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Posts tagged “baseball

Now, the Hard Part for the Yankees


The 2013 season has ended uncharacteristically early for the Yankees. Since 1995, the team has played October baseball 17 times. The only miss before this season was in 2008.

Well, this year may be the beginning of a new streak, one many fans aren’t familiar with: one where the Yankees are irrelevant to the postseason for a decade or longer. It’s happened twice in my lifetime. There was a 13 year drought from 1965 – 1976 and then a 15 year absence from 1981-1995. But for a fan under 30, odds are they don’t remember those periods of futility. They are as remote to their experience as the days of Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth. To them, I can only say: “Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

2013 is the season in which age finally caught up to the team. Baseball is a young man’s game, and trying to remain competitive when you’re starting line-up features 6 players over the age of 33 was going to be an adventure. That five of the six suffered serious injury isn’t a huge surprise. That the sixth, RF Ichiro Suzuki, played 148 games this year should be. 2014 will probably be the season when age and the salary cap finally sink the team. Ownership has repeatedly¬†announced they plan to drop payroll below $187 million, a drop of $40 million from this season. Of that, about $93 million is already committed to a handful of players. That leaves precious little to shore up a team that is going to lose some key players, has two key contributors entering free agency and not much in the farm system. Let’s take a look at the internal options for next year – and what can reasonably be expected.

IF: Returning – 1B Mark Teixeira, SS Derek Jeter, SS Eduardo Nunez, UT Jayson Nix, C Chris Stewart, C Francisco Cervelli, C Austin Romine
Free Agents – 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B Mark Reynolds, 1B Lyle Overbay, 1B Travis Hafner, 2B Robinson Cano
Limbo – 3B Alex Rodriguez
In the minors – 2B/3B David Adams, C JR Murphy, 1B Corban Joseph, C Gary Sanchez, 3B/OF Ronnier Mustelier

When you feature three shortstops on your major league roster, you realistically don’t have any. For a team that featured a future Hall-of-Famer at the position since 1996, it’s a strange place to be. Yet the Yankees would be insane if they think Jeter can be an everyday shortstop at age 40, especially coming off a season in which he never healed from a season ending injury in 2012. Do the Yanks stand pat, praying that the talented, but erratic Nunez can blossom while Jeter plays perhaps 30-40 games in the field? Equally concerning is the situation at third, where the safe bet is that PED King Alex Rodriguez will serve most, if not all, of his record 211 game suspension. He didn’t look like a major league caliber fielder during his abbreviated stint this season and the options behind him aren’t terrific. First appears set with the return of Mark Teixeira, but how effective will the 34 year old be coming off major wrist surgery?

But the biggest question of all is what to do about Cano. The guy is talented, but he’s always lacked the inner drive that transforms talent into greatness (ever watch him run out a ground ball or routine double?). He often looks bored and tends to press when the team needs him most. Still, without him the Yankees could face a total power outage in 2014 and beyond. Reports today have him asking for a 10 year, $310 million contract. Given their financial commitments, there’s no way the Bronx Bombers resign him at anything close to that price. But they really don’t have any options at second base, They could get a decent second sacker in free agency, but there aren’t any of Cano’s caliber, or even any viable long term solutions available.

OF: Returning – CF Brett Gardner, LF Alfonso Soriano, RF Ichiro Suzuki, OF Vernon Wells
Free Agents – OF Curtis Granderson
In the minors – LF Zoilo Almonte, CF Melky Mesa, OF Mason Williams, OF Slade Heathcott, OF/IF Addison Maruszak

The outfield could actually be okay next year, provided Soriano and Ichiro don’t break down. Gardner is never going to be a stud outfielder, but does possess speed and a great glove. Wells is a waste of a roster spot at this point, while Almonte showed signs of being at least a quality fourth outfielder in limited duty.

SP: Returning – LHP CC Sabathia, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP David Phelps
Free Agents/Retired – RHP Phil Hughes, RHP Hiroki Kuroda, LHP Andy Pettitte
In the minors – LHP VIdal Nuno, RHP Michael Pineda, LHP Manny Banuelos, LHP Nik Turley

This could be the worst starting rotation in baseball next season. No, really – I’m not joking. The team is losing three members from this year’s rather mediocre staff (unless GM Brian Cashman has aneurysm and resigns Hughes). That leaves an aging and increasingly ineffective CC Sabathia as the lone proven quantity. Ivan Nova has shown flashes, but not consistency. Phelps will probably develop into a reliable back-of-the-rotation pitcher. Adam Warren probably earned a shot at a starting spot with his strong effort out of the bullpen. Barring a free agent signing, that means the Yanks will hope that Pineda, Nuno or Banuelos can come back from injury plagued seasons and turn their talent into major league performance.

RP: Returning – RHP David Robertson, RHP Preston Claiborne, RHP Shawn Kelly, LHP Boone Logan, RHP Adam Warren, LHP David Huff
Free Agents/Retiring – RHP Mariano Rivera, RHP Joba Chamberlain
In the minors – LHP Cesar Cabral, RHP Dellin Betances, RHP Brett Marshall

This was the strongest unit for the Yanks in 2013 and looks to be again in 2014. Of course, replacing Mariano Rivera is impossible, but David Robertson should be more than adequate as the closer. The setup corps will suffer from the promotion of Robertson and the likely move of Warren to the rotation, but adding Cabral (who has looked good as a LOOGY) and Betances should be adequate. Chamberlain is addition through subtraction at this point.

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The New Yankees: Just like the 1965 Yankees


Ok, so it’s the weekend. Time to take a break from the serious stuff. Time to kick back, relax, drink a cold adult beverage and do something just for fun.

For me, that’s always meant baseball. These days, decrepit knees and faltering eyesight have ended what was once an almost promising career in an over-35 league. (We won’t talk about my misadventures on the field before I turned 35, either). Suffice it to say while my play has never reminded anyone of a major leaguer, I always enjoyed the game. These days, part of my summer routine is to put my feet up and watch my favorite team: the New York Yankees.

I’ve been a fan since the original bad old days, when Ron Blomberg and Fred Stanley were mainstays. I cheered when the team was great, suffered again when they got really bad and jumped for joy when they returned to the pinnacle. These days, turning on a Yankees game is almost a rite of self-immolation. Has the circle turned yet again?

In a word, yes. Last year’s team won their division. This year’s squad will be lucky to finish with an even record. What happened? Sadly, nothing a seasoned fan hasn’t seen coming for a couple of years now. Age, injuries and a depleted farm system have resulted in the current roster of cast-offs, has-beens and never-weres.

Age: Baseball is a young man’s game. Players once were considered on the downside of his career by the time they turned 32. Then, steroids and amphetamines kept guys in their late 30’s playing better than their younger counterparts. Baseball has done a good job on getting the drugs out of the game and once again, players in their mid-30’s are not producing like they did 3 or 4 seasons prior. On the other hand, a rule of thumb is that (except for the occasional phenom) young players need 2 or 3 seasons to become solid contributors.

This is troubling for the Yankees. They field the majors oldest team, with an average age of 32. On most nights, they put 4 players on the field over 35. Three of the starting pitchers are 34 or older and the closer is 43. Toss in that three rookies are playing regularly, while another 4 are pitching regularly, and age is a big problem for the team.

Injuries: The Yankees have an all-star team on the disabled list. It includes players who have transcended the sport to become cultural icons in Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, the starting first baseman, starting center fielder and starting catcher, and the starting DH who was also supposed to be the primary backup at first and third base. It’s forced journeymen to play first base, shortstop, third base, catcher, DH and two outfield positions. The result is about what you would expect: going into play last night, the Yankees were next to last in the league in batting average and slugging percentage, last in total hits and doubles and in the bottom third in runs scored. The trends haven’t been positive, either: the team was second in runs scored in April, but dead last in June.

Farm System: The last time the Yankee farm system produced a solid position player was Robinson Cano, in 2005. That’s eight seasons since any Yankee farm hand has proven to be even a league average player. Necessity has forced the Yankees to play one rookie at third base, another about 30% of the time at catcher and they recently called up another to play left field. The combined batting average of those three is .211. Sadly, there isn’t a player in AAA or even AA that looks like a sure-fire major leaguer, either. There are hopes for three AA outfielders and a catcher in A ball, but those players are at least a year (and probably two) before being able to help the major league roster.

At least the pitching has fared better. The Yankees have had a pretty good crop of decent pitchers come up through the system, including mainstays Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Preston Claiborne.

So how does all of this translate into the future? Not very well. Jeter is trying to come back from breaking the same ankle twice at age 39. He is a certain Hall-of-Famer once he retires, but few men have played shortstop at his age. Whether Jeter can remains to be seen; at this point he still hasn’t demonstrated the ability to even get through one game physically. Rodriguez, at 38, is trying to come back from a twice-repaired hip – the type of injury that ends most careers. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis’s seasons are officially over. Of all the injured starters, only Curtis Granderson has a reasonable shot at coming back at anywhere close to the type of player he was before breaking his wrist. Now toss in the fact that the Yankees management has committed to shed about $50 million in payroll next season, nearly 20% of the team’s current budget. It means the Yankees will likely be finding bargain basement players to man the left side of the infield, catcher, an outfield spot and three of the starting pitchers. Teixeira will be back, but nobody is expecting him to be anything like the player he was five seasons ago. It’s likely that Granderson will be let go in free agency – and there is uncertainty if Cano comes back. Everyone thinks he will be, but his current asking price is actually too rich for this version of Yankee brass.

No, this is looking like the start of another run of futility in the South Bronx. The only question is, how long will this one last?


What? Me Worried?


Our beloved Yankees are 8-3 and regardless of today’s outcome, have won their first four series of the year. So why be worried, right?
The last time the Pinstripers won their first four series was 1926. Guys named Ruth and Gehrig anchored that roster and the pitching staff was led by 23 game winner Herb Pennock. They won the AL pennant by 3 games. They were the precursor to the team that many think was the greatest team ever assembled, the 1927 Yankees.
They also lost the World Series that year, 4-3 to the Cardinals.
As anyone who has watched baseball knows, April greatness does not necessarily translate to October success. Last season, the Yankees went into May in 4th place in the division and Toronto and Baltimore were battling for top dog. Toronto wound up in fourth and the Orioles last, with neither even in the conversation by the end of July. Two seasons before, the Mets came out of April looking like the kings of the road, with a ML best 17-6 record. We all know how that season ended – with one of the most infamous collapses in baseball history. I point out these example only to illustrate the point that God has a strnage sense of humor – and he loves to use baseball teams as his punch-line.
Great opening months are, of course, better than lousy opening months. Except for good teams, sometimes going through an early baptism of fire can forge the toughness needed in the postseason. Consider the 1998 Yankees, probably the best team of the divisional era. Few remember how that season started – with the Yankees at one point 1-4 and not looking anything like a playoff team. There came a closed door meeting and what was actually said in the clubhouse remains a mystery – nobody will actually say – but the result was the Yanks winning 14 of the next 15. As they say, the rest is history. Or take the 1978 Yankees – the team that couldn’t get out of their own way. Everything finally came to a head one infamous day in Boston, when on national TV, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson decided to let a season and a half’s tension explode in the dugout. But afterwards, the newly cohesive Yanks made up a 14 1/2 game deficit, forced the Bucky Dent one-game playoff, smoked the Royals in the playoffs and won the World Series.
So, while the Yanks should certainly enjoy their opening two weeks, the fact is that several of the questions about this team coming into this season haven’t really been answered yet:
1. Can Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner hit lefties? Call it mixed reviews so far. After two weeks, Gardner finds hinself in a platoon with Marcus Thames and only hitting .230. As the saying goes, you can’t steal first base. If he doesn’t start to hit, can the Yanks live with a Randy Winn/Thames platoon? As for Granderson, he’s currently killing right-handers to the tune of .357 and holding his own against lefties at .267. Although he hasn’t displayed much pop against lefties, if he can keep his average against them around .260 and continue to play an above average CF, there probably isn’t much concern there.
2. Can Javier Vazquez vanquish the 2004 demons? So far, the answer is “NO.” His first start was atrocious and his second not much better. The one thing about Vazquez that concerned many observers, myself included, isn’t Vazquez’ physical talent – it’s his mental make-up. This is, after all, a pitcher who has managed to crack in every pressure situation he’s ever been presented with. For the Yanks sake, he better get his head on straight – or else the answer to the number 4 spot in the rotation could end up being…Uh Oh Mitre.
3. Who is the 8th inning guy? Two weeks in, and still no answer. Joe Girardi seems to be leaning towards Chan Ho(me Run) Park, but the Pepto Bismol Kid has yielded three homers in 6 innings. and in one two inning stint should have given up three more (thank a stiff wind blowing in for saving him there). Joba Chamberlain has only had one great outing, although he has been effective in two others. David Robertson, who seemed to have the early lead for the job, has demostrated a penchant for striking guys out but also giving up flurries of base hits.Stay tuned on this one.
4. Can Robbie Cano handle the 5 spot in the order? This one gets a “YES.” Through 11 games, Cano is hitting .356 and has an OPS of 1.083. Those are Albert Pujols type numbers.
5. When will the ageless wonders (Jeter, Mariano and Posada) begin to show their age? We won’t get an answer to this one until, well, they start playing like guys who are closer to 40 than 30. But so far, Jeter and Posada are hitting over .300 and showing some serious pop in their bats, and Mo just keeps on being Mo. Let’s hope this remains a question in 2011, too.
In short, enjoy the season as it’s unfolded so far. But keep in mind that it’s long season – we’re barely 5% of the way in. The battles haven’t really begun and nobody knows what will wind up being this team’s iron forge. But I’d prefer it come early. 1926 was a very good year, but it ended on a pretty sour note – with Babe Ruth standing on second base after being caught stealing and the Cardinals celebrating a World Series championship.