Girls can be legitimate baseball fans – and not just butt watchers

Those Clever Indians!

Here’s a change in blog posts – I’m going to tell you a story, rather than give my opinion.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I grew up an Indians fan outside of Cleveland. I still consider myself an Indians fan, although not always a very good one…

My favorite team, of course, are the New York Yankees. One of my favorite Yankees of all time, possibly one of my favorite baseball players of all time, is Andrew Miller. When he was traded to Cleveland, I was devastated. Of all the teams in the league, it had to be my hometown team! But at the same time, I trusted the Indians and their fans to welcome him and appreciate him as much as I did while he was in New York. So far, they’ve done exactly that, and it makes my heart happy…even if I miss him terribly.

Now I live in Maryland – approximately halfway between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. Several of my friends work in DC, where it’s not uncommon for people to be very secretive about their jobs for various reasons. When you’re so close to the federal government, you learn not to ask too many questions because sometimes your friends simply can’t tell you any more about what their job involves.

One of my secretive job friends recently met some of the Indians front office staff while the team was in town to play the Nationals. My friend confirmed they were who they claimed to be, and then started to talk baseball with them…

Friend started with mentioning the Indians impressive season and the addition of Andrew Miller to the roster. The Indians people were clearly excited to talk about their newest acquisition. Friend got very bold then, and mentioned how I – a Yankee fan originally from Cleveland – was really sad to see Miller go, because he was my favorite.

The Indians front office guy grinned and said “Tell her ‘Go Tribe’ and ‘Welcome home!’”

 

You can’t make this stuff up!

 

Final note my heart still belongs to the Yankees, even if this year has been especially tough for me seeing my favorites leave. I have, however, committed to buying an Andrew Miller 24 Indians shirsey to support the hometown team.

I have a shirt for several MLB teams, but nothing for the Indians – it’s only fair!

 

If you’ve ever read my twitter account – or really, if you’ve ever met me – you know I’ve been a huge Alex Rodriguez fan for a long, long time. I was a fan way before all the big contracts and the even bigger controversies. I suffered through the bad years to enjoy the newest version of Alex Rodriguez some fans have grown to tolerate or, heaven forbid, even like.

I may not have had time to write anything since spring training, but you all knew you I would write about this.

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First of all, let me say that I knew I would be an emotional mess however Rodriguez’s career ended. I am a (somewhat) logical human being and know that no athlete’s career can last forever. I even accepted the fact that Rodriguez’s career would be ending in the very near future – but I never expected it to be August 12, 2016.

All things considered, this ending could be a lot worse. The Yankees could have completely cut ties with Rodriguez considering the amount of stress he brought to the organization. Instead, they worked out a (seemingly) peaceful agreement to end his playing career and keep him as a special advisor – the highest paid special advisor ever. They didn’t have to do that. I know that, you know that, and the Yankees know that.

But despite the logical part of my mind knowing this, the whole thing still doesn’t set quite right with me. This ending is abrupt, and now it seems to be much less peaceful than it originally looked.

Last season, I had a terrible feeling this year would be Rodriguez’s last – but I actually thought he would get to the end of the year, realize he was now 41, and decide to retire a year early. In a way, my gut feeling was right – this year is, in fact, Alex Rodriguez’s last year as a professional baseball player. I had a gut feeling prior to the press conference Sunday morning as well (but I think a lot of us did). Something inside me knew the Yankees were about to screw him, and that this wasn’t his decision.

 

Sunday morning, I watched the press conference in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan before checking out and ending a weekend in the city. Not even 24 hours earlier, I had been at Yankee Stadium, seen the Yankees lose, and then saw Rodriguez drive by me and wave (the closest I’ll ever be to meeting him). In the height of that moment, I never in a million years thought I would hear about the end of his career just hours later.

Since crying and screaming at the TV in room 2309, I’ve had time to calm down and think about all this. I’m much less angry than I was Sunday morning, but there’s one thought that keeps running through my head since turning on ESPN that morning –

This is total bullshit.

Also – don’t call it a retirement! Mark Teixeira is retiring. Alex Rodriguez is being released.

 

Jason Zillo, who looked incredibly too happy to be announcing the end of a superstar’s career, said those exact words at the beginning of the press conference:

“Following the game [Friday] he will be unconditionally released by the club from his player contract, in order to sign a contract to serve as a special advisor/instructor for the New York Yankees. The new contract will run through December 31, 2017.” (Coincidently, when his player contract would expire.)

If you watched on MLB Network, you were able to witness something truly amazing before this press conference even started – Harold Reynolds was the voice of reason. Before anyone from the Yankees walks into the room, everyone on earth is alerted by a press release from the Yankees saying Rodriguez would be released. While this is being discussed on air, a dumbfounded Reynolds is heard saying “Why would they release all this before they get to say it?”

The Yankees didn’t even let him announce his own “retirement”!

If you’ve spent any time watching interviews of Alex Rodriguez, particularly during the Biogenesis mess and fallout thereafter, you may have noticed a significant change in his body language Sunday. I am by no means an expert on body language, but I’ve seen enough video of him in 20 years to notice subtle changes.

When Zillo is beaming and announcing the news, Rodriguez is first like a stone. He holds his jaw tight, staring straight ahead – maybe to keep his emotions in check, but maybe because he already knows the bullshit that’s about to be said. Later while Zillo is talking, he grabs his water bottle and takes a few quick, somewhat aggressive sips – something that was very characteristic of the defensive interviews he gave before he accepted his suspension. But then it’s his turn to talk.

The mood changes. He starts off reminding us that he broke into Major League Baseball at 18 and that he didn’t think he could play for 22 years. His hat comes off. He tries (unsuccessfully) to hold back tears. He stares straight ahead – maybe remembering that kid in Seattle who first caught my attention – and says that at 18, he was just trying to make the team.

“We all want to keep playing forever,” but ending gracefully is part of being a professional athlete.

He talks about the game and the team he loves, and that “today, I’m saying goodbye to both.”

“Saying goodbye may be the hardest part of the job.”

When he thanks his mom and his daughters, who have “been through so much with me,” he cannot stop the tears.

In his speech thanking so many people, including the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family (imagine that happening in 2014), he never says he’s retiring.

 

During the question and answer portion, a few things stuck out to me –

Rodriguez is clear this was “Hal’s idea” and “the Yankees’ decision,” but said he would keep his conversations with Hal Steinbrenner private, even though the very next day Steinbrenner discussed the discussions in detail on The Michael Kay Show.

When asked why Friday, August 12 would be his last game, he cited “logistics” as the reason. It is incredibly moving to hear him say he wanted to play one last game at home in front of his mom, but what an awkward time. That particular game opens a home stand and is the first game of a series against the Tampa Bay Rays – but that Saturday is the 1996 World Series reunion and Sunday is the Mariano Rivera plaque dedication.

Forgive me for being cynical, but it is only good business sense to add a promo to Friday’s game too and really try to sell tickets for a weekend series. Of course, that series is against a last place team – one who recently SWEPT the Yankees, which is probably what forced the Yankees to finally sell at the trade deadline. (But I’ll come back to that in a bit.)

Rodriguez is also asked how it felt to not be in the lineup day after day. He says it’s “not fun,” and calls it “painful,” “embarrassing,” and “awkward.” Anyone can clearly see the desire to play and contribute to the team is still there, even if the opportunities to do so aren’t.

The hardest question for Rodriguez, by far, is when he’s asked how he should be remembered – but in my opinion, it’s also the best answer he gives, and maybe the most genuine. He pauses, stares ahead, and says it’s not for him to say, but says he hopes to be remembered as someone who was “madly in love with the game of baseball” and someone who “tripped and fell a lot, but kept getting back up.” Later in the press conference, he refers to himself as a “guy like me who’s been to hell and back, and made all the mistakes in the book.”

If there is anyone in the world who still thinks this guy doesn’t regret the things he’s done, do yourself a favor and watch this press conference.

 

After Friday’s game, Alex Rodriguez will no longer play for the New York Yankees. Instead, he’ll be that highly paid special advisor – even though his duties don’t officially start until next spring training. He’ll go back home to Miami, far away from New York, and wait. Saturday morning, there will be a new player and a new jersey in the Yankees clubhouse, and I will forever remember him as “the guy who took Alex’s roster spot” regardless of who he is, or what kind of career lies ahead of him.

There are less than two months of the 2016 MLB season, and the Yankees are currently 7.0 games back in the AL East, 4.5 games back in the Wild Card. This isn’t the season the Yankees, or anyone else, planned on it being. The bullpen was supposed to be the strength of the team, but Bryan Mitchell suffered an early and unfortunate injury, Aroldis Chapman was traded to Chicago, and Andrew Miller was traded to Cleveland. Greg Bird was injured before spring training even started – and then several first basemen followed right along with him. Mark Teixeira and his anemic batting average are struggling through his final days as a profession baseball player (because he’s retiring, he’s not being released). The only offensive power the Yankees had, Carlos Beltran, was traded to Texas. Aaron Hicks is somehow a worse hitter than Stephen Drew, but yet he’s seeing regular playing time.

This isn’t a team that’s going far this year – but that’s okay. Things didn’t work out as planned, the Yankees sold what assets they had, and the future looks brighter than ever. I completely get that, even if I hate to see some of these players go. Baseball is a business…but there’s an emotional side too.

As already mentioned, Mark Teixeira is finishing out the season. He’s struggling to do so, but he’s out there giving it all he has before the end of the season. Derek Jeter was able to retire on his own terms. So were Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. Those seasons weren’t what they hoped for either, but they gave it their all until the bitter end.

Why can’t Alex Rodriguez do the same? Even if the Yankees still forced him to leave the game, the end of a season is a lot more logical than a random Friday night in August. That would leave no awkward gap of watching regular season games from home, while the team you just left is still pretending they have a chance.

I was optimistic about this team as long as I possibly could be. But when Chapman, Miller, and Beltran were traded, the Yankees were waving the white flag – whether anyone in the front office admits it or not. I would love nothing more than to see the Yankees in the playoffs, but they would have to play nearly perfect baseball for the rest of this season, and I just don’t see that happening with this roster.

And if that’s the case, what harm is there in letting Rodriguez play a few more games for the Yankees? At this point, I don’t even care if he hits 700 homeruns or hits 7,000 homeruns – there is no financial bonus for either, but at least it gives him a chance to give it everything he’s got. Instead, he has a press conference on a Sunday, two opportunities to play on Thursday and Friday, and he’s done forever. He doesn’t even stick around to jump into the advisor role. I guess the young players like Starlin Castro who are here now don’t need any guidance until next year.

 

Thanks for your twelve years of service to the New York Yankees, you’ve got five days to wrap up here, but you’re only going to play two of those days.

 

I still think it’s a bunch of bullshit.

 

I did not even listen to Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi’s portions of the press conference. I know what Girardi said has already proven to be bullshit, and I just don’t have the stomach to listen to either one of them give their excuses right now.

Infield Dilemma

The Yankees need to chose a backup infielder who can play third base. That’s a very reasonable request, because even if Chase Headley somehow could return to his 2012 Gold Glove self, he will need an occasional day off. He, along with the rest of us, isn’t getting any younger.

At first, the backup at third was going to be Starlin Castro, but the Yankees decided it was best to keep him at second base, since even that’s a fairly new position for him (a decision I have to agree with). That left three players – Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, and Rob Refsnyder as possible choices.

To be completely honest, I like Rob Refsnyder, and I’ve often praised him for doing everything the Yankees have ever asked of him. After being drafted as an outfielder, he learned to play second base at the team’s request (a transition many would say he’s still settling into), but was never quite good enough in the Yankees’ opinion to make the major league roster and play full time. This spring, they decided to try Refsnyder at third base, even though he had no profession experience at the position. In his first few experiences at third, he actually played much better than most people had expected.

But let’s look at the facts here – Rob Refsnyder is a 25 year old who has yet to prove himself (that’s debatable) as a dependable everyday player. Some might argue that if it hasn’t happened yet, it will never happen – even though a quick Google search will show the average age of a rookie player in MLB is 25.8 years old (Refsnyder turned 25 just this week). Not every rookie coming up is Manny Machado or Brycer Harper; most take a little while to really establish themselves.

Even still, the experiment of Refsnyder at third base can still look like a failure. According to MLB.com, Refsnyder has played third base in just ten games (seven starts and 51.1 innings total) this spring training. Ten games. Keeping in mind that is an incredibly small sample size and the only ten games he’s ever played at this position (with little to no time to prepare for his audition), he’s made four errors and has a FPCT of .818. Whether I like him or not, that looks bad. Even after the disappointing season and career high errors Headley had last year, he still finished with a .946 FPCT.

Another interesting point about Refsnyder’s fielding: in seven games (three starts, 27 innings total) at second base, he has not committed a single error and has a perfect FPCT.

Still, to be fair, that .818 at third is pretty bad. To that point, I can understand sending him back to SWB to work on his defense at third.

But that still leaves Chase Headley without an official backup, and so the Yankees are looking at Ronald Torreyes and Pete Kozma to fill that position. Those are interesting choices in my opinion.

Torreyes was acquired from the Dodgers in a rather unexciting trade this past January. Since he signed as an amateur free agent in 2010, he’s been with five different clubs and has less than a year of major league service time. He has experience at third base – he has appeared in 62 games and totaled almost 500 innings at third – in the minor leagues (with a .925 FPCT). At the major league level, he has just three games (five innings) of experience at third, all last year with the Dodgers (he also played in four games, 12 innings at second). This spring, the Yankees have given him quite a look as he’s played 81.0 innings over 20 games at either second, shortstop, or third. (Refsnyder had 78.1 innings played between second and third). However, while Torreyes FPCT has so far been perfect at every position, he has only spent 19 of those innings (in six games) playing third base.

Kozma is an even more interesting candidate. He is a veteran player who originally signed in 2007 but did not make his MLB debut until 2011. In his five years of MLB experience since, he has shown his ability to play multiple positions – all infield positions and left field. When he signed a minor league deal with the Yankees this off season, it was seen as an insignificant move to provide depth at AAA. Kozma has spent the most of his major league time at shortstop (he was the regular shortstop for the Cardinals in 2013) and has played just 14 MLB games (three starts and 135.0 innings) at third base.

Here are some of the offensive numbers for the three:

MLB G

MLB BA

MLB OBP

MLB Slg%

MiLB G

MiLB BA

MiLB OBP

MiLB Slg%

Kozma

275

.222

.288

.293

788

.238

.311

.348

Refsnyder

16

.302

.348

.512

430

.290

.380

.432

Torreyes

8

.333

.429

.500

612

.298

.353

.409

Admittedly, I am not an expert on sabermetrics. I’m not sure if there is a stat that can measure insanely difficult plays at third base, or take into consideration any abnormal trajectories of a batted ball. I am well aware that third base is not an easy position to play, and there is good reason it’s called the hot corner. That being said, I can’t help but feel like it’s insanely bad luck and some ridiculously difficult plays that would cause a player to be hit in the face not once, but twice – and on consecutive days – as Refsnyder was this spring. He isn’t new to baseball, and he isn’t new to playing the infield.

There is also no measure of how well a player can handle the pressure of playing in New York. I can’t say for sure what kind of pressure Torreyes might have had playing in another large market (LA), but I do know about the pressure Refsnyder faced after his MLB debut last year. Refsnyder made his debut at Fenway Park, in front of rival Red Sox fans, and faced a tough fan base in the Bronx. I’m not sure how other fans felt about it, but he did not seem to be phased in any of those games, including the AL Wild Card game.

I’ve tried to be optimistic and to a certain point, I do understand sending Refsnyder down to the minors to work on his defense at third. However, the Yankees gave him very little notice he would even be learning another new position, then gave him a sink-or-swim opportunity to prove himself, and finally made a decision in less than a dozen games.

While Kozma is a veteran player with more MLB experience than either Refsnyder or Torreyes, he’s signed to a minor league deal and not even on the 40 man roster. Him making the team seems like a bit of a long shot at this point.

That leaves Torreyes, who I believe will be the Yankees choice for backup infielder. On paper, he does seem to be the better player offensively and defensively, which the Yankees will likely argue, but his stats are only slightly better than Refsnyder’s, and with less MLB experience.

As a baseball fan, it’s sometimes difficult to separate personal feelings for a player from the bigger picture for the organization as a whole. Truthfully, I cannot imagine Torreyes, or even Kozma, being a disaster as a backup infielder. In fact, either of them could prove to be very successful in that capacity.

Even as an emotionally invested fan, I could understand the logic of choosing either Torreyes or Kozma – but are they really that much better than Refsnyder? Does Kozma, signed to a minor league deal as a veteran player, have more potential than a young player ready to make his mark? Is Torreyes, with less MLB experience but slightly better stats, a more dependable choice than Refsnyder, who the Yankees already know?

I could fully understand choosing someone other than Refsnyder if they were undoubtedly better, but neither of these players are. It’s simply another example of the Yankees changing course on Refsnyder’s development, and setting unrealistic expectations for him along the way. If the Yankees aren’t going to let him play, they need to let him go. He’s shown he can do it, and continually holding him back isn’t helping anyone.

Let’s all hope whoever wins the job proves beyond any doubt that they were the right choice.

No Tanaka on Opening Day…?

Spring training hasn’t even officially started, and there is already panic about Masahiro Tanaka’s arm.

Earlier today, news broke that Tanaka said he wasn’t sure whether or not he would be ready to pitch on Opening Day. As soon as I read the headline, I knew there would be panic from Yankee fans, and doubts about his status as an ace from everyone around baseball.

When asked about his first regular season start today, Tanaka said:

“Can’t really say. We’ll take it day by day. I feel that I can’t really talk about that at this point. I just want to see myself go into the bullpen, get the innings in and see how I feel.”

It is his first day in Tampa – his first workout since the offseason. What is so wrong with that?

Yes, the Yankees made a huge investment in Tanaka (7 years $155 million, plus a $20 million posting fee) and yes, they expect him to be an ace. We already know about his partial UCL tear, trips to the disabled list in 2014 and again in 2015, and he underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his throwing arm this offseason. I understand fans concern about Tanaka. I understand fans frustration about what we’ve seen from Tanaka during his first two seasons in MLB.

I, too, would love for Tanaka to put the injuries behind him and be the ace the Yankees expected him to be when they signed him. But for right now, it’s entirely too early to judge his upcoming season. Likewise, it’s entirely too early to panic about his arm.

Regardless of whether or not he had surgery in the offseason, this is Tanaka’s first workout after the offseason. No pitcher is going to feel 100% ready to go on Opening Day after one workout. Spring training doesn’t even officially start until Thursday for pitchers and catchers. There are a lot of workouts and a lot of throwing for Tanaka (and all the pitchers) between now and Opening Day.

There are many factors that will go into deciding when Tanaka is ready to make his first regular season start. There are doctors, trainers, management, and even Tanaka himself who will all have a say in when he’s ready to pitch. For the amount of money the Yankees have invested in one arm, I don’t blame them for being cautious – and they’ve shown they’re not afraid to rest him when needed. Being overly optimistic about his Opening Day status right now is of no benefit to anyone.

Had Tanaka said this a week before the regular season, this would be an entirely different situation. We are just under a week until spring training starts. As much as we all want baseball back right now, there are still several weeks to go.

Before fans lose faith in Tanaka or raise your blood pressure worrying, ask yourself this: Would you rather Tanaka rehab properly and pitch well this year (Opening Day or not), or rush his rehab just to pitch Opening Day and suffer a worse injury later?

The answer is simple to me.

Followup on my 2015 Wishes

Prior to the start of last season, I considered each probable starter for the Yankees and made one wish for the upcoming season. Now that we’re rapidly approaching a new season and the dust has settled from the previous season, it’s time to see which Yankees lived up to my (completely unimportant) expectations.

THE PITCHERS

Masahiro Tanaka “That the arm holds up. Let other teams speculate about your health and distract their focus against you.”

Notice my hope was only about the health of his arm – not his contract, his performance, or whether or not he’s an ace. Tanaka did start more games (24) than he did last year (20), and as a result pitched more innings (154.0) than he did last year (136.1), including one of only two complete games thrown by Yankee starters in 2015. He had one trip to the DL which lasted from 4/28/15 to 6/05/15. (The year before, Tanaka was out from 7/6/14 to 9/21/14.)

Verdict: He pitched more, was injured less, and his arm did not fall off. Good!

Michael Pineda “Keep up the good work, Big Mike. And if you want to wear your hat a little straighter, I won’t complain.”

There were good days (Mother’s Day, when he struck out 16), and there were meh days (too many to mention). We saw a lot more of Pineda this year after his return from injury (160.2IP compared to 76.1IP last year), but yet only one example of really good pitching immediately comes to mind.

Verdict: …at least there was no pine tar!

CC Sabathia “Have a better season than I’m fearing you’ll have.”

I was really hard on CC – and I mean really hard. I predicted a loss every time he started because I was so confident opposing hitters would destroy him. For the first part of the season, that was true; in the first 24 games of the season he was 4-9 with a 5.27 ERA. Then came the blessed knee brace! In his final 5 starts of the season, Sabathia’s ERA dropped to 2.17 – much more like the workhorse we’re used to. He is now 35 years old and has thrown 2988.2IP and recorded 2,574K in his 15 year career. This was a difficult year for Sabathia personally and professionally, but even if his body wasn’t performing as he wanted it to, his heart was always 100% in it.

Verdict: Glad the end of the season was more like the old CC – and knee brace for MVP!

Nathan Eovaldi “Be that young pitcher no one expects to be great, and then dominate opposing teams.”

There’s a big difference between playing for the Miami Marlins, and playing for the New York Yankees. For example – Eovaldi had a 6-14 record in 2014 with the Marlins, and a 14-3 record this past season with the Yankees. His ERA in 2014 and 2015 are roughly the same while his starts and innings pitched were down slightly in 2015 due to injury. The numbers that really stood out to me were his 175 hits (down from 223), 72 runs (down from 107), and 72 ER (down from 97).

Verdict: He didn’t exactly dominate, but he’s a work in progress, and seems to be progressing well.

Adam Warren: “Be consistent and pitch well – there’s a reason you won this rotation spot – and don’t be one of the pitchers we have to worry about.”

Remember when Adam Warren was a starter? Those were my favorite Adam Warren days! I was fortunate enough to see two of his starts in person – one a narrow defeat and one a win. Of course later in the season Warren was moved to the bullpen where he proved to be just as effective. There was a certain amount of comfort in having him out there if a starter totally tanked (and not that Chris Capuano ever did…) because we knew he could give length. Or a spot start. Or really, whatever the Yankees asked of him, because he would do it. And he would do it well, and always without complaint.

Verdict: If anyone met and exceeded all my hopes for 2015, it was Adam Warren. I’ll miss him in pinstripes, but wish him tons of success with the Cubs.

THE INFIELDERS

Brian McCann (C): “You’ve had a year to settle in to a new environment – now it’s time to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s right field.”

There isn’t a huge difference in McCann’s stats in 2014 compared to 2015. He only hit three more HRs, but he did have 19 more RBIs. He had 20 more strikeouts, but also drew 20 more walks. He’s projected to have roughly the same kind of numbers for 2016.

Verdict: I’m not sure we can expect much more from Brian McCann as we’ve seen the last two seasons. That being said, I’m not at all disappointed with him.

Mark Teixeira (1B): “Don’t be stubborn: teams are going to shift, especially when you outright say you won’t try to beat the shift.”

For quite awhile early this season, it seemed like Tex’s approach to beating the shift was just to hit everything right over the shift. It didn’t seem to matter where anyone was standing on the field – he was just going to hit the ball right out of the park, probably yelling “I’ll show you!” as he rounded the bases.

Verdict: This is, by far, the most hilarious example of being proven wrong I can think of from this season!

Stephen Drew (2B): “Crack .200 for your batting average and look like you can play 2B.”

What an odd player Stephen Drew turned out to be. I’m not sure anyone in baseball history has ever hit 17HRs while only hitting .201 for the season (of course he had to add that extra .001 to his average, just to spite me). As for his fielding, I have to give him credit for switching positions after age 30. He’s demonstrated versatility playing 2B, SS, and 3B during the season, as well as having some (very random) power at the plate. He could be a very good utility infielder for the Nationals this year.

Verdict: He just barely broke .200 before he was shut down for injury the rest of the season. He certainly wasn’t the best 2B in MLB last year, but he also could have been a lot worse.

Didi Gregorius (SS): “Don’t get rattled by replacing one of baseball’s biggest stars on one of the largest stages in the world.”

I’ll admit I was hard on Didi early in the season. He had a bit of a rocky start with a mental errors (working with a former Gold Glove shortstop helped), but showed great improvement as the season went on.

Verdict: Do we all love Didi yet? I think we all love Didi!

Chase Headley (3B): “Keep the good New York momentum going.”

In his nine years in MLB, Chase Headley has made 83 errors at 3B. In the first eight years of his career, he had never made more than 13 errors in a single season (2010) and even won a Gold Glove with the Padres in 2012.

During the 2014 season, I was extremely judgmental of anyone who tried to play 3B – mostly because they were “replacing” my favorite player, but also because they were pretty terrible. When Headley came to New York, it was like a breath of fresh air. Finally, there was someone competent who could play 3B – and then he signed a four year contract as a free agent. Things were good!

But then came the 2015 season, and a career high 23(!!) errors. At times, I wondered if the Yankees might actually get better defense from 40 year old Alex Rodriguez.

Verdict: Biggest disappointment of 2015.

THE OUTFIELDERS

Brett Gardner (LF): “Be that gritty player who flies under the radar and leaves teams wondering “Where the hell did that guy come from?””

Gardner always has a rough second half of the season. At this point in his career, I’m not sure that will ever change. One thing I absolutely love about Gardner is that he always, always gives it all he’s got. He doesn’t often get the recognition he deserves, especially for someone who had to fight just to play college baseball and is now an everyday player for the New York Yankees.

Verdict: Gardy finally got the recognition he deserves, being selected to his first career All Star game at 31 years old.

Jacoby Ellsbury (CF): “Steal a ton of bases – and maybe another steal of home.”
Bonus wish: “Have a ridiculously good game against the Red Sox. Just explode offensively and defensively, and silence those Red Sox fans who claim they’re happy you left Boston.”

Early this season, I really thought it was going to be Ellsbury’s year – he started the season hot. In the first month and a half of the season, he hit .324 with 48 hits, 29 runs scored, and an impressive 14 stolen bases. Every time I turned a game on, he was running – and it was like a dream come true. This is the Jacoby Ellsbury I wanted to see!

When things seem too good to be true, they often are. On May 19, Ellsbury sustained a right knee injury and spent May 20 through July 8 on the disabled list. As luck would have it, he injured his knee in the first of two games in Washington, and of course I had tickets for the second game. (It wasn’t all bad news though – I was there for Slade Heathcott’s MLB debut!)

For the rest of the season, Ellsbury was okay. Average. Definitely far less exciting than he started the season. There was no amazing game against the Red Sox either.

Verdict: If I could only judge Ellsbury’s season up until May 19, it would be a big success.

Carlos Beltran (RF): “Do something to make me excited you’re on the team?”

Beltran and Sabathia are similar in that I really expected zero from either of them. The difference between the two is that I actually feel bad for judging CC so harshly. I’m still not wildly impressed with Beltran.

In all fairness, his bat did heat up later in the season and often at key moments of the game. But the defense was terrible. Every joke about Beltran riding a Rascal around right field were completely justified. Outs turned into hits. Running looked nothing short of pathetic. At this point in his career, Beltran probably is best suited as a DH, but on this current roster, it’s just not possible.

Verdict: The excited moments were few and far between, but there were a few.

THE DESIGNATED HITTER

Alex Rodriguez (DH): “Don’t blow it.”

Remember when Alex Rodriguez returning from his suspension was the worst thing that could ever happen to baseball? We’ve come a long way.

Over the past year, he’s shown tremendous growth personally and professionally. We saw a man who, at forty years old, finally seems to be comfortable in his own skin – and proved he can still play professional baseball after spending the better part of the last two years watching from a distance. He has said and done all the right things, allowing many people to forget just how much they hated him just a year ago.

Verdict: No words could accurately express how happy I am to see this version of Alex Rodriguez.

 

The regular season starts in just a few short weeks! Hopefully, I’ll have a whole new list of hopes and dreams for this year’s team. Stay tuned!

Chapman comes to New York

Since the Yankees shocked the baseball world by trading for Aroldis Chapman, I’ve been trying to decide how I felt about the trade; there’s the potential for huge reward, but with big risk. I’ve actually started this post several times trying to sort out the many thoughts in my head about the trade, the current Yankees roster, and Chapman’s personal problems.

After a whole lot of thought…I think this deal is going to turn out alright.

First, there is the trade itself. At least for now, Yankee fans have seemingly forgotten they hate Brian Cashman. No one seems to miss the four young players sent to Cincinnati, because there is so much excitement about what good Chapman could bring to this team.

This deal creates an amazing back end of the Yankees bullpen. Dellin Betances. Aroldis Chapman. Andrew Miller. They are all among MLB’s best relief pitchers, and they are all together on one roster. Even if you hate the Yankees, you have to admit that is a very powerful trio.

via sportsonearth.com

 

 

We’ve seen the super bullpen work with the Royals in 2014, and even better in 2015 when they won the World Series despite losing Greg Holland to injury (and Tommy John surgery) in mid-September. We all know having a powerful bullpen shortens games, and for the Yankees, that can be extremely beneficial.

There are significant concerns about the Yankees rotation. Cashman insists the rotation is “full” and that the Yankees are not signing any big free agents – so let’s just assume they keep the starters next year. In 2015, the top six Yankee starters (Eovaldi, Nova, Pineda, Sabathia, Severino, and Tanaka) averaged 5.83 innings per start. (Tanaka had the highest average with 6.42 innings and Nova had the lowest average with 5.53 innings.) Whether the starters were unable to go deep into games was a result of their pitching ability or an overly anxious manager is a whole other debate. For argument’s sake, let’s each starter lasts approximately 6 innings per start – that leaves 3 more innings to play, and there are 3 super arms sitting in the bullpen.

Obviously the super trio cannot pitch 7-8-9 in every game, but there is some flexibility here. Last season, we saw Girardi frequently use both Betances and Miller for more than one inning. He didn’t wait for the 8th inning to bring in Betances, and he wasn’t afraid to use Miller for a 4 or even 5 out save. He pushed them – and it often worked out well for the team. Adding that third arm can (hopefully) cut down on the workload for both of them, which could then give them more opportunity to rest and stay healthy. There is always the possibility Girardi starts brining in relievers in the 5th inning as one of my friends at The Greedy Pinstripes (somewhat jokingly) suggested, but I am going to cross my fingers Girardi hasn’t totally lost his mind this offseason.

That still leaves a big question – who’s the closer? The Yankees have three potential closers, which is an excellent problem to have. Surprisingly, since I am a big Andrew Miller fan and call him my hero, I would actually chose Chapman as the closer – and the flexibility of the other two is part of the reason why.

 

So far, both Betances and Miller have been quoted saying they’re excited about the addition of Chapman, and each willing to do whatever they can to help the team win games. Miller, especially, has said since he signed with the Yankees last offseason, that he is willing to do any job given to him. He never demanded he be the closer, and he never assumed he would be the closer. Betances is a New Yorker, and wants to bring a championship home. Of the three, Betances is the least likely to be the closer (although perfectly capable). Chapman has always been a closer, while the other two have not, so I would have to assume he is the most comfortable – and obviously successful – in that role.

Which leads me to my first concern about Chapman – how long can a human arm withstand throwing pitches at such great speeds? There is a great deal of mechanics/physics that go into pitching (read some interesting articles HERE and HERE), and we see “average” MLB pitchers suffer injuries by throwing pitches significantly slower than Chapman’s. At some point, will his arm just give out?

The medical professional in me thinks about things like this. There is a certain point (the actual speed seems debatable) where the human body just cannot handle throwing a baseball any faster. Chapman is likely nearly that point. Part of me will worry with each pitch – is this the one that will tear his UCL? Betances and Miller are not throwing quite as fast as Chapman (but really, no one in baseball is). Because of that, I would feel more comfortable allowing Betances and Miller throw more pitches per outing than Chapman. Considering that along with the flexibility they’ve already demonstrated, and we could potentially see 6+ outs from just the two of them. To wrap things up, bring in Chapman for 3 quick outs on probably less than a dozen pitches thrown (3-9 pitches would be even better).

Of course, the biggest concern about Chapman is a possible suspension for domestic violence. Before I go any further, it’s important to mention I am against violence of any kind, against anyone. However, from a legal standpoint, Aroldis Chapman has never been charged with domestic violence.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t a shit human being. The entire story makes me uneasy – and the fact that he was ever in such a volatile situation at all – but the fact is the investigation did not bring up enough evidence to charge him. He may be a bad person, but he certainly wouldn’t be the first in baseball.

If MLB does find cause to suspend him, a few things can happen. There is the possibility he is suspended long enough to delay his free agency eligibility until the end of next season. If that happens, Brian Cashman will look like a genius for getting two years of Chapman at the cost of four young players. There’s also the possibility the suspension is shorter, or maybe there is no suspension at all.

Suspension or not, there will be a lot of attention focused on Aroldis Chapman. Of the two teams, who would you expect to handle the possible media circus better – the Cincinnati Reds, or the New York Yankees? Remember, the Yankees are a much larger organization and were recently very involved with the longest suspension MLB had ever given, and all the public spectacle that went along with it.

The key to this working as well as it can is keeping the three pitchers together. The Yankees bullpen already lost two of their best pitchers (Adam Warren and Justin Wilson) this offseason, and aside from Betances/Miller, there were a lot of question marks. Adding Chapman is almost enough to make fans forget Warren and Wilson are even gone, but removing any of these three puts the Yankees back into that same position. There have been rumors all offseason that the Yankees have been listening to trade offers for Andrew Miller. Honestly, it’s a smart thing to do – the Yankees could be blown away with an offer they can’t refuse. But trading Miller for a starter? That doesn’t make much sense to me either. Even the best pitcher, who would assumingly go deep into games and take stress off the bullpen, is only going to pitch every five days. The Yankees have six starters and, while it’s not ideal, it looks like those are the six they will have going in to Opening Day. Trade Miller for even the best starter available and you’re left with seven starters, two reliable relievers, and still a whole lot of question marks.

It will be interesting to see how Chapman fits into the Yankees organization, what his punishment will be (if any) and how it will all play out in New York and MLB. For the time being, we Yankee fans can smile because our team has the Betances/Miller/Chapman trio.

If the whole season falls apart, I’m fairly confident at least those three will still keep things exciting.

Were the trades worth it?

The Toronto Blue Jays had arguably the best trade deadline in MLB this year, and probably pulled off the best trade early in the previous off season as well. As a result of these moves, they won the AL East, went on to the playoffs, and were beaten by the world champion Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. The organization did what they had to do to win.

But were all these moves really worth it? They didn’t accomplish their ultimate goal of winning the World Series in the first year, but there’s always next year….right?

The Blue Jays will likely be good next year, and may even be among the best offensive teams in the league again, but will that success last long term? Did they give up too much in the trades?

It’s a question that’s been in the back of my mind since the deadline. When the news came out the Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos would not be returning, and possibly due to a disagreement about trades with new Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, my curiosity was piqued again. Just how much did the Blue Jays give up?

First, I am in no way an expert on the Blue Jays or their farm system. Also, I am not someone who believes you can judge a trade immediately after it happens. What looks good on paper doesn’t always translate well to what’s actually happening on the field.

Some trades initially do look better than others right away, and the trade that brought third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto is one of those. The Blue Jays sent four players (3B Brett Lawrie, LHP Sean Nolin, RHP Kendall Graveman, and SS Franklin Barreto) to Oakland in exchange for Donaldson. Lawrie himself is a decent third baseman (he also played some second base this season), and has roughly the same amount of MLB experience as Donaldson (5 years, 494 games to Donaldson’s 5 years 5 years, 563 games). Offensively and defensively, Donaldson is the better overall player, although Lawrie (26 in January) is about four years younger than Donaldson (30 in December). Still, a straight Lawrie-for-Donaldson trade wouldn’t be fair, but the four player package was enough for Oakland to give up the 2015 A.L. MVP.

Both young pitchers (in December, Nolin will be 26 and Graveman 25) pitched at the major league level with mediocre results. Nolin (the Blue Jays’ former #11 prospect) appeared in just 2 games and finished with a .333 ERA while Graveman appeared in 21 games and totaled a 6-9 record with a 4.00 ERA. Barreto is just 19 and spent the season at level A, but still talented enough he was the #8 Toronto prospect before the trade.

Toronto’s smallest trade deadline moves occurred on the July 31 trade deadline. One move brought Mariner’s RHP Mark Lowe to Toronto in exchange for three young LHP: Rob Rassmussen (26), Jacob Brentz (20), and Nick Wells (20). Brentz and Wells both pitched at level A. Rasmussen did pitch at the major league level for both Toronto and Seattle, although with disappointing results. In just four days on the major league roster with the Blue Jays, he appeared in just one game and pitched only one inning. In Seattle, he pitched 14.1 innings with a 2-1 record over 19 games and an unfortunate 10.67 ERA and 2.302 WHIP. That alone makes the acquisition of Lowe all the better, especially considering Lowe carried at 1.00 ERA and 1.167 WHIP over 36.0 innings in 34 games in Seattle. In Lowe’s 23 games and 19.0 IP with Toronto, his ERA rose 3.79 while WHIP dropped to 0.842. Lowe was signed to a minor league deal before the 2015 season, and is now a 32 year old free agent.

Another small move occurred on the deadline day between Toronto and Philadelphia. The Phillies received two young RHP pitchers (Jimmy Cordero, 24, and Alberto Tirado, 20) from the Blue Jays, who received LF Ben Revere in return. Cordero and Tirado both pitched at the minor league level for Philly (Cordero AAA and Tirado A), and could work out well for a team trying to get rid of bad contracts and rebuild. Prior to the trade, Tirado was ranked as Toronto’s #15 prospect. In Toronto, Revere’s stats actually improved. With Philly, Revere was batting .334 with 109 hits and 1 HR over 96 games. After the move to Toronto, his already solid average went up slightly to .354 with another HR in the 56 games he played with the Blue Jays. Revere is under contract through the 2018 season.

One day earlier, the Blue Jays pulled off one of their biggest trades when they acquired LHP David Price from the Detroit Tigers for a package of three LHP. Overall, David Price had a very successful 2015 despite being traded for the second time in his career. His stats before and after the trade are very similar, although slightly better in Toronto. One of the pitchers acquired by Detroit, Toronto’s former #16 prospect Jairo Labourt, spent the 2015 season at level A. Matt Boyd pitched for both the Blue Jays and Tigers, and although his numbers are not overly impressive, he did show signs of improvement after the trade. With Toronto, Boyd pitched in just two games (both starts), lasting only a combined 6.2IP with a 14.85 ERA and 0-2 record. However, in Detroit, Boyd pitched in 11 games (10 starts) with 50.2 IP, a 1-4 record and 6.57 ERA. Blue Jays former #1 prospect, Daniel Norris, was the third player sent to Detroit and the most consistent before and after the trade. In 5 games for Toronto, Norris recorded 23.1 IP with a 1-1 record and 3.86 ERA. For Detroit, he threw 36.2 IP over 8 games, with a 2-1 record and 3.68 ERA.

The other big trade, and the most interesting to me, happened three days before the deadline when the Blue Jays sent three RHP and SS Jose Reyes to the Colorado Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins. Anthopoulos had asked the Rockies about Tulowitzki several times before the season (likely around the same time he made the move for Donaldson) but the right trade didn’t present itself until July.

Overall, Tulowitzki had a decent 2015 season although his .300 BA and .348 OBP dropped to .239 and .317 after the trade. Hawkins also had similar numbers with both teams, with his ERA improving from 3.63 to 2.76. Tulowitzki, who has a history of often being injured, is currently 31 years old and does not become a free agent until 2021. Hawkins will turn 43 years old later this year and become a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.

Undoubtedly, the Blue Jays strengthened the left side of their infield and improved two spots in their lineup with the additions of Donaldson and Tulowitzki.

But the Rockies are excited about all three of the young pitchers, and appear to be interested in developing pitching specific to their ballpark. The youngest of the three, Jesus Tinoco (20), spent the 2015 season at level A in both the Blue Jays and Rockies systems, with his new team hoping to develop him into a back end starter.

RHP Miguel Castro was ranked as Toronto’s #5 prospect, and has dropped to the #10 prospect in the Rockies organization after the trade. Although he had limited experience – 13 games for the Blue Jays, 5 games for the Rockies, and a combined 17.2 IP – the Rockies expect him to work as a relief pitcher. He had an 0-2 record and 4.38 ERA and recorded 4 saves for the Blue Jays. However, the Rockies and Castro have some work to do before he can be a reliable arm out of the bullpen. After the trade, Castro had an 0-1 record with a disappointing 10.38 ERA.

The third pitcher sent to Colorado, and the “key” to the trade, was RHP Jeff Hoffman, who himself has an interesting story. I’ve heard about Hoffman since he was drafted in 2014 out of East Carolina University. My brother (@MichaelPrunka) is a local sports reporter and attended ECU at the same time as Hoffman, and was very excited to see someone he had reported about drafted 9th overall with a $3.1 million signing bonus. He recalls multiple scouts visiting ECU to see Hoffman pitch, including Cubs GM Theo Epstein (the Cubs drafted 4th and chose Kyle Schwarber).

In his three years at ECU, Hoffman’s ERA dropped from 3.67 to 2.94. During his sophomore season (2013), he threw more innings (109 2/3) than any other ECU pitcher. It was expected Hoffman would be one of the top three draft picks in 2014 before his season ended prematurely when he underwent Tommy John surgery. Even post-surgery, he was still drafted 9th overall and did not make his professional debut in until this past May. After 11 starts at Advanced A, he was promoted to AA, and is expected to make his MLB debut sometime in 2016. Some expect him to be an average mid-rotation starter, while others predict he is a future ace. While the Rockies are excited for all three of these pitchers, but it’s Hoffman at the top of their list for the team’s future.

Without a doubt, the Blue Jays had a much better team after the trade deadline than they did before. They acquired three pitchers, a shortstop, third baseman, and a left fielder to improve their team – and it worked, despite falling just short of making it to the World Series.

But to acquire these six players, the Blue Jays lost a total of 13 pitchers, 2 shortstops and 1 third baseman – including six of their top 20 prospects. Two of the pitchers acquired (David Price and Mark Lowe) are now free agents. Just before the off season, Mark Buerhle announced his retirement, and starter R.A. Dickey is 41 years old (although expected to pitch again next season). That leaves the Blue Jays rotation two pitchers short.

The Blue Jays already had the #1 offense in all of baseball, but were only 23rd in pitching. Their offense should be great again next season – Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both signed through next year, Donaldson and Russell Martin is signed through 2019, and Tulowitzki through 2021. But as the saying goes, you can’t predict baseball. Bautista is 35 years old now. The often injured Tulowitzki is another year older (31) and is playing on artificial turf for at least the foreseeable future. With a few slumps or injuries, their power offense could suffer.

Baseball fans may never really know why Alex Anthopoulos decided to leave the Blue Jays, but the theory of a disagreement between him and Mark Shapiro is not that unimaginable.

“Shapiro, a brilliant man who normally chooses his words precisely, at one point was said to have discussed the lack of top prospects at the upper levels and the need to replenish the coffers following the big, season-altering trades, and Anthopoulos apparently took that as a slap.” – CBS’ Jon Heyman

I’ve heard a lot about Mark Shapiro during the time he worked for my hometown Cleveland Indians. While he doesn’t have a ring to show for his years in Cleveland, I respect the work he did. If he did express concern over trading so many prospects…I really can’t blame him.

Someone asked me if I was worried about the Blue Jays just after the trade deadline when they added Price and Tulowitzki. At the time I said I wasn’t, but would be if they had added more pitching. They may have finished the season 6 games ahead of the Yankees and won the division, but they also have two empty spots in their rotation, and no pitchers on the horizon. None of their top pitching prospects are expected to be MLB ready until 2017.

There is a certain amount of caution when considering prospects. The jump from the minor leagues to the majors is significant, and there’s really no way of knowing how each player will handle it if/when they get there. Of course, there is also free agency or trades to fill the needs of a ball club. While I don’t see the Blue Jays and Mark Shapiro spending big money on free agents or making more big trades, they may not have any other option.

The Blue Jays certainly had an exciting trade deadline, and second half of the season, but they certainly have more work to this offseason. It will be interesting to see how the team will proceed with a new team president, and a newly departed GM.

Only time will tell if these trades were worth it in the long run. Would you have made these moves?

I don’t think I would have.

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top 20 prospects (pitchers), July 27, 2014 (after draft signing deadline):
1. Daniel Norris (LHP) – traded to Detroit for David Price
2. Aaron Sanchez (RHP) – MLB debut 2015
3. Dalton Pompey (OF)
4. Jeff Hoffman (RHP) – traded to Colorado for Tulowitzki & Hawkins
5. Robert Osuna (RHP) – MLB debut 2015
6. Max Pentecost (C)
7. Mitch Nay (3B)
8. Franklin Barreto (SS) – traded to Oakland for Josh Donaldson
9. D.J. Davis (OF)
10. Sean Reid-Foley (RHP) – ETA 2018
11. Sean Nolin (LHP) – traded to Oakland for Josh Donaldson
12. Dawel Lugo (SS)
13. Matt Dean (1B)
14. A.J. Jimenez (C)
15. Alberto Tirado (RHP) – traded to Philly for Ben Revere
16. Jairo Labourt (LHP) – traded to Detroit for David Price

17. John Stilson (RHP)
18. Chase De Jong (RHP)
19. Richard Urena (SS),
20. Matthew Smoral (LHP) – ETA 2017

Current Blue Jays prospect rankings:
1. Jonathan Harris (RHP) – ETA 2018
2. Anthony Alford (OF)
3. Sean Reid-Foley (RHP) – ETA 2018
4. Max Pentecost (C)
5. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr (OF)
6. Richard Urena (SS)
7. Rowdy Tellez (1B)
8. Conner Greene (RHP) – ETA 2017
9. Mitch Nay (3B)
10. Ryan Borucki (LHP) – ETA 2018
11. D.J. Davis (OF)
12. Clinton Hollon (RHP) – ETA 2019
13. Dwight Smit (OF)
14.Dan Jansen (C)
15. Justin Maese (RHP) – ETA 2019
16. Matt Smoral (LHP) – ETA 2017
17. Matt Dean (1B)
18. Tom Robson (RHP) – ETA 2018
19. Lane Thomas (2B)
20. Carl Wide (3B)

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