Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Meet the 2019 Yankees: Brett Gardner

The New York Yankees may or may not be cheap, may or may not be trying to win a World Series in 2019, may or may not have been on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado all along, but one thing you cannot say about this organization is that it is not loyal. Ask Brett Gardner. Gardner lost his starting job in 2018 and was still re-signed for the 2019 season, presumably to see the bulk of the starting time in left field. Let’s meet the longest current tenured Yankees player on the team, Mr. Brett Gardner.

Brett Gardner, 35-years old, is a left-handed outfielder that has predominantly played center field and left field for the New York Yankees. Gardner has an uppercut swing that can produce 10-20 home run power inside of Yankee Stadium along with an exceptionally patient approach at the plate. Gardner, standing at 5’11” and weighing in at 195 lbs., will work the count, see a lot of pitches, and take his walks when they are given to him making him the perfect candidate to either hit at the top of the Yankees batting order, or towards the bottom to give the Yankees two lead-off type options back-to-back.

Brett Michael Gardner was born on August 24, 1983 in Holly Hill, South Carolina where he attended Holly Hill Academy and played for the school’s baseball team. Gardner was not given a scholarship to attend college and instead walked on at the College of Charleston in 2001. Gardner won a spot on the team and became a three-year starter for the College of Charleston Cougars before the New York Yankees drafted the speedy outfielder in the third round, 109th overall, of the 2005 MLB First Year Players Draft. Gardner received a $210,000 signing bonus and immediate began his professional career in the New York-Penn League.

Gardner was a Florida State League All-Star in 2006 with the Tampa Yankees and by 2007, despite missing time with a broken hand, Gardner made it all the way to Triple-A and the Arizona Fall League. Gardner was on the cusp of the big leagues in 2008 and would finally receive that promotion call on June 30 to make his MLB debut against the Texas Rangers. The Yankees would later acquire outfielder Xavier Nady, thus pushing Gardner back down to the Minor Leagues, in 2008, although Brett was called back up later and finished the season in New York. Gardner impressed the Yankees in 2008 and continued to do so in the spring of 2009, winning the Opening Day center field job for the club. Gardner helped lead the Yankees to the 2009 World Series championship over the Philadelphia Phillies. Gardner was shifted to left field starting in 2010 and won a Fielding Bible Award there. Gardner was named the Yankees lead-off hitter starting in 2011, although he struggled in the role and was demoted to the bottom third of the order until an injury to Derek Jeter forced him back to the top of the lineup. Gardner won his second consecutive Fielding Bible Award in 2011 and also led the American League in stolen bases with 49, tying Coco Crisp.

Gardner underwent right elbow surgery on July 24, 2012 to remove a bone spur and some inflamed tissue and his season was in jeopardy. Gardner was able to return to the club after a setback in his rehab and finished the season playing just 16 games for the Yankees, posting a .323 average with two stolen bases and three RBI. Gardner returned to center field in 2013 after Curtis Granderson fractured his right forearm during a spring training game, and after the season the Yankees center fielder earned a four-year extension worth $52 million from the team beginning in 2015. Gardner rewarded the Yankees with a strong 2014 season and a career high in home runs with 17, all despite a rectus abdominis muscle injury that hampered him for much of the second half of the season and the same injury that required surgery after the year. Gardner was named an American League All-Star reserve in 2015 and won his first Gold Glove Award in 2016 as a left fielder.

Gardner was an integral part of the Yankees 2017 season and their march to the ALCS against the Houston Astros. The Yankees would get within one game of the World Series before falling to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros. Gardner began taking a step back in 2018 as Father Time may have begun to catch up with the speedy Yankees left fielder. Gardner saw his playing time decrease after the Yankees acquired Andrew McCutchen and saw his statistics drop to an all-time low as an everyday player. Gardner’s team option was declined for the 2019 season, but the team ultimately brought him back for at least one more season, signing him to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million. Now Gardner will look to turn things around and finish his career strong, either as an everyday left fielder for the Yankees, in a platoon with a guy like Clint Frazier, or on the bench behind a guy like (dream big or don’t dream at all) Bryce Harper.

Good luck Gardy, I look forward to the Gardy Party all season long…

Meet the 2019 Yankees: Miguel Andujar

“Call me.” Miguel Andujar said that to Gleyber Torres a whole lot throughout the 2018 season, and he presumably hopes to do a lot more of it as we approach the 2019 season. Andujar and Torres made that their “thing” last season, telling the other one to call them if they needed a hit, and Andujar did a whole lot of that last season, leading the powerful Yankees in hitting as a rookie. What will Andujar do for a follow up? Stay tuned, but until then let’s get reacquainted with the man that made the Yankees comfortable enough to pass on a generational talent like Manny Machado this winter. Mr. Miguel Andujar.

Miguel Andujar, 23-years old for a few more days, is a right-handed hitting and throwing third baseman in the New York Yankees organization and, to many, the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner. Andujar is a high-contact guy that doesn’t strike out a lot. Andujar puts the ball in play, but it seemed at times that no matter what pitch was thrown, or where it was thrown, that Andujar was going to swing at it regardless in 2018. If Andujar can work on hit pitch recognition a bit and improve his walks he could truly go from a great hitter, to a special kind of hitter. Andujar, 6’0” and 215 lb., is a tough out regardless and is a huge component of the Yankees offense, and the future here in New York.

Miguel Enrique Andujar was born on March 2, 1995 in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic where the New York Yankees snatched him off the international free agent market in July of 2011. Andujar destroyed minor league pitching in the Yankees organization and even attended the Arizona Fall League for New York after the 2016 season before being promoted all the way to Triple-A during the 2017 season. Andujar lasted just seven games in Triple-A with the RailRiders before the Yankees called him up to make his MLB debut on June 28, 2017. Andujar spent one game in the majors before being sent back down to Scranton to continue working as a third baseman before being called back up on September 16 as a part of September call-ups.

Andujar went to Yankees spring training camp looking to win the starting third base job in 2018 but was ultimately sent down to Triple-A to start the season after the trade that brought Brandon Drury to the Bronx. Andujar refused to relinquish the job after being called up, this beginning an assault on Major League hitting that included setting the all-time Yankees rookie record for doubles in a season, breaking a record held by some dude named Joe DiMaggio. Andujar finished the season second in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting behind Shohei Otani of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after putting up a .297/.328/.527 triple slash for New York.

Again, what will Andujar do in his sophomore season? Can he be better than he was in 2018? I think so, but to know for sure you will just have to stay tuned…

Much Ado, Machado, About Nothing...

Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson-Associated Press
Manny Machado and the Pinstriped Dreams Vanish…

After waiting all off-season with the hope that Manny Machado would wear the famed Pinstripes, it was not meant to be. C’est la vie. I’ve heard people say they can’t believe Hal Steinbrenner was outbid by the small market San Diego Padres. But that would imply the Yankees made a bid which they apparently did not.  I can’t blame the Yankees for passing on a 10-year, $300 million deal. Manny’s a great player but he’s not the best player in baseball. I don’t blame Hal Steinbrenner or the Yankees for passing on Manny at that price. I thought he made sense in the low 200’s or on a short-term deal with high AAV but not $30 million per year for the next ten years. He’s not exactly Alex Rodriguez in his prime. 

Best case scenario, if he was not coming to the Yankees, was for Manny to sign with the West Coast Padres. I am glad that he’s out of the American League and away from any Northeastern city. I didn’t really want to see him go to the Chicago White Sox or the Philadelphia Phillies. It is kind of funny that Machado will have to visit Yankee Stadium this year. The Padres will be in New York on Memorial Day, May 27th, for three days. There’s no doubt Machado will receive more than a few Bronx cheers. Even though the Yankees never really made a formal offer, I expect the home crowd to treat Machado something like Oakland did when their former star Jason Giambi returned to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum wearing Pinstripes for the first time, only worse.    

Photo Credit: Associated Press
While I feel Manny would have made the Yankees better, they are still a very, very good team. I am fully anticipating a dog fight with the defending champion Boston Red Sox again this season and would have liked every conceivable advantage or edge over the Beantown Bunch, which Machado certainly would have provided. But, he’s not here, and we move on. In the AL East, I feel the Yankees are the better team but I’d be foolish to think the Red Sox are going away, even if nobody likes their bullpen on paper.  At the end of the day, the Yankees bullpen might not be as great as everyone thinks (there will be the inevitable bumps in the road) and the Boston pen might not be as bad. Regardless of what happens, I am sure the Yankees and Red Sox will be jockeying for position deep into September.   

The most attractive free agent on the market, Bryce Harper, remains available but the Yankees have never been connected to him this off-season at any point like they were with Machado (much to the chagrin of the Yankees fan base). Not only is Harper an excellent player, he has that star quality about him (the “it” factor). Bryce is deserving of a contract equal to or greater than the one Machado received from the Padres. Given that Giancarlo Stanton’s huge deal with the Miami Marlins a few years ago (13 years for $325 million) was an extension, Machado’s contract is considered the most lucrative free agent contract in MLB history. Still, I am sure Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, has every intent to beat the dollar value of Stanton’s deal. While it would make sense for Harper to receive a 10-year, $325 million contract, I’ll take the over with the involvement of Boras. Perhaps Bryce signs a deal for $330 or $335 million or even a little higher. I’d argue that even these dollars make sense for the Yankees. They can certainly afford it while still paying its pending free agents and extending other young players as they reach arbitration like they did with ace Luis Severino. The Yankees are not exactly tapped out on capital like the Chicago Cubs apparently are.  I am not getting my hopes up about Harper or any last-minute play by the Yankees but signing him does make sense to me.  Drop Harper in the batting order between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and let’s go. I’d love to see what that lineup could do to the American League. 

Photo Credit: Katherine Frey
The Steamer projection for Harper in the 2019 season is 34 home runs and 93 RBIs with a batting line of .267/.399/.528 and .927 OPS. His WAR is projected at 4.8, which is well below guys like Mike Trout (8.5) and Mookie Betts (7.2) but above Stanton (4.4) and Judge (4.6). Steamer projects Harper to have the second best wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) at 148, trailing only Trout (180). I don’t need to lay out Brett Gardner’s projected stats to say those numbers would represent a huge upgrade in left field. Probably the only way that Harper doesn’t make sense is if the plan is play Stanton in the field more this year. All I know is we need a better option than Brett Gardner.  It would be wonderful if Clint Frazier shows that he is up for the task and can stay healthy. I’d love for him to grab the position from Gardy, who fits this roster best as its fourth outfielder. Given the players in camp right now, Frazier is the best option. The downside, if Frazier misses any time with injury, there’s not much in the way of a backup plan other than start Gardy every day or play Stanton in the field (which is always a risk for a player that carried the injury label until his huge 2017 NL MVP season). 

The current players on the projected 25-man roster that scare me the most are Frazier (for health concerns), Troy Tulowitzki (health concerns, rust, age regression), Greg Bird (health concerns, inability to hold sustained success), and Luis Cessa (not very good, self-explanatory). If Tulo is not up to the task and shows that he cannot recapture past success, the Yankees can easily move Gleyber Torres to shortstop and insert DJ LeMahieu as the starting second baseman. The downside is the lack of a strong utility player under that scenario. The best roster option appears to be Tyler Wade who, to date, has not really shown much at the Major League level. I had hoped for a strong glove-first signing like Adeiny Hechevarria but the New York Mets scooped him up a few days ago. Maybe Wade can prove to be the guy or perhaps Thairo Estrada can show something in camp now that he’s healthy. If Bird fails, I am not too concerned. I think Luke Voit will hold his own at first base. The ideal scenario, to me, is for Bird to outperform Voit and get his left-handed bat into the lineup. For as critical as I’ve been of Bird, there’s no question he has a beautiful swing.  Bird has the talent to succeed even if we’ve grown impatient waiting for it to happen but Voit is no slouch and I do feel that he’ll build off his successful late season run last year and not turn out to be the latest incarnation of Kevin Maas. I am not crazy about going into the season with Cessa as the designated swingman in the bullpen. I’d prefer for Jonathan Loaisiga to overcome the health concerns that engulf his potential and have him break camp as part of the Opening Day roster. I’ve seen enough of Cessa and I’m ready to move on. While I think Cessa could be better in short relief, I don’t really want to see him as the team’s emergency starter. Since he’s out of options, Cessa either must make the team or pack his bags. Despite his faults, he would be claimed on waivers by another team. I’d prefer a trade to at least get something for him. The Yankees are expected to made trades for additional bonus pool money so it’s possible Cessa could be part of that quest. It wouldn’t break my heart.

I am enjoying the Danny Farquhar story like everyone else but it seems to me his only hope to make the Opening Day roster is to outperform Tommy Kahnle.  Farquhar is a short reliever so he’s not an option for the last bullpen spot (long man/spot starter) which presently appears to be Cessa. With nothing against Farquhar, I really hope Kahnle proves during spring training that he can be the dependable reliever he was in 2017. Sure, if Kahnle is a disaster again like last year, let Farquhar take his job but I really hope that’s not the case. I’ve been a Kahnle fan since his early days in the Yankees’ farm system and I’d really like to see him be a valuable and contributing member of Baseball’s best bullpen. 

As tough as it was to see former Yankees great Jorge Posada in Marlins camp wearing their new gear, I am grateful Carlos Beltran is in Yankees camp. He has so much to offer the young players. I can’t help but think top prospect Estevan Florial benefits the most from Beltran’s presence and that’s a wonderful thing. Clint Frazier is certainly another player who would be wise to pick Beltran’s brain. Beltran may not have the Yankees pedigree like Posada, but he’s an invaluable resource and the game is better with his involvement in any capacity. 

I am really looking forward to Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, FL.  The downside is that we’ll see names like Ryan Lavarnway, Billy Burns and/or Matt Lipka but at least it will be “Yankees” on the field playing the game of baseball as opposed to us watching videos of PFP or the coaches playing fungo with the infielders on practice fields.

Lastly, I was saddened to see the passing of former Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers great Don Newcombe yesterday. The Dodgers announced Newcombe died Tuesday morning at age 92 following a lengthy illness.  Newcombe was MLB’s first black pitcher to win 20 games. He accomplished the feat in 1951, after winning 17 and 19 games the preceding two years (including earning NL Rookie of the Year honors for the 17-win campaign in 1949). He helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1955 but his greatest season was the next year when he finished 27-7 with 3.06 ERA. He had 12 complete games and 5 shutouts. He won the NL Cy Young and MVP Awards that year, but lost the deciding Game 7 of the 1956 World Series to the Yankees, giving up two early home runs to Yogi Berra. For his career, “Newk” was 149-90 with 1,129 strikeouts and a 3.56 ERA over a 10-year MLB career.  Missed two seasons in the early 1950’s to serve our military in the Korean War. He was a great Dodger and a better man. May he rest in peace. 

Photo Credit: Luis Sinco-Los Angeles Times
As always, Go Yankees! 

Meet the 2019 Yankees: Didi Gregorius

The New York Yankees will be without their starting shortstop for at least a portion of the 2019 season, but that doesn’t mean we are going to leave him out of our introductions. Didi has already begun a throwing program as a part of his rehab with Tommy John surgery and looks to be on track for a July or August return to the club. The Yankees have depth around Didi and can afford to give Gregorius all the time that he needs to fully heal and recover, so while he does that let’s get reacquainted with the emoji man himself. Sir Didi Gregorius.

Didi Gregorius, recently 29-years old, is a left-handed batting and right-handed throwing shortstop that came over to the New York Yankees to replace the legendary Derek Jeter. Didi, all 6’3” and 205 lbs. of him, is a very aggressive hitter at the plate and has all the tools to hit .300 and 30 home runs in a season, especially playing his home games inside of Yankee Stadium. Didi is under 30% with his swings and misses and is more than happy to take his walks and keep the line moving in the Yankees lineup. I, myself, deemed him the best complete hitter in the Yankees lineup before the 2018 season and even had him hitting 3rd in the lineup, a comment and opinion that I was absolutely grilled for on Twitter and in the blog… well, until it became a reality for Aaron Boone and the team that season.

Sir Mariekson Julius “Didi” Gregorius was born on February 18th, 1990 (happy belated to Didi) in Amsterdam, Netherlands to Johannes Gregorius Sr. and Sheritsa Stroop. At the time of Didi’s birth, his father pitched for the Amsterdam Pirates in Honkbal Hoofdklasse while also working as a carpenter. His mother, Stroop, played for the Dutch national softball team while his older brother, Johannes, Jr., pitched professionally in Honkbal Hoofdklasse as well as the Italian Baseball League. Didi had baseball in his blood and began playing tee-ball in the Netherlands before being moved at the age of five to Curacoa. Didi adopted the nickname because his teammates could not pronounce his given name, Mariekson. It probably wasn’t an issue for Gregorius, given the fact that he speaks four different languages including English, Dutch, Papiamentu, and Spanish. That, along with his on-the-field play, caught the eye of the Cincinnati Reds who signed Didi as an amateur free agent in 2007. Didi chose the Reds over other suitors, including the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, because of Cincinnati’s willingness to start Gregorius in the United States rather than the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer Leagues. Gregorius worked his way through the Reds minor league system until he earned a September call-up on September 1, 2012. Gregorius played in eight games for the Reds that season and was assigned to the Arizona Fall League following the season.

With Didi being blocked at shortstop by Zack Cozart, the Reds ultimate traded Gregorius to the Arizona Diamondbacks as a part of a three-team trade involving the Cleveland Indians. The Reds sent Gregorius along with Drew Stubbs in exchange for Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald. The Indians then sent Gregorius to Arizona with reliever Tony Sipp and infielder Lars Anderson for pitchers Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers. Gregorius played 103 games for the Diamondbacks in 2013 before heading into camp with the Diamondbacks in 2014 to compete for the starting job with Chris Owings. Owings ultimately won the job out of spring and Didi began the season back in Triple-A, although an injury to Cliff Pennington brought Gregorius back to the big-league club for the remainder of the 2014 season.

The Yankees needed a shortstop after the retirement of Derek Jeter, and they set their eyes on Gregorius. The Yankees, in another three-team trade, sent young pitcher Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers while receiving Gregorius back from the Diamondbacks. Detroit then sent Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba to Arizona. Gregorius struggled out of the gate for the Yankees in 2015, but eventually turned it around to have a good season. Gregorius really took off for the Yankees in 2016, finishing the season with a .276 average with 20 home runs and 70 RBI, including a career high in hits (155), doubles (32), home runs (20), and RBI (70). Gregorius would miss the beginning of the 2017 season after injuring his shoulder in the World Baseball Classic. Gregorius was activated on April 28 and immediately began assaulting opposing pitchers to the tune of a .286 average with 25 home runs and 87 RBI, all while missing the entire first month of the season. Didi did not stop hitting home runs in the postseason in 2017 either as the Yankees shortstop hit a game-tying three-run home run in the first inning of the 2017 American League Wild Card Game after the Minnesota Twins had taken an early 3-0 lead. Didi hit two home runs off Corey Kluber in the ALDS Game 5 as well, leading the Yankees within one game of the 2017 World Series before falling to the eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros.

Didi finished the 2018 season with over 20 home runs for the third straight season, but by the time the Yankees were eliminated in the American League Division Series at the hands of the Boston Red Sox the team announced that Didi would require Tommy John surgery on his throwing right elbow. Didi is expected to be out until July 1st at the earliest, but more than likely until August of this season. Until then, Troy Tulowitzki will try and keep his shortstop position warm for him. Get well soon, Didi, and we sure will miss you on the field while your elbow mends.

TGP Trivia and Fact of the Day for February 20th, 2019

Good morning Yankees family!!

Can you name the top five Yankees in World Series batting average, among players with at least 40 at-bats?

Highl;ight below to see the answer, but before you do... leave your guesses in the comments below:

Bobby Brown (.439), Reggie Jackson (.400), Hideki Matsui (.389), Thurman Munson (.373), and Lou Gehrig (.361). 

And a special good morning to the most beautiful woman in all the land, my Kari. I love you!