Monday, March 31, 2014

New York Yankees’ Dean Anna: End of a “long journey”

Dean Anna led the Triple-A Pacific CoastLeague with a .331 average in 2013 and didn’t even get the courtesy of a call up from the parent club San Diego Padres in September. Fast forward to an under-the-radar trade early in the offseason and Anna was part of the most storied franchise in baseball, the New York Yankees.

Better for him, there was some room for movement in the organization with the Yankees losing Robinson Cano to free agency and a slew of question marks around the infield.

Anna reported for spring training and put in his work. He hit .262 this spring and played well at three different infield positions. The Yankees announced over the weekend that the 27-year-old lefty hitter made the Opening Day roster as a reserve infielder.

With Brendan Ryan on the disabled list, Anna will be the primary back up for starting shortstop Derek Jeter. Jeter is expected to have off days penciled into the opening of the season and Anna will take the role until Ryan is healthy.

Anna, through a press release delivered to The Baseball Stance by his management company Worldwide Career Management, expressed his enthusiasm.

“It was a long journey to get to where I am now, but it was all worth the ride,” said Anna about
making the Opening Day roster. “Every step of the journey has been leading to this moment, and it’s great to finally be here.”

Anna, an Illinois native, will wear number 45 in homage to his childhood hero Michael Jordan. Jordan wore 45 when he came out of retirement.

I believe that Anna has a chance to excel in the Yankees organization. His versatility will allow him to see a good number of plate appearances this season. It is feasible to suggest that Anna will have every opportunity to continue to grow with the Yankees and has a promising future ahead in the Bronx.

Photo Courtesy of Worldwide Career Management.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



New York Yankees: Preston Claiborne, DFA candidate

The New York Yankees are one day away from the start of their 2014 regular season. As the team readies itself for action against the Houston Astros, team management has to deal with one 40-man roster spot.

When the Yankees decided to add non-roster invitee Yangervis Solarte to the 25-man roster instead of Eduardo Nunez it created the necessity to remove a player from the current 40-man roster.

The easiest thing to do is designate a player for assignment (DFA) if the team cannot trade one of its players currently on the 40-man roster. Who would the Yankees choose to DFA if they cannot find a trade partner?

Nunez could be an option. The Yankees have obviously had their fill of Nunez’s inconsistencies. He possesses a mediocre bat and is a below average fielder. He does however provide some depth and experience. The Yankees will likely want to hang onto Nunez until they are fully comfortable with Solarte and Dean Anna in their utility roles, or in case of injury to one of the infield starters.

My best guess is that Preston Claiborne gets the boot if the Yankees go the DFA route. Claiborne had a promising start to the 2013 season, but it was washed away by a poor August (5.23 ERA) and a horrendous September (16.20 ERA). He was a complete non-factor down the stretch last year.

Despite that, Claiborne entered spring training with a solid shot of being a member of the bullpen due to a wide-open field of candidates. He failed to impress, in fact he simply imploded. Claiborne was knocked around to the tune of a 14.29 ERA. He allowed 14 hits in just 5.2 innings.

Claiborne’s performance is one thing, but more importantly the Yankees learned they have several relievers who profile as better options. Looking up and down the list there isn’t another player who deserves to be removed from the roster in my opinion. Further, I believe Claiborne has a better chance of passing through waivers than Nunez. So, if the Yankees want to take their chances they could DFA Claiborne, place him on waivers and hope he isn’t claimed. Then they could re-sign him if they’d like or he becomes a free agent.

There is not a single circumstance where I can see the Yankees regretting a decision to DFA Claiborne, but Nunez, albeit not the greatest weapon is more useful to keep around.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.




Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 MLB predictions to hang your hat on

It is that time of the year. Everyone is making predictions so here are mine.

First, I’ll supply a predicted order of finish and a short snippet about each division. If I believe the team will be one of the wild card participants it is noted with (WC) next to their name. Then I’ll provide my selections for American League Champ, National League Champ and the eventual World Series Champ. Lastly, I’ll take a stab at the individual end of year awards for each league.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

American League East
  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. New York Yankees (WC)
  3. Boston Red Sox (WC)
  4. Baltimore Orioles
  5. Toronto Blue Jays
Many suggest this is the best division in baseball. The top three here will all make the playoffs. Each team could win 82+ games.

American League Central
  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins
Detroit is loaded and primed for a big season. The Royals could edge out one of the AL East teams for a wild card spot.

American League West
  1. Oakland Athletics
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Seattle Mariners
  5. Houston Astros
The Rangers will be unable to completely overcome slow start and the Athletics stay consistently good throughout season.

American League Championship Series – Rays over Tigers

National League East
  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. Philadelphia Phillies
  4. New York Mets
  5. Miami Marlins
The Nationals could win the division by 10-plus games ahead of a decimated Braves squad.

National League Central
  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates (WC)
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs
The Cardinals prove once again to be an exceptional organization. The Pirates don’t miss a beat, but come up short in top heavy division, outlasting Reds for final wild card spot.

National League West
  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Francisco Giants (WC)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies
The Dodgers go wire to wire, but the Giants make them work for the division title.

National League Championship Series  Dodgers over Cardinals

World Series Champion – Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays finally complete the ultimate goal by showing a remarkable ability to win with less.

AL MVPMike Trout
NL MVPYadier Molina

AL Cy YoungChris Sale
NL Cy YoungStephen Strasburg

AL Rookie of YearMasahiro Tanaka
NL Rookie of YearGregory Polanco

AL Manager of YearJoe Maddon
NL Manager of YearDon Mattingly

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

MLB logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Saturday, March 29, 2014

New York Yankees: Eduardo Nunez out, Yangervis Solarte in?

The New York Yankees have one roster spot left and it has come down to Eduardo Nunez and Yangervis Solarte. Dean Anna, according to multiple reports, was told Friday night that he’d won a spot on the 25-man roster. Nunez and Solarte were told not to pack for Houston just yet.

Nunez is the once promising, yet extremely inconsistent right-handed hitter and Solarte is a switch-hitting upstart non-roster invitee.

Nunez has been given chance after chance to have a larger role with this team, but the Yankees might have finally begun to sour on him. Solarte took the Grapefruit League by storm with an early barrage at the plate and has kept his average above the .400 mark since.

Each player is versatile enough to play multiple infield spots. Solarte’s advantage is that he can hit from both sides. Nunez’s advantage is his experience as a major leaguer and maybe more importantly he’s on the 40-man roster and Solarte is not.

What should the Yankees do?

I think it is fairly simple, but I’ve been known to be way off base (see my last bullpen spot prediction here).

Nunez is never going to amount to anything but filler on this or any team. The Yankees know this already (or they should) or else they would have just decided on keeping Nunez.

The delay here is most likely about two things; who gets knocked off the 40-man roster if they select Solarte or there is a potential move outside the organization the Yankees are trying to make. The team has until Sunday at 3 p.m. to finalize its roster. The Yankees open the season Tuesday night in Houston.

There is a chance that the Yankees have had enough of Nunez and will simply designate him for assignment, making room for Solarte. Or they could option Nunez and DFA someone else, maybe Preston Claiborne or another pitcher?

There is also a chance the Yankees are looking to find a new home for Nunez or Solarte. At this stage in the spring there are many moving parts and teams scramble to fill holes that were never solidified in their own camp. If the Yanks can get something in return for either player that helps elsewhere, they’d surely consider it.

Me? I’d take this opportunity to part ways with Nunez. I’ve never understood what the Yankees have seen or hoped they had in Nunez. He’s had some stretches of good play but for the most part there is nothing spectacular about a guy with a career .692 OPS in 827 major league plate appearances and a poor glove. His bat in the minors was no better posting a .680 OPS in almost 3,000 plate appearances. This spring he’s been given ample time at the plate and turned in a .668 OPS. This is Nunez.

Solarte, 26, showed some promise in the Texas Rangers organization. In two seasons at Triple-A, Solarte amassed a line of .282/.332/.404 OPS (1,145 PA) hitting 11 homers in 2012 and 12 in 2013. Solarte’s hot spring in which he’s hit .429/.489/.571 through Friday’s game, flashes nice upside when measured with his numbers in the minors.

Solarte’s ability to hit from both sides also provides Yankees manager Joe Girardi with flexibility for a pinch hitter in late innings. Can you see Nunez ever providing that ability?

The Yankees could just as easily decide to stick with Nunez and worry about what to do with Solarte later. I firmly believe that would be a mistake and Nunez’s time with the Yankees has finally run its course. And if Nunez makes the club, he’s on notice that he is very close to heading out the door.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Friday, March 28, 2014

New York Yankees: Cesar Cabral, not Vidal Nuno for final bullpen spot

The New York Yankees are in the process of winding down their final selections for the 2014 Opening Day roster. They have two infield bench roles which you can read about here, and one slot left in the bullpen.

That spot looks to be for the second left-handed option after veteran Matt Thornton. The battle is between Cesar Cabral and Vidal Nuno.

Cabral was purchased by the Yankees from the Kansas City Royals in 2011 after they snagged him in the Rule 5 draft from the Boston Red Sox. Cabral, 25, unfortunately suffered a stress fracture in his left elbow in 2012 but is now fully healthy. He climbed three minor league levels in 2013 before reaching the Bronx in September. Cabral appeared in eight major leagues games, striking out six batters in 3.1 innings.

Nuno was a fifth starter candidate for much of this spring training. He pitched well, but eventually lost out to Pineda. Nuno made three spot starts for the Yankees in 2013 and was very effective. He spent the other part of his season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In 2012, Nuno was with Double-A Trenton for a majority of his time and went 9-5 with a 2.45 ERA in 114 innings, all as a starter.

As the Yankees ponder this decision, it might be simple enough to say Nuno is a starter, and Cabral is a reliever so that’s that. Obviously it is not that cut and dry or else the Yankees would have made this decision a couple of days ago. Nuno might be the better pitcher right now especially with his control versus Cabral who has had difficulty limiting walks. So why Cabral?

What is clear is that the Yankees as a whole received very good pitching from many players this spring. Each of the final four members of the fifth starter competition pitched well and many of the bullpen candidates had very successful springs. This should make the decision easier for the Yankees.

I think it is best that the Yankees send Nuno to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and keep him stretched out and it has to do with depth and the future. With David Phelps and Adam Warren, the other losers of the fifth starter competition, on the major league roster, they couldn’t be counted on for more than two to three innings on short notice. Nuno will not need to have time to work his pitch count back up in case there is a need for a spot start. While none of the current Yankees starters are experiencing any physical issues, the team can never be overly prepared for an injury situation.

I believe the Yankees have to maintain a clear career path for Nuno and that is as a starter. Beyond Nuno being better suited as a starter, do the Yankees want him sitting in the pen for the random lefty that they don’t need Thornton to face or because Thornton has already been used? How often will that happen?

Additionally, Cabral has the ability to be a very good power option out of the pen especially against lefty hitters. Thornton is aging and his performance over the last couple of seasons has not been nearly as dominant as it was years ago with the Chicago White Sox. Cabral could slide into the top lefty spot if Thornton was to completely fail or get hurt. Also, the Yankees received good work from lefty Fred Lewis this spring, so if something was to happen to Thornton and Cabral took his spot, Lewis could be brought up if the Yankees still wanted a second lefty at that time. Or there are a slew of righties at the ready. There is depth.

To me it is all about what the team needs first, preparing its players for the mindset of their role, giving players the chance to succeed long term and allowing them to be ready to help when called upon. There will come a time when the Yankees require a spot start or several consecutive starts and Nuno will be ready to make them without worrying about pitch count and being stretched out.

Nuno could factor into the Yankees long term rotation plans in years to come. Cabral has shown this spring and in his short stint last season that he can be productive in this very specific role and has the potential to grow into a high leverage reliever.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

MLB: Forbes' team value rankings provide interesting takeways

For 17 years, Forbes has presented a fantastic listing of franchise valuations and earnings results for all 30 Major League Baseball teams. For each of those years, the New York Yankees have topped the list as the league’s most valuable franchise.

The Yankees came in at $2.5 billion this year, $500 million ahead of the second-ranked club, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Forbes’ valuations “are enterprise values (debt plus equity) and include completed television deals that begin in the future, but exclude the equity interests in other assets the team may own, such as regional sports networks or concession businesses. Revenues and operating income figures include all revenue and expenses for each team and its stadium where applicable.”

There are several takeaways beyond the values of the teams which I found interesting.

  • Three teams saw their value increase by at least 20 percent – the San Francisco Giants (27%), the Dodgers (24%) and the Chicago Cubs (20%)
  • Each of those three teams are also said to be worth at least $1 billion
  • Despite a value change downward of 15 percent, the Houston Astros managed the second-highest operating income ($55.9 million)
  • The Astros lost 111 games in 2013
  • Only the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Cubs and the Giants ranked in the top 10 in each of the following categories – value, value change, revenue, operating income
  • The Red Sox and the Cardinals met in the 2013 World Series
  • The Cubs continue to enjoy high rankings despite five straight losing seasons
  • Further the Cardinals (23%) and Giants (16.9%) were ranked #2 and #3 in operating margin (percentage of operating income in relation to revenue)
  • The highest operating margin was produced by the Astros (30.1%) and lowest by the Dodgers (-27.6%)
  • The New York Mets (-1%), the Miami Marlins (-4%) and Astros (-15%) were the only teams which registered a decrease in value
  • Those teams had a combined 191-295 record in 2013
  • The Yankees revenue was 29.1 percent larger than the next team in line, the Red Sox
  • The Yankees revenue was at least double that of 17 other teams
  • 11 teams failed to generate positive operating income
  • 11 teams showed operating income of at least $20 million
As cable deals continue to evolve for teams and baseball is able to maintain attendance growth across the game (on average), these numbers will continue to rise for a majority of the teams.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New York Yankees: Brendan Ryan to start season on DL

The New York Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan will definitely start the season on the disabled list according to a tweet by the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Barbarisi.

While not surprising, this is troubling news for the Yankees because Ryan’s sole purpose on this roster as far as I can see is to backup Derek Jeter at shortstop.

Ryan has been suffering from back issues for the last few weeks. His DL-stint can be backdated to March 5, allowing him to be back with the big club not long after the season begins assuming he’s healthy.

This leaves open another infielder spot on the bench. The candidates for the bench spots are Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. It seems like two of them will make the club when camp breaks. I would assume Nunez is a lock to make the team because manager Joe Girardi loves "his guys" and it’s anyone’s call between Anna and Solarte.

My assumption is that whoever backs up Jeter will certainly see some time early on in the regular season in an effort to keep the captain fresh. Nunez is probably the favorite, but he is hitting a weak .233 this spring and demonstrated little ability to play shortstop last season when called upon to fill in for Jeter.

Anna has been consistently good this spring and Solarte started off hitting everything in sight, but has cooled recently. The Yankees have had each of them at different spots around the infield this spring so both carry the "versatility" label. Anna might have a slight edge in that he is part of the 40-man roster and Solarte is not.

If it was my call, I’d go with Anna and Solarte and leave Nunez off the 25-man roster. Nunez has run his course on this team as far as I’m concerned. Time for some new blood.

Your thoughts?

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Mets, Mariners and differing business practices

Major League Baseball contracts are incredibly intricate documents and that’s why these players pay handsome sums of money to their agencies. Tuesday, there were two instances in which a player’s contract language, or lack thereof, came into play in determining their immediate fate. One exhibited team exhibited good faith practices and the other did not in my opinion.

First, per Anthony DiComo at MLB.com, Daisuke Matsuzaka was optioned to Triple-A by the New York Mets. Matsuzaka is fighting for the role of the fifth starter but some injury issues with Jon Niese has the final decision on the Mets rotation in a holding pattern. They might decide to use the other fifth starter candidate Jenrry Mejia early in the season in case Niese cannot make it back to the hill as planned. The Mets would have to wait 10 days to call Mejia up if they optioned him instead of Matsuzaka. There are no such concerns with Matsuzaka.

Anyway, the story here is about the contract language in Matsuzaka’s contract which stipulated that the team would have to pay him $100,000 in order to assign him to the minors. He agreed to this up front and the Mets forked over the cash to basically hold Matsuzaka until they need him up on the big leagues. No contract surprises and good business.

Shift to Seattle where the Mariners agreed to release pitcher Randy Wolf according to Greg Johns at MLB.com. Wolf was in camp under a contract which would have paid him $1 million if he made the team and he could have earned another $4.25 million in performance bonuses. Wolf has not pitched in a game since 2012, after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Wolf, 37, was told he was going to break camp with the club, but he would need to sign a “45-day consent release” agreement. The addendum would allow the Mariners to release him or send him to the minors within 45 days. Not until the 46th day would Wolf’s contract become guaranteed. Wolf did not agree to this new wrinkle and asked for his release.

So, we’ve got two different ways of doing things here. One is up front and with no surprises and the other is handled with an ‘oh by the way’ additional agreement.

Matsuzaka and his agent willfully signed his contract allowing the Mets to option him to the minors with the stipulation of a cash payout. He can still return to the Mets and be paid his major league salary. Wolf commented that he felt the new contract language was against the grain of the original deal.

"I principally objected to that, simply because we negotiated in good faith in February on a very team-friendly contract if I were to make the team," Wolf said.

I’m not against the clause itself, it is used often and allowed per baseball’s collective bargaining agreement. But, I believe it is poor business to ask it be signed after the original contract has been completed and at the time of telling the player he is going to make the club. What’s interesting is Wolf may have signed that addendum in the beginning and he’d be with the Mariners in camp right now.

The Mariners needed someone to bridge the gap with Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker on the mend and potentially unavailable available until the end of April or early May; essentially within 45 days. Wolf saw the writing on the wall and decided to try his luck elsewhere.

Hopefully for Wolf he’ll latch on with another club and it will be for the better. The rest of the players out there need to take heed of these shady last-minute additions to executed contracts and the teams that try to get away with deploying them.

Photo courtesy of Steven Paluch via Flickr.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bovada sets Bryce Harper's home run over/under at 26.5

Bovada set the over/under for home runs hit by Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper at 26.5 for 2014 (hat tip to Buster Olney for tweeting this out).

Harper, who was recently named the most overrated player by his MLB peers has a career-high of 22 dingers in a season, which he hit during his 139-game rookie campaign.

The 21-year-old Harper will need to play in at least 130 games for the bet to be valid. He played in just 118 games in 2013 and hit 20 homers.

Here is Harper's most recent homer from today's action against the New York Mets.




Hard to take the under when you see his raw power. If he reaches the minimum threshold set by Bovada for games played, I believe he is safe for the over.

What about you? Over or under?

Photo courtesy of Scott Ableman via Flickr.

Chris Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Monday, March 24, 2014

New York Yankees: Pitching is key to start of season

As the New York Yankees approach the beginning of the 2014 regular season it’s looking more and more clear that at the start of the season the Bombers might need to rely on their pitching staff to carry the load.

The Yankees have received very good pitching up and down staff this spring; rotation members, guys fighting for a rotation spot and many of the bullpen candidates. As spring training winds down the Yankees are living the old cliché that pitching is ahead of hitting early on in the season.

Of the anticipated Yankee regulars, only Brett Gardner is hitting above .270 this spring through Sunday's games. Brian Roberts, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran are hitting in the .260s. None of the regulars has an OPS above .800.

Yes, watching Francisco Cervelli, Yangervis Solarte and Zoilo Almonte rake has been great. But when the season starts, barring injury, these guys are riding the pine and in Solarte’s and Almonte’s case not assured of a big league roster spot yet.

Derek Jeter (5-for-44), Mark Teixeira (3-for-26) and Jacoby Ellsbury (4-for-23) are not exactly boosting confidence that a great offensive barrage is approaching when the team heads north. Jeter and Teixeira are surely rusty from a lack of reps in 2013, while Ellsbury has now been dealing with a sore right calf which has stunted his work for over a week.

Sure, they could each find their stride in the next few days or simply begin to click as they play games that matter. Yankees manager Joe Girardi indicated to the media Sunday that he is not “too concerned.”

He knows as well as you and I know that what happens in spring is not a certain precursor to the regular season as a whole. But I think it could be for April.

I believe Jeter, Teixeira and Ellsbury will continue to struggle early on and it’s not like any of the other regulars are tearing the cover off the ball right now where I can say I see a change on the horizon. This puts the onus on the pitching staff which fortunately has a multitude of ready arms.

CC Sabathia is still working on his alternate pitches to balance his not-so-fast fastball and has shown nice progress in his last two outings (zero runs in 12 innings). Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova have pitched well this spring (3.00 and 3.66 ERA respectively). Michael Pineda, the assumed fifth starter, has been a welcome surprise (allowed first runs of spring Sunday; 16 Ks in 15 IP). Hiroki Kuroda has endured one bad outing which has inflated his numbers.

The bullpen, beginning with closer David Robertson (0 ER, 1 H in 5.0 IP), has been superb this spring. While Girardi has yet to make final cuts or announce his intentions, there are several players who have stood out this spring -- David Phelps, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, Cesar Cabral, Matt Daley and Fred Lewis included. Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton have not been lights out, but will be late game options for the Yanks.

So, when the Yankees leave Tampa, they’ll likely need to rely on the arms to get them through the first couple of weeks. While I admire Girardi’s confidence in his players, the reality is he’s got some guys who he might not receive any offensive support from early on. It puts the pressure on a pitching staff which has endured its own consistency issues in the past.

The Yankees play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball so getting out of the blocks quickly can go a long way. After three games to start the season in Houston, the Bombers jump straight into the American League East race against the Blue Jays in Toronto and then home for the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. In all, the Yankees face an AL East opponent 17 times in April.

If you don’t think it’s important the Yankees get out a hot start in April, then you’re sadly mistaken. Will the bats all of the sudden come alive? In my view it’s not likely against some teams with good/excellent pitching of their own. The offense will have to muster some runs when they can, but in the end April is in the hands of the pitching staff.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

New York Yankees: Francisco Cervelli is more valuable as backup than trade chip

Rumors have been swirling over the last few weeks about New York Yankees backup catcher Francisco Cervelli being a target of other teams because of the Yankees’ depth at the position. It would seem teams might be ready to send offers to the Bombers based on Cervelli’s experience and his impressive offensive performance this spring. Maybe they already have.

Usually if a player is clicking on all cylinders his value immediately begins to rise in the eyes of those outside of an organization. The problem for those teams is that the Yankees might not be so willing to depart with Cervelli considering their other options haven’t been as productive this spring and who simply may not be ready to be Brian McCann’s full-time backup.

Cervelli is hitting a robust 14-for-28 with a team-leading three home runs this spring and a 1.462 OPS through Wednesday’s game. His competition, Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy, are hitting .192 and .080 respectively through Wednesday. Catching prospect Gary Sanchez was never in the picture for a big league role this spring.

In 2013, Romine put together a paltry .206/.255/.296 line in 143 plate appearances mostly backing up Chris Stewart. Murphy saw limited action at the end of the 2013 season with the Yanks, spending a majority of his time with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He opened some eyes ripping a combined 29 doubles and 12 homers with a .773 OPS in 460 total plate appearances in the minors last year.

Cervelli has been fairly solid with the bat during his five-plus seasons shuttling back and forth between the minors and the Bronx. He sports a .271/.343/.367 line in 595 major league plate appearances. Cervelli was off to a solid start in 2013 (.269/.377/.500 in 60 PA) before suffering a thumb injury and then he was suspended for his involvement in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.

Cervelli’s name has been linked to the Chicago White Sox who are looking for depth at the catcher’s position, with second baseman Gordon Beckham as the rumored player coming back to the Yankees. This makes some sense for the Yankees on the surface. With a fragile Brian Roberts at second the Yanks might have some interest in Beckham. But, the young infielders in camp have impressed thus far and may make it easier to stick with Cervelli. That is for now.

I believe there is a good chance that the Yankees will hold pat to start the season. If McCann goes down with a lengthy injury, having Cervelli is probably the best bet as a replacement this season. It allows Romine and more importantly Murphy a chance for regular reps in the minors. Sticking Murphy, ranked number four among Yankees prospects by MLB.com, in a backup role does him little good in my opinion.

The Yankees will likely hold their breath with Roberts and his proclivity for injury. If something significant was to happen to him they would either ask Brendan Ryan to shift over from his backup shortstop role or use any of the players currently fighting for the last infield bench spot – Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte. Or they could move Kelly Johnson, the team’s assumed third baseman, to second and have one of the others mentioned slot in at third base. The point is they have options which might not be any worse than Beckham.

If such a circumstance arose, and none of the in-house options panned out, the Yankees could begin to look further into a trade partner for Cervelli assuming by that time there is some more comfort in Romine or Murphy coming up in Cervelli’s place.

In my view, there are too many what-ifs right now for the Yankees to consider dealing Cervelli, who could potentially start 30-40 games this season. Besides the fact that he is not going to hurt the team offensively, he knows the pitching staff better than McCann or anyone else in the organization at this point and that goes a long way.

While it’s nice to play around with names of teams/players where there seems to be match, it is also very important to look beyond the immediate impact. In this case, despite the Yankees depth as an organization in the catcher slot, only Cervelli brings the assurance of being a solid major league catcher right now. He’s more important as a member of the team than he is as a trade chip at this moment in the season.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Time to face facts about Tommy John surgery

I’m not an injury specialist. I’m not a statistical guru. So, if you’ve started this article and think I am going to be able to add them together and inform you of the reasons why Tommy John surgery is not the answer, you’ll be disappointed. No one knows exactly why some players respond better or worse than others after receiving ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) surgery. All the data in the world has yet to help and apparently the surgery itself is far from a sure thing. Reality is, no one knows what to do about it.



I simply want to discuss the grand disappointment that befalls pitchers who throw their hearts out or should I say their elbows apart only to have to succumb to the knife. For many aspiring and current professional baseball pitchers, one part of the body they all know is the UCL. The procedure to fix damage to the UCL is all at once feared, assumed and dealt with.

More and more, pitchers are having the surgery and many of them are able to toe the rubber again and perform at or near the level they did prior to the surgery. The procedure has become so second-nature that we as fans tend to ho-hum it.

The organizations don’t know what do, the doctors have yet to make the operation full-proof and the pitchers are left with much uncertainty after they step back on the mound.

For every pitcher like John Smoltz who has the surgery and excels until the end of his career, there are the Kris Medlen’s and Jarrod Parker’s going for a second round of ligament/tendon swaps, or more correctly the second time, tendon/tendon swaps. The outlook for those going for a second procedure is not nearly as comforting as after the first.

Let’s just say that the Atlanta Braves are very happy that they did not add Medlen and prospective two-time Tommy John recipient Brandon Beachy to the plethora of multiyear/multimillion dollar extensions this offseason. The prospects of Medlen and Beachy leading the Braves into the latter part of this decade just got dicey.

No matter which way this is cut -- pun intended -- the only assurance a player, the surgeon, the team and the fans can hang their hat on is that we don’t know what’s going to happen to a competitor once the procedure is performed. All too often, the pitcher does not bother to remedy the situation by changing his delivery, so of course there is automatic wear on the replacement tendon from the moment long-tossing begins. The answer is not just about the surgery.

Some players will never need the surgery again, and if they do it is likely to come at a time when retirement is coming into play anyway and they simply take their guaranteed cash and move on to jobs as pitching coaches teaching the same crappy mechanics. I know, I said I wasn’t an expert, but does it require expertise to make a remark like that? I don’t think so.

The answer may very well be that while surgeons look to find an improved method of repairing UCL damage, the pitchers and teams will have to do a better job of putting less stress and wear on the elbow. This requires a change at the lowest levels of baseball, where kids are hurling four different pitches in Babe Ruth games on back-to-back nights to fulfill the dream of a former wannabe professional ballplayer coaching his son's team.

Since that is unlikely to happen, expect more ups and downs where it relates to your favorite players headed to see Dr. James Andrews. And if it is their second time under the knife, don’t hold your breath that even the current mastermind can make a difference.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Monday, March 17, 2014

Jacoby Ellsbury: Spring kinks or sign of things to come?

New York Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was slated to hit in the batting cage Monday even before the team’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates was rained out. Ellsbury has not played since Saturday due to a tight right calf muscle.

According to multiple reports this morning, including this one from Chad Jennings of The Journal News, Ellsbury may also sit out Tuesday against his former team, the Boston Red Sox, per Yankees manager Joe Girardi. I’m fairly certain the Yankees are being extra cautious here, but at the same time it does bring up some concern where Ellsbury is involved.


Red Sox fans often complained that Ellsbury wouldn’t step on the field if he wasn’t 100 percent. Even in a season where he was mostly healthy, he finally fell victim to a compression fracture in his right foot causing him to miss most of Sept. 2013. In all, Ellsbury missed 28 games in 2013. Fortunately for Ellsbury, he was fantastic when on the field (.298/.355/.426 with 92 runs and 52 stolen bases) and the Yankees opened the vault with a seven-year, $153 million deal.

So, is this recent bout with a tight calf simply part of the aches and pains associated with spring training or is it a sign of things to come where it concerns Ellsbury and how often he steps on the field in 2014?

I asked this question via social media and received varied responses -- some said it was kinks and others said this was something Yankee fans should simply get used to.

I’m trying to be optimistic and I assume if this was the regular season, Ellsbury would indeed be in the lineup. He said as much Sunday. He’s sitting out because these games don’t matter and why force the issue in mid-March? I get the logic and actually agree with it, but it doesn’t make me feel very confident about how the season is going to progress.

I expect that Ellsbury will be a productive player when he is on the field, but I also suspect that we will see Brett Gardner in center field for more than a handful of games in 2014 and beyond.

Maybe Gardner’s recent extension (four years, $52 million starting in 2015) was an expensive insurance policy for Ellsbury? That’s a lot of cash wrapped up in four legs.

What do you say? Kinks or typical Ellsbury? Let me know in the comments.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mostly homegrown bullpen for 2014 Yankees?

The New York Yankees get loads of flak for failing to develop their own talent. That said there have been a number of players in the not too distant past that came up through the Yankee organization and became superstars. The core four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada come to mind, and that Bernie Williams guy was a decent player.

However, the Yankees are seen by many as a team which relies on the free agent market to build its roster and those sharing such a viewpoint would not be entirely wrong. $500 million-plus spent this offseason pretty much speaks volumes about their strategy.

There is a developing situation in this 2014 spring training camp which could counterbalance the argument slightly. The bullpen could be configured by as many as four (maybe five) homegrown Bombers when camp breaks, and potentially more as the season progresses.

We know that David Robertson is going to be the closer for this team and I recently wrote he will excel in 2014. Robertson is the first of the homegrown relievers on the roster.

It is almost sure thing that barring injury lefty Matt Thornton and righty Shawn Kelley will lock down spots. After that the Yankees could fill the remainder of the slots with homegrown talent. Who are they?

I predicted that Michael Pineda will claim the last rotation spot in 2014 which would leave David Phelps a place in the bullpen. Phelps, a former Baby Bomber, I argued could actually end up with an important late-inning role this season.

Adam Warren also figures to come up short in the battle for the fifth spot and will likely find a home in the pen as the Yankees long man. Warren came up through the Yankees’ system beginning with the short season Staten Island Yankees in 2009.

Dellin Betances has had an impressive spring so far. In eight innings the big right-hander has struck out seven batters and has yet to allow a run. The former top-prospect, converted to a reliever last season, which was seen as a last ditch effort by the Yankees. It may be paying off. At 23-years-old, Betances could very well break camp with the team.

Preston Claiborne’s spring has not been nearly as good as Betances’ but he did throw some important innings in the Bronx in 2013. His experience on a big league mound, might make some difference in the Yankees selection process.

There are two other righties in camp who may crack the MLB roster either as camp breaks or at some point during the season.

Mark Montgomery, a hard-throwing 23-year-old has not allowed a hit or a run in three innings of spring work and spent a majority of his time at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2013. He recorded a 3.38 ERA in 40 innings, racking up 49 strikeouts in the process with the RailRiders. Montgomery ranked 15th on MLB.com’s Yankees’ prospect list for 2014.

Danny Burawa has shown some promise this spring as well (one earned run in five innings). Burawa topped out at Double-A Trenton in 2013, working 66 innings in relief. He struck out 66 batters and held opponents to a .202 average.

Lastly, the Yankees have one more homegrown reliever with a chance to see some major league time this season, southpaw Fred Lewis. Lewis split time at three levels of the Yankees' system last season, but most of his work was done with Trenton. There, he tossed 43.1 innings and notched a 2.28 ERA. He had a very high WHIP (1.523) due to a poor walk rate (4.2 per 9 IP). He has thrown 5.1 innings of scoreless ball this spring.

If I were to guess, I could see the Yankees carrying at least four homegrown players right out of camp (Robertson, Phelps, Warren and Betances). There is a chance one of the others mentioned could make it five. Regardless of who breaks camp, I suspect we could see all of these players in New York at some point this season.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Yankees' David Robertson will succeed as closer

The New York Yankees lost the greatest closer of all time when Mariano Rivera retired from the game at the end of the 2013 season. The team spent more than $500 million on free agents this offseason and not one player was signed with the intention of replacing Rivera.

The Yankees decided potentially long before the offseason began that they would be best served to have Rivera’s setup man the last couple seasons, David Robertson, carry the burden of following up Rivera.

Being a closer is no easy task. They are often times asked to do things that other pitchers are not -- strand runners with the game on the line and with little or no time for the offense to catch up. Closers take most of the blame for late-game losses in which they cough up the lead and are sometimes overly celebrated for saves. But, following Rivera could make the role of Yankees closer the hardest of all 30 MLB teams in 2014 as far as scrutiny is concerned.

Can Robertson handle it?

Well, the jury is out on this. The Yankees obviously believe he can. Not only did they decide to not sign one of several closers available this offseason, but they didn’t bother to make any significant upgrades behind Robertson. They will be relying on Matt Thornton, who is no longer the dominant lefty from his Chicago White Sox days, and a group of young and/or inexperienced arms.

Robertson has been one of the more dominant setup men in recent years. He has provided the Yankees with three straight seasons of fantastic, albeit sometimes nail-biting, performances. The fans have bestowed upon him the nickname Houdini for his seemingly magical escape acts, sometimes created on his own.

Robertson will not have the luxury of someone behind him to pick up the pieces if one of his save opportunities goes awry. He is unquestionably the man until further notice. There is some cause for concern and it is not purely about the Houdini act.

Robertson’s success rate in 18 save opportunities (saves plus blown saves registered, not save situations) is not very good. He has eight saves and 10 blown saves in such circumstances. Robertson owns a 3.88 ERA in 51 innings while pitching in the ninth inning and a 1.94 ERA in 180.2 innings while pitching in the eighth inning.

Now, this paints the picture an undesirable closer in many eyes, but I’ll argue that Robertson has the ability to be brilliant as a closer if he can translate his eighth inning success to the ninth inning. There is plenty of data to suggest that Robertson is an exceptional pitcher in crucial situations.

According to Baseball-Reference, Robertson has recorded RE24 measures of 27.8 in 2011, 8.5 in 2012 and 14.1 in 2013 with zero representing an average pitcher. RE24 calculates runs saved based on the number of baserunners and the out situation in the resulting play; 24 base-out states. Robertson’s WPA (Win Probability Added – the number of wins his presence on the mound would have added to an average team) for the same years in succession – 4.1, 0.4 and 3.5. While not predictive, Robertson’s WPA does paint a picture of success in the past few seasons.

In standard measures, Robertson has pitched to a 1.91 ERA (ERA+ of 220) with a 12.0 K/9 rate in 193.2 innings across 205 appearances from 2011 through 2013. No matter how deep you look at Robertson's statistics, they are very good.

In my view it is too simplistic to look at Robertson’s less than stellar results as the reliever closing out a game. It is more realistic to believe that provided he can maintain his high K/9 rates, low HR/9 rates (0.5 from 2011 to 2013) and continue to shrink his BB/9 ratios (4.7, 2.8 and 2.4 trending from 2011 through 2013) that he can be a very reliable closer for the Yankees.

Robertson’s mentality has never seemed to be an issue from my vantage point. He has always gone out to the mound with one thing in mind, limit the number of baserunners and prevent inherited baserunners from scoring. The game was no less on the line when he upheld small leads or maintained ties in the seventh or eighth innings the last few seasons. He has performed his job as well as anyone could hope since 2011.

I fully expect we’ll see some straitjacket maneuvers from Robertson over the course of the season. I also firmly believe that he will be able to handle the role just as well as anyone the Yankees could have locked down via free agency or trade this offseason. I anticipate Robertson will have a fine season, in fact, I predict his performance in 2014 will secure future seasons in the Bronx.

What do you think?

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Angels, Dodgers replay; Trout, Puig and a long delay

Two batters into Thursday’s spring training game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers there was an incredible play involving two of the best young players in the game which required the use of the new video replay system to determine who came out on top.

Mike Trout ripped a line drive into center field where Yasiel Puig, always trying to be part of a highlight reel, dove for the ball instead of playing it in front of him. He missed and the ball went all the way to the wall.

Trout smelled blood and ran as hard as he could for home. To his credit, Puig jumped up and raced to the ball at the wall. He threw to the relay man, Hanley Ramirez, who rifled home to Dodgers’ catcher A.J. Ellis. Ellis was up the line and applied the tag to Trout before he touched home plate. Trout and the rest of the Angels didn’t think so and out trotted Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia.

Here is the play.


It seems as though the managers and the umpires need some work on how this replay stuff should transpire. There was entirely too much yapping going on between Scioscia and the umpiring crew. It took close to one and a half minutes before they decided to actually check the replay.

If the play is reviewable, then the manager should be coming out and challenging the play, not trying to convince the umpires to judge it without the replay. The whole point to this process, besides getting the call correct of course, is to cut out some of the time wasted with managers and umpires arguing the plays. It took just over a minute for the crew chief to get the ruling from the review booth, which is very reasonable in my opinion.

There was some discussion between Scioscia and umpiring crew chief Gerry Davis about the rule that was being reviewed (the tag itself or whether the catcher was blocking the plate). This is also understandable, but hardly should have taken the time it did.

"That was an umpire challenge because he questioned [Rule] 7.13, which is blocking the plate," said Davis via MLB.com. "The first thing we look at when there's an umpire challenge is whether he's blocking the plate or not, or if the runner deviates from his path trying to score. But once we go for that reason, we can review the whole play."

Since he was incorrect, Scioscia no longer could challenge a reviewable play. After the sixth inning is completed, plays can be reviewed if the umpiring crew deems necessary. If Scioscia had been correct he would have been able to challenge one more reviewable call should one have transpired through the sixth inning. Managers are allowed a maximum of two challenges per game.

I understand this is all new to everyone involved, but MLB is going to have to really shutdown the talking before the review. The umpires are going to have to be tough on the managers and simply ask what rule they are challenging as soon as the manager steps foot on the field to argue a play. Otherwise, the length of time involved is going to become too cumbersome for fans to endure.

Using the NFL as an example, if the head coach wants the referees to review a play they throw a red flag on the field. The referee confers with the coach as to what he is challenging and then it goes up to the booth for review. This typically takes 10-15 seconds. There is not a lot of back and forth that we saw after this play.

Hopefully, the league will do its part and speak with both Scioscia and the umpiring crew about how this particular play was handled and then also send it off to the other clubs for them to review. This is the only way to strike a balance between getting the call right on the field and adding time to an already long game.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.