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With Scherzer off the market, do the Yankees need more pitching? — January 20, 2015

With Scherzer off the market, do the Yankees need more pitching?

By Chad Jennings

Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova

Has anything changed for the Yankees in the wake of Max Scherzer’s new deal with the Nationals?

Since the fall, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner created the public perception of fiscal restraint. With a bunch of big contracts (and big mistakes) already filling the payroll, the Yankees never positioned themselves as a favorite for Scherzer. Any thought to the contrary was based on past examples of the Yankees spending unexpected money for Scherzer-type players, but there was never any evidence that they were going to get involved this time.

In that way, nothing has changed. The Yankees weren’t supposed to get Scherzer, and they didn’t.

But with Scherzer off the market, the winter’s most popular “what if” scenario is off the board, leaving the Yankees with a rotation that is what it is.

Michael PinedaTop five starters
Masahiro Tanaka
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Nathan Eovaldi
Chris Capuano
These five have been in place since late December when the Yankees completed the trade for Eovaldi. Three of these players are in their mid-20s, and one exception is on a one-year, stop-gap contract. Even so, there’s such injury concern at the top that this rotation seems unreliable at best.

Major League depth
Adam Warren
Esmil Rogers
Ivan Nova
According to plan, Warren and Rogers should be relievers this season, but each has been a starter in the past — Rogers worked as a starter this winter — and so they could provide immediate rotation depth in spring training. Nova is expected back from Tommy John surgery around June or so.

Minor league depth
Chase Whitley
Bryan Mitchell
Jose De Paula
Luis Severino
Whitley made 12 big league starts last season, but unless he wins a spot as a long man in the big league bullpen, he seems likely to land in the Triple-A rotation with Mitchell and De Paula (each of whom is currently on the 40-man). Severino is not on the 40-man and has just 25 innings above A ball, but he’s talented enough to potentially pitch his way into the mix. Can’t completely rule out guys like Matt Tracy and Zach Nuding, who could round out the Triple-A rotation, or a guy like Jaron Long, who’s likely heading for Double-A but made a huge impression last season.

CC SabathiaQuestion is: Is this enough? The top five looks perfectly good, but that’s only if its healthy. There are plenty of alternatives in the mix, but each one seems to come with significant uncertainty (about upside, about health, about ability to consistently start at the big league level). So if the Yankees want to upgrade their rotation — either adding talent up top or adding depth at the bottom — what are their options?

1. Spend big – There’s still one high-end starter on the market, and he has a history of success in the American League East. But if the Yankees weren’t interested in Scherzer, what are the chances they’ll become interested in James Shields? He’s already 33, so his next contract is likely to carry him into his late 30s, which seems awfully risky at this point.

2. Take a chance – Beyond Shields, the free agent market really doesn’t have a reliable starter still available. Instead, the Yankees could roll the dice on a small contract — perhaps even a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation — with a veteran starting pitcher who comes with serious warts. Johan Santana recently got some attention, but guys like Chad Billingsley, Roberto Hernandez and Chris Young are also still out there.

3. Sacrifice the farm – The Yankees clearly prefer to keep their top prospects at this point, but they don’t have to. Cole Hamels is clearly available and signed to a contract that seems perfectly reasonable compared to Scherzer, but it would likely take a massive package to get him. The Nationals are reportedlynot pushing to trade Jordan Zimmermann, but he might be available. Is it worth giving up some of the future to add a pitcher for the present?

4. Wait and see – Nothing says the Yankees have to make a change right now. Last season, they managed to rebuild a rotation on the fly, and they could try to do the same this year if necessary. They could go into spring training with this group and adjust only if/when one of those top five starters goes down. If that doesn’t happen until May, they might have Nova ready to step in. If it happens in August, Severino might be ready.

Max Scherzer agrees to Nats deal, making great rotation even better — January 19, 2015

Max Scherzer agrees to Nats deal, making great rotation even better

By JON HEYMAN

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Max Scherzer was an All-Star the past two years and won the 2013 Cy Young Award.

Top right-handed starter Max Scherzer and the Nationals are in agreement on a seven-year deal, CBSSports.com has learned.

Details of the deal beyond the seven years are not known.

Scherzer was reported by the Washington Post to have been “very close” to a deal with the Nats earlier Sunday night after CBSSports.com first suggested a seven-year deal with either the Nats or another unnamed finalist was getting close to happening.

The Nats appeared to come almost out of nowhere in this derby, when very little leaked out for weeks regarding the top free agent on the market. However, one thing that was well known was how many deals Nationals owner Ted Lerner and GM Mike Rizzo had done previously with Scherzer’s agent Scott Boras.

Perhaps even more important in this case, Rizzo had a longstanding affinity for Scherzer’s ability, going back to selecting him No. 11 overall in the 2006 draft for the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the University of Missouri. Rizzo was scouting director of the Diamondbacks at the time.

There has been curiosity but nothing much concrete in formation regarding the pursuit of the top free agent this winter, even after Lester went to the Cubs. The Tigers, his old team, plus the Red Sox, Yankees, Giants, Red Sox, Cardinals, Blue Jays are among teams that had at least some small public link. But it isn’t known which other teams were finalists for Scherzer, who went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA this past season, setting up his free agency.

Scherzer became a star in Detroit, and the Tigers offered a $144 million, six-year deal in spring, which technically would have guaranteed him close to $160 million since he and the Tigers already had agreed on a $15.525 million salary for 2014, his final arbitration year.

The Nats on paper would appear to have baseball’s strongest rotation, at least at the moment, with Scherzer, plus holdover aces Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburgfronting a rotation of all front-line starters. Doug Fister and even Gio Gonzalez at his best are good enough to lead other rotations, and Tanner Roark had a big season, as well.

The Nats have talked to several teams about possibly trading Zimmermann, and it would seem with Scherzer about to be in the books, that looms as a continuing possibility. The Nats have been unsuccessful in signing Zimmermann to a long-term deal, though theWashington Post also reported the Nats don’t necessarily feel obligated to trade high-salaried players to make room for Scherzer, the 2013 American League Cy Young winner. They are still believed well below the luxury tax threshold.

Nats owner Ted Lerner, who is 89, likely saw this as an opportunity to stamp his team the World Series favorite, and they will be seen that way by many, though they were viewed in that manner by some already. Zimmermann plus star shortstop Ian Desmond, Fister and center fielder Denard Span are all free agents after the 2015 season, making this one a key one for Washington.

The city of Washington hasn’t won a World Series since 1924, not long before Lerner was born, and he obviously has made that his goal. The Nats are in a changing division, with both the Mets and Marlins rising and the Braves and Phillies retooling.

Mets’ new hitting coach Kevin Long doesn’t want hitters’ success to be about him —

Mets’ new hitting coach Kevin Long doesn’t want hitters’ success to be about him

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Kevin Long is wearing a Mets hat now

By Mike Vorkunov

It’s been an offseason of change for Kevin Long. He left a job he had for eight years when theYankees fired him in October and then agreed to join the Mets as their hitting coach.

Now, he is with an organization looking to fix its ailing offense and Long has been touted as the man to do it. But for him, however, it is not all about the wonders a hitting coach can do (if any).

“This isn’t about me,” Long told the New York Daily News. “This is about the players. I see a lot of talent here and I’m excited about working with all of the guys.

“But I don’t want it to be Kevin Long found this, this and this, and now Curtis Granderson is going to hit. He’s obviously a player who played at a very high level when he was with me and the Yankees. We’ve done some terrific things with his swing in the past and it elevated his performance. So we’ll just try to get back to that.”

The work Long will be doing will come in the shadow of a bountiful tenure with the Yankees. When it ended, not so abruptly, Long admits it stung.

“At first I masked it,” he told the Daily News. “I said, ‘it’s part of the game, it happens.’ But you know what, yeah, it hurt. I’ve never been fired before. I’ve never been cut from a team. I’ve always been the first one picked.

“I never played in the big leagues but I was never released as a player. Never released as a coach. So yeah, (bleep), it sucks. I finally let that come out a little bit and everything kind of settled in. I don’t have hard feelings now.”

The pain, while gone, would dissipate completely, he says, if the Mets can win.

“It wouldn’t hurt me a bit if we went to the playoffs and won the World Series, OK, let’s just say that,” Long said. “I don’t know if I’d be the happiest guy in New York — the Wilpons probably would have something to say about that. But I would be right up there.”

Best of what’s left: Offense running dry on free agent market — January 17, 2015

Best of what’s left: Offense running dry on free agent market

By Chad Jennings

As you’re probably well aware, I like doing this a few times each offseason: take a look at the best of what’s still available on the free agent market. Seems like a good way to look for readily available players who might be able to play a role for the Yankees in some capacity next season. For now, it seems the Yankees are finished spending significant money, but some of these players might have to settle for minor league deals at this point.

Here’s a 25-man roster made entirely of players who are still free agents:

Ichiro SuzukiLINEUP
RF Ichiro Suzuki
SS Everth Cabrera
CF Colby Rasmus
LF Ryan Ludwick
1B Lyle Overbay
DH Jonny Gomes
2B Rickie Weeks
3B Gordon Beckham
C Geovany Soto

BENCH
C John Buck
INF Kelly Johnson
OF Eric Young Jr.
UT Donnie Murphy

Yikes. The offense has run dry on the free agent market. If Cuban infielder Hector Olivera were cleared to sign at this point, he’d probably fit in as the cleanup hitter for this bunch. As it is, Rasmus might be the only everyday player still on the market. There’s also Cabrera, who I’d completely forgotten about when I started working on this post. I suppose he could still be an everyday shortstop for some team willing to put up with all that comes with him. As for that bench, you could pick different guys if you’d like. Maybe you like Ramon Santiago as a utility type, or you favor Gerald Laird behind the plate, or you think Nate Schierholtz might still be a viable platoon option. Whatever your preference, the basic point remains the same: any team looking to add reliable offense from the free agent market at this point is really out of luck.

Joba ChamberlainROTATION
Max Scherzer
James Shields
Ryan Vogelsong
Roberto Hernandez
Chris Young

BULLPEN
Rafael Soriano
Francisco Rodriguez
Casey Janssen
Joba Chamberlain
Jose Veras
Phil Coke
Alexi Ogando

Obviously the group of available starters thins considerably after Scherzer and Shields. Those two are the clear standouts among available free agents, after that, there are a few buy-low, back-of-the-rotation types still out there. I went with Vogelsong, Hernandez and Young, but you might prefer Chad Billingsley, Kyle Kendrick or Brandon Beachy. In the bullpen, former closers Soriano, Rodriguez and Janssen could — in theory — provide legitimate value for another year or two, and there are other experienced relievers who could certainly make a big league bullpen this spring. I mentioned three former Yankees in Chamberlain, Coke and Veras. Teams looking for bullpen help could still find some, but the Yankees’ bullpen seems to be in good shape. Might become interested in a guy like Soriano or Janssen, but only at the right price. At this point, it seems the Yankees are more likely to go with what they have.

Didi Gregorius has ‘huge future,’ new Yankees hitting coach Jeff Pentland says — January 15, 2015

Didi Gregorius has ‘huge future,’ new Yankees hitting coach Jeff Pentland says

didi gregorius

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius .

The Yankees started downplaying their expectations the moment they acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius.

Was the inexperienced 24-year-old going to replace Derek Jeter? Wait, general manager Brian Cashman said, first he’ll form a lefty-right platoon with Brendan Ryan, and we’ll go from there.

But on Thursday, Jeff Pentland, the new Yankees’ hitting coach, said he expects big things from Gregorius, whom he coached briefly with the Dodgers when Gregorius was in the organization’s farm system.

“He’s got a huge future,” Pentland told reporters on a conference call.

The Yankees hope he’s right.

They acquired Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three-team deal that forced them to send Shane Greene, a promising starting pitcher, to the Tigers this offseason.

Gregorius didn’t appear to have a spot in Arizona, where the club decided the 22-year-old Chris Owings was its shortstop of the future. But Gregorius will be given every opportunity to impress in spring training, and likely even given some slack, considering his age and lack of previous playing time.

Gregorius played in just 80 games last season, hitting .226 with six homers and 27 RBI. The Yankees, however, believe Gregorius’ bat still has unrealized potential, and that his lefty stroke could benefit from Yankee Stadium’s right-field short porch. Add that to the perception Gregorius is already one of the game’s better defensive shortstops and, according to Pentland, the team has a reason to dream.

“There’s a lot in there,” Pentland said of Gregorius. “We’ve got to get it out. But the problem with young players is, you’ve got to be patient. I think this guy has big upside.”

As insurance should Gregorius struggle, the Yankees signed Stephen Drew to a one-year, $5-million deal this offseason. Drew, however, is expected to be the club’s starting second baseman, though he’s also considered — alongside Gregorius and Ryan — to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the majors.

Yankees keeping door open to adding payroll? —

Yankees keeping door open to adding payroll?

hal-steinbrenner-ab96a3852be74f72

By Brendan Kuty

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner hasn’t shut the door on adding more payroll this winter, according to a report from Newsday’s Dave Lennon.

Steinbrenner is at the owners meetings in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

“Look, it’s not over ’til it’s over, OK?” Steinbrenner told Newsday. “We’ve still got a full month until spring training and we’re always going to continue to improve.”

Steinbrenner also praised general manager Brian Cashman’s many offseason moves, which includedtrading for starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, re-signing third baseman Chase Headley and signing top-shelf reliever Andrew Miller.

While it’s likely Stienbrenner was just playing coy and trying not to spill too much of the club’s plans to the media, it’s not crazy to think the Yankees could take on another contract or two this winter.

Starting pitchers Max Scherzer and James Shields are still free agents. And though they both would be blockbuster additions to the Yankees’ rotation, several officials have said they don’t believe they will add another big contract this winter.

A few other pitchers, such as Chad Billingsly and Johan Santana, remain as possible reclamation projects who could give the Yankees some innings.

Yankees add another towering flamethrower to bullpen — January 14, 2015

Yankees add another towering flamethrower to bullpen

By Dan Martin

Chris Martin

The Yankees acquired 6-foot-8 former Rockies reliever Chris Martin.

The remaking of the Yankees bullpen continued Tuesday when they acquired right-hander Chris Martin from the Rockies for cash considerations.

The 28-year-old Martin doesn’t have much major league experience, just 16 games with Colorado last season before being designated for assignment earlier this month.

His numbers hardly impress, either, with a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings. But the 6-foot-8 Martin did strike out 14 batters, and he’s also known as someone who can induce ground balls. He throws a fastball-slider-cutter mix, according to FanGraphs, and averages over 94 mph on his heater.

Martin is just the latest move by the Yankees to shake up their relief corps. Former closer David Robertson signed with the White Sox and Shawn Kelley was traded. They have added Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson and David Carpenter to the hulking setup man Dellin Betances.

Another bullpen acquisition, Gonzalez Germen, was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Martin.

The case for Brendan Ryan —

The case for Brendan Ryan

By Chad Jennings

Brendan Ryan

Let’s try this again, and maybe this time the Yankees won’t acquire a reliever just a couple of minutes after I post it…

We’re still waiting for the Stephen Drew signing to become official, and while we wait, I’ve seen and heard plenty of second guessing about Brendan Ryan’s role going forward. He’s a bad offensive player, he plays the same positions that Drew can play (assuming Drew can handle third base if necessary), and right now he seems to be standing in the way of either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela.

So why keep Ryan on the roster at this point?

Here are three reasons.

Yankees Cardinals Baseball3. Value. Ryan is making $2 million this year, and he has a $1 million player option for 2016. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s money the Yankees would have to pay if they were to release him. They could try to trade him – and maybe that’s worthwhile if there’s a market for him – but I can’t imagine Ryan would bring much in return, especially after a season in which he barely played. Ryan’s not breaking the bank while he’s on the roster, and he’s not going to bring much back if he’s taken off it. To me, a guy like Eury Perez is a stronger DFA candidate, especially now that Slade Heathcott is re-signed.

2. Balance. Even though he might fit the depth chart as the backup shortstop, Ryan’s really third-string at the position. Didi Gregorius is the starter, but surely Drew would step in as the everyday guy should Gregorius go down (or struggle significantly). That said, both Gregorius and Drew are left-handed hitters. As a righty, Ryan would actually have some natural opportunities to play against left-handed starters. He certainly doesn’t have much offensive value, but Ryans has a career .630 OPS against lefties (.637 in 2012, the last year he basically got everyday at-bats). Gregorius has a career .490 OPS against lefties (.424 last season), and Drew has a career .663 OPS against them (.371 last season and .585 the year before that). There’s not much offensive value to Ryan, but against left-handers, he could actually have a role.

1. Depth. This is really the standout reason to keep Ryan on the roster. Right now it seems that the Yankees infield is overcrowded up the middle, but it’s really not. Refsnyder’s never played shortstop, Pirela was moved off the position because he’s not good at it (last year the Yankees preferred Zelous Wheeler at shortstop in Triple-A), and next in line would be Nick Noonan (a minor league free agent who mostly played second base in the Giants system). Willingly take Ryan out of the mix, and suddenly shortstop is two-players deep, leaving the Yankees vulnerable to a spring training injury. It’s worth remembering that basically a month ago, Ryan was the only viable shortstop on the roster.

An important caveat to all of this is the fact that it’s subject to change.

Brendan Ryan If Noonan looks alright at shortstop during spring training, maybe the Yankees would feel a little better about their immediate depth (at least feel that they have an extra Dean Anna type who could be a backup shortstop if necessary).

• If Gregorius or Drew looks particularly good in spring training, maybe the Yankees would feel that the platoon idea — initially floated when Gregorius was acquired – isn’t necessary after all. Certainly they’d like Gregorius to be an everyday guy, and maybe he can be with Drew filling in occasionally just to give him a breather.

If Pirela or Refsnyder simply won’t stop hitting (either in spring training or in April), then the Yankees might have to make room on the roster, and that might mean cutting ties with Ryan. It would be hard to argue with such a move at that point simply because the Yankees have to build the best team possible, and Ryan would have served his insurance role through the offseason and through the spring.

For right now, though, Ryan gives the Yankees depth that they legitimately need. He should go into spring training as insurance behind Gregorius and Drew. If he does make the roster, he could play a role as a part-time player getting platoon at-bats. If/when Pirela or Refsnyder is ready – even if that’s as early as Opening Day – Ryan’s contract isn’t large enough to stand in the way of a young player’s progress. Ryan might not have a role when the season starts, but that’s no reason to take him out of the mix right now.

Yankees complete coaching staff with Pentland, Cockrell, Espada — January 12, 2015

Yankees complete coaching staff with Pentland, Cockrell, Espada

By Chad Jennings

Joe Girardi

Sunday was moving day for me. A lot of hours spent hauling stuff in and out of an apartment, with no real time to check Twitter or email or anything else. But when things were fairly settled, I finally checked in with the rest of the world.

Turns out, the Yankees have a coaching staff again.

A source has confirmed what was first reported by Jack Curry: The Yankees are set to hire Jeff Pentland as hitting coach and Alan Cockrell as assistant hitting coach. Joe Espada will replace Mick Kelleher as the infield coach, though it’s not entirely clear whether he or someone else will be the first base coach.

Quick bios on the new guys:

Jeff Pentland: The 68-year-old has an extensive coaching resume, including stints has the big league hitting coach for the Cubs, Royals, Mariners and Dodgers. He has direct connections to both Joe Girardi and Tony Pena, so he’s familiar to the coaching staff even if he’s new to the Yankees bench. He’s the one stepping into Kevin Long’s role as the official hitting coach.

Alan Cockrell: Former first-round pick who got just a cup of coffee in the big leagues as a player, he’s since served as a major league hitting coach with both the Rockies and Mariners. He was in Colorado for their 2007 run to the World Series. He will be an assistant hitting coach, which is a new thing for the Yankees, but a trend that’s been catching on throughout baseball in recent years.

Joe Espada: After four years as the Marlins third base coach, Espada joined the Yankees scouting department last season. At the time, he made it clear that he still considered himself an on-the-field kind of guy. Espada was a utility infielder during his playing days, and he first joined the Marlins organization in 2006, which was the year Girardi served as the manager in Miami.

Would Yankees dynasty have continued if John Smoltz signed after 2001 season? — January 9, 2015

Would Yankees dynasty have continued if John Smoltz signed after 2001 season?

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John Smoltz was offered a contract by the Yankees after the 2001 season. What if he came to New York?

By Joe Giglio

When Luis Gonzalez’s broken-bat single blooped over second base in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, the Yankees dynasty came to an end. If recent Hall of Fame inductee John Smoltzhad made a different decision during the offseason, perhaps a different fate would have followed.

During a post-announcement press conference this week, Smoltz talked about turning down anoffer to pitcher for the Yankees when he hit free agency after the 2001 season, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.

“This is going to sound really crazy: It was so tempting and so exciting, but I never wanted it to be like, I’m going there just to get rings,” Smoltz said. “I wanted to go there because the experience and the whole mindset of getting a chance to get a ring was there, no different than it was in Atlanta.”

“And I tell you, it was so close that, to this day, Gene Michael, every time I see him, goes, ‘I can’t believe you did not sign that contract.'”

While the Yankees didn’t fall apart following the 2001 World Series, postseason success became very hard to come by for a franchise that had dominated October for a six-year run of excellence from 1996-2001.

Smoltz, one of the best big-game pitchers in baseball history, could have made a difference in postseason in 2002-2004, possibly moving the needle in the 2003 World Series vs. Florida or 2004 collapse vs. Boston.

Would the Yankees have continued to win big in October if Smoltz arrived after the 2001 season?