Saturday, February 4, 2023

Spring Forward: Pinstriped Baseball...


Steinbrenner Field (Photo Credit: Twitter via @GMSField)

The Sights and Sounds of Spring Baseball are almost here…

Players have started migrating to Florida (for those not already there), and the official reporting date is rapidly approaching. After the Winter of Discontent (The Fruitless Search for a Left Fielder Story), pitchers and catchers must report by Thursday, February 16th while those participating in the World Baseball Classic must report three days earlier by Monday, February 13th, 2023. Position players must report by Monday, February 20th.

The Yankees open their Spring Schedule on Saturday, February 25th at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, Florida against the last year’s World Series losers, the Philadelphia Phillies. Two teams with seasons ended by the Houston Astros although you can say the Phillies lost more successfully since they made it to the World Series. 

Heading into Spring, while my mind is still on Left Field, the two positions of most intrigue are shortstop and the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

The favorite to replace Isiah Kiner-Falefa as the starting shortstop is the talented Oswald Peraza. I believe he will be the Opening Day shortstop. I am excited about a shortstop who can handle the easy plays in addition to the difficult ones. A shortstop with some thump in his bat and wheels on his feet. If Peraza plays to his potential, he will easily become a fan favorite.

Oswald Peraza (Photo Credit: Instagram via @oswaldperaza27)

Many fans think Anthony Volpe can snag the job with a tremendous Spring. While anything is possible, I am convinced the Yankees will send Volpe to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a little more seasoning regardless of how he performs. I think he can earn a promotion by the All-Star Break if he plays to expectations. Of course, the big question is where he will play. If Peraza fails at shortstop (which seems unlikely to me), Volpe could be the potential starter. More likely, he takes second (making Gleyber Torres a possible July trade candidate if he is not moved before Opening Day) or third. If third base, Josh Donaldson could become the odd man out if his bat remains missing in action.

I am still hoping the Yankees can move Donaldson…and Aaron Hicks…before Opening Day. I would rather see them depart than Gleyber Torres even if the return for Donaldson and Hicks (and lots of cash) would be minimal.

Domingo German is the fifth starter by default. My preference, Clarke Schmidt, has an option remaining while German does not. Barring injuries, German will be the starter and Schmidt will be in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Yankees could trade for a pitcher, but it seems like they will stay in-house for the temporary starter until Frankie Montas can return. Schmidt is probably only the starter if German is shipped away in a March trade.

In the bullpen, the reliever who excites me the most is Michael King. He was so dominant last year until the injury. Hopefully, he returns at the same high level, and he can stay healthy all year. He is the glue to the bullpen, and he helps make others better. Jonathan Loaisiga and Tommy Kahnle will play huge high-leverage roles, yet we know both carry a health risk. King may be asked to step in for one of them at some point(s) during the season. King’s name would be in the mix for the closer, along with Loaisiga and Kahnle, if Clay Holmes decides to go 2022 Aroldis Chapman on us. 

Michael King & Sheila Hill (Photo Credit: Instagram via @officialmikeking)

I am so thankful we are not talking about who the right fielder will be. How awful this offseason would have been if the Yankees had not re-signed The Captain, Aaron Judge. I am glad ‘New York or Nowhere’ held true. When Judge takes the field at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, there will be thoughts about how differently the game would have looked if Judge took the field during the bottom of the first inning rather than the top of the inning. Fortunately, he will stand tall in Pinstripes as he always does.

I would love to see Judge and Giancarlo Stanton lock into a home run battle like Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961. On the pitching front, the one/two combination of Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón will be so fun to watch on successive days. The intensity on the mound is going to be off the charts. Luis Severino and Nestor Cortes Jr make for the best third and fourth starters the Yankees have seen in many years.

I love baseball, I love the Yankees, and I am so happy Major League Baseball is nearly here.

Green takes the “green” north of the border.

In a surprising move, former Yankees reliever Chad Green has signed a two-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The contract is worth $8.5 million as Green continues his recovery from last June’s Tommy John surgery. He will make $2.25 million in 2023. Rehabilitation after surgery is generally 12-18 months so there is a chance Green will miss the entirety of the upcoming season.

(Photo Credit: Instagram via @bluejays)

Green’s new contract has a complicated structure. The second year carries a conditional player option that Green can exercise if the Blue Jays do not pick up a three-year option that would pay $9 million per season. If both sides decline the options, the Blue Jays get a two-year option with a higher AAV (totals $21 million plus $1 million in bonuses). 

If the Blue Jays decline the team option and Green picks up the player option, he will receive a salary of $8.25 million plus potential bonuses of up to $2 million.

The Blue Jays are banking on Green’s return to status as one of the premier high-leverage relievers in MLB. If it works out, Green can make as much as $29.25 million throughout the contract. If not, the Blue Jays are out $8.5 million after two years.

I liked Green as one of the better relievers in the Yankees’ bullpen. He certainly was far more effective in relief than he was as a starter. Yet Green is 31 years old with seemingly his best years behind him. He may be a tremendous reliever for the Blue Jays, but I do not fault the Yankees for letting him go. In the last few years, they have generally moved on from pitchers who fell to Tommy John surgery with expiring contracts. Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Tommy Kahnle are recent examples even if the latter found his way back home. Green will be nearly 33 by the time he fully recovers. 

Moves like Green’s remind me that players do not share in our love and loyalty to our teams. For them, it is strictly a business. For me, it would be hard to switch loyalties to the Blue Jays or the Boston Red Sox. I guess if it is your only and best option, you follow the money. It has been hard to see several prominent Yankees join the Blue Jays, the Yankees’ strongest current hated division rival, this offseason. Former Yankees great Don Mattingly joined the Blue Jays as their bench coach following the end of his run as manager of the Miami Marlins.

There will be no wishes from me for their success in Toronto except when playing the Yankees. There is no scenario I ever want the Blue Jays to succeed regardless of whom they are playing. So Green is welcome to give up those ill-timed home runs to any opponent.  Well, except maybe not the Houston Astros.

I saw Green’s post “Happy but Sad” on Social Media. Yeah, Chad, we are sad too. 

Brad Wilkerson joins Aaron Boone’s coaching staff.

The Yankees named former Montreal Expos player Brad Wilkerson as assistant hitting coach. He replaces Hensley Meulens who left after the season to join the Colorado Rockies as their hitting coach.

Wilkerson joins current Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson and assistant hitting coach Casey Dykes. Both Lawson and Dykes have analytics-driven backgrounds and neither played above college. Wilkerson, on the other hand, played in the Major Leagues from 2001 to 2008. He was with the Expos when they made their move to Washington, hitting 42 doubles in their inaugural 2005 season. 

Brad Wilkerson (Photo Credit: Andre Pichette/AP)

An outfielder and a first baseman, Wilkerson also played for the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, and Toronto Blue Jays. He signed a minor league deal with the Boston Red Sox in 2009 but retired after not getting a promotion to the big-league club. He did try to come back the following Spring with the Philadelphia Phillies on a minor league contract, however, he was released before the 2010 season began.

Wilkerson, 45, does not have any pro coaching experience. He got into coaching in 2014 with The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. Following the season, he was promoted to the school’s varsity baseball coach. He also served as a coach with USA Baseball and was named Volunteer Coach of the Year by the organization in 2014. In July 2020, he joined Jacksonville University as a baseball assistant and recruiting coordinator.

I will miss Meulens. In addition to his knowledge of multiple languages and ability to speak directly with most, if not all, players, he served on the coaching staff for multiple World Series champions with the San Francisco Giants. He also has experience managing in the World Baseball Classic. Yet, it was obvious Meulens was overqualified to be an assistant hitting coach.  When the Yankees did not bring back manager Joe Girardi following the 2017 season, Meulens had been my favorite to succeed him.  Joining the Yankees as an assistant hitting coach felt like a short-term gig when it happened.

To replace Meulens, I had hoped the Yankees would seek a coach with significant playing experience. I thought they would go with a more seasoned pro coach, but Wilkerson seems to have the right background and experience to succeed. He knows firsthand what it is like to have success and failure at the Major League level, and he has learned the ability to teach and communicate through middle/high school and collegiate coaching positions. As a player, he understood the value of on-base percentage, and he should help the Yankees achieve greater plate success. 

The deal with Wilkerson came together quickly. Wilkerson is quoted saying that the team had approached him about ten days before the appointment. He did not want to leave Jacksonville University for any opportunity, but the chance to be a big-league coach with the Yankees was too much to pass up. It did make me wonder whom the Yankees approached before Wilkerson. I guess we will never know as if it matters (it does not). I wish Wilkerson the best for much success in his new role. If team hitting improves, it will certainly set him up for a strong future in Major League coaching.

Brad, I would like you to meet Estevan Florial, your new project. 

Minor League Coaching Staffs

On Friday, the Yankees announced their Minor League coaching staff for the upcoming season.

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Manager: Shelley Duncan

Pitching Coach: Graham Johnson

Hitting Coach: Trevor Amicone

Defensive Coach: José Javier

Double-A Somerset Patriots

Manager: Raul Dominguez

Pitching Coach: Grayson Crawford

Hitting Coach: Jake Hirst

Defensive Coach: Aaron Bossi

High-A Hudson Valley Renegades

Manager: Sergio Santos

Pitching Coach: Preston Claiborne

Hitting Coach: Kevin Martir

Defensive Coach: Rob Benjamin

Defensive Coach: Derek Woodley

Single-A Tampa Tarpons

Manager: Rachel Balkovec

Pitching Coach: Gerardo Casadiego

Hitting Coach: Rick Guarno

Defensive Coach: Lino Díaz

Defensive Coach: Michel Hernández


Play Ball!

As always, Go Yankees!

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