Author Archives: fishjam25

Yanks hit lowpoint of season after back-breaking loss

Joe made some questionable moves last night

Joe made some questionable moves last night

The Yankees season-killing road trip came to a merciful end last night in Chicago as the lowly White Sox finished off their 3-game sweep with a 6-5 win highlighted by 2 come from behind rallies in the 9th and 12th innings, when down to their final out both times.  The loss leaves them 6.5 games out of the 2nd Wild Card with 4 teams in front of them including KC and Cleveland as the Yanks dropped to 57-56.  At just 1 game over .500, it is their lowest point since April 14th when they were 6-5.

This game was especially frustrating because in some ways there were a lot of bright spots but the team floundered opportunities and Girardi made some puzzling decisions.  The offense has been brutal all year and coming into the game had gone 7 straight games without scoring more than 3 runs.  So when they erupted for 4 runs in the first 4 innings, things looked great with a 4-0 lead.  For the game they scored 5 runs on 3 HRs, 11 Hits and 8 Walks….a veritable offensive explosion for this team.  Eduardo Nunez had his best game of the season with his first HR, a Double to deep left-center, a line drive single to right, 2 Walks and a Stolen Base.  Now that he’s healthy and Jeter is shelved again, Nunez has a chance to show if he’s good enough to be in the team’s future plans at SS and games like last night’s showcase the potential he has.  Still just 26, his defense is vastly improved this year but he has to show some offensive consistency now.

Another bright spot was the rebound of CC Sabathia.  Everyone knows how bad CC has been lately with the team losing all of his last 4 starts while he’s allowed 22 Earned Runs in 19.2 IP  The big Ace finally pitched like one for the first 6 innings and despite giving up 2 runs in the 7th, left the game after 7.1 with a 4-3 lead – so all told, a positive outing for CC.  Hopefully it is something he can build upon although he had just 1 strikeout and the Sox hitters seemed to have good swings at his once dominating Changeup.  Many commentators have suggested that CC isn’t getting enough of a difference between his FB and Change as there’s only been a 5-6 MPH difference in velocity his last few starts.  There may be something to this……CC has always thrown a harder Change – more like a BP Fastball but over the last few yrs the difference from his FB has gotten less and less. In his early years with CLE there was a 8-10 MPH difference and in his first year in NY it was a 7.7 MPH difference.  Last yr it diminished to 6.3 and has been about the same this year.  As CC loses more velocity on his FB, a wider gap between his FB and Change would be advisable rather than the smaller gap we’ve seen.  There is little deception in the pitch right now and with batters not having to respect his diminished FB, it’s a recipe for danger.  Hopefully CC cn make the necessary adjustment.

Say it Ain’t So Joe

I’ve often scratched my head at some of Joe Girardi’s in-game decisions over the years but by-in-large, he’s done a solid job this year keeping the team in the race as long as it was with their pathetic lineup.  But last night, I constantly found myself disagreeing with Joe’s strategy and decision-making.  Here are the 2 things that got me yelling at the TV set:

1) Clinging to a 4-3 lead, the Yanks had 1st and 2nd with 0 Outs in the top of the 8th inning and Lyle Overbay At Bat vs LHP David Purcey.  We all know Overbay has been anemic vs LHP hitting .202/.245/.309, 46 RC+.  This was a CLEAR bunting situation and Girardi had several options on who he wanted to bunt.  He could have left Overbay in who hasn’t had a Sac Bunt in 2 years. He could have used RH hitters Nix, Adams or Chris Stewart or lefty hitter Ichiro.  Those 4 are perhaps the teams best bunters.  If for some reason, Joe didn’t want to bunt then he should have used any of the aforementioned 4 players to Pinch Hit.  Any of those options would be better than what he elected to do, which was let Overbay swing away.  What followed was a weak grounder to 3rd for a tailor-made 5-5-3 Double Play and end of rally.  Brutal managing!

2) Going into the bottom of the 11th, with short-relievers Preston Claiborne, Shawn Kelley & Boone Logan all still available, Girardi elected to go with long-man Adam Warren. A questionable decision in my eyes with his trio of short relievers all available, why go to Warren there.  It worked out in the beginning as Warren threw a scoreless 11th and Cano led of the 12th with a HR to give the Yanks a 1-run lead.  At that point, I figured Joe would surely go to Claiborne or Kelley to close the game.  After all, Claiborne has allowed just 1 run in his last 10.1 IP and has a sterling 2.13 ERA on the season.  Instead, Warren pitched the 12th and after getting 2 outs, allowed 3 straight hits to win it for CHI including a 2-out triple to DeAza. With 2 on and 2 out, perhaps Logan could have been used against the lefty DeAza. Oh well.

There were a lot of other frustrating parts of the game….all of the missed opportunities to add on to the lead and the poor baserunning by Nix who was used as a pinch runner in the 11th for Romine.  With no outs and Gardner up, Joe finalyy called for a hit-and-run.  Gardner popped uo to very shallow RF and since the 2B Beckham was near the bag for the steal, he couldn’t get back to make the catch.  However, Nix was caught in no-man’s land and was sprinting back towards first when the ball landed.  he reversed direction when he saw Beckham fall down and the ball drop, but Nix fell flat on his face (literally) and couldn’t get up in time to run to 2nd base and was forced out.  Instead of 2 on and no outs for Ichiro, ARod and Cano, the rally was stunted.  Just  frustrating loss to  sum up a frustrating season.

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ARod suspension is the key to offseason Reload

Brian McCann is the type of player the yanks could look to sign if ARod is suspended in 2014

Brian McCann is the type of player the yanks could look to sign if ARod is suspended in 2014

In 2012 the Boston RedSox were a last place team with a mountain of problems and a slew of bad contracts on their ledger that left them with few options to improve the talent of the team.   Miraculously, the Los Angeles Dodgers foolishly took 3 of the worst bad contracts off Boston’s hands and sent some talented young players back.  In one fell swoop, the Red Sox cleared over $250 Million which changed the entire outlook of the organization and allowed them to go out and sign 8-9 Free Agents and later trade for 2 high-priced pitchers who have led the team to the best record in the American Lg this yr after losing 90+ games a year ago.

This year’s Yankees team has a lot of parallels to the 2012 Red Sox – namely an old roster that is short on talent and a payroll with several bad long-term commitments that limit the club’s ability to improve moving forward.  Unfortunately, there is no delusional team that is going to come along and trade the Yankees a group of talented young players in exchange for the contracts of ARod, Teixeira and CC. However, the impending PED suspension that is about to be levied on ARod could have a similar effect on the Yankees future and their ability to spend money and bring in much-needed fresh talent.

Best case scenario would be a lifetime ban that would net the Yankees around $100 Million in contract savings and even more in potential Luxury Tax savings.  But I believe a lifetime ban is unlikely, however a suspension for this season and the 2014 is a very real possibility and would be enough to help the franchise in a big way. They would save nearly $34 Million in salary but more important is WHEN that savings would take place.  A suspension for all of 2014 would allow the Yankees to reach their stated goal of getting under the $189M Luxury Tax threshold and still leave enough for them to add a handful of sizable contracts to the team similar to how Boston quickly rebuilt their lineup.  ARod’s suspension would result in a $27.5 Million savings against the Tax in 2014 which could allow the team to sign 2 players in the $12-15 Million range.

Some quick math shows the team has roughly $140 Million in commitments next year when you add in salaries for the 40-man roster and benefit payments.  However remove ARod’s $27.5M AAV and the team has roughly $76.5 Million under the Tax to spend.  That doesn’t include re-signing Robinson Cano so if you allocate $22-25M per yr on him you are still left with some $51-55M to spend on the following 6 key positions: C, 3B, OF, SP, SP, RP.  Looking at what is available at those slots, here are some of the potential Free Agent options for the team to use that $ on:

C – Brian McCann, AJ Pierzynski, Jarrod Saltamalachia, Carlos Ruiz

3B – Michael Young, Eric Chavez, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, Johnny Peralta

OF/DH – Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Granderson, Corey Hart, Mike Morse, Nate McLouth, Hunter Pence, DH – Kendry Morales, Mike Napoli, Morneau, Konerko

2 SPs – Kuroda, Aroyyo, Garza, Feldman, Hammel, Hudson, Maholm, Lincecum, Nolasco, Vargas, Volquez

CL/RP – Balfour, Rodney, Gregg, Uehera, Mujica, Benoit

Offseason Plan

First priority is to re-sign Cano and for the sake of this exercise, I’m assuming it happens.  After that, the net most important move is to re-sign Kuroda.  He has not only overtaken CC as the team’s best pitcher, he has become one of MLB’s best starters andwith CC having his worst season ever, the team can’t afford to lose Kuroda.  If he comes back for $15-16M the Yanks will be estatic because there aren’t many pitchers on the market near his level.  Someone like Matt Garza could be an option but would require a massive 4-5 year commitment. Yanks  have to hope Hiro wants to return. If he does, he and CC will lead a rotation that would have Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno fighting for spots.  They would likely need to bring in another mid-priced veteran on a 1-yr deal like Scott Feldman, Jason Vargas or Tim Hudson to play the Andy Pettite role, assuming Andy elects to retire.

In the bullpen, they’ll have a massive hole left by Mariano.  They could promote Robertson to the closer role but would then need to fill his tremendous the inning performance.  It may be easier for the Yanks to sign a closer among the Rodney, Balfour, Gregg, Mujica class. They have enough in the system to fill the rest of the pen with the possible exception of a lefty specilist.  Boone Logan is a FA and may or may not be brought back….I’d say let him walk.

Then the attention turns to the lineup with C, 3B and  1 OF or DH spot open depending what is gettable.  Brian McCann is a perfect target for the Yankees.  An excellent leader and left-handed hitting Catcher who will still have  lot left turning 30 next February. McCann will command $13-14M per yr for about 4 yrs.  Saltalamachia is a poor-man’s version of McCann who is still improving at 28 but is not great defensively which the Yankee brass won’t like. If they miss on McCann a 1-yr deal for veteran Pierzynski or Ruiz would make sense to pair with and mentor JR Murphy or Romine.

In the OF, Ellsbury or Choo would be the top options as players still in their prime who hit LH and would be good fits at Yankee Stadium.  They’d command deals similar to what Swisher received last yr, at minimum a 4-yr deal at $13M plus.   Bringing back Granderson is also an option although I think the Yanks will only make the 1-yr qualifying offer of about $13-14M to ensure they receive a 1st round pick if he walks and Curtis will refuse to seek a multi-yr deal elsewhere.  They already have Gardner in CF, Ichiro in one corner and Soriano at DH or the other corner.  Wells will be the 4th OF.  Carlos Beltran would be a great fit as a switch-hitter who could split time between DH and LF with Soriano to keep both players fresh.  They could also go with a 1B who could be the everyday DH and also provide insurance in case Tex doesn’t fully return from his wrist surgery.  Kendry Morales, Morneau or Napoli could fill that role.  Morales would be one of my top choices if they don’t sign a big OF like Choo, Ellsbury or Beltran.  I think Morales will get better with another year of health and I love that he is a switch-hitter.  He may also be reasonably priced for the production he’d supply although signing an everyday DH isn’t the best move considering Jeter, Soriano and possibly McCann would need time there.

The last big hole is at 3B and the pickings are very slim. Michael Young, Johnny Peralta and Eric Chavez are about all the FA market has to offer.  This is the position the team should be focusing its trade chips on. Chase Headley’s name is always mentioned and SD may finally look to pull the trigger though I’d like to see Cashman get creative and find a young 3B….easier said than done.  I’d also like to see David Adams get to play everyday this yr as soon as the Yanks are out of contention.  Most players struggle in their first taste of the Majors and I think Adams has some talent and was just getting comfortable when foolishly replaced with Luis Cruz.  I’d like to give him a long look to see what we have,

Hypothetically, if all went perfect the Yanks could sign McCann (14M), Choo (14M) & Kuroda (15M) and use the remaining $9-12 Million to bring in a #4-type starter, a 8th or 9th inning RP and a 3B.  Ideally they’d have another $5-10 Million to spend on those spots so they could get say Vargas, Rodney or Benoit and M.Young.  But the team tied up $14.5 Million by giving Ichiro 2 yrs (6.5), and trading for Wells (2.4) and Soriano (5.5).  What they are paying them would cover McCann or Choo although this would all be posible only if ARod is suspended for all of 2014.  His $27.5M savings would basically cover the cost of McCann and Choo alone. The hypothetical lineup below with a rotation of Kuroda, CC, Nova, Vargas, Pineda/Phelps would have the team in contention again and pump some hope and excitement back into the fanbase……..but it’s all contingent on MLB liting the albatross off their books in 2014……stay tuned.  How would you spend the potential $50-55M the Yanks may have?

CF – Gardner

SS- Jeter

2B – Cano

LF – Choo

1B – Teixeira

C – McCann

DH – Soriano

RF- Ichiro

3B – Nix/Adams/M.Young?

Yanks have missed the boat with talented IFAs

The IFA market is where the Yanks can find high upside talents like Yasiel Puig

The IFA market is where the Yanks can find high upside talents like Yasiel Puig

Anyone watching Sportscenter for the last week or so has seen Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig put on a show, cracking opposite field HRs and gunning runners out from RF.  He has jump-started the anemic Dodgers offense and energized their fan base while looking like a young Bo Jackson on the field.  Watching Puig and being reminded of fellow Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes while playing the A’s tonight, I couldn’t help but cringe when thinking that both of these talents were available to the Yankees a little more than a year ago.  At a time when the Yankees offense is putrid and their corner OFs are the worst in baseball it is very frustrating

Puig was one of 3 talented Cuban OFs who were available to the highest bidder in 2012.  Cespedes and highly regarded Cubs prospect Jorge Soler were the other 2.   Many of us fans thought the Yankees would sign at least one of them and it’s beginning to look like they made a big mistake by passing on these talents.  Under Brian Cashman’s leadership, the Yankees have become extremely conservative on the International Free Agent market.  After being burned by the signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, the team has refused to spend significant money on any IFA.  In an interview this winter with Drew Voros, Cashman said. “We have learned over time to be very conservative and cautious in acquiring pitching talent from Japan, for instance. It’s a different game there”

Cashman has been applying that conservative approach to all IFAs, signing only a few low-priced players like Adonis Garcia and Ronnier Mustelier.  While it’s natural to be conservative, it seems the team has become gun-shy and is more afraid of making a mistake.  When you have the largest payroll in MLB, you can afford to take some risks on high-upside talents.  While it’s true you cannot expect success in Japan, Cuba, Korea or any other league to equate to success in MLB, talent plays anywhere.  And that is where the Yankees are missing the boat.  If a 20-yr old LHP in the U.S. was consistently throwing 98-100 MPH or when a trio of young OFs are displaying 4 out of 5 plus tools or a 6’5′ 225 pitcher is throwing 3 plus MLB pitches with great command and poise, you have to get involved!  The Yanks let all of the above players pass them by when all they would cost was money….no draft picks, no players in trade.  Where else can the Yankees obtain talent like that? The answer is no where.  While I think the Yanks did well in this year’s amateur draft, they never have access to elite amateur talent picking at the end of the first round and the financial restraints put on them in the new CBA when it comes to signing amateur foreigners, they are going to have trouble finding high-end talent there also. Well, no problem, the Yankees have always just been able to buy Free Agents at the Major League level, right? Well that window has been closing also.  Teams are locking up their young talented players before they become FAs and the small number of big talents that do hit the open market are able to command huge salaries since so many teams have money to spend.

The Yankees MUST become players on the IFA market again.  They are paying $27 Million for washed up Vernon Wells and Ichiro to play LF and RF this year and next – approximately $6.5M per yr for each of them.  Meanwhile, 22-yr old stud Yasiel Puig signed with LA for $6 Million a year for 7 years and the A’s 27-yr old slugging OF Yoenis Cespedes (36 HRs and .843 OPS in 181 games) is earning $9M per season over 4 years.  And they aren’t the only IFA players doing well.  Japanese OF Norichi Aoki had a strong year for Milwaukee last season hitting .288 with 10 HRs and 30 SBs and is hitting .300 with a .375 OBP this season while earning just $1.25 M per yr (plus a $2.5M posting fee for his rights).  These are just some IFA OFs who were signed in the last year or2 but there are other IFAs all over MLB from Shin-Soo-Choo to Dayan Viciedo to Alexi Ramirez, etc.

There has also been a wave of talented foreign pitchers doing well in MLB the last year or 2 also.  The 100-MPH lefty I mentioned of course is Reds closer Aroldis Chapman who has a 15.4 K/9.  Texas Ace Yu Darvish was a guy I thought the Yanks should have been all over.  He’s a true #1 type starter in his prime at just 26 and signed for the extremely reasonable 6 years @ $56M. An ace pitcher hitting the FA market would get nearly triple that. And make no mistake about it, Darvish is an Ace.  He’s 7-2 with a 2.75 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and a 12.0 K/9 pitching in the offensive haven of Texas.  And he’s not alone as a front-end starter, Korean LHP Ryu-Hyu Jin is 6-2 with a 2.89 era in his first year for the Dodgers,  Japanese RHP Hisashi Iwakuma is 7-1 with a 1.89 ERA and 0.81 WHIP for Seattle in his 2nd season and 27-yr old Taiwanese LHP Wei-Yin Chen has been Baltimore’s best starter the last year and a half.

It’s time for the Yankees to dive back in to the IFA waters.  George Steinbrenner was a trailblazer who was all over talented IFAs.  While it worked brilliantly with Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Hideki Matsui, the failures of Irabu and Igawa seem to have the Yankee brass afraid today.  It is poor reasoning to write off all big-ticket IFAs because of a couple of failures.  This is the last market where the Yankees money can be used to acquire high-end talent.  Amateur IFAs are subject to spending limits and penalties in the CBA but for veteran IFAs 23 and older, it’s still an open market and one which the Yankees must begin to capitalize on or they will have to continue to spend their money on the veteran has-beens like Wells and Ichiro.

Gardner’s a different hitter this year

Gardner hasn't hit like the typical leadoff this yr (Zimbio photo)

Gardner hasn’t hit like the typical leadoff this yr (Zimbio photo)

During Brett Gardner‘s career, he has always displayed the perfect approach and skill set for a leadoff hitter.  He takes a lot of pitches, draws walks, slaps the ball on the ground and runs like the wind. However, because of the Yankees loaded offense and the presence of Derek Jeter, Brett never settled into the leadoff spot for the Yankees until this year.  Finally getting the opportunity to lead off everyday, for the first time in his career Gardner has not produced like a typical leadoff hitter.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but Brett is definitely getting different results.

He is still doing a fine job of working pitchers as he is 12th in the A.L. with 4.17 Pitches per Plate Appearance.  However, he is swinging at more of those pitches, putting more of those pitches into play and Walking less.  His Walk Rate is a career low 8.9% which has led to a semi-disappointing .333 OBP which is about 20 points below his career average.  Per this Fangraphs article, he has is swinging at 42% of pitches this  year which is a 8.3% jump from his previous 4 seasons – a bigger jump than anyone in MLB over the same period of time.  He is also swinging at the 1st pitch more than twice as much as before and hitting the ball on the Ground less (from 51% to 40%).

But the results of this change in approach isn’t just a reduce in Walks and OBP%, Brett is driving the ball with much more authority this year.  His 6 HRs are just 1 below his career-high and he’s also on pace for career-highs in Doubles and Triples.  His .429 SLG% is 4th on the team behind only Cano, Hafner & Overbay and he is behind only the same 3 players for the team lead in RBIs with 26.  For a leadoff man in a weak lineup to drive in that any runs is impressive and means he’s getting a lot of big hits. 15 of those RBIs have come on 2-out hits when he has done most of his damage this year hitting .322/.365/.525/.891.

Watching the games it’s evident Brett is more comfortable with his swing and driving the ball with more authority than any time in his career.  Although his .265 Batting Average this yr is the same as his career mark, the type of hits he’s getting has changed.  In his last 2 full yrs of 2010-11, he had 48 infield hits which made up 18.2% of all his base hits.  This yr, he has legged out just 4 hits which is just 6.9% of all his hits. Speaking of legging it out, Brett has not had a great year on the bases with just 9 steals in 14 attempts – a far cry from the 49 and 46 SBs he had in 2011 & 10, respectively.  I think there are 3 main reasons for this, the first being less chances.  His SB opportunities have decreased because of the drop in OBP% and the increase in extra base hits.  He’s simply been on First base less.  The other reason is Robinson Cano has been batting 2nd most of the year.  Cano is a free swinger and Girardi doesn’t want to send the runner too often with his best hitter at the plate.  The last reason is he hasn’t been good leading off in the 1st inning with just a .208 BA and .296 OBP.  That is the only time he’s assured of batting with no one in front of him but he’s struggled for whatever reason. I think that will level out and he’ll steal more as the season progresses.

Are these changes in Gardner’s game a good thing? I think they are.  I’ve always thought that Gardner could put up better power numbers and a higher average because he has shown the ability in the past for spurts.  But he always seemed conflicted between being the hitter he is now and the slap-hitting ground ball machine he often was.  While I’d like to see him getting on base more often out of the leadoff spot, I like the confidence and more aggressive approach at the plate.  The Yanks have been starving for run production this year and Gardner has stepped it up.  If he can begin to incorporate the power gains with the Walks & SBs of previous years, he will really be something special.  He’s also providing his offense out of CF now, where he should have been years ago.  His defense has not slipped a bit moving from LF to CF and he’s truly one of the game’s best defensive OFs.

Game 41 Lineup: Mariners vs . Yankees

Brett Gardner CF
Jayson Nix SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Vernon Wells LF
Lyle Overbay 1B
Curtis Granderson DH
David Adams 3B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chris Stewart C

LHP Andy Pettitte

- Ex-Yankee Hector Noesi will be on the mound for Seattle.  Aaron Harang was scratched.

- Andy Pettitte trys to right himself after a couple of rough starts

- Yankees called up Dellin Betances from Scranton and sent down Brett Marshall who was spent after throwing 108 pitches yesterday

- Jayson Nix gets his shot batting 2nd today.  Nix has had a very quiet season offensively but suprisingly, his .319 OBP% is 4th among healthy regulars behind Wells, Cano & Gardner.  Nix has hit 2nd 6 times this year and has hit .261/.293/.261 (6 for 23 with 5 Walks).  Not many Yankees have faced Noesi but Nix is 1 for 3 with a HR.

Are the Yankees this year’s version of the 2012 Orioles?

Mo's a perfect 13 for 13 in Save Chances this year

Mo’s a perfect 13 for 13 in Save Chances this year

With the lack of big moves in the off-season and the mountain of injured players the Yankees have endured, not many expected them to get off to a good start.  Well not only has it been a good start, the Yanks are now in 1st Place in the AL East with a 20-13 record, just a half-game behind Texas for best record in the American League.  Every year there is a surprise team that defies the numbers and conventional wisdom by winning games.  Last year it was the Baltimore Orioles who won 93 games and a Wild Card spot in the playoffs despite a bunch of peripheral statistics that said they should have been about a .500 team.  So far in the early going there are a lot of parallels to the 2012 Os and the 2013 Yanks.

Baltimore only had a 712-705 run differential which according to the respected Pythagorean W-L stat developed by Bill James should have equaled a 82-80 record.  But the O’s were able to defy the odds thanks to an incredible 29-9 record in 1-run games and an unheard of 16-2 mark in extra inning games.  While there was a tremendous amount of luck involved in the Orioles success last year, they also have to be commended for finding ways to win all of those close games.  Baltimore was middle of the pack in most categories but the one area that excelled for them was their bullpen.  Their pen led the AL with 55 saves and was 3rd with a 3.00 ERA.

This year’s Yankees have a 139-128 Run differential which would equal a 18-15 Pythagorean W-L record so their 20-13 record is not such an anomaly.  But, the manner in which they have been winning is what is similar to Buck’s 2012 team.  The Yanks are a MLB-best 6-1 in 1-run games and 12-4 in games decided by 2 runs or less.  None of their team stats jump out as a possible reason why they have been able to win so many close games.  Their bullpen ERA is 10th in the AL at 3.82 but the back-end of their pen, namely David Robertson and the great Mariano Rivera have been superb.  Robertson has done his job in 13 of 14 appearances while Mo is a perfect 13 of 13 in Save opportunities and the team is 15-0 when the Sandman makes an appearance.

While Mariano is a huge part of the close wins, it is truly a team effort.  The team offense has been mediocre, averaging just 4.2 runs per game (10th in AL) but they have been scratching out runs when they need them in a variety of ways.  This is a huge difference from previous seasons when the Yanks have perennially been in the top 1 or 2 teams in scoring.  With all of the injuries and the anemic lineup vs LHP (.217/.287/.340/.627), the team has relied on strong pitching (5th in AL 3.68 ERA) and some timely runs.  They haven’t exactly come through a lot with runners in scoring position or anything but they have done the little things well to get just what they need to win….moving runners, stealing bases, capitalizing on their opponent’s errors, beating out an infield single to score a winning run, etc.

One thing the Yankees have done incredibly well this year is winning games when they have the lead.  Once they get ahead, they stay ahead. They have lost only one game all year that they have led in.  They are 11-0 when leading after the 3rd  inning and 15-0 when leading after the 6th.  That is a testament to their excellent pitching, especially the back-end of the pen.  While the perfect record isn’t sustainable, having a strong back-end of the pen is so the Yankees will continue to win when they are ahead as long as DRob and Mo remain healthy.  Joba and Logan and most recently Preston Claiborne have all pitched well out of the pen.

But can the Yankees remain in 1st Place without starting to score more runs? It’s doubtful.  While Baltimore showed a team can win 93 games and make the playoffs without scoring much more than your opponent, it certainly isn’t likely to repeat itself.  The Yankees need to find ways to score more to continue winning.  Some help is on the way with the soon return of Eduardo Nunez and Curtis Granderson but  the rest of the injured starters are a long ways off.  The Yanks will need to try to improve their offense against LHP either through minor-lg callups (David Adams, Ronnier Mustelier) or via trades.  I don’t think any trades are likely at this point unless they get some bad news on the injury rehab front.  Youkilis, Teixeira, Jeter, ARod and even Cervelli are all strong RH bats who have clobbered LHP in recent yrs so getting any or all of those players back from injury will be better than any trade they can make.

The starting pitching has been good and right now all of the starters are pitching well with the exception of Andy Pettitte who has had back to back poor starts.  I expect Andy to get it together and the rotation to continue to give this team opportunities to win. While the offense is clearly not as good as in past years, there is a certain level of satisfaction to see the team winning these types of games.  They just took 2 of 3 in Colorado despite scoring just 6 runs in the entire series and their last 7 games have all been decided by 2  runs or less.  Getting Grandy and Nunez back and calling up one or both of Adams & Musty would infuse some much-needed offense into the team. Getting Hafner’s bat back into the lineup with the DH is also a big plus. I see no reason to believe the Yankees can’t remain in  striking distance of 1st place until the All-Star Break when they should begin to get most of their bats back.

Can the Yanks keep winning all of these 1 and 2-run games or is it a fluke? Do they need to make a trade to improve the offense or can they hold out until injuries heal? Give your opinion in the comments.

Why is Boston over-shifting on Cano?

Cano's 2012 Spray Chart from Texasleaguers.com

Cano’s 2012 Spray Chart from Texasleaguers.com

I was surprised to see Boston with the massive overshift on Robinson Cano Opening Day.  Robby has always been a hitter who used the entire field – a true foul line to foul line hitter.  Yet Boston was playing their 3B in shallow RF in the hole between the 1B and 2B and their SS also on the right side of 2B.  I had to check Cano’s spray chart (above) to see what it is that Boston scouts are seeing.

While the chart does show someone who uses the whole field, it’s clear Cano hits a lot of groundballs to the right side.  His pull tendencies aren’t nearly as pronounced as a Mark Teixeira or Jason Giambi – as Cano clearly hits the ball on the ground to the left side also.  Yet John Farrell becomes the first manager to use the shift versus Cano and last night, it was effective as it robbed Cano of at least 1 and maybe 2 base hits.  It also got Cano thinking as he squared to bunt in his 1st AB.  So will other teams now start to copy what Farrell has started?

We have seen the shift take a huge chunk out of Teixeira’s Batting Average as it robs him of hits and also seems to get into his head a bit.  Will the shift have a similar effect on Cano if other team’s begin to use it against him? Perhaps that is part of Boston’s strategy as maybe it’s enough to just have Cano thinking about it.  Is Cano too diverse of a hitter to let the shift beat him as he serves hits through the vacant left side?  This will definitely be something to keep an eye on all season long.

10 Reasons to like the 2013 Yankees

A healthy Brett Gardner hitting leadoff all season could be a big lift for this team

A healthy Brett Gardner hitting leadoff all season could be a big lift for this team

It’s been a rough Spring Training for the NY Yankees and coming on the heels of an unspectacular off-season has many fans very pessimistic about 2013.  In fact, some could argue that since the WS win in 2009, Yankee management have made a series of bad decisions that have the organization set up for its worst stretch since the early 90s.  The end of the line for “the Core”, the lack of young talent on the MLB roster and the upper minors combined with the decision to significantly cut payroll in coming years makes for a rough outlook for 2013 and beyond.  There are many things to be concerned with but for today, let’s put on our optimistic hats and look at some positives for the 2013 season.

1 – Robinson Cano – As bad as things get, you can always look forward to Robbie’s 4-5 ABs every game. He’s hands-down, the best 2B in MLB and one of the top 2-way players in all of baseball. Cano is a superstar and MVP-caliber talent who is a magician with the glove at 2B and is as durable as anyone in the sport. He’s looking to show the league that he is worthy of the monster contract he’s asking for so I’d expect a huge year. Last yr he struggled vs LHP and with RISP yet he still had a career year (.929 OPS) and he has shown he can hit well in both situations in the past so look for a bounce-back there.  The biggest question is can he remain patient and wait for his pitch when pitchers are sure to pitch around him given the team’s lack of dangerous bats around him. Last yr his Walk rate jumped from 6.1% with no one on base to a whopping 16.9% with RISP.  Expect that to rise even more but Cano has to accept those Walks rather than get himself out this yr for the team to succeed.

2 – A healthy Brett Gardner – Gardy missed nearly all of last year and the team became a plodding station to station offense without him.  Brett is healthy, in his prime at 29 and will be given a premium spot at the top of the order to start 2013. He is a valuable weapon who can see a ton of pitches, get on base a lot, steal bases and generally annoy the heck out of opposing pitchers. If he can avoid the freak injuries I see a big year for Gardner with a .350-.360 OBP, 50 SBs, 100 Runs Scored and dozens saved in CF/LF as a Gold Glove defender.

3 – An opportunity for Eduardo Nunez – Jeter’s injured ankle has opened a door for Nunez to start as the team’s everyday SS.  While he has been an adventure defensively, he played his best defense in 2011 when he played Short on a daily basis when Jete was on the DL and he’s had the same chance this ST and it will extend into at least April.  I like Nunie’s offensive potential as a guy with a quick bat and blazing speed.  I see someone who could be a .280 hitter with 10 HRs and 35+ SBs if he played every day for a full year.  However, he must show he can be trusted at SS and if he does the yanks will be able to let Nunez and Jeter share SS and right-handed DH. They need his speed and RH bat in the lineup this year and beyond as the 25-yr-old is one of the team’s few young position players.

4 – A Strong Rotation – the Yankees rotation was solid last year finishing 5th in the AL with a 4.04 ERA, and 2nd in both IP & Ks.  It returns intact with a nice blend of 3 vets and 3 kids and it has the potential to be stronger in 2013.  Ace CC Sabathia dealt with injuries all season and had his elbow cleaned up in the off-season so I expect a typical great season from the big fella. Hiroki Kuroda was the team’s most consistent starter in his first A.L. season and Andy Pettitte is healthy after only making 12 starts a year ago. Phil Hughes improved as the season wore on last yr and will have a lot to prove in his Walk yr this season.  He’ll begin the yr on the DL with what is hopefully a minor back issue thus opening up a spot for David Phelps who was the team’s most pleasant surprise last yr and has looked great again this ST. Ivan Nova has made some mechanical changes working with Larry Rothschild as he looks to return to the form that saw him be the team’s #2 starter as a rookie in 2011.  Rothschild has had a positive impact on the staff as all of the starters have lowered their Walk totals while also raising their K rates since Larry took over. The Yankees will rely on their staff more than ever as they will score less runs and this staff has the horses to rise to the occasion.

5 – Walk Years – With the goal to get under the Luxury Tax Threshold in 2014, the front office has been very reluctant to lock players up past 2013 so the result is a ton of players reaching Free Agency in 2014.  While Cano is the big FA, the majority of the team will also be due including key players like Granderson, Youkilis, Hughes, Kuroda, Hafner, Joba, Aardsma, Logan, etc.  That’s a lot of key players who will have something to prove in 2013.

6 – A More Dynamic Approach? The yanks crushed a record 245 HRs in 2013 with 10 players hitting 14+ HRs.  This year’s lineup won’t come close to duplicating those power numbers.  However, they have players with other skills that could lead to a more diversified offense.  They’ve added some hitters with better contact skills and also have many hitters that can work a count.  In Gardner, Ichiro & Nunez, they have 3 players capable of  stealing 40+ bases each which is a big change for a team that was 22nd last yr with just 93 total SBs.  A HR is the best possible outcome in baseball but last year’s team struggled moving runners, hitting with RISP and cashing in runners on 3rd with less than 2 outs.  This year’s team will have to be better fundamentally because they don’t have the power to make up for their mistakes.

7 – Old Nemesis Kevin Youkilis was a hated opponent for years with Boston but will be counted on heavily this season as the likely cleanup hitter.  I think Youk will have a bounce back year and will be a very important cog batting behind Cano this year.  With Jeter down, the Yanks will also count on Youk for his leadership in the infield with the young Eduardo Nunez playing next to him.  Fellow old nemesis, Ichiro will also be counted on for a big season.  He saw a nice bounce in performance after coming to NY last yr and I hope he can maintain it for a full season in 2013. Ichiro will be counted on to not only set the table but also to help drive in runs this yr.  I think he’ll come close to his carer-high 15 HRs playing a full yr in YS.

8 – Underdog Status? For the last 15+ years, the Yanks have always started the season with huge expectations and a big target on their backs as preseason favorites.  This year, most “experts” and projection tools are not picking the Yankees to win the AL East.  Toronto is the popular choice with Tampa also often picked ahead of NY.  While ownership and the fans always expect the team to make the playoffs, perhaps the Yanks can use the doubts and picks to lose as motivation. Let Toronto deal with the lofty expectations while perhaps the Yanks can sneak up on people as underdogs.

9 – Minor League Development Yankee prospects received a lot of accolades this Winter with most publications rating the team’s system in the 11-14 range despite not having ANY top prospects above A-ball.  A strong yr could vault the system into the Top 5 in all of baseball. This year, most of the top prospects will either start the yr in AA or will be there by mid-season.  OFs Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin & Ramon Flores will start in AA Trenton and could move up fast with some success. The team’s 2 top-rated prospects – Gary Sanchez & Mason Williams – are a step behind but could see call-ups to AA by June.  The prospects are more important than ever with the Yankees apparently sticking to a lower payroll in 2014.  if a prospect or 2 can take a starting job, it will leave more money to spend on other positions. It is without a doubt, a huge year for the Minor League system.

10 – Farewell to Mo…..the G.O.A.T.Rafael Soriano did a tremendous job last year as the team’s closer after Mariano injured his knee but the greatest ever is back this year for one last season.  We should all treasure watching Mo pitch in 2013 because we will be witnessing the best reliever ever to pitch for the last time.  He has the best ERA+ of ALL-TIME with a 206+ mark. His standard ERA of 2.21 is 13th best ever but the ERA+ accounts for the era he pitched in, his ballpark and his relation to other pitchers of his time.  Not only is his 206+ ERA the best ever it is 52 points better than the #2 pitcher, Pedro Martinez at 154+.  Mo is 1st All-Time in Saves (608), 2nd all-Time in WHIP (0.98), 4th All-Time in so/BB rate (4.04), 5th All-Time in H/9 (6.9).  And his Post-season records are even more amazing – a 0.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 42 Saves and just 2 HRs allowed in 141 IP.  Savor this last season of Mo. There will NEVER be another player so dominant for so long while at the same time doing it with basically 1 pitch…..and always doing it with dignity & class.

Yanks on verge of trading for Vernon Wells

According to the NY Post the Yankees are closing in on a trade for Angels OF Vernon Wells.  Wells is owed $21 Million per year for the next 2 seasons but the Angels are likely to eat a large portion of that.  Buster Olney just tweeted that the Yankees share of the contract ill be about $13 Million over the 2 years. Excuse me, but I just threw up in my mouth!

The Yankees lineup has been absolutely decimated with injuries as it was announced today that Derek Jeter will likely join Teixeira, Granderson & ARod on the Disabled List to start the season.  The lineup looks terrible with all of the injuries coupled with the lack of upgrades in the off-season. BUT, this trade for Wells looks like a desperation move that will just make it even harder to get under the $189 Million Tax threshold net year. Vernon hit a dismal .230/.279/.403/.682 last year which was right in line with the .218/.248/.412/.660 line he put up in 2011.  That is a .258 On Base Percentage over the last 2 seasons spanning 791 Plate Appearances!! .258!! Is there no one on the current roster who can get on base more than that?

When will this leadership team ever go with some youth or some new blood? If Wells was free and didn’t cost anything it would be worth a flier but for this production the Yanks are going to pay $13 Million?!? I don’t get it. Sure Wells will provide an occasional HR and he might be a tad better than the Francisco, Mustelier, Mesa group they currently have but if bringing in this guy blocks us from making other moves next season because of the $189M mandate then it will be a disgrace.

Will Cano’s leadership in WBC help him with Yanks?

Robinson+Cano+Puerto+Rico+v+Dominican+Republic+emuLftpptPLlThe Yankees get a welcome addition back to their lineup today in Robinson Cano.  Cano is by FAR the team’s best position player and the team will need him more than ever this season with the weak lineup and all of the injuries.  He’s coming off an incredible performance in the WBC where he was the leader of the Dominican team that dominated the tournament.  More than his performance, he was also the leader of the team which has Kevin Kernan of the NY Post thinking Cano can and will step into the leadership void on the Yankees with the old Core winding down.

While Cano has always been extremley talented, he’s often thought of as aloof and not a hard worker because of his smooth style and lack of running out all ground balls.  While it’s frustrating to me when Robbie dogs it to 1B on groundballs, I don’t buy for a second that he’s not a hard-worker.  He has turned himself from an average prospect into an incredible and complete player who is one of the best in the Majors.  His work ethic is praised and respected by his peers and many Dominicans have asked to join him in his daily off-season workouts with his father, Jose Cano in the Dominican Republic. 

Colin Cowherd said on the Radio yesterday that Cano was trying harder in the WBC than he ever has for the Yankees.  I don’t agree with that and think it’s more a matter of perception.  The DR team was playing with emotion and exuberance and clearly wanted to win more than most other teams in the “exhibition” tourney.  Their celebrations and style of play would be considered “bush” in MLB and by the old-school, corporate Yankees.  I’m not a fan of the WBC although I did enjoy watching some of the games.  You will never getplayers, especially American players, to go all-out in March before a 162-game MLB season – it just doesn’t make sense.  But if Cano gained some self-confidence and blossomed a bit as a leader, than that is the best thing that came out of the event.  With Mariano retiring, ARod hurt/banished? and Jeter possibly winding down, Robbie needs to step up both on the field and in the clubhouse.  He’s asking for a massive amount of money and for the Yankees to commit to him for the next 7-8 years, so showing himself to be the new leader of the team will make it easier to make that committment.

Cano is going to have a lot on his shoulders with no protection behind him in the lineup for at least the first month.  Last year, despite a career year, he hit just .268 with an .830 OPS with RISP.  But pitchers pitched around him with RISP last year as evidenced by his whopping 16.9% Walk Rate as oppossed to just 6.1% with no one on base.  And that was with Teixeira, ARod, Swisher & Granderson batting behind him.  This year, with Hafner & Youkilis being the only legitimate bats behind him, expect him to get even less to hit.  Cano needs to remain selective and drive in more runners for the Yankees to have success this year.  Ironically, Cano said that to his Dominican teammates in the WBC according to the Post article.

“Cano has grown up so much,’’ said Dominican Republic manager and Yankees bench coach Tony Pena. “Not only has he grown as a player, but he has grown as a person. He feels like he needs to step forward and he has done that. Tonight he said to our hitters,  ‘Guys, we’re swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. Let’s concentrate a little more; he will give us a pitch to hit.’  That means a lot and it worked tonight.  Little things like this will make him a good leader.’’

Hopefully Cano, can practice what he preaches because they need a monster season from their star 2B.

Observations from a Disastorous ST

Tex's wrist injury leaves the offense punchless

Tex’s wrist injury leaves the offense punchless

Spring Training is supposed to be an uneventful month of games where veterans get their work in, pitchers build up their arms and young players show off their skills. But for the Yankees, this ST has been a war of attrition. Injuries have now knocked out their two biggest power hitters for at least the first 5 weeks of the regular season and the team has little in the way of depth to help.

You can’t blame Brian Cashman for the injuries to Granderson & Teixeira but he does bear some responsibility for the predicament they are in now.  Consider the following:

  1. By failing to acquire a MLB-caliber  hitting Catcher or a legitimate RH hitting OF, the lineup was lean to begin with and could ill-afford any losses.  I’d feel a lot better with a lefty power hitting Catcher like Pyrzynski and/or a strong RH hitting OF like Gomes or Soriano.
  2. By letting Eric Chavez leave via FA and not bringing in a solid replacement, the team has no legitimate hitter (or fielder) to step in at 3B or 1B much less one that hit .281 with 16 HRs in 313 ABs last yr with a 126 OPS+
  3. By bringing in a DH who doesn’t even own a Glove, he further crippled the team’s depth and eliminated a number of options.  Last year when starting LF Brett Gardner was lost for the season after 2 weeks, DH Raul Ibanez was able to step in and play a lot of LF enabling Girardi to use his best available hitter as DH or to use that slot to rest his aging veteran position players. This year, Travis Hafner will be clogging up that DH spot so he had better be a very productive hitter

I didn’t intend to make this a bash Cashman article but I had to point out the poor construction of this roster. The injuries have allowed us to see what the team has in terms of veteran options and minor-lg depth.  So far, the young OFs have shown some promise while the vets have looked brutal.  In the infield, it seems there is no depth at the corner spots.  Here are some random observations on certain players and positions:

  • Melky Mesa & Zoilo Almonte have shown some skills.  Mesa is a very good OF who can play all 3 spots and Zoilo looks like a solid defender in RF.  Offensively, both have power but have the same problems with strikeouts.  I like Zoilo better as a hitter but they may make a decent platoon.  Juan Rivera is an absolute disaster in the OF and brings back memories of Marcus Thames.  I really hope he doesn’t make the team because he isn’t a good hitter and is a zero in the field. I haven’t seen a lot of Diaz in the OF but I think I’d take him over Rivera.
  • Slade is the WildCard. I love his game but I don’t know if it’s right to bring him up for just 5 weeks. I like to see him stay healthy and hit the ball in AA before bringing him up
  • Ronny Mustelier can hit and looks serviceable in the OF.  He’s played the IF before, i wonder if they could try him at 1B.  At this point they need to get guys who can hit on the team.  if Musty can play LF, RF and 1B and/or 3B he’d be a valuable asset with his bat.  I’d rather see him hit than Juan Rivera.
  • Dan Johnson & Corban Joseph have gotten a lot of time at 3B and both are butchers there. It’s a shame that David Adams is hurt again because he’d have a legit chance to make the team if he proved he could play 3B.
  • Eduardo Nunez has looked good at SS.  He’s gotten a lot of innings there and looks much more confident.  The work on his throwing motion seems to have helped and I think he has to get a lot of playing time this yr at SS and DH.
  • Jayson Nix is a solid utility-man and I’d rather play him at 3B than Johnson
  • The bullpen arms look great. They are deep there as usual. Joba looks strong and some young arms like Chase Whitley and Francisco Rondon have been impressive.  I was a little concerned with Mark Montgomery‘s last outing.  He had bad body language and his stuff lacked crispness. I thought they should have taken him out right away and I’m concerned he may be injured.  I hope I’m wrong.
  • Vidal Nuno has been a pleasant surprise. He’s had several good outings and threw 4 no-hit innings against us yesterday with 4 Ks. He is aggressive and throws 4 pitches for strikes in any count. He’ll be good depth in AAA this year and I wouldn’t be scared to give him a start in an emergency.  With Warren and Brett Marshall, they have 3 solid starters at AAA and they are still looking for a veteran like CM Wang to stash in Scranton.

Granderson breaks right forearm, to be out 10 weeks

Granderson breaks right forearm, to be out 10 weeks

by fishjam25

Terrible news for the Yankees.  Granderson was hit by a pitch in his first At Bat today and X-Rays revealed he has a fracture in his right forearm.  The Yanks could ill-afford to lose his power and will now have to scramble to replace Granderson.  In-house options include veterans in camp on Minor-lg deals such as Juan Rivera & Thomas Neal, veteran minor-leaguers like Cubans Ronnier Mustelier & Adonis Garcia as well as their 2 highest ranking OF prospects Zoilo Almonte & Melky Mesa.

If he’s out for 10 weeks, that would bring him back during the first week in May.  They could go out and look to bring in a veteran OF like Alfonso Soriano but if Granderson will only miss approximately 5 weeks, do they want to bring in a significant player?  I think they need to be patient and look at the in-house options before doing anything hasty.  A platoon of  Rivera or Mustelier from the Right Side and Zoilo from the left side might not be a bad idea.  Sure would be nice to have Chris Dickerson right about now!

Is $189m mandate really changing or is it Front Office PR?

Is Randy Levine behind these latest stories?

Is Randy Levine behind these latest stories?

I read Wallace Matthews piece about the $189m payroll next yr and Hal’s changing stance on it.   Matthews cites some vague anonymous team sources saying that Hal is ready to spend money and draws the conclusion that the $189M budget isn’t a necessity anymore.  I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.  Until I see them spend some money or Hal comes out and says they are scrapping the plan, I don’t believe it because all of their actions up to this point say they are serious about trimming payroll.

I think it may just be the Yankees trying to leak stuff to the media because they know fans aren’t happy and that ticket sales are likely down again.   The last 2 days we’ve had back to back non-news headlines stating that Hal is willing to spend big money to bring back Cano and now that Hal is likely to ditch the $189 goal because he wants to ensure they field a championship team.  Sounds like they are trying to save face in the media to me.  EVERYTHING they have done for the last 2-3 offseasons has been based on getting below $189m.  They have not signed 1 significant player in FA past 2013 except Ichiro who will turn 41 in 2014.  I think that speaks volumes.

Think about the Ichiro signing.  First off Cashman refused to give anyone a multi-year deal this Winter to protect the 2014 budget.  He liked Tori Hunter for RF but it went nowhere because he wanted 2 yrs.  Russell Martin was never even made an offer.   If you recall, Cashman tried to sign Nate Schierholz to play RF before he decided on the Cubs and kept Ichiro on the back burner for weeks.  It looks like Ichiro was signed more at the direction of ownership/Levine than by Cashman due to the fact that he attracts a large Asian fan-base that adds to ticket sales.  Don’t forget it was Levine who originally initiated the Ichiro trade talks with Seattle in July and brought it to Cashman.  Once again that likely had a lot to do with ticket sales just like when Levine over-ruled Cashman and signed Rafael Soriano in 2011 because Cashman hadn’t signed any significant FAs.  Fans weren’t pleased and Levine felt the team had do something to spark interest and at that stage of the offseason, Soriano was the only legitimate FA left.

Hal was surprised to hear that fans weren’t happy with the offseason and according to Matthews’ source,  he was “freaked out” by the fans negative reaction to the team’s payroll cuts and lack of significant acquisitions. The 2 stories about Cano and $189 on back to back days seems like a PR move orchestrated by Levine and/or Hal to address fan perception just like the Soriano signing in January 2011, the Ichiro trade in 2012 and the Ichiro signing in 2013.  While it sounds like a good thing that the Front Office cares what the fans think, putting band-aids on problems and making reactionary moves to try to bolster ticket sales are not a way to run a team. Bring up and play some exciting young players, sign/trade for players in their primes and don’t mandate sizable payroll cuts while revenues around baseball are at an all-time high and the team has the highest ticket prices in MLB.  Those are the things that will energize the fan base and help the direction/performance of the team at the same time.  After all, nothing is better for attendance and fan confidence than winning rings.

What do you think? Do you think the team has softened on $189m or is this a PR move designed to save face?

2013 Top 40 Prospects

Austin jumped all the way to AA Trenton (flickr photo by slgckgc used through (Commons license)

Austin improved his stock more than any other player and isn’t far from N.Y. now in AA Trenton (flickr photo by slgckgc used through (Commons license)

The Yankees Minor league system had an up and down year in 2012.   Several of their older and upper-tier prospects had injuries (Banuelos, Romine, Campos) or setbacks (Betances).  Add to that the trade of #1 prospect Jesus Montero and it left the upper levels of the system without much impact talent ready to help in the Bronx.  However,  it wasn’t all bad news as  the organization saw the continued positive development from a wave of strong young players who began the year at the A-ball level.  What the system loses in not having much in the way of near MLB-ready talent, it makes up for with a deep well of quality players in the lower rungs.  These players, led by M.Williams, Sanchez, Austin & Heathcott, will start in High A or AA this year and could make this a Top 5 system by next year.  Most of the main Prospect Writers have the Yankee system rated in the #10-14 range right now.

As we have seen this offseason, Yankees ownership is serious about cutting payroll to get below the Competitive Balance Tax Threshold in 2014 and beyond.  The only way the team can remain a playoff contender is to start getting major contributions from their Farm System.  Unfortunately, the high-end talent likely won’t be ready to make a major impact until 2015-2016 but some of these guys may get an opportunity to play in the majors sooner rather than later.  And for the first time in years, the team may start to give legitimate opportunities  to their prospects in New York.

Following is a breakdown of the organizations Top 40 prospects as chosen by myself (Jamie or Fish) and fellow-writer Rob (jimmytoucan).  We tried to talk to some minor-lg coaches and writers to get their input on certain players and have included some quotes from those we have spoken to personally.

1) Mason Williams – CF, 21 – AA, 2015

Mason has literally grown into the team’s best prospect.  No one questioned his amazing defense in CF, plus speed or quality hitting & bunting skills but many wondered if he’d ever be more than a slap-hitting singles hitter.  He responded by adding 30 pounds last offseason and delivering 11 HRs with a .474 SLG% in 359 ABs before  shoulder surgery cut his season short in July.

Fish: I ranked him 1st because I think he’ll continue to gain strength and become a solid 2-way CF.  I see his floor as no worse than a Brett Gardner-type player in the majors. He doesn’t walk as much as Gardner but he has great contact skills and could very well develop into a much stronger offensive player.

Rob: Toolsy CF’er with tremendous contact ability. Hits for average with room to add some power. Potential plus defender and 30 SB capability. I had him ranked #2 on my list simply because I value the catcher position a bit more in a system with three outfielders in the top 4.

2) Gary Sanchez – C, 20 – HiA, 2015

Sanchez earned a reputation as an immature kid with questionable work ethic in 2011 and his ability to remain a Catcher was in question as he had 26 Passed Balls in just 60 games. But he was a new man in 2012, showcasing much improved defensive skills and the leadership required to guide a pitching staff.  His ability to crush a baseball was never in question and his plus power to all fields makes him one of the top Catching prospects in the game.

Fish:  2011 was his first full season in the U.S. so I give him a pass for his struggles as an 18 year old kid. I love Sanchez’ bat and I think it will be MLB-ready well before his ability to catch is.  With the Yanks’ preference for defense at the Catcher spot, I wonder if Sanchez will want to make the sacrifices needed to become a Catcher, but worse case scenario I think he’ll hit enough to support a switch to 1B down the road.

Rob: My number one overall pick, due to playing a more difficult position. Defense was in question rolling into 2012 but from various accounts has taken steps forward. Rated best power hitter in the system, plus arm and hit tool. Ranked the #3 catching prospect in baseball.

Kiley McDaniel:  We asked him if Sanchez has the ability to catch for the Yankees with their emphasis on defense, “Could. Will take lots of work, up to him.”

Slade may be the most talented player in the system

Slade may be the most talented player in the system

3) Slade Heathcott – CF 22 – AA, 2014

Slade has the most ability in the entire system and is the closest thing they have to a 5-tool player.  His short career has been filled with shoulder injuries and some character questions but he was finally healthy and put it all together last year. Hit .307/.378/.470 in Tampa and then hit .388 with 10 XBH’s in 18 games in the Arizona Fall Lg where he was ranked as the #6 prospect.

Fish: Slade jumps out at you when you watch a game.  His immense talent is obvious and he plays the game with a fervor and intensity that is a joy to watch.  Because of that zeal and aggressiveness, he may be more prone to injuries but if he can stay healthy, he could be a star and fan favorite in NY. He’ll need to turn it down a notch to withstand the rigors of a 162-game season.

Rob: Had people buzzing after his performance in the AFL this year. Potential five tool player in spite of his second shoulder surgery. Brings a level of intensity to the field that could actually be his downfall. Huge ceiling with a pretty low floor.

Former Charleston Hitting Coach & current Boston Red Sox Hitting Coach Greg Colbrunn : “He has ability to adjust his swing, we call it “Adjustability” with his swing – he can be fooled and still get the bat head to the ball. He definitely has the power, has the bat speed, can run, put the ball in play, get on base…..so he has all the things you look for in a Major League player”

Taken from ESPN.com…..Keith Law: “I do think he has star potential if he stays healthy, which is a huge if. He plays like his hair’s on fire (and) that’s not a great thing for a player who’s injury-prone … the star potential is from the athleticism – plus runner, really good swing, strong hands. Just needs to dial it down one notch.”

4) Tyler Austin – RF, 21 – AA, 2014

No Yankee prospect was more productive in 2012.  He has hit at every level and his .322/.400/.559/.960 season vaulted him from a #13th round pick in 2010 to a Top 100 prospect who was chosen to play in the Futures Game. He changed positions with ease from 3B to RF and shows ability to be an above-average OF.

Fish:  I’ve always admired Austin’s baseball instincts and smarts. He’s solid in all aspects and despite being an average runner, he has stolen 41 of 43 bases the last 2 years by picking the right pitches and situations. He’s a gamer and will rise quickly – don’t be surprised to see him in the Bronx next year.

Rob: Solid defender that whose bat should play well in RF. High baseball IQ, high floor. Solid bet to be a slightly above average everyday player with room for a bit more.

5) Manny Banuelos – LHP, 22, AAA/INJ – 2014

The elbow injury essentially sets Manny back 2 years in his development but it is not a death sentence by any means. He’ll still be only 23 in 2014 and recovered from TJS. He was the #13 prospect in all of MLB this time last year and showed command improvements in May before he was shutdown.  He has great makeup & pitchability to go along with a plus Changeup, plus low to mid-90s FB and average or better Curve.

Fish: I really like Banuelos for his poise and confidence on the mound.  That mound presence from a lefty with 3 plus piches make him an attractive starter.  The big question with him will be his durability.

Rob: Manny is still my top pitching prospect due to him being a left hander that can get into the mid 90’s, the best changeup in the system and two more secondary offerings that give him #2 potential. His size is the biggest knock against him but he has an easy delivery that does not require max effort every pitch.

6) Jose Campos – RHP, 20, HiA – 2015

Was extremley impressive in his first 4 starts at Charleston but missed almost the entire year with elbow problems. It didn’t require surgery and he’s healthy and throwing now. Campos is 6’4″ with long arms and has front of the rotation potential. Could be a very fast mover up the ladder if 100% as he has both the stuff and the pitchability to succeed.

Rob: Tremendous polish for a pitcher his age, he throws in the mid 90’s with solid command. Secondary stuff needs work but he has plenty of time to get it under wraps.  Great projectable frame with upper rotation potential. For me he was a real coup in “The Trade” and could swing it handily in the Yankees’ favor.

Fish:  I agree with Rob, Campos is the guy who could salvage the Montero trade but it will take a few years to see. When I spoke to his pitching coach in Charleston, Danny Borrell,  he raved about him.

Danny Borrell, Charleston RiverDogs Pitching Coach:   “Kid really knows how to pitch and to back it up he has plus stuff across the board. His intangibles are very impressive. He pitches in well, the pace of the game in which he pitches makes hitters uncomfortable, he can pitch his way through a lineup.  For someone his age to know how to do that is impressive.”

“He was 90-95, a Curveball he can throw for a strike in any count and a Change up that is developing – but something that will be a very good pitch for him as he gets older.  He’s been throwing and by all accounts he’s healthy now.”

7) Angelo Gumbs – 2B, 20 – HiA – 2015

Tremendous athlete with incredible bat speed.  Stole 26 bases and hit 7 HRs in just 67 games before his season ended with a triceps injury. He plays hard and has had complements on his work ethic.  Reviews are mixed on his defense but he has a strong arm and great athleticism so could move to the OF down the road if needed.

Rob: Incredible bat speed out of Gumbs, he’ll be a bat first second baseman. While Cano has us fans spoiled a guy like Gumbs could make losing Robbie to FA sting a bit less, although he’s a couple of years away yet. His defense isn’t quite as flashy as our current 2B, but it’s plenty good that his bat could bridge some of that gap. Overall he’s got above average potential that’s 3 years away.

Fish: Reminds me a little of Austin Jackson. They were both drafted for their incredible athletic ability knowing it would take them a while to develop their baseball skills. It worked with Jackson and Gumbs is coming along nicely. He gets overshadowed by mason Williams but Gumbs was drafted 2 rounds before him and he is every bit as talented as Mason.

8) Brett Marshall – RHP – 23, AAA -  2014

Marshall doesn’t have the upside of the guys in front of him but falls in the Top 10 because he’s looks like a lock to be a back-end of the rotation MLB starter.  Showed potential in Yankee  Spring Training then went 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA in AA so he’s on the doorstep of NY.  He’s got a big time Changeup and features a hard sinking Fastball that sits 91-93 MPH.  His Slider was more of a show-me pitch last year until something clicked in the 2nd Half and he began unleashing a nasty one. His K per 9 went from 6.0 in the 1st half to 9.0 with the improved Slider.

Fish: Marshall reminds me of David Phelps with his poise and the way he attacks hitters. His Change is a weapon vs LH hitters and if his Slider is for real he now has an equal weapon vs RH hitters. Eats innings because he keeps his pitch counts low by challenging hitters and getting easy outs with his Sinker.

Rob: Steady Eddie. Mentioning his name might not raise too many eyebrows, but he continues to move along at a steady pace and chew up innings. He’s got a heavy sinker/slider combo that may not miss a ton of bats but he induces enough weak contact to make up for it. I like any guy that can keep the ball down, especially pitching in YS3.

Marshall is doorstep to the Bronx (flickr photo by paul.hadsall used through Creative Commons license)

Marshall is doorstep to the Bronx (flickr photo by paul.hadsall used through Creative Commons license)

9) Ramon Flores – OF, 21 HiA/AA -  2015

Flores is overshadowed by the big 3 OF’s in the system but he is a quality prospect in his own right. Has perhaps the sweetest, most natural swing in the system and his strikezone awarness his excellent. Hit .303/.370/.425 in Tampa and homered in his one game in AA. He’s solid defensively and has average speed, the only question mark is will he hit for power. He’s getting stronger each year and many think his power will develop later similar to Cano.

Rob: I had him slightly lower on my list, and I’ll admit it has something to do with the positional plethora in the OF, and his slightly lower ceiling than those that outranked him. He makes great contact, has hit everywhere he goes and can hold his own in the field. Amongst a group filled with the likes of Williams, Heathcott and Austin he looks more like the odd man out/4th outfielder

Fish: His swing is a hitting coach’s dream and has been compared to Cano when he was in the minors. His stroke and great patience/strikezone recognition remind me  more of fellow Venezuelan Bobby Abreu. Flores hits breaking balls well and may be a guy who hits better against stronger pitching at higher levels.

Former Charleston Hitting Coach & current Boston Red Sox Hitting Coach Greg Colbrunn:  “He picks up pitches as well as anyone I’ve seen come through here. He picks up pitches right out of the pitcher’s hands and has real good strike zone discipline and pitch recognition – and he recognizes it real early. The biggest thing with him was getting him to be more aggressive in counts where he could take advantage of it and let some of his natural ability take off more.  He has one of the most natural swings we’ve had come through here. And he does have some power. The difference between 2 years ago when I first saw him and last year when his body filled out and the strength he had was big.”

10) Ty Hensley – RHP, 19 LoA – 2017

2012′s 1st round pick is a big (6’5 215 pounds) kid with a power repertoire and huge ceiling.  He’s been sitting at 92-95 with a knee-buckling 12-6 Curve.  has makings of a good Change too but only has 12 pro innings so far so he has a lon way to go.  MRI after Draft found a shoulder “abnormality” but he continues to pitch without pain or limitations.

Fish:  Difficult to rank a kid just drafted who I’ve never seen but he makes but he has the pedigree, size and arm you look for in the 1st round.

Rob: Like many pitchers his age he’s got work to do on his secondary stuff, but he’s got upper rotation potential and seems very driven to get to the BX as soon as possible.

Ty Hensley in interview with Fish in July: “The picture (MRI) has nothing to do with ability and until something hurts or there are symptoms or until there is instability there is no reason to be concerned.  I’m healthy, I’m gonna be healthy and will keep working to stay healthy.” Read the rest of this entry

Weekend Links: Ibanez signs with Seattle; Sickels ranks Yanks Top 20 Prospects

Raul Ibanez has signed with Seattle for $2.75 Million guaranteed and another $1.25 Million possible in performance bonuses.  Ibanez 2012 contract with the Yanks was only for $1.1M guaranteed but he got so much playing time he earned another $2.05 Million in “performance bonuses” for reaching 425 Plate Appearances.

The team had interest in bringing Ibanez back but are more focused on acquiring a RH hitting OF right now and rightfully so – pardon the pun.  With 3 LH hitting OFs who all struggle against LHP, the team will need to carry 1 and maybe 2 RH hitting OFs.  Scott Hairston is the leading name on the FA Market since he hit .286/.317/.550/.867 vs LHP last year with the Mets.  He’s holding out for a 2-yr deal and he may eventually get one considering the Red Sox gave a 2 yr deal to a similar player in Johnny Gomes.

- Noted Minor League and Prospect writer John Sickels posted his preliminary Top 20 Yankees Prospect List at minorleagueball.com  He ranks Gary Sanchez as the team’s #1 prospect followed by OFs Tyler Austin, Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott.  He said all 3 OFs have All-Star potential.  Check it out and discuss below.

Yanks miss out on Pierzynski

Where was the Yankees offer?

Where was the Yankees offer?

It has been reported that the Texas Rangers have agreed to terms with Free Agent Catcher A.J. Pierzynski.  The Yankees were said to have looked into the 35-yr old as an option to replace Russell Martin but ultimately backed off because he supposedley wasn’t strong enough defensively.  To me, I thought AJ would be an excellent match for the Yankees but I thought he was out of the picture because he would receive a 2-yr deal from someone.  I wanted to see the Yanks offer a Kevin Youkilis type deal – high money for just 1 yr for AJ.  In fact I thought they should have offered the same $12M deal to AJ that Youk signed for.  Well, I was crushed to see that Pierzynski signed with Texas for a mere $7.5 Million for 1 year. Where was the Yankee offer?

Based on the wreckage that is the current state of Yankees catching and the club’s ridiculous insistence on 1-yr contracts – there really couldn’t have been a better match.   I don’t expect AJ to hit 27 HRs and win a Silver Slugger again like he did in 2012, but he seemed to be a good fit and would have improved the team immensely over the Catchers they have now.  AJ is a high average , contact hitter who is one of the toughest to strike out in the league.  He crushes RHP which would be ideal to match with any of the Yankees RH hitting backups in Stewart, Cervelli or Romine.  AJ feasted on RHP in 2012, hitting .287/.338/.536/.874 with 24 HRs in 399 PAs.  It would have been ideal to have him start the roughly 110 games this year vs RHP and one of the RH backups to start vs LHP.

Pierzynski is an all-out player with a fiery personality who gets under the skin of opponents.  He’s one of the more disliked players in MLB but he’s known to be a good teammate and leader.  His demeanor and effort would be a welcome addition to the team.  Apparently, the Yankees had concerns that he was only an “average” defensive catcher. This is rather laughable considering the Catchers currently on the team.   At this point in their careers AJ is better defensively then Cervelli and Romine.  And while Stewart is a solid defender he is like having a Pitcher in the batting order.  Pairing AJ with Romine may have been a good move so the young catcher could learn on the job from a seasoned veteran the way a young Posada learned from the veteran starter Girardi.

Looking at the state of catching in MLB, Pierzynski was an excellent option and a no-brainer at the contract he got.  Although its been just 114 PAs over the last decade, he’s shown that he won’t wilt in the post-season with a .300 BA, 5 HRs and a  .892 OPS.  AJ’s LH power also could have made it easier to trade Curtis Granderson for young talent without inhibiting their offense in 2013.  There seems to be a multitude of good reasons to have signed Pierzynski to be the Yankees catcher in 2013 yet they had very little interest.  I have been perplexed with a number of the team’s decisions this Winter (and the last 2-3 Winters actually) but I totally don’t understand this one.  Currently, it looks like the Yanks have perhaps the worst starting Catcher in the A.L. which doesn’t add up with their apparent strategy.  All of their moves this offseason make it seem that they are going with a lot of veterans to take one last shot while guys like Pettitte, Mariano and Jeter are still around.  They have made no effort to get younger or to make any significant additions for the team’s future beyond 2013. Pierzynski was the perfect fit to go after it in 2013 without adding any further commitment/burden to the 2014 payroll.  I want to believe the team has a plan but with each subsequent move and non-move it makes it harder to understand it.

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