Saturday, August 13, 2022

To Close or Not to Close...

 

Clay Holmes / Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin, NY Post

Bullpen blows another close game…

Yankees lose again. A ten-inning walk-off, 3-2, by the Boston Red Sox. It is never fun to write after a Yankees loss, especially a game they controlled…until the end. Clay Holmes has lost my trust as the closer and it is frustrating. I wanted him to have the job earlier in the season when Aroldis Chapman began misfiring. He started the season so dominant, and it looked like Pitching Coach Matt Blake was a true pitching whisperer. Yet, now, no lead is safe when Holmes comes into a game. Maybe you feel secure with a five-run lead…maybe.

There was a point I was done with Chapman as the team’s closer. He is a free agent at year’s end and the Yankees are highly unlikely to pursue him in the free agent market.  I was ready to move on, and Holmes looked like the next best man for the job. The problem replacing Holmes is no real solution for the job. Even though Chapman has looked better of late, there is no guarantee he will not revert to the sweaty, control-challenged mess he was earlier this season. Wandy Peralta is not a closer and I have no desire to see him try to close games. He did well to replace Holmes last night after the Red Sox had tied the game with two crucial outs, including a strikeout, but Peralta is much better suited for setup. Lou Trivino is a closing option, but of course, he was on the mound last night when Tommy Pham hit the game-winning single in the bottom of the tenth inning for the Red Sox. 

For Holmes, it was his fifth blown save of the season. In his last five appearances, totaling four innings, he has allowed seven runs and has walked four hitters while striking out only three.  This is not the same guy who earned the All-Star nod earlier this year.  I think we are starting to see why Pittsburgh fans were frustrated with Holmes. I hope, for his sake and ours, he figures this out, finds his control, and becomes the dominant reliever he had been. October is drawing closer so soon he will be running out of time to recapture his dominance.

Lou Trivino had ten saves for the Oakland A’s this season and twenty-two saves last year. However, he has surrendered forty-nine hits and seventeen walks in thirty-six and one-third innings in 2022. He gave up five home runs in twice the innings pitched last season and has already matched that number this year. While Holmes’ ERA has risen from 0.47 to 2.36, Trivino’s ERA is an unsightly 5.70.

Manager Aaron Boone needs to figure this out. If the Yankees continue to blow winnable games, it does not bode well for an extended run in October. 

Honestly, I would give Chapman a few trial runs as the closer to see if he can recapture what he once had. If he implodes, then other options should be considered. It kind of sucks the Yankees demoted one of their best relievers, Ron Marinaccio, simply because he had options. I understand the reasons. If the Yankees had not demoted Marinaccio, someone would have been DFA’d. The most obvious candidate is reliever Albert Abreu who has already been DFA’d by two teams, Texas and Kansas City, this season. If it was simply a question of, who would I prefer, Marinaccio or Abreu, there is no question the pride of Tom’s River would still be on the active roster.  I want Abreu to succeed but I also want the twenty-six BEST players in the organization on the MLB active roster and that is not the case right now. 

Team chemistry should not be underestimated. Whether it is football, basketball, or baseball, I have always believed team chemistry plays a significant role in team success. The trade deadline was eleven days ago, and I am still in disbelief the Yankees dumped Jordan Montgomery in the deadline’s final minutes for an outfielder we “might” see in September or October.  Monty was close to guys in the clubhouse and loved being a Yankee, the only organization he had every known. He was good friends with Jameson Taillon, and his world revolved around New York City. Right or wrong, GM Brian Cashman sent Monty packing, a move that left an entire fanbase shaking their collective heads. Even the players in the locker room were confused. The team’s 1-8 record since the trade deadline sums up the impact of this year’s moves and I am convinced the Montgomery trade has played a role in the latest tailspin.   


Yadier Molina & Jordan Montgomery / Photo Credit: Christian Gooden, St Louis Post-Dispatch

I liked Jordan Montgomery. I never thought he was a dominant pitcher, but he kept the team in games and was consistent. Exactly the type of guy you want in the middle to back end of the rotation. It keeps getting said that he would not have pitched in October and the move was made about October. Injuries certainly could play a part in whether Monty would have been an October starter, but I know that I would rather have him on my team than not. Maybe we will feel differently when Harrison Bader is healthy and patrolling center field with his newfound short hair.  Deadline deals are supposed to energize teams, but the Montgomery trade was a royal deflator. 

As for Montgomery, he is thriving for St Louis. After holding the Yankees scoreless last week, he pitched six scoreless innings last night against the Milwaukee Brewers to help power the Cards to a 3-1 victory. He is the first Cardinals pitcher since 1966 to win his first two starts without allowing a run.  For the good moves Cashman has made, this was a bad one and time will tell if it is worse.

46 home runs, 100 RBIs, .305/.400/.688, .450 wOBA, 7.6 fWARIs that good? With all seriousness, Aaron Judge is having a truly unbelievable season. Unlike the Yankees as a whole, Judge has continued his brilliant year and is the consensus AL MVP leader. I hope, I pray the Yankees re-sign him in the offseason. To lose Judge after such a dominant season would be upsetting. He should be a Yankee for life, and he should be the next Captain.  Owner Hal Steinbrenner must be as aggressive pursuing Judge in free agency as he was a few years ago with Gerrit Cole. Conversely, if I was a rich owner of another team, I would be loading up trucks overflowing with cash for Judge.  I wish Judge and the Yankees could have come together on an extension before free agency. It sets us up for potential disappointment. If he re-signs with the Yankees, it will be a heavy relief aside from exhilaration. If he does not, sorry, I do not want to think about that…


Aaron "MVP" Judge / Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin, NY Post

Hal, please PAY THE MAN.

Despite pleas from fans, Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the 2022 New York Yankees shortstop. For better or for worse. It is apparent the Yankees made their bed with IKF and have no plans to promote shortstop prospect Oswald Peraza or utilityman Oswaldo Cabrera. I find it hard to believe the Yankees have chosen not to promote Peraza because it would start his service time clock, but they obviously have their reasons for believing Peraza is not ready for the Major Leagues. Whether I think he should be promoted or not is irrelevant. The Yankees know better than we do.  Outwardly, it might not make sense, but I will give the team the benefit of doubt on this one. As for 2023, regardless of what happens this season, IKF should be in a utility role at best, not the team’s starting shortstop. He is one and done in the position once held by the great Derek Jeter.

On a side note, the ugly social media posts directed at IKF’s family are disgusting and unacceptable. While I may not be enthralled with his play on the field, IKF is a human with feelings and a good guy. He is trying his best to help the Yankees win. I do not wish ill will on any player, regardless of the jersey he wears. Separate the man from the player and keep it on the field, fans. We can do better. We must do better.

Here’s hoping for a quick recovery by Matt Carpenter who fractured his foot in Seattle. I hope a possible September return proves to be the realistic outcome. Carp has been such a terrific inspiration in 2022 and I hope there is more to his Cinderella story in October.


Matt Carpenter & Aaron Boone / Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Lastly, I was shocked to hear about the suspension of Fernando Tatis, Jr by Major League Baseball for using a banned substance. Tatis, Jr, one of the game’s young greats, had yet to play in 2022 due to an off-season motorcycle accident, and the 80-game suspension ensures that his 2023 appearance will be delayed.  Tatis is claiming he inadvertently took the performance-enhancing substance (Clostebol) while taking medication to treat ringworm but has dropped his appeal and has begun to serve the suspension without pay.

For as negatively as the trade deadline ended for the Yankees with the trade of Jordan Montgomery, the San Diego Padres were widely hailed as the Deadline champions for their acquisitions of Juan Soto, Josh Hader, and Brandon Drury. Yet, they were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a subsequent series, and the Dodgers have simply decided never to lose again.  The Dodgers have won eleven consecutive games and lead the Padres by sixteen games in the NL West.  So, if it was not bad enough for the Padres, they lose one of their great young players for their Wild Card pursuit.

Tatis will miss the first 33 games of the 2023 season although the number could be reduced by the number of games the Padres play in the 2022 postseason. Mike Clevinger summed up the team’s feelings with his post-game comments last night, “You hope he grows up and learns from this and learns that it’s about more than just him right now.” True, I hope Tatis learns from this, and he can be the player he was meant to be. A sad day for baseball.

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Yankees Playing Well Enough to Lose...


Aaron Judge / Photo Credit: David Carson, St Louis Post-Dispatch

Yankees loss third consecutive game…

Remember when the Yankees were seemingly winning every day, drawing comparisons to the 1998 Yankees and the 2001 Seattle Mariners? Times have changed. Look, I get the Yankees have managed to hold on to a double-digit lead in the AL East since they became a .500 club. Well, that is being generous. They have been less than a .500 club since they lost to the Houston Astros, 2-1, on June 30th. Since that game, the Yankees are 14-17. Yet, the second-place Toronto Blue Jays, perhaps the biggest threat in the AL East, remain 10 ½ games behind. The Yankees no longer have the best record in baseball and the Astros are within a half-game of leaping over the Yankees for best record in the American League.

The Yankees controlled last night’s game in St Louis until Clay Holmes, brought into the game in the eighth inning to face the heart of the Cardinals order, blew the save which allowed the Cardinals to squeak by the Yankees, 4-3. 


Clay Holmes / Photo Credit: AP

I am concerned. Everyone seems to be looking ahead to October as if it is a given right. I have no doubt the Yankees will make the playoffs, but this team, if they cannot shake the current inconsistent play, does not have the chance going against the AL’s best when the post-season competition begins. I want to win the World Series this year. The window is open, and we do not know the future. We are not even sure if Aaron Judge will be a Yankee next season. I think and hope he will be, but until he signs the dotted line, there are no guarantees. The Dodgers hit a bumpy path earlier this summer, but now they have won six consecutive games and nine of their last ten to grab the best record in MLB (73-33). To assert their dominance, they crushed their division rival last night, the San Diego Padres, 8-1, despite San Diego’s anointment as the Trading Deadline Champions for their acquisitions of baseball’s best closer and a 23-year-old mega-superstar outfielder. Things are going so well for the Dodgers; new Dodger Joey Gallo has had a hit in both games he has played for them. The Yankees (70-37) need to go on one of those type of runs to right the ship.

I get that the weight of the Pinstripes can be heavy. Too often, new players struggle until the breakout game arrives…if it arrives. Andrew Benintendi had a .320 batting average when he was acquired from the Kansas City Royals and has seen it drop to .305. He did not get his first extra-base hit until last night.  Meanwhile, new Astro Trey Mancini three home runs and seven RBIs in four games for Houston. Even former Yankee Brandon Drury made a huge first impression with his new club, the Padres, by hitting a grand slam in his first game.  Matt Carpenter has been great, but I wish the other newcomers could assert their presence sooner than later. 

I am not sure what to think about closer Clay Holmes. He no longer has that sense of invincibility. It seems like when he has an off night, he is awful like last night. He shows us why Pirates fans laughed at the Yankees when they acquired him last year. He can do better; we have seen it. He needs to find it again and become the dominant reliever he was earlier in the season.  I never thought I would want to see a return of Aroldis Chapman to closing duties, but those thoughts are starting to seep into my mind. Chapman has looked better lately. Not sure I fully trust him yet, but with each Holmes implosion, Chapman crosses your mind. Zack Britton cannot get back soon enough. We know with certainty that Wandy Peralta is not built for closing duties.  Lou Trivino was Oakland’s closer this year, but he did not exactly inspire confidence in the role. The Yankees will continue struggle until the bullpen can figure things out. The reliance for comeback wins, which worked in the season’s first half, is not a sustainable strategy.   

I was happy to see Giancarlo Stanton win MVP for this year’s All-Star Game in his hometown of Los Angeles but given that we have not seen him play since then makes you question why he went to the All-Star Game. In retrospect, it feels selfish. I know the Yankees are overly conservative with injuries and there has not been much discussion about Stanton, but there is no question, his absence is contributing to the team’s current lackluster play. Maybe the injury unexpectedly worsened which was probably the case but still, he should have just taken the time off to recover from the season’s bumps and bruises rather than play in the meaningless All-Star Game. He is too valuable to the team.

I wish I knew the answer to the team’s current malaise. Manager Aaron Boone must find a way to inspire the team to more wins than losses. They need a “slumpbuster”. The term always reminds me of when former Chicago Cub/Arizona Diamondback first baseman Mark Grace went on Jim Rome’s show in 2003 and proclaimed, “A slumpbuster is when you have to take one for the team. It’s finding the biggest, nastiest, fattest broad, and you put the wood to her to come out of your slump. Also known as ‘jumping on a grenade for the team’”. Not sure who needs to take one for the team. The most obvious choices, Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge are married, so maybe the burden of responsibility falls on the lofty shoulders of bachelor Giancarlo Stanton. I mean, you must leave no stone unturned. End the slump and get back to your winning ways, Yankees. 

The Trade Deadline. I was pleased when the Yankees acquired left fielder Andrew Benintendi (even if he has yet to find his stroke as a Yankee). It may have been better to get Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs, but the Cubs ended up keeping their outfielder. Benintendi is going to need to hit, but if he does, he will be an improvement over Joey Gallo. I am sad about Gallo. I really liked the guy, and felt he was a great teammate and clubhouse factor. His performance at the plate was abysmal and there is no question he needed a change of scenery. New York is not for everybody. Now, I just need Benintendi to start hitting like that pest he was in Yankee Stadium as a Red Sock. 


Andrew Benintendi / Photo Credit: Mike Stobe, Getty Images

Gallo, with the start of a heavy beard upon his arrival in Los Angeles this week, gets a fresh start with the Dodgers. I thought Gallo would do better in a less-pressurized environment, but then again, the pressure of a Los Angeles crowd is not as intense as a New York crowd. Maybe the Southern California lifestyle will help Gallo relax and hit bombs. I thought the Yankees did well to recoup a decent prospect in pitcher Clayton Beeter, who immediately became the tenth best Yankees prospect according to MLB.com. After dealing away pitching prospects at the deadline, the Yankees needed a solid arm in return.  Beeter may be headed for a future in the bullpen but for those who demanded the immediate release of Gallo over the past few weeks, this is the reason you do not simply cut a guy who still has some value.  Sucks that we will have to face Glen Otto, Ezequiel Duran, Trevor Hauver, and Josh Smith in Texas, but “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Hopefully the trade works out well for both the Yankees and Dodgers.


Joey Gallo

It was disappointing to miss out on Cincinnati Reds starter Luis Castillo who went to Seattle. I thought Castillo would be a perfect fit for the Yankees. The Mariners paid a high price. There was no way the Yankees were going to part with Anthony Volpe, nor should they. Oh well, life sucks and you move on. The Yankees did well to pivot to Frankie Montas of the Oakland A’s.  I already watch James Kaprielian perform for the A’s and now we must watch Ken Waldichuk. Liked both of those guys as prospects. BUT, getting Montas was needed. No complaints with doing what it took to bring him to the Bronx. I look forward to his Yankees debut on Sunday against the Cardinals.  With the Yankees’ interest in Montas rumored for so long, it felt like it would never happen. Would have preferred Castillo but I will certainly not complain about Montas. I am glad he is in the Yankees rotation.

The Yankees acquired a reliever from the Chicago Cubs. After much speculation about whether another reunion with Cubs reliever David Robertson was in the cards, the Yankees grabbed promising reliever Scott Effross, complete with his funky underhanded delivery. D-Rob ended up with another reunion, returning to the Joe Girardi-less, Rob Thomson-managed Philadelphia Phillies. I kind of hoped for a D-Rob reunion, but I get the controversy about his role in denying playoff shares to certain members of the team a few years ago. Effross was a nice addition for a team that needed bullpen help after losing Michael King for the season.

But the trade that caught most of us by surprise was the stunning trade of LHP Jordan Montgomery to the St Louis Cardinals. I understand the need to get a quality center fielder, but Harrison Bader is on the Injured List with plantar fasciitis and will not be able to help until September at the earliest.


Matt Carpenter & Harrison Bader / Photo Credit: Ron Schwane, Getty Images

Montgomery never seemed to get run support, but he was always a consistent performer in the rotation, so his loss neutralizes the addition of Montas somewhat. Montas is the better pitcher, no doubt, but the staff is weaker without Monty. Especially since the top pitching prospects in the organization (Ken Waldichuk and Hayden Wesneski were traded away in deadline deals). I am not a fan of Domingo German. I could not care less that there are no proven facts. Character matters and he fails the test for me. The only sunlight for me is stretching out Clarke Schmidt in Triple A for future Major League starts.  Schmidt over German. The sooner the better. After Schmidt, the rotation insurance becomes cloudier.  The opener strategy would probably reinsert its ugly head. 

I am not sure that I understand the Montgomery trade. If it is about October and the belief that Montgomery would not be part of the playoff roster and the need for a superior center fielder was greater, I get it. But we need to win the division first. For me, it is a little hard to think about October since there is a milestone that must be reached before we can get there. There are reports the Yankees had tried to acquire Pablo Lopez of the Miam Marlins. I doubt Cashman made the Montgomery deal thinking he had Lopez in hand. Cash has been doing this too long to take anything for granted. Still, the trade was puzzling to the less informed like me. I am sure Cashman has his plan and he is sticking to it. He is better at this than you or I.  I look forward to Bader’s first appearance in Pinstripes and hope the New York native can show us why the Cardinals fans loved him so dearly.  I like the idea of keeping Aaron Judge in right and Aaron Hicks out of centerfield so no qualms about a quality centerfielder if he can get healthy enough to play effectively. 

As for Monty, I am sorry it ended. I appreciated his time as a Yankee. He never had any of those overly dominant games like Hiroki Kuroda could occasionally provide but for the most part, he was consistent and consistency counts. I think he will do well in St Louis, and he should prosper.  Time will tell if it was the right move. As for today’s game, Monty’s first post-Yankee start, I hope the Yankees can finally score runs when Montgomery is on the mound. I wish Monty much success…just not today.


Jordan Montgomery / Photo Credit: Getty Images

Meet Me in St Louis. I would love to be in St Louis for this weekend’s series against the Cardinals. St Louis, from a Major League baseball standpoint, has huge significance for me even though I’ve been a Yankee fan since I was a kid. I grew up in the Midwest…in Iowa, not far from the Field of Dreams. Years ago, I lived in Dallas and one of the afternoon Sports Radio hosts always said if you lived in a state with no Major League team, you were a free agent and could choose your favorite team anywhere. I am not sure why I never became a Cardinals fan. Reading books about Lou Gehrig as a little kid and worshiping Jim “Catfish” Hunter led me to the Yankees.  Once a Yankee fan, Thurman Munson quickly became my favorite player and I have been forever hooked. 

As a kid growing up in Iowa, there were three MLB teams that had a heavy influence in my area of southeastern Iowa. The Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, and the Minnesota Twins. During my teenage years, there were times that the only baseball games on the radio I could get were Twins games (during Rod Carew’s heyday). My stepfather was a die-hard Cardinals fan which probably accounts for why I could not embrace the Cardinals. Still, my first Major League Baseball game was in the old Busch Stadium in St Louis. My stepfather took me on a road trip to see the game (St Louis was about three hours from my home).

May 29, 1974. Los Angeles Dodgers versus the St Louis Cardinals at the old Busch Stadium. Just a baseball game to me at the time. Looking back, it was a game that featured future Yankee great Tommy John pitching for the Dodgers against the legendary Bob Gibson. Holy crap! What that matchup would mean to me today if I had only known. Joe Torre was the Cardinals’ first baseman that day. As a kid with a weak bladder, I had to make a pit stop at the bathroom when I heard the radio call of Ron Cey’s home run for the Dodgers, the only home run of the game and I did not get to witness it “live”.

On the way back to my seat and my stepfather, I saw a few people crowded around an older gentleman and decided to check it out. Much to my surprise, it was Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial. I was able to shake his hand and get his autograph. He was such a genuinely nice man to meet, at least from my perception as a young child. I can only equate meeting Don Mattingly as a celebrity who was “down to earth” and incredibly personable as Musial was that day. I am not sure I fully understood and appreciated the magnitude of meeting Stan “The Man” at the time, but I am forever grateful I had the opportunity to meet him.


Stan "The Man" Musial / Photo Credit: AP

The Dodgers won the game, 5-2. I see so many people who say you can only love one team, but I have always had an “NL Team” despite my love for the Yankees. Rest assured; Yankees are above all. Always and forever. The Cardinals were my first favorite NL Team through my childhood experiences and despite my stepfather’s affection for them. Later, living in the Bay Area, I changed to the San Francisco Giants, but when Joe Torre took over as the Dodgers manager and brought Don Mattingly with him, I switched my allegiance to the Dodgers, and they remain my NL team and most likely will through the duration of my life. I live in the greater Los Angeles area, so I feel pretty locked in with the Dodgers at this point. Well, at least when they are not playing the Yankees.

Back to the 1974 Cardinals-Dodgers game, it is funny with so many legendary names on the field, the one player that stood out to me, and someone who I loved during his Cardinals career, was the Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky. In his prime, I do not think I have ever been as fired up to see a reliever than Hrabosky after his antics on the mound. Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer ever. Undisputed fact. But the adrenaline and energy that Hrabosky could invoke when he was on the mound was far greater than anything I have ever experienced in life. 


Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky

In May 1974, I was not a Yankee fan yet. At the time, I was an Oakland A’s fan due to my love of Catfish Hunter. The end of the year would bring change. Catfish signed with the Yankees on December 31, 1974. I had affection for the Yankees through the books I had read about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth so when Catfish signed his Yankees contract, I went with him. My stepfather hated the Yankees so that was probably added motivation. In all due respect, my stepfather was a good man. He treated my mom right, and it was a sad day when we lost him a few years ago. But as a kid, he was replacing a man that I worshiped (my dad) who had died much too young a few years earlier so the deck was stacked against him.

Kind of a roundabout way to explain the meaning watching the Yankees play in St Louis. I think if circumstances had played out differently, it is very possible that I would be a St Louis Cardinals fan today. No offense to Cardinal fans, but I prefer the Yankees path I took. 

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Frankie Montas or Bust...

 

Frankie Montas / Photo Credit: Chris Carlson, AP

Prized Target Castillo heads to the Upper Northwest…

Time will tell if Luis Castillo is sleepless in Seattle, but the Mariners added firepower to their playoff chances with the acquisition of the pitcher from the Cincinnati Reds. Most Yankee fans had wanted to see Castillo in Pinstripes, and there were times where we felt it might happen but as it usually goes, we never get the top pitching target. Too many of us have been through the days of Greg Maddux, Cliff Lee, and Gerrit Cole (when he was a Pirate), to name a few.

The fans have immediately turned their attention to Frankie Montas of the Oakland A’s who many have rated as second only to Castillo among available pitchers. That is probably debatable, but there is no doubt Brian Cashman, and his herd of analysts have their sights set on certain pitchers (including names that have not made the headlines). We know they have liked Montas in the past, and there are rumors they tried to acquire him during the Spring. GM Brian Cashman will never make the obvious move. The recent Andrew Benintendi is a rare exception. A player long rumored connected to the Yankees who actually ends up there. More than likely, Cash is working on potential pitchers who might surprise us in addition to rekindling his talks with the A’s Billy Beane. I wanted Castillo but I tried to temper my expectations for this exact scenario. I would be pleased to acquire Montas, Pablo Lopez of the Miami Marlins, or, with trust in the front office, any pitcher they deem to be a solid number two to slot in behind Gerrit Cole.

The Mariners paid a high price for their new ace. Four prospects which included three of their top five according to MLB.com. For the Yankees, that would be sending three of Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, Jasson Dominguez, Austin Wells, and Ken Waldichuk. I recognize that the value of a team’s top five varies from team to team and the Yankees were said to have made an offer to the Red that nearly rivaled the Mariners in quality. It would have been wonderful to get Castillo, but it did not happen, and we move on. One starting pitcher is not going to be the reason the Yankees do not win the World Series. There is something special about the 2022 Yankees (despite the lackluster July results) and if they can get quality reinforcements elsewhere, I like the team’s chances in October.

Like Castillo, the Yankees have been long connected to Montas. By Tuesday, we will either have a new starting pitcher or we will not. It is not the end of the world. I have no desire to see Domingo German pitch again even if he was better last time out. I would rather see JP Sears or Ken Waldichuk given a shot before rolling German out there again. Waldichuk, a 24-year-old lefty, is 6-3 in sixteen starts for the Somerset Patriots and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders this season with combined 2.60 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings pitched. He absolutely dominated Double-A after six games which forced his promotion to Triple-A. Waldichuk is a better pitcher than former Yankees prospect Janson Junk who shut out the Kansas City Royals for six innings earlier this week to win his Major League debut with the Los Angeles (Anaheim) Angels. Waldichuk is nearing his time if he is not traded for Montas or another starter.


Ken Waldichuk / Photo Credit: NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

I remember when fans did not want young prospect Andy Pettitte starting for the Yankees. Everybody must start some time. It is not like you make your Major League debut as a seasoned Major League veteran. Not that I think Waldichuk will be as good as Pettitte, but he deserves a chance to prove who he is or who he can be. I am not trying to go down the path of let’s start Waldichuk over an acquisition of a top starting pitcher, but the point is, have faith in GM Brian Cashman. Regardless of what happens, the Yankees will be okay, and we WILL be playing in October.

Welcome to the Yankees, Andrew Benintendi. I know many fans wanted outfielder Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs. It would have been nice to pair Happ with his former World Series brother Anthony Rizzo, but since he is not a true rental like Benny, the cost would have been higher than the three pitching prospects who went to Kansas City. I like Benny. It is frustrating to watch Yankee fans who are already turning on him after a couple of games. He needs more time to show who he is. I would never hold the Royals series as the standard for whether he can make it in New York. Players are human and there are emotions involved. He is suddenly thrust into playing against the guys he has gone to war with the last couple of years. He flew on the Royals team plane to New York on Wednesday night thinking he would be playing against the Yankees, not for them. There is pressure to perform well. So many variables that create challenges to a hot start. As he settles in, he will perform, this I am certain.


Andrew Benintendi / Photo Credit: Jason Szenes, NY Post

After five years in Boston, Benny was traded to the Royals in February 2021. He has not faced the Red Sox since the trade. The Yankees head to Boston in a couple of weeks so it will be interesting to see what kind of reception he receives from the Red Sox Nation sporting the Yankees’ gray away uniform. Boston manager Alex Cora had interesting words to say when he was asked about Benny the Yank. “Good for him,” Cora responded when asked about the trade. “He worked hard the last two years to make adjustments and get back to the hitter everybody envisioned in the past: .300 hitter who will get on base and is a good base runner. Defensively, he’s been amazing in Kansas City.” The words within the words read like: ‘He sucked in Boston.’ Cora added, “For the person, I’m very happy. For the player, we’ll leave it at that.” I do not know the reasons that led Boston to trade Benintendi. I was surprised at the time for no other reason than Benny had been a thorn when playing against the Yankees. It is obvious that he has worked hard, making the necessary adjustments to become a better player. The recent All-Star selection is confirmation. Benny does not need to hit homers (he only has three this season), although I would expect him to run into more than three with the short porch in right. If he is getting on base and moving runners, all is good. I am glad that the future of the 2022 Yankees left fielder is not an automatic out at the plate like it has been.

I am happy Benny is a Yankee. I wanted him even if Alex Cora did not. I saw the benefit of Ian Happ, but I like the retention of top prospects for a possible acquisition of a top starting pitcher. I was hoping those prospects could be used for Castillo as stated earlier, but there are other options that might not have existed if the Yankees had moved top prospects for Happ. Also, while I do not expect the Yankees to acquire Juan Soto, you can never say never until Ken Rosenthal, Jack Curry or Jeff Passan are reporting that he has been traded elsewhere. My take all along has been get a top starting pitcher and a lesser outfielder (than Soto). We have the outfielder, now we need the pitcher. If we get Soto too, great. I will run out to buy my new Soto Yankees jersey. If we do not, I am sorry, but we move on as we always have.

If Benintendi performs well in Pinstripes, I would like to see the Yankees try to bring him back this off-season when he hits free agency. The Yankees will be focused on re-signing Aaron Judge (as they should, as they must) and there are times it seems like the Yankees can only focus on one thing at a time so time will tell if Benny’s Yankee career can be measured in years or only in months. I wish him well and hope he succeeds as a New York Yankee.

Rotating relief pitchers. Ryan Weber has had an interesting Yankees career. Signed to a minor league contract, added to the Major League roster, designated for assignment, refusal of outright assignment, and re-signed to a new minor league contract. Rinse and repeat. He has now done this about three or four times. Shane Greene just completed his first cycle and is back with the RailRiders, along with Weber, on his second minor league contract. They await the next call, so does former Pittsburgh Pirates/Atlanta Braves reliever Richard Rodriguez.


Richard Rodriguez / Photo Credit: SI.com

It will be a surprise if the Yankees do not acquire a strong reliever between now and Tuesday. David Robertson seems to be the reliever most discussed which, of course, means it probably will not happen. It does seem like there is a better chance D-Rob winds up in Queens. Losing Michael King hurt, although I think Clarke Schmidt can step up and has already. Aroldis Chapman is pitching better, and I continue to have faith in an improved Jonathan Loaisiga. The Yankees need to quit rolling at Wandy Peralta at the end of games. It worked out last night but with a six-run lead, it was not exactly a pressurized moment. Wandy is better in the middle innings. Keep him there.

Aaron Judge, MVP. I seriously hope we are not watching the end of Aaron Judge’s Yankee career. It is bittersweet with every home run that this could be it for his time in New York. He is New York. He should be a Yankee for life, and he should be Captain of the New York Yankees. It would be beautiful to see the Yankees re-sign him to a long, mutually beneficial contract, with Hall of Famer and former Captain Derek Jeter performing a ceremony at home plate to anoint Judge as the team’s next Captain.


Aaron Judge w/Meredith Marakovits / Photo Credit: MLB.com

When Judge hits the free agent market, if the San Francisco Giants were to offer Judge the same dollars and years as the Yankees, would he stay with his loyalty to the team or would he head home to the West Coast to play for the team he cheered as a child. The Yankee players who were fans as children always get attention. It would be tough seeing Giants fans capturing one of their own. I want Judge to stay. It will be devastating to watch him leave. Like anything, we would survive but it would be painful. I think if another team steals Judge away from the Yankees (and there are plenty of crazy owners who could do it), it would make an apparent inability to acquire Juan Soto that much more hurtful. While I get not giving up the players it would take to acquire Soto, the Yankees must keep Judge. Hal, please hear our words and loosen your death grip on your wallet.

Lastly, be kind to Joey Gallo. I am tired of the harsh words about Gallo. Lindsey Adler wrote a beautiful piece about Gallo in The Athletic this week, and I agree with her thoughts. Joey Gallo has worked hard to become a better player, but it has not worked out in New York. The team recognizes it, or they would not have acquired Andrew Benintendi. It is probable when the sun rises on Wednesday morning, Gallo is no longer a Yankee. I liked the guy and I genuinely wanted it to work. It did not work but you can never say it was not for the lack of trying. He wanted to succeed. Gallo is a good man, a great clubhouse influence, and a wonderful teammate. I am convinced he will thrive in a market without the heavy expectations of New York.


Joey Gallo / Photo Credit: @TheAthleticMLB on Twitter

I thank Joey for trying and wish him the best wherever he lands in the coming days.

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, July 23, 2022

A King-Sized Loss for Yanks...

  

Michael King / Photo Credit: AP

Breakout Reliever may be lost for season…

The Yankees held on to beat the suddenly high-flying Baltimore Orioles, but the price was heavy. Yankees extremely dependable setup artist Michael King exited last night’s win in the bottom of the eighth inning due to elbow pain. Preliminary diagnosis is an elbow fracture which would cost King the remainder of his season.

Some fans on social media were immediately blaming the ineffective Aroldis Chapman who had given up a three-run homer in the preceding inning which made it a one-run game. King had entered the game after Anthony Santander’s crushing blow off Chapman and needed just seven pitches to record two outs to get the Yankees out of the inning. Injuries happen and it is unfair to place the blame on Chapman. As bad as Chapman was (and he really was), King’s injury is not his fault. As for Chapman, he seems so lost, and it gives doubt if he can ever be the elite reliever he once was or at least be like he was early this season. With King gone, the Yankees need Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga to step up. They cannot continue to, for the lack of a better word, suck. Wandy Peralta, good in his present role, is not a strong late inning option. Here we are, back to ‘Next Man Up’ after a mostly healthy first half (with no intended disrespect to Chad Green).

In thirty-four games, King’s ERA is 2.29 and he has a strikeout rate of 33.2% (11.65 K/9). His 1.7 fWAR is tied for second best among relievers with New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz, and just 0.1% behind the leader, St Louis Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley. King accumulated the second most innings among relievers with 51.0 innings, 2 1/3 innings behind leader Keegan Akin of Baltimore. King’s production will be missed and will be difficult to replace.

As for the game, the Yankees held on to win 7-6. Aaron Judge added two more home runs to his Major League leading total which now stands at 36. 


Aaron Judge / Photo Credit: AP

The unlikely homer was a solo shot to center in the top of the seventh inning by ‘typically an out’ Joey Gallo. The insurance run put the Yankees up, 7-3, and proved to be the difference-maker. Congrats to Gallo, but nothing has changed, his days in Pinstripes are numbered. Hopefully, the homer reminded a few teams that he might prosper away from New York.

The three Yankee pitchers that gave up runs in the game are three of the most troubling on the pitching staff. Not specifically isolated to last night’s game…just the continuation of ongoing ineffectiveness. Jameson Taillon started but was pulled in the third inning, with the bases loaded, after sixty-seven pitches. He allowed two runs and for a pitcher known for his control, he walked three batters. Jonathan Loaisiga was touched for a run for his one inning of work in the sixth, and of course, there was the continued struggles of Aroldis Chapman. He was only able to record one out in the seventh, giving up a single and a walk before Santander’s blast. He also had two wild pitches among the twenty throws. It is challenging to trust any of these guys. We desperately need 2021 Jonathan Loaisiga. He is probably the one I feel can and will get better. Chapman appears to be a lost cause, and Taillon continues his inconsistency. The Yankees needed a top starter without any consideration for Taillon, but he makes you wonder if they need two new starters. I would like to see Clarke Schmidt get his chance so if the Yankees are successful in acquiring either Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas, Schmidt can be the other guy unless you feel he is the first man up to help replace King. The next ten days should prove to be interesting. The talk had been centered on a starter and an outfielder, but suddenly the bullpen is an urgent need. Ian Happ and David Robertson would be a good start.

Ron Marinaccio is expected back this weekend so pardon the pun; he will be welcome relief.

Where’s Tom Brady when you need him? It was funny to see the Boston Red Sox pummeled by the Toronto Blue Jays in convincing fashion, a 28-5 rout at Fenway Park in front of the RSN faithful. They needed a few touchdowns to catch up. It is unfortunate for them that Tom Brady moved to Tampa. The first Jays run made no sense. Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi scooped an infield hit and went directly to first base, ignoring the runner on third base, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr, with only one out. Vlad Jr scored easily but would have been out if Eovaldi had thrown to the plate. It kind of set the tone for the rest of the game, which saw another Sox outfielder, Jarren Duran, lose sight of a fly ball which led to an inside-the-park grand slam. The memes of Duran and Alex Verdugo will be around for a while.


Jarren Duran / Source: Twitter

I was really hoping the Jays would score thirty runs. It was the worst Red Sox defeat since they lost to the Cleveland Indians, 27-3, in 1923. Former Yankee pitchers allowed seventeen of the twenty-eight runs. Eovaldi gave up nine runs in 2 2/3 innings, and former Yankees prospect Kaleb Ort gave up eight runs in just 2/3rds of an inning. Makes me wonder why the Yankees could not score a run when they had the bases loaded in two successive late innings during that Friday night loss to the Red Sox a week ago.

As fun as it was to see the Red Sox tarred and feathered, there is an uneasy feeling watching the Jays as juggernauts. Hopefully, this is just an aberration and not a continued trend in the second half.

The Red Sox are 48-46, 16 ½ games behind the Yankees.

The ESPN documentary, “The Captain,” has been quite enjoyable. Two episodes in, I have enjoyed the interviews and videos, and the chance to see Derek Jeter as we never saw him before. The images and audio only reinforce how great he was on and off the field. I liked his quote which I will paraphrase…I remember what you said, I remember when you said it, and I remember what you were wearing when you said it. It is unfortunate that he had a contentious relationship with the Yankees’ Front Office at times. This is probably what Aaron Judge is feeling today. I guess that is why the second episode was entitled, “Loyalty one way is stupidity.”

We all knew that Derek’s focus was winning championships. Maybe I underestimated how strong his preference was toward winning over personal statistics. You always think, sure, everyone wants to win, and some say it more than others. But Derek lived it, breathed it, and played like it. Impressive then, but even more so today when you reflect on it. Growing up, I remember thinking how tremendous it must have been to see Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio play. We were gifted to see Derek Jeter play.



Congratulations to Giancarlo Stanton, All-Star MVP. It was terrific to see Giancarlo Stanton win the MVP Award for this year’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles. I recognize that a case can made that either Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins or Toronto’s Alek Manoah were equally deserving of winning the award, but it was fun to see Stanton recognized on his home turf in Los Angeles. He grew up in the area, and his success brought recognition to his nearby high school, Notre Dame High School, in Sherman Oaks. As important as it was for Dodgers great Clayton Kershaw to start the game, LA-native Stanton winning MVP was on the same level.

The only negative? I felt sorry for the baseball that Giancarlo crushed. R.I.P.


Giancarlo Stanton, MVP

Trade rumors picking up. I think Juan Soto, 23, is a generational talent. He would be a tremendous Yankee. It is not often you can acquire an elite player at such an early age, with his best years yet to come. Yet, I have mixed feelings. The cost for Soto will be high, both in terms of players, prospects, and capital (if you intend to re-sign him). The player and prospects it would take would seemingly take the Yankees out of the market for a top starting pitcher.


Home Run Derby Champion Juan Soto / Photo Credit: Getty Images

So, what is better? Juan Soto to join elite outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, or potentially an elite starter to pair with Gerrit Cole with presumably enough to grab an outfield upgrade over Joey Gallo? I must side with the latter as much as I would love all. In the playoffs, great pitching beats great hitting. Luis Severino has pitched more than he has in the last few years and is presently on the Injured List, and I am a little concerned that the league is catching up to Nasty Nestor Cortes. Throw in Taillon’s struggles, and there is an urgent need for a top starter. Meanwhile, getting a lesser outfielder (whether it is Ian Happ, Andrew Benintendi, or David Peralta) improves the lineup. If Brian Cashman somehow manages to capture Soto and a top starter, God Bless him. I just do not see how he can do it. But then again, that is why they pay him to make those decisions and not me.

Time to go start watching the transactions wire…

As always, Go Yankees!

 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Fasten Your Seatbelts for Turbulent Weather...

  

Ex-Yankee-to-be Joey Gallo / Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post

High-flying Yankees run into first extended slump of the season…

It was inevitable the Yankees would hit a rough patch over the course of the long season. The frustration is it happening when the Yankees are playing several series against the hated Boston Red Sox. Since they won the first two games of the four-game set in Boston last weekend, they dropped the subsequent two games, then lost two of three to the Cincinnati Reds at home, and blew a winnable game last night at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox. For a team that has found so many ways to win games this season, they are briefly finding new ways to lose.


Wild Pitch Lover Xander Bogaerts / Photo Credit: Elsa, Getty Images

The Yankees still have the best record in MLB; however, the gap is closing. The Yankees are 62-28, twelve games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the tough AL East. Meanwhile, the Houston Astros have picked up a couple games on the Yankees over the last ten games. They are 58-31 and lead their division by ten games. Based on ease of schedule, it seems more probable the Astros will finish with the best record in the AL and home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs. Seattle, at 49-42, is the only AL West team with a winning record. Meanwhile, in the AL East, every team is .500 or better.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who were previously in their own little mini funk, have won three consecutive games and nine of ten. They are 59-30 and certainly in range to overtake the Yankees for best record in Major League Baseball if the Yankees cannot snap out of this run of subpar play.

If GM Brian Cashman has any thoughts of standing pat at the Trading Deadline, he should think otherwise. Given his aggressiveness at the trading deadline last year when the Yankees were battling to get an opportunity to play a one-and-done Wild Card berth, you would think his aggressiveness would be on steroids this year with so much more at stake. It was exciting to watch Luis Castillo pitch at Yankee Stadium this week and think of what could be. I keep trying to temper my expectations to avoid disappointment. The fear is somebody will overpay. If Cashman can get Castillo at his price, it would be a beautiful thing, but the odds are against us. The Dodgers loom as a threat, particularly with a farm system ripe with attractive prospects. Tony Gonsolin, the Cat Man, has been a pleasant surprise for the Dodgers, but Walker Buehler is on the shelf, and the great Clayton Kershaw is a year older with a history of injuries in recent years. I fully expect the Dodgers to go hard after starting pitching over the next several weeks. For Castillo, if his hair is so valued to him, the Dodgers are more attractive if he wants his hair and a championship too.


Yankee-to-be? Luis Castillo / Photo Credit: Getty Images

It is a given that we are witnessing the final days of Joey Gallo’s pinstriped career. The boos last night typify the words you hear from fans, but even the professionals who follow the Yankees are voicing change. The sad part is the Yankees will not recoup what they lost in trading for Gallo last year, but at this point, that is a secondary concern. The Yankees need an outfielder who can make contact and help set the table for Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, and others. I keep saying that I like Joey Gallo, I do, but enough is enough, I would like him on another team. I am not in favor of simply designating him for assignment and subsequent release. There is value in the player, and I would like to see the Yankees recapture something for him, even if a lower-level prospect with promise.

Fans were laughing when Isiah Kiner-Falefa started off the season strong, and the big three free agents from last off-season started slowly. But it was only a matter of time until the proven superstars would surpass IKF. It seems like every time IKF makes an error, there is a highlight reel of Oswald Peraza going yard for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Peraza is reaching the point of not much more to prove at the Triple A level. It is becoming a matter of either trade him for an elite player like Luis Castillo or call him up to play shortstop. At worst, he will be as good as IKF, with the potential for so much more. I get the roster implications. To promote Peraza, another infielder must go. Matt Carpenter and Marwin Gonzalez are not going anywhere. Carpenter’s rejuvenated bat and Marwin’s versatility are too valuable. The weakest link is Josh Donaldson. DJ LeMahieu can be your everyday third baseman. IKF would move into the utility infielder role, and both Carpenter and Gonzalez can back up first base when necessary. The Yankees are stuck with paying Donaldson, but they should not let that deter them from moving him if necessary. To me, a left side of the infield with LeMahieu and Peraza is better than Donaldson and IKF. The Atlanta Braves are the defending World Series champions and making a strong run at the New York Mets in the NL East. It is due to injuries, yes, but they have a rookie in the outfield making significant contributions to their latest division charge (Michael Harris II), and their young catcher, Willson Contreras’ little bro, William, made the NL All-Star Team. I would not let Peraza’s inexperience prevent me from promoting him to a championship-caliber team. So, Cash, your call, play him or trade him.

Tyler Wade is back. It was funny how excited some fans got when they saw the Yankees had reacquired infielder Tyler Wade. Wade had recently been designated by the Los Angeles Angels, and when he cleared waivers (not claimed by any of the MLB teams), he was sent outright to Triple A. So, for the Yankees, it is just a minor-league depth move. It does not affect the Major League Roster. Injuries could bring him back, but he is not going to replace IKF. My first reaction to the Wade acquisition was ‘why?’ but I get the depth reasons. If Peraza is traded, help is needed at Triple A until Anthony Volpe gets there. If Wade gets the call to come back to the Bronx, it will mean something went horribly wrong (someone got hurt).


Shohei Ohtani & Ladies Man Tyler Wade / Photo Credit: USA Today

The truth is Wade is not better than any of the players on the current active roster. Nice problem to have. Here come the ‘Wade is better than Gallo’ comments. An apple to an orange comparison. I would not want Wade as my every day left fielder. Gallo, despite his offensive struggles, is fine defensively. You can make an argument that Miguel Andújar is better than Gallo and we see what that has gotten him. An extended stay in eastern Pennsylvania. But let’s not pick on Gallo. These are his final days. Welcome back to the organization, Tyler. Trying to recruit Aaron Judge to join the Orange County Losers next season did not quite work out for ya. Karma is a bitch.

Speaking of Miguel Andújar, it raised eyebrows when he was pulled from the RailRiders lineup yesterday. Turns out it was only a stiff neck, but everybody on social media seems to go on high trade alert when a player is removed from the starting lineup. The RailRiders, as it turns out, did not need Andújar. They cruised to a 9-0 win over the Louisville Bats behind a strong rehab performance by Domingo Germán. He went six innings, surrendering only three hits and one walk in the shutout win. 50 of 65 pitches were thrown for strikes, and according to Connor Foley, his fastball was 92-93 mph. I may not personally care for Germán, but the truth is he will be in the Yankees bullpen soon. With Luis Severino on the Injured List, he may see an occasional start.

Back to Andújar, he is like Peraza but for varied reasons. Play him or trade him. I get why you do not cut Joey Gallo now, but if the Yankees are unable to move him by the trading deadline, it would be time to cut bait. There is no reason that Andújar should not be on a Major League roster come August 2nd. He may not be the defensive outfielder that Gallo is, but at least he would give you at-bats to cheer for rather than the current automatic outs we routinely see from left field (or right) when Gallo is starting. I am hoping for better than Andújar but either way, he needs to be playing in the Major Leagues, here or elsewhere.


Miguel Andújar & Aaron Boone

The Yankees have enjoyed good health this season, and it has been a strong reason for their great start. But alas, all good things must end. Luis Severino’s placement on the Injured List felt inevitable. Given how few innings he pitched from 2019 to 2021, it seemed like this year’s load would be too much. When he was removed from a game with shoulder tightness this week, there was cause for concern. Fortunately, it turned out to be minor (a low grade lat strain which requires two-to-three-week recovery). To look at this positively, rest for Severino is a blessing. The Yankees need him in October so he should be managed with care. It also reinforces why the Yankees need to grab another frontline starter.


Luis Severino & Teammates / Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Miguel Castro also appears to be headed to the Injured List. He had an MRI on his right shoulder yesterday, and it is likely he will be placed on the IL this weekend. It could be the door opening for Domingo Germán. I keep forgetting the RailRiders have Shane Greene. It is possible the former Detroit Tigers closer could make his return to the Yankees roster over Germán if the Yankees can open a roster spot. Hard to believe that Greene is 33 years old. He was a young Yankees pitcher involved in the 2014 three-way trade with the Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks that brought Didi Gregorius to the Bronx.

Josh Donaldson has a split nail on his right index finger. I am not a doctor, but I think he will survive.

Lastly, I am glad to see the return of Old Timer’s Day to Yankee Stadium even if the white-haired legends and former Yankees will not play a game. I have always enjoyed the legendary roll call more than the actual game itself. I probably have not enjoyed the games since Bobby Murcer passed. I loved listening to him when he was mic’d up for the YES Network while playing in the outfield. July 12th was the fourteenth anniversary of Murcer’s death. Hard to believe he has been gone that long. His last Old Timer’s Day was 2007. I am happy to see his widow, Kay, has been invited to this year’s festivities.


The late Great Bobby Murcer / Photo Credit: KEIVOM/NY Daily News

The current scheduled list of attendees (subject to change) features: Jesse Barfield, Ron Blomberg, Aaron Boone, Homer Bush, Rick Cerone, Chris Chambliss, David Cone, Bucky Dent, Brian Doyle, John Flaherty, Joan Ford (wife of Whitey Ford), Ron Guidry, Charlie Hayes, Jill Martin (wife of Billy Martin), Tino Martinez, Hensley Meulens, Gene Monahan, Diana Munson (wife of Thurman Munson), Kay Murcer (wife of Bobby Murcer), Jeff Nelson, Lou Piniella, Willie Randolph, Mariano Rivera, Mickey Rivers, Luis Sojo, Shane Spencer, Roy White and Bernie Williams.

It will be fantastic to see all these people at Yankee Stadium (even if Boone and Meulens must be there anyway). No doubt Mariano Rivera should close the ceremonies.

As always, Go Yankees!