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Opening Day!

It’s finally here, the start of the baseball season. And for the first time in ages, the Yankees will be starting a lineup with more guys in their 20’s than any other decade.

That’s the reason for optimism if you are a Yankees fan. There will be frustrating times, but this lineup should be significantly better than last year’s. Bird and Sanchez are much better bets now than Teixeira and A-Rod were in 2016. Judge, Didi, and Castro are all ascending, while Gardner and Headley are not declining significantly- yet. The biggest questions are Ellsbury and Holliday. Ellsbury because of bad performance and Holliday because of age. I expect Holliday to be fine, while Ellsbury continues to haunt the Yankees.

But the reason for pessimism is the other side of the ball. The Yankee rotation is a mess. It starts with an ace, Tanaka, but goes way downhill from there. Sabathia, a second starter only in name, is years away from his peak. Pineda has never put together a full season that matches his ability. Severino is an unknown and the Yankees haven’t named a fifth starter yet. Add it all up, and most days will see the Yankees turning to the bullpen early.

Luckily, that’s a strength. They have a quartet of relievers they can trust and plenty of intriguing arms behind that. This is a team that should dominate close games. But the rotation will stress the bullpen and the Yankees have to hope that Severino becomes a frontline stater while the farm system provides help.

Add it all up and you have a .500 team. They will flirt with both contention and irrelevance, but in the end I think they squeak out an 83-79 record that puts them in third in the division and out of the playoffs.

The Crystal Ball

The Yankees and Rays open the MLB season in less than 48 hours, so it is time for me to make my annual predictions.

AL East
1-Boston
I liked them a lot more before Price came down with elbow problems because I think Sale is going to have a tough transition to Boston and Price’s absence will only heighten the pressure. Still, they have the most talent in the division. I think they squeak out the AL East with 89 wins.

2-Toronto
They will be right on Boston’s heels, but ultimately fall just short. I still think they get a wild card spot

3-Yankees
I will go into this more tomorrow, but I have them 3rd and missing the playoffs.

4-Baltimore
I think the East will be the most competitive division in baseball and the Orioles will be above .500.

5-Tampa
It’s too big a leap for me to consider them anywhere else than last.

AL Central
1-Cleveland
Clearly the class of their division by a lot. Probably the easiest path to the playoffs in the game,
2-Kansas City
I think Jorge Soler has a big year, but they aren’t going to challenge Cleveland.
3-Minnesota
This is a team that I think can surprise a lot of people with some young bats. Byron Buxto and Miguel Sano will form the core of a new emerging power in the division.
4-Detroit
I just don’t see a lot to like on the Tigers and I only picked them 4th because of the reality of the 5th team in the division.
5-Chicago
Full rebuild on the South Side and if they get good performances from players they will trade them at the deadline.

AL West
1-Houston
They dwelled at the bottom of the league for a long time, but all of those top draft picks are rounding into form. Also added some solid veteran presence with McCann and Beltran. The best team in the AL.
2-Texas
Still very good, but a step behind the Astros. I think they earn the other wild card.
3-Anaheim
It is a shame that Mike Trout has to languish on a so-so team.
4-Seattle
Felix Hernandez worries me. There are a lot of innings on that arm. I also don’t think Cano repeats last year’s success.

Playoffs
Toronto over Texas in wild card game
Houston over Boston in ALDS
Cleveland over Toronto in ALDS
Houston over Cleveland in ALCS

NL East
1-Washington
I love the Mets rotation, and I worry about Strasbourg, but the Nats edge them out in the end,
2-Mets
Thor may be the best pitcher in the game outside of Kershaw and they have plenty behind him even with Matt’s elbow woes. Look for Zach Wheeler to make a successful return from TJ surgery. They get a wild card.
3-Philadelphia
I think they have a lot of young talent and they play competitive baseball until the end.
4-Atlanta
New stadium and a lot of young guys. They will be back in the middle of things soon.
5-Miami
My pick for the biggest disappointment in the league.

NL Central
1-Cubs
The class of MLB and plenty of youth to stay that way for awhile.
2-Pittsburgh
I think they edge out the Cards for this spot.
3-St. Louis
Always solid if not spectacular.
4-Cincinnati
I think this is the year Billy Hamilton steals 100 bases.
5-Milwaukee
I think Johnathan Villar won’t be far behind Hamilton.

NL West
1-LA
That is one tough rotation and they have Saeger at short for the next 15 years.
2-San Francisco
Good enough for a wild card, but not the division. I think Matt Moore really enjoys his first full year in the NL.
3-Colorado
Lots of nice talent and I think the Desmond signing works. Keep an eye on Jon Grey.
4-Arizona
I think they edge out San Diego for 4th.
5-San Diego
Not really sure what they are doing, but they are the only game in town with the exodus of the Chargers, so hopefully the fans come out.

PLAYOFFS
Mets over Giants in wild card
Dodgers over Nats in NLDS
Cubs over Mets in NLDS
Cubs over Dodgers in NLCS

And Cubs over Astros in the World Series. After all they won back-to-back in 1907 and 1908, so why not again?

Long-Term Thinking-UPDATED

The Yankees announced almost all of their remaining roster moves today and showed that they are going to focus on the future.

First, Aaron Judge is going to be the starting right fielder.

Next, Luis Severino is the 4th starter.

Both of these moves are absolutely the right choices as they allow the Yankees a chance to see how these prospects can perform and if they are part of the long-term solution.

In other news the Yankees announced:

Rob Refsnyder is headed to AAA which pretty much guarantees that Pete Kozma will be the backup infielder with Didi out.

Eight (ugh) guys are in the pen. Chapman, Betances, Clippard, Warren, Layne, Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve.

One of those arms, will head to the minors when the Yankees name a 5th starter (April 14th or so). Chad Green and Jordan Montgomery will make two minor league starts in the interim, presumeably to decide which one gets the job, though I suppose Luis Cessna could jump back into the race with good minor league numbers.

So, the Yankees still need to pick their fifth starter and demote a bullpen arm to make that happen. That leaves one big decision, what happens to Chris Carter?

With 12 arms headed north, the Yankees have room for 4 bench players. Nicks is one. Kozuma is presumably another. A backup catcher, almost certainly Romine, is three. Do the Yankees want to leave the last spot to a guy who has hit 6-for-51 with 26 K’s this spring and can only play first? One would think not, but the Yankees are starting him today, so this will probably go down to the wire.

UPDATE- Yankees currently lead 9-0 in the bottom of the first today. They sent 13 batters to the plate and everyone of them got a hit or reached base except…Chris Carter who was 0-for-2.

Is This The Lineup?

Tanaka makes his last start of the spring today and the Yankees are using a lineup that could be their opening day lineup. It is:

Gardner-L
Sanchez-R
Bird-L
Holliday-R
Ellsbury-L
Castro-R
Headley-S
Hicks-S
Torreyes-R

It’s perfectly balanced between lefties and righties and it splits Gardner and Ellsbury up. I suspect Didi would hit 5th and Llsbury would be lower, if he was healthy.

Interestingly, it doesn’t include Aaron Judge. That could be a sign, but Judge has done everything the Yankees could have hoped for this spring. His slash line is .321/.390/.509 and he has struck out 12 times in 53 AB’s. Normally, I would think that would get him the job, but the Yankees may want to give Hicks one last chance to play everyday. Judge or Hicks is one of the bigger decisions left in camp.

There are two other big ones.

1- The final two rotation spots. I think Severino has done enough things to earn one and that Jordan Montgomery will lock the other down with a good start on Thursday. He’s been really impressive in camp. That would kick Brian Mitchell to the pen most likely as Luis Cessna has already been sent down.

2- What the Yankees do with Chris Carter. He’s been terrible, hitting .128 with a single home run while striking out 25 times in 47 AB’s. With Bird showing no lingering rust and having a great spring, what role would Carter play? The smart thing would be to cut him loose and eat his $3-million, but the Yankees could go a different route. With three days off during their first seven games, they don’t need a 5th starter until probably April 15th. They could carry Carter for that stretch instead of a 13th pitcher and see if he can help in any way. They would still have 7 arms in the pen as usual, just an extra bat on the bench.

We shall see, only five days until the season starts!

The WBC Strikes Again!

The Yankees announced today that Didi Gregorious will start the season on the DL due to an injury suffered in the WBC. Didi is expected to miss a total of six weeks from now, so he should be back around the end of April. You may recall that in 2013, Mark Teixeira had the same thing happen to him, but ended missing almost all of the season, playing in only 15 games. So, don’t expect the Yankees to be big “fans” of the next WBC.

Brian Cashman thankfully dismissed the idea that Gleybar Torres will take Didi’s place. The Yankees have a number of options.
1- Move Ronald Torreyes into the starting lineup in place of Didi. This will require them to get a new backup infielder.
2- Move Castro back to short and find a new secondbaseman.
3- Use one of the depth guys in camp like either Pete Kozma or Ruben Tejada either as the shortstop or to fill in as backup infielder.
4- Think about Tyler Wade.

#1 makes the most sense and either Kozma or Tejada could be a good fill-in as backup infielder for now. #4 is probably too aggressive as Wade hasn’t even played above AA-ball yet, but the Yankees are grooming him to be a multi-positional player, and he was originally a shortstop, so maybe now would be a good time to get him on the roster and see what he can do?

No matter how they slice it though, losing Didi is going to hurt. He hit 20 homers last year and provides some lefty balance to a lineup that needs it. He is not an ideal middle of the lineup guy, but having him there at the start of the year would have kept some pressure off the other young guys. We can only hope that he won’t follow in Teixeira’s footsteps and that he will be back on the field, and healthy, in six weeks.

Torresmania

Gleyber Torres is showing why the Yankees were smart to insist on him as part of the Chapman trade last year. He earned the AFL MVP award and is currently putting up a line of .455/.458/.1000 in spring training. It’s only 22 AB’s, but for a guy who just turned 20 and hasn’t played above A-ball, it’s very impressive. But it is creating expectations no player can possibly live up to.

The thing is, he needs to be sent to the minors as soon as Didi gets back from Team Netherlands and allowed to continue to develop in a quieter environment. As tempting as it might be to see what he could do in the bigs, the downside of shattering his confidence, is too large. Instead, let him open the year in Trenton. If he does well there, he moves up to Scranton. And if he can handle that, bring him up sometime this season. That would still be an incredibly aggressive timetable for a 20-year old player. The reality is that he will probably struggle at times this year and if he even ends the season in Scranton, that would be a great success.

The Yankees are not lacking young players or great stories. We are already going to see if Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird can follow up their impressive debuts with full-season efforts. It seems like Aaron Judge is putting a lock on right field. That’s 1/3rd of the lineup under 25. And when you add Castro and Didi, you have more than half of the lineup under-28. It’s been a long time since the Yankees had that.

The Yankees need to sell tickets, so they will always talk about contending and playing for a championship, but if this season ends with Sanchez, Bird, and Judge showing they are bonafide big leaguers over a full season and a couple of the other prospects looking ready to help in 2018, it will be a success no matter what the record is.

Classic?-UPDATED

Have you been watching the World Baseball Classic? If you have, and if you are enjoying it, stop reading now.

Ok, you are still here so here it goes. This is simply a cynical money grab by MLB with a fake product.

Look, I would love to see a real tournament with the best players in the world representing their countries and putting it all on the line. Luckily, soccer does that and it is called the World Cup. Sadly, MLB doesn’t come close. Consider some important differences.

In the World Cup, the best players in the world play. They play every game and they play the entire game with only three substitutions allowed for an 11-man side. The MLB version has many of the best players staying away and has pitch counts of 65 for the opening rounds and rules on how often a pitcher can be used.

Now I know what you are going to say, you are going to say that MLB clubs won’t risk having their star players hurt at the WBC. You are right, but consider this. Do you know who the highest paid athlete in the world is? (Hint, he plays soccer) It’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who earns about $50-million (not a misprint) a year to play soccer in Spain. When the World Cup comes along, he suits up for a country that doesn’t have the greatest relationship historically with Spain, Portugal, no matter what.

So what you say? Soccer is stupid because they go to a shootout if they are tied. Well yes, they do, but that’s after 120-minutes of running up and down a field and guess what MLB is doing for the WBC? The equivalent of a soccer shootout! From the rules page:
For any inning beginning with the 11th inning, the Federation Team at bat shall begin the inning with runners on first and second base.

That’s right, you get two runners on to start an inning and three outs to score. They still play the bottom of the inning, but this is a soccer shootout, just with less superstars on the field.

So count me out of caring a whiff about this whole thing. If they want to create a real tournament with everyone from MLB eligible and games played for real, I would be the first one there. And here’s how I would do it. Start spring training early like you did this year. Have the teams play about a month of the usual spring training games and then crank up an eight-team tournament based on the College World Series format of double-elimination. You split the teams into two brackets and have them play until each bracket has a winner. (five days max). Then you play a best-of-three series to proclaim a winner. The whole thing would take eight days, weather permitting, but you could be smart and schedule it in places where rain is very, very unlikely (Arizona) or in domed stadiums. Yes there would be injury risks but that would be something to watch. I would love to see a U.S. roster with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and others going all out to win a title. Until that happens, this is just a way for MLB to sell some merchandise and TV rights with an inferior product. To use a good analogy for March, it’s the NIT of baseball tournaments and I want the madness.

UPDATEAnd just in case I didn’t convince you. The tiebreaking rules for this tournament should do so. Even MLB doesn’t understand them!

George The Second?

Randy Levine has never been very smart about keeping his mouth shut. His most recent performance was out of the old book of Steinbrenner.

Not content with just winning the arbitration case against Delia Betances, Levine blasted his agents, and Betances in a pointless attack that will only poison relations with him down the road.

I understand why the Yankees chose to go to arbitration with a Betances. While the gap between them was only $2-million this year, if Betances had made $5-million, like he asked for, he would have been eligible to significantly increase that in arbitration next year. And, after 2018, the Yankees may have found themselves on the hook for a second closer salary-wise.

That doesn’t excuse the stupidity of Levine or the absurdity of the system. Betances may be the most valuable reliever in the game over the past three years. Throw out saves and he is right there with them all. But arbitrators rely on saves and Betances didn’t have enough of them to earn his bigger payday. Levine should ha e pocketed the win and moved on. This was an unforced error.

Spring Is Here!

The bags are unpacked and the gear is ready to go. Pitchers and catchers reported today in Tampa and in a few weeks we will have box scores once again. How great is that?

Camp for the Yankees should be interesting, even though you can almost predict the final roster right now. On offense, it seems almost certain that the 13 guys headed north will be Sanchez, Romine, Bird, Carter, Castro, Didi, Headley, Torreyes, Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge, Hicks, and Holliday. The pitching is murkier because 2 spots in the rotation are open, but I would expect to see the following 11 guys make the team: Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, Severino, Green, Warren, Chapman, Betances, Clippard, Mitchell, and Cessa, with the final spot going to a left-handed reliever.

So, why is camp interesting with almost all of the final roster set? Because it is all about the future. We will get a look at almost every top-10 prospect in the system and should start to get an idea of when these guys are realistically going to make the Bronx. The two closest right now would be Frazier and Kaprielian. The Yankees hope Frazier is their left fielder of the future and Kapreilian is a part of the 2018 rotation. Both could force their way to the Bronx early in 2017 if they play well. While Torres will also certainly get plenty of attention, keep your eye on Miguel Andujar. The Yankees need to see if he can continue to hit and handle third as they eye him as a possible replacement for Headley. I’m also excited to see Chance Adams and Dietrich Enns. Adams went 13-1 between A ball and AA with over a strikeout an inning. Enns went 14-4 between AA and AAA with 124 K’s in 140 innings. When you consider that Tanaka has an opt-out after this year while Sabathia and Pineda are free agents, the Yankees will need some of their younger arms to step forward.

Trade Coming?

The other day I posted this: Think about the Yankees. Matt Holiday was a pretty solid signing at $13-million for one year, but what would you say if they had signed Chris Carter for much less than that?

Well I guess I need to say something now because the Yankees just signed him for the bargain basement price of $3-million.

The price is great, but I don’t think this is a good fit with the way the team is presently constructed. Holliday and Carter are too similar. They are both righties and they are both best suited for a DH role.

But, if you had to, you could put Carter at first. The problem is that is where Greg Bird should be. So maybe you put Holliday in left, but then where does Brett Gardner go? The Yankees could simply be adding Carter as righty power on the bench. But if you carry 13 pitchers, you only have four bench spots. A guy who can really only play first doesn’t make a lot of sense in that scenario.

Perhaps the Yankees are just taking a flier for spring and will see if they can flip Carter for something towards the end of camp? Or they have another trade in the works? Because absent that, I don’t get this. Yes, the price is great, but the fit is poor.