If the Yankees are serious about successfully completing the Hail Mary pass that is their playoff hopes, they’ll need to win for the remainder of the season. For the first time all season, they’ve had a roster that resembles something competitive, despite still not being at full strength. Last week, Joe discussed a couple ways the team could improve their chances as it pertains to the pitching staff.
Today, I’m here to discuss another idea that seems to be gaining popularity — specifically, upgrading the lineup from within. It’s time for Joe Girardi to give Austin Romine more opportunities. This doesn’t necessarily mean Romine has to be the full-time catcher after this year; if the team wants to pursue the likes of Brian McCann, by all means, they should. We’re talking right now.
Let’s start with Chris Stewart. Through 277 plate appearances this season, he’s batted .231/.305/.302 (.276 wOBA, 68 wRC+). He’s managed four home runs all season (.070 ISO) and has been valued at 0.8 fWAR. He doesn’t walk a ton and doesn’t strike out a ton, but he also doesn’t really get on base. I’m not claiming he’s a bad catcher, but I don’t think he’s cut out to be the main guy.
It seems pretty clear by this point that the team values his defensive contributions. In terms of fielding metrics, FanGraphs lists him at 4.3 Fld (based on UZR) which is good but not great. Even though I personal question the legitimacy of fielding metrics in general, particularly as they pertain to catchers, I’m willing to concede that Stewart is probably a capable catcher defensively in general (though he has only thrown out 28% of base runners which is slightly below average, and it seems like he’s bobbled more pitches than one would expect out of a defensive-oriented guy).
What’s interesting though about Stewart is that he’s basically been utilized far more this season than he ever has throughout his career at the MLB level. In 2011, he started 67 games with the Giants (183 plate appearances), which was significantly more than he had prior with any of his former teams (the Padres, Yankees, Rangers, and White Sox). This year, he’s already played in 86 games (and counting), and has already accumulated about 100 more plate appearances (and counting). Anecdotally, Stewart has looked gassed at times. If this theory is indeed true, it would make sense that he would be struggling by this point in the season. After all, he does play a very demanding position.
Interestingly enough, Stewart’s splits seem to support this theory to some degree. Through the first half of the year, Stewart produced a .283 wOBA (73 wRC+). While the first half of the season wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, the second half of the year (at least thus far), by comparison, has been considerably worse (.260 wOBA, 57 wRC+). Although Stewart has picked up his production in August, his July was completely abysmal (.200 wOBA, 16 wRC+). Hilariously, his lone home run this month was the first one he hit since May. Although August has been better for Stewart (.316 wOBA, 96 wRC+), he’s also had several more breathers.
On the other hand, Romine is young, healthy, available and has shown increasing value of late. Of course it’s a gamble; I’m sure the fact that he was awful early on in the season hasn’t inspired a ton of confidence in Girardi either. I think the team is in a position though where it has to take risks that could pay off if they’re serious about remaining in the hunt – even if those risks only provide incremental benefit.
Admittedly, Romine’s overall season stats aren’t exactly inspiring (.227/.271/.327, .265 wOBA, 61 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR). He’s hit one home run, walks very little (5.0 BB%), strikes out at a fair pace (25.6 K%) and has been graded as below average defensively (-0.2 Fld), though the same caveats about defensive metrics apply to Romine as well, in addition to the small sample size disclaimer (23% caught stealing rate for what that’s worth).
So what’s the draw you may ask? It’s simple; Romine is the hot bat and has been for a while. If he cools off, fine, sub him out without blinking. But for now, take advantage of him and get offense from a position traditionally void of offensive production. During Romine’s eight games started in July, he produced a .385 wOBA (143 wRC+). In August, through eight games he’s improved further (.395 wOBA, 150 wRC+). Am I claiming Romine is the next Posada? Of course not, nor do I have those expectations. I’m just saying give the kid’s bat a chance with more frequency as Stewart really hasn’t giving the team any incentive not too.
Of course, the small sample size disclaimer applies to Romine’s offensive contributions as well. But isn’t it worth considering the idea at this point? At the very least, if Girardi wants to approach this matter conservatively, he could always just level out the playing time between the two catchers rather than giving Romine the starting gig altogether. It may not be desirable for those two players on am emotional level, but it may be what’s best for the team. Changing the roles of Stewart and Romine probably won’t be the ultimate factor that decides the fate of the season, but if it could help, the team should consider it. Unfortunately, it seems like Girardi isn’t quite as sold on the idea.
The Yankees need all the wins they can get at this point. On Tuesday, they managed to grab two against the Blue Jays. Around the fifth or six inning of the second game in the doubleheader, Michael Kay sparked a discussion about who the Yankees missed most this season. The players to choose from were Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, or Kevin Youkilis. Now upon hearing this question, the answer seemed fairly obvious to me – that is to say, Derek Jeter. Of course, that didn’t stop Michael Kay from picking a different (and rather unexpected) option, Mark Teixeira, and sparking a conversation between me and several others on Twitter. So here we are; let’s dissect.
Jeter has been the Captain of this team for quite some time, and for a reason. He’s been a historically great player, and even in his sunset years still remains a legitimate upgrade over the other options accessible to the Yankees at this time. To put this in perspective, last season, Derek batted .316/.362/.429 (.347 wOBA, 117 wRC+) over 159 games. As a bonus, he provided the team with 15 homeruns and a 3.1 fWAR season. The Captain is known for putting the ball in play and has a reputation for timely hitting (though that concept is a discussion for another day). The fielding metrics are generally unkind to Jeter, and depending on which metric you prefer, they can be downright ugly. That’s not a surprise though. I think everyone views Jeter as a “bat first” type of shortstop. For what it’s worth, ZiPS had Jeter producing a .703 OPS (.311 wOBA, 1.7 fWAR) over 120 games played this season. Obviously, it’s a moot point now.
In any event, compare Jeter’s numbers from last season (if you’re feeling optimistic) or the ZiPS projection for this season (if you’re feeling more bearish) to the alternatives, Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix. Both Nunez and Nix have their moments (Nix as recently as Tuesday), but one would be hard pressed to make the case that either player should be a full time starter, let alone a sufficient replacement to Derek Jeter. Neither player is even in shouting distance of Jeter if he replicates his 2012 numbers. Nunez has the slight edge over Nix (+12 in wRC+), but is still about 45 points lower than what Jeter was last year. Jeter would still have to fall approximately 25 points in wOBA, if his 2013 ZiPS projection ended up being accurate, to match Nunez’s current contributions. Even in Jeter’s 2010 campaign, which was a terrible year by his standards, Nunez still falls short by about 20 points of wRC+. Now to be fair, one stat is not the end all of player analysis (nor should it be), but I think some of these metrics offer a convenient snap shot of the offensive gap between a fill-in shortstop against what we, as fans, have been used to seeing on a daily basis for the last decade or so.
So if the currently-injured Nix and Nunez can’t hit like Jeter, perhaps they make up the difference in runs defensively. Well, that’s the theory anyway. Unfortunately for Nunez, defensive metrics tend to rate him basically as gruesomely as they do the Captain. Nix on the other hand, is a bit more positive in this regard. Are the runs prevented by Nix enough to offset the difference in runs created by Jeter though? Not really.
If you don’t want to vote for Jeter, I see the logic in voting for Kevin Youkilis, at least from a more macro level. We’re all aware of how dismal the Yankees third baseman have been this season (and for a brief period, Youkilis contributed to those shortcomings). Despite A-Rod’s contributions over the past couple weeks, the team still ranks in the bottom six of all Major League Baseball (-0.5 fWAR collectively) in terms of production from this position. The group of fill-ins for A-Rod have shown very little patience at the plate (6.1 BB%) and have struck out often (24.9 K%). The Yankee third basemen have produced 8 (!) home runs all year. We’re talking .259 wOBA, 56 wRC+ bad.
Hypothetically, if we pretend Youkilis wasn’t injured all year (which in itself involves a stretch of the imagination) and performed similarly to last year (which I’m also dubious about given how fried he looked when he was playing early on this season), that would still represent a definitive upgrade over what the team has had. Over 509 plate appearances in 2012, Youk smashed 19 long balls, walked 10% of the time and struck out 21.2% of the time. More importantly though, his offensive contributions were basically league average overall (103 wRC+) despite his noticeable splits. League average isn’t necessarily a desirable or complimentary trait, but it sure as hell wins out over the abysmal production the Yankees have experienced — especially considering it was a last minute desperation move in the offseason.
This same logic applies to Alex Rodriguez as well, now that he has returned. Drama aside, he’s basically an average third baseman at this point (though he does account for 25% of the team’s home runs this season among third basemen after only 12 games played). No one expected a return of Alex’s MVP days, but even a replacement level third baseman marks a huge upgrade in terms of production over the course of a season compared to what the team has had. If the Yankees had had Jeter or A-Rod all year, the offensive boost would be fairly substantial considering they were going from basically nothing at all to something that is closer to resembling acceptable big league production. We’ve witnessed over the past few days how the lineup has basically felt completely different; it’s transformed into something much more formidable. It’s much deeper now than it has been all season and the results speak for themselves — a two run deficit is no longer instant loss.
Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I do believe Tex is a superior player to both Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds — both offensively and defensively — despite the fact that his stats have been on the decline for the past few seasons. That said, Overbay has been an adequate fill-in this season, generally speaking. Over 409 plate appearances, Overbay has hit 13 home runs and batted .254/.304/.421 (.317 wOBA, 96 wRC+ — good for a 0.5 fWAR). He’s had some timely hits and appears competent with the glove. With Reynolds complementing the first base platoon now, the offensive production from this spot in the lineup is that much more complete.
The 2012 season was probably Tex’s worst year professionally since his debut year with the Rangers, and most certainly was his worst season with the Yankees since he joined the team in 2009. Even still, he managed to hit 24 dingers, walked 10.3% of the time (patience that would be highly desirable in this year’s lineup) and produced a .345 wOBA (116 wRC+). Additionally, his glove is somewhere in the average to very good range depending on which metrics you trust. He’s better than what the Yankees have deployed these past several months undoubtedly. But the gap in total production just isn’t as severe. Going forward, perhaps it could become as severe as the gap between the shortstop and third base replacements compared with the respective starters if Overbay and Reynolds both slide in performance, but right now that seems to be the least of the priorities. Perhaps one underrated point for Teixeira is that he (sort of) theoretically eliminates the need for another platoon combination on the roster which enables other possibilities.
In any event, I think rather than asking, “Which player does the team miss the most?,” perhaps the question should be, “Which supstitute replacement player(s) marks the biggest drop off?” What do you think?
Which player have the Yankees missed the most this season?
Which player have the Yankees missed the most this season?
The third and final part of our discussion with YES Network announcer and long-time big leaguer, Ken Singleton, tackles a variety of “state of the Yankees” topics. Here are parts one and two in case you missed them.
Matt Warden: Do you feel that the team is heading in a clear direction? I can’t tell if they’re trying to rebuild, trying to contend, or trying to do some weird (and maybe semi-ineffective) blend of both? Where do you see the team going in the next month or so? A year down the road? Are you expecting things to get worse before they get better?
Ken Singleton: I think right now they’re just worried about getting through this season and I think the offseason would give you better insight into where they’re heading in the future. But as for now, the important thing is getting Curtis Granderson going. Maybe he can provide a bit more spark to the offense. Same with Soriano and hopefully Jeter once he returns. This is what I think is going to happen with this team this year.
I don’t know about the future so much. They could go in a totally different direction after the year’s over. They could start letting people go which would give you an indication of what they’re planning on in the near future. But, as for this year, going out and getting Soriano, Jeter’s coming back, Granderson’s back … I’m not counting on A-Rod, I’m not really sure how that’ll play out…
I do think when you start to put a better lineup on the field, the team starts to feel better about itself and better about their chances. The Yankees, of all the teams in the division, particularly the contending teams — I’m leaving the Blue Jays out of it, but even they did it – all these teams had a stretch where they really played well. Red Sox have done it. Rays have done it most recently. The Orioles had a very good stretch there. Even the Blue Jays won 11 in a row recently. The Yankees are the only team who haven’t really had one of those stretches yet.
MW: You’re not going to count April? The Yanks had a pretty good (albeit surprising) run early on.
KS: Yeah they were okay, but I’m just saying the Rays won 21 out of 25. The Yankees were pretty good in April. Even then, they weren’t at full strength. My point is by putting people back in the lineup, it makes the team feel better about itself and better about its chances on a daily basis. I’m looking for one really good run which could hopefully propel them into the playoff contention even though the odds suggest it is unlikely at this point. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but the excuse is there. Not to say it’s an excuse people want to hear, but the reality will be that the team wasn’t able to overcome the injuries. That’s it. They couldn’t overcome them.
MW: I agree with that. I’m sure the injuries will be a big part of whatever discussions take place pertaining to reconciling the season. The Yankees have experienced a crippling amount of injuries that no team on the planet could easily manage, let alone thrive with. Now, to play devil’s advocate, when the Red Sox were in fourth place around this time last year, they jettisoned some of their big named guys.
KS: Yeah they got rid of them. But some of those guys also didn’t want to be there and there was the whole chemistry issue with Bobby Valentine, so I think the situation was a little different. Adrian Gonzalez didn’t want to be in Boston. Crawford didn’t seem like he was flourishing in Boston, and they got rid of all of them in one deal once it felt like they were becoming derisive factors in the clubhouse. Plus the Dodgers were also agreeable to that sort of deal.
MW: I want to hear some bold predictions, Ken, about the off season.
KS: Offseason? I have no idea. [Laughs] Matt, don’t take offense, but I do my job and I react to what’s going on. I don’t pretend to be able to do other people’s job. I just worry about my own, and for me to predict what Brian Cashman’s going to do, I just don’t know. I don’t know what other GMs are going to do either. I would like to see the team get better. I think we all would. I think we would all like the ’98 Yankees on the field every game but those days are gone. Paul O’Neill isn’t here. David Cone isn’t here. El Duque isn’t here. They have to go with what they have or somehow try and improve the team. Remember, these are the Yankees and they always want to win. I’m sure Brian Cashman will try to make the team better. I just don’t know how he’s going to do it.
MW: Sure, and that’s totally fair. You don’t know what the rest of the market will do or what Cashman’s objectives are. Let me rephrase the question. In terms of points of improvement, I see a rotation in flux. There is an obvious hole at third base and question marks surround the catcher – whether it’ll be Cervelli or Stewart, or one of the young guys in the system or whether the team will pursue a big name like Brian McCann. Those are a lot of tough positions to fill in a relatively short time span. Where does Cashman start?
KS: You’re right. Pitching’s first. You have Phil Hughes who’ll be a free agent. Andy Pettitte may retire. Sabathia isn’t having the best year. Kuroda may not return. I’ve heard he’s looking to end his career back in Japan. They have some holes to fill. But I don’t know how they’ll do it. The way I look at it, you have to figure out tonight and go day to day for the remainder of this season and worry about the offseason when you get there.
It remains to be seen what will happen. I’ve been around baseball long enough to know that if you try to be Nostradamus, it doesn’t work out very well. It just doesn’t. You know, look at all the predictions people make about the divisions at the beginning of the year. Look at the Toronto Blue Jays!
Where are they? I kind of liked them at the beginning too. But I was hesitant to pick them because when you put a whole new team together, sometimes the chemistry is just not there. They’ve had issues too. Their pitching isn’t as good as what they thought it’d be.
MW: Everyone short changed the Sox too.
KS: Yeah, you know I did as well. And I know why I did it. I’ve just never liked the Red Sox.
MW: [Laughs] On behalf of our readership, Ken, thank you for that. Okay. Let’s shift direction momentarily. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next year in the outfield. The team will have to figure out how to utilize Ichiro, Wells, Gardner, and Soriano. Plus there’s the pending issue of Granderson and the qualifying offer. The team basically went from a shortage of outfielders to a surplus, though I’d argue none of them are really “complete” players, with the exception of Gardner maybe, in terms of skillset.
KS: Yeah, that’s why I say, they seem to be getting through this year and you’ll get a better idea of what happens in the off season.
Looking out my window here in San Diego. The weather is beautiful out here.
MW: [Laughs] I’m envious Ken. I’m guessing my view here in Connecticut isn’t quite the same.
MW: I could see a guy like Granderson passing on the offer. He’s had some fluky injuries and hasn’t played much this season. While he won’t hit for average, he does offer premiere power at a position often lacking it. I can see a team taking a chance on him with a multi-year deal. Hughes though, has been a complete rollercoaster. I could him possibly accepting the QO. Thoughts?
KS: Well we saw Nick Swisher not accept it last year. I think players are looking for the big deal at this point in their career. Hughes is 27 years old. Granderson’s a little older. I think both would choose free agency if given the opportunity.
MW: Mariano Rivera. This is his last year. Ceremonies are happening all season. He still looks dominant and brutally efficient. How does the team recover from his retirement? Does D-Rob get it done as a closer? At the very least, that has to be a major gap in bullpen depth. I hate to say this, but D-Rob on his best day cannot duplicate the level of comfort and security synonymous with The Sandman.
KS: Yep. Mariano is the biggest security blanket in all of sports. He sits out in the bullpen and the other team knows it. If the Yankees have the lead heading into the ninth, you might as well start up the bus and turn on the showers, because you’re getting ready to go home. For his career he’s like 90%, maybe better. Yeah, it’s going to be difficult. It’s not even so much what he’s done, it’s how’s he’s done it. So much class and dignity. He’s a standup guy. The Yankees will miss that too. When he blows a save, he owns up to it. And when he completes a save, he’s very modest and very humble. You never see him rile up opponents with antics on the mound. After picking up a save, Mo never shoots arrows into the sky.
MW: The $189M budget…is this happening or not?
KS: These are the Yankees. They like to win, and their fans expect it. To get to $189M, it would help if A-Rod were off the books as Showalter said. He was right, but he should worry about the Orioles first and not so much about what the Yankees are doing. They’re trying to get away from this luxury tax because if they do they can start all over. I think that’s what they’ll try and do. If the Yanks can stay under the budget while still adding a guy they’ll do it, but I think $189M is legit.
MW: Yikes. Well, let me end this by saying that I really appreciate you talking with me. I know our readership enjoys it. I’m not sure if you’ve checked out the comments section, but you have more than a few fans.
KS: Yeah, well I’m really glad to hear they like what I do. I really appreciate the fact that I get to be around a team that’s been so good for so long. I really enjoy what I do, and I get to work with some great people for a tremendous network that puts a lot of money into production. I want to have fun and I want people to enjoy the games because that’s what I’m doing.
MW: It shows, Ken. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed! Thank you so much for your time. Folks, be sure to check Ken out on Twitter (@29alltime), and of course, on the YES Network during Yankee games.
Last week, we spoke to YES Network broadcaster and former All-Star Ken Singleton about all things Alex Rodriguez, from his looming suspension to his legacy and everything in between. This time we’re going to cover the trade deadline and some moves/non-moves, and in part three tomorrow we’ll tackle some other “state of the Yankees” topics.
Matt Warden: One of the big stories we’ve covered extensively here at RAB was the trade deadline. I think the Yankees had an opportunity, a really important opportunity actually, to either raise the white flag and try and move guys like Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, or even Robinson Cano with the idea of retooling for the future, or they could have gone the other route and done whatever it took to compete this season. Looking back, it seems the team managed to do very little. Sure, they grabbed Alfonso Soriano, but I wonder if that was too little too late. Do you think they showed the right amount of activity at the deadline or would you have preferred them to do something more dramatic?
Ken Singleton: Well, of course everyone would like to see the team improve and Brian Cashman is in the business of improving the Yankees. I’m sure he was on the phone talking to people, but maybe what they were offering was not, in his eyes, good enough. Or, maybe other teams wanted too much [for their guys]. We’ve seen how Joba’s slid down the list in the bullpen as far as importance, but maybe the Yankees felt he’s more important [then his selling price would indicate]. Was Joba more important to another team, and they could have offered more, but they just didn’t?
Same with Phil Hughes. Although he’s going to be a free agent, you still need somebody to pitch today and tomorrow. I’m not one to just unload guys just to unload them. I think you look to make your team better, whether it’s in future prospects or getting decent prospects from a team, and if the prospects from another team aren’t good enough — we weren’t involved in these phone conversations and Brian Cashman was — and if he didn’t think it was good enough, they aren’t good enough. You just go with what you got. I’m sure Cashman was trying. I’m sure other teams were calling about some of his players. I’m sure he inquired about players on other teams, but if things don’t happen, it just doesn’t happen. That’s why when players get injured managers say someone else on the team will have to step up. It’s not like everyone out there is feeling sorry for you. That’s not going to happen, particularly not with the Yankees.
MW: The Yankees have been pretty depleted with right-handed power. What did you think about the Alfonso Soriano move?
KS: I’m kind of glad they got them. At least he’s a player who hits right handers and has some power. Yankee fans know him. He’s been here before. I think Vernon Wells hasn’t hit a home run since May. They had to do something. If Vernon had been producing like he was earlier in the season, I don’t think Soriano would be here right now but the fact is that Vernon Wells hasn’t provided power for the last several months and they had to do something or risk being shut out every time by left handed pitchers.
MW: True. Travis Hafner has been pretty ineffective for a while too which was certainly part of the problem.
KS: Yeah, both he and Wells started going downhill around the same time. Wells has been a little more effective than Hafner lately, prior to his injury. Plus Wells can do more things. Hafner’s job is basically just to hit and he hasn’t been doing it. And now he’s on the DL because his shoulder’s bothering him I guess. Neither one has really done much since May.
MW: At least with Wells, he’s being utilized more appropriately now.
KS: Yeah, he’s not being played not on an everyday basis. They couldn’t do that early in the year because there was no one else, and now Joe Girardi can slot him in against pitchers he’s done well against in the pass. Defensively, he’s fine. He’s made some throws from the outfield that have gotten guys out at the plate. He’s a very good base runner and he hustles. He just hasn’t hit like the Vernon Wells we saw with the Blue Jays. He basically hasn’t been the same guy since leaving Toronto, and that’s unfortunate because he was one of the better players in the league at the time.
MW: Getting back to the deadline and Cashman’s efforts, I think you’re right to some extent. It’s been publicized now that the Yankees inquired into players like Carlos Ruiz or Michael Young, and those offers simply weren’t happening which was fine…
KS: Matt, let me say this. One thing that may hinder trades is the extra wild card spot.
KS: Yeah, I think that kind of slows down the trade market because teams maybe feel “we’re not totally out of it.” “We’re not totally giving up on our players. If we get a couple of guys healthy, we can make a run and make the playoffs” and once you get in, who knows what’s going to happen.
MW: Is that naive thinking by teams in some cases though?
KS: No, but I think it affects the Yankees. I think it affects all the other teams in Major League Baseball too, hot or not. If you’re going to deal with a team that’s low and out of it, low in the standings and out of it, maybe you can pry someone away from them. But even the Phillies, maybe they’re thinking “Ah, maybe we’ve got a shot.”
MW: I’m sure that’s definitely true to some extent, and I’m sure it definitely applied to the Yankees this year. Do you think they should be thinking along these lines though? The Yankees are an older team and when you really weigh their options, even if they somehow reach the playoffs this year, how good of a chance do they have now, and especially going forward? As for the Phillies, is it really worth keeping a guy who’s 36 years old like Michael Young when they could potentially get a solid prospect in return in a seller’s market, rather than risking the likely reality of missing the postseason with another aging veteran?
KS: Okay, but if you’re a team like the Phillies, who draw very well, or you’re a team like the Yankees who draw pretty well, and all of a sudden you get rid of all your players, it’s like telling your fans, “don’t show up for the rest of regular season.” That’s it, we’ve given up on this year. That’s not a good thing if you ask me. I think you want to show everyone that you’re still trying and you still believe in everyone you have. I don’t know what the Yankees offered the Philadelphia Phillies. Nobody does, and I just feel things happen or they don’t happen for a reason; and if the trades weren’t made, it’s because they weren’t there. It’s as simple as that. It’s not like they didn’t try hard enough. It’s just that it didn’t work.
MW: Fair enough. Speaking of GMs, I know GM Mike Rizzo recently enjoyed a promotion to something of the effect of President, something comparable to a Theo Epstein type of gig.
KS: Got an extension too.
MW: Yeah, that’s correct. Do you think that’s what’s in store for Brian Cashman once the season concludes?
KS: I have no idea what the Yankees have in mind for him. I think his title right now suits him just fine. He’s the General Manager of the Yankees. That title still carries a lot of weight. Now if they want to give him a promotion to something else, I’m sure he’d consider it and he’d probably accept it. But his job right now is, I think, all he can handle at the moment to be honest with you.
MW: [Laughs] So this leads me to a sensative topic, I suppose. Do you think there is tension between him an ownership. I feel like in the past year or so, he’s been much more vocal about, “yeah this trade was my idea” or “no, this move was not my preference.” You heard this with Rafael Soriano. You heard it again with Ichiro Suzuki, and most recently with Alfonso Soriano. It’s almost like he’s distancing himself from certain moves. Recently folks heard him say something to the effect of “This was ownership’s doing. Sure it makes the team better, but this wasn’t exactly my call” when asked about the Soriano trade.
KS: Well you know, he can voice his own opinion. I mean, the ownership has the final call. They’re the bosses and if he doesn’t like it, I give him credit for saying what’s on his mind. I’m not saying that creates tension; maybe it’s just being honest with everybody. Doesn’t seem to bother Hal Steinbrenner, because Brian Cashman’s still around.
MW: So we shouldn’t be reading anything further into this?
KS: I think honesty is the best policy. You just say what you feel. He probably mentioned it to Hal Steinbrenner to begin with. He probably said, “Hey, I’m not in with this [move] but if you want me to do it, you’re the boss, and I will do it.” If it goes public, it goes public. I don’t see them going back at each other in the press. They are just doing their jobs. I have no problem with this. You know, I played for Earl Weaver and he used to say to us, “You say what’s on your mind. This is America. You’re allowed to say what you want. But you just better bet able to back it up.” So I remember when he said that in the club house once, though I forgot the situation, but I began…
You know, Earl was right. This is America. You say what you want. You say what’s on your mind. You just better be able to back it up. That’s all.
MW: [Laughs] I like that. That’s … pretty frank.
KS: Yep. And if you played for Earl, he said what was on his mind.
MW: I think that’s a fair point. No one really knows what arrangement Cashman has with ownership regarding what he is or isn’t supposed to publicize (if there’s anything at all). They may or may not have differences of opinion about baseball operations, but no one knows if that’s causing any grief in the day to day baseball administration.
KS: Nobody does. You know what. I’ve been married for 22 years and I don’t agree with my wife all the time.
KS: [Laughs] We co-exist. You know. That’s the nature of everything. You learn to compromise on certain issues.
I wrote about Phil Hughes’ upcoming contract yesterday*, and as I was writing it, I thought it might be fun to contemplate Curtis Granderson‘s future as well. Specifically, I pondered whether he’ll A) remain in pinstripes, and b) if he doesn’t, what kind of contract could he be in line for on the free agent market.
Despite having an MVP caliber season in 2011, the Grandyman still has plenty of detractors. To be fair, some of the criticisms Granderson receives are legitimate gripes. He doesn’t hit for average (career .262 BA, though he’s been about 30-40 points below that the past few seasons), he strikes out a ton (career 22.9 K%), and shows noticeable splits against lefties (career 85 wRC+ against southpaws, 132 wRC+ against righties). In 2012, he batted .232/.319/.492 (.346 wOBA, 119 wRC+) which was good for a 2.3 fWAR — a value basically equivalent to league average. This year, in limited time he’s hit .208/.333/.340 (.309 wOBA, 91 wRC+). That’s not exactly what you want to be seeing from a $15M dollar (now corner) outfielder.
However, one has to also give Curtis credit for his ability to hit the long ball, which is an increasingly valuable trait. He hit 24 home runs in 2010 and 40+ home runs in each of the past two seasons. He’ll also show some patience (career 10.2 BB%) as well — and that shouldn’t be ignored given the impatient nature of this year’s Yankees squad. On top of that, he can play a passable center field though admittedly, his defense leaves something to be desired. Despite some unlucky injuries this season, he’s been pretty durable over the years, and I think it’s okay to assume he’ll be okay going forward. For what it’s worth, Granderson’s also the consummate professional and a respected ambassador of the sport, which is important for teams like the Yankees who value character and makeup.
The Yankees do have a surplus of outfielders, though I’d argue most of them are not ideally fit to be full-time starters. I think it’s probably fair to wonder whether Granderson is more valuable than Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, and Vernon Wells. Heck, maybe you throw Brett Gardner in the mix too. Regardless of how you rank those guys, Granderson ultimately cracks the top three choices for New York’s everyday lineup. In terms of 2014 free agents, there really aren’t many quality left fielders available (unless you count Nate McLouth, which I don’t), and the only center fielder who really poses any upgrade to Granderson is Jacoby Ellsbury (who for the record, is also a player I have my doubts about). My point here is it may behoove the Yankees to keep Grandy around for another year even if he’s not part of the long-term plan. Conversely, the weak market could also play to Granderson’s advantage (though 2015 could actually be an even weaker market).
Depending on how serious the Yankees are in achieving their $189M budget (or remaining competitive for that matter), a qualifying offer might be in order. This would give Granderson an opportunity to improve his value next season and would give the Yankees a trade chip that could potentially pay off if next season doesn’t work out. In terms of salary, Grandy is currently earning $15M so the qualifying offer wouldn’t pose much of a pay cut, which isn’t all that bad considering the fact that this year was a lost year. Obviously, if Grandy declined the offer, the Yankees would get the compensation draft pick which helps the team as well. Now, before we go any further, I’d like to note that I think this is going to happen. I don’t envision the Yankees simply cutting ties with Curtis at the end of the season, and frankly, I’m okay with seeing him in pinstripes for one more season.
But what happens if the Yankees do cut ties? Well, it’s hard to tell what the market looks like for Granderson at this point. If this season weren’t such a disaster, I’d say he could expect a big payday — probably one comparable to his old battery mate, Nick Swisher (four years, $56M with a $14M option in 2017) or once-capable MLB player, Jason Bay (four year, $66M with an additional club option year). As it stands, this year has been awful though, so obviously things could go a little differently. For what it’s worth, Swisher was given the qualifying offer, so maybe they’re willing to go that route again.
Maybe if teams feel there are some question marks surrounding Grandy’s skill set moving forward, they offer him a deal similar to Corey Hart (three years, $26.5M) now. Although it isn’t totally relevant, I also wonder if a guy like Nelson Cruz impacts how things go. If he ends up getting a deal better than Melky Cabrera, maybe that inflates the contracts offered for everyone who is presumably “clean.” Granderson’s injuries were an unlucky twist of fate for him. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Yankees immediate future.
*As an aside, I think I’m done writing about Phil Hughes for a while. It’s getting exhausting.
Back in May, I took a shot at predicting Phil Hughes’s upcoming contract. Ultimately, at the time, I figured Phil’s next contract would wind up looking comparable to Edwin Jackson’s deal, or roughly four years and $52M (with guys like John Lackey or Anibal Sanchez representing the best-case scenario for Hughes if he was fantastic this season). Unfortunately for Phil, a lot more of the season has gone by since I first posted on this matter, and most have it has been negative, at least as it pertains to his contributions. So, have circumstances changed? Let’s take a look.
At this point, it seems very unlikely that New York will offer an extension to Phil for good reason. He’s been pretty terrible this season. At 4-10, Hughes has pitched to a 4.87 ERA (4.67 FIP) and has accumulated 0.8 fWAR — a mark well-below-average. That’s pretty lousy. In terms of peripherals, he’s striking out 7.38 batters per nine innings (good but not great), and walking 2.67 per nine (again, good but not great). His strikeout rate is about in line with where it normally is (1.57 HR/9), which is decidedly not great.
Phil’s looked especially feeble recently, having surrendered five runs in each of his last two starts while being driven out of each game before the fifth. I think the case could be made pretty convincingly that the last time Phil actually helped the team was July 2nd, when he limited the offensive juggernaut that is the Twins to one run over seven innings. Hughes isn’t quite as useless as Joba Chamberlain right now, but he’s close.
And so enters the qualifying offer into the discussion. Basically, the team has the option to offer Phil a one year agreement at roughly $14M for next season. There are some “pros” for choosing to this path. First, next year’s rotation is in shambles. CC Sabathia has to be considered a question mark. Who knows whether Hiroki Kuroda or Andy Pettitte will be back. That doesn’t leave much beyond unproven arms such as Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and David Phelps. Hughes isn’t perfect by any means, but at least that’s one less question mark … well, sort of anyway.
Second, and for all you optimistic types, maybe Hughes puts up better numbers next season; they can’t be worse right? Aside from benefiting the team, a rebound raises Hughes’ personal value, which in turn could lead to a better return should the team try to trade him next season, or at the very least, make everyone a hell of a lot more confident about re-signing him again moving forward. Third, should Hughes decline the qualifying offer, it’d ensure the team gets a nice compensation pick in the first round. The con is pretty self-evident of course; the team could wind up paying $14M for more of what they’re getting right now, which is a perfectly legitimate concern.
After performing so poorly this season, I’d have to imagine Hughes would strongly consider the qualifying offer should New York pose it. That’s $14M in the bank right now, and he’d still be young enough to get a decent paycheck in 2015 if he could rebound a bit next season. Unfortunately, 2015 looks to have more competition on the free agent market, but you have to figure most of the big names (i.e. Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer) will be unavailable when the time comes as teams will look to lock up their young stars. If for some reason the qualifying offer doesn’t appeal to Hughes, he could test the free agent market after this season, which seems less competitive. For what it’s worth, if Hughes tests free agency now, he’ll be one of the younger arms available which will probably work to his favor.
Maybe Phil is seeking a change of scenery. Everyone knows he’s an extreme fly ball pitcher. Maybe a place like San Diego or Minnesota makes a lot of sense for him going forward, and maybe he’s willing to take his chances elsewhere if circumstance allows. Unless Phil finishes the season very strong, I don’t see any team giving him the Edwin contract (though I’ve certainly be wrong before). Perhaps, a Wandy Rodriguez arrangement is plausible though in the open market – say, something in the vicinity of three years and $30M. After all pitchers are always in demand, and it only takes one team to jack up the price. I could see a team offering Hughes a two-year, $26M gig (similar to Ryan Dempster) too. What I don’t envision is any team offering a one-year rebound opportunity that looks more appealing than the Yankees qualifying offer. As far as the dollars, some of the examples listed may feel inflated considering his overall production. Unfortunately, supply and demand will create just such a dilemma.
What happens with Hughes after the season?
What happens with Hughes after the season?
Friend of River Ave. Blues and YES Network announcer, Ken Singleton, was kind enough to give an hour of his time to discuss some of the current affairs swirling about the Yankees. We discussed everything from the all-consuming Alex Rodriguez saga, the trade deadline, Brian Cashman‘s relationship with the front office, to the team’s direction heading forward. If you haven’t read RAB’s first interview with Ken, be sure to check it out here.
Matthew Warden: Might as well start with the huge elephant in the room. What are your thoughts on A-Rod, the pending suspension, and particularly, the Player Union’s stance on the matter of PEDs?
Ken Singleton: Well, you know, it’s unfortunate what’s happened to Alex Rodriguez but I think you’re dealing with this issue of PEDs — the first time it happened was bad enough and it kind of put a stain on his career. If all these allegations prove to be true it’s certainly going to put an even deeper mark on his career, to the point where the fans say “enough is enough.” You talk about the Player’s Association, and they’re involved with it, but I think you’re getting to the point where they’re saying “enough is enough” too.
You heard Michael Weiner, the director, mention that he’s going to take each case on an individual basis, and, if there is enough evidence against a particular player, that the Player’s Association will not back him, at least not to the point that they had in the past when they just stonewalled all kinds of punishments. But now, I think what you’re seeing is that the majority of the players in the game want the game cleaned up. They don’t want it to be stained by anyone taking PEDs. Take your punishment and move on. And for Alex, it seems like his punishment will be more than anyone else’s because some of the other things he’s done regarding the Biogenesis investigation.
MW: It is sad. Correct me if I’m wrong, but A-Rod has never failed a drug test.
KS. That’s true.
MW: He came out and admitted to having used them during a time when free passes were being handed out. Now, I understand the league being infuriated with him allegedly tampering with their investigation, which has to be what the punishment emphasizes, right?
KS: Yeah. And I think it’s because number one, he admitted to using it before and he’s come back and has appeared to have used them again. And number two – and this is why I think his punishment is so much larger than everyone else’s – is because of what you just said. He supposedly interfered with the investigation, and that’s not a good thing for anyone to do. It’s almost at the point where legality has to be involved. I think this is why the book has been thrown at him, and it’s almost as if they want him off the field and that’s it. There’s a lot of money involved and that’s probably part of it, but he’s brought this situation on himself. As I said, it’s sad that he’s had such a great career and if it ends like this, it’s really a shame.
The thing about it is if his suspension is so long – you have to remember he’s missed all of this year – and if he misses a large remainder of this season and all of next season, that’ll be two years basically of not playing. He’ll be nearly 40 years old. How many simulated games can he go through and still be able to keep his edge? It’s difficult for anyone coming back from an injury – even after a two week period – to get ramped up again, let alone more than half the season. I just don’t know. I know that he wants to play.
MW: Yeah. It’s tough too because he’s always had his fair share of baggage.
KS: [Laughs] You’re right. It’s not always PEDs. It’s other situations too.
MW: Yeah, I think I can speak for most rational Yankee fans when I say the amount of baggage that he brought off the field, for most of his career, was grossly dwarfed by the amount of quality production he’s provided on it. There have been instances here and there where he drives everyone crazy, sure, but he’s been a dominant player for a long time and really that’s what’s most important.
KS: That’s true too.
MW: And I feel like in the last few years, perception surrounding Alex has begun to change in this regard. He’s become more of a problem then he’s worth (his abilities don’t justify his actions, perhaps unlike a guy like Ryan Braun who is still potentially an elite Outfielder) and you get the feeling the team is hoping/preparing for that moment when they get to cut their losses at this point. Do you agree?
KS: Yeah that might be the case. Everybody is going through the motions as if he’s going to come back and play. Major League Baseball — it’s not the Yankees, it’s MLB — holds the hammer here. If MLB says, “No,” he won’t come back. So the Yankees have to play as if he’ll come back, and play for their team. They’ve got four home runs out of their third basemen this year.
KS: They need someone at third base whether it’s A-Rod or anyone else. I mean Kevin Youkilis has been out practically all season – he’s played only 28 games – the Yankees are struggling at a position that teams usually get a lot of production from. You have to play it like he’s coming back but I have a feeling that Major League Baseball and Bud Selig will not allow it to happen. That’s the feeling I get.
MW: I think you’re right too, and for exactly that reason. The production the Yankees have gotten out of their third basemen has been abysmal, like the worst in Major League Baseball abysmal. You would think if A-Rod weren’t so stigmatizing, they’d be chomping at the bit to get him back out there if they had any real hope of contending this season.
KS: Yep, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
MW: Perhaps some of that has to do with that rather bizarre incident with the doctor and the strained quad.
KS: It just added to the circus, Matt. It’s almost like he’s trying to make things even more convoluted and it’s hard to do that because it is that way already. [Laughs] I just think a lot of players on the team would like to see this go away whether it means A-Rod comes back and plays or is just gone altogether. They’re getting a lot of distractions and A-Rod hasn’t even been with the team nearly all season long. It’s been a tough enough year as it is with all the injuries, but they’ve still managed to have a chance to make a playoff spot.
MW: Pretty incredible, huh?
KS: Yeah it is. It’s just amazing that they’re at this point. Sabathia’s 9-10; he’s giving up over 19 runs in his last 15 innings and is pitching the worst that he’s ever pitched through his time in the Major Leagues. They need to get him going to have any chance. But that seems to be a mild distraction compared to what’s going on with Alex Rodriguez, and CC’s been on the field all season long.
This whole thing is uncharted territory, and Bud Selig and Major League Baseball are really trying to make a statement here. Remember, Bud Selig is retiring pretty soon. PEDs came to the forefront in the middle of his watch and I don’t think he wants that to be his legacy. I think he wants his legacy to be, “I did the best I could to clean this up. I went out and got rid of one of the best players ever because of the fact he had been doing PEDs.” I also think this would be like Joe Jackson. Pete Rose, that sort of thing. These are big time players who were suspended for life, and if that happens to A-Rod, he’ll fall into that category.
MW: I’m glad you mentioned Bud Selig. Do you think that his legacy will be that of the guy who cleans up the sport, or that of the hypocrite – that is to say the guy who cleaned up the sport after profiting off PEDs during baseball’s revival after the strike?
KS: [Laughs] Yeah, I see your point Matt. The point is that these issues all came to the forefront while he was commissioner and a lot of people feel he looked the other way, but now he he’s getting it cleaned up so he can leave with his hands kind of washed. I don’t think they’ll ever be totally washed no matter what he does.
* * *
That’s part one of our chat with Ken. Next we’ll get into some more “state of the team” issues, so check back for that!