Saturday, March 30, 2024

Yankees Baseball is Back...

Oswaldo Cabrera and Juan Soto

Yankees successfully open the 2024 regular season…

Although nothing will ever beat a season that starts at Yankee Stadium, the New York Yankees successfully kicked off the 2024 season with a come-from-behind win at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas over the contentious Astros on Thursday. After Nestor Cortes, Jr gave up three runs in the first inning, I was not optimistic, but the Yankees prevailed for the thrilling 5-4 win that featured a tremendous throw from Juan Soto in right field to catcher Jose Trevino to nail a potential tying run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. Left fielder Alex Verdugo also made a nice running catch in the game.

The Yankees followed up the Opening Day win with another victory on Friday night. Carlos Rodón labored through the first 4 1/3 innings but held the Astros to only one run to keep it close. From there, Oswaldo Cabrera and the bullpen took over and delivered a not-as-easy-as-it-looks 7-1 win. Giancarlo Stanton added the cherry on top with his first home run of the young season. It was a big game for Cabrera, who had four hits and three RBIs as he started at third base for the second consecutive game. Luke Weaver picked up the win. For a team that generally struggles with games in Houston, the Yankees have looked terrific.

Marcus Stroman makes his Yankees debut today as the team looks to capture its third consecutive victory.

As we begin the latest regular season, I am happy that Marcus Stroman has embraced life as a Yankee, and I look forward to his Pinstriped debut at Yankee Stadium Opener next Friday against Stro’s former team, the Toronto Blue Jays. However…I am not trying to minimize the impact of Stroman’s signing…I expected more. I held out some degree of hope the Yankees would sign either Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery until those pitchers signed elsewhere. Realistically, it never made sense for the Yankees to sign them given the luxury tax implications and how much the pitchers would cost in real dollars for the organization. For as much as Montgomery was connected to Boston, Texas, and the Yankees in free agency, it was surprising he went to Arizona on a short-term deal. Not my money and I am not concerned about whether Hal Steinbrenner can afford dessert after dinner at a nice Tampa area restaurant. For a team spending over $300 million in payroll, why let a few more million dollars keep you from fielding the strongest possible team? We are greedy for a reason. We want to win. If the Yankees fall short this season, we may look back and think things might have been different if the Yankees had made stronger moves for the rotation when they had the chance.

Setting Hal Steinbrenner’s wealth aside, I am concerned about the ability to sign Juan Soto to baseball’s highest non-Shohei Ohtani contract. The Yankees can afford it, but will they? If signing Snell or Montgomery would have been detrimental to the Yankees’ chances of retaining Soto, I would rather take a chance on the younger prospects in the organization. I feel better about the depth and quality of the starting pitching in the upper levels of the farm system than I ever have before even if Chase Hampton has an ulnar collateral ligament sprain or the fact that Will Warren got beat up in his season debut with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, pitching like Tyler Clippard in Pinstripes with a meaningful game on the line. Warren, who I thought should be the team’s fifth starter (the nod went to Luis Gil), gave up five runs and three walks and was pulled after recording only one out. Not a great start but he will do better. Even Gerrit Cole gives up a clunker now and then.

Yet, there is hope among the younger arms. Clayton Beeter surprised me by making the Opening Day Roster. I fully expected him to get sent down regardless of how he performed in Spring Training. I am happy for him, and he is making the Joey Gallo trade look like a steal. Not a bad rebound by the Yankees after they gave up so many young players to get Gallo. Luis Gil surprised me only by making the starting rotation. I recognize he pitched brilliantly in Spring Training, but I always take great Springs in stride. It is the Greg Bird Syndrome. You may be selling it, but I am not buying it. An incredible Spring performance does not automatically translate to regular-season success. The rule generally works, even if there are some outliers like Gil. One of those things I love to get wrong.

As evident by Warren’s Triple-A season debut, the Yankees made the right call to give Gil the last rotation spot over Warren. Gil has yet to prove it on his end, but I feel confident about his upcoming performance. There will be bumps in the road, but if he can keep the Yankees in games, I will be satisfied. My prior pick of Warren over Gil for the starting rotation was more about how valuable I felt that Gil could be in the Michael King bullpen role. A shutdown reliever who can go multiple innings is huge. Yet, the Yankees know how to build bullpens, and I think they will find the right solution without Gil in the mix.

As much as I wanted the Yankees to add an upper-rotation arm before the start of the season, we must let it go and accept the team we have been presented with. The Yankees will re-evaluate their needs in July and find solutions on the trade market if necessary. That is not a concern today. The Yankees must play and win with the guys currently on the roster. It is our job, as Yankees fans, to support the product. The Los Angeles Dodgers may have had an incredibly successful (and exorbitantly expensive) offseason, but nothing assures them of a World Series Championship except for hard work, determination, teamwork, and professionalism. Yes, talent factors into the equation, but good teams find a way to win even if they do not have the best players on the field. A long-winded approach to saying nothing is preventing the Yankees from winning a championship except for themselves. They can do it, and I will support them to the end regardless of how this season may turn out.

Two games into the new season, the Yankees look much better than last year’s 82-win team. Much can happen over the next 160 games, yet it is important to start strong, especially when playing in the house of a top rival. Stroman can give the Yankees the series win later today. If not Stroman, Clarke Schmidt gets the chance on Sunday. I am feeling good that at least one of those guys will deliver the “W.”

The Yankees are fun again.

Alex Verdugo, Aaron Judge and Juan Soto (Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post)

Active Trade Market

You typically do not see many early-season trades, but the Yankees have been active. The day before the season opener in Houston, the Yankees acquired infielder Jon Berti from the Miami Marlins. Berti’s ability to play second base, shortstop, and third base made him an appealing target for the Yankees. The 34-year-old may not scare you with the bat, but he is fast and is a plus fielder at shortstop and third base. The latter position is one of need with DJ LeMahieu starting the season on the Injured List with his bruised right foot.

Jon Berti

In 2023 for the Marlins, Berti hit .294/.344/.405 in 133 games and 424 plate appearances. He had sixteen doubles, three triples, seven home runs, thirty-three runs batted in, and sixteen stolen bases (caught stealing six times). Berti led MLB with forty-one stolen bags in 2022. Berti’s 2023 fWAR of 2.1 was nearly double LeMahieu’s 1.1.  I do not think LeMahieu has to worry about losing his starting gig, but Berti is a competent interim replacement. Admittedly, I did not know much about Berti before the trade. I cannot say following the Miami Marlins is high on my priority list. Yet, I like the trade. I was worried about Oswaldo Cabrera in the starting lineup for an extended period despite his strong start to the regular season. I like the kid and he had a nice Spring but…I am not buying it. He has looked fantastic for two regular season games, but I prefer to keep him in a limited, backup role although if he keeps playing like Friday night, I may have to reconsider my beliefs. Nevertheless, the combo of Berti and Cabrera provides stability at third base until LeMahieu is ready to dance again. Berti should make his Yankees debut today, wearing Masahiro Tanaka’s old number.

A little birdie told me that the Yankees have Burdi and Berti. Rare names with a similar sound. I guess Birdies are better than Bogeys.

To acquire Berti, the Yankees gave up catcher Ben Rortvedt and minor-league outfielder John Cruz. It was a three-way trade that sent Rortvedt to the division rival Tampa Bay Rays, while Cruz went to Miami. The Rays sent outfield prospect Shane Sasaki to the Marlins to complete the deal. If there was a trade I expected, it was Rortvedt. Out of options and the third-best catcher on the roster left him on the outside looking in. I would not have been surprised if Rortvedt had been designated for assignment and lost on waivers. It seemed clear that his days in Pinstripes were over. The only surprise is a trade with a key division rival. Good for Rortvedt. He made the Rays’ Opening Day roster as their backup catcher. It is certainly a better Major League opportunity for him than he would have found in New York. Of course, if he hits a home run against the Yankees, the good feelings for the player will evaporate. You know there will be a game when he goes off on the Yankees like he never has against any team in baseball before. But until then, I wish him well.

GM Brian Cashman did not stop with the Berti trade. On Friday, he acquired Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher JT Brubaker. 

JT Brubaker (Photo Credit: Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports)

While I get the Yankees often look for undervalued players who they feel can be coached up, it is hard to get excited about Brubaker. The 30-year-old righthander made his debut for the Pirates in 2020 and has a career 9-28 record with a 4.99 ERA. Brubaker is currently on the Injured List after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2023. This seems like a Michael Fishman special with the belief that the Yankees can unlock Brubaker’s potential. Not exactly a bet I would want to make. I doubt Brubaker will stop the Yankees from trying to acquire (or needing to acquire) other arms at the deadline. If it turns out to be the latest Clay Holmes Reclamation Project with comparable results, hooray for us. If not, I hope Brubaker likes Eastern Pennsylvania.

The Pirates will receive a player-to-be-named later. Brubaker’s ability to pitch later this season presumably factors into the equation but it seems unlikely the Yankees will lose a highly regarded prospect based on Brubaker’s track record.

As always, Go Yankees!

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