The New York Yankees should follow the Dodgers and Rays’ blueprint when it comes to building a bullpen

New York Yankees

What was once considered a strength, it is now a liability. The New York Yankees used to boast super bullpens as recently as 2019, but now, thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and a couple of unexpected twists, the group as a whole was very disappointing in the condensed 2020 season.

The situation was so bad in the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays that the Yankees had only three trustworthy relievers. In a series with no rest days, that can represent a problem, since manager Aaron Boone needed to get the most out of Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Chad Green.

Yes, the New York Yankees invested a lot in Adam Ottavino, but with a 5.89 ERA in 18.1 frames (albeit with a decent 3.52 FIP) he didn’t inspire much confidence. They also have Luis Cessa and Jonathan Holder, but you probably don’t want to trust high leverage innings to them. The Tommy Kahnle injury was very, very hard to overcome.

That’s why the New York Yankees need their player development staff to, well, develop more useful relievers. The Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers have done in the recent past, and both of them have deep units and are currently playing for the right to be crowned World Champions.

The Yankees need a change

Not only that, but the Yankees also need to be more active in the relief pitcher trading market. The Kahnle addition was extremely useful, why not target a similar reliever via trade? The Rays brought Nick Anderson, Peter Fairbanks via trades and, thanks to their player development staff, turned them in what they are today. They also scooped up John Curtiss as a free agent and developed Diego Castillo, Josh Fleming and Jose Alvarado.

The Dodgers are even better at developing starters: Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urias are all “from the house.”

Kenley Jansen (a long time ago, but still) and Victor Gonzalez were nurtured as homegrown pitchers, and Dylan Floro was picked up in a trade with the Reds. Joe Kelly and Blake Treinen were savvy, non-expensive additions that were “rescued” with hard work and a strong analytics team. Pedro Baez, Brusdar Graterol, Jake McGee, Adam Kolarek… none of them makes more than a million and a half per season.

See? It is possible for the Yankees to put together a strong bullpen without having to chase every free agent available. They do have some interesting internal starters that could be turned into full-time relievers, like Michael King, Nick Nelson, and even Domingo German. Let’s see if they shore up their analytics department and what is the end result of the 2020-2021 offseason.

New York Rangers’ prospects thriving in Europe as North American rinks remain empty

With the sports world and the NHL in a state of flux, the New York Rangers‘ brass made a very wise decision when they decided to loan some of their prospects to teams in European leagues that are currently playing. A wise decision when you consider that the Rangers’ NCAA prospects haven’t played since early March, which also holds true for their minor leaguers.

Enter the leagues in Europe that are currently playing hockey. It was widely known that most of the Rangers’ prospects playing in Europe were going to play there regardless of the pandemic, such as Nils Lundkvist, Yegor Rysev, and Vitali Kravtsov.

“Especially for young players who really at this point are yet to be established, not only in the NHL but in North America, to get them in games, to get them playing, to get them on a team at this stage of their career, to continue their development, is important,” said Rangers assistant GM Chris Drury.

Recently the Blueshirts put a video up on social media that highlights the promise of Lundkvist.

This fueled speculation that the young swede might be donning a Blueshirt when the NHL season likely opens in January.

As Lee Corso is famous for saying “Not so fast, my friend.”

While many scouts feel that Lundkvist could be NHL-ready by the end of the Swedish season, he remains unsigned by the Rangers and under contract in Sweden, which means that he will not be coming to New York until the end of the Swedish league season or the start of the 2121-22 season.

Even if somehow Lundqvist could come over, it might not be that simple when you take into consideration that some of these prospects would play 30-40 games overseas, then come over to an NHL season that might begin in January and play in something resembling an 82-game season plus playoffs. That may not be the best course for young players.

Lundkvist, the 2019-20 European Player of the Year, has tallied two goals and an assist in eight games for Lulea of the SHL and has looked every bit of the gifted right-handed offensive defenseman that should soon be an integral part of the Blueshirts sometime in the near future. But not likely in the 20-21 season.

Playing overseas has also helped Vitali Kravtsov, who struggled in the 2019-20 season. It is well known that Kravtsov signed his entry-level contract, came over to the states, had a good camp but didn’t make the team, then got himself loaned out of Hartford to Traktor of the KHL. Even though he did finish the year at Hartford, many feel that it might be better for him to play out this year in the KHL.

Kravtsov has started the season very well, scoring six goals and two assists for eight points in 11 games.

Another prospect who could come across the Atlantic is defenseman Tarmo Reunanen, who has attended prospect camps and last season’s training camp. While he will likely start at Hartford (or the NHL’s version of baseball’s “alternative sites” for young players) Reunanen is currently playing in TUTO Turku in his native Finland where he has posted two goals and an assist in his first three games,

Reunanen is an offensive-minded blueliner who eliteprospects has stated that he ” can carry the puck, dangle through traffic, and set up his teammates. While he relies on his offensive skills, he is not a defensive liability.”

Yegor Rykov suffered an injury during training camp and it took a toll on the big defenseman for much of last season, but he did post two goals and nine assists in 27 games in Hartford. He was obtained from the New Jersey Devils in the 2018 deadline deal that sent Michael Grabner to New Jersey and was a fifth-round pick in 2016.

This year Rykovhas appeared in 16 games and has five assists for CSKA Moscow in the KHL.

So at a time when hockey should have started up in North America, at least some young New York Rangers are seeing some valuable ice-time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Wang’s lasting legacy with the Islanders will soon come to light

One year from today, the New York Islanders will have officially opened the doors to UBS Arena, the team’s brand new home at Belmont Park.

With that, they will have seen one man’s vision finally become a reality and his legacy established.

Charles Wang, the late former owner of the franchise from 2000 to 2016, had the dream in his mind of the Islanders having their own arena on the grounds next to Belmont Park.

For his entire stewardship, Wang tried everything in his power to get the Isles a new home on Long Island. He tried to pay for it out of his own pocket with the Lighthouse Project from 2005-2008 but failed because of the buffoonery that is Nassau County politics (mainly Kate Murray). He made another effort in 2011 with The Referendum; that too was unsuccessful due to the whole idea becoming a political football. Wang was forced with no other choice in October 2012 but to move the franchise from a decaying Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as a final play to keep the Islanders from relocating out of New York.

The Isles moved to Brooklyn after the 2014-15 season. In that time too, new ownership — Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky — had bought the team from Wang and would be partners with him until they became sole owners in June 2016. Wang shied away from the spotlight once Malkin and Ledecky took over the day-to-day operations of the organization, but he was working on something even bigger behind the scenes: he was laying the groundwork with the NYRA (New York Racing Association) for the possibility of the Islanders building a future state-of-the-art facility next to Belmont Park and ensuring the Isles returned home to Long Island.

“He always felt the team was a Long Island team and belonged here,” NYRA board member Michael Dubb said on two years ago. “Charles deserves all the credit. The Islanders don’t come back to Long Island without Charles.”

The kicker of it all was Belmont was state-owned land, meaning that the Islanders would not have to go through all the red tape they’d experienced more over from dealing with Nassau County.

In the summer of 2016, the team had announced they were putting in a bid to build a new arena at that location. By December 2017, the franchise had won the rights to develop the surrounding area.

Wang passed away two years ago today after a private battle with lung cancer.

Nearly a year after his death, the franchise broke ground at Belmont and have seen the building rise and become a beacon of hope during some very tough times in recent months. It will be an even bigger beacon when the place is finally completed.

“The arena at Belmont Park will be just one of his many legacies left to the team and to Long Island,” Ledecky said on the day Wang passed.

He had his faults and was too loyal to some individuals at times but Wang still remains the reason the Islanders are playing in New York, particularly Long Island, to this day. If I had my choice, he would have his own wing or even a statue inside/outside UBS Arena.

There’s no doubt he fully deserves it.

“No matter how many setbacks he had,” Dubb also said, “he never lost sight of the fact that the Islanders did belong on Long Island.”

Charles Wang’s vision of a new home for the Islanders will soon be real. And that itself still feels surreal to say. Islanders fans have differing opinions on the man, but one thing can’t be underestimated.

Belmont was his baby.

More than that, it will be his lasting legacy with the Islanders.

 

New York Mets: Will Steven Matz be a starter or a reliever in 2021?

New York Mets, New York Yankees, Steven Matz

The New York Mets had the worst of lucks when it comes to starting pitching in the condensed 2020 season. They lost Noah Syndergaard for the whole year and part of 2021, and pitchers such as Michael Wacha, David Peterson, Steven Matz and even Jacob deGrom had to deal with some sort of injury.

Speaking of Matz, he was arguably the worst starter in the New York Mets‘ roster this year. In nine games (six of them starts) and 30.2 frames, the left-hander had a ghastly 9.68 ERA with a 7.76 FIP, although his xFIP was a much more palatable 4.15. He was worth -0.7 fWAR in a regretable performance.

However, he should get a free pass, at least to some extent. He was diagnosed with left shoulder bursitis in August, and if you have been following baseball for quite some time, you know that the worst kind of ailment a hurler can suffer would be a shoulder injury.

Matz was so bad as a starter (he had a 10.17 ERA and batters were virtually prime Babe Ruth against him, slashing .342/.388/.703 with a .449 wOBA) that once he returned from his injury, the Mets tried him in an unfamiliar role: as a reliever.

The Mets’ lefty had a home run problem

Things weren’t much better there: he had a 7.20 ERA, and while batters only hit .211 against him, they slugged .684 and had a .376 wOBA. It was clear that, no matter the role, Matz was having notorious issues with the long ball.

For his career, the Mets’ lefty has allowed 1.49 home runs per each nine innings pitched. This year, it was an absurdly high 4.11. His HR/FB is 17.5% in his six-year tenure, but this year, it jumped to 37.8%.

No matter what role he fulfils with the Mets next year, Matz will have to A) show his shoulder is healthy, and B) trim the home runs. For his career, he has a 4.35 ERA, 4.49 FIP and a 4.01 xFIP, and the vast majority of his innings have come as a starter.

What role will the Mets assign Matz next year? It will largely depend on what kind of offseason they have.

Should the New York Yankees pursue Josh Hader this offseason?

New York Yankees, Josha Hader

The New York Yankees will certainly be looking at way to improve their ballclub entering next year. The bombers flamed out in the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays this year after being labeled as World Series favorites before the year started.

Brian Cashman took a lot of heat after the season was over considering the fact that the Yankees did nothing to improve their pitching at the trade deadline. They stuck to their guns and the lack of improvement hurt when it mattered the most.

Now, the Yankees main problem came from their starting rotation. However, their bullpen was not as sharp as it was in years passed. Adam Ottavino struggled mightily in 2020. Closer Aroldis Chapman was shaky at times for the Yankees including in the final game of the season.

There are not a ton of free agent options on the market for the Yankees in terms of starting pitching this year. The highlight is of course Trevor Bauer who the Yankees should pursue. However, the bombers might be limited in their financial flexibility.

With that in mind, the Yankees might look to get creative on ways to improve the team. With that, you could see them pursue upgrades on the trade market. One guy in particular who could be of interest is someone they were after last year and that’s all star closer, Josh Hader.

Will the Yankees pursue?

After they signed Gerrit Cole last year, the rumor mill was buzzing with talks between the Yankees and the Brewers. The Yankees were looking to add Hader if a deal made sense for both parties. However, nothing ever got close despite the Yankees’ efforts.

Hader is going into his first year of arbitration this year and will be under team control for the next three seasons. Given his history of success and control, he wouldn’t be cheap. However, the Yankees might seriously think about pursuing Hader again.

Hader was really good last year, but his numbers looked worse than what they were. He pitched to a 3.79 ERA in 19 innings while striking out 31 batters. That inflated ERA came on the heels of two really bad outings. However, Hader really showed his dominance throughout the year.

Ottavino’s decline was alarming for the Yankees and he’s only signed through next year. The Yankees have Zack Britton (Pending options) and Aroldis Chapman locked up for the next two years. Perhaps they could toss Hader into that mix to build back up a super bullpen.

The Yankees need to do something this offseason to breathe some life into the team. They cannot simply bring back the same squad and expect different results. I think they should focus on starting pitching, but if they can’t, Hader would be a great option to boost that bullpen moving forward.

UFC: Francis Ngannou growing frustrated with another lengthy layoff

Francis Ngannou

Back in May, Francis Ngannou (15-3) made a massive statement at UFC 249. Taking on the undefeated Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Ngannou won by knockout in a mere 20 seconds to solidify is top contender status in the heavyweight division.

For Ngannou, it was his fourth straight victory. Not just that, it was his forth straight first round knockout none of which have gone more than 71 seconds. Simply put, Ngannou is the most terrifying force in the UFC right now.

However, he hasn’t been able to get back in the cage since then. Ngannou tried to lobby for a fight with the UFC‘s pound for pound best, Jon Jones, however, that fight fell apart due to financial negotiations between Jones and the UFC. 

UFC 252 rolled around in August and Stipe Miocic defeated Daniel Cormier to retain his heavyweight title. However, Miocic is said to be out until March of next year with some injuries that he sustained the matchup against Cormier. This isn’t sitting well with the top contender.

The UFC’s heavyweight issue

The UFC has a problem on their hands in the heavyweight division. It all stems back to when Daniel Cormier won the heavyweight title. After Cormier won, it appeared that the UFC would make Cormier fight Brock Lesnar in a super fight for the heavyweight title.

However, that fight never materialized. Then a year after Cormier fought Miocic the first time, the two rematched where Miocic retained the title. Due to injuries in the rematch, it took another year for the trilogy fight to happen at UFC 252.

While all of this was going on, Ngannou was running through contenders like Cain Velasquez, Curtis Blaydes, Junior Dos Santos, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Ngannou pointed out that he’s only fought for 20 seconds in the last 16 months.

The UFC needs to get the heavyweight division moving again. If Miocic can’t go in March, I think the UFC needs to create an interim title and let Ngannou face either the winner of the Lewis – Blaydes fight or perhaps they can make the Jon Jones fight happen.

 

New York Islanders: A possible exciting third line combination

J.G. Pageau, New York Islanders

Not many teams in the NHL have exciting third lines. But, the New York Islanders are in the midst of creating a highly touted one. It won’t just be a line who can only forecheck and penalty kill. This line, if it develops correctly, could revolutionize the way NHL coaches set up their bottom 6 lines. Without any further build-up, here is a possible third line for the Islanders in the 2020-21′ season.

J.G. Pageau

This shouldn’t surprise any Islander fan at all. Brock Nelson isn’t dropping down a line, and no way is Trotz playing 2 of his top 3 centers on one line. Pageau will serve as the mentor for his other linemates. Pageau will teach his linemates the Islander way of playing. Islanders must get in the dirty areas and play stout defense. Pageau’s new linemates need a bit of teaching on both of these. His linemates have to learn that Hockey isn’t just about scoring goals. Pageau will be a big help in his linemates’ young careers.

Oliver Wahlstrom

The right-wing on the new third line will be one of the top Isles’ prospects, Oliver Wahlstrom. Wahlstrom is coming back to America with newfound confidence and motivation. Wahlstrom recently stated how displeased he was that he didn’t make the roster last year. Oliver Wahlstrom has been killing it overseas as of late against older players and former NHLers. I believe Wahlstrom is fully ready to step in and become the draft pick the Islanders knew that they picked.

Kieffer Bellows

Oh yeah, 2 rookies on one line, don’t mind if the Islanders do. It’s finally Kieffer Bellows’ time to shine after 3 long years in the minors. Bellows will be the sniper on the left-wing as he always should’ve been. Bellows is coming off a great year in Bridgeport with 22 goals and 9 assists in 52 games. The rookie burst onto the scene last year in the NHL with 2 goals and 1 assist in 8 games. It’s time for Bellows to get his real shot, he’ll take advantage of it.

Will the New York Giants be buyers or sellers at the November 3 trade deadline?

New York Giants, Evan Engram

The New York Giants are slowly heading toward the November 3 trade deadline, and the expectation is that they will be sellers. When evaluating the current roster, the strong points are far and few between.

The defense has played above their weight class this season, ranking 16th in points allowed per game. However, in overall yards allowed per game, they rank 12th. Their most astute strength is their run defense, allowing only 106.5 yards per game, which is good enough for 8th in the NFL.

This suggests two things, the value they have as sellers is on defense, but getting rid of some offensive weapons for draft capital is also a decent idea. Considering the Giants are averaging a measly 16.8 points per game, which ranks second to last in the NFL, utilizing misused players at the deadline could be a benefit. For example, tight end Evan Engram perfectly fits the bill for general manager Dave Gettleman to negotiate a trade.

The primary issue, all of their available movable pieces on offense hold little value. Engram has been lackluster this season, but that is also a result of Jason Garrett‘s schematics. So far, he has been targeted only 33 times, hauling in 20 passes for 177 yards. The only touchdown Engram has is from an end-around rushing score, which is quite disappointing.

Per PFF, Engram hosts a 53 overall grade on the offense, with his pass blocking being his strongest point outside of receiving. His run blocking is where things fall off significantly, as he currently hosts a 37.2 grade in the category.

The New York Giants need to think about 2021 and the team’s development:

So, how would another team value Engram, considering his deficiencies this year?

Well, I could see an alternative team looking at him and understanding the potential that Garrett simply isn’t extracting. He is a serious threat in the receiving game and is a decent pass blocker, but Garrett has doomed him to short routes and inserted him into a Jason Witten role. That is exactly how Engram shouldn’t be used, and the malpractice of his specific scheme has completely factored him out of the offense.

A general manager who understands how he is used and the value he would bring to an offense would offer a third-round pick for his services. In that scenario, the Giants should walk away happy since they can’t figure out how to maximize potential. Aside from Engram, the only players on offense that are trade-able remain Kevin Zeitler and Sterling Shepard. Shepard’s injuries have continuously devalued him, and Zeitler represents one of the more consistent offensive linemen for a Big Blue.

In this case, I don’t see Zeitler or Shep parting ways with the Giants on deadline day. Defensively, I don’t think Gettleman desires a parting with his interior defensive lineman. It is possible that safety Jabrill Peppers could be available, though. If I had to guess, Engram would be their focal point in a moveable asset.

New York Yankees News/Rumors: The biggest questions the Yankees need to solve

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka

The New York Yankees and their fans are tired of getting to the brink of a Championship but always falling short. This past season, the Yankees lost the Tampa Bay Rays division and then lost the ALCS to them. The Yankees realize they must improve the team in doing that, they are faced with a multitude of players that become free agents this offseason, and at the same time must pay arbitration-eligible players more money. All of these decisions come as the New York Yankees lost a monstrous amount of money this past season, as Yankee General Partner Hal Steinbrenner stated.

With the need for money to satisfy all these needs, there has been much talk about trading off key players like Luke Voit and Gio Urshela. In this writer’s opinion that won’t happen and the Yankees will not have the money to fix all of their shortcomings.  Let’s take a look at the three big decisions the Yankees will have to make before the start of the 2021 season. The Yankees will have in their mind that the 2021 season may not be a moneymaker either.

DJ LeMahieu:

One of the priorities the Yankee has to deal with is the free agency of DJ LeMahieu. DJ took over the leadoff spot in the lineup from Brett Gardner when he was hired in 2019. Since then, he has been one of the best Yankee players. Just like when Rivera took the mound in the ninth inning, when DJ steps to the plate, you know he’s going to get a hit or advance a runner. In 2019 he was Silver Slugger; in 2020 he won the baseball batting title, the only player to accomplish the feat in both leagues. DJ also leading off, sparks the other players in the lineup.

The New York Yankees will prioritize re-signing LeMahieu. He has just finished a two year contract that paid him $12M per year.  DJ likes playing in New York, but will surely want a sizable raise to keep his services at the Stadium in the Bronx. In signing him it’s hard to tell whether the 32 year old will be more interested in the length of the contract or the money amount. Probably a little bit of both. Without any knowledge of ongoing talks, it will probably take $20M a year to keep DJ in the Bronx and a deal that give him a guaranty of a income stabiltiy for at least the next four years. With money short and other issues to deal with, if DJ wants much more than that, the Yankees could let him walk, and test the free agent market.

Pitching:

The pitching situation, which many beleive caused the Yankee downfall this season, must be solved.  They really only have the $324M Gerrit Cole, beyond that they are in limbo. Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ are all free agents. If the Yankees take any of them back it will most likely be Masahiro Tanaka, who has been more or less dependable. However if they do take him back it will be at a much discounted rate compared to what he now earns.  If Tanaka does not accep that, he may very well finish out his career in Japan.

James Paxton, with his injuries might be a risk for the Yankees, and J. A, Happ’s inconsistantly most likely will lead to the Yankees not negoiating to keep him. So that leaves the Yankees with three rotation spots to fill.  Tanaka if they keep him is no longer a number two starter.  The answer is to go out and sign the best pitcher in free agency Trevor Bauer, but that will cost big bucks, a shorter contract but nearly as expensive as Cole per year. There are other options the Yankees must look at: Marcus Stroman of the Mets, Julio Teheran of the Angels, Taijuan of the Blue Jays, or Adam Wainwright of the Cards.

If the Yankees can solve the number two starter situation with a premium pitcher, they can probably get by filling the remaining two spots with the bevi of young arms they have coming along.  Montgomery, Garcia, King, and Schmidt.  The bottom line is that if the Yankees don’t solve the pitching problem they will continue to lose when it counts. The Yankees also must consider the return of Luis Severino, and if he will be effective after his Tommy John surgery.  The Yankees most likely won’t be able to test that out until June at the earliest.  At this point, whether the Yankees will take back Domingo German is unknown.

Catching:

The New York Yankees catching situation is just as complicated. The bottom line here is that the Yankees can’t continue to have a wasted space in the lineup with a catcher that can’t hit. In Gary Sanchez’s career, he has had some bright spots on the home run front but overall has failed to get on base most of the time. This past season has been his worst ever, he stayed healthy but hit only .147 on the year.  Put that together with his regressing defense, and the Yankees must do something.

The obvious thing is to go out and get J.T. Realmuto from the Phillies. He can hit 30 home runs a year; he can hit for contact and is also one of the best defensive catchers in the business. But again that would be costly.  Another possibility is getting a short-term fix with one of the Molina brothers, Yadier Molina, one of the best defensive catchers in the game. If the Yankee were to consider Molina the 38 year old would get a short term contract.

Looking at the situation, I feel the Yankees will not pay for the best catchers available, they will let Sanchez and Higashioka battle it out in spring training for that starting spot. It will also be important for the Yankees to re-sign the 40 year old Erik Kratz who works well with young pitchers and had the 3rd highest WAR of any available free agent catcher.

 

The New York Yankees narrative we need to stop talking about

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

The New York Yankees are headed into an interesting off-season, which will be composed of optimistic rumors and fluctuations. Whether it be starting pitching or trading catcher Gary Sanchez, we can expect the hot stove to be ablaze. However, there is one narrative that needs to be shut down before it gets out of hand, and that is a potential trade involving Giancarlo Stanton.

Stanton, who elected to opt into the remainder of his contract with the Yankees, will stick with the team moving forward. When Stanton was traded to the Yankees by the Miami Marlins, he was on a 13 year, $325 million deal. He had the option of opting in to the 2021 season, which would keep him until 2027 with a club option for 2028. He will make a maximum of $32 million for three consecutive seasons between 2023-2025.

To put that into perspective, the Tampa Bay Rays’ entire payroll is less than Stanton’s contract alone on a yearly basis. That should give you an idea of how analytics play a part in any given team’s strategy and how the Yankees can’t even buy their way to a World Series. Something needs to change, and the fact that people think any team would be willing to acquire Stanton and his behemoth contract is silly.

This past season, Stanton underwhelmed once again. He wasn’t awful by any means, but he wasn’t the MVP-caliber player we expect him to be. He slashed .250/.387/.500 this year, accounting for four home runs and 11 RBIs.

He only managed to play in 23 games, which was less than half of the 2020 campaign. What is even more frustrating, the Yankees took him out of their defense completely, utilizing him as a designated hitter specifically.

Even then, Stanton wasn’t able to remain healthy, pulling his hamstring against the Tampa Bay Rays early on in the campaign. His inability to remain a consistent factor is purely comical, as the Bombers are paying 10s of millions of dollars for a one-sided player who still can’t remain healthy.

That should be your primary reason to believe that no team would be willing to deal for Stanton unless the Yankees are shouldering the majority of his contract, which is highly unlikely.