Guest: Christina Kahrl of ESPN. She writes for the SweetSpot blog (her archive here). We talk about the upcoming Cubs series, but really more about the woeful state of the team and what they’re doing to get back on track. Plenty of Jeff Samardzija talk, as you might imagine.
We also dive into social issues in sports, where Christina plays an active role. You can follow her on Twitter, @ChristinaKahrl.
Before that, Jay, Mike, and I talk a bit about the Pirates series. Lots of prospect talk going on during that 35-minute opening segment. I guess it’s appropriate, since Mike and I talk a bit more about the week in the minor league system.
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RHP Bruce Billings has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton, according to Chris Cotillo. Donnie Collins says he accepted the assignment instead of electing free agency, unsurprisingly. Billings was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for Chase Whitley the other day. Also, I haven’t updated the standings yet this season, so let’s do that now.
Triple-A Scranton (5-3 win over Pawtucket in ten innings) they are 22-21 and in fifth place in the division, but only 2.5 games back of first
- 2B Jose Pirela: 3-3, 2 R, 2 BB – 10-for-15 (.667) in his last four games
- CF Adonis Garcia: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB
- LF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB — singled in the go-ahead run in the top of the tenth
- 1B Kyle Roller: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB
- 3B Zelous Wheeler: 0-3, 1 HBP — he banged into an around the horn triple play in the eighth inning
- SS Dean Anna: 0-4, 1 RBI, 1 K
- RHP Joel De La Cruz: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 4/5 GB/FB — 56 of 95 pitches were strikes (59%)
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1/1 GB/FB — 20 of 36 pitches were strikes (56%)
The Yankees are off today and they’re already in Chicago, where they will play their next six games. They’ll spend an entire week in the Windy City, which is pretty cool. Both the Cubs and White Sox have been pretty bad this year, especially the last few weeks, so this is a prime opportunity for the Bombers to create some distance between themselves and the rest of the division. At some point some team in the AL East is going to go on a run, like a 20-8 or 35-15 run, something like that, so banking as many wins as possible against bad teams is super important.
Here is your open thread for the off night. ESPN is airing Tigers-Indians (Smyly vs. Kluber), plus there are NBA (Thunder-Spurs, 9pm ET on TNT) and NHL (Rangers-Canadiens, 8pm ET on NBCSN) playoff games on as well. Use this thread to talk about whatever you like. Have at it.
(How fun is that video of Deion Sanders hitting an inside-the-park homer past a diving Bo Jackson? Answer: very.)
6:02pm: Banuelos told Peruffo it is more fatigue than soreness, which is good. Fits the idea of this stemming from not pitching for almost two years. He will rest for three days before playing catch.
6:00pm: LHP Manny Banuelos has been scratched from tonight’s scheduled start for Double-A Trenton, according to Nick Peruffo. Banuelos has soreness in his arm, though it’s unclear if it involves his surgically rebuilt elbow. A trip to the disabled list is possible and Matt Kardos says he will be evaluated in a few days.
Banuelos, 23, has a 4.03 ERA (~3.27 FIP) in 22.1 closely monitored innings split between High-A and Double-A this season as he returns from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees are obviously going to be very careful with the southpaw, so I would guess he winds up on the DL. Hopefully this is just normal soreness following surgery and not pitching for nearly two years. · (20) ·
Grant Hockin | RHP
Hockin attends Damien High School in the Los Angeles suburb of La Verne. His older brother Chad pitches for Cal State Fullerton and his grandfather is the late Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, so he has some serious baseball bloodlines. Hockin is not a power hitter like his grandfather, however. He is committed to UCLA.
Hockin is a classic projectable prep pitcher listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 lbs. He throws both a straight four-seam fastball and a running two-seam fastball, usually sitting in the 88-91 mph range but touching 93 on the occasion. A sharp slider is his top secondary pitch, plus he also throws a promising changeup and a very inconsistent curveball. There’s some thought he will have to simply scrap the curve at the next level and focus on the slider and changeup. Hockin is a good athlete and his delivery is very smooth and low effort, suggesting there is more velocity coming as he fills out. He also draws high marks for his makeup, work ethic, and leadership skills.
Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently ranked Hockin as the 48th best prospect in the draft, though neither Baseball America nor MLB.com included him in their most recent top 100 rankings. This draft class is deep with right-handed pitchers and I think Hockin is getting overlooked. Good size, two fastballs and two offspeed pitches (maybe three), athletic, easy delivery, good makeup, Hall of Fame bloodlines … what box isn’t checked? This is the type of kid who comes out as a top ten pick in three years if he winds up in college and stays healthy.
Scouting director and Southern California native Damon Oppenheimer loves his SoCal prospects (Austin Romine, Ian Kennedy, Gerrit Cole, Ian Clarkin, Gosuke Katoh, Tyler Wade, Angelo Gumbs, Gabe Encinas, etc.) and he’s always been keen on high school arms, so Hockin seems like someone who could be right up his alley for the Yankees’ top pick in the second round (55th overall) next month. I’ve always been a fan of prep pitchers and I’d be thrilled if the club wound up with Hockin.
The 2008 season might not have been as bad as 2013, but Yankees fans would still like to forget it. It seemed that every little thing went wrong that season. Whenever it looked as though the Yankees might have a charge in them, the suffered another blow.
Let’s consider a (perhaps incomplete) list of those maladies:
- Both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, top prospects who showed promise in 2007, started off the season in disastrous fashion.
- Then Hughes got hurt.
- Darrell Rasner started 20 games.
- Much worse: Sidney Ponson started 15.
- Save for a brilliant start here and there, Andy Pettitte was thoroughly mediocre.
- The only two starters under age 30, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, had wholly disappointing seasons. Cano was benched for lack of hustle, while Carbera got sent back to AAA after more than two service-time years in the bigs.
- Jorge Posada, fresh off signing a new contract, played the first half with a bum shoulder which required surgery, forcing a cast of offensively inept backups into starting roles.
- Hideki Matsui‘s balky knees limited him to under 400 PA and sapped him of his power.
- Chien-Ming Wang suffered a foot injury that would indirectly end his career.
- Derek Jeter had his worst season since 1996. (Sure, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year, but we’d come to expect more of him.)
- Joba Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and then in the rotation — until he suffered a shoulder injury that cut his season short (and probably ended up causing a lot more long-term damage than we typically account for).
- They traded a reasonably effective Kyle Farnsworth and got back a wholly terrible Ivan Rodriguez.
- Xavier Nady hit .330/.383/.535 before the Yankees traded for him, .268/.320/.474 for them.
- Damaso Marte was terrible and then broke after the trade. Thankfully, they didn’t end up giving away anything of consequence.
- All told the Yankees used 27 — twenty-seven! — pitchers.
What went right? Mike Mussina’s resurgence was nice to watch. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi both stayed healthy and produced decent numbers. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t his 2007 MVP self, but he was still a top-five hitter. Unfortunately, he started his streak of six straight years on the disabled list. (Which he’ll have snapped at season’s end.) The Yanks did discover Al Aceves, which was nice, and Brian Bruney, which was nice for a very short period of time.
Despite all that, had there been a second Wild Card, or had the Rays improved by 22 wins, instead of 31, the Yanks would have made the playoffs. So how bad could the season have been?
It could have been a fatal sign going forward. The franchise players were getting older. Each had been hurt or saw diminished production during the 2008 season. The only starters under age 30 took steps backwards. Maybe it didn’t feel like it at the time, but the potential for disaster loomed during that off-season. The Yankees needed big changes, and that’s not easy to achieve through free agency.
Thankfully for the Yankees, the 2008-2009 free agent class featured a number of players who fit their exact needs. Even more thankfully, they shed a number of their biggest, and in some cases worst, contracts at the exact right time.
The 2008 payroll was a then-franchise-record $209 million (just a bit more than the 2005 payroll). Without some of those bigger contracts coming off the books, there’s now way that even the Yankees can afford to add contracts for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira (and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher). But the exact right contracts expired at the exact right time.
Jason Giambi cost the club $22 million in 2008. They essentially shed $17 million, though, since they had to pay him a $5 million buyout on his 2009 option.
Carl Pavano cost the club $11 million in 2008.
Bobby Abreu cost $16 million, but with a $2 million buyout the Yankees saved $14 million.
Mike Mussina cost $11 million, but the Yankees probably weren’t glad to be rid of him at that point.
Andy Pettitte cost $16 million. Worthwhile in 2007, but not so much 2008.
They also saved some money when Ivan Rodriguez’s contract expired. Trading away Wilson Betemit’s $1.6 million was like finding some loose change in the couch cushions.
In total the Yankees shed more than $70 million in salaries, mostly for players they were glad to be rid of, of who were considerably overpaid in 2008.
Time to reallocate those resource to more productive players.
Add up the guys they signed. At $23 million for Sabathia. $22.5 million for Teixeira, $18.5 million for Burnett, and $5.3 million for Swisher, plus another $5.5 million for bringing back Pettitte, you get $74.8 million.
They were able to fill their needs with such high-priced guys, because they had a number of lower-cost players on both sides of the ball. It took some faith in them rebounding, but Cano and Cabrera cost them a combined $7.4 million in 2009. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes earned the minimum, as did almost everyone in the bullpen. If they didn’t have those major-league-ready younger players, then spending $75 million on top-tier players makes less sense. You can have a core of great players, but you still need 25 players on the roster.
At the end of 2008, the Yankees were in a tough spot. Their younger players saw their flaws exposed during the season. There was plenty of uncertainty about the tested veterans. Without the perfect free agent class and money to lure them, the 2009 Yankees might not have been much better than 2008. Without some of those younger guys returning to form, or performing well for a change, the successful free agent signings might not have mattered.
The Yankees found the exact guys to fill needed spots. It cost them plenty, but each of the free agent signings (and trade bounty, in Swisher’s case) added significantly to the 2009 team’s production. Perhaps just as importantly, the Yankees stuck with those younger players and saw their patience rewarded. The entire off-season could have gone a lot differently. But it played out perfectly. We all know the reward.
The Yankees have lost another one of their starters for an extended period of time. Brian Cashman confirmed to Joel Sherman that CC Sabathia will be out until at least July due to his continued right knee problems. Just last night we heard Sabathia was going to see another doctor after receiving a cortisone injection and stem cell treatment from Dr. James Andrews a few days ago.
“It will be no sooner than six weeks from now,”said the GM to Sherman. “Our dialogue with Andrews has been good and the small sample of stem cell procedures, the results are very successful, but he has to be pain free before strengthening, so there is a way to go. Because he is a starter it will take longer. I have no idea how long it will be and if it will be successful. We are hoping it is six weeks to a Major League return.”
Sabathia, 33, has what Cashman called “degenerative change” in his right knee, referring to the cartilage. He had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in the knee after both the 2006 and 2010 seasons. Even the slimmed down version of Sabathia is a large man and he’s been coming down on that right knee — his landing leg — for a long time now. Joe Girardi said he is unsure if surgery will be necessary if the stem cell treatment doesn’t work.
“I have not been told that (surgery is possible), but I think you have to wait and see how all of this works,” said the manager to Chad Jennings yesterday. “I think any time you deal with a degenerative knee issue, at some point in your life something is probably going to flare up. I’m not a doctor, and I can’t tell you when that’s going to happen. When you have degenerative back (problems), it usually gets to the point where usually you have to have something done, so we’ll have to see.”
The Yankees are also without Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, so three-fifths of their Opening Day rotation is hurt. Nova is done for the year following Tommy John surgery and Pineda recently started throwing bullpens as part of his throwing program, but he is still several weeks away from returning from his back/shoulder muscle injury. David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and most recently Chase Whitley have stepped into the rotation and have been … hit or miss. Let’s put it that way. They have combined for ten starts and have completed five full innings of work only six times (combined 3.62 ERA and 4.08 FIP).
We already know the Yankees are open to trading for pitching — “Generally at this time of year, nothing materializes. We will keep an eye out to see if something does,” said Cashman to Sherman — because they’re always open to trading for pitching. Hal Steinbrenner has indicated a willingness to take on salary and increase payroll, which seems unavoidable if the team wants to lands a rotation upgrade. Expect a lot of Cliff Lee and Jeff Samardzija chatter over the next few weeks.
The Yankees have just about exhausted their internal rotation candidates, with Alfredo Aceves, Brian Gordon, and Shane Greene next in line to make starts (not necessarily in that order). Manny Banuelos might be an option in the second half, and, if worst comes to worst, they could always pull Adam Warren out of his setup role and stretch him back out into a starter. Putting Dellin Betances back in the rotation should be a non-option given his history.
Sabathia has been pretty awful both this year (5.28 ERA and 4.72 FIP) and since the start of last year (4.87 ERA and 4.21 FIP), but that doesn’t mean the Yankees are better off without him. Far from it. Phelps, Nuno, and Whitley are five and fly pitchers who drain the bullpen — Betances can throw two innings every other day for only so long — and the Yankees run of the risk of burning out their key relievers later in the season. They need to get some more length from their starters, including Hiroki Kuroda.
On the other hand, it’s possible Sabathia will come out of this ordeal as a better pitcher once he’s healthy. He’s shown he will pitch through pain in the past, most notably pitching on the torn meniscus in 2010, with the bone spur in his elbow in 2012, and after blowing out his hamstring mid-start last September. Who knows how long the knee was bothering Sabathia and how getting it taken care of will help him? If he was unable to land comfortably, it would explain some of his location issues, no doubt. We’ll find out eventually, I guess.
For now, the Yankees are stuck with the totally awesome Masahiro Tanaka, the inconsistent Kuroda, and three rolls of the dice in the rotation. Pineda will hopefully be back early next month and that will be a huge help based on the way he was pitching earlier this year. At the very least, Sabathia’s ability to take the ball every fifth day and soak up some innings will be missed, especially by the middle relievers who have to pick up the slack.
Via Marc Topkin: Fernando Rodney said the Yankees offered him a one-year contract over the winter. He received two-year offers from several teams and eventually took a two-year, $14M pact with the Mariners. Seems like the Yankees would have welcomed him aboard, but only on their terms.
Rodney, 37, has a 3.12 ERA (3.08 FIP) in 17.1 innings as Robinson Cano’s teammate so far this year. Signing him would have allowed the Yankees to use David Robertson in some higher leverage seventh and eighth inning situations, but it also might have sent Robertson searching for a closer job when he becomes a free agent after the season. Rodney’s too much of a high wire act for me, but a one-year contract? No harm in that. · (6) ·
Record Last Week: 4-3 (33 RS, 30 RA)
Season Record: 23-20 (188 RS, 196 RA, 21-22 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, @ Cubs (two games, Tues. and Weds.), @ White Sox (four games, Thurs. o Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The week opened with the 2014 edition of the Subway Series. They Yankees blew two three-run leads in Monday’s loss before being blown out the next day. Masahiro Tanaka threw his first MLB shutout on Wednesday and the Yankees eked out a 1-0 win in the series finale.
- The Pirates came to the Bronx for a three-game weekend set, but Friday night’s opener was rained out. The Yankees homered their way to a win on Saturday, then they held on for a win in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader. The Pirates took the second game.
- Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) received cortisone and stem cell injections, but will see another doctor for a new treatment plan. Carlos Beltran (elbow) received two cortisone shots and is going to see Dr. Andrews this week. Michael Pineda (elbow) has thrown two bullpen sessions and could soon face hitters. Shawn Kelley (back) will start throwing this week. Ichiro Suzuki (back) has since returned to the lineup. Frankie Cervelli (hamstring) is continuing to rehab but is “not yet 100%.” Austin Romine (hand) has been placed on the Triple-A DL. Ty Hensley (hernia) has started facing hitters.
- The Yankees called up Chase Whitley to replace Sabathia in the rotation. Bruce Billings was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot and Beltran was placed on the 15-day DL to clear a 25-man roster spot. Zoilo Almonte was called up during the week as well.
- Hal Steinbrenner has indicated a willingness to take on salary at the trade deadline, and team is open to trading for pitching. They may reconsider Stephen Drew after the draft.
- The Yankees are one of five finalists for Cuban outfielder Daniel Carbonell. They are targeting several international amateurs for $1M+ bonuses for the July 2nd signing period.
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?
A few hours after winning the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, the Yankees dropped the second game to wind up with a split. It’s hard not to get greedy and want a sweep after taking the first game, so the outcome was disappointing. The Pirates won the second game 5-3 but the Yankees still took two of three this weekend.
The Defense! My Eyes! The Goggles Do Nothing!
The defense in the second inning was as bad as you’ll see in MLB these days. Both teams too, not just the Yankees. In the top half, three of four Yankee infielders made a poor play and contributed to a Pirates’ run. First Yangervis Solarte fielded a ground ball at third and unnecessarily rushed the throw, which short-hopped Kelly Johnson at first. Johnson couldn’t scoop it out of the dirt, but I think an experienced first baseman would have. Maybe I’m wrong. Later in the inning, Brian Roberts flubbed the pivot at second on a potential double play ball, so instead of ending the inning, the Pirates had runners at first and third. He never had it in his glove so they could even say he botched the transfer. Chris Stewart came up with a two-out single to score the run, because of course.
Then, in the bottom half of the inning, right fielder Travis Snider flat out missed a John Ryan Murphy single that dropped in front of him. The ball got by him and rolled to the warning track, allowing Solarte to score from first and Murphy to make it to third base safely. Brendan Ryan followed with a surprise bunt attempt that hugged the third base foul line, at least until Gerrit Cole scooped it up, twisted around, and threw the ball over the first baseman’s head and into the right field. Murphy scored easily from third and Ryan wound up at second. Cole should have just eaten the ball. Terrible throw. He balked runners up to second and third later in the inning, but Roberts couldn’t make him pay. Four errors total in the second inning, two by each team. Extra outs for everyone!
These Are Not The Pitchers You’re Looking For
With an assist to some terrible Pirates base-running — Josh Harrison got caught between second and third following his two-out double in the fifth, and although he wasn’t tagged out, he ran way out of the baseline and the inning was over — Vidal Nuno was actually pretty good on Sunday. The first run he allowed was the result of the defensive hilarity, and the other two came from a two-run Yankee Stadium cheapie that looked like a routine pop-up off the bat from Starling Marte. Such is life. All things considered, I think the Yankees should be thrilled whenever they get six innings of three-run ball from Nuno, which they did on Sunday.
Alfredo Aceves was the first one out the bullpen and he promptly served up a solo homer to Harrison to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead in the seventh. It was a terrible pitch up in the zone that deserved to be destroyed. Matt Thornton retired Pedro Alvarez to end the eighth and was then left in to face the right-handed Jordy Mercer in the ninth for reasons unknown. Of course he doubled to the wall and that led to an insurance run. Preston Claiborne needed 22 pitches to get the final two outs in the ninth, one of which was a sac fly by Stewart to score the insurance run. Pretty strong case to be made that the Yankees used their four worst pitchers in each this game. Kind of amazing they only allowed five runs, really.
The Yankees failed to come through in prime run-scoring opportunities more than once. First, Brett Gardner led the game off with a triple and managed to get himself picked off at third with one out. Stewart caught him wandering two far off the bag with a snap throw. That hurt. Getting a run — even just one — that early in the game would have been nice with Nuno on the mound. The Pirates have been scuffling and making them play catch-up right away would have changed the complexion of the game.
The Yankees’ best chance to tie the game in the late innings came in the seventh, when Roberts doubled to right with Gardner on first. He was held up at third — the replay made it seem as though it would have taken a perfect relay throw to get him at the plate, but I thought it was the right call to hold him at third with the molten hot Mark Teixeira due up — and eventually stranded when Teixeira broke his bat and popped out to end the inning. In hindsight, damn why didn’t they send him. Alas.
The eighth inning rally wasn’t particularly close to producing a run because Harrison made a spectacular diving catch to rob Solarte of a sure double for the first out of the inning. Derek Jeter was standing on first following a pinch-hit leadoff single (ten-pitch at-bat against hard-throwing lefty Tony Watson) and if Harrison misses the dive, there’s a pretty good chance he would have scored. Alfonso Soriano came off the bench against the lefty and struck out three pitches, swinging and missing on three fastballs. Hero swings. He was up there with one thing on the mind. Ichiro Suzuki struck out and that was that. Harrison’s great play changed everything.
Solarte really knows about the break out of a slump, huh? He came into the game riding an 0-for-13 skid (with three double plays, yikes), but he snapped out of that with a ground ball single in the second, then he clubbed a long solo homer into the right field bleachers to tie the game in the sixth. Solarte also had a double taken away from him on that play by Harrison. The slump was more bad luck than bad at-bats. Hard-hit balls right at people, not a ton of strikeouts and weak contact. He’ll be fine.
In case you were holding out hope that Jeter would be removed for defense in the late innings going forward, he took over at shortstop after pinch-hitting in the eighth while Ryan moved over to first. Ryan had never played first base in his eleven-year professional career. So yeah, Jeter’s the shortstop hell or high water this year. By the way, Ryan is already the seventh player to play first for the Yankees this year. The team’s single-season record is 12 different first baseman in 2008.
Umpire Bob Davidson managed to annoy both teams on Sunday. First he botched the check swing call on Teixeira’s would-be hit-by-pitch in the first game, then he made some weird signals when Harrison was out of the baseline in the fifth. Davidson just points at stuff. The ball, the player, whatever. Same happened when Roberts misplayed the double play ball in the second. No one knew if he got the out before bobbling the transfer or what. No one knows what Davidson’s calling. Terrible.
Gardner, Roberts, and Solarte had two hits apiece, one single and one for extra bases. They went a combined 6-for-12 with a double, a triple, a homer, a walk, and a strikeout. The rest of the lineup went 4-for-23 (.174) with one walk and nine strikeouts. Considering the house money lineup the Yankees ran out there in the second game of the doubleheader, that isn’t surprising.
Following the doubleheader, the bullpen and the rest of the Yankees get a much-needed off-day in Monday. They are in Chicago all of next week and open a two-game series against the Cubs on Tuesday night. Masahiro Tanaka and Jason Hammel will be the pitching matchup. It will be the first time Tanaka faces a team for a second time this year.