Saturday, May 18, 2024

We (Yankees Fans) Were Wrong...

 

Clarke Schmidt (Photo Credit: Steve Nesius/AP)

The Emergence of the Team’s Best Pitchers…

For most of the past offseason, I was focused on the Yankees finding help for the upper echelon of the starting rotation. I was on board with the ‘Sign Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell’ train and was prepared to see good prospects leave for then-Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease. I was concerned about a repeated dismal performance by Carlos Rodón in his second tour of duty. I was a little uneasy about having Luis Gil and Clarke Schmidt as rotation dependents after ace Gerrit Cole landed on the Injured List to start the season.  I did not envision Marcus Stroman as “the” primary pitching acquisition (or rather the only one). With no offense to Marcus, who has been great both on and off the field, my sights were aimed at a solid number two starter.  Stroman is 100% a guy every team needs, and I am glad he is a Yankee, so I am not trying to diminish his value to the team. Yet, when the season started with Gerrit Cole on the shelf, I was concerned that the Yankees lacked an elite starter to make up for Cole’s absence. However, the team's resilience and the emergence of our current pitchers have given us hope and optimism for the season ahead.

Despite previous doubts, Brian Cashman and his team of strategists operate on a different level. They had faith in Clarke Schmidt, believed Luis Gil was a better fit in the starting rotation than the bullpen, and were convinced Carlos Rodón would return to the form he displayed for San Francisco in 2022. They were right on all counts. Meanwhile, I swung and missed with a strikeout on that trio of hopes, as I did not believe any of them would pan out. I was not alone. Many in the Yankees Universe shared my skepticism. Every time Luis Castillo shines in Seattle, Luis Severino shows glimpses of his former self in Queens, or Dylan Cease dazzles in his new San Diego uniform, the Yankees fan base yearns for what could have been. Yet, the most viable solutions were already on the Yankees roster.

It would not be fair to compare Jordan Montgomery's or Blake Snell's current stats with those of Schmidt and the others, considering that Monty and Snell did not benefit from complete spring training. But one thing is clear: Schmidt, Gil, and Rodón were precisely what the team needed, and regardless of what Montgomery or Snell achieved for the rest of the season, our guys are holding their own.

At age 28, Schmidt cemented his place in the rotation this season. I am grateful he was not included in the Juan Soto trade over the winter. As much as I hated to see Michael King go, losing Schmidt would have been worse. In nine starts, Schmidt is 5-1 with a 2.49 ERA. He has fifty-five strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings. He may not be Gerrit Cole, but he has given the Yankees a reliable rotation starter who gives the Yankees a chance to win every time he takes the mound. He continues to improve (much like his growth curve last season) and has rewarded the patience the Yankees have afforded him.

Luis Gil, 26, has posted remarkably similar stats. He is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA in eight starts and has 48 strikeouts in 43 innings of work. Schmidt and Gil deserve much credit for the team’s strong 2024 start after last year’s disappointing 82-80 season.


Luis Gil (Photo Credit: @Yankees via X)

It can be argued that Nestor Cortes, Jr is the weak link in the starting rotation, yet he held the Chicago White Sox to only one unearned run over seven innings on Friday night. The starting rotation, collectively, has provided consistency, reliability, and dependability for the first two months of the season. It masked the slow starts by some of the team’s offensive stars. The bullpen gets tremendous credit, significantly Closer Clay Holmes, who has taken ‘bend but not break’ to a higher level; however, the Yankees would not be where they are without their starters.

I am proud of all five current starters, even with a few hiccups along the way. Determining who will lose their starting gig will be difficult when The Ace returns from the Injured List. This stuff has a way of working itself out, but as it stands today, I would move Nestor to the swingman role. Schmidt and Gil have proven their worth, and their highest and best use is starting pitching. Nestor shows he can be a strong rotation option (as he displayed on Friday night in the Yankees’ 4-2 win over the White Sox), but his talents are better suited for a swing role. Once upon a time, Ramiro Mendoza was one of my favorite Yankees in that role. Cortes can be as good, if not better. It is funny that it is the role I had envisioned Gil for before the season began, but like anything, opinions can change. We live in a ‘what have you done for me lately’ world.

I am glad I was wrong about the state of the Yankees’ starting pitching…or that WE were wrong as I do not recall hearing many Yankees fans who were screaming ‘Maintain the Status Quo!’ about the team’s starting pitching during the most recent session of the Hot Stove League a few months ago.

I am sorry for not believing in them during the offseason. I am incredibly proud of how most of the Yankees’ pitchers have delivered this year. It is too early to forecast a World Series, and the Yankees need to figure out a way to beat the Baltimore Orioles, yet I am excited about this Yankees team. This season has a unique feel, regardless of how it ends.


Pick up the phone, Hal…

If there was ever a player the Yankees should negotiate with in-season, Juan Soto is that guy. It has been easy to see how he plays the game on a higher level. Like any player, he is susceptible to slumps, but it is hard to find a more lethal player when he is right. He was exactly as advertised, only better. Fans clamored for years that Soto would be perfect for the Yankees’ lineup, and unlike the previous topic regarding starting pitching, the fans were correct.


Juan Soto (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Soto looks like he enjoys life as a Yankee, and there is no doubt that we appreciate him. Hal Steinbrenner needs to proceed with an offer that entices Scott Boras to negotiate an extension for his prized client before the player reaches free agency. Scott’s history indicates that he will let the free agent wars decide Soto’s next contract, but I am hopeful there is recognition of how much Soto and the Yankees need each other. Regardless of when the next contract is written, Soto will be financially set for the rest of his life.

It is positive to hear Hal Steinbrenner openly discuss possible negotiations this week. Steinbrenner generally steers clear of that talk and avoids in-season negotiations. Again, Soto is the exception to the rule. Break the bank. Keep the guy in Pinstripes. He will wear those pinstripes to the Hall of Fame one day. Although it has subsided recently, I am tired of the Soto-to-the-Mets talk.

It is time for Hal to call Scott Boras. This is the first step to a powerful payday that hopefully ensures Juan Soto calls the Bronx home for years to come.



Help is on the way…

Oswald Peraza and Tommy Kahnle have been on rehab assignments and should be ready for activation before the month ends. I feel bad for Jon Berti, but he appears to be the odd one out when Peraza and DJ LeMahieu return to the active roster. LeMahieu began his rehab assignment on Friday to be ready to join the team in early June. I want to see Peraza spend less time in Triple-A. He needs to play at the Major League level, whether with the Yankees or another team. I prefer the Yankees, but for the player’s sake, he deserves a Major League opportunity if the Yankees will not play him.


Oswald Peraza (Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

We have yet to see much of Kahnle on his latest tour in Pinstripes. I hope he stays healthy and becomes a force in the pen again. He has long been one of my favorites, and I want him to succeed. It is not like everybody in the bullpen is killing it right now. If Kahnle rebounds to form, there is room to push out guys not named Clay Holmes or Luke Weaver.

I am happy to see Peraza, Kahnle, and LeMahieu close to returning. The Yankees have some tough decisions ahead as they maneuver the active roster. There will be some hard choices to make. I have no idea where the Yankees will play Jasson Dominguez, who is also rehabbing. Before the season, it was easy to say Alex Verdugo should be the odd one out, but now I am unsure. Verdugo has done better than expected, and the formerly unlikable player has become likable. Dominguez can be the better player, and the Yankees have more extended control over him, so Dominguez makes the most sense to stay. Yet, trading Verdugo does not make sense, even if he will be a free agent at the end of the season. Maybe rethink it in July, but Verdugo is part of the magical chemistry the team has exuded this season. As much as I like Dominguez, I am trying to think about his return when it happens. I know I am not ready to part ways with Verdugo. I hope this sorts itself out to everyone's mutual satisfaction.

As always, Go Yankees!

Friday, April 19, 2024

Yankees Baseball is Fun Again...

 

Aaron Judge (Photo Credit: NY Daily News)

Winning cures all…

Granted, the recent three-game slide was not fun, but to end it with a four-run ninth inning to beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-4, on Thursday night showed that this team is built differently than the 2023 version.  I guess you could say ‘What a difference Juan Soto makes!’

The Yankees (13-6) currently lead the American League East by a half-game over the Baltimore Orioles. Placement in the standings does not mean much at this stage of the season, but all things considered, I would rather be in first place than not. For the Yankees to be in first place after nineteen games with Gerrit Cole on the shelf and the bats of Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres lost somewhere in Antarctica, it is exciting to think where the team will be when the cooler bats warm up. Maybe Judge is breaking through after his game-winning hit in Thursday night’s late rally. I look forward to days when Soto and Judge go back-to-back with regularity.

Credit to the starting pitching rotation for keeping the team in games despite the absence of the AL Cy Young Award winner. As much as I wanted the Yankees to sign Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell this past offseason, the Yankees have no complaints with the current five. Long-term, Luis Gil is better suited for the bullpen, and he will be the one bounced from the rotation when Cole returns unless somebody else is injured first. However, for now, he is playing his part to the best of his ability.

Despite the flaws evident in the team, I am excited about this season. The Yankees will go through cold spells during the long season (like we saw earlier this week), but this is a capable team that can compete on the field with any team. I am not ready to anoint them as the World Series Champions-to-be, but this collection of twenty-six guys gives us hope for a better October than in recent years. Honestly, I think the Baltimore Orioles will win the division, but it would be no surprise if they fall short to the Yankees. Stay close and anything can happen at the end of the season.

I may have been disappointed when the Yankees traded for Alex Verdugo, but I am enjoying his Dawg mentality on the field. He strikes me as the outfielder that Clint Frazier wanted to be but could not back it up with his play. Verdugo, so far, has shown he can. I remember watching Verdugo play as a rookie for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and I wondered why the kid had been hyped so much. He may not be superstar-level, but he is the type of competent and consistent player that every team needs to win and one the Yankees were sorely lacking in left field last year.


Alex Verdugo (Photo Credit: @Yankees via Instagram)

Oswaldo Cabrera has performed better at third base than most people expected yet DJ LeMahieu will soon return. While Cabrera has gotten off to a hot start, there is no question LeMahieu is the better long-term play at third base. Cabrera has certainly earned playing time, and there is no reason to keep him off the field when LeMahieu does return. Cabrera will play somewhere on the field more often than not. He will also cover third base when LeMahieu needs a breather or if DJ moves over to first base to spell Anthony Rizzo.  I see people who say Cabrera must start at third base if he is hitting but the global view is LeMahieu offers the most for the position. Cabrera needs to play, but it does not need to be third base specifically when he is capable of other infield positions. LeMahieu remains the best third baseman on the roster (…even if he is a second baseman).

As much as I like Gleyber Torres, it is hard to envision any scenario for him after the season other than the Yankees simply letting him walk away. I doubt he will be traded at the deadline, but stranger things have happened. I no longer believe the Yankees will sign him to an extension when the organization has so many talented infielders coming up in the system. When the offseason hits, the Yankees will be distracted by Juan Soto and their attempt to sign him to a new contract before he signs elsewhere. For some reason, the team can never multi-task when adding new players. Outwardly, it always seems to be a one-player-at-a-time proposition unless it is a multi-player trade. I know it is not quite like that internally, but it is outside the organization's perception.

Yet distraction will not be the cause of Gleyber’s departure. His mental lapses, combined with the infusion of near-ready Major League infield talent, will prevent the Yankees from tying up dollars and years for the team’s starting second baseman. I know that some team will gain a talented second baseman in 2025 and I am a little sad that it will not be the Yankees who sign Gleyber. I will find no fault with the Yankees if they choose to move on from Gleyber and that sucks to say.  I like Gleyber, the player…when his head is in the game…and the person he is. Character matters, and Gleyber is a quality guy. Please, Lord, do not let him become a Red Sock. The only Wild Card that could keep Gleyber in Pinstripes is that he has become one of Juan Soto’s buddies. No doubt this is the year of keeping Juan Soto happy.


Third Base Coach Luis Rojas and Juan Soto (Photo Credit: @Yankees via Instagram)

I am not trying to be negative about the Yankees. This is legitimately the best I have felt about the team in a few years. As good as the team is playing, they will get better when Gerrit Cole, DJ LeMahieu, and Jasson Dominguez return. It seems like the Yankees will be players at the trade deadline but that is too far away to matter yet. The immediate goal is for the Yankees to be in first place or near it when Memorial Day Weekend rolls around. One step at a time. Then, to remain in a competitive position by the All-Star Break. I would love for the Yankees to break away from the pack and win the division before Labor Day but that is not realistic. I know there will be more cold snaps and frustrating losses, but as long as the team stays competitive in every series (even like the recent Blue Jays series they lost yet were in every game to the end), the wins will be there at the end of the season to unlock October. 

Time to tune out the naysayers. The Yankees are good.

Farewell to the Fallen

I was saddened to hear about the death of former Yankees pitcher Ken Holtzman. I know he is more known as an Oakland A or Chicago Cub, but he was a Yankee during the early years of my fandom.


Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman (Photo Credit: AP)

Those late 1970s Yankees were fun to follow and love despite the chaos of the Bronx Zoo. Holtzman was part of the famed trade with the Baltimore Orioles on June 15, 1976, that sent Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May, Scott McGregor, and Dave Pagan to the O’s for Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Freeman, Elrod Hendricks, and Grant Jackson to the Yankees. I always felt the O’s got the better end of the deal but through no fault of Ken Holtzman.

Holtzman won a World Series championship with the Yankees in 1977 although he did not pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was traded to the Cubs on June 10, 1978, for a player to be named later who turned out to be Goose Gossage’s setup man (Ron Davis). 

Holtzman was only 78. He died in St Louis, Missouri, his hometown. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Ken’s family and friends.

Another surprising death was former Kansas City Royals and St Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. Herzog was the manager of the Royals when they lost several championship series to the Yankees in the late 1970’s. He was gone from Kansas City when they finally overcame the Yankees in 1980. He was such a colorful character in those '70s post-season battles between the Yankees and the Royals, at least in my childhood perception.

Herzog managed the Cardinals for most of the 1980s which included a World Series championship in 1982. 

I think the one thing that surprised me in reading Herzog’s obituary was that he originally signed as a young player with the Yankees. He never played for the Yankees at the Major League level, traded as a minor league player to the Washington Senators in 1956. All these years I never knew he started in the Yankees organization.

Herzog was 92. Like Ken Holtzman, Herzog also departed life in St Louis. St Louis, the city, and all Major League Baseball lost a couple of valuable members who will not be soon forgotten. 

The Year of Waiver Claims

The Yankees continued their active 2024 role of grabbing players off the waiver wire when they claimed outfielder Taylor Trammell off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers had claimed Trammell through a waiver claim in April after he had been designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners. Although Trammell is only 26, the blossom has faded off his former status as a top prospect and he has bounced around. The Yankees have liked him for a few years, so I am sure they want to tinker with him to see if there is anything there.


James Outman and Taylor Trammell (Photo Credit: Matt Krohn/Getty Images)

While I did not think Kevin Smith was a quality Major League player, I was surprised the Yankees cut him to make room for Trammell for no other reason than Smith being an infielder. The Yankees have a greater immediate need for infield help on the Major League roster than outfielders. I would have thought replacing Smith with a better infielder would have made the most sense. It probably shows how much the Yankees have liked Trammell and their belief they can help him succeed. Maybe it means Jahmai Jones has a short shelf life. The Trammell acquisition feels like an unfinished product…like there will be another move that addresses the infield needs. Who knows? I wish the best for Trammell, and I hope he achieves his dream. If not, he dances with DFA once again when the Yankees are off to their next waiver claim. 

John Sterling Rides Away

I have always enjoyed John Sterling as the radio voice of the New York Yankees and his legendary home run calls. It was sad news to hear that he is stepping down, effective immediately, due to health concerns. At 85 years of age, it was obvious we were close to the end, but there was always hope it would be "next year; not this year" (regardless of when that may be). 


John Sterling (Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP)

Sterling will be honored at a ceremony to be held on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

I never understood those who criticized Sterling and his style of broadcasting. He was unique, memorable, and always insightful. He spent 36 years with the Yankees, his favorite team as a child, and was fantastic from start to finish, even with a reduced broadcasting schedule in recent years. 

Since Sterling's retirement was immediate, there will be no final game to listen to. It already happened even though we did not realize it at the time. It seems like a selfless act by Sterling who strikes me as someone who would not want to take the focus away from the Yankees. He knew when the time was right, and then he simply walked away. Much respect for a great man, an outstanding radio voice, and a Yankees legend.  

Sterling deserves a place in Monument Park.  

As always, Go Yankees!

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!

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! 

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!

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Trust the Cashman Process...

Brian Cashman (Photo Credit: Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Yankees GM continues to target role players for the Opening Day Roster…

Trust Brian Cashman sounds like an oxymoron. Yet, I hope Cashman is looking at upgrades in earnest as Spring Training continues to slog its way through March.

I realize the regular season starts this month, but Thursday, March 28 at 4:10 EDT in Houston, Texas seems so far away. It is funny how excited we are when Spring Training opens in February, but after a few weeks of exhibition games, it becomes a grind. It is always good to see the Yankees on the field playing baseball, but the yearning for games that matter becomes insatiable.

Patience…dang it (that last part is for me, not you).

With the reports that the Yankees were finalists for free agents Kiké Hernandez and Amed Rosario, the Yankees’ front office is trying hard to find infield bench support. With Hernandez re-signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers (no surprise) and Rosario taking less money for greater potential playing time with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees luck for finding a strong number two starter and a solid utility infielder rank up there with their ability (or should I say inability) to find a left fielder last year. 



The Yankees have no choice but to find a utility infielder with the news that Oswald Peraza has been removed from baseball activity for six to eight weeks after he was diagnosed with a subscapularis strain in his right shoulder. It is not like Peraza will be ready to go in two months. The best-case scenario, assuming he does not need surgery, would be greater than two months. Once he resumes baseball activity and plays in minor-league rehab games, two months easily becomes three or more. Most likely, we will not see Peraza until sometime this summer at the earliest. Hopefully, this does not fall into a worst-case scenario for the talented young infielder. I had hoped that Peraza would be able to prove his worth at the Major League level this year. Either get a legitimate shot with the big-league club or receive a much-deserved trade to another team that can provide the necessary Major League playing time. For now, both opportunities are on hold.

Peraza’s absence is cause for concern at third base, let alone shortstop. While DJ LeMahieu can be the everyday third baseman, good health has not been his friend. I am not entirely confident of LeMahieu’s ability to hold up to the rigors of a full season playing nearly every day. With questions about backup support for third base and shortstop, the Yankees must hope Anthony Rizzo stays healthy. The Yankees are better prepared to manage injuries in the outfield than any of the infield spots outside of catching. As such, it seems like a trade is imminent since the Yankees have not been able to find what they are looking for in free agency.

Unfortunately, Jeter Downs is not the player he once profiled to be. Then again, if he had become that guy, the Yankees would have never gotten their hands on him. The guys rounding out the bench seem to be players on other teams now, subject to change…not the guys in camp on minor league deals. Time will tell and since the regular season is so far away (at least to me), there is time for Brian Cashman and Company to find the necessary reinforcements. But of course, we have said that before and nothing happened.

I have been pleasantly surprised and quite pleased about how well Marcus Stroman has fit in with the Yankees. Throwing four no-hit innings against his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays, the other day was nice. Granted, he is not going to pitch like that every time out, but he is showing that he can be a trusted third starter for a contending team. The Yankees desperately need some reliability behind Gerrit Cole with the questions surrounding Carlos Rodón and perhaps Nestor Cortes. Stroman is the needed source of consistency.


Marcus Stroman (Photo Credit: Gerald Herbert/AP)

I think Clarke Schmidt is positioning himself to be a strong back-end starter, with the potential to rise in the ranking. Reaching the third spot in the rotation may be his ceiling but those guys can help win championships. I loved Andy Pettitte as a Yankee, but he was never the ace of the staff. Yet, he was the guy you wanted on the mound in October. Schmidt can be that kind of guy. He seems to be the wild card for the Yankees’ inability to add another top starter. No doubt Clayton Beeter and Will Warren will get a chance to prove themselves, so Schmidt must continue to improve as he did last season. My expectation is he will. I like Schmidt, and I want him to succeed. If the Yankees had been successful in finding a pitcher to place behind Cole, I would have preferred to see Cortes lose his starting role over Schmidt. Cortes could be a valuable swingman out of the pen.

If I had to rate the starting pitchers by order of my confidence, it would be 1) Gerrit Cole, 2) Marcus Stroman, 3) Clarke Schmidt, 4) Nestor Cortes, and 5) Carlos Rodón. That certainly does not mean I believe Rodón is a fifth starter, or that Stroman is a number two…it is just the confidence level I have in each to perform their expected level of play. I am not ready to say that Rodón is the latest version of Sonny Gray (in Pinstripes), Carl Pavano, Javier Vasquez, or some other random pitcher who failed miserably for the Yankees, but he is on the fast track. Rodón needs to be the pitcher he was for the San Francisco Giants two seasons ago. If he is, he will shut up the naysayers like me. If he does, the Yankees will be playing in October.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that the catching tandem will be Austin Wells and Jose Trevino. Not sure what becomes of Ben Rortvedt, but that is the least of our concerns. Wells has shown this Spring that he can be more than a platoon partner with Trevino. I love Trevi, and I enjoy him as a Yankee, but I would love to see Wells take command of the catching position to become the undisputed starter. His offensive potential alone sets him apart, but his improvement on the defensive side cuts the gap between him and the more defensively talented Trevino. Wells and Trevino might be the most confident I have felt about the catching position since the days of Jorge Posada and Joe Girardi.

I hate to give kudos to an AL East Rival, but the Toronto Blue Jays did a wonderful job with signing former Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto to a minor league deal. On one hand, it is sad that Votto will not be a Red for the entirety of his career, but on the other hand, he is a player with something to prove. If the Reds thought he had nothing left in the tank, the Blue Jays could be the beneficiary if he does. I would have liked Votto on the Yankees in a backup role, but the way the team is constructed, he is not a fit for the roster. Giancarlo Stanton clogs the DH role for the Yankees (which is why I would be willing to move Big G if I could). I will pull for Votto to succeed so long as it does not come at the cost of a Yankees loss. I am not a huge fan of Toronto players, and my admiration for Blue Jays bench coach Don Mattingly is on ice until he leaves the Blue Jays, yet Votto is a player I can pull for. Of course, his first home run against the Yankees may change my perspective.

I am starting to buy into the Henry Lalane hype train. The 19-year-old 6’7” lefty looks like he was born to be a Yankee (beyond the fact that he was born in the Bronx). I hope he does become the pitcher many are expecting him to be.


Henry Lalane

I do not follow the minor leagues closely, but even as casual observers, we (fans of baseball’s greatest franchise) become aware of the major talents in the farm system as they progress through the ranks. Lalane will have the eyes of the Yankees Universe watching him. Hopefully, he does not wilt under the pressure. There is an extensive list of prospects who were highly (overly?) hyped, yet never fulfilled the promise. I know part of it is organizational strategy…boost the perceived value of your prospects, but part is real, and that is the case with Lalane.

I just hope he does not become trade fodder for one of those Joey Gallo-type deals.

As always, Go Yankees!