I’ve been watching baseball pretty much my entire life, but I think the first season I can actually remember was 1992. Before that I just watched baseball. The 1992 season when I really started following the game on a day-to-day basis, if that makes sense. That’s when I started paying attention to statistics (wins and RBI, baby) and understood the pitching rotation, things like that. I certainly remember watching a ton of baseball before 1992, but that was the year it went from an interest to an obsession.
One of the things I remember most about that 1992 season was thinking the Yankees had a gem of a young shortstop in Andy Stankiewicz. He carried like a .310 batting average into July and it bothered me whenever he sat for Randy Velarde. I remember being bummed when Stankiewicz didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award, even. I didn’t understand what it meant that he was a 27-year-old rookie. The Yankees were bad and he was a new face, a symbol of hope going forward.
Stankiewicz obviously was far from the shortstop of the future. He didn’t even make the team in 1993, and by 1994 he was playing for the Astros. Guys like Spike Owen and Mike Gallego came and went at shortstop, then in 1995 the Yankees had whatever was left of Tony Fernandez’s career. Similar to how Kenny Rogers was an awesome pickup because he once threw a perfect game, I remember being glad the Yankees signed Fernandez because I had heard his name in an All-Star Game or two along the way.
* * *
The 1995 ALDS loss to the Mariners was devastating to a teenaged Mike Axisa. It was one thing to root for a bad 1992 team or a good but not good enough 1993 team — the 1994 strike sucked, but, looking back on it, I wasn’t as upset as I probably should have been — but rooting for that 1995 squad was something different. I thought the season was over after a long losing streak in August, but the club reeled me back in with that insane finish (26-7!) to win the wildcard spot.
I can’t really explain how I felt watching Edgar Martinez’s double roll to the wall in Game Five, but I remember it. Helpless, I guess. Watching that ball roll and knowing the Yankees’ season was about to end is something I’m never going to forget. The 1995 Yankees were the first postseason team of my lifetime and that series, that double, was the first time baseball ripped my heart out. I was crushed. I didn’t know baseball could make me feel like that.
The relay throw on Edgar’s double was the last play Tony Fernandez ever made for the Yankees. He dove for a ball in Spring Training the following year and shattered his elbow, paving the way for Derek Jeter to become the everyday shortstop. I knew nothing of prospects at the time and I remembered Jeter from his cup of coffee the year before, but nothing more. I expected the Yankees to go out and make a trade, not go with the kid. That was crazy to me.
Unlike Stankiewicz, I didn’t get that “shortstop of the future” vibe from Jeter, at least not right away. He hit the homer on Opening Day and had a nice two weeks to start 1996, but Jeter was pretty mediocre from mid-April through the end of May (proof!), and it was kind of a blah first impression. He tore the cover off the ball from June through the end of the season and that’s when it hit me and I think a bunch of other people that hey, this kid was pretty good. The Yankees might have something here.
With Jeter’s help, the Yankees went on to win the World Series that October and to this day, that is my favorite sports memory and favorite Yankees team. I think everyone feels the same way about the first championship team they witness, regardless of sport. It’s a great feeling, that first title. And, to be honest, I don’t think the 1996 World Series would be nearly as memorable for me had Edgar Martinez not ripped my heart out the year before. As much as it sucked, Fernandez’s no-chance relay throw and the heartbreak of 1995 made 1996 that much sweeter.
* * *
Jeter was outstanding throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, though he was never my favorite player. I’ve always gravitated towards pitchers for whatever reason, so I enjoyed watching Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte more than Jeter. David Wells was a fave too. I was pretty upset when they traded him for Roger Clemens. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike Jeter, but he was never my favorite player the way he is for so many others. That doesn’t make me weird or anything. It’s just my opinion.
For a big chunk of his career, I think I took Jeter for granted. I knew I was watching a great player, but it wasn’t until … I dunno … 2002? that it dawned on me I was watching a historically great player. Maybe it was because he came up at the same time as Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra in an age of super shortstops. I hadn’t suffered through enough Stankiewiczes and Gallegos to grasp how special Jeter was. There was not enough of a scar to make me fully appreciate his greatness, no Edgar Martinez double of shortstops to better put things into perspective.
Year after year, Jeter put up great seasons and the Yankees won, but not like they won when he first came up. The roster had turned over as it tends to do, but Jeter was the mainstay. Pettitte only pitched once every five days. Rivera only pitched when the game was close in the ninth inning. Jeter played everyday, batted in every first inning. There was comfort in that. The Yankees had changed over the years but they were still Derek Jeter’s Yankees. To borrow a phrase, he was the straw that stirred the drink.
Jeter has been a constant for so long, putting up the same great numbers every year and playing every day. Looking back, it’s really remarkable he stayed so healthy for as long as he did. His only significant injury from 1996-2010 was a fluke play, when he slid into Ken Huckaby at third base in 2003. Other than that, he was out there every game. These last four years have been rockier though, both with injuries and poor performance. Seeing Jeter battle baseball mortality has been … weird. Not sure how else to describe it.
I wasn’t terribly surprised when Jeter announced his plan to retire a few weeks ago. The announcement itself was surprising, but the idea that he would soon walk away was not exactly unexpected. At age 39 and after what he called a “nightmare” injury-plagued season in 2013, retirement had to cross his mind. How could it not? This is a guy who has accomplished everything imaginable in baseball and the game wasn’t coming as easily as it once did.
In a weird way, I think last season helped me prepare for life with Jeter. The same was true with Mariano Rivera when he got hurt in 2012. He was not around on a daily basis anymore, which was a new experience. This year, not seeing Rivera come out of the bullpen will be different but not unfamiliar. That same will be true at shortstop next season. Last year did a good job of showing everyone how the Yankees will look without Jeter.
We watched Don Mattingly walk away back in the day, and more recently we’ve watched guys like Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada and Pettitte (twice) and Rivera retire. All were great and beloved but none were as great and beloved as Jeter. Only Rivera is close. Jeter is on another level in every way, both on the field and off the field. It’s possible if not likely he will be the greatest Yankee of my lifetime, which is amazing to sit back and think about. You and I may never see another player of this caliber in pinstripes again. It’s cliche, but you know we’ll all be sitting around as grumpy old people in 50 years saying “yeah he’s good, but he’s no Jeter.”
I have absolutely no idea what to expect out of the Captain in his final season. I thought 2008 was a sign he was slipping, then he was an MVP candidate in 2009. I thought he was done after 2010-11, then he rebounded to hit like his old self in 2012. What happens after all the leg injuries? Who knows. He’s an important part of the team and the Yankees need him to produce, but at his age and after what amount to a year away from the game, he’s a real question mark. Maybe his body will be refreshed following the year off. Maybe his bat speed is beyond the point of return. We’ll find out soon enough.
All I know is that I plan to make an extra effort to sit back and appreciate Jeter this year, something I did not do enough over the years. Appreciate him for the player he’s been, for the leader and ambassador he is and has been, and for being the final tie to that 1996 club. Jeter is last remnant of this remarkable stretch in franchise history; the Yankees didn’t feel the same without him in 2013 and once he retires after the season, they won’t ever feel the same to me again.
As expected, Joe Girardi announced CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova will start the team’s first three games of the regular season. Well, he didn’t really come out and announce it, but the rotation for the rest of the week indicates that will be the case. This lines up Kuroda for the home opener. Masahiro Tanaka figures to slide in as the number four starter with either Michael Pineda or David Phelps as the five. Obligatory reminder that the rotation order on Opening Day means nothing. · (30) ·
When Spring Training started, the Yankees had about six players in serious consideration for the final bench spot. The number of bench candidates has whittled down over the weeks and, thanks to the pinched nerve in Brendan Ryan‘s back, another bench spot has opened. Joe Girardi has indicated they will take two of Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, and Yangervis Solarte north when the team breaks camp in a week.
Nunez seems like a lock for one of those two bench spots even though he has been the same guy he’s always been this spring, meaning lots of contact, lots of speed, but also lots of defensive adventures. Yet, because he’s the incumbent, Nunez appears to have a roster spot in the bag, especially in the wake of Ryan’s injury. That leaves one spot for Anna or Solarte. Is one a better fit for the roster than the other? Let’s look at what they have to offer.
The Case for Dean Anna
Acquired in a minor offseason trade with the Padres, the 27-year-old Anna provides four things, specifically: patience, contact skills, solid defense, and some versatility. He has always been a high-walk (12.6% in Double-A and Triple-A), low-strikeout (12.0%) hitter from the left side of the plate, though his power and speed are non-factors. Anna has a ton of experience at second base and shortstop, plus some at third and the two corner outfield spots. He’s not a Gold Glover but he’s not Nunez either. Adequate all around the infield, which is valuable.
Carrying Anna would give the team another lefty bat off the bench in addition to Ichiro Suzuki — considering they both make a bunch of contact, Anna’s probably the greater offensive threat because he’ll take a walk and not hack at everything — but this isn’t a lineup that will require a bunch of pinch-hitters. The Yankees will live and die with the starting position players. Anna’s glove is more reliable that Nunez’s, which would be valuable whenever Derek Jeter gets a day off from playing the field. That figures to happen fairly regularly, at least early in the season.
The Case for Yangervis Solarte
The only reason the Solarte is in the conversation for a bench spot right now is his Spring Training performance. He’s gone 16-for-35 (.457) with two homers in camp, the kind of numbers that get a non-roster player noticed. Solarte, 26, has also spent a bunch of time at the three non-first base infield positions as well as left field this spring, though he’s spent most of his minor league career at second, third, and left. Only 30 games at short in parts of eight seasons, 20 of which came in 2013.
Solarte hit .282/.332/.404 in over 1,100 Triple-A plate appearances the last two seasons, which were spent in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Nothing about his 91 wRC+ from 2012-13 suggests he can be an asset at the plate in the show, though it’s always possible something has clicked this spring and he’s a new hitter. Since he is another low power, little speed, adequate defense guy, the only things Solarte has on Anna are his versatility (more experience in third and left, less at short) and his ability to switch-hit. Having a switch-hitter on the bench is always nice for matchup purposes, but again, Girardi doesn’t figure to use many pinch-hitters this summer.
* * *
Brian Cashman said “all the answers are here in camp” the other day when asked about going outside the organization to replace Ryan, and unless they’re going to pony up for Stephen Drew, there aren’t many available options anyway. The recently designated for assignment Juan Francisco could make some sense as a corner fielder with (huge) left-handed power, though he’s a butcher in the field who won’t walk and will strike out a ton. He’s a lefty Mark Reynolds without the plate discipline, basically. As the last man on the bench, maybe he makes more sense that Anna or Solarte.
The Yankees have a 40-man roster crunch at the moment, which could give Anna (on the 40-man) a leg up over Solarte (not on the 40-man). Adding Solarte to the roster will cost the team another player, unless Ryan’s back injury is so bad that he’s a 60-day DL candidate. Anna is the simpler move and since he a) can play short no questions asked, and b) seems like a safer bet offensively because of his contact/discipline approach, he might be the best fit for the bench. Solarte is hitting the ball far better right now and is a switch-hitter with a bit more versatility, so it’s not like he has nothing to offer. Either way, whoever wins the job will have a big opportunity early in the season.
Spring Training Record: 15-10-2 (115 RS, 88 RA)
Spring Training Games This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Phillies (Tues. on YES, MLBN), @ Blue Jays (Weds.), Pirates (Thurs. on YES, MLBN), vs. Marlins (Fri.), vs. Marlins (Sat. on YES), Sun. OFF
Top stories from last week:
- Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) is day-to-day after a precautionary MRI came back negative. Derek Jeter is fine after fouling some pitches off his surgically repaired ankle. Brendan Ryan (back) has a pinched nerve and is likely to start the season on the DL. Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is throwing from flat ground as he works his way back from surgery. Tyler Austin (wrist) has resumed taking batting practice on the field. Scott Sizemore (quad) and Russ Canzler (hip, back) have both returned to game action.
- Righty Jose Ramirez is moving to the bullpen full-time. Jorge Mateo was ranked as one of Baseball America’s top summer league prospects.
- Pro scouting director Will Kuntz left the Yankees for a position with Major League Soccer. Long-time baseball operations staffer Steve Martone will replace him.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
The Blue Jays snapped the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak with a 3-1 win on Sunday. Michael Pineda had his worst outing of the spring, allowing three runs on six hits and a hit batsman in six innings. He struck out two and walked no one, getting a dozen outs on the ground compared to only two in the air. Jorge Castillo says he threw 57 of 80 pitches for strikes. Pineda was mostly 88-91 mph on the YES gun with a few 92s and 93s mixed in. Not the best outing, but he held his own against Toronto’s mostly A-lineup.
The Yankees scored their only run on a Derek Jeter double play ball. He went 0-for-3 and it sure would be comforting if he started hitting soon. Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran both went 2-for-3, Brian McCann and Alfonso Soriano both went 1-for-3, and Brian Roberts and Mark Teixeira went a combined 0-for-7. Grapefruit League MVP Yangervis Solarte struck out with the tying run on base to end the game. Dellin Betances further locked up a bullpen job by inheriting a bases loaded, one out jam, and escaping with a strikeout (Jose Bautista) and fly out (Edwin Encarnacion). Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Tampa.
- Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) will play in a minor league game on Tuesday. If he plays in a regular Grapefruit League at some point, the Yankees won’t be able to backdate a potential DL stint. Minor league games it is. Brendan Ryan (back) is feeling a little better but won’t play at all this week. [Wally Matthews, Castillo]
- Beltran is hosting an event to encourage and motivate the team’s minor leaguers, and today he was recruiting teammates to participate. He recently hosted a catered event for Latino players in the organization, with guest speakers and a band. Pretty neat. [Castillo, Chad Jennings]
- Donnie Collins has some notes from minor league camp, if you’re interested. Manny Banuelos hit 95 mph for the first time since Tommy John surgery in today’s three-inning outing.
- The Yankees do not have a game on Monday, but Ivan Nova will pitch in a minor league game. Not sure if any other workouts are planned.
Here is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 10:30pm ET, and MLB Network will re-air a different game later tonight. The Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all playing as well. Talk about anything and everything right here.
During a recent interview (video link), Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees are moving Jose Ramirez to the bullpen full-time. “Jose Ramirez is a power right-hander that’s been a starter throughout his minor league career, but because of injuries we’re going to stick him in the bullpen,” said the GM. “He has a chance to move very fast.”
Ramirez, 24, has not pitched this spring due to a lingering oblique injury. He has thrown 100+ innings only twice in his career (2010-11) because of elbow, shoulder, lat, and oblique problems. Ramirez pitched to a 3.67 ERA (4.62 FIP) with a 78/36 K/BB in 73.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season. I think his mid-90s fastball/changeup/slider combo could be devastating in relief, and I’m glad to see they’ve pulled the plug on him as a starter due to the continued injuries. I ranked Ramirez as the team’s 12th best prospect last month and we could see him at some point this summer, health permitting. · (31) ·
Prior to yesterday’s game, Joe Girardi said there’s a chance he will announce his rotation for the start of the season on Tuesday. The fifth starter competition is technically still alive, though it seems both Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren have already been ruled out. It’s down to David Phelps and Michael Pineda, and based on how he’s thrown this spring, it’s hard to think Pineda won’t be the rotation if he stays healthy over the next ten days or so.
Pineda is making his third start and fourth appearance of Grapefruit League play this afternoon. The first three outings were pretty good overall, and the most important thing is that his fastball velocity has gradually crept upwards each time out. He topped out at 92 mph in his first game, then topped out at 93 mph in his second game, and in his last outing he hit 94 mph. I don’t know if Pineda will ever throw as he hard as he did with the Mariners a few years ago, but what we’ve seen so far is encouraging. He’s probably scheduled for something like 75-80 pitches this afternoon.
The Blue Jays made the short trip across the causeway from Dunedin for this afternoon’s game. Most of their regulars made the trip, including Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and former Yankee Melky Cabrera. Should be a nice test for Pineda. Mark Buehrle will be on the bump. Here is the Yankees’ starting lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- RF Carlos Beltran
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- C Brian McCann
- DH Alfonso Soriano
- 2B Brian Roberts
- 3B Eduardo Nunez
- CF Ichiro Suzuki
SP Michael Pineda
Available Pitchers: RHP Chris Leroux, RHP Matt Daley, RHP Preston Claiborne, RHP Dellin Betances, LHP Cesar Cabral, RHP Jim Miller, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Shane Greene, LHP Fred Lewis, RHP Manny Burawa, and RHP Branden Pinder.
Available Position Players: C Jose Gil, 1B Russ Canzler, 2B Zelous Wheeler, SS Yangervis Solarte, 3B Scott Sizemore, LF Zoilo Almonte, CF Antoan Richardson, RF Adonis Garcia, C Austin Romine, C John Ryan Murphy, and IF Dean Anna.
It’s cloudy but warm in Tampa, temperatures in the mid-to-high-70s with no threat of rain. This afternoon’s game is scheduled to start a little after 1pm ET, and you can watch live on YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. Enjoy.
The Grapefruit League winning streak is up to seven after the Yankees beat the Twins 5-4 on Saturday afternoon. Masahiro Tanaka had his worst start of the spring, allowing three runs on five hits, one walk, and one hit batsman in 5.2 innings before hitting his pitch count. He struck out six, got six ground ball outs, and four fly ball outs. Tanaka got burned by the shaky infield defense a few times but he was also behind in the count quite a bit early. He wasn’t sharp but it was hardly a disaster.
Zoilo Almonte and Zelous Wheeler both had a pair of hits, including a double. Scott Sizemore singled in two runs. Brett Gardner went 0-for-3 and both Eduardo Nunez and Kelly Johnson went 1-for-4 with a run scored. Frankie Cervelli had a rough day physically, getting hit by a pitch in the left hand and also getting hit by a few foul tips. He remained in the game through it all, so I guess he’s fine. Cervelli went 0-for-2 with a run scored and the hit-by-pitch at the plate. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from camp.
- While Tanaka was pitching against the Twins, Hiroki Kuroda started a minor league game in Tampa. He allowed two runs in six innings and threw 84 pitches. “I feel like I’m all set,” he said afterward. Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances, Preston Claiborne, and Cesar Cabral all threw perfect innings in a minor league game. [Jorge Castillo, Donnie Collins]
- Derek Jeter took batting practice today and said he’s fine. He fouled two pitches off his left foot/ankle in last night’s game (in the same at-bat, so one right after the other), the ankle he had surgically repaired in October 2012. [Dan Martin]
- As expected, Joe Girardi officially named CC Sabathia the team’s Opening Day starter. Girardi said the rest of the rotation could be announced on Tuesday — “Maybe Tuesday we’ll announce it, would be my guess.” — though the bullpen and bench decisions are still a ways off. [Chad Jennings]
- And finally, Collins has a bunch of notes from the minor league complex, if you’re interested.
This is your open thread for the evening. This afternoon’s game will not be replayed anywhere, but MLB Network will show the Dodgers and Diamondbacks live from Australia at 10pm ET (Ryu vs. Cahill). That’s a regular season game and the second of the two-game series — the Dodgers won the first game of the year this morning. The Devils and Rangers are playing (each other) as well, so talk about these games or anything else here.
Two days after traveling to Fort Myers to play the Red Sox, the Yankees are back in town this afternoon to play the Twins. Masahiro Tanaka is making his third “real” start of the spring and his fifth overall appearance. He’s scheduled to throw 90 pitches, so this will basically be a full start. As you might expect, the Bombers did not send many of their regulars on the 2+ hour bus trip after playing last night. Here are the Yankees and Twins lineups. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 1pm ET and the game can be seen on MLB.tv. There is no live YES or MLB Network broadcast. Enjoy the game if you’re watching.
Update: Whoops, apparently the game is live on MLB Network. My bad. · (25) ·
Another day, another win. The Yankees won their sixth consecutive Grapefruit League game on Friday night, shutting out the Pirates four-zip. CC Sabathia was in midseason form, holding the Bucs to four hits and one walk in seven innings of work. He struck out seven and got ten ground ball outs compared to just two in the air. Vintage. The television gun had Sabathia mostly at 88-89 mph but there were a bunch of 90s and 91s mixed in throughout the outing. That’s encouraging. His offspeed stuff was dynamite.
Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira all went 0-for-3, though the first two drove in runs with ground balls. Jeter fouled two pitches off his left foot/ankle, but told Bryan Hoch he’s fine after the game. He was not scheduled to play Saturday, so Jeter will get a day to rest anyway. Brian McCann doubled in a run and the trio of Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, and Brian Roberts went 1-for-3. McCann also threw out two attempted base-stealers. Matt Thornton (two outs), Shawn Kelley (one), and David Robertson (three) retired all six batters faced. I hope every game goes this smoothly. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Tampa.
- Before the game, Shane Greene and Greg Bird were named the 2013 Kevin Lawn Award winners as the organization’s minor league pitcher and hitter of the year, respectively. Congrats to them.
- Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) took batting practice and did some conditioning drills today. Everything went fine, as far as I can tell. Brian Cashman said he’s “not worried” about the injury and Joe Girardi said Ellsbury will likely play in a game either Sunday or Tuesday (they’re off on Monday). I’d put my money on Tuesday. [Jorge Castillo, David Waldstein]
- In case you missed it earlier, an MRI revealed a pinched nerve in Brendan Ryan‘s back and he is likely to open the season on the DL. Cashman said “all the answers are here in camp” when asked about replacing Ryan, just in case you were hoping they’d make a trade or sign someone. [Bryan Hoch]
- Ivan Nova will indeed pitch in a minor league game on Monday. That’s how the rotation lines up. Both Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren threw 80+ pitches in a minor league game on Thursday, so they’re staying stretched out. Nova and Michael Pineda threw their scheduled bullpen sessions. [Chad Jennings, Castillo]
- Thornton will pitch again tomorrow night because Larry Rothschild wants to get him in a set of back-to-back games before the end of camp. [Castillo]
- One last thing: Friday was the first day teams can place players on the 15-day DL (of backdate the DL stint) if they intend to activate them right when the 15 days are up. Could come into play with Ryan. [Evan Drellich]
The Yankees are on the road to play the Twins in Fort Myers tomorrow afternoon, when Masahiro Tanaka will make his fourth start of the spring (really fifth if you count his simulated game). We’re approaching the point of the spring when the regular start playing two or three days in a row, but I’m not sure how many will make the 2+ hour bus trip south after playing tonight.