BLUE JAYS 7, YANKEES 5
Edwin Encarnacion hit two home runs and drove in four runs and J.P. Arencibia added a two-run shot of his own as Toronto laid out the heavy lumber to defeat New York in a Grapefruit League game on Wednesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Veteran right-hander Carlos Villanueva (1-0) pitched two innings of scoreless relief to get credit for the victory. Freddy Garcia (1-1), who left the game with a hand injury in the fourth inning, took the loss. Jim Hoey pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
Arencibia’s home run in the fourth inning off reliever Corey Wade broke a 1-1 tie and the Blue Jays tacked on four more runs in the fifth off rookie left-hander Manny Banuelos, keyed by a three-run home run by Encarnacion. The Yankees mounted a four-run rally in the seventh inning but fell short to lose their fourth straight exhibition game.
The Yankees’ spring ledger is now 5-8. The Jays have now won eight straight games and are 10-2.
- Curtis Granderson was 2-for-3 in the game and stroked a two-out RBI double in the third inning off starter Henderson Alvarez to score Derek Jeter to tie the score at 1-1. Granderson is hitting .316 on the spring and is one of the few Yankee regulars who is producing offense of late.
- After looking absolutely outmatched by Boston pitching Tuesday night, Doug Bernier stroked a two-run double off Blue Jays reliever Anthony Carreno in the seventh inning. Dewayne Wise then followed with a two-run single to bring the Yankees to within 7-5 before the rally fizzled. Bernier, 31, and Wise, 33, are the longest of longshots to make the Yankee roster this spring.
- D.J. Mitchell, another one of the “Fabulous Five” ticketed to make up the starting rotation at Triple A turned in three spectacular innings of relief. Mitchell did not give up a run, a hit or a walk and fanned four batters. Mitchell, 24, pitched at Clemson and is considered to be a great ground-ball pitcher with excellent control. His future with the Yankees could involve a move to the bullpen at the major-league level.
- Garcia’s outing was cut short by a hand injury but he did not pitch as effectively in this start. He was nicked for a solo home run by Encarnacion in the second inning and he gave up four hits and a walk in his three-plus innings of work. Of course, Wade entered the game and gave the two-run home run to Arencibia after Garcia was struck by Encarnacion’s hard grounder up the middle on the fingers of his right hand ended up skewing Garcia’s ERA higher.
- Banuelos, who turned 21 on Tuesday, just had one of those days he could not throw a strike. Of the eight batters he faced, Banuelos threw a first-pitch strike only to the last hitter he faced. He also fell behind every hitter he faced until the final batter (Arencibia) to end the inning. It is not easy to pitch effectively when you are behind in the count to every hitter and the Blue Jays made him pay. Banuelos was ticketed for Triple A anyway so he can just chalk up this outing as a learning experience. Banuelos must learn to command his secondary pitches.
- I hate to beat a dead horse but Raul Ibanez was 0-for-3 and he is hitting .083 this spring. After dealing with the struggles of Jorge Posada at designated hitter last season the Yankees might not be worried yet. But they better have a plausible Plan B if Ibanez does not shake his batting woes when the bell rings to open the season.
As usual with the Yankees on the road, the Blue Jays welcomed 5,509 fans to the game on Wednesday, their largest crowd of the spring. . . . X-rays taken on Garcia’s right hand indicated no broken bones. Garcia’s right thumb and the tip of his index finger were swollen and it is unclear of Garcia will miss his next spring start. . . . Meanwhile, All-Star reliever David Robertson was able to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes and he will resume pitching off a mound this weekend. Robertson suffered a bone bruise on his right foot while slipping on a step at his home last week. . . . Veteran outfielder Nick Swisher left Wednesday’s game in the fifth inning with tightness in his left groin. The injury does not appear to be serious and Swisher is listed as day-to-day.
For the next two days the Yankees will embark on a home-and-away set with the Washington Nationals starting Viera, FL.
The Yankees are scheduled to pitch 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, who has been plagued by a lack of velocity on his fastball this spring. He will be making his third start. Pineda will be opposed by an old friend, Chien-Ming Wang. The 31-year-old right-hander and former Yankee star will be making his second start of the spring and he is 1-0 with 9.00 ERA.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network.
YANKEES (SS) 3, PHILLIES (SS) 0
TAMPA – Every team looks for what could be called that “Goldilocks Game,” meaning they get just the right amount of hitting and pitching. The Yankees had one of those games on Sunday.
Chris Dickerson stroked a two-out, bases-loaded single to drive in two runs in the fourth inning and CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera were among the seven pitchers who held the Phillies scoreless on just three hits as New York left Philadelphia with some mighty cold porridge in a Grapefruit League contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
In his second appearance of the spring Sabathia gave up two hits and a walk and fanned two batters in his thee innings of work. He threw 28 of 39 pitches for strikes and looked vastly improved from his first outing.
Meanwhile, the strains of “Enter Sandman” blared throughout the stadium in the fourth inning as Rivera trotted in to a raucous standing ovation from most of the 10,810 fans in attendance, who are unsure of these one-inning tune-ups from the greatest closer baseball has ever seen will come to an end this year.
Rivera then demonstrated what he does so well. He needed just 14 pitches to induce a flyout to right by Ty Wigginton, a line-drive out to center by Lou Montanez (as part of a 11-pitch battle and a groundout to third by Hector Luna.
Dickerson’s hit came off Phillies right-hander Austin Hyatt, who entered the game in the fourth and got into trouble after retiring the first two batters.
Hyatt (1-1) hit Russell Martin with a pitch and Martin later stole second. Hyatt then walked Andruw Jones and Bill Hall to load the bases. Hyatt fell behind to Dickerson 2-0 before Dickersomn slapped his next offering into right-field to score Martin and Jones.
The Yankees added an unearned run in the eighth on a one-out double by Justin Maxwell and a fielding error by Luna that allowed Maxwell to score.
Rivera was the winning pitcher and Hyatt took the loss. Right-hander Kevin Whelan pitched a perfect ninth to get credit for a save.
- Pitching was king for the Yankees. Sabathia looked sharp, Rivera was Rivera and Boone Logan, Corey Wade, Clay Rapada, Chase Whitley and Whelan combined to give up just one hit and two walks and they struck out five. Granted, it was a Phillies split squad, but it was impressive nonetheless.
- Dickerson, 29, has always been considered a good fielder and a good athlete but he has never quite made it in the major leagues as a hitter. It was nice to see him come through with two outs with a big hit. He is hitting .273 this spring but his chances with the Yankees are bleak. He was taken off the 40-man roster and he is out of options. Dickerson may be playing for a fresh start with another team.
- Martin stole his fourth base this spring in the Yankees’ two-run fourth inning. He leads the team in stolen bases this spring. Brett Gardner has two.
- Derek Jeter was 2-for-3 in the game and he is hitting .308 this spring. Perhaps the Jeter of the second half of last season is the Jeter we will see in 2012.
I can’t really see a point in nitpicking for negatives in this game.
Backup infielder Eduardo Nunez is still feeling discomfort in his bruised right hand. He will take two days off before trying to hit again. Nunez was struck in the hand on a pitch from Hyatt on Monday in Clearwater, FL. X-rays and a CT scan show no broken bones but Nunez has been unable to taking batting practice without feeling pain.
The Yankees will play their first night game of the spring on Monday, hosting the Houston Astros at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Hiroki Kuroda will get the start for the Yankees. It was be his second outing of the spring. Kevin Weiland, who was acquired from the Red Sox, will make his first start for the Astros.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.
YANKEES 7, PHILLIES 4
TAMPA – When it comes to anything positive that Alex Rodriguez does this spring, it will always be couched in very cautious terms. Last spring, Rodriguez was in excellent shape and hit everything in sight but it did not carry over to the 2011 season.
So when Rodriguez hit a screaming line-drive home run to right-center on the first Grapefruit League pitch he saw from Roy Halladay and then followed it up with a single and an RBI double off Joel Pineiro, Rodriguez tried to keep it all in perspective after the game.
“Last year, I stood here and had a really good spring, felt really good and the results during the year weren’t what we all wanted,” Rodriguez said. “[I take it] definitely one day a time. A good start; hopefully the first of many more days to come.”
The same can be said for the Yankees as a whole.
They shook off a two-run home run in the first inning by Hunter Pence, his second two-run shot off the Yankees in two days, to come back to score four unanswered runs as they went on to defeat the Phiilies for the second straight day in the team’s home Grapefruit league opener on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Phiilies helped the Yankees by committing four errors in the field. The losing pitcher, Pineiro (0-1), was the victim of most of the misplays.
After Pineiro walked Francisco Cervelli on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and two out in the third inning to tie the score at 2-2, the Phillies treated the ball like a hand grenade in the fourth.
Justin Maxwell reached base with one out on a fielding error by third baseman Ty Wigginton. Second baseman Mike Martinez then botched a double-play ball off the bat of Derek Jeter that allowed Maxwell to advance to second while Martinez recovered to retire Jeter. Then Martinez made his second error in as many innings on a ball off the bat of Robinson Cano that allowed Maxwell to score the game’s eventual deciding run.
Rodriguez finished off the error-laden rally with an RBI double to the wall in left field to score Cano.
Rookie right-hander D.J. Mitchell (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings behind starter Freddy Garcia to pick up the victory. Young right-hander Chase Whitley got credit for a save despite the fact he gave up two hits in the ninth.
The Yankees have a 2-0 spring record. The Phillies are 0-2.
- A-Rod’s 3-for-3 day illustrated why it is so important to keep the 36-year-old slugger healthy for a full season. When he is locked in at the plate he remains one of the scariest hitters in baseball to face. Rodriguez was limited to only 99 games last season due to a knee injury and later a sprained left thumb.
- Despite the fact Garcia was tagged for a two-run home run, he still pitched well in his two innings of work. Garcia gave up two runs on four hits. He did not walk a batter and he struck out two. He threw 25 of his 33 pitches for strikes.
- The Yankees teed off on 6-foot-7, 255-pound right-hander Phillippe Aumont for three runs in the seventh inning to extend their lead to 7-3. Jose Gil blasted an RBI double after Domonic Brown dropped a routine fly ball off the bat of Corbin Joseph for a two-base error. Catching prospect J.R. Murphy and Jayson Nix later added RBI singles to close out the Yankees’ scoring.
- Clay Rapada, who is in a four-way battle to become the second left-hander in the bullpen, threw a perfect inning of relief and struck out two batters.
- Cano pulled a base-running blunder that cost the Yankees in the third inning. With one out and Cano on second and Rodriguez at first, Cano drifted towards second base on fly ball off the bat of Mark Teixeira that dropped out of the glove of shortstop Freddy Galvis. Brown picked up the ball in left-field and threw Cano out easily at third base in an odd fielder’s choice from the outfield.
- Yankee pitching gave up a total of 12 hits, five of them for extra bases. The one positive is they only walked one and struck out nine batters. The Phillies hurt their own cause by hitting just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in the first inning en route to stranding eight runners overall.
- Relievers Corey Wade and Kevin Whelan each gave up an earned run in their one inning of work. Wade gave up a two-out, two-run double to Galvis in the sixth and Whelan was touched for RBI out by Hector Luna scoring Lou Montanez in the eighth.
The Yankees celebrated their home opener by inviting the George M. Steinbrenner High School band to perform during the pregame show. Haley Swindal performed the national anthem during a flyover by two F18 Hornet jets from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA. . . . After a 82-degree day in Clearwater, FL, on Saturday, temperatures dipped to the mid-60s on Sunday in Tampa and a sellout crowd of 10,981 had to brave 20-mph winds blowing from the left-field line to the right-field line.. The wind also played havoc with fly balls for the second straight day, making pop-ups an adventure for both teams. . . . Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano are scheduled to pitch a live inning of batting practice on Monday at Steinbrenner Field. Manager Joe Girardi said Rivera will throw one more batting practice session and then will be ready for game action next week. . . . Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda pitched a simulated inning on Sunday in preparation for his spring debut Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays. . . . Outfielder Cole Garner was sidelined on Sunday with hamstring tightness after homering in the Yankees’ Grapefruit League opener against the Phillies in Clearwater on Saturday. He will be re-evaluated on Monday, Girardi said.
The Yankees will travel to Bright House Field in Clearwater on Monday to take on the Phillies for the third straight day.
Newly acquired right-hander Michael Pineda, 23, will make his Yankee debut as the starting pitcher. David Robertson is among a group of relievers also expected to pitch on Monday. The Yankees also will bring their starting outfield of Brett Garner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher.
The Phillies will counter with with veteran right-hander Joe Blanton. Scott Elarton, Austin Hyatt, Brian Sanches and David Herndon also are scheduled to pitch for the Phillies.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network.
With the New York Yankees exactly one week away from their Grapefruit League opener in Clearwater, FL, against the Philadelphia Phillies, there is a relaxed and upbeat mood filtering throughout their spring training complex in Tampa, FL.
There are 67 players in camp and yet most every role on the 25-man roster has been resolved, barring injury, of course.
There is one starting pitching spot up for grabs between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. Hughes is coming off an injury-plagued 2011 season in which he was 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA. Garcia, meanwhile, rescued what looked to be a thin rotation by going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA.
If the Yankees’ management and coaching staff had their druthers, Hughes would be 100% healthy and pitching like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. If Hughes did that he would make the rotation even stronger because not many teams could boast having a No. 5 starter who won 18 games.
If Garcia loses the battle for that final starting spot, he would be shifted to the bullpen as a long relief man and spot starter. Garcia also is good insurance should any of the starters come down with an injury. Depth in the rotation will be a key in 2012.
There will be a battle this spring for a job as a second left-hander in the bullpen to pair with Boone Logan.
The two main candidates are 30-year-old veteran Clay Rapada, who was signed this week when former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima failed his physical and was released, and 23-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees received from the Kansas City Royals after the Royals selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox.
Rapada was 2-0 with a 6.06 ERA in 32 games with the Baltimore Orioles last season. However, he held left-handed batters to a .104 batting average.
Cabral was 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA with Class A Salem and 2-4 with a 3.52 ERA with Double-A Portland. More impressive was the fact that he struck out 70 batters in 55 innings.
The Yankees also invited Juan Cedeno and Michael O’Connor to camp as non-roster players. Cedeno, 28, was 3-1 with 6.49 ERA with Rio Grande Valley in the North American Baseball League in 2011. O’Connor, 31, was 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in nine games with the Mets last season and 5-5 with a 5.22 ERA with the Mets’ Triple-A team in Buffalo.
If none of the four left-handers are impressive enough to remain on the roster, manager Joe Girardi said he would just select another right-hander and keep Logan as the only left-hander in the bullpen.
The backup catcher role behind starter Russell Martin is also an open competition between veteran Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine.
Cervelli, 25, hit .266 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 43 games with the Yankees last season. However, Cervelli began the 2011 season on the disabled list with a broken bone in his left foot and his season was ended in early September when he suffered a concussion in a collision at home plate with the Orioles’ Nick Markakis.
Cervelli has been cleared to resume baseball activities but he will have to prove he can stay healthy to remain the backup catcher.
Romine, 23, is already a very polished defensive catcher but he has to prove he can hit at the major-league level. Romine hit .286 with six home runs and 47 RBIs in 85 games for Double-A Trenton. He hit .15o in 20 at-bats with the Yankees when he was called up to replace Cervelli as the backup catcher last September.
The prevailing wisdom in camp is that the job is Cervelli’s to lose. The Yankee brain trust would prefer that Romine get an additional year of seasoning at the Triple-A level and he would still be available if Martin or Cervelli had to be placed on the disabled list.
Theoretically, there also is a competition for one backup infield spot. The holdover, Eduardo Nunez, would seem to have a huge edge in retaining it. Nunez, 24, hit .265 with five home runs, 30 RBis and 22 stolen bases. Nunez particularly shined when he replaced shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez when they were on the disabled list.
However, Nunez plays the field like he is Edward Scissorhands. His 21 errors in 122 1/3 innings in the field is horrific. Nunez will have to show marked improvement this spring.
Former backup Ramiro Pena, 26, lost his job to Nunez last spring and is back to try to reclaim it. He is pretty much the polar opposite of Nunez. Pena is an exceptional player in the field but his offense is severely lacking. Pena hit .100 in 40 at-bats with the Yankees last season.
The Yankees also invited 31-year-old utility infielder and outfielder Bill Hall to camp as a non-roster invitee. Hall hit a combined .211 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in separate stints with Houston and San Francisco last season. Hall is valuable in that he can play all spots on the diamond except first base and catcher.
But Hall and Pena are both longshots to make the roster. Pena likely will be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could be called up in case of an injury to an infielder.
The starting lineup is set and Girardi will likely set the batting order as follows:
- Derek Jeter SS
- Curtis Granderson CF
- Robinson Cano 2B
- Alex Rodriguez 3B
- Mark Teixeira 1B
- Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones DH
- Nick Swisher RF
- Russell Martin C
- Brett Gardner LF
The starting rotation is mostly set and reads as follows:
- CC Sabathia
- Ivan Nova
- Michael Pineda
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia
One oddity for the Yankees is that if Nunez and Cervelli make the team the Yankees would have the same bench as last season with the following:
- Francisco Cervelli
- Eduardo Nunez
- Eric Chavez
- Raul Ibanez or Andruw Jones
The bullpen will consist of the following:
- Mariano Rivera (closer)
- David Robertson (setup)
- Rafael Soriano (setup)
- Boone Logan (lefty)
- Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada (second lefty)
- Corey Wade (middle innings)
- Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes (long relief and spot starts)
You can sum up this roster by saying the starting rotation has been improved from the 2011 rotation and the starting lineup with the addition of Ibanez replacing the retired Jorge Posada looks formidable if they can remain healthy. The bullpen, the strength of the 2011 club, looks to just as string in 2012 and the bench is pretty deep and talented.
This team led the American League with the 97 wins in 2011 despite the fact the team suffered through key injuries to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano. They also won despite having a patchwork rotation filled by free-agent right-handers Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
I would not dare predict a 28th world championship because the Los Angeles Angels with Albert Pujols and the Detroit Tigers with Prince Fielder could lie in wait in the playoffs. But this easily is the class of the American League East and I do not think there is any doubt about it.
The division is the Yankees to lose.
2012 ROSTER ADDITIONS: Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Corey Wade, Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada, Raul Ibanez.
2012 ROSTER SUBTRACTIONS: A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Joba Chamberlain (starting season in disabled list) , Jorge Posada (retired).
Sunday is the day pitchers and catchers are required to report to the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL. To most teams the spring is a time where young players and veteran free agents can dream about making the roster with a good spring.
But not this year and not in the Yankees’ camp.
If the A.J. Burnett trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates is approved and the Yankees do sign free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez and corner infielder Eric Chavez, the Yankees would have a roster with very few jobs “up for grabs” and the 25-man roster – barring injury – is a foregone conclusion at this point.
The starting rotation has been bolstered by the trade for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and the free-agent signing of 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers. That gives the Yankees a rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda and Kuroda. The No. 5 spot will be a competition between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. But it is pretty clear that if Hughes can prove his shoulder issues that plagued him in 2011 are in the past he will be the favorite to win the job.
That would leave Garcia in the bullpen and the Yankees also have bought themselves a season in order to develop promising young starters Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell at the Triple-A level.
Garcia will join a strong bullpen that includes the greatest closer in the history of baseball (Mariano Rivera), the American League’s best set-up man in 2011 (David Robertson) and the American League saves leader in 2010 (Rafael Soriano).
Add to that core left-hander Boone Logan, right-hander Corey Wade and a likely a second left-hander in a battle between 23-year-old Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral and 30-year-old journeyman Clay Rapada, and you pretty much have the bullpen complete even without rehabbing right-hander Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain underwent Tommy John surgery in July and has made remarkable progress since then. However, the Yankees will not push Chamberlain to return early. They do not expect him to be able to pitch for the Yankees until June or July.
The bullpen, even without Chamberlain, was a strength of the team last season and promises to be just as strong or better in 2012.
The Yankees also did not make any changes in their starting position players for 2012. It is the same crew that led the Yankees to the best record in the American League (97-65).
The Yankees picked up the option on Russell Martin and he returns at catcher. The rest of the infield has Mark Teixeira at first, Robinson Cano at second, Derek Jeter at shortstop and Alex Rodriguez at third. The outfield maintains Nick Swisher in right, Curtis Granderson in center and Brett Gardner in left.
The only major change looks to be at designated hitter. Last season the Yankees used Jorge Posada in that role. With Posada retired the job looked to be Jesus Montero’s. However, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman opted to trade Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.
The Yankees are now looking to fill that DH spot with former Phillies outfielder Ibanez. Ibanez, 39, likely will platoon with right-handed-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones, who was retained after he had an excellent second half in 20111.
The rest of the bench could also be same as it was last season.
Francisco Cervelli figures to be the backup catcher again if he can prove that he has recovered from another concussion he suffered last September. Rookie Austin Romine, 22, is ready for the major leagues from a defensive standpoint but he needs to work on becoming a better hitter in order to vault past Cervelli.
He will get a look this spring, but he figures to be heading to Triple-A for a year of seasoning.
The Yankees also will have middle infielder Eduardo Nunez back this season. Nunez, 24, impressed the Yankees with his hitting and his base-stealing ability last season. But Nunez is a nightmare in the field. Despite playing only half the time, Nunez led the team in errors and he has to show some improvement there to stick.
The Yankees still have Ramiro Pena and they have invited veteran utility man Bill Hall to compete with Nunez but it is Nunez’s job to lose.
The Yankees also are likely to re-sign Chavez to back up at first and third base. Chavez, 34, had an impressive spring in 2011 but his season – just like the previous four – was cut short by injury. He fractured a bone in his left foot and missed 2 1/2 months. But the Yankees like having a former Gold Glove winner and lefty swinger at first and third base.
The Yankees still have veteran outfielders Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell and they have invited defensive wizard Dewayne Wise as a non-roster invitee this spring. But none of them figure to make a dent on the roster.
With the clock finally having run out on the Yankees in their effort to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima it is now becoming obvious the the team will enter the 2012 season with virtually their entire roster from 2011 back.
The Yankees seemed shocked when their $2.5 million bid for Nakajima was the winning bid and they dealt with the 29-year-old Seibu Lions star as if he were just going to be paid as a backup infielder, which is, of course, what he was going to be.
But Nakajima was not happy with that offer and the 5 p.m. deadline came and went without a contract. As a result, the Yankees keep their $2.5 million posting and Nakajima returns to play out his contract with Seibu in Japan.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are now free to make an offer to bring back backup first and third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season. Chavez, who has been hampered by injuries for the past five seasons, missed just over two months of the 2011 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot.
But the Yankees can use Chavez, 34, and his left-handed bat as a backup to Alex Rodriguez at third base, to Mark Teixeira at first base and as possible designated hitter or a power bat off the bench.
If Chavez does re-sign with the Yankees he will join outfielder Andrew Jones, infielder Eduardo Nunez and catcher Francisco Cervelli as the same members of the Yankees’ 2011 bench. However, Cervelli would have to win the backup catching job he has held for the past two seasons from rookie Austin Romine in spring training.
The only change in the Yankees’ 13 position players appears to be rookie Jesus Montero, who figures to be the primary DH and third catcher, replacing longtime veteran Jorge Posada.
The Yankees also re-signed Freddy Garcia to a contract this winter, which means the Yankees rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Garcia figures to return in 2012. Of course, the Yankees are in pursuit of one additional starting pitcher that would allow the team to perhaps unload Burnett and the two years and $33 million owed on his contract.
The Yankees have avoided getting into a bidding war for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they only made a token bid for Japanese star Yu Darvish. They also have balked at trades for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens and Matt Garza because teams have asked for top prospects such as Montero, pitchers Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances and outfielder Mason Williams in return.
The Yankees have had discussions with Scott Boras, the agent for right-hander Edwin Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 32 games (31 starts) for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. However, the Yankees are not likely to pay the $15 million to $17 million per season over four years that Boras is seeking for the 28-year-old right-hander.
The Yankees are looking to bring Jackson’s price down some or they may take a pass on him as well. General manager Brian Cashman said he would like to avoid making a long-term commitment to a pitcher like he did with Burnett, a pitcher who may end up being a mistake in the long run.
The Yankees also might have interest in free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
The bullpen, with Rafael Soriano opting to stay with the Yankees, also will return pretty much the same nucleus from last season. Soriano and David Robertson will set up the legend of all closers in Mariano Rivera in 2012. Left-hander Boone Logan and right-hander Corey Wade also are back.
Joba Chamberlain is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and he hopes to be ready when spring training begins. However, the Yankees intend to bring the 26-year-old right-hander along slowly and he may not see action until July.
So that means the Yankees will be looking for two pitchers for the bullpen. One likely will be a left-hander to replace Logan as the lefty specialist. The Yankees signed for former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to a minor-league contract. He will compete this spring with Cesar Cabral, who the Royals sent to the Yankees for cash considerations after they selected him from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft in December.
The other spot could go to Hector Noesi, who filled that role for portions of last season. But the Yankees have said they consider him a starter and they do not want to use him a long man in 2012 if they can help it.
But, here again, the stand-pat nature of the Yankees may be reaffirmed. The Yankees also have said they would not mind having 38-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon back as a long man out of the bullpen. Colon was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA but actually pitched much better than the his record indicated.
Colon was actually 8-6 with a 3.31 on Aug. 11 before going 0-4 with four no-decisions and an ERA of 4.93 down the stretch. He was not even placed on the team’s postseason roster for the American League Division Series. The Yankees believe Colon is better suited as a long man and spot starter and they would offer him a contract to return to the team only in that role because they no longer think he can make 33 starts at his age.
Should the Yankees re-sign Colon that means the only change in the pen could be Okajima or Cabral as a second left-hander replacing right-hander Luis Ayala, who was allowed to become a free agent after going 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA last season.
I can’t recall a season in which the Yankees had less turnover on their roster. It is very odd, indeed, for a team that has prided itself in having the winning tradition, the facilities and the cash to get just about any player they could want in the George Steinbrenner era.
However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are at the helm of the ship now and they seem to have a tighter lid on the cash flow. Cashman has been forced to do more with less since the Yankees made their huge splash in 2009 with the free-agent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira, which led to their 27th world championship that October.
Of course, the team did win 97 games in 2o11 and had the best record in the American League. They did it without significant contributions from Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Hughes and off years from players like Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.
Perhaps the addition of the powerful bat of Montero, a second lefty in the bullpen and healthy seasons from A-Rod, Joba and Hughes will be enough to carry the Yankees to another A.L. East title and the playoffs. The concern then turns to how well the starting pitchers stack up heading into the playoffs.
Do not forget that there are a few very good pitchers who will be free agents in 2013 and teams might be looking to unload them before the July 31 trade deadline. One is right-hander Matt Cain of the Giants and another is lefty Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has the patience and the dearth of young prospects to pull off a deal to bolster the staff at any point this season.
So maybe this lack of turnover is not such a bad thing. The team stays strong without adding much in the way of payroll and remains flexible enough to pull off some deals to make a push in the playoffs.
I see nothing wrong with that. Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 2
When the Yankees activated Phil Hughes from the disabled list on July 6 they hoped he could re-establish the same sensational form that made him 10-1 and an All-Star pitcher through July 2010.
After six innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday, Hughes may not be there yet but he is pretty darn close.
Hughes (1-2) gave up only two runs on four hits and two walks and fanned five batters in a powerful 80-pitch performance while Brett Gardner continued his hot streak with another three hits and Curtis Granderson drove in three runs as New York routed Toronto at Rogers Centre to earn a split in their four-game series.
Gardner, subbing for a resting Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, was on base in four of five plate appearances, including three singles and a walk, he stole two bases and scored three runs. Granderson gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning with a two-out, two run double off Jays starter Carlos Villanueva (5-2). Granderson later added a one-out RBi single in the ninth off reliever Jason Frasor to close out the Yankee scoring for the afternoon.
Villanueva, a converted reliever, gave up five runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out six over five innings.
However, Hughes was the big story.
Hughes faltered in the second half of last season, going 8-7 after the All-Star break. Then he showed up at spring training unable to reach 90 mph on his fastball throughout the 2011 exhibition season. After Hughes began the season 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA in his first three starts, the Yankees placed Hughes on the disabled list with what was referred to as a dead arm. It later was termed right shoulder inflammation.
In his second start after being activated Hughes threw 51 of 80 pitches for strikes (64 perecnt) and he reached 93 mph on the radar gun on his fastball. It was not a dominant start, but it was definitely a step in the right direction for Hughes and a Yankee starting rotation that desperately needs a healthy and productive Hughes to compete in the American League East.
With the victory, the Yankees are now 55-37 and they are one game behind the Boston Red Sox in the division race. The Blue Jays fell to 47-49 and they are in fourth place in the East, 11 games out of first.
- Hughes looked much better than his his first start off the DL on July 6 against the Indians. In that game he gave up two runs on six hits and two walks over five innings and he took the loss. Today, Hughes made use of a new tighter grip on his curveball and a quicker delivery to the plate. Hughes gave up a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion in the second and Travis Snider followed with an RBI single for the Jays first run. In the fourth, with one out Hughes walked Encarnacion and Snider followed with a ground-rule double that advanced Encarnacion to third. Aaron Hill followed with a sac fly and that was all the Jays offense on the day. Hughes lowered his season ERA to 8.64.
- The Blue Jays probably offered to pay for Gardner’s airfare out of town after he ripped them for 10 hits in 16 at-bats (.625) over the four games with three doubles, a walk, five runs scored and three stolen bases. Gardner also collected three hits in three of the four games and he raised his season average from .265 to .286. and he is hitting a robust .348 in July with an incredible .457 on-base percentage. Gardner also stole two bases on Sunday and he has succeeded in stealing his last 12 bases without being caught to raise his overall stolen-base percentage to 72 percent.
- Granderson struck out his first two times up against Villanueva on change-ups but his RBI double off Villanueva in the fourth and his RBI single in the ninth off Frasor both came off change-ups that Granderson waited on and then pulled both to right-field. Though Granderson leads the team by a margin of 26 in strikeouts with 95, Granderson is now tied for third in the league and the team leader in RBIs with 68.
- The bullpen — Cory Wade, David Robertson and Boone Logan — combined to no-hit the Blue Jays over the final three innings, combining for no walks and five strikeouts. The Yankees bullpen has held up despite the injuries to Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano.
Nothing to really complain about here. The issue now that Hughes is improving can’t be good for the Red Flops (Sox). They currently have three starters on the disabled list and one of those is out for the season.
The Yankees on Sunday optioned outfielder Greg Golson to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled outfielder Chris Dickerson to take his place on the roster. The Yankees brought up Golson as a reserve outfielder because he hits right-handed and the Yankees faced left-handers in two of the first three games of the series. Dickerson was up with the Yankees previously this season and he is hitting .300 over 31 games. Golson was used a defensive replacement on Saturday but he did not get an at-bat. Dickerson was used as defensive replacement in right-field in the eighth inning on Sunday and did not bat. . . . Manager Joe Girardi shuffled his lineup on Sunday because the Yankees are playing eight straight games on artificial surface fields this week. Jeter was rested in favor of Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena played third base. The Yankees also made Mark Teixeira the designated hitter and moved Jorge Posada to first base. . . . Soriano will make a rehab start with Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League on Tuesday. . . . A couple of notes for any Blue Jays fans who may be reading this blog: No. 1, If you are attending a Blue Jays’ home game it is much better to save the “Let’s Go Blue Jays” cheer when your team is batting and not when they are in the field. It is hard to score runs when you are on defense. No. 2, Loudly cheering “Yankees Suck” is OK when you are winning the game by a nice margin but is stupid when the team is trailing. What does it say about the Jays when it is is getting toasted by a team that supposedly sucks?
The Yankees are on their way to St. Petersburg, FL, to open a four game road series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
A.J. Burnett (8-7, 4.15 ERA) will open the series on the mound for the Yankees. He has alternated wins and losses over his last five decisions and he gave up three runs on three hits in a no-decision victory over the Rays on July 9. He is 12-8 with a 3.41 ERA against the Rays in his career.
The Rays will be starting rookie right-hander Alex Cobb (2-0, 3.41 ERA), who will be making his sixth start of the season in place of the injured Wade Davis. Cobb has not faced the Yankees before.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.