Derel Jeter

2013 Preview: New York Yankees

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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 2013 season. Up next: The New York Yankees.

The Big Question: Is the Jeter Dynasty over?

People used to predict the end of the Jeter/Rivera/whoever dynasty every year. Then they won another World Series in 2009. Then they resumed predicting the end of the dynasty. Then the Yankees won 95, 97 and 95 games and went to the playoffs a three more times. Now here we are back again.  If I had a dime for every time a New York columnist claimed that this is 1965 redux and that we’re in for a decade of the Yankees in the wilderness, well, with apologies to Slim Pickens for mangling his quote, I’d have a bunch of dimes.

This year, however, there is way more ammo for the doomsayers. Because of the front office’s seeming obsession to get the 2014 payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, Brian Cashman was apparently constrained from signing or re-signing guys who would help the 2013 Yankees a lot.  Gone are Russell Martin and, in his place is, well, no one nearly as good as Russell Martin. Gone is Nick Swisher who woulda been nice to have as it was, but who would have been REALLY nice to have now that Mark Teixeira is injured. Gone is Eric Chavez who was pretty darn useful last year and would have helped cover for Alex Rodiguez’s extended absence.  And of course there are all of the injuries: Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson, Rodriguez. It’s kind of a mess at the moment.

Yet despite all of that I can’t bring myself to join the doomsayers.  Yes, it’s gonna be a tough year. Especially for the first couple of months as so much of the Bombers’ firepower is going to be on the shelf.  But what I said in the Blue Jays’ preview still holds true: there is no alpha team in the AL East. The Yankees, though diminished, are going to look a lot more like the Yankees come June than they seem now, and as long as no one has run away with the division or as long as the AL’s two wild card leaders aren’t themselves some 95-win juggernauts, you can’t count the Yankees out. You can never count them out, many of us have learned to our annoyance, because even when diminished they are talented.

I’ll believe the Jeter dynasty is over the moment Derek Jeter stops playing baseball. I’ll believe the Yankees are through being competitive the moment they end a season with, say, 80 losses and are surrounded by drama and strife.  Until then I’ll realize that this was a 95-win team last year and that they still have just as good a chance to come out of this division as anyone, even if the downside — Last place? A sub-.500 record? Armageddon? — seems a lot more likely this year than it has in any year since, oh, 1992 or so.

So what else is going on?

  • Part of the reason you can’t count the Yankees out is something that no one really talks about a lot lately: the pitching.  CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are a pretty good 1-2-3 punch. Yes there are questions — Pettitte and Kuroda have to age eventually and this year could be it — but it’s not hard to see those three pitching pretty well in 2013 either. The back end is a lot sketchier — David Phelps, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are either injury or performance risks — but there isn’t a black hole here. The likes of Jonathan Sanchez and Aaron Cook aren’t walking in that door, thank God.
  • Also, while the offseason additions weren’t inspiring, there is certainly upside. Kevin Youkilis is not what he was but he’s still capable of a bounceback season. Travis Hafner’s power from the left side is tailor made for Yankee Stadium. I don’t think that Ichiro Suzuki is gonna replicate his post-trade numbers from last season and the less said about the Vernon Wells acquisition the better, but it’s not like Brian Cashman sat in his office and looked at lolcats all winter.
  • Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter’s injuries get more press, but the Yankees need Curtis Granderson back before anyone. He didn’t look at lolcats all winter, but Brian Cashman’s outfield acquisitions make my head hurt. Wells, Brennan Boesch, Juan Rivera and Ben Francisco are no saviors. For the Yankees to have a punchers’ chance they need Granderson’s power back in the lineup and they need to limit their lineup holes to catcher and, until Mark Teixeira comes back, first base.
  • Mariano Rivera’s last hurrah is going to be sad to see. We’ve been in the presence of greatness for many years and often took it for granted. I’m sure someone has figured out how many different dudes held full time closer jobs since Rivera took over ninth inning duties for the Yankees. The number has to be huge. The worst part about Rivera leaving, however, will come if the Yankees are out of it come September. Because you just know the wannabe Roger Angells who work for the tabloids are gonna pen the most hamfisted quasi-poetic tributes you’ve ever seen, equating the Yankees’ demise with the end of Rivera’s career.  Actually, I kinda want this to happen. Bad prose is awful, but truly wretched prose can be sublime in its own twisted way.

So how are they gonna do?

More AL East bet-hedging. I could see first place or last place or anyplace in between. For now let’s call them Third Place, American League East, but don’t give me any “ah-has!” if they’re in the playoffs again. Because I’m one of the few people not burying these guys at the moment, and could easily see them make the playoffs again.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.