The 2002 Yankees: A forgotten 103-win season

(Getty)
(Getty)

It’s been 15 years since the 2002 Yankees fell short of a fifth straight American League title and fourth World Series win in five years. Because that was a time of World Series or bust fervor, it’s easy to forget that the ’02 squad won 103 games and arguably had the Yankees’ best rotation of the decade. So let’s take a look back at that team as well as what could have been.

New Faces

Right now, Yankee fans are forced to adjust to a series of bright-eyed young kids coming up to the majors and a few solid veterans. The 2002 Yankees didn’t have a transition anything like the current squad, but they did see a few shifts after the 2001 World Series. They had holes in all four corners as Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius retired while Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch became free agents.

The Yankees being the Yankees, they filled all four holes within eight days. The first move was to trade David Justice to the Mets, one of the rare times the crosstown rivals would hook up for a trade, for Robin Ventura. Four days later, they’d deal reliever Jay Witasick to the Giants for John Vander Wal, who’d man right field.

That move would get overshadowed because it was on the same day they announced the signing of the reigning American League MVP Jason Giambi as their new first baseman. Rondell White would sign for an ill-fated stint in left field four days after that.

The front office appeared done with all five main starters from ’01 returning and Steve Karsay signed to be the new set-up man. However, this was George Steinbrenner‘s team, so anything can happen. By anything, I mean that a 38-year-old David Wells called up Steinbrenner and unilaterally talked him into a two-year deal … even though he had a verbal agreement to sign with the Diamondbacks already. Seriously. 

A dominant regular season

2002 was the first year of the YES Network and those tuning into YES in the inaugural season saw a juggernaut of a team. They lost their first game before reeling off seven straight wins. They won 13 of 14 in mid-May, a stretch that included two three-game sweeps of a perennial Yankees punching bag, the Minnesota Twins.

The offense is what carried the team. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, all those guys were their normal selves for the most part. However, Giambi and a 26-year-old Alfonso Soriano combined for 80 home runs (41 and 39, respectively) and were a force near the top of the lineup. Soriano led the AL with 41 stolen bases and 209 hits., had more home runs than walks (23) and set Yankees records for at-bats (696) and strikeouts (157) in a season. He also had 51 doubles. Ventura was a surprise All-Star with 19 home runs at the All-Star break, so the Yankees literally had an All-Star at every infield position.

The Yankees were certainly based around hitting (they led baseball in runs scored, OBP and SLG and were second in home runs, third in hits), but their pitching staff wasn’t half bad. They had seven pitchers make at least eight starts and all had an above-average ERA+. Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte each had strong years while David Wells rebounded from a bad ’02 to justify his contract.

The bullpen had four key pitchers: Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton, Karsay and, of course, Mariano Rivera. Rivera went on the DL twice in ’02 (was still dominant when he was healthy), leading in part to Stanton and Karsay each pitching at least 78 games. All four relievers had ERAs below 3.44.

2002 was also the first year the Yankees faced the NL West in interleague play, which led to two memorable moments. One was Barry Bonds hitting an absolute bomb to the back of the upper deck at old Yankee Stadium that Giants PBP man Jon Miller would say was “heading for New Jersey”.  The other was Marcus Thames’ MLB debut. He had to face the best pitcher going in Randy Johnson yet found a way to come through with a homer on the first pitch he saw.

Trade Deadline

The Yankees made two big trades in early July. The first was trading non-prospect Scott Wiggins to the Blue Jays to acquire slugger Raul Mondesi to man right field with Vander Wal, Shane Spencer and others not quite cutting it. Mondesi was a Steinbrenner move through and through as George wanted the past-his-prime outfielder and paid most of his remaining money.

(Mike’s Note: George traded for Mondesi after Tim McCarver said the Yankees needed a right fielder like Raul Mondesi during a nationally broadcast game against the Mets. Enrique Wilson started in right field on June 29th, made a few misplays in the loss, McCarver said they should trade for Mondesi, and a day later the trade was made. Yup.)

They also traded Ted Lilly, who was set to start the following Sunday, and two prospects in a three-team deal with the Athletics and Tigers to acquire 25-year-old righty Jeff Weaver, who they saw as injecting youth into a very old rotation. Weaver would pitch dreadfully in 2003 but was fine as a swingman in ’02 before two bad postseason appearances.

The Loss to the Angels

The Yankees led baseball with 103 wins. They didn’t get possession of first place for good until late June, but eventually won the division by 10.5 games. Ideally, that’d mean they’d face the AL’s worst playoff team (the 94-win Twins) in the ALDS, but instead they got the wild card winners, the 99-win Anaheim Angels. In their four-game set with the Angels, the Yankees led in the 5th inning or later of every single game. Yup. The pitching staff melted down in every game.

Game 1 would be a Yankees classic if it wasn’t for the rest of the series. Roger Clemens, arguably the team’s worst full-time starter, got the ball in Game 1 and was meh. He gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings and left with the game tied. Ramiro Mendoza gave up a go-ahead home run to Troy Glaus to begin the 8th, but the Yankees rallied. With two outs in the 8th, Soriano and Jeter walked before Giambi tied the game with a single. That set the stage for Williams, who blasted the winning three-run homer.

Pettitte was pulled early in Game 2 and the Yankees came back again, this time with Soriano hitting a two-run homer in the 6th (off rookie Francisco Rodriguez) and the Yanks led, 5-4, until the 8th. Then, El Duque gave up back-to-back homers before Karsay and Weaver gave up two more runs in the 8th and 9th. A late Yankees rally fell short, 8-6, with a Mondesi pop out as the winning run.

The Yankees led 6-1 top 2nd of Game 3, but Mike Mussina was pulled after four innings after giving up four runs. Weaver, Stanton and Karsay combined to give up five runs over the next four innings as the Yankees lost, 9-6. David Wells and Ramiro Mendoza combined to give up eight runs in the 5th inning of Game 4 and the season was over like that.

What may have been the best pitching staff of the decade gave up 31 runs in four games and Mo only pitched one scoreless inning. You can chalk that up to bullpen mismanagement, but Rivera’s injuries that season may have been a reason not to go to him earlier (particularly in Game 2). However, Torre’s regular season bullpen load for Karsay and Stanton may have led to their hiccups in the postseason.

Legacy

There is an alternate universe where the Yankees held off the hot-hitting Angels, beat up on the Twins in the next round like they seemed to do every postseason and then met the Giants in Fall Classic for the first time since a great 1962 series.

The season marked the end of a 31-year-old Giambi’s peak as ’02 was his best year in pinstripes. Williams, then 33, also declined significantly after that year. Mussina and Clemens would rebound in ’03 and Rivera would too with a 1.66 ERA.

Spencer, Stanton and Mendoza moved on from the Yankees (besides one more stint for Mendoza two years later). The Yankees would splurge for Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras the next offseason and win another 101 games. With the postseason success a year later, it just leaves you wondering what might have been in 2002.

The best seasons at each position by a Yankee during the RAB era

2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)
2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)

RAB celebrated its tenth birthday Monday. Tenth! I can’t believe it. Ben, Joe, and I started this site as a hobby and it grew into something far greater than we ever expected. The site has been around for a World Series championship, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez getting to 3,000 hits, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves king … we’ve seen lots of cool stuff these last ten years. Thank you to everyone who has been reading, no matter how long you’ve been with us.

For the sake of doing something a little out of the ordinary, let’s look back at the best individual seasons at each position by Yankees players during the RAB era. Who had the best season by a catcher? By a right fielder? That sorta stuff. We launched on February 20th, 2007, so this covers the 2007-16 seasons. Come with me, won’t you?

Catcher: 2007 Jorge Posada

Very easy call behind the plate. Posada had the best offensive season of his career in 2007, hitting .338/.426/.543 (157 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 589 plate appearances. He caught 138 games that year — it was Jorge’s eighth straight season with 120+ starts behind the plate — and went to his fifth and final All-Star Game. Posada also finished sixth in the MVP voting. By bWAR (+5.4) and fWAR (+5.6), it was the third best season of his career behind 2003 (+5.9 and +6.0) and 2000 (+5.5 and +6.1). Honorable mention goes out to 2015 Brian McCann and 2016 Gary Sanchez. (Sanchez’s +3.0 bWAR last year is second best by a Yankee catcher during the RAB era.)

First Base: 2009 Mark Teixeira

Another easy call. Teixeira’s first season in pinstripes featured a .292/.383/.565 (142 wRC+) batting line and AL leading home run (39), RBI (122), and total bases (344) totals. He went to his second All-Star Game and won his third Gold Glove at first base as well. Teixeira was the MVP runner-up to Joe Mauer, though Teixeira and the Yankees swept Mauer and the Twins in the ALDS en route to winning the World Series. Got the last laugh that year. Both bWAR (+5.0) and fWAR (+5.1) say Teixeira’s 2009 season was far and away the best by a Yankees first baseman since RAB became a thing. Honorable mention goes to a bunch of other Teixeira seasons.

Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano

The only question at second base was which Cano season to pick. His run from 2009-13 was truly the best five-year stretch by a second baseman in franchise history. Cano hit .313/.379/.550 (149 wRC+) with 33 homers in 2012 while playing 161 of 162 regular season games. He set new career highs in homers, slugging percentage, total bases (345), bWAR (+8.7), and fWAR (+7.6) while tying his previous career high in doubles (48). Robbie was a monster. He went to his third straight All-Star Game and won his third straight Gold Glove, and also finished fourth in the MVP voting. The club’s best season by a non-Cano second baseman during the RAB era belongs to Starlin Castro. Quite the drop-off there, eh?

Shortstop: 2009 Derek Jeter

The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)
The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)

As great as Teixeira was in 2009, he wasn’t even the best player on his own infield that year. The Yankees flip-flopped Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order that season and the Cap’n responded by hitting .334/.406/.465 (130 wRC+) with 18 home runs and 30 steals in 35 attempts as the leadoff man. It was also the first (and only) time in Jeter’s career the fielding stats rated him as above-average. I remember thinking Derek looked noticeably more mobile in the field. That was the year after Brian Cashman reportedly told Jeter the team would like him to work on his defense after finding out Joe Torre never relayed the message years ago. The 2009 season was the second best of Jeter’s career by fWAR (+6.6) and third best by bWAR (+6.5) behind his monster 1998-99 seasons. The Cap’n was an All-Star that year and he finished third in the MVP voting behind Mauer and Teixeira.

Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez

The single greatest season by a Yankee not just during the RAB era, but since Mickey Mantle was in his prime. I went to about 25 games that season and I swear I must’ve seen A-Rod hit 25 home runs. He went deep every night it seemed. Rodriguez hit .314/.422/.645 (175 wRC+) that summer and led baseball in runs (143), home runs (54), RBI (156), SLG (.645), OPS+ (176), bWAR (+9.4), and fWAR (+9.6). All that earned him a spot in the All-Star Game (duh) and his third MVP award (second with the Yankees). A-Rod received 26 of the 28 first place MVP votes that year. The two Detroit voters voted for Magglio Ordonez. For reals. What an incredible season this was. I’ve never seen a player locked in like that for 162 games. Alex was on a completely different level than everyone else in 2007.

Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner

With all due respect to Damon, who was outstanding for the 2009 World Series team, 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon. Gardner hit .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) with five home runs and 47 steals that season to go along with his excellent defense. Damon, meanwhile, hit a healthy .282/.365/.489 (122 wRC+) with a career high tying 24 home runs and 12 steals in 2009. His defense was so very shaky though. Remember how he used to take those choppy steps that made it seem like he had no idea where the ball was? Both bWAR (+7.3 to +4.2) and fWAR (+6.1 to +3.6) say 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon, but forget about WAR. Gardner got on base much more often and was the better baserunner. I think that combined with the glove more than makes up for Damon’s edge in power. Honorable mention goes to Matsui’s .285/.367/.488 (124 wRC+) effort with 25 home runs in 2007.

Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson

Remember how much Granderson struggled the first four and a half months of the 2010 season? He was hitting .240/.307/.417 (91 wRC+) with ten homers in 335 plate appearances prior to his career-altering pow wow with hitting coach Kevin Long that August. Granderson made some mechanical changes and hit .259/.354/.560 (144 wRC+) with 14 homers in 193 plate appearances the rest of the way. He went from a passable outfielder to one of the game’s top power hitters seemingly overnight. That success carried over into 2011, during which Granderson hit .262/.364/.552 (146 wRC+) with 41 home runs. He led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119), went to the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. My man.

Right Field: 2010 Nick Swisher

We’re picking between Swisher seasons here, and I’m going with 2010 over 2012. Swisher managed a .288/.359/.511 (134 wRC+) line with 29 home runs in 2010, making it the best offensive season of his career. Add in right field defense that was better than Swisher got credit for, and you’ve got a +3.7 bWAR and +4.3 fWAR player. Right field lacks that big eye-popping season like the other positions during the RAB era. Swisher was reliably above-average but not a star.

Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui

Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)
Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)

I came into this exercise with a pretty good idea who I’d have at each position, and I assumed 2009 Matsui would be the easy call at DH. Then when I got down to it and looked at the stats, I realized 2015 A-Rod was pretty much right there with him. Check it out:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR XBH RBI bWAR fWAR
2009 Matsui 528 .274/.367/.509 127 28 50 90 +2.7 +2.4
2015 A-Rod 620 .250/.356/.486 130 33 56 86 +3.1 +2.7

That’s really close! Matsui hit for a higher average and got on-base more, though A-Rod had more power. A lefty hitting 28 homers in Yankee Stadium isn’t as impressive as a righty hitting 33, even when considering the 92 extra plate appearances. Since they’re so close, I’m fine with using the postseason as a tiebreaker. Matsui was excellent in October while A-Rod went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Wild Card Game loss to the Astros. Tie goes to the World Series MVP.

Now that we have our nine position players, I’m going to build a lineup, because why not? Lineups are fun. Here’s how I’d set the batting order:

  1. 2009 Derek Jeter
  2. 2012 Robinson Cano
  3. 2007 Alex Rodriguez
  4. 2009 Mark Teixeira
  5. 2007 Jorge Posada
  6. 2011 Curtis Granderson
  7. 2009 Hideki Matsui
  8. 2010 Nick Swisher
  9. 2010 Brett Gardner

Look good? It does to me. Dave Pinto’s lineup analysis tool tells me that lineup would average 6.87 runs per game, or 1,113 runs per 162 games. The modern record for runs scored in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. (Several teams from the 1800s scored more.) The 1999 Indians were the last team to score 1,000 runs. They scored 1,009.

Starting Pitchers

Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mike Mussina 200.1 3.37 131 3.32 +5.2 +4.6
2009 CC Sabathia 230 3.37 137 3.39 +6.2 +5.9
2011 CC Sabathia 237.1 3.00 143 2.88 +7.5 +6.4
2012 Hiroki Kuroda 219.2 3.32 127 3.86 +5.5 +3.8
2016 Masahiro Tanaka 199.2 3.07 142 3.51 +5.4 +4.6

Chien-Ming Wang‘s 2007 season as well as a few more Sabathia seasons (2010 and 2012, specifically) were among the final cuts. Late career Andy Pettitte was steady and reliable, but he didn’t have any truly great seasons from 2007-13.

Sabathia is the gold standard for Yankees starting pitchers during the RAB era. From 2009-12, he was the club’s best pitcher since guys like Pettitte, Mussina, David Cone, and Roger Clemens around the turn of the century. Mussina had that marvelous farewell season and Tanaka was awesome last year. Kuroda? He was the man. One-year contracts don’t get any better than what he did for the Yankees.

The Yankees haven’t had an all-time great pitcher during the RAB era, a Clayton Kershaw or a Felix Hernandez, someone like that, but they had four years of a bonafide ace in Sabathia plus several other very good seasons. Everyone in the table except Kuroda received Cy Young votes those years. Sabathia finished fourth in the voting in both 2009 and 2011.

Relief Pitchers

IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 1.40 316 2.03 +4.3 +3.2
2009 Mariano Rivera 66.1 1.76 262 2.89 +3.5 +2.0
2011 David Robertson 66.2 1.08 399 1.84 +4.0 +2.6
2014 Dellin Betances 90 1.40 274 1.64 +3.7 +3.2
2015 Dellin Betances 84 1.50 271 2.48 +3.7 +2.4
2015 Andrew Miller 61.2 2.04 200 2.16 +2.2 +2.0
2016 Dellin Betances 73 3.08 141 1.78 +1.1 +2.9

So many great relief seasons to choose from. I had to leave out several Rivera seasons (2007, 2010, 2011, 2013), several Robertson seasons (2012-14), a Miller season (2016), a Rafael Soriano season (2012), and even a Phil Hughes season (2009). Remember how great Hughes was in relief in 2009? Hughes and Rivera were automatic that year. The Yankees have been blessed with some truly excellent relievers these past ten years. The great Mariano Rivera retired and somehow they have replaced him seamlessly. We’ve seen some amazing performances since launching RAB.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: February 2012

Burnett. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Burnett. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Now that the calendar has flipped to February and Spring Training is creeping closer and closer, it’s time for another trip through the MLB Trade Rumors archive. February can be a sneaky busy month for rumors and transactions. Teams are looking for last minute roster fillers and free agents rush to take whatever jobs they can find. Lots of small moves happen in February.

The Yankees addressed their rotation in one fell swoop in January 2012, when they acquired Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda on the same day. They then spent much of February shopping A.J. Burnett, who they no longer needed, and making minor signings for the bench and Triple-A depth. Time to look back at the surprisingly busy month that was February 2012.

February 2nd, 2012: AL West Notes: Rangers, Trumbo, Morales, Mariners

The Mariners inquired about Yankees prospect Mason Williams during the Michael Pineda trade talks, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).

At the time, Williams was 20 years old and coming off a .349/.395/.468 (148 wRC+) batting line with three homers and 28 steals in 68 games with Short Season Staten Island. Baseball America ranked him the 85th best prospect in the game right around the time this rumor came out, four spots ahead of Chris Archer. That wasn’t Mason’s peak as a prospect — that came the following year — but he was someone on the rise.

I would have traded Williams for Pineda instead of Montero a hundred times out of a hundred back then. Williams was a super tooled up and interesting young player. Montero was an elite prospect who raked during his September cameo in 2011. I was ready for Montero to go all Miggy Cabrera on the AL East when they traded him for Pineda. Alas. By the way, Williams has Montero beat in career fWAR (+0.5 to -0.8) and bWAR (0.0 to -0.1).

February 7th, 2012: Yankees Sign Bill Hall

The Yankees have signed utility infielder Bill Hall, based on his tweet, “IT’S OFFICIAL IM A YANKEE!!!!!!!! #IwannaRing!!!!”  He signed a minor league deal, tweets Erik Boland of Newsday.  Hall is a client of Gaylord Sports Management.

I have nothing to add to this. I just thought the “IT’S OFFICIAL IM A YANKEE!!!!!!!! #IwannaRing!!!!” stuff was pretty funny. Hall was very excited to be a Yankee … then he got released at the end of Spring Training and spent the season in Triple-A with the Orioles. Life comes at you fast.

February 8th, 2012: Yankees Sign Russell Branyan

The Yankees signed first baseman Russell Branyan to a minor league deal with a spring training invite, reports Dan Martin of the New York Post.

Oh man, I completely forgot the Yankees had Branyan. They were looking for a cheap left-handed designated hitter at the time and Branyan was as good a candidate as anyone. He split 2011 between the Diamondbacks and Angels, hitting .197/.295/.370 (84 wRC+) with five homers in 146 plate appearances. Still, Big Russ could do this:

Branyan, who was 36 at the time, never did play for the big league Yankees. He was hurt and played only 33 games with Triple-A Scranton in 2012, during which he hit .309/.438/.655 (199 wRC+) with eleven homers. Branyan didn’t play at all in 2013, resurfaced in the Mexican League in 2014, and has been out of baseball since.

February 9th, 2012: East Links: Yankees, Jones, Cespedes, Rays, O’s

The Yankees want Garrett Jones from the Pirates in any trade involving A.J. Burnett reports ESPN’s Buster Olney, but Pittsburgh isn’t interested in moving him and talks haven’t progressed (Twitter links). Yesterday we learned that the Pirates are not on Burnett’s no-trade list.

The Yankees were after Jones a long time before finally getting him as part of the Martin PradoNathan Eovaldi trade. They tried to get him from Pittsburgh a few times and tried to sign him as a free agent during the 2014-15 offseason. You’ll notice a trend in this post. The Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch players who ended up wearing pinstripes at one point anyway.

February 13th, 2012: AL East Links: Vlad, Theo, Red Sox

Vladimir Guerrero has made it known to the Yankees that he wants their DH spot,” tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney, but Raul Ibanez remains the frontrunner.

The Yankees never did sign Vlad — he hooked on with the Blue Jays, played a handful of minor league games in 2012, then retired — but this rumor reminded me just how badly I wanted them to sign Guerrero back during the 2003-04 offseason. He had just turned 29 and had hit a) .330/.426/.586 (152 wRC+) with 25 homers in 2003, and b) .324/.405/.581 (145 wRC+) with 98 homers from 2001-03. George Steinbrenner wanted Gary Sheffield though, so the Yankees signed Sheffield and Vlad went to the Angels. Bah. I mean, Sheffield was pretty great, but he was no Vlad.

February 14th, 2012: A.J. Burnett Rumors: Tuesday

The Hafner for Burnett deal is no longer on the table, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets.

Like I said, the Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch of guys who ended up being Yankees at some point anyway. Travis Hafner was entering the final year of his contract and had just hit .228/.346/.438 (118 wRC+) with 12 homers in 66 games around injuries in 2011. He would have slotted in as the team’s left-handed hitting designated hitter in 2012. Instead, Hafner had to wait until 2013 to get that job.

February 15th, 2012: Latest on Jorge Soler

TUESDAY, 2:18pm: The Yankees have serious interest in Soler, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney tweets.

12:33pm: Many teams remain involved in the bidding for 19-year-old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). The Cubs have been extensively linked to the outfielder, but they’re not the only club involved. 

Has it really only been five years since Soler was a free agent? Seems like it was much longer ago. Anyway, the Yankees did what they usually do with a big name Cuban free agent, which is bring him in for a workout and feign interest, but ultimately don’t come particularly close to signing him. The Cubs gave Soler a nine-year deal worth $30M, and while he would go on to develop into a top prospect, he’s yet to put it together at the MLB level. Chicago traded him straight up for Wade Davis this winter, which still blows my mind. Somehow the Yankees got much more for a half-season of Aroldis Chapman than the Royals did for a full season of Davis.

February 15th, 2012: A.J. Burnett Rumors: Wednesday

The Yankees tried to convince the Angels that Burnett could be their fifth starter, according to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com.  The Yankees would have obtained Bobby Abreu in the proposed trade, but Burnett rejected the deal because he’d prefer to play on the East Coast.

Abreu played for the Yankees before the Burnett trade, but I’m still counting this. The Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch of dudes who played for them at one point or another. Abreu, who was about to turn 38 at the time, had lost all his power by this point — he hit .242/.350/.342 (96 wRC+) with eight homers in 2011 — and he was so bad in 2012 that the Halos released him before the end of April. The Yankees and Angels had a deal though. Burnett for Abreu. Burnett said no because he and his wife preferred the East Coast though. That was his right.

February 18th, 2012: Yankees Sign Clay Rapada

The Yankees have signed lefty reliever Clay Rapada to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, reports David Waldstein of The New York Times (Twitter links). MLB.com’s Zack Meisel first reported that the two sides were nearing a deal. The Meister Sports Management client was released by the Orioles a few days ago.

The Yankees are said to be looking for a cheap lefty reliever these days, and five years ago, they were in the exact same position when Rapada fell into their laps. He was nails in 2012, throwing 38.1 innings in 70 appearances (lol) with a 2.82 ERA (3.20 FIP). Lefties hit .183/.263/.255 (.238 wOBA) with 28.7% strikeouts and 44.9% ground balls against him. Pretty awesome for a scrap heap pickup. Rapada hurt his shoulder in Spring Training 2013 and spent the next few seasons bouncing around the minors. He retired following the 2015 season.

February 19th, 2012: Pirates Acquire Burnett From Yankees

After more than a week of back-and-forth discussion, the Yankees and Pirates formally announced the deal that will send A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh.  The trade allows the Bombers to unload $13MM of the $33MM still owed to the veteran pitcher over the next two years.  Aside from shedding payroll, the Yanks also receive outfielder Exicardo Cayones and right-hander Diego Moreno in the trade.

And there it is. Most trades involving the Yankees these days come together quickly. We’ll hear a rumor or two, then bam, the deal is done. Some come out of nowhere, like the John Ryan MurphyAaron Hicks swap. A press release just showed up in everyone’s inbox when that trade was made. The deal was done. No rumors at all.

The Burnett trade was not like that. This one dragged on for a little while. Burnett went on to have two good years with the Pirates, throwing 393.1 innings of 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) ball from 2012-13, while the Yankees received little more than salary relief from this trade. Moreno hung around the system for a few years and did reach the big leagues in 2015. You may remember his 5.1 innings of no-hit relief against the Rangers:

The Yankees release Moreno last summer and he’s since hooked on with the Rays. Cayones was one of the two players the Yankees sent to the Angels for Vernon Wells in 2013. The Halos released Cayones after the 2015 season and as far as I can tell he hasn’t played anywhere since. (The other player the Yankees traded for Wells, lefty Kramer Sneed, spent last year in indy ball and the Mexican League.)

February 20th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Chavez, Martin, Rivera

Catcher Russell Martin told Daniel Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal he talked this winter about a three-year deal with the Yankees, but the discussion never progressed beyond the initial stages.  Martin avoided arbitration with a $7.5MM contract for 2012.

At this point the “no extensions” policy was in full effect, though the Yankees were willing to make an exception for Martin. Quality catchers are hard to find. The two sides never did reach a deal and Martin left as a free agent following the 2012 season. We were then subjected to a year of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli before Brian McCann arrived.

I wonder how the long-term catching situation would have shaken out had the Yankees and Martin agreed to a three-year deal. It would have meant no Stewvelli in 2013, first and foremost, but also no McCann. It could have played out like this:

  • 2012: Martin and Stewart
  • 2013: Martin and Cervelli
  • 2014: Martin and Cervelli
  • 2015: Murphy and Austin Romine
  • 2016: Murphy and Romine
  • 2017: Gary Sanchez and Murphy

Eh, who knows. Fun to think about it. I’m glad the Yankees have Sanchez now and we didn’t have to sit through any more Stewvelli than we had to.

February 21st, 2012: Yankees Sign Raul Ibanez

The Yankees have found their new designated hitter, officially announcing an agreement with Raul Ibanez that was first tweeted by ESPN’s Buster Olney yesterday.  The framework for a deal was done weeks ago with the ACES client, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who pegs the value at $1.1MM.  Plate appearance incentives can bring the total to $4MM, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

After being unable to trade Burnett for a lefty hitting designated hitter, the Yankees signed Ibanez. And you know what? He kinda stunk for most of the season. Ibanez was hitting .235/.303/.437 (95 wRC+) on August 31st, which, when combined with his terrible defense (Brett Gardner missed most of 2012 with an elbow injury, forcing Ibanez to play the outfield fairly regularly), meant he was sub-replacement level. Then Raul started smacking clutch dingers left and right in September and October. That was pretty cool. He made everyone forget about those rough few months in a hurry.

February 22nd, 2012: Yankees Notes: Rivera, Betances, Rodriguez

Joel Sherman of the New York Post doubts the Yankees will spend on the best free agent closer available, though it’s a strategy they might have chosen in the recent past. Brian Cashman believes it’s unwise to sign relievers other than Rivera to significant contracts, and the GM aims to keep payroll under $189MM by 2014.

How times have changed, eh? Then again, you could argue Chapman is the closest thing we’ve seen to Rivera in terms of year in, year out dominance. Also, the game has changed a lot these last five years. Teams lean on their bullpens much more heavily now than they did in 2012. For example, relievers threw 34.0% of all innings back in 2012. Last season it was 36.7%. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but that number is only trending up.

February 22nd 2012: Yankees Sign David Aardsma

11:21am: The Yankees have signed 30-year-old right-hander David Aardsma, the team announced. It’s a Major League deal worth $500K that includes a club option for 2013. The deal includes $500K in incentives and the 2012 option is worth $500K, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times tweets. Aardsma underwent Tommy John surgery last July and won’t be ready to contribute until midway through the 2012 campaign.

I, like many others, was irrationally excited about the Aardsma signing. He had a few nice years with the Mariners, then blew out his elbow. The Yankees picked him up and rehabbed him, and were rewarded with one whole inning in 2012. And he gave up a homer to J.P. Arencibia in that one inning too. It was worth a shot, but it didn’t work out. Aardsma has bounced around the last few years and is currently unsigned.

February 27th, 2012: Yankees Sign Eric Chavez

Eric Chavez is returning to the Yankees for 2012, officially signing a one-year, $900K deal with incentives.  Chavez, 35, will reprise his role as a backup corner infielder and DH for the Yanks. The left-handed hitter posted a .263/.320/.356 line with two homers in 175 plate appearances in the Bronx in 2011, his first season in New York after spending 13 in Oakland.

Chavez’s second season with the Yankees was far better than the first. He hit .263/.320/.356 (80 wRC+) with two homers in 2011, which obviously isn’t great. Chavez then managed a .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+) line with 16 homers in 313 plate appearances in 2012. Hell yeah. He played a fair amount of third base too while Alex Rodriguez nursed various injuries. Chavez played two years with the Diamondbacks after that before joining the Yankees as a scout. Billy Eppler poached him and now Chavez is an assistant general manager with the Angels.

February 27th, 2012: AL East Notes: Johnson, Pettitte, Blue Jays

Andy Pettitte visited Yankees camp and told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, that he doesn’t plan on making a comeback. Pettitte said he’s “loving life” away from the ballpark and enjoying time with his family.

Good times. Good times. Pettitte un-retired 18 days after this report. He said he got the itch to continue playing after coming to Spring Training as an instructor, and the rest is history. That was pretty cool. I remember Joe and I were recording an episode of the RAB podcast (RIP) when news of the Pettitte signing broke, and we were both just kinda speechless. I’m pretty sure we scrapped that podcast all together so we could write about Andy’s return. That was fun.

Raines, Bagwell, and Rodriguez voted into Hall of Fame, Posada drops off the ballot

Raines. (Ron Frehm/AP)
Raines. (Ron Frehm/AP)

There are three new members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wednesday night it was announced Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez have been voted into Cooperstown by the BBWAA this year. Bagwell received 86.2% of the vote while Raines and Rodriguez received 86.0% and 76.0%, respectively. Trevor Hoffman fell five votes shy of induction. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Bagwell, who was on the ballot for the seventh time, retired as a career .297/.408/.540 (149 wRC+) hitter with 449 home runs and 202 stolen bases. His 1994 MVP season, during which he hit .368/.451/.750 (205 wRC+) with 39 home runs and 116 RBI in 110 games around the work stoppage, is the 24th best offensive season in history in terms of OPS+. To put it another way, it’s the eighth best offensive season by someone other than Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, or Babe Ruth.

Unlike Bagwell, who spent his entire career in the NL with the Astros, Raines did suit up for the Yankees. He was a platoon player for the 1996-98 teams and won a pair of World Series rings. Raines spent most of his career with the Expos and was a career .294/.385/.425 (125 wRC+) hitter with 170 home runs and 808 steals, the fifth most all-time. This was Raines’ tenth and final year on the Hall of Fame ballot. He received only 24.3% of the vote in his first year, which is crazy.

“Tim Raines was one of the greatest leadoff hitters to ever play the game. Period,” said Joe Girardi in a statement. “He was a game-changer whose numbers speak for themselves. For me personally, he was a treasured teammate and someone people always seemed to gravitated toward. Everyone loved the Rock, except opposing pitchers and catchers.”

“Tim Raines was by far one of my favorite teammates,” added Derek Jeter. He taught me how to be a professional and more importantly to enjoy the game and have fun every day. Congratulations Rock.”

Rodriguez, another former Yankee, was on the ballot for the first time. He was a career .296/.334/.464 (104 wRC+) hitter — remember the days when that batting line was only 4% better than average? good times — who finished with 2,844 hits and 311 home runs. Rodriguez also caught more games (2,427) than anyone in baseball history. He spent a few forgettable months with the Yankees in 2008.

The most notable ex-Yankee on the ballot was Jorge Posada, who received only 3.8% of the vote and will drop off the ballot going forward. That’s a damn shame. I don’t necessarily think Posada is a Hall of Famer, he’s borderline, but I was hoping he’d stick around on the ballot for a few more years. Alas. Other former Yankees on the ballot include Roger Clemens (54.1%), Mike Mussina (51.8%), Lee Smith (34.2%), and Gary Sheffield (13.3%). Moose is gaining support.

Looking ahead to next year, notable former Yankees Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon will join the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Andruw Jones too, though he was only a Yankee briefly. Clemens, Mussina, and Sheffield will still be on the ballot as well. In two years the Yankees will get their next Hall of Famer, when Mariano Rivera joins the ballot. Andy Pettitte too, but only Rivera is a shoo-in. Jeter hits the ballot the following year.

It’s looking more and more likely Jorge Posada will fall off the Hall of Fame ballot this year

Team Jorge. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Hip hip. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

One week from today, the National Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2017 will be announced during a live MLB Network broadcast. At this point Tim Raines, who is on the ballot for the tenth and final time, seems to be a lock for induction, as does Jeff Bagwell. He’s on the ballot for the seventh time. Trevor Hoffman, Vlad Guerrero, and Ivan Rodriguez are all on the bubble as well.

Among the 34 players on the ballot this year is Jorge Posada, the first member of the (groan) Core Four to be eligible for Hall of Fame induction. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte hit the ballot in two years, Derek Jeter the year after that. Bernie Williams, the fifth member of the Core Four, was on the Hall of Fame ballot in both 2012 and 2013. He received 9.6% of the vote the first year and 3.3% the second year, which is why he dropped off.

Players need to appear on 75% of the submitted ballots to be elected into Cooperstown. They also need to receive at least 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot another year. Bernie didn’t in 2013, so he dropped off. So it goes. Posada, it seems, is on a similar path. Current voting results indicate he’s in real danger of slipping off the ballot in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.

According to the Hall of Fame public ballot tracker, which is the product of the hard work by man of the people Ryan Thibodaux, shows Posada has appeared on only 4.2% of the public Hall of Fame ballots as of this writing. He’s already been mathematically eliminated from received the 75% necessary for induction this year, not that I expected him to get in anyway. Jorge is very much a borderline candidate. Borderline at best, really.

So far 185 ballots have been made public — those are from voters who posted their ballot on social media, in their newspaper, on a blog, whatever — while six others were sent to Thibodaux anonymously. That makes up roughly 44% of the voting body. Posada needs 14 more votes to clear the 5% threshold and remain on the ballot another year. We’re still waiting on ballots from many New York voters, which could help Posada, though historically players have received less support from private ballots than public ballots. It’s a long shot.

Now, I don’t think it would be some kind of grave injustice if Posada doesn’t make it into the Hall of Fame. Hardly. He’s one of my all-time favorite players, but I recognize him as a borderline candidate. Posada was unquestionably one of the best catchers of his era and one of the best in Yankees history, though you have to squint your eyes a bit to really see his Hall of Fame case. It comes down to his offense, because Jorge wasn’t a great (or even good) defender.

Among catchers with at least 5,000 career plate appearances, Posada is 12th all-time in OPS+ (121) and 14th all-time in wRC+ (123). He’s ninth in OBP (.374) and eighth in SLG (.474). As a catcher only, meaning ignoring time as a DH and all that, Posada is seventh all-time in homers (246) and sixth in extra-base hits (599). He’s also first in walks (818) and ninth in times in base (2,356). Posada hit .279/.380/.487 as a catcher. That’s pretty awesome.

There’s no question Posada, a career .273/.374/.474 (123 wRC+) hitter overall, was far better than the average catcher offensively. Far, far better. The question is whether the 12th or 14th or whatever best hitting catcher of all-time is worthy of being inducted into Cooperstown. For the vast majority of Hall of Fame voters this year, the answer has been no. Being part of four World Series titles teams (technically five, but Posada wasn’t exactly a key component of the 1996 Yankees) hasn’t helped his case much.

The fact the ballot is stuffed isn’t helping matters either. Of the 191 ballots on Thibodaux’s tracker, a whopping 110 voted for the maximum ten players. It’s really easy to come up with about 12 players worthy of Hall of Fame votes this year, but there’s only room on the ballot for ten, so inevitably a few deserving players get left out in the cold. Posada’s an easy one to cast aside. Heck, if I had a ballot, I’m pretty sure Jorge wouldn’t be among my “top” ten players, though I haven’t put a ton of thought into it.

Posada’s best shot at getting into the Hall of Fame was always going involve a long stint on the ballot with a gradual increase in support each year. Perhaps a Rich Lederer/Bert Blyleven, Jonah Keri/Tim Raines style campaign would have been necessary. The longer he stayed on the ballot, the more voters would consider him and realize how great he truly was. That was the plan. (As an added bonus, the longer the stayed on the ballot, the more unclogged it would get it.)

In all likelihood Posada is going to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot this year, his first year of eligibility. That stinks. At least Bernie stuck around for a second year. Posada is one of the greatest Yankees ever and no one will ever wear No. 20 in pinstripes again. Most players couldn’t dream of having his career. Jorge seems destined to be overlooked as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, which is kinda fitting I guess, because I always felt he was a bit underappreciated during his playing career.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: January 2012

(Getty)
(Getty)

It’s a new month and a new year, so our MLBTR Archives series now jumps into 2012. I’m not going to lie, these MLBTR Archives posts can get pretty tedious at times, but this one was a lot of fun. January 2012 was a busy month for the Yankees, both in terms of rumors and actual transactions. Putting this post together was a blast.

Prior to January, the Yankees hadn’t done much during the 2011-12 offseason. They signed CC Sabathia to an extension and re-signed Freddy Garcia, and that’s about it. They still needed to address the rotation because, on New Years Day 2012, the starting staff was Sabathia, Garcia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova in whatever order. Egads. Time to jump back in time to January 2012. Come with me, won’t you?

January 3rd, 2012: Boras Seeks Five Years For Edwin Jackson

8:16pm: At the beginning of the offseason, the asking price for Jackson was in the Lackey/Burnett range ($82.5MM), tweets ESPN.com’s Buster Olney.  The Yankees haven’t had talks with Boras about Jackson, tweets Jack Curry of the YES Network. No talks are expected unless his asking price drops.

Jackson was a stathead favorite back then and he’d just had the best season of his career in 2011, pitching to a 3.79 ERA (3.55 FIP) in 199.2 innings for the White Sox and Cardinals. He was only 28 at the time too, so many saw him as a guy who was about to have the best stretch of his career. And on top of that, Jackson was a Type-B free agent, meaning he didn’t cost a draft pick. Sign him up, right?

The Yankees passed even though more than a few wanted them to go after Jackson given their questionable rotation. The Nationals were able to pick him up on a cheap one-year contract, which was telling. Jackson had Michael Pineda Syndrome in that he was way more hittable than his power stuff would lead you believe. He had a solid season for Washington in 2012 (4.03 ERA and 3.85 FIP) before signing a four-year contract with the Cubs and completely falling apart (5.33 ERA and 4.29 FIP from 2013-16). Sometimes the “he has great stuff and just needs learn how to pitch” guys never learn how to, you know, pitch.

January 5th, 2012: Yankees Fail To Reach Deal With Hiroyuki Nakajima

The Yankees and Hiroyuki Nakajima have failed to reach an agreement on a contract, the team announced. New York won the negotiating rights to the infielder with a bid around $2MM last month.

It was a surprise when the Yankees won the negotiating rights to Nakajima, who Brian Cashman said they viewed as a utility man. They offered him a small contract and wanted six years of team control, as if he were a typical rookie and not an overseas veteran. Nakajima went back to Japan for another year, signed a two-year deal with the Athletics the following offseason, and never got out of Triple-A. He hit .290/.346/.439 for the Orix Buffaloes in 2016.

January 5th, 2012: Quick Hits: Manny, Braves, Oliver, Tejada

The Yankees never inquired on lefty reliever Darren Oliver before he signed with the Blue Jays, reports MLBTR’s Ben Nicholson-Smith (on Twitter).

Oliver was 41 at the time of this rumor and he had carved out a very nice second phase of his career as a reliever. From 2008-11, his age 37-40 seasons, Oliver had a 2.62 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 242 appearances and 257.2 innings. The Yankees needed a lefty reliever and Oliver had been as good as anyone the last few seasons, but still, the guy was 41, and his strikeout rate dropped from 26.6% in 2010 to 20.5% in 2011. There were some other red flags too. The Blue Jays gave Oliver a one-year deal worth $4M and he went out and threw 56.2 innings with a 2.06 ERA (2.95 FIP) and a 23.5% strikeout rate in 2012. Go figure. Old players: not always bad!

January 7th, 2012: Jorge Posada To Announce Retirement

Jorge Posada will announce his retirement within the next two weeks, a source tells Sweeny Murti of WFAN (via Twitter).  Previously, it was reported that Posada wanted to continue playing in 2012 if he could find the right situation.

Aw man. On one hand, it was sad to see Posada retire. He’s one of my all-time favorite players. Switch-hitting catchers with power are my jam. On the other hand, it was also something of a relief to hear Posada was calling it a career. He was pretty bad in 2011 (92 wRC+) and the Yankees were ready to hand the DH reins over to Jesus Montero, so there was no room for Posada on the roster. It would have been weird seeing him finish out his career as a DH with the Rays or something like that. Here’s his retirement press conference:

As of this writing, Posada has appeared on only 4.5% of the publicly available Hall of Fame ballots according to Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker. He’s already been mathematically eliminated from receiving the 75% needed for induction into Cooperstown, so Posada won’t get into the Hall of Fame this year, not that I expected it to happen. Jorge does need some help — 15 more votes, to be precise — to receive the 5% necessary to remain on the ballot another year. Man, Posada falling off the ballot after one year would be a serious bummer.

January 7th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Posada, Rivera, Nakajima, Chavez

Speaking of members of the Core Four, closer Mariano Rivera has said he might know by Spring Training whether he intends to keep pitching when his contract expires after this year, but won’t say which way he’s leaning, writes Marc Carig of The Star-Ledger.  The 42-year-old posted a 1.91 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 last season.

Rivera later admitted he was planning to retire following the 2012 season, but he decided to stick around another year after tearing his ACL in May and missing the rest of the season. Mo could probably show up to Spring Training this year, throw ten tune-up innings, then give the Yankees about 60 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA, right? He was a machine. Rivera could roll out of bed in December and paint the corners.

January 11th, 2012: Minor Moves: Powell, Mattingly, Hu, Phillips, Herrera

The Yankees signed Preston Mattingly to a minor league deal, tweets Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. The 24-year-old former first rounder posted a .232/.281/.354 line in the lower minors last year. He is the son of current Dodgers manager and former Yankees star Don Mattingly. 

Geez, I forgot the Yankees signed Mattingly’s kid. Preston never did actually play in the organization. The Yankees released him at the end of Spring Training and he’s been out of baseball since. The Dodgers drafted Mattingly with the 31st overall pick in the 2006 draft and he hit .232/.276/.336 (69 wRC+) in over 1,700 minor league plate appearances. Never made it out of Single-A. Preston went to college after his baseball career ended and played on the Lamar University basketball team.

January 13th, 2012: Stark On Yankees, Red Sox, Reds, Garza

The Yankees won’t be under the luxury tax threshold in 2012 or 2013, but they hope to spend less than $189MM in 2014, Stark writes. However, the CBA isn’t the only reason the Yankees are spending more cautiously. “I think this is what the Yankees were going to do, regardless,” one of Stark’s sources said.

Five years later, the Yankees are still trying to get under the luxury tax threshold, and they won’t be able to do it until at least 2018. This was the first report of the austerity plan. The first time we got wind of Hal Steinbrenner’s plan to cut payroll and throw away the team’s market advantage. Nowadays the Collective Bargaining Agreement ensures the Yankees or any other big market team has no way to flex their financial muscle without being taxed or penalized heavily. Parity: it’s just a fancy word for widespread mediocrity.

January 13th, 2012: Mariners, Yankees Swap Pineda For Montero

The Mariners needed hitting, the Yankees needed pitching.  The two teams addressed each other’s needs in a blockbuster trade of young stars, as right-handers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos will go to the Bronx in exchange for catcher/DH Jesus Montero and righty Hector Noesi.  Both teams confirmed the trade this afternoon.

January 13th, 2012: Yankees Sign Hiroki Kuroda

The Yankees have signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract, the team announced.  Jack Curry of the YES Network first reported the agreement (Twitter link).  The deal will pay Kuroda $10MM, tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney.  Kuroda is represented by the Octagon agency.

I’m going to lump these two moves together because they kinda felt like one big move. The time stamps of the RAB posts (Pineda trade, Kuroda signing) tell me the deals happened 54 minutes apart. The dust hadn’t come close to settling following the Pineda trade when news of the Kuroda signing broke. What a day that was, huh?

The Pineda trade was a classic out-of-nowhere Brian Cashman move. There was talk Montero could be traded for a pitcher all winter and pretty much no one wanted that to happen. He came up in September 2011 and raked, and everyone was looking forward to seeing him as the full-time DH in 2012. Montero’s name was certainly out there as a trade candidate though.

Pineda? There were no rumors about him, and certainly nothing connecting him to the Yankees. Pineda had just wrapped up an excellent rookie season and it seemed like the Mariners were ready to pair him with Felix Hernandez for the next half-decade. Instead, they cashed him in as a trade chip to get the big middle of the order bat they’d been lacking for years. That was the thinking behind the trade, anyway.

As for Kuroda, the Yankees had been linked to him for weeks, dating back to the 2011 trade deadline. I wanted the Yankees to sign him so bad. So, so bad. Kuroda was not the kinda guy to chase top dollar though. He wanted the best fit for his family and a chance to win, which is why he insisted on no-trade clauses wherever he played. The Yankees convinced him to come to New York and he was a damn good Yankee.

Both these deals were reported on January 13th, but it wasn’t until January 23rd than the Pineda trade became official and January 26th that the Kuroda trade was official. If I’m remembering correctly, the Pineda trade was held up because Montero had some visa issues and wasn’t able to get to Seattle to take his physical right away. Kuroda was home in Japan at the time and in no real rush to fly all the way to New York for his physical.

But man, was that a wild day or what? There was a lot of angst about the pitching staff that offseason. The Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee the previous year and made it through the 2011 season thanks to Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. We were all anticipating a rotation overhaul during the 2011-12 offseason and it just wasn’t happening, then BAM, Pineda and Kuroda were Yankees in the span of 54 minutes. What a time to be alive.

January 13th, 2012: Yankees Looking For Hitting, Carlos Pena On “Radar”

Now that the Yankees have addressed their pitching issues with two major transactions, the club is looking to add some offense, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.comCarlos Pena is “now on their radar,” and Heyman says the Bronx Bombers could be looking at other hitters as well.

With Montero gone and Posada retired, the Yankees suddenly had an opening at DH, and my goodness, they were connected to pretty much every veteran bat in the final few weeks of the 2011-12 offseason. The Yankees liked Pena for a long time — he spent time with Triple-A Columbus in 2006 and they claimed him on trade waivers in August 2011 — and always seemed to be linked to him, but it never did come together. He wound up back with the Rays in 2012 and hit .197/.330/.354 (98 wRC+) with 19 homers in exactly 600 plate appearances. Bullet dodged, I’d say.

January 13th, 2012: Analysis And Background Of The Montero/Pineda Deal

The Yankees initially tried to acquire Felix Hernandez from the Mariners, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter) and were willing to offer a package that included Montero, Betances, Banuelos and more.

“If they were going to trade Montero, why didn’t they ask for Felix instead of Pineda???” was a fairly common RAB comment back in January 2012. As if the Yankees didn’t try that. Hernandez was coming off his worst season in several years at time — “worst season” is a relative term here because Felix was still awesome in 2011 — but he was signed for another three years and he was still only 25. Crazy. Hernandez was the face of the franchise and the Mariners weren’t going to give him up. The Yankees asked, Seattle said no, so they moved on to the next best thing.

January 15th, 2012: AL East Notes: Yankees, Pineda, Red Sox, Rays

GM Brian Cashman tells Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM that the Yankees will have made a mistake if Pineda never develops into a #1 starter (Twitter link).

Well, Pineda hasn’t develop into a No. 1 starter, but it’s still hard to consider the trade a mistake given what we know now. Montero was a total bust for the Mariners and it sure seems like the Yankees sold as high as possible. Sure, there was an opportunity cost to trading Montero — who else could they have gotten for him besides Pineda? — but we’ll never know what other deals were out there. Neither the Yankees nor the Mariners got what they wanted out of that trade. Seattle ended up way worse off though.

January 15th, 2012: Yankees Have Spoken To Johnny Damon

With Jesus Montero headed to the Mariners, the Yankees have spoken to Johnny Damon about the possibility of returning to New York as a DH according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (all Twitter links). He says they don’t have much money left to spend on a hitter, adding that there’s a “very small chance” they would consider Jorge Posada since he has yet to make his retirement official.

Like I said, the Yankees talked to every available veteran bat following the Montero trade. Damon was 38 at the time and coming off a good season with the Rays, during which he hit .261/.326/.418 (108 wRC+) with 16 homers in 647 plate appearances as their full-time DH. Talks with the Yankees about a reunion never got off the ground though. Damon ended up signing with the Indians in mid-April and hit .222/.281/.329 (70 wRC++) with four homers in 224 plate appearances before being released in August. He hasn’t played since. Another bullet dodged.

January 16th, 2012: Yankees, Hideki Matsui Have Been In Contact

There has been some contact between Hideki Matsui and the Yankees this offseason, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. The Yankees, who have also been in touch with Johnny Damon, appear to have just $1-2MM to spend on a DH. That would likely be enough to sign the 37-year-old Matsui, who’s coming off a disappointing season in Oakland.  

Another veteran bat, another old friend. Matsui was 37 at the time and he authored a .251/.321/.375 (93 wRC+) batting line with 12 homers in 585 plate appearances for the Athletics in 2011. I have zero recollection of Matsui with Oakland, but it happened. Look:

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Friggin’ wild, man. As with Damon, reunion talks with Matsui never did advance — it didn’t go over too well when the Yankees passed on both — and he wound up with the Rays, where he hit .147/.214/.221 (20 wRC+) with two homers in 103 plate appearances before being released in August. He hasn’t played since. Yet another bullet dodged.

Bringing Damon or especially Matsui back sure would have been cool from a nostalgic point of view, but it was pretty clear neither had much to offer at that point of their careers. Both guys left town a hero rather than stick around long enough to see themselves become the villain.

January 16th, 2012: Quick Hits: Orioles, Cespedes, Dodgers

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney suggests the Yankees could use their DH spot to see what Jorge Vazquez can do at the big league level or to give Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter partial days off (all Twitter links). The 29-year-old Vazquez posted a .262/.314/.516 line with 32 homers at Triple-A in 2011.

Jorge Vazquez! Oh man, good times. Vazquez was a guy the Yankees plucked out of Mexico in December 2008, and he put up some big numbers in the minors, including a .262/.314/.516 (121 wRC+) batting line with 32 homers in 500 plate appearances with Triple-A Scranton in 2011. I remember the man they call El Chato hitting a home run clear over the batter’s eye in dead center field in Spring Training 2011.

Of course, Vazquez was an older guy (29 at the time of this rumor) with zero defensive value and no plan at the plate whatsoever. Everyone oohed and aahed at the homers but ignored his 33.2% strikeout rate and 6.0% walk rate in 2011. The Yankees never seriously considered Vazquez for the DH position — how was he supposed to give A-Rod and Jeter partial days off anyway? — and in fact they released him following Spring Training 2012. Folks were Mad Online about that.

Vazquez is still active, you know. Or at least he was last season. He hit .319/.403/.513 (146 wRC+) with six homers in 139 plate appearances for a team in the Mexican League last summer. Vazquez has been playing in Mexico ever since being released by the Yankees. He hit a walk-off homer to win the Caribbean Series last February:

Vaya con Dios, El Chato.

January 17th, 2012: Quick Hits: White Sox, Guerrero, Gonzalez, Hart

The representatives for Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez contacted the Yankees about their DH opening, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff tweets.

Every agent with a veteran free agent bat called the Yankees after the Montero trade, it seems. The Yankees ended up signing Ibanez to replace Montero, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

As for Vlad, he actually never played again. He hit .290/.317/.416 (96 wRC+) with 13 homers in 590 plate appearances as a 36-year-old for the Orioles in 2011, and that was it. No one signed him following that season and his career ended. Guerrero is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. Bullet dodged? Hard to say since Vlad didn’t play in 2012. That no team bothered to sign him tells you he was considered a liability at this point of his career, not as asset.

January 18th, 2012: Gerardo Concepcion Close To Free Agency

18-year-old Cuban lefty Gerardo Concepcion has established residency in Mexico, agent Jaime Torres told Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com.  He should be able to declare free agency and negotiate with Major League teams very soon.  The Yankees, Rangers, Cubs, White Sox, and Phillies are among the interested clubs, Rojas tweets.

I totally forgot about this dude. Concepcion was the Next Big Thing out of Cuba and those stupid Yankees didn’t sign him because they never sign Cuban players. The Cubs gave him a five-year deal worth $7M, and he showed up to camp in 2012 with a mid-80s fastball and iffy secondary pitches. Concepcion had a 5.50 ERA (4.74 FIP) with 16.4% strikeouts and 12.9% walks in 178.1 minor league innings from 2012-15. Egads.

Last year the now 24-year-old Concepcion found some success as a reliever, pitching to a 5.13 ERA (4.78 FIP) with 19.7% strikeouts and 10.6% walks in 59.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A. He even made his MLB debut in June, allowing one run in 2.1 innings. The Cubs non-tendered him after the season and re-signed him to a minor league deal. Meh. Maybe Concepcion will figure it out as a reliever. Can’t say the Yankees missed out here.

January 20th, 2012: Stark On Tigers, Pineda, Dodgers, Rockies, Angels

There are also two “conspiracy theories” floating around regarding the deal.  One school of thought has people wondering if Pineda’s fading velocity down the stretch trigged the M’s to trade him.  There are also clubs wondering if the Yankees had concerns about Montero’s mental make-up.

The concerns about Montero’s makeup were nothing new. We’d heard about his #badattitude for years. Makeup and work ethic issues led to Montero’s failure as a baseball player as much as anything.

Pineda’s velocity drop at the end of the 2011 season was a big red flag and the reason many weren’t fond of the trade, especially since we were all still in “Montero is the next Miguel Cabrera!” mode at the time. Here is Pineda’s game-by-game velocity in 2011, via Brooks Baseball:

michael-pineda-velocity

That drop in his final start was the big concern, but Pineda’s velocity had been fading for weeks. He was over his previous career high in innings — he finished 2011 with 171 total innings, up from 139.1 the year before — and the Mariners did give him extra days off down the stretch in 2011.

The velocity loss could have been due to fatigue, or the irregular work. That was the hope. Then Pineda blew out his labrum in Spring Training 2012 and missed two full seasons. Womp effin’ womp.

January 26th, 2012: Yankees Designate Kevin Whelan For Assignment

The Yankees designated right-hander Kevin Whelan for assignment to create 40-man roster space for Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. The 28-year-old debuted with the Yankees in 2011, appearing in two games.

Geez, Whelan stuck around a long-time, huh? The Yankees got him in the Gary Sheffield trade with the Tigers following the 2006 season. He spent the next four and a half seasons toiling in the minors before making his MLB debut in June 2011, when he allowed one run in 1.2 innings. He walked five and struck out one. Whelan cleared waivers and spent the 2012 season in Triple-A Scranton before becoming a minor league free agent. He bounced from team to team for a few years and got back to the show briefly with the Tigers in 2014. He’s been out of baseball since 2015. Relief prospects, man. They’ll break your heart.

January 27th, 2012: Yankees Interested In Raul Ibanez

The Yankees have interest in Raul Ibanez, Kevin Kernan of the New York Post reports. Ibanez has drawn interest from a number of clubs, including the Mets and Tigers, in recent weeks. We heard ten days ago that ACES had contacted the Yankees about Ibanez, but this is the first concrete indication that the interest is mutual.

Ibanez was a less than inspiring choice for DH. He was 39 and had just hit .245/.289/.419 (90 wRC+) with 20 homers in 575 plate appearances for the Phillies. Add in his terrible defense and you had a -1.9 fWAR and -2.0 bWAR player. The Yankees eventually signed Ibanez and he looked washed up in Spring Training. It was bad. Fast forward six months, and the dude was a postseason hero. Something something can’t predict baseball.

January 30th, 2012: Yankees In Serious Talks With Bill Hall

The Yankees are in serious talks with utility man Bill Hall, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  Rosenthal thinks Hall could reprise a 2010 Red Sox-type role, and notes that the 32-year-old works out in the offseason with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.  No deal is imminent and Hall is still considering a couple of teams, tweets Andy Martino of the New York Daily News.

The Yankees were never not connected to Bill Hall. Everyone offseason they were trying to sign him and every trade deadline they were trying to acquire him. By this point Hall was well past his prime even though he was only 32. He hit .211/.261/.314 (57 wRC+) for the Astros and Giants in 2011, and no level of defense and versatility could make up for that. The Yankees did eventually sign Hall to a minor league deal, but he didn’t make it out of Spring Training. The last time he topped a 90 wRC+ was 2006.

January 30th, 2012: Minor Moves: Delcarmen, Tolbert, Gonzalez

The Yankees signed Manny Delcarmen to a minor league contract, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets. The right-hander, who last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2010, owns a 3.97 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in 292 2/3 innings over the course of six MLB seasons.

Really thought Manny Delcarmen would be a successful closer for an NL team, you guys. Delcarmen, who was only 29 at the time, had a 4.74 ERA (5.04 FIP) from 2009-10 before spending 2011 in Triple-A with the Mariners and Rangers. The Yankees gave him that minor league contract and he spent the season with Triple-A Scranton, where he had a 4.42 ERA (4.23 FIP) in 57 innings. Delcarmen hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2010, though he did make two relief appearances in the Mexican League last summer, so he’s still giving it a go.

January 31st, 2012: Yankees Hire Jim Hendry

11:57am: The Yankees have hired former Cubs GM Jim Hendry as a special assistant, ESPNChicago.com’s Bruce Levine reports. The Cubs dismissed Hendry in August, before hiring Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

The Cubs fired Hendry in late-July, but he agreed to stay on a few extra weeks to help the team sign their draft picks while the front office was in flux. Hendry had spent 17 seasons with the Cubs and was their GM from 2002-11, during which time he built some great teams (97 wins in 2008) and some terrible teams (66 wins in 2006). Tom Ricketts, who bought the Cubs in late-2009, decided it was time for a new voice. I’m guessing he doesn’t regret that decision.

Anyway, the Yankees hired Hendry as a special assistant and he’s still with the team as one of Cashman’s top lieutenants. He handled contract talks with Scott Boras about James Kaprielian two years ago. I’m sure he had a hand in the Starlin Castro trade as well. Hendry’s work as Cubs GM made him an easy punching bag, but he’s long had a reputation for being a great scout and talent evaluator. His current role suits him well. Hendry’s better off as an advisor than as the guy calling the shots.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: December 2011

Gio. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Gio. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

December is a wonderful month for baseball rumors. It’s also a terrible month for baseball rumors. The first half of December is usually insane, thanks largely to the annual Winter Meetings. Then, around the holidays, things die down completely and it’s total silence for, like, two weeks. So it’s a big rush of rumors and then … nothing.

Our MLBTR Archive series now takes us to December 2011. The Yankees signed CC Sabathia to an extension back in October, before he could use his opt-out, but they still needed to add pitching. They managed to win 97 games with a rotation held together by Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in 2011, and no one wanted to bank on them doing it again in 2012. Let’s dive into the December 2011 rumors.

December 1st, 2011: AL East Notes: Valentine, Wilson, Howell, Johnson

The Yankees turned down a request by C.J. Wilson‘s agent for a visit to Yankee Stadium, reports ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand.  That’s not a good sign for Wilson’s chances of signing with the Bombers, which Marchand believes are “less than five percent.”

At the time, I thought Wilson was a really nice fit for the Yankees. Lefties who can miss bats and get ground balls tend to mix well with Yankee Stadium. There were some silly off-the-field concerns with Wilson — he was pretty active on social media and folks thought that wouldn’t go over well in New York — but mostly the Yankees didn’t want to commit huge dollars to another pitcher after extending Sabathia. Declining a visit to the ballpark though? Geez. I guess the Yankees didn’t want Wilson and his agent to use them to drive up their price.

December 2nd, 2011: Heyman On Braves, Wilson, Reyes, Astros, Minaya

The Yankees have looked at free agent left-hander Mike Gonzalez.

There was a time, between Mike Stanton and Boone Logan, in which the Yankees were completely unable to find a reliable lefty reliever. Whenever a southpaw popped up around the league and had a modicum of success, he was instantly connected to the Yankees in trade talks. Damaso Marte? Gotta have him. Scott Downs? Get him too. Brian Fuentes? Eddie Guardado? B.J. Ryan? Bring ’em all to me.

Mike Gonzalez was that guy for me. He was phenomenal for the Pirates from 2004-06 (2.08 ERA and 2.58 FIP) before landing in Atlanta in 2007 (1.59 ERA and 3.12 FIP). Gonzalez had some ups and downs from 2008-11, and by time free agency rolled around following the 2011 season, he was coming off a year with a 4.39 ERA (4.11 FIP). The Brewers signed him that offseason, he pitched to a 4.68 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 2012, and that was it. Never pitched in MLB again. Gonzalez was my white whale for a few years. I wanted him in pinstripes so bad. Alas.

December 3rd, 2011: Six Teams Pursuing Luis Ayala

There are six teams in on free agent reliever Luis Ayala, tweets Jim Bowden of ESPN XM radio, including the Mets, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Angels and Red Sox.

The Yankees did a nice job finding Ayala during the 2010-11 offseason. The former Expos setup man had missed a few years with injury, and he was trying to get himself noticed in winter ball that offseason, which is when the Yankees saw him. They gave Ayala a minor league deal and he rewarded them with a 2.09 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 56 middle relief innings. Not too shabby, eh?

After that 2011 season, I remember saying the Yankees should let Ayala walk because he was 34 with a history of arm problems, and I prefer to let guys like that go a year too early rather than a year too late. It was a year too early. The Orioles signed Ayala to a one-year contract and he threw 75 innings of 2.64 ERA (3.67 FIP) ball in 2012. Womp womp. Middle relief wasn’t the problem with the 2012 Yankees anyway.

Ayala broke down following his first season with the Orioles and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2013. He is still active though, believe it or not. He had a 3.56 ERA in 43 innings for a pair of Mexican League teams in 2016.

December 5th, 2011: White Sox Have Big Demands For Danks, Floyd

The White Sox are asking for big returns for starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  The Yankees like Danks, tweets SI’s Jon Heyman, but they’re unwilling to meet Chicago’s request of top prospects Manny Banuelos and Jesus Montero.  In fact, Heyman says the Yankees wouldn’t trade either for Danks.

At the time, Danks was only one year from free agency, so trading Banuelos or Montero for him would have been nuts. He was good (3.77 ERA and 3.89 FIP from 2008-11) but you can’t trade one of the best prospects in baseball (at the time) for one year of a guy like Danks. The White Sox didn’t trade Danks and instead signed him to a five-year extension worth $65M later in December.

Danks pre-extension: 4.03 ERA (112 ERA+) and 4.14 FIP in 917.2 innings
Danks since extension: 4.92 ERA (81 ERA+) and 4.83 FIP in 585.2 innings

He blew out his shoulder capsule nine starts into the 2012 season, year one of that five-year contract, and hasn’t been the same since. Pitchers, man.

December 6th, 2011: AL West Rumors: Bailey, Jackson, Gonzalez, Rangers

The Athletics are looking for young, high-upside outfielders in any Gio Gonzalez trade, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Yankees may have to consider a three-team deal if they want to acquire the lefty, since they don’t have any outfielders in the high minors that fit that bill.

The Yankees had some high upside outfield prospects at the time — Mason Williams, Ravel Santana, and Slade Heathcott were all among their top ten prospects at the time, according to Baseball America — but they were all in the very low minors. Not the kind of guys who could headline a package for a good young pitcher like Gio.

Of course, the A’s wound up getting no outfielders in the Gonzalez trade later that offseason. They received a catcher (Derek Norris) and three pitchers (A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock) from the Nationals, so maybe the Yankees didn’t need outfielders to get it done. Seems like the Athletics determined they weren’t going to get the outfielders they wanted, so they took what they considered the best possible package. And as is often the case with the A’s nowadays, that package was more quantity than quality.

December 6th, 2011: Nationals Center Field Rumors

The Yankees shot down the Nationals’ attempts to trade for Brett Gardner, according to Pete Kerzel of MASNSports.com.

The Nats were just starting to rise to prominence at that time. They went 69-93 in 2010 but had some good young players. Then, in 2011, they made the jump to 80-81. It looked like they were ready to take another step forward in 2012 — and they did, they went 98-64 that year — but they needed a new center fielder. Rick Ankiel was their primary center fielder in 2011 and he stunk. Great story, below-average player.

Gardner, who was only 27 at the time and three years from free agency, hit .259/.345/.369 (97 wRC+) in 2011 while playing his usually strong defense. It’s not a shock the Nationals walked him. The Yankees wouldn’t budge and Washington never did acquire a center fielder that offseason. They started the 2012 season with Ankiel in center field before deciding to make a change in April, when they called up a young prospect named Bryce Harper. Worked out well, I’d say.

December 7th, 2011: Cashman: “I Think It’s Going To Be Hard To Add”

Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Jack Curry of the YES Network that he’s not optimistic about making a trade or signing a free agent (Twitter link). Said Cashman, “I think its going to be hard to add.”

Didn’t Cashman say pretty much the same thing at the Winter Meetings last week? Well, no, not exactly now that I look back through the archives, but close enough. From Wednesday’s Winter Meeting open thread:

11:00am: Cashman reiterated he doesn’t expect to land a starter at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t anticipate it. It’s a tough market and the price tags are extremely high. We could play on a lot of things because we have a lot of prospects people desire and we desire them, too. I would say it’s less likely for us to acquire a starter,” said the GM. [King]

Close enough. Every offseason Cashman seems to say he doesn’t expect to do something. He said it last offseason. It’s just one of those things GMs say. The Yankees did end up doing something during the 2011-12 offseason, but not until later in the winter. This was the Michael Pineda trade/Hiroki Kuroda signing offseason.

December 7th, 2011: Yankees Willing To Assume $8MM In Burnett Trade

The Yankees will listen to offers for starter A.J. Burnett, reports George A. King III of the New York Post, and they’re willing to assume $8MM of the $33MM owed to him for 2012-13. 

The Yankees wound up eating $20M of the $33M left on Burnett’s contract. Eating only $8M of that contract was a pipe dream given how poorly Burnett pitched from 2010-11. Still, saving $13M is better than nothing. If not for the 2009 World Series, the Burnett signing would have gone done as one of the team’s worst in recent history. No doubt about it. Flags fly forever though.

December 8th, 2011: Overnight Links: Wise, Gonzalez, Fielder, Rule 5

The Yankees are discussing a minor league deal with outfielder Dewayne Wise, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter).

The Yankees did eventually sign Wise to a minor league deal. He started the year in Triple-A Scranton, and, not so fun fact: he was the guy the team called up when Mariano Rivera blew out his ACL on the Kauffman Stadium warning track. The Yankees were carrying eight relievers at the time and Nick Swisher was banged up, which is why they called up Wise and not another arm.

Anyway, the thing I remember most about Wise’s tenure with the Yankees was his non-catch in the stands along the left field foul line:

Ah yes, the good ol’ pre-instant replay days, when umpires could be lazy as hell and teams had no recourse. At least now there’s some more accountability.

Wise went 16-for-31 (.262) with three homers in only 63 plate appearances with the Yankees in 2012. He got called up when Rivera got hurt and released when the Yankees traded for Ichiro Suzuki. His short stint in pinstripes was bookended by two future Hall of Famers.

December 8th, 2011: Angels Want Pujols And Wilson

ESPN’s Buster Olney says that the Yankees are not the mystery team that’s trying to set up a Pujols deal (Twitter link). That makes sense, given that Mark Teixeira has a full no-trade clause in his contract.

There was a “the Yankees are the mystery team on Albert Pujols!” conspiracy theory going around five years that never really made sense. The Yankees did have an opening at DH, so they could have stuck Pujols there, but why would you spend so much on a DH? Especially when there was a very good chance Alex Rodriguez — or even Teixeira — would need to finish his contract at DH? The Yankees signing Pujols was a fun idea that never made a lick of sense.

By the way, checked out that MLBTR headline. “Angels Want Pujols And Wilson.” Well, they got them. The Halos have paid those two a combined $175M over the last five years for +17.4 fWAR and +19.9 bWAR. They still owe Pujols another $140M over the next five years too. Goodness.

December 8th, 2011: 2011 Rule 5 Draft Results

5. Royals take Cesar Cabral from Red Sox; traded to Yankees for cash.
29. Yankees take Brad Meyers from Nationals.

The Yankees haven’t made a Rule 5 Draft pick since taking Meyers from the Nats. He hurt his shoulder during an offseason workout soon after the Rule 5 Draft and didn’t pitch at all in 2012. The Yankees eventually returned him to Washington. Meyers spent the 2013-14 seasons with the Nationals and an an independent league. He hasn’t pitched at all since 2014.

Cabral, on the other hand, very nearly made the Yankees out of Spring Training in 2012. He broke his elbow at the end of March though, and missed the entire season. That opened the door for Clay Rapada to make the Opening Day roster. The Yankees kept Cabral on the 40-man roster during the 2012-13 offseason, rehabbed him, and once he got healthy, they were able to outright him to Triple-A and keep him in the organization. The Red Sox, his original team, didn’t take him back.

As a September call-up in 2013, Cabral struck out six of the nine left-handed batters he faced, and seemed to be putting himself in position for a 2014 bullpen job. It never came together. The Yankees released Cabral after his infamous three hit batsmen appearance against the Rays in April 2014. Cabral did get back to the show with the Orioles in 2015, and he spent the entire 2016 season in their farm system. He’s still only 27, and since he’s left-handed, I’m guessing he’ll be able to hang around for a few more years.

December 8th, 2011: AL East Notes: Eyre, Jeroloman, Golson, Miller, Rays

The Yankees are close to signing former Indians prospect Adam Miller to a minor league deal, tweets Sherman. Miller ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects for five straight years from 2005 to 2009.

I was irrationally excited about the Miller signing. He was once a top pitching prospect — Miller topped out at No. 16 on Baseball America’s top 100 list in 2004 — whose career was derailed by injuries. Not shoulder or elbow injuries though. Miller had all sorts of ligament and tendon problems in his right middle finger that required surgery and other treatment. His finger now hooks at the end because he can’t fully extend it:

(Photo via TheClevelandFan.com)
(Photo via TheClevelandFan.com)

Miller was unable to grip the ball properly with the hook and he lost the hellacious breaking ball that once made him one of the game’s top pitching prospects. He had a 4.96 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 49 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with the Yankees in 2012. Miller was still active as recently as 2015, though it doesn’t appear he pitched anywhere this past season. Sucks. Poor guy spent all those years as a top prospect and was never called up to the big leagues. He didn’t get that affordable health care for life.

December 9th, 2011: Yankees Haven’t Made Offer To Hiroki Kuroda

9:59am: While no offer has been made, the Yankees indeed “like Kuroda very much,” according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link). 

8:13am: The Yankees have offered Hiroki Kuroda a one-year contract worth approximately $12MM in U.S. dollars, reports Japanese news outlet Sponichi (passed on by Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues).

This was the first time we heard the Yankees connected to Kuroda that offseason. I was a huge fan and wrote a bunch about trying to get him in the previous months. I was hoping the Yankees could swing a trade to get him at the 2011 trade deadline, but alas, Kuroda said he was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause and leave his family.

Anyway, the Yankees shot down that Sponichi report — I rarely pass along those overseas reports I have to run through Google Translate now because I got burned by this Kuroda rumor — but did eventually sign Kuroda later in the offseason. He got $10M, not $12M. That one worked out well, I’d say.

December 9th, 2011: Minor Moves: Bianchi, Threets, Gallagher, Atilano

The Yankees have designated Colin Curtis for assignment, tweets MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch.  The move creates space on New York’s 40-man roster for Freddy Garcia, whose signing was made official today.  Curtis, a fourth-round draft pick in 2006, has 64 Major League plate appearances to his name.

Colin Curtis! He was part of New York’s great 2006 draft class, which produced ten big leaguers, including seven with staying power: Ian Kennedy (first round), Joba Chamberlain (supplemental first), Zach McAllister (third), Colin Curtis (fourth), George Kontos (fifth), Dellin Betances (eighth), Mark Melancon (ninth), Daniel McCutchen (13th), David Robertson (17th), and Kevin Russo (20th). Nearly +60 bWAR worth of players right here.

Anyway, Curtis had a few stints with the Yankees in 2010. He hit his only career home run as a replacement for Brett Gardner, who was ejected in the middle of an at-bat for arguing balls and strikes. Curtis came off the bench and socked a dinger.

About a week later Curtis had a hand in that insane comeback against the Dodgers, when the Yankees broke Jonathan Broxton. This game. Curtis actually drove in the game-tying run with a ground ball. A shoulder injury sidelined him during the entire 2011 season, so he was never called up that year. Curtis split 2012 between Triple-A Scranton and an independent league, and he hasn’t played since.

December 10th, 2011: Yankees Win Rights To Hiroyuki Nakajima

11:34am: The Yankees won the bid for about $2MM, tweets Jon Heyman.  Noting Nakajima’s preference to play for a West Coast team, Rosenthal wonders if he’ll be willing to be a utility player for the Yankees.

Oh man, I forgot about Hiroyuki Nakajima. He was 29 at the time and coming off a season in which he hit .297/.354/.433 with 16 home runs and 21 steals for the Seibu Lions. It was a surprise when the Yankees won his negotiating rights with a $2M bid. Most expected him to fetch more.

Contract talks did not go well. The Yankees saw Nakajima as a utility infielder and wanted to pay him accordingly. Also, they wanted six full years of control through pre-arbitration and arbitration, like most players. Nakajima’s camp balked and there was some talk of a sign-and-trade, but that never happened. He returned to Seibu for another year, hit .311/.382/.451 in 2012, then signed a two-year deal worth $6.5M with the Athletics as a true free agent during the 2012-13 offseason.

In his two seasons with the A’s, Nakajima never made it out of Triple-A, and hit .267/.326/.356 in 175 minor league games during that two-year deal. Seems the Yankees were right about him being nothing more than a utility guy. Nakajima returned to Japan after his contract with the A’s expired. He hit .290/.346/.439 with eight homers for the Orix Buffaloes in 2016.

I remember folks saying the contentious negotiations with Nakajima would hurt the Yankees in the future because no Japanese player would want to sign with them. L-O-L. As if this was the first contract negotiation to turn ugly. They’re the Yankees. No agent in their right mind would allow their client to rule the Yankees out as a potential landing spot because the club’s pockets are so deep.

December 14th, 2011: Bidding Period For Yu Darvish Ends

The Yankees’ bid is modest, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). Indications are the winning bid is “sky high.”

Eventually word got out the Yankees bid somewhere close to $20M. The Rangers bid $51.7M, which reportedly blew everyone else out of the water. They had the high bid by a mile. The Yankees supposedly had some concerns about Darvish and New York, which I thought was kinda silly. The guy was a rock star in Japan. He was used to the attention. And, of course, he’s shown he can thoroughly dominate MLB hitters these last few years. Me thinks the Yankees would like a do over on Darvish. Their evaluation was off the mark.

December 22nd, 2011: Indians, Others Have Inquired On Nick Swisher

The Indians are one of several clubs that has called the Yankees about Nick Swisher, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti, a finalist for free agent Carlos Beltran, is also considering trades to improve his club’s offense. 

The Yankees never did trade Swisher that offseason and it wouldn’t have made sense anyway. The Yankees were still a legitimate contender at the time and he was one of their most productive players. It’s not like the team had a young right fielder waiting in the wings.

The Swisher acquisition goes down as one of the best moves of the Cashman era. Here’s the timeline:

  • November 13th, 2008: Yankees acquire Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira from the White Sox for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez.
  • 2009-12: Swisher hits .268/.367/.483 (128 wRC+) and averages 26 homers and 150 games played per season. The Yankees paid him $31.6M for +14.6 fWAR and +11.5 bWAR.
  • 2013: Swisher declined the qualifying offer and the Yankees used the compensation draft pick to select Aaron Judge.

All transactions should work out that well.

December 23rd, 2011: AL East Links: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Jones Beltran

The Yankees considered pursuing Carlos Beltran earlier this offseason according to Bob Klapisch of The Bergen Record (on Twitter), but ultimately decided against it because of his balky knees.

The Yankees during the 2011-12 offseason: We can’t sign Beltran because his knees are too risky.

The Yankees during the 2013-14 offseason: Okay fine here’s a three-year contract.

The Beltran signing worked out about as well as the Yankees could have hoped considering his knees were still a concern and he was about to turn 37. Too bad they only played one postseason game during his three years in pinstripes, though that’s not Beltran’s fault.

December 28th, 2011: Yankees To Sign Hideki Okajima

The Yankees agreed to a minor league deal with reliever Hideki Okajima, tweets David Waldstein of the New York Times.  Earlier, Sports Hochi in Japan reported talks between the two parties were in the final stages and a deal could be reached shortly after the new year (as translated by NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman).

The token ex-Red Sox signing of the offseason. Okajima never actually played with the Yankees though. He failed his physical in Spring Training and was released. Okajima spent the 2012 season in Japan, tried one last time to make MLB work with the Athletics in 2013, then returned to Japan for the 2014-15 seasons. He’s retired now.

December 28th, 2011: Yankees Notes: A-Rod, Nakajima, Chavez, Andruw

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez recently traveled to Germany for an experimental therapy called Orthokine on his right knee, reported Mike Puma of the New York Post.  Orthokine is similar to Platelet Rich Plasma therapy, which reliever Takashi Saito had done several years ago.  The procedure, which was recommended by Kobe Bryant, came with the blessing of the Yankees and the commissioner’s office.  Puma explains, “Orthokine involves taking blood from the patient’s arm and spinning it in a centrifuge, a machine used in laboratories to spin objects around a fixed axis. The serum is then injected into the affected area.”  Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters the procedure was done on Rodriguez’s left shoulder as well.  For more on the topic, check out this article from Teri Thompson and Christian Red of the New York Daily News.

Oh man, A-Rod‘s experimental knee procedure was a Very Big Deal at the time, even though the Yankees and MLB both approved the treatment. A-Rod haters were convinced he was doing something against the rules. They said it was some kind of German super-PED. The internet tells me the difference between PRP and Orthokine involves the cells being isolated. PRP isolates red blood cells. Orthokine isolates white blood cells to produce a natural anti-inflammatory. The Yankees and MLB gave Rodriguez the okay, but it didn’t matter, there were many folks convinced it was somehow illegal.

December 30th, 2011: Olney’s Latest: Yankees, Ethier, Angels, Blue Jays

The Yankees have “quietly checked around” on possible right field alternatives to Nick Swisher as they prepare for his possible free agent departure after next season.

I was a big Nate Schierholtz guy. He was my idea for a long-term right fielder post-Swisher. Schierholtz hit .278/.326/.430 (112 wRC+) with nine homers in 362 plate appearances with the Giants in 2011, but there was some bad blood between him and the team over playing time, so they put him on the trade block. He was only 27 at the time and had three years of control left, so I figured he could help the Yankees as a part-time outfielder/part-time DH in 2012 before taking over in right field in 2013. Didn’t happen. Schierholtz bounce around a bit, hit 21 homers with a 109 wRC+ for the 2013 Cubs, and has spent time in Japan too. The Tigers stashed him in Triple-A all of this past season.

December 30th, 2011: Yankees Agree To Sign Andruw Jones

The Yankees and Andruw Jones have agreed to a one-year deal with a $2MM base salary and $1.4MM in incentives, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links). The deal is pending a physical. The Yankees have a full 40-man roster and will need to clear a spot once the signing becomes official.

Jones was awesome for the Yankees in 2011, hitting .247/.356/.495 (132 wRC+) with 13 homers in 222 plate appearances. That includes a .286/.384/.540 (152 wRC+) batting line against lefties. For some reason, I’ll always remember Andruw drawing a 14-pitch walk with one out to start the Yankees’ go-ahead rally in the seventh inning of this game, Jesus Montero’s debut:

Andruw’s second season in pinstripes didn’t go nearly as well as the first. He hit .197/.294/.408 (89 wRC+) overall and .202/.294/.411 (88 wRC+) against lefties. Jones never played in MLB after that 2012 season. He went to Japan for a few years and will make his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot next year. I’m pretty sure I’d vote for him. Andruw was arguably the greatest defensive outfielder in history, and he hit over 400 homers. Borderline for sure considering he was done as an everyday player at 30, but I think I’d vote for him.