Update: Lookee here: Jeff Passan of Yahoo! reports that the Yankees are showing interest in Anderson, and that he’s expected to be dealt next week at the Winter Meetings. Though given the flurry of recent activity, especially involving the A’s, it doesn’t appear anyone is waiting for the yearly conference to conduct their business.
While improving the offense appears to dominate the Yankees’ free agent agenda early this off-season, the pitching staff still presents a number of issues. Brian Cashman said he had to find 400 innings, meaning two reliable starters, this off-season. They could get 180 or so of those innings if Hiroki Kuroda accepts their offer, but they still have a huge number of innings to fill and not many attractive options on the free agent market.
The trade market looks fairly thin as well, yesterday’s deal involving Doug Fister notwithstanding. David Price might become available, but the Yankees don’t have the pieces to land him even if the Rays deigned to trade him within the division. Beyond that, it’s difficult to identify a team willing to part with an impact starter (except maybe the Red Sox, which is out of the question). That leaves the free agent market, which could inflate given the lack of trade options. Does anyone want Matt Garza for four years and $60 million, or to give up on a draft pick for the two good years Ubaldo Jimenez has produced in his career?
Make no mistake: the Yankees absolutely need two reliable starters this off-season. Getting cute with rotation construction will only compound the issue as the season wears on. Yet two reliable starters will give the Yankees four definites, including CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. For his part, Nova has yet to put together a full, effective season, so he remains something of an unknown. Behind him are David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno, all unreliable for one reason or another.
It might seem folly to add yet another unreliable arm to the fold, but it might be a gamble the Yankees need to make. This week we’ve learned that one potentially solid, but unreliable, pitcher has become available. Rumors started early in the off-season that the A’s could trade Brett Anderson, and with the addition of Scott Kazmir (two years, $22 million) and Jim Johnson (projected arbitration of around $10 million), they’re almost certainly looking to shed Anderson’s $8 million salary. In fact, just this morning we learned that the A’s are currently discussing an Anderson trade. While the Yankees aren’t mentioned, they could be players if Anderson remains on the A’s for a few more weeks.
Why it works
Bringing in a wild card like Anderson can work if the Yankees get their 400 additional innings from more reliable sources. In that case they’ll have Phelps, Pineda, and Nuno to battle for the fifth spot. Still, given the utter uncertainty of that group, why not add a guy who can perform considerably better than the typical fifth starter on a first-division team?
Despite a poor 2013 outing, Anderson has produced a 3.81 ERA during the parts of his five seasons in the majors (109 ERA+). His strikeout numbers haven’t been particularly impressive, but he has displayed good control a a decent ability to keep the ball in the park (though at Oakland Coliseum). Before he came up Baseball America rated him the No. 7 prospect in the game, a potential he’s shown signs of fulfilling, if it weren’t for that one big issue.
Injuries have plagued Anderson throughout his career. He spent 96 days on the DL in 2010 with elbow problems, and then underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2011. Even after he returned in late 2012 he got hurt, finishing the season on the DL with an oblique strain. In 2013 he suffered an ankle sprain after a rough start in April, but he did come back to strike out 16 in 12.2 innings out of the pen to close out the year.
Why the Yanks can use a wild card
Again, the entire idea of Anderson is predicated on the Yankees acquiring two other reliable starters. To rely on Anderson for 100 innings might not be the best bet. But it’s a bet the Yankees can make, given their current makeup. In fact, if they do find those 400 innings elsewhere, Anderson can be a huge strength.
If the Yankees get two starters, the fifth starter competition is between David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno. Phelps is the clear frontrunner before camp even starts, given his experience. At the same time, his value is in his flexibility. The Yanks have shown they can put him in the pen and then have him spot start if the need arises. Given the depletion of the bullpen, he could be valuable in a setup roll, and then come out to make a spot start if needed.
Given Pineda’s recovery from shoulder surgery, he likely should start the season in the minors. He could, for all we know, come out guns blazing in camp after a full off-season of healthy recovery. Who knows. But given what we saw from his rehab efforts, that’s not something anyone can count on. Consider him the first depth option. Nuno is essentially a depth option, not really a fifth starter on a playoff contender (though he has proven people wrong before).
With Anderson in the fold, the Yankees would have depth they could pull from both the bullpen and the minors. That’s the kind of flexibility that allows teams to endure injuries. If Nova isn’t as effective as he was in the second half, if they want to give Kuroda a breather (if he re-signs), if Sabathia gets hurt, they’ll be somewhat covered with depth.
Why it doesn’t work
It’s hard to overlook a guy who has missed, on average, more than 100 games per season in the last four years. There are players who start out as injury guys who, as they reach physical maturity, just stop getting hurt. Anderson, who turns 26 just before pitchers and catchers report, is entering the prime years of his career. He could be one of those guys.
Yet even if he is, it might not happen this year. If Anderson continues to get hurt in his age-26 season, but starts staying healthy at age 27, it does little to help the Yankees. If he spends another year mostly on the DL, they’re not going to pick up his $12 million option for 2015.
As it stands, he’s an $8 million lotto ticket, who will cost the Yankees prospects in addition to the cash. While Oakland might be eager to trade him, they’re still not going to take zeroes in return. Anderson could well fit better on a team with more room to experiment, or a team that’s not trying to sign a number of big free agents.
Whether the Yankees show interest in Anderson depends on their taste for risk. Obviously they’ll first have to address the tangible holes in their rotation. If the A’s decide to deal Anderson before they do that, the Yankees have no shot. While they don’t have to acquire players in order of need, they certainly want to focus their resources on reliably filling their 400-inning gap. After that, if they have the stomach for the risk, Anderson could be an interesting player to watch. When else does a 26-year-old, left-handed, potential No. 3 starter hit the trade market?
Given how the 2013 season unfolded and where the Yankees finished in the standings, you might assume that we’ve produced more What Went Wrong posts than ever in the past. How could things have gone more wrong than any year in the recent past? you might ask. Apparently more things went wrong last year, when we produced twenty-six posts in the What Went Wrong series. This post marks number twenty-three this year.
In one sense, this statistic does not check out. How could have more things gone wrong in a season when the Yankees won the division, owned the best record in the American League, and made a trip to the ALCS, than in a season where they won 85 games and missed the playoffs by a healthy margin? Clearly that is not the case. So why did we produce more What Went Wrong posts last year than this year?
Because the entire roster suffered from poor construction and bad luck.
Perhaps that was by design, to an extent. Last year’s free agent crop was paltry and pathetic, with few players worthy of a multiyear deal. This off-season, while thin by 00s standards, stands out above both the 2013 and 2015 free agent classes. Better to hold off, then, during a poor free agent class and reload when there are better players available.
Design cannot explain all, or even most, of the Yankees’ roster woes in 2013. Many needs went completely unaddressed in the off-season. Losing a few key players during, and before, the season hurt them further, exacerbating those off-season construction flaws. As a result the Yankees fielded what was almost certainly their weakest roster since 1993.
The 2012 Yankees featured a fairly balanced lineup. They hit lefties and righties very well, and hitters of both handedness produced impressive numbers. But as we quickly learned, many of those players would not be back. Nick Swisher, for one, was almost certainly a goner. Russell Martin jumped on an early offer from the Pirates. Then we learned that Alex Rodriguez would require hip surgery, shelving him until July at the earliest. More than 30 HR from the right side of the plate were leaving town, and it was anyone’s guess how much they’d lose from A-Rod. Combine that with Derek Jeter‘s injury and uncertain return, and it added up to an enormous need for right-handed production.
Adding Kevin Youkilis made sense in many regards. He hit right-handed and played third base, and so could replace at least some of Rodriguez’s production. One folly was replacing an injured player with a guy who has had trouble staying on the field, specifically with back troubles. The other was adding no other right-handed hitters, at all.
Instead the Yankees added Ichiro Suzuki, a no-power lefty, and — and that’s basically it. Perhaps the players they liked wanted to play elsewhere, or signed contracts the Yankees deemed out of their desired price range. Maybe the trade market didn’t develop in the way they’d imagined. Whatever the case, the Yankees knew they were losing a huge chunk of their right-handed production and did very little to address that depletion.
Why didn’t the Yankees make a more concerted effort to keep Martin (he reportedly would have accepted a one-year deal) or sign a player who fit, like Torii Hunter? The story we heard was that they were focusing on pitching. They wanted to make sure that they re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. That would ensure a strong pitching staff. The offense, by their own admission, took a back seat. By the time they were ready, the good players were off the board. It showed in the team’s performance.
Key injuries and replacement players
At least when the Yankees learned of Rodriguez’s injury, they had time to find a replacement. When a J.A. Happ pitch stuck Curtis Granderson‘s forearm in his first spring training at-bat, the Yanks had few potential replacements; while Brett Gardner could slide into center field, that still left vacant an outfield spot and further depleted the lineup’s power.
About a week later further disaster struck when Mark Teixeira left the WBC with a wrist injury. Not only would the Yankees be without their slugging first baseman for the start of the season, but they had absolutely no one in camp to replace him; at the time the candidates were Dan Johnson and Juan Rivera, who ended up getting a combined 5 PA in the majors in 2013 (all Johnson), and Youkilis, who was already replacing Rodriguez.
Had they been so inclined, the Yankees could have used Eduardo Nunez to replace Rodriguez at third, sliding Youkilis over to first. Alas, towards the end of camp Derek Jeter reinjured his ankle, moving Nunez into the shortstop position. To man first base they nabbed Lyle Overbay, who had been released by Boston — who wouldn’t have been so bad if they had a right-handed platoon partner for him.*
*Overbay did hit .258/.317/.432 against righties, and that number was quite a bit higher earlier in the season, so he wasn’t a total zero the entire time. Then again, who’s to say what would have happened if they’d found a platoon partner. Does Overbay produce those numbers while sitting against lefties? That’s the big unknown about platoons: anyone in one has to buy into it. If a guy feels he needs consistent at-bats to get into a groove, chances are he won’t succeed in a platoon even if his splits suggest he would. Ya know, 90 percent of the game being half mental and all.
To replace Granderson the Yankees flexed their financial biceps to acquire Vernon Wells from the Angels. They ended up paying him $13 million in 2013, just so they could avoid having him count against the luxury tax in 2014. For about a month that worked out well — which seemed perfect, because Granderson was due back in a little over a month. Which is another disaster story in itself.
It didn’t take Youkilis even a month to hurt himself, even further depleting the infield. Matters got worse when Eduardo Nunez got hurt in early May — and you know your roster is in poor shape when it takes a significant hit with a Nunez injury. Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, Jayson Nix, the guy who might not have even made the team had Jeter not reinjured his ankle, got hurt in early July. That necessitated acquiring Luis Cruz, recently DFA’d by the Dodgers.
In early May Travis Hafner, who had enjoyed a resurgent April, suffered a shoulder injury. Fans winced, but to our surprise he did not go on the disabled list. Clearly he should have. From that point onward he hit .169/.250/.301, after hitting .260/.383/.510 through mid-May. It should have been predictable that Hafner, who made four disabled list trips in 2011 and 2012, would have gotten hurt.
Granderson came back and got hurt again. Teixeira came back and wasn’t ready for action. Youkilis came back and hobbled around until it was apparent he needed surgery. Jeter eventually came back, and then got hurt. And then came back again. And then got hurt. Finally, after collecting just eight hits in 44 at-bats, he shut it down. Even Rodriguez got hurt after coming back, forcing him into the DH spot for the last 20 or so games of the season. Gardner got hurt at the end of the season, which seemed to demolish whatever little hope the Yankees had remaining; they went 6-9 afterward, half of those wins coming against the punchless Astros and another two coming against the nearly equally punchless Giants.
Lack of outfield depth
To say the Yankees have failed to produce outfielders doesn’t state the case strongly enough. Yes, they drafted and developed Brett Gardner, a small speedster who developed into a decent ballplayer, but other than him what outfielders have they developed in the last six years? The last eight? The last ten? It seems that ever since they traded away Juan Rivera and Ricky Ledee 10 years ago that they have lagged greatly in the outfielder development department. There was Melky Cabrera, who was OK, Gardner, who is a fair success, and who else?
It is no wonder, then, that they were ill prepared for injuries in the outfield. By itself letting Swisher walk might not have been a bad call. They acquired him for essentially nothing, one of those my junk for your good player trades we frequently see, and laugh at, in the comments. They paid him a wage commensurate with his contribution, during his prime years. Letting him go was probably the smart move, if not the typical Yankee move. Only problem was, they had no viable replacements.
Did they honestly think Ichiro would continue the run he started after heading to the Yankees? From what we read in the aftermath, ownership forced the issue there, convinced Ichiro would earn his salary in marketing dollars. When Granderson went down they had to trade for Wells, who had produced an 86 OPS+ in the last two seasons combined. Their only hopes on the farm were Melky Mesa, a strikeout-heavy guy who wasn’t going to hit major league pitching, and Zoilo Almonte, another strikeout guy who actually got better in that regard during the 2013 season, came up, hit some baseballs, and got hurt.
It wasn’t until they acquired Alfonso Soriano that they started to trot out halfway decent outfields. Which brings us to…
Futility of the trade deadline
At close of business on May 23, the Yankees sat alone atop the AL East. A combination of unexpected offensive contributions and an expectedly good pitching staff put them in a position to contend. That’s all they could have asked for, given the circumstances. It appeared that reinforcements were in the offing. Curtis Granderson had just returned to the lineup. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis were nearing rehab games. The band was getting back together.
The next day, Granderson got hit with another pitch that broke a bone. A week after that both Teixeira and Youkilis did return, but they provided almost no positives before they both went back on the DL and underwent season-ending surgeries. The Yankees, still in first place by a few percentage points on May 26, had fallen into third place by June 13. On July 1 they sat in fourth place. The fill-ins had done an admirable job while the main players recovered from injury. But now that they were injured again, the Yanks needed more reinforcements.
The trade deadline can be considered a failure, but only because the Yankees didn’t acquire the players they needed to put them over the top. But could they really have expected to replace all the players who fell victim to injury? The list of needs ran deep: an outfielder and a first baseman, one of whom absolutely needed to be a right-handed hitter with power, and a pitcher, at the very least. A catcher would have been nice, too, if unattainable. When was the last time a team was able to add that many players — at least two of them impact players — at any one trade deadline?
Complicating the issue was the matter of players available. It takes two parties to consummate a trade, so if other teams weren’t selling, or weren’t buying what the Yankees were offering, no deals were possible. There didn’t seem to be many impact hitters available at all. In fact, the Yankees undoubtedly got the best hitter who was traded at the deadline in Soriano. In terms of pitching there were Matt Garza and Jake Peavy, who both could have helped the Yankees. But can it be considered a failure that they failed to acquire either?
The problem with the trade deadline represented a microcosm of the trouble with the entire roster throughout 2013. The pickings were slim. Flaws cropped up in the off-season, and became exposed when a few key players suffered injuries. The lack of depth on the farm, resulting in the inability to call up useful players, further complicated the roster woes. By the time the trade deadline rolled around it was too late to make any meaningful upgrades. There were too many holes.
It remains a surprise that the Yankees, with their pitiful roster, managed to remain interesting for more than half of the 2013 season (April, May, August, half of September). They managed to win only 85 games, but that far outpaced almost all of their projections, based on run differential and strength of schedule. So while the team was pretty unwatchable for a few months, they did manage to remain in contention far longer than anyone imagined.
It’s easy to talk a big game, especially when dozens of reporters and columnists hang on your every word. The Yankees certainly took advantage of their captive audience early in the off-season, pronouncing interest in essentially every high-end free agent. But talk is cheap, especially concerning something as unpredictable as the free-agent market. The Yankees certainly had a way out of their heavy proclamations.
Just because you’re interested in free agents, doesn’t mean that you’ll sign them. While not all 29 other teams are in on every available player, there is typically a healthy level of competition for the best free agents. Each team has its own limits on dollars and years. The Yankees easily could have justified not signing any of the top free agents, by merely saying that each was an overpay they weren’t willing to make.
The Brian McCann signing indicates that the Yankees aren’t just full of hot air. They addressed their biggest need, and will now move on to fill the other weaknesses on their roster. As Mike noted yesterday, reports have emerged that the Yankees are talking aggressively with other free agents, and even have offers out to some of them. The winter of 2012-2013 this is not.
While the Yankees likely have genuine interest in signing each of the players with whom they’re engaged, at least part of the reason for their aggression has to do with their own free agent, Robinson Cano. As Joel Sherman notes, the Yankees “badly want to retain the second baseman,” and are attempting to move quickly on him. Cano, for his part, appears ready to wait out the market until he gets the offer he wants. But the Yankees’ tactics could change his tune.
Current reports have the Yankees’ offer to Cano at seven years at $165 million, which is about $1 million more per year than the Yankees paid Mark Teixeira five years ago. The offer runs one fewer year, but Cano is also two years older than Teixeira was at the time of signing. Sherman notes that the Yankees “perhaps have some wiggle room upward…[b]ut not much.” What that means, exactly, in terms of perhaps a $175 contract for seven years, or a replica of Teixeira’s $180 million for eight years, is anyone’s guess. Regardless of where the Yankees will go, they have the best, and only, offer currently available to Cano.
By aggressively pursuing other free agents, the Yankees are implicitly signaling to Cano that they will not wait around for him, and that their dollars will be spent whether or not he signs. That’s bad news for Cano and his agents. Losing the leverage of the Yankees will hurt their bargaining positions with the 29 other teams, many of which won’t even place a bid for Cano’s services. What are his chances of getting an offer even close to the Yankees’ current one with his home team out of the bidding?
It only takes one team, for sure, as Prince Fielder learned two off-seasons ago. Yet the Tigers, who submitted the winning bid very late in the off-season, just paid $30 million to be rid of Fielder and the remainder of his contract. In fact, a number of other free agent contracts recently handed out might serve as a warning to teams that value long-term financial flexibility. The cases of Fielder, Albert Pujols, Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez could have teams gun shy about deals of even eight years. What are the chances that Detroit jumps back into the long-term free agent pool the very same winter they traded the previous guy?
The Yankees, as reports indicate, wish to meet with Cano this week to, as Jon Heyman puts it, “figure out whether there’s something to talk about.” If there’s not, it appears the Yankees will pursue the remaining players on their list without regard to Cano. That situation could prove costly. Imagine a scenario where the Yankees spend $200 million this off-season. Now imagine Cano signing in January for less than the $165 million the Yankees have currently on the table. Without them in the race, that could certainly happen. It wouldn’t be an impressive debut effort from Jay Z, and you can be sure the media, nationwide, will hammer home that point.
Alternatively, imagine Cano agreeing to a seven- or eight-year deal between $175 and $180 million. It will be a far cry from his $300 million request, but it will also come from the home team. Cano and his agents can actually spin this in a way that makes Cano seem like the good guy for taking “only” $180 million.
His intention all along was to stay in New York, and he was willing to back off a contract he felt he deserved in order to do so. He was moved by the retirement of Mariano Rivera and wants a similar sendoff for himself as a Yankee.
Cano gets paid more than any other free agent this off-season and last, and he could make more than any next off-season, depending on the market for Hanley Ramirez. He stays with the team where he is most visible and marketable, while coming off looking like the good guy. The Yankees get their man, at a not-too-inflated price. Everyone comes out ahead.
It’s tough to see exactly how this will play out. Both sides have talked big games, to the point that they’re approaching a game of chicken. We should get a good idea soon which one blinks.
Update: ESPN NY’s Andrew Marchand reports, well, basically what was just laid out here. There’s a time limit on the “best offer” that the Yankees can make. It’s not a take it or leave it ultimatum, but it’s essentially saying that if Cano doesn’t budge, the Yanks will move on with their priorities and won’t have enough money left to offer Cano the $160-plus-million they have on the table currently.
Do you really need the numbers to grasp how poorly the Yankees performed at catcher in 2013? In case you did: .587 OPS, which ranked 12 out of 14 in the AL, nearly .080 points lower than the next-highest team. They did have a few bright spots, including Francisco Cervelli‘s productive month and Chris Stewart staying hot for a bit, but by the end of the season the Yankees’ catchers were cooked. Stewart, a backup at best, was run down from starting, Austin Romine had gotten hurt (again), and J.R. Murphy was what you’d expect from a late-season call-up.
Tonight, the Yankees addressed their most glaring need, signing Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal that includes a sixth-year vesting option that could make the deal worth $100 million. McCann, 30 in February, will add some much-needed pop at catcher, perhaps recreating the days of Jorge Posada behind the plate.
The upgrade from Stewart, Romine, Cervelli, and Murphy to McCann speaks for itself. Last season, as McCann recovered from shoulder surgery, he produced a .796 OPS, 115 OPS+, in 402 PA. That lines up pretty well with his career numbers (117 OPS+). That OPS alone would have put the Yankees at third in the AL in OPS, behind only Minnesota (Mauer) and Cleveland (Santana). But that doesn’t tell the entire story.
McCann, a lefty, pairs perfectly with Francisco Cervelli, a righty who has excelled against lefties. True, his entire career against lefties amounts to a hair under 200 PA, but he’s more than done his job in those opportunities (.302/.402/.389). If he can squat behind the plate when the Yankees face left-handed pitching, it’s the perfect catching combination. McCann not only saves the wear and tear of catching for a third of the season, but he’ll be available to DH — and he’s produced a .744 career OPS against lefties.
Left-handed power hitters are always welcome at Yankee Stadium, and McCann’s swing appears tailor-made for the short porch. Even in his poor 2012 he produced a .344 wOBA when pulling the ball, and in two of the last three years he has just murdered the ball when pulling. Combine that with a difference in home parks — there’s a huge right-center gap at Turner Field — and it seems like an ideal fit from an offensive standpoint.
The money involved has more than a few fans up in arms. At five years and $85 million, it’s certainly a large outlay by the Yankees. It’s tough to analyze this without knowing their intentions re: Plan 189. If they do plan to come in under the luxury tax threshold in 2014, it’ll be even more interesting to see how they fill the roster. For the time being, let’s just consider this the Yankees getting aggressive in order to nail their No. 1 priority. Who knows what else is at play? All we know now is that the Yankees have more money than any other team, and that they’ve spent it on a player that will make them considerably better.
Much of the outcry regarding McCann involves his age and his position. He turns 30 in February, which is not a good sign for a catcher, at least anecdotally. Again, if the Yankees can continue trotting out a backup who can hit left-handed pitching, they can limit McCann’s exposure behind the plate, making up the PA at DH or even 1B, a position he said he’d be open to learn. He did suffer a shoulder injury in 2012 that sapped his production and kept him out during the first month of 2013, but it does appear he’s recovered from that. Assuming he’s healthy now, proper management could go a long way to keeping him on the field, and behind the plate, for the next five years.
It’s difficult to understate how poorly the Yankees fared at catcher in 2013. Signing McCann provides the greatest upgrade they could have acquired this off-season. There are concerns, as there are with any free agent signing. But given the upside of the deal, and the Yankees’ apparent ability to spend, this deal stands a decent chance of working out for them.
Discussion to be reconvened in January, when we see what else the Yankees have done to augment and upgrade the roster.
Update: Ken Rosenthal notes that while the Yankees are in “serious” discussions with McCann, a deal is not close yet. We’ll see how quickly this develops.
Update: Now Rosenthal says that the deal is close, for five years and more than $80 million. For what it’s worth, a guy who told me about this deal a half hour before Grant broke it said 4/89 with a vesting option for a fifth, so I’m guessing the 5/89 figure is pretty close.
Update: Rosenthal has the deal at 5 years, $85 million with a sixth year vesting option that would bring the deal to $100 million.
Update: Jon Heyman reports that McCann gets a full no-trade clause. I’m figuring every big-name free agent signing with a large-market team will get one of these.
If you were the GM of the Tigers, and two winters ago you could have signed Prince Fielder to a two-year, $76 million contract, would you have? Paying him $38 million annually sounds steep, but getting him for only his age-28 and age-29 seasons mitigates that inflated salary. It’s a deal that Fielder never would have signed, but it’s the deal that the Tigers got. I imagine they’re happy with the way that turned out.
What the Tigers essentially did was walk away when they had the opportunity. Signing him two off-seasons ago was a play for the short-term. Detroit had just made the World Series and felt they weren’t far from a victory. While they did make the Series last year, and the ALCS this year, it became apparent that their roster had some weaknesses. The landscape changed, so Detroit acted while it had the opportunity.
The Yankees now have an opportunity to walk away from an enormous contract. They won’t get back a player, as the Tigers got with Ian Kinsler, other than whoever they can take with a low-30s draft pick, so the situations aren’t directly comparable. What they would gain is significant financial flexibility, something they apparently desire. While it might hurt, especially in 2014, Tyler Kepner of the NY Times argues that letting Robinson Cano walk is the right move.
The risks of long-term contracts for players already in their 30s is well documented. The Yankees need look no further than their own organization six years ago, when they signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. In Rodriguez the Yankees see how injuries and performance decline can hamper even a generational talent. Cano, even as one of the league’s premier hitters, doesn’t quite reach A-Rod‘s level. So why sign him to a contract that could similarly cripple the organization?
Kepner’s argument centers on this kind of risk aversion. In discussing a 7-year, $161 million contract for Cano, Kepner says, “That kind of deal has put the Yankees in their present state — decaying and injury-prone — and the team needs to break the cycle.” The problem is that there isn’t any player, or even group of players, currently available that can help the Yankees as much as Cano. Even if the last three years of a seven-year deal are well below what his salary warrants, the Yankees still need Cano in those first four seasons.
Yes, but what about the Cardinals, who lost Albert Pujols and have done quite well without him? Kepner cites this case, noting that the Cardinals went on to sign Carlos Beltran and hand out a few extensions on the path to two playoff berths and a World Series appearance. While it sounds nice, it completely ignores the organizational differences between the Cardinals and the Yankees. For starters, Pujols wasn’t even the best hitter on the Cardinals in 2011; Lance Berkman and Matt Holiday each put up better numbers. They also had Allen Craig, who had broken out in 2011 and was ready for a regular gig. That’s not even bringing their robust farm system into the equation.
The Yankees have none of these things. Alfonso Soriano is solid, and Mark Teixeira could come back to produce next season, but even if both have fine years the Yanks still aren’t nearly as deep as the Cardinals. There is no Yadier Molina, there is no Allen Craig, there’s no Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter. There is, hopefully, an Adam Wainwright in CC Sabathia, but there’s no Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, or Shelby Miller. If the Yankees plan to contend in 2014 they need to do it with a heavy top-end. That’s not going to work without Cano.
What about punting 2014? That’s not a strategy that really pays off in baseball. The Astros are trying it now, and even then it’s going to take them several more years to get even a little feedback on their experiment. Getting a draft pick for Robbie is nice, and getting a higher draft pick next year would be nice as well. But are those two picks going to turn around the organization? Doubtful. Even if they do, it will take years and years for that process to play out. Does anyone have that kind of patience?
The alternative is using the $23 or so million for Cano and spreading it to a few other players. Kepner lists the possibilities, and we’re familiar with all the names. But it’s not as though the Yankees can take Cano’s salary and somehow turn it into two high-end free agents. Brian McCann will cost between $15 and $18 million himself. Shin-Soo Choo might cost even more. Perhaps savings from Cano, plus the other money the team has available, can turn into three free agents. But none of them will be as good as Cano.
Therein lies the choice. Do you bring in the superstar, understanding that he’s your only superstar, or do you spread the wealth a bit? People love to cite how the Red Sox spread the wealth last winter, but fail to mention that they already had a superstar on board in David Ortiz and a damn good first mate in Dustin Pedroia. Again, the Yankees don’t have that. They can’t replicate what the Cardinals or Red Sox did, because their franchise is in a completely different position right now.
The biggest risk with Cano, or any other long-term contract, lies in the later years. Given how he’s performed in the last few years, it’s difficult to imagine Cano declining much, if at all, in the next year or so. If he can manage a graceful decline (anything but guaranteed), the last three to four years of a seven- or eight-year contract will be the ones that hurt. This is actually good news for the Yankees. In year-five of a potential Cano deal, they have zero dollars in current obligations. In year-four they have just $26 million.
In other words, this isn’t some situation where they hand out $700 million in five-plus-year contracts within the span of two off-seasons. They’ve done a good job of limiting obligations in the last few years, and given their lack of future payroll the effort is starting to show. Adding Cano now will hurt if they sign a bunch of five- and six-year deals in the next two off-seasons. Given the market, I don’t think it will come to that.
As Mike has noted, frequently, this off-season, even if the Yanks add Cano, Carlos Beltran or Jhonny Peralta, and Masahiro Tanaka, they still might not contend in 2014. But even if they’re going to struggle again next year, they still have needs in 2015 and beyond. Letting Cano go stands directly in opposition to those future goals.
Just because some other teams played the market a certain way doesn’t mean the Yankees should follow suit. They’re in a different position than those teams. Given their current roster, and the fruits on the farm, Cano become an essential piece to not only potential contention in 2014, but also 2015 and beyond. Letting him walk, especially at seven years and $161 million, a deal he’ll almost certainly exceed, because other teams did something similar, would be foolish. The Yankees need Cano just as much as Cano needs the Yankees.
Every day during Alex Rodriguez‘s arbitration hearing, news outlets have placed reporters outside the building. Ben and I frequently crack jokes about this absolutely pointless assignment. No one is divulging testimonies. Their only purpose is to sit there and wait for something to happen. Today, their efforts paid off. Something happened.
Minutes ago Rodriguez issued a statement — after storming out of the room — which I picked up from the Daily News Sports I-Team Twitter feed. It reads:
“I am disgusted with this abusive process designed to ensure that the player fails. I have sat through 10 days of testimony by felons and liars, sitting quietly through every minute, trying to respect the league and the process. This morning, after Bud Selig refused to come in and testify about his rationale for the unprecedented and totally baseless punishment he hit me with, the arbitrator selected by MLB and the Players Association refused to order Selig to come in and face me. The absurdity and injustice just became too much. I walked out and will not participate any further in this farce.”
As with every statement from both sides in this case, there is more it than what A-Rod portrays. Given Selig’s heavy hand in this, he absolutely should come in and justify his decision. I can understand why anyone would get upset in that situation.
But let’s not simply assume that Alex’s intentions are pure here. Perhaps this is a ploy to avoid testifying himself. Perhaps his legal team sees the writing on the wall, knows that he’s going to be suspended, and will instead prepare for a larger fight in federal court.
For the moment, I’ll say hats off to A-Rod for calling out Selig. It’s pretty clear — to me, at least, from the evidence we’ve seen publicly — that Selig does indeed have a vendetta against Alex. If the man wants to levy such a heavy punishment and then refuses to justify it, then how can an arbitrator rule that it’s appropriate? Again, just my input on this. I’m sure opinions on this will come down from every possible angle.
Update by Mike (5pm ET): A-Rod just made a live in-studio appearance on Mike Francesa’s show to discuss today’s events and the arbitration hearing in general. A partial video is above and the full audio is right here. I can not recommend it enough. It’s amazing. Among the major points:
- A-Rod flatly denied all PED allegations stemming from Anthony Bosch and Biogenesis. Francesa asked him directly and the answer was a clear denial, no wiggle room. That’s all on the record. Alex also declined trying to interfere with the investigation.
- A-Rod also said this is personal for Selig, who is retiring after next season and wants “my head on a mantle on the way out.” He also said this is about the money, that MLB wouldn’t have it in for him like this if his contract was so big. I think he’s right, this whole mess doesn’t happen if the league didn’t go for the kill with a 211-game ban.
- It’s unclear if A-Rod will testify as scheduled on Friday. It’s basically a “if Selig doesn’t testify, I don’t testify” situation. He did hedge a bit by saying he’ll talk things over with his lawyers once he calms down.
- Oh, and by the way, Alex is angry at the Yankees. He made that clear. He also said he has an obligation and will play third base for them when the time comes.
Like I said, I can’t recommend the interview enough. Make sure you watch the video. I thought Francesa killed it with his questions and A-Rod scorched every last bit of Earth. Such great theatre.
When a team expects to win and fails, the players are typically at fault. They are, after all, the ones who take the field every day and therefore control the team’s fate. But as the old saying goes, you can’t fire all the players.* As an alternative, teams often opt to fire the manager. Leaders make for good scapegoats, even if they do not directly participate. It’s also easier to get rid of one man and one contract (coaches typically go year-to-year) than to publicly identify the players at fault and get rid of them.
* Unless you’re the Red Sox, who fired three highly paid players and the manager. It’s almost as if winning the World Series was a reward for that decision.
It would have been easy to blame the Yankees’ 2013 season on the manager. The team was expected to win and it did not. The Yankees could have walked away from Girardi cleanly, too, since his contract expired after the season. Instead they signed him to a new four-year deal that exceeds his previous three-year contract. It shows just what upper management thinks of the on-field boss. If anything, 2013 further solidified Girardi as one of the game’s top skippers.
Many fans disagree with that sentiment, but certain fans will always hate the manager for one reason or another. It’s just the nature of baseball. A few close friends of mine dislike Girardi.* They have their criticisms, and while I disagree they do deserve fair trial.
* One of them dislikes Girardi, but likes Big Bang Theory, so I think it’s fair to call his judgment into question.
They don’t like his bullpen management
Pardon me if I don’t pay this critique much credence. While there are managers who handle their bullpens poorly, it seems that vocal, if not large, groups of fans from every team bemoan the manager’s pitching changes. All managers could be wrong, and fans could be right, about bullpen management tactics — in theory. In theory Communism works. In theory.
Three main factors are at play here. First is the now-tired, but still relevant, trope that managers possess far more information than fans. Girardi, we learned early in his tenure, keeps track of not only when his relievers get into games, but also when they warm up in the pen. You might not have seen David Robertson for a few days, but if he pitched two days in a row and then warmed up in each of the next two, he might not be available. This information gap also extends to Girardi’s knowledge of the individual player. Perhaps he doesn’t feel a particular player, on a particular day, is well-suited for a particular situation. We can criticize that, but it doesn’t hold much water if we don’t know the players and the circumstances.
Second is negativity bias. We tend to remember the bad decisions, because they result in agita and, in many instances, losses. Losing sucks, so that feeling sticks in our craws far longer than, say, the time when Girardi brought in David Robertson in the third inning after Andy Pettitte, who left with an injury, put two on with one out and had three balls on the batter. We might not remember that Robertson got out of the bases loaded, one out situation unscathed, which kept the game close at hand for when the Yanks exploded for seven runs and won.
The third is general discontent with managers. Moe Szyslak aptly sums up the sentiment: “The only thing I know about strategy is that whatever the manager does, it’s wrong. Unless it works, in which case he’s a button pusher.”
They don’t like how he deals with the media
I find this gripe odd. Why do fans care if the manager gets testy when the media asks its typically dumb questions? In many instances it comes off as endearing. There are good reporters who ask thoughtful questions, and they certainly deserve a respectful answer. So far as I have seen, Girardi has done just that. There are other reporters who ask the same pointless questions, or cliched and meaningless questions, all the time.* There comes a point where it’s reasonable to lose patience with them. We saw Girardi get a little angry in those situations in 2013.
* At a game I was covering in 2010, Girardi was giving his pre-game press talk. Javy Vazquez had pitched the previous night, and Phil Hughes was on the mound that night. The reporter asked a random question about A.J. Burnett — something asinine, too, along the lines of, “how would you characterize your confidence in A.J. Burnett?”
Honestly, I appreciate it when players and personnel take an attitude with the media. Yes, the reporters are just doing their jobs, but the good ones recognize that asking dumb, repetitive questions don’t help their causes. I miss the days when Mike Mussina scoffed at reporters. In 2013 I missed Derek Jeter poking fun at Kim Jones’s generic questions. It sure beats hearing players give the same boring responses to the same boring questions.
They mock the binder
Heaven forbid the manager has material at hand to inform his decision. For some reason, the media started mocking Girardi for consulting this binder in 2008, and fans followed in kind. This I will never understand. You mock a guy who makes poor “gut” decisions, but also mock a guy who employs data when making those same decisions? It’s senseless, and it goes right back to what Moe said.
Friend of RAB R.J. Anderson wrote about this issue at the time of Girardi’s previous extension:
Pretend for a moment that Girardi’s binder contains information about platoon splits and the basic rundown of data that a manager should be equipped with for in-game decisions. Whether this is the case or not is unbeknown to outsiders, but just pretend. Is there any downside to a manager having the information on hand with which to consult? Perhaps if the information itself is trivial or useless (i.e. how batters fared versus lefties over the last week or on Sundays), then Girardi is hurting the club, otherwise it’s hard to think of a downside.
Assuming that is not the case, the mocking of Girardi’s binder highlights the weird juxtaposition of the media’s treatment toward baseball managers who use information and prep work and their football counterparts who absorb film and schemes. Using numbers does not make Girardi a great manager, but it also does not make him a nincompoop. If he acknowledges that his gut and experience in the game does not hold all of the game’s answers, then he might be more self-aware and conscious than quite a few of his managing counterparts.
The binder contains information that can help balance data and gut feelings. It can influence better decisions. I’m sure that if he kept all the data in an iPad (which, as far as I can tell, isn’t allowed in an MLB dugout), fans and media wouldn’t say a word.
There are, to be sure, a number of other reasons why fans dislike Girardi, and I encourage detractors to elaborate in the comments. For our current purposes, I’ll list the one reason, above all others, I like Joe Girardi and think that he’s a great fit for the Yankees:
He protects his players
When the media asks questions of his players, he refocuses the conversation to himself. In other contexts that might sound egotistical, but in the case of a baseball manager it’s a virtue. Fans lauded Joe Torre his ability to manage the media, and Girardi is in many ways growing into that role (though he’s quite a bit surlier than his predecessor). Girardi never speaks even a drop of ill about his players, even when they deserve it.
If you stick up for your players, you can earn their respect. It does seem that Girardi has the team’s respect, which is all you can really ask of a manager. What effect did that have on the team? Well, they did outperform their Pythagorean record by six wins and their third-order wins by more than 10. Not all of that was due to Girardi’s influence, but if even one of those wins stemmed from something intangible he brings to the table it speaks well of his clubhouse presence.
In terms of the 2013 season, Girardi took an impossible situation, which started with shaky roster construction and continued with key injuries, and did a good a job as you can expect from anyone in that position. What could he done to further tip the scales in his team’s favor? From this perspective, little to nothing. The four-year deal he just signed signals the Yankees feel the same way.
Lost amid a flurry of news and rumors yesterday were the pronouncements of two veteran pitchers who wish to return in 2014. Perhaps the news was lost because the pitchers just aren’t that good. Brad Penny last pitched in 2012 and hasn’t cracked 4 K/9 since 2010. Roy Oswalt has gotten knocked around in each of the last two seasons despite extended off-seasons. So what does either seemingly washed up pitcher have to do with the Yankees?
For Penny, there’s nothing. He looks as done as done can be. Oswalt, after a disastrous and injury-shortened performance in 2013, might also appear finished. But there is a glimmer of hope for Oswalt’s future. It might just coincide with one of the Yankees’ desires this off-season.
Late last week we learned that the Yankees want to add a late-inning reliever. Given that they just lost the best who ever lived, that’s an understandable item on the off-season shopping list. They’ve spoken to Joe Nathan, but like most other viable late-inning options on the free agent market, he’ll cost more than the Yankees can probably afford if they want to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
So if the best options — Nathan, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and even Edward Mujica — are priced out, where can the Yankees turn? One place you can get creative in roster construction is the bullpen, and the Yanks might have an opportunity here. Roy Oswalt might be the kind of guy they seek.
Why would a guy with an 8.63 ERA last year — in the NL — and a 6.80 ERA in the last two years appeal to the Yankees? Because instead of starting, his primary role in his disastrous 2013 campaign, the Yankees could target him as a reliever. There are a few factors that could play in his favor if he were to transition from the rotation to the bullpen. Combine that with a likely manageable price tag, and it could be a deal that fits the Yankees’ needs and plans.
Starting with the most general, Oswalt still has quality peripherals. In Texas during the 2012 season he gave up a few too many homers, but he still struck out a batter per inning and walked fewer than two per nine. That walk rate jumped a bit in 2013, but his home run rate — while pitching at Coors Field no less — dropped back to normal levels. At the same time, he struck out more than a batter per inning. In both cases he ended up with an above-average FIP, despite a below-average ERA.
A decline in stuff has marked Oswalt’s recent seasons. His fastball has dropped from around 93 mph in 2009 and 2010 to about 91 mph in 2013. Yet that averages his starts and relief appearances. In two relief outings towards the end of last season he averaged over 93 mph with his fastball, topping out at around 94.5. That is to say, he can still reach back and get some gas on the ball. He also fared fairly well in Texas’s bullpen in 2012, further demonstrating that his 2014, if he has one, lies in the pen.
Oswalt has said that he’d like a return chance in Colorado, but that seems unlikely at this point. They just signed LaTroy Hawkins as their interim closer; he’ll hold the job for either Rex Brothers or Adam Ottavino. With those three in late-inning roles, it appears Oswalt will have to try elsewhere. A few teams are reportedly interested in him as a reliever, but even so the price likely won’t get too high. It’s hard to justify a raise over your ~$3 million salary coming off that kind of 2013 season.
The Yankees, who could use some late-inning bullpen help at a reasonable cost, could play this situation to their advantage. Oswalt would require only one year, while the other late-inning options could require multiple. Given his performances, he probably can’t ask for much in terms of salary. At the same time, there are indicators that he could perform in a late-inning role — if not as closer, than as setup man for David Robertson.
There are other relievers on the market who could perhaps more effectively fill the Yankees’ needs. At the same time, almost all relievers come with a large degree of risk. Given the ages of most available relievers, the Yanks will be gambling wherever they choose to spend their money. Why not go with a guy who could come at a relative bargain, and who has shown the potential to succeed as Oswalt has?