Cortes and the Aborted Mission

Nestor withdraws from WBC due to strained hamstring

The end of the Super Bowl always opens the door for Major League Baseball, even if Spring, by definition, is more than a month away. Monday, February 13th, represented the early reporting date for the players participating in this year’s World Baseball Classic (WBC). For the Yankees, it meant Nestor Cortes Jr, Kyle Higashioka, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Gleyber Torres were expected to report to George M. Steinbrenner Field. Minor league reliever Indigo Diaz, acquired in the deal that sent reliever Lucas Luetge, will also participate in the WBC.

Unfortunately, the first news of Monday was not productive. Nestor Cortes Jr announced that he could not participate in the WBC due to a Grade 2 hamstring strain. Cortes told the media that he suffered the injury while running sprints near his home in Miami on February 6th. He has withdrawn from Team USA and will not pitch for the next two weeks. Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Kyle Freeland has taken Nestor’s spot with Team USA. Although Nestor expects to be ready by Opening Day, the news is difficult to hear after word last month that Frankie Montas is behind schedule with his training due to the continuation of his shoulder issues and is expected to miss at least the first month of the season.

Domingo German or Clarke Schmidt will likely replace Montas, but both could be forced into starting roles if Nestor suffers any setbacks. GM Brian Cashman and his team are almost certainly scouring the free agent market for potential bargains to bring to camp on non-roster minor league deals. It is doubtful the Yankees will bring in a free agent on a Major League contract. Michael Wacha, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox last season, is probably the best free agent available. Still, the Yankees seem unlikely to cross the “Steve Cohen” luxury tax threshold of $293 million, which they are currently bumping up against.

The potential losses of Montas and Cortes mean the Yankees must keep Luis Severino healthy. Sure, what could go wrong with that plan? Health concerns factored into Brian Cashman’s refusal to allow Severino to participate in the WBC. Sevy is healthy right now, or at least we hope so. He arrives in Tampa for Spring Training on Thursday. Hopefully, there will be no surprise announcements like Monday. 

The Yankees traded away their top minor league starting pitching talent during the past couple of trade deadlines. Will Warren and Clayton Beeter, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers last year for Joey Gallo, rate as the organization’s best pitching prospects, but neither one is Major League ready. It kind of makes one wish that Ken Waldichuk (Athletics) and Hayden Wesneski (Cubs) were still Yankees. 

I am trying to take a positive outlook with Nasty Nestor. I know he wanted to pitch for Team USA, but conversely, the players in the WBC will be playing very competitive baseball in less than a month. It is a heavy workload for guys who need to stay fresh through October. Nestor may only be the fourth starter in the rotation, but you can easily argue he was the Yankees’ best pitcher last year. Injuries happen. It is the nature of the beast. All things considered, I would rather have Nestor healthy to support other potential losses. If Nestor can stay healthy for the season by not participating in the WBC, I am all for it. The goal is to win the Yankees’ 28th World Series Championship, not to see who the last men are standing in Miami on March 21st.   

On an unrelated topic, congratulations to Derek Jeter, who has joined the MLB broadcasting crew on Fox. He will be reunited with former teammate Alex Rodriguez and can spar with an old friend, David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Selfishly, I was hoping the YES Network would hire Jeter as one of their game analysts to pair with play-by-play announcer Michael Kay. Yet, I realize the Fox stage is much bigger and represents a greater opportunity for the father of three young girls. After his brief hiatus running the Miami Marlins, it is good to see Jeter in the public eye again. I look forward to his insight and vision as part of the Fox MLB team. 

Finally, the ghost runner is now a permanent rule in the MLB. The only way this works for me is if the Yankees can capture the souls of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Micky Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio to take second base in extra innings.

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