The gifts have been unwrapped. The New Year will be rung in Thursday night.
And that means in a few short weeks, Spring Training begins and before we know it baseball is back for a new season.
Our beloved New York Yankees have been busy little beavers this offseason, gaining Starlin Castro from the Chicago Cubs and just this past week, Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds.
And let’s not forget Aaron Hicks, coming over from the Minnesota Twins.
With that in mind, here are a few things this writer is particularly looking forward to in 2016.
Barring a trade, the 7th, 8th and 9th innings are going to be really difficult for anyone opposing the Yankees this upcoming season.
As if the tandem of “D ‘n A” — Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller — wasn’t deadly enough, the addition of Chapman makes the back end of the Yankee bullpen all the more lethal.
All three flamethrowers recorded 100 or more strikeouts in 2015. If that’s any indication of what’s to come, the Yankees could potentially have the best bullpen in the majors.
However, there is always a possibility Brian Cashman spins his magic and deals one of the three studs for a starting pitcher.
The young bucks
In 2015, we got a glimpse of what type of damage the younger crowd of Yankees can do. But now, the baby Bombers will really get the opportunity to spread their wings.
Case in point: Greg Bird, who lit the Bronx on fire over the last third (or so) of the summer. The 23-year-old slugged 11 home runs and drove in 31 runs in just 46 games played.
Then you combine Bird’s power and finesse with the defense and scrappiness of Didi Gregorius and Castro in the middle infield.
Throw in the sturdy pitching of Luis Severino, and you get the idea.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging aspects of 2016, just in scrolling through the Yankees’ current 40-man roster: just 18 of those 40 players were born before the year 1990.
Brace yourselves. The future is now.
A summer matchup against the Giants
I marked my calendar when I got the news.
July 22. The Yankees welcome the San Francisco Giants for a three-game set.
What’s so special about this series? Allow me to explain.
The newspaper I work for, the Poughkeepsie Journal, extensively covers the Giants’ second baseman, Joe Panik. Panik has been hailed as a local hero, being a graduate of a high school within the Journal’s coverage area.
Having already discussed it with my editor, I’ll have the chance to go to the stadium and interview Panik on assignment. That means I’ll get to sit in the press box at Yankee Stadium, which I’ve had dreams about in the past — then being annoyed when I woke up because it wasn’t real.
This summer, it will be real.
I only ask that Panik stay healthy for the entire year. He missed the last month or so of 2015 with a bad back.
And if you’re wondering, yes. I will document my entire experience covering the Yankees-Giants game for the blog.
It will be but one of many adventures 2016 will surely bring.
There may not be anyone daring enough to say the Yankees aren’t the most revered franchise in sports. We could go on all day about the history, the number of championships and the outstanding – or maybe a better word, legendary – players that have made the Bronx Bombers the best in the world.
So when the Yankees honor a player and dedicate a special day just for them, it’s usually fitting for the team to win the game accompanying the ceremony for the Yankee legend, right?
Well, in recent times, that just hasn’t been happening.
Mariano Rivera Day, with a side of Andy Pettitte – Sept. 22, 2013
It was a sunny Sunday in the Bronx last year when the Yankees bid farewell to their longtime closer Mariano Rivera. Baseball’s all-time saves leader was not only honored by scores of former and current teammates with a beautiful ceremony, but his number 42 was retired by the Yankees, making him the only Bomber to have his number retired while he was still a member of the active roster.
If that wasn’t sweet enough, Metallica rocked out with a rousing, live rendition of Enter Sandman in the spirit of the day.
Andy Pettitte, who like Rivera was a fan-favorite and set to retire at the end of the ‘13 season, was on the hill for the Yankees in their game against the San Francisco Giants after the ceremony. It also happened to be the beloved southpaw’s final game pitched in the Bronx.
Pettitte did a nice job keeping the Yanks in it, throwing up seven innings of two-hit ball. He only gave up two runs in those seven innings showing quality; he walked one and struck out six.
Current closer and then-setup man David Robertson piggybacked Pettitte and got one out in the eighth, before giving way to Rivera. The legendary Mo came in and pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, letting up just one hit with one strikeout.
Smooth sailing through calm seas. Nothing new to either pitcher.
But the brilliant pitching of Pettitte and Rivera couldn’t save the Yankee offense, which showed about as much life as a stiffened corpse. Despite nine hits, the Yanks pushed across just one run on a solo home run off the bat of Mark Reynolds in the third inning.
The Yankees couldn’t win on a day they paid homage to a pair of their most worshipped players during the dynasty of the late 1990s.
On Rivera’s special day and Pettitte’s final Yankee Stadium bow:
Giants 2, Yankees 1.
Tino Martinez Day – June 21, 2014
Tino Martinez made enormous contributions to the Yankees in the mid-to-late ‘90s, and rightfully, the Yanks honored him at the start of the summer with a plaque in Monument Park. Billy Crystal, a famous actor and noted fan of the boys from the Bronx, once said,
“To me, Tino was a real Yankee. You could sense he was a good person. You could just sense that he was a really good guy and that he loved being here.”
So on June 21 before the Yankees’ game vs. the Baltimore Orioles, the organization rewarded the love Martinez had for the pinstripes. The “Bam-Tino” was given the recognition of a plaque in Monument Park; the Yankees this year clearly giving the dynasty of the late ‘90s its earned due.
Martinez delivered a wonderful speech among his former teammates, friends and family, highlighted with such meaningful words directed at the fans:
“You guys don’t know how much you mean to us.”
Still the One by Orleans played as the ceremony ended; good vibes resounded throughout the big ballpark in the Bronx.
That is, until Vidal Nuno toed the rubber.
Nuno let up five runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched – three of those five runs coming by way of the long ball. The Yankee offense didn’t have an answer for Baltimore starter Bud Norris, only getting one run in the form of a famous Mark Teixeira “Teix message” in the bottom of the fourth.
Such a special atmosphere for Martinez, and how did the day end?
Orioles 6, Yankees 1.
Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage Day/Old Timers’ Day – June 22, 2014
The day after the Yankees honored Martinez with a plaque in Monument Park, they gave props (if you will) to the flame-throwing Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage, who most consider the best closer in Yankee history behind Rivera. Gossage played seven seasons in New York, won a World Series with the Yankees in 1978 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
The mustachioed menace undoubtedly had the credentials and was entitled to a Monument Park plaque.
Now, not only did the Yankees honor Gossage, but they chose to honor him on a special day: Old Timers’ Day. That meant countless Yankee alumni from years past were on hand for Gossage’s ceremony and the Old Timers festivities.
In fact, this writer was even in attendance that sweaty afternoon – and bounced out of the stadium early on account of how poorly the team played. Once again the Yankees faced off with the Orioles, and yet again failed to generate any offense. Even with mighty Masahiro Tanaka on the hill; with Gossage and the players of old looking on, the Yanks couldn’t get it done.
The day started nicely but ended like this:
Orioles 8, Yankees 0.
Paul O’Neill Day – Aug. 9, 2014
Late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner nicknamed Paul O’Neill ‘The Warrior’ because of his feisty nature, hatred of losing and the disgust he exhibited when he didn’t produce at the plate. O’Neill demonstrated the type of passion every player should possess, Steinbrenner thought – although some may maintain that none of those water coolers he destroyed over the years did anything to deserve the type of punishment they received at his hand.
His former manager Joe Torre described him as “hardcore” and added, “Warrior. George Steinbrenner named him right. In the clutch he was a miracle worker.”
The Warrior’s old teammate and friend Derek Jeter called him “intense.” Said Jeter: “Paul expected a lot of himself. He was a big part of our championship teams.”
O’Neill gave a fine speech amongst family and former teammates, thanking the fans for never allowing his memory and contributions to the team to be forgotten.
How could Yankee Universe forget? The last time a player tried to wear the jersey number 21 – reliever LaTroy Hawkins in 2007 – he was booed out of the building and had to change his number to 22.
Maybe someday number 21 will be retired for O’Neill, given that it’s been out of circulation since Hawkins forfeited it, but as for today, O’Neill received a plaque to go in Monument Park.
After the ceremony concluded, and Scandal’s The Warrior bounced off the Yankee Stadium walls, the Yanks took on the Cleveland Indians.
Yet again the offense went into its stall mode, getting stifled by Corey Kluber, who struck out 10 Yankees. The Cleveland bullpen added another five strikeouts in relief, meaning the Yankees made 27 outs and 15 of them were Ks.
The day couldn’t have been any nicer in terms of paying tribute to O’Neill, but the way it ended:
Indians 3, Yankees 0.
In the last four special days the Yankees have held in honor of their former players, the offense has generated a grand total of two runs. They will have an opportunity in a couple weeks to perhaps break the trend of losing on special days when they honor Torre on Aug. 23.
Jeter will also be exalted for what he’s done over the course of his Yankee career on Sept. 7; another day that could potentially end on a sour note if the Yankee offense decides to take the day off.
Already announced for next year is Bernie Williams Day; the beloved and gentle center fielder of the ‘90s and 2000s will be paid homage in Monument Park.
Until then, this will be left as a “to be continued.” Time will tell if Torre, Jeter and Williams witness losses on their respective special days.
But if the Yankees truly want to honor their heroes, they only have to do one thing:
Here we are roughly a month and four days removed from the Yankees’ ugly elimination in the American League Championship Series at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, a nasty sweep to end the season.
But Karma, I suppose, always comes back to collect because the Tigers went on to get broomed themselves by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. The Giants have now captured two world titles in the last three years. What makes it funny to me is the fact that the football Giants and the baseball Giants were both champions in 2012.
The “Romo” factor also made me believe the sports gods work in mysterious ways.
Allow me to explain.
On Oct. 28 the San Francisco Giants closed out the Fall Classic – the same day the New York Giants faced off with the Dallas Cowboys, beating them 29-24. The football Giants defeated a Romo (Tony) while the baseball Giants ended the World Series with another Romo (Sergio) on the mound.
Fascinating. But maybe I’m over-thinking things.
At any rate, the Giants will enter the 2013 season wearing the title of defending champs. As for the Yankees: they remain the last American League team to win the World Series, three years ago in 2009.
Now, all the attention is focused on off-season news, and building the team for next year. There hasn’t been a “big bang,” so-to-speak, at least not yet. The Yanks’ front office hasn’t made a blockbuster move, but then again, the off-season is remarkably young.
The Baseball/General Managers Winter Meetings will take place next month in Nashville, so perhaps by the time they conclude, there will be a lot more to consider.
Until then, quite a few minor things around baseball and the Yankee community have transpired.
- Robinson Cano finished fourth in the AL MVP voting while Derek Jeter finished seventh. As much as I wanted to believe either Yankee could win the MVP, no one was beating Miguel Cabrera. The Triple Crown sealed the deal for him. At least Cano and Jeter both captured Silver Sluggers for their respective efforts.
- Just last night, the Yanks and Hiroki Kuroda agreed to a one-year deal. I had read Kuroda, 37, was deciding whether or not to pitch here in the states next season or return to Japan. After such a solid year in pinstripes in 2012, I for one am glad he opted to stay in America – and not just in America, but in the Bronx.
- Mark Teixeira didn’t have the best year offensively, but he still proved what a fantastic defender he is at first base, claiming a Gold Glove Award. Cano also took one home – and home to the good old U.S.A., I guess, because he recently became a U.S. citizen.
- Rafael Soriano opted out of his contract, after declining the Yankees’ qualifying offer. Good luck, buddy.
- Nick Swisher is as good as gone, also declining a qualifying offer. His absence will obviously create a void in right field the Yankees will need to fill.
- The Yankees’ 2012 first round draft pick Ty Hensley favorited a tweet of mine. It was “Skyfall” related. If you haven’t been to the movies lately, treat yourself to “Skyfall.” It will blow your mind.
- Raul Ibanez wants to come back. Being the player who did the heavy lifting and carried the team toward the end of 2012, he may have earned a chance to play in New York again.
- Two classics, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, have expressed interest in pitching next year. I don’t really have any predictions or ideas on what to expect. If anything, Pettitte will come cheap if he returns and Rivera will probably be looking for a sizeable amount of money. I think I’ll just kick back and see what happens with these two.
- There will apparently be a Broadway play about the Yankees. I’m not much of a theatre guy, although I have seen “The Lion King,” “Beauty & the Beast,” and “Mary Poppins” on Broadway in New York. I might have to get some tickets, however, to see this Yankees production. If and when I do, you can be sure I will write a full review of it.
- Ichiro sent some favors to the woman in Seattle who manned the “Ichi-meter.” What a guy.
- According to MLB trade rumors, the Yankees (among other teams) are interested in shortstop Stephen Drew and catcher Mike Napoli. Again, I’ll kick back and see what happens. Both players would be key additions to any team.
- The Toronto Blue Jays decided they want to try and be contenders. I almost wish the season started tomorrow – that’s how anxious I am to see if all these additions pay dividends for them.
There will undoubtedly be a lot more to report on as the off-season continues and the MLB hot stove cooks, or boils, or broils, or bakes, or does whatever the heck it does.
In the meantime, everyone have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
The San Francisco Giants are World Series Champions for the first time since 1954. I wonder if that means Danny Tanner, Jesse Katsopolis, and Joey Gladstone will be attending the victory parade…
I am just kidding about the second part, of course. But in all seriousness, hats off to the G-Men on a well-played 2010 World Series. They had everything go right for them; solid pitching, stellar defense, and incredible offense.
Last summer ESPN’s Baseball Tonight program hosted their “Chatter Up” segment, a part of the show in which viewers can submit their ideas and thoughts about a subject chosen by the panel. ESPN picks the best comments sent in, puts them on TV, and the analysts discuss them. The topic in question was, “Which team in the National League, currently not in first place, do you think has the best chance of making the postseason?”
My comment was, “I think it’s the Giants, because Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez remind me of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.”
As I was watching the program, to my surprise, my name and comment showed up on ESPN.
Steve Berthiaume, the panel moderator, said, “OK, I get the Greg Maddux-Tim Lincecum thing; I’m with him on Matt Cain-Tom Glavine…but I’m a little lost on John Smoltz-Jonathan Sanchez. I don’t think…But that’s OK…”
My sports writing inspiration and BBTN panelist Buster Olney then said, “A.J., I’m not sure about Sanchez. He’s not quite at the level yet, but good idea.”
I had only mentioned Sanchez in comparison to Smoltz because..well…they are both pitchers who started in the bullpen and became starters. Plus, Sanchez had already thrown a no-hitter, which I feel made him worthy of the mention.
The point is, even last year I knew the Giants were good. It was only a matter of time before they put it all together.
In a lot of ways the Giants had exactly what the 1996 Yankees had; that’s the team I thought of when I looked at them. When Madison Bumgarner tossed a shutout in Game Four, it reminded me of the same way Andy Pettitte battled in ’96.
Brian Wilson was a stud shutting down Texas, the same way John Wetteland mowed down Atlanta.
The Giants had the right mixture of talented rookies–players like Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Buster Posey–and chiseled, championship-tested veterans, like Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowand, and Pat Burrell–all of whom have already played in (and won, no less) at least one World Series prior to 2010.
Renteria was a great choice for World Series MVP, as he has come a long way in his career. He became only the fourth player in MLB history to knock in the game-winning run in two World Series clinching games. In 1997, Renteria knocked in the go-ahead run for the Florida Marlins in their clinching game, and of course his three-run homer won the game for the Giants last night.
With that, Renteria joined legendary Yankees Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio on the list of players who have knocked in game-winning runs in the clinching game of a World Series twice in their careers. The veteran Giant journeyman is certainly in great company.
What I also liked about the Giants winning was the fact that since 2005, the World Series Champions have alternated from league to league. Meaning:
· 2005 Chicago White Sox (A.L.)
· 2006 St. Louis Cardinals (N.L.)
· 2007 Boston Red Sox (A.L.)
· 2008 Philadelphia Phillies (N.L.)
· 2009 New York Yankees (A.L.)
· 2010 San Francisco Giants (N.L.)
It makes it more interesting because one league has not been dominating for a number of years; it’s been a back-and-forth battle for the past six years and I hope it continues this way for the next few seasons.
As for the Texas Rangers? Well, they were an excellent team this season. They just seemed to have run out of gas. We found out Cliff Lee is not Jesus Christ and is a human being after all. In Game One of the fall classic, Lee only tossed 4 2/3 innings and gave up seven runs on eight hits. On the bright side the invincible Lee demonstrated his solid control and only walked one batter and struck out seven, but unfortunately it was a losing effort.
In the decisive Game Five Lee had it going right until the seventh, when he gave up a three-run home run to Renteria. As we saw in Game Four of the ALCS–A.J. Burnett’s home run to Bengie Molina–even when you are throwing a good game, one pitch can cost you the game; one bad inning can kill you.
Lee was just not the same guy in the seventh inning last night. And now, for the second year in a row, he has been on the losing World Series team. However, it does not mean he has pitched poorly in the World Series; the only forgettable game for him was Game One this year.
And of course most Yankee fans remember how incredible he was in 2009 for Philadelphia.
That being said, will Lee be in pinstripes next year? Right now, who’s to say? Lee has already said he would like to stay in Texas, but if the Yanks make him the right offer, there’s no telling where he will decide to go.
It’s going to be a long off-season and the Yankees already have other deals to make first, namely re-acquiring Derek Jeter who just filed for free agency. Signing back Mariano Rivera is also at the top of the Yanks’ to-do list and they also have to make Pettitte a deal, should he choose to play next season.
Yet, Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman has already said that another frontline starter and left-handed relief will be the focal point of this off-season. That only adds to my belief that they will indeed make a strong push for Lee when the winter meetings begin next month.
But that’s another story for another day. Today is the Giants’ day. And they deserve to be called World Series Champs in 2010. Once again, congratulations from Yankee Yapping to the fans in San Francisco and the Giants on a great season and a World Title.
I know that somewhere out in the bay area, there’s a Giants fan feeling the same way I did last year. And in 2000. And 1999. And 1998. And 1996…