Oct
26

Learning From The Rangers

By

Nap-o-li. Mon-ter-o. (Doug Pensinger/AP)

A couple hours from now, the Texas Rangers will make the first attempt in franchise history to win the World Series. They’re one win away from title, one year after beating the Yankees in the ALCS to send the team to their first ever Fall Classic. With young players all over the roster and a smart, progressive front office, the Rangers are quickly emerging as one of baseball’s powerhouses. The Yankees have been one of those powerhouses for more than a decade now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a look at the Texas squad and learn a few things. Here are four ways the Yankees can mimic the Rangers, each with the possibility of having a big impact.

Don’t Take The Catching Depth For Granted

Yesterday we heard that the Pirates are prioritizing a catcher this offseason, leading to speculation about the Yankees being a possible trade match. With Russell Martin entrenched behind the plate for at least another year and Frankie Cervelli, Jesus Montero, and Austin Romine all that Triple-A or above, the Yankees have the luxury of depth at a position where most teams have none.

Three seasons ago, the Rangers were the team with that catching depth. They had Gerald Laird at the big league level, plus Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez all on the cusp of the show. Laird was traded that offseason for no one in particular (Guillermo Moscoso and a Single-A pitcher that still hasn’t made it out of Single-A) as Texas dealt from what they felt was a position of strength, but less than two years later, that depth was gone. Ramirez couldn’t catch, Salty couldn’t stay healthy, and Teagarden couldn’t hit. They ended up trading for Bengie Molina at least year’s deadline before signing Yorvit Torrealba to a two-year deal this past winter.

Catchers, probably more than any other position, can experience growing pains early in their career. It’s not just hitting and standing in the right spot or throwing to the right base, it’s learning a pitching staff and dealing with nagging injuries. Matt Wieters has all the talent in the world and he’s struggled with it. Catching depth has a way of disappearing quickly, so the Yankees shouldn’t take what they have in Martin, Montero, Cervelli, and Romine for granted. That’s not to say they can’t or shouldn’t trade any of them, but they can’t just trade one of them for the sake of making a trade. A deal would have to bring real improvement to the MLB roster, not prospects.

Turn A Reliever Into A Starter

The Rangers were lacking quality pitching depth last season, so they made a radical move that no one thought would work. They turned long-time reliever C.J. Wilson into a starter. After 232.2 relief innings from 2006-2009 (4.06 FIP), Wilson gave his team 204 pretty awesome innings in 2010 alone (3.56 FIP). He took another step forward this season, throwing 223.1 IP with a 3.24 FIP. The move worked so well that the Rangers did it again with another reliever, Alexi Ogando. After throwing 41.2 relief innings with a 3.05 FIP in 2010, Ogando gave Texas 169 IP with a 3.65 FIP in 2011.

Like the Rangers last year, the Yankees have a glaring need in their rotation and an obvious solution to the problem: Joba Chamberlain. The right-hander got his feet wet as a starter in 2009 (4.82 FIP in 157.1 IP), but the Yankees pigeon-holed him back into a relief role after that season and have gotten 100.1 IP with a 3.14 FIP since. Now that he’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, it’s the perfect time for Joba to move back into the rotation. He can stretch out at his own pace, the team can control his progress without worrying about winning games, the whole nine.  Joba probably won’t return soon enough to make an impact as a starter in 2012, but he’d be ready to go on Opening Day 2013. It makes too much sense not to happen, but we all know it won’t.

Find Undervalued Assets Overseas

Break records, get flowers. (AP)

A few weeks after deciding to move Wilson into the rotation, the Rangers went overseas to re-sign a player they originally drafted way back in 1999: Colby Lewis. Lewis couldn’t stick in the big leagues earlier in his career, bouncing around from team to team before landing in Japan for two years. He figured things out while pitching for the Hiroshima Carp, developing a willingness to challenge hitters and posting a pair of excellent seasons. Lewis has been rock solid for the Rangers (4.04 FIP) and durable (401.1 IP) over the last two years, and he’s been the team’s best pitcher this postseason. All of that came at the cost of a two-year contract worth $5M total, plus a $3.25M club option for next season.

The Yankees are sure to be in the mix for Yu Darvish, but he’s not exactly going to be a bargain. Hisashi Iwakuma is another Japanese starter that will be available this offseason, but he’s a true free agent after failing to reach an agreement with the A’s last winter. Here’s what I wrote about the right-hander then, and he might be a potential low-cost option for the Yankees. Another option could be the right-handed hitting outfielder Matt Murton, a stathead fave that’s been the league’s best hitter the last two years, even breaking Ichiro‘s hit record. He’s still relatively young (turned 30 this month) and has always mashed lefties (.304/.374/.480 and a .370 wOBA vs. MLB LHP), so perhaps he deserves consideration as an Andruw Jones replacement. Hey, the Yankees have his brother Luke in their minor league system, there’s already a connection in place. Japan isn’t just about big money posting fees, there are other ways to use that market, ways that can be a lot more efficient than regular old MLB free agency.

Let The Kid Who Can Hit, Catch

If the World Series ended today, which is might, Mike Napoli is the odds on favorite to be named Series MVP. He’s been on-base seven times in the five games, including two homers and the big go-ahead double in Game Five. He’s also driven in nine of their 19 runs. All of this is after he posted a .444 wOBA in 432 plate appearances during the regular season. Over at LoHud yesterday, Chad Jennings posted an excerpt of Napoli’s scouting report from Baseball America’s 2005 Prospect Handbook…

Napoli has a polished, professional hitting approach and obvious power. He has natural loft in his swing and drives the ball well from center to the opposite field … The biggest question surrounding Napoli is whether he’ll be able to catch at higher levels. His catch-and-throw skills are adequate, but his flexibility and footwork are poor. He doesn’t move well behind the plate — or on the bases, for that matter — and several Cal League observers didn’t think he’d be able to serve as a backup catcher in the majors.

The Yankees have their own Mike Napoli, at least in the sense that they have a right-handed hitter that can mash but plays questionable defense behind the plate. That’s Montero, who figures to get the majority of his at-bats at DH next season because Martin will be the primary catcher. Martin will be a free agent after the season though, opening the door for Montero to be the primary backstop in 2013. The Yankees lived with Jorge Posada‘s poor defense for all those years because his bat made up for it, and that’s the kind of player Montero is. Getting huge offense from a position that typically offers none is a gigantic advantage, even if you’re sacrificing something on defense.

* * *

We could play this game all day if we wanted. The Yankees should avoid throwing guaranteed money at reclamation project pitchers (like Brandon Webb), they should turn Derek Jeter into a super-sub like Michael Young as his skills erode (this would be more plausible if they had someone other than Eduardo Nunez Scissorhands to play short full-time), so on and so forth. I used the Rangers as an example in this post because the similarities are striking and they are the hot topic team at the moment, but in reality, the Yankees should be learning from every team in the league.

Categories : Musings
  • http://bloggingfromthebleachers.com Aaron S.

    Nice work (as usual) Mike. I couldn’t agree with you more on the Joba situation – both that he should be brought back along as a starter and the likely fact that the team probably won’t. It would minimize the initial risk on his arm post-surgery and would allow him to provide maximum value to the team in the long term.

    And, as much as I’m not a fan of the move, it would allow them to move Hughes back to the bullpen permanently. I love Hughes’ potential as a starter but he just hasn’t lived up to any of it and it might be time for the team to leave him in the bullpen long term. He and Robertson could make a pretty formidable duo at the backend of games once Mo rides off into the sunset.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      . It would minimize the initial risk on his arm post-surgery and would allow him to provide maximum value to the team in the long term.

      ————————

      Exactly even if he’s not an ace or number 2 if he became a 3 or even a 4 that bodes well for the team going forward. But giving him a shot is not even an option at this point.

    • Ted Nelson

      Back-up QB syndrome. If Joba were struggling in the rotation and Hughes had been stuck in the pen, it might be the opposite story.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        It might be but it’s not. All we have to go on is what has happened so far.

        • Ted Nelson

          Joba might be a good starter, but he might not. Let’s not pretend like the back-up QB is destined for stardom and the starter should be benched forever for struggling.

          • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

            “Joba might be a good starter, but he might not”

            You’ll never know if you don’t try.

            • Ted Nelson

              They did try, so there goes that.

              • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

                I’m sure he means try again.

                • Ted Nelson

                  I don’t have a problem with arguing they should try it. I have a problem with arguing that they definitely made the wrong decision. The Yankees have their theory, fans have their theories.

                  • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

                    Fair enough.

                • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

                  And you’d be right.

              • Bean Tooth

                And he was pretty good. Go look at his numbers as a starter. For a kid who had absolutely no seasoning in the minors and was forced to learn on the fly in the toughest division in baseball, he did pretty well. The Yanks never gave Joba a chance to figure it out, in the minors or the bigs. He has the stuff and the pitches to be a successful starter. At the least he deserves a real opportunity to prove he can’t be one.

                • Ted Nelson

                  I have looked at his numbers plenty. As I’ve said, the Yankees have their theory and you can have yours. At this point it’s inconclusive who is right, and probably always will be.

                  I don’t think he deserves anything. I don’t think anything is owed to any of these players. The Yankees have to make the decisions they think are best for their team. That’s what they did. You might disagree that they made the right decisions.

                  • The Big City of Dreams

                    The Yankees have to make the decisions they think are best for their team

                    ———————–

                    And Hughes getting shot after shot despite him being out of shape and injury prone is what’s best for the team

                    • Ted Nelson

                      Again… you are twisting history around to fit your narrative. The Yankees took away his shots when he didn’t perform. He came out of the pen in 2009. They gave him another shot in 2010 because they thought he was the best candidate. That looked like a good decision for about half the season. They gave him a shot again in 2011 because, you know, he earned it in 2010.

                    • The Big City of Dreams

                      Not twisting history around every yr since his call up he has been given a chance to start. He came out of the pen in 09 because he was so so as a starter and didn’t want to go to AAA.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      They took his chances away every time he blew and made him earn it back… that’s what I’m saying. They were making the decisions as they came based on what they believed was best for the org. It’s very unlikely that they decides they liked Phil’s cute smile and hated Joba because he’s a drunk Native American. Much more likely they made baseball decisions they believed helped the team. They weren’t handing him chances he didn’t deserve.

                      After 2010 would you really have told him, “you’re not starting?” He was effectively their #2 or #3 in 2010. It would be like telling Ivan Nova he’s not starting right now.

                      He did go to AAA in 2009.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      The Yankees weren’t the only team that believed Joba was a reliever, by the way. That was the book on his entering the draft: great arm, probably a reliever.

                    • The Big City of Dreams

                      The only time they really took his chance away was 09 when he didn’t break camp with the team and then later in the yr when he had a few starts and was up and down.

                      Of course he was going to start in 2011 after coming off the yr he did. When it comes to Hughes I’m looking at the body of work not just one yr.

                • The Big City of Dreams

                  At the least he deserves a real opportunity to prove he can’t be one.

                  ————————-

                  When he’s a free agent if a team gives him a shot he should definitely do it.

                  • Ted Nelson

                    Maybe, but he might get more money to be a closer if he proves himself out of the bullpen between now and then.

                    • The Big City of Dreams

                      He might I guess it all depends on what he does, how teams view him and what he wants to do.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      If he hasn’t started again by then, it’s unlikely some team is going to make a huge investment to test it out. So, if he can get closer money somewhere ($10-15 mill per) that’s probably going to be the best contract he’s offered. Maybe Nolan Ryan or someone shocks us, but I think it’s likely that in the case he’s a very strong reliever between now and FA he’s getting more money in the pen. Maybe it’s a marginal difference and he wants to get back to starting, who knows? I doubt he’s going to leave $20 mill on the table to try to start again, though… but who knows?

                    • The Big City of Dreams

                      You made some valid points…I can’t deny that.

              • The Big City of Dreams

                They tried but not like they tried with Hughes. What is this for Phil the 5th or 6th go around

          • The Big City of Dreams

            Of course not benched forever but let’s be honest Hughes has gotten more than a fair shot despite his short comings.

            • Ted Nelson

              Not really. He was very young for most of those opportunities. 2010 he looked like a good young starter and did have a strong first half. He fell apart a bit and hasn’t gotten it back. If he gets healthy this off-season and fixes his dreadful delivery he could be right back to early-2010 form.

              • The Big City of Dreams

                But those are still opportunities whether he was young or not. When ppl discuss Joba’s opportunities they don’t bring up how young he was.

                • Ted Nelson

                  Hughes is not Joba. Joba is not Hughes.

                  • The Big City of Dreams

                    True one is favored and the other was banished to the pen

                    • Ted Nelson

                      I doubt it’s favoritism and would bet you it was a matter of projecting Hughes as being more valuable to the team as a starter and Joba as being more valuable to the team as a reliever.

                      You can disagree (I sort of do).

                      I just wish you would stop acting like this is a personal thing where the Yankees love Phil Hughes and hate Joba. I really doubt it is.

                    • The Big City of Dreams

                      Never said they hated Joba as if they are disgusted with him. It just seems to me when it comes to Hughes and Joba there is a bias toward Hughes.

    • CP

      Don’t forget that the Rangers also took their version of Joba (Neftali Feliz) and made him a reliever. Based just on my outside view, there’s basically no reason that they should have moved Ogando to the rotation instead of Feliz this season, but they did.

      • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

        Feliz will start if Wilson leaves.

        • Ted Nelson

          Feliz will start if Cliff Lee leaves… oh, wait…

        • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

          But they could get Darvish. Supposedly they’re the front runners, FWIW.

          • CP

            There are no ‘front runners’ for Darvish. The only thing that matters is who puts the biggest number on the posting fee bid. This isn’t like free agents where there are negotiations and two sides to consider.

            • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

              I never said it was certain. That’s why I used “supposedly”, and “FWIW”.

            • Ted Nelson

              I have no idea, but “front runner” could mean team that’s indicated they are willing to bid the most.

  • pat

    Can you really call Wilson a career reliever? He started 70 games in the minors.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I changed it to “long-time reliever.” That works better.

      • pat

        I’ll allow it.

  • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

    Make Joba a starter!!

  • cranky

    Totally agree.
    And the Yanks also have JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez at the lower minor league levels who are both legit (and a couple of others, like Bird, etc.).
    They’ve got fantastic depth at catcher, probably better than they’ve ever had and better than any other team.

    But Cashman has already telegraphed his priorities for this off-season, and he’s got it right: Starting pitching, LH relief, bench.

    The Yankees know what they’ve got in Romine–a ML-ready catcher with a good bat. Not a guy who’s going to hit .300 with 25 homeruns, but a good all-around ML catcher. More Don Slaught than Mike Piazza, but plenty good enough for a ML starting job with a young team like the Pirates or the Twins.
    He’s trade bait, for sure. But not for an AA prospect or a utility infielder. He’ll be packaged with a young pitcher for an established ML starter.
    The Yankees will be conservative with regard to their catching depth, but they’ve got something there to trade. Montero is very unlikely to get traded because they’d only trade him for a great young starter and none of those is likely to be made available. Cervelli isn’t worth all that much as his bat is suspect, as is his health. But Romine? Grade-A prime trade bait and totally expendable.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      “The Yankees know what they’ve got in Romine–a ML-ready catcher with a good bat. Not a guy who’s going to hit .300 with 25 homeruns, but a good all-around ML catcher.”

      I agree that he’s expendable at the right price, but they certainly don’t “know” that they ave that. That’s probably more like his ceiling.

    • Ted Nelson

      How are you so attuned to what the Yankees know?

  • Mike

    anyone intrested in Roy Oswalt. Phillies declined his option ?

    • Brian S.

      I’d be down for a one year contract as long as they also sign Yu Darvish.

    • Rich in NJ

      Sure, on a one year deal that reflects the fact that he pitched only 139.0 innings this season with a 105 ERA+.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      No.

    • Hardy

      He should be a good pickup a 1/12. He is still a clearly above average starter.

  • Brian S.

    If you look at Eduardo’s Nunez at shortstop using fangraphs UZR, range and turning double plays wasn’t his problem, it was all of the errors he committed (he didn’t do anything well at third). I don’t feel that going forward he will make twenty errors a season so he could be an adequate defender at short.

    • Brian S.

      Eduardo’s Nunez? I meant Eduardo’s defense. LOL

    • Ted Nelson

      Agreed. If he cuts the throwing errors (by no means certain) and gets some more reps at 3B and other positions he should be fine as a defender.

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    5th starter for the Yankees next season: David Robertson …..BOOOOOOM THAT JUST HAPPENED

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    I love what you are saying Mike. It goes well with my thinking. Maybe you should apply for assistant GM, then you could hire me as your assistant. Of course I’m much older.

  • Charlee

    I wish Brian Cashman would read this, to get some ideas.

    • JobaWockeeZ

      Yeah he needs to stop dealing away all his catchers…

      • Charlee

        Well, he almost did trade away Montero & Cerveli. Didn’t he ? Why don’t you read the whole thing, there’s more to it than catchers.

        • Ted Nelson

          He explored trade options, that’s, you know, his job. If you want to criticize the job Cashman has done, come on out and do it. Referring to rumors about who he may or may not have thought about trading is weak.

          That the Rangers didn’t get much for Laird also doesn’t mean the Yankees wouldn’t have better luck in a trade. If they have the chance to trade Cervelli for a player or players that they like better than Cervelli, I certainly hope they don’t say to themselves “you know, there is no other way that this can turn out besides the exact way the Gerald Laird trade did.”

        • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

          Yeah, Montero was almost dealt for Cliff Lee – a legit ace. It’s not like he was giving him away. Cervelli for Martin, a better catcher who they eventually got anyway.

  • Ted Nelson

    I’m not saying I would do these, but I think you can turn them all around and learn the opposite lessons:

    A. Trade overvalued prospects. Rangers had a bunch of hot shot Cing prospects and got little return. Might have turned down trades that would have gotten them something of value.

    B. Make a top pitching prospect a reliever. Their top pitching prospect, Feliz, is used as a reliever. This is similar to the Joba situation.

    C. Lewis was their first round pick in the first place.

    D. Napoli could be the MVP as a DH too. Joe Mauer is a possible counter-example to using your stud at C.

  • Will

    I want a scarier line-up next year. The Rangers were dominant in the playoffs because they didn’t rely on 2 people to get the big hits. Everyone contributed. I feel like if Grandy and Cano didn’t have such great years we might have not gotten to where we finished. The lack of a 1-9 good hitting line-up is what killed us against the Tigers. Yeah yeah we were at the top of the league in runs scored blah blah but our RISP and BA numbers compared to other AL teams were piss-poor. Girardi needs to get A-rod and Tex out of those 3-4 spots at least until Arod proves he’s healthy and Tex stops trying to pull everything and pop-up instead.

    My ideal line-up (that will never happen):

    Granderson
    Jeter
    Cano
    Montero
    Tex
    Arod
    Swish
    Martin
    Gardner

    P.S: I really wish Tex and Arod weren’t our 1B and 3B. I’d rather much have a Prince Fielder/Adrian Beltre 1B/3B tandem but oh well.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      I’d rather have a Miguel Cabrera/Adrian Beltre tandem than Texeira/A-rod tandem, but what can you do?

    • Ted Nelson

      Reality called to tell you that Joseph Girardi did hit Cano in the 3-hole. Get in touch with reality before smoking crack and criticizing for nothing.

      Montero may well earn the clean-up spot and A-Rod might play his way out of it, but why not let him get his 70th MLB PA before making him the clean-up hitter?

      And signing Prince Fielder to a 7 or so year deal is probably going to turn out pretty similarly to Tex…

      And overall… are you fucking kidding? The Yankees have a great line-up. They beat the shit out of Tigers pitching. That they lost 3 out of 5 to the Tigers isn’t proof of crap.

      • Johnny O

        Agreed. Their lineup was arguably first or second in the entire league to Boston. Can’t draw any conclusions about the offense or really about much of anything from the Detroit series.

        not sure i’d bat granderson first, not the best obp guy and would rather him hit 5th i’d say. Let’s try this:
        jeter, grandy, cano, a-rod, tex, swish, montero, martin, gardner. you can move gardner to 1 and everyone else down vs LHP. jeter wouldn’t realy be my number two, but like the ‘make joba a starter’ argument, you just can’t keep fighting it (or can you?).

        That is a championship lineup without a doubt. Now about the starting pitching…..

    • CP

      Yeah yeah we were at the top of the league in runs scored blah blah but our RISP and BA numbers compared to other AL teams were piss-poor.

      Wrong.

      With RISP this year, the Yankees ranked: 1st in OPS, 5th in BA, 1st in OBP, and 1st in SLG (in the AL). Overall, they ranked 3rd in OPS, 5th in BA, 2nd in OBP and 3rd in SLG.

      So, if anything, they were better with RISP than overall.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        This.

      • Sean C.

        Shhhhh, your pesky facts are getting in the way of his compelling argument.

    • http://www.youcantpredictbaseball.com bexarama

      The Rangers were dominant in the playoffs because they didn’t rely on 2 people to get the big hits.

      Not really. Beltre, Napoli, and Kinsler were their ALDS offense. They basically rode Cruz through the ALCS. And they haven’t won yet, how can you say they were dominant?

    • bankers hours

      Sigh A Rameriz from the Cubs and DH Arod. Trade Montero for a starter and post for Yu Darvish. The lineup could be Jeter, Grandy, Arod, Cano, Rameriz, Tex, Swisher, Martin and Gardy. Much better balance, l/r all the way down. Start CC, Darvish, starter to trade for, Nova and AJ. Montero is a man without a position and I don’t like 20 year old DH’s. The Yankees need the DH position for the Jurassic Park players like Arod and Jeter who can’t play defensive positions effectively. Can’t afford Montero hogging the DH at bats.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    The scouting report on Napoli is evidence of what the immortal Yogi may have said. That is that scouts don’t know what they know.

  • CP

    Let The Kid Who Can Hit, Catch

    FWIW, Napoli caught fewer games in Texas (just 61 games) than he did in any season with the Angels. He missed some time at the end of June, so I’m not sure if there were injury concerns, but it’s not like the Rangers made him a full time catcher.

    • Brian S.

      Montero as a part time catcher>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Montero as a perma-DH.

      • Ted Nelson

        If you have better production at C than DH, I don’t see why that’s the case.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          This is really a question: Is Montero @ C and someone else at DH > Martin @ C and Montero @ DH when you factor in Martin’s superior defense at catcher?

          • Ted Nelson

            Yeah, I agree that it’s a total package thing.

            If Rangers had a healthy Joe Mauer at C, for example, Napoli is probably not Cing in the WS. If they have more of a Martin level guy maybe they C Napoli in the NL park, and DH/1B/LF him in the AL park. Since they have Torrealba, it’s easier to put Napoli at C.

  • http://www.yankeenumbers.com Mr. Sparkle

    If the Yankees learn one thing from the Rangers, I hope it’s that the way to build a pitcher’s arm strength is through innings pitched…not innings LIMITS. The Rangers have mostly built their pitching staff from within, it’s a fairly consistent and hard-throwing rotation and pen and it didn’t get that way from babying arms. What happened with Joba and Phil Hughes is proof in my mind that you have to let guys throw…not place arbitrary limits on them.