Author Archives: Brian D.

Game 140: Yankees vs. Red Sox

The Yankees begin a crucial four-game set with the Boston Red Sox tonight at the Stadium. While the division may be out of reach, this is still a must-win series, as is practically each one for the remainder of the season. After this, they play the Orioles for three games in Baltimore and then the Bo-Sox again for three games at Fenway. These next 11 games likely will decide the Yankees’ fate, so here’s hoping they win every one! 

Anyway, here are the lineups for tonight…

RED SOX

#2 Jacoby Ellsbury CF
#18 Shane Victorino RF
#15 Dustin Pedroia 2B
#34 David Ortiz DH
#29 Daniel Nava LF
#12 Mike Napoli 1B
#7 Stephen Drew SS
#20 Ryan Lavarnway C
#16 Will Middlebrooks 3B

Pitching: #44 Jake Peavy

YANKEES

#11 Brett Gardner CF
#2 Derek Jeter SS
#24 Robinson Cano 2B
#12 Alfonso Soriano LF
#14 Curtis Granderson DH
#13 Alex Rodriguez 3B
#55 Lyle Overbay 1B
#31 Ichiro Suzuki RF
#19 Chris Stewart C

Pitching: #47 Ivan Nova

Game time: 7:05pm
TV: YES Network
Radio: WCBS 880

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Miraculous 8th Inning Comeback Propels Yanks To 6-4 Win

APTOPIX White Sox Yankees Baseball.JPEG-01d77

Despite going up against arguably the best pitcher in baseball in White Sox ace Chris Sale, it still would’ve been a disappointment had the Yankees lost last night. There’s no need to explain that the team has to go on a 2011 Cardinals-esque run to even have a shot at the playoffs in a few weeks, so any loss against a lesser team is simply unacceptable.

Unfortunately, it looked like the Yanks had accepted their fate in last night’s game, as Sale had gone out and completely dominated the lineup. If it weren’t for yet another defensive miscue by Chicago that allowed Vernon Wells to steal home in the 2nd inning, the 24-year old lefty would’ve been working on a shutout as  he started the 8th inning after allowing just three hits.

After recording an out, Sale surrendered a single to Derek Jeter and a double to Robinson Cano that put runners on second and third. Manager Robin Ventura elected to bring in Nate Jones to face Alfonso Soriano with Chicago’s  4-1 lead still in-tact.

But, it probably shocked no one who was on the field when Soriano poked a single into center field, scoring Jeter and Cano to make it a 4-3 game. Even on nights when he may not have his A-game, Sori just keeps on producing and coming through in the clutch. It’s pretty remarkable.

Anyway, Jones stayed in there to face Alex Rodriguez who singled to center as well, putting runners at the corners. As Joe Girardi went to his bench and pinch-hit Curtis Granderson for Vernon Wells, Ventura did some match-making of his own by bringing in Donnie Veal.

Yet, it was Joe who won this battle of the skippers as Grandy picked up the Yankees’ fifth straight hit of the inning with an RBI single. The game was now tied up at 4, and fans who were watching could swear a DeLorean picked them up and brought them back to 2009. It was that magical of a comeback, and the best part was that it was far from over.

Mark Reynolds struck out, but Ventura again went to the bullpen, bringing in Matt Lindstrom. Although it really didn’t matter who was on the mound, because the momentum had shifted completely. People knew that the Yanks were going to find a way to get it done no matter what.

So when Eduardo Nunez laced a two-run double down the left field line, the Yankees had a 6-4 lead and it was time to “put it on the left side”, as Michael Kay once said. In came Mariano Rivera and in a matter of minutes the ballgame was over, as Mo racked up his 40th save of the season.

While the Yanks may not have gained any ground as the Rays defeated the Angels, they luckily did not lose any. The team was well on its way to a well-deserved loss through the first 7 1/2 innings, but luckily they found a way to claw back in what may turn out to be their best game of the season.

But as is the case during a playoff chase like this, last night’s likely Yankee Classic is exactly that – in the past – and the Yanks have to focus on winning TODAY. It’ll be our former ace CC Sabathia going up against right-hander Erik Johnson, who is making his Major League debut. Game time is 7:05pm, and it’s can’t-miss television, folks. Now is the time to be fully invested in this Yankee team. It’s got talent, it’s got heart, it’s got pride, and it’s got the mentality Mariano Duncan and the 1996 world championship team had – that “We play today, we win today, das it!”

Pondering Andy Pettitte’s Future

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees2013 will rightfully be remembered as Mariano Rivera’s final season. He announced his intent to “hang ‘em up” at a press conference during spring training, and has not backed down from those statements. This truly is it for the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.

So, as the calendar flips to September, all eyes will be on Mo as he and the Yankees try to will their way into the playoffs. It will take a big, and possibly historic run for the team to do so, but no matter how far the Yanks go, we are all experiencing the final weeks of Rivera’s legendary career.

Two players who have been through it all with him are of course Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. Aside from Andy’s three-year stint with the Houston Astros, the trio have been together for their entire adult lives. Starting out as fresh-faced minor leaguers who became fan-favorite youngsters of the late-90′s dynasty, the “Core Three” are now grizzled, battle-tested veterans in the twilight of their careers.

While Rivera has made it clear that his future in baseball extends no further than this fall, and Jeter seems intent on at least playing one more season, Andy Pettitte appears very uncertain if his days in pinstripes are numbered.

Or, if he wants them to be, that is.

Andy has had quite a frustrating 2013 season. Pettitte picked up right where he left off in 2012 by having a strong start in April until back issues forced him to go on the disabled list and miss two weeks. When he returned, he was not the same pitcher, allowing 38 runs in 68.1 innings in June and July. Many people believed he was done, some suggesting he should be removed from the rotation. He has since rebounded with four straight quality starts, but certainly cost the Yankees and himself a fair share of wins during the dog days of summer.

When he came out of retirement last year, it wasn’t just because he got the “itch” to go back out and play. Pettitte has always been a competitor and his sole focus is winning. Had he not been effective in 2012, it’s likely he wouldn’t have come back. But, thanks to his injury-shortened season and glimpses of ace-like performances, Andy decided to give it another go this year.

Even though he has rebounded, he still isn’t the same. He runs out of gas very quickly once he hits 85 pitches, and has gotten extremely lucky with players popping up or completely whiffing on easily hittable breaking pitches left up in the zone. Yet, (and though it has almost become a cliche) it is true that 85 quality pitches from Pettitte is better than what they’ve gotten out of Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia, and even Hiroki Kuroda as of late.

Still, Andy will turn 42 years old next June, and he is one awkward delivery away from another injury. He is that fragile. Does he really want to return next year, knowing he will be extremely limited as far as the leash he is given in each start? And, to ask the even bigger question – is it worth it? The Yankees are no where near World Series contention, even if they do make it to October or come into next season with a somewhat formidable team. And surely all that is on Pettitte’s agenda at this point is winning it all. He has come back, he has pitched well for the most part, and certainly has assessed any regrets he had about retiring back in 2011.

That’s why I just can’t see any reason for Andy to want to pitch in 2014, and right now I don’t think he will. He has a had a long, successful Major League career, and his comeback has been better than I think any of us expected. But at some point, every player eventually comes to the realization that it is time to walk away. Andy thought he had after the 2010 season, but I think this winter he truly will “hang ‘em up” for good.

So, while we all relish each time Mariano Rivera jogs in from the bullpen to “Enter Sandman”, we should also take pleasure in watching the final starts that ol’ number 46 makes this season. Because like Mo, he is almost certainly in his final weeks with the New York Yankees.

Game 110: Yankees @ White Sox

Regular Season Game 110
New York Yankees (57-53) vs. Chicago White Sox (40-69)
U.S. Cellular Field – Chicago, Illinois
TV/Radio: YES/WCBS 880
8:05pm

YANKEES

Brett Gardner CF
Alfonso Soriano DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Vernon Wells 1B
Curtis Granderson LF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Eduardo Nunez SS
Chris Stewart C

Pitching: Andy Pettitte, LHP

WHITE SOX

Alexi Ramirez SS
Jeff Keppinger 3B
Alex Rios RF
Paul Konerko 1B
Adam Dunn DH
Gordon Beckham 2B
Dayan Vicideo LF
Casper Wells CF
Josh Phegley C

Pitching: Jose Quintana, LHP

Now for some news + notes…

- Surprise! Alex Rodriguez has been suspended. However, as you can tell, he will appeal and likely play out the remainder of the season, should he stay healthy. The best us Yankees fans can do is just hope he plays well and isn’t too much of a circus after tonight.

- Word just broke that Derek Jeter is going back on the disabled list with a Grade 1 calf strain. This will be his third DL stint of 2013, as yesterday Jeter himself called this season “a nightmare”. Ironically, activating A-Rod will be the corresponding roster move.

- To a somewhat random degree, Brent Lillibridge has been designated for assignment, and David Adams has been called up.

- And finally, the Chicago Cubs claimed Thomas Neal off waivers from the Yankees today. He had two stints with the team this year for a grand total of four games, picking up 2 hits in 13 plate appearances. Happy trails.

Offseason decisions coming back to haunt Yanks as deadline looms

image

Well, it’s finally here. It’s July 31st, otherwise known as the non-waiver trading deadline, and in a matter of hours the Yankees will have either added another bat, or decided  to ride out the remainder of the season with the guys they have.

Coming off a stinging loss by way of a walk-off single by Dodgers’ second baseman Mark Ellis, the team now stands at 55-51. Slowly sinking closer to the mediocre .500 mark, the Yanks have now fully embodied the club we all expected them to be when the season opened – a power-less, atrocious offense coupled with good, but not great pitching.

Sitting 8.5 games out of first place in the A.L. East and somehow just 3.5 games out of the Wild Card race, the Yanks are by no means “done”. Brian Cashman Ownership brought back Alfonso Soriano, Jeter has returned, and Curtis Granderson is finishing up his rehab assignment, so the lineup will certainly be given a boost by having those guys back.

Meanwhile on the pitching front, (aside from CC and when Hughes starts at the Stadium) things have been improving. Pettitte is finding his groove again, Nova is pitching even better than in his breakout 2011 season, and Kuroda continues to be a dark horse in the A.L. Cy Young race. The bullpen continues to impress with the likes of Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, D-Rob, and of course Mo, so there is nothing to really be concerned about there.

This is stating the obvious, but for the first time in years, the lineup is the overwhelming achilles heel to this season. Even with Sabathia’s treacherous season and Hughes’ long-ball woes, this current pitching staff coupled with any Yankees lineup from the past decade would easily win 90+ games.

But that’s the thing – this isn’t any Yankees lineup from the past decade. It’s 2013’s.

There’s no Sheffield, no Bernie, no Giambi, no Abreu, no Matsui, no Posada, no Swisher, no Teixeira, no A-Rod…must I keep going? Even with Sori, Jeet, and Grandy, they would need a Giancarlo Stanton-caliber bat added to the mix to really make them a threatening team. With the way Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Boston are all playing, even if there are signs of improvement from the players currently on the roster, I can’t imagine it being enough in the end.

As mentioned, the Yankees are either going to make a move, or they won’t. Stanton is not on the block, nor does the team have the caliber of prospects needed to make a deal even if he was. The best hitter that could be on the move is Hunter Pence, followed by Michael Young, Nate Schierholtz, and [depending on Schierholtz] David DeJesus. Pence is adamant about staying with San Francisco, Young prefers Boston than the Bronx, and the Yankees have too many outfielders to realistically take on a Schierholtz or DeJesus.

Like I said, even if any of those guys were to be fitted for pinstripes in the next few hours, it wouldn’t make much of a difference when comparing this “Bombers” lineup to that of the Orioles, Red Sox, or even the Rays. Power is not the tell-all, be-all factor of a team, but all three clubs have, and can out-slug the Yanks, even in their own bandbox known as the new Yankee Stadium.

It would be great to see the team rally around Mariano Rivera’s final season and go out and make a valiant playoff push, but I just don’t see it happening. At it’s worse the pitching has been steadily above-average, but at it’s best the lineup is nothing close to deserving of a spot in October.

Maybe I’m being harsh, and perhaps this club as constructed could have been better in another season with less competition. But the fact remains that the Yankees picked the worst year possible to let so many core guys (Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Raul Ibanez) leave via free agency, and just hope that the oldest team in baseball would have one last magical run in them.

Clearly they don’t, and no matter what happens by 4 o’clock PM today, the Yanks should begin making plans to go golfing come this fall. It’s unfortunate, but we can’t act like we didn’t see this coming.

Yankees re-acquire Alfonso Soriano in trade w/Cubs

alfonso_soriano_by_cool_sports_players_1Next February, it will be an even ten years since the Yankees decided to trade for Rangers star shortstop Alex Rodriguez. At first, a deal with Boston was vetoed by the Commissioner’s Office, so Texas turned their attention to what New York had to offer.

Seeing the potential success A-Rod could bring to the team on and off the field, the Bombers parted with their fan favorite Dominican second baseman Alfonso Soriano, along with a player to be named later. That “PTBNL” ended up being infielder Joaquin Arias, selected from a pool of prospects that included international signee Robinson Cano.

To say the least, things haven’t quite worked out for the Yanks. However, they have now made a move to bring this controversial and monumental decade in franchise history full circle.

So, here it is. The Yankees have re-acquired Alfonso Soriano in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. Chicago has agreed to pay 18 of the 25 million dollars still owed to Soriano, and in exchange pitching prospect Corey Black will be heading to the Windy City.

“Sori” is a different player than he was when he last wore the pinstripes. No longer a speed demon, leadoff hitter, nor infielder, Soriano has played left field since his one and only season with the Washington Nationals in 2006. He has managed to stay mostly healthy throughout his career, as now at 37 years old Sori has been a lock for at least 20 home runs, 70 RBI, and a slugging percentage in the .400s each year.

So far in 2013, the seven-time All-Star is batting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI, which instantly makes him the Yankees’ best [active] right-handed hitter. Yet, sabermetrics suggest this won’t be that big of a boost to the lineup (0.7 WAR, 100 wRC+). Defensively he is also a liability, perhaps even worse than Raul Ibanez who faked his way as an everyday left fielder in 2012.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Soriano’s deal runs through 2014, so he now joins Ichiro and Vernon Wells as another old, washed-up outfielder that is practically irremovable considering all the money owed to him by now both Chicago and the Yankees.

This is not to say Soriano can’t be a somewhat productive player for this year and next, but it’s unlikely he will be as productive as a younger, perhaps cheaper alternative (Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, and Jason Kubel to name a few).

However in the interim, as in the rest of this season, this definitely will help out the Yankees lineup. They are desperately searching for power from the right side of the plate and it appears Soriano can provide that. He will likely bat in the middle of the order, and probably will DH more often than not with Vernon Wells still being a capable defensive outfielder.

But, this probably can’t won’t be a season-changing addition, and certainly without Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, [maybe A-Rod] and perhaps another bat via trade, this deal could go down as a useless one.

It will be nice to see an old face back in pinstripes, but it may be nothing more than that. Don’t expect an offensive turnaround with Soriano now in the fold; as mentioned it will take a lot more than him to get this team back into legitimate playoff contention.

Still, let’s all welcome back to the Yankees Alfonso Soriano. Hopefully he proves me wrong.

(UPDATE) Yankees close to re-acquiring Alfonso Soriano

Thursday, 8:00pm: According to Cubs manager Dale Sveum, the deal is “99%” complete, as Soriano has been scratched from the lineup and is saying his goodbyes. Reports say Chicago will pick up $25 million of Sori’s remaining $36 million on his contract. In exchange, the Yankees are rumored to be sending prospects Joel De La Cruz and Chase Whitley to the Windy City.

Tuesday, 12:00pm: Word broke late last night via the New York Post’s George King that the Yankees were close to trading for their former rookie sensation and current Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano. They would apparently surrender no more than a mid-level prospect, and Chicago would cover most of Soriano’s remaining contract (2 years, $36 million) that expires next season.

However, there are conflicting reports on the potential deal. Just read what Cubs GM Jed Hoyer had to say on MLB Network Radio earlier today:

Even if a deal is reached, Soriano has 10/5 rights and can veto a trade to any team. But, it’s been reported several times in the past few years that if a return to New York was on the table, Soriano would gladly accept. The 37-year old is currently batting .256 with 17 home runs, 51 RBI, and a .471 slugging percentage, a right-handed power bat which the Yankees have lacked all season.

Soriano was the Yankees’ starting second baseman from 2001-2003, but was dealt to the Texas Rangers in February of 2004 for – yep, you guessed it – Alex Rodriguez. As A-Rod faces another injury and a possible suspension, Alfonso Soriano coming back now would be irony at its finest.

We will update you as more news comes in.

Game 101 – Rangers vs. Yankees

Regular Season Game 101
Texas Rangers (55-45) vs. New York Yankees (53-47)
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington – Arlington, Texas
TV/Radio: YES/WCBS 880
8:05pm EST

YANKEES:
Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Lyle Overbay 1B
Vernon Wells DH
Eduardo Nunez SS
Brent Lillibridge 3B
Melky Mesa LF
Chris Stewart C

Pitching: Andy Pettitte, LHP

RANGERS:

Ian Kinsler 2B
Elvis Andrus SS
Nelson Cruz RF
Adrian Beltre 3B
A.J. Pierzynski DH
Jeff Baker LF
Mitch Moreland 1B
Geovany Soto C
Craig Gentry CF

Pitching: Matt Garza, RHP *Rangers debut

Now for some news + notes…

- Curtis Granderson (broken pinky) is set to begin a rehab assignment tomorrow with the High-A Tampa Yankees. Jayson Nix (oblique) played five innings at third base today with them, going 0-2. It is believed both will return soon.

- Outfielder Alfonso Soriano was is not in the Cubs’ lineup tonight in an effort to “clear his head”, amid all the trade rumors. The Yankees are still trying to work out a trade for their former second baseman, and it appears Soriano is willing to return to New York should a deal go down. When asked if he would use his no-trade clause to prevent being dealt to the Yanks, Sori said, “No, no, no, no.” Chicago reporters are putting the chances of a deal happening at 75%.

- Finally, as it is too big of a story to ignore, here is a statement from Yankees GM Brian Cashman on the latest news regarding Alex Rodriguez.

Game 100 – Rangers vs. Yankees

Regular Season Game 100
Texas Rangers (55-44) vs. New York Yankees (52-47)
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington – Arlington, Texas
TV/Radio: MY9/WCBS 880
8:05pm EST

YANKEES:
Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Lyle Overbay 1B
Vernon Wells DH
Eduardo Nunez SS
Brent Lillibridge 3B
Melky Mesa LF
Austin Romine C

Pitching: Phil Hughes, RHP

RANGERS:

Ian Kinsler 2B
Jurickson Profar 3B
Nelson Cruz RF
Adrian Beltre DH
A.J. Pierzynski C
Elvis Andrus SS
Mitch Moreland 1B
Craig Gentry CF
Engel Beltre LF

Pitching: Alexi Ogando, RHP

Three years later, George’s death looms large over the Yankees

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
A
nd the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

The last verse of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” can perfectly be applied to the current state of baseball’s most championed franchise, the New York Yankees.

Yes, the team has continued to make the playoffs and be perennial contenders, but things haven’t been the same and the times surely began to change when the “dynasty” era of Yankees baseball came to a crashing end on July 13th, 2010.

New Yorik Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner speaks at a new

This of course was when George Steinbrenner passed away due to a massive heart attack at the age of 80. His death came just two days after long-time public address announcer Bob Sheppard, known as “The Voice of God”, passed on as well at the ripe old age of 99. Two seemingly immortal figures of the organization were gone in a flash.

Admittedly, both legendary men had disappeared from the public years prior. Due to deteriorating health, Sheppard could no longer muster the strength needed to do his job, as he announced his last game in person on September 5th, 2007. He would later officially retire in November of 2009.

The Boss, on the other hand, made the decision himself to step down as the day-to-day operator of the team. On November 20th, 2008, his sons Hal and Hank Steinbrenner officially became the co-owners of the Yankees, with Hal becoming the managing general partner as well.

George had faith in them, so everyone else did too. And Hal gave no reason to think otherwise when he went out and signed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixiera all to huge free agent contracts during his first winter as the owner of his dad’s most prized possession. Spending in excess of $400 million, the phrase “like father, like son” held true when he put the Yankees in a position win the World Series in 2009.

Which they did on November 4th, 2009, with George Steinbrenner watching from his home in Tampa, Florida. The Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games to capture, what seemed like, an elusive 27th championship since losing the 2001 Fall Classic to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

100_0806Sitting high up in the grandstands that night, I can recall, “Boss, this is for you!” displayed across the Yankee Stadium jumbo-tron. And it was true – the Yanks had won this for George. They sensed his morality and Hal wanted to ensure that if his dad’s life was coming to an end, one of his last memories could be watching his Yankees win the World Series, as George once said that breathing is the only thing better than winning.

So, when The Boss did pass on eight months later, the Bombers were the defending champions and in first place, which was probably the only way he could envision leaving the earth.

And it was that day, as I said, when times really started to change. The Yankees lost control of the AL East and settled for the Wild Card in 2010, losing in the ALCS to the Texas Rangers. Of course, the Yankees had far worse seasons under The Boss’ reign, but you really felt his absence, especially in the following offseason. The Yanks attempted to sign lefty ace Cliff Lee to a contract similar to the one Sabathia received, yet they couldn’t quite close the deal as Lee went back to the Phillies.

Once Cliff spurned the Yankees, the team didn’t know what to do, and most probably were looking back on some foolish moves made once The Boss stepped down as the team’s owner. On December 9th, 2009, the Yankees traded two of their most highly touted prospects, Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy, in a three-team deal to get Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson. New York had decided to sacrifice its future for immediate success, something that George had been turned away from doing for years.

Now, there is no denying that The Boss had looked into, and nearly pulled the trigger on, trading the Core Four and other players such as Bernie Williams and Robinson Cano early in each of their respective careers. But when George felt the need to upgrade the team for a particular season, there were guys like Buck Showalter and Gene “Stick” Michael to convince him to hold onto the future stars.

Buck was, of course, fired by George after 1995, and Stick left his position as vice president of the team in 2002. It can be argued that with their departures, went the genius scouting of the Yanks that they had lacked for decades, and once again are in need of. As mentioned, with the Granderson trade, the Yankees mindlessly dealt top prospects for what will turn out to be a three-year rental of a potent, yet strike-out prone outfield bat. Meanwhile, Jackson has become one of the best lead-off men in the game with the Tigers, and Kennedy was an N.L. Cy Young candidate in 2011 with Arizona.

That trade, along with the one for Javier Vazquez weeks later, are moves that wouldn’t have happened if The Boss and his “cabinet”, if you will, were still here. They had the guts to stand up to George and tell him he was wrong, and he had the trust in his advisors to realize that and pull back or prevent any franchise-altering moves to go down. In the three years since he died, there’s already been a slew of those types of trades, and not for the better. Don’t even remind me of the Montero-Pineda deal, which, while we can’t judge quite yet, certainly hasn’t benefited the Yankees at all.

At the same time, while trading away and failing to develop solid prospects, the Yankees haven’t dipped back into the free agent market for any impactful players either. This has left them to piecemeal together their roster over the past few years, signing players off the scrap-heap and simply getting lucky that they actually perform well. The Yanks ran out of such luck towards the end of 2011, resulting in a disappointing ALDS loss, and in 2012 Derek Jeter broke his ankle and the team was subsequently swept out of the ALCS.

While consistently making it into October is universally considered a successful streak of seasons, every year since George Steinbrenner died, it just feels like the franchise is pushing itself farther and farther away from a championship. Although 2013 can perhaps be considered a fluke season considering all the injuries, the Yankees are in a dire situation for the future. Their top prospects are either just drafted or still in the lower levels of the minor league system, and their lone star is Robinson Cano, who is an impending free agent. Their headlining talent of the past such as Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia, are all either injured, aging, and past their primes, or perhaps a combination of all three. Relying on them to be key contributors at this point is downright foolish, and won’t garner the results the team may hope for as far as October appearances are concerned.

A reluctancy to spend, coupled with an ignorance to focus on developing the farm system, the Yankees have little to offer their fans that would make them, first of all, return to Yankee Stadium and turn their TVs back on to the YES Network. And second, sense a 28th world championship soon to be won.

You may blame it on the scouting. You may blame it on the front office. Heck, you may blame it on the baseball gods giving the Yankees hell for the first time in decades. But the fact remains that since The Boss passed away three years ago today, things haven’t, and probably never will be the same.

Is handicapping the payroll again worth keeping Cano?

robinson-cano2Amazingly, the Yankees are nearing the halfway point in the season. Yes, the All-Star break is next month, but their 81st game of the campaign will be played at the beginning of next week.

The team is in an unusual situation to say the least. Though only trailing the Red Sox by one game in the loss column, the Yanks have struggled mightily over the past few weeks. Since the Subway Series when they were swept aside by the Mets, there hasn’t been any showing of the hope and promise that the year once had back in April.

Sure, no one could have foreseen Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, and Mark Teixeira all going back on the disabled list days after they came off of it, but the fact remains the offense is anemic, only recently beginning to score north of a couple runs a game.

Brett Gardner has been the one keeping the lineup from turning Astro-nomically bad, currently hitting .285 with 28 RBI and 42 runs scored. That may surprise you since the Yankees have an even better hitter playing everyday in second baseman Robinson Cano, but to say he has had a good season [considering his pure talent and expectations of having a big contract year] would be wrong.

Robbie got off to a torrid start in April, hitting .327. Since then, he has hit .257 in May and .229 so far in June, failing to come up with the big hits when needed. He’s been seen swinging out of his shoes on some occasions, striking out and swinging at pitches that no .300 career hitter would.

The argument certainly can be made that with the replacement-level players that surround Cano in the lineup, he is not getting any good pitches to hit. I mean, who in their right mind would pitch to him when you have Lyle Overbay or Thomas Neal on deck? But at some point, Cano has to make the adjustment to focus on making contact with the ball and getting on base, rather than smashing a game-winning home run. With the superstar status he’s gained over the past few seasons along with the pressure he must be under to perform every night, it’s understandable, but ultimately unacceptable.

That’s why it concerns me when the Yankees seem willing to hand out a lucrative long-term contract to this guy. Right now they are far apart on negotiations, but all signs point to Robbie eventually inking a deal worth at least $150 million over six, seven, eight or even more years. And to see the way he’s performed this year when for the first time he truly is the sole bright spot in the lineup, it’s concerning.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think Robinson Cano is a top-five MLB player when he is playing up to his potential. He’s certainly the best second baseman in the game and will be for a while. Unlike other pessimists, it’s not necessarily how he’ll age that worries me, it’s the rest of the Yankees that Cano will play with for the duration of his deal.

If you’re still living in the fantasy world that Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson will come back strong later this year and lead the charge to a 28th world championship, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. I am an optimistic, but realistic fan, and right now the chances that those four come back and provide so much production so that teams will wind up giving Robbie pitches to hit are rather slim. Cano is the most feared hitter in any Yankee lineup that can be conjured up using the 40 man roster, and we saw how the short returns of Tex, Youk, and Grandy resulted in disrupting the chemistry and production that was once consistently evident in the offense.

Robinson+Cano+Detroit+Tigers+v+New+York+Yankees+783bvcpDTPKlWhich brings me to another point – what will the Yankees lineup look like for the next five years? As frustrating as it’s been to watch the team this season, it may become the norm to see guys who really should be part time minor leaguers, be in the lineup every night in the Show. It seems like Jeet and Alex’s careers are hanging on by a thread, Granderson is almost surely to be lost this offseason, and who knows if Tex can ever be the 30-home run, 100 RBI guy he was penciled in to be throughout the duration of his own albatross of a contract. That leaves way too many holes on the roster for the Yanks to really focus on paying just one solid ballplayer.

It reminds me of a question probably asked when the Texas Rangers were debating to trade Alex Rodriguez – “Are we a better team with [Cano] than without him?” It can be argued that the Yankees really won’t be if they re-sign him. Sure, they may win a few more games, and the new Yankee Stadium will look just a little more full every night, but is that really worth once again limiting your ability to address other areas of the team?

Now I know many of the young, budding MLB superstars have been or will be locked-up by their current teams before they ever hit free agency. But remember, the Yanks’ current top prospects such as Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams, and recent draft picks like Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo are years away from becoming everyday contributors in the Major Leagues. So, where does that leave the team in its search for new “Bronx Bombers”?

Personally, I see it as a dead end.

The Yankees can never be considered a “rebuilding” team. Their fanbase is too widespread and hungry for success for them ever to accept a year when they weren’t striving for a World Series title. And although letting Robinson Cano walk after this season would at first feel like an apocalyptic decision, it may ultimately result in a brighter future for a Yankee dynasty to re-surface.

The first few years may be very tough to swallow, but letting the fading stars play out their deals and starting fresh may just be a recipe for greater success down the road. If Cano is playing like a Hall-of-Famer and making $20 million a season, but has no support from his teammates to actually win anything, what’s the point? Higher TV ratings on YES? Higher attendance ratings?

Maybe, but that’s not what Yankee fans care about. It’s about championships at the end of the day, and once again giving another bloated contract to a player who will be done with his “prime years” very soon, would be arguably a move pushing the Yankees even farther away from a return to glory.

In a cruel twist of fate, the Yankees will need A-Rod the most

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Two weeks ago, it appeared that the Alex Rodriguez era in New York was coming to a crashing conclusion. MLB had announced they are seeking to suspend him and about twenty other ballplayers for having connections to Anthony Bosch, the PED supplier from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami.

Many Yankees fans reacted with pure joy, believing that A-Rod and his mess of a contract could finally be shed by the team. With him taking only baby steps in his long road back from a second hip surgery, the looming 100-game suspension almost certainly would ensure that 2013 would be a year without the 37-year old has-been slugger.

As the Yanks had just gotten Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis back off of the disabled list, there was little doubt that the team wouldn’t continue its surprisingly hot start to the season. Yet, just returning home after losing six out of ten games on the West Coast, the Bombers have hit a low point. The offense can barely score more than two runs a game, and the pitching has been average at best.

Adding injury to insult, Tex and Youk were both placed back on the disabled list with the same injuries that had them land on it in the first place. Inflammation in the right wrist for Mark, and a herniated disc for Kevin, one that was just operated on and will take 10-12 weeks at the minimum to heal.

If it explains their anemic performance since first returning from the DL, so be it. But the fact remains that the disabled list has once again inflated back to including all of the potent Yankee hitters not named Robinson Cano. With Youkilis almost certainly done for the year, and the constant threat of Teixeira suffering the same fate, it is not looking promising for the lineup to get any better any time soon.

That is, until A-Rod comes back.

You read that right. As far as the public knows, the only evidence MLB has been able to sniff out of Biogenesis is the journal of names and drugs Bosch allegedly kept for keeping tabs on all his clients. If I were a betting man, the investigation could go on well into the winter. Meaning (when he is physically ready), A-Rod can come back and be re-inserted as the team’s everyday third baseman.

It sounds ridiculous and trust me it’s not something I want to see happen. I am just like the common fan who would forever love Brian Cashman if he was able to get #13 out of the Bronx somehow. But, putting all the baggage Rodriguez brings with him aside, the Yankees need offense in the worst way possible. The trade market looks incredibly thin for impact bats, and the Yankees probably don’t have the pieces to acquire one even if they tried to.

So if I’m the Yankees and I can count on A-Rod hitting .280, driving in runs, and having the occasional power to hit one out, why the hell wouldn’t he be welcomed back? The fact is, no one knows if Curtis Granderson will still have enough pop in his broken hands to be the main power source of the lineup, or if Derek Jeter’s cranky ankle will hold up for him to be a reliable top-of-the-order hitter for the stretch run.

At this point in the year, as the lineup looks as bad as its been in decades, Alex Rodriguez may be the last hope for the Yankees to have a shot at competing for a playoff spot. The Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays are not going away anytime soon, and they have the younger, more athletic, and overall healthier ball-clubs.

Counting on Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Travis Hafner to be a potent middle-of-the-order bunch come the dog days of summer and the tense moments of a pennant race is not the way to go. As lost as the season once seemed for the Yankees’ oldest, most banged-up stars, it may be up to the Captain, and more importantly A-Rod alone, to keep Yankee Stadium’s lights glowing for the month of October.

As crazy as it sounds, it may be the only rational route to another Yankee playoff berth.

The time is now to trade Joba and Hughes

image-6It still seems like yesterday when, in 2007, two Yankee mainstay pitchers of the past seven seasons made their first appearances in pinstripes.

First, there was 20-year old Phil Hughes, a hard throwing right-hander who drew comparisons to Roger Clemens as he advanced through the farm system. Drafted 23rd overall in the 2004 amateur draft, the Yankees had high hopes that finally, after a dry spell of All-Star caliber players emerging from the minors, that Hughes would become their ace for the next decade. Due to injuries to the pitching staff, he came up and made his debut on April 26th, 2007, finishing the year with 72.2 innings under his belt and a respectable 4.46 ERA for such a young starting pitcher in such a ferocious AL East division.

Then there was Joba Chamberlain, who was drafted 41st overall in 2006. Not even a full calendar year after signing his first contract, the then 21-year old Joba burst upon the scene when he pumped 100 mph fastballs past a dazed Blue Jays team in Toronto on August 7th. His pure dominance of each batter he faced allowed Joe Torre to entrust him with the eighth inning job, setting up Mariano Rivera. Like Mo had done years prior, it was the hope of the organization that Joba would start out as the bridge to a dominant closer, and then become one. Allowing one earned run in 24 innings surely reassured any of the doubters.

Since such promising starts to their careers in ’07, both Hughes and Chamberlain have endured injuries, moves into and out of the bullpen, and flat out inconsistent performances. There have certainly been bright spots along the way for both hurlers, however.

Hughes pitched to a 3.03 ERA in 2009, starting out as a starter and then filling the role of set-up man admirably. And after permanently being put back into the rotation in 2010, he won 18 games. Also, Joba was putting together a terrific 2011 season [2.83 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched] before he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Yet, to claim their Yankee careers to date have been successful ones would probably be a misguided belief. They are now in what are considered their “prime” years, and yet 2013 has been one of the ugliest for Joba and Phil. Of course, with the offense the pitching staff has to deal with or lack thereof, both are certainly under a lot of stress and any small mistakes they make are magnified like never before. But, there is no escaping the fact that both of them have underperformed, no matter the circumstances.

Yes, Hughes has had his share of good starts this season, but they are normally sandwiched in-between horrible outings. It is still fresh in this fan’s mind that he allowed 7 runs in the first inning to the Mariners, who in all respect have a better offense than last season, but certainly not good enough to put up rallies like that against even an average starter. But as I said, then he goes out the other night in Seattle against the very same team and throws seven shutout innings. It’s frustrating, bizarre, and as much potential as he has to be great every night, the times that he isn’t have really cost the Yankees so far this year.

At this point it really doesn’t matter what Joba Chamberlain does, because he is in the doghouse for eternity with Yankee fans. No matter how he “shushed” Mariano Rivera, all I care about is what happens on the field, and even still Joba has been disappointing. Granted, he did miss practically the whole month of May with a strained right oblique, but collectively in 2013 he has given up three more hits than innings pitched, a red flag right off the bat. Even when he has an “effective” outing, he still often gets into trouble  by nibbling at the corners and forgetting that he boasts a 95 mph fastball that still has some bite left in it. He too has been such a streaky pitcher, and ultimately you’d have to hope it wouldn’t last long in New York. Right?

Well, that is why I strongly consider that the Yankees trade not just one of them, but both Joba and Phil. Like I started the article saying, these two guys have been here for a long time, and it certainly would be odd not seeing them in the dugout or on the mound every other day. But it’s been shown that when they are “on”, Chamberlain and Hughes can be two of the most dominating pitchers in the American League, and that potential alone attracts pitching-deprived teams.

With the way the Yankees lineup has fallen into its worst slump since likely before I was born, I am shocked there aren’t many rumors going around about the team trading some of its pitchers. The pitching has been tremendous, Hughes and Joba aside, so what is holding back Cashman from dumping them off for a bat? I’m not talking players. A literal bat.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but the fact remains that the Yankees are not a better team with Joba and Hughes on the roster than they are with them off it. Now I have no specific players I would target, which may be where my argument falls a bit flat, but there has to be a match somewhere. There always is, if the Yankees want one. It would be bittersweet to trade Joba, and especially Hughes, but giving up on these guys in a trade would be a signal to me that the Yanks are not by any means ready to surrender their AL East crown, which is still very much in reach with the right reinforcements.

Get to work Cash. You too Joba and Phil.

Teixeira & Youkilis’ return serves as a sign of urgency for Yankees

YankeesInjuredPlayersBaseball161418--415x415Publicized to incredible heights, Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixeira were in the Yankees’ lineup last night as they opened up a three-game set with the Red Sox. After being swept by the Mets in a Subway Series where the offense never really posed a threat, re-acquiring [in a sense] two former All-Stars to bolster the middle of the order certainly is the biggest boost the Yanks will get all year.

Up until this week, the team had been excelling with the likes of Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Travis Hafner, but right now it appears they all are out of gas. The lineup’s struggles do not fall on their shoulders alone, but all three look lost at the plate and are shells of the .300 hitters they were for the month of April. Even Robinson Cano went through a cold streak, as he fell into the habit of trying to make contact with anything near the strike zone, which resulted in pop ups, ground outs, strike outs, and only the occasional bloop single.

Robbie did go 2 for 4 with a home run in Thursday night’s loss to the Mets, so he may be coming out of it. But the fact remains that he alone cannot carry the offense, and though the pitching has been solid the saying holds true that, “you can’t win if you can’t score.”

So unfortunately as we expected, the return of Tex and Youk can not just be a sight for sore eyes. These two sluggers must produce like they have in the past, otherwise the team could find itself battling it out with the Blue Jays in last place by the end of next week.

Maybe I’m over-exaggerating, but the upcoming schedule offers little time for the Yankees to struggle like they just did. As detailed the re-tooled Red Sox are at the top of the division and intend to stay there through the weekend, while next week Terry Francona will look to re-establish himself as a man no one wants to see in the opposing dugout when his Indians come for a visit. After that it’s off to the West Coast to battle it out with the Mariners, Athletics, and Angels – all of them improving and posing a real threat. Anything worse than a .500 record in those games and this joyful, miracle-like season could quickly turn to despair and doubt.

Am I saying Teixeira and Youkilis will decide our fate? Of course not. Robinson Cano needs to start hitting like he’s capable of doing, and Vernon Wells needs to stop hitting as he did with the Angels, as in, poorly. Overall, the Yankees have hit better than predicted, as they’ve scored just enough to win in numerous games. But now they aren’t, and it concerns me greatly.

Perhaps it’s the simple fact that the replacement-level guys such as Overbay, Pronk, and Wells couldn’t carry the team as much as we thought they could when everything was dandy in Yankeeland. Ultimately they were going to break down, and it looks like now is the time. Getting back Teixeira and Youkilis is a huge boost, but if that boost isn’t visible over the next two weeks, to paraphrase a baseball quote to fit this new month – “you can’t win a division in June, but you sure can lose one.”

One year ago today, Andy Pettitte returned

andy-pettitte-360x540Amazingly, today marks the one year anniversary of Andy Pettitte’s return from retirement.

It had seemed that the old lefty had left the game for good following the 2010 season, as absolutely no murmurs of a potential comeback were spread during 2011. Andy was enjoying life at home in Texas, being there for his family like he hadn’t been for almost his entire adult life.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were doing just fine without him. Piecing together a starting rotation featuring Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, the team won 97 games and the A.L. East. Andy even threw out the first pitch to Jorge Posada prior to Game 2 of the ALDS, making a brief re-appearance in New York. It was a great, yet unfortunate moment, as fans knew he went out on the top of his game, and probably could have helped the Yanks that October.

The season ended and soon after it was reported Andy Pettitte would be back with the Yankees – as a spring instructor, that is. Any remaining fans holding out for a return of #46 probably finally gave up when the team bolstered its pitching staff by acquiring Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda. If there wasn’t even a rotation spot open, how could anyone expect him to put the pinstripes back on, or longer than the two weeks Andy was scheduled to be down in Tampa that is.

Spring training beckoned and indeed Pettitte was back in uniform. Throwing BP, helping out minor leaguers, and getting his chops busted by his former teammates, Andy was reportedly in incredible shape. Of course, a beer belly wouldn’t form over one year, but still it looked as if he was keeping his body in baseball shape.

And that’s when our sneeky general manager Brian Cashman got to work. Andy had indeed been working out, and wanted to pitch again. It was a shocking development that was kept under wraps for a few weeks, as the then 39-year old threw a few bullpen sessions testing how it felt to be back on a mound after so long.

The Yankees must have been pleased with what they saw, for on March 16th, 2012 it was announcedby YES Network’s Jack Curry that they had signed back their homegrown ace to a minor league contract worth up to $2.5 million in incentives. To the public, it seemed completely out of the blue and many fans were shocked but elated to have Pettitte back.

Still, there was no guaruntee of him even getting back to the major leagues. He had to mak e a number of starts at various levels in the Yankees’ farm system while the regular season was underway, to make sure that his “stuff” could still get out professional baseball players.

When the Yanks finally purchased his contract and called him up to officially return to Major League Baseball, it just so happened to be Mother’s Day. Facing the Mariners, Pettitte quickly settled down and before you knew it he was pitching like he never left. Four earned runs in 6.1 innings was a start typical to Andy’s career, but his performance following that was exceptional.

He would pitch to a 2.87 ERA in an injury-shortened season, posting an 8.2 K/9 ratio while striking out batters at an astronimcal rate. In the postseason he was dandy as he’s always been, allowing just 5 runs total in two starts. He didn’t add to his record 19 postseason wins, but he certainly deserved to.

And so here we are today. Andy Pettitte is back for 2013 as well and is pitching [aside from two subpar outings] as well if not better than many of the top flight starters in MLB. Each night he takes the mound it really is a treat to watch, because a little over a year ago we were certain to have seen the last of old #46. He’s gotten a new appreciation and love for the game thanks to his year off, and hopefully the rest he got then can keep him healthy and productive for the Yanks throughout this season. As in each of his past 17 seasons, we’ll need him.

Finally, a Yankees team we can love

Let’s be honest. When the “Yankees” lined up down the first base line on Opening Day, was this a team you were ready to watch for 162 games? Probably not.

Sure, there was Robinson Cano. You may have spotted Brett Gardner and Ichiro as well. But besides them, did anyone else catch your eye? Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes was “something else”, but what I mean is, did you feel comfortable relying on Lyle Overbay at first, or Vernon Wells in left? I don’t think so.

Where was Nick Swisher, the heart and soul of the team the past four seasons? What about Russell Martin, our Munson-esque backstop? How could we possibly win with these replacement-level, over the hill scrubs?

These questions and more swirled through many fans’ heads as the Yankees opened up the season back in April. Numerous analysts were picking them to finish last, and if they weren’t that harsh, they still predicted them to miss the playoffs.

Now of course it’s still early in the season, but who could have thought just how different the first month and a half would play out on the field, than we thought it would in our minds.

Here are our 2013 Yankees, at 22-13, first place in the A.L. East. A familiar sight without a doubt, but how they’ve gotten to the top of the division is as unusual as it’s ever been in the Bronx. Absent are the headlining stars – Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson – and present are former big name players revitalizing their careers, and youngsters trying to sink their teeth into the major leagues.

They still hit home runs like the usual Bombers, but win close games more often than not with solid pitching and nearly flawless defense. When was the last time those two aspects were keys to winning for the Yankees? It may have been in the playoffs, but certainly not on the path to get them there.

As mentioned, injuries have paved the way for players young and old to make an impact in pinstripes. Vernon Wells is second to Robbie Cano in runs scored, home runs, and average, Lyle Overbay already has 20 RBI, and Travis Hafner has made a fairly big impact when it matters with his still ferocious bat. Austin Romine, Preston Claiborne, Adam Warren, [and soon David Adams] have all made their big-league debuts and figure to be relied upon more as the days get longer and the season moves into the dog days of summer.

It’s hard to pinpoint the last time the Yankees have had so many role players, rather than superstars, and have been A) successful, and B) fun to watch. Maybe sometime in the 90’s, but they never went anywhere.

Sensing the sarcasm, no, this roster right now is not world championship worthy, and it will be a big help when everyone comes back off the DL. But, when they do, don’t be so willing to part with the Overbays, Hafners, and Wellses of the world.

Because truth be told, they’re the reason why Tex, Grandy, A-Rod and the Captain will jump right back into a pennant race they can win.

Keep it up guys…

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