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Showcasing?

There is a report that on the interweb that Luis Severino could be called up next week. That report, plus today’s roster move make me wonder if the Yankees are trying to showcase some players as potential trade chips. Let me explain.

Today the Yankees purchased the contract of Nick Goody from Scranton. It’s a strange move because it required the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster, at the expense of Gregorio Petit, and he has a grand total of six innings above AA ball. Now those innings have been very good, as have his overall numbers, but why make this move? If the Yankees simply wanted an extra bullpen arm, they could have recalled Rumbelow from Scranton. He is already on the 40-man roster. But they decided to add Goody and give him a shot which makes me think they want to see what he can do and let other teams see him as well.

If I am right, that might also explain Refsnyder’s brief audition and the potential callup of Severino. Get these guys into the big leagues and let other teams get a look at them. It’s not a bad plan, but it will cause some 40-man headaches in the future if they don’t trade some of them.

New York-New York

The Yankees took the first round of the subway series. Due to a scheduling quirk, we will know if these teams are both playoff contenders the next time they meet in September- games 146, 147, and 148.

We will also have the answers to four questions which featured prominently in this series and so far this season-

1- Is Carlos Beltran finished? The early results are not encouraging and the eye test is worse. I never liked this signing, but I wasn’t expecting this big a drop.

2- On a positive note, is Mark Teixeira capable of being productive again? Almost the direct opposite of Beltran in the way he is hitting and the way he passes the eye test.

3- Can Didi handle the pressure he is under? The bat has been slowly improving, and while his defense has taken a  lot of criticism, objective fans will recognize that he is getting to a lot of balls his predecessor wouldn’t have come near to. The problems are two-fold, fans unfairly expecting him to be Jeter, and the media consumed with picking his every move apart. I don’t think Girardi did him any favors benching him last night versus the left-hander.

4- Can Nate Eovaldi become the pitcher his stuff says he should be? Curt Schilling was right (that hurts to write) about his lack of fastball command. Last night was not a good night for the flamethrower, but the early results are encouraging. His walk rate is lower than his career rate and his strikeout rate is way above it. He will be fascinating to watch going forward.

For now, let’s enjoy a subway series win and look forward to a matchup tonight where first place is on the line. That’s right, at 11-8 the Yankees have a share of first with Tampa, the team coming to the Bronx tonight.

 

Back To .500

The Yankees needed a weekend like this one. Yes, Tampa is probably the worst team in the AL East, but after dropping six-of-nine, the Yankees will take any wins they can get. And with the win and other results Sunday, the entire AL East is within 1-1/2 games of each other.

And now comes a really interesting week. There are two teams which have reached double-digit wins in the season and the Yankees will face them both in the next seven games. First up, the best team in the AL- Detroit

The Crystal Ball

It’s time for baseball, which also means it is also time for me to take a stab at predicting the upcoming baseball season. As always, believe these at your own risk!

Let’s start with the most confounding division in the game, and my personal favorite, the AL East. (I know that’s a shock)  I honestly believe you could pick the teams out of a hat and have a better chance of picking their order of finish than actually trying to handicap it. But, fortune favors the bold, so this is how I see it unfolding.

1- Baltimore

2- Toronto

3- Boston

4- New York

5- Tampa

One other note before I delve into the individual teams and my thinking. None of these clubs is winning more than 90 games, barring a big trade at the deadline, and I would bet they all finish within 10-games of each other.

I know the Orioles lost Cruz, but they have Machado and Wieters returning. Yes, they will regress from last season, but remember they won 95 last year, so they have room to decline and still win the division.

Toronto has done a lot of nice things, but losing Stroman for the season will prevent them from climbing to the top.

Boston will hit, though I don’t think Sandoval will, the question is the pitching and I don’t think it will be good. I don’t like the rotation or the bullpen and I think that puts them in third with fans getting treated to a lot of four-plus hours, 12-10 games. It’s worth remembering that they are coming off a 90-loss season, so finishing 3rd may make them the most-improved team in the league.

As for the Yankees so many questions and so many ways to see things unfold. Let me paint two pictures:

The good:

1- Pineda and Tanaka make 60 starts between them.

2- Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran hit like the back of their baseball cards say they should and Teixeira and A-Rod do enough.

3- Eovaldi is the pitcher he has the potential to be.

That team could easily win the division.

The bad:

1- Tanaka and Pineda make much fewer than 60 starts.

2- Teixeira, A-Rod and Beltran are done as productive big leaguers.

3- The injury bug hits again.

That team could easily lose 90 games.

That’s the challenge with the Yankees, perhaps the hardest team to handicap because of all the questions. The only seemingly certainties are that they will play good defense and have a good bullpen. I feel good about both of those, but in this era betting on older players to contribute is a foolish move. I will say the rotation is a strength, but the lineup is a bust and it leaves them in 4th place at 82-80.

Tampa lost their manager, a huge blow, but they will still be dangerous. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them finish at .500, but in 5th-place.

 

And now a briefer look at the other divisions.

AL Central

1- Cleveland- I think they take the Central crown easily.

2- Kansas City- They won’t sneak up on teams this year, but the strengths that got them to the World Series are still there.

3- Chicago- Call me unconvinced that they are ready to seriously contend, but they are improved.

4- Detroit- I don’t think it will be a disaster, but considering the recent run this season will be a disappointment.

5- Minnesota- One day soon they will be good again. Just not yet.

 

AL West

1- Angels- Best player in the game and plenty of talent around him. Seattle may be the trendy pick, but I think the Angels are better over the 162- game season.

2- Seattle- Right there all year on the Angels’ heels.

3- Houston- This will be a fun team to watch. They will hit home runs in bunches and probably set the record for strikeouts.

4- Oakland- A step back, but probably not for long.

5- Texas- They have fallen far and fast.

WILD CARDS- KC and Seattle

NL East

1- Washington- Is this the year Harper lives up to the hype? I don’t know, but the rotation will lead them to the NL East crown and beyond.

2- Mets- Harvey is back and the rotation looks good even without Wheeler. I didn’t get the Cuddyer signing, but I bet Tulowitzki is playing at Citi Field before the year is out.

3- Florida- I think they will battle the Mets all season for second and fall just short.

4- Atlanta- Building for the new ballpark, but the disaster in Philadelphia keeps them out of the basement.

5- Philadelphia- Ugh, this team is going to be bad even if Cliff Lee gets healthy.

 

NL Central

1- Pittsburgh- The class of the division for now.

2- Chicago- Big things happening on the North Side, but not enough to beat Pittsburgh

3- St. Louis- Always hard to count them out, but I don’t think it is their year.

4- Milwaukee- Nothing much to get excited about here.

5- Cincinnati- I think their window has closed and what happened to Phillips and Votto?

 

NL West

1- Los Angeles- They have it all and talent coming up.

2- San Diego- They have really rebuilt quickly, but not enough to catch LA.

3- San Francisco- They only win in even years.

4- Colorado- When do they trade Tulo to the Mets?

5- Arizona- Outgunned in this division.

WILD CARDS- Chicago and San Diego

Playoffs

Seattle over KC

Angels over Seattle

Cleveland over Baltimore

Angels over Cleveland

Cubs over Padres (1984 revenge play)

Nationals over Cubs

Dodgers over Pittsburgh

Nationals over Dodgers

And….

Nationals over Angels in the World Series

Enjoy the season!

The Votes Are In

The Hall of Fame has announced the class of 2015, and it contains four players. This is the biggest class since 1955, and the first time ever three pitchers were inducted at the same time.  The inductees, in order of votes received, are:

Randy Johnson-97.3%

Pedro Martinez-91.1%

John Smoltz-82.9%

Craig Biggio-82.7%

First off, congratulations to all four of them.

Mike Piazza almost cracked 70%, Jeff Bagwell was at 55.7%. Tim Raines 55%, Schilling 39.2%, Clemens 37.5,, and Bonds 36.8% rounded out the top-10.

Some observations

1- I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to the writers who left Johnson off the ballot and assume they used the vote for other worthy candidates.

2- Mike Mussina was in the 20’s, as was Allan Trammell. Trammell will be in his last year next year so it seems like he will never get in. I also don’t see how Schilling and Mussina’s combined vote totals don’t even equal Smoltz’s.

3- Next year will be interesting because only Griffey is a lock. That should get Piazza in.

4- This was Don Mattingly’s last year on the ballot. <sigh>

5- Want a good example of what PED’s did to the way the game is perceived? Look at Carlos Delgado, 473 career HR’s, and he didn’t even stay on the ballot for a second year.

6- Seeing guys like Troy Percival, Aaron Boone, Tom Gordon, and Darin Erstad get votes makes me crazy. This is why ballots should be made public.

7- Pedro is the first player elected born in the 1970’s. Pretty soon all the Hall of Famers will be younger than me- yuck.

8- Pedro made a point of saying “I did it clean” in his interview with MLB Network. He also said the toughest guy he ever faced was Edgar Martinez.

 

 

Don’t Take The Bait

The Red Sox are off on a very Yankee-like spending spree. They added  $200-million in contracts, and with a free agent pitcher probably on the horizon, they could be closing on $400-million soon. It’s up to the Yankees to not let this distract them.

Let’s be honest, I don’t think Boston wanted to go this route. Just last spring, they were sounding their usual lament about the Yankees and their spending. I think they meant it when they said it, but then they lost 90 games and things changed in Boston. I suspect that Red Sox ownership wants to make sure the ballpark remains full, and take advantage of a protected draft pick. So, they snagged Hanley and Pablo and now the baseball world will look for the Yankees to answer.

They shouldn’t They shouldn’t even bat an eye at any of this. This isn’t the mid-2000’s when the Yankees and Red Sox were locked in a steel cage fighting each other as the two dominant teams in the sport. Remember, from 1998-2005 the Yankees and Red Sox finished 1-2 in the AL East every year. They were mortal enemies and yin and yang. That’s no longer the case. They haven’t finished 1-2 in the AL East since 2009 (with either team first) and the baseball universe has dramatically changed. Money is everywhere and free agency has become a much, much more perilous endeavor. Fewer truly good players are making it to free agency, and the ones that do are getting seriously overpaid.

So what should the Yankees do now? They should make a run at Chase Headley, but keep things to a reasonable level. It is worth remembering that Headley had a .651 OPS when the Yankees traded for him. He then hit .265/.390/.434 at the Stadium, but ended the year with a combined line of .243/.328/.372. That is not someone I would give a four-year contract to, or pay much more than $12-million a year to. Other teams might, and the Yankees should let them.

Martin Prado needs a place to play in 2015. People keep saying he can be a second baseman, but he hasn’t really been one in a number of years. Putting him there for all of 2015 isn’t a great plan defensively, but he can play third. Take it with a grain of salt, but Steamer projects Prado to hit for almost the same slash line as Headley in 2015. Putting Prado at third has the added bonus of giving Refsnyder and Pirella a shot to win the second base job. That would be a very positive development.

There are simply too many questions hanging over the 2015 Yankees to envision them as a serious playoff contender right now. They certainly could make it, but until we know about Tanaka’s arm, Nova’s arm, McCann and Ellsbury’s bats, etc., we won’t know if they have a legitimate shot. They could spend a bunch of money and still not change the questions. Better to let the other teams spend now and just focus on getting younger.

 

 

Boston Today

The Red Sox sure have a way of surprising.  My thought going into this off season was to try to acquire a starting rotation.  But with offense down and pitching up in MLB, Ben Cherington has decided to do just the opposite.  One would assume he is acquiring the difficult to acquire asset with goals of moving some of that asset to acquire the supposedly easier asset to acquire in pitching.

If the season started today, here’s my line-up:

cf – Mookie Betts (R)

2b – Dustin Pedroia (R)

dh – David Ortiz (L)

lf – Hanley Ramirez (R)

3b – Pablo Sandoval (S)

1b – Mike Napoli (R)

ss – Xander Bogaerts (R)

rf – Rusney Castillo (R)

c – Christian Vasquez (R)

The obvious observation is that the Red Sox line-up remains heavy on the righties.  This kind of reminds me of when the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, adding to lefty hitter with the Red Sox already extremely lefty in their line-up, especially their top 5 hitters (Gonzalez, Crawford, Ortiz, Ellsbury with only Pedroia being a righty).

But we are still several months away from spring training, let alone opening day.  With a stockpile of offense, albeit in, my opinion, not the best talent, the Red Sox do have chips to work with to acquire a starting rotation.  Namely if they can move a player like Cespedes and his salary, then perhaps Jon Lester fits in rotation as a free agent.  In addition, there must be room for the likes of Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks on other teams…um, when I write those names, I lose total confidence that anyone would provide 100 cents on the dollar for any of them.

So aside from Cespedes, the Red Sox might have to be willing to trade minor leaguers like Blake Swihart, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Garin Cecchini (where would he ever play? The Red Sox just signed 2 players in Ramirez and Sandoval to the 2 positions he plays.), Devon Merrero and a few others.

I would expect over the next 21 days the Red Sox to start to move the above assets in exchange for quality starting pitching and hopefully the signing of Lester.  And let’s hope other MLB teams are willing to play the game with Boston, lest they leave Cherington with all offense and no defense, I’ve heard that can leave a GM a dull employee.

A Bad Year

Elias had a good stat last night with the MVP vote. 2014 was the first year ever that neither the Red Sox, nor the Yankees had a player get a single top-10 vote.

I think it is fair to say that both teams have a fair amount of work to do this offseason.

 

Would You Sign Any Of These Guys?

There are a lot of top free agent lists out there, I just took the top-10 names I saw the most and put them into the post. My question is, if you were the Yankees or the Red Sox, would you sign any of them? Let’s look at the list

#1- Max Scherzer

The good- Incredible last two seasons in Detroit and he is 29.

The bad- Already turned down a six-year/$144-million deal so what will he cost?

#2- Jon Lester

The good- Proven winner in the AL East

The bad- He will be 31 this offseason and will cost a small forunte.

#3- James Shields

The good- Definition of workhorse. 8-straight years with 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings

The bad- Will be 33 when this contract starts and has a 5.49ERA in 60 postseason innings

#4- Pablo Sandoval

The good- Good production at a tough position and only 28.

The bad- Weight concerns and four-straight years of declining OPS.

#5- Hanley Ramirez

The good- Brilliant player when motivated and healthy.

The bad- Not always healthy or motivated. Can he still play enough defense to stay at short?

#6- Nelson Cruz

The good- Power that you don’t see that much anymore.

The bad- PED suspension, 34 years-old, bad defender. Seems destined to be a DH soon.

#7- Victor Martinez

The good- Offensive machine who is also a switch-hitter.

The bad- 36 and probably a DH only very soon.

#8- Melky Cabrera

The good- Has turned into a good offensive player and he is only 30

The bad- PED suspension.

#9- Yasmany Thomas

The good- Young guy with big power.

The bad- He is coming from Cuba so he will need to adjust to MLB.

#10- Russell Martin

The good- Good catcher defensively and offensively

The bad- 32 years old and will attract a premium price in a thin market.

 

So getting back to my original question, would you sign any of these guys if you were the Yankees or the Red Sox? Since I am the Yankee side of this blog, I will focus on that.

A guy like Lester or Scherzer would be nice, but pitching is not the Yankees problem and spending huge money on another starter seems foolish. Shields is more interesting to me as an innings sponge, but assuming he gets an arbitration offer from KC, I wouldn’t want to surrender the draft pick for him.

On the offensive side of things, Russell Martin isn’t needed and Melky Cabrera isn’t wanted. I wouldn’t go near Sandoval or Cruz. That leaves the three tempting players for the Yankees- Ramirez, Martinez, and Thomas.

Ramirez makes sense because the Yankees could put him at short now and move him to third later. He would be an upgrade to the position in 2015 and help an offense in need of fixing. But, is he worth the headaches? That’s the part I am unsure of. If the Yankees could get him for five years at most and $100-million or less, I think they would be very interested, but I would pass.

Victor Martinez would really help the offense, but where are you going to play him? Teixeira, A-Rod and Beltran are probably your 1b/DH combination already. Plus, Martinez is exactly the type of guy the Yankees should stop signing (old) so I would pass.

That leaves Thomas and he is intriguing. The scouts love his power, a commodity in short supply in MLB these days. But, there are questions about his OBP ability and his defense. The market for Cuban players has exploded, so he is going to cost a lot, and I think the Yankees could get better value elsewhere.

So if I am running the Yankees, I avoid all of these guys. I would look at guys like Headley and McCarthy and see what they want to stick around,  but I would not give up a draft pick for any of the top free agents. Spend some money on short deals with lower-tier free agents and hope you hit on some of them. The Giants have shown that a wild card team can win the World Series, so the important thing is to qualify for the playoffs. With the right tweaks, that is attainable for the 2015 Yankees.

 

 

October in September

Sometimes the baseball gods give us a perfect moment.

Start with the first inning as we saw Derek rip a double off the wall in left to drive in a run. It was a sight we haven’t seen much of lately and it was only an appetizer.

There was the 7th inning where it looked like Jeter had driven in the winning run. And it happened not with a hit, but on an error when the guy who won the last two gold gloves at shortstop inexplicably threw the ball into right field.  It was as if the baseball gods intervened and decided that Jeter had to finish with the game winning RBI.

But then they realized they could write an even better story. They noticed that Jeter would hit third in the bottom of the ninth, if there was a bottom of the 9th.  And so the Yankees closer, who had been dominant all year, who had not given up two home runs in the same game since 2012, promptly did just that and blew a 5-2 lead. If you didn’t know what was going to happen next, you haven’t been paying attention these past 20 years.

Jose Pirela, with all of 11 big league AB’s , slapped a single to left,  The Yankees brought in Richardson, their designated speedster, and Gardner sacrificed him to second. The stage was set and once more Jeter proved homself to be able to rise to the occasion. The swing was one we can see in our sleep and the result was classic Jeter- a single to right. The throw was a tad late and there was Derek being mobbed at first and the new place rocking with emotion.

It was glorious. It was perfect. It was something to savor for a long time.