Joe Kelly Fight Club V2.0

Last night, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros began a two-game series in their first meeting since the Astros sign-stealing scandal news broke in a story by The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich.

The game was relatively uneventful until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Joe Kelly entered the game for the Dodgers. Let’s reacquaint ourselves with Mr. Kelly.

 

In April 2018, Kelly threw at then-Yankees hitter Tyler Austin in retaliation for a hard slide into Brock Holt (now of the Brewers). All hell broke loose and Red Sox Nation created “Joe Kelly Fight Club”, complete with t-shirts and all.

Back to last night, there were signs in that sixth inning that something was going to go down. Kelly walked a couple hitters, and was missing inside a lot. He walked Alex Bregman, with several pitches inside before he buzzed ball four behind his head. He missed inside to Yuli Gurriel in the next at bat before walking him on four pitches. Kelly went to 2-0 on Carlos Correa, missing with a head-high off-speed pitch before striking him out on the next three pitches to escape the inning. Video in this tweet by Rob Friedman, the Pitching Ninja (recommended follow on Twitter) captures the moments.

 

Needless to say, the Astros were not happy with Kelly’s pitching last night. The usual “you’re risking ending a guy’s career throwing at someone’s head” kind of stuff. This is true and I don’t condone throwing at a person’s head, but the Astros HAD to know some kind of retaliation was coming. To a man, Kelly handled the postgame questions perfectly.

 

It will be interesting to see if anything goes down tonight when these two teams square off again. They have three more games remaining against Houston, including a pair at Dodger Stadium September 12 and 13. Tonight’s game-time is 9 PM eastern-time.

UPDATE: Joe Kelly has been suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball. Very harsh punishment.

Advertisements

Judge is Ready to Hold Court

It appears Aaron Judge is all-systems-go for the New York Yankees.

In early March (which feels like an eternity ago), Judge was diagnosed with a broken right rib making a catch in a game on September 18, 2019. We won’t re-hash the hows and whys about his treatments over the winter. That is beyond the scope of this particular article.

Now entering his fourth full season in Yankee pinstripes, Judge has been working in the team’s “summer camp” with his teammates. All seemed well with his progression until he was held out of a team intrasquad game on July 11, as seen in a tweet from Yankees beat-writer Bryan Hoch.

After reading some replies to Bryan’s tweet, I could hear the sound of Yankees Twitter’s eyes rolling into the back of their collective heads. It’s no secret Judge has struggled staying healthy over the course of his brief career, however it’s not because he is soft.

That said, he has to put together a full season to avoid being labeled as injury-prone and subsequently mocked the way Jacoby Ellsbury is. Judge said he was going “keep playing this game hard, and that’s all I know”.

Freak injuries happen. When big men fall, they fall hard which can result in injury. Aaron is 6’7″ and weighs 280 pounds, so when he goes down there’s much more risk than a person a half foot and 75 pounds lighter.

The Yankees are a different (better) team with Aaron Judge in the lineup. His presence is an emotional life, while his pure skill can overpower opponents. The team is going to put up some numbers with a full and healthy lineup. I look forward to seeing mammoth blasts from Judge, like his ridiculous 495 foot blast from 2017. ALL RISE! 👨🏽‍⚖️

George Steinbrenner

Today marks ten years since New York Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner III passed away at the age of 80.

“The Boss” bought the team in 1973 from CBS for 10 million dollars. From Day 1 until the day he passed, he invested in his team, his city and the fans. The Yankees were an also-ran organization, it’s glory days of the 1950’s/early 1960’s were long gone. He made it a mission to make the Yankees winners within three years. He spent freely to add Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson as free agents.

It took exactly three years to make the Yankees winners. In 1976, the Bronx Bombers made it to the World Series, only to be swept by Pete Rose’s Cincinnati Reds and their “Big Red Machine”. Undeterred, the Yankees went back to the World Series in 1977 and ’78, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers both times. They faced them yet again in 1981, losing in six games.

Lean years followed, as the Yankees showed signs of aging. Steinbrenner worked to keep his team winning, however some free agent signings and trades weren’t panning out. He re-hired Billy Martin for 1983, brought him back early in 1985 and again in ’88. Martin was only a band-aid over a bigger problem. A rebuild of the organization was badly needed to replenish the farm system.

In 1990, Steinbrenner was suspended by then-Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent from day-to-day management for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on star outfielder Dave Winfield. This brought opportunity for GM Gene “Stick” Michaels to begin the rebuild. He responded, drafting the core of players who would eventually make the Yankees winners for more than a decade.

Although Steinbrenner’s suspension was to be permanent, “The Boss” was reinstated in 1993. Seeing the work Micheals put in to re-stock the farm system, he was less inclined to rule with the iron-fist he was accustomed to. The Yankees became winners again, winning titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. The ’09 series win was especially meaningful, as it was the final World Series of Mr. Steinbrenner’s life. His son Hal, by then George’s successor, dedicated the title to his father, saying “This one’s for you!”

Hal Steinbrenner is less willing to spend freely the way his father did, but I’m guessing George was smiling down from the heavens last December when the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a 324 million dollar deal.

George Steinbrenner’s 37 years of Yankees ownership put the team back on the map and took it into the stratosphere. His family’s ownership is the gold-standard of the way sports owners should run their teams.

I hope you are resting comfortably, Boss. I can’t believe you’ve been gone ten years.

I Can’t Quit Baseball

Two days ago, when Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement saying there would likely be no baseball in 2020 unless the Players Union dropped grievances against the league, I was ready to walk away from baseball.

My anger had reached it’s boiling point. For months, the players union and Rob Manfred have negotiated through the media, trading barbs along the way, ultimately wearing on the nerves of fans, the media and literally everyone who cares about the game.

After lunch, I left my apartment and took a drive. Driving is my way of getting and clearing my mind. It’s where I do some of my best thinking and reflecting. Now that places are starting to open back up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore.

By default, I go to the magazine racks first and then the sports section of books. Baseball, of course. I ended up leaving the store with two books, The Inside Game, by Keith Law and Yankee Miracles: Life with The Boss and the Bronx Bombers by Ray Negron and Sally Cook.

I got back in my truck, drove away from the store, and I felt a familiar tug. The tug of baseball pulling me back in. I realized how much I love this game. I was very angry at baseball, like so many are right now. Upset at both sides because we all could use a distraction from all the craziness of 2020. But I know I still love this game, and I know I can’t turn my back on it. I love writing about it and sharing it with you.

Before I went home later in the afternoon, I drove up by Lake Ontario’s shoreline to catch a cooler breeze coming off the water. As I sat there, I checked my phone and opened Twitter. This tweet from New York Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch was one of the first things I saw as I scrolled.

Maybe these experiences today are a sign that everything is going to be okay, that things are coming back together. I know one thing – I can’t imagine myself living without baseball. ⚾

MLB: Just Find a Way to Make it Work

It’s been a hot minute since I have written anything on The Titanium Spine. My last post was on March 6, but with everything the country has gone through with COVID-19, it feels longer. I hope everyone reading this has stayed healthy along with your families and friends.

Major League Baseball owners and the Player’s Union are currently battling over finances and salaries for this season, and if it’s not resolved there may not be baseball in 2020. Yesterday, the owners submitted a proposal to the players union that would pay players on a sliding-scale. Players who are under team control, and thus generally paid less than one who has a larger contract stand to benefit the most.

 

Needless to say, the players aren’t happy with this proposal. Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer tweeted this out late Wednesday night.

 

Keep in mind this was a baseline offer and the players union will counter. Minor league players are already suffering, although for now all teams are paying them a monthly stipend. But the Oakland A’s intend to stop paying after this month ends.

 

Not all teams are taking this hard stance. The San Diego Padres plan to pay their kids through August, so this is by no means a universal thing in Major League Baseball.

 

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and baseball can return this summer. A lot of players, workers and fans could really use some normalcy in their lives.

Despite Injuries, Yankees Have Depth to Overcome

After an injury-riddled 2019 season where they used 54 different players, one would think the New York Yankees 2020 season would be better in terms of health simply by default.

Concerned about the alarming number of injuries and treatment of them, the team overhauled the strength and conditioning department, hiring Eric Cressey as Director of Player Health and Performance.

Longtime Yankees trainer Steve Donahue, with the team since 1979, has been reassigned as Director of Medical Services in the restructuring.

So far in 2020, the “Medical Gods” still aren’t being too kind to the Yankees. As of this writing (March 6), the team has lost starting pitcher Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) for the season. James Paxton (lower back surgery) will be out until May at the earliest, OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton strained his right calf doing defensive drills last week and may miss the first week of the season. It has been reported Stanton has resumed running, so he may be able to ramp things up again soon.  Aaron Judge has been dealing with pain in his shoulder/chest area, and today it was revealed he has a fracture in one of his ribs.

It was also revealed Judge originally suffered this injury in a game last September 18 on a diving catch attempt, and felt a “crack and a pop”. Preliminary tests were performed and Judge received a cortisone injection.

More on Judge’s injury can be read via Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch’s Twitter feed.

Despite these injuries, the Yankees have depth to overcome. Even with the early losses of Stanton and Judge (and loss of CF Aaron Hicks for first half of 2020), the team has Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial on the 40 man roster to go along with Brett Gardner. Miguel Andújar has looked promising in left-field, to the point where manager Aaron Boone says he is comfortable continuing to give him reps.  Also in the mix is 27 year old Zack Granite, a 2013 draftee from the Twins organization. The lefty hitter spent last season in Nashville, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

For the starting rotation, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and newly-signed Gerrit Cole have looked very good in the early going. Jordan Montgomery looks like he’s back to his 2017 pre-surgery form and youngsters Jonathan Loaisiga, Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia are in competition with holdover Luis Cessa to nail down the 5th starter spot.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman makes it a point to stock up on depth, and it served them well in 2019, still winning 103 games. They look poised to make another run at a World Series title in 2020.

Mike Fiers was the First to Speak-up but not the Last

Unless you have been living under a rock since mid-November, you have heard about the 2017 Houston Astros using technology to steal signs to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents.

When former Astro and current Oakland A’s staring pitcher Mike Fiers went on record with The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal, speaking out on how his former team stole catchers’s signs, it turned the baseball world on it’s ear (the Drellich/Rosenthal piece can be read here).

Needless to say, Fiers’s former teammates are upset that he broke an unwritten code of clubhouse culture. Major league clubhouses are sacred. What goes on in a clubhouse is supposed to stay in a clubhouse. Fiers may never be fully trusted again by some current and future teammates because he went against the grain, letting team doings become public.

On social media, the reaction has been mixed. Many folks are calling Fiers a hero (including this writer), and many are destroying him, calling him a rat, a bad teammate and many words unsuitable to repeat here. Reactions from many ex-players, including Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez had this to say:

 

Mike Fiers was the first former Astros player to speak out, but I don’t think he will be the last. Players are human beings, and many human beings have consciences. Fiers proved he has one by going public. But he can’t be the only one who feels the same way about his team’s cheating. Immediately after Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, former Astro Gerrit Cole distanced himself from the team.

This is certainly not to say Cole will say anything at all regarding the Astros’s indiscretions, but it makes me question whether he agreed with what his former teammates were doing.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the current Houston squad was cleared of any wrongdoing, but let’s remember how Jose Altuve jumped all over a slider thrown by New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to end the ALCS, and had a look of terror on his face as he told his team not to rip off his jersey. He did that for a reason.

Two days ago, Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a member of the Astros from 2012-18, gave something of an apology, saying he is “sorry for the situation”, but also pointed out they didn’t cheat every game.

But make no mistake, Keuchel wasn’t happy the aforementioned “clubhouse code of silence” was broken.

 

This isn’t over by any stretch, and I think as time goes by, more people will shed light on what really happened. It’s just a matter of how long and how many people have a conscious. Stay tuned.

Red Sox entertaining trade offers for Betts

The Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres are discussing a trade that could send center-fielder Mookie Betts to the west coast, according to The Athletic’s Dennis Lin.

The trade would potentially send Betts, a free agent after 2020, to San Diego in exchange for 1B/OF Wil Myers and a number of prospects (reportedly MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams are not a part of the deal).

With the Red Sox expected to decrease payroll, enticing Betts to stay in Boston could be an uphill battle. It is not known at this time if the Padres are willing to offset some of the remaining 67.5 million owed Wil Myers through 2022. Myers’s contract also has a 20M option for 2023 with a buyout of a dollar. Although it is reported a deal isn’t likely as it is, Lin’s story says there is “legitimate interest” on both sides. My guess is San Diego might eat a little of his contract if Boston will accept “less than blue-chip prospects”.

Updates: It’s reported by Dennis Lin and Jon Heyman the Red Sox are interested in Padres prospects Luis Campusano and Luis Patiño in a potential trade for Mookie Betts.

This is a developing story and will be updated as things progress.

2019 Yankees Take’em or Trash’em – Starting Pitchers

The 2019 season came to a heartbreaking finish for the New York Yankees two days ago, and for their fans it still stings. With the World Series between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros set to begin Tuesday night, now is a good time to begin a post-mortem assessment of the Bronx Bombers.

This year’s “Take ’em or Trash ’em” will begin with the pitching staff. We will begin with the starters and follow with the bullpen.

Masahiro Tanaka – On the surface, Tanaka’s 11-9 record and 4.45 ERA look very pedestrian, but his numbers were skewed by a pair of starts against the Boston Red Sox where he was absolutely destroyed (14 ER’s over four innings). Take away those two starts and his season ERA was 3.84. Masa stayed healthy all year and was very dependable. If MLB goes back to using the same ball from 2018 and before, look for more strikeouts and overall better results.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽

 

J.A. Happ – (12-8, 4.91 ERA) Happ was signed to a two-year deal last offseason with a vesting option (27 starts or 165 innings) for a possible third year. His 2019 season had more ups and downs than an elevator. Happ gave up 34 home-runs and had ten starts where he gave up four or more runs. He also showed the brilliance of his second half of 2018 after Brian Cashman traded for him. He’s still under contract at 17M for 2020, and the Yankees would have to eat the majority of his salary if they decide to pull the plug and trade him.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽 (and pray he reverts to his 2018 form)

 

Domingo Germán – (18-4, 4.03 ERA) It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Germán was rolling along toward the end of May, pitching to a 9-1 record and an ERA of 2.60. From there, the rail-thin right hander was up and down, until his season was abruptly halted on September 19, when he was placed on administrative-leave after allegations of domestic abuse surfaced.

It remains to be seen where Germán’s career goes from here. If an investigation proves him guilty of domestic abuse or assault, it may be the end of the line for him in Pinstripes.

My take (If he’s guilty of these charges)? TRASH HIM 🚮 

 

James Paxton (15-6, 3.82 ERA) Paxton’s first season in the Bronx was a tale of two halves. The Big Maple pitched with mixed-results for the first four months of the season. In a pair of back to back starts in April, Paxton dominated, fanning 12 in both outings. However, he was consistently inconsistent until the calendar flipped to August. Going into Pax’s August 2 start against Boston, his ERA sat at 4.72 with a record of 5-6. Over his last eleven starts, Paxton put the Yankees on his back, going 10-0 with an ERA of 2.51. His final start against the Astos in the ALCS proved his internal fortitude, where he insisted on staying in the game, despite being well over 100 pitches. I look forward to seeing more of “The Big Maple”.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽🇨🇦

 

Luis Severino (1-1, 1.50 ERA) Luis Severino missed the majority of 2019 with shoulder and lat muscle strains. When he came back, he looked like the Sevy Yankees fans are used to seeing. His three starts in September were abbreviated as he was still getting stretched out. Severino started twice in the postseason and pitched well enough, but it was clear his command wasn’t where he or the Yankees wanted it to be. Now healthy, look for him to have a big impact in 2020.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽

 

Jonathan Loáisiga – (2-2, 4.55 ERA) Loáisiga began the 2019 season as the Yankees’s fifth starter, thanks in part to Luis Severino’s injury and CC Sabathia’s “That’s for you, bitch” suspension. He made a couple starts before Sabathia was activated, but his command was inconsistent and it got him in trouble. He was sent to AAA Scranton before being recalled again for a start in early May. Soon after, Loáisiga was shut down for three months with a right shoulder strain. He came back in mid-August and was used exclusively in relief. Jonathan’s stuff plays better out of the pen, and he may stay healthier if stays in relief.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽 (as a reliever)

 

CC Sabathia (5-8, 4.95 ERA) Unless you have been living under a rock, or you don’t follow baseball and clicked on the link to this article by mistake, you know how much CC Sabathia meant to this team. Yeah, his numbers this year weren’t great and to me they don’t mean much. He DID record his 3,000 strikeout this year and my son and I were lucky enough to win tickets to our first game at Yankee Stadium in April and we got to see CC pitch (and WIN!) against the Kansas City Royals.

IMG_20190419_183142437

The last image we’ll see of CC pitching for the Yankees was him leaving the field with Stevie Donahue and his shoulder hanging, but he was so much more. Other great pieces from many excellent baseball writers have chronicled Sabathia’s accomplishments on the field and what his leadership has meant. I just want to say, “CC, you’ll be missed”.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽 (even if he’s retiring)

 

In our next installment of Take’em or Trash’em, we’ll assess the Yankees bullpen.

Thanks for reading! 😎

MLB Second Half Forecast: The AL East

The Major League Baseball All Star Break is over, and teams are gearing up to begin the second half of the season. Some teams are expecting to make deep pushes to the playoffs, other teams still have hopes of making the postseason, and yet others realize the don’t have a chance.

Today we’ll size up the AL East Division and look at the three contending teams in it. We will look at the Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays and what to expect from them as they begin their playoff runs.

Red Sox

Red Sox – (49-41, 3rd place) The 2018 World Series Champions have struggled from the onset of this season. They began the season with a 3-8 west coast road-trip. Chris Sale, the ace of their starting rotation, was getting shelled regularly, and the Sox didn’t climb above .500 until almost Mid-May. Mookie Betts, last year’s AL MVP, isn’t producing at the same rate (he’s human), but the team is still scoring a lot of runs.

Pitching has been the problem. Beyond Sale, the rotation has been up and down. Rick Porcello has pitched to a 5.33 ERA, the inconsistent Eduardo Rodriguez has been — you guessed it — inconsistent. David Price has pitched well, but at age 33 isn’t giving the length he once did. The Boston bullpen, so good last season, has been incredibly bad after letting Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly leave as free agents. Nathan Eovaldi, who signed a 4 year/68 million dollar deal last off-season to return and be a starter, has been named the closer when he comes back from injury.

What to expect — Team President of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski plans to look for a starting pitcher, according to Ken Rosenthal.

If the Red Sox shore up the bullpen and add a starter, look for them to creep closer in the standings and make things harder for the Yankees and Rays.

yankees

Yankees – (57-31, 1st place) After a sluggish 6-9 start in April, the Yankees have spent the vast majority of the last two months atop the AL East. The team has been riddled with injuries all season, with a whopping 22 different players hitting the injury list. At one point, more than half of the original starting lineup was sidelined at the same time, and a whopping 22 different players have been plagued by injury in 2019. The good news is the Yankees lineup is now mostly healthy. First baseman Luke Voit could be back as soon as tomorrow, and Giancarlo Stanton hopes to return from his second IL stint in August.

It’s not a secret Brian Cashman is looking to add a starting pitcher, and Marcus Stroman, Madison Bumgarner and Trevor Bauer have been the names most often bandied about. Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard from the crosstown Mets are also reportedly being shopped around. The Yankees have to find a way to get deeper into games. The rotation collectively is averaging about five innings per start and the bullpen has been carrying a heavy load. Any of the aforementioned starters would help fill this void. The Yankees also could get the injured Luis Severino back before season’s end, provided he has no further setbacks.

What to expect — If they stay healthy, more home runs and more wins. However, if the rotation doesn’t help out more, it could wear down the pen during the dog days of Summer.

TB Rays

Rays – (52-39, 2nd place) The Tampa Bay Rays are currently 6.5 games behind the Yankees as we head into the second half of the season. These feisty, youthful Rays spent the 39 of the first 41 games of the season in first place before the Bronx Bombers overtook them. Starting pitcher Blake Snell (5-7, 4.70 ERA) has been up and down after his Cy Young Award winning season in 2018. The lineup doesn’t have the flashy names like the Red Sox and Yankees, but there is good young talent. Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe, and Willy Adames are expected to become impact players in the lineup, while starters Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Brandon McKay form a talented nucleus for the rotation.

There is veteran leadership from starter Charlie Morton (10-2, 2.32 ERA), CF Kevin Kiermaier (who’s still only 29) and recently acquired catcher Travis D’Arnaud. Closer Jose Alvarado and starter Glasnow (6-1, 1.86) are out until mid-August, but should make an impact upon return.

McKay made a couple starts and was sent back to Triple-A to continue developing and honing his craft. Tyler Glasnow (forearm) and Jose Alvarado (oblique) being out a while hurts the team, but Brandon Lowe and closer Diego Castillo are expected to be activated from the IL this weekend.

What to expect — It’s hard to tell what the Rays may or may not do, but I wouldn’t expect them to trade away any young talent. Manager Kevin Cash and his coaching staff has done a stellar job getting the most out of his team, and Senior VP/GM Erik Neander also deserves credit. The Rays may fall to 3rd place behind the Yankees and Red Sox, but at the very least, I expect them to scratch and claw all the way to the bitter end.

 


 

I would like to take a minute and thank every person who took the time to read this, and any of my previous work on The Titanium Spine. For the immediate future, I’m mothballing my site and going on hiatus.