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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.

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 Pitching Clinic-UPDATED

It finally happened, the Yankees and Red Sox played a game in under three hours. All it took were two of the best pitched games you will see.

Chris Sale was better, at least until his manager made him try the 9th inning when he was looking a bit gassed in the 8th, But Tanaka got the win because he kept the Red Sox off balance all night. Their biggest threat was a runner on second with 1 out, and Tanaka retired the final 14-straight.

So the Yankees take the abbreviated series and now have the first place Orioles coming for a visit. It should be an exciting weekend.

UPDATE Never had heard this used before, but a complete game shutout that takes under 100 pitches, is apparently called a “Maddox” in honor of the great Greg Maddox. Tanaka got earned that tonight.

All Rise

Aaron Judge had a pretty good 25th-birthday. He hit a pretty nice opposite-field homer and added a great catch diving into the stands. Chapman came close to throwing it all away, but the Yankees prevailed 3-1.

I want to gripe about replay. Judge’s play in the stands was an easy call to miss as an umpire, but also an easy call to reverse upon viewing a replay. For whatever reason, it took a long time for the MLB replay crew to reach the right conclusion.

Here’s my idea, have a lot of people watching the games in the “pod” in NYC and reviewing any close play before a replay challenge is made. Yes, you would be reviewing calls that may never be challenged, but hopefully you would cut down on the interminable time it takes to review and adjudicate a call which seems to be an easy one on replay. If MLB is serious about speeding up games, they have to speed up replay.

Lastly, a word about Luis Severino. A night like tonight shows you why the Yankees think he can be a frontline starter. His development will be one of the most important things to watch in 2017.

Big Series?-UPDATED

The Yankees head to Fenway tonight for a three-game set with the two teams separated by just a half-game in the standings. So, you could make the case this is a big series. But, it is April. And no matter what happens, I am pretty sure that the team that loses his series will be able to recover over the final 144 games. So, I would say no, but I think there are some very interesting things to watch.

1- Judge and Bird at Fenway. Bird has played thre before, but he is off to a bad start and needs to get going. Judge is tailor-made to do damage at Fenway. The most impressive power I have ever seen there was the 1999 home run derby when McGwire was hitting moon shots over the monster. (sidenote, Andy and I were there in person and may have started a rumor that the state police were closing the Mass Pike because they were afraid balls would hit cars). Judge has some amazing power and could send a ball well into the night.

2. Sale versus Tanaka. Andy is ready to build a statue of Sale on Yawkey Way And Sale has dominated the Yankees in his career. Meanwhile, Tanaka has scuffled against Boston. Will this be the mismatch it appears to be?

3- How does Girardi manage these games? Is he going to treat them as bigger than a usual April game? By using Betances and Chapman for multiple innings maybe? Or will the fact that the Yankees have first place Baltimore on the schedule next, keep these at April intensity?

4- Severino in Fenway, part 2. He got shellacked there in his first try last August. Can he do better this time?

5- Which Yankee will Matt Barnes unnecessarily head hunt? I kid, I kid. Enjoy the games!

UPDATE We have a rain out, so we are going to have to wait for the series to start, and only see two games this week. The game will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader on July 16th.

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?

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!

Three In The Hall

Congrats to Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez on making the Hall of Fame.

I still don’t get these voters.

Bagwell gets in, but Edgar Martinez and Vlad Guerrero don’t?

Manny gets 25% and Bonds gets 53% while Sosa gets 8%? Remove PEDS from this equation and I would say you have three clear HOFers so why the vote differences?

Schilling loses a bunch of votes for what reason? I get it, the guy is a jackass, but plenty of those are already in the HOF and it just makes the writers look small.

Perhaps transparency will improve this process next year  For now, I am still scratching my head.

 

Sale To Boston-UPDATED

The Red Sox have scooped the Nationals and acquired Chris Sale from Chicago. The cost is Juan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, and Victor Diaz.

This is exactly the type of trade a team like Boston should make. They are giving up a ton in prospects, but they are getting arguably the best pitcher on their staff. Sale, Price, and Porcello are a great top-3 and make the Red Sox clear favorites in the AL. Furthermore, while Moncada especially looks like a gem, none of the prospects traded down contributed significantly to Boston’s AL East-winning club in 2016.

From the Yankees point of view I will point out that they could have signed Moncada, but backed off because with luxury tax penalties he would have cost them essentially double what he ultimately received. The front office should remember that as they build for 2017.

UPDATE- Red Sox are also “throwing in” $31.2-million to cover Moncada’s remaining salary. In separate news, Fenway Franks are now $10 each.