The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Hall of Fame’s steroid question too complicated for a single answer

Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr.

I’m not a Hall of Fame voter, and most of the time, I’m glad that’s the case. It would be an honor to vote, but it would also be a massive responsibility. I know how much time I put into an MVP or Cy Young ballot, and there’s far more weight attached to a Hall of Fame ballot. Not having a vote has kept me from forming my own hard opinion about the issue of steroids in the Hall of Fame.

At times, I think I would absolutely vote for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Other times, I decide I absolutely would not.

With that in mind, I honestly don’t know whether I agree or disagree with the central premise of this morning’s Pinch Hitter post. What I know for certain is that Brendan took a hard stance on an issue that I don’t find quite so black and white. I think it’s more complicated than a definite right or wrong answer.

A few thoughts on some of the points that Brendan made in his post:

Ken Griffey Jr.1. “I have always loved the historical aspect of comparing the greats of yesteryear with today’s stars.”

Actually, I think this is one of the issues that make PEDs difficult for Hall of Fame voters. The responsibility is to determine a player’s worthiness in comparison to the great players throughout the game’s long and documented history. One generation of voters decided Roger Maris wasn’t a Hall of Famer, and it’s now been left to this generation to decide whether Rafael Palmeiro better fit the standard. Context matters. A 20 home run season in 1935 was different than a 20 home run season in 2005. The problem with PEDs is they’ve clouded the truth and disrupted the comparison. It’s not always about sending a message of right and wrong; it’s about trying to determine what a player was capable of doing with an even playing field. That’s an even playing field through history and within certain time frame. It’s complicated.

2. “In my opinion the three buffoons who didn’t put Griffey on their ballots should have their vision checked while losing their vote forever.”

There were 440 ballots cast this year. Of those 440, 437 voted for Ken Griffey Jr. That’s a remarkable level of agreement. I have no idea why three people decided against voting for him, but I know that 99.3 percent is about as universal as you can get in a sample size that large. I also know this: More than 45 percent of voters cast a vote for Roger Clemens and more than 44 percent voted for Bonds. If there weren’t a 10-person limit on the ballot, each of those two could easily have gotten 50 percent. That means, the BBWAA electorate is basically split on this matter. The writers as a whole have not taken a stand for or against Clemens, Bonds and the rest of the steroid guys. They’ve made a statement of uncertainty, making clear the complication that comes from performance enhancing drugs. To me, that’s an honest appraisal of the situation. Individual voters go one way or the other. The group as a whole, though, is torn.

3. “A Hall of Fame is supposed to award the best of the best. It shouldn’t be a popularity contest based on hard feelings a reporter has over being stiffed for an interview.”

Being stiffed for an interview isn’t the issue. I know it’s a popular criticism, but there are plenty of players in the Hall of Fame who weren’t particularly popular with writers. Randy Johnson got in on the first ballot. So did Eddie Murray. Mike Mussina was incredibly popular with writers I know, and he finished below Clemens and Bonds this year. The Hall’s voting instructions say that voting should be based upon “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Half of those have nothing to do with on-the-field success. If the Hall is meant to award the best of the best, that’s what makes the steroid question tricky. Does being the best simply mean putting up the best numbers, or does it mean the most talented? Because those are two different things. And why should voters totally disregard half of the guidelines placed in front of them?

Alex Rodriguez4. “Baseball media, fans, and many former players take it way too personal when someone gets busted for, or is associated with, PED’s.”

Former players absolutely should take it personally. If an illegally juiced player stayed a little healthier and hit a few more home runs, that surely cost another player at-bats, and money, and opportunity. I believe the players’ union should have done more to stop PEDs, so the players are partially at fault for this problem, but I still have no problem with players who take the issue personally. I think the should. And I don’t mind fans who do the same. Athletes become icons and role models, and fans become personally invested. As Brendan wrote, for Yankees fans there was nothing better from 1996 to 2000. I understand if fans feel cheated by a player putting up artificial numbers. This is a game people have played for generations, and millions of kids pick up a bat and ball to dream about the big leagues. When someone achieves that dream through other means, it feels dirty. It feels like a shortcut. As for media, most writers have lost most of their emotional attachment to issues like this. If they’re outraged, it’s because they’re trying to speak on behalf of those who don’t have such a voice. And again, even those writers are torn on the issue.

5. “I mean, a guy gets caught for PED’s in the NFL, all his team’s fans are worried about is when that guy will be back playing.”

I’m not a huge NFL fan, so this is not coming from an area of expertise, but I do think the NFL is more of an an “at-all-costs” league than Major League Baseball. And I’m not sure MLB wants to follow that model. Before Brendan made this statement about the NFL, he brought up the story of Jhonny Peralta, who was caught up in the Biogensis scandal and served a 50-game suspension. Peralta was vilified and then accepted again. In that way, MLB fans aren’t all that unlike NFL fans. There is disappointment when it’s discovered a player cheated, but baseball has also shown a willingness to forgive those players who try to learn from a mistake. I think there is extra disappointment for great players who took things to another level — were Bonds and Clemens not satisfied simply being Hall of Fame players; they had to cheat to become all-time greats? — but the game is also filled with examples of players who were caught cheating, owned the mistake, and became accepted again. Andy Pettitte is a terrific example. Alex Rodriguez’s multiple transgressions and lies have kept him from that level of forgiveness (though he seemed pretty forgiven through much of last season). I think there’s a level of PED forgiveness in baseball. The Hall of Fame, though, is a different standard.

6. “(The baseball community has) this entitled romantic type of perception of baseball as a sport regarding the ‘sanctity’ of the game.”

Competition vs. entertainment is another difficult issue that has supporters on each side. The Home Run Derby is entertainment, but it’s not something I’d follow for 162 games. Yes, baseball is entertainment. That’s an indisputable fact. If it weren’t entertaining, it would serve no purpose and certainly wouldn’t bring in billions of dollars. But I think the value of that entertainment shifts from person to person. Some simply want to see guys who throw harder and hit the ball farther, and they certainly want to see the superstars on the field. Others want to follow player development, witness a well executed hit and run, and bite their nails over a late-inning call to the bullpen. There’s entertainment in believing Player A and Player B were given a level playing field on which to determine who’s better in a given situation. For some, but not all, the steroid question actually takes away that entertainment. Home runs are impressive, but for many fans, they’re less impressive when hit by someone who’s been artificially enhanced.

Roger Clemens7. “I simply believe that guys like Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, and Palmeiro deserve to be in the Hall of Fame based on the fact that they put up record breaking numbers and entertained fans throughout their careers.”

Singled this one out partly because I didn’t expect to see Palmeiro’s entertainment value put right in line with Clemens, Bonds and Mark McGwire. The guy hit a ton of home runs, but were people regularly flocking to the stadium to see him play? Really good hitter, but in a different class I think. The bigger point is this: Entertainment value doesn’t make a player Hall of Fame worthy. Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were about as entertaining as it gets, but their Hall of Fame credentials aren’t great. It’s incredibly entertaining to watch Brendan Ryan field grounders and make insane plays during batting practice, but he’s barely a big league bench player. It’s entertaining to see Dellin Betances strike out the side, but he’s not going into the Hall. Comes down to the same question about what makes a Hall of Famer, and that definition is different from person to person. That’s why we have such a large group of people voting.

8. “Piazza was associated with steroids, but he got in because he was perceived as a good guy by the media.”

Piazza’s election might change some things, opening the door for several players suspected — but never proven — to have used performance enhancing drugs. That’s been a difficult thing for a lot of voters who feel a responsibility to keep cheaters out of the Hall while also recognizing that they don’t know who used and who didn’t. With Piazza, I wonder if that door has opened for a guy like Jeff Bagwell, but also for guys like Bonds and Clemens. Piazza is in. If a voters is convinced Piazza was a steroid user, then the barrier is broken, the Hall includes at least one enhanced player, and what’s the point of blocking entrance for the other steroid guys? I don’t know how this will play out, but Piazza’s election could be a turning point for at least some voters. And his election is further evidence that many writers are not looking to take some sort of stand against the Steroid Era. There’s an honest attempt to do the right thing, but a disagreement about what that is.

Barry Bonds9. “The bottom line is baseball did not test for PED’s until 2003. These guys should be in.”

In those moments when I decide — if given a vote — I would check the boxes next to Bonds and Clemens, this is the argument that I find most compelling. Baseball wasn’t testing. Baseball allowed this behavior. Baseball did not say these achievements and these players were wrong or illegal. They had a provision against illegal drugs, but I don’t think we’re going to eliminate players who used cocaine in the ’80s, and baseball basically treated steroids as if they were no different. If baseball let these players play, who am I to say their accomplishments don’t count? Even those players who were caught, if baseball said their punishment was a 50-game suspension, who am I to say that’s not enough? I just wish the game had done a better job regulating itself, but I suppose the league also wishes it had done more. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve made that case to current players, and most have disagreed with me. Their point: if a player needed PEDs, he clearly wasn’t a Hall of Fame talent, and he did more to harm the game than help it.

10. “Until that line of thinking changes, I will never fully respect the process or museum.”

One good thing about this entire process is that the writers have never been told what to think or how to vote. The Hall of Fame gives its guidelines, and the writers are allowed to form their own opinions and standards. If there’s a large enough agreement, a player is determined to be a Hall of Famer. That’s the process. I’ve never been to a BBWAA meeting in which writers have been told what’s right or wrong in the Hall of Fame voting process. Choosing Hall of Famers is all about a large group of individual voices. There are many, many voters who feel exactly the way Brendan feels. There are others who disagree. Individuals form their opinions and vote accordingly, but the group as a whole remains conflicted about the issue.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 11:54 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Brendan Sennott

Roger Clemens

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Brendan Sennott, who described himself as a “huge Yankee fan living in suburban Detroit.” Brendan works as a marketing executive and part-time media member, and he wrote that when he’s not working, he loves “spending time with my silly kids Aubrey (5) and Declan (3).”

For his post, Brendan looks back at last month’s Hall of Fame voting results and makes a vow: He won’t visit Cooperstown until the method of Hall of Fame induction changes.

Barry BondsBaseball has always been my first love when it came to sports. For more than 30 years I have eaten, breathed, and slept baseball from February to October. For a time in the early 90’s I often would trash talk my dad(a huge NFL fan) with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek that baseball was the superior sport especially in terms of popularity. That is how much I enjoy the game. It is a game that has stood the test of time.

I have always loved the historical aspect of comparing the greats of yesteryear with today’s stars. The funny thing is, the symbol of all that is great about the game and its vast history, the Hall of Fame, is a place I have never been. It is a place I don’t plan on visiting any time soon until perspectives on the induction of players change.

On January 7, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza became the newest members of the Hall. Griffey was voted in with the highest percentage of all-time, passing Tom Seaver with 99.3 percent of the votes. In my opinion the three buffoons who didn’t put Griffey on their ballots should have their vision checked while losing their vote forever.

There will be some nitwit who doesn’t vote for Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter on their first ballots when they are eligible. That is the root of a giant chasm that exists in this process. It is why, until it changes, the Hall will never see me visit it.

A Hall of Fame is supposed to award the best of the best. It shouldn’t be a popularity contest based on hard feelings a reporter has over being stiffed for an interview. It shouldn’t be based on foolish pride in not electing someone on the first ballot like the dopes who didn’t vote for Griffey. And here it comes…. I feel like it sure as heck shouldn’t be based on whether a player took performance enhancing drugs.

I was in college during the heart of the “steroid” era the late 90s. That is when my fandom reached an all-time high. Us Yankee fans sure remember those years, right? Nothing was better from 1996 to 2000.

Here is why I get embarrassed about baseball being my favorite sport.

Baseball media, fans, and many former players take it way too personal when someone gets busted for, or is associated with, PED’s. That creeps me out. I honestly believe many people would pick dinner with a convicted felon over dinner with Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. That is the way people act toward those guys in all media forums.

I live in Detroit and I remember when Jhonny Peralta failed his test while with the Tigers. The fan reaction was ridiculous: he should be released, banned for life, and so on. That was until he got a huge hit in the playoffs to help the Tigers overcome the A’s, then he became Saint Jhonny. I mean, a guy gets caught for PED’s in the NFL, all his team’s fans are worried about is when that guy will be back playing.

Baseball Hall of FameYou know why I think that is?

Because all NFL fans care about is winning. They want to be entertained while doing it. Baseball and sports as a whole are entertainment. As Russell Crowe as Maximus in Gladiator says: “Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”

People in and around the baseball community seem to forget that. They have this entitled romantic type of perception of baseball as a sport regarding the “sanctity” of the game. If you pay for something you enjoy in which you watch people perform, you should expect to be entertained by what you see. You should be entitled to the best product possible.

Don’t athletes on PED’s perform better and offer a superior product on the field?

All due respect to Roy Halladay (and his ridiculous tweets), he was a heck of a pitcher, but you know what? I never acted like I had to get down to the ballpark for one of his starts. He was never must-see viewing to me. Roger Clemens, a key member of the steroid era on the other hand, is a guy I saw pitch in person more than 50 times in his career because there was always the chance he could do something remarkable.

With that in mind, I knew I would be entertained and get the most bang for my buck.

I simply believe that guys like Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, and Palmeiro deserve to be in the Hall of Fame based on the fact that they put up record breaking numbers and entertained fans throughout their careers. If they excelled, they should be enshrined in Cooperstown along with the greats of the game.

Every era throughout baseball has discrepancies that affected performance, whether it be the lack of African American players before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, or the use of hard drugs like cocaine in the 70’s and 80’s. It seems to me, many of the voters make arguments on who should or shouldn’t be in based on hypocrisy.

Piazza was associated with steroids, but he got in because he was perceived as a good guy by the media. Bonds and Clemens were considered prickly and generally not media friendly. To the voters, that, plus steroids, is a formula that prevents enshrinement.

The bottom line is baseball did not test for PED’s until 2003. These guys should be in. Period. Voters need to stop making lesser players like Curt Schilling Hall of Fame worthy as points of comparison to guys they felt took steroids. In my opinion, it is more like the Hall of Popular, not the Hall of Fame.

Until that line of thinking changes, I will never fully respect the process or museum. I certainly won’t be spending my money to be entertained there.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Tuesday notes and links: Clippard, Latos, Ishikawa, Gurriel brothers

First, a reminder that if you’re in the area, come by Bob Hyland’s Sports Page Pub in White Plains on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. to grab some food and a drink and talk a little baseball with me, sports writer Vincent Mercogliano and sports editor Leif Skodnick. Hope to see some of you there. For now, here are a few notes and links worth having on your radar. 

Tyler Clippard• Former Yankees prospect Tyler Clippard has finally come off the market with a two-year deal in Arizona. Talking to Nick Piecoro, Clippard offered a comment that could easily be applied to the current Yankees’ bullpen: “I’ve said all along that a good bullpen isn’t just one guy – it’s not two great setup men, it’s a not a great seventh-, eighth-, ninth-inning guys, it’s a collective, group effort.” It’s going to be interesting in spring training to see the Yankees piece together the rest of the puzzle beyond the Big Three.

• Once thought to be a future 20-game winner, Mat Latos agreed today to a one-year deal worth just $3 million to join the White Sox rotation. Still just 28 years old, Latos is coming off a brutal season, but he’s an obvious bounce back candidate for a team willing to roll the dice on a questionable clubhouse reputation. If he was available at that price, I’m at least mildly surprised the Yankees didn’t get him to serve as rotation depth. Two things I wonder about: Were the Yankees worried about disrupting the clubhouse dynamic, and was Latos unwilling to sign with a team that couldn’t guarantee him a rotation job? He’s obviously looking to rebuild value, and he needs a rotation job to do that.

• Speaking of White Sox deals that might have worked for the Yankees, the White Sox have signed first baseman Travis Ishikawa to a minor league deal. Hard to expect a ton out of Ishikawa, but the Yankees are in the market for a Triple-A first baseman, and he would have — at least — provided some insurance at that position. And obviously he’s not against signing with a team that has a full-time first baseman already entrenched. I still wonder if the Yankees might be able to get a guy like Ike Davis on a similar deal, though Davis might look for a more obvious path to the big leagues than the Yankees can offer.

• Forgot to mention this yesterday, but it’s still worth mentioning today: Two of the top players in Cuba are reportedly looking for big league opportunities. From Jesse Sanchez at MLB.com: “Brothers Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 22, and Yulieski Gurriel, 31, are believed to have defected from Cuba’s Ciego de Avila team following the Caribbean Series that concluded Sunday in order to seek contracts with Major League teams, according to sources. Lourdes is considered the top prospect in Cuba while his brother is considered the country’s best player.” Yulieski is a third baseman and second baseman, and though he might fit the Yankees as a bench player, I’m not sure they’d be willing to pay for him unless something happens to Chase Headley. Lourdes is a shortstop and outfielder and more of a prospect. If he signs soon, the Yankees basically won’t be eligible to sign him because they spent so much international money in 2014. Yulieski is old enough that he’s exempt from the international spending guidelines.

• Also worth knowing about the Gurriel brothers: Ben Badler explains that there’s a good chance neither will play in the big leagues this season. It seems inevitable that the younger brother will wait until October to sign — that opens his availability to every team — and even the older brother still has a lengthy process to go through before becoming available. From Badler: “Cuban players have to go through a lengthy ordeal to become free agents. First, they have to establish residency in another country. Then they have to wait for the commissioner’s office to clear them to sign. Those are both time-consuming processes, though various folks involved in the handling of Cuban players have found that bribery can expedite matters.”

Baseball America’s latest minor league transactions include a mention of the Yankees signing outfielder Jared Mitchell, a former first-round pick whose career has largely stalled in Double-A and Triple-A. I assume he’s intended to be outfield depth in Trenton. The transactions also include third baseman Conor Gillaspie signing a minor league deal with the Giants. I wondered if the Yankees might want to bring him to camp just to add some experienced depth. Former Yankees prospect Zach Nuding has signed a minor league deal with the Angels, meaning he’s back with Billy Eppler.

Associated Press photos

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 at 9:44 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller

Up next in our look through the Yankees’ 40-man roster is another of the team’s major additions from last offseason. Although he was signed with very little ninth-inning experience, the Yankees basically pushed Andrew Miller straight into their closer role and watched him thrive to become the American League’s Reliever of the Year. With Aroldis Chapman in the fold this season, it seems likely Miller will step back into a setup role.

MillerANDREW MILLER

Age on Opening Day: 30
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in December 2014
Added to the 40-man: Made his Major League debut just weeks after being drafted in 2006

In the past: Sixth overall pick in 2006, Miller was traded from Detroit to Florida in the Miguel Cabrera deal, then he went to the Red Sox after his stock had plummeted. Moved full-time to the bullpen in 2012, Miller’s strikeout rate soared and his WHIP fell. He became a strong reliever very quickly, and in 2014 became a truly great one. Having become more setup man than left-on-left specialist, Miller signed with the Yankees to essentially replace Dave Robertson and he moved seamlessly into the closer role, earning the Mariano Rivera Award as the league’s best reliever.

Role in 2016: From the day he first arrived in Yankees camp last spring, Miller has always insisted he doesn’t care about his exact role. He wasn’t worried about winning the closer job last year, and he’s said he doesn’t mind being bumped from that role this year. Joe Girardi has already said he plans to put newly acquired Aroldis Chapman in the closer role this season, which means Miller will move back into a setup position with Dellin Betances. Those two should form a potent 1-2 punch, bridging the gap to Chapman in the ninth. If Chapman is suspended, it stands to reason that Miller could close for a little while.

Best-case scenario: It’s hard to ask for much more than what Miller has done the past two seasons. Aside from that brief stint on the disabled list last year, he was a remarkably effective closer who could occasionally get more than three outs, handle both lefties and righties, and get big strikeouts in big situations. The best-case scenario is simply more of the same. If you really want to aim for the sky, maybe eliminate some of the walks and get him beyond 70 innings (without the need for more because everyone else is pitching well). But really, there wasn’t much to complain about last year.

Worst-case scenario: Those disappointing seasons as a failed starter are long gone. At this point, Miller’s been too good and too consistent to reasonably think he could fall apart again. That sort of nightmare scenario doesn’t carry much weight. I suppose the worst-case scenario is that some sort of injury returns and Miller has to miss more than a month this time, leaving the late-inning trio down to two, and thus significantly more vulnerable. Aside from an injury, it just doesn’t make much sense to think Miller can be anything less than a pretty good relief pitcher this season. His healthy worst-case scenario is probably pretty decent.

What the future holds: The Yankees gave Miller a four-year deal, which means he’s not going anywhere any time soon. He’s under team control through 2018, and the Yankees could spend these next three years using him in various roles. Assuming they don’t bring Chapman back, Miller could go back to closing next season. Or he could be a setup man again while Dellin Betances closes. Miller is a strong clubhouse presence, so he could have a lasting impact as a mentor for some of the young relievers still trying to earn their keep in the big leagues.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 at 7:02 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Masahiro Tanaka back on the mound after bone spur surgery

Yankees Braves Baseball

From The Associated Press…

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, coming back after arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow last October, has thrown off a bullpen mound.

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said the Japanese right-hander had a throwing session Tuesday in New York.

After a pre-spring training workout at Steinbrenner Field, said Rothschild said all the reports are good regarding Tanaka’s rehabilitation program. The Yankees said the injury dates from when Tanaka pitched in Japan. He signed with New York before the 2014 season.

Tanaka was diagnosed with a partially torn elbow ligament in 2014, when he went 13-5 in 20 starts. He was 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 24 starts last year and lost to Houston in the AL wild-card game.

Tanaka was on the disabled list from April 23 to June 3 last season with right wrist tendinitis and a forearm strain, then missed a September start because of a strained right hamstring.

MORE FROM THE MOUND

A trio of Yankees’ starting pitchers, Luis Severino, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, are taking part in throwing programs with Rothschild in Tampa. Eovaldi went 14-3 in 27 starts last year, but his season ended after an outing on Sept. 5 due to right elbow inflammation.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 at 4:28 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Spring decision: Is Gary Sanchez ready to be a big league backup?

Gary Sanchez, Antoan Richardson

Yankees pitchers and catchers report to spring training a week from tomorrow, and the first team workout is 10 days away. Might as well start looking through some of the Yankees’ key spring training decisions. We’ll start behind the plate, where the Yankees know they have Brian McCann returning as their everyday catcher, but they’ve also opened the backup role to what seems to be a somewhat open competition between three players:

Corporan1. Gary Sanchez – The 23-year-old prospect high on potential but relatively light on experience.

2. Carlos Corporan – The 32-year-old defensive specialist heavy on experience but light on offense.

3. Austin Romine – The 27-year-old faded prospect all but dismissed last season.

That’s not a random assignment of numbers. If I had to guess, I’d put the backup catcher candidates in that order: Sanchez as the favorite, Corporan as the most comfortable alternative, and Romine as the player with the most to prove. Beyond those three, we get into guys like Eddy Rodriguez and Sebastian Valle, but it would take a bunch of tumbling dominoes to fall into that second or third tier.

Last year, the Yankees used only two catchers all season. McCann started 119 games. John Ryan Murphy started 43. No other catcher go as much as a single inning behind the plate.

But just when it seemed Murphy was establishing himself as a promising piece of the Yankees’ future, the Yankees traded him to Minnesota for fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks. It was a significant show of faith in the improvements of Sanchez, and perhaps a sign that the Yankees have not completely given up on Romine. The addition of Corporan on a minor league deal was a reasonable attempt to add some security and depth.

Rather than think of this as a true competition, it might be best to think of this as a single-player issue heading into camp.

The question is not, who should be the Yankees’ backup catcher? It’s more a question of, is Sanchez ready to play a role in the big leagues, and is that what’s best for him and the future of the organization?

Austin RomineA few things to consider:

The development question: Sanchez just turned 23 in December. He’s still plenty young, and he has just two big league at-bats plus 35 games in Triple-A. He’s also coming off a season in which he finally made massive strides. Is it really in his best interest, right now, to play once or twice a week? Would he benefit from everyday at-bats for another month or two before sliding into a backup role? If he’s not ready for the big leagues, but that disappointment become a real setback?

The service time question: Last year’s September call-up gave Sanchez some big league time, but returning to the minors early this season could still delay his free agency. Is it worth carrying Sanchez as a big league backup out of spring training if it costs the Yankees a year of team control? For a relatively minor role, would it be better in the long term to keep Sanchez in the minors for a little bit before bringing him up?

The depth question: Romine is out of options and has the right to decline an outright assignment. Basically, if he doesn’t make the big league roster, there’s very little chance he’ll stick with the Yankees as Triple-A depth. Corporan is on a minor league contract, but those almost always come with opt out opportunities, perhaps as early as the end of spring training. There’s a real chance that carrying Sanchez as the backup would mean limiting the catching depth to Rodriguez and Valle, who have five big league at-bats between them, all of which belonged to Rodriguez way back in 2012.

The impact question: The Yankees were vulnerable to left-handed pitching last season, and so a strong right-handed bat should be very helpful. Murphy played that role well at the end of last season, and if the Yankees are looking for offensive punch, Sanchez is almost certainly the best bet. If they want to prioritize defense, Corporan looks like the most proven option. But if the Yankees want a hitter with upside — and one who could learn from McCann — it’s very easy to make the case for Sanchez as long as he doesn’t completely disappoint in spring training.

The roster question: One wild card possibility to consider is that the Yankees could occasionally carry three catchers. Brian Cashman has talked about a rotating 25th man, and the team could send Sanchez to Triple-A with plans of using him as part of that rotation. Carry Corporan or Romine as the little-used backup out of camp, then bring up Sanchez for a day or two at a time to get some starts before returning to Triple-A. Might be a way to get occasional impact from Sanchez, while also giving him regular at-bats and controlling his service time.

Associated Press photos

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 at 2:59 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Yanks’ prospects ready to break into big leagues (but can they stay there?)

Rob Refsnyder

Two things I remember about Chase Wright, even though after this many years, I’m not 100 percent certain either one is true:

1. He’s one of the very few pitchers I’ve ever met who didn’t throw a four-seam fastball. Not ever. Didn’t even have one just to show occasionally for a strike. He was all two-seamers all the time. At least, I think that was him. I once had to write a feature about the different grips of different pitches, and I remember Wright telling me that he literally didn’t have a four-seam grip because he never, ever threw one.

2. He never backed away from that four-homer game. Fans would ask him sign autographs on a picture that showed him on the mound that day, and he’d sign without a problem. I believe he actually switched his minor league number to No. 4 at one point (the Yankees used to let minor league players wear retired numbers), but again, that’s just a memory and I couldn’t find any evidence of the jersey online.

None of it matters much at this point. In the end, Chase Wright is the guy who gave up four straight homers. That’s his claim to fame. It’s the reason Matt could write about him in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post. Wright isn’t just some random former prospect, he’s that former prospect.

Of all the guys with exactly 10 big league innings, Wright’s more memorable than most.

And of all the guys who have ever entered professional baseball, he was more successful than most.

Wright stands out as a cautionary tale of just how difficult it is to have a lasting career in Major League Baseball. Fans want every decent prospect to be Derek Jeter or at least Brett Gardner, but most fall well short of that standard. That reality can’t be ignored when a team like the Yankees is clearly trying to transition toward a younger roster that leans on in-house options more heavily than free agent signings (which helps explain additions like Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks).

When I read Matt’s post about Wright, I immediately thought of five prospect disappointments who carry vague similarities to some of the Yankees’ current on-the-verge prospects:

David AdamsDavid Adams was a third-round pick out of the University of Virginia, a bat-first second baseman with strong contact skills and an advanced approach at the plate. Adams fell flat when finally given a big league role, but his 2013 Triple-A slash line — and his scouting report — were fairly similar to that of fellow high-round college draft pick Rob Refsnyder.

Jesus Montero was a highly touted international free agent with a huge bat, a strong arm and questionable catching skills. He raked all through the minors, made a big league splash in September, and basically disappeared after that. It’s the often-discussed path Gary Sanchez is trying to avoid.

J.B. Cox was a terrific college closer at the University of Texas, the Yankees took him with the 63rd overall draft pick, and he became a top 10 organizational prospect after a strong Double-A season at just 22 years old. Then he hurt his elbow and was never the same. There are similarities with 55th overall pick Jacob Lindgren.

Eric Duncan was the 27th overall pick in 2003, and he crushed lower-level pitchers to become a top 50 overall prospect with rave reviews for his potential as a power hitter. But Triple-A pitchers exposed his shortcomings and he never reached the big leagues. As at 23 year-old in Triple-A, Duncan had a .661 OPS, which isn’t far from the .688 Triple-A OPS posted by 32nd overall pick Aaron Judge as a 23-year-old last year.

Joba Chamberlain was one of the most highly touted pitchers in the game when he electrified New York beginning with a August 7 call-up in 2007. Almost exactly eight years later, Luis Severino debuted on August 5 with similar hype. Did Chamberlain ultimately fade because of injury, misuse or simply because pitching prospects often fall well short of expectation?

Some of those comparisons are weaker than others — Lindgren throws a lot harder than Cox; Judge was an advanced college hitter while Duncan was drafted out of high school; Chamberlain had a series of injuries and a fairly unusual set circumstances that impacted his performance – but the point is fairly obvious: you just don’t know how things are going to play out. We hear often about Judge’s unlikely potential to be Giancarlo Stanton, but we hear very little about the fact he could be another bust, or that he could be a relatively successful prospect who becomes little more than a role player.

Wright was not a huge prospect at the time of his sudden call-up, and as Matt pointed out this morning, he was rushed because of injuries and a lack of alternative solutions. That said, Wright was a third-round pick whom Baseball America ranked top 20 in the organization heading into that 2007 season. He wasn’t a non-factor, and his big league debut was fairly encouraging, but he disappeared quickly along with so many Yankees prospects of that era.

Now the Yankees turn to a new wave of prospects hoping for something better.

Severino is basically locked into a rotation spot. Refsnyder, Sanchez and Lindgren will compete for jobs this spring. Judge headlines a Triple-A roster that should be deep in the outfield and deep in the bullpen. Infield and rotation help that should be rising from High-A and Double-A this season. Quite often, though, getting these guys to the big leagues means very little.

What’s next is finding out if this improved farm system actually has any staying power.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 at 11:55 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Matt Lettieri

Chase Wright

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Matt Lettieri, an e-book developer living in Philadelphia after being raised just outside Kingston, NY. His favorite player is Brett Gardner, who he first saw play in 2007 for the Trenton Thunder (a fact, he said, that he realized as he was researching this post). Matt wrote that he implores Brian Cashman not to trade Gardy.

For his post, Matt takes a look back on a prospect I hadn’t thought about in years, bringing back a reminder that baseball can take some unexpected twists and turns.

Wright 1In recent years, the Yankees have committed to giving more opportunities to some of their top prospects, especially with regard to the pitching staff. I welcome this change in philosophy. I want players on the team who have a chance to stick around for years to come.

Back in the early- to mid-2000s, such opportunities for young players were rare. Instead of replenishing the team with younger talent, the front office continually filled holes with overpriced free agents and aging veterans (Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Kei Igawa … need I say more?). Any time a young guy got a chance to contribute and performed even moderately well, there was an unreasonable optimism.

“Hey, maybe this is the guy we’ve been waiting for; the next Pettitte or Rivera.”

That’s the situation Chase Wright entered in April 2007. Mike Mussina had been placed on the DL, along with Carl Pavano (of course) and Chien-Ming Wang (the only successful arm the system had produced in years), and the Yankees turned to a youngster to fill the void. In his first start, Wright pitched five innings and gave up three runs to earn a win against Cleveland. After the game, Joe Torre said that “there was a lot of quality there” and that he had “a presence about him” — not necessarily glowing praise, but a pretty positive Major League review for a guy who had just reached Double-A for the first time a few weeks earlier after four years languishing in A ball.

The farm was simply so depleted at the time that the organization threw some wishful optimism behind a guy who really hadn’t proved much at all. In most other organizations, he would’ve been much lower on the totem pole of Major-League-ready players.

Wright-ballWright’s second start was the infamous Sunday night game in Boston, when he became a national headline by giving up four consecutive homers. In truth, his final line wasn’t atrocious: four earned runs in three innings. That’s not good by any means, but it’s also not the type of drubbing that puts the team in a completely unwinnable situation (they ended up losing 7-6). The fact that the game was in Boston and televised in primetime on ESPN, and the fact that the Red Sox completed their first sweep of the Yankees in Boston in 17 years, undoubtedly made Wright a bigger headline that he would’ve been otherwise.

Wright was sent back to Double-A Trenton after the game. At the same time, Mussina was scheduled to make a rehab start for Trenton the following Friday in Harrisburg, PA against the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate. I was in college just outside Harrisburg at the time, and some friends and I were excited at the chance to see Moose pitch in a smaller setting like that. Unfortunately for us, there was rain the in the forecast for that night, so Mussina ended up pitching a simulated game earlier in the day. The rain never came, though, so we went to the game anyway.

By about the third inning, we noticed that a group of people had crowded around a particular guy in the seats behind home plate, who we soon realized was Wright. He was sitting there wearing a hoodie, holding a clipboard and a pen, charting pitches for that night’s Trenton starter.

He’d been pitching in Fenway for the Yankees on Sunday, and relegated to pitch-chart duty in Harrisburg on Friday.

Wright 2We made our way down behind home plate to get his autograph. He might’ve been infamous, but infamy is still a form of fame, and we weren’t going to pass up a chance to meet a guy who could still go on to big things (or a chance to say we met the guy who gave up four home runs in a row). He handled the attention with class, even though he seemed understandably uncomfortable. I distinctly remember saying, as he signed my baseball, “Don’t worry, man. You’ll get another chance.” Sage advice from a 20-year-old.

As it turned out, Wright got exactly one more chance in the majors, and as fate would have it, I was at that game as well. It was the last game of the regular season in Baltimore. Wright pitched two innings, gave up one run, and earned the win. I remember feeling excited to see him pitch again after getting his autograph, vindicated that he had indeed gotten another shot as I had predicted, and hopeful that maybe his career would pan out after all.

But it should have been indicative of his future that his shot came in mop-up duty in a meaningless game when the Yankees wanted to save their arms for the postseason.

According to Baseball Reference, Wright last pitched in 2012 for the Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League. Suffice it to say, his career didn’t turn out the way we hoped. Maybe his confidence was so shot after the Boston game that he could never recover. Maybe the Yankees did him a disservice by trotting him out there when he wasn’t ready for that big of a stage. If they had given him another season to develop before calling him up, would he have flourished? Maybe he simply wasn’t good enough. Maybe the Yankees gave this mostly unheralded prospect the chance of a lifetime on a national stage and he just wasn’t able to capitalize.

I wonder if Wright would say it’s better to be remembered, even for something negative, than not to be remembered at all. I certainly wouldn’t be writing this post if his second start had come in Tampa Bay instead of Boston, or if those four runs were surrendered on five straight doubles instead of four straight homers.

His story makes you realize how fickle minor league prospects can be, and how just the right mix of talent, opportunity, and circumstance are needed for most young players to find their niche. It also makes you all the more excited when your team is finally able to produce a bona fide star pitcher like Dellin Betances or (fingers crossed) Luis Severino.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Lohud Yankees meet and greet in White Plains on Wednesday

Masahiro Tanaka

The Super Bowl is over. It’s time to talk a little baseball.

Exactly one week before I head down to spring training, I’ll be joining a few Journal News colleagues for a meet and greet event in White Plains on Wednesday.

If you’re in the area, come by Bob Hyland’s Sports Page Pub on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. to grab some food and a drink and talk a little baseball with me, sports writer Vincent Mercogliano and sports editor Leif Skodnick. We’re going to be hanging out for a while, looking to talk all about the Yankees’ uneasy rotation, their potential youth movement, and this bizarre offseason when the Yankees have been the only team without a single Major League free agent signing.

Bob Hyland’s Sports Page Pub is at 200 Hamilton Ave., attached to the White Plains Mall near City Center. Stop by if you can. Pitchers and catchers will be at Steinbrenner Field before you know it.

Associated Press photo

 

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Monday, February 8th, 2016 at 8:41 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Starlin Castro

Starlin Castro

Moving on in our look through every member of the Yankees’ 40-man roster, we’ll next look into one of the team’s biggest offseason additions. Needing a right-handed bat, and clearly not convinced that their in-house second basemen were reliable, the Yankees bought low on Starlin Castro, a move that fits their recent trend of acquiring young, cost-controlled players who have fallen short of their potential. The Yankees are hoping Castro can take off again in New York. 

CastroSTARLIN CASTRO

Age on Opening Day: 26
Acquired: Traded from the Cubs on December 8
Added to the 40-man: Cubs put him on their 40-man for his big league debut May 7, 2010

In the past: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Castro was still just 21 years old when he made the All-Star team and led the National League in hits in 2011. He was an All-Star again in 2012 and again in 2014, but his 2013 and 2015 seasons were largely disappointing. Last season, he once again opened as the Cubs’ starting shortstop, but he struggled through much of the season and lost the shortstop job to top prospect Addison Russell. Castro rebounded nicely late in the season, but he was still crowded out of the Cubs’ future plans — especially after they signed Ben Zobrist — and so the Cubs traded him to the Yankees for Adam Warren.

Role in 2016: Although the vast majority of his Major League experience has been at shortstop, the Yankees acquired Castro with full intention of using him as their everyday second baseman. Ideally, he’ll also serve as the backup at shortstop and perhaps even third base — the Yankees believe he can play there, despite having never done so since rookie ball — but primarily, Castro will be a second baseman bringing some right-handed balance to the lineup. Right now, he seems to fit best in the bottom third of the order, but a resurgent season could push him into a more prominent offensive role.

Best-case scenario: After six seasons in the big leagues, Castro has already been an All-Star three times, and at 25 years old, he’s already approaching 1,000 career hits. His past three years have been up and down — last year was mostly down — but at times, Castro has been one of the very best young middle infielders in the game. He also surged to a .335/.362/.555 slash line from August 1 through the end of last season, and the best-case scenario is that Castro maintains that level of offensive production while his athleticism leads to a seamless defensive adjustment. Ultimate best-case scenario: Castro and Didi Gregorius form a potent up-the-middle combination for years to come.

Worst-case scenario: Castro’s worst-case scenario isn’t really hypothetical; it’s quite tangible in the numbers he put up through most of last season when he hit just .237/.271/.304 through the end of July. Combined he’s had a .688 OPS the past three seasons. If Castro can’t hit and looks uncomfortable at second — he never really graded as a particularly great defensive shortstop — the Yankees will have sacrificed Warren to acquire an infielder perhaps no better than in-house alternative Rob Refsnyder. The worst-case scenario is that last season wasn’t simply a bump in the road; that Castro has regressed to be more of a utility man than a productive everyday player.

What the future holds: Signed through 2020, Castro has a chance to become a long-term piece of the Yankees’ infield, finally something more than a disappointing stopgap in the wake of Robinson Cano’s departure. The Yankees have other young infielders on the rise — most notably Refsnyder, then Tyler Wade, and eventually Jorge Mateo — but Castro is young enough, with enough lingering upside, that he could hold off young guys who might challenge for his everyday job. At the very least, he’s under contract for five more years, so he’s in position to stick around. As long as he bounces back, Castro will be a mainstay.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Monday, February 8th, 2016 at 5:56 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post


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