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.

 

From a Dream to a Nightmare and Back, Grindhaus Finally Opens

Full story as published 12/26/13 on CarrollGardens.Patch.com

By Rich Arleo

Five years after signing her lease, Erin Norris finally opens Grindhaus at 275 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook.

“A half a decade…that’s a long time,” said Grindhaus owner Erin Norris.

The restaurant started out as a dream for Norris, but after she signed her lease back on April Fool’s Day in 2008, it became a nightmare.

The whole idea started when she and a friend made what she estimates to be about 300 sausages for the neighborhood in her friend’s backyard. That night she had a dream where she envisioned Grindhaus, and she decided to act on it.

Norris found the space for a good price back in April of 2008, but didn’t realize what she was getting in to. The first of the long steps was waiting until December for her building permit. Then there was a year of work done by just her and a friend.

“The budget was so tight I couldn’t have a big firm come in and do it,” she said. “My parents actually did a reverse mortgage on the house we grew up in to fund this. It was a big leap of faith for them.”

Then there was a year where Grindhaus had to be put on hold as Norris worked 80 hour weeks as a restaurant manager in Manhattan. But then she joined Little Neck in Gowanus closer to home and was inspired.

Grindhaus was almost done as the end of 2012 neared.

“I had plans to open around this time last year,” Norris said. “Everything was basically done…and then the flood happened.

“The contents of my kitchen were in the dining room. It was traumatizing. Not to mention the basement was full of four feet of mud. That really takes the wind out of your sails.”

But when her mother who had given up so much to help told her it was OK if it never happened, Norris was more determined than ever.

With the help of a fundraiser on Kickstarter, money from Restore Red Hook and a few more grants and loans, Grindhaus has finally opened.

“It’s a challenge every day, but I love it,” she said. “I wanted to do this mostly because I really enjoy serving food. I don’t have a backup plan. I’m in it for the long haul. It’s hard to even think there was a time I was considering walking away from it.”

Originally planned to be a sausage parlor, the size of the kitchen made those plans change. Now featuring a fresh, seasonal menu with items for both meat lovers and even vegetarians, there is still one nod to the past.

Chef Aaron Taber and sous chef Leon Douglas were sure to include one sausage dish on the menu, a Meurgez that Norris calls “just the best.”

“They’ve got technique and they’re super inventive,” Norris said of her chefs. “They wow me on a daily basis.”

Now in its third week, Norris still hasn’t had time to sit and realize that the dream finally became reality.

“It really hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “I don’t have time to sit and think about it. I’ll never get to sit over in my favorite seat and have dinner. It’s just not going to happen. If I’m here I’m on the floor running around.”

The five-year push to open Grindhaus is over, but that was just the beginning. The restaurant, Norris says, was built with the intention of giving back to her parents while doing what she loves: feeding people.