Tagged: Curtis Granderson

A-Rod, Bullpen Spark Yankees Over Sloppy Mets

GAME 19

YANKEES 6, METS 4

When Yankees manager Joe Girardi takes out his starting pitcher holding a lead and brings in a reliever the opposing manager should just make plans for the next game because the one in which his team is playing is pretty much over.

And so it was on Sunday night for manager Terry Collins and the Mets.

Alex Rodriguez hit the 659th home run of his career and he added an RBI double, the Mets threw the ball around Yankee Stadium as if it was a hand grenade for four errors and the Yankees vaunted high-octane bullpen did the rest as the Yankees won the home portion of the Subway Series two games to one.

Left-hander Chasen Shreve (1-0), who came on in the fifth inning for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, got credit for the victory and left-hander Andrew Miller pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his seventh save in seven chances.

All told, the bullpen crew of Shreve, Chris Martin, Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Miller shut out the Mets on no hits and one walk while they fanned four batters over the final 4 2/3 innings.

The Mets took an early lead on Eovaldi when Curtis Granderson hit Eovaldi’s ninth pitch for his first home run of the season to start the game. The Mets later added a run on a Juan Lagares single and a two-out double by Daniel Murphy.

Rodriguez halved the lead in the bottom of the first by lacing a 2-2 curveball onto the top of the wall in right-center and it bounced into the Yankees’ bullpen for Rodriguez’s fifth home run of the season and his first since April 19.

The Yankees then went double happy on left-hander Jonathan Niese (2-1) to take a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.

John Ryan Murphy doubled to left with one out and with two out the Yankees then strung together four straight RBI hits, two of them doubles.

Gregorio Petit doubled to left to score Murphy, Brett Gardner doubled to right to score Petit and Chris Young singled to right to plate Gardner.

Rodriguez then singled through the left side of the infield. But left-fielder Michael Cuddyer threw a lawn-dart that allowed Young to score and Rodriguez to take second. It took first baseman Lucas Duda’s retrieval of the slow rolling ball at shortstop to throw out Rodriguez at third with the second baseman, Murphy, covering to end the four-run inning.

The Mets added a pair of runs with two out in the third inning as Duda singled, Cuddyer doubled him in and he moved to third on a throwing error by Stephen Drew. Murphy then drove in Cuddyer with a single.

But when Girardi took out Eovaldi with one out and a runner on in the fifth, the Mets’ offense went perceptibly south immediately.

The Yankees got to Niese again in the fifth as Gardner reached on an disputed infield single. First-base umpire Adam Hamari had ruled that shortstop Wilmer Flores’ throw had beaten Gardner but it was challenged and overturned by replay.

Young then reached on a hard-hit ball that Murphy played into an error that allowed Gardner to advance to third. Rodriguez then hit what looked to be routine double-play grounder but Flores stepped on second to retire Young and then fired the relay to first base into the stands for the team’s fourth error of the night, which allowed Gardner to score.

Niese, who entered the game on a streak of six games of yielding two earned runs or less, was charged with six runs (four earned) on eight hits and one walk with three strikeouts in five innings.

Eovaldi struggled in his fourth start, surrendering four runs on seven hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 11-8 and they are tied with the Tampa Bay Rays in first place in the American League East. The Mets fell to 14-5, which remains the best record in baseball.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Rodriguez shook off a slump that had lasted more than a week to homer, double, drive in two runs and score one run. He hit the ball well in each of his four at-bats and he is now batting .267 with five homers and 13 RBIs.
  • Of the five relievers Girardi used, Betances was absolutely dominant in his one inning of work in the eighth. He struck out Lagares, Duda and Cuddyer in succession but his nasty curve broke so much it got past Murphy for a wild pitch so Cuddyer reached on a wild pitch. At that point, Betances had faced eight Mets batters in his career and he had struck out all eight of them. However, Daniel Murphy was able to ground out to second to break the string.
  • Very quietly John Ryan Murphy is developing into an excellent young catcher at age 23. Murphy, filling in for starter Brian McCann, was 2-for-3 with a double and he scored a run. With limited plate appearances, Murphy is batting .313 this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • After going eight games without making an error earlier in the week the Yankees committed two on Sunday and they were charged with four errors in the three-game series. Drew was charged with a throwing error in the third and Chase Headley also made an errant throw in the fifth. The Yankees need to clean up this sloppy play soon. They were lucky that the Mets were even worse.
  • Beltran is drawing a cascade of boos every time he makes an out. On Sunday, Beltran was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he also hit into a double play. The 38-year-old outfielder is now batting .161 with no homers and seven RBIs. After being benched on Saturday it looks as if Girardi’s patience with him is quickly running out.

BOMBER BANTER

Jacoby Ellsbury sat out Sunday’s game against the Mets with tightness in his right hip. The 31-year-old outfielder received treatment for the injury and Girardi told reporters that he hoped to have him back in the lineup on Monday. Ellsbury is batting .282 with a homers and two RBIs in 17 games.  . . .  The Yankees will recall right-hander Chase Whitley from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and he will start on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays to allow right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to have an extra day of rest between starts. Whitley, 25, is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts for the RailRiders.

ON DECK

The Yankees will begin a three-game home series against the Rays on Monday.

Right-hander Adam Warren (1-1, 5.40 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Warren gave up four runs on five hits and four walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers to get his first victory on Wednesday.

Right-hander Nathan Karns (1-1, 5.32 ERA) will pitch for the Rays. Karns was pounded for five runs on seven hits and four walks with three strikeouts in six innings in a no-decison against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Tex Swats Two As Pineda, Yankees Humble Mets

GAME 17

YANKEES 6, METS 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandson then scored on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

Tanaka Stays Perfect With 4-Hit Shutout Of Mets

GAME 39

YANKEES 4, METS 0

Throughout Wednesday’s game at Citi Field in Flushing, NY, you could honestly hear crickets because the paid crowd of 35,577 and the bats of the New York Mets were silenced by a pitcher who is legend in the making.

Masahiro Tanaka, in only his eighth major-league start, shut out the Mets on just four hits in a masterpiece of a complete game as the Yankees snapped a six-game losing streak to the Mets in the Subway Series and also ended their current four-game skid.

Tanaka (6-0) did not walk a batter and struck out eight in an 114-pitch effort that extended his streak to 42 games without losing a regular-season start that dates back to Aug. 18, 2012 in the Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. Tanaka even capped his night by getting his first major-league hit in the top of the ninth inning against right-hander Jose Valverde.

Yangervis Solarte and Mark Teixeira backed Tanaka with a pair of solo home runs and Brian Roberts hit a pair of triples to spoil the major-league debut of Mets right-hander Rafael Montero (0-1).

The Yankees broke through on Montero with two outs in the second inning when Montero issued a walk to Solarte and Roberts followed with a sinking line drive to left that Eric Young Jr. allowed to skip by him for a triple that scored Solarte.

Solarte, a 26-year-old rookie who entered the game leading the American League in batting with a .336 average, added to his own miraculous rookie season by lining his fourth home run of the season into the right-field bleachers with two out in the fourth inning.

Teixeira blasted his eighth home run of the season and his third in his past five games to pad the Yankees’ lead to 3-0.

Montero yielded three runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out three in six innings of work.

The Yankees “stole” a run with two out in the seventh inning off right-hander Carlos Torres when Brett Gardner narrowly beat out a infield single. He then stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a infield dribbler off the bat of Derek Jeter that he legged out for an RBI single.

But Tanaka appeared in such command that he really only needed one run.

The quote of the night came from Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who had on elf the four hits Tanaka gave up. He told reporters after the game:

“I knew what was coming and I could not hit it.”

Tanaka became the first Yankee rookie pitcher to throw a shutout since Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez did it on Sept. 14 1988 against the Boston Red Sox.

He also silenced a Mets offense that had pounded the Yankees for 21 runs on 24 hits the past two nights across town at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY.

“I think you could argue that he’s been as valuable as anyone on our team, with what he’s done so far this year,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 20-19 and they are tied with the Red Sox for second place in the American League East, one half-game behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles. The Mets dropped to 19-20.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s brilliance against the Mets was tied a lot to his pitch selection. He and catcher Brian McCann noticed that the Mets were not swinging much at Tanaka’s devastating split-finger fastball on two-strike counts so they used Tanaka’s slider and two-seam fastball instead. Tanaka’s shutout lowered his season ERA to 2.17 and he now has struck out 66 and walked seven in 58 innings. WOW!
  • Solarte is long past just being lucky. This youngster is the real deal. His 1-for-3 night kept his average at .336 with four home runs and a team-leading 23 RBIs. “It’s become a running joke, pretty much, in our dugout about [Solarte being] the best player I’ve ever seen at this point,” Roberts told reporters. “It’s a great story. It’s fun to watch.”
  • Roberts was actually shortchanged in his 2-for-4 night because he hit a blistering liner off Torres’ left wrist in the seventh and then hit a scalding liner to center in the ninth that was caught by Curtis Granderson. On May 1, Roberts was hitting .213. Since then he is 12-for-40 (.300), raising his season average to .243.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Tanaka pitched just like an ace should. He stopped a losing streak, gave the shell-shocked bullpen a rest and picked up a team that was scuffling to win lately. There is nothing to complain about.

BOMBER BANTER

CC Sabathia visited Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, AL, on Wednesday and the orthopedist found some “degenerative changes” in the left-hander’s troublesome right knee, general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. Sabathia was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 11 and he later had fluid drained from the knee. Andrews has prescribed a cortisone and stem cell injection that will be administered on Thursday. Although there is no structural damage to the knee there still is no set timetable for Sabathia’s return.  . . .  Outfielder Carlos Beltran sat out Wednesday’s game after having a cortisone injection for a bone spur in his right elbow earlier this week. The Yankees will re-evaluate Beltran’s elbow in a few days. They are hoping the veteran can avoid having surgery.

ON DECK

The Yankees will complete their Subway Series with Mets on Thursday with a chance of earning a split.

The Yankees will call up right-hander Chase Whitley to make his major-league debut in place of Sabathia. Whitley, 24, is 3-2 with a 2.39 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has a career minor-league ERA of 2.64.

The Mets will counter with a rookie right-hander named Jacob deGrom, who also will be making his first start in the majors. DeGrom, 25, is 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Las Vegas. He will be starting in place of right-hander Dillon Gee, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lat strain.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Boast Outfield With Power, Speed Mix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is a shame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yankees Know It’s Unwise To Bet Against Jeter

It is hard enough to win games with a full roster in the American League East. It is difficult when your team is riddled with crippling injuries. It becomes darn near impossible when the team loses its heart and soul.

That is pretty much what the New York Yankees lost last season without its future Hall of Fame shortstop and captain Derek Jeter.

The team has spiraled downward ever since Jeter broke his right ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers in 2012.

The Yankees were swept in that series and they stumbled to a tie for third place in the division with the Baltimore Orioles and missed the playoffs for only the second time since 1994, the season before Jeter made his major-league debut.

Jeter, 39, tried to get back on the field for the 2013 season. But each step forward led to two steps back.

During spring training, the Yankees brought Jeter along slowly, not allowing him to play in the field until the third week of exhibition games. However, it was obvious in watching Jeter run out the batter’s box that he was just not right.

He favored the left ankle and had none of the usual spring in his step.

When X-rays indicated an additional break in the ankle, Jeter was placed on the 60-day disabled list and the usual critics and naysayers came out of the woodwork claiming Jeter was too old to play shortstop and that he would never be the same.

Jeter took that as a challenge and tried to come back on July 11. However, that comeback was short-circuited when he suffered a mild strain in his left quad running out a grounder in his first game back. He went on the 15-day disabled list with quite a bit of frustration after being so sure he was ready.

Activated on July 28, Jeter showed the Yankees just a hint of what they were missing when he went 2-for-4 with a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays.

That comeback was ended just three games later when an examination on Aug. 3 indicated Jeter sustained a Grade 1 strain of his right calf. He was placed on the disabled list for a third time.  This was pretty much par for the course when it came to many of the Yankees returning from injuries in 2014 only to wind up back on the disabled list.

Just ask Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter had a lot of company on the team’s sickbay.

Jeter returned to the lineup on Sept. 1 and that comeback lasted just a total of seven games. Jeter re-injured his surgically repaired left ankle and, after a few days to assess the injury, Jeter offiicially was shelved for the season on Sept. 11.

The 13-time All-Star ended up playing in just 17 games batting .190 with a home run and seven RBIs. One big wasted season filled with frustration for a player who has always prided himself on playing every day since he became the team’s starting shortstop in 1996.

He also had to abandon any hope of potentially being able to surpass baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, who amassed 4,256 hits. Jeter was ahead of Rose’s pace at the same age entering the 2013 season. If Jeter had any intention of playing long enough to break that mark it is went up in smoke last season.

Yankee fans received a bit of a jolt when the Yankees signed shortstop Brendan Ryan to a two-year, $5 million contract on Dec. 2. It raised some eyebrows because some Yankee watchers thought it signaled that the team might be making the move to replace Jeter with the 31-year-old veteran.

But the Yankees quickly squelched any talk about that because Jeter. who was scheduled to play under a player-option contract in 2014 worth $9.5 million, was handed a one-year, $12 million deal by the Yankees. You do not replace a shortstop by offering him more money than his contract specified.

Jeter revealed to reporters on Nov. 14 that his ankle has healed and that he was “100 percent sure” that he would return to his role as the every day shortstop for the Yankees in 2014. Jeter said he was only working on strengthening his body for the coming season and was not worried about his ankle at all.

Of course, he did admit that although he wants to play every day, he is sure that he will get some at-bats as a designated hitter, which is fine with him.

The naysayers still do not believe that Jeter can come back at his age and play at the same level he did before the injury. That is fine if they think that, Jeter says.

Jeter will just have to prove them wrong as he did in 2012 when he led the majors with 216 hits after he hit a career low .270 in 2010 and spent the first half of the 2011 season hitting around .250. Many baseball experts thought Jeter was done then. But after adjusting his swing rehabbing a calf injury during the All-Star break, Jeter raised his average to .297 by season’s end.

The lesson: You may not want to give up on a guy who has five championship rings and career total of 3,316 hits.

The only real question about Jeter will be his ability to field such a demanding position at an advanced age. Players such as Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel have done it, but for some reason the ankle and leg injuries Jeter sustained last season give some people pause.

However, whatever range Jeter once had, he lost a long time before the ankle injury. Though Jeter has been awarded five Gold Gloves, including one in 2012, number-crunching gurus have been criticizing him since he won his third award in 2008.

Jeter’s defensive strength has never been totally about range. It is his sure-handed playmaking on the balls he does reach. In 2012, he handled 506 chances and committed only 10 errors. He also formed what has to be the franchise’s best double-play combination in history with second baseman Robinson Cano.

Yankee fans know the difference when Jeter is not in the lineup too. Eduardo Nunez has struggled most of his career playing the position and fans even dubbed him “Eduardo Scissorhands.”

With Jeter’s injury troubles, you would think that Nunez, 26, would have been able to take advantage of the opportunity and make his own mark at the position in 2014.

Unfortunately for Nunez, he could stay healthy and he regressed with his bat. Nunez batted .260 with three homers and 28 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 90 games. In 75 starts at shortstop, he committed 12 errors, which pretty much played himself out of a job when the Yankees signed Ryan on Sept. 10.

Ryan started all 17 of the Yankees’ remaining games in 2014 and batted .220 with a home run and one RBI.  He committed only one error in those games and he is generally accorded to be one of the better fielding shortstops in baseball though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove.

According to FanGraphs Ryan recorded 22 defensive runs saved in 2010, 18 in 2011 and 20 in 2012.

The big knock on Ryan is that he is a career .237 hitter with 19 home runs and 187 RBIs in seven major-league seasons. He is no threat to take Jeter’s job at shortstop but he gives the club some excellent insurance at the position.

However, Nunez’s days with the Yankees appear to be numbered. The team seems to have given on him completely. So Nunez enters 2014 in a position where he should not be looking to buy a home in the tri-state area around New York City.

The Yankees already trimmed the roster of versatile infielder Jayson Nix on Dec. 2 when he was not tendered a contract offer for the 2014 season along with rookie infielder David Adams and right-handed pitcher Matt Daley.

Nix, 31, spent two seasons with the Yankees as backup infielder. Like many of the Yankees, Nix suffered a broken left hand in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 21 in which he was struck by a pitch by knuckleball right-hander R.A. Dickey and missed the remainder of the season.

Nix batted .236 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in 87 games before succumbing to the injury.

The Yankees signed free-agent infielder Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $3 million contract, which means the 32-year-old veteran could figure in the mix to play second base.

Johnson has also played first and third base and the outfield. He also, unlike Ryan, Nunez and Nix, bats left-handed.

The Yankees are not exactly rich at the shortstop position in the minors at this point.

Addison Maruszak, 26, batted .254 with four home runs and 32 RBIs in 94 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He is not considered as a prospect for the big leagues.

Former first-round pick Cito Culver, 21, is not making much progress in the minors. Though Culver can flash some leather with the glove the offensive part of the game has eluded him up to this point.

Culver hit a combined a combined .248 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 120 games in two stops at the Class-A level in 2013.

The Yankees, it is safe to say do not have another Jeter waiting in the wings to take his place.

So it is a good thing that Jeter is saying he is healed and will be ready to go when camp opens in February. He is the one player the Yankees can’t afford to be without in 2014. They need his bat, they need his glove and they need his leadership by example.

Expecting him to be the fresh-faced kid that 20-plus homers and drove in 90 runs in his heyday would be expecting way too much, But the Yankees will take the numbers he put up in 2012 when he hit .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Betting against Jeter has never been a safe bet before and may not be a wise one now.

 

Ellsbury Signing Buoys Yankees, Weakens Bosox

In the world of baseball free agency there is one maxim that is absolute: It is no-brainer to want to strengthen your club but it is extremely smart to weaken your opponent’s while you are strengthening your club.

The New York Yankees not only added to their roster with the signing of Gold Glove center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, they significantly weaken the Boston Red Sox. Toche’.

Following in the footsteps of Johnny Damon in 2006, Ellsbury will  –  after passing a physical  –  sign a lucrative seven-year, $153 million contract with an option for an eighth year that will bring the total contract to $169 million.

Ellsbury, 30, batted .298 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs while leading the major leagues in stolen bases with 52 in 134 games last season. In 2011, Ellsbury batted .318 with a career-high 32 homers and 105 RBIs and earned his only All-Star selection and a Gold Glove.

On the heels of the five-year, $85 million contract offer to catcher Brian McCann last week, the Steinbrenner family, general manger Brain Cashman and the entire Yankees braintrust are serving notice to the other major league teams they are through with fiscal constraints that have seen them largely sit out free agency period for top-name talent for the past four seasons.

After the team suffered through a horrific string of free-agent departures and crippling injuries to the core of the team in 2013 that saw the club limp to the finish line with only 85 wins, missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons, the Yankee hierarchy is saying enough is enough.

The McCann signing I told you last week was just the start of this new era in spending and it definitely is not over.

Ellsbury’s signing certainly brings an end to the team’s pursuit of Carlos Beltran, who had the Yankees balking at giving the 37-year-old a third year on a potential contract. The Yankees shifted off Beltran and then contacted Scott Boras, who is is Ellsbury’s agent.

The Yankees also will be saying so long to Curtis Granderson, who led the majors by hitting 84 home runs in 2011 and 2012, but he also struck out 360 times in that span. The Yankees figure his power was largely a product of Yankee Stadium and that he will not be able to maintain that level of power elsewhere.

The big question Ellsbury’s signing poses is what happens to center-fielder Brett Gardner?

Gardner, 30, is coming off his best season with the Yankees after hitting .273 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs and stealing 24 bases in 145 games. Ellsbury’s deal likely means he will become the center-fielder. So if Gardner stays with the Yankees, does he move to left?

If Gardner moves to left, where will the Yankees put left-fielder Alfonso Soriano? If Soriano moves to right-field, what happens to holdovers Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, who are both signed for the 2014 season?

The Yankees could choose to package Gardner in a trade and get something of value back for him but they will not get much back for either Wells or Suzuki. Both showed signs that indicated that their careers, which were once quite productive, are coming to a quick end.

Wells, who will turn 36 on Dec. 8, batted .233 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 130 games last season. But he hit only one home run after May 15 and he largely was pretty useless unless he was facing a left-handed pitcher. Because the Los Angels Angels are paying a huge portion of his contract, the Yankees would have no problem releasing him if they wanted to do so.

Suzuki, 40, hit .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 150 games. He was mostly a non-factor late in the season, hitting .228 in August and .205 in September. Suzuki, however, does have some value as a platoon designated hitter, a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield and a pinch-runner. But his days of full-time play appear to be over.

There also is another big question about the Ellsbury signing. Where does this leave the Yankees with respect to second baseman Robinson Cano?

With the two main rivals of the Yankees for Cano’s services, the Los Angels Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers, out of the bidding, Cano has lowered his 10-year, $305 million demands. But the Yankees have not raised their offer from their initial seven-year, $160 million bid.

But the Yankees seem to have the cash sufficient enough to get into the eight-year, $240 million range and talks with Cano will continue.

The Yankees are also looking to add 400 innings to their starting rotation by signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers this winter.

Phil Hughes , 27, is poised to sign a three-year, $24 million with the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, however, felt Hughes was more suited to a bullpen role after he turned in a horrific 4-14 record and a 5.14 ERA last season.

The Yankees are targeting the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, 38, who was 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA last season for the Yankees, and fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, 25,  who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles this season.

The Yankees intend to be much more aggressive in the bidding process for Tanaka than they were for right-hander Yu Darvish, who signed with Texas after the Rangers posted $51.7 million bid for the right to sign him.

The Yankees could bid as much as they want without the cost affecting the $189 million salary limits for 2014. They also have some salary flexibility with the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the decision to allow Granderson to leave and the likely suspension of third basemen Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season, which means they will not have to pay his annual $25 million salary.

The best part of the Ellsbury deal was that it is the first shot off the bow on Red Sox Nation.

The Red Sox have a number of key contributors to their 2014 season like Ellsbury, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli trolling the free-agent waters. Each one of those losses forces the Bosox to find replacements elsewhere and there is no guarantee those replacements will maintain the same chemistry the team had last season.

The Red Sox Nation social media is already doing the usual “Ellsbury stinks” and “Ellsbury is old” rants and they are already touting Jackie Bradley Jr. as the next Willie Mays in center. But, to be sure, they are hurting deeply on the inside. Ellsbury was part of the corps that the Red Sox counted upon last season and he is gone to the “Evil Empire” no less.

He expects to be booed in Boston. It will just be interesting to see how he is treated in New York. My guess is, like Damon and Kevin Youkilis (very briefly) last season, the Yankees will warm up to Ellsbury.

After all, any signing that weakens the Red Sox is fine by me. It also will be just fine with the Yankee Universe.

 

Cano Inching Closer To Re-Signing With Yankees

When Robinson Cano fired combative player agent Scott Boras to become the first sports client for recording artist Jay-Z and his new agency, Yankee fans figured it was a given that a loyal Yankee fan like Jay-Z would steer his client to the Yankees without any problem.

Well, it has not quite been that way so far.

Cano, 31, and the Yankees still remain very far apart in negotiations on a new contract for the All-Star second baseman.

Representatives for Cano kind of stunned the Yankees and the baseball world as a whole by seeking a 10-year contract in excess of $300 million. Many observers claim that Cano’s agents are marketing him as a baseball version of Michael Jordan and it is hard to see the analogy.

Cano is a talented player with great appeal but his jersey and other gear is not even selling among the top 20 players in the sport. He even trails fellow second baseman Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox.

However, Yankee fans, reality and circumstances may be settling in at Camp Cano now.

Cano’s representatives, Brodie Van Wagenen and Juan Perez of CAA Baseball, met with Yankees president Randy Levine on Tuesday and Cano has reportedly lowered his contract demands. However, the two sides remain far apart. After all, the Yankees were offering seven years at $160 million.

But the fact that Cano’s people are lowering his demands shows there is some wiggle room in the talks. More talks are planned and we could see the Yankees raise their offer a bit.

The Yankees were extremely fortunate to gain an upper hand in the negotiations when two prime teams Cano could have coaxed into a bidding war for his services solved their second base problems early.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed 27-year-old Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to fill their big need at the position. That was strike one on Cano.

Then this week the Detroit Tigers dealt first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in return for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Strike two.

That has given Yankees general manager Brian Cashman just the kind of leverage he needed to lower Cano’s very lucrative demands. Now it appears common sense will prevail and the two sides can work something out because their is one very salient fact about all this: The Yankees can’t afford to lose Cano.

Cano is simply the best player the Yankees have and on the heels of a disastrous injury-marred 2013 campaign the Yankees don’t want their franchise player to leave.

The Yankees are playing it like they are cool with it. I’m sure the rumor the Yankees were talking with free agent Omar Infante had all the hallmarks of Cashman behind the scenes fanning the flames.

But even he knows that Infante is not even a blip on the radar compared to what Cano can do for a team. But, hey, if it works, it works for Cashman.

Infante, 31, hit a robust .318 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs for the Tigers last season. Cano, on the other hand, batted .314 with 27 home runs and drove in 107 runs and should have won a Gold Glove after just committing six errors last season. (Pedroia dives and flops around like a dying carp while Cano glides to everything and the voters think Pedroia is better. Geesh!)

Cano’s growth as a player has been immense. He came up as a colt in 2005 but he is now a bona fide thoroughbred.

He is a career .309 hitter with 204 home runs and 822 RBIs. He is four-time All-Star, he has won two Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards and he is simply the best second baseman in baseball today. You don’t replace that with Infante.

Last season, the Yankees lost a huge chunk of its power when players such as Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez left as free agents. Then the team lost most of its remaining power with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter rehabbing from offseason surgeries and Curtis Gramderson and Mark Teixeira sustaining injuries before the season even started.

The one constant the Yankees could count on all season long was Cano. Despite the fact teams pitched around him all season, Cano delivered.

The other hallmark of Cano’s career has also been his durability.

Since 2007, Cano has not played in less than 159 games in any season. Last season, he answered the bell for 160.

The only knock on Cano has been that label of “lazy” that dogged his early career and cost him a few more Gold Gloves because he made everything seem so dang easy. He has mostly beaten that rap in the field but it still dogs him as a base-runner.

Cano has a habit of coasting to first on grounders and he has been embarrassed by getting thrown out at second base on balls he thought were going out of the park. But all his positives far outweigh that negative. The sum of the parts adds up to the greatest second baseman in Yankees history.

And should Cano remain in pinstripes, he could certainly make a case for himself up against the likes of Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. He and Jeter have formed the best double-play combination in Yankees history.

There is no telling what Cano will do if he remains a Yankee.

The only question remains is will he?

There is no doubt Infante remains the only viable fallback position should Cano leave.

After all, the Yankees have some players who play the position but none of them hold a match, much less a candle, to Cano.

The Yankees dealt right-hander Ben Paullus to the San Diego Padres for second baseman Dean Anna on Nov. 20. Anna, 27, was a Triple-A All-Star at Tucson in 2013 and batted .331 with nine home runs and 73 RBIs. Another big plus in his favor is that he bats left-handed.

The word on Anna is that he is solid fielder. In fact, he also played 60 games at shortstop and seven at third base. His versatility seems to make him a player worth watching this spring. But he is not likely going to be the heir apparent to Cano if he leaves. The Yankees are not fools.

Anna is going to compete for a backup infield spot, period. He will get some stiff competition from holdover Jayson Nix.

The Yankees have not given up on David Adams but they certainly were disappointed with what he produced when he was pressed into service as a third baseman in 2014.

Adams, 26, has primarily been a second baseman in the minor leagues and he will get a shot at both second and third this spring. But after hitting .193 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 43 games with the Yankees in 2013, he will be on a very short leash if he does not produce this spring.

Meanwhile, after a very strong 2012 season, 25-year-old Corban Joseph slipped mightily in 2013 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He hit .239 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 47 games. With the acquisition of Anna, Adams and Joseph are quickly dropping off the radar as prospects if they were at all.

At lower levels the Yankees have hot-hitting Jose Pirela, 24, who batted .272 in 124 games at Double-A Trenton and 21-year-old speedster Angelo Gumbs, who hit .213 in 91 games at two stops at the A level last season. Though Gumbs is pretty raw with the bat the Yankees love his potential.

But all talk surrounding second base with the Yankees begins and ends with Cano. Yankee fans would just love to hear that Cano has re-signed with the team. It is hard to imagine 2014 without him.

The signs, though, are pointing toward the Yankees retaining him. The question just remains at what price. It is looking at this point that it will be the Yankees price and Cano will just have to settle on a more realistic number.

Then he can start racking up more big numbers with his bat.