The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


Baseball transitions from Selig to Manfred

Bud Selig, Rob Manfred

An important passing of the torch took place on Sunday as longtime baseball commissioner Bud Selig stepped away from the job and Rob Manfred took over. Published on MLB.com, Manfred wrote a letter to baseball fans. “My top priority is to bring more people into our game — at all levels and from all communities,” Manfred wrote. “… Another priority for me is to continue to modernize the game without interfering with its history and traditions.” Check out the entire letter. It’s not very long and worth your time. Also, here’s Ron Blum’s story after a one-on-one interview between Selig and The Associated Press.

Bud SelligNEW YORK (AP) — Bud Selig began his 8,173rd and final day in charge of baseball by waking up in a Manhattan hotel, having breakfast and working out. After nearly 22 1/2 years that began with unprecedented labor unrest, unfolded with rapid innovation and ended with unparalleled prosperity, he predicted a future filled with more transformation, perhaps with expansion to other countries.

“My dream is for this sport to really have an international flavor,” he said Saturday during a half-hour interview with The Associated Press. “Does it need teams in other countries? … If one uses a lot of vision it could.”

Selig headed the group that forced Commissioner Fay Vincent’s resignation in September 1992. Owner of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1970, he was put in charge as chairman of the executive council and finally elected commissioner in July 1998 after years of saying he would never take the job.

His reign saw expanded playoffs and wild-card teams, interleague play, video review to aid umpires, expansion to Arizona and Tampa Bay, the formation of baseball’s Internet and broadcast companies and the start of drug testing — too late for some critics. The only person who headed baseball longer was Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner from 1920-44.

“Bud will go down in history as the No. 1 commissioner that has served baseball, and without question,” said Peter Ueberroth, baseball’s commissioner from 1984-89. For Ueberroth, Selig’s time heading baseball can be compared only with “what Pete Rozelle has done in football and David Stern has done in basketball.”

Selig’s final task was to accept a long and meritorious service award from the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America at a black-tie dinner Saturday night. Now 80, Selig becomes commissioner emeritus Sunday when Rob Manfred, his top deputy, takes over as the 10th commissioner.

“It’s been quite a journey, and the journey I think has changed me in a lot of ways,” Selig said. “I wish I knew in 1992 what I knew today.”

Revenue has risen from about $1.7 billion in ’92 to just under $9 billion last year. Attendance, which averaged 26,978 in 1992, has been above 30,000 in 10 straight seasons, peaking at 32,785 in 2007 before the Great Recession.

With the start of revenue sharing and a luxury tax that has slowed spending by large-market teams, every club except Toronto has made playoffs this century.

Selig emphasized consensus over confrontation.

Bud Sellig“All these 30-0 votes that everybody is now talking about were important to me because I learned over the years that unity was so important,” he said. “We had no unity in the ’70s and the ’80s and early ’90s. It was very fractured, and that was destructive.”

And that infighting led to stasis.

“The sport had been not active, really had spent two decades stuck in neutral,” he said. “It was harmful because other forms of entertainment and sports were gaining in great popularity.”

To many, he seemed like a rumpled uncle or grandfather. But owners listened to him because he was one of their own.

“I had a style that was I guess unique, to say the least,” Selig acknowledged. ‘I was always very cautious, always very thorough but maybe even became more so over the years. But it worked out well, because I understand my political constituency. A lot of people would be critical. They would say, well, after all, ‘Why does it take him so long to do that?’”

He calls canceling the 1994 World Series his worst moment. Players struck for 232 days, fearful owners would implement a salary cap. Since then, the sport has had labor peace, and Manfred has two seasons before the current labor deal expires.

“The foundations of the stability that have been present in baseball and not in the other three sports since then come from the agreements that were made then,” said Donald Fehr, then head of the baseball players’ union and now head of the NHL players.

Selig’s best nights were when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak in 1995 and when players and owners agreed to a labor deal in 2002, ending a streak of eight work stoppages dating to 1972.

He lists Ripken, Derek Jeter and Edgar Martinez as his favorite players to dine with, although he quickly adds “and others” in fear of leaving someone out. He won’t compare players of this era with the stars of his youth, because the game has changed so much, but his voice softened with nostalgia when he said: “Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial — they don’t get any better than those guys.”

Selig leaves Manfred with several unsolved issues.

While 20 new ballparks opened during Selig’s tenure, Tampa Bay and Oakland want new ones, and the Athletics want to build in San Jose, which is on the territory of the San Francisco Giants. Baltimore and Washington are in court over their regional sports network. There is the need to attract young fans and cut down on long game times. Selig never ruled on Pete Rose’s 1997 application to end his lifetime ban.

“I wish that’s all I had in 1992,” Selig said.

Even though Selig helped force him out, Vincent concludes Selig has done an exemplary job.

“He is a masterful internal baseball politician and he was able to keep the owners from fragmenting, from looking for a salary cap, which some of the new guys used to scream about,” Vincent said.

Selig already has started teaching at the University of Wisconsin and Marquette’s law school. He’s getting help from Doris Kearns Goodwin to organize preparations for his memoir — he doesn’t plan to sit in front of a computer parsing prose.

“I’ll be talking into something, a little microphone of some kind,” he said.

He plans on going to Wimbledon with wife Sue. And, as usual, he’ll be on the telephone with baseball buddies.

“I’ve had a lot of calls today,” he said, “and they all said, ‘Well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow or on Monday.’”

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Monday, January 26th, 2015 at 9:09 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Blast from the past: Montero still an unknown in Seattle

Jesus Montero is long gone from the Yankees organization, but he was such a big deal for such a long time that his current situation remains a bit of a fascination. There was uproar when he was traded, and that uproar grew louder when Michael Pineda got hurt, but now Pineda looks like a good young pitcher and Montero looks like a potential big league bust. But the jury is still out. It’s not the kind of thing that’s worth a lot of attention — Montero’s is another team’s issue at this point — but there’s still some curiosity out there. Is Montero ever going to be the impact hitter the Yankees envisioned, the kind of hitter that made him so tough to lose in the first place? Here’s Josh Liebeskind of The Associated Press with an update on the former top Yankees prospect.

Jesus MonteroSEATTLE (AP) — Jesus Montero still has a chance with the Seattle Mariners.

Mariners’ officials spent their pre-spring training luncheon on Thursday lauding the transformation of the once highly touted prospect, reporting that he had lost 40 pounds this offseason.

Montero was part of a trade prior to the 2012 season in which he came to the Mariners from the New York Yankees in exchange for young right-hander Michael Pineda.

Montero never panned out as a catcher, though, and despite a decent first season at the plate with the Mariners, hitting became a serious issue. Problems beyond the field became a concern, as well, as he was suspended 50 games for being connected to the Biogenesis scandal. He also came to spring training last year overweight.

Montero played in just six major league games this past season and had an incident last August during a Single-A game when he confronted a scout in the stands. The last incident seemed to be the final straw.

But general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon were cautiously optimistic Thursday when talking about the offseason work Montero has put in. He’s now down to 235 pounds, a target weight set for the start of spring training.

“He’s made some very poor decisions, but he’s a good kid,” Zduriencik said. “Sometimes bad decisions, sometimes the wrong focus. Obviously, got a big egg in his face. He deserves a second chance, he deserves a third chance.

“One of the things that was really, really a goal of ours in September when we brought him up here face-to-face with him and his wife was, Jesus, first and foremost, we need to save you as a human being. First and foremost, we need to make you a functional person, in terms of some of these decisions and some of these directions that you’re misguided upon. I think we set a program in place that he embraced.”

McClendon met with Montero a couple months ago and said the two had “a real good conversation” about the game of life. Since then, Montero has accomplished all that McClendon set out for him.

“Now he can start concentrating on being a better baseball player,” McClendon said.

Zduriencik said he has never given up on Montero, but did acknowledge disappointment. Even if Montero continues to show improvement, the Mariners are not willing to guarantee he will have a future with the club.

Montero is essentially a designated hitter, and although he has put some time into learning first base, the Mariners aren’t in great need at that position. After signing Nelson Cruz this offseason to serve as the team’s primary designated hitter, it will be tough for the 25-year-old Venezuelan to crack the big leagues.

That won’t stop the Mariners from giving him an opportunity, though.

“The bottom line is, he’s still a part of this organization, we’ve got a lot invested in him and we certainly want him to be successful,” Zduriencik said. “He’s going to be given that opportunity.”

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Monday, January 26th, 2015 at 6:33 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran

Continuing our look at each individual player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next move to one of the great mysteries of the upcoming season. Can this guy still play at a high level? Was an injury to blame for his disappointing Yankees debut? Or is he simply finished, a borderline Hall of Famer no longer able to produce?

BeltranCARLOS BELTRAN

Age on Opening Day: 37 (turns 38 in late April)
Acquired: Signed as a free agent last winter
Added to the 40-man: The signing became official December 19

In the past: Beginning with his Rookie of the Year award in 1999, Beltran built a career that just might be enough for the Hall of Fame. At his peak, he was a Gold Glove center fielder who could hit for average, hit for power and steal bases. He bounced around a little — or a lot — and went through some injury problems, but at his best, Beltran could basically do it all. Last winter he signed a three-year deal with the Yankees and got off to a strong start before a bone spur in his elbow derailed the rest of his season.

Role in 2015: Right back where the Yankees planned to have him last season. Beltran is once again penciled in as the everyday right fielder, and based on the current makeup of the roster, the Yankees would clearly like to put him somewhere in the middle of the order, perhaps even back in the No. 3 spot. With few reliable power hitters in place, the Yankees have to hope that last year’s elbow problem was the cause of his .233/.301/.402 slash line: career lows for batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Best case scenario: As recently as 2013, Beltran was a .296/.339/.491 hitter. That’s probably the absolute best-case situation, that he can return to his level of production from just two years ago. Beltran was even better in 2012, and he was better still in 2011, but a repeat of 2013 would be plenty. It would certainly leave Beltran carrying his weight. He hit .263/.311/.516 last April before the elbow injury, so there’s some cause for hope.

Worst case scenario: After that strong start last season, Beltran’s numbers began to decline at the very end of April. From April 26 to May 12, he hit just .116/.220/.140. Then the elbow flared up and Beltran didn’t play again until June 5. From that point forward, he hit .233/.307/.389. The worst-case scenario is that the bone spur only partially explains those numbers, and Beltran simply can’t hit well enough to be a regular corner outfielder any more. There’s also the obvious threat of year another injury that could leave the Yankees trying to plug that hole again.

What the future holds: Aaron Judge is the top offensive prospect in the Yankees system, and he’s a right fielder. Tyler Austin got healthy and finished strong last season, and he too is a right fielder. With Judge in Double-A and Austin in Triple-A, the Yankees have potential replacements on the way, but Beltran is still signed for two more years. Ideally, he’ll bounce back and hold the fort until one of the young guys is ready, but clearly Beltran is not a part of the long-term future in the Bronx.

Associated Press photo

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Monday, January 26th, 2015 at 3:19 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

In defense of Hal Steinbrenner

Wil Myers

As I’ve written several times, the real point of our annual Pinch Hitters series is to bring a fresh perspective to the blog. I cover the team from one point of view: that of a beat writer who didn’t grow up following the Yankees. I’ve gotten to know several players and other people in the organization, but I have no emotional attachment to the franchise itself. There are players who I like and player who I want to succeed, but I don’t get excited when the Yankees win and I don’t get upset when they lose.

It’s really not possible for me to write from the point of view that Mitchell presented this morning.

That said, in the name of balance and finding another side to the story, let me play devil’s advocate a little bit. For whatever it’s worth, Hal Steinbrenner has never personally given me a single tidbit of true breaking news, and I could write here that he’s a total bozo without putting my credentials or access at risk. I’m simply trying to present a counterargument to Mitchell’s previous take.

A few points of debate from this morning’s post:

Royals Yankees Baseball1. I have a hard time knocking the Yankees for selling merchandise, selling ads, playing jingles at the stadium, or sending ticket offers to fans’ email addresses. These are such common practices at this point that I really can’t find fault in it, especially from an ownership group that has not sold the naming rights to one of America’s most well known stadiums (can you imagine how much money they could make off that?). A lot of people want Yankees gear, and a lot of companies want to align themselves with the organization. For many reasons — financial and otherwise — that’s great news for the Yankees; as is the overwhelming success of YES Network. As for the low-level seats, I think it’s a shame sports have drifted that direction, but that’s the way it is in the Bronx and beyond. In my opinion, ticket sales — especially for elite seats like that — have to be business driven, and if the Yankees find that they make more money by selling super-expensive, half-empty sections, I guess that says a lot about the way the “1 percenters” — as Mitchell called them — want to spend their money. Yes, the Yankees are giant business, but that was true long before Hal Streinbrenner was in charge. The Yankees’ business grew enormously under George Steinbrenner.

2. As for Hal, he’s operating under different rules than the ones George enjoyed during his free-spending days. The collective bargaining agreement successfully punishes teams for spending extreme amounts of money. With those methods of punishment in place, the Yankees are the only team to have consistently paid a luxury tax year after year, and they’ve done that under Hal. Because of the luxury tax, the cost of the Yankees payroll is far higher than the payroll itself. Almost every other team has never even come close to paying a luxury tax. The Yankees do it every year. This past year, they’ve also far exceeded their international spending pool, leading to yet another tax. Disincentives are in place and they’re significant, yet the Yankees continue to spend. I don’t think that should be casually dismissed.

3. Because the Yankees didn’t get into the Max Scherzer market, the Steinbrenners seem cheap this offseason. Yet it was only a year ago that they invested nearly a half billion dollars in new payroll. As Mitchell noted, there was some consideration toward trying to get under the luxury tax — a move that made enormous financial sense, and a move that the Yankees were poised to make because of Alex Rodriguez’s salary coming off the books for a while — yet the Yankees still blew past $189 million and spent lavishly on Masahiro Tanaka last winter. That decision wasn’t made in the name of cutting payroll; it was made in the name of building a contender at a very high cost. And those moves didn’t happen in some long-forgotten past life. It was last year. Under Hal. The Yankees also had that massive offseason of 2008 which directly led to a 2009 championship, and two years after that, it was ownership — not baseball operations — that pushed for a significant investment into Rafael Soriano. The current Yankees ownership isn’t always pulling back the reins.

Jacoby Ellsbury4. I have to disagree with the notion that Hal “decided to change the Yankees’ spending habits cold turkey, not taking into account that the Yankees’ payroll was laden with bad contracts.” If that were the case, there’s no way Chase Headley or Andrew Miller would be here. The Yankees would simply have to deal with Alex Rodriguez at third base (for better or worse) and they’d have to get by with whatever their in-house pitchers can provide. More significant than Headley or Miller, changing spending habits cold turkey would have ruled out the Tanaka and Jacoby Ellsbury deals from last winter. Those were Boss-type signings in basically every way. Passing on Robinson Cano? That seemed to be an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 10-year mistake with A-Rod (whose current massive contract, by the way, was orchestrated by George’s sons, not by George himself).

5. For a long time, the Yankees thoroughly separated themselves in terms of payroll. But other teams have signed into lucrative television contracts, and revenue sharing has helped build some parity in the game, and so the gap is no longer as overwhelming as it used to be. The Dodgers are now spending money at the Yankees’ level, but there’s a pretty substantial gap between those two teams and the rest of baseball. Mitchell pointed out that 15 other teams seem poised to spend more than $120 million this season, but if that’s the cutoff, then the Yankees are over that figure by basically $100 million! That’s a giant gap. If $100 million isn’t a giant gap, why is anyone worried about the Yankees trying to cut something closer to $30 million to get below the luxury tax? If the Red Sox are such heavy spenders, why is Hal Steinbrenner such a financial monster for wanting to get his payroll down to roughly the Red Sox number?

6. Ultimately, there has to be a recognition of both sides. Ownership has to recognize that it has entered into the business of winning and losing, and earning the fans’ trust requires financial commitment. Fans and baseball decision makers have to realize that their team is a part of a larger business, and that means financial considerations have to come into play. There is a financial reason for not entering into a seven-year, $210 million contract with a starting pitcher like Scherzer, but there’s also a baseball reason not to make that deal (committing to Scherzer for that long means being tied to his performance for that long, enduring any decline or injury that might happen along the way). Not signing Scherzer doesn’t make the Yankees cheap, nor does the current payroll make the Yankees cheap. What will make the Yankees a championship-caliber team again? Spending money, of course, but spending it wisely. Getting younger, naturally, but only if those young players can actually contribute. The Yankees have to make decisions that make baseball sense, but we can’t be shocked or offended that those decisions must make business sense as well.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Monday, January 26th, 2015 at 12:02 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Mitchell Bard

Astros Yankees Baseball

Up next in our Pinch Hitters series is Mitchell Bard, an assistant professor of journalism at Iona College. He is a life-long Yankee fan who attended his first game at the age of 4 in 1971, and he still remembers it well: “the Yanks lost 1-0 on a ninth-inning, seeing-eye single by Sal Bando past the outstretched glove of Gene Michael,” he wrote, “but at least Bobby Murcer had three hits.” Mitchell has attended hundreds of games since and still has a Friday night Yankees ticket plan.

For his post, though, he wrote about why Yankees fans might not be flocking to the stadium quite so often this season. He calls his post: We had a deal, Hal.

Hal SteinbrennerHal Steinbrenner has to know that the Yankees’ business model of the past 20 or so years has been built on an unstated — but nonetheless understood — contract between the New York Yankees and their fans.

On the one hand, Yankees fans allow the Steinbrenners to monetize every inch of the Yankee world (short of selling naming rights to the stadium) without complaint. We pay higher prices for tickets and concessions at the new Yankee Stadium. We endure a new stadium that has a moat separating the 1 percenters from the masses, while pushing most middle-class Yankees fans into the upper deck. We turn the other way as every available space in Yankee Stadium, including the retro hand-operated scoreboards, is covered with ads. We pretend we don’t hear the PC Richard jingle when a Yankees pitcher strikes out an opponent, or the Modell’s theme song when a Yankees base runner steals a base. We quietly delete the mass of emails we get from the Yankees trying to get us to buy tickets for a lower-tier bowl game, a concert, or a soccer game at Yankee Stadium. And we willfully disassociate what we pay for cable with the enormous rights fees the Yankees collect from YES Network.

In short, we are on board with the Yankees making a fortune.

Why do we do it? Because, in return, the Steinbrenners agreed to keep one promise: They use their fortune to pay for a championship contending team on the field, year after year.

This wasn’t a charitable endeavor for the Steinbrenners. When the Yankees are winning, Yankee Stadium is filled and YES ratings are high. I don’t think the Yankees would be successful getting people to pay more than $40,000 for a season ticket to see a consistently .500 team — just ask the Wilpons about their equally new but underfilled stadium in Queens.

The Yankees didn’t spend on players; they invested in players. Big difference.

But Hal has decided to go back on this two-decade-old bargain. It started two years ago with rumblings that the Yankees would try to get payroll below the $189-million luxury tax threshold before the 2014 season. In fact, Hal said they would have done it if not for the opportunity to sign Tanaka. The pursuit of $189 led to short-term, low-impact contracts like those for Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner before the 2013 season. It meant going into the 2014 season with Kelly Johnson, Yangervis Solarte and Brian Roberts the options to man second and third base. Not surprisingly, the Yankees failed to make the playoffs both seasons, only the second and third time in the last 20 years.

But Hal, we had a deal.

Blue Jays Yankees BaseballHal loves to say that the results of the World Series the last few years show that you don’t need a $200+ million payroll to win a championship. That statement, taken on its own, is certainly true. But, in context, it is also disingenuous.

First, Hal cut the Yankees’ payroll at the exact time that teams around the league were spending a lot more due to increased local television revenue and limits in the CBA on investing in international amateur free agents and players in the U.S. amateur draft. Bad timing.

Second, Hal decided to change the Yankees’ spending habits cold turkey, not taking into account that the Yankees’ payroll was laden with bad contracts that were producing little or no value to the club (A-Rod, Teixeira and Sabathia combine for a more than $70 million luxury tax hit for 2015, even as they could end up contributing next to nothing on the field this season).

On Jan. 14, Hal said something that illustrates the problem: “We started out with a payroll that was already high before we did anything. We knew we had a certain amount of dollars to work with, and I think Cash did a great job.”

There are two big problems with Hal’s statement.

First, “high” relative to what? Not relative to what the Yankees earn, and not relative to where the gap between the Yankees and the rest of the league traditionally stood.

As of this writing, Baseball Reference has the Yankee estimated 2015 payroll at $213.9 million. The Dodgers, though, are at $264.6 million, and the Red Sox, who still have money to spend, stand at $181.4 million. The Tigers are spending $170.9 million, the Giants are at $160.5 million (and still could sign Shields), the Angels are at $146.6 million (and still have arbitration eligible players to sign) and Washington was already at $141.8 million before signing Max Scherzer.

No less than 15 non-Yankee teams are spending over $120 million.

So how is Hal keeping up with his end of the bargain? By spending $11 million more than the Red Sox (who, again, may not be done) and $50 million less than the Dodgers?

Second, why did the Yankees only have “a certain number of dollars to work with” this offseason? That figure is not based on keeping the Yankees afloat, but on an arbitrary number of how much Hal wants to make in profit this year. Kiley McDaniel wrote in November that a Yankee source told him the Yankees “could break even financially with a $500 million payroll expenditure (including luxury tax).” We don’t know if that number is precisely correct, but it is quite apparent that the Yankees take in a huge amount of income, and, again, the fans are a big part of that. So why does the budget have to be kept to Hal’s arbitrary number? So he and his partners can make more money?

That’s not the contract, though. To make the crazy money from the fans, the deal is for the Yankees to spend a lot of it on the field.

And are the 2015 Yankees better? If Andrew Miller is better than David Robertson, great. But I really don’t want to hear that they saved $2.5 million a year in making the swap. I don’t go to the games to see Hal earn $2.5 million more.

One last point: This piece is not to say the Yankees should have signed Scherzer or Lester or should necessarily pile more long-term contracts onto the roster. The dynasty teams didn’t just spend, they spent wisely (mostly). But there is a lot of gray area between the absolutes of Scherzer v. Capuano or Cano v. Roberts. Going into the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons, the Yanks could have spent more and spent wisely.

The bottom line is that Hal wants to charge Jean Georges prices but serve TGIF meals. But the basis for the Yankees’ ability to charge so much has been the team’s on-field success. Hal seems to have forgotten that part.

We had a deal, Hal. Live up to your end of it, or Yankee fans may stop living up to ours.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Monday, January 26th, 2015 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Branden Pinder

Pinder1

Next up in our look at the Yankees’ players on the 40-man roster is a guy who’s somewhat similar to yesterday’s 40-man spotlight, Chris Martin. This is another tall right-handed reliever who could compete for a big league job in spring training. The big difference is that this Yankee was drafted by the organization, developed in the minor league system, and has risen slowly to the brink of his first major league opportunity.

PinderBRANDEN PINDER

Age on Opening Day: 26
Acquired: 16th-round pick in the 2011 draft
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 this winter

In the past: One of many college pitchers the Yankees have drafted in recent years, Pinder was drafted five rounds after Mark Montgomery, and has since passed Montgomery on the organizational depth chart. As an older prospect, Pinder opened in High-A for his first full season of pro ball and he got to Triple-A last season. Pinder is coming off another pretty solid year, but he was limited to 39.1 innings because of injury.

Role in 2015: With Triple-A experience and a spot on the 40-man, there’s clearly a chance Pinder could make his major-league debut this season. But he’s one of many who fit that description. It seems fair to lump Pinder in with Martin, Danny Burawa and Jose Ramirez. Could even group him with a 40-man starter like Chase Whitley, a lefty like Chasen Shreve, or non-40-man guys like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow. Any of those guys could win a spot in New York at some point, depends on need and performance. Most like, Pinder is heading back to Triple-A to open the year.

Best case scenario: Pinder’s a really big guy and he’s had basically a strikeout per inning in the minor leagues. He’s not an elite prospect, but he’s not a non-prospect either. Every organization seems to have a few guys like this, and while the Yankees would probably be happy with Pinder simply solidifying himself as a guy who can plug a bullpen hole from time to time, the best-case scenario is that he emerges as a guy who keeps getting more and more opportunities in bigger and bigger situations. Future closer? Maybe not. Future setup man? That’s probably the absolute best-case scenario.

Worst case scenario: For several years, Pinder was in the shadow of his fellow 2011 draftee Montgomery, who established himself in the lower levels as the Yankees top bullpen prospect. Montgomery, though, lost some velocity and saw his numbers decline in the upper levels. Pinder has just 13 games of Triple-A experience, so the worst-case scenario probably involves him disappearing against that upper-level competition and joining the long line of relief prospects who never quite break through.

What the future holds: First year on the 40-man means Pinder still has three options remaining. He could shuttle back and forth between New York and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre every year from now through 2017, and even after 2017, the Yankees would still have him under team control. He’ll be an easy guy for the Yankees to keep around if he’s effective and worth the roster spot.

Associated Press photo

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Sunday, January 25th, 2015 at 1:24 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Chase Madorsky

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Chase Madorsky, a freshman at UCLA who’s from Livingston, N.J.. “Growing up,” he wrote, “baseball was my life, as I played rec-baseball through my junior year of high school, coached my senior year — a championship team — and even umpired to make money. My bedroom is plastered with baseball memorabilia and over 50,000 baseball cards, but the only thing stronger than my love of the game is my love of the Yankees.” Chase said that attending Game 2 of the 2003 World Series was one of the defining memories of his childhood, and participating in the sixth-inning Yankees trivia at the stadium remains one of the greatest moments of his life. He’d like to go into sports journalism or some sort of broadcasting after college. For now, his guest post is about a day of tragedy becoming a day of happiness.

large_thump_munson-1Being born in 1996, the only sports “Captain” who has ever mattered to me is the man I spent my entire life watching at shortstop, the one and only Derek Jeter. Yet four decades ago, another young man from New Jersey — my father Michael — worshiped the man he knew to be “The Captain,” Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.

Debuting with the Yankees in 1969, Munson made his mark immediately in the Bronx. He won the 1970 Rookie of the Year award, the 1976 American League Most Valuable Player award, and he was named the first Yankees captain since the Iron Horse himself, Lou Gehrig. Munson was known for his grit — taking part in a now legendary brawl with Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, his rival and All-Star Game contemporary — outstanding defensive skills, and his ability to play through injury. Yet in Yankees lure, Munson will be forever remembered for bringing the Commissioner’s Trophy back to Yankee Stadium in 1977, and then again in 1978.

Yet, for all of his outstanding attributes, what stood out about Munson more than anything was his dedication to his family. By 1979, Munson made his desire to be traded to the Cleveland Indians public. He wanted to spend more time with his wife Diana and their three children. It was this intense love for his family that led Munson to obtain a pilot’s license, and on August 2, 1979, Munson was practicing takeoffs at the Akron-Canton airport so that he could fly home to his family on off days. On his third landing, the plane Munson was piloting clipped a tree, causing the aircraft to fall short of the runway and burst into flames. Just like that, the man who had come to embody the Yankees’ dynasty of the 1970s was no more.

For a 13-year-old kid spending the summer at Camp Scatico in Elizaville, N.Y., news of his hero’s death was devastating to my father. This was the man that my father had worn number 15 in honor of his entire life — he would later pass that number on to his sons — and August 2 soon became what my dad would describe as, “the worst day of the year.”

Munson’s memory never left my father. He even went so far as to name our first dog Munson. For 17 years, August 2 represented the saddest day of my father’s childhood, as the death of an idol is never easy to take, especially for a teenager.

Yet out of sadness came hope.

In 1996, my parents found out they were pregnant with their first child, and that the baby would be due in early August.

As if on cue, I was born August 2, 1996, 17 years to the date after Munson’s accident. What was formerly a day of sadness turned into what my dad now calls the happiest moment of his life, as not only would he be able to celebrate the day his son came into the world each year, but he would get to do so knowing that his grief over his hero’s death could be put to rest.

To my family, Thurman Munson had more of an impact than Munson himself could have ever known. Aside from the noticeable tribute of every recreational and travel baseball jersey I have ever worn bearing the number 15, Munson showed my father how to play the game of baseball the right way, and he sparked that initial love of America’s past time that I proudly carry on today. Munson embodied what a captain should be, and although it ultimately cost him his life, he taught fans across the country life’s most important lesson: family comes first.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Sunday, January 25th, 2015 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Week in review: Longevity a key issue as Yankees go forward

Mariano Rivera

Didn’t really expect to run a Mariano Rivera post as part of this year’s Pinch Hitters series, but I actually thought Mark’s post this morning carried some weight this winter.

Mark wrote about Rivera’s longevity, and as the Yankees look ahead to the 2015 season, longevity just might be their biggest issue. Their major investments this offseason were four-year deals with Andrew Miller and Chase Headley, but their most significant investments remain the multi-year contracts signed during past offseasons.

The longevity of Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia — their ability to remain productive, or become productive again, late in their careers — will be key to the Yankees season.

Andy Pettitte found a way to do it. Derek Jeter did it until the very end. Rivera, as Mark noted, did it consistently from start to finish.

A post about Mariano Rivera might not have seemed like a strong fit for this offseason, but a post about longevity and late-career consistency absolutely fits with the Yankees current roster.

As for the major Yankees events of the past week…

Max Scherzer, Matt Williams, Mike Rizzo• The big news of the week was the signing of Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210-million deal with the Nationals. The agreement officially ends any speculation that the Yankees might get into the Scherzer sweepstakes. It’s also a massive contract that will actually be paid out over the course of 14 years instead of seven. Scherzer’s signing leaves James Shields as the only real standout left on the free agent market.

• Bringing back the kind of eye-rolling attention he’s mostly avoided during the past year, it was reported this week that Alex Rodriguez has worked out with Barry Bonds this offseason. Rodriguez has also reportedly worked with Edgar Martinez as he tries to regain his form after a year-long suspension. Rodriguez is hardly the first big league hitter to get tips from Bonds, but obviously it generates some attention when two of the game’s most notorious PED users are working together.

• The Yankees have held a private workout for Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, who could get the largest signing bonus ever given to an international amateur. The 19-year-old infielder will likely become on of baseball’s top 25 prospects upon signing, but he still has to be cleared by the government to become truly available. The Yankees are believed to be one of the favorites to get him.

• Reliever Gonzalez Germen was designated for assignment after the Yankees acquired Chris Martin. This week, the Yankees sold his rights to Texas, which promptly designated him for assignment after acquiring a new catcher. Quite a winter for Gonzalez, who entered this offseason as a member of the Mets.

• YES Network officially announced that it’s reached an agreement to switch over-the-air broadcasts from MY9 to WPIX, which is Channel 11. PIX11 will televise approximately 20 games this season, and its broadcast schedule will be announced at a later date.

• Speaking of broadcasts, Yankees radio play-by-play man John Sterling’s apartment building was hit by a massive fire on Wednesday night. Sterling was not hurt and was just returning home as the fire began to engulf the building.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Saturday, January 24th, 2015 at 6:12 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Chris Martin

Chris Martin

Up next in our series on every player on the 40-man roster is the Yankees’ newest reliever, a tall right-hander who could make the team out of spring training or serve as bullpen depth in Triple-A.

MartinCHRIS MARTIN

Age on Opening Day: 28
Acquired: Purchased from the Rockies this month
Added to the 40-man: Officially added January 13

In the past: Out of baseball following a mid-2000s labrum injury, Martin was stocking shelves in Texas when a game of catch led to an independent league tryout, which led to a minor league contract, which led to last year’s big league debut with the Rockies. Standing 6-foot-8 with a mid-90s fastball, Martin got into 16 big leagues games and put up pretty good numbers when he wasn’t pitching in Denver. The Yankees purchased his right after he was designated for assignment earlier this winter.

Role in 2015: Martin has options, so he looks like a back-and-forth reliever who could shuttle between New York and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He’s basically the new version of Preston Claiborne: he could make the Yankees out of spring training, could come up in the middle of the season, or he might never see Yankee Stadium. He was a depth addition with a big arm that the Yankees obviously like.

Best case scenario: It’s a bit of a strange situation given Martin’s background. He turns 29 in June, but he has just four years in affiliated ball. With his velocity and groundball tendency, Martin could be a solid reliever in short stints (his Triple-A strikeout numbers are pretty good). Absolute best-case scenario might be a Shawn Kelley situation in which he goes from last man in the pen to becoming a valuable strikeout guy who can fill a setup role if necessary. As long as he can simply get outs in the sixth inning, though, the Yankees would have to be pretty happy.

Worst case scenario: As with most relievers like this, the worst-cast scenario probably involves a brief big league call-up, a brutal outing or two, and ultimately a DFA to make room for someone else to give it a shot. It would add insult if either Claiborne of Gonzalez Germen — the two guys who basically had this roster spot before Martin — thrives this season while Martin struggles.

What the future holds: The Yankees control Martin well into his 30s, so his future with the organization really depends entirely on his own performance. If he turns that raw velocity into consistent outs, the Yankees could keep him around for a while and let him fill a bullpen role at little more than the league minimum salary. If they want to cut bait, they could also do that. His future is basically whatever he makes it, but there’s a lot of upper-level bullpen depth that could quickly overshadow him.

Associated Press photo

 

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Saturday, January 24th, 2015 at 1:39 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Mark Braff

Mariano Rivera

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Mark Braff, who describes himself as “a loyal Yankees fan since 1965.” Mark wrote that, as he watched Steve Whitaker, Horace Clarke, Roger Repoz and Co. in those early days, he could hardly imagine the pennants and championships to come in the next few decades. True story, in a follow-up email sent just yesterday, Mark wrote the following: “One thing that can be added to my bio (if it’s not too late) is that my favorite Yankee of all-time is Mel Stottlemyre. I sponsor his page on Baseball Reference. I’m always looking to give Stott a shout-out since his very noteworthy pitching accomplishments have been largely lost in the haze of the ‘down years’ from ’65-75.” So there ya go, Mark’s a big Stott fan.

Truth be told, Mark’s post was supposed to run next week, but I liked it as a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the Yankees year-by-year WAR leaders. For his post, Mark wrote about one of the players featured prominently on yesterday’s graphic, and he attempted to answer this question: What made Mariano Rivera so exceptional?

Mariano RiveraThere are few baseball fans and insiders who would argue against the statement that Mariano Rivera was the greatest relief pitcher of all-time. And yet in 2012 and again in 2014, we saw that Rivera was more or less replaceable as Rafael Soriano and then David Robertson admirably filled the closer’s role for the Yankees.

So how could someone who is the consensus choice as “best ever” be so seamlessly replaced?

The answer lies in Rivera’s longevity and postseason greatness; his ability to remain at the top of his craft for such a prolonged period of time and to take his game to an other-worldly level in the playoffs.

In any given regular season during Rivera’s remarkable run as the Yankees’ closer from 1997 through 2013, there were other closers around baseball who were just as good, and in some cases even better. But with one exception (more on that in a moment) Rivera was unique in standing among the very best closers in the game for the full 16-year period.

To illustrate the point I thought it would be interesting to look at the top five saves leaders for each of those 16 years (actually 15 since Rivera was injured for almost all of 2012). Saves are not the be-all-and-end-all yardstick to determine a relief pitcher’s value, but for this exercise it serves as a useful metric to get a snapshot of baseball’s premier closers at any given time.

So let’s take a look:

1997 - Randy Myers (45), Rivera (44), Jeff Shaw (42), Trevor Hoffman (37), Rod Beck (37).

1998 - Hoffman (53), Beck (51), Shaw (48), Tom Gordon (46), Troy Percival (42), John Wetteland (42). Rivera had 36.

1999 - Rivera (45), Wetteland (43), Roberto Hernandez (43), Ugueth Urbina (4), Hoffman (40).

2000 - Antonio Alfonseca (45), Hoffman (43), Todd Jones (42), Derek Lowe (42), Robb Nen (41), Armando Benitez (41). Rivera had 36.

2001 - Rivera (50), Kazuhiro Sasaki (45), Nen (45), Benitez (43), Hoffman (43), Shaw (43).

2002 - John Smoltz (55), Eric Gagne (52), Mike Williams (46), Jose Mesa (45), Eddie Guardado (45). Rivera had 28.

2003 - Gagne (55), Smoltz (45), Billy Wagner (44), Keith Foulke (43), Guardado (41). Rivera had 40.

2004 - Rivera (53), Francisco Cordero (49), Jason Isringhausen (47), Benitez (47), Gagne (45).

2005 - Cordero (47), Francisco Rodriguez (45), Bob Wickman (45), Rivera (43), Hoffman (43), Joe Nathan (43).

2006 - Rodriguez (47), Hoffman (46), Bobby Jenks (41), Wagner (40), B.J. Ryan (38). Rivera had 34.

2007 - Jose Valverde (47), Joe Borowski (45), Cordero (44), Hoffman (42), Rodriguez (40), Jenks (40), J.J. Putz (40). Rivera had 30.

2008 - Rodriguez (62), Valverde (44), Joakim Soria (42), Jonathan Papelbon (41), Brian Wilson (41), Brad Lidge (41). Rivera had 39.

2009 - Brian Fuentes (48), Nathan (47), Rivera (44), Heath Bell (42), Cordero (39).

2010 - Wilson (48), Bell (47), Soriano (45), Soria (43), Matt Capps (42). Rivera had 33.

2011 - Valverde (49), Craig Kimbrel (46), John Axford (46), Putz (45), Rivera (44).

2012 - Rivera injured in May.

2013 - Kimbrel (50), Jim Johnson (50), Greg Holland (47), Rivera (44), Soriano (43), Nathan (43).

Some of these names read like a list of ghosts from closers past. Ugueth Urbina? Todd Jones? Keith Foulke? Even former Yankee great — note: I refer to all former Yankees as “former Yankee great” — Bob Wickman!

In fairness, the one exception mentioned earlier — Trevor Hoffman — had a long and distinguished career as San Diego’s closer from 1994-2009; a great run.

But here’s where I’ll throw in the tiebreaker which tilts in Rivera’s favor: Hoffman was very pedestrian in his four years appearing in the postseason, while Rivera pitched to an astounding 0.70 ERA in October across 96 games and 141 innings with 42 saves. Postseason opposing lineups, by definition, are generally among the best and deepest in the game, and of course the late innings of these games are pressure-cookers. And yet Rivera somehow elevated his performance.

And, so, while it’s true that Mariano Rivera has proven to be replaceable for any given regular season, I think it’s also safe to say that his longevity as a premiere closer, combined with his astonishing postseason performance, make him the greatest shut-down reliever we are ever likely to see.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Saturday, January 24th, 2015 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post


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