A “fully functional Death Star” prepares for 2019

The Yankees are often considered “America’s team”, its interlocking NY logo globally recognized, its championship and historic legacy legendary. But to those not fans of the Yankees, for whatever reason one can dream up, a comparison to a popular pop culture villain resonated with the anti-Yankee contingent when a former Red Sox President dubbed them the “Evil Empire“, a nod to the iconic antagonists of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Now, I’ve not met any Yankee fan that took offense at the moniker. Rather, fans seem to embrace the intended insult with an almost amused chagrin, recognizing jealousy and sour grapes of its longtime rivals just before they won their recent four championships. But it hasn’t stopped the nickname from sticking. Now, sixteen years later, Yankees GM Brian Cashman affirmed their assumed villain status by saying recently that the Yankees were “a fully operational Death Star“. I can see the new merchandise already.

Cashman joined other baseball executives, owners, a few players, and sports media over the last week at baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, this year in Las Vegas. The week was full of trades, drafts, negotiations, rumors, meetings, and so many press interviews, and the Yankees continued to dodge most of the dominant rumors while working their way into a deal to re-sign starter JA Happ to the Yankees’ rotation for 2019. The final deal is being held up only by a routine physical and is expected to be confirmed before Christmas.

Actually, it’s not like the Yankees haven’t been quiet this off-season. At the end of last month, they tendered contracts to all 9 arbitration-eligible players on their roster, including those they are considering trading (Betances, Bird, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Paxton, Romine, and Severino). So, the roster remains at 40. For now.

Just prior to this move, the Yankees orchestrated a trade that irked some of the more die-hard Yankee fans. They claimed reliever Parker Bridwell off waivers from the Angels, and to make room for him on the roster, they designated fan and clubhouse favorite Ronald Torreyes for assignment. Two days later, they sent Torreyes to the Cubs for a player to be named later or cash considerations

The Yankees claimed right-handed pitcher Parker Bridwell off waivers from the Angels and designated infielder Ronald Torreyes for assignment on Monday, two days before they dealt Torreyes to the Cubs for a player to be named or cash. But “The Toe-Night Show” in Second City didn’t last long. The Cubs did not tender him a contract, and thus the infielder was once again on the move. However, within a week, Torreyes was signed to a new team — the Twins nabbed the versatile utility player. Best of luck to him, though he will be greatly missed in Yankee pinstripes.

With much anticipation on the upcoming series in London next summer, the Yankees and Red Sox are gearing up their fan bases on both sides of the Atlantic. This weekend, each team sent a well-known representative to do some press and connect with local fans to promote the series, and the Yankees sent veteran pitcher CC Sabathia. An avid sports fan himself, Sabathia and his Red Sox counterpart (outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.) will also visit other local sporting sites like the iconic cricket grounds and then each catch a Premier League football game (that’s soccer, for my American readers).  The Yankees and Red Sox face off in June at London Stadium, the former 2012 Olympic Stadium, now the home of one of London’s five major football clubs.

The committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame revealed the results of their vote on Today’s Game Era ballot to elect former players or executives to the Hall of Fame that might have missed the first go-around. While two former players (who rightly deserve the honor) did make the cut, former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was on this year’s ballot but failed to garner enough votes for induction. The “Evil Empire” mentality is alive and well and reaches all the way to Cooperstown. The new class of more recent players (the more traditional ballot) will be announced January 22, with names like Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte as possible inductees.

Yankee Universe is mourning the loss of another Steinbrenner. Surrounded by her family Joan Steinbrenner, George’s wife, has passed on at the age of 83. Following the death of her husband in 2010, Joan served as vice chairperson for the Yankees organization, but she had long been a fixture in the her native Northeast Ohio and adopted home of Tampa, serving on numerous charity, hospital, and community boards. She is fondly remembered by friends and family for her generosity and grace. May her memory be a blessing.

Finally, as you prepare to celebrate the end of the year holidays, remember that baseball will be returning in about two months. Pitchers and catchers report for duty in Tampa on February 13, with their first workout on February 14. The rest of the squad reports February 18, with the first full squad workout on February 19. The first game will be against the Red Sox (February 23) at their Spring home, with the first home opener on February 25 against the Blue Jays. Spring is just around the corner.

Go Yankees!

Missed awards, a new face, and Yankee alumni up for the Hall

Last week, the majority of the postseason awards were handed out for what some people consider the best of this year’s players and managers. Privately, I will make my selections, even if they’re not Yankees, and then I watch to see how my view of the season matches those with a vote. It was certainly a mixed bag for results once again.

Unfortunately, the Yankees walked away from 2018 with no awards. In one category, two Yankees held much of the conversation but ultimately were denied the hardware. The AL Rookie of the Year went to Shohei Ohtani, the Angels’ pitcher-DH star originally from Japan. The Yankees’ own Miguel Andujar came in a solid 2nd place, with teammate Gleyber Torres a distant 3rd. Torres held much of the ROY conversation early in the year before Andujar suddenly emerged as the highlight of the Yankees’ roster on the field and in the batter’s box. He certainly had my vote, or rather my support as I didn’t have a vote.

The Yankees also announced today a trade to help support their perpetually plagued starting rotation. In a deal with the Mariners, the Yankees acquired 30-year-old left hander James Paxton, who had a stellar 2018 but has been plagued by injuries in the past. The Yankees sent a trio of prospects to Seattle in the exchange — pitchers Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.

And today, the powers-that-be in Cooperstown announced 35 names that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will vote on this off-season. Each member has a ballot that they can select up to 10 players they believe deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Of course, some people submit empty ballots just so players don’t get 100% of the vote, some just vote for whatever team they write for, and some vote for really random people that don’t make any sense. But most of the members do use their votes wisely, and that’s why most of the people voted in deserve their Cooperstown plaque.

This year, headlining the ballot is Yankees’ legendary superstar Mariano Rivera. Almost assuredly a first-round selection, and he should be as close to 100% in the Hall as possible (though everyone expects someone to use their ballot to keep him from 100%). Another famed Yankee on the ballot this year is Andy Pettitte, and while many of us in Yankee Universe certainly believe he deserves the nod, his minor brush with PED usage following an injury may keep him out.

Other nominees this year include some recognizable names for Yankee fans, both in pinstripes and against them: Rick Ankiel, Jason Bay, Lance Berkman, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Travis Hafner, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Ted Lilly, Derek Lowe, Darren Oliver, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Mariano Rivera, Miguel Tejada, Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, and Michael Young. Joining this year’s first-timers are eligible former players who haven’t been completely shutout just yet: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, and Larry Walker.

I’ve made my selections (though I don’t have a vote). Who’s on your list?

Go Yankees!

Postseason wrap-up, looking to 2019, Gold Gloves 2018

Red Sox Nation spent their Halloween dressed up as Red Sox Nation as their championship team piled onto the city’s “duck boats” and paraded their way through the streets of Boston. The mayor, former champion alumni (like David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez), and fans singing along to “Sweet Caroline” (bah-bah-bah) came out to honor the World Series champions. The next day, some of the team took the championship trophy to a Celtics game in hopes of spreading their “good luck” to other Boston teams, which might have worked as the Celtics won that game.

Meanwhile, much of the talk this off-season already is about the big class of free agents. There’s a lot of conversation as to where big names like Harper and Machado will land, but the Yankees cleared the “luxury tax” (or the Competitive Balance Tax) ceiling for the first time in 14 years. The luxury tax was created in order to even out the balance between large-market teams (like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers) and small-market teams (like the Twins, Padres, and Orioles). The tax was set at $197 million in pay for the 2018 season. The Red Sox and Nationals, however, were forced to pay the tax this year.

So, without having to pay out millions of dollars to the luxury tax pool, the Yankees are free to explore a high-ticket free agent, especially to add to their starting rotation. But whether they choose to do so is still undecided. In the mean time, they have a few Yankees in the free agent pool that they could re-sign for the 2019 season, like CC Sabathia, JA Happ, Lance Lynn, Zach Britton, and David Robertson.

However, one free agent they snagged early was Brett Gardner. While the Red Sox were partying their way through Boston, the Yankees were solidifying one of the last remaining homegrown Yankees from the 2009 championship team to remain a Yankee for 2019. He had an option for the final year of his contract, but the Yankees declined it and instead offered him a 1-year $9.5 million contract.

Next season will be the veteran outfielder’s 12th year in pinstripes, though his 15th with the organization, making him the longest-tenured Yankee on the roster. He’s really the heart of the team and a leader in the clubhouse, a fixture for the Yankees on and off the field. Gardner said: “I wasn’t sure what kind of opportunities I was going to have with the Yankees beyond this year and what would have been out there for me in other places. To get this wrapped up early in the off-season, it’s great to know where I’ll be next year and obviously what to expect. I’m going back to a place where I’m comfortable and very familiar. I’m really, really excited.”

Gardner was nominated tonight for a Gold Glove, his 4th nomination (2011, 2015, 2017, 2018). The Gold Glove is an annual award given to the best defender at each position in each league. He joined Aaron Judge and Masahiro Tanaka as nominees this year. Judge was nominated last year, and Gardner won the award in 2016. None of the Yankee nominees took home the honor tonight, but all three recognitions are well-deserved.

But there’s more to come. The Silver Sluggers, the award for the top offensive contibutor at each position, will be announced Thursday. The big honors (Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc.) will be announced the week of November 12-15, with the Players Choice Awards announced November 27. Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are nominated for AL Rookie category in the Players Choice Awards and are up for the AL Rookie of the Year in the other awards next week. In other words, while the Yankees didn’t pick up any mantle hardware tonight, there’s still time to collect some bragging rights.

And speaking of bragging rights, today is also the 9th anniversary of the Yankees’ 27th championship. Back in 2009, Yankee Universe watched as Mariano Rivera got the batter to hit a baby grounder to Robinson Cano, who threw to a waiting Mark Teixeira for the final out of Game 6 against the Phillies. It actually came up on my “memories” feed today before veterans from that game like Swisher and Rodriguez posted their own memories online of that fateful day.

Finally, our hearts go out to the Reds organization tonight. Yesterday, three players, all 19 years old, in their minor league system were involved in a serious car accident in the Dominican Republic. Pitcher Jairo Capellan was killed in the incident, pitcher Raul Hernandez is in critical but stable condition, and outfielder Emilio Garcia is still receiving treatment for his injuries at the hospital but conscious and alert. Capellan was laid to rest this afternoon, his funeral attended by Reds players, coaches, and staff.

We join sports fans online as we extend our sympathies to Capellan’s family and friends and their prayers for Hernandez and Garcia.

Go Yankees!

World Series 5: BOS vs. LAD — Freshly minted #WorldSeries Champions

And just like that, the 2018 season is over. With a swinging strikeout from a potential free agent trying a bit too hard against a starter masquerading as a closer.

To be fair, tonight’s game was the kind of game you’d expect at a World Series. Both starters were ace pitchers, pretty evenly matched, going deep into the game. Kershaw of the Dodgers throwing 7 strong innings, and the Red Sox’s starter Price throwing into the 8th but dominating tonight’s game.

Now, Price used to have troubles in the postseason with other teams but has seemed to find his momentum with this team and this season, giving up just 3 hits and the Dodgers’ only run in his outing tonight. That run was a 1st pitch lead-off solo home run in the bottom of the 1st, so between Price and his two stellar relievers and the defense, the Dodgers weren’t doing much of anything tonight.

Kershaw had more trouble keeping the Red Sox from advancing and maintained a decent hold on the game that in another situation might have been enough for them to bounce back. But the visiting team got thing started early in the 1st when a 1-out single scored as part of a big 2-run home run to put the Sox in an early lead they’d not surrender.

Later in the game, they added a few exclamation points to their score in the form of solo home runs, one in each of the 6th, 7th, and 8th. In fact, the home run was how both teams scored all their runs tonight, and the Red Sox player that kicked things off in the 1st was the same guy who closed it for them in the 8th, the first age 35+ player since 1959 to have a multi-home run game in the World Series (joining Yankees legend Babe Ruth and Reds/White Sox infielder Ted Kluszewski).

Final score: 5-1 Red Sox, Red Sox win series 4-1

Despite some conversation that the MVP could be Price, they chose the other player who clearly impacted this series and this game in particular. That player, Steve Pearce, blasted those two big home runs tonight and ended up being crowned the Willie Mays World Series MVP, complete with a new bright red Chevy truck and a cool trophy for his mantle. Pearce has played for the Yankees among many other teams in his career before being traded to the Red Sox mid-season this year from the Blue Jays.

And because they’re not above trolling their opponents, the Red Sox blasted both “New York, New York” and “California Love” during their champagne celebrations in the visitors’ clubhouse of Dodgers Stadium. The latter song is one of the Dodgers’ relievers walk-up songs and a classic rap song. While I certainly thought it was good they didn’t linger too long on their host team’s field, this level of trolling is a bit low. Even for the Red Sox.

But that’s why we’re Yankee fans…

Go Yankees!

World Series 4: BOS vs. LAD — Late inning heroics

Well, the Dodgers now have quite the uphill battle if they want their first championship since 1988 (30 years). But the Red Sox are just a game away from their 4th victory this century (2004, 2007, and 2013). After an 18-inning marathon, the Red Sox found their old momentum again from this postseason to right their ship and rock the Dodgers’.

Actually, both teams held each other to limited offense for most of the game. In fact, the game was scoreless though 5 full innings. It wasn’t until the bottom of the 6th that the Dodgers got through first. They loaded up the bases with 1 out. The next batter hit into a weird play. A fielder’s choice and fielding error got one runner out at home but allowed the next runner to score and leave runners on the corners. Then a big 3-run home run pushed the Dodgers into a comfortable lead.

But it wasn’t comfortable enough for the visiting Red Sox as they started chipping away at that lead. The Dodgers gave up a couple of walks before a 2-out, 3-run home run put the Red Sox within a run. But then in the 8th, a 1-out solo home run tied up the game. But the Red Sox kept charging forward. With 1 out in the 9th, a double scored on a pinch-hit single before loading the bases again. A bases-clearing double ensured a nice cushion for the Red Sox before a single later scored that runner to cap off the Red Sox late comeback rally.

So the Dodgers put in their best effort for their own comeback rally in the bottom of the 9th with a lead-off walk followed promptly by a 2-run home run. But despite a 1-out single, the home team just ran out of outs to come back.

Final score: 9-6 Red Sox, Red Sox lead series 3-1

But for those Dodgers fans (read: my good friend) who are feeling a little despondent after tonight’s game, a great trivia nerd put together an inspiring list of teams who were down 3-1 in past postseasons and still came back to win their series, including the 2016 Cubs (World Series over Indians) and (the headache of all Yankee fans) the 2004 Red Sox (ALCS over Yankees). In other words, it’s possible and it’s dramatic, both something we’ve seen a lot of this postseason.

Go Yankees!

World Series 3: BOS vs. LAD — Extra innings marathon milestones

The one advantage of tonight’s game is that it was played on the West Coast, or 3 hours behind the fans in Boston (or those of us on the East Coast in general). So an 8pm start time is just 5pm in Los Angeles. Thus a 7 hour and 20 minute game means a bit after midnight, or a fairly normal time for most Californians. Unfortunately, for most of the country and half of the fans of tonight’s game, it meant the game wrapped up at 3:40 am.

Actually, the Dodgers held a slim lead for much of the game thanks to a 2-out solo home run in the 3rd. But the Red Sox kept things close, both teams putting on a great defensive and pitching show to keep the game tight. When the Red Sox tied up the game with their own 2-out solo home in the 8th, the game going into extra innings was basically inevitable. I just don’t think they thought it would be so many innings.

Both teams were given a few opportunities for the “go-ahead run” but didn’t capitalize on base runners until the 13th inning. The Red Sox worked a lead-off walk that promptly stole 2nd and then scored on a single and throwing error. Finally, the Sox had broken the tie and put themselves in the lead for the first time tonight. With a new pitcher for the Dodgers on the mound, he jammed himself up by giving up a 2-out double and intentionally walking a batter before getting out of it with a ground out.

But the home team wasn’t out of the game. In the bottom of the 13th, a lead-off walk moved to 2nd on a pop-up and then scored on a 2-out single and throwing error. There was a brief challenge on a boundary call to see if the ball was thrown into the “stands” (or rather camera area) which is an automatic trip to 2nd for the runner. But the call was upheld and the runner went back to 1st where he ended up stranded there.

And the game played on. A 14th inning stretch ensued. Dodgers’ fans still stayed to watch the final out. Or rather they prayed for a walk-off. And they got it. In the bottom of the 18th, Dodgers’ infielder Muncy stepped into the batter’s box, worked himself up to a full count and then pummeled the fast ball just over the left field fence. And the stadium erupted in joy.

Final score: 3-2 Dodgers in 18 innings, Red Sox lead series 2-1

Being as there was 7 hours and 20 minutes of conversation during the game, there was a lot of things to talk about, compare tonight’s game to, and come up with fun trivia bits. It is both the longest (general) postseason game and longest (specifically) World Series game in MLB history. The previous record holders: the 2014 NLDS Game 2 when the Giants bested the Nationals 2-1 in 18 innings in 6 hours and 23 minutes; and the 2005 World Series Game 3 when the White Sox beat the Astros 7-5 in 14 innings, 5 hours and 41 minutes.

Tonight’s game also utilized 46 total players, including a Dodgers’ pitcher as a pinch-hitter, and both teams sent 9 pitchers each to the mound over the 18 innings. The latter stat tied previous World Series records set by the 2017 Dodgers in that Game 2 and the 2005 White Sox in that Game 3 (the aforementioned long game).

And in Yankee Universe news: The finalists for the Gold Glove awards were announced yesterday. And the Yankees have 3 names on that list. Masahiro Tanaka is nominated for his defensive skills as a pitcher, as is outfielders Brett Gardner (left field) and Aaron Judge (right field). The winners of each position in both leagues will be announced on November 4 as part of a string of postseason awards. Of those three, Gardner is the only one who’s won a Gold Glove before (in 2016), though he certainly deserves some major recognition as one of the most underrated outfielders in the MLB.

Go Yankees!

World Series 2: LAD vs. BOS — Dodgers’ 3-hit chilly stumble

The World Series is headed to the West Coast (where it’s 30+ degrees warmer, by the way) with the Red Sox in a strong lead over the Dodgers. After a chilly night in Fenway, the bats weren’t as loud as previous nights in the park, but it didn’t stop either team from trying their hardest to shift the game their way.

For 9 postseasons in his career, the Red Sox’s starter (formerly with the Rays and Tigers) hasn’t done really well. But this postseason has been quite successful for him, shutting down the Yankees and Astros to get to the point to limiting the Dodgers to just 3 hits in tonight’s game. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ starter certainly limited the damage, but the Red Sox offense were just stronger tonight. In the 2nd, the Red Sox got a 1-out double that scored on a 2-out single to kick off their limited night.

The Dodgers finally found their opportunity in the 4th loading up the bases with 2 singles and a walk. A sacrifice fly scored a run, and a 2-out single scored one more to put the Dodgers in their first lead this series. It didn’t last long, as the Red Sox loaded up the bases themselves in the bottom of the 5th. A walk scored the run that tied up that game and a single scored 2 extra runs to ensure the Red Sox’s eventual victory.

Once both starter were out of the game, their respective bullpens kept the score as is and sent this Series to Los Angeles with the Red Sox firmly in the lead.

Final score: 4-2 Red Sox, Red Sox lead series 2-0

In an interesting note, Jackie Robinson died on this day 46 year ago. He is most remembered as being the first player of color to play MLB professionally. It’s noteworthy that both managers in this World Series are former professional MLB players of color. The Red Sox’s Alex Cora is from Puerto Rico (and later South Florida), and Dave Roberts was born to his African-American dad and his Japanese mother in Japan.

It only took 71 years from when Robinson “broke the color barrier” to having both World Series managers be people of color with careers they can credit to Robinson’s own stellar career. Both managers, by the way, were born in the mid-1970s, thus their entire baseball lives from Little League to pro-ball was an open door for people of all races. And if you just take a passing glance at both rosters, you can see they are diverse in a way most people could only dream of back in 1947.

With one major exception… they’re still all men. Don’t at me. Don’t tell me that women can’t compete with men one day. A League of Their Own and the recent short-lived Fox drama Pitch touched on this issue, as well as the rise of Mo’ne Davis and these five women. A few years ago, the Dodgers had a female athletic trainer and other women are spread around baseball as the next crop of General Managers to scouts, trainers, coaches, and other predominantly male-only jobs at the Park.

Lament about the “good old days” if you want. But I think baseball became a better game when it integrated. I think it can only get better if it continues to evolve to allow the best players to play regardless of race, sex, or any other social division. Only when the world is represented can we truly enjoy the concept of a “World Series”.

Go Yankees!