Archive for the ‘Misc’
When Greg Bird returned from his May shoulder issue, he played as if there was nothing wrong. He hit his way out of Double-A, hit his way out of Triple-A, and became one of the Yankees’ most productive big league sluggers down the stretch.
When the season ended, though, Bird’s agent contacted the Yankees to let them know there had been some lingering discomfort. According to general manager Brian Cashman, the Yankees sent Bird for shoulder checkups with both Dr. Chris Ahmad and Dr. David Altchek in October. Both recommended no surgery at the time, just a strengthening and rehab protocol similar to what Bird had done with success in Trenton.
That might have been the end of it, but the problem began to flare up again last month.
“I would say a week ago; some time in the last 10 days,” Cashman said. “Once he started working out further and stronger in Tampa, he felt problems again.”
In the last week or so, Cashman said, Bird returned to New York to see Yankees’ physician Dr. Ahmad, who at that point recommended surgery. The Yankees wanted a second opinion from Altchek, who was unavailable until this morning. When Altchek agreed with the new analysis, the final decision was made for Bird to have season-ending surgery tomorrow.
Cashman said he’s been told the success rate and recovery rate are very high for this procedure, so all involved are optimistic that Bird will be back to full strength next season.
As for this season, Cashman stressed that Mark Teixeira is still in place as the everyday first baseman, with Dustin Ackley positioned to be the backup. Asked whether the team would go after a guy like Justin Morneau or Pedro Alvarez to add first base depth, Cashman wouldn’t say, but he stressed that Bird was not projected to make the 25-man roster out of spring training.
“I think from that you can extrapolate,” Cashman said.
In other words, as long as Teixeira is in place, the Yankees are not going to sign another first baseman to a Major League deal.
As for next offseason, Cashman said he’s not sure how Bird’s injury might impact decision making heading into the 2017 season. It’s surely a factor, but not a factor that’s in play at the moment.
“I guess we’ll wait until next year or next winter,” Cashman said. “That’s not something I need to confront at the the moment. I know the physicians involved are very optimistic. … Let’s just get him the surgery, get him fixed, get him through the rehab process, and get him going again.”
Associated Press photo
The Yankees have their first serious injury of the year.
As first reported by Joel Sherman, first base prospect Greg Bird is expected to miss the entire season because of a shoulder issue that requires surgery. The Yankees announced the injury in a short email that reads: Greg Bird will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair a right shoulder labrum tear and will miss the 2016 season. The injury is a reoccurrence of a right shoulder injury sustained in May of 2015.
A few immediate thoughts:
1. In the short term, the Yankees seem covered because Mark Teixeira’s contract runs through the end of this season, but obviously this is a significant blow to their immediate depth at both first base and designated hitter. Even if Bird didn’t have a spot on the Opening Day roster, he seemed ready to play some sort of role as a guy who could fill in if there were an injury, or as a guy who could bounce back and forth to get occasional big league time as part of that 25th-man rotation.
2. Beyond this season, it will be interesting to see how the Yankees treat their first base situation next offseason. Teixeira’s contract expires at the end of this season, and the stars have been nicely aligned for Bird to takeover as a full-time big leaguer in 2017. Will the Yankees show the same faith in Bird when he’s coming off a lost year? Assuming he does miss the entire season — which seems almost certain — can Bird show enough to make the Yankees not go after a short-term stopgap? If Teixeira has a good year, does this increase the possibility of giving him a qualifying offer?
3. One prospect who might be back in the picture is Tyler Austin. In the Arizona Fall League this offseason, Austin was used primarily as a first baseman, and now he stands out as the top upper-level first base prospect in the system (might have been Eric Jagielo, but Jagielo was shipped away in the Aroldis Chapman deal). Austin seemed crowded out of the Triple-A outfield, but he could find new life as replacement first baseman for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. With Kyle Roller released, I’m not sure there’s another in-house standout for that job. If Austin can have a bit of a resurgence — his bat has been very hit or miss in recent years — he could become the short-term No. 2 option at first base.
UPDATE: The Yankees have announced that Bird’s surgery will be performed by Dr. David Altchek at The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. His initial shoulder injury came last season when he missed basically a month from from May 8 through June 3 in Double-A. When he returned from the injury, Bird played as if there were no injury at all. In his first month back, he hit .292 to earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he hit .301 with six home runs to earn his first call-up to the big leagues. Everyone is well aware of how well in hit in New York, where he finished tied for the team lead for the most home runs in the final two months of the season.
Associated Press photo
Really, there’s been nothing enjoyable about writing Aroldis Chapman stories this offseason.
That’s not to say he’s a bad guy. That’s not to say I dislike him or the Yankees’ decision to trade for him. That’s not to say I have any sort of indisputable evidence that he’s a monster behind closed doors.
It’s only to say that every story about Chapman has something ugly attached it. There are only a handful of people who know the full story of what happened that night in October – and based on the legal findings, it seems no one wants to give all the details — so what we’re left with is a police report that paints a picture of violence and anger and a woman afraid. It might be proof of nothing, but it’s evidence of something, and it certainly isn’t good.
As Darren wrote in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post, it’s hard to ignore a situation like that. Even if we could ignore it, I’m not sure we should ignore it. Even if the analysis sticks to baseball — focused on the huge fastball and the potential for an all-time late-inning combination — the narrative remains unmistakably tied to that incident in October.
It’s the reason the Yankees were able to get him in the first place.
It’s the reason the Reds’ asking price was relatively low.
Innocent until proven guilty makes sense in a court of law, but the public doesn’t have to be tied to such a burden of proof. It’s foolish to pretend no charges being filed is proof that nothing happened. Something happened, we know that, and that’s why the Chapman situation makes us squirm. What I try to keep in mind is that good people have bad moments, and bad decisions — even unforgivable actions — don’t necessarily define someone forever.
When people ask about the players I’ve covered, I inevitably tell them almost every one of them has come across as a good enough guy. There have been some I’ve gotten along with better than others, but for the most part, I find that baseball players are generally decent people. Some live lives of excess, and some make decisions I can’t condone, but most of the really bad guys seem to be marginalized in one way or another, and some of those bad guys eventually grow up and become much easier to respect or even enjoy as they get older.
What I wonder about with Chapman is how much moving into the Yankees’ clubhouse might affect him on a personal level. He’s about to step into a clubhouse filled with veteran players who have a track record of reaching out.
Alex Rodriguez is notoriously generous with his time when it comes to young players, especially young players whose talent he respects, and Rodriguez knows what it is to be humbled and ask forgiveness. Carlos Beltran makes a point of reaching out to teammates, especially his fellow Latin players, and so he has a chance to be a role model. CC Sabathia is the undisputed clubhouse leader of the pitching staff, and he’s become a real example of standing up and taking responsibility. I don’t know much about Reds manager Bryan Price, but I know Joe Girardi is a firm family man who’s pledged his support for Chapman while also noting a responsibility to be a teacher in a situation like this.
Right now, there’s a cloud of ugliness surrounding Chapman. In trading for him, the Yankees not only acquired his blazing fastball, they also took on the responsibility of making sure he becomes the kind of guy this fan base can cheer for without feeling conflicted.
Associated Press photo
Pinch hitting: Darren Ley • 02.01.16
Today’s Pinch Hitter is Darren Ley, a 42-year-old originally from Orange County, N.Y. (about an hour north and west of New York City). “Despite the fact that my father was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, my sister and I grew up Yankee fans,” Darren wrote. “My real obsession with the Yankees began when I moved to the city as an adult in 1999, right in the middle of their World Series run.” A bookkeeper by trade, Darren said this is the first time he’s ever written anything about sports.
And for his post, Darren chose to tackle a difficult off-the-field issue: How are Yankees fans supposed to feel about new addition Aroldis Chapman?
If the nightly news is depressing or I’ve had a lousy day, I can always turn on the game and cheer for my team. If I’m in a social situation with someone who has different world views than I do, baseball is a neutral topic that can be discussed for hours. There is no black and white involved. I don’t have to answer existential questions. I just want the Yankees to win.
That is why the trade for Aroldis Chapman is so disturbing for me. Yes, he is undeniably a great relief pitcher, but he’s been investigated after an accusation that he attacked his girlfriend. Reports say he was firing his gun off in his garage while his girlfriend was cowering in the bushes. Being a great athlete is not an excuse to be a terrible human being.
There have been Yankees who broke the law before, of course. Off the top of my head I can think of Joba Chamberlin, who was arrested for drunk driving, a very serious charge. George Steinbrenner received a presidential pardon for breaking campaign finance laws. But men who abuse women are a particularly loathsome breed. I have a hard time picturing myself rooting for this man when he trots out in the bottom of the ninth to protect a one-run lead.
And yet, am I going to root against him? I want that victory. I want him to hold that lead. Does rooting for him mean I forgive his actions? Is my desire to win stronger then my convictions that violence against women is wrong? Can I really separate the professional from the human being? If he is allowed to continue playing baseball and collecting millions of dollars, are we as a society condoning his actions? Are we teaching children that it is no big deal to abuse women?
These are the types of questions I watch baseball to avoid.
As he is no longer in danger of facing legal action, my personal hope is that Chapman receives a suspension that will affect him financially. He needs to experience some sort of consequence for his actions, then I hope he receives counseling and comes to understand that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. I don’t know Aroldis Chapman and have no idea what is going on in his head or heart, but I believe in the essential goodness of people, and I think there is the potential for redemption in everyone. I hope he is offered that chance, and I hope he takes it.
I am glad that Major League Baseball is no longer burying its head in the sand and is confronting the uncomfortable subject of domestic violence. Hitting women is not okay, and this message has to be made loud and clear. It needs to be drilled into boys’ heads at an early age. They need to grow up knowing this is an undeniable truth; as unmistakable as knowing outfield grass is green.
If we are to make something positive out of the trade for Aroldis Chapman, let it be that we can have a positive conversation and work to prevent violence from happening in the future.
Associated Press photos
Every year that I’ve done this Pinch Hitters series, most of the proposals I’ve received have been built around some sort of offseason analysis or perhaps a historical look back at Yankees teams of the past. But each year, I get a few like this morning’s, offering a unique and personal take on baseball in general.
Great stuff from Fred this morning, and a nice way to finish off the month of January. Made me think of hearing my father’s stories about Bob Gibson and Bill White; about listening to ballgames on the radio with my grandmother; about skipping school to attend Opening Day; about getting my first job out of college and being introduced to an minor league infielder named Chase Utley; and about moving to New York and sleeping on my friend’s couch in Harlem while covering the 2009 postseason. Those are some of the ways I’ve kept time with the game of baseball.
Now let’s wrap up this month of January with a quick look back at the past week. Pitchers and catchers report in two and a half weeks!
• The Yankees have just one more arbitration-eligible player in need of a contract settlement. This week, they agreed to terms with Ivan Nova, leaving only Aroldis Chapman without a set contract for this season. The two sides were pretty far apart in their filings, but the Yankees seem confident they can reach an agreement without going to trial.
• Wanting some experienced catching depth, the Yankees signed Carlos Corporan to a minor league deal. It’s unknown at the time whether the can opt out of his deal at the end of spring training. If nothing else, he gives the Yankees a veteran option to back up Brian McCann should Gary Sanchez fall flat in spring training. Corporan’s never hit much, but he’s stuck around with the Astros and Rangers because he’s a good defender. If he can be assigned to Triple-A, Corporan would give the Yankees readily available depth if Sanchez does make the big league roster.
• Rob Refsnyder and Aaron Judge landed on the MLB Pipeline top 10 prospect lists for second base and outfield (Jorge Mateo was listed as having just missed the top 10 at shortstop). Judge was also the highest-ranked Yankees prospect on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 prospects list (a list that includes all positions). Mateo and Gary Sanchez also landed spots on that top 101 list.
• Baseball America reported that catcher Luis Torrens, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, is expected to be playing at 100 percent by spring training. Torrens stands out as the Yankees’ top catching prospect beyond Sanchez.
• Second baseman Ronald Torreyes was claimed off waivers by the Angels, who almost immediately designated him for assignment. Torreyes has been sold, traded or designated five times in the past year. The Yankees had him for only a day or two after acquiring him from the Dodgers. He’s basically a utility man, but he’s also still very young and has some versatility and contact skills to generate at least mild interest from multiple teams.
• A couple of moves that impact the Yankees were made this week: Most obviously, the Rays trade for power-hitting outfielder Corey Dickerson brings a pretty good left-handed bat into the American League East (but he came at the cost of Jake McGee, one of the division’s best relief pitchers). Also, Doug Fister signed a one-year deal with the Astros. That only impacts the Yankees because Fister seemed to be a pretty solid potential free agent target for the Yankees, though they were reportedly not planning to pursue him.
• Chris Capuano won’t be back with the Yankees this season. He signed a minor league deal with the Brewers this week.
Associated Press photos
On the 40-man: Lane Adams • 01.31.16
Continuing to look through the Yankees’ 40-man roster, we’ll turn to a guy who might not have been claimed off waivers if he didn’t hit from the right side. Lane Adams provides speed and defense similar to some of the other guys on the 40-man roster, but the fact he hits right-handed means he might be a better fourth outfielder option than some of the more familiar names.
Age on Opening Day: 26
Acquired: Claimed off waivers from the Royals on January 15
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 in November 2013
In the past: The Royals’ 13th-round pick in 2009 — the same year they drafted Aaron Crow and Wil Myers — Adams ranked as a Top 20 organizational prospect the past two offseasons, with Baseball America noting his athleticism (he was a basketball standout as well), his speed (he rated as a plus-plus runner) and his defense (two years ago he was picked as the best defender and most exciting player in the Texas League). Adams made his big league debut in 2014 but didn’t get back there last season when he spent most of the year in Double-A. The Yankees claimed him off waivers to add some right-handed balance.
Role in 2016: Despite his age and athleticism, Adams has only 37 games of Triple-A experience. He’s done a nice job getting on base and hitting for a little bit of power in Double-A, but he hasn’t played much in Triple-A, and the Yankees will probably send him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to open the season. If something happens to Aaron Hicks and the Yankees need a new platoon outfielder, Adams could be the choice (though Aaron Judge obviously factors into that decision). Ultimately Adams’ role is to add some right-handed balance to an outfield situation that so far leans very heavily to the left.
Best-case scenario: Several times in recent years, Adams has actually hit right-handers better than he’s hit lefties. Best-case for the Yankees is that he can reverse that trend and go back to the kind of splits he had in High-A in 2013 when he had an OPS better than 1.00 in fairly limited at-bats against lefties. Adams has the speed and defensive ability to be a nice role player for the Yankees in a bench role. His tool set seems pretty similar to guys like Slade Heathcott, Ben Gamel and Mason Williams, but being right-handed helps set Adams apart. The best-case scenario is that he hits a little bit and can provide some right-handed depth if necessary.
Worst-case scenario: In his 37 games of Triple-A experience last year, Adams hit only .226 in the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. A number like that shouldn’t translate very well to the more pitcher-friendly International League, and if Adams can’t hit at least a little bit, he’ll be very easily overshadowed by the other outfielders around him. The worst-case scenario is that Adams is nothing more than a right-handed outfielder who can run a little but can’t actually help the Yankees even in a small role in the big leagues.
What the future holds: Maybe not much. Adams is out of options after this season, which means this is the only year the Yankees will be able to shuttle him back and forth from Triple-A. Ultimately, he’ll have to prove at some point that he’s worth keeping on the big league roster. He might be able to do that — his speed is nice, and he would provide some balance — but he’s going to have to hit at least a little bit, and he’s going to have to get an opportunity to actually prove himself in the big leagues. We’ll see whether that happens. Right now, Adams stands out as a DFA candidate should the Yankees need to open a 40-man spot some time soon.
Associated Press photo
Pinch hitting: Fred Gaudios • 01.31.16
Our Pinch Hitter this Sunday morning is Fred Gaudios, a 32-year-old market researcher living in Somerset County, New Jersey. Fred’s been a Yankees fan since he was 10. “My mom actually inspired my love of baseball (my dad gets the credit for my football fandom),” he wrote. Fred lives with his wife, his 7-month old daughter, and a Cairn Terrier named Suzy (named after Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman).
“I wanted to write a post outside my comfort zone,” Fred explained. “Two off-seasons ago, I wrote a Pinch Hitter post that referenced ERA and WAR to justify my argument, which is a pretty simple thing to do if you’re a baseball fan who likes data. This is more about how having a kid makes me feel differently about being a baseball fan, which you can’t really justify, you just have to figure out on your own. Baseball, and particularly the Yankees, have always been a way of organizing the events that have happened in my life, and nothing throws a left turn into a person’s life story quite like having a child. I wanted to write something that my daughter could maybe read when she’s older, and understand where her dad is coming from in terms of being a baseball geek.”
Here’s Fred’s take on baseball and fatherhood.
My favorite Christmas gift last year was a present from my wife; it’s a coffee table book called “The New York Times History of the New York Yankees.” (Sorry, Chad, the LoHud Journal News version was sold out.)
It consists of copied, full pages of the Times from 1920 (the Babe Ruth purchase) all the way to last fall (the passing of Yogi Berra). The baseball articles are interesting enough, but I truly love this gift for the other, non-baseball related articles, the historical context surrounding the baseball events that I am old enough to remember, as well as those I only could have heard about from older relatives.
It was interesting to see an article about the 1996 Presidential election alongside Wade Boggs riding a horse — one of the seminal baseball memories of my adolescence — on the front page of the October 27, 1996 edition. It was also cool to see an article about Jimmy Hoffa — ahem, an alive Jimmy Hoffa — right beneath the lede of the Yankees clinching the ’61 series. Every page is an awesome historical nugget, and there are times I sit down and read the fine print for an hour, it’s so intriguing.
Particularly while reading the more recent articles, it struck me that baseball’s been a huge part of how I keep time in my own life.
For instance, I was fortunate enough to attend plenty of Yankees games during the 1994 and 1995 seasons. The first game I attended was against the A’s, and our seats were in the lower deck, left-field corner. I learned how to heckle Rickey Henderson that day, which was more fun than just about anything else an 11-year-old kid could hope to accomplish at a major league game.
After the player’s strike destroyed the ’94 postseason, baseball players did a nice job of trying to reconnect with the fans the following year. As but one example, Lee Smith, closer for the Angels at the time, signed my glove before one game in 1995. I still have that glove, and the signature is still there, faded, but probably the only reason I remember Lee Smith at all 20-plus years later.
And speaking of keeping time, I’ve recently discovered that nothing in life changes the way you keep time like witnessing the birth of your child. My daughter, Samantha, was born last June (the Yankees lost to the Astros that evening, but I didn’t watch). It turned me — a relatively stoic guy — into a mush.
Having a child was something I didn’t enter into lightly. For years, my wife patiently waited while I internally debated the pros (of which there were many) and cons (there were plenty of these, too) of becoming a dad. But then I said screw it and became one, which was approximately the coolest thing ever.
In addition to many other benefits, having my daughter was like entering the Konami Code for long-lost memories of my childhood, and since she was born in the middle of a really interesting Yankees season, many of these memories centered around baseball.
I realized that I remember where I was and who I was with when the Yankees won it all in ’96, ’98, ’99, and ’00 (I remember less about 2009, because I was 26 years old by then, and I drank too much beer that evening celebrating my friend’s successful Ph.D. defense). One of the coolest aspects about the present is knowing that one day, probably sooner than I think, I can teach my daughter, who is more or less contractually obligated to love baseball (and the Yankees), how to keep time through the game.
Everything’s a blank slate with her; it’s completely unknown. When she walks, when she talks, when she graduates from high school, baseball will be happening alongside all of those things. Assuming my daughter shares my love of baseball — and all joking aside, it’s her call — many of the players she’ll remember watching as a child probably haven’t even been signed yet. There’s a potential future reality where she remembers watching only the tail end of the long, veteran careers of stalwart Yankees such as Greg Bird and Luis Severino, which is as funny to consider as it is ridiculous, but it’s possible — and regardless of how the team performs, it’ll be ours to share.
Ultimately, there’s a level of baseball fandom where performance matters less and the experience of being a fan matters more. Of course, as Yankees fans, we all expect a certain level of performance, but it’s weird — though I care as much about the game as I always have, these days it’s more about who I watch the games with than who wins or loses.
Associated Press photos
On the 40-man: Luis Cessa • 01.30.16
Up next in our look through every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster is one of the more curious additions of the offseason. There’s little doubt the Yankees needed to add some rotation depth, but plenty of fans and writers were caught offguard when the Yankees traded Justin Wilson for two guys named Luis Cessa and Chad Green. Of those two, Cessa is the bigger prospect, and he could be the top spot-start option at some point this season.
Age on Opening Day: 23
Acquired: Traded from the Tigers in December
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 draft in November
In the past: An infielder for his first two professional seasons, Cessa moved to the mound in 2011 and — perhaps surprisingly — has always shown pretty good command of the strike zone for a guy who’s relatively new to the job. He came up through the Mets organization before being traded to Detroit in last year’s Yoenis Cespedes deal. The Tigers put him on their 40-man roster this offseason, and soon after that, they shipped him to the Yankees where he ranks as the team’s 16th-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He made his Triple-A debut last season with 12 starts, finishing with numbers significantly worse than the ones he’d put up in Double-A.
Role in 2016: In theory, Cessa could be a long-relief candidate in spring training, but that doesn’t seem particularly likely. The Yankees acquired him to serve as much-needed Triple-A rotation depth, and he’ll almost certainly open the year in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. With a pretty good fastball and terrific control, Cessa will be looking to repeat the 2.91 ERA he delivered in 13 Double-A starts last season. If Bryan Mitchell is used as a big league reliever, Cessa could legitimately become the top spot-start candidate by the end of April. Aside from Mitchell, there’s not another 40-man pitcher likely to be in the Triple-A rotation.
Best-case scenario: The guy’s been pitching for five years and clearly as a knack for throwing strikes. That’s a good first step. His fastball can also get up to 95 mph at times, which is another good sign. The best-case scenario is that Cessa is still in the process of getting better. It’s probably too much to think he could suddenly emerge as a high-end rotation prospect, but even if he tops out as a steady No. 4-5 starter, that would be pretty good for the Yankees and probably worth the cost of a setup man. Ideally, Cessa does exactly what the Yankees acquired him to do: provide immediate depth in the rotation with the potential to stick around for a while.
Worst-case scenario: It’s hard to overlook the numbers Cessa put up in Triple-A last year. After a strong 13 starts in Double-A, he pitched to a 6.97 ERA and 1.69 WHIP in his 12 Triple-A starts split between the Pacific Coast League and International League. Obviously those numbers don’t suggest he’s ready to be even a spot starter in the big leagues, and given the injury concerns in the Yankees’ rotation, the worst-case scenario is that they have to dig into their rotation depth early and often, and that Cessa simply doesn’t have the stuff to get outs in the big leagues.
What the future holds: Being added to the 40-man this offseason means Cessa has three options remaining. He can be shipped back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues as many times as necessary in 2016, 2017 and 2018. There’s value in that as long as Cessa is able to at least plug some holes from time to time. That said, the Yankees have some rotation depth on the rise, and if Cessa doesn’t perform, he could be pretty easily eclipsed by Brady Lail, Jordan Montgomery, Cale Coshaw and James Kaprielian.
Photo from the Detroit Free Press
Every year, this Pinch Hitter series generates some unexpected ideas. From this year’s batch, I would say this morning’s was the second-most surprising (just wait, someone else is making the case in favor of performance enhancing drugs). Not that I disliked Sean’s idea of CC Sabathia as team captain, I just didn’t expect it, perhaps because I’ve grown used to a heavy dose of negativity directed at Sabathia the past few years.
But here’s the thing about Sabathia as team captain: He kind of already is.
There’s nothing official in place. He doesn’t carry a specific title, and he won’t be added to the list of Yankees captains in history, but it’s hard to be in that clubhouse and not recognize Sabathia as the go-to source of veteran leadership and direction. That’s especially true for the pitching staff, but as much as any pitcher I’ve ever seen, Sabathia’s leadership seems to spread throughout the room, reaching position players and even coaches.
Just look at all the guys who showed up for his 35th birthday party last year.
What stands out isn’t that everyone from Mason Williams to Chasen Shreve, from Michael Pineda to Alex Rodriguez, showed up. What stands out is that they were invited. That’s Sabathia’s reach. He wants to be a unifying force. He wants to bring the team together. He’s just as comfortable sitting in the corner of the clubhouse talking shop with a young pitcher, as he is making jokes with a veteran outfielder.
A lot of veteran players are respected, and a lot of outgoing players are popular. Sabathia manages to be both.
“I think about some of the most approachable people that I ever met who were superstars,” manager Joe Girardi told me last spring. “Yogi (Berra), Mo (Rivera), and CC’s there. You would never know CC’s done anything in the game. He would never tell you. He doesn’t give that air off. He’s a guy that likes to be around his buddies and have fun and compete, but there’s no entourage. It’s just a normal guy. He’s a good family man and loves his kids, and I think guys really respect that.”
As Sean pointed out this morning, the overwhelming organizational respect for Sabathia became clear when he entered alcohol rehab late last year. It was a chance to kick Sabathia when he was down — and a few outside observers took advantage — but within the clubhouse, there was nothing but concern and appreciation. Sabathia presented himself as a flawed man willing to take responsibility. Teammates appreciated that.
At this point, Sabathia is not an ace in the traditional sense. He’s certainly not the Yankees’ top starter. In fact, he’s another bit of uncertainty in a rotation overloaded with unreliable options. But the captaincy isn’t all about on-the-field success. It’s about respect and leadership, and perhaps it’s earned with longevity as well. In the Yankee Stadium clubhouse, the Yankees get those things from Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Andrew Miller and — especially lately — A-Rod. Minor league coaches say that Greg Bird and Aaron Judge have shown some of the same qualities within the farm system.
There can be no doubt that sort of leadership comes from Sabathia as well. It might be unexpected following a couple of disappointing seasons and a stunning announcement of alcohol abuse, but Sabathia stands out as a captain whether he has the title or not.
“(A leadership role) is something that I kind of want and always wanted,” Sabathia said last spring. “It definitely feels good to have that confidence, that guys have that confidence in me. It’s up to me to stay healthy and reciprocate that back to them by pitching well.”
Associated Press photos
Pinch hitting: Sean McLernon • 01.30.16
Today’s Pinch Hitter is Sean McLernon, a second-year law student at Georgetown University who previously worked as a print journalist, originally covering sports for the Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress and the York (Pa.) Daily Record Sunday News. He eventually moved on to reporting on environmental law and policy for the legal news wire Law360. He also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger and Jamaica.
Kind of makes being a baseball writer feel pretty pointless, huh?
You can follow Sean on Twitter: @SFMcLernon. For now, you can read his post, in which Sean makes an unexpected case for naming a new Yankees captain.
He’s dead wrong on both counts.
The captaincy is a critical part of Yankees lore that has the practical benefit of boosting the leadership capacity of a senior player in the clubhouse. On this roster full of young arms, and in an era when pitching is more important than ever, that player should be CC Sabathia.
Sabathia has often been frustrating to watch over the past couple seasons, deteriorating from a superstar ace that helped lead the Yankees to their last World Series title into a streaky back-of-the-rotation guy who could seemingly exit the game with an injury at any moment.
Of course, on-field performance is by no means the only (or even the primary) criteria for choosing a captain. In addition to his past success (he leads all active players in career strikeouts) and his unquestioned toughness and competitive drive, Sabathia just a few months ago showed more courage than any other Yankees player has shown in a long time.
Sabathia revealed to the world in October that he was struggling with alcohol addiction and that he was not going to ignore the problem any longer. He was going to do something about it. Immediately.
By checking himself into rehab for alcohol abuse at the very end of the regular season just before the Yankees started the playoffs, Sabathia exposed himself to criticism from fans. It could have looked like he was abandoning his teammates, and yet, none of the Yankees on the roster or in management expressed anything but their full support.
That is in no small part because Sabathia has earned the respect of his fellow Yankees. He has gone to battle with the team for several years now, always putting the team’s interests above his own. He has never hesitated to pitch on short rest when needed. While Matt Harvey hems and haws about innings limits, letting his agent complain to the media about his workload, Sabathia continues to set the standard for fierce competitors across the league. It’s a trait that should be celebrated and spotlighted as an example for other pitchers on the roster to emulate.
Sabathia is also a proven winner. He is one of the few players left from the 2009 World Championship team, and the only pitcher remaining on the Yankees roster from that title-winning squad.
The Yankees are making young pitching a priority, putting the future of the franchise in the hands of players like Masahiro Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino. With the addition of Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees now have three strikeout machines at the back of the bullpen. But Chapman also brings baggage with him. As captain, Sabathia would be in a stronger position to advise Chapman and help make sure he doesn’t repeat the mistakes of his past
The captaincy could also help spark Sabathia to a stronger performance this season, the last one guaranteed on his current contract. Sabathia is a player who responds well to pressure. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge. He steps up.
There is little to lose and much to gain.
The only pitcher to captain the Yankees during the past 100 years was Ron Guidry during the 1986-88 seasons, and even he had to share the captaincy with second baseman Willie Randolph. Selecting any pitcher to handle the role solo would be unprecedented, and picking Sabathia would be appear unorthodox. It is nevertheless a risk worth taking for a team that is bringing back the core of last year’s playoff squad and could easily ride strong pitching performances all the way to the World Series.
It’s time to give CC another C.
Associated Press photos