Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Power of Lefties...


Photo Credit: Eric Espada, Getty Images

Busy Trading Deadline for Yanks…

This was the type of trading deadline I had hoped for in 2019 that didn’t come to fruition. The Yankees were heavily involved this year, adding all left-handers. We’ve been screaming for lefty bats (a glaring weakness since the departure of guys like Didi Gregorius) and were gifted two of the most powerful lefty bats on the market. The long-anticipated bat of Joey Gallo and the surprise acquisition of Anthony Rizzo. The moves on the pitching side lacked the substance of the offensive additions but the Yankees also acquired lefty pitchers Joely Rodriguez and Andrew Heaney.

I know the complaints about Gallo (too much like other hitters in the lineup, strikes out too much) but he is a good baseball player. The batting average doesn’t mean anything. His ability to crush baseballs and get on base, to go with excellent baserunning instincts and Glove Glove level defense make him a tremendous addition. The fact he’s not a rental is that much sweeter. I’d rather have Joey Gallo playing for me than against me. For as much talk as I’ve heard how he’ll like the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium, I was a little surprised when I heard that he has not hit a home run at Yankee Stadium. I looked it up and he has one career homer against the Yankees. It was a second inning home run off Masahiro Tanaka at the old Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas on May 21, 2018 (Yankees won that game, 10-5).

As much as I am excited about the addition of Anthony Rizzo, I am less enthused about a rental for this year’s team. If I felt better about the team’s chances this year, it would be one thing, but I do not. Kevin Alcantara was my favorite outfield prospect outside of Jasson Dominguez and I feel he has tremendous potential. I was excited about a future outfield featuring Alcantara and Dominguez. Not trying to “prospect-hug” but sacrificing such a promising player for 2-3 months of Rizzo seems like a huge risk. If the Yankees surprise me and win the World Series this year, no doubt it will have been worth it. But if not, it will be tough to watch Alcantara achieve future Major League success. Nevertheless, now that Rizzo is a Yankee, I am happy. I love superior defense at first base…something that has been missing since Mark Teixeira retired. I’d love to see the Yankees find a way to re-sign Rizzo in the off-season, but not sure if that’s in the cards. Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers have shortstop Trea Turner, it seems like there is a good chance they might let Corey Seager walk at the end of the year. I’d love to see either Seager or Trevor Story take over shortstop to push Gleyber Torres back to second base. This of course would push D.J. LeMahieu to first base and he obviously needs to play. I suppose the Yankees could trade Torres for pitching, sign either Seager or Story AND Rizzo, keeping LeMahieu at second. After one game and listening to Rizzo talk, he seems like he could become such a fan favorite in the Bronx like he was in Chicago. Team chemistry is so important and Rizzo is clubhouse glue.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

There’s no question the Yankees will need to reconstruct the team this off-season. Good for them to stay below the luxury tax penalty but they need to use the savings to help rebuild a team that can be a force in the AL East and not a marginal Wild Card team like they are now. 

I was probably more excited about initially speculated reliever John King as part of the Gallo trade than I was the pitcher who was actually acquired, Joely Rodriguez. The Yankees saw something in the medicals for King (shoulder issue) which caused the restructure of the trade. On the bright side, the step down from King to Rodriguez meant the Yankees were able to hang on to outfield prospect Everson Pereira, another one of my favorites. I am sure the Yankees did their homework on Rodriguez and I am hopeful he’ll find success in the Yankees bullpen.

Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool, Staff Photographer, The Dallas Morning News

I think all of us wanted the Yankees to acquire former Minnesota Twins ace Jose Berrios. It was a little disappointing a division rival (Toronto Blue Jays) acquired him, but I can’t fault the Yankees. The Blue Jays gave up two top five prospects. Not sure I’d want to see the Yankees pay that price. Given the strength of Toronto’s farm system, the bright side is they depleted some of it. Sure, I’d rather have Berrios than not, but it’s not the end of the world. 

It felt a little underwhelming when it was announced the Yankees had acquired former Los Angeles Angels starter Andrew Heaney. I know he has become a journeyman pitcher, but there was a time when he was considered one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in the game back during his days in the Miami Marlins organization. Perhaps the Yankees can find something in him to help position him for great rotation depth as the team’s “sixth” starter, pushing Nestor Cortes, Jr back into a more traditional bullpen role. 

Welcome to the Yankees family, Joey, Anthony, Joely, and Andrew!  Your mission is simple…get us to October baseball and just win.

Yankees fans have been calling for Kyle Schwarber for years. I guess we’ll painfully see that swing in Yankee Stadium more often now that he is a member of the Boston Red Sox. I am glad Boston was unable to make any significant pitching upgrades at the deadline. I would have hated to see them get Max Scherzer although that was never realistic given Max’s geographical preferences. Unfortunately, the Red Sox will soon get a pitching upgrade in the form of a healthy Chris Sale, but Boston is far from our worry right now. As Buck Showalter said last night, the Yankees may be 3 ½ games out of the Wild Card chase, but if you look at the loss column only, they are two games out. I say this from a biased point of view, but I do feel strongly the Yankees are a better team than the Oakland A’s or Seattle Mariners. Now that they have balance in the lineup, and will soon get help from Luis Severino and Corey Kluber, there is a very strong chance that the team will get hot and go on an extended winning roll with the newly improved roster.

The jury is still out on Aaron Boone. If the Yankees do fail to achieve the playoffs or make the Wild Card game and bow out, his time as Yankees manager must end. Let’s not waste the best years of Gerrit Cole’s career with poor managerial decisions. Time for a pro to handle the reigns. 

As always, Go Yankees!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

To Buy or To Sell...


MLB Trading Deadline approaches…

Friday, July 30th, 4:00 pm ET.

If anything, I have always tried to be a realist when it comes to the Yankees. There are years I have felt the team was a dominant performer capable of boldly sweeping October. Sadly, this is not one of those years. As I type this post, the Yankees sit eight games behind the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. One of the AL co-leaders and the Oakland A’s hold the two Wild Card spots with the Yankees sitting 3.5 games behind the A’s. They trail the Seattle Mariners by a game. Yes, I think the Yankees can catch and pass the Mariners and the A’s, but realistically, how deep into October can this team go?

I know, playoffs are always about which teams are “hot” at the moment, and it could be the Yankees as much as anyone, but the team carries too many flaws in my opinion and they’ll be exposed facing a steady diet of #1 and #2 starters if they somehow get in as a Wild Card participant. I don’t see the Yankees advancing very far and wonder if the team would be better served to make potential trades this week to help enhance chances for 2022…not this year. Short term rentals make no sense to me. Why throw away prospects when, in all likelihood, there is no chance for World Series participation in 2021? I’d rather use the prospects to help build the stable of quality, cost-controlled young talent that can help develop the next Yankees dynasty. 

I am not bailing out on the 2021 Yankees. I want the team to win as much as anyone. But to say they are the best team in the American League is something only a myopic Yankees fan would say. When there was the standard “Yankees suck” chant at Fenway Park the other night, I liked the social media comments asking if those were Red Sox or Yankee fans? Fair question…

This season has caused me to question if Aaron Boone is the right man to lead the team. I like Boone and I enjoy the good rapport he has with his players, but he doesn’t seem to get the maximum performance out of his players like some managers do. I always struggle with the question of who is better from the current managerial availability pool? I’ve heard people say Buck Showalter, but he had his time with the Yankees. He is a knowledgeable baseball man but the Yankees can do better. Of course I always quietly hope Don Mattingly becomes available to return home, but that’s not likely. Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter recently picked up Donnie Baseball’s mutual option for 2022. Ideally, you’d want someone with some experience. After the inexperienced Boone got the Yankees job most recently, I don’t think the next manager would be as inexperienced as he was. It takes too long to determine if he is the right fit for the job as the first year is always written off as “he’s learning”. I don’t want on-the-job training with someone wet behind the ears. The Yankees were interested in Bob Melvin after they parted ways with Joe Girardi. Perhaps it’s time to rekindle that interest. Oakland exercised Melvin’s option for 2022, so it would take prospects and bucket loads of cash to get Melvin but his track record shows he would be the right man for a job with a stronger budget than the cost-conscious Athletics. If not Melvin, it needs to be someone who can inspire his players like Melvin does. Baseball is not about being your friend. Winning is everything.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Nice comeback by the Yankees yesterday against the Red Sox. Credit to Estevan Florial for starting the rally against former Yank Nathan Eovaldi. He’ll probably be headed back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but I am reaching the point I’d prefer to have Florial over the unreliable Aaron Hicks for next season. I felt a little bad for former Yankee reliever Adam Ottavino for the dunk hits that Sox right-fielder Franchy Cordero couldn’t get to (okay, not really) but whatever it takes. The Yankees needed to steal a game after so many losses of winnable games. I hate the uneasy feeling that comes when Aroldis Chapman enters the ninth, but it is slowly getting better. It wasn’t that long ago Chapman and Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen were the best closers in the game. Now, it’s potential disaster any time either guy enters a game. It would be nice for Zack Britton to round back into form, but we’re not there yet. Hard to blame Chad Green for the occasional blow-ups. I think he is better served in the seventh and eighth innings than the critical ninth. I am grateful for the return of Jonathan Loaisiga who has arguably been the most trusted reliever in the Yankees bullpen this year.

It will be interesting to see what this week brings. Will GM Brian Cashman be an active player, one way or the other, or will there be nothing but crickets in the Yankees’ front office? I am not going to make a pro-Trevor Story or pro-Joey Gallo statement as I feel the team has much greater needs. I am glad to see Corey Kluber is throwing again, placing both him and Luis Severino on the team’s radar in the coming weeks and months. Too little too late, but it’s a start for a better 2022. Regardless of what happens, I always enjoy the usual hectic pace of the days leading up to the trading deadline. Always a bit like Christmas even if we walk away with a lump of coal. 

Congrats to the Yankees for the MLB Draft. I had been hopeful the team would sign the 20th round pick, Sean Hard, but he announced the intention to fulfill his commitment to Boston College. He will certainly win brownie points in Boston for spurning the Yankees. Fortunately, the Yankees were able to sign the other player that I thought was a long-shot, third round pick LHP Brock Selvidge, Hamilton High School (Chandler, AZ), who had previously committed to LSU. By signing their first and second round picks for under their slotted values, along with some of the lower picks, the Yankees were able to give Selvidge a signing bonus of $1.5 million (slot value was only $637,600). So, even though they lost out on Hard, I thought it was good strategic management of the bonus pool to sign 18 of 20 players picked. 

Photo Credit: Michael Chow, The Republic

As always, Go Yankees!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

A Soggy First Win Against the Red Sox...


Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer, AP

A win is a win is a win…

First and foremost, prayers to those who were shot last night outside of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. during a game between the Nationals and the San Diego Padres. Three people were injured in the gunfire exchange between two cars, but thankfully no deaths. The number of shootings in the United States this year is incredibly disturbing and quite sad. Last night’s incident, at an intersection outside of the Third Base Gate of the stadium, had the potential to be much worse than it was. Play was suspended with the Padres leading 8-4 in the sixth inning. The game will be completed later today.

As for the Yankees, they finally found a way to beat the Boston Red Sox for the first time this year. In the rain-shortened game called after six innings due to rain with the Yankees leading 3-1, we should be thankful play was unable to resume, potentially bringing Aroldis Chapman into the game. I know, he pitched better on Friday night, but still, Yankee relievers in the ninth inning have not been fun to watch for the last couple of weeks. Perhaps they have turned the corner, and the talent will re-emerge to restore its usual dominance. Nevertheless, I will gladly take the win any way it is delivered (within ethical boundaries, of course).  If the Yankees were 7-1 against Boston this year instead of the other way around, the AL East standings would look so much differently (and much, much better). 

Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer, AP

I feel very badly for outfielder Tim Locastro. When he made the leaping catch in left field against the wall padding, the injury did not appear so badly at first. Obviously, reaching for your knee is never a good sign, but Locastro stayed in left to finish the inning. He even ran back to the dugout after the inning was over, but he never came back out, replaced by Tyler Wade in the second inning. After the game, it was disclosed Locastro had suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Even though he does not have much of a hit tool, Locastro’s speed had brought a nice dimension to the Yankees lineup. I always love to see native New Yorkers do well in Pinstripes. It is unfortunate but it was probably Locastro’s final moment in Pinstripes. I guess there is a chance the Yankees keep him for 2022, but I am expecting more roster activity this off-season for deconstruct/reconstruct if the team continues to play below expectations.  Locastro’s acquisition had appeared, at least to me, to be a temporary solution for the Yankees because of the loss of Aaron Hicks for the season and the declining performance of the aging Brett Gardner, better used in situational spots than extended play.  I did not really expect Locastro t be a Yankee in 2022, but now the torn ACL could rob Locastro of his primary weapon…his speed.  The deck is clearly stacked against him. I hope for the best and pray that he can resume his MLB career, regardless of whether it is with the Yankees or another team. 

Gerrit Cole, fresh off his 129-pitch start/gem, continued his dominance with 11 strikeouts in six innings even if things got a bit dicey in the top of the sixth, in what would prove to be the game’s final inning, when the Sox loaded the bases with two outs. But Cole was able to end Boston’s threat by striking out Christian Vazquez in a heavy downpour. 

Nasty Nate, aka Nathan Eovaldi, almost matched Cole with an equally dominating performance as he yielded only two hits and a run, while striking out 7, in five innings. It was tough going early as the Yankees did not get their first hit until the fifth inning against the former Yankee pitcher. Fortunately, the Yankees, unlike the Red Sox, they were able to get into the opponent’s bullpen. The Yankees made it count with consecutive homers by Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres in the bottom of the sixth, two outs before the rain delay.  The home run by Sanchez was disputed by the Red Sox for fan interference, but it was upheld upon review as the ball landed past the wall despite the fan’s reach. For Gleyber, hopefully the homer in a key opportunity is the start of his rediscovery of power. 

 The Yankees fan who threw the ball at Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo at the start of the bottom of the sixth is a disgrace to the Yankees Universe.  I certainly do not blame Sox manager Alex Cora for pulling his team off the field. Thankfully, Verdugo, acquired in the Mookie Betts trade, was not hurt. As much as I dislike the Red Sox, I certainly would have clapped for Verdugo if I had been in the outfield stands, as a show of respect, when he walked back into left field.

Photo Credit: Robert Sabo, New York Post

With the win, the Yankees are still 8 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, so the team has much work to do to dig out of their hole. They are 4.5 games from the second Wild Card spot, with a few teams ahead of them. I will always pull for the Yankees, but I am trying to maintain perspective. I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful. Throughout the history of Baseball, teams have overcome bigger challenges so anything is possible. For now, it is just to hold the words of former Yank Mariano Duncan close, “We play today, we win today…das it”. 

It is great that Hoy Jun Park and Trey Amburgey are on the Yankees roster, but Aaron Boone should play them. I have seen enough of the Rougned Odor Show to know that I would rather see another option while D.J. LeMahieu temporarily handles third base for Gio Urshela.  It is hard for me to think of Trey Amburgey as anything more than a Quad-A hitter, but he deserves the opportunity to perform. Like Locastro, I cannot really see Amburgey retaining a spot on the 40-man roster despite his years in the organization.  I always love to see a player outperform expectations and it would be nice to see the homegrown Amburgey achieve some success at the big-league level even if he will never be a star. 

All seems to be going well for Corey Kluber so it is exciting to think the Yankees could have both Luis Severino and Kluber back within the next two months, with August looming a possibility for Sevy. I am getting excited at the prospect of seeing #40 on the mound again. I know there will be rust, but hopefully he will be the #2 starter as soon as 2022 if all goes well.  It has been too long since we last saw Severino and I look forward to his continued journey back to league excellence. 

I felt the Yankees could have done better during the recent MLB Draft, but admittedly, I do not follow the minor leagues very closely. While it has been said that first round pick shortstop Trey Sweeney (Eastern Illinois) was a reach, I trust the Yankees for their ability to evaluate players (setting aside the state of the current big-league club, of course). I had expected the Yankees to grab Mississippi RHP Gunnar Hoglund, but the Blue Jays selected him a pick ahead of the Yankees, so we will never know. The MLB Draft, unlike the NFL Draft, has always seemed like a crapshoot. You look back at prior drafts, and the picks are littered with so many names that never made it. 

I did like the second pick of pitcher Brendan Beck, 22, a college senior out of Stanford. I knew in 2017 when the Yankees selected Brendan’s brother Tristan in the 29th round, he was not signable. I had kind of hoped the Yankees would somehow convince him to sign, but it was never realistic. Tristan was picked the next year (in the 4th round) by the Atlanta Braves, and is now in the San Francisco Giants organization. Brendan, unlike Tristan, gets the opportunity to pitch for Baseball’s most storied and historic franchise, and I wish him the best for much success. Beck’s signing bonus is $1,050,000; below the slotted bonus of $1,307,000.  I hope they can use the extra money to entice the third pick, Hamilton High School (AZ) LHP Brock Selvidge from fulfilling his commitment to LSU. 

Although Sweeney has yet to sign, the Yankees have signed 2B Cooper Bowman (4th Rd); Pitcher Robert Ahlstrom (7th Rd); Pitcher Chandler Champlain (9th Rd); and SS Benjamin Cowles (10th Rd). They have also signed a copy of the later picks (C Ben Rice, 12th Rd; and Pitcher Danny Watson, 15th Rd). 

I would love to see the Yankees sign the 20th round pick, RHP Sean Hard, but that is just the latest late round pick of a guy headed for college, ala Tristan Beck and Jack Leiter, hoping to create good will for future discussions.  Aside from Hard’s obvious talent, his name is right up there with Yankees’ prospect Janson Junk for greatest pitcher names. 

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

You Win Some, You Lose Some...


Photo Credit: Michael Wyke, AP

The state of the 2021 Yankees Season…

We are nearing the end of the first half of the MLB season and despite last night’s blanking of the Astros in Houston, a field that has troubled the Yankees in recent years, it has been a disappointment. I did not expect the Yankees do be this bad or the Boston Red Sox to be this good. I still do not think the Red Sox are great but now, they are 2.5 games better than the Tampa Bay Rays and 9 games better than the Yankees or the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees can make up lost ground in the second half, but admittedly, I am not fully confident they can or will. There are players on the team that need to do their part. It sucks that Aroldis Chapman, so dominant early in the season, has become Tyler Clippard.  I am thankful for Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga to help close out games but long-term the Yankees need to get Chapman right or get a healthy Zack Britton to keep Green and Loaisiga in high leverage seventh and eighth innings. 

Gerrit Cole gets his chance for redemption today against his former teammates. Today would be a nice day for Cole’s return to superiority. He will be facing the Astros’ Zack Greinke so it should be a good pitcher’s game. Hopefully, the Yankee bats come alive against Greinke who has not really showed any signs of slowing down despite his age (37). 

Photo Credit: Getty Images

At what point does Yankees Management get held responsible for the under-performance of the team? I get it that the game is played by the players and not the manager, coaches, general manager, or owner, but motivating the players and maximizing performance does lie with Teams Boone and Cashman.  I have been supportive of Boone since he was hired, but this season has eroded some of the confidence I have had in him. It is tough to watch a guy like Alex Cora, whom I personally despise for his smugness and role in the cheating scandals in Houston and Boston, routinely get the most out of his players. He has shown a better aptitude for the job than Boone. I really hate to say that…I honestly do.

If the Yankees finish this season with less than 90 wins, Hal Steinbrenner needs to look awfully hard at the manager and general manager. At some point, the hard decision to make a change must be made. I know that Brian Cashman has been GM longer than some younger Yankee fans have been alive but that does not make him invincible or mean that he is the right leader for the 2022 season and beyond.  Roster construction has been heavily criticized in recent years by the fans, and I feel there are some merits in the arguments. There are obvious moves that we have seen the team should have made but for whatever reason did not. I am not referring to the screams to call up outfielder Trey Amburgey, whom Mike Axisa (rightfully) referred to as a Quad-A player this week, but the weaknesses of the team have been glaring yet not addressed. While the trade for Tim Locastro may not be one that I condoned at the time, I do like his presence on the team. I have no idea if he will be around for the long haul and it probably does not matter, but the Yankees need to recognize that Aaron Hicks is not the answer next year and Brett Gardner, despite last night’s heroics, is not the player he once was.  A long-term solution for centerfield is needed now.

The one player that does seem to be turning the corner is Jameson Taillon as he continues to distance himself from Tommy John surgery (August 2019).  I was down on him earlier in the season, but I recognize it was unfair. I really like the guy and I love how much he cares about this team and about winning. I know he has great potential, and I am glad he is a Yankee. A win on Sunday against Houston to close out the first half would be a wonderful thing indeed. 

Photo Credit: David Dermer, USA TODAY Sports

I care about the Yankees, and I want them to win, but unless this team can get hot and go on a long winning streak, we will have to watch teams we dislike in the playoffs while the lights of Yankee Stadium have been shuttered in October. I probably get less worked up about losses right now than I did earlier in the season when I felt like the team had a great chance to reach the World Series. The team needs to prove to me and to the fan base they want to win and will do what it takes to win the winnable games and minimize the losses with strong fundamental play, timely hitting and consistent pitching. Aaron Boone, you are on the clock. If this team cannot turn the corner, it is because you could not motivate them to do better, to play within the realm of their talent and passion.  If the Yankees do get hot in the second half and the Red Sox and Rays cool off, the current AL East standings could change significantly despite the current nine-game gap.  I remember how defeated I felt in the summer of 1978, despite Ron Guidry’s incredible dominance in each start, when the Yankees were 14 games behind in July. We all know how that one worked out. It can happen again.

I still do not know if the Yankees should be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline. If they are still limping along two weeks from now, it may be time to start looking at ways to improve the team for the 2022 season. Not ready to throw in the towel this month or next, but realistically, we should have a better idea of the team’s direction by the last week of July. 

For now, let us focus on winning the next two games, and then enjoy the break. It will be nice to watch some baseball in the Mile High City even if I must watch on TV (called Denver home for four years until moving back to California in 2020). I love Coors Field and it has long been one of my favorite parks. I have a ticket to see a game there later in the season and look forward to seeing it in person again. It is just too bad I cannot be there to enjoy the week’s All-Star festivities.

As always, Go Yankees!