(Brian Blanco/Getty)

(Brian Blanco/Getty)

On paper, signing Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract worth $3M last offseason made perfect sense for the Yankees. They had questions at both second and third bases, plus he’s a dead pull left-handed hitter who figured to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch. When Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners a week later and Alex Rodriguez was eventually suspended for the entire 2014 season, Johnson went from shrewd signing to essential piece.

Johnson, who turned 32 in Spring Training, hit an unsexy yet effective .235/.305/.410 (101 wRC+) with 16 homers and seven steals in 118 games for the Rays last year. He also saw time at the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as left field. That kind of production and versatility would be at an absolutely bargain at $3M. Given his 2012-13 spray chart …


Source: FanGraphs

… there was every reason to believe Johnson would hit a few cheap homers in the Bronx and see his offensive numbers tick up a bit. His struggles against left-handers were a concern but there were ways to minimize his exposure to southpaws. Add in the fact that he was very familiar with the AL East after spending part of 2011 and all of 2012 with the Blue Jays before joining the Rays 2013, and Johnson was a damn near perfect fit. The Yankees were wise to jump on him so relatively early in free agency.

Of course, as so many people are eager to point out, baseball is not played on paper or spreadsheets and things don’t always go according to plan. It would be really boring if they did. Despite his versatility and left-handed pull power, Johnson did not work out as planned for the Yankees. It took all of three games for him to lose the starting third base job — that had more to do with Yangervis Solarte‘s early-season performance than Johnson’s — and by midseason he had been relegated to full-time bench duty.

The first two weeks of the season actually went quite well for Johnson. He was able to stay in the lineup despite Solarte’s dominance because Mark Teixeira‘s injury created an opening at first base, and he went 10-for-35 (.286) with two doubles, a triple, and three home runs in the team’s first 12 games of the season. The three homers came in a five-game span against the Orioles and Red Sox. Johnson played as expected (better, really) for the first two weeks of the season. It was wonderful.

And then it all went south. Johnson went 3-for-26 (.115) in the team’s next 12 games and it took a set of back-to-back 2-for-4 games at the end of May to get his season batting line to .217/.286/.409 (93 wRC+) on June 1st. That’s not all that far off from his 2013 production, but he cooled off big time following the hot start and the move into Yankee Stadium hadn’t help his production as hoped. By the time June rolled around, Johnson was playing sparingly at first and third bases with the occasional start at DH.

(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

A strong two weeks in mid-July — 8-for-27 (.296) with a homer, four walks and zero strikeouts from July 6th through the 21st — wasn’t enough to save Johnson’s job with the Yankees, so, a few hours before the July 31st trade deadline, he was traded to the rival Red Sox for close friend Stephen Drew. Johnson finished his time in pinstripes with a .219/.304/.373 (91 wRC+) batting line and six homers in 77 games. That includes a .224/.300/.402 (94 wRC+) line with five homers at home and a .213/.308/.340 (86 wRC+) line with one homer on the road.

Johnson spent most of his time with the Yankees at first and third bases, though he see spot duty in both outfield corners and at second base. His defense on the infield corners was pretty terrible and that probably has a lot to do with inexperience. Coming into the season, Johnson had playing only 18 career innings at first base and 118 career innings at third base. All of them came with the Rays last season. The inexperience doesn’t absolve him of blame, he misplayed some balls any big leaguer should make, but it’s not something we can ignore either.

I do wonder if Johnson would have had more success with the Yankees if they had kept him at his natural second base position. That’s where he has spent most of his career and is presumably the most comfortable. Maybe keeping him there would have helped his offense somehow. These guys are only human. Learning a new-ish position is demanding and his game could have suffered elsewhere. This stuff happens all the time all around the league. Oh well. I’m just thinking out loud.

Johnson playing sparingly for the Red Sox (-12 wRC+ in ten games) before being shipped to the Orioles (111 wRC+ in 19 games) in a late-August waiver trade. Baltimore was looking for some extra third base depth following Manny Machado’s season-ending knee surgery. He did end up making their postseason roster but only got two at-bats in October. Johnson made a ton of sense for the Yankees coming into the season thanks to his versatility and left-handed pop, but it didn’t work out for several reasons and the team moved on at the trade deadline. That’s baseball.

Categories : Players
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According to Nick Cafardo, the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization will make star shortstop Jung-Ho Kang available to MLB teams via the posting process this offseason. The posting agreement with KBO is different than the posting agreement with Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan. The posting system for Korean players is the same as the old posting system for Japanese players, meaning MLB teams will make blind bids for the right to negotiate with the player for 30 days.

Kang, 27, had a monster season this year, hitting .360/.463/.756 with 33 doubles, 38 homers, 62 walks, and 98 strikeouts in only 107 games. He’s had other very good years for the Heroes but nothing like this. Here are his stats since becoming a regular:

Year Age AgeDif Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2008 21 -7.2 Woori 116 408 36 98 18 1 8 47 3 1 31 65 .271 .334 .392 .726
2009 22 -6.3 Woori 133 538 73 136 33 2 23 81 3 2 45 81 .286 .349 .508 .857
2010 23 -5.0 Nexen 133 522 60 135 30 2 12 58 2 2 61 87 .301 .391 .457 .848
2011 24 -4.5 Nexen 123 504 53 125 22 2 9 63 4 6 43 62 .282 .353 .401 .754
2012 25 -3.4 Nexen 124 519 77 137 32 0 25 82 21 5 71 78 .314 .413 .560 .973
2013 26 -2.5 Nexen 126 532 67 131 21 1 22 96 15 8 68 109 .291 .387 .489 .876
2014 27 Nexen 107 458 98 137 33 2 38 107 3 3 62 98 .360 .463 .756 1.219
9 Seasons 892 3517 465 904 190 10 137 535 51 28 381 593 .298 .382 .503 .885
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/19/2014.

After a monster season like that, Kang’s value is unlikely to get any higher. I doubt he’ll improve on that performance at any point in the future. Kang is two years away from international free agency, so it makes sense for Nexen to post him now, when his value is at its absolutely highest. Otherwise they’ll loose him for nothing after the 2016 season or get stuck with a smaller posting fee next winter.

Cafardo says there is “some pushback from scouts who have seen (Kang) play on whether he translates to major league baseball,” mostly because of a very high leg kick that may leave him vulnerable against better than KBO pitching. Here’s more on Kang from one of my recent mailbags:

Kang is said to be a true shortstop with strong defense, and his best offensive tool is his big power from the right side. Supposedly he’s a dead fastball hitter who struggles against good breaking pitches, which would be a major concern if true. Remember, Kang is playing in Korea, where the level of competition is even lower than Japan.

I remember reading something a few years ago that pointed it almost all the successful position players to come over from Asia were outfielders because the game on the infield is simply too fast and too big of an adjustment. Akinori Iwamura is the most notable recent Asian import to make it work on the infield in MLB, and he was nothing more than a league average player for two and a half years. Others like Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka flopped despite being high-profile pickups and stars in Japan. That doesn’t mean Kang will be a bust, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The only Korean-born position players in MLB history are Hee-Seop Choi and Shin-Soo Choo, both of whom signed as amateurs and came up through the minors like every other player. Kang will be the first position player to come over from KBO via the posting system and second star player overall, joining Dodgers southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu. Los Angeles bid $25.7M for Ryu and signed him to a six-year deal worth $36M.

The Yankees need both a short and long-term shortstop after Derek Jeter‘s retirement, and with J.J. Hardy recently signing an extension with the Orioles, Stephen Drew is the only true shortstop set to hit free agency this offseason. Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera are all second or third basemen masquerading as shortstops. I’m not sure how many people are eager to see Drew back in pinstripes, even on a cheap one-year contract.

There have not yet been any reports saying the Yankees or any other team has interest in Kang, though it’s probably a little too early for that. I’m sure it’ll pick up after the World Series. I don’t know enough about Kang to say whether the Yankees should look into signing him. All I know is they need a shortstop and he’ll be available this offseason. This isn’t a Masahiro Tanaka situation though, where every report indicates he will be an impact player right away. Not even close, really.

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2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Categories : Polls
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Oct
19

Weekend Open Thread

By in Links, Open Thread. · Comments (229) ·

TGIF, am I right? This was a long and busy week for me. I’ll be glad to kick back for a few days this weekend. The Friday chats are coming back soon — probably not next week, but they’ll definitely be back soon. My schedule’s been pretty hectic of late. Here are some random links I have lying around for the weekend. Some of them are a few weeks old. I’m finally getting around to reading all this stuff I have bookmarked now that the season’s over.

  • Some stuff on Andrew Friedman leaving the Rays for the Dodgers: Chad Moriyama wrote about how Friedman moves the Rays forward and R.J. Anderson wondered where the Rays go from here.
  • Erik Malinowski profiled former commissioner Fay Vincent, who led MLB through the 1989 World Series earthquake. The piece is worth reading for the George Steinbrenner quotes alone. The Boss really was something else.
  • Jon Roegele re-examined the strike zone and found that yes, it continued to grow this past season. Down, specifically. There are more called strikes at (and below) the knees than ever before, and it’s dragging offense down.
  • Ben Lindbergh looked at the shift and situational hitting over the years. It turns out that hitters actually hit more balls in the direction of the shift when it’s on than when it’s not, which may result from some kind of psychological effect.
  • I really enjoyed David Laurila’s interview with C.J. Wilson. They discussed things like using the spin on the ball as deception, varying arm angles, and using PitchFX as a scouting tool. It’s pretty interesting.
  • And finally, check out Eno Sarris’ chat with John Jaso about dealing with concussions. Jaso took a foul tip to the face mask in August and been dealing with concussion symptoms since. He didn’t say anything to the team until he literally couldn’t see the ball from behind the plate.

Friday: Here is your open thread for Friday night and the rest of the weekend. There is no baseball until Tuesday, which is both terrible and liberating at the same time. There’s also no football and none of the local hockey or basketball teams are playing. Nothing. Good night to get the hell out of the house and forget about sports. Talk about whatever you like right here.

Saturday: Once again, this is your open thread for the night. Both the Devils and Islanders are playing, plus there’s a bunch of college football on as well. Talk about any of those games or anything else right here.

Sunday: This is your open thread for the night for one last time. The late NFL game is the 49ers and Broncos, plus the (hockey) Rangers and Nets (preseason) are playing. You folks know how this whole thing works by now, so have at it.

Categories : Links, Open Thread
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The video above, which comes courtesy of Kiley McDaniel, is OF Juan De Leon at Instructional League a few weeks go. The Yankees signed the 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic for $2M back in July and he’s arguably the best prospect they signed during their international spending spree. The video isn’t much, but it’s more than we get to see from many of these guys. Here are some more minor league notes before the weekly fall/winter ball recaps:

  • Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently saw several Yankees farmhands in the Arizona Fall League. He said 1B Greg Bird‘s “swing is very short to the ball, with great hand acceleration to produce that hard contact,” but notes Bird has issues defensively. OF Tyler Austin “looks better in BP than he has in a while” due to his nagging wrist injury while 3B Dante Bichette Jr. “looks the same as ever: He possesses a huge, out-of-control swing with a big backside collapse, and poor defense at third.”
  • Jeff Moore (subs. req’d) provided a firsthand scouting report on OF Aaron Judge recently. “While others his size tend to sell out for the power that is expected of them, Judge employs an up-the-middle approach, using the whole field and looking for line drives … His bat stays through the strike zone for a long time, giving him good plate coverage and the ability to handle pitches on the outer half that selling out for power would leave him exposed to,” he wrote.
  • Zeke Fine recently wrote up a firsthand scouting report on SS Jorge Mateo. “His projectable frame, elite speed, and natural hitting ability suggest that he could become an above average shortstop at the major league level. How he develops physically will help to determine his ultimate ceiling,” he said.
  • John Manuel went back and handed out grades for the 2009 draft. The Angels, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and Nationals all received A’s while the Dodgers, Orioles, and Rays received F’s. The Yankees received a C. With of OF Slade Heathcott unable to stay healthy, this class boils down to RHP Adam Warren, RHP Shane Greene, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and C John Ryan Murphy.

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Categories : Down on the Farm
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According to Jon Morosi, 26-year-old Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez has defected and will soon look to sign a big league contract. He must first establish residency in another country, be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and be declared a free agent by MLB before that can happen. That’s usually a lengthy process and it figures to carry over in early-2015, if not next summer.

Fernandez, who is not related to the Marlins pitcher of the same name, hit .315/.415/.426 in 65 plate appearances in the Cuban league this season before defecting last week, according to Ben Badler. He hit .326/.482/.456 in 314 plate appearances last year. Fernandez is a left-handed hitter who Badler says has “excellent bat control and plate discipline with occasional power.”

In another piece, Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Fernandez as the third best prospect left in Cuba and called him a below-average fielder at second. He’s played some third base but is best suited for second because of his weak arm. Point is, Fernandez’s value will come mostly from his offense, specifically his on-base skills.

Out of curiosity, I ran a Play Index search for second basemen who qualified for the batting title with a .350+ OBP, ten or fewer homers, and negative defensive WAR in a single season, which is what it sounds like Fernandez will become. It spit out names like Luis Castillo, Skip Schumaker, Jeff Keppinger, and late-career Craig Biggio. It’s definitely a unique profile.

The Yankees do need a long-term second baseman, but they have Martin Prado at the MLB and Rob Refsnyder knocking on the door at Triple-A. Prado could play elsewhere because he’s so versatile but Fernandez (and Refsnyder, really) can’t. Yasmany Tomas fits the Yankees better because he’s a power hitter and is still only 23. I don’t think a one-tool guy like Fernandez makes much sense for New York. Not with Refsnyder so close and deserving of a look.

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  • King: Yankees could have new hitting coach in place by Tuesday
    By

    Via George King: The Yankees are expected to hire a new coaching shortly and could have one in place before Game One of the World Series on Tuesday. “I interviewed Wednesday in New York with the Yankees. They told me they were going to interview a couple of other candidates. I don’t know if that was going to happen Thursday or Friday. They said they would make a decision shortly thereafter,’’ said Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan to King.

    In addition to Magadan, the Yankees also interviewed Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis this year as well as some other unknown candidates. They reportedly have some interest in Dante Bichette, Marcus Thames, and James Rowson. Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, assistant GMs Billy Eppler and Jean Afterman, and pro scout Gary Denbo were involved into the interview process according to King. Denbo was the team’s hitting coach in 2001 and he could be moving into a more prominent front office role with Mark Newman retiring and Gordon Blakeley leaving for the Braves.
    · (70) ·

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Despite all of last winter’s free agent signings, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Yankees needed offensive help at the trade deadline. They started the season with question marks at second and third bases, plus no one really knew what to expect out of Derek Jeter following his lost 2013 season. Add in disappointing seasons from Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran and you had a team in need of a bat or three at the deadline.

The Yankees made their first move to add offense about a week before the deadline, grabbing Chase Headley from the Padres. That was a nice start but they needed more. Brian Cashman swung a minor trade with the Red Sox to acquire Stephen Drew on deadline day, then, just a few minutes before the deadline, he acquired the versatile Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks for minor league slugger Peter O’Brien.

The trade for Prado almost didn’t happen, however. Cashman had been talking to D’Backs GM Kevin Towers about Prado for a while but the asking price was high, so, a few hours before the trade deadline, he pulled the plug on talks and went after Drew. That’s when Arizona circled back around and lowered their demands, which complicated things. John Harper explains:

Within minutes (of the Drew trade), however, Towers called back to say, OK, he was willing to trade Prado for O’Brien. Cashman was exasperated because the Drew deal, which meant taking more than $3 million in salary, was suddenly an obstacle.“I said, ‘Dude, we just did a deal (for Drew),’ ” Cashman recalled. “I told him I’d have to talk to ownership.”

Cashman called Hal Steinbrenner and explained how important Prado’s versatility could be both this season and beyond. He also told him he thought Prado’s intangibles make a difference as well.

“He has a great reputation around the game as a tough kid and a gamer,” Cashman said of Prado.

Steinbrenner immediately signed off on the proposal, and Cashman called Towers back and said they had a deal, with a half hour or so to spare.

Like so many players on the D’Backs, the 30-year-old Prado was in the middle of down year, hitting only .270/.317/.370 (89 wRC+) in 106 games before the trade. He hit .282/.333/.417 (104 wRC+) last season after putting up a .294/.342/.436 (114 wRC+) line as a full-time player with the Braves from 2009-12. There were no injury concerns or anything like that. His performance just slipped and that’s always kinda scary.

The original plan called for Prado to play right field full-time — Beltran was the full-time DH and Ichiro Suzuki was moved back to the bench — even though he had two whole innings of experience at the position in his career. Prado joined the team the day after the trade deadline and he made his debut that night, pinch-hitting for Ichiro and grounding out in the seventh. He stayed in the game and struck out in the ninth inning as well.

Prado started in right field the next day and singled before being lifted for a defensive replacement in the late innings. He started again the next day and the same thing happened, minus the single. Prado went 2-for-5 with a homer off David Price in his fifth game with the team, though otherwise his first two weeks in the Bronx were pretty underwhelming: 7-for-43 (.163) with a double and the homer plus eleven strikeouts. He was playing mostly right field but also filled in at third base when Mark Teixeira was banged up (Headley slid over to first).

Then, on August 16th, it seemed like someone just slipped the switch. Prado went from drain on the offense to the team’s best hitter practically overnight. He hit a two-run homer off Drew Smyly on that day, went 2-for-4 with a double the next day, and 3-for-4 with a double the day after that. On August 22nd against the White Sox he went 2-for-5 with a two-run homer and a walk-off single.

With Drew not hitting at all and Prado tearing the cover off the ball, Prado had taken over as the team’s regular second baseman and number three hitter by the end of August. He went 22-for-60 (.367) with six doubles and three homers in the final 15 games of August and maintained that pace in September, going 5-for-7 with two doubles and a homer in the first two games of the month.

Prado was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of the team’s September 2nd game because he hurt his hamstring at some point earlier in the game. Tests confirmed a strain that was bad enough to keep him on the bench for six of the next eight games — he started two of those eight games but the hamstring didn’t like that — before coming back for good on September 11th. Prado went 8-for-19 (.421) with two homers in the next six games.

Another injury struck on September 15th, this one a bit more serious. Prado returned to the team hotel in Tampa following that night’s game and complained of stomach pain overnight, bad enough that the trainers send him to the hospital, where he eventually underwent an emergency appendectomy. The procedure ended his season. Just like that, the Yankees lost their starting second baseman and most productive hitter with 13 games left in the season and their postseason hopes fading fast.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Despite those slow first two weeks, Prado hit .316/.336/.541 (146 wRC+) with nine doubles and seven homers in 37 games after the trade. (He hit only five homers with the D’Backs.) He appeared in 17 games at second base, eleven at third base, eight in right field, and four in left field while playing anything from solid to above-average defense at each spot. His performance checked in at 1.4 fWAR and 2.1 bWAR and that passes my sniff test. I can totally buy Prado adding 1-2 wins to the Yankees after the trade thanks to those last four weeks, which were so impressive.

Arizona’s motivation for the trade was shedding the $26M or so they owed Prado though the 2016 season, so the Yankees have him for two more years. In O’Brien, they gave up their top power hitting prospect, but a prospect without a position and concerns about his plate discipline and ability to tap into that power at the MLB level. O’Brien hit 33 homers with a ~147 wRC+ in 102 games split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton before the trade, then played only four Double-A games for the D’Backs before fouling a ball off his leg and suffering a season-ending shin injury. (He’s healthy now and playing in the Arizona Fall League.)

As good as Headley was down the stretch, Prado had the most impact of the team’s trade deadline position player pickups. He shook off those slow first two weeks — adjustment period to a new team, a new league, etc.? — and was a force the rest of the way, deservingly batting in the middle of the order and playing whatever position the team needed him to play that night. Prado’s versatility will give the Yankees some flexibility to pursue upgrades this winter because they plug him in at second, third, or right field next year and feel comfortable. Prado wasn’t enough to get the Yankees into the postseason, but he might be part of the solution these next two years.

(“The Prado of the Yankees!” is John Sterling’s homer call for Prado. It’s so cheesy but I love it.)

Categories : Players
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