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!

Game 68: DET vs. NYY — #30, #30, and #30

Today featured a trio of gentlemen who have donned the number #30 for the Yankees and did so in extraordinary fashion. Plus, a host of amazing legends in their own rights graced the field for the annual Old Timers’ Day.

Before the regular season game tonight, the Yankees hosted their annual Old Timers’ Day, honoring the legends of the past and recent past who have donned the pinstripes including David Cone, Johnny Damon, Cecil Fielder, Whitey Ford, Joe Girardi, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Ron Guidry, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Don Larsen, Stump Merrill, Gene “Stick” Michael, Jeff Nelson, Paul O’Neill, Willie Randolph, Bobby Richardson, Mel Stottlemyre, Joe Torre, and Bernie Williams; former trainer Gene Monahan; and a representing their husbands widows Arlene Howard (Elston Howard), Helen Hunter (Jim “Catfish” Hunter), Jill Martin (Billy Martin), Diana Munson (Thurman Munson), and Kay Murcer (Bobby Murcer).

And the Yankees also chose today to honor Willie Randolph, a former #30, with a plaque in Monument Park. Randolph played 2nd base for the Yankees 1976-1988, seeing both championship years and those very lean years. Randolph was a crucial member of the Yankees, even taking on a co-captain role with Guidry in the mid-80s before Randolph’s free agency took him elsewhere. Randolph ended up back in pinstripes in 1994 as a coach, eventually earning 4 more rings as part of the new dynasty of the late 90s. Congrats on the honor!

Then the Yankees pulled a surprise on everyone and honored another former #30, Mel Stottlemyre. Stottlemyre pitched for the Yankees 1964-1974, through the end of the Golden Era and into the early first set of years. He then came back as a coach under Joe Torre in 1996, and much like fellow honoree Randolph earned those 4 rings as part of that late-90s dynasty. Stottlemyre was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, and after a short battle, went into remission for a decade before doctors discovered its return in 2011. Stottlemyre has been fighting for four years, getting special permission to attend today’s game and then being surprised with his own plaque in Monument Park. Best of luck in your journey, Mel! We’re praying for you and your family.

And following a fun game of legends, the Yankees of today took the field against the Tigers in front of a sold-out crowd. The current #30 took the mound to start tonight’s game. And Nathan Eovaldi pitched a really great game. It certainly helped that he had quite the run support in the process, but most of his outing was rather reminiscent of his “Nasty Nate” moniker — 93 pitches into the 7th inning, just 3 hits, 1 walk, and 2 runs, and 4 strikeouts. Honestly, Nasty Nate held onto the game until the 7th inning when he put 2 consecutive runners on base with a lead-off double and a walk, making him responsible for those two runners (who would score).

Even with a double-digit lead (more in a moment), the Yankees opted to give Eovaldi a break and call on recent call-up Bryan Mitchell to finish up the inning and then the game. A force out left runners on the corners, but a ground-rule double scored the Tigers’ first run and a wild pitch scored the second. A single scored the Tigers’ third and final run of the evening before Mitchell got the final 2 outs of the inning. And then pitch a nice 8th and 9th innings, keeping the Tigers from doing any more damage, or rather minor denting into the Yankees’ lead.

Maybe it was the parade of legends that set the mood or dampened the spirits of the visiting Tigers. Whatever it was, it certainly worked on their pitching staff because the Yankees were hitting like crazy from the start of the game. In the 1st, Gardner led off with a big triple and then scored on an error-filled fielder’s choice, where Rodriguez ended up safe at 2nd due to a very sloppy throw to the plate (the Tigers’ 3rd baseman threw the ball at Gardner and it bounced off his helmet as he slid into home plate).

In the 2nd, Didi Gregorius led-off with a nice solo home run into the 1st row of the right field seats. Bases loaded as Drew singled, Gardner hit a 1-out double, and Headley walked. Alex Rodriguez’s sacrifice fly then scored Drew, though the outfielders nearly collided on the catch because they weren’t listening to the other on the “got it” call.

And on into the 3rd, Carlos Beltran led-off with a solo home run. Two outs later, Young and Gardner each singled, ending up on the corners. Headley’s single scored Young, moved Gardner to 3rd, and forced the starting pitcher out of the game. After 85 pitches in less than 3 innings, 8 allowed hits, 7 runs (well, 5 runs and 2 runners on base), and 3 walks, the Tigers’ starter headed back into the visitors’ dugout as the Yankees never stopped their offensive advance.

Still in the 3rd inning, with 2 outs, and runners on the corners, it’s Alex Rodriguez to hit his 3,001st career hit — a 3-run home run. And despite getting that final out of the 3rd, the reliever’s 4th inning wasn’t great for anyone in a Tigers’ uniform. Beltran hit a 1-out solo home run, his 2nd of the game (and from the opposite side of the plate, as a switch hitter). Gregorius and Drew each singled before Chris Young’s single scored Gregorius. And that put the Yankees at double digits on the scoreboard, and the Tigers calling on their second reliever of the game, who didn’t fare all that well either.

In the 5th, he quickly loaded the bases with Headley’s single, Rodriguez’s single, and Teixeira’s walk. Brian McCann’s single kept the bases loaded as Headley scored, and then Beltran’s hit-by-pitch essentially walked in a run and kept those bases loaded. A ground out from Gregorius scored Teixeira (and got the Tigers their first out of the inning), before the Tigers’ pitching staff suddenly remembered how to pitch. From there, the Tigers’ relievers were pretty decent, keeping the Yankees’ roaring offense down to a meow, except for a lead-off solo home run by Chris Young in the 8th.

 

Final score: 14-3, Yankees.

Every single starting player got at least one of the 18 total hits or one of the 6 walks to get on base, and almost everyone scored at least one run. Brett Gardner continued his hitting streak by being a home run short of a cycle. (A “cycle” is hitting a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in a single game; the last Yankee “cycle” was in 2009.) The Yankees took a bit of that legend magic running around the stadium again, combined it with their rising success, general talent, and a bit of luck, and just went for it tonight. Well, that and the 5 home runs they hit tonight.

I’m not a huge fan of blowout games, but even I was getting excited through the first half of this game, watching the score rise higher and higher. I blame #30… you pick which one you want to blame for the Yankee win.

Go Yankees!