Saturday, February 17, 2024

Hell-Bent for a Championship...


Yankees Manager Aaron Boone (Photo Credit: Reid Hoffman/AP)

Wishful Thinking by Yankees Manager…

I desperately want to experience another Yankees World Series Championship in the not-so-distant future (like any true Yankees fan), but I had to chuckle when Aaron Boone remarked “We’re hell-bent on being a champion. We understand very well that last year was not anything anyone in this organization wants, demands, or expects.” Granted, I believe that acquiring outfielder Juan Soto was a HUGE move in the offseason, but I remain skeptical they have done enough to shorten the gap between them and the game’s best teams. ‘Hell-bent’ would be acquiring a strong number two starting pitcher to pair with ace Gerrit Cole. Marcus Stroman is nice, but if he is the definition of ‘hell-bent,’ then the Yankees clearly love taking Octobers off. Stroman will be a good pitcher for the Yankees, but whether he will be the difference-maker come playoff time remains to be seen if the Yankees make it that far.

Lately, it seems every post I write revolves around the Yankees' inability to pull out all the stops to bring championship baseball back to the Bronx. T. It is the product, or the hazard, of not winning since 2009. For as many World Series championships as we have experienced in our lifetimes (some more than others), there are fourteen-year-old Yankee fans who have never experienced a Pinstriped championship. I would be quite surprised if any fifteen- or sixteen-year-olds had a recollection of the 2009 World Series Champions. It saddens me that they live in a world where the Boston Red Sox have won championships and the Yankees have not.

I will let it go. I am happy and excited that baseball is back. It is quite enjoyable to see the players return to George Steinbrenner Field this week, participating in group training activities and giving on-camera interviews. I am looking forward to the first Spring game which is a week away.

It is impressive to see position players who have arrived early with the pitchers and catchers although I am still trying to get used to Alex Verdugo with no facial hair or the fact that he is even a Yankee. That should change once he takes the field in Pinstripes and when he delivers his first home run or game-winning hit. Regardless of who I wanted for the outfield when the offseason started, Verdugo is an upgrade over the players who patrolled left field last season. Like Juan Soto, I am not convinced Verdugo’s stay will be long. Verdugo will be a free agent after the season and if there are any missteps by Verdugo during the season, it seems like he will be allowed to walk away. I was recently talking with a Red Sox fan who seemed relieved that Verdugo was no longer with the Sox not because of on-the-field play but rather the challenges he represented in the clubhouse and the stormy relationship with Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

Alex Verdugo (Photo Credit: New York Post)

Despite my concerns, Verdugo deserves a second chance. The problems in Boston do not automatically mean there will be problems in New York. There is a greater potential for problems than with your average player, but I am convinced that Verdugo learned from the Boston experience, and he will be a better man for it or at least I hope that is the case. Incredibly, the Yankees could lose two-thirds of their current outfield to free agency after the season even if Jasson Dominguez will be 100% healthy entering next season (hopefully). Man, I want to fully embrace both Soto and Verdugo, but the potential ‘one-and-done’ aspect holds me back a little. I guess a World Series championship would cure any hesitation.

I am cautiously optimistic about Carlos Rodón who reported to camp with no moustache and is throwing much harder than he did this time last year. He seems focused on proving who he is and showing us that last year was simply a bad aberration. Given the failure to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto, pursue a top free-agent pitching target, or trade for an upper-end starter, the Yankees need Rodón to be the pitcher they thought he was, the guy who dominated in San Francisco. As a fan, I want to have the same elevated level of confidence when Rodón takes the ball as I do when Gerrit Cole is on the mound. Rodón is not Cole, but he can shove if he pitches like we think he can and he knows he can. If Nestor Cortes suffers any setbacks, the Yankees need all they can get from the front-end starters. So, as it stands, Rodón is the key to the rotation. Cole will be dominant, Stroman will be consistent, and Schmidt will continue to blossom. Rodón can make this a great starting rotation rather than a good one.

I keep hoping the Yankees sign one of the top free agents, Jordan Montgomery, or Blake Snell, but I recognize it is a pipe dream. The Yankees will not add that amount of money to the already high payroll. I am a little surprised they remain on the market, but the cost remains high. Not trying to prospect-hug, but I would rather see the Yankees spend money to upgrade the rotation over parting with elite prospects to bring in a strong young controllable starter. I know the latter option represents the best financial decision for the organization, but spending the money keeps elite young talent in-house better. With no further additions, it seems inevitable that Luke Weaver will be thrust into the starting rotation at some point. If not Weaver, then Clayton Beeter or Cody Poteet.

There are lesser free agents available, such as Hyun-Jin Ryu and Mike Clevinger. Neither of those names excites me even if we are starting to hear Ryu’s name more closely linked to the Yankees. I have liked Ryu over the years, but good health has never been his friend. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2022 and did not return until last August. He turns thirty-seven before Opening Day, and the thought of an older pitcher with an inability to stay healthy (the health concerns date back to his days with the Los Angeles Dodgers) seems like a poor investment choice regardless of how good he is. Mike Clevinger is not the pitcher he once was for the Cleveland Guardians. He is three months younger than Gerrit Cole, but Clevinger gets a ‘meh’ from me. I barely remembered that he pitched for the Chicago White Sox last year after a couple of years in San Diego. He was 9-9 with a 3.77 ERA for the White Sox, making twenty-four starts. I want to see better upside from any pitching additions if there are any.

With so many questions remaining, ‘hell-bent’ is not exactly the right word for the Yankees. I think the Los Angeles Dodgers have purchased the rights to ‘hell-bent’ although they probably deferred the dollars for the purchase. Juan Soto, with the limited other upgrades, seems like a Hail Mary Pass with the hope that all other Yankees can play to the back of their baseball cards.

I remain hopeful the Yankees can prove me wrong.

This Week’s Transactions

The Yankees have certainly been quite busy this offseason with waiver claims. I cannot remember the last time they were this active. On a side note, I saw that the Baltimore Orioles claimed brief off-season Yankee Diego Castillo on waivers. After he was designated for assignment by the Yankees, the Philadelphia Phillies claimed him. However, his stay in the City of Brotherly Love was brief and he hit the waiver wire again this week. I hope for his sake he has better luck in Baltimore. He has certainly landed with a good young team.

Earlier this week, the Yankees claimed infielder Jordan Groshans off waivers from the Miami Marlins. Recognizing that Groshans has failed to fulfill his potential as the twelfth player taken in the 2018 MLB Draft (by the Toronto Blue Jays), there is always cautious optimism that the Yankees see something they feel they can fix. I am not optimistic, but there is hope. At worst, he is depth for Triple-A. At best, he is the latest iteration of Gio Urshela who found new life as a Yankee. Groshans is only twenty-four, so he still has some time on his side.

Jordan Groshans

I am worried about DJ LeMahieu’s ability to stay healthy, which is magnified since he has been designated as the team’s starting third baseman, after the nagging injuries he has had for the last couple of seasons. Groshans can play third base so if he defies the odds to become Brian Cashman’s latest ‘lightning in a bottle’ acquisition, he offers some insurance although you would expect Oswald Peraza to be the first call for help at third base. If Groshans is starting third base for the big-league club, you know that either he blossomed beyond expectations or things have gone horribly wrong—nothing in between.

The cost for Groshans was a roster spot for LHP Matt Krook who finally lost his seat at the table when he was designated for assignment. I am surprised Krook made it this long. It must be a bummer to be within days of reporting to Spring Training, only to get a call to tell you to postpone your travel plans.

Seeking more pieces for bullpen consideration, the Yankees swapped a lower-level pitching prospect (RHP Joshua Quezada) for Milwaukee Brewers reliever LHP Clayton Andrews. Andrews, 27, only made four MLB appearances for the Brewers last season, spending most of the season in the minors. Like Groshans, maybe the Yankees see something that can be corrected. Looking at Andrews, there is one thing that stands out to me. He is Jose Altuve-small (5’6”). I get this image of him standing next to Aaron Judge and his head barely reaching the Captain’s waist. If he can get outs, I guess it does not matter how tall (or in this case, short) he is but he is certainly not going to have an imposing presence on the mound. Heck, that would be like me standing on the mound.

The Yankees also re-signed reliever RHP Lou Trivino who continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He should be ready to join the team later this summer. Once Trivino was firmly secured on the 40-man roster, the Yankees claimed reliever RHP McKinley Moore on waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies. In the corresponding move, Trivino was moved to the 60-day Injured List to open the spot for Mount McKinley (6’6”, 225 lbs.). Now that is the size of the relievers I want to see on the mound! Booyah!

As always, Go Yankees!

Monday, February 12, 2024

Yankees Pitchers & Catchers, You're Up! ...


Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, Florida

Steinbrenner Field is ready for the start of Spring Training…

The NFL season has ended. Time for the return of America’s Favorite Pastime.

After a few months of no baseball and a nice but not-as-great-as-it-could-have-been offseason for the New York Yankees, pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday, February 15. The forecast for Tampa, Florida on Thursday, February 16, for the first workout, will be a high of 78 with partly cloudy skies. In other words, fantastic weather for baseball. The first full-squad workout will be on Tuesday, February 20.

There are reports the Yankees could still acquire the additional starting pitching they have been seeking during Spring Training. I guess the Dylan Cease rumors will be never-ending until the Chicago White Sox finally pull the trigger, if/when that ever happens. If the Yankees have resisted Chicago's efforts to include outfielder Spencer Jones in a potential trade, I cannot fault the Yankees. I know prospects are suspects until proven otherwise and ‘flags fly forever.’ However, the Yankees have traded away multiple prospects in recent years. For the most part, they have not been hurt by any of the trades. Yet, it is a depletion of the farm system. The best way to combat high payroll is through young, cost-controlled players who can play better than the league average on the field. In other words, you need to maintain a good mix of young and veteran players to keep the salary level from skyrocketing.

Spencer Jones (Photo Credit: New York Yankees)

I get the Yankees have gotten smarter and their system is one of the higher-ranked systems in MLB. I did not want to see pitching prospect Drew Thorpe traded, but it was the necessary cost to acquire Juan Soto. I would have loved it if the Yankees had acquired Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes before the Baltimore Orioles did, but I cannot say that including Jones in a potential trade would have been worth it even if Thorpe for Soto was. As it stands, the Yankees lost Thorpe and others for a potential one-year rental of Soto. Losing other top-ranked prospects for Burnes, who, like Soto, can also walk after the season, is too much unless the Yankees genuinely believed that he was the difference-maker for winning the World Series. The Yankees are not the odds-on favorite to win it all, and Burnes would not have cinched it for them. Sure, the Yankees can win the World Series this year, but they are not the prohibitive favorites and Burnes would not have changed it.

I know the Yankees have held onto certain prospects too long (past their peak values), yet I support the Yankees if they believe Jones can be a special player. I have seen some people say that Jones will never be as good as Aaron Judge. Funny because people once said that Judge would never be as good as Mike Trout. Jones does not have to be Judge to be a valuable player for the Yankees. The Yankees know their players better than we do. I will give them the benefit of the doubt for players they believe they should hold versus those they are willing to package in the right deals. So, I am certainly not going to try and crucify them for losing out on Burnes because of an unwillingness to part with Jones. Again, I would have loved to see the Yankees acquire Burnes, but it needed to be at the right price that made the most long-term sense for the organization.

If the Yankees end up with Cease, I know that he is not on the same level as Burnes. As such, the cost should not be as high as the package the Orioles put together for Burnes. It should not cost the absolute best prospects in the organization, a group headed by Jones and Jasson Dominguez.

Maybe the Yankees will do nothing, and head into the season with a starting rotation consisting of Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Marcus Stroman, Nestor Cortes, Jr, and Clarke Schmidt. It is not like the Yankees are trying to do patchwork with unproven starters. All five guys have proven they can win Major League games. Health concerns aside, it is a formidable group. No doubt we will see starting performances by Cody Poteet, Clayton Beeter, Luis Gil, and others. The question becomes whether this group can get the Yankees to the trade deadline when a potential deal for another starting pitcher brings the needed reinforcement. Barring a Spring Training trade (or signing), this seems to be the current path.

For most of the winter, I had some hope the Yankees would turn to Jordan Montgomery as a potential rotation solution. You keep hearing that he wants to return to Texas, but with the calendar having turned to February and Montgomery still accepting offers, there is always a chance. The Yankees must have decided it was not an option for them as they finally gave away Montgomery’s number 47. If they harbored any hopes of signing Montgomery, they would have withheld the number. According to the Yankees’ website, the number has been assigned to one of the relievers acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Victor González. Thanks for the memories, Monty…the Yankees should have never traded you.

Jordan Montgomery

Speaking of numbers, I was surprised the Yankees gave a low jersey number (29) to non-roster catcher Luis Torrens. If the Yankees trade Ben Rortvedt, Torrens stands a good chance to be the emergency catcher in Triple-A (assuming Austin Wells joins Jose Trevino on the Major League roster as expected). I have low expectations that Torrens will make the Yankees; however, I am pulling for him.

Looking forward to the first sights of Spring Training. The pictures of players working out in Tampa were enjoyable, but it is not the same as organized team activities. The first surreal moment will be when Juan Soto arrives. The other new guys will seem like afterthoughts. Sorry Stro & Dugie, New York loves its stars.

Welcome back, Yankees!

Exhibition Games in Mexico

It was exciting to see the addition of two exhibition games in Mexico City on March 24 and 25.

The Yankees will play the Diablos Rojos del México at Alfredo Harp Helú Stadium. They will be split-squad games since the Yankees will also be in Bradenton, FL to play the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 24 and at Steinbrenner Field on March 25 against the New York Mets.

Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú

It will be interesting to see which players are chosen to make the trip to Mexico City. I am hopeful that Jose Trevino makes the trip for no other reason than how excited he is about it. Spring Training usually becomes a grind by late March so the infusion of excitement for the Mexico City games will be a bonus in advance of Opening Day.

The Yankees last played in Mexico City in 1968 which was Mickey Mantle’s final season. A couple of the new guys, Victor González, and Alex Verdugo, have roots in Mexico like Trevino. They should certainly be on the travel squad, but I would like to see some of the regulars make the trip.

Adding Another Dodgers Reliever

Victor González will certainly see a few familiar faces at Steinbrenner Field this week. Alex Verdugo was a prospect in the Dodgers organization a few years ago and spent some time with the big-league club before he was traded to Boston in the Mookie Betts deal. Last week, the Yankees acquired Dodgers reliever, Caleb Ferguson, a lefty, for the left-handed reliever the Yankees had claimed on waivers from the Houston Astros, Matt Gage, and a low-level prospect, RHP Christian Zazueta.

Caleb Ferguson (Photo Credit: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Gage may have had a chance to make the Opening Day Roster, but Ferguson is the better reliever. Not exactly Josh Hader, but the Yankees have proven an ability to put together an effective bullpen.

How long until Manager Aaron Boone starts calling the new lefty “Fergie”?

I like both González and Ferguson, but there is part of me that wonders why the Dodgers were so willing to part ways with them. I know they needed the roster space, but still. Oh well, it does not matter how they got here, and it does not mean that the two relievers cannot become part of Boone’s trusted inner circle in the bullpen.

Welcome to the Yankees Family, Caleb!

On an unrelated note, former Yankees reliever Lucas Luetge signed with the Boston Red Sox. Regardless of the player, I hate it when ex-Yankees join the Red Sox. At least the Yankees squeezed the best years out of Luetge.  

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Did the Yankees Stop Short? ...


Juan Soto

Yankees Offseason Shopping is seemingly over…

Before I criticize the Yankees for not doing enough to strengthen an 82-80 team, I acknowledge and credit GM Brian Cashman for acquiring one of the greatest young talents in the game…outfielder Juan Soto. His addition to the offensive lineup is a huge boost and he will help those around him. But…. If Soto is a one-year rental, I am going to temper my excitement and enthusiasm. I will be excited when he has his signature moment in Pinstripes, and we will cheer for every home run. Yet, he is only here for one year until proven otherwise. There is a real possibility that we get excited about Soto, only to watch him play for the New York Mets or Los Angeles Dodgers in 2025. So, I will hold any high praise for Cashman until if/when he can sign Soto to a long-term extension.

Early in the offseason, we had dreams of getting both Juan Soto and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. We know how that story ended. After Yamamoto signed with the Dodgers, there was hope the Yankees would sign one of the top available free-agent starting pitchers, notably Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell. Although the team allegedly made an offer to Snell, it was short of the pitcher’s expectations (or rather those of his agent, Scott Boras), and the Yankees quickly pivoted to Marcus Stroman. While I recognize Stroman is a good pitcher, going from Yamamoto to Montgomery/Snell to Stroman is a drop-off any way you slice it.

Recent social media posts had me believing the Yankees would make a run at Corbin Burnes in July at the Trade Deadline. Then, this week (and out of nowhere), the Baltimore Orioles seized Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers without sacrificing elite prospect talent. I am not trying to minimize shortstop Joey Ortiz or pitcher DL Hall, they are good, young players, but they were not the best of the best in the Orioles farm system. If memory serves correctly, The Greedy Pinstripes’ Daniel Burch wanted the Yankees to take Hall in the 2017 MLB Draft, when he was a top left-handed pitcher from Valdosta High School in Valdosta, GA. With the sixteenth pick of the first round in the 2017 Draft, the Yankees chose Clarke Schmidt. Hall slid to the Baltimore Orioles five picks later. At least Schmidt has not been a flame-out, but Hall, in combo with Ortiz, fetched an elite starting pitcher for the O’s. Like Soto, Burnes is a one-year rental, but I would be surprised if the Orioles do not sign him to a lucrative deal, especially if he proves to be a difference-maker for them this year. With the potential addition of new billionaire owners, the Orioles should be ready to compete with the big boys for a long time and they certainly have lots of room in the payroll for a few big contracts without breaking the bank.

Despite their unsigned status in February, I am not expecting Montgomery or Snell to fall into the Yankees’ lap. I would be highly surprised if the team signed either one given the luxury tax ramifications which would double the cost of the player’s contract. I am also not optimistic about a trade for Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox, but even then, he is not Corbin Burnes.

The Yankees are, apparently, ready to go to war with Gerrit Cole and question marks. Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes, Jr must prove they can stay healthy and can be the pitchers they were in 2022. There are questions about Stroman’s health given his bout with injuries last August. He is healthy now, but of course, that is what we thought about Rodón and Cortes this time last year. I probably have the most confidence, aside from Cole, in Clarke Schmidt. Although his early season starts last year were concerning, he showed growth and improvement, and his upward progression should continue as expected.

Clarke Schmidt (Photo Credit: @clarkeschmidt via Instagram)

Honestly, I wish I felt better about the starting rotation. If all the pitchers perform to their respective abilities and avoid injuries, the pitching staff will be a strength. Yet, Murphy’s Law always prevails. If anything can go wrong, it will. If the Yankees are forced to depend on starts by unproven minor-league pitchers, all of us will take our lumps. Not an effective way to play catch-up with the stacked Orioles, the always annoying Rays, and the ‘one of these years they will put it all together’ Blue Jays.

I like the feeling of confidence on days when Gerrit Cole is pitching. Win or lose, you know it will be a competitive game, and the opposing pitcher must bring his “A” game if he expects to beat the Yankees ace. I wish there were more guys on the starting staff who inspire the same or close to similar confidence for the fan base. Yamamoto would have been one of those guys, even though he has never thrown a pitch in a Major League regular season. Jordan Montgomery is not the same pitcher he was in Pinstripes. He is better. Not “ace-like” better, but still. Snell certainly falls into the ace category regardless of your feelings about how he pitches. As good as Stroman is, I was never concerned when he was the opposing pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember when it seemed like Baltimore’s Mike Mussina was always shutting down the Yanks until he became one. Stroman does not bring that same aura…at least not for me.

When the starting pitching door closed, it seemed like the Yankees might bolster the pen. But one by one, the available free-agent names have fallen off the board. The best reliever, Josh Hader, is now a Houston Astro. Former Yank Wandy Peralta joined Michael King, Kyle Higashioka, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez, and Drew Thorpe in San Diego. I thought the Yankees would re-sign Keynan Middleton, but he went to the St Louis Cardinals. Phil Maton is close to signing with the Tampa Bay Rays. Not much left. It appears the Yankees will look in-house to help round out the pen, barring any last-minute signings or trades. I do not blame the Yankees for passing on Wandy. He was a good Yankee, but the Yankees got the best years of his career. Let the Padres tie up the years and dollars for the declining asset.

While Spring Training is still several weeks away and the Yankees may make some moves, they are finished. They will look to the farm system for help (Luis Gil, Clayton Beeter, Will Warren, and others) and will reassess in the days leading up to the trade deadline later this summer. I hope they have done enough even if I do not believe they have.

Yankees, PLEASE prove me wrong.

Binder Joe is Back

I was surprised to see the YES Network has added former Yankees manager Joe Girardi as a TV analyst for the 2024 season. Not that I do not believe Joe brings value but being placed in a role that can potentially criticize current Yankees manager Aaron Boone seems like an odd twist of fate. I do not pine for the return of Girardi as Yankees manager. He served his time. I would have graciously accepted his return in 2018, but it was not to be and just like the team has moved on, so have I. If Boone is replaced in the next few years, Girardi will not be the chosen one. If Girardi were such a great manager, he would still be the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, or other teams would have been burning up the phone lines trying to get a hold of him.

Joe Girardi (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Aside from the odd pairing of the former Yankees manager with the YES Network, I look forward to his in-season contributions. I think he can easily qualify himself as a lifetime Yankee with seventeen seasons in the organization as a player or coach. He brought good insight into his past role with the MLB Network. I was not aware that he is part of the Chicago Cubs broadcast crew, but it makes sense given his history with the Cubs. Multiple paychecks are a blessing.

I will break with one of Girardi’s favored phrases (“It’s not what you want”) and say Girardi on the YES Network team IS what you want. I think he will do well for the YES Network until such a time when/if he is presented with another management opportunity (elsewhere). Welcome back to the Yankees family, Joe!

Joe Girardi (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The YES Network’s TV analyst team paired with play-by-play announcer Michael Kay suffered from the loss of Ken Singleton to retirement and David Cone’s reduced games caused by his work with ESPN and Sunday Night Baseball. Girardi will help make up for those losses. It is wild to think Aaron Judge is the only current Yankee on the roster when Girardi last managed the Yankees in 2017. I am sure Yankee fans will be waiting for him to question Boone’s managerial decisions. I suspect he will take the high road, but time will tell.

I would not mind it if the Yankees hired Buck Showalter again now that he is free of his Mets-obligation. I liked Showalter’s in-studio work before he got the Mets job.

As always, Go Yankees!