Rejuvenated Andruw Jones leads the way as Yankees down Red Sox

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Figuring his right-handed stroke would serve him well at Fenway Park, the Red Sox pursued Andruw Jones for a part-time role over the winter. Andruw, though, had fun in his first year in the Bronx and opted to stick around, perhaps passing up some money in the process.

For a measly $2 million — one percent of the Yankees’ payroll — Jones has 11 homers this season, including four in the last three games. He delivered a two-run blast and an RBI single tonight as part of the Yankees’ 7-3 win in Boston.

The Red Sox lost three out of four in the series to fall back to .500 (43-43) with the first half over. They’re a full nine games back of the Yankees (52-33).

For what it’s worth, missing out on Jones probably didn’t hurt the Red Sox. If they had signed Andruw, it’s doubtful they would have added Cody Ross later, and Ross has hit .265 with 13 homers and 40 RBI in 56 games this year.

Still, Jones has been a bargain for the Bombers two years running now, delivering 24 homers and 55 RBI in 317 at-bats as a member of the Yankees.

Jones has played pretty strictly against lefties, but there’s little reason to think he wouldn’t be at least adequate in regular playing time. He hasn’t hit for average in limited action against righties the last two years, but he’s barely gotten to face them and he’s still showed good power against them. Also, while he certainly can’t cover ground like he used to, he’s still a pretty good defender in a corner.

That Jones has spent the last few years as a role player — he hasn’t had even 300 at-bats in a season since 2007 — could well cost him a chance at the Hall of Fame. But that’s probably not fair. As great of a defender as he used to be, he played at a Hall of Fame level at his peak. And while the fact that he’s hitting 15 homers per year now instead of 25 will hurt his career numbers,  he’s contributing more as a role player than Hall of Famers like Jim Rice, Roberto Alomar and Lou Brock did as regulars towards the end of their careers.

That said, the fact that he was done as a regular at age 30 is damning, even if he ends up getting to 500 homers. At age 35, he’s just 69 away, so he still has a legitimate shot.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.