Results tagged ‘ Brian Cashman ’

Tanaka Stays Perfect With 4-Hit Shutout Of Mets

GAME 39

YANKEES 4, METS 0

Throughout Wednesday’s game at Citi Field in Flushing, NY, you could honestly hear crickets because the paid crowd of 35,577 and the bats of the New York Mets were silenced by a pitcher who is legend in the making.

Masahiro Tanaka, in only his eighth major-league start, shut out the Mets on just four hits in a masterpiece of a complete game as the Yankees snapped a six-game losing streak to the Mets in the Subway Series and also ended their current four-game skid.

Tanaka (6-0) did not walk a batter and struck out eight in an 114-pitch effort that extended his streak to 42 games without losing a regular-season start that dates back to Aug. 18, 2012 in the Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. Tanaka even capped his night by getting his first major-league hit in the top of the ninth inning against right-hander Jose Valverde.

Yangervis Solarte and Mark Teixeira backed Tanaka with a pair of solo home runs and Brian Roberts hit a pair of triples to spoil the major-league debut of Mets right-hander Rafael Montero (0-1).

The Yankees broke through on Montero with two outs in the second inning when Montero issued a walk to Solarte and Roberts followed with a sinking line drive to left that Eric Young Jr. allowed to skip by him for a triple that scored Solarte.

Solarte, a 26-year-old rookie who entered the game leading the American League in batting with a .336 average, added to his own miraculous rookie season by lining his fourth home run of the season into the right-field bleachers with two out in the fourth inning.

Teixeira blasted his eighth home run of the season and his third in his past five games to pad the Yankees’ lead to 3-0.

Montero yielded three runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out three in six innings of work.

The Yankees “stole” a run with two out in the seventh inning off right-hander Carlos Torres when Brett Gardner narrowly beat out a infield single. He then stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a infield dribbler off the bat of Derek Jeter that he legged out for an RBI single.

But Tanaka appeared in such command that he really only needed one run.

The quote of the night came from Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who had on elf the four hits Tanaka gave up. He told reporters after the game:

“I knew what was coming and I could not hit it.”

Tanaka became the first Yankee rookie pitcher to throw a shutout since Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez did it on Sept. 14 1988 against the Boston Red Sox.

He also silenced a Mets offense that had pounded the Yankees for 21 runs on 24 hits the past two nights across town at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY.

“I think you could argue that he’s been as valuable as anyone on our team, with what he’s done so far this year,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 20-19 and they are tied with the Red Sox for second place in the American League East, one half-game behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles. The Mets dropped to 19-20.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s brilliance against the Mets was tied a lot to his pitch selection. He and catcher Brian McCann noticed that the Mets were not swinging much at Tanaka’s devastating split-finger fastball on two-strike counts so they used Tanaka’s slider and two-seam fastball instead. Tanaka’s shutout lowered his season ERA to 2.17 and he now has struck out 66 and walked seven in 58 innings. WOW!
  • Solarte is long past just being lucky. This youngster is the real deal. His 1-for-3 night kept his average at .336 with four home runs and a team-leading 23 RBIs. “It’s become a running joke, pretty much, in our dugout about [Solarte being] the best player I’ve ever seen at this point,” Roberts told reporters. “It’s a great story. It’s fun to watch.”
  • Roberts was actually shortchanged in his 2-for-4 night because he hit a blistering liner off Torres’ left wrist in the seventh and then hit a scalding liner to center in the ninth that was caught by Curtis Granderson. On May 1, Roberts was hitting .213. Since then he is 12-for-40 (.300), raising his season average to .243.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Tanaka pitched just like an ace should. He stopped a losing streak, gave the shell-shocked bullpen a rest and picked up a team that was scuffling to win lately. There is nothing to complain about.

BOMBER BANTER

CC Sabathia visited Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, AL, on Wednesday and the orthopedist found some “degenerative changes” in the left-hander’s troublesome right knee, general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. Sabathia was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 11 and he later had fluid drained from the knee. Andrews has prescribed a cortisone and stem cell injection that will be administered on Thursday. Although there is no structural damage to the knee there still is no set timetable for Sabathia’s return.  . . .  Outfielder Carlos Beltran sat out Wednesday’s game after having a cortisone injection for a bone spur in his right elbow earlier this week. The Yankees will re-evaluate Beltran’s elbow in a few days. They are hoping the veteran can avoid having surgery.

ON DECK

The Yankees will complete their Subway Series with Mets on Thursday with a chance of earning a split.

The Yankees will call up right-hander Chase Whitley to make his major-league debut in place of Sabathia. Whitley, 24, is 3-2 with a 2.39 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has a career minor-league ERA of 2.64.

The Mets will counter with a rookie right-hander named Jacob deGrom, who also will be making his first start in the majors. DeGrom, 25, is 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Las Vegas. He will be starting in place of right-hander Dillon Gee, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lat strain.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Tanaka Dazzles As McCann Sinks Former Team

GAME 20

YANKEES 7, BRAVES 4

TAMPA - There was a buzz amongst the 10,527 in attendance at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday before Masahiro Tanaka even threw a pitch. Such is the anticipation for what the 2014 season holds for the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander.

He did not disappoint.

Facing a large portion of the Braves’ everyday lineup, Tanaka allowed one run on three hits and two walks while he fanned six in 4 1/3 innings in his his second start of the spring.

His mound opponent, Julio Teheran, was every bit as impressive, giving up a run on five hits and a walk while striking out five in four innings of work.

But the game actually turned on a key hit from former Braves catcher Brian McCann, who delivered a two-run double with one out in the fifth inning as part of a six-run rally that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 7-2 lead.

The Braves had just broken a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth against Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton on an RBI single by B.J. Upton that scored Jason Heyward.

The Yankees started the pivotal fifth when Ichiro Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez drew back-to-back walks off left-hander Atahualpa Severino. One out later, McCann laced his game-winning double down the right-field line that scored Suzuki and Nunez.

The Yankees added runs on a wild pitch, an RBI single by Ramon Flores, a sacrifice fly by Mason Williams and an error by shortstop Andrelton Simmons as the Yankees brought 10 men to the plate in the frame.

Thornton (1-0) got credit for the victory despite having a shaky outing. Severino (1-2) took the loss, giving up five runs on three hits and two walks in a third of an inning.

The Yankees evened their spring training record to 9-9-2. The Braves fell to 7-12.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Braves hitters were raving about Tanaka’s devastating split-finger fastball after the game. “That split-finger he’s got, it’s a good pitch. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman told reporters. It looks as if the Yankees’ $155 million commitment to Tanaka was a very wise move. Tanaka looks to be something very special.
  • McCann is a Georgia native who spent nine seasons playing for the Braves. So it was an emotional day for him to visit with his former teammates. But his two-run double made the day complete. McCann originally was supposed to head to Panama this weekend for the Legends Series. But he was held back to work some more with Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda.
  • Suzuki and Nunez did some serious table setting in this game. They combined to go 4-for-6 with a double, three singles, two walks, two runs scored and an RBI. Neither player will start this season but they could make a huge impact off the bench if they hit like they did on Sunday.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • I have not been impressed with the pitching of Thornton so far this spring. His ERA is a staggering 11.57 and lefties are hitting .750 off him. Ouch! If the Yankees had acquired Thornton in 2010 it would have been great. But he is 37 years old and his ERA in the past three seasons has ballooned from 3.32 in 2011 to 3. 46 in 2012 to 3.74 in 2013. That is not a good sign. This team will miss Boone Logan.
  • Catcher Pete O’Brien should receive an endorsement deal from Carrier air conditioners. This spring he is 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts. He was 0-for-2 with a walk on Sunday and struck out twice. O’Brien, 23, played baseball at the University of Miami and was the team’s pick in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2012. O’Brien hit .291 with 22 homers and 96 RBIs at two stops at Single A in 2013. He also struck out 134 times.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was scratched from Sunday’s lineup due to tightness in his right calf. Ellsbury also will be held out of Monday’s game. The Yankees called the decision “precautionary.” Ellsbury, 30, said it was nothing serious but he did feel his calf tighten up on Saturday during a workout.  . . .  The Yankees optioned left-hander Manny Banuelos to Class-A Tampa on Sunday. General manager Brian Cashman said Banuelos, 23, will remain a starter. Banuelos was once considered the team’s No. 1 pitching prospect but he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and he missed the 2013 season. Banuelos hopes to get on track enough to earn his way to the major leagues this season.  . . .  There is still buzz that the Yankees are receiving offers for backup catcher Francisco Cervelli, who is out of options and is hitting .409 with three homers this spring. Cashman declined to comment.  . . .  Backup infielder Brendan Ryan (back stiffness) is beginning to hit off a tee and is getting closer to returning to action in a few days.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take to the road to Bradenton, FL, to play the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field on Monday.

Kuroda, coming off an outing in which he was tagged for six runs 10 hits last Wednesday, will try to get back on track for the Yankees.

The Pirates will start right-hander Stolmy Pimentel.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on tape delay at 11 p.m. by the MLB Network.

 

Yankees’ Post-Rivera Bullpen Still Looks Talented

This season’s ninth innings are going to seem very strange for the New York Yankees.

For the first time since 1997 the team will not have the benefit of the greatest closer in baseball history.

Mariano Rivera was the gold standard of the modern era one-inning closer and won’t it be odd not hearing “Enter Sandman” reverberate throughout the Yankee Stadium?

Rivera leaves taking his major-league 652 saves and career ERA of 2.21. He also removes the security blanket that managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi had that made them so successful. Opponents will enter the 2014 season extremely happy that No. 42 will not be in the Yankees’ bullpen.

The question is who will take Mo’s place?

Though no promises have been made, David Robertson will have the opportunity to fill the biggest shoes in baseball.

Robertson, 28, like Rivera, is a product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he has been Rivera’s set-up man for the past three seasons.

In four full seasons and parts  of a fifth, Robertson has compiled a 21-14 record with a sparkling 2.76 ERA. Last season, Robertson was 5-1 with 2.04 ERA and superbly set up Rivera in his final season.

The big question is can the former University of Alabama closer handle the job at the major-league level. Robertson has a mere eight saves in 18 chances in the majors.

When handed the role in 2012 when Rivera injured his knee early in the season, Robertson faltered and was replaced by Rafael Soriano. That experience leaves enough doubt about him heading into the new season.

But Robertson has the goods to close. He can bring a low- to mid-90s fastball, a cutter he learned from the master Rivera and a knee-buckling curveball. The only question is can he keep his pitch counts down to get through a clean ninth inning consistently?

Rivera’s lifetime WHIP (Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched) was 1.00, which is excellent. Robertson is sporting a career WHIP of 1.25, which is not great for a reliever. However, his WHIPs over the past three seasons have been 1.13, 1.17 and 1.04.

The 1.04 WHIP from last season is a career low. That is closer material. So Robertson stands as the No. 1 candidate as of today.

The Yankees still could sign a closer before spring training opens. But that is not looking likely.

The best closer on the market, Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics, signed a two-year deal with his former team the Tampa Bay Rays. Former Rays closer Fernando Rodney, 36, was excellent in 2012 but regressed in 2013 with 37 saves and 3.38 ERA and a high WHIP of 1.34.

In addition, the Yankees have already spent a lot of money on free agents this offseason. Can they afford to add more?

A more likely scenario would be a trade packaging some players in return for an experienced bullpen pitcher who can set up and close out games. Stay tuned.

The Yankee bullpen also will be without some other familiar names in 2014.

The Colorado Rockies signed left-hander Boone Logan to a three-year deal. The Detroit Tigers signed right-hander Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal.

The Yankees did sign veteran left-hander Matt Thornton, 37, from the Boston Red Sox. Thornton has some heavy mileage on him but he provides the team a quality left-hander who has had experience as a set-up man and closer.

Thornton has a career record of 32-42 with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 23 career saves. He was 0-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 60 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Red Sox last season. He will essentially replace Logan as the team’s main left-hander.

The Yankees also have a holdover in right-hander Shawn Kelley, 29, who was 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 57 games with the Yankees last season. The former Seattle Mariner essentially made Chamberlain obsolete after recording 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings with his devastating slider.

Kelley and Thornton are likely to be Girardi’s main seventh and eighth inning options this season.

The Yankees also have high hopes for right-hander Preston Claiborne, 26, who was impressive in the early stages of his rookie season.

Called up in May, Claiborne did not issue a walk in his first nine appearances. On July 28, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 29 games. However, the wheels came off the wagon quickly and he was 0-1 with a 8.80 ERA in his last 15 games.

The Yankees still believe the big Texan nicknamed “Little Joba” can pitch as he did in his first 29 games in the major leagues. As long as Claiborne is attacking the strike zone to get ahead he can be a huge weapon for Girardi this season. Claiborne has a very high ceiling and spring training will determine just how far he can go in 2014.

Speaking of high ceilings, the reliever to watch this spring will be left-handed specialist Cesar Cabral, 25.

A Rule 5 draft pick in 2011, Cabral was competing for a job with the Yankees in 2012 when he suffered a fracture of his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training and he missed the entire 2012 season.

His rehab also extended into 2013. In 30 games in three stops in the minors, Cabral was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. But he had 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He was called up to the majors when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and he made his major-league debut on Sept. 2.

Cabral ended up 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in eight late-season games, striking out six in 3 2/3 innings. Lefties hit .125 off him.

It looks as if the Yankees have found a gem in the young lefty. Cabral enters 2014 as almost a shoo-in to make the team to give the team a lefty specialist they have lacked since Clay Rapada injured his arm in spring training last season. Mark my words, Cabral is something special.

The other two spots in the bullpen are up for grabs. But the Yankees have a lot of options to fill those spots.

Should Michael Pineda claim a  spot in the starting rotation and join CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, one obvious choice to fill out the bullpen is David Phelps.

Phelps, 27, has served as reliever and spot starter for the past two seasons.

In two seasons he is 10-9 with a 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 starts). His ERA is inflated because he been less successful as a starting pitcher the past two seasons. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would like to see Phelps resume his role in the bullpen because of his versatility and effectiveness.

Phelps does not possess a crackling fastball but he does have extreme confidence in his stuff. He throws strikes and his control is excellent.

Along with Phelps, the Yankees used rookie right-hander Adam Warren as a long reliever and spot starter last season. Warren, 26, responded with a 3-2 record and a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two of them starts).

Warren enters spring training in the running for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but could very well end up as the long man out of the bullpen again. Unlike Phelps though, Warren has a mid-90s fastball and he has been better as a starter.

The same can be said for 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno.

Nuno won the James P. Dawson Award in 2013 for being the most impressive rookie in spring training. He then went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before making his major-league debut as a reliever in last April.

He was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in five games (three starts) before a strained left groin sustained on May 30 shelved him for the rest of the season.

Nuno is a soft-tosser but he has exceptional control. His ability to fool hitters with his breaking stuff makes him a good possibility as a No. 5 starter if he is impressive again this spring. He also could become a third lefty as a long man in the bullpen.

At the very least, Nuno could return to Scranton and be ready for fill in as a starter or reliever for the Yankees should they need to replace an injured pitcher. Nuno is an excellent insurance policy for Girardi.

One very intriguing bullpen possibility for the Yankees is former top prospect starter Dellin Betances, 25.

The 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander flamed out as a starter in 2012 when he recorded a 6-9 record and 6.44 ERA with 99 walks in 113 1/3 innings at two minor-league stops. The Yankees made him a reliever in 2013 and he was much better.

Betances was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 84 innings at Scranton. He cut his walks to just 42.

He was called up in September and had a 10.00 ERA in six games late in the season. But the Yankees believe he has potential to be a dominant reliever in the major leagues is he continues to harness his control. He has mid-90s fastball and his power curve is getting better.

Betances enters this spring as a dark-horse bullpen candidate with the tools to become an excellent reliever someday and perhaps a future closer.

The same can be said of right-hander Mark Montgomery, 23, the team’s current No. 11 prospect.

Montgomery has a 93-mile-per-hour fastball but his biggest weapon is a drop-off-the-table slider that has shot him through the minor-league ranks.

In 2012 he struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings as he advanced through Double-A Trenton. He also led the organization in saves. Last season, Montgomery was 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 40 innings at Scranton.

He will get an opportunity to show his progress this spring but he likely will start the season in Scranton. The Yankees still see him as a future setup man or closer. He may get his shot sometime in 2014.

Another minor-leaguer worth watching this spring is 24-year-old right-hander Chase Whitley, who spent most of last season at Scranton.

Whitley was 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings in 29 games. The Alabama native also showed some ability as a starter late in the season.

In five late-season starts, Whitley was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. The Yankees will evaluate him this spring and determine what role he might be best suited. But his solid numbers in the minors indicate he is on track to make the major leagues in a few years.

One interesting aspect of the candidates I have mentioned so far is that seven of them (Robertson, Claiborne, Phelps, Warren, Betances, Montgomery and Whitley) were originally drafted by the Yankees. Two others (Cabral and Nuno) are products of the team’s minor-league system.

The other two candidates (Thornton and Kelley) were signed as a free agent and via a trade, respectively.

Although the Yankees’ position players in the minors are progressing slowly. The same can’t be said for the starters and relievers they have been developing the past few seasons. That is a testament to the scouting department and general manager Brian Cashman.

The Yankees need to continue that development as they move forward.

The biggest testimony to that progress will be if Robertson seamlessly settles in as the team’s closer. He may be replacing a huge legend. But if anyone can do it, it  is Robertson.

A lot is riding on Robertson;s right arm and the Yankees are very hopeful he can meet the challenge.

 

Tanaka Signing Thrusts Yankees Into Contention

The key to winning baseball has always been pitching and the New York Yankees solidified their 2014 starting rotation by agreeing to terms with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday.

After a disastrous season in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons, their stated “goal” of remaining under the $189 million payroll limit and the loss of Robinson Cano to free agency, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner fought back by loosening the pursestrings for general manager Brian Cashman.

The result was a dizzying array of signings that included All-Star catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the additions of key pieces like infielders Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson and left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and the re-signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda.

But none of those signings would have mattered much at all unless the Yankees landed Tanaka.

Tanaka, 25, came off a season with Rakuten Golden Eagles with a 24-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in leading his team to the Japanese championship. In his seven seasons he was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 1,238 batters in 1,315 innings.

The right-hander possesses a 94-mile-per-hour fastball along with a world-class splitter and a slider. More importantly, Tanaka is not a nibbler in the tradition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Last season he struck out 183 batters while walking 32 in 212 innings.

Those eye-popping stats led the Yankees front office to offer a seven-year contract worth $155 million plus the $20 million posting fee that will have to be paid to the Golden Eagles. The signing also proved pundits wrong for predicting that the Los Angeles Dodgers had the inside track in signing Tanaka because his wife, a singing star of some note, preferred to be on the West Coast and craved the glitter of Hollywood.

Tanaka will receive $22 million in each of the first six seasons and $23 million in 2020. The deal also allows the contract to be terminated after four seasons to permit Tanaka to seek free agency. He also has a full no-trade clause.

He also was allotted a $35,000 moving allowance and annual payments of $100,000 per season for housing for the New York metropolitan area or Tampa, FL. The Yankees threw in $85,000 in annual salary for an interpreter and four annual first-class flights from the United States to Japan.

Doubters will question this largesse heaped upon a pitcher who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. But the Yankees’ front office and scouts were convinced that Tanaka has the potential to be even better than countryman Yu Darvish, 27, who is 29-18 with a 3.34 ERA in his first two seasons as the ace of the Texas Rangers.

Tanaka will slide into the No. 2 spot behind CC Sabathia and join fellow Japanese right-hander Kuroda and 27-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova in a revamped Yankee rotation in 2014.

The Yankees believed they needed to upgrade the rotation this season after the retirement of left-hander Andy Pettitte and the loss of right-hander Phil Hughes to the Minnesota Twins.

There also are questions swirling around Sabathia, 33, after his disappointing 2013 campaign in which he slipped to 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. The ace left-hander had to adjust with a huge drop in velocity on his fastball and his record shows there are more adjustments necessary.

But Sabathia vows that he will show up this spring ready to prove he is still the same pitcher who was 74-29 in his previous four seasons in pinstripes.

That would be a good thing because Sabathia never found his groove after posting a 4-2 record with a 3.35 ERA in April. His ERAs in succeeding months were 4.14, 5.11, 6.60 and 5.94. Yankee fans can take some comfort in the fact Sabathia was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in September.

That could indicate he will indeed adjust as Pettitte and Mike Mussina did when they lost velocity.

The odd thing is that after four seasons of being accused of not paying attention to his weight as the season progressed, many of those same “so-called experts” thought Sabathia lost velocity last season because he was too thin. Well, who really knows? But it is ironic those “experts” would mention it.

The Yankees will settle for Sabathia arriving in Tampa in shape and they believe he has enough weapons to remain effective as a starting pitcher because he never really has been a pitcher totally dependent on his fastball to get by.

He will remain atop the rotation in 2014 with the help of the infusion of a young Tanaka behind him.

Strangely, the Yankees’ No. 3 starter was their best pitcher in 2013 despite making only 20 starts.

Nova began the season pitching horribly in spring training and in his first four starts of 2013 before succumbing to a inflammation in right triceps. After spending time on the disabled list, a rehab stint in the minors and pitching briefly out of the bullpen, Nova returned to the rotation on June 23.

From that point on, Nova was absolutely brilliant. He was 7-4 with a 2.59 in his last 15 starts beginning on July 5. This came after a season in which Nova’s game flew off the rails and he ended up 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012.

So the Yankees believe that Nova’s second half is more indicative of what he is as a pitcher after he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011.

Nova decided not to use his slider very much last season in order to concentrate on his mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball. The result was 79 strikeouts in those 15 starts. The fact that he still just 27 makes him an excellent No. 3 starter in this bolstered rotation.

Before Nova came on, Kuroda, who will be 39 on Feb. 10, was the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher. In fact, on Aug. 12, Kuroda was sporting a 11-7 mark with a 2.33 ERA on one of the weakest hitting Yankee teams in generations.

But a heavy workload of 154 2/3 innings began to take a toll on the veteran. In his last eight starts, Kuroda was 0-6 with a awful 6.56 ERA. It is clear that Kuroda was overtaxed into pitching past six innings too early in the season because he was not getting adequate offensive support.

Manager Joe Girardi was forced to keep him in a lot of close games and Kuroda paid a heavy price down the stretch. Even still, Kuroda finished the season 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA and he will certainly benefit from an improved offense in 2014.

The Yankees are impressed with the way Kuroda is able to adjust midstream in games by dipping into his arsenal of fastballs, sliders, splitters and curves to find the pitches that are working best for him that night, That is why they chose to re-sign him to a third one-year contract for $16 million.

Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki should also help make Tanaka feel at home in the Yankees’ clubhouse.

The big concern for the Yankees now is who will claim the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Fortunately, they have some options to fill the spot.

The “dream scenario” for the Yankees would have 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda ready to take the ball this spring and run with it. Pineda, after all, was obtained in a 2012 trade with the Seattle Mariners along with right-hander Jose Campos, 21, for catcher Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.

However, after a 2011 rookie season in which Pineda made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a weak-hitting Seattle team, Pineda ended up having to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder after his last spring training start in 2012.

He missed the entire season and pitched only 40 2/3 innings in the minors last season until he was shut down in August after experiencing some minor shoulder soreness.

The Yankees still have high hopes for Pineda, who boasted a mid-90s fastball, an above average change-up and a slider before his injury. The Yankees took a lot of heat from their fans when they traded away their No. 1 prospect in Montero and allowed the Mariners to deal Pineda instead of parting with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

So there is some pressure on Pineda as he enters spring training having not thrown a single pitch for the Yankees in two seasons. It will be interesting to see how much Pineda has lost off his heater and if he still can be effective for the Yankees.

But the Yankees claim he is healthy and should be ready to go.

Another option for the No. 5 spot is right-hander David Phelps.

Phelps, 27, started his second major-league season in his usual role as a long man in the bullpen until he was thrust into the rotation on May 1 to replace the injured Nova.

Phelps showed great promise by going 2-2 with a 4.32 in six starts in May. But he stumbled to a 3-2 record with a 5.57 ERA in his next six starts before he landed on the disabled list in July with a strained right forearm.

Phelps did not return to the roster until Sept. 15 and was 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances.

The Yankees see Phelps as a solid Plan B if Pineda is not quite ready to pitch or he suffers a setback in his rehab. But the Yankees clearly see Phelps more valuable in the bullpen, as his numbers in 2012 indicate. Phelps was 4-4 with a 4.34 ERA in his rookie season.

Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild admire Phelps fearlessness in attacking hitters though he owns only a pedestrian fastball.

Phelps makes up for a lack of velocity with good command of the strike zone and he can ring up a lot of strikeouts with his breaking stuff and pitching smarts.

The Yankees also have right-hander Adam Warren, 26, who was 2-2 with a 3.39 ERA in a long relief role for the Yankees in his rookie season in 2013.

Warren did make two late-season spot starts and was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in those starts. Unlike Phelps, Warren has above-average velocity on his fastball. But the Yankees are not sure how high Warren’s ceiling extends as a starter. They would prefer to keep him as a long reliever if they could.

The Yankees got an unexpected boost with a reclamation project in left-hander David Huff last season. Huff, 29, who was former starter with the Cleveland Indians, was signed after his release from the Indians and recalled from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in mid-August.

He was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA. But that does not tell the whole story. Huff was tagged for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 7. Without that disastrous appearance Huff had a 2.37 ERA in his other nine appearances.

Huff also seemed comfortable in a long relief role as well as in his two spot starts in September. He also brings some value as a left-hander.

However, because the Yankees have to make room on the 40-man roster for Tanaka, Huff was designated for assignment. He will only return to the Yankees as a free agent if he is unable to find work elsewhere, which is unlikely considering he is left-handed and he pitched so well in 2013 for the Yankees.

There has been an ongoing rumor this winter that the Yankees might be interested in signing former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

Santana, 34, became a free agent when the New York Mets declined to pick up his option for 2014. Santana did not pitch in 2013 after suffering a second tear of his anterior left shoulder capsule. Santana was 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA over parts of four seasons with the Mets.

The signing of Tanaka makes Santana’s signing less likely. Santana was scheduled to make $25 million before the Mets bought out his option for $5.5 million. If the Yankees can get him for less than $10 million they might take a shot. But Santana also has to prove he is healthy.

The Twins, the team with whom he won those two Cy Young awards, are among the teams interested in Santana when he is given the go-ahead to throw from a mound for scouts at his Fort Myers, FL, home in February.

The Yankees do have some good young pitchers in the minors but none of them look ready to break camp with the team. A few could be called up during the season if they progress well.

At the top of the list is left-hander Vidal Nuno, 26, who was the Yankees top rookie of spring training in 2013.

Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA at Scranton and he received a midseason call-up to the Yankees. In five appearances, including three starts, Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA. He missed most of the remainder of the season with a strained left groin.

For some reason Nuno is able to keep batters off-balance with a mix of breaking stuff that he features with a very lackluster upper 80s fastball. The reason is he has pinpoint control. He walked only eight batters in his combined 45 minor- and major-league innings in 2013.

If he has another strong showing this spring, Nuno could certainly leapfrog Phelps or Warren for the No. 5 spot. In addition, he could also make the squad as a long reliever and spot starter. Girardi loves pitchers who challenge hitters and don’t issue walks.

This spring all eyes will be on 22-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, who missed the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Banuelos was considered the team’s No. 1 prospect at the time he was injured in 2012. In 2011, Banuelos was 1-1 with 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings in spring training, earning him the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie.

However, the young Mexican lefty struggled with his control in 2011, walking 71 batters in a cobined 129 2/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. He was 6-7 with a 3.45 ERA that season.

In 2012, he made only six starts before being shelved with elbow soreness and he ended up having to undergo surgery to repair a ligament in his left elbow in October.

The Yankees love his low-90s fastball and change-up combination that saw him strike out 125 batters in 2011. He is still young and talented enough to progress quickly if he puts it all together. But the Yankees would like to see him do that at Scranton before they bring him up to the big club.

He remains the team’s No. 8 prospect. He just has to prove he is healthy and regain his control.

The Yankees are also very high on 24-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez, who was 1-3 with a 2.76 ERA in eight starts at Trenton before going 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA in eight starts at Scranton. Ramirez struck out 78 batters in 73 2/3 innings and the Yankees believe he has a very high ceiling.

But he likely needs a full season at Scranton before he makes a bid for the big club.

The same can be said for left-hander Nik Turley, 24.

Turley, a relative of former Yankees right-hander Bob Turley, was 11-8 with a 3.88 ERA in 26 starts at Trenton last season. Compared to Pettitte in style, teammates call him “Little Andy” and he backed that up by fanning 137 batters in 139 innings last season.

Below Banuelos, Ramirez and Turley the Yankees have a nice corps of young starters who are a few years away from making it to the majors.

The biggest buzz is surrounding the team’s No. 4 prospect Rafael De Paula, 22.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander hits up to 99-mph on his fastball and he has a hard curve and a change-up. He was a combined 7-5 with a 4.29 ERA at High-A Tampa and Charleston last season. More impressive was his 146 punch-outs in only 113 1/3 innings.

DePaula enters the 2014 season as the team’s best young arm and deservedly so. This young Dominican has quality starter written all over him.

Don’t forget about the right-handed Campos, either. Campos, 21, was obtained along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he may have even an higher ceiling than Pineda.

Campos suffered an elbow injury that did not require surgery in 2012, In 2013, he was 4-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 26 games (19 starts) at Charleston. He has an above-average fastball to go along with very good control of two secondary pitches.

That mix will take him far as long he can prove he can stay healthy in 2014.

The Yankees also have high hopes for 22-year-old right-handed flamethrower Bryan Mitchell, who likely will be at Trenton this season. Mitchell was 4-11 with a 4.71 ERA at Tampa and Trenton last season. The Yankees need only to see him command his 96-mph fastball and nearly unhittable curve to make a giant leap this season.

Two others to watch are 2013 first-round draft pick Ian Clarkin, a left-hander, and 20-year-old right-hander Ty Hensley, who was picked in the first round in 2012.

Unlike the position players, the Yankees are pretty rich in young starters at the minor-league level. It is quite possible that three or four of them could be strong contributors with the big club very soon.

In the meantime, the signing of Tanaka has given the Yankees a major shot in the arm. Just ask the rival Boston Red Sox. They see that the $471 million the team has spent on free agents has thrust them back among the top tier teams in the American League East.

Without pitching it is hard to compete in such a tough division. It appears now the Yankees will have a starting staff that can get them back to the playoffs.

That would require one huge “arigato” (thank you in Japanese) to the signing of Tanaka.

 

Yankees Boast Outfield With Power, Speed Mix

For the Yankees, 2013 was pretty much a lost season and the biggest weakness on the team was in the outfield.

The projected outfield after the Yankees let right-fielder Nick Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians included Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, only Gardner had a productive season.

Granderson, 32, was struck in the right arm on a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Jay Happ in his first at-bat of spring training and he missed the first month and a half of the season.

He returned on May 14 and played in just eight games before suffering a fractured left knuckle on May 25 after being hit by a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos. He did not return until Aug. 2.

Granderson ended up his final season of a four-year contract with just seven home runs and 15 RBIs and a .229 batting average in 61 games. The Yankees opted not to make an offer to the outfielder and he signed with the crosstown New York Mets for 2014 season.

The Yankees, devoid of power they lost through free agency before the 2013 season, missed out on Granderson’s power that saw him slug a major-league best 84 home runs in the previous two seasons. But it is pretty safe to say that Granderson will not be hitting 40 home runs in spacious Citi Field and the Yankees will not miss the 364 strikeouts he compiled in the two seasons he hit the 84 home runs.

Granderson’s strikeout totals rose as his batting average dropped and the front office doubted his ability to play center-field by installing Gardner there in 2013.

Suzuki, 40, on the other hand, was perfectly healthy throughout the 2013 season. However, as the season wore on, Suzuki’s ability to get on base waned to the point that he ended up being benched for most of the final month of the season.

He hit a career-low .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, which also was a career low. Although Suzuki is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with the Yankees, his spot on the roster is now tenuous at best. The Yankees package him in a trade before spring training starts.

But it is safe to say that Suzuki’s days as a everyday player with the Yankees have come to an end.

On July 19, Suzuki was helping a team that was ravaged by injury, hitting a respectable .283. From that point on the former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial All-Star hit .198. Father Time looks have claimed what little magic was left in Suzuki’s bat.

That is a shame.

Gardner, 30, ended up coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season to have his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with eight homers and 52 RBIs and stole 24 bases for a team that finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons.

He also played Gold Glove-quality defense in center-field.

But, like many of his teammates, Gardner succumbed to a strained left oblique on Sept. 12 and he missed the rest of the season. Before spring training in 2014, Gardner looks to be a player without a position because of the Yankees’ decision to trade for left-fielder Alfonso Soriano in the middle of the 2013 season and the free-agent signings of center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran.

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine made it clear at the winter meetings that the team was not looking to trade Gardner. Levine said, the team “absolutely had no intention” trading the speedy outfielder.

But because the team has also said they will not carry a permanent designated hitter, Soriano looks to be the team’s left-fielder, leaving Gardner relegated to backup status. That would not seem to make much sense. However, the Yankees have had to make a lot of shifts to the outfield this offseason.

On Jan. 10, the Yankees designated for assignment veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was acquired in a late 2013 spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels to replace the injured Granderson.

Wells, 35, looked like a godsend on May 15 when had 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and was batting .301. But the league caught up to Wells’ aggressive approach at the plate and he ended up with just two home runs and 27 RBIs and hit only .145 the rest of the season.

Like Suzuki, Wells ended up being benched most of the final month of the season. His future with the Yankees was in serious doubt and the Yankees have opted to cut him loose now so that he might be able to sign with another team.

Unlike Wells, Soriano, 38, was a true revelation when he donned the pinstripes on July 26 for the first time since 2003.

Soriano was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs when he was acquired. From that time on, Soriano hit .256 with 17 home runs and and 50 RBIs in only 58 games with the Yankees.

His impact was almost immediate for a team missing Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano became the team’s cleanup hitter and he along with Robinson Cano gave the team a one-two punch the lineup had not had all season long.

On top of that, Soriano showed the Yankees he had improved as an outfielder. He committed only one error in the outfield for the Yankees and he made some pretty sparkling plays in the field for his old team. So enters 2014 as the team’s starting left-fielder.

The Yankees upgraded their outfield nicely by signing Ellsbury, 30, to a shockingly rich seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted Cano to pitch a temper tantrum and storm off to the Seattle Mariners.

Ellsbury is what the Yankees had hoped Gardner would be by this stage: A hitter who could get on base a lot and score a lot of runs by being daring and disruptive on the bases.

In 2013, Ellsbury hit .298 with nine homers and 35 RBIs while leading the American League with 52 stolen bases. Ellsbury is also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.

Ellsbury has compiled 241 career stolen bases and has a career success rate of 84 percent. Gardner, in contrast, has 161 bags with a 81 percent success rate. The Yankees envision both being in the lineup and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. However, in order to do that they would have to find a spot for Gardner to play.

The Yankees determined pretty early that with Swisher having left last season and Suzuki on his last days as a player they needed to upgrade right-field and they did that by signing Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 19.

Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. He also is a switch-hitter with a career average of .283 and 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs. With Cano missing from the middle of the Yankees’ lineup Beltran will provide a powerful bat to replace him in 2014.

The trio of Beltran, Soriano and Teixeira could easily combine to hit 100 home runs for the Yankees in 2014, which would address one of their biggest shortcomings last season.

Though Beltran did win three Gold Glove awards from 2006 through 2008 with the New York Mets, knee injuries have cut down his ability to play center-field with the skill he used display. However, he is no slouch in right-field and he has an above-average arm.

So the Yankees’ quintet of Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, Beltran and Suzuki provide a nice mix of power and speed. They also provide superb defense.

The signings of Ellsbury and Beltran and the acquisition of Soriano are an admission that is painful for Cashman and the Yankee front office that the team’s minor-league outfield prospects are not progressing at a pace they would have wanted.

The Yankees entered 2013 with a handful of promising outfield prospects. But not many have stepped up and most were disappointments last season.

The team’s No. 2 prospect Mason Williams suffered a shoulder injury that cut short his season and he ended up hitting a combined .245 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 117 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

The 22-year-old speedster has the ability to become a smaller version of Bernie Williams with line-drive power, speed and a very good-fielding center-fielder. But he has to shake off the injuries that sidetracked him and accelerate his development in 2014.

The team’s No. 3 prospect, Tyler Austin, is also 22 and he also suffered some injury issues in 2013. A wrist injury cut his season short and he left the Arizona Fall League when it recurred.

Austin hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games with Trenton. Austin is a converted infielder who has the ability to hit for average (He hit a combined .354 in 2011.). But it does not appear he will hit for a lot of power as you might expect from an outfielder.

He has the ability to be an above average fielding right-fielder and the Yankees hope he shows some real progress as a hitter in 2014.

The No. 7 prospect, 2009 top draft pick Slade Heathcott, has been a victim of his all-out style that periodically kept him off the field up until 2013.

Now he is starting to put it all together and he hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs with 15 steals in 103 games at Trenton last season. Heathcott, 23, has a line-drive bat that could develop into power and is way above-average fielder with a plus arm.

The Yankees just hope he can remain healthy enough to progress to the majors.

The No. 6 prospect actually played in the majors last season due to the injuries the team sustained. Zoilo Almonte, 24, was actually rushed to the majors despite the fact he did not spend a full season above the Double-A level.

In 68 games at Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre, Almonte hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on June 19 and he ended up hitting .236 with one home run and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Yankees.

Like most of the Yankees, he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on July 20 with a left ankle sprain. He was not activated until Sept. 9 and played sparingly the rest of the season. But the Yankees do believe he could turn into a solid run-producing outfielder.

Almonte is not a speedster and he will not win any Gold Gloves with his defense. But his bat could make him a solid starter or a real good fourth outfielder. The Yankees like the fact he is switch-hitter and they would like to see what he can do with a full season at Triple A.

His chances of making the roster are slim unless the Yankees choose to deal away Gardner or Suzuki.

Almonte’s Scranton teammate, Melky Mesa, also made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season. Mesa, batted .385 with no homers and one RBI in five games with the Yankees last season.

But Mesa, who will be 27 at the end of January, has pretty much played himself out of prospect status after hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs with 13 steals in 84 games with Scranton. His 112 strikeouts in .314 at-bats pretty much make him a right-handed hitting version of Granderson.

His power is and speed are special but those numbers come at the cost of a lot of swinging at air. Mesa is an above-average center-fielder who can run down flies with the best of them. But his all-or-nothing approach at the plate make him less likely to have much success at the major-league level.

These are the Yankees’ cream of the crop outfielders at this stage. With Beltran signed for three years and Ellsbury signed for seven there will be lots of time for them to develop in the minors.

In the meantime, Beltran and Ellsbury have elevated the quality of the outfield and there is plenty of depth with former starters Gardner and Suzuki considered as backups for the time being.

The combination of power and speed with quality defensive play makes this the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster in 2014. It could very well be one of the best outfields they have fielded in some time.

 

What’s On Second, I Don’t Know At Third For Yanks

Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the . . . team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third -

Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the . . . team.

Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third -

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The classic Lou Costello and Bud Abbott comedy sketch is a perfect metaphor for the 2014 Yankees. Because it is beginning to look like What’s on second and I Don’t Know is on third.

The angry free-agent departure of Robinson Cano and the looming suspension hovering over the head of Alex Rodriguez have those two spots in a bit of limbo now.

The Yankees pretty much were prepared for the suspension of A-Rod but they were not really expecting Cano to get in a tizzy over the contract offered to outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and leave like a spoiled child. But general manager Brian Cashman has had to deal with these situations since he became general manager in 1998.

He does not panic. He moves on.

When second baseman Omar Infante elected to sign with the Kansas City Royals for four years and $30 million on Dec. 17, Cashman turned to two-time All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts to fill the void for the Yankees.

At the moment, news reports indicate, the Yankees are close to signing Roberts, 36, to a one-year deal worth about $2 million plus incentives. If Roberts does indeed sign he likely would become the Yankees’ primary starting second baseman for the 2014 season.

When Cano left for the Seattle Mariners, Cashman said that all players are replaceable. But he added that some were harder to replace than others. Cano certainly falls into that latter category.

It is not easy to replace a player who hit .314 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs and played Gold Glove-quality defense. Putting it succinctly, how do replace the team’s best second baseman in history? The answer, of course, is that you don’t.

Even if the Yankees had signed Infante, it would not have been the same. Infante, 32, hit .318 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs for the Detroit Tigers last season but he is not even close to Cano in ability. So with Infante off the board, Roberts becomes the Yankees No. 1 target.

The question with Roberts is at his age does he have anything left? Another question is can he remain healthy?

After the Yankees disastrous 2013 campaign when even Cashman himself broke his leg skydiving at a charity event, making sure their players can answer the bell to start the 2014 season and have confidence they can finish it would have to be a top priority.

Roberts does not instill a lot of that confidence.

From 2007 through 2009, Roberts was among the top second basemen in baseball, averaging .290 with 120 stolen bases and playing in 157 games a season. But much like A-Rod, staying on the field since 2010 has been a challenge for the former Baltimore Orioles star.

He has played in only 192 games since the 2010 season due to a variety of injuries with the most serious being a concussion that shelved him for portions of two seasons.

Roberts played in 77 games for the O’s last season, batting .249 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs.

Because Roberts is a switch-hitter, the Yankees would likely use him as their primary second baseman because free agent infielder Kelly Johnson has the ability to play third base and he could be used there should Rodriguez have to face a suspension covering all of the 2014 season.

Johnson, 31, bats left-handed and he figures in as more as a potential platoon third baseman with the Yankees also looking to possibly re-sign free-agent Mark Reynolds. Johnson also could back up Roberts at second, as could shortstops Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez.

The disarray at second and third is odd for a Yankee team that has boasted an infield of Mark Teixeira at first, Cano at second, Derek Jeter at short and Rodriguez at third since the 2009 season. But injuries and off-field troubles for Rodriguez and the recent departure of Cano have thrown this once powerful part of the team for a loop.

Teixeira and Jeter are both coming off serious injuries and they hope to be ready to play sometime during spring training in order to begin the season. Rodriguez missed all but 44 games last season recovering from hip surgery last January and has played in 138 games or less since the 2007 season.

Adding the injury-prone Roberts does not seem to make much sense. But he might be healthiest among the other three at this point.

In addition to Roberts, the Yankees are also talking with former All-Star infielder Michael Young, 37, who is capable of playing all four infield positions.

Young hit a combined .279 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a right-handed hitter who primarily is considered a third baseman. The Yankees would not sign Reynolds if Young decides to sign.

But the signing of Roberts would not preclude the team from also signing Young, who would platoon with Johnson at third base in the absence of Rodriguez.

So Roberts looks to be more a Plan A signing while Young and Reynolds are more of a Plan B after the Yankees get a ruling from the arbitrator who is deciding Rodriguez’s appeal of his 211-game suspension for his alleged role in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.

The hearing was concluded in mid-November with the players’ association seeking to overturn or reduce Rodriguez’s suspension handed down by Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig last summer. Rodriguez actually stormed out of the hearing in a huff on Nov. 20 when arbitrator Frederic Horowicz ruled that Selig did not have to testify in front of Rodriguez’s attorneys.

Rodriguez said, at that time, that the issue of his suspension likely would end up in a federal court.

Horowicz is expected to issue his ruling some time in January.

In the meantime, the Yankees have kept a public posture of saying that they expect Rodriguez, 38, to be their starting third baseman on Opening Day. But privately they have to be ready to fill the position should Rodriguez be suspended for the entire 2014 season.

That is why they signed Johnson and why they remain interested in Young and Reynolds.

One thing is certain, however: The Yankees would be better off with Rodriguez’s diminished bat in the lineup than without it.

Rodriguez hit .244 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 44 games last season and was hampered the final month of the season with tightness in his left hamstring. But it was a far cry better than the production they got from Jayson Nix, Nunez, Corban Joseph, David Adams, Chris Nelson and Luis Cruz.

Reynolds, 30, did hit .236 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 36 games but he was also needed at first base in a platoon with Lyle Overbay and he is not considered to be as adept fielding at third base as he is at first.

So when the Yankees say “I Don’t Know” is playing third they really mean it.

To be sure, the Yankees have shored up the team’s offense by signing catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Carlos Beltran and Ellsbury and trading last season for outfielder Alfonso Soriano. They also are shoring up the rotation by re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and looking to sign 25-year-old Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka, who has been posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

But around the horn of the infield there are question marks everywhere.

Those question marks all have answers. But none of them appear to be answerable in the short term. What was once a Yankee strength appears to be a possible weakness.

Of course, should Teixeira show up in spring training hitting home runs and Jeter starts running the bases and fielding his position without any pronounced limp, the rest of the infield troubles can be overcome with some hard work.

Roberts could be the answer at second and there are worse things than having a platoon at third until Rodriguez is able to return.

Yankee fans are not accustomed to it. But they might just have to get used to it. Things just look like they will be in a state of flux for a good while.

 

Cano’s Temper Leads To Sad Departure To Seattle

Some Yankee fans got together and attempted to ship some baby pacifiers to Robinson Cano. How appropriate!

Temper, temper, Robbie! Tsk! Tsk!

Cano, 31, as you all know by now, got pissed off when the Yankees offered outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury an eight-year, $169 million contract and took his bats and gloves and run off to the Great Northwest for a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.

Hope you did not let the clubhouse door hit you in the rump on the way out, Robinson.

To be clear, it is a shame that a marvelously talented player like Cano has decided to leave the Yankees. He was the best player on the team the past two seasons and his durability was welcome in a disastrous 2013 season that saw the Yankee roster look, at times, like an Independent League All-Star team.

Cano also had a point in looking at Ellsbury’s career statistics compared to his own and conclude that the Yankees were “low-balling” their monetary offer to him. They never really budged off the $175 million they were offering.

But after the excessive deals offered to Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Carl Crawford over recent seasons, teams are learning that mega-year contracts for boatloads of cash is not a wise idea. A-Rod has been playing on reputation alone for the past three seasons. Pujols is a walking physical wreck and Crawford is one of the worst fiscal mistakes the Boston Red Sox ever made.

If Cano and his agent Jay-Z had been realistic in the first place with their opening offer it would have been smoother sailing. But they sought $305 million, which would have been a record contract. No team was willing to shell out that much cash for Cano and he had to know it.

Once the Yankees zeroed in on seven years at $165 million the gauntlet was laid. But the chief rivals for Cano, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers stepped out of the process.

The Dodgers signed Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to play second and the Tigers traded slugging first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt he was in the catbird seat at that point because Cano, at the time, had no other offers. Overtures by Cano’s people made to the New York Mets were turned aside so Cano and his agents came back to the Yankees and lowered their demands to $240 million.

The Yankees, appreciative of the semblance of reality, still were not too keen on extending the contract past eight years and, with no other bidder in sight, they smartly held the line at about $175 million.

The whole situation blew up after ongoing talks by the Yankees with free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran had broken down. The Yankees shifted gears away from Beltran and they signed Ellsbury for a tidy sum. When Cano read about the monetary details he pitched a hissy fit.

Cano’s father, Jose, issued a statement to the effect that the “Yankees were obviously not interested in keeping Robinson.”

That could not be further from the truth. Cashman and the Yankees were hoping that any offer Cano might have received from other teams could be brought back to the Yankees to give them a chance to match or top it. Now $240 million looks to have been a problem but the Yankees could have extended a year and increased the offer to $200 million.

But Cano did not give the Yankees a chance and he had to shop himself to the Mariners to get what he what he was seeking.

Fortunately, Cano had a willing partner in Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has made his career on just two things: turning out lousy clubs year after year and miscalculating the value of young prospects he has in his system and ones he has acquired in trades.

Let’s look at the Mariners most recent history.

Since 2004, the Mariners have been a losing franchise. They have been below .500 in all but two seasons and have not finished better than second place in the American League West in any of those years.

After the departures of stars like Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod, Randy Johnson and manager Lou Piniella at the beginning of the new century this franchise has languished, boasting only outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and right-handed ace Felix Hernandez as true stars.

Zduriencik tried to seed the team with prospects by making trades, such as the 2010 deal he made to trade All-Star left-hander Cliff Lee.

The Yankees thought they had a deal for Lee in place, offering their No. 1 prospect Jesus Montero, right-hander Ivan Nova and second baseman David Adams. But Zduriencik balked at Adams because he was recovering from a severe ankle injury. He asked for shortstop Eduardo Nunez instead.

Cashman said no and Zduriencik turned around and shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers for their top prospect, first baseman Justin Smoak.

Smoak, 27, has been an absolute bust. In 2011, Smoak hit a scintillating .234 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. In 2012, he floundered like a real flounder at the Pike Street Market.

He hit just .217 with 19 homers and 51 RBIs. Last season he batted .238 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs. A budding Mark Teixeira he’s not.

He is currently listed on the teams 2014 depth chart as a backup to journeyman Logan Morrison, who is a career .249 hitter with a grand total of 42 major-league home runs.

Then there is Zduriencik’s 2012 deal acquiring Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi from the Yankees for right-handers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

The Yankees decided to ship out Montero because they had determined he would never become a major-league quality defensive catcher and he would either have to move to another position or become a designated hitter to succeed in the majors.

The Mariners found out the hard way that the Yankees were right. Montero batted .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 2012, but he started only 55 games as a catcher.

In 2013, Montero not only lost his job as a catcher but he was sent back to the minors after hitting .208 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 29 games. He also suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that shelved him for most of the season.

Montero, 24, is listed behind Mike Zunino on the team’s depth chart.

This is the team Cano has decided to grace with his presence.

Good luck!

It could be 10 years before Seattle ever gets close to competing with the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angels Angels and the Rangers in the division, much less compete for a playoff spot. Cano does not solve the team’s weak hitting in the outfield and infield, with the exception of third baseman Kyle Seagar.

The pitching with King Felix is competitive enough but the rotation lacks depth and the bullpen is a disaster.

Another point is that over the 10 years of Cano’s contract, a lot of young prospects will be brought up to follow his example. Let’s hope they cover their eyes when Cano raps a easy grounder to an infielder, who boots the ball but still nails him because Cano was loafing out of the batter’s box.

Let’s also hope they are not watching when he drops the bat at the plate thinking he has a home run and gets tossed out at second base because he did not run hard. That is a Cano trademark that manager Joe Girardi played off casually to the media but it chafed his chestnuts to the core.

Speaking of home runs. Robinson, you won’t be hitting as many of those in spacious Safeco Field. Your home run totals should drop back to the 20 to 25 mark or so because you line most of your shots.

You can also kiss goodbye having your number retired in Monument Park. That would have made you the first Dominican so honored. You also will not pass some the greats of the game on the franchise’s offensive categories list. You also will miss out on the division tiles, playoff games and championship rings. Lucky you got that 2009 ring squirreled away. That will be the only one you get.

It is shame you let your temper get the better of your good judgment.

Now you will be booed when you come to Yankee Stadium on April 29 with the rest of the no-name band you are hanging with these days. That is a shame, also.

You were a magnificent player and you really were a benefit to the Yankees with your skills as a hitter and a fielder. Those skills will be wasted in losing efforts much like the 2013 season you suffered through.

But you still can count your precious money after the game. Enjoy it because it obviously means more to you than winning.

Adios, amigo!

 

Ellsbury Signing Buoys Yankees, Weakens Bosox

In the world of baseball free agency there is one maxim that is absolute: It is no-brainer to want to strengthen your club but it is extremely smart to weaken your opponent’s while you are strengthening your club.

The New York Yankees not only added to their roster with the signing of Gold Glove center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, they significantly weaken the Boston Red Sox. Toche’.

Following in the footsteps of Johnny Damon in 2006, Ellsbury will  -  after passing a physical  -  sign a lucrative seven-year, $153 million contract with an option for an eighth year that will bring the total contract to $169 million.

Ellsbury, 30, batted .298 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs while leading the major leagues in stolen bases with 52 in 134 games last season. In 2011, Ellsbury batted .318 with a career-high 32 homers and 105 RBIs and earned his only All-Star selection and a Gold Glove.

On the heels of the five-year, $85 million contract offer to catcher Brian McCann last week, the Steinbrenner family, general manger Brain Cashman and the entire Yankees braintrust are serving notice to the other major league teams they are through with fiscal constraints that have seen them largely sit out free agency period for top-name talent for the past four seasons.

After the team suffered through a horrific string of free-agent departures and crippling injuries to the core of the team in 2013 that saw the club limp to the finish line with only 85 wins, missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons, the Yankee hierarchy is saying enough is enough.

The McCann signing I told you last week was just the start of this new era in spending and it definitely is not over.

Ellsbury’s signing certainly brings an end to the team’s pursuit of Carlos Beltran, who had the Yankees balking at giving the 37-year-old a third year on a potential contract. The Yankees shifted off Beltran and then contacted Scott Boras, who is is Ellsbury’s agent.

The Yankees also will be saying so long to Curtis Granderson, who led the majors by hitting 84 home runs in 2011 and 2012, but he also struck out 360 times in that span. The Yankees figure his power was largely a product of Yankee Stadium and that he will not be able to maintain that level of power elsewhere.

The big question Ellsbury’s signing poses is what happens to center-fielder Brett Gardner?

Gardner, 30, is coming off his best season with the Yankees after hitting .273 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs and stealing 24 bases in 145 games. Ellsbury’s deal likely means he will become the center-fielder. So if Gardner stays with the Yankees, does he move to left?

If Gardner moves to left, where will the Yankees put left-fielder Alfonso Soriano? If Soriano moves to right-field, what happens to holdovers Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, who are both signed for the 2014 season?

The Yankees could choose to package Gardner in a trade and get something of value back for him but they will not get much back for either Wells or Suzuki. Both showed signs that indicated that their careers, which were once quite productive, are coming to a quick end.

Wells, who will turn 36 on Dec. 8, batted .233 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 130 games last season. But he hit only one home run after May 15 and he largely was pretty useless unless he was facing a left-handed pitcher. Because the Los Angels Angels are paying a huge portion of his contract, the Yankees would have no problem releasing him if they wanted to do so.

Suzuki, 40, hit .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 150 games. He was mostly a non-factor late in the season, hitting .228 in August and .205 in September. Suzuki, however, does have some value as a platoon designated hitter, a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield and a pinch-runner. But his days of full-time play appear to be over.

There also is another big question about the Ellsbury signing. Where does this leave the Yankees with respect to second baseman Robinson Cano?

With the two main rivals of the Yankees for Cano’s services, the Los Angels Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers, out of the bidding, Cano has lowered his 10-year, $305 million demands. But the Yankees have not raised their offer from their initial seven-year, $160 million bid.

But the Yankees seem to have the cash sufficient enough to get into the eight-year, $240 million range and talks with Cano will continue.

The Yankees are also looking to add 400 innings to their starting rotation by signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers this winter.

Phil Hughes , 27, is poised to sign a three-year, $24 million with the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, however, felt Hughes was more suited to a bullpen role after he turned in a horrific 4-14 record and a 5.14 ERA last season.

The Yankees are targeting the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, 38, who was 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA last season for the Yankees, and fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, 25,  who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles this season.

The Yankees intend to be much more aggressive in the bidding process for Tanaka than they were for right-hander Yu Darvish, who signed with Texas after the Rangers posted $51.7 million bid for the right to sign him.

The Yankees could bid as much as they want without the cost affecting the $189 million salary limits for 2014. They also have some salary flexibility with the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the decision to allow Granderson to leave and the likely suspension of third basemen Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season, which means they will not have to pay his annual $25 million salary.

The best part of the Ellsbury deal was that it is the first shot off the bow on Red Sox Nation.

The Red Sox have a number of key contributors to their 2014 season like Ellsbury, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli trolling the free-agent waters. Each one of those losses forces the Bosox to find replacements elsewhere and there is no guarantee those replacements will maintain the same chemistry the team had last season.

The Red Sox Nation social media is already doing the usual “Ellsbury stinks” and “Ellsbury is old” rants and they are already touting Jackie Bradley Jr. as the next Willie Mays in center. But, to be sure, they are hurting deeply on the inside. Ellsbury was part of the corps that the Red Sox counted upon last season and he is gone to the “Evil Empire” no less.

He expects to be booed in Boston. It will just be interesting to see how he is treated in New York. My guess is, like Damon and Kevin Youkilis (very briefly) last season, the Yankees will warm up to Ellsbury.

After all, any signing that weakens the Red Sox is fine by me. It also will be just fine with the Yankee Universe.

 

Cano Inching Closer To Re-Signing With Yankees

When Robinson Cano fired combative player agent Scott Boras to become the first sports client for recording artist Jay-Z and his new agency, Yankee fans figured it was a given that a loyal Yankee fan like Jay-Z would steer his client to the Yankees without any problem.

Well, it has not quite been that way so far.

Cano, 31, and the Yankees still remain very far apart in negotiations on a new contract for the All-Star second baseman.

Representatives for Cano kind of stunned the Yankees and the baseball world as a whole by seeking a 10-year contract in excess of $300 million. Many observers claim that Cano’s agents are marketing him as a baseball version of Michael Jordan and it is hard to see the analogy.

Cano is a talented player with great appeal but his jersey and other gear is not even selling among the top 20 players in the sport. He even trails fellow second baseman Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox.

However, Yankee fans, reality and circumstances may be settling in at Camp Cano now.

Cano’s representatives, Brodie Van Wagenen and Juan Perez of CAA Baseball, met with Yankees president Randy Levine on Tuesday and Cano has reportedly lowered his contract demands. However, the two sides remain far apart. After all, the Yankees were offering seven years at $160 million.

But the fact that Cano’s people are lowering his demands shows there is some wiggle room in the talks. More talks are planned and we could see the Yankees raise their offer a bit.

The Yankees were extremely fortunate to gain an upper hand in the negotiations when two prime teams Cano could have coaxed into a bidding war for his services solved their second base problems early.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed 27-year-old Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to fill their big need at the position. That was strike one on Cano.

Then this week the Detroit Tigers dealt first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in return for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Strike two.

That has given Yankees general manager Brian Cashman just the kind of leverage he needed to lower Cano’s very lucrative demands. Now it appears common sense will prevail and the two sides can work something out because their is one very salient fact about all this: The Yankees can’t afford to lose Cano.

Cano is simply the best player the Yankees have and on the heels of a disastrous injury-marred 2013 campaign the Yankees don’t want their franchise player to leave.

The Yankees are playing it like they are cool with it. I’m sure the rumor the Yankees were talking with free agent Omar Infante had all the hallmarks of Cashman behind the scenes fanning the flames.

But even he knows that Infante is not even a blip on the radar compared to what Cano can do for a team. But, hey, if it works, it works for Cashman.

Infante, 31, hit a robust .318 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs for the Tigers last season. Cano, on the other hand, batted .314 with 27 home runs and drove in 107 runs and should have won a Gold Glove after just committing six errors last season. (Pedroia dives and flops around like a dying carp while Cano glides to everything and the voters think Pedroia is better. Geesh!)

Cano’s growth as a player has been immense. He came up as a colt in 2005 but he is now a bona fide thoroughbred.

He is a career .309 hitter with 204 home runs and 822 RBIs. He is four-time All-Star, he has won two Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards and he is simply the best second baseman in baseball today. You don’t replace that with Infante.

Last season, the Yankees lost a huge chunk of its power when players such as Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez left as free agents. Then the team lost most of its remaining power with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter rehabbing from offseason surgeries and Curtis Gramderson and Mark Teixeira sustaining injuries before the season even started.

The one constant the Yankees could count on all season long was Cano. Despite the fact teams pitched around him all season, Cano delivered.

The other hallmark of Cano’s career has also been his durability.

Since 2007, Cano has not played in less than 159 games in any season. Last season, he answered the bell for 160.

The only knock on Cano has been that label of “lazy” that dogged his early career and cost him a few more Gold Gloves because he made everything seem so dang easy. He has mostly beaten that rap in the field but it still dogs him as a base-runner.

Cano has a habit of coasting to first on grounders and he has been embarrassed by getting thrown out at second base on balls he thought were going out of the park. But all his positives far outweigh that negative. The sum of the parts adds up to the greatest second baseman in Yankees history.

And should Cano remain in pinstripes, he could certainly make a case for himself up against the likes of Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. He and Jeter have formed the best double-play combination in Yankees history.

There is no telling what Cano will do if he remains a Yankee.

The only question remains is will he?

There is no doubt Infante remains the only viable fallback position should Cano leave.

After all, the Yankees have some players who play the position but none of them hold a match, much less a candle, to Cano.

The Yankees dealt right-hander Ben Paullus to the San Diego Padres for second baseman Dean Anna on Nov. 20. Anna, 27, was a Triple-A All-Star at Tucson in 2013 and batted .331 with nine home runs and 73 RBIs. Another big plus in his favor is that he bats left-handed.

The word on Anna is that he is solid fielder. In fact, he also played 60 games at shortstop and seven at third base. His versatility seems to make him a player worth watching this spring. But he is not likely going to be the heir apparent to Cano if he leaves. The Yankees are not fools.

Anna is going to compete for a backup infield spot, period. He will get some stiff competition from holdover Jayson Nix.

The Yankees have not given up on David Adams but they certainly were disappointed with what he produced when he was pressed into service as a third baseman in 2014.

Adams, 26, has primarily been a second baseman in the minor leagues and he will get a shot at both second and third this spring. But after hitting .193 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 43 games with the Yankees in 2013, he will be on a very short leash if he does not produce this spring.

Meanwhile, after a very strong 2012 season, 25-year-old Corban Joseph slipped mightily in 2013 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He hit .239 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 47 games. With the acquisition of Anna, Adams and Joseph are quickly dropping off the radar as prospects if they were at all.

At lower levels the Yankees have hot-hitting Jose Pirela, 24, who batted .272 in 124 games at Double-A Trenton and 21-year-old speedster Angelo Gumbs, who hit .213 in 91 games at two stops at the A level last season. Though Gumbs is pretty raw with the bat the Yankees love his potential.

But all talk surrounding second base with the Yankees begins and ends with Cano. Yankee fans would just love to hear that Cano has re-signed with the team. It is hard to imagine 2014 without him.

The signs, though, are pointing toward the Yankees retaining him. The question just remains at what price. It is looking at this point that it will be the Yankees price and Cano will just have to settle on a more realistic number.

Then he can start racking up more big numbers with his bat.

 

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