YANKEES 5, PHILLIES 5 (9 INNINGS)
With two on, two out and a 3-2 count Aaron Judge clubbed a three-run, game-tying homer as New York rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the ninth inning on Tuesday to escape with a tie with Philadelphia in their Grapefruit League season opener at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Judge, 22, is a 6-foot-7, 255-pound outfielder rated as the team’s No. 5 prospect after he hit a combined .308 with 17 home runs and for Class-A Charleston (SC) and Class-A Tampa last season.
Judge’s home run came off left-hander Mario Hollands, who the Yankees tagged for four runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning.
When you see Judge at the plate you will see a striking resemblance to Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, the 6-foot-6, 240 -pound outfielder who blasted 37 home runs and drove in 105 runs last season.
The similarly built Judge hopes to be able to be doing the same for the Yankees in a few years. If Tuesday’s opener is any indication the Yankees will wait patiently for what is the top power-hitting prospect in their minor-league system.
“I’m trying to make it as hard as I can for them to send me back across the street for the minor leagues,” Judge told reporters. “Just doing whatever I can to help us win.”
Judge was the Yankees’ 32nd selection in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. Since then he has been drawing comparisons with Stanton and former Yankee Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.
The Yankees love the fact that Judge is not just “all-or-nothing” swinger at the plate. He showed his knowledge of the strike zone by drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch in the eighth inning. He grounded out in his first at-bat.
“I think we’ve said all along, there’s some really good position players that are coming,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Judge is definitely one of those good players.
“I was more nervous on deck than I was on the field,” Judge told reporters. “That first AB, warming up, I was pretty nervous. But once I got in the box, it’s all the same game.”
- Adam Warren started for the Yankees and pitched two scoreless innings, yielding one single, walking none and striking out none. He threw 25 pitches and looked to be in total command. Warren is pitching as a starter this spring in case the Yankees opt to go with six starters in the early part of the season.
- Another power-hitting position player also had a nice game. First baseman Greg Bird was 2-for-3 with a single and double in his first game action. Bird, 22, batted .271 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs at Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last season.
- The Yankees scored all of their runs with two outs. Two batters before Judge’s game-tying homer, outfield prospect Jake Cave legged an RBI infield single. In the first inning, second baseman Jose Pirela chopped an RBI single over Ryan Howard’s head to score Chris Young.
- Two of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects pitched but ended up giving up four runs in two innings between the two of them. The team’s No. 1 prospect, right-hander Luis Severino, struck out the first two batters he faced in a 1-2-3 third inning. However, the Phillies managed three straight singles to start the fourth, culminating in an RBI single on a 3-2 pitch by Howard. After giving up another single to Domonic Brown, Cody Asche broke the 1-1 tie with a sacrifice fly off reliever Diego Moreno’s first pitch.
- Left-hander reliever Jacob Lindgren, rated the team’s No. 9 prospect, was touched for two unearned runs on two hits and a costly error in two-thirds of an inning of work in the seventh. Lindgren, a standout pitcher with College World Series champion Mississippi State in 2013, was having trouble locating his breaking pitches in a shaky 25-pitch outing.
- Rob Refsnyder, a converted second baseman who is ranked as the team’s No. 6 prospect, had the worst day you could possibly imagine. He committed a throwing error that led to the two unearned runs off Lindgren in the seventh. At the plate, Refsnyder, 23, was 0-for-2 with a walk, including a weak infield popup with one out and the base loaded in eighth and a strike out with the game-winning run at second in the ninth.
With the good news about some of the Yankees’ young prospects there was some real bad news coming out of minor-league camp in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday. The team has announced that catcher Luis Torrens, 18, suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder and he will miss the entire 2015 season. Torrens is rated as the team’s No. 10 prospect. He was signed out of Venezuela in 2012 and played at three Class-A sites last season, batting .256 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 62 games. Torrens will undergo surgery on Wednesday in New York. . . . Alex Rodriguez said he is ready to go on Wednesday. Rodriguez is scheduled to start for the Yankees as the designated hitter. “I’ll be a little nervous, for sure,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I haven’t been in front of our fans for a long time. I’m excited about that. I have some challenges ahead.” Rodriguez, 39, enters the spring without a starting position and could end up as a backup at first and third base or a platoon designated hitter. . . . The Phillies decided to pull a switch of their scheduled pitchers for Tuesday’s opener. After announcing 33-year-old right-hander Jerome Williams would start, the Phillies elected to start right-hander David Buchanan instead. Williams did come in to pitch a scoreless third and fourth inning.
The Yankees return the favor with the Phillies on Wednesday by having them in for their Grapefruit League home opener at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees have named newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to start the game. Eovaldi, 24, was 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA with the Marlins last season. He was acquired along with first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones and right-hander Domingo German in exchange for infielder Martin Prado and David Phelps.
The Phillis, as they did on Tuesday, elected to switch their starting pitcher from veteran right-hander Aaron Harang to non-roster invitee Kevin Slowey, 30, who was 1-1 with a 5.30 ERA in 17 games with the Marlins last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be televised nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.
RIGHT-FIELD: Carlos Beltran, 37, (.233, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 109 games)
CENTER-FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, (.271, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs, 39 SBs, 149 games)
LEFT-FIELD: Brett Gardner, 31, (.256, 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 148 games)
In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season they featured at outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher that combined to hit 81 home runs. The 2014 edition of the Yankees only managed 48.
That tells you a lot about a team that limped to a 84-78 record and finished a distant second to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
The Yankees had envisioned a speedy and defensive outfield that also featured some power from Beltran and Ellsbury. Instead, Gardner wound up out-homering the group and doesn’t that say a lot on how bad things were last season?
Beltran was a major disappointment but it was not through any fault of his own. In late April, Beltran was suffering through a very painful bone spur in his right elbow. It was easy to see how it affected his offense, too.
On April 23, Beltran was batting .307 with five homers and 13 RBIs in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. From that point until he was placed on the disabled list on May 13, he hit .132 with no homers and two RBIs.
The Yankees can be faulted for signing the aging outfielder to a three-year contract. However, general manager Brian Cashman felt compelled to give in to Beltran’s demands for a third year after Robinson Cano left the team in a huff after the signing of Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. The Yankees needed to find a solid No. 3 hitter and Beltran was the choice.
Beltran did return to the Yankees in June after attempting to rehab the elbow rather than have season-ending surgery. But he never was really the same hitter the rest of the season, batting .208 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.
Beltran was basically playing with one arm and it showed. Even though he did return, he was unable to play the outfield until very late in the season because the bone spur in his elbow did not allow him to throw freely.
So Beltran decided to have surgery to remove the spur in September. He reported to training camp healthy and ready to prove himself as the player who hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
So heading into 2015 the Yankees are counting on the switch-hitting Beltran to bat third and put up big home run and RBI numbers. As a player who has hit 373 career homers and driven in 1,376 runs while batting .281 over 16 major-league seasons, Beltran is certainly capable of doing that if . . .
Yep, there is that big if. The big if is can he remain healthy throughout the season? Beltran and the Yankees are anxious to find out.
“I trained hard, I did everything that I did in the past,” Beltran told reporters. “I want to be out there, no doubt.”
The Yankees are counting on Beltran, Mark Teixiera and Brian McCann to post numbers that will prevent the Yankees from ending up with the third-fewest runs scored in the American League as they did last season.
Much was also expected of Ellsbury after he signed that big contract to leave the Boston Red Sox.
For the most part, Ellsbury did deliver what was expected of him except when Beltran and Teixeira succumbed to injuries and Ellsbury was taken out of his comfortable leadoff spot and placed in the third spot in the batting order.
Ellsbury did not produce the runs the Yankees would have expected and his bat cooled off considerably as the season wore on. He ended up batting .155 in September and he did not even get close to the .298 average he put up in 2013 with the Red Sox.
By virtue of batting third, Ellsbury also did not get as many opportunities to steal bases, ending up with 13 less from his major-league-leading total of 52 in 2013.
The bottom line is that Ellsbury still led in the team in hits (156), doubles (27) and stolen bases while posting his best home run and RBI totals since 2011. He was, by all accounts, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2014.
“Ellsbury is Ellsbury,” Cashman told reporters. “I thought he was basically right where he was when he left Boston. I thought he was terrific last year.”
There were moments last season that Gardner appeared to be on the verge of having a breakout season.
On June 20, Gardner was batting .290 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 15 SBs. For a club struggling with offense, Gardner was providing opportunities to score by getting on base.
But as the season wore on, a core muscle injury in his abdomen dragged Gardner down. He hit a terrible .218 with eight homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. It ruined what looked to be what would easily be Gardner’s best in the majors.
After Gardner underwent surgery in October to correct the problem, he is reporting to camp at 100 percent.
With his return to health the Yankees would like for him to be more aggressive on the bases. After stealing 47 bases in 2010 and 49 in 2011, Gardner has regressed to just 24 steals in 2013 and 21 last season.
Manager Joe Girardi must also decide how to deploy Ellsbury and Gardner in the batting order. At this point, it appears Ellsbury will resume his leadoff role and Gardner will bat second. But Girardi likely will flip the two throughout the spring to get a feel how best to bat them.
One thing is clear, however. Both Ellsbury and Gardner give the Yankees excellent defense in the outfield. It stands to reason since they are both legitimate center-fielders.
Ellsbury won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox in 2011 and his fielding in 2014 was just as superlative. He committed only one error all season and playing the wide-open spaces of center in Yankee Stadium is not an easy assignment.
Gardner has never won a Gold Glove but he should have. Last season, Gardner committed just two errors and he was able to blend well with Ellsbury. Between the two of them it takes a lot to get a ball past them in left-center.
Beltran won three Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from 2006 through 2008. However, he will not be winning anymore of them. Knee problems have robbed Beltran of the range he used to have as a center-fielder.
He was charged with three errors in 31 starts in the outfield last season. But the good news is that right-field does not have as much ground to cover so the Yankees will only ask Beltran to catch what he can reach.
Though the Yankees realized his best days were behind him they will still miss the defensive prowess of Ichiro Suzuki in right-field. Suzuki has moved on to the Miami Marlins.
The Yankees have some depth in the outfield with a pair of players who have a lot of experience.
Garrett Jones was obtained in trade with the Marlins and is slated to have some important roles with the team this season.
Jones, 33, batted .246 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as a first baseman.
The Yankees would like the lefty-swinging Jones to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season because his swing is perfect for the short dimensions in right-field. In addition, Jones will back up Teixeira at first base and Beltran in right-field.
Jones is not a great fielder at first base (13 errors in 129 games in 2014) but he holds his own in the outfield. He does not have much range but he can make the plays. The Yankees feel they now have a serviceable backup for both Teixeira and Beltran and they are glad to have him.
The Yankees also have 31-year-old veteran Chris Young back after an impressive late-season audition with the team in 2014.
Young was cut loose by the Mets in early August and the Yankees signed him to a minor-league deal on Aug. 27. In the final month of the season, Young batted .282 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games.
On that basis the Yankees elected to re-sign the veteran to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will be the team’s fourth outfielder and as a right-handed hitter he can give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest against a tough-left-handed pitcher.
Young is a power hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in four of five seasons between 2007 and 2011, including 32 in 2007. However, Young has never batted above .257 in any of his eight major-league seasons and he enters 2015 as a career .234 hitter.
Young still has some speed. He has 130 career steals and eight in limited play last season.
The former 2010 National League All-Star also can play all three outfield spots and he is an above average defender.
The additions of Jones and Young give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility in making out lineups and they are solid insurance policies should someone land on the disabled list.
One of the biggest failings of Cashman and the scouting department has been the inability of the Yankees to develop minor-league outfielders who can contribute to the Yankees. It seems that whatever prospects have been in the system are languishing and they aren’t progressing.
Zoilo Almonte, 25, has been up and down with the Yankees the past two seasons and has a .211 batting average in 47 games to show for it. The Yankees elected to let him go as a minor-league free agent and Almonte has since signed with the Atlanta Braves.
The other prospect names are virtually the same from last season: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. Further behind them is Slade Heathcott.
They all will get another look this spring but they all will not make the roster unless there are some injuries.
Williams, 23, was once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system but he has slid to No. 16 this season after batting a horrible .223 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 128 games at Double-A Trenton.
Williams is a gifted athlete and he is sensational defensive outfielder. But at the plate he has become more of a slap hitter and it is obvious that he not making enough contact. Williams’ hustle has also been questioned and he was arrested on a DUI in 2013.
Austin, 23, also dropped as a prospect to No. 15. But he was a bit better at Trenton. He batted .275 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games last season. But after he batted .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2012, Austin has been dogged a persistent sprained right thumb.
The Yankees still have hope that he can he can develop. The Yankees think he can become a high-average power hitter. Austin is mainly a corner outfielder and likely would figure in as a right-fielder in the majors.
Flores, 22, is ranked as the team’s 14th best prospect after he batted a .247 with seven homers and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A high-ankle sprain kept him from progressing as the Yankees would have liked.
Right now Flores is pegged as all-fields hitter who lacks power. It’s that reason why he is beginning to look like more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. Though he can play all three spots he works out best as a left-fielder because he lacks speed.
Heathcott, 24, was a former first-round pick of the Yankees in 2009 and he was not tendered a contract offer by the Yankees in December. Yet the Yankees re-signed him and invited him to camp as a non-roster player.
Though Heathcott has great talent, his all-out style of play has landed him on the minor-league disabled list many times. In 2013, it was a knee injury that required surgery.
He played only nine games at Trenton in 2014 before re-injuring the knee and missing the rest of the season. It looks like the Yankees are offering Heathcott one last make-or-break attempt because he is 24 and he has not advanced past Double-A.
One non-roster player that the Yankees can’t wait to check out is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Aaron Judge, who was a first-round selection by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Judge, 22, has a resemblance to NBA forward Blake Griffin and because of his size he has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield and Giancarlo Stanton. But Judge does not just look the part.
In 131 games in two Class-A stops in 2014, Judge batted .308 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. His right-hand power stroke is awesome to see. Scouts say he does not just hit balls; he crushes them.
With his long swing he is prone to fail to make contact and strike out a lot. But the Yankees see him fitting nicely into right-field because for a big man Judge can move pretty well and he is a decent outfielder defensively.
He is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and the Yankees can’t wait to see what he can do this spring.
The No. 8 prospect is 22-year-old Jake Cave, who hit a combined .294 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs between Class-A Tampa and Trenton.
Cave hits consistently from the left side. Not a big power threat, he mostly is a gap hitter. Cave is a above-average outfielder and as a former pitcher he has a great arm in center-field. He has good but not great speed but scouts love his max effort.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD
The Yankees have been snakebit for the past two seasons with injuries and the one to Beltran really derailed the outfield and caused a significant drop in run production in 2014. It is easy to say that Beltran, Ellsbury and Gardner are an excellent mix of speed, power, run production and defense but they all have to stay healthy.
The fact that Beltran has not missed a lot of time in the past indicates the odds he will be able to play a full season and he should be able to provide some power (20 plus homers) and 90 or more RBIs. The Yankees will need that from him in the No. 3 spot in the order.
Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 60 stolen bases but they should steal a whole lot more this season.
The shift of Ellsbury to the third spot cut his steals to 39 and Gardner has seemed more and more reluctant to run the last two seasons. It is hard to figure out why.
But the Yankees need both of them to get on base, advance and score runs if the team is going to succeed. There is not as much power on this team as there once was and that is why Ellsbury and Gardner will have to make the engine go.
The fact the two combined to hit 33 home runs was a bonus. The Yankees would love to have a repeat of those numbers in 2015.
The Yankees are blessed to have two backup outfielders capable of hitting double-digit homers in Young and Jones.
Young can play all three positions and Jones is a corner outfielder. But Jones likely will get more work as the team’s primary DH and as the backup to Teixeira at first base.
But Jones could also end up as a starter in right-field if Beltran goes down for any length of time.
Most of the Yankees’ most advanced outfield prospects have been major disappointments. Williams, Austin, Flores and Heathcott have all been highly touted prospects but they have flamed out so far.
Of that group, only Austin appears capable of turning it around if he can overcome his injury problems.
The best news on the farm is that Judge appears to the man-mountain power threat he appears to be. The Yankees just have to hope he can keep the strikeouts in check and keep his average up. The Yankees would like to have Judge be more like Winfield rather than Dave Kingman.
He is worth watching this spring.
NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS
On Feb. 15, 2007, the course of history for the New York Yankees took a huge turn and the current state of the team begs the question: What if it did not happen?
Though the Yankees were still be operated ostensibly by managing general partner George Steinbrenner, the actual day-to-day operations were being run by Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, Steve Swindal, who was named the successor to Steinbrenner in June 2005.
Swindal was chosen over Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hal and Hank, because Steinbrenner felt more comfortable with Swindal’s leadership and his vast baseball knowledge.
However, while the Yankees were in the midst of spring training in 2007, Swindal’s vehicle unfortunately cut off in traffic a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cruiser driven by a female deputy. A chase ensued in which Swindal’s vehicle was clocked at 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone before he was stopped by St. Petersburg police.
Swindal declined to take a Breathalyzer test but failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while under the influence.
Swindal’s wife, Jennifer, later that year filed for divorce from her husband and Swindal’s stake as a general partner and chairman of the Yankees’ parent company was bought back by the Steinbrenner family in November of that year. Hal was shifted into Swindal’s role with the club and the history of this franchise was forever changed.
The Yankees were known in the Wild West days of early free agency as the major-league team with the largest saddlebags. Under George Steinbrenner’s regime from when he purchased the team in 1973 through November 2007 the Yankees tossed around millions like pennies in a fountain to lure the free agents they coveted.
In some cases, the elder Steinbrenner would be so ruthless in negotiations with free agents he would even increase a bid that already was more than any rival team was offering – actually bidding against himself.
Of course, that led to such signings as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield. Between free agent signings and some shrewd trades the Yankees won a pair of World Series in 1978 and 1979 and Steinbrenner and the Yankees were being cursed all around baseball for “buying their way” to prosperity.
Though Steinbrenner’s money did re-establish the Yankees in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Yankees actually failed to make the playoffs from 1982 through 1994. A combination of some poor signings and trades doomed the Yankees until their minor-league system began turning out a solid of corps of young stars such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Those players along with the acquisition of Paul O’Neill and the signings of pitchers such as Jimmy Key, David Wells and David Cone pushed the Yankees into an amazing run in which they won four world championships from 1996 through 2000.
Since then the team has only failed to make the playoffs in one season – 2008. They won their 27th world title in 2009 after dipping heavy into the free-agent market in signing pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
But in 2003, Major League Baseball instituted its first luxury tax, which was supposed to operate alongside revenue sharing to allow small-market teams to draw money from teams who were over a threshold payroll limit, which was set at $178 million in 2011. All teams shared the remaining revenue.
Only four teams have ever exceeded the established luxury tax limit: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. However, only the Yankees and Red Sox have ever exceeded it twice and the Yankees have paid in 95 percent of all the luxury tax since its inception.
When Hal Steinbrenner took control of the team he decided that the Yankees’ philosophy of paying top dollar and ignoring the luxury tax would have to come to an end.
In 2014, the payroll threshold will be increased to $189 million. By a complicated formula set up by the teams, there would be refunded revenue sharing streams for teams who remain under the luxury tax threshold. That gives the Yankees an added incentive to cut payroll below $189 million in 2014.
Not only will the team save money by trimming payroll; they would receive a considerable sum of refunded revenues as well. This explains why the Steinbrenner family informed general manager Brian Cashman that he will have to pass on high-priced free agents and he will have to pass on trading for players with huge long-term contracts.
So Yankee fans have watched a stream of free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jose Reyes, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes sign with other teams instead of with the Yankees. The Yankees are already on the hook for long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira.
Those three contracts alone are worth $73,875,000 plus player benefits worth an additional $10.8 million, which will also count against the $189 million.
That leaves a remainder of a little less than $105,000,000 to pay the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster in 2014.
That is why the Yankees have let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin go this offseason and it is likely that Curtis Granderson will follow them out the door sometime within the next year.
The team will also have another group of expiring contracts such as one of Robinson Cano. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are working this season under one-year contracts.
The question is will the Yankees make an effort to offer Cano a lucrative multiyear contract to remain a Yankee? Can they afford to do it? What will they do with Jeter, who is a significantly aging commodity at shortstop?
Some Yankee fans were quick to point out that if Rodriguez is found to have taken performance enhancing drugs past the 2003 date he previously claimed that the Yankees could easily just void his contract and dump him. But that may be a pipe dream.
First, Major League Baseball must have proof that he did it and then mete out a 50-game suspension. But Rodriguez can appeal the procedure and delay its effect. He also could have the suspension tossed out.
The Yankees would find it very difficult to find relevant clauses in his contract to escape from the $114,000,000 they owe Rodriguez through the 2017 season. The Players’ Association and his agent would certainly fight it and that could lead to a prolonged court battle with no guarantee the Yankees could win.
In addition, should the Yankees lose they would still have to pay Rodriguez and play him. He may not be in any mood to produce much for them either. He gets paid no matter how bad he is. So any thought of voiding his contract is going to have to be very carefully weighed.
The long-term effect of what has been an austerity program the Yankees have been under since the 2009 season ended is that the balance of power in baseball is widening out to teams who have lots of money to spend under the current salary threshold like the Tigers, the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers.
These are the teams that have been active in the free-agent market and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays have benefitted from what was a talent fire-sale by the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins.
The Red Sox traded most of their high-priced players like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez away last season to the Dodgers to restock their 2013 roster while keeping well below the looming $189 million limit.
That is why the Yankees’ prospects for the 2013 season are not as bright as they might have been under the old George Steinbrenner regime or the short-lived rule of Swindal.
Would old George or Swindal have allowed the Yankees to wither on the vine for the past three seasons and basically pinch pennies and risk the team missing the playoffs in 2013?
Hal Steinbrenner has already stated quite clearly that he expects the 2013 club to remain a top-quality team within the confines placed upon Cashman and the team’s scouts. The result is the current Yankee roster is full of 40-year-olds like Rivera and Pettitte and players in their late 30s such as Rodriguez, Jeter, Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed DH Travis Hafner.
Cashman spent a lot of time and effort stocking the minor-league system with talented young players over the past five years and Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner have provided some support to an aging corps of veterans.
However, the two best minor-league prospects the Yankees have produced in that time, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, were both packaged in trades. Jackson was sent out in three-player swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tigers that yielded Granderson for the Yankees. Montero was sent along with two other players to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-handed pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
While Jackson is thriving with the defending American League champions, Granderson has provided the Yankees with two consecutive seasons of 40-plus home runs and a lot of strikeouts. And though Montero has proven to be lackluster on defense as a catcher, his power in Yankee Stadium will be missed in a season in which the Yankees are choosing between singles-hitting catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.
In addition, both Pineda, 25, and Campos, 20, suffered injuries and had their 2012 seasons cut short. Pineda is recovering from right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he could miss a portion of the 2013 season and may not be 100 percent until the 2014 season. Campos was shut down with a right elbow injury that did not require surgery.
The Yankees have a number of very good prospects within their minor-league system, including a catcher who hits as well as Montero and has better defensive skills in Gary Sanchez, 20. They also have a pair of good-looking outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming star reliever in Mark Montgomery.
But the question is will the Yankees allow these players to develop long enough to make the roster or will they package and ship them out as they have done with Jackson and Montero?
The problem with young players – most especially pitchers – as they develop in the minors is that they need to be promoted to learn at the major-league level. Too often the Yankees pull a player back and ship them back to the minors when they initially fail.
The Yankees did that with Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy in 2008. They both got off to shaky starts (a combined 0-7 record) and the Yankees believed they could not afford to keep them on the roster.
Anyone want to guess what the records of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were in their first full season with the Atlanta Braves?
Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 starts the same season.
If Glavine and Smoltz were with the Yankees in 1988 they would have been sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for another season and their major-league development would have been stilted. In 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 and Smoltz was 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA.
The point is that players have to learn at the major-league level and when you are constantly shipping them back out they will never learn how to succeed in the major leagues. A good case in point is when the Yankees elected to ship right-hander Ivan Nova back to Scranton in the middle of the 2011 season despite the fact he ended up the season with a 16-4 record.
The Yankees are pretty rough on their prospects. If they are not ready to contribute on Day One they get sent back down. Sometimes players in the late 20s like Colin Curtis find themselves drifting in the Yankees’ system but never even given the chance to play in the majors much.
Then there are the Monteros and Jacksons who succeed just enough in the minors to be traded. Then there are the Kennedys, who are traded and ended up going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2011. So the Yankees show patience with players like Curtis, who never made it in the majors, and a lack of patience with players like Kennedy, who succeeds with another team.
If the Yankees are to adhere to this stringent luxury tax threshold in 2014 they are going to have to stop making the mistake of trading their great prospects away or, at the least, if they are going to trade them they better get something of real value back for it. They also could benefit by being a bit more patient with their young players when they call them up.
The Montero-Pineda deal is but one example of those mistakes. Cashman can’t afford to do that much going forward.
The Yankees are going to need good young athletes and skilled pitchers coming out of their system on a regular basis to retool this franchise through the end of the decade. It will certainly lower payroll, make the team better-suited for healthy runs at championships and may prove – ultimately – that Hal Steinbrenner had the right approach.
Otherwise, there will be hell to pay and old George will be have cigar smoke coming out of his ears as he rolls around in his grave. If a ghost could ever fire a son, old George will figure out a way to get that done.
YANKEES 6, RED SOX 2
A hundred years ago Fenway Park opened its turnstiles for the first time and the seeds of a Red Sox rivalry with the New York Yankees were planted on that day and sown over the generations.
The modern day version played out upon the hallowed cathedral of Boston’s baseball heritage on Friday and the New York franchise that was the Highlanders in 1912 evolved quickly into the Bronx Bombers in the afternoon sun and pounded out five solo home runs to ruin the celebration for the Red Sox faithful.
Ivan Nova (3-0) gave up two runs on seven hits and struck out five over six innings to notch his 15th consecutive decision dating back to his rookie season. He is just one victory shy of the franchise record established by Roger Clemens.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were taking aim for the upper reaches of the Green Monster and Landsdowne Street against Clay Buchholz (1-1).
Eric Chavez, inserted in the lineup to play third base so Alex Rodriguez could DH, led the way with a pair solo home runs in the second and fourth innings. Nick Swisher began the home run barrage two batters before Chavez in the second with his own Monster Mash. Rodriguez led off the fifth with a blast onto Landsdowne Street and it was the 631st home run of his career, moving him past Ken Griffey Jr. into fifth place on the all-time home run list.
Russell Martin completed the barrage in the sixth with a high lined shot into the scaffolding above the Monster for his first home run of the season. Martin stepped to the plate hitless in his last 15 at-bats.
The Red Sox scored their first run on a disputed double by David Ortiz that was ruled a home run by the umpiring crew after a replay review in the second inning. They scored again the fifth after Cody Ross led off the inning with a double to center and one out later Nick Swisher lost Mike Aviles’ routine pop fly in the sun, which allowed Ross to score.
But the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen held the Red Sox scoreless over the final three innings. Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera came on to record the final three outs in the ninth to seal the victory for the Yankees.
So while the Red Sox legends like Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez and Dwight Evans came onto the field prior to the game to pay tribute to a city’s love for its ballpark and its team, it was the modern legends the likes of Derek Jeter, Rodriguez, Ortiz and Rivera who shone brightest on this day.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 8-6 and they are now a half-game behind Baltimore in the American League East. The Red Sox fell to 4-9 and they are four games out in last place in the division.
- With the starters struggling to keep the other team off the scoreboard early and not being able to pitch past the fifth inning, Nova’s effort on Friday was very much welcome. Nova had only one 1-2-3 inning (the fourth) and yet he was able to keep the Red Sox offense at bay for most of the afternoon. The fact that the 25-year-old right-hander is within two victories of passing Clemens proves that he is doing something right. He lowered his season ERA to 3.79.
- Manager Joe Girardi gets kudos for starting Chavez at third base and Chavez made the skipper look clairvoyant with his first two home runs of the season. Chavez has only two home runs all last season for the Yankees. In limited play this season, Chavez is hitting .400 and he is proving that the Yankees’ bench is pretty deep with talent.
- Rodriguez’s home run was by far the most dramatic of all the home runs and it made a statement as it flew well over the Monster in left. It was his second home run of the season and it gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Buchholz gave up nine hits in six-plus innings five were solo home runs and two others were doubles. He was not exactly fooling the Yankees.
- Jeter singled off the glove of Kevin Youkilis in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Jeter was 1-for-5 and scored a run and he is hitting .359 on the season. With the hit he moved into 18th place and past Dave Winfield on the all-time hit list with 3,111.
- Cody Eppley, who was brought up from Triple-A when Brett Gardner was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday, did not fare well in his debut with the Yankees. The 6-foot-5 sidewinding right-hander entered the game in the ninth with a four-run lead and he gave up a leadoff single to right by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Girardi went immediately to the mound and brought in Rivera to close out the game.
- Mark Teixeira was the only Yankee starter who did not get a hit in the game. He was 0-for-4 including three weak infield grounders. Teixeira’s season average dropped to .264, which is pretty good considering Teixeira is a career .190 hitter in April.
- Swisher had to be a bit embarrassed by losing Aviles’ fly ball in the fifth, which allowed a run to score. Swisher tried using his left hand to shade his eyes from the sun but he ended up covering up and baling out as the ball dropped in front of him and rolled into deep right. It was a tough sun field on Friday but Swisher still should have had it.
Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte tossed five innings on Friday in an extended spring training game against Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguers at the Yankees’ minor-league complex in Tampa, FL. Pettitte gave up two runs on four hits but, more importantly, he threw 58 of his 66 pitches for strikes and struck out five batters. In his next game action, Pettitte likely will move up in class and start a game for Double-A Trenton. The 39-year-old veteran is targeting a return to the Yankees in early May. . . . Both teams on Friday wore throwback uniforms that were worn by Red Sox and Highlanders in 1912. The jerseys did not have names or numbers on the back, which made it hard for fans, broadcasters and writers to figure out who was coming to the plate to pinch-hit or who was coming to in to pitch. I would guess it was pointless to buy a game program in 1912, if they were even available then.
One of the loudest and warmest greetings from most of the 36,770 fans in attendance during the pregame ceremonies was bestowed upon former manager Terry Francona, who initially declined the invitation to come but later relented. Francona received a raucous standing ovation and it rivaled the ovation for Yastrzemski. In the seventh inning of the game, current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine went to the mound to remove Buchholz and he drew a chorus of boos. Valentine is still reeling from comments he made to reporters on the record about a seeming lack of commitment from Youkilis. The firestorm ended with the players backing Youkilis and Valentine was forced to apologize for the comments publicly. But it is obvious that Francona’s departure after last season’s September swoon, Valentine’s uncalled for candor and the poor start of the team has combined to provide a very poisonous atmosphere at Fenway Park on her 100th birthday. The situation will be increasingly worse for Valentine if the Red Sox fail to win a game this weekend against the Yankees. For his part on Friday, Valentine appeared reticent and chastened when he spoke to the media. It would appear he has learned a valuable lesson about being too candid and failing to address concerns with his players privately. But the question still becomes how will Valentine survive it all if this team continues to languish at the bottom of the division and fails to make the playoffs? The fans in Boston are not a patient bunch and Valentine really stepped into it badly by knocking an immensely popular player.
The rivalry series continues on Saturday.
The Yankees will send right-hander Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97) to the mound. Garcia was tagged for five runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings in a loss against the Twins on Monday. With Pettitte on the way back to the major leagues, the pressure on Garcia to pitch well increases. He is 9-4 with a 4.45 ERA over the last 10 seasons against the Bosox.
Boston will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40 ERA). Dubront has not made it out of the fifth inning this season although he has 13 strikeouts in 10 innings of work. He is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.
YANKEES 7, TWINS 6
When he stepped to the plate in the first inning on Thursday, Curtis Granderson was hitting .208 with three home runs and six RBIs and the fans at Yankee Stadium were wondering if he was headed for a fall after his magical 2011 season.
Three hours later, Granderson was walking off to a loud ovation after going 5-for-5 with three home runs and four RBIs as he led New York to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Minnesota to salvage a split of the four-game series.
With the Yankees trailing 4-0 in the first, Granderson hit the first of his three home runs into the right-center stands beyond the bullpen off Twins starter Anthony Swarzak (0-3). Mark Teixeira added a two-run, two-out home run – his first of the season – in virtually the same spot Granderson hit his to bring the Yankees to within a run at 4-3, just as the Yankees had done in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss.
However, unlike Wednesday night, the Yankees claimed the lead in the second inning starting with a two-out double by Eduardo Nunez, whose error in the first inning led to four unearned runs being scored off Yankees starter Phil Hughes (1-2).
Derek Jeter, who is off to the best start of his major-league career, followed with a slashing single to right to score Nunez. That hit gave him 3,11o hits in his career and tied him for 18th place on the all-time hit list with his boyhood idol Dave Winfield.
Granderson then stepped to the plate and he planted a 3-1 Swarzak fastball into the second deck in the right-field bleachers to give the Yankees a lead they never would relinquish.
Granderson made it 7-4 with his third round-tripper of the night with one out in the fourth inning off reliever Jeff Gray. It was a lined shot three rows back in right-field. Most of the 40,327 fans in attendance came to their feet and exhorted Granderson to a take a curtain call, which he did.
The 31-year-old center-fielder added a one-out single to right in the sixth inning off Alex Burnett and a two-out infield single off Glen Perkins in the ninth to become the first Yankee player in history to have a 5-for-5 game with three home runs.
With the three home runs, Granderson became the first Yankee player to hit three in a game at the new Yankee Stadium.
Hughes did not pitch his best but he did survive a nightmarish first inning in which Nunez threw high and up the first-base line on a routine grounder off the bat of Joe Mauer after Jamey Carroll slapped a one-out single. That led later to a base-loaded single by Ryan Doumit and a two-run double by Danny Valencia.
Hughes actually pitched well after that until Doumit blasted a 1-0 change-up into the right-centerfield bleachers for a two-run home run that brought the Twins to within a run at 7-6.
But, as they have done all season, the bullpen of Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera did not allow a run in the last 3 2/3 innings to provide a much-needed victory to the Yankees in advance of their six-game road trip to Boston and Texas before coming home to play three games against Detroit.
Rivera needed only seven pitches to notch his third save of the season.
With the victory the Yankees are now 7-6 on the season. The Twins dropped to 4-9.
- Seeing Granderson come alive at the plate on Thursday was pure magic to watch. Granderson’s three home runs put him in the lead in the American League in that category. His 5-for-5 night raised his batting average from .208 to .283. The last Yankee to hit three home runs in a game was Alex Rodriguez on Aug. 14, 2010 against the Royals in Kansas City.
- Jeter was 1-for-5 with a runs scored and an RBI and it was considered an off night. He has been that hot. Jeter was robbed of a single in the first inning on a diving stop by Carroll at shortstop and he laced a line drive to right in the fourth that was hit right at Doumit. In his two other at-bats he bounced out to the pitcher. OK, so he is human.
- Despite not pitching since April 11, Rivera looked very sharp in recording a well-earned save. Carroll, Mauer and Josh Willingham failed to get a ball out the infield. The bullpen entered play with a 1.99 ERA on the season and that is the best mark in baseball.
- Teixeira is showing signs of life with the bat for once in April. Since April 15, he is 8-for-17 (.471) with a home run and four RBIs. He is now hitting .286 and that is encouraging for Yankee fans who are accustomed to watching Tex struggle through April for the past three seasons.
- I now have the perfect nickname for Nunez: Eduardo Scissorhands. When you see him make careless errors in the field it makes you wonder what would happen if he played every day. Manager Joe Girardi opted to DH Robinson Cano and use Nunez at second base and it cost the Yankees four runs in the first inning. Nunez looks to be stiff and unsure of himself in the field and I just don’t know why because he is a great athlete.
- Hughes is still a work in progress. He gave up six runs (two earned) on seven hits and two walks and he fanned four in 5 1/3 innings. But, look at it this way: He was two outs away from what is considered a quality start and minus the Doumit two-run homer we would be singing his praises for not giving up any earned runs.
- It is official: Russell Martin is in a full-blown funk at the plate and it seems to be getting worse. He was 0-for-3 with a walk at the plate, including hitting into a 1-4-3 double play with two on and one out in the seventh inning. Martin is hitting an anemic .133 with no home runs and one RBI.
The Yankees are very happy to playing in Boston on Friday as part of the 100th birthday for Fenway Park. As part of the festivities, the Yankees and Red Sox will don throwback uniforms without numbers to commemorate the event on Friday. The players feel it is only fitting that the Red Sox play their longtime rivals on the special occasion.
Well, it is Red Sox versus Yankees on Friday on Fenway’s 100th birthday. How perfect!
The Yankees are scheduled to start right-hander Ivan Nova (2-0, 4.50 ERA). Nova has won 14 consecutive decisions dating back to his rookie season in 2011. In his last start against the Angels on Sunday he gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks and fanned eight batters in six innings in an 11-5 thrashing on ESPN. He is 0-2 with a 6.62 ERA in his career against the Bosox.
Boston will counter with right-hander Clay Buchholz (1-0, 9.00 ERA). Buchholz went seven subpar innings with a high pitch count in his last start. He is 2-3 with a 5.59 ERA lifetime against the Bombers.
Game-time will be 3:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.