Had myself a nice little Saturday and I hope you all did as well. Here’s the nightly open thread to unwind. The Knicks and Nets are both playing, but talk about whatever you like here. Enjoy.
According to multiple reports, the Angels have agreed to sign Josh Hamilton to a five-year contract worth $125M. The Yankees were never really in the hunt for the slugger outside of a report that they were looking into his background, but it’s a major move that changes the AL landscape nonetheless. Gotta figure the Rangers, who are quietly having a nightmare offseason after a disastrous end to the season, will look into Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to replace some of the lost production.
11:30pm: It’s Shields, Davis, and either a player to be named later or cash for Myers, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, left-hander Mike Montgomery, and infielder Pat Leonard. That one has “Royals GM Dayton Moore is trying to save his job” written all over it.
11:09pm: The exact details are still trickling in, but the Rays and Royals have agreed to a trade that will send both James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City for top prospects Wil Myers and others. Shields will be next to impossible to replace as a proven above-average AL East workhorse, but if anyone can do it, it’s Tampa Bay. Myers is one of the five best prospects in baseball and gives them a big bat to pair with Evan Longoria for the next six years. The 2013 Rays likely got worse, but the 2014+ versions got a lot better.
I don’t want to make too much of one game, but that was a really big win this afternoon. The Yankees were staring a one-game division lead in the face as late as the seventh inning, but they rallied late to hand the Orioles their first one-run loss since June 20th. June 20th! That’s insane. Three of Baltimore’s seven one-run losses on the season have come courtesy of New York. Now the Yankees are guaranteed to go into Tampa with at least a two-game lead on Monday, but I would much rather it be four. Let’s worry about that tomorrow and just enjoy the win.
It’s gorgeous outside (in New York, anyway), so I hope you’re out enjoying the evening and the long holiday weekend. If you have some time to kill, use this as your open thread. The Mets are playing the Marlins (Hefner vs. Johnson) and MLB Network will air a game as well. Who you see depends on where you live. I’m sure there’s a bunch of college football on as well. Talk about whatever you like here.
The trade deadline passed yesterday, and as usual there were a number of deals. While blockbuster trades for the likes of Justin Upton, Cliff Lee, or Matt Garza never happened, there were still a number of impact players that changed teams Contending teams looked to bolster their squads for the stretch run, while the teams who are out of the playoff hunt dumped assets to save salary and strengthen the farm. In this post, I will take a look at the moves made by the Yankees and their competition, both within the division and within the AL, to see how these deals will impact the 2012 playoff picture.
As has become customary for the Yankees this time of year, Brian Cashman and crew did not make any big, splashy moves, citing the excessive costs demanded in prospects and players. However, they did make a few moves to improve the team’s depth, fill holes created by injuries, and set the Yankees up for a deep run in October.
The Ichiro Suzuki acquisition was one where the hype and excitement is probably disproportionate to the expected impact of the player. Nonetheless, it was an important acquisition, giving the Yankees speed and defensive prowess that they have missed because Brett Gardner has missed most of the season, and shows no signs of returning anytime soon. While Ichiro had had a disappointing 2012 so far, anything the Yankees can get from him offensively is gravy. I think he still has something left in the tank, especially against right-handed pitchers, and he can be an effective table-setting presence from the bottom of the order.
The swap of Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee served two purposes. Not only did the trade rid the Yankees of an ineffective bullpen arm to clear a spot for the return of Joba Chamberlain, it also brought in a backup corner infielder with some right-handed pop who can fill in for the injured Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and give the notably fragile Eric Chavez some extra rest.
While Boston is 7.5 games out and just 2 games over .500, the team is too talented to count out. However, they didn’t do very much at the deadline in terms of either buying or selling. They re-acquired lefty reliever Craig Breslow, but they didn’t make any moves to deal underachieving pitchers Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, as some speculated they might. Rob Bradford of WEEI reported that they did discuss a blockbuster deal with the Rangers that included Josh Beckett, Kelly Shoppach, and Jacoby Ellsbury, but nothing ever emerged from those talks. While the Red Sox did not wave the white flag by selling off any impact players, they didn’t exactly do anything significant to improve their team. This indicates that they think that they will improve naturally as their players get healthy and start playing better, or consider them too worthwhile to give up long-term assets to increase the small likelihood that they make the playoffs (though they are only 3.5 games out in the Wild Card).
Rays and Orioles
The Rays are 6.5 games behind the Yankees in the division and 2.5 games back in the Wild Card standings, and the Orioles are a game ahead of the Rays. Nonetheless, neither team showed a sense of urgency, as they didn’t make any trades that would increase their likelihood of winning the Wild Card or catching the Yankees.
The traditional thorn in the Yankees’ side made one of the biggest moves of the trading period, acquiring RHP Zack Greinke for Baseball America’s #55 prospect Jean Segura and 2 others. Greinke, who was having a strong season with the Brewers, adds another frontline-caliber pitcher to an Angels rotation that already includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Dan Haren. With Greinke in the fold, the Angels’ deep rotation becomes even deeper, and that quartet of starters could prove formidable come playoff time. As a Yankee fan, it’s hard not to be nervous about a Weaver-Greinke-Wilson-Haren rotation come playoff time, especially when paired with Yankee-killer Mark Trumbo and 20 year-old superman Mike Trout.
The Rangers, the current AL West leaders, made two moves to improve their team in expectation of a trip to October. They acquired RHP Ryan Dempster, who was also connected to the Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves in trade rumors. Dempster is currently #2 in the majors in ERA, and while few expect him to finish that well after moving to the AL and Texas’ hitter-friendly park, Dempster should be a big addition to a pitching staff with some injuries and question marks. They also added catcher Geovany Soto, who will improve the Rangers’ defense behind the plate and allow them to use Mike Napoli at DH or 1st base more often. These two moves strengthened an already-formidable team, and while the Rangers still have questions in the rotation due to injuries, adding Dempster will provide some important stability.
The White Sox own a 2.5 game lead in the AL Central and made some additions at or around the deadline. While GM Kenny Williams reportedly tried and failed to acquire Zack Greinke, he did make a cheaper addition to the rotation in the form of Francisco Liriano. While Liriano has had an uneven season and injuries have kept him from fulfilling his incredible potential, he is talented enough that if he figures things out, he could be a major force in the Chicago rotation. Although the deal happened well before the deadline, the Kevin Youkilis acquisition has already paid dividends for Sox. He provides their lineup with some power and patience, and can adequately fill the 3rd base slot that was causing the Sox problems earlier in the year.
As we can see, almost all of the Yankees’ playoff competitors made significant improvements this trade season. The Angels adding Greinke is the move that scares me the most, but Texas’s acquisition of Ryan Dempster also provides a major upgrade to an already-strong team. The Yankees’ divisional competition didn’t do much to improve, which bodes well for their chances to win the division. While the Yankees failed to make any flashy trades, they filled some holes and should be well-positioned to win the AL East and enter the playoffs as a World Series contender. Healthy and effective returns by Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte will be of utmost importance here.
We’ve just about wrapped up our 2012 Season Preview. We’ve covered various aspects of the Yankees as a team, and have even examined the competition. There’s only one thing left: the National League. Of course, since the Yankees play just 18 games against Senior Circuit competition, we needn’t go into great detail. But, since we always look forward to the Yankees making a World Series trip — especially now that Kentucky has won the NCAA basketball title — a little closer look at the NL is warranted.
Every year MLB has one stray interleague series in May. This usually pits geographic against one another: Giants vs. A’s, Dodgers vs. Angels, Cubs vs. White Sox, and of course Yankees vs. Mets. This year, however, things have changed a bit. The Yanks will still play two series against the Mets, but they’ll bookend the 5-series interleague run in June. For the stray May series, they’ll face the Cincinnati Reds at The Stadium.
Last year the Yanks traveled to Cincinnati for a three game series, including a rainout and a doubleheader. The Yanks took the first two contests, but got demolished in the nightcap of the doubleheader. That was, if you’ll remember, Brian Gordon’s final start in pinstripes. The Reds have changed a bit after their disappointing 2011 season. They’ll prove formidable in 2012.
Their offense is headed by the fabulously wealthy Joey Votto, who just signed a 10-year contract extension, which will keep him in Cincinnati through 2023. It will cost the Reds a total of more than $250 million, but they apparently consider Votto, a perennial MVP candidate, worthy of the cost. He’ll also have Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips to provide some production around him. If secondary guys such as Drew Stubbs, Zack Cozart, and Chris Heisey step up, the Reds will be in fine shape offensively.
On the mound the Reds have added a potential ace to go along with Johnny Cueto. They sent a huge package of players to San Diego this winter, and in return got Mat Latos. They’ll also have Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, and Homer Bailey to round out the rotation. In the bullpen the Reds are strong, despite the loss of Ryan Madson before he threw a pitch for them. Sean Marshall is one of the league’s best relievers, and he has Aroldis Chapman, Jose Arredondo, and Bill Bray setting up for him. With both the Brewers and the Cardinals losing a bit this off-season, the Reds could certainly step up in 2012.
While the Yankees got to break in the new Marlins ballpark this week, they won’t face the Fish during the regular season. Instead, they’ll play two series against the Braves. Despite their late-season collapse out of what was thought to be a sure playoff spot in 2011, the Braves come back with few changes on the surface. They essentially signed no significant players during the off-season, leaving them with an older version of last year’s team. Considering the ages of some of their most important parts, however, that might not be a bad thing.
Their biggest issue is the loss of Chipper Jones, though he could be back by mid-April following surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee. Once he’s back the Braves offense will be solid at worst. Along with Jones in the heart of the lineup, they’ll have Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. Freddie Freeman could continue making strides this year. If Jason Heyward fixes his swing and starts to fulfill his promise, the Braves should have few problems scoring runs at an above-average clip.
On the mound they’re missing Tim Hudson, who will miss at least April following back surgery. The Braves do have plenty of depth in the minors, though, and they’ll start to exercise that at season’s start by slotting Randall Delgado into the fifth starter spot. He’ll be joined by fellow youngster Mike Minor. The other three starters — Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Brandon Beachy — are also young. In fact, no Braves starter in April will be above age 26. Mix that with a powerful bullpen built on 2011 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Craig Kimbrel, and you have a young and exciting pitching staff.
One of the bigger series this year for Yankees fans takes place from June 15th through the 17th in Washington, D.C. The Yanks make a trip to the nation’s capital to play a strengthened Nationals team. After finishing at .500 in their first year since moving from Montreal, the Nationals have failed to reach that mark for the last six seasons. This year figures to be different for a number of reasons, not least of which is their revamped pitching staff.
Last year the Nationals starters allowed 3.99 runs per game, which was a tick better than the league average. This year, however, only two pitchers who started more than 15 games will return to the rotation. Jordan Zimmermann enters his age-26 season with plenty of potential, especially after his 3.18 ERA in 2011 — which included a phenomenal 1.7 per nine walk rate. The other is John Lannan, though he’s just keeping a seat warm while Chien-Ming Wang recovers from yet another injury.
Taking the spots of retreads such as Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez are Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Edwin Jackson. All three should certainly produce above-average numbers, and all three could conceivably rank among the NL’s top 15 or 20 starters. That will give them an immediate boost. Add in their relatively strong bullpen, and you have a much-improved pitching staff in a pitching-heavy division.
On offense they might struggle to score runs. They lack a true leadoff hitter, and stand to get below-average performances from two key up-the-middle spots, shortstop and center field. That could change when Bryce Harper makes his debut, though. Missing Mike Morse at the start of the season will also hurt a bit. But if they really do have something in Danny Espinosa, he could eventually take over at short and strengthen that position. Ryan Zimmerman’s steady production will certainly help as well. There’s certainly potential there, though not everything seems to be in place right now.
New York Mets
As they have since the start of interleague play, the Yanks and Mets will square off twice in 2012. It’s too easy to rip the Mets at this point. They have owners with documented financial issues. They lost their star shortstop this past off-season. Their pitching staff is pieced together with superglue and duct tape. Yet there might be a glimmer of hope for the Mets; their season might not be all terrible.
They need a lot to break their way. Jonathon Niese needs to take a step forward in terms of results, though his peripherals signal positive developments. Andres Torres needs to be more 2010 than 2011. David Wright needs to stay healthy and make more consistent contact than he has since CitiField opened. Jason Bay needs to bounce back. Ike Davis needs to prove that his 2011 injury and his bout of Valley Fever are behind him. Johan Santana needs to figure out how to succeed with diminished stuff. Mike Pelfrey needs to avoid being a punching bag.
While there are a lot of big question marks in there, every one is do-able to some extent. The chances of all them breaking right, however, are slim to nil, which means the Mets will likely struggle at many points throughout the season. But they do have some upside. It might not be division-winning upside, but it definitely includes a non-disaster season.
No, the Yankees don’t play the Diamondbacks in 2012. They are, however, my pre-season pick to make the World Series. In a division full of highly flawed teams, they’re the clear favorites. While the Reds, Phillies, and Braves could do some serious damage, I still like the Diamondbacks for their well-rounded approach. They have weapons on both sides of the ball that could propel them to their first pennant since winning the World Series in 2001.
Justin Upton leads an offense that, while probably not leading the league in runs scored, will provide a balanced attack. They have Chris Young and Willie Bloomquist to provide some speed. Miguel Montero is a pro hitter that adds some power at a mostly powerless position. Paul Goldschmidt can also add some power to the fold, as can Jason Kubel. Aaron Hill performed better once he left Toronto, and could be in for a big 2012. If Ryan Roberts’s breakout season is remotely for real, the Diamondbacks should have little trouble scoring at an above average clip.
In the rotation former Yankee Ian Kennedy looks to repeat his breakout 2011. He might not do quite as well — that’s a high bar he set — but he figures to produce above-average numbers at least. Daniel Hudson pitches behind him, and should also produce above average marks. The bottom three in the rotation are decent if unspectacular. Trevor Cahill has a lot to prove now that he doesn’t pitch in an enormous ballpark. Josh Collmenter had a decent 2011, and could build on it. Joe Saunders is nothing but filler. But it’s the reinforcements that could push the Diamondbacks over the top.
At some point during the season we could see pitchers Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs, both of whom come with plenty of hype. They’re the kind of pitchers who have the potential to make an immediate impact. This goes especially for Bauer, who seems major-league ready in terms of stuff and makeup. It might be a little while, but they could turn a good rotation into a very good one.
* * *
The Yanks get an interesting bag of interleague opponents in 2012. There has been much talk about the NL East starting to rival the AL East in terms of divisional dominance. I don’t quite buy that; the AL East features three of the best teams in the AL, with a fourth that would fare pretty well in another division. The NL East has some new talent, but they’re not quite to the point where they have four teams of the AL East’s caliber. Still, it makes for some good match-ups, especially the dual series against the Braves.
Overall, it’s hard to see how the AL isn’t the superior league again in 2012. True, they’ve been the better league for many years now. Maybe it’s a matter of sending a more worthy representative than Texas to the World Series. In 2012, the Yankees could be just that team.
Last week we took a nice long look at the teams who figure to be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, meaning the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. There are eight other clubs in the American League though, and the Yankees are going to play those eight teams quite a bit more than the five other contenders. Most of those eight teams aren’t very good, but every game counts the same.
Rather than doing a boring old offense/defense/pitching preview for each of those eight non-contenders, I decided to have a little fun with this one and put together some haikus. I encourage you to leave your own in the comments.
No pitching, few bats.
Buck is all talk and no bite.
Don’t dare dis Flanny!
Chicago White Sox
Rebuild or contend?
Kenny can’t seem to decide.
I wish we had Danks.
Some funny names,
Asdrubal and Ubaldo?
Not winning this year.
Kansas City Royals
Hosmer is the shizz.
Young pitching ain’t quite there yet.
Mauer and Morneau
Used to be really awesome.
Now they are broken.
Yoenis is here.
Trade all of the pitchers!
Where are the fans?
Felix is the man,
The rest of the team sucks.
I miss Montero.
Toronto Blue Jays
AA the best,
Until he gets Jeff Mathis.
New unis do rule.