For the last two decades, the Yankees had the luxury of knowing Derek Jeter would be their starting shortstop. It’s a tough position to fill and he was excellent. Jeter had an insane peak year in 1999 but his greatness was always built around his durability and consistency, the write it in pen year-after-year production. He didn’t have that crazy 7+ WAR per year for five years peak, but he was a 4+ WAR player for like 15 straight years. Every year, he produced.
The Yankees have to replace Jeter at shortstop this offseason and — let’s be honest here — replacing his 2014 production won’t be difficult. Out of 146 qualified batters he ranked 124th in OBP (.305), 145th in SLG (.313), and 140th in wRC+ (73). He was bad even by shortstop standards (league average at the position was an 87 wRC+). Add in the poor defense and Jeter’s on-field contribution was basically replacement level this year.
Replacing the 2014 version of Jeter on the field doesn’t figure to be particularly difficult. They’re not going to be able to replace him in the clubhouse — I don’t think the lost leadership will be a big issue but it’s not negligible either — and they definitely won’t be able to replace his marketability and drawing power. That’s impossible. All they can do is upgrade on the field at shortstop, which will be both relatively easy given Jeter’s performance and difficult at the same time.
The timing worked out well and Jeter’s retirement coincides with a free agent class heavy on quality shortstops. That’s good! The Yankees will have their pick of the litter, assuming they’re willing to pay the price. I don’t know if playing for the Yankees is as much of a draw as it once was (money still talks) and I’m sure some are put off by the idea of replacing Jeter and having to try to live up to an impossible standard.
We’ll inevitably take many, many looks at the various free agent shortstops this winter, but for now here’s a quick look at the group:
- Asdrubal Cabrera: Average-ish hitter, bad overall defender but with a knack for highlight plays, generally healthy, won’t cost a draft pick.
- Stephen Drew: Awful at the plate this year, pretty good last year, very good defender, injuries have been an issue, won’t cost a draft pick.
- J.J. Hardy: Average-ish hitter whose power disappeared in 2014, very good defender, lingering back issues, will cost a draft pick.
- Jed Lowrie: Above-average hitter from 2012-13, less than that in 2014, okay defender at best, healthier in recent years, might cost a draft pick.
- Hanley Ramirez: Legitimate middle of the order masher, terrible defense, lots of injuries in recent years, will cost a draft pick.
Every so often a free agent comes along who fits a team perfectly. CC Sabathia fit the 2009 Yankees perfectly. Brian McCann fit the 2014 Yankees perfectly. Nelson Cruz fits the 2015 Mariners perfectly. None of these shortstops fit the 2015 (and beyond) Yankees perfectly though, and that’s the case with most free agents. They’re all good to great players with their own sets of pluses and minuses.
Any of these guys would represent an on-field upgrade over 2014 Jeter but the Yankees must determine who is the best fit. Do you want to go long-term with Hanley knowing he’ll possibly be a 120 games a year third baseman as soon as 2016? Is Hardy’s power and defense worth that risky back? Back problems never really do away, you know. They just get more manageable. The Yankees have enough dead weight on the payroll as it is and the free agent shortstop class looks like a minefield of potential bad contracts.
There are always trades to consider — Jimmy Rollins, anyone? — but if no appealing long-term shortstop solutions exist, isn’t the best move finding a short-term stopgap and trying to figure it out again next winter? Drew, for example, is destined for a small one-year contract. There’s at least a chance he will hit next year following a normal offseason — “I haven’t had a regular Spring Training in three years. I had the ankle, the concussion and then all the stuff this past year. I haven’t had a normal routine in a while. I had to play the cards I got dealt and make the best of it. This offseason, I can take a step back and prepare for next season the right way. I’m healthy and looking forward to it,” he said to George King — which is more than you can say for Brendan Ryan.
I wouldn’t blame the Yankees at all if they walked away from Drew given how terrible he looked this year, both in pinstripes and with the Red Sox. His 44 wRC+ in 300 plate appearances happened. It can’t be ignored. But, if the Yankees don’t want to spend big on a shortstop, he’s probably the best one-year stopgap they’ll find. And that’s kinda scary. This isn’t like finding a left fielder or a DH for a year. Quality shortstops are rare and teams tend to jump on them given the chance. Ryan’s two-year contract (plus a player option!) looks silly but that’s what it takes to get someone to play the position competently.
The Yankees will not be able to replace Derek Jeter the person this winter but they have to replace Derek Jeter the shortstop and that shouldn’t be tough given the year he had. The question is how do they want to replace him? There are cases to be made for going long-term for one of the big name free agents — Hanley sure would look great hitting third behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, wouldn’t he? — or going short-term until a better fit comes along. Until they can pry one of the Cubs’ young shortstops loose, for example. Either way, the Yankees will upgrade at short this winter. It’s just a question of how.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Derek Jeter launched a new website today called The Players’ Tribune. It’s basically a place for athletes to write their own stories in their own words branded as an “innovative multimedia digital company where world-class athletes will share their unfiltered, honest and unique perspectives, bringing fans closer to the games they love.” I’m not sure how many players will write at midseason, but I guess we’ll find out. Chad Jennings has the press release, if you’re interested.
Here is your open thread for the night. The Pirates and Giants (Volquez vs. Bumgarner) are playing the NL Wildcard Game (8pm ET on ESPN) and we can only hope it will be as good as the AL game last night. That was something else. You folks know how these open threads work by now, so have at it.
For the 12th consecutive season, the Yankees led the American League in attendance in 2014, according to Maury Brown. The Yankees drew 3,401,624 fans this summer, third most in baseball behind the Dodgers (3,782,337) and Cardinals (3,540,649). The Giants (3,368,697) and Angels (3,095,935) were the only other teams to draw 3M+ fans. The Indians (1,437,393) had MLB’s worst attendance.
The Yankees averaged 41,995 fans per game this season, up from 40,489 last year but down from 43,733 from 2012. Brown says total MLB attendance has dropped 1.5% since 2012 and the Yankees are a bit higher than that (3.9%). They averaged 45,839 fans per game during the first three years of the new Yankee Stadium and 42,072 in the three years since. With no Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter farewell tour to prop up attendance, the Yankees could take a big hit next year if the team’s on-field performance doesn’t improve dramatically. · (118) ·
3:44pm: Jagielo had to undergo surgery to repair the fracture, he announced on Instagram. (The picture isn’t gross.) Everything went well.
1:01pm: Third base prospect Eric Jagielo is out 4-6 weeks with a broken bone in his face, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed to Josh Norris. Jagielo took a fastball to the face during an Instructional League game over the weekend. He will be replaced on the Arizona Fall League roster, according to Newman.
Jagielo, 22, was the Yankees’ first round pick in the 2013 draft. He hit .259/.354/.460 (132 wRC+) with 16 homers in 85 games around an oblique injury with High-A Tampa this year. The broken bone stinks but that seems like the best case scenario whenever you talk about a pitch up around the head. Jagielo could have suffered a concussion or serious eye damage. All things considered, this is good news. Heal up and get ready for 2015. · (43) ·
MLB announced it will test pace of game rule changes in the Arizona Fall League this year. The list of changes is right here. Here’s the short version: batters must keep one foot in the batter’s box at all times (unless there’s a wild pitch, passed ball, foul ball, etc.), intentional walks are automatic (manager signals, batter goes to first with no pitches thrown), pitcher-catcher conferences are limited, and a game clock will be installed. Pitchers will have 12 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds with men on base.
There’s no doubt baseball has a pace of game problem and these days people have short attention spans with plenty of ways to distract themselves. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve looked down at my phone between pitches at a game, or at my computer while watching at home. MLB isn’t going to shorten up commercial breaks, so this is the next best thing. I do think the pace of play would be less of an issue if offense hadn’t disappeared — it’s one thing to watch a high-scoring game last three and a half hours, it’s another to watch three total runs score and batters ground into the shift for three and a half hours. We’ll see. The AzFL begins play next week. · (56) ·
The dust is still settling following the end of the 2014 regular season, but the Yankees have already started their offseason by beginning contract talks with GM Brian Cashman. That’s the very first item on the winter agenda — finding a GM, whether it’s Cashman or someone else. Nothing can happen until the guy in charge is in place.
I have no interest in debating the merits of re-signing Cashman now. It’s pretty clearly going to happen regardless of what you or I think. Instead, I want to get a jump on the offseason and free agency by looking at how much money the Yankees will have to spend this winter. It should go without saying this is nothing more than an estimation. Salary figures are available but luxury tax calculations are complex and we really have no idea how much the Yankees can or are willing to spend. All we can have is their recent spending trends.
Anyway, if you’re worried the team may try to squeeze under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2015 after back-to-back postseason-less years, don’t. Alex Rodriguez‘s hefty salary comes back on the books and last winter’s free agent signings make getting under the threshold all but impossible at this point. Ten players are either hitting free agency or retiring (Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Young) but that still doesn’t leave the team with much wiggle room. Let’s break it down.
UNDER CONTRACT (ten players signed for $175.07M)
Players: A-Rod ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Masahiro Tanaka ($22.14M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.86M), Brian McCann ($17M), Carlos Beltran ($15M), Brett Gardner ($13M), Martin Prado ($10M), Brendan Ryan ($1.67M)
Just to be clear, those are luxury tax “hits” since that’s the most most important number to the Yankees. Each player’s actual 2015 salary may be different. The Yankees have ten players under contract next year and the scary thing is that they have no idea what they’re going to get out of A-Rod or Sabathia, plus they’ll be holding their breath every time Tanaka throws a pitch, at least for the first few weeks. Those ten players don’t come with much certainty.
The only contract option the Yankees have to worry about this offseason is Andrew Bailey’s club option. Forgot about him, didn’t you? The team signed him to a minor league deal last spring then rehabbed him from shoulder capsule surgery this summer with an eye on getting him in their 2015 bullpen. The option is valued at $2.5M, so not much but not nothing either. Bailey did not pitch at all this year — Joe Girardi confirmed Bailey had a “few setbacks” in his rehab back in August — and the option isn’t a slam dunk. He might have looked awful towards the end of his rehab, enough to scare the team away. We have no way of knowing.
Arbitration-Eligible (seven players)
Players: David Huff (first time), Michael Pineda (first time), David Phelps (first time, Super Two), Ivan Nova (second time), Esmil Rogers (second time), Francisco Cervelli (second time), Shawn Kelley (fourth time, Super Two)
The Super Two cutoff this offseason is projected to be two years and 133 days of service time according to MLBTR, so Phelps will qualify at two years and 156 days. He should clear the cutoff comfortably even if the projection is off a bit. The Yankees managed to prevent Pineda from becoming a Super Two last year by sending him to the minors when his rehab was complete in July, but there’s no more avoiding arbitration now. He’ll get a nice raise in his first time through even after missing all that time.
Huff and Rogers are non-tender candidates. Huff won’t get a big raise at all and, even though he pitched well this year (211 ERA+!), I don’t think he’s someone you go out of your way to keep. Rogers actually made $1.85M this past season and the Collective Bargaining Agreement says the Yankees can’t pay him less than 80% of that next year, or $1.48M. No player has ever had their salary reduced through arbitration either. The Yankees may like Rogers’ arm but there’s no way they’ll keep him at that salary.
Estimating arbitration salaries is damn near impossible, at least for me, but I’m going to ballpark it anyway:
- Pineda: $3M, up from $500k-ish (awesome when healthy, All-Star in 2011)
- Phelps: $2M, up from $500k-ish
- Nova: $3.8M, up from $3.3M (hurt all year)
- Cervelli: $1M, up from $700k
- Kelley: $2.5M, up from $1.765M
- Huff and Rogers non-tendered
Sound okay to you? MLBTR’s crazy accurate arbitration projections are still a few weeks away, so this will have to do for now. If you don’t like Cervelli and/or Kelley at those salaries, you still sign then them trade them, not non-tender them. They have some actual value. Not much, but some.
Anyway, my spit-balled arbitration numbers give us another $12M for five players on top of the $175.07M for ten players above, bringing us to $187.07M for 15 players. Considering I did nothing more than guess with those arbitration numbers, let’s round it up to $188M and go with that. Round numbers are easy. Like I said earlier, this is nothing more than an estimation. In a few weeks we’ll get a better idea of the arbitration salaries once MLBTR crunches the numbers.
Pre-Arbitration (18 players)
Players: Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Jose Campos, Preston Claiborne, Ramon Flores, Shane Greene, Slade Heathcott, Bryan Mitchell, John Ryan Murphy, Eury Perez, Jose Pirela, Jose Ramirez, Antoan Richardson, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Zelous Wheeler, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley
Richardson and Wheeler will likely be cut loose this winter, maybe Perez too. He is out of minor league options (I think) but could stick around all winter and come to camp to compete for a bench job. Then again, if the Yankees need a 40-man spot in the offseason, he’ll probably get the axe. Either way, the pre-arbitration guys who get knocked off the 40-man roster will be replaced by more pre-arbitration players (Rule 5 Draft eligible players, waiver claims, etc.), so the salary numbers are a wash.
Of those 18 players, only Betances and Warren are locks to be on the Opening Day roster. Greene is a good bet to make the team in some capacity. Something would need to happen with Cervelli for Murphy or Romine to crack the big league roster. Claiborne and Whitley are classic up-and-down depth arms while Perez, Pirela, and Flores could compete for a bench job, I suppose. The rest — Banuelos, Heathcott, Ramirez, and Sanchez — are ticketed for the minors.
Like most other teams, the Yankees have a sliding scale for pre-arbitration salaries based on service time and awards voting, stuff like that. Warren and Betances won’t make the league minimum next season even though the Yankees could technically renew their contracts at that salary. There’s a relationship aspect to this. You don’t want to upset players and agents by cheaping out with pre-arbitration salaries. Conservatively assuming $600k each for Warren, Betances, and Greene puts us at $189.8M for 18 players with this roster:
|McCann||1B Teixeira||LF Gardner||Tanaka||Betances|
|2B Prado||CF Ellsbury||Pineda||Warren|
|DH||SS Ryan||RF Beltran||Sabathia?||Kelley|
Some of those open spots can and presumably will be filled internally. Claiborne or Mitchell or Ramirez or Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow or any number of other reliever could work their way into the bullpen. Maybe Bailey and Huff too. Pirela or Perez could squeeze onto the bench. The Yankees do have some options in house but no long-term answers to any of those question marks. There’s no shortstop to push Ryan to the bench, for example.
Aside from an injury-fueled outlier in 2013, the Yankees have opened the season with a payroll in the $195M to $210M range every year since 2008, give or take a few million here or there. That $189.8M covers 18 MLB roster players, though there will be another 15 players on the 40-man roster but not the active 25-man roster that count against the luxury tax. They’re usually estimated at $2M (they earn lower salaries in the minors). There’s also $12M or so in benefits every team must play. Now we’re up to $203.8M for 17 active roster players plus Nova.
If the Yankees are going to stick to that $210M or so payroll limit, they have very little room to maneuver this winter. They need a shortstop (pushing Ryan to the bench), preferably another starter (pushing Phelps or Greene to the bullpen), and miscellaneous depth pieces at the absolute minimum. Retaining David Robertson and adding another starting caliber infielder at second and/or third base seem like two items that should be pretty high on the offseason to-do list as well.
The Yankees don’t have nany pieces to offer in a cash-clearing trade either. Dealing Cervelli or Kelley is nothing more than rearranging furniture at their salary levels. Same with Phelps or even Pineda. To clear some real money, they’d have to trade Gardner or Prado, two of their three or four best offensive players. How do you trade them and realistically improve the team? I’m sure it’s possible. I just don’t see how. It would take some creativity and luck — not many clubs are willing to take on useful big money pieces in exchange for useful low-cost pieces. The Yankees are generally the salary dumpees, not the salary dumpers.
George King recently reported the “early industry vibe is the Yankees aren’t going to spend big money this winter” and I totally buy that. Seems completely plausible after spending all that money last winter and winding up with a worse record and fewer runs scored. They took their shot(s) last offseason and may now focus on tinkering rather than overhauling. And, to be honest, the Yankees aren’t one or two big free agents away from contending either. Figuring out how to get this club back on the right track without ballooning payroll will be one heck of a task for Cashman & Co.
Here’s your open thread for the rest of the night. The Royals and Athletics (Shields vs. Lester) are playing the AL Wildcard game tonight (8pm ET on TBS). My prediction: someone will say Lester and/or Shields are either earning or costing themselves millions in free agency with this start. Talk about that game or anything else right here. Have at it.
Carlos Beltran had “loose pieces” and the bone spur removed from his right elbow earlier today, the Yankees announced. The team says he can begin throwing and hitting in approximately six weeks and can begin playing in approximately 12 weeks. The procedure isn’t expected to have any sort of impact on his usual offseason routine. Beltran has said he will stay in New York to rehab this winter.
Beltran, 37, finished his first season in pinstripes with a .233/.301/.402 (95 wRC+) batting line and 15 homers in 449 plate appearances. He mashed early in the season but never seemed to put it together while playing through the bone spur. Hopefully Beltran will get back to being a middle of the order force once healthy next season. Hope is pretty much all the Yankees can do at this point. · (35) ·
Via Buster Olney: The Yankees have started the process of putting together a new contract for GM Brian Cashman. His current deal expires at the end of the October but this is something they have to take of sooner rather than later so they can begin mapping out the offseason. A few weeks ago we heard the Steinbrenners wanted to bring Cashman back despite their second straight postseason-less year.
“My stuff’s not really resolved, so there have been no discussions just yet,” said Cashman to Chad Jennings when asked about offseason plans over the weekend. “That will all wait for another day. I don’t want to talk about game-planning or focus, what should or shouldn’t be looked at. I’ll wait until we all sit down with ownership, they can map out their strategy and who’s going to be a part of that, and we can go from there.”
Cashman has been the GM since 1998 and that’s an eternity in GM years. There are plenty of strong arguments for both keeping him and finding a new GM, but, either way, the Yankees need to make some changes to their team-building approach because the whole “throw money at free agents” strategy doesn’t work like it once did. The game has changed and the Yankees have yet to keep pace. · (331) ·
Baseball America continued their look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league today with the short season NY-Penn League. The list is free but the scouting reports are not. Mets RHP Marcos Molina, Nationals RHP Reynaldo Lopez, and Mets SS Amed Rosario claim the top three spots. C Luis Torrens is the only Yankees farmhand on the list and he ranks fourth after playing 48 games with the Staten Island Yankees.
Torrens, 18, hit .270/.327/.405 (115 wRC+) with two homers in 48 games with SI. “He continued to stand out for his show-stopping arm,” said the scouting report, which lauds his other defense skills as well. “Offensively, Torrens has intriguing life in his bat and flashes some pull power … He recognizes spin out of the pitcher’s hand and does a good job staying back on breaking balls. He drives balls from gap to gap and handles velocity well … He is confident and poised beyond his years.”
The SI Yanks had the least amount of high-end talent among Yankees’ affiliates this year — RHP Ty Hensley didn’t throw enough innings to qualify for the list — and Torrens was far and away the best prospect on the team. The next relevant list is the Low-A South Atlantic League, which is a few days away. OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino are locks for that list. Other possibilities include 3B Miguel Andujar, SS Abi Avelino, SS Tyler Wade, LHP Ian Clarkin, and RHP Brady Lail.
Other League Top 20s: Rookie Gulf Coast League. · (21) ·