Archive for December, 2013
Pinstripe Bowl kicks off today at noon • 12.28.13
No matter what stadium it’s played in, a college football game is never going to have serious implications for the Yankees. The Pinstripe Bowl is not an important part of the Yankees offseason, but it’s a nice little sideshow; a kind of quirky connection to the sport that tends to grab our attention this time of year. That said, I’m far from a college football expert, so I’m going to leave these details to The Associated Press. Here are the basics on today’s game from the AP:
No. 25 Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Rutgers (6-6), noon EST (ESPN).
Line: Notre Dame by 14.
Series record: Notre Dame 4-0.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The Fighting Irish are trying to avoid a third 8-5 season in four years under coach Brian Kelly — a season after reaching the BCS championship with a perfect regular season. The Scarlet Knights are trying to salvage a disappointing season with what would be one of their biggest upsets in recent years.
Notre Dame WRs TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels and TE Troy Niklas against Rutgers’ secondary. The Scarlet Knight’s pass defense has been among the worst in the country, suffering through a combination of inexperience and injuries. Rutgers is tied for 100th in yards per pass, 103rd in completion percentage allowed and 122nd in yards passing allowed per game. It’s bad. And Notre Dame’s receivers are very good.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Notre Dame: DE Stephon Tuitt. The junior could be playing his final college game, with the NFL in his future. Tuitt wasn’t quite as good this season as he was in 2012, but he still lead the team with six sacks and had 13 quarterback hurries.
Rutgers: DE Darius Hamilton. The talented sophomore has improved as the season has gone on and leads the team with 10 tackles for loss. Hamilton’s ability to get pressure on QB Tommy Rees is the Scarlet Knights’ only hope to stop the pass.
FACTS & FIGURES
Rutgers has allowed at least 400 passing yards four times this season. … Notre Dame is 16-6-3 at Yankee Stadium. All but two of those games were against Army. … The Fighting Irish beat five teams that reached bowl games this season. The Scarlet Knights have no victories against teams that reached six wins. … Notre Dame is playing with two interim coordinators. Mike Denbrock runs the offense after Chuck Martin left for Miami, Ohio. Kerry Cooks took over the defense after Bob Diaco became head coach at UConn. … Rutgers has an interim defensive coordinator. Special teams coordinator Joe Rossi took over after Dave Cohen was fired … Rutgers RB Paul James needs 167 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, despite missing four games.
Associated Press photo
Splitting up 1,285 lost games • 12.27.13
It’s hard to put this sort of raw number into context, but here’s the basic figure we’re dealing with: Yankees players spent 1,285 games on the Major League disabled list in 2013.
I’ve been working on some year-in-review stuff, and the injuries are hard to ignore when discussing the past 12 months. I don’t the injuries alone carry the blame for an 85-win season, but they certainly played a significant role. All seven Yankees who spent more than half of the year on the Major League disabled list might have played huge roles if not for the injuries. And even some of those players’ replacements wound up missing significant time.
This is the way 1,285 lost games broke down last season. These are only counting games spent on the big league disabled list. Manny Banuelos spent the whole year on the disabled list, but all of it was on the minor league DL (that said, you could certainly make a strong case that he would have been in the big leagues if not for the elbow issue). Here are the games missed for each Yankees player who spent time on the Major League DL this year.
Fractured left ankle, strained right quadriceps, sprained right calf
Sprained lumbar spine
Recovery from left hip surgery
Broken right wrist, broken left hand
Right rotator cuff tendinitis
Recovery from left elbow surgery
Strained right forearm
Strained right hamstring, broken left hand
Strained right rotator cuff
Sprained left ankle
Strained right oblique
Inflamed right triceps
Right shoulder surgery
Strained left groin
Strained left trapezius muscle
Strained left hamstring
Sore upper back
Associated Press photos
Looking back at Brian McCann’s prospect days • 12.27.13
Like they did with Robinson Cano, the folks over at Baseball America have taken a look back at their own prospect evaluations of Brian McCann.
It’s a player who once ranked as high as No. 44 overall in BA’s Top 100 Prospects list, so he was obviously highly touted, but it’s interesting to note that heading into the 2005 season — the year he would play 59 big league games before becoming an All-Star the next season — Baseball America was expecting McCann to “spend 2005 at the new Double-A Mississippi affiliate and could reach Atlanta by late 2006.”
That same offseason, Baseball America was high on McCann’s bat and growing sold on his defense.
McCann has a sweet lefthanded swing and as much raw power as anyone in the organization. He employs a disciplined approach at the plate and makes solid contact. Drafted primarily for his bat, he has dedicated himself to improving behind the plate and was named the (Carolina League)’s best defensive catcher.
Check out the whole piece if you have a subscription. Prospect evaluation can be extremely hit or miss, and McCann seems to have hit on all of the potential that he showed from the day he was drafted. Maybe that’s what it takes to make seven all-star teams in a player’s first eight full seasons in the big leagues.
Important today; forgotten tomorrow • 12.27.13
Every time things get particularly slow in the winter, I tend to look back to make sure this is a normal phenomenon. I go to the far right side of the blog, scroll to the monthly archive, and click back toward the Ghosts of Offseasons Past. It’s no surprise that I usually find more of the same, just quiet days of more speculation than action.
But clicking back to my first winter on the beat, I found this post from 2009. It’s premise is simple: Asking whether Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain would be a better fit in the 2010 rotation.
It’s thoroughly irrelevant at this point — neither one is even in the organization any longer — but it’s interesting to look back at moments like this that seemed to have long-term consequences. Heading into that 2010 spring training, the choice of Hughes vs. Chamberlain to round out the rotation wasn’t simply a one-year decision, it seemed to be the kind of decision that might carry through an entire decade when one of the two might become irreplaceable in the rotation while the other secured a spot as a potential replacement for Mariano Rivera. These were high-end talents with long-term significance, and now they’re gone with no fanfare or sadness.
How many things this winter are going to feel the same way in four years?
Is all of this nail biting over Masahiro Tanaka going to look foolish? Is some solution going to arrive to make all of the infield uncertainty seem unnecessary? Is Dave Robertson or Derek Jeter or Michael Pineda going to make us wonder why we ever doubted them; or is Brian McCann or Jacoby Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran going to make us wonder why they ever got such a contract in the first place?
Every winter is full of quiet moments that spark endless debate and conversation. Time will tell which ones matter in the long run.
Associated Press photo
Former Yankees 1B Mike Hegan dies at 71 • 12.26.13
Although he had his best years as a player in Milwaukee, Mike Hegan was signed by the Yankees and played a small role in the 1964 World Series (he pinch ran and scored to pull the Yankees within a run in Game 1, but the Yankees lost the game and eventually the series). Hegan died yesterday with his family in South Carolina. Here’s the brief obituary from The Associated Press.
CLEVELAND (AP) — Mike Hegan, a former major league player who was a longtime broadcaster with the Cleveland Indians, has died. He was 71.
The Indians say Hegan had his family by his side when he died Wednesday morning in Hilton Head, S.C. No other details were provided by the team.
Hegan was a radio and TV broadcaster for the Indians for 23 years. He retired after the 2011 season. He also spent 12 seasons as a broadcaster with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The son of former Indians catcher Jim Hegan made the AL All-Star team with the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and helped the Oakland Athletics win the 1972 World Series. He also played in the 1964 World Series with the New York Yankees.
Hegan hit .242 with 53 homers and 229 RBIs in 965 career games with three organizations, getting most of his time at first base and in the outfield.
Associated Press photo
The regular season is coming to an end in winter ball. The Yankees haven’t had a ton of significant names playing this winter, but there are a few you’ll recognize.
• The Dominican Winter League regular season has ended, and it’s been a strong winter for Zoilo Almonte. Not sure that means much in his bid for a big league roster spot, but it can’t hurt. He had multiple hits in three of his last four games — and six of his past 10 — raising his winter slash line up to .316/.343/.454 while regularly batting third or fourth in the order. He’s had some time in center and right, but the vast majority of his playing time has come in left field. In keeping with his minor league splits, he’s had an .874 OPS against righties with a .663 against lefties. Winter numbers rarely mean a ton, but at the very least it’s a sign that Almonte is healthy and hitting with spring training two months away.
• Pretty interesting what’s happened with Adonis Garcia down in Venezuela. He’s been almost exclusively an outfielder with the Yankees — and he was playing almost entirely outfield early this winter — but for the past month or so, Garcia’s been playing second base and third base without a single turn in the outfield. He’s made six errors in that time, but he’s also hitting .319/.344/.491 (with a 17-game hitting streak that came to an end just before Christmas). Going to be interesting to see how the Yankees use him. It’s not like they can’t find at-bats for a right-handed outfielder, but the Yankees have always liked maximizing the versatility of young players.
• Speaking of right-handed outfielders who can play the infielder, Ronnier Mustelier has started hitting a little bit in Mexico. He was hitting .229/.350/.297 in early December, but in the past three months he’s raised that season slash line up to .279/.391/.374. Still not the kind of power you expect from Mustelier in winter ball, but he’s getting on base quite a bit, and he has 21 hits in his past 13 games. He’s primarily playing right field, with some time in left field, center field and at third base. He’s coming off a underwhelming season shortened by injuries.
• Only five winter games for Eduardo Nunez so far. Too small of a sample size for his numbers to mean much, but it’s somewhat interesting that he’s played both shortstop and third base.
• Jose Pirela continues to rake in Venezuela. Not entirely sure what to make of it — my gut is to make not much of it — but he’s hitting .335/.421/.506 with multiple hits in nine of his past 13 games. He’s homered in two of his past three games. He’s getting most of his time in left field now, not so much second base, but those offensive numbers are pretty overwhelming. Again, not sure they put him on the big league radar, but they might deserve another look in big league camp.
• Relatively new minor league addition Antoan Richardson played in Venezuela until late November, hitting .254/.353/.336 while playing center field and right field. That’s more or less the same kind of hitter he’s been in the minors, with an on-base percentage that far exceeds his batting average. Could see a decent amount of time in center field for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season if Slade Heathcott isn’t there. Another new addition, third baseman Zelous Wheeler, is hitting .268/.359/.429 in Mexico.
• Very little winter league pitching worth mentioning. Aside from the four guys sent to the Arizona Fall League, the Yankees just don’t have many notable guys pitching this winter. Pat Venditte is healthy and pitching in Mexico and Jose Campos pitched one game in Venezuela, but the sample sizes are pretty small even by winter standards.
Associated Press photo
The awkwardness of being Plan B • 12.26.13
While the Yankees wait for the Masahiro Tanaka situation to play out, and while they wait for the Alex Rodriguez suspension to be decided, they have little choice but to talk to other pitchers and infielders. Brian Cashman always talks about casting a wide net this time of year, because it’s really the only way to conduct business. The Yankees have to know their options and have a feel for the market, and so they’ve been linked to — among others — Bronson Arroyo and Stephen Drew and Mark Reynolds. But those must be awkward conversations for everyone, right?
The players know what’s going on. Arroyo knows that he’s not the Yankees top choice to round out the rotation, and Drew knows he might not get to play his normal position, and Reynolds knows he’s mostly a backup option should A-Rod be ineligible. I’m sure the Yankees would be happy to have both Arroyo and Tanaka (if the money is right), and it would be nice to have Drew filling in at second or third (while providing high-profile insurance at short), and Reynolds has the kind of right-handed power that fits the Yankees current needs. But all of these are, in one way or another, a version of Plan B.
The trick will be keeping Plan B on the board while Plan A waits for a decision. Maybe the Rodriguez decision will come very soon after the New Year, bringing clarity to the Yankees infield and payroll situations. Maybe the Tanaka bidding will move quickly, separating the contenders from the pretenders, and giving the Yankees a clear idea of whether they need to back out or go all in.
We’ve already seen the Yankees move preemptively to Plan B with the Jacoby Ellsbury signing — which came as the Yankees were realizing Robinson Cano was likely to land elsewhere — and I can’t help wondering if we might see the same, especially in the case of the pitching staff. Signing a guy like Arroyo could be a sign that the Yankees are truly willing to spend huge money this winter, or it could be a sign that Plan A is melting away and it’s time to move on to Plan B.
Associated Press photo
The piece that fits too well to ignore • 12.26.13
According to Mark Feinsand, the Tanaka posting begins this morning. With that, the 30-day negotiation window is open. It will close on January 24 (though I have to assume most teams — if not all teams — will know well before that date whether they’re still in the hunt).
Not to become overly dramatic about what this means for the Yankees, but it really could define their offseason.
So far, the Yankees have thrown a ton of money at big-name free agents. They’ve signed Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to be new cornerstones of their lineup, and they’ve found some relatively high-profile role players in Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, Brian Roberts and Matt Thronton. The Yankees have been aggressive — even in an offseason when they’ve lost Robinson Cano — but they’ve also acknowledged that there’s still work to be done. A lot of that work can be completed with this one player.
What Tanaka represents is a chance to do three things:
1. Address a weak and uncertain rotation.
2. Add some youth to an aging roster.
3. Show absolute financial might.
And there’s a reason I put the rotation issue at the top of the list.
True, by signing Tanaka, the Yankees would make good on their vow that getting below the luxury tax threshold would not come at the expense of fielding a strong team. That’s important, if only because of the signal it sends to the fan base and the rest of the league. Also, Tanaka presents an opportunity to bring in a high-potential starter who’s still in his mid-20s. That kind of pitcher rarely reaches the free agent market these days, and another one might not hit the market for quite a while.
But the rotation is the real prize here, because it’s the spot on the roster most in need of a boost.
Right now, the back of the Yankees’ rotation is as inexperienced as their bullpen, and the front of the Yankees’ rotation has the same sort of uncertainty as their infield. That’s basically two types of roster concerns wrapped into one. Plus, rotations are difficult to fix on the fly. It’s hard to piece them together mid-season (like a bullpen), and it’s hard to patch them together with piggybacks and spot starters (like an infield platoon). Team’s can’t really fake a rotation, and Tanaka presents a chance to solidify the Yankees’ in both the short-term and the long-term.
There are obvious risks — starting with the fact Tanaka has no track record in the U.S. — but given the other options, and given the current needs, Tanaka could be a make-or-break opportunity. The Yankees have spent lavishly this winter. But they might have to spend a little more.
Associated Press photo
Merry Christmas everyone.
Whether you’re celebrating or not, I hope the day is a good one for you. If you’re staying warm with some folks you love, that’s even better. I’m back home in Missouri spending Christmas morning with my nephew, who’s six-months-old and perfectly amazing. Wherever you are, and whoever you’re with, I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season.
And if you’re looking for a little more than holiday greetings on this Christmas morning, the Rakuten Golden Eagles were kind enough to provide some breaking news on Christmas Eve. Here’s the AP with the story. Happy holidays everyone, and thank you — as always — for spending some time here on the blog. All of us at the LoHud truly appreciate it.
TOKYO (AP) — Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is set to move to the majors next season after his Japanese team Rakuten Eagles announced Wednesday it was prepared to let him leave, reversing its earlier rejection.
Rakuten Eagles president Yozo Tachibana told a news conference that the team has decided to release him through the posting system, paving the way for his departure. Tachibana said Tanaka’s outstanding performance over the past seven years, including this season, meant he deserved to be allowed to move to the U.S.
Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Eagles during the regular season and sought a move to the majors but he has two years remaining on his contract and Rakuten was under no obligation to release him.
“I’m grateful to the team for allowing me to try. Now I’ve made a first step,” he said. “I hope I would receive offers from as many teams as possible so I have a wider option.”
The New York Yankees are considered the leading candidates to sign Tanaka, though the capping of the posting fee at $20 million meant many other teams could also afford to make offers.
The Eagles had rejected the new posting system but it was passed by a vote of Japan’s professional teams. Following that decision, Rakuten had initially said they want to retain Tanaka, before Wednesday’s change of heart.
Tachibana said the team took into consideration Tanaka’s “outstanding contribution to the team” since he joined the Eagles seven years ago.
For 30 days from the time a player is posted, any MLB team can attempt to sign the player. It pays the posting fee only if it signs the player.
The new posting system was negotiated after some MLB teams objected that only the richest clubs could afford to bid on top Japanese players.
Under the previous agreement, which began in 1998 and ran through last offseason, there was no cap on bidding and only the highest bidder could negotiate with the player.
Boston obtained pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka from the Seibu Lions before the 2007 season for $51,111,111.11, and agreed to a $52 million, six-year contract. Texas got pitcher Yu Darvish from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters before the 2012 season for $51,703,411 and gave him a $56 million, six-year deal.
Associated Press photo
Reports: Tanaka to be posted • 12.24.13
According to new reports out of Japan, Masahiro Tanaka will be posted and made available to the Yankees (and the rest of Major League Baseball). Entering negotiations with the Japanese star will require a $20 million posting fee, which several teams are likely to offer. An official announcement should come soon, which should finally end this will they, won’t they saga.
Once Tanaka is placed on the market, it’s a matter of making him an offer he can’t refuse. There will absolutely be other teams in the mix.
Associated Press photo