Archive for December, 2013
As the Yankees offseason began, Alex Rodriguez remained a looming presence over everything they did or didn’t do. He filed more lawsuits, gave more outrageous radio interviews, and continued his fight against, basically, everyone. My guess is you could pick an A-Rod moment as the most memorable for at least two of these months, maybe all three. But by the end of the year, the Rodriguez situation had become a familiar buzz. It was an ongoing saga that felt more like new chapters than new stories. It never went away, but the Yankees began making moves toward other things, preparing for a future that might or might not include the most highly paid player in baseball.
Joe Girardi signs four-year extension
Even though he missed the playoffs in his first year as manager, Joe Girardi has lasted six years in a job often seen as volatile. He missed the playoffs again in 2013, and he was quickly given a four-year deal to remain as the Yankees manager. On October 9, less than two weeks after the season came to an earlier-than-usual end, Girardi signed a new contract that should keep him on the Yankees bench for a full decade. He will be the man who presides over the transition from the Core Four to whatever comes next. These are uncertain days for the Yankees, but they’ve found some stability in a manager who believes in numbers and playing the odds. He’s also managed to handle the media and the superstars, but his most difficult years might be ahead of him, beginning with this one.
Worth mentioning: Alex Rodriguez sued Major League Baseball and Yankees team doctor Christopher Ahmad (the craziness continues); the division-rival Red Sox won the World Series; Mariano Rivera was given the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award
Brian McCann kicks off the offseason spending
Given their short porch in right field, their history of excellent catchers, and their lack of catcher production last season, the Yankees had one obvious free agent target this winter. And they wasted little time signing him. On November 23, the Yankees reached an agreement with Brian McCann, the former Braves slugger who simply made too much sense. The only thing that might keep the Yankees from going after him would be absolute commitment to pinching pennies, but the Yankees were aggressive when the free agent market opened, and McCann was one of the first true impact players off the board. He represents a significant offensive upgrade over in-house options, and he seems to fit well in Yankee Stadium. His signing set the tone for a drastic lineup makeover.
Worth mentioning: Derek Jeter got a new one-year contract; Alex Rodriguez’s appeal hearing ended; Mike Harkey left to become the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach; Brendan Ryan returned as a utility man
Robinson Cano signs with Seattle
Three days after Jacoby Ellsbury agreed to sign with the Yankees, Robinson Cano was heading the other way. He’d been the Yankees best player for a half decade, and their best homegrown position player since Derek Jeter, but Cano went looking for a 10-year deal at maximum financial value and found it in Seattle. The Yankees weren’t willing to go more than seven years — having learned their lesson with Alex Rodriguez — and so they let Cano get away. The Ellsbury signing turned out to be a sign of things to come, a move made largely because the Yankees realized Cano was likely to sign elsewhere. That finally happened on December 6, when Cano agreed to terms with Seattle and the Yankees found out what it’s like to have another team overpay to take away one of their own.
Worth mentioning: Carlos Beltran finally became a Yankee: Masahiro Tanaka finally became available; Curtis Granderson moved across town to the Mets; Joe Torre was elected to the Hall of Fame
Associated Press photo
If you’re looking for the three-month low point of the Yankees in 2013, this might be it. Yes, they traded for Alfonso Soriano in July, got some players off the disabled list in August, and made a bit of a playoff run in September, but those minor bright spots become hard to notice in the bigger picture. This three-month period started just as the Yankees fell to four games out of first place, and it ended with the opening of the Alex Rodriguez appeal hearing. It’s a three-month stretch largely defined by the idea of coming up short. There were good moments — including the most memorable on-the-field moment of the year — but these months were also heavily defined by Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and ultimately by the Yankees elimination from playoff contention.
Five minutes of fame for Dr. Michael Gross
This was the month when the Yankees traded for Alfonso Soriano, and when Derek Jeter returned from the disabled list to homer on the first pitch he saw. But this was also a month when the Alex Rodriguez frenzy was quickly reaching its boiling point, with one of the most bizarre twists coming from a surprise radio appearance by a doctor named Michael Gross, who went on WFAN and declared that Rodriguez’s quad — which had caused the setback that kept him on the DL longer than expected — was perfectly fine, before later acknowledging he’d never actually examined the quad beyond looking at an MRI. This happened on July 24, just two days after Ryan Braun received and accepted his Biogenesis suspension.
Worth mentioning: Derek Jeter’s return, injury, re-return, new injury; Mariano Rivera’s all-star game sendoff; Alfonso Soriano’s return to the Yankees; Hideki Matsui’s official retirement; Alex Rodriguez’s rehab assignment; The rocking chair of broken bats; HOPE Week
Alex Rodriguez hit by Ryan Dempster
It’s easy to remember the hit by pitch, when Ryan Dempster decided to send a message but instead made Alex Rodriguez into the least likely rallying point in baseball. That inside fastball seemed to spark Rodriguez and the rest of the Yankees. For a while, it seemed to be the moment that just might spur the Yankees into the playoffs. It’s easy forget, though, that on that very same day Brian Cashman spoke pregame about being unwilling to have a normal conversation with Rodriguez out of fear that such a conversation might become “distorted” in the legal process. The Rodriguez’s saga was the Yankees most significant ongoing storyline of the year, and no day summed up the bizarre back-and-forth better than August 18.
Worth mentioning: A-Rod suspended and almost immediately returning to the lineup; Francisco Cervelli’s suspension; Curtis Granderson’s return; Derek Jeter’s return (again) and injury (again); Ivan Nova’s dominance; Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,000th career hit; Mark Reynolds playing second base; Rodriguez accused to leaking Biogenesis names to the media
Mariano Rivera’s emotional farewell
There were a lot of negative moments in the final month of the regular season, but none of those can eclipse Mariano Rivera’s final moments on the mound at Yankee Stadium. No need to rehash the details here, I’ll only say that it was easily the most memorable moment of the year, perhaps in all of baseball. “I was bombarded with emotions and feelings that I couldn’t describe,” Rivera said. “Everything hit at that time. I knew that that was the last time, period. I never felt something like that before.” I’d never seen something like it before, and I can’t imagine that I ever will again. If anything could overshadow the injuries and the drama of the 2013 season, it was the remarkable way that the game’s most remarkable closer walked away.
Worth mentioning: Start of the Alex Rodriguez appeal hearing; Andy Pettitte’s complete-game finale; Derek Jeter making one last trip to the disabled list; the trade for Brendan Ryan; CC Sabathia’a hamstring injury; That Girardi/Showalter argument in Baltimore; Playoff elimination
Associated Press photo
Continuing our look back on 2013 — and the most significant moments that happened month-by-month — we’ll now look at the start of the regular season, when Derek Jeter was on the disabled list and several other players were about to join him. Remarkably enough, the season was actually a positive for the Yankees roughly two months into the schedule. The Yankees were scrappy, and they were winning, but they couldn’t win with smoke and mirrors for long. Eventually, their patchwork roster began to unravel, and their most controversial player stood front-and-center.
Robinson Cano signed with Jay Z’s new agency
It was April 2. The season had barely started, and already the Yankees were dealing with an offseason curveball when Robinson Cano dropped Scott Boras and signed up with Jay Z’s new agency. “I want to stay with the same team,” Cano said a few days later. “You know, if my agent decides that and talks to the Yankees, we’ll see what happens.” The announcement of Cano’s decision to sign with Jay Z came in the very same press release that announced the formation of Jay Z’s agency. It was a buzz-worthy story at the time, and it brought a new wrinkle to Cano’s free agency. He might have landed in Seattle with Boras as well. We’ll never know.
Worth mentioning: Phil Hughes rushed back to start in Detroit; Derek Jeter diagnosed with a new break in his ankle; Kevin Youkilis to the DL after playing through back soreness; Francisco Cervelli’s broken hand; Mason Williams’ arrest; Cano playing shortstop; Mariano Rivera’s first visiting stadium retirement gift
A first-place team
I’m not sure it’s the Yankees most definitive win of the first half, but it’s certainly among them. It was May 25 at Tampa Bay. Vidal Nuno made a spot start. Brennan Boesch had been called up the night before and had a huge hit in the ninth. Ivan Nova pitched in relief. Lyle Overbay had a game-winning homer in extra innings. The Yankees were, at the time, a first-place team. They were in first place from May 9 through May 27, and it’s because they got help from unexpected sources and won games like this early in the year. In the month of May, believe it or not, the Yankees were one of the biggest surprises in baseball.
Worth mentioning: Curtis Granderson hurt again; Mark Teixeira off the disabled list; Ivan Nova optioned to Triple-A; the Subway Series; David Adams’ hot start; the night Phil Hughes couldn’t pitch out of the first inning; Mariano Rivera’s return to Kansas City; Joba Chamberlain to the DL
“Just shut the f— up.”
This is around the time the Alex Rodriguez saga truly became a soap opera. In late June, published speculation hinted that Rodriguez might fake an injury to get out of rehab games, or push for an early rehab assignment, or find a way to retire and collect his money. It was kind of chaos, and nothing was off the table. On June 25, Rodriguez tweeted that Dr. Bryan Kelly had given him a green light to play in games, something the Yankees had denied. Almost immediately, Brian Cashman responded in an interview with ESPN New York: “You know what, when the Yankees want to announce something, (we will),” Cashman said. “Alex should just shut the f— up. That’s it. I’m going to call Alex now.” Cashman never denied the quote, and soon apologized for his language. It was made-for-TV drama.
Worth mentioning: Surgery recommended for Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis; Lyle Overbay in the outfield; Rodriguez beginning rehab in Tampa; Zoilo Almonte’s strong arrival; the loss in Oakland when the heart of the order when 0-for-28; Andy Pettitte winning on the day his son was drafted
Associated Press photo
On this final day of 2013, let’s take a month-by-month look back at the past year. I’ve divided the season into four quarters — essentially splitting things into the preseason, the first half of the season, the second half of the season, and the offseason. We’ll try to pick out the key event of each month along the way, starting with the first three months of the year.
The Miami New Times breaks the Biogenesis story
It had been a relatively quiet offseason for the Yankees — and Alex Rodriguez had just undergone hip surgery — when the Miami New Times published its January 29 bombshell report linking Rodriguez and others to a Miami clinic called Biogenesis, where a variety of athletes were allegedly acquiring performance enhancing drugs from a man named Anthony Bosch. It was, essentially, the story of the year in baseball, with the league issuing a statement promising: “Vigilance remains the key toward protecting the integrity of our game.” The league has been aggressive, and its fight against Rodriguez continues. Team A-Rod’s immediate statement of denial: “The news report about a purported relationship between Alex Rodriguez and Anthony Bosch are not true. Alex Rodriguez was not Mr. Bosch’s patient, he was never treated by him and he was never advised by him. The purported documents referenced in the story — at least as they relate to Alex Rodriguez — are not legitimate.”
Worth mentioning: The Yankees agreed to terms with Travis Hafner, Juan Rivera signed minor league deal; Dave Robertson was the Yankees last arbitration-eligible player to sign; Rodriguez’s hip surgery; no one elected to the Hall of Fame
Curtis Granderson’s broken forearm
This was a year of injuries — an ongoing problem that helped wreck the Yankees season and largely defined their year — and it truly started with Granderson. Derek Jeter had been hurt in 2012, and Rodriguez had been diagnosed in 2012, but the first big injury of 2013 was Curtis Granderson being hit by a pitch on February 24. It was J.A. Happ who delivered the pitch, and Granderson was almost immediately diagnosed with a fractured forearm expected to cost him 10 weeks. It wasn’t a good sign. Not a good sign for Granderson, and not a good sign for the Yankees.
Worth mentioning: Brett Gardner given a chance in center; Abe Almonte traded for Shawn Kelley; Andy Pettitte turned down an invitation to the World Baseball Classic; Francisco Cervelli denied getting steroids from Biogenesis
Derek Jeter ruled out for Opening Day
Could make a good case for two key moments in March: The Mark Teixeira injury, and the Derek Jeter setback. While the Teixeira injury was stunning, it was the Jeter issue that largely defined the month as the Yankees prepared for their captain to get healthy and ready for Opening Day. Of course, that never happened. The final moment was March 24, when Brian Cashman made it official that Jeter would open the season on the disabled list after the first of many, many setbacks in his attempt to come back from ankle surgery. He played in five spring training games, but he was scratched from the lineup in late March and never got back on the field. As we learned, it was more than a momentary setback.
Worth mentioning: Mark Teixeira’s strained tendon sheath; Mariano Rivera’s retirement press conference; Lyle Overbay signed to a three-day tryout; Vernon Wells acquired from the Angels; Brennan Boesch released by the Tigers and signed by the Yankees
Associated Press photo
This is cheating a little bit, if only because this post ran earlier in the offseason. But I think it’s worth repeating today. Mariano Rivera’s retirement tour was the Yankees most pleasant ongoing storyline of the year. It was often overshadowed by injuries and the whole Alex Rodriguez saga, but seeing Rivera honored in each stadium along the way was a remarkable tribute to his career and impact. He was honored with a lavish Yankee Stadium ceremony, fan tributes came from all corners, and his final moment on the mound was the most memorable moment of the season.
Donation to Rivera’s foundation, presented in Rivera’s first-ever trip to Coors Field.
Kansas City Royals
Donation to Rivera’s foundation, presented by Royals Hall of Famer George Brett.
New York Mets
New York Fire Department call box and mounted hose nozzle in a ceremony that included New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. Rivera also threw the ceremonial first pitch to former Mets closer John Franco.
Donation to Rivera’s foundation, presented by former Mariner’s standout Edgar Martinez, a career .625 hitter against Rivera.
Los Angeles Angels
Six-foot painting of Rivera by noted artist Stephen Holland. The next day, fans were given certificates commemorating Rivera’s Major League debut and first big league save, each of which came against the Angels.
The Chair of Broken Dreams, a rocking chair made from broken bats of Twins players including Joe Mauer and Kirby Puckett. The Twins also donated to Rivera’s foundation.
Black cowboy hat and custom cowboy boots with Rivera’s No. 42, presented by Rangers closer Joe Nathan and former Yankees and Rangers closer John Wetteland, whom Rivera called a mentor.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Deep-sea fishing rod – Rivera’s father was a fisherman – and a donation to Rivera’s foundation, presented by a group including Dodgers partial owner Magic Johnson.
San Diego Padres
Set of beach cruiser bicycles for Rivera and his family presented by former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who had the all-time saves record before Rivera passed him.
Chicago White Sox
Framed scorecard from Rivera’s first appearance against the White Sox – eight scoreless innings on July 4, 1995 – and a collage of pictures from the Yankees’ 2001 trip to Chicago, their first games after the September 11 attacks.
Tampa Bay Rays
Sand sculpture of Rivera alongside the words “Enter Sandman.” The Rays also donated $3,150 to Rivera’s foundation, $50 for each of Rivera’s career saves against the Rays.
Bronze sculpture of a bat being broken by a pitch, along with a plaque noting that Rivera’s “numerous baseball records are surpassed only by his humility, respect and philanthropy.” It was presented by Baltimore manager Buck Showalter, who was Rivera’s first big league manager.
Boston Red Sox
Painting of Rivera at Fenway Park, a No. 42 from the stadium’s manual scoreboard, a Fenway seat with the No. 42, and the pitching rubber from the stadium’s visiting bullpen. Red Sox ownership also donated to Rivera’s foundation.
Toronto Blue Jays
A sculpture called Kiviuq’s Journey by noted Canadian artist David Ruben Piqtoukun, which depicts a fisherman hauling in an enormous fish. The Blue Jays also made a $10,000 donation to Rivera’s foundation.
San Francisco Giants
Watercolor painting from a San Francisco artist and a custom guitar that’s the same model used by Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, who’s a San Francisco native. Gifts were presented during the Yankee Stadium pregame ceremony. Metallica also presented Rivera a custom touring guitar speaker cabinet.
New York Yankees
Crystal replica of Rivera’s glove, framed replica of Rivera’s number and retired-number placard, baseball-bat rocking chair and a donation of $100,000 to the Mariano Rivera Foundation, all presented during a length and lavish pregame ceremony at Yankee Stadium attended by Rivera’s family, the Steinbrenner family, members of Jackie Robinson’s family and various former teammates including Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill and Hideki Matsui.
Painting by a Texas artist who depicted memorable moments throughout Rivera’s career on a canvas that includes a raised No. 42. It was presented by a group that included both Joe Torre and Roger Clemens.
Associated Press photos
Looking back: Jeter’s “nightmare” season • 12.30.13
When Derek Jeter showed up in spring training, he described his offseason as “absolutely terrible.” When he was shut down in late September, he described his year as a “nightmare.” For the Yankees captain, the past 12 months were full of moments when he seemed on the verge of being 100 percent, and those moments were inevitably followed by setback after setback. Here’s a look back at Jeter’s year. It’s telling that we knew a lot of details about Jeter’s early rehab attempts — when there was still hope and expectation that he’d be back — but the details got a little thin later in the year, when optimism began to dwindle.
January 28: Went through drills on a baseball field for the first time since surgery.
February 11: Ran on a treadmill for the first time since surgery.
February 17: Held his annual spring training press conference. “I’m not concerned with re-injuring the ankle,” he said.
February 18: First full-squad spring workout; Jeter did his conditioning inside for a lower-impact environment.
February 23: Ran on the field for the first time since surgery.
March 7: Cleared for full activity by Dr. Robert Anderson.
March 9: Played his first spring training game; singled in his first at-bat.
March 16: Played his final spring training game. He was pulled after only four innings, but the Yankees said that was according to plan.
March 19: Scratched from the lineup. Diagnosed with “mild inflammation” in his left ankle after an X-ray and MRI.
March 24: Brian Cashman acknowledged Jeter would likely open the season on the disabled list.
April 18: Diagnosed with a new fracture in his ankle.
April 25: Speaking publicly for the first time since the new diagnosis, Jeter said: “To the fans, I’ll be back soon.”
May 10: Yankees traded for Alberto Gonzalez to add some shortstop depth.
May 18: Yankees acquired Reid Brignac to add some more shortstop depth.
June 10: Jeter resumed baseball activities in Tampa.
June 22: Participated in light batting practice with the big league team at Yankee Stadium. “The process has been too long,” he said.
June 28: Simulated at-bats at the minor league complex.
July 3: Signed Luis Cruz to add still more shortstop depth.
July 6: Began a Triple-A rehab assignment. Played four games in five days.
July 12: Diagnosed with a Grade 1 quad strain; scheduled to take one week off in hopes of avoiding another DL stint.
July 19: Placed on the disabled list retroactive to July 12.
July 27: Played in a simulated game against minor leaguers in Staten Island. The time and location of the game were kept secret.
July 28: Homered in first at-bat back from the disabled list.
July 29: Although not announced at the time, Jeter woke up with calf soreness on an off day after traveling to the West Coast.
July 30: Played the first of back-to-back games against the Dodgers.
July 31: Jeter lifted for a pinch runner in the ninth inning; Girardi said not to make much of it.
August 2: After an off day on the schedule, Jeter played in San Diego, but Girardi hinted of lingering health concerns.
August 3: Out of the lineup against the Padres because of calf soreness, the first full acknowledgement of the specific issue.
August 4: Diagnosed with a Grade 1 calf strain.
August 22: Began a Triple-A rehab assignment. Played three days in a row.
August 26: Returned to the big leagues, playing shortstop in Toronto.
September 3: Second straight two-hit game. Had played eight days in a row.
September 7: Played final game of the season; pulled for a pinch runner after Girardi noticed Jeter running awkwardly.
September 8: Kept out of the lineup despite a negative CT Scan on his sore left ankle.
September 10: Girardi said Jeter was in a “holding pattern” and might be no better than day-to-day the rest of the year.
September 11: Cashman announced that Jeter was heading to the disabled list and wouldn’t play again.
September 29: After the final game of the year: “There were memorable festivities,” Jeter siad. “Andy and Mo, it goes without saying how special that was, but on the field wasn’t memorable.”
November 1: Rather than taking a player option, Jeter signed new one-year deal worth $12 million for 2014.
November 14: At the Joe Torre Foundation’s annual gala, Jeter said: “I understand the concerns because of everything that went down last year, so I understand that, but I’ll be ready to go.”
Associated Press photos
Working on some year-in-review stuff led me to reading through some random spring training blog posts. Reading those nuggets led to this list of stuff you might have forgotten — or wish you could forget — about the Yankees 2013 spring training.
• After the injuries to Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, Cashman reached out to Derrek Lee, Chipper Jones and Scott Rolen about coming out of retirement — or postponing retirement — to help the Yankees plug the holes. Instead, the Yankees traded for Vernon Wells and signed Lyle Overbay.
• Johnny Damon made a pitch to join the Yankees, thinking he could help fill the outfield hold. “I love Johnny, a lot of leadership and everything else, but it’s just not going to fit our needs,” Cashman said. “It’s the same reason we didn’t bring him in last year. We need somebody who can play the outfield every day.”
• There were so many guys in camp, some had to share uniform numbers.
• When camp opened, there seemed to be a good chance that either Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz would make the Yankees as a platoon hitter who could play some outfield and get some time at DH against lefties. Then Curtis Granderson was hurt (opening more chances for outfielders) and Mark Teixiera was hurt (opening at-bats at first base) and still neither Rivera nor Diaz made the team. Diaz was one of the first cuts, and Rivera was one of the last. Oh, and David Aardsma was a heavy favorite to make the team until the very end.
• Phil Hughes had that back injury during the early spring workouts, and he actually started on the season on the disabled list before being rushed onto the active roster to make a start.
• Joba Chamberlain had that awful mustache. Just brutal.
• Chien-Ming Wang was back in pinstripes for a while. The Yankees signed him during spring training and gave him a look in Triple-A. On the day he showed up at the minor league complex, there was a massive group of Taiwanese journalists to document his return.
• Melky Mesa backed out of the World Baseball Classic because he thought it would help him take advantage of an opportunity to make the big league roster. But he hit .228 in big league camp and got just 13 big league at-bats all season. Andy Pettitte was also asked to play in the WBC, but the Yankees didn’t want him to waste his innings and Pettitte agreed.
• The Yankees kept making errors in the early spring training games. With several guys hurt, and others playing in the WBC, the Yankees were using a lineup of almost all young infielders who kept making mistakes in the field.
• After leaving Florida, the Yankees made a memorable trip to West Point. I remember the trip well — I’d never been there, and the place was incredible — but I’d completely forgotten about it until I saw an old blog post about it. Still have the pictures on my phone.
• Chris Stewart got ejected from a spring training game for arguing briefly about a bang-bang play at first base. “I’m just trying to make a team,” he said afterward. “I didn’t feel like I did anything to deserve to be thrown out of the game.” It was odd.
• There was that goofy Kevin Youkilis controversy when he said, “I’ll always be a Red Sock.” Derek Jeter even joked about it during his opening press conference, saying Andy Pettitte told him to say something controversial to get Youkilis off the back page of the tabloids.
• Alex Rodriguez wasn’t there. He was an ongoing storyline, but his absence managed to at least somewhat minimize the distraction.
Associated Press photos
Hard to look back on 2013 and not think about the injuries that impacted the team in the short term (and will continue to impact the team in the long term). Last week I listed all of the players who spent time on the Major League disabled list last season. Here are some of the injury-related situations that standout for 2013 and beyond.
Greatest impact in 2013: Derek Jeter
This is a tough call because so many of the Yankees injuries were significant. Curtis Granderson missed almost 100 games and forced the Yankees to lean heavily on Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki. Alex Rodriguez missed 110 games, and his third base replacement missed 125 (leaving the Yankees sorely lacking in right-handed power). Mark Teixeira missed nearly the entire season, and his replacement had a rocky second half and never hit lefties. But looking for the Yankees most damaging 2013 injury — after quite a bit of changing my mind — I’ll go with Derek Jeter. That’s largely because the Yankees kept expecting him to come back. It was Charlie Brown trying to kick that football over and over again. And the Yankees primary replacements at shortstop were Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez, who missed a combined 116 games because of their own injuries. The Yankees had no one to fill Jeter’s shoes, and by the time they knew for certain he wasn’t coming back — at which point they traded for Brendan Ryan — it was too late to do anything of substance.
Greatest lingering concern: Mark Teixeira
Jeter. Rodriguez. CC Sabathia. Michael Pineda. Even Manny Banuelos. Whether it’s their ability to stay on the field, play a position, or live up to past production, there is some sort of lingering injury concern with all five of those guys. That’s part of the problem with last year’s health problems: They’re not necessarily finished because it’s a new season. But of all of the carry-over concerns, I’ll single out Teixiera because of the nature of his injury and the length of his contract. Hitting for power is the one thing that’s kept Teixeira productive even as his batting average has dipped. If wrist surgery has sapped that power, that’s a huge problem for a guy who’s signed for three more seasons with no in-house replacement on the horizon. There are obvious problems with the others as well — Rodriguez’s injury situation is significantly overshadowed at the moment — but a power hitter coming back from a wrist injury is pretty uncertain, and that’s more than a one-year concern.
Most unexpected: Curtis Granderson
An aging shortstop coming off ankle surgery. An aging third baseman who’s become familiar with the disabled list. A replacement third baseman with a history of back problems. A few pitchers coming back from surgery. A lot of the Yankees injuries were somewhat predictable. They weren’t certain, obviously, but it’s hard to be shocked by them. The injuries that were legitimately stunning happened to Curtis Granderson, if only because of unbelievably bad luck. Hit by a pitch in his first spring training at-bat, that broken bone forced him to miss a month and a half of the regular season. And in his 31st plate appearance off the DL, basically the exact same thing happened. Another broken bone, this time costing him more than two months. Unreal.
Most predictable: Kevin Youkilis
When the Yankees found out Rodriguez needed hip surgery, the entered into a risky replacement market. The Padres didn’t want to trade Chase Headley, Stephen Drew didn’t want to play third base, and Eric Chavez didn’t want to leave his home in Arizona. So the Yankees were left sifting through a series of unimpressive options. Mark Reynolds was out there as an all-or-nothing slugger (who ultimately played so poorly that the Indians released him), and Jeff Keppinger was a popular free agent (who signed with the White Sox and had a .600 OPS), but the Yankees went with Youkilis, who had a terrific spring training but couldn’t get his back healthy enough to stay on the field. Despite his own insistence that his injury was not a big deal, he ultimately had season-ending surgery. There wasn’t a great alternative out there, but the Yankees went with a clear injury risk and paid the price.
Lesson learned: Kelly Johnson
It’s interesting that, when the offseason got starter, the Yankees quickly signed a veteran left-handed hitter who can play second, third and the outfield (but also very quickly acknowledged that he was a backup plan, not someone intended to play every day). It was obvious insurance for Robinson Cano, but it also seemed to be a bit of injury insurance all over the diamond, an acknowledgment of what the Yankees learned last season: That their farm system is not ready to plug significant holes, especially in the infield. The Yankees were also quick to re-sign Brendan Ryan (to a multi-year deal), and they’ve grabbed a few experienced guys on minor league contracts (improving their minor league depth from the outside), and they’ve basically given themselves four everyday outfielders (with plans to give the older guys time at designated hitter).
Risking it again: Jacoby Ellsbury
There’s no such thing as a multi-year contract without risk of injury. It’s part of the territory. So, when the Yankees sign a significant free agent, it’s with the understanding that their investment could land on the DL at some point. Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have been hurt in the past, and each is signed for a several years (Beltran in his last 30s, no less), so those two are far from risk-free. In fact, you could pretty easily argue that Beltran is the greatest injury risk of them all because of his age. But I’ll argue otherwise, if only because the Yankees are clearly planning to give Beltran some time at DH. A big part of Ellsbury’s impact comes in the field, and his value as an elite player is entirely tied to his legs. If those are hurt — and with his high-energy style of play, it’s certainly possible — then Ellsbury could become a black hole for years to come. Ellsbury without great speed just doesn’t seem to be a great player.
Associated Press photo
With two days left in 2013, I thought we’d spend the next 48 hours or so looking back at the past year. We’ll interrupt our regularly scheduled programming if any news breaks or the Yankees actually announce one of the signings we already know about, but let’s start the day planning to look back at some of the notable and quirky things that happened in the past 12 months.
To kick it off, consider this lineup based on things that actually happened this year.
Ichiro Suzuki CF
Zoilo Almonte LF
Robinson Cano SS
Vernon Wells 3B
Francisco Cervelli C
Ben Francisco DH
Lyle Overbay RF
Mark Reynolds 2B
Corban Joseph 1B
RHP Alberto Gonzalez
2. Nothing particularly unusual about Zoilo Almonte in left field, but he was also the Yankees No. 2 hitter three times last season. Such was the state of the Yankees lineup that a hot start by a rookie deserved top-of-the-order placement.
3. The Yankees often played without a true backup infielder, and on April 13, that short-handed risk forced Robinson Cano to play shortstop while Francisco Cervelli handled second base.
4. Twenty four starts as the Yankees cleanup hitter for Vernon Wells, but that’s not what stands out. More glaring is the fact he once had to play third base late in a game (he also got a third of an inning at second base and actually started a game at first).
5. No non-catcher had to get behind the plate this year, but it is worth noting that at the time of his broken hand, Francisco Cervelli had taken control of the position and was hitting enough that the Yankees actually batted him fifth four times. He batted .100 in those games, but actually did have a homer from the No. 5 spot.
7. When Mark Teixeira came off the disabled list, Lyle Overbay‘s bat was actually so potent against right-handers that the Yankees stuck him in right field. He made four starts out there, something he’d never done in 12 previous big league seasons.
8. On August 27, Mark Reynolds was a late-inning, emergency replacement at second base. The next night, he actually started at the position. He’d played some middle infield in the minors, more than a half decade earlier.
9. How’s this for a Major League debut? Corban Joseph was called up to help out in a double header, and made his first big league start at first base, a position he’d played three times in the minor leagues.
10. Not only was Alberto Gonzalez on the Yankees roster, but he got 34 at-bats — that’s more than J.R. Murphy — and played five different positions including both outfield corners and a May 15 relief appearance when he came straight from shortstop to retire his one and only batter.
Associated Press photos
The week of Christmas is typically a slow week for baseball news, and this year was no exception. Except, of course, for one huge exception.
Masahiro Tanaka has been posted. Despite the new rules, the Rakuten Golden Eagles have granted Tanaka’s wishes and made him available to all big league teams. He will sign with one of them within a month, and he seems to be a perfect fit for the Yankees wants and needs. It’s the kind of news we’ve been waiting for all winter, and it just happened to come on Christmas Eve.
Now there’s a different sort of wait as the bidding will likely carry into late January.
Tom Verducci, who’s written extensively about pitch counts, has noted that Tanaka’s workload is pretty extreme and a cause for concern. Still have to think several teams will decide he’s worth the financial risk. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is working to make sure those teams don’t find a way to sneak extra money to Rakuten in the process of signing Tanaka.
It’s still an ongoing story, but the past week did bring at least one significant answer: Tanaka is available, and the negotiations have begun.
• Melky Mesa signed a minor league deal with the Royals. The long-time Yankees prospect has always kept people’s attention with his raw tools, but he’s also struck out far too often to be considered a truly elite young player. He got a little bit of big league time with the Yankees, but not enough to be a real part of their future plans. He was released and ultimately landed with Kansas City.
• Former Yankees Mike Hegan and Paul Blair passed away this week.
• Regular season came to an end in the Dominican Winter League, and Zoilo Almonte finished with pretty good numbers. Probably not enough to make him a favorite for a big league job next season, but enough to suggest he’s healthy and has a shot to make the team in spring training.
• Having been designated for assignment last week, pitching prospect Brett Marshall was lost on waivers when the Cubs claimed him. Not a bad pitcher at all, but had a bad Triple-A season that might have given the Yankees some hope of slipping him through waivers and keeping him in the organization.
• Bob Klapisch reported that an Alex Rodriguez suspension decision could come in “very early” January, suggesting we could be only days away from finding out how much time Rodriguez will miss (and how much he’ll be paid).
Associated Press photos