Results tagged ‘ Jacoby Ellsbury ’

End of the Year Awards

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This past Sunday the 2014 MLB regular season ended, effectively finishing the Yankees’ activity until pitchers and catchers report to Tampa in February.

Fans are already going through so-called “pinstripe withdrawal.” However, the radical Royals-Athletics Wild Card game Tuesday night was certainly enough to divert attention off the fact that the Yankees aren’t playing and good baseball is still existent now that we’re in the month of October.

Yet, this is Yankee Yapping, not Royals or A’s Yapping. And the Yankees are about tradition. A tradition since the inception of this blog in 2009 has been the end of the year awards. Not one to break to tradition, this year is not any different. Therefore, YY proudly presents the sixth annual end of the year awards.

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It’s only fitting to start with a born winner.

Yankee Yapping Lifetime Achievement Award

Winner: Derek Jeter

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Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a talebearer are like dainty morsels that sink into one’s inmost being.”

The stories Derek Jeter has told us with his bat and with his glove over the years have not only sank deep into our inmost being, but are a part of us all forever.

Last Thursday Jeter captivated us with one final tale at Yankee Stadium, winning the game in dramatic fashion. It left everyone – everyone being the entire population of the country, because that’s who was watching – in disbelief. A 5-2 game became a 5-5 game by way of the baseball gods.

A 5-5 game then became the Yankee Captain’s game to win with a sharp single into right field to knock in the deciding run. Add the walk-off base hit in his final game in the Bronx to the laundry list of accomplishments and huge hits Jeter has racked up over the years.

World Series titles, All-Star Games, we can go on all day about how much of a winner Jeter is. But his attitude makes him even more of a winner; his humility and respect for everyone and everything only enhances his heroic image.

Now that he is officially retired from baseball, it’ll be interesting to see where life takes the former Yankee shortstop. I’m sure whatever adventures Jeter has in his life post-baseball, he’ll appreciate them all with dignity and grace.

His first adventure seems to be a blog for fans to connect with pro athletes entitled The Players Tribune, as announced today. Not a bad project to start right away, in this writer’s view.

Congrats on the YY Lifetime Achievement Award and congrats on a legendary career, Derek!


Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player

Winner: Brett Gardner

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I can’t count how many times this year I heard, “How crazy is it that Brett Gardner is our best player?”

Numerically Gardner proved it this year, setting career highs in home runs with 17, RBIs with 58, and plate appearances with 636.

For a guy that signed a big extension at the outset of the season, Gardner certainly gave the Yankees hope moving forward; perhaps showing that his best days are yet to come. It also helped that, in a Yankee season riddled with age and injuries, the 31-year-old outfielder could stay on the field, being that played 148 games.

Consistency also helped Gardner win the YY MVP. He was pretty solid overall. As the leadoff hitter for most of the year, he generally was able to get the job done.

Congrats Brett!


Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year

Winner: Hiroki Kuroda

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After the Yankees’ 5-3 win on Sept. 19 over the Blue Jays – a game Hiroki Kuroda won, getting there by tossing 6 2/3 strong innings – Jeter said, “if we scored any runs for him, he’d have 17, 18 wins.”

How can anyone object?

Kuroda went 11-9 this year with a 3.71 ERA, though his record doesn’t (at all) reflect the type of season he put together. Not only did he pitch well when Yankee run production was in short supply, he outlasted his fellow starters on the staff in terms of staying healthy.

A lot was talked about how the Yanks lost 80 percent of their starting pitchers to injury, and it was almost overlooked that Kuroda was the 20 percent who remained in the rotation and gave his team a chance to win every time he took the ball.

Kuroda pitched 199 innings this year, almost matching the 201 1/3 he threw last year. In 2013 he scuffled at the end of the season, citing arm fatigue as the reason for his late-season trifles. A year older this year, there was no such scuffle; no tired arm in the dog days.

Addressing the media on Monday, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi said he doesn’t know what Kuroda’s plans are as of now, and only that he went home for the offseason. It’s been rumored he might stay in Japan to finish his career in his native land. There’s also word he could retire, given his age: 39 now, 40 on Feb. 10.

If 2014 was the end of Kuroda’s time in New York, he gave the Bronx Bombers three serviceable years. And in his last year he went out an ace – at least in this scribe’s eyes.

Domo arigato, Mr. Kuroda. Congrats!


Yankee Yapping Rookie of the Year

Winner: Masahiro Tanaka

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In a word, it’s unfortunate that Masahiro Tanaka didn’t pitch his entire rookie season, because he not only may have won the YY ROY, he may have been named AL Rookie of the Year by MLB. He was on pace for probably 20 wins or more and with all due respect to Jose Abreu of the White Sox (the likely winner) Tanaka could’ve swiped it from under him.

Or at least he’d have given Abreu a run for his money.

Before his partial UCL tear was revealed on July 8 after his start in Cleveland vs. the Indians, Tanaka was pitching like a virtuoso; an artist who had the ability to paint some elaborate and beautiful portraits. Mostly those portraits involved major league hitters looking like a herd of deer in a pair of headlights, as he could fool any hitter with his brilliant splitter.

He missed a big chunk of the summer when he was sidelined, but credit him in fighting back to make two last starts before the end of the season. Tanaka didn’t look like a pitcher with a partial UCL tear on Sept. 21, tossing 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays. He scattered five hits, didn’t allow a walk and struck out four to notch his 13th win of the year.

Yet it was a little disconcerting to not only see Tanaka give up seven runs (five earned) on seven hits in just 1 2/3 innings this past Saturday in Boston, but also hear Girardi say in his presser on Monday that he’s worried about Tanaka’s health moving into next year.

Totally warranted fear. One has to hope Tanaka’s arm makes a full recovery without needing Tommy John surgery, which is always a possibility when dealing with a UCL ailment.

Notwithstanding, I saw Tanaka pitch twice in-person this season. In those two starts he struck out 16 batters, going 1-1 (a 3-1 Yankee win over Toronto on June 17 and an 8-0 loss to the Orioles on June 22). After seeing how strongly the crowd gets behind this young man and the confidence he exudes, it’s easy to get excited about whatever the future may hold for Tanaka.

But as for his rookie year, he did a fantastic job. Minus getting hurt, that is.

Domo arigato, Mr. Tanaka. Congrats!


Yankee Yapping Best Trade Deadline Pickups

Co-winners: Chase Headley and Martín Prado

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July 31 is always an interesting day in baseball, as GMs across the board are scrambling to add and subtract pieces to their respective team’s puzzle. Brian Cashman was a busy man this year, collecting quite a few players to help keep the Yankees glued together.

Chase Headley came over from San Diego on July 22 and made an immediate impact upon arrival. Walking into the Yankee dugout in the middle of the Bombers’ game vs. Texas, he greeted all his new teammates with handshakes and salutations.

The game went into the 14th inning and he came up huge, delivering a game-winning single to beat the Rangers 2-1. On Sept. 4 he outdid himself, crushing a walk-off home run to beat the Red Sox 5-4 in the Bronx, capping a huge ninth-inning rally.

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Headley also exhibited heart, playing in games after being hit in the face with a fastball on Sept. 11 by Jake McGee of Tampa Bay. Any other player could’ve packed it in for the season sustaining such an injury, but he kept at it, knowing the Yanks needed his bat and tremendous defense at third base, as they stayed in the thick of it for that second Wild Card spot until the final six days of the regular season.

With Alex Rodriguez expected to return from suspension next year – and Headley now a free agent – there’s no telling whether or not he dons the pinstripes again. If not, He finishes his career as a Yankee with six homers, 17 RBIs, and a .262 BA.

Although Headley may not fit into the equation next year, Martín Prado is guaranteed to be back in the Bronx in 2015; under contract until the end of 2016, in fact. He was acquired from Arizona for catching prospect Peter O’Brien nine days after Headley, and didn’t really disappoint, collecting 42 hits in 133 at-bats. He ended the year with 16 RBIs with the Yankees, a .316 BA in pinstripes and drove seven balls out of the park.

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It’s also worth mentioning Prado won a game for the Yankees on Aug. 22 with one swing: a walk-off single to give his new team a 4-3 win over the White Sox, specifically showing he can make a difference at the plate. A utility man, Prado offers skills at basically every position save for pitcher and catcher, so moving forward he’ll be a true asset to the team.

Both Headley and Prado fit in fine once they switched sides, thus earning this award.

Congrats fellas!


Yankee Yapping Bring ‘Em Back Award

Winner: Brandon McCarthy

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Like Headley and Prado, Brandon McCarthy came over in a trade. The Yankees dealt Vidal Nuno to the Diamondbacks and in return received the lanky right-hander. His first tweet in New York – a reference to the classic TV show Seinfeld – and his solid pitching quickly made him a fan-favorite.

Re-mastering his cut fastball, McCarthy won seven games with the Yanks this year and posted an ERA under 3 at 2.89. He filled one of the many holes in the starting rotation, and without question proved he was an important player.

In particular his start against Houston on Aug. 21 comes to mind.

McCarthy basically obliterated the Astros, twirling a complete game shutout. He only allowed four hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out eight. He not only led the Yanks to a 3-0 victory, but wasted no time doing it; making it the quickest game in the history of the new Yankee Stadium at just two hours and seven minutes.

What’s more, McCarthy tossed an immaculate inning on Sept. 17 in Tampa Bay, striking out three straight batters on nine pitches – a rarity in baseball.

Yes, immaculate Brandon. Your praises we sing.

If anyone has earned more time in a Yankee uniform, it’s McCarthy. He’s a veteran; he battled and could be a great middle-of-the-rotation starter next year. In the case he doesn’t come back to the Yankees, he’ll definitely find a landing spot.

But, the Yankees would be wise to bring him back. Congrats on opening some eyes this year, Brandon!


Yankee Yapping Best Season by a Newcomer

Winner: Jacoby Ellsbury

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Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon could probably attest that the transition from Boston to New York is a real adjustment. All three thrived in both Beantown and the Big Apple along with countless others who’ve made the leap from “the nation” to “the empire.”

It’s nothing new. Since the beginning of time, it’s been happening; from Babe Ruth to Kevin Youkilis. When the Yankee front office retooled this past offseason, Jacoby Ellsbury became the latest turncoat.

This year it seemed Ellsbury made a pretty easy transfer, putting up some respectable numbers for his first year in New York: 16 homers, 70 RBIs and a BA of .271. Ellsbury added 39 stolen bases in 44 attempts, 27 doubles, and 71 runs scored.

Good general numbers, sure. Specifically, though, he offered a clutch dynamic, hitting some game-deciding home runs in extra innings away from Yankee Stadium. On May 24 he took a mighty hack in the 10th inning at U.S. Cellular Field to lift the Yankees over the White Sox 4-3. On July 9 he was at it again, helping beat the Indians 5-4 with one swing in the 14th at Progressive Field.

Winning extra inning games on the road has been such a lost art with the Yankees, especially in recent years. Ellsbury helped bring it back this year, a little bit.

Keeping healthy was also a gigantic concern in acquiring Ellsbury last winter, but in playing 149 games he demonstrated that he can stay healthy and be an effective player.

Congrats on a good year, Jacoby. Here’s to a lot more!


Yankee Yapping Relievers of the Year Award

Co-winners: David Robertson and Dellin Betances

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There was no way I could decide one winner of this award. Both of these guys deserve it.

Last year Mariano Rivera retired, leaving his job open with astronomically high expectations attached to it. David Robertson was named closer, and had a reputation of getting into jams easily, although as setup man he was typically always able to wiggle his way out of danger.

Hence, his nickname “Houdini.”

Closers can’t exactly live on a reputation of constantly getting into predicaments and skimming their way out; they’re supposed to be automatic, which Robertson was anything but entering 2014.

Yet this season Robertson almost washed away that “Houdini” moniker, slamming the door 39 times in 44 save opps, finishing third in the AL in saves. He had his moments of difficulty, but always bounced back with ease.

By the way, he’s credited with five blown saves, but four in my book – the baseball gods intervened on Sept. 24 in order to allow Jeter to win the game.

Robertson can walk if the Yankees don’t re-sign him, and you can bet he’ll receive some good offers from other teams, because he was nothing short of outstanding this year. In my personal opinion, I’d like him to stay in New York. He’s a homegrown pinstriper, he’s now a proven closer, and he’d be a good guy to keep around moving forward.

Not to mention I like tweeting #AlabamaSlam every time he nails down a save.

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Dellin Betances set Robertson up incredibly this year, striking out 135 batters to break a franchise record: most Ks by a reliever in a single season.

The man whose record he broke? The Great Rivera.

Betances’s ERA of 1.40 and record of 5-0 further show just how lights out he was. Mixing 90-100 mph fastballs with 80 mph changeups and frazzling hitters around the league, Betances rightfully was an All-Star this year – and something tells me he’ll be on another AL All-Star squad in the future.

If Robertson winds up walking this winter Betances would make a fine closer, but for now I like what he did as a setup man in ’14. It’d be nice if both relievers were around next year, giving the Yanks a 1-2 punch out of the ‘pen and shortening the game by two innings for the starting pitchers.

Whichever way it goes, these guys were rock solid this past year; both worthy of some end-of-the-season recognition. Congrats gentlemen!


Yankee Yapping Titan of Twitter Award

Winner: David Cone

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Twitter has become a part of sports culture. Disseminating information about games, quotes from athletes, and the general idea of what’s going on around the sports world are all done through the advent of tweeting these days.

I created a Twitter page for Yankee Yapping in November of 2013. Within just one baseball season (and less than a year, to boot) it amassed over 1,200 followers.

(To those who have followed, thank you, by the way!)

It almost came as a shock to me that former Yankee, perfect game pitcher, World Series champ, and current YES broadcaster David Cone followed YY on Twitter. It was pretty cool to think he thought so highly of the blog to follow, let alone mention it during the telecast of a game!

Thank you again, Coney. You deserve an award for recognizing Yankee Yapping!


Yankee Yapping Rooting For You Award

Winner: Don Mattingly

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This is an award I dislike giving out, because in October I usually like rooting for the Yankees. Alas, since the Yankees are watching the MLB postseason in front their TVs, it’s only right to pick a team to root for this month.

However, I’m not so much pulling for the Los Angeles Dodgers so much as I am former Yankee Don “Donnie Baseball” Mattingly, the Dodgers’ current manager.

The beloved Yankee first baseman of the 1980s to the mid-90s missed out on a World Series ring by just one year. Back problems forced Mattingly to retire after 1995, and as we all know 1996 was the start of the Yankee dynasty.

Mattingly, to my knowledge, is the only Yankee player to have his number retired without winning a World Series. For his sake, it would be cool to see him finally get the elusive piece of jewelry he never obtained in New York.

He’s got plenty of studs to help him get there; Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and Hanley Ramirez to name a few.

As far as other candidates for this award: there’s no way I’d root for Joba Chamberlain to win (what would be his second ring) with the Detroit Tigers – and I don’t want to see Buck Showalter win it all as the Orioles skipper.

For me, it’s got to be Mattingly, who was a Yankee in the purest sense of the word, carrying the team through a number of lean years.

Go Donnie!


Well, that about wraps up the end of the year awards. Be sure to check back with Yankee Yapping throughout the winter for updates, highlights, and stories!

A Howl for Wolff

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On a day where it looked as if Masahiro Tanaka’s undefeated win streak dating back to his days last year in Japan was coming to an end, everything came together for the Yankees and the streak was kept alive. The combination of a Mark Teixeira home run, more clutch hitting from Jacoby Ellsbury, a go-ahead homer off the bat of Kelly Johnson, and a late game scoring barrage gave the Yankees a 9-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

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No, Tanaka didn’t get “Brock Lesnar’d” today, if you will; his streak remains intact as he’s a perfect 4-0 this season – today being a prime example of how, even when things aren’t exactly going his way, he still wins. The young man from Japan battled through the first four innings or so, letting up homers to Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers, until he settled down and finished up like a stud.

Today’s win not only kept Tanaka’s unblemished record breathing, it also snapped a 3-game Yankee losing skid, and put the Bombers back in first place in the AL East after being a half game out to Baltimore following a brutal 10-5, 14 inning loss to TB Friday night.

In the heart of the losing schnide, though, the Yankees honored a man who broke a record – but not a record that could be smashed on the ball field.

Bob Wolff, famed broadcaster who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series among countless other big time sporting events, broke the record for longest career as a broadcaster. The Guinness Book of World Records gave him the nod, as he’s been calling games from behind the mic for the better part of 74 and a half years.

At 93 Wolff is still at it, working for News 12 Long Island.

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In this writer’s opinion, it couldn’t have happened to a better person.

I had the opportunity to interview Wolff’s son Rick in 2009. Rick was the baseball coach at my college (Mercy, NY) from 1978-85, and a minor league ballplayer turned author and radio personality. Rick talked a lot about his dad’s work and what type of man he is in the interview I conducted, saying,

“My dad was a well-respected broadcaster. He called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series in 1956, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.

“My dad has always been my biggest fan. He is still active and calling baseball games, and he always stood by me. I remember when I coached at Mercy, he used to come watch the team play. He spent a lot of windy afternoons on the Hudson watching my team.” (His team being the Flyers, now known to the Mercy College student body as the Mavericks).

It took awhile, but I was actually able to dig up the hard copy of that article I wrote on Rick.

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I also have to credit Rick for the inception of this blog; he was the individual who suggested I start Yankee Yapping.

After the Yankees lost 4-2 to Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners Thursday night, Wolff spoke to the press at Yankee Stadium, and without really giving away the secret of his success, mentioned that he – when calling a game – always tried to make it interesting. Instead of bombarding everyone to death with stats constantly, he threw in quips and witticisms to keep the audience engaged. Important to do, in a profession that requires so much attention from so many different people.

Using that method set Wolff apart from the pack.

Since everything sports-related in terms of information is basically relayed through Twitter in this day and age of social media, I suppose it’s important to maintain the attention of your audience – your followers – through funny puns, in between the giving of scores and statistics.

I try to be that way, while being as professional as possible. Of course, the whole job of a sports journalist is to provide information on what happened (or is happening) in a game, along with any extra info and analysis. Yet, as Wolff stated, it’s important to keep it fun.

Because after all, aren’t sports supposed to be fun to watch?

 

Yankees sign Shumway after loss to Houston

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HOUSTON – To most people the Yankees went berserk with their free agent signings this offseason. But it appears Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran just weren’t enough – and we won’t know until Friday whether or not Masahiro Tanaka will deliver the goods.

After a deflating 6-2 loss in their season opener against the Astros last night, the Yankees announced today they have signed utility free agent slugger Gordon Shumway to a 5-year, $65 million deal. He is expected to play tonight.

Shumway, a native of the planet Melmac who most people recognize as “Alf” the alien life form, held a press conference this morning at Minute Maid Park and talked about how he plans on helping the Yankees pick up a winning attitude.

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“I watched the games last year,” he said. “I saw how disappointing it was for the fans, so I decided it was time to get in the batting cages and start swinging. I found that, like most things, I was really good at baseball. A scout for the Yankees saw me playing against some Little Leaguers and said ‘we need ya, Alf ol’ boy!’ How could I say no to that?”

In that game vs. the Little League team, Alf hit three home runs and stole five bases on the way to a 10-0, mercy rule win in five innings. To say the least, he has plenty of confidence he will bring that type of energy to the Yankees.

“I knew I’d win that game,” Alf said. “Just like I know, with my skills, the Yankees will win the World Series this year. My real name is Gordon Shumway but everyone knows me by the nickname ‘Alf’ – and well, after the 2014 baseball season is complete, everyone will know me by three other letters: MVP.”

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Alf brings a swagger to the Yankees like no one skipper Joe Girardi has ever seen.

“Not even Al (Alex Rodriguez) is as – I don’t want to say cocky – but as confident as Alf is,” Girardi said. “He certainly brings a different dynamic to the team that we need right now. We’re happy to have to have him here.”

General Manager Brian Cashman also drew a comparison between Alf and Rodriguez, though he expects no problems with the radical, rookie extraterrestrial.

“I had to tell A-Rod to shut up in my own way last year, only because he was mouthing off about things he couldn’t back up,” Cashman said. “I know I’m not going to have to tell Alf to shut up in an animated way, because I know he’ll back up every bit of what he says on the field and in the batter’s box.”

Alf foresees no troubles in the next five years, citing his only desire is to play ball and win it all.

“I just want to win, which we will because it’s all I do,” he said. “This season with the Yankees, all I can say is, no problem!”

Tonight’s starting lineup will include Alf. He will bat cleanup against the Astros and promised the fans back in New York he would hit not one, but two home runs to make up for, what he called, an “embarrassing” loss last night.

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Another one of my ill-fated attempts at humor in a (belated) April Fool’s Day effort. You can check out some of my past foolish attempts here (Ted Danson/Paul O’Neill), here (Michael Pineda selling ice cream), and here (CC Sabathia playing Fat Albert).

Tonight – without the help of Alf – the Yankees look to pick up their first win of what will hopefully be a prosperous 2014 MLB season.

#NewDay #BeatTheDrum #AndHoldThePhone #TheSunCameOutToday

Side note: I did an interview last Friday for my fellow blogger Alicia Barnhart and her (awesome!) blog Ballparks on a Budget. Feel free to give it a read right here!

No hits and hat tips

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If you watched the brilliant 2007 miniseries The Bronx is Burning, which detailed the radical 1977 New York Yankees season, you might remember how eccentric former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was portrayed. The Boss would get ticked off very easily at the most minute happenings, if you recall.

“We lost an exhibition game to the Mets – to the METS!” he snarled in one scene.

It leads me to believe that if Steinbrenner was still alive, and saw what happened last night in Panama, he would have lost his marbles. Not only did the Yankees lose an exhibition to the Miami Marlins, baseball’s biggest joke in the eyes of most fans, they were no-hit.

I repeat: the Yankees were no-hit by the Marlins.

Though only an exhibition, or a game that doesn’t count, Joe Girardi was not thrilled, saying afterwards,

“You never want to be no-hit. I don’t care what game it is, what level. You never want to see that.”

The fact that the game was being played in honor of Mariano Rivera in his native Panama at Rod Carew Stadium – and the fact that Rivera was in attendance to witness this negative piece of history – only hurt more, in this writer’s eyes.

Now granted, a number of big names like Ichiro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Brian Roberts didn’t participate in the no-hitter, as they were stateside in Florida playing the Baltimore Orioles. Yet a few of the key regulars didn’t impress. In fact, they played a royal hand in being no-hit.

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Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli were a combined 0-for-14 with one walk and six strikeouts. Gardner was the only one of the five regulars to reach base via a walk, and was only one of two base runners all night. Zelous Wheeler drew a walk in the eighth inning but that was all the offense – if you can call it offense – the Yanks could muster.

The question I kept asking myself was, when is the last time the Yankees were no-hit in spring training? Better question: have they even ever been no-hit in spring training?

The last time they were no-hit (to any capacity) was June 11, 2003 at the hands of the Houston Astros. Coincidently enough, Jeter and Soriano were a part of the no-hitter in ’03 to Houston, as well as a part of last night’s struggle.

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What’s funny is today, in the second game of the Legends Series in Panama, the Yankees no-hit the Marlins through six until Giancarlo Stanton singled to begin the seventh inning. So, the day after being no-hit by the Marlins, the Yanks took a no-no of their own deep into the game.

Can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Luckily after all the excruciating, no-hit nonsense to report on last night, the Yankees took out their frustrations in split squad action this afternoon. The stateside crew beat the Atlanta Braves 7-4 and the team that was no-hit last night pounded out 15 hits today, and shutout the Marlins 7-0.

Everyone looked good in this afternoon’s action, including Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Tanaka pitched 4.1 innings at “The Boss” vs. Atlanta and only let up one earned run on just three hits. He walked two but fanned six, looking as tactical and as effective as Mike Mussina once looked.

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Mussina, if you remember, was not incredibly overpowering but so methodical in facing hitters; he had a game plan. Tanaka looked to possess that “Moose”-like style today, at least in my opinion.

Sabathia, in the meantime, worked his best outing of the spring, tossing a perfect five innings against the Marlins; no walks and five Ks. Coming off such a subpar 2013, and not exactly turning any heads this spring, you have believe he needed a performance like today.

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Tip of the Hat on #TBT

I’ve recently become “one of those people” on Twitter who partakes in #ThrowbackThursday, posting an old picture from the past and describing it.

This past Thursday, March 13, was the five-year anniversary of my story on John Flaherty; the former Yankee catcher and current YES broadcaster came to my college (Mercy; Dobbs Ferry, NY) in 2009 to speak to the baseball and softball teams at their fundraiser breakfast.

Flaherty told some awesome stories that morning, including how he was hung over the day he was called up to the major leagues – because he and his friends had gone out for “sodas” the night before.

To celebrate the fun memory, naturally I decided to post a collage photo of my newspaper article on the former Yankee catcher, the ball Flaherty signed for me that day, and the picture he took with me.

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Tweeting the photo at him, Flaherty remembered the day and offered me kudos on a job well done, which was very nice of him.

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Thanks for the kind words, John!

You can follow me on Twitter @YankeeYapping and @AJ_Martelli

Keys to the Kingdom

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‘Tis the season of the cracking of the bat and the popping of the leather. Yes, MLB Spring Training is finally here, and yesterday the Yankees began their string of exhibition games. As it is, the Bronx Bombers dropped both of their first two Grapefruit League games to Pittsburgh, losing 6-5 Wednesday and 8-2 today – though we all know final scores are probably the least important stat when it comes to Spring Training.

It’s all about fine tuning and getting ready for April, when the scores count and the Yanks embark on their quest for World Series title number 28. Yankee Captain Derek Jeter, who as we all know announced his retirement after this upcoming season, declared today that he wants to go out a winner:

“We’re the last team standing and we win the championship.

That’s the only way I envision it ending.”

In order for that happen, a lot has to go right. First of all…

CC Sabathia needs a bounce-back campaign

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Last year CC Sabathia faced arm problems, really for the first time ever in his career. The Yankee ace lost 13 games in 2013 and only won 14, coming off 2012 when he won 15 – a far cry from the 21 and 19-win seasons he put up in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last season Sabathia’s ERA was 4.78, the highest earned run average he’s ever posted in his career.

If you’re the type of analyst who likes to throw wins and ERA out the window, here’s something to chew on: Sabathia let up 28 home runs in 2013 – another career-high for a single season. If that isn’t enough, here’s something else to consider: Sabathia served up more taters than Phil Hughes last season, the former homer-happy Yankee and now-Minnesota Twin. Hughes allowed 24 hitters to leave the yard last year compared to Sabathia’s 28.

Yes. You know it’s bad when you’ve given up more long balls than Hughes.

There’s no debating the fact that Sabathia needs to turn it around; be the ace the Yankees bought him for prior to 2009, or at least be close to what he was. It’s not too much to ask, mostly because he’s already proven the type of anchor he can be to a pitching staff.

To his credit, Sabathia slimmed down and lost some weight. According to Michael Kay of YES, Sabathia came into Spring Training last year just under 300 lbs., whereas this year he showed up around 275 and visibly thinner.

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Obviously Sabathia is taking serious steps towards getting back to form, but he needs to cut down on the home runs and be clutch this year if the Yankees want to be that last team standing.

Stay healthy, New York

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You cannot predict injuries. It’s a fact of sports life. In recent times the Yankees have had a ton of hard luck when it comes to injuries, and they haven’t been able to field a complete team.

New Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury has failed to appear in 100 games in two of the last four seasons because of injuries. In 2010 the speedy center fielder only played 18 games and in 2012 he played just 74, thanks to fractured ribs as a result of an outfield collision (’10) and a collision on the base paths trying to break up a double play (’12).

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In between he’s been as solid as they come, though. 2011 was Ellsbury’s best season to date. With 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, a .321 batting average, 212 hits, and an All-Star nod, he was arguably the best all-around player in the American League. Being the runner-up for the AL MVP award, while taking home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, is only a testament to how fantastic he truly was in ‘11.

That begs the question, which Ellsbury will be showing up in 2014? The perennial All-Star or the injury prone player who gives up his body en route to disabled list stints?

And Ellsbury is just one example.

To supplant Herculean second baseman Robinson Cano, who split for Seattle, the Yankees signed Brian Roberts – a 36-year-old second sacker once feared by all as a Baltimore Oriole, but has only played 192 games over the last four seasons on account of injuries. (Roberts managed to play 77 games last year, 17 in ’12, 39 in ’11, and 59 in ’10).

Doing the math, Roberts has missed 456 games over the past four seasons; DL stints and concussions have eaten him up. Keep in mind, specifically, he ruptured a tendon behind his right knee last April vs. Tampa Bay attempting a steal of second base.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

Knowing all that, will Roberts be a comeback player and offer reliability, or will he simply be unproductive and relegated to the disabled list for a large chunk of the season?

The question marks of Ellsbury and Roberts are of course piled on top of apprehension about Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Jeter (39, 40 in June) as we all know is coming off ankle injuries that limited him to 17 games in 2013, while Teixeira (33, 34 in April) is coming back from wrist problems that only allowed him to play 15 games last year.

How each of these players respond is obviously a “to be determined” but at the same time there is no crystal ball in existence to let us know if they’ll be able to grind out the entire season injury-free.

The bullpen has to be effective

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It’s fair to say the Yankees’ bullpen was probably their weakest link last year, even with the legendary Mariano Rivera at the back end closing everything out – which really tells you the whole story. This writer keeps asking himself,

“If the bullpen wasn’t that good with Rivera last year, what can we expect without him this year?

David Robertson, as of now, is expected to succeed Mo in the closer role, which is scary to think about. If you recall in 2012 when Rivera’s season ended on May 3 on the warning track in Kansas City, Robertson was plugged into his spot as closer, but he didn’t cut it.

In just his second save opp a week after Rivera went down, Robertson failed to protect a 1-0 lead over Tampa Bay, giving up a three-run homer to Matt Joyce. He later gave up another run and the Yankees went on to lose, 4-1. Robertson called it afterward “the worst feeling in the world.”

Luckily in 2012 the Yankees had the option of using Rafael Soriano in Robertson’s stead – an option that worked out well, given that Soriano saved 42 games in Rivera’s absence.

Now, similarly, the Yankees have signed former Oakland A’s closer (and 2009 AL Rookie of the Year) Andrew Bailey, albeit to a minor league contract. Bailey has 89 saves to his name in his short career, with experience as a closer, making him the logical choice to succeed Rivera over Robertson.

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However…

Bailey, like a lot of other Yankees, has a history with injuries. In 2012 he had reconstructive surgery on his right thumb, and just last year an MRI revealed he had a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.

It’ll come down to whether or not Bailey can make it back from injury and be a shutdown pitcher like he once was. For now though, the Yankees have a premiere setup man in Robertson – and that’s about it, because Robertson isn’t a proven closer.

At least not yet.

Looking outside the back end of the bullpen, the middle relievers need to step up too. Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne are going to be two important pieces to the bullpen, along with newcomer Matt Thornton, the tall order who’ll replace Boone Logan (now with the Colorado Rockies) as the main southpaw out of the ‘pen.

Sources are saying former top Yankee pitching prospect Dellin Betances will be vying for a spot in the bullpen this spring, as it’s already been established by Yankee GM Brian Cashman that he will be a reliever in the long run. Betances could either prove to be a key middle reliever or long reliever, yet he has to pitch well enough for the Yankee brass to have faith in him – and well enough to keep himself off mopping duty.

The Opening Day bullpen is likely going to come down to whichever relievers are effective during Spring Training, and the point stands: they have to be effective, whoever they may be when camp breaks.

Masahiro Tanaka has to adapt

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Nobody is expecting Masahiro Tanaka to go 24-0 and post an ERA under 2.00 in his rookie season, but if there is one thing the new, prized Japanese import must do, it’s get acclimated to the MLB style. His numbers in Japan were far better than a lot of the other Japanese-born pitchers who’ve come over from the land of the rising sun, meaning he could potentially have a huge year, but the average fan might not realize a couple of things.

First off, pitchers in Japan throw only once a week, whereas here in the states, Tanaka will have to toe the rubber once every five days. Not only that, but the NPB in Japan also uses smaller-sized baseballs compared to an official MLB rock, therefore an adjustment needs to be made in that respect.

The biggest difference will be the hitters Tanaka faces. Monsters such as David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Prince Fielder will probably pose bigger threats (and are more intimidating) than the more tactical batters he went eye-to-eye with in Japan.

Though one could argue Tanaka won’t be fazed by the Goliath-like giants he faces here in the U.S., given his cool demeanor and calm presence at his introductory press conference.

While it’s perfectly fine to expect Tanaka to succeed – and he will – it’s reasonable to presume he will go through his growing pains. Adjustment is the biggest part of his game.

We’ll get our first live look at Tanaka on Saturday afternoon in the Yankees’ exhibition vs. the Phillies.

They have to make each other better

team-chemistry

The key to any successful team is chemistry. Most of the 2014 Yankees will be first-time teammates, not having played with each other before. While some like Jeter, Teixeira and Brett Gardner have been together for a few seasons, newbies like Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have not had a chance to jell as teammates.

If you look back to 2009 – and the Dynasty years, for that matter – a player could have an off-night, but the rest of the team would be on. For example,

In 1998, Tino Martinez might have an “0-for” night, but Jeter, Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill would be firing at will, and the Yanks would win. The next night Jeter could have gone 0-for-4, but Martinez and everyone else would still be en fuego.

Those teams were the masters of picking each other up.

If the 2014 Yankees can perfect that same art, they’ll be as lethal as any team in baseball.

And the kingdom will be theirs.

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Oh no, Cano! Wait, Beltran?!

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We may never know if Jay-Z made the Yankee cap more famous than a Yankee could, but we do know he made Robinson Cano richer than he was before he ever put on a Yankee cap.

As we all know by now, Cano and his rap star agent agreed to a 10-year, $240 million pact with the Seattle Mariners this morning, giving the Pacific Northwest a perennial all-star second baseman while leaving Yankee Universe high and dry in disbelief. The Yankees had made futile efforts to re-sign the studly second baseman, making him a final offer of a seven-year deal worth around $175 million. Seattle dug deeper into its pocket and voila. Cano is a Mariner.

Michael Douglas was right. Greed is good.

Being a homegrown Yankee, and arguably the best product of the Yankee farm system over the last decade or so, it’s a huge blow to the Yankees on a personal level; on a sentimental level. On a professional level, it’s a huge blow, considering Cano is a consistent player, always good for 100 RBIs; he smacks close to 30 homers a year, and the last time he batted under .300 was 2008 (.271).

Losing Cano’s defense is also tragic for the Bronx Bombers, as he’s a durable piece – he’s missed just eight games since 2010. Two Gold Gloves on his ledger also prove the point the Yanks have lost not just a great player, but an outstanding player.

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On the Yankees’ side, Cano’s signing with Seattle is only good from a business perspective. They weren’t forced to succumb to his high salary demands, and can use the money to pursue other free agents that can help turn them from an 85-win team into a contender again.

And if you remember back to the 1999 movie For Love of the Game, pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) was told he was being traded from the Detroit Tigers to the San Francisco Giants at the end of the season. The team owner Gary Wheeler explained,

“Everything’s changed, Billy. The players, the fans, TV rights, arbitrations. It isn’t the same. The game stinks.”

While baseball is and always will be the best game in the world, today – for the Yankee fans who adore Cano – the quote holds true. The game stinks.

Analysis

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It’s a shame. Cano was my favorite current player, and the most impactful player on the team over the past three or four years. Losing him doesn’t even seem real.

There have been some solid products of the Yankee farm system these past few years (David Robertson, Brett Gardner) but I don’t think they’ve been as valuable on a daily basis as Cano. I don’t believe there’s been another thoroughbred that has been as clutch as Cano, and his presence will be missed next year.

Do I think Cano is greedy?

Yes, but so are the rest of the players that take big money. So is the rest of the world, in fact. He was offered a sum and a certain amount of years by the Yankees. He was offered a greater sum and more years by the Mariners and chose to go in the direction of money, rather than a full, career legacy in pinstripes.

It’s sad that he didn’t want to stay, because in the past we’ve seen players get offered fat contracts with ridiculous money attached to them – only for them to just plain go where they wanted to go, regardless of money or years.

For example, Cliff Lee.

In the 2010 offseason, both the Yankees and Texas Rangers were prepared to give Lee (a then-free agent) a lot of coin and a lot of time. In the end, however, he chose to go to the Philadelphia Phillies, a team he had already pitched for and enjoyed playing for – and he signed back for less money than the Yanks and Rangers were going to give him.

At the time I (and the rest of Yankees Universe, and the front office, I’m sure) were upset with Lee for holding them up, practically, at the winter meetings. The Yanks held off on talks with other players waiting for Lee to decide what his plan was in terms of choosing a team.

Now, however, I wish Cano had taken a page out of Lee’s book, and had just gone back to the team where he made his name, even if it meant taking a pay cut.

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Sometimes I just don’t understand it all. Cano is already a multi-millionaire. If he’s being offered $175 million by the Yankees and $240 million by the Mariners – with millions and millions banked and probably invested properly – what’s the difference? Is another $65 million going to make that much of a difference at the end of your career?

The truth is, Cano could retire today, use 100 dollar bills as toilet paper, and still remain financially secure for the rest of his life.

Bottom line though: his decision was based on money and not legacy. Cano is a goner and there is nothing we can do about it.

But let’s weigh the good with the bad here.

The Good

  • The Yankees have money to spend now. There are a lot of other free agents on the market and the Yankee brass can go after basically whomever they darn well please.

 

  • Four significant free agent agreements (one official signing so far) have already taken place. Just yesterday the Yankees unveiled their new catcher Brian McCann, who is a seven-time all-star and has a lefty swing tailor made for Yankee Stadium. The Yanks also stole one of Boston’s reigning World Series champs, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Like McCann, his left-handed swing will likely translate well to the Yankee Stadium short porch. And NOW, literally as I was typing this up, the Yankees have agreed to a three year, $45 million deal with outfielder Carlos Beltran – a switch-hitting power hitter who is as clutch as they come in October. Also coming back is P Hiroki Kuroda, who earned himself a year and $16 million.

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  • Cano didn’t go to a team that poses a threat to the Yankees taking the AL East. Or, really a team that poses any type of threat to the Yankees at all. When you think of the Seattle Mariners, you think of ace starting pitcher Felix Hernandez and nobody else. Now when you think of the Seattle Mariners, you’ll think of Hernandez, Cano…and nobody else. If Cano had gone to Boston or even Baltimore, Detroit, or Texas, I’d be worried.

 

  • The insight of Hal Steinbrenner at McCann’s introductory presser yesterday. In his words, the Yankees are shooting for that “189 mark” (trying to keep the payroll under $189 million) but it won’t come at the expense of putting a winning team on the field. He also mentioned the Yankees are not done this winter. There will be more signings, and they could come at really any time – as evidenced by the timing of the Beltran deal tonight.

The Bad

  • The Yankees have a little bit of a void at second base. They picked up Kelly Johnson, a 20 home run type of guy – but at the same time a .230 batting average type of guy and a “who’s that?” on defense. They’ll need offensive production from the second base spot, as well as good D. They’ll miss Cano in that respect.

 

  • Again, the sentimental value of Cano. He was a real Yankee, and he beat feet. His minor league number is even retired by one of his first Yankee teams, the Staten Island Yankees (short season Single-A). What’s better than being a Yankee? Being a Mariner? I don’t know if the teal and navy blue measure up to what the pinstripes mean, but either way Cano was one of us. Now he’s a Mariner. If the Yankees want to seek retribution, they could always retire number 24 in the name of Tino Martinez as a middle finger to Cano. (I know they would never do that, but it’s nice to think about!)

 

  • Cano’s age and durability – and how the Yanks might miss it. He is only 31 and obviously has a lot of baseball life left in him. An according signing, Beltran, is 36 (37 on April 24). Cano’s health and durability has never come into question, whereas there will surely be a lot of questions surrounding Beltran’s health and durability. While Ellsbury’s age (30) isn’t a concern, his durability is. Ellsbury’s career has been injury-ravaged, and an eye opening stat came up today: he’s missed 264 of his last 648 regular season games. Ergo, the Yanks know what they had with Cano, but are uncertain with two of their big three free agent agreements thus far this winter.

 

  • Too many outfielders, not enough infielders. Now with Beltran in the outfield, there’s Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner, Ichiro, and Vernon Wells (he’s still a Yankee, remember?). Along with the void Cano left, third base could be a question mark, given A-Rod’s situation. Not to mention the Yanks need pitching too.

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Last thoughts

Today was one of the craziest days in recent memory, as far as the Yankees are concerned. I joked on Twitter that the YES Network could make Dec. 6, 2013 into a Yankeeography episode. It’s true. How often is it that a team loses its perennial player and responds the same exact day, hours later as a matter of fact, with a huge free agent agreement?

Not too often, I’d wager.

To Cano, best of luck in Seattle. You’ll be missed.

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To Beltran, it’s my hope you stay healthy and durable, and put up power numbers similar to what Cano would have put up for the Yankees in 2014.

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And it’s funny. Using the For Love of the Game analogy, Billy Chapel responded to the “the game stinks’ comment with,

“The game doesn’t stink, Mr. Wheeler. It’s a great game.”

When I started typing this, yes the game did stink. Now with a blockbuster free agent agreement – in the middle of completing this very blog post – the Yanks get a power hitter and the game doesn’t stink as much.

It is a great game. But man, a crazy one.

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The Yankees vs. The Red Sox on Paper: The Outfield and Designated Hitter

 


Yanks/BoSoxIf you read Part I of my analysis of the Yankees and Red Sox on paper, here’s Part II

Right Field: Nick Swisher vs. J.D. Drew

Swisher vs. Drew

Right field is such an important position on the field and playing the position requires a strong amount of defense. The Yankees and the Red Sox do not have the best defensive right fielders in the A.L., but both do so much to help the team win.

J.D. Drew was signed as a free agent prior to 2007 and had a history of injuries. Boston took a risk signing him, but with that risk has come a pretty good reward. Drew, for the most part, has stayed fairly healthy with Boston and his offensive numbers have climbed over the past couple seasons. Last season he hit 22 home runs and drove in 68 RBIs, despite holding a batting average of .255.

In the Bronx, Nick Swisher has quickly become a fan-favorite. His light-hearted attitude and funny personality has brought calmness to the Yankees and he brings a strong clubhouse presence to the table.

In both seasons Swisher has been with the Yankees, he has hit a total of 58 home runs and has knocked in 171 runs.

Center Field: Curtis Granderson vs. Jacoby Ellsbury

Granderson vs. Ellsbury

Speed and concentration are probably the two characteristics that define center field. Both the Yankees and Red Sox own center fielders that have those key essentials.

Curtis Granderson provides the Yankees with solid defense. He has the ability to catch fly balls on the run, has shown a decent arm (five outfield assists last year) and has overall demonstrated good leadership in center.

The only knock against him is his strife against left-handed pitching. Yet he still hit 24 home runs last year and knocked in 67 runs with 76 runs scored. If Granderson can show a little more patience at the plate and draw more walks, he will really be dangerous next year. He only walked 53 times in 2010.

Jacoby Ellsbury only played 18 games last season, being sidelined with an apparent rib injury. He didn’t hit any homers and only recorded five RBIs, but when he is healthy, he is deadly. In 2009, Ellsbury led the league in triples (10) and stolen bases (70).   

 In terms of his defense, Ellsbury is known to take a lot of risks; he dives for a lot of fly balls and his success rate is probably above average. But throwing caution to the wind one too many times can be costly, as evidenced by his injuries.

Left Field: Brett Gardner vs. Carl Crawford


Gardner vs. CrawfordThe Red Sox have a slight advantage here, but only in terms of offense.

Defensively, Carl Crawford is as good as they come. As everyone knows he has the speed needed to be an impactful outfielder. Crawford won the Gold Glove for left field in 2010, showing once again he does not need to prove himself as a defender.

Brett Gardner was described by Michael Kay as, “Carl Crawford, just as a cheaper price.” In a lot of ways he was correct, being that Gardner is just as fast as Crawford, maybe faster. However, Crawford is a four time All-Star, an All-Star Game MVP (2009), and came in seventh in last year’s MVP voting.

Gardner was sidelined in 2010 with a wrist injury and he needed surgery in the off-season to rectify it. In 2010 he hit five home runs with 47 RBIs and batted .277.

Crawford on the other hand hit 19 homers, batted .307, drove in 90 runs, and led the league in triples with 13.

Designated Hitter: Jorge Posada vs. David Ortiz


Posada vs. OrtizPosada’s offense has already been highlighted, but as mentioned before, he will be the Yankees’ everyday DH. The Red Sox will counter that with their Big Papi, David Ortiz.

Like Rodriguez, people can say what they want about Ortiz being on the “down side” of his career. But if last year was any indication, Big Papi still has a lot left in the tank. Boston’s slugger clubbed 32 homers last year and knocked in 102 runs on a .270 batting average.

Ortiz says it all the time, “All I do is hit. That’s what I am here for, because I don’t play defense.”

And Ortiz can still hit. When he steps up to the plate, there’s no doubt that his presence alone can intimidate a pitcher.

Posada may not intimidate a pitcher the way Ortiz does. But the Yankee DH did have 18 home runs last year, as previously mentioned.

 

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