Yankees 50 Game Report

A week and a half ago, as I was typing out my Yankees 40 game report, I was doing it with a sense of doom and resign. The Yankees seemed to be in a free-fall. They were in the middle of a five-game losing streak and lost six of seven. The team wasn’t hitting. When they did hit, they couldn’t pitch. Things looked bleak.

What a difference ten games make! After losing the first pair of games on the road to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees have reeled off eight consecutive victories. In four of them, the Bronx Bombers have lived up to their moniker, scoring ten runs or more. They are coming off a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays at home, making up for losing three of four in Buffalo earlier this month.

Yankees bats have never been hotter. The team scored 43 runs over the three games, including a mind-blowing 18 (!!!) home runs. No Yankees team has ever done that. Amazing.

Hitting

A line from ex-MLB hitter Mark DeRosa in the game “MLB The Show 20” come to mind. “There’s a fight at the bat rack for who’s gonna hit next”. Let’s start at the top of the Yankees lineup and work our way down.

D.J. LeMahieu continues to rake like a man-possessed. He played all ten games and brought his lunch pail to work, going 16-40 (.400) with six bombs and 11 RBI. Why the Yankees haven’t extended his contract is beyond comprehension. They can’t afford to lose him.

Luke Voit has firmly seized the first base job. Initially splitting time with lefty batting Mike Ford (who has since been optioned to Yankees alternative site in Scranton) in a platoon situation, Voit has been scorching hot no matter who is pitching. Over the last ten games, Voit went 14-43 (.326) while mashing 7 taters and bringing him 18. None of his home-runs are cheapies, either.

Gleyber Torres hasn’t shown the power he displayed in 2019 when he belted 38 home runs, but still is very productive. Over the last ten, “Glasses Gleyber” went 9-26 (.346) with a pair of homers and eight RBI.

Injured superstars Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are back! Both players took an o-fer in their first games back, but last night Giancarlo went 4-5 against Toronto. He only came a triple shy of the cycle, bringing home a pair of runs. Having Judge and Stanton in the lineup makes an already potent lineup more dangerous.

Third baseman Gio Urshela missed a handful of games while on the injured list with bone spurs in his throwing elbow. He returned Tuesday and has since gone 5-14 over three games. No RBI’s, but it’s hard to drive in runs when everyone else is clearing the bases with home-runs.

OF Clint Frazier has been consistently productive in 2020 for the Yankees. Injuries to Stanton and Judge opened the door for Frazier and he’s earned his everyday playing time. He played all ten games, going 11-34 (.324) with a pair of homers and nine RBI. On Monday, Frazier revealed he was still dealing with concussion issues that carried over from 2018. He suffered from depth perception problems, which explains his defensive struggles last season. This year, Clint’s defense has been top-notch.

It’s been no secret Gary Sánchez has struggled in 2020, so we’ll take any silver linings. Always streaky, Gary went hitless in his first nine at bats over this ten game stretch, followed by six hits in the next 22. Sánchez socked a pair of homers in the Toronto series, driving home six. Backup catcher Kyle Higashioka has caught Gerrit Cole‘s last two starts, and all he’s done is hit four HR’s, including a three-homer game against the Blue Jays.

Veteran outfielders Brett Gardner (6 for 22) and Aaron Hicks (7 for 28) have been suffering through abysmal seasons, hitting .198 and .215, respectively. The defense is still there for both of them, but for some reason the offense hasn’t been there. Mike Tauchman had a three hit game against the Baltimore Orioles on September 11, but has otherwise been non-existent. Light hitting Tyler Wade has subbed in for Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres when needed. When he’s on base, Wade is always a threat to score. The problem here is, he’s rarely on base.

Pitching

It all starts with Gerrit Cole. The ace starting pitcher, Brian Cashman’s so-called “White Whale”, made a pair of starts against the Orioles and Blue Jays. Both outing were seven-inning gems, a two-hit complete game shutout against Baltimore in the first game of a doubleheader, followed by a three-hitter against Toronto. Cole gave up one run in his collective 14 innings, striking out 17 hitters. Filthy.

Masahiro Tanaka follows Cole in the Yankees rotation, and is a nice contrast. Masa is going to give up his home runs, it’s just who he is. The good thing is Tanaka never walks anyone, so usually the bombs are solo jobs. He had the benefit of a lot of run-support over his last pair of starts, his teammates giving him ten runs. This allowed Tanaka to pound the strike-zone and get outs efficiently. Against the Blue Jays, the long-time mainstay of the Yankees rotation had his longest start of 2020, seven innings. The only damage was a pair of homers to Lourdes Gurriel.

Deivi García, all of 21 years of age, has continued his impressive rookie season. The young righty made a pair of starts against the Blue Jays, pitching seven innings each time. In Buffalo, he only allowed a pair of runs on five hits in Buffalo, a start that helped stop a five game skid. Six days later, he made another start against Toronto. This time, the Yankees won 20-6 and his seven innings helped rest a weary bullpen. His WHIP and SO/BB ratios are better than Gerrit Cole’s. Imagine that. Did I mention he’s only 21??

Rounding out the rotation are lefties Jordan Montgomery and J.A. Happ. Montgomery’s last outing was a very solid 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Orioles at home. He struck out a career-high nine and lost a win opportunity on an unearned run that scored after he departed. Monty’s season high is six innings, as he seems to hit the proverbial wall after about 75 pitches. Aaron Boone doesn’t seem to give him a lot of rope, and Montgomery seemed unhappy when the manager relieved him in the Baltimore game.

After a rough pair of starts to begin the 2020 season, veteran J.A. Happ has reeled off five starts where he’s kept his team in the game, if not pitch outstanding. Over the five starts, Happ has pitched to a 2.45 ERA, with 27 strikeouts over 29.1 innings. Over that span he has allowed a scant five walks and 23 hits, translating to a WHIP of 0.95. Happ is earning his money, although he only has a record of 1-2 to show for it.

In the bullpen, Chad Green and Adam Ottavino combined for a horrific meltdown inning against the Blue Jays in Buffalo on September 7. The Jays scored four times on Green and six against Ottavino in a 10 run inning that lasted 43 minutes. Green rebounded with a pair of good outings against Baltimore, while Ottavino struggled again six days later. Boone used Adam again last night against Toronto, and he looked much better. He gave up a hit, but struck out a pair of Blue Jays in a 13 pitch inning.

It’s hard to predict what the Yankees will get from Jonathan Holder. The 27 year old Holder was lights out over the last month where he only allowed one run over 10 innings (eight appearances). He came in last night to close out last night’s game against Toronto with a 10-3 lead. He departed 28 pitches and four runs later when closer Aroldis Chapman had to come in to put out the fire and lock down the save. Holder’s ERA jumped two full runs after the game, now sitting at 4.08.

Zack Britton continues to bring his lunch pail to work and get the job done. Britton provided four efficient scoreless innings over games 41-50 and picked up a win along the way. I applaud his unselfishness, as he could probably close for every other MLB team not named the Yankees.

The aforementioned Chapman notched a pair of saves this past week and added another memorable moment he probably would prefer never happened. Chapman recorded the first out in the 9th inning of a tie-game against the Orioles. We’ll just let Jomboy break it down, as he always does so well.

Of note, Chapman’s appeal for the suspension he received for throwing a pitch over Tampa Bay Rays hitter Mike Brosseau was supposed to be heard this past Monday (September 14), but there has been nothing reported since. Stay tuned.

Luis Cessa, Mike King, Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson are the leftovers who usually come in to mop up or cover in the event of injury. Cessa and Loaisiga are generally the more trusted pitchers of this quartet to get the higher leverage innings.

Next time, we’ll cover the final ten games of the season. We’ll also take a peek at what will be ahead for the Yankees as we enter the expanded postseason in this crazy year that is 2020.

For Yankees, Playoffs Start Now

After tonight’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees will have completed 80 percent of their 2020 schedule. It has been a roller-coaster season for the Bronx Bombers, with injuries and uneven play up and down the lineup and pitching staff.

The Yankees begin a three-game homestand, taking on Toronto this evening at Yankee Stadium. Last week, the Blue Jays took two of three games against them at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. Thus included a demoralizing 12-7 loss on September 7 when relievers Adam Ottavino and Chad Green thoroughly imploded. The Yankees rebounded, winning the series finale and followed by sweeping the Baltimore Orioles in a four-game set at home.

Looking ahead, this upcoming series against Toronto is the beginning of the (unofficial, of course) playoffs for the Yankees. Their final 13 games consist of the three games at home against the Jays, followed by three games against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway, then four games back in Buffalo against Toronto. Finally, the 2020 campaign closes with a three-game set against the Miami Marlins at home September 25-27.

The Yankees will be healthier in the days ahead. Injured players Gio Urshela, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are expected to all return by the weekend. Scranton Wilkes Barre Railriders reporter Conor Foley (@RailRidersTT) sent this tweet yesterday showing them working out at PNC Field.

The returns of Urshela (expected back tonight), Judge and Stanton give the lineup a nice boost. While players like D.J. LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres have carried the team, the addition of the three injured sluggers makes the Yankees much more potent.

It may take a few games for Urshela, Judge and Stanton to get back in a rhythm and feel comfortable. However, the Yankees have to show they can win against their upcoming opponents. The Blue Jays have been rolling, winning twelve of their last 18 games. Their lineup is potent, and their bullpen is quietly effective. They added three starters before the trade deadline and won’t go quietly. The Red Sox have had a miserable season, but will want to gear-up and play spoilers against their longtime rivals. The Marlins won’t roll over, as they are only four games out of first place in the NL East behind the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees will have their hands full over the next two weeks.

For more coverage, you can listen to me as I join the great Sal Maiorana on his podcast “SalSpeaks”. I join Sal each Tuesday as we break down the week for the New York Yankees. The link is below.

https://www.salmaiorana.com/posts/8332010?utm_source=manual

Yankees 40 Game Report

It seems like it was just the other day when I cranked out the 30 game report for the New York Yankees. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

The last ten games for the Yankees and their fans have been anything but fun. The same can be said for the ten games before that. It’s been a very ugly stretch for this battered team. Let’s get on to assess the carnage, shall we?

Hitting

Or lack thereof. Where do we even begin? I guess we will start with the guys actually producing. D.J. LeMahieu came back for the team’s 30th game after missing ten games with a hand injury. He picked right up where he left off. “LeMachine” logged 10 hits in 36 at-bats in this ten game stretch, including back to back two hit games against the Tampa Bay Rays. The second of which he slammed a pair of home runs in a rare Yankees win over the Rays.

First baseman Luke Voit was productive against the Mets and Rays, but cooled off considerably against the Baltimore Orioles. Backup catcher Erik Kratz has been a pleasant surprise for many reasons (see this YES Network video about him helping Latin pitchers realize their dreams), but he has swung the bat well (8 hits in 27 AB’s) and gunned down a couple runners. Saturday night, he caught O’s catcher Pedro Severino napping off 2nd base from his knees. Not bad for a 40 year old.

There’s not much else positive to say about the rest of this Yankees lineup. 3rd baseman Gio Urshela has battled a troublesome bone spur in his throwing elbow, and was placed on the IL. Gary Sánchez still looks lost at the plate (13 hits in 100 AB’s), including strikeouts in each of his last seven plate appearances. He did manage a home-run, a grand slam that proved to be a game-winner against the Mets in the first game of a doubleheader. However, Aaron Boone is planning to sit him for a couple days to get himself right.

Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Mike Ford and Tyler Wade continue to struggle and give non-competitive at bats. Mike Tauchman has one hit over his last 17 at bats. Clint Frazier is still hitting well (8 for last 26), but only drove in three runs. It’s hard to drive runs in when no one else gets on.

Pitching

You know things aren’t going so hot when Jonathan Holder has the lowest ERA on the team (minimum 10 IP). Sigh.

It’s been a tough last few turns for Gerrit Cole, but he deserved so much better Saturday night against the Orioles. He has his best stuff of the season. Cole struck out five of the first six hitters and sat 97-99 with his four-seamer. He had nine K’s through five innings on only 63 pitches. The next inning, the roof caved in. D.J Stewart hit a home-run. Hanser Alberto reached on an error. Cole issued back-to-back walks, then followed those up with a two-run single and a ground-rule double. Next thing you know, five runs have scored (one earned) and that’s all she wrote.

Masahiro Tanaka tossed six innings of two run ball in a 5-3 Yankees win against the Rays on September 1, punching seven tickets. Sunday against the Orioles, Masa was charged with four runs (two earned) over 5.1 innings in Baltimore. Like Cole the night before, Tanaka deserved a better fate. Luis Cessa relieved him for some reason only Manager Aaron Boone knows (more on this later). Cessa inherited two of Tanaka’s runners and allowed a single to load the bases. He went on to walk in a run, followed by a single for another Baltimore run. The O’s went on to a 5-1 win Sunday. Again, Tanaka deserved better.

Jordan Montgomery imploded in a his start against Tampa on September 2, giving up five straight hits and two home-runs to a fired-up Rays team. The day before, closer Aroldis Chapman sailed a 101 mph fastball just inches over the head of Mike Brosseau. The Rays felt they had something to prove, and they made a statement, jumping on Montgomery, who only recorded two outs on 39 pitches.

J.A. Happ made a start in Thursday’s makeup game against the Mets, going five innings, giving up 4 runs on eight hits. His season continues to be up and down.

Deivi García pitched a beautiful six innings against the Mets in his debut on August 30, striking out six. He looked like a seasoned veteran, allowing a scant four hits. He drew praise across MLB, including Pedro Martínez, whom García is often compared to.

His second start wasn’t as great, but pitched into the 5th inning before he was relieved by fellow rookie Clarke Schmidt, who was just called up to make his Major League debut. It didn’t go well, with the Orioles ripping him for three straight hits, allowing four runs to score. We’ll also touch on this move by Boone later.

Michael King made a couple of uninspiring starts and abbreviated starts, against the Mets and Orioles, respectively. King didn’t pitch badly, only giving up a total of five runs between the two starts. But Boone doesn’t give him a lot of rope. His longest outing of the season was his start against the Mets, four innings. That puts a lot of work on the bullpen.

Speaking of the bullpen, it’s worn out. Any starter not named Gerrit Cole or Masahiro Tanaka simply doesn’t get to pitch very deeply into games. Sometimes it’s for a good reason (they are getting shelled), sometimes it’s because Aaron Boone gets an itchy trigger-finger or analytics call for a move.

Adam Ottavino (16 appearances), Chad Green (15) and Zack Britton (13) are getting worked a lot, and the team is averaging 4.5 innings per start from their starting pitchers. Things are getting thin, and cracks are beginning to show. Jonathan Loaisiga, who’s been valuable as an opener and multi-inning reliever, was put on the IL with an illness unrelated to COVID.

As mentioned earlier, Aroldis Chapman threw a pitch above Mike Brosseau’s head. This ended up getting him a three game suspension from Major League Baseball. He has appealed and is awaiting a hearing. Even if reduced, it adds more to an overworked bullpen. Another unwise and selfish move by Aroldis.

Britton returned from the injured list last week, and will help ease the burden. He looked a bit rusty in his first couple games back, but should be fine with more work.

Luis Cessa and Jonathan Holder have received higher-leverage innings out of necessity, reaffirming how much the Yankees miss Tommy Kahnle (Tommy John surgery).

Aaron Boone/Coaching

The Yankees have now lost 13 of their last 18 games. Aaron Boone has made some questionable decisions. Bringing in Luis Cessa into a runners-on situation in relief of Tanaka trailing only by a run (it didn’t work). Having Clarke Schmidt, a starter, make his debut in the middle of an inning with runners on base (it failed miserably) when he had a couple other arms to chose from. Not having Erik Kratz catch J.A. Happ (who raved about working with Kratz after the game) when the pair was spectacular together in Happ’s previous start, having Kyle Higashioka catch him instead (it didn’t go that well).

I realize managing a team is difficult, managing a struggling team in New York magnifies it tenfold. But it seems like Boone is making things harder than it needs to be.

It’s easy for me, other writers and fans to be armchair managers. One thing is obvious. The Yankees need to turn this around, or they may be watching the playoffs along with us in our armchairs.

 

Gausman Makes Sense for Yankees

With only five days left until Major League Baseball‘s trade deadline, aspiring playoff teams are looking to add players to enhance their chances of winning a World Series title.

The New York Yankees are one of those teams. One area the Yankees would like to shore up is pitching. James Paxton is on the IL for an undefined time with a forearm strain, his team could use another starting pitcher. All Yankees starters *not* named Gerrit Cole have an ERA of 4.60 or higher. The Bronx Bombers need rotation help.

Kevin Gausman of the San Francisco Giants is reportedly available in trade, according to Yankees beat writer Brendan Kuty of NJ.com.

Gausman is on a one-year contract for a rebuilding team, and be had for a modest price. The eight-year veteran has always been up and down, but had some dominating performances this year. His spin-rates are higher on all pitches, and has struck-out a career-best 12.2 per nine innings, while touching 99 mph. Finally, Gausman is familiar with pitching in the heat of the AL East, spending six years with the Baltimore Orioles.

Teams have a few days left to make deals, so it will be interesting to see who does what. The Yankees will be in that mix.

It’s Opening Day!

It’s finally here!

Opening Day in MLB is a holiday in my household. Personally, I feel that it’s better than Christmas. Baseball is my favorite thing in life after my son. Every team in baseball is full of optimism and dreams of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in October.

And the weather is warmer in the vast majority of the country than it is on Christmas!

There is literally nothing on the agenda for me today than watching our national pastime. Good luck and best wishes to whomever you root for.

Enjoy the day, everybody!

Yankees Starting Rotation Taking Form

Yesterday, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced that Masahiro Tanaka will be their Opening Day starter when they face off against the Baltimore Orioles on March 28 at Yankee Stadium.

With Luis Severino not expected back from shoulder inflammation for roughly a month, Boone had to make new plans for the Yankees’ first game. Tanaka made it an easy choice because he’s thrown the ball well in each of his starts this spring.

James Paxton and J.A. Happ will follow Tanaka in the rotation, but who will follow them still remains to be seen. Domingo Germán has pitched well in Florida, allowing two runs over 7.1 innings with 12 K’s in the early going. Yesterday, Luis Cessa started against the Tigers, retiring the first 11 batters before allowing a hit. He has surrendered one run on five hits in his nine innings in his three appearances. Both Cessa and Germán are candidates to for the back end of the rotation with Sevy and CC Sabathia both unlikely to begin their seasons until late April.

What about Jonathan Loaisiga you ask? It’s a fair question. He has looked very good this spring, and he’s not ruled out by any stretch. But the Yankees are going to want to take it easy with him, especially after some injury problems limited him to 80 innings in 2018. Over Loaisiga’s professional career, he has thrown only 196 total innings in his four years. Chances are Jonathan will continue to hone his craft in Triple-A Scranton by starting every five days, building up his innings in a carefully controlled environment.

Cessa is out of options, and would require clearing waivers if the team tried sending him back to Scranton-Wilkes Barre, so he’s going to get every opportunity to make the team. Aaron Boone may decide to go with a five-man rotation right out of the gate. I see the rotation something like this until Severino and Sabathia return:

  1. Tanaka
  2. Paxton
  3. J.A. Happ
  4. Germán
  5. Cessa

 

Of course after Sevy and CC join the rotation, some decisions will have to be made for Germán and possibly Cessa, but I think both righties can hold down the fort in the meantime.

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – American League East

Spring training is finally here! Pitchers and catchers are already with their teams in Arizona and Florida, along with a good number of position players looking to get a head-start on things.

There are always a ton of players in MLB camps every spring, the majority of them being players on the 40-man rosters. Every team also has a number of players who are “non roster invitees”. The term is pretty self-explanatory. These guys are players who are not on the 40 man, but are invited to major league camp so the front office, manager and coaches can take a look at them. It’s generally a mix of young talent (think early round draft picks) and older players who are looking to looking to latch on with teams, hoping to continue their careers.

Today we’re going to look at a few players on each team in the American League East Division, and we will cover the remaining AL and National League divisions in future articles. Here we go!

Baltimore Orioles

Sean Gilmartin (LHP) – Gilmartin is a 28 year old soft-tossing lefty pitcher who first broke in with the New York Mets in 2015. He pitched very well in the ’15 season, but has scuffled in succeeding years, kicking around the minor leagues. He surfaced in Baltimore in 2018, pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 27 innings. He may come in handy for the O’s in 2019, and lefties have a way of sticking around.

Jace Peterson (Utility) – Peterson began 2018 with the New York Yankees, but was gone by the end of April when the Orioles plucked him off waivers after playing only three games in the Bronx. He didn’t hit well, ending the season on the Mendoza-line (.200 average), but he proved to be handy because he can play anywhere on the field. The Orioles have little talent, so the 28 year old handyman may end up sticking. Being a left-handed bat helps.

Mike Yastrzemski (OF) – Does the name Yastrzemski sound familiar? If you know your baseball history, it should. Yes, Mike is the grandson of former Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The 28 year old bats left-handed like his grandfather and plays good defense in the outfield like him. In 2018, he spent the bulk of the season in Triple-A Norfolk, where he had a slash-line of .265/.359/.441. If young Yaz has a productive spring, he could fill a gap with the big club until some of their OF prospects are ready down the line.

Boston Red Sox

Erasmo Ramirez (RHP) – It seems like the former Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners hurler has been around forever, having made his debut back in 2012, but he’s only 28 years old. After Seattle acquired him in the middle of the 2017 season, he pitched reasonably well, compiling a 3.92 ERA down the stretch. Things went sideways last season. Ramirez made ten starts, pitching to the tune of a 6.50 ERA over 45.2 innings. He spent a few months on the DL with a shoulder injury, which might have been why he was so ineffective last season. The Red Sox’s rotation is pretty well set, but a good spring could land him a bullpen spot or a MLB deal elsewhere.

Zach Putnam (RHP) – The 31 year old Putnam hasn’t pitched since April 2017, when he injured his elbow in the middle of a game, resulting in Tommy John Surgery. He signed a minor league deal in December. He doesn’t throw hard (91-92) but was effective in 2016 (2.30 ERA), striking out more than a batter per inning. If Putnam stays healthy, he could provide good bullpen depth.

Rusney Castillo (OF) – The Red Sox signed the Cuba-born outfielder prior to the 2014 season to a seven year deal worth more than 72 million dollars. For all this money, the Sox have received a grand total of seven home-runs and 35 RBI since Castillo signed his name to the contract. He played a half season in 2015 in Boston and a handful of games in ’16, after which the Sox correctly figured Castillo was a bust. They have to pay him anyway, so he may as well be in big-league camp. He will probably be paid another 11 million to play in Pawtucket in 2019. His contract has an opt-out after this year, but I’m pretty sure he’ll want the 14 million he will be owed in 2020.

New York Yankees

Danny Farquhar (RHP) – Danny’s 2018 season came to an abrupt halt in late April after he suffered a brain hemorrhage in the White Sox dugout in the middle of an appearance. He made an incredible recovery after having life-saving brain surgery, and the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal on February 1. Farquhar has good stuff, but with mixed results over his career. If the soon to be 32 year old stays healthy, he will be excellent bullpen depth. This is such a great feel-good story, it won’t matter if he throws another pitch because he’s already won. I’m rooting for him.

Ryan Lavarnway (C) – The Yankees signed Lavarnway to a minor league deal in early November with an invitation to big league camp. The 31 year old will likely spend 2019 in Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre as depth and to add a veteran presence to work with the organization’s young hurlers such as Michael King, Domingo Acevedo and others. This is a nice addition.

Mike Ford (1B/DH) – 26 year old Mike Ford is a power-hitting first baseman who has worked his way through the Yankees minor league system. In 2017, he hit 20 home runs between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton, but was left unprotected on the 40 man. The Seattle Mariners took him in that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, meaning the M’s had to keep him on their big league roster for all of 2018, or have to return him to the Yankees organization. The latter happened, and he was returned. He hit 16 homers last year in Triple-A, and provided a slash-line of .253/.327/.433. His strong left-handed bat is good insurance if Luke Voit and/or Greg Bird go down.

Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Merritt (LHP) – Remember him? The former Cleveland Indians pitcher who made a strong postseason start in Toronto back in 2016 has battled shoulder injury problems ever since. He was released last fall and quickly signed a minor league deal with the Rays. Merritt, soon to be 27 years old, never threw hard but does throw strikes —  and the Rays have a way of getting a lot out of their pitchers, so who knows?

Emilio Bonafacio (Utility) – Bonafacio is yet another guy who seemingly has been around forever, but is “only” 33 years of age. He’s played on eight different MLB teams, and if he makes the Rays squad, it’ll be nine. The switch-hitting utilityman spent most of 2018 with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, where he hit .348 and stole 20 bags. With a young team, his veteran presence could go a long way, and his hard work would set an example for the kids.

Oliver Drake (RHP) – This poor guy must always keep his bags packed. He spent time on the rosters of five (FIVE!) different major league teams in 2018, having been plucked continuously off waivers. Despite all this time migrating from once place to another, he managed to make 44 appearances (1-1, 5.29 ERA), recording 51 strikeouts over 47.2 innings. Hopefully the 32 year old Drake will find a home with the Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays

Eric Sogard (INF) – Sogard spent the last two seasons in Milwaukee after spending parts of six seasons with the Oakland A’s. He was released by the Brewers on Sept. 1 with an anemic .134 average. Tampa signed him to a minor league deal in December and will add depth. There’s not much chance of him making the big league squad, as there are too many guys ahead of him. The 32 year old Sogard will likely be slated for Triple-A Buffalo. He’s a pro and young kids such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will benefit from his tutelage.

Mark Leiter, Jr. (RHP) – 27 year old Mark Leiter, Jr. was selected off waivers on Sept. 1 by the Blue Jays after the Phillies DFA’ed him. He came up as a starter in the Philadelphia organization and made a handful of starts for the Phillies in 2016 with mixed results. Leiter, the son of former MLB pitcher Mark Leiter and nephew of Al Leiter, pitched exclusively out of the pen last season. He’s not overpowering, topping out in the low 90’s and will probably be minor league filler in 2019.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (3B) – I saved the best for last. This is Vladdy Jr’s first big league camp. To be sure, it will be his last as a non-roster invitee. The 19 year old son of MLB Hall of Fame right-fielder Vladimir Guerrero tore the cover off the ball between AA and AAA in 2018, to the tune of a .381/.437/.636 slash-line. He hit 20 home runs in 95 games and had 227 total bases. What stands out to me is the fact he only struck out 38 times in 357 at bats, walking 37 times. I had the privilege of watching him at a game in Buffalo last August. Here he is facing Scranton Wilkes Barre’s lefty Nestor Cortes, Jr.

 

 

Vladdy will likely begin the 2019 season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, to give the Blue Jays an extra year of team control. I can’t wait to see what he can do when he’s called up, which will likely be early May.

In our next entry, we’ll take a look at some non-roster invitees in the AL Central. I hope you’ll join us!

Do the Yankees Need Manny Machado?

As of this writing, Manny Machado is still a free agent.

The shortstop’s name, along with free agent OF Bryce Harper, has been tossed around more than any other MLB free agents than anyone in recent history. Both players have talent that transcends anyone else’s of this generation of baseball players. The fact they are still unsigned as we enter the final weeks before spring training has everyone in baseball talking.

As far as Machado is concerned, the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox appear to be the biggest suitors, with the New York Yankees appearing to have a passive interest. Early on in free agency, it was rumored Manny was seeking a contract as large as 300 million dollars over ten years. With the clock ticking toward spring training, it appears he won’t be getting anywhere near that 300 million price tag.

This past week, ESPN’s Buster Olney and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the White Sox offered Machado a seven year contract worth 175 million dollars, far below what he and his agent are seeking. Manny’s agent, Dan Lozano, released a statement calling out Olney and Nightengale for “inaccurate and reckless” rumors.

The Phillies and White Sox appear to be the better fits for Machado, and are more likely to offer more money than the more fiscally responsible Yankees of recent years. But if it would take “only” 175 million dollars and seven years to bring him to the Bronx (Manny’s reportedly preferred destination), should Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman pull the trigger and put him in Yankee Pinstripes? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

PROS:

  • Manny would be an upgrade in the field over current third baseman Miguel Andújar. This is a fact. He makes a lot of plays most third-basemen can’t make. Even though I am a believer in Andújar, and believe he will be much better, Machado is far and away the better defender right now. It’s not close.
  • Manny’s bat. While Andújar had a great offensive season, finishing 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting (many think he should have won, including myself), Manny had his best offensive season of his career, hitting .297 with 37 HR’s and 107 RBI. He set career highs in almost every category, and figures to get even better.
  • Machado is still only 26 years old. If the Yankees can land him with a deal similar to what the White Sox allegedly offered him, it would be a great deal that ensures the Yankees getting him for his prime years through the duration of the contract.

CONS:

  • If Yankees sign Machado, I will make an assumption that it will be to play 3rd base. Even though Didi Gregorius is going to be a free agent after 2019, I believe the Yankees see Didi as the team’s shortstop now and into the future. If that is the case, will Manny be happy at third? He told then-Orioles skipper Buck Showalter late in 2017 that he wanted to return to his “natural position” of shortstop for the 2018 season, which of course he did. He could fill in at short in New York while Didi recovers from Tommy John surgery, but would certainly play 3rd base after Gregorius comes back (probably around the All Star Break. But will his heart be there?

Of course, Manny would have at least 175 million reasons to not mind playing third-base, and he’s better at third, anyway. That said, the Yankees have already made moves that seem to indicate they aren’t planning on Machado coming to the Bronx. Just after New Year’s Day, they signed veteran Troy Tulowitzki to a one year deal for the league minimum salary. Earlier this week, they added DJ LeMahieu and was told to “bring a lot of gloves” to spring training. And they still have infielder Tyler Wade, who deserves a fair shot with the big club. Wade has 124 career at-bats, and despite what many think, it’s a small sample-size and he is a very good fielder.

Andújar has been working all offseason to improve his glove-work, as he does every winter.

Anything can still happen, but it appears the Yankees have their infield pretty well set and although they did it without the “big splash”, the roster was assembled responsibly.

 

UPDATE: Apparently Machado’s dad let out word of a potential mystery team. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the Washington Nationals. If they are losing Bryce Harper as anticipated, they need to replace his bat. They could potentially shift Trea Turner to second base, making room in the infield for Manny.

 

Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Relievers

It’s another chilly day here in the northeastern United States. Two games of the World Series are under our belts with the Boston Red Sox winning both games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Game 3 is tonight at Chavez Ravine. Meanwhile, all the other teams in Major League Baseball are assessing things from this season with an eye on 2019.

In our last entry, we took a look at the starting rotation of the New York Yankees, deciding whether GM Brian Cashman should “take ’em or trash ’em”. Today we shall take a look at the bullpen. Let’s get started!

 

Dellin Betances – (4-6, 2.70 ERA) After a very up and down 2017, Betances cleaned up his mechanics and had his best season since 2015. He worked over the winter to make his delivery a bit more compact and more repeatable. He also credits bullpen coach Mike Harkey with using his high-octane fastball a bit more and admitting he started “listening a little bit more”. The results? Betances lowered his walk rate per nine innings from 6.6 in 2017 to 3.5, and struck out 115 batters in 66.2 innings. Over a span of 94 days (May 27-August 29), he allowed two runs over 33.2 innings while striking out 58.

Take him.

 

Aroldis Chapman – (3-0, 2.45, 32 saves) The 30 year old Chapman was reliable in 2018, saving 32 games for the Yankees and only blowing a pair of save opportunities. In 2017, Chapman was hittable, and his stuff seemed less electric. The velocity was there, but the life wasn’t and it showed, as his strike-outs per nine innings dropped to a career-low 12.3. In spring training, Aroldis worked to improve his off-speed pitches to keep hitters off his fastball and it resulted in a renaissance season. Chapman’s always been proud of his triple digit heat, but he mixed in some good sliders and even a change-up. At season’s end, Aroldis ended up striking out 16.3 per nine innings, an all time high for him.

Take him.

 

David Robertson – (8-3, 3.23, 5 saves) It seems like D-Rob has been around forever, as he was a young up and coming pitcher when the “Core 4” was still intact. Now 33 years of age, he has nine years of service time and will soon become a free agent. When he came back to the Bronx at the trade deadline in 2017, he dominated hitters down the stretch to the tune of  an ERA of 1.03 and 13.1 K/9 IP. In 2018, he was still as effective as ever but his 3.23 ERA is misleading. Four poor outings where he allowed three runs or more skewed his numbers. If you throw away those four appearances (13 ER in 3.2 IP), Robertson’s ERA drops to 1.64 over the other 65 games he appeared in. D-Rob will turn 34 at the beginning of next season, but he’s still got plenty in the tank.

Take him.

 

Chad Green – (8-3, 2.50) It would have been a difficult task for Green to repeat his performance in 2017, where he allowed only 4.4 hits per nine innings and struck out 13.4 per nine. His numbers were still good, but his hit-rate jumped to 7.6, and he allowed 35% of inherited base-runners to score. His K-rate also dropped to “only” 11.2. For some reason, Green threw his fastball more this season (86.5 percent of the time vs. 69.4 in ’17) and his slider much less (10.2% this year, down from 22.1 in ’17), while completely abandoning his cutter (thrown 7.8% in ’17) altogether.

Take him (but bring back the cutter and start mixing up the pitches).

 

Zach Britton – (2-0, 3.10, 7 saves) Britton came over from Baltimore at the trade deadline in return for a few minor league prospects. He had a few rocky outings in the first couple weeks, mostly attributed to control/command issues. To be fair to Britton, his season didn’t start until early June as he was returning from an injury to his right Achilles tendon that he suffered at home last December. By September, he looked more like the 2016 version of himself when the former Orioles closer nailed down all 47 save opportunities, allowing only four earned runs for the whole season. Britton’s one year deal (12M) is set to expire in a couple weeks. While he said “I would love to be back”, I have to wonder if an opportunity to close elsewhere for the right amount of money might entice him.

Take him (if you can keep him).

 

Tommy Kahnle – (2-0, 6.56, 1 save) Yuck. Kahnle was brilliant in 2017 after coming over from the White Sox in the deal that brought David Robertson back to New York, but his stuff never carried over into 2018. His velocity was down from the upper 90’s to 93-94 in spring training, and so was his effectiveness. After an especially horrific outing on April 10, he ended was optioned to Triple-A Scranton, where he pitched most of the season. Kahnle came back for good in the middle of August, but was relegated to mop-up duty. His season ended with an ERA of 6.56, and hopefully his days with the Yankees have ended as well.

Trash him.

 

Jonathan Holder – (1-3, 3.14) Holder was poised for his first full season in the big leagues after splitting 2017 between Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and the Bronx. Back to back disastrous outings in early April got him shipped back to Triple-A, but he put things back together and two weeks later, he was back in the Big Apple. Holder’s overall numbers look rather pedestrian on the surface, but they are skewed because of five poor outings, including the aforementioned games in April. If you throw away those numbers (15 earned runs over 3.1 innings, also including a seven run meltdown at Fenway in early August), his ERA is a miniscule 1.15 over 55 appearances. Holder started using his fastball more, cut back on his cutter and added more velocity to his swing and miss curve, making it more like a slider. He also uses a change-up to keep batters off his fastball. It’s definitely working for him.

Take him.

 

A.J. Cole – (2-2, 6.14) Cole came to the Yankees in a cash-considerations deal with the Washington Nationals on April 23, complete with an ERA of 13.06 after four very shaky outings. He began his career in the Bronx on the right foot, posting a 0.83 ERA over his first 21.2 innings in relief. Yankees fans on Twitter all but gave him his own place in Monument Park. That would have been fine (not the Monument Park thing….), but the problem was the season wasn’t over yet. From July 31 through the rest of the season, Cole pitched to the tune of a 8.82 ERA, giving up 16 runs in 16.1 innings. By October, Yankees fans couldn’t wait to be rid of him. Right now, I would say Cole is nothing more than Triple-A filler.

Trash him.

 

Luis Cessa – (1-4, 5.24, 2 saves) It seems like Luis Cessa has been around for a long time, but he only has logged 151 innings in his major league career since 2016, all with the Yankees. He’s had success in Triple-A, but for some reason it’s not translating in the bigs. Cessa missed some time early in the season with a strained oblique, but didn’t gain much traction when he returned. He pitched well in three appearances in mid-September (9 IP, 2 R, 12 K’s) but any good feelings got washed away when he opened the final game of the season in Boston and got ripped for five hits and four runs in only 14 pitches. Cessa is still under team control for 2019, but out of options — so the Yankees will have to make a decision on him. I know what my decision is.

Trash him.

 

What that, we have covered the pitching staff. In our next installment of Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em, we will take a look at catchers. See you next time!

 

 

 

 

Swan Song for Sabathia?

When New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia made his debut in April, 2001 with the Cleveland Indians, he was a fresh faced 20 year old with a sizzling fastball and a world of promise in front of him. He made the leap from Double-A Akron, where he finished a successful 2000 season. In his major league debut against the Baltimore Orioles on April 8, three current members of the Baseball Hall of Fame appeared in that game (Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar and Cal Ripken, Jr.). The ageless Bartolo Colon, still pitching today with the Texas Rangers, was a member of the Indians rotation with Sabathia.

The game itself was different, mostly in terms of pitching. In 2001, there were seven 20-game winners. Today, there are a handful of starters who could possibly win twenty games, but will need to win most every start to reach that goal. Curt Schilling led MLB with 256.2 innings pitched in 2001. In 2018, the current leader in innings pitched, Washington’s Max Scherzer is projected to finish with 228. Emphasis isn’t placed on individual win-loss records (rightfully so) today, and bullpens are tailored to be ready for action by the time an opponent’s lineup comes around for the third time.

CC Sabathia is a throwback to days of yore, when starters were still expected to pitch seven or eight innings and hand the ball over to the set-up man or closer to finish off a victory. He pitched 180.1 innings in his rookie season, and remained a durable and consistent starter for over a decade, including a seven year run of 200 or more innings from 2007 through 2013. In those seven seasons, Sabathia pitched a total of 1,610 innings over 230 starts, winning 124 games and averaging exactly seven innings per start. He earned a reputation as a reliable big game pitcher down the stretch for playoff teams in Cleveland, Milwaukee (in 2008), and New York.

However, all those innings began to take it’s toll on CC. His right knee, which is his landing-knee, began to give him pain. In May 2014, renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews determined that Sabathia’s knee injury is a degenerative condition. He would start only eight games that season as he dealt with pain and working with Yankees doctors to determine the best course of treatment for the future. It was decided he will eventually need a full knee replacement after his career is done, but team doctors can manage the bone-on-bone knee with periodic draining of fluid and cortisone shots.

In addition to managing his troublesome knee, CC had to learn to pitch with decreased velocity as the sands of time brought the inevitable. When his fastball averaged 94-95 mph and touched 98, as it did at the pinnacle of his career, he could get away with throwing it 60% of the time. By 2014, with his average four-seam fastball averaging just over 90 mph, he began to struggle. He had primarily been a three-pitch pitcher his entire career, with his fastball and slider, mixing in a change-up here and there. CC began to realize he would need to adjust his style of pitching if he wanted to have continued success. He began working with retired legendary Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who was Sabathia’s teammate for four seasons in New York. Alfred Santasiere III wrote a nice piece on CC in the spring of 2017, some of which goes into detail about him learning the cutter from Pettitte.

Armed with his new cutter and new approach to attacking hitters , along with a bulky, but sturdy knee-brace that he wears when he’s pitching, Sabathia began to regain consistency and success. CC began using the cutter in earnest to open 2016, and his results stabilized. He finished the 2016 season with nine wins and a 3.91 ERA, and gave up fewer hits than innings pitched for the first time since 2012. CC won 14 games in 2017, lowering his ERA even further to 3.69.

On December 26, 2017, the Yankees re-signed Sabathia to a one-year contract for 2018. In May, he said he would retire if the Yankees win the World Series this year, but seemed to back off the statement shortly afterward. In late July, Yankees beat writer Brendan Kuty (NJ.com) reported that Sabathia wants to finish this year and pitch again in 2019, then retire.

CC has pitched well in 2018 with a well-managed workload, currently boasting a 7-4 record with a 3.30 ERA. Six innings has been mostly the limit to ease the strain on his balky knee and keep him fresh for the stretch drive. After a dominant outing against the Rangers on August 12, where Sabathia allowed no runs and just one hit over six innings, the Yankees announced he would be put on the disabled list with knee inflammation. He only missed one start, thanks to a pair of scheduled off-days built into the team’s schedule. CC returned from the DL Friday night against the Orioles in Baltimore and went six innings, giving up just a pair of runs and notching eight strikeouts.

When Sabathia signed his one year deal in late December, he made sure having his wife, Amber, and their four children with them at home and on the road would be part of the deal.

The story above, written by MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, details how vital it is for CC to have his family with him for support and have them experience the uniqueness of each city on the road.

In Bryan’s story above, Sabathia said with a laugh he wouldn’t want to miss next summer’s road-trip to London, England, against the Boston Red Sox. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is his swan-song with retirement no more than two months away. He has been dealing with knee-pain for the last eight years, and chronic pain can be distracting. Mentally, it can suck the life out of a person. It’s hard work for a starting pitcher to maintain their body for 30-plus starts over a 162 game schedule, no matter how young or old they are. It’s even more work for a 38 year old starter with a bad knee, who’s started well over 500 games and pitched over 3,400 innings. Between the mental and physical grind, it has to wear on a person. Coupled with requesting in his 2018 contract that his family accompany him on the road, I have a hunch these upcoming weeks may be the last for CC Sabathia. If that’s the case, it’s been a hell of a ride watching his career for the past 18 seasons.