The Crystal Ball

A quick break from vacation to get my picks in before the season starts in a few hours. As always, follow these at your own risk.

AL EAST

1- Tampa

2- Toronto

3- Yankees

4- Red Sox

5- Baltimore

To me Tampa is a great team people seem to forget about. Their pitching is great and I think Myers will provided them with the big stick they need when they call him up at the end of April. I love Toronto’s offseason, but not enough to put them on top. I get the bandwagon that thinks the Yankees finish in last, but I don’t see it. Sure they are old and injured, but they can pitch and that should keep them out of the basement. Plus, lets not forget how truly bad Boston was last year, why should we expect them to climb over New York? I say the Yankees finish third with 85 wins and miss the playoffs. The surprise is probably the Baltimore pick, but I think their luck in one-run games runs out and they certainly won’t surprise anyone this year.

AL CENTRAL

1- Detroit

2- Chicago

3- Kansas City

4- Minnesota

5- Cleveland

Detroit is the class of this division.

AL WEST

1- Angels

2- Oakland

3- Texas

4- Seattle

5- Houston

I think the Angels run away with it, but Oakland and Texas are the wild cards. That is in part do to how epically bad Houston will be. I would guess 110 losses for them.

NL EAST

1- Washington

2- Atlanta

3- Philadelphia

4- Florida

5- Mets

Hard to see anyone catching the Nats this year, but Atlanta will give them a run.

NL CENTRAL

1- Cincinnati

2- Pittsburgh

3- St. Louis

4- Milwaukee

5- Chicago

Now that Houston is gone, this might be the most competitive division in baseball. I think the Reds hold off a surprising Pirates club.

NL WEST

1- Giants

2- Dodgers

3- Arizona

4- Colorado

5- San Diego

The Dodgers may be the fashionable pick, but I will take the winners of two of the last three titles.

AL PLAYOFFS

Texas over Oakland in the wild card

Detroit over Tampa
Angles over Texas

Angels over Detroit

NL Playoffs

Atlanta over LA in the wild card

Nats over Atlanta
Cincinnati over San Fran
Nats over Cincinnati

WORLD SERIES

Nats over Angels- at least something works in D.C.

Finally a toast to the two greatest words in the English language- PLAY BALL. I can’t wait to hear them tomorrow afternoon.

Communication Skillz

Clayton Mortensen today learned today that he made the Red Sox opening day roster.  What’s worrisome is the way he learned he made the roster. He had to seek out new manager John Farrell to find out his status with the club.  Farrell told him he assumed he knew that he had made the club given other roster cuts.  In addition, Jackie Bradley Jr. also told the media that he is unaware of his status Even though he is flying to New York with the others.

If you make an opening-day roster, wouldn’t it be nice if your manager told you face-to-face?  From all accounts, Ferrell seems to be an upfront, no-frills manager. I like that. But he clearly has some work to do with his communication skills.  Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill with this issue, but I think a manager owes it to the players on is 25 man roster to tell them face-to-face if they’ve made the team.

Maybe he has a reason for his approach and I’m more than willing to give him time, but the last thing this edition of the Red Sox need is a manager with doesn’t have time to tell his players, especially his young players for which this is a milestone event, that they’ve made the club.

Stumbling Into Something?

Don’t mistake this post for contentment about the state of the Yankees. I don’t think any fan who takes a hard look at the team can feel great right now. But, I think the anger over the Lyle Overbay signing is obscuring the fact that the Yankees may have improved a lousy situation.

It’s not a pretty solution, but the idea of using Overbay at first against RHP and Nix at 3b against LHP with Youkilis shuttling between the two spots maximizes the Yankees chances to win. Overbay had a pretty solid year with Arizona in 2012 and although the Red Sox cut him loose if he can hit RHP like he did in ’12 he will be a positive addition. Nix can hit lefties a bit, so this three-headed platoon just might work. Besides, what was the real alternative? Would Juan Rivera have been an upgrade? I don’t think so.

The Yankees have done the best they can to cobble together patches for Granderson and Teixeira. Francisco could provide some protection against LHP and Neal is in the minors if he stumbles. Bosch will give them some protection against an injury to Hafner and maybe Wells will be rejuvenated by a move to New York. And, considering all the roster changes over the past two weeks it is very possible that the Yankees have a new face joining the team before the More

The Emperor Has No Clothes-UPDATED

I think Greg summed up the feelings of Yankees’ fans nicely tonight when he commented on an old post, “Vernon Wells, sigh”. It certainly nailed my feelings. I have to admit, I had no idea at first why the Yankees would be interested in Vernon Wells.

Look at the player. Wells hit .230/.279/.403 last year and .218/.248/.412 the year before. He is a righty, but managed to put up a worse OPS against LHP in 2012 than RHP. (Though in 2011 he was significantly better against LHP) His defense is still good, but is any of this worth $13 million over the next two seasons? Clearly not. So, why would the Yankees do this? I can think of two reasons and they are not “happy” ones.

First, the Yankees need to keep selling tickets and Vernon Wells is a name much more likely to do so than say Thomas Neal or Ben Francisco. I don’t like this reason because Neal and Francisco offer potential, something Wells really doesn’t anymore. With the addition of Wells, one of those guys is probably either going to the minors or getting released and that is a shame.

The second reason is more depressing. I suspect the Yankees have realized that Mark Teixeira’s injury is more serious than they hoped. They have looked at moving Youkilis to first and finding a replacement to play third but that hasn’t proven fruitful. So, they are going to move Juan Rivera to first base, leaving them with an opening for a righty outfielder. Wells fills that need and he only costs the Yankees a missed opportunity to see what Neal or Francisco could do. Because Teixeira got hurt in the WBC, his salary will be covered by their insurance once he has missed 30 days. Furthermore, the Yankees can structure Wells’ remaining salary so they pay most of the $13 million this year and not in 2014 thereby avoiding a big hit in their quest to get below $189 million. If Teixeira misses half the season the finances will essentially balance out.

The 2013 Yankees have been undone by their age and the attempt to cut the payroll of the 2014 Yankees. It would be better if the Yankees had simply admitted that and sacrificed their record this year by using as many young players as possible to see if any of them could be valuable in the future. Instead, they are going to keep trying to patch together a solution and fans should expect some rough sledding in the season ahead.

UPDATE- 3/25@12:05pm- I still don’t like this trade, but this article from Mark Feinsand explains how it can actually help the Yankees payroll-wise in 2014. Basically, Wells will earn $21-million in 2013 and 2014. But his original deal was for seven years and $126 million, so for luxury tax purposes the deal counts as $18-million a year. If the Angels pay $29-million of Wells’ remaining salary  the Yankees for luxury tax purposes would be responsible for $7-million despite the fact they will actually pay him $13-million over the next two years. The Yankees could then split the Angels’ payments to Wells as $9-million in 2013 and $20-million in 2014. By doing so, they would actually receive $2-million in credit against the luxury tax threshold in 2014. Basically, its an accounting exercise.

So, this explains why they didn’t spend this money earlier in the offseason to bring back Russel Martin. They could never have anticipated the Teixeira injury and the insurance money it brings them. If Mark misses two months, the Yankees will essentially get the $13 million they spent on Wells back in insurance. And, by structuring this deal the way outlined above, the Yankees could actually improve their 2014 payroll situation.

Perhaps then we should view this as a lousy baseball move, but a great business one?

Red Sox Cuts

Just a bit more than a week until Opening Night, the Red Sox are trimming their roster to 25.  At the moment, there are 35 players still in the mix.  If we assume David Ortiz goes on the DL, make it 34 players meaning 9 more cuts.

On the bubble:  Clayton Mortenson, Mike Carp, Mauro Gomez, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, Junichi Tazawa, Lyle Overbay, Alfredo Aceves, Ryan Sweeney, Jackie Bradley Jr., Pedro Ciriaco and Brock Holt.

If Drew goes on the DL, I think Iglesias makes the team, otherwise he is headed to Pawtucket for more seasoning, remember he is only 23.  Drew was declared ready for baseball activities again and since he’d had 16 at bats already this spring, I imagine he’ll be ready for opening day.  Holt and Ciriaco are interesting too as Ciriaco offers a bit more flexibility (all infield positions, save first base/catcher and all outfield positions) while Holt is a better offensive player.  They could both stick.

Mortenson and Tazawa are casualties of the numbers game.  Good enough to be on the team but there is no room.  Aceves is such a wild man I’d be looking to deal him immediately.  He is a headache is as likely to get suspended as he is to provide good innings.

With Daniel Nava learning first base on the fly I see him sticking (reports today on ESPN suggest this) meaning Carp and Overbay are cut.  Lavarnway just won’t get any PT with 2 catchers on the team already in Ross and Saltalamacchia.  Back to AAA for Lavarnway.

That leaves the following:

catchers: Ross and Saltalamacchia

infield: Pedroia, Middlebrooks, Drew, Holt,  Ciriaco, Napoli

outfield: Gomes, Ellsbury, Victorino, Nava, ???

starters: Lester, Buchholz, Dempster, Doubront and Lackey

bullpen: Hanrahan, Bailey, Uehara, Breslow, Miller, Morales and Bard (*)

* If Bard isn’t quite ready, which is being reported, Mortenson, Tazawa or Aceves could step in.

Regardless, that leaves 24 players.  The big talk is whether or not Jackie Bradley Jr. (no, not Jackie Rogers Jr) makes the team.  Bradley has torn it up this spring (.444/.545/.578) and while he has never played above AA, there is strong temptation to bring him to Boston.  The upside is that he is an exciting player who will probably take over for Ellsbury once his time with Boston is done, but the downside is that the jump from AA is huge.  Small market teams are forced to do this kind of thing with their dearth of talent. Personally I’d assign him to AAA and let him get some reps there with the idea of promoting him if he continues to rip it up.  If Bradley doesn’t break camp with the Red Sox, Ryan Sweeney will.

I’m sure I’ll be wrong on several fronts (especially Aceves) but this is my $0.02.

Why Not?

There seems to be a segment of Yankeesland angry over the signing of Brennan Boesch. I understand he had a terrible year last year and he is left-handed, but the anger is misplaced. It’s a small investment of $1.5-million and the Yankees can send him to the minors. And its important to remember that he is only 27 so there is a decent chance he rebounds from the .240/.286/.372 he hit last season.

Maybe the anger is more about the fact that the Yankees need to take a flier on a guy like Boesch. What the injuries to Granderson and Teixeira have exposed is how thin the Yankees are depth-wise. At this point it seems very likely that the Yankees will open the season with three guys they signed to minor league deals and two of them will be guys they signed in the past week. Unless another move is made, you have to think that Juan Rivera will open up at first with Ben Francisco and Boesch splitting time in right. It’s not exactly an optimal situation but there is not much else the Yankees can do.

So, Boesch may not be anything to get overly excited about, but at least the Yankees are gambling on a guy who isn’t over 30. The Yankees have taken a flier on a guy who could help right now and also provides some insurance if Travis Hafner breaks down. In addition, he is not eligible for free agency until 2016, so he provides a possible low-cost option for next year as well. Is an outfield of Boesch, Gardner and Ichiro something to drool over? Of course not, but it’s the probably the best the Yankees can do right now.

Larry?

Of all the bizarre things that have happened around the Yankees this spring, Brian Cashman talking about coaxing Larry (Chipper to everyone else) Jones out of retirement has to be up there. Here’s an excerpt from the link:

As a fun oddity about this already odd conversation with reporters, Cashman constantly referred to Jones as Larry instead of Chipper. It’s technically correct, but still…

“I’d take Larry in a heartbeat, I think everybody would,” Cashman said. “(But) I think if Larry was interested in playing, the team he’s got there in Atlanta would be the easiest one to come back for.”

First off, Larry? That being said, Chipper certainly had plenty in his bat last year so it isn’t a terrible idea. But, it’s sort of like someone in another organization trying to get Mariano to join them next year. Chipper is retired and Chipper is a Brave. That is that.

The Yankees added Ben Francisco today. Not a bad move, but Francisco is going to have to find the bat he displayed in 2010 and before to be of much use.

Bigger news is the Yankees’ decision to option Austin Romine to AAA. That means that barring an injury, Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are the catchers who will break camp with the team. And if that is indeed the case, you have to expect Cervelli to get more playing time than Stewart. It’s not a great situation, but if the Yankees didn’t think Romine was ready there were not a lot of other options.

Three weeks until Opening Day.

 

World Brawl Classic?

Did you catch the brawl in the Mexico-Canada game yesterday? It was quite a scrum with lots of punches and tackles, but amazingly no suspensions. I understand why MLB doesn’t want to suspend players from this event, but it sets a very tricky precedent the next time the benches clear in a real baseball game.

The bigger problem is why the benches cleared. They cleared because a Canadian player laid down a bunt in the 9th inning of a game his team was winning 9-3. Why did he do that? Because the tiebreaker in the WBC is run differential. Canada had been creamed by Italy the day before (they actually got mercy ruled) so it was reasonable for them to want to score as many runs as possible. It was also reasonable for Mexico to get a bit upset watching a guy drop a bunt down in that situation. The question is, what does MLB do about it?

Changing the format of the WBC would be a start. Since the games are played in March, why can’t they have some sort of tiebreaker for a playoff spot? Or, get creative and add a home run derby for the spot or something like that. Whatever they do, hopefully MLB thinks of something to avoid this situation the next time the WBC is held.

Two Statements

See if you can spot a difference in two statements made by Yankee players today.

“I carry the legacy of Mr. Jackie for all these years. I try to do my best to wear No. 42 and do it with class and honor. That’s what I’ve been trying my best, to carry the legacy of No. 42.

I will continue doing that until the end. Because of what Mr. Jackie Robinson did for us as minorities was tremendous, giving us an opportunity to come here, opening doors for us. Being the last player to wear No. 42 is a privilege. ” 

Mariano Rivera at his press conference today.

“Mariano Rivera is arguably the greatest closer of all time. But beyond that he is a class act and a great human being. It is an honor to be his teammate and his friend.”

Alex Rodriguez in a statement today.

Some get it, others do not.

#42

Joel Sherman reported today that Mariano Rivera will announce his retirement from baseball at the conclusion of the 2013 season in a press conference Saturday. It’s not a shock and the announcement allows us one last season to enjoy watching one of the greatest players in baseball history hone his craft for one more season. I will save the “eulogy” for another time and just offer this simple request of the Baseball Gods. Whenever the Yankees season ends, please have it end with Mariano on the mound getting one final save.