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.

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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! 😎

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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.

Baseball: Is There a Better Game?

The question in the title is one of rhetoric, and subjective to the person reading it. To me, and hopefully many of you, there really isn’t a better game on Earth.

My love of baseball began young, watching games on TV with my grandpa. It didn’t matter who was playing. My grandfather would watch any game. I remember seeing Pete Rose in the later parts of his career. I remember the late, great Thurman Munson  and Reggie Jackson with the Yankees, Gary Carter with the then-Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals) and many other players. Grandpa, who passed in 1995, was notorious for mispronouncing players’ names. For one, ex-Pirates reliever Kent Tekulve was “tea-kettle”.

My Mom was also a baseball fan, and grew up as a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 1940’s and 50’s. Of course, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and have been in L.A. ever since. My step-father was a Yankees fan, and watching games with him got me turned onto the Bronx Bombers.

Baseball became a needed distraction for me as I grew into adolescence. For as much as my family enjoyed and passed on the love of the game to me, there was also much turmoil in my immediate family. Watching baseball was a welcome escape from the madness going on around me. Strat-O-Matic baseball helped chew up a lot of time when I wasn’t actually watching a game on TV. It was a source of comfort and it was reliable. It’s still my go-to when things get tough today!

As I grew into my high school years and beyond, I discovered friends (and women), graduated and got a job. Between working and having a young family, baseball took a back seat for a while. As life went on, I began to have problems with my degenerating spine. Resulting surgeries, pain and depression took hold, and I rediscovered baseball. It was a welcome distraction that once again helped me escape. Just as before, this wonderful game helped me find comfort as it did more than two decades before. The players are all different, but the game remains the same.

My son Jacob and I visited Yankee Stadium for the first time on April 19. I captured his first look at a Major League Baseball diamond.

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I’m trying to instill the love of baseball into my son, hopefully I can pass on my love of this great game to him. I won’t force it, because I’m proud of him for who he is now and for who he will be in the future.

Before I close, I want to give heartfelt thanks to everyone on Twitter who voiced their support over this past week. I was feeling particularly vulnerable, questioning if my own writing was good enough to have any kind of future. Your words mean a lot to me, and I look forward to getting back on the saddle. Thank you so much.

Charlie

Thank you, CC Sabathia!

In a matter of minutes, CC Sabathia will take the hill for the New York Yankees, making his first start in the final season of his long career. Him being activated from the injured list couldn’t come at a better time. CC probably won’t pitch too deep into the game since he’s not fully stretched out, but the stability he brings to the rotation and the team will be every bit as important.

When he came into the league back in 2001, Sabathia was the prototypical power pitcher. He flashed a upper-nineties fastball and an upper-eighties slider that chewed hitters up and spit them out. When he came to the Yankees in 2009, he still had that arsenal at his disposal. Things changed a handful of years ago, when age and wear and tear began to show, and CC had to change his style of pitching to stay effective. Yankees legend Andy Pettitte helped teach him the cut-fastball and helped change his approach to get guys out with lesser velocity.

 

Over the past few years, CC Sabathia returned to being a dependable pitcher, often times stopping losing streaks and getting the Yankees back on track. In addition, and just as importantly, he’s been a team leader and a rock for his teammates.

I look forward to watching him pitch this afternoon and the rest of the 2019 season. Let’s hope we’ll be able to see CC hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy one last time.

 

CC Sabathia Commissioners Trophy

 

Thank you CC!

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 Central

Welcome back! Pitchers and catchers have been in camps across Florida and Arizona, getting acquainted or reacquainted with each other. This week, position players will be in camp looking to get things started. In addition to players on 40 man rosters, there are several “non roster invitees” with each team, looking to make good impressions. Some are young guys, usually early round picks that teams are excited to see, and the rest are veteran ballplayers trying to latch on somewhere.

On Friday, we took a look at three non-roster invitees on each team in the AL East who To start off your Monday. Let’s pick three NRI’s on each team in the AL Central to talk about.

Chicago White Sox

  • Blake Rutherford (RF) – Rutherford, a 2016 1st round draft pick, came to the White Sox in the summer of 2017 from the New York Yankees in the deal that sent David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx. Rutherford, 21, spent last year in High-A ball where he posted a .293/.345/.436 slash line to go with seven home runs and 78 RBI. A left-handed hitter, Rutherford is tall and lanky (6’3″, 195), can play all three outfield spots and can steal a few bags (15 in 2018). He is expected to begin 2019 with the Double-A Birmingham Barons.
  • Ryan Goins (INF) – Goins began the 2018 season with the Royals, where he posted an anemic .226 average in 41 games. He was released at the beginning of July and signed a minor league deal with Philadelphia the following day. The 31 year old Goins spent the rest of the season with their Triple-A team where he hit .220 over 42 games. At least he was consistent. He’s no more than minor league filler, but will provide steady infield defense no matter where he plays.
  • Evan Marshall (RHP) – If 28 year old Evan Marshall never throws another major league pitch, he’s come out on top. He’s overcome and returned from brain injury from a 105 mph comebacker and he and his wife, Allie, had a major health scare when their four-month son Ryan became ill. Thankfully, it appears both Evan and Ryan are healthy now. Here’s hoping Evan can resume his major league career on Chicago’s South Side in 2019.

Cleveland Indians

  • Dioner Navarro (C) – Wait, what? The 35 year old switch-hitting catcher hasn’t played a major league game since 2016, when he split the season between the White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, hitting a weak .207. In 2018, Navarro played 20 games with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, with pedestrian results. Surprises can happen, but I will be stunned if he plays another MLB game.
  • Matt Joyce (OF) – After hitting a career-high 25 home runs in 2017, the left-handed slugger lost his mojo in ’18. He finished the season barely above the “Mendoza Line” at .208 and only seven HR’s in 83 games. After two seasons in Oakland, Joyce signed a minor-league deal with the Tribe a little more than a week ago. He rebounded nicely in ’16 after having a rough 2015 season in Anaheim, but at age 34, the odds are a bit longer.
  • Alex Wilson (RHP) – Signed to a minor league deal the same day as the aforementioned Matt Joyce, Wilson came from the Tigers, where he spent the last four seasons. He had decent numbers last season, posting a 1.05 WHIP to go with a 3.36 ERA. The 32 year old Wilson isn’t a strikeout pitcher. He “only” throws 92-93 with his heat and has a cutter (86-88) he employs well. Wilson could be a guy the Indians make good use of, especially after losing Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to free agency

Detroit Tigers

  • Casey Mize (RHP) – 21 year old Casey Mize was the number one pick in last year’s amateur draft after a successful collegiate career at Auburn University. He has a fastball that ranges 92-96 and can reach back for a little more when he needs it. Mize made five brief starts in the low minors, all but one at High-A ball in Lakeland (Florida State League). Over his 11.2 innings, he struck out ten and walked only two. Look for Mize to spend all 2019 in the minors, and at the very least the first month of 2020 so the Tigers can keep an extra year of team control.
  • Daz Cameron (OF) – Cameron, a 2015 first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros, was acquired by Detroit in the 2017 mid-season trade that sent Justin Verlander to Houston. The young center-fielder, the son of former MLB outfielder Mike Cameron, began 2018 in High-A Lakeland. He was promoted to Double-A after 58 games, and again promoted to Triple-A Toledo after a good showing in more than fifty games in Erie. In AAA, the sleek right-handed hitter struggled a bit in his brief 15 game stint as a Mud Hen. Look for him to begin ’19 in Toledo, but he could be in the Motor City by September, maybe even mid-season if he tears it up.
  • Pete Kozma (INF) – Thirty year old Pete Kozma will never be confused for a good hitter, but hard work and determination are a staple of his. After his days with the Cardinals ended after 2015, he bounced from the Yankees to the Rangers, to Detroit. He even found time to play 24 games with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League. Expect Pete to play in Toledo this year, assuming he stays with the organization. If nothing else, Kozma’s work ethic and experience will be more important to the team than his actual play.

Kansas City Royals

  • Drew Storen (RHP) – The ink on Storen’s minor league deal isn’t even dry, having signed his contract on Friday, Feb. 15.

If he doesn’t make the team, he has an opt-out he can exercise on March 25. Storen spent 2018 recovering and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, last pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017. If Drew is healthy, he will be a serviceable reliever. Storen, now 31, doesn’t have the velocity he had when he was closing for the Nationals in the early part of this decade, but he knows how to pitch. It’s no-risk, high reward potential for the Royals.

  • Homer Bailey (RHP) – Also pulled from Cincinnati’s recycling bin is former Red Homer Bailey, he of one of the most hideous season stat-lines in recent history. All he did over his 20 starts was go 1-14 with a 6.09 ERA and WHIP of 1.63. He is still only 32, and the velocity is still more than good enough, averaging more than 93 with his gas. Perhaps a much needed change of scenery and some mechanical adjustments will do Bailey good. Another no-risk/potential high reward.
  • M.J. Melendez (C) – 20 year old Melendez was Kansas City’s second round pick in 2017 and is rated as the team’s fifth-best prospect in their system. He spent last year in A-ball in Lexington of the South Atlantic League where he hit a respectable .251 with 19 home runs and 73 RBI in 111 games. It’ll be a while before Melendez reaches the majors for good, but rubbing elbows with the boys in the big-club now will be good motivation for him to work hard and get back.

Minnesota Twins

  • Royce Lewis (SS) – Royce is the top prospect in the Twins organization and was the number one pick of the 2017 amateur draft. Lewis, 19, spent last season split between Single-A Cedar Rapids, where he hit .315, and High-A Fort Myers (.255). His combined stats were respectable, logging .292/.352/.451 with 14 HR’s and 74 RBI. He stole 28 bases in 36 attempts. Lewis had 21 errors in 112 games, but experience and maturity will help clean that up. Look for him to start the season in High-A ball and advance to AA Pensacola later in 2019. If he really crushes it, a promotion to AAA Rochester late in the season isn’t be out of the question.
  • Lucas Duda (1B/DH) – Like a lot of current free agents, the market just hasn’t been there this offseason. The lefty power-hitting Duda took what he could, signing a minor league deal last week. The Twins need a first baseman after Joe Mauer retired, and this is a low-risk deal that will pay off if the 33 year old Duda has a rebound year. He’s never going to hit for average, but if Lucas hits closer to the 30 jacks he tallied in 2017, it’ll be well worth it.
  • Tim Collins (LHP) – Collins first made it to the major leagues back in 2011, when he made the Royals team out of spring training. He stayed in Kansas City through 2014, then missed the 2015, ’16 and ’17 seasons because he had two Tommy John surgeries. The 28 year old Collins resurfaced in 2018 with the Washington Nationals, making 38 appearances. The 5’7″, 168 lb. lefty is small in stature, but still generates a good fastball, still reaching 93-94 even after his elbow surgeries.

And with that, we’ve knocked off the AL Central Division. On Wednesday, we will turn our eyes to some non roster invitees in the AL West. Please join us!

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!

Dreaming of The Game

I’m sitting here on Thursday afternoon, looking outside at the trees covered with a thin layer of ice. It’s a far cry from the beautiful 63 degree day we had in Rochester, NY only three days prior. The week before that, we had blizzard conditions with wind-chill temps in the minus-twenties. This winter has seemed to go on forever and have more personalities than Sybil, and it’s still only the end of the first week of February.

Despite Old Man Winter being firmly parked here across the United States, I’m dreaming of warm temperatures and baseball.

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I took this photo at PNC Field in Moosic, PA last July 4, when I went to a game between the Buffalo Bisons and the Scranton Wilkes Barre RailRiders. I’ll describe this scene as I remember it. It rained and stormed most of the afternoon, but it all cleared out about an hour before I took this photo, taking the humidity with it. It was a pleasant 72 degrees, the air and grass smelled fresh and the smell of popcorn and hot-dogs were in the air. The PA system was playing upbeat music and there was a buzz of excitement in the crowd because New York Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka (on rehab assignment) was the RailRiders starting pitcher this day. Tanaka pitched well, allowing a pair of runs over five innings in a 4-2 win over Buffalo.

Spring training begins next week, with exhibition games beginning within a couple weeks. It’s still cold outside, but us baseball die-hards are most of the way through the darkness of the off-season. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the smells and sounds of the ballparks. 😎🌭🍿⚾

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.

 

Writers Making Statements with HOF Vote

Every December, baseball writers with Hall of Fame votes submit their ballots to determine who will be enshrined the following Summer in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

And it seems like every year or every other year, there is a baseball player who had such an outstanding career that one would think said player would have a chance to be unanimously voted in — 100% of the votes. In this particular case, the player in question is former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

Sadly, many writers take their privilege of voting and turn it into a circus. This seems to be the case every few years, and this time around it’s Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. In Ballou’s piece, he uses Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, an NFL kicker (Adam Viniateri) and an AHL hockey goaltender to drive home his point about being a clutch player. I won’t get into that here, but I linked his story for all to see.

My outrage isn’t about Ballou not giving Rivera a Hall of Fame vote, because it’s safe to assume Mariano will easily be voted in despite Ballou not voting for him. The problem at hand is he’s not voting for ANYONE. That is a travesty.

Players can stay on the ballot up to ten years as long as they receive at least five percent of combined votes from eligible BBWAA writers. If a player drops below that threshold, they are forever removed from the ballot going forward. If a player isn’t voted into the Hall (which requires earning 75% of votes) after ten years, he also is removed forever from the ballot.

Based on that information, every vote has meaning. To pull the nonsense Ballou is doing is a disservice to the players, other BBWAA writers and the game itself. It’s unfair to punish players, it’s literally toying with peoples’ lives. In my opinion, any writer who pulls this stunt deserves to have their voting rights stripped.

However, this isn’t the first time a voter has turned the process into a clown-show. In 2013, ESPN personality and Miami Herald columnist Dan LeBetard turned his ballot over to Deadspin because he felt the voting process needed reform. He was immediately stripped of the privilege to vote. MLB.com writer Ken Gurnick created a stir in early 2014 when he voted for only one player, Jack Morris (who has since been voted in by the HOF veteran’s committee), bypassing Greg Maddux (who was voted in anyway).

I think the BBWAA should review and take action against writers who abuse the voting process. There are plenty of writers who don’t have the ability to vote and would cherish the opportunity.