Tagged: Dustin Pedroia

Power Surge Allows Yankees To Sweep Red Sox

GAME 25

YANKEES 8, RED SOX 5

If ever there was a time to showcase your superiority over a hated rival and expose their weaknesses for the rest of the baseball world to see it would be on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN in front of a national television audience. That is exactly what the Yankees did to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.

Brett Gardner hit a three-run homer, Mark Teixeira blasted a two-run shot and Brian McCann drove in two runs with a double to lead an offensive onslaught that allowed New York to complete their first series sweep in Beantown since a five-game sweep on Aug. 18-21, 2006.

The red-hot Yankees have now won 10 of their past 12 games and they left the slumping Red Sox under .500 for the first time this season.

Behind Gardner, Teixeira and McCann the Yankees were able to build an 8-0 lead on the bewildered Bosox by the sixth inning, doing most of their damage against right-hander Joe Kelly.

With two out in the first inning and Gardner on first, Teixeira opened the scoring by launching his ninth home run of the season over the Green Monster in left-center off a Kelly slider.

Two innings later, the Yankees again struck with two out and Jacoby Ellsbury on second and Teixeira on first. McCann drove a 3-2 fastball to the wall in right-center to score both runners. Carlos Beltran followed an RBI double of his own.

Kelly (1-1), who had beaten right-hander Adam Warren and the Yankees on April 11 at Yankee Stadium by limiting them to just one hit in seven innings, finally was chased from the game with two out in the fifth.

He was charged with five runs on nine hits and no walks with three strikeouts. It was the eighth time in 25 games that the Red Sox have had a starting pitcher yield five or more runs, which is the worst mark in the majors.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to add three more runs in the sixth off left-hander Craig Breslow when Didi Gregorius and Ellsbury, who was 4-for-4 on the night, singled and Gardner followed with a his second home run of the season into right-center.

Gardner’s blow appeared to put the game completely out of reach. However, right-hander Warren tired in the sixth and Gardner’s home run ended up being the decisive blow in the contest.

Warren (2-1) had allowed the Red Sox only one hit and two walks through the first five innings and he appeared to be cruising after he retired the first two batters in the sixth.

But Dustin Pedroia singled and David Ortiz scored him from first on a double off the Green Monster. Warren then hit Hanley Ramirez on a 1-1 pitch and Ramirez threw down his bat in disgust believing Warren had thrown at him on purpose.

After Pablo Sandoval singled to score Ortiz, manager Joe Girardi replaced Warren with right-hander Esmil Rogers. Mike Napoli greeted Rogers by lifting a high-arcing fly ball that just reached the Green Monster seats to draw the Red Sox to within three runs at 8-5.

Despite pitching his best game of the season, Warren ended up being charged with four runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. In his eight major-league starts Warren has yet to pitch six full innings in any them.

After Napoli’s homer Rogers walked Daniel Nava and Xander Bogaerts reached on an infield dribbler to bring up Blake Swihart as the potential tying run. But the rookie playing on only his second major-league game struck out to end the inning in which 10 men went to the plate for the Red Sox.

The game got a little chippy with one out in the top of the eighth inning when right-hander Edward Mujica drilled Ellsbury with a 3-0 pitch in the right thigh. Home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson quickly warned both benches.

The Yankees were able to keep the Red Sox from scoring the rest of the night on the strength of Rogers, Justin Wilson and David Carpenter over the next two innings. But the Red Sox decided to make left-hander Andrew Miller work some overtime to earn his 10th save.

Pinch-hitter Allen Craig drew a leadoff walk from Miller in the ninth before Bogaerts and Swihart struck out. But Mookie Betts also walked and Pedroia reached to load the bases on a throwing error by Chase Headley.

Miller then retired the potential winning run in Ortiz by getting him on a routine flyout. Miller has now extended his scoreless streak this season to 12 1/3 innings and he is perfect 10 for 10 in save chances.

The Yankees have run their season record to 16-9 and they have a three-game lead on the both the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Red Sox are 12-13 and they are a full four games back in fourth place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury entered the game on fire and he got even hotter on Sunday. He was 4-for-4 (all singles), a walk and was hit with a pitch. Oddly, he scored only one run and he did not drive in a run. But Ellsbury now has 19 hits in his past 40 at-bats (.475) to raise his season average to .351. He also has a six-game hitting streak.
  • Gardner really put a dagger in the Bosox the past two games. He drove in three of the team’s four runs in Saturday’s 4-2 victory and on Sunday he was 2-for-6 with a single, a homer, two stolen bases, two runs scored and three RBIs. He was 5-for-14 (.357) in the series with six RBIs.
  • Teixeira’s finally proved his surgically repaired right wrist is no longer an issue anymore with his ninth homer of the season that he drove to the opposite field in left-center. Teixeira is in third place in both the majors and the American League in home runs behind Nelson Cruz (13) of the Seattle Mariners and Ramirez (10). Despite the power and his team-leading 20 RBIs, Teixeira is still batting just .202 on the season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I should be angry with the way Warren could not get through six, the fact Rogers gave up a three-run home run and that the usually flawless Headley committed his sixth error of the season. But because the Yankees did win on national TV and it ended with a sweep against the Red Sox at Fenway, I am willing to overlook all that just to see most of that home crowd of 33,198 going home angry with their team. There is nothing but sunshine in the Yankee Universe.

BRONX JEER

The Red Sox showed their true colors when Ramirez bellowed like a stuck pig when Warren hit him with a pitch with two outs in the sixth and the Yankees winning 8-1. Manager John Farrell obviously gave the go-ahead for Mujica to retaliate in the eighth on a 3-0 pitch after Mujica had thrown an earlier pitch that Ellsbury had to avoid. In this series, the Yankees had not hit a single Bosox batter while Teixeira and McCann both were hit by pitches on Friday. The idea that Warren intentionally hit Ramirez was even lost on Ortiz, who told reporters after the game he didn’t think Warren’s pitch had that purpose. But Ramirez always has been a prima donna with a sour attitude much like another outfielder named Ramirez who played for Boston. So the intellectually deficient Red Sox decided to target Ellsbury after he forced them for seven hits in 11 at-bats in the series. I think the move shows more a team that is frustrated their starting pitchers are getting lit up like a Chinese New Year celebration and they can’t handle the fact their team is not as good as they believe it is.

BOMBER BANTER

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan suffered a setback in his rehab of a right calf strain on Saturday. Ryan, 33, sustained a strained hamstring while he was running sprints at the team’s Tampa, FL, complex and he will have to sit out another week. Ryan first injured his back while lifting weights before spring training games started and then ended up with the strained calf in the final week of camp. For now Gregorio Petit, 29, will remain the backup middle infielder. Obtained from the Houston Astros, Petit is batting ,200 with no homers and five RBIs. However, Jose Pirela, 24, is 11-for-19 (.579) with a homer and five RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

ON DECK

The Yankees will make their first trip to Toronto on Monday to open a three-game series with the Blue Jays.

Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0, 1.80 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the Yankees as the replacement for Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation. Whitley limited the Rays to one run on six hits and one walk with five strikeouts in a victory on Tuesday.

The Blue Jays will counter with knuckle-balling right-hander R.A. Dickey (0-3, 5.23 ERA), who lost again in yielding four runs on nine hits with no walks and four strikeouts in seven innings against the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Eovaldi, Gardner Spur Yankees Past Reeling Bosox

GAME 24

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 2

When the Yankees traded infielder Martin Prado and right-hander David Phelps to the Miami Marlins for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and first baseman-outfielder Garrett Jones they were hoping that the 25-year-old Eovaldi would develop into a reliable starting pitcher.

It appears after his performance against the Red Sox on Saturday he may be well on his way to doing just that.

Eovaldi held the Red Sox to just two runs in 6 2/3 innings and Brett Gardner drove in three of the Yankees’ four runs as New York clinched a road series victory over Boston and now have won nine of their past 11 games.

Eovaldi (2-0) yielded seven hits and one walk while he struck out two in his first career start at Fenway Park.

The Yankees staked Eovaldi to a 1-0 lead in the third inning against left-hander Wade Miley (1-3) on a leadoff single by Didi Gregorious, a wild pitch that advanced Gregorius to second and a one-out RBI double by Gardner.

The Red Sox, however got that run back in the fourth inning as Dustin Pedroia led off the frame with his fifth home run of the season.

But the Yankees took the lead for good in the fifth beginning with a leadoff double by Chase Headley and a bloop single to center by Gregorio Petit. Gregorius advanced both on a sacrifice bunt and, one out later, Gardner delivered a two-run single that scored Headley and Petit.

The Red Sox chased Eovaldi in the seventh inning when catcher Blake Swihart, making his major-league debut, drew a two-out walk. Right-hander Chris Martin replaced Eovaldi and was immediately greeted by an RBI double by Mookie Betts.

However, that was close the Red Sox got because Martin then retired Pedroia on a groundout to strand Betts at second.

Chris Young provided the Yankees with an insurance run in the ninth inning with a one-out solo home run off right-hander Alexi Ogando.

Meanwhile, Dellin Betances entered the game with two out in the eighth and he retired all four batters he faced on strikeouts to earn his first save of the season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 15-9 and they now lead the second-place Tampa Bay Rays by two games in the American League East. The Red Sox dropped to 12-12 and they are in third place and trail by three games.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Eovaldi threw a season-high 111 pitches and he only struck out two batters. But what made Eovaldi special on Saturday is the way he featured his fastball more and he worked both sides of the plate. After Pedroia’s homer in the fourth, David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval both reached on singles with two out. But Eovaldi managed to get Mike Napoli to rap into an inning-ending double play. “I thought he pitched in extremely well,” catcher Brian McCann told reporters. “I think he’s getting better and better, I really do.”
  • Betances came in and shut the door hard on the Red Sox. He ended the eighth by fanning Napoli and then struck out Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts and Swihart in succession for only his second career save and his first of this season. Betances has now struck out at least two batters without allowing a hit in seven consecutive appearances. He also has struck out 25 batters in 14 1/3 innings on the season.
  • Gardner was 2-for-4 with a double, a single and three RBIs in clearly what was his best game of the season. He entered the contest with three RBIs on the season. But Gardner is quietly producing big numbers behind Jacoby Ellsbury in the No. 2 spot in the order. Gardner has hits in his past five starts and is 8-for-20 (.400) in that stretch and that has raised his season average to .319.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When the Yankees win and the Red Sox lose it is not a day to dwell on the negatives. I would be hard-pressed to find any anyway. This team is just clicking on all cylinders now.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the struggling Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.

Right-hander Adam Warren (1-1, 4.35 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Warren held the Rays to a run on five hits with no walks and six strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings but he did not get a decision.

The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Joe Kelly (1-0, 4.94 ERA). Kelly and Warren faced each other on April 11 at Yankee Stadium and Kelly won the game 8-4. But since then Kelly has been tagged for 12 runs on 17 hits and six walks in 16 2/3 innings for an ERA of 6.48 and a WHIP of 1.38 in his past three starts.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by ESPN.

 

Bosox Edge Yankees In Marathon 19-Inning Game

GAME 4

RED SOX 6, YANKEES 5 (19 INNINGS)

Anytime the Red Sox and Yankees play each other you can count on seeing something you never saw before and Friday’s marathon that lasted into the wee hours of Saturday morning was no different.

It took 19 innings and six hours and 49 minutes to play  –  not including a 16-minute delay in the bottom of the 12th inning to repair a power outage in some banks of lights  –  but Mookie Betts stroked a sacrifice fly in the top of the 19th inning to score Xander Bogaerts with the game-winner as Boston outlasted New York in the longest game played at the new Yankee Stadium.

The game was the longest played measured by time in Red Sox history and the second longest in Yankees history. The Yankees played 22 innings in exactly seven hours on June 24, 1962 against the Detroit Tigers.

The game lasted so long that Mark Teixiera turned from age 34 to 35 during the contest.

The Yankees did lose the game, however, they also were able to extend it in the ninth inning, the 16th inning and the 18th inning by answering Red Sox tallies with scores of their own.

Down to their final out in the ninth, Chase Headley homered off closer Edward Mujica to tie the game at 3-3.

After David Ortiz had homered off Rogers in the 16th inning, Teixeira answered in the bottom of the frame with a home run off right-hander Steven Wright.

The Red Sox then took a 5-4 lead in the 18th inning on an RBI single by Pablo Sandoval to score Dustin Pedroia. But the Yankees answered when Carlos Beltran doubled to score pinch-runner John Ryan Murphy.

Wright (1-0), who was scheduled to be optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket today, yielded two runs on six hits and three walks with one strikeout in five innings to get credit for the victory.

Rogers (0-1) gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings and was the losing pitcher.

The Yankees’ record is now 1-3. The Red Sox are 3-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankee bullpen was superb from the time starter Nathan Eovaldi, making his Yankees debut, left the game with one out in the sixth inning. Chris Martin, Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve combined to shut the Red Sox for nine innings on four hits and six walks with 11 strikeouts. The newly acquired Shreve pitched an exceptional 3 1/3 innings of shutout baseball. This bullpen looks to be just as strong although David Robertson and Shawn Kelley have departed and Adam Warren has moved into a starting role.
  • Headley is proving to be a master of the big moment in his burgeoning Yankee career. His home run in the ninth off Mujica came on a 2-1 pitch that he drilled into the second deck in straightaway right-field. It was the first of the season for him. The downside, however, is that Headley was 1-for-7 in the game and he stranded a team-leading seven runners.
  • Teixeira’s home run was his second of the season. The oddity is that they both came off knuckleball right-handers (R.A. Dickey and Wright) and they both came while Teixeira was batting right-handed despite the fact he is a switch-hitter. Teixeira obviously has discovered the key to hitting the knuckleball for him is batting right-handed.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There were some ugly things in this game. The must obvious was Brett Gardner both getting picked off and caught stealing and Headley getting picked off first also. The Yankees are struggling offensively and they can’t just lose runners on mistakes. Base-running has been a big problem in the early going. However, I give the Yankees a lot of credit for coming back on the Red Sox three times and pushing the game further.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play the Red Sox again on Saturday.

Warren, 27, will make his only his fourth career start and his first since 2013 for the Yankees. Warren is filling in for injured left-hander Chris Capuano is the team’s fifth starter and was 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in first starts this spring.

The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Joe Kelly, who will be activated for the game after missing time in the spring with a biceps injury. Kelley was 1-0 with a 11.05 ERA in three spring starts.

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

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Phelps Battles Starting Odds By Taming Red Sox

GAME 24

YANKEES 3, RED SOX 2

All of the pundits seem to agree that after Michael Pineda’s sterling effort against the Red Sox on Tuesday that the battle for the Yankees’ No. 5 spot in the starting rotation is over. The only problem is that right-hander David Phelps never got the memo.

Phelps pitched an impressive six innings and hot-hitting Francisco Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki provided the offense as New York swept the two-game home and away series against Boston on Thursday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.

Phelps (1-0) held the Red Sox to no runs on a hit and a walk and he had retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced until he ran into trouble in the sixth while holding a 3-0 lead.

David Ross led off with a single and was erased on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Jonathan Herrera. Grady Sizemore singled and, one out later, Dustin Pedroia doubled in pinch-runner Carlos Rivero and Sizemore to draw the Bosox within a run.

After Phelps walked David Ortiz he ended the threat by retiring Mike Napoli on an infield popup.

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead in the contest when Cervelli led off the second inning with a long blast over the Green Monster in left off right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-2). It was Cervelli’s fourth home run of the spring, which leads the team.

Buchholz retired the first two batters in the fifth but then walked Zoilo Almonte. Zelous Wheeler followed with a opposite-field double and Suzuki plated both Almonte and Wheeler with a single to right-center.

The Yankees’ relievers, Chris Leroux, Fred Lewis and Matt Daley, held the Red Sox scoreless over the final three innings to clinch the victory. Daley pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.

The Yankees have now won five straight Grapefruit League contests and they are now 13-9-2. The Red Sox slumped to 8-13.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Phelps looked confident and in command in his effort against the Red Sox. He threw 57 of his 86 pitches for strikes and actually came within one pitch of throwing a perfect pitcher’s inning in the second inning. He threw three consecutive called strikes to both Napoli and Daniel Nava. He then tossed two straight called strikes to Xander Bogaerts before throwing a ball. He then retired Bogaerts on an infield grounder. Phelps’ spring ERA ticked up a bit to 2.75 but he has done very well in his battle to start.
  • They need to start calling Cervelli “Babe” after his spring power display. In addition to his four home runs, Cervelli is 15-for-31 (.484) with six extra-base hits and seven RBIs. Because he is out of options he is not going to be sent to the minors. The Yankees will either keep him as the backup to All-Star catcher Brian McCann or he could be traded. It is beginning to look like the Yankees will not trade him. But nothing is certain.
  • After looking overmatched at the plate early this spring, Suzuki is starting to come on with the bat. In his past three spring games, Suzuki is 4-for-10 (.400) with four RBIs. That has raised his spring average to .219. Suzuki looks to be the team’s fifth outfielder this season unless he is traded before spring training ends.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The team has won five in a row, including two victories over the Red Sox. The starting pitching has been good and the offense really has picked up over the past week. There is nothing to complain about.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury had an MRI conducted on his sore right calf and the results came back negative, manager Joe Girardi informed reporters on Thursday. Ellsbury has not played in a game since March 14. He did not take batting practice on Thursday and he has not resumed running yet. Girardi said although there is no pain in Ellsbury’s calf, there is some lingering soreness. Ellsbury remains day-to-day.  . . .  Infielder Brendan Ryan had to be scratched from Thursday’s lineup with upper back spasms. Ryan, 31, has not played in a game since March 4 and he hoped to play Thursday. But Ryan felt his back tighten up as he participated in infield practice. Ryan is now in jeopardy of beginning the season on the disabled list. That would open a backup infield spot on the roster for either Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte. Eduardo Nunez likely would claim the other backup spot and platoon with Kelly Johnson at third base.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Friday to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will make the start for the Yankees. He will be opposed by right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-2, 11.00 ERA).

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network via ROOT Sports of Pittsburgh.

 

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.