Gene Michael passes away at 79

(Getty)
(Getty)

Sad news to pass along. Former Yankees player, coach, manager, scout, and executive Gene “Stick” Michael has passed away following a heart attack, report Mike Mazzeo and Bill Madden. The Yankees have since confirmed the news. Michael was 79. He had a heart procedure earlier this year that was kept private.

“Stick was a pillar of this organization for decades,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “He knew the game of baseball like few others did, and was always willing and excited to talk about it with anyone in earshot. His contributions to the Yankees over the years have been immeasurable. He loved baseball and this organization, and he will be profoundly missed. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife, Joette, and his entire family.”

“Stick was a great man with enormous heart and integrity. One of the greatest baseball executives of our time,” said Yankees president Randy Levine to Mark Feinsand. By all accounts Michael was a wonderful man in addition to being a true baseball genius. He’s one of the greatest executives in the sport’s history.

Michael, a shortstop, started his playing career with the Pirates in 1966 before moving to the Dodgers and eventually joining the Yankees in 1968. He played for New York from 1968-74 and retired as a career .229/.288/.284 hitter. Those were the organizational lean years, so Stick never did win a World Series as a player or even get to play in the postseason.

After his playing career was over, Michael served as a coach with the Yankees and had two stints as their manager in 1981 and 1982. He also managed the Cubs from 1986-87 before rejoining New York as an executive. The Yankees named Stick their general manager in 1990 and he held the post until being fired in 1995.

“I am heartbroken by Stick’s passing,” said Brian Cashman in a statement. “He was both a friend and mentor to me, and I relied upon his advice and guidance throughout my career. He did it all in this industry – player, coach, manager, general manager and scout – and his knowledge base was second to none. My condolences go out to his family, friends and all those he touched throughout his lifetime in the game. I will miss him.”

Michael is most famous for being the architect of latest Yankees dynasty. He loaded up on high on-base players before Moneyball made it cool, and he built the dynasty core through the farm system. George Steinbrenner‘s suspension gave Michael the freedom to build the roster as he saw fit, and the result was four World Series titles in five years.

“Gene Michael was not only largely responsible for the success of the Yankees organization, but also for my development as a player,” said Derek Jeter in a statement. “He was always accessible and willing to share his personal knowledge as well as support. He will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family.”

Even after being fired as general manager, Michael remained with the Yankees in various front office capacities, most recently as a senior advisor. He was one of Cashman’s most trusted aids and reportedly pushed hard for the Didi Gregorius trade three years ago. Stick was a brilliant baseball person. The Yankees will wear a black armband on their uniform the rest of the season in his memory.

Yankees and O’s rained out, will play makeup game tomorrow

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

As expected, tonight’s series finale between the Yankees and Orioles has been rained outs, the team announced. They’ll play the makeup game tomorrow at 1:35pm ET. Tomorrow was the only common off-day the two clubs had remaining, so it was pretty much the only choice for the makeup game.

The forecast in Baltimore calls for rain pretty much all night, though there appeared to be a window around 11pm ET or so, and I thought maybe they’d wait it out. Teams hate giving up an off-day. Then again, I guess playing super late tonight and flying to Texas after the game is no fun either. So no game tonight.

On the bright side, the impromptu off-day gives the bullpen a bit of a rest after some heavy work the last few days. Dellin Betances and David Robertson have both pitched four times in the last six days, so chances are neither would’ve been available tonight. This also allows Sonny Gray to make tomorrow’s start on extra rest.

I believe this is the fifth rainout of the season for the Yankees, which seems like an awful lot. They’ve played doubleheaders against the Astros, Red Sox, and Indians, will play a makeup game against the Orioles tomorrow, and a makeup game against the Royals later this month. Plus they’ve had a few long delays, like last night.  Tough weather year.

Red Sox reportedly busted stealing signs from Yankees with video personnel

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Michael Schmidt, the Red Sox were caught using video personnel and Apple Watches to steal signs from the Yankees (and other teams) over the last few weeks. Brian Cashman filed a detailed complaint with MLB and league investigators corroborated the Yankees’ claims. The sign stealing reportedly took place at Fenway Park a few weeks back.

Here are some more details on the story, from Schmidt:

The Yankees, who had long been suspicious of the Red Sox stealing catchers’ signs in Fenway Park, contended the video showed a member of the Red Sox training staff looking at his Apple Watch in the dugout and then relaying a message to players, who may have then been able to use the information to know the type of pitch that was going to be thrown when they were hitting, according to the people familiar with the case.

Baseball investigators corroborated the Yankees’ claims based on video the commissioner’s office uses for instant replay and broadcasts, the people said. The commissioner’s office then confronted the Red Sox, who admitted that their trainers had received signals from video replay personnel and then relayed that information to some players — an operation that had been in place for at least several weeks.

Schmidt said the Red Sox filed a counter-complaint with the league claiming the Yankees use YES Network cameras to steal signs. Boston has not been disciplined yet and it’s unclear how the league will proceed with the counter-complaint, though I’m sure it’ll be investigated.

Last season MLB allowed teams to begin using iPads loaded with scouting and Statcast data in the dugout, though only if the devices and the apps and everything are approved. Other technology, like the Apple Watch the Red Sox used to steal signs, are forbidden. I wouldn’t expect MLB to force the Red Sox to forfeit wins or anything like that, but they could be hit with a hefty fine and maybe lose a draft pick as a result of all this. We’ll see.

As far as I’m concerned, stealing signs is cool as long as it happens between the lines. If there’s a runner on second base and the catcher doesn’t hide his signs well enough, too bad. If the third base coach gets lazy and doesn’t change his signs, and someone in the dugout picks up on it, that’s his problem. When sign-stealing goes high tech and non-uniformed personnel get involved, that’s beyond gamesmanship, and the Red Sox were caught red-handed.

Yankees will reportedly visit Philadelphia next year for first time since 2009 World Series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At some point next month MLB will release the 2018 regular season schedule, though bits and pieces are already starting to leak out. The Yankees are due to face the NL East during interleague play next year, and according to Ryan Lawrence, they are tentatively scheduled to visit the Phillies next summer. It’ll be the first time the Yankees visit Citizens Bank Park since the 2009 World Series.

The three-game series in Philadelphia is scheduled for Monday, June 25th, through Wednesday, June 27th. Aside from the 2009 World Series, the Yankees have visited Citizens Bank Park for an interleague series only once. They took two of three from the Phillies back in June 2006. The Yankees starting pitchers that series: Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, and Jaret Wright. Prior to that, their last trip to Philly was to Veterans Stadium in 2001.

The Yankees and Phillies have played two series at Yankee Stadium since the 2009 World Series. The Phillies took two of three in June 2010 and again took two of three in June 2015. They also played three regular season games at Yankee Stadium in May 2009. The Phillies won two of three that series too. Eh, whatever. That has no bearing on what happens next year. (Also, kiss the ring.)

With the NL East on tap next year, the Yankees figure to get a firsthand look at Bryce Harper before his impending free agency, possibly even in Yankee Stadium. Harper went deep when the Nationals visited the Bronx back during his MVP season in 2015.

Chances are the Yankees will visit new SunTrust Park in Atlanta next year, a ballpark they helped open with an exhibition game back earlier this spring. Greg Bird hit the first (unofficial) home run at the new building. The Yankees play the Mets during the Subway Series every season, so that’s nothing new. Visiting the Phillies and getting to see Bryce Harper up close don’t happen to often for the Yankees, so that’ll be fun. If nothing else, at least interleague travel will be easy next year.

Tonight’s game rained out, Yankees and Indians will play a straight doubleheader tomorrow

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tonight’s game with the Indians has been rained out, the Yankees announced. The two teams will play a single admission doubleheader tomorrow beginning at 1:05pm ET. Joe Girardi said Jaime Garcia will start the first game and Jordan Montgomery will come up from Triple-A to start the second game.

The weather forecast in New York is ugly and has been all day. It’s been raining for several hours and it’s supposed to continue raining right until tomorrow morning. Playing tonight was never really an option. The Yankees and Indians do not have any common off-days remaining this season, and since Cleveland will not visit Yankee Stadium again, a doubleheader tomorrow was the only real option.

Needless to say, playing a doubleheader immediately prior to a hugely important four-game series with the Red Sox is less than ideal, but what can you do? Could be worse. The Indians have to play a doubleheader tomorrow and another one Friday. Anyway, here is the ticket information, if you were planning to go tonight or tomorrow. Today’s tickets are not good for the doubleheader.

Because the doubleheader was scheduled less than 48 hours in advance, the Yankees and Indians can add a 26th player for the second game only. I imagine Montgomery will be the 26th man, which means he’ll have to go right back to Triple-A Scranton after the game. And then he’ll be back once rosters expand Friday. Montgomery might not even go back to Scranton. He might stick around New York.

Thanks to the rainout, the Yankees will now start CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino in the four games against the Red Sox. The rainout pushes everyone back a day and conveniently lined up New York’s four best pitchers for the series with Boston. That’s good. I’d rather the Yankees not play the doubleheader and push everyone back by starting Montgomery tomorrow, but that’s not an option. Alas.

Tomorrow’s doubleheader will be the third of the season for the Yankees. They split two games with the Astros on May 14th, and split two games with the Red Sox on July 16th. The Yankees last played three doubleheaders in one season back in 2014 (Cubs, Pirates, Orioles). It’s worth noting the Yankees have a makeup game with the Royals scheduled for September 25th, though that’s one game, not a doubleheader. The two teams gave up an off-day.

Sanchez suspended four games, Romine two games following brawl with Tigers

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

As expected, MLB has handed down several suspensions and fines following Thursday’s brawl(s) with the Tigers. Here’s a recap of the discipline, as announced by MLB this afternoon:

  • Miguel Cabrera: Seven-game suspension for “inciting the first bench-clearing incident and fighting.”
  • Alex Wilson: Four-game suspension for “intentionally throwing a pitch at Todd Frazier” after warnings had been issued.
  • Gary Sanchez: Four-game suspension for “fighting, including throwing punches.”
  • Austin Romine: Two-game suspension for “fighting, including throwing punches.”
  • Brad Ausmus: One-game suspension for “the intentional actions of Wilson.”

Joe Girardi, Rob Thomson, Tommy Kahnle, Brett Gardner, Garrett Cooper, Clint Frazier, and Jose Iglesias all received fines but were not suspended. Cooper and Frazier were fined for entering the field of play while on the disabled list. I’m kinda surprised Dellin Betances escaped without any discipline, even if he didn’t hit James McCann on purpose. Same with Michael Fulmer, who started the whole thing by hitting Sanchez.

I imagine Sanchez and/or Romine are going to appeal their suspension. I mean, they kinda have to, otherwise the Yankees won’t have any catchers tonight. Sanchez will definitely appeal because he (and the Yankees) want to get that suspension knocked down as much as possible. The more Gary is on the field, the better. Every game without him hurts the team’s chances at the postseason.

Kyle Higashioka is currently on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list, so the Yankees don’t have a obvious third catcher to call-up for the time being. They’ll have to add someone (Eddy Rodriguez, most likely) to the 40-man roster. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot, though that’ll go to Greg Bird when he returns. Also, suspended players can’t be replaced on the roster. Teams have to play short.

All things considered, I think the Yankees got off pretty light here. I thought Sanchez was heading for six or seven games given the sucker punches. Rougned Odor got eight games (reduced to seven on appeal) for punching Jose Bautista when he was squared up. Sanchez threw punches at defenseless Cabrera. Whatever. Forget this pointless nonsense, be happy no one got hurt, and move on.

Update: Not surprisingly, Sanchez and Romine both said they will appeal their suspensions. Ken Rosenthal hears the appeals may not be heard until after rosters expand on September 1st, which would make it a million times easier to deal with losing a catcher(s). Also, Jack Curry hears Sanchez was only suspended four games because Cabrera instigated the brawl. Gary on reacted, basically.

Saturday Links: Judge, Playoffs, Cave, Automatic Strike Zone

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox will continue their three-game weekend series later tonight at Fenway Park. That’s a 7pm ET start. Remember when they used to play baseball on Saturday afternoons? That was fun. Anyway, here are some links and notes to check out until first pitch.

Yankees not considering moving Judge to first base

According to David Lennon and Bob Klapisch, the Yankees have not considering moving Aaron Judge to first base to unclog the outfield logjam and potentially address first base long-term. Judge did play first base in high school, you know. He moved to the outfield in college because Fresno State already had a pretty good first baseman. Even if the Yankees were considering moving Judge, they wouldn’t do it midseason. They’d wait until Spring Training.

Two thoughts on this. One, Judge’s right field defense is way too good right now to move him. He’s an asset out there, particularly his throwing. Move him to first base and you’re wasting his arm. And two, I think it’s only a matter of time until Judge winds up at first base permanently. There’s a reason you don’t see many players that size running around the outfield. It’s tough on the knees and tough on the body. That doesn’t mean Judge will have to move to first base next year. But maybe in four or five years? Yeah, it’s possible. Right now though, it is not a consideration for the Yankees, and that is absolutely the right move in my opinion.

Hal says missing postseason would be a “failure”

It seems the Yankees have gone from “World Series or bust” to “transition year” to “postseason or bust” within the last 18 months or so. Earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said it would be a “failure” if the Yankees missed the playoffs this year. “If we don’t make the playoffs, it’s a failure … It’s been a tough last two months for the most part. But I think they’re coming out of it … (We’re) going to have a strong last five, six weeks,” said Hal to Anthony Castrovince.

The continued shift in expectations this year has been pretty fascinating. The Yankees sold at the trade deadline last year and, for the most part, I think people considered this a “step back before taking a step forward” year. Break in some young players, deal with the growing pains, then gear up for 2018. Instead, the young players hit the ground running and the Yankees got off to a great start. They’ve been a .500-ish team for three months now though. It went from “rebuilding year” to “let’s shock the world!” to “please just get a wildcard spot.” If the Yankees miss the postseason now, it’ll feel like a disappointment. Five months ago, it was kinda expected.

Four Yankees among most improved prospects

Cave. (AP)
Cave. (AP)

Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to find the position player and pitching prospects who have improved their stock the most this season. In a nutshell, he compared each player’s preseason projection to their current projection. He lists 18 prospects total and four are Yankees:

  • RHP Chance Adams: 5.32 ERA preseason to 4.35 ERA now
  • OF Jake Cave: .617 OPS preseason to .709 OPS now
  • 1B Garrett Cooper: .679 OPS preseason to .751 OPS now
  • RHP Domingo German: 5.70 ERA preseason to 4.88 ERA now

SS Gleyber Torres and OF Billy McKinney were among the honorable mentions. The Cave projection is most interesting to me because ZiPS basically says he made the jump from non-prospect to potential fourth outfielder this season. From the write-up:

Of the 1,400 projections for hitters run by ZiPS coming into 2017 (about 1,250 “official” ones and 150 for prospects at very low levels for which I have little confidence), only four players got a larger boost than Cave’s 92-point OPS boost: Ryan Zimmerman, Aaron Judge, Justin Smoak and Zack Cozart.

ZiPS still isn’t convinced Cave will be more than a fourth outfielder, but it’s damn hard to add 100 points of OPS to a projection in four months.

Huh. Cave will be a minor league free agent this offseason and I think it’s likely the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster and make sure he doesn’t get away. He is going to be 25 in December, so he’s not super young, but hit .343/.387/.610 (176 wRC+) with 13 homers in 54 Triple-A games while playing center field, and you’re going to make yourself worth keeping around.

Electronic strike zone not on the horizon

No surprise here, but commissioner Rob Manfred told Anthony Castrovince the league is not close to implementing an electronic strike zone. The technology isn’t there yet, and even once it is available, Manfred is leery of moving away from human umpires. Balls and strikes are everything to umpires. I suspect they’ll fight an electronic strike zone tooth and nail when the time comes.

Personally, I don’t have much interest in an electronic strike zone. Yes, I would like the umpires to be better behind the plate, but I feel like an electronic zone would take more away from the game than it would provide. Consistency is boring. Also, I get the sense that shifting to an electronic strike zone would have some unintended consequences. We could see some pretty drastic shifts in pitcher (and therefore hitter) performance with an unambiguous zone.

Jeter becomes a dad

And finally, Derek Jeter is now officially a father. Derek and Hannah welcomed their daughter, Bella Raine Jeter, into the world on Thursday, it was announced on The Players’ Tribune (of course). Congrats to them. Not a bad gene pool to come from, huh?