Saturday, October 26, 2019

Is the World Series over yet?...

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated
Preparing for the 2019-20 Hot Stove League…

While many continue to watch the World Series, except for an occasional check-in, the 2019 MLB season ended for me last weekend with the ALCS. It’s hard to get enthused about either the Houston Astros or the Washington Nationals. Sure, the Nationals as a first time participant are a nice story but I don’t really care to see either team win the World Series so let’s just get this over so that we can move on to the Hot Stove League.

It’s hard to not wonder what could have been if the Yankees had taken a better hitting approach against the Astros. Oh well, it was not meant to be. Time to move on and hope the Yankees make a stronger run in 2020. The window remains wide open. This is certainly not the last we’ve heard from this core group of Yankees.

Photo Credit: The New York Post
As much as I would like Gerrit Cole leading the Yankees’ starting rotation next season, the reality is it will never happen. Cole’s agent, none other than the infamous Scott Boras, will ensure that his client becomes very wealthy this winter. I just don’t see Hal Steinbrenner’s willingness to write a blank check. It seems as though this will end like the Patrick Corbin negotiations. The Yankees will host Cole for a visit at Yankee Stadium, they’ll toss him a token offer, and he’ll leave empty handed. Some team is going to throw stupid money at him and it won’t be the Yankees. You can talk all day about how the Yankees can afford it, but that’s not the point. The Yankees are not going to devote so many dollars to one player. They have in-house financial decisions to make. Last off-season they locked up Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks. Granted, both players missed considerable time during the regular season so you can question the wisdom of the moves, but in Severino’s case in particular, he still represents the future. An extension for Aaron Judge seems appropriate this off-season.  I feel Gleyber Torres too but I think the Yankees will wait a season or two before securing the long-time services of the young burgeoning superstar. Judge can be a free agent after the 2022 season so the urgency is beginning to develop for him. Torres can’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season.

The Yankees need an ace. I think Sevy can be that guy, but last year showed you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. James Paxton has shown at times he can be an ace but he needs to show sustained excellence over the course of a long season. I think a very strong #1 starter, followed by Sevy, Big Maple, and Masahiro Tanaka would make for a championship caliber rotation. The question is who the #1 starter would be. Names will develop in the coming weeks. I keep seeing Yankee fans pining for Lucas Giolito but there’s no way the Chicago White Sox, with their abundance of blossoming young talent, will part with their young ace. If they did, they’d need quality, major league-ready talent in return, not prospects years away from the Show. I think there’s a better chance the Yankees could get the Cincinnati Reds to part with Luis Castillo, but even then the price tag will be very high. On the free agent front, Madison Bumgarner certainly represents an option. I am intrigued what he could do on a highly competitive team. I really feel the Yankees would re-energize him so I’d be happy if they were able to land him. I don’t know where Cashman’s search for starting pitching will lead. None of us do. Inevitably, he’ll surprise us.  I just don’t want another season of missed opportunity and Cashman’s statements that he tried. Love or hate Houston, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, has shown the willingness to pull the trigger when it matters. He has two World Series appearances in the last three years to show for it. It’s not that I want Brian Cashman to make stupid decisions or saddle the Yankees with another Jacoby Ellsbury contract albatross. But there are times you have to spend more than you want to get what you need.

The news that Aaron Hicks will miss the next 8-10 months due to Tommy John surgery left me wondering why the Yankees ever brought him back for the ALCS. Sure, the home run was great but in the end, it didn’t matter. I would have preferred to have Hicks for the majority of the 2020 season if he could have had the inevitable surgery earlier.  The news about Hicks brought immediate speculation the Yankees have to re-sign Brett Gardner. I felt the Yankees and Gardner would come together on another one-year deal before the Hicks news and I still feel the same, but I don’t think the vision that he’ll be no more than the fourth outfielder has changed. I think Mike Tauchman has a better chance to be the regular starting option in center field with the possibility that it could be someone not currently on the roster. I really wish Estevan Florial was closer to readiness, but he’s not. I am sure the Yankees’ analytics team is at work trying to discover the next Mike Tauchman, a centerfielder who is undervalued in his current organization but blossoming with hidden talent.  

I am not sure what I think about the “reports” that the Yankees could move Giancarlo Stanton to the Los Angeles Dodgers or Angels, if they can find the right mix of dollars to part with the slugger. I like Stanton and I feel he’s received unfair treatment from the Yankees fan base. Maybe there’s some validity to the criticisms he has received, but I still think he has the Dave Winfield-like ability to carry a team on his back. I’d like to see him stay with the Yankees, and have the opportunity to show he’s “the man” in October. I like Mike Tauchman but there’s no way in the World I’d take him over Stanton in left field.  Stanton needs our support, not the unfair hate directed his way. If he does get traded, I’ll be disappointed, but I will enjoy watching baseball in sunny Southern CA with the Angelino kid crushing pitches in front of his hometown fans. 

Photo Credit:
Not that I think reunions are in store, but two former Yankees quietly became free agents in recent weeks. Chasen Shreve, part of the deal that brought Luke Voit to New York, is a free agent. Giovanny Gallegos has blossomed in the St Louis Cardinals’ bullpen so I doubt the Cards regret their decision to part with Voit, but I do feel bad it didn’t work out for Shreve. Same in San Diego with former Yankees prospect Bryan Mitchell. He was the prospect attached to Chase Headley in the successful contract unload a few years ago. I always liked Mitchell and had really hoped he would thrive in San Diego. He didn’t, and now he’s a free agent. Both are young enough (28 and 29, respectively) to be reclamation projects. Hopefully, for both, they’ll find better success with their next organizations.

Speaking of former Yanks, it was a surprise to see Joe Girardi land in Philadelphia. Granted, all signs started pointing in that direction over the last week or so, but before the Phillies fired manager Gabe Kapler, I felt strongly that Girardi would be the next manager for either the New York Mets or the Chicago Cubs. I never saw him as a Philly guy. I do think he’ll be better for that team than Kapler (okay, that was a statement of the obvious). It’s cool that his bench coach, Rob Thomson, is already in place. There’s been some speculation if he’ll take any of the current Yankee coaches who served under him (bullpen coach Mike Harkey, a close friend, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild). I think Rothschild gets unfair criticism but I’ve long wanted David Cone as the pitching coach so I’d be okay with Rothschild’s departure if it meant getting Coney back in the pinstripes. My absolute favorite for pitching coach is Andy Pettitte but I am not convinced he is ready to leave Texas yet. A dark horse hope for pitching coach would be former San Francisco Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti. He was the pitching coach for three World Series champions over the past decade and he oversaw Madison Bumgarner’s greatest days as a Giant. Anyway, back to Girardi, I think he’ll do well for the Phillies. He’ll have to learn the NL style of play. I know, he has one year of NL managing under his belt but that was a long time ago. For Girardi’s sake, it is a good thing that his former and future bench coach, Thomson, had a one year head start. I am glad that Girardi avoided the mess known as the Wilpon’s.  

Good hire by the Boston Red Sox when they named former Tampa Bay Rays executive Chaim Bloom as their new head of operations. Assistant GM Brian O’Halloran will be promoted to GM to work under Bloom’s leadership. I wish I could criticize this move by Boston but I think they made the best possible hire if Bloom is allowed to truly run the show. I feel the New York Mets erred when they selected Brodie Van Wagenen as their GM over Bloom last year. It seems as if more and more teams are going the “chief baseball officer” route. I really wish the Yankees would promote Brian Cashman to chief baseball officer, and promote Tim Naehring to GM. Love him or hate him, Cash deserves the promotion in my opinion.

It’s funny. Last season, I could hardly wait for the World Series to be over and for the free agency period to open in November. I won’t hide the fact that I wanted either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper and was so anxious to see if the Yankees would sign one of the talented young superstars, or grab the best free agent starter in Patrick Corbin. It was a long winter that led to none of the above in Pinstripes. This season, I think I am more passive. I am not really looking forward to free agency this year like I was last year. I am very interested in seeing the moves that Brian Cashman and company will make, but not with the same excitement. What will be will be. I was never against the DJ LeMahieu signing (I knew he was better than advertised) but I never dreamed he’d be as valuable to the Yankees as he was. It only shows that we need to allow any moves time to marinate. We don’t need big splashes. We need a clubhouse full of the right mix of players to bring the 28th World Championship to the Bronx.  

As always, Go Yankees!

Predicting The Offseason & 2020 Active Roster

One of my favorite things to write is my predictions for the offseason, along with the following season's active roster. That's not because I'm good at it, although I don't think my ideas are bad, it's just a fun exercise.

There's no need for a long introduction, which you're probably not reading anyway ("Just tell me what you think!"), so here goes...

I'm planning the 2020 season without Domingo German. Even if he's innocent he's going to be suspended for a significant period of time. So when you don't see him listed below don't be like "what the hell?"

I find it hard to believe that the Yankees will make a serious push for Gerrit Cole, as they have seemed more concerned with saving money than spending it the last few years. It's more likely that they sign someone like Zack Wheeler or Madison Bumgarner, but I can't give up hope. So here are reasons why I think the Yankees will sign Cole (aka "how I'm talking myself into believing they will sign Cole")

1. Thanks to his father, who is from Syracuse, Cole grew up a Yankees fan. I know him being a Yankees fan when he was young means little to nothing, but it's still something to keep in mind. Plus, that photo of him with the sign during Game 7 of the 2001 World Series will be shown over and over again.

2. The Yankees drafted him in 2008, only for him to go to UCLA instead. But they liked Gerrit long before he was a Cy Young candidate.

3. Unlike Corbin, Cole has pitched in and had massive success in the AL... and against them.

4. With the expensive contracts of Tanaka and Ellsbury (by the way, Jacoby's not being traded. Who in their right mind would pay Ellsbury ANYTHING to sit at home?) coming off the books after next season, perhaps the Yankees will be more likely to bit the bullet by having a huge payroll for one season.

The Yankees would probably look to save as much money as possible at this point, so I'm also predicting that they trade JA Happ. While the Yankees would likely have to eat a decent chunk of Happ's $17 million salary, they should be able to save a decent amount. Furthermore, I think the Yankees will not tender contracts to Greg Bird, Tyler Lyons, Luis Cessa, and Jonathan Holder.

Even though I wouldn't want to see Happ starting for the Yankees in 2020, anyway, there's still a rotation spot available. They'll have Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka. Therefore, I think Cashman trades for one more starter.

Cash has a lot of bullets to choose from, most notably Clint Frazier. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Thairo Estrada used as trade fodder too, seeing as how the Yankees infield looks set for years to come. I took a look at pitchers that may be acquired via trade, who wouldn't cost a ton, and someone that stood out to me was German Marquez. German has a good ground ball rate, good strikeout rate, and throws the ball hard. Not to mention Marquez is just 24 years old and will be entering his first year of arbitration eligibility. The fact he's arbitration-eligible means he won't be cheap, which may be something Colorado likes as they're unlikely to compete before German is a free agent in a few years. German's home run rate is kinda high, but before pitching at Coor's Field (meaning in the minors), he wasn't nearly as prone to the long ball. So hopefully that home run rate comes down in New York.

Since I'm talking about Yankees pitchers I'm sure some people out there are waiting for me to bring up Deivi Garcia. That or they think I've forgot about him. Well, I didn't forget about Deivi. But I don't think he's ready, and could do with a little more time in AAA before possibly taking a rotation spot (Tanaka and Paxton will be free agents after next season) in 2021.

Moving onto run production...

I'm going to start with Cameron Maybin. For the record, I really like the guy, but there's no need for him on the roster. I think he's earned a starting gig somewhere, but it certainly won't be for the Yankees.

It's not easy to let Edwin Encarnacion go, either. But, like Maybin, I just don't see a role for him in New York. I think Edwin's option is too much, especially when the team will be looking to cut payroll to make room for Cole. If Encarnacion hit for a better batting average that might make me think otherwise, but we already have too many guys that depend on the long ball for value.

Then we come to Didi Gregorius. I really like Sir Didi, but the Yankees have to face facts... the guy is an average hitter. Sure, Gregorius plays very good defense, but the Yankees can fill the infield and get good defense without him. The only way I see Didi returning to the Yankees is if he gives them a big discount, and will accept a part-time role. But I can see many teams that would offer him more money and a regular starting gig.

I have to say that I'm not totally sold on Thairo Estrada. If he were to start the season on the bench, in the role as backup middle infielder, I'd be perfectly fine with that. But if he's used as trade fodder, like I mentioned earlier, then the Yankees would probably try to find a diamond like they did last year with DJ LeMahieu. Although I'd like Tyler Wade to get some more playing time in MLB to see for sure what we have, or don't have, in the kid. I would say his lefty bat would be welcome on a righty-heavy roster, but the bench I have in mind already has a couple lefty bats. I guess another wouldn't be bad, though.

It's also time to let Austin Romine go. Besides the fact that I think it would be unnecessary to pay for a backup catcher when I believe Kyle Higashioka could do a fine job in that role, I can see some team in the league giving Romine a shot as a starter. Sort of like how Francisco Cervelli was able to land a starting gig in Pittsburgh when he left the Yankees after the 2014 season.

How about batters to sign? Well, this isn't anyone new, but after the news of Aaron Hicks getting Tommy John surgery and being out until August or later, the Yankees pretty much have to bring back Brett Gardner. Some Yankees fans may want the Yankees to spend big on a new centerfielder, be that with money and/or prospects, but it's not happening. They've committed to Aaron Hicks for six more years, and while that contract didn't start off well, they aren't going to abandon that so soon. With that said, I'm not sure Gardy starts the majority of games in centerfield for the Yankees, as I think Mike Tauchman will earn the Opening Day nod there.

Gio Urshela has earned the third base job, not only with the bat (he hit .314/.355.534 in 132 games in 2019), but with his defense as well (the fielding stats don't like him, but the eye test adores him). That leaves Andujar without a position. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as he returns from Tommy John surgery, since his throwing arm can rest. Besides, Miguel wasn't good at the hot corner anyway. I think he could learn to play a solid first base, though. Andujar's used to hard-hit ground balls coming his way, so poorly thrown balls likely wouldn't be that big a concern. However, changing positions isn't easy, so having Voit start there most of the time would be ideal (hopefully he improves his defense, though). But don't be surprised if Andujar is the regular first baseman by the All Star break.

There's one more free agent signing that needs to be made, and it won't come as any surprise to those that paid any attention to the Yankees this season... Dellin Betances.

If it wasn't for suffering multiple injuries this season, and not insignificant ones, bringing Betances back might not have been possible. The guy was in line to get paid to be the closer for somebody, but at this point I have to believe that's no longer the case. For his sake that really sucks, because at 31 years old he's running out of time to cash in. So, for that reason, I can see Dellin taking a one year contract with a player option, that way if he has a healthy season he can test free agency at 32 years old. Otherwise, he can at least get paid for that second season and try again at age 33.

Starting Lineup
1. DJ LeMahieu 2B
2. Aaron Judge RF
3. Gleyber Torres SS
4. Giancarlo Stanton LF
5. Luke Voit 1B
6. Gary Sanchez C
7. Miguel Andujar DH
8. Mike Tauchman* CF
9. Gio Urshela 3B

C Kyle Higashioka
OF Brett Gardner*
IF Thairo Estrada (or Tyler Wade* if Estrada is traded)
1B Mike Ford*
NOTE: It is a very righty heavy lineup, so I see Ford and Gardner getting plenty of starts.

Starting Pitchers
Gerrit Cole
Luis Severino
James Paxton*
Masahiro Tanaka
German Marquez

CL Aroldis Chapman*
SU Zack Britton*
MR Dellin Betances
MR Adam Ottavino
MR Tommy Kahnle
MR Chad Green
LR Jordan Montgomery*
LR Jonathan Loaisiga

* - left-handed hitter or pitcher