Off-season bits: January edition

Happy 2019! It’s only 30 days until pitchers and catcher report to the Tampa minor league complex and officially kick off Spring Training and the 2019 baseball season. There hasn’t really be a lot of splashy signings by the Yankees this off-season, and it looks like the two biggest free agents will be signing elsewhere. But there’s still quite a bit of time before Spring Training, and even more time before the regular season to finalize that perfect 25-man roster.

Last month, CC Sabathia’s off-season took a bit of a detour. He was supposed to travel around England on a press tour for the upcoming Yankees-Red Sox series in the UK this summer, but instead found himself on the operating table getting a stent put in his heart. After experiencing some discomfort during his exercise routine, he was smart enough to listen to his body and see a doctor, who found a 90% blocked artery and scheduled an emergency angioplasty on December 11.

Just last week, he was cleared to resume baseball activities and is on track to report for camp next month with the other pitchers and catchers. Doctors have pronounced him in excellent condition, including for the long-term (much to the relief of his wife and family). Sabathia himself said he felt “like a brand new person“. This procedure is just further support for Sabathia’s recent lifestyle changes — abstaining from alcohol and altering his diet and nutrition intake, something he hopes can carry him through the rest of his life, deterring any future issues with his genetic predisposition for heart disease.

Meanwhile, the Yankees haven’t made any big name signings, but they have secured three decently recognizable names to their major league roster. To provide back-up for Didi Gregorius while he recovers from Tommy John surgery, the Yankees signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for a year.

Formerly with the Rockies and Blue Jays and winner of two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, the five-time All-Star is now 34 and has been inactive for the last 18 months due to a plague of injuries, but was released by the Blue Jays despite owing him a hefty salary for the next two seasons. Tulowitzki has worn #2 in honor of his childhood baseball hero Derek Jeter for his entire MLB career, so it will be interesting to find out what number he’ll don as Jeter’s famous number was retired nearly three year ago.

They also signed free agent infielder DJ LeMathieu to a 2-year contract. LeMathieu has spent all 8 of his MLB seasons with the Rockies at 2nd base and will join his former teammate on the Yankees roster. Both LeMathieu and Tulowitzki could serve as rather active bench players through the season as part of the now full infield.

And the Yankees made the biggest impact by re-signing reliever Zach Britton to a new 3-year contract (potentially 4 if options are exercised), solidifying his presence in the already stellar bullpen with fellow closing relievers like Betances and Chapman.

To make room for the two new faces, the Yankees designated reliever AJ Cole and minor league infielder Hanser Alberto for assignment. Both were picked up quickly by the Indians and Orioles, respectively.

At the end of last year, the Yankees offered all arbitration-eligible players a 1-year deal to close out their contract agreements before the players have the potential to become free agents. Eight players agreed to the Yankees’ terms — Betances, Bird, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Paxton and Romine. The remaining player, Luis Severino, is still in negotiations as of this weekend, which can continue until a hearing is held where an arbitrator makes a decision how much a team must pay a player.

And for those of you that pay attention to other sports, you might know that as of yesterday, there are only four teams left in the NFL playoffs. Next weekend will eliminate two more so that the winners of those two games will end up playing in the Superbowl next month. But none of those teams are the Seahawks. And despite playing in the Pro-Bowl (the NFL’s equivalent of the All-Star Game), the current most famous NFL-MLB player, Seattle’s star quarterback Russell Wilson, is preparing for his stint at Spring Training again. He made a big splash with the fans last year with his single at-bat (and strikeout) and is set for six days in camp with hopefully a better game performance.

Next month, Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Boone will bring their star power to the annual Thurmon Munson Awards dinner. The three are being recognized for their philanthropy and active community involvement, in the spirit of the dinner’s namesake. Former Yankee Darryl Strawberry will also be on hand to present an award, and other sports stars and executives are being honored for their life of giving.

And finally, Yankees icon Mel Stottlemyre lost his battle with bone marrow cancer yesterday. The former pitching coach helped guide the 1986 Mets to their championship before being a critical part of the last Yankees dynasty, coaching legends like Pettitte and Rivera, spending a decade with each team.

Initially diagnosed in 2000, the cancer went into remission following intensive treatments before returning in 2011. The Yankees eventually honored him in a surprise presentation with a plaque in Monument Park in 2015 on Old Timers’ Day, surrounded by fellow legends. Our hearts go out to all of his loved ones, especially his wife Jean and their sons Todd and Mel.

Go Yankees!

CC’s big heart needed a little help

In our last post, there was a paragraph about a promotional tour of the upcoming grounds for a special series in the United Kingdom. The Yankees and Red Sox were to send a veteran player to do press, tour the playing field, see sports games, and generally promote good will with the host country, drumming up anticipation for the late June series between the longtime American rivals.

While the Red Sox were proudly represented, for the Yankees, it was like the whole weekend never happened. And today, we found out why.

The Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman released this statement:

“We are thankful that CC was smart enough to convey his symptoms to our medical staff, and in turn they immediately engaged New York-Presbyterian Hospital, who quickly determined the root cause of what ailed him. We are also encouraged that the procedure CC underwent was performed as planned. He is such a dynamic person beyond his excellence on the field, and we will proceed with his health at the forefront of our priorities. We will continue to follow the guidance and expertise of the doctors — who have conveyed that CC will report as scheduled to Tampa in February to prepare for the 2019 season.”

A few days prior to this planned international tour, Sabathia was working out at his home gym and just felt off. He was smart enough to listen to his body, knowing something was wrong, and got checked out by team physicians. The eventually detected a blockage in one of his arteries leading to his heart. On December 11, doctors at New York-Presbyterian performed an angioplasty, or commonly a “stent” in the artery to allow for blood to flow properly to the heart.

He is recovering and will return to regular athletic activities at the beginning of the year before reporting for duty in Tampa for Spring Training. Our best wishes are with him as he recovers and enjoys the holidays with his family. We look forward to seeing him back in pinstripes and dominating from the mound once again. This time, with a healthier heart. He’s always been known for his big heart, and we’re certainly glad that he was smart enough to make sure it stays healthy for more years of generosity and showmanship.

No word on any kind of make-up trip to the UK for the Yankees’ side of press promotion, but I’m pretty sure there’s already a lot of buzz and excitement leading up to the inaugural series. And I don’t think ticket sales are going to be a problem. The Brits love sport of all shapes, sizes, and kinds. They’re kind of known for their passion and quirky traditions.

Anyway, hope everyone has a happy, healthy holiday to close out 2018, looking forward to all that 2019 has to offer us!

Go Yankees!

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 will send a well-known representative to do some press and connect with local fans to promote the series, and the Yankees will send 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!