On Offense

The Yankees goal on the offensive side of things should be to continue to free up as much playing time as possible for the younger guys and to use that time to figure out what they have. Let’s go around the diamond.

Obviously, Gary Sanchez is the primary catcher and he needs to get a full season behind the plate.

At first Greg Bird should be the starter, but Tyler Austin should mix in here and in right.

Starlin Castro did enough at second, especially in the second half that the Yankees don’t need to go looking for a replacement. Same thing with Didi at short. Plus with Mateo and Torreyes on the horizon, no need to do anything here.

Third base is a position the Yankees can start to think ahead about. Ideally, Miguel Andujar progresses to AAA successfully and merits a late season call up. If not, perhaps one of the shortstop prospects mentioned above can slide over.  For now Headley recovered enough from a bad start to earn the bulk of the playing time in 2017

While the infield is set, the outfield needs some more roster pruning. Try as they might, the Yankees are not going to get rid of Ellsbury. So they need to hope he hits and be prepared if he does not. That may mean turning him into one of the more expensive platoon players ever, but his 2016 numbers showed a serious split between his performance against righties and lefties.

That leaves Gardner as an ideal trade candidate. Again, I would much rather trade Ellsbury, but Gardner’s contract is reasonable (two more years and $26-million in guaranteed money) so he could be moved.  The Yankees need to do that, because they want to free up the outfield so they can start Judge and Hicks as much as possible. Judge is obvious. Hicks is a guy who looked lost until he got regular time late in the season. The Yankees need to find out if he is the player he was until the end of July, or the guy after that. And, don’t forget that hopefully Clint Frazier will be forcing his way into the mix some time during the 2017 season.

And that leaves DH, where the Yankees can currently pencil in McCann, but if they can swing a trade, they could do a myriad of things. For instance, with Austin and Ackley able to cover multiple positions while hitting from different sides, how about a platoon?  Or simply use it as a spot to rotate through different guys?  For the first time in ages, the Yankees don’t have to give one guy 500 AB’s at DH, they should keep that flexibility.

Friday is the deadline for teams to make their Rule 5 protections and the Yankees have a full 4o-man roster and guys like Andujar and Mateo who must be protected. Expect a wave of DFA’s in the next 48 hours.

The Offseason is Here

Congrats to the Cubs who made many of my family members happy, some of them even living. And with the end of the World Series we can now look forward to the GM meetings this upcoming week and the start of free agency on Tuesday. For the Yankees, this should mean a focus on pitching and then more pitching.

Consider the 2017 rotation,  You have Tanaka. And then you have Tanaka and maybe more Tanaka. Ok, it’s not that bad, but do Sabathia and Pineda inspire a lot of confidence? Severino, as a starter? Cessa or Mitchell? See what I mean here?  Now I certainly wouldn’t back up the prospect truck for Chris Sale, but swapping out Brett Gardner or Brian McCann for a solid, if not spectacular, starter makes a lot of sense. Also buying low on an injury-prone guy like the Dodgers McCarthy, wouldn’t be a bad idea either. He was great in his New York audition and the Yankees could probably get him at a reduced salary for a middling prospect. The idea is to add some stability to a rotation where two or three spots will be left open for the younger guys to show what they can do.

As for the bullpen, I would not under any circumstances sign Chapman. You know who has led the Yankees in saves for the last five year?  Five different guys- Soriano, Rivera, Robertson, Miller, and Chapman,  Betances is perfectly capable of making it six-different guys in six years. For another thing, relief prices are out of whack.  Chapman will probably sign for $15-million per, which on a per-inning basis should make him the most expensive pitcher in baseball.

What I would rather see the Yankees do is sign guys who haven’t been closers, but get lots of strikeouts and see what they can do.  Remember, Andrew Miller wasn’t a closer when he came to town. You also have a lot of intriguing arms coming back from injury-Lindgren, Barbato, Rumblelow- and guys like Holder and Heller, that the Yankees should throw into the mix in 2017. So don’t spend on a closer.

Next, I’ll tackle the offense.

Game 7

The baseball gods have smiled on us and we have one last game on the 2016 schedule. Some time tonight one franchise will end an enormous title drought while one will see its drought continue. There will be triumph and tragedy. It’s going to be a great night.

It was just two years ago that we were treated to one of the great Game 7’s in history. Madison Bumgarner coming out of the pen to stifle a Kansas City offense for five innings on two-days rest. I still maintain that 1991’s Atlanta-Minnesota Game 7 was the greatest one I’ve seen. On the flip side, the 7th game if the 1985 World Series was a clunker.

You would expect it to be a close game with both managers heading to the bullpen early. Considering the rest they’ve had, both Miller and Allen can probably go 40 pitches tonight. Will that be the difference?  We shall see.

Enjoy the game, and enjoy further proof that Curt Schilling is an ass.

Cleveland and…?

This much we know, Tuesday will be a pretty magical night in Cleveland. Not only will the World Series start on the banks of Lake Erie, but the Cavaliers will raise their championship banner when they open the NBA season against the New York Knickerbockers.

But which NL team will be there as an opponent?  Before last night I think the smart money was on LA. Now it has shifted to Chicago, but should it have?

Jon Lester is a wonderful pitcher, especially in the postseason, but Kenta Maeda has had a great “rookie” year. And the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw looming for a Game 6 start and you can bet a Game 7 relief appearance.

So don’t punch that Cubs World Series ticket just yet. But one thing is for sure, the next two or three games of the NLCS should be a lot of fun.

A Tale of Two Seasons

If you are going to evaluate the Yankees’ season, you have to divide it into two parts. The first part is everything that happened before August 1st, and the second part is everything that happened from that point forward. Some will quibble that July 25th, the day they traded Chapman, should be the line. But I would argue that the team didn’t embrace a full rebuild until the 1st when they traded Miller and Beltran. By sending those two away for prospects, the Yankees truly committed to a new way of doing business.

Now if you compare the two “halves” you will find the Yankees actually did better once they started their rebuild. They went 52-52 before it with an offense scoring 4.03 runs per game and a pitching staff/defense allowing 4.35.  Afterwards they went 32-26 with an offense scoring 4.83 runs per game and a pitching staff/defense allowing 4.63.

So, you could say the offense got better while the pitching got worse and the overall result was better. If you think about what happened, that makes sense. The Yankees found a hotter hitter than Beltran. Lost a terrible hitter in A-Rod and added some sparks here and there throughout the lineup. On the pitching side they subtracted two huge bullpen pieces, lost Eovaldi to injury, and had to start rookies a lot over the final few weeks.

Now if the Yankees could play next year at the same clip they played since August 1st, they would win 89 games, putting them right in the thick of the playoff race. (It would have earned them the top wild card this year) But of course you can’t just extrapolate things like that. Furthermore, the Yankees have a lot of more work to do if they are going to take this team and turn it into a perennial contender again. Let’s talk more about that tomorrow.

Checking My Predictions

Every April I make my baseball predictions, every October I sort through the rubble of those predictions. This year I wasn’t terrible.

My worst prediction was picking Baltimore for last in the AL East-whoops!  I got half the AL playoff field correct, but none of the division winners  I had picked Toronto, KC, and Houston to win their divisions with Cleveland and Texas as the wild cards. I also picked Houston to make the World Series.

My NL picks were much better.  I struggled again picking division winners, only correctly identifying the Cubs, but I picked every NL playoff team except for the Dodgers.  I also had the Cubs going to, and winning, the World Series.  As someone who comes from a family filled with Cubs fans, that’s where my loyalties will lie this October.

As for the real playoffs, the fields are set.  Baltimore heads to Toronto on Tuesday with the winner going to Texas.  The Mets host the Giants on Wednesday with the winner headed to Chicago.  Boston travels to Cleveland  and LA travels to Washington in the other two series. (Sidebar- what would have happened if Boston won today because they would have been tied in the win column with Cleveland, but 1/2 a game behind because of the Cleveland rain out Thursday.  Would MLB have made Cleveland and Detroit make that game up since home field would have gone to Boston if the two teams were tied?)

I will have a review of the Yankees season tomorrow.

 

Countdown To Baseball Armageddon?

Cleveland and Detroit waited over four hours today, in miserable conditions, before finally canceling a game that should have been postponed from the start.  Why did they wait so long? Because the Tigers are part of baseball’s nightmare scenario- a five-way tie for the final wild card spot. The odds are tiny, estimated at 0.04%, but the possibility exists. Even without that, we have the possibility for a tie with a smaller number of teams and that is why today’s Cleveland-Detroit game was so important. At 85 wins, Detroit is currently 1/2-a-game behind Baltimore for that final spot. Depending on how the weekend shakes out, today’s game will need to be played if Detroit is within a 1/2-game, ahead or behind, of the final wild card spot. That make-up game would happen on Monday. And if, two or more teams were still tied after it, not a remote possibility, they would need to have a playoff Tuesday- the day the AL Wild Card game is already scheduled for.

Try this scenario on for size. Detroit finishes half a game ahead of Baltimore and Seattle for the final wild card. They have to make up their game on Monday and lose, creating a three-way tie for the final spot. That creates a two-day tournament between the three teams, which means you can’t have a wild card game until Thursday, or the day the ALDS is supposed to start. So then you face the prospect of starting the ALDS, or at least half of it, one-day late and with a team that played at possible three-or-four-consecutive games already. And all of this assumes you don’t have another rain out along the way.

So, expect MLB to wait forever to play any other game that could matter this weekend. That means the Yankees and Red Sox will probably play through the rain drops tonight and the Yankees and Baltimore, with even more rain on the way this weekend, should expect their series to be a lengthy affair. Fun fun!

Perfect!

If the Red Sox were going to clinch the AL East at Yankee Stadium, you could not come up with a better way for that to happen than tonight’s events.

And for Mark Teixira I wonder if that will be it for him? That was the first time he ever hit a walk off in the regular season  (I was there when he did it in the 2009 ALDS) A walk-off grand slam is a pretty good way to end a career

And best of all, we still could have a five-way tie for the last wild card. Dare to dream folks.

A Terrible Loss

Reading the news this morning of Jose Fernandez’s death brought me instantly back to August 2nd, 1979. Then it was Thurman Munson, taken far too soon in a plane crash. Today it is Fernandez, taken even sooner in a boat crash. Somewhere in Florida there are plenty of six-year olds who feel the way I did so long ago and my heart goes out to them and everyone affected by this tragedy- especially Fernandez’s unborn child.

The loss of Fernandez seems harsher because of his personality and his potential. Here was someone who risked his life to get to this country and played the game with a certain kind of joy that you don’t often see.

And he was so good at it! Among starting pitchers, only Randy Johnson (twice), Pedro Martinez and Kerry Wood, have ever had a higher K/9 rate than the 12.5 Jose put up this year. He was 38-17 in his career for a team that only won 45% of their games over the same period. He had a career ERA of 2.53 and an ERA+ of 150 (The average is 100) He was 24, and about to hit arbitration and provide financial security for his family for a long time.

What a sad day.

 

 

 

My Wish List For The Final Ten Games

People keep mentioning how the Yankees are “only” three games out of a wild card spot. That statement is factually true, but it ignores two important details. 1- There are only ten games left in the season. 2- There are three teams closer to that wild card spot than the Yankees right now. So, the Yankees have to play incredibly well over these final ten games and hope that multiple teams stumble. And don’t forget their one good starting pitcher is missing his next start. There is a chance it could happen, but I wouldn’t expect it. So, here are the things I would like to see over the final 10 games out of the Yankees and MLB in general.

1- Two more wins. Two more wins gets them to .500 and means they haven’t had a losing season since 1992. That’s an impressive streak.

2- A couple of home runs from Mark Teixeira and 3 additional hits beyond that. It’s been an awful season for Tex, but I would like to see him end his career on a good note. Those homers and hits would get him to 15 for the year and should squeak his average up to the Mendoza Line.

3- More of Gary Sanchez. Really doing anything at this point because it is fun to watch.

4- Applause for David Ortiz on Thursday. I still think Ortiz got off lightly for failing that drug test, and he takes way too long to run around the bases, but he is the last guy standing from when this rivalry was an amazing spectacle and he is one of the greatest clutch players I have ever seen.  The fans should show him some respect in his final game at the Stadium. Cheryl Miller’s little brother got cheered at MSG in his final game there. Ortiz deserves a similar reception.

5- A start for Sevrino this week in place of Tanaka. The Yankees have a rotation hole and Severino has been touted as a rotation solution. Let’s give him one last chance in 2016 to show that because I fear the Yankees are going to Joba Rule him to death next year.

6- Some good wild card races. I’m afraid the division races are settled. The Cubs have clinched. The Rangers and Nationals can clinch tonight. The closest division race is the AL East where Boston has a 5.5-game lead. If there is going to be excitement over the final week, it is going to have to come from the wild card. Greg posted a comment with some crazy tie scenarios for the wild card, I’m rooting for those.

7-Labor peace- Ok this doesn’t have to happen now. It doesn’t even have to happen in October. But being a child of the 80’s, I always get twitchy when MLB’s CBA is expiring like it will in December. I hope we hear an announcement of a new deal very soon.