Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Sound of Baseball in Tampa...

  


…is being drowned out by NFL Football…

Lots of activity near Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, this evening but unfortunately, it is of the football variety. Oh well, soon, Steinbrenner Field will be humming with the return of all players, new and old. Many of the team’s players are already in Tampa and it will be exciting when we can see player interviews as they arrive for Spring Training 2021. 


Photo Credit: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports

It was a pipe dream the Yankees would sign Trevor Bauer, I know, but there was a part of me that wanted Hal Steinbrenner to bust the budget to ensure a formidable rotation from top to bottom. Alas, he let President of Baseball Operations for the Los Angeles Dodger, Andrew Friedman, spend the money of Mark Warner, Chairman & CEO, and his partners, for their title defense. Given how active the San Diego Padres have been this off-season, it was time for the Dodgers to do something. They’ve lost a few of their contributors over the past few years. Joc Pederson signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Cubs, and Enrique “Kik√©” Hernandez now calls the AL East home after inking a deal with the Boston Red Sox. 

With the Yankees obviously trying to stay under the $210 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, the Dodgers blasted through it. Their payroll is nearly $240 million, and they still need to decide whether they want to spend more to bring back free agent third baseman Justin Turner. Granted, if the Dodgers win the World Series again, I doubt there’s anyone in the organization that would say it wasn’t worth it so it’s hard to criticize them until/unless they fall short of their goal. 

I guess it boils down to whether the Yankees needed to spend more to compete with the Dodgers or the Padres or in-division against the Toronto Blue Jays, the clear up-and comer to replace the Tampa Bay Rays as the Yankees’ chief rival this year. Honestly, as structured, the Yankees stand as much of a chance to win in October as any other team. The Chicago White Sox are vastly improved, with a young core talent base, yet no team has a distinct advantage in the American League this season. Baseball is not always about the best but rather who is playing the best at the end. The Dodgers can pay Bauer $105 million over three years, but it doesn’t really guarantee they’ll be successful. The Yankees, led by Gerrit Cole, will have a top rotation if Corey Kluber can turn the calendar back a couple of years and if Jameson Taillon, with a fire lit under his butt thanks to the trade to a contender, can deliver healthy, productive innings. But setting them aside, Jordan Montgomery is a good option to have at the back end of a rotation, and I do believe we’ll see a breakout of one of the younger pitchers (the most probable, of course, being Clarke Schmidt). But if not Schmidt, I think another will take the opportunity. If we get into the season and Jhoulys Chacin is starting games, then we’ll know it all went horribly wrong. Until then, I will maintain the usual pre-season optimism the Yankees are entering a championship year. If not now, when? They have the team to do it this year.



I still expect the Yankees to announce a deal to bring back outfielder Brett Gardner for at least one more year. I am not really in favor of it, as I’ve said before. I would prefer to keep the money open for other potential in-season deals. As great a Yankee and leader as Gardy has been, they do not need him. Clint Frazier will be the leftfielder and Mike Tauchman is still hanging around as the fourth outfielder.  Not that I am Tauchman’s biggest fan, but it’s time for the Gardy party to end. It’s a bummer Estevan Florial has developed like we once thought he would. This would be his time if he had continued on his path of potential. At this point, he’s starting to seem like the latest Mason Williams even if some still think of him as an up and comer. Last year seems like a lost year in Florial’s development and I can’t say I am optimistic about his chances. Place that one under the category of “I hope I’m wrong”. I’d love to see Florial flourish at the Major League level.

Given the Yankees have yet to announce reliever Darren O’Day, it does seem GM Brian Cashman is working on something to clear some roster space. It doesn’t mean I am expecting something big. Yet, it seems like it would have been too easy to just cut outfielder Greg Allen or reliever Ben Heller so something else must be in play. Or Cashman’s trying and not succeeding in making the moves he has in mind with Allen or Heller ending up on the chopping room floor anyway. 

With the recent flurry of free agent signings as we get closer to Spring Training, I am surprised the Yankees haven’t been more active. The $210 million must be a “hard salary cap” in their eyes. Reset the penalties and then go after it again next year. I only hope we do not miss out during this championship window as a result. I guess this is where I wish the Yankees weren’t saddled with Giancarlo Stanton’s contract. Regardless of who it is, there always seems to be one player contract on the team that is an albatross. Alex Rodriguez’s final years…Jacoby Ellsbury. Stanton is the latest but someone else will take his place one day (just don’t let it be you, Gerrit!).  I don’t usually like salary dumps because you have to include quality prospects to entice other teams, but Stanton is emerging as a strong candidate, in my mind, if the Yankees could only find a taker. Unfortunately, I think they’re stuck with that one.

I like Luke Voit, I really do, but if the Yankees could trade him and acquire Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, sign me up. I’ve never been a big proponent of moving DJ LeMahieu to first base (losing his valuable glove at second base as a result), but, IMO, Gleyber Torres is a better second baseman than he is a shortstop. He has time to fix it, but Story would, pardon the pun, build upon the Yankees’ status of the most storied franchise. I’ve long admired Story and now that Francisco Lindor is no longer an option, he is probably my favorite trade target at the moment…even if he doesn’t bat lefthanded. 



I’d love to have another stopper in the bullpen but hopefully one of the young guys can bust through. I am holding out hope it is Nick Nelson who proves he can be a difference maker. It feels like the Yankees will sign another reliever before training camp, but I am keeping expectations low. For all intents and purposes, the pitchers, catchers and position players showing up in Tampa are those on the roster or in camp on minor league deals with training camp invitations. No “OMG, he’s a Yankee??!!!” moments coming up soon. I guess this is to be continued in July.

I am glad we’ll have a full 162-game schedule. I had prepared myself for a shortened schedule and delayed start to the season, but I am happy we can soon watch some baseball. I am hopeful the health and safety protocols will be sufficient to ensure uninterrupted play this season. Watching the Super Bowl with a packed stadium is kind of scary but I look forward to packed baseball stadiums in the not-so-distant future. Once it is healthy and safe to do so, of course. I would hate to go through another entire season with cardboard cut-outs in the stands. I miss the real sound and energy of a crowd and the ability to attend a game in person. I am nearing a year living within walking distance of a Major League baseball stadium and I’ve not been to a game. That is so wrong and not what I expected when I moved to the area.

As always, Go Yankees!