again, not comparing the players... but I am comparing the stats. Gardner never won an MVP like Rizzuto did in 1950, and Gardner never finished second like Scooter did in 1949. I am comparing THE STATS while keeping in mind, again in my opinion, that the requirements for Monument Park have been watered down a bit over the years. 

Gardner career: .260/.342/.401/.743 with 124 HR, 524 RBI, 41.6 WAR, 12.5 dWAR.
Rizzuto career: .273/.351/.355/.706 with 38 HR, 563 RBI, 40.8 WAR, 22.9 dWAR. 

I am in no way saying Gardner is Phil Rizzuto, or even better than the Yankees he is likely to pass in 2020 assuming he comes back and has a productive season (a 1.6 WAR in 2020 would put him past Don Mattingly and Jorge Posada, and within striking distance of Thurman Munson… all who have plaques inside Monument Park), but what I am saying is that I can see the Yankees giving Gardner his spot inside Monument Park before it is all said and done. If you can make a case for Rizzuto being in there, and Reggie Jackson being there, Jorge Posada being there (check the stats… Gardner is right there with Jorgie statistically and in five less seasons), etc., then you can at least make the argument that Gardner will be there as well.

And while we are on the subject, where is Roy White Day and his plaque inside Monument Park? Talk about a travesty.