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!

Spring Game 8: ATL vs. NYY — Tanked out, but a strong comeback for a walk-off

Today started out so overcast and humid, but by game time, the sun was out and shining and the sky was back to its beautiful, clear blue. Plus, the humidity left with the grey clouds, leaving a slight breeze and little puffy white clouds to dot the sky about the stadium as the Yankees hosted the Braves.

Masahiro Tanaka got his Spring debut today, and it certainly didn’t go as planned. After a strikeout to the lead-off batter, he walked the next guy who ended up at 2nd on a wild pitch and then scored on a 2-out ground-rule double to put the Braves in an early lead. It didn’t help that the next batter hit a big 2-run home run to solidify that lead. Tanaka came back out for his second inning to give up a lead-off double that scored on a 1-out double. That would be it. Not exactly the greatest start to the year, more in line with his 2017 regular season and the opposite of his 2017 Spring (where he was just dominant).

Chasen Shreve came on in relief for the final 2 outs of the 2nd and kept the Braves scoreless through the 3rd, which set a pattern for the rest of the afternoon. Showing off further reasons as to why he belongs in the starting rotation again, Jordan Montgomery took 3 innings and certainly helped keep the Braves’ offense from advancing, with 5 strikeouts across his 9 outs. Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Loaisiga continued that scoreless streak in the 7th and 8th, both with 2 strikeouts of their own. But it was prospect pitcher JP Feyereisen who breezed his way through a quick 3 outs in the 9th inning for an impressive close of today’s “bullpen”, setting himself up for his 2nd win of the season so far.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense had quite the lead to chip away at this afternoon. In the 4th, Bird worked a 1-out walk and moved to 2nd on Gregorius’ single. They would both then score on Miguel Andujar’s deep double to halve the Braves’ lead. In the 5th, the Yankees sent Russell Wilson (yes, that one) lead-off with a pinch-hit and unfortunately strikeout. I haven’t heard a crowd give such a cheering applause for a strikeout of the home team since Billy Crystal‘s famous Spring Training strikeout in March 2008. He leaves camp on Sunday, so fans today were in for what may be the only time they could see him take an at-bat outside of some minor league games this summer.

Anyway, after Wilson’s celebrated strikeout, Stanton hit a nice double to get on base, and Bird worked a 2-out walk. The Braves’ lead then narrowed as Didi Gregorius singled home Stanton. So going into the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees were down by just one run. Wade led-off the inning with a single. Torres hit into a grounder to short, and the Braves got the first part of the double play with Wade out at 2nd but a sloppy throw to 1st allowed Torres to make it safely. It would be Tyler Austin’s monster 2-run home run up the middle that would win the game in that amazing walk-off fashion.

Final score: 5-4 Yankees

One to watch: I debated all game and on the way home as to who I would pick today. But I’m going with pitcher JP Feyereisen. This was his 2nd win of the Spring already, and his flawless, quick 9th inning helped keep the Yankees’ momentum going and set them up for Austin’s great walk-off home run. Don’t get me wrong — those monster hits and home runs are always fun to watch. But as they say: “if you don’t got pitching, you don’t got nothin’!” The stark difference between Tanaka’s brief outing today and every successive pitcher proves that so very true. Feyereisen came with fellow stellar pitchers Ben Heller and Justus Sheffield and Clint Frazier in the July 2016 trade that sent closer Andrew Miller to Cleveland. While I do miss Miller, the Yankees got 4 outstanding players that are certainly making their mark and already building their Yankee legacy, including my O2W today.

Injury news: about 30 minutes before the game, Jacoby Ellsbury was scrapped from the lineup due to tightness in his right side, later diagnosed as a “mild oblique strain”. It doesn’t seem serious (as say Frazier’s still lingering concussion symptoms), but there’s no set time-table yet as to when he might be back in the lineup.

And just before the game, the Yankees announced that they signed free agent veteran 1st baseman and outfielder Adam Lind to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite and an opt-out option after the Spring. Lind is a 12 year MLB veteran, spending most of that with the Blue Jays (2006-2014) before bouncing to the Brewers, Mariners, and Nationals the last 3 seasons. Lind gives the Yankees potential veteran options in the roster should they choose to go that route.

Next up: The Yankees travel about 2 hours (or 140 miles) down the Florida Gulf Coast to face off against the Red Sox at “Fenway South” in Ft. Myers. #2 Yankee Prospect Chance Adams is on tap to start the rivalry game.

Go Yankees!

One more sleep until baseball…

I’ve been contemplative all day really. When you write a daily blog that revolves around a single thing, your life is pretty much built around that. Like when you grow up, your entire world is built around the school schedule. You know when your vacation days are, you known when exams will be so you know when you will need to pull all-nighters, you structure your days, your life around one stable thing. And it works.

That’s me and baseball. The season technically starts tomorrow with the first Spring Training game against the Tigers (more on that in a moment). And the last baseball game was November 1, Game 7 of the World Series when the Astros defeated the Dodgers to become champions last year. For the average fan, they catch a random game some time between March and September, maybe use a mobile app a few times a week to see where their team currently sits in the standings. But my life pretty much revolves around the baseball season, which means from the first pitch of Spring Training to the final out of the World Series, I’m locked in. I take my blog with me on vacations (even to Europe a few years ago), I write after weddings and birthday parties (sometimes late into the night or early the next morning), I’m pretty much always on my phone (thanks to Twitter and my own mobile apps).

I know it’s sometimes confusing to my friends and family that I’m not always present or available during the season. I’m not quite a journalist, though because I went to school for journalism, my approach is often more sports writer than your average blogger. But I’ve found something that works. I get to appreciate the game from the fan’s perspective, recap it for those who don’t watch every game, and then talk about the state of the game and the team how I see it. My approach, my perspective, my appreciation, even my opinions have evolved over this blog, as they should, as we should grow in ourselves and expand our worldview.

I started this blog five years ago on a whim, just to see if I could do it for a season, and honestly, hoping I could follow one team through to winning the World Series. In the last five seasons, I’ve seen big retirements, big signings, and thousands of little moments that matter even more. I’ve made memories at stadiums all over the country, friends from all over the world, and discovered that the sport we love is so much more than the game we see on the field.

Now, on the eve of my sixth (!) season following the Yankees, I’ve never been more hopeful for this team. The roster is different, younger, and catching the eye of the talking heads (and actually in a good way). The fans in general are cautiously optimistic after last year, and I don’t blame them. And while the real season starts in about a month, baseball’s warm-up season begins tomorrow afternoon.

I don’t think I really understood the value of Spring Training until I started this blog. But now, I think I look forward to it more than any other time of year. I’ve been watching the likes of Aaron Judge and many prospects now on other organizations’ 40-man rosters. As much as everyone wanted to see Judge so much earlier, watching Spring Training proved both his potential but also that he needed another season or two working out the quirks. Now, he’s the reigning Home Run Derby champion, All-Star, Silver Slugger, and Rookie of the Year. Had they brought him up before he was ready, awards would not be there, and he would have had to work out all the quirks on a much bigger stage. How the “talking heads” would have loved discussing that!

But the value of Spring Training was understanding why the minor league system works. That very same system that brought all of the Core Four into the last dynasty, and the same system that is filled with prospects like Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and Miguel Andujar, all of which have a very real chance to see the big leagues this year (maybe even the starting roster). The beauty of Spring Training is being able to see the random players in the organization that might be the next something special.

Or maybe they’re the star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson. Wilson was acquired in a trade earlier this month from the Rangers and will be assigned to AA Trenton during the season. Wilson, who grew up playing baseball and football, was drafted by the Rockies in 2010 and spends his NFL off-season (which is now, of course) playing minor league ball, now with the Yankees this season. He posted on his social media today that he’s on his way to spend time in camp in Tampa, though as he’s not on the roster or not an official non-roster invitee, he won’t be playing any games at Steinbrenner Field. He’ll instead spend his time at minor league camp joined progressively by all those non-roster invitees and players on the roster that won’t be on the Opening Day roster.

So, it’s one more sleep until baseball…

And it’s all just beginning… once again…

Go Yankees!