YANKEES 21, RANGERS 5
From May 22 through May 25 the Texas Rangers outscored New York 30-15 in a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium. So the Yankees entered this four-game series at Globe Life Park looking for a little bit of payback.
On Tuesday night they got exactly that – and then some.
After yielding five runs in the first inning, New York erupted to score 11 runs in the second en route to a crushing defeat of Texas in front of a national TV audience on FOX Sports 1.
Chris Young led the assault with his second grand slam of the season and he knocked in a career-high five runs. Brett Gardner also homered and he joined Didi Gregorius and Brendan Ryan in driving in three runs apiece as the Yankees put up the most runs in a game since they scored 22 against the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 25, 2011.
Rookie right-hander Diego Moreno (1-0), who was just called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, pitched 5 1/3 innings of no-hit relief to earn his first Major League victory.
Moreno came in relief of left-hander Chris Capuano, who was making a spot start to allow Masahiro Tanaka to get an extra day of rest. But Capuano was unable to make it out of the first inning after walking Delino DeShields and retiring Rougned Odor and Adrian Beltre on routine flyouts.
Capuano walked Prince Fielder, Elvis Andrus followed with an RBI single and Mitch Moreland drew a walk to load the bases. Then Ryan Rua hit a bloop two-run single and Shin-Soo Choo followed with an RBI double.
The 36-year-old veteran than walked Robinson Chirinos to reload the bases and DeShields notched an RBI by drawing Capuano’s fifth walk of the inning.
Capuano gave way to Moreno after giving up five runs on three hits and five walks in a disastrous 42-pitch outing.
However, in the second inning the Yankees were able to tee off on left-hander Martin Perez (0-2), who was making only his third start after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season.
Young led off with a double and scored on Chase Headley’s RBI single. John Ryan Murphy singled and Perez loaded the bases by hitting Gregorius with a pitch.
Ryan followed with a two-run double and Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner stroked consecutive RBI singles before Alex Rodriguez blasted a RBI double high off the left-field wall to give the Yankees a 6-5 lead.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister replaced Perez with veteran left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. After Rodriguez struck out Mark Teixeira, Young walked and Headley laced his second RBI single of the inning.
After Murphy struck out, Gregorius cleared the bases with a three-run triple and Ryan capped the 11-run explosion with an RBI double.
Perez was charged with eight runs on seven hits and he struck out one in his one-plus inning.
Rodriguez, however, was not much better because the Yankees opened the third inning by loading the bases singles by Gardner and Rodriguez and a walk to Teixeira. Young then blasted a 3-1 offering into the first-row of the left-field bleachers for his 12th home run of the season to extend the lead to 15-5.
After Rodriguez walked Headley he was replaced by right-hander Phil Klein having yielded seven runs on six hits and three walks in one inning.
Gardner completed the Yankees’ onslaught in the ninth with a two-run homer, his 11th of the season, off infielder Adam Rosales, who was used a pitcher in a mop-up role by the Rangers for the second time this season.
Adam Warren pitched three perfect innings to earn his first save of the season and the fifth of his career.
The 11 runs the Yankees scored in the second inning were the most runs the team has scored in an inning and the most they scored in any inning since they scored 12 runs in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles on July 30, 2011. The most runs the Yankees have scored in an inning was the 14 they scored in the fifth inning against Washington on July 6, 1920.
With the victory the Yankees increased their Major League-best July record to 16-5 and they are 57-42 on the season They also maintained their seven-game lead over the second-place Orioles in the American League East.
The Rangers are 47-52.
- Young, 36, has been bashing left-handers all season and he did it again on Tuesday. He was 3-for-6 with two doubles, a home run, scored four runs and drove in five. Young is 36-for-97 (.371) with seven homers and 19 RBIs against lefties this season and he is batting .263 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs overall.
- Gregorius, 25, had another record-breaking night after he drove in a career-high four runs on Monday. He was 4-for-5 with three singles, a double, two runs scored and three RBIs. It was the first four-hit game of his career. In the first two games of the series, Gregorius is 7-for-9 with a homer and seven RBIs. He is now batting .257 on the season.
- Moreno, 28, was one of two players the Yankees acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in February, 2012 in a trade for right-hander A,J. Burnett. He was making only his third Major League appearance. He did not give up a hit and only walked Choo with two outs in the third. He struck out five and recorded six groundball outs. Unfortunately, he likely will be sent back down on Wednesday so the Yankees can call up another fresh arm from Scranton.
- Why should there be a negative after a 21-5 victory? Consider this: The decision to rest Tanaka an extra day by manager Joe Girardi was odd enough. The decision to start Capuano was even odder because Warren was much better as a starter. But Capuano finally proved that he may need a fork stuck in him because he is done. After this outing, Capuano is 0-4 with a 6.97 ERA. There is simply no excuse for walking five batters in an inning. He has got to go.
In order to make room on the 25-man roster for Moreno, the Yankees optioned right-hander Nick Goody back to Scranton. Goody, 24, was just called up to the team on July 25 and he did not appear in a game for the Yankees in that span. Moreno was 3-0 with a 2.18 ERA in 26 games at Scranton. . . . After leaving Monday’s game after 75 pitches with arm fatigue, right-hander Ivan Nova told reporters that he will not miss his next scheduled start on Sunday. Nova was concerned about his arm because he was making only his sixth start after coming back from Tommy John surgery last season.
The Yankees have already clinched a series tie and they can claim a victory in the four-game series against the Rangers on Wednesday.
Tanaka (7-3, 3.64 ERA) will start for the Yankees, The Yankees have won his past five starts and he is 3-0 in that stretch. He yielded three runs on five hits and struck out seven in 7 2/3 innings to beat the Orioles on Thursday.
The Rangers will start right-hander Colby Lewis (10-4, 4.49 ERA). Lewis held the Angels to two runs on five hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings in a victory on Friday.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.
No. 1 – Masahiro Tanaka, 26 (13-5, 2.77 ERA in 20 starts)
No. 2 – Michael Pineda, 26 (5-5, 1.89 ERA in 13 starts)
No. 3 – CC Sabathia, 34 (3-4, 5.28 ERA in 8 starts)
No. 4 – Nathan Eovaldi, 25 (6-14, 4.37 ERA in 33 starts)
No. 5 – Chris Capuano, 36 (2-3, 4.25 in 12 starts)
The Yankees began the 2014 season with a rotation of Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. At one point last season, Kuroda was the only one of the five still pitching.
In fact, the then-39-year-old veteran made 32 starts and was 11-9 with a 3.71 ERA for a team that struggled to finish six games over .500. Unfortunately, after pitching three seasons with the Yankees, Kuroda elected to exit Major League Baseball and go back to his native Japan to finish up his career.
That leaves a 2015 rotation steeped in talent and great possibilities. However, it also is a quintet laden with big question marks.
The Yankees made quite a splash last season with the signing of the Japanese star right-hander Tanaka to a seven-year, $155-million contract on Jan. 23. Tanaka was coming off a dream season in Japan where he was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013.
The Yankees saw Tanaka as a potential ace and they were hoping that his eight-pitch assortment including a world-class strikeout pitch in his split-finger fastball would translate to the American game.
After a spring training in which he was 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five games, Tanaka hit the ground running and never really stopped. On June 17, Tanaka was 11-1 with a sparkling 1.99 ERA.
Ther was talk of a Cy Young Award and a Rookie of the Year Award buzzing around him until . . .
After losing three of his next three starts, Tanaka complained of pain in his valuable right elbow. Because Tanaka came to the United States after logging 1,315 innings since the age of 18 in Japan, he did come to the Yankees with some very inherent risks.
The Yankees discovered he had a partial tear in ulnar collateral ligament and left the choice to Tanaka whether to have surgery to repair it and likely miss two full seasons or rehab the small tear and hope that it healed on its own.
Tanaka chose the latter and came back to make two starts in September. Despite the fact he was shelled for seven runs (five earned) in 1 2/3 innings in his final start, Tanaka and the Yankees were encouraged enough to stay committed on not having Tommy John surgery.
So with two spring bullpen sessions under his belt, Tanaka has assured the Yankees and the media that his elbow is fine and he expects no further problems. To outside observers, however, Tanaka’s elbow is a ticking time bomb that can explode at any moment, especially for a pitcher who throws a splitter with so much torque on his elbow.
But the Yankees are willing to take that chance so that they can have their ace on the mound for 2015.
If he is right and he remains healthy the Yankees will have one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. Tanaka has proven to be the consummate pitcher capable of even changing his game plan if pitches are not working or batters change their approach.
Last season, pitching against the Twins at Target Field, Tanaka noticed that the Twins were laying off his split-finger pitch and it was causing him to get into some deep counts. So Tanaka switched gears and went to his slider, a pitch that he could throw for strikes. Tanaka ended up winning the game.
So Tanaka is far from just a thrower and his cerebral approach along with his stuff make him a very formidable foe for hitters. If the Yankees are to make any noise in the American League East they will need Tanaka at the top of the rotation pitching just as he did in 2014.
If patience is a virtue than the Yankees have it spades when it comes to Pineda.
The 6-foot-7, 290-pound right-hander was obtained in a much ballyhooed deal between the Yankees and Seattle in 2012 that sent the Yankees No. 1 prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, to the Mariners.
However, in his final start of the spring in 2012, Pineda complained of shoulder pain. He ended up undergoing season-ending surgery on the shoulder and he was only was able to make 10 minor-league rehab starts in 2013.
So the Yankees wanted to see what a healthy Pineda could do in 2014. Very quickly they learned he could do quite a lot. In spring training, Pineda was 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA in four games with 16 Ks in 15 innings.
The Yankees could not wait to see what he could do with a full season. However, after going 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his first three starts, Pineda decided to tempt fate once too many times by placing a glob of pine tar on his neck in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 23.
He was ejected from the game in the second inning and he was suspended for 10 days by Major League Baseball. In what only could be called “Pineda Luck,” while preparing for his first start after the suspension, Pineda strained the teres major muscle behind his right shoulder and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He would not return to the Yankees until Sept. 5.
In his final five starts, Pineda was 2-2 with an even more sparkling 1.62 ERA. So the Yankees open spring camp thinking they have a second top-drawer starter in Pineda IF ONLY he can stay healthy and off suspension.
It is obvious the talent is there. Pineda exhibits absolutely spotless control: He walked only seven batters in 76 1/3 innings and he only gave up 56 hits. How he lost five games is amazing but very understandable considering how weak the Yankees offense was last season.
With a full season under his belt in 2015, Pineda may take the next step into the elite class of pitchers and he forms a very tough one-two pitching punch with Tanaka.
At this point, the rest of the rotation takes a decided turn to the worse.
Sabathia, the team’s former ace, is coming off two consecutive very bad seasons.
In 2013, Sabathia saw his record slip from 15-6 in 2012 to 14-13 and his ERA exploded from 3.28 to 4.78. After pitching 200-plus innings for six consecutive seasons since 2007, Sabathia discovered he was losing velocity, which negated the effectiveness of his change-up.
He vowed to be better in 2014. He would somehow transition into a finesse pitcher capable of winning on guile instead on pure power as he had throughout his career.
He was 3-1 with 1.29 ERA in five spring starts so the early results looked encouraging. But when the regular season started the whole thing came crashing down on Sabathia.
He was 3-3 with a 5.11 ERA in April. He then made two very poor starts in May and that was all for Sabathia for the rest of the season. Swelling in his right knee forced him to the disabled list and after breaking down in a second rehab start on July 2, Sabathia finally called 2014 quits.
Yankee team doctors discovered that Sabathia had a degenerative condition in his right knee and underwent arthroscopic debridement surgery in July. Doctors also shaved out a bone spur.
Though Sabathia dodged a more invasive and career-threatening microfracture surgery, he will always have some pain in the knee because he has no cartilage between the bones. So Sabathia enters 2015 as one big fat question mark, literally.
Sabathia, claiming that he was too light the past two seasons, elected to come to camp 10 pounds heavier this spring. Sabathia said he expects to pitch this season between 295 and 305 pounds. Last season, he reported weighing 275 pounds.
It would seem to be counterintuitive for a pitcher coming off knee surgery with no cartilage in his knee would add weight. But Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees’ team physician, cleared him for the weight and manager Joe Girardi said it will not be an issue in camp.
Sabathia vows he wants to make at least 30 starts in 2015 and after his first bullpen session he said he already feels stronger than he has the past two seasons. But the jury on Sabathia remains out.
Just two seasons ago the Yankees provided Sabathia a six-year, $142 million deal. In retrospect, that deal is looking pretty disastrous now because it is doubtful that Sabathia will ever reclaim his status as the team’s ace.
The even larger question is can he adapt and become a the finesse pitcher he thinks he can? The left-hander sounds all the right chords but the results so far have be awful. So no one on the Yankees’ staff has more to prove that Sabathia in 2015.
With Kuroda unavailable the Yankees could have gone in a lot of different directions to replace him in 2015.
After all they did have young pitchers such as David Phelps, Adam Warren and Shane Greene on the roster. In addition, Brandon McCarthy pitched well for the team after he was acquired from the Diamondbacks last July.
However, the Yankees did not opt for Plan A, Plan B, Plan C or Plan D. They dealt Phelps and Greene away in separate trades and they allowed McCarthy to sign a four-year, $48 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They are now on Plan E as in Eovaldi, who the Yankees obtained along with infielder/outfielder Garrett Jones for infielder Martin Prado and Phelps.
The right-hander features a sizzling fastball that averages 95.7 mph. However, even with that hard fastball Eovaldi led the National League in hits allowed (223) and he recorded only 142 strikeouts.
The problem according to the Yankees: He needs to develop his secondary pitches – his splitter, slider and change-up. The thought is that if Eovaldi does that the sky is the limit for him as a pitcher.
“We’ve talked about developing his repertoire and having him establish confidence in all his pitches in all the counts,” Girardi told reporters. “It’s one thing to have three or four pitches, but it’s another thing to have the confidence to throw them at any time.”
So spring training will be an opportunity for pitching coach Larry Rothschild to refine the diamond in the ruff in Eovaldi and 2015 will be a proving ground to see how the pupil progresses with the lessons he is taught.
Eovaldi did throw 199 2/3 innings last season for a very weak Marlins team. Perhaps some improved offense from the Yankees combined with the refinements Eovaldi is making will translate into success for him in 2015.
The Yankees opted to bring back the veteran left-hander Capuano after he made 12 starts with the team last season.
Capuano was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox on July 25 and he was signed to a minor-league contract on July 4 by the Colorado Rockies. After making two minor-league starts, the Yankees acquired him from the Rockies in exchange for cash considerations.
Capuano debuted on July 28 and he finished with a 2-3 mark with a 4.25 ERA.
Having a second left-hander in the rotation is advantageous for the Yankees, particularly at home with so many teams wanting to load up on left-handed batters to exploit the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium.
The problem is left-handers hit .321 with a .942 OPS against Capuano last season. So he is going to have to work on that this spring.
Capuano has not started 33 games in a season since 2012, But if he can keep his ERA to his career mark of 4.28 the Yankees will be satisfied.
The Yankees also enter 2015 with a bit of a problem. The Yankees have a stretch at the end of April and the beginning of May where they are scheduled to play 30 games in 31 days.
In addition, they have Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia coming off injury-shortened seasons n 2014. So Giradi and Rothschild are planning to use a six-man rotation this spring and they may extend it into the regular season to ease the strain on their staff through that 30-game stretch in May.
As a result right-hander Warren, 27, looks to be in the best position to fill that role for the Yankees. Warren was 3-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 69 games last season, all of them in relief.
But Warren has been a starter throughout his minor-league career and he is well-suited to slip back into the bullpen when he is no longer needed.
Warren was one of the strengths of the bullpen last season and he seems to have settled into the role Phelps once held.
It would not be the Yankees unless they entered a season with one of their starting pitchers rehabbing something and that is the case with the 28-year-old right-hander Nova, who ended up on the disabled list after four starts after he suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament on his right elbow.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 29 last year, Nova will be unavailable to the Yankees until late May or early June, barring any unforeseen setbacks. However, it is unclear how effective Nova can be.
The Merriam-Webster definition of the word nova is “a star that suddenly increases its light output tremendously and then fades away to its former obscurity in a few months or years.” That could apply to the veteran from the Dominican Republic.
Nova burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2011 with a 16-4 record and a 3.70 ERA. However, in 2012, Nova regressed and finished 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA with 28 home runs allowed in 170 1/3 innings.
He then bounced back from an injury in 2013 to become the Yankees’ best pitcher down the stretch. He ended the season 9-6 with an excellent 3.10 ERA.
So 2014 was supposed to be Nova’s chance to build as a starter. But it ended early after the elbow flared up with a 2-2 record and a 8.27 ERA.
The Yankees are hopeful that Nova will be able to step into the rotation in late May or so. The reality is that it usually takes pitchers some time to find the feel for the pitches and trust that the repaired elbow will hold up.
Nova had developed a devastating curveball that just had batters shaking their heads. He also was able to throw his fastball in the mid-90s with good control. If that Nova is able to contribute to the Yankees in 2015 they may be able to shift Capuano to the bullpen and the rotation will look a lot better.
But Nova remains a big question mark for now.
The Yankees have options beyond these seven starters but there is a huge drop in quality also.
Chase Whitley, 25, made 12 starts for the Yankees last season. After going 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA in his first seven starts he collapsed. He was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in his last five starts.
However, he did pitch six innings of shutout baseball on seven hits on July 22 at home against Texas in his final start but still was shifted to the bullpen, where he ended the season.
It is unlikely that Whitley will start once the season opens but he could be a valuable swing man in the bullpen who is available to make a spot start if needed. Whitley has very good numbers as a reliever in the minors and the Yankees feel he is going to be an integral part of their revamped bullpen.
There also is Esmil Rogers, a 29-year-old right-hander signed as a free agent after he was designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays on July 27. He made his debut with the Yankees on Aug. 4 and finished 2-0 with a 4.66 ERA.
Rogers was a failed starter with the Blue Jays before being shifted to the bullpen in 2014 and he seems more suited for that role. But he struggled with the Yankees in September with a 7.84 ERA.
Blessed with immense talent, Rogers just has not been able to put it all together yet at the major-league level and time is beginning to run out.
Another starter candidate is right-hander Bryan Mitchell, 23, who came up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in August and pitched in three games, one of them as a starter.
Mitchell was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings. He was a combined 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA at Double-A Trenton and Scranton.
Yankee insiders compare Mitchell’s build and stuff to that of A.J. Burnett because he possesses a power fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a power curveball that hits at 84 mph. Mitchell has also added a cutter but his change-up needs work.
If Mitchell can harness the command of his pitches he could be something special. He is ranked as the team’s No. 20 prospect.
If the Yankees have one pitcher coming to camp as a non-roster player that I can’t wait to see it is 21-year-old right-hander Luis Severino, the team’s top rated prospect in 2015.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012, Severino began 2013 as a complete unknown quantity and finished it as the top right-handed pitching prospect in the system.
Though only 6-feet and 195 pounds, Severino showed uncommon strength to post a 4-2 record with a 2.45 ERA and 53 Ks in 44 innings between two rookie league teams.
He topped that in 2014 by sailing through three different teams, making it all the way to Trenton and he did not look overmatched at any of those stops.
After posting a 3-2 record with a 2.79 ERA at Class-A Charleston (SC) in 14 starts, Severino was promoted to Class-A Tampa. All he did there was go 1-1 with a sparkling 1.31 ERA in four starts.
So the Yankees sent him on to Trenton, where he was 2-2 with a 2.52 ERA in six starts. Over the course of 113 1/3 innings in his three stops, Severino punched out 127 batters.
To say he looks like the real deal is putting it mildly. He was chosen to participate in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and he has become the organization’s No. 1 prospect, period.
Severino’s fastball reaches up to 98 mph and has a natural sink at the low end of his velocity (94 mph). Severino also features a hard slider and a change-up that both have the potential to be big weapons for him.
The Yankees would love to see what he can do this spring but they are going to be deliberate and cautious with his development. But there is no doubt that Severino is on a fast-track to the major leagues and he could be in the rotation as regularly as soon as 2016.
Book it: Severino is a star in the making!
Just behind Severino is left-hander Ian Clarkin, 20, who was selected in the first round (33rd pick) by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Clarkin recorded a 4-3 mark with a 3.13 ERA in stops at Charleston and Tampa using his 90-94 mph fastball mixed in with a 12-to-6 curveball and a change-up. The youngster also shows a lot of polish for a prep pitcher and the Yankees hope to have him ready for the majors by 2017.
He is ranked as the team’s fourth best prospect.
The Yankees also have very high hopes for No. 7 prospect Domingo German, 22, another player signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Miami Marlins in 2009.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander posted a breakout season in 2014 at Class-A Greensboro, going 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 25 starts. He also was selected to pitch in the SiriusXM Futures Game and then the Marlins packaged him with Eovaldi and Jones in the deal for Prado and Phelps.
German excels at command and scouts rave about his touch already on his breaking pitches. He features a power sinking fastball along with a above-average change-up. Right now his slider needs more break but he is developing it.
The Yankees also expect to see him around 2017.
These three gems have Yankee fans very excited and with good reason.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE
Though I truly believe that Tanaka and Pineda will not only be healthy all season but they will actually be among the best starters in the American League, the other three spots in the rotation have some question marks.
Even after surgery, Sabathia’s right knee could be a recurring problem for him and I fail to see the added weight will help it. But if Sabathia can remain healthy all season, eat innings and keep his ERA in 4.25 area the Yankees could settle for that.
Eovaldi was a real gamble. His arm, no doubt, is a good one. The question is can he finally put it all together to become a winning pitcher? Rothschild has had some success grooming young pitchers and if he gets Eovaldi untracked he should have his salary doubled.
The veteran left-hander Capuano is up there in age and he obviously is a placeholder while Nova rehabs his surgically repaired elbow. The problem with Capuano is can he pitch well enough to keep the Yankees in games.
Years ago the Yankees scoured the scrap heap for Freddy Garcia. Now it is Capuano in the same role. Let’s hope it works out.
The Yankees also have Warren if they need a sixth starter in the early part of the season. Warren has been excellent as a reliever so there is no reason to believe he can’t be successful as a starter.
The Yankees hope to get Nova back and they also have Whitley, Rogers and Mitchell who are capable of starting. Mitchell has the most upside of the bunch because Whitley is more suited to relief and Rogers has been too inconsistent to be considered much of a help at this point.
The future of the Yankees’ starting rotation is looking quite bright with Severino, Clarkin and German coming off sparkling 2014 campaigns. This is one area the team that looks much stronger.
The temptation is for Yankee fans to want Severino on the roster this season. But the Yankees are taking a very careful approach with him and it is going to pay off of them next season.
Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.
The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.
The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.
George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.
The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.
During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.
Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.
Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.
Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).
How did this happen?
Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.
The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.
It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.
Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.
There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.
After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.
From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.
That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.
The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.
If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.
But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.
It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.
Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.
He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.
When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.
He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.
So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.
Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.
The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.
Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.
Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.
So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)
There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.
It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.
The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.
It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.
But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.
The offense? Don’t ask.
Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.
They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.
The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.
His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.
The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.
The bench has some veterans, of course.
Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.
If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.
But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.
But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.
Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.
In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.
I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!
It appears the first plank to rebuilding the New York Yankees into a playoff contender has been hammered in place.
It took an offer of five years and $85 million to lure Georgia native Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves to the Big Apple and it will be money very well spent.
McCann, 29, hit .256 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in 102 games with the Braves last season. In his nine-year career, McCann has hit 176 homers and driven in 661 runs while hitting .277. That is far better that what the Yankees had on hand last season.
As power-hitting switch-hitter Jorge Posada eased into retirement the Yankees turned to Russell Martin in 2011 to provide some power and defense behind the plate. For two seasons, Martin provided both those things but he chose to accept a more lucrative contract offer with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter.
Martin, 30, hit .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 127 games with the much-improved Bucs in 2013. He was sorely missed in the Bronx, however.
After auditioning holdover backups Francisco Cervelli, 27, and Chris Stewart, 31, in spring training the Yankees selected Cervelli as their starting catcher to begin the season. But much like almost every other player on the roster, Cervelli fell early in the season to a broken finger on his right hand.
The Yankees did not know at the time that Cervelli’s last game would be on April 26.
First there there was an extended process after surgery which delayed his rehab. Then Cervelli ended up suffering an injury to his right elbow.
Later, part of the Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis resulted in Cervelli accepting a 50-game suspension without pay for his admission into using performance enhancing drugs. So Cervelli’s season consisted of 17 games in which he hit .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
Cervelli’s injury forced the Yankees to use a career backup in Stewart as their starting catcher for the remainder of the season. Although Stewart was hitting a robust .284 as late as June 11, his season quickly nose-dived from there and ended up hitting an anemic .211 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 109 games.
Rookie Austin Romine, 25, was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 27 to back up Stewart and he did not fare much batter at the plate. Romine hit .207 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 60 games.
The Yankees had admitted that they were allowing Martin to go in order to usher in a new philosophy of “defense first” behind home plate. Though Cervelli, Stewart and Romine were not accomplished hitters each of them could be counted on to call a good game, block pitches in the dirt and control the other teams’ running game.
Stewart was exceptional. He threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers and committed only two errors.
However, on a team that started the season with some 190 home runs short on power and who lost most of the remaining power they had on their roster to injury, Stewart Cervelli and Romine stuck out like sore thumbs because of their lack of power and production.
On a franchise that fielded the likes of legends such as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Posada, it seems only fitting the Yankees would quickly switch gears from their “defense first” approach and find a catcher who can put the ball into the seats.
McCann certainly can do that.
The fact that he is a left-handed hitter makes him very attractive to the Yankees because of the short porch in right-field.
McCann is a seven-time All-Star, was the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 2010 and was a five-time Silver Slugger award winner.
In 2006, McCann posted his best season as a pro. He hit .333 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs. He has averaged 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his eight full major-league seasons.
Though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove, McCann is not exactly a liability on a defense either. He has thrown out 200 of 842 base-runners in his career, which works out to a respectable 23.8 percent. He only committed one error in 92 games behind the plate last season.
The Yankees see McCann as a starting catcher but he also could remain in the lineup as designated hitter against right-handed pitching. That is one of the reasons McCann was looking to move to the American League. With the Braves he had only could pinch-hit in games he did not start.
The Yankees have already indicated that they intend to offer Cervelli a contract for 2014 and Romine certainly factors into the equation as a backup. But McCann’s signing likely ended Stewart’s days in pinstripes. He probably will not be tendered a contract offer and thus will become a free agent.
The Yankees do have to be encouraged with the development of J.R. Murphy, 22.
Murphy received a late call-up and, despite the fact he hit .154 in 16 games, he made great strides in the minors, hitting .248 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Murphy provides the Yankees with some depth behind the injury-prone Cervelli and Romine, who has had a history of lower-back issues.
The big prize in the Yankees minor-league remains 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, who hit a combined .253 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs at stops at High-A Tampa and Trenton.
Sanchez, much like his predecessor Jesus Montero, has a bat that looks like it will make him a potential star at the major-league level. The big concern with the Yankees, as it was with Montero, is Sanchez’s defense.
Though Sanchez has made great strides in his four minor-league seasons behind the plate, he has committed 43 errors, including 16 and 11 the past two seasons. His arm is exceptional, though. He has nailed 33.4 % of would-be base-stealers.
With McCann’s five-year deal with a vesting option for a sixth season that makes the deal potentially worth $100 million, Sanchez might have a tough time shoving aside the veteran down the road. But it does not look like Sanchez will get that chance until 2015 anyway.
The McCann signing does prove that the Yankees have reached a point where they realized getting by on “cheap” free agents and waiver-wire pickups were not going to cut it if the team expects to be competitive in 2014 and beyond.
While the Yankees have McCann on board they are also looking to keep second baseman Robinson Cano as a Yankee for the remainder of his career, if he and his agent Jay-Z realize that he is not going to get the 10 years and $310 million he is seeking.
The team is also interested in re-signing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and making a huge posting bid for fellow Japanese right-hander Mashiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and is being compared to Texas Rangers star right-hander Yu Darvish.
The Yankees are also contacting outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo as well as hoping to convince Curtis Granderson to remain with the team.
The Yankees are showing signs that they are going to be aggressive in the free-agent market as they were the winter before the 2009 season when they signed left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to lucrative free-agent contracts.
Coincidentally, that was the last season the Yankees won a world championship.
General manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner seem to be on the same page this offseason and it is looking like that their statement that the $189 million payroll mark was more of a target that is not set in stone may mean Yankee fans might have a team they rally around in 2014 instead of the sad group they fielded in 2013.
There seems to be hope in the Bronx and it all starts with Brain McCann.
When it comes to the New York Yankees it seems the team is always thrown into a negative light every time something awful surfaces about Alex Rodriguez.
The latest flap about Rodriguez concerns a report from the Miami New Times that Rodriguez’s name – along with five other major-league players – was found among documents obtained from an anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis. Those six players were accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs from the clinic run by Anthony Bosch.
Not to be outdone by a small potatoes newspaper, Sports Illustrated managed to uncover additional documents that linked Rodriguez to 19 drugs and supplements, including several banned substances.
Major League Baseball met with the editors of the Miami New Times on Monday to gain access to the documents they uncovered in their investigation.
Rodriguez, for his part, has vehemently denied the allegations through a spokesman and claims he never was treated or advised by Bosch.
But probably the most telling comment from Rodriguez was published in the New York Daily News saying that Rodriguez is fearful that his own team and Major League Baseball are conspiring to end his baseball career, sources said.
If, in fact, this is a statement coming from Rodriguez it shows a lot about how he thinks of himself as a victim and never in terms of someone who is potentially hurting a franchise and a very popular brand like the Yankees.
A-Rod has failed to complete a full healthy season with the Yankees since his 2007 MVP season when he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted .314. During spring training 2009, he admitted – after a SI report surfaced – that he took PEDs while he was a member of the Texas Rangers through the 2003 season.
He very pointedly said that he taken not PEDs since 2003.
Because the rules regarding steroids had not been implemented prior to the 2004 season, Major League Baseball was prohibited from imposing a suspension on Rodriguez since they had no positive drug test from him past that point.
In the meantime, Rodriguez has been plagued by a series of injuries (a right hip that required surgery, a knee, a finger, a hand) that kept him on the disabled list over the past four seasons.
After another disastrous postseason in which Rodriguez hit .120 with 12 strikeouts in 25 at-bats and that forced manager Joe Girardi to pinch-hit for him on a few occasions, it was revealed he was suffering from a congenital left hip problem that would require surgery and shelve him for at least half of the 2013 season.
Because the Yankees are on the hook to pay A-Rod $114,000,000 through the 2017 season, the Yankees are very much concerned about their investment in a player who is 37 years old, is declining markedly in production, is mostly unavailable to play and perhaps again could have been dabbling with PEDs.
But the odds of Yankees deliberately smearing Rodriguez’s name or possibly being complicit in a scheme to get him out of baseball seems implausible.
If anything the Yankees have bent over backwards to support their controversial third baseman. They have never publicly commented about his past transgressions or embarrassed him in anyway.
Rodriguez has a way of doing that just fine on his own:
(1) His stupid comments belittling Derek Jeter during a magazine interview.
(2) Being caught walking the streets of Toronto with a woman who was not his wife and who turned out to be an exotic dancer.
(3) His divorce and his subsequent dalliances with Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and a former WWE wrestler and model.
It is extremely doubtful that Major League Baseball or the Yankees would risk the discovery of fraudulent documents in order to keep Rodriguez from ever playing baseball again.
In addition, teammates such as Mariano Rivera and Mark Teixeira have recently issued statements of support of Rodriguez. If the Yankees were “against” A-Rod wouldn’t they issue edicts to the players not to comment at all?
If it turns out that Rodriguez did use PEDs again with the help of his Bosch fellow than I would be very offended if I was accused of being part of a conspiracy against him. So I would think the Yankees would have every right to look at Rodriguez’s contract in an effort to void it.
The Yankees were unable to do so when they looked at Jason Giambi’s contract in 2004. I doubt seriously they would have much luck now with A-Rod’s.
MLB rules call for a first-time suspension of 50 games if A-Rod is judged to be guilty of what he is accused. He would not be paid, which would cost him about $8 million but the Yankees would still be obligated to honor his contract.
The Yankees could release him and just eat the contract, however, the Yankees would not receive any relief regarding their overall payroll or the luxury tax.
About the only way the Yankees could get out of the deal would be for A-Rod to retire, which would then forfeit the remainder of his contract and what he is owed. But that is about as likely as fans at Fenway Park giving Rodriguez a standing ovation.
So the Yankees are forced to live under a hanging cloud throughout the 2013 season. Rodriguez is rehabbing from his January hip surgery and is hoping to return sometime after the All-Star break.
There is a possibility that Rodriguez may not be quite ready to resume baseball activities then and he could miss the entire season.
In the meantime, MLB will continue to investigate Rodriguez and the other players named in the published reports. They could suspend Rodriguez at any time over the next several months.
However, Rodriguez’s suspension would not take effect until he is pronounced fit to play. That means the 50-game suspension could be imposed to start at the beginning of the 2014 season if A-Rod is out for the 2013 season.
That means the Yankees would have lost A-Rod for a total of 212 games. They would have to pay him for 162 of them despite the fact they were getting nothing from him. In addition, a suspension would leave the team with yet another stain on it – a stain Rodriguez would leave on it as long as he wears the pinstripes.
The Yankees could possibly look to unload their rapidly aging former superstar but that route would mean not getting a comparable value in return because A-Rod’s value is about half of what it was in 2007.
There also would have to be a stipulation in the deal that the Yankees would be obligated to continue to pay some portion if not most of his salary. After all, the Yankees had to do that to unload A.J. Burnett last spring.
I hate to be bearer of such depressing news but the Yankees made a terrible mistake in signing Rodriguez to that 10-year contract five years ago after his agent Scott Boras goaded Rodriguez into opting out of his contract and cost the Yankees about $9 million the Texas Rangers were paying him.
Instead, Rodriguez came to the Yankees with is tail between his legs begging the Yankees to sign him without Boras around. The Yankees have received very little from Rodriguez since then and the next five seasons are not looking much brighter.
The fact is Alex Rodriguez and his bloated contract is an albatross that will be hanging around the Yankees’ necks for many years to come.
On Feb. 15, 2007, the course of history for the New York Yankees took a huge turn and the current state of the team begs the question: What if it did not happen?
Though the Yankees were still be operated ostensibly by managing general partner George Steinbrenner, the actual day-to-day operations were being run by Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, Steve Swindal, who was named the successor to Steinbrenner in June 2005.
Swindal was chosen over Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hal and Hank, because Steinbrenner felt more comfortable with Swindal’s leadership and his vast baseball knowledge.
However, while the Yankees were in the midst of spring training in 2007, Swindal’s vehicle unfortunately cut off in traffic a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cruiser driven by a female deputy. A chase ensued in which Swindal’s vehicle was clocked at 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone before he was stopped by St. Petersburg police.
Swindal declined to take a Breathalyzer test but failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while under the influence.
Swindal’s wife, Jennifer, later that year filed for divorce from her husband and Swindal’s stake as a general partner and chairman of the Yankees’ parent company was bought back by the Steinbrenner family in November of that year. Hal was shifted into Swindal’s role with the club and the history of this franchise was forever changed.
The Yankees were known in the Wild West days of early free agency as the major-league team with the largest saddlebags. Under George Steinbrenner’s regime from when he purchased the team in 1973 through November 2007 the Yankees tossed around millions like pennies in a fountain to lure the free agents they coveted.
In some cases, the elder Steinbrenner would be so ruthless in negotiations with free agents he would even increase a bid that already was more than any rival team was offering – actually bidding against himself.
Of course, that led to such signings as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield. Between free agent signings and some shrewd trades the Yankees won a pair of World Series in 1978 and 1979 and Steinbrenner and the Yankees were being cursed all around baseball for “buying their way” to prosperity.
Though Steinbrenner’s money did re-establish the Yankees in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Yankees actually failed to make the playoffs from 1982 through 1994. A combination of some poor signings and trades doomed the Yankees until their minor-league system began turning out a solid of corps of young stars such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Those players along with the acquisition of Paul O’Neill and the signings of pitchers such as Jimmy Key, David Wells and David Cone pushed the Yankees into an amazing run in which they won four world championships from 1996 through 2000.
Since then the team has only failed to make the playoffs in one season – 2008. They won their 27th world title in 2009 after dipping heavy into the free-agent market in signing pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
But in 2003, Major League Baseball instituted its first luxury tax, which was supposed to operate alongside revenue sharing to allow small-market teams to draw money from teams who were over a threshold payroll limit, which was set at $178 million in 2011. All teams shared the remaining revenue.
Only four teams have ever exceeded the established luxury tax limit: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. However, only the Yankees and Red Sox have ever exceeded it twice and the Yankees have paid in 95 percent of all the luxury tax since its inception.
When Hal Steinbrenner took control of the team he decided that the Yankees’ philosophy of paying top dollar and ignoring the luxury tax would have to come to an end.
In 2014, the payroll threshold will be increased to $189 million. By a complicated formula set up by the teams, there would be refunded revenue sharing streams for teams who remain under the luxury tax threshold. That gives the Yankees an added incentive to cut payroll below $189 million in 2014.
Not only will the team save money by trimming payroll; they would receive a considerable sum of refunded revenues as well. This explains why the Steinbrenner family informed general manager Brian Cashman that he will have to pass on high-priced free agents and he will have to pass on trading for players with huge long-term contracts.
So Yankee fans have watched a stream of free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jose Reyes, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes sign with other teams instead of with the Yankees. The Yankees are already on the hook for long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira.
Those three contracts alone are worth $73,875,000 plus player benefits worth an additional $10.8 million, which will also count against the $189 million.
That leaves a remainder of a little less than $105,000,000 to pay the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster in 2014.
That is why the Yankees have let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin go this offseason and it is likely that Curtis Granderson will follow them out the door sometime within the next year.
The team will also have another group of expiring contracts such as one of Robinson Cano. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are working this season under one-year contracts.
The question is will the Yankees make an effort to offer Cano a lucrative multiyear contract to remain a Yankee? Can they afford to do it? What will they do with Jeter, who is a significantly aging commodity at shortstop?
Some Yankee fans were quick to point out that if Rodriguez is found to have taken performance enhancing drugs past the 2003 date he previously claimed that the Yankees could easily just void his contract and dump him. But that may be a pipe dream.
First, Major League Baseball must have proof that he did it and then mete out a 50-game suspension. But Rodriguez can appeal the procedure and delay its effect. He also could have the suspension tossed out.
The Yankees would find it very difficult to find relevant clauses in his contract to escape from the $114,000,000 they owe Rodriguez through the 2017 season. The Players’ Association and his agent would certainly fight it and that could lead to a prolonged court battle with no guarantee the Yankees could win.
In addition, should the Yankees lose they would still have to pay Rodriguez and play him. He may not be in any mood to produce much for them either. He gets paid no matter how bad he is. So any thought of voiding his contract is going to have to be very carefully weighed.
The long-term effect of what has been an austerity program the Yankees have been under since the 2009 season ended is that the balance of power in baseball is widening out to teams who have lots of money to spend under the current salary threshold like the Tigers, the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers.
These are the teams that have been active in the free-agent market and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays have benefitted from what was a talent fire-sale by the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins.
The Red Sox traded most of their high-priced players like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez away last season to the Dodgers to restock their 2013 roster while keeping well below the looming $189 million limit.
That is why the Yankees’ prospects for the 2013 season are not as bright as they might have been under the old George Steinbrenner regime or the short-lived rule of Swindal.
Would old George or Swindal have allowed the Yankees to wither on the vine for the past three seasons and basically pinch pennies and risk the team missing the playoffs in 2013?
Hal Steinbrenner has already stated quite clearly that he expects the 2013 club to remain a top-quality team within the confines placed upon Cashman and the team’s scouts. The result is the current Yankee roster is full of 40-year-olds like Rivera and Pettitte and players in their late 30s such as Rodriguez, Jeter, Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed DH Travis Hafner.
Cashman spent a lot of time and effort stocking the minor-league system with talented young players over the past five years and Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner have provided some support to an aging corps of veterans.
However, the two best minor-league prospects the Yankees have produced in that time, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, were both packaged in trades. Jackson was sent out in three-player swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tigers that yielded Granderson for the Yankees. Montero was sent along with two other players to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-handed pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
While Jackson is thriving with the defending American League champions, Granderson has provided the Yankees with two consecutive seasons of 40-plus home runs and a lot of strikeouts. And though Montero has proven to be lackluster on defense as a catcher, his power in Yankee Stadium will be missed in a season in which the Yankees are choosing between singles-hitting catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.
In addition, both Pineda, 25, and Campos, 20, suffered injuries and had their 2012 seasons cut short. Pineda is recovering from right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he could miss a portion of the 2013 season and may not be 100 percent until the 2014 season. Campos was shut down with a right elbow injury that did not require surgery.
The Yankees have a number of very good prospects within their minor-league system, including a catcher who hits as well as Montero and has better defensive skills in Gary Sanchez, 20. They also have a pair of good-looking outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming star reliever in Mark Montgomery.
But the question is will the Yankees allow these players to develop long enough to make the roster or will they package and ship them out as they have done with Jackson and Montero?
The problem with young players – most especially pitchers – as they develop in the minors is that they need to be promoted to learn at the major-league level. Too often the Yankees pull a player back and ship them back to the minors when they initially fail.
The Yankees did that with Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy in 2008. They both got off to shaky starts (a combined 0-7 record) and the Yankees believed they could not afford to keep them on the roster.
Anyone want to guess what the records of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were in their first full season with the Atlanta Braves?
Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 starts the same season.
If Glavine and Smoltz were with the Yankees in 1988 they would have been sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for another season and their major-league development would have been stilted. In 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 and Smoltz was 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA.
The point is that players have to learn at the major-league level and when you are constantly shipping them back out they will never learn how to succeed in the major leagues. A good case in point is when the Yankees elected to ship right-hander Ivan Nova back to Scranton in the middle of the 2011 season despite the fact he ended up the season with a 16-4 record.
The Yankees are pretty rough on their prospects. If they are not ready to contribute on Day One they get sent back down. Sometimes players in the late 20s like Colin Curtis find themselves drifting in the Yankees’ system but never even given the chance to play in the majors much.
Then there are the Monteros and Jacksons who succeed just enough in the minors to be traded. Then there are the Kennedys, who are traded and ended up going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2011. So the Yankees show patience with players like Curtis, who never made it in the majors, and a lack of patience with players like Kennedy, who succeeds with another team.
If the Yankees are to adhere to this stringent luxury tax threshold in 2014 they are going to have to stop making the mistake of trading their great prospects away or, at the least, if they are going to trade them they better get something of real value back for it. They also could benefit by being a bit more patient with their young players when they call them up.
The Montero-Pineda deal is but one example of those mistakes. Cashman can’t afford to do that much going forward.
The Yankees are going to need good young athletes and skilled pitchers coming out of their system on a regular basis to retool this franchise through the end of the decade. It will certainly lower payroll, make the team better-suited for healthy runs at championships and may prove – ultimately – that Hal Steinbrenner had the right approach.
Otherwise, there will be hell to pay and old George will be have cigar smoke coming out of his ears as he rolls around in his grave. If a ghost could ever fire a son, old George will figure out a way to get that done.
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
CATCHER – RUSSELL MARTIN (21 HRs, 53 RBIs, .211 BA)
If you were judging Russell Martin’s first half you would say that it was a foregone conclusion he would not be back with the Yankees after this season.
At the midway point, Martin had eight home runs, 21 RBIs and he was hitting an anemic .184. Though the Yankees love his defense behind the plate they also realize having a catcher that unproductive hurts the offense. Opposing pitchers were using Martin to escape from innings with men on base.
But what a difference a second half makes.
Martin,29, found his lost stroke as the season progressed and he hit 13 home runs, drove in 32 runs and batted .242 in the second half. In his first season with the Yankees he hit 18 home runs, drove in 65 runs and batted .237. So it is safe to say that Martin may have saved his job with his good work in the second half.
Martin was particularly good when it counted most – in September. From Sept. 1 on Martin batted .258 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. It was, by far, his best month of the season.
September is usually the time where catchers wear down from all those games behind the plate and all the nicks and bruises they incur during the season. But for some reason Martin just got better as the season progressed. He saved his best for last.
Compared to his 2011 season, Martin was quite durable. He started 116 games behind the plate and caught in 128 games overall.
His defense, as advertised, was very good.
He nailed 24 percent of the runners attempting to steal on him. That was down from his career average of 30 percent but it was still very respectable. He committed only six errors though he did have a a high total of nine passed balls.
His overall fielding percentage of .994 was the same as the Rays’ Jose Molina, who is considered the best defensive catcher in the league.
But a lot of Martin’s game behind the plate goes unquantified.
His agility and cat-quick reflexes prevent a lot of wild pitches by the way he blocks pitches in the dirt. Though the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett, they still had a lot of pitchers who test a catcher with nasty breaking pitches such as Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan.
Catching such a diverse staff is no day at the beach but Martin handles it exceptionally well.
He also is able to communicate with his pitchers and he calls a great game. He commands the respect of the pitching staff and he is smart enough to help pitchers get out of jams.
He certainly helped Kuroda’s transition to the American League since he caught Kuroda when he played for the Dodgers. At the same time he helped in the development of rookie right-hander David Phelps.
Martin’s contract with the Yankees expires after the season ends. Martin had sought to sign an extension before the season began but it never happened. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll it unclear whether Martin will be offered a new contract or will be allowed to become a free agent.
If it were based on his first half, he would be gone. But his second half and performance in the playoffs could save him.
It helps that a some of the Yankees’ catching prospects were hampered by injury or are a few years away.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C-
SECOND HALF GRADE: B
OVERALL GRADE: C+
BACKUP – CHRIS STEWART (1 HR, 13 RBIs, .241 BA)
Chris Stewart came to the Yankees in a trade with the San Francisco Giants made on the last day of spring training. Because Stewart was out of options, Francisco Cervelli lost his job as Martin’s backup and was shipped off to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
So Stewart was replacing a very popular player in Cervelli. But he handled it well and won over some Yankee fans with his exceptional work behind the plate.
Backup catchers are not paid to hit. They are paid to call a good game, play defense, deter the running game and block pitches in the dirt. Stewart did all of those things well.
Stewart, 30, also became the “personal” catcher for CC Sabathia throughout most of the season and he seemed to have built a great rapport with the ace left-hander.
Stewart started 46 games and caught in 54 games overall.
The only red flag in his defense was that he committed a career-high eight passed balls in 395 innings, But that may have been a fluke because Stewart nailed 23 percent of the base-runners who tried to steal and committed four errors for a .990 fielding percentage.
Stewart drew praise for his defensive work even from opposing teams’ TV announcers. That means his good work was being noticed.
Martin started of the season hitting better than Martin. He was hitting .270 with nine RBIs at the season’s midpoint. Some fans even suggested Stewart replace Martin.
But Stewart ended up with one home run, 13 RBIs and he hit .241 on the season.
He hit just .220 in the second half, which is more in line with his career average of .217. So Stewart won’t be replacing Martin. But he complimented him well in 2012.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND HALF GRADE: C
OVERALL GRADE: C
The Yankees catching depth was reduced a bit this past winter when they traded 21-year-old prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda. The Yankees were not convinced Montero would develop the defensive skills to be able to play the position regularly.
So they sent his potent power bat to Seattle and he hit 19 home runs and drove in 74 runs and batted .267 in his first season in the majors. But he only started 55 games behind the plate. So maybe the Yankees were correct about his defense.
But the Yankees will miss his power and production.
Cervelli, 26, spent the entire season at Scranton despite the fact he was the team’s backup catcher in 2010 and 2011.
Cervelli hit .246 with two home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games with Scranton. He was recalled to the majors when the roster expanded but he did not get much of a chance to play.
Though Cervelli is a bit better with the bat than Stewart, the Yankees have not been a big fan of Cervelli’s throwing behind the plate. He only nailed three of 27 base-runners (11 percent) in 2011 and he committed a lot throwing errors.
At Scranton this season, Cervelli committed only five errors but he was charged with 15 passed balls. Though other parts of Cervelli’s defensive game are good, manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena (both former major-league catchers) believe Stewart was superior defensively.
Cervelli likely will look to improve his skills to stick next season or he could be shipped to another team. But as long as Stewart is around, Cervelli’s path back to the major leagues is blocked.
The Yankees had hoped their young catching prospect Austin Romine would make an impact in spring training. However, Romine was an early casualty when he succumbed to back spasms and he did not catch a single inning this past spring.
In fact, the Yankees cautiously held him out of game action for most of the season to allow his back issues to subside.
He caught only 17 games at Scranton and 31 games overall.
Romine, 23, hit .243 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. Though Romine will never hit like Montero, the Yankees believe he is capable to being an excellent defensive catcher in the major leagues right now. Next spring, he will push Stewart (if he is re-signed) and Cervelli for the backup catching job.
But with the Yankees always erring on the side of caution, Romine could end up at Scranton and the Yankees would monitor his back as the season progresses.
The Yankees are very lucky to have two very good young catching prospects in J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez.
Muphy, 21, hit .231 with four home runs and 16 RBIs at Double-A Trenton this season after advancing from Class-A Tampa, where he played in 67 games and hit .257. Murphy can also play third base and he has above-average defensive skills behind the plate.
Sanchez is currently the team’s No. 1 rated young prospect and with good reason. Sanchez, 19, hit a combined .344 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 116 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa this season, Unlike Montero, Sanchez does have some defensive ability behind the plate. He has a plus arm but his other defensive skills took a step backward this season.
But with his booming bat and his overall potential, Sanchez appears like he could eventually surpass Montero when he reaches the majors. His future is ultra-bright.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
With Martin unsigned, this position will be in state of flux unless the Yankees decide to offer Martin a contract to remain with the team.
Considering the fact that Stewart is only considered a backup and Cervelli is looked upon the same way, Martin’s chances of returning are pretty good. Good free agent catchers are scarce and throw in the fact that Romine has had recurring back issues and you have a very compelling case for the Yankees to keep Martin.
But Romine, Murphy and Sanchez do point to a bright future ahead for the position. It is still a strength of the team to have this much depth at the position despite the trade of Montero.