It’s now or never: Estevan Florial.

The Yankees are still looking for a LF, preferably one who hits left-handed in order to balance out the lineup. But what if they can’t get or don’t like any of the free agents or trade possibilities out there?

You still have on the roster Oswaldo Cabrera and Aaron Hicks. Cabrera is someone the Yanks would rather use in a jack-of-all-trades role, while Hicks has worn out his welcome and the Yanks really would like to trade him.

There is someone else, and for that person, 2023 is a now-or-never time for him. Estevan Florial is out of options, so if he makes the team, he would have to stick.

There is no doubt that Florial, with his speed, could handle LF defensively. He has played mostly CF in the minors but should not have too much of a problem moving over to left. The problem has been his hitting. In 29 major league games (and yes, he has been on the elevator the last few years, up/down, up/down, no consistent stays) he has hit .185 with 1 HR and 3 RBI in 54 at bats. Worse yet, is the 21 strikeouts. He isn’t putting the ball in play. You can’t steal second if you can’t get on first.

Last season, Florial hit .097 in the majors (3 for 31, with 13 strikeouts). Ugh. At AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (SWB) he hit .283 with 15 HR and 39 SB in 101 games. But with 140 strikeouts. The year before, he divided 87 games between AA and AAA and only hit .219, albeit with 17 HR, but once again, a lot of strikeouts.

There is power there, and speed there too. But potential is another word for “you haven’t done it yet”. Unfortunately for Florial, 25, a LOT of strikeouts are there too.

If the Yanks don’t make a move, an opportunity is there for Florial in spring training. But being out of options, it may be his last chance. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts, put the ball in play, and give himself a chance to showboat his speed. And if he puts the ball in play more, the lefty power will show up at the Stadium.

But as mentioned, Florial is down to his last chance.

How do you follow a season for the ages?

How do you follow a season for the ages? What are the expectations for Aaron Judge in 2023? Will fans boo if he as a great season but nowhere close to 2022? What should we realistically expect? Let’s look at what Judge did in 2022 and what baseball-reference projects for 2023.

.311-62-131. 133 R, 111 walks, 175 strikeouts. .425 OBP, .686 SA, 1.111 OPS, 211 OPS+, 391 total bases.
.288-41-99, 97 R, 78 walks, 150 strikeouts. .383 OBP, .570 SA, .953 OPS, OPS+ around 181, 297 total bases.
(projected, still MVP quality)

So, if Judge “Drops off” to the level projected, will fans get on him? How unrealistic will their expectations be? Judge did hit 52 HR in 2017. Hitting 50 again isn’t unrealistic. But if he hits 40-45, drives in 100-110, hits, .285 (something close to what is projected, will fans be happy with that?)

Personally, I think the walks projection is way too low. He drew 111 walks in 2022 and after a season like that he is only projected for 78 walks? I think pitchers will be very careful with someone after a season like Judge had and as a result, he would see as many walks or even more if he isn’t getting any protection in the lineup. Rizzo, who will probably be hitting behind Judge, is important as far as protection—just as Mantle was to Maris. How often will pitchers pitch around Judge?

A sad part of Maris’ history is the unrealistic expectations people had for Maris in 1962. Maris had hit 39 HR in 1960 but outside of 1961, never topped 40 in his career—unlike Judge.

1961 .269-61-141 132 R, 94 W, 67 K. .372 OBP, .620 SA, .992 OPS, OPS+ 167 366 total bases
1962 .256-33-100 92 R, 87 W, 78 K. .356 OBP, .485 SA, .840 OPS, OPS+ 126 286 total bases

Maris had 81 extra base hits in 1961, 68 in 1962. Maybe in 1962 he wasn’t pulling the ball as much. The balls that were HR in 1961 were doubles in 1962. His doubles went from 16 to 34 from 1961 to 1962.

In one game in 1962, Maris was walked intentionally 4x because Mantle was out of the lineup with an injury.

A good, but not great year for Maris in 1962, and his defensive play in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the WS saved the WS for the Yankees. Still, he was considered the “Flop of the Year” for 1962. Really, what were people expecting?

Maris didn’t get any MVP votes in 1962 after winning the award in 1960 & 1961. Mantle won in 1962 despite missing about 30-35 games with injury (.321-30-89 for Mickey, with 122 walks in 123 games).

Maris probably wasn’t MVP in 1962 but 33 HR and 100 RBI for a WS Champ and NO MVP consideration whatsoever?

Breaking Ruth’s record set some people off. Maris, a private person, wasn’t anywhere near as garrulous as the beloved Ruth, thus getting the “surly” rep from sportswriters.

Judge is not surly, and more affable than Maris but still a private individual. I doubt Judge will get the level of vitriol hurled at him that Maris had, and I sincerely hope not.

But I also hope the expectations for Judge aren’t ridiculous. Yes, it would be great to see him hit 60 again, but if he his .285-45-110 you would take that, wouldn’t you?

Luetge traded to Braves

Lucas Luetge, DFA’d by the Yankees last week to make room on the roster for Tommy Kahnle, was traded to the Braves yesterday for a couple of minor leaguers.

Luetge spent two seasons with the Yankees, going 4-2, 2.74 in 2021 and 4-4, 2.67 in 2022. Luetge turns 36 next spring. He did not appear in any postseason games for the Yanks.

A baseball passing: Fred Valentine, an OF who played for the Orioles (1959, 1963), Senators (1964-1968) and Orioles again (1968) passed away, age 87, on December 26. The switch-hitter’s best season came in 1966, when he hit .276-16-59 and stole 22 bases. OPS+ 131. He finished 21st in MVP voting that season. For his career, in 533 games, he hit .247 with 36 HR. His 162-game average was .247-11-42, 14 SB and an OPS+ of 106.

Doyle, ex-Phils/Red Sox 2B, passes away, age 78.

Denny Doyle, a 2B for the Phillies (1970-1973), Angels (1974-1975) and Red Sox (1975-1977) passed away December 20. He was 78.

Doyle was the older brother (by 10 years) of Brian Doyle. Brian filled in for an injured Willie Randolph and starred in the 1978 WS for the Yankees.

Denny was traded to Boston after playing just 8 games for the Angels in 1975. He provided a spark for Boston, hitting .310 in 89 games and finishing 23rd in MVP voting. He was 3 for 11 with 2 RBI in the ALCS vs. the A’s and 8 for 30 with a double and triple in the WS against the Reds.

Doyle was a light-hitting lefty-hitting 2B who hit .250 with 16 HR in his career. His 162-game average was .250-3-41 with an OPS+ of 70 (100 is average).

Judge named captain; Yanks DFA Luetge. NFL Legend Franco Harris passes away.

At the press conference yesterday to announce his signing, Aaron Judge was named the Yankees’ captain, their first since the retirement of Derek Jeter after the 2014 season.

A press conference regarding Carlos Rodon’s signing will be today.

In order to make room on the team for the signing of Tommy Kahnle, Lucas Luetge was DFA’d.

Sad news: Another part of my childhood is gone. I am a Steelers fan and growing up in the 1970s the Immaculate Reception kind of sealed the deal as far as me becoming a fan of the Steelers. Just a few days before the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, and a few days before weekend celebrations about that play, and a few days before the Steelers were to retire his #32 at halftime of the Steelers/Raiders game Saturday evening, Franco Harris died at the age of 72. RIP, Franco.

Browning, ex-Reds’ ace, dies at age 62.

Tom Browning, a lefty who pitched a perfect game in 1988 (when he went 18-5, 3.41, ERA+ 105) and who was a key member of the 1990 Reds’ WS Champions, died today at the age of 62.

Browning pitched for the Reds from 1984-1994 and for the Royals in 1995. He was 2nd in ROY and 6th in CYA voting in 1985 when he went 20-9, 3.55, ERA+ 106.

Browning led the NL in games started 4x from 1986-1990, and MLB 2x in that span. In 1991 he was an All-Star.

In 1990 he was 15-9, 3.80, ERA+ 105. He started two games in the NLCS against the Pirates, going 1-1, 3.27. He won Game 2, 2-1, pitching six innings of 1 run ball, and lost Game 5 3-2, giving up 3 runs in 5 IP. He won Game 3 of the WS against the A’s, 8-3, giving up 3 runs in six innings.

After 1991, Browning, age 32 in April 1992, wasn’t the same. From 1992-1995 he was 16-15, 4.90.

Browning was 123-90 in his career, ERA 3.94, ERA+ 97. His 162-game average was 14-10, 3.94. From 1985-1991 he averaged 15-11, 3.83.

LF option. David Peralta?

With Michael Brantley going back to Houston, another LF option is off the board.

Besides the LF options I wrote about before (Reynolds, Kepler, Varsho, McCarthy, even having Cabrera as full time LF (and please, no Hicks!)) I ran across a few other options. Some, like Tommy Pham or Andrew McCutchen, I disregard because the Yankees need a lefty or switch-hitter to balance out the lineup and Pham and McCutchen (who was briefly a Yankee before) don’t fit that qualification.

One name I didn’t mention before is David Peralta. He is a free agent, and a lefty bat that could help. Peralta is 35, a LF and a former Gold Glove winner. At 35, Peralta would not demand a long-term deal. Good. He made $7.5MM last year, so he wouldn’t be as expensive as Benintendi, who got $15MM/yr for five years from the White Sox, would have been.

While Peralta did hit 30 HR in 2018, that is an outlier. He has a 162-game average of .281-18-78 but given his age and what he has done in the past few seasons, .255-.260, 10-15 HR and about 55 to 65 RBI is what you can reasonably expect. If a lefty pitches, maybe that is the time to sit Peralta and play Stanton in LF. You don’t want Stanton in the OF often, but this could keep Stanton fresh.

I don’t know if Peralta could be an answer or if the Yanks have him on their radar. One thing is for sure. The free agent LF are coming off the board. If not Peralta, then a trade may have to be made. Apparently, it would take a lot to pry Reynolds away from Pittsburgh. I am not sold on Kepler from the Twins. What it would take to get say Varsho or McCarthy from Arizona, I don’t know.

But the Yanks should add Peralta to the mix of LF to target if they haven’t already. Think of him as a little older, and slightly less (not by much, the stats are very similar) version of Benintendi.

After Judge and Rodon, what’s next?

The addition of Rodon strengthens a pitching staff that was second in the AL with a 3.30 ERA last season. But what is next?

Strengthening the offense.

The Yankees were 1st in R, HR and walks last year, but that is mostly because Aaron Judge led the league in all 3 categories and many more. The adjusted OPS of 113 was nice, but the main things to take away were these:

After the All-Star break, Judge hit .349. The rest of the team hit .223. Judge hit .311 last season. The team batting average was .241.

Even with their HR, Rizzo (32 HR) hit .224. Stanton (31 HR) .211.

Judge was the only Yankee with over 150 at bats and a batting average over .270.

The absence of the shift should help next year, but there are a few things the Yanks need to address.

One. LF. They would like to bring back Andrew Benintendi, but probably not at the five years Benintendi may want, especially when the Yanks have prospects like Jasson Dominguez and Everson Periera a year or two away (With Bader in CF, will the Yanks move Dominguez to LF?). Spencer Jones could be a few years (three) away. How badly do you want to slow down those kids? Granted prospects are suspects and not all pan out, but if they do, it helps your payroll since they are under team control for a while, unlike being tied into an aging, expensive player.

Besides Benintendi, other free agents are Michael Conforto and Michael Brantley. The trade market has Max Kepler (who I am not sold on), Ian Happ, Bryan Reynolds, Daulton Varsho, and Jake McCarthy, among others. The need here is for a lefty hitting or switch-hitting outfielder to balance out the lineup. A good defender also helps. With Bader and Judge, the Yanks could help an already good staff with good defense.

If the Yanks were to make a trade for LF, who would they give up? As much as I hear about the Yanks adding bullpen help, I actually feel as if a bullpen piece could be used to get a LF. Here is why I think that.

Right now, you have a rotation of Cole, Rodon, Severino, Cortes and Montas. Those are your five.

Let’s say the Yankees do not bring back Zack Britton, a free agent (even though I would like another lefty besides Luetge and Peralta). We know Chapman, also a free agent, won’t be back because of various things. Chad Green is a free agent who will miss all or most of 2023 due to TJ surgery. Let’s say he isn’t back. Scott Effross will miss all of 2023 with TJ surgery. Miguel Castro signed with Arizona. Despite all that the Yanks still have a lot of bullpen arms. Let’s list them.

Let’s start with German and Schmidt. With the rotation the way it is, they now fall into the 6 and 7 starter roles. Spot starter, long relief.

You also have Michael King, Clay Holmes, Lucas Luetge, Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loaisiga, Ron Marinaccio, Lou Trivino, Albert Abreu, Greg Weissert. Ryan Weber is back on a minor league deal. With German and Schmidt, I have 12 names listed here. If you carry 13 pitchers, 8 would be in the bullpen. You have your starting five. Let’s say Weber and Weissert go to AAA SWB. There are still 10 pitchers for 8 spots. And that is without Britton, Chapman, Green or Effross. You can see the numbers crunch. Not everybody can be sent to AAA. Some guys are out of options.

So, if the Yanks don’t get a LF via free agency (Benintendi for example), I can see a reliever used in a deal for a LF.

Now for another issue. The Yanks are better defensively, but at the cost of offense. You can’t have a lineup of strictly glove guys surrounding Judge. It’s ok to have Platinum Glove winner Jose Trevino in the lineup, but both him and IKF? That is too much. One glove guy ok, but not two or three. Some glove guys also have to hit.

Right now, Oswaldo Cabrera seems to be a jack of all trades utility guy who would see action at LF, RF and all infield positions. Fine. Aaron Hicks would be an expensive ($10MM) bench player. Too costly for someone who sits, but who would take him? As a bench player, you could do worse than Hicks. Switch-hits, can pinch-run, defensive replacement. I don’t like Hicks and would like to dump him, but if you can’t, he is ok as long he is mostly riding the pine. But that is a lot of money for someone who would be used as often as say, Tim Locastro was last year.

I think Oswald Peraza is the starting SS. IKF is a bench player if the Yanks don’t trade him. There will be bigger bases next year, and that, along with the deletion of the shift, will place a greater emphasis on speed and range. Hence Peraza. In 107 games at AAA, Peraza, 23 next June, has hit .261-20-52 with 35 steals. What he can do with a full MLB season will be interesting. Now you have more power and speed than IKF, who had 4 HR and 22 SB last season. If Peraza steals as many bases as IKF but plays better defense and can hit 15-20 HR, it is an upgrade.

That brings me to 3B. I don’t think Josh Donaldson is going anywhere and don’t think he can be moved. If D.J. LeMahieu’s toe is OK, D.J. may see a good bit of time at 3B, and also 2B, especially if Gleyber Torres is traded. But as far as 3B goes, if I were Aaron Boone, I would seriously consider Cabrera at 3b, especially in Yankee Stadium. Here is why.

Cabrera is a switch-hitter. He showed some pop, especially from the left side in Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, here are Donaldson’s splits last year.

Home: .207 with 4 HR.
Away: .233 with 11 HR.

So, if there is a righty on the mound facing the Yanks at the Stadium, why not balance the lineup out even more and play Cabrera at 3B? Donaldson or IKF (if either is still on the team) can always enter at the end of the game for defense. But get another lefty bat in that lineup. And the analytics people should see those home and away numbers on Donaldson. The Yanks think Donaldson, who just turned 37, can rebound. I hope so, but I don’t see it. I go by what happened last year and what our eyes saw in the postseason.

I hope Boone is considering it. Righty pitcher at the Stadium, sit Donaldson. Consider Cabrera at 3B.

BTW, I think Anthony Volpe starts 2023 at AAA, where he has only played 22 games so far. But mid-season, if he is brought up, I wonder what trade will be made to get him in the lineup. The Yanks can bring him up and trade someone then (Torres?) to fill a need at the trade deadline.

There is more work to be done. Rodon helps the staff. Now get Judge lineup help. Otherwise, he may be walked even more than the league leading 111 times he was walked last year. And Boone? Consider Cabrera for 3B in home games over Donaldson, especially with that short RF porch.

Yanks get their man! Rodon to Yanks on 6 yr/$162MM Deal.

The Yankees promised Aaron Judge there would be upgrades around him and they delivered, signing Carlos Rodon to a 6 yr/$162MM deal. Outside of bringing back Judge, Rodon is the one free agent I wanted the most. Of course, there is more that needs to be done.

Rodon is younger than DeGrom or Verlander. He just turned 30 five days ago.

Rodon has pitched for the White Sox (2015-2021) and Giants (2022; poor Giants, lose out on Judge and now Rodon to Yanks, too).

For his career, Rodon is 56-46, 3.60, ERA+ 115. A 162-game average of 13-10, 3.60.

But it is the last two years that stand out.

A lefty pitcher, Rodon hopefully adds to the lefty pitcher legacy of the Yankees. Pennock, Gomez, Lopat, Ford, Guidry, Pettitte, Sabathia. The Yankees have won on lefty hitting and pitching.

Are there risks? Of course. You can’t predict health, and Rodon has had shoulder and elbow issues in the past. we can only hope those are behind him and that the last two years show someone coming into his own and peaking.

From 2015-2020, Rodon was 29-33, 4.14, ERA+ 100. Average. He missed over half of 2017, and most of 2019 and 2020. His 2019 and 2020 can best be described as forgettable.

But here are the last two seasons.

2021 with White Sox: 13-5, 2.37. ERA+ 185. All-Star. 5th in CYA voting. 185 K in 132 2/3 IP. Average 12.6 K/9.
Threw a no-hitter.
2022 with Giants. 14-8, 2.88. All-Star. 6th in CYA voting. 237 K in 178 IP. Average 12.00K/9 (led MLB). ERA+ 140.

So in the last two years, he is 27-13, 2.67 ERA, ERA+ 157. 12.2K/9

It could be an interesting K battle between Rodon and Cole on the Yankees. And Sevy isn’t bad, either.

He replaces the departed (via free agency) Jameson Taillon in the rotation. No offense to Taillon, who is a decent pitcher (went to Cubs, 4 yr/$68MM) but when on, Rodon is just dominating. It is an upgrade.

It gives the Yanks more balance in the rotation. Righties of Cole, Severino and Montas. Lefties Rodon and Cortes.

It makes this rotation one of, if not the best rotation in baseball, and makes the Yankees deeper. If you need a sixth or seventh starter, Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt are still there. They can be used in long relief until needed.

Now to solve the LF situation. Be it with Benintendi, Brantley, Conforto as free agents or a trade for a Bryan Reynolds (Pittsburgh) or maybe Daulton Varsho or Jake McCarthy from Arizona. All are lefty bats or switch-hitters, which the Yanks need for balance in the lineup.

Rodon down. LF to go.

P.S. Apparently the Yanks and Rodon met in the middle. MLB Trade Rumors predicted Rodon at 5/140 and talk was that Rodon and his agent, Scott Boras, wanted 7/200 or thereabouts. With 6/162 they met close to the middle.

Curt Simmons, former Phils, Cards star, passes away at the age of 93.

Curt Simmons, a 3x All-Star pitcher who was a member of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” and who later won a WS ring with the 1964 Cardinals, has passed away at the age of 93. Simmons came from Egypt, PA, a town less than five miles from me.

Simmons pitched for the Phillies (1947-1950, 1952-1960), Cardinals (1960-1966), Cubs (1966-1967) and Angels (1967). He went 193-183, 3.54 in his career. His 162-game average was 13-12, 3.54, ERA+ 111.

Simmons made his MLB debut (a complete game victory at the age of 18, shortly after impressing the Phillies in an exhibition at Egypt Park, right by his home.

From Wikipedia:

Simmons was born in Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania. He attended Whitehall High School, where he led Whitehall to three straight league titles and also led the Coplay American Legion team to two Pennsylvania state crowns.

In 1947, then Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter arranged for an exhibition match between his Phillies and a team of all-star high school players from the Lehigh Valley. The game was played on the opening day of Egypt Memorial Park in front of a crowd of 4,500. Simmons struck out eleven and the game ended in a 4–4 tie (a late-game error was the only thing that prevented the high school team from winning). 

His breakout year came in 1950, when the 21-year-old went 17-8, 3.40 for the NL champs. Called up by the Army just a few weeks before the season ended, Simmons missed the 1950 World Series. He then missed all of the 1951 season, due do military service during the Korean Conflict.

Simmons finished 16th in MVP voting in 1950 (the only year he got MVP consideration), and was named an All-Star in 1952, 1953 and 1957, being the #2 pitcher on a team headed by HOF Robin Roberts.

Simmons pitched with a funky delivery (see below why), and Henry Aaron and Stan Musial listed Simmons as one of, if not the, toughest pitcher for him to face.

An accident with a lawn mower interrupted his career. I found this article on the internet the author is Barry Bowe.

On June 5, 1953, the Phillies were pennant contenders at 23-16 – in third place and 3½ games out of first. Robin Roberts was 8-3. He would go on to a 23-16 season with a 2.75 ERA. He completed 33 games with 5 shutouts and 2 saves. And Curt Simmons was pitching at a similar pace.

Simmons was 7-4 with a 2.94 ERA.

push mower

But during the afternoon of June 5, 1953, Curt Simmons decided to cut his lawn with a power mower he just purchased. Big mistake. Power mowers were not commonplace back then. Most people used the old-fashioned push mowers that you rarely see anymore (my note, like the one at left. I have one, but also have an electric one). My dad (Bowe’s) didn’t buy our first power mower until five years later in 1958.

So I’m willing to bet that Curt Simmons had no idea how to use his new gadget and underestimated the dangers involved. In any case, he slipped and fell while using his new mower. His left foot flew under the mower and the whirling blade cut his big toe to the bone and severed several other toes.

Robin Roberts heard the commotion from next-door and rushed his friend to the hospital for emergency surgery.

Simmons rehabbed the injury and miraculously returned to pitch on the Fourth of July. But he was never quite the same. The injured toes were on his left foot – his pivot foot or push-off foot. He walked with a limp forever after. His delivery turned from silky smooth into herky-jerky. He lost a couple inches off his fastball and some of the bite from his breaking ball.

He finished the season 16-13, which meant he went just 9-9 after his return from the injury. Before that lawnmower incident, the Phillies were pennant contenders, just 3½ games off the pace. Without him, they were not. The Phillies finished 83-71 and still in third place – but 22 games behind the pennant-winning 105-49 Brooklyn Dodgers. 

After an off year in 1958 and missing most of 1959, the Phillies released Simmons early in 1960.  

His last great year was in 1964, when he went 18-9, 3.43 for the WS Champion Cardinals. Simmons started Game 3 of the WS and left after eight innings with the score tied 1-1. Mickey Mantle led off the bottom of the ninth with a HR off of Barney Schultz to give the Yankees a 2-1 win. It was Mantle's 16th WS HR, breaking Babe Ruth's record. Simmons also started Game 6 of the WS and took the loss. With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the sixth, Simmons gave up back-to-back HR to Roger Maris and to Mantle (Mantle's 17th of his 18 WS HR). He went 6 1/3 innings, giving up the three runs in what was an 8-3 Cardinals loss. The next day, the Cards beat the Yanks in Game 7 behind Bob Gibson. Simmons was 0-1, 2.51 in that WS. 

A lefty pitcher and hitter, Simmons hit .171 with 1 HR in his career (May 22, 1952, at home, Shibe Park). It was an inside
 the park HR, misjudged by the outfielder for a three run HR.