Saturday, February 12, 2022

Optimistic for a Spring Breeze...


MLB Owners & MLBPA dance together again today…

Will today’s planned MLB Owners’ core economics pitch to the MLBPA represent the first significant and fair proposal made or will it just be their latest attempt to cast shade on the players? I am choosing to be optimistic and hopeful today brings a sense of optimism that can yield momentum toward reaching an agreement for a new collective bargaining agreement. I am not expecting resolution today (any agreement must be ratified by the owners and players), but for once, I want to hear positive, proactive statements emanating from both sides.

Everyone had expected MLB Commissioner (fire) Rob Manfred to announce Spring Training would be delayed on Thursday, but he chose to kick the can down the road a couple of days. The announcement of the delay could come today. Realistically, I am not expecting Spring Training to start until the first of March, but every meeting that ends with contentious remarks has the potential to delay it even further.

Manfred’s words this week that MLB franchises were bad investments was humorous. Steven Cohen just paid $2.4 billion for the New York Mets. George Steinbrenner paid $10 million for the New York Yankees in 1973, and the Yankees are worth much more than the Mets. The Wilpon family, despite their mismanagement of the Mets, are undoubtedly extremely grateful for their “bad” investment. Forbes Magazine last year placed the value of the Yankees franchise at $5.25 billion. I doubt Harold Zieg Steinbrenner is walking around his Florida mansion saying, “Woe is me….”

I am not sure if it means anything but the rise in minor league free agent signings this week could be an indicator that teams are starting to feel forward movement. Or maybe it is nothing. It was interesting to see the Oakland A’s sign former Brewers first baseman Eric Thames to a minor league deal. I realize everyone expects the A’s to trade first baseman Matt Olson, but Thames is a slight acknowledgement of their plans. Or it is not. Time will tell.

I would love for the Yankees to acquire Olson, but there are other teams that would drool over the prospect of Olson in their lineups. A team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the strength of their farm system and their financial might, could easily overwhelm the A’s with an offer. There were reports of interest by the Texas Rangers this week, joining teams like the Atlanta Braves. Freddie Freeman remains available for only the cost of money. It seems almost a given if the Yankees trade for Olson, they will lose their most advanced shortstop prospect, Oswald Peraza. Sign Freeman and keep Peraza and other high-level prospects? Sign me up.

Freddie Freeman / Photo Credit: Carmen Mandato, Getty Images

Word of the universal DH in Major League Baseball surely enhanced the trade value of Luke Voit. I would say Miguel Andujar too, but his value is so low right now, I am not sure anything would help. If the Yankees are successful in getting Olson or Freeman, or even re-signing Anthony Rizzo, it seems a foregone conclusion that Voit will be playing elsewhere in 2022. To a degree, I am sad. I do not like his glove at first base, but he has been a good hitter and I love his football mentality on a baseball field. As they say, attitude is everything and Voit has that swagger. If he is, in fact, traded, I hope it is to a National League team so that we do not have to see him on a regular basis. The AL West (Oakland?) would be fine.

Speaking of Oakland, I would like to say I am deeply sorry to hear the news of Jeremy Giambi’s passing. I realize his death was his choice (suicide), but it shows the severity of depression. He is clearly a man who left us too soon. I always liked the younger Giambi. Sadly, most Yankee fans think of him for the famous Derek Jeter flip play, but he was more than that. I cannot imagine the pressure of playing in the shadow of a much better brother. I am not saying Jeremy was a bad player, he was a talented player in his own right. He persevered and produced a quality Major League career. I forgive him for his time wearing the dreaded Red Sox uniform. I am sorry his demons were too much for him to bear and I wish he had been able to find help before it was too late.

Jason Giambi and Jeremy Giambi (R)

There was also a death in the Yankees family with the passing of former Yankees outfielder Gerald “Ice” Williams. Any fan of the 1990’s Yankees is well familiar with Williams. He was part of the early 90’s rise of the Yankees, and when he was traded away in 1996, his return (reliever Graeme Lloyd) brought a crucial piece for the Yankees’ championship bullpen during dynasty years. Williams’ death was reported by his close friend, Yankees legend Derek Jeter.

Rest in peace, Jeremy and Ice. Thank you for the memories. `

Back to brighter topics, the experts are predicting a crazy 48-72 hours when the MLB Lockout is lifted. With so many free agents available and potential trades that have been simmering for months, we will see a wild game of musical chairs. The flurry leading up to the Lockout will probably pale in comparison to the post-Lockout activity. The postponed Rule 5 Draft has yet to take place and the Yankees routinely lose players due to the depth in their farm system. I am expecting to lose RHP Matt Sauer, 23, who was taken in the second round of the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft, among others. It seems like someone will take a chance on catcher Josh Breaux even if he does not stick. Losing Breaux is not a big deal. Mike Axisa, in his RAB Thoughts post this week, referred to Breaux as “upside is Kyle Higashioka with less defense.” The Yankees took six catchers in the 2018 draft, and the Yankees’ first two picks, Anthony Siegler and Breaux, have been disappointments. Kind of funny that the sixth catcher taken, in the 35th round, who did not sign that year, is now a top Yankees prospect. Austin Wells may not stick at catcher, but his bat will be coming to Major League stadiums soon. Not sure if it will be New York or elsewhere through trade, but he seems to be a surefire Major Leaguer. The MLB Amateur Draft can be such a crap shoot.

The Yankees should sign Aaron Judge to an extension, but they should not go crazy with the number of years. I feel bad for Judge that he does not hit free agency until after the 2022 season, when he is 30 years old, but a ten-year contract for him would be out of the question. I love Judge as a player and clubhouse leader. I want him to stay in Pinstripes, but I have no desire to see if he can still be a quality Major Leaguer in his late 30’s…at least not yet. Those are decisions for later years. Four years, five years at the most. We have no idea how the big man will age in his later years. The decline could be more rapid than smaller, compact players like Brett Gardner.

I am glad to hear that Luis Severino is ready and can part of the Yankees starting rotation from the start of the season. We know he has the potential to be second to Gerrit Cole in the starting rotation. 

However, I hope it does not deter the Yankees from seeking another top starting option. I am glad Jordan Montgomery is in the rotation, but Jameson Taillon will be delayed. Corey Kluber now pitches for the rival Tampa Bay Rays. Nestor Cortes, Jr was a fun story last season and one of the Yankees’ most reliable starters, but I think he is better suited for long relief/spot starts. Domingo German, Luis Gil, Mike King, and Clarke Schmidt will be back, but this rotation screams for a strong #2 starter, even with Severino. They need a hedge for the health questions in the rotation. 

Ideally, the post-Lockout flurry will bring a quality starter to the Yankees in any trade packages. Luis Castillo is always every fan’s favorite target, but there are other starters that can help. No doubt Mike Fishman and his staff have done a deep dive into the analytics of all potentially available starters so I have confidence GM Brian Cashman will bring in the needed reinforcement. I would not be opposed to the return of Sonny Gray. I think he would fare better under Matt Blake than he did with Larry Rothschild. Heck, even Javier Vazquez got two chances with the Yankees even if the results were unspectacular.

Finally, it is Super Bowl weekend. Here is my shout-out for the Los Angeles Rams. I hope they are successful in their quest for a championship while playing on their home field. The Joe Burrow story has been fun to watch but the fairy tale ‘worst-to-first’ story ends on Sunday. Hopefully, the post-game celebration features Rams offensive coordinator (and Minnesota Vikings head coach-in-waiting) Kevin O’Connell swimming in champagne. Go Rams!

Kevin O'Connell (L) and Matthew Stafford / Credit: AP Photo-Ralph Freso

And as always, and more importantly, Go Yankees! 

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)