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Yankees Second Half Preview

The All-Star Break is over and the New York Yankees returned to action Friday night with some Subway Series action in the Bronx. Manager Aaron Boone somewhat surprisingly gave rookie Domingo German the nod for the first start out of the break rather than ace and All Star Luis Severino, which hints at Boone’s long-term planning for a second-half push with the goal of overtaking the Boston Red Sox, winning the American League East, and completely avoiding the Wild Card Game.

With 62 wins before the break, the Yankees put together a first half that ranks among the best in franchise history; unfortunately, it was only good enough for a spot in second place behind the red-hot Red Sox. Let’s take a look at the 2018 Yankees as they stand and what needs to happen in the second half in order to win the division.

Settle Down, For Starters

The Yankees starting pitching really isn’t that bad. While another starter would certainly help considering the struggles of Sonny Gray and inconsistencies of Domingo German, a healthy front three of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia is more than enough to anchor the Yankees for a push to the division. The Yankees starters’ ERA was 4.00 in the first half, good enough for sixth best in the AL — and that was with Tanaka injured for a month.

We don’t need to talk about Severino and how good he is. What many seem to forget is just how good Tanaka can be. Would JA Happ start a playoff game over Tanaka or Sabathia? Would Michael Fulmer and his 4.50 ERA give the Yankees final blow in the division race? The 2017 Yankees acquired two arms near the Trade Deadline last year — Gray and Jaime Garcia. Gray was the big acquisition, but he ended up making just two playoff appearances. Garcia wasn’t great in the regular season and made just one trip to the mound in relief in October as Severino, Tanaka and Sabathia led the Yankees to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. That trio did it last year and that trio can lead the Yankees and their improved offense to a World Series championship this year.

Don’t get me wrong, adding an arm like Madison Bumgarner or Jacob deGrom would make a huge difference. Either of those pitchers would give the Yankees a second ace and make them the clear favorite to win the World Series. Unfortunately, grabbing a difference-maker like that seems unlikely.

After German’s dud against the Mets to start the second half, he was optioned to the Minors. Luis Cessa was recalled and probably will make the next start, but I think the Yankees and Yankees fans have seen enough of Cessa to know what he’s capable of, and it’s not much. At this point, given the fact that German has shown that he’s no longer an option, an arm like Happ or Cole Hamels — depending on what you’d have to give up — would certainly help so that the Yankees aren’t in a hole before the game starts every fifth day.

Even without a trade, the Yankees might have an answer …

Bring Us Justus

… Barring the blockbuster deal for Bumgarner or deGrom, no trade should include top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield. The Yankees may have the key to the division right under their noses in Triple-A. The 22-year-old left-hander, ranked in the top 50 of Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects at the start of the year, has done nothing but succeed in the minors this season.

Sheffield began the year with Double-A Trenton, and after posting a 2.25 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 28 innings he was called up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Since arriving at Triple-A, Sheffield struck out 56 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his first 57 innings. It’s pretty clear that the next logical step is a spot on the rubber at Yankee Stadium, but the organization is doing everything in its power to make sure Sheffield’s call to the bigs isn’t rushed and becomes an extended stay.

Boone was recently quoted as saying he needs to see “continued development” from Sheffield before he’s an option, but added that he’s “very close”. That could mean we’re as close as one dud by Cessa before seeing the 22-year-old in the Bronx, and there’s no reason to think he can’t be the stabilizing force this rotation needs.

Return Of ‘The Kraken’

Much has been made about Gary Sanchez’s defense behind the plate, but we’re not going to go into that because it’s one of the biggest overreactions among Yankees fans on Twitter. Yes, Sanchez lets up more passed balls than you’d like, but even just the threat of his cannon of an arm more than makes up for it, and most of the starters (the struggling Gray excluded) like throwing to him. It wouldn’t be as talked about anyway if he was hitting.

Yes, Sanchez is hitting under .200 and we’re well into July, but it’s fair to say injuries have hampered his start. A fully healthy Sanchez locked into the middle of the lineup is a difference-maker that most teams wish they had. Somehow a bad 50-60 games at the plate is enough for some to forget a historic first 175 games over the past two seasons in which he hit 53 homers with a .284/.354/.568 slash line. This isn’t a guy who was hitting .250 with some pop and is now struggling. Sanchez has proven to be a hitter who gets on base and hits for average, and he’s one hot streak away from single-handedly winning games for the Yankees. Some fans need to take a breather and realize what they have before screaming about trading a 25-year-old (TWENTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD) catcher who is making peanuts this year ($620K) with three years of team control left.

Beat The East

While the Yankees have a winning record against the Red Sox, they have struggled against the Baltimore Orioles (5-5) and Tampa Bay Rays (5-4). With the Red Sox seemingly never losing a game, every loss for the Yankees is a frustrating one even when they’re 30 games over .500. Winning the majority of the 10 games remaining against Boston is a must for the division, but that still won’t matter without winning the majority of the remaining 25 games against the rest of the AL East.

The Yankees are currently on pace for an unfortunate meeting with the Seattle Mariners in a one-game Wild Card playoff, but if they can improve vs. the lesser teams in the division, get a boost from someone like Sheffield, and get Sanchez back to form, the East is still well within reach … if the Red Sox maybe mix in a few losses here and there.

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30 Players: NL West 2018 Prospects

Originally published 3/26/18 on Cbslocal.com

The Los Angeles Dodgers ran away with the National League West in 2017 on their way to a run to the World Series, and they will look to utilize more young talent to repeat as division champs and avenge their Fall Classic loss.

The Dodgers may not have an easy road though, as they will be challenged again by last year’s Wild Card winners, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, while the revamped San Diego Padres hope to make a push while the San Francisco Giants continue to rebuild. Here’s a look at some of the young talent that will play a major role in deciding the division in ’18.

gettyimages 857117142 30 Players: Walker Buehler Leads Talented Group Of NL West Prospects

Walker Buehler, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect entering this season, Buehler won’t start the season with the team but is expected to join the rotation by mid-season and play a key role in Los Angeles’ push to the World Series this year. The ‘15 first round pick will probably be on a strict innings limit around 140-150, and while a good chunk of those will come in the Minors, he’ll be able to help the Dodgers this season at some point.

Buehler blazed through three levels of the Minors last year, striking out 125 in 88 2/3 innings with a 3.35 ERA. The right-hander even made his MLB debut but struggled, allowing eight runs in 9 1/3 innings over eight appearances out of the bullpen. While Buehler could help the Dodgers out of the ‘pen again this year, his future is as a starter where he can use his full arsenal featuring a fastball that sits in the high 90s, a cutting slider that he is still working on, and the main attraction — his curveball. Buehler’s curve was rated as one of the best in the Minors last year and complements his heat to keep hitters off balance at around 88-92 MPH.

It was a small sample size and he did have his issues, but Fangraphs pitch data shows he relies heavily on the fastball and curve, with the slider being used somewhat sparingly at this point. While he did get hit, he still struck out 12 batters in his brief stint in LA and his stuff is good enough to help make him a dominant starter in the future and a weapon for the ’18 Dodgers.

gettyimages 928237170 30 Players: Walker Buehler Leads Talented Group Of NL West Prospects

Zack Godley, Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks

Godley will be 28 years old this season, was never a truly heralded prospect and has 40 big league starts to his name, but after putting together a strong ‘17 he seems to be on the verge of a true breakout season if he can near 200 innings. The Diamondbacks don’t have much other young talent on the horizon and will hope young-but-experienced starters Godley, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker and Patrick Corbin can back up ace Zack Greinke and form a strong rotation in the NL West — with the help of a newly installed humidor that should give each one of these pitchers’ numbers a boost in home starts.

The right-handed Godley started 26 games for Arizona last year, winning eight games with a 3.37 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 9.6 K/9. He improved on a ‘16 season that was split between the rotation and bullpen, boosting his strikeout rate while maintaining the high ground-ball percentage (55.3%) that he relies on. Godley’s strikeouts last season were similar to what he posted in the Minors, so there’s no fluke there. Godley features two types of fastballs, a cutter and sinker, to go along with a curveball and changeup. That arsenal helped him notch a 13.3 SwStr% and 55% ground-ball rate that both ranked in the top 10 (ninth and fourth respectively) among pitchers with at least 150 innings last year. While ZiPS projects a bump in ERA closer to 4, that would be among the worst-case scenarios given his 3.32 xFIP and impressive strikeout and ground-ball rates. Godley has a very high floor with a ceiling that may still be rising.

gettyimages 931076502 30 Players: Walker Buehler Leads Talented Group Of NL West Prospects

Ryan McMahon, First Baseman, Colorado Rockies

A ‘13 2nd-round pick, McMahon has steadily developed in the Minors leading to a ‘17 season full of bests. McMahon hit a combined 20 homers and 39 doubles with 88 RBIs, 11 stolen bases and a .355/.403/.583 slash line in 119 games between Double-A and Triple-A. The 23-year-old entered Spring Training with what looked like a clear path to a starting spot, but with the return of Carlos Gonzalez pushing Ian Desmond back to first base, McMahon may have to wait just a bit before earning that everyday spot in the lineup.

McMahon’s spring went well, and he not only looked good defensively at first base after transition from third but also had success at the plate with two homers, eight doubles and 22 hits through 63 at-bats (.349 average). McMahon has been a .300 hitter with a .368 OBP in five Minor League seasons, and while his power has been around average for his position, a lot of those doubles should turn to homers at Coors Field. Service time may come in to play delaying his ‘18 debut, but McMahon should be regularly penciled into the lineup before long.

gettyimages 843923934 30 Players: Walker Buehler Leads Talented Group Of NL West Prospects

Manuel Margot, Outfielder, San Diego Padres

The 23-year-old Margot had a very strong rookie year with the Padres that was full of surprises, and while he has ability to build on that this season, his numbers may look quite different in the future. In 126 games with San Diego, Margot hit 13 homers and stole 17 bases with a .263 average. The thing that stood out was the 13 homers, which looks to be quite a fluky total.

Margot had never hit more than 10 homers in any of his five previous seasons in the Minors, but his 17 steals were also a career low after swiping 164 bags during that time. Margot also had a K% of 20 last season, and while that’s not shocking for a rookie, there’s reason to believe he can lower it closer to 15% given his career rate in the Minors (11.3 K% at Triple-A in ‘16). ZiPS projections have him hitting 12 homers, stealing 20 bases and hitting .267. With the potential to steal 20-30 bases and hit over .270 if he can cut down on the strikeouts, Margot can have a very strong, very different sophomore season.

gettyimages 9216311981 30 Players: Walker Buehler Leads Talented Group Of NL West Prospects

Chris Shaw, Outfileder, San Francisco Giants

Blocked at first base by Brandon Belt, Shaw moved to left field at the end of Spring Training last year and is improving on his defense. A power prospect ranked No. 2 in the system, the left-handed Shaw had a .241 ISO (isolated power) last season, hit a couple bombs this Spring and hit a combined 45 homers in the last two seasons in the Minors. One Major issue for Shaw is his strikeouts, and his 29.4 K% in 88 Triple-A games last year will have to drop for him to be effective in the bigs.

Shaw will also have to improve on his plate discipline after drawing just 20 walks all season. Despite the low OBP, Shaw has hit for average to go along with the power, so the potential is obviously there. He will begin the season in Triple-A and could work his way into a platoon with Hunter Pence at some point this season. ZiPS went ahead an projected 19 homers and 64 RBIs in 500 at-bats over 130 games with a .236/.287/.414 slash. It would be a bit surprising for Shaw to earn that many at-bats with a slash that poor, so those numbers may be a bit unrealistic. If Shaw continues to mash and can get on base at a higher rate, however, the Giants will certainly take full advantage.

Rich Reacts: Ep. 2

Episode Content:
(00:38) Jets trade
(02:19) Draft talk
(03:15) Yanks send down Andujar
(4:44) Who’s going to stick in the Bronx
(6:17) March Madness

Episode 2 is up! I want to again thank everyone who watched the first video. I received so much feedback it was just awesome to hear from so many people who watched and liked.

We changed some things up for Ep. 2 and I hope you all enjoy it. Eventually I want to have an extended podcast version available where I can bring in some guest and go more in-depth, but for now we’re going to stick to the videos while we get rolling.

Thank you all again so much for the support. I appreciate every click, share and like. You guys are awesome.

Enjoy!

Is Heyward a no-brainer for Yankees?

The Yankees have changed the way they operate, there’s no question about that.

Gone are the days when George Steinbrenner would wine and dine the premier free agents himself and open the checkbook at will. His son, Hal, is not operating with deep pockets, and the luxury tax costs have piled up over the years.

Nobody expects the club to spend much this winter, but there’s one big reason why it should, and his name is Jason Heyward.

Let’s start by establishing just how rare it is to find a player like Heyward on the free-agent market.

Heyward has six seasons under his belt with 97 career home runs and 86 steals, but he is still only 26 years old and will be for much of this season. When looking at this winter’s free agents, there are around 20 hitters who are younger than 30 years old, just three are younger than 28 (according to MLBTradeRumors.com), and of those three, none even come close to the pedigree of Heyward.

And it doesn’t get much different in 2017. At the moment, there are just two potential free agents at the end of this coming season that will be younger than 30 — catchers Salvador Perez, who the Royals are already talking potential extension with, and Wilson Ramos.

An established star outfielder who arguably hasn’t even yet reached his prime and had a WAR (Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com) of 6.2 and 6.5 in 2014 and ’15, respectively, is beyond rare on the free-agent market. He has power, he has speed, and he is probably the best defensive right fielder in baseball. According to Fangraphs.com, he led all RFs in UZR (ultimate zone rating, which attempts to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up in the field) at +20.2, coming in second among outfielders only to Kevin Kiermaier, who is widely considered the best in the bigs.

The main reason he’s likely coming relatively cheap, if you can consider the expected 7-year, $200-plus million contract coming his way cheap (hint: in today’s league, it is) is because of his career .268 batting average. But he hit a career-best .293 last season with a .359 OBP, and he has cut down on his strikeout percentage for four straight seasons.

Critics will also cite injuries, a big reason why he disappointed after his rookie season, but he played in 154 games last season, so there is no more concern with him as there is for any athlete.

So what’s the drawback? On the surface, there really isn’t one. Heyward is that rare free agent that teams will absolutely regret passing on. But the Yankees, it’s the money, and the roster space.

The team is desperately trying to get under the luxury tax threshold ($189 million in 2016), and with aged star contracts still on the payroll — Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million) and Carlos Beltran ($15 million) through ’16, Alex Rodriguez ($20 million) and CC Sabathia ($25 million) in ’16 and ’17 — money is still tight.

LuxuryTax2015
Infographic via Forbes.com

Looking at the current Yankees outfielders, Jacoby Ellsbury and his monstrous contract are entrenched in center field for quite some time, as is left fielder Brett Gardner, who is coming off an All-Star season despite a terrible second half.

Then you have Beltran. The veteran slugger was one of the Yankees’ best hitters down the stretch last year, but it became painfully clear that he really shouldn’t be in the outfield anymore — especially not for 130-plus games. The problem is that A-Rod is already a full-time DH, and Teixeira clearly can’t last a full season playing in the field either. It’s an unfortunate logjam and one that the Yankees have to deal with in 2016. Basically, with A-Rod likely locked in at DH most of the time, there are two spots for Beltran — right field and the bench.

If the Yankees signed Heyward, I think most people would be OK with Beltran being on the bench. He’ll get his time here and there, and with the obvious likelihood of injury with all these old guys running around, there will likely eventually be space for him — and again, this is just a problem for one year. Beltran and Teixeira (woohoo!) are gone after this season, so you’ll have money and roster space available.

Gardner has been involved in trade rumors as the Yankees look to bolster their starting rotation, and moving him could not only clear up some money (he has a base salary of $13 million) depending on who they get in return, but also free up space in the outfield.

There is also the impending breakout of top prospect Aaron Judge. He is also a right fielder and has true power potential. But he has just over 200 at-bats at the Triple-A level, and he hit just .228 there, so there’s still work to do. And if the Yanks add Heyward, a simple adjustment to left field couldn’t be that difficult for Judge, could it?

If the Yankees can just bite the bullet for one year and deal with the luxury tax expenses and potential logjam, then you have your star right fielder of the present and future in Heyward.

What’s the alternative? If you don’t sign Heyward, you put up with awful right-field defense this season and cross your fingers that Judge realizes his potential by 2017. It’s that or you either continue the awful cycle of signing underwhelming aging free agents,  or hope and pray Bryce Harper hits the market in 2018, and that you have the $300-400 million to throw at him.

 

Brooklyn College Professor Pens Biography on Shirley Chisholm

(Article published on Park Slope Patch on Jan. 28, 2014)

Barbara Winslow is a professor of Women’s Studies at Brooklyn College and a 30-year resident of Park Slope who is responsible for starting and running the Shirley Chisholm Project/Brooklyn Women’s Activism at Brooklyn College.

She was asked to pen the first biography in 40 years on Chisholm for Carol Berkin’s series of books, ‘Lives of American Women’, and jumped at the chance.

Chisholm, who was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1924, became the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and became the first woman to run for president in 1972. She was a sought-after public speaker and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) who once remarked that, “Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes.”

Patch had the opportunity to speak with Professor Winslow about Chisholm, the impact she had on her life and the new book, ‘Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change’.

When did you start the Shirley Chisholm Project, and what are some of your biggest achievements with the project to date?

I started the project in 2006, and I would say the overall greatest accomplishment is keeping Shirley Chisholm’s name alive and reintroducing her to a new generation of people in Brooklyn and across the country to whom she was. We also have the largest collection of archival material about Chisholm as part of the project in our library.

We do extraordinary public events around Shirley Chisholm day in November and have had Gloria Steinem, Anita Hill, Melissa Harris-Perry and others come and speak about the importance of Ms. Chisholm and her legacy.

Given your ties to Ms. Chisholm, when did you decide to write her bio and what was it that made you finally decide to do so?

I was asked to write this bio by Carol Berkin, who was a presidential professor at Baruch College before she retired. She was originating a series of books, ‘Lives of American Women’, and wanted me to do one on Shirley Chisholm. As soon as she asked, it took me a ‘New York nanosecond’ to say yes.

What is it about her that’s inspired you so much, and what do you hope readers take from your book?

I was in a liberation group in Seattle, Wash. in 1972 when she ran for president. I believe our group sent $15 to her campaign, which in 1972 was the equivalent of sending her hundreds of dollars, so that was very exciting. She inspired me 40 years ago. 

When I was teaching in Brooklyn College, I was reminded that she was a graduate of the college. When I proposed we name a women’s study for research (in her name) I was astounded that many of my colleagues, professors of women’s studies did not know who she was. I was galvanized to create this project so that her life and legacy would not be forgotten. While Chisholm is the focus right now, lives of so many other women need to be written about and understood too. 

I think what’s important about this book is that not only is it the first scholarly biography of her, but the book is part of a series that is designed to bring women’s lives into the school’s curriculum, and that’s what I’m very proud of.

Yankees Prove Commitment to Winning, Surpass $189 Mil With Tanaka

(Story published Jan. 22, 2014 on YanksGoYard.com)

All off-season long the question remained; would the New York Yankees spend just enough to make it look like they were committed to winning, or would they spend what they needed to in order to be a real contender in 2014?

Yankee fans have been hearing about the $189 million cap for a few years now, as that’s the number they needed to stay under in order to avoid having their luxury tax rate climb to even bigger numbers. It was a goal set in place a few years ago, but the Yankees’ failures in the past put them in a difficult position. Their farm system hasn’t developed a legitimate major league talent since setup man David Robertson (the verdict is still out on Ivan Nova), and overspending in past years has left them paying big money to aging stars.

The New York Yankees did not make the playoffs last year, and that’s not acceptable in Yankeeland. So when the team went out and spent big money on Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, it was nice, but it wasn’t enough. Then the Yankees brought in Carlos Beltran to cement a rock solid lineup, but it still wasn’t enough to win. Even with all that, the team needed more starting pitching. So would they try to be thrifty and find quality starting pitchers for cheap, or would they be the Yankees and get the guy everyone knew they needed?

On Wednesday, the Yankees got who they needed in Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka was the true test of whether or not ownership was truly committed to winning, or whether they were just concerned about the bottom line.

In the past with George Steinbrenner at the helm, that was never a question. But in the past few years under his son Hal Steinbrenner’s leadership, it was a valid question. He spoke often about cutting payroll and rumors have even circled that he is looking to sell the team. They won in 2009 just months George’s passing, but there hasn’t been much success since.

The Yankees truly are looking to change that, and everyone in the organization proved that today by giving Tanaka the fifth-highest contract for a starting pitcher in history–albeit to a guy who hasn’t even thrown a pitch in the major leagues yet.

But it was what needed to be done. Tanaka was expected to get well over $100 million based on his reputation, and rightfully so. The 25-year-old was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 0.943 WHIP and 183 strikeouts last year for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japanese Pacific League. This his third straight season with an ERA under two.

Sure there are questions about how the stuff will translate to the majors, but everyone knew he was the best free agent pitcher out there and would set the market. Settling for a Matt Garza or an Ervin Santana would’ve been just that, settling. Tanaka is the guy with the “ace” potential, and he is now a Yankee.

This will all play out in the next few years and we’ll know soon enough whether or not this move was the right one. What matters now is that fans can rest easy knowing the team made the move it had to make in order to have a shot at hoisting up the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the year.

At the Polls: Residents Hoping to Avoid Contingency

(Full story as published  June 19, 2012 at 10:20 PM)

For the second time in just over a month, Mount Sinai School District residents headed to the polls to vote on a budget for the 2012-13′ school year.

With the original tax cap-piercing budget failing to receive supermajority approval, concerned community members flocked to the polls hoping to avoid another failed budget, which would lead to contingency for the district.

A resident for 14 years, Joe Rutolph thinks it’s imperative this budget passes to avoid additional cuts, but he wasn’t surprised the first one failed.

“We knew it was going to be close,” he said. “Getting 60-percent of anyone to vote either way is a lot to get, and I think it was a crapshoot so to speak. We were hoping it would pass but certainly you could understand for some of the older folks who don’t have kids in school, the amount of money that we pay in taxes is high, you could see both sides.

“If this one doesn’t pass the amount of cuts that will take place to all the programs, it will be just too deep.”

Maureen and Jim Clark currently don’t have children in the district, yet still support the proposed budget.

“We are very much pro education, so we supported it the last time even with the larger increase to try to maintain programs and we supported it now,” Jim Clark said.

“It is a very fine school district,” Maureen added. “It’s produced some wonderful students and you have to give what you can to keep it going like that.”

With 20 years in Mount Sinai under her belt, Laura Williams, a teacher at another district on the island, is also crossing her fingers that contingency won’t be needed.

“Yes, it is imperative this passes,” she said.  “I have two in high school for next year, so I think it should pass, without a doubt.”

Some were surprised that it has gone this far, and the district is hoping the support is enough to get an already lower budget approved.

Polls remain open in the Elementary School gymnasium until 9 p.m. Tuesday. Stay tuned to Patch for breaking results later in the evening.