By Trevor Utley
I took a lot of crap last year for putting the Yankees at #7 in 30 Teams In Under 30 Days. I am fairly certain I am going to get just as many complaints this season about the Bronx Bombers' tumble to #16 in the 2015 edition. Living in New England, I am aware that this comes with the territory. Red Sox fans will always bellyache when praise is given to the Pinstripers while just as many "I told you so!" taunts will rain down if you are wrong. On the other side of the coin, Yankees fans never think their team is given enough credit. They are even quicker to let you know when you've made an error in judgment. I was right in my assessment last year that the Yankees were the second best team in the AL East. I was just wrong in the notion that they were going to make the playoffs. Let me give you my reasoning as to why I view the Evil Empire as the fourth best team in that same division in 2015. You can deride me either way at the end of the year.
The retirement in successive seasons of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter marked the end of an era in Yankee baseball. The days of splashing lucrative deals at any All-Star with a pulse seem to have passed--for now. In the infield, the Yankees are doing the best they can to get younger on a budget. They will still trot out Mark Teixeira at first base, Brian McCann at catcher, and the much maligned Alex Rodriguez at designated hitter. The 31 year old McCann had an OBP under .300 for the first time in his career in his Bronx debut. He did lead the team in home runs (23) and RBI (75) though. McCann can no longer be a full season catcher, but it will be tough to get at-bats at first or DH. Garrett Jones will most likely spell Teixeira on his day off and if healthy I can't see Rodriguez ceding his at-bats to anybody. However, Rodriguez is no lock to stay fit and Teixeira hasn't been sufficiently ambulatory for three years. Tex still hit for power (22 home runs) and walked frequently when in the lineup, but even asking him to hit .250 at this stage of his career seems unreasonable. A-Rod is trying to rebound from a year long suspension. Stephen Drew will reprise his role of underperforming, out of position second baseman. Coming over at the trade deadline from Boston, Drew butchered the transition to second at both the plate (.150 BA) and in the field (5 errors in 46 games). He will be on a very short leash this year being on a one year contract. One slump should spell curtains. Didi Gregorious has the unenviable task of replacing Yankee God Derek Jeter at shortstop. Most Yankee faithful feel that the 25 year old Dutchman is just a stopgap until the eventual arrival of Troy Tulowitzki or Starlin Castro. While those remain fantasies, the reality is that they shouldn't have high expectations for their current shortstop. Gregorious is a non-factor with the bat and is no more than adequate in the field. The player on the left side of the infield that should come with lofty expectations is Chase Headley. The former Padre has been out of his prime form for several years now but showed signs of life (33 point boost in his batting average) after his trade. A full season of Yankee Stadium's short right field porch will be heaven after eight years in the Grand Canyon known as Petco Park. GM Brian Cashman is hoping as much when he brought Headley back on a 4 year, $52 million deal this offseason.
The outfield is rich in postseason experience and speed. The lone plodder of the bunch is Carlos Beltran. HIs speed has all but evaporated and he endured a subpar season at the dish. He slashed a career low .233/.301/.402 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his first season in the Bronx. He has two years left on his deal and may be forced to play the majority of his time in the outfield with a crowded infield/designated hitter situation. Garrett Jones could provide relief for manager Joe Girardi if Beltran continues to decline. In center field, $153 million man Jacoby Ellsbury heads into the second of a seven year contract with the club. His speed is still viable (39 SB) and he regained his power stroke (16 HR) that seemed to be gone forever his final two years in Boston. Left field is Brett Gardner's yard. He seems to be focusing more on putting balls out of the yard. His seventeen 2014 home runs nearly doubled his career home run total. His stolen bases have suffered but if this new found ability to hit the balls out of the park is real, it'll be worth it. Chris Young returns as the utility outfielder. He did well in a cup of coffee with New York last year after stinking out the joint with the crosstown Mets.
The starting pitching staff looks good on paper but is tied together with dental floss. Masahiro Tanaka was a revelation in the early portions of 2014, winning 13 games with a 2.77 ERA and making the All-Star team. A partially torn elbow ligament derailed his promising rookie campaign. Doctors have declared him fully fit but the fear still lingers. That fear is even greater with the second and third starters, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. Pineda, fresh off two lost seasons, was limited to just 13 starts in 2014. Sabathia was only able to manage 8. The difference was when healthy, pine tar aside, Pineda dominated opposing hitters to the tune of a 1.89 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. Sabathia's short season produced the worst ERA (5.28), WHIP (1.48), and winning percentage (.429) of his career. The back of the rotation is shakily in the hands of Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren. Eovaldi has really good stuff, but his pitch to contact style is not conducive to success at Yankee Stadium. Warren was a valuable asset as a relief pitcher for New York in 2014, pitching to a 2.97 ERA in 69 appearances. He is Joe Girardi's fifth starter this year but hasn't started regularly since Triple-A. The Yankees are going to need a lot of luck to get this five through 2015 in one piece.
The bullpen takes a big hit with the departure of Mariano Rivera's replacement David Robertson. I for one think that his replacement, Dellin Betances, is more Rivera than Robertson. Betances made the All-Star team as a set-up man last year, striking out a ridiculous 135 batters in just 90 innings. He works low in the strike zone and throws serious heat, two things needed to be successful in Yankee Stadium. Two new additions, Andrew Miller and David Carpenter, will be the bridge to Betances. Miller had the chance to take closer gigs on lesser teams but chose the challenge that New York offers. He is a strikeout machine from the left side (15 K/9 in 2014) and makes the lives of both lefties and righties miserable. David Carpenter comes with less of a pedigree than Miller but with just as good of stuff. He pounded the zone in Atlanta and though he gives up his share of hits, he doesn't add to his baserunner tally with walks. Keep an eye as well on the Chase(n) brothers, Chase Whitley and Chasen Shreve. Top prospect Luis Severino could make an impact out of the pen at some point as well in 2015.
If everything goes right for the Yankees, they could challenge for the AL East title. If not, they could be towards the bottom of the American League as a whole. My prediction for the 2015 Yankees cuts down the middle of these two extremes. The Yankees aren't used to losing and mediocrity might as well be 0-162 to Yankees' brass and fans. So I guess in their eyes I am predicting them to go 0-162.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #7 (DOWN 9)
PREDICTED RECORD: 82-80
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Jacoby Ellsbury (outfielder), Dellin Betances (relief pitcher), Andrew Miller (relief pitcher)
Trevor Utley lives in Juneau, Alaska. Send all hate mail there.
Image Credit: Yankees logo (sportslogos.net)
Featuring Trevor Utley, Lou Kessler, and Al deCiutiis
By Trevor Utley
The MLB Trade Deadline came and went at 4 PM yesterday and while waiver based deals can still be worked out in August, the last major deals for first place teams and the clubs chasing them have come and gone. Only time will tell if these deals bear fruit for the teams that made them, but in the interim let us review the deals of today and yesterday and hash out the winners and losers of baseball's most hectic afternoon.
Firstly, let us set aside the deals that don't really need to be graded out. These are the transactions that don't have much bearing on pennant races or involve lower caliber pieces. These trades include:
This could be a reclamation project for a player Cubs' GM Theo Epstein knows very well. Look what the North Siders did with Jake Arrieta so far this season.
Denorfia becomes part of a Mariners' outfield desperate for a spark. San Diego doesn't get much back in the two prospects, even though Almonte was the Opening Day centerfielder for the M's, but the Padres can be happy to part ways with Denorfia's over $2 million salary for what amounted to a platoon guy against lefties only.
The Braves got better with Bonifacio who, while quite fragile, can play all over the field outside of being part of the battery and Russell who absolutely dominates left handed hitters. Caratini was a second round pick a year ago who is still transitioning from the infield to catching but has a bat that could pay dividends.
The A's outfield is beat up right now and will make use of a player like Fuld whom they actually waived earlier this season. He will get some decent run right now with Cespedes gone and Coco Crisp ailing but when the main cogs come back he'll be a fourth or fifth outfielder. Milone regressed from last year but should still be a part of the Twins' rotation going forward.
Miller is a free agent this offseason and Boston didn't want to let him walk for free. The left hander was traded in the division but netted the defending World Series champions a prized piece of the Orioles' farm system. 21 year old southpaw Rodriguez hasn't been exactly setting the world on fire at Double-A Bowie but was ranked as Baltimore's #3 prospect in 2013.
If you listened to our podcast we addressed Milwaukee's glaring hole, their bullpen, and even had Haniger involved in a deal for an arm. Milwaukee brass seemed to have a different plan in acquiring Gerardo Parra and inserting him into a crowded outfield. Haniger and Banda aren't world beaters. This was a weird trade for both sides as neither team really got better.
There is a big batch of young talent being swapped in this one. The Marlins got the major league ready talent from Houston while Houston will have to wait a while on their haul. Cosart should slot in behind Jose Fernandez in Miami's rotation for the future while Hernandez is playing beyond expectations currently. A whole lot of maybes going to the Lone Star State.
With those minor deals out of the way let us delve into the ones that will have varying impacts on who makes the postseason in both leagues. From two aces being dealt to some head scratchers from the Bronx Bombers, this was easily one of the more active and interesting trade deadlines in recent memory.
ATHLETICS GET JON LESTER, JONNY GOMES, & CASH
RED SOX GET YOENIS CESPEDES & A COMPETITIVE BALANCE DRAFT PICK
The A's, which seemed to be many a reporter's mystery team in the Jon Lester sweepstakes, swooped in seemingly at the last minute for the highly coveted lefty. The move improves Oakland's greatest strength and widens the gap between them and the Angels in the AL West. Jonny Gomes takes his talents to the Bay Area as well and should get a good amount of bats against left handers, he is currently second in the league in average against southpaws, in a banged up A's outfield.
The Red Sox, the busiest team on Deadline Day, gets back a player in Cespedes that has a swing tailored for Fenway Park and an arm that could throw a laser to the plate even from the fabled triangle in Boston's centerfield. Boston may be in a similar situation to the Lester one next year with Cespedes though. A free agent at the end of 2015, the Cuban could ask away if the Red Sox don't improve.
The argument for this trade on Boston's end is that they get a big bat in the two time former HR Derby Champion and a chance to chase Lester this offseason since it is almost a foregone conclusion that the small market A's will not pay the sticker price on Lester. If they end up whiffing on him and then Cespedes walks away next fall, this deal will be frowned upon by Red Sox Nation. If they rebound (not even necessarily resigning Lester in the process) and convince Cespedes to stay, the Red Sox made the best out of a bad situation. For Oakland, they show they are all in this year and it is World Series or bust. Lester paired with recent acquisitions Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel as well as Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, and Sonny Gray make a team nobody wants to face come October. They may just not all be in Oakland green and yellow in 2015. But trust me that Oakland will just find new shiny toys to play with.
OAKLAND GRADE: A+
BOSTON GRADE: B
TIGERS GET DAVID PRICE
RAYS GET DREW SMYLY, WILLY ADAMES, & NICK FRANKLIN
MARINERS GET AUSTIN JACKSON
After all the trades that Tampa were rumored to have turned down for their ace, it seems they panicked in trading him to the Tigers. Detroit gets a left hander to put between Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in their rotation and frankly didn't give up that much to do so. They kept young infielder Nick Castellanos in town and the only pitcher they lost in the deal was Drew Smyly who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen with no real consistency. It keeps Detroit on pace with Oakland for the top seed in the American League Playoffs and keeps their rotation strong if Scherzer departs in free agency.
Seattle acted as a third wheel in this deal and came out smelling like roses. Jackson is still only 27 and improves a Seattle outfield devoid of offensive and defensive talent. They gave up Nick Franklin who though he was seen by some as one of the Mariners of tomorrow, only hit .128 for the M's thus far in 2014.
Tampa Bay was not in the situation with Price that Boston was in with Lester. They had another year to go with their all-world left hander and instead of holding onto him for a run at the second AL Wild Card dealt him and got the proverbial pu-pu platter return. Smyly will be in the rotation for the remainder of 2014 but his role will probably end up being the same back and forth one it was in Motown. Adames is one of the more highly touted prospects in Detroit's weak hitting minor league system but he is only 18 and is light years away. It will be interesting to see if the struggling Franklin gets a chance to play everyday at the Trop.
The Rays have shown they didn't even want to pay the potential arbitration figure for Price in 2015. A team that has flying high lately has just been shot out of the sky. The team with the most to give got the least in return. I am still trying to wrap my head around this deal on Tampa's end. Detroit solidifies themselves as an American League power and Seattle gets a competent outfielder for seemingly nothing. If I write any more about this trade my brain is going to explode.
DETROIT GRADE: A-
SEATTLE GRADE: A+
TAMPA BAY GRADE: F
CARDINALS GET JOHN LACKEY & COREY LITTRELL
RED SOX GET ALLEN CRAIG & JOE KELLY
Boston is making no bones about blowing up their team. It seemed everbody outside of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were on the block. After Jon Lester, John Lackey was the second domino to fall. The right hander had rebuilt his image in Boston after injuries and the "Chicken and Beer" nonsense faded, making him one of their most coveted assets. His $500,000 salary for next year doesn't hurt either.
St. Louis has been chasing Milwaukee for the Central Division crown for the majority of 2014 and the acquisition of Lackey (along with Justin Masterson that we'll get to next) restocks the pitching shelves that were getting pretty bare for the Cards. Lackey will probably sit in the third starter role behind Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn, a daunting opponent for the third game of any potential postseason series. Corey Littrell is basically a throw in for this deal and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the last time I ever write his name again.
Boston doesn't necessarily get taken to the cleaners on this deal though. Allen Craig is only a couple seasons removed from being one of the most feared late game hitters in all of baseball. He was more than clutch in St. Louis' World Series triumph in 2011. If he can return from his injuries, which Boston will surely allow him too, they may have gotten themselves another late inning hero to pair with Big Papi. In Joe Kelly they get a pitcher who can start or relieve, and though he won't wow you with his numbers eats innings and gets outs.
While Tampa seemed to force their own hand with the Price trade, Boston so far has made teams work hard for their arms instead of the inverse. This trade helps both teams now and in 2015 and both GMs should give themselves a good old Barry Horowitz pat on the back for making it.
ST. LOUIS GRADE: B
BOSTON GRADE: A-
CARDINALS GET JUSTIN MASTERSON
INDIANS GET JAMES RAMSEY
This trade was consummated yesterday but it is still significant in St. Louis' charge to the Central Division title. They know all to well that you can never have too much starting pitching heading into the postseason, especially in the National League. In acquiring Masterson, they've added depth to a battle tested rotation whilst not giving up a high level prospect in doing so.
The Cardinals will go as far as their starting pitching will take them. Each of their runs to the World Series in the past decade have been on the backbone of their staff. The former Cleveland right hander may not be in the rotation come the postseason but has experience coming out of the pen from early years in Boston which is valuable to St. Louis.
James Ramsey, a 24 year old outfielder who has spent his season at AA for Springfield, is a prospect who may be in Cleveland by the end of this season or Opening Day 2015. He has hit .300 for St. Louis' second tier team and has shown decent pop the past two seasons. It isn't a haul for the Tribe but it isn't a complete swing and miss.
After a run to the Wild Card game last year, Cleveland went backwards. They did right by their Opening Day starter and got a player in Ramsey that will be able to contribute sooner rather than a normal prospect in one of these types of trades would. St. Louis has a completely right handed rotation but one that is very flexible and experienced in postseason play.
ST. LOUIS GRADE: A-
CLEVELAND GRADE: B
NATIONALS GET ASDRUBAL CABRERA
INDIANS GET ZACH WALTERS
I thought the Nationals would address the hole in their lineup left by Ryan Zimmerman's absence but thought it would be a third baseman instead of another shortstop. They did just that though as they shipped out promising middle infielder Zach Walters for Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera. He will get a trial by fire at second base for the first place Nationals with Ian Desmond entrenched at short.
Washington is loaded with pitching so if they were going to make a move it was definitely going to be for a bat. Adrian Beltre and Martin Prado (who eventually landed in New York) were discussed but they eventually settled for the former All-Star Cabrera. Cabrera will be asked to man second base for Washington, a position he hasn't played since 2009. The former Indian will most likely leave in free agency but he'll provide some steadiness in the infield until Zimmerman returns from his latest ailment.
The Indians are just waiting for Francisco Lindor to be ready. The uber talented shortstop down on the farm for Cleveland isn't there yet and Walters could plug the gap between Cabrera's exit and Lindor's arrival. He played in 32 games for Washington this year but only garnered 39 at-bats in those appearances. He will probably never hit for average but has 20+ home run potential at either shortstop or second base which is enticing.
When two teams help each other on a deal you can't knock it. Cabrera gets to chase the postseason for a second straight year while Walters is a stopgap to Lindor or a much cheaper option if Jason Kipnis slips further after signing his new contract.
WASHINGTON GRADE: B+
CLEVELAND GRADE: B-
NEW YORK GETS STEPHEN DREW & MARTIN PRADO
ARIZONA GETS PETER O'BRIEN
BOSTON GETS KELLY JOHNSON
This one was actually two separate trades but I combined them for the sake of time. Drew and Johnson swapped colors in the first non-waiver deal between the Red Sox and Yankees since Mike Stanley was dealt for Tony Armas Jr. Martin Prado comes over from Arizona for Peter O'Brien, a power hitting catcher who had spent his entire 2014 at AA.
From just a personnel standpoint, neither of these two trades make much sense for the Yankees. Drew is going to play out of position at second base for the Bombers after Brian Roberts was designated for assignment. Prado has more positional flexibility but seems to be of no more use to the Yankees than a $11 million a year utility guy. Don't get me wrong, they gave up nothing of immediate value to acquire these two but they were two deals that just seem to have been made for making a deal's sake.
In Boston, Xander Bogaerts now shuffles back to shortstop a move that may exacerbate his fielding woes. The young Aruban started off 2014 at short but then moved to third with Will Middlebrooks' injury and the resigning of Drew. Bogaerts going back to shortstop leaves third base for Brock Holt, which is his natural position. Johnson can play both in the infield and outfield and will surely get plenty of AB's spelling various Sox hitters down the stretch. Arizona gets out from under a big contract in Prado for a guy in O'Brien who could potentially replace Miguel Montero if Arizona chooses to rid themselves of his big deal.
Overall, the Yankees got two expensive players with no real place to put them. Though like I said before they didn't lose out on a top prospect or high level Major Leaguer to do so, but if they were going to address anything at the deadline it should have been pitching.
NEW YORK GRADE: C-
ARIZONA GRADE: C
BOSTON GRADE: B-
Trevor Utley is sad the Dodgers whiffed in their pursuit of both available aces but LA kinda has some good arms already so he thinks he'll live.
Image Credits: Let's Make A Deal (2guystalkingmetsbaseball.com); Lester, Gomes, Cespedes, Price, Lackey, Craig, Kelly, Masterson, Cabrera (espn.com); Adames, Ramsey, Walters, O'Brien (milb.com); Smyly, Franklin, Jackson, Drew, Prado, Johnson (mlb.com)
By Trevor Utley
The New York Yankees do not like missing the postseason. I get that every team doesn't like losing but for the Yankees it is different. When most teams don't make the playoffs they are disappointed; when the Yankees miss baseball's second season it seems as if it is a revocation of a birth right. The last time they missed the playoffs the subsequent response was an offseason influx that cost the Bronx Bombers $439.4 million give or take. So when you saw the Yankees fall short of the postseason in 2013, you knew a spending deluge was imminent. They did just that splashing out over $535.5 million in free agent contracts and extensions. The first shoe to drop was a 5 year, $85 million deal for catcher Brian McCann. The former Brave will stabilize a position that saw the likes of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart man it for periods of time. His lefty power will most likely mean an uptick in homers with Yankee Stadium's short porch in right. The next big expenditure was a 7 year, $153 million pact for Jacoby Ellsbury from the arch rival Red Sox. The speedy centerfielder will fill the hole in center more than admirably left by Curtis Granderson's departure to the cross town Mets. Ellsbury joins an outfield with Alfonso Soriano (or Ichiro) and Brett Gardner forming a triumvirate that can cover quite a bit of ground in the house that Ruth built. Next up was Carlos Beltran, coming off a trip to the World Series with the Cardinals. Beltran cost only a measly $45 million over three years and should factor into the outfield picture as well as serving as an exemplary designated hitter. The biggest expenditure of them all was of Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka who garnered a 7 year, $155 million deal from the Pinstripers. The former Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle, Tanaka comes to the States fresh off a season for the ages in Japan's Pacific League going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, his second season in three years with that earned run average. All these shiny new toys are all well and good but what will become of all the old ones already in the toy chest? Can Derek Jeter give himself a proper sendoff, 2014 will be his last season, after a 2013 mired by injury? Can switch hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira redeem himself after having similar injury woes? Who will emerge as (NAME REDACTED)'s replacement at third? Which Hiroki Kuroda is the real one: the first half Kuroda or second half Kuroda? Is C.C. Sabathia done? I think the answers to all these questions will be positive ones. Like Mariano Rivera, Jeter is too much of a professional to not ride off into the sunset on a high note. Mark Teixeira will be handled with kid gloves to avoid him behind rushed back just to get hurt again. Kelly Johnson will probably get first crack at third but I'd expect Brian Cashman to splurge on reinforcements if the former Ray and Blue Jay struggles. Hiroki Kuroda and C.C. Sabathia will be better. We will get the much anticipated Yankee debut of Michael Pineda in 2014, who came over in exchange for Jesus Montero two years ago. The bullpen is filled with question marks but I feel that David Robertson taking over the reigns from the legendary Rivera is not one of them. Wrapping this all up, I think that the Yankees make it back to the postseason. I am just not ready to go out on the limb yet that they'll repeat the results of what happened the year after their last absence.
PREDICTED RECORD: 92-70
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Derek Jeter, shortstop (lifetime achievement vote-in); Masahiro Tanaka (starting pitcher); Brian McCann (catcher)
Image Credit: Yankees logo (sportslogos.net)