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Who Ordered The Code Red?

If there is anyone among the New York baseball writers who could speak to the ghost of George Steinbrenner, Bill Madden would be the guy. He always had a close relationship with the boss and his piece this morning really makes you wonder if he can communicate beyond the grave. Consider this section about Greg Bird.

Much as the Torres and Fowler injuries were downright heartbreaking, the Bird mystery ankle bruise has become merely annoying. Despite numerous tests that have turned up nothing, Bird continues to insist the ankle is still sore — too sore to allow him to play. The Yankee brass has become exasperated with Bird, who’s never been able to stay healthy, and it has gotten to the point where if he doesn’t get back on the field after the All-Star break, they are prepared to move him over the winter.

So The Yankees are threatening to trade Bird if he doesn’t start to play by next week? That’s interesting, almost as interesting as these quotes:

“You really have to wonder what’s with this guy,” a Yankee insider complained to me earlier this week. “You’d think with Judge and Sanchez, the guys he came up through the system with, doing so well up here he’d want to be a part of this. Apparently not.”

That’s classic George reasoning there. The guy is obviously faking the injury and doesn’t want to play hurt, so the Yankees should send him packing.

But assuming Madden can’t communicate with the dead, who would have made these quotes? O can’t prove it, but I would bet a fairly sizable amount that it is Randy Levine.

Levine likes to talk tough and channel George. He was the guy in February who ripped Delin Betances after beating him in arbitration. Does this seem any different?

It’s also stupid and somewhat ironic. It was in 2015 that Mark Teixeira’s broken leg was not diasgnosed by doctors for weeks. In the interim, the Yankees called up Greg Bird and he dazzled them with 11 homers over the final 46 games of the season. He also got one of the three hits the Yankees managed in their Wild Card game loss to Houston. But 2016 was wiped out by shoulder surgery and 2017 has been a disaster. Bird is still just 24 and giving up on him because of injuries at this point is nuts.

Luckily, Hal listens to Cashman on personnel issues and not Levine. Randy would do well to remember that the Boss’ bombastic ways and impetuous decisions didn’t win any titles after an initial flurry of success. It was his suspension in 1990 and the rebuilding of the farm system under Gene Michael that led to the dynasty teams of the 1990’s.

Next Stop: Trade Market

I didn’t think the Yankees really thought of Ji-Man Choi as a legitimate option at first, but he just became the starter. After today’s game, the Yankees DFA’ed Chris Carter for the second time in twelve days and recalled Choi.

I suspect the ball Carter dropped in the seventh inning sealed his fate. It was an easy play to make, a throw from Didi, but Carter couldn’t handle it and it almost cost the Yankees. If you aren’t going to hit, you have to at least add value with your glove, and Carter wasn’t doing that.

In steps Choi who has a reputation as a good fielder and contact hitter without much power. He appeared in 54 games for Anaheim last year and hit .170 with 5 homers, so don’t expect miracles.

The Yankees will see if Choi can contribute, but unless some good news comes about Tyler Austin or Greg Bird, I expect them to scour the trade market.

Eric Hosmer’s chances of ending up in the Bronx just got bigger.

The Halfway Mark

Tonight the Yankees play their 81st game, meaning the season is half over. They are on pace to win 87 games, a bit higher than I would have thought in March, but a bit lower than I would have thought a few weeks ago. That’s because the Yankees played their first sixty games 37-23 and the next twenty, 6-14. And that’s the enormous challenge facing this club. What should they do, if anything, to fortify the team for a possible pennant race?

If you say they should fix the root causes of the 6-14 stretch, then the answer is, get more pitching. The Yankees have a team ERA of 4.96 in that stretch while the offense has averaged 5-runs per game.

If you focus on the entire first half, you would say, first base, third base, Tanaka, and the bullpen. Let’s dive into each of those.

First is clearly a disaster. Bird may be the second coming of Nick Johnson and Carter has been terrible in relief of him. Tyler Austin is on the DL, and the farm system doesn’t have much else in the way of help at first. The luxury rental is Eric Hosmer, and I don’t think the Yankees are there yet, but if they stick close to first over the next four weeks, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Third is a simple equation. The Yankees will tolerate Chase Headley until they feel that Andujar is ready to play defense at a major-league level. Barring an injury to either, that won’t change.

Tanaka is simply not going to be removed from the rotation. The Yankees are praying at this point that he can turn things around enough to opt-out of his deal after the season. If he can’t, the Yankees are stuck with him for three more years. Either way, he will be in the rotation as long as he is healthy this season.

And that brings us to the bullpen, and this is an area the Yankees will wait and see on. Before Warren got hurt, things we’re going well. Betances has been bad lately, but overall has been brilliant. Clippard is a mess, but Warren’s return will minimize him. Chad Green has looked good out of the pen, but needs to get thrown into some high leverage situations to see what happens.

The season has been a huge success overall. Judge has shown he can be a great player. Hicks took a huge step forward. Montgomery and Severino look to be rotation pieces for the future. A lot of other prospects have taken big steps forward and the future looks really good. The next four weeks will show how close that future is.

June 29th

On Thursday, June 29th, 1905, Archibald Graham entered a game for the New York Giants in the top of the ninth and his team at bat against the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the inning ended with him in the on deck circle. He played the field in the bottom half of the inning, but never returned to the major leagues and became a historical footnote famously recounted in the movie “Field of Dreams”.

If you are a baseball fan, you know that movie. Ray Kinsella goes in search of recluse author, Terrance Mann, really JD Salinger but he threatened to sue, and then runs into Moonlight Graham before meeting his long dead father. It’s a wonderful movie and it always makes me cry at the end when he plays catch with the younger version of his Dad.

My Dad died on June 29th, 1999, and I live about a five minute walk from the remnants of the ballpark in Brooklyn where Moonlight Graham made his only appearance in the bigs. It’s a Con Edison lot, but there is a wall that remains from the ballpark, abandoned over 100 years ago when the Dodgers moved to Ebbets Field. I go there every June 29th to remember the ghost of Moonlight and dream of one more catch with my Dad.

Yesterday was a perfect day for baseball here in New York. As I watched the early evening sun gather around the ruins of Washington Park, I could picture Moonlight out in right field, sprinting after anything that came close to him. I could picture my Dad, an Englishman who thought baseball was the most boring thing ever but a father who wanted to bond with his son, making me learn to hit lefty and exhorting me to keep my glove up higher and be ready for the ball.

So I was more excited than usual to watch last night’s game. Baseball was swirling in my mind and I was really excited to see Dustin Fowler’s big league debut. He was playing right and hitting sixth. But, the weather in Chicago was terrible, and the game didn’t start until almost 11pm here in NYC.

The Yankees looked to have a great inning on their hands in the top of the first. Brett Gardner singled, Aaron Judge walked, and then Didi got a run home thanks to an error. 1-0 good guys, and they were threatening to do much more. But Sanchez hit into a double play and Ellsbury flew out to left, so the inning ended with Fowler in the on deck circle.

Almost seven years ago, I was walking my daughter to school on a beautiful October morning. As we got to the middle of the street, I realized the car heading towards us wasn’t going to stop in time. I pushed my daughter forward, and turned to scream, “STOP” at the car. I remember feeling the impact on my left leg, pounding on the hood while I yelled, and being knocked back. Amazingly, I was ok, I walked over to my sobbing daughter, scooped her up and sat down next to a chain link fence while people and cops swarmed around us to make sure we were ok. A short while later, an ambulance came and the EMTs convinced me to go to the hospital and get checked out. A neighbor took my six-year old, and I took a ride. It was only about an hour later, after sitting in a wheelchair and then being asked to walk to x-ray, that I realized something was wrong. I tried to stand but couldn’t. The diagnosis was a tibial plateau fracture, the x-ray technician told me I was lucky, usually that injury included damage to the patella tendon, but since I was standing initially, my patella must be ok.

Luis Cessa was on the mound and he got two quick outs, a strikeout and an infield grounder. His first pitch to Abreu was a 96-mph fastball that Abreu was late on, fouling it away. Abreu watched a similar offering go down the pipe, for strike two. Having no reason to change things, Cessa went back to the fastball for his third pitch.

Fowler was racing as the ball flew towards right. Abreu was late on this one too, so the ball was tailing towards the stands. Fowler had a chance, but it was going to take everything he had. At the very last second, he realized that an impact with the stands was imminent and he tried to put his left hand out to absorb the impact.

He was going too fast at this point, and his right knee took the brunt of the collision. He almost went completely over the railing and into the stands, but quickly righted himself, grimaced and tried to walk. A step, a grimace, and then a hop. Something was clearly wrong. He tried one more step, but crumpled to the ground. You could see the security guy waive at the dugout for help and Girardi race out of the dugout with the Yankee trainer, Steve Donahue.

Donahue went to examine the knee and placed his hands just below Fowler’s kneecap. Fowler’ expression never changed, he was probably in shock, but Joe Girardi put his hand up to his face to stop the tears. Donahue signaled frantically for the cart to come out as Fowler’ teammates circled around him thinking of what to say.

I watched it all in horror. Seeing the hop he took and the way he collapsed, I figured it was the tendon. I cursed the baseball gods and history. I cried for Fowler, Moonlight, and myself. And I went to bed thankful that I won’t have to face another June 29th for 364 more days.

Meet the New Guy at First….

Guess what, Chris Carter is back! How did this happen? Well Tyler Austin was apparently dealing with a hamstring injury when they promoted him and it has turned into a bigger thing. He is going to be out awhile.

Greg Bird isn’t doing so hot, so he is going on the 60-day DL. That sounds worse than it is because he has been on the DL since the start of May, and that means he can be activated whenever he is healthy, or if he is healthy again this year.

That left the Yankees with a couple of choices. They could keep sending Romine out there, but that leaves them exposed at catcher. They could try Refsnyder there, but he isn’t hitting and hasn’t looked great at first. So, Carter gets the call because he is already getting paid, so the Yankees will see if a week off makes a difference.

The interesting thing is the Yankees made another move, sending Andujar down and promoting Dustin Fowler. Andujar had a great debut, you really couldn’t ask for more, but the Yankees wisely want him to get reps at third, and they are not benching Headley.

And that brings us to Fowler, another top prospect who is getting a shot. Fowler is 22, a lefty, and is hitting .293/.329/.542 in AAA. He has 13 steals, so he has speed. He’s spent most of his time in center, but he can play right and left.

His promotion is interesting because they could have recalled Mason Williams with the injury to Austin, but instead they are DFA’ing him to clear a roster spot. Is Fowler being showcased for a possible trade, or are the Yankees looking at him as a possible replacement for Gardner or Ellsbury? Time will tell.

And Another Ones Gone….UPDATED

Matt Holliday is headed to the DL with an ominous sounding “virus” and the Yankees are recalling Miguel Andujar. If you are scoring at home, that is the third regular from the lineup to be lost in the past week, and that trifecta- Holliday, Hicks, and Castro, were the most productive hitters in the lineup after Judge and Sanchez.

Whatever is going on with Holliday, it is good the Yankees are taking this step. He originally had what was termed an “allergic reaction” in Oakland, but has told Joe Girardi he feels like all of his energy is gone. That’s scary stuff, and i hope the doctors in NY can find a quick and easy remedy for whatever it is.

Andujar is probably going to be primarily a DH for now. He would not have gotten the call except for the fact that he is right-handed and on the 40-man roster. He hit well at AA, and in his seven games at AAA, but he wasn’t expected in the Bronx this early. The scouting reports like his bat, but worry about his defense at third. If Rob Refsnyder was doing more with the bat, this move wouldn’t have been made. This will be a good chance for the Yankees to take a look at how he handles the majors, but I wouldn’t expect them to send Chase Headley packing anytime soon.

One other note, as I speculated the other day, Chris Carter passed through waivers and is headed to Scranton. If Tyler Austin falters and Greg Bird can’t make it back to the field, I could see the Yankees turning back to Carter.

UPDATE-5pm
Pretty wild lineup tonight:
Gardner cf
Judge rf
Sanchez c
Gregorius ss
Headley 3b
Romine 1b
Andujar dh
Wade lf
Torreyes 2b

The Closer Fallacy

The Yankees lost a gut-punch game last night and while Delin Betances meltdown takes some heat off of Girardi this morning, it shouldn’t. Joe made the classic mistake modern managers do today, he treated the 9th inning as the most important. Let’s dig in.

This game was an old school pitchers duel with Luis Severino and a Jose Quintana dominating. The White Sox took a 1-0 lead into the 8th, but the Yankees broke through for three runs and took a 3-1 lead. With Severino at 105 pitches, Girardi didn’t want to push him and turned to the bullpen.

That’s understandable, but the first mistake he made was not putting Betances in at that point. Now Joe is going to say that Chapman was unavailable and he wanted Betances to pitch the 9th. The problem with that logic is you don’t know what the score will be in the 9th, nor do you know how many pitches Betances will need to pitch the 8th. Maybe he sets the side down in 8 pitches and you feel good about brining him out for the 9th. Maybe the Yankees tack on a bunch of runs in the 9th and blow the game open. You can’t predict that, but you know that with a two-run lead in the 8th, you are in a critical spot.

And Girardi turned to Domingo German, a guy with just over 60 innings of experience above A-ball. Let me emphasize that, A-ball. Not surprisingly, German walked the two batters he faced. Now Girardi makes his second mistake, going to Clippard over Betances. Clearly, Girardi didn’t want to use Clippard, or he would have started the inning with him over the inexperienced rookie, but then he turns to him when there are two guys on and no one out? Clippard promptly threw a wild pitch and then walked the bases loaded. And Girardi makes mistake number three, leaving him in.

And amazingly, this one paid off, but it really shouldn’t have. Clippard got two guys out, then walked in a run to make it 3-2. Then, on a full count, he got a strike out to let the Yankees escape the 8th. It was ugly, and it probably should have ended with him imploding, but it didn’t.

Ironically, that was Betances’ job as he didn’t have it and lost the game in the bottom of the 9th. Some will say that his meltdown is proof that Girardi did the right thing. But it isn’t. The Yankees had three choices for the 8th, the rookie, the guy who has been hit all over the park recently, and Betances. You have to pick Betances, hope he gets you to the 9th, and go from there. Managers used to know that.

Clean it Up

I will always love the Yankees on the field, but off the field their behavior can drive me bonkers. I hate the fact that they built a stadium financed with tax-free bonds when New York City has so many things much more deserving of financing. And I don’t like this report from today’s New York Times on their “community” charity, which doesn’t look good at all.

Now the article doesn’t directly implicate the Yankees, but the Yankees need to think about the fact that their name is on the masthead and they could have tremendous influence over the charity. The ballclub does a lot of great things, HOPE Week being one of the best. But, that doesn’t excuse this. I hope the team will stand up, correct the problem, and make sure the money in the charity only goes to things in the neighboring communities.

This is Silly

The Yankees opened the season with their starting shortstop on the DL. Assuming Starlin Castro goes to the DL after tonight, every other opening day starter, apart from their DH, 3B, and LF, has been on the DL. Add in Aaron Hicks, and the Yankees’ lineup has been wracked with injuries.

You can also add the closer, Chapman, the 7th inning guy, Warren, and the 3rd starter, Sabathia, to the total. Their opening day DH may hit the DL and the 3b has skirted the DL. The Yankees should encase Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner in a protective shield.

We don’t know what will happen with Castro at this point, but Tyler Wade has been removed from his game in Scranton, and is probably on his way to Chicago. Losing Castro would be a big blow, but bringing Wade to the bigs could be a huge lift. For all the injuries, the Yankees are lucky they have depth.

Carter Released

The Chris Carter era is over for now as the Yankees DFA’ed him after 57 games and a .204/.286/.383 line. His low average was not a surprise, he is a career .217 hitter, but he never delivered the power the Yankees hoped for. He might end up at Scranton, because I’m not sure any major league team will give him a shot.

Now the Yankees turn to Tyler Austin, one of the three rookies they brought up last August. Austin’s foot injury opened the door to Carter, and his recovery closed it. Greg Bird is waiting to see if his cortisone shot worked. If it didn’t, and Austin doesn’t produce, the Yankees will have to go to plan D at first.