Results tagged ‘ Jesus Montero ’
It appears the first plank to rebuilding the New York Yankees into a playoff contender has been hammered in place.
It took an offer of five years and $85 million to lure Georgia native Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves to the Big Apple and it will be money very well spent.
McCann, 29, hit .256 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in 102 games with the Braves last season. In his nine-year career, McCann has hit 176 homers and driven in 661 runs while hitting .277. That is far better that what the Yankees had on hand last season.
As power-hitting switch-hitter Jorge Posada eased into retirement the Yankees turned to Russell Martin in 2011 to provide some power and defense behind the plate. For two seasons, Martin provided both those things but he chose to accept a more lucrative contract offer with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter.
Martin, 30, hit .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 127 games with the much-improved Bucs in 2013. He was sorely missed in the Bronx, however.
After auditioning holdover backups Francisco Cervelli, 27, and Chris Stewart, 31, in spring training the Yankees selected Cervelli as their starting catcher to begin the season. But much like almost every other player on the roster, Cervelli fell early in the season to a broken finger on his right hand.
The Yankees did not know at the time that Cervelli’s last game would be on April 26.
First there there was an extended process after surgery which delayed his rehab. Then Cervelli ended up suffering an injury to his right elbow.
Later, part of the Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis resulted in Cervelli accepting a 50-game suspension without pay for his admission into using performance enhancing drugs. So Cervelli’s season consisted of 17 games in which he hit .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
Cervelli’s injury forced the Yankees to use a career backup in Stewart as their starting catcher for the remainder of the season. Although Stewart was hitting a robust .284 as late as June 11, his season quickly nose-dived from there and ended up hitting an anemic .211 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 109 games.
Rookie Austin Romine, 25, was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 27 to back up Stewart and he did not fare much batter at the plate. Romine hit .207 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 60 games.
The Yankees had admitted that they were allowing Martin to go in order to usher in a new philosophy of “defense first” behind home plate. Though Cervelli, Stewart and Romine were not accomplished hitters each of them could be counted on to call a good game, block pitches in the dirt and control the other teams’ running game.
Stewart was exceptional. He threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers and committed only two errors.
However, on a team that started the season with some 190 home runs short on power and who lost most of the remaining power they had on their roster to injury, Stewart Cervelli and Romine stuck out like sore thumbs because of their lack of power and production.
On a franchise that fielded the likes of legends such as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Posada, it seems only fitting the Yankees would quickly switch gears from their “defense first” approach and find a catcher who can put the ball into the seats.
McCann certainly can do that.
The fact that he is a left-handed hitter makes him very attractive to the Yankees because of the short porch in right-field.
McCann is a seven-time All-Star, was the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 2010 and was a five-time Silver Slugger award winner.
In 2006, McCann posted his best season as a pro. He hit .333 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs. He has averaged 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his eight full major-league seasons.
Though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove, McCann is not exactly a liability on a defense either. He has thrown out 200 of 842 base-runners in his career, which works out to a respectable 23.8 percent. He only committed one error in 92 games behind the plate last season.
The Yankees see McCann as a starting catcher but he also could remain in the lineup as designated hitter against right-handed pitching. That is one of the reasons McCann was looking to move to the American League. With the Braves he had only could pinch-hit in games he did not start.
The Yankees have already indicated that they intend to offer Cervelli a contract for 2014 and Romine certainly factors into the equation as a backup. But McCann’s signing likely ended Stewart’s days in pinstripes. He probably will not be tendered a contract offer and thus will become a free agent.
The Yankees do have to be encouraged with the development of J.R. Murphy, 22.
Murphy received a late call-up and, despite the fact he hit .154 in 16 games, he made great strides in the minors, hitting .248 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Murphy provides the Yankees with some depth behind the injury-prone Cervelli and Romine, who has had a history of lower-back issues.
The big prize in the Yankees minor-league remains 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, who hit a combined .253 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs at stops at High-A Tampa and Trenton.
Sanchez, much like his predecessor Jesus Montero, has a bat that looks like it will make him a potential star at the major-league level. The big concern with the Yankees, as it was with Montero, is Sanchez’s defense.
Though Sanchez has made great strides in his four minor-league seasons behind the plate, he has committed 43 errors, including 16 and 11 the past two seasons. His arm is exceptional, though. He has nailed 33.4 % of would-be base-stealers.
With McCann’s five-year deal with a vesting option for a sixth season that makes the deal potentially worth $100 million, Sanchez might have a tough time shoving aside the veteran down the road. But it does not look like Sanchez will get that chance until 2015 anyway.
The McCann signing does prove that the Yankees have reached a point where they realized getting by on “cheap” free agents and waiver-wire pickups were not going to cut it if the team expects to be competitive in 2014 and beyond.
While the Yankees have McCann on board they are also looking to keep second baseman Robinson Cano as a Yankee for the remainder of his career, if he and his agent Jay-Z realize that he is not going to get the 10 years and $310 million he is seeking.
The team is also interested in re-signing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and making a huge posting bid for fellow Japanese right-hander Mashiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and is being compared to Texas Rangers star right-hander Yu Darvish.
The Yankees are also contacting outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo as well as hoping to convince Curtis Granderson to remain with the team.
The Yankees are showing signs that they are going to be aggressive in the free-agent market as they were the winter before the 2009 season when they signed left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to lucrative free-agent contracts.
Coincidentally, that was the last season the Yankees won a world championship.
General manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner seem to be on the same page this offseason and it is looking like that their statement that the $189 million payroll mark was more of a target that is not set in stone may mean Yankee fans might have a team they rally around in 2014 instead of the sad group they fielded in 2013.
There seems to be hope in the Bronx and it all starts with Brain McCann.
Because of the spate of injuries the New York Yankees have incurred over the past two seasons there has been a suggestion that the team’s iconic logo should be changed to a Red Cross symbol to replace the “Y” laid over a pair of crutches and a Band-Aid to form the “N.” Most fans know about the injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. But there are some injuries which many fans are not aware to lesser players. Let’s look at all of the injuries, when they might return and what impact they could make upon their return.
As most fans know, Alex Rodriguez had surgery to repair a congenital defect in his left hip in January. There has been some question as to why he waited until January to have this surgery. The answer is because the doctor who was performing the surgery believed A-Rod could cut the rehabilitation time by doing exercises prior to the surgery. The surgery was pronounced successful and Rodriguez, 37, is expected to return sometime after the All-Star break. There has not been any word from the Yankees extending that time frame. However, Rodriguez is facing potential accusations surrounding the Miami clinic Biogenesis, which Major League Baseball believes was distributing performance enhancing drugs to players. Rodriguez’s name surfaced in an examination of the clinic’s documents and there have been allegations representatives attempted to purchase the documents on the All-Star third baseman’s behalf. The surgery on Rodriguez was a major reason why the Yankees elected to sign Kevin Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. Youkilis now is an insurance policy in case A-Rod either can’t come back from his surgery or is suspended by MLB. Rodriguez was back on the field in Tampa, FL, for the first time on Monday. He ran sprints, played catch and hit off a batting tee. If MLB does decide to suspend Rodriguez it likely will come just before he is activated because they don’t want Rodriguez to cheat the suspension by spending part of it rehabbing from his surgery.
Much like Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, Jeter, 38, suffered a major injury during the playoffs in 2012, fracturing a left ankle that he had hobbling upon for a month prior. Jeter had surgery to repair the ankle and he vowed to return by Opening Day on April 1. The Yankees held him out of early exhibition games and allowed him to play at first as the designated hitter on May 10. However, it was clear that though Jeter was able to hit as he always has, he still was unable to run at full speed. It became inevitable that when Jeter was shut down because of recurring soreness that something was - if you pardon the pun - afoot. A trip back to Charlotte, N.C., in April to the doctor who performed his surgery led to a new X-ray that showed a tiny break near the spot of the original fracture. Jeter is now in a removable walking boot. He will be able to work out without the boot but the timetable for his return has been shifted back to mid-July. He should be able to return to full workouts when the boot is removed within a month. Jeter vows he will play this season and there does not seem to be any reason to discount it. The only real concern is will he be able to display enough range to play shortstop on a daily basis. The Yankees, in the interim, have Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix to play the position. But Nunez has already been shelved twice for two games after being hit by pitches and is currently day-to-day with tightness in his right rib cage. If Nunez is placed on the disabled list, Nix would have to play short and the only available shortstop at Triple-A Scranton is Addison Marausak. The Yankees might be forced to make a trade for another shortstop, preferably someone who could start at the position ahead of Nix.
Teixeira, 33, accepted an invitation this spring to play first base for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He was taking batting practice prior to exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale, AZ, when he felt pain in his right wrist. Tests indicated he sustained a partially torn sheath in the wrist, an injury similar to the one suffered by Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista last season, which eventually required surgery after a failed comeback. The Yankees believe Teixeira will be able to avoid surgery because it is partial tear and they are lengthening his rehab from their original timetable of 8-to-10 weeks. Teixeira has had the brace from his wrist removed and he hoped to be cleared to take swings in time to return by May 1. However, his doctor withheld clearance for an additional two weeks. Teixiera is in Tampa, FL, taking “tee and toss” swings and he soon hopes to progress to begin taking swings off live pitching in a batting cage. His target date for his return is now closer to June 1. In his absence the Yankees had hoped to use lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay and righty-swinging Youkilis in a platoon. However, a lower back sprain landed Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list so the Yankees are using Overbay full-time and exposing his weakness against left-handers. But they are hoping to have Youkilis back in the lineup soon.
Granderson, 32, was playing in his first exhibition game of the season on Feb. 24 when Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ hit him in the lower right forearm with his first pitch. Granderson left the game and underwent X-rays that indicated he suffered a fractured right forearm and would miss eight weeks. Though the injury was a major blow to the Yankees, of all the injuries the team has suffered, this one the Yankees felt sure about Granderson’s ability to return because bones do heal eventually. Granderson targeted May 1 for his return but that timetable was adjusted two weeks because Granderson missed all of spring training. So the Yankees have him hitting against live pitching at their complex in Tampa. In fact, Granderson was struck on the left tricep by a pitch on Saturday. But it was termed not serious and Granderson remains on track to return to the active roster in a couple of weeks. The Yankees obtained veteran outfielder Vernon Wells to play in left for Granderson and Wells is hitting .280 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in the middle of the lineup. That has forced manager Joe Girardi to shift his thinking of how to use Wells when Granderson returns. Wells obviously could be a right-handed DH but those at-bats would be limited because there are so few left-handed starters. So Girardi is considering rotating some rest for his lefty-swinging outfielders (Granderson, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) in order to keep Wells’ bat in the lineup more often.
Two things were apparent when the Yankees signed Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. One was that with Rodriguez injured someone had to play the position for a long period of time. Perhaps the player might have to play there the entire season. The second thing was the Yankees were taking a risk on the 33-year-old Youkilis, who had his past two seasons ruined by injuries to his groin and his back. Because Youkilis was versatile enough to play third and first base he also became the player the Yankees could LEAST afford to lose. That scenario played out when Youkilis was removed in the sixth inning of a game on April 20 against the Blue Jays with stiffness in his lower back. The Yankees held him out of competition for six games when Youkilis assured them he was fine. He started a game on April 27 at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. However, CC Sabathia slipped off the mound on a ground ball off the bat of Melky Cabrera in the third inning. Youkilis was forced to slide hard to beat the speedy Cabrera to the base. Youkilis made it but re-aggravated his back injury and had to be placed on the disabled list on April 28. Youkilis was administered an epidural pain-killing injection and he claims he already is feeling better. However, the Yankees are angry Youkilis “talked” them into believing he was fine. They could have backdated his DL stint April 21 and he would have been able to play on May 7. Now he will be able to be activated on May 13 at the earliest. The Yankees are going to make darn sure he is really 100 percent before they activate him. In his absence the Yankees have used Nix at third base and traded to obtain Chris Nelson from the Colorado Rockies. Nix, however, has not contributed much offensively (.227 batting average with a home run and six RBIs) and on Sunday Nix was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and two weak infield popups and he stranded seven base-runners in 5-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Nelson has played in two games and is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts.
With the departure of free-agent catcher Russell Martin, the Yankees opened up the catching competition this spring to Cervelli, backup catcher Chris Stewart and rookie Austin Romine. But Cervelli, who was shipped to Triple A on the last day of spring training to make room for Stewart in 2012, was determined to prove to the Yankees he belonged in the major leagues. Cervelli, 27, reneged on his commitment to play for Italy in the WBC so he could concentrate on winning the starting catching job. Though Girardi left spring camp without naming a starter, Cervelli quickly won the job by playing good defense, throwing well and surprisingly he was even contributing offensively. Cervelli was hitting .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs when he was struck on the right hand by a foul tip off the bat of Rajai Davis leading off a game on April 26 against the Blue Jays. Cervelli sustained a fractured hand and had to undergo surgery to repair the hand the next day. He will be in a cast for more than a month and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He is expected back sometime after the All-Star break. To Yankee fans Cervelli getting injured should not be a total shock. Bad luck and injuries have hovered over Cervelli like a dark cloud. In spring training in 2009, Cervelli had his wrist broken in a home-plate collision with Elliot Johnson of the Tampa Bay Rays. In spring training in 2010, Cervelli fouled a ball off his foot and missed the most of the first month of the season. In spring training of 2011, Cervelli was hit in the helmet with a pitch and missed time with a concussion and had to wear a special batting helmet upon his return. In September of that season, Cervelli suffered another concussion, the third of his professional career, when he was involved in a home-plate collision with Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Orioles. He was unable to play for the rest of the season and missed the playoffs. In his place, Stewart is now the starter. Stewart is hitting .256 with two home runs and four RBIs but he is definite step down offensively from Cervelli. Romine was recalled from Scranton to be the backup catcher. Romine’s defense is excellent but his bat is major question mark. Romine also has had his development derailed by a recurring back problem. Stewart is a fabulous defensive catcher but the offense will definitely suffer until Cervelli returns in July.
Chamberlain, 27, returned to the Yankees last season because he missed most of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and freakishly breaking his ankle in a spring training trampoline accident. He pitched in 22 games and was 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. With Rafael Soriano gone via free agency, much was expected of Chamberlain this season. He was 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings over 10 appearances when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain last Thursday. Oblique strains are tricky. He might be back in two weeks but he may miss a month. Either way it shortens the Yankees bullpen considerably. The Yankees recalled 25-year-old right-hander Preston Claiborne to replace him. Claiborne pitched two perfect innings of relief in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to the A’s on Sunday. Claiborne is perhaps the best of the young relievers the Yankees have been developing within their system. He is going to have a chance to prove his 95-mile-per-hour fastball can hold up against major-league hitters. With Chamberlain a potential free agent after the season, Claiborne has a perfect opportunity to make his future mark in the Yankees’ bullpen with this recall.
Nova, 26, is your typical enigma. After a sensational rookie season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011, Nova fell into the deep end of the pool by going 12-8 with 5.02 ERA last season. This spring Nova was put into a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation with David Phelps. Phelps was 3-3 with a 4.18 ERA in seven starts while Nova was 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in five starts. Girardi elected to keep Nova as his fifth starter and keep Phelps in the bullpen role he filled last season. Nova was not impressive in any of his four starts. He was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA when he was pulled from his last start in the third inning of a game against the Blue Jays with what originally was termed a sore elbow. But tests after the game showed a right triceps strain and Nova was placed on the 15-day DL. Nova’s injury could be two weeks but it could turn out to be much longer. In the interim, the Yankees shifted Phelps into the starting rotation to replace Nova and recalled 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno from Scranton to fill Phelps’ role in the bullpen. Phelps gave up four runs on eight hits, a walk and hit two batters in 5 2/3 innings against the Houston Astros on May 1. Nuno pitched three scoreless innings and gave up three hits in his only outing on April 29 against the Astros. Phelps got better as the season progressed in 2012 so there is no doubt he will pitch better. Nuno was sensational this spring, winning the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s top rookie. He just needs chances to prove he can pitch well in the majors. The Yankees actually may be better off without Nova until he conquers his command issues.
It is almost like Pineda is the forgotten Yankee. After all, he has never worn pinstripes in a major-league game even though he has been a member of the team for two seasons. He was acquired in the 2012 offseason in a trade with the Seattle Mariners for Yankee mega-prospect Jesus Montero. He showed up at training camp 20 pounds overweight and he proceeded to throw some horrible spring training games culminating with a terrible beating at the hands of the Phillies in his final spring tuneup. It turned out Pineda, 24, was pitching with some right shoulder pain and he did not bother to mention it until after that game. Pineda underwent tests that showed he had a torn labrum and the surgery would mean he would need at least a year to recover. Pineda was one of the most impressive young rookie pitchers in 2011 when he made the American League All-Star team. But the Mariners as a team and Pineda had a horrible second half and Pineda finished with a 9-10 record and a 3.74 ERA. There were whispers about Pineda losing velocity in the second half but the Yankees made the trade for the right-hander just the same. Now they are hoping he will be able to make it back to the big leagues this season. He has been rehabbing at the team’s complex in Tampa and reports indicate he has been hitting 95 mph on the radar gun. However, the hope is that Pineda might be ready to start pitching in games in June. The question is will those games be with the Yankees or with a minor-league team. It is looking more likely Pineda will pitch in the minors until he indicates he is ready to pitch in the majors. It is unclear when that will be.
Even more obscure than Pineda is Cabral. The 24-year-old left-handed reliever was a Rule V selection for the Yankees by the Kansas City Royals from the Boston Red Sox in the winter of 2012. Cabral had racked up some impressive numbers with two Red Sox minor-league teams but was left off their 40-man roster. With those two teams Cabral was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA and racked up 70 strikeouts in only 55 innings. The Yankees saw him as a potential second left-hander to Boone Logan in the bullpen and Cabral battled fellow lefty Clay Rapada all through spring training until Cabral sustained a fractured left elbow in what would have been his final appearance. Cabral has not pitched in a game since and the Yankees are hoping that he can begin throwing this month in a rehab stint that might lead to him being available to pitch in the majors. They hope that could mean he could pitch for them this season. But until Cabral begins throwing it is unclear if he will be able to help and when.
That said, it leads us to some injuries the Yankees have suffered that are actually under the radar. They are not part of the 10 players the Yankees have listed on the disabled list but they actually are important injuries that are having an effect on the current roster. Here they are:
Rapada, 32, benefitted from Cabral’s injury but he likely would have won the job anyway. He also did a great job as the lefty specialist in Girardi’s bullpen last season, recording a 3-0 record and 2.82 ERA while keeping lefties to a low .100 batting average. Rapada likely would have kept his job this season if he did not come down with bursitis in his left shoulder that prevented from pitching this spring. The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster but they were able to sign him to a minor-league contract and they have him pitching at Scranton. Rapada has pitched just one inning of one game but there is hope that he might be able to return to the Yankees sometime soon this season because the Yankees have a starting pitcher in Nuno along with Logan in the bullpen. Neither Nuno or Logan are really lefty specialists like Rapada. There is a good possibility that Rapada will be back with the Yankees real soon if he has overcome the bursitis.
Mustelier, 28, is the Cuban defector who turned heads all spring with his hitting. The corner outfielder even was utilized late in the spring at third base and actually had a good shot to make the team. That was until he ran smack into a camera well along the third base line chasing a foul popup in the fourth inning of a game in Tampa against the Miami Marlins on March 15. Mustelier suffered multiple bone bruises to both legs and his shot of making the team was over. In fact, Mustelier only recently recovered enough to be able to start playing at Scranton. He is hitting .231 with a home run and one RBI in five games. Mustelier still has a great shot of being able to help the Yankees at some point this season. He bats right-handed and can play the outfield and third base. In fact, if the Yankees had a healthy Mustelier when Youkilis injured his back, he would have been the player the team recalled from Triple A instead of Corban Joseph or would have not forced the team’s decision to trade for Nelson.
Banuelos, 22, remains as the team’s top pitching prospect despite the fact he has not pitched since the early stages of the 2012 season. Banuelos came up with a sore elbow last season and later tests showed ligament damage that required Tommy John surgery. So Banuelos will miss all of the 2013 season with hopes of being able to compete for a roster spot with the Yankees in spring training in 2014. After impressing the Yankees with a fine 2011 season in which he was 4-5 with a 3.59 ERA at Double-A Trenton the Yankees wanted to see him pitch in the spring in 2012. His combination of a plus fastball and devastating change-up had them salivating at the prospect of him in the majors. But Banuelos took a detour on his control in 2012 and the balky elbow might have been the cause. With veteran starters Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte on one-year contracts and Phil Hughes eligible for free agency, Banuelos’ recovery could be important to their prospects in 2104.
On Feb. 15, 2007, the course of history for the New York Yankees took a huge turn and the current state of the team begs the question: What if it did not happen?
Though the Yankees were still be operated ostensibly by managing general partner George Steinbrenner, the actual day-to-day operations were being run by Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, Steve Swindal, who was named the successor to Steinbrenner in June 2005.
Swindal was chosen over Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hal and Hank, because Steinbrenner felt more comfortable with Swindal’s leadership and his vast baseball knowledge.
However, while the Yankees were in the midst of spring training in 2007, Swindal’s vehicle unfortunately cut off in traffic a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cruiser driven by a female deputy. A chase ensued in which Swindal’s vehicle was clocked at 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone before he was stopped by St. Petersburg police.
Swindal declined to take a Breathalyzer test but failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while under the influence.
Swindal’s wife, Jennifer, later that year filed for divorce from her husband and Swindal’s stake as a general partner and chairman of the Yankees’ parent company was bought back by the Steinbrenner family in November of that year. Hal was shifted into Swindal’s role with the club and the history of this franchise was forever changed.
The Yankees were known in the Wild West days of early free agency as the major-league team with the largest saddlebags. Under George Steinbrenner’s regime from when he purchased the team in 1973 through November 2007 the Yankees tossed around millions like pennies in a fountain to lure the free agents they coveted.
In some cases, the elder Steinbrenner would be so ruthless in negotiations with free agents he would even increase a bid that already was more than any rival team was offering – actually bidding against himself.
Of course, that led to such signings as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield. Between free agent signings and some shrewd trades the Yankees won a pair of World Series in 1978 and 1979 and Steinbrenner and the Yankees were being cursed all around baseball for “buying their way” to prosperity.
Though Steinbrenner’s money did re-establish the Yankees in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Yankees actually failed to make the playoffs from 1982 through 1994. A combination of some poor signings and trades doomed the Yankees until their minor-league system began turning out a solid of corps of young stars such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Those players along with the acquisition of Paul O’Neill and the signings of pitchers such as Jimmy Key, David Wells and David Cone pushed the Yankees into an amazing run in which they won four world championships from 1996 through 2000.
Since then the team has only failed to make the playoffs in one season – 2008. They won their 27th world title in 2009 after dipping heavy into the free-agent market in signing pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
But in 2003, Major League Baseball instituted its first luxury tax, which was supposed to operate alongside revenue sharing to allow small-market teams to draw money from teams who were over a threshold payroll limit, which was set at $178 million in 2011. All teams shared the remaining revenue.
Only four teams have ever exceeded the established luxury tax limit: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. However, only the Yankees and Red Sox have ever exceeded it twice and the Yankees have paid in 95 percent of all the luxury tax since its inception.
When Hal Steinbrenner took control of the team he decided that the Yankees’ philosophy of paying top dollar and ignoring the luxury tax would have to come to an end.
In 2014, the payroll threshold will be increased to $189 million. By a complicated formula set up by the teams, there would be refunded revenue sharing streams for teams who remain under the luxury tax threshold. That gives the Yankees an added incentive to cut payroll below $189 million in 2014.
Not only will the team save money by trimming payroll; they would receive a considerable sum of refunded revenues as well. This explains why the Steinbrenner family informed general manager Brian Cashman that he will have to pass on high-priced free agents and he will have to pass on trading for players with huge long-term contracts.
So Yankee fans have watched a stream of free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jose Reyes, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes sign with other teams instead of with the Yankees. The Yankees are already on the hook for long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira.
Those three contracts alone are worth $73,875,000 plus player benefits worth an additional $10.8 million, which will also count against the $189 million.
That leaves a remainder of a little less than $105,000,000 to pay the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster in 2014.
That is why the Yankees have let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin go this offseason and it is likely that Curtis Granderson will follow them out the door sometime within the next year.
The team will also have another group of expiring contracts such as one of Robinson Cano. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are working this season under one-year contracts.
The question is will the Yankees make an effort to offer Cano a lucrative multiyear contract to remain a Yankee? Can they afford to do it? What will they do with Jeter, who is a significantly aging commodity at shortstop?
Some Yankee fans were quick to point out that if Rodriguez is found to have taken performance enhancing drugs past the 2003 date he previously claimed that the Yankees could easily just void his contract and dump him. But that may be a pipe dream.
First, Major League Baseball must have proof that he did it and then mete out a 50-game suspension. But Rodriguez can appeal the procedure and delay its effect. He also could have the suspension tossed out.
The Yankees would find it very difficult to find relevant clauses in his contract to escape from the $114,000,000 they owe Rodriguez through the 2017 season. The Players’ Association and his agent would certainly fight it and that could lead to a prolonged court battle with no guarantee the Yankees could win.
In addition, should the Yankees lose they would still have to pay Rodriguez and play him. He may not be in any mood to produce much for them either. He gets paid no matter how bad he is. So any thought of voiding his contract is going to have to be very carefully weighed.
The long-term effect of what has been an austerity program the Yankees have been under since the 2009 season ended is that the balance of power in baseball is widening out to teams who have lots of money to spend under the current salary threshold like the Tigers, the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers.
These are the teams that have been active in the free-agent market and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays have benefitted from what was a talent fire-sale by the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins.
The Red Sox traded most of their high-priced players like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez away last season to the Dodgers to restock their 2013 roster while keeping well below the looming $189 million limit.
That is why the Yankees’ prospects for the 2013 season are not as bright as they might have been under the old George Steinbrenner regime or the short-lived rule of Swindal.
Would old George or Swindal have allowed the Yankees to wither on the vine for the past three seasons and basically pinch pennies and risk the team missing the playoffs in 2013?
Hal Steinbrenner has already stated quite clearly that he expects the 2013 club to remain a top-quality team within the confines placed upon Cashman and the team’s scouts. The result is the current Yankee roster is full of 40-year-olds like Rivera and Pettitte and players in their late 30s such as Rodriguez, Jeter, Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed DH Travis Hafner.
Cashman spent a lot of time and effort stocking the minor-league system with talented young players over the past five years and Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner have provided some support to an aging corps of veterans.
However, the two best minor-league prospects the Yankees have produced in that time, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, were both packaged in trades. Jackson was sent out in three-player swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tigers that yielded Granderson for the Yankees. Montero was sent along with two other players to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-handed pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
While Jackson is thriving with the defending American League champions, Granderson has provided the Yankees with two consecutive seasons of 40-plus home runs and a lot of strikeouts. And though Montero has proven to be lackluster on defense as a catcher, his power in Yankee Stadium will be missed in a season in which the Yankees are choosing between singles-hitting catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.
In addition, both Pineda, 25, and Campos, 20, suffered injuries and had their 2012 seasons cut short. Pineda is recovering from right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he could miss a portion of the 2013 season and may not be 100 percent until the 2014 season. Campos was shut down with a right elbow injury that did not require surgery.
The Yankees have a number of very good prospects within their minor-league system, including a catcher who hits as well as Montero and has better defensive skills in Gary Sanchez, 20. They also have a pair of good-looking outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming star reliever in Mark Montgomery.
But the question is will the Yankees allow these players to develop long enough to make the roster or will they package and ship them out as they have done with Jackson and Montero?
The problem with young players – most especially pitchers – as they develop in the minors is that they need to be promoted to learn at the major-league level. Too often the Yankees pull a player back and ship them back to the minors when they initially fail.
The Yankees did that with Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy in 2008. They both got off to shaky starts (a combined 0-7 record) and the Yankees believed they could not afford to keep them on the roster.
Anyone want to guess what the records of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were in their first full season with the Atlanta Braves?
Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 starts the same season.
If Glavine and Smoltz were with the Yankees in 1988 they would have been sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for another season and their major-league development would have been stilted. In 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 and Smoltz was 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA.
The point is that players have to learn at the major-league level and when you are constantly shipping them back out they will never learn how to succeed in the major leagues. A good case in point is when the Yankees elected to ship right-hander Ivan Nova back to Scranton in the middle of the 2011 season despite the fact he ended up the season with a 16-4 record.
The Yankees are pretty rough on their prospects. If they are not ready to contribute on Day One they get sent back down. Sometimes players in the late 20s like Colin Curtis find themselves drifting in the Yankees’ system but never even given the chance to play in the majors much.
Then there are the Monteros and Jacksons who succeed just enough in the minors to be traded. Then there are the Kennedys, who are traded and ended up going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2011. So the Yankees show patience with players like Curtis, who never made it in the majors, and a lack of patience with players like Kennedy, who succeeds with another team.
If the Yankees are to adhere to this stringent luxury tax threshold in 2014 they are going to have to stop making the mistake of trading their great prospects away or, at the least, if they are going to trade them they better get something of real value back for it. They also could benefit by being a bit more patient with their young players when they call them up.
The Montero-Pineda deal is but one example of those mistakes. Cashman can’t afford to do that much going forward.
The Yankees are going to need good young athletes and skilled pitchers coming out of their system on a regular basis to retool this franchise through the end of the decade. It will certainly lower payroll, make the team better-suited for healthy runs at championships and may prove – ultimately – that Hal Steinbrenner had the right approach.
Otherwise, there will be hell to pay and old George will be have cigar smoke coming out of his ears as he rolls around in his grave. If a ghost could ever fire a son, old George will figure out a way to get that done.
Training camp opens in just a few weeks and the New York Yankees’ first exhibition game is a month away. Unlike past springs, the Yankees do not arrive as odds-on favorites in the American League East, a division they have dominated since 1996.
Because some players are recovering from injuries and others are participating in the World Baseball Classic it will be an opportunity to see a lot of backups, minor-league prospects and camp invitees to play a lot of innings this spring.
I have decided to boil those players down to a list of five players who fans should watch as the exhibition season unfolds. They are not necessarily players who will have an immediate impact on the Yankees. But they could very well determine the future direction of the franchise over the next five years.
Let’s take a close look at my five future impact players in reverse order:
5) MARK MONTGOMERY, 22, RELIEF PITCHER
Montgomery was taken in the 11th round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft and to say he is on a fast track to the major leagues is putting it mildly. Though he does not look intimidating at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Montgomery has blazed a rapid trail through the Yankees’ minor-league system. Last season he opened at High-A Tampa by going 4-1 with a 1.34 ERA and 14 saves. But the real eye-catcher is his 61 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings. He was quickly promoted to Double-A Trenton and he was 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 1 save. There he struck out 38 batters in 24 innings. Much like Joba Chamberlain, Montgomery features a nasty slider and he gets a lot of swings and misses with it. His fastball sits in the low 90s. The Yankees see him as a potential contributor as soon as this season. Manager Joe Girardi wants to see how he measures up against some major-league hitters and with Mariano Rivera heading into retirement it might be a good idea to have a guy like Montgomery knocking on the door.
4) AUSTIN ROMINE, 24, CATCHER
Romine’s value increased the day this offseason Russell Martin elected to sign a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Romine, the son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine, was the Yankees’ second selection in 2007 First Year Player Draft but his development in the minors was overshadowed by the presence of Jesus Montero. With Montero also gone via a trade last season, Romine will have an opportunity this spring to flash his vaunted defensive skills. Both Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who were major-league catchers themselves, believe Romine’s defense is major-league quality now. Two things have held Romine back: A recurring back injury and his offense. After missing most of 2012 with a back strain, Romine has been pronounced healthy. Romine as a hitter does not possess much power but makes good contact and rarely strikes out. The real problem is he is rusty from inaction and his bat is slow. Though it is doubtful Romine will overtake Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, the Yankees are anxious to see the former El Toro (CA) High School star stake his claim as the heir apparent at catcher. The No. 1 prospect in the organization, 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, is right on his heels and has been described as a “Montero-type power hitter with defensive skills.”
3) MASON WILLIAMS, 21, OUTFIELDER
With Curtis Granderson in the final year of his contract, the Yankees might be looking at Williams as a potential replacement down the road. The fourth pick of the Yankees in the 2010 First Year Player Draft is a potential five-tool player who is currently ranked behind Sanchez as the team’s No. 2 prospect. Williams hit .304 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs at Class-A Charleston and then was promoted to High-A Tampa, where he hit .277 in 22 games before having his season cut short by a torn labrum in his right shoulder. At only 6 feet and 150 pounds, Williams is expected to grow into a solid power hitter with excellent speed and above-average defensive skills. The Yankees have no doubt he will hit for average because he is way ahead of his peers in his approach at the plate. This spring Williams can open some eyes and perhaps have a shot to become a starter by 2015.
2) CESAR CABRAL, 24, RELIEF PITCHER
Cabral has been a forgotten man except for the team’s scouts who can’t wait to see him this spring. Cabral actually was a contender for the left-handed relief specialist job that Clay Rapada eventually won in 2012. However, Cabral was 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings before he suffered a stress fracture in his left elbow last spring. He did not pitch for the rest of the season. Cabral was a Rule V pick last season who had come off a 2011 season in which he struck out 70 batters in 55 innings in two stops in the Boston Red Sox minor-league system. Cabral is 100 percent healthy and he will get another chance to supplant Rapada in the bullpen. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound lefty has a low to mid-90s fastball but he gets a lot of swings and misses on an excellent circle change. The Yankees love his smooth delivery and if there would be any pitcher who could be a big surprise this spring for the Yankees it would be Cabral. He has great potential.
1) ZOILO ALMONTE, 23, OUTFIELDER
Almonte opened the eyes of Girardi last spring with his bat. Almonte then put together an excellent season at Double-A Trenton in which he hit .277 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs in 106 games. Signed at age 15 out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Almonte offers a combination of both power and speed with the plus of being a switch-hitter. The Yankees have a set outfield of Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Granderson. They also have Russ Canzler, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians, and veteran spring invitee Matt Diaz vying for reserve spots. However, Almonte or 26-year-old Melky Mesa could make the team with really good spring showings. Almonte is not considered as good a defender as Mesa but he provides the Yankees with a lot of potential power off the bench. It would be hard to see Almonte skip Triple A and make the Yankees. But if anyone could do it it would be Almonte. Watch him closely this spring.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
CATCHER – POSITION OPEN
When it comes to catchers, Yankee fans have been pretty spoiled. The position has been manned by such legends as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.
Of course, there have been years when the position has been filled by less than legends like Rick Cerone, Mike Stanley and Joe Girardi. Yes, him.
It seems that 2013 is one of those years the Yankees will be fielding a catcher who will be even lesser of a legend. The departure of Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates has left this position open with a four candidates vying for it beginning this spring.
None of the four have anywhere near the power Martin provided. But some are just as adept defensively. The Yankees signaled this was the direction they were going when they chose let Martin walk and opted not to sign free agent A.J. Pierzynski.
Pierzynski, 36, hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs with the White Sox last season and he would have loved the short rightfield porch as a left-handed hitter. But the Yankees passed on him because of his defensive shortcomings and he signed with the Texas Rangers.
The Yankees four candidates are: former Posada and Martin backup Francisco Cervelli, 2012′s backup Chris Stewart, rookie prospect Austin Romine and former Los Angeles Angels backup Bobby Wilson.
The quartet are politely described as “defensive-minded” catchers, which in baseball-speak means they can’t hit a lick. For Yankee fans used to cyclical lineups without a weak link, the 2013 version will have one huge hole in it here. Whoever wins this job will be the opposing pitcher’s “escape hatch” out of big innings.
The leading candidate for the job appears to be Cervelli, 26, who ironically spent all of last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because of the presence of Martin and Stewart.
On the last day of spring training the Yankees swung a last-minute deal with the San Francisco Giants to acquire Stewart, who was out of minor-league options. The Yankees were so in love with Stewart’s defensive work behind the plate they opted to ship Cervelli out and he was not pleased about it – mostly because of the poor timing.
Cervelli went to Scranton determined to show the Yankees he belonged on the roster, but he hit just .246 with two home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games. That is odd considering Cervelli had hit .271 with five home runs and 71 RBIs in 184 games over three previous seasons in the majors.
Cervelli admits that he was not happy about his demotion and it did affect his game.
Cervelli’s defense is considered pretty good. He sets a good target, he knows the hitters, calls a good game, has the respect of the pitchers and the coaching staff. His weakness lies in a somewhat erratic throwing arm. He has only thrown out 18.3 percent of base-stealers in his major-league career (23 out of 93 attempts).
He also has committed 20 errors in 177 games, most of those on throwing errors.
At Scranton, Cervelli threw out 30 percent of potential base-stealers but committed a whopping 15 passed balls.
So Cervelli’s defense is definite notch below what Martin and Stewart provided in 2012 and Cervelli is going to have to improve if he wants to win the starting job and keep it.
There is no doubt he is the best hitter of the bunch, albeit he lacks power. Cervelli is a spray hitter who is very adept hitting with runners in scoring position. He also is not bad a bunter and will give himself up to advance a runner. Those things should help the Yankees in 2013 since the team does lack power.
One concern with Cervelli is his penchant for injuries. He suffered a broken wrist in a home-plate collision in spring training in 2008. He also has suffered a trio of concussions the past few years and broke a bone in his foot in the spring of 2010 fouling a ball off his foot.
In winter ball in his native Venezuela, he suffered a whiplash injury, which later proved to be minor.
So durability is a definite issue with Cervelli.
Stewart, 30, has been a backup catcher throughout his career. The most games he has played is the 51 he started with Giants in 2011. He started 46 games for the Yankees last season and he batted .241 with one home run and 13 RBIs. Stewart actually improved some with the bat in 2012 because he is a career .217 hitter.
But he does not have a very high ceiling as a hitter.
Stewart enters the catching competition as probably the best defensive option the Yankees have.
This is despite that he set a personal high for himself of with eight passed balls last season. Then again, the Yankees’ pitchers are not the easiest to catch.
Stewart, however, committed only four errors and he cut down 22.8 percent of base-stealers after he threw out an amazing 39.2 percent with the Giants in 2011. Stewart not only has a strong arm, he is also accurate with it. It was obvious that not many teams wanted to challenge him last season.
Though Stewart won’t hit much, he will be an asset against teams that are aggressive on basepaths such as the Tampa Bay Rays and the Angels.
There was all kinds of talk this offseason that Romine, 24, was the organization’s choice to start behind the plate in 2013.
But general manager Brian Cashman recently addressed that issue by saying that it was extremely unlikely Romine would be able to win the job this spring coming off a season in which he was plagued with a serious back injury.
The son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine played in only 31 games in three stops last season. Romine batted .243 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in just 103 at-bats.
Despite playing in the shadow of Jesus Montero throughout his minor-league career, the Yankees have always felt that Romine was far superior to Montero on defense and they have hoped that he would develop as a hitter as he matured.
But the back injury, which a recurrence of a previous back strain, certainly has arrested his development. Romine is considered to have a good enough bat to hit for a decent average in the major leagues with low double-digit power potential.
It is likely that the Yankees will take a more cautious approach with Romine this season. He likely would benefit from playing a full season at Scranton to prove his back problems are over. There is no doubt that Romine’s defense is already major-league quality.
Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, two former catchers, absolutely love Romine’s defensive ability. They each say he is ready to play defense at the major-league level now. But the Yankees are waiting for him to prove himself healthy and they would like to see more improvement with his bat.
Wilson, 29, was a backup catcher with the Angels from 2009 through 2012. But he was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays late last season and he never played a game for them before not being tendered a contract offer this offseason.
The Yankees offered him a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. So he will be in the mix for a spot.
Wilson hit .211 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 75 games with the Angels last season. He is a career .208 hitter in the majors.
But like Cervelli, Stewart and Romine, Wilson is considered an excellent defensive catcher.
In 2012, Wilson committed only four errors and was charged with just two passed balls. He also threw out 28.6 percent of potential base-stealers and he has a 27.1 percent career mark of nailing runners.
Wilson’s only hope seems to be supplanting Stewart as the backup but Stewart’s defense may be just too good. So the Yankees might ask Wilson to accept a minor-league assignment so he can be recalled if either Cervelli or Stewart are injured. That way the Yankees could keep Romine on track for promotion in 2014.
Two years ago, with Martin as the starter and Montero and Romine in the pipeline, catching looked to the strongest position on the team from a long-range standpoint. But the Yankees were not satisfied with Montero’s defense and they traded him to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-hand starter Michael Pineda.
Now with Martin and Montero gone and Romine on the mend, the position seems to rest with catching prospects in the minors.
J.R. Murphy, 21, regressed a bit last season. In 110 games between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, Murphy hit .248 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs.
Scouts still believe that Murphy will develop power as he progresses because he has a short, powerful right-hand stroke. There are doubts about his long-term progress defensively. But, fortunately for Murphy, he also can play third base and he may eventually end up there.
But the player the Yankees are really salivating over is No. 1-ranked prospect Gary Sanchez, who turned 20 in December. Sanchez hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs between Class-A Charleston and Tampa.
The Yankees look at Sanchez as a Montero with better defensive potential. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Sanchez possesses above-average raw power and the potential to be excellent all-around hitter. He did regress a bit defensively last season, but Sanchez has a plus arm and he has time to develop into a good defensive catcher.
There have been rumors the Yankees might be willing to trade Sanchez but it is hard to see what the justification would be for Cashman. Catchers with good power bats like Sanchez do not come along too often and there are slim pickings in looking for a catcher who can match Posada’s or Martin’s production.
The Yankees may have been weakened by the loss of Martin, but the Yankees seem to be committed to starting a catcher with defensive ability and they will not care what they hit. Cervelli seems to have the inside track on the starting job and Stewart looks like he will be hard to beat as the backup.
That will allow the Yankees to get Romine another season of experience at Scranton and Wilson could be a call away at Scranton.
With Romine, Murphy and Sanchez in the pipeline, the Yankees do have some excellent young catchers on the way – particularly the gifted Sanchez. So if the Yankees can just withstand the short-term problem of having pure defensive catchers, the long-term prospects at this position are good.
But Yankee fans might be missing Martin’s power a lot this season.
NOTE: The only position I have not reviewed in this series is designated hitter. There is a good reason for that. The position has not been filled and may not be until spring exhibition games are under way. So this is the last part of the series. I hope it helped set the stage for how the team will fare this spring.
PART 3: THE STARTING LINEUP
The New York Yankees enter the 2013 season with more uncertainty in their starting lineup than they have in the past two decades.
A combination of committed contracts to aging veterans, expired contracts to some helpful contributors, injuries and underperformance have left the Yankees in a real bind to fix their problems knowing they have an edict by the boss Hal Steinbrenner to trim payroll to $189 million by 2014.
The most significant issue is the impending January left hip surgery for third baseman Alex Rodriguez which will shelve him for at least half the season. Because Rodriguez has not played a full healthy season of baseball since 2007 it should not be considered that big a deal.
However, it points up the problem with offering lengthy and lucrative contracts to players past the age of 30. Players break down at a rapid rate after that and that is particularly true of players who have dabbled in the use of performance enhancing drugs as A-Rod has.
The plain fact of the matter is that Rodriguez IS NOT nor WILL HE EVER BE AGAIN the impact player he was in 2007 when he hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Yankees are committed to paying him through the 2017 season.
If you want to look up the definition of the euphemism “albatross around the neck” A-Rod’s picture would be displayed prominently.
Seemingly healthy to begin the 2012 season, Rodriguez neither produced with power or run production. Every day manager Joe Girardi cautioned the media that A-Rod always produced home runs in bunches and it would be any day now. But that day never arrived.
He was struck in the left hand by a pitch from Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on July 24 and the injury sidelined him until the first week of September. At season’s end, Rodriguez had 18 home runs and 57 RBIs and batted .272. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Clutch when he was healthy either.
With runners in scoring position he hit a miserable .230 and with the bases loaded he hit .200.
Unfortunately, the Yankees may be saddled with A-Rod for the remainder of his contract because his skills have eroded so fast no team would be willing to take him and his bloated contract now that he is 37.
So all the Yankees can do is look to find a replacement for him for 2013 because there is no guarantee he will be able to come back in July.
Last year’s insurance policy, Eric Chavez, who hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs in 278 at-bats, has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eduardo Nunez fielded to so poorly at third base he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees have vowed to keep him primarily at shortstop.
So the Yankees have signed free-agent Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis, 33, has had some injury issues of his own. He does not have a season in which he has played more than 147 games. He had not played but one season in which he passed 136 games in four seasons. His all-out style was popular in Boston but it also led to some significant injuries and a decline in production.
After a 2011 season in which he hit only .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs, Youkilis ran afoul of then Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He ended up hitting a career-low .235 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs.
But the Yankees hope he can help fill the void at third while Rodriguez is out and fall into a right-handed designated hitter and corner infield backup role when Rodriguez returns. Though it may seem odd that the heart and soul of the Red Sox would be wearing pinstripes, Johnny Damon had no trouble adapting to life in the Yankee Universe. Neither did Wade Boggs or Roger Clemens. “Youk” would seem to be in the same mold.
There is an issue at shortstop as well.
Though Derek Jeter vows his broken ankle will be healed and he will be ready to go by Opening Day of 2013, he also is 38 years old. So the Yankees will want their captain and emotional leader to be cautious in spring training.
Jeter’s injury in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers pretty much sounded the death knell for a team that was already reeling in the midst of an horrific team batting slump.
Jeter was one of the few who actually contributed positively to the offense in 2012.
He led the major leagues in hits with 219 and he ended up hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Though this is the not the Jeter who hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1999, the Yankees are happy to have this more mature Jeter, who has learned how to adapt to his age and still produce positively to the team.
He simply was the team Most Valuable Player last season and the Yankees seem to have stopped talking nonsense like moving him to center-field or resting him two days a week. He will rest some but he will play a lot in 2013 because the Yankees need him at the top of the lineup.
The Yankees’ best player is also one who poses the most uncertainty heading into 2013. Robinson Cano, 30, is simply the best second baseman in baseball both with his glove and his bat. He also hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2013 while batting over .300 (.308) for the seventh time in his eight major-league seasons.
However, Cano hardly could call 2012 his “breakout” season because he drove in a paltry 94 runs hitting in the heart of baseball’s top run-scoring team. The reason: He hit poorly most of the season with runners in scoring position. Also, in a huge reversal in a trend, Cano hit just .239 against left-handers.
That will have to change in 2013 because he figures to continue to see a steady diet of them.
There is a big incentive for Cano to improve. His contract for 2013 was renewed by the Yankees but he can become a free agent after this season. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll, Cano’s impending free agency presents a huge challenge. Will general manager Brian Cashman have the financial backing to present a package that can keep Cano in pinstripes for the rest of his career?
That is huge question only the Steinbrenner family can answer. But one thing is certain: The Yankees would certainly regress in 2014 without their best player.
Speaking of regression, Mark Teixeira has found out just how fast a career can regress when you follow former Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi’s pull-happy approach at Yankee Stadium.
Teixeira, however, changed his tune about it in 2012. Instead of trying to change back as he did at the start of the 2012 season, he decided to keep the “pull” approach figuring the Yankees pay him to hit home runs and drive in runs. So he hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 runs in a season that was cut to just 123 games due to a calf injury he suffered in August.
He hit just .251 but that is coming off seasons in which he hit .256 (2010) and .248 (2011). So Yankee fans are just going to have to accept lower batting averages and big production out of Teixeira. He more than makes up for it with his glove.
He and Cano both won Gold Gloves in 2012 and they form the best right side of an infield in baseball history from a fielding and production standpoint. Can you name a better pair?
The Yankees will have one huge hole filled in their lineup in left-field with the return of Brett Gardner and having to fill two more at catcher and in right-field.
Gardner’s loss last season proved to be more problematic in hindsight than it was at the time. With Gardner, 29, sidelined and Nunez in the minors the Yankees lost their two best base-stealers for most of the 2012 season. That made the Yankees much more of a station-to-station team and brought to the forefront their reliance on the home run to win games.
It also goes beyond saying that Gardner’s Gold-Glove quality in defense in left was missed, too. The Yankees need Gardner to come back healthy, get on base consistently and be disruptive to the team’s opponents on the bases.
For the past two seasons, the Yankees have reaped the benefit of having a stalwart defensive catcher in Russell Martin, who actually deterred teams who like to run the bases with reckless abandon. Though Martin struggled most of the season hitting under the “Mendoza Line” until he got hot in September, his power will be missed also.
But Martin has signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees are looking for a new catcher in 2013.
At the moment, the Yankees list Francisco Cervelli as the heir apparent. Cervelli, 26, was the primary backup for three seasons from 2009 through 2011 until the Yankees acquired San Francisco Giants catcher Chris Stewart in a trade just as spring training drew to a close.
Because Stewart, 30, was out of options, the Yankees elected to keep Stewart as the backup catcher in 2012 and shipped Cervelli to Scranton.
Cervelli hit .246 with two home and 39 RBIs in 99 games at Scranton in 2012. His defense is fine but his throwing can be erratic at times.
Stewart surprisingly hit .241 with a home run and 13 RBIs in 55 games with the Yankees. His defense and throwing are superior to Cervelli but his offense is severely lacking.
The Yankees did sign former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to a minor-league contract. Wilson was non-tendered a contract by the Blue Jays after he hit .211 with three home runs and 13 RBIs with the Angels in 2012. Wilson is excellent defensively but is a career .208 hitter in the majors. So it is hard to see how he will figure in as anything but a potential backup and insurance in case the Yankees need to trade a catcher or sustain an injury.
The Yankees do have very high hopes for 24-year-old rookie Austin Romine. They believe his defensive skills make him a major-league ready receiver but his bat and his chronic back issues have been delaying his progess. He missed most all of the 2012 season with a back injury.
He has been cleared to come to spring training and he has a shot at supplanting either Cervelli or Stewart if he can show some improved skills with the bat. But realistically, the team may take a more cautious approach with Romine and he could head back to Scranton to convince the front office his back issues are over.
This area seems ripe for a deal to obtain a free agent. Cashman did have former Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in mind. Pierzynski, 35, would fit in with the Yankees because he hits left-handed and he has some power. He hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBis in 2012.
But Pierzynski elected to sign a contract with the Texas Rangers. So unless the Yankees elect to make a trade they will be choosing between the four catchers they have now.
The biggest hole in the Yankees lineup and perhaps the biggest blow to the bleacher bums in right-field will be the loss of fan favorite Nick Swisher.
Swisher might not have been a superstar but his consistency was his calling card. What you saw was what you got.
Swisher, 32, has played four seasons in pinstripes and did not deviate from between 24 through 29 home runs and between 82 and 93 RBIs. There are not many outfielders who can claim that and the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the level, except perhaps the oft-injured star Josh Hamilton.
The Yankees did have an opportunity to sign the former Texas Rangers’ star if they wanted. But they have some restriction to them doing so.
If the Yankees were to sign Hamilton, Cano’s departure would be a foregone conclusion unless there was a major dump of salary after the 2013 season. Hamilton signed with the Angels and the Yankees played it safe.
The Yankees instead decided to bring back Ichiro Suzuki, who came over in a trade in June and sparked the Yankees down the stretch. At age 39, Suzuki is no longer the player he was when he was the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 but he showed a renewed vigor in the Bronx in 2012, hitting over .300 after the deal.
He ended the season hitting. 283 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs and he stole 29 bases.
It is obvious if the Yankees want to return to a slash and dash attack Girardi favors, Suzuki would be the correct choice.
Center-field is an interesting situation for the Yankees.
The team renewed Curtis Granderson’s contract for 2012 but there are all kinds of rumors swirling around about him.
The Yankees first floated the idea they could move Gardner from left to center and put Granderson in left next season. They also sent Granderson to an eye specialist to check his vision because of his habit of losing balls in flight to the outfield and his penchant for swinging at pitches that bounced in front of home plate.
Granderson struck out a team record 195 times last season. The Yankees can live with the strikeouts for his 43 home runs and 106 RBIs, which were both team highs in 2012. But his .232 average is 30 points below his career average of .262 and he hit just .218 against left-handers last season. Granderson is also in the final year of his contract.
The Yankees also seemed intent on keeping outfielder and left-handed DH Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez, 40, was forced to play more than he was expected in the outfield because of Gardner’s injury. But Ibanez came through with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs while hitting .24o in 384 at-bats. But Ibanez’s biggest impact was the clutch home runs he hit down the stretch against the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox to get the Yankees into the playoffs.
He carried that into the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
His clutch hitting was not lost on the front office and they wanted him back badly in 2013. But Ibanez dealt a blow to the Yankees by electing to sign with his old Mariners team so the Yankees now have a huge hole at the DH spot.
The Yankees made it clear that right-hand DH Andruw Jones would not retained for the 2012 season and Jones shopped himself to a team in Japan. The Yankees likely will use a veteran free agent to fill the role until A-Rod returns in July. Rodriguez figures to DH a lot when he returns and Youkilis can fill the role when A-Rod does play third.
Nunez figures to have an opportunity to win the right-hand DH role until A-Rod returns. The left side of the equation might come down to an offer to Jim Thome or a similar veteran.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, most of their best minor-league hitting prospects are a few years away of making an impact at the major-league level.
The top prospect in the organization, catcher Gary Sanchez, is only 20. But he may be worth the wait because he hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2012. Sanchez is being touted as “Jesus Montero with defense.” However, his glovework slipped a notch last season.
But the Yankees still believe he is their future behind the plate.
Outfielder Mason Wiiliams, 21, had a torn labrum ended his season his August. However, Williams was able to flash some five-tool talent by hitting a combined .298 with a 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and stole 20 bases at Charleston and Tampa.
Some are comparing him to another Williams named Bernie. He has a good bat and he is developing power as he progresses through the system. The Yankees absolutely love his high ceiling for improvement. The lefty swinger looks like a future center-fielder for the Yankees.
Somewhat lost in all the talk about Sanchez and Williams is 21-year-old outfielder Tyler Austin, who hit an organization-best .354 in 2011 and hit .322 in four minor-league stops in 2012. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs while stealing 23 bases.
Austin played his first two minor-league seasons at the corner infield spots but was moved to right-field last season and the Yankees see him as the real deal as a right-hand hitter.
The Yankees also have a trio of promising outfielders in power-hitting Zoilo Almonte, 23, who hit 21 bombs at Double-A Trenton, and slash-and-dash hitters in 2009 No. 1 draft pick Slade Heathcott, 22, and Ramon Flores, 20.
Third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., 20, the team’s first selection in the 2011 draft, hit only three home runs at Charleston in 2012 but the Yankees believe he will develop into the kind of power hitter his father was. Called up to appear in an exhibition game against the Astros last March, Bichette hit a pair of solo home runs in only two exhibition at-bats. His star is definitely on the rise.
The Yankees also have a trio in promising infielders in Angelo Gumbs, 20; Jose Pirela, 23; and Austin Aune, 19. However, only Pirela has advanced as far as Double A and Gumbs and Aune may eventually be moved to the outfield. For now Gumbs and Pirela are second basemen and Aune is power-hitting shortstop.
This is the first of a three-part series on how the New York Yankees’ 2013 roster is shaping up this winter. There will be some changes and we will look at the starting pitching, the bullpen and the starting lineup to see what those changes might involve. This is:
PART1: STARTING PITCHING
Meat cleaver or scalpel?
That is the choice every Major League Baseball general manager ponders over the winter with respect to how to deal with their 2013 rosters.
Teams like the Miami Marlins may believe the meat cleaver approach is the way to go while teams like the Los Angeles Angels are looking to add a piece here and cut out a small piece there with a gentle scalpel.
The New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman pretty much have the choice made for them by payroll commitments that restrain what they can or can’t do. Long-term contracts handed out to C.C. Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter plus potential free agency down the road for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano kind of limits what Cashman can do to repair what needs fixing.
Of course, the criticism of some Yankee fans that the team needs to “get younger” is being counterbalanced by those long-term deals and the signing of veterans like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki.
Some factors have already played out. Catcher Russell Martin has signed a more lucrative multiyear deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and it is a certainty that right-fielder Nick Swisher will not return.
We also know that Rodriguez, once again, will be unavailable to play a full season for the Yankees. Hip surgery scheduled for January will shelve the 37-year-old veteran until June at the earliest. That will mean Rodriguez has failed to play a full season with the team since 2007.
So what will Cashman do to address the needs of the team? Let’s look at the roster and see what the Yankees have and what they may need.
There is a huge debate about the Yankee starting pitchers. Though the Yankees won the American League East with Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, there are those who believe it is not strong enough to carry the team to the team’s 28th championship.
Obviously, Cashman disagrees because he re-signed Pettitte and Kuroda. One reason he may have felt it necessary to sign a 37-year-old right-hander and 40-year-old left-hander was because Kuroda and Pettitte pitched well in 2012. Kuroda posted a career-best 16 victories with a 3.32 ERA. Pettitte was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in his 12 starts in a season abbreviated by a broken ankle.
Cashman sees Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte as the core of the starting staff.
Hughes regained the form that saw him go 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010. He was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA. Though he has won 34 games in his first two seasons as a starter and he is only 26 years old, Yankee fans want him to be more consistent. Unfortunately, Hughes is basically a fastball-curveball pitcher lacking a quality third pitch. So without a quality third pitch, Hughes will pretty much stay on the tract he currently is on.
Nova, however, has possibly the best stuff of the staff. When his fastball, curve and slider are right he can be downright nasty. But after an impressive 2011 rookie season that saw him go 16-4 with a 3.40 ERA, Nova took a step backwards in 2012.
Nova was 12-9 with a 5.02 ERA and he gave up a whopping 28 home runs and hitters hit a ridiculously high .288 against him. But the Yankees are not ready to give up on Nova at age 25. Nova still has the capability of being the same guy who was the team’s No. 2 starter in his rookie season. Why demote a guy who is 28-13 in his first major-league 55 starts?
The Yankees also have a insurance policy behind their top five with rookie right-hander David Phelps.
Phelps earned his way on to the team as a long reliever after being named the team’s top pitcher in the minor leagues in 2011 and the best rookie pitcher on the team last spring. He then drew raves for his work out of the bullpen and as spot starter, finishing the season with a 4-4 record and 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). At age 26, Phelps has a future as a starter.
Cashman may add a starter or two to the mix this winter but it is likely they will be along the lines of the Freddy Garcia scrap-heap variety. Yankee fans are dreaming if they are thinking Cashman is going to obtain Justin Verlander or David Price in a trade.
Of course, the prospects for this staff would have been better if Cashman’s major deal of 2012 did not blow up in his face.
The Yankees traded a power-hitting catcher compared as a hitter to Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez in 22-year-old Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda after he posted a 9-10 record with a 3.34 ERA in 2011. Because Montero was such a heralded young prospect, much was expected of Pineda when he arrived at spring training last February.
However, it was pretty apparent that he came to camp severely overweight and the velocity he showed on his fastball in 2011 was missing. After six starts this spring and he was raked like last winter’s leaves to the tune of a 5.68 ERA it became that there was something wrong.
As it turns out, Pineda was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder and he missed all of 2012. Pineda is progressing in his rehab and he hopes to be able to pitch this spring. However, the Yankees are not really counting on Pineda to be able to claim a starting spot this spring. He probably will continue to rehab at the team’s spring complex in Tampa, FL, until he is ready to pitch in a lengthy rehab assignment in the minors.
Pineda could be a big boost to the staff at midseason or he could end up working out in a full season in the minors in order to compete for a starting role in 2014.
The Yankees boasted in 2012 the team’s best minor-league pitching depth they have had in many years. Phelps was among five pitchers the Yankees believed were just on the cusp of possible stardom at the Triple-A level.
Though Phelps succeeded, D.J. Mitchell was traded late in 2012 to the Mariners as the Yankees did with Hector Noesi as part of the Pineda deal. Adam Warren struggled in his only major-league start though he remains a potential starter for the team at age 25.
But the team’s two top pitching prospects had disastrous campaigns in 2012.
Manny Banuelos, 21, made only six starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being shut down with a left elbow injury. He ended up having to undergo Tommy John surgery and he will miss all of the 2013 season.
Meanwhile, Delin Betances, a 24-year-old right-hander, pitched so poorly at Scranton (3-5, 6.39 ERA) he had to be demoted to Double-A Trenton and he was not much better there (3-4, 6.51 ERA). Betances has been unable to harness his control in the minors and he needs to show some significant improvement in 2013 to maintain his prospect status.
The Yankees do have a number of pitchers that could have a long-range impact on the team.
Brett Marshall, 22, was 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA at Trenton in 2012. Though the right-hander has not been labeled as a top prospect, he is similar to Phelps in that he has succeeded at each level he has pitched. He was the Yankees’ best minor league pitcher in 2012.
Lefty Nik Turley, 23, is a tall strike-throwing machine who was 9-5 with a 2.89 ERA at Class-A Tampa. Righty Jose A. Ramirez, 22, was 7-6 with a 3.19 ERA at Tampa. Jose Campos, 20, was acquired along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he could be a real gem.
Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA in five starts for Class-A Charleston before the right-hander had to be shut down with a minor elbow injury. Campos led the Northwest League in ERA and strikeouts in 2011 and he may end up being more valuable in the long term that Pineda. The Yankees will be watching his progress closely in 2013.
Cashman and the Yankees seem to have a matrimonial allegiance to their pitching staff these days. They pledged their devotion to each other to remain in sickness and in health for as both retain their jobs. But in baseball, there are short honeymoons. The problem will manifest itself if the staff does not do its part.
The Yankees’ pledge to reduce payroll makes it hard for this team to spend a large amount of money on a Plan B. So the Yankees have to really hope that what they have on hand is enough.
NEXT: THE BULLPEN
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
CATCHER – RUSSELL MARTIN (21 HRs, 53 RBIs, .211 BA)
If you were judging Russell Martin’s first half you would say that it was a foregone conclusion he would not be back with the Yankees after this season.
At the midway point, Martin had eight home runs, 21 RBIs and he was hitting an anemic .184. Though the Yankees love his defense behind the plate they also realize having a catcher that unproductive hurts the offense. Opposing pitchers were using Martin to escape from innings with men on base.
But what a difference a second half makes.
Martin,29, found his lost stroke as the season progressed and he hit 13 home runs, drove in 32 runs and batted .242 in the second half. In his first season with the Yankees he hit 18 home runs, drove in 65 runs and batted .237. So it is safe to say that Martin may have saved his job with his good work in the second half.
Martin was particularly good when it counted most – in September. From Sept. 1 on Martin batted .258 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. It was, by far, his best month of the season.
September is usually the time where catchers wear down from all those games behind the plate and all the nicks and bruises they incur during the season. But for some reason Martin just got better as the season progressed. He saved his best for last.
Compared to his 2011 season, Martin was quite durable. He started 116 games behind the plate and caught in 128 games overall.
His defense, as advertised, was very good.
He nailed 24 percent of the runners attempting to steal on him. That was down from his career average of 30 percent but it was still very respectable. He committed only six errors though he did have a a high total of nine passed balls.
His overall fielding percentage of .994 was the same as the Rays’ Jose Molina, who is considered the best defensive catcher in the league.
But a lot of Martin’s game behind the plate goes unquantified.
His agility and cat-quick reflexes prevent a lot of wild pitches by the way he blocks pitches in the dirt. Though the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett, they still had a lot of pitchers who test a catcher with nasty breaking pitches such as Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan.
Catching such a diverse staff is no day at the beach but Martin handles it exceptionally well.
He also is able to communicate with his pitchers and he calls a great game. He commands the respect of the pitching staff and he is smart enough to help pitchers get out of jams.
He certainly helped Kuroda’s transition to the American League since he caught Kuroda when he played for the Dodgers. At the same time he helped in the development of rookie right-hander David Phelps.
Martin’s contract with the Yankees expires after the season ends. Martin had sought to sign an extension before the season began but it never happened. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll it unclear whether Martin will be offered a new contract or will be allowed to become a free agent.
If it were based on his first half, he would be gone. But his second half and performance in the playoffs could save him.
It helps that a some of the Yankees’ catching prospects were hampered by injury or are a few years away.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C-
SECOND HALF GRADE: B
OVERALL GRADE: C+
BACKUP – CHRIS STEWART (1 HR, 13 RBIs, .241 BA)
Chris Stewart came to the Yankees in a trade with the San Francisco Giants made on the last day of spring training. Because Stewart was out of options, Francisco Cervelli lost his job as Martin’s backup and was shipped off to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
So Stewart was replacing a very popular player in Cervelli. But he handled it well and won over some Yankee fans with his exceptional work behind the plate.
Backup catchers are not paid to hit. They are paid to call a good game, play defense, deter the running game and block pitches in the dirt. Stewart did all of those things well.
Stewart, 30, also became the “personal” catcher for CC Sabathia throughout most of the season and he seemed to have built a great rapport with the ace left-hander.
Stewart started 46 games and caught in 54 games overall.
The only red flag in his defense was that he committed a career-high eight passed balls in 395 innings, But that may have been a fluke because Stewart nailed 23 percent of the base-runners who tried to steal and committed four errors for a .990 fielding percentage.
Stewart drew praise for his defensive work even from opposing teams’ TV announcers. That means his good work was being noticed.
Martin started of the season hitting better than Martin. He was hitting .270 with nine RBIs at the season’s midpoint. Some fans even suggested Stewart replace Martin.
But Stewart ended up with one home run, 13 RBIs and he hit .241 on the season.
He hit just .220 in the second half, which is more in line with his career average of .217. So Stewart won’t be replacing Martin. But he complimented him well in 2012.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND HALF GRADE: C
OVERALL GRADE: C
The Yankees catching depth was reduced a bit this past winter when they traded 21-year-old prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda. The Yankees were not convinced Montero would develop the defensive skills to be able to play the position regularly.
So they sent his potent power bat to Seattle and he hit 19 home runs and drove in 74 runs and batted .267 in his first season in the majors. But he only started 55 games behind the plate. So maybe the Yankees were correct about his defense.
But the Yankees will miss his power and production.
Cervelli, 26, spent the entire season at Scranton despite the fact he was the team’s backup catcher in 2010 and 2011.
Cervelli hit .246 with two home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games with Scranton. He was recalled to the majors when the roster expanded but he did not get much of a chance to play.
Though Cervelli is a bit better with the bat than Stewart, the Yankees have not been a big fan of Cervelli’s throwing behind the plate. He only nailed three of 27 base-runners (11 percent) in 2011 and he committed a lot throwing errors.
At Scranton this season, Cervelli committed only five errors but he was charged with 15 passed balls. Though other parts of Cervelli’s defensive game are good, manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena (both former major-league catchers) believe Stewart was superior defensively.
Cervelli likely will look to improve his skills to stick next season or he could be shipped to another team. But as long as Stewart is around, Cervelli’s path back to the major leagues is blocked.
The Yankees had hoped their young catching prospect Austin Romine would make an impact in spring training. However, Romine was an early casualty when he succumbed to back spasms and he did not catch a single inning this past spring.
In fact, the Yankees cautiously held him out of game action for most of the season to allow his back issues to subside.
He caught only 17 games at Scranton and 31 games overall.
Romine, 23, hit .243 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. Though Romine will never hit like Montero, the Yankees believe he is capable to being an excellent defensive catcher in the major leagues right now. Next spring, he will push Stewart (if he is re-signed) and Cervelli for the backup catching job.
But with the Yankees always erring on the side of caution, Romine could end up at Scranton and the Yankees would monitor his back as the season progresses.
The Yankees are very lucky to have two very good young catching prospects in J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez.
Muphy, 21, hit .231 with four home runs and 16 RBIs at Double-A Trenton this season after advancing from Class-A Tampa, where he played in 67 games and hit .257. Murphy can also play third base and he has above-average defensive skills behind the plate.
Sanchez is currently the team’s No. 1 rated young prospect and with good reason. Sanchez, 19, hit a combined .344 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 116 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa this season, Unlike Montero, Sanchez does have some defensive ability behind the plate. He has a plus arm but his other defensive skills took a step backward this season.
But with his booming bat and his overall potential, Sanchez appears like he could eventually surpass Montero when he reaches the majors. His future is ultra-bright.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
With Martin unsigned, this position will be in state of flux unless the Yankees decide to offer Martin a contract to remain with the team.
Considering the fact that Stewart is only considered a backup and Cervelli is looked upon the same way, Martin’s chances of returning are pretty good. Good free agent catchers are scarce and throw in the fact that Romine has had recurring back issues and you have a very compelling case for the Yankees to keep Martin.
But Romine, Murphy and Sanchez do point to a bright future ahead for the position. It is still a strength of the team to have this much depth at the position despite the trade of Montero.
YANKEES 6, MARINERS 2
Watching Freddy Garcia pitch would be kind of like seeing Rosie O’Donnell compete for the Miss America title. It sure is not be pretty but there is plenty of laughter after it’s over.
Garcia allowed only two runs though nine Mariners reached base in his five innings of work, but the 34-year-old right-hander pitched just well enough to win his 150th major-league game, the most for any Venezuelan-born pitcher, as New York took the three-game series with Seattle on Sunday.
Garcia (5-5) gave up five hits and four walks (three singles and all four walks came after two were out) and he struck out two batters to defeat the team in which he earned 76 of those 150 victories.
Meanwhile, another former Mariner, Raul Ibanez, keyed the offense for the Yankees with three RBIs on his 15th home run of he season in the fifth inning and a two-out, two-run single in the sixth inning.
Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwamura (2-3) pitched a similar game to Garcia but with much less success for Seattle. Iwamura was tagged for four runs on seven hits and two walks and struck out four over five innings.
The Mariners actually took an early 1-0 lead on Garcia in the first inning when former Yankee prize prospect Jesus Montero stroked a one-single to center to score Dustin Ackley from third base. Montero was thrown out at the plate one out later after Nick Swisher fielded a single to right by Kyle Seager and fired a strike to catcher Chris Stewart to end the inning.
The Yankees, however, answered back with a pair of single runs in the first and second innings.
Mark Teixeira singled to right to score Derek Jeter with one out in the first inning. The Yankees added a run in the next frame thanks to a ball off the bat of Curtis Granderson that rolled through the legs of Ackley at first base for an error that scored Stewart.
The Yankees added a run in the fourth off Iwakuma on a two-out single to left by Jeter that scored Stewart from second base.
The Mariners drew to within a run in the top of the fifth when Michael Saunders launched a two-out double off the wall in center and Montero followed with a bloop single to right that plated Saunders.
Ibanez then answered the Mariners’ tally with his one-out blast to the first row in back of the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center.
The Yankees then extended the lead in the sixth off relievers Josh Kinney and Oliver Perez,
Stewart opened the inning with a walk and Granderson followed it with a lined single to right off Kinney. Two outs later, Perez walked Teixeira to load the bases in order to pitch to Ibanez. But Ibanez made the former Mets left-hander pay for that strategy by lining a single into left-center to score two runs.
The Yankees’ bullpen shut down the Mariners the rest of the way. Boone Logan pitched two perfect innings and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano each tossed a scoreless frame to wrap up of the victory for the Yankees.
The Yankees’ season record stands at 63-44 and they also maintained their 6 1/2-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Mariners are now 51-59.
- Ibanez was 2-for-4 with three RBIs in the game and over his last eight games he is 8-for-22 (.364) with three home runs and seven RBIs. Ibanez only has 68 hits this season and yet he has driven in 49 runs in his first season with the Yankees.
- Stewart was 2-for-3 with a double, a walk, a stolen base and scored three runs on Sunday. Though many Yankee fans still miss backup catcher Francisco Cervelli, Stewart has done his part defensively and he is now hitting a respectable .260 on the season with 12 RBIs in limited play behind starter Russell Martin.
- The Yankees’ bullpen again shined brightly in throwing four innings of scoreless baseball to secure the victory. They allowed no hits and the Mariners’ only only base-runner came on a two out walk to Seager in the eighth issued by Robertson.
- Swisher’s throw to nail Montero at the plate was a key defensive play but Swisher was a huge drag on the offense, going 0-for-4 and stranding six base-runners. Swisher has no hits in his last nine at-bats and his season average has dipped to .258.
- Jayson Nix, starting at third base in place of a resting Eric Chavez, was 0-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt. Nix had been 10 for his last 25 at-bats (.400) entering the contest.
- Garcia was very fortunate that his four two-out walks did not come back to haunt him. He was able to retire the side in the second, third and fifth innings without giving up any more runs. This kind of pitching may work against the weak-hitting Mariners but it would not have worked against a good-hitting team like the Red Sox or Rangers.
Ichiro Suzuki tied a Yankee record by extending his hitting streak to 12 games on Sunday, though the hit was a bit tainted. Suzuki hit a fly ball to center to lead off the seventh inning that Saunders lost in the sun and it dropped at his feet in what was scored a double. Suzuki ties Don Slaught for beginning his Yankee career with a 12-game hitting streak. . . . X-rays taken of Andy Pettitte’s left ankle on Sunday indicated that the veteran left-hander is coming along fine in his recovery from the fracture he suffered on June 27. The Yankees were concerned a week ago when Pettitte had swelling from overuse during his workouts but the X-rays show the swelling has subsided. Pettitte, 40, hopes to be able to return to the rotation in September. . . . Manager Joe Girardi said on Sunday that outfielder Brett Gardner may be able to play for the Yankees in a limited role when the roster expands in September. Girardi said Gardner, who has played only nine games this season due to recurring soreness in his right elbow, could be used as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement and still not jeopardize his rehab from surgery on the elbow.
The Yankees are off to Detroit to open a four-game series with the Tigers that begins on Monday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (10-5, 4.53 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Nova has not won a game since July 8 against the Red Sox. In his last outing he was handed an early 5-0 lead but he promptly coughed up nine runs on 10 hits and a walk in five innings in a loss to the Orioles. He is 0-0 with a 7.36 ERA in his career against the Tigers.
The Tigers will call on ace right-hander Justin Verlander (11-7, 2.63 ERA). Verlander failed to go at least six innings for the first time in 63 starts in his last time out. He gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and four walks in five innings and he took the loss from the Red Sox. He is 4-4 with a 4.17 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, MARINERS 2
With the Yankees having lost third baseman Alex Rodriguez for at least four weeks with a fractured left hand, speculation is running rampant that the Yankees will trade for a replacement. However, Jayson Nix might have convinced the front office to delay those plans.
Nix was called upon to pinch-hit in the top of eighth inning with the bases loaded and one out with the Yankees trailing the Mariners 2-1. Nix promptly laced a 2-2 fastball from Shawn Kelley to clear the bases as New York rallied late to defeat Seattle on Wednesday at Safeco Field.
Nix was hitting .235 with three home runs and seven RBIs in 85 at-bats when manager Joe Girardi sent him to the plate in place of designated hitter Raul Ibanez to face left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge (1-1). But Mariners manager Eric Wedge elected to replace Luetge with the right-handed Kelley.
Nix battled Kelley to a 2-2 count before slapping his three-run double in the gap in left-center to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead.
After Kelley walked Eric Chavez intentionally and Andruw Jones struck out, Russell Martin padded the Yankees’ lead to 5-2 with a lined single to left to score Nix.
David Phelps (2-3) pitched 1 1/3 innings of spotless relief, fanning two batters, to pick up the victory in relief. David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano tossed a scoreless ninth to pick his 26th save in 28 opportunities this season.
The victory allowed the Yankees to clinch the three-game series with the Mariners and salvage what has been a costly 2-5 West Coast road trip.
The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead on the Mariners when Derek Jeter blasted a one-out solo home run in the first inning off Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma.
But Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova walked John Jaso on four pitches to load the bases with one out in the first inning and then he missed low with a 3-2 pitch – the 10th of the at-bat – to Kyle Seager to allow the Mariners to tie it up.
Mike Carp then slapped a grounder to Mark Teixeira but Teixeira was unable to turn it into a double play because of an errant throw to Jeter at the second base bag and the Mariners were able to take a 2-1 lead.
The score stayed that way because the Yankees were unable to produce a hit with runners in scoring position off a less-than-overpowering Iwakuma.
Iwakuma gave up only one run but surrendered six hits and three walks while striking out three in five innings. The Yankees did not even manage to get one hit or one walk off relievers Oliver Perez and Josh Kinney over the next two innings.
But Kinney opened the eighth inning by plunking Jeter in the left thigh with the first pitch.
Luetge was summoned and Robinson Cano and Teixeira greeted him with back-to-back singles to load the bases. Curtis Granderson then fouled out for the first out and set in motion the managerial moves that brought Nix to the plate with the game on the line.
Nova only gave up two runs on two hits in his five-plus innings of work. However, he walked six batters while striking out five. He left the game in the sixth inning after opening the inning by walking Jaso on four pitches for the third time and then issuing a second walk to Seager.
But Clay Rapada bailed Nova out by inducing Carp to hit into a double play and Phelps stranded Jaso on third by fanning Casper Wells.
The Yankees managed to keep the Mariners hitless for 7 1/3 innings after Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero singled off Nova with one out in the first inning. They did not get a hit again until Wells singled on a 0-2 pitch with two out in then ninth off Soriano.
But Soriano fanned Carlos Peguero to end the game.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 59-39 and they increased their lead in the American League East on the second-place Baltimore Orioles to eight games. The Mariners fell to 47-53.
- Nix’s clutch pinch-hit three-run double was his biggest hit since he was called up from Triple-A in early May. The Yankees were stranding runners in scoring position all day long and Nix was the unlikeliest hero. Give Girardi credit for choosing to remove Ibanez in favor of the weaker hitting Nix, which forced Wedge to bring in Kelley. Nix could see a lot of playing time now, barring a trade, as part of platoon at third base with Chavez to replace Rodriguez.
- Phelps, 25, has looked very impressive in his last four appearances with the Yankees (covering two separate stints). He is 1-0 with an 0.93 ER. Phelps has given up only one run on two hits and three walks and struck out an amazing 17 batters in 9 2/3 innings. The Yankees very much needed another power arm in the bullpen and Phelps is providing it.
- Jeter, batting in the second spot behind Ichiro Suzuki, was 3-for-4 and with an RBI and two runs scored. In his last nine games, Jeter is 12-for-32 (.375) with a home run, two RBIs and six runs scored. He has raised his season average to .311.
- Nova, despite the fact Jaso entered the game just 1-for-5 against him, decided to not throw a single strike to him in any of his three at-bats. The walk with two out in the third inning did not hurt. But walking Jaso in the first was followed by a walk to Seager to force in a run. Nova walked Jaso and Seagar to open the sixth and that ended his outing. The six walks in five-plus innings cost him a potential victory and it ended his day early because of his high pitch count.
- Jones, pressed into service against a right-hander because of Nick Swisher’s injury, was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he left five runners on base. Since his three-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 17, Jones is two for his last 18 at-bats (.111) with 10 strikeouts. His season average has dipped to .224.
- Ibanez was not much better than Jones. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and stranded two runners. In his last five games, Ibanez is 3-for- 19 (.158) with one RBI and five strikeouts. His season batting average has slipped to .235.
Rodriguez’s broken left hand was fitted for a splint on Wednesday and he is scheduled to undergo an exam on Thursday with team doctor Christopher Ahmad. There is no timetable established for his return. Rodriguez suffered the injury in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game when he was struck by a pitch from right-hander Felix Hernandez. Rodriguez was the third batter Hernandez had hit with a pitch in the game. The Yankees placed Rodriguez on the 15-day disabled list and recalled utility infielder Ramiro Pena from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. . . . Swisher said he hopes to be able to start in Friday”s game after missing the last five games with a strained left hip flexor. Swisher said he had no problems running in the outfield at Safeco Field before the game and he also was able to take some swings in the batting cage.
The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday to lick their wounds, physical and otherwise, before opening a weekend home series against a slumping Boston Red Sox team on Friday.
Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Hughes gave up just two runs on three hits and one walk and struck six batters over 7 2/3 innings in a game which the Yankees scored him just one run in a tough-luck loss to the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. Hughes is 2-6 with a 6.49 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox.
The Red Sox will counter with slop-tossing right-hander Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50 ERA). Cook gave up five runs (three earned) on five hits over 6 1/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday. He is 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in his only meeting with the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.