Game 152: Oops

Mike’s out, so I told him I’d do the game thread. And then I forgot. Oops. My bad. Here’s the game thread for tonight. I don’t have anything witty to add. I’d just like to see a few more wins before the season’s out. Run the table on the last homestand for Jeter, maybe?

Weekend Mailbag: All about the shortstops

Just had a huge and delicious Sunday breakfast. Now have a cup of coffee and nothing particular on the agenda, so let’s get to answering some questions Mike didn’t get to in this week’s official mailbag.

Plenty of people wrote in with shortstop-themed questions, and Mike covered ones relating to Asdrubal Cabrera, trades, and Korean SS Jung-Ho Kang. Yet there were plenty more.

Alcides Escobar
(Credit: Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

C.Roy asks: Could you see the Royals being willing to talk about Alcides Escobar in a trade this winter? I see it unlikely that we will fix our lack of power at the SS position and Escobar would provide great defense and one more solid leadoff type. Possibly get Beltran involved (eating money) to open DH for Arod and in turn 3B for Headley.

No, I don’t see the Royals shopping Escobar this winter. They’re right in the race this year and with some young players coming through the system I doubt they’re ready to sit back and start rebuilding. He’s also under contract and has pretty reasonable team options through 2017, so the Royals really have no reason to trade him.

Well, maybe they have one reason. Escobar isn’t a guy known for his bat, as C.Roy mentions in his question. Great on defense, not much of a bat. Sounds like someone else the Yankees have on the roster, Brendan Ryan. Yes, Escobar’s bat is considerably better than Ryan’s, but remember that Ryan once could hit a little bit. His OPS+ during prime years:

2009: 97
2010: 57
2011: 85

It’s only since 2012 that Ryan has been a complete and total zero with the bat. Escobar’s last three years, by OPS+:

2012: 96
2013: 53
2014: 87

Escobar is a bit younger than Ryan was from 2009-2011, so it’s not a straight comparison. But the point is that I wouldn’t place my bets on a light-hitting shortstop, especially as the league hits lighter and lighter.

Nik asks: The Yanks seemed to have had a dearth of OF’ers and catchers, even arms for the mound over the last large handful of years. Why is it so hard to find shortstops who can hit AND play serviceable d? Has the era of Jeter and Ripken passed? Or is it that the Yankees just decided “Well, Derek will play until he’s 55, we don’t need to worry about it…”??

Not sure how they have a dearth of catchers, unless by dearth you mean abundance, in which case sure, maybe. But that misses the larger part of the question.

Yes, the era of Ripken and Jeter has clearly passed. Offense is down league-wide, as it seems we say in every post these days. Of the 22 shortstops who have enough PA to qualify (and Troy Tulowitzki does not), only seven have a wRC+ over 100 (although another four have 98 or 99). Of those seven, three were below average last year. (Of the four with a 98 or 99 wRC+, three were worse in 2013.)

Point being, it’s incredibly difficult to find consistently good, healthy shortstops. In the last three years there are 26 shortstops who have 1,000 or more PA, and of them only eight have an above-average wRC+. Only 15 of them have 1,500 PA (so average of 500 per year, which is not that much).

Making matters worse, at least in terms of 2013 and 2014, is that the Yankees have Derek Jeter. Who’s going to sign with them to play backup to Jeter? Stephen Drew wouldn’t do it last year, even with Jeter’s status uncertain. As for grooming one through the minors: it sounds nice, but how many teams have developed everyday shortstops in the last five years?

Jon asks: Why not take a chance on Tulo next year?

For starters, he’s under contract with the Rockies through 2020, so it’s not as though the Yanks can just take a flier on him. The Rockies aren’t just going to give him away, even if they do owe him $118 million through 2020.

To that point, why would you want to take on the most expensive portion of that contract? Tulowitzki hasn’t played in nearly two months and he’s constantly hurt. Since 2012 he has 1090 PA, or 363 per season. He’s played more than 140 games just three times since coming up full-time in 2007.

What is a fair exchange for a super expensive player (Tulo got the 18th largest deal in MLB history despite never hitting free agency)? How much would the Rockies have to eat? How little would they take? No, I don’t think they’re parting ways with him this winter, just because doing so will be too complicated.

How the Yankees can make the playoffs

AL Wild Card Standings on September 9

The odds were stacked against them to open September, and they haven’t helped their cause. By playing mere .500 ball at a time when every win is crucial, the Yankees have dropped from 3.5 games back from a tie for the second Wild Card to five games back.

Cleveland and Detroit now sit between them and the postseason. Toronto rides their heels in a virtual tie. The offense can’t generate any runs. The Yankees’ chances don’t look great, even with 21 games remaining.

People love to estimate how many wins it’ll take to put them into October play. Will they need to win 17 of 21? More? To make up five games in just three weeks is a pretty tall order any way you slice it.

The Yanks can forget about the AL East. While eight — EIGHT — of their remaining games are against the Orioles, they simply cannot expect a second-half-2009-against-the-Red-Sox performance. Even if they did, by some miracle, sweep the O’s, those games alone would only get them within two of the AL East crown.

On the Wild Card front, the Yankees have the misfortune of not playing any teams ahead of them the rest of the way. The best chances they had to beat up on the competition came with their recent series against Detroit and Kansas City, and they dropped two of three in both. Oops.

But I’m not here to argue what they could have done and didn’t do. What we all want to know is what comical scenarios will it take for the Yankees to actually make the postseason?

Let’s start with some semi-reasonable expectations. To date the Yankees have a .518 win percentage. Let’s say they get reasonably hot and play close to .600 ball the rest of the way, going 12-9. Seattle, current holders of the second Wild Card spot, would have to go 6-13 the rest of the way after playing .552 ball all season. And that’s while Cleveland goes at best 11-9 and Detroit goes at best 6-12.

(Which would be great for Dave Pinto’s massive tie scenario.)

Clearly, the Yanks will have to get super hot in order to stand an inkling of a chance. If Seattle, Detroit, and Cleveland play .500 ball the rest of the way — which is about as reasonably bad as you can project. (We’ll go one game under, for odd-numbered games remaining.) That would make the final standings:

Seattle: 88-74
Detroit: 88-74
Cleveland: 84-78

Just to tie, the Yankees would have to go 15-6. The odds of even doing that are pretty long. A quick glance shows the Yankees having nowhere near that good a stretch previously this season. My eye sees a 10-4 stretch as being their best to date.

This isn’t meant to bury the Yankees. We’re fans, with no control on the outcome of the games. Anything other than hope is pretty ridiculous. But it sets some solid expectations going forward. The worst the Yankees can reasonably play the rest of the way is 15-6 ball, a .714 win percentage.

We keep tally starting tonight.

Thoughts on Questions about bringing back Brian Cashman

A familiar sight for years to come (Credit:  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
A familiar sight for years to come. (Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Yes, I’m swiping Mike’s bit, kind of. He’s invited me to do so for years, and now seems like a good time to take him up on the offer.

Brian Cashman‘s contract expires after this season. With the possibility of his team missing the postseason for the second consecutive year, fans have speculated that Cashman’s 16-year tenure as GM could come to an end.

Plenty of fans, particularly the loudest ones, have hoped that is the case. But it appears that they will be disappointed.

Playoffs or no playoffs, the Yankees intend to offer Brian Cashman a new contract this winter, according to pretty cool guy Jon Heyman. His sources indicate that ownership doesn’t blame Cashman for the way the last two seasons have unfolded.

(Perhaps because their own meddling has played a role?)

Few fanbases stand 100% behind the general manager. There’s always a set of people who believe that they’re the smartest people in the room, and they’re vocal so they can prove it to everyone. Yet it seems that this group is larger than it was the last time Cashman’s contract expired.

At that point, after the 2011 season, I fully supported bringing back Cashman. Since the inception of RAB the three of us (now four with Jay) have felt that Cashman is the guy for the job.

Now? I’m not so sure. Hence, a “thoughts on” post.

1. Where is this team headed? The Yankees had some tough decision to make last off-season. Not only did they face a depleted roster, but their far-and-away most productive hitter hit the free agent market. The time seemed ripe for a rebuilding effort.

They could have acted far differently. They could have re-signed Robinson Cano and signed Masahiro Tanaka without sacrificing the 18th pick in the draft. Instead they went in a completely different direction, trying to patch multiple weaknesses with high-priced free agents.

As Mike wrote earlier this week, the Yankees face an even tougher set of decisions this winter. Do they double down on their spending strategy to bring in Jon Lester? Do they seek out an offensive upgrade — Nelson Cruz or Hanley Ramirez? They’ve already committed $168 million to the 2015 team, and that covers just 10 players.

It seems kind of silly to hold back this off-season after going big and seeing little results this past season. Yet, as Mike noted, they certainly need to rethink how they operate as the team around them modify their philosophies.

The point is, in the past we’ve had some idea of the direction the Yankees were taking. Right now? I have none, and I don’t think anyone else outside the organization does, either.

The further point is, I’m not totally sure Cashman is the guy to take the team in a different direction.

2. Is it a higher ups problem? There are plenty of young executives from other clubs the Yankees could poach for a potentially vacant GM spot. But if they’re not allowed to actually make decisions, will it even matter?

The larger question is of whether ownership is truly a problem here. Yes, the Steinbrenners have opened their wallets to help the team, but are they spending that money wisely? Are they meddling to too great a degree? These are questions we have difficulty answering from the outsider perspective.

We’ve seen certain instances where the higher ups step in to make decisions. Rafael Soriano remains the most prominent example. Ichiro Suzuki, too. So how many decisions is ownership forcing on the team? How independently can the GM act?

The Diamondbacks just fired their GM, Kevin Towers. They’ll find someone soon to fill that role. Will he have any success? It’s tough to say, because, as my dear friend Leo said, Ken Kendrick still owns them. It has become pretty apparent that ownership is part of the problem here. Knicks fans have known this for far more than a decade.

If the problem does lie with the higher ups, then does it even matter who holds the GM position? In that case, having Cashman, who has been around the Steinbrenner family his entire adult life, might be an advantage.

3. Would a good candidate even want the job? Many of us have dreamt of becoming the GM. (And a few among us have delusions that we’re qualified.) Who would turn down the opportunity if offered?

Plenty of people. Perhaps the most qualified candidates wouldn’t find the Yankees’ job attractive. Two highly regarded executives, Jason McLeod of the Cubs and David Forst of the A’s, declined to interview for the Padres GM job earlier this year. Would they interview for the Yankees’ gig, knowing that ownership gets involved in baseball decisions?

The absolute worst case scenario is to let Cashman walk only to hire some retread GM, because none of the elite candidates want the job. I like Kevin Towers well enough, but I don’t want to see him replace Cashman as GM of the Yankees.

There’s no point in letting Cashman go if they’re not going to replace him with an elite GM, or a young executive on his path to greatness. Firing Cashman and then hiring (shudders) Ed Wade or Jim Bowden or Jim Hendry seems like a sure step backward. What if they’re the only guys lining up to interview for the job?

4. A Theo/Hoyer situation? By most visible measures, Billy Eppler has done a fine job in the last few years, first as pro scouting director and now as assistant GM. The Padres courted him for their vacant GM position, and nearly hired him. The man is in demand. Might it be his time to shine?

The Yankees could choose to promote Cashman and move Eppler into the GM role, a situation similar to how Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein operate in Chicago. On a practical level that might not accomplish much. Epstein surely continues to call shots in Chicago, just as Ken Williams continues to call shots in Chicago even though Rick Hahn is the GM.

At the very least, this kind of nominal move could keep Eppler in New York. Given the work he’s done in the last few years and the reputation he’s established, that seems desirable. The Yankees have an obstacle, in that they already have a team president. While most of us have less than perfect impressions of Randy Levine, it’s not as though the Steinbrenners are just going to fire him because they want to move Cashman into that position.