Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Rest of the East: Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles took me, and the rest of the baseball world by surprise in 2012, winning 93 games and making the postseason. However, I do not believe that the Orioles have a good enough team to seriously contend in 2013. They caught lightning in a bottle in 2012. Their starting pitching was not great, with pitchers going up and down in the system, not to mention the injuries the starting staff had. 2012 was a fluky year for the Orioles, and I don't expect their pitching to hold up this season. They won a record number of one run games and were automatic winners in every extra-inning game (unless it was against the Yankees).

The Birds have several great position players, with starting pitching at the helm of making the Major Leagues. This year, star right handed starting pitcher Dylan Bundy is a favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. Scouts and baseball folks have him ranked high in terms of his ability to throw missiles. Manny Machado will prove that he can live up to his potential as an everyday third baseman. The converted shortstop did an excellent job for the Orioles last year after getting called up for the stretch run. He hit some meaningful home runs against the Yankees and played stellar defense at a position where he never played before in his baseball career. Machado idolized Alex Rodriguez growing up, and A-Rod mentors Machado when they work together in Miami. The young third baseman has the ability to be a special player but he will have to prove himself in a 162 game season.

There are also key pieces in the field who can be considered veterans. Adam Jones turned out to be a star, hitting 32 home runs and earning a Gold Glove award in the 2012 season. He is a staple of the Orioles team and a key to their success. Matt Wieters can be even more special than Jones because of his ability to work so well behind the plate with pitchers. Wieters threw out 39% of potential base-stealers, a mark that few players today can match. His defense has earned him two consecutive Gold Glove awards in 2011 and in 2012. Wieters is a power hitting catcher who switch hits. He has the ability to eclipse Jorge Posada's offensive numbers and provide the Orioles with more defense than Posada was able to give the Yankees in his career.

The most important piece of the puzzle for the Orioles in 2012 was their manager. Buck Showalter knew how to communicate with his players, and he was very respected in the clubhouse for his experience and knowledge of the game. Showalter has a knack for taking bad teams and turning them into winners. He proved that with the Yankees after managing them until 1995, and did the same thing with the Arizona Diamondbacks until 2000. Both teams won World Series championships a year after Buck left. That shows how much of a difference a good manager can make.

However, I do not believe that the Orioles did enough in the off-season in order to contend with the other teams in the AL East. I predict the Birds settling within the 80-84 win paradigm. They shocked me last year, and I certainly would not be surprised if they proved me wrong again. I just do not think the chances are as good this season for Baltimore.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Rest of the East: Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox are coming off a season in which they only managed to win 69 games, and a season where the manager made more headlines than the outcome of games did. Bobby Valentine was a bad manager decision for the Red Sox. The team is comprised of veterans, and Bobby Valentine's "in your face" approach did not earn him many stripes in the clubhouse. He was a media magnet, perhaps not realizing how the media has changed since he last managed in the big leagues. It was a learning experience for the ex-manager, and I hope he gets a chance again, but with a younger team. Players coming out of the minor leagues tend to gravitate toward Valentine. I believe he needs to be on a team where the club is in the re-building stages with the core of their talent in the lower levels of the organization.

The Red Sox suffered their fair share of injuries in 2012, which is part of the reason that they won a mere 69 games. David Ortiz was on the shelf for the majority of the second half, Carl Crawford played with a torn ligament in his elbow until late into the season, and the starting staff could not stay healthy. The leader of the team, Dustin Pedroia, played his heart out like he does every season but he could not handle losing. It was hard on everybody in the organization, especially for a player who wears his heart on his sleeve.

There was also a fair share of controversy in the clubhouse. Kevin Youkilis, now sporting a Yankee uniform, was accused of by the manager to not have been playing with effort. This was the first bridge to crumble in the long, sad season for the Red Sox. Ultimately, Youkilis was traded to he White Sox and Will Middlebrooks took over as the Red Sox third baseman. There was also controversy surrounding a group of players who supposedly sent a text to ownership, voicing their opinions about Bobby Valentine. The players involved (Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Kelly Shoppach) were all traded in a historical trade where the Red Sox dumped a ton of salary onto the Dodgers in exchange for essentially nothing in return except for B level prospects.

Entering the 2013 season, the Red Sox are starting fresh with a new manager, John Farrell. Farrell served as the pitching coach under former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, and is a favorite of the Sox pitching staff. I believe that Jon Lester will return to being the true Jon Lester who was a winner for the first five years of his career, before having as ugly a season as he did in 2012. John Lackey is coming off Tommy John surgery, and is on the final year of his contract with Boston. Lackey will be working for a new contract so I believe that he will give it everything he has this year. The Red Sox signed Ryan Dempster and I think that the deal is a disaster in the making. Dempster is a National League pitcher and in his short time in the American League, he was less than impressive.

David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury are starting fresh in 2013 and along with Pedroia, could be one of the biggest lineup threats in the American League when the players are all healthy. The Red Sox will be better than they were in 2012. Frankly, I don't think it's possible for them to be any worse than they were last year. With a new manager, healthy players and less clubhouse drama, the Boston Red Sox could easily win 84-87 games. I don't believe that they will be able to make the postseason, however. The other teams in the AL East have gotten better, with the Toronto Blue Jays leading the way.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

BREAKING: Granderson Broken Forearm

The left field experiment didn't take long before Granderson was out of the game. Jack Curry has reported that Curtis Granderson, who was hit by a pitch in the right forearm in the first inning, has indeed broken a bone in the forearm and will miss ten weeks. The ten weeks that Granderson will miss brings him into a Major League game in May.

The Yankees had already lost about 100 home runs from their lineup, and now Granderson, who hit 43 last year, will miss the first month of the year. The blows just keep coming for this team. Now, the Yankees have to look deep within their spring roster for possible solutions. Zoilo Almonte, Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera and others will certainly get longer looks as the Yankees starting left field option as the spring season unfolds.

But for now, this loss of Granderson is a crushing blow to the Yankees lineup. Despite his strikeout rate, he was a major power threat at the plate. The Yankees will regroup and try to figure out the options they have in front of them over the next ten weeks.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Yankees First Spring Lineup!

Eduardo Nunez SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Juan Rivera DH
Matt Diaz LF
Francisco Cervelli C
Melky Mesa CF
Zoilo Almonte RF
Corban Joseph 3B

SP: RHP David Phelps

Thursday, February 21, 2013

News and Notes- Granderson, Gardner Switch

There have been interesting developments from Yankee camp in the past week as full squad workouts have commenced. There is the prospect of a position change in the outfield involving Gardner and Granderson. Also, the starting rotation has already suffered an injury, and it is not one of the older guys.
  • Phil Hughes felt pain in his right shoulder on Monday. The Yankees sidelined him for a few days until they knew what was wrong with the free agent to-be starting pitcher. It turns out that Hughes was diagnosed with a bulging disc near his shoulder blade. Phil is taking anti-inflammatories for a few days and according to Brian Cashman, Hughes will be shut down for two weeks. It's better to suffer this kind of injury before the season starts, but it would have been better if this didn't transpire at all. The Yankees need Hughes to be that reliable number four starter. I'm sure Hughes is upset because he wants to make every last penny after he finishes out his current contract with the Yankees.
  • As I wrote about late last night, the Joe Girardi has decided to try out Curtis Granderson in left field while having Brett Gardner take fly balls in center. Granderson is the type of player who will never complain about something publicly, but I'm sure he isn't happy about finding this out this late into camp. Gardner is the better center fielder of the two players, and Girardi said that if he likes what he sees, he will keep the outfield that has Gardner in center and Granderson in left. Granderson has not played a game in left field since 2007, so it will take getting used to for him. Gardner has been regarded by many to be the better fielder of the two. It's only natural that this switch would happen eventually.
  • Girardi stated that Ivan Nova does not have a spot in the rotation, meaning that he will have to earn the number five spot after pitching himself off the postseason roster in 2012. Nova has an electric arm and knows how to pitch. I see him taking Girardi's words to heart and working hard to earn that spot in the rotation. Nova was humbled last year after considering himself to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. He lost the ability to keep the ball down, and got hammered in the second half.
The Yankees will begin their Spring Training season on Saturday afternoon against the Atlanta Braves. David Phelps will get the ball in the first exhibition game of the Yankees pre-season. On Sunday, YES will broadcast the Yankees home opener at Steinbrenner Field at 1:05 with Adam Warren taking the ball.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ain't Life Granderson?- Center Field

Curtis Granderson is presumably the Yankees opening day center fielder. Many questions have come up this spring regarding a possible move for Curtis to left field in order to let the young and speedy Brett Gardner become the Yankees every day center fielder. Joe Girardi has already stated that he expects Granderson to play center field, while Granderson said he would be willing to make the switch to left field if approached about it.

Let's assume that Granderson will be starting in center field this season. Last year, Curtis Granderson played great defense, despite sabermatricians not agreeing with that statement. Granderson set a career high in home runs with 43, but also set a career high in strikeouts with 195 in the regular season. The pile-up of strikeouts is a cause for concern for Yankee fans because it caused Granderson's batting average to sink all the way down to .232, which is a career low for the slugger. Granderson is suffering from the same thing Mark Teixeira is suffering from, and that is going away from his strengths in order to accommodate the short porch in right field. In 2011, Granderson had an MVP caliber season with a respectable batting average, a great number of walks and not as many strikeouts.

Another aspect of Granderson's offensive game that has vanished is his ability to steal bases. Curtis went from stealing 25 bags in 2011 to only stealing 10 in 2012. Granderson is a fast runner, and that number should have been double of what it actually was. I am concerned for Granderson this season, because the numbers that he put up in 2012 are not showing a positive climb toward him being a better player. The speed element of his game has apparently disappeared overnight, he is too dependent on the long ball and he is striking out in almost every at bat.

With 2013 being Granderson's walk year, I hope he improves on the fundamentals of his game. He is a great baseball player; some could argue that he has five tools. However, in order to gain value on the free agent market Granderson needs to remind everyone about what made him so popular in 2011, or else his contract will suffer as a result. With 2013 being Granderson's free agency year I believe that he will make a great effort in order to improve on fundamentals.

My predictions for Granderson in 2013: .255 BA, 39 HR, 110 RBI

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Michael Pineda Coming Along

After being acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners, Michael Pineda may be making his way back into the Major Leagues. Last spring, Pineda came into Yankees camp twenty pounds overweight, was ineffective all spring, and finally suffered a major shoulder injury that sidelined him for the entire 2012 baseball season. The Yankees were upset at their star acquisition having to miss out on the 2012 season, but at the same time were hopeful that Pineda would be able to come back in 2013 with higher velocity and a fresh outlook on his pitching career.

When he met with the media today in Tampa, Michael Pineda expressed his negative feelings regarding last spring training. Regretting coming into Tampa twenty pounds overweight, Pineda said that it was a "mistake" and that he will do everything he can in order to come back stronger than ever before. Shoulder injuries are very tricky and often times, people do not come back from labrum tears. Being a pitcher, Pineda relies heavily on his shoulder for obvious reasons. However, Pineda came to camp weeks earlier than the official reporting date and has been gradually working up toward a comeback to the Yankees.

Just today, Pineda advanced to throwing off a full mound and did so without any discomfort, which is vital for his progression. Girardi has made it known that Pineda will probably not pitch in any spring games, but his arrival in the Bronx could come as early as June. If the Yankees rotation is already effective and injury-free, it should be an interesting situation for Girardi if he has a surplus of pitching come mid-season.

Judging from Pineda's attitude, he has matured greatly. The shoulder injury has taught him that things don't come easily in life, and even less easy in the unforgiving game of baseball. Michael Pineda has a huge upside, and I am looking forward to watching him thrive in pinstripes for years to come. I will go out of a limb assume that Pineda shares the same sentiments.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Yankees Spring Training is Here!

Today is the official reporting day for pitchers, catchers and injured players. This is also the day that Girardi will make his annual "State of the Yankees" address. There will certainly be some interesting questions asked, including ones about Gardner in center field, the Alex Rodriguez story, among others. Also, this is the final year of Joe Girardi's contract with the Yankees. There will likely be a question asked to Joe about the status of his contract, but Girardi knows the Yankees policy and will comply by saying that his contract will get taken care of after the conclusion of the season.

Derek Jeter ran on a treadmill yesterday for the first time since his surgery. Jeter is expected to field more grounders today, as well as ranging to his sides. Jeter is coming along quickly, and expecting him to be the Yankees shortstop on Opening Day in 48 days will likely happen.

Lastly, many other questions will be answered through the duration of Spring Training including who will fill the final spot in the rotation, how the bullpen will be structured without Rafael Soriano and who will split DH time with Travis Hafner.

Happy Spring Training Day! I am looking forward to this season and a wealth of new posts throughout the duration of the season. Hope you come along for the ride with me.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bourn Agrees to Terms with Indians

Just when you thought the Indians had a formidable outfield, they add Michael Bourn to the mix. According to Jon Heyman, the Indians have agreed to terms with center fielder Michael Bourn on a 4 year/$48 million deal with a vesting option for a fifth year if Bourn amasses 550 plate appearances in his fourth season. Until earlier today the New York Mets were favorites to land the outfielder. According to multiple outlets, they made an offer of four years/$48 million but two things got into the way. First, the Mets are intent on not giving up the eleventh pick of the draft. If they signed Bourn, the Mets would need to go through an arbiter to figure out which pick would be forfeited. Also, the team did not believe that Bourn would be able to obtain a fifth year on his contract. Scott Boras proved another team wrong when the Indians included the vesting option based on plate appearances.

Bourn will play center field for the Indians, while Nick Swisher will be the team's every day right fielder and left field will likely be a platoon of Brantley and newly acquired Drew Stubbs. Suddenly, the tribe has an excess of outfielders. They will want to unload one of their players in order to get a prospect. They certainly have options, as their outfield is more crowded than the Yankees' nursing home suites. However, pitching is still the key to the kingdom and the Indians have an awful rotation. Despite their added offense, I don't see them competing for the central title this season.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hitting the Corners

For the first time since 2008, the Yankees will be starting a season without Nick Swisher saluting the fans in right field. Since Nick Swisher is now a member of the Cleveland Indians, the Yankees will have a new addition to their outfield.

It's not often that the Yankees don't have corner outfielders with power. In 2013 however, the Yankees are heading into camp with Brett Gardner as their every day left fielder and newly re-signed Ichiro Suzuki to play right field. While there won't be much power to go around in the outfield, the pair bring a different dynamic to this Yankees team that the Bombers lacked in 2012. With the speed and defense of Gardner and Ichiro, they can contribute to the team by saving runs defensively as opposed to driving runs in offensively. Sabermetricians would probably agree with me, but the baseball purists out there are probably reading this and thinking that I have no clue what I'm talking about.

Let's start with Brett Gardner. He was injured throughout the entire 2012 season other than playing in a handful of games in early April and at the end of September. The team missed Gardner's speed and defense, and the sluggers weren't doing the job because there weren't guys in front of them that were getting on base. Gardner provides the on-base factor and can force a pitcher to make a bad pitch by distracting him from focusing on the hitter. Gardner's legs are bionic, and he can out-run the majority of the league. In order for pitchers to be more paranoid with Gardner on base, Brett has to take more chances. If he doesn't attempt to steal a base his statistics won't suffer, but he needs to take more chances and run early in counts instead of waiting a pitcher out for two at-bats. I love Brett Gardner, but I believe he can be a bona fide star in the league if he took more chances and hit more consistently. He is a gold glove caliber outfielder who should be playing center field. I still tend to believe that Granderson will play left field at some point in the year, because Gardner is just too good defensively to play a corner outfield position.

Ichiro is entering his first full season in pinstripes. I have not seen enough of Ichiro on the Yankees to make an accurate assessment, but from what I have seen of Ichiro tells me that he will be a great addition as the Yankees every day right fielder. For much of his time with the Yankees in the second half of last season, he was forced to start mostly in left field because Swisher was the every day right fielder. Out of his comfort zone in left field, Ichiro still made sparkling plays that Swisher could only dream of making in right. Ichiro showed that he still has something left in the tank, and he put on a hitting clinic in late August heading into September and the postseason. Ichiro likes playing for the Yankees because the locker room is filled with professionals. While playing in Seattle, most of Ichiro's teammates were young and inexperienced. After setting foot in the Yankees clubhouse, Ichiro was in his comfort zone. With players like Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, Ichiro felt like he fit the team perfectly. I agree with his sentiments and I expect him to have a solid year for the Yankees this year. With the short porch and playing with the Yankees for a full season, Ichiro could provide more power to the Yankees lineup.

As you can tell, I like the speed element in the Yankees outfield this year. Gardner and Ichiro are great compliments to one another, and they can provide the team with a spark when the offense is struggling.

My predictions for Gardner: .280 BA, 12 HR, 58 RBI, 56 SB
My predictions for Ichiro: .298 BA, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 25 SB

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Captain: Derek Jeter

When the words "the captain"are muttered anywhere in New York, you automatically know that Derek Jeter is the man who is being talked about. Jeter has proven all of his critics wrong after having what some may call a career-type year in 2012 as a 38 year old. Jeter was regarded as one of the two best hitters in the Yankees lineup last year, and to him age is nothing but a number.
In 2012, Derek Jeter hit an astonishing .316, smacked 15 home runs and was a singles machine. He led the Major Leagues in total hits, which is something I didn't think I would see Derek achieve again in his remarkable career. Last season, he set out to prove all the nay-sayers wrong who thought that Jeter was on the decline. After a horrid 2010 (by Jeter's standards) and a sub-par early 2011, people were calling for Jeter's retirement. However after he hit that ball out of the park for his 3,000th career hit, all bets were off. He would have a resurgence that lasted through the end of the 2012 season, before he ultimately ended up getting hurt in the postseason against the Tigers in an extra inning game. What many people don't know is that Jeter played most of September and all of October with a bum ankle. Jeter would never tell you that, and quite frankly you wouldn't think twice about questioning him after he continued to get hit after hit on his bad ankle.

I respect Derek Jeter not only as a baseball player, but also as a man with pride and integrity, a perfect embodiment of what the Yankees have represented themselves as since the beginning of the franchise. Jeter always puts the team ahead of himself, doesn't bask in his own glory and most importantly, Jeter never gives himself credit. He is a humble man who goes about his business and plays the game the way it was meant to be played. That is why Derek Jeter is the most revered athlete in professional sports.

Entering his age 39 season, I am not shocked with anything Jeter does on the field anymore. He has proven everyone wrong time and time again. With a healthy ankle, I expect great things out of Jeter. There is no reason to believe that he will slow down even after suffering a major ankle injury which required surgery in the off-season.

My predictions for Jeter in 2013: .308 BA, 12 HR, 60 RBI, 190 hits.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

State of the Yankees: Third Base

With Alex Rodriguez's return in 2013 seeming to be more and more unlikely by the day, this post will focus on the Yankees third baseman of 2013: Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis was acquired by the Yankees via free agency on a one year contract to fill the void left by A-Rod's unexpected hip surgery. Youkilis will be getting paid $13 million by the Yankees for one year. The third baseman took the contract with the Yankees over the Indians offer because despite getting more years from Cleveland, Youk can build his value over one year with the Yankees and demand a larger deal in free agency after the 2013 season. Youkilis was not playing at full strength last season with the Red Sox and White Sox. His numbers have been declining over the last several years and he suddenly finds himself to be a shell of his former self.

Youkilis sat down with Jack Curry of the YES Network and informed Curry that he has been working hard to be his former self that garnered so much respect while in Boston. Youkilis is 33 years old and his defense is suspect, but one thing that you can take to the bank is his ability to perform with the lights shining brightly. He proved in unforgiving Boston that he was a clutch player, before a falling out with the manager, Bobby Valentine, which signaled his ultimate departure from Boston.

I expect a re-energized Kevin Youkilis this season who will help the Yankees offense. He is an on-base machine. He draws plenty of walks and has the ability to hit the ball out of the park. His improved hitting mechanics should bring him back to something of his former self after watching video of his 2008 season where he mashed 29 homers and drove in 115. Youkilis can be a valuable asset to the Yankees this year, and I sure can't wait to see what happens the first time the Yankees visit the Red Sox is Beantown.

My 2013 predictions for Kevin Youkilis: .260 BA, 18 HR, 72 RBI

Friday, February 1, 2013

More Alex Rodriguez PED Drama

A story uncovered by the Miami New Times earlier this week broke a story of an anti-aging clinic supplying Alex Rodriguez, as well as a few other Major League players with performance enhancing drugs as recently as the 2012 season. The Rodriguez story comes as a bit of a surprise to most, simply because he did not perform well in 2012 at all. His power numbers were down all season and he did not hit for a high average. It's a scary thought to wonder how Rodriguez would have performed in 2012 without HGH injections. The owner of the clinic, Anthony Bosch has detailed records of payment amounts and other documents that would be difficult for these players to deny. Of course, in typical A-Rod fashion he and his lawyers have already denied these allegations despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against him in the case. As recently as this morning, a report surfaced that discussed Anthony Bosch injecting Alex with HGH at his Miami home last spring. The report states that Rodriguez was getting angry at Bosch because Bosch was having trouble locating a vein in order to inject A-Rod. Subsequently, Rodriguez kicked Bosch out of his house and later complained that he was "bleeding everywhere".

Other prominent MLB players involved in the scandal are LHP Gio Gonzalez, OF Nelson Cruz, OF Melky Cabrera and RHP Bartolo Colon. The latter portion of players on the aforementioned list were already suspended by Major League Baseball in the 2012 season after testing positive. Rodriguez has never been suspended, because he was caught before the new CBA that set into place all of the violation rules that MLB abides by today.

It would be nice if the Yankees could void A-Rod's contract, but chances of that happening are slim to none. Rodriguez is owed over $114 million from the Yankees over the next five seasons. The Player's Association will fight tooth and nail for the terms of the contract to be honored. The only way that the Yankees can rid themselves of that salary is if Rodriguez announces retirement because of injuries. At that point, the insurance company would step in and would have to work something out. Alex Rodriguez has already stated that he will not be retiring and is looking forward to getting back on the field as soon as he can. The Yankees will probably not play him at all this year, even if he returns from the disabled list before the season ends. They want to save money, and $25 million would be a nice chunk of change to put in their back pockets for future acquisitions. As I stated early in the off-season, I still believe that Alex Rodriguez may have had his final at-bat playing for the New York Yankees.