State of the organization: Corner outfield • 01.18.13
There’s a reason — beyond the obvious talent — that Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Mike Morse generated so much trade talk among Yankees fans this winter. A big, power-hitting, prototypical corner outfielder would fit incredibly well on this roster. The minor league system might have a legitimate outfield slugger on the way, but he’s at least a year away, and for the time being, the Yankees outfield is filled with two small-ball players and one all-or-nothing free agent to be. Those are three legitimate pieces, but the Yankees outfield could certainly make room for one of Brian Cashman’s big, hairy monsters if he could find one.
Curtis Granderson / Ichiro Suzuki
Signed through 2013 /2014
We know Suzuki will be in right field. We can only guess whether Granderson or Brett Gardner will be in left (as I wrote a couple of days ago, I’m heading into spring training expecting Gardner to shift to center). Either way, the Yankees are going to have considerable speed in their outfield and should cover a lot of ground. They’re going to count on Gardner and Ichiro to run on offense, and on Granderson to hit home runs. What’s still unclear is who they’re going to count on to hit against lefties. Matt Diaz is coming to camp on a minor league deal, and Russ Canzler is going to try to win a job in spring training, but Cashman has made no secret of the fact he’d like to add another right-handed hitting corner outfielder. Nick Swisher gave the Yankees a steady right field presence for four years, and he’s been difficult to fully replace this winter.
On the verge
Maybe Tyler Austin can play his way into the big league picture this year, but it’s more likely that immediate help will have to come from either Zoilo Almonte or Ronnier Mustelier, two players who really weren’t even worth watching two years ago. Almonte was signed way back in 2005, but he didn’t put himself on the map until 2011 when he cut down on his strikeouts and hit .276/.345/.459 between High-A and Double-A. His power numbers went up during a full Double-A season last year, and now he has a 40-man spot with a Triple-A job on the way. He’s a switch hitter who was especially good against righties last year (it hasn’t always been that way). Mustelier is a Cuban defector who didn’t join the Yankees until 2011 when he was already 26 years old. He’s too old to be considered a typical prospect, but he’s hit .324/.378/.497 through two pro seasons, including a pretty good 89 games in Triple-A last year. He’s played some second base and center field, but Mustelier’s ticket to the big leagues might be his ability to play all four corners. He’s kind of a less proven version of Canzler, who’s probably higher in the pecking order. Under certain circumstances, center fielders Melky Mesa and Abe Almonte could also factor into the corner conversation.
Deeper in the system
Austin is easily the top corner outfield prospect in the system, and he appears to have been a 13th-round steal. Drafted out of high school in 2010, Austin was the unquestionable breakout star of the Yankees minor league system last year. He hit .322/.400/.559 while climbing all the way from Charleston to Trenton. Despite that little bit of Double-A experience, the Yankees are considering sending Austin back to High-A to open this season. If he repeats last year’s results, he won’t stay there for long. Austin’s breakout season easily overshadowed Ramon Flores, a left-fielder who has a knack for getting on base (.362 on-base percentage in his minor league career). Flores was added to the 40-man this winter and is ticketed for Trenton. It’s hard to mention all of the system’s mildly interesting corner outfielders — converted third baseman Rob Segedin, under-the-radar Cuban prospect Adonis Garcia, does-a-little-of-everything Ben Gamel, and 2012 draftees Taylor Dugas and Nathan Mikolas are names worth knowing — but I’ll save room for Jake Cave, the Yankees sixth-round pick in 2011 who’s hardly played since being drafted because of a knee injury. Cave could have been drafted as either a left-handed pitcher or an outfielder, but the Yankees liked his bat. There’s upside to him, just no professional track record.
On the move
College outfielder Rob Refsnyder played right field for the Yankees Low-A team last year but seems likely to shift to second base next season. On the flip side, long-time middle infielder Jose Pirela began to see considerable time in left field last year and kept at least a little bit of prospect status alive with a strong Double-A season. The Yankees have shown a willingness to move players into the outfield corners when necessary — that’s how Austin got there after signing as a corner infielder — and they could eventually do that with last year’s second-round pick Austin Aune, who will first get a chance to sink or swim as a shortstop. Obviously, if top center field prospects Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott each get to New York, one of them will have to shift to left field.
What to watch
The development of Austin is among the most interesting aspects of the Yankees system this season. Last year was a revelation, the kind of year that suggested he just might be a real life, in-house, power-hitting corner outfielder that can rise through the system and get to New York within two years. That would be huge for the Yankees. For now, the thing to watch is the Yankees on-going pursuit of a right-handed outfield bat and the how-long-can-he-last uncertainty of Ichiro’s two-year deal.
Associated Press photo; headshots of Granderson, Ichiro, Almonte, Mustelier, Austin, Flores, Williams and Heathcott
One day after announcing the Alex Rodriguez injury, Brian Cashman was approached by various trade and free agent options.
“I’ve had a few of maybe the names I wouldn’t have thought of – lesser names that I wouldn’t have an interest in – volunteer their services for that position,” Cashmans said. “I’ve had some people suggest, ‘Hey, my guy who plays second base, he can swing over to play third.’ That type if stuff. I don’t have an interest in stuff like that. … I did have one irresponsible ask (in a trade suggestion), which I assume has everything to do with yesterday’s announcement. I’m no longer talking to that club.”
Although Cashman expects the market to continue its rapid development — “It seems like this is a market flush with money, the way it’s acting,” he said — but he plans to remain patient. Cashman said he believes it’s possible he could complete a move before these meetings end on Thursday morning, but he feels no need to force the issue.
“The preference is always to get your problems solved and get them fixed,” he said. “But the realistic side of that is that it’s going to take time and you have to solve it over time. If you don’t feel comfortable with the solution, you shouldn’t solve it until you feel comfortable. I’m prepared to drag this thing out.
“Hopefully everybody else is, too.”
• Cashman admitted to speaking with the agents for five different players: Kevin Youkilis, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki and A.J. Pierzynski. Those were the only names specifically mentioned, and Cashman confirmed that he’s had discussions about each one.
• Despite talking to Pierzynski’s camp, Cashman was as firm as ever in his belief that the Yankees will have an in-house starting catcher next season. “I think our catching will come from within, personally, as we are right now,” Cashman said. “I’d be surprised if it didn’t.”
• Cashman on whether he needs to stick with one-year deals: “Optimally that’s the best way you’d like to go, but it might not be the way I have to go. It just depends on the player and the dollar amount.”
• Earlier today, Joe Girardi said the Yankees need a third base solution that’s capable of playing the position all year because of Alex Rodriguez’s uncertainty. Cashman disagreed. Sort of. “I was just looking to someone who can get there for three months at the very least,” Cashman said. “If it’s somebody that’s good enough to go the whole way, fine, but there’s not a lot of choices out there. I’m not going to limit it by looking at it that way. I understand what he’s talking about – you need to have the protection – but it’s a very limited sandbox to play in.”
• With Ichiro and Ibanez in the mix, Cashman indicated that he’s willing to use an all-left-handed regular outfield. “Beggars can’t be choosers, so to speak,” Cashman said. “If I’m in a situation where we have equal righty or lefty bats, you can gravitate one way or the other, but it doesn’t match up that way. … If we did (sign another left-handed outfielder), we’d need two outfield bats, one from the right side, one from the left side. If we wanted to put another left handed bat in, and it’s all three left handed outfielders, I would say focus on me adding another right-handed bat too, in the Andruw Jones category.”
• To be clear, in no way did I think Cashman was talking about bringing back Andruw Jones, he was just referring to a right-handed outfielder who strictly plays against lefties.
• Will Brett Gardner be in center field next year? “I see Gardner and Granderson both as center fielders,” Cashman said. “Currently Gardner is our left fielder and Granderson is our center fielder, and if we so choose to make a change, we’ll have no problem doing so. But that’s not something we’re talking about right now.”
• By the way, forgot to mention earlier that Girardi said Granderson had his vision checked and it’s fine. There was some speculation that maybe his vision caused last year’s second-half struggles. Apparently that’s not the case.
• Cashman on Chavez: “We know him very well and he had a hell of a year. He’s put himself in a very strong position, I think, in a marketplace that is thin at that position. That will run interference with our interest level, I would think, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make something happen there. We’ll see. We’re engaged.”
Associated Press photo
Catcher and right field • 11.25.12
Today’s interesting Yankees story comes from George King in the Post, regarding what’s going on with free agents Russell Martin and Ichiro Suzuki.
If it were my money, I’d bring back Martin and find a younger right fielder, but I’m not the one trying to get down to $189 million.
Today’s interesting question is, what would you do at catcher and in right?
His season has usually been over by this point, but when the Yankees play the Orioles in Game 1 of the ALDS Sunday night at Camden Yards, Ichiro Suzuki will be back playing in the postseason for the first time since his first season in the majors, with the Mariners in 2001. He said via interpreter before Friday night’s workout at Yankee Stadium that he thought the playoffs would be the norm for him after that season. But it didn’t turn out that way.
Seattle traded him here in July, and he has seen a whole different atmosphere with his new team.
“Maybe with other teams making it to the playoffs is one of their goals,” Suzuki said. “But now from here on out is where the goal setting starts with the Yankees.”
Suzuki, who turns 39 on Oct. 22, was hitting .261 at the time of the deal. He batted .322 in 67 games with the Yankees.
“He’s shown he’s still a great player,” Joe Girardi said.
Suzuki spoke about how comfortable a transition it was for him with the Yankees, how he doesn’t usually like to open up and show his personality but that he did after the players started “teasing around” with him right after he switched sides. He said he wants to continue playing. He also told a story about how he quickly came to appreciate Yankees fans as a visitor despite what happened when the Yankees were about to eliminate the Mariners in the 2001 ALCS.
“Probably toward the end of the game, the fans started chanting, ‘Sayonara, Ichiro,’ ” Suzuki said. “That was kind of a tough moment, obviously losing. That was a tough thing to experience. After the season, that was the first time I went to Cooperstown. When I visited there, there were some Yankees fans there. They came up and wanted my autograph. I told them, ‘You want my autograph even though you’re saying Sayonara Ichiro?’ The fans were laughing.
“At that point, I kind of realized the Yankees fans buy a ticket, come to the stadium and they really enjoy the game. They’re here to enjoy this atmosphere, get after the other players. After the game, when they come out of the stadium, they still go out and ask for an autograph from the opposing team. They just generally, I think, love the game and love the players. You can’t say that about all the clubs. The fans that are out there screaming at you, that are saying rude things, that same stuff happens outside of the stadium.
“And so I was really kind of touched by the Yankees fans at that point. This was in 2001. I’ve really come to realize what kind of fans the Yankees fans were. I didn’t have to forgive them or anything, because to me, they were great fans.”
Mark Teixeira remembers the action of one fan in right at the old Yankee Stadium during Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles, the time when 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out and assisted Derek Jeter’s drive over the fence — ruled a tying homer. The Yankees won the game and later the World Series. Teixeira wasn’t too pleased with that ruling. He was an Orioles fan at the time as a high school student in Baltimore. Friday night he said it was “one of the worst calls in baseball history.”
Now Teixeira is trying to overcome his calf problem and reverse his lack of postseason success with the Yankees. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia, as expected, will start Game 1. Hope you can check out my linked stories today for LoHud.com and The Journal News.
Yankees pregame: Ichiro No. 2 again • 09.23.12
Brian Heyman back again for Chad today, rookie hazing day at the Stadium. The rookies are supposed to dress up in costumes left for them after the game for the trip to Minnesota. I do have a sense of humor, but never really cared for the whole hazing concept, even for NFL rookies having to sing their school fight songs for a room full of veterans. Anyway we’ll see what it’s in store after the game.
Nick Swisher has hit anywhere from second to seventh. He has batted second 51 times, but he’s in the five hole today. Ichiro Suzuki is batting second for the second straight game. He’s batting .700 over his last five games.
“He’s just swinging the bat so well, and it gives you a real speed element up there,” Joe Girardi said. “Swish has been really good in moving him around this year, because he’s one of our wild cards in breaking up all the lefties. So I’ve had to move him around a little bit without (Mark Teixeira) being here. We’ve been missing one of those right-handed bats or a switch-hitter for the last two and a half months basically with Al (Rodriguez) being out. So it’s just the way Ichi has been swinging and getting on base and can run, the speed that he has — it’s helped.”
The last six games against the A’s have been decided by one run.
“We were on the wrong end of four in a row at their place,” Girardi said. “We’ve been fortunate to win these last two. They’ve been very good ballgames. Who knows what’s going to happen today?”
Teixeira is set to fly to Tampa this afternoon to continue the rehab process. Brett Gardner still hasn’t been activated, but Girardi said he will travel with the team for this final road trip of the regular season.
Yankees postgame: Winning the marathon • 09.22.12
This was a marathon five-hour, 43-minute roller-coaster ride at Yankee Stadium.
“It was like we played two games today,” Eduardo Nunez said.
The Yankees’ 10-9 win in 14 marked the franchise’s second-ever comeback victory from four runs down in extra innings. And it came after Baltimore had cut the lead to a half game with an extra-inning win in Baltimore. The Yankees survived despite pinch runner Melky Mesa’s baserunning problem in the 14th when he missed third and had to go back — in his MLB debut.
“I told you all along that I like the fight in these guys,” Joe Girardi said.
Raul Ibanez became the first Yankee to come on as a pinch hitter and send up at least two homers since Steve Balboni in 1990. Ibanez, who arrived with two hits in his previous 45 at-bats, had a big game with the two long balls, including the tying two-run shot in the four-run 13th, and a double in the 12th, the inning when he tried to plow over catcher Derek Norris. But Ibanez couldn’t dislodge the ball.
“He plays extremely hard,” Girardi said.
Ichiro Suzuki went 3 for 5 with two walks and a sacrifice, so he’s now at a sizzling .700 (14 for 20) over his last five games.
Ivan Nova had mixed feelings afterward. This was the shortest start of his career, 2 1/3 innings. You would think, barring injury, that Nova wouldn’t be starting in the postseason after all this erratic work, especially in the second half.
“He just didn’t seem to have his real good command,” Girardi said.
He gave up three runs, five hits — four for extra bases — and two walks.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Nova said. “… The bottom line is we won. We’re still in first place.”
The Yankees won their seventh straight to retain their one-game edge over the Orioles. There are 11 games to go.
“It’s exciting for baseball,” Girardi said.
In Sunday’s series finale, the pitching matchup will feature Hiroki Kuroda and A.J. Griffin.
Freddy Garcia struggled a bit in the heat and humidity, allowing five hits and four walks in five innings. But he only cracked for two runs in this 6-2 victory over the Mariners.
“Freddy battled,” Derek Jeter said. “Freddy has been around a long time. He knows how to mix things up.”
Garcia snapped a three-game winning streak and became the first Venezuelan to reach 150 victories in the majors.
“I still have the record,” said Garcia, who’s also the 12th Latin American-born pitcher to win at least 150. “For me, it’s another win. Hopefully more are coming.”
Garcia is 3-3 with a 3.95 ERA in seven starts since rejoining the rotation July 2.
“You’ve got to feel good about it after I pitched four games in April and I didn’t do my job and they sent me to the bullpen,” Garcia said.
The bullpen backed him up rather nicely this time, four hitless innings between Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano.
“It’s one reason why we are where we are,” Jeter said.
Ibanez is another reason. He has a knack for big hits, even at age 40. This time, he hit a long solo homer in the fifth to make it 4-2, then worked the count full and delivered a two-out, two-run bases-packed single in the sixth to set the final margin. Ibanez said he tries to keep any emotion out of the at-bats in these important situations.
“Raul is one of those guys who never tries to do too much and can relax in those situations,” Girardi said. “That’s why he comes through a lot.”
Ichiro Suzuki came through with a double in the seventh to tie Don Slaught’s record for longest hitting streak at the start of a Yankees career at 12 games. Of course, if you saw it or heard about it on the radio, it was a gift from the sun god. Center fielder Michael Saunders was blinded by the light and the ball fell for a gift double.
“As a hitter, I was hoping that ball would drop,” Suzuki said through an interpreter. “But at the same time, I understand the outfielder’s feeling, how tough it is to fight that sun. So I felt for him a little bit.”
Andy Pettitte was due for another X-ray today on his fractured left ankle. After the game, Joe Girardi said Pettitte was “definitely better.” He’s exercising and playing catch. The Yankees are still hopeful he’ll be back in September.
The Yankees finished the homestand at 4-5. They had dropped the first two series, to the Red Sox and the Orioles.
“We won a series leaving and I think it’s important because we have to get back to winning series,” Girardi said. “We lost some really tight games. Hopefully this will get us on a really good streak.”
They head to Detroit for four and then to Toronto for three. Monday night’s pitching matchup features Ivan Nova and Justin Verlander. I’ll have more on that in my 9 a.m. post.
Yankees postgame: All hail King Felix • 08.04.12
Felix Hernandez was the story, dominating the Yankees in this 1-0 game, firing the two-hitter.
“He had everything,” Joe Girardi said. “He had all four of his pitches; a couple of different fastballs where he cut it and he sank it. His changeup was outstanding. He was never in any bad counts. You look up and he averaged about a ball per hitter and a couple of strikes per hitter. So it’s not like we were hitting the first strike we were seeing. He just didn’t give us anything to hit.”
He allowed just four baserunners, and no hits after the third inning. Hernandez didn’t give up a hit against his final 22 batters. He fanned six and walked two.
“I told him it was probably the most impressive start that I’ve ever seen as a manager,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
The Yankees were kept off balance.
“That changeup, it defies science,” Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan said.
“All his pitches have movement,” catcher John Jaso said. “All really have late movement.”
Hiroki Kuroda deserves to be better than 10-8. His ERA is 3.19. This was his 14th start out of 22 allowing two runs or less and his ninth allowing one earned run or less. He gave up one run and seven hits in 6 1/3. He had his daytime scoreless streak snapped at 31 innings, the longest in the majors in 14 years. This was his first loss in five daytime starts. He just couldn’t quite keep up with King Felix, who’s now 10-5 with a 2.63 ERA after his third shutout of the season. He’s 6-0 with a 1.60 ERA over his last 10 starts. And he’s 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA in his five career starts at the new Stadium.
“Obviously he’s a great pitcher,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “I just wanted to minimize my damage. … It’s a little bit frustrating, but it is what it is.”
Ichiro Suzuki has the longest hitting streak for a Yankee starting his career after an in-season trade, now at 11 games. But he hasn’t managed any multihit games.
The Yankees lost their streak of 21 straight home games with a homer.
They are 3-5 on the homestand with one to go. Sunday’s pitching matchup features Freddy Garcia and Hisashi Iwakuma.
Yankees pregame: Waiting on Tex and a lineup • 08.03.12
Brian Heyman here for Chad today. No Yankees lineup yet. Joe Girardi was waiting for an update on the state of Mark Teixeira’s left wrist from a doctor and whether he could take batting practice. And Teixeira is indeed giving batting practice a try right now at a little before 5.
Tonight’s starter is CC Sabathia, and he has owned the Mariners, winning seven straight starts with a 0.88 ERA dating to 2009. But Sabathia wasn’t so great his last time out, allowing six runs and eight hits in six innings against the Red Sox. His weight gain was something that came up after he was allowing a lot of hits the final two months of last season and had a 6.23 ERA vs. Detroit in the ALDS. But his fitness is a non-factor right now, according to Girardi.
“His conditioning is great,” Girardi said. “I’m very pleased with where he’s at there. And I’ve never seen it as a huge issue for me. This is a guy who’s won 60 games in three years. It’s pretty hard to complain. But obviously you worry about long-term health and long-term health of a pitcher’s body. But that has not been an issue.
“This guy works hard. He’s a true professional. He’s prepared every time he goes out there. For me, it’s just like any other pitcher you have. If he locates, he’s going to pitch well.”
Joba Chamberlain struggled in his first Yankees outing of the season, allowing two runs and four hits in 1 2/3 innings Wednesday against the Orioles. He had been away from major-league mounds for 14 months or so.
“I think it could take a little for him to get on track and be what we expect him to be because he’s been out so long,” Girardi said. “Just like any starter or reliever starting a season, or position player, you’re not sure how they’re going to start, if they’re going to have a great start or if they’re going to have a slow start. So I think you’re going to have to have some patience.”
A-Rod is here. “Just working out,” Girardi said, “doing as much as he can basically not using the one hand, conditioning, trying to work his legs. But that’s about it. He’ll throw and do things like that. But as far as using his left hand, he can’t do much there.”
Ichiro Suzuki spoke to some of his former teammates on the field, but he indicated his emotions aren’t as high facing them as they were in Seattle right after the trade went down.
The Yankees sure have done a better job getting past their injuries than the Red Sox. They have more talent and more depth than the Red Sox have, too. The pitching is much better. The gap between these first- and last-place teams is now 11 1/2 games after this 10-3 win by the Yankees.
“They don’t focus on the negative,” Joe Girardi said. “They focus on the job at hand. Because you’re going to go through injuries. Every team is going through it. We’re not immune to it. But they focus on what they’ve got to do that day. Who’s in the lineup, they go to work, pitchers go to work, and they try to win a game.”
The Yankees have had 13 players on the DL. The Red Sox have had 22. But Carl Crawford and Jacobi Ellsbury have been back since mid-July. Big Papi Ortiz is due back next Wednesday. The team has lost six of seven to fall to 49-51. The Yankees were saying not to count them out yet. Bobby Valentine was saying the same thing.
“We’ll turn it around,” Valentine said. “We haven’t had our big streak yet. That’s the good news.”
Ichiro went 1 for 4 in his debut in the pinstriped threads. He appreciated the warmth shown by the fans.
“Usually, I come in and the fans behind me are pretty tough on me,” Ichiro said. “But tonight they were great. They were awesome.”
He sure seems to appreciate being here.
“I was very excited,” Ichiro said. “My first game here in Yankee Stadium was against the Boston Red Sox. In Japan, you twist your cheek to see if it’s real or not, if I’m not dreaming. That’s really how I feel right now.”
Phil Hughes gave up three solo homers but only two other hits in seven innings. He’s up to 10-8 after his first win since July 1.
“With nobody on, the last thing I want to do is walk guys,” Hughes said. “That can lead to big innings. If I give up a solo home run here or there, I can work around that and find kind of a rhythm.”
Eric Chavez got hit high on the side of the right ankle in the eighth. He left after the inning when it tightened up, then met the media with a big wrap on it.
Chavez said it looked worse than it was. He said X-rays were negative, that it was just a bruise. He wasn’t sure if he would be available off the bench today. But he isn’t scheduled to start at third these next two games with lefties pitching.
“If there’s a good time to get hit, it was a good time,” Chavez said.
Today’s pitching matchup will feature CC Sabathia and Jon Lester.