YANKEES 3, CUBS 0
There were a lot of critics who said that Masahiro Tanaka would find pitching in the United States more challenging because the hitters are so much better. They claimed Tanaka would have to prove he could pitch here.
After Wednesday’s performance at Yankee Stadium against the Cubs, what more proof do those critics need?
Tanaka (2-0) allowed only two bunt singles and struck out 10 en route to eight shutout innings as New York took the first game of a day-night doubleheader by beating Chicago in front of a paid crowd of 36,569.
Carlos Beltran, who was named the American League Player of the Week for last week, gave Tanaka all the run support he really needed by launching his fourth home run of the season into the right-field bleachers with one out in the first inning off right-hander Jason Hammel (2-1).
The Yankees added a single run in the fourth inning after loading the bases with one out and Dean Anna hit a sacrifice fly that scored Brian McCann. They added another run in fifth inning thanks to some strategic thinking by manager Joe Girardi.
With Brett Gardner on third and one out, Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat came in contact with Cubs catcher John Baker’s glove on a swing in what would have been catcher’s interference. Ellsbury would have been awarded first base but Gardner would have had to remain at third.
However, as Hammel tagged out Ellsbury, Gardner touched home plate. Girardi was given the choice by the umpires to take the catcher’s interference our accept the result of play. Girardi wisely chose the result of the play to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
Hammel did not pitch bad but he was simply out-pitched. He gave up three runs on five hits and three walks while he fanned five over seven innings of work.
After Tanaka gave up a video-review bunt single to Junior Lake with one out in the second inning, he retired the next 14 batters – striking out seven of them – until Anthony Rizzo led off the seventh inning with a bunt single.
The Japanese right-hander only walked one batter and he became the first Yankees’ pitcher to strike out 28 batters in his first three games, breaking Al Leiter’s record of 25 set in 1987.
Shawn Kelley pitched a scoreless ninth to record hid fourth save in as many chances this season.
With the Yankees’ first shutout of the season, they improved their season record to 8-6. The Cubs dropped to 4-9.
- Tanaka was in total command throughout his 107-pitch outing despite the chilly 43-degree temperatures in the Bronx. The fact that the Cubs could only muster two bunt hits just highlights his dominance. He is the first Yankee pitcher to pitch eight shutout innings while striking out at least 10 batters and giving up two or fewer hits since Randy Johnson did it on on July 26, 2005 against the Boston Red Sox.
- Beltran continued his hot hitting by going 1-for-3 with a walk. Since April 7, Beltran is 12-for-29 (.414) with four home runs and seven RBIs. The Yankees signed the 36-year-old veteran outfielder to be a force in the middle of the lineup and he is providing just that.
- Give Kelley credit as the fill-in closer. With Mariano Rivera retired and David Robertson the disabled list, Kelley has been perfect in the ninth inning so far. He is 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA and six strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. He is anchoring a bullpen that has been much better than most experts thought.
Nothing negative here. The Yankees got an early lead and added to it while Tanaka was mowing down Cubs.
The features Bomber Banter and On Deck will be included in the next post.
Some Yankee fans got together and attempted to ship some baby pacifiers to Robinson Cano. How appropriate!
Temper, temper, Robbie! Tsk! Tsk!
Cano, 31, as you all know by now, got pissed off when the Yankees offered outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury an eight-year, $169 million contract and took his bats and gloves and run off to the Great Northwest for a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.
Hope you did not let the clubhouse door hit you in the rump on the way out, Robinson.
To be clear, it is a shame that a marvelously talented player like Cano has decided to leave the Yankees. He was the best player on the team the past two seasons and his durability was welcome in a disastrous 2013 season that saw the Yankee roster look, at times, like an Independent League All-Star team.
Cano also had a point in looking at Ellsbury’s career statistics compared to his own and conclude that the Yankees were “low-balling” their monetary offer to him. They never really budged off the $175 million they were offering.
But after the excessive deals offered to Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Carl Crawford over recent seasons, teams are learning that mega-year contracts for boatloads of cash is not a wise idea. A-Rod has been playing on reputation alone for the past three seasons. Pujols is a walking physical wreck and Crawford is one of the worst fiscal mistakes the Boston Red Sox ever made.
If Cano and his agent Jay-Z had been realistic in the first place with their opening offer it would have been smoother sailing. But they sought $305 million, which would have been a record contract. No team was willing to shell out that much cash for Cano and he had to know it.
Once the Yankees zeroed in on seven years at $165 million the gauntlet was laid. But the chief rivals for Cano, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers stepped out of the process.
The Dodgers signed Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to play second and the Tigers traded slugging first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt he was in the catbird seat at that point because Cano, at the time, had no other offers. Overtures by Cano’s people made to the New York Mets were turned aside so Cano and his agents came back to the Yankees and lowered their demands to $240 million.
The Yankees, appreciative of the semblance of reality, still were not too keen on extending the contract past eight years and, with no other bidder in sight, they smartly held the line at about $175 million.
The whole situation blew up after ongoing talks by the Yankees with free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran had broken down. The Yankees shifted gears away from Beltran and they signed Ellsbury for a tidy sum. When Cano read about the monetary details he pitched a hissy fit.
Cano’s father, Jose, issued a statement to the effect that the “Yankees were obviously not interested in keeping Robinson.”
That could not be further from the truth. Cashman and the Yankees were hoping that any offer Cano might have received from other teams could be brought back to the Yankees to give them a chance to match or top it. Now $240 million looks to have been a problem but the Yankees could have extended a year and increased the offer to $200 million.
But Cano did not give the Yankees a chance and he had to shop himself to the Mariners to get what he what he was seeking.
Fortunately, Cano had a willing partner in Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has made his career on just two things: turning out lousy clubs year after year and miscalculating the value of young prospects he has in his system and ones he has acquired in trades.
Let’s look at the Mariners most recent history.
Since 2004, the Mariners have been a losing franchise. They have been below .500 in all but two seasons and have not finished better than second place in the American League West in any of those years.
After the departures of stars like Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod, Randy Johnson and manager Lou Piniella at the beginning of the new century this franchise has languished, boasting only outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and right-handed ace Felix Hernandez as true stars.
Zduriencik tried to seed the team with prospects by making trades, such as the 2010 deal he made to trade All-Star left-hander Cliff Lee.
The Yankees thought they had a deal for Lee in place, offering their No. 1 prospect Jesus Montero, right-hander Ivan Nova and second baseman David Adams. But Zduriencik balked at Adams because he was recovering from a severe ankle injury. He asked for shortstop Eduardo Nunez instead.
Cashman said no and Zduriencik turned around and shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers for their top prospect, first baseman Justin Smoak.
Smoak, 27, has been an absolute bust. In 2011, Smoak hit a scintillating .234 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. In 2012, he floundered like a real flounder at the Pike Street Market.
He hit just .217 with 19 homers and 51 RBIs. Last season he batted .238 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs. A budding Mark Teixeira he’s not.
He is currently listed on the teams 2014 depth chart as a backup to journeyman Logan Morrison, who is a career .249 hitter with a grand total of 42 major-league home runs.
Then there is Zduriencik’s 2012 deal acquiring Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi from the Yankees for right-handers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
The Yankees decided to ship out Montero because they had determined he would never become a major-league quality defensive catcher and he would either have to move to another position or become a designated hitter to succeed in the majors.
The Mariners found out the hard way that the Yankees were right. Montero batted .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 2012, but he started only 55 games as a catcher.
In 2013, Montero not only lost his job as a catcher but he was sent back to the minors after hitting .208 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 29 games. He also suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that shelved him for most of the season.
Montero, 24, is listed behind Mike Zunino on the team’s depth chart.
This is the team Cano has decided to grace with his presence.
It could be 10 years before Seattle ever gets close to competing with the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angels Angels and the Rangers in the division, much less compete for a playoff spot. Cano does not solve the team’s weak hitting in the outfield and infield, with the exception of third baseman Kyle Seagar.
The pitching with King Felix is competitive enough but the rotation lacks depth and the bullpen is a disaster.
Another point is that over the 10 years of Cano’s contract, a lot of young prospects will be brought up to follow his example. Let’s hope they cover their eyes when Cano raps a easy grounder to an infielder, who boots the ball but still nails him because Cano was loafing out of the batter’s box.
Let’s also hope they are not watching when he drops the bat at the plate thinking he has a home run and gets tossed out at second base because he did not run hard. That is a Cano trademark that manager Joe Girardi played off casually to the media but it chafed his chestnuts to the core.
Speaking of home runs. Robinson, you won’t be hitting as many of those in spacious Safeco Field. Your home run totals should drop back to the 20 to 25 mark or so because you line most of your shots.
You can also kiss goodbye having your number retired in Monument Park. That would have made you the first Dominican so honored. You also will not pass some the greats of the game on the franchise’s offensive categories list. You also will miss out on the division tiles, playoff games and championship rings. Lucky you got that 2009 ring squirreled away. That will be the only one you get.
It is shame you let your temper get the better of your good judgment.
Now you will be booed when you come to Yankee Stadium on April 29 with the rest of the no-name band you are hanging with these days. That is a shame, also.
You were a magnificent player and you really were a benefit to the Yankees with your skills as a hitter and a fielder. Those skills will be wasted in losing efforts much like the 2013 season you suffered through.
But you still can count your precious money after the game. Enjoy it because it obviously means more to you than winning.
YANKEES 4, ROYALS 2
If winning games is fun then the New York Yankees’ charter plane to Cleveland must be a barrel of laughs.
Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells each homered and drove in two runs and Hiroki Kuroda pitched into the eighth inning as the New York swept the three-game series against Kansas City and extended their winning steak to five games in front of 29,515 fans at Kauffman Stadium.
Kuroda (5-2) collected his third victory in his past four outings, limiting the Royals to two runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out one batter in 7 2/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Cano gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the day in the third inning.
With the Yankees trailing 1-0, Chris Stewart stroked a one-out single to left and, one batter later, Cano connected with the first offering from Royals right-hander Ervin Santana (3-2) on a two-run blast into the bleachers in right-field for his 10th home run of the season.
Cano was using a pink bat as part of Major League Baseball effort to bring awareness on Mother’s Day for breast cancer research and an eventual cure.
Right after Cano gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead, Wells laced a 1-0 fastball from Santana down the line into the left-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the season.
Wells added another run for the Yankees in the fifth. Brett Gardner slapped a one-out opposite-field double to left. One out later, Wells singled to left to plate Gardner.
Santana gave up four runs on eight hits and he fanned four in 6 1/3 innings.
The Royals scored both their runs off Kuroda on the strength of leadoff doubles.
Jarrod Dyson led off the first inning with a double down the right-field line and he advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Alcides Escobar. He then scored on a sacrifice fly by Alex Gordon.
Elliot Johnson led off the eighth with a double off the wall in right-center. He advanced to third on a flyout to deep center by Dyson and he scored on an infield groundout off the bat of Escobar.
After the Royals drew to within two runs, Gordon doubled off Kuroda. Manager Joe Girardi replaced Kuroda with right-hander David Robertson, who retired Billy Butler on a routine flyout to end the Royals’ threat.
Mariano Rivera came in to pitch a scoreless ninth to save his 14th game in 14 tries this season and it was his 28th consecutive save against the Royals, which dates back to the 1998 season.
With the victory the Yankees are now 22-9 since April 7 and they remain in first place in the American League East one game in front of the Baltimore Orioles with a 22-13 season mark. The Royals, who have now lost six of their past seven games, are now 18-16.
- Cano is way ahead of his home-run pace of 2012, a year in which he set a career high with 33 home runs. Cano leads the team in batting (.311), runs scored (22), doubles (10), home runs (10) and RBIs (23).
- Wells hit only nine home runs in 77 games with the Los Angels Angels last season. Wells is second on the club in batting (.295), runs scored (19), home runs (9) and RBIs (20).
- Kuroda pitched another gem to become the first Yankee starter to win five games. Kuroda also leads all Yankee starters in ERA (2.31) and Walks To Innings Pitched (WHIP) (1.05).
- Though the Yankees’ No. 9 through No. 4 hitters were a combined 9 for 19 (.474), the No. 5 through No. 8 hitters were a combined 0-for-16 against Santana and relievers Tim Collins and Greg Holland.
- Third baseman Chris Nelson was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and since he has joined the Yankees on May 4 he is 5-for-29 (.172) with no home runs and two RBIs in eight games.
- Jayson Nix was 4-for 6 with two walks in the first two games of the series but on Sunday he was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. When he did reach base on a two-base throwing error by Mike Moustakas in the fourth inning he was doubled up off second after Nelson lined out on a diving catch by Dyson in center-field.
The Yankees on Sunday elected to place shortstop Eduardo Nunez (left ribcage tightness) on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 6 and he will be eligible to activated on May 20. To replace Nunez on the roster the Yankees bought the contract of infielder Alberto Gonzalez from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Gonzalez, 30, previously played for the Yankees from 2006 through 2007 after being acquired as part of the Randy Johnson trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was acquired from the Chicago Cubs last week in a trade for a player to be named later. He is career .241 hitter and also has played with with the Nationals, Padres and Rangers. . . . Right-hander Ivan Nova experienced discomfort in his right side while throwing at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, and he will not be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Monday. Nova, who has been on the disabled list with inflammation in his right triceps, was being considered for a start in the team’s doubleheader on Monday. It is unclear how long Nova will remain on the DL. . . . Reliever Joba Chamberlain three 30 pitches in a bullpen session at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday and he is scheduled to pitch in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton on Tuesday. Chamberlain has been on the disabled list since April 28 with a right oblique strain. . . . Chamberlain and Rivera apologized to each other on Sunday after a intense shouting match erupted between the two on Saturday. Rivera was conducting an interview with reporters in the dugout during batting practice while Chamberlain apparently was shouting up to family members in the stands. Rivera asked Chamberlain to be quiet and Chamberlain took exception to it. Both players said it was an exchange in the heat of the moment and all has been forgiven.
The red-hot but limping Yankees will be in Cleveland on Monday for day-night doubleheader as part of a makeup of two rained out games against the Indians on May 10 and May 11.
The Yankees will open the doubleheader with right-hander David Phelps (1-1, 5.02 ERA). Phelps, 26, is coming off a six-inning no-decisoon against the Colorado Rockies in which he yielded two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out four. Phelps is making his third start of the season but he has never faced the Indians.
The Indians will counter with ace right-hander Justin Masterson (5-2. 3.67 ERA). Masterson is 2-2 with a 5.91 in his past five starts after starting the season 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA. Masterson is 3-3 with a 3,00 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 12:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
Rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his first major-league start in the second game. Nuno, 25, has pitched only once for the Yankees, tossing three shutout innings against the Houston Astros on April 29. Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts at Scranton before he was recalled on April 28.
Nuno will be opposed by right-hander Trevor Bauer (1-1, 2.78 ERA). Bauer is being called up from Triple-A Columbus to make this start. He is 1-0 with a 2.55 ERA in four outings at Columbus.
Game-time will be determined and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
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!
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 1 – Starting Pitching
PRIORITY NO. 3 – Finding help with free agents or trades
Looking at the New York Yankees’ starting rotation you have the possible loss of CC Sabathia, the return of injured right-hander Phil Hughes, the return of severely underperforming and overpaid right-hander A.J. Burnett, the sophomore season for rookie surprise Ivan Nova and the likely release of free agents Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
Even if Sabathia somehow decides to re-sign with the Yankees, they will still likely need another starter to add behind the ace left-hander and Hughes, Burnett and Nova. So that begs the question: Will general manager Brian Cashman be looking to spend big bucks to add another starter or two to the Yankees for the 2012 season?
That seems likely given that the Yankees were so hellbent on signing left-hander Cliff Lee last winter. But Lee spurned a better contract offer to sign for less money to pitch with the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite the fact Lee thought he was joining a super rotation of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, the Phillies got no father than the Yankees did in the playoffs and Oswalt was allowed to become a free agent.
This season the Yankees obviously will be focused on getting Sabathia to remain in pinstripes. Sabathia has two days to decide to stay with the Yankees for the four years and $92 million left on his contract or opt out and look for a more lucrative deal. Most baseball insiders believe Sabathia, never being accused of being foolish, will opt out to seek a longer term on his contract and more money.
The Yankees, unlike their attitude when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2008, are prepared to offer Sabathia a very lucrative six-year, $160 million contract modeled after the contract Lee signed with the Phillies. But Sabathia will have other suitors, including the Texas Rangers to increase the bidding price.
If the Yankees succeed in bringing Sabathia back into the fold, they will then turn their attention to acquiring a pitcher who they can slot in as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
TARGET NO. 1 – C.J. WILSON (16-7, 2.94 ERA)
Wilson is a 31-year-old left-hander who was the ace of the American League-champion Rangers. But unlike most 31-year-old starters, Wilson has only two seasons of throwing more than 200 innings behind him because he was a reliever in his previous five major-league seasons, all with the Rangers.
If the Yankees were to keep Sabathia and land Wilson it would a tremendous dual victory for the organization. They would have retained their ace and added a second left-hander to the rotation. In addition, it would be a double blow to the Rangers, who are not exactly swimming in starting pitchers who could pitch on the level of Sabathia and Wilson. Strengthening the Yankees while weakening the Rangers is a definite plus to a front office that is taken a great dislike in the Rangers’ front office over the past two years.
A rotation of Sabathia, Wilson, Hughes, Burnett and Nova does not sound all that bad when you add up their record from last season. That five (understanding that Hughes only pitched 74 2/3 innings) was a combined 67-35 with a 3.81 ERA.
Wilson will command a nice princely sum on the open market because he clearly is the best free-agent pitcher available this winter. In the past three season, the Yankees have not bid on pitchers like Halladay and John Lackey, preferring to either solve their problems from within or signing cheaper free agents like Colon and Garcia.
There is no doubt that Colon and Garcia helped the Yankees during the regular season. They were a liability at crunch time, however.
Colon was 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA and Garcia was 7-6 with a 3.13 ERA in the first half of the season. But in the second half, both pitchers struggled at times. Colon was 2-6 with a 4.96 ERA and Garcia was 5-2 with a 4.45 ERA. Colon pitched so badly he was not even placed on the active roster for the playoffs. Garcia pitched and lost Game 3 to the Tigers.
Neither Colon at age 38 or Garcia at age 35 figure to be back next season.
The Yankees also have a host of young pitching prospects like Manny Banuelos (20), Dellin Betances (23), David Phelps (25), D.J. Mitchell (24) and even Hector Noesi (24), who pitched out of the bullpen for the Yankees. Signing Wilson would give the Yankees an opportunity to bring those prospects along slowly. Banuelos and Betances are easily the most talented of the group and they could use a season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to fine-tune their electric stuff.
Of course, some of them can be used in trades if Cashman felt a need to make a deal for a bench player or a veteran pitcher.
TARGET NO. 2 – YU DARVISH (18-6, 1.44 ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters)
Darvish is a 25-year-old right-hander who stands 6-foot-5 and weights 187 pounds. He is the Randy Johnson of Japan with 276 strikeouts in 232 innings this season.
Even more impressive is that he is 88-33 in his last six seasons with his highest ERA during that period of 2.89 in 2006 when he was just 19.
Darvish has requested that his team owner post his contract in order to make himself available as free agent in the United States. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters owner Hiroji Okoso indicated his readiness to respect Yu Darvish’s decision earlier this month even though the Japanese baseball season has not concluded.
Darvish’s posting will make the posting of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the winter of 2007 look like a flea-market sale. Darvish is a much more gifted pitcher who challenges hitters with his mid-90s fastball and he has some dazzling breaking stuff to go with it. Darvish has also succeeded on the grand stage, being named as the MVP of Japan’s victory in the last World Baseball Classic.
The Yankees, who have been burned in the past with the signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, are nevertheless intrigued by Darvish. They have had a bevy of scouts in Japan clocking every fastball and monitoring the break on his curve. They see him as a potential ace in the major leagues.
But, if the Yankees are committed to re-signing Sabathia and they decide to make a long-term offer to Wilson, Darvish would be even out of reach of the Yankees deep pockets. The posting fee itself could be double the $100 million the Red Sox paid for Matsuzaka. Then the team that wins the posting must sign Darvish to a lucrative contract which might reach $150 million.
So it looks like Darvish would only come into the Yankees’ sights if they fail to keep Sabathia.
The Yankees would then have to pile their cash to sign Wilson and then offer a rich a posting fee to obtain the rights to sign Darvish. They could only afford that if Sabathia does not come back.
Darvish is Plan B if Sabathia leaves. If Sabathis stays, the Yankees likely will still look to sign Wilson and they will let Darvish go to another team with deep pockets like the Red Sox or Rangers.
TARGET NO. 3 – ROY OSWALT (9-10, 3.69 ERA)
Oswalt was injured in 2011 and he started only 23 games for the Phillies. He wasn’t bad as his ERA indicates.
But he also is 34 years old with 2,154 innings pitched in his major-league career. The Phillies chose to not keep him and he will be probably be the second-most sought after pitcher behind Wilson.
Oswalt is consummate pro with the ability to win at the major-league level with less stellar stuff then what he had in early days with Houston like 2005, when he was 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA and 184 strikeouts. Last season batters hit .280 off of him and he was forced to pitch out of a lot of jams.
Back issues forced him to miss all of July and he even considered retiring after this season. But he did throw four quality starts in his last seven appearances. But when it comes to signing Oswalt as a free agent, he is going to have to have doctors clear him to pitch in 2012 before he ever gets a contract offer.
The Yankees’ interest at this point of Oswalt’s career is unlikely. The Yankees would have to basically strike out on keeping Sabathia and signing either Wilson or Darvish before they would even consider making that move. Oswalt has pitched only in the National League and the Yankees have to be leery of guys like him and Javier Vazquez, who post low ERAs in the NL only to pitch with plus 5.00 ERAs in the American League.
Oswalt is the longest of longshots on the Yankees radar this winter. He has too much mileage, there are injury concerns and you have to consider he has not pitched in the AL.
TARGET NO. 4 – FELIX HERNANDEZ (14-14, 3.47 ERA)
With the Yankees, King Felix has been like Jonah’s whale. They try to reel him in but he slips through the nets every time.
Dealing with the Mariners in the past has not been pleasant. The Yankees attempted to deal for Lee when he was pitching for the Mariners in 2010. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik induced Cashman to include Jesus Montero and Ivan Nova in a potential deal for Lee.
The Rangers, on the other hand, were offering a package including power-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak.
Zduriencik then got greedy and asked the Yankees to sweeten the pot by including minor-league shortstop Eduardo Nunez to the package. Cashman said no and Zduriencik went running back to the Rangers to accept the Smoak package. The fact that Smoak bombed badly for the M’s in 2011 gives Yankee fans a lot of pleasure.
The Yankees, in the long run, were better off hanging onto Montero, Nova and Nunez and all three have bright futures ahead of them in pinstripes.
Any deal involving Hernandez likely will start with Zduriencik requesting Montero, Nunez and either Betances or Banuelos or both. This would the cost of doing business with a team that is desperate to fill the seats with a creditable team building for the future. But the Yankees would be crazy to be locked into this madness unless they were real desperate to replace Sabathia and they had lost both Wilson and Darvish in free agency.
This would be their Plan C and it would have to make sense to Cashman to give up so much talent. But Hernandez is not even 25 yet. So if you are going to deal for an ace it might as well be a young one with talent like the King.
But I do not see this happening. The M’s are building a nice rotation of young pitchers and Hernandez is a big part of that. However, their offense is just dreadful and King Felix could bring a package of young hitters the Mariners could build around. Montero would be a special prize here.
But the odds of it happening are in the 500-1 range. Cashman knows Zduriencik practices legal extortion and Cashman may be unwilling to pay up.
NEXT: PART 2 – Relief Pitching
PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two