Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Tree Was Empty

               On the second to last day of Alex Rodriguez's hearing with MLB officials in Kangaroo Court concerning his suspension appeal, the Yankee third baseman/DH slammed his fist onto the table and walked out after it was revealed that Commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't have to testify as to why he's pursuing a 211-game ban on A-Rod when all other tainted names were offered 50-game plea deals.

              After storming out of court, A-Rod took his case to the highest authority: The Mike'd Up Radio Show with Mike Francesa. A clever PR move as it was to give A-Rod a forum to build popular support, overnight the Man on the Street began siding with the aging superstar who has always been viewed as a phony and primadonna. Even the harshest A-Rod critics have come out and stated that he's being unfairly persecuted by MLB officials who have some type of vendetta against him. Now A-Rod has become the rebel standing up to the authorities and fighting for the everyday person living in Sherwood Forest. The reason being that for one of the only times in his baseball career, he finally has a point. Although he's never failed an official PED test and MLB officials are using "evidence" that was stolen and paid for by cash in black bags, for some reason they feel A-Rod is deserving of a 211-game ban in 2014-15 because Selig looks like a jackass for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa crushing homeruns in 1998.

               Still not knowing if A-Rod will be in uniform by Opening Day 2014, GM Brian Cashman pulled an unexpected move by signing power-hitting catching free agent Brian McCann on a 5-year $85 million deal. The lefty slugger will add power and offense to the lineup which is light-years greater than the constant automatic outs of Chris Stewart and Austin Romine from 2013. Two of Cashman's goals his offseason was to cut down on the strikeout hitters and automatic outs. With all the injuries last season, the bottom of the Yankee lineup was worse than NL teams with their pitchers hitting. McCann's numbers have slightly declined over the past few seasons and he will be 31 soon, but whatever his offense is it will be better than what the Yanks got from the position last season. Plus, as a lefty hitter in Yankee Stadium and with the DH spot in the American League, there's a very good chance he can get back to being a 25-30 homerun guy. Behind the plate he brings an edge and toughness that's been missing since Russell Martin left; although CC Sabathia butted heads with Martin, so its quite possible he may not get along with McCann either. Look for Romine to serve as the backup and CC's caddy, and that ends the Chris Stewart era in pinstripes.

               The longevity of the McCann deal calls into question the catching prospects that Brian Cashman and the Yankee front office seemed to brag about. Last offseason they refused to match the Pirates multi-year deal for Russell Martin because they didn't want anyone blocking the road for all the great catchers that were on their way. Martin may only hit .200, but his 20 homers per season would've helped the Yanks last season and it was the Yankees sitting at home in October while Martin and the Pirates were in the playoffs. Brian McCann may have pop in his bat as a catcher, but he's certainly no 'Mike Piazza' in which you change course in order to obtain a superstar player. The McCann deal is the Yankees admission that they don't think much of Austin Romine at the moment and realistically they won't be able to produce a solid Major Leaguer at that position for the next 3-4 years. All these great fruits from the farm system that were supposedly stacked at the catching position either aren't growing or have turned rotten. There was nothing for Cashman to pluck from the tree at low cost, instead that had to hand over $85 million for McCann while still dealing with the big Cano contract negotiations and trying to get payroll under the $189 million luxury tax line.

               Speaking of which; the Cano saga keeps dragging along, but the negative rhetoric the Yanks' brass has been leaking to the media which paints Cano as a soulless money-grubber has quieted down. Plus, with no other teams showing any signs of interest outside the idiotic Jay-Z (Cano's rep company) meeting with the Mets, both sides seemed to have finally realized they're stuck with eachother, so they'll haggle numbers to make the best of it.

              Carlos Beltran's name keeps being thrown around, which would've made some sense when he wanted to be a Yankee back in 2005, but now he would be another player in his upper 30's on the roster which includes the age of Jeter, Rodriguez, Ichiro, and Soriano. The Yanks will try to get him on a 1-year deal to serve the 'Raul Ibanez' role that Travis Hafner bombed at last season. He can still produce as a hitter and take the field, but he's injury prone and will by 37 in April. The other name the Yanks seem to be in the mix with is the Japanese product Masahiro Tanaka, along with other teams who will likely be bidding for the opportunity to sign him. A more familiar Japanese starting pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda, has made it public he wants to come back to the Yanks again for 2014, so look for him to get a 1-year deal in the near future.

               If not Beltran, the Yanks are going to need a right-fielder with some pop (unless Ichiro stops using a wiffleball bat). There's also the need for someone at third in case A-Rod gets hammered with his appeal or has another hangnail in Spring Training that sidelines him till August. The last sprinklings would have to be regarding the bullpen.

               Or at least something to cure a hangnail......

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Bridge Too Far

            In the end, the starting pitching faded out, the injuries were too much to patchwork any further, and the New York Yankees had to taste the Boston Red Sox winning their third World Championship in the last nine years, compared to the Yanks lonely one.

            Boston put the Yankees out of their misery by taking six out of seven games in September, and the Yankees didn't help themselves either by losing a pivotal two out of three games up in Toronto when their playoff hopes were still hanging on by a shred. When it was clear this 2013 squad wasn't destined for the postseason, the narrative to hold onto as many YES ratings as possible was highlighting the last hurrahs for Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. About the only September bright spot the Yankees had was the final game of the regular reason when Pettitte threw a complete game victory in Houston, close to his hometown.

            The Yanks had a stretch; with the trade for Soriano, the debut of A-Rod, and the return of Granderson that they started to put up runs and looked primed for a postseason run, but eventually the bottom fell out. Starting with Hiroki Kuroda, who was the "Ace" for most of the season and perhaps one of the best pitchers in baseball, suddenly couldn't keep other teams off the scoreboard and the forty-year old seemed to have tired out by August. CC Sabathia wasn't right the entire season, and perhaps a telling reason, the Yanks finally shut him down for 2013 due to a groin issue. Maybe that was something he was dealing with all season which caused his mediocre performance. A-Rod began experience leg and hamstring issues to the point where he wasn't even able to jog anymore. He too was more or less shutdown by the time late September rolled around. As hot as Soriano gets, he turns equally as cold and his power production tailed off during the final month (a wrist injury didn't help either). The 2013 New York Yankees fought hard for 95% of the season with a stop-gap roster that played over their heads, but towards the end too many players wore down and too many injuries kept cropping up. By the middle of September the team didn't play with any more urgency and everyone just enjoyed the last rides of Mo and Pettitte, which were the only things left to salvage from the lost season.

85-77 (4th Place American League East - 12 Games behind 1st Place/WS Champion Boston Red Sox)

            Brian Cashman will be entering his toughest off season in recent memory. Basically, he's survived on the Core 3/Core 4 guys with many parts from the 2009 Championship team and has been fiddling with that ever since. Now through retirements and free agency, plus Alex Rodriguez's pending case to appeal his 211-game ban from MLB, Cashman is going to have to give the team quite a makeover.

Retirement: (see you at Old Timer's Day in five years)
-Mariano Rivera
-Andy Pettitte

In by far his best managing job in a Yankee uniform (despite not even making the playoffs) Joe Girardi was awarded a brand new four-year deal to stay in the dugout with his binder of baseball statistics.

Key Free Agency:
- Robinson Cano: Biggest name on the FA market and is going to cost top-dollar
- Curtis Granderson: Yanks have already made it known they're gonna let him walk
- Hiroki Kuroda: Cashman has stated he would like him back, but gonna cost about $16 million.
- Lyle Overbay: Was the Yanks unsung hero of 2013, but with Tex due to return there's no room.
- Joba Chamberlain: Don't let the door hit you in the rear......
- Phil Hughes: See Joba
- Kevin Youkilis: Should play for free in 2014 for Yanks after stealing $12 million last year

Starting Pitching:
           This was a strength for the Yankees for most of the season before Kuroda and Pettitte fizzled out, but Pettitte is gone and although its likely the Yanks resign Kuroda for another year, they can't rely on a forty-year like they did last season. CC Sabathia has to take this offseason to figure out whatever he needs to figure out in terms of having consistent success as a 92 MPH pitcher. He's getting paid too much to be a .500 pitcher. Ivan Nova has probably the best raw stuff on the staff, but he needs to grow out of his diapers and pitch well for more than half-a-season - which has been his challenge the past two years.

            Michael Pineda, like Nova, is another young gun with great raw ability and is coming back from Tommy John surgery. He is sure to be on an innings limit, but 2014 is his time to compete for a spot in the rotation this spring training. Cashman forked over Jesus Montero, the Yanks prized farm possession to obtain him, so the value of that trade has to start paying off this upcoming season. Also look for David Phelps, who was impressive with his 2013 opportunities before getting hurt, to also compete for a spot in the rotation. There have been rumors that the Yankees are interested in obtaining Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka, but first they would have to win the bid for him, which could cost nearly $60 million, plus then give him a contract. It's said Tanaka would be the best Japanese pitcher ever to come over, even better than Yu Darvish - who has been impressive, but also the Yanks are looking to cut back on mass spending, so this move seems unlikely at this point. Especially when they need to shell out about $175 million for Cano. Right now the rotation would likely be: Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pineda, and Phelps.

Relief Pitching:
             The loss of Mariano Rivera is incalculable for a variety of reasons, but in terms of Saves alone, losing Mo isn't the end of the world. Just as Rafael Soriano proved in 2012, you can have someone else in for that role and make it to the playoffs. Everyone assumes David Robertson is the natural heir, but his canny ability to walk batters (then strikeout the next three guys) makes him a risky choice. Free Agent Brian Wilson has been taken off the Yanks list for refusing to cut his beard, so Cashman will need to look elsewhere or get creative. Bullpens are generally a year-by-year creature and since being the manager from 2008, Girardi has always made great use of whatever Cashman has tossed his way. There might be some bumpiness in April and May, but Girardi usually gets the bullpens ironed out.

           Curtis Granderson is likely gone due to his feast or famine production. He's a guaranteed 40 homerun player for the Yankees, but he also strikeouts a ton and hits for a low average. The Yankees already have too many other players under contract that are "All or Nothing" hitters as in Teixeira, Soriano, and at their age and declining skills, A-Rod and Ichiro. Cashman had made it known he wants more guys in the lineup who can bring a higher on-base percentage and hit for average. Other than Cano, .300 hitters have been a rarity in the Yankee uniform, and Cashman doesn't want another .250 batter. Plus, Granderson will command a 4-5 year deal at about $15 million per. That's too rich for a Yankee organization looking to trim spending wherever possible. The Yanks are going to bank on Soriano picking up from where he left off when the Yanks traded for him, hoping Gardner keeping improving in center, and at least for now, trying to get something more out of Ichiro than the flat results he produced in 2013. The Yankees might try to bring in a rightfielder with more power ability and relegate Ichiro as the "4th outfielder", but right now its looking Soriano, Gardner, Ichiro.

            The biggest concern is going to be over resigning Robinson Cano, who is no-doubt the biggest name available on the market and easily the best second baseman in the league, but he's going to require a mega-contract during a time when the Yanks are looking to be thrifty. It's believed Cano wants deal for about 7-8 years in which the Yanks are more comfortable with 6 years (with front-loading the money to make it more enticing). Cano was the Yanks brightest star in the middle of a rag-tag lineup, and with much uncertainly if Jeter and Tex can come back strong in 2014, and A-Rod's situation a complete unknown, the Yanks may not be able to afford to let Cano slip away.  

             Jeter didn't opt out of his latest contract with the Yankees and both sides agreed to a one-year deal for $12 million. With his nighmarish 2013 season behind him, the Yankee front office expects Jeter to be fully healed and ready to go for 2014. Mark Teixeira didn't get take one regular season swing last season due to his wrist surgery, but he'll be back at first base where he's still going to be a great defender, but hitting 35+ homers and driving in 100+ RBIs might be a asking alot. MLB is trying to nail A-Rod with a 211-game suspension, so they must have strong evidence to make the ban that high when everyone else involved with biogenesis took 50-game pleas. Through a 50-game plea down, or a nagging injury - look for A-Rod to miss about half of 2014, which means Cashman will have to make a similar type of "Youkilis" move for third base on a one-year deal. There was rumors the Yankees might be interested in Brian McCann as a catcher with his 30+ homer ability, but with all these catching gems Cashman raves about in the farm system, it doesn't seem likely the Yankees spend money on that position for a long-term deal. The more likely scenario is a one-year deal for someone who can guarantee good defense, and any offense is a bonus, like a Chris Stewart. Pending any suspensions the Yanks diamond looks like: Rodriguez, Jeter, Cano, Teixeira, and some piece of meat for catcher. Eduardo Nunez will shuffle around third and shortstop to spell Jeter and A-Rod sometimes, or Nunez might be the answer if MLB wins their case against A-Rod.

            The real issue is that through revenue sharing, other teams have done a better job in locking up their star players while they're still in their primes, making the off-season free agency talent pools smaller and smaller. The days where teams would ship their best players to the Yanks in July, or the Yanks would go free agency shopping in winter for Mussina, Giambi, CC, Burnett, and Teixeira are fading away. That's why its imperative, even for a super-rich team, to develop young players through the farm system. The Yanks have had small success stories, but they're locked into too many long-term deals with guys like CC and Tex because they can't develop a David Price on their own. On the flip-side, there's much more pressure for the New York Yankees to put a relevant team on the field each season, versus Tampa Bay, who can tank for five seasons to collect high draft picks and the seventeen people who actually go to Tropicana Field won't even care. So there's always that delicate balance the Yankees and Cashman have to tip-toe around. Less and less fans are showing up to Yankee Stadium or watching the games on YES, and coming off a season in which there were no playoffs, its going to be twice as hard to get fans interested in the 2014 club if they don't resign Cano. If they do let him go elsewhere, they're gonna have to put those funds towards 2-3 big free agent names because the position players aren't ready in the farm system, otherwise they would've been on the scene already. At best its probably a 90-93 win team in 2014 and they'll compete for one of those two Wild Card spots.

             .....nothing right now looks like a champion....