Tagged: Bernie Williams

Tex Swats Two As Pineda, Yankees Humble Mets

GAME 17

YANKEES 6, METS 2

With both the Yankees and Mets in first place in their respective divisions and the Mets having won 11 games in a row, there was large groups of Mets fans lining the upper decks of Yankee Stadium on Friday. It is just too bad they came all way that for nothing.

Mark Teixeira slammed a pair of two-run homers and Jacoby Ellsbury added a solo shot of his own while Michael Pineda practically turned the Mets hitters into pretzels  –  soft pretzels at that  –  through 7 2/3 innings as New York struck the first blow of the 2015 version of the Subway Series by thrashing the interlopers from Queens, NY, in front of a national television audience and a paid crowd of 45,310.

Teixeira wasted no time against right-hander Jacob deGrom (2-2) when he connected for his sixth home run in the first inning with Brett Gardner on first and two out. Teixeira launched a 2-1 fastball into the second deck just down the right-field line to give the Yankees an early 2-0 edge.

Ellsbury jumped on deGrom’s second offering to lead off the third inning and lined a rocket shot into third row of the right-field bleachers.

With one out in the same inning, Alex Rodriguez drew a walk and Teixeira followed by swatting an almost identical high-arcing home run into the same second deck in right-field to extend the Yankees’ margin to 5-0.

Teixeira’s two home runs now give him four home runs in his past four starts and his seven home runs is only second to Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners, who leads Major League Baseball with eight.

The Yankees were not through with the obviously shell-shocked deGrom in the third inning. They managed to load the bases on a Brian McCann single, a Carlos Beltran walk and a hard ground single to right by Chase Headley.

Stephen Drew then lofted a sacrifice fly to deep center to score McCann and give the Yankees a 6-0 lead on the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year, who entered the game with a 0.93  ERA.

Meanwhile, Pineda (3-0) pitched his best game of the season in his fourth start.

The Mets’ lone run came in the sixth inning when former Yankee Curtis Granderson led off with an infield single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and reached third on a flyout off the bat of Juan Lagares.

Grandson then scored on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.

Pineda was charged with one run on five hits and no walks while he struck out seven batters. Of the 100 pitches Pineda threw in the game, 78 of them were strikes. He also lowered his season ERA to 3.86.

The Mets’ right-hander deGrom yielded six runs on eight hits and two walks while he fanned two batters in five innings. In his previous 128 2/3 innings, deGrom had given up just two home runs. After the third inning the Yankees had tagged him for three.

With the victory the Yankees extended their winning streak to four games and they have now won seven of their past eight games. They are also tied with the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East with identical 10-7 records for both teams.

The Mets, in having their 11-game winning streak snapped, are now 13-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Based on his early success it looks as if a lot of players may be converting to the gluten-free, sugar-free diet Teixeira embarked upon in the offseason. It is certainly doing wonders for his production. Though Teixeira is only batting .218, he leads the Yankees in homers (7) and RBIs (17). In addition, April is usually a slow month for Teixeira. But not this season.
  • If there were any doubts that the Yankees have a dynamic one-two pitching punch in Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda, they both pretty much ended those thoughts the way they pitched the past two days. Tanaka and Pineda combined to limit their opponents to two runs on eight hits and two walks while striking of 15 in 14 innings. If a case can be made for two better pitchers in the A.L. East I would like to hear someone prove it to me.
  • Ellsbury won the game on Thursday against the Tigers with his speed. He helped the Yankees win this one with his power. It was his first home run of the season and his 2-for-5 night raised his season average to .294. Since April 18, Ellsbury is 10-for-29 (.345) with a home run, two RBIs and seven runs scored. Ellsbury is showing he is much more comfortable and effective hitter in the leadoff spot rather than the when he was forced to bat third last season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Headley committed an error, but it was in the ninth inning and it was erased by a double play. Beltran was 0-for-3 with a walk and is now hitting a woeful .173. But you just can’t nitpick when the team is firing on all cylinders like this team is doing right now. It will be interesting to see what Joe Buck of FOX Sports says about them on Saturday. He can’t exactly rip them now. Or can he?

BOMBER BANTER

Former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams finally made it official on Friday as he signed papers indicating that he is retired from baseball. Williams, who has not played since 2006, also was on hand to throw the first pitch of the game and he drew a huge ovation from the crowd. Though he was not part of the 2009 championship team as were the so-called “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, “To set the record straight, Bernie is part of the Fab Five.” Williams will have his No. 51 retired and will have a plaque in Monument Park dedicated to him on May 24.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue the home portion of the Subway Series with the Mets on Saturday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-3, 4.35 ERA) will start of the Yankees. Sabathia, 34, is coming off his best effort of the season even though he lost the game 2-1 to the Detroit Tigers on Monday. Sabathia was charged with two runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five in eight innings.

The Mets will go to right-hander Matt Harvey (3-0, 3.50 ERA), who will be making his first start in Yankee Stadium. Harvey will be pitching with his sprained left ankle heavily taped. Harvey won his last start on Sunday against the Miami Marlins despite surrendering four runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts in six innings.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1 and locally by WPIX.

 

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2015 Yanks Likely Will Extend Playoff Drought

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!

 

Yankees Boast Outfield With Power, Speed Mix

For the Yankees, 2013 was pretty much a lost season and the biggest weakness on the team was in the outfield.

The projected outfield after the Yankees let right-fielder Nick Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians included Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, only Gardner had a productive season.

Granderson, 32, was struck in the right arm on a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Jay Happ in his first at-bat of spring training and he missed the first month and a half of the season.

He returned on May 14 and played in just eight games before suffering a fractured left knuckle on May 25 after being hit by a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos. He did not return until Aug. 2.

Granderson ended up his final season of a four-year contract with just seven home runs and 15 RBIs and a .229 batting average in 61 games. The Yankees opted not to make an offer to the outfielder and he signed with the crosstown New York Mets for 2014 season.

The Yankees, devoid of power they lost through free agency before the 2013 season, missed out on Granderson’s power that saw him slug a major-league best 84 home runs in the previous two seasons. But it is pretty safe to say that Granderson will not be hitting 40 home runs in spacious Citi Field and the Yankees will not miss the 364 strikeouts he compiled in the two seasons he hit the 84 home runs.

Granderson’s strikeout totals rose as his batting average dropped and the front office doubted his ability to play center-field by installing Gardner there in 2013.

Suzuki, 40, on the other hand, was perfectly healthy throughout the 2013 season. However, as the season wore on, Suzuki’s ability to get on base waned to the point that he ended up being benched for most of the final month of the season.

He hit a career-low .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, which also was a career low. Although Suzuki is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with the Yankees, his spot on the roster is now tenuous at best. The Yankees package him in a trade before spring training starts.

But it is safe to say that Suzuki’s days as a everyday player with the Yankees have come to an end.

On July 19, Suzuki was helping a team that was ravaged by injury, hitting a respectable .283. From that point on the former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial All-Star hit .198. Father Time looks have claimed what little magic was left in Suzuki’s bat.

That is a shame.

Gardner, 30, ended up coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season to have his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with eight homers and 52 RBIs and stole 24 bases for a team that finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons.

He also played Gold Glove-quality defense in center-field.

But, like many of his teammates, Gardner succumbed to a strained left oblique on Sept. 12 and he missed the rest of the season. Before spring training in 2014, Gardner looks to be a player without a position because of the Yankees’ decision to trade for left-fielder Alfonso Soriano in the middle of the 2013 season and the free-agent signings of center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran.

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine made it clear at the winter meetings that the team was not looking to trade Gardner. Levine said, the team “absolutely had no intention” trading the speedy outfielder.

But because the team has also said they will not carry a permanent designated hitter, Soriano looks to be the team’s left-fielder, leaving Gardner relegated to backup status. That would not seem to make much sense. However, the Yankees have had to make a lot of shifts to the outfield this offseason.

On Jan. 10, the Yankees designated for assignment veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was acquired in a late 2013 spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels to replace the injured Granderson.

Wells, 35, looked like a godsend on May 15 when had 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and was batting .301. But the league caught up to Wells’ aggressive approach at the plate and he ended up with just two home runs and 27 RBIs and hit only .145 the rest of the season.

Like Suzuki, Wells ended up being benched most of the final month of the season. His future with the Yankees was in serious doubt and the Yankees have opted to cut him loose now so that he might be able to sign with another team.

Unlike Wells, Soriano, 38, was a true revelation when he donned the pinstripes on July 26 for the first time since 2003.

Soriano was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs when he was acquired. From that time on, Soriano hit .256 with 17 home runs and and 50 RBIs in only 58 games with the Yankees.

His impact was almost immediate for a team missing Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano became the team’s cleanup hitter and he along with Robinson Cano gave the team a one-two punch the lineup had not had all season long.

On top of that, Soriano showed the Yankees he had improved as an outfielder. He committed only one error in the outfield for the Yankees and he made some pretty sparkling plays in the field for his old team. So enters 2014 as the team’s starting left-fielder.

The Yankees upgraded their outfield nicely by signing Ellsbury, 30, to a shockingly rich seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted Cano to pitch a temper tantrum and storm off to the Seattle Mariners.

Ellsbury is what the Yankees had hoped Gardner would be by this stage: A hitter who could get on base a lot and score a lot of runs by being daring and disruptive on the bases.

In 2013, Ellsbury hit .298 with nine homers and 35 RBIs while leading the American League with 52 stolen bases. Ellsbury is also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.

Ellsbury has compiled 241 career stolen bases and has a career success rate of 84 percent. Gardner, in contrast, has 161 bags with a 81 percent success rate. The Yankees envision both being in the lineup and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. However, in order to do that they would have to find a spot for Gardner to play.

The Yankees determined pretty early that with Swisher having left last season and Suzuki on his last days as a player they needed to upgrade right-field and they did that by signing Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 19.

Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. He also is a switch-hitter with a career average of .283 and 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs. With Cano missing from the middle of the Yankees’ lineup Beltran will provide a powerful bat to replace him in 2014.

The trio of Beltran, Soriano and Teixeira could easily combine to hit 100 home runs for the Yankees in 2014, which would address one of their biggest shortcomings last season.

Though Beltran did win three Gold Glove awards from 2006 through 2008 with the New York Mets, knee injuries have cut down his ability to play center-field with the skill he used display. However, he is no slouch in right-field and he has an above-average arm.

So the Yankees’ quintet of Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, Beltran and Suzuki provide a nice mix of power and speed. They also provide superb defense.

The signings of Ellsbury and Beltran and the acquisition of Soriano are an admission that is painful for Cashman and the Yankee front office that the team’s minor-league outfield prospects are not progressing at a pace they would have wanted.

The Yankees entered 2013 with a handful of promising outfield prospects. But not many have stepped up and most were disappointments last season.

The team’s No. 2 prospect Mason Williams suffered a shoulder injury that cut short his season and he ended up hitting a combined .245 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 117 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

The 22-year-old speedster has the ability to become a smaller version of Bernie Williams with line-drive power, speed and a very good-fielding center-fielder. But he has to shake off the injuries that sidetracked him and accelerate his development in 2014.

The team’s No. 3 prospect, Tyler Austin, is also 22 and he also suffered some injury issues in 2013. A wrist injury cut his season short and he left the Arizona Fall League when it recurred.

Austin hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games with Trenton. Austin is a converted infielder who has the ability to hit for average (He hit a combined .354 in 2011.). But it does not appear he will hit for a lot of power as you might expect from an outfielder.

He has the ability to be an above average fielding right-fielder and the Yankees hope he shows some real progress as a hitter in 2014.

The No. 7 prospect, 2009 top draft pick Slade Heathcott, has been a victim of his all-out style that periodically kept him off the field up until 2013.

Now he is starting to put it all together and he hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs with 15 steals in 103 games at Trenton last season. Heathcott, 23, has a line-drive bat that could develop into power and is way above-average fielder with a plus arm.

The Yankees just hope he can remain healthy enough to progress to the majors.

The No. 6 prospect actually played in the majors last season due to the injuries the team sustained. Zoilo Almonte, 24, was actually rushed to the majors despite the fact he did not spend a full season above the Double-A level.

In 68 games at Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre, Almonte hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on June 19 and he ended up hitting .236 with one home run and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Yankees.

Like most of the Yankees, he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on July 20 with a left ankle sprain. He was not activated until Sept. 9 and played sparingly the rest of the season. But the Yankees do believe he could turn into a solid run-producing outfielder.

Almonte is not a speedster and he will not win any Gold Gloves with his defense. But his bat could make him a solid starter or a real good fourth outfielder. The Yankees like the fact he is switch-hitter and they would like to see what he can do with a full season at Triple A.

His chances of making the roster are slim unless the Yankees choose to deal away Gardner or Suzuki.

Almonte’s Scranton teammate, Melky Mesa, also made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season. Mesa, batted .385 with no homers and one RBI in five games with the Yankees last season.

But Mesa, who will be 27 at the end of January, has pretty much played himself out of prospect status after hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs with 13 steals in 84 games with Scranton. His 112 strikeouts in .314 at-bats pretty much make him a right-handed hitting version of Granderson.

His power is and speed are special but those numbers come at the cost of a lot of swinging at air. Mesa is an above-average center-fielder who can run down flies with the best of them. But his all-or-nothing approach at the plate make him less likely to have much success at the major-league level.

These are the Yankees’ cream of the crop outfielders at this stage. With Beltran signed for three years and Ellsbury signed for seven there will be lots of time for them to develop in the minors.

In the meantime, Beltran and Ellsbury have elevated the quality of the outfield and there is plenty of depth with former starters Gardner and Suzuki considered as backups for the time being.

The combination of power and speed with quality defensive play makes this the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster in 2014. It could very well be one of the best outfields they have fielded in some time.

 

Yankees’ Frugal Ways Can Be Traced To 2007 DUI

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.

 

Ichiro’s ‘Act’ In Bronx Held Over For Two Seasons

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

RIGHTFIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (28 Rs, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs, .322 BA, 14 SB)

When the Yankees made the trade to bring Ichiro Suzuki to The Bronx it was looked at initially as a temporary fix to the Yankees’ injury to top base-stealing threat Brett Gardner. After all, Suzuki’s contract with the Seattle Mariners expired after the 2012 season and the Yankees were unsure if the 39-year-old All-Star had very much left in the tank.

Suzuki seemed to fall off the proverbial cliff after he hit .315 with six home runs and 43 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 2010. In 2011, the career .322 hitter batted only .272 with five home runs and 47 RBIs and 40 stolen bases.

In addition, Suzuki was hitting .261 with four homers and 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for the Mariners at the time of the trade.

But Suzuki took to New York quicker than anyone would have expected and he seemed to be rejuvenated being part of a pennant chase for the first time since his early seasons with the Mariners.

As a result of Suzuki’s renewed bounce in his step and the fact the Yankees allowed rightfielder Nick Swisher to sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians this winter, Suzuki was granted a two-year, $12 million deal to take over for him. General manager Brian Cashman was pleased Suzuki settled for much less than perhaps he was worth to stay with the Yankees.

Suzuki had made it clear that he did want to remain in New York. So it seems both sides are very happy with the deal.

Suzuki will never be able to replace Swisher’s power and production but he is an upgrade in terms of hitting, speed and defense. That is all part of the tradeoff the Yankees had to accept in order to rebuild a team that lost 94 home runs when Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16) and Andruw Jones (14) signed elsewhere this offseason.

Suzuki will join with Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson as part of the group that is expected to be stealing a lot of bases in 2013 because of what the Yankees lost in terms of power. The Yankees will not be able to play station-to-station baseball while waiting for home runs.

Suzuki’s two-year deal signals the Yankees are committed to him and what he can provide at the top of the lineup by getting on base and running the bases.

Last season, Suzuki approved the trade with some conditions laid down by the Yankees. He agreed to hit lower in the batting order, to a platoon that would sit him against left-handers and agree to switch to leftfield. Suzuki accepted the stipulations and never complained about where he hit, where he played and when he was benched.

However, when Suzuki got red hot in September manager Joe Girardi stopped platooning him against lefties, moved him up in the batting order and shifted him to rightfield so Swisher could replace an injured Mark Teixeira at first base.

So expect Suzuki to be playing every day, hitting second and playing rightfield in 2013. Suzuki basically changed the manager’s mind the old-fashioned way: He played so well that Girardi had no choice but to play him and those conditions Suzuki was signed under have been tossed out the window – for good.

Suzuki’s calling card has always been his magical bat. Despite an unusual batting style, Suzuki seems to be able to know when it is best to pull the ball and when to go with a pitch. He confounds pitchers with his ability to spray the ball all over the field.

He may no longer have blazing speed as he did when he won his Most Valuable Player and Rookie of Year awards in 2001, but Suzuki can still leg out infield grounders for hits, take an extra base on napping outfielders and he can even steal a base or two when necessary.

Suzuki stole 29 bases last season between the Mariners and Yankees and he led the Yankees with 14 steals despite playing in only 67 games.

With the short porch in right-field, Suzuki can also surprise a pitcher or two by turning on an inside pitch and putting it into the seats. Suzuki’s career high in home runs is 15 that he hit in 2005 and he only has reached double digits in three seasons. But it is good bet they he could reach double digits in 2013.

He hit five dingers in only 227 at-bats with the Yankees last season.

Where Suzuki really shines is as a defender. From 2001 through 2010 he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mariners. Granted, he has lost a step, but Suzuki can still flash some leather in the outfield. He also possesses an excellent arm in rightfield. With Granderson and Gardner, Suzuki forms a rare outfield that boasts three centerfielders.

This is an outfield that is also loaded with speed and skilled fielders. It might be the best defensive outfield the Yankees have fielded in some time.

The only potential negative with Suzuki might be if he regresses as a hitter as he did with in the Mariners in 2011. The Yankees are on the hook for two seasons with Suzuki and they would rather he continue he hit the .322 he did with the Yankees last season.

The Yankees were dealt a serious blow to the 2013 plans when Ibanez opted to sign as a free agent with his old Mariners team. The Yankees made it clear that they wanted to keep Ibanez as their left-hand designated hitter and part-time outfielder.

At the moment the plans behind Gardner, Granderson and Suzuki look a little murky.

The Yankees did claim right-hand hitter Russ Canzler off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Canzler, 26, can play first base, leftfield and DH.

Canzler hit three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 as a September call-up with the Indians after leading the International League with 36 doubles, 22 home runs and 79 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Columbus.

Canzler provides the Yankees primarily with a right-hand bat who can back up Mark Teixeira at first base. But he did play 47 games with Columbus and 11 games with the Indians in the outfield. His range in the outfield is limited and he would be a significant dropoff from Gardner as a defensive outfielder.

Jayson Nix has been invited to spring training again primarily to compete with Nunez as a backup middle infielder but Nix also can play some outfield.

Nix made nine starts in the outfield last season and acquitted himself well. He committed only one error. Though he is much better as infielder, Nix provides Girardi with a lot of options on where to play him.

Nix, 30, hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats last season.

Cashman is looking to bolster the outfield before spring training camp opens next month and he has a few targets that could be on his radar.

His first option is former Met outfielder Scott Hairston, who is currently seeking a lucrative two-year deal on the free-agent market.

Hairston, 32, hit 20 home runs and drove in 57 runs and batted .263 with the Mets last season. His main calling card is his power and his ability to crush left-handed pitching.

Hairston hit .286 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs against lefties last season. Though he has played some second base in the past, Hairston is primarily an outfielder and he only committed one error in 108 games there last season.

The Yankees covet him because he has power, which the Yankees need, and he balances out the starting outfield, which is comprised of all left-hand hitters. The Yankees see Hairston as part-time outfielder, a platoon DH and valuable pinch-hitter off the bench.

The only sticking point is the amount of money he is seeking and the Yankees are not real keen on offering him a two-year deal. They are hoping Hairston will lower his demands.

Another potential target could be 6-foot-5 first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse of the Washington Nationals.

Morse, 30, had a breakout season in 2011 in which he hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs for the Nationals. But injuries limited him to just 102 games in 2012 in which he batted .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.

The Nationals had him scheduled to move from left-field to first base this off-season when they acquired centerfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins and shifted rookie centerfielder Bryce Harper to leftfield. However, the team decided to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche so Morse is currently relegated to the bench.

The Nationals reportedly are looking at trading Morse for a left-handed relief pitcher and some prospects. The Yankees do have a pair of lefties in Boone Logan and Clay Rapada to offer but there is not much depth behind them in the minors. The Yankees could use Morse in the same way they planned to utilize Canzler – at first base, leftfield and DH.

Morse is a right-hand hitter but his power is intriguing.

This is hard to believe but – in the absence of the Yankees making a deal or signing an outfielder – the Yankees will actually be giving long looks to two of their own minor-league outfielders this spring.

Melky Mesa, 25, hit a combined .264 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs and 22 stolen bases between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, Mesa hit only .230 at Scranton after hitting .277 at Trenton so he may require an additional season before he is ready.

Mesa’s combination of power and speed would be a big boost to the Yankees and he does fill a need for right-hand hitting outfielder. Mesa is also a natural centerfielder and he can easily play all three outfield spots if needed.

The downside is the Yankees are unsure of he can hit major-league pitching. They hope to get some more definitive answers this spring. Mesa figures to play a lot after only getting 13 at-bats and hitting .231 last spring.

The Yankees also have a very intriguing young outfield prospect in Zoilo Almonte, who is a power-hitting switch-hitter.

Almonte, 23, impressed Girardi last spring when he hit .286 in only 14 at-bats. Almonte then followed that up by hitting .277 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 106 games with Trenton.

Unlike Mesa, Almonte is primarily a corner outfielder and he has just average speed (15 steals in 19 attempts last season). Defensively, he is still a work in progress. His range and fielding are just average but he does have a pretty good arm (10 outfield assists last season).

Almonte does have a slim chance of making the jump from Double A but he will need to have a monster spring training that forces Girardi to keep him on the roster. It is all up to Almonte  to see if can handle the rigors of the major leagues. But it will be tough to ask him make the jump because it rarely happens in the major leagues and it even more rarely happens with the Yankees.

The Yankees seem to not even care about a player unless he is 34 with years of major-league experience. Almonte would be in a locker room of players he watched while he was in grade school. That would be a lot of pressure on him but his power potential makes him a very viable prospect to watch this spring.

The Yankees are actually loaded with some very special outfield prospects further down in their minor-league system.

Mason Williams, 21, is the team’s second-ranked prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. He hit .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 91 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa before a torn labrum ended his season early.

Williams is an excellent left-handed hitter who should develop more power as he gains experience. He also looks as if he will be a very good base-runner and he is above average defensively as a centerfielder. Williams is 6-feet tall and weighs just 150 pounds but he should gain weight and strength and may even draw comparisons to another centerfielder Williams by the name of Bernie.

The Yankees are also excited about No. 3 prospect Tyler Austin, 21.

Austin hit a organization-best .354 combined in 2011 and he followed that up by hitting .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in four minor-league stops last season.

After playing first and third base his first two seasons, the Yankees moved him to right field last season and he played very well there. While Sanchez and Williams get most of the attention, Austin is considered a very good prospect and 2013 could propel him into the Yankees’ plans in 2014 and beyond.

The Yankees also have a pair of young slash-and-dash hitters who have a chance to make the parent team down the road in Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores.

Heathcott, 22, was the team’s first draft pick in 2009 but has been hampered by on- and off-the-field problems. But the left-handed hitter got back on track by hitting a combined .302 with five home runs and 29 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in the Yankees team in the Gulf Coast League and with Tampa in the Florida State League.

Heathcott is an aggressive player with excellent speed. If he can be more selective at the plate and on the bases he could turn out to something very special.

Flores, 20, is a left-handed hitting machine who batted a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs and 24 stolen bases between Tampa and Trenton. He lacks Heathcott’s speed but still stole more bases. He is primarily a leftfielder but can play all three outfield spots and first base.

Fielding will never be his strong suit because his bat is so good. It will carry him the rest of the way to the majors.

The Yankees seem to be deeper in outfield prospects than any other position and that seems to be a good thing considering the team has already lost Swisher and Granderson seems to be headed out the door soon. That would leave Gardner and an aging Suzuki.

So to say the Yankees could stand to have a few of these prospects make an impact in the next few years would be putting it mildly.

There have been rumors the Yankees have talked about possibly trading Williams and Sanchez. But that would seem to be something Cashman would be leery about since he really did get fleeced badly in the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda deal last winter.

My guess is the Yankees will be very careful which young players they deal but it would seem to make sense that they could trim some of their outfield depth if they need help with their 25-man roster.

Though the Yankees are lucky to be starting three center-fielders with excellent speed in the outfield in 2013, they all hit left-handed and the Yankees will miss Ibanez.

Cashman likely will make some sort of deal to add depth to the outfield and they need someone who can hit right-handed. Canzler and Nix provide some depth but they are not long-term solutions.

Mesa and Almonte provide Girardi with a pair of young options but both are going to have to produce a lot this spring in order to make the leap to the major leagues.

Hopefully, the puzzle pieces can be put together before the start of the 2013 season.

NEXT: CATCHER

 

Yankees Field Power-laden, Productive Outfield

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  

RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER (12 HR, 46 RBIs, .258 BA)

CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (23 HR, 48 RBI, .241 BA)

LEFT-FIELD – RAUL IBANEZ (11 HR, 35 RBIs, .237), ANDRUW JONES (7 HR, 16 RBIs, .230)

The team Joe Girardi is managing now is much different from the team he left spring training with in April. The loss of left-fielder Brett Gardner took with it the element of speed of out the lineup and reinforced it with more devastating power.

As a result, these players are pretty much cut from the same cloth. They hit a lot of home runs (53 combined), drive in a lot of runs (145 combined) and they hit for a relatively low batting average (.249 combined). They also won’t blaze many trails on the basepaths. They have 10 steals in 14 attempts and Gardner usually matches that total in about a month.

Gardner, 28, injured his right elbow making a diving catch and has played in only nine games this season. He has just about completed two rehab assignments before experiencing recurring pain in his elbow.

But after seeing three different physicians, Gardner is hopeful of returning for good (please rub your rabbit’s foot now) by the end of July. The Yankees have missed not only his speed on the bases but his Gold-Glove quality defense in left-field.

Girardi has had little choice but to use Ibanez, 40, and Jones, 35, a lot more in the field than he expected. While Ibanez and Jones have not embarrassed themselves out in the field (they each have not committed an error), they do not cover much ground either.

Jones is a long way removed from his days of 10 Gold Gloves when he was in his prime with the Atlanta Braves and Ibanez never was considered a great fielder, even in his heyday.

But you have to give the pair credit for providing power and production to the lower part of the lineup and that is what both of them were signed this winter to do.

Speaking of signing, Swisher, 31, is in the final year of his contract and he clearly wants to remain with the Yankees. There is no doubt his bleacher buddies in right want him back also.

But Swisher’s contract drive is not really predicated on performance, though that is one small factor. The Yankees are looking to trim payroll before the start of the 2014 season and handing out long-term deals (except to Robinson Cano) does not look like it will be in the Yankees’ plans.

Nonetheless, Swisher does provide power and he is a switch-hitter with a good eye at the plate. This season, however, Swisher has changed his style a bit. He is walking less (He is on pace to draw a career-low 52 walks this season) and he is striking out at a high rate (He has fanned 66 times in the first half which translates to 132 for the season).

Perhaps he is walking less in order to try to produce more and get the contract he wants to stay with the Yankees.

But give Swisher credit for being one of the more consistent players the Yankees have. He has not produced less that 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in his three previous seasons with the Yankees. This season he is on apace to hit 24 home runs and drive in 92 runs.

In fact, for most of the first half of the season, Swisher led the Yankees in RBIs. That was largely because the heart of the batting order – Alex Rodriguez, Cano and Mark Teixeira were failing so miserably with runners in scoring position. Swisher is hitting a respectable .263 with RISP and .400 with the bases loaded.

As a fielder, Swisher will never won a Gold Glove but he gives maximum effort on every play. He has made two errors but he is not considered awful either. He has an above average arm in right but he only has three outfield assists this season, which is down from his career-high of 10 in 2010.

Granderson, 31, was the team MVp in 2011, hitting 41 home runs, driving in 119 runs and scoring a major-league-best 136 runs. Many people figured that Granderson could never duplicate those numbers.

But Granderson is on a pace to hit 46 home runs and drive in 92 runs and score 112. That is not a bad follow-up to his remarkable 2011 season.

There  are some oddities in Granderson’s numbers, however.

For instance he has only two triples and Granderson led the American League in triples in 2007 with 23 when he was with the Detroit Tigers. Granderson also has stolen only six bases in nine attempts. He stole 25 in 35 attempts last season.

You would have thought with Gardner out, Granderson would be more aggressive on the bases. But it has been the opposite.

Granderson has made great strides as an outfielder with the Yankees. The Tigers criticized his jumps on balls and the routes he would take to them. But with the Yankees, Granderson is playing more shallow to take advantage of his ability go back on balls. It seems to be working well also.

Granderson has not committed an error and he has two outfield assists. Granderson’s arm is not a strength. It is just average and his throws can be erratic at times.

As major-league outfields go, it is hard to find any that is close to producing the 53 the Yankees have at the halfway point. But when Gardner returns this outfield will change into a more balanced group with a combination of speed and power. As a whole it will be excellent group defensively with Gardner leading the way.

MIDSEASON GRADES

SWISHER: B-

GRANDERSON A-

IBANEZ/JONES: B-

BACKUPS – DEWAYNE WISE (3 HR, 6 RBIs, .271 BA), JAYSON NIX (2 HR, 6 RBIs, .228 BA)

Wise, 34, is forever linked to his amazing ninth inning catch that preserved Mark Buerhle’s perfect game for the Chicago White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays. But he can hit a little also.

Wise hit .359 this spring to make the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster and he hit .333 for the first 20 games he played there until he was recalled to replace Gardner on the roster.

Wise provides versatility in that he can play all three outfield spots. He also has excellent defensive skills and a very good arm.

At the plate, Wise is a career .222 hitter. But when he gets hot he can really go on tears, as he did most recently when he was given four starts in a week.

Girardi’s major failing was not starting Wise some in center to rest Granderson. Granderson’s batting average suffered from the fact he played in all but one game this season and he was in the field for nearly every inning in the ones he did play.

When Gardner returns look for him to be used some in center to spell Granderson.

Nix can only play the corner spots and is passable out in left. He has good instincts and he won’t make major mistakes. But if you are looking for spectacular diving catches and highlight-reel leaps at the wall to bring back potrential home runs, you are looking at the wrong guy in Nix.

He gets to what he can and he catches them. That is pretty much what Nix does as an outfielder. Nothing special.

MIDSEASON GRADE:

WISE: C+

NIX: C

The Yankees have a pair of promising 20-year-old outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin.

Williams hit .304 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs at Class-A Charleston before being promoted to High Class-A Tampa. Williams can also run and plays good defense so if you want a comparison think of a smaller-framed version of Bernie Williams.

Austin hit .320 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs and 17 steals in 70 games for Class-A Charleston. He was slated to play in the Futures Game but he was hit in the head with a pitch in his first game at High Class-A Tampa and is was placed on the disabled list. Austin is primarily an outfielder by he is being tried at the corner infield spots.

The Yankees have no real prospects at Triple-A Scranton. There are just former major leaguers like Jack Cust, 33, who is hitting .260 with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs in 83 games.

There also is Chris Dickerson, Cole Garner and Colin Curtis. Each of the three are 27 or or older and they have long passed the prospect status. Their chances for making the Yankees 25-man roster are virtually nil.

Second-tier outfield prospects Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa are Double-A Trenton. Mesa, 25, is hitting .276 with 11 homers and 40 RBIs in 58 games while Almonte, 23, is hitting .286 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs in 58 games.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B-

In Granderson, the Yankees have an All-Star center-fielder with power, some speed and someone who is solid defensively. Granderson is showing his 2011 season was not a fluke and, despite what he says about not being a power hitter, he is on pace to hit 46 home runs.

Swisher is the Swiss Army knife of the outfielders. You can put him in any spot in the batting order and he will produce home runs and RBIs. Though he is drawing fewer walks, he still is valuable in the No. 6 spot in the order because he is one of the few Yankees who is producing with runners on base this season. Though it looks like he will not signed to a new contract, Swisher is motivated to produce good numbers so he can maximize his value on the free-agent market.

Very soon (we promise) Gardner will return to his left-field spot and the Yankees will have a base-runner who can actually steal bases at the bottom of the order. Gardner was hitting .321 at the time of his injury. But the Yankees will take anything they can get from him in the second half because they really missed a guy who stole 49 bases in 2011.

In the meantime, Ibanez and Jones are available to play the outfield. The veterans are not even close to as good as Gardner on defense but they provide a lot of power and production to the Yankees at the lower portion of the batting order. When Gardner returns, Ibanez and Jones will resume their designated hitter roles. Of course, with Derek Jeter and Rodriguez requiring half-days off at DH, both Ibanez and Jones will have to settle for a more limited role at DH.

As a group this outfield is pretty good. They won’t hit for average but they can hit for power and drive in runs. This is very much a strength for the Yankees. They have a lot of depth and they have an experienced group of very professional hitters.

 

 

One Last ‘Hip-Hip, Jorge’ For A Very Classy Yankee

Every spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field those of us in Section 205 would see No. 20 in Yankee pinstripes striding toward the plate. At that point we would train our eyes toward a longtime Yankee fan with full-flowing mustache rise from his seat and yell at the top of his lungs “Hip, Hip” and the surrounding crowd of regulars in the section would reply with a raucous “Jor-ge,” which he and the rest us would repeat two more times before every home at-bat.

It was not just a token cheer stolen from our brethren in the Bronx. No, it was a absolute homage to one of the very best catchers in Yankee history. It was done with love and great admiration.

But it has been a foregone conclusion this winter that the ritual of Section 205 would no longer be carried out in 2012. There was a chance the cheer might have rang out if Jorge Posada chose, at age 40, to continue his career in another uniform. But, alas, that will not happen either.

According to an anonymous source reported by WFAN in New York, Posada has elected not play another game and retire as a Yankee after 17 years and 1,574 games behind the plate. Only Bill Dickey (1,708) and Yogi Berra (1,695) played in more games catching for the Yankees.

In hearing the news, my first reaction is sadness, of course. Posada won five World Series titles and was part of the famous “Core Four” along with Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, which is now down to the “Flair Pair” of Jeter and Rivera.

From 1996 through 2001, the New York Yankees won four world championships and Posada was in the middle of just about every one of them, though he was somewhat overshadowed by Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Jeter, Rivera, manager Joe Torre.

But history speaks for itself and Posada hit .273. He is seventh on the Yankees’ all-time list with 379 doubles and 936 walks, eighth with 279 home runs and 11th with 1,065 RBIs. There is no doubt that Posada, a converted second baseman in the minors, was a major cog in Yankee teams that made the playoffs in every season he played for them except 2008.

Posada was greatly disappointed with his final season.

He came to spring training for the first time as non-factor as a catcher. Russell Martin was signed as the new starter and rookies Jesus Montero and Austin Romine were being groomed as replacements. Posada’s catching gear collected dust as he tried to adapt as the team’s switch-hitting designated hitter.

Unfortunately Posada got off to a slow start, particularly against left-handers and lost that part of his duties early in the season. Then on May 14, Posada spotted his name in the No. 9 spot in the batting order in a game against the Boston Red Sox and pride would not allow him to participate in that game.

By September, Posada was also being phased out of the lineup altogether. However, when he was given chances to play in the final few weeks, Posada began to consistently reach base on hits and walks. On Sept. 21, Posada stroked a two-run game-winning single against the Tampa Bay Rays that clinched the American League East title for the Yankees.

Playing a hunch, manager Joe Girardi used Posada in the A.L. Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and Posada responded by hitting .429 (6 for-14) in the series.

But Posda knew that with his four-year $52 million contract coming to an end in 2011 that he would never play for the Yankees again. If he wanted to continue to play it would have to be in a foreign uniform. Posada even began working out on Nov. 1 in anticipation of some offers to play with other teams.

They came. Posada considered them.

But, in the end, Posada realized perhaps it was time to end his career, a grand career at that, as a New York Yankee.

There are those who claim Posada is not worthy of the Hall of Fame. But when you look at the numbers he compiled, you can make a pretty good case for the gritty veteran from Santurce, Puerto Rico.

Posada’s 246 home runs as a catcher are only second to Berra’s 306 on the club’s all-time list. Of the 13 catchers that are currently in Cooperstown, only Berra has better career numbers in all three categories of batting average, home runs and RBIs.

Those numbers are for those who will vote in five years to chew on. But Posada can make a compelling case for joining that group.

He already joins a great lineage of former Yankee greats at catcher, which includes Berra, Dickey and Thurman Munson. His star may not burn as bright as those three but his star certainly burns bright enough to have his number retired somewhere down the road.

Posada apparently will make his decision final in about two weeks. But it won’t take Yankee fans that long to agree that he was certainly one of the classiest leaders of one of the Yankees’ most successful string of teams in their history.

Yogi will always be No. 1 in Yankee hearts but will we never forget what Jorge did in his 17 seasons with the Yankees.

OK. Section 205. One last time and let’s hear it loud and proud: “Hip, Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge!”