'Twas a year to forget in N.Y. sports

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23

Namath/JeterAP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDerek Jeter and Joe Namath had plenty to smile about, apparently, back in March. But unless you're a Rangers diehard, 2014 left New York sports fans frowning.

It was just March in Tampa, Florida, before anyone knew 2014 would join the Final Four of worst New York sports years of the past five decades. Joe Namath and Derek Jeter posed at Steinbrenner Field, New York sports royalty smiling together as the cameras clicked.

Looking back, the photo of those two legends could represent bookends for Big Apple misery. Namath debuted in 1965, one of the worst years in New York sports history; Jeter, of course, closed out his career this year. Five decades ago, Namath's emergence provided a glimpse of a sunrise in a gloomy sports scene, just as Jeter's farewell allowed for a tiny bit of light as a storm of defeats enveloped the city's ballparks and arenas.

Despite Jeter's farewell tour, 2014 now sits alongside 1965, 1966 and 1979 as the worst years in the past half-century of New York sports.

"This was a no-hope year," said Newark Star-Ledger columnist Jerry Izenberg, who has covered New York sports for more than six decades. "This is probably one of the most, if not the most, hopeless sports years in the history of New York City."

Still, history can be the greatest teacher. The lesson? In this case, seeds of hope might be found in the despair.

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No Tulo trade in works

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
As the job dictates, the Yankees basically check in on every available player. Either Brian Cashman or his assistant, Billy Eppler, try to stay in contact with all of the other clubs so if a player is out there, the Yankees can consider him.

There is a CBS report, the Yankees recently checked in on Troy Tulowitzki.

A source said the Yankees are not in pursuit of Tulowitzki.

Here are the some of the reasons why -- unless something drastically changes --- they are not going after him.

1) He just had hip surgery.
2) He is owed $114 million.
3) He has averaged only 88 games per year during the past three seasons.
4) They acquired Didi Gregorius to be their shortstop, possibly in a platoon.
5) They want to get younger and healthier. Tulo is 30 and has a bad hip.
6) Unless the Rockies are going to give him away, the Yankees would have to sacrifice top-end talent from a farm system they are attempting to rebuild.

So unless something changes -- I can't even imagine what -- the Yankees are not trading for Tulowitzki at this time.

Dodgers biggest spenders in payroll

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillA massive contract for ace Clayton Kershaw is one reason why the Dodgers owe $26,621,125 in luxury tax.

NEW YORK -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have ended the New York Yankees' 15-year streak as Major League Baseball's biggest spenders and owe more than $26.6 million in luxury tax.

The Dodgers finished with a record payroll of $257,283,410, according to final calculations made by Major League Baseball on Friday and obtained by The Associated Press. That is more than $20 million above the previous high, set by the Yankees last year.

For the first time since the current luxury tax began in 2003, the Yankees won't be paying the most. The luxury tax was put in place as a slowdown on spending by high-revenue teams, and teams pay based on the amount they are over the $189 million threshold.

The Dodgers owe $26,621,125 based on a $277.7 million payroll for purposes of the tax, which calculates payroll based on the average annual value of contracts for players on the 40-man roster and includes benefits. That raises the team's two-year total to $38 million.

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NEW YORK -- The Yankees have been quite candid about letting the world know what they expect from Alex Rodriguez in 2015: next to nothing.

And now, if there had been any doubt before, A-Rod surely knows what he can expect from the Yankees: maybe even less than they expect from him.


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Friday's trade of Martin Prado and David Phelps to the Miami Marlins for starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, 1B/OF/DH Garrett Jones and pitching prospect Domingo German does more than shore up the starting rotation and add a backup for the oft-injured Mark Teixeira.

It also advances the ongoing marginalization of Alex Rodriguez, who seems to be losing playing time and at-bats with each move.

Already this week, the signing of Chase Headley to a four-year deal effectively ended A-Rod's days as the Yankees' third baseman. And the acquisition of Jones, a decent lefty power hitter who has averaged 19 home runs per year over the past six years, has further implications for A-Rod's Yankees future, or lack thereof.

Jones has played most of his major league games at first base. So much for the idea of having A-Rod take grounders at first this spring to prepare for some Teixeira backup duty. And with the Yankees already carrying four outfielders -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran and Chris Young -- it seems likely that when Jones isn't at first, he will be getting a good amount of lefty DH at-bats as the Yankees hope to exploit the apparent mismatch of hid power stroke vs. their homer-friendly right-field fence.

So it appears that Alex Rodriguez, with 654 career home runs and $61 million in Yankee paychecks due him, has been reduced to a part-time DH at best.

There is a school of thought that this is all part of the Yankees' plan to humiliate Rodriguez to the point that he will quit and leave his money behind, but there's about as much chance of that as there is of Joe Girardi becoming the frontman for a hip-hop group. Still, with no legal recourse to void A-Rod's contract and apparently little stomach for paying off his contract and releasing him, humiliation may be the only weapon the Yankees have left.

Short of a permanently disabling injury that would allow both parties to go their separate ways with some measure of dignity and financial satisfaction -- A-Rod would get the rest of the money owed on his contract and the Yankees would recoup some insurance money -- this could continue to be a long, drawn-out, messy divorce.
Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett JonesUSA TODAY SportsNathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones will don the pinstripes in 2015.
NEW YORK -- Just when you thought the Yankees were taking a timeout, having (somewhat) bolstered their rotation and settled on a starting infield, boom -- Trader Cashman strikes with a deal I feel safe in guessing no one would have predicted: sending Martin Prado and David Phelps, both of whom the club spoke highly of just two days ago, to Miami in exchange for right-handed starter Nathan Eovaldi, veteran 1B/OF/DH Garrett Jones and right-handed pitching prospect Domingo German.

Who are these guys? Eovaldi, who will turn 25 in February, has pitched in parts of four major league seasons with the Dodgers and Marlins. An 11th-round draft pick, Eovaldi was part of the 2012 trade that sent Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins to the Dodgers. He has thrown a total of 460 big-league innings in 83 appearances (79 starts), has a record of 15-35 and a 4.07 career ERA. Last year he went 6-14 for the Marlins with a 4.24 ERA. The book on him is a blazing fastball (average: 96 mph), but a disproportionately low strikeout total (142 K's in 199⅔ IP last year, or 6.4 K's per nine innings) because his location -- he throws a lot of fastballs over or near the middle of the plate -- resulted in a low swinging-strike percentage. He also allowed more hits (223) than any other NL starter last season. Still, he has a livelier arm than the 28-year-old Phelps, who probably has shown us all he has, and the Yankees are gambling on Eovaldi's upside.


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Jones, who will turn 34 in June, didn't become a full-time major leaguer until 2009, when he was 28. He batted .293 with 21 homers for the Pirates that season, and has averaged 19 home runs and 66 RBIs in his six full seasons, although his batting average has plummeted; he is a career .253 hitter who hasn't come close to .293 since 2009. He's a left-handed hitter, always a plus at Yankee Stadium, and has played most of his games at 1B, which means he immediately becomes Mark Teixeira's backup, something the Yankees did not have last season. He also can play the outfield (mostly right field) and could get some DH at-bats as well.

German is 22 and just completed his first season in Class A, going 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA for the Greensboro Grasshoppers of the Sally League.

Nicknames, anyone? "Jonesy" is obvious, even if we just had one two years ago. I'm betting Joe Girardi will soon be referring to his new pitcher as "E-O." He's got a couple of years to think of one for German.

Martin, we hardly knew ye: While the trade of Phelps is hardly surprising -- it was a hot rumor last winter, too -- the Yankees' decision to part with Prado comes as a bit of a jolt. Prado, who hit .316 with seven HRs and 16 RBIs in 37 games for the Yankees after being acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was expected to be the Yankees' starting second baseman after the Yankees re-signed Chase Headley to a four-year deal to play third. Why, it was only Monday that Cashman was thanking the heavens for placing Prado on his roster because of the versatility he gave the Yankees. Apparently, among Prado's many assets was his trade value.

What's on second? Until the next unexpected move, it appears that the Rob Refsnyder/Jose Pirela spring training experiment is back on. But who knows? To paraphrase Yogi, the Yankees' offseason ain't over until it's over.

Yanks get Eovaldi; Marlins get Prado

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19

NEW YORK -- The Yankees traded starting second baseman Martin Prado to the Miami Marlins for starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi as part of a five-player deal, the teams announced Friday.

The trade is Prado and pitcher David Phelps going to the Marlins in exchange for the 24-year-old Eovaldi, first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones and minor league pitching prospect Domingo German. The Yankees will also send a total of $6 million to the Marlins, GM Brian Cashman said.

With the trade, the Yankees appear as if they will let prospects Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela fight it out to be the team's second baseman. Scouts believe in both of their bats, but there are questions about their gloves. The Yanks have also picked up Cole Figueroa and Nick Noonan as possibilities this winter. Cashman said he still could add another second baseman before February.

"Clearly, if spring training were starting today, that is the competition," Cashman said.

With the Marlins in 2014, Eovaldi threw nearly 200 innings, finishing 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA. His 223 hits allowed were the most in the National League. His fastball has been clocked in the upper 90s.

"He has a good arm and he is young," said Cashman, who first asked the Marlins for Eovaldi a month ago and talks progressed from there.

He will slot into the Yankees rotation along with Masahiro Tanaka

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Juan Carlos Nunez pleads guilty

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19

MIAMI -- A sixth man has pleaded guilty to playing a key role in illegally providing performance-enhancing drugs to Major League Baseball players and other athletes.

Juan Carlos Nunez pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to distribute testosterone, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Court documents say Nunez referred several players to the defunct Biogenesis of America clinic operated by Anthony Bosch. Many of the players referred by Nunez had origins in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Bosch has also pleaded guilty along with four others. Prosecutors say performance-enhancing drugs were provided to MLB players including New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez has admitted using them in court documents.

Trials are still set for Rodriguez cousin Yuri Sucart and ex-University of Miami pitching coach Lazaro Collazo.

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Yankees not targeting Max Scherzer

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
[+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesMax Scherzer, 30, is believed to be seeking a deal in line with the six-year, $155 million contract Jon Lester recently signed with the Cubs.

NEW YORK -- Yankees president Randy Levine confirmed Thursday that the team is highly unlikely to bid on right-hander Max Scherzer, the top starting pitcher in this offseason's free-agent crop.

"The chances of us bringing in a guy for six [years] and $25 million or over in my opinion is virtually none,'' Levine told reporters at a midtown news conference to announce a broadcast deal between the YES Network and the New York Football Club. "At the end of the day you have to be realistic in any organization.''

Levine did not mention Scherzer by name, but his words echoed those of two sources who spoke to ESPNNewYork.com Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

"He's a great pitcher," the source said of Scherzer, "but not even the Yankees can have three $25 [million] to $30 million pitchers on the payroll. You just can't."

The 30-year-old Scherzer, who is represented by Scott Boras, is believed to be seeking a deal in line with the six-year, $155 million contract Jon Lester recently signed with the Chicago Cubs.

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Trial pushed back for A-Rod's cousin

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18

MIAMI -- A federal judge has delayed for two months the trial of a cousin of New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez on charges stemming from dealings with the clinic that illegally provided performance-enhancing drugs to baseball players.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga postponed the trial of Yuri Sucart from Feb. 9 to April 6 -- the day the Yankees open at home against Toronto. Sucart's lawyer said in a court filing that Sucart has serious health problems and can't fully participate in his defense.

Prosecutors say Rodriguez would be a witness at Sucart's trial.

Sucart is charged with conspiracy and distribution of testosterone and human growth hormone to MLB players and other athletes through the Biogenesis of America clinic operated by Anthony Bosch.

Rodriguez served a season-long suspension this year for violations of the drug program and baseball's labor contract. He is owed $61 million by the Yankees during the final three seasons of his contract.

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Path to the playoffs: AL East

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
Path to the playoffs logo

Welcome to everyone's favorite division -- or least favorite, depending on your opinion of the Yankees and Red Sox. In the past five years, four different teams have won the division. The exception is Toronto, and the Blue Jays now have the longest playoff drought in the majors, having last reached the postseason in 1993. You may remember how that season ended.

Everybody says the AL East isn't as strong as it once was. That's true. The Yankees haven't made the playoffs the past two seasons and the Red Sox have suffered two terrible seasons sandwiching a World Series title. But it wasn't the worst division in baseball this past season. The AL East was a collective 12 games over .500 outside the division; only the AL West, at plus-13, was better.

In what appears to be a wide-open race, each team doesn't have to stretch the imagination to find a path to the playoffs.

Orioles Baltimore Orioles
2014: 96-66, plus-112 run differential, lost ALCS
2015 projection from FanGraphs: 79-83, minus-18 runs

After winning their first division title since 1997 and drawing their most fans since 2005, the Orioles have responded by doing ... nothing. They've lost Nelson Cruz to the Mariners and Nick Markakis to the Braves and the biggest news was the rumor that general manager Dan Duquette was a candidate for the Blue Jays' presidency, only to see owner Peter Angelos politely remind him that he has a contract through the 2018 season.

Replacing the production from Cruz and Markakis will be a challenge, but those two also missed just a combined 10 games; replacing their presence may be the bigger challenge. While Manny Machado and Matt Wieters missed time with season-ending injuries and then Chris Davis got suspended for amphetamines, Cruz, Markakis and Adam Jones were the rocks manager Buck Showalter wrote into his lineup every day.

But they're not irreplaceable. They were worth a combined 6.8 WAR via Baseball-Reference, and Cruz wasn't a good bet to repeat his 40-homer, 4.7-WAR performance anyway. Yes, the outfield looks a little barren to Jones' left and right, with Alejandro De Aza and David Lough the best candidates to start now, with Steve Pearce, hot off his surprising 2014 performance, filling in if he's not the DH. I suspect the O's will make an addition here, whether it's signing Norichika Aoki or trading for Marlon Byrd or maybe even Justin Upton. Colby Rasmus is also an interesting buy-low free agent.

How do the O's return to the playoffs? As you can see, the projection system used at FanGraphs foresees a big decline, but some of that is the way the system views the Orioles' rotation. It's not a strikeout rotation, which outperformed its periperhals in 2014, so the system sees regression. The O's were fifth in the AL in rotation ERA and had the second-best ERA after the All-Star break. They just need to maintain and rely on that great infield defense to help out.

There is the possibility, however, that the rotation does improve. Kevin Gausman should spend the entire season in the rotation for the first time, and he has potential to develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter. Dylan Bundy is healthy, and the top prospect could make an impact at some point. Plus, there is depth here in numbers. Unlike other teams, the Orioles can afford the inevitable injury attrition.

There are four primary reasons the offense can pick up after Cruz and Markakis:

1. Davis rebounds. An MVP candidate in 2013 after hitting 53 home runs, his OPS fell 300 points. The Steamer projection foresees a .242 average with 32 home runs, or about a two-win upgrade from 2014 (although still four wins below his 2013 level). The upside, of course, is even higher.

2. Wieters returns. He was off to the best season of his career when he went down in late May and had Tommy John surgery. He'll give the team more offense at catcher and be able to DH on his off days.

3. Jonathan Schoop improves. Rushed to the majors, he hit .209/.244/.354. His power (16 home runs) was a bright spot, but he has to improve his 122/13 strikeout/walk ratio.

4. Machado plays more games. He appeared in just 82 last year before injuring his knee.

The projections don't like the Orioles. But they didn't like them this past season, and Baltimore won 96 games.

Yankees New York Yankees
2014: 84-78, minus-31 run differential
2015 projection: 83-79, plus-17

Odd fact: The Yankees became the first team to get outscored in consecutive seasons and finish over .500 both years.

Prediction: It won't happen three years in a row. Which means the Yankees have to score more runs and/or allow fewer just to stay at 84 wins.

So far, they lost closer David Robertson but signed Andrew Miller, coming off his season of destruction. They re-signed third baseman Chase Headley and pitcher Chris Capuano and acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from Arizona. Yankees fans will be thrilled to see what a shortstop who can go to his left actually looks like. Oh, and Alex Rodriguez returns to baseball. He's not the reason to predict a path to the playoffs.

This is:

Masahiro Tanaka
CC Sabathia
Michael Pineda
David Phelps
Max Scherzer

Yes, you read that correctly. I'd say Scherzer would make for a pretty nice No. 5 starter. The list of potential suitors for the ace right-hander is limited, given his reported asking price of $200 million, give or take a small mansion. The Yankees say they're not interested. The Yankees always say they aren't interested until they are. They have the money if they want to spend it: Their projected payroll right now is $38 million less than the Dodgers' payroll, and there's no reason they can't spend what the Dodgers are spending, so that leaves plenty of room to sign Scherzer and still have money left over for a nice dinner at NYY Steak.

Anyway: Scherzer, a healthy CC, a healthy Tanaka, a full season from Pineda ... that's a scary rotation.

Beyond that: Full seasons from Headley and Martin Prado and the addition of Gregorius will make the infield much better (don't be surprised if Gregorius even outhits 2014 Derek Jeter); Brian McCann, just 31, is certainly capable of a better season; Carlos Beltran is getting up there in age (37), but Steamer projects better numbers for him; Jacoby Ellsbury's first year in the Bronx was so-so; and Dellin Betances and Miller -- 6-foot-8 and 6-7, respectively -- may be the most intimidating bullpen duo in the majors.

There are obviously injury concerns with Sabathia, Tanaka and Pineda. But we keep trying to kill off the Yankees and they haven't completely capitulated just yet. If that group stays healthy and they bring in Scherzer to lead the way, it could be the Yankees in the East.

Blue Jays Toronto Blue Jays
2014: 83-79, plus-37 run differential
2015 projection: 84-78, plus-29

Nobody can hit these days. The Angels led the majors with 773 runs. In 2009, that would have ranked 12th. In 2004, that would have ranked 18th. So teams are starving for offense.

But the Blue Jays have hitters. Among players with 400 plate appearances, Jose Bautista ranked fifth in the majors in wOBA (weighted on-base average, a metric that captures a players complete hitting performance); Edwin Encarnacion was 12th; Russell Martin 19th; and Josh Donaldson (48th), with the A's last season, now moves to a better hitter's park. Bautista and Martin ranked third and fourth in OBP; Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson all ranked in the top 12 in home runs.

No, 2015 isn't 2014, but that projects as the best middle of the order in the majors.

Did I mention Josh Donaldson? He ranks second in Baseball-Reference WAR among position players the past two seasons, behind only Mike Trout. How can you not get all dreamy over that trade if you're the Blue Jays? Donaldson was about four wins above average last season; Blue Jays third basemen were about average, so Donaldson is a four-win upgrade, given similar rates of production.

The Jays lost Melky Cabrera via free agency but made a sneaky good pickup in Michael Saunders, a guy who could have a big season as he leaves the marine layer in the Pacific Northwest. If he stays healthy, don't be surprised if he replaces Cabrera's value -- less average, but a little more power and better defense.

Everyone says the Jays don't have an ace -- not that you need an ace to make the postseason. But maybe they do have one: Marcus Stroman may be only 5-9 but he had a big rookie season, posting a 3.65 ERA in 130.2 innings. His FIP was even better, at 2.84. He has six pitches and throws hard and throws strikes. Don't be surprised if he's a top-10 starter in the AL.

Drew Hutchison had a fine season in his return from Tommy John surgery; he'll do better than 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA. Veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey provide durability and stability. Lefty Daniel Norris, one of the best pitching prospects in the game, jumped from Class A to the majors after striking out 163 in 124.2 innings; he could be this year's Stroman. Aaron Sanchez looks like a shutdown reliever the team needs after allowing just 14 hits in 33 innings after his recall to the majors.

The Jays could use a second baseman, maybe free agent Asdrubal Cabrera, which would mean a lineup something like this:

SS Jose Reyes
C Russell Martin
RF Jose Bautista
1B Edwin Encarnacion
3B Josh Donaldson
LF Michael Saunders
2B Asdrubal Cabrera
DH Dioner Navarro/Justin Smoak
CF Dalton Pompey

That's an offense that can score runs. The 22-year-old drought may be over.

Rays Tampa Bay Rays
2014: 77-85, minus-13 run differential
2015 projection: 83-79, plus-13

Everyone seems down on the Rays. David Price is gone, Matt Joyce was shipped out, Wil Myers just got dealt and manager Joe Maddon opted out of his contract. The Rays can't spend like the big boys and they're coming off their worst season since they were the Devil Rays.

A few reasons to believe in a path to the playoffs:

1. The rotation could still be the best in the league. Alex Cobb -- with a 2.82 ERA the past two seasons -- has an argument as the best starter in the division. The Rays have four starters lining up behind Cobb and coming into their own at the same time: Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore (coming off Tommy John surgery).

2. Evan Longoria will return to being an MVP candidate.

3. They'll hit better with runners in scoring position. They hit .241 with runners in scoring position this past season, including the worst wOBA with the bases loaded in the AL. Both figures were below their overall season totals, so expect some of that bad luck to reverse.

4. Ben Zobrist is still a good player.

5. Nick Franklin may become a good player.

6. They traded Myers but picked up a guy named Steven Souza from the Nationals. After crushing Triple-A pitching, he projects to be just as good as Myers, if not slightly better.

7. Catcher Rene Rivera, acquired from the Padres in the three-way deal that sent them Myers, is one of the best pitch-framers in the business. And he will hit better than the dearly departed Jose Molina.

8. That projection above suggests the Rays will be in the race (it doesn't include Wednesday's trade). Given the potential of the rotation, the Rays can win 90 again, just like they did in each from 2010 to 2013.

Red Sox Boston Red Sox
2014: 71-91, minus-81 run differential
2015 projection: 87-75, plus-53 runs

Boston's busy offseason has been much discussed. Many believe the Red Sox still need to pick up another starter to anchor the rotation, but FanGraphs already projects them as the best team in the division.

That may be surprising after this past season's last-place finish, but general manager Ben Cherington has done a nice job reconstructing his starting rotation. Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson aren't flashy but should be a durable and reliable trio (especially if Masterson's knee, which bothered him in 2014, is healthy).


Right now, who is your pick to win the AL East?


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Plus, the Red Sox can dream on these possibilities:

1. Mookie Betts, All-Star. Yes, he's that good.

2. Xander Bogaerts, All-Star. His rookie season was a disappointment. He also just turned 22. It all comes together this year.

3. Rusney Castillo does the job in center field with a solid all-around season (that 87-win projection actually includes Castillo being only a replacement-level player).

4. David Ortiz has one more big season.

5. Pablo Sandoval thrives, hitting doubles off the Green Monster.

6. Hanley Ramirez is motivated and healthy and hits and plays left field at least as well as Manny Ramirez did. OK, better than Manny.

7. Dustin Pedroia goes back to hitting .290-.300 with 15-20 home runs.

8. One or two of the young pitching prospects -- Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Anthony Ranaudo -- makes a big impact, either in the rotation or bullpen.

And then they may add Cole Hamels, or trade for a starter during the season ...

Does Chris signing cap Yanks' offseason?

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Masahiro Tanaka, Max Scherzer, CC Sabathia Getty Images, USA Today SportsWith Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia on the Yankees' payroll for a combined $45 million in 2015, sources say a Max Scherzer deal is unlikely.
NEW YORK -- The Yankees signed a starting pitcher this week, but I think it's safe to surmise Chris Capuano is not what Yankees fans were hoping to find in their Hanukkah gift pile.

And yet, unless there is a seismic shift in the club's thinking, Capuano could be the last major free-agent signing for the Yankees between now and the beginning of spring training on Feb. 20.

That means no Big Game James, as in James Shields, and no Super Max, as in Max Scherzer. (Yes, Hiroki Kuroda is still out there, and according to a Yankees source, has yet to inform the club of whether he wants to pitch again in 2015, a decision he is unlikely to make until January.)

That position was reiterated to me by two baseball insiders with intimate knowledge of the Yankees' operations on Wednesday afternoon. One of them told me via text, "At the moment, I don't see how" the Yankees will be able to sign Scherzer. The other, in a phone conversation, said the Yankees were positively out of the hunt for both Scherzer and Shields, by far the two best pitchers remaining on the board.


Will the Yankees make a big move before the offseason ends?


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"He's a great pitcher," the source said of Scherzer, "but not even the Yankees can have three $25 [million] to $30 million pitchers on the payroll. You just can't."

This, of course, could be posturing aimed at rattling Scott Boras, Scherzer's agent (lotsa luck with that), but the truth is the Yankees will be paying CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, both of whom are coming off injuries and neither of whom is a lock to stay healthy enough to pitch 200 innings in 2015, a combined $45 million.

"Long-term deals for pitchers over 30 generally don't work out," one of the sources said. "The only one I can recall that did is Mike Mussina."

That source went on to enumerate the stockpile of arms the Yankees will take to camp -- along with Sabathia and Tanaka, they will have Michael Pineda, who pitched like an ace last season but still has a history of major shoulder surgery in his past; Ivan Nova, who underwent Tommy John surgery and is not expected back until May at the earliest; Capuano, who went 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA in 12 starts for the Yankees after they picked him up in July; and David Phelps and Adam Warren, both of whom worked out of the bullpen most of last season.

The source also mentioned the possibility of Manny Banuelos, who until proven otherwise remains an unkept promise following Tommy John surgery, and the chance GM Brian Cashman might be able to scrape together a trade for a proven starter. Cole Hamels of the Phillies and Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals are believed to be on the block, but the Yankees have a well-known shortage of tradable parts to offer for them.

Which leaves open the very real possibility that the signing of Capuano, a very average major league starter, will be the last major move of the Yankees' offseason until players become available after spring training cuts.

In that case, the Yankees team that begins the 2015 season would be substantially the team that ended 2014, minus Derek Jeter and David Robertson, but plus Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorius and, of course, Alex Rodriguez, who with the signing of Chase Headley has been reduced to a $21 million DH.

Is that good enough to compete?

"It is what it is," said one of the sources, and you could almost hear the shrug of frustration through the telephone line.

Capuano: I chose Yankees over Japan

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Chris Capuano said he decided to stay in the AL East instead of going to the Far East because he will have a chance to start and received good money.

"I love Japan, but if you get the opportunity to pitch here, in a city like New York, that trumps any sentimentality I had towards Japan," Capuano said on Sirius XM's Major League Baseball Radio channel. "I still wouldn't rule it out at some point, but a chance to play for the Yankees, on a good contract, I couldn't pass that up."

How close did you come to going to Japan?

"It more just expanded my options of possible teams I was looking at," Capuano said.

Capuano recently played on the recent major league tour of Japan. It sounds like it is something he might consider again if MLB opportunities dry up.

However, Capuano thinks he can have success as a starter, pointing to 2012 when he went 12-12 with a 3.72 ERA in 32 starts with the Dodgers. He knows he will have a chance.

"[Brian Cashman] is a straight shooter, he said the best five guys will be out there starting," Capuano said.

Capuano said he thought the Yankees might add another starter this winter. Even if someone like Hiroki Kuroda returns, Capuano will have a good shot to win the fifth spot against David Phelps, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell.

Matsui, Jeter team up for charity

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17

TOKYO -- Hideki Matsui will team up with former New York Yankees teammate Derek Jeter to hold a baseball charity event to support children affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP, attended a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday to promote the event on March 21 at Tokyo Dome.

"(Derek) will make an enormous contribution to this event," Matsui said. "He is a tremendous human being and was a great teammate and I'm sure the kids will be thrilled to see someone of his stature."

The event will include over 600 participants, including a group of baseball players from the Tohoku region that was devastated by the March 11, 2011, disaster that killed 16,000 people.

Profits will be used to help children from the region.

The event will include a baseball clinic and a home run derby between Matsui and Jeter, who retired in 2014 after a 20-year career with the Yankees.

Matsui would not be drawn on speculation connecting him with a coaching job either with the Yankees or his former team in Japan the Yomiuri Giants.

"That isn't related to this event so I'll leave that for another time," Matsui said when asked about becoming a coach.

(Read full post)

Paying an arm and a leg for relief

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
[+] EnlargeDavid Robertson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe White Sox gave 29-year-old right-hander David Robertson a four-year, $46 million contract.

As major league teams rained money on the heads of free-agent relief pitchers earlier this month, it was only natural to question the wisdom (if not the sanity) of baseball executives throwing so much cash at pitchers who contribute in increments of three outs or fewer.

Skeptics abound. But few of them have experienced the demoralizing sensation of looking on helplessly while a bad bullpen sinks spirits in the clubhouse and undermines a team's season.

Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura is familiar with that routine from the 2014 season, when the team's pen ranked 14th in the American League with a 4.38 ERA and blew 21 saves -- tied for third most in the league. So when general manager Rick Hahn spent $46 million on a four-year contract for closer David Robertson and $15 million on a three-year deal for lefty setup man Zach Duke, Ventura was in no position to lobby for fiscal restraint.

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Jacoby Ellsbury
.271 16 70 71
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
WM. Tanaka 13
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146