One week left of the off-season, tying up details

There is just one week until pitchers and catchers report to the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa. Though quite a few players (like Luis Severino coming off a great 2017 season) are already working out on the fields and in the cages, a great off-season perk for being part of the organization. With some recent departures, there are a handful of spots to be earned this Spring, including 2nd and 3rd base and a finalized starting rotation and bullpen.

The Yankees announced last week that they have finalized their coaching staff behind new manager Aaron Boone, filling out most of the staff with mostly familiar faces from the Yankees organization. Larry Rothschild, as we already knew, will return as the Yankees’ pitching coach, now joined by Mike Harkey as bullpen pitching coach, Marcus Thames as hitting coach, and Brett Weber as coaching assistant and MLB leading instant replay coordinator (currently sitting at 75% success rate). Yankees settled on Reggie Willits for their 1st base coach, Carlos Mendoza as quality control coach and infield instructor, P.J. Pilittere as assistant hitting coach, Jason Brown as catching coach, and Radley Haddad as coaching assistant and bullpen catcher. They also bring in two new faces in the form of new bench coach Josh Bard (former Dodgers’ bullpen coach) and new 3rd base coach Phil Nevin (former Giants’ minor league coach).

And Spring Training invitations have gone out to all 39 men currently on the 40-man roster, plus 20 non-roster invitees. And because there’s been quite a few departures and only a few big signings (Stanton sound familiar?), here’s a list for you to prep for the Spring. On the 40-man roster: pitchers Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Dellin Betances, Luis Cessa, Aroldis Chapman, Giovanny Gallegos, Domingo German, Sonny Gray, Chad Green, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Loaisiga, Jordan Montgomery, David Robertson, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, Chasen Shreve, Masahiro Tanaka, and Adam Warren; catchers Kyle Higashioka, Austin Romine, and Gary Sanchez; infielders Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Greg Bird, Thairo Estrada, Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres, and Ronald Torreyes; and outfielders Jabari Blash, Jake Cave, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Billy McKinney, and Giancarlo Stanton. Non roster invitees: pitchers Chance Adams, Cody Carroll, Cale Coshow, Raynel Espinal, J.P. Feyereisen, David Hale, Brady Lail, Wade LeBlanc, Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and Taylor Widener; catchers Francisco Diaz, Erik Kratz, Chace Numata, and Jorge Saez; infielders Danny Espinosa, Kyle Holder, Jace Peterson, and Nick Solak; and outfielder Estevan Florial.

On a brief side note, free agent and last year’s part-time 3rd baseman Todd Frazier signed with the Mets this week. The Mets are fortunate to have a great veteran presence on the field and in the clubhouse. However, it is almost oddly fitting for the guy who triggered the “thumbs-down” movement last year come full circle. The fan who stood up and gave the thumbs-down sign at the make-up Yankees-Rays game last September (Gary) is a die-hard Mets fan, only attending the game because he was able to get cheap tickets to a ball game at CitiField. So now, Gary can “thumbs-up” Frazier at CitiField on a regular basis, but something tells me those two will keep the thumbs down as one of those trademark “you had to be there” things for a long time to come. Good luck, Frazier! See you at the Subway Series!

The Yankees lost a fan-favorite alumnus last week. Power-hitting outfielder Oscar Gamble played 7 seasons with the Yankees (1976, 1979-1984) towards the end of his 17 year career (1969-1985) as a professional ball player. Gamble helped the Yankees with their postseason attempts in 1976, 1980, and 1981 to bookend the brief “Bronx is Burning” dynasty era. He was nicknamed the “Big O” by Phil Rizzuto, another Yankee alumnus (and broadcaster, at that point) and was known for his large afro peeking out below his helmet and ball cap, though the infamous Steinbrenner grooming rules certainly tamed that hair for a bit in those late-70s. Despite no history of chewing tobacco, Gamble was diagnosed with a rare tumor of the jaw 9 years ago and underwent several removal surgeries over the years before it became aggressive just over a year ago and ultimately fatal last week. Our prayers and condolences go out to his many friends and his wife Lovell, and their sons Sean and Shane and daughter Sheena.

Again, we’re counting down the days until baseball starts again, and the Yankees have already shipped all their goods from the Bronx, making its way down I-95 towards Sunny Florida. Hopes are running high for this year, but they always do this early in the year. Because right now, anything really is possible. And isn’t that the greatest way to live life? On positivity, hope, and faith.

Go Yankees!

Hall of Fame near miss & other random off-season moments

After several months of speculation and journalists openly sharing their votes, the Baseball Writers Association of America released the much-anticipated results of the annual Hall of Fame election. In December, the Veterans Committee selected 4-time World Series pitcher Jack Norris (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) and his 1984 Tigers’ teammate, 6-time All-Star shortstop and 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammel. Joining them, the BBWAA announced newest inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero, all well-deserved honorees.

Elected with 97.2% of the vote, Jones spent his entire 19 year career with the Braves at 3rd base and became a fixture in the Atlanta area. He was part of the 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series teams, winning a ring with the Hall of Fame worthy 1995 team against the Indians. (Jones joins other 1995 Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox (HOF class of 2014) and John Smoltz (class of 2015) at Cooperstown.) Jones also earned the NL MVP Award in 1999 and was an 8-time All-Star.

{Worth reminding my primary audience here: the Braves team in 1996 and 1999 faced and lost to the last dynasty of the Yankees. It was 6 games in the 1996 series, before they were swept in the 1999 series by the unstoppable Yankees that year.}

On the other side of that World Series was a noted 1st baseman and fellow 2018 inductee Jim Thome (89.8% of the votes). Thome spent his 22 year career primarily with the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), helping them reach the 1995 and 1997 World Series but failed to get a ring (losing to the Braves and Marlins, respectively). Over the course of his career, he was a 5-time All-Star and led the National League with 47 home runs in his 2003 season with the Phillies. Thome also won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award for his outstanding contributions both on the field and off.

Reliever Hoffman (79.9%) spent the bulk of his 18 year with the Padres (1993-2008), including the year they met the Yankees in the World Series in 1998. The Yankees swept them in 4 games (again, part of that unstoppable dynasty era). But Hoffman still made quite the impact in his career as a 7-time All-Star and leading the NL in saves both in 1998 (with 53) and in 2006 (with 46).

Guerrero (92.9%) spent his 16 year career in the outfield, the bulk of which first with the Expos (1996-2003) and then with the Angels (2004-2009). He also got a shot at the World Series with the 2010 Rangers, but they fell to the Giants that year. Guerrero was a 9-time All-Star and 2004 AL MVP. He also polishes his well-earned 8 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case as part of his career accomplishments.

Falling just short of the 75% of the votes needed included Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, getting 63.5% . Any player receiving less than 5% of the votes are automatically dropped from the ballot the following year (including former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui). However, those above 5% and less than 75% move on to hope for another year including Mussina, Roger Clemens (57.3%), Gary Sheffield (11.1%), and Andruw Jones (7.3%). Mussina keeps missing the mark, while Clemens battles the rumors of his past PED use, similar to Giants legend Barry Bonds (who fell short at 56.4%).

It is also worth noting that there were 422 submitted ballots, including 1 left intentionally blank (because where would the fun be in someone getting elected with 100% of the votes). Of those, only 12 ballots didn’t elect Jones, which is why he only got 97% of the vote. Notably, there was also one voter that only voted for Indians alumni (Thome and Omar Vizquel). And if you’re feeling a weird flashback to high school elections for prom court or student council, you’re 100% on track. Some people use their vote to make a point (the blank ballot or all Indians ballot), some to play favorites (a few intentionally anti-Yankee alumni), and some thought through the process of such an honor and chose players that rightfully deserve legacy status. I have mixed feelings every year — I agree every time with who will be feted in July, but I am always irked by who “falls short” due to those who vote in the first two categories.

No, I don’t have a vote. But I do have an opinion.

In lighter news, and back to focusing on Yankees, the off-season has been pretty good for the boys. They’ve been working out, having fun on the practice fields, and enjoying fan art. Meanwhile, the biggest end of season trend last year was Gary the “Thumbs Down” Guy, a Mets fan who flashed the “thumbs down” during a Todd Frazier home run at the special game at CitiField in September. It became a huge meme and thing for the Yankees to do during something amazing and gave New Yorker Gary Dunaier his 15 minutes of fame (or rather 4 months and counting). Frazier and Dunaier finally met earlier this week at an event on Staten Island.

Legend-in-the-making and video game cover guy Aaron Judge got to practice his swing (and bat flip) in a motion-capture suit. He will premier on the cover of MLB The Show 2018 and show off his home run swing for Play Station come March 27 (or March 23 for pre-orders). I’m sure video game players are eagerly awaiting the chance to be the 2017 Rookie of the Year, but I’m just looking forward to the real live player in Spring Training next month.

In Yankees’ Minor League news: The Yankees AA team, the Trenton Thunder, will honor its 25th anniversary this year by playing every Friday game as the “Trenton Pork Rolls“, starting May 18. I swear this is not a “fake” story. Apparently, it’s a local thing, the pork roll, and I’m sure it’s delicious (albeit not very Kosher). And sadly, that is not the weirdest name (and this doesn’t include the Jumbo Shrimp and the Baby Cakes) of a minor league team in the system. And fortunately, it’s only on Fridays. (But what a thing to have on your resume!)

Meanwhile, the Advanced-A Yankees affiliate (and current Steinbrenner Field residents), the Tampa Yankees, made the announcement last month that they would begin the 2018 season with their own name change — the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were a team for about 3 decades in the middle of last century, though baseball has been played in Tampa for over 100 years, including extensively hosting Spring Training. Locally, the tarpon is a large fish, popular with sports fisherman and found off the Gulf Coast, and a neighboring local city is Tarpon Springs. So the Tampa Tarpons found something steeped in local tradition and lore.

The 2018 season is rapidly approaching. 20 days until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 13). 30 days until the first Spring Training game (Feb. 23 against the Tigers). 65 days until the first game of the season (March 29 in Toronto). And 69 days until the home opener (April 2 against the Rays).

But who’s counting?

Go Yankees!

Off Season Update: Holiday Wrap-up

Well, the Astros are the reigning World Champions, much to the city of Houston’s glee. The parade through the streets of Houston, which had been nearly devastated just a few months earlier was a big encouragement to those who are still trying to rebuild their homes and lives after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast in late August.

Winter Meetings begin on Monday, and between the Astros winning Game 7 over the Dodgers and the Winter Meetings on Monday, it’s not exactly been a quiet off-season. Especially for the Yankees.

Awards Season: Almost immediately following the World Series, MLB Universe wraps up its season by handing out all sorts of awards. Mostly, it was Aaron Judge that was up for many of the awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year, but it was a tough year for nearly every category as there was some really outstanding players and plays made this season. You can catch up on all the awards (with extensive coverage and video clips) here. But I’m just going to do a brief Yankee Universe summary.

As expected, the MVPs and Hank Aaron Awards of both the AL and NL went to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, though Judge’s name was tossed about quite a bit for the AL versions of both awards. Judge did snag Rookie of the Year, voted so unanimously, the first Yankee to do so since Jeter in 1996. (Side note: also in the mix for ROTY — breakout starter Jordan Montgomery.) Judge was also awarded the Silver Slugger for right field, something he shared this year with teammate Gary Sanchez, who won it for his catching position. And Judge was also voted on by his fellow players for the Players’ Choice Award of Outstanding AL Rookie.

Now, Esurance sponsors its own array of awards for the season and quite a few Yankees graced the finalists lists. Best Major Leaguer was awarded to Altuve over 9 other finalists including MLB legends like Stanton and Trout as well as (of course) Judge. Severino was nominated for Best Pitcher, but lost to the Indians’ Corey Kluber (who had an outstanding postseason in his own right). Of the 6 finalists for Best Rookie, who else but Aaron Judge became the natural choice. The Astros’ manager AJ Hinch edged out 9 other finalists for Best Manager, including Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman got the same treatment in the Best Executive category as the Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow snagged that one. Other awards include Best Postseason Moment, Best TV/Radio Call, Best Play, Personality of the Year, and Best Fan Catch, none of which unfortunately include any Yankees

Hello, old friend: At the end of October, before the World Series was even complete, the Yankees announced they were parting ways with their long-term manager Joe Girardi, and began the search for their new skipper. With former bench coach Rob Thomson singing on to be the Phillies’ new bench coach and 3rd base coach Joe Espada the Astros’ bench coach, the Yankees ended up narrowing the manager candidates down and included two former Yankee players — Carlos Beltran and Aaron Boone. Just a few days ago, the Yankees announced that they were going with Aaron Boone, known to most Yankee fans as the hero of the 2003 World Series and more recently as a ESPN broadcaster. Boone, who will wear #17, will be thrust back into Yankee Universe in a crucial role, one that could either expose his inexperience as a manager or one that could see him flourish thanks to his extensive baseball knowledge, legacy, and intelligence. Only time will tell.

Big splash denied, big splash made: All 30 MLB clubs were hoping to sign an international sensation, 23-year-old Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is known both as a stellar pitcher and as a big power-hitter. The international market has some complex rules about signings, and many assumed that Ohtani would sign with a big name NL team so that he could use both of his famed tools. Almost immediately, most East Coast teams were eliminated, including big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. With most of the chatter leaning towards the Mariners (despite being an AL team), the big surprise was when the Angels (also an AL team) announced their newest acquisition just a few days ago.

But without that possibility, the Yankees started searching for their big splash. Within about 24 hours of word leaking that the Marlins were shopping their superstar Giancarlo Stanton, it was confirmed just today. Former HR Derby champion Stanton would join current HR Derby champion Judge in the Yankees outfield and in Yankee pinstripes for the 2018 season. Details are forthcoming, but it looks like the Yankees will send prospect pitcher Jorge Guzman (the #9 Yankee prospect), prospect shortstop Jose Devers, and Starlin Castro to the Marlins in exchange for Stanton and about $30 million. Castro has 2 years and about $23.7 million left on his current contract.

Okay, what that means and leaves wide open for the Yankees to answer questions this off-season. First, removing Castro from 2nd leaves a wide open space for perhaps Ronald Torreyes to play more frequently, especially as he was clearly one of the more reliable and consistent defenders and hitters (basically the ideal bench/utility player) for the last 2 seasons. However, there are several prospects that could earn the everyday position in Spring Training including the much talked about Gleyber Torres.

The Yankees now have 6 potential outfielders — Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge, Stanton, Hicks, and C. Frazier. Frazier will likely spend time in AAA once again, which leaves either Gardner or Ellsbury (mostly due to age, unfortunately) as the prime potential for a trade. However, Ellsbury has a no-trade clause in his contract, one that he could easily waive if asked or volunteer to be traded on his own if he so desires. A lot of that usually depends on who’s asking. That prevents players from being traded into a clubhouse or organization they don’t like. If I was a player, there are definitely certain clubs I would avoid like the plague, or take a pay cut to play with a better team.

Also, the Yankees are dealing with 8 arbitration-eligible players and 10 with less than 3 years on their contracts, most notably Headley, Robertson, and Gardner, who are all on their final year of their deals. Arbitration-eligible means that the Yankees will extend an offer (a proposed salary) to keep them on their roster, and the player either accepts it or counter offers and it goes to arbitration for the mediator to pick the correct number. Basically, it’s a negotiation tool, and this off-season, the Yankees will have to negotiate with Betances, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Romine, Shreve, and Warren. Unless they trade them, of course.

Again, the Winter Meetings start on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (a.k.a. Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resorts, for anyone not familiar with Central Florida geography). Winter Meetings are when representatives from all the MLB clubs and their minor league teams, as well as MLB executives, meet up for about four days and do business face-to-face. So, there’s going to be trades, discussions, executive meetings to discuss baseball operations and potential alterations to rule of play. Often scouts, owners, general managers, international visitors, job-seekers, and trade show exhibitors will also be milling around the meetings. In other words, we can expect more news to come out of this next week’s meetings. And I was going to wait until after that to post, just in case the Yankees make another big splash, which they could as they still need to shore up the starting rotation. But today’s news was too big to pass up.

But barring a big splash, I hope everyone has a good holiday season as we close out this 2017 and hope for a really wonderful 2018. I mean, it really looks like 2018 could be the year we finally celebrate #28.

Go Yankees!

It’s almost Spring…

Well, now that the other major American sport has taken its bow, it’s time to focus on the real American pastime. And before you’re wondering, I write a blog about the New York Yankees, which team could I possibly back in the big game last night — the team that plays in Boston or the one that doesn’t?

Anyway, just a couple of days ago, the Yankees posted pictures of their staff loading up all their equipment, loading it onto the truck, and sending it on its way down to Tampa. Many on the current roster and invitees (including quite a few of the Baby Bombers on the top 100 prospects list) are showing up at the minor league complex for early workouts. Tickets to games are being purchased, renovations at the field are almost done, and the countdown in down to mere days. Yes, Yankee Universe, it’s almost Spring Training.

The Yankees have wrapped up the last few weeks of their off-season in many ways. Last month, Chance Adams, Starlin Castro, Clint Frazier, Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, James Kaprielian, CC Sabathia, Gary Sanchez, Justus Sheffield, and Gleyber Torres helped out with the Yankees first ever “Winter Warm-up“, an event designed to introduce new players to New York and its legacy and community with the help of some of the veterans. This included surprising a life-long fan with VIP tickets; touring the City and Yankee Stadium; holding a live-streamed town hall for fans; visiting a senior center, an elementary school, a senior community event, and cancer center; calling season ticket holders personally; and surprising Bronx residents joining them for lunch at a local restaurant.

At a special awards banquet in January, quite a few Yankees were recognized for their contributions in baseball this past season. Last year’s “Warriors Three” (or No-Runs DMC, as some rogue reporters seems to believe they should be dubbed), Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were recognized by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America with the “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke Award” for their outstanding teamwork this year. What is especially significant is that this three-headed monster was split in July when Chapman went to the Cubs (and got a ring) and Miller went to the Indians (and almost got a ring, settling for the AL MVP instead). Betances took over the closing role to finish the season but is more than willing to slide back to set-up man after the Yankees resigned Chapman in December. The local writers’ group also honored other Yankees at that dinner. Chase Headley received the “Good Guy Award” and Mark Teixeira shared the Slocum Award for Long and Meritorious Service with Boston’s David Ortiz, in addition to a number of other awards given across baseball.

Overlapping Spring Training once again is the World Baseball Classic. As of this posting, only two Yankees have committed to play for the WBC. Didi Gregorius will play for the Dutch team, which is scheduled to start its games March 7 in Seoul against South Korea, Taipei, and Israel. Dellin Betances has committed to play for the Dominican Republic, which starts its games March 9 in Miami against Canada, the United States, and Columbia. There was talk that Sanchez might join Betances on the reigning championship team, but the closer to Spring Training, the less likely the chances. Masahiro Tanaka was offered a spot on the Japanese team, but opted for Spring Training to get back in the momentum of being a Yankee and come out stronger than last year.

In a single day last month, the baseball world lost two of its members in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic. Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, 25, was a key part of the Royals’ 2014 World Series attempt and their 2015 World Series win, even earning Rookie of the Year in 2014. Former third baseman Andy Marte, 33, was originally signed by the Braves in 2005 before spending the bulk of his career with the Indians and most recently the 2014 season with the Diamondbacks and a team in South Korea. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families and friends as they mourn their loved ones.

I wish I could tell you the Yankees had some good news about the Hall of Fame results, but it was not to be this year. Instead, the BBWAA (the same guys who recognized Teixeira, Betances, and Headley) decided that just three former players would make it to Cooperstown this year — Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The trio are the only three who made the cut-off at 75% of the earned votes. Most Yankee fans will probably only remember two names — Mike Mussina (holding on for another year at 51.8% of the vote) and Jorge Posada (who failed to get the minimum 5% voting needed to stay on the ballot next year at 3.8%).

Bagwell spent all 15 seasons (1991-2005) with the Astros, as their star first baseman. Raines is predominantly known as the left fielder of the Expos (1979-1990, 2001), but he also spent some of his 23 seasons with the White Sox, Athletics, Marlins, Orioles, and Yankees. Raines spent his time with the Yankees during the start of the most recent dynasty, 1996-1998, even earning a 1996 World Series ring for his postseason contributions. Rodriguez spent the majority of his 21 seasons with the Rangers (1991-2002, 2009), eventually spending time with the Marlins, Tigers, Astros, Nationals, and Yankees. Rodriguez may be the most familiar to current Yankee fans as he spent the latter half of the 2008 season in pinstripes as back-up catcher. As expected, neither of the former Yankees will be donning a Yankee insignia on their monument plaque in the Hall of Fame, which will be honored and unveiled on July 30.

Okay, so here’s important Spring dates to remember: February 14 — pitchers and catchers report to camp (8 days away); February 15 — pitcher and catchers work out day, Steinbrenner Field open to public if you want to watch the work outs (9 days); February 18 — full squad reporting day (12 days); February 19 — full squad work out day (13 days); February 24 — Spring Training home opener vs. Phillies (18 days); April 2 — Season Opener at the Rays (55 days); and April 10 — Home opener vs. the Rays (62 days).

Yes, it’s almost Spring…

Go Yankees!

All the latest updates, farewells, outreaches, and honors… it’s been a busy 5 weeks!

Between the Cubs’ victory parade, postseason awards, Thanksgiving, Winter Meetings, and now the approaching week filled with Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year, the Yankees have been everything but quiet and stagnant. Some years, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s job seems to just sit back and watch other teams do the postseason dance that is somewhere between an elegant waltz and a fire-sale at times. But not this year.

Cashman has been busy, even making some pretty big moves. First, in the middle of last month, he traded catcher Brian McCann (and cash considerations) to the Astros for a pair of young pitchers Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. Sorry, McCann fans, but McCann wasn’t exactly ready to be a once-a-week player with Gary Sanchez taking a much larger (and well-deserved role). This was a good move for everybody.

Earlier this week, as part of the Winter Meetings (hosted at the beautiful Gaylord Resort, just south of D.C.), Cashman also made a play for two big players. First, he signed Matt Holliday, a veteran outfielder who is slated to primarily fill the position previously occupied by Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran (outfielder/designated hitter). Holliday, a 7-time All-Star, began his career with the Rockies, spending 5 seasons there and making a name for himself, before finding a nice home with the Cardinals for the last 7 1/2 seasons, being a crucial part of their 2011 World Series championship. Holliday seems very excited to be playing in New York, which isn’t really surprising as he wore #7 in St. Louis for Mickey Mantle. You know, David Ortiz said once last season that there are two kinds of players — those who were born to play with the Yankees and those born to play against them (Ortiz being the latter).

Another big pick-up was the deal made when the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year, $86 million deal. Yes, Chapman fans, two of the Warriors Three will be back in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. This time, with Chapman’s shiny World Series ring glaring and pushing the Yankees to give him another one. A physical exam is still pending the finality of this contract, but things look good for the closer to return to Yankee pinstripes for the next five seasons.

Cashman’s focus was clearly on building up the bullpen as most of the roster moves these last 5 weeks. So try to keep up: Branden Pinder was originally designated for assignment early in November, but then was outrighted to AAA Scranton, so we’ll be seeing Pinder again; Joe Mantiply (after being claimed off waivers from the Tigers), Nick Rumbelow, and Nathan Eovaldi were designated for assignment and then released all three of them just before Thanksgiving; James Pazos was traded to the Mariners for reliever Zack Littell; Dustin Ackley was released; Jacob Lindgren elected free agency; and the Yankees then filled a bunch of holes on their roster with minor leaguers Jorge Mateo and Yefrey Ramirez (from the Single-A Tampa Yankees), Ronald Herrera and Miguel Andujar (from AA Trenton),  and Dietrich Enns and Giovanny Gallegos (from AAA Scranton).

But it didn’t stop there. In coordination with the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees moved some minor leaguers around and said some goodbyes. The Brewers claimed reliever Caleb Smith, the Red catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Tyler Jones went to Arizona, and the Pirates got reliever Tyler Webb. The Yankees themselves picked up a few minor leaguers, catcher Jorge Saez (Blue Jays) and reliever Colten Brewer (Pirates).

All the postseason awards have been doled out, and the Yankees got… two. And nothing went to our Rookie of the Year, Gary Sanchez. No, the big Yankee winner this postseason was Brett Gardner, who took home both the Gold Glove and Defensive Player of the Year for doing the outstanding job we’re used to seeing out there in left field.

However, there are a few alumni honors come next month. BBWAA vote for the Class of 2017, with any new inductees to be announced next month. Several former Yankees grace the ballot this year, none more so than Jorge Posada (the first of the Core Four to reach such an honor). However, the chances everyone seems to hold for Posada (and the few other Yankees alums) seem rather slim, especially as the voters seem to be rather stringent in their voting, less nostalgic as your average baseball fan and more strategic in their selection parameters.

Also selected for Hall of Fame honors this year are current Braves’ president John Schuerholz and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, both elected by the Today’s Game Committee. Other familiar faces on this ballot, who failed to make the cut this year, include former manager and player Lou Pinella, former players Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, and Mark McGwire, and former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Debates as to which of these deserve to be in Cooperstown rage on.

Two other awards honored journalists for outstanding writing and broadcasting — the late Bill King, known for his coverage of San Francisco sports, distinctive facial hair, and his catchphrase “Holy Toledo!”, and veteran journalist Claire Smith, who became the first woman to receive the honor. Neither will be officially in the Hall of Fame, but will be part of a permanent exhibit to honor such journalist excellence and contribution to the game. I mean, without them, our knowledge of the game would not be what it is today, even with direct information like social media. It would certainly make my job a lot harder!

And speaking of Yankee alumni, the Yankees announced that they will be officially retiring the number 2 in honor of Derek Jeter on before the game on Sunday, May 14. Rather fitting really, with the extensive knowledge of how close Jeter is with his family, Jeter’s long-sacred number will become the 22nd one the Yankees send to Monument Park, and with that move, all the single digits (save a zero) are officially removed from jersey circulation. Single game tickets are not directly available yet (though they feature prominently on the secondary online marketplaces), though season tickets and multi-game ticket packages are available.

This week, in Tampa, the Yankees foundation hosted their holiday celebration, led by Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal with special guests Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, and Nick & Joanna Swisher. Hundreds of local children were treated to the Yankees 28th Annual Holiday Concert, complete with gifts and carol singing, in preparation for the holidays. The Yankees also hosted other local community outreaches in New York for the holidays including a Thanksgiving food drive and giving back to the children and families of the Bronx with a great goodie bag full of both basic necessities and special gifts.

Looking ahead, many players have already committed to playing for various teams around the world in the World Baseball Classic this March. The Yankees only current representative is Dellin Betances, who agreed to play for the reigning champions, the Dominican Republic, alongside former teammate Cano. Other former Yankees who will play in the WBC include Martin for Canada and Beltran for Puerto Rico. Betances, who was also recently married, will be an outstanding contribution to any team. Also, a big congratulations to Dellin and Janisa Betances!

As far as everything else, there’s still 63 days until Pitchers and Catchers report for Spring Training. So there’s a lot of time left for the Yankees to do something else, despite reports that they’re pretty much done with big moves this off-season. That statement, however, doesn’t preclude any minor “tweaking”, and you must know by now they love their “tweaking”. Enjoy your holiday season!

Go Yankees!

Gardner for the Gold!

The 2016 MLB season may be over, but Yankee Universe is celebrating a big win last night! Congratulations to Brett Gardner for winning his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award!

After 9 seasons in the majors, Gardner is one of 9 first-time winners to be named among the best of baseball’s defensive players for 2016. Gardner had some tough competiton, but beat out fellow nominees Alex Gordon (Royals) and Colby Rasmus (Astros). This makes Gardy the first Yankee to win a Gold Glove since Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano in 2012, and the first Yankee win for an outfielder since Bernie Williams in 2000. He joins four other Yankee legends- Mantle, Maris, Winfield, and Mercer- who also received a Gold Glove Award. Not bad company for a kid from Holly Hill, South Carolina who began his college career as a walk-on player and wound up as an All-American by his senior year. A sign of great things to come.

The Rawlings Gold Glove Award originated in the 1950s when a Rawlings sales manager noticed that the majority of ballplayers were using their brand of gloves. An idea was born to honor “the finest in the field”, a term that Rawlings coined and copyrighted to reward excellence on the ball field. The selection process for the Gold Glove Award has evolved over the decades, and currently, nominees are chosen by team managers and coaches with input from the SABR Defensive Index (SDI).
Brett Gardner, a homegrown Yankee, continues to be one of NYY’s most productive players. It’s understandable why Gardy is a fan favorite since he continues to persevere at the plate, makes stellar plays on the field, or steals bases with his lightning speed.  In 2016, Gardner had 249 putouts and was second in fielding percentage.  Always ready to chase down fly balls wherever they may be, Gardner was second in the AL in defensive runs saved, third in assists, and first in plays made outside his zone. His sliding catches, those seemingly impossible mid-air leaps to snag a ball for the out, and those powerhouse throws from the outfield are consistent and impressive.

His focus and his staying power may have something to do with his work ethic. The day he was called up to the Yankees in 2008, Gardner shared that the “hard part is not to get to the big leagues, it’s to stay in the big leagues”. I’d say that Brett Gardner has had a bit of success with that!  Nine seasons with the New York Yankees. The currently longest tenured player in pinstripes. Last year, an All-Star. And now, a Gold Glove winner. All good things for this Yankee veteran.

The Rawlings Gold Glove Award ceremony will be this Friday, November 11. Yankee fans now have the opportunity to cast your vote here for Brett Gardner as the best overall defensive player in the American League in the contest for the Rawlings Platinum Glove Award to be announced this Friday, November 11. We’re looking forward to 2017 with our #11 in the outfield!

And the holiday season is upon us, and many families will be separated from loved ones serving our country. So what do the Yankees do? They once again partnered with the USO to send thousands of holiday care packages to active duty troops serving across the world. Volunteers from Disney, Delta, FedEx, and Metlife join with the NYC community, Yankee team members and veterans, and the Yankee family, including broadcasters, Suzyn Waldman and David Cone, today Wednesday at Yankee Stadium in the Great Hall to assemble the packages.

Thanks to all of you who have donated and/or are volunteering to exhibit the giving spirit of the season to those far from home. You are amazing!

Go Yankees!

Roster maneuvers & potential shiny hardware for the mantle… is it Spring yet?

It’s officially the off-season now. The Cubs have had their victory parade last week through the streets of Chicago, ending with a big party in downtown where the Cubs players, coaches, and executives celebrated with millions of Chicagoland faithful. And a big congratulations to them. (And no, I don’t think it’s going to take another 108 years for their next win.)

In the meantime, the Yankees have made some early off-season moves in preparation for whatever’s up Cashman’s sleeve this off-season. The Cubs claimed reliever Conor Mullee off waivers on Wednesday, and on Friday, the Yankees activated some of the injured players off the 60-day DL like infielder Dustin Ackley and pitchers Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow. They also selected the contracts of Kyle Higashioka and Domingo German to add to the roster.

Now, GM Cashman is looking to add to the roster for the 2017 season, but in one particular category — pitching. And if you look at the roster now filled with Baby Bombers like Judge, Austin, Bird, and Sanchez, the need for consistent pitching (starters and relievers) is really the biggest drought on the team. Following the 2017 season, many of the veterans’ contracts are up (including Cashman and Girardi and the entire coaching staff, I might add), which could mean a virtually brand new team in the next few years.

But all this should put you in a pretty good outlook for the next season. I was at Steinbrenner Field today and saw all the progress they’re making on the stadium. They’re building new patios and special loge seating, rebuilding the gift shop, redoing the main entrance and bridge from the parking lot, and (most importantly) installing new seats. (Yankee Stadium is also getting a bit of a face lift, but more on that in a later post.)

Today, the Yankees released their tentative Spring Training schedule, with the opening day on Friday, February 24 against the Phillies, an afternoon home game. There are 35 scheduled games, 17 home games, and an exhibition game against Team Canada (March 8). They will close out their Spring in Atlanta with an exhibition game to inaugurate the Braves’ new park (SunTrust Park) on March 31. (The Yankees will play their season opener April 2 at the Rays, and home opener April 10 against the Rays.)

Mark your calendars: Pitchers and catchers report February 13, with their first workout February 14 (Happy Valentine’s Day, Yankee Universe!). Position players report February 18, with the first full-squad work out scheduled February 19.

It should also be noted that the World Baseball Classic is also scheduled this March (March 6-22). This means that instead of Spring Training, many of the players will be spread all over the world with their home country to try to bring home the honor, like the Dominican Republic did in 2013. Host cities include Seoul, Tokyo, Miami (Marlins), Jalisco (Mexico), San Diego (Padres), and Los Angeles (Dodgers). After qualifying rounds this year, the competing countries in the WBC will be South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Israel, Japan, Cuba, China, Australia, USA, Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Italy.

And the biggest news of the day is that Gary Sanchez is up for a pretty big award. In addition to being up for the online eSurance (voting ends November 11) Rookie of the Year award (joining Teixeira for some pretty great moments this season), Sanchez is also up for the BBWAA Rookie of the Year Award. The BBWAA are responsible for selecting, nominating, and awarding several important honors every year in addition to the Rookie of the Year including MVP, Cy Young, and Manager of the Year. They also define who’s gets into the Hall of Fame.

Sanchez is up against the Indians’ outfielder Tyler Naquin and Tigers’ reliever Michael Fulmer for the AL Rookie of the Year. In the NL, the nominees in the same category are Maeda (Dodgers), Turner (Nationals), and Seager (Dodgers). Winner in both leagues will be announced next week on November 14. And yes, I do think that Sanchez deserves the AL honor, even without my own Yankee bias in there. Seriously, Sanchez took the entire league by storm this season, and just changed the landscape for the Yankees in the latter part of the year, keeping postseason dreams alive right up until the end. (By the way, my vote would be Seager for the NL, if I actually had a vote that is.)

Other nominees: Manager of the Year (awarded November 15) — Banister (Rangers), Francona (Indians), Showalter (Orioles), Baker (Nationals), Maddon (Cubs), and Roberts (Dodgers); Cy Young (awarded November 16) — Kluber (Indians), Porcello (Red Sox), Verlander (Tigers), Hendricks (Cubs), Lester (Cubs), and Scherzer (Nationals); and MVP (awarded November 17) — Altuve (Astros), Betts (Red Sox), Trout (Angels), Bryant (Cubs), Murphy (Nationals), and Seager (Dodgers). (If you must know, these are all rather deserving men, but my choices are Francona and Maddon, Kluber and Hendricks, Betts and Bryant. But they don’t ask me.)

Anyway, we’re knee-deep in this off-season, almost shoulder-deep in awards season, and it’s a little exciting to think about what 2017 could hold. Spring Training is just over 3 months away, and it’s when the slate is wiped clean and anything is possible. And it’s the one time when everyone is on that even playing field. We didn’t know the Cubs would be world champions this time last year, and we don’t know who will be celebrating this time next year. Fingers crossed it will be certain pinstriped crew from the Bronx.

Maybe cross the toes too…

Go Yankees!