The Crookeds and the Straights

“You got to take the crookeds with the straights.” Few lines can more accurately sum up the course of a baseball season than this one. Opening Day for the Yankees is just one sleep away and so our tired, baseball-starved feet finally rest at the variously crooked and straight path that is the 162-game marathon of a Major League season. Just like the 30 teams, each individual player will have his own crooked and straight moments to form the mosaic of his season. Hopefully for the Yankees’ players, there are more straights than crookeds. Let’s take a look at those possibilities for the place that’s a big question for the Yanks: the mound

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Middle Relief

I’ll take this as a group instead of going player-by-player, since the same thing applies to just about all of them. Here lies the boom and bust potential of the team. If they can preserve the leads that the starters–not always likely to go deep–can hand to them, they can help overcome the iffiness of the rotation and hand things off to the definitively solid back end of the bullpen. If not, they make the back end of the bullpen almost meaningless. The faces in here will change throughout the year, but the job remains the same: just get the outs when your name is called.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Ivan Nova

I touched on his relief potential earlier in the year, and I’ll stick to my story here. The straight side of things is that Nova becomes Adam Warren. The crooked is that he continues being Ivan Nova, a pitcher whose only new trick is inconsistency in a new role. Ironically, going crooked instead of straight may be Nova’s best shot; like I wrote back in late January, if he focuses on his sinker and his curve, he may turn out alright as a reliever.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Andrew Miller & Dellin Betances

This is the place where the Yankees are mostly likely to have things go straight. Miller and Betances–along with Aroldis Chapman–are the safest bets of any Yankee players to be their elite selves this year. If things go crooked, it’s because Miller’s newly injured wrist isn’t holding up or Betances’ innings catch up to him. Luckily, the Yankees are crooked-proof here thanks to the three-headed monster they’ve assembled that will be hard to defeat; they’ve got insurance for insurance.

CC Sabathia

The straight path for CC is a lot more crooked than it is for others. There is not likely to be a return to dominance or even a return to goodness. All we’ve got to hope for here is a straight shot from April to October that includes health. Sabathia is going to be the fifth starter and all he needs to do is perform like one.

Masahiro Tanaka

The difference between crooked and straight matters most when it comes to Tanaka. Going straight, he can finally pitch a full season and be the ‘full time’ ace that injuries haven’t allowed him to be. Going crooked, he can finally prove a lot of amateur injury experts right and hurt his elbow for good. With so many question marks on the mound, it would be great for Tanaka to be the anchor we’ve all wanted him to be. He’s got frontline potential that obviously plays in the season, and would be great in the playoffs, especially paired with…

(Getty)
(Getty)

Nathan Eovaldi/Michael Pineda

Way back in November, I wrote about the mutual crossroads that Nasty Nate and Big Mike were about to approach; now they’ve arrived. The crooked part of the path sees their development stalling. The straight path sees Eovaldi continuing his second half surge and Pineda rediscovering his pre-Mother’s Day form. If you had to choose which one of these things if more likely, which would you? Because I have no idea. These two are a mystery, bigger even than…

Luis, you're No. 1. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Luis, you’re No. 1. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Luis Severino

Severino, no longer a rookie, will be counted on to take a step forward this season. Hopefully, that step is straight. We shouldn’t expect dominance and we shouldn’t expect him to meet his full potential already, but a straight step by Severino would boost the Yankees now and in the future. If he doesn’t step straight, though, he’s still young enough that he’s got time to correct his ‘gait.’ A crooked step by “Sevvy” might be bad for 2016, but luckily, it doesn’t mean the end of him.

It’s easy today to get overly emotional with each pitch, each play, each game–especially with the immediacy of social media. But we need to remember to try to stay calm. It’s a long road from here to November, and the path will be winding; we’ve got to take the crookeds with the straights.

Yankees trade Carlos Corporan to Rays for cash

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees traded catcher Carlos Corporan to the Rays for cash, the team announced. It’s only the second trade ever between the two AL East rivals. The other trade was the Nick Green for cash blockbuster back in 2006. Remember the Nick Green game? Good times.

Corporan, 32, had a unique opt-out clause in his contract. Once the Yankees determined they were not going to add him to the 40-man roster, they had to email the other 29 teams and give them the chance to add Corporan to their 40-man. Apparently no one bit; Corporan was traded as a non-40-man player.

The Yankees signed Corporan over the winter and it appeared that, at the very least, he would be a veteran safety net behind Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez in the backup catcher competition. Joe Girardi largely dismissed Corporan as a backup catcher candidate this spring and the job eventually went to Romine.

With Corporan gone, either Sebastian Valle or Eddy Rodriguez will back up Sanchez at Triple-A Scranton. Valle spent all of last season at Double-A with the Pirates. E-Rod bounced between Double-A and Triple-A with the Yankees. Either way, Sanchez is the starter for the RailRiders. No doubt about it.

Open Thread: April 2nd Camp Notes

The Yankees and Marlins are playing another un-televised game this afternoon. The good news is this will be the last un-televised Yankees game until next spring. Following today’s game the team will head to New York, enjoy an off-day tomorrow, then begin the regular season Monday. Pretty cool. Today’s game begins at 1pm ET. Here’s the Gameday link so you can follow that way. Here are some quick notes from Miami:

  • Andrew Miller (wrist) will pitch an inning today. He’s been wearing a brace since getting hit with the line drive a few days ago, but he needs to get MLB approval before using it in a game. [Anthony Rieber, Ryan Hatch]
  • Joe Girardi confirmed Aaron Hicks will indeed be in the starting lineup against Dallas Keuchel on Opening Day. He hasn’t decided who will sit, however. My take: if Jacoby Ellsbury‘s wrist is still sore from that hit-by-pitch two weeks ago, even a little bit, sit him and give him the extra rest. If not, well, he’s probably the one who should sit anyway. [Hatch]
  • Chase Headley did not play last night and he is not playing today because he’s sick. It’s unclear if he’ll be back to full strength in time for Opening Day. [Rieber]
  • If you missed it late last night, Kirby Yates has reportedly won the final bullpen spot.

Here is the open thread for the rest of the day. MLB Network is showing live games all day: Red Sox vs. Blue Jays in Montreal (1pm ET), Giants vs. Athletics in Oakland (4pm ET), and Dodgers vs. Angels in Anaheim (8pm ET). All three local hockey teams are in action, plus you’ve got both Final Four games later tonight. Have at it.

Fake Old Rumor: Expos offered Vlad Guerrero and Pedro Martinez for Derek Jeter

Vlad. (Getty)
Vlad. (Getty)

I’m not much of a baseball historian, but the older I get, the more I enjoy thinking back to the game when I was a kid. Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield, the late-1990s dynasty, that sort of stuff. It’s fun to remember those years. I’m a sucker for “what ifs” too. What if David Cone didn’t walk Doug Strange with the bases loaded? What if Jim Leyritz didn’t hit that homer? What if Tony Clark’s double was off the wall and not a ground-ruler?

So, needless to say, this super old and fascinating and weird rumor is right in my wheelhouse. From Nick Cafardo:

As the story goes: When Jeffrey Loria owned the Expos, he was obsessed with Derek Jeter. So he ordered his general manager, Jim Beattie, to try to make a deal with the Yankees and to give up whatever he had to. Beattie offered Yankees GM Brian Cashman Vladimir Guerrero and Pedro Martinez. Stunned, Cashman told Beattie, “I can’t trade Derek Jeter.”

How about that for a rumor? Imagine trading young Jeter for young Vlad and prime Pedro. Loria’s a native New Yorker and he has long admired the Yankees — why do you think he hired Mattingly this offseason? — so it makes total sense that he’d want Jeter. Who wouldn’t want Jeter back then? He was already a megastar.

That’s a great old rumor. Too bad it’s completely bogus. First and foremost, Loria did not buy into the Expos until 1999 — even then he didn’t have controlling interesting, that came a few months later — and by then Pedro was already with the Red Sox. He was traded to Boston in November 1997. Also, Cashman was promoted to GM in February 1998, two months after Pedro was traded to BoSox.

So no, this Jeter for Vlad/Pedro conversation didn’t actually happen. Sorry for being such a buzzkill. I don’t doubt Loria wanted Jeter, and hey, maybe Beattie did offer Vlad or Pedro for Jeter at some point. Pedro has said he was almost traded to New York. Time has a way of warping things — the older the story gets, the farther the home run travels, that sort of thing — and I’m sure this rumor had legs somewhere along the line. The Expos probably wanted Jeter. Everything else broke down during the game of telephone.

This is a very interesting what if though. Would Jeter for Vlad and Pedro have made sense for the Yankees? Let’s assume this happened during the 1997-98 offseason, when the Expos really got serious about trading Pedro. The Yankees would have traded four years of Jeter for five years of Vlad and one year of Pedro. If you simply add up the WARs — the lazy man’s trade analysis — it would have been 25.2 WAR (Jeter) for 32.9 WAR (Vlad) and 7.2 WAR (Pedro), so the Yankees would have come out way ahead.

It’s not quite that simple though. Who plays shortstop after Jeter? Andy Fox? Homer Bush? Shortstops like Jeter are harder to find than outfielders like Vlad, and don’t mean that as a knock on Vlad. He was awesome. Jeter was a much more valuable commodity as a player. So the Yankees would have no shortstop, and Guerrero would have to play left field because the Yankees had Bernie Williams in center and Paul O’Neill in right. They’d go into the season with a starting lineup that looks something like this:

  1. 2B Chuck Knoblauch
  2. DH Tim Raines
  3. RF Paul O’Neill
  4. CF Bernie Williams
  5. 1B Tino Martinez
  6. LF Vlad Guerrero
  7. C Jorge Posada
  8. 3B Scott Brosius
  9. SS ???

Would the Knoblauch trade have even happened if the Jeter trade went down? Would the Yankees trade their starting shortstop (Jeter) and top shortstop prospect (Cristian Guzman) in one offseason? Maybe! Knoblauch was a star and Vlad looked like a future star. The Yankees still had Bush as a stopgap and D’Angelo Jimenez in the system, after all.

The rotation aspect is pretty straight forward. Pedro, who won the NL Cy Young in 1997, would have joined holdovers Andy Pettitte, David Cone, and David Wells in the 1998 rotation. Ramiro Mendoza was the fifth starter to start that season, and eventually Hideki Irabu and Orlando Hernandez joined the starting five. One of those two would be out of the picture. Probably Irabu since Bush would have had to play short (and therefore not been involved in the Irabu trade with the Padres), but maybe El Duque instead.

This is a pretty wonderful what if scenario. It’s impossible to complain about in hindsight. The 1998 Yankees were one of the ten best teams in baseball history and the Yankees won three straight World Series after this hypothetical trade would have gone down. That Jeter guy stuck around for a while too. Things worked out pretty okay.

(Update: Cashman told Bryan Hoch the rumor was bogus. He did say he tried for both Vlad and Pedro over the years, and the Expos did ask about Jeter at one point.)

Curry: Kirby Yates wins final bullpen spot

Yates. (Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Jack Curry, right-hander Kirby Yates will get the final bullpen spot on the Opening Day roster. He is essentially replacing Bryan Mitchell. Mitchell is going to miss a minimum of three months after breaking his toe covering first base earlier this week. Yates is already on the 40-man roster.

Yates, 29, came over from the Indians in a cash trade over the winter. He had a phenomenal spring, allowing two hits and one walk in 7.1 innings while striking out ten. Last season Yates had a 7.97 ERA (8.64 FIP) in 20.1 innings with the Rays. He somehow managed to allow ten homers in those 20.1 innings. Two years ago Yates had a 3.75 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 36 innings for Tampa.

Yates will join Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, Ivan Nova, Luis Cessa, and Johnny Barbato in the Opening Day bullpen. Miller is going to pitch through his wrist injury and Nova is officially in the bullpen now that CC Sabathia has been named the fifth starter. For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi said Cessa and Barbato locked up roster spots even before Mitchell’s injury.

Friday Night Open Thread

The Yankees are playing the Marlins in Marlins Park tonight, and, amazingly, the game will not be broadcast anywhere. Not on YES, not on FOX Sports Florida, not on MLB Network, not online, nothing. How, in the year 2016, do two Major League teams play a game in a Major League park with no cameras? Incredible. Here’s the Gameday link. You can follow that way.

This is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network is showing two live games tonight: Red Sox vs. Blue Jays in Montreal (7pm ET) and Athletics vs. Giants in San Francisco (10pm ET). The Knicks and Nets are playing each other, and both Final Four games will be on tonight as well. Talk about any of that here.

Joe Girardi names CC Sabathia fifth starter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Joe Girardi officially named CC Sabathia the fifth starter this afternoon, according to the various reporters with the Yankees in Miami. Ivan Nova will shift to the bullpen for the time being. Sometimes you can predict baseball, Suzyn.

Sabathia, who last pitched Tuesday, will pitch in an instrasquad game tomorrow in Tampa to stay sharp. He’ll then join the team in New York and start next Saturday’s game in Detroit. The rotation is officially Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino, and Sabathia in that order, not that the order really matters.

Nova did out-pitch Sabathia this spring, but Sabathia out-pitched Nova last year, plus he’s the veteran making $25M a year. Money talks. There were a ton of reasons not to believe the Yankees when they said the fifth starter’s spot would be decided by a true competition in Spring Training.

The way I see it, it’s only a matter of time until Nova winds up in the rotation anyway. Teams never make it through a season with only five starters, and the Yankees have a risky rotation. Tanaka (forearm), Pineda (forearm), Eovaldi (elbow), and Sabathia (knee) all missed time with injuries in 2015.