Results tagged ‘ Jose Reyes ’

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

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

If you don’t you lose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

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

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

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

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

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

Now that is some reclamation project.

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

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

 

 

Yankees Will Prevail In 2013′s ‘Game Of Thrones’

The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.

REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES

If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.

The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.

The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.

A DOMINANT KING

Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.

But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.

THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL

The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.

They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.

The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.

But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.

One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.

Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.

Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.

That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.

The offense has its own issues.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.

There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.

So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.

THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE

The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.

Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.

They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.

Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.

Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.

Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”

The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.

The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.

Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.

DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY

The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.

They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.

One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.

They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.

The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.

Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.

Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.

The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.

They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.

They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.

The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.

The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.

The gold remains in the Bronx.

THE STARKS OF BOSTON

In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.

That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.

Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.

They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.

They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.

The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.

Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!

It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.

There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.

Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.

THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING

The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.

It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,

Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.

So why should 2013 be any different?

The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.

Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.

They may even finish last.

STARK REALITY

But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.

But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.

The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.

You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.

They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.

The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.

The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.

Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.

The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.

It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.

Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.

That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.

They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. YANKEES
  2. BLUE JAYS
  3. RAYS
  4. ORIOLES
  5. RED SOX

For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven. 

 

Yankees Let Marlins Off Hook With Easy Victory

GAME 13

MARLINS 6, YANKEES 1

Manager Joe Girardi needs to make an emergency call to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission because on the Yankees’ road trip to Jupiter, FL, they were overrun by some extremely pesky fish and birds.

On Thursday they lost 7-6 to the St. Louis Cardinals and on Friday they fell meekly to the Miami Marlins.

Matt Downs and Adeiny Hechavarria each drove in a pair of runs and Nathan Eovaldi and four Marlins relievers held the Yankees to just one run as Miami easily defeated New York at Roger Dean Stadium.

Eovaldi (2-0) gave up four hits, walked three and hit a batter in his four innings of work but the Yankees were only able to push across a single run against the right-hander. Adam Warren (0-1) gave up four runs on six hits and a walk in four innings to take the loss.

The Yankees scored their lone run in the fourth on a two-out single by Melky Mesa and an RBI double off the wall in left-center by Thomas Neal.

The Yankees fell to 3-10 on the spring  The Marlins improved to 5-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees who were on this road trip  -  minus the players who are injured or who are playing in the World Baseball Classic  -  got in their exercise for the day and nary a one got injured in the game.
  • Mesa had two of the Yankees’ five hits and scored the team’s only run. In going 2-for-4, Mesa raised his spring average to .261 and he leads the team in home runs this spring with two and he is tied with J.R. Murphy for the team lead in RBIs with four.
  • Branden Pinder pitched a scoreless fifth inning and he was the only Yankee pitcher to record a 1-2-3 inning. The 24-year-old right-hander pitched mostly at High-A Tampa last season and was 2-6 with a 2.79 ERA. He likely will be assigned to Double-A Trenton in 2013 but he bears watching this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nobody with the Yankees will tell you this but I will: Warren is a complete waste of time as a starting pitching prospect. The 25-year-old right-hander is not a strikeout pitcher and he has to rely on trickery to get outs. The Marlins on Friday were able to exploit that and it is the main reason he gave up four runs in four innings.
  • Brett Gardner was the recipient of Thursday’s Rip Van Winkle Award for getting picked off first base by Cardinals starter Joe Kelly. Friday’s recipient is Eduard Nunez, who got nailed by Eovaldi leaning too far off first after a leadoff walk. With hits and runs hard to come by this spring it is aggravating when runners get picked off.
  • Kevin Youkilis was 0-for-3 on Friday and is still looking for his first hit with the Yankees. With Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira both out until mid-May the Yankees will be leaning on Youkilis and Travis Hafter to help produce runs. But they are a combined 2-for-19 (.105) with one RBI.

BOMBER BANTER

Most of the buzz around spring camp in Tampa, FL, is about the news conference scheduled for 10 a.m. in which future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera is expected to announce that the 2013 season will be his last. Rivera, for his part, has been ducking reporters questions about it.  . . .  Rivera, 43, is scheduled to make his 2013 spring debut on Saturday. Rivera is rehabbing from surgery on his right knee, which cut short his 2012 season in early May.  . . .  Left-hander Andy Pettitte pitched a simulated game on Friday in Tampa and he could make his first spring start as soon as Wednesday.  . . .  Reliever David Robertson, who has been shelved for a few days with right shoulder discomfort has been cleared to resume throwing.  . . . Shortstop Derek Jeter returned to camp after visiting the physician who performed surgery on his fractured left ankle in Charlotte, N.C., and he could be making his spring training debut soon. The most likely date could be a home game on Monday against the Cardinals.

COMMENTARY

During Friday’s game Miami Marlins radio broadcasters Dave Van Horne and Glenn Geffner were poking fun at the Yankees’ injury woes this spring. At one point, Geffner said it was like “Who’s on first, What’s on second and I Don’t Know was at third.” Very clever, Glenn. You get some star stickers to place on your Jose Reyes lunchbox. I would think after the Marlins front office decided to ship just about every able-bodied player they had on last season’s roster to other teams I would not be taking shots at the misfortunes of other teams. Considering that the Marlins will be starting such household names as Rob Brantly behind the plate, Donovan Solano at second, Hechavarria at short and Justin Ruggiano in center, I would stick to just reporting on the Marlins and not worrying about a team in another league. Especially a team that is out of your in league in talent. I would say there are more “Who’s and What’s” on the Marlins roster than the Yankees. So just shut up, OK?

ON DECK

The Yankees return George M. Steinbrenner Field to play host to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

Jose Ramirez, who is 1-0 with 0.00 ERA in his first two outings this spring, will start for the Yankees. The Braves will counter with left-hander Mike Minor.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Cano Helps Lead Dominicans Past Ailing Yankees

EXHIBITION GAME

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 8, YANKEES 2

The Yankees got a glimpse of what life might be with Robinson Cano in another uniform on Wednesday and they did like what they saw.

Cano slashed an RBI single to rightfield to score Jose Reyes in the fifth inning and the Dominican Republic went on to roll past New York in an exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Cano was not the only Yankee to hurt his team. Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-0), who was loaned to the Dominican Republic because they were short on pitchers, tossed four innings of no-hit, no-run baseball to get credit for the victory. Reliever Codty Eppley took the loss.

The Yankees were held hitless in the game until the bottom of the seventh, when Zoilo Almonte followed a walk by Atahualpa Severino to Dan Johnson with a line-drive into the right-field bleachers for his second home run of the spring.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hiroki Kuroda started his second game of the spring and pitched sensational. Kuroda gave up no runs on two hits and no walks while striking out four in his three innings of work. Kuroda threw 44 pitches and 30 were strikes for a percentage of 68 percent. Kuroda basically got ahead of the hitters and finished them off with his split-finger fastball.
  • Almonte, 23, is making as big an impression this spring as he did last spring. He is batting .500 and the switch-hitting outfielder has two home runs and four RBIs. Though it is unlikely he will be allowed to make the jump past Triple-A to the big-league roster, he could become a factor next season.
  • During the course of the game no Yankee starters were injured. Of course, the lineup the Yankees featured had only four potential starters in Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Francisco Cervelli and Juan Rivera. The funny thing is the only starter who was with the team last season was reserve infielder Jayson Nix. Eduardo Nunez and Cervelli played most of the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Either the pitchers the Yankees are facing are so good that they can’t get hits off them or the hitters are so bad they couldn’t hit anyone. In the last two days the Yankees have scored two runs on seven hits. I am beginning to lean toward the latter explanation.
  • Yankee third basemen continue to field the position like butchers. Johnson came in the game as a replacement in the sixth inning and made two errors. That means third basemen have now committed 13 of the 21 errors the Yankees have been charged with in 12 games. Ouch!
  • Relievers Eppley, Clay Rapada and Jim Miller combined to give up five runs on six hits and six WALKS in just 2 2/3 innings and they were the reason the game turned into a rout. Of course, specialists like Eppley are Rapada are more exposed in their spring outings because Eppley is pitching to more lefties than he normally would and Rapada faces more righties than he would during the season.

BOMBER BANTER

If you are die-hard Yankee fan and you are fed up with the bad news concerning the injuries the team is suffering please do not read any further. Mark Teixeira has strained tendon in his right wrist and he will miss eight to 10 weeks. Teixeira was examined in New York by team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad and hand specialist Dr. Melvin Rosenwasser. Teixeira has been advised to rest his wrist completely for four weeks. Teixiera suffered the injury on Tuesday in Arizona preparing for a World Baseball Classic exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox. The Gold Glove first baseman felt a “pop” in his wrist while taking batting practice. He will be unable to play for Team USA in the WBC and now faces the prospect of missing the first seven weeks of the regular season.  . . .  Reliever David Robertson had to be scratched from a scheduled appearance on Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves because of soreness in his right shoulder. Robertson attributed the problem to sleeping awkwardly on the shoulder the night before and he listed as day-to-day.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take to the road on Thursday for a game in Jupiter, FL, against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Right-hander Ivan Nova will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. He will be opposed by right-hander Joe Kelly.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will not be telecast but will be available live on WCBS and MLB Radio.

 

‘Homeboy’ A-Rod Boosts Yankees Over Marlins

GAME 31

YANKEES 5, MARLINS 2

When Alex Rodriguez was a teenager in Miami he dreamed of replacing Dan Mario as the starting quarterback of the Dolphins and having his friends watch him in the Orange Bowl. Years later, friends and family watched as he starred for the Yankees in a baseball game against the hometown Marlins in their new park.

Rodriguez drove in three runs and his two-run double in the fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie as New York registered its second victory of a two-game series against Miami in a Grapefruit League exhibition game on Monday at Marlins Park.

Rodriguez followed a bases-loaded walk to Robinson Cano by Marlins starter Carlos Zambrano in the third inning with a sacrifice fly to left that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. After the Marlins tied it up the fourth inning, Rodriguez chased Zambrano with a double off the center-field wall in the fifth to score Curtis Granderson and Cano.

The Yankees opted not to obtain Zambrano in a trade with the Cubs last season and Yankee fans saw the reason why. Zambrano (0-3) gave up five runs on four hits and a mind-numbing seven walks in four-plus innings. The Marlins’ No. 4 starter ended his spring with a 6.23 ERA.

Meanwhile, the Yankees got good efforts out of No. 2 starter Hiroki Kuroda and No. 3 starter Phil Hughes.

Kuroda gave up one run on three hits and one walk while striking out two in his three innings of work. Hughes scattered five hits, walked one and struck out four in his four scoreless innings of relief.

Rafael Soriano (1-0) pitched a scoreless one-third of an inning to get credit for the victory. David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth with two strikeouts to collect a save.

With the victory, the Yankees are now 17-11 this spring and they are 12-3 with three ties since March 14. The Marlins end up with a 11-14 spring record.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It is always good to see Rodriguez driving in runs from the cleanup spot. That is something the team sorely missed last season when he played in only 99 games due to an assortment of injuries. With his three RBIs on Monday, Rodriguez is second on the team with 14 RBIs this spring. Cano’s bases-loaded walk gave him one more at 15.
  • Kuroda looked sharp in his tuneup for his game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. Kuroda gave up a leadoff double in the first inning to Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez scored him one out later with a single to left. He shut down the Marlins over his next two innings. He ends the spring with a 2.92 ERA.
  • It appears that the Yankees have the 2010 version of Hughes healthy and ready to start the season. Hughes was 18-8 in 2010 but right shoulder weakness ruined his 2011 season. Hughes lost weight in the winter and compiled a 1.92 ERA this spring to earn the No. 3 spot in the rotation. Amid all the hoopla over Kuroda, Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte coming back, Hughes just went about his business and he looks primed for a good 2012 season.
  • The Yankees were very lucky that the right foot injury to Robertson was just a bruise. He looked dominant in his one inning of work and he will join Soriano and Mariano Rivera to form a back end of the bullpen that can be called “The Bermuda Triangle” of runs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Raul Ibanez entered the game riding a torrid hot streak over the past week where he has hit three home runs. However, he was 0-for-4, including a strikeout and grounding into an inning-ending double play. His average dropped to .155 but manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees are still very proud of the way Ibanez handled the adversity of his slump this spring.
  • Sloppy play cost the Yankees a run in the fourth. Logan Morrison doubled to lead off the frame against Boone Logan and Gaby Sanchez singled to right, which would have advanced Morrison to third. However, Nick Swisher overran the ball and Morrison was able to score on the play.
  • Though the Yankees did score five runs and win the game, their offense did not really take full advantage of the nine walks they received from the Marlins. They were 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position and Mark Teixeira, Swisher and Ibanez combined to leave a total of eight runners on base.

BOMBER BANTER

With the starting rotation set, Girardi has to make only two decisions for the bullpen. One is whether to keep Clay Rapada, 30, as a second lefty with Logan. The elbow injury to Cesar Cabral pretty much cleared the way for Rapada to make the team. The other decision is with Micahel Pineda on the disabled list, who among David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell or Adam Warren will make the team as a long reliever  -  a role Hector Noesi filled last season.  . . .  Outfielder Justin Maxwell, 28, has had an exceptional spring, hitting .317 with five doubles and 11 RBIs. But the Yankees have no room on the roster for him and he is out of options to the minors. So the Yankees might look to trade him.  . . .  After saying Pettitte would not pitch in a spring exhibition game on Sunday, Girardi said on Monday that Pettitte could pitch an inning of a game on Wednesday. If he does not, Pettitte instead will pitch in a minor-league game on Thursday.

ON DECK

The Yankee regulars are on their way back home to Tampa, FL. The reserves, non-roster players and minor-league rookies are headed to Port Sr. Lucie, FL., for an exhibition game against the New York Mets on Tuesday. This will be the teams’ first spring meeting since 1998.

No. 4 starter Ivan Nova is scheduled to get the ball for the Yankees. Right-hander Mike Pelfrey and left-hander Jonathan Niese are scheduled to pitch for the Mets.

Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Getting Closer To Signing New DH

Here are some news and notes updates on the Yankees:

  • Buster Olney of ESPN reports the Yankees are within a week of signing a left-handed hitting veteran to be the team’s primary designated hitter in 2012. The choices have narrowed to Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Raul Ibanez. The Yankees are familiar with Matsui and Damon. Both of them were integral to the team’s 2009 championship season. Ibanez, 39, has apparently told the Yankees he would take less money in order to play for them in 2012. But there are also indications that the prices the players are seeking must come down before the Yankees are ready to make a deal. The Yankees’ one-year, $10 million contract offer to Hiroki Kuroda and the $4-plus million offered in a one-year deal to Freddy Garcia (which in retrospect was a mistake) have limited what the Yankees can spend on a DH to replace the bat of Jesus Montero, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda.
  • Newsday reported that the Yankees signed a minor-league deal with veteran utility man Bill Hall, who played for the Houston Astros and the San Francisco Giants last season. Hall, 32, hit a combined .211 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 62 games with both teams. Hall’s main calling card is his versatility. He can play second, shortstop and third base and all three outfield spots. With the Yankees’ signing of Hall they will not have the roster space to re-sign Eric Chavez, who was an infield backup with the Yankees last season. Chavez, 34, hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.
  • As expected, MLB.com ranked lefty starter Manny Banuelos and right-hander Dellin Betances as the top two prospects in the organization. Banuelos, 20, started 20 games at Double-A Trenton and seven games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was a combined 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA with a 125 strikeouts and 75 walks in 129 2/3 innings. The Yankees marvel at his fastball, curve and change-up arsenal but he needs another full season in the minors to harness his control. Betances, 23, made 21 starts at Trenton and four starts at Scranton and was a combined 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA and 142 K’s and 70 walks in 126 1/3 innings. Betances has much better velocity on his fastball than Banuelos and he has a good power curve. However, Betances’ change-up needs work and he also will have to throw more strikes in 2012. The Yankees’ No. 3 prospect is 19-year-old Gary Sanchez, who now replaces Montero as the team’s catcher of the future. Sanchez hit .256 with 16 doubles, 17 home runs and 52 RBIs in 82 games in the Sally League. Scouts project he will hit for better power and average and he already possesses top-flight defensive skills.
  • Also of note in the rankings: Jose Campos, who was acquired in the trade that brought Pineda from Seattle in exchange for Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi, was ranked fifth behind outfielder Mason Williams. Campos, 19, led the Northwest League in strikeouts and ERA. He was 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA and 85 K’s in 81 1/3 innings. The right-hander will be making his first appearance in a full-season league in 2012 and he could progress quickly on the basis of his 95-mile-per-hour fastball and an excellent curve.
  • A day after prosecutors brought extortion and stalking charges against a woman centered around an extramarital affair, the wife of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman filed for divorce. Mary Cashman filed the paperwork in a court in Stamford, CT, on Friday. Neither party would comment publicly. Last Thursday, Manhattan prosecutors charged 36-year-old Louise Neathway with harassing Cashman and threatening to harm his reputation if Cashman did not pay her $30,000. A source close to the family said the Cashmans have been living apart for the past year. This leads me to two observations: No. 1, it is gratifying to know that Cashman has been able to function well as a G.M. during all this personal upheaval. He has done a fine job of improving the Yankees, particularly the starting pitching. No. 2, if you took out the name Cashman and substituted the name Alex Rodriguez in the story than it would have been reported on the Yankees.com website. But because it was someone in the front office, it was not mentioned at all. That seems like an odd double standard. This is similar to Rangers manager Ron Washington failing a drug test and never being punished by the Rangers or Major League Baseball. Again, a double standard!
  • This is the first offseason I can remember that no impact free agents signed with American League East teams. Yankee fans may have been stunned by the lack of Yankee offers to top-flight free agents like Albert Pujols, Cecil Fielder, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle or Japan’s Yu Darvish. But the other teams in the AL East whiffed at signing those players also. Boston was hamstrung from a payroll that is settling close to the mark in which they would have to pay a luxury tax to the league. The Jays lost in the posting process for Darvish. The Rays can’t attract top free agents because of their substandard facilities and a shoestring budget. The Orioles seem to be stuck in reverse as an organization and they are limited in what they can do. So you can make a case that the signing of Kuroda and the acquisition of Pineda was the two best moves involving AL East teams this winter and both of them were moves by the Yankees.

 

Yankees’ Position On Garza Should Be Cautious

Reports indicate that the New York Yankees are among a handful of teams interested in acquiring Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.

It is no secret that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is seeking another starting pitcher and the Cubs, under the direction of new team president Theo Epstein, are seeking a bevy of young prospects on which they can build a foundation for their future.

One report indicated they are “seeking the moon.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that the Yankees and Americam League East rivals Toronto and Boston are in the mix of trade talks. There are rumors that the Detroit Tigers might be willing to part with 20-year-old pitching prospect Jacob Turner for Garza. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com first reported that the Miami Marlins, seemingly not through after signing free agents Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle, have also made inquiries about Garza.

One reason Garza, 28, is attracting attention from A.L. East clubs is his 23-15 record with a 3.34 ERA in 56 games against teams in the division. Garza was 10-10 with a career-low 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 198 innings for the Cubs in his first season in the National League in 2011.

Garza is currently under contract through the 2013 season and he is expected to receive about $9 million and $10 million through arbitration for the 2012 season.

Would this be a good move for the Yankees?

On the surface it seems that it could be just the move they could make to add a starting pitcher who would likely slot as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter and it would allow the Yankees the opportunity to rid themselves of mercurial right-hander A.J. Burnett, who will turn 35 on Tuesday.

Garza has a career record of 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA. The odd thing is that he never fared well against the Yankees in his three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 12 games (11 starts) he was 1-10 with a 4.48 ERA. However, against the Red Sox he was 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 19 games.

He also has pitched 184 or more innings in his last four seasons with a 44-41 record. On paper, and perhaps in reality, he is a better option and more reliable as a starter than Burnett.

That said the prime targets the Cubs are looking for to build around is young pitchers. The Yankees have a slew of them, including 25-year-old Phil Hughes, 24-year-old Ivan Nova and 24-year-old Hector Noesi, who have reached the majors. In addition, they have D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos who have all reached the Triple-A level.

However, the Cubs certainly will not part with Garza and settle for a package that did not include either Banuelos or Betances. Epstein is not a fool, though his own perceived self-worth and burgeoning ego does sometimes cloud his judgment. The Victor Marrinez fiasco and the John Lackey signing comes to mind.

The Yankees do have a lot of other pieces they can offer at other positions such as backup infielder Eduardo Nunez, third baseman Brandon Laird and outfielder Mason Williams, which might tempt the Cubs to settle for Phelps, a Notre Dame alum, instead. There also is the specter of Jesus Montero sitting out there and Epstein would definitely like to see him play on the North Side.

Cashman must play this one very carefully in order to not overspend for what is essentially a .500 pitcher and a No. 3 starter. As such, why part with top minor-league prospects like Banuelos, Betances and Montero?

At the same time, the Marlins, Tigers and Blue Jays have even more of a need for starting pitching and they seem to be pretty determined to get it. The Tigers offering Turner gives Epstein the wedge to use to get the Yankees to throw Banuelos into the deal. The Marlins also can offer an attractive package of young players.

The Blue Jays are reportedly dangling former No. 1 prospect Kyle Drabek and four others including Anthony Gose and Deck McGwire.

So the bidding on Garza seems pretty serious, not to mention intense.

Cashman, at some point, might walk away if the deal will cost the Yankees too much of their future for such a short-term return. Garza could walk after two seasons and that would hurt a lot if Banuelos or Williams went on to become stars for the Cubs. That is the tradeoff Cashman must weigh before making too big an offer.

Garza is certainly worth the effort into inquiring into his availability and what the Cubs might be seeking in return. But caution is the ever-present watchword. Once the price for him goes too high, Cashman must be willing to fold his hand and walk away from the poker table.

The great poet Kenny Rogers once said, “You got to know when to fold them.” My guess is Cashman knows this full well.

 

Yankees To Learn If They Are With Or Without Yu

“Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails he makes us wait
And we wait without Yu

With or without Yu
With or without Yu”

                                                                             - Lyrics (with slight revision) of a popular U2 song

After ducking and coyly answering questions about whether the New York Yankees have any interest in Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish, general manager Brian Cashman will finally have to lay his cards on the table on Wednesday by 5 p.m. Eastern time.

That is the deadline for all teams who are interested in Darvish’s services have to come up with what is called a posting (or bid) to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the team for which Darvish has toiled since he was 18. That bid goes from the team with the highest bid to the Fighters and it only earns the team a 30-day window to negotiate a contract for Darvish. If the team fails to agree with Darvish on a contract the posting money is returned to the American team and Darvish remains with the Fighters for another season.

For all the successes some Japanese players have had in America (Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Hideo Nomo) there have also been some monumental failures (Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa and to some degree Daisuke Matsuzaka). So on which side of this equation does Darvish fit?

Scouts who have been watching him the past six years have seen a skinny 6-foot-5 right-hander mature into a 220-pound dynamo. On the world stage at the Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Darvish has shined, winning the Most Valuable Player Award for Japan’s winning WBC team.

In his seven seasons with Nippon Ham he is 93-28 and since 2007 he has recorded ERAs below 2.00 in five consecutive seasons. In 2011, he was 18-6 with a 1.44 and 276 strikeouts and only 36 walks in 232 innings.

He throws in the mid-90s on his fastball and he throws both a two-seam and four-seam variety along with a cutter. He has three breaking pitches and some believe he throws a decent changeup. But unlike Matsuzaka, who throws pitches off the plate to get batters to swing, Darvish attacks the strike zone and is confident in his ability to get batters out.

Will the talents of Darvish translate to American baseball?

New Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who managed for six years in Japan, certainly knows Darvish well and likes what he has seen of him. The Yankees have scouted him and Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has seen him pitch in person.

But no club is willing to say out loud they are interested in bidding for Darvish because they know that will only drive up the price of the posting. In 2006, the Red Sox bid $51 million to the Seibu Lions for Matsuzaka. They later signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract.

The posting for Darvish could very well easily eclipse the $51 million Seibu received from the Red Sox. Some say that the absence of quality pitching in the American free-agent market this winter gives teams an opportunity to sign what could potentially be a No. 1 starter for less money than the Angels paid to sign Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson.

The reason is the posting fee does not count toward a team’s payroll. The only money that counts is the money paid to Darvish. Because Darvish is just 25, a team could structure a long-term graduated contracte that pays Darvish about $10 million the first season and up to about $15 million in the final season. Wilson is being paid $20 million per season by the Angels. So Darvish actually could be a bargain at half the money the first season.

There are also many teams who can’t afford to get into the bidding in the first place due to payroll issues. The Boston Red Sox, for one, are out the bidding because they need to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and his contract will put them perilously close to the $178 million mark in which the luxury tax kicks in. New Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said the Red Sox will not raise their payroll past that level so Darvish will not be a target.

The Angels seem pretty much tapped out after their signings of Wilson and first baseman Albert Pujols. The Marlins have also spent a lot on closer Heath Bell, shortstop Jose Reyes and starter Mark Buerhle.

So just where are the Yankees in all this?

They have spent only $5.5 million to re-sign free-agent starter Freddy Garcia and $2.5 million for the rights to Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima of the Seibu Lions.

Though Cashman looked at the free-agents starters available, he determined that their cost was much more than he thought they were worth. It was, by far, not a buyers’ market for such limited talent available.

So Cashman spent the Winter Meetings last week trying to gauge the availability of starting pitchers via the trade route and came up empty again. He looked at possible deals for pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez of the Athletics, Matt Garza of the Cubs, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and John Danks of the White Sox.

But each time he asked teams what they wanted in return the names of the Yankees’ best prospects such as catcher Jesus Monetro, pitchers Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos or outfielder Mason Williams came up. Cashman seems loathe to deal away the best prizes of the minor-league system the Yankees have rebuilt over the past five years.

There also was interest in some homegrown Yankee major leaguers such as Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Phil Hughes, David Robertson and Phil Hughes. But Cashman did not want to go there either.

So just how interested could the Yankees be in Darvish?

My gut feeling is very interested.

The reason is that unlike trades, a free-agent signing means you can keep your young talent. In addition, with the signing of a Japanese pitcher like Darvish the Yankees do not lose a draft pick like when they sign a Type A free agent stateside. Keeping the farm system intact and not having to surrender a draft pick for Darvish appears to be win-win situation for Cashman.

The fact that teams like the Red Sox and Angels are out of the bidding also seems to bode well. The only teams strongly rumored to be interested in Darvish are the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees simply have more financial resources to put toward a bid than those teams. It is a question of just how much of a bid do the Yankees put forward.

The $51 million bid the Red Sox made for Matsuzaka shocked Cashman, who was believed to have bid a little more than half that amount. But the Red Sox were desperate for pitching and they wanted to ensure they would not lose out to the “Evil Empire” that stole Cuban star Jose Contreras away from them years earlier.

This posting looks to be definitely different. There has been less hype and teams have been very circumspect in their public statements.

But if Cashman really wants Darvish, it stands to reason he will be able to convince Hank and Hal Steinbrenner to provide the cash it will take to get it done.

With the time difference in Japan it likely won’t be until Thursday before we find out something about Darvish. The team ownership of the Fighters have four days to accept the highest bid. But I don’t think it will be that long before we hear who has submitted the high bid.

For the sake of Yankee fans, let’s hope that Caahman is the man with the biggest grin this week. Yankee fans need to see some movement towards improving the team for 2012 and Darvish could be the one piece of the puzzle that gets the team just a bit closer to the goal of winning their 28th world championship.

The key to that is pitching, pitching and more pitching. Right now the Yankees just have pitching.

But I can just hear Yankee fans rising in their seats and shouting through the Bronx night air “Yu, Yu, Yu.” Music to my ears!

 

Face Reality, A-Rod, CC Are Yankees’ Pujols, Lee

You are a Yankee fan and you are not happy now.

The reason: General manager Brian Cashman has not made a major splash with a big free-agent signing or a blockbuster trade.

To Yankee fans standing pat is like surrendering to teams like the Marlins and Angels, who tossed around cash this week as if it was only Monopoly money. Some fans are yearning for the days when George Steinbrenner would go after free agents he wanted with the ruthlessness of a pit-bull, never letting go.

However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner seem to be a lot more pragmatic about spending too much for negligible return. They were willing to spend $150 million for Cliff Lee but they were not going to spend close to $80 million for C.J. Wilson or about $60 million for Mark Buerhle.

There are a lot of reasons the Yankees sat idly by while some teams played “Let’s Make a Deal.”

But perhaps the biggest reason is the Yankees have already lavished their riches on their “Pujols” and their “Lee.” Those are the 10-year, $275 million deal the Yankees committed to Alex Rodriguez in 2007 and the $186 million the team is paying CC Sabathia to be the ace the staff through at least the 2016 season.

Those two contracts are largely why the Yankees are the only team in the major leagues who are subject to the luxury tax. The Steinbrenner family would like for the team to remain competitive and successful while Cashman tries to reduce the annual payroll below the $178 million level where the tax kicks in. or, at the very least, the Steinbrenners would like it to remain steady and not push higher.

That is the reason Christmas ornaments like Pujols, Wilson, Buerhle, Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder will be dangling on other teams’ trees this December.

So Yankee fans will have to realize that a team that won 97 games last season is still an excellent one even if adds no one of significance this winter. Rodriguez will just have to be our Pujols and Sabathia will just have to pitch like Lee in 2012 to make Yankee fans forget that this free-agent shopping spree was just too pricey for a team already above the $200 million mark in annual payroll.

Rodriguez is the biggest key to the Yankees’ success in 2012. You just have to face the fact that Rodriguez is being paid the most because he is expected to be the best player in pinstripes, period.

Last season, he was anything but that. Oh, he showed a lot of promise in the spring when he showed up lighter and quicker in the field. He also had a spring that portended a monster 2011 season. But, as the previous three seasons proved, Rodriguez was beset by a series of injuries that kept him off the field for 63 games and a shadow of what he was in the other 99.

Rodriguez, 36, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. If this is the level of performance the Yankees will get from Rodriguez in 2012 they are doomed to fail. Oh, they are talented enough to make the playoffs. But they will not go very far or do very well in the playoffs without what was the most feared hitter in the American League when he is healthy.

But balky shoulders, unsteady knees and painful thumbs can reduce a great player to just a pretty good one real quick. That is what happened to Rodriguez in 2011 and why he needs to arrive in Tampa in Florida fit and ready to go to war to restore his reputation as that most feared hitter.

 

To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.” His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.

 

There is no doubt that Rodriguez is on a slight decline. He has not played in more than 138 games since the 2007 season. From 2004 through 2007, Rodriguez averaged 43 home runs and 128 RBIs. From 2008 through 2010 he has averaged 32 home runs and 109 RBIs. In 2009, Rodriguez barely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs on the final day against the Rays but he was healthy at the right time to lead the Yankees through the playoffs and into the World Series as the Yankees won their 27th championship.

So the point is that Rodriguez can average 32 home runs and 109 RBIs and be in decline and still lead the Yankees into a World Series. He just has to be healthy when the playoffs begin. That was not the case last season and the Yankees paid dearly for it in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. They only trailed by a run but it may as well have been 10 runs the way the offense just seemed to sputter with runners in scoring position.

With a healthy and “locked in” A-Rod would the result have been the same? I doubt it.

For all the talk of Robinson Cano and how he has become the best hitter and best player on the Yankees, it is still Rodriguez who can turn a game with his bat that can strike fear into opposing pitchers, managers and teams. Besides the fact is that his ability to hit makes Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner better.

To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.”

His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.

The same can be said of Sabathia. He is, after all, the unquestioned ace.

When he is really dealing he is among the best pitchers in baseball. He is 59-23 in his 101 starts in pinstripes. The Yankees have reached the postseason in the past three seasons largely because of his work in the regular season.

But the past two seasons, his work in the postseason has been not worthy of the status of the one of the best pitchers in baseball. In the past two postseasons he is 2-0 but his ERA in his six appearances (five starts) is 5.84. That stands in stark contrast to his 3-1 record and 1.98 ERA in the 2009 postseason.

In the 2010 playoffs, Sabathia pitched with an injured left knee that required offseason surgery. Sabathia rehabbed the knee and showed up at spring training in February 30 pounds lighter. It helped him get off to unusually quick start and by the All-Star break Sabathia was on the top of his game.

He was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA at the break. He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. So in his last 12 starts, Sabathia was a very ordinary 6-4 with a 3.66 ERA before imploding the playoffs. Why?

Much of that was was blamed on Sabathia’s noticeable and significant weight gain down the stretch. The heavier he got the worse he pitched.

But the Yankees chose not to allow Sabathia to opt out of his contract and leave via free agency. Considering the things Sabathia has done for the Yankees it was a very wise decision. After all, Wilson. Buerhle, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda were not going to replace Sabathia.

In order to find another ace like Sabathia would have cost the Yankees prize prospects like Jesus Monetro, Eduardo Nunez, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. So getting a younger pitcher like Felix Hernandez would have pretty much raped the impressive farm system Cashman has gradually rebuilt the past five years.

So Sabathia will remain a Yankee through at least 2016 (the Yankees have an option for 2017) and the Yankees do not have to bid on overpriced free agents or trade their great young prospects. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Now the Yankees just have to make sure Sabathia stays off the Cap’n Crunch cereal he loves and eats a lot more salad throughout the 2012 season. At age 31, Sabathia is going to have to realize that to extend his career he is going to have to take care of that large frame going forward.

The Yankees could easily add a starting pitcher or two to their roster to improve the rotation. I fully expect Cashman to continue to his efforts to do just that this winter. But the real key to this staff is making sure Sabathia is able to hit the 2012 playoffs in shape and healthy enough to be the ace he is supposed to be.

Without that, and the health of A-Rod, the whole journey to the 2012 playoffs will be just as wasted as the effort in 2011 was.

Like I said Yankee fans, A-Rod and CC are our free agent pickups and we will live or die in 2012 with them.

Marlins Land Big Fish As Cashman Casts Wider Net

MLB WINTER MEETINGS

DAY TWO

The mood at the Hotel Anatole in Dallas is edgy as there is just one major player this winter and it is not the New York Yankees.

Nor the Boston Red Sox.

Nope, it is the Miami Marlins, who seem to be like the woman who used pepper spray on other shoppers at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday. They have landed a closer in Heath Bell, a shortstop in Jose Reyes and they are trying to land the biggest fish (pardon the pun) in the free-agent waters in Albert Pujols with a 10-year offer.

OK, Red Sox Nation, where are the angry posts and tweets about the Marlins trying to buy a pennant?

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman has not been invisible but he is finding potential moves to improve the roster frustrating. To carry the Marlins pun a bit further, the big fish are at the deep end of monetary limits and Cashman is finding it hard to find the right bait on the hook to land the mid-priced filets.

The Oakland Athletics are shopping 26-year-old Gio Gonzalez, who was 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA in 2011. Gonzalez figures to command a lot of money come arbitration and the A’s know they likely can’t afford to keep him. However, the A’s are looking for a young power-hitting outfielder in return. The Yankees do not have anyone fitting that description on their roster. So it is not likely that this will be a trade that bodes promise.

The White Sox dealt their 2011 closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays on Tuesday and now general manager Ken Williams is saying that it is unlikely that they will trading anyway of their other pitchers.

“As we currently sit, I do not like what is currently being offered for any of our valuable veteran pieces,” Williams told reporters, “so I’m of the mindset that … we’ll probably keep most of the pitching intact.”

Which means that any potential interest the Yankees might have had in 26-year-old left-hander John Danks is pretty much dead in the water. The White Sox were asking for a combination of young Yankee prospects including catcher Jesus Montero and lefty pitching prospect Manny Banuelos or right-hander Dellin Betances. In other words, the Chisox were seeking two of the Yankees’ three  best prospects.

That price may be bit too high for Cashman.

Cashman has also heard trade offers for Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Ivan Nova and Brett Gardner. But it does not seem to make much sense to open an outfield spot, a starting rotation spot or give up an important piece of the bullpen in order to acquire a No. 2 or No.3 starter in return.

Oh, and by the way, you notice that teams are asking for the Yankees’ homegrown talent? For all the talk about the Yankees “buying pennants” they have made significant strides in bringing up talented players out of their minor-league system and this winter we are seeing how valuable those commodities are to other teams.

One potential Yankee free-agent target could be 37-left-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who apparently has dropped his objection to pitching in New York. The Yankees actually discussed acquiring Kuroda last July but the deal fell through and Kuroda ended up 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA wit the Dodgers. Besides never having pitched in the American League, Kuroda also is 36. So there are some concerns with the former Japanese All-Star.

Cashman is still listening but he feels he can wade through the offers carefully since the Yankees can leave Dallas empty-handed and still be happy about their current roster. At some point the GMs positions will have to soften and the agents representing the free agents might have to lower their sights.

Cashman is betting on that. But the timing for those bargains will not be in Dallas. It likely will come in January. In this game, patience can be a virtue.

Fortunately, Cashman has lots of it. Like the Marlins, he can do a little fishing of his own.

 

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