Showing posts from February, 2021

A Friday Flashback

Though it's only from three summers ago, this photo of current Yankee Mike Ford deserves our attention. The regular 1st baseman that summer for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Ford was playing for Single-A Staten Island on a rehab assignment. ( This image is a from a Staten Island/Hudson Valley game on July 6th, 2018 .) Wind the clock forward to the present. Ford is in camp with the Yankees, and will likely see action during one of the first exhibition games that begin Sunday. But, once the regular season starts, the Staten Island Yankees won't be there. The franchise was one of the dozens eliminated in the overhaul and reorganization of the minor leagues. Ironically, Hudson Valley, a Tampa Bay affiliate in '18, will replace Staten Island in the Yankee organization beginning this spring.

If Your Birthday is February 25th...

Image share it with Paul O'Neill , who flipped an invisible switch when the Reds traded him to the Yankees, elevating his game to become a vital cog in four World Series championships over nine New York seasons. Tenacious all-out play earned him the fans' affections, as well as the nickname The Warrior from George Steinbrenner. O'Neill's keen insights and dry wit have led to a just-as-successful second Yankee career as their lead analyst on TV.  Jorge Soler , the Cuban expat slugger who, after struggling to earn an everyday job after signing with the Cubs, has developed into a steady middle-of-the-lineup presence since being traded to the Royals. Ken Dayley is another example of a player who struggled with his original team, but flourished after being traded. The lefthander never caught on as a Braves a starting pitcher, but became a valued reliever on the Cardinals 1985 and '87 pennant winners. Ed Lynch was a swingman on the pitching staffs of the Mets and Cubs

Heading Home

  Shin-Soo Choo has dropped the curtain on his 16-year career in North American baseball, the longest and most successful by any Korean everyday player. Tuesday, he signed with a team in the KBO. The lifetime .275 hitter says the decision was his -- several major league clubs were interested in him for 2021. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "I want to play in Korea because I want to play in front of my parents and I want to give back to Korean fans.” Until now, the 38-year-old’s parents had never seen him play pro ball in person. 

San Diego Commitment

You had to be impressed by Fernando Tatis Jr .'s media session on Monday.  Fresh from agreeing to a 14-year, $340 million extension designed to keep him in San Diego through 2034, the bubbly, budding superstar says he's "here to stay. I'm still the same kid on the field, playing the game I love." Sure sounds a lot more like Roy Campanella's sage "little boy in you" quote than someone focused on CNBC and planning his next big investment. In other words, more Tony Gwynn and less Dave Winfield. Keep in mind, that means a budding baseball fan now in kindergarten can expect his favorite Padre to still be there when he graduates high school. Give San Diego ownership credit: in a time when too many teams prefer to proclaim that (the financial) sky is falling and value draft picks and prospects more than game-changing veterans, the Padres are doing all they can to keep pace with the World Champions who play just up the 405 Freeway.

Opting Out of 2021

As vaccinations increase and the rate pf new infections decline, there's a sense that the worst of the pandemic may be behind us. So this weekend's news that Ian Desmond of the Rockies had opted out of the upcoming season came as a bit of a surprise. No one should ever be questioned for putting family considerations ahead of an athletic career. Now 35, Desmond is giving up the final $8 million of the five-year contract he signed with Colorado in 2017. With the calendar already telling Desmond that his career was winding down, could the tear-down of the Rockies have also influenced his decision? The trade of Nolan Arenado and non-tender of David Dahl may have signaled a new direction for the franchise in which the 11-year veteran no longer factored. It's a little different than what veterans like Brett Gardner or Justin Turner felt when they look less money or fewer years to return to a team with serious post-season aspirations.  

Hello-Goodbye Time in Flushing

Woke up this morning to the news of the Mets signing Taijuan Walker . Best known from his days with the Mariners and the Diamondbacks, the veteran righthander, now 28, was probably the best bet among the unsigned starting pitchers. He closed out the 60-game season on a strong note, posting a 1.37 ERA in six starts for the Blue Jays. He'll now join the competition for a rotation spot behind Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Carasco and David Peterson. While Walker gets ready to don the blue and orange, Tim Tebow says goodbye to his dream of being the next Brian Jordan. It's almost impossible to take up a second professional sport around age 30. Just ask that other Jordan... Michael. While it's easy to be skeptical or cynical, Tebow proved to be a popular draw during his three seasons in the Mets farm system. Now, with different ownership and the expectation of playing meaningful home games in September, instead of a gimmick who might draw a crowd on a slow day, Tebow hea

Throwback Thursday: Steinbrenner Field 2011

March 9th, ten years ago this spring... a night game at the Yankees spring training home. How about that just-before-sunset sky and the layers of contrasting clouds hovering above? A few moments later, Yankees legend and spring training instructor Ron Guidry makes a presentation to some young soccer players from a Tampa-area league sponsored by the Steinbrenner Family. On the mound, it's Bartolo Colon, just beginning his comeback. After being out of baseball during 2010, he's on his way to winning a roster spot (he'd go on to post an 8-10 record that season). Below, a practice so common for many years, but now discouraged due to safety concerns: Derek Jeter is one of several Yankees watching the game from folding chairs on the field just outside the dugout. And after the last out, the Boss thanks you for attending. Just a sweet night on vacation, a thousand miles from home, baseball under the moonlight skies of Florida's Gulf Coast.  

If Your Birthday is February 17th...

Image share it with Stephen Tarpley , a lefthanded reliever who appeared in parts of the 2018 and '19 season with the Yankees and this spring will attempt to join that select circle who've played for both New York teams. He's now in spring training with the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Roger Craig pitched for two New York teams -- among the most famous of all time. He came up with the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, where his personal highlight was being the starting pitcher in game five of the World Series, two days before Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees to nail down Brooklyn's only Worlds Championship.  The North Carolina native returned to New York for a couple of seasons of Polo Grounds duty with Casey Stengel's original Mets, losing more than 20 games in both 1962 and '63. For once, his manager wasn't going for a laugh when he exonerated the hard luck hurler: "You've gotta be good to lose that many." Craig was then traded to the Cardinals, where he

Monday Signings

Monday's free agent signings both have New York connections: Justin Wilson books a return to the Bronx, where in 2015 (seen above) he went a sparkling 5 - 0 as a key setup man in the Yankee bullpen. Brian Cashman, in a "sell high" moment, then flipped the lefty to the Tigers for a pair of prospects. Since then, he's pitched for the Cubs, and the past two seasons, the Mets. Ironically, this year, Wilson will be teammates with Chad Greene and Luis Cessa, the two players he was traded for are still with the Yankees. Kevin Pillar will experience New York baseball for the first time. The veteran centerfielder will bring his strong defensive skills to Citi Field, where he factors as either a platoon partner for Brandon Nimmo or the Mets late-innings defensive replacement.  


It really wasn't a surprise that the Dodgers and Justin Turner finally agreed to a deal. While things took longer than expected, LA has their regular 3rd baseman back in the fold before camp opens. Still productive last year at age 35, he sacrificed a bit of power for a higher batting average (.307) and .400 OBP. And with a less lively ball expected to be used in 2021, Turner's approach might be a trend-setter. The bearded one wasn't the only player to return to familiar territory this weekend. After a couple of up and down seasons with the Yankees, James Paxton heads back to Seattle on a one-year deal to rebuild his value for another try at free agency next winter.  

Value Selection

Thursday, the Red Sox signing  Marwin Gonzalez   was hardly "Breaking News." Compared to the nine-figure deal his former Astros teammate George Springer forged with the Blue Jays, it was normal print. Still, the former Houston supersub brings a lot to the table -- especially on a Boston team looking to get back to contender status in the AL East. Of course, having played on the tainted 2017 champions, you have to wonder whether he "got a little help from his friends," in posting those best-in-career numbers. Certainly, his production fell off the last two seasons with the Twins.  It's not a big investment: the Red Sox are gambling $3 million on a player who can fill in almost everywhere on the diamond, and has a history with Boston's once-again skipper (and former Astros coach) Alex Cora. One thing's for sure as Gonzalez heads to Fenway South: he won't be wearing his familiar number 9. That's long retired for Boston icon Ted Williams.  

Throwback Thursday: Spring Training 2009

  When I saw Darren O'Day  in a 2009 spring training game in Fort Lauderdale, I couldn't have imagined that a dozen years later, he'd join New York's other team. Catch him  walking toward the team bus after getting in some work in an exhibition game. But that's the life of a relief pitcher. Now 38 and having worked for five clubs over the last dozen seasons, he turned his sparkling performance with the 2020 Braves (4-0, and a 1.10 ERA) into a guaranteed one-year deal with the Yankees. You can see his claim to fame, a sidewinding underhanded delivery designed to confuse righthanded batters. Things went well during Grapefruit League play. O'Day began 2009 on the Mets roster -- but lasted just four games before being dropped from the roster. He returns to New York with a guaranteed contract worth $2.45 million as one of the arms to replace Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle in Aaron Boone's 2021 relief crew. It's more than a little ironic that my images of O

If Your Birthday is February 10th...

Image share it with  Max Kepler , th e German-born Twins rightfielder, who emerged as  one of Minnesota's crew of sluggers in 2019, before taking a step back during the 60-game season.  Liam Hendriks , is another "foreign import." The Australia native  -- after bouncing around the AL since 2011 --  cashed in two seasons of dominant relief with the A's for a three-year $54 million contract with the up-and-coming White Sox. Travis d'Arnaud is another late-bloomer. Touted as a future star as he came up through the Phillies and Blue Jays system, he emerged as a very good all around player with the 2019 Rays. Jumping to the Braves as a free agent last winter, he put up even better numbers, hitting over .320 and with an OPS in the .900s. Turning 32, the only question is how long can he sustain this peak while catching most of his team's schedule? Lenny Dykstra  embraced that nickname of "Nails." The fiery leadoff man who shared center field with Mookie

An Old Fashioned Trade

You don't often see deals like this: division rivals swapping well-known veterans. But that's what came down between the rebuilding Rangers and reloading A's.  Texas ships out the last remaining member of its back-to-back AL pennant winning teams, Elvis Andrus . Now 32, and with two years left on his contract, the 12-year veteran and MLB's first-ever player sharing his first name with the King of Rock and Roll, heads to Oakland, where he'll replace recently departed free agent Marcus Semien. While the A's say goodbye to strikeout-prone slugger Khris Davis . The man who holds one of baseball's weirdest records -- having hit .247 four years running -- reached 40 or more home runs in 2016, '17 and '18. But those numbers fell off in 2019 and again during last summer's 60-game season.  While Oakland sees Andrus as the easy solution to a lineup hole, Texas brings in a pricey veteran who'll see some time at DH and in left field -- and could be a wal

He Loves L.A.

Trevor Bauer is going home. The North Hollywood native, UCLA alum and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner made his decision Friday -- agreeing to a free agent deal with the Dodgers, choosing them over the Mets. Three seasons, but with opt-outs after the first two that could put him back on the market as soon as a year from now. Coming off two dominating seasons in the last three, there will be plenty of pressure to see if Bauer -- who was a good but far from great pitcher from 2014-'17, simply won the lottery in having a brilliant (and short) season in his walk year. At a reported $40 million salary the next two seasons, Andrew Friedman pushed a lot of chips in the middle of the table to try and hold off the ascending Padres.  

Salary Dump

It's such a crass term, but how else would you tab Thursday's deal where the Cardinals sent outfielder Dexter Fowler to the Angels. After signing a pricey five-year deal St. Louis in 2017, the former Cub, Astro and Rockie never lived up to expectations -- producing one OK year followed by three that underwhelmed. Following last week's big deal for Nolan Arenado, it's hardly surprising to see the Cards shuffle out some salary. A month from turning 35, and entering his walk year, Fowler was the logical candidate to be dealt. The biggest surprise was that the Angels agreed to pay $2 million toward his salary -- especially since the Cardinals wanted him gone at almost any price. Now, the Cardinals can plug a younger option into a corner outfield spot, and Fowler gets a chance to rebuild his value playing alongside Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.

$100 Million Man

After three stellar seasons with the Cardinals, Albert Pujols agreed to a seven-year $100 million extension with St. Louis. The contract bought out his three arbitrations seasons plus four years beyond.  The deal worked out well for both sides, as the Cardinals got the best years of Pujols' career for what became a bargain price -- while winning a pair of World Series championships. ( My image of Albert Pujols is from a Grapefruit League game at Jupiter, Florida in 2005 .)

He's Blocking My View

You have to admit, it's not easy to tell the Phanatic to move if he's in the row just in front. Besides, he might be ready to treat you to some popcorn! ( My images are from June 18th, 2016 at Citizens Bank Park .)  

On This Date in 1936

 ...the Baseball Hall of Fame announced its first group of inductees. And what an illustrious bunch, who gathered for the first Cooperstown ceremony three years later: Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack and Cy Young were seated. Standing behind them: Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler and Walter Johnson. Only Ty Cobb was missing from this famous photograph, a reprint of which is displayed on the club level of Citizens Bank Park.  Maybe the biggest surprise when you look at this remarkable group is that none of them received 100% of the vote. Ty Cobb came the closest, falling just four ballots short.

Getting His Wish

After a year of expressing unhappiness with the Rockies organization, Nolan Arenado got his wish this weekend -- a trade from Colorado to St. Louis. Now, he joins Paul Goldschmidt as infield bookends on a club that suddenly looks ready to rule the NL Central. Is it fair to play the blame game after the Rockies best alltime player just talked his way out of Denver? While any player has a right to be frustrated or disappointed when his team doesn't win, was it right for Arenado to feel "disrespected?"  The Rockies have made some questionable player moves over the years. The ill-fated signing of free agent Ian Desmond was one. Then there's watching former NL batting champ DJ LeMahieu walk away -- only to turn it up several notches more, once he donned Yankee pinstripes.  Concluding that, despite a nine figure contract that will pay him over $30 million this season, the Rockies were never going to contend with the Dodgers or the vastly improved and now-aggressive Padres,