Archive for Analysis
Three years ago, a then 36-year-old Derek Jeter looked dangerously close to being finished. He hit .270/.340/.370 (93 wRC+) across 739 plate appearances in 2010, by far the worst full season offensive performance of his career. The Cap’n rebounded in mid-2011 thanks to some mechanical work with former hitting coach Gary Denbo, and he rode those adjustments to a .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) showing last season. It was his best season since 2009 and second best since 2007.
An ankle fracture that may or may not be related to the bone bruise he played on for most of September ended Jeter’s season during Game One of the ALCS back in October. He had surgery a few weeks later and his rehab is progressing well based on last week’s update. Jeter has yet to do any baseball activities such as swing a bat or field some grounders, but he’s riding a bike and running in a pool. So far, so good, so right now he’s on track to be ready for Opening Day.
Great players tend to age differently than others, but no matter how iconic he may be, Jeter is 38 years old and Father Time is lurking. The number of full-time shortstops who qualified for the batting title at that age (or older) and managed to be above-average offensively is three, and only one has done it in the last 60 years. That was Jeter in 2012. Factor in the ankle injury, the significance of which should not be downplayed, and I think it’s far to say the Yankees captain is more of a question mark now than ever before, even after that disappointing 2010 season.
In a recent Insider-only ESPN piece, Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to look at the next three seasons of Jeter’s career. The standard disclaimer goes here: projections are not predictions, they’re an estimation of a player’s true talent level. Szymborski notes that even high-BABIP hitters like Jeter (career .354) tend to fall off rapidly in their late-30s, to the tune of 30+ BABIP points in a single season. Based on that alone, ZiPS measures the Cap’n at .288/.338/.396 next season, which isn’t far off from his 2010 effort. That does not factor in the ankle injury, however.
Szymborski notes that players who missed 30 or so days due to a leg injury — which Jeter would have done had he injury occurred in say, June instead of October — tend to underperform projections the following year. When he plugs the leg injury into ZiPS, it spits out a .277/.334/.369 projection for Jeter in 2013. That almost exactly matches his 2010 season, when he was close to 10% below league average. You can see Jeter’s ankle-reflecting projections in the table on the right, and they aren’t particularly pretty.
The league average shortstop hit .256/.310/.375 (86 wRC+) this past season, and that’s atrocious. So the good news is that even an old and somewhat hobbled Jeter projects to be an above-average hitting shortstop for at least the next two years, which, coincidentally, is how long he remains under contract (assuming the player option for 2014 is exercised). The bad news is that those projections are a big step down for the Cap’n, which is not what the Yankees need at a time when they’re losing offense in right field and behind the plate. Maybe at DH and third base as well.
Projections are wrong all the time, of course. ZiPS is consistently the best out there on a macro level, but on a micro level there are a ton of hilariously poor misses. The system projected a .280/.347/.393 line for Jeter last season, just as one example. I have no worries about Jeter preparing himself for the season, but I do worry about a potential setback if he pushes himself too hard. Just look at what happened to Andy Pettitte last summer. We all know Derek is going to put the necessary work in, but at some point the clock is going to strike midnight. Maybe it happens in 2013, maybe it happens in 2015. When you add the ankle problem on top of his age, the chances of Jeter’s production taking a big step back becomes even greater, and that’s one of the last things the club needs right now.
Since our last installment, the Yankees have signed Kevin Youkilis, re-signed Ichiro Suzuki, and avoided arbitration with Brett Gardner. Here’s an updated look at the team’s payroll situation for 2013…
- Existing Contracts ($121M): Alex Rodriguez ($28M), CC Sabathia ($23M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Derek Jeter ($17M), Robinson Cano ($15M), Curtis Granderson ($15M), David Aardsma ($500k)
- Players Signed In Offseason ($58.35M): Hiroki Kuroda ($15M), Andy Pettitte ($12M), Youkilis ($12M), Mariano Rivera ($10M), Ichiro ($6.5M), Gardner ($2.85M),
- Projected Arbitration Salaries ($13M): Phil Hughes ($5.7M), Boone Logan ($2.8M), David Robertson ($2.7M), Joba Chamberlain ($1.8M)
- Buyouts & Dead Money ($8.75M): A.J. Burnett ($8.5M), Pedro Feliciano ($250k)
That’s a total of $201.1M for 17 roster spots in terms of real dollars, meaning actual 2013 salaries and not the average annual value for luxury tax purposes. The Yankees have opened each of the last five years with a payroll in the $200-2014M range (again, real dollars), leaving them approximately $13M to fill the remaining 23 40-man roster spots assuming they’re willing to spend a similar amount.
The 15 players who are on the 40-man but will not be on the 25-man active roster will earn less than the league minimum. Those guys have split contracts that pay them one amount in the show (something close to the league minimum) and another in the minors (much less). I’ve been estimating those guys at $500k each to make life easy ($7.5M total), but I’ve also seen others estimate that total at $2.5M. Either way, it eats up a chunk of that remaining $13M or so.
Chris Stewart, Eduardo Nunez, David Phelps, Ivan Nova, and Clay Rapada are all in their pre-arbitration years and will pull down a combined $2.5M or so in 2013. That gives us to $203.6M for 22 roster spots, but the 15 non-active roster guys bring us into the $206.1-211.1M range. Two of those last three roster spots could go to Matt Diaz ($1.1M) and Jayson Nix ($900k), who are not on the 40-man at the moment. Either way, the Yankees have something like $3-8M to fill out the roster if they intend to open the season at a similar to level to the last five years.
I don’t expect New York to acquire a real starting catcher at this point, so their remaining holes include a DH and various bench pieces (right-handed hitting outfielder, utility infielder, etc.). Diaz, Nix, and Nunez could fill out the bench, but I hope they’ll seek out at least one more quality reserve player and some minor league contract guys to provide competition in camp. As much as I’d like to see them acquire Jason Kubel, I don’t see it happening. If the Yankees are only willing to spend that $3-8M or so for those remaining spots, the pickin’s will be very slim.
In case you missed it, earlier today I took a super early look at the team’s 2014 payroll situation.
Although the calendar just flipped to 2013, I think we’re all looking ahead to 2014 as far as the Yankees’ payroll is concerned. The club plans to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold one year from now, and because of the way the tax is calculated, they’ll have to stay under that amount for the entire 2014 season. The Yankees haven’t finished a season with a sub-$189M payroll in about ten years, so it’s a significant cut o matter how much ownership and the front office try to downplay it.
The luxury tax is based on the average annual value of contracts* on the 40-man roster and is basically adjusted daily, meaning the “tax hit” for players who don’t spend the entire season on the 40-man (called up late, traded, etc.) is pro-rated. Bonuses count as well, as does the team’s portion of the league’s player benefits. Players benefit costs are shared equally by the 30 teams and will be valued at a touch less than $10.8M in 2013, but they are expected to go up to about $12M for 2014. Just like that, the $189M is really $177M as far as what can actually be spent on players.
Obviously a whole lot is going to change over the next 22 months, but the Yankees have started to plan for 2014 by going heavy on one-year contracts this offseason. Here is where the current 40-man roster stands with regards to the 2014 payroll…
- Under Contract For 2014 ($80.9M): Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5M)
- Contract Options For 2014: Derek Jeter ($9.5M player option)
- Arbitration-Eligible In 2014: Brett Gardner (third time), David Robertson (third time), Frankie Cervelli (first time), Chris Dickerson (first time), Ivan Nova (first time), Michael Pineda (first time), Clay Rapada (first time), Chris Stewart (first time)
- Pre-Arbitration In 2014: David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Cody Eppley, Ramon Flores, Corban Joseph, Brett Marshall, Melky Mesa, Eduardo Nunez, David Phelps, Jose Ramirez, Austin Romine, Francisco Rondon, Nik Turley, Adam Warren
- Potential Bonuses For 2014 ($37.5M): A-Rod ($6M each for 660, 714, 755, 762, and 763 career homers), Jeter (up to $7.5M based on awards)
- Free Agents After 2013: David Aardsma, Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Kevin Youkilis
The Yankees have just four players under contract for 2014, but those four soak up 42.8% (!) of the $189M limit, or 45.7% of the $177M limit, if you prefer. There’s a decent chance two of those players (A-Rod and Ichiro) will be non-playable and need some kind of replacement. It seems like a safe bet that Jeter will exercise his player option, though I suppose he could decline the option and demand a multi-year contract if he has a huge year. That would be something.
Obviously A-Rod won’t hit all five of those homer milestones in 2014. He’s sitting on 647 career homers right now and will miss about half of 2013 due to his hip injury, and you know what? It would be pretty great for 2014 payroll purposes if he managed to hit 13 homers next season to take care of that first milestone. He’d need to have a monster campaign in 2014 to trigger the 714th homer bonus, which is unlikely to happen at this point. Even A-Rod in his prime would have trouble hitting enough homers to trigger that bonus. Saving that $6M would be pretty big in the grand scheme of things, think of it as the ability to acquire a $17-18M player at the trade deadline.
Nova would need to spend about four months in the minors next season to avoid being arbitration-eligible in 2014, which doesn’t seem all that unrealistic if he continues to pitch the way he did in the second half. Pineda would need to spend about three months in the minors to delay arbitration, but remember, he will collect service time while on the DL at the start of the season. He’d have to be activated off the DL when healthy in May or June, then be optioned down and basically spend the rest of the season in Triple-A. I could see the Yankees sending Pineda down for the two or three weeks to delay free agency a year, but not three months to delay arbitration, especially if he’s healthy and throwing well.
Ten players who project to be full-time big leaguers in 2013 are due to hit free agency next winter, including three starting pitchers and half the bullpen. Cano’s free agency is the elephant in the room, as he’s expected to command a nine-figure contract in an age when so many teams have so much money to spend. You don’t have to try all that hard to envision the Tigers, Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox, Nationals, Rangers, Mariners, Cubs, or Giants making a run at him. I expect the Yankees to re-sign him to a huge contract, and if it’s worth say $23M annually (eight years, $184M?), the Yankees will be left with $73.1M to spend on 35 (!) 40-man roster spots during all of 2014. Doable for sure, but it won’t be easy given the current market.
* I get questions about this every single day. The luxury tax is based on the average annual value of the contracts. Front-loading, back-loading, side-loading, or whatever else you can think of won’t help. MLB will also step in should there be any blatant luxury tax circumvention, such as signing Cano to a one-year, $5M deal for 2014 with a nine-year, $200M player option. It won’t help at all.
The Yankees are trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014 and are therefore fixated on signing free agents to one-year contracts this offseason. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte will have to be replaced next winter, and so will Phil Hughes. The 26-year-old right-hander is due to hit free agency next offseason, when he’ll be the only starting pitcher on the market on the right side of 30. If he has a good (not even great) walk year, Hughes will get paid handsomely on the open market.
As you know, team policy is to not negotiate a new contract until the current one expires. The Yankees broke that policy to sign Robinson Cano long-term back in 2008, and they were willing to break it again last offseason by offering Russell Martin a three-year pact. Hughes, who has been inconsistent and hurt and homer-prone during his time as a big league starter, doesn’t jump out as someone the club could look to extend before he hits the open market. Given the uncertain futures of Michael Pineda (shoulder) and Ivan Nova (terrible 2012) and Phil’s relative youth, perhaps they should.
Most starting pitchers who get to within one year of free agency do not sign contract extensions. The most notable exceptions are high-end pitchers like Cole Hamels (six years, $144M) and Jered Weaver (five years, $85M) or older guys who just had their first taste of success like Ryan Vogelsong (two years, $8.3M) and R.A. Dickey (two years, $7.5M). Hughes is somewhere in the middle, which leaves us short on contract comparables. With some help from MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, here are the only two starters remotely comparable to Hughes who have recently signed extensions one year prior to qualifying for free agency.
|Joe Blanton||Wandy Rodriguez||Hughes|
|Previous Three Years fWAR||9.7||10.3||5.0|
|Previous Three Years bWAR||2.5||8.5||3.1|
|Previous Three Years RA9||10.6||10||5.3|
|Platform Year fWAR||2.0||3.7||1.9|
|Platform Year bWAR||2.4||2.3||1.5|
|Platform Year RA9||3.5||2.1||2.2|
WAR is far from perfect but I’m going to use it here just as quick tool for comparison. I prefer bWAR and RA9 (more on that here) myself because they are runs allowed-based and not peripheral-based like fWAR. Ultimately I think a pitcher should be judged by how well he keeps runs off the board regardless of how he does it. We can then use things like strikeout and ground ball rates to look at how sustainable a performance is in a separate analysis. A pitcher is only as valuable as the runs he prevents. Anyway, all three WAR versions are presented here.
The current version of Hughes lags behind Blanton and Wandy at the time of their extensions mostly because of his lost season in 2011. Had he managed a full healthy season, his numbers would be much more comparable but probably still a little short. The necessary adjustments for ballpark and league and all that are built into the stats, so Phil shouldn’t get any extra credit for pitching in the AL East. He doesn’t have any 200+ inning seasons to his credit, but he is younger than those two at the time of their contracts (several years younger than Wandy).
Blanton signed his deal prior to 2010 while Wandy signed his prior to 2011, so we do have to consider inflation. The spending caps applied to the draft and international markets basically force teams to put money into the big league roster, and as a result free agent prices have climbed this winter. Not necessarily salaries, but everyone seems to be getting that one extra year. Hughes is in a unique spot given his age in that he probably wouldn’t want a long-term contract. A shorter term deal, like the three years Blanton and Wandy received, would still allow him to still hit free agency before his 30th birthday.
My concern about signing Hughes long-term is the homers. He pitched to a 1.6 HR/9 this year and 1.3 HR/9 over the last three years, which is astronomical in these offense-suppressed times. Since we’re talking about locking him up for another three years, here’s the list of pitchers to post both a 1.3 HR/9 and an above-average ERA during their age 27-29 seasons over the last 25 years.
There are a handful of pitchers within five percentage points of a league average ERA (Sterling Hitchcock and Javy Vazquez being the most notable), but that’s the list. Obviously we should ignore Wakefield because he’s a knuckleballer, but the rest of those guys were nondescript mid-rotation arms who were more about bulk innings than high-quality innings. They were all considered top pitching prospects once upon a time as well (all made at least one Baseball America Top 100 Prospects List), so Hughes isn’t unique in that regard.
Can Hughes improve his homer-prone ways? Of course, but it would be a very risky assumption. The Blanton and Wandy contracts suggest he would be in line for a three-year deal worth $24-30M if he signed an extension this offseason, an $8-10M average annual value for luxury tax purposes. Hughes is projected to earn $5.7M through arbitration this winter, so he’d be signing away two free agent years for a guaranteed $18.3-24.3M. Assuming Phil repeats his 2012 season in 2013, I don’t think an AL East proven 27-year-old starter would have much trouble fetching $9M+ annually on the open market. Shouldn’t have much trouble at all.
The Yankees are projected to have something like $80-90M coming off the books next offseason, but only $50-60M of that will be reinvested in the team given the 2014 payroll plan. A big chunk of that money is going to Robinson Cano, so it’s really like $30M or so address the rest of the team, including potentially three rotation spots. Pineda recovering well from shoulder surgery and Nova putting together a strong season would make life a lot easier, but those are far from guarantees. Committing $8-10M in 2014 dollars to Hughes right now isn’t the smartest move with regards to the payroll plan, but the Yankees would always have the option of trading him down the line.
The contract is still pending a physical (hardly a slam dunk given his recent back problems), but the Yankees agreed to sign Kevin Youkilis to a one-year contract worth $12M yesterday. The deal shores up the third base position in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury, and it also gives the team some lineup balance after losing the right-handed hitting Russell Martin and switch-hitting Nick Swisher. Youkilis has been trending in the wrong direction the last few years, but he is just one year removed from a 126 wRC+ season.
As a right-handed batter, there’s no doubt Youkilis benefited from playing in Fenway Park all those years. In fact, during his peak years from 2008-2010 (.308/.404/.560, 150 wRC+), no hitter was more productive when it came to pulling the ball. Youkilis hit .478/.476/.959 (280 wRC+) (!!!) when he pulled the ball during that three-year stretch, thanks in very large part to the Green Monster. As a right-handed batter, all he had to do was take aim for that sucker and watch routine fly balls go for doubles.
Youkilis won’t have that luxury in Yankee Stadium. It’s a good park for left-handed hitters thanks to the short right field porch, but left field and left-center field in particular are a different story. The park is almost exact league average when it comes to surrendering doubles and homers to right-handers according to the park factors at StatCorner, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means righties don’t get the same ballpark boost as lefties. Youkilis remains a pull hitter, with 47% of his balls in play going to left field this season and only 22% going the other way to right. Here’s his spray chart for the season (courtesy of Texas Leaguers)…
Most of his hits came to the pull side, but Youkilis did hit for some power to right field (.239 ISO) and that’s what you’re looking for in Yankee Stadium. His natural stroke isn’t to the opposite field like say, Martin’s and Derek Jeter‘s, but there’s enough opposite field ability to allow Youkilis to take advantage of the short porch on occasion. He’s a pull hitter, but not an Andruw Jones-esque dead pull hitter who couldn’t go the other way if his life depended on it.
As friend of RAB Patrick Sullivan pointed out yesterday, Youkilis hit just .158/.248/.237 (!) in his 242 plate appearances outside of hitter-friendly Fenway Park and U.S. Cellular Field last season. It’s not a huge sample but it is definitely a little worrisome to see a road performance that poor, especially when a guy is outside of two parks tailor-made for his swing and approach. There’s some evidence that Youkilis can take advantage of the short right field porch, but for the most part Yankee Stadium will not help his offense much this season. It’s not an ideal fit, but the options were limited.
Two weeks ago I looked at the Yankees’ infield defense over the last decade using a real simple BABIP-based analysis. The club was a well-below-average defensive team against ground balls in six of the last ten years, including each of the last three years and four of the last five. With an aging Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on the left side of the infield, the poor infield defense wasn’t a surprise.
Today I’m going to shift to the outfield and look at how the Yankees have done when it comes to converting fly balls into outs. Not counting infield pop-ups because they’re in their own little analytical world, fly balls turn into outs far more often than ground balls and line drives. It’s worth noting that available batted ball data, which reliably dates back to 2003, is not perfect. Baseball Info. Solutions records the data with human stringers who watch each game and classify each batted ball. Ground balls are pretty straight forward, but one person’s fly ball is another’s line drive. There is some scorer bias involved. We’re going to stick to regular old fly balls today. Here’s the data, and apologies in advance for the cluttered table…
|#FB||NYY BABIP||AL BABIP||xOuts||aOuts||dOuts||Primary Outfield|
|2012||1,339||0.133||0.128||1,168||1,161||-7||Ibanez, Grandy, Swisher|
|2011||1,414||0.124||0.137||1,220||1,239||19||Gardner, Grandy, Swisher|
|2010||1,456||0.118||0.139||1,254||1,284||30||Gardner, Grandy, Swisher|
|2009||1,418||0.118||0.136||1,225||1,251||26||Damon, Melky, Swisher|
|2008||1,358||0.137||0.138||1,171||1,172||1||Damon, Melky, Abreu|
|2007||1,542||0.130||0.137||1,331||1,342||11||Matsui, Melky, Abreu|
|2006||1,591||0.140||0.141||1,367||1,368||1||Melky, Damon, Abreu|
|2005||1,499||0.154||0.133||1,300||1,268||-32||Matsui, Bernie, Sheff|
|2004||1,619||0.153||0.133||1,404||1,371||-33||Matsui, Bernie, Sheff|
|2003||1,559||0.150||0.128||1,359||1,325||-34||Matsui, Bernie, Mondesi|
xOuts: Expected number of outs based on the league BABIP.
aOuts: Actual number of outs recorded.
dOuts: The difference between actual and expected outs, so aOuts – xOuts.
Just to be clear, homeruns are not counted in the fly ball total because they aren’t a ball in play. A ball isn’t in play if the defender doesn’t have a chance to catch it, which they can’t do when it sails over the fence.
As you probably remember, the Yankees had some miserable defensive teams in early-to-mid-aughts. The Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams-anchored outfields from 2003-2005 were good for 30+ fewer outs converted than the league average, which is an enormous number. Adding Melky Cabrera and (to a lesser extent) Johnny Damon to the mix improved things greatly in 2006, though the Yankees were still league-average. Bobby Abreu was a defensive nightmare who prevented the unit from being above-average.
The 2009 season is when things really improved. Abreu’s wall-fearing ways were replaced by Nick Swisher, who is a solid defender and far better than his predecessor. Brett Gardner also started to earn more playing time. The 2009-2011 outfields were well-above-average as the Matsuis and Damons and Abreus were replaced, though the 2012 defense took a hit when Raul Ibanez handled left field in the wake of Gardner’s injury. The Yankees have boasted an average or better outfield defense (with regards to fly balls) in six of the last seven years, and in several of those seasons they were much better than the league average.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, ground balls are relatively harmless. They usually go for singles when they sneak through the infield and that’s the end of it. Fly balls, even the ones that don’t go over the fence for homers, are much more dangerous. Misplayed fly balls often turn into extra-base hits, which can be a nightmare for the pitcher. It’s one thing to have a man on first after a ground ball finds a hole, but it’s another when a fly ball dunks in and a man is instantly on second or third. The Yankees have done an excellent job of turning their outfield ranks over in recent years while improving the fly ball catching ability without sacrificing offense.
This is probably something I should have pieced together last week, prior to the Winter Meetings, but better late than never I suppose. Here’s a breakdown of the Yankees’ current payroll situation for 2013…
- Existing Contracts ($121M): Alex Rodriguez ($28M), CC Sabathia ($23M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Derek Jeter ($17M), Robinson Cano ($15M), Curtis Granderson ($15M), David Aardsma ($500k)
- Players Signed In Offseason ($37M): Hiroki Kuroda ($15M), Andy Pettitte ($12M), Mariano Rivera ($10M)
- Projected Arbitration Salaries ($15.8M): Phil Hughes ($5.7M), Boone Logan ($2.8M), Brett Gardner ($2.8M), David Robertson ($2.7M), Joba Chamberlain ($1.8M)
- Buyouts & Dead Money ($8.75M): A.J. Burnett ($8.5M), Pedro Feliciano ($250k)
That adds up to $182.55M for only 15 40-man rosters spots, and that’s real dollars being spent. It’s not average annual value for luxury tax purposes. The 15 players who are on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man active roster will earn the league minimum ($480k-ish), so let’s just estimate them at $7.5M total ($500k each). That brings us up to $190.05M with ten roster spots to fill.
The Yankees have started each of the last five seasons with an Opening Day payroll between $200-214M (again, real dollars), and I assume they’re willing to spend that much again this year. We know they’re trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold for 2014, but they’re theoretically in the clear for 2013. Opening next season with a similar payroll means they have anywhere from $10-24M to spend during the remainder of the offseason, and their holes include a right fielder, a catcher, a good utility infielder, and bench pieces. League minimum guys like Chris Stewart, Eduardo Nunez, David Phelps, Ivan Nova, and Clay Rapada mean it’s really $7.5-21.5M for five roster spots.
Barring an unexpected trade, it’s tough to see the Yankees spending much money on a backstop given the available options and their reported disinterest in A.J. Pierzynski. Even a (very unlikely) trade for Carlos Santana wouldn’t put a big dent in the budget because he’s due just $550k next season as part of his long-term contract. A right fielder could range anywhere from dirt cheap (Nate Schierholtz at $2M?) to pretty pricey (Justin Upton at $9.75M?). Jeff Keppinger could wind up with $4-6M annually while Asdrubal Cabrera is owed $6.5M. I guess that’s the going rate for a replacement third baseman/high-end utility infielder.
As frustrating as it is to watch the Yankees sit on the sidelines so far this week, I do think there’s some good to come from it. Some of the recently-signed free agent contracts have struck me as big overpays, talking specifically talking about guys like Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Shane Victorino. All nice players in their own way, but they got more money and one more year than I expected. Avoiding an overpay like that is a good thing for New York for obvious reasons, 2014 payroll plan or not. Either way, hopefully they’re planning to spend on the high end of that $7.5-21.5M range over so they can make one more serious run before scaling back payroll.
In a series of Insider-only posts at ESPN, Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS projection system to break down the six division races using current rosters. Here are the links for the AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East, NL Central, and NL West. No projection system is perfect or even close to it, but ZiPS has been consistently solid the last few years and is typically my go-to system. Standard disclaimer: Projections are not predictions, they’re an attempt to measure a player’s true talent level at the moment.
Anyway, the current Yankees roster is pretty bad. They don’t have Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, an established closer, a legitimate starting catcher, a right fielder, or a bench. Plugging those holes internally means going with unproven youngsters and retread veterans, not the guys you expect to find playing everyday for the Yankees. Here are the projections…
The projections for Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, and Curtis Granderson pass the sniff test. Derek Jeter‘s might be a little light following his huge year, but it wouldn’t be a shock if his offense took a step back at his age. I like Chris Dickerson more than most, but that line is about right if he doesn’t have a platoon partner. Obviously the Yankees won’t carry three catchers, but that’s a function of the whole “current roster” thing.
On the pitching side, I would be pretty pleased with that performance from Pineda in his first year out of shoulder surgery. Over 100 innings with solid strikeout (7.7 K/9) and walk (3.3 BB/9) rates right after a major procedure like that? Yeah that would work. Obviously that’s not what the Yankees were hoping for when they made the trade, but the dynamic has changed in a big way since then. Accumulating some innings and showing flashes of his 2011 form are what I’m looking for out of Pineda next year. Nothing more.
ZiPS has that roster winning 85 games next year, good for second place in the AL East behind the 86-win Rays. The Orioles are a distant third at 80 wins, then the Blue Jays (78 wins) and Red Sox (76 wins) bring up the rear. The current incarnations of the Rangers, Nationals, and Braves project to finish with the most wins in baseball at 89 apiece. They have fewer holes to fill, especially compared to the Yankees. The fact that ZiPS still thinks New York can win 85 games with no real right fielder, no catcher, no number two or three starter, and a five-man bullpen is pretty neat. Too bad 85 wins would be a ten-win drop-off.
The Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, and they’re going to have to starting taking action this offseason to make sure that happens. Throughout the winter we’ll check in on the club’s payroll situation as they make roster moves to see how they’re setup for 2013 and potentially 2014 as well. Free agency will open sometime soon depending on the length of the World Series (it’ll start no later than ten days from now no matter what), so let’s first look at the money the Yankees have coming off the books this winter. It’s not a small amount.
- Pending Free Agents ($76.14M): Mariano Rivera ($15M), Rafael Soriano ($14M), Nick Swisher ($10.25M), Hiroki Kuroda ($10M), Russell Martin ($7.5M), Freddy Garcia ($4M), Pedro Feliciano ($3.75M), Andruw Jones ($2.54M), Andy Pettitte ($2.5M), Raul Ibanez ($2.5M), Ichiro Suzuki ($2.25M), Eric Chavez ($1.85M)
- Scheduled Raises ($3M): Curtis Granderson (+$5M), Robinson Cano (+$1M), Derek Jeter ($+1M), Alex Rodriguez (-$1M), A.J. Burnett (-$3M)
- Buyouts ($0.50M): Feliciano ($0.50M)
I’m assuming Soriano will opt-out of his contract, which seems likely. The Yankees will pay $8.5M of Burnett’s salary next year after paying $11.5M last year, so that’s cool. Feliciano has a $500k buyout coming to him as well. Put it all together — (Pending Free Agents) minus (Scheduled Raises) minus (Dead Money & Buyouts) — and the club will have approximately $72.64M coming off the books this offseason. I’m ignoring minimum salary pickups like Derek Lowe, because who cares about guys making the minimum.
Anyway, I count nine arbitration-eligible players this offseason: Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Jayson Nix, Casey McGehee, Frankie Cervelli, and Chris Dickerson. Dickerson and Cervelli are on the Super Two bubble, so they might fall short. McGehee seems like a safe bet to either be non-tendered or traded, clearing his salary. Hughes, Robertson, and Logan are due considerable raises (relative to last year’s salary) while Joba and Gardner will get slightly smaller raised due to their injuries. This will be expensive class though, probably an increase of $10M or so compared to last year. Suddenly that $72.64M becomes $62.64M. Once MLBTR posts their salary projections we’ll have a much better idea of the arbitration situation.
With that money, the Yankees will need to find a catcher, a right fielder, a DH, a late-inning reliever, at least one starting pitcher (preferably two), a bench, and miscellaneous depth players. That’s assuming they’re willing to spend as much in 2013 as they did in 2012. It is more than enough money, but Brian Cashman & Co. will need to find payroll-friendly solutions if they’re going to stick to this 2014 payroll plan. Either that or they’re going to be signing a bunch of players to one-year contracts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d love to see both Kuroda and Pettitte on one-year pacts, that would be my ideal starting pitching solution.
As the offseason progresses and players to start to sign — both free agents and arbitration guys — we’ll have a better idea of what the Yankees will spend in 2013 compared to 2012. I think this will be the team’s busiest offseason since 2008-2009 (it probably won’t even be all that close when it’s all said and done), but it’ll be interesting to see how the Yankees plug those holes given what appears to be an utter lack of viable alternatives. This might be a winter heavy on trades and not free agent signings.
The Yankees and Orioles have played three very tight games in the ALDS so far, and last night Raul Ibanez took matters into his own hands by hitting both a game-tying and game-winning solo homer after coming off the bench in the ninth inning. His insanely clutch performance will get a ton of attention today and rightfully so, but one man can not win a baseball game by himself no matter how many homers he hits.
Before Ibanez worked his magic, starter Hiroki Kuroda gave the Yankees more than eight innings of two-run ball. He allowed solo homers to the eight- and nine-hole hitters, but otherwise he held Baltimore in check and especially in the late innings. Kuroda did run into trouble in the fourth though, as some shoddy defense, a hit, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with two outs. Ryan Flaherty, who hit the first solo homer, was at the plate with a chance to break things open when Kuroda started him with a first pitch inside two-seamer for a called strike. Here is the second pitch of the at-bat…
(Click to embiggen)
I wrote briefly about the benefit of pitch framing yesterday, and that’s a perfect example of a borderline pitch getting called a strike with some help from Russell Martin‘s nifty glovework. PitchFX does have the pitch off the plate but not wildly so, enough that it could have been called either way.
Now the at-bat didn’t even end with that pitch, but it did turn a potential 1-1 count into an 0-2 count. An 0-2 count is the worst possible count a hitter can face, and the difference between those two counts was over .200 OPS points in the AL this season. It’s a massive shift in the game situation, changing everything from how Kuroda and Martin pitch to Flaherty’s approach to possibly even where the defense sets up. Flaherty grounded out weakly on the next pitch, a jam shot fastball up-and-in that may have been intended to set up a splitter on the next pitch more than actually get an out.
Kuroda really had to battle in the early innings last night, and Martin did a good job nursing through his early command issues. Flaherty isn’t a world burner, but he went deep one inning prior and had a really great power stretch just a few weeks ago. I don’t want to say the game was on the line in that fourth inning at-bat, but a hit there to score even one more run changes the complexion of the entire game. Stealing that strike two on the borderline pitch was an important part of the chess match that got Kuroda and the Yankees through the inning and kept the game manageable.