On Feb. 15, 2007, the course of history for the New York Yankees took a huge turn and the current state of the team begs the question: What if it did not happen?
Though the Yankees were still be operated ostensibly by managing general partner George Steinbrenner, the actual day-to-day operations were being run by Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, Steve Swindal, who was named the successor to Steinbrenner in June 2005.
Swindal was chosen over Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hal and Hank, because Steinbrenner felt more comfortable with Swindal’s leadership and his vast baseball knowledge.
However, while the Yankees were in the midst of spring training in 2007, Swindal’s vehicle unfortunately cut off in traffic a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cruiser driven by a female deputy. A chase ensued in which Swindal’s vehicle was clocked at 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone before he was stopped by St. Petersburg police.
Swindal declined to take a Breathalyzer test but failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while under the influence.
Swindal’s wife, Jennifer, later that year filed for divorce from her husband and Swindal’s stake as a general partner and chairman of the Yankees’ parent company was bought back by the Steinbrenner family in November of that year. Hal was shifted into Swindal’s role with the club and the history of this franchise was forever changed.
The Yankees were known in the Wild West days of early free agency as the major-league team with the largest saddlebags. Under George Steinbrenner’s regime from when he purchased the team in 1973 through November 2007 the Yankees tossed around millions like pennies in a fountain to lure the free agents they coveted.
In some cases, the elder Steinbrenner would be so ruthless in negotiations with free agents he would even increase a bid that already was more than any rival team was offering – actually bidding against himself.
Of course, that led to such signings as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield. Between free agent signings and some shrewd trades the Yankees won a pair of World Series in 1978 and 1979 and Steinbrenner and the Yankees were being cursed all around baseball for “buying their way” to prosperity.
Though Steinbrenner’s money did re-establish the Yankees in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Yankees actually failed to make the playoffs from 1982 through 1994. A combination of some poor signings and trades doomed the Yankees until their minor-league system began turning out a solid of corps of young stars such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Those players along with the acquisition of Paul O’Neill and the signings of pitchers such as Jimmy Key, David Wells and David Cone pushed the Yankees into an amazing run in which they won four world championships from 1996 through 2000.
Since then the team has only failed to make the playoffs in one season – 2008. They won their 27th world title in 2009 after dipping heavy into the free-agent market in signing pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
But in 2003, Major League Baseball instituted its first luxury tax, which was supposed to operate alongside revenue sharing to allow small-market teams to draw money from teams who were over a threshold payroll limit, which was set at $178 million in 2011. All teams shared the remaining revenue.
Only four teams have ever exceeded the established luxury tax limit: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. However, only the Yankees and Red Sox have ever exceeded it twice and the Yankees have paid in 95 percent of all the luxury tax since its inception.
When Hal Steinbrenner took control of the team he decided that the Yankees’ philosophy of paying top dollar and ignoring the luxury tax would have to come to an end.
In 2014, the payroll threshold will be increased to $189 million. By a complicated formula set up by the teams, there would be refunded revenue sharing streams for teams who remain under the luxury tax threshold. That gives the Yankees an added incentive to cut payroll below $189 million in 2014.
Not only will the team save money by trimming payroll; they would receive a considerable sum of refunded revenues as well. This explains why the Steinbrenner family informed general manager Brian Cashman that he will have to pass on high-priced free agents and he will have to pass on trading for players with huge long-term contracts.
So Yankee fans have watched a stream of free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jose Reyes, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes sign with other teams instead of with the Yankees. The Yankees are already on the hook for long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira.
Those three contracts alone are worth $73,875,000 plus player benefits worth an additional $10.8 million, which will also count against the $189 million.
That leaves a remainder of a little less than $105,000,000 to pay the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster in 2014.
That is why the Yankees have let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin go this offseason and it is likely that Curtis Granderson will follow them out the door sometime within the next year.
The team will also have another group of expiring contracts such as one of Robinson Cano. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are working this season under one-year contracts.
The question is will the Yankees make an effort to offer Cano a lucrative multiyear contract to remain a Yankee? Can they afford to do it? What will they do with Jeter, who is a significantly aging commodity at shortstop?
Some Yankee fans were quick to point out that if Rodriguez is found to have taken performance enhancing drugs past the 2003 date he previously claimed that the Yankees could easily just void his contract and dump him. But that may be a pipe dream.
First, Major League Baseball must have proof that he did it and then mete out a 50-game suspension. But Rodriguez can appeal the procedure and delay its effect. He also could have the suspension tossed out.
The Yankees would find it very difficult to find relevant clauses in his contract to escape from the $114,000,000 they owe Rodriguez through the 2017 season. The Players’ Association and his agent would certainly fight it and that could lead to a prolonged court battle with no guarantee the Yankees could win.
In addition, should the Yankees lose they would still have to pay Rodriguez and play him. He may not be in any mood to produce much for them either. He gets paid no matter how bad he is. So any thought of voiding his contract is going to have to be very carefully weighed.
The long-term effect of what has been an austerity program the Yankees have been under since the 2009 season ended is that the balance of power in baseball is widening out to teams who have lots of money to spend under the current salary threshold like the Tigers, the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers.
These are the teams that have been active in the free-agent market and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays have benefitted from what was a talent fire-sale by the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins.
The Red Sox traded most of their high-priced players like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez away last season to the Dodgers to restock their 2013 roster while keeping well below the looming $189 million limit.
That is why the Yankees’ prospects for the 2013 season are not as bright as they might have been under the old George Steinbrenner regime or the short-lived rule of Swindal.
Would old George or Swindal have allowed the Yankees to wither on the vine for the past three seasons and basically pinch pennies and risk the team missing the playoffs in 2013?
Hal Steinbrenner has already stated quite clearly that he expects the 2013 club to remain a top-quality team within the confines placed upon Cashman and the team’s scouts. The result is the current Yankee roster is full of 40-year-olds like Rivera and Pettitte and players in their late 30s such as Rodriguez, Jeter, Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed DH Travis Hafner.
Cashman spent a lot of time and effort stocking the minor-league system with talented young players over the past five years and Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner have provided some support to an aging corps of veterans.
However, the two best minor-league prospects the Yankees have produced in that time, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, were both packaged in trades. Jackson was sent out in three-player swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tigers that yielded Granderson for the Yankees. Montero was sent along with two other players to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-handed pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
While Jackson is thriving with the defending American League champions, Granderson has provided the Yankees with two consecutive seasons of 40-plus home runs and a lot of strikeouts. And though Montero has proven to be lackluster on defense as a catcher, his power in Yankee Stadium will be missed in a season in which the Yankees are choosing between singles-hitting catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.
In addition, both Pineda, 25, and Campos, 20, suffered injuries and had their 2012 seasons cut short. Pineda is recovering from right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he could miss a portion of the 2013 season and may not be 100 percent until the 2014 season. Campos was shut down with a right elbow injury that did not require surgery.
The Yankees have a number of very good prospects within their minor-league system, including a catcher who hits as well as Montero and has better defensive skills in Gary Sanchez, 20. They also have a pair of good-looking outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming star reliever in Mark Montgomery.
But the question is will the Yankees allow these players to develop long enough to make the roster or will they package and ship them out as they have done with Jackson and Montero?
The problem with young players – most especially pitchers – as they develop in the minors is that they need to be promoted to learn at the major-league level. Too often the Yankees pull a player back and ship them back to the minors when they initially fail.
The Yankees did that with Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy in 2008. They both got off to shaky starts (a combined 0-7 record) and the Yankees believed they could not afford to keep them on the roster.
Anyone want to guess what the records of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were in their first full season with the Atlanta Braves?
Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 starts the same season.
If Glavine and Smoltz were with the Yankees in 1988 they would have been sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for another season and their major-league development would have been stilted. In 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 and Smoltz was 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA.
The point is that players have to learn at the major-league level and when you are constantly shipping them back out they will never learn how to succeed in the major leagues. A good case in point is when the Yankees elected to ship right-hander Ivan Nova back to Scranton in the middle of the 2011 season despite the fact he ended up the season with a 16-4 record.
The Yankees are pretty rough on their prospects. If they are not ready to contribute on Day One they get sent back down. Sometimes players in the late 20s like Colin Curtis find themselves drifting in the Yankees’ system but never even given the chance to play in the majors much.
Then there are the Monteros and Jacksons who succeed just enough in the minors to be traded. Then there are the Kennedys, who are traded and ended up going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2011. So the Yankees show patience with players like Curtis, who never made it in the majors, and a lack of patience with players like Kennedy, who succeeds with another team.
If the Yankees are to adhere to this stringent luxury tax threshold in 2014 they are going to have to stop making the mistake of trading their great prospects away or, at the least, if they are going to trade them they better get something of real value back for it. They also could benefit by being a bit more patient with their young players when they call them up.
The Montero-Pineda deal is but one example of those mistakes. Cashman can’t afford to do that much going forward.
The Yankees are going to need good young athletes and skilled pitchers coming out of their system on a regular basis to retool this franchise through the end of the decade. It will certainly lower payroll, make the team better-suited for healthy runs at championships and may prove – ultimately – that Hal Steinbrenner had the right approach.
Otherwise, there will be hell to pay and old George will be have cigar smoke coming out of his ears as he rolls around in his grave. If a ghost could ever fire a son, old George will figure out a way to get that done.
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER (24 HRs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA)
CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (43 HRs, 106 RBIs, .232 BA)
LEFT-FIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (9 HRs, 55 RBIs, .283 BA, 77 Runs, 29 SB)
Sometimes the outfield you leave spring training with is not the one you end up with. That us true for the Yankees this season.
Left-fielder Brett Gardner,29, played in only nine games before a diving catch in left resulted in a right elbow injury that eventually required surgery and wiped out pretty much his entire season. With his loss the Yankees also lost his 40-plus stolen bases and his Gold Glove-quality defense.
So the Yankees improvised and used 40-year-old Raul Ibanez and 35-year-old Andruw Jones to fill the hole Gardner left. Since Ibanez and Jones were expected to be the team’s platoon designated hitters, it allowed manager Joe Girardi to use veterans like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on more occasions at DH.
It worked pretty well.
Though the Yankees lacked speed on the bases and lost some defense in left, Ibanez and Jones combined to hit 18 home runs and drive in 51 runs in the team’s first 81 games. But because of their advanced age and because the Yankees kept hoping Gardner would return, the Ibanez-Jones platoon in left was expected to be only temporary.
When Gardner was unable to return after a second rehab stint, the Yankees decided they had to make a move and they obtained All-Star and multiple Gold Glove-winning outfielder Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners in a trade completed on July 23.
Suzuki, 38, immediately brought all the elements to the Yankees that Gardner was expected to provide. Suzuki agreed to come to the Yankees to play left-field, hit eighth in the lineup and to sit against some left-handed pitching.
Suzuki had been a shell of his former self in Seattle. He hit a career low .272 in 2011 and he was hitting just .261 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with the Mariners when he was obtained. General manager Brian Cashman hoped a change in scenery and an opportunity to play for a contender would re-energize Suzuki.
It did, too.
Suzuki immediately meshed in the clubhouse and, as he got more comfortable in pinstripes, his bat heated up and he took off.
Suzuki hit .297 in August and an amazing .385 in September. He also was so instrumental in the Yankees’ late-season push to the American League East title that Girardi moved him to the No. 2 spot in the order and kept him in the lineup against left-handers.
With Derek Jeter batting leadoff, the Yankees have the two best singles hitters of their generation in one lineup. Between the two of them, they have 5,910 major-league hits and a career batting average of .317.
They may have seen their better days on the bases but both are capable to stealing a bag when it is necessary.
Since becoming a Yankee, Suzuki has hit five home runs, drove in 27 runs and batted .317 with 14 stolen bases. With a chance to win his first championship since coming from Japan in 2001, Suzuki is playing as if he wants it real bad.
This deal by Cashman was a real gem and it could pay off big this postseason.
Meanwhile, in right, just call Nick Swisher “Mr. Consistency.”
In his four seasons with the Yankees, Swisher, 31, has hit between 23 and 29 homers and driven in between 82 and 93 runs each season. In the first half of this season, Swisher hit 12 home runs and drove in 46 runs. In the final 81 games, Swisher hit 12 home runs and drove in 47 runs.
How about that for numbers you can count upon?
That has been a Swisher hallmark throughout his career and the Yankees needed him to deliver this season in the absence of Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira for big stretches of the second half. Swisher even hit .273, which is his second highest average in the majors since he hit .288 for the Yankees in 2010.
Swisher also was forced to move from right-field to play first base when Teixeira was injured and he played above-average defense there.
This was an important time for Swisher because he is in the final year of his contract and he can become a free agent at the end of the season.
With the Yankees committed to reducing payroll by the start of the 2014 season and with Robinson Cano looking for lucrative multi-year deal to stay in pinstripes, there is a good possibility Swisher may be playing his last season for the Yankees.
That would be a shame because Swisher’s ability to provide power, production, work pitch counts, play solid defense and his enthusiasm for the game are valuable assets to the team. He would be very hard to replace.
The same goes for Curtis Granderson in center-field.
Granderson followed up a career year in 2011 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and a league-leading 136 runs scored with another powerful season in 2012. He hit 43 home runs, drove in 106 runs and scored 102 runs.
Of course, with Granderson you have to take the bad with the good. Granderson hit a respectable .262 in 2011, which is exactly what his career average is. But this season, Granderson hit a career-low .232 and he struck out a career-high 195 times.
Pitchers gave him a steady diet of breaking balls in the dirt and fastballs away and Granderson seemed reluctant to go to the opposite field, particularly with the short porch in right-field of Yankee Stadium a tempting target.
So when Granderson slumps, he can go into long periods where he can’t buy a hit. After a first half in which hit 23 home runs, drove in 48 runs and hit .241, his average dropped nine points while he hit 20 home runs and drove in a much better 58 runs.
Again, with Granderson you take the bad with the good and give Granderson credit because he did lead the team in home runs and RBIs. His contract expires after the 2013 season so the Yankees have to do some head-scratching to figure out how to please Cano, Swisher and Granderson without breaking the bank.
Though the plan when Suzuki was acquired to play Ibanez and Jones less in the outfield, injuries forced Girardi to use both a lot more in the second half than he would have liked.
When Swisher moved to first base to replace Teixeira, Ibanez and Jones were platooned in left-field while Suzuki played right.
Ibanez finished with some pretty good numbers.
He hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and hit .240. He fell off a bit from his first-half numbers (11 homers, 35 RBIs and .237) but that was mostly because he played a bit less and also because he went into a terrible slump at the end of August that extended until he finally caught fire again in the final 11 games he played.
Jones, on the other hand, was a much different story in the second half.
After hitting seven home runs, driving in 16 runs and hitting .230 in the first half, Jones went AWOL pretty much for the entire second half.
He hit another seven home runs, drove in 18 runs but his average dipped an alarming 33 points and he finished at .197. Late in the season Girardi opted to use Eduardo Nunez at DH rather than start Jones against a left-hander.
As a result, Jones was given the word that he will not be on the postseason roster and his days in pinstripes are likely over.
GARDNER – I
GRANDERSON – A-
SWISHER – B-
IBANEZ – B
JONES – C
GRANDERSON – B+
SWISHER – B+
SUZUKI – B+
IBANEZ – C
JONES – D
GRANDERSON – B+
SWISHER – B+
SUZUKI – B+
IBANEZ – C+
JONES – D+
The Yankees also played Nunez, Jayson Nix, Dewayne Wise, Chris Dickerson and Melky Mesa in the outfield this season.
Nix and Nunez are primarily infielders, but Nix has played some outfield in the past and acquits himself well in left. The Nunez experiment in the outfield was declared over after some awful misplays early in the season proved he was not suited to play the outfield.
Wise, 34,was released at midseason when Suzuki arrived and he was later picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He got more playing time there and ended up hitting .259 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for the Yankees and Chisox combined.
Dickerson, 30, has spent the past two seasons with the Yankees, mostly at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dickerson was recalled on Sept. 1 and hit .286 with two home runs and five RBis in 14 at-bats.
Mesa, 25, was also recalled on Sept. 1 when the rosters expanded and hit .500 in two at-bats in three games.
Dickerson hit .316 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs and he stole 17 bases in 69 games. Mesa hit .230 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs in just 33 games after being promoted from Double-A Trenton.
Colin Curtis, 27, struggled in his comeback season at Scranton after suffering a separated shoulder in spring training in 2011. He hit only .220 with one home run and 23 RBIs in 71 games.
Cole Garner, 27, hit .258 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 64 games.
Neither Curtis or Garner figure much in the Yankees’ future plans.
However, the Yankees do have a boatload of good young outfield prospects below Triple A.
Mason Wiiliams, 21, is a five-tool center-fielder who hit a combined .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in 91 games with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa of the Florida State League. Williams is the Yankees No. 2 prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. A torn labrum in his right shoulder ended his season in August but the Yankees are high on his future.
Tyler Austin, 21, followed up a season in which he hit .345 in 2011 by hitting a combined .322 in 110 games as he advanced from Class-A Charleston to Double-A Trenton. He also hit a combined 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs this season. Austin was used at first and third base in previous seasons but played exclusively in right-field this season. Austin is ranked third right behind Williams.
Former 2009 No. 1 pick Slade Heathcott, 22, caught fire this season at High-A Tampa and hit .302 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 60 games. Heathcott is a lefty hitter who slashes at the plate and has very good speed. Heathcott is ranked fifth as a prospect for the Yankees.
In spring training this past March, Zoilo Almonte, 23, caught Girardi’s eye with his bat. Almonte hit .277 with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs in 106 games at Trenton. Originally thought of as a potential fourth outfielder in the majors, if Almonte’s power continues to improve he could change that opinion. Almonte is ranked seventh.
When you think Ramon Flores, 20, think of a very raw Ichiro Suzuki. Flores hit a robust .302 with six homers, 39 RBis and 24 stolen bases in 131 games with High-A Tampa. Flores is the 10th-rated Yankee prospect but he is rising like a bullet.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+
With a postseason outfield of Granderson, Suzuki and Swisher you have an excellent mix of power (76 homers), production (254 RBIs), some speed (41 stolen bases) and some range and ability on defense, particularly with Suzuki in left.
You add outfield backups in Ibanez, Gardner and Nix and you have a pretty solid veteran bench, too.
Swisher and Granderson provide premium power and Suzuki is a perfect table setter with Jeter in the first two spots of the batting order.
Give Cashman credit for striking the perfect deal to replace Gardner in left with Suzuki and the Yankees enter the postseason with the most productive outfield of all the teams who made it to the playoffs. Offensively and defensively it is hard to match this trio.
It has been a strength of the Yankees for most of the season, particularly since Suzuki was added to the mix on July 24 to replace the defensively inferior tandem of Ibanez and Jones.
This may be an older group but in the playoffs experience counts for a lot.
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.
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.
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.
YANKEES 1, TIGERS 1 (10 INNINGS)
TAMPA – Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first inning with his first home run of the spring. Little did the Yankees know but that would be the only run they would score all day against the Tigers.
New York stranded 10 runners over 10 innings and had to settle for a tie with a Detroit split squad on Sunday in a Grapefruit League contest played at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda recorded one of his best outings of the spring, giving up one run on five hits and two walks in five innings of work. But the Yankees did not give him much in the way of support.
The Yankees collected only five hits but they got some help from six walks and two hit batters to put plenty of runners on base to take the lead in the game. But much like the Game 5 loss of the American League Division Series against the Tigers, the Yankees could not collect a big hit with runners in scoring position. They were 0-for-10 with RISP in the game.
Meanwhile, relievers Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Roberston, Clay Rapada and Manny Delcarmen each turned in a scoreless inning of relief against the Tigers to keep the game knotted.
Jeter’s home run in the first came off Tigers left-hander and starter Duane Below.
The Tigers tied it in the third inning when Danny Worth drew a leadoff walk and Ramon Santiago delivered a one-out RBI triple.
The Yankees remain 13-9 with two ties this spring. They have not lost a game in their last 11 spring contests. The Tigers are 14-4.
- In Jeter’s second game back after being shelved by a tight left calf, he delivered a home run to right and double to left-center. Jeter is quietly hitting .348 this spring and the best news is he is driving the ball with authority and not squeezing weak grounders through the infield. Those who might have written Jeter’s baseball obituary at age 37 might have been a bit premature.
- Pineda struggled at times in keeping the Tigers off base but he only gave up the one run. After Santiago’s triple, he struck out the next two batters as part of stretch where Pineda fanned four of the last eight batters he retired. Pineda’s velocity also was consistently at 93 miles per hour during his outing.
- Brett Gardner led an outfield that recorded three assists on Sunday that helped keep the Tigers from scoring more runs. With speedy Austin Jackson on second in the first inning, Alex Avila stroked a lined single to Gardner in left. Gardner charged the ball on the hop and gunned Jackson out at the plate with a perfect throw. In the eighth inning, new left-fielder Jayson Nix caught Brent Wyatt’s line drive and gunned down Dixon Machado after he failed to retouch second base on his way back to first. In the ninth, center-fielder Dewayne Wise caught a Ryan Strieby liner and doubled off Tony Plagman at second base.
- Robertson returned to action for the first time since he bruised his right foot in an accident at his home on March 7 and he showed no ill effects from the injury. Robertson struck out a batter and he benefited from Machado’s poor base-running on Wyatt’s line drive to pitch a scoreless eighth inning. Robertson said he felt good and he hopes to build upon it with his next outing.
- Despite Jeter’s good day there was one striking negative: In the fourth inning, Jeter rolled out to short with the bases loaded. He was a part of an offense that sputtered all day when they had chances to take the lead. In the fifth inning, right-hander Collin Balester walked three batters. But Curtis Granderson was nailed by Avila attempting to steal second and Russell Martin hit into a fielder’s choice after Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira drew two-out walks.
- In the seventh, it was no better for the Yankees against Brayan Villarreal. Doug Bernier was hit by a pitch and stole second. Granderson then drew a walk. However, Robinson Cano hit into a double play. After Rodriguez was hit in the ribs with a pitch and left the game as a precaution, Teixeira grounded out to short to end that threat.
- In the second inning, the Yankees had Texeira on third and Martin at second with one out. However, Eduardo Nunez struck out looking and Gardner bounced out to the pitcher and spoiled that effort. So it was obvious that there was a lot of frustration with the offense on Sunday.
Joba Chamberlain was released from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, FL., on Sunday four days after he suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle in a trampoline accident. General manager Brian Cashman echoed manager Joe Girardi’s assessment that there was a possibility that Chamberlain could return to pitch this season. Chamberlain had Tommy John surgery last summer and was not expected back to the Yankees until June when the injury occurred last week. Chamberlain will wear a non-weight-bearing cast for six weeks and then will be fitted for a weight-bearing walking boot. . . . Although Rodriguez left the game Sunday after being struck in the left ribs on a pitch from Villarreal, Girardi said he expects Rodriguez being able to play on Tuesday. . . . Girardi also said he hopes to get Nick Swisher back into the lineup on Tuesday. Swisher has only had two at-bats since he injured his left groin on March 14. . . . After the game on Sunday, the Yankees optioned Ramiro Pena to Triple-A Empire State and reassigned outfielders Colin Curtis and Cole Garner, catcher Jose Gil and pitchers Kevin Whelan and Delcarmen to minor-league camp.
The Yankees are enjoying their second off-day of the spring on Monday. They will return to action at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Ace lefty CC Sabathia will make his fourth Grapefruit League start. The Blue Jays will start right-hander Kyle Drabek.
Game-time will be at 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
This report was delayed by technical difficulties.
YANKEES 4, TIGERS 2 (10 INNINGS)
After blowing a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, New York rallied behind a two-run double by Dewayne Wise with the bases loaded in the top of the 10th inning to defeat Detroit on Saturday in a Grapefruit League game played at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, FL.
D.J. Mitchell (2-0) was credited with the victory despite the fact he gave up a leadoff home run to Audy Ciriaco and a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to Danny Worth in the ninth that forced the extra frame. Lefty reliever Cesar Cabral pitched a perfect tenth inning to get credit for a save.
Veteran Tigers lefty Danny Schlereth (1-1) was the losing pitcher.
The Yankees’ rally began when Justin Maxwell reached first in a fielding error by Worth. Bill Hall then worked a walk and Maxwell and Hall then successfully executed a double steal.
Austin Krum flied out to shallow left and Schlereth intentionally walked Colin Curtis to pitch to Wise. But Wise foiled the strategy by lacing a double to right-field that scored Maxwell and Hall with what proved to be the winning runs.
Mitchell’s inability to keep the Tigers off the board spoiled two significant story lines for the Yankees.
The first big news for the Yankees was that Freddy Garcia was making his first start since he bruised his right hand trying to field Edwin Encarnacion’s hard-hit grounder on March 14 in a game against Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL. Garcia also was trying to reinsert himself into the battle for a rotation spot that is crowded with four starters vying for two spots.
Garcia was up to challenge also. He allowed only one hit and walked two while striking out four in 4 1/3 shutout innings against Tigers. Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer matched zeros with Garcia until the seventh inning, which was the point of the second big development for the Yankees.
With two out in the seventh, Mark Teixeira slapped a single into center and Raul Ibanez, who was a woeful 2-for-39 (.051) as he stood at the plate, launched a two-run home run to the deepest part of the ballpark in center-field to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
With the victory, the Yankees have stretched their spring hot streak to 8-1 with one tie in their last 10 games. Their overall record stands at 13-9. The Tigers, who had only lost three games this spring, are now 14-4.
- It is no secret that Garcia, 35, is facing long odds at making the rotation despite his 12-8 record and 3.62 ERA in 2011. But Garcia stepped up and pitched excellent baseball. He lowered his spring ERA to 2.92 and manager Joe Girardi was very pleased with what he saw. But with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte assured rotation spots when Pettitte is activated in May, Garcia is battling uphill against Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes for the other two spots.
- It remains to be seen if Ibanez’s two-run home run gets him going this spring. Yankee fans and the media have been focusing on Ibanez’s struggles as his average continued to dip lower. Ibanez, 39, is assured that he will be the left-handed designated hitter because he signed a $4.5 million contract just before camp opened.
- Wise, 33, came up with a clutch hit just when the Yankees needed it. Wise has no shot at making the Yankees’ 25-man roster this spring but you have to give him credit for hitting .444 with six RBIs and three stolen bases. He also has played the excellent defense for which he is best known.
- Mitchell’s failure to close the deal in the ninth was an aberration from his fine work this spring. He entered the game with a 0.90 ERA. The 24-year-old former Clemson right-hander will begin the season at Triple-A Empire State but he could end up with the Yankees in the future as starter or reliever because of his ability to induce ground-ball outs.
- Yankee hitters have been swinging at air the past two days. On Friday they fanned 12 times in Clearwater, FL against the Phillies and Scherzer and the Tigers struck out another dozen on Saturday. The last time the Yankees hit double-digit strikeouts this spring was against the Red Sox on March 13 at George M. Steinbrenner Field when they fanned 13 times.
- Chris Dickerson has been a major disappointment this spring. He started in center on Saturday and was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. He is hitting .200 so far. Dickerson was removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Eric Chavez and he is out of options. So the Yankees likely will release him at the end of camp.
This report was delayed by technical difficulties.
BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 1
OK, guys, a joke is a joke, but where have you stashed the “real” New York Yankees?
A team “masquerading” in the Yankees’ navy-blue batting practice jerseys managed to lose their fourth consecutive Grapefruit League game on Thursday to Blue Jays and they now have lost those four games by a combined score of 26-8. We know it is early but the question is when will early become too late?
J.P. Arencibia and Travis Snider homered and Brett Cecil and six other Toronto pitchers held these “Faux Yankees” to one run and eight hits at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Cecil (1-0) gave up a hit, a walk and struck out one batter in his two innings of work to get credit for the victory. On the other hand, Ivan Nova (0-1) struggled with his command in the second inning and ended up get tagged for five runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings.
The Yankees’ lone run came on a solo home run from Colin Curtis in the ninth inning off Chad Beck. In their last two games, the Yankees have scored a run on only 10 hits.
The Yankees’ spring record slipped to 2-4 and the Blue Jays are 4-2.
- Got to give Curtis credit for the home run to prevent the Yankees from being shut out in two consecutive games. It was the first Yankee home run since Alex Rodriguez hit one out in the first inning against the Roy Halladay and the Phillies on Saturday.
- Backup infielder Ramiro Pena is thought to be a longshot to make the team over Eduardo Nunez, but he did come to play on Thursday. Pena doubled and singled in his three at-bats and raised his early spring batting average to .500.
- Dellin Betances did give up a pair of hits in the seventh inning but he did not allow a run to score and he has a spotless 0.00 ERA early in the spring. Betances figures to begin his 2012 season at Triple-A Empire State and he needs to work on the command of his pitches and keeping his mechanics consistent.
- Nova’s second spring appearance did not go well at all. Adam Lind led of the inning with a double and Brett Lawrie singled to drive him in. Nova then fell behind Arencibia 2-0 and paid for it by surrendering a two-run homer. He was charged with two more runs in the third inning. Nova’s early spring ERA is a shockingly high 11.57.
- Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez, the numbers three, four and five hitters in the lineup, were a combined 1-for-8 in the game. Teixiera singled for the only hit between them.
- Cesar Cabral, the Rule 5 draftee attempting to make the club as a second left-hander, gave up a solo home run to Snider in the sixth inning. If Cabral does not make the 25-man roster after spring training he will have to offered back to the Kansas City Royals.
If the four consecutive losses were not bad enough, the Yankees actually suffered what could be a more damaging blow. All-Star reliever David Robertson fell down a flight of stairs moving boxes at his residence on Wednesday and he will require more extensive tests on his sprained right midfoot. Robertson went to a Tampa hospital on Thursday to have a CT scan and a weight-bearing X-ray taken on his right foot and the team hopes to have more information on the injury on Friday. In the meantime Robertson has been fitted for a walking boot but the extent of the injury is still unknown. . . . Closer Mariano Rivera completed his second bullpen session on Thursday in Tampa, FL., and proclaimed himself ready for game action. Rivera is scheduled to make his spring debut on Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.
After faltering on the road in three of their last four losses, perhaps it is good thing the Yankees return home to George M. Steinbrenner Field to host an Atlanta Braves split squad on Friday.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Rafeal Soriano is also scheduled to pitch. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are expected to be in the starting lineup for the Yankees.
The Braves are countering with right-hander Julio Teheran, who gave up six home runs in his spring debut against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. Will Teheran awaken the Yankees’ slumbering bats?
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees got some game-condition work in on Friday with a 11-0 exhibition victory over the University of South Florida at George M. Steinbrenner Field at Tampa, FL.
Right-hander Adam Warren pitched two scoreless innings to pick up the victory. Warren, 24, gave up one hit and walked none while striking out two as part of a group of seven Yankee pitchers who limited the Bulls to four hits, no walks and struck out 10.
Manager Joe Girardi started all his regulars with the exception of second baseman Robinson Cano and catcher Russell Martin and the regulars were given only one or two at-bats.
Girardi was pleased with the hitting of outfielder Zoilo Almonte (2-for-2, two RBIs) and second baseman David Adams (1-for-2, one RBI). Outfielder Colin Curtis and Infielder Ramiro Pena added two hits apiece as the Yankees pounded out 14 hits against USF pitching.
The USF Bulls are coached by Lelo Prado, the brother-in-law of former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, currently a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman. USF is in fourth place in the Big East standings with a 4-4 record.
The Yankees are 3-0 against USF in spring exhibitions by a combined score of 31-5. Proceeds from the game benefitted the USF baseball program.
Most of Friday’s news surrounded two former Yankees. Former Yankee right-hander A.J. Burnett underwent successful surgery to repair an injury to his right-eye orbital bone in Pittsburgh and the Pirates announced that he will miss about eight to 12 weeks. Bunrett sustained the injury fouling a bunt off his eye during a bunting contest at the Pirates spring training complex in Bradenton, FL. . . . Former Yankee catcher and designated hitter Jesus Montero took two foul shots off his jaw in the fifth inning of the Mariners’ spring Cactus League opener against the Oakland Athletics and had to be removed from the game. Up to that point, Montero, 22, was 1-for-3 at the plate with two runs and two RBIs in the game in Phoenix, AZ. The Mariners have already announced that Miguel Olivo will open the season as the team’s starting catcher and that Montero would be a candidate to DH and develop as a catcher as a backup to Olivo.
The Yankees will open their 33-game spring training schedule on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL. Ivan Nova, a 24-year-old right-hander who was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season, will start for the Yankees. Girardi also said that Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Michael O’Connor and David Phelps will pitch for the Yankees. The starting outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher along with Martin will start for the Yankees.
The Phillies will counter by starting left-hander Cole Hamels, who was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA for the Phillies last season. David Bush, Jonathan Papelbon, Dontrelle Willis, Raul Valdes, Chad Qualls and Mike Stutes are also slated to pitch. The Phiilies willl open their spring slate without three of the top regulars available to play on Saturday. First baseman Ryan Howard has an infection in his left Achilles tendon and has not reported to camp. Second baseman Chase Utley and third baseman Placido Polanco are also being held out of action by manager Charlie Manuel. Utley suffers from a chronic knee condition and Polanco is recovering from sports hernia surgery.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network.