YANKEES 3, BRAVES 1
With veteran left-hander CC Sabathia on the disabled list with recurring pain in his right knee the Yankees have had to place a lot a of trust in 21-year-old rookie right-hander Luis Severino. After seeing the way he pitched on Saturday at Turner Field it looks as if he is going to be just fine.
Severino pitched six innings of shutout baseball and Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann doubled in runs in the seventh and eight innings, respectively, as New York downed Atlanta for the second straight day.
Severino (2-2) held the Braves to four hits and three walks while he struck out five in six innings to earn his second straight victory.
Meanwhile, the Yankees opened the scoring on rookie right-hander Matt Wisler in the first inning.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double and, two outs later, Wisler issued walks to McCann and Greg Bird. With Chase Headley at the plate behind on a 0-2 count, Wisler uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Ellsbury to score to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.
Then Severino and Wisler matched zeroes for the rest of the evening until the seventh inning when Headley led off the frame with his third double of the series – a ball that center-fielder Cameron Maybin misjudged.
Gregorius, who drove in a career-high six runs in a 15-4 rout of the Braves on Friday, chased Wisler from the game with an RBI double into right-field to score Headley with what proved to be the game-winning run.
Wisler (5-5) was charged with two runs on four hits and four walks with four strikeouts in six-plus innings.
The Braves managed to halve the lead in the bottom of seventh when Christian Betancourt and Andrelton Simmons opened the inning against left-hander Justin Wilson with a pair of singles.
Pinch-hitter Michael Bourn then hit a ground ball to Bird at first. Bird retired Simmons on a throw to Gregorius at second, but Wilson dropped his relay to first base and Bethancourt scored on the error.
But the Yankees were able to add an insurance run in the eighth inning off right-hander Edwin Jackson when Carlos Beltran was issued a leadoff walk and McCann scored pinch-runner Chris Young with a booming double to the wall in right-center.
Right-hander Dellin Betances pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief and left-hander Andrew Miller struck out two in a perfect ninth to earn his 28th save in 29 chances this season.
With the victory the Yankees ran their season mark to 71-57 and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Braves dropped to 54-75.
- Severino was far from perfect in his six innings and faced three innings in which the Braves put two men on. However, his poise allowed him to get out of the first by getting Nick Swisher on an inning-ending double play. He ended the fourth by striking out Betancourt swinging and in the sixth he induced Jace Peterson into a groundout. In his five starts, Severino has a dazzling 2.17 ERA and he has 29 strikeouts in his 29 innings.
- In his past three games, Gregorius is 7-for-13 (.539) with a homer and nine RBIs. The 25-year-old shortstop is simply settling in after perhaps pressing too much early knowing that he was replacing a legend in Derek Jeter.
- McCann is providing offense at a time that Mark Teixeira is injured and Alex Rodriguez is only available to pinch-hit in the National League ballpark. His RBI double in the eight gives him a team-leading 80 RBIs this season. Teixeira has 79. In his two games back in Atlanta he is 2-for-5 (.400) with a homer, a double, four walks, three runs scored and five RBIs.
- After Severino left, the Braves jumped on Wilson and Betances for an unearned run, four hits and a walk in two innings. Fortunately, Betances was able to wriggle out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the seventh by retiring Freddie Freeman on a ground ball that Betances fielded by sticking his glove behind his back. Betances also ended a two-on, two-out threat in the eighth by striking out Simmons looking. The Braves stranded 10 runners. That is not good relief pitching really.
A man who fell from the upper deck of Turner Field in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game was pronounced dead later in the evening. The Braves announced that Gregory Murrey, 60, of Alpharetta, GA, was pronounced dead at Fulton County Medical Center. Murrey, a longtime Braves season-ticket holder, fell from the upper deck to the lower bowl behind home plate as Rodriguez was coming up to the plate with two on and one out in the seventh inning. Braves security personnel ruled out foul play but authorities are waiting an autopsy.
THIS POST WAS DELAYED
YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 1
Ask any manager and general manager in baseball to give you the three keys to winning and they all will tell that it is pitching, pitching and more pitching. The New York Yankees suddenly have the market cornered on pitching as they continue their destruction of the National League during interleague play.
Ivan Nova threw 7 1/3 innings of sparkling one-run baseball to become the first American League pitcher to win nine games as New York, on the strength of a pair of solo home runs by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, swept Washington at Nationals Park on Sunday to win their ninth straight contest.
Nova (7-2) only surrendered a solo home run to Adam LaRoche to lead of the second inning. He gave up seven hits and one walk while striking out four batters to record his fifth straight victory and he remains undefeated (12-0) over his last 15 road starts dating back to June 3, 2011.
The Yankees, meanwhile, reverted back to their old ways of failing to hit with runners in scoring position but they still were able to get to Edwin Jackson (3-4) to push across enough runs to win the game.
The Yankees loaded the bases in the first inning on Jackson on an infield single by Derek Jeter, a Granderson double and an intentional walk to Cano with one out. Mark Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly that brought Jeter home with the game’s first run.
That run held up until LaRoche tied it with his team-leading 12th home run for the Nationals.
But Granderson broke the tie leading off the fifth inning by crushing a high change-up off Jackson into the bullpen in right-field for his 21st home run of the season.
Even though the Yankees put runners on base in all six innings Jackson worked, they could not come up with the knockout blow. Jackson gave up seven hits and three walks but he kept the Yankees from adding to their lead. The Yankees were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees did manage to run up Jackson’s pitch count to 110 after six innings, which sent him out of the game and allowed the Yankees to tack on some runs against the Nationals’ bullpen.
They added a two runs in the seventh.
The first came on a solo home run by Cano off left-hander Tom Gorzelanny for Cano’s 12th home run of the season. Three batters later, Teixeira – who doubled – scored from third with two out when rookie reliever Ryan Mattheus threw a 3-2 pitch to Andruw Jones that catcher Jhonathan Solano could not catch for a passed ball. Teixeira scored easily when Mattheus failed to cover home plate.
The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there.
Boone Logan completed the eighth inning for Nova and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 13th save, which makes him the Yankees reliever who has saved the second-most games since Mariano Rivera became the team’s closer in 1996. Steve Karsay previously held that mark with 12.
With the victory the Yankees improved their A.L.-best record to 40-25 and they maintained their 1 1/2-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the A.L. East. The Nationals, who came into the series on a six-game winning streak, dropped to 38-26.
- Nova pitched another exceptional game on Sunday. In his last three starts, Nova is 3-0, giving up only two runs on 16 hits and three walks and he has struck out 15 batters over 22 2/3 innings. That has lowered his season ERA from 5.60 to 4.32. He has not lost since a May 19 start at Yankee Stadium against the Reds and his career record is now 25-6. Anyone still think this 25-year-old right-hander is a fluke or his record is just a product of great run support?
- Granderson has been on a full-blown tear in his last eight games, which coincides neatly into the Yankees’ nine-game winning streak. Granderson has an eight-game hitting streak and he is 11-for-33 (.333) in that span with three home runs and seven RBIs. In fact, Granderson has now homered in three of his last four games and his 21 homers trails only Adam Dunn (23) of the White Sox and Josh Hamilton (22) of the Rangers in the major leagues.
- Cano has been on a tear this June. He is hitting .333 with four home runs and eight RBIs. He has failed to get at least one hit in only two games this month. On May 5, Cano had one home run and four RBIs. Since that time, he has 11 home runs and 26 RBIs and he has raised his batting average from .255 to an even .300.
- The 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position statistic just hangs out there like an albatross on the Yankees. It can be forgotten with the nine-game winning streak but the longer it continues the harder it is going to be for the Yankees to correct it when they play tougher A.L. teams, not to mention in the playoffs.
- Raul Ibanez gets the award for choking in the clutch on Sunday. He was 0-for-5 and he left seven men on base. But, to be fair to Ibanez, he hit the ball hard three times but it just so happened that it found a glove each time. Ibanez is one of the Yankees struggling during their current winning streak. In his last 10 games he is hitting .172 with a home run and three RBIs.
- Alex Rodriguez also failed to contribute anything on Sunday. He was 0-for-5 including a strikeout. Though he has a home run and nine RBIs, he is only hitting .229 over his last 10 games. He is only hitting .222 in June.
As expected, Nick Swisher was held out of the lineup and did not play on Sunday due to a bone bruise in his left quad. Swisher was sliding into home plate when Nationals catcher Jesus Flores’ left shin guard struck Swisher on the left thigh as Flores tagged him out in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game. Swisher received treatment for the injury and he remains day-to-day. . . . Cano’s home run off Gorzelanny in the seventh inning was pretty much a given. In his career, Cano is 6-for-8 off Gorzelanny.
The Yankees completed a 6-0 road trip by sweeping two N.L. teams. They now come home to open a home series on Monday against one of those teams they swept, the Atlanta Braves.
CC Sabathia (8-3, 3.70 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia was tagged for four runs on 10 hits over seven innings against the Braves but he won the game when the Yankees came from 4-0 down in the eighth for a 6-4 victory. In his career against the Braves, Sabathia is 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA.
Lefty Mike Minor (3-4, 6.01 ERA) will face Sabathia and the Yankees for a second straight start. Last Wednesday, Minor pitched his best game of the season, limiting the Yankees to one run in 7 1/3 innings. But his bullpen – led by Jonny Venters – blew the lead and lost the game. This will be only Minor’s second start against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, NATIONALS 3 (14 INNINGS)
As Mark Teixeira stepped to the plate in the 14th inning on Saturday with a runner on third and a runner on first and one out, he was 0-for-5 and he struck out his first three times to the plate. With reliever Brad Lidge on the mound determined to get him out he only thought of one thing: Look for a slider and let it rip.
Fortunately for Teixeira and the Yankees, with a 2-1 count he got a hanging slider from Lidge and he smacked it hard off the wall in the right-field corner of Nationals Park for a double to score two runs and New York held on to take a hard-earned win over Washington, which extended the Yankees’ winning streak to eight games.
Forgotten bullpen long reliever Freddy Garcia (1-2) set the stage for Teixeira’s heroics by pitching two scoreless innings to get credit for his first victory of the season. Rafael Soriano pitched around two hits in the bottom of the 14th to retire Bryce Harper on a routine groundout to get credit for his 12th save in 13 opportunities.
Lidge (0-1) was saddled with the loss.
Jayson Nix started the winning rally by shooting a seeing-eye single in the hole between shortstop and third base. Nix later stole second and Derek Jeter, who was 0-for-6 as he stepped in, also singled to extend his hitting streak to seven games. Nix was held at third.
After Curtis Granderson strrck out, Teixeira then connected for what proved to be the game-winning hit.
The Yankees actually held a 3-2 lead after scoring two runs in the sixth inning that erased a 2-1 deficit to the Nationals.
Raul ibanez tied it with an infield groundout that scored Robinson Cano. After Nick Swisher was cut down at the plate on a comebacker to starter Jordan Zimmermann off the bat of Russell Martin, Eric Chavez gave the Yankees their first lead of the game with a double off the scoreboard in right-center that scored Martin.
The game stayed that way until Cory Wade entered the game in the seventh inning in relief of starter Andy Pettitte. Wade retired Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse on two pitches, however, Ian Desmond smacked a 2-2 pitch into the left-field bleachers to knot the game at 3-3..
Two batters later, Adam LaRoche slapped a single to right-field off Boone Logan and Tyler Moore, who was on second with a walk and a stolen base, attempted to score. But he was cut down at home plate on a throw from Dewayne Wise. The Yankees caught a break, too. Replays showed Moore actually touched the plate with his left hand on a head-first slide just before Martin tagged him on the left hip. But home-plate umpire Tim Timmons called him out.
So the game played on through another six very long innings.
Pettitte, who was in line for his fourth victory in his seventh start of the season, gave up two runs on five hits and three walks and he struck out six batters in seven innings.
His only blemish was giving up a two-run double to left-center by Jesus Flores in the second inning on a pitch that was up and out of the strike zone and broke Flores’ bat.
Zimmermann left after six innings having given up three runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks and he struck out six.
The victory was the first time this season the Yankees won a game without the benefit of a home run. They were 0-12 in games without hitting a home run coming into the contest.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 39-25 and they remain 1 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Nationals dropped to 38-25.
- Despite the home run Wade surrendered to Desmond, the bullpen was excellent and the true key to the victory. Wade, Logan, Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Garcia and Soriano combined to give up just the one run on four hits and two walks and struck out five in seven innings. Garcia escaped the 13th inning with the winning run on third by retiring Roger Bernadina on a groundout and Soriano got Harper to end the game as he represented the potential game-winning run at the plate. That is great relief pitching.
- Pettitte deserved to have won the game a day after his 40th birthday. He turned in his third straight quality start and he and his deadly cutter set the stage for Harper, a 19-year-old rookie sensation, to endure one of his worst days as a major leaguer. He struck out five times in the game and was 0-for-7 overall. Of the five hits Pettitte surrendered, one was an infield hit and three others – including Flores’ double – were broken bat hits. Pettitte’s ERA was lowered to 2.77.
- A substitution mistake by manager Joe Girardi in the eighth inning probably led to two things that actually allowed the Yankees to overcome the Nationals. When Wade entered the game to pitch in the eighth inning, Wise was brought off the bench to replace Ibanez in left. They were supposed to have been switched in the order so Wade would hit in Ibanez’s sixth spot and Wise would bat ninth. However, that was not communicated to the umpires. So when Logan was brought into the game with two outs in the eighth, Girardi was forced to bring in Jayson Nix to play left and Wise was moved to right-field. That was done so Logan could hit in Jones’ fifth spot and Nix could bat ninth. So when LaRoche singled to right, Wise (and not Jones) threw out Moore at the plate. Nix led of the 14th inning with a single, stole second and scored the lead run on Teixeira’s two-run double. Wise’s outfield assist and Nix’s hit and steal would not have happened had Girardi not made the substitution error. I guess Girardi would rather be lucky than good.
- Going into the 14th inning, the Yankees were 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position. They scored their first run in the fourth inning on a two-out error by Desmond. Ibanez’s infield groundout in the sixth tied the game and, later that same inning, Chavez doubled in Martin from first to score the third run. Jeter’s single in the 14th and Teixeira’s double were the only two hits the Yankees got all day with RISP.
- Although he walked three times, Granderson was 0-for-4 and had his six-game hitting streak stopped.
- After Chavez’s two-out double in the eighth, the Yankees did not get another hit until the 14th inning when Nix led off with a single. They were 0-for 19 while drawing five walks and reaching once on an error.
Swisher was removed from the game in the sixth inning after he sustained a bone bruise in his left quad sliding into the plate and colliding with left shin guard of Flores. Swisher was called out on the play and he immediately limped into the Yankees’ dugout and was replaced in right-field by Jones. Swisher likely will miss Sunday’s finale of the series against the Nationals and he is listed as day-to-day. . . . The Yankees did not start third baseman Alex Rodriguez in order to give him a day off. Rodriguez did pinch-hit in 10th inning for Logan and grounded out.
The Yankees can sweep the series and the entire six-game road trip with a victory against the Nationals on Sunday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (8-2, 4.64 ERA) will toe the slab for Yankees. Nova shut out the Braves on just five singles and a walk over seven innings on Monday in his last start. He will be starting against the Nationals for the first time.
Right-hander Edwin Jackson (3-3, 3.02 ERA) will pitch for the Nationals. Jackson, who the Yankees have faced many times before, logged his fifth consecutive quality start in a victory over the Blue Jays his last time out. He is 2-6 with a 5.35 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:35 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
The trade talks concerning pitcher A.J. Burnett between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees are apparently continuing through the weekend, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The talks reportedly no longer include first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones.
The Pirates seem to be more willing to keep the 30-year-old Jones, who is projected to be their starting first baseman against right-hand pitching, and the team prefers to pay more money towards the 35-year-old Burnett’s $33 million salary over the next two seasons.
CBS Sports reported that the Pirates would be willing to assume $10 million ($5 million per season) of the $33 million Burnett is owed as part of a five-year, $82 million contract the right-hander signed with the Yankees in 2009.
That would be good news to the Yankees, who are looking to open up some salary room in order to sign a left-handed-hitting DH from among a group of free agents that includes former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui and former Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez.
The Pirates have been openly trying to add to their rotation this winter, having made a three-year contract offer to free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, who subsequently signed a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals.
Burnett’s role as a starter was left in question this winter when the Yankees traded with the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Los Angeles Dodgers Hiroki Kuroda as a free agent.
Burnett was 11-11 with 5.15 ERA with the Yankees last season but has made at least 32 starts in each of last four seasons and he carries a career strikeout rate of 8.2 per nine innings.
The Pirates seem to be set with five starters that include former Yankee Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Charlie Morton, James McDonald and newly signed left-hander Erik Bedard. However, Morton had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and he may not be ready for Opening Day. Karstens and Correia struggled last season with fatigue and a strained oblique, respectively.
Bedard, 32, has not started more than 28 games since the 2007 season due to a series of injuries.
Burnett does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract which precludes the Yankees from trading him to 10 teams, however, the Pirates are not among those teams.
Yankee fans might be disappointed somewhat that the Pirates are refusing to part with Jones because he could have been a valuable backup at first base and the corner outfield spots as well as been the left-hand part of platoon at DH with Andruw Jones.
However, the money the Pirates are offering would be enough for the Yankees to make an offer to sign a free agent to DH and the Yankees would be rid of Burnett, who has been unable to harness his great stuff consistently enough to be successful with the Yankees the past two seasons.
With the end of the holidays and the beginning of the new year, the Yankees got busy after sitting out a good portion of the offseason bidding and dealing. Here are some bits and pieces of information and some analysis on what it all means:
THE DH ‘RAUL’
Apparently former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez is on the New York Yankees’ short list of players they might want to sign to take over as the team’s designated hitter, the New York Post reported.
Ibanez, 39, was allowed to walk as a free agent by the Phiilies after a 2011 season in which he hit a career-low .245 but still managed to hit 20 home runs and drive in 84 runs in 144 games. Ibanez is career .280 hitter with 252 home runs and 1,054 RBIs in 16 major-league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals and the Phillies.
The right-handed-hitting Ibanez was an All-Star selection in 2009 with the National League-champion Phillies.
With the four-player trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, the Yankees seem to have an obvious opening for a primary DH in their 2011 lineup. Jorge Posada held the role at the start of the 2011 season.
With one possible candidate, Carlos Pena, re-signed as free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays, it appears the Yankees are looking at free agents including Ibanez and former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.
Damon, 38, played last season with the Rays and wanted to return to the team. However, the signing of Pena likely means the Rays are not interested in keeping Damon after he hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games in 2011.
Matsui, 37, played last season with Oakland and hit a career-low .251 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs in 141 games. The Athletics, who are retooling with younger players, seem to be uninterested in bringing Matsui back for a second season as the team’s DH.
The Yankees have not commented publicly about Ibanez, Damon or Matsui. They have said they are interested in looking at 29-year-old former Mexican League star Jorge Vazquez this spring as a potential DH.
Vazquez, who can play either first or third base, hit .262 with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in only 118 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. The right-handed slugger is not consider to be a very good defender but the Yankees have been impressed with his hitting potential.
At this point, it comes down to payroll economics. If the Yankees feel a pressing need to have a professional hitter at the DH spot and they are willing to shell out about $5 million to $8 million to get one of the three free agents, they will certainly do it. But if they feel they can’t afford it, Vazquez will get a shot this spring.
Odds are the Yankees are definitely looking outside the organization. That is why Ibanez’s name surfaced. So look for a free-agent signing real soon to fill the role.
OKIE DOKEY, HIROKI
The Yankees officially announced the signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda this week.
The former Dodger signed a one-year deal worth a reported $10 million. He left the Dodgers as a free agent after going 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA in 2011. In his five seasons with the Dodgers, the 37-year-old Kuroda was 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in 115 major-league games, all with the Dodgers.
Kuroda will join Pineda in a revamped Yankee rotation for 2012. With CC Sabathia the unquestioned ace, Pineda figures to open the season as the team’s No. 2 starter and Kuroda likely will be the No. 3 starter. Ivan Nova, 25, after a sparkling 16-7 record and a 3.70 ERA as a rookie, figures to have a starting job locked up also.
That leaves Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett to battle it out this spring for the final starting spot.
The signing of Kuroda was a fallback position by the Yankees’ front office. Both general manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hank Steinbrenner felt the price of top free-agent pitchers like C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buerhle and Japanese import Yu Darvish was too high.
They also felt the asking price in trade for starters such as John Danks, Jair Jurrgens, Matt Garza and Gio Gonzalez was also too pricey.
As it is, Cashman needed Steinbrenner’s assent to pay Kuroda the $10 million he was seeking. That is one reason why the Yankees do not wish to overpay for a DH and add much more money to the payroll.
Kuroda, like a number of other National League pitchers who have been signed or acquired by the Yankees, will be under the microscope when he faces much tougher hitters in the American League, and those particularly in the East.
Pitchers such as Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and, even to some degree, Randy Johnson have found it difficult to put up good numbers in the A.L. Kuroda, however, is in a somewhat better position than some of those previous pitchers because the Yankees have one of the deepest and best bullpens in baseball heading into the 2012 season.
Kuroda could have his ERA jump a run and he still could win 15 games for the Yankees in 2012.
The Montero-Pineda trade was made official this week when Montero passed his physical with the Mariners.
There has still been a major flood of angry comments from Yankee fans who are upset the Yankees traded a 21-year-old catcher who looked to be the best power prospect the Yankees have had in their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle was promoted to the major leagues in 1951.
Yankee fans also have pointed out that Pineda faded badly in the second half of 2011 and he has had a history of elbow problems stemming from a very violent follow-through in his motion. That does not bode well for the 23-year-old right-hander’s long-term prospects.
However, just about every analysis of the trade by experienced sports writers such as Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal have praised Cashman for making the deal.
What do they know that Yankee fans don’t?
For one reason, Montero’s work behind the plate is in question and will remain in question throughout his development in the major leagues. Though he has made vast progress, the Yankees were concerned they could NOT compete with teams that run a lot like the Rays and the Los Angeles Angels with Montero behind the plate.
They also saw a move to right-field or first base as impossible. Montero would really struggle in the outfield and Mark Teixeira is entrenched at first base and simply is the best-fielding first baseman in the game.
So Montero’s long-term future would have to have been as a DH and part-time catcher. That would limit his impact because manager Joe Girardi would still have Russell Martin as a starter with either Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine backing him up. Plus, Girardi would have to give veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher some time off at DH during the season.
Also figure that 19-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez is considered the No. 4 catching prospect in baseball. The Yankees and scouts see him as the whole package behind the plate. He is excellent on defense and he has the ability to become a very good major-league hitter. He won’t hit for the prodigious power Montero might. But he will hit for average and power, scouts say.
So the Yankees felt with Montero’s defensive liabilities and the limited nature as a DH and part-time catcher, they could use Montero’s high value to get a pitcher, who not only figures to improve on his 9-10 record and 3.74 ERA in his rookie season, but could eventually become the ace of the staff in a few years.
Pineda projects as a potential No. 1 starter now. With he and Sabathia at the top of the rotation they figure to dominate any three-game series in which they pitch. If you are talking a potential playoff series the possibilities are even better. That is why the Yankees chose to make the deal.
They gave up a potential superstar but they may have got one in return also. What’s done is done. So let’s wait to evaluate the trade five years from now.
The Yankees also made it official this week they have re-signed Andruw Jones to a one-year contract for a reported $2 million plus $1.4 million in incentives.
Jones, 34, batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 77 games for the Yankees last season. Jones appeared as a DH, outfielder and pinch-hitter, but his calling card was his ability to hit left-handers. He hit lefties to the tune of .286.
Jones can play both corner outfield spots, DH and pinch hit. Because Brett Gardner struggled against left-handers last season, Jones could also be used to replace Gardner against some left-handers next season.
The Yankees have also managed to sign most of their arbitration eligible players in the past weeks including Gardner, Martin, David Robertson and Boone Logan.
The result is the Yankees have managed to improve the team while at the same time being able to hold the line on spending, which Steinbrenner is determined to do.
The Yankees would seem to only looking to add a bench infielder and a DH to the team before spring training.
Eric Chavez, who played first and third base for the Yankees last season is still available to be re-signed if the Yankees wish. We have already discussed the potential free agents available to DH.
Jorge Posada also made it official this week that he was retiring after all 17 seasons with the Yankees.
Posada, 40, thought about offers from other teams such as the Rays and the Mets, but ultimately chose to end his career as a Yankee.
Now the discussion starts as to whether he has the credentials to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. The fact that he is the only catcher among the group of catchers already in the Hall except the great Yogi Berra, who has either more home runs, RBIs or a better batting average than all of them gives him some standing.
In addition, he has four World Series rings and he was one of the best hitting catchers of his generation.
It will be close, but Jorge stands in Yankee history among legendary catchers such as Berra, Bill Dickey and Thurman Munson. So he has a good chance of having his No. 20 retired by the Yankees at some point.
That would be a fitting tribute to a man who was a leader among the best Yankee teams in a generation. Thank you, Jorge!
One axiom of Major League Baseball is pitching comes at a very steep price.
Yankee fans found just how steep on Friday when general manager Brian Cashman swung a pair of deals that netted the Yankees two starting pitchers and a very good pitching prospect and it cost them their No. 1 prospect and potential Rookie of the Year in Jesus Montero and right-handed starter Hector Noesi.
Though the trade is not official, the Yankees apparently have agreed to ship off Montero and Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.
Right after the rumor of that deal surfaced, the YES Network reported that the Yankees reached agreement on a one-year, $10 million contract with 37-year-old free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
Pineda burst upon the baseball landscape when he emerged as dominant starter during spring training in 2011. In five games (four starts), Pineda had no record but had a 2.12 ERA and struck out 14 batters in 17 innings, which earned him a ticket to begin his rookie season as the Mariners’ No. 2 starter behind “King” Felix Hernandez.
Pineda got off to a marvelous start, too. Pitching for perhaps baseball’s weakest offense, Pineda was 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA after his first 11 starts as of June 1. He was so impressive he was selected to pitch for the American League in the 2011 All-Star Game.
However, the combination poor offensive support and a heavy workload of innings combined to trip up Pineda in the second half. In his final 11 starts, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Pineda went 2-8 with a 4.74 ERA.
For the season, Pineda was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and struck out 173 batters in 171 innings pitched. He only walked 55 batters and ended the season with a WHIP of 1.10. He was generally considered as second to only the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson among rookie starters with the Yankees’ Ivan Nova very a close third.
If the trade is completed, Pineda will join the 24-year-old Nova in the Yankees’ 2012 rotation.
Campos is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander from Venezuela was 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA in 14 starts with the Mariners’ Class-A Everett team. Campos struck out 85 batters while walking only 13 in 81 innings last season and he is considered one of the best young pitching prospects in the Mariners’ system.
As ardent Yankee fans know, the Mariners were offered Montero and Nova two seasons ago in exchange for left-hander Cliff Lee. But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik got very greedy and tried to push Cashman into including shortstop Eduardo Nunez in the deal and Cashman balked. The Mariners then shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers in a package that included first baseman Justin Smoak.
Montero was slated to be the Yankees’ primary designated hitter and a backup catcher in 2012 after he burst upon the scene in a September callup and hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 61 at-bats. Montero’s power and hitting drew comparisons from scouts to the likes of Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez.
The doubts about Montero surrounded the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder’s ability to become good enough to be even a passable defensive catcher. Some scouts feel his long-term future was as a DH or first baseman.
Noesi had been a starter throughout his career with the Yankees but spent his rookie season in 2011 pitching mostly in the bullpen. Noesi was 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA over 56 1/3 innings in 30 games (two starts). The Yankees had maintained that Noesi was going to be strictly a starter this season. If he did not make the starting rotation this spring he was slated to pitch at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
If the deal is finalized, Noesi would join Hernandez, Jose Vargas and youngsters Charlie Furbush and Blake Beavan as starters for the Mariners.
With the signing of Kuroda, the Yankees have ended more than two-month search for pitchers to bolster their rotation. Just this week the Yankees opted not to sign free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, whose agent Scott Boras was seeking a four-year, $60 million contract that the Yankees believed was too pricey.
Kuroda, 37, was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA and he recorded 161 strikeouts in 202 innings over 32 starts last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound native of Osaka, Japan is 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in his four seasons in the major leagues, all with the Dodgers.
With the addition of Pineda and Kuroda the Yankees are now overloaded with seven potential starting pitchers.
Pineda and Kuroda will slot in the rotation behind ace left-hander CC Sabathia. Nova, who was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season, would seem to have the inside track on a spot. Phil Hughes, who was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010 but was hampered with a right shoulder injury last season, would be the odds-on favorite to win the fifth spot if he is healthy this spring.
That leaves 35-year-old right-handers A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia in a very tenuous position.
Burnett suffered through his second straight subpar season, recording a mark of 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. Burnett’s wildness and lack of command does not lend itself well to the bullpen and he still has two years and $33 million owed on a five-year contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract to any team willing to take them off their hands but they have received no takers.
Garcia was signed last season as a free agent and he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA over 26 appearances (25 starts). The Yankees re-signed him for $4 million in December and he now looks to be an insurance policy against an injury to any of the starters before the season starts. He likely will end up in the bullpen as a long reliever and spot starter.
The trade and the free-agent signing also would allow the Yankees to keep all five of their best pitching prospects – Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps and Adam Warren – at the Triple-A level to continue their development.
The only real downside is the loss of Montero as the team’s designated hitter.
The Yankees are set at catcher with Russell Martin signed for another season as the starter. Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine will battle this spring for a backup role with the loser likely headed to Triple-A.
With the loss of Montero it is unclear how the Yankees will handle the DH spot. They could rotate it among starting players such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, which is something manager Joe Girardi prefers to do. That would mean bench players such as Nunez and outfielder Andruw Jones could be used to spell the resting regulars.
They also could use the righty-swinger Jones and lefty-swinger Eric Chavez, if he is re-signed as a free agent, in a platoon at DH.
However, in either case, Montero’s spot on the roster would have to be filled. That would seem to indicate that Cashman may intend to use Burnett in a trade to fill that spot with someone who could serve as a DH and play the outfield. It seems unlikely, put still possible, the Yankees could choose to bring back 40-year-old Jorge Posada for another season.
Posada reportedly has decided to retire rather then field offers from other teams.
In what has been a quiet, almost somnambulant, off-season the New York Yankees seem to making strides in signing a free-agent pitcher.
CBSSports.com reported on Wednesday that Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner met with agent Scott Boras to discuss 28-year-old right-hander Edwin Jackson.
When Yankee fans first heard this they must have thought back to last winter when the right-hand of the Yankees, general manager Brian Cashman, did not know that the left-hand, Steinbrenner, was signing free-agent reliever Rafael Soriano to the richest contract ever paid to a non-closer.
Despite losing the draft pick for signing a Type-A free agent and the fact Soriano was ineffective and then got hurt, it was a marvelous masterstroke for a team reeling from the failure to sign Cliff Lee.
Soriano is actually a prize piece to a bullpen that lost Joba Chamberlain last season and ended up being the best bullpen in baseball. They enter the 2012 season armed with Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Soriano for what again looks to be the best bullpen in baseball. That can sure cover up for what looks to be an average starting rotation, too.
But Steinbrenner is still a bit worried. (Count me there too if any Yankee starting rotation includes A.J. Burnett.)
“Look, we were concerned about pitching last year, and it ended up working out pretty well,” Steinbrenner said. “But I’m still a little concerned about our rotation.”
The Yankees have been doing their version of kabuki theater this winter. They are going through all the showy motions of looking at free agents, exploring trades and scouting for any live arm that can make the Yankees better than the 97 games they won last season.
But they are finding the price tags of the free agents loaded with some dealer fees and markups they weren’t counting on. They passed on C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they just made a token bid for Japan’s Yu Darvish.
They also have found that general managers looking to trade arms were looking for bushel basket full of prospects from the Yankees’ tree that included Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams. That price was just way too high for Cashman, who said that he could make any trade to get a pitcher but the problem was that if he made the trade he would not be a popular guy with Yankee fans.
But now it seems that the Steinbrenner family is on board with Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. However, Jackson is just 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA in his career and he reportedly is seeking a five-year deal with an annual salary in the $15 million to $17 million range.
Ouch! Talk about your sticker shock.
Steinbrenner feels that Jackson is too pricey now. But the meeting with Steinbrenner was requested by Boras, which may signal that the agent every general manager loves to hate may be willing to deliver Jackson to the Yankees for something less.
Cashman has been restricted by the Steinbrenner family’s desire to reduce or, at the very least, keep the payroll at around the $200 million range. That is why the Yankees have been so quiet since the 2011 ended and the only moves they have made is to sign back players they had last season (Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones and maybe Eric Chavez.)
But the fact Steinbrenner took the meeting with Boras is a sign the Yankees are indeed serious about adding a starting pitcher. Should the talks for Jackson break down over price, the Yankees still have two viable options in free agents Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda, who are seeking less years and less money than Jackson.
If the Yankees do add a bona fide starter they will have the ability to seriously shop Burnett and his bloated two-year, $33 million contract. The team offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s salary but they got no bites on the line. With another starter signed they could increase that salary payment offer to $14 million and still come out ahead on the deal.
The real issue now comes down to how much does Jackson want to pitch for the Yankees and what can he accept in terms of annual salary. If Boras is willing to compromise there is room to make a deal. If there is no wiggle room the Yankees will have to a pass on him.
Just knowing Steinbrenner was willing to help the Yankees acquire a durable 200-inning pitcher is enough for me to show that there is a willingness for the team to get better. It was not apparent for most of this offseason.
With the clock finally having run out on the Yankees in their effort to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima it is now becoming obvious the the team will enter the 2012 season with virtually their entire roster from 2011 back.
The Yankees seemed shocked when their $2.5 million bid for Nakajima was the winning bid and they dealt with the 29-year-old Seibu Lions star as if he were just going to be paid as a backup infielder, which is, of course, what he was going to be.
But Nakajima was not happy with that offer and the 5 p.m. deadline came and went without a contract. As a result, the Yankees keep their $2.5 million posting and Nakajima returns to play out his contract with Seibu in Japan.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are now free to make an offer to bring back backup first and third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season. Chavez, who has been hampered by injuries for the past five seasons, missed just over two months of the 2011 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot.
But the Yankees can use Chavez, 34, and his left-handed bat as a backup to Alex Rodriguez at third base, to Mark Teixeira at first base and as possible designated hitter or a power bat off the bench.
If Chavez does re-sign with the Yankees he will join outfielder Andrew Jones, infielder Eduardo Nunez and catcher Francisco Cervelli as the same members of the Yankees’ 2011 bench. However, Cervelli would have to win the backup catching job he has held for the past two seasons from rookie Austin Romine in spring training.
The only change in the Yankees’ 13 position players appears to be rookie Jesus Montero, who figures to be the primary DH and third catcher, replacing longtime veteran Jorge Posada.
The Yankees also re-signed Freddy Garcia to a contract this winter, which means the Yankees rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Garcia figures to return in 2012. Of course, the Yankees are in pursuit of one additional starting pitcher that would allow the team to perhaps unload Burnett and the two years and $33 million owed on his contract.
The Yankees have avoided getting into a bidding war for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they only made a token bid for Japanese star Yu Darvish. They also have balked at trades for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens and Matt Garza because teams have asked for top prospects such as Montero, pitchers Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances and outfielder Mason Williams in return.
The Yankees have had discussions with Scott Boras, the agent for right-hander Edwin Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 32 games (31 starts) for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. However, the Yankees are not likely to pay the $15 million to $17 million per season over four years that Boras is seeking for the 28-year-old right-hander.
The Yankees are looking to bring Jackson’s price down some or they may take a pass on him as well. General manager Brian Cashman said he would like to avoid making a long-term commitment to a pitcher like he did with Burnett, a pitcher who may end up being a mistake in the long run.
The Yankees also might have interest in free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
The bullpen, with Rafael Soriano opting to stay with the Yankees, also will return pretty much the same nucleus from last season. Soriano and David Robertson will set up the legend of all closers in Mariano Rivera in 2012. Left-hander Boone Logan and right-hander Corey Wade also are back.
Joba Chamberlain is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and he hopes to be ready when spring training begins. However, the Yankees intend to bring the 26-year-old right-hander along slowly and he may not see action until July.
So that means the Yankees will be looking for two pitchers for the bullpen. One likely will be a left-hander to replace Logan as the lefty specialist. The Yankees signed for former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to a minor-league contract. He will compete this spring with Cesar Cabral, who the Royals sent to the Yankees for cash considerations after they selected him from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft in December.
The other spot could go to Hector Noesi, who filled that role for portions of last season. But the Yankees have said they consider him a starter and they do not want to use him a long man in 2012 if they can help it.
But, here again, the stand-pat nature of the Yankees may be reaffirmed. The Yankees also have said they would not mind having 38-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon back as a long man out of the bullpen. Colon was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA but actually pitched much better than the his record indicated.
Colon was actually 8-6 with a 3.31 on Aug. 11 before going 0-4 with four no-decisions and an ERA of 4.93 down the stretch. He was not even placed on the team’s postseason roster for the American League Division Series. The Yankees believe Colon is better suited as a long man and spot starter and they would offer him a contract to return to the team only in that role because they no longer think he can make 33 starts at his age.
Should the Yankees re-sign Colon that means the only change in the pen could be Okajima or Cabral as a second left-hander replacing right-hander Luis Ayala, who was allowed to become a free agent after going 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA last season.
I can’t recall a season in which the Yankees had less turnover on their roster. It is very odd, indeed, for a team that has prided itself in having the winning tradition, the facilities and the cash to get just about any player they could want in the George Steinbrenner era.
However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are at the helm of the ship now and they seem to have a tighter lid on the cash flow. Cashman has been forced to do more with less since the Yankees made their huge splash in 2009 with the free-agent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira, which led to their 27th world championship that October.
Of course, the team did win 97 games in 2o11 and had the best record in the American League. They did it without significant contributions from Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Hughes and off years from players like Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.
Perhaps the addition of the powerful bat of Montero, a second lefty in the bullpen and healthy seasons from A-Rod, Joba and Hughes will be enough to carry the Yankees to another A.L. East title and the playoffs. The concern then turns to how well the starting pitchers stack up heading into the playoffs.
Do not forget that there are a few very good pitchers who will be free agents in 2013 and teams might be looking to unload them before the July 31 trade deadline. One is right-hander Matt Cain of the Giants and another is lefty Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has the patience and the dearth of young prospects to pull off a deal to bolster the staff at any point this season.
So maybe this lack of turnover is not such a bad thing. The team stays strong without adding much in the way of payroll and remains flexible enough to pull off some deals to make a push in the playoffs.
I see nothing wrong with that. Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
For those fans expecting Matt Garza to be modeling Yankee pinstripes in 2012, your dream is not likely to come true.
The Yankees did have an interest in the 28-year-old Chicago Cubs right-hander. But the team’s president of baseball operations Theo Epstein must have been smoking some of that fraternity stash of his lately. His asking price for Garza, who is 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA in his career, is two of the Yankees’ top three prospects.
Yes sir! Epstein and the Cubs want slugging catcher Jesus Montero and either left-hander Manny Banuelos or right-hander Dellin Betances, according to a report by Jack Curry of the YES Network.
Needless to say, Yankee general manager Brian Cashman nearly choked on his Nathan’s hotdog when he heard that request. Although the Yankees would love to obtain Garza to bolster their starting rotation, the asking price for a pitcher who was just 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in 2011 would seem to be excessively steep.
The Cubs might as well go all the way and offer back-up outfielder Reed Johnson even up for Curtis Granderson. Or how about catcher Geovany Soto for Robinson Cano? You can criticize Epstein for a lot of things but you have to give him credit for having cojones.
This overpricing of pitching has been a trend this winter and it is one of the reasons why Cashman has had to decline big-money offers to overpriced free agents such as C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle. The Rangers paid $51 million just for the right to negotiate a deal with Japan’s best pitcher, Yu Darvish.
Teams like the Padres and Athletics have exacted a cartload of prospects for pitchers such as Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez. The Cubs are trying to do the same with Garza.
But the Yankees have apparently bowed out of the sweepstakes, leaving the Blue Jays and Tigers as the players left interested in Garza unless the Cubs begin to start lowering their demands.
This is is exactly what I was predicting in my last post when I stated that Cashman should proceed with caution in talks for Garza and not succumb to desperation at the expense of the building blocks to the Yankees’ future. You have to know when to fold your hand and leave the table.
Cashman, it appears, has done just that.
Montero, 22, is simply the best power-hitting prospect the Yankees have developed since they promoted Mickey Mantle in 1951. The jury may be out on his skills to be a creditable defensive catcher but scouts have compared his ability to hit to players such as Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez. You do not trade players with this much upside.
Banuelos, 20, is the best left-hander and the best pitching prospect in the Yankees’ organization and Betances, 23, is the second-best pitching prospect. Neither of the two have had an opportunity to show the Yankees what they can do at the major-league level. Both rose from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. Both project as potential top-of-the-rotation starters. The Yankees have no other starters in their farm system with that capability.
So why trade any of the three for Garza, who only is two seasons away from free agency and is likely to earn $20 million over the next two seasons in arbitration? Garza is essentially a .500 pitcher. He is not more than a No. 3 starter. If Garza was a flavor of ice cream he would be vanilla. Plain vanilla.
You don’t trade your best prospects for vanilla. You tell Epstein, “Fudge you!”
Which is exactly what Cashman has done.
With any potential deal for Gaza apparently gone, the Yankees are now looking at free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, according to CBSSports.com.
Jackson, 28, was 12-9 with a 3.73 ERA and 148 strikeouts for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. He reportedly is looking for a contract in the $15 million to $17 million range for 2012. The Yankees might be unwilling to go that high on the veteran right-hander, who is 60-60 a 4.86 ERA and 801 strikeouts in his career.
The Yankees are apparently trying to find a middle ground that Jackson and his agent could accept. The Yankees see Jackson as a potential reliable and durable No. 3 starter.
The Yankees already have five potential starters in CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia. They also have six potential young starters in Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Betances and Banuelos.
But they have made no secret of the fact the would love to unload troubled right-hander Burnett and his $33 million salary paid over the next two seasons. The Yankees have reportedly offered to pay up to $7 million of that contract but have received no takers so far for Burnett.
The signing of Jackson would allow the Yankees to continue to develop their prize minor-league prospects and renew their efforts to unload Burnett.
It is looking as if the Yankees will not be signing Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a contract by the Friday deadline, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
A source told the Ledger that the talks have been “slow” and the Yankees are unlikely to complete a deal for Nakajima, 29, by the 30-day deadline called for in the posting process. The Yankees wish to pay Nakajima as a backup infielder and Nakajima has been paid as a starter in Japan. So both sides are not close to a deal.
The Yankees posted a $2 million bid for Nakajima in early December and won the right to negotiate a contract. If the two sides can’t agree on a contract Nakajima’s team in Japan, the Seibu Lions, will return the $2 million to the Yankees and Nakajima will remain with the Lions.
The Yankees looked at Nakajima, who hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with Seibu in 2011, as a potential backup infielder at second, third and shortstop. The negotiations for Nakajima precluded the Yankees from making a deal to re-sign 34-year-old veteran Eric Chavez.
However, if the Nakajima talks fail the Yankees could, if they wish, can contact Chavez’s agent to get the 34-year-old corner infielder back for the 2012 season. Chavez hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees in 2011. He missed two months of the season with a fractured bone in his left foot.
You are a Yankee fan and you are not happy now.
The reason: General manager Brian Cashman has not made a major splash with a big free-agent signing or a blockbuster trade.
To Yankee fans standing pat is like surrendering to teams like the Marlins and Angels, who tossed around cash this week as if it was only Monopoly money. Some fans are yearning for the days when George Steinbrenner would go after free agents he wanted with the ruthlessness of a pit-bull, never letting go.
However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner seem to be a lot more pragmatic about spending too much for negligible return. They were willing to spend $150 million for Cliff Lee but they were not going to spend close to $80 million for C.J. Wilson or about $60 million for Mark Buerhle.
There are a lot of reasons the Yankees sat idly by while some teams played “Let’s Make a Deal.”
But perhaps the biggest reason is the Yankees have already lavished their riches on their “Pujols” and their “Lee.” Those are the 10-year, $275 million deal the Yankees committed to Alex Rodriguez in 2007 and the $186 million the team is paying CC Sabathia to be the ace the staff through at least the 2016 season.
Those two contracts are largely why the Yankees are the only team in the major leagues who are subject to the luxury tax. The Steinbrenner family would like for the team to remain competitive and successful while Cashman tries to reduce the annual payroll below the $178 million level where the tax kicks in. or, at the very least, the Steinbrenners would like it to remain steady and not push higher.
That is the reason Christmas ornaments like Pujols, Wilson, Buerhle, Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder will be dangling on other teams’ trees this December.
So Yankee fans will have to realize that a team that won 97 games last season is still an excellent one even if adds no one of significance this winter. Rodriguez will just have to be our Pujols and Sabathia will just have to pitch like Lee in 2012 to make Yankee fans forget that this free-agent shopping spree was just too pricey for a team already above the $200 million mark in annual payroll.
Rodriguez is the biggest key to the Yankees’ success in 2012. You just have to face the fact that Rodriguez is being paid the most because he is expected to be the best player in pinstripes, period.
Last season, he was anything but that. Oh, he showed a lot of promise in the spring when he showed up lighter and quicker in the field. He also had a spring that portended a monster 2011 season. But, as the previous three seasons proved, Rodriguez was beset by a series of injuries that kept him off the field for 63 games and a shadow of what he was in the other 99.
Rodriguez, 36, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. If this is the level of performance the Yankees will get from Rodriguez in 2012 they are doomed to fail. Oh, they are talented enough to make the playoffs. But they will not go very far or do very well in the playoffs without what was the most feared hitter in the American League when he is healthy.
But balky shoulders, unsteady knees and painful thumbs can reduce a great player to just a pretty good one real quick. That is what happened to Rodriguez in 2011 and why he needs to arrive in Tampa in Florida fit and ready to go to war to restore his reputation as that most feared hitter.
To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.” His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.
There is no doubt that Rodriguez is on a slight decline. He has not played in more than 138 games since the 2007 season. From 2004 through 2007, Rodriguez averaged 43 home runs and 128 RBIs. From 2008 through 2010 he has averaged 32 home runs and 109 RBIs. In 2009, Rodriguez barely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs on the final day against the Rays but he was healthy at the right time to lead the Yankees through the playoffs and into the World Series as the Yankees won their 27th championship.
So the point is that Rodriguez can average 32 home runs and 109 RBIs and be in decline and still lead the Yankees into a World Series. He just has to be healthy when the playoffs begin. That was not the case last season and the Yankees paid dearly for it in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. They only trailed by a run but it may as well have been 10 runs the way the offense just seemed to sputter with runners in scoring position.
With a healthy and “locked in” A-Rod would the result have been the same? I doubt it.
For all the talk of Robinson Cano and how he has become the best hitter and best player on the Yankees, it is still Rodriguez who can turn a game with his bat that can strike fear into opposing pitchers, managers and teams. Besides the fact is that his ability to hit makes Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner better.
To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.”
His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.
The same can be said of Sabathia. He is, after all, the unquestioned ace.
When he is really dealing he is among the best pitchers in baseball. He is 59-23 in his 101 starts in pinstripes. The Yankees have reached the postseason in the past three seasons largely because of his work in the regular season.
But the past two seasons, his work in the postseason has been not worthy of the status of the one of the best pitchers in baseball. In the past two postseasons he is 2-0 but his ERA in his six appearances (five starts) is 5.84. That stands in stark contrast to his 3-1 record and 1.98 ERA in the 2009 postseason.
In the 2010 playoffs, Sabathia pitched with an injured left knee that required offseason surgery. Sabathia rehabbed the knee and showed up at spring training in February 30 pounds lighter. It helped him get off to unusually quick start and by the All-Star break Sabathia was on the top of his game.
He was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA at the break. He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. So in his last 12 starts, Sabathia was a very ordinary 6-4 with a 3.66 ERA before imploding the playoffs. Why?
Much of that was was blamed on Sabathia’s noticeable and significant weight gain down the stretch. The heavier he got the worse he pitched.
But the Yankees chose not to allow Sabathia to opt out of his contract and leave via free agency. Considering the things Sabathia has done for the Yankees it was a very wise decision. After all, Wilson. Buerhle, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda were not going to replace Sabathia.
In order to find another ace like Sabathia would have cost the Yankees prize prospects like Jesus Monetro, Eduardo Nunez, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. So getting a younger pitcher like Felix Hernandez would have pretty much raped the impressive farm system Cashman has gradually rebuilt the past five years.
So Sabathia will remain a Yankee through at least 2016 (the Yankees have an option for 2017) and the Yankees do not have to bid on overpriced free agents or trade their great young prospects. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
Now the Yankees just have to make sure Sabathia stays off the Cap’n Crunch cereal he loves and eats a lot more salad throughout the 2012 season. At age 31, Sabathia is going to have to realize that to extend his career he is going to have to take care of that large frame going forward.
The Yankees could easily add a starting pitcher or two to their roster to improve the rotation. I fully expect Cashman to continue to his efforts to do just that this winter. But the real key to this staff is making sure Sabathia is able to hit the 2012 playoffs in shape and healthy enough to be the ace he is supposed to be.
Without that, and the health of A-Rod, the whole journey to the 2012 playoffs will be just as wasted as the effort in 2011 was.
Like I said Yankee fans, A-Rod and CC are our free agent pickups and we will live or die in 2012 with them.