Yankees

Tanaka Time

Now that the World Series has ended, the Yankees will turn their attention to Mashiro Tanaka, who holds the key to their off-season. Tanaka has three days to inform the Yankees if he wants to opt-out of the remaining three years of his contract. If he does, the Yankees will subtract an average of $22.142 million from their payroll over the next three years.

Why is that important? Because the Yankees are trying to reset their luxury tax threshold and this is the year to do that. Heading into 2018, the Yankee payroll is probably around $170-million, about $27-million below the luxury tax threshold. That includes Tanaka, and estimated arbitration for nine players. If Tanaka opt-out, and the Yankees do not pursue him, they would have almost $50-million of room below the luxury tax threshold.

While the perception is that this is a yes or no decision, there could also be a third option. The Yankees add a year or two to Tanaka’s contract, but at a lower salary, thereby lowering the luxury tax implications. For example, the Yankees add a year to the deal, but at a salary of $13-million. I’m not at all in favor of that, but it’s a possibility.

Once Tanaka decides, the offseason becomes a lot clearer. Let’s see what happens.

Goodbye Joe UPDATED

In a somewhat stunning move, the Yankees have decided not to keep Joe Girardi as manager. He leaves after ten seasons with 910 wins and a championship.

I find the way this move happened curious. The Yankee season ended Saturday. Girardi was at the Stadium yesterday, but today come word that he is being let go? I think there is more to it than they are telling us.

But that isn’t as important as the actual impact of this move. The Yankees now have to find a manager, after most teams have filled their empty managerial spots, and that person is going to have to step into some big expectations. It’s not unlike 1995 when they pushed out Buck Showalter and brought in Joe Torre. That worked out ok, so let’s not get into a panic yet, but this is a bold move by the club. Girardi was overly defensive with the media and seemed to get tense in big spots, but he never had a losing season and apart from Game 2 of the ALDS, had a great year as manager.

The role of manager has changed dramatically over the past ten years. It’s not about the x’s and o’s anymore. Advanced scouting and data analytics have taken a lot of the decision making power out of a manager’s hands. The biggest thing you need is someone who can handle the clubhouse and keep a team focused and calm.

Who will that be? My initial guess is Rob Thompson, the bench coach, who has been part of the organization in multiple capacities for over 20 years. But, the Yankees will also probably look outside the organization too, and the smart money is to bet on an ex-catcher getting the job.

One last note. This will be the first time the Yankees select a manger without George Steinbrenner calling the shots since Ralph Houk named himself manager in 1966. Considering Steinrenner’s penchant for firing managers, it’s amazing that his last two hires combined to manage more than 3,500 games for the club.

UPDATE- I just realized the Yankees probably made the decision yesterday, but didn’t announce it because of the World Series. Today was an off day, so that’s why we found out.

A Wonderful Year

I’m a Yankee fan who doesn’t subscribe to the mantra that it’s championship or bust. For me, this season was an enormous success. Not only did the Yankees find an ace in Severino, a stud hitter in Judge, and much more, but they advanced to the cusp of the World Series. If you can’t celebrate that, you are never going to be happy.

What happens next is the biggest question facing this team. They won’t sneak up on the league next year and the expectations will be huge. This squad was a unique one in terms of being an underdog. The 2018 Yankees won’t have that luxury.

Game 7

I hate to bring this up, but the last time the Yankees faced a Game 7 was in 2004. Before that there was 2003 and 2001. And then you have to go back to 1964. So, this isn’t a frequent occurrence around here these days.

Last night reminded me a lot of 2001 against Arizona. Huge amount of momentum going the Yankees way coming into Game 6, and then the other team battered the Yankees. We know how that ended.

What this really comes down to is the offense. The Yankees haven’t hit in Houston and it is killing them. Will that change tonight? It better if the Yankees are going to have any chance.

Wow

One of my favorite sports quotes is from Mike Tyson. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The Astros punched the Yankees in Games 1&2, but they haven’t been to answer the counterpunches since then.

Tonight it was the Yankees slaying the beast that is Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel has always been a great pitcher, but he seemed to be even better against the Yankees in the playoffs. He shut them down in the 2015 wild card game and did the same in game 1 of the ALCS. But he didn’t do it tonight and the Yankees will head to Houston with a 3-2 lead.

I think I am correct when I say that the last time the Yankees won a Game 6 or 7 on the road was the 1978 World Series. Verlander is going to be very tough and the Astros should get a energy jolt from their crowd. See you Friday night.

Best-of-Three

I have been to a lot of Yankee games in my life. Among them was Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, but I don’t ever think I have seen a crowd like I did tonight. It was loud, so incredibly loud, and the crowd was so into it. I don’t think I sat down from the sixth inning on. We were screaming, stomping our feet, humming “Seven Nation Army” and just willing our team to win. And they did, oh how they did.

When Gurriel laced that bases-clearing double down, the crowd didn’t deflate. When Castro booted his second ball and the Astros went up 4-0, the crowd hung in there. When Judge hit that homer, the place started to shake. (Side note, we all thought Judge had gone insane when his boneheaded running play in the 4th was rescued by replay and he was immediately picked off. We had no idea the Astros were making an appeal play to second, and MLB should do a better job of explaining that to people at the game) From there, the Yankees were rolling.

Give Girardi a lot of credit for removing Sonny Gray when he did, but especially for his managing in the 8th. Pinch-hitting for Romine down 4-2 with a runner on first was bold. That cost them the DH but Girardi doubled down with Ellsbury pinch-running for Headley. Chapman was due up first in the bottom of the ninth.

But it worked and now the Yankees have evened things, but face the duo of Keuchel and Verlander. It won’t be easy, but we should all know to never count these guys out.

Momentum vs Reality

I don’t think the Yankees have a great chance to win this series. I say that for three reasons.

1- Keuchel and Verlander are killers.

2- The Astros have a great lineup that doesn’t strike out. That should neutralize the Yankee bullpen.

3- Up until August, this was clearly the best team in the AL.

So while the Yankees certainly have a chance, I’m not optimistic. I am also dismayed by a couple of decisions they made for the ALCS.

First, the rotation. I can’t argue with Severino and Tanaka in Games 1&2. Severino was their best pitcher all year and Tanaka has been great over the past few months. What I don’t get is CC in Game 3. I get that he would start a potential Game 7, but to me Game 3 is a game where the Yankees want a guy who is going to give them innings and that isn’t CC. I say that because unless it rains, Game 3 will be the first of three games without a day off. The Yankees don’t want to burn up their bullpen in Game 3, but this almost ensures they will.

Second, why keep the roster the same as the one ALDS? Are they really going to use Jordan Montgomery? Why not add a hitter? Wade could help as a pinch runner. Clint could help as a DH.

Put a gun to my head and I predict the Astros in five. I just think they have too much talent. I hope I am wrong.

Shocked

In terms of Yankee surprises, this one has to be near the top. Beating Cleveland was always a tough task, beating them after falling behind 2-0 was much, much harder. But they did it and now we get to see them in the ALCS versus Houston.

There were so many great moments, but four stand out to me.

1- Tanaka’s start on Sunday. The Yankees needed a pick me up and he gave them seven dominant innings.

2- Bird’s homer Sunday. No explanation needed

3- Kahnle’s six outs on Monday that saved the game. What a big performance from a guy who has been under the radar.

4- Didi turning that DP tonight in the fifth. Yes, he hit two homers in the game, but I would argue that was a bigger moment as he kept things at 3-2 and snuffed out the Cleveland momentum.

What a comeback. Someone please let George Costanza know that plans have changed.

Back to Ohio

Don’t minimize what the Yankees have to do Wednesday to win. First, they have to survive another start by Kluber. Next, they have to survive a crowd that will be amped to say the least. And finally, they have to beat a team that won 102 games and hasn’t lost three-straight games since July. It’s a huge task, but the fact that the Yankees have an opportunity to play the game says a lot too.

This team has shown resiliency and heart when it matters most. Different heroes keep emerging. Sunday it was Tanaka and Bird. Monday it was Severino, Kahnle, and the clutch hitting of a number of guys. If you believe like I do that this team is the start of something bigger, this playoff seasoning can only hasten that development.

The blueprint for Wednesday will be the same as Friday. The bullpen will be deployed early and the Yankees will hope the lineup can produce against Kluber. I expect they might try Holliday at DH because Headley and Ellsbury are not getting it done, but expect little else to change. We shall see.

The Future?

It shouldn’t surprise us that Greg Bird was the hero last night. Here’s a guy who has 20 homers in 304 big league ABs, which is a lot of power. Injuries have been and will be the biggest obstacle to his greatness. But if he is healthy…look out. Imagine the next five years with a healthy Bird hitting between Judge and Sanchez and you have quite a lineup.

Tonight we get to see another possibly huge piece of the future in Severino. One of my biggest problems with the ALDS rotation was the fact that the season might have ended with Severino thinking about that start all winter. Now he gets a chance to erase the slate. Let’s see what he does with it.