Yankees pregame: Old-Timers’ Day • 06.22.14
There are three first-time Old-Timers here today, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and John Montefusco.
Matsui said through his old interpreter Roger Kahlon that he’s basically relaxing and enjoying retirement. So Matsui was naturally asked what advice he would give the retiring Derek Jeter.
“He’s got to find a wife, first and foremost,” Matsui said.
Joe Torre is here today and he’s bound for the Hall of Fame next month. He acknowledged Jeter’s role.
“I wouldn’t be going to have a Hall of Fame speech unless he was here,” Torre said.
“It’s something that hasn’t really settled in for me yet.”
The introductions are going on now. Then comes the Goose Gossage plaque ceremony, then the Old-Timers’ Game, then Tanaka time.
As for the current team, Joe Girardi again sounded down on the idea of moving Adam Warren into the rotation to replace Vidal Nuno.
“In a sense, you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Girardi said. “Whereas Warren has been able to help us twice out of every five days, you’re only going to get one start every five days. He’s been extremely important to our success in the bullpen. I know he’s been talked about a lot, but our rotation is what it is.”
I only covered Johnny Damon for about a month in the playoffs, but he’s an instantly likable personality, and the other New York writers seem to always enjoy saying hello to him. Today Damon said he was never close to coming back to the Yankees this winter, but he spoke pretty highly of his time in pinstripes.
“My time in New York was nothing but great,” he said. “I loved every minute of it. I loved going back there. I loved a bunch of the players over there, the coaching staff, the way the organization is. It’s going to be four years I’m always going to remember. Now it’s time for me to help my home team win a championship. It’s been a long time coming for me to have this opportunity to come play for Tampa, so I’m excited about it.”
Here are a few notes and links to wrap up the day.
• At this point I’m guessing we won’t hear anything definitive on Francisco Cervelli until tomorrow. His MRI results are being reviewed by team doctors in New York.
• Nice story by Dan Barbarisi about the Yankees rallying around Red Sox first-base coach Ron Johnson, whose daughter lost her leg in a terrible accident. Johnson used to be Kevin Long’s manager in the minors.
• Great interview with VP of baseball operations Mark Newman. There’s a lot of good stuff about the Yankees minor league system in there, including some notes about guys who could very well make the big league roster this year.
• Writing for Baseball America, George King notes that Brandon Laird could put himself into the big league mix at some point this season as a power hitter who can play all four corners.
• Speaking of Baseball America, they’re reporting that the Yankees have signed 1B Nick Ebert, a non-drafted free agent out of South Carolina.
• Yankees single-game tickets go on sale Saturday morning.
Sorry, went to the wrong page on Yankees.com. Single game tickets are on sale March 11 at this link. Saturday’s ticket thing is for season tickets.
Associated Press photo of Damon
The difference between a spring training game and a regular season game was on display in today’s seventh inning. That’s when Dellin Betances got into a bases-loaded, two-out jam and ran the count full against Tim Beckham. When he missed with ball four, the Rays scored their only run of the game.
Debacle of a performance? Not necessarily.
“He got in a little bit of trouble in the end, but that was kind of neat to see,” Joe Girardi said.
Betances was as good as ever through his first five hitters, getting B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria in order in the sixth inning. He started the seventh by striking out Manny Ramirez and Matt Joyce. Those are five pretty good hitters, and the kid got them all.
“After I gave up that two-out double, I felt like I didn’t have a feel for my pitches,” Betances said. “I felt like trying to think too much instead of just throwing the ball, and I got away from what I was doing early on.”
He got a little rattled. It was Casey Kotchman who doubled, then Betances walked two batters to load the bases and send Larry Rothschild to the mound.
“He was just trying to say, don’t try to do too much,” Betances said. “Just put the ball there. He basically told me to change up. Try to throw breaking ball first pitch, and I did. It was just one of those days where I couldn’t find the location after the first inning and two-thirds.”
It wasn’t a bad at-bat against Beckham, but Betances lost the battle and missed a spot. He came close to a strike three pitch at one point but didn’t get the call — I thought it was a ball, but it was close — and ultimately Adam Warren came in to clean up the mess and end the inning with a strikeout. But the game wasn’t a waste for Betances, and the Yankees didn’t seem especially disappointed with the fact he finally struggled in this atmosphere.
“I thought he threw the ball pretty good,” Girardi said.
• Immediately after Garcia, Ivan Nova pitched three scoreless innings. It’s still incredibly early, but those two still feel like favorites for these rotation openings.
• Now that Garcia has thrown, all of the rotation candidates — depending on whether you count Andrew Brackman — have gotten in a game and should be stretched out a little more next time through. “You just want to see them be more crisp,” Girardi said. “Sometimes pitchers in this time of the year will go through a little bit of a dead arm phase. We might have to watch that a little bit. I’m not saying we will, but you just want see them get crisp, their breaking balls be sharper and more consistency.”
• Brackman will throw a simulated game on Saturday.
• Girardi has no concerns about Russell Martin playing with a knee brace tomorrow. “He did his drills with it the other day and I didn’t see it really hinder him,” Girardi said. “I think sometimes you feel a little bit more stable mentally with it as well. You know it’s not going to give out.”
• Greg Golson played for the first time since being hit in the head during live batting practice.
• We should probably get used to seeing Eric Chavez getting time at first base. ” I don’t really have a huge concern about him playing third base,” Girardi said. “I will give him some reps at third base, but you’ll see me play him (at first) more in the spring than at third base. He looks good. He’s looked good. He’s picked Tex’s brain a lot, and Tino’s brain a lot. Some times at drills we’ll have Tino follow him around so they can talk about it. But he looks comfortable.”
• Speaking of Chavez, he had one of only four Yankees hits today. Curtis Granderson, Kevin Russo and Gustavo Molina also singled, but for this wasn’t a good day for offense. “There were some balls hit pretty hard today and I think the wind affected that,” Girardi said.
• Rule 5 pick Robert Fish was brought in to face one lefty, Casey Kotchman, and Fish struck him out. Obviously, Fish is still a long shot for this bullpen, but he did his job today. The other Yankees Rule 5 pick, Daniel Turpen, followed by allowing a single before striking out two.
• D.J. Mitchell wasn’t scheduled to throw until tomorrow, but when the game went into a 10th inning, Mitchell got the call and pitched a scoreless inning.
• Johnny Damon on whether he was close to coming back to the Yankees this winter: “I don’t really think it was close at all. I think they were very happy with their outfield situation and thought Posada was not going to be catching much. It really made it easy as far as their decision and as far as mine. I’m not ready to be a part-time player in this game.”
Associated Press photos of Montero, Nova and Pena; Montero blocked the plate and finished off the play to get an out at the plate in the third inning
One week later • 01.24.11
I quite literally lost myself in the back bowls of Vail last week, but when I came back to New York, I found myself right at home with the unavoidable Yankees topic of the offseason. I guess it’s hard for the Yankees to escape Andy Pettitte these days. I tend to agree with Jesse’s morning post — I’m not sure Pettitte’s a Hall of Famer — but right now the Yankees don’t need a Hall of Fame addition to their rotation.
They’ve built a remarkably deep bullpen, their lineup is still arguably the best in the league and they have some new power on the bench. What they don’t have (still) is depth in the rotation. It’s an issue that’s going to linger, and until Pettitte gives a definitive answer about his future, his name will never fall out of offseason speculation.
As for recent events, I actually missed a fairly active week. A few highlights:
Rafael Soriano became official
Press conferences for new free agents are fairly predictable. The team is happy to have the player. The player is happy to be with the team. Those situations are interesting only because it’s a new face in a new uniform, not because there will be any sort of interesting news or realization. This week, though, the Yankees signing of Rafael Soriano became official, and the team had to address the obvious: That the general manager wasn’t in favor of the signing and ownership ran the show in signing the team’s biggest winter addition. This topic has been discussed over and over again, and there’s no sense rehashing it here, but I will say that this was one of the few press conferences that I actually thought might be legitimately interesting. I was on an airplane at the time.
Rumor became fact, Andruw Jones became a Yankee
At some point around the first of the month, the Yankees and Andruw Jones became a constant rumor. They were talking. They were interested. They were sorting the details. Last week, it was done, with Jones taking a one-year deal worth $2 million plus incentives. It fits into the going rate for similar players, and I like the signing. As I’ve written before, I think Jones made the most sense for the Yankees. Of the outfielders in this market, only Matt Diaz might have been a better fit, and he got a regular gig with the Pirates. Jones isn’t what he used to be, but the Yankees don’t need him to be what he used to be. They need him to hit for power and play the outfield corners. He can still do those things, and he can do them without costing much this season or putting the Yankees on the hook for any long-term risk.
The Yankees avoided arbitration with everyone
No arbitration hearings this year, which is probably better for everyone involved. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan all settled on 2011 contracts last week, locking up the only arbitration eligible players still on the Yankees roster (Sergio Mitre had already re-signed, Chad Guadin had already been released, and Dustin Moseley had been non-tendered). I actually thought all three might get more money than they did, but my ability to judge arbitration value is suspect at best. Those three are still a year or two away from becoming truly expensive for the Yankees.
Johnny and Manny together again
While the Yankees settled on their fourth outfielder, the Rays also completed their outfield picture by signing Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to one-year deals. Damon seems likely to get most of his playing time in left field, Ramirez at designated hitter. To me it’s a nice signing for the Rays, but not a big loss for the Yankees. Neither Damon nor Ramirez exactly fit the Yankees needs – defense plays a role here, so does Damon’s left-handed bat – but the Rays had a wide-open DH situation and an outfield in flux, stuck somewhere between Carl Crawford and Desmond Jennings. To an extent, Jones, Damon and Ramirez each made sense for both the Yankees and Rays, but it seems to me that the Yankees got the guy who best fit their needs and the Rays got the guys who best fit their needs.
The Angels showed what desperation really looks like
Whether true or not, there was something about the Yankees Soriano signing that seemed desperate: It wasn’t a perfect fit or a good contract, but at least it gave them a significant addition. However, when it comes to perceived desperation, the Angels took the prize this week when they traded for Vernon Wells. I like Wells and wouldn’t be shocked to see a repeat of 2010, but his contract is an absolute mess that the Blue Jays have clearly wanted to dump for a while. Not only did they dump it, they dumped that contract – all of it! — for two solid young players, and to a team that didn’t necessarily need an overpaid center fielder. It’s like the Soriano level, only on a whole other level: Wells might make the Angels better, but does that mean he’s worth this sort of cost and risk?
Marcus Thames remembered his glove
Last winter, Marcus Thames was – pretty much without question – Brian Cashman’s best offseason signing. He came to camp on a minor league deal and settled into a significant and productive role as a semi-regular. Thames has some very real power, and he can really hit against lefties, so it’s easy to see why the Dodgers signed him last week. Of course, you might have noticed that the Dodgers are a National League team without a designated hitter. Thames is best left out of the defensive game plan, but to be honest, if he hits like he did last season, his bat will be more than enough to make up for shaky left-field defense. That’s my guess, anyway.
The pieces that don’t necessarily fit • 01.10.11
This free agent market doesn’t match the Yankees needs. We know that. It’s been discussed time after time, day after day, but this morning the good people at MLBTradeRumors listed the 11 players remaining from their initial list of the top 50 free agents. It paints a pretty convincing picture of just how little is out there. Here’s their list.
1. Rafael Soriano — Significant cost, in dollars and draft picks, for a setup man.
2. Carl Pavano — There was never a real chance of the Yankees bringing him back.
3. Jim Thome — Hasn’t played the field in three years. DH spot isn’t available.
4. Vladimir Guerrero — Another designated hitter, best kept out of the outfield at this point.
5. Manny Ramirez — Probably a better defensive option than Guerrero, but still questionable. Plus, Manny in pinstripes?
6. Andy Pettitte — This one’s not up to the Yankees. It’s all up to Pettitte.
7. Brian Fuentes — If he wants to close, he won’t come to the Yankees.
8. Kevin Millwood — Amazing how quickly the starting pitching market falls into the questionable zone. At least Millwood has been fairly durable.
9. Grant Balfour — Another setup man who would cost a draft pick.
10. Scott Podsednik — Left-handed, speed-oriented left fielder. The Yankees already have one of those.
11. Johnny Damon — Probably a better defensive option than some of the other guys who are primarily DHs. Might prefer an everyday role. A right-handed hitter would be a better fit.
The timing of transition • 01.05.11
For Jorge Posada, the transition away from catcher has always been a matter of time. Even during his remarkable decade-plus stretch of durability, it was clear that at some point — either because of age, production or health — the Yankees were going to have to make a change behind the plate.
That time has come. It’s been three years since Posada started more than 88 games at catcher, and last season he was so banged up that Joe Girardi was understandably hesitant to start him behind the plate more than two days in a row. Posada was an everyday catcher in name only.
In the big picture, the timing of this transition is perfect. Posada got here gradually, and the Yankees have young players ready to take over. Short-term, though, it’s hard to look at the free agent market and not wonder if the Yankees might have been tempted to press their luck one more year.
You could look at the timing Posada’s transition based on two positions: Catcher and designated hitter. Catcher is the long-term positive. DH is the short-term regret.
Passing the torch
The Yankees minor league system is ready to takeover behind the plate. At the very least, it’s ready to give the Yankees options and reason for optimism. Jesus Montero’s second half of 2010 suggested a player growing into his enormous talent, and even if doesn’t prove Major League ready behind the plate, Austin Romine is coming quickly behind him. The Yankees have both talent and depth, and they have each of those things on the cusp of the big leagues.
Two years ago there was unproven talent. One year ago, that talent had shown some results, but it still wasn’t ready for the show. Today, there are catchers on the verge. The past two years, Posada gave the Yankees enough behind the plate that they didn’t feel compelled to rush their young players or aggressively sign a replacement. Posada bridged his own gap, with some space-fillers helping along the way.
As an added bonus, this happened to be the winter Russell Martin became a free agent. Because of their catching depth, and because Posada can still catch occasionally, the Yankees could afford to take a shot on Martin rediscovering his old self. If it works, great. If not, it only gives the young guys a little more development time. In theory, this is what a catcher transition should look like: The old guard is still around and the new talent is eased in.
Filling the hole
With one more year on his contract, Posada isn’t finished just yet. He’s not longer an everyday catcher, but he can be a productive hitter. Even in a down year, when he clearly played hurt a lot of the time, Posada still hit for power and gave the Yankees production. He’s only one year removed from a vintage Posada slash line.
To keep Posada’s bat in the lineup, while keeping his body healthy, the Yankees will make their former catcher a more-or-less full-time designated hitter. It’s a natural fit, and the spot was wide open. No more Hideki Matsui. No more Jason Giambi. No more Nick Johnson.
Then again, if ever there was an offseason to go DH hunting, it was this one. The free agent market is always full of potential designated hitters — quite literally, any available hitter could theoretically fill the spot — but this winter’s crop is loaded with players who can still hit but are best kept away from any sort of glove.
Matsui and Adam Dunn have already signed, but the free agent market still has Giambi, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. A second tier offers Marcus Thames, Russell Branyan, Jose Guillen and maybe Jermaine Dye. The price for each of them must be dropping by the day, and it’s hard to imagine any of them getting more than a one year deal. Those are bats that could help the Yankees, if only there were a place for them.
Associated Press photo of Posada, headshots of Martin and Thome
Steinbrenner’s FBI file released • 12.23.10
George Steinbrenner’s FBI file was released today, and it included a 1970s memo from Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox asking for an intense criminal investigation into Steinbrenner’s campaign contributions.
Of course, Steinbrenner was ultimately convicted of illegal contributions.
Kind of interesting to hear about the behind-the-scenes stuff that led up to the conviction.
A few more notes and links from today.
• Brain Cashman acknowledged the obvious: There’s no clear place for Johnny Damon on the Yankees roster. Cashman said checking in with Damon was “something (the Yankees) do with every free agent.”
• The Rangers have reportedly agreed to a deal with lefty Arthur Rhodes. The Yankees seem to have their lefty situation addressed with Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan, plus some depth on minor league deals. If they were to go after another lefty, the most logical remaining target might be Brian Fuentes, who could serve more of a setup role than a lefty specialist role.
• In completing the Adrian Gonzalez trade, the Red Sox decided to trust Gonzalez that he would negotiate a contract extension during the season, and that he would base it on the current market value. “We gave them our word that we were going to negotiate during the season in good faith,” Gonzalez told ESPNBoston. “We’re not going to go in there and ask for Albert Pujols’ contract, something along those lines.”
• The drunk driver who killed Nick Adenhart has been sentenced to 51 years to life in prison. There’s nothing good about that story. Nothing but sadness all over.
Associated Press photo
Let’s end this night with an unexpected notion brought to you by Ken Davidoff: The Yankees have talked to Johnny Damon about coming back to the Bronx.
The most obvious positive is that Damon might be the best combination of viable defensive outfielder and legitimate offensive contributor still on the market (depending on your opinion of Manny Ramirez at this point). Damon could play a role off the bench, getting time at designated hitter and left field.
The obvious negatives are that Damon bats left handed and would leave Nick Swisher as the only Yankees outfielder with recent experience in right. Of the team’s four outfielders, three would be lefties. They could land a super utility type to bat from the right side, but it seems easier to simply find a right-handed fourth outfielder.
It doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit for either the player or the team, but as Davidoff points out, the outfield free agent market has thinned since Matt Diaz and Bill Hall came off the board. I’d argue that Marcus Thames — despite his defensive flaws — makes much more sense for the Yankees, and it could be that the the Yankees and Damon are talking to one another only as a last resort for both parties.
If the Yankees don’t find a better fit, at least they’d have a known veteran to plug into the lineup. If Damon can’t find an everyday job, at least he’d have a familiar situation and a chance to win.
The best of what’s left • 12.21.10
The remaining free agent market is rich in two areas: Designated hitters and relief pitchers. The Yankees have no need for a DH, but I could see them dipping into that relief market one more time before spring training. Here’s my 25-man roster using only remaining free agents. It’s a stretch to say the least.
Johnny Damon, CF
Edgar Renteria, SS
Adrian Beltre 3B
Jim Thome, DH
Vladimir Guerrero, RF
Manny Ramirez, LF
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Bengie Molina, C
Cristian Guzman, 2B
I’ve decided to punt on outfield defense. This is probably the worst defensive outfield ever assembled, so I’ll just hope that everything is hit to third base.
Scott Podsednik, OF
Derrek Lee, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., UT
Josh Bard, C
Is it bad that a left fielder is my defensive replacement in center?
Obviously I don’t want anything hit in the air, so I’ll roll the dice with Webb’s sinker in the No. 5 spot. Let’s face it, a lot of things are going to have to right for this team anyway. As for who gets the nod for the No. 1 spot in the rotation, I think I know my audience.
I figure I’ll need someone who can throw more than one inning at a time, so I’ll take shot on Penny in the bullpen. Added bonus: It might keep him healthy.
Still waiting for a Damon decision • 08.24.10
It’s a beautiful day in Toronto. Of course, you wouldn’t know it from inside the dome.
While we’re still waiting for the clubhouse to open, the Red Sox are still waiting on a decision from Johnny Damon, who has to decide whether to accept a move out of Detroit and back to Boston. This afternoon, he told our old friend Pete Abraham that he’s leaning toward Detroit.
“I think we’re still in this,” Damon said. “But I’ve got to know whether they’re going to keep playing me or whether they’re going to go with the younger guys. If I’m not going to play as much, the decision is a no-brainer.”
For whatever it’s worth Buster Olney thinks Damon will be convinced to leave.
In other waiver news, the White Sox are apparently planning to claim Manny Ramirez whenever he ends up on waivers. That would have to happen really quickly to impact the Yankees upcoming series in Chicago. The bigger Yankees impact of a White Sox claim might be keeping Ramirez out of Tampa Bay.
As for some Yankees news this afternoon: D.J. Mitchell is about to make his Triple-A debut in a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation that has a combined 19 Triple-A starts this season. Mitchell had been pitching very well in Trenton the past two months or so. He was easily one of my favorite guys to talk to this spring. Just a really nice guy who happens to induce a lot of ground balls.