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

Archive for the ‘Misc’

Winter ball notes: Recapping the Yankees offseason standouts01.30.15

Jose Pirela

Kind of a pointless exercise — you could probably say that about 80 percent of offseason stories and blog posts — but it occurred to me last week that you could put together a pretty decent organizational all-star team based on the guys who played in winter ball this year. The pitching is thin, and there’s not really a standout behind the plate, but otherwise the Yankees had one pretty solid young player at almost every position.

Just because it’s a Friday, here’s an attempt at a starting lineup of guys who played in winter ball this year. Let’s consider this a kind of recap of the winter standouts.

Flores1. Ramon Flores CF
A lot of corner outfielders in the mix, so Flores shifts from left to center. He hit .347/.435/.505 in Venezuela and could be the first outfielder in line for a big league call-up this season. If he weren’t left-handed, he might have a better shot of making the team out of camp.

2. Jose Pirela 2B
Pulled from the Venezuelan playoffs because of a relatively minor hand injury, Pirela showed once again why he’s a candidate for a utility job with the Yankees. He hit .296/.394/.515 while playing second base, third base, left field and right field.

3. Aaron Judge RF
Probably the top offensive prospect in the Yankees system, Judge capped his professional debut by hitting .278/.377/.467 in the Arizona Fall League. That’s after he hit .308/.419/.486 during the regular season. Seems headed for Double-A. Question is, how quickly can he move up?

Bird4. Greg Bird 1B
Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League, Bird hit .313/.391/.556 and established himself as one of the top first-base prospects in the game. The converted catcher has always had an advanced approach at the plate, but this year the power seemed to really arrive.

5. Tyler Austin LF
Primarily a right fielder — with time at first base and third base — Austin started playing some left field in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps setting up the possibility of a big league bench role this season. His bat is still the key, and Austin hit .304/.392/.449 in Arizona.

6. Dante Bichette Jr. 3B
After a strong regular season, Bichette went to the Arizona Fall League and fell flat with a .260/.317/.274 slash line. That said, 2014 restored some of his prospect status as he seemed to make meaningful adjustments at the plate to hit .264/.345/.397 across two levels. That’s an OPS jump of basically 100 points better than the previous two years.

Garcia7. Adonis Garcia DH
His team lost in the Venezuelan championship series, but Gracia was key in simply getting them that far. He hit .313/.369/.468 as a regular in the middle of the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. After playing only the outfield corners in the winter ball regular season, he saw some time back at third base in the playoffs.

8. Ali Castillo SS
Not really considered much of a prospect, but in the Yankees’ thin system, Castillo might be the top upper-level shortstop (even if he’s more of a utility man). He hit .305/.346/.408 while playing all over the field in Venezuela this winter, but he might have to return to Double-A this season.

9. Francisco Arcia C
Despite all the catching depth in the minor league system, the Yankees didn’t have a big name behind the plate this winter. Kyle Higashioka got into just six games in the Arizona Fall League (hit .409/.480/.682 in those limited chances). Arcia was in Venezuela and hit just .184/.228/.218 through 87 at-bats. He hit a little better (.235/.316/.353) in the playoffs.

RogersStarting pitcher: Esmil Rogers
Certainly not a prospect at this point, but Rogers was pretty much the headliner among Yankees pitchers in winter ball. He had 18 strikeouts and just four walks through 11.1 innings in the Dominican Winter League (he worked strictly as a starter), then he got into the playoffs and pitched to a 3.55 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 28 strikeouts and six walks through five starts.

Left-handed reliever: Jose De Paula
Although he’s really a starter, De Paula’s quickest path the big leagues is probably as a reliever. Signed to a major-league deal this offseason, De Paula made just two appearances in the Dominican Winter League — both starts — with 10 strikeouts, one walk and one run through 10 innings.

Right-handed reliever: Kyle Haynes
The Yankees were position player heavy in their Arizona Fall League assignments. Branden Pinder was on the initial list and would have been the pitching standout, but he was replaced by Haynes, the hard-thrower acquired in last winter’s Chris Stewart trade. He had a 2.31 ERA in Arizona, but an ugly 1.63 WHIP.

Associated Press photo of Pirela

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Yankees add Scott Baker for veteran rotation depth01.30.15

BakerClearly in the market for additional rotation depth, the Yankees seem to have found some in veteran right-hander Scott Baker. According to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed Baker to a minor league contract. He will presumably get an invitation to big league camp and likely head to Triple-A to serve as insurance.

Now 33 years old, Baker had a pretty good run with the Twins in the late 2000s. From 2007 to 2011, he had a 3.98 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He had three straight years of double-digit wins, including a 15-win season in 2009, but an elbow injury thoroughly derailed his career in 2012. He was solid in three starts for the Cubs in 2013 (two particularly good starts, one bad one), and he spent most of last year in the big leagues with the Rangers shuffling between the bullpen and the rotation. He kept his WHIP down to 1.90 — same as during that 15-win season — but his ERA ballooned to 5.47 through some particularly bad outings. In the second half he had a 3.95 ERA with a 1.024 WHIP.

For the Yankees, Baker adds a veteran to the collection of projected Triple-A starters — Chase Whitley, Jose De Paula and Bryan Mitchell — who could slide into the big league rotation should someone get hurt in spring training. Which isn’t, you know, out of the question.

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Looking for underappreciated players on the Yankees roster01.30.15

Chris Young

If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written about the Hall of Fame, you might already know this: I love the Hall of Fame, but I don’t get too worked up about Hall of Fame debates. I think they’re interesting, and I think they’re worthwhile — they force us to re-examine some great careers, and that’s meaningful — but I ultimately don’t get too fussed about who’s in and who’s out.

Erik’s post this morning made a pretty incredible case for Mike Mussina as a Hall of Famer, but I’m still not mad that Tom Glavine is in and Mussina is not. I thought of Mussina as a Hall of Famer before, I’m more convinced now, and I find the conversation interesting. I’m just not losing sleep over the end result. I think Glavine deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think Mussina should join him. And even if he doesn’t, Mussina will still have been a really, really great pitcher.

What Erik’s post got me thinking about most was the idea of an underappreciated baseball player. Perhaps Mussina was one. Maybe Tim Raines was one. I realized a few years ago that Fred McGriff was one. Most underappreciated players, though, far fall short of the Hall of Fame standard and will never be a part of a Hall of Fame debate.

Until last year, I think you could argue that Brett Gardner was an underappreciated baseball player. He had to walk on to his college team. He spent much of his minor league career labeled as a fourth outfielder. He had a hard time winning everyday playing time in the big leagues. The past two years, though, Gardner’s emerged as a legitimate everyday left fielder. Maybe he’s not a conventional left fielder — not so much power, more speed and defense — but he’s been a good one, and the Yankees have rewarded him with a contract extension and regular at-bats.

So who from this year’s Yankees might be underappreciated at the moment? Here are a few possibilities:

Stephen Drew1. Stephen Drew
Last year’s numbers were awful, and because of that, Drew’s easy to dismiss as an absurd investment, even on a relatively small one-year, $5-million contract. But only a year ago, plenty of Yankees fans wanted Drew on the roster. He has a career OPS of .747, and until last season he’d never finished remotely close .536. His strong 2013 with Boston was pretty close to a typical season for him. Now, Drew’s had a regular offseason and should have a normal spring training, which is surely a good sign for him. He missed much of the 2011 spring training because of an abdominal issue. He missed the start of 2012 because of an ankle injury. He missed most of the 2013 spring training with a concussion. He got a late start last year because of his contract situation. Drew’s been a pretty good middle infielder through most of his career, and could be a solid buy-low opportunity for the Yankees.

2. Mark Teixeira
Granted, he’s being paid like an MVP, and there’s little hope that he’ll actually hit like an MVP. In terms of contract status, Teixeira is far from underappreciated. But at some point, public opinion might have swung too far toward the negative. A severe wrist injury forced Teixeira to miss nearly all of 2013 and forced him into an unusual winter heading into 2014. If that’s the reason his bat declined in the second half of last season — because he wasn’t in his usual shape — then Teixeira might not be the lost cause he’s often made out to be. Through the first three months of last season, before fatigue might have set in, Teixeira slugged .474, which is a really good slugging percentage these days. He doesn’t have the all-around production that the Yankees expected in 2008, but if he can maintain his power numbers this year, he could still be a viable run producer.

3. Adam Warren
He’s only seven months older than Dellin Betances. His fastball has gotten sneaky fast out of the bullpen, averaging 95 mph last season. His 2014 WHIP, FIP and strikeout rate were each better than Hiroki Kuroda’s or Brandon McCarthy’s (after McCarthy came to New York). And while it’s not really fair to compare a reliever to a starter, all of Warren’s numbers except his strikeout rate were better than Shawn Kelley’s last season. He’s not a flashy guy — and he had an unmistakably bad month — but Warren had a really nice year. And while he was never a huge prospect, he was always a good one. The guy can pitch, and given his background as a starter, he’s probably worth considering as solid rotation insurance in spring training. If we thought of David Phelps that way, why not Warren?

4. Nathan Eovaldi
Just an observation, but there seems to have been a lot of regret about losing Shane Greene without much excited about the addition of Eovaldi. Last season, Eovaldi had a lower FIP, a lower WHIP, and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Greene. Eovaldi is also younger than Greene by more than a year. And if this is a comparison of upside, it’s worth noting that Eovaldi was considered a Top 100 prospect, which is far higher than Greene ever ranked on lists like that. Greene took a giant step forward the past two years, and that made him an organizational success story, but there’s certainly a chance — maybe even a good chance — that Eovaldi will be better than Greene this season. For a 25-year-old fourth starter, Eovaldi could be a better addition than he gets credit for being.

5. Chris Young
As an everyday player, no thank you. Young used to bring a fairly reliable .750 OPS with about 20 homers and 20 steals while playing center field. That’s not superstar quality, but he was a 5 WAR player twice (Jacoby Ellsbury was only 3 WAR last year, according to Baseball Reference). These days, though, Young’s numbers have slipped, and advanced metrics show he’s not nearly the center fielder he used to be. He’s more of a fourth outfielder at this point … and that’s exactly what the Yankees are asking him to be. His splits against lefties were unusually low last season — even in his disappointing 2013 season, he hit lefties much better than last year — and as long as those drift back toward the norm, he should be a nice fit as a right-handed bench player. If someone gets hurt, those splits should help him fit nicely in a replacement platoon. Teams can’t get much for $2.5 million, but Young might actually be a better fit than he gets credit for being.

Associated Press photos

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Pinch hitting: Erik Didriksen01.30.15

Mike Mussina

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Erik Didriksen, a 26-year-old from northeastern New Jersey, now living in Astoria, N.Y. (“with my wonderful girlfriend of six years,” he wrote, trying to win brownie points). Erik works for NBC as a software developer by day, and he writes Pop Sonnets at night. He described himself as three things: a musician, a proud uncle, and a trivia buff. He got into the Yankees because of his father, and he has been “blessed with the good fortune to attend fifteen games a year with him for the last decade.” Among those games: the last walk-off and the last game at the old Yankee Stadium, and all three postseason walk-offs in the new Yankee Stadium.

For his post, Erik is writing about one of many borderline Hall of Famers who’s likely to keep generating a lot of annual discussion when ballots are released.

Mike MussinaMike Mussina stood on the mound and looked in for the sign. He’d retired 26 Red Sox in order and had pinch-hitter Carl Everett down to a 1-2 count. Everett was just 1-for-9 with seven strikeouts against Mussina – four strikeouts, all swinging, had come in a single game three months prior. Mussina elected to stick with the same game plan: get ahead in the count, then go to the high fastball.

The pitch came in on the black and at the letters, right at the corner of the strike zone, enough to freeze a batter but still get the call. Everett did not freeze, though. He swung, looping the ball into left-center field. Just like that, the perfect game was gone.

Bad luck was nothing new for Mussina. September 2, 2001 was the fourth one-hitter of his career, and not only had he just lost a perfect game, the score was 1-0: the tying run was now on base. He was pitching the season of his life in front of the fifth-best offense in the league, yet somehow was given the third-worst run support in the league. In a few short weeks, he would end the season with 214 strikeouts (second to Hideo Nomo), a 3.15 ERA (second to Freddy Garcia), and a glowing 1.067 WHIP (second to Mark Buehrle) … to place fifth in the Cy Young voting.

What separated that pitch from all of the other disappointments, though, was that Mussina controlled the situation. He could never make the diving outfield catch, slug a home run, or cast a Cy Young vote. All he could do was pitch. And with a perfect game on the line, he did what a truly great pitcher would do – he made the perfect pitch.

The perfect result, and the glory that might have come with it, simply did not follow.

That’s the story of Mike Mussina. Despite a long career of consistent dominance, he is without a Cy Young award, a World Series ring, or a plaque in Cooperstown. For now, he appears on just under a quarter of the Cooperstown ballots, while peers like Tom Glavine have been inducted on their first ballot.

Yet the differences between Mussina’s and Glavine’s stat lines are astounding. Glavine allowed more hits per inning than Mussina. For every nine innings pitched, Glavine walked an extra batter and struck out two fewer. Glavine’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is less than half of Mussina’s.

In all the rates you could compare between them, Glavine bests Mussina only in ERA: 3.54 to 3.68. Even then, it’s hard to compare their ERAs when they pitched in such different leagues. Mussina squared off against designated hitters in the height of the steroid era; Glavine faced pitchers who squared up to bunt. The numbers confirm the narrative. In every season of Glavine’s 22-year career, the National League’s overall ERA was lower than the American League’s by an average of a third of a run. In 1996, the year before interleague play began, the National League’s average ERA was 4.18. The American League’s was a whopping 5.00.

If we account for these differences and measure each pitcher against their competition we find Glavine’s career ERA was 18 percent better than league average while Mussina’s was 23 percent better. Even in ERA, Mussina grades out as the better pitcher.

Career rates aren’t everything, though. Season-to-season dominance is important in making a true Hall of Famer. Glavine led the league in wins five times while Mussina only led his league in wins once. But if you expand your criteria ever so slightly, the playing field suddenly looks even. Glavine finished top-five in the league in wins eight times; Mussina managed the same feat in seven season. Glavine posted a top-five finish in ERA five times; Mussina did it seven (if we expanded it to top-six instead, it’d be five to ten.) Glavine posted a top-five finish in strikeouts once; Mussina did it six times. Glavine finished top-five in WHIP once. Mussina? Ten.

In his best showing, Glavine was eighth in the NL for strikeout-to-walk ratio. Mussina was top-five in the American League thirteen times. Yet when they both were up for election for the first time in 2014, Mussina barely made 20 percent of the ballots while Glavine was inducted with a startling 91.9% of the vote. When all of the numbers point to Moose as the better pitcher, what could possibly push Glavine so far ahead of him?

Marty Noble will tell you the answer: the voters aren’t looking at the numbers. Instead, they’re looking for the archetype of the Hall of Fame Pitcher™. Glavine reached the magical 300-win benchmark while Mussina “only” won 270 – in four fewer seasons. Is Glavine a first-ballot Hall of Famer simply on longevity? He retired when a shoulder injury and a slowly growing ERA forced him to. Mussina, on the other hand, chose to go out on top, retiring after a season with 20 wins and an ERA well above average. It’s not a stretch to imagine a team signing him into his 40s and allowing him to pad his résumé.

While 300 wins has long been the yardstick of the Hall of Fame, the importance of the pitching win in the post-Moneyball era is pretty much nil. It’s not as if the BBWAA doesn’t recognize this: Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 2010 with a 13-12 record. So if they no longer believe wins tell us who had the best season, why are they still using wins to tell us who had the best career?

Furthermore, they’re compounding the problem by focusing on the awards they gave based on the same outdated criteria. Arguably the biggest difference between Glavine and Mussina’s résumés are Cy Young Awards: Glavine has two to Mussina’s zero. But Felix’s sabermetrically-sound win in 2010 eerily echoes Mussina’s 2001 fifth-place finish. Felix led the league with 7.1 WAR while Clay Buchholz was a distant second, mustering 5.6.

In 2001, Mussina led the league with 7.1 WAR; Roger Clemens ranked second in the league with 5.6. Clemens, however, won the Cy Young on the strength of a 21-3 record. This despite Mussina’s otherwise superior statistics – ERA, WHIP, IP, K, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/BB, you name it. The discrepancy in win-loss record came down to run support: the Yankees scored two more runs per game for Clemens than Mussina. Does that make Mussina an inferior pitcher or Clemens a superior one?

The voters in 2010 wouldn’t think so – but in 2001, success was still spelled out in wins.

Glavine’s Cy Youngs were awarded the same way. Granted, he still would’ve won his first Cy by any standards. Not only did he reach 20 wins, he finished almost three wins ahead of second place on the WAR leaderboard. His 1998 campaign, on the other hand, likely would’ve ended differently. Though Glavine led the league in wins, the Padres’ Kevin Brown led the league with 8.6 WAR, almost two wins above the second-place finisher, Al Leiter. Glavine trailed Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling for fifth in the NL.

Perhaps regular season success is not enough to make a Hall of Fame career. Maybe postseason success is what separates the two. Glavine has a ring; Mussina does not. Glavine is a World Series MVP, earned on the strength of a one-hit, eight-inning gem against the Cleveland Indians in the decisive Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.

But postseason glory is like wins: you get nothing unless your team cooperates. Two years after Glavine’s gem, Mussina also hurled an eight-inning playoff one-hitter against the Indians. The difference – other than the ’97 Indians being the better offensive team – is that Baltimore couldn’t score behind him. Mussina took a no-decision in an eleven-inning, 1-0 game that ended the ALCS. Had the Orioles scored even one run behind Moose that series (he also pitched a seven-inning three-hitter in Game 3, another extra-innings loss) his 1997 postseason might’ve been the stuff of legend. He was eliminated from the playoffs with 29 IP, 41 K, a sterling 1.24 ERA, and two Division Series wins against Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.

Even when Mussina’s team won on the strength of his clutch performance, it was overshadowed. No one remembers that Mussina held the Oakland A’s scoreless for seven innings in an elimination game. People only remember Derek Jeter’s flip.

No one remembers Mussina pitching in relief for the first time in his career to bail out Clemens. The Rocket gave up four runs, leaving Mussina with runners on the corners and no outs. Moose stopped the bleeding, pitching three clean frames to give the Yankees a fighting chance. But no one thinks about that when they remember the image of Aaron Boone depositing a knuckleball into the left-field seats.

But even if you do believe a Hall of Fame starter ought to bring his team a ring, how do you explain the Hall of Fame trio of Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux earning just one together? Even if you believe the Cy Youngs matter, is the gulf between Glavine and Mussina so wide that one’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer while the other can’t crack a quarter of the ballots?

Hasn’t Mike Mussina been unlucky enough?

Associated Press photo

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Ichiro: “I’ve come to an age that I don’t really like being at”01.29.15

Ichiro Suzuki
For the past two and a half years, Ichiro Suzuki was a fascinating player to see up close. The Yankees caught him near the end of his career, when he was no longer at the level that made him a remarkable superstar for a full decade, but even that diminished version of Ichiro was exciting, if only because he remains unique in his preparation and approach. I’ve honestly never covered a player like him, and multiple Japanese reporters who know him much better than I do have said he’s the single most interesting man they’ve ever met. The guy got to the big leagues at age 27 and still has a real shot at 3,000 hits. That’s pretty incredible. I hope he gets there. Ichiro signed with the Marlins this month. He’s projected to be a fourth outfielder, but he was supposed to be a fifth outfielder last season before getting the bulk of the Yankees’ playing time in right field. Here’s Jim Armstrong of The Associated Press writing about the next chapter for a fascinating short-term Yankee. By the way, Ichiro said he’s spent the past two years looking for the Marlins’ kind of enthusiasm.

Ichiro SuzukiTOKYO (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki says a renewed sense of enthusiasm was behind his decision to sign a $2 million, one-year contract with the Miami Marlins.

“When I met (Miami) team executives yesterday, I felt incredible enthusiasm,” Suzuki said at a press conference on Thursday. “So I wanted to respond to their enthusiasm and I believe that is something I have been looking for the last two years.”

Suzuki’s deal includes $2.8 million in performance bonuses based on plate appearances: $400,000 for 300 and the same amount for each additional 50 through 600.

The 41-year-old Suzuki, a 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, is expected to be the team’s fourth outfielder behind Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

Suzuki is the first Japanese player to sign with the Marlins. He hit .284 and stole 15 bases for the New York Yankees last season.

Suzuki is a career .317 hitter in the majors and a two-time AL batting champion. The former AL MVP has 2,844 career hits.

In his first press conference in Japan since 2000, Suzuki was his usual quirky self, at one point turning the tables and asking a veteran reporter what was behind his line of questioning.

He told members of the press that difficult questions make him cough, and proceeded to start coughing when a reporter said that he was about to become the oldest active position player.

“That’s a scary question,” Suzuki said. “As a baseball player, I’ve come to an age that I don’t really like being at. I’m 41 but there are many people who are 25 but look like they are 41. I want to be the opposite of that and will continue working bit by bit to achieve that.”

Five Marlins executives, including president David Samson, president of baseball operations Michael Hill and general manager Dan Jennings, made the 18-hour trek to Tokyo for the announcement.

“It was very important for us to be here today,” Samson said. “Because commissioner (Rob) Manfred back in New York and all of us around baseball realize the importance of MLB and baseball in Japan and we’re very proud to be here.”

Hill said the Marlins hope to get the most out of the durable Suzuki.

“We’ll use him in various ways to keep him sharp and give him as many at-bats as possible,” Hill said. “He’s in incredible shape. He doesn’t look like a 41 year old. He looks like he still has a number of years left in him.”

Associated Press photo

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On the 40-man: Ramon Flores01.29.15

Ramon Flores

Continuing to look at every player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next examine an outfield prospect who could be ready for a big league role almost immediately if the right doors begin to open for him.


Age on Opening Day: 23
Acquired: International free agent in 2008
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 draft in 2012

In the past: Long overshadowed in the Yankees’ minor league system, Flores was long thought of as a second-tier prospect without the upside of Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams, but he’s put up steady numbers throughout the minor leagues. Primarily a left fielder, he can play center field, right field and has some time at first base. Last year he hit .247/.339/.443 in Triple-A, but his year was cut short by an ankle injury. He rebounded to put up terrific numbers in Venezuela this winter.

Role in 2015: For now, Flores looks like the everyday left fielder — perhaps getting a lot of time in center — for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he could also be considered the top outfielder in line for a call-up or an Opening Day job if someone gets injured. If Flores weren’t a left-handed hitter, he might be a better fit on the current Yankees roster, but with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Garrett Jones already hitting from the left side, the Yankees have more bench need for a right-handed hitter like Chris Young. That’s why Flores looks more like a Triple-A outfielder at this point.

Best case scenario: Although he’s still not necessarily getting hype as a future everyday player, Flores is beginning to get more credit among Yankees prospects as a dependable young player whose ceiling might not be the highest, but whose floor is certainly not the lowest. Best-case scenario would have Flores hitting too well — against both lefties and righties — to avoid giving him a shot in New York. It’s certainly not the best-case scenario for the team as a whole, but if Gardner, Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran is hurt, there would have to be some realistic hope that Flores could at least be a regular platoon player against righties.

Worst case scenario: If there’s a downside to Flores it’s the fact he doesn’t do any one thing especially well. He hits for good average, but not a great average. He has some speed, but he’s only once had more than 13 steals in a season. He has some power, but probably not double-digit home run power. He can play center field, but he’s better in left. On-base ability might be his best high-end tool, but is that enough for a corner outfielder who doesn’t run a lot? Worst-case scenario is that Flores has enough across-the-board skill to thrive in Triple-A, but not enough to stick in the big leagues. A low-end comparison might be, I don’t know, maybe Colin Curtis (and that’s coming from a guy who still believes Curtis could have stuck on a big league roster if he hadn’t been hurt; so I mean that as a good thing).

What the future holds: This should be the last year Flores can be optioned to Triple-A (burned one option in 2013, one in 2014 and now 2015). That could limit his future within the Yankees organization. The signing of Ellsbury and the extension for Gardner limited his ability to fit nicely on the big league roster, but considering none of the lefties involved — including Flores — has overwhelming career splits, there could still be room for all three in the right situation.

Associated Press photo

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Manfred on A-Rod: “He’s a player entitled to attempt to resume his career”01.29.15

Rob Manfred

This is link reading all the way through, but I’ll post some highlights here on the blog.

Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal interviewed new commissioner Rob Manfred. The topics ranged from defensive shifts to international free agents to Alex Rodriguez’s return to pace of play to the Mets’ payroll. It’s a pretty wide-reaching conversation, and one that hits on some of the biggest issues in the game today. I really think the whole thing is worth reading.

Three points of interest:

On his relationship with Alex Rodriguez
“It’s not uncommon for players to want to see me about something if they have an issue. I think of the conversations (earlier this month) with Alex as part of that ongoing activity and I’ve made it a practice not to get into the substance of those conversations. I don’t think Alex would, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to. … I come from a part of the business where you have back-and-forth exchanges that can become heated. People talk about the relationship that I had with Michael (Weiner). Michael and I had some pretty good goes over time. So when you come out of that environment you learn to put harsh words to one side and go forward with the relationship that you’re still going to have. That’s how I think about this issue. I think that when you have penalties that are like the penalties we have now negotiated, and the player does something wrong and serves out his penalty, the other side of that coin is baseball has to be willing to accept the player back and give him a chance to finish his career. I don’t think I’m doing anything more than that.”

On his previous comment about possibly eliminating defensive shifts
“Let me go back and put the comment I made in context. I was asked about long term, radical thoughts and what I said was that I was I prepared to have a conversation about shifts. Look, we have a lot of conversations in this building about a lot of things, so I don’t think it would be a good idea to read too much into that comment. Having said that, we watch what goes on in the game very, very carefully. On the field, what the trends are, we’re always doing that. There was a lot of talk about the lack of offense, particularly late last year and coming into the offseason. We’re watching those trends. But one of the reasons we don’t act too quickly is you never know when people are going to adjust. Maybe a lot of hitters went home this winter and they figured out how to go the other way against the shift and it will self-correct and we’re not going to need to make a change. We look at these things, we think it’s smart to pay attention, we think it’s important to think about possible solutions even if it turns out that we don’t have a problem.”

On the desire to shorten games and improve the pace of play
“I think there is substance and symbolism to this issue. On the substance, there’s no doubt that our games have crept longer, and I think that it is important on the substance to shorten them because it’s more consonant with the way that people live. Everybody’s pressed for time, and I think that to the extent we could save 10 minutes, 15 minutes on the average game, that would be a huge change in terms of the length of the game. Symbolically, because there’s so much talk about it and it is reflective of the way people live and of our society, I think it’s important to say to our fans, yes, we hear you and we’re taking steps to do something about this. … I think pace of game is one of those issues where you’re going to see us work on it over a period of years. If we could cut seven to 10 minutes off that would be a huge, a huge improvement I think this year.”

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Could there be a happy-enough ending to A-Rod’s career?01.29.15

Alex Rodriguez

This morning’s Pinch Hitter post shouldn’t be asking for too much, but it might be the least likely scenario in this whole Alex Rodriguez mess.

A sincere and believable apology? True and total forgiveness? Any sort of happy ending for Rodriguez, the Yankees, and the game of baseball? It’s a nice wish, and perhaps a worthwhile prayer, but aren’t we past that already?

If you’re looking for sincerity and hope, I would point to the words Dennis wrote: “I speak of something very real. This ‘real’ needs to play out. A-Rod can step up to the plate and do something great. He can be very sorry.”

There’s sincere hope there, but I wonder if it’s misplaced. Rodriguez is probably sorry, and I’m sure he’s filled with regret. I bet it even goes beyond the surface level, that he’s not simply sorry he got caught. Surely Rodriguez can look back on his teenaged talent, recognize his potential to be truly great, and realize that his own lies and shortcuts have ruined his legacy. Blame Sports Illustrated or Bud Selig or baseball culture all you want — Rodriguez’s fall from grace started with his own decisions.

And I honestly think baseball wants to forgive. Andy Pettitte’s steroid admission is barely a footnote in his career. Jason Giambi is beloved and even respected in the game. Mark McGwire is a hitting coach. Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Melky Cabrera have each landed lucrative contracts after PED suspensions.

But is there any hope of Rodriguez following that path? At this point, he’s drifted so far off course so many times, I’m not sure he could find the path. Instead of sincerity and forgiveness, perhaps this is a more realistic hope for these next three years of A-Rod.

Alex Rodriguez1. An open discussion
Of course Rodriguez needs to apologize. Of course he needs to promise he’ll never do it again. Those statements are a a given, even if they’re ultimately meaningless and easy to ignore after all the times we’ve heard it before. What’s more important is that Rodriguez really talks about what happened. Perhaps there are legal reasons he can’t give all the details, but he can’t hide behind the law completely. Whatever questions he doesn’t answer in that inevitable spring training press conference will only be asked again and again throughout the season. Make this whole thing a little less scandalous by making it all a part of the public record.

2. A financial compromise
A contract is a contract, and the Yankees signed a bad one. They know it, we know it, and even Rodriguez must know it. The fact the Yankees haven’t gotten out of that contract already is proof enough that they’re locked in for the next three years. They might release him, but they’re still going to pay him. Where there might be middle ground is in those home run bonuses. The players’ union should back A-Rod if the Yankees refuse to pay them — it’s in the best interest of the union that contracts pay at the highest level — but the Yankees would have full public support if they were to find a way out of it. What if Rodriguez announces that every home run bonus will go to charity? What if Major League Baseball decides that a marketing clause isn’t part of a standard contract anyway, and these particular bonuses won’t count toward the luxury tax (probably a reach, but maybe not)? If there’s a way to avoid another fight, that’s a positive for everyone involved.

3. A willing No. 8 hitter
Give Rodriguez credit for this much: When Joe Girardi benched him and pinch hit for him back in 2012, Rodriguez handled it the best way possible. He didn’t complain. Didn’t duck questions. Didn’t throw Girardi under the bus or whisper negative comments about Raul Ibanez. If Girardi decides Rodriguez is little more than a platoon designated hitter, Rodriguez needs to do the same this season. He can — and should — make it clear that he’s working to be an everyday third baseman again, but he has to be nothing but supportive if and when he’s less than that. If he’s on the bench on Opening Day and batting eighth in his first start, he has to explain that he’s had a year off and is still working hard to get up to speed. If he’s better than that, great. If not, Rodriguez can’t make it even more of a story that it will be anyway.

4. A model employee (with quiet bosses)
It was in January of 2013 that news of Biogenesis first broke, and in the months that followed, Rodriguez seemed to do whatever he could to make the situation worse. He sued baseball, sued the Yankees’ doctor, claimed mistreatment, gave brutal public comments, and separated himself so significantly that Brian Cashman once admitted he wasn’t comfortable talking to his most highly paid player. It’s remarkable that Rodriguez didn’t burn every bridge in baseball that year, but here he is, still moving forward, so some bridges must still be intact. If he starts burning bridges again in 2015, he’ll truly end up on an island with no way home. But that has to go both ways. If Rodriguez is playing nice, the Yankees and Major League Baseball have to do the same. They don’t have to like one another, but if they’re going to be stuck together with some desire to make this work, they have to at least nod politely and say hello in the hallway.

5. A good enough player
This isn’t really a decision, but it might be crucial to keeping this whole thing from falling apart. Rodriguez needs to be a major-league-caliber player. He doesn’t have to be great. Doesn’t have to hit cleanup. Doesn’t have to play third base. But Rodriguez needs to play some sort of role for at least a couple of years. If not, he’s heading for a new sort of tension. It just seems too much to ask that the Yankees and Rodriguez continue to play nice while the team clearly has no reason to keep him on its roster, and we’ve seen the way Rodriguez reacts when things get desperate. Baseball’s best hope for a peaceful resolution is that Rodriguez plays well enough, provide some productive at-bats, makes no fuss about his role, and finally walks away without another fight or another scandal.

Forgiveness? Sincerity? Maybe not. Rodriguez’s career should have ended with an epic celebration throughout baseball, but at this point, the best hope might be that it ends with a peaceful handshake and a quiet walk into retirement.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Pinch hitting: Dennis Cole01.29.15

Alex Rodriguez

Today’s Pinch Hitter is Dennis Cole, the creative director for Dramatic Christian Ministries and Narrow Gate Theater. He lives in Albuquerque but travels extensively doing one-man and small-cast live theater events. He produces, directs and writes plays, including a December adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” which he called, Ebenezer Scrooge. Dennis was the sports editor for the Woodstock Townsman in Ulster County, N.Y. from 1982 to 1985 and regularly covered the Yankees.

Dennis was one of many who suggested a Pinch Hitter post about Alex Rodriguez. I chose only a few, including this one, which is a plea for forgiveness on one end and a plea for true remorse on the other end. Dennis calls his post: Alex Rodriguez, Please Come Home.

Alex RodriguezAlex Rodriguez is coming back to major league baseball. In my view there is a kind of pragmatic “let’s all get back to normal as best we can” with regard to Alex’s return. Justice was fulfilled? He paid with the 162 game suspension. He works out with Barry Bonds now.

All is forgiven! Is it?

My issue with Rodriguez is not that “we” should harp upon his crimes, but that he should be forgiven! I mean, really forgiven. The question I propose is, how?

When he was the only one implicated in the 2003 not-to-be-made-known-to-the-public PED testing, I thought that so unjust. He was one of several users, but the only one implicated. His return and ensuing play that season 2009 was admirable and victorious. It was great for Yankee fans like me.

His apology in 2009, however, was not sincere. His implication in Biogenesis showed he was still a PED user. Unfortunately, what happened after Biogenesis was worse than his use of PED’s. A-Rod, as is publicly known, initiated law suits, lied over and again by claiming his innocence, and he insinuated others’ wrongdoings in his attempt to lie his way out of trouble. He did not seem to care who it hurt, either, certainly not his team or baseball.

As in the Shakespearian tragedy “Macbeth,” we saw in A-Rod an artistic/athletic fall of majesty, a moral fall that shatters common complacency that a fall from good character does not matter anymore. Shakespeare’s tragedies always show a moral fall of character.

There is something of the boy in this boy’s game of baseball. I speak of something greater than an ideal. I speak of something very real. This “real” needs to play out. A-Rod can step up to the plate and do something great. He can be very sorry.

If A-Rod’s moral crime is not dealt with directly — i.e. he gives a public relations apology — then A-Rod will get a public relations forgiveness. There will be an unspoken cover-up by teammates, media, the public in general, all insinuating that lies do not matter. There will be a new cover-up, to cover up the lack of guilt and remorse by A- Rod.

The chance for real remorse will have come and gone, and A-Rod’s most important at bat will be a no show. The non-spoken will be the elephant in the room. Cynicism will have its way reminding us that the boy’s game is business… bad business too. It’s not good for the team to be compromised, not good for baseball, and not good for Alex Rodriguez.

Forgiveness has a standard that says there is a right way and a wrong way. If there is no right and wrong, why forgive or be forgiven? Forgiveness brings a perfect finish to an imperfect person and people. Right now, pre-season spring training, is A-Rod’s time and place for his biggest game.

In the “Lord of the Rings,” Mount Doom is the place of victory. I would love to see A-Rod’s moment of shame become his greatest win, a forever humility. I want for all to truly forgive, but for this to happen, he needs to be truly sorrowful. Real forgiveness is unconditional. What we normally give in forgiveness is conditional and partial at best. Victory for A-Rod depends on his sincere sorrow. If not one person forgave him, his victory would remain. The sign of his victory would be his heart’s desire. The joy of playing a boys game will return to him.

My prayer is this…

Take us home Alex. Be victorious by admitting “I was wrong and am so sorry.” That’s the way to win. The only way to win. If you win this one, you will see your greatest victory ever. To be truly free is better than the Hall of Fame.

Baseball is all about coming home. The team that does this most always wins. Come home, Alex. It would be your greatest home run. I for one am rooting for you. Do it for the team and for the game of life. You have lots of teammates here.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Yankees minor leaguer Tyler Palmer suspended01.28.15

Palmer, TylerEarlier today, Major League Baseball announced that four minor league players have been suspended for violations of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. One was a free agent, one was with a Diamondbacks, one was with the Pirates … and one was with the Yankees. Here’s the paragraph of interest:

New York Yankees Minor League shortstop Tyler Palmer has received a 50-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Amphetamine, a stimulant in violation of the Program, and after a second positive test for a drug of abuse in violation of the Program. The suspension of Palmer, who is currently on the roster of the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees 2, will be effective at the start of the 2015 GCL season.

I did not recognize Palmer’s name when the press release hit my inbox. The Yankees signed him as a non-drafted free agent back in June. He went to the Gulf Coast League, played all over the field — shortstop, second base, third base, one turn in right field — and hit .262/.354/.443 with 17 stolen bases (he was never caught stealing). Those are awfully good numbers, even for a guy who was a little old for the league at 21.

Turns out, Palmer actually has a crazy background. He was a highly touted high school player in Georgia who was a fourth-round draft pick back in 2011, but just before he signed, Palmer cut his throwing arm, severing two nerves and thoroughly derailing his career. He wound up at a Community College and was playing in the Florida Collegiate Summer League when the Yankees gave him a contract last summer.

Wild story, which makes Palmer an easy guy to root for as long as this is little more than a mistake along the way.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

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