We’re not out of April yet and the Yankees are hardly blowing past the competition.
Yet, for the most part, they’re an impressive-looking team.
They did this offseason what the Red Sox had to do last offseason when the farm system has a talent gap. They had to replenish and repair the roster with free agents.
The Red Sox exceeded expectations when general manager Ben Cherington hit on seven free agents who transformed the team from the Bobby Valentine season.
The Yankees did it this offseason after the retirements of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, and the yearlong suspension of Alex Rodriguez. The difference was cash spent — Boston paid about $106 million for its seven players while the Yankees spent $438 million on four players.
And before you say the Red Sox don’t give out the same type of contracts as the Yankees, please remember Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez made a combined $300 million.
The Red Sox’ farm system has caught up, but the Yankees’ still needs some work. In this offseason, the Red Sox had interest and/or made proposals on the same free agents as the Yankees. Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka, and Jacoby Ellsbury were all on Boston’s radar, but after winning a World Series the Red Sox decided to stay with a cost-effective approach, settling for low-cost, short-term deals for A.J. Pierzynski and Grady Sizemore.
There’s no doubt the Yankees want to do what the Red Sox did last season, but Cherington’s 7-for-7 performance is pretty hard to duplicate.
Cherington filled pitching, defense, speed, and chemistry needs with Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, and David Ross.
While the Red Sox shopped at Marshalls last offseason, the Yankees shopped at Saks this past offseason.
But picking the right free agents is tricky, no matter how much money you spend.
Thus far, the switch-hitting Beltran has been the potent middle-lineup hitter the Yankees needed. Ellsbury gives them a dynamic dimension the Red Sox once had and defensively, along with Brett Gardner, creates a nice Victorino/Ellsbury-like combo in the outfield.
McCann has smoothed out New York’s catching quandary caused by Jorge Posada’s retirement, giving it another effective short right-field porch power hitter from the left side, as well as a leader on the field.
Beltran is one of the great people in the game, while McCann adds leadership to a team that already has Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.
Tanaka, over his first four starts, has been superb with an impressive two walks over 29⅓ innings, going 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA, including a big win against the Red Sox.
“It’s been great so far,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, “but it has to continue.”
Cashman had a huge rebuilding job he had to do after an injury-plagued 2013 in which he lost Jeter, Teixeira, and A-Rod for much of the season. Rodriguez was suspended for 2014, and there was a daunting task of having to replace a Hall of Fame-caliber player such as Rivera, which they did in-house with David Robertson.
Just like the Red Sox, the Yankees will have to get unexpected performances. The Red Sox got a big one from Daniel Nava last year. He was one of 24 players in baseball to hit over .300, coming in at No. 18 at .303, and he also had a .385 on-base percentage.
They got one from Mike Carp, who was acquired for cash from the Mariners, and another from lefthanded reliever Craig Breslow.
The Yankees have begun to get those performances, too. They have used Yangervis Solarte at third base since the start of the year and Solarte, who knocked in four runs in Thursday’s 14-5 win over Boston, has responded to the call.
While the Yankees still need a reliever or two, pitching coach Larry Rothschild managed to define roles for David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Shawn Kelly while waiting for Robertson to come off the disabled list, which he did Thursday.
The Yankees certainly have some things to worry about.
They’re down two starting pitchers between Michael Pineda’s 10-game suspension and Ivan Nova’s season-ending elbow injury. Nova added a quality back-end arm to that rotation. They don’t quite have the depth to absorb this for too long, but compare it to the Red Sox, who haven’t had injuries but have received inconsistent performances from Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront.
Both teams have infield defense issues, though Boston’s seem fixable while the Yankees can’t turn the clock back on Jeter.
The one thing the Yankees can’t do is introduce young players.
The Red Sox are trying to break Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. into their starting lineup and it’s been a rocky ride at times. Both players have had their defensive and offensive lapses.
At least the Red Sox can have their guys take some major league lumps now and hope they smooth out down the road.
We’re not out of April yet and the Yankees are hardly beating everyone up. But we saw what the Red Sox turned a great April into last season. There was a feeling, even then, they were going to be better than advertised.
We’ll see if the Yankees’ free agents become as impactful as the 2013 Red Sox’ over 162 games. So far, Cashman hasn’t missed.
Cabrera has moved on but recalls ’04 fondly
Orlando Cabrera was a defensive whiz who helped bring a 2004 championship to Boston. His tenure with the Red Sox was brief — 58 games after he was acquired from Montreal in the Nomar Garciaparra deal.
Cabrera, who is now a financial consultant, left the Red Sox after the 2004 season for a lucrative free agent deal from the Los Angeles Angels.
There was always some mystery attached to why Cabrera didn’t re-sign in Boston.
“Greed,” said Cabrera, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal with the Angels. “That was basically it. I wanted to stay here, I felt like they wanted me to be here, but they offered me a two-year deal in free agency and I felt I could do better.”
Cabrera, who earned almost $52 million as a player, spent three seasons with the Angels before cameo seasons with the White Sox, Athletics, Reds, and Indians. He retired after the 2011 season and moved to Windham, N.H., with his wife.
Cabrera’s career is now is trying to get players, particularly Latinos, to understand about saving money for retirement and beyond.
“The one thing that’s different in our country than with Latino players is that growing up they never heard the word ‘save,’ ” Cabrera said. “That’s emphasized to kids in the US, but you don’t hear that. So you see players spending a lot of their money on things, whether it’s houses or cars or jewelry. Things they probably don’t need. So my emphasis to them, whether they are represented by the firm or not, is to save some of the money because there’s a lot more to your life after this is over.”
Cabrera uses the example of former Red Sox second baseman Jose Offerman, who earned nearly $33 million as a player. According to Cabrera, Offerman is broke.
“This is the type of thing we don’t want to see happening,” Cabrera said. “So I talk to these guys just to put it in their heads to save some money.”
Beyond that, Cabrera said he hopes one day to be part of an all-player major league ownership group, something he hopes happens over the next decade. But he knows that’s down the road.
As for his brief time with the Red Sox, “It was the greatest thing that happened in my baseball career. I won a championship here. It got my career going, so this place is very special to me.”
Apropos of nothing
1. April is usually too early to deal, but the Rockies are watching the Red Sox’ Double and Triple A teams very closely. The Rockies are off to a good start, so there are no pressing needs. Their starting pitchers have performed well. This could be looking down the road, but the intensity of the scouting this early is interesting. Assistant GM Mike Hazen said the Sox have not heard from the Rockies about a trade. The Red Sox’ outfield started sluggishly and the Rockies have a surplus of outfielders, but at this time nothing like that has been discussed. And a deal for Troy Tulowitzki seems far-fetched.
2. A lot of people weighed in on the Michael Pineda pine tar incident. One interesting comment came from San Diego manager Bud Black, who was the Royals’ starter in 1983 during the infamous George Brett pine tar bat game. A Brett homer initially was negated because of too much pine tar on his bat. Black said of Pineda, “It’s rare that you see pine tar on a guy’s neck. You don’t see that every day. You usually see it on a bat. There are pitchers, probably more than you would think, that use some sort of substance to gain tack on their fingers, because at times it is needed, based on weather conditions, based on the personal preference of a pitcher as far as being able to handle the baseball. I think that’s always been common knowledge among baseball people that rosin, maybe some minimal amount of pine tar, doesn’t overly affect the outcome of a game.”
3. There’s a lot of sentiment for asking Bud Selig to stay on for at least another year as baseball commissioner, until the owners can truly find a new leader.
4. When asked whether Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales would likely sign after the amateur draft June 5, super agent Scott Boras’s response was, “Not necessarily.” The Red Sox would receive a draft pick if Drew signed before then, but right now Boston and Detroit continue to be the two logical landing spots. Xander Bogaerts is 26th in UZR ranking among shortstops, a sign he’s not getting to balls as well as Drew did, as predicted here.
5. John Gibbons getting off to a better start in Toronto couldn’t happen to a better guy.
6. When I did my top major league coaches list back in spring training, I left off the Rangers’ Gary Pettis. Outstanding coach.
Updates on nine
1. Franklin Morales, LHP, Rockies — Morales’s return to Colorado (in the Jonathan Herrera deal with Boston) has proved to be fruitful. Morales is 2-1 as a starter and has solidified the back end of the Rockies’ rotation along with Jordan Lyles, late of the Astros and acquired in the Dexter Fowler deal. Lyles, who is 3-0 in five starts, was a late cut in spring training but got a second chance when Tyler Chatwood went down with an injury. Lyles was 14-29 with a 5.35 ERA in parts of three seasons with the Astros.
2. Christian Vazquez, C, Red Sox — An American League scout looking at the Sox’ farm system said if he could take one player from Boston right now it would be Vazquez. “He’s major league-ready right now,” said the scout. “If you bring him up to the majors right now he’d be one of the best all-around catchers in the big leagues. He’s got great ability and he’s going to hit.”
3. Kevin Towers, GM, Diamondbacks — If you looked at Towers’s acquisitions this offseason you would rank his moves among the best in baseball, adding closer Addison Reed, righthanded starter Bronson Arroyo, and outfielder Mark Trumbo. But injuries to Arroyo (back) and Trumbo (foot), not to mention losing ace Patrick Corbin (elbow) for the season, have hurt. Still, talk of Towers being in trouble is likely not accurate. If anything, Towers has been the victim of a lot of bad luck. Another National League GM said, “If Kevin Towers got fired over injuries to key personnel we’d all be in trouble.”
4. Carlos Quentin, RF, Padres — Quentin, who has yet to play this season, will soon begin extended spring training after rehabbing his knee. Quentin would stand to be a trade candidate if he’s able to show he’s healthy. Quentin has a career .842 OPS and has power. He’s owed $9.5 million this season and $8 million in 2015. It’s not crazy money.
5. Doug Fister, RHP, Nationals — The Nationals can’t hit a lick when it counts, but at least they’re getting good news on Fister. His rehab from a lat strain is under way and his return in a couple of weeks will be big for what should be one of the best staffs in baseball.
6. Johan Santana, LHP, Orioles — Santana continues rehab from his second shoulder surgery in three years. He’s throwing in the mid-80s and is maintaining a five-day schedule while throwing bullpen sessions. His rehab is being monitored by Rick Peterson, who was his pitching coach with the Mets.
7. Nelson Cruz, Orioles, OF — The answer to how’s life after a PED suspension? Cruz thinks he’s doing just fine. Cruz, who signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles, is batting .300 with six homers, 23 RBIs, and a .979 OPS. He’s on his way to an excellent season, one that could pay off handsomely in the open market.
8. Roger McDowell, pitching coach, Braves — Baseball people have been saying for a while that McDowell is the best pitching coach in the game, and it’s hard to argue, given the success of the Braves’ staff during his tenure. He lost Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgeries early in the season and what’s he left with? Four starters in the top 10 in ERA. Aaron Harang, who was basically an emergency signing at the end of spring training, entered the weekend atop the NL with an 0.85 ERA. Ervin Santana (0.86 before allowing four runs Friday night), whom the Braves signed two days after watching Medlen and Beachy exit spring starts with torn elbow ligaments on consecutive days, was close behind. Alex Wood (1.54) was eighth and Julio Teheran (1.80) ninth entering the weekend.
9. Chris Colabello, 1B/OF, Twins — The Milford native is becoming a regular in this space. He broke Kirby Puckett’s team record for RBIs in March and April with 27. While his mother, Silvana, was being interviewed on television as the Twins were playing the Rays in St. Petersburg, Colabello was smashing a two-run homer. “That’s a pretty cool moment,’’ Colabello said. You think?
From the Bill Chuck files — “Last season, Carlos Santana hit into seven double plays in 115 DP opportunities. This season, Santana has hit into seven double plays in 22 DP opportunities.” . . . Also, “The Braves’ starters have a 1.50 ERA. The lowest over the last hundred years were the White Sox starters who had a 2.06 ERA in 1917.” . . . Through Thursday, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval had gone 0 for 39 this season in two-strike counts, 0 for 11 at 0 and 2, 0 for 12 at 1 and 2, 0 for 10 at 2 and 2, and 0 for 6 with a full count . . . Happy birthday, Joey Gathright (33).