The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


Archive for December, 2012

New Years Eve reminder: Still looking for pinch hitters12.31.12

Hope everyone has terrific things going on this New Years Eve. I’ll be ringing in the new year with a bunch of old friends who have kids, so there is some very real talk of declaring 10 p.m. to be our official start of 2013. I’m voting against it, but then again, I’m a baseball writer who’s quite used to being awake well past midnight. I’m in the minority here.

To all of you, I hope 2012 brought some good times and I hope 2013 brings even more of them. Maybe it will bring a remarkable career resurgence for Alex Rodriguez, a team-friendly contract for Robinson Cano, a bit of consistency for Eduardo Nunez, and a big league debut for Tyler Austin. 

A bit optimistic? Sure. But it’s New Years Eve.

Also…

A quick reminder that we’re still taking proposals for our annual Pinch Hitters series, which will start next month. There’s still one more week to submit your ideas — the deadline is Sunday, January 6 — so email me at cjennings (at) lohud.com with the basic idea of what you’d like to write. I’ll start sorting through everything in the next few days, and I’ll start emailing those chosen for the series next week. Proposals should be just a paragraph or two explaining your idea. The finished product should be roughly 400-500 words. Thank you to all of  you who have already submitted ideas. There’s a lot of good stuff in there already.

Happy New Year everyone.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 261 Comments →

Looking back: Lessons learned12.31.12

What do we know on the last day of 2012 that we didn’t know on the last day of 2011?

Here are 10 things we learned in the past year.

Alex Rodriguez is less dependable than ever
Last winter, there was hope. Rodriguez was finally healthy, he was going to have a full offseason of regular training and he showed up in spring training full of optimism. I honestly believed he was going to have a good year, and his slugging percentage was climbing month by month until that broken hand at the end of July. After that, it was the long recovery, then the horrible production down the stretch, then the postseason on the bench, then news of another hip surgery. Optimism for Rodriguez is hard to find these days.

Ichiro Suzuki could finish his career with the Yankees
Think about that. Could you have predicted that a year ago? After two months with the Yankees late last season, Ichiro has now signed a two-year contract that means the Yankees will be a very real part of his American legacy. Granted, he’ll go into the Hall of Fame with a Mariners cap — and he’ll be remembered as a Mariners player — but there’s at least an outside chance that he’ll reach 3,000 hits with the Yankees, and many of those end-of-his-career images will be in Yankees pinstripes. He’s one of the most interesting players in the sport’s history, and he’ll be forever linked with this franchise.

Chris Stewart might be the Yankees Opening Day catcher
Yep. Could happen. I actually like Stewart, but I can’t say I could have predicted this a year ago.

Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes have swapped places
A year ago, it was Nova who was coming off a strong second half while Hughes was coming off an injury-filled disappointment. Today, it’s Hughes who’s coming off a strong second half and Nova whose season was nearly a complete bust. Because Hughes has been around for so long, it’s easy to forget that he’s less than a year older than Nova. The potential for growth isn’t significantly different between these two, and now it’s Hughes who seems locked into a rotation spot while Nova will have to prove himself all over again come spring training.  

Mariano Rivera is human
After doing so many superhuman things, it was a routine batting practice fly ball that finally broke the greatest closer of all time. He can fall down, just like everyone else. Perhaps the lesson we really learned from Rivera’s torn ACL is that the Yankees can — and inevitably will – move on without him. Rivera had been a constant for the better part of two decades, and despite many young pitchers being projected as his heir, last season he passed the torch to a short-term fill-in who has since opted out of the organization. The lesson: At some point, Rivera’s career is going to truly end, and there’s really no way to perfectly prepare for it. Just stock up on quality arms and see what happens.

David Aardsma; Kevin Youkilis; Hiroki Kuroda; Michael Pineda; Ichiro Suzuki
It’s worth noting that, one year ago, these players had absolutely no connection to the Yankees.

Impact pitchers are hard to find
Maybe we knew this a year ago — actually, I’m certain we knew this a year ago — but consider these events of the past year: Pineda had shoulder surgery, Manny Banuelos had elbow surgery, Jose Campos was shut down, Dellin Betances was demoted, Nova was left off the postseason roster and Andrew Brackman had his career further disintegrate as a member of the Reds minor league system.

Impact bats should be on the way
Prospects are suspects. That’s the saying, and it’s absolutely accurate. But for the first time in a long time, the Yankees farm system has multiple position prospect — legitimate guys who could have a big league impact — who are only a couple of years away. At this time last year, the system was all about Jesus Montero. Two years before that, it was Austin Jackson who was on the verge. Now the Yankees have Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott and Gary Sanchez who could certainly be in Double-A and maybe Triple-A by the end of the season. And given the Yankees financial approach, there’s actually reason to believe they might actually keep a few of them. The Yankees minor league pitching took a significant step backwards in the past 12 months, but the top hitting prospects stepped forward.

Derek Jeter has some tricks up his sleeve
Here’s the thing about Jeter: He is already among the most respected and revered players in the game. We all know he’s a Hall of Famer. We all know he’s the face of the franchise. We all know he’s surprised us in the past. But this year Jeter showed us something new; an ability to truly bounce back from disappointment. It started at the end of 2011 — and that second half gave a glimmer of hope at this time last year — but the season he delivered in 2012 was a true milestone in his career. It wasn’t his best year, but it was the year that proved he could still be an elite player even after so many had dismissed him. We already knew everything we needed to know about Jeter, yet he still found a way to surprise us. 

The fiscal cliff is real
For the Yankees, the fiscal cliff hits in 2014, when payroll will not go beyond the $189 million luxury tax threshold. It can go right up to that point, but beyond it, there’s no wiggle room. A year ago, we knew about this plan, but in the past year — past two months, really — it’s become increasingly evident that the Yankees truly plan to stick with it. They’ve limited long-term spending this offseason, and in the past 12 months both Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have made public statements about trimming payroll. It’s going to happen, and that reality has settled in during the past year. What that means for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson is still a mystery.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 348 Comments →

Looking back: What worked and didn’t work12.31.12

The time for discussing team MVP and team Cy Young passed months ago. There’s little sense bringing up the obvious postseason disappointment and injury frustration. At this point, it seems more important to look back at what worked and what didn’t work; what had an impact and what fell flat.  

Best move
January 13 has been etched in our memories because of the Michael Pineda trade, but it was also the day Hiroki Kuroda signed his one-year deal. He wound up pitching more innings than ever in his career, and for a significant stretch of the season he pitched like a Cy Young candidate. This was a season when CC Sabathia went on the disabled list twice, Andy Pettitte missed a ton of time with his ankle injury, and Ivan Nova took a significant step back. The rotation needed someone to lead it, and Kuroda did just that. Last winter was fairly quiet except for one day, and that one day did have a significant silver lining.
Worth mentioning: Sticking with Raul Ibanez; giving David Phelps a chance; trading for Ichiro Suzuki; dumping A.J. Burnett.

Worst move
It’s too easy to chose the Pineda trade. Truth is, the Yankees rotation isn’t the reason they were knocked out of the postseason, and Jesus Montero didn’t do enough this season to suggest he would have made a difference. Long-term, that deal looks bad, but for this season it wasn’t crushing. What hurt the Yankees in the end was making Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce their big power-bat additions. Alex Rodriguez was a shell of his former self, Mark Teixeira was hurt late in the year and Curtis Granderson had a bad second half. Ichiro helped, and Ibanez came up big, but the offense disappeared at the worst possible time.
Worth mentioning: Giving up Justin Maxwell; sticking with Andruw Jones; not trading Dellin Betances when his value was high.  

Greatest surprise
Frankly, there were a lot of pleasant surprises on this team. The Yankees found some minor league free agents and signed some cheap big league deals that had a real impact, but the surprise that kept giving and made the greatest difference was the return of Derek Jeter as a superstar. Hard to call a Hall of Famer a big surprise, but Jeter had been dismissed for a year and a half before showing signs of getting back on track late in 2011. This season was his return to the game’s elite, legitimately one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. And he just kept doing it until his ankle wouldn’t let him do it any more.
Worth mentioning: Ichiro Suzuki’s final month; Eric Chavez’s steady production; the arrival of David Phelps; the emergence of Tyler Austin.

Greatest disappointment
Maybe this is where Michael Pineda truly fits. There was so much expectation considering the cost and the potential, and to have Pineda go down without throwing a single meaningful pitch created immediate disappointment and long-term concern. He might never be the pitcher the Yankees expected. In a year full of long-term injuries – Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira —  the Pineda injury wasn’t necessarily the most crushing blow, but it was the most disappointing because of all the factors attached: The trade, the loss of Montero and the promise of strong arm wiped out by a faulty shoulder.
Worth mentioning: Brett Gardner’s many setbacks; Russell Martin’s batting average; Ivan Nova’s season; Robinson Cano’s postseason.

Bigger impact than expected
The best answer here is probably Rafael Soriano, but we’ll get to that in just a moment. In their own ways, guys like Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes also made an impact beyond expectation, but those guys were each expected to play a significant role to begin with. The one who stands out as clearly exceeding expectation is Eric Chavez, if only because he opened the season with no role whatsoever. Eduardo Nunez was supposed to get regular at-bats against lefties, and Chavez was supposed to be a qualify left-handed bat off the bench. Instead, the Yankees needed someone to get regular at-bats as a designated hitter and third baseman, and Chavez stayed healthy enough to deliver a standout season as a regular platoon player that the Yankees truly needed.
Worth mentioning: Raul Ibanez down the stretch; Jayson Nix on a minor league deal; Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada in very specific and occasionally crucial situations. 

Smaller impact than expected
Do you remember the sense around the team when Mariano Rivera crashed to the warning track? At the time, the Yankees were barely a .500 club, and losing the game’s greatest closer — in the season that many believed would be his last — seemed too much. It was hard to imagine a bigger blow. But the Yankees had Rafael Soriano, and frankly, the Yankees bullpen remained a strength even without Rivera (and for about a month, without either Rivera or Dave Robertson). Can’t understate the brilliance of Rivera, but the Yankees were actually able to move on without him.
Worth mentioning: Eduardo Nunez failing in the field; Russell Martin’s batting average; Freddy Garcia’s step backward 

Risk that paid off
Sometimes the risk comes from doing nothing, and last season the Yankees took a risk when they let Phil Hughes work through his early struggles. He was coming off a lost year and had a 5.64 ERA at the end of May. The Yankees yanked Freddy Garcia from the rotation early enough that he didn’t do much harm, but they let Hughes keep going, and he delivered with a 3.70 ERA in his final 22 starts. He found a new slider/cutter hybrid that was effective, and he showed improved comfort with his changeup. Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda were the only Yankees to make at least 30 starts, and that only happened because the Yankees let Hughes work through some early trouble.
Worth mentioning: Trading for Ichiro Suzuki; getting Andy Pettitte out of retirement; being aggressive with Tyler Austin and Chase Whitley

Patience that didn’t pay off
Andruw Jones kept getting at-bats. There’s not much more to say about the situation. The Yankees needed a right-handed outfielder, Jones was the guy chosen for the job, and despite his constant struggles, his role never changed until the very, very, very end of the season. He finished with a .197 batting average, and more than a quarter of his home runs came during one three-game series in Boston.
Worth mentioning: Alex Rodriguez in the middle of the order; waiting for Joba Chamberlain as an immediate bullpen boost; the early medical diagnosis of Manny Banuelos

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 583 Comments →

Looking back: Month by month through 201212.31.12

Last day of the year, might as well look back.

There are plenty of ways to do year in review stuff, and I’ll probably approach it a few different ways today. For starters, let’s focus on one standout moment from each month. I tried to go with things that jumped to my mind rather than dig too deep and pinpoint the most important or most significant moments from each month. These are nothing more or less than the month-by-month events that stood out to me.

January
The trade
Early in the evening, I’d just sat down to dinner when the news began to break. The Yankees made two moves on the night of January 13, and if you were looking for immediate impact, it was the signing of Hiroki Kuroda that mattered most. If you were looking for a splash that we’ll talk about for years to come, it was the trade of Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda that made waves. There were other names involved, but Montero was the star prospect and Pineda was a few months from season-ending surgery. I was stunned then. I’m stunned today.

February
Moving on
Spring training was about to start, and everyone knew the Yankees wanted to trade A.J. Burnett. The deal came through right before camp opened. The Yankees had to pay a significant part of Burnett’s salary, they got two incredibly minor prospects in return, and everyone was finally able to move on after Burnett’s two brutal years in the Yankees rotation (he’d been pretty valuable his first year with the team). The Yankees had other rotation options already under contract. Burnett got to Pittsburgh and pitched to 16 wins and a 3.51 ERA.

March
Andy’s back
When I saw Jack Curry’s tweet, I thought it was either a joke or absolute proof that someone had hacked his account. Andy Pettitte was coming back? Just a few weeks after he’d been a special instructor? No chance. No way. But, of course, Jack was right, and within a few days Pettitte was back in camp as a starting pitcher. At the time, the Yankees seemed to have more starters than they needed (they still didn’t know about the Pineda injury) and absolutely no one seemed to know for certain whether Pettitte could still pitch effectively in the big leagues. Within a few months, Pettitte was reviving the Yankees rotation and proving himself all over again.

April
Boston massacre
The season’s first trip to Boston, second game at Fenway, and the Yankees were losing 9-0 after five innings. Freddy Garcia and David Phelps had been knocked around, and Felix Doubront was working on a shutout. Then Mark Teixeira homered in the sixth inning. Then Nick Swisher hit a grand slam and Teixeira went deep again in the seventh. The Red Sox lead was down to 9-8 heading into the eighth, and the Yankees scored another seven runs to create one of the most memorable wins of the year. It actually gave the Yankees sole possession of first place for the first time. And it was a sign of things to come for the Red Sox.

May
Mo goes down
Honestly, I was in the bathroom. What better time to go than during batting practice in Kansas City? Even if I were in my seat, I’m not sure I would have been focused on Jayson Nix taking his hacks. I must have walked back into the press box seconds after it happened, because everyone was confused. Someone was hurt. The Yankees were rushing to check on him. Oh my gosh, it was Mariano Rivera. He couldn’t walk on his own. Television actually had a replay. Looked like his knee went out. … That night, the silence in the clubhouse spoke volumes.

June
Ten in a row
On June 7, the Yankees lost to the Rays and fell into third place, only a half game out of first. On June 18, they won their 10th straight to increase their division lead to two-and-a-half games. During the streak, the Yankees never allowed more than four runs, and Robinson Cano hit .371 with four homers. All 10 wins came against National League teams, and Bryce Harper struck out five times in one of those games. The Yankees were playing well, and they carried that momentum through the All-Star break and into the season’s second half.

July
The West Coast trip
Even after the All-Star break, the Yankees five of their first six. Their lead was up to 10 games when they went on the road to play the lowly Athletics and Mariners for what should have been a forgettable trip out West. Instead, it might have been the most memorable trip of the year. Oakland swept four straight – all one-run games to completely turn the A’s season around — before the Yankees went to Seattle, traded for Ichiro Suzuki and lost Alex Rodriguez to a broken hand.

August
Joba. Finally.
Nothing really jumpted out to me about August, which means I probably overlooked something extremely obvious. But, when in doubt, go with Joba Chamberlain, who’s always good for a conversation starter. There was the Tommy John surgery in 2011. Then the trampoline injury in spring training. Finally Chamberlain made his season debut on the first day of August, having joined the team quite suddenly after the Chad Qualls trade opened a roster spot. Chamberlain  got off to a slow start, but he seemed to find his footing as the year went on and there are still hopes that he can be a late-inning force next season.

September
The division race
This is why baseball added a second wild card; to make the divisions mean something again. Not wanting to fall into a one-game play-in scenario, the Yankees, Orioles and Rays fell into a wild race for the American League East. When the Rays fell out of the mix, it was down to the high-powered Yankees and surprising Orioles in a race that had those teams tied nine days in the month of September. Down the stretch, they were never separated by more than a game and a half until the final game of the year, when the Yankees won the division by two games. Robinson Cano hit .615/.628/1.026 in the final nine games.

October
Jeter goes down
What mattered most in the month of October is that the Yankees offense disappeared. They could barely score in the division series, and they couldn’t score in the ALCS. And that’s why the season ended when it did. But the October memory that lingers is of Derek Jeter face down on the infield dirt, having played on a bad ankle long enough that it finally broke. A brutal end to his own terrific season. He’d been their spark, their consistency, all year. Without him, the Yankees were finished.

November
Martin to Pittsburgh
Re-signing Hiroki Kuroda might be the Yankees most important move of the winter, and deals with Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera helped solidify the pitching staff, but the move that spoke volumes about the Yankees offseason approach was Russell Martin’s decision to sign with Pittsburgh. Two years, $17 million wasn’t an overwhelming amount, but the Yankees have focused on one-year deals and vowed a willingness to save money by staying in-house behind the plate.

December
Kevin Youkilis
Two things rolled into one transaction. First the Yankees announced that Alex Rodriguez needs hip surgery and will miss the beginning of next season. Then they found his replacement in a long-time Boston nemesis. It’s an odd pairing for any number of reasons, but the Yankees are banking on Kevin Youkilis to have something left in the tank, and Youkilis is counting on the Yankees to give him regular at-bats until he proves he can still hit. It’s the most memorable move the Yankees have made this winter. And it’s for Kevin freakin’ Youkilis.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 44 Comments →

Back to work after a slow week of vacation12.31.12

Last time I went on vacation, I returned with a day full of posts about the things I’d missed. Today, I’m back on the clock, having missed the normally quiet week of Christmas. And as expected, there wasn’t a whole lot going on last week. Here are a few things I missed, some of which are bigger stories than others.

Hideki Matsui retired
I never really got to know Matsui. I covered him a little bit at the end of 2009, and I’ve been in some group interviews with him the past three years, but my time on the beat didn’t really line up with his time in the Bronx. That said, I’ve been around long enough to know just how thoroughly Matsui was respected as a player and a person. Derek Jeter has always gone out of his way to speak highly of him as a teammate, and my reporter friends have said Matsui was overwhelmingly kind and remarkably generous in the clubhouse. My only in-person memories involve his remarkable 2009 postseason, but that’s honestly not what I thought of when I read about Matsui’s retirement. I thought about all the stories I’ve heard about him, and how fortunate the Yankees and baseball have been that such an international superstar managed to remained such a kind and classy man.

The Yankees signed Matt Diaz
Get this out of the way first: It’s a minor league deal. The risk here is remarkably low, and Diaz isn’t going to keep the Yankees from going after someone else. He’ll come to camp with a chance to earn his way onto the roster. That alone makes it a worthwhile signing. Is it a good signing? Too early to say. Diaz fits as a right-handed corner outfielder — exactly what the Yankees are looking for — but his production has slipped considerably the past two years. That said, his numbers against lefties have continued to show a little bit of promise, and if he can stay healthy and get back to his 2010 form (.510 slugging vLHP) the Yankees could have a valuable platoon bat. In the past few years, they’ve had a lot of success with this sort of signing. Low risk. Solid potential.

The Red Sox traded for Joel Hanrahan
The basics of this deal had been reported for several days, but it became official last week. And former Yankees reliever Mark Melancon was part of the trade (he’s now gone from New York to Houston to Boston to Pittsburgh). It was all part of the on-going rebuilding effort in Boston, where Hanrahan adds some punch to the bullpen. It was also part of the still-looking-for-stability process for Melancon, who could thrive with a move back to the National League. Based on what I saw from him in Triple-A, I’ve always expected Melancon to eventually put things together and find some consistency in the big leagues. It certainly didn’t happen for him in New York or in Boston.

Andruw Jones was arrested
It happened in the early hours of Christmas morning. It was a battery charge, reportedly connected to a domestic dispute with his wife. It’s not a good situation. Every once in a while we get a glimpse into an athlete’s private life, and the view isn’t very good. I only know what I’ve read, so I really can’t add anything, but it’s not the kind of story that anyone enjoys reading or writing.

The Mariners designated D.J. Mitchell for assignment
Half of what the Yankees gave up last summer’s Ichiro Suzuki trade, Mitchell was DFA to open a Seattle roster spot for Raul Ibanez (plenty of Yankees connections in this one!). I don’t know enough about the Mariners 40-man roster to say whether Mitchell should or should not have been the guy to go, but I was somewhat surprised if only because he nice Triple-A numbers after last summer’s trade (and a 2.96 ERA through 48.2 innings of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League shouldn’t be totally dismissed). That said, I can’t imagine the Yankees would be interested in claiming him, if only because their own 40-man is already overcrowded with fringy prospects.

There are new batting practice caps
I know a lot of people really care about this stuff — including a lot of my fellow writers — but I’m actually not one of them. It’s just not my thing. If I buy a cap, I lean toward the more traditional designs, including a go-to University of Missouri cap that’s about as basic as they come. Some of these new designs look cool. Some look terrible. I tend to think any Yankees cap other than the basic looks odd, but that’s just my taste. If you’re into the alternatives, go nuts. I promise not to judge.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 449 Comments →

Yankees react to Matsui’s retirement12.27.12

The Yankees sent out a press release with reaction to the news of Hideki Matsui’s retirement:

STATEMENT FROM YANKEES MANAGING GENERAL PARTNER HAL STEINBRENNER

“Hideki Matsui, in many ways, embodied what this organization stands for.   He was dedicated to his craft, embraced his responsibilities to his team and fans, and elevated his play when he was needed the most.  He did all these things with a humility that was distinctly his own, which is why he was such a big part of our success and why he will always be a cherished member of the Yankees family.”

STATEMENT FROM YANKEES GENERAL MANAGER BRIAN CASHMAN

“Hideki is proof that baseball is an international attraction that brings people from all over the world together in their passion for the game.  He was the type of player and person you want young fans of this game to emulate.  He played with pride, discipline and of course talent, and flourished when the lights were at their brightest.  People naturally gravitated towards him, and that’s a direct reflection of his character.  He was a true professional in every sense of the word and it feels good knowing he was able to raise the championship trophy as a member of the Yankees.”

STATEMENT FROM YANKEES SHORTSTOP DEREK JETER (Matsui’s teammate from 2003-09)

“I’ve said it numerous times over the years, but it’s worth repeating now.  I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years with the Yankees, but I will always consider Hideki one of my favorites.  The way he went about his business day in and day out was impressive.  Despite being shadowed by a large group of reporters, having the pressures of performing for his fans both in New York and Japan and becoming acclimated to the bright lights of New York City, he always remained focused and committed to his job and to those of us he shared the clubhouse with.  I have a lot of respect for Hideki.  He was someone we counted on a great deal and he’s a big reason why we became World Champions in 2009.”

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Hideki Matsui to announce retirement12.27.12

Word has surfaced from several Japanese news sources that former Yankees playoff hero Hideki Matsui will soon officially announce his retirement. There have been rumors that he will make the announcement in New York where he began his 10-year major league career after playing professionally in Japan for 10 seasons.

Of course, Matsui will be remembered most fondly for his tremendous performance with the Yankees in the 2009 World Series, when he hit .615 with three homers and eight RBI in 14 plate appearances to earn MVP honors. But Matsui’s list of accomplishments on two different continents is one of the most impressive of all-time. After being named the Central League MVP in Japan three times, he signed with the Yankees in December of 2002 to much fanfare. Unlike many others that have attempted to make the quantum leap, Matsui transitioned well and became a key cog for the Yankees for seven seasons. He had four seasons with at least 100 RBI, five with at least 20 homers and was named to the All-Star team twice.

After one-year stints with the Angels, A’s and Rays, Matsui is calling it quits at the age of 38. His final season was cut short when he was released by Tampa Bay in July after his average had dipped to .147. In my mind, Matsui will go down as the second-best Japanese-born position player to play in the U.S. after Ichiro. He finished as a .282 hitter in the majors with 175 homers and 760 RBI, but it was the World Series title that truly cemented his legacy in Yankees’ history.

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Wednesday night notes and links12.26.12

Offseason action has picked back up the day after Christmas, with the Yankees acquiring a right-handed bat who should battle for a reserve outfield spot and the Red Sox continuing to make moves.

• Just moments ago, Mark Feinsand of The Daily News reported that the Yankees have agreed to a minor-league contract with outfielder Matt Diaz. He will earn $1.2 million if he makes the big league club, plus incentives. The 34-year-old right-handed hitter has bounced around over the years, most recently playing for the Atlanta Braves. Diaz saw limited playing time with the Braves, as his season was cut short due to surgery on his right thumb. He hit .222 with two homers and 13 RBI in 108 at-bats with a .280 OBP and a .613 OPS. For his career, Diaz is a .291 hitter, but he hasn’t been able to stick as an everyday starter. The real reason that the Yankees are bringing him in is because he is known as a guy who hits lefties, which was an issue for the team in 2012. He hit .269 against southpaws last season in 78 at-bats, while hitting just .100 in 30 at-bats against righties. Diaz will be invited to major league camp, and I’d expect the Yanks to make a handful of moves like this for cheap veterans. It’s a very low risk contract, and it gives them another guy who will compete for a roster spot. The hope is that if you bring in enough of these journeymen, you’ll eventually catch lightning in a bottle.

• While the Yankees’ signing of Diaz is a relatively minor move, the Boston Red Sox made a big splash today. They acquired closer Joel Hanrahan and infield prospect Brock Holt from the Pittsburgh Pirates for former Yankee Mark Melancon and three minor-leaguers — pitcher Stolmy Pimentel, infielder Ivan De Jesus and first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands. Hanrahan is expected to immediately take over as Boston’s closer after making the NL All-Star team in each of the past two seasons. The move gives the Red Sox one of the top closers in the game in recent years and lengthens their bullpen by allowing them to make Andrew Bailey their set-up man. Of the prospects involved in the deal, it sounds like Boston ended up with the most major-league ready one in Holt. He combined to hit .344 with an .859 OPS with the Pirates’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates last season. He was called up in September and hit .292 in 65 at-bats.

The Red Sox also made their signing of shortstop Stephen Drew official today. The 29-year-old signed a one-year deal for $9.5 million with another possible $500,000 in performance bonuses. Boston is making plenty of moves, but you have to wonder how many of these guys are going to have big impacts.

• A bit more sobering news has surfaced about former Yankee Andruw Jones. He is being accused of battery after an incident with his wife early Christmas morning. Jones signed a one-year contract with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League earlier this month.

• As I wrote about earlier today, the Yankees have left some voids unfilled so far this offseason after an alarming offensive slump in October. One of the guys who could very well end up getting a shot to play everyday is catcher Austin Romine. With only Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli as the other somewhat viable options to replace Russell Martin on the current roster — both of whom leave plenty to be desired offensively — Romine should have a legitimate chance to win the job out of spring training. Bernie Pleskoff detailed how Romine has gotten to this point and why the Yankees would benefit from naming him as their starter. Assuming that the team doesn’t bring in a veteran, I tend to agree with Pleskoff. I’d rather give a young prospect who has a bit of upside a look instead of going with guys who you already know have serious limitations.

David Schoenfield of ESPN recently released offseason power rankings, and he had the Yankees at No. 3 — higher than any other AL team. He points to the Yankees pitching as the main reason for being so high on them, while also noting that this team has power bats remaining.

Posted by: vmercogliano - Posted in Miscwith 493 Comments →

Can the Yankees’ offense be better in 2013?12.26.12

Good morning all! Vincent Mercogliano here filling in for the next few days while Chad spends some well-deserved time off. Obviously, there isn’t much news to report from the past few days (other than the brand new Fender acoustic guitar that I received for Christmas!), but as I’ve sat back and taken in this offseason from afar, there is one prevailing question that I haven’t been able to stop asking myself.

Much has been made about the Yankees’ lack of moves thus far, as it’s become more apparent that Hal Steinbrenner and Yankees’ management is truly committed to a more frugal and methodical philosophy. While we’ve been repeatedly told that this was coming, with the way that the Yankees’ season ended, no one would have been shocked to see them shake things up a bit. The offense epically flamed out in the postseason, and you know if The Boss was still around at least a few heads would have rolled. The Yankees’ lineup collectively struggled in a way that I cannot recall in the last 15 years.

Now, there’s two ways of looking at the lack of production when it mattered most. You either believe the bats simply went cold at the wrong time, or you believe that the offensive deficiencies were exposed through good pitching and postseason pressure. The Yanks scored plenty of runs in the regular season (804, to be exact), but managed just six in a four-game sweep against the Tigers in the ALCS. It was as if Eric Clapton suddenly forgot how to play “Layla.” There was something undeniably alarming about the struggles that plagued the team in October.

So, now that I’ve tip-toed around the point long enough, here is what I’m getting at: Do you think that the Yankees should have looked to make more drastic changes in light of how things went down in the playoffs? I think they deserve credit for not overreacting and overpaying for someone like Josh Hamilton, but with Nick Swisher and Russell Martin signing elsewhere and A-Rod out until midseason, this offense is not any better on paper. The one significant addition is Kevin Youkilis, but the Yankees are clearly putting their faith in the ability of guys like Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to carry the team. There is still time to bring one or two more bats in, but the pickings are getting slim, which means the Yankees will likely enter next season with less firepower than we’ve been accustomed to. The pitching should remain strong, but do you have enough confidence in the guys on the current roster to believe that this team can be better in 2013?

Associated Press photo

Posted by: vmercogliano - Posted in Miscwith 503 Comments →

Happy Holidays from all of us at LoHud12.24.12

Happy Holidays everyone!

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m back home in Missouri. I flew in yesterday, and I’ve already spent some time hanging out with my cousin’s newborn. I’ll meet my friends Justin and Kari’s new baby boy later in the week. Obviously there’s a lot to be thankful for around here, and I’m sure everyone out there can say the same.

I’m actually taking a week of vacation to spend time with friends and family that I don’t see nearly enough, but I’ll be back at the start of the new year to begin counting the days until spring training.

Until then, I’ll be celebrating Christmas and wishing all of you a Merry Christmas. Whatever you celebrate — even if it’s nothing more than a day off work and a cheap takeout dinner — I hope you enjoy it with some people you love. Merry Christmas everyone! See you in a week.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 362 Comments →

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