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Don’t Call It a Retirement…

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.

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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.

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.

A Tale of Two Cities

When you have the opportunity to travel 786 miles to see four MLB teams play in two separate games, you just have to do it. Because after all, this is summer. And even if football has returned to our TV screens, summertime is baseball time.

So maybe that’s not exactly there reason these two games happened within days of each other. As luck – and my work schedule – would have it, I had the chance to drive to Cleveland midweek to see the Yankees and Indians play, and then travel to Baltimore to see the A’s and Orioles that weekend. It was a lot of baseball in one week, or as I would call it – heaven.

11873495_806461130381_1585491247349533703_nWednesday August 12 Yankees at Indians
Final Score: Yankees 1, Indians 2
WP: Danny Salazar LP: C.C. Sabathia S: Cody Allen
Distance traveled: approximately 694 miles

The circumstances surrounding this game might make it the most perfect game I will experience all season long. After spending Tuesday and most of Wednesday with my family, I met up with my best friend Lisa who is the reason I ever started watching baseball. We made plans to head into Cleveland so I could be fitted for my matron of honor dress (Lisa is getting married next July), have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, and see two of our favorite teams play. Lisa decided to wear an Indians shirt since we were in our hometown and her beloved Jeter is retired, and was very supportive of my Rodriguez jersey. For friends cheering for competing teams, we were very peaceful. And our seats were so good, I could have probably carried on a conversation with Chase Headley if I yelled loud enough.
Before the game, I was worried for the Yankees for a number of reasons: the previous night’s game lasted 16 innings (past midnight), the Blue Jays were closing in on 1st place in A.L. East, and the struggling C.C. Sabathia was starting. Surprisingly, it was a fairly good game despite the Yankees loss. Sometime Wednesday afternoon I had a sudden feeling of confidence in Sabathia. Cleveland is where he started his career in 2001 and won the Cy Young Award in 2007. He was incredibly gracious when he left, and I’ve always felt there was a mutual admiration between him and the city. Sure enough, he settled in well and allowed only 2 runs (all the Indians needed to win) on 9 hits in 6IP (2BB, 2SO).
Another cause of pregame nerves was hearing the Yankees had brought up Chris Capuano after he was previously been designated for assignment. When I saw a left handed pitcher warming up during the 6th inning, I was nearly in tears in the stands expecting Capuano to appear for the 7th inning. Much to my surprise, the lefty was actually Chasen Shreve who is not only a far better pitcher than Capuano (at this point in their careers at the very least) but one of my favorite players to watch this season.
A funny thing about this game are the Indians’ bullpens. During the past off season, the bullpens were moved closer to center field and are “stacked” (they used to be parallel to the foul lines and had very limited exposure to fans in the stadium). Late in the game, both Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances were halfheartedly warming up (neither made an appearance in the game). Both are so tall (Miller 6’7” and Betances 6’8”) they both looked like they might hit the ceiling of the bullpen just by walking. It was a little surprising (at least from my angle) they were able to bring their arms up and around to throw.

11892035_807091866381_7279539388366583417_nSaturday August 15 Athletics and Orioles
Final Score: A’s 3, O’s 4

WP: Zach Britton LP: Pat Venditte
Distance traveled: only about 92 miles
When you think of a really good baseball games, this was one of them.
Camden Yards was packed, and everyone was wearing orange thanks to the J.J. Hardy jersey giveaway. (Some of us arrived too late for the jersey, but were already wearing orange Chris Davis and Manny Machado shirts.)
It started out rough. After Billy Burns hit a triple (to center field – but he’s kind of fast), Mark Canha grounded out to first and of course speedy Butler scored. Miguel Gonzalez settled down for a few innings, and then gave Sam Fuld a nice pitch to hit over the right field wall for his second home run of the season (right after I laughed at home for having only one).
There we stayed with a score of 3-0 and about 44,000 disappointed Orioles fans (the 10 A’s fans in attendance were quite content). In the 4th inning, Gerardo Parra (one of the newest Orioles) hit a single, and stayed there until Chris Davis sent a pitch over the right field wall. Two innings later, Parra continued his impressive start with the Orioles by also hitting a home run over the right field wall – tie game.
After that, the game was up to the pitchers. First, fan favorite Darren O’Day came on to pitch for the Orioles in the top of the 8th, followed by closer Britton in the top of the 9th. The A’s left their starting pitcher Chris Bassitt in through 8 innings, and was relieved by SHP Pat Venditte.
Seeing Venditte pitch was a unique experience. The scoreboard listed him as a RHP, and he did throw considerably faster with his right arm. When he was first announced, I quickly looked to see who was up for the Orioles – Parra (L), Jones (r), Davis (L). If I had the chance to see Pat Venditte pitch, I wanted to see him pitch with both arms! After Parra flew out, Venditte switched to RHP as my husband watched in disbelief. When Adam Jones grounded out and Venditte switched back to LHP to face Davis, my husband yelled “What kind of gimmick is this?!” Suddenly, the ball goes flying into the air – and again, over the right field wall. (Wouldn’t you know we were sitting in left field?)
The Orioles won in the bottom of the 9th by a walkoff home run, and the place exploded in excitement. As is Baltimore tradition after such a big moment, Adam Jones came out of the dugout to throw a pie in Davis’ face, which he gladly accepted after being the hero of the game.

This past week met a few weird fan goals for me this season. First, I (again) saw my 4 favorite teams play in their home stadiums (Yankees, Orioles, Indians, and Nationals). To top that, I’ve seen my favorite team (Yankees) play in all four of those cities.
From this point, it’s a long wait for another live MLB game. Next game on the schedule is September 18 when the Marlins take on the Nats in DC, followed by Yankees at Orioles to close out the regular season the first weekend in October. So far – and looking ahead – it’s been a good baseball season for this fan!

How to Keep Refsnyder

Yankee fans have been calling for – and praying, hoping, and wishing for – Rob Refsnyder to be called up to the Major League. Friday night, we heard he would be playing – and starting – on Saturday and Sunday in Boston. After two starts in the newly dawning Rob Refsnyder era, are Yankee fans satisfied?

In this very small sample size, Yankee fans have been (seemingly) pleased, at least as far as I can tell. Sunday’s game was particularly exciting for fans who saw not only Refsnyder’s first major league hit (a single to right field), but also his first major league home run. The home run was not only a beautiful two-run shot over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, but ultimately won the game for the Yankees with a final score 8-6.

Going into the All Star break, we’re riding a wave of Rob Refsnyder excitement – so much so, that many fans are declaring Stephen Drew’s days in pinstripes are over, or at very least numbered. I hope to see Yankee prospects be promoted and succeed just as much as anyone else, but in Refsnyder’s case, we can’t get too excited too quickly. He has been in the major leagues for two days – and is 24 year old converted outfielder who’s offense has been his weakness. As is the case with any rookie, he will struggle – and it’s important for fans not to give up on Refsnyder the moment he becomes the least bit shaky (as so many did with Didi Gregorius).

Assuming Ref plays well enough the Yankees just can’t demote him, what happens then? How do we keep him on the roster, and who is there if/when he does struggle?

As the roster is right now, the backup option would obviously be Stephen Drew. His bat has obviously been awful, but he has shown he’s capable of playing a decent second base. As I’ve said before, I have to give Drew credit for learning a new position late in his career, and especially for doing so successfully. But, shortly after the All Star break, the Yankees also have utility infielder Brendan Ryan returning from injury. Ignoring all other roster moves (Carlos Beltran will also be returning around the same time), this gives the Yankees three middle infielders for two roster spots.

The main battle will be for second base – Chase Headley is locked in at third base as Didi Gregorius is at shortstop. Let’s assume Refsnyder wins the second base job (since so many of us want him to anyway), and the Yankees are forced to chose between Drew and Ryan. My vote for backup infielder has to go to Stephen Drew.

As is often the case, money comes first. Ryan signed a contract for 2 years $4 million (2014-2015) while Drew signed this off season for 1 year $5 million (2015). Ryan is less expensive, but the Yankees would be more willing to drop a $2-2.5 contract than a $5+ contract.

In offensive and defensive categories, Stephen Drew beats Brendan Ryan in career batting average, and in fielding percentage at second base, shortstop, and even third base.

Career Batting:  .234 Ryan   .252 Drew
2B Fielding %:   .977             .982
SS Fielding %:   .978             .979
3B Fielding %:   .942            1.000
*Drew played only 13 innings at 3B
** Ryan has also played 1B and OF positions

That isn’t to say Brendan Ryan doesn’t have value as a utility infielder – his numbers really aren’t awful and there’s something to be said for a player who can fill in at so many different positions. He does have a big problem staying healthy, and has already had multiple trips to the DL this season already. It seems likely that as he ages, his trips to the DL will only increase.

Earlier this season, Joe Girardi more or less declared that Stephen Drew would be the backup at third base if Chase Headley was unable to play or needed a day off. At the time, the focus was more about what that meant for Alex Rodriguez – that Girardi was essentially saying he would not use him in the field (a choice that has been beneficial for both Rodriguez and the Yankees so far). But the peculiar thing about Girardi using Drew as the backup third baseman is that he already was – and until Refsnyder or anyone else definitively proves otherwise – the every day starting second baseman.

Jose Pirela is a possible substitute at second or third – if he hadn’t been sent back to Scranton late last week. Gregorio Petit is also a possibility, although his performance has been underwhelming at best. He was also signed in an emergency backup one of the times Brendan Ryan was put on the DL earlier this season. Assuming there will soon be an overabundance of middle infielders on the Yankees roster, there really is no need for Petit. If the Yankees are set on keeping him, they could send him back to Scranton – but they could also just as easily cut their ties to him completely.

With Pirela already sent to Scranton, and Petit and Ryan removed from the roster (by trades or any other means), that leaves Stephen Drew as the utility infielder for the Yankees. I am confident he can play shortstop, second base, and now third base in an emergency (although, I wouldn’t mind if he had a few more innings of work at third before giving a full vote of confidence).

Girardi said Drew would be Headley’s backup, which leaves second base open and Refsnyder recently added to the roster… (For what it’s worth, Girardi also spoke to Drew privately about Refsnyder before the call up was announced.) Perhaps Girardi was foreshadowing a move he knew was coming, or maybe it’s all just a wild coincidence. Either way, Rob Refsnyder made an impression in two short days, and will definitely make this an interesting All Star break for the Yankees front office.

My 2015 Yankee Stadium Adventure

This weekend was incredible. Not only was I in New York City (something went from in the universe; I swear I’m meant to live there) but I got to see two games at Yankee Stadium – one great, and one kind of terrible.

My travel companion was Michelle, an old friend/neighbor from Ohio. She drove the 5 hours from Ohio to Maryland on Friday, and Saturday morning we made the 4 hour trip to NYC. I had traffic in all the places in I didn’t expect – like getting onto the freeway near my house, and later crossing into NJ – and no traffic where I expected it – like going through the Lincoln Tunnel or across Manhattan on 42nd Street.

10888905_10103513737149614_7244542773325940126_n
   Here we are approaching the Lincoln Tunnel

Because Saturday’s game was Old Timer’s Day, fans were encouraged to be in their seats by 4pm. Since we arrived at our Midtown hotel just before 4pm, we were obviously a little late to the game. Amazingly, we didn’t miss a whole lot.

First, I have to mention my appreciation for the owner of Pinstripe Collectibles across from the stadium. I went in to ask about a jersey, and rather than sell me a an adult jersey for $100+, the owner convinced me to buy a child’s size for only $55. At 5’6” (let’s just say average weight) I’m not a petite woman, but the jersey still fits. And with a $40 Visa git card I saved from Christmas, my child size Rodriguez jersey was $15.

Saturday June 20: Tigers 3, Yankees 14
W: Nathan Eovaldi L: Alfredo Simon S: Bryan Mitchell

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      Hey there, Yankee Stadium…and rain.

The weather was the worst part of this Detroit ass-kicking. For most of the game, there was a fine misty rain, although never enough to delay the game. Concession stands probably ran out of napkins from fans wiping off their seats, and I can’t remember another June game when I wore a hoodie.

Old Timer’s Day: It’s always cool to see former players and members of the Yankees family back at the stadium, and this was the second year I was fortunate enough to be there. The most memorable, without a doubt, was Mel Stottlemyre. As if the surprise of honoring him with a plaque in Monument Park wasn’t enough, his speech really tugged at the heartstrings. To see a man, who’s battling cancer, stand there and say “If I never make it to another Old Timer’s Day” and reference coaching in Heaven… I’m not sure who the entire stadium wasn’t crying their eyes out because I almost did.

Yankees Museum: Somehow, I missed this gem last year. If you haven’t seen it yet – go. It’s free with your ticket and well worth the time. As luck would have it, the Yankees brought the plaques for both Stottlemyre and Willie Randolph (also honored) into the museum. Michelle and I were able to see the actual plaques right in front of us before they were hung in Monument Park.

As for the game, Nathan Eovaldi could not have had a worse night than he did his previous start in Miami when he gave up 8 runs on 36 pitches and couldn’t make it through the first inning. Saturday night he walked off the field to applause after allowing 6 hits and 2 runs in 6 innings pitched, walking just one and striking out 4. I think Yankee fans let out a collective sigh of relief after bracing for the worst.

In the bottom of the 2nd, Didi Gregorius hit a beautiful homerun, his 2nd in as many days and 4th of the year, over the right field wall. There were a few questionable defensive plays between Saturday and Sunday, but I think he’s settling in. He had another deep hit to center later in the game that looked like it would fall in for a hit, but incredible fielding by Anthony Gose shattered that dream.

Yankee fans know and appreciate him, but Brett Gardner should really get more recognition across MLB. He is a tremendous outfielder, and an outfield that with him and Jacoby Ellsbury is almost drool-worthy. Saturday’s Yankee outfield consisted of Chris Young, Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. Obviously, Gardy is the defensive strength of the three, and he proved that by robbing hard hitting Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez of hits.

Speaking of Yoenis Cespedes, the dude is built like a beast. I’ve never seen him in person before, but even from the bleachers it’s obvious the guy is 5’10” and 210lbs of solid muscle.

And on the subject of outfielders, Carlos Beltran is a source of constant frustration for me when it comes to his defense. Last year, I screamed the F word at Kelly Johnson because of his ineptitude at third, and I nearly did the same seeing Beltran attempt to field in right. He won a few points with me by hitting two homeruns in the game, and just for good measure he hit one from each side of the plate.

The Yankees have called up about a million players from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and one in particular for Saturday was Bryan Mitchell. I’m not really sure what it is about him, but I like him. It could be just because he was up last year and familiar, but whatever the reason it’s good to see one of the kids come up and perform well as he did in 3 innings of solid work (4 hits, 1 run, 2 strikeouts, and no walks).

The best part of the game (at least for me) was Alex Rodriguez’s monster night at the plate. I arrived one day after his 3,000th career hit, but saw his next two hits Saturday night. His 3,001st hit looked a lot like the 3,000th – except that it was a 3-run homerun (career number 668) to left field instead of a solo shot to right as it was the night before. (Ironically, this happened right after I said “I’ve never seen Alex hit a homerun in a game before.”) In his 3 at bats he totaled 2 hits, 2 runs, and 5 RBI. Considering that a year ago I didn’t know if I would ever see Alex Rodriguez play another baseball game – for any team – this was as great of a performance as I could have asked for.

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It’s just rain… You all didn’t have to leave...

Sunday June 21: Tigers 12, Yankees 4

W: Anibal Sanchez L: Masahiro Tanaka

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We’re back! And we’re 3 strong today!

Sunday Michelle and I were joined by another old friend, Sadie (now living in Queens) and the game was almost the complete opposite of Saturday in every possible way. The good guys didn’t win but it was hot and the sun was shining! Of the bleachers are in direct sunlight, which we anticipated – but we didn’t expect our sunscreen to be confiscated by Yankee Stadium security. And you just can’t do that to pale people!!

This is the second year in a row I’ve went to a Sunday game with Masahiro Tanaka pitching, and both years the Yankees have lost – badly. Victor Martinez hit one homerun and J.D. Martinez hit two homeruns off Tanaka (3 total in the game), while several other hits and 2 walks combined for a total 7 runs credited to Tanaka. Oof!

When Tanaka finally got the hook, he was relieved by Danny Burawa, who made his major league debut. From our seats, we can see when a pitcher is throwing in the bullpen, but we can’t see who. Sunday, we could hear the ball crashing into the catcher’s glove after each pitch – leading me to wonder who in the bullpen can possibly throw that hard? Enter Burawa, who consistently threw pitches faster than 95mph. He did not have a great MLB debut giving up 3 hits and 4 runs, but what a first impression with that speed!

In the 3rd inning I witnessed a miracle when Mark Teixeira beat the shift (!) for a single. Not to be outdone in miracles, Stephen Drew hit not one but TWO homeruns in the game. The second one came right as I said to my friends “Stephen Drew will not be on this team next year.” Impressive timing.

Honorable mention goes to Alex Rodriguez, because he’s my favorite. In a fairly weak offensive game for the Yankees, Rodriguez had just one hit, bringing his career total after this series to 3,003. I mention this because a Twitter friend (and fellow member of Team A-Rod) reminded me that even if I missed hit 3,000, every hit from this point on is historic – and that’s absolutely true. He’s still playing, and he’s playing well. Who knows when this journey will end for him, but we keep counting each hit and marking every milestone until the day he’s done. And when that time comes, we can look back and fully appreciate what he’s accomplished in his career.

One more quick note: during the 7th inning stretch Yankee Stadium witnessed an on-screen proposal. Luckily, she said yes! I would hate to see how much it cost to propose in such a dramatic way (but how cool!!), and if she had said no… Yikes.

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People even leave on sunny days? What is this??

Now I enter a stretch of almost a month before I attend another MLB game unless something happens between now and then. For now, I’ll count down the days until the end of July when I see the Braves play the Orioles in Baltimore, and I’m sure there will be plenty of baseball news between now and then.