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A Night in The Bronx

I made it to my first game of the year last night, and while the result was disappointing, the atmosphere was not.

It’s been awhile since I have seen the Stadium like that. I got there right before 5pm when the gates were about to open and it was already really busy. Lots of fans had lined up to get into the game to see batting practice. The outfields were pretty packed with fans trying to catch balls and things were loud. The attendance was announced at 39-thousand something and I would believe it. Not a lot of empty seats anywhere in the ballpark. Ownership must be thrilled. A mid-week game on a school night drew almost 40,000 fans.

It will be interesting to see what happens from here with attendance and the Yankees. NYC schools get out June 28th, so that should help. Continuing this seven-game losing streak would clearly not. But even if they continue to struggle, fans want to see Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. There were a ton of those jerseys in the stands last night and both of them rewarded their fans with long balls. It’s funny how Sanchez has been a bit lost in all of the Judgemania. In 2016 he was Judge, with 20 homers in the final 53 games. He got hurt early in 2017, missed a month, but look at him now. 12 homers in 41 games.

Who knows where the season goes from here, but based on a Tuesday night in the Bronx things look pretty good and the fans seem pretty energized.

When It Rains…

The Yankees just announced that Gleyber Torres is going to need Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL tear in his elbow. This is obviously very bad news, but the saving grace is that the injury is to his left, non-throwing, elbow, so he should be ready to go at the start of next season.

However, he clearly won’t be able to help the team this year. That’s not a huge deal because I am not sure he would have been called up anyway. The Yankees probably would have turned to Tyler Wade before Torres. But it also means he is going to lose 1/2 a season of experience in the minors, which will delay his arrival in the Bronx next year.

All of this because he tried to slide into home face-first. Teams really should spend time teaching players to slide feet-first. So many more things can go wrong when you go in face-first, especially to home plate.

A Guess About the Future

Tim Kurkjian asked 12 people in baseball (GM’s, managers, players and umpires) what the game would look like in 2037. It’s an interesting collection of predictions.

It’s worth a read and I imagine things like a Sabermetrics coach and the pace of play ideas will happen. But I think three of the predictions are worthy of a deeper look.

First is the prediction that MLB will be a 28-team league in 20 years with the subtractions of Tampa Bay and Oakland is impossible in my mind. The fact is the owners of these teams have way too much invested in them to ever agree to contraction. And, the owners of the remaining 28 teams would never agree to the fees they would have to pay to contract those two teams. I think you always have to follow the money, and the money in this case is for more teams, not less. (I would be thrilled to go back to 28 teams and the elimination of divisions as the article speculates, I just can’t see it.)

The second prediction is, “ticket prices also will rise to a level that will make it even less affordable than today to attend a game.” I think we are actually arriving at a tipping point with ticket prices, stadium design and television. The fact is that all sports leagues are creating a two-tier system. The first tier is the premium experience- great seats and great service. The second tier is the opposite- terrible seats and no service. I believe that as television gets better and better, demand for the second tier is going to disappear. Let me explain.

There are few things better than going to a ballpark on a nice summer day and enjoying a game. But, if the reality is that you have to spend 1/2 my weekly paycheck to sit in some remote location where you can barely make out the players, I think most people are going to simply stay home and enjoy the game from the comfort of their living room, on their enormous wall-sized televisions. On that television, they will be able to control the 56-different camera angles available inside the stadium thanks to miniaturization and drones. With 3D television, it will almost feel like you are at the game. The people in the luxury seats will still come, but the other guys won’t, or won’t come very often. To that end, I expect that stadiums are going to shrink a lot in the coming years. If a new Yankee Stadium is built in 2030, I would expect it to look a lot like the current one, just without the upper deck because fans who can only afford those seats don’t want them. The kids of today are used to seeing anything they want, at any time they want, in incredible detail. It will be next to impossible to convince them to attend a sporting event if they are seated miles away from the action.

Lastly, I think this is the most important paragraph in the whole article:

With all that money to be made, players will find a way to get the most they can, even if it means using performance enhancing drugs. As long as the carrot is there, as long as there is motivation and there are wildly competitive players, there will be those players that will try to beat the system, as there is, for example, with insider trading. There will always be new designer steroids, and there will always be more chemists trying to make them undetectable.

It’s absolutely right. When you are talking about life-changing contracts, the incentives to cheat the system will always be greater than the threats of punishment. Look at Rafael Palmeiro. He is one of the biggest pariahs in baseball and is ridiculed for his PED-use. But, he earned almost $90-million playing baseball. Wherever he is, he should not ever have to worry about how he will house or feed his family. The money has grown exponentionally since Palmeiro left the game, Brian McCann got about $90-million in one five-year contract. Unless MLB comes up with real financial penalties and retroactive testing like the Olympics uses, PED’s will be everywhere.

Injuries Galore

The Yankees left for California in good health. Things have gone downhill quickly.

First we had CC Sabathia get hurt in his start Tuesday. Sabathia went to the DL and the Yankees need a starter for Sunday and the immediate future.

Then came word that Greg Bird is ending his rehab and flying back to NY to see a doctor. That probably puts him back in NY after the All-Star Break in the best of circumstances.

Then Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks left last nights game with injuries and are listed as day-to-day.

And Adam Warren has shoulder inflammation and is headed to the DL.

And the Yankees are 1-3 on this road trip so far.

So the Yankees made a flurry of moves tonight and I would expect more tomorrow. Kyle Higashioka and Mason Williams are up from Scranton with Gallegos optioned and Warren hitting the DL. That leaves the Yankees with 12 pitchers, but it’s probably temporary. Higashioka and Williams are going back to Scranton as soon as Hicks and Sanchez are ready and I would bet the Yankees roll the dice to get at least one more arm here tomorrow with Sunday’s starter listed as TBD. (Bet on Cessa getting the ball though).

All of this makes Luis Severino’s start tonight a big one. They need him to be effective and they need him to go deep into the game. Every team struggles through injuries and the Yankees are going to have to figure this out.

Why Chance It?

The MLB Draft is one of the more inexact sciences in life so critiques of individual picks should be used sparingly, but the Yankees have left me scratching my head with their first-round pick. Clarke Schmidt has a lot of the things you would want in a future Yankee. He’s reportedly a great kid, he throws really hard and he went 4-2 with a 1.34 ERA for the University of South Carolina this year. The only problem is, he had Tommy John surgery in May.

That means he will definitely miss the rest of this year. And he will probably miss at least half of next year. I get that he is reportedly one of the top arms in the draft, but his arm doesn’t work right now and might never work the same way again. And unlike many of the past years, the Yankees were picking in the middle of the draft (16th) rather than the back of the draft. In fact, you can draw an uncomfortable parallel between this pick and the Andrew Brackman pick of ten years ago. Brackman was hurt when the Yankees picked him, but they defended the choice by saying that next to David Price, he had the best arm in the draft. The Yankees were picking thirtieth overall then, but consider some of the guys they could have drafted instead of Brackman- Chris Sale (Round 8), Jordan Zimmerman (Round 3), Corey Kluber (Round 10), Craig Kimbrell (Round 14), Rick Porcello (Round 27) Danny Duffy (Round 2)…you get the idea. Instead they turned to Brackman because they were so desperate for a top-end arm they thought it was worth the risk.

It’s way too early to tell if this will pan out. They may not even sign the guy, but it seems like a dumb risk at this point. The Yankees are probably not going to be picking anywhere as high as 16th next year. They already have an injured, first-round pick recovering from Tommy John, in James Kaprielian. (Ironically also the 16th-overall pick in 2015.) Why double down?

Make This Team Better

The Yankees have almost reached the point where you start to think about the ways to improve this team to make it a legitimate playoff contender. The problem is, that is going to be harder than it looks.

Reflexively, I think most fans would say that the starting rotation is the place to upgrade, but dig a bit deeper. Throw Tanaka’s performance to date out of the equation, and the Yankees have the lowest starter ERA in the majors. The quartet of Pineda, Sabathia, Severino, and Montgomery have been that good. And while advanced stats suggest they are slightly overrated, it isn’t by a huge amount.

So maybe you say Tanaka is the guy to go, but his contract makes that impossible. He can opt-out after this season, or he can stay with the Yankees and keep on earning $22-million a year for the next three seasons. If you remove him from the rotation, he stays and you pay him $66-million to sit in the bullpen. That’s not realistic, so the Yankees really have no choice but to keep sending him out there.

The bullpen has been a strength, and with Chapman due back soon, there is no need to improve it. The Yankees have four guys they can rely on late- Chapman, Betances, Clippard, and Warren, and they have plenty of interesting arms that could add to that quartet.

That leaves the lineup, and there are two obvious holes, first and third. Chris Carter has not been good, but Greg Bird is on the mend and will absolutely get a chance to fill that hole. So that leaves third, and Chase Headley, but the Yankees may also have the answer to that problem internally

Tyler Wade is hitting .307/.372/.449 in Scranton. He has played every position outside of catcher and first. Gleyber Torres is off to good start at Scranton (.273/.403/.418) and he is rotating between second, third and short. Either of them is worthy of a promotion if the Yankees are going to try to replace Headley.

And the Yankees may have set the sequence in motion tonight that leads to that move. They DFA’ed Tommy Lane. That’s because they decided to push Tanaka back a day and need Chad Green to start tomorrow. Since Green is no longer stretched out and they will need to go to the bullpen early, they recalled Domingo German. German was a part of the Prada-Eovaldi trade and he is stretched out. He was also on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees now have an open spot. I would bet that goes to Wade in the very near future.

And that’s why is I expect the Yankees to look inside the organization for help. If a big injury comes along, that could certainly change. But for now, the only logical move is an internal, and not an external, one.

A Big June Start For Big Mike

Michael Pineda may be the most frustrating pitcher I have ever seen in a Yankees’ uniform. He can go out and absolutely dominate a game and then get absolutely torn apart in his next start. He’s now made 83 starts for the Yankees and his record is a mediocre 29-30 with a 4.05 ERA. I don’t think he is in the team’s future plans. In fact I would suspect the best-case scenario for the Yankees is that Pineda pitches well enough to make an arbitration offer a no-brainer and the Yankees can then let him get his riches elsewhere while pocketing a draft pick. But, if there is any hope of the Yankees unlocking the vault for a contract extension, he needs to show them they can trust him in a big spot.

Tonight is one of those starts. The Yankees have a chance to win the series over Boston and send them away trailing by 3 in the division. Conversely, a loss puts the race at a game and gives Boston the series win. Which Mike will show up? Nobody knows, but throughout his career he holds a 4-5 record against Boston with a 4.73 ERA. The Yankees will face David Price, a guy they usually hit well (He’s 14-10 against them, but with a 4.55 ERA) so they should have some chances, but only if the “good” Pineda shows up.

It will be fascinating to watch and I am sure Brian Cashman and his team will take note of what they see. They have a big decision to make about Pineda in the next few months.

Not Too Shabby

Yankees-Red Sox will never equal the intensity of 2003-2004 until 2095 at the earliest. 86 years of tortured baseball versus the best team ever can’t be replicated in our lifetime. But, watching Kimbrel overpower Judge last night was a nice reminder of what this rivalry can be. It was like Mariano versus Ortiz, back in the day. We are still going to need more. We need a legitimate debate about which player you would rather have, like the DiMaggio-Williams debate or the Jeter-Nomar one. (Still can’t believe that one happened). We need more games like that one and we need them late in the season. On that point, the schedule maker is not our friend, the last scheduled Yankees-Red Sox tilt is the day before Labor Day.

But, both teams are grooming young stars and their futures look bright. It shouldn’t be long before they are battling each other for AL East supremacy on a yearly basis.

A Trip Through The Standings

Memorial Day is the point in the baseball season where I start to pay attention to the standings. We’re about 1/3rd of the way through the season and you can start to draw some conclusions. Let’s take a walk through the six divisions.

AL East-
If you expected the Yankees to lead the division by three games and be on pace for 100 wins at this point of the season, you are way ahead of me. I still don’t buy the starting pitching and I don’t see how Castro or Hicks will hit like this the rest of the way, but I just hope the rest of the season is as fun as the first part. I can’t ask for anything more.

Boston is right about where I thought it would be while Toronto is scuffling much more than I thought possible. It will be interesting to see if the Blue Jays can climb back into the race.

AL Central-
I think the biggest surprise in baseball has to be the Twins. 26-20 and in first, wow. I don’t think it will last much longer as Cleveland is right there, but it would be fun to see Minnesota in contention the rest of the way.

AL West-
I picked Houston as the best team in the AL in my preview post and they have been so far. Amazingly, they have a 10-1/2 game lead in the division and are on pace to win 111 games. They will cool off, but this could be a pretty fun summer in Houston as I don’t see which team in the West could even mount a threat to them at this point.

One other note, Oakland may be the worst defensive team I have seen. They kicked the ball all over Yankee Stadium this past weekend. Yuck.

NL East-
Washington is what I thought it was while the Mets are probably the biggest disappointment in baseball. Can they rebound from a 21-27 start? Signs don’t look promising, but plenty of baseball left.

NL Central-
The second biggest surprise in baseball is the Brewers leading the Central at this point. Thames has been the star, but how about Travis Shaw? The bigger question is when do the Cubs shake off their post-championship hangover and start playing up to their ability?

NL West-
Colorado is another surprise, but the Dodgers are right there and should wrest away the division. Next to the Mets, the implosion of the Giants has to be the biggest disappointment so far.

Some other thoughts
Billy Hamilton is on pace to steal 92 bases. That would be the most in baseball since 1988 when Rickey Henderson stole 93.

Six players are on pace for 50-plus homers so far. There have not been multiple 50-homer guys since 2007.

Four players are on pace for 250-plus strikeouts. The single season “record” is 223 by Mark Reynolds in 2009

Conspiracy Theories

David Ortiz has come up with a doozy. According to Ortiz, the Yankees were behind the New York Times report that named him as one of the players who failed the 2003 PED test. According to Ortiz, this was because “The only thing that I can think of, to be honest with you, a lot of big guys from the Yankees were being caught. And no one from Boston.” This is breathtakingly stupid in a number of ways.

1- How did the Yankees leak the information? How could they have gotten it if no other club had it?

2- The New York Times owned a piece of the Red Sox when they published that. I don’t think they were interested in helping the Yankees.

3- The Mitchell Report was written by a director of the Red Sox and commissioned by an owner of the Brewers. If you want a conspiracy theory, maybe that’s why not a single Red Sox or Brewer was named in it?

Ortiz still hasn’t admitted to it or come up with the reason he failed the test, like he said he would years ago.

He is however probably right that the leak came from New York. After all, MLB’s offices are right on Park Avenue in midtown.