Chris Capuano is back on a one-year deal

Chris Capuano
(Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Yankees have signed LHP Chris Capuano to a one-year deal, according to YES Network’s Jack Curry. He’ll earn $5 million in 2015.

Capuano, 36, started 2014 with the Red Sox, but he pitched poorly enough to get DFA’d from that last-place team. He then signed as a free agent with the Rockies, but didn’t pitch at all for them before the Yankees purchased his contract.

By ERA Capuano didn’t fare much better for the Yankees than he did for the Sox: 4.25 vs 4.55. But he did cut down on his walks, which helped him eat some innings as a starter (5.5 innings per start). Basically, you could count on him for between five and six innings and between three and four runs per start. That worked better in the mid-00s, when the Yankees had 900-run offenses, but with all the injuries last year it came in handy in the second half.

This move was predictable once the Yankees signed Chase Headley yesterday. A week ago Joel Sherman noted that if the Yankees sign Headley, “they will have to bottom-feed for starting pitching.” Capuano is pretty much the definition of bottom-feeding.

While Capuano doesn’t really move the needle for the team, he does help lengthen the starting rotation. If he can give them six innings per start — not unfathomable, given that he spent the entire first half of last year in Boston’s bullpen — he can probably keep them in enough games that the back of their bullpen can close the door.

In a world where Brett Anderson gets $10 million and J.A. Happ costs you an average-hitting outfielder, spending $5 million on Capuano seems like a downright decent deal.

Update on the RAB Daily Digest

We’ve recently received a few complaints that people signed up for the RAB Daily Digest but weren’t receiving them. That’s a shame. It’s been a fun couple of weeks producing this daily email, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Of course, I goofed.

That sign-up bar atop the site? Yeah, it wasn’t pushing signups to our list.

I’ve gone and imported the email addresses, so you should be getting tomorrow’s edition. I’m sorry. This error is totally on me.

If you signed up by another means and are receiving the Daily Digest, no worries. You won’t get doubles or anything. Although if you signed up with two email addresses you might get doubles. There is that.

Also, the sign-up bar on top of the site now works. Hooray!

If you signed up for the top bar and no longer want the email — understandable, given the circumstances — email me, josephp at riveraveblues dot com, and I’ll have you removed. If you get one tomorrow morning and don’t want it, just click that unsubscribe button and you’ll never see another email from us again.

Again, I’m sorry.

Win a pair of tickets to PITCH: Talks on Baseball at B.B. King’s

Pitch Talks at BB Kings

There are still plenty of interesting players on the market, but they’ll soon find homes. By mid-January we’ll be in the depths of the off-season, with transactions behind us and Spring Training still a month away.

To help baseball nuts stay sane during this trying period, the PITCH: Talks on Baseball series is holding an event at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on January 14.

And RAB is giving away two pairs of tickets. to the event on January 14, 2015 Doors open at 6 p.m., and they kick off at 7:30.

Check out the event at the B.B. King Blues Clubs & Grill website.

The speakers

Pete Abraham, Boston Globe (Moderator)
Matthew Cerrone, Metsblog
Joel Sherman, New York Post
Tyler Kepner, New York Times
Jay Jaffe, Sports Illustrated
Adam Rubin, ESPN
Sweeny Murti, WFAN
Buster Olney, ESPN

How to enter: Just fill out the form below with your name and email address.

Fields marked with a * are required

We will choose a winner on 12/30. Please, submit only once (it might appear as though your submission didn’t go through, but once you hit submit trust us, it did).

The catch: In order to win, you have to be signed up for the RAB Daily Digest. We’ll check the entrants list against the email list when we pick a winner on the 30th. And hey, the Daily Digest is good fun, too. Just take it from reader Benjamin:

“Great Daily Digest. I was hesitant signing up because I already visit the site several times a day, but this is top notch. Thanks!”

Sign up below so you’re eligible to win one of the two pairs.



What to do with the fourth-best team in the AL East?

Bring me Scherzer or bring me a fourth (or fifth) place finish. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Bring me Scherzer or bring me a fourth (or fifth) place finish. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

It’s a good thing the off-season does not end today, because if it did the Yankees would find themselves the fourth-best team in the AL East. If Tampa Bay has a few things break their way, the Yanks could find themselves finishing last in the AL East for the first time since 1990 (fifth for the first time since 1991).

The calendar might suggest that there are still two months left in the off-season, but the recent flurry of transactions means fewer players are available for the Yankees. The Red Sox, for instance, brought in three pitchers in the last day or so: Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson. That’s three fewer pitchers for the Yankees to consider.

Options on offense have also dwindled. Not that the Yankees have many places they can fit another hitter. Maybe they have some at-bats in the outfield, but probably not at a starter’s level. Their best option, Chase Headley, is still on the board. But will the Yankees offer the ~$45 million it takes to get him?

What it takes

Q: What would it take for the Yankees to reach the level of the Red Sox, Jays, and Orioles?

A: A $230 million payroll.

This is not unprecedented. The 2013 Yankees spent $228 million on a team that was clearly bad. They paid Vernon Wells $10 million. They paid A.J. Burnett $8 million not to pitch for them. A clearly diminished Kevin Youkilis earned $12 million. And then there are the down-roster players, like Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch, who made far more than they were worth.

The point, apparently, was to paper over a depleted roster with the goal of lowering the 2014 payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold. And it failed, miserably, because when all those horrible contracts came off the books they had no one good left on the roster.

The problem this year is that the Yankees already have almost $179 million committed — to 2016’s payroll. The only players scheduled to reach free agency after 2015 are Chris Young and Shawn Kelley, and maybe Brendan Ryan.

Which is to say, if they don’t spend now, they’re going to be in the exact same spot next off-season, only with everyone a year older.

$200 million to finish 4th

According to Baseball Reference’s payroll estimates, the Yankees are currently in for just around $195 million if you estimate around $9 to $10 million for arbitration guys, plus league-minimum guys. That is, if they make no real upgrades anywhere else. If they add a mid-level starter, that bumps them over $200 mil — and failing to add another starter means Adam Warren in the rotation and pretty much no depth behind the four shaky starters.

Worse, it would almost certainly mean finishing fourth or even last. Unless the O’s, Jays, or Sox face a series of misfortunes, that’s the Yankees’ fate.

This is the crossroads at which the Yankees currently stand. They can either spend $200 million for a roster almost guaranteed to finish fourth or fifth, or they can make a splash right now. They can go out and add two players and bump up that payroll.

Yes, Max Scherzer

Scherzer is currently the only difference-maker left on the free agent market. Chances are he’d cost about $175 million over seven years. Given his performances the last three seasons, he might be worth that. And he can seriously upgrade the Yankees run prevention corps.

He can’t be the only guy they add — which probably means bumping payroll above $230 million, since adding Scherzer alone will bring them very close to that — but the alternatives are not at all compelling.

Signing another player to a huge, long-term contract might not seem palatable. But it’s a risk the Yankees can take right now.

A two-year commitment

While no one comes off the books after the 2015 season, after 2016 the Yankees get some breathing room. Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira* have expiring contracts, amounting to $38 million. That gives them some breathing room. The next CBA will also be up for discussion, which will probably change the luxury tax threshold and penalty. So the Yankees will have another opportunity to duck under.

*CC Sabathia has a 2017 option, but it becomes guaranteed as long as there’s nothing wrong with his left shoulder. To date this has not at all been a problem. Maybe he does develop left shoulder issues in the next two years, but we can’t really bank on it. So we assume he makes $25 million in 2017.

At this point the Yankees, with Scherzer, will have around $155 million committed to eight players. That’s not ideal, but it’s still better than where they’re at right now. And at that point, Brian Cashman‘s job will again be up for consideration.

In 2017 Cashman enters another contract year. With promises of building from within, by this point we should see the payoff — whether in trades or in on-field performance. So 2015 and 2016 are a two-year experiment, where the Yankees play with a huge payroll in hopes that they can contend. In 2017 they have the real test of whether they can start plugging young, cost-controlled players into the lineup and rotation.

After the 2017 the Yankees free themselves from CC Sabathia’s and Alex Rodriguez‘s contracts. Brian Cashman’s contract is up. The picture will be much clearer by that point.

Am I rationalizing?

Glad you asked: Yes, I am. There might indeed be a long-term advantage to standing pat right now and looking for bargains. But the last two seasons have been difficult to watch, and so as a fan I hope that they make a couple of moves, namely Scherzer and Headley, and give us a glimmer of hope for 2015.

At the same time, Scherzer gives the Yankees all kinds of advantages. For instance, if Tanaka is healthy he gives them the two best pitchers in the division. He also gives them a bit more certainty at the top of the rotation, given the injury situations of Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda.

Most importantly, he gives them the best chance to contend in 2015. Unless they don’t intend to contend. Which, for $200 million, for the third straight season, is a damn shame.

2014 Season Review: The Manager

Joe Girardi
(Chris Carlson/AP)

Joe Girardi is a good manager. Figure I might as well get that out of the way. He seems to be a dividing force among Yankees fans. You either think he’s in the top 5 managers or in the bottom 5.*

*Yes, I know there are people who think he’s average, but it’s hard to be vocal about averageness, so the extremes, as per usual, pervade.

Here is the thing with Joe Girardi: if you think he’s in the bottom 5 managers, you feel he performed poorly in 2014. If you think he’s in the top 5, you feel he again performed well with a not-so-good roster.

Never one to back down from an unwinnable argument, here is the case for Joe Girardi’s greatness as a manager.

He has little patience for idiocy

After each game, Girardi has no choice but to sit in front of reporters for the postgame press conference. But he doesn’t have to like it, and oftentimes he shows exactly how thrilled he is.

This is obviously a personal thing. I know a few fans who don’t like when Girardi snipes at reporters who ask dumb questions. But I don’t see why. If reporters ask dumb questions, they should get dumb answers.

Yes, I understand that it’s tough to ask fresh, original questions 162 times a year. But it’s also tough to sit up there and listen to the same old, “what were you thinking?” sleep-inducers. Reporters have all game to think about an original question. It’s not that difficult to come up with just one.

So here’s applauding Girardi for, at least sometimes, not tolerating these kinds of questions. He’s no Mike Mussina in that regard — miss that guy — but with Derek Jeter gone at least there will be one guy in the Yankees clubhouse unwilling to constantly tolerate dumb questions.

He manages a quality bullpen

Again, we might find people who contend with the idea that Joe Girardi manages a fine bullpen. They’ll point to instances where he brought in a clearly inferior reliever, when he should have brought in Betances.

On this point, unlike the one above, I won’t concede much. Through the years it has become clear that Girardi puts his relievers in a position to succeed.

What does that mean, exactly?

1) He settles guys into roles. We might decry managers pigeonholing guys into roles like closer, 8th inning, 7th inning. It seems inflexible. But if players feel comfortable knowing they play a specific role, they might perform better.

2) He knows when guys need a break. You can’t keep calling on the same guys day in and day out. Girardi seems to know pretty well when his guys need a breather.

3) At the same time, he remains as aggressive with his usage as is responsible and reasonable.

For the last point, Betances is a great example. Girardi used him as much as possible early in the season, while knowing when to back off before getting him hurt or losing his effectiveness.

Heading into the season it didn’t appear that the Yankees had the strongest bullpen. They’d lost the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and didn’t do much to strengthen it over the off-season (signed Matt Thornton and that’s about it). Even though he needed the bullpen extensively, they still performed relatively well.

He gets the call right

This comes from baseballsavant.com’s replay tool, which is simply awesome. Their other tools are excellent as well.

MLB ChallengeJoe Girardi Challenge
On the left is the MLB average rate for manager challenges overturned. On the right is Joe Girardi’s rate. If you need hard numbers, he got the call overturned 82.14 percent of the time, while the average manager got it right 47.65 percent of the time.

He outmanages expectations

If a team outperforms its Pythagorean record, is that a reflection of the manager’s work? In isolated incidents, no, there are plenty of factors that can play into a team winning more or fewer games than their run differential indicates. But when it happens year after year, with the manager being the only constant? That’s another story.

In the last two seasons, given a roster that averaged 641.5 runs, against the AL average of 689.5, Giradi managed to beat the team’s negative run differential and win 13 games more than expected. If that happens in one season, maybe it’s a fluke. If it happens two in a row, both with similar conditions of poor offense and a patchwork pitching staff, the manager can start to take at least a little credit.

One question that came to mind: do teams with good pitching and poor offenses naturally out-perform their Pythagorean records in this low run environment? The answer seems to be no.

Tampa Bay, a team that allowed fewer runs than the Yankees, had a higher Pythagorean record than them, yet underperformed that number, winning only 77 vs a projection of 79.

Atlanta, which allowed under 600 runs, outperformed their Pythagorean record by one win.

Miami, which was close to New York with a -29 run differential, underperformed their Pythagorean by a win.

Cincinnati, with a -17 run differential and only 612 runs allowed, underperformed their Pythagorean by three wins.

San Diego is the closest to a team outperforming their Pythagorean in the same way as the Yankees, with plus-two wins.

The Yankees were the only team with a negative run differential to finish with a winning record — in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014 only the Cardinals, darlings of the league, outperformed their Pythagorean by as many runs as the Yankees did. No team matched their six wins over expectations in 2013.

Again, this trend (or, phenomenon) can’t be 100 percent credited to the manager. But Girardi does deserve a share of the credit. We know that managers can outperform run expectancy tables. It stands to reason, then, that they can scale that and outperform win expectancy tables.

Love him or hate him, Girardi is under contract for the next three seasons. Given how he’s performed since taking the job in 2008, he’s probably going to last those three seasons.

Guess it’s fortunate that he’s a good manager, eh?

2014 Season Review: Importing a Rival

Jacoby Ellsbury
(AP Photo)

The Yankees absolutely needed to add at least one outfielder last offseason, but Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t seem to fit the bill. Brett Gardner had just finished his first full season as center fielder, and it was the best of his career. Why add a player with a similar skill set when other players could have added a different dynamic?

Specifically, Shin-Soo Choo made the most sense. While he and Ellsbury were both atop the outfielder free agent market, Choo hit for power. Outside of 2011, Ellsbury never had. Since the 2013 Yankees hit the second fewest home runs in the AL, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012, it seemed as though they’d have benefited from a player with a career .177 ISO over one with a .142 ISO (and much lower outside of 2011’s fluke .231 ISO).

While the Yankees did consider both players, they preferred Ellsbury and landed him with an aggressive offer. That didn’t end their pursuit of Choo, though, as they did make him a seven-year, $140 million offer. But he rebuffed them. And that was a good thing.

After signing with the Rangers, Choo got off to a scorching start, producing a 1.054 OPS in his first 120 PA. Way to go, Yanks, right? But then he started to experience ankle problems. From that 1.054 apex he fell precipitously, producing a .621 OPS in his next 409 PA, his season ultimately ending because of bone spurs in his elbow. He had surgery to remove them, and then surgery to repair his ankle.

It almost seems as though the Yankees dodged a bullet. In his very first season after signing a huge contract, Choo produced the worst full season of his career.

Ellsbury, for his part, produced decently in line with expectations. What he lacked in batting average he made up for with power. Everything else, from walks to stolen bases, is pretty much what we expected from him given his career numbers. It’s difficult to find someone disappointed with Ellsbury’s first season in pinstripes.

At the same time, he certainly didn’t produce to the level you expect from a guy who signs that big a contract. According to FanGraphs’s offensive runs above average, Ellsbury produced 10.6 runs, which ranked 60th in the majors — right next to Marcell Ozuna, if you’re among the 10 percent of our readership who even recognizes the name. Only 4.9 of those runs came from the plate (the other 5.7 were on the bases). Those 4.9 batting runs above average ranked 77th in MLB.

Ellsbury does provide value on defense, and I’m not sure any reasonable eyeball test could have rated him negatively in 2014. The fielding stats with bias* were a bit scattered on his performance. Total Zone credited him with 5 runs above average, 15th in MLB (4th in the AL) among center fielders. Defensive Runs Saved goes in the opposite direction, -5 runs, 12th in MLB. UZR credits him with a half run above average, 9th in the majors. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average, which does not use biased data, credited him with 12 runs above average (though I’m not sure where that ranks).

*Fielding stats with bias, meaning that they are influenced by a human stringer. These stringers judge the type of batted ball, among other factors. Colin Wyers wrote a neat little article explaining the flaws with current metrics.

If you give Ellsbury the benefit of the best defensive statistic, his season does look a bit better, about 4.6 WAR. With average defense he had 3.6 WAR. The difference is pretty stark: 3.6 WAR ranked 48th, while 4.6 would have ranked in the top 30.

So depending on how you view defense, Ellsbury had anywhere from a pretty good season to a damn fine one. Yet his shortcomings on offense, even compared to last year, were certainly disappointing. The hope was that he’d maintain his ~.350 OBP while adding a bit of power thanks to Yankee Stadium. While the latter happened, the former didn’t. Had they come together with elite defense, Ellsbury at $21.1 million would have been a steal.

I have to admit, when starting this I expected to describe a damn good season, a success in the first year of a long-term deal. Yet when looking a bit more closely at Ellsbury’s production, it really wasn’t up to expectations. Perhaps the common view of Ellsbury’s season has more to do with the failings of everyone else on offense rather than the expectations for him heading into this season and contract.

Get Yankees stuff for cheap – Cyber Monday deals

As you’re all aware, retailers have tried harder and harder to push merchandise in the past few years, what with stores opening on Thanksgiving and all. Cyber Monday is just another one of those gimmicks that they try. But hey, if they’re offering discounts, and you need to buy stuff for people anyway, you might as well get it at a discount and not pay sticker price.

As we’ve been saying, if you buy through the RAB Shop — stuff you’d buy anyway — you’re helping support the site. Seriously, don’t go out of your way to buy crap you don’t need. But if you’re going to buy Yankees gear, we’d appreciate clicking through our links so we can get a cut of the sale — again, of stuff you were going to buy anyway.

A few of our partners have some deals, so you can click through these links if you need to buy someone a jersey, cap, or other Yankees gear this holiday season. And seriously, check out the RAB Shop link above. We have a Derek Jeter replica jersey with no name on the back for like $120. Sure beats spending double that on an authentic, right?

Huge Black Friday Savings at Fanatics.com

MLB Shop: Buy One Get One 50% Off Sitewide + Free Shipping. Valid 12/1 & 12/2 Only

Holiday deals at Steiner Sports.

Thanks again for your support.