YANKEES 8, INDIANS 6
As it has been for most of the season, if the New York Yankees are in a hitting slump all they have to is start right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to break them out it. That is just what happened on Thursday night at Progressive Field.
Brian McCann blasted a three-run homer and Brett Gardner had three hits and drove in three runs to back Eovaldi as New York ended a poorly timed five-game losing streak with a victory over Cleveland.
McCann’s 20th home run of the season came with two out in the first inning off right-hander Trevor Bauer (9-9) and scored Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner, who have both struggled to get on base throughout the Yankees latest skid.
They added a run on a solo home run by Stephen Drew with one out in the second inning.
Eovaldi (12-2) did not pitch sharply but he was the beneficiary of the same run support he has been getting all season. The Yankees average just over seven runs per start for Eovaldi.
The Yankees finally chased Bauer in the fourth inning on a leadoff single by Didi Gregorius, an RBI double by Drew and a one-out double by Gardner.
Bauer was charged with six runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned one in 3 1/3 innings.
The Indians managed to hang close by scoring two runs in both the third and six innings off Eovaldi.
Michael Brantley hit a sacrifice fly in the third to score the Indians’ first run and Carlos Santana followed with an RBI single to halve the Yankees’ lead to 4-2.
Former Yankee farmhand Abraham Almonte stroked an RBI double in the sixth and Lonnie Chisenhall ended Eovaldi ‘s night with an RBI single one out later to bring the Indians to within two runs at 6-4.
Eovaldi yielded four runs on seven hits and three walks and struck out four batters in 5 1/3 innings to win his eighth game in a row and he now is undefeated in his past 10 starts.
Right-hander Adam Warren rescued Eovaldi by coming on the sixth inning and inducing an inning-ending double play off the bat of Giovanny Urshela.
The Yankees added solo run in both the sixth and eighth innings and they came on RBI singles by Gardner.
The Indians hung close by scoring a run off left-hander Justin Wilson when right-hander Dellin Betances uncorked a wild pitch with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh inning. But Betances got out of the jam by striking out Almonte swinging.
The Indians added a run in the ninth off left-hander Andrew Miller on a two-out RBI single by Yan Gomes. But Miller struck out Chisenhall looking to record his 24th save after blowing his hist first save of the season against the Indians on Tuesday.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 62-51. They are a half-game behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Indians fell to 53-60.
- America may run on Dunkin’ but the Yankees run on Ellsbury and Gardner. After the both of them stinking it up for a week, the pair reached base in a combined 7 times in 10 plate appearances. Gardner was 3-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and three RBIs. Ellsbury was 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored.
- McCann’s 20th home run puts him in rare company. He becomes only the fifth catcher since 1900 to hit 20 or more home runs in nine straight seasons. The other four are Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter and Johnny Bench. The home run was McCann’s eighth on the road this season. He is now batting .242 with 20 homers and 69 RBIs on the season.
- Drew entered the game batting .190 but managed to go 2-for-3 with a homer, four runs scored and two RBIs. Drew’s home run was his second of the series against the Indians and his 15th of the season, which leads all second baseman in the American League.
- Eovaldi once again got hurt by his high pitch count. Between inconsistency in throwing strikes and the Indians putting 10 base-runners on against him in 5 1/3 innings, he was not able to either allow the bullpen to rest or to keep the Indians from getting back into the game. It does not matter now but it could hurt a lot in a potential playoff game.
- Alex Rodriguez is swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone and it shows that he is pressing. Rodriguez was 0-for-4 with a walk and he struck once and hit into a double play in another at-bat. In his past six games, Rodriguez is 2-for-25 (.080) with six strikeouts. His season average has dipped to .268.
The Yankees on Thursday optioned right-hander Nick Goody to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and selected the contract of first baseman Greg Bird. Bird, 22, was batting a combined .277 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Bird made his Major-League debut on Thursday starting at first base in place of a resting Mark Teixeira and he was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. . . . Right-hander Michael Pineda is scheduled to make his first rehab start on Sunday for Trenton and he hopes to make it back into the rotation before Sept. 1. Pineda was placed on the disabled list since July 30 with a right flexor forearm muscle strain. He is 9-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 19 starts this season.
Because of their home meltdown against the Blue Jays last weekend the Yankees open a very important three-game weekend road series at Rogers Centre starting on Friday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (4-4, 3.42 ERA) will start the opener for the Yankees. Nova won three games in a row and stymied the Blue Jays for five innings before surrendering a grand slam to Justin Smoak in the sixth on Saturday.
Left-hander David Price (11-4, 2.35 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Price shut out the Yankees on three hits and three walks while striking out seven in a victory against the Saturday.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 9, ASTROS 4
“It’s never over until it’s over.”
– Yogi Berra
KISSIMMEE, FL – This wise old saying should be on the lips of every young prospect in Major League Baseball. It certainly rang true for the young Yankee prospects on Saturday
Fueled by home runs Jake Cave and Greg Bird, New York scored two runs in the eighth inning and six runs in the ninth as New York rallied from a 4-1 deficit to stun Houston at Osceola County Stadium.
Through the first seven innings, Astros pitchers held the Yankees to one run (a Ramon Flores home run to lead of the sixth) and three hits but Cave started the rally with his solo home run to lead off the eighth off left-hander Darin Downs.
Nick Noonan then chased Downs by following Cave’s homer with a double. Then Jose Pirela greeted reliever Jordan Jankowski with an RBI triple to bring the Yankees to within 4-3. However, Pirela later in the inning was thrown out at home plate by first baseman Matt Duffy on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Bird to preserve the Astros’ 4-3 lead.
The Yankees then loaded the bases with one out in the ninth off Jankowski when Cave hit an infield roller for a single. Noonan drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game and Pirela, one out later, gave the Yankees their first lead with a two-run single to left.
Jankowski was replaced on the mound by left-hander Kent Emanuel, who then balked to allow Noonan to score and Bird – later in the same at-bat – cracked a 410-foot home run to right-center that closed the scoring.
Chris Cotham (1-0) escaped a one-out jam with runners at second and third in the bottom of the eighth to get credit for the victory. Jankowski (0-1) took the loss.
The Yankees are 3-2 in the first week of Grapefruit League action.
Much has been said about how dysfunctional the Yankee’s minor-league system has been over the years. This spring maybe marks a stark change to the idea that the Yankees do not have much talent in their system.
Cave, Bird, Flores, Refsnyder and Pirela are prime examples the Yankees do have young position players who soon will be knocking on the door to get opportunities to play at Yankee Stadium.
As this blog pointed out in earlier posts, the Yankees have legitimately talented young players at every position:
CATCHER – Gary Sanchez, FIRST BASE – Bird, SECOND BASE – Pirela and Refsnyder, THIRD BASE – Eric Jagielo, OUTFIELDERS – Cave, Flores, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin among others. The shortstop position has 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
If you add in young starting pitchers like Luis Severino (the team’s No. 1 prospect), Ian Clarkin and Domingo German and up-and-coming relievers such as Branden Pinder, Jacob Lindgren, Danny Burawa and Tyler Webb it becomes clear the Yankees might have a strong corps of young players who can contribute.
So while the 2015 season might hold a lot of dark clouds on how the Yankees will do with so many questions surrounding veterans like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. There is just a bit of hope for the near future.
Seeing it all play out with an eight-run rally in the final two innings in Kissimmee on Saturday was pretty fun to watch.
- Bird, 22, is batting a red-hot .444 in the early going and it is no accident. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman was named the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League for Scottsdale this winter and he has just picked up where he left off there. Bird likely will open the season at Double-A Trenton but he could possibly move up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- Refsnyder, 23, may have to work on his fielding at second since he is a converted outfielder but he can flat-out hit. After going 1-for-2 on Saturday he is batting an even .500 on the spring. He is a career .297 hitter in the minors and hit .318 in 137 games in two minor-league stops in 2014. He is ticketed for Scranton but he could advance to the major leagues should Stephen Drew get injured or fail to succeed in his switch to second base.
- Cave, 23, was 2-for-2 including his home run and now is hitting a scorching .571 early. Cave only has nine career minor-league home runs so power is not really his thing. Cave is more of line-drive gap hitter with some speed. The 6-foot, 180-pound Cave hit a combined .294 in two minor-league stops in 2014. He likely will start off in Trenton.
- Scott Baker, a 33-year-old former Minnesota Twins ace, started for the Yankees and was tagged for three runs on six hits as the Astros batted around in the first inning. Chris Carter smacked a two-run double and Luis Valbuena followed with an RBI single. Baker is a non-roster invitee trying to make the team as a spot starter and long reliever. Unfortunately, the Astros jumped on Baker’s fastball early in the count and did some damage because Baker’s fastball had very little movement. Baker was 3-4 with a 5.37 ERA in 25 games with the Texas Rangers last season and was rewarded with his release.
- The Yankees started their starting infield of Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Chase Headley. After leaving in the sixth inning they were a combined 2-for-11 with a walk. The exception was Teixeira, who smacked an opposite-field single in the second and lined out in the fourth. Teixeira is showing signs of recovering fully from his wrist surgery in 2013 and he also is sporting a trimmer look due to a new diet.
Masahiro Tanaka threw 29 pitches in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Saturday and told reporters later that he feels he is ready to pitch in exhibition games. “He’s exactly where you want him to be at this point in spring training,” Rothschild told reporters. . . . Rodriguez, 39, will play third base in one of the next two home games on Sunday or Monday, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Saturday. In two previous spring games Rodriguez has been the designated hitter. Rodriguez is 1-for-4 with two walks and single in the early going.
The Yankees will play host to the Washington Nationals today at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Right-hander Adam Warren will make his second start of the spring. Warren looked sharp in his first outing on Tuesday against the Phillies at Bright House Field In Clearwater, FL, giving up just one hit in two innings of work.
The Nationals will counter with veteran right-hander Doug Fister, who led the Nationals in 2014 with 16 victories and a 2.41 ERA.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis at 8 p.m. by the MLB Network and live by the YES Network. It also will be available on a live broadcast by WFAN in New York via MLB Radio.
ORIOLES 5, YANKEES 4
With Mariano Rivera retired and his successor David Robertson on the disabled list the Yankees will admit that their bullpen is not as strong as it could be. Robertson’s replacement Shawn Kelley found out just how frustrating life can be pitching in the ninth inning.
Nick Markakis hit a bloop RBI single and Chris Davis later added a sacrifice fly off Kelley to break a 3-3 tie as Baltimore edged New York to win their three-game series in front of a paid crowd of 39,412 at Yankee Stadium.
The Orioles opened the ninth off Kelley(0-1) with a double off the bat of Ryan Flaherty and a bloop single by Jonathan Schoop. Markakis then muscled his single that scored Flaherty.
Delmon Young then dunked in another bloop single to load the bases and Davis smacked a deep fly ball to center that scored Schoop.
Brian Matusz pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning of relief to earn the victory. Tommy Hunter was credited with a save despite being tagged with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Brian Roberts that scored Alfonso Soriano, who doubled to lead off the frame.
The game actually was supposed to feature Japanese right-hander Masohiro Tanaka, who was making his debut at Yankee Stadium.
However, Schoop put a damper on that with two outs in the second inning.
With Matt Wieters on first and Flaherty at second, Schoop launched a 1-0 pitch high and deep down the left-field line for his first home run of the season and only the second of his career. That cast a huge hush over the crowd.
But the Yankees managed to recover against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez when Carlos Beltran led off the second inning with a his first home run as a Yankee and the 359th of his career, which pushed him past Yogi Berra on the all-time list.
Two batters later, Kelly Johnson hit his second home run in as many nights to make it 3-2.
Beltran also sparked the rally that tied the game in the fourth when he led off with a double, advanced to third on a flyout and scored on Soriano’s RBI groundout.
Although Tanaka gave up the three-run homer he ended up giving up seven hits and one walk but he frustrated the power-laden Orioles by striking out 10 batters, most of them on his signature split-finger fastball.
After striking out eight batters in Toronto in his first start, Tanaka became only the second pitcher in Yankee history to strike out at least eight batters in his first two games since Allen Russell did it in 1915.
With the defeat the Yankees fell under the .500 mark at 4-5. The Orioles have the same record.
- Tanaka, 25, may still be learning that No. 9 hitters in the major leagues are tougher than those in Japan but he still pitched a quality game. He threw 71 of his 101 pitches for strikes. Tanaka also struck out Young, Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz twice apiece and Markakis, Davis, Wieters and Schoop once.
- Beltran had himself a very nice breakout game in which he was 3-for-3 with a homer, a double, a single, two runs scored and and an RBI. With Brett Gardner on third and two outs in the eighth inning, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had Matusz walk Beltran intentionally in order to pitch to Brian McCann. McCann flied out to end the threat.
- Johnson was 2-for-4 with a homer, a single, a run scored and an RBI. He has now raised his early-season average to .280. The Yankees need Johnson to provide power in the absence of first baseman Mark Teixeira and Johnson is proving that he can do just that.
- McCann’s struggles at the plate continue though he did do better than the his 0-4 indicated. He had one hit taken away by the severe shift the Orioles employed with third baseman Schoop fielding his ground ball in shallow right and throwing him out. His flyout to center in the eighth just missed the warning track and was well struck. Nonetheless, McCann is hitting just .152 and his struggles are hurting the offense.
- After coming into the game as the Yankees’ hottest hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury was 0-for-4 in the game. In his defense, however, he lined out hard to left- and right-field in two of his at-bats. Ellsbury is still hitting a robust .364 and the Yankees seem to like him in the No. 3 spot with Teixeira out of the lineup.
- Kelley gave up two runs on four hits in a very ugly ninth inning but he was not hammered all over the yard. The Orioles benefitted from three consecutive singles by Schoop, Markakis and Young that sounded like they were hit with a wet newspaper. Two out them came on two-strike pitches and the 1-0 pitch Markakis hit was ankle high. The point is that you can blame the loss on Kelley but he did not pitch poorly. The Orioles were more lucky than good.
The Yankees elected to option catcher Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday and they recalled right-hander Shane Greene from the same club. Greene, 25, was the Yankees’ Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2013 after he was 12-10 with a 3.38 ERA. Though Greene is starting pitcher he will pitch out of the bullpen for the Yankees. The move gives the Yankees 13 pitchers and 12 position players. . . . Jones, the Orioles’ loud-mouth outfielder got touchy when reporters asked him about having to face Tanaka. “Why don’t you ask Tanaka about me?,” Jones bellowed. “I’m the one who’s been over here in the major leagues for a while. Congratulations, he did it over there. Don’t make it like he’s the dirtiest guy in the world. He was 24-0-in Japan . . . At the end of the day, we’ve got to judge it off major-league hitters, not the Japanese hitters. We’re a little bit better over here as hitters.” Tanaka struck out Jones the first two times he faced him.
The Yankees open a four-game home weekend series against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (0-1, 1.50) will make his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes. After missing two full seasons, Pineda yielded one run on five hits with no walks while he fanned five in six innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
The Red Sox will start right-hander Clay Buchholz (0-0, 12.46 ERA), who was hammered for six runs on 13 hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday. He has not fared well against the Yankees. He enters the game with an ERA of 5.32 against them.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, TIGERS 2
TAMPA – On a chilly and windy Friday evening the New York Yankees received a huge boost to their starting rotation but their eventual victory came from an ill-timed flinch by a Tigers relief pitcher.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Zelous Wheeler scored from third on a balk committed by Luis Marte as new York defeated Detroit in an exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Wheeler slapped a sharp single to left and Francisco Cervelli advanced him to third on a single to center.
Jim Miller (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory. Marte (0-1) took a very embarrassing loss.
But the star of the evening was 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, who threw two dominant scoreless innings in relief and struck out four of the seven batters he faced after not pitching in a major-league game in two years.
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Derek Jeter stroked a two-out single off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez. Carlos Beltran followed with a titanic blast to right that nearly cleared the right-field bleachers.
The Yankees held that lead until Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton entered the game in the seventh inning.
With one out, Alex Avila singled and Austin Jackson laced a triple to the wall in right-center. Steve Lombardozzi then scored Jackson with the tying run on a looping single into right.
The Yankees boosted their Grapefruit League record to 6-4. The Tigers fell to 5-4.
- It was clear from the beginning of spring training that if Pineda was healthy he WOULD be the team’s No. 5 starter. Judging by his first effort after recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum Pineda has the job. Pineda entered the game in the fifth inning and gave up one hit, walked none and threw an amazing 22 of his 27 pithes for strikes. Among the batters he fanned were Jackson, Rajai Davis and Miguel Cabrera. If Pineda pitches anything near what he did in 20011 when he was an American League All-Star with the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees’ American League East rivals will be cringing.
- Hiroki Kuroda started for the Yankees and pitched a very workmanlike 2 1/3 innings. He yielded a hit and a walk while he fanned five in a 51-pitch outing. The Yankees’ top four starters (Kuroda, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova) have surrendered just three earned runs in their first 16 innings of the spring for a tidy 1.13 ERA.
- Beltran, who was the designated hitter for the Yankees on Friday, has only two hits in 13 at-bats this spring. However, both of those hits have been home runs. In the first 2 2/3 innings Sanchez had held the Yankees to two hits and he had not walked a batter while he struck out four.
- The biggest loss the Yankees suffered during the winter really was not Robinson Cano. It was left-hander Boone Logan, who signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies after four consistent seasons with the Yankees. Thornton, 37, is Logan’s replacement and he was disappointing in what his first extended outing this spring. After retiring Victor Martinez in the seventh, Thornton was tagged for four consecutive hits, coughing up the 2-0 lead before getting the last two outs with runners on second and third.
- Alfonso Soriano looked a bit better on Friday but is still 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in his first two games. It looks as if the flu that sidelined him for the first two weeks of the spring has set him way behind the other hitters. But he still has plenty of time tune up for the regular season.
Carmen Berra, the wife of Yankee legend Yogi Berra, died on Friday from complications from a stroke that she suffered earlier this year. She was 85. A moment of silence was observed in honor prior to the game.
The Yankees travel to face a Houston Astros split squad on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.
Nova will get the start for the Yankees. Mark Teixeira is scheduled to start his second game of the spring while Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson and Cervelli will join him on the trip.
The Astros will counter with 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts with the Astros in 2013.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network.
It appears the first plank to rebuilding the New York Yankees into a playoff contender has been hammered in place.
It took an offer of five years and $85 million to lure Georgia native Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves to the Big Apple and it will be money very well spent.
McCann, 29, hit .256 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in 102 games with the Braves last season. In his nine-year career, McCann has hit 176 homers and driven in 661 runs while hitting .277. That is far better that what the Yankees had on hand last season.
As power-hitting switch-hitter Jorge Posada eased into retirement the Yankees turned to Russell Martin in 2011 to provide some power and defense behind the plate. For two seasons, Martin provided both those things but he chose to accept a more lucrative contract offer with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter.
Martin, 30, hit .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 127 games with the much-improved Bucs in 2013. He was sorely missed in the Bronx, however.
After auditioning holdover backups Francisco Cervelli, 27, and Chris Stewart, 31, in spring training the Yankees selected Cervelli as their starting catcher to begin the season. But much like almost every other player on the roster, Cervelli fell early in the season to a broken finger on his right hand.
The Yankees did not know at the time that Cervelli’s last game would be on April 26.
First there there was an extended process after surgery which delayed his rehab. Then Cervelli ended up suffering an injury to his right elbow.
Later, part of the Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis resulted in Cervelli accepting a 50-game suspension without pay for his admission into using performance enhancing drugs. So Cervelli’s season consisted of 17 games in which he hit .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
Cervelli’s injury forced the Yankees to use a career backup in Stewart as their starting catcher for the remainder of the season. Although Stewart was hitting a robust .284 as late as June 11, his season quickly nose-dived from there and ended up hitting an anemic .211 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 109 games.
Rookie Austin Romine, 25, was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 27 to back up Stewart and he did not fare much batter at the plate. Romine hit .207 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 60 games.
The Yankees had admitted that they were allowing Martin to go in order to usher in a new philosophy of “defense first” behind home plate. Though Cervelli, Stewart and Romine were not accomplished hitters each of them could be counted on to call a good game, block pitches in the dirt and control the other teams’ running game.
Stewart was exceptional. He threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers and committed only two errors.
However, on a team that started the season with some 190 home runs short on power and who lost most of the remaining power they had on their roster to injury, Stewart Cervelli and Romine stuck out like sore thumbs because of their lack of power and production.
On a franchise that fielded the likes of legends such as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Posada, it seems only fitting the Yankees would quickly switch gears from their “defense first” approach and find a catcher who can put the ball into the seats.
McCann certainly can do that.
The fact that he is a left-handed hitter makes him very attractive to the Yankees because of the short porch in right-field.
McCann is a seven-time All-Star, was the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 2010 and was a five-time Silver Slugger award winner.
In 2006, McCann posted his best season as a pro. He hit .333 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs. He has averaged 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his eight full major-league seasons.
Though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove, McCann is not exactly a liability on a defense either. He has thrown out 200 of 842 base-runners in his career, which works out to a respectable 23.8 percent. He only committed one error in 92 games behind the plate last season.
The Yankees see McCann as a starting catcher but he also could remain in the lineup as designated hitter against right-handed pitching. That is one of the reasons McCann was looking to move to the American League. With the Braves he had only could pinch-hit in games he did not start.
The Yankees have already indicated that they intend to offer Cervelli a contract for 2014 and Romine certainly factors into the equation as a backup. But McCann’s signing likely ended Stewart’s days in pinstripes. He probably will not be tendered a contract offer and thus will become a free agent.
The Yankees do have to be encouraged with the development of J.R. Murphy, 22.
Murphy received a late call-up and, despite the fact he hit .154 in 16 games, he made great strides in the minors, hitting .248 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Murphy provides the Yankees with some depth behind the injury-prone Cervelli and Romine, who has had a history of lower-back issues.
The big prize in the Yankees minor-league remains 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, who hit a combined .253 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs at stops at High-A Tampa and Trenton.
Sanchez, much like his predecessor Jesus Montero, has a bat that looks like it will make him a potential star at the major-league level. The big concern with the Yankees, as it was with Montero, is Sanchez’s defense.
Though Sanchez has made great strides in his four minor-league seasons behind the plate, he has committed 43 errors, including 16 and 11 the past two seasons. His arm is exceptional, though. He has nailed 33.4 % of would-be base-stealers.
With McCann’s five-year deal with a vesting option for a sixth season that makes the deal potentially worth $100 million, Sanchez might have a tough time shoving aside the veteran down the road. But it does not look like Sanchez will get that chance until 2015 anyway.
The McCann signing does prove that the Yankees have reached a point where they realized getting by on “cheap” free agents and waiver-wire pickups were not going to cut it if the team expects to be competitive in 2014 and beyond.
While the Yankees have McCann on board they are also looking to keep second baseman Robinson Cano as a Yankee for the remainder of his career, if he and his agent Jay-Z realize that he is not going to get the 10 years and $310 million he is seeking.
The team is also interested in re-signing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and making a huge posting bid for fellow Japanese right-hander Mashiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and is being compared to Texas Rangers star right-hander Yu Darvish.
The Yankees are also contacting outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo as well as hoping to convince Curtis Granderson to remain with the team.
The Yankees are showing signs that they are going to be aggressive in the free-agent market as they were the winter before the 2009 season when they signed left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to lucrative free-agent contracts.
Coincidentally, that was the last season the Yankees won a world championship.
General manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner seem to be on the same page this offseason and it is looking like that their statement that the $189 million payroll mark was more of a target that is not set in stone may mean Yankee fans might have a team they rally around in 2014 instead of the sad group they fielded in 2013.
There seems to be hope in the Bronx and it all starts with Brain McCann.
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.
“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
– Pythagoras, Greek philosopher
ALDS GAME 3: KEY MOMENT
In the pivotal game of the Yankees-Orioles division series, manager Joe Girardi made one the boldest and ballsiest calls in major-league postseason history.
With his big power-hitter Alex Rodriguez 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series, Girardi elected to sit the most dangerous home run hitter of this generation and replace him with a 40-year-old left-handed hitter to face the American League’s best closer this season in right-hander Jim Johnson.
The Yankees were down 2-1 and they were two outs away from being left down in the playoff series 2-1 to the upstart Orioles.
But Girardi was resolute in his decision. He told Rodriguez to sit and Ibanez to grab a bat.
Think of the blowback if Ibanez had failed. The New York scribes would have had a foot race to the clubhouse for reaction from A-Rod. Headlines would have blared “Joe Loses Cool By Subbing Raul” or “Joe Panics; Yanks Fall.”
That, of course, is the nature of the New York media. They are with you until you fail and then you are left out to dry. Billy Martin, Yogi Berra Dick Howser were folded spindled and mutilated by the headline hungry denizens in the Bronx Zoo.
But after Johnson had retired Ichiro Suzuki, the crowd on the one hand stunned and, on the other hand, hopeful with fingers and toes crossed routed on Ibnez as he lumbered to the plate.
“Raul had to come through,” Girardi said. “Raul had some kind of day for us today, and you have to make decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. But I just had a gut feeling.”
Ibanez had his share of travails this season, too.
In spring training, Ibanez hit in the first three weeks of spring training as if he just picked up a bat at age 40 and was giving the major leagues a try. It was if he could not hit a ball off a tee he was so bad. But Girardi told the press that Ibanez was a professional hitter his entire career and that he had faith he would turn it around soon.
Sure enough, Ibanez starting roping line drives all over the place at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, and the wolves (the writers) were forced to stop baying at the moon.
Ibanez then became an integral part of the Yankees success this season. Forced into playing more outfield than he had expected in the absence of starting left-fielder Brett Gardner, Ibanez hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and batted .240 in 340 at-bats this season for the Yankees.
Of course, Ibanez also fell into a severe slump in late August that bled into September. Once again, Girardi kept faith with his veteran outfielder/designated hitter. And again Ibanez rewarded the skipper.
Beginning with a Sept. 22 game against Oakland in which Ibanez entered the game as pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and he ended up hitting two game-tying homers, he went on a full-fledged tear in the final two weeks of the season. Ibanez went 15-for-37 (.405) with five home runs and nine RBIs down the stretch.
He also punctuated his hot streak with a game-tying two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth and a game-winning RBI single in the 12th in a must-win 4-3 victory the Red Sox on Oct. 2.
But those heroics on Sept. 22 and Oct. 2 were but a dress rehearsal for what he was being asked to do on Wednesday. It is one thing to pinch-hit for Casey McGehee (as he did on Sept. 22) or Eduardo Nunez (as he did on Oct. 2). It is quite another to pinch-hit for A-Rod.
That is pressure.
But Ibanez was able to cast it aside enough to concentrate on what he wanted to do: Get a Johnson sinker up enough so that he could launch it into the seats. Johnson provided it on the very first pitch and Ibanez took care of it.
The subdued but hopeful crowd of 50,497 seemed to rise as one while the baseball traveled on a low, line-drive trajectory towards the straightaway right-field. It rose well over the head of Oriole defensive replacement Endy Chavez and some five rows into the bleachers.
On the top step of the dugout cheering loudly was A-Rod.
“Maybe 10 years ago, I’d react a much different way. But I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
That home run, harkening Yankee fans back to the days of Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson and Aaron Boone, allowed the Yankees to stave off what would have been a saddening blow to their playoff hopes. But Ibanez wasn’t having it.
The game remained tied until Ibanez’s next at-bat leading off the bottom of the 12th. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had opted to leave in left-hander Brian Matusz to face him.
Again, Ibanez was looking for a pitch up to drive. Matusz threw a chest high fastball but it was in the middle of the plate. Ibanez was ready and the sound so familiar to the fans rang out all over Yankee Stadium.
Ibanez, knew, Matusz knew and the fans there and those watching at home knew where it was going.
In one mere stretch of just two swings in two at-bats, Ibanez – should the Yankees advance to their 28th world championship – will be remembered in Yankee lore for what he did this evening.
While they are at it, they should also remember the guts it took for Girardi to push the correct button. Managers seem to get little of the credit and most of the blame in baseball.
This is not one of those instances. Girardi played his roster like a maestro and the music hit a real high note in the Bronx.