Tagged: Ozzie Smith

Roberts, Yankees Score 3 In 12th To Shuffle Cards

GAME 50

YANKEES 6, CARDINALS 4 (12 INNINGS)

The New York Yankees seem to have a penchant lately for ending up playing in extra-inning games and they are starting to figure out the way to win them, too.

Brian Roberts laced a bases-loaded RBI single with one-out in the 12th inning to break a 3-3 tie and the Yankees went on to add two more runs as New York won its third extra-inning game within the past six days by downing St. Louis in front of a paid Memorial Day crowd of 47,311 at Busch Stadium.

Heading into the 12th inning, the Yankees had managed just one hit since the fifth. But they managed to load the bases on left-hander Randy Choate.

Jacoby Ellsbury started it by drawing a walk and stealing second base. Choate then hit Brian McCann with a pitch and Yangervis Solarte advanced them a base with a sacrifice bunt.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny then chose to have Choate walk Ichiro Suzuki intentionally to load the bases and Roberts made Matheny pay for the strategy by slapping an 0-1 pitch into left-field to score Ellsbury.

Pinch-hitter Alfonso Soriano, facing right-hander Jason Motte, then lifted a sacrifice fly to right to score McCann and Brendan Ryan followed with an RBI single to left to score Suzuki.

Despite being victimized by an RBI double off the bat of John Jay to score Jhonny Peralta with an unearned run in the bottom of the 12th, David Robertson closed out the game to earn his 11th save of the season.

Alfredo Aceves (1-2) pitched two scoreless innings for the Yankees to earn his first victory since he returned to the team this season.

Choate (0-2), who originally came up in the Yankees’ organization, was charged with the loss.

The Yankees actually held a 3-1 lead after scoring two runs off Cardinals starter Michael Wacha in the fifth after Suzuki drew a leadoff walk and Roberts followed with a single.

Kelly Johnson, who was starting in place of an injured Mark Teixeira at first base, then rolled a single up the middle to score Suzuki. One out later, Bret Gardner scored Roberts with a sacrifice fly.

The Yankees scored the first run of the game in the first off Wacha when Gardner walked, Derek Jeter singled and Ellsbury scored Gardner with an RBI single.

Wacha was charged with three runs on four hits and two walks and two strikeouts in seven innings.

The Cardinals tied the game in the bottom of the first off right-hander Chase Whitley when Matt Carpenter opened with a triple off the wall in right and Kolten Wong followed with an RBI double to right.

Whitley settled in and pitched extremely well until the sixth when Matt Holliday hit a double off the top of the wall in left. Matt Adams advanced Holliday to third with a single and Whitley loaded the bases by hitting Yadier Molina with a pitch.

Reliever Preston Claiborne came on and gave up a RBI groundout to Allen Craig that scored Holliday and a sacrifice fly to Peralta that scored Adams to tie the game at 3-3.

Whitley yielded three runs on eight hits, he struck out two and did not walk a batter in five-plus innings.

The game remained 3-3 until the Yankees were able to score three in the 12th, although Molina came within inches of winning the game off Aceves in the bottom of the 11th when he sent Gardner to the wall in left. But Gardner leaped and grabbed the ball off the top of the wall to rob Molina of a potential home run.

The game was delayed in starting by a one hour and one minute rain delay.

With the victory, the Yankees’ third in a row, the team’s record improved to 27-23. They remain in second place in the American League East just 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Cardinals are now 28-23.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • When manager Joe Girardi said in spring training that Roberts would be the team’s every day second baseman this season a lot of eyebrows were raised because of Roberts’ long history of injuries. But give the 36-year-old veteran credit for playing well for the Yankees so far. Roberts was 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored to extend his modest hit streak to three games. Roberts is 4-for-10 (.400) with a home run, two RBIs and four runs scored in that span. His season average is up to .241.
  • Once again the bullpen turned in another stellar performance after Whitley left in the sixth. Claiborne, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances, Aceves and Robertson held the Cardinals to an unearned run on two hits, no walks and four strikeouts in seven innings of work. Betances retired all six batters he faced and fanned two. The bullpen has been the strongest part of the team all season.
  • Despite giving up the lead in the sixth inning, Whitley, 24, turned in another very good outing. In his three starts (all of them won by the Yankees), Whitley has yielded four runs on 16 hits and three walks with nine strikeouts in 14 innings. That is an ERA of 2.57 and a WHIP (Walks-and-Hits-to-Innings-Pitched) ratio of 1.22. With CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda on the disabled list, Whitley is providing quality starts and giving the Yankees a chance to win those games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

With Whitley’s good work, the bullpen’s great effort and the offense waiting for the perfect chance to win the game, you can’t really criticize anything. Oh, the offense could have been better but the Cardinals do have an excellent pitching staff. The Yankees are going to have to earn victories against them. They did in this game.

BOMBER BANTER

Teixeira was scratched from the lineup on Monday with stiffness in his surgically repaired wrist. He began feeling the stiffness after the Yankees’ extra-inning victory in Chicago on Saturday and he told Girardi about it on Monday morning. No tests have been scheduled and Girardi said Teixeira is day-to-day. Johnson started at first base in place of Teixiera, who is hitting . 248 with nine homers and 25 RBIs, and was 1-for-4 with an RBI.  . . .  Outfielder Carlos Beltran took 15 swings from both sides of the plate with a fungo bat at Yankee Stadium on Monday and reported no issues with his right elbow. Beltran is has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 13 with a bone spur in the elbow and he is hoping to avoid having surgery to remove it. Beltran will take some more swings with a regular bat on Tuesday and he could progress to taking batting practice off soft tosses on Thursday.  . . .  Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith and the Cardinals honored Jeter in a pre-game ceremony in which Jeter was presented cuff links with the likeness of Cardinals legend Stan Musial and a check for $10,000 for Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the Cardinals on Tuesday.

Hometown boy David Phelps (1-1, 3.18 ERA) will pitch in St. Louis for the first time as a major-league player. Phelps grew up in the area and attended high school there before attending Notre Dame. Phelps, 26, is coming off a hard-luck loss to Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. Phelps gave up just two runs on six hits and a walk while he fanned eight in seven innings. But he lost the game 3-2.

Right-hander Lance Lynn (5-2, 3.60 ERA) will start for the Cards. Lynn yielded two runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out six in six innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday. But he did not get a decision in a game the Cardinals later won.

Game-time will be 8:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MY9.

 

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Jeter’s 4 Hits Backs Tanaka As Yanks Club Chisox

GAME 49

YANKEES 7, WHITE SOX 1

For the paid sellout crowd of 39,142 at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday they witnessed the last of one great era and the precipice of a new one wearing Yankee gray.

Those who came to pay tribute to Derek Jeter in his final game in Chicago witnessed him contribute four hits, including a rare triple, and two RBIs and those who came to see rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka saw him pitch one-run ball for 6 2/3 innings against the White Sox.

So the bridge from the past to the future was featured prominently as Jeter and Tanaka helped lead New York to a four-game series split with Chicago.

Jeter thanked the fans for their cheers and their tributes by posting his first four-hit game since Aug. 20, 2012. He also topped it off by hitting his first triple since the 2011 season as part of a seven-run, 10-attack that was the undoing of right-hander Andre Rienzo (4-1) and the two relievers that followed him.

Meanwhile, Tanaka (6-1) bounced back from his first loss in the major leagues on Tuesday to the Chicago Cubs to hold the Chisox to one run on five hits and two walks while he struck out six before he tired in the seventh inning. The 25-year-old right-hander has now posted quality starts in all 10 of his starts this season.

The Yankees made it easier for him by jumping on Rienzo for four runs in the second inning.

Yangervis Solarte started the frame by shooting a bad-hop grounder past second baseman Gordon Beckham into right for a single. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki singled up the middle and Brian Roberts loaded the bases by drawing a walk.

Brett Gardner then stroked a two-run single and, after a throwing error on Rienzo that allowed Roberts and Gardner to move up a base, Jeter rapped out an RBI single. Jacoby Ellsbury capped the rally with a sacrifice fly that scored Gardner.

The Yankees added a run in the fourth when Jeter hit a two-out triple into center and he scored when Rienzo uncorked a wild pitch.

Rienzo was touched for five runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck out seven batters in five innings.

Jeter came through again for the Yankees in the sixth off right-hander Javy Guerra when Alfonso Soriano led off the inning with a double and Jeter ripped a two-out single up the middle into center to score Soriano.

The White Sox scored their only run of the day in the bottom of the sixth off Tanaka when Tyler Flowers laced a leadoff double over the head of Gardner in left. Later in the inning, Conor Gillaspie slapped a two-out bloop single that scored Flowers to spoil the shutout bid.

Roberts capped the scoring with one out in the eighth inning off White Sox right-hander Scott Carroll by blasting his second home run of the season into the bleachers in right-center.

So after the Yankees lost 10 straight game at U.S. Cellular Field in a streak that began in 2012, the Yankees were able to recover to win the final two games of the four-game set for a split.

With the victory the Yankees boosted their season ledger to 26-23. They remain in second place in the American League East, two games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The White Sox fell to 25-27.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After going 0-for-5 on Saturday, Jeter bounced back in a big way in his final game at U.S. Cellular Field. His 4-for-5 game raised his season average from .259 to .275. There is no doubt that Jeter is not the player he once was. But it is nice to know that the Yankee captain is still capable of games like this every so often in his final season.
  • After getting knocked around for four runs (three earned) on eight hits against the Cubs, Tanaka told reporters he would make the necessary adjustments in his next start. The reporters then asked him how he would do it and he replied by saying, “Watch me.” It appears he made those adjustments because there were only two really hard hit balls off him on Sunday. He did appear to tire in the seventh inning, when he issued his only two walks to Adam Dunn and Alejandro De Aza.  But he lowered his ERA to 2.29. He is amazing.
  • Along with Jeter, the only other Yankee starter to have a multiple-hit game was Soriano, who posted a pair of doubles. Soriano needed a good showing because from May 18 through May 22, Soriano was 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts. Since getting a pinch-hit single against the White Sox on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-9 (.444). He was dropped in the batting order on Sunday to the seventh spot behind the rookie Solarte.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Mark Teixeira (batting fourth) and Brian McCann (batting fifth) combined to go 0-for-8 in the game with four strikeouts and they stranded three runners apiece. The fact that the Yankees scored seven runs in the game without a significant contribution from two of their three top run producers is saying a lot. Both Teixeira and McCann need to step up their games in the absence of outfielder Carlos Beltran.

BOMBER BANTER

The White Sox paid tribute to Jeter in a 30-minute pre-game ceremony and awarded him a plague bearing soil from shortstop at U.S. Cellular Field collected three days ago to honor all the shortstops who played there and all of those happen to be in the Hall in Fame. Jeter’s name was on the large plaque along with the names of Luke Appling, Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparacio, Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Boudreau, Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin, Robin Yount, Omar Vizquel and Phil Rizzuto. The White Sox also chipped in with a check for $5,000 for Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.  . . .  Right-hander Michael Pineda reported no issues on Sunday after throwing 28 pitches in live batting practice on Saturday. Pineda, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 4 with a strained muscle in his upper right shoulder, is next scheduled to pitch in s simulated game on Tuesday. He hopes to be able to return to the Yankees in early June.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Busch Stadium for a Memorial Day matchup to begin a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (0-0, 1.00 ERA) will make his third start for the Yankees. Whitley held the Cubs to one run on six hits and a walk while he fanned three in 4 1/3 innings of a game the Yankees rallied to win 4-2 in 13 innings on Wednesday.

The Cardinals will send to the mound right-hander Michael Wacha (3-3, 2.54 ERA). Wacha was cruising having shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks on two hits and three walks in six innings. But he settled for a no-decision when he was forced to leave the game after taking a batted ball off his right elbow. The injury was not serious and he was cleared to start on Monday.

Game-time will be 4:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Know It’s Unwise To Bet Against Jeter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jeter Bests Shortcomings To Have Banner Season

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (15 HRs, 58 RBIs, .316 BA, 99 Runs, 9 SB)

There are just some people who are fortunate enough to have everything go their way in life.  They have a dream job, they make a good amount of money and they date all the beautiful women.

That is Derek Jeter and his 2012 season was something he can brag about.

In 2010, he suffered through a subpar campaign in which he hit .270 and he looked like he was nearing the end at age 36. In the first half of 2011, it got much worse.

Jeter was struggling with a no-stride batting approach that batting coach Kevin Long suggested. He abandoned it and his average tumbled even more. Then he suffered a calf injury that landed him on the disabled list.

He went to Tampa,FL, to rehab the injury and then took the time to work with his old batting coach Gary Dembo to rediscover his old swing. All Jeter did after rejoining the Yankees was hit .336 the rest of the way and it re-established his credentials as one of the best singles hitters of his generation.

But as the 2012 season began there were still those that doubted Jeter could maintain the stroke that got him 3,000 hits and had him at a lifetime batting average of .313.

In the first half, Jeter was able to keep that pace by hitting .303. It seemed every day he was passing players like Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken on the all-time hits list. He also was driving the ball well enough to hit seven home runs and drive in 25 runs from the leadoff spot.

The only negatives is that he scored only 42 runs and stole six bases. The runs total had a lot to do with the fact the Yankees were the worst team in baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position. The stolen base total had more to do with Jeter turning 38.

He stole 30 bases in 2009 but is pretty obvious that Jeter has to choose his spots more carefully now. The good thing is that Jeter realizes it and does not get thrown out on the bases trying to prove he can. He is much smarter than that.

Jeter made the All-Star team as the starting shortstop and he actually earned it rather than getting the nod simply because of his reputation.

You would think Jeter might have slowed down a bit in the second half. Instead, he just got better.

He raised his overall average 10 points, hit eight home runs, drove in 33 runs and scored 57 runs to come within a single run of scoring 100.

Jeter had scored at least 100 runs in 13 of his 17 full seasons in the majors. But the fact he missed had more to do with the flux in the batting order behind with injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and the inconsistency of the team’s hitting with runners in scoring position.

Jeter’s numbers this season are unprecedented for shortstops his age. There are few shortstops who are in baseball at that age. There are fewer who actually able to start. And Jeter is the only one who has actually led the major leagues in hits with 216.

That is Jeter’s second highest total of hits in his career. He had 219 hits in his magical 1999 season when he hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs when he was 25.

Jeter is not 25 any more and he will never approach those gaudy power numbers of 1999. But the Yankees can live with the 2012 numbers.

“The Captain” is not quite ready to take his commission and retire. Why should he?

The only area where Jeter does show his age, besides stealing bases, is in the field. But even there, Jeter can still make the plays with amazing precision.

Jeter only committed 10 errors this season, two less than he committed in 2011. He also did that with much more chances because he was on the disabled list for about a month last season.

I know the sabermetricians out there use Jeter as their favorite whipping post because of his reduced range in the field. That is true. Jeter is no longer able to range far to his right and he maybe lets a few balls get through he used to reach easily. But he still plays the position at a high degree of skill.

His five Gold Glove awards do not lie.

It goes back to that old argument of do you want a steady hand at shortstop who may not have much range or do you want a shortstop with the range of half the Earth who too often throws the ball into the seats? Given this choice I would take Jeter every time. That is the choice manager Joe Girardi has made when critics have suggested Eduardo Nunez should play shortstop.

Girardi knows better and the fans who sit along the first-base line at Yankee Stadium thank him for it.

The only comparison to Jeter I can make is Ozzie Smith, who played at a very high level with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992 at age 38. He hit .295 and stole 43 bases.

“The Wizard” is in the Hall of Fame and Jeter is going to join him someday. Special players to do special things and Jeter and Smith are as special as it gets at the shortstop position.

Smith is the best fielder I have seen at the position and Jeter is, by far, the best pure hitter of them all.

MIDSEASON GRADE: A-

SECOND-HALF GRADE: A

OVERALL GRADE: A

BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (4 HRs, 18 RBIs, .243 BA)

Nix was discussed in detail in my post grading Robinson Cano.

He spent most of the season as Jeter’s backup at short after Nunez was demoted for treating the baseball like it was a hand grenade.

Nix started 15 games at shortstop and committed only one error. He was steady with the glove and he contributed well with the bat, too.

Nix, 30, will never come close to being the athlete Nunez, 25, is. Nunez is faster, a better hitter and he has much better range in the field. But you also know Nix will make the pays in the field and he will not hurt you when he plays.

Nix, however, will miss the early part of the playoffs with a left hip flexor injury. So Nunez will be Jeter’s backup at shortstop for now.

The Yankees have high hopes he can be the future of the Yankees at shortstop. But he is a work in progress.

He was making an alarming number of errors when the Yankees demoted him in May. Girardi said they were hurting Nunez’s development by making him a utility infielder and said the team will try to keep him at shortstop.

That should help Nunez, who is more comfortable there. Nunez is a very good line-drive hitter with excellent speed and he helps balance the Yankees’ lefty-laden lineup. If he can just harness the fielding aspects of the game he could become a very good player at short.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

SECOND-HALF GRADE: C

OVERALL GRADE: C

Nunez played in only 38 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre due to a nagging right thumb injury so Ramiro Pena ended up playing the most there. However, after Pena was recalled on Sept. 1 a calf injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to bring in Steve Pearce to back up at first and Pena was designated for assignment.

The Yankees also played veteran Doug Bernier at Scranton but he is career journeyman without any prospect of remaining with the Yankees except as a future coach.

The Yankees do have a potential star in 20-year-old Austin Aune, who hit .273 with one home run and 20 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League. Aune is a lefty hitter with a potential power bat and has good range and a great arm at shortstop. But scouts believe Aune might have to move to center-field at some point to maximize his speed and arm.

Cito Culver, 19, appears to be a bust as the team’s No. 1 choice in 2010. He hit just .215 in 122 games at Class-A Charleston.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A

Jeter has always been an intangibles player. He is given credit for playing the game smart with his positioning and his knowledge of the game is second to none. But when he hits like he did this season, it is something special to watch.

When a career .313 hitter leads the majors in hits and bats .316 at age 38, you have to tip your cap to the abilities of a player like this.

Will he do it again in 2013? Who can say for sure?

All you have to do is watch Jeter in the playoffs because that has been his playground for 17 seasons. Jeter is a career .307 hitter in the playoffs.

So the big stage is not something he ever has dodged. As far as the Yankees are concerned, the Yankees will go as far as No. 2 takes them.

 

Yanks Need Fourth OF And Backup At First In 2012

With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.

PART FOUR – THE BENCH

PRIORITY NO. 1: Who will replace Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones?

The Yankees bench is the only place, other than the starting pitchers, where there will be a few changes. The Yankees will retain all their starters in 2012.

The bench will be a different story. starting at designated hitter.

Jesus Montero figures to be the current odds-on favorite to win that job coming off his very nice debut during the Yankees’ stretch run to the division title. Though he is only 21, Montero is showing skills with the bat that are far beyond his years.

Normally the Yankees would prefer to have a left-handed DH to take advantage of right-handed pitching and the short porch in right. But Montero has never been platooned in the minors and his power stroke is to right-center. If Montero does well in spring training it would be hard to keep him off the roster and even harder to not start him at DH.

Of course, there are those in the Yankee organization who believe Montero should develop as a catcher. But Montero’s defense behind the plate is still not as polished as it could be and the Yankees face a lot of teams like the Rays and Angels who will steal at the drop of a hat

But if Russell Martin is the starting catcher placing Montero as his backup would mean he would only start once a week and he could not DH, less the Yankees lose the DH if Martin is injutred. That is why it is more likely the Yankees will keep either Francisco Cervelli or rookie Austin Romine as the backup catcher to Martin.

Though Cervelli still needs to work on his throwing, he is still considered a very good defensive catcher who calls a good game and has the trust of the pitching staff. Likewise, both manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who know a thing or two about catching believe that Romine, at age 22, is already a major-league catcher defensively.

The battle in the spring may come down to two factors:

(1) Cervelli, 25, will have to prove to the Yankees he is over the concussion that short-circuited his season in September and that he can stay healthy. Cervelli has sustained a broken wrist, various concussions and last season broke a bone in his right foot fouling off a pitch in spring training.

(2) Romine will have to prove he can improve as a hitter at the major-league level. Romine will never be the power threat Montero will become. But the Yankees would like him to at least hold his own much like Cervelli has since he has become the backup catcher.

Keeping either Cervelli or Romine will allow the Yankees to keep Montero as a DH and emergency catcher much like they had last season with Jorge Posada, though Posada was only used once in that capacity. Montero, however, could get some starts behind the plate against teams that do not steal bases. He surely will see some action behind the plate.

The only other holdover from the bench last season will be Eduardo Nunez, 24. Nunez received 309 at-bats last season as the primary infield backup in 2011. He was impressive, especially when he started at shortstop in place of an injured Derek Jeter and third base for an injured Alex Rodriguez.

Nunez hit .265 with five home runs and 30 RBIs. Nunez has the ability to drive the ball into the gaps and he also showed the ability to fly on the bases. In his 83 starts, he stole 22 bases. After that kind of rookie season, it is easy to see why general manager Brian Cashman bristled when the Seattle Mariners sought to add Nunez to a deal to bring Cliff Lee to the Yankees in 2010 that Cashman said no.

However, Nunez comes into camp with a lot of work to do on his defense. Nunez led the Yankees in errors with 20.

Nunez is tall and lean and his footwork on ground balls is atrocious. That leads to a lot of fielding errors. In addition, Nunez tends to throw wildly to first when pressed by fast runners or when he has to range deep for balls. That will take a lot of work this offseason and this spring to correct. The Yankees realize he will never be Ozzie Smith. They just would like him to cut his error rate to a respectable level.

Otherwise, 26-year-old Ramiro Pena will have a shot to reclaim his old job back. Though Pena is a lot steadier in the field, he hit only .100 in 40 at-bats last season and he does not have the line-drive bat or speed that Nunez presents.

Besides Posada, to whom the Yankees will decline to offer a contract, the Yankees also will not bring back reserve outfielder Andruw Jones or reserve infielder Eric Chavez.

Jones was largely a disappointment until midseason, when he got hot and hit .291 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs. Jones, 34, finished the season with a .247 average, 13 home runs and 33 RBIs as the right-handed=hitting DH and backup outfielder.

Chavez, 34, probably would be welcomed back by the Yankees if he wanted to play for the team. But Chavez is looking to possibly signing as a free agent to resume his career as a starting third baseman.

Chavez signed with the Yankees as a backup because of a series of neck and back injuries had him shelved for the better portions of the previous four seasons. Chavez signed with the Yankees in hopes of being able to re-establish himself as a starter who can still help a club.

He failed to stay healthy with the Yankees, though, when he broke a bone in his right foot running the bases in Detroit in early May and he did not return until July. In 160 at-bats, Chavez hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs.

The Yankees would love to have his left-hand bat back as a backup to Rodriguez, who has been slowed by nagging injuries himself for the past four seasons and who is need of more rest these days at age 36. Chavez also spellled Mark Teixeira at first base and provided a veteran left-handed bat off the bench.

So now the Yankees will be looking to add a right-handed hitting outfielder and a lefty hitter who can play some first base and maybe some outfield and third.

The reason they need a right-handed hitting outfielder is because Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson are left-handed hitters and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter who will hit primarily as lefty with the predominantly right-handed starters in baseball. It would be nice to have a right-handed hitter to spell either Gardner, Granderson and Swisher.

In addition, Gardner hit a paltry .233 against left-handers last season. It would be nice to have a free-agent outfielder like Reed Johnson, who as a right-handed hitter who batted .309 overall and .305 against left-handers in 2011. Johnson is hustling overachiever who also plays solid defense in all three outfield spots. The only thing he can’t do like Gardner is run. He has only 39 career steals.

That is the kind of cheap role player the Yankees will be looking for. The Yankees do have a lot of young outfielders in the minors such as Chris Dickerson, Greg Golson, Justin Maxwell, Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. But Dickerson and Curtis hit left-handed and Golson and Mawelll have been disappointments as right-handed hitters. Mesa, 24, may need a year of seasoning before he is ready.

The Yankees also will be in the market for a left-handed hitting infielder who can play first, some third and perhaps the outfield. In other words, they are looking for an “Eric Hinske type.” Hinske, 34, has made a career as backup at third, first and the outfield and he has played on a lot of teams that have made the playoffs.

Last season, he hit .238 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs in 236 at-bats with the Braves. Hinske, however, is not a free agent.

The Yankees might take a look at Russell Branyan, 36, who has hit two of the longest home runs in Yankee Stadium history. Branyan hit .197 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 127 at-bats for the Diamondbacks and the Angels last season. Branyan can play first, third and the outfield, however, he would be a real liability in the outfield.

But Branyan can still hit for power. He has 194 career home runs and most of them have been as a bench player.

He also could help the Yankees as a lefty DH against some tough right-handers.

The Yankees do have Brandon Laird to play both first and third base. However, Laird is a right-handed hitter and the Yankees are already loaded with right-handed hitters on the bench. Laird seems more likely to be ticketed back to Triple-A or a trade to another organization with A-Rod blocking his path to the majors.

But, in any case, the Yankees are not going out of their way to sign expensive free agent hitters this winter. If Yankee fans envision a lineup of Albert Pujols batting fourth, Prince Fielder batting fifth, Rodriguez hitting sixth, Carlos Beltran hitting seventh and Nick Swisher batting eighth and Teixeira batting ninth, you can keep on dreaming. It is not going to happen.

This team is going to allocate its free-agent dollars to acquiring starting pitching, period.

The rest of the moves Cashman will make are small ones like adding two bench players like he did in signing Jones and Chavez last winter.

This concludes the series on potential off-season moves. I will have an update to the starting pitching search in my next post. Stay tuned!