Jack Curry has written and talked about the Yankees for years. He spent 22 years at the New York Times, first as a Yankees beat writer, and then as a national baseball correspondent. He also co-authored the best seller, “The Life You Imagine: Life Lessons for Achieving Your Dreams”, with Derek Jeter. In 2010, the Hudson Catholic Regional High School and Fordham University graduate put down his pad and pen and picked up a microphone for the YES Network.
Curry’s pre- and post-game analysis and his unique insight into the game have been invaluable to viewers. He recently shared his views on the upcoming Yankees season with me.
DS: The Yankees have a number of excellent prospects in the organization for the first time in years; players like James Kaprielian, Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Jorge Mateo and Justus Sheffield, in particular. What one pitcher and one hitter do you think will have an impact on the 2017 Yankees?
JC: The crown jewels of the Yankee farm system are players like Torres, Frazier, Blake Rutherford, Kaprielian, etc. But, in terms of players that will have an impact this season, I would pick Jordan Montgomery and Tyler Wade. Both have had impressive spring trainings. Montgomery had superb stats at AA/AAA last year and has an interesting over-the-top motion that we don’t see very often. Wade is a shortstop, but he’s being developed as a super utility player so he can help in a lot of areas.
DS: Boston GM Dave Dombrowski recently said about the Yankees, “I sure do look at them as a legitimate threat. And Brian [Cashman] wants you to think that they’re not a legitimate threat. But they are a legitimate threat and they want to sneak up on you. They wouldn’t make some of the moves that they did unless they felt they had a chance to win, because they’ve added some people, too.”
To me, this sounded like Tom Landry back in the 1970s when he would talk up the NY Giants and then the Cowboys would thrash them. Do you think Dombrowski honestly feels the Yankees are a contender or is he covering his bases (and other parts) in case the Red Sox don’t win the division? Or, all of the above?
JC: When Dave Dombrowski has spoken about the Yankees as being a legitimate threat, I think he’s being honest. The Red Sox are the favorites to win the division, but Dombrowski is smart enough to know that anything can happen during the course of a 162-game season. The Yankees need a lot of things to go right for them, but I don’t think Dombrowski sees them as a pushover. We have to trust the man’s words.
DS: Brett Gardner has struggled thus far in the Grapefruit League – just a .507 OPS through his first 39 at-bats. Do you believe the Yankees will move him during this season? And, what do you think is the reason he has drastically cut back on his stolen base attempts (averaged just over 23) during the last few seasons?
JC: The Yankees spoke to teams about Gardner in the off-season, but I don’t think they came close to getting equal value in return. So Gardner will be here and will be the starting left fielder to open 2017. I think Gardner still has a lot of value: he’s an above average outfielder, he has a high OBP, he sees a lot of pitches and he has sneaky power. But he needs to be more consistent and do all of those things well. He has a tendency to be streaky. I’m miffed by why he doesn’t run as much anymore. I asked him about it in spring training and he said he planned to be more aggressive.
DS: Barring an unforeseen incident or injury, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia are locks for the starting rotation. Based on their Spring Training performances to date, it would appear that Chad Green has the inside track on a spot. With Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, Adam Warren, and Luis Cessa having a less than stellar time overall in Florida, who gets that last spot?
JC: Since the Yankees won’t need a fifth starter until April 16, they might only name a fourth starter when they begin the season. I think Severino and Montgomery are the two leading candidates for those positions.
JC: Romine is the consummate backup catcher and understands the role and how he needs to produce while only playing a couple of times a week. Higashioka has a big bat and frames pitches well, but, in terms of the Yankees’ overall comfort level with a player, Romine is ahead of him.
DS: Romine has certainly paid his dues in the organization. Does Chris Carter go north with the team no matter how he hits in Florida?
JC: Yes. He’s had a rough spring, but the Yankees see him as a power bat in a backup role and someone who can give them an occasional boost.
DS: Despite the assertion from Hal Steinbrenner that no new contract will be discussed with Joe Girardi until the season is over, do you think they will work out something before then rather than leave Girardi as a “lame duck” this season?
JC: On the first day of workouts, I asked Hal Steinbrenner about Joe Girardi’s contract status and he reiterated that the organization’s approach has always been to deal with contracts as they’re expiring or are close to expiring. Girardi seems comfortable with that and said he won’t seek any clarification on his status from Hal. So let’s let the season unfold and see what both sides think as we get to September and beyond.
DS: Last week, the Yankees got some very unwelcome news about Didi Gregorius…he’ll be out for the first month of the season due to a shoulder injury. Who is the player likely to get the bulk of playing time at shortstop?
JC: Since Gregorius’s injury, (Ronald) Torreyes has been getting the bulk of the playing time at shortstop so it seems as if he will be the starter. The Yankees will need a backup and that will likely come down to Wade or Pete Kozma. Since Wade hasn’t yet played above AA, the easiest choice might be to use Kozma in that role for a month.
By the way, as much as some fans wanted to see the Yankees use Gleyber Torres to start the season at SS, I think the Yankees made the right decision to start him at AA. Torres is going to be an All-Star. I was very, very impressed with everything about him during spring training, but he’s never played above Class A. He does need to get some more minor league at bats before he ascends to the Majors. But he’s pushing to get there and he could push very fast.
DS: If the Yankees are serious contenders at the August 1st trade deadline, will Hal Steinbrenner green-light Brian Cashman to add payroll, even if it is for a rental?
JC: If the Yankees are serious contenders and Cashman and his front office people see an area where they can improve for the post-season, I’m sure Cashman would present that to Hal Steinbrenner. I would need to know the exact scenario and the area of need before giving a more detailed answer.
DS: Which Yankee, whether they start the season in the minors or Majors, has the best shot at having a breakout season?
JC: Greg Bird. I know Bird hit 11 homers in about a third of a season in 2015, but, because of the injury, some people seemed to have forgotten about how good he is. I think Bird will hit 30-plus homers this season and, at times, he will be more feared than Gary Sanchez in the lineup.
DS: Jack, thanks for your insight on the upcoming season and sharing it with Bronx Pinstripes.
JC: You’re welcome. Happy to do it.