Archive for the ‘Misc’
Up next: Baseball’s offseason begins today • 10.30.14
The World Series is over, which means the offseason has officially begun. Because their season ended without a playoff appearance, the Yankees got a bit of a head start and used that to sign general manager Brian Cashman to a new contract (his old contract expired at the end of this month). Now that the postseason is over, the offseason schedule is complete. Here’s what’s coming up.
Later today: Eligible players will be declared free agents. The Yankees have 10 major-league players who qualify, most notably Derek Jeter, Dave Robertson, Brandon McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda and Chase Headley. This should also be the day that Alex Rodriguez’s suspension officially ends.
November 3: Deadline to make qualifying offers. Seems likely Robertson will be the only Yankees player to get one (Hiroki Kuroda is another possibility). Because they were traded mid-season, Headley, McCarthy and Stephen Drew are not eligible for qualifying offers.
November 4: Free agency opens to all teams for all players. Before this date, teams have exclusive rights to negotiate with their own free agents. The market will be fully open on Tuesday.
November 6: Silver Slugger Awards announced. We already know the Yankees have no finalists for Gold Gloves (announced on Nov. 4), but there are no Silver Slugger finalists. Not that the Yankees have a realistic Silver Slugger candidate, either.
November 10: Deadline to accept or reject a qualifying offer. Baseball’s never had an accepted qualifying offer, but that could change this year. After Drew and Kendrys Morales had trouble getting contracts last winter — at least partially because they were attached to qualifying offer compensation — a player like Robertson might choose to accept a significant one-year deal rather than go shopping for a multi-year contract.
November 10-12: General managers’ meetings in Phoenix. Not to be confused with the Winter Meetings, the GM meetings happen too early in the offseason to see a ton of player movement. These meetings are more about rules and business issues.
November 10: Rookie of the Year announced. Dellin Betances will surely be on some ballots, maybe Masahiro Tanaka as well, but Jose Abreu seems to have the American League ROY wrapped up.
November 11: Manager of the Year announced. This is the award I voted for this year, and in my mind, it’s also the most difficult to accurately judge. I think Joe Girardi had a fine year, but he’s not going to be in the mix for this award.
November 12: Cy Young Award announced. Would have been interesting to see whether Tanaka could have stayed in the mix through a full season.
November 13: Most Valuable Player announced. Surely it’s Mike Trout’s turn to win the MVP. Yankees don’t have anyone seriously in the mix. For a while, it seemed Brett Gardner might land a very-bottom-of-the-ballot vote or two, but he’s not a real MVP candidate.
November 20: Deadline to protect players from Rule 5 draft. My sense is that OF Tyler Austin and RHP Branden Pinder are the safest bets to be protected by the Yankees. OF Mason Williams and RHP Mark Montgomery are each high-profile, high-ceiling players who would be Rule 5 eligible as well (but haven’t put up particularly good numbers). 1B Kyle Roller isn’t nearly as high-profile, but he’s performed at a higher level.
December 2: Non-tender deadline. This is basically the last day for Yankees to offer contracts to unsigned players. Esmil Rogers seems to be the Yankees most obvious non-tender candidate.
December 8-11: Winter Meetings in San Diego. Usually a busy time for trades and free agent contracts. Key front office executives from every team gather in one place, and the offseason usually heats up quite a bit.
December 11: Rule 5 Draft. Always happens on the final day of the Winter Meetings. To make a selection, teams must have an open spot on their 40-man roster, and anyone taken in the major-league phase must stay on the big league roster all season. The Yankees lost reliever Tommy Kahnle in last year’s Rule 5.
January 16: Deadline to exchange arbitration figures. Three days after the deadline to file for arbitration — not a particularly meaningful deadline — teams and players actually have to exchange figures. It rarely gets to this point. Even after exchanging figures, contract negotiations can continue until an actual hearing in February.
Associated Press photo
From Josh Dubow at The Associated Press, here’s a look at the excitement of a World Series Game 7. Pretty cool that we’re about to see one tonight.
In Kansas City, Game 7 of the World Series conjures up memories of Bret Saberhagen’s brilliance, a St. Louis meltdown and the only Royals championship in 1985.
The flashbacks in San Francisco aren’t nearly as sweet. There was Willie McCovey’s game-ending lineout that was oh-so-close to being a Series-winning hit in 1962 and another loss 40 years later by Barry Bonds & Co. to the Angels.
Be it Babe Ruth, Jack Morris or Mariano Rivera, the moments created in an all-or-nothing game resonate through baseball history.
Who knows what’s on deck Wednesday night when Giants visit the Royals in the 37th winner-take-all game in Series history?
“A Game 7 in the World Series is a gift for everyone,” Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said. “It’s pretty special. It’s like incredibly entertaining for fans, incredibly entertaining for the world and the game of baseball.”
It can also be heartbreaking. Just ask McCovey.
He came up with runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the Giants trailing Ralph Terry and the Yankees 1-0 in 1962. McCovey hit a screaming liner that went right to second baseman Bobby Richardson to give the Yankees the Series. Had the ball been a foot or two in either direction, San Francisco would have won it all.
“I think about the line drive, yes,” McCovey said during the 2012 Series. “Can’t get away from it.”
That dramatic ending came two years after Terry lost Game 7 on a game-ending homer by Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski.
“I was looking at this as a chance to redeem myself,” Terry said. “Otherwise, I might have been remembered as one of the great losers of all time.”
San Francisco’s other Game 7 of the World Series was much more anticlimactic. The Giants had a 5-0 lead in Game 6 that year against the Angels, just eight outs away from a title. But Anaheim scored three in the seventh and three in the eighth to win it.
John Lackey then shut down Bonds and the Giants in a 4-1 victory in Game 7.
The Royals’ only Game 7 followed a similar pattern, but with a much happier result for them. Kansas City rallied to win Game 6 against St. Louis with two runs in the bottom of the ninth with help from a missed call at first base by umpire Don Denkinger.
The Cardinals never recovered and lost 11-0 in Game 7 behind a five-hitter by Saberhagen.
The strangest ending might have been in 1926. Babe Ruth drew a two-out walk in the ninth off fellow future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander with the Yankees trailing the Cardinals 3-2. With Bob Meusel at the plate, Ruth broke for second, but the great slugger was thrown out by Bob O’Farrell. It’s the only time the final out in a Series came on a caught stealing.
HE WHO HESITATES
The long World Series drought for the Red Sox would have been much shorter than 86 years if not for three Game 7 losses along the way. The first of those came in 1946 against the Cardinals when the game was tied at 3 in the bottom of the eighth. Enos Slaughter was on first with two outs when Harry Walker hit a line drive to center. Leon Culberson threw the ball to shortstop Johnny Pesky, who hesitated for a second as Slaughter dashed home with the deciding run.
The Tigers won a laugher in Game 6 to force a seventh game against St. Louis in 1968, but had to get through October ace Bob Gibson to win it all. Gold Glove center fielder Curt Flood slipped chasing a fly ball in the seventh and the two-out misplay broke a scoreless tie. A five-hitter by Mickey Lolich on two days’ rest did the rest in the Tigers’ 4-1 win.
A MORRIS MASTERPIECE
The 1991 Series was tense all the way through with three extra-inning games and five one-run contests between Atlanta and Minnesota. The Twins forced the seventh game on Kirby Puckett’s game-ending homer in the 11th inning of Game 6 and the tension didn’t let up one bit the next night. John Smoltz and Jack Morris were locked in a classic duel as the game was scoreless despite each team loading the bases with one out in the eighth. Smoltz left in the eighth but Morris kept going through the 10th and ended up the winner when Gene Larkin hit a bases-loaded single with one out in the bottom half.
Just like this year’s Series, a Game 6 rout by the home team forced a decisive seventh game and it turned into a classic as the Yankees tried to beat Arizona for a fourth straight title in 2001. Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson all took the mound that night in the desert. Rivera had a 2-1 lead going into the ninth but got in trouble after his throwing error on a bunt attempt. Tony Womack tied the game with a double. That set the stage for Luis Gonzalez’s broken-bat RBI single over a drawn-in infield that ended the Yankees’ dynasty.
Associated Press photos
With black-and-white photographs and some of Jeter’s own words, the Yankees captain takes us through the day he went back to Yankee Stadium to clear out his locker. There were a lot of things to throw out, and a lot of things Jeter wanted to keep…
“But more than any one thing,” Jeter wrote. “I know what I’ll miss most of all is the people. So after spending way too long trying to figure out what to take, I just decided to box it all up and ship it to my house in Tampa. I wanted to spend my last afternoon hanging out with the clubhouse guys.”
Pretty cool pictures of Jeter’s spot at the very back of the clubhosue — or very front, depending on where you enter. It’ll be interesting to see who, if anyone, gets that prime spot next season.
Know who played the most games at shortstop for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year?
It was Carmen Angelini, the mostly forgotten prospect who, for at least a little while, was one of the Yankees top young players at the position. He was a 10th-round pick out of high school, and he would have gone sooner if not for a commitment to play college ball at Rice. He was a smart kid, by all accounts a good kid, and he was awfully gifted for such a young player. There was a sense that if everything worked out, he just might play his way into the conversation as an everyday player in the big leagues.
But he never reached that point. Angelini was hurt for a while, he’s 26 years old now, and a .607 OPS in Triple-A actually made this one of his better professional seasons.
Point is, it’s easy to dream on the potential of young talent. It’s harder to actually clear all the hurdles and turn that young talent into a big league regular. The Yankees have gotten some shortstops to the majors, but guys like Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez never proved themselves as anything more than part-timers.
What the Yankees have done lately to shift the odds is to add a bunch of options. Right now, the lower levels of the minor league system are loaded with young shortstops who give the Yankees several opportunities to actually find a player who reaches his best-case scenario.
“They can all play shortstop, and they can play well,” outgoing vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said.
International prospect Abiatal Avelino and fourth-round pick Tyler Wade were in Charleston this year. Young Venezuelan Thairo Estrada spent some time with Staten Island. Two guys from the 2012 international class, Angel Aguilar and Jorge Mateo, made this U.S. debuts and each landed on Baseball America’s Top 20 prospects list for the Gulf Coast League.
“So that’s five guys there,” Newman said. “And then we’ve signed three shortstops (off the international market this year): a guy named Wilkerman Garcia, Diego Castillo — two Venezuelan shortstops — and then a South Korean guy named Hyo Park. We’ve got shortstop depth. A few years ago it was catching. Now we’ve got shortstop depth.”
It’s depth in every sense of the word, including the fact that it’s extremely deep in the system with a long way to go. But there’s talent and potential.
“Jorge Mateo has as many tools (as anyone),” Newman said. “What (Luis) Severino is from a pitching perspective, this guy is from a position-player perspective. Now, they can’t move as fast because hitting’s different than pitching, but he can fly. He’s an 80 runner. Wow. Wow tools. I mean, holy (cow) tools.”
The Yankees have a bunch of lottery tickets. The trick is getting one to actually pay off down the road.
Associated Press photo
What to do about shortstop? • 10.29.14
This isn’t a fair expectation or a fair description, but this is the way it’s going to be viewed: The Yankees have to find someone to replace Derek Jeter. They had to replace The Closer last year. Now it’s time to replace The Captain.
“Right now, off the current roster, excluding the free agents that will be electing free agency, we will be looking at Brendan Ryan,” Brian Cashman said. “Are there obtainable shortstops above Ryan? Work from there. Who are the candidates? Here are the pool of players and who can play that position. What are their strengths from the defense and offensive standpoint? Are they trade acquisition costs? Are they free agent acquisition costs? What are they? Determine them, then obviously slot them up and how significantly are they compared to what we have currently on this roster. It’s not something I could measure against the retiring Derek Jeter.”
In a weird way, Jeter’s easy to replace. His final season wasn’t overly impressive on the field, and there are plenty of options available who should be upgrades defensively, offensively, or both.
So, what to do about shortstop?
1. Multi-year contract for a reason
We already know this is not necessarily the plan, but the Yankees do have a shortstop in place. Last winter, they signed Ryan to a two-year deal (plus an option). He hardly played this year, but before that, Ryan was a big league regular for five straight seasons, always with a positive WAR (according to Baseball Reference; FanGraphs had him slightly below replacement level in 2013). Yes, all of Ryan’s value comes from his glove, but in his best years, that defensive value has been pretty extreme. Going with Ryan as the starter would surely require some sort of addition to play off the bench — Jose Pirela and Zelous Wheeler are hardly ideal options at the position — but Ryan does give the Yankees a ready option if all else falls through.
2. Go small and go with defense
Ryan’s already in place, and the Yankees could pair him with another glove-first player in free agent Stephen Drew. Having seen Drew struggle through a two-month audition, it’s kind of remarkable to even suggest the Yankees might bring him back, but Drew could also become a serious bargain. He hit just .162/.237/.299 after getting a late start this year, but as recently as 2013 he hit .253/.333/.443. If Drew takes a relatively small contract in an attempt to reestablish value, and the Yankees could take advantage, bank on the defense, and hope for a better season at the plate. Could even be the left-handed half of a strong defensive platoon with Ryan.
3. Use shortstop as an offensive upgrade
What was the most disappointing part of the Yankees roster last season? The rotation was the most injured, but it was the lineup that most drastically underperformed. With only a few positions wide open this winter, the Yankees don’t have a ton of opportunities to add a huge bat, but they could add one at shortstop if they sign free agent Hanley Ramirez. There’s significant risk — defense is bad, health history is concerning — but Ramirez can hit. And after last season, it’s hard to completely ignore that sort of offense. Pie in the sky would suggest a trade for Troy Tulowitzki as the ultimate way to upgrade the offense through the shortstop position, but there’s really no telling whether the Yankees could win a bidding war for a guy like Tulowitzki. Perhaps an easier trade target that could be an offensive boost: Alexei Ramirez.
4. Pick your battles
Even with J.J. Hardy having already re-signed with the Orioles, the market still has quite a few shortstop options. Among the free agents, Drew is a defensive standout and Ramirez is an offensive standout — each with his own short comings and concerns — but there are others. It’s hard to lump them all into one group because they each come with positives and negatives. Asdrubal Cabrera is still pretty young, he’s had some good offensive seasons, and his glove is probably better used elsewhere. Jed Lowrie has basically gone from utility man to pretty solid regular (though he’s coming off a down year). What if aging Jimmy Rollins becomes available? What about Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang? Is a young, relatively unproven guy like Didi Gregorius available and worth the cost (and the risk)?
Associated Press photos
Baseball’s season ends with a Game 7 • 10.29.14
How cool is this? Seriously. I’m sure most everyone reading would prefer a four-game World Series with the Yankees winning a ring, and I get that, but a winner-take-all baseball game is pretty irresistible. And this has been an interesting series to watch with Bumgarner and Ventura and Pence and Cain. Now it’s Game 7, in Kansas City, with two rested bullpens and two teams that seem fully capable of having a big night. I’m excited for it, so we’ll start this day with Ron Blum’s Associated Press account of last night’s Game 6. Tonight’s going to be a pretty good way to end the season. The offseason really gets started tomorrow.
As bouncers rolled by infielders and bloops dropped in front of outfielders, it became clear this World Series was headed to a climactic Game 7 — just like the one 29 years ago when the Kansas City Royals won their only title.
Lorenzo Cain looped a two-run single — one of eight Royals to get hits in a seven-run second inning — and Eric Hosmer chopped a two-run double over shortstop as the Royals battered the San Francisco Giants 10-0 Tuesday night to tie the Series at three games apiece.
Pitching with the initials of late St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras on his cap, 23-year-old rookie Yordano Ventura allowed three hits over seven innings for his first Series win.
“Guys stepped up in a big way tonight,” Cain said.
Jeremy Guthrie starts Wednesday night for Kansas City and Tim Hudson for San Francisco in a rematch of Game 3, won by Kansas City 3-2. Hudson, 39, will become the oldest Game 7 starter in Series history.
Lurking is Madison Bumgarner, ready to pitch in relief after suffocating the Royals on a total of one run in winning Games 1 and 5.
“We’re confident,” the Royals’ Billy Butler said. “Jeremy, every time out, gives us a chance to win.”
Kansas City can be comfortable in this bit of history: Home teams have won nine straight Game 7s in the Series, including the Royals’ 11-0 rout of St. Louis in 1985, since Pittsburgh’s victory at Baltimore in 1979. And the Giants have lost all four of their World Series finales pushed to the limit.
“This club’s so resilient. They’re so tough. They’ll put this behind them,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “You’ve come back against the odds, and you can do it again.”
Teams with the home-field advantage have won 23 of the last 28 titles, including five in a row. This Series has followed the exact pattern of the only other all-wild card matchup in 2002, when the Giants won the opener, fell behind 2-1, took a 3-2 lead and lost the last two games at Anaheim.
Ventura escaped his only trouble in the third, when he walked the bases loaded with one out and then got Buster Posey to ground a 97 mph fastball into a double play. Ventura threw fastballs on 81 of 100 pitches, reaching up to 100 mph, and worked around five walks. Royals manager Ned Yost was able to rest the hard-throwing back of his bullpen: Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis enter Game 7 with two days off and closer Greg Holland with three.
“This keeps all our big guns fresh and ready to tomorrow,” Yost said.
In a Series marked by blowouts — the first in which five games were decided by five runs or more — Kansas City out-hit the Giants 15-6 Tuesday. All nine Royals had hits by the third inning, matching the mark set by Arizona against the Yankees in Game 6 in 2001.
Cain drove in three runs and was among six Royals with two hits each.
Mike Moustakas homered in the seventh against Hunter Strickland, ending a 36-inning homerless streak in the Series, the longest since 1945.
Peavy’s outing was the shortest for a Series starter since the Yankees’ David Wells got just three outs against the Marlins 11 years ago in Game 5, according to STATS.
Peavy was charged with five runs and six hits in 1 1-3 innings, leaving with a career Series record of 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA in three starts. His record at Kauffman Stadium is 1-7 with a 7.28 ERA.
Associated Press photos
As we get ready for what might be the final Major League Baseball game of the year, here’s Ron Blum from The Associated Press with the sense of optimism for the win-or-else Royals.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 2-foot-tall image of deer in multicolored neon with a bulls-eye on its tail is affixed to a wall in the Kansas City Royals locker room. It hangs between the stalls of Aaron Crow and Tim Collins, and has a “W” underneath a crown.
Pitcher James Shields ordered it custom made, and after wins veterans select a “King of the Game” to flip the switch that lights up the so-called “Texas Heart Shot” while a smoke machine perched atop a refrigerator fills the room with a fog more befitting a night club than a clubhouse.
Trailing 3-2 to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, the Royals hope to light up that sign two more times this week. But if they do come back to win their first title in 29 years, it’s unlikely there will be time for their usual clubhouse ceremony given the champagne-fueled chaos.
“I doubt it. It’s going to be crazy around here if we win both games,” outfielder Lorenzo Cain said Monday.
Kansas City turns to a 23-year-old rookie to save its season, but not just any 23-year-old rookie: the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in the major leagues.
Yordano Ventura gets the ball Tuesday night with the Royals in the same position they were in 1985 when they sent Charlie Leibrandt to the mound against St. Louis. Kansas City won 2-1 that night on pinch-hitter Dane Iorg’s two-run single in the ninth after a blown call by first base umpire Don Denkinger, and the Royals went on to blow out the Cardinals 11-0 a day later behind Bret Saberhagen for their only title.
In the 41 previous instances the World Series was 2-2 in the best-of-seven format, the Game 5 winner has taken the title 27 times. But eight of the last 10 teams to come home trailing 3-2 swept Games 6 and 7.
“We have a lot of confidence in Ventura. We have confidence that we will win every time he takes the mound,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “We know we can do it. We’re a confident group. But we can’t do anything without winning Game 6. We’re excited to get back home, where we feed off the fans and that energy.”
Kansas City hopes to light up Jake Peavy along with the deer in a rematch of Game 2 starters.
Ventura, whose fastball averaged 98 mph this season, didn’t get a decision in the second game, allowing two runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings before Royals manager Ned Yost went to his hard-throwing HDH relief trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland in the 7-2 victory.
“His confidence is just staggering,” Yost said. “You walk in that clubhouse, and he looks you square in the eye with that glint that says: ‘I’m ready for this.’”
The 33-year-old Peavy took the loss, giving up four runs and six hits in five innings-plus. He is seeking his first World Series win — he didn’t get a decision for Boston in Game 3 last year — and is well aware he could get the victory in the clincher.
“I can’t imagine anything being any sweeter than that,” he said. “This is the start that you play your whole career wanting.”
This is the first World Series in which four of the first five games were decided by five runs or more. The second all-wild card World Series has followed the pattern of the first in 2002. The Giants won the opener on the road, lost the next two games and won two in a row to take a 3-2 lead. San Francisco opened a 5-0 lead in Game 6 at Anaheim but lost 6-5, and the Angels won Game 7 the following night.
Yost hopes history repeats and Ventura is energized by the Kauffman Stadium crowd.
“Trust me, if we’re in this position, I would much rather be here than there with our fans. I think home-field advantage is huge,” he said after the team arrived back home at about 4:30 a.m. “It’s going to be a lot funner going into Game 6 here than it would be in San Francisco, that’s for sure.”
The Giants spent the night at home, chartered with player families on the flight and reached Kansas City about 12½ hour later. With the shift to the AL ballpark, designated hitters return: Billy Butler for the Royals and Michael Morse for the Giants.
San Francisco’s Tim Hudson and Kansas City’s Jeremy Guthrie would be the likely Game 7 starters if the Series is extended to Wednesday. And lurking is Madison Bumgarner, who pitched a four-hit shutout to win Game 5 on Sunday. Bumgarner, 4-0 in Series play with a record-low 0.29 ERA, could come out of the bullpen on two days’ rest for what would be his first relief appearance since throwing two scoreless innings in Game 6 of the 2010 NL Championship Series.
He wouldn’t estimate how long he could go.
“I’m not a big pitch-count guy,” he said. “So as long as you keep getting outs and you feel good, you should stay out there.”
Associated Press photos
It’s dangerous to make too much of Arizona Fall League numbers, but a .343/.375/.672 slash line with the league lead in home runs and RBI is pretty tough to ignore. So, Yankees first base prospect Greg Bird is getting some attention.
Today Baseball America profile Bird in a piece that focuses on his emergence during his first 16 games in Arizona, where his bat seems to have caught the attention of several scouts.
“Birdie’s just being himself,” Yankees minor league hitting coach P.J. Pilittere told BA. “What he’s displaying right now in this league is what we’ve all been confident that he could do. We’ve seen it for the few years that he’s been part of the system … Our expectations for him are what you are seeing here. He’s a dangerous hitter, very knowledgeable and very smart. He’s got a chance to be really special.”
In other minor league news, Baseball America has been doing its usual installments of minor league transactions. Nothing too earth shattering so far, but here’s a quick bit of catch up.
Elected free agency: RHP Chris Leroux, LHP Cesar Cabral, LHP Josh Outman
These aren’t remotely surprising. All three were on the 40-man at some point this season, and all three had been outrighted at various points this season. There was a time when it seemed Cabral might have an actual future with the team — he nearly made the Opening Day roster a few years ago — but after an elbow injury, he was given a few chances in the big leagues and never showed enough to stick. He was designated after a particularly brutal outing against Tampa Bay. He wound up in Double-A, where he had a 1.66 WHIP during a pretty rough year.
Re-signed last month: C Kyle Higashioka
Baseball America pointed out that Higashioka would have been eligible for free agency had he not signed a new deal before the end of the big league season, and BA believes he was the first player to re-sign this year. It’s overstating to consider Higashioka a particularly significant prospect at this point, but he was in big league camp as far back at 2010 — even now, he’s still just 24 — and the Yankees seem to like his defense. Just a matter of whether the bat will ever come close to matching the glove. The Yankees sent him to the Fall League this year.
Signed to minor league deals: RHP Diego Moreno (re-signed), C Francisco Arcia (re-signed), RHP Joel de la Cruz (re-signed), RHP Yoel Espinal (released by Tigers, May 2, 2013), RHP Wilking Rodriguez (re-signed)
Not likely to see many significant minor league contracts this early in the offseason, and there are no real exceptions on this list. Arcia has occasionally hit a little, and he got an invitation to big league camp last spring. De la Cruz had some solid moments this year in Triple-A and Double-A. Moreno also had his moments in the upper levels, and he’s pitched well as a late-inning reliever in Venezuela this winter.
It’s been announced that the Blue Jays have claimed first baseman Justin Smoak off waivers from the Mariners. Two reasons that’s at least mildly significant — or perhaps just mildly interesting — for the Yankees.
1. It signals at least a slight shift in the American League East
Smoak is a first baseman, and so his move to Toronto suggests Adam Lind is on his way out. For several days now, rumors have suggested the Blue Jays are interested in trading Lind. He’s been a pretty powerful bat the past couple of years — kind of a return to form after a few disappointing seasons — and given the offensive slide throughout baseball, a bat like Lind’s could bring the Blue Jays a fairly significant return. Smoak has been mostly a disappointment in the big leagues, but the Blue Jays still have Edwin Encarnacion to play first base, and acquiring Smoak could make it easier to trade Lind in order to upgrade elsewhere.
2. It’s a flashback to the Yankees failed bid to acquire Cliff Lee in 2010
Far more than the impact in Toronto, this waiver claim is probably most significant because of what it means in Seattle. It’s essentially an acknowledgment — not that they were ever denying it — that the Mariners did not get nearly what they expected out of their high-profile Cliff Lee trade that brought Smoak over in the first place in 2010. At the time, the Yankees basically had a Lee deal in place — it was centered on Jesus Montero — but the Mariners backed out in favor of a deal built around Smoak, who’s been just a .224/.309/.380 hitter in the big leagues. Smoak’s slash line is actually quite similar to the .258/.302/.396 slash line for Montero, who’s had far more limited big league chances.
What to do about third base? • 10.28.14
The Yankees face a weird decision at third base, but Brian Cashman has already taken some of the ambiguity out of the situation.
“I think it’s best to assume that we should have contingencies in place,” Cashman said after he was re-hired as general manager. “I don’t think it’s safe to assume that (Alex Rodriguez) can play third base.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Yankees are in the market for a third baseman. They have a possible contingency plan in place with Martin Prado, and utility option Jose Pirela — who clearly opened some eyes this season — has some third base experience.
So, what to do about third base?
1. Roll the dice with A-Rod
Have to acknowledge this as a possibility, especially if the Yankees start to feel some sense of optimism during Rodriguez’s early offseason workouts. If a third base market doesn’t take shape quickly, and Rodriguez looks stronger than expected, the Yankees could trust their highest-paid player with the bulk of the third base load. They would have Pirela as a backup option, a guy like Tyler Austin could get some third base time in Triple-A, and Prado would be around to take some third base time if a young second baseman — Rob Refsnyder perhaps — proves ready.
2. Bring back the rental
The Yankees got a first-hand look at Chase Headley, and it was hard to dislike what they saw. He didn’t hit for much power, but that was to be expected. He got on base at a great clip, and he played terrific defense, and the defense in particular would be a welcome addition after the Yankees saw last year what a defensively weak infield looks like. One problem with signing Headley is that he’s not likely to take the kind of contract you’d expect for a part-time player. Signing Headley means basically committing to him nearly early day at third base (with some time at first base and maybe the outfield being a possibility).
3. Go for a bigger bat
If the Yankees want to prioritize offense at third base, the free agent market should include at least one possibility. Pablo Sandoval is due to hit the open market (though he could re-sign with San Francisco), and he’s a pretty potent bat with a surprisingly good glove. His best years have been terrific. His lesser years have simply been reasonably productive. Still in his 20s, too. An older option might be Aramis Ramirez, who has a mutual option in his contract. He would be another aging player who’s shown plenty of signs of decline, but there’s still some power there. Outside of the box: The Yankees could go after a guy like Hanley Ramirez and play him at third. If there’s an offensive third baseman readily available on the trade market, that might also be a way to strengthen the underwhelming lineup.
4. Spend money elsewhere
Regardless of Rodriguez’s offseason progress — and frankly, the Yankees might not know much of anything until well into spring training — the Yankees could essentially decide that their infield is deep enough at second and third. Maybe bring in another utility type or a cheap veteran, but ultimately trust that Rodriguez’s eligibility, Prado’s versatility, Pirela’s emergence and Refsnyder’s potential are enough to passably fill second and third base next season (at least, good enough to not spend significant money on upgrades). That would free the Yankees to find there offense elsewhere, possibly by signing a true designated hitter — Nelson Cruz, maybe? — who’s only possibly defensive function would be occasionally playing right field or first base.
Associated Press photo