Results tagged ‘ Johnny Damon ’

Ellsbury Signing Buoys Yankees, Weakens Bosox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Philly Homers Drive Late Stake In Yankees’ Hearts

GAME 4

PHILLIES 4, YANKEES 3

Domonic Brown blasted a solo home run with one out in the seventh inning and three batters later Tommy Joseph followed with a two-run shot off right-hander Zach Nuding as Philadelphia rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat New York on Tuesday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Despite the fact he was tagged by a two-run home run from catcher J.R. Murphy in the top of the seventh inning, Zach Miner (1-0) was credited with the victory. Jeremy Horst escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the ninth to earn a save. Nuding (0-1) was charged with the loss.

The Yankees behind s strong start from right-hander Jose Ramirez kept the Philiies scoreless and with only one hit until the sixth inning when Kevin Frandsen stroked a two-out double off Jim Miller to score Jimmy Rollins with their first run and tied the score 1-1.

The Yankees scored in the first inning on a one-out single by Ichiro Suzuki – one of his three hits in the game – and Mark Teixeira followed a Suzuki stolen base with a RBI double to right.

The Yankees are 1-3 on the young Grapefruit League season while the Phillies won their first game after an 0-3 start.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Other than a walk to Ryan Howard in the second inning, Ramirez was perfect in his spring debut. The 23-year-old right-hander was 7-6 with an excellent 3.19 ERA in 18 starts for High-A Tampa last season with 94 strikeouts in 98 2/3 innings. He is worth keeping an eye on in the future because he throws an excellent change-up and slider. Manager Joe Girardi was raving about him after the game.
  • Suzuki’s 3-for-3 afternoon gives him a .667 average in the early spring. He slapped one single to the opposite field in left and two up the middle. He also looked amazingly spry for his 39 years in stealing a base in the first inning to set up Teixeira’s RBI double.
  • Both relievers David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain made their spring debuts and they each threw a scoreless inning. Chamberlain looked especially sharp in striking out the first two batters he faced.
  • Though Austin Romine is trying to make the team and Gary Sanchez is a several years away, Murphy is a minor-league catcher the Yankees believe is being overlooked. He drew some notice for himself on Tuesday by stroking a 400-foot home run to center in the seventh and he added a 400-foot double off the centerfield fence in the ninth. Murphy had a disappointing season in 2012 in hitting a combined .248 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nuding, 23, was obviously a little out of his element on Tuesday. With one out he missed his location on a fastball and Brown made him pay with a mammoth 450-foot blast. Then with two out he gave up a double to Cody Asche and the game-winning homer to Joseph. Nuding was 8-3 with a 3.89 ERA at Tampa last season.
  • Miller, 30, looked shaky in his second outing of the spring. The two-out double by Frandsen followed a walk to Rollins. Miller was 2-1 with  2.89 ERA in 49 2/3 innings in 33 appearances with the Oakland Athletics last season. He is a longshot to make the team but could provide veteran depth at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • The Yankees, once again, had no trouble getting runners on base. They had at least one hit in every inning and ended up with 12 in the game. But they only scored three runs because they did not get a hit that would break the game open. It also did not help they hit into three double plays and committed a batter interference to kill another rally.

BOMBER BANTER

Soon Girardi is going to insist his players stay in hyperbaric chambers after games. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup for precautionary reasons with a sore left oblique. Youkilis, 33, will not require any tests but will re-evaluated in a couple of days. Youkilis said he felt a pain just above his left hip. He thought that it was not serious and said if it were a regular season game he would have been able to play.  . . .  General manager Brian Cashman said the team has no interest in bringing former outfielder Johnny Damon to compete as a potential replacement to the injured Curtis Granderson. Cashman said he no longer sees Damon as a full-time outfielder and he believes that the answer to left-field could be in-house between Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Ronnier Mustelier.  . . .  Phil Hughes, who is recovering from a bulging disk in his upper back, continued his aquatic rehab at the Yankees’ minor-league complex on Tuesday and continues to progress, Girardi said. Hughes is expected to resume throwing in about a week.

ON DECK

The Yankees return back home to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, to face a Baltimore Orioles split squad.

Young left-hander Nik Turley will get the start for the Yankees. Turley, 23, who is compared to Andy Pettitte, was 9-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts between at Tampa. He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Jake Arrieta.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network and on tape delay at 2 a.m. on Thursday by the MLB Network.

 

Yankees Suffer Another Afternoon For The Birds

GAME 3

ORIOLES 5, YANKEES 1

Brian Roberts doubled twice and scored two runs and left-hander Brian Matusz pitched two scoreless innings as Baltimore defeated New York in front of a crowd of 7,335 at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL.

Roberts’ doubles sparked the Orioles to an early 2-0 lead. He stroked a one-out double in the first, advanced to third on a balk and scored on a two-out RBI single from Adam Jones. Roberts slapped another one-out double in the third and scored on an RBI single by Nick Markakis.

Matusz (1-0) gave up two hits to the first two batters he faced but retired the next five to earn the victory. Left-hander Vidal Nuno (0-1) took the loss despite the fact that five of the six batters he retired struck out looking, including Markakis, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Conor Jackson and Manny Machado.

The Yankees’ scored their lone run in the ninth inning on a walk and stolen base by Corban Joseph and an RIBI single by Walter Ibarra. The run broke a string of 19 consecutive scoreless innings for the Yankees.

The Yankees fell to 1-2 in Grapefruit League play while the Orioles are 3-0.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner was 3-for-3 with three singles and second batter Jayson Nix collected two singles in three at-bats. The rest of the Yankees were 3-for-28 (.107). Gardner, who missed virtually all of the 2012 season with a right elbow injury, is hitting .667 in the early going. Nix is hitting .750 in the two games he has played.
  • Though Nuno was touched for Roberts’ double and Jones’ RBI single, he certainly looked impressive in striking out five batters in his two innings of work. Nuno, 24, was signed by the Yankees last winter off the independent Washington Wild roster and he’s been dominating minor-league hitters ever since. At Double-A Trenton Nidal was 9-5 with a 2.45 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 114 innings in 20 starts last season. Since he has learned a change-up he being tabbed as an older version of Manny Banuelos, who will miss the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
  • Josh Spence, a 25-year-old Australian left-hander, was the only Yankee hurler to pitch a perfect 1-2-3 inning and that was in the ninth. The Yankees claimed Spence off waivers from the San Diego Padres in early November after he was 4-2 with a 4.20 ERA 31 games at Triple-A Tucson.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • For the second straight day the Yankees’ offense was pretty much missing in action. If Ibarra had not driven in Joseph in the final frame the Yankees would have been 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position in their last two games.
  • If Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera are seeking to stake a claim to replace Curtis Granderson as the team’s starting left-fielder as he recovers from a broken right forearm they have got to do better than they did on Monday. Diaz was 0-for-3 and stranded six base-runners. He hit into a double play and did not get a ball out the infield. Rivera also was 0-for-3 including a strikeout.
  • Before you get too angry at the Yankees’ pitching staff for giving up five runs just remember that pitchers such as Nuno, Bryan Mitchell, Corey Black, Shane Greene, Ryan Pope, Kelvin Perez and Spence are not battling for roster spots. They are all headed back to the minors. The Orioles, in contrast, threw veterans like Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Pedro Strop and Mark Hendrickson.

BOMBER BANTER

With the Yankees looking to replace Granderson, veteran outfielder Johnny Damon told ESPN Radio’s Michael Kay that he would be interested in returning to the Yankees if he got a call to come to spring training. Damon, 39, said he is willing to fill in for Granderson for the six weeks he will miss, he would play for the minimum salary and would need about three or four weeks to get in shape. Asked about the possibility of bringing Damon to camp, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, “We will focus on what we have at this time.”  . . .  Mariano Rivera threw 32 pitches in a live batting-practice session on Monday, and CC Sabathia threw batting practice to hitters for the first time this spring as the rehabbing hurlers continue prepare for Opening Day.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi said that outfield prospects Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott will not be considered to open the season in New York.  . . .  Yankees outfielder Melky Mesa said that even after Granderson’s injury, he still plans to leave camp to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.  Bench coach Tony Pena will be managing the Dominican squad.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Clrawater, FL, on Tuesday to take on the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hot prospect right-hander Jose Ramirez will draw the start for the Yankees. He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick.

The Yankees will send Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner to play in the game. Relievers Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson are also scheduled to make the spring debuts.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live on the MLB Network.

 

A-Rod’s Injury Clouds Yanks’ 2013 Pennant Hopes

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.

 

Yankees Sweep Tribe But Lose Sabathia, Pettitte

GAME 74

YANKEES 5, INDIANS 4

On a day when fate seemed to be frowning upon the New York Yankees, the team scratched and clawed its way to a late lead and, despite being the verge of handing it back, they held on to win a tough one in the Bronx.

The Yankees began Wednesday’s game knowing they had lost ace left-hander CC Sabathia to the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin and they later found out that starter Andy Pettitte suffered a fractured left ankle after being struck by a hard shot off the bat of Casey Kotchman in the top of the fifth inning.

So a spirited Yankee Stadium crowd of 45,022 was hoping for some good news to brighten the gloom.

Robinson Cano provided some good news in the bottom of the sixth inning when he stroked a two-run, opposite-field home run to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead and Eric Chavez drove in three runs, including a huge insurance run in the eighth inning, as New York held on – barely – in the ninth to complete a three-game sweep of Cleveland.

The Yankees began the sixth inning down 3-2 after the Indians took advantage of Pettitte’s departure to put together back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Astrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis off reliever Clay Rapada.

However, Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez opened the sixth by falling behind Alex Rodriguez 2-0 and Rodriguez blooped a double into the right-field corner. Cano then stroked a 1-2 slider on the outside corner into the left-field bleachers for his 17th home run of the season his seventh homer in his last 10 games.

Freddy Garcia (2-2), who entered the game with two out in the fifth, pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings and struck out two to pick up the victory in relief. David Robertson followed him with a perfect eighth inning in which he fanned a pair also.

Chavez then stepped to the plate in the eighth inning against Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano with two out and Mark Teixeira on second and pinch-runner Dewayne Wise on first after Raul Ibanez singled.

On a 2-2 pitch, Chavez was able to roll a ball through the hole between first and second base into right-field to score Teixeira with what looked to an ordinary insurance run at the time.

However, the Indians refused to lose their season-worst fifth game in a row without a fight and closer Rafael Soriano did not have his best stuff as he sought his 17th save in the ninth.

Pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall slapped a single to right to open the frame and Soriano walked Shin-Soo Choo. After retiring Kotchman on a flyout, Lou Marson singled into left to load the bases.

After Soriano struck out pinch-hitter Johnny Damon. Soriano issued a walk to Michael Brantley to force in a run and the restless natives in the Bronx were fearing the worst.

However, Soriano got Cabrera to hit a routine fly ball to left and Wise let it settle into his glove for final out that gave the Yankees their fifth straight victory and their 15th victory in their last 18 games.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season mark to 46-28 and they extended their lead in the American League East to a full five games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Indians dropped to 37-37.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano’s June home run binge has been amazing. In his last 10 games, Cano is 14-for-36 (.389) with seven home runs and 11 RBIs. His 3-for-4 day also raised his season average to .308 with 18 home runs and 41 RBIs. After an extremely slow start and struggling with runners in scoring position, it appears Cano is back to the dangerous hitter he has always been.
  • Chavez was called upon to play first so Teixeira could rest as the designated hitter and Chavez made manager Joe Girardi look clairvoyant. Chavez was 2-for-3 with a two-run double, an RBI single and a walk. He also played flawlessly in the field. His two-run double in the fourth off Jimenez gave the Yankees their first lead of the game at 2-1.
  • With the injuries to Sabathia and Pettitte, Garcia becomes relevant again as a starter. Fortunately for the Yankees, the 35-year-old right-hander has 147 career major-league victories. In addition, Garcia is throwing with better velocity than he did in spring training and in April as a starter. If he can be as effective as he was last season when he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA the Yankees might not need to make a deal for a pitcher to fill in until Pettitte returns.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The righty-lefty sidewinding combo of Cody Eppley and Rapada did not fare well in the fifth inning in relief of Pettitte. Eppley gave up an infield single and a sac bunt and Rapada came on to get Brantley to hit into a fielder’s choice. But Cabrera and Kipnis struck for a pair of RBI singles to give the lead back to the Tribe. Fortunately, Garcia came in and retired the next seven batters in a row.
  • Jayson Nix was given a start at shortstop to allow Derek Jeter to rest a day after his 38th birthday. But Nix had a rough game. He struck out twice and rolled out weakly to short. Also, in the field, he actually lost Kipnis’ pop fly single in the sun, which gave the Indians the lead. Jeter would have caught it easily.
  • Soriano is not exactly your typical shutdown closer, but his high-wire act on Wednesday was pretty scary. Soriano is 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 17 saves – all excellent numbers. However, in 28 2/3 innings he has given up 30 hits and walked 12 for a WHIP of 1.47. That is a very bad number for a closer.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed Sabathia on the disabled list with what is being listed as a Grade 1 groin strain. He is expected to miss two starts and be able to rejoin the Yankees after the All-Star break.  An MRI on Tuesday indicated a strained abductor muscle in his left leg that Sabathia injured in the fourth inning of his start on Sunday against the Mets at Citi Field. He has not missed a start as a Yankee and he has not missed any starts since 2006. The Yankees announced that right-hander Adam Warren will be recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he will start in Sabathia’s place on Friday against the Chicago White Sox.  . . .  Pettitte had his injured left ankle placed in a protective boot and he is expected to miss at least six weeks. Pettitte held a 2-1 lead and he had given up one unearned run on three hits and one walk and he struck out seven in four-plus innings when he had to leave the game. Garcia is expected to fill in for Pettitte as a starter until he returns.

ON DECK

The Yankees will open a four-game home weekend series with the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (9-2, 4.25 ERA) will begin the series on the mound for the Yankees. Nova allowed three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings on Saturday against the Mets. Nova got a no-decision, which snapped his streak of five straight victories, but the Yankees won the game. Nova is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his three starts against the White Sox.

The White Sox will counter with right-hander Dylan Axelrod (0-1, 4.85 ERA). Axelrod allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in his first start replacing the injured Phillip Humber. Axelrod has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Tribe Gets Their ‘Phil’ Of Red-Hot Hughes, Yankees

GAME 73

YANKEES 6, INDIANS 4

In his last outing, Phil Hughes gave up six runs on four home runs in 4 1/3 innings to become the first Yankee starter to fail to pitch at least innings in June. He made up for that poor showing in spades on Tuesday in the Bronx.

Hughes scattered six hits and blanked Cleveland over eight innings to win his fourth game in his last five starts as New York pummeled the Indians for the second straight night to maintain the best record in the major leagues.

Hughes (8-6) was in complete command throughout, walking one and striking out four, mixing an effective curveball with his 94-mile-per-hour fastball to keep the Indians off the board. In the last two nights, Hiroki Kuroda and Hughes have given up just one run on 11 hits and three walks and struck out 11 in 15 innings.

At the same time, the Yankees managed to strike early against Indians right-hander Justin Masterson, using two weapons the Yankees have been terrible at this season: two-out hits and hitting with runners in scoring position.

Masterson had Nick Swisher on first on a fielder’s choice with two out in the second inning when Dewayne Wise singled to right-field to advance Swisher to third. Chris Stewart, starting his third straight game behind the plate, followed with a soft liner that bounced off the glove of Jack Hannahan and rolled behind him into foul territory.

Swisher scored and Indians manager Manny Acta argued that the ball appeared to be foul when Hannahan touched it. However, replays on MY9 showed third-base umpire Mike DiMuro had made the correct call of a fair ball.

Derek Jeter, celebrating his 38th birthday, then hit a hard ground ball off the leg of Masterson for an infield single that loaded the bases.

Curtis Granderson capped the inning with an opposite-field two-run single to left and the Yankees had another early lead on the Tribe at 3-0.

The Yankees tacked on single runs in the fifth, the seventh and the eighth innings to extend their margin to 6-0.

Mark Teixiera’s sacrifice fly in the fifth scored Granderson, who had walked to leadoff the inning. Alex Rodriguez smacked a long line-drive home run – his 13th of the season – into the second deck in left-field in the seventh off reliever Tony Sipp. In the eighth, Stewart, who entered the game with only seven RBIs all season, knocked his second run of the night with a sacrifice fly of his own.

Masterson (4-7) was tagged with the loss, giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks and he struck out two in six innings of work.

The Indians, meanwhile, took out their two nights of frustration on Yankees right-hander Cory Wade in the bottom of the ninth. With two out and Jason Kipnis on third, Johnny Damon looped a dying quail single just in front of Granderson in center to end Hughes’ shutout. After a Casey Kotchman single, Jose Lopez, who was only in the game because Hannahan was ejected in the 8th inning by DiMuro, blasted a three-run home run.

Manager Joe Girardi then brought in closer Rafael Soriano to retire Lonnie Chisenhall on an infield grounder after just two pitches and earn his 16th save of the season.

The Yankees improved their season record to 45-28 and they have now won 14 of their last 17 games. They also increased their lead in the American League East to four games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Indians have lost four straight games and are 37-36.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes pretty much proved that his June 20 start against the Braves was an aberration from the positive work he has been doing since he was 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA on May 5. Since then Hughes is 7-2 with a 3.44 ERA. He finished June with a 4-1 mark and a 2.97 ERA.
  • Russell Martin’s pain was Stewart’s gain on Tuesday. Stewart’s two-out single scored the first run and he drove in the Yankees’ last tally of the night with a sac fly. Stewart was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and he is hitting a respectable .258 on the season as the backup catcher. That is not too bad.
  • Granderson’s two-run single set the tone for the rest of the night because Hughes was in such total command the Indians seem demoralized after the lead got to be 3-0. Granderson has been struggling at the plate over his last nine games. He was 5-for-35 (.143) with one home run and two RBIs entering play Tuesday. In 13 of those at-bats, Granderson had struck out.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The only downer on the night was the shoddy relief effort from Wade. He was tagged four four runs on four hits and his ERA shot up from 3.34 to 4.45. But Wade has been struggling a lot lately. In his last five appearances, Wade has given up seven runs on 10 hits and two walks over just three innings. His ERA on June 11 was 2.63. With former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma expected to be ready to come off the disabled list just after the All-Star break, Wade best clean up his act soon.

BOMBER BANTER

DiMuro had an interesting night as the third-base umpire. After correctly ruling Stewart’s soft liner a hit, Wise went leaping into the stands behind third base to catch a foul pop off the bat of Hannahan in the seventh inning. The ball hit into his glove but rolled out as he fell into the first row. A fan a few seats down held up the ball. However, Hannahan was ruled out by DiMuro. The umpire owned up the mistake after the game, but he was not pleased when Hannahan told him the replays showed he blew the call. DiMuro immediately ejected Hannahan before the start of the bottom of the eighth inning.  . . .  Martin took batting practice for the first time since suffering stiffness in his lower back. But Girardi chose to give him another day of rest so he can receive further treatment. Martin said he hopes to be able to play on Wednesday.

COMMENTARY

Because MY9 was broadcasting the game locally in New York, I was forced to listen to the Indians broadcast of Tuesday’s game and I was not happy with what I heard.

The play-by-play man Matt Underwood and color man Rick Manning are naturally looking at the game from the Indians’ perspective. But I do not understand why these broadcast teams have to openly root for their team on the air.

In the top of the third inning, the Indians were trailing 3-0 and they managed to start the inning with back-to-back hits from Hannahan and Chisenhall. As Shin-Soo Choo stepped to the plate, Manning says, “Come on, hit one out and tie it up.”

I know the team is in the midst of fight for the Central Division and they have been slumping at the plate and losing a lot. But do you have to go to the trouble of donning saddle shoes and shaking pom-poms to blatantly wish the Indians to win instead of just calling what happens like most professional broadcast teams do?

In the second inning, Manning and Underwood were throwing daggers at DiMuro for calling Stewart’s soft liner a fair ball. Manning looked at one inconclusive replay and said, “That ball was definitely a foul ball.” The next half-inning Underwood sheepishly admitted that after looking at the “down-the-line” shot the Yankee broadcasters showed him it appeared that DiMuro got the call right. Oops.

Of course, Manning never apologized. He said squat.

Then in the seventh inning when DiMuro did make a mistake on Wise’s play, Manning pounced. They showed the replay several times and complained about DiMuro. Heck, the fact the Indians were flailing at Hughes’ pitches and looking like a high school baseball team doing it had nothing to do with it. It was all DiMuro’s fault.

Manning got in one last dig in the ninth when Rodriguez caught a foul pop navigating the tarp near the stands. Manning said: “Well, we know that if it hits leather it is out tonight.”

In the second inning, after DiMuro’s call, Underwood said “Well, you know other teams who come here say it is impossible to get a call in this stadium.”

I am sick of broadcasters making these types of comments because they not only are stupid, baseless and unprofessional, they also foster the hostility the Yankees receive in visiting ballparks.

Just face it, the Yankees are just a good baseball team. They play the game right and they do respect their opponents. Jeter is the perfect ambassador for the way the Yankees approach the game and the team follows his lead.

So finding scapegoats for why their team loses is just what a Bush League broadcaster would do. The real culprit for the losses is in the mirror when the Indians look at themselves. It is not the umpire, the fans or some weird karma at the stadium. If the Indians stink it is because they stink.

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for their fifth straight victory and a sweep of the Indians on Wednesday.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-3, 3.29 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Pettitte suffered through a five-run first inning and lost in his last start against the the New York Mets on Friday. He is 5-4 with a 3.97 ERA in the last 10 seasons against the Indians.

The Indians will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7-5, 4.59). Jimenez gave up four hits and four walks and struck out eight in holding the Houston Astros scoreless over 6 2/3 innings in his last start. He is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA against the Yankees lifetime.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

 

Laird’s Walk-Off Sac Fly In 10th Boosts Yankees

GAME 15

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 3 (10 Innings)

TAMPA – When you have a team struggling to get on base and score runs it is never too late push a run across – even if it is the 10th inning.

Brandon Laird lofted a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning to score Justin Maxwell with the game-winning run as New York swept it two-game home-and-away set with Washington at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday.

The Yankees, very much like Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” depended greatly on “the kindness of strangers.”

Nationals right-hander Atahualpa Severino started his stint in the 10th by walking Maxwell. Pinch-hitter Melky Mesa followed by hitting a routine grounder that was misplayed by Nationals third baseman Mark Teahen, allowing Maxwell to advance to third. One out later, Laird launched a fly ball to right field that plated Maxwell with the deciding tally.

Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0) pitched a scoreless top of the 10th to gain credit for the victory. Severino (0-1) took the loss.

The game featured a matchup of lefties in CC Sabathia for the Yankees and newly acquired Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals. However, Sabathia struggled with his command and he left after just three innings on the south end of a 3-1 deficit.

Sabathia gave up three runs on six hits and a walk while he fanned two. Gonzalez gave up a run on three hits and three walks and struck out six in 3 1/3 innings.

The Yankees managed to tie the game in the fifth inning off reliever Craig Stammen on a leadoff single by Doug Bernier and a two-out, two-run home run to deep left by Alex Rodriguez, his first home run this spring since he homered on the first pitch he saw by Roy Halladay of the Phillies on March 3.

With the victory the Yankees improved their spring record to 7-8. The Nationals fell to 5-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With the battle of lefties going on most of the buzz in the sellout crowd of 10,982 was about another left-hander entirely. The news 39-year-old Andy Pettitte had elected to come out of retirement and sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract with the Yankees spread like wildfire through the Yankee faithful on hand. I would consider adding a pitcher to your roster who has 240 major-league victories (203 of them with the Yankees) has got to be considered a positive development.
  • Though the Yankee regulars struck out so much they could have put out a wildfire, it was nice to see Rodriguez connect for a huge two-run home run in the fifth inning. The Yankees, if you can believe this, have only hit a total of five home runs in the first 15 games this spring. Hopefully, this may signal an end to the power outage.
  • Though Sabathia struggled, Phil Hughes turned in a very sharp four innings of work in relief. Hughes, who is still competing with a group of pitchers that now will include Pettitte for a starting spot, held the Nationals scoreless on three hits, did not walk a batter and he struck three. Hughes is showing no signs of the right shoulder fatigue that plagued him last season.
  • Robinson Cano doubled to the opposite field in the first inning off Gonzalez to score Curtis Granderson from first base to draw the Yankees to within a run at 2-1. Cano is off to a very slow start this spring and is hitting .190.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia admitted after the game his fastball was “all over the place” and it cost him early. The Nationals loaded the bases to start the game on a double, single and a walk. They pushed across a run on a double-play grounder off the bat of Wilson Ramos. But they added a second run in the same frame on an RBI double by Jesus Flores. Steve Lombardozzi then touched Sabathia with a leadoff home run in the third inning to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
  • Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. The Yankees struck out 14 times in the game. Raul Ibanez, Francisco Cervelli and Bill Hall fanned two times each. Considering the fact that the Yankees won the game after collecting just five hits in the game you would have to say they were lucky to have won at all. The pitching of Hughes was the big key. The question is when are the Yankees going to wake up and start hitting?
  • Ibanez was 0-for-2 with a walk and fanned twice and he is now hitting .077. Yankee fans are getting a bit impatient with Ibanez considering he is replacing retired Yankee icon Jorge Posada at designated hitter and because the Yankees chose to sign him instead of a pair of former popular Yankees in Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

BOMBER BANTER

Injuries have cropped up all over the place and it is now an epidemic in Yankee camp. Derek Jeter missed the game Friday and will not play again until Tuesday due to a tender left calf. The Yankees were quick to point out that they do not consider the injury serious and that is not the same calf that forced Jeter to the disabled list for three weeks last season.  . . .  Meanwhile, Nick Swisher and Russell Martin were held out of action with strained left groins. Swisher could return to the lineup on Saturday but Martin will be shelved for a couple of days.  . . .  Those walking wounded join the ranks of Eduardo Nunez (bruised right hand), Ramiro Pena (sprained right ankle) and David Robertson (bone bruise of right foot) who are also out of action.  . . .  The Yankees made their first cuts of the spring on Friday, re-assigning 14 players to minor-league camp, including top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. Banuelos was among seven pitchers sent out. The others were Dan Burawa, Brett Marshall, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner and Whitley. The other cuts included catchers Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy and Kyle Higashioka, infielders David Adams and Corban Joseph and outfielders Zoilo Almonte and Mesa.

ON DECK

The Yankees will host the Houston Astros for the second time this spring on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Scheduled to start for the Yankees will be 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who will be making his third start of the spring. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA and he was displeased with his last start.

The Astros are expected to start right-hander Bud Norris.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Orioles Seem To Have Stranglehold On 5th Place

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.

But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.

This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.

STARTERS

One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.

The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.

The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.

Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.

Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.

Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.

The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.

BULLPEN

The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.

The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.

The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.

STARTING LINEUP

A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.

Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.

With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.

The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.

Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.

The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.

They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.

BENCH

Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.

The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.

ANALYSIS

With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.

The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.

The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.

Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.

Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.

It is a spot for which they are built.

ON TUESDAY – PART 2  TORONTO BLUE JAYS

 

Yankees Ready To Bring Ibanez, Chavez Into Fold

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.

 

Yankees Finally Part Ways With Good And Bad A.J.

When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from a resigned Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974 he told the American people in a nationally televised address that “our long national nightmare is over.”

Well, on Feb. 17, 2012 I am hear to tell Yankee Universe that our own “national nightmare” is indeed over.

The New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates have tentatively reached agreement on a deal that would send enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for two minor leaguers and $13 million in cash.

The deal has not been officially announced and it still would require the approval of Commissioner Bud Selig because of the amount of cash involved. But the fact that the Pirates have released the names of the two players the Yankees are acquiring in the deal is proof that the negotiations are down to one last detail: The payment schedule on the $13 million the Pirates will pay the Yankees.

Burnett is in the fourth year of a five-year, $82 million contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have insisted in their trade talks with the Pirates that they would have to assume some of the roughly $33 million still owed Burnett over the next two seasons.

In addition to the $13 million the Pirates have agreed to pay, the Yankees will receive 25-year-old right-handed reliever Diego Moreno and 20-year-old outfielder Exicardo Cayones. Both players are natives of Venezuela.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Moreno is entering his sixth season in the minors and was a combined 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 41 games with Class-A Bradenton in the Florida State League and Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Cayones is entering his fourth minor-league season and hit a combined .228 with no home runs and 12 RBIs between the Pirates’ Class A Gulf League team and Class-A State College in the New York-Penn League.

Neither Moreno or Cayones are listed among the Pirates’ Top 20 prospects rated by MLB. com.

The main reason the Yankees are unloading Burnett without much in return is because he has been a disappointment during his three years in pinstripes and huge salary is a albatross around the Yankees’ necks. Burnett was a combined 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in stint with the Yankees. His average of 3.98 walks per nine innings was second in the American League and fifth in the major leagues, according to STATS, LLC.

Burnett also became expendable when the Yankees traded catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos. The Yankees then added to their rotation by signing former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.

That left Burnett, 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia left to compete for the No. 5 spot in a Yankee rotation that already boasted ace left-hander CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, who was 16-7 in his rookie season,

The Yankees were basically seeking some salary relief from the Pirates in order to sign a designated hitter and a backup infielder for the 2012 season.

The Yankees seem to be most interested in 39-year-old left-hand-hitting outfielder Raul Ibanez to pair with 34-year-old right-hand-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones in a platoon at designated hitter. Ibanez, a free agent, has told the Yankees he would willing to sign a contract for less money in order to play with a playoff contender.

Ibanez hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Phillies last season but he hit only .211 against left-handers. He hit .256 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs against right-handers.

If the Yankees fail to sign Ibanez they have two left-handed-hitting options at DH in former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who are also free agents.

The Yankees also would like to re-sign 34-year-old backup corner infielder Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.

Once the deal for Burnett is complete and approved by the commissioner, the Yankees expect to act quickly to sign Chavez and one of the free agent DHs.

As for Burnett, the Yankee front office, teammates and fans alike will shake their heads on how a pitcher with such unhittable stuff could pitch so poorly for such a good offensive team like the Yankees.

When he was signed, Burnett was looked upon as the No. 2 starter behind fellow free agent Sabathia for the next five years. They both delivered a world championship in 2009 when Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA.

But Burnett will be best remembered for rescuing the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies after Cliff Lee had bested Sabathia in Game 1. Burnett threw a spectacular seven innings and evened the series the Yankees eventually won in six games.

Unfortunately is was mostly downhill from there. Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. In 2011, the Yankees hired pitching coach Larry Rothschild largely on the basis of his proposed fixes to help Burnett get back on track. However, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 after Rothschild tinkered with his delivery.

Burnett also was embroiled in some odd incidents. He cut his finger on his pitching hand angrily trying to open a clubhouse door. He arrived for a start in 2010 sporting a black eye that he refused to explain. He also had an clubhouse run-in with Joe Girardi after he left a start in Minnesota last August.

Burnett also had to deal with a loss in velocity on his fastball, which had made him more hittable.

With the Pirates, Burnett likely will become a co-ace with free-agent left-hander Eric Bedard in a rotation that also includes Kevin Correia, James McDonald and former Yankee Jeff Karstens. The Pirates’ right-hander Charlie Morton is recovering from left hip surgery and he is not expected to be able to pitch when the season starts.

In Pittsburgh, Burnett will face less pressure to win and less expectations to succeed than he did with the Yankees.

Though the Yankees and their fans will forever miss “Good A.J.” and his post-game celebratory pies in the face in walk-off victories, those same people will not miss the inevitable unraveling of “Bad A.J.” on the mound.

Speaking for Yankee fans, thanks A.J. for 2009 and good luck in trying to get back on track in the National League.

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