YANKEES 9, ASTROS 6
KISSIMMEE – There is an old saying that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. On Saturday, the Yankees needed a bit of both to down the Astros in a seesaw affair.
Trailing 6-4 in the sixth, Mason Williams hit a sacrifice fly to bring the Yankees to within a run and Brett Gardner stroked a single that center-fielder Dexter Fowler threw into the Astros dugout to allow two runs to score as New York rallied to down Houston at Osceola County Stadium.
The Yankees actually held a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth when Jose Altuve doubled and Jason Castro walked just ahead of Chris Carter’s three-run blast to left off Yankees’ left-hander Manny Banuelos, who was making his first major-league appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2012.
Chase Whitley (1-2) struck out the only batter he faced in relief of Banuelos in the fifth to get credit for the victory. Chris Leroux pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
Jose Cisnero (0-1) was charged with three runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk in his one inning of work to take the loss.
Right-hander Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and he suffered through what was his worst outing of the spring, yielding three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in four innings.
The Yankees scored two runs (one earned) off Astros starter Jarred Cosart in the second inning and they added a pair of runs in the third off left-hander Darin Downs on Mark Teixeira’s first hit of the spring, a double, and Kelly Johnson’s first home run of the spring.
The Yankees added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh off right-hander Jake Buchanan on an RBI single by Scott Sizemore and an RBI fielder’s choice by Ramon Flores in which Astros first baseman Telvin Nash started to turn a double play but instead elected to throw home to get a sliding Yangervis Solarte.
But the throw was late and the Yankees extended their lead to 9-6.
The Yankees won their straight Grapefruit League game and are now 7-4. The Astros fell to 3-5.
- The most encouraging sign for the Yankees was that Teixeira doubled to deep left batting right-handed. Teixeira, 33, was playing in only his second spring game after undergoing surgery to repair his right wrist. Teixeira was 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored.
- Johnson is quietly having an excellent spring with his new team. Johnson was 1-for-2 with a home run, a walk, a run scored and an RBI. Johnson is 5-for-14 (.357) with a homer and five RBIs. He also has not committed an error at third base in five starts, even though he has only played 16 major-league regular-season games there.
- An injury last season stunted the development of Williams and some of his other fellow outfielders also stalled. That forced the Yankees into looking to sign veterans such as Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury to multi-year deals. Williams is showing signs of rebounding after lacing an RBI double in the second and adding a sac fly in the sixth. Williams is rated as the team’s No. 2 prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez.
- With Nova it always seems to be a step forward and two steps back. Coming off a dominant three innings of shutout baseball on March 3 against the Washington Nationals, Nova was lit up like a bottle rocket from the first batter he faced. Granted, after giving up three runs on six hits in the first two frames, Nova did throw two scoreless innings in the third and fourth and yielded only two hits. His spring ERA shot up from 4.15 to 5.40.
- Banuelos, 22, could not command his pitches, fell behind batters and paid the ultimate price when Carter launched a titanic three-run shot to left in the fifth. In Banuelos’ defense, he was never expected to make the roster this spring. The Yankees want him to build up his arm strength at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and work on his control. He will likely not fight for a starting job until 2015.
- Eduardo Nunez is not guaranteed a roster spot and he needs to pick things up a bit. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Saturday. He is 4-for-17 (.235) with a homer and two RBIs this spring.
The Astros and Yankees welcomed University of Central Florida head football coach George O’Leary to Saturday’s game and he drew a huge round of applause from most of the paid crowd of 5,001. O’Leary led the Knights to a 12-1 record, including a 52-42 victory over No. 5 Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. By the way, UCF is my alma mater and I am darn proud of it!
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday as they will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Right-hander David Phelps, who is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in two spring starts, will start for the Yankees. Derek Jeter, who has four hits in his past four at-bats, will start at shortstop.
The Rays are scheduled to pitch right-hander Chris Archer (1-0, 0.00 ERA).
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on tape delay at midnight by the MLB Network.
As weeks go you would have to say this week for the New York Yankees was not a good one and that is putting it mildly. It was disastrous.
The loss of the greatest closer to ever walk the planet is a pretty steep price to pay for any team. But it was just the tip of the iceberg.
It all started on April 29 when Nick Swisher left a game against the Tigers in the bottom of the third inning with a strained hamstring. At the time Brett Gardner was on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow he sustained making a diving catch on a ball on April 17.
Swisher has been unable to play since and Gardner, who was expected to return on Thursday, had his return delayed for four days.
That means the Yankees have been playing Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eduardo Nunez and now Jayson Nix in the outfield in place of their two injured starters.
That has led some pretty bad outfield play in the past week, especially by “Eduardo Scissorhands” in left-field against the Orioles.
Though the Yankees may have had some laughs when Nunez slipped and slid his way through his first start in left on Monday, it was no laughing matter the next night when he allowed a fly ball off the bat of Nick Johnson fall and two runs to score.
It was initially scored as a two-base error. But MLB Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre on Friday reversed the call into a double. However, whether it was scored an error or a double, it still cost the Yankees two runs in three-run inning that ended up in a 7-1 defeat. The point is that the ball should have been caught and it wasn’t.
This outfield roulette the Yankees are playing does not even take into account how the offense has been hurt by losing Gardner and Swisher for this long a period of time.
At the time of his injury, Gardner was hitting .321. Swisher was even better. He was hitting .284 with six home runs and he was leading the American League in RBIs with 23. You can’t expect to replace 67 percent of your starting outfield with older veterans and young neophytes and expect the offense and defense to be there. Just ask the Boston Red Sox.
The loss of Gardner has allowed manager Joe Girardi to use his platoon designated hitters, Jones and Ibanez, in the field and give Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez half-days off as the DH. That means Scissorhands plays shortstop and Eric Chavez plays third base.
Nunez promptly goes into a 0-for-19 slide this week and the preciously delicate exoskeleton and inner body linings and muscles of Chavez again reared its ugly head – literally – on Wednesday night.
Chavez dove for a ball off the bat of J.J. Hardy and his head slammed the infield dirt at Yankee Stadium pretty hard. The next thing you know Chavez is on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion. If this anything like the fractured bone in his foot he injured at about the same time last season, we should see Chavez back in a Yankee uniform during the 2016 Yankee Old-Timers’ Day celebration and I hope Eric brings a football helmet and pads to play in the game.
This does not even address the starting pitching problems Girardi is already faced and with which he is still dealing.
While CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda seem to be settling into their roles as the ace and No.2 starter of the staff, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia seem to be playing a contest amongst themselves of who could give up the most hits and runs in the shortest stretch of innings.
Well, Garcia won that contest hands down and he was banished to the bullpen and rookie David Phelps made his first major-league start on Thursday.
This was not the way it was supposed to be with Andy Pettitte on the verge of coming back and when the Yankees were counting on getting Michael Pineda back from his sore right shoulder problems in May. Now Pineda is lost for the season with shoulder surgery and Pettitte can’t get back to the Yankees soon enough to suit Yankee fans.
The loss of Mariano Rivera makes it even harder to decipher.
For now, it looks as if David Robertson and Rafael Soriano will share the closer’s role. But with Joba Chamberlain still recovering from both Tommy John and Chuckie Cheez ankle surgeries the bullpen suddenly looks a whole lot thinner than it did before Mo collapsed in pain on the Kauffman Stadium warning track on Thursday.
Perhaps there could be a silver lining if Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman are open to see their way clear of this mess. Some good could come of it if they play it correctly.
First, they have to allow Phelps to continue to pitch in the rotation and give him a chance to show what he can do. It is only fair they do that to what looks to be a promising 25-year-old right-hander. Nova’s 15-game winning streak is over but he certainly is capable of pitching better than he did this week. So you have to continue to roll with him.
But when Pettitte returns you have to make a move to take one person out of the rotation and there is no better candidate than Hughes.
If you look at the period of time Hughes was most successful it was when he was the setup man for Rivera during the Yankees second-half push to the playoffs and the world championship in 2009. His bullpen numbers were even better than Rivera’s numbers that season.
In 2010, he was needed as a starter and he won 18 games. However, after the second half of 2010 it was obvious he was not the same pitcher he was before the All-Star break that season. His year-long struggles with weakness in his right shoulder in 2011 bore that out.
So far in 2012, Hughes has not struggled with velocity. He is back to throwing an average of 92 mph and getting up to 94 and 95 with ease. But he also has been victimized by the longball and he is carrying a 1-4 record with a 7.48 ERA after five starts.
In the past the presence of Robertson, Soriano and Chamberlain made it impossible for Hughes to shift back to the bullpen. But with Soriano and Robertson sharing the eighth and ninth innings and Chamberlain likely out for the season it would seem to make sense to try Hughes in the seventh inning role that Chamberlain, Robertson and lately Soriano have made so vital.
I do understand that once you shift Hughes to that role there is no shifting him back to a starting role. But if Phelps eventually falters you can always give Garcia another try and there also is a number options that can made through trades and signing of free agents.
I have heard Roy Oswalt’s name and I hope that is all I hear about him because he has a chronic back condition that makes him risky. However, the Yankees have a farm system rich enough to be able to make trades to acquire 2013 free-agents-to-be like Matt Cain of the Giants and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has this option in his back pocket through the end of July and he will have plenty of time to evaluate the need for that trade by that time.
The Yankees also are looking at having former Mariners closer David Aardsma to add to the bullpen. He could perhaps also take the seventh inning role if he is healthy. But I think they need to keep Hughes in mind as a potential player in the bullpen because I still believe he can shine there.
For one thing he can shelve his awful secondary pitches like his change-up and concentrate on his fastball, curve and cutter. His velocity should also move up to the 97 mph mark he used to throw and that wll cover for a lot of mistakes in his location he makes as a starter.
We will see how it plays out but the Yankees just need to get Swisher and Gardner back on the field and hopefully Robinson Cano will stop hitting like Luis Sojo in time for the Yankees make a run at the 2012 playoffs.
They may as well try because they are now finding there are much lower expectations on this team now.
PIRATES 7, YANKEES 4
Andrew McCutchen, who signed a six-year, $51.7 million extension earlier in the day, went 2-for-3 and drove in two runs to lead Pittsburgh to a Grapefruit League victory over New York on Tuesday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.
Right-hander Chris Resop (1-0) gave a run in his one inning of work and got credit for the victory. Phil Hughes (0-1) gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits in 1 1/3 innings of work and took the loss.
Minor-league second baseman David Adams stroked a bases-loaded, two-out, two-run double to bring the tying run to the plate for the Yankees in the ninth inning. However, Melky Mesa popped out against right-hander Daniel McCutcheon to end the game.
The Yankees are 2-2 in spring play and the Pirates drew their mark to 2-2.
- Alex Rodriguez continued his fine work this spring at the plate, drawing a first inning walk and slapping a leadoff single in the sixth inning. It is still early but A-Rod is hitting .800 through the first four games.
- Non-roster right-hander Brett Marshall was the only Yankee pitcher who did not surrender a run to the Pirates. In 1 2/3 innings Marshall did not give up a hit, walked one batter and struck out one. Marshall recovered from Tommy John surgery to post a 9-7 record and a 3.78 ERA at Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League in 2011.
- Francisco Cervelli just missed hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning off left-hander Doug Slaten. A strong 19-mph wind blowing in from left held the ball up and allowed left-fielder Robbie Grossman to haul it in at the base of the wall. The fly ball scored pinch-runner Mesa from third to bring the Yankees to within a run at 3-2.
- CC Sabathia struggled some with command of his pitches in his spring debut. Sabathia gave only one run but was tagged for three hits in his two innings of work. Sabathia threw 30 pitches and 17 were strikes and he threw first-pitch strikes to only two of the eight batters he faced. Sabathia started off the contest by giving up an infield single to former Yankee Jose Tabata. Clint Barmes followed with a bloop single to right and McCutchen plated Tabata with a sharp single to left.
- Hughes also did not look comfortable in his stint. He allowed Barmes to reach on a two-out single and Barmes scored on a double to the wall in right-center by McCutchen. Hughes threw 24 strikes in his 38 pitches but he was tagged for four hits and he could not complete his allotted two innings. Hughes is competing for a spot in the Yankees’ rotation.
- Although Rodriguez has been excellent this spring, he picked a bad time to make his first out of the season in the third inning. With a run in and Derek Jeter on second and one out, Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira both struck out looking against Resop.
- Texieira was actually charged an error on a bad double-play flip from Robinson Cano in the fourth inning that was knocked loose by Nick Evans hustling to first base and the error allowed Neil Walker to score the Pirates’ third run. Rodriguez then misplayed a McCutchen grounder in the fifth. The Yankees’ defense was not good.
On the play where Teixeira tried a swipe tag on Nick Evans in the fourth inning, Teixeira said he jammed his left thumb. Teixeira did remain the game and he singled in the sixth inning. Though the injury is not considered serious, Teixeira will be day-to-day. He hopes to play again on Thursday when the Yankees head to Dunedin, FL to play the Toronto Blue Jays. . . . Yankee reserve infielder Eduardo Nunez, who suffered a bruised hand when he was hit by a pitch on Monday in a game in Clearwater, FL., hopes to be in the starting lineup on Wednesday.
The Yankees are back home at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday to host the Tampa Bay Rays.
Hiroki Kuroda will make his Yankee debut and his first start of 2012. The Yankees will have their outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher in the starting lineup for the game.
The Rays will start their ace right-hander James Shields, who will be making his first start of the spring. Burke Badenhop, Josh Lueke and Alex Colome are also scheduled to pitch for the Rays.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
When the Grapefruit League season begins in earnest for the New York Yankees on Saturday afternoon I have 10 things I will be looking at very closely. If these things look good than I will feel very good about the Yankees’ chances of returning to the World Series and perhaps their 28th world championship. If I don’t see them than the Yankees’ 2012 season may be a repeat of 2011. What I am looking for includes:
- HITTING WITH RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION. I understand that in spring training we will see a lot of young players and minor leaguers in the lineup. But I will be focused on the players who start and those who will make the team as reserves. I want to see those players hit with runners in scoring position consistently. This was a weakness of the offense in 2011 and who could forget the innings of futility as the Yankees trailed the Detroit Tigers by a run in that disappointing Game 5 of the playoffs? Good habits are built upon in spring training and I want to see the Yankee hitters driving in runs consistently this spring.
- MARK TEIXEIRA’S BATTING AVERAGE AGAINST RIGHT-HANDERS. Last season, Teixeira hit .223 off right-handers. 223! That is one reason he hit just .248 overall after hitting just .256 in 2010. Teixeira came to the Yankees as an hitter who could hit to the opposite field. Much like Jason Giambi before him, he has become pull happy and it has left him vulnerable to breaking pitches. Teixiera has been working with hitting coach Kevin Long to improve his left-handed approach and he also has talked about bunting to discourage the radical shift teams employ on him. But the bottom line is that he has to improve hitting left-handed for the Yankees’ offense to click.
- BRETT GARDNER’S AVERAGE AGAINST LEFT-HANDERS. Gardner hit .233 against left-handers in 2011 and it became quite a liability for the offense in 2011. Andruw Jones could force his way into a platoon in left-field if Gardner does not improve his hitting against lefties this season. For all of Gardner’s speed, it is still surprising that he has not developed into an adept bunter. I want to see marked improvement there also. Gardner can be a real weapon if he is able to showcase his speed. He can’t do that if he is habitually walking back to the dugout with his bat in his hand.
- THE VELOCITY ON PHIL HUGHES’ FASTBALL. When Phil Hughes was healthy he was a productive pitcher for the Yankees. In 2009, his shift to the bullpen to set up Mariano Rivera was a key to the Yankees’ world championship season. In 2011, he won a spot in the rotation, made the American League All-Star team and finished the season 18-8 with 4.19 ERA. Last season, weakness in his right shoulder put him on the disabled list and a late season back injury cut short a pretty impressive comeback. He enters this spring as a candidate for the No. 5 spot, as he was in 2010. He is still only 25 and he has plenty of time to establish himself as the quality pitcher he was thought to be when he was a No. 1 draft choice in 2004. Initial reports indicate Hughes is throwing well and without any pain. If he is back anywhere close to his 2010 form the Yankees will have a No. 5 starter who won 18 games. How many teams can say that?
- THE HEALTH OF RUSSELL MARTIN. The Jorge Posada era ended in 2010 and the Russell Martin era begin in 2011. Martin came into camp last season rehabbing his left knee after surgery. Though he was able to hit the ground running in April (hitting .292 with six home runs and 19 RBIs) he did not hit over .213 in any month until August. That is because a toe injury followed by back injury slowed him down considerably. With Posada retired and Jesus Montero traded to the Mariners, Martin is the team’s best offensive weapon at the position. He has to stay healthy for the Yankees to be able to make a run at a championship. His excellent defense is just a bonus.
- THE REAL DEREK JETER NEEDS TO SHOW UP. In 2010, Jeter hit a miserable – for him – .270. He worked with Long on a new approach that featured no stride. But Jeter wasn’t comfortable with the change and he was hitting .242 on May 1. But after a calf injury shelved him in July, Jeter reworked his swing and he hit .334 the rest of the way. The Jeter who hit .334 must be the one that shows up this season. Jeter is the table-setter at the top of the lineup and when he is getting on base, the team scores a lot of runs. When he doesn’t, the team struggles.
- CC SABATHIA NEEDS TO MAINTAIN HIS WEIGHT. CC might love Cap’n Crunch cereal but he is going to have to lay off the stuff as the season progresses. Though Sabathia disagrees, it is a fact that as he gained weight down the stretch his ERA went up. Sabathia was on track to win 20 games easily but he had to settle for 19 again. He also was ineffective the playoffs against the Tigers. If you see CC’s girth expanding, you can bet the Yankees’ postseason chances are shrinking. He has vowed to maintain his training regimen until the end of the season and let’s hope he does it. Sabathia is still the ace and the pitcher teams fear most.
- THE RETURN OF JOBA CHAMBERLAIN. Because of the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen and the presence of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, Joba is almost a forgotten man this spring. Chamberlain is rehabbing after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in July and he is not expected to be able to return to the team until this July. The Yankees can afford to bring him back slowly and they will. If he comes back strong the Yankees might have easily the best bullpen in baseball. Chamberlain is only 26 and he still can be a productive pitcher with the Yankees. His return might be a real shot in the arm during a potential pennant chase.
- THE FIELDING OF EDUARDO NUNEZ. Nunez won the backup infielder job last spring with good reason He is an excellent hitter, with line-drive power and he can run like the wind. When he received regular playing time when Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were injured he shined at the plate. However, the increased playing time also exposed his weakness in the field. Nunez committed a team-high 21 errors and most of them were due to his poor footwork. Nunez needs to show the Yankees he has turned the corner is learning how to play in the field. At age 24 he could be Jeter’s eventual replacement at short. He just has to prove he can do it.
- THE MOST IMPORTANT THING – ALEX RODRIGUEZ MUST REMAIN HEALTHY ALL SEASON. Injuries have dogged Rodriguez for the past four seasons. Last spring, he reported to camp lighter, looked quick in the field and he was hammering the ball all through the exhibition season. A lot of good it did. Rodriguez hurt his knee in June, tried to play through it, admitted he couldn’t and then had to undergo knee surgery. After missing six weeks, A-Rod returned and he promptly sprained his left thumb in the first game he played. That injury pretty much knocked out his ability to hit the rest of the season. Rodriguez must avoid all those serious aches and pains in 2012 for the Yankees to have even a prayer of advancing to the World Series. A-Rod is the hitter pitchers fear most when he is locked in. The Yankees need him desperately this season. He is they key to it all.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX
A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011” the term seems apropos.
On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.
Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.
Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.
There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?
Well, it does not look good.
The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.
So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.
Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.
If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.
Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.
Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.
The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.
Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”
But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.
Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.
With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.
But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.
Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.
Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.
For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.
The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.
None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.
This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?
The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.
But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.
Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.
There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.
The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.
Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.
Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.
The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.
The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.
This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.
Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.
The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.
Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.
The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.
To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.
The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.
Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.
Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.
More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.
The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.
The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.
The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.
Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.
The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.
Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.
That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.
The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.
The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.
The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.
The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.
This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.
The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.
The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.
This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.
The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.
With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.
I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.
Just call them the Red Flops.
2012 ROSTER ADDITIONS: Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Corey Wade, Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada, Raul Ibanez.
2012 ROSTER SUBTRACTIONS: A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Joba Chamberlain (starting season in disabled list) , Jorge Posada (retired).
Sunday is the day pitchers and catchers are required to report to the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL. To most teams the spring is a time where young players and veteran free agents can dream about making the roster with a good spring.
But not this year and not in the Yankees’ camp.
If the A.J. Burnett trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates is approved and the Yankees do sign free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez and corner infielder Eric Chavez, the Yankees would have a roster with very few jobs “up for grabs” and the 25-man roster – barring injury – is a foregone conclusion at this point.
The starting rotation has been bolstered by the trade for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and the free-agent signing of 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers. That gives the Yankees a rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda and Kuroda. The No. 5 spot will be a competition between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. But it is pretty clear that if Hughes can prove his shoulder issues that plagued him in 2011 are in the past he will be the favorite to win the job.
That would leave Garcia in the bullpen and the Yankees also have bought themselves a season in order to develop promising young starters Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell at the Triple-A level.
Garcia will join a strong bullpen that includes the greatest closer in the history of baseball (Mariano Rivera), the American League’s best set-up man in 2011 (David Robertson) and the American League saves leader in 2010 (Rafael Soriano).
Add to that core left-hander Boone Logan, right-hander Corey Wade and a likely a second left-hander in a battle between 23-year-old Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral and 30-year-old journeyman Clay Rapada, and you pretty much have the bullpen complete even without rehabbing right-hander Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain underwent Tommy John surgery in July and has made remarkable progress since then. However, the Yankees will not push Chamberlain to return early. They do not expect him to be able to pitch for the Yankees until June or July.
The bullpen, even without Chamberlain, was a strength of the team last season and promises to be just as strong or better in 2012.
The Yankees also did not make any changes in their starting position players for 2012. It is the same crew that led the Yankees to the best record in the American League (97-65).
The Yankees picked up the option on Russell Martin and he returns at catcher. The rest of the infield has Mark Teixeira at first, Robinson Cano at second, Derek Jeter at shortstop and Alex Rodriguez at third. The outfield maintains Nick Swisher in right, Curtis Granderson in center and Brett Gardner in left.
The only major change looks to be at designated hitter. Last season the Yankees used Jorge Posada in that role. With Posada retired the job looked to be Jesus Montero’s. However, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman opted to trade Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.
The Yankees are now looking to fill that DH spot with former Phillies outfielder Ibanez. Ibanez, 39, likely will platoon with right-handed-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones, who was retained after he had an excellent second half in 20111.
The rest of the bench could also be same as it was last season.
Francisco Cervelli figures to be the backup catcher again if he can prove that he has recovered from another concussion he suffered last September. Rookie Austin Romine, 22, is ready for the major leagues from a defensive standpoint but he needs to work on becoming a better hitter in order to vault past Cervelli.
He will get a look this spring, but he figures to be heading to Triple-A for a year of seasoning.
The Yankees also will have middle infielder Eduardo Nunez back this season. Nunez, 24, impressed the Yankees with his hitting and his base-stealing ability last season. But Nunez is a nightmare in the field. Despite playing only half the time, Nunez led the team in errors and he has to show some improvement there to stick.
The Yankees still have Ramiro Pena and they have invited veteran utility man Bill Hall to compete with Nunez but it is Nunez’s job to lose.
The Yankees also are likely to re-sign Chavez to back up at first and third base. Chavez, 34, had an impressive spring in 2011 but his season – just like the previous four – was cut short by injury. He fractured a bone in his left foot and missed 2 1/2 months. But the Yankees like having a former Gold Glove winner and lefty swinger at first and third base.
The Yankees still have veteran outfielders Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell and they have invited defensive wizard Dewayne Wise as a non-roster invitee this spring. But none of them figure to make a dent on the roster.