Sunday, July 14, 2024

Winning Yankees Baseball is Better...


Aaron Judge and Juan Soto (Photo Credit: @Yankees via Instagram)

Hoping the Yankees have turned the corner…

After a dismal month of play, two wins against the Baltimore Orioles in this weekend’s three-game series will not make me pronounce the Bronx Bombers are back, stronger than ever. The Orioles have had their own struggles over the past few weeks while the Yankees played MLB’s worst baseball. The Chicago Cubs swept the Orioles in a three-game series this past week. The Cubs pummeled Baltimore by a combined score of 21-2. It’s encouraging that the Yankees have won a series (by taking at least two of the three games against Baltimore) …finally… but they are not out of the doghouse yet. We share the concern for the team's recent performance, but if they can get on a roll to start the second half, the team can prove they are here to stay, not just another pretender.

The upcoming All-Star Break offers a much-needed respite for players not named Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and Clay Holmes. I would be okay with Judge and Soto being substituted for early in the All-Star Game on Tuesday or if Holmes did not get a chance to play. What matters most is the well-being of our Yankees. A rested, healthy team in the second half of the season is more important to me than watching a handful of elite players in a game that holds little significance.

I am not trying to remove the highlight of the three Yankees at this year’s All-Star Game. I always prefer to see as many Yankees as possible in the MLB’s showcase exhibition game, but this year, the health of the team’s most valuable assets is paramount. The Yankees will only go as far as Judge, Cole, and Gerrit Cole will take them. Starting pitching held together long enough to bridge the gap until Cole could return, but the Yankees would not be so lucky if they lost Judge or Soto for an extended period.

The Yankees will be tested to open the second half. They must beat the Rays, Mets, Red Sox, and Phillies this month to prove they have recaptured their groove in the last two games. Easier said than done. The Yankees face the Rays and Mets at home but will be on the road for Boston and Philadelphia. By the end of the month, we should know what this team is made of and if the team warrants upgrades by the deadline to make a run for October. The upcoming games are crucial and will determine the team's potential. So, in the big picture, I could not care less about the All-Star Game. But I am fully engaged, as I understand that the outcome of these games will shape the Yankees' future. Winning Yankees Baseball takes precedence over all else.

After Saturday's win, the Yankees have recaptured a share of first place in the AL East. The O’s have a slight edge (57-38, .600 winning percentage) over the Yankees (58-39, .598 winning percentage), but they are tied for all intents and purposes. Given how bad the Yankees have been playing recently, it is incredible that they remain in the AL East dogfight. The Boston Red Sox, a testament to the value of a strong manager, are only four and a half games behind the AL East leaders.

I wish to boldly state that the Yankees will obliterate the competition in the coming weeks and months, but realistically, the team has flaws that have been exposed. I am not sure that deadline acquisitions can cure what ails the team. As they say, we will soon find out since time will tell, as it always does.

I never once thought Clay Holmes purposely threw the pitch at the head of Orioles outfielder Heston Kjerstad on Friday night. He may have been trying to pitch in on Kjerstad, but, unfortunately, he failed to locate the pitch properly, and it struck the side of Kjerstad’s batting helmet. I am grateful that Kjerstad was not seriously injured. I get Orioles manager Brandon Hyde’s quick jump to the defense of his players, even if it was a little over the top. I would expect Yankees manager Aaron Boone to be as passionate if it had happened to one of his players. I am not purposely trying to defend Hyde’s actions, but I understand why he was upset even if Holmes did not intend to hit Kjerstad.

Benches clear at Camden Yards (Photo Credit: NY Daily News)

The Orioles placed Kjerstad on the 10-day Injured List for concussion-related injuries, so he needs some rest before he is ready to play again. I hope there are no long-term complications. We certainly pray for a quick and speedy recovery. You never want to see anyone hurt, regardless of their uniform.

Life was easier when the Orioles were a doormat in the AL East.

The Yankees have had their own bouts with the Injured List lately. On Friday, infielder JD Davis was surprisingly placed on the 10-day Injured List with stomach flu. The move is retroactive to July 9, 2024. The Yankees called up infielder Jorbit Vivas to replace Davis on the active roster. No 40-man roster move was necessary since Vivas was already on it. I am not sure we would have noticed if the Yankees had removed Davis from the active roster without any formal announcement.

Will the Yankees allow Vivas to play? Or will he see a few Major League games from the bench before he returns to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre? I am not sure when Vivas arrived in Baltimore to join the team, but two games into this series, Vivas has yet to appear. Given how down people are on Gleyber Torres, the Yankees should play Vivas at second base for a glimpse into the future. If you think he is good enough to be activated to the Major League active roster, he is good enough to play. He will potentially be the team’s starting second baseman in 2025. I say the future is now, and the Yankees should let him begin the Major League indoctrination into the speed of the higher-level game. Some things cannot be taught in the Minor Leagues. The faster we can ramp up Vivas, the better. I like Gleyber Torres, but he is on the fast track for a change of scenery caused by his inconsistent play.

DJ LeMahieu’s decline has also opened chatter about the need for a new third baseman, a position Vivas can play. On a side note, Oswald Peraza's stock has fallen significantly, and it seems like he is destined to follow the path of former top prospect Estevan Florial as an organizational flame-out. Including lower-level rehab games, Peraza is batting .211/.329/.297, with a .626 OPS, in the minor leagues this year. He has hit only one home run at the Triple-A level and 17 RBIs in 164 Triple-A at-bats. By comparison, Vivas hit .258/.404/.424, with a .828 OPS, at Triple-A this season. He had 5 homers and 19 RBIs for the RailRiders in 132 at-bats. Vivas deserves a chance to play regardless of how or why he earned his MLB opportunity. Taking LeMahieu out of the lineup is not going to hurt the team’s offense and, in fact, might help it.

Trade options are limited for third base. The Angels’ Luis Rengifo seems to be the most frequent name, but he is currently on the IL with wrist inflammation. Ryan McMahon of the Colorado Rockies is another name frequently mentioned, but it seems improbable that he will be traded. Cincinnati's second baseman, Jonathan India, is also mentioned, but the Reds are only three games out in the NL Wild Card chase. With the thin available talent at third base, a reunion with Gio Urshela is probably on the table. I would prefer to see Vivas take the position, either at second or third and run with it. The Yankees need to cure the ailments of at least one of those positions in the coming days. Rengifo and McMahon would be apparent upgrades for third base; however, I am skeptical they will be traded. A Rengifo trade seems likely, but wrist inflammation is troublesome even if no broken bones exist. Trading for injured players is not a great recipe for success.

Angels manager Ron Washington and medical staffer with Luis Rengifo (Photo Credit: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Yankees GM Brian Cashman generally moves in different directions than most people expect, and I think this trade deadline will be no different. I have no idea who the Yankees will target, and considering the extended poor play by the team, I am not entirely convinced the Yankees should part with top organizational talent to fill its current holes. The next few weeks should show if the team can make a run, and there is no doubt the Yankees are looking at all options. I just wish the dumpster diving would cease. Play the kids or trade for proven talent. The American League is wide open this year, and the Yankees can claim the league championship this season if they make the right moves. Hoping for ‘lightning in the bottle’ with players who have worn out their welcomes with their existing teams will not improve this year’s Yankees squad. They need to start playing winning baseball against winning teams. The Orioles will be hard to stop if they start hitting like we know they can. The Yankees must grab the divisional momentum now and keep it going if they intend to hold off the young, talented, albeit pitching-challenged, Orioles. Setting aside any feelings about whether the Yankees should change their manager and/or general manager, the team must make moves that matter regardless of whatever they may be. I am not predicting a World Series championship this season…there is too much time left before October…yet the Yankees can find the path to MLB’s final games if they play their cards right. No pressure.

The Yankees also called up catcher Carlos Narvaez on Saturday to replace Jose Trevino, who was placed on the 10-day Injured List. Trevino suffered a left quad strain while sliding home in the ninth inning of Friday night’s game. Ben Rice can obviously catch, but his focus must be on first base for the near future. It seems like Wells will get most of the starts in Trevino’s absence after the position was essentially a job-share. While I want to see Narvaez make a strong impression, I am hopeful Wells will use the opportunity to advance his game. We know Wells has the talent to be an offensive force, which may be the break he needs to accelerate his Major League growth. Sorry, I am trying to find positives in losing Trevino for a few weeks.

Cashman was dumpster diving again on Friday. He signed former Toronto Blue Jays reliever Tim Mayza to a minor-league contract. Mayza, 32, was recently designated for assignment by the Blue Jays and subsequently released. Yankees fans will remember Mayza as the pitcher who gave up Aaron Judge’s AL record-tying sixty-first home run in Toronto during Judge’s historic 2022 home run chase. I doubt this move will prove fruitful, but you never know. I never thought Michael Tonkin or Luke Weaver would become mainstays in the bullpen.

Speaking of players designated for assignment, my first thought when the Philadelphia Phillies released Whit Merrifield this week was that he would become Brian Cashman’s latest reclamation project. The Yankees had always liked Merrifield, and there seems to be some ‘destiny’ associated with it. I probably have mixed feelings. His play this season led to his release. Is this the player his new team will be getting, or will they get the player who was productive as recently as last year? I am not sure the Yankees should take that chance. Age happens… for a case in point, see DJ LeMahieu. If the Yankees do sign Merrifield, I will support him. If another team signs him, c’est la vie. This move will not bring champagne stains to the Yankees clubhouse floor.

As always, Go Yankees!

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones...

Aaron Judge (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pamela Smith)

Or baseballs, bats, and opposing players…

Although this season has been fun, the harsh reality of injuries threatens to disrupt the feeling of utopia among the Yankees Universe. Before we get into broken bones, I am glad Aaron Judge is not among them. Losing Judge for a considerable time would have been a showstopper, particularly with Jasson Dominguez (oblique strain) riding the Injured List in Triple-A. Watching Judge exit the game on Tuesday night, thoughts of worst-case scenarios swam through the heads of Yankees fans everywhere. Thankfully, the medical results showed no fractures, so Judge should be back within days rather than weeks or months if he had fractures.

The frustration was evident on Judge's face when an inside pitch struck his hand. It's unlikely that Baltimore Orioles right-handed starter Albert Suarez had any ill intentions, but his lack of control on an inside pitch was a stark reminder of the game's risks.  The Yankees' success this season is intricately linked to Judge's performance, and his absence would undoubtedly be a setback to the team’s positive momentum. Reflecting on the recent loss of Mookie Betts from the Los Angeles Dodgers for six to eight weeks due to a left-hand fracture, I am relieved that the Yankees did not face a similar fate with their star player.

The broken bones belong to Anthony Rizzo, who fractured his right forearm in a collision on Sunday against the Boston Red Sox. Rizzo will be out for at least eight weeks. When the Yankees made a flurry of roster moves on Tuesday with a 40-man spot still needed to activate Gerrit Cole on Wednesday, I thought Rizzo might be a candidate for the 60-day IL, so I am not reading too much into his placement on the 60-day list today. I will start by saying I never want to see anyone hurt, but admittedly, while I am disappointed about the loss of Rizzo, there is some relief, too, given how pathetic he has been at the plate this season—something needed to change.

Anthony Rizzo (Photo Credit: Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports)

Rizzo is batting .223/.289/.341 with 84 WRC+ this season, good for an fWAR of -0.4. He is thirty-five and no longer the player he was as recently as 2022. Rizzo signed a two-year contract with the Yankees on November 15, 2022, including a club option for 2025. Based on Rizzo’s performance and injury struggles over the last two years, it seems unlikely the club will exercise its option to retain him. So, when Rizzo returns mid to late August, he will play his final weeks in Pinstripes. It is hard to envision him returning with a hot bat. It will most likely be ‘more of the same,’ which will lead to the closure of his Yankees career upon season’s end.

If the Yankees go after an experienced first baseman at the trade deadline, they can hardly be faulted. Rizzo was a skillful player and, by all accounts, a great teammate, but age does not wait for anyone. It happens. It is always better to part ways with a player too soon rather than too late. I do not foresee any realistic scenario that cements Rizzo as a 2025 Yankee. Thanks, buddy. Next.

Yankees prospect Ben Rice, a catcher who added a first baseman’s glove to his repertoire in recent seasons, gets the first shot at replacing Rizzo. As much as I want Rice to succeed, if he is treading water (or worse) into July, the Yankees must go after a more proven resource to man first base. Some fans felt the Yankees should have promoted first base prospect TJ Rumfield. While I would have supported Rice or Rumfield, I cannot see the Yankees burning another 40-man roster spot in-season for Rumfield after making room for Rice. Rumfield seems like one of those November decisions. If the Yankees create more space on the 40-man, they will want someone they know will pay immediate dividends for the team.

I am not expecting the St. Louis Cardinals to trade first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (as nice as it would be for us), so the Yankees will have to find less obvious solutions that can produce. With the uncertainty at first base, the Yankees will unlikely trade Gleyber Torres in July. The best defensive second baseman on the roster is too busy playing the corner bases to take over as the full-time starter at second base. Plus, DJ LeMahieu has his own age-related performance deterioration issues.

So far, 2024 has been a terrific season for General Manager Brian Cashman and the cast of nerds. It will be interesting to see if their magical touch can extend to the current first-base predicament.

Hopefully, Ben Rice grabs the job and does not let go.

Ben Rice (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pamela Smith)

So long to The Say Hey Kid…

Given that Willie Mays was ninety-three, it was inevitable that his end would be near. He lived a long and productive life and will be remembered as one of the greatest baseball players ever.

Willie Mays (Photo Credit: AP Photo/RDS)

Willie Howard Mays Jr. died of heart failure on June 18, 2024, at a care facility in Palo Alto, CA. Mays had been scheduled to attend a Major League game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday between the San Francisco Giants and St Louis Cardinals. He had informed the parties earlier in the week that he could not attend. Unfortunately, his health decline and subsequent death preceded what should have been a joyous day of celebration in Birmingham on June 20. A mural of Mays, which had been in the works before Mays’ death, was unveiled after the news of his passing.

Willie Mays Mural, Rickwood Field, Birmingham, AL (Photo Credit: ESPN)

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred released the following statement on Tuesday: “All of Major League Baseball is mourning today as we are gathered at the very ballpark where a career and legacy like no other began. Willie Mays took his all-around brilliance from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise. From coast to coast in New York and San Francisco, Willie inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our National Pastime.”

Willie, thank you for your incredible accomplishments in life. You leave memories of a legend that can never be erased. Thank you for the man you always were, from beginning to end. You lived a life that cannot be replicated. We are better because you were here. Farewell to you, and may you rest in peace.

Willie Mays (Photo Credit: Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle)

As always, Go Yankees!

Sunday, June 2, 2024

We Play Today, We Win Today...


Juan Soto (Photo Credit: Godofredo A Vasquez/AP)

Mariano Duncan’s memorable quote ages like fine wine…

When former Yankees infielder Mariano Duncan uttered the now-famous words, “We play today, we win today…das it,” he was encapsulating the spirit of the 1996 Yankees. This team would clinch their first World Series championship since 1978, marking the beginning of the iconic 1990s Yankees Dynasty. Today, Duncan’s words continue to resonate with the Pinstripes. As we look ahead to the 2024 Yankees Season, the most crucial element is a team firing on all cylinders. While challenges like injuries and slumps are inevitable, an undeniable aura surrounds this year’s Yankees squad.

After triumphing in the first two games in San Francisco on Friday and Saturday nights, the Yankees could have easily let the Giants slip away with a win on Sunday. But this Yankees team is different. Trailing 5-3 in the top of the ninth inning, Gleyber Torres ignited the rally with a single to center. Jose Trevino hit into a force out to get Gleyber at second, but showing the grit of this year’s squad, Trevino, not known for his speed, sprinted to first base to beat the throw and keep a man on base. Continuing his stellar sophomore year, Anthony Volpe smashed a triple to center, scoring Trevino and narrowing the gap to one run. Then, the game’s premier free-agent-to-be, Juan Soto, stepped up. He added to his rapidly growing Yankees legacy with a two-run bomb to center field, propelling the Yankees into the lead.

Giancarlo Stanton's ground-rule double, following Aaron Judge's walk, added an insurance run, but the true heroes of the ninth inning were Trevino, Volpe, and Soto. Clay Holmes also deserves recognition for closing the door on the Giants in the bottom of the ninth. But as with all games, it was a team effort. Nestor Cortes Jr showed resilience, bending but not breaking under pressure. Alex Verdugo's clutch two-out, two-run double in the fifth inning tied the game, which helped to set the stage for Soto’s later heroics. The contributions could continue, but the Yankees emerged victorious, 7-5. This was a game that the 2023 Yankees would have lost. Team chemistry is crucial, and despite the criticism of GM Brian Cashman, he has assembled a team that thrives on playing together and, more importantly, winning.

Road trips generally mean more losses, yet this West Coast visit ended with the Yankees taking seven of nine games against the San Diego Padres, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the San Francisco Giants. No stopover at Dodger Stadium, but they will see the Dodgers in New York this coming weekend. Granted, there is not much to be scared about the Mike Trout-less Angels, but the Padres and even the Giants are competitive teams. To win at least half the games on a road trip is a success, so the Yankees were much better than that.

I am surprised at how quickly the AL East has become simply a two-team race between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles. The Boston Red Sox started strong, but they have faded. The Tampa Bay Rays seem to have an off-year, and the Toronto Blue Jays continue to play below their talent level. The Yankees lead the division by three games with a 42-19 record. Baltimore stands at 37-20. The Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays are at .500 or slightly below. There is a lot of baseball to be played, so the standings can and will change, but as a Yankees fan, it is delightful to be atop the division as the schedule breaks into the month of June.

The 2024 Yankees are fun to watch. I hope this wonderful ride continues throughout the summer.

The Yankees pitching took a hit when it was announced this past week that Clarke Schmidt had been placed on the 15-day Injured List with a right lat strain. He is expected to be shut down for four to six weeks, meaning when he resumes pitching and works his way back through minor league rehab, it most likely will be August before he takes a Major League mound again. 

Clarke Schmidt (Photo Credit: Brad Penner/Getty Images)

Everyone was worried about who would come out of the rotation when Gerrit Cole is activated off the Injured List. I know that Luis Gil will be under an innings watch, which probably made him the most likely to be pulled for Cole, but Gil’s performance has been so tremendous that the Yankees would be foolish to pull the plug now. Not that I think they would have or that it is time to think about it, but Schmidt’s absence takes the Gil decision off the table for now. The starter losing his spot will be Schmidt’s fill-in, Cody Poteet, regardless of how well he pitches.

I feel sorry for Schmidt. This has been a breakout year for him, and he looked like an integral part of the rotation. Thankfully, Schmidt’s condition was not worse than it was. When you hear a pitcher is injured, Tommy John Surgery is the first thing that always comes to mind. I am glad that Schmidt avoided surgery, and I hope rest allows him to recover and pitch at the same level as he did before the injury. For as much as I wanted the Yankees to sign Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell over the winter, Schmidt had proven to be the far greater investment by the Yankees. Maybe the Yankees will make a trade for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline, but, sorry for the old joke, Schmidt will be like a deadline acquisition when he returns. I look forward to his return, and I know the Yankees will need him in a few months. We hope for a full recovery and successful rehabilitation for young Mister Schmidt.

The Yankees do have a tough decision ahead with Jasson Dominguez. Dominguez has proven he can play at the Major League level, but there is no position as the team is currently structured. The easy answer would be to trade Trent Grisham and make Dominguez the starting centerfielder. In turn, Aaron Judge would have to move to DH, but then what do you do with Giancarlo Stanton? Putting a good defensive outfielder like Judge in a DH-only position also does not make sense. Trade Alex Verdugo to make room for Dominguez in left field, but then you are messing with the terrific team chemistry of this year’s squad and their ‘Dawg’ mentality. The most likely outcome seems to be Dominguez at Triple-A until an injury opens a spot on the active Major League roster. It is not ideal, but there is no clear answer with everyone healthy.

As much as I did not like Alex Verdugo before this season, he has solved the black hole in left that has plagued the Yankees since Brett Gardner departed. I genuinely like the guy now. He is an enthusiastic player, and you know he loves the Yankees as much today as he hated them last season. Everybody deserves a second chance, and he found his way to Pinstripes. It seems like he is most likely a goner after the season (via free agency), and I will be sad. I am excited about Jasson’s future, but it does not mean I will be happy to see Verdugo go. Of course, I will probably dislike him again after he is gone and wearing another uniform. Is it too much to want a future that includes Alex Verdugo, Juan Soto, Aaron Judge, Jasson Dominguez and Spencer Jones?

Alex Verdugo (Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Oh well, as long as the Yankees keep winning, the World is ours!

As always, Go Yankees!

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!