Results tagged ‘ Joe Torre ’
Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.
The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.
The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.
George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.
The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.
During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.
Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.
Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.
Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).
How did this happen?
Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.
The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.
It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.
Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.
There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.
After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.
From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.
That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.
The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.
If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.
But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.
It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.
Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.
He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.
When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.
He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.
So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.
Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.
The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.
Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.
Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.
So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)
There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.
It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.
The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.
It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.
But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.
The offense? Don’t ask.
Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.
They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.
The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.
His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.
The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.
The bench has some veterans, of course.
Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.
If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.
But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.
But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.
Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.
In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.
I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!
YANKEES 5, BREWERS 3
In a town famous for its beer Masahiro Tanaka came into Milwaukee and dropped a baseball version of a sake bomb on the Brewers on Friday.
Tanaka pitched into the seventh inning to push his record to 5-0 and the Yankees got a three-run home run from Yangervis Solarte as part of a four-run fourth inning as New York edged Milwaukee in front of a paid crowd of 40,123 at Miller Park.
Tanaka, 25, shut the Brewers out for five innings on only two hits before yielding a pair of runs on three hits in the sixth inning. But Tanaka had already proved to the Brewers earlier in the game that he can be a tough pitcher to crack under pressure.
The Brewers leadoff man Carlos Gomez drew a walk in the first, stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Scooter Gennett. But Jonathan Lucroy popped out and Aramis Ramirez struck out swinging to strand Gomez at third.
After the Brewers opened the sixth with a leadoff double by Gomez, an RBI double by Gennett and an RBI single by Lucroy off Tanaka to get the Brewers to within two runs, Ramirez hit into a double play and Mark Reynolds struck out looking.
In the seventh, Jean Segura hit a one-out single and Logan Schafer added another single to move him to third. Manager Joe Girardi replaced Tanaka on the mound with right-hander Adam Warren and Warren was able to get Tanaka off the hook by striking out pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay and catcher Brian McCann gunned down Schafer attempting to steal second in a double play that ended the rally.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to get to right-hander Yovani Gallardo (2-2) in the fourth when Carlos Beltran drew a leadoff walk and, one out later, McCann singled to center. Solarte then ripped Gallardo’s first offering into the right-field bleachers for his second home run of the season.
Brett Gardner then reached on an infield single and Brian Roberts laced a double down the right-field line that scored Gardner easily.
The Yankees added an insurance run in the eighth inning off right-hander Brandon Kintzler when Beltran looped an opposite-field double. Ichiro Suzuki pinch-ran for Beltran and stole third. He then scored on a slow-rolling groundoutoff the bat of Mark Teixeira.
David Robertson was touched for a solo opposite-field homer off the bat of Reynolds but he struck out the other three batters he faced to earn his sixth save in six chances on the season.
Tanaka finished the evening giving up two runs on seven hits and one walk and he fanned seven in 6 1/3 innings of work. Tanaka has now reached 41 consecutive regular-season starts dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 in Japan without suffering a loss.
Gallardo was touched for four runs on five hits and three walks and fanned seven in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees extended their winning streak to three games and now are 19-15 on the season. They are a half-game behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Brewers fell to 22-14.
- In Tanaka’s seven starts this season he has not pitched less than 6 1/3 innings, yielded more than eights hits or three runs and struck out less than five. He is 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 58 strikeouts and just seven walks in 49 innings. Tanaka has already learned that when teams lay off his split-finger fastball in the dirt he can go to his slider to get strikeouts. Even with all the hype and all the money Tanaka was paid he has proven he is well worth it.
- Solarte, 26, went through a cold streak from April 19 through May 3 in which he was 5-for-34 (.147). But the rookie infielder has put together a four-game hitting streak and he is 6-for-14 (.429) with a home run and five RBIs in that span. His 18 RBIs lead the team. It also seems that he has replaced Kelly Johnson as the team’s primary third baseman. Solarte has started 21 games at third to Johnson’s 10 this season.
- Roberts extended his hitting streak to six games and he is 9-for-24 (.324) with a home run and four RBIs in that stretch. That has raised Roberts’ season average from .213 to .253. It appears that Girardi’s faith in the 36-year-old second baseman is paying off.
- After going 5-for-11 (.455) in the three-game series against the Angels, Derek Jeter was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield on Friday. That dropped his season average to .252, which is low as it has been since he was hitting .250 on April 8.
A man interrupted play in the sixth inning by running onto the field to ask Jeter for a hug. Security personnel apprehended the man, who appeared to be in his 20s and was wearing a Ryan Braun jersey and a headband, without getting his hug from Jeter. “I said, ‘You’re going to get in trouble, man,'” Jeter told reporters. “And then he repeated that he wanted a hug, and I said, ‘Look out.’ That’s pretty much what happened.” . . . Right-hander Shawn Kelley was unavailable to pitch in Friday’s game due to stiffness in his lower back. Kelley underwent an MRI, which came back negative, after he experienced discomfort after the team’s flight from Anaheim, CA, to Milwaukee. Kelley said he hopes to be available to pitch on Saturday. . . . Former Yankees manager Joe Torre will have his No. 6 retired in a pregame ceremony scheduled for Aug. 23 at Yankee Stadium. Torre is also scheduled to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. in July. Torre’s No. 6 will be the 17th number retired by the team and it leaves Jeter’s No. 2 as the only single-digit number that has not been retired. Of course, Jeter will have his No.2 honored in Monument Park sometime soon.
The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend interleague series with the Brewers on Saturday.
Former Brewer left-hander CC Sabathia (3-4, 5.75 ERA) will return to Miller Park after helping the Brewers make the playoffs in 2008. Sabathia, however, is nothing like the 2008 version. He was shelled for five runs on 10 hits and one walk in only 3 2/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.
He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Kyle Lohse (4-1, 2.72 ERA). Lohse surrendered just two runs on eight hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday and he did not get a decision.
Game-time will be 7 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
RED SOX 4, YANKEES 2
There is nothing in baseball more frustrating for a pitcher than to be in total command of a game and to have it all fall apart in the blink of an eye with one bad pitch in one bad inning. But that is exactly what happened to CC Sabathia on Friday.
Entering the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead, Jonny Gomes led off with a home run and four batters later Sabathia’s former teammate Grady Sizemore blasted a hanging slider for a three-run blast as Boston downed New York in front of a paid crowd of 44,121 at Yankee Stadium.
The game featured a pitcher’s duel between the two team’s aces.
Up until the sixth, Sabathia (1-2) had shut out the Red Sox on just one hit with two walks and six strikeouts. Left-hander Jon Lester (1-2) was just about as good. But he was victimized by a home run to leadoff the second inning by Alfonso Soriano.
If not for the “OBI” (one bad inning) Sabathia’s fate might have been different.
Gomes tied it with a long blast over the scoreboard in right, his first home run of the season.
One out later, David Ortiz was tied up on an inside pitch and rolled a swinging-bunt single near third base and against the shift the Yankees employ against him. Mike Napoli then laced a single up the middle and set the stage for Sizemore’s game-changing homer.
Sabathia ended up being charged with four runs on six hits and two walks and he struck out a season-high nine in seven innings.
Lester struggled in the seventh after he had retired the first two batters.
Ichiro Suzuki singled and Brian Roberts drew a walk after two close pitches home-plate umpire James Hoye called balls. Lester became visibly angry at the calls and Kelley Johnson ended Lester’s evening by stroking an RBI single to right that scored Suzuki.
Lester yielded two runs on six hits and two walks while fanning six batters in 6 2/3 innings.
Relievers Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica retired the final seven batters to preserve Lester’s first victory of the season. Mujica pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save.
The loss dropped the Yankees’ season record to 5-6. The Red Sox have the same mark.
- Soriano was 2-for-4 in the game including his second home run of the season. After his 0-for-17 start, Soriano has at least one hit in five of his past six games and is 8-for-21 (.381) with two home runs and three RBIs in that span.
- Despite the fact Sabathia lost the game give the big left-hander some credit for perhaps turning a corner in which he is learning to pitch with diminished velocity. For the first five innings, he had the Red Sox flailing at his change-ups and sliders. “I look at it as one pitch – the slider he left up to Sizemore was the real difference in the game,” manager Joe Girardi said told reporters. “Besides that, I thought he had really good command and threw the ball well.”
- Johnson was 0-for-14 in his career against Lester when he delivered his two-out RBI single that chased the left-hander from the game. Johnson is hitting just .258 but he has two homers and six RBIs and all six of them have come in his past six games.
- The injury to Mark Teixeira forced Girardi into some odd lineup choices on Friday. He benched left-handed hitters Brett Gardner and Brian McCann, he used Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot and he had Francisco Cervelli batting fifth. Until Teixeira returns, the Yankees are going to have a much weaker lineup against lefties.
- Carlos Beltran entered the game on a pretty good roll with a four-game hitting streak. But he could not solve Lester. He killed a rally in the third inning by bouncing into a force play, stranding two runners. He also stranded Jacoby Ellsbury at second with one out by watching strike three on a 3-2 pitch. He ended up 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield.
- Rookie sensation Yangervis Solarte is starting to fall back to Earth as pitchers are now giving him a steady diet of breaking pitches. Solarte was 0-for-4 in the game and he is hitless in his past nine at-bats to drop his batting average to .343.
The MLB Network and NESN showed Michael Pineda with what appeared to be pine tar on his pitching hand on Thursday and it stirred a lot of bellowing out of Boston (as one would expect anytime they lose). However, Joe Torre, baseball’s executive vice president of operations, told reporters that the right-hander will not face suspension. Because the Red Sox did have the umpires check Pineda’s hand there is nothing that can be done. Torre did say he would talk to the Yankees about the incident. Pineda claimed it was not pine tar on his hand; it was dirt. . . . The Yankees expect Teixeira to return from the disabled list before the end of April, however, backup infielder Brendan Ryan may be out for an extended period of time. Teixeira is progressing well recovering from a strained right hamstring. Ryan, who has a pinched nerve in his cervical spine, missed most all of spring training and he only begun some very light baseball-related activities.
The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Red Sox on Saturday.
The Yankees will send Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 2.92 ERA) to the hill. Kuroda gave up just two runs on eight hits and struck four in 6 1/3 innings in defeating the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 on Monday.
The Red Sox will counter with veteran right-hander John Lackey (2-0, 1.38 ERA). Lackey shut out the Rangers on five hits and two walks in seven innings on Monday to keep his record perfect this season. He is 1-1 with a 7.64 ERA in three starts at the new Yankee Stadium.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1 and locally by the YES Network.
This season’s ninth innings are going to seem very strange for the New York Yankees.
For the first time since 1997 the team will not have the benefit of the greatest closer in baseball history.
Mariano Rivera was the gold standard of the modern era one-inning closer and won’t it be odd not hearing “Enter Sandman” reverberate throughout the Yankee Stadium?
Rivera leaves taking his major-league 652 saves and career ERA of 2.21. He also removes the security blanket that managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi had that made them so successful. Opponents will enter the 2014 season extremely happy that No. 42 will not be in the Yankees’ bullpen.
The question is who will take Mo’s place?
Though no promises have been made, David Robertson will have the opportunity to fill the biggest shoes in baseball.
Robertson, 28, like Rivera, is a product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he has been Rivera’s set-up man for the past three seasons.
In four full seasons and parts of a fifth, Robertson has compiled a 21-14 record with a sparkling 2.76 ERA. Last season, Robertson was 5-1 with 2.04 ERA and superbly set up Rivera in his final season.
The big question is can the former University of Alabama closer handle the job at the major-league level. Robertson has a mere eight saves in 18 chances in the majors.
When handed the role in 2012 when Rivera injured his knee early in the season, Robertson faltered and was replaced by Rafael Soriano. That experience leaves enough doubt about him heading into the new season.
But Robertson has the goods to close. He can bring a low- to mid-90s fastball, a cutter he learned from the master Rivera and a knee-buckling curveball. The only question is can he keep his pitch counts down to get through a clean ninth inning consistently?
Rivera’s lifetime WHIP (Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched) was 1.00, which is excellent. Robertson is sporting a career WHIP of 1.25, which is not great for a reliever. However, his WHIPs over the past three seasons have been 1.13, 1.17 and 1.04.
The 1.04 WHIP from last season is a career low. That is closer material. So Robertson stands as the No. 1 candidate as of today.
The Yankees still could sign a closer before spring training opens. But that is not looking likely.
The best closer on the market, Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics, signed a two-year deal with his former team the Tampa Bay Rays. Former Rays closer Fernando Rodney, 36, was excellent in 2012 but regressed in 2013 with 37 saves and 3.38 ERA and a high WHIP of 1.34.
In addition, the Yankees have already spent a lot of money on free agents this offseason. Can they afford to add more?
A more likely scenario would be a trade packaging some players in return for an experienced bullpen pitcher who can set up and close out games. Stay tuned.
The Yankee bullpen also will be without some other familiar names in 2014.
The Colorado Rockies signed left-hander Boone Logan to a three-year deal. The Detroit Tigers signed right-hander Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal.
The Yankees did sign veteran left-hander Matt Thornton, 37, from the Boston Red Sox. Thornton has some heavy mileage on him but he provides the team a quality left-hander who has had experience as a set-up man and closer.
Thornton has a career record of 32-42 with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 23 career saves. He was 0-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 60 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Red Sox last season. He will essentially replace Logan as the team’s main left-hander.
The Yankees also have a holdover in right-hander Shawn Kelley, 29, who was 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 57 games with the Yankees last season. The former Seattle Mariner essentially made Chamberlain obsolete after recording 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings with his devastating slider.
Kelley and Thornton are likely to be Girardi’s main seventh and eighth inning options this season.
The Yankees also have high hopes for right-hander Preston Claiborne, 26, who was impressive in the early stages of his rookie season.
Called up in May, Claiborne did not issue a walk in his first nine appearances. On July 28, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 29 games. However, the wheels came off the wagon quickly and he was 0-1 with a 8.80 ERA in his last 15 games.
The Yankees still believe the big Texan nicknamed “Little Joba” can pitch as he did in his first 29 games in the major leagues. As long as Claiborne is attacking the strike zone to get ahead he can be a huge weapon for Girardi this season. Claiborne has a very high ceiling and spring training will determine just how far he can go in 2014.
Speaking of high ceilings, the reliever to watch this spring will be left-handed specialist Cesar Cabral, 25.
A Rule 5 draft pick in 2011, Cabral was competing for a job with the Yankees in 2012 when he suffered a fracture of his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training and he missed the entire 2012 season.
His rehab also extended into 2013. In 30 games in three stops in the minors, Cabral was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. But he had 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He was called up to the majors when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and he made his major-league debut on Sept. 2.
Cabral ended up 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in eight late-season games, striking out six in 3 2/3 innings. Lefties hit .125 off him.
It looks as if the Yankees have found a gem in the young lefty. Cabral enters 2014 as almost a shoo-in to make the team to give the team a lefty specialist they have lacked since Clay Rapada injured his arm in spring training last season. Mark my words, Cabral is something special.
The other two spots in the bullpen are up for grabs. But the Yankees have a lot of options to fill those spots.
Should Michael Pineda claim a spot in the starting rotation and join CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, one obvious choice to fill out the bullpen is David Phelps.
Phelps, 27, has served as reliever and spot starter for the past two seasons.
In two seasons he is 10-9 with a 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 starts). His ERA is inflated because he been less successful as a starting pitcher the past two seasons. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would like to see Phelps resume his role in the bullpen because of his versatility and effectiveness.
Phelps does not possess a crackling fastball but he does have extreme confidence in his stuff. He throws strikes and his control is excellent.
Along with Phelps, the Yankees used rookie right-hander Adam Warren as a long reliever and spot starter last season. Warren, 26, responded with a 3-2 record and a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two of them starts).
Warren enters spring training in the running for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but could very well end up as the long man out of the bullpen again. Unlike Phelps though, Warren has a mid-90s fastball and he has been better as a starter.
The same can be said for 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno.
Nuno won the James P. Dawson Award in 2013 for being the most impressive rookie in spring training. He then went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before making his major-league debut as a reliever in last April.
He was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in five games (three starts) before a strained left groin sustained on May 30 shelved him for the rest of the season.
Nuno is a soft-tosser but he has exceptional control. His ability to fool hitters with his breaking stuff makes him a good possibility as a No. 5 starter if he is impressive again this spring. He also could become a third lefty as a long man in the bullpen.
At the very least, Nuno could return to Scranton and be ready for fill in as a starter or reliever for the Yankees should they need to replace an injured pitcher. Nuno is an excellent insurance policy for Girardi.
One very intriguing bullpen possibility for the Yankees is former top prospect starter Dellin Betances, 25.
The 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander flamed out as a starter in 2012 when he recorded a 6-9 record and 6.44 ERA with 99 walks in 113 1/3 innings at two minor-league stops. The Yankees made him a reliever in 2013 and he was much better.
Betances was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 84 innings at Scranton. He cut his walks to just 42.
He was called up in September and had a 10.00 ERA in six games late in the season. But the Yankees believe he has potential to be a dominant reliever in the major leagues is he continues to harness his control. He has mid-90s fastball and his power curve is getting better.
Betances enters this spring as a dark-horse bullpen candidate with the tools to become an excellent reliever someday and perhaps a future closer.
The same can be said of right-hander Mark Montgomery, 23, the team’s current No. 11 prospect.
Montgomery has a 93-mile-per-hour fastball but his biggest weapon is a drop-off-the-table slider that has shot him through the minor-league ranks.
In 2012 he struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings as he advanced through Double-A Trenton. He also led the organization in saves. Last season, Montgomery was 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 40 innings at Scranton.
He will get an opportunity to show his progress this spring but he likely will start the season in Scranton. The Yankees still see him as a future setup man or closer. He may get his shot sometime in 2014.
Another minor-leaguer worth watching this spring is 24-year-old right-hander Chase Whitley, who spent most of last season at Scranton.
Whitley was 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings in 29 games. The Alabama native also showed some ability as a starter late in the season.
In five late-season starts, Whitley was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. The Yankees will evaluate him this spring and determine what role he might be best suited. But his solid numbers in the minors indicate he is on track to make the major leagues in a few years.
One interesting aspect of the candidates I have mentioned so far is that seven of them (Robertson, Claiborne, Phelps, Warren, Betances, Montgomery and Whitley) were originally drafted by the Yankees. Two others (Cabral and Nuno) are products of the team’s minor-league system.
The other two candidates (Thornton and Kelley) were signed as a free agent and via a trade, respectively.
Although the Yankees’ position players in the minors are progressing slowly. The same can’t be said for the starters and relievers they have been developing the past few seasons. That is a testament to the scouting department and general manager Brian Cashman.
The Yankees need to continue that development as they move forward.
The biggest testimony to that progress will be if Robertson seamlessly settles in as the team’s closer. He may be replacing a huge legend. But if anyone can do it, it is Robertson.
A lot is riding on Robertson;s right arm and the Yankees are very hopeful he can meet the challenge.
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.
THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (18 HRs, 57 RBIs, .272 BA)
It’s always something.
With Alex Rodriguez it always seems some injury comes up that interrupts his season and rolls him down a highway that is a few exits past his MVP seasons. This pattern has been going since his monster season in 2007 when he played in 158 games and hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and hit .314.
For the past five seasons Rodriguez’s totals have been gradually slipping. The home run totals dropping from 35 to 30 to 30 to 16 and 18 this season. The RBI totals sinking from 103 to 100 to 125 to 62 and now just 57. The batting averages dipping from .302 to .286 to.270 to .276 to .272 this season.
This is not your father’s Alex Rodriguez. The once most-feared hitter in baseball has turned into Scott Brosius before our very eyes and it is pretty to safe to say that age 37 that the vintage A-Rod is not coming back.
After suffering through seasons cut short by a serious hip injury to his injury-plagued 2011 campaign shortened to 99 games because of knee and thumb injuries, this season was supposed to be a big comeback season for Rodriguez.
But after languishing through a terrible first half in which he hit just 13 home runs, drove in a mere 36 runs and hit .266, Rodriguez was struck on the left hand by pitch thrown by Felix Hernandez of the Mariners in Seattle on July 24. A broken bone in the hand shelved him until Sept. 3.
So from the midpoint of the season, Rodriguesz contributed five home runs and 21 RBIs.
A look inside the numbers shows just how far A-Rod’s star has fallen:
- With the bases empty he hit .300.
- With runners in scoring position he hit .230.
- With the bases loaded he hit .200.
His 18 home runs are just two more than he hit in 99 games last season and yet he still hits in the middle of the order as if he was the A-Rod of 2007.
The fact the Yankees are on the hook to pay this large albatross through the 2017 season is quite troubling. When that contract was signed, the Yankees were envisioning Rodriguez becoming the all-time home run champion in pinstripes.
But with Rodriguez stuck on 647 career homers and seemingly unable to hit 20 in a season, he will be lucky to reach 700, much less make to 763 to pass Barry Bonds.
The qustion is how long will the Yankees to allow Rodriguez to underperform for the money his is making and how much he is hurting the Yankees in every game with his strikeouts, weak popups and routine fly balls? Can they afford to keep him? Or are they paying so much for him that they can’t get rid of him?
All I know is what I see and I just see a very sad shell of a player who might be succumbing to aftereffects of performance enhancing drugs. So I do not feel sorry for him. But I do feel sorry for the Yankees being roped into this deal that will hamper their ability to pare salary ahead of the 2014 season.
Rodriguez is also turning into a liability in the field, too.
He made eight errors this season, which sounds OK until you find out he started only 81 games at the position. That total also does not account for the balls that got past him because his surgically repaired hip has robbed him of his lateral quickness. It also does not account for the slow dribblers he was unable to charge fast enough to get the runner at first.
His cannon arm is still there but it can be erratic.
Nope, any way you slice it, A-Rod is just not A-Rod anymore. The sooner Yankee fans realize that the sooner they can stop praying for that game-winning homer in the playoffs. If the Yankees are lucky he will single in a big run with a runner in scoring position.
So don’t get your hopes up for a great postseason for A-Rod. It might turn out like all the ones he produced before his epic postseason in 2009, which brought title No. 27 back to the Bronx. The 28th will have to come some other way.
MIDSEASON GRADE: D
SECOND-HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: D
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
I have already discussed Chavez in my post about Mark Teixeira.
Because of Rodriguez’s injury, Chavez was the primary backup at third base and he started 50 games there. If Chavez were a younger player and capable of playing every day, he would have either replaced Rodriguez outright or, at the very least, be the lefty part of a platoon at the position.
Of course, that is if A-Rod was not A-Rod and he was not getting paid big bucks.
Chavez was the better fielder here and you can make a case that he was a more productive hitter. He hit 16 home runs in 278 at-bats. A-Rod hit 18 in 463.
If it were me, I might even consider moving Rodriguez the DH spot and starting Chavez at third against right-handers in the playoffs. It just makes good sense.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The Yankees also played Jayson Nix, Casey McGehee and Eduardo Nunez at third base this season. With Nix out of the early part of the playoffs with an injury, Chavez will be the primary backup and Nunez will not play here unless it is an emergency.
McGehee will not make the postseason roster.
In the minor leagues the Yankees have a slick-fielding third baseman in Brandon Laird. But Laird, 25, had a mediocre season with the bat at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting just .254 with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs.
With Rodriguez blocking his path to the majors, Laird has to hope he can find an opportunity with another organization. He has some value as a potential corner infield backup because he play first base also.
The Yankees do have a potential star in last year’s first draft pick Dante Bichette Jr., who spent the season at Class-A Charleston.
Bichette, 20, has a long way to go after hitting .248 with three home runs and 46 RBIs. This was after a season in which he was the MVP of the Gulf Coast League in 2011. But he is still young and the Yankees love his bloodlines to former Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette.
He looks to be a keeper for now.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-
It is rare when you are talking about a three-time MVP being worse than the player who backs him up. But that is what we are dealing with in Rodriguez. Out of loyalty, his past track record and to keep the peace, manager Joe Girardi has refused to take A-Rod out of the middle of the order.
Fine. I understand that. But one would hope if A-Rod falls flat on his face this October that he will have the courage to do it next season.
There is only so much you can take. Seeing him swing through fastballs he used to crush and pop up pitches he used to hit hard over the fence is just frustrating to watch game after game.
Opposing scouts, managers and pitchers already see what Girardi has refused to admit. Maybe it is because of what happened to Joe Torre after he batted Rodriguez seventh in the 2007 playoffs against the Detroit Tigers. Torre lost his job.
Perhaps Girardi sees a similar fate for him if he does it and the team loses a playoff series. Just don’t be surprised if Rodriguez hits .125 and leaves a lot of runners on base this postseason.
As weeks go you would have to say this week for the New York Yankees was not a good one and that is putting it mildly. It was disastrous.
The loss of the greatest closer to ever walk the planet is a pretty steep price to pay for any team. But it was just the tip of the iceberg.
It all started on April 29 when Nick Swisher left a game against the Tigers in the bottom of the third inning with a strained hamstring. At the time Brett Gardner was on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow he sustained making a diving catch on a ball on April 17.
Swisher has been unable to play since and Gardner, who was expected to return on Thursday, had his return delayed for four days.
That means the Yankees have been playing Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eduardo Nunez and now Jayson Nix in the outfield in place of their two injured starters.
That has led some pretty bad outfield play in the past week, especially by “Eduardo Scissorhands” in left-field against the Orioles.
Though the Yankees may have had some laughs when Nunez slipped and slid his way through his first start in left on Monday, it was no laughing matter the next night when he allowed a fly ball off the bat of Nick Johnson fall and two runs to score.
It was initially scored as a two-base error. But MLB Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre on Friday reversed the call into a double. However, whether it was scored an error or a double, it still cost the Yankees two runs in three-run inning that ended up in a 7-1 defeat. The point is that the ball should have been caught and it wasn’t.
This outfield roulette the Yankees are playing does not even take into account how the offense has been hurt by losing Gardner and Swisher for this long a period of time.
At the time of his injury, Gardner was hitting .321. Swisher was even better. He was hitting .284 with six home runs and he was leading the American League in RBIs with 23. You can’t expect to replace 67 percent of your starting outfield with older veterans and young neophytes and expect the offense and defense to be there. Just ask the Boston Red Sox.
The loss of Gardner has allowed manager Joe Girardi to use his platoon designated hitters, Jones and Ibanez, in the field and give Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez half-days off as the DH. That means Scissorhands plays shortstop and Eric Chavez plays third base.
Nunez promptly goes into a 0-for-19 slide this week and the preciously delicate exoskeleton and inner body linings and muscles of Chavez again reared its ugly head – literally – on Wednesday night.
Chavez dove for a ball off the bat of J.J. Hardy and his head slammed the infield dirt at Yankee Stadium pretty hard. The next thing you know Chavez is on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion. If this anything like the fractured bone in his foot he injured at about the same time last season, we should see Chavez back in a Yankee uniform during the 2016 Yankee Old-Timers’ Day celebration and I hope Eric brings a football helmet and pads to play in the game.
This does not even address the starting pitching problems Girardi is already faced and with which he is still dealing.
While CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda seem to be settling into their roles as the ace and No.2 starter of the staff, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia seem to be playing a contest amongst themselves of who could give up the most hits and runs in the shortest stretch of innings.
Well, Garcia won that contest hands down and he was banished to the bullpen and rookie David Phelps made his first major-league start on Thursday.
This was not the way it was supposed to be with Andy Pettitte on the verge of coming back and when the Yankees were counting on getting Michael Pineda back from his sore right shoulder problems in May. Now Pineda is lost for the season with shoulder surgery and Pettitte can’t get back to the Yankees soon enough to suit Yankee fans.
The loss of Mariano Rivera makes it even harder to decipher.
For now, it looks as if David Robertson and Rafael Soriano will share the closer’s role. But with Joba Chamberlain still recovering from both Tommy John and Chuckie Cheez ankle surgeries the bullpen suddenly looks a whole lot thinner than it did before Mo collapsed in pain on the Kauffman Stadium warning track on Thursday.
Perhaps there could be a silver lining if Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman are open to see their way clear of this mess. Some good could come of it if they play it correctly.
First, they have to allow Phelps to continue to pitch in the rotation and give him a chance to show what he can do. It is only fair they do that to what looks to be a promising 25-year-old right-hander. Nova’s 15-game winning streak is over but he certainly is capable of pitching better than he did this week. So you have to continue to roll with him.
But when Pettitte returns you have to make a move to take one person out of the rotation and there is no better candidate than Hughes.
If you look at the period of time Hughes was most successful it was when he was the setup man for Rivera during the Yankees second-half push to the playoffs and the world championship in 2009. His bullpen numbers were even better than Rivera’s numbers that season.
In 2010, he was needed as a starter and he won 18 games. However, after the second half of 2010 it was obvious he was not the same pitcher he was before the All-Star break that season. His year-long struggles with weakness in his right shoulder in 2011 bore that out.
So far in 2012, Hughes has not struggled with velocity. He is back to throwing an average of 92 mph and getting up to 94 and 95 with ease. But he also has been victimized by the longball and he is carrying a 1-4 record with a 7.48 ERA after five starts.
In the past the presence of Robertson, Soriano and Chamberlain made it impossible for Hughes to shift back to the bullpen. But with Soriano and Robertson sharing the eighth and ninth innings and Chamberlain likely out for the season it would seem to make sense to try Hughes in the seventh inning role that Chamberlain, Robertson and lately Soriano have made so vital.
I do understand that once you shift Hughes to that role there is no shifting him back to a starting role. But if Phelps eventually falters you can always give Garcia another try and there also is a number options that can made through trades and signing of free agents.
I have heard Roy Oswalt’s name and I hope that is all I hear about him because he has a chronic back condition that makes him risky. However, the Yankees have a farm system rich enough to be able to make trades to acquire 2013 free-agents-to-be like Matt Cain of the Giants and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has this option in his back pocket through the end of July and he will have plenty of time to evaluate the need for that trade by that time.
The Yankees also are looking at having former Mariners closer David Aardsma to add to the bullpen. He could perhaps also take the seventh inning role if he is healthy. But I think they need to keep Hughes in mind as a potential player in the bullpen because I still believe he can shine there.
For one thing he can shelve his awful secondary pitches like his change-up and concentrate on his fastball, curve and cutter. His velocity should also move up to the 97 mph mark he used to throw and that wll cover for a lot of mistakes in his location he makes as a starter.
We will see how it plays out but the Yankees just need to get Swisher and Gardner back on the field and hopefully Robinson Cano will stop hitting like Luis Sojo in time for the Yankees make a run at the 2012 playoffs.
They may as well try because they are now finding there are much lower expectations on this team now.
With A.J. Burnett just a physical and a commissioner’s approval away from a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the New York Yankees already have agreements to sign Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez.
The Yankees attempted to acquire Pirates outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones, Indians DH/first baseman Travis Hafner and Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu in separate deals for Burnett. However, the Pirate and Indian deals were rejected and Burnett exercised his limited no-trade clause to scuttle the Angel proposal.
So the Yankees accepted two minor leaguers and $13 million from the Pirates for Burnett and they plan to use the money they are saving on the two years and $33 million left on Bunrett’s contract to sign Ibanez and Chavez.
Ibanez, 39, hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011. Ibanez is expected to share the DH duties with outfielder Andruw Jones.
Chavez, 34, hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs with the Yankees last season. Chavez is expected to return to his role from last season as a backup at first and third base.
If Heyman’s report is correct the Yankees have chosen to sign Ibanez instead of former Yankee outfielder Johnny Damon, who said he would a “perfect fit” for the Yankees’ left-handed DH role.
But Yankees general manager Brian Cashman basically told him to peddle his talents elsewhere. Why?
I think I can answer that question by going back to spring training in 2007. The Yankees had come off a crushing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. In that series, Gary Sheffield was benched and Alex Rodriguez was dropped to the No. 8 spot by then-manager Joe Torre. In the offseason, right-handed starter Cory Lidle died when the small plane he was piloting crashed into a building in New York.
Damon left the Yankees for a period of time during the exhibition season in 2007 to go to his home in Orlando, FL, to contemplate retirement. After a few days, Damon returned to the team and he went on to have a subpar season in which he was hobbled by leg injuries. He hit .270 with only 12 home runs and 63 RBIs.
In Torre’s book “The Yankee Years” he said that teammates thought Damon’s play in 2007 showed “a lack of commitment.” Torre even quoted one player as saying “Let’s get rid of him. The guys can’t stand him.”
So when Damon’s contract expired after the 2009 season, they basically allowed Damon to walk as a free agent and they never made an effort to re-sign him. As cover, Cashman cited financial constraints as the reason Damon was not retained. But it seems clear now that the Yankees had no desire to bring Damon back because of the clubhouse turmoil he created.
Those old wounds have obviously not healed in 2012 and thus Damon was never seriously considered by Cashman.
NOT OKIE DOKEY
Left-handed reliever Hideki Okajima failed a physical with the Yankees and he will not report to spring training with the club.
Okajima, 36, signed a minor-league contract with the Yankees in December with an invitation to make the team if he could bounce back after two subpar seasons with the Red Sox.
But WFAN reported this weekend that Okajima was released from his contract and he would not participate in any workouts with the Yankees in Tampa, FL.
Okajima fell out of favor with the Red Sox after seven appearances in 2011 in which he was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings. He spent the rest of the season as Triple-A Pawtucket before being released by the Red Sox despite a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances spanning 51 innings.
The Yankees saw Okajima as a potential lefty specialist for the bullpen to tandem with fellow left-hander Boone Logan, who has been miscast in the role for the past two seasons.
Okajima signed with the Red Sox in 2007 out of Japan. He was 17-8 with six saves and a 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances, holding left-handed hitters to a .218 batting average.
With Okajima out of the picture, the Yankees’ search for a second left-hander will come down to a battle between 23-year-old Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral, who was selected by the Kansas City Royals from the Red Sox and sent to the Yankees for financial considerations in December, and Clay Rapada, who was signed to a minor-league deal this weekend.
Rapada, 30, was released by the Baltimore Orioles this week. Rapada was 2-0 with a 6.06 ERA in 32 appearances for the Orioles last season. He is 5-0 with a 5.13 ERA in 78 major-league appearances with the Orioles, Rangers, Tigers and Cubs.
He has held left-handers to a .153 batting average in his career, including an .090 mark the past two seasons.
Cabral was a combined 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 55 innings with a Class-A Salem and Double-A Portland. If Cabral does not make the major-league roster he will have to be offered back to the Red Sox for $25,000.
PINEDA THE PINATA
Newly acquired right-hander Michael Pineda reported to the Yankees camp 10 pounds overweight and drew the ire of the team’s coaches and front office.
Pineda is listed at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. The former Mariner showed up weighing 270 pounds and even Pineda admitted that he needed to lose 10 pounds during spring training.
Pineda, 23, was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a offensively weak Mariner team in 2011, his rookie season. He was packaged along with 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos in a trade with the Yankees for catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi.
Pineda is being counted upon to join a revamped – and hopefully improved – rotation that already includes ace left-hander CC Sabathia and second-year right-hander Ivan Nova. The Yankees also signed former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.
With the trade of Burnett, right-hander Phil Hughes and right-hander Freddy Garcia will battle for the team’s No. 5 spot in spring training.
Pineda said he felt good after a bullpen session on Friday and that pitching coach Larry Rothschild is already working on a new grip for his change-up. Pineda largely threw just a fastball and slider in his rookie season.
Every spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field those of us in Section 205 would see No. 20 in Yankee pinstripes striding toward the plate. At that point we would train our eyes toward a longtime Yankee fan with full-flowing mustache rise from his seat and yell at the top of his lungs “Hip, Hip” and the surrounding crowd of regulars in the section would reply with a raucous “Jor-ge,” which he and the rest us would repeat two more times before every home at-bat.
It was not just a token cheer stolen from our brethren in the Bronx. No, it was a absolute homage to one of the very best catchers in Yankee history. It was done with love and great admiration.
But it has been a foregone conclusion this winter that the ritual of Section 205 would no longer be carried out in 2012. There was a chance the cheer might have rang out if Jorge Posada chose, at age 40, to continue his career in another uniform. But, alas, that will not happen either.
According to an anonymous source reported by WFAN in New York, Posada has elected not play another game and retire as a Yankee after 17 years and 1,574 games behind the plate. Only Bill Dickey (1,708) and Yogi Berra (1,695) played in more games catching for the Yankees.
In hearing the news, my first reaction is sadness, of course. Posada won five World Series titles and was part of the famous “Core Four” along with Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, which is now down to the “Flair Pair” of Jeter and Rivera.
From 1996 through 2001, the New York Yankees won four world championships and Posada was in the middle of just about every one of them, though he was somewhat overshadowed by Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Jeter, Rivera, manager Joe Torre.
But history speaks for itself and Posada hit .273. He is seventh on the Yankees’ all-time list with 379 doubles and 936 walks, eighth with 279 home runs and 11th with 1,065 RBIs. There is no doubt that Posada, a converted second baseman in the minors, was a major cog in Yankee teams that made the playoffs in every season he played for them except 2008.
Posada was greatly disappointed with his final season.
He came to spring training for the first time as non-factor as a catcher. Russell Martin was signed as the new starter and rookies Jesus Montero and Austin Romine were being groomed as replacements. Posada’s catching gear collected dust as he tried to adapt as the team’s switch-hitting designated hitter.
Unfortunately Posada got off to a slow start, particularly against left-handers and lost that part of his duties early in the season. Then on May 14, Posada spotted his name in the No. 9 spot in the batting order in a game against the Boston Red Sox and pride would not allow him to participate in that game.
By September, Posada was also being phased out of the lineup altogether. However, when he was given chances to play in the final few weeks, Posada began to consistently reach base on hits and walks. On Sept. 21, Posada stroked a two-run game-winning single against the Tampa Bay Rays that clinched the American League East title for the Yankees.
Playing a hunch, manager Joe Girardi used Posada in the A.L. Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and Posada responded by hitting .429 (6 for-14) in the series.
But Posda knew that with his four-year $52 million contract coming to an end in 2011 that he would never play for the Yankees again. If he wanted to continue to play it would have to be in a foreign uniform. Posada even began working out on Nov. 1 in anticipation of some offers to play with other teams.
They came. Posada considered them.
But, in the end, Posada realized perhaps it was time to end his career, a grand career at that, as a New York Yankee.
There are those who claim Posada is not worthy of the Hall of Fame. But when you look at the numbers he compiled, you can make a pretty good case for the gritty veteran from Santurce, Puerto Rico.
Posada’s 246 home runs as a catcher are only second to Berra’s 306 on the club’s all-time list. Of the 13 catchers that are currently in Cooperstown, only Berra has better career numbers in all three categories of batting average, home runs and RBIs.
Those numbers are for those who will vote in five years to chew on. But Posada can make a compelling case for joining that group.
He already joins a great lineage of former Yankee greats at catcher, which includes Berra, Dickey and Thurman Munson. His star may not burn as bright as those three but his star certainly burns bright enough to have his number retired somewhere down the road.
Posada apparently will make his decision final in about two weeks. But it won’t take Yankee fans that long to agree that he was certainly one of the classiest leaders of one of the Yankees’ most successful string of teams in their history.
Yogi will always be No. 1 in Yankee hearts but will we never forget what Jorge did in his 17 seasons with the Yankees.
OK. Section 205. One last time and let’s hear it loud and proud: “Hip, Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge!”