Pirates Still Finding Ways to Raise the Jolly Roger

Coming on the heels of an 87 loss season, and two straight years of a slight decline in attendance, Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting gave the team’s Executive VP/GM Neal Huntington the go-ahead to slash payroll and re-stock the farm system. Within a two-day span in mid January, the Pirates jettisoned starting pitcher Gerrit Cole and outfielder Andrew McCutchen, moves so unpopular with the fanbase that thousands of Pirates fans signed a petition urging owner Bob Nutting to sell the team. Veteran utility-man Josh Harrison was so upset with the moves that he issued a statement to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wishing to be traded if the Pirates weren’t intent on winning.

The Pirates began the 2018 season with Harrison and a nice mix of everyday players that includes veterans Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Francisco Cervelli and Corey Dickerson (who is hitting .303 , but or some reason the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t want) to go along with an exciting young nucleus of Austin Meadows, Josh Bell and José Osuna. Meadows, a first round pick in 2013, logged 15 hits in his first nine major-league games and is currently hitting to the tune of .326/.351/.598.

On the mound, Pittsburgh has a young core at the front of their starting rotation, with Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams. Seasoned vet Ivan Nova is the elder statesman on the staff at age 31. The results have been up and down with these youngsters, as happens with them, but the raw talent is there. The Pirates bullpen is anchored by flame-throwing lefty closer Felipe Vazquez (formerly Felipe Rivero), who has 14 saves as of this writing.

Collectively, this Pirates squad started the season off hot, winning eight of their first 10 games, easing some of the angst within the team’s fanbase as well as in the clubhouse. At April’s end, the Bucs’ record stood at 17-12. Their play has since leveled off, but they are only six games out of 1st place almost halfway through the season in a very competitive National League Central Division. Longtime manager Clint Hurdle and his staff have long had a history of getting more out of less, they are good at what they do.

I sympathize with small market teams, being a fan of Buffalo sports teams. Unfair or not, it’s a sobering reality when teams are dismantled due to high salaries. But I encourage Pittsburgh fans (and any baseball fans) to get to beautiful PNC Park to watch what should be a fun and exciting second half of 2018.

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Stop Worrying, Gary Will Be Fine…..

 

Gary Sanchez returned to the Yankees lineup last night in their 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Manager Aaron Boone gave the 25 year old catcher had a three day break designed to rest his nicked-up body and maybe to reset his mind a bit. Sanchez is batting .188 this season and is mired in a 2-31 slump since June began. In his All-Star season in 2017, Gary slugged 33 home runs, most of them every bit as majestic as teammate Aaron Judge’s blasts. However, Sanchez has not homered in almost a month. His last ones came in a May 19 game against Kansas City, in which he had four hits and a pair of homers in an 8-3 Yankees win.

We’re about a month away from the All Star Break, but it’s still too early to panic and think Gary is past “the point of no return”. Yes his slash-line is ugly (.188/.295/.426), but it’s also a time to point out that Sanchez got red-hot in the second halves of the past two seasons, especially in the months of August. In 2016, he burst on the scene with an eleven homer month that everyone in the baseball world noticed.

 

 

It didn’t take long for Yankees Twitter to “Release the Kraken”, with his eye-popping .389/.458/.832 slash-line for August 2016. Last season, Sanchez had another hot August with a dozen homers to go with a .287 average. He followed that up with a .303 September average.

It’s no secret Sanchez has struggled with some facets of his defense behind the plate, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t add to it. That said, I want to voice praise over many things Gary does well. He is one of the best at framing pitches in Major League Baseball. Good framing can get his pitchers more called strikes, even if they are borderline. We all know Gary has a bazooka and throws out a ton of would-be base-stealers. Fans and broadcast crews lamented the amount of mound visits he took in 2017, which helped MLB implement a new rule limiting mound-visits as part of Commissioner Manfred’s plan to improve pace-of-play. In my opinion, all those mound visits tells me Sanchez cares deeply about making sure he and his pitchers stay on the same page.

Does Gary have more work to do to become a well-rounded catcher? Absolutely. But we also have to remember he’s still only 25 years of age, and he still hasn’t reached his prime. The weather will continue to heat up, and I will bet on Gary Sanchez heating up along with it.

A Case for Keeping Domingo Germán in Yankees Rotation

Rookie staring pitcher Domingo Germán of the New York Yankees stepped into the team’s starting rotation after Jordan Montgomery went down with a flexor-tendon strain in his left elbow that eventually needed Tommy John surgery. The 25 year-old rail-thin righty has done a serviceable job over his six starts in the last month.

Germán has an arsenal of four pitches he uses to keep opponents off balance, a live fastball that sits 95-96 and can touch 97 or 98, a fastball he can put sink on to induce grounders. Germán has a good change-up at 88-91 mph and an excellent late-breaking curve ball that he can make hitters simply look foolish with (82-84 mph). His stuff reminds of a young Pedro Martinez circa 1992 when he was pitching alongside his brother Ramón with the Dodgers (although Germán physically resembles Ramón, who is taller).

Granted, we are only looking at a small sample size, but this young righty seems to have a lot of poise on the mound and works well with catcher Gary Sanchez. One of the biggest problems Germán seems to have is allowing early runs. He has let in 12 total runs in the first and second innings in his six starts (12 innings), and also had a couple big innings in the 4th inning in a couple of other starts. I guess what I’m saying here is Germán seems to make needed adjustments and gets better as the game goes on. That’s pretty remarkable for someone with his limited MLB experience. He’s kept his team in the game and given length despite the early hiccups.

While his overall stats don’t look very good (0-4, 5.32 ERA, 1.26 WHIP), they are somewhat deceiving. The Yankees are 3-3 in his starts, with each of the victories coming as a result of late inning rallies.

With Masahiro Tanaka now on the DL with two strained hamstrings, and the aforementioned Montgomery on the shelf long-term, Germán will stay in the rotation. He seems to be making continued improvements, makes in-game adjustments and seems better at limiting big-innings. I still believe Brian Cashman will get the Yankees a starter via trade, but Domingo Germán can hold down the fort in the meantime.

 

Assessing the Market for Manny

The upcoming free-agent class of 2019 has been one of the most highly anticipated classes in a number of years, with the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Dallas Keuchel, among others. As MLB teams start to reveal themselves for who they are, whether GM’s deem themselves buyers or sellers, there is always speculation among the media and fans as to who could be traded to other teams who want to bolster their chances of reaching the playoffs.

Today, we’ll take a look at Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles. As of this writing, the Orioles are firmly embedded in the AL East basement, have lost eight of their last 10 games, and look ready to be dismantled and fired into the sun. The O’s are an aging team, and their farm system is almost bereft of prospects who legitimately have a chance of reaching the bigs. It would only make sense to trade Machado and start to re-stock their farm system.

Let’s take a look at a few teams who could could make a deal for him:

— The Los Angeles Dodgers: With regular shortstop Corey Seager out for the rest of 2018 with TJ surgery, the Dodgers are in a good position to make a trade with Baltimore for two or three months of Manny. I can’t see LA parting with the likes of Walker Buehler or Alex Verdugo for a “hired gun” of sorts, but Baltimore could easily have their pick of several B or C-rated prospects to help replenish their farm system.

— The Arizona Diamondbacks: The 1st place Dbacks are a very talented team with an excellent second year manager in Torey Luvullo. But they could use a strong bat at short because Nick Ahmed, slogging along with a .211 avg/.261 OBP just isn’t getting it done. I think Baltimore could get the best haul in this deal because Arizona would have reason to keep Manny for the long-term. There are several top prospects in Arizona’s system who the Orioles could make good use of, with the likes of Jon Duplantier, Pavin Smith, Jasrado Chisholm and Taylor Widener. Lastly, acquiring Machado would send a message to Dbacks players, telling them management believes in this team to get to the promised land.

 

— The Washington Nationals: Wait……what? No, I haven’t been drinking. This might be more of a hired gun situation like the Dodgers, but adding Manny for the stretch run could make for a lethal lineup along side Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and rookie Juan Soto. The idea here is to play Machado at short, shift regular shortstop Trea Turner to 2nd base (he does have experience there) and move Howie Kendrick to 1st base, replacing aging Ryan Zimmerman, who isn’t batting his weight (.217/.280/.409). With the lineup the Nats would have, coupled with their pitching, you have the class team of the National League.

The Nationals have a good number of prospects who could be sent to the O’s in return. OF Victor Robles, SS Carter Kieboom and RHP Erick Fedde come to mind.

— The New York Yankees:  There is no shortage of folks on my Twitter timeline who think the Yankees should acquire Manny, either now or over the winter when he will be a free-agent. I think that would be foolish, as the Yankees already have their infield set for the next generation (barring injury) with Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres and Greg Bird. But yeah, for some folks enough is never enough.

 

I’ll assess more upcoming free-agents in future articles. 😎

Yankees Can Use Another Starter, But Who?

UPDATE (6-5-2018):  It was announced this afternoon that Jordan Montgomery will undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2018 season and probably the majority of 2019 as well.

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It’s almost Memorial Day, and we are almost 50 games into the regular season. The New York Yankees are one game behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East division. The next closest team (Tampa Bay Rays) is nine games back, and the Rays just traded Alex Colome and Denard Span to Seattle for minor league pitchers. It appears the AL East will likely become a two-horse race between Boston and New York.

Both the Red Sox and the Yankees are displaying a potent lineup that can overpower opponents. A stark difference between these two clubs is starting pitching. Chris Sale and David Price are perennial Cy Young Award candidates, and Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award in 2016. All three can easily get deep into games every time out, and ease the strain Boston’s bullpen.

The Yankees have Luis Severino whom they can count on to give them innings and get deep into the game, but he’s the only one who has pitched consistently well. Masahiro Tanaka can be lights out when he is on his game, but he can also easily get pounded and is extremely home run prone. CC Sabathia has pitched well at times and doesn’t give up much hard contact, but he is averaging five innings per start, has allowed 15 runs in his last three starts and will be 38 years old soon. Sonny Gray has been very inconsistent with location, walking too many hitters and is also averaging five innings per start. Young Domingo German dazzled in his May 6 start against the Cleveland Indians, allowing no hits over six innings before leaving because he was on a pitch-count. Since then, he has allowed 12 runs in his following two starts, covering 8.2 innings. That’s not going to work when your rotation already isn’t getting deep into games.

With Jordan Montgomery out for at least another month or two, and with the lack of consistency in the current rotation, it would be interesting to see if Brian Cashman might swing a trade to acquire another proven starter to help shore things up. There are several starters who will be (or potentially could be) free-agents after 2018. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

 

Gio Gonzalez (WAS) – The 32 year old southpaw is set to be a free-agent after 2018. He has pitched well this season in Washington (5-2, 2.38 ERA, 1.32 WHIP), but has had bouts of inconsistency with location. Gonzalez walks an average of 4.1/9 IP and routinely reaches 100 pitches after five innings. That wouldn’t fit well with a team who desperately needs a starter who can give length. Plus the Nationals are a contending team who likely wouldn’t look into making a trade unless their season went off the rails.

Fit for Yankees? Unlikely.

 

Lance Lynn (MIN) – The 30 year old righty has a reputation as an consistent innings-eater from his days with the Cardinals, but he’s been anything but in Minnesota. He signed a one year/12 million dollar deal late in spring training, and didn’t have much time to get in shape. To date, Lynn’s numbers are terrible (2-4, 6.34ERA, 1.86 WHIP) and is walking over 6 batters per nine innings.

Fit for Yankees? Not likely.

 

Patrick Corbin (AZ) – The 28 year old Corbin, a Syracuse native, grew up a Yankees fan. He’s pitched to the tune of a 4-1, 2.60 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and is averaging 6.2 innings per start. His walk rates are down and strike-out rates are up from last season, and he’s allowing a paltry 5.6 hits/9 innings. I think he’s probably the best choice of all the soon to be free agents, and Yankees GM Brian Cashman has made several good deals with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the past.

Fit for Yankees? TRADE FOR HIM ALREADY!

 

Brandon McCarthy (ATL) – Back in July 2014, Cashman swung a trade with Arizona to acquire McCarthy from the Dbacks for Vidal Nuno. It ended up being a steal, as McCarthy pitched very well in his three months in the Bronx, helping them stay in the playoff hunt until the last part of the season. The tall righty will be 35 in July, but still appears to have plenty in the tank. On the surface, McCarthy’s numbers aren’t great (5-2, 4.67 ERA, 1.57 WHIP), but two very ugly back to back starts in early May have skewed the numbers. I would think the Braves would gladly take a lower-level prospect or two for McCarthy, especially if they start to drop in the standings.

Fit for Yankees? Yes, as long as he stays healthy (which could be problematic).

 

Matt Harvey (CIN) – On May 8th, the 29 year old Dark Knight was swept out of Queens when the Mets traded Harvey to the Cincinnati Reds, ending his tumultuous stint with the Metropolitans. He hadn’t been the same since the end of 2015 due to injuries and his well documented problems with the team and it’s management didn’t help his cause. Since the trade, Harvey is 1-0, 2.57/0.93 WHIP, and his fastball velocity has rebounded, touching 97 mph in his May 22nd start against the Pirates. His 2018 overall stats still look ugly, but maybe this trade was the wake-up call he needed. If Harvey pitches well for the next two months, the Reds could easily flip him to a contending team looking to shore up it’s pitching. You know, like the Yankees.

Fit for Yankees? I don’t see it happening, given what’s happened over the last couple years in nearby Flushing, but stranger things have happened.

 

Clayton Kershaw (LAD) – Kershaw has an opt-out in his contract that could enable him to become a free-agent after the season, which should have some teams looking for Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi’s phone number. Currently on the DL with biceps tendonitis, Kershaw has missed time with various injuries in four of the last five seasons. When healthy, he’s pitched as well as ever, and at 30 years of age, is still in his prime. Kershaw’s stat-line (1-4, 2.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) shows how useless win-loss records are, and he’s still racking up strikeouts at close to his normal rate (9.8/9 innings). It makes for fun speculation, but I don’t see Kershaw leaving LA, whether he becomes a FA after this year or next.

Fit for Yankees? OF COURSE, but I don’t see it happening.

 

Bartolo Colon (TEX) – He just turned 45 yesterday, but Colon is still painting like Picasso! Granted, he didn’t look all that great against the Yankees on May 21, but for all things considered, he’s eaten innings pretty effectively. Colon (2-2, 3.51, 0.92 WHIP) would come cheaply if the Texas Rangers found a suitor for him.

Fit for Yankees? Possible, but not probable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a Long Season, Yankees Fans

After yesterday’s 14-1 shellacking that the Boston Red Sox laid on the New York Yankees, I saw a lot of folks on Twitter in despair over the team’s 5-6 start.

I agree with half of Mr. Dunham’s tweet. The season is a marathon, not a sprint. There are 26.2 miles in a marathon. If you divide 162 by 26.2, you get 6.18. 6.18 games are the equivalent to a mile of the baseball season. Tonight’s Yankees game is the 12th game of the season, and with that we are just a hair under two miles of the 26.2 mile “marathon” of the 2018 season.

In 2009, the Yankees won the World Series, but that team also started the season 15-17 before they jelled and started winning regularly. In the year 2000, the Yankees won it all, but they were 38-36 at the end of June. The 1996 team started slowly, winning six of their first 13 games in Joe Torre‘s first season as Yankees skipper.

Don’t despair, Yankees Universe — this team will be fine. The weather will warm up (I hope!) and so will this team. Then we will see the balls of the bats of Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and yes, Giancarlo Stanton carrying deep over the walls at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees’ 3rd Base “Problem”

We’re barely two weeks into Spring Training, and the New York Yankees are creating a buzz in the baseball world. While the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge take on the majority of discussion about the Bronx Bombers, Miguel Andujar‘s bat is making folks take notice of the young 3rd baseman.

This afternoon, the Yankees took on the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla. On the first pitch of his 1st at-bat of the afternoon, Andujar lifted a 91 mph two-seam fastball from Nick Pivetta over the fence in left-center field.

 

But Andujar wasn’t done there. In his next at bat against Pedro Beato, he cranked another home-run over the fence in left, not all that far from where his first blast landed. Andujar now has four HR’s on the spring, which is amazing since it’s only the 1st day of March.

It remains to be seen whether the Yankees will go with Andujar as the Opening Day 3rd baseman or if they will go with newly acquired Brandon Drury. If Andujar keeps raking, he will make this an easy “problem” to solve for Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman.

Will the Dominos Start to Fall?

This MLB offseason has been one of the slowest I can ever remember, which is painstaking for big baseball fans. If it weren’t so cold, you would be able to hear the crickets chirping.

However, it looks like the dominos may start to fall. Last week, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain to a 5 year, 80 million dollar deal and also traded for Christian Yelich in a deal with the Miami Marlins. It appears the Chicago Cubs are the favorites to sign free agent starter Yu Darvish some time this week.

In past years, once the bigger free agents start to find teams to play with, it triggers a frenzy of signings and rosters start to shape up for the upcoming season. Still available are big names such as:

Jake Arrieta

Eric Hosmer

Mike Moustakas

J.D. Martinez

Todd Frazier

And that is just a sampling of players who still don’t have a team with the beginning of Spring Training less than three weeks away. I have a feeling things will finally start to give. Players and teams both will likely be more willing to compromise as time winds down.

Yankees’ Romine is Worth His Weight in Gold

Late this afternoon, baseball journalist Jon Heyman sent a tweet out that reported the New York Yankees and back-up catcher Austin Romine reached an agreement for a one year contract for the 2018 season, bypassing arbitration.

As one might predict, Twitter’s peanut-gallery came to life fairly quick with the usual barbs about Romine not hitting well and being an automatic out and other “interesting takes”.

I like the move. As far as I’m concerned he’s worth every penny of that 1.1 million salary, and I will list the ways.

– Romine is familiar with every pitcher on the Yankees staff and vice-versa. It’s obviously nice to have a catcher who can hit the way Gary Sanchez does, but in my opinion it’s imperative for catchers to put defense and working with pitchers first, gaining a pitcher’s trust and confidence. It can have a greater effect to the entire team, and Romine has always done this and done it well.

– The aforementioned Sanchez will benefit from Romine’s presence and mentoring. I think it’s safe to assume the 29 year old Romine has been and will continue to tutor the younger Sanchez in effort to make him better at his craft behind the plate.

– Work ethic. To this writer, it seems like Romine has been around forever. He first made his MLB debut back in 2011, and had to overcome numerous injuries, shuttling back and forth to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre when healthy. Romine has outlasted follow backups Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy on the team and keeps coming back for more. After a season where Gary Sanchez’s worth ethic has been questioned, keeping Romine around at an inexpensive price was a wise choice.

 

Big League Umpshows Need to Stop

Umpires in Major League Baseball have a thankless job, as do umpires in the minor leagues, college, little league and so forth. Usually the only time you hear of them are when things go awry for one or both teams when calls are missed.

Last night was no different. In an interleague contest between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, home plate umpire Chris Segal called time just as Cards righty John Brebbia began his delivery. The ball sailed wildly because he attempted to stop his pitch, but just released the ball anyway. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina immediately got up out of his crouch and began loudly voicing his displeasure with umpire Segal, as neither Molina nor Red Sox batter Eduardo Nunez called for time. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny quickly intervened to save Molina an early shower, pushing him back away from Segal. Matheny began arguing with Segal, and soon was boisterously thrown from the game by the young umpire. The Cardinals lost the game a few minutes later when Mookie Betts hit a two-run double, giving the Red Sox a walk-off win.

Back to Segal, who looks barely old enough to shave. It was bad enough that he called time when John Brebbia began his delivery, which could potentially cause an injury. More upsetting, Segal’s explanation for calling time was because “I needed a break”.

Really? Sheesh, that’s brutal.

In his postgame interview, Matheny said he told him, “Nobody is here to watch you.”

This isn’t a good look for MLB umpires. From the naked eye, it seems Segal is defiant and possibly trying to further bait Matheny and Molina.

In the past few weeks, umpires have been making headlines around Major League Baseball, and not for the right reasons. On July 26, Gerry Davis, normally a well-respected umpire, threw future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers out of their game that night because he moved the on-deck circle.

Umpire Davis told Beltre to move over to the on-deck circle because he didn’t like where he was standing. Beltre’s reason for being where he was, was to be in a safer spot to avoid being hit with a foul ball or a fragment of a broken bat. Needless to say, Beltre’s ejection didn’t go over well in the baseball world.

The next afternoon, July 27, the Blue Jays faced up against the Oakland A’s in Toronto. Home plate umpire Will Little tossed out manager John Gibbons for complaining about his inconsistent strike-zone in the top of the 5th inning. Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman walked the next batter. After he got the ball back, he stepped off the rubber, and as he was rubbing up the ball he glanced at umpire Little, quickly ejected Stroman — apparently for looking at him. Jays catcher Russell Martin no sooner turned around to protest this and was also booted. Both Stroman and Martin were incredulous and had to be restrained before leaving for the clubhouse.

Did you think I wasn’t going to mention Angel Hernandez? Don’t be silly. Three days ago, Detroit Tigers 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler was batting against Martin Perez of the Rangers, when Hernandez ejected him in the middle of an at-bat — because he looked back at him after the second pitch.

Kinsler thought the first pitch of the at-bat, a very low pitch called a strike by Hernandez was a poor call (It was). Kinsler didn’t like the call but certainly didn’t make a scene. After being thrown out, Kinsler had his say, as did Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.

After the game, Kinsler was quoted by the Detroit Free Press as saying of Hernandez: “It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does.”

Stinging comments, but he’s right. If you look, there is data supporting Hernandez’s poor performance over more than 25 years of umpiring at the major league level.

Major League Baseball really needs to reign in some of these guys and explain to them that fans don’t pay to watch umpires call games. No one is there to see them. I agree with what Ian Kinsler said, that games are being unnecessarily being altered.

I have always thought that the best umpires are ones fans never hear of. MLB would be better off if they weed out the “big names” and replace them with guys we don’t know of.

Related: Not a Good Night for MLB Umpires