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!

Numbers of the day: 3, 25, 65, 13, & Bird (31)

First, happy 3rd anniversary to this blog and my amazing faithful readers! It’s been quite a ride, and we’re at the start of another season. I think I’ve subconsciously made the decision that this blog will last at least until the Yankees win that #28 or I get some big book deal to write about the greatness that is the Yankees. So fingers crossed!

It’s hard to believe that Spring is right around the corner, but every day, I’m looking at updates from players, executives, journalists, and random trivia facts that tell me it really is almost Spring Training time. I’m counting the days until I see pictures from those poor sports reporters who have to stake out the minor league complex in hopes of getting a random interview with a player. Players like Severino, Hicks, Refsnyder, Pineda, Miller, Gamel, Eovaldi, Judge, Mitchell, Kaprielian, and Rodriguez have all been spotted at the Tampa complex, enjoying the rollercoaster that is Spring in Florida — over 80° one day, then suddenly 60-something the next. (To be perfectly honest, I’m certainly enjoying the 60-something days, so everyone else needs to just chill out from “complaining” and be glad it’s not the near foot of snow my friends and family in New England just got last night.)

Anyway, speaking of Spring Training, the Yankees officially released their list of Spring Training invitees: pitchers Richard Bleier, Tyler Cloyd, Domingo German, Chad Green, James Kaprielian, Brady Lail, Diego Moreno, Vinnie Pestano, Anthony Swarzak, and Tyler Webb; catchers Carlos Corporan, Francisco Diaz, Kyle Higashioka, Santiago Nessy, Eddy Rodriguez, and Sebastian Valle; infielders Jonathan Diaz, Pete Kozma, Jorge Mateo, Deibinson Romero, Donovan Solano, and Tyler Wade; and outfielders Dustin Fowler, Aaron Judge, and Cesar Puello. If Higashioka, Moreno, and Rodriguez sound familiar, it’s because they were part of the Yankees organization in 2015 and are now back this season with new minor league contracts.

So that makes the total invitees to 25 (10 pitchers, 6 catchers, 6 infielders, 3 outfielders), and combined with the 40-man roster, the number of uniformed Yankees come March 2 (Spring Training’s Opening Day) is 65. Pitchers and catchers report in 13 days (Feb. 18), with the full team reporting less than a week later (Feb. 24).

And one player who will be out for Spring Training and for the entire 2016 season is Greg Bird. With a healthy Teixeira, the Yankees were assuming Bird would spend this season mostly in Scranton, which seemed like such a demotion after a rather stellar season as Teixiera’s surprising understudy this last year. But an escalated shoulder injury solved the “Bird problem”. An injury in May (sustained while he was with AA Trenton) reappeared and worsened with pre-season workouts, causing Bird to visit several team doctors. They collectively decided that a right shoulder labrum tear need to be surgically repaired this past Wednesday.

The hopeful 23 year old infielder posted to social media (having recently joined Twitter and Instagram in the off-season) from his hospital bed post-surgery on Wednesday. He will have regular surgery recovery time, followed by regular rehab before he even begins a baseball rehab program. He is expected to be out the entire 2016 season, though I expect his name to surface later this year with updates on his progress and a positive outlook for 2017.

But that’s still awhile off… 13 days to the start of the season, 26 days until Spring’s Opening Day at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, and 60 days until 2016 Opening Day in Yankee Stadium. (Spring tickets on sale now, but regular season tickets go on sale February 22.)

Go Yankees!

One month until it all starts again

Yes, there’s just 31 days (February 19) until pitchers and catchers report in for Spring Training at the Tampa minor league complex. The rest of the squad reports less than a week later on February 25, and Opening Day is March 2 (against Detroit). Single and packaged multi-game tickets are available if you’ll be in the Sunshine State in March.

While the Yankees have certainly not made a splash this off-season, they haven’t exactly been idle either. Following last year’s run for the postseason, the Yankees’ regrouping included retooling its roster to find a better mix of its current and needed strengths, like adding another arm to the end of their bullpen. At the end of the year, the Yankees traded for power-closer Aldrois Chapman. The trade with the Reds sent minor league prospects Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, and Tony Renda to Cincinnati; Cotham had some MLB time this year out of the bullpen, but mostly bounced around the farm system. The Yankees seem to have a plethora of amazing talent in their farm system, which essentially becomes trade bait for teams that, well, don’t. In exchange, the Yankees can find themselves with a good active player for the roster now, rather than wait for the talent to develop a few seasons down the road.

Truth be told, the Yankees adding Chapman (who is known for his nasty triple digit strikes) to the Betances-Miller back-end of the bullpen made every other team nearly cringe. Betances and Miller are already so respected by so many in the league that adding another ridiculously talented closer to the mix made the Yankees appear to be unstoppable. I don’t know many Yankee fans (or executives) that mind that train of thought. Girardi also made it known that he expects Chapman to be their closer and will go into Spring with that in mind.

The Yankees also made some minor additions to their extended roster, but with all the wheeling and dealing still in the works, it seems like the farm system is in a constant state of flux with just a month to go before the formal invite goes out to Spring Training invitees.

Also part of the “wheeling and dealing” phase of the off-season is the arbitration part of the contracts of current players. Currently, they avoided arbitration (or came to terms with) Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley, while sending Chapman, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Didi Gregorius to the next level. Pineda and Ackley reached deals with the Yankees before the deadline this Friday. Negotiations continued this weekend, and Gregorius is the first to come to terms as of this afternoon.

Essentially, this business part of the player’s contract is to reach a deal for the final year of their contract — the player (via his agent) puts one number down and the GM (or his staff) put another number down and they negotiate to get to an agreement for that year to play for the team. This means that the Yankees are still in negotiations with Eovaldi, Nova, and Chapman, and should they come to terms before the arbitration meeting scheduled in February, the arbitration (a meeting where an arbitrator, a legal mediator, decides what the player will be paid) will be cancelled and the season moves on.

The Yankees lost former pitcher Luis Arroyo last week. Arroyo was a Yankee 1960-1963 and part of the famed 1961 team, helping them win the Series that year. After retiring, Arroyo served as a scout for the Yankees and was a popular fixture every Old Timers’ Day. He passed away last Wednesday after a battle with cancer at his home in Puerto Rico. He was 88.

And in other news, no Yankee alumni are headed to Cooperstown this July. The BBWAA voted earlier this month to formally elect two Yankee rivals into the Hall of Fame. Of the 440 ballots cast, 437 voted (99.3%) to elect Ken Griffey Jr. and 365 (83%) for Mike Piazza. After a really stellar career mostly with the Mariners, Griffey (or “Junior”, as he was affectionately known) set the record for most votes into the Hall in his first year up for eligibility. Piazza, a 3rd year candidate, spent most of his career with the Mets.

Candidates must earn at least 75% of the votes to be elected to the hall, which meant that other candidates up for the Hall missed the boat — including Bagwell, Raines, Hoffman, Schilling, Clemens, Bonds, E. Martinez, Mussina, McGriff, McGwire, Sheffield, and Sosa. Once a candidate has been through a decade of eligibility or receives less than 5% of the votes, he is removed from the ballot. Honestly, if I could vote for the Hall, Griffey and Piazza would definitely have been on my ballot. They deserve the honor and recognition for their amazing on-field talent and contributions to the sport of baseball.

Let us remember this day of people who stand for equality and justice and are willing to fight for it even to this day with the grace and dignity reflective of the people they represent. Use today to remember, but use today as your own call to action to give voice to those who aren’t heard.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” (Jackie Robinson)

Go Yankees!

Tennessee trades, but Rose still smells foul to MLB

The annual baseball Winter Meetings were held this past week in Nashville at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. Mainly a time for GMs, owners, and MLB executives to talk about the next season of baseball. Topics of discussion include the idea of more netting between the stands and the field to prevent the occasional fan injury from an errant foul or missed ball (or the rare flying bat) and an increase in the domestic violence charges of current, active players (and how to handle them from an executive and union standpoint for consequences and for prevention of such abhorrent behavior of a professional athlete). Other discussions included trades and free agent signings.

The Yankees were no exception. The biggest trade this last week was when the Yankees acquired infielder Starlin Castro from the Cubs in exchange for Adam Warren and a player to be named later. Sorry, Warren fans, but this does say a lot for Warren’s value as Castro is a valued 2nd baseman and a popular player in Chicago. Castro’s addition to the infield does amp up the offensive power and the defensive overall from the regular starters on the dirt.

Also, reliever Justin Wilson is headed to Detroit in exchange for minor league pitchers Chad Green and Luis Cessa.

The Yankees lost two prospects to the Rule 5 Draft last Thursday — pitcher Evan Rutckyj to the Braves and outfielder Jake Cave to the Reds. Cave made an impact last Spring Training and should be a good addition to the Reds’ farm system. The Rule 5 Draft is used by teams to exchange younger players within their minor leagues that would allow teams that cannot play them at the major league level the opportunity to fast-track their career.

And, wrapping up recent transactions, recently released free agent pitcher Domingo German (who selected free agency at the beginning of the month) re-signed with the Yankees to a minor league contract.

Okay, there are two bigger “names” that have been tossed around since October as potential trades (Miller and Gardner), but as of right now, neither are on their way anywhere but Tampa this March. Look, both players are veterans and excellent athletes and in order for Cashman to even look at an offer to trade for them, the other team would have to put on the table the likes of Harper or Trout or Greinke (or their young prospect counterparts). And as of right now, no one is willing to part with someone with that high of value any more than the Yankees are willing to part with what they consider high value prospects (Judge, Severino, and Sanchez, come to mind). So until there’s some deal or announcement, it’s all just talk.

However, there are some holes to fill in the roster to beef up the Yankees before Spring Training. Expect there to be more announcements beginning in the new year. And like every year, there’s always one more last-minute trade or signing before Opening Day.

And if you’re a Carlos Beltran fan, this may be his last year as a professional athlete. Beltran has one more year on his contract with the Yankees, and he is weighing his options but leaning toward making 2016 his final year before hanging up his cleats for good.

Brian Cashman, the elf, rappelled down a building in Connecticut again last week, with Santa (a professional climber) and MLB reporter (and Yogi’s granddaughter) Lindsay Berra (dressed as Mrs. Claus). The annual event thrills children who see it as a “special delivery” and opens the local Christmas season with community performances and a tree lighting ceremony.

In the biggest MLB news of the day, however, the MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has upheld the ban of Pete Rose from all MLB activities. Rose, once one of the best players in MLB history, became synonymous with “cheating” when he was exposed for several gambling scandals toward the end of his career as both a player and a coach. Rose eventually admitted to betting on MLB games while he was an active participant in the league. As a result, Rose was barred from all MLB activities (which spills over into the denial of his election to the Hall of Fame, a very different animal but still along the same vein). Now in his 70s, the former Reds player has petitioned for reinstatement since his first appeal of the charges in 1989.

As it has been over a quarter of a century since the decision to ban Rose, the new commissioner decided to check into the decision and decide whether the decision was to be upheld or if some loophole or mistake made would allow Rose to resume his participation in MLB. However, in a 5-page statement, Manfred explained his reasoning for upholding the original decision to bar Rose from the MLB, which more specifically direct involvement with particular MLB and MiLB organizations. (Manfred acknowledges that Rose is permitted to participate in special ceremonies that have no impact on on-field outcomes nor special associations with a particular team in the MLB system, including the minor leagues.)

There was a lot of chatter following the postseason that Rose might become a more permanent MLB feature again as he was one of several former players asked to participate in the FOX broadcasts of the playoffs and World Series games. (Alex Rodriguez also made a splash, albeit in a different light of sorts, in the same broadcasts.) So while it means that he can develop some sort of potential broadcasting career (with prior approval of the commissioner as it relates to indirect and third-party association with MLB), but I’m not sure he’ll be as desired now. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll miss his awful bow ties, brightly-colored pattern jackets, and random off-color stories.

Look, I’m glad Manfed and MLB upheld the decision. I know this gets compared to the PED scandal of the last fifteen years (though the PED problem began about 25 years ago), but this is really a different animal. PEDs haven’t always been explicitly illegal or banned under MLB regulations, so much so that for some time (think the Sosa-McGwire home run race of 1998) it was rather encouraged. MLB pitcher (and former Yankee) David Aardsma expressed similar opinions and is obviously relieved to see the MLB continue to uphold important points of integrity and keep the game clean in all aspects.

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Stay safe and count the days to Spring Training! Single game tickets go on sale in early January, but season tickets are still available. See you there!