Saturday, March 23, 2024

Ready or Not, Here Comes Opening Day...


Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas

With a detour to Mexico City, the Yankees will soon arrive in Houston…

Less than a week until the regular season opens (well, at least for the New York Yankees since the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres already got the party started in Seoul, Korea this week).

Honestly, I thought the Yankees would be more active during the closing weeks of Spring Training in shaping the final roster. Granted, there are still a few days to determine the final 26-man roster that will head to Houston, Texas, so anything is possible, yet the clock is winding down. I am glad the Blake Snell rumors have been laid to rest now that he is officially a San Francisco Giant. We received another swirl of ‘Yankees connected to Jordan Montgomery’ rumors even if the likelihood is about as strong as the chance the Dodgers rehire Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. In other words, no chance in H-E-double toothpicks. Even if the Yankees’ back-office nerds do not like Montgomery, I do and I think the team could benefit from his consistency, reliability, and now, World Series experience. Give Monty a rotation spot and worry about other positions…not that one. Realistically, there is no way that Hal Steinbrenner is going to pay premium dollars for Montgomery since the amount would double with the luxury tax penalties associated therewith.

The best way to sustain an expensive business model is to supplement it with cheap, affordable, and most importantly, controllable, young talent. As such, Will Warren, Clayton Beeter, Cody Poteet, or Luis Gil stand a better chance of being in the Yankees rotation than Montgomery. My uninformed guess is that Will Warren will be nominated as the Man of the Hour, subject to performance, in a decision that can and most likely will change as the season progresses. I like Warren, and I am excited about his upcoming Major League career, but I would be foolish to say I prefer him over Jordan Montgomery, even with the price difference (hey, it is not my money!).

Will Warren (Photo Credit: @yankees via Instagram)

So, in other words, Will Warren, it will be. I know Luis Gil is under consideration, but he seems like a better fit for the bullpen (filling the role once held by Michael King). Yet, even if Warren gets the job, he will not be the last Yankees prospect to make his Major League debut in the rotation this season.

For the first few years of DJ LeMahieu’s Yankee career, I wanted him to have a set position. He was recognized as one of the better second basemen in the game (with emphasis on defense). Using him as a roving infielder never made complete sense to me, but to his credit, he has played respectively at both corner infield spots. Now, as he ages, I was admittedly concerned when I heard that he would be the starting third baseman this season. He can play third base, yes, and if healthy, he will not be a weakness in the lineup or on the field. Yet, it is that word ‘healthy’ that has caused me grief. LeMahieu and good health are, basically, a couple who are constantly screaming at each other. They cannot live with each other; they cannot live without each other.

LeMahieu recently fouled a ball off his right foot which caused a severe bone bruise. The MRI results were clear, so the prescription is rest and, of course, the Yankees tend to take a conservative approach when it comes to injuries. On one hand, you can feel relieved that LeMahieu did not break or crack a bone, but on the other hand, it is always something with him. He may not be the frequent traveler to the Injured List like Aaron Hicks was, but his ailments tend to reduce his effectiveness when he is playing. With Oswald Peraza on the shelf, the Yankees need a backup third baseman. I thought Gio Urshela made total sense before he signed with the Detroit Tigers. Or even JD Davis before he signed with the Oakland A’s although Gio is more versatile. I like Oswaldo Cabrera, but I am not excited about him being part of the everyday lineup in a critical position like third base. I know, he is an infielder by trade, but he has not shown he is an everyday player. I guess you must start somewhere. Minor league roster invitee Kevin Smith seems like an underwhelming option. With upcoming roster cuts by all teams, maybe a good backup corner infielder, who is cheap, will become available for the Yankees. As if LeMahieu’s health concerns were not enough, first baseman Anthony Rizzo was scratched from Friday’s exhibition game with a tight latissimus dorsi. Although Rizzo is expected to be ready for Opening Day, the Yankees cannot afford to lose both LeMahieu and Rizzo for any extended period without a solid Plan B in place.

I saw the Chicago White Sox released Mike Moustakas on Friday. There was a time when I wanted him as a Yankee. That time is NOT now. Eduardo Escobar, released by the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, does not excite me either. We know how GM Brian Cashman likes dumpster dives. These are not garbage pieces worth collecting but you know that Cashman will be sniffing.

I want the perfect team. Is that too much to ask? One would think over $300 million could ensure twenty-six elite players on the roster, but sadly, it buys you a flawed roster at best.

Oh well, bring on Opening Day, Part II. Thursday, March 28, 4:10 pm EDT, with cameras ready at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, will soon be here, y’all! Beers, BBQ, and a Yankees win. I love it!

The Last Straw in Cleveland

Now that Alex Verdugo has become “likable” (how did that happen?), the list of players I do not like has become much shorter. Cleveland’s Myles Straw has been a longtime resident on my list, yet his days in Cleveland might be over. Straw, beaten out by other Guardians outfielders including Estevan Florial, was placed on waivers this week. Sadly, with his contract (3 more years totaling $19.25 million which includes a 2026 buyout), no team will claim the dislikable outfielder. He will clear waivers and will be sent outright to Cleveland’s top minor league affiliate (he has sufficient service time to reject the outright assignment, although he would be dumber than I thought if he walked away from $19.25 million).

Myles Straw (Photo Credit: AP)

The Yankees visit Cleveland for a three-game series beginning on April 12. Hopefully, Cleveland does not have an outfield need between now and then to force Straw’s call-up. I am looking forward to a Straw-less series with the Guardians. Of course, that probably means that Estevan Florial will go off on the Yankees, hitting something like three game-winning home runs to win the series for Cleveland.

If the Guardians are making moves, I know where they can send starting pitcher Shane Bieber. Bieber would look great in road gray for the three-game series in mid-April.

Service Time Manipulation

Add Baltimore’s Jackson Holliday, Matt’s son, to the list of the young prospects demoted to delay the start of the MLB service time clock. The reasons for Holliday’s demotion seem legitimate. Holliday is moving to second base from shortstop since the talented Gunnar Henderson has the latter position. Holliday needs more time to learn the nuances of playing second base, an education that started this Spring. Orioles GM Mike Elias also cited Holliday’s lack of experience against upper-level lefthanded pitching. Young Holliday has only played eighteen games at Triple-A and is only twenty.

Jackson Holliday (Photo Credit: The Baltimore Sun)

Holliday hit .311 in Spring Training (14-for-45). He collected three doubles, two triples, and two home runs while scoring six runs. Many expected him to be on the Orioles’ Opening Day Roster. Yet, he did struggle against lefties, striking out nine times against southpaws.

There is no doubt Holliday will make his Major League debut in 2024. I am sure that once he is below the potential to reach 172 days needed to qualify for a full year of service time, he will look extremely attractive to the Orioles for a Major League call-up. He could still earn a full year of service without reaching 172 days if he happened to win the Rookie of the Year award (which is within the realm of possibility). Baltimore has way too many young potential superstars. I guess we should be thankful the Orioles have chosen to delay the MLB start of the latest one. 

As always, Go Yankees!