I was holding my nephew in the standing room behind the right field wall.
We were on Yankee Stadium’s main level, looking down at Carlos Beltran. The Bombers were getting slaughtered by Tampa Ray late in the game. The Rays were on the verge of avoiding a sweep.
“Someday, we’ll be watching you down there, buddy,” I told him.
That’s what my dad said to me at my first game.
Do you remember your first time?
Maybe it was with your dad in the 1950s, when you walked into the old Yankee Stadium. You saw Mickey Mantle get on his horse and chase down fly balls in the outfield, only to later have that topped by watching him smash a 500-foot home run.
Perhaps, like this writer, it was with your family sometime in the 1990s, when you excitedly marched into the House that Ruth Built. You witnessed Don Mattingly make web gem after web gem at first base, and were then treated to his grandiose power with the bat.
Whichever game it was, you’ll never forget it. That game likely got you hooked as a Yankee fan for life.
That type of journey began for someone very close to me yesterday. That would be my 4-year-old nephew, Ryan.
My sister sent me a text message around 10:30 p.m. Friday night.
“You want to go to the Yankee game Sunday? We’re thinking of taking Ryan for his first game, and I’m sure he would love it if his uncle was there.”
Of course, I obliged. I’m not one to pass up a Yankee game, especially one so meaningful.
Ryan was very excited I was joining him, his mom and his dad (his mom and dad being my sister and her boyfriend) for the day. The excitement began in the car, long before we arrived in the Bronx.
But, we eventually got there without wearing ourselves out too much.
We walked into the Great Hall. I held Ryan’s hand as we walked towards our seats in the left-center field bleachers. We sat down and right away Ryan was cheering.
“Go Yankees!” he shouted.
In short, I thought the Yanks might win this one. I had that “we’re going to win today” mentality. What better way to introduce him to the Yankees than by a win?
Those high hopes were dashed pretty quickly, however.
Starting pitcher Michael Pineda got two quick outs in the first inning, only to get absolutely shelled thereafter. Just when it appeared it would be a fast, 1-2-3 frame, he fell apart and let up two two-run home runs and an RBI double. The hitting barrage gave Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead after just one half-inning.
Pineda finished the day having allowed 10 hits in five innings. Four of those 10 hits ended up in the seats.
The Yanks mustered just one run in the form of an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, as the Rays avoided the sweep and took an 8-1 win from New York.
Despite the loss, I think Ryan enjoyed himself and wasn’t so concerned with the final score.
He took in the little things.
In particular, he was fond of how the stadium plays the “Stars Wars” theme during the lineup introductions — as we all know, the Imperial March for the visitors and the main theme for the Yanks.
In fact, I tried to use Ryan’s love of “Star Wars” in order to show him which team we were rooting for.
“The Yankees are the team in white. The team in grey – they’re the bad guys,” I told him.
Not saying it backfired, but he then thought Tampa Bay had Darth Vader-like evil status.
What I was most proud of was his behavior. There were other children his age in our section, moving all over the place and misbehaving. Ryan, on the other hand, sat still for most of the game and drew the attention of some of the other fans.
They complimented him on how well-behaved he was.
For the future, we now know we can take him to a game and can expect good conduct from him.
And hopefully, his good behavior can be rewarded at his next game with a Yankee win.
Sunday marked the final day of the 2015 regular Major League Baseball season. Which, figuratively speaking, meant all 30 clubs used their might to push the sun back up into the sky and give us one more day of summer.
Even though it was a blustery October day.
The baseball world also learned the layout of this year’s postseason; who’s in the dance and who’s not. After days of waiting, we now know the Yankees will host the Houston Astros at 8:08 p.m. on Tuesday in a do-or-die Wild Card game. The defending American League champions and winners of the American League Central division, the Kansas City Royals, will take on whoever emerges victorious Tuesday night.
The road is going to be anything but easy for the pinstripers, who in terms of the playoffs, aren’t on the outside looking in for the first time since 2012.
But the playoffs start Tuesday. Now is yearly time for regular season reflection. A chance to tout the achievements of the 2015 Yankee team.
Yes, the annual awards.
Yankee Yapping Rookie of the Year
Winner: Greg Bird
Greg Bird flew in on Aug. 13, and could not have landed at a better time. Four days after he was promoted to the big club, first baseman Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg and was injured. Bird was thrust into the role of everyday first baseman, and to say the least, he rose to the occasion and produced.
In his short time with the club (45 games), Bird knocked in 30 runs, slugged .523 and generated an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .862. What’s more, he flexed his muscles with 11 homers. This writer, in fact, saw one of those round-trippers live on Sept. 7, when he crushed a home run in the Yankees’ 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
The 22-year-old Bird truly soared like an eagle since his arrival. And if the Yankees want a deep run in the postseason this month, he really must spread his wings.
Yankee Yapping Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Alex Rodriguez
The type of season Alex Rodriguez put together was nothing short of remarkable. Perhaps the most stunning aspect of his 33-home run, 86-RBI campaign is that no one predicted it.
If you would have asked even the staunchest proponent of A-Rod’s at the beginning of the season, they likely would have said his ceiling was 20 homers and 55 RBI.
Rodriguez not only proved the naysayers (including this writer) wrong, but he did so in historic fashion. On May 7 Rodriguez passed Willie Mays on the all-time home runs list, mashing a tater off Chris Tillman of the Orioles.
A month and 12 days later, Rodriguez blasted a first-inning home run off Justin Verlander of the visiting Detroit Tigers. It was his 3,000th career hit, and only the third time in baseball history (behind Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter) a player hit the ball into the stands for his 3,000th career hit.
Rodriguez also set an AL record for most career RBI, passed 2,000 career RBI, and passed Roberto Clemente on baseball’s all-time hits list.
Oh, and with three homers in one game against the Minnesota Twins on July 25, Rodriguez became the fifth-oldest player to hit three homers in a single game.
Some possible attribution to Rodriguez’s success: making him, at age 40, the full-time designated hitter. That decision by the Yankees has paid dividends. Rodriguez appearing in 150 games this season is proof of that.
Either way, the type of season he had – I’d call that a comeback. A comeback with a vengeance.
Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year
Winner: Masahiro Tanaka
Admit it. You thought Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow was going to fall off.
Last summer when it was revealed the Yankees’ big-ticket starting pitcher had a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, most Yankee fans panicked. They feared the three words that are as common as a routine fly ball in this day and age: Tommy John surgery.
Tanaka opted to treat his tear with a platelet rich plasma injection, and came back to pitch in 2014. Before the season began, Yankee manager Joe Girardi said he expected Tanaka to make 34 starts.
Skip’ was 10 numbers off, as Tanaka made 24 starts. Forearm and wrist soreness sidelined him early in the season, plus when the opportunities arose, Girardi rested him.
Despite missing those 10 games and spending time on the disabled list, the man from Japan proved to be pretty effective when he needed to be.
On Sept. 13 in particular, he hurled seven shutout innings in the Bronx as the Yankees blanked the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-0. Although Toronto went on to win the AL East, the game was important in terms of staying in the race for the division title.
Against those same Jays at Rogers Centre on Aug. 15, Tanaka put on a virtuoso performance. He tossed a complete game five-hitter, and the Yanks beat the Jays, 4-1.
Tanaka’s won-lost record isn’t reflective of a very dominant season: 12-7. His season earned run average wasn’t bad, but not the lowest number out there: 3.51. He gave up 25 home runs over the course of the year, which in the eyes of many armchair managers, is probably too many.
But he gave the Yankees 150-plus innings. Tanaka kept the ball in the strike zone by fanning 139 hitters – and only issuing 27 walks. He performed when they needed him to perform.
And he will need to bring his maestro-like skills on Tuesday and serenade the Bronx with another rendition of the tune “Tanaka wins.”
Yankee Yapping Platinum Sluggers of the Year
Winners: Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran
The Yankees suffered a devastating blow on Aug. 17 when Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg. The first baseman sustained a fracture, and the injury –a freak injury, at that – ended his season.
But before he was forced to watch the rest of the 2015 from the bench, Teixeira was raking. He crushed 31 homers and drove in 79 runs. He was on pace to smash 40 or more homers, drive in over 100 runs and analysts put his name and the term “American League Most Valuable Player” in the same sentence at certain times.
The injury may have negated it all, but make no mistake about it: Teixeira played well.
Carlos Beltran on the other hand avoided major injuries, and turned on the jets during the second half of the season. After the All-Star break, Beltran clubbed 12 of his 19 home runs. He finished with 67 RBI, 37 of which came after the midway point.
Beltran’s best may be yet to come, as he’s a well-known stud in the playoffs. So much so, in fact, that he’s earned the nickname “Senor Octubre” among some folks.
In the postseason, Beltran is a lifetime .333 hitter with 16 homers and 40 RBI. He’s also scored 45 runs, slugged .683 and owns a .445 on-base percentage.
In less than 48 hours we’ll see if he delivers, but he went out with a bang: three hits in the Yanks’ 9-4 loss to Baltimore in the season finale Sunday.
Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year
Winner: Dellin Betances
Although he’s been struggling of late, Dellin Betances was as consistent as they come this year.
An almost automatic eighth inning shutdown machine, Betances struck out 131 hitters in just 84 innings pitched. Of those 84 innings, he only allowed 45 hits. However, his walk total was a bit high: he issued 40 free passes. But most of the time, he was able to wiggle out of danger.
Case in point: Sept. 7.
Betances walked the first three he faced, but bounced back to strike out the next three in order.
What’s more, he showed maneuverability. Betances took on the closer role when needed, and saved nine games.
Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player
Winner: Andrew Miller
The formula was simple. A song with a statement played, the closer came in and then slammed the door.
“You can run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.”
The words heard each time Andrew Miller came in to finish off the opposing team.
Fightin’ words. One might even say words a little harsher than the lyrics to “Enter Sandman,” used by Mariano Rivera, one of Miller’s predecessors.
Harsher words, perhaps, but when the sweet sounds of Johnny Cash came blaring through the Yankee Stadium speakers, you knew the game was over.
Miller saved 36 games in 38 opportunities this season, striking out 100 batters in 61 2/3 innings. He held opponents to a .151 batting average, and tested hitters while attacking them.
A tactic Troy Tulowitzki knows about.
On Aug. 14 with the game on the line, the Blue Jays shortstop stood between the Yankees and a pivotal win. It took 12 pitches and the dramatic at-bat put the baseball world on the edge of its collective seat, but Miller got the job done.
His whiff of Tulowitzki was one of the most clutch performances of the season, and one of the many examples of how valuable he truly was.
Yankee Yapping Lifetime Achievement Award
Winner: Yogi Berra
The world – not just the baseball world, the world in general – lost a treasure the morning of Sept. 22.
Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, the Yankees’ famed catcher and legendary philosopher, passed away at the age of 90.
Berra won the most World Series of any player in history with 13 (10 as a player, three as a coach). He smacked 358 home runs and possessed a lifetime batting average of .285. It’d be easy to sit here and write out every noted accolade Berra amassed over the course of his career.
But let’s talk about the man for a second.
Let’s mention how in love he was with his wife Carmen, and his family. Let’s mention how he served our great country as a gunner’s mate in the United States Navy during World War II. Let’s mention how his wit and easygoing personality impacted everyone around him, even those he didn’t personally know.
His fantastic “Yogi-isms” will be a part of our culture forever. Our millennial generation can now pass on his wisdom. The next era needs to know that you can observe a lot by watching, and that baseball is 90 percent half mental.
The rest is physical.
The YES Network publicly aired Berra’s funeral – a beautiful sendoff for a beautiful man. I noticed the gospel passage, which was elegantly read by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was the same gospel passage read at my grandfather’s funeral on April 15 last year. John 14:1-7, a reading that explores comfort in a time of impending sadness.
I felt that only fitting, especially because I read an article with the headline “Yogi Berra, ‘everyone’s grandfather,’ dies.”
Again, fitting. Grandfathers have a way about them, brightening the lives of their grandchildren. How many lives has Berra illuminated with his wit and charm?
Too many to count.
Berra has a prime seat in Heaven now for the postseason. Maybe the proverbial fork in the road is the World Series.
Go ahead, Yankees. Take it.
Yankees vs. Houston Astros
What: American League Wild Card game
When: 8:08 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
Houston probable pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA)
New York probable pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA)
HOUSTON – To most people the Yankees went berserk with their free agent signings this offseason. But it appears Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran just weren’t enough – and we won’t know until Friday whether or not Masahiro Tanaka will deliver the goods.
After a deflating 6-2 loss in their season opener against the Astros last night, the Yankees announced today they have signed utility free agent slugger Gordon Shumway to a 5-year, $65 million deal. He is expected to play tonight.
Shumway, a native of the planet Melmac who most people recognize as “Alf” the alien life form, held a press conference this morning at Minute Maid Park and talked about how he plans on helping the Yankees pick up a winning attitude.
“I watched the games last year,” he said. “I saw how disappointing it was for the fans, so I decided it was time to get in the batting cages and start swinging. I found that, like most things, I was really good at baseball. A scout for the Yankees saw me playing against some Little Leaguers and said ‘we need ya, Alf ol’ boy!’ How could I say no to that?”
In that game vs. the Little League team, Alf hit three home runs and stole five bases on the way to a 10-0, mercy rule win in five innings. To say the least, he has plenty of confidence he will bring that type of energy to the Yankees.
“I knew I’d win that game,” Alf said. “Just like I know, with my skills, the Yankees will win the World Series this year. My real name is Gordon Shumway but everyone knows me by the nickname ‘Alf’ – and well, after the 2014 baseball season is complete, everyone will know me by three other letters: MVP.”
Alf brings a swagger to the Yankees like no one skipper Joe Girardi has ever seen.
“Not even Al (Alex Rodriguez) is as – I don’t want to say cocky – but as confident as Alf is,” Girardi said. “He certainly brings a different dynamic to the team that we need right now. We’re happy to have to have him here.”
General Manager Brian Cashman also drew a comparison between Alf and Rodriguez, though he expects no problems with the radical, rookie extraterrestrial.
“I had to tell A-Rod to shut up in my own way last year, only because he was mouthing off about things he couldn’t back up,” Cashman said. “I know I’m not going to have to tell Alf to shut up in an animated way, because I know he’ll back up every bit of what he says on the field and in the batter’s box.”
Alf foresees no troubles in the next five years, citing his only desire is to play ball and win it all.
“I just want to win, which we will because it’s all I do,” he said. “This season with the Yankees, all I can say is, no problem!”
Tonight’s starting lineup will include Alf. He will bat cleanup against the Astros and promised the fans back in New York he would hit not one, but two home runs to make up for, what he called, an “embarrassing” loss last night.
Another one of my ill-fated attempts at humor in a (belated) April Fool’s Day effort. You can check out some of my past foolish attempts here (Ted Danson/Paul O’Neill), here (Michael Pineda selling ice cream), and here (CC Sabathia playing Fat Albert).
Tonight – without the help of Alf – the Yankees look to pick up their first win of what will hopefully be a prosperous 2014 MLB season.
#NewDay #BeatTheDrum #AndHoldThePhone #TheSunCameOutToday
If you watched the brilliant 2007 miniseries The Bronx is Burning, which detailed the radical 1977 New York Yankees season, you might remember how eccentric former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was portrayed. The Boss would get ticked off very easily at the most minute happenings, if you recall.
“We lost an exhibition game to the Mets – to the METS!” he snarled in one scene.
It leads me to believe that if Steinbrenner was still alive, and saw what happened last night in Panama, he would have lost his marbles. Not only did the Yankees lose an exhibition to the Miami Marlins, baseball’s biggest joke in the eyes of most fans, they were no-hit.
I repeat: the Yankees were no-hit by the Marlins.
Though only an exhibition, or a game that doesn’t count, Joe Girardi was not thrilled, saying afterwards,
“You never want to be no-hit. I don’t care what game it is, what level. You never want to see that.”
The fact that the game was being played in honor of Mariano Rivera in his native Panama at Rod Carew Stadium – and the fact that Rivera was in attendance to witness this negative piece of history – only hurt more, in this writer’s eyes.
Now granted, a number of big names like Ichiro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Brian Roberts didn’t participate in the no-hitter, as they were stateside in Florida playing the Baltimore Orioles. Yet a few of the key regulars didn’t impress. In fact, they played a royal hand in being no-hit.
Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli were a combined 0-for-14 with one walk and six strikeouts. Gardner was the only one of the five regulars to reach base via a walk, and was only one of two base runners all night. Zelous Wheeler drew a walk in the eighth inning but that was all the offense – if you can call it offense – the Yanks could muster.
The question I kept asking myself was, when is the last time the Yankees were no-hit in spring training? Better question: have they even ever been no-hit in spring training?
The last time they were no-hit (to any capacity) was June 11, 2003 at the hands of the Houston Astros. Coincidently enough, Jeter and Soriano were a part of the no-hitter in ’03 to Houston, as well as a part of last night’s struggle.
What’s funny is today, in the second game of the Legends Series in Panama, the Yankees no-hit the Marlins through six until Giancarlo Stanton singled to begin the seventh inning. So, the day after being no-hit by the Marlins, the Yanks took a no-no of their own deep into the game.
Can’t make this stuff up, folks.
Luckily after all the excruciating, no-hit nonsense to report on last night, the Yankees took out their frustrations in split squad action this afternoon. The stateside crew beat the Atlanta Braves 7-4 and the team that was no-hit last night pounded out 15 hits today, and shutout the Marlins 7-0.
Everyone looked good in this afternoon’s action, including Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Tanaka pitched 4.1 innings at “The Boss” vs. Atlanta and only let up one earned run on just three hits. He walked two but fanned six, looking as tactical and as effective as Mike Mussina once looked.
Mussina, if you remember, was not incredibly overpowering but so methodical in facing hitters; he had a game plan. Tanaka looked to possess that “Moose”-like style today, at least in my opinion.
Sabathia, in the meantime, worked his best outing of the spring, tossing a perfect five innings against the Marlins; no walks and five Ks. Coming off such a subpar 2013, and not exactly turning any heads this spring, you have believe he needed a performance like today.
Tip of the Hat on #TBT
I’ve recently become “one of those people” on Twitter who partakes in #ThrowbackThursday, posting an old picture from the past and describing it.
This past Thursday, March 13, was the five-year anniversary of my story on John Flaherty; the former Yankee catcher and current YES broadcaster came to my college (Mercy; Dobbs Ferry, NY) in 2009 to speak to the baseball and softball teams at their fundraiser breakfast.
Flaherty told some awesome stories that morning, including how he was hung over the day he was called up to the major leagues – because he and his friends had gone out for “sodas” the night before.
To celebrate the fun memory, naturally I decided to post a collage photo of my newspaper article on the former Yankee catcher, the ball Flaherty signed for me that day, and the picture he took with me.
Tweeting the photo at him, Flaherty remembered the day and offered me kudos on a job well done, which was very nice of him.
Thanks for the kind words, John!
‘Tis the season of the cracking of the bat and the popping of the leather. Yes, MLB Spring Training is finally here, and yesterday the Yankees began their string of exhibition games. As it is, the Bronx Bombers dropped both of their first two Grapefruit League games to Pittsburgh, losing 6-5 Wednesday and 8-2 today – though we all know final scores are probably the least important stat when it comes to Spring Training.
It’s all about fine tuning and getting ready for April, when the scores count and the Yanks embark on their quest for World Series title number 28. Yankee Captain Derek Jeter, who as we all know announced his retirement after this upcoming season, declared today that he wants to go out a winner:
“We’re the last team standing and we win the championship.
That’s the only way I envision it ending.”
In order for that happen, a lot has to go right. First of all…
CC Sabathia needs a bounce-back campaign
Last year CC Sabathia faced arm problems, really for the first time ever in his career. The Yankee ace lost 13 games in 2013 and only won 14, coming off 2012 when he won 15 – a far cry from the 21 and 19-win seasons he put up in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last season Sabathia’s ERA was 4.78, the highest earned run average he’s ever posted in his career.
If you’re the type of analyst who likes to throw wins and ERA out the window, here’s something to chew on: Sabathia let up 28 home runs in 2013 – another career-high for a single season. If that isn’t enough, here’s something else to consider: Sabathia served up more taters than Phil Hughes last season, the former homer-happy Yankee and now-Minnesota Twin. Hughes allowed 24 hitters to leave the yard last year compared to Sabathia’s 28.
Yes. You know it’s bad when you’ve given up more long balls than Hughes.
There’s no debating the fact that Sabathia needs to turn it around; be the ace the Yankees bought him for prior to 2009, or at least be close to what he was. It’s not too much to ask, mostly because he’s already proven the type of anchor he can be to a pitching staff.
To his credit, Sabathia slimmed down and lost some weight. According to Michael Kay of YES, Sabathia came into Spring Training last year just under 300 lbs., whereas this year he showed up around 275 and visibly thinner.
Obviously Sabathia is taking serious steps towards getting back to form, but he needs to cut down on the home runs and be clutch this year if the Yankees want to be that last team standing.
Stay healthy, New York
You cannot predict injuries. It’s a fact of sports life. In recent times the Yankees have had a ton of hard luck when it comes to injuries, and they haven’t been able to field a complete team.
New Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury has failed to appear in 100 games in two of the last four seasons because of injuries. In 2010 the speedy center fielder only played 18 games and in 2012 he played just 74, thanks to fractured ribs as a result of an outfield collision (’10) and a collision on the base paths trying to break up a double play (’12).
In between he’s been as solid as they come, though. 2011 was Ellsbury’s best season to date. With 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, a .321 batting average, 212 hits, and an All-Star nod, he was arguably the best all-around player in the American League. Being the runner-up for the AL MVP award, while taking home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, is only a testament to how fantastic he truly was in ‘11.
That begs the question, which Ellsbury will be showing up in 2014? The perennial All-Star or the injury prone player who gives up his body en route to disabled list stints?
And Ellsbury is just one example.
To supplant Herculean second baseman Robinson Cano, who split for Seattle, the Yankees signed Brian Roberts – a 36-year-old second sacker once feared by all as a Baltimore Oriole, but has only played 192 games over the last four seasons on account of injuries. (Roberts managed to play 77 games last year, 17 in ’12, 39 in ’11, and 59 in ’10).
Doing the math, Roberts has missed 456 games over the past four seasons; DL stints and concussions have eaten him up. Keep in mind, specifically, he ruptured a tendon behind his right knee last April vs. Tampa Bay attempting a steal of second base.
Knowing all that, will Roberts be a comeback player and offer reliability, or will he simply be unproductive and relegated to the disabled list for a large chunk of the season?
The question marks of Ellsbury and Roberts are of course piled on top of apprehension about Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Jeter (39, 40 in June) as we all know is coming off ankle injuries that limited him to 17 games in 2013, while Teixeira (33, 34 in April) is coming back from wrist problems that only allowed him to play 15 games last year.
How each of these players respond is obviously a “to be determined” but at the same time there is no crystal ball in existence to let us know if they’ll be able to grind out the entire season injury-free.
The bullpen has to be effective
It’s fair to say the Yankees’ bullpen was probably their weakest link last year, even with the legendary Mariano Rivera at the back end closing everything out – which really tells you the whole story. This writer keeps asking himself,
“If the bullpen wasn’t that good with Rivera last year, what can we expect without him this year?
David Robertson, as of now, is expected to succeed Mo in the closer role, which is scary to think about. If you recall in 2012 when Rivera’s season ended on May 3 on the warning track in Kansas City, Robertson was plugged into his spot as closer, but he didn’t cut it.
In just his second save opp a week after Rivera went down, Robertson failed to protect a 1-0 lead over Tampa Bay, giving up a three-run homer to Matt Joyce. He later gave up another run and the Yankees went on to lose, 4-1. Robertson called it afterward “the worst feeling in the world.”
Luckily in 2012 the Yankees had the option of using Rafael Soriano in Robertson’s stead – an option that worked out well, given that Soriano saved 42 games in Rivera’s absence.
Now, similarly, the Yankees have signed former Oakland A’s closer (and 2009 AL Rookie of the Year) Andrew Bailey, albeit to a minor league contract. Bailey has 89 saves to his name in his short career, with experience as a closer, making him the logical choice to succeed Rivera over Robertson.
Bailey, like a lot of other Yankees, has a history with injuries. In 2012 he had reconstructive surgery on his right thumb, and just last year an MRI revealed he had a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.
It’ll come down to whether or not Bailey can make it back from injury and be a shutdown pitcher like he once was. For now though, the Yankees have a premiere setup man in Robertson – and that’s about it, because Robertson isn’t a proven closer.
At least not yet.
Looking outside the back end of the bullpen, the middle relievers need to step up too. Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne are going to be two important pieces to the bullpen, along with newcomer Matt Thornton, the tall order who’ll replace Boone Logan (now with the Colorado Rockies) as the main southpaw out of the ‘pen.
Sources are saying former top Yankee pitching prospect Dellin Betances will be vying for a spot in the bullpen this spring, as it’s already been established by Yankee GM Brian Cashman that he will be a reliever in the long run. Betances could either prove to be a key middle reliever or long reliever, yet he has to pitch well enough for the Yankee brass to have faith in him – and well enough to keep himself off mopping duty.
The Opening Day bullpen is likely going to come down to whichever relievers are effective during Spring Training, and the point stands: they have to be effective, whoever they may be when camp breaks.
Masahiro Tanaka has to adapt
Nobody is expecting Masahiro Tanaka to go 24-0 and post an ERA under 2.00 in his rookie season, but if there is one thing the new, prized Japanese import must do, it’s get acclimated to the MLB style. His numbers in Japan were far better than a lot of the other Japanese-born pitchers who’ve come over from the land of the rising sun, meaning he could potentially have a huge year, but the average fan might not realize a couple of things.
First off, pitchers in Japan throw only once a week, whereas here in the states, Tanaka will have to toe the rubber once every five days. Not only that, but the NPB in Japan also uses smaller-sized baseballs compared to an official MLB rock, therefore an adjustment needs to be made in that respect.
The biggest difference will be the hitters Tanaka faces. Monsters such as David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Prince Fielder will probably pose bigger threats (and are more intimidating) than the more tactical batters he went eye-to-eye with in Japan.
Though one could argue Tanaka won’t be fazed by the Goliath-like giants he faces here in the U.S., given his cool demeanor and calm presence at his introductory press conference.
While it’s perfectly fine to expect Tanaka to succeed – and he will – it’s reasonable to presume he will go through his growing pains. Adjustment is the biggest part of his game.
We’ll get our first live look at Tanaka on Saturday afternoon in the Yankees’ exhibition vs. the Phillies.
They have to make each other better
The key to any successful team is chemistry. Most of the 2014 Yankees will be first-time teammates, not having played with each other before. While some like Jeter, Teixeira and Brett Gardner have been together for a few seasons, newbies like Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have not had a chance to jell as teammates.
If you look back to 2009 – and the Dynasty years, for that matter – a player could have an off-night, but the rest of the team would be on. For example,
In 1998, Tino Martinez might have an “0-for” night, but Jeter, Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill would be firing at will, and the Yanks would win. The next night Jeter could have gone 0-for-4, but Martinez and everyone else would still be en fuego.
Those teams were the masters of picking each other up.
If the 2014 Yankees can perfect that same art, they’ll be as lethal as any team in baseball.
And the kingdom will be theirs.
We may never know if Jay-Z made the Yankee cap more famous than a Yankee could, but we do know he made Robinson Cano richer than he was before he ever put on a Yankee cap.
As we all know by now, Cano and his rap star agent agreed to a 10-year, $240 million pact with the Seattle Mariners this morning, giving the Pacific Northwest a perennial all-star second baseman while leaving Yankee Universe high and dry in disbelief. The Yankees had made futile efforts to re-sign the studly second baseman, making him a final offer of a seven-year deal worth around $175 million. Seattle dug deeper into its pocket and voila. Cano is a Mariner.
Michael Douglas was right. Greed is good.
Being a homegrown Yankee, and arguably the best product of the Yankee farm system over the last decade or so, it’s a huge blow to the Yankees on a personal level; on a sentimental level. On a professional level, it’s a huge blow, considering Cano is a consistent player, always good for 100 RBIs; he smacks close to 30 homers a year, and the last time he batted under .300 was 2008 (.271).
Losing Cano’s defense is also tragic for the Bronx Bombers, as he’s a durable piece – he’s missed just eight games since 2010. Two Gold Gloves on his ledger also prove the point the Yanks have lost not just a great player, but an outstanding player.
On the Yankees’ side, Cano’s signing with Seattle is only good from a business perspective. They weren’t forced to succumb to his high salary demands, and can use the money to pursue other free agents that can help turn them from an 85-win team into a contender again.
And if you remember back to the 1999 movie For Love of the Game, pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) was told he was being traded from the Detroit Tigers to the San Francisco Giants at the end of the season. The team owner Gary Wheeler explained,
“Everything’s changed, Billy. The players, the fans, TV rights, arbitrations. It isn’t the same. The game stinks.”
While baseball is and always will be the best game in the world, today – for the Yankee fans who adore Cano – the quote holds true. The game stinks.
It’s a shame. Cano was my favorite current player, and the most impactful player on the team over the past three or four years. Losing him doesn’t even seem real.
There have been some solid products of the Yankee farm system these past few years (David Robertson, Brett Gardner) but I don’t think they’ve been as valuable on a daily basis as Cano. I don’t believe there’s been another thoroughbred that has been as clutch as Cano, and his presence will be missed next year.
Do I think Cano is greedy?
Yes, but so are the rest of the players that take big money. So is the rest of the world, in fact. He was offered a sum and a certain amount of years by the Yankees. He was offered a greater sum and more years by the Mariners and chose to go in the direction of money, rather than a full, career legacy in pinstripes.
It’s sad that he didn’t want to stay, because in the past we’ve seen players get offered fat contracts with ridiculous money attached to them – only for them to just plain go where they wanted to go, regardless of money or years.
For example, Cliff Lee.
In the 2010 offseason, both the Yankees and Texas Rangers were prepared to give Lee (a then-free agent) a lot of coin and a lot of time. In the end, however, he chose to go to the Philadelphia Phillies, a team he had already pitched for and enjoyed playing for – and he signed back for less money than the Yanks and Rangers were going to give him.
At the time I (and the rest of Yankees Universe, and the front office, I’m sure) were upset with Lee for holding them up, practically, at the winter meetings. The Yanks held off on talks with other players waiting for Lee to decide what his plan was in terms of choosing a team.
Now, however, I wish Cano had taken a page out of Lee’s book, and had just gone back to the team where he made his name, even if it meant taking a pay cut.
Sometimes I just don’t understand it all. Cano is already a multi-millionaire. If he’s being offered $175 million by the Yankees and $240 million by the Mariners – with millions and millions banked and probably invested properly – what’s the difference? Is another $65 million going to make that much of a difference at the end of your career?
The truth is, Cano could retire today, use 100 dollar bills as toilet paper, and still remain financially secure for the rest of his life.
Bottom line though: his decision was based on money and not legacy. Cano is a goner and there is nothing we can do about it.
But let’s weigh the good with the bad here.
- The Yankees have money to spend now. There are a lot of other free agents on the market and the Yankee brass can go after basically whomever they darn well please.
- Four significant free agent agreements (one official signing so far) have already taken place. Just yesterday the Yankees unveiled their new catcher Brian McCann, who is a seven-time all-star and has a lefty swing tailor made for Yankee Stadium. The Yanks also stole one of Boston’s reigning World Series champs, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Like McCann, his left-handed swing will likely translate well to the Yankee Stadium short porch. And NOW, literally as I was typing this up, the Yankees have agreed to a three year, $45 million deal with outfielder Carlos Beltran – a switch-hitting power hitter who is as clutch as they come in October. Also coming back is P Hiroki Kuroda, who earned himself a year and $16 million.
- Cano didn’t go to a team that poses a threat to the Yankees taking the AL East. Or, really a team that poses any type of threat to the Yankees at all. When you think of the Seattle Mariners, you think of ace starting pitcher Felix Hernandez and nobody else. Now when you think of the Seattle Mariners, you’ll think of Hernandez, Cano…and nobody else. If Cano had gone to Boston or even Baltimore, Detroit, or Texas, I’d be worried.
- The insight of Hal Steinbrenner at McCann’s introductory presser yesterday. In his words, the Yankees are shooting for that “189 mark” (trying to keep the payroll under $189 million) but it won’t come at the expense of putting a winning team on the field. He also mentioned the Yankees are not done this winter. There will be more signings, and they could come at really any time – as evidenced by the timing of the Beltran deal tonight.
- The Yankees have a little bit of a void at second base. They picked up Kelly Johnson, a 20 home run type of guy – but at the same time a .230 batting average type of guy and a “who’s that?” on defense. They’ll need offensive production from the second base spot, as well as good D. They’ll miss Cano in that respect.
- Again, the sentimental value of Cano. He was a real Yankee, and he beat feet. His minor league number is even retired by one of his first Yankee teams, the Staten Island Yankees (short season Single-A). What’s better than being a Yankee? Being a Mariner? I don’t know if the teal and navy blue measure up to what the pinstripes mean, but either way Cano was one of us. Now he’s a Mariner. If the Yankees want to seek retribution, they could always retire number 24 in the name of Tino Martinez as a middle finger to Cano. (I know they would never do that, but it’s nice to think about!)
- Cano’s age and durability – and how the Yanks might miss it. He is only 31 and obviously has a lot of baseball life left in him. An according signing, Beltran, is 36 (37 on April 24). Cano’s health and durability has never come into question, whereas there will surely be a lot of questions surrounding Beltran’s health and durability. While Ellsbury’s age (30) isn’t a concern, his durability is. Ellsbury’s career has been injury-ravaged, and an eye opening stat came up today: he’s missed 264 of his last 648 regular season games. Ergo, the Yanks know what they had with Cano, but are uncertain with two of their big three free agent agreements thus far this winter.
- Too many outfielders, not enough infielders. Now with Beltran in the outfield, there’s Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner, Ichiro, and Vernon Wells (he’s still a Yankee, remember?). Along with the void Cano left, third base could be a question mark, given A-Rod’s situation. Not to mention the Yanks need pitching too.
Today was one of the craziest days in recent memory, as far as the Yankees are concerned. I joked on Twitter that the YES Network could make Dec. 6, 2013 into a Yankeeography episode. It’s true. How often is it that a team loses its perennial player and responds the same exact day, hours later as a matter of fact, with a huge free agent agreement?
Not too often, I’d wager.
To Cano, best of luck in Seattle. You’ll be missed.
To Beltran, it’s my hope you stay healthy and durable, and put up power numbers similar to what Cano would have put up for the Yankees in 2014.
And it’s funny. Using the For Love of the Game analogy, Billy Chapel responded to the “the game stinks’ comment with,
“The game doesn’t stink, Mr. Wheeler. It’s a great game.”
When I started typing this, yes the game did stink. Now with a blockbuster free agent agreement – in the middle of completing this very blog post – the Yanks get a power hitter and the game doesn’t stink as much.
It is a great game. But man, a crazy one.