Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Ten Thoughts About 2017

I have no predictions for 2017 regarding the Yankees finish and/or playoff projections. But I have a lot of thoughts as the season approaches. Every fan should keep these ten things in mind as the curtain is raised Sunday afternoon at Tampa Bay. Yes, the Yankees have had a nice spring in terms of wins and losses, but we need to know if that will continue after April 2nd when it really counts.

1. The Yankees will have full seasons of highly touted and very talented catcher Gary Sanchez and first baseman Greg Bird, and that's exciting, But they will be  missing, for about a month, the one player who I think will be as much, perhaps even more of, a key to their success: Didi Gregorius. As a Major Leaguer, Sir Didi has positioned himself to become one of the top performers in MLB. Seems as if Didi is on the doorstep of a .300 season and has developed some Yankee Stadium power. Think of Didi in a prominent part of the lineup, no longer a bottom three hitter, as  the Yankees would likely place him either two, three, five or six in the lineup. But we'll now have to wait until May to watch it all unfold this year, Too bad,

2. Don't think for a minute that Aaron Hicks is finished. Over the winter, most of the Yankees blogs I've followed gave no love for Mr. Hicks. It's Aaron Judge, hands down. Perhaps Judge has won the right field job, but will have two thirty -something outfield partners, Hicks should get the call more frequently in 2017 than he did in 2016. Just a hunch, but I do not think of Hicks as an automatic out this season.

3. Speaking of automatic outs, what to do about Chris Carter? Carter, a designated hitter/first baseman needs to shake off the rust he has shown throughout the spring. Hicks can get some at bats simply because he can play all three outfield positions and should get some at bats as a number four outfielder, if that is his destination.  But Carter will have trouble getting his chance and could find himself buried on the bench. Matt Holliday as designated hitter won't need many days off and there is no longer a hint of a platoon between Carter and Bird. Could we be on the verge of an early Carter exit?

4. By all means, even if you have never done it before, pay attention to the farm system. Until June, there will be four teams to follow and all four will have at least a half dozen bona fide Major League prospects. I am going to check out the box scores for every team on a daily basis.

5. This is always about pitching, especially starting pitching. The three headed monster that is, once again, the Yankees bullpen from the 7th inning on, is of little consequence if the starters cannot get it done. First and foremost, this game is about getting 27 outs, or in the case of the starters, at least 18 or so. As I write this, we still don't know the names of starter numbers four and five. Is this a problem? If nothing else, lets see who gets called up as replacements sometime this season, which almost invariably happens.

6. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman are in the final year of their contracts.  Nothing specific to say about that at this point, but just keep that in mind as the season progresses,

7. Yes, I very much dislike the World Baseball Classic, in light of the injury to Gregorius and the Mark Teixeira injury in the past. That's simply my knee jerk reaction and I could be wrong. Actually, I know the WBC is essential to bring the game to the world. We've done well in parts of Asia and the Caribbean, not to mention some inroads made in Europe (Didi's Netherlands for example). But could we do better in the USA? Baseball talent is found at high schools, mostly in warmer climates and baseball seems to target colleges, either their high school recruits or guys already on campus. But what about the inner city? MLB should increase their presence in the very cities they represent on the field. How about MLB funding summer leagues in their cities, be it Seattle, Detroit or New York? We should check out the June draft and see how many inner city kids are among the top draftees.

8. The Yankees have appeared in a World Series in every decade from the 1920's on. The 80's were the worst with only one pennant (1981) and no titles. With three seasons left in this decade, which began in 2010, there have been no appearances in the World Series. Does it happen by the end of this decade? Though it may not be in this 2017 season, we may get a clue as to how close the Yankees are to a possible championship in the near future watching this team and the development of the kids on the farm.

9. The Yankees in 2016 finished 84-78, missing the playoffs. Their downfall came while visiting the four AL East cities, where they went 11-27 last year. In April, the Yankees play nine games in three of those cities, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Boston. The Yankees need to be road warriors near their own back yard, to improve in 2017.  

10. Are the Yankees are holding their prospects, come hell or high water? I still think the re-signing of Aroldis Chapman gives us a clue about the Yankees future plans. No way they give Chapman all that money and years if they are not going to do the same to help some other area, particularly in the rotation.  Is a trade this year or signing next fall in the cards? Do not dismiss the idea, because it will happen sometime. And that A-Rod contract, among others, comes off the books following the season.

Let's make it a great season and don't rule anything out, maybe not even the big #28.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The WBC & Didi: What's Ahead For The Yankees

Remember when everyone hated the Didi Gregorius trade? Whole different kettle of fish now, huh?

When Yankees GM Brian Cashman said yesterday that he expected Didi to miss a total of six weeks, I wondered if he was including the remainder of Spring Training. Either way, it looks as if he won't make his season debut until May. Now, of course, the question is this: who will play SS for the time being? The Yankees have said they'll fill the need from within. As far as I know, these are the only candidates (in alphabetical order):

Starlin Castro: Castro began his career at the position but hasn't played it in a few years. He will likely get some reps there before Opening Day.

Donovan Solano: Not high on the Yankees radar up to this point, but that changes (a little) now. He has an outside chance.

Ruben Tejada: A natural shortstop in Yankees camp as a non-roster invitee. He's a veteran, used to playing on the big stage.

Ronald Torreyes: He proved himself capable in 2016. Will make the team even if he doesn't get the SS job.

Tyler Wade: A future Ben Zobrist, they say. Hasn't played above AA yet.

If you ask me, the guy for the job is Ruben Tejada. He's the perfect short-term solution.

Back to Didi: Of course, he sustained his injury while playing for Team Netherlands in the WBC. Or did he? Actually, he wasn't playing in an official WBC game. It was an exhibition game in Arizona, and he was playing 2B. Knowing this, it's hard for me not to lay some of the blame on Didi himself. Not because he was playing 2B (although, maybe that did have something to do with it), but because he should have known not to strain himself during a tune-up.

Didi said the injury could have happened at any time. Unfortunately, it happened during the WBC, which gives this tournament even more of a bad reputation. But, you know what? I'm tired of people dumping on the World Baseball Classic. I know it's not perfect. A lot needs to be done to make it work better. However, in spite of the injury to Didi Gregorius, I still love it. I'm very proud of Team USA for finally making it to the championship game, and I wish them all the best tonight against Team Puerto Rico.


Monday, March 20, 2017

The WBC: Why Team USA Depresses Me

It was a great game Saturday night, a huge win for Team USA. As the announcer said, shortly after the last out was made, they'd slayed the beast that is the Dominican Republic entry in the World Baseball Classic.

A short time later at the postgame presser, as game heroes Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton sat on the dais with manager Jim Leyland, a reporter with a Spanish accent asked all four to comment on the passion displayed by the teams from the DR, Puerto Rico and Venezuela among others. What did Team USA think about it?

There was what seemed to be an awkward silence before Jones jumped in and stamped it out, saying he feels it shows how much the game has grown globally. Another reporter asked Leyland specifically about his little fist pump just before he shook hands with his players on the field. Leyland made a point of saying that, though Team USA doesn't show much emotion, they are just as passionate about this tournament as teams from other countries are. Watch the entire exchange here, starting at 1:14:

While I watched this presser, I couldn't help thinking about an on-the-field interview I'd seen featuring Nelson Cruz, after the DR's win over Venezuela on Friday night.  Cruz was asked about that same passion, and was quick to point out that he and his teammates aren't just players. They're fans. They're fans of baseball.

How depressed that made me!  Not over the fact that the Dominican players are baseball fans. That's wonderful. It was over the real possibility and, in some cases, probability that American MLB players, my own countrymen, are not baseball fans. It nearly breaks my heart to think of it, to actually recall things that American players have said over the years: how, while growing up, they were too busy playing the game to become fans of the game. How, even today, they can't sit still long enough to watch a game they're not playing in. (Derek Jeter, I'm talking to you.)

Perhaps if they did, perhaps if they had become fans, they'd have passion to show now, too. Of course, I know it's more complicated that that (Those unwritten rules and everything else), but everyone talks about needing to find ways to get more young people interested. It wouldn't solve the problem completely, but a few celebrations, a few bat flips, couldn't hurt, in my opinion. That and some long red tresses. (Of course, no players were in the cross hairs for that shot.)

Keep showing your passion, DR and PR, and don't be afraid to let your hair down, Team USA.