YANKEES 4, CUBS 2 (13 INNINGS)
When a baseball team suffers through a spate of injuries it has to rely a great deal on its players from Triple A to fill in for those injured players. Add to the fact that when a team is in a 13-inning game they up asking players to do things they never have done before.
That is exactly what happened at Wrigley Field on Wednesday and those former Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders came up big for the Yankees.
Pitcher Preston Claiborne set down a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt in his first major-league at-bat in the top of the 13th inning, Brendan Ryan scored the tie-breaking run on a wild pitch and John Ryan Murphy drove in an insurance run on a single as New York rallied for two runs in the ninth to tie it and scored two in the 13th to down Chicago.
Claiborne (2-0), who was recalled from Scranton for a second time this season on April 27 to fill a void in the bullpen, pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory. David Robertson pitched a scoreless 13th frame to remain a perfect 9-for-9 in saves this season.
Former Yankee right-hander Jose Veras (0-1) took the loss.
Ryan, who entered the game as pinch-runner for Brian McCann and scored a run in the ninth, led off the 13th with a lined single to left off Veras. Yangervis Solarte then drew a walk to set the stage for Claiborne’s bunt.
The Yankees were out of position players and Robertson was only reliever left in the bullpen. That forced manager Joe Girardi into asking Claiborne, who had never had at-bat in major-league game, to put down a sacrifice bunt to advance Ryan and Solarte.
The Cubs, defending the bunt, actually put on the wheel play to cut down Ryan at third base, however, Claiborne’s bunt on the first pitch from Veras was deadened so much on the Wrigley Field turf that third baseman Luis Valbuena had only the play at first base.
While facing Murphy, who entered the game after Ryan pinch-ran for McCann in the ninth, Veras uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Ryan to score the tie-breaking run. Two pitches later Murphy, who was recalled from Scranton on April 15 when Francisco Cervelli was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a pulled right hamstring, laced a RBI single to right that scored Solarte.
Considering the effort of Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzjia, it is lucky that the Yankees were able to tie it in the ninth, much less win the game.
Samardzjia entered the game with a 1.62 ERA but was sporting an 0-4 record and a 15-start streak in which he had failed to win a game dating back to Aug. 24, 2013 victory over the Padres in San Diego.
He held the Yankees to just four hits and two walks while he struck out three in seven innings. That lowered his season ERA to National League-leading 1.46.
The Cubs, meanwhile, were able to push across a run in the fourth inning against right-hander Chase Whitley, who was recalled from Scranton on May 15 and who was making only his second major-league start.
Valbuena slapped a one-out single and Wellington Castillo followed with a single of his own. Then Nate Schierholtz slashed a liner off the glove of Mark Teixeira at first base for a single that loaded the bases.
Mike Olt scored Valbuena on a sacrifice fly.
Whitley left the game with one out in the fifth and Emilio Bonifacio on third with a leadoff triple. But right-hander Dellin Betances bailed him out of the inning by retiring Anthony Rizzo on a swinging strike and Starlin Castro on a flyout.
Whitley gave up on run on six hits and one walk along with three strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. In his two starts since being called up as an emergency fifth starter, Whitley has yielded one run on eight hits and three walks and seven strikeouts in nine innings.
The Cubs added a run in the seventh inning off right-hander Adam Warren when pinch-hitter Ryan Kalish lined a one-out triple to right and Bonifacio scored him on a bunt single.
But the Yankees both ruined Samardzjia’s great outing and saved themselves a loss by scoring two runs with the help of an error by Darwin Barney, who had just entered the game at second base as part of a double switch in the top of the ninth.
Teixeira opened the inning with a single off right-hander Hector Rondon, the Cubs’ closer. McCann followed by drawing a walk and he was replaced by Ryan.
Solarte loaded the bases with an infield single and Ichiro Suzuki followed by hitting a grounder to Castro at short. Castro fed the ball to Barney to retire Solarte but Barney’s throw to first skipped past Rizzo at first base to allow both Teixeira and Ryan to score.
Because of the length of the game, thousands of Yankee fans and a majority of the sellout crowd of 34,808 saluted Derek Jeter with repeated standing ovations when he came to the plate. Jeter ended the day 1-for-7 with a single in the sixth in his final game at Wrigley Field.
“I was hoping the game wouldn’t take that long, but I told you, the way the fans have been treating me on the road this year. It’s been unbelievable,” Jeter told reporters after the game.
With the victory the Yankees split the two-game series at Wrigley but won the inter-league season series three games to one. Their season record improves to 24-21 and they are in a statistical tie with the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the American League East, a half=game ahead of the third-place Baltimore Orioles.
The Cubs fell to 16-28.
- Whitley certainly deserves another start after what he did against the Cubs on Wednesday. Girardi was pleased and only removed him in the fifth in favor of Betances with Bonifacio on third and Rizzo up because Girardi wanted a strikeout in the that situation. With Ivan Nova out for the season after Tommy John surgery and Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia on the disabled list, the 24-year-old right-hander is seizing a great opportunity after spending the past three seasons at Scranton.
- Let’s also give credit to the bullpen for pitching 8 2/3 innings of one-run baseball. They allowed only five hits and three walks while striking out 12 batters. Despite the loss of setup man Shawn Kelley, who is on the DL with a lower-back strain, the team is getting help from Betances, Alfredo Aceves, Matt Daley, Matt Thornton, Warren, Claiborne and Robertson. Robertson is certainly settling in replacing the legendary Mariano Rivera.
- Give Murphy, 22, credit for staying sharp with the bat despite getting limited playing time behind the perennial All-Star McCann. With Murphy’s single in the 13th he has raised his season average to .406. He is 13-for-32 with a home run and six RBIs. He is making Austin Romine and Cervelli irrelevant to the Yankees future plans as long as he continues to play this well.
- It is clear that Samardzjia is a good pitcher but the Yankees can not be happy that they played the weak-hitting Cubs for 17 innings heading into the ninth inning on Wednesday and they managed to score just a single run on 10 hits. The acquisitions of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and McCann were supposed to make the offense better than it was in 2013. But those three, so far, are failing to provide much. Ellsbury singled in the 10th and the 12th innings to snap a 1-for-27 slump and he only has one home run all season.
More bad news on the injury front. Kelley, 30, had his rehab placed on hold Wednesday due to a recurrence of his lower back pain. Kelley felt a twinge as he was playing catch on Monday and he was told to halt all baseball activities. Tests indicated no problems with the discs in his back. But plans for the right-hander to begin a minor-league rehab stint this weekend have been cancelled.
The Yankees stay in Chicago but their bus will head to U.S. Cellular Field on the south side of the city to open a four-game series with the White Sox beginning on Thursday.
Right-hander David Phelps (1-0, 3.33 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off his best start of the season. Phelps shut out the Pirates on five hits and three walks in five innings on Friday. Though Phelps had command issues throughout his outing, he got out of jams and held the Bucs scoreless.
This is just how the Yankees’ season has gone. All-Star Chisox left-hander Chris Sale (3-0, 2.30 ERA) was not supposed to pitch in this series because he was on the 15-day disabled list with a left flexor muscle strain in his left elbow. However, after he fanned 11 batters in four innings in a rehab start last Friday, Sale was summoned to Chicago and he will be activated for Thursday’s game. Oh goody, goody!
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, PHILLIES 3
If patience is a virtue than New York Yankees fans had it in spades on Thursday.
They waited through a heavy downpour, howling winds and a 86-minute rain delay to watch Masahiro Tanaka make his first start of the spring and then they had to wait out eight innings before New York rallied for a victory over Philadelphia at Bright House Field in Clearwater.
Jose Pirela laced a double off the wall in left-center with one out in the eighth to score Gary Sanchez with the tying run and Ramon Flores followed a walk to Scott Sizemore with a sacrifice fly to right to score Pirela with what proved to be the game-winning run.
Right-hander Danny Burawa (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Mark Montgomery came on to retire the last two batters in the ninth to earn a save.
Phillies right-hander Phillippe Aumont (0-2) gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in the eighth and was charged with the loss.
Tanaka, 25, pitched three innings and was tagged for a solo home run off the bat of Freddy Galvis with two out in the third inning, which tied the score at 1-1. The only other hit off Tanaka was a one-out double by Marlon Byrd in the second. He walked none and stuck out one.
The Yankees took an initial 1-0 lead when Flores cracked a home run to right on an 0-2 pitch from Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick to lead off the third inning.
The Phillies stormed to a 3-2 lead with one out in the bottom of the fifth when Carlos Ruiz and John Mayberry Jr. connected for back-to-back homers off Yankees right-hander Bruce Billings.
The Yankees drew to within a run on the Phillies in the seventh inning off left-hander Jeremy Horst when Sizemore laced a one-out double and Adonis Garcia came up a batter later to slap a single to right that scored Sizemore.
The Yankees snapped a two-game losing streak and improved their Grapefruit League mark to 5-4. The Phillies fell to 1-7.
- Though Tanaka was not as sharp as his debut last Saturday he was still effective. He retired seven of nine batters on groundouts and of his 41 pitches thrown 25 were strikes. He did struggle a bit with the command of his splitter, pulling a number of them too far into the dirt. But there were still just two good swings put on him by Byrd and Galvis.
- Derek Jeter entered the game 0-for-9 and he grounded out in his first at-bat. However, Jeter went on to smack a single and a lined double in his next two at-bats for his first hits of the spring. The Yankee captain is very happy to have that 0-for-10 monkey off his back as he gets ready for what will be his final major-league season.
- The only reason Flores, 21, was in the lineup was because manager Joe Girardi had elected to scratch veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran due to the wet conditions. Flores took advantage by going 1-for-3 with a homer, a run scored and two RBIs in the game. Flores, who is hitting .214 in the early going, likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after hitting .260 with six homers and 55 RBIs at Double-A Trenton in 2013.
- Both first baseman Mark Teixeira and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano made their spring debuts and they were a combined 0-for-6. Teixeira grounded out, flew out and popped out in his first action recovering from right wrist surgery. Soriano looked very rusty with his timing after suffering through a severe week-long illness, striking out swinging in all three trips.
- Billings, 28, pitched a 1-2-3 fourth but ended up giving up a pair of long home runs to left by Ruiz and Mayberry. Billings is a non-roster invitee who the Yankees signed after he was released by the Oakland Athletics after he was 13-8 with a 4.31 ERA in 28 games (26 starts) at Triple-A Sacramento in 2013.
Thursday’s game was set up as a trial for Major League Baseball’s new replay system but a power outage ruined what could have been a real test in the bottom of the seventh inning. With two out, Mayberry lofted a double to the right field corner. Garcia fielded the ball and relayed it to shortstop Yangervis Solarte as Mayberry was racing to third. Solarte threw to Sizemore at third and umpire Vic Carapazza ruled Sizemore tagged Mayberry as he slid into the bag. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg requested a video review but the call had to be upheld because a stadium-wide power outage had knocked out the video feed. . . . CC Sabathia threw a simulated game at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Since Tanaka and Sabathia each pitched on Saturday, Tanaka drew the start against the Phillies and Sabathia threw in order to stay on his regular schedule.
The Yankees will welcome another player back on Friday as the Yankees play host to the Detroit Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will pitch in relief of starter Hiroki Kuroda in what will be Pineda’s first major-league action since his final start of spring training in 2012. Pineda, 25, underwent shoulder surgery for a torn labrum and he has rehabbing ever since.
The Tigers will counter with right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who was 14-8 with a 2.57 ERA in 29 starts last season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m.EST and the game will not be available via television or radio.
YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2
There were some eyebrows raised from some Yankees when Hiroki Kuroda was not selected to pitch for the American League in last week’s All-Star Game. But Kuroda never said a word and just used the time to get rested up for the second half of the season.
That was bad news for the Boston Red Sox.
Kuroda (9-6) shut down the Red Sox on two runs on five hits over seven strong innings and the Yankees got three hits each from Lyle Overbay, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez as New York downed Boston in front of a paid crowd of 37,601 at Fenway Park.
For Kuroda, 38, it was his firs career victory at Fenway and his first triumph in three starts against the Red Sox this season. The veteran right-hander walked one and struck out four while benefitting from some excellent Yankee defense that cut down two runners at home plate.
Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away at Red Sox right-hander John Lackey (7-7) until they were able to chase the veteran from the game in the seventh inning.
The Yankees used a “Plan B’ offense to score their first run in the fifth inning when Nunez led of the frame with a lined single to left and he later stole second. Chris Stewart then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Nunez to third but Luis Cruz slapped a ground ball right at Stephen Drew that allowed Drew to cut down Nunez at the plate.
But with Cruz at first, Lackey uncorked a wild pitch that permitted Cruz to move into scoring position and Gardner scored him with a two-out single to center.
The Yankees’ seventh began much like the fifth with Nunez opening the inning with a double off the Green Monster in left-center. Stewart advanced him to third with a slow bouncing groundout to first and Cruz delivered an RBI single to center that scored Nunez.
After Gardner singled, Red Sox manager John Farrell replaced Lackey with veteran left-hander Matt Thornton.
Thornton did get Ichiro Suzki to hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Gardner at second but Robinson Cano laced a opposite-field RBI single to score Cruz and Overbay followed with an RBI single of his own to give Kuroda and the Yankees some breathing room with a 4-0 lead.
Lackey was touched for four runs on 10 hits and he struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox did manage to score a pair of runs off Kuroda in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff single from David Ortiz and a double off the bat of Mike Carp. Jonny Gomes scored Ortiz on a sacrifice fly and, after Carp advanced to third on a groundout, he scored on a wild pitch from Kuroda.
But the Yankee bullpen tandem of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Red Sox in the eighth and ninth innings to preserve the victory for Kuroda. For Rivera, his save in the ninth was his 31st in 33 opportunities this season and his 639th career save.
The Yankees added an unearned run off right-hander Pedro Beato in the ninth without the benefit of a hit.
Beato hit Cruz with a pitch to start the inning and Gardner reached on an fielding error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Then with Suzuki at the plate, Cruz was caught taking too big a lead off second. But Cruz dashed to third on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s throw to second and he just beat Drew’s throw to third to get credit for a stolen base.
He then scored on a sac fly off the bat of Cano.
But the Yankees really owe their victory to some sterling plays in the field that frustrated the Red Sox all afternoon.
In the first inning, Daniel Nava was on second with two out when Ortiz laced a single to left-field. Nava stumbled as he rounded third and was thrown at the plate on a throw by Vernon Wells.
In the fifth inning, the Red Sox threatened with a pair of leadoff singles by Carp and Gomes. But Saltalamacchia and Drew were retired, leaving Carp at third and Gomes on second with two out.
Kuroda then tossed a 1-2 pitch to Jose Iglesias in the dirt that rolled away from Stewart, allowing Carp to head for home. But Stewart was able to corral the ball quickly and he made a perfect throw to Kuroda at home plate in time to nail a sliding Carp.
Stewart then capped off his day behind the plate with a spectacular play in the eighth inning.
Nava reached first on Robertson with a one-out single. Pedroia then fouled off a 0-2 pitch to the left of the screen. Stewart lunged into the first row of the stands to catch the ball and then fired a perfect one-hop throw to Cano at second base to easily nail a sliding Nava for a rare 2-4 double play.
The victory evened the three-game series at a game apiece and drew the Yankees to within six games of the first-place Red Sox in the American League East with a 52-45 record. The Bosox dropped to 59-40.
- If there was any doubt that Kuroda has been the Yankees’ best and most consistent pitcher of the season then his performance on Saturday had to be the clincher. Kuroda held a lineup that boasted six hitters sporting batting averages of .287 or better to only five hits – including two hits each for Ortiz and Carp. He really was never threatened other than in the fifth and the seventh, but he limited the damage to preserve an important victory that keeps the Yankees in the pennant race.
- Overbay was moved up in the batting order to cleanup and he delivered three hits – two of them doubles – and drove in a run. Other than Cano, Overbay has been the most consistent run producer the Yankees have had all season. He is now hitting .259 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs. Though Overbay, 36, is not producing Mark Teixeira-type numbers, he is doing yeoman work for the team at the plate and in the field.
- Nunez’s 3-for-4 day with two doubles, a run scored and a stolen base must have Yankee fans wondering where he has been all season. Nunez was handed an opportunity to show what he could do at shortstop in the absence of Derek Jeter and up to now he has blown it. Nunez is hitting .226 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 38 games this season.
- Though Travis Hafner was dropped to the sixth spot in the order he still could not produce anything. With a right-hander pitching the lefty designated hitter was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. His season average is now down to .215. At age 36, it appears Hafner’s bat is too slow to catch up with fastballs and he has no clue when he is thrown tough breaking pitches. He needs to be benched.
- Though Wells was 1-for-4 on Saturday he looks similarly overmatched at the plate. He has not homered in his last 49 games and the pitches he was able to drive are now being fouled back to the screen. And when pitchers need Wells out they just throw him either a high fastball or a slider on the outside corner for a guaranteed strikeout. Lackey fanned him twice – once on the slider and once with the high fastball. Wells is hitting .239 on the season.
The Yankees were forced to place outfielder Zoilo Almonte on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with a sprained left ankle. Almonte, 24, suffered the injury hitting the first-base bag hard running out a ground ball in the fourth inning of Friday’s game. The Yankees also designated for assignment infielder Alberto Gonzalez. Almonte was hitting .261 with a home run and nine RBIs in 26 games with the Yankees and the rookie switch-hitter had taken over as the team’s starting left-fielder for Wells. Gonzalez, 30, hit .176 with no home runs and four RBIs in 13 games with the Yankees. To fill the two roster spots the Yankees recalled outfielders Thomas Neal and Melky Mesa from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Neal, 25, was hitting .314 with two homers and 29 RBIs in 66 games at Scranton, In a previous stint with the Yankees, Neal hit .182 in four games. Mesa, 26, was hitting .249 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs at Scranton. . . . Alex Rodriguez was shifted from third base to designated hitter on Saturday for Scranton due to a tight left quadriceps. The Yankees, at this time, still plan to activate Rodriguez from his 20-day rehab assignment on Monday in time for the Yankees’ game in Arlington, TX against the Rangers.
The Yankees can win the three-game series against the Red Sox and draw to within five games of first place with a victory on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia ( 9-8, 4.07 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia is coming off a horrible first half that culminated with a game in which the team’s defense let him down against the Minnesota Twins on July 13. Sabathia gave up eight runs (only three of them earned) on eight hits and two walks in four-plus innings. He is 1-1 against the Red Sox this season, including a victory on 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on May 31.
The Red Sox were forced to scratch left-hander Jon Lester with an undisclosed injury. Right-hander Ryan Dempster (5-8, 4.24 ERA) will start in Lester’s place. Dempster did not make it out of the fourth inning of his last start against the Seattle Mariners on July 11. He was tagged for four runs on nine hits and a walk. He is 0-4 with a 7.22 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
CATCHER – POSITION OPEN
When it comes to catchers, Yankee fans have been pretty spoiled. The position has been manned by such legends as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.
Of course, there have been years when the position has been filled by less than legends like Rick Cerone, Mike Stanley and Joe Girardi. Yes, him.
It seems that 2013 is one of those years the Yankees will be fielding a catcher who will be even lesser of a legend. The departure of Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates has left this position open with a four candidates vying for it beginning this spring.
None of the four have anywhere near the power Martin provided. But some are just as adept defensively. The Yankees signaled this was the direction they were going when they chose let Martin walk and opted not to sign free agent A.J. Pierzynski.
Pierzynski, 36, hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs with the White Sox last season and he would have loved the short rightfield porch as a left-handed hitter. But the Yankees passed on him because of his defensive shortcomings and he signed with the Texas Rangers.
The Yankees four candidates are: former Posada and Martin backup Francisco Cervelli, 2012’s backup Chris Stewart, rookie prospect Austin Romine and former Los Angeles Angels backup Bobby Wilson.
The quartet are politely described as “defensive-minded” catchers, which in baseball-speak means they can’t hit a lick. For Yankee fans used to cyclical lineups without a weak link, the 2013 version will have one huge hole in it here. Whoever wins this job will be the opposing pitcher’s “escape hatch” out of big innings.
The leading candidate for the job appears to be Cervelli, 26, who ironically spent all of last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because of the presence of Martin and Stewart.
On the last day of spring training the Yankees swung a last-minute deal with the San Francisco Giants to acquire Stewart, who was out of minor-league options. The Yankees were so in love with Stewart’s defensive work behind the plate they opted to ship Cervelli out and he was not pleased about it – mostly because of the poor timing.
Cervelli went to Scranton determined to show the Yankees he belonged on the roster, but he hit just .246 with two home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games. That is odd considering Cervelli had hit .271 with five home runs and 71 RBIs in 184 games over three previous seasons in the majors.
Cervelli admits that he was not happy about his demotion and it did affect his game.
Cervelli’s defense is considered pretty good. He sets a good target, he knows the hitters, calls a good game, has the respect of the pitchers and the coaching staff. His weakness lies in a somewhat erratic throwing arm. He has only thrown out 18.3 percent of base-stealers in his major-league career (23 out of 93 attempts).
He also has committed 20 errors in 177 games, most of those on throwing errors.
At Scranton, Cervelli threw out 30 percent of potential base-stealers but committed a whopping 15 passed balls.
So Cervelli’s defense is definite notch below what Martin and Stewart provided in 2012 and Cervelli is going to have to improve if he wants to win the starting job and keep it.
There is no doubt he is the best hitter of the bunch, albeit he lacks power. Cervelli is a spray hitter who is very adept hitting with runners in scoring position. He also is not bad a bunter and will give himself up to advance a runner. Those things should help the Yankees in 2013 since the team does lack power.
One concern with Cervelli is his penchant for injuries. He suffered a broken wrist in a home-plate collision in spring training in 2008. He also has suffered a trio of concussions the past few years and broke a bone in his foot in the spring of 2010 fouling a ball off his foot.
In winter ball in his native Venezuela, he suffered a whiplash injury, which later proved to be minor.
So durability is a definite issue with Cervelli.
Stewart, 30, has been a backup catcher throughout his career. The most games he has played is the 51 he started with Giants in 2011. He started 46 games for the Yankees last season and he batted .241 with one home run and 13 RBIs. Stewart actually improved some with the bat in 2012 because he is a career .217 hitter.
But he does not have a very high ceiling as a hitter.
Stewart enters the catching competition as probably the best defensive option the Yankees have.
This is despite that he set a personal high for himself of with eight passed balls last season. Then again, the Yankees’ pitchers are not the easiest to catch.
Stewart, however, committed only four errors and he cut down 22.8 percent of base-stealers after he threw out an amazing 39.2 percent with the Giants in 2011. Stewart not only has a strong arm, he is also accurate with it. It was obvious that not many teams wanted to challenge him last season.
Though Stewart won’t hit much, he will be an asset against teams that are aggressive on basepaths such as the Tampa Bay Rays and the Angels.
There was all kinds of talk this offseason that Romine, 24, was the organization’s choice to start behind the plate in 2013.
But general manager Brian Cashman recently addressed that issue by saying that it was extremely unlikely Romine would be able to win the job this spring coming off a season in which he was plagued with a serious back injury.
The son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine played in only 31 games in three stops last season. Romine batted .243 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in just 103 at-bats.
Despite playing in the shadow of Jesus Montero throughout his minor-league career, the Yankees have always felt that Romine was far superior to Montero on defense and they have hoped that he would develop as a hitter as he matured.
But the back injury, which a recurrence of a previous back strain, certainly has arrested his development. Romine is considered to have a good enough bat to hit for a decent average in the major leagues with low double-digit power potential.
It is likely that the Yankees will take a more cautious approach with Romine this season. He likely would benefit from playing a full season at Scranton to prove his back problems are over. There is no doubt that Romine’s defense is already major-league quality.
Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, two former catchers, absolutely love Romine’s defensive ability. They each say he is ready to play defense at the major-league level now. But the Yankees are waiting for him to prove himself healthy and they would like to see more improvement with his bat.
Wilson, 29, was a backup catcher with the Angels from 2009 through 2012. But he was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays late last season and he never played a game for them before not being tendered a contract offer this offseason.
The Yankees offered him a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. So he will be in the mix for a spot.
Wilson hit .211 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 75 games with the Angels last season. He is a career .208 hitter in the majors.
But like Cervelli, Stewart and Romine, Wilson is considered an excellent defensive catcher.
In 2012, Wilson committed only four errors and was charged with just two passed balls. He also threw out 28.6 percent of potential base-stealers and he has a 27.1 percent career mark of nailing runners.
Wilson’s only hope seems to be supplanting Stewart as the backup but Stewart’s defense may be just too good. So the Yankees might ask Wilson to accept a minor-league assignment so he can be recalled if either Cervelli or Stewart are injured. That way the Yankees could keep Romine on track for promotion in 2014.
Two years ago, with Martin as the starter and Montero and Romine in the pipeline, catching looked to the strongest position on the team from a long-range standpoint. But the Yankees were not satisfied with Montero’s defense and they traded him to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-hand starter Michael Pineda.
Now with Martin and Montero gone and Romine on the mend, the position seems to rest with catching prospects in the minors.
J.R. Murphy, 21, regressed a bit last season. In 110 games between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, Murphy hit .248 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs.
Scouts still believe that Murphy will develop power as he progresses because he has a short, powerful right-hand stroke. There are doubts about his long-term progress defensively. But, fortunately for Murphy, he also can play third base and he may eventually end up there.
But the player the Yankees are really salivating over is No. 1-ranked prospect Gary Sanchez, who turned 20 in December. Sanchez hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs between Class-A Charleston and Tampa.
The Yankees look at Sanchez as a Montero with better defensive potential. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Sanchez possesses above-average raw power and the potential to be excellent all-around hitter. He did regress a bit defensively last season, but Sanchez has a plus arm and he has time to develop into a good defensive catcher.
There have been rumors the Yankees might be willing to trade Sanchez but it is hard to see what the justification would be for Cashman. Catchers with good power bats like Sanchez do not come along too often and there are slim pickings in looking for a catcher who can match Posada’s or Martin’s production.
The Yankees may have been weakened by the loss of Martin, but the Yankees seem to be committed to starting a catcher with defensive ability and they will not care what they hit. Cervelli seems to have the inside track on the starting job and Stewart looks like he will be hard to beat as the backup.
That will allow the Yankees to get Romine another season of experience at Scranton and Wilson could be a call away at Scranton.
With Romine, Murphy and Sanchez in the pipeline, the Yankees do have some excellent young catchers on the way – particularly the gifted Sanchez. So if the Yankees can just withstand the short-term problem of having pure defensive catchers, the long-term prospects at this position are good.
But Yankee fans might be missing Martin’s power a lot this season.
NOTE: The only position I have not reviewed in this series is designated hitter. There is a good reason for that. The position has not been filled and may not be until spring exhibition games are under way. So this is the last part of the series. I hope it helped set the stage for how the team will fare this spring.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
RIGHTFIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (28 Rs, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs, .322 BA, 14 SB)
When the Yankees made the trade to bring Ichiro Suzuki to The Bronx it was looked at initially as a temporary fix to the Yankees’ injury to top base-stealing threat Brett Gardner. After all, Suzuki’s contract with the Seattle Mariners expired after the 2012 season and the Yankees were unsure if the 39-year-old All-Star had very much left in the tank.
Suzuki seemed to fall off the proverbial cliff after he hit .315 with six home runs and 43 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 2010. In 2011, the career .322 hitter batted only .272 with five home runs and 47 RBIs and 40 stolen bases.
In addition, Suzuki was hitting .261 with four homers and 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for the Mariners at the time of the trade.
But Suzuki took to New York quicker than anyone would have expected and he seemed to be rejuvenated being part of a pennant chase for the first time since his early seasons with the Mariners.
As a result of Suzuki’s renewed bounce in his step and the fact the Yankees allowed rightfielder Nick Swisher to sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians this winter, Suzuki was granted a two-year, $12 million deal to take over for him. General manager Brian Cashman was pleased Suzuki settled for much less than perhaps he was worth to stay with the Yankees.
Suzuki had made it clear that he did want to remain in New York. So it seems both sides are very happy with the deal.
Suzuki will never be able to replace Swisher’s power and production but he is an upgrade in terms of hitting, speed and defense. That is all part of the tradeoff the Yankees had to accept in order to rebuild a team that lost 94 home runs when Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16) and Andruw Jones (14) signed elsewhere this offseason.
Suzuki will join with Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson as part of the group that is expected to be stealing a lot of bases in 2013 because of what the Yankees lost in terms of power. The Yankees will not be able to play station-to-station baseball while waiting for home runs.
Suzuki’s two-year deal signals the Yankees are committed to him and what he can provide at the top of the lineup by getting on base and running the bases.
Last season, Suzuki approved the trade with some conditions laid down by the Yankees. He agreed to hit lower in the batting order, to a platoon that would sit him against left-handers and agree to switch to leftfield. Suzuki accepted the stipulations and never complained about where he hit, where he played and when he was benched.
However, when Suzuki got red hot in September manager Joe Girardi stopped platooning him against lefties, moved him up in the batting order and shifted him to rightfield so Swisher could replace an injured Mark Teixeira at first base.
So expect Suzuki to be playing every day, hitting second and playing rightfield in 2013. Suzuki basically changed the manager’s mind the old-fashioned way: He played so well that Girardi had no choice but to play him and those conditions Suzuki was signed under have been tossed out the window – for good.
Suzuki’s calling card has always been his magical bat. Despite an unusual batting style, Suzuki seems to be able to know when it is best to pull the ball and when to go with a pitch. He confounds pitchers with his ability to spray the ball all over the field.
He may no longer have blazing speed as he did when he won his Most Valuable Player and Rookie of Year awards in 2001, but Suzuki can still leg out infield grounders for hits, take an extra base on napping outfielders and he can even steal a base or two when necessary.
Suzuki stole 29 bases last season between the Mariners and Yankees and he led the Yankees with 14 steals despite playing in only 67 games.
With the short porch in right-field, Suzuki can also surprise a pitcher or two by turning on an inside pitch and putting it into the seats. Suzuki’s career high in home runs is 15 that he hit in 2005 and he only has reached double digits in three seasons. But it is good bet they he could reach double digits in 2013.
He hit five dingers in only 227 at-bats with the Yankees last season.
Where Suzuki really shines is as a defender. From 2001 through 2010 he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mariners. Granted, he has lost a step, but Suzuki can still flash some leather in the outfield. He also possesses an excellent arm in rightfield. With Granderson and Gardner, Suzuki forms a rare outfield that boasts three centerfielders.
This is an outfield that is also loaded with speed and skilled fielders. It might be the best defensive outfield the Yankees have fielded in some time.
The only potential negative with Suzuki might be if he regresses as a hitter as he did with in the Mariners in 2011. The Yankees are on the hook for two seasons with Suzuki and they would rather he continue he hit the .322 he did with the Yankees last season.
The Yankees were dealt a serious blow to the 2013 plans when Ibanez opted to sign as a free agent with his old Mariners team. The Yankees made it clear that they wanted to keep Ibanez as their left-hand designated hitter and part-time outfielder.
At the moment the plans behind Gardner, Granderson and Suzuki look a little murky.
The Yankees did claim right-hand hitter Russ Canzler off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Canzler, 26, can play first base, leftfield and DH.
Canzler hit three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 as a September call-up with the Indians after leading the International League with 36 doubles, 22 home runs and 79 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Columbus.
Canzler provides the Yankees primarily with a right-hand bat who can back up Mark Teixeira at first base. But he did play 47 games with Columbus and 11 games with the Indians in the outfield. His range in the outfield is limited and he would be a significant dropoff from Gardner as a defensive outfielder.
Jayson Nix has been invited to spring training again primarily to compete with Nunez as a backup middle infielder but Nix also can play some outfield.
Nix made nine starts in the outfield last season and acquitted himself well. He committed only one error. Though he is much better as infielder, Nix provides Girardi with a lot of options on where to play him.
Nix, 30, hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats last season.
Cashman is looking to bolster the outfield before spring training camp opens next month and he has a few targets that could be on his radar.
His first option is former Met outfielder Scott Hairston, who is currently seeking a lucrative two-year deal on the free-agent market.
Hairston, 32, hit 20 home runs and drove in 57 runs and batted .263 with the Mets last season. His main calling card is his power and his ability to crush left-handed pitching.
Hairston hit .286 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs against lefties last season. Though he has played some second base in the past, Hairston is primarily an outfielder and he only committed one error in 108 games there last season.
The Yankees covet him because he has power, which the Yankees need, and he balances out the starting outfield, which is comprised of all left-hand hitters. The Yankees see Hairston as part-time outfielder, a platoon DH and valuable pinch-hitter off the bench.
The only sticking point is the amount of money he is seeking and the Yankees are not real keen on offering him a two-year deal. They are hoping Hairston will lower his demands.
Another potential target could be 6-foot-5 first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse of the Washington Nationals.
Morse, 30, had a breakout season in 2011 in which he hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs for the Nationals. But injuries limited him to just 102 games in 2012 in which he batted .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.
The Nationals had him scheduled to move from left-field to first base this off-season when they acquired centerfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins and shifted rookie centerfielder Bryce Harper to leftfield. However, the team decided to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche so Morse is currently relegated to the bench.
The Nationals reportedly are looking at trading Morse for a left-handed relief pitcher and some prospects. The Yankees do have a pair of lefties in Boone Logan and Clay Rapada to offer but there is not much depth behind them in the minors. The Yankees could use Morse in the same way they planned to utilize Canzler – at first base, leftfield and DH.
Morse is a right-hand hitter but his power is intriguing.
This is hard to believe but – in the absence of the Yankees making a deal or signing an outfielder – the Yankees will actually be giving long looks to two of their own minor-league outfielders this spring.
Melky Mesa, 25, hit a combined .264 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs and 22 stolen bases between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, Mesa hit only .230 at Scranton after hitting .277 at Trenton so he may require an additional season before he is ready.
Mesa’s combination of power and speed would be a big boost to the Yankees and he does fill a need for right-hand hitting outfielder. Mesa is also a natural centerfielder and he can easily play all three outfield spots if needed.
The downside is the Yankees are unsure of he can hit major-league pitching. They hope to get some more definitive answers this spring. Mesa figures to play a lot after only getting 13 at-bats and hitting .231 last spring.
The Yankees also have a very intriguing young outfield prospect in Zoilo Almonte, who is a power-hitting switch-hitter.
Almonte, 23, impressed Girardi last spring when he hit .286 in only 14 at-bats. Almonte then followed that up by hitting .277 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 106 games with Trenton.
Unlike Mesa, Almonte is primarily a corner outfielder and he has just average speed (15 steals in 19 attempts last season). Defensively, he is still a work in progress. His range and fielding are just average but he does have a pretty good arm (10 outfield assists last season).
Almonte does have a slim chance of making the jump from Double A but he will need to have a monster spring training that forces Girardi to keep him on the roster. It is all up to Almonte to see if can handle the rigors of the major leagues. But it will be tough to ask him make the jump because it rarely happens in the major leagues and it even more rarely happens with the Yankees.
The Yankees seem to not even care about a player unless he is 34 with years of major-league experience. Almonte would be in a locker room of players he watched while he was in grade school. That would be a lot of pressure on him but his power potential makes him a very viable prospect to watch this spring.
The Yankees are actually loaded with some very special outfield prospects further down in their minor-league system.
Mason Williams, 21, is the team’s second-ranked prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. He hit .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 91 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa before a torn labrum ended his season early.
Williams is an excellent left-handed hitter who should develop more power as he gains experience. He also looks as if he will be a very good base-runner and he is above average defensively as a centerfielder. Williams is 6-feet tall and weighs just 150 pounds but he should gain weight and strength and may even draw comparisons to another centerfielder Williams by the name of Bernie.
The Yankees are also excited about No. 3 prospect Tyler Austin, 21.
Austin hit a organization-best .354 combined in 2011 and he followed that up by hitting .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in four minor-league stops last season.
After playing first and third base his first two seasons, the Yankees moved him to right field last season and he played very well there. While Sanchez and Williams get most of the attention, Austin is considered a very good prospect and 2013 could propel him into the Yankees’ plans in 2014 and beyond.
The Yankees also have a pair of young slash-and-dash hitters who have a chance to make the parent team down the road in Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores.
Heathcott, 22, was the team’s first draft pick in 2009 but has been hampered by on- and off-the-field problems. But the left-handed hitter got back on track by hitting a combined .302 with five home runs and 29 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in the Yankees team in the Gulf Coast League and with Tampa in the Florida State League.
Heathcott is an aggressive player with excellent speed. If he can be more selective at the plate and on the bases he could turn out to something very special.
Flores, 20, is a left-handed hitting machine who batted a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs and 24 stolen bases between Tampa and Trenton. He lacks Heathcott’s speed but still stole more bases. He is primarily a leftfielder but can play all three outfield spots and first base.
Fielding will never be his strong suit because his bat is so good. It will carry him the rest of the way to the majors.
The Yankees seem to be deeper in outfield prospects than any other position and that seems to be a good thing considering the team has already lost Swisher and Granderson seems to be headed out the door soon. That would leave Gardner and an aging Suzuki.
So to say the Yankees could stand to have a few of these prospects make an impact in the next few years would be putting it mildly.
There have been rumors the Yankees have talked about possibly trading Williams and Sanchez. But that would seem to be something Cashman would be leery about since he really did get fleeced badly in the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda deal last winter.
My guess is the Yankees will be very careful which young players they deal but it would seem to make sense that they could trim some of their outfield depth if they need help with their 25-man roster.
Though the Yankees are lucky to be starting three center-fielders with excellent speed in the outfield in 2013, they all hit left-handed and the Yankees will miss Ibanez.
Cashman likely will make some sort of deal to add depth to the outfield and they need someone who can hit right-handed. Canzler and Nix provide some depth but they are not long-term solutions.
Mesa and Almonte provide Girardi with a pair of young options but both are going to have to produce a lot this spring in order to make the leap to the major leagues.
Hopefully, the puzzle pieces can be put together before the start of the 2013 season.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
The one thing you could count on every season from Mark Teixeira was 30 or more home runs and 100 or more runs driven in. He had, after all, done it in eight consecutive seasons when the 2012 season began.
But for the first time since his rookie season with the Texas Rangers in 2003, Teixeira failed to reach those totals for the New York Yankees. A pulled calf muscle that limited him to only four at-bats in September took away any hope that Teixeira had to extend the streak.
It was hardly the season Teixeira had envisioned for himself after taking a lot of criticism for batting .256 in 2010 and a career-low .248 in 2011. Teixeira had pledged that he try to go back to hitting to “all fields” instead of the pull-happy approach he had developed with that inviting short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium.
He even said he might bunt against the exaggerated shifts teams had employed against him when he was batting left-handed.
That never happened, however.
In fact, once Teixeira got off to another one of his annual slow starts in April (three home runs, 12 RBIs and a .244 average), he abandoned the “all fields” idea altogether and just hit. There is no doubt he would have likely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had not suffered the injury, but Teixeira decision was also directed to Yankee fans.
He basically was telling them he was not going to be hitter that hit a combined .306 with the Rangers and the Atlanta Braves in 2007 and .308 with the Braves and Los Angeles Angels in 2008. He even was not going to be the player that hit .292 in his first season with the Yankees.
Nope. If Teixeira was to be the productive hitter the Yankees wanted him to be Yankee fans would just have to settle for .250 batting averages from now on. That is just going to be the way it is.
Teixeira, 32, is reaching the same stage Jason Giambi did after his Most Valuable Player season with the Oakland Athletics in 2001 when he hit .342 with 38 home runs and 138 RBIs.
Giambi hit .314 with 41 home runs and 122 RBIs in 2002 in his first season with the Yankees. Then his batting averages fell off a cliff to .250, .208 (in an injury-racked 2004 season), .271, .253, .236 and .247.
Teixeira is headed to similar fate and, though it does not make Yankee fans happy, it appears they will have to accept it because Teixeira has another four years on the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed with the team in 2009.
Yankee Stadium has actually become somewhat of “The Killing Fields” for Teixeira. He hit just .218 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2012 while he hit .277 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs on the road. That does not bode well looking ahead to 2013.
Teixeira is also having problems hitting right-handers. He hit only .239 against them last season while he hit .269 against lefties. That also does not look good when you consider he will bat a lot more left-handed than he will right-handed because of the dearth of quality left-hand pitching in baseball.
Like most of the Yankees last season, Teixeira also failed to hit well with runners in scoring position (.230) and with two outs in an inning (.190).
Unlike Giambi, however, Teixeira actually can play a little a defense and that is putting it mildly.
Teixeira is the gold standard of fielding first basemen. Last season he collected his fifth Gold Glove Award and his third since joining the Yankees. But the real story is how he won the award.
Teixeira committed just one error in 1,055 total chances for a fielding percentage of .999, which broke a Yankee record of .998 established by Don Mattingly in 1994 (two errors in 989 total chances). In fact, Teixeira’s .999 mark was the tenth best fielding mark recorded in the modern era (after 1900).
So to say Teixeira can play a little first base is like saying Jimi Hendrix could play a little guitar. Teixeira is simply the best fielding first baseman of his generation and there aren’t as many who are close.
Tex combines the range of the former third baseman he was and catlike reflexes that allow him to stop line drives and grounders that other first baseman would have left on the board as doubles down the line. Combine that with the fact that Teixeira saves his fellow Yankee infielders numerous errors by scooping and snagging poor throws to first, you have pretty much summed up what makes Teixeira special with the glove.
Here is another statistic for you: Teixeira committed 10 errors with the Rangers in 2004. In all of his major-league seasons since, Teixeira has not committed more than five errors. In his four seasons with the Yankees he has not committed more than four. Any way you slice it, Teixeira is very special as a fielder.
The biggest concern about Teixeira in 2013 has nothing to do with Teixeira himself. It has to do with who will back him at the position this season.
When Teixeira was injured last season, the Yankees had the luxury of being able to slide Nick Swisher in from right field or they could used veteran Eric Chavez if they needed another left-handed bat.
They will not have that ability this season. The Yankees elected to let Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians and Chavez opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. So the Yankees find themselves very thin at first base.
Of course, Teixeira has been somewhat durable throughout his career. He has played less than 145 games only twice in nine seasons. Last season was one of those.
Still, Yankee fans would feel more comfortable if the Yankees had someone like Swisher (24 home runs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA) or Chavez (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA) playing behind Teixeira just in case they are needed.
For now Yankee fans have to hope that the acquisition off waivers of Cleveland Indians utility man Russ Canzler is the answer.
Canzler, 26, had three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 in just 98 at-bats in September with the Indians in 2012.
The right-handed Canzler can play first base, left field and serve as a designated hitter for the Yankees. He does have power in that he hit 22 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 130 games with Triple-A Columbus before being called by the Indians as a late-season addition to the roster.
Though Canzler did lead the International League in doubles (36) as well as home runs and RBIs, he is still a far cry for a proven veteran backup at first like Swisher and Chavez.
General manager Brian Cashman may still be looking to find a veteran to come into camp and bolster the bench.
Slick-fielding Casey Kotchman, 29, and Lyle Overbay, 36, are still available on the free-agent market. Of course, so are former Yankees Giambi, 41, and Nick Johnson, 34, but they are real longshots.
The Yankees also might look to the trade route. The point is don’t expect Canzler to be handed the backup job. He will have competition.
Of course, that competition will not be forthcoming from the Yankees’ minor-league system.
Steve Pearce, 29, came up for a brief period with the Yankees last season and hit .160 with one home run and four RBIs in 25 at-bats after he was released by the Houston Astros and he hit .318 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
He signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles for 2013.
Russell Branyan, 37, was invited to spring training in 2012 by the Yankees as a non-roster invitee but a back injury shelved him throughout camp and he played in only 36 games last season, hitting .309 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs with Scranton.
However, Russell and his muscle bat have taken their act to spring camp with the Angels in 2013.
Addison Maruszak, 26, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs in 117 games at Double-A Trenton. Maruszak, a right-hand hitter, split time at first base with Luke Murton, 26, a left-hand hitter who hit .249 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games.
Though Murton led the Yankees’ minor leaguers in home runs, his and Maruszak’s advanced age at the Double-A level do not make them future prospects for the Yankees.
Kyle Roller, 24, hit .266 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 121 games at Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League. He is perhaps worth watching in 2013 but he does not carry a high prospect label and he is several years away from helping the Yankees at the major-league level.
Because the Yankees do not have a proven major-league backup to Teixeira and their minor-league talent is severely lacking at first base, the position ranks as one of the weakest on the roster. Cashman is aware of this and it would seem to be a priority in the coming weeks to shore up the position before camp opens.
Nonetheless, the Yankees are lucky to have a durable starter in Teixeira to man the position. If he can be forgiven for hitting .250, his 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs will be vital to the Yankees’ success in 2013. His glove actually is an even bigger asset.
Teixeira will likely bat between third and fifth in the Yankee lineup and with the loss of power hitters such as Swisher, Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for at least half the season, Teixeira is a vital piece to the Yankee puzzle in 2013. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.
There is not much behind him on the depth chart.
NEXT: LEFT FIELD
SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (33 HRs, 99 RBIs, .313 BA)
I remember very well a day before a spring training game in 2005 seeing this tall, thin Yankee rookie swatting line drives all over the field in batting practice. The swing was smooth and effortless while the ball jumped off his bat.
I asked someone about this kid Robinson Cano and what I heard back impressed me. “Cano is just a colt now. But very soon he will be a thoroughbred,” he said.
Eight years later his words ring true. Cano has grown up before our very eyes and now he is the best player in pinstripes. He is no longer a boy among men. He is the man the team revolves around.
Sadly, this very well could be Cano’s last season with the Yankees. The team is under a strict edict from owner Hal Steinbrenner to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and Cano can become a free agent after this season.
After a season in which he set a career high in home runs and hit above .300 for the seventh time in his nine major-league seasons and won his second Gold Glove and fourth Silver Slugger awards it is a pretty sure bet that Cano would command a lot of money on the open market. Add the fact his agent is Scott Boras and you can, pardon the pun, bank on it.
The Yankees are going to have to be mighty creative to find the dollars to keep Cano, 30. But they likely will make every attempt to open the vault wide enough to keep their best player. It would be a good thing, too.
With Alex Rodriguez saddled with a string of injuries the real foundation of the team’s growth is Cano. Second basemen who can hit home runs, drive in runs and hit above .300 are not exactly plentiful. Cano is simply the best second baseman in baseball and there is no one in the Yankee organization, let alone any organization, that can really replace him.
So you would think it would be wise for Yankee fans during spring training to watch Cano carefully because it could be the last time they see him. One problem with that: Cano is committed to play his native Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
So the Yankees likely will not get Cano back until the latter stages of March.
Cano’s 2012 season was marked by some milestones. But it was hardly the banner season the Yankees expected from him.
Cano struggled in two major areas: (1) In the first half of the season Cano was woefully inept at driving in runners in scoring position. That is why he failed to drive in more than 100 runs. (2) He suddenly ran into trouble hitting left-handers. He hit just .239 against them while he pounded right-handers at a .357 clip.
Cano actually rescued his season with an incredible stretch of games in late September. After Sept. 1, Cano hit six home runs and drove in 24 runs while batting .348. The Yankees would appreciate more consistency from Cano and they hope he can return to bashing left-hand pitching as he did in throughout his career up until last season.
Given that this is Cano’s contract season and given his past track record, this could be the breakout season everyone has been predicting for him. With a bit more discipline at the plate Cano could very well win a batting title, hit 30-plus home runs and drive in more than 120 runs.
Cano’s big failing at the plate has been a product of his immense talent. Cano can simply put a swing on any pitch in or out of the strike zone. So pitchers lure him with a lot of breaking pitches out of the strike zone and then pound him with hard stuff inside to tie up his swing.
Cano obliges them by swinging at less than optimum pitches and he gets himself out. If Cano ever lays off pitches out of the strike zone consistently throughout a season he might very well hit .340. He is just that good.
Over the years, Cano has been saddled with the tag “lazy.”
That is a product of his nonchalant style of play. But last season there were times that Cano made outs on the bases he should not have made. Here is something that might surprise you: Cano is simply a terrible base-runner and he always has been.
Some players have good instincts on the bases like Derek Jeter and some players like Cano don’t. Cano never was called upon to bunt or steal bases throughout his minor-league career because he was such a productive hitter. It has just carried over to the major leagues.
He is not a fast runner and he just never worked on base-running much because he never had to really worry about it. Last season it was obvious.
Cano attempted five steals last season and was succcessful three times. In his career he has stolen 31 bases but he been thrown out 27. Rickey Henderson he is not!
But Cano was able to score 105 runs, the fourth season in a row he has topped the century mark in runs scored. So as long as the Yankees do not have him running wild on the bases, Cano’ s weakness will not hurt the team.
The “lazy” tag also has had a serious effect on how Cano’s fielding has been judged. Early in his career, Cano did make careless errors by trying to look cool fielding routine grounders. Since then he has grown into an exceptional fielder who should have won the last six Gold Gloves instead of just two.
Cano simply has more range than second baseman in baseball. That applies to ground balls and pop flies. No one can range as far into the outfield to catch pops and few can master the play to his right on grounders better than Cano.
His arm is exceptionally great for a second baseman and Cano does not credit for being accurate with it also. Roberto Alomar may have set the standard for fielding during his career but Cano is shattering that standard and setting one of his own.
The other thing that sets Cano apart is his turn of the double play. In the last six seasons, Cano has turned no less than 92 double plays and no one can turn and flip to first better than he can. In doing all that work in the field last season, Cano committed only six errors. Wow!
That 2012 Gold Glove award was well deserved.
Another Cano attribute throughout his career is his durability despite playing a middle infield spot. In his last six seasons, Cano has never played less than 159 games. He played in 161 games last season.
When you add it all up you get one very exceptional player and one who is destined to be a very rich one come the 2014 season.
Behind Cano last season was Jayson Nix, not that he was needed much.
Nix, 30, made only five starts at second and he did not commit an error there. Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees after being recalled on May 8 to replace Eduardo Nunez as the Yankees’ backup middle infielder.
Nix obviously will never match Cano with his bat or his glove. The Yankees just ask him to play his solid, nonflashy game and not make mistakes. Nix does that very well and he will get a chance to do it again in 2013.
Though he was designated for assignment on Nov. 30 after reliever Mariano Rivera was re-signed, Nix accepted assignment to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he will compete with Nunez for the backup middle infield spot this spring.
Nunez, 25, won the backup infielder job over the recently released Ramiro Pena in 2011 but promptly lost early in 2012 season when he began treating ground balls like hand grenades. Nunez made so many sloppy fielding errors that he was dispatched to Scranton to work on exclusively playing shortstop.
He enters camp in 2013 with some very positive things in his favor. Nunez can hit (his career batting average is .272) and he can run (38 steals in 46 career attempts). The right-hand hitter also could be valuable as a replacement to Andruw Jones as a platoon designated hitter.
But Nunez likely will get most of his work in spring training at shortstop replacing Jeter, who is in the process of rehabbing after surgery on a fractured left ankle he suffered in the first game of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.
Jeter’s rehab is expected to run through part of the exhibition schedule and it is unclear if he will be ready to start for the Yankees on Opening Day. So Nunez will be of more value at shortstop, which is his natural position.
Nunez did make one start at second base last season and characteristically he committed an error there. It is good thing Cano is durable.
The Yankees will have a chance in Cano’s absence this spring to look at a pair of young second basemen who are on the 40-man roster, David Adams and Corban Joseph.
Adams, 25, hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs in 86 games at Double-A Trenton. He has carried that into the Arizona Fall League, where he is hitting .286 with three home runs and 15 RBIs and was named Player of the Week in the fifth week of the season.
Adams, a third-round pick of the Yankees in 2008 out of the University of Virginia, has been hobbled most of his minor-league career with a serious ankle injury. But he is healthy now and he is hoping to regain his prospect status.
Joseph, 24, hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 131 games at Trenton and Scranton.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft out of Franklin (TN) High School, Joseph has more power than Adams and he has the advantage of passing Adams to Scranton while being a year younger.
Neither player looks to be threats to Cano at all, obviously. But they will get a chance to develop just in case Cano departs in 2014.
Further down the line the Yankees have Jose Pirela, 23, and Angelo Gumbs, 20.
Pirela hit .293 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 82 games at Trenton. The Venezuela native is being looked upon as a potential middle infield backup utility infielder with a good line-drive bat but he lacks speed.
Gumbs, the team’s No. 8 prospect, was signed as a shortstop but has played second base in his two years in the minors. He hit .272 with seven home runs, 36 RBIs and 26 stolen bases at Class-A Charleston (SC) in the South Atlantic League. An elbow injury ended his season in June.
Gumbs plays an aggressive style and shows that he has a good bat, which makes him a young player worth watching in 2013.
But Gumbs is a long way away from making the majors and Cano simply is the industry standard at his position. It also looks like he will be that standard for some years to come.
There is no doubt Cano will be motivated to produce in 2013 and he could have that monster season for which everybody has been waiting. The Yankees will need that from him in a season that appears the team will be lacking some power and a team that will be minus Rodriguez for much of the season.
The Yankees simply will go as far as Cano can possibly carry them this season.
NEXT: First Base