YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3
The Yankees played a game on Saturday that was very similar to the climatic fight scene with Rocky Balboa in the original “Rocky.” For the first six rounds, I mean innings, they were knocked down, hurt badly and they seemingly were clinging to the ropes in desperation.
But they came off the ropes swinging. It may have not looked pretty but New York sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs in the seventh inning to rally from a 3-1 deficit to down Baltimore and push their lead in the American League East back to three games.
For the first six innings Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (12-8) had the Yankees befuddled.
He retired the first 11 batters he faced in order until Robinson Cano hit an 0-2 pitch that was out of the strike zone over the wall to the opposite field in left for his 28th home run of the season. Of course, at that time Chen and the Orioles still held a 3-1 lead.
When the sixth inning began, Chen had given up only two hits and a walk while striking out four batters.
Steve Pearce, who was only in the game because Curtis Granderson had to leave in the third inning with a tight right hamstring, started off the rally innocently enough with a one-out single, his first hit for the Yankees.
With two out Jayson Nix worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Eduardo Nunez, who was just brought up on Saturday as the rosters expanded, stroked a broken-bat bloop single into left-center to score Pearce and end Chen’s afternoon.
Manager Buck Showalter summoned hard-throwing right-hander Pedro Strop to pitch to Ichiro Suzuki.
But Strop had issues with his command and he walked Suzuki to load the bases. Derek Jeter then ended up down in the count 0-2 before working it back to 3-2. And Strop promptly walked Jeter on an inside slider just out of the strike zone. Score tied.
Nick Swisher then continued the most improbable of two-out rallies by stroking a routine hard-hit grounder to the shortstop who is currently leading the majors in fielding percentage in J.J. Hardy and Hardy inexplicably booted it to allow Nix to score with what turned out to be the winning run.
Most of the 46,122 fans at Yankee Stadium who paid to see this heavyweight matchup stood up and cheered in delight.
It was these same fans who watched in horror as rookie right-hander David Phelps uncharacteristically walked six and hit a batter in his 4 2/3 innings of work.
Phelps walked Nick Markakis to start the game and after a Hardy single advanced him to third Markakis scored on a double-play groundout off the bat of Nate McLouth.
An inning later, Phelps hit Chris Davis with a 3-2 pitch and walked Mark Reynolds to begin the frame. Omar Quintanilla advanced them both on a sacrifice bunt and rookie Manny Machado scored Davis with a single up the middle.
Matt Wieters added the Orioles’ third run by leading off the fourth inning with a home run into the second deck in right-field.
Phelps, though he was wild, did keep the Yankees in the game because he gave up only three hits. The bullpen bailed the rookie out by shutting down the Orioles the rest of the way.
Boone Logan (6-2) pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory in relief.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano struck out two of the three batters he retired in the ninth to pick up his 35th in 38 chances this season.
The Yankees improved their season record to 76-56 while the Orioles fell to 73-59. But the damage from the game is that the Orioles blew a golden opportunity to come within a single game of the Yankees. Now they can leave the Bronx no closer than two games behind.
- Jeter’s at-bat against Strop was a classic illustration of what makes “The Captain” so special. Jeter was called out on strikes on a low pitch in sixth inning and he had words about it with home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook. But Jeter fought from 0-2 down in the count to 3-2 and earned the walk from Strop by taking two very close pitches. That was very courageous and it paid off big-time for the Yankees.
- Most Yankee fans will say Phelps stunk and disappointed them. But I would say Phelps showed more strength as a pitcher than I have ever seen in a rookie. He basically had no command and gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings. He never gave the Orioles a chance to break the game open and he battled with what little he had. That showed me a lot. Phelps is a keeper.
- The most overlooked player in the Yankees’ seventh inning had to be Nix. Nix drew two walks on the day and the second was a big one because it allowed Nunez the chance to drive in Pearce. Nix is hitting .254 but this is a very good role player who gives the Yankees good effort at the plate and he is very steady in the field. Nix does not get enough credit for what he does for the team.
- This team obviously is missing two big weapons in Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. That makes it hard on the rest of the team to step up. But they need to stop making pitchers like Miguel Gonzalez and Chen look like they are Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Yankees won on Saturday with just four hits and they used three walks and an error to their benefit. But the offense has to wake up soon.
- Andruw Jones is very close to earning himself a designated for assignment. With Nunez around to bat from the right side, Jones may be out of a job if he keeps putting up 0-fers as he did again on Saturday. He was 0-for-4 and did not get a ball out the infield against a rookie left-hander. He is now hitting .203.
- Russell Martin remains a major liability at the plate. He also was 0-for-4 and his batting average is now .196. With Francisco Cervelli back on the roster it might be time to let him have a shot to see what he can do with the bat. It certainly can’t be worse than what Martin has done.
Granderson had a precautionary MRI at New York-Presbyterian Hospital after the game and it appears his injury is not considered serious. Granderson grimaced as he struck out looking in the second inning and did not come out for the third. Manager Joe Girardi said that Granderson could be in the starting lineup on Sunday. . . . Girardi also told reporters that Rodriguez could rejoin the team in St.Petersburg, FL, on Monday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays. Rodriguez is rehabbing his fractured left hand at Class-A Tampa and the stint could end on Sunday. . . . Along with Nunez and Cervelli, the Yankees also brought up outfielder Chris Dickerson, left-handed pitcher Justin Thomas and right-handers Cory Wade and Adam Warren. Infielder Casey McGehee will also be added to the roster when Class-A Charleston’s season ends.
The Yankees have a chance to win the rubber game of the series on Sunday against the Orioles.
Phil Hughes (13-11, 4.02 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes is 2-1 and has given up three earned runs over his last 21 innings. He is 5-3 with 5.00 ERA in his career against the Orioles.
Right-hander Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.26 ERA) will start for the O’s. Tillman allowed one hit and struck out five in seven shutout innings to beat the White Sox in his last start. He is 2-3 with a 8.42 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
ROYALS 5, YANKEES 1
The Yankees made Felipe Paulino look like Roy Halladay in throwing six shutout innings just coming off the disabled list and Billy Butler drove in three runs as Kansas City defeated a punchless, lifeless New York team on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO.
Paulino (1-0) gave up four hits, walked two and struck out six.
Meanwhile, Hiroki Kuroda (2-4) surrendered three runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks and he fanned two in 4 1/3 innings.
Alex Gordon tied a career high with four hits for the Royals.
The Yankees fell to 14-13 and the Royals are 9-17.
- The Yankees managed only eight hits in the game and Russell Martin collected three of them. He also provided the Yankees’ lone run of the game with a solo home run in the seventh inning off Royals reliever Jose Mijares for his third home run of the season. Coming into the game, Martin had the lowest batting average among the regulars but he appears to be coming out of his long slump.
- Curtis Granderson had a pair of doubles in the game and was 2-for-4. It is feast of famine with Granderson as he struck out swinging in his other two at-bats. But Granderson has raised his batting average to .279.
- Freddy Garcia pitched two scoreless innings of relief and he has now thrown four consecutive innings of shutout baseball and lowered his season ERA to 9.68. Garcia is likely to remain the bullpen for the time being but he could get another shot to start again if he can continue to throw up some zeroes.
- Kuroda has been maddeningly inconsistent in his first six starts, In his three good starts, he is 2-1 with a 1.25 ERA.In his three bad starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 15 runs (12 earned) on 24 hits and seven walks in 14 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 7.54 and a WHIP of 2.16. As the No. 2 starter, Kuroda has to show more consistency.
- Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira combined to go 1-for-11 in the game and 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. With no punch in the middle of the order the Yankees’ offense is not producing runs and these three guys have a lot to do with the drought.
- The bullpen kind of sprung a leak at a bad time. Cody Eppley and Boone Logan combined to give up two key runs in the sixth inning. The runs were charged to Eppley but Logan allowed a sacrifice fly to Jarrod Dyson and an RBI double to Gordon that made the score 5-0.
The Yankees will look to earn a split of the series with the Royals on Sunday.
Phil Hughes (1-4, 7.48 ERA) is coming off his best start of the season, but it was a loss to the Orioles because the he did not get any run support. He is 2-1 with a 6.78 ERA against the Royals in his career.
Hughes will be opposed by struggling right-hander Luke Hochevar (2-2, 7.36 ERA). Hochevar has given up a total of 12 runs in the first inning alone in his two losses. He is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 3 (10 Innings)
TAMPA – When you have a team struggling to get on base and score runs it is never too late push a run across – even if it is the 10th inning.
Brandon Laird lofted a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning to score Justin Maxwell with the game-winning run as New York swept it two-game home-and-away set with Washington at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday.
The Yankees, very much like Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” depended greatly on “the kindness of strangers.”
Nationals right-hander Atahualpa Severino started his stint in the 10th by walking Maxwell. Pinch-hitter Melky Mesa followed by hitting a routine grounder that was misplayed by Nationals third baseman Mark Teahen, allowing Maxwell to advance to third. One out later, Laird launched a fly ball to right field that plated Maxwell with the deciding tally.
Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0) pitched a scoreless top of the 10th to gain credit for the victory. Severino (0-1) took the loss.
The game featured a matchup of lefties in CC Sabathia for the Yankees and newly acquired Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals. However, Sabathia struggled with his command and he left after just three innings on the south end of a 3-1 deficit.
Sabathia gave up three runs on six hits and a walk while he fanned two. Gonzalez gave up a run on three hits and three walks and struck out six in 3 1/3 innings.
The Yankees managed to tie the game in the fifth inning off reliever Craig Stammen on a leadoff single by Doug Bernier and a two-out, two-run home run to deep left by Alex Rodriguez, his first home run this spring since he homered on the first pitch he saw by Roy Halladay of the Phillies on March 3.
With the victory the Yankees improved their spring record to 7-8. The Nationals fell to 5-7.
- With the battle of lefties going on most of the buzz in the sellout crowd of 10,982 was about another left-hander entirely. The news 39-year-old Andy Pettitte had elected to come out of retirement and sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract with the Yankees spread like wildfire through the Yankee faithful on hand. I would consider adding a pitcher to your roster who has 240 major-league victories (203 of them with the Yankees) has got to be considered a positive development.
- Though the Yankee regulars struck out so much they could have put out a wildfire, it was nice to see Rodriguez connect for a huge two-run home run in the fifth inning. The Yankees, if you can believe this, have only hit a total of five home runs in the first 15 games this spring. Hopefully, this may signal an end to the power outage.
- Though Sabathia struggled, Phil Hughes turned in a very sharp four innings of work in relief. Hughes, who is still competing with a group of pitchers that now will include Pettitte for a starting spot, held the Nationals scoreless on three hits, did not walk a batter and he struck three. Hughes is showing no signs of the right shoulder fatigue that plagued him last season.
- Robinson Cano doubled to the opposite field in the first inning off Gonzalez to score Curtis Granderson from first base to draw the Yankees to within a run at 2-1. Cano is off to a very slow start this spring and is hitting .190.
- Sabathia admitted after the game his fastball was “all over the place” and it cost him early. The Nationals loaded the bases to start the game on a double, single and a walk. They pushed across a run on a double-play grounder off the bat of Wilson Ramos. But they added a second run in the same frame on an RBI double by Jesus Flores. Steve Lombardozzi then touched Sabathia with a leadoff home run in the third inning to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
- Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. The Yankees struck out 14 times in the game. Raul Ibanez, Francisco Cervelli and Bill Hall fanned two times each. Considering the fact that the Yankees won the game after collecting just five hits in the game you would have to say they were lucky to have won at all. The pitching of Hughes was the big key. The question is when are the Yankees going to wake up and start hitting?
- Ibanez was 0-for-2 with a walk and fanned twice and he is now hitting .077. Yankee fans are getting a bit impatient with Ibanez considering he is replacing retired Yankee icon Jorge Posada at designated hitter and because the Yankees chose to sign him instead of a pair of former popular Yankees in Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.
Injuries have cropped up all over the place and it is now an epidemic in Yankee camp. Derek Jeter missed the game Friday and will not play again until Tuesday due to a tender left calf. The Yankees were quick to point out that they do not consider the injury serious and that is not the same calf that forced Jeter to the disabled list for three weeks last season. . . . Meanwhile, Nick Swisher and Russell Martin were held out of action with strained left groins. Swisher could return to the lineup on Saturday but Martin will be shelved for a couple of days. . . . Those walking wounded join the ranks of Eduardo Nunez (bruised right hand), Ramiro Pena (sprained right ankle) and David Robertson (bone bruise of right foot) who are also out of action. . . . The Yankees made their first cuts of the spring on Friday, re-assigning 14 players to minor-league camp, including top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. Banuelos was among seven pitchers sent out. The others were Dan Burawa, Brett Marshall, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner and Whitley. The other cuts included catchers Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy and Kyle Higashioka, infielders David Adams and Corban Joseph and outfielders Zoilo Almonte and Mesa.
The Yankees will host the Houston Astros for the second time this spring on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Scheduled to start for the Yankees will be 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who will be making his third start of the spring. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA and he was displeased with his last start.
The Astros are expected to start right-hander Bud Norris.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 1
OK, guys, a joke is a joke, but where have you stashed the “real” New York Yankees?
A team “masquerading” in the Yankees’ navy-blue batting practice jerseys managed to lose their fourth consecutive Grapefruit League game on Thursday to Blue Jays and they now have lost those four games by a combined score of 26-8. We know it is early but the question is when will early become too late?
J.P. Arencibia and Travis Snider homered and Brett Cecil and six other Toronto pitchers held these “Faux Yankees” to one run and eight hits at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Cecil (1-0) gave up a hit, a walk and struck out one batter in his two innings of work to get credit for the victory. On the other hand, Ivan Nova (0-1) struggled with his command in the second inning and ended up get tagged for five runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings.
The Yankees’ lone run came on a solo home run from Colin Curtis in the ninth inning off Chad Beck. In their last two games, the Yankees have scored a run on only 10 hits.
The Yankees’ spring record slipped to 2-4 and the Blue Jays are 4-2.
- Got to give Curtis credit for the home run to prevent the Yankees from being shut out in two consecutive games. It was the first Yankee home run since Alex Rodriguez hit one out in the first inning against the Roy Halladay and the Phillies on Saturday.
- Backup infielder Ramiro Pena is thought to be a longshot to make the team over Eduardo Nunez, but he did come to play on Thursday. Pena doubled and singled in his three at-bats and raised his early spring batting average to .500.
- Dellin Betances did give up a pair of hits in the seventh inning but he did not allow a run to score and he has a spotless 0.00 ERA early in the spring. Betances figures to begin his 2012 season at Triple-A Empire State and he needs to work on the command of his pitches and keeping his mechanics consistent.
- Nova’s second spring appearance did not go well at all. Adam Lind led of the inning with a double and Brett Lawrie singled to drive him in. Nova then fell behind Arencibia 2-0 and paid for it by surrendering a two-run homer. He was charged with two more runs in the third inning. Nova’s early spring ERA is a shockingly high 11.57.
- Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez, the numbers three, four and five hitters in the lineup, were a combined 1-for-8 in the game. Teixiera singled for the only hit between them.
- Cesar Cabral, the Rule 5 draftee attempting to make the club as a second left-hander, gave up a solo home run to Snider in the sixth inning. If Cabral does not make the 25-man roster after spring training he will have to offered back to the Kansas City Royals.
If the four consecutive losses were not bad enough, the Yankees actually suffered what could be a more damaging blow. All-Star reliever David Robertson fell down a flight of stairs moving boxes at his residence on Wednesday and he will require more extensive tests on his sprained right midfoot. Robertson went to a Tampa hospital on Thursday to have a CT scan and a weight-bearing X-ray taken on his right foot and the team hopes to have more information on the injury on Friday. In the meantime Robertson has been fitted for a walking boot but the extent of the injury is still unknown. . . . Closer Mariano Rivera completed his second bullpen session on Thursday in Tampa, FL., and proclaimed himself ready for game action. Rivera is scheduled to make his spring debut on Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.
After faltering on the road in three of their last four losses, perhaps it is good thing the Yankees return home to George M. Steinbrenner Field to host an Atlanta Braves split squad on Friday.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Rafeal Soriano is also scheduled to pitch. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are expected to be in the starting lineup for the Yankees.
The Braves are countering with right-hander Julio Teheran, who gave up six home runs in his spring debut against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. Will Teheran awaken the Yankees’ slumbering bats?
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, PHILLIES 4
TAMPA – When it comes to anything positive that Alex Rodriguez does this spring, it will always be couched in very cautious terms. Last spring, Rodriguez was in excellent shape and hit everything in sight but it did not carry over to the 2011 season.
So when Rodriguez hit a screaming line-drive home run to right-center on the first Grapefruit League pitch he saw from Roy Halladay and then followed it up with a single and an RBI double off Joel Pineiro, Rodriguez tried to keep it all in perspective after the game.
“Last year, I stood here and had a really good spring, felt really good and the results during the year weren’t what we all wanted,” Rodriguez said. “[I take it] definitely one day a time. A good start; hopefully the first of many more days to come.”
The same can be said for the Yankees as a whole.
They shook off a two-run home run in the first inning by Hunter Pence, his second two-run shot off the Yankees in two days, to come back to score four unanswered runs as they went on to defeat the Phiilies for the second straight day in the team’s home Grapefruit league opener on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Phiilies helped the Yankees by committing four errors in the field. The losing pitcher, Pineiro (0-1), was the victim of most of the misplays.
After Pineiro walked Francisco Cervelli on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and two out in the third inning to tie the score at 2-2, the Phillies treated the ball like a hand grenade in the fourth.
Justin Maxwell reached base with one out on a fielding error by third baseman Ty Wigginton. Second baseman Mike Martinez then botched a double-play ball off the bat of Derek Jeter that allowed Maxwell to advance to second while Martinez recovered to retire Jeter. Then Martinez made his second error in as many innings on a ball off the bat of Robinson Cano that allowed Maxwell to score the game’s eventual deciding run.
Rodriguez finished off the error-laden rally with an RBI double to the wall in left field to score Cano.
Rookie right-hander D.J. Mitchell (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings behind starter Freddy Garcia to pick up the victory. Young right-hander Chase Whitley got credit for a save despite the fact he gave up two hits in the ninth.
The Yankees have a 2-0 spring record. The Phillies are 0-2.
- A-Rod’s 3-for-3 day illustrated why it is so important to keep the 36-year-old slugger healthy for a full season. When he is locked in at the plate he remains one of the scariest hitters in baseball to face. Rodriguez was limited to only 99 games last season due to a knee injury and later a sprained left thumb.
- Despite the fact Garcia was tagged for a two-run home run, he still pitched well in his two innings of work. Garcia gave up two runs on four hits. He did not walk a batter and he struck out two. He threw 25 of his 33 pitches for strikes.
- The Yankees teed off on 6-foot-7, 255-pound right-hander Phillippe Aumont for three runs in the seventh inning to extend their lead to 7-3. Jose Gil blasted an RBI double after Domonic Brown dropped a routine fly ball off the bat of Corbin Joseph for a two-base error. Catching prospect J.R. Murphy and Jayson Nix later added RBI singles to close out the Yankees’ scoring.
- Clay Rapada, who is in a four-way battle to become the second left-hander in the bullpen, threw a perfect inning of relief and struck out two batters.
- Cano pulled a base-running blunder that cost the Yankees in the third inning. With one out and Cano on second and Rodriguez at first, Cano drifted towards second base on fly ball off the bat of Mark Teixeira that dropped out of the glove of shortstop Freddy Galvis. Brown picked up the ball in left-field and threw Cano out easily at third base in an odd fielder’s choice from the outfield.
- Yankee pitching gave up a total of 12 hits, five of them for extra bases. The one positive is they only walked one and struck out nine batters. The Phillies hurt their own cause by hitting just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in the first inning en route to stranding eight runners overall.
- Relievers Corey Wade and Kevin Whelan each gave up an earned run in their one inning of work. Wade gave up a two-out, two-run double to Galvis in the sixth and Whelan was touched for RBI out by Hector Luna scoring Lou Montanez in the eighth.
The Yankees celebrated their home opener by inviting the George M. Steinbrenner High School band to perform during the pregame show. Haley Swindal performed the national anthem during a flyover by two F18 Hornet jets from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA. . . . After a 82-degree day in Clearwater, FL, on Saturday, temperatures dipped to the mid-60s on Sunday in Tampa and a sellout crowd of 10,981 had to brave 20-mph winds blowing from the left-field line to the right-field line.. The wind also played havoc with fly balls for the second straight day, making pop-ups an adventure for both teams. . . . Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano are scheduled to pitch a live inning of batting practice on Monday at Steinbrenner Field. Manager Joe Girardi said Rivera will throw one more batting practice session and then will be ready for game action next week. . . . Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda pitched a simulated inning on Sunday in preparation for his spring debut Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays. . . . Outfielder Cole Garner was sidelined on Sunday with hamstring tightness after homering in the Yankees’ Grapefruit League opener against the Phillies in Clearwater on Saturday. He will be re-evaluated on Monday, Girardi said.
The Yankees will travel to Bright House Field in Clearwater on Monday to take on the Phillies for the third straight day.
Newly acquired right-hander Michael Pineda, 23, will make his Yankee debut as the starting pitcher. David Robertson is among a group of relievers also expected to pitch on Monday. The Yankees also will bring their starting outfield of Brett Garner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher.
The Phillies will counter with with veteran right-hander Joe Blanton. Scott Elarton, Austin Hyatt, Brian Sanches and David Herndon also are scheduled to pitch for the Phillies.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network.
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
- CC Sabathia, who was tagged for five runs in 2 2/3 innings in his last start, was masterful in his five innings of work. He gave up only three hits, walked none and struck out two. He threw 53 pitches and 33 of them were strikes.
- Russell Martin, Jorge Posada, Ramiro Pena and Brett Gardner managed a hit apiece off Halladay and that was the extent of the Yankees’ offense for the day. With the cooler temperatures, damp conditions and a gusting wind, it was a difficult enough day to hit without having to face Halladay on top of it.
- Fortunately, none of the Yankee players pulled muscles running out easy grounders or chasing down hits by the Phillies and none of them were struck by baseballs flying in the erratic winds of Clearwater.
- After Robertson surrendered a leadoff triple to Josh Barfield in the sixth inning, manager Joe Girardi called on left-hander Robert Fish. However, the Phiilies conducted a Fish Fry. Fish walked Jimmy Rollins on four pitches, Rollins stole second and Placido Polanco doubled in Barfield, Ben Francisco singled but was picked off first by Fish before Mayberry broke the game open with his two-run home run.
- Mark Prior struggled for the first time this spring. He walked two and gave up an RBI double to Francisco. He was ultimately undone when Justin Maxwell lost a fly ball off the bat of Eric Kratz that allowed two unearned runs to score.
- The Yankees had two real good chances to score on Halladay. Martin singled in the fourth but was thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. Jorge Posada followed with a bloop single but Robinson Cano grounded out to end the inning. With one out in the sixth, Pena singled and Gardner followed with another single. But Martin grounded out to first and Posada struck out swinging to end the threat.