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.
YANKEES 6, METS 5
With the Yankees you can go from goat to hero in a New York minute.
Robinson Cano committed a crucial one-out error in the sixth that opened the floodgates to a three-run inning that allowed the Mets to tie the Yankees at 5-5. In the eighth, Cano atoned for the error with a solo home run that propelled the Yankees to their fifth victory in six Subway Series contests over their crosstown rivals.
They did it in front of a crowd of 42,364, the largest attendance in the history of Citi Field. That broke the record the two teams set the previous night of 42,222.
Cano’s blast, his 16th of the season, came on a 2-0 tailing fastball from reliever Miguel Batista (1-2) and Cano nearly deposited into the Mets’ giant apple within the batter’s eye in center for a 430-foot shot that seemed to symbolize that the Yankees are the undisputed kings of the Big Apple in 2012.
Boone Logan (2-0) pitched a perfect 1 1/3 innings, striking out two batters, to earn the victory in relief. Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth inning to pick up his 15th save in 16 chances this season.
The Yankees had staked themselves to a 5-1 lead with ace left-hander CC Sabathia on the mound and the team looked confident about a victory heading into the bottom of the sixth.
But Cano’s error that allowed Justin Turner to reach opened up an inning in which nine Met batters came to the plate and Sabathia was unable to finish the frame.
Ronny Cedeno followed the error with a single and after a fielder’s choice an obviously tiring Sabathia walked pinch-hitter Vinny Rottino on four pitches. Andres Torres ended Sabathia’s night with a two-run single that just slipped under Mark Teixeira’s glove and into right field.
Cory Wade entered the game and immediately was tagged for an RBI single to left by Ruben Tejada, who was just activated off the 15-day disabled list just prior to the game, and the game was tied that quickly. Wade walked David Wright to reload the bases, but he struck pinch-hitter Kirk Niewenhuis to keep the game even.
Sabathia gave up five runs (one earned) on nine hits and two walks and he struck out three in 5 2/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season.
The Yankee offense, meanwhile, was able to get to knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for four runs in the third inning. Dickey had entered the game with two straight complete-game one-hit victories and he had a scoreless inning streak that stretched to 44 2/3 innings.
With one out, Curtis Granderson drew a walk, Alex Rodriguez scratched out an infield hit and Cano also walked to load the bases.
Teixeira ended Dickey’s scoreless string by lifting a towering sacrifice fly to right to score Granderson. Nick Swisher then smacked a hanging 2-1 knuckleball into the seats in right-center for the first home run Dickey has allowed this season.
The Yankees added another run in fifth, taking advantage of an uncharacteristically wild Dickey.
Granderson was hit by a pitch and he advanced to second on a wild pitch, Dickey’s first of the season. One out later, Cano singled to left and Granderson scored from third on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Teixeira.
Dickey gave up a season-high five runs on five hits and three walks and he struck out three over six innings. He entered the game as the winningest pitcher in baseball at 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA.
The Mets scored single runs in the third and fifth off Sabathia.
In the third, they took advantage of leadoff walk to Torres and an error by Chris Stewart attempting to nab a stealing Torres at second. Torres then was able to score from third on a sacrifice fly by Tejada.
In the fifth, Dickey stroked a one-out single and, with one out, Tejada also singled. Wright followed with a ground-ball single to left and Dickey was able to score just ahead of the throw from Raul Ibanez.
With the victory, the Yankees completed interleague play with a record of 13-5. They entered the 2012 season with the best overall interleague play record since its inception in 1997.
The Yankees improved their season record to 43-28 and they remain 2 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Mets fell to 39-34.
- Cano has been on a home-run binge of late. In his last seven games dating back to the series finale against the Washington Nationals on June 17, Cano has hit five home runs. All but one of them have been solo shots. With his two hits on Sunday night, Cano is hitting .299 with 16 home runs and 36 RBIs.
- Swisher’s three-run blast in the fourth gave him 11 home runs and a team-leading 45 RBIs on the season. Swisher has been on a tear with the bat this month, hitting .333 with three home runs and 13 RBIs after hitting just .207 in May.
- Logan and the rest of the bullpen continues to shine in the absence of future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera. Logan pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and fanned Josh Thole to start the eighth. Logan has struck 37 batters in 27 2/3 innings and he has lowered his season ERA to 2.60.
- Stewart committed two errors but one actually could have been charged to Cano for failing to scoop a low throw in the third inning. Cano’s error in the sixth also hurt. So the usually slick-fielding Yankees committed three errors and two of them led to four unearned runs.
- Sabathia looked out of sync most the night and the Mets were able to extend innings to get his pitch count up to 112 when he left after 5 2/3 innings. He gave up a nine hits and he walked two. You add those runners and the errors and you can understand why Sabathia ran out of steam early. Cano and the bullpen picked up the slack, however.
- Derek Jeter took an 0-for-5 collar and he clearly was not picking up Dickey’s knuckleball well. He struck out and grounded out weakly twice in his three at-bats against Dickey. The hitless evening lowered his batting average to .305.
Starting catcher Russell Martin did not start on Sunday, a day after developing stiffness in his lower back. However, manager Joe Girardi said he would have been available to play, if necessary. Stewart drew his 13th consecutive start with Sabathia on the mound and was 0-for-4 and committed two throwing errors. Martin is expected to be able to start behind the plate on Monday.
Though the Yankees technically were on the “road” this weekend they won’t have to travel far to open a three-game home series with the Cleveland Indians on Monday.
Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (6-7, 3.57 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda allowed four runs over seven innings in his first loss in over a month to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. Kuroda has not faced the Indians in his major-league career.
The Indians will counter with right-hander Josh Tomlin (3-4, 5.12 ERA). Tomlin gave up just one in 6 2/3 innings in his last start but did not get a decision in the game. He has not won a game since June 8. He is 2-1 with a 4.26 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN2 and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, METS 2
A month ago, Yankee fans did not know what was worse, Mark Teixeira’s cough or his constant choking at the plate with runners on base.
On Saturday, Teixeira did not cough up his opportunity or choke in the clutch. He launched a huge two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Yankees losing 2-1 to Dillon Gee and the Mets and the Yankees got another strong outing from Phil Hughes to clinch the home portion of the Subway Series.
Another sellout crowd of 48,575 at Yankee Stadium watched in awe as Teixeira swung at a hanging 2-2 curveball from Gee and pulled it into the right-field bleachers for his 11th home run of the season.
Up to that point Gee (4-4) had held the Yankees hitless since the first inning when they scored a run on an Alex Rodriguez one-out RBI single, loaded the bases and – even if you were not a psychic you could have predicted this – Raul Ibanez hit into a inning-ending double play.
From that point on the Yankees could not hit Gee’s change-up if he told them it was coming. Over the next four innings, Gee only gave up a leadoff walk to Derek Jeter in the third inning and a leadoff walk to Teixiera in the fourth. (Of course, Teixiera was immediately erased on another double play off the bat of Ibanez.)
But a third leadoff walk to Curtis Granderson in the sixth proved fatal to Gee. Two outs later, Teixeira put the Yankees ahead for good.
Granderson handed the Yankees an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning by delivering his 18th home run of the season off Mets reliever Bobby Parnell.
Hughes (6-5), meanwhile, was victimized by the long-ball as he has been most of the season.
He gave up a solo home run to a 30-year-old shortstop who came into the game with just two career home runs when he played briefly for the Colorado Rockies in 2008. Omar Quintanilla, who broke up Hiroki Kuroda’s no-hitter with two outs in the sixth inning on Friday, blasted a Hughes fastball into the right-field seats in the third inning to tie the contest at 1-1.
Hughes then gave up a second solo home run to David Wright in the sixth inning, which put the Mets into the lead for the first time in the weekend series. With the two home runs he surrendered on Saturday Hughes has been nicked for 15 home runs in 68 innings this season.
Hughes left with one out in the in the seventh inning having been touched for six hits and two walks and he struck out six.
A bullpen combination of Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Clay Rapada pitch scoreless ball through eight innings and Rafael Soriano pitched around a walk and single in the ninth to get pinch-hitter Jodany Valdespin to fly out to earn his ninth save of the season in as many opportunities.
With the victory the Yankees imroved their season record to 32-25 and they remain a half-game out of first place behind the Rays in the American League East. The Mets fell to 32-28.
- For all the talk about how horrible the Yankees’ starting rotation was in April, Hughes has shut those critics up with his recent spate of good outings. In his last seven starts, Hughes is 5-1 with a 3.47 ERA. After missing most of the 2011 season with weakness in his right shoulder, Hughes is beginning to show the form he showed in 2010, when he was 18-8 and made the All-Star team.
- Teixeira would also like to forget about April be he hit just .244 with three home runs and 12 RBIs that month. Since then, Teixeira has hit eight home runs and driven in 23 runs. This is despite the fact Teixeira has hit just .171 over his last 10 games.
- Granderson’s home run in the eighth put him in third place in the major leagues with 18, trailing Adam Dunn with 19 and Josh Hamilton with 22. Granderson has also been mired in a horrific batting slump this month. He is hitting only .161 in June and has struck out 10 times in 31 at-bats this month.
- Although he is having a fine season for the Yankees, Ibanez was a big disappointment with the bat on Saturday. He was 1-for-3 but he hit into a double play in his other two at-bats and the first one came with the bases loaded. Ibanez has been one of the few Yankees to hit pretty well with runners in scoring position but he is 0-for-10 this season with the bases loaded. Ouch!
- The bottom of the order was totally useless on Saturday. Nick Swisher (batting seventh), Eric Chavez (eighth) and Russell Martin (ninth) were a combined 0-for-9 in the game and they struck out three times. Chavez, who flew out twice, was the only one of the three to get a ball out the infield.
- Swisher’s 0-for-3 night snapped a modest six-game hitting streak in which he was 8-for-21 (.381) with a home run and five RBIs. Swisher has only 17 walks this season after drawing 95 last season. He also has struck out 46 times this season, which is a high total for him.
It seems Brett Gardner is good about teasing us with his imminent return from the disabled list only to disappoint us again. After playing in a rehab game at Class A Charleston, Gardner reported feeling pain in his right elbow on Saturday morning and he is now sidelined indefinitely. Gardner will be sent to Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, FL, for an evaluation early next week. He also will visit with Dr. Timothy Kremchek in Cincinnati. Gardner had three at-bats and played five innings on Friday. He was expected to play again on Saturday and rejoin the team on Monday in Atlanta. Manager Joe Girardi said Gardner likely will not rejoin the team until some time after the All-Star break. . . . Kuroda said that he will be able to make his next scheduled start on Wednesday in Atlanta. Kuroda was struck in the left foot by a line drive off the bat of Daniel Murphy on Friday and Kuroda left the game for precautionary X-rays, which showed just a deep bone bruise. . . . Rodriguez’s RBI single in the first inning marked the 1,917th RBI of his career, which ties him with Eddie Murray for seventh on the all-time list. Meanwhile, Rodriguez’s hit scored Jeter with his 1,800th run, moving him past Ted Williams for 17th place on the all-time list.
The Yankees will go for a sweep of the weekend series for bragging rights in the Big Apple against the Mets.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-2, 2.78 ERA) will toe the rubber for the Yankees. He is coming off a stellar 7 1/3 inning performance against the Rays in which he gave up just two hits and struck out 10. He has won three of his four starts at Yankee Stadium this season and he is 8-5 with a 3.69 ERA in his career against the Mets.
Opposing Pettitte will be fellow left-hander Jonathon Niese (4-2, 4.11 ERA). Niese struck out 10 in a victory against the Cardinals on Sunday. He did not allow a run in his six innings of work. He is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.