Saturday, March 16, 2024

Opening Day Loses Some Luster...


Gerrit Cole (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Gerrit Cole is sidelined with a right elbow injury…

Some sports weeks are good; some sports weeks are bad. I will place this past week in the latter category even if neither my favorite MLB nor NFL team played a meaningful game this week. “Loss” was the common denominator despite the lack of competition.

In the NFL, the start of free agency means rapid-fire signings for a couple of days. It did not take long for my beloved Minnesota Vikings to lose starting quarterback Kirk Cousins to the Atlanta Falcons.

Kirk Cousins (Photo Credit: Mike Stewart/AP)

Say what you will about Cousins. He is not an elite quarterback, but he is a good one. At the end of the day, he did not take the Vikings to the promised land, and he has that dang aging thing following him with a hurried pace (Cousins will be thirty-six this season). The Vikings did not want to go more than year to year with Cousins, while the Falcons were willing to give Cousins $180 million over four years, including a $50 million signing bonus. Let the Falcons pay him. I do not blame the Vikings for passing (no pun intended). The salt in the wound is the Vikings’ signing of former Jets, Panthers, and 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold. If the Vikings expect Darnold to play like a former third pick in the NFL Draft, they will be as disappointed as the Jets were. Maybe a better cast around him will help (Justin Jefferson is one of the best in the business at wide receiver). Maybe not. I hope the Vikings are not finished looking for veteran help at the position while they attempt to move up in this year’s draft to grab a future franchise QB.

But this is not a Vikings blog so enough about the misery of the purple and gold. The harder news to take was the loss of Yankees Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole. Granted, the loss is only time, and he is still a Yankee...and, most importantly, the time will not be as long as it could have been, but Cole will be absent for the first two months of the season. There is no question it is a huge blow to the team.

Following an MRI on Cole’s right elbow, he met with noted Tommy John surgeon and Los Angeles Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache. I was bracing for the worst when I heard about the visit with Dr. ElAttrache, but, fortunately, surgery is not needed (as one beat reporter put it, “for now”). Rest for 1-2 months means that, realistically, we will not see Cole for at least two months. Even if Cole recovers ahead of schedule, the Yankees move notoriously slow when it comes to player injuries especially when it happens to one of the team’s most valued assets. If Cole can make a few starts before the All-Star break, it is likely the best-case scenario. I cannot see Cole pitching before Memorial Day Weekend.

This was not the news we wanted to hear during the one-season run of Juan Soto as a Yankee. I thought Cole’s injury might spur the Yankees to acquire another starting pitcher, but it truly appears they plan to go with the hand they have been dealt. In other words, all 2024 MLB starters for the Yankees, at least on Opening Day, are presently in-house. With Dylan Cease off the board following his trade from the Chicago White Sox to the San Diego Padres, there are fewer options. There will be no late pillow contracts for Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery. Even if they were signed, they would not be ready for Opening Day. With reports today that the Houston Astros are interested in Snell, it made me wonder if it is just agent Scott Boras trying to put more pressure on the Yankees to pay his client. It would be disappointing if the Astros do sign Snell and he becomes responsible for ending the Yankees’ season this year. Although there is some talk the Yankees may be interested in free agent RHP Michael Lorenzen, he is hardly a needle-mover. 

Michael Lorenzen (Photo Credit: Mark J Terrill/AP)

Cleveland’s Shane Bieber is probably the best option, and he will not cost the organization a top prospect like Spencer Jones or Roderick Arias. It feels like the Yankees will not do anything about the rotation until the trade deadline later this summer. It will be a long summer if Carlos Rodón continues to pitch like the second coming of Javier Vazquez in Pinstripes, or Nestor Cortes cannot pitch like he did in 2022.

I am excited to see what Clayton Beeter and Will Warren can do at the Major League Level. The downside with rookie pitchers is the inevitable bumps in the road. Very few rookie pitchers take the MLB by storm, and I cannot remember too many Yankee pitchers that did. For the most part, it takes a year or two to ease into the nuances of the game’s highest level. Patience is necessary when it comes to young pitchers. I wish the Yankees had time to be patient. Regardless, we have no choice. So, I guess we must be impatiently patient. I am hoping for the best, yet it must fall on the Front Office if the season falls apart because of starting pitching. The team’s offense should be the best we have seen in a few years. That is why most Yankee fans wanted the team to push their starting pitching staff from particularly good to elite with the addition of another arm. Now, trying to reach ‘very good’ will be a challenge. The bats have a lot of ground to make up.

I am cautiously optimistic it works out for the Yankees. There is no scenario where I would root for them to fail. I want guys to step up. To take advantage of opportunities. Every great player took another player’s job at one point in their respective careers.

Although Michael Lorenzen does not excite me, I would be in favor of his signing in the light that there will be no major moves or signings in the immediate non-greedy Pinstripes' future (pun intended). He could be a placeholder until Cole returns or if/when reinforcements arrive at the trade deadline. If he pitches well, his role could have a longer duration. He would offer some insurance in case of a total Rodón flameout. He is certainly not the same caliber of pitcher as Rodón is/was, but he can win games with Juan Soto and Aaron Judge in the lineup. If the Yankees must use a rookie pitcher, I would rather see it limited to one and not multiple rookies.

With Cole sidelined, the Opening Day gig was up for grabs. The first report surfaced that Marcus Stroman would not alter his current schedule to make the Opening Day start. Honestly, I do not care. I saw negative comments from the fan base, but realistically, none of us were part of the conversations between Stroman and team management. Stroman has the right to decide what works best for him, mentally and physically. It is not our place to decide what is best for him. I thought it was cool that Stroman was scheduled to start the Yankee Stadium opener against his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays. I hope that the schedule does not change. Whether Stroman starts the first game of the season in Houston, or the second or third is inconsequential. The Yankees need wins, and they will need a win on the day Stroman pitches, whatever day that may be.

Friday, it was announced that the Opening Day starter in Houston on March 28 will be Nestor Cortes, Jr. Admittedly, it is surprising, but Rodón certainly has not earned the right. I thought maybe Clarke Schmidt might be the best option, but I have no qualms about Nestor so long as he stays healthy.

Nestor Cortes, Jr (Photo Credit: New York Yankees/Getty Images)

Juan, I know you are a man among boys, but we will need you to step up your game. Seriously, I hope the team’s offense can carry the team until Gerrit Cole can return to help ease the load. This is why they pay Brian Cashman the big bucks, and why he should be held accountable for the results, whatever they may be.

Germán signs with the Pittsburgh Pirates

Domingo Germán has finally found his new home. Well, it is a minor-league contract with a couple of weeks to show he belongs in the Majors, but it is better than nothing at all.

Germán will head to Bradenton, Florida to work out with Aroldis Chapman and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He can make $1.25 million this season if he makes the Major League roster, and there is a club option for $2.25 million in 2025, with performance bonuses mixed in. Honestly, I think all Major League contracts should have lower base salaries, and higher performance-related bonuses, but that is beside the point.

Domingo German (Photo Credit: Noah K Murray/AP)

Good for Germán to find a new opportunity. I am glad he is no longer a Yankee, but I would certainly prefer to see him earn the right to play in the Major Leagues again than to fail. This might be his third chance, but hopefully, this one sticks for his sake. His family deserves better.

As always, Go Yankees!

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