Sunday, January 31, 2021

Spring Training, So Close Yet So Far Away...


Camps open in a couple of weeks, I think…

The final day of January means, generally speaking, we close the book on the last month without baseball (hopefully) until after the World Series. It has been an eventful January, all things considered, in the Yankees Universe. The official additions of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon (“TIE-own”), the unofficial addition of Darren O’Day, the re-signing of hitting machine D.J. LeMahieu, and the sad farewell to Masahiro Tanaka.

When the Yankees didn’t aggressively pursue Tanaka after the season and then made the plays for Kluber and Taillon, it was fairly obvious there would be no return to Pinstripes for Tanaka. With some talk about the Toronto Blue Jays having interest in Tanaka, it was best case scenario for his return to Japan (if the Yankees weren’t going to bring him back). I am surprised more teams didn’t publicly express interest in Tanaka. He would make almost any rotation better. I get that he is no longer the pitcher, at age 32, he was at 25. The home runs could get annoying at times, but it was clear he loved New York and he loved the Yankees. When he had his opt-out a couple of years ago, I know the market conditions dictated his decision to some degree (or all of it), but I was proud of his choice not to opt-out. Time and again, we see players take the money and run (see Robinson Cano). Tanaka showed loyalty but sadly it didn’t really mean anything when it came time for the Yankees to make a business decision. 

Personally, I held out hope the Yankees would bring Masa back until the news of the official announcement of his two-year contract with Japan’s Rakuten Eagles. Suspecting his return was unlikely, I did try to hold some hope for the impossible.  For most of the off-season, I had said that I wanted one of Tanaka or James Paxton back. Now that Tanaka is gone, I can say I am not really interested in a reunion with Paxton. I like the guy and I think he’s a talented pitcher, but the first inning struggles last year wore on me and of course the injury cloud that seems to follow him is not very appealing.  Knowing that Jordan Montgomery is the team’s fourth starter behind Gerrit Cole, Kluber and Taillon, I’d rather see one of Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, or Domingo German (or even Luis Medina) take the fifth spot over a more expensive Paxton. So, I thank the Big Maple for his time in Pinstripes and wish him the best for good health in his future opportunities with other teams. It would be great to see him put together a healthy, productive season with no injured list stints. I’d hate to see him go to Toronto to do it, so I am hopeful he’ll find a new home outside of the AL East. 

Another player I am ready to say goodbye to is Brett Gardner. I know he has been a loyal, productive soldier for the Yankees, but I think it is time for the younger guys. Left field clearly goes to Clint Frazier, and with Mike Tauchman on the roster, there really isn’t any need for Gardy at this point. Not that I am all that enamored with Tauchman, the Yankees need to open opportunities for younger guys. At this point, I’d rather see the Yankees protect the checkbook and reserve more funds for potential July trades when they can better assess their needs. Not that I care how much Hal Steinbrenner spends, but it is clear the team is intent on resetting the luxury tax penalties again. 

I like the pickup of former Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves reliever Darren O’Day. After the trade of Adam Ottavino to the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees clearly had a need and O’Day should prove to be an upgrade. That’s tough to say because I had really wanted Ottavino to succeed as a Yankee. There’s always a sting when a former Yankee goes to Boston, especially when that player is a native New Yorker, and it probably added some salt to the wound that it was the Yankees who sent him there. I could be wrong, but I think his stay in Beantown will only last the duration of his current contract (more probable even less when the July trade deadline rolls round if the Red Sox, as expected, are toiling at or near the AL East cellar). I don’t think he’s a Red Sock beyond the 2021 season. Stranger things have happened, and Ottavino has a connection to Boston, having played college ball at Northeastern University. 

MLB made a proposal to the Players Association today for a delayed start to the 2021 season with a modified 154-game schedule. If the proposal is accepted, spring training would not start until late March so scratch what I said at the top of this post. I do feel the players need to be guaranteed of full pay regardless of what happens, but setting that aside, as much as I want baseball to return, I think a delayed start might be for the best as we try to move forward with the pandemic. With each passing month, we get closer to broader distribution of the vaccines. I know I don’t want any disruptions during the season, so I’d rather have caution at the start to ensure the enjoyment of a full and uninterrupted schedule. Given baseball used to only play 154 games, it’s not like sacred tradition is being broken.  The cream is still going to rise to the top with 154-game schedule. But conversely, the major downside is players are preparing for mid-February arrival and the delay could adversely impact preparation. We saw a number of players last year that didn’t have the years we expected and there’s no question in my mind the delays were a common denominator among the root causes. Not solely, of course, but the delays played a part and there were players who were not at their best from a physical conditioning standpoint.

I guess more than anything, I am trying to say I am ready for baseball to start in a couple of weeks but if it is delayed, I am not going to scream. A mutual decision must be made between MLB and the Players Association and I’ll respect said decision regardless of the outcome. 

I do really want baseball back. Yet, the greater priority is the health of players and fans. 

I feel bad Colorado Rockies fans. After living among them for the four years (before moving to Los Angeles last year), I know how much they love their team and its players. I am sure it was very difficult for them to hear the new the Rockies were putting the final touches on a trade to send star third baseman Nolan Arenado (and $50 million in cash) to the St Louis Cardinals. I have to credit Daniel Kramer, a Seattle-based MLB reporter, on Twitter (@DKramer_) with the best tweet analysis of the Rockies organization: “Let’s review: The $70M Ian Desmond Experiment. The $106M in 3 bullpen arms that they all eventually released. Inadequately evaluating DJLM and letting him turn into an MVP elsewhere. Signing Dan Murphy for same $ as DJ. Paying $50M to get rid of your franchise star.” Well, I am okay with their inadequate evaluation of DJLM. Yankee fans continue to salivate over German Marquez and Trevor Story, sensing a fire sale in The Mile High City. The talk is they’ll use Nolan’s money to lock up Story, but it’s hard to see him staying in Denver for the long term. Todd Helton was a rare exception. It seems that most Colorado superstars eventually move on to other cities to make their mark.

Congratulations to Didi Gregorius on his new two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies recently signed another former Yankee to play for manager Joe Girardi when they gave a non-roster invitation to Ivan Nova. Ronald Torreyes will also be in Phillies camp on a non-roster invite.

As always, Go Yankees!

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