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2019-20 Hot Stove Roundup; Roster Moves and a Global Pandemic

It doesn’t matter *where* you talk Yankees Hot Stove baseball — anywhere there’s good friends, food and drink, you’re set. Even over hot dogs and beer at 3:00 AM. It just works.

[Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2020]    It’s been yet another strange Hot Stove League. Winter is drawing down and the boys are finally all in Tampa — which seemed like an eternity to happen this year.

Everything started off with a bang! (see Gerrit Cole), then went into stealth mode. But it’s technically not over yet — as the Yankees have never been shy about adding a few eclectic pieces before they head North.

But let’s review what’s happened since that fateful evening of October 18, 2019 — of which the sorid details will go down in baseball history, but for all of the wrong reasons. Much more on that will be curated over the coming days and weeks. This will not die. Nor should it.

The Halloween Roster Massacre

Okay, it was just a bunch of contracts that expired, but this list included some longtime fan favorites including home-growns and much-loved recent additions to the extent that we haven’t seen in years. On October 31st, 2019, the Yankees granted free agency to no less than:

  • Dellin Betances
  • Edwin Encarnacion
  • Brett Gardner
  • Didi Gregorius
  • Cameron Maybin
  • Austin Romine
  • CC Sabathia

And all are gone except one.

While it was known that CC was hanging ’em up after an amazing 19-year career, some of the other departures where hard to take. Didi? Really? Romine? The best backup backstop in MLB who could start almost anywhere else? Dellin? A son of New York City no less? And Maybin … who rocked it beyond belief when his number was called, and obviously a huge part of clubhouse camaraderie.

As much as they made great sense on other levels, these moves were a kick in the emotional gut, and it wasn’t helped by the Gardy question. Would the organization bring him back for one more round — based not only on his play in ’19, but the intangibles he brings to the room. The answer to that would not be immediate.

Getting the Axe Around Thanksgiving

In the days leading up to and after the Thanksgiving holiday, the Yankees did a little slicing of their own. The first big news included releasing bench coach Josh Bard and promoting Carlos Mendoza to the position. If you’re keeping score, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti broke the news on this one.

As reported by Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, Bard wanted to work closer to his home in Colorado.

Mendoza previously served as infield and quality control coach since 2018, but his ties to the pinstripes go back much further.

This shuffling of the deck allowed for the acquisition of Tanner Swanson to assume Mendoza’s responsibilities, in addition to being assigned to quality-control for catchers.

Roster moves included:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury — whacked on November 20th
  • Nestor Cortes, Jr.traded to the M’s on November 25th
  • Greg Bird — whacked on November 27th

Two quick thoughts here. Because we actually made yet another trade with the Mariners (you’d think we’d learn by now) — Cortes, Jr. will hurl a perfect game for Seattle in Yankee Stadium, probably in 2021. And Bird (who was inked by the Texas Rangers) will definitely join the long list of ‘Yankee Killers’ … at least my prayers that he wouldn’t sign with Beantown were answered.

Merry (early) Christmas

Boom! On December 18th, the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole! For the richest contract in the history of contracts — but hey, if we didn’t do it, at least 10 owners were making sure their pens had fresh ink.

Coal in Their Stocking

It could not have been a merry holiday season for the once highly-touted hurler Chance Adams, who was dealt to the Kansas City Royals for league infielder Christian Perez on December 23rd.

After a record-breaking 30 players spent time on the injured list — the Bombers whacked Matt Krause, who spearheaded the team’s strength and conditioning programs since 2014.

A Busy January

Just as Yankee fans were shaking off any remaining effects from bad decisions on New Year’s Eve they were greeted on January 2nd with the news of Domingo German’s 81 game suspension.

Over the next week or so, SS Rosell Herrera, P Nick Tropeano and C Chris Iannetta all inked minor league deals with the club.

On January 10th, the following members of the 40-man were all re-signed, avoiding contract arbitration: Gary Sanchez, Tommy Kahnle, Jordan Montgomery, James Paxton, Jonathan Holder, Aaron Judge, Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Gio Urshela.

After the arbitration hub-bub was complete, the club announced the re-signing of free agent Brett Gardner on January 11th to a one-year, $12.5M contract. Four days later, lefty bullpen prospect Stephen Tarpley was traded to the Miami Marlins in exchange for minor-league infielder James Nelson.

January closed out with minor league contract signings of right-handed pitchers Tyler Lyons and Luis Avilian, 3B Kaleb Cowart, and C Josh Thole.

Finally February!

February 1st means only one thing — a mere couple of weeks until pitchers and catchers are on the field in Tampa. And life begins anew.

The ink wasn’t done flowing out of Ca$hMunny’s pen as relief pitchers David Hale (never heard of him!) and Dan Otero signed minor league deals.

One topic of ongoing interest around Moiderer’s Row is the connection between the Yankees and the New York/San Francisco Giants organizations, and Otero provides yet another link — as the Miami native was drafted by the Giants (in 2007) and is the proud owner of a (2012) World Series ring. And — this isn’t the first time Otero was in pinstripes. When the Giants waived him on March 26, 2013, the Yanks claimed him — only to whack him the next day.

On February 12th and 15th respectively, the Yankees took a flyer on relief pitcher Tony Zych who was released by the Mariners in March of 2018 and hasn’t pitched since, and starter Chad Bettis, each agreeing to minor league deals.

As for the 29-year old Monee, Illinois native Zych, no knock against the young man but to this day few things that have the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees in the same sentence ever end well — except of course the 2001 ALDS.

LOSE THAT HOBO LOOK, LAD   The Yankees signed right handed hurler Chad Bettis to a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training. Photo credit: Keith Allison

One guy we’re definitely rooting for is Bettis. Hit with a diagnoses of testicular cancer in December of 2016, the Lubbock, Texas native has been fighting his way back since. After making a strong recovery and thinking he beat the rap, it came back, this time requiring chemo to contain it. Once again, Bettis soldiered on and progressed, only to be contractually outrighted by the Colorado Rockies, where he choose to test the free agent market. If Bettis is the next ‘lightening in a bottle’ story in New York Yankees lore, what a story that would make. Godspeed, Chad!

March Comes In Like a Lamb — Then the Unthinkable

As the first week of March falls off the calendar, teams usually begin thinning the camp rosters and sending guys back to the minors. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The first bunch sent down included relief pitcher Luis Gil, who was optioned to High-A Tampa; starting pitcher Albert Abreu (to the AA Trenton Thunder); left-fielder Estevan Florial (AA Trenton Thunder); righty reliever Luis Medina (High-A Tampa); flamethrowing right-hander Nick Nelson (AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre); and righty reliever Miguel Yajure.

A Pandemic Hits America

Unbeknownst to most Americans, on January 15th, 2020, four days after the Yankees inked homegrown favorite Brett Gardner to a one-year deal, Coronavirus Patient Zero entered the United States on a flight from Wuhan, China. His diagnosis was confirmed on January 20th, and two days later President Trump declared a national public health emergency and blocked travel between China and the United States.

Like everyone else, from politicians to medical professions, no one really knew what we had on our hands at the time, MLB included.

On March 12, 2020, Major League Baseball announced that was that Spring Training would be canceled as of 4:00pm that day, and the regular season would be delayed two weeks until about April 15th.

On March 15th, the first New York player confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 was 17-year-old minor leaguer Denny Larrondo, but his name was not released until a few weeks later after he was on the mend.

Larrondo, a 6′ 2″ flame-throwing righty who the club has designs on as a starter, was signed out of Cuba for a $550,000 bonus.

A day later, MLB announced the start of the regular season would now commence in mid-May.

On March 26th, it was announced that the 2020 MLB Draft would be rescheduled from June to July, and be condensed from the normal 40 rounds to between five and 10.

Enter the Cluster****

A 140-game season — with games played at empty Spring Training ballparks, and playoffs starting in late October and expanded to 14 teams, no less? What could possibly go wrong?

The Yankees vs Coronavirus COVID-19

While the league, the nation and the world for that matter continues to adjust to the realities of the Coronavirus, the business of baseball goes on, and rightly so.

On the day MLB announced the delay of the draft, more roster moves by the Yankees went public — as hurlers Ben Heller, Deivi Garcia and Michael King were all send down to their respective minor league assignments, as well as infielder Thairo Estrada. Three days later, relief pitcher David Hale was whacked, in what he described as a ‘paperwork move’.

April Turns Into May

[Update: Tuesday, April 28, 2020] As expected, the pandemic — like everything else in America — has become politicized, which usually means there’s too much money at stake for certain forces and this thing won’t be going away anytime soon. I don’t care what tribe you follow, the America public will get shanked yet again. Some states are starting to open up for business while others are moving out the lockdown dates, so who knows when any MLB plan will see the light of day.

Caught a good read in yesterday’s New York Post by the Yankees new number one backup catcher — Higgy, titled: Yankees’ Kyle Higashioka dives deep into art of catching, downtime activities. He mentions a chat with ump Angel Hernandez in an early March spring training game where Hernandez was telling everyone “see you in June!”. At this point, that would be welcome news.

One comical entry referred to a team meeting via Zoom (with Boone, players and coaches), and how it was strange seeing everyone with beards.

We’ll continue to chronicle this nightmare here, so check back in when you can. Keep safe and sane, and let’s go Yankees!

And May Turns Into June

[Update: Monday, May 25, 2020] Memorial Day Weekend 2020. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the measurements of the U.S. shoreline totals 95,471 miles — this includes Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. Territories, as well as the Great Lakes.

This weekend is the official start of summer across America, where droves flock to beaches within reach and New York is no exception. Except NYC mayor Bill De Blasio has decreed City beaches will not reopen for the holiday weekend — despite numerous beaches opening across the Tri-State area. More on this shortly.

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