Monday, January 18, 2021

Clint and/or Miggy: The Yankiverse steels itself for The Big One

At one point Sunday, the ever-churning MLB rumor mill claimed the Yankees had traded Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar to Cinncinati for 28-year-old RH pitcher Luis Castillo. Today, it's fake news. Tomorrow, who knows?

Buckle-up for safety, everyone. Prepare for impact... 

The real rumor here is that Brian "Cooperstown" Cashman is back on the open waters, howling sea shanties, guzzling rum and chasing another White Whale. In this case, it's Castillo, who went 4-6 last year with a 3.21 ERA, and whose contract would make Admiral Hal Steinbrenner pee himself with glee. Castillo is under team-control for three years. In pitching terms, that's a lifetime. Thus, the key to the deal is... Castillo's deal. 

Could it happen? Fukiff I know. The Reds have shown a willingness to trade with the Yankees. Once upon a time, they sent us Aroldis Chapman for Eric Jagielo, Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis and Tony Renda. Yikes. None saw an MLB pitch in 2020. (But remember: El Chapo's value was damaged by a little garage-shooting thingy. Also, I think we received several Robert Mapplethorpe photos.) Three years ago, they took Sonny Gray off our hands for Shed Long and a sandwich pick. (I thought long and hard about just saying "Shed Long and a sandwich," but as a truth-teller, I take no such shortcuts.) In Cincy, Gray turned out to be - well - Cashman's lost White Whale. 

That's the rub on our boy. Year after year, he chases the stud starter whom he believes will fly the Yankees to Xanadu - then gets stuck at the Duluth Airport Ramada. It's Michael Pineda, Carl Pava- nooooo, I cannot do the list, it's too painful. We get pitchers who peaked in other towns... like Cincinnati. 

That said, Castillo did not overwork his money maker last year. The Covid season limited him to 70 innings. And let's face it: The Yankees do need another starter. For years now, the lack of a rotation has tanked our bullpen and crushed us in October. 

Still... Frazier AND Andujar? Calgon Bath Oil Beads, take me away! Who here does not see Frazier as a budding NYC personality, the future of Kelly Ripa? And before his injuries, Miggy was a doubles machine, worthy of Joltin' Joe. The Yankees supposedly have a glut of outfielders. Yeah, right. Come July, our Bermuda Triangle - Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton - will disappear, cratering the offense. 

Frazier AND Andujar? Channeling George C. Scott in Hardcore here: TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFFFFFFF...  

Jeeze, I just dunno, anymore. For 12 years now, our big-slugging lineups have been undressed in the playoffs, while we hope for miracles. Last October, our rotation consisted of Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and Netflix. (And Tanaka is probably gone.) We resorted to Jordan Montgomery and the Deivi Garcia trickery. It didn't work. Again. 

Steel yourself, Yankiverse. Cashman is sailing the open seas. Iceberg, dead ahead. And we're preparing to harpoon it.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

CBS Sports: Yankees' tax strategy probably ends the Tanaka era

CBS Sports offers an interesting take on the Yankees' moves this week, and what terrifying demons they foretell. It's not a Lovecraft horror. Nor is it Jane Austen. The gut-punch: 

It suggests the end of Masahiro Tanaka as a Yankee.

Right now, the team's $204 payroll falls about $6 million shy of the dreaded, almighty Satanic, supremely evil, luxury tax threshold. Once they burst through it, they'll pay 20 cents on the dollar on the overage.  (Which isn't that much, actually: Going over by $10 million would cost them $2 million - that's two Colter Beans and a Zolio Almonte.)  But the surtaxes mount. If they exceed the threshold by $20 million, the fines rise another 12 percent, and then spike at $40 million. Forget about it. As Meat Loaf once sang, he'll do anything for love, but he won't do that. (A Yankee fan, by the way.)

Theoretically, they can go $25 million over the threshold and avoid the big surtax hits. Accounting for in-season acquisitions, CBS estimates the Yanks still have $15 million to spend this winter.

Which brings us to the gut-punch...

What the Yankees can't do -- not without punching their ticket to the surtax zone -- is bring back veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka for a wage similar to what he has made throughout his MLB career ($20-plus million).

Insert sigh here.

CBS suggests Brian Cashman will root around for a middling starter, a bullpen lug nut and a lefty bat, (Brett Gardner?) He might trade either Clint Frazier or Miguel Andujar, which seem a redundancy, until the Bermuda Triangle - Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton - goes down with tweaked gonads. 

The Yankees have a ton of high-priced talent and big bills. (Let's give Hal Steinbrenner his due; he's signing the checks.) But the current roster is as lopsided as its lineup (whose lone LH bat is the switch-hitting Hicks, with a career .229 average from the left side.)  

For whatever it's worth, I want Tanaka to return. He's a great competitor, a tireless soul, and it would be nice to claim a Japanese star as a lifelong Yankee. (Godzilla ended up in Anaheim, Oakland and Tampa.) But - (hangs head, looks down) - he's not worth $20 million a year. 

Does he not see this? Is there no chance for compromise? Where is Henry Clay?

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Kluber is a start, but the Yankees still face huge questions

Let's not bury the lede here:

Bravo to Hal, Cash, and whatever wonky office schlub pushed the Yankees into signing Corey Kluber yesterday, just hours after retaining DJ LeMahieu. 

It was a golden Yankee day! the kind old George used to give us, breaking up an otherwise dead January. For hours, the Yankees trended high on Twitter. Last night, they became the talk of baseball. All eyes on our team! 

The way it used to be... 

Way to go, chief! Hip-hip! Hip-hip! Hip-hip!

But... if I may, some questions: 

Did all that money spent on LeMahieu and Kluber just crush the team's free agent fund? 

Have we more to spend, or are we tapped out by self-imposed austerity?

Was yesterday the beginning of a pennant year, or a half-court shot from a graying team?

For now, let's focus on Kluber. We hooked him for one year at $11 million - higher, I suspect, than originally anticipated. (That suggests at least one another bidder. Someone else saw Kluber's upside?

And make no mistake: The upside is real. If Kluber returns to form, the Yanks will win the AL East. Seriously. He won't be our No. 2. He'll be our ace. He was that good in Cleveland, three years ago, before the injuries. 

Ugh. The injuries. Kluber didn't suffer tweaks. He suffered breaks. A fractured pitching arm. Yikes. Thus, the Yankees yesterday did what seems impossible: They made a fragile roster even more fragile. 

You thought James Paxton a china doll? Well, at any moment, Kluber could grab his shoulder and vanish... forever. Any ache or pain will likely send him to the IL. Last time we rolled the dice like this, it was Troy Tulowitzki... great player, big upside, fine character... couldn't stay on the field. This could be that. 

So... now comes the hard part. Brian Cashman will once again chase his white whale, the stud pitcher that has forever eluded him. For trade chips, he's got Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar and the prospects he kept last July. But he cannot land another Paxton, Gray, Pineda, Vazquez, Eovaldi, Pavano, Igawa, et al. This time, we need a keeper. 

And here's the rub: What GM trades an ascending young starter, unless it's an absolutely incredible package, or he secretly suspects the guy is ready to break? And who sends him to the Yankees, where any success will get hyped every night? Good luck to Cashman. Trading for a good pitcher: It's almost an impossible task. 

So... bravo to the Yankees. Now, what? Well, seems to me, they need a Tanaka-like pitcher - you know - an innings-eater, a big-game guy, somebody who can handle NYC, a fellow who fits into the clubhouse - the way, oh, the way Tanaka did. Yep, a Tanaka clone. Someone with Tanaka's character, Tanaka's work ethic. Anybody come to mind?

Friday, January 15, 2021

Breaking: LeMahieu is signing

 He read our earlier post, and that was it.


The Yankees need to set a deadline for DJ LeMahieu, and the country needs a plan for pro sports

Okay. Enough is e-NUFF! This stalemate has lasted two months, two long and dreary  months: LeStagnation... 

It's the Yankees' cheapo way to flatter (and wheedle) D.J. LeMahieu - by saying they'll make no major roster moves until he decides where to play this season. 

According to the Gammonitic hordes, LeMahieu is now soliciting offers from other teams. WTF? He should have done this last month. Likewise, it's time for the Yankees to call the cards. 

News reports put the two sides $25 million apart. If that's true, compromise might be hopeless. Either way, Hal Steinbrenner should spike the punch with $5-to-$10 million and set a deadline. If LeMahieu balks, they should sign Didi Gregorius and Masahiro Tanaka, two popular souls who actually might better fit the prince of billionaires self-imposed austerity roster. 

I don't mean to criticize LeMahieu or suggest the Yankees ditch him. But he's a smart guy, and he should see the reasons to return: He's had his greatest seasons as a Yankee, he fits into the clubhouse, he thrives in Gotham, he'll reach the post-seasons, he'll do hair product endorsements, he'll get a plaque in Monument Park and a Jeep. If those don't ring his bell, well, he can chase the money all the way to Canoville. We've seen how that movie ends. 

The Yankees should settle this. I'm starting to wonder if the 2021 season is more in jeopardy than we think. Right now, it's hard to imagine games in Covid hotbeds like LA (148 cases per 100,000), Arizona (134), Miami (98) and even NYC (73). Who knows where the numbers will be in April? (Note to clubs: Don't throw out those cardboard fan placards.) And soon, pro sports across America will hit a massive, ugly controversy: 

Should star athletes - keys to a massive economic engine and societal obsession - move to the front of the lines for vaccinations? 

If you're thinking of - say - jabbing ten Knicks, fine, that's nothing. (Even the Knicks.) But expand vaccinations across the NBA, with coaches and staff, and it becomes a huge, angry bellwether test about privilege and wealth. 

And then there is the current political unrest. God knows where we are headed. But last week, watching that mob storm the Capital, I wondered if - were I sitting in a bar with a beer - I could reach these guys by talking Brees v. Brady, or Verlander v. Kershaw. (Note: I think no on the  horned "Q Shaman ;"he's Vanilla Ice v. Mungo Jerry.)  Could we find common ground in agreeing that Gary Sanchez sucks?

I dunno anymore. Enough of the Big Lie. Here's my Big Truth:

We need pro sports in America. 

America needs a baseball season. 

Baseball needs the Yankees.

And the Yankees need LeMahieu.

Jeeze. Damn. WTF? THIS SHOULD BE SIMPLE. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

From Today’s Daily News: After victory over Knicks at Garden, Nets admit they’re trying to win New York.

Yesterday the Nets, a team named after sporting equipment…

(Hey! The Cleveland Gloves? The Cleveland Bases? At a minimum there should be a fan group called the Cleveland Athletic Supporters.)

Anyway, the Nets made a blockbuster trade, named after a company, that rented VHS tapes and is now bankrupt...

(As an aside, although I was, and for some ungodly reason remain, a Knicks fan, I really liked the Nets when they had Rick Barry and Dr. J -  although sadly not at the same time. 

They both played before basketball players could kvetch their way off the team and play with their friends. My street basketball was a Spaulding red, white, and blue Rick Barry model.  Great ball.)

But I digress…

The Nets made a trade of Herschel Walkerian proportions exchanging something along the lines of, three first round draft picks, four draft pick swaps, three useful to good players and Danny Partridge in a pear tree, to create a super team of James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving (Not Pictured).

One would hope that it’s more than Blind Faith

(See what I did there? - Actually, Blind Faith had several great songs including “Can’t Find My Way Home” before they self-immolated and went their separate ways.)

Maybe they win a championship, maybe they don’t, but as the title at the top of the piece says…

“After victory over Knicks at Garden, Nets admit they’re trying to win New York.”

Which brings me to what faces the New York Yankees. 

We are 1/5 finished with the 21st Century. (I know, right?) And, while most of us here became diehards watching Mantle or Munson, the Yankees were able to create a new generation of fans during the late 90’s with The Core Four (and Bernie - Their Ric Grech) 

Now not so much.

The City of NY is there for the taking. Maybe not this year, although it feels like it’s up for grabs as the back page count should be making clear. The Next Gen of Yankee fans won’t come into existence on its own. 

I’m not advocating something along the lines of what the Nets did yesterday. Frankly, I think it is short sighted. But star power sells and the Mets are adding great players and we are losing ours. 

Add to that, and this is the killer, we don’t even like or trust our stars.

When healthy,  Stanton is a great ballplayer. MVP.  We can’t get rid of him fast enough.

Judge – Fragile

Gleyber -  Can’t play short.

The Sanchize?  Don’t get me started.

Voit?  Moose Skowron. Love him but don’t see the kids buying the jersey.

I could go on. You know who is a superstar? Lindor. 

“Nets admit they’re trying to win New York.” 

The Mets don’t even have to admit it. If Hal doesn't get off the dime (Instead of trying to pocket it.) it’s a done deal. 

Next up: The Corey Kluber Colon Conundrum

According to an unimpeachable source - (Google) - scouts from "20 to 25 teams" yesterday gathered to watch former Cleveland ace Corey Kluber throw "25 to 30 pitches." (The site hopes to someday develop precise counting technology.)

Kluber seeks to return after missing two years with a Swiss Army Knife assortment of injuries, including a broken right arm - yep, the one he throws baseballs with. In April, he'll turn 35, putting him up there with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Zack Grienke, Charlie Morton, and Cole Hamels. (Also, Adam Ottavino.) Whatever he's got left, it's 2021 or bust. According to the acclaimed insider baseball site Forbes, Kluber's radar readings came in about 4 mph below his halcyon days. He was:

... getting clocked at 89 to 91, which even with slightly diminished velocity might make him a buy low candidate for any team whether it is one with a desire to add more depth or a desire to fill a need.  

Hmm. "... a desire to add more depth, or a desire to fill a need..." Hmm... 

Surely, Brian Cashman's Linkedin page is spiced with tales of reclamation, up and down. Perhaps his greatest move: signing Bartolo Colon in 2011 - age 38 - after injections of Captain America super solder serum. Bartolo threw 164 innings, went 8-10, then signed with Oakland. He managed to pitch until 2018 - age 45 - four times throwing more than 190 innings and making the all star game. Astonishing. Cashman also signed a pile of Aaron Smalls and Vidal Nunos - hits and misses - but seldom does a guy like Kluber come around, with so much past success and so many heavy questions.

For example: What part of "fractured arm" do we not understand?  Could we ever feel secure about Kluber's next pitch? Yes, he was certifiably great in 2018 - 20 and 7, on his way to Cooperstown. Now...? 

What to do? Don't look at me. Why would I know more than scouts? In fact, Kluber is linked to the Yankees because he's been working out at one of their facilities. That's good. It might give us an edge in evaluations. So I leave it to the experts. 

Soon, though - once D.J. LeMahieu makes up his mind - Cashman must start seriously chasing pitchers. He'll probably need to make trades, starting with either Clint Frazier and/or Miguel Andujar. We will hate losing either. But with an owner demanding austerity, it's almost surely to happen. 

But here's a small nugget of hope. We mentioned Colon, the great reclamation. But I believe Cashman's greatest pitching deal came in 2015, when he traded LH Justin Wilson to Detroit for two Triple A starters, Chad Green and Luis Cessa. Both have endured, and Green remains a stalwart. The Yankees need a deal like that.

We won't win in 2021 with big names whose careers are behind them. I'm all for signing Kluber - not my money. But to outlast Tampa, we have to start beating them at their own game - with young, ascending arms. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Yankees' hope with LeMahieu: Some old-fashioned ownership collusion

According to my sources - (the Internet) - DJ LeMahieu is goddam fed up with goddam Yankee foot-dragging, and he's calling on the Citizens of Earth to make him an offer he goddam cannot refuse.

Frankly, he should have done this last month. He wrongly interpreted the Yanks' offer as the opening of negotiations. Instead, it was a keepsake. It supposedly falls $25 million shy of DJ's expectations, and the Yankees have sat on it like Ethel Merman after a 12-pack.  

Ever since, we've been waiting for him to overturn the table, storm from the parlor and demand the nuclear option. That could happen soon.

LeMahieu's nuke would be to court a Yankee rival. Two come to mind: The Mets - with a shiny new owner who seeks to be NYC's biggest swinging dick - and the Blue Jays, who look like a team on the cusp of a world series, especially if fortified by a player of LeMahieu's talent. And there is always Boston, which is emerging from a tank year. Say what you will about the Redsocks: They know how to tank. 

If LeMahiue runs to a West Coast team - or even better, a National League team - the Yankees will probably present him with a gold watch. But if he signs with the enemy - well - they cannot allow it, without facing a fan insurrection. (Cue photos of Alphonso sitting at Hal's desk, or Mustang running off with Suzyn's podium.) 

Which brings us to the secondary force at play: Would any opposing owner do such a thing to his brother? Are the bonds of immeasurable wealth strong enough to keep our rivals from poaching the most complete Yankee since Jeter? Because the Death Barge can withstand losing LeMahieu; it has options, though ever-dwindling. What the front office cannot do is let him sign with a team we face 19 times per season, or in a highly charged Subway Series. 

So, I now ask all owners out there, who are within the range of my voice: 

Who the fuck are you, really? Are you on the Billionaire team, or have you become wobbly, throwing in with the hired help? Will you support your hedge fund/old money brethren? Or will you be a traitor, and poach a cherished piece of kitchenware from the House of Steinbrenner? Can we count on you to collu- um, (cough), er, uhhh - see it our way?

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Did the pandemic season of 2020 kill all the catchers?

I was compiling hilarious punch lists for Brian Cashman - you know, things to do immediately after D.J. LeMahieu finally decides where he'll play in 2021. For example...

If DJ stays, our Monument Hall-bound GM should: 

1. Call Gleyber, tell him our prayers are answered: He'll play SS!
2. Beg Hal for more money to sign Tanaka. Remind Hal of "the photos."
3. Call Eric Kratz and see if he wants to unretire.

If DJ goes:

1. Call Gleyber, tell him our prayers are answered: He'll play
 2B!
2. Call Sir Didi, say our plan worked; make an offer.
3. Beg Hal for more money. See Tanaka and show barnyard photos.
4. Call Erik Kratz...

Okay, what's my deal with the 40-year-old Kratz? No, I'm not his agent. No, we're not a "thing." Aside from the fact that he seems to be a truly delightful man, who functioned as  as a de facto player/coach, there's this: 

The lost 2020 season has created a catcher-desert, not just within the Yankee Death Barge, but across the vast tundra of the game. Without the minor leagues, dozens of young catchers last year missed out on the seasoning, the game experience, it takes to reach the show. 

We can stew over the decision to keep Gary Sanchez -biggest Yank disappointment since Kevin Maas - but, frankly, what were the alternatives? 

Our organizational depth chart shows two - (2), that's dos (Spanish), deux (French), ithnain (Arabic) - catchers: Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka. Two. A pair. A couple. Bookends. Peas in a pod. Brooks & Shields!  The Mets recently spilled $40 million upon James McCann, a middling talent who happened to be the second best free agent catcher on the market. The top guy, JT Realmuto, will be so expensive that Yank fans don't even bother to fantasize him

The Yankees' top catching prospects spent 2020 in goat yoga, English classes or cryogenic freezers - with no game experience. Most were too young to even get sent to the Yankee summer camp in Moosic, Pa. Thus, we saw the bonanza for ancient warhorses like Kratz, who seemed poised to retire two years ago. 

According to mlb.com, our best catching prospects remain years away from eyeballing Scranton's Route 81 skyline. Each missed his chance to call a game, learn to frame, or hit a slider. Here's what we have, as catchers. Keep in mind, these rankings are basically frozen in place from 2019. 

1. Austin Wells, 21, our 1st round pick last June, (ranked 6th overall in the franchise.) He has yet to see a professional pitch.

2. Anthony Siegler, 21, our 1st round pick in 2018 (ranked 16th.) In normal times, he might have reached Double A last summer.  

3. Antonio Gomez, 19, (ranked 22nd) a moog, barely beyond the Gulf Coast League. A long, long way from High Single A.

4. Josh Breaux, 23, (ranked 23rd) 2nd round pick in 2018 who unfortunately missed much of 2019 with injuries. This year, if lucky, he'll shoot for Triple A.

The usual suspects, last seen in 2019 at scattered locations throughout the Yankee system: Ryan Larnaway, Ryan Lidge, Kellin Deglan, Francisco Arcia, Eduardo Navas, Jorge Saez, Francisco Diaz. Take a pick. Instant Lottery. But how do they improve without playing?

Last October, even with a 28-man playoffs roster, the Yankees didn't add a third catcher. 

So... whadda we do? Clearly, Bri-Cash has some trips to the MLB scrap yard ahead of him. The Yankees need backstops, and some might be driving for Grubhub. Let's not delete Kratz's number, and hold onto those photos of Hal. If something happens to our Big Two, we're going to need them.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Pitchers & catchers??

Having attended spring training games over the past few years in Tampa, Bradenton and Sarasota, I'm on every spring training email list. They are already soliciting me to buy tickets, and positing that spring training WILL - in fact - be starting on time. But with the pandemic still raging everywhere, especially in Florida, how is that even possible?

So I'm just asking if anyone has any inside info about the actual likelihood of spring training starting in mid-February, or even starting AT ALL? It seems crazy to me; but then I never imagined that all four major sports leagues would be able to stage their seasons in one form or another last year, and yet, they did.

Thoughts?

The LeMahieu Waiting Plan is getting old, fast

Five weeks ago, the strategy looked bold and spicy, like a new jar of Gulden's: 

To show their puppylike loyalty to D.J. LeMahieu, the Yankees would make no major move this winter, waiting for The Deeje to decide where he'll play in 2021. A heartwarming show of respect to a great hitter and de facto team co-captain (with Gardy, of course.) 

This was also a cynical bargaining ploy, on the cheapo side. They made a lowball offer and sat on it, waiting out the holidays. 

The wait may be ending. According to the Internet, LeMahieu is tired of Yankee foot-dragging and Netflix binges, and he's ready to take offers from the Dodgers, Jays, Mariners and/or - (gasp) - the Money Mets. If so, the Yankees might have squandered their inside track to the man they claimed to want most of all.

So goes Cashman's quarantine...

Honestly, who knows what to make of these rumors? They could be LeMahieu's last push before re-signing. (He still claims the Yankees are his first choice.) Or has Hal Steinbrenner's self-imposed penny-pinching  finally pushed D.J. out the door? Until something pops - this week? - we are all Sergeant  Schultzes: We. Know. Nothink.

But but BUT... here is somethink: 

The longer the two sides dicker, the more other free agents sign, and the less opportunities the Yankees have to improve, with or without D.J. If he really intends to re-sign, if this is just a mating dance, we are now entering a dangerous phase, where further delays could cost us pitching. And if he's truly gone, this waiting game could be a full-blown disaster.

Full disclosure: On this, I'm around the bend. If we keep LeMahieu, Gleyber plays SS. If we don't, he moves to 2B, and we sign a glove guy, maybe Didi. Either way, we have options. 

But if this goes too long, we could end up with a gigantic hole up the middle. The wait is growing old, like the final, dried-up dabs in a jar of Gulden's. 

With or without D.J., it's time to resolve this.