My apologies for my delinquency in posting this off-season. Like many of us bloggers, I have another job that promoted me last fall, which meant that much of my extra time normally reserved for blogging and baseball vanished into paperwork and emails.
Tomorrow officially kicks off the 2020 Yankees baseball season. And in camp are pitchers Albert Abreu, Zack Britton, Luis Cessa, Aroldis Chapman, Gerrit Cole, Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Chad Green, J.A. Happ, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle, Michael King, Brooks Kriske, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Medina, Jordan Montgomery, Nick Nelson, Adam Ottavino, James Paxton, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Miguel Yajure; catchers Kyle Higashioka and Gary Sanchez; infielders Miguel Andujar, Thairo Estrada, Mike Ford, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Luke Voit, and Tyler Wade; outfielders Estevan Florial, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Mike Tauchman.
Non-roster invitees include: pitchers Domingo Acevedo, Luis Avilan, Chad Bettis, David Hale, Tyler Lyons, Dan Otero, Clarke Schmidt, Nick Tropeano, Alexander Vizcaino, and Tony Zych; catchers Kellin Deglan, Chris Iannetta, Erik Kratz, Wynston Sawyer, and Josh Thole; infielders Chris Gittens and Kyle Holder; outfielders Trey Amburgey, Zack Granite, Rosell Herrera, and Thomas Milone.
And there’s a few new rules for the 2020 season. Among them include changes to the roster, pitching, and injured list length. First, the roster expands from 25-players to 26 during the regular season, but reduces to just 28 for the September call-ups rather than 40 from previous years. Plus, only half of the roster can be composed of pitchers for both scenarios. Pitchers must face at least 3 batters, except in the case of injury, effectively eliminating the “specialist reliever” who was brought in for a single tough batter. Being on the injured list returns to 15-days from last season’s 10-day length. This does allow for longer periods of healing and won’t push teams to force shortened recovery times just to get a player back sooner, and anything that helps increase player health is a good rule in my book.
But as we prepare for another season, there’s a bit of catching up to do in other areas. While there weren’t many major deals made this off-season, the Yankees had some minor splashes. We said farewell to a few Yankee favorites like Didi Gregorius (Phillies), Dellin Betances (Mets), and Austin Romine (Tigers) and breathed a sigh of relief when they re-signed Brett Gardner for another year. But that still left room for a new starter in Gerritt Cole, who arrived at camp earlier this month and got a standing ovation by fans during an open practice.
Cole was originally signed with the Pirates in 2011, moving up through that organization and into the big leagues in 2013. The Pirates traded him to the Astros in 2018 for a handful of prospects. Cole was part of the Astros’ championship runs in 2018 and 2019 (more later) before signing with the Yankees in December as a free agent. His best year as a pitcher was last year, which made him a hot commodity on the free agent market this off-season, and the Yankees have desperately needed starters for about as long as I’ve been blogging about them.
Now with Sabathia in retirement, some strong veteran presence on the mound is necessary, and the Yankees think Cole could be the answer, adding to the roster with Happ and Tanaka, among others. Jordan Montgomery is back in camp this year, hoping to re-earn his spot on the rotation after Tommy John surgery, and it looks like Luis Severino might be dealing with some yet-to-be diagnosed arm soreness. In addition to Montgomery, this could open a spot for Cessa and Loaisiga or potential prospects King and Garcia.
Pitcher James Paxton is going to be out of commission for a few months. Earlier this month, he underwent spinal surgery to remove a small cyst. He has been battling some lower back pain for quite some time, so doctors finally made the decision that surgery was the best option for both pain relief and long-term care. He will be out 3-4 months for recovery. So, no Spring for “Big Maple”, but he might be back in time for the Summer Classic.
Last month, at the BBWAA dinner, DJ LeMahieu was awarded as New York’s Player of the Year, an honor from the writers’ association’s local chapter to the player they believe has had the most impact on baseball in the City.
CC Sabathia was named a Special Adviser to the Yankees, a position held by his former teammates like Swisher, Rodriguez, Beltran, and Pettitte. This keeps Sabathia in the New York area, where he is currently raising his family.
Former Yankee legend (and current Marlins owner) Derek Jeter was almost unanimously elected to Cooperstown, missing that coveted honor by a single vote. He will join his former teammate Mariano Rivera in the Hall of Fame during his induction ceremony this coming summer.
However, the big story this off-season hasn’t been any particular trade or signing, but rather on the scandal of the Astros’ postseason cheating to win their championships in 2017 and 2018. Basically, after some investigation by MLB, they determined that the Astros used cameras, buzzers worn under jerseys, and banging on a trash can in the dugout (so both high and low-tech) to communicate stolen signs from opposing pitchers to their batters to win. While the only official consequences are firing their former coaches, team fine, and a stern lecture in the form of a letter from the Commissioner, the backlash from the media, the other players, and the fans has been, well, overwhelming.
It’s all most people can talk about in regards to baseball, including Yankees’ players like Judge, Torres, and Tanaka. And in all the mess, some star players were mentioned as holding key roles in the scandal, including Mets’ recent hire for their manager, former Yankee and Astro Carlos Beltran. However, people who know him best, like Yankees manager Brian Cashman, question the accusations. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe the worst of people you know and like, but sometimes, innocent people get caught up in the drama.
That’s the tough part about these kinds of things — because of how it was handled from its start to today, it’s a big mess, and that mess is going to get on people who were in the vicinity but had no part in it. But when dealing with a team issue, it’s kind of hard not to fault the entire team, much like the “Black Sox” scandal from the early days of baseball. Almost everyone on that team got dragged through that mud, and they still aren’t cleared or forgiven.
Further, those who both admitted and were accused of steroid use, even during the so-called “Steroid Era” are forever marked with an invisible asterisk by their name. Their accomplishments, once touted as greatness, are permanently marred by suspicion and tinged with the shame of “cheating”. There’s a reason many from that era have trouble getting into Cooperstown, even today.
And it’s not like other teams haven’t been doing something similar in recent years. In 2017, both the Yankees and Red Sox were accused of cheating via technology — the Yankees via their TV cameras and the review room and the Red Sox with their Apple watches. MLB investigated and warned the entire league of potential consequences for their choice to participate in such activities, as it clearly was just the tip of the iceberg as far as what they were doing. And yet, things still persisted. Call it arrogance or stupidity (or both, according to my friend) — but the Astros developed (and/or continued) a system and kept cheating even after they were warned.
Whatever happened during these last few years within the organization, people everywhere will question the players and coaches’ reputations for the rest of their careers. It will never go away. When it comes time for some of those championship Astro players to be considered for the Hall of Fame, I certainly won’t be surprised if the writers opt to exclude them. It’s hard to be considered great if there’s always going to be that asterisk by your name, whether it’s officially there or not.