Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Shortstop of the Present...


Oswald Peraza (Photo Credit: Instagram via @oswaldperaza27)

Oswald Peraza is expected to be the one…

The first Spring exhibition game is two weeks away, but this is the last weekend without organized Major League Baseball as pitchers and catchers report this coming week. Hello, old…and a few new…friends! We have missed you. The sights and sounds of George M. Steinbrenner Field will soon be upon us.

The biggest camp battle and one that may have already been decided is Shortstop. It would surprise no one if Oswald Peraza emerged as the starting shortstop for Opening Day.

Sure, many think Anthony Volpe should be the starter, but the Yankees never skip a level with players. Volpe played only 22 games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season after his promotion from Double-A Somerset. In 2021, Volpe spent 54 and 55 games, respectively, for A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. He played 110 games at Somerset before his latest promotion. Volpe’s limited stats at Triple-A were his worst since playing in the Rookie League with Pulaski in 2019. While Volpe may have a scorching Spring that places him on the Opening Day roster, my expectation is 30 to 60 games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before receiving ‘the call’. My best guess is he makes his Major League debut by the All-Star break. Injuries could certainly change the timetable but as we sit here in February, it seems the Yankees want Volpe to master Triple-A before ascending to the Bronx. There is no reason to rush Volpe. I want the best possible version when he arrives. If that means more time in Triple-A, so be it.

Anthony Volpe (Photo Credit: Instagram via @anthonyvolpe7)

If Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the Opening Day shortstop, something went horribly wrong with the plan.  Probably the only people who want Kiner-Falefa as the starter are IKF, his agent, and his father. I did see one Red Sox blog this morning that suggested Boston should trade for Kiner-Falefa to help solve their middle infield dilemma. Trevor Story is out after off-season surgery and will open the season on the Injured List. Xander Bogaerts bolted for the money and sunshine in San Diego.  It leaves Kiké Hernández as the shortstop. The Red Sox acquired Raul Mondesi’s son, Adalberto, from the Kansas City Royals to play second base in a platoon with holdover Christian Arroyo. Both Mondesi and Arroyo are injury-prone, so perhaps IKF could help provide infield stability. Sure, but keep him away from the easy plays. 

The Red Sox blogger did not suggest whom Boston should send to New York. In looking at Boston’s roster, there is a clear dearth of talent. Reviewing the players Boston would legitimately consider trading to acquire IKF and I cannot say anyone appeals to me. It is not like Boston is going to trade Rafael Devers to the Yankees and give them Garrett Whitlock back. Triston Casas has too much potential at first base. Alex Verdugo? Please, no.

Best-laid plans place Oswald Peraza as the starter, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and his $6 million salary as the infield utility player, and Anthony Volpe crushing it in Eastern Pennsylvania, awaiting the bus trip to New York.

Luis Severino, Wild Card

The Yankees are expected to have one of the best starting rotations in Major League Baseball. Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón provide one of the best one-two punches in the game, but, for me, Luis Severino is the key. Once the ace of the staff, Sevy arrives in Tampa this week as the third-best starter in the rotation. He has distanced himself from Tommy John surgery and seems primed to have a strong season. It is his walk year so he has added motivation to excel and finally be the workhorse we once thought he would be.

Luis Severino (Photo Credit: Instagram via @severino40)

I know Severino was disappointed the Yankees would not allow him to play in the World Baseball Classic. Given the health issues with Sevy in the past, I do not blame them for not wanting to lose control of the pitcher, even for a few weeks. Sevy might be the most closely watched starting pitcher in the rotation based on past injuries. WBC coaches playing Severino would not have been concerned about how he would be pitching in a few months, they would only be concerned with the here and now. Granted, I am not crazy about Nestor Cortes, Jr leaving for the WBC but there is far less concern with him than with Sevy. Proper care and handling of Severino is essential, and it is mutually beneficial for both parties.

If Sevy has a big year to go with the expected elite performances of Cole and Rodón, the rotation will be difficult to beat in October. The Yankees failed last October because they could not hit. Time to turn the tables to shut down opposing offenses. I keep hearing the Yankees have done nothing to move the needle in their chase to catch the Houston Astros. Peraza, a strong defender, has more pop in his bat, and unlike last post-season, he should have strong MLB regular season experience this coming October. Hopefully, DJ LeMahieu stays healthy. If Sevy is the pitching wild card, DJ is the wild card for position players. There is hope the Yankee bats can come alive in short series when it matters the best. This is 2023 and the slate is cleared for new, exciting performances and displays of brilliance and dominance on baseball diamonds across America. Next year is officially this year, as in “Wait until THIS year!”.

If Severino has an Aaron Judge-like walk year, life will be wonderful in the Bronx. If he has a Chad Green-like walk year, well, we might be looking forward to next off-season’s retooling.

I prefer to hold visions of a twenty-eighth World Series championship.

Clay Holmes, the Enigma

I think the player that concerns me the most is Clay Holmes because we do not know what we will get. Can he recapture last year’s first-half dominance, or will he struggle like he did later in the season, or will he land somewhere in the middle? The answer is most likely the latter, but hoping it is tilted toward dominance. 

Clay Holmes (Photo Credit: Instagram via @clayholmes21)

The Yankees need a strong backup plan for Closer. Jonathan Loaisiga stands out as the most likely recipient of save opportunities if Holmes falters, and Tommy Kahnle will be in the mix. Michael King is back and so is Ron Marinaccio. Still, I would like to see a proven closer added to the roster. Former Yankee Zack Britton remains a free agent and I would love to see a reunion. I am wondering if the Yankees are awaiting further moves until players can be moved to the 60-day Injured List to free up spots on the 40-man roster. The Yankees will move to replace Scott Effross and Luis Gil as quickly as they can since both will miss the upcoming season.

My hope is the Yankees have unlocked Clay Holmes and last season’s struggles were an aberration and not a sign of things to come. Yet, until he proves consistent performance, it will be a concern. I miss the days of Mariano Rivera when the end of games, win or lose, was never a concern.

The Left Field Black Hole

The fears of Aaron Hicks as the Opening Day left fielder are, well, intact.

Another left-field option came off the board this week when former Diamondbacks/Rays left fielder David Peralta signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Peralta’s name has been mentioned a few times over the winter but there never seemed to be strong club interest. Peralta’s one-year contract worth $6.5 million (plus incentives that could push it to $8 million) seems to set the potential mark for the top remaining free agent left-field option, Jurickson Profar. For the Yankees to commit those dollars to Profar, they would need to move salary if they are truly intent on staying below the Steve Cohen luxury tax threshold of $293 million. The Yankees have been trying to move salaries but nothing has come to fruition. Profar is not the player Andrew Benintendi would have been if Benny had returned, but he is better than Hicks or locking the highly versatile Oswald Cabrera into one position.

Jurickson Profar (Photo Credit: Instagram via @profarjurickson)

I am trying to stay positive and hope the Yankees have a strong left-field plan in place by late March…or at least better than the current options until the trade deadline.

Just a Numbers Game

After an off-season with both Carlos Rodón and Domingo German wearing #55 on the 40-man roster, the Yankees finally updated their website with new numbers. 

Considering Rodón was handed a #55 jersey at his press conference, it was a foregone conclusion that German would have to change numbers. He has claimed Adam Ottavino’s old number, proving the zero that he is. Either that or he has not been assigned a number yet. As the last single-digit number available, it sickens me a little that German is potentially wearing it.

Tommy Kahnle had to choose a new number since Anthony Rizzo is wearing his old 48. He has opted to take Miguel Andujar’s 41. I thought he might take his old buddy David Robertson’s 30 but that number has been taken by non-roster invitee infielder Wilmer Difo.

Reliever Jimmy Cordero was shown with number 50 most of the offseason (even before free agent Jameson Taillon had signed with the Cubs), but the website now shows him with 70. Jhony Brito (76), Matt Krook (92), and Randy Vásquez (98) are a few of the other 40-man roster number assignments.

Of the non-roster invitees, only Difo and Willie Calhoun were assigned low (under 50) numbers. Calhoun is sporting the number last worn by Yankees Legend Matt Carpenter (24). 

There is still some cleanup needed. Some players and coaches have duplicated numbers, and new assistant-hitting coach Brad Wilkerson has no number. Maybe Wilkerson likes knowing his days are not numbered…

Super Bowl Weekend

This is one of those years that it is hard to root for either team in the Super Bowl.

As a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan, I may not have the hatred toward the Philadelphia Eagles like many Yankees/Giants fans do but there is no love, I can assure you. The Vikings lost the NFC Championship Game to the Eagles, 38-7, in January 2018. Earlier this season, the Eagles easily thrashed the Vikings, 24-7. I know, say what you will about the Vikings, but they were 13-4 and exceeded expectations despite having their season ended prematurely by the Giants. 

I think what bothers me most about losing ugly games to the Eagles is how ugly their fans can get. Take them out of the equation and I might have respect for what the Eagles are doing on the football field. 

I have never been a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs. Not sure why. I cannot pinpoint one exact reason. Maybe it was because of family members who were Chiefs fans or maybe kids at school when I was growing up who were fans. Maybe it is because the Kansas City Royals were the Yankees’ biggest rival in the late 1970s. I do not know. The Chiefs have never been a team I cared for. 

Regardless of the reasons, I probably dislike the Eagles a little less than the Chiefs so ‘Go Green’. 

Speaking of the Vikings, congratulations to elite wide receiver Justin Jefferson who was named the Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year. He is a fun talent to watch, and easily my favorite Viking. If new Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores can bring the team’s defense back to respectability, Jefferson and his teammates on offense should be flying high next season. 

Justin Jefferson (Photo Credit: Instagram via @jjettas2)

Enjoy the Super Bowl! Or if the game is not of interest, enjoy the commercials!

As always, Go Yankees!