Sunday, February 23, 2014

Last Core Out The Door

            For once, Yankee Captain Derek Jeter managed to out-headline Alex Rodriguez by utilizing the dawn of Spring Training and Facebook to announce that 2014 will be his final season as a player. Similar to what Mariano Rivera experienced last year, the usually humble Jeter will now be on a farewell tour - receiving gifts at home plate for each away city he visits.

            Perhaps a surprise to many who have been accustomed to seeing Jeter a shortstop for the Yankees since 1996, the news shouldn't come as a shock as Jeter is set to turn 40 years old and is coming back from a major ankle break after unsuccessfully trying to play last season (only 17 games). Although Jeter hasn't shown much lost range at short over the past few years, the injury, being out of baseball for a most of last year, turning 40, and the fact Jeter is entering a contract year; its very likely next year's offseason could've turned very messy between the Yankee front office wanting to inject youth into the position versus Jeter insisting he still wants to be the shortstop. Yankee ownership and Brian Cashman may regret the dip in t-shirt and ticket sales after this season, but they certainly have to be relieved from avoiding a showdown with the Yankee Captain who would certainly have the fans and media on his side.

            The previous Jeter deal, four years ago, started to get a little chippy with Brian Cashman telling the beloved Captain to go test their offer in the free agent market and making the conversations known to the press, which ultimately irked Jeter. Early Spring Training feedback on Jeter is that he's looking nimble and in much better condition than any point last season. With Cano and A-Rod out of the equation (at least for 2014) and whispers that Mark Teixeira's wrist may not be fully healed, Jeter is going to need to serve as a rock in the infield if the team to send him off with a good fight in October. Naturally, Girardi will give Jeter his fair amount of time at DH, but Jeter will need to play a very good amount of shortstop in order to get the likes of Soriano, Teixeira, McCaan, and Beltran into the lineup as much as possible for their homerun abilities......which is ideally what a DH is supposed to do. Not slap singles like Jeter does. According to Jeter, it was the time he spend away from the game last season, rehabbing his ankle, which made baseball not fun anymore and turned his mind into hanging up the cup after 2014.

            For Jeter to be bored with spending even one season on the rehab trail, it speaks character volumes for those such as Alex Rodriguez and Carl Pavano who couldn't get enough of the training complex down in Tampa.

            With Posada, Pettitte, and Rivera gone, plus Jeter ready to be retire; the final piece of the so-called Core Four from the last Yankee Dynasty will be off into the sunset.

            It'll be appreciated further as time passes by; the '96-'01 group was once in a lifetime

            Another homegrown Yankee player not ready to hang it up just yet, Brett Gardner, will be sticking around in pinstripes for at least another four season as he signed a 4-year $52 million deal. Once Ellsbury was signed to play centerfield, most had Gardner pegged as trade bait to bring in a starter pitcher. With this new deal, Gardner's salary will no longer be attractive to other GMs. Gardner was going to play left field for the Yankees in 2014, but he also has the ability to play center and provide near-Gold Glove caliber defense, so he serves as a great backup in case Ellsbury gets injured, which he has a habit of. The Yankee bank seemed tapped out after parting ways with $155 million for Tanaka, so the $52 million for Gardner came at a surprise. Also, as a organizational rule, the front office tends to not extend players until they're ready to hit the free agent market. The bending of this rule is probably a telling sign of what the front office thinks of Jacoby Ellsbury's ability to stay healthy during the first half of the long-term deal he signed for $153 million. Gardner, currently 30, will lose some speed by the time he's 33 or 34, but short-term its a solid investment for the Yankees since Ellsbury has trouble staying injury-free.

            It's also a further telling sign that the Yankees $175 million offer to Cano (and the refusal to budge a penny higher) was a complete lowball job in which they didn't want Cano back and knew he wouldn't accept an undermarket-valued contract. Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long provided more clues into this insight by mentioning the organization's struggles with Cano not running out groundballs or giving 100% effort in the field. Gardner, who is busting it on offense and defense all the time, was awarded with an extension that's probably a little over his head. Tanaka, Ellsbury, and McCaan were blown away with deals that put all other offers in second place, and Beltran received a third-year on his contact that would keep him in pinstripes till he's 39. But Cano, he's told of a $189 million team salary goal and given a plane ticket to Seattle because he wouldn't run out tappers back to the pitcher's mound while Gardner would try to beat those out.

            The Yankee bullpen hasn't received much love from Cashman during the offseason, but in a low-risk/high-reward pickup, the team inked former A's closer Andrew Bailey to a minor league contract. Bailey, who tried to takeover the Red Sox closer's job the past two years, has faced numerous health issues and currently wouldn't be able to pitch in for the big club till the summer. Still, a few seasons ago he was one of the best 9th inning men in the game for the A's, so he could potentially add something to the uncertain pen once July and August rolls around. Masahiro Tanaka has been receiving good reports regarding his throwing sessions in Tampa and a slimmed-down CC Sabathia looks determined to be the leader of the staff again.

              Get ready for a year of cheesy Jeter tribute videos on the jumbo screen.......