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!

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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.

The Yankees Were Great in ’98


 

This afternoon, the New York Yankees are honoring their 1998 World Series winning team on their 20th anniversary. Several of the players from that special team will be there for a ceremony at Yankee Stadium prior to this afternoon’s Yankees game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In ’98, the Yankees began that season on a west coast road-trip, losing four of their first five games. In those four losses, they were outscored 29-6. I’m sure it was safe to say the late George Steinbrenner was not happy. After losing in Seattle on April 6 to drop to 1-4 on the season, a team meeting was held (as discussed today on YES Network’s pregame with Ryan Ruocco, David Cone and Jorge Posada), with manager Joe Torre and several veterans speaking. The next day, the Yankees whipped the Mariners, 13-7. They went on to win 14 of their next 15 games and 34 of their next 40.

I find it apropos that the Yankees organization is honoring the team on this day, August 18, 2018. Exactly twenty years ago on this very day, the Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals, 3-2 in 13 innings to reach the high water mark of their impressive 1998 campaign. With that wain, the team had a record of 92-30, a mindblowing 62 games above .500 with a winning percentage of .754! This machine of a team didn’t simply beat their opponents, they often obliterated them. They played 27(!) games where they scored ten or more runs, many of those games came in consecutive games.

Needless to say, the Yankees were the talk of baseball, and talk on the streets. Prior to their 1996 World Series win, there were lean years. These late 90’s teams got the public excited again. As a fan, it was so much fun to talk with co-workers and friends (there was no such thing as social media, and the internet was in it’s infancy) about this exciting young team. The last Yankees teams that were dominant were the late 70’s teams that featured Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, etc.

Why was this 1998 team so good? There are many reasons. First of all, they got on base. Let’s take a look at a screenshot of the lineup manager Joe Torre penciled into his lineup on that August 18, 1998.

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As you can see, from top to bottom of this day’s lineup, everyone has an OBP of .357 or better. Cleanup hitter Bernie Williams’ was an eye-popping .446! It doesn’t hurt that your numbers two, three and four hitters are absolutely RAKING. It also doesn’t hurt that seven regulars in the Yankees lineup hit 17 or more home-runs on the season. No one hit thirty homers on this team that season. Tino Martinez hit the most, with 28 home-runs. Bernie Williams was second with 26, and Paul O’Neill tied with Darryl Strawberry for third-most with 24.

The starting rotation was anchored by their dynamic-duo of David Cone and David “Boomer” Wells, who won 20 and 18 games, respectively. Young Andy Pettitte, who was in his fourth season with the team, added 16 more wins. And who can forget Orlando Hernandez? “El Duque” joined the team at the beginning of June, and went on to win 12 games and became known as a clutch pitcher in the postseason. And of course they had Mariano Rivera in the bullpen to slam the door shut, saving 36 games.

 

Another thing that added to their success was that they stuck up for each other. On May 19, the Yankees played a home game against the Baltimore Orioles. New York was ahead 7-5 in the bottom of the 8th inning. Tino Martinez dug in against O’s reliever Armando Benitez, who drilled him right between the shoulder blades. All hell proceeded to break loose.

 

While no one wants to see players get hurt, this team wasn’t about to stand by and let Benitez’s needless cheap shot go unanswered. Teams would rather not have brawls for obvious reasons, but these things DO build unity and cohesiveness in a clubhouse, and this is essential for overall success.

Two days prior to the Orioles/Yankees melee, starting pitcher David Wells pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins. Boomer struck out eleven over his 120 pitch day of perfection.

 

From a perfect game to a perfect season, the 1998 Yankees were a joy to watch.

Finesse Pitchers: A Lost Art

A couple weeks ago, I bought tickets to watch my local minor league team, the Rochester Red Wings play the Norfolk Tides in a doubleheader. Norfolk won both games, each by a score of 1-0. Obviously both games were well-pitched affairs, with runs at a premium.

In the first game, Norfolk had a tall lefty on the mound by the name of John Means. As I watched him in the 1st inning, I noticed he didn’t throw all that hard, sitting about 87-88 mph with his fastball. He mixed in a curve and a change, and seemed to command all three pitches. Means went on to breeze through the Red Wings lineup and never got into trouble, effectively shutting them down. He pitched a three-hit shutout, struck out six and walked no one. His fastest pitch of the day reached 89 mph. He painted like Picasso against a Rochester lineup that had six players who played in the major leagues at one time or another. It really was enjoyable to watch.

 

Before that day, July 19, I never heard of John Means. He’s 25 years old, 6’3″, 230 lbs. and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 draft from West Virginia. As of this writing, Means has started 15 games in Triple-A, with a record of 5-3, an ERA of 3.25 and a WHIP of 1.2. Decent numbers, but not eye-popping. After watching him pitch in person and reading his overall career stats, he can throw strikes and he can strike people out. These minor league stats show that he’s always been able to do both regularly. So why are the pitching starved Orioles not taking a look at this guy in the big leagues? He’s not in their Top 30 minor league prospects, probably more suspect than prospect. Means is not even on their 40 man roster.

With everyone from fans to front office executives to MLB league executives in love with the velocity craze, I worry guys like Means may never get a fair shot to prove their worth in the major leagues. Guys who throw (not necessarily pitch) at 95 or better seem to get fast-tracked to the big leagues, while the finesse pitchers seem to get left out in the cold, ending up minor league filler. Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer, both drafted by the Cubs in 1984, recorded 624 big league wins between them, logging over 9,000 combined innings. Neither one of these men would probably get a second look in today’s MLB. Each of them made incredibly good livings for many years with fastballs that rarely, if ever touched 90 miles per hour. They learned to pitch because they had no choice, and they won a lot of games as a result. Same with Trevor Hoffman, who survived and thrived on an 86 mph fastball and a deadly change-up. He went into the Hall of Fame mere days ago, having saved more than 600 games over his long career. With relievers throwing near 100 mph, it would to envision him even getting a shot if he were a young pitcher in today’s game.

Maddux, Moyer and Hoffman are just a few examples, but there are many more who pitched with lower velocities and won many games. Tom Glavine comes to mind. Flame throwing pitchers and strikeouts seem to draw fans in, and more fans equals more attention, which can bring more revenue. Everyone loves the oohs and ahhs. But there should be room for pitchers like John Means. Finesse pitching doesn’t have to be a lost art.

 

Trade Deadline Winners & Losers – American League

The non-waiver trade deadline passed two days ago, and dust is beginning to settle. Contending teams added some depth to their teams and the sellers added young prospects in hopes of building for the future. Today we’ll take a look at the winners and losers in the American League, and in a future entry we will assess the senior circuit.

 

Winners

 

Seattle Mariners – Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto, who may well win MLB Executive of the Year, was busy working the phones in July. He added depth to the Mariners bullpen, adding righty relievers Adam Warren and Sam Tuivailala from the Yankees and Cardinals, respectfully. DiPoto worked a deal with the Minnesota Twins for lefty Zach Duke, and brought in outfielder Cameron Maybin from Miami to add depth to Seattle’s bench. Earlier this season, the Mariners swung a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Álex Colomé and outfielder Denard Span. The M’s are poised for a run for the pennant and gave up so little in return for these players.

 

New York Yankees – The Yankees needed to add a starter and got one when Brian Cashman swung a trade with Toronto for veteran lefthander JA Happ, in return for surplus infielder Brandon Drury and minor league outfielder Billy McKinney. Cashman made a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for lefty power reliever Zach Britton for three minor league prospects, and landed veteran Lance Lynn from the Twins for 1B/OF Tyler Austin and minor leaguer Luis Rijo. Austin was deemed expendable after the Yankees acquired Luke Voit from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for lefty reliever Chasen Shreve. Lynn was originally slotted for the bullpen, but he has since replaced Sonny Gray in the Yankees rotation going forward.

 

Losers

 

Baltimore Orioles – Will the last person to leave the clubhouse turn out the lights? This franchise needed a reboot and they are definitely doing that after they traded away everyone but the beer vendors. Zach Britton was shipped to the Bronx for three young pitchers who project to soon be major league ready. Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach were all sent to the Atlanta Braves for prospects and future considerations. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for fellow 2nd baseman Jonathan Villar and two minor leaguers. The granddaddy deal came almost two weeks before the deadline when Manny Machado was sent to the west coast with the Dodgers for five prospects. The Orioles also had a deal in place to move long-time fan favorite Adam Jones to the Philadelphia Phillies, but it was shot down by Jones himself, who has a full no-trade clause as a “10/5 player” (10 years MLB service time with past five seasons with the same team). While the O’s will continue to be abysmal in the short term, they overhauled their minor league system, which will hopefully be worth it in the long run for Orioles fans.

 

Cleveland Indians – Wait a minute. How can a team handily leading it’s division possibly be considered losers at anything? Follow along. The only additions the Tribe made before the deadline was adding OF Leonys Martin from Detroit and lefty reliever Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres. Hand is a good addition for the team, but it came at a significant cost with 22 year old blue chip prospect C/OF Francisco Mejía going to the Padres. I think GM Mike Chernoff overpaid for him, and I feel Mejía will be a star eventually. Hand will help the bullpen, but the rest of their relief corps have been anything but reliable. Andrew Miller’s return will help make the pen better. The addition of Martin adds to the mix in Cleveland’s outfield, but he’s not a difference maker. Barring a disaster, the Tribe will win their division, but they may not have enough horses to make a deep playoff run, especially with a leaky bullpen. If any of their stars like Lindor, Ramirez, or Corey Kluber go down, it will leave them much more vulnerable.

 

Check back soon as we will assess the trade deadline winners and losers in the National League.