Archive for Front Office
Even before last night’s come-from-behind extra-innings win over the Orioles, it was obvious the Yankees are far exceeding expectations this year. The injuries piled up during the offseason and in Spring Training, leading to a bunch of scrap heap pickups forced into everyday roles come Opening Day. Lyle Overbay? Vernon Wells? Frankie Cervelli? This guys had no business starting the season assured of regular playing time for a team with World Series aspirations.
The Yankees were widely picked to collapse completely and perhaps finish last, the kind of collapse that has been predicted every year since about 2007. Instead, they’ve thrived and currently sit atop the AL East with a little less than three-quarters of the season remaining. Yes, there is very long way to go, but New York has fared far better than even the most optimistic of fans could have expected. When Opening Day rolled around, I remember the mantra was “tread water until the injured guys return.” Expectations were definitely lower.
Thanks to the team’s better-than-expected performance, Joe Girardi has started to get some super early Manager of the Year love. My CBS colleague Dayn Perry recently dubbed him the 25% AL Manager of the Year — basically the MoY to date — for example. The Manager of the Year Award has morphed into the “Manager Of The Team Who Most Exceeds Expectations” Award in recent years, and Girardi definitely fits that bill right now. Some late-season ridiculousness — just ask 2012 Bob Melvin and 2011 Joe Maddon — would help his cause too, but I’m hoping for a less stressful finish to the season.
Looking around the rest of the league, the only other early-season AL MoY candidates are Terry Francona and John Farrell. Both the Indians and Red Sox are exceeding expectations so far, but both teams did make splashy offseason moves. Were expectations lower in Cleveland and Boston than they were in New York coming into the season? I’m not sure, but those two deserve the same kind of early MoY attention as Girardi. The next 120 or so games will sort this out, and some new candidates will inevitably emerge.
It’s obvious these days that a Yankee needs to have an outrageous season to win any kind of major award, like a 2007 Alex Rodriguez season. Without that big gap in performance, the other guy always seems to get the benefit of the doubt. That might work against Girardi because the Yankees still have the largest payroll in baseball and hey, they should be able to plug their holes on short-notice. Not every team can absorb $13M of Wells’ salary at a moment’s notice. That mentality exists and it could come into play.
Only two Yankees managers have won the award since it was first handed out in 1983 — Joe Torre in 1996 and 1998, and Buck Showalter during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. That’s all. Girardi has already been named MoY once before, taking home the award during his lone season with the Marlins in 2006, but that shouldn’t matter. I’ve never been an ardent Girardi supporter, but he’s done one hell of a job keeping this ship afloat through the injuries. If there was ever a time a Yankees manager deserved the Manager of the Year Award, this is it.
Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees have not yet had contract extension talks with either Joe Girardi or Brian Cashman. Cashman is under contract through 2014, so that’s no big deal, but Girardi’s deal expires after this season.
The Yankees do not negotiate new contracts until the current one expires thanks to their archaic team policy, and right now I have no reason to believe they won’t try to bring Girardi back after the season. The team is far exceeding post-injury expectations and the credit for that deservingly goes to the manager. If Girardi doesn’t return, my guess it will be his decision — wants a new challenge, another club makes a huge offer, burnout, etc. — and not the team’s.
Spring Training is less than a week old, but we’ve already spent an awful lot of time talking about Robinson Cano‘s impending free agency. It’s going to be a major story from now right up until he signs his new contract, either with the Yankees or another team. We’ve also talked very briefly about Phil Hughes and Curtis Granderson, two important Yankees who will also become free agents next winter. Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan have been free agency afterthoughts so far, but they are important pieces of the bullpen.
Those five players do not represent the team’s only notable impending free agents, however. Joe Girardi is a lame duck manager at the moment, entering the final year of the three-year contract he signed during the 2010-2011 offseason. It will be his sixth season with the team and his success is undeniable: one World Championship, two other ALCS appearances, three division titles, four postseason berths and four 95+ win seasons. As expected, Girardi has said all the right things and handled his lame duck status well so far.
“My faith is that God is going to put me where he wants me,” he said last week. “That’s what I believe. I don’t worry about where I’m going to be next year. We’re probably going to get into this later, so I’ll say it, we talk about payroll – I’m not worried about next year’s payroll. I’m worried about the next 162 games and getting to the playoffs and getting to the World Series. That’s my concern. That’s what I worry about. I think in the game of baseball you get a lot of practice only worrying about that day or that year as a player, as a coach, as a manager, because you never know what it’s going to be. When I signed, I was called up in 1989 and thought I’d be a Cub the rest of my life. Lo and behold, I was with three other teams, back with the Cubs. I was all over the place. So you get used to not worrying about next year, and I’m not worried about it.”
As I wrote in our Season Review, I don’t think Girardi had a great year in 2012, at least compared to his first four years on the job. He has his annoying tendencies — specifically ill-timed intentional walks and sacrifice bunts in the early-to-mid-innings — like every other manager, but he typically does a very good job running his bullpen and keeping his older players rested. There haven’t been any whispers of clubhouse problems — though the team does go out of the way to acquire good makeup players — over the last five years, so Girardi’s clubhouse skills should be considered a plus as well.
Now, that said, big league manager is one of those jobs with a relatively short shelf life. Unless the guy has immediate and unprecedented success like Joe Torre, the odds of him sticking around for 10+ years are tiny. Only eight managers have been with their current team longer than Girardi, and there are more than a few teams who have cycled through multiple managers over the last five seasons. Managers typically lose effectiveness when they’ve been around too long, mostly because their style becomes routine and players get a little too comfortable (i.e. Red Sox and Terry Francona). I don’t see any reason to think that’s happened with Girardi’s team yet.
The Yankees have a very wide range of possible outcomes this year, and how they finish will inevitably impact the decision whether to retain Girardi. Everything could click and they would win 95+ games or everyone could break down and they could finish in fourth place. Girardi would clearly be retained — or at least offered the opportunity to stay — should the former happen, but I don’t think the latter would automatically result in his dismissal. It depends why they finished in fourth, really. Did all the old guys who are injury risks get hurt, or did important players underperform? Only one of those can really be charged to the skipper, and even that isn’t cut and dry.
The last time the Yankees needed a manager, they only interviewed three candidates: Girardi, Don Mattingly, and Tony Pena. Brian Cashman said afterwards they interviewed only those three because they were familiar with the Yankees and the market they play in, which is why no outside candidates were brought in. Outside of Pena, pitching coach Larry Rothschild (first manager in Devil Rays history), and I guess Mattingly (contract is up after this season), I don’t know who else the team could bring in to meet that “familiar with New York” criteria. Then again, they could always change course.
Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner hand-picked Girardi for the job following the 2007 season, so I have a hard time thinking they’ll replace him next winter for something less that an outright clubhouse mutiny. He’s a fine manager — I don’t think he’s top five or even top ten, but clearly better than average in terms of on-field decisions — and has done a better job of handling the media over the years. Girardi could always choose to leave on his own for another job, but he didn’t even let the Cubs make him an offer three years ago. If he didn’t walk away for his hometown team, I can’t imagine what it would take to lure him away. Girardi is already one of the two or three highest paid managers in the game, so that’s not an issue.
Obviously the Cano, Hughes, and Granderson free agencies are much more important than the manager’s, especially since their salaries will be impacted by the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold next year. The skipper’s salary is separate and, theoretically, not limited by any kind of payroll threshold. Maybe the Yankees won’t want to pay their manager top dollar anymore — “I don’t believe you need a top-five salaried manager to win,” sure sounds like something Hal Steinbrenner would mutter these days — but I’ll believe that when I see it. Barring something completely unexpected, Girardi seems like a safe bet to re-sign with the team this winter and lead them for another three years or so.
The Yankees have hired Marcus Thames as the hitting coach for their High-A Tampa affiliate, the club announced. He joins long-time manager and former Yankee Luis Sojo, the winningest manager in Florida State League history.
Thames, 35, last played with the Dodgers back in 2011. He was originally drafted by the Yankees back in 1996 and broke into the show with them in 2002, famously homering off Randy Johnson on the first pitch he saw as a big leaguer. He’s perhaps best remembered around these parts for being a force off the bench back in 2010 — .288/.350/.491 with a dozen homers. Thames is a super nice guy and incredibly easy to like, so I wish him well down in Tampa. Plus, you know, I get to link to this.
Via Ken Davidoff: The Yankees have added Don Wakamatsu to their pro scouting staff. The former Mariners manager has held various big league coaching and minor league instructor positions with several teams through the years, but I have no idea what kind of talent evaluator he is. I am a fan of having lots of voices in the front office though, so hooray for adding another one.
Via Dan Barbarisi: Team officials confirmed Brian Cashman came to the Winter Meetings this week without the authorization to make offers to free agents. The GM had to go to ownership and plead his case for the Kevin Youkilis offer and I assume the Nate Schierholtz offer as well.
One official downplayed the seriousness of the situation, saying most GMs have to approach ownership before handing out offers. Another confirmed that this is, however, a change of pace for the Yankees. Cashman had more authority in the past, so this jibes with the earlier report of his apparent frustration. Why did ownership scale back the GMs authority? Your guess is as good as mine.
Via Andrew Marchand: The Yankees and looking into hiring an assistant hitting coach to pair with the incumbent Kevin Long. Two hitting coaches is one of baseball’s newest trends, and a recent article by The Sporting News says eleven teams currently staff an assistant or are seeking one this winter. Obviously we don’t know when the team started talking about this, but it seems odd that this is coming out after Greg Colbrunn (Red Sox) and Tino Martinez (Marlins) left the organization for hitting coach gigs elsewhere.
Just as with the manager and coaching staff, it’s difficult to evaluate a front office from the outside. Yes we can see the moves they make and speculate on moves they didn’t make, but we’ll never know the inner workings and all of the factors involved. Things like opportunity cost and the club’s internal evaluation of players are beyond our scope. Remember, a move can both make perfect sense at the time and be laughably bad in hindsight.
The Yankees started the year by making a series of front office changes in January, most notably hiring former Cubs GM Jim Hendry as a special assignment scout and promoting pro scouting director Billy Eppler to assistant GM. I’m a fan of having multiple voices in the front office and Hendry is well-regarded within the game, so I liked his hiring just as I liked the Kevin Towers hiring back in 2010. The Eppler promotion was significant because for the first time since Brian Cashman took over as GM, an obvious line of succession had been established. Eppler was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels GM job last winter and now appears to be in line to replace Cashman down the road.
On the field, the Yankees made a number of great, good, okay, poor, and disastrous moves like every other team. Signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract was a masterstroke while the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade went sour in less than three months. Low-cost, one-year stopgap solutions like Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, and Clay Rapada worked out well while others like Chris Stewart and Andruw Jones did not. Minor league free agent signings like Jayson Nix and Dewayne Wise contributed while midseason pickups like Chad Qualls, Casey McGehee, and Steve Pearce were non-factors. Derek Lowe worked out fine after being plucked off the scrap heap in August.
The Yankees made one significant midseason move, acquiring Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners for two young arms. The 39-year-old agreed to a set of conditions prior to joining the team, specifically that he would move over to left field, bat towards the bottom of the order, and sit against tough lefties. Ichiro performed so well (.322/.340/.454, 114 wRC+) that he forced his way into regular playing time and a higher spot in the lineup by the end of the season. Even Ichiro’s biggest detractors (i.e. me) have to admit he gave the team a big shot in the arm down the stretch.
At the same time, I do feel the Yankees dragged their fit a bit making in-season upgrades. Obviously Brett Gardner‘s three setbacks contributed to that, but the team also didn’t act swiftly when it was obvious bullpen help was needed. Both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson went down with injuries in May, then a few weeks later Cory Wade completely imploded. The only help they brought in before the deadline was Qualls, who predictably stunk. It appeared as though the Yankees were counting on Joba Chamberlain‘s return from elbow and ankle surgery to shore up the bullpen, whether that was actually the case or not.
The Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014, and the front office has major work to do these next 15 months or so to make that happen. The Pineda trade was, by far, the team’s most long-term move this year and so far the worst case scenario has played out. The right-hander’s ability to rebound following shoulder surgery may be the biggest factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. The Kuroda signing and Ichiro trade worked out marvelously this year, but fair or not, the performance of the front office going forward will be heavily influenced by the results of that swap with the Mariners.
Evaluating a manager and his coaching staff is a very difficult thing for outsiders. The vast majority of their work takes place behind the scenes, so we’re left looking for clues in places they might not be. That pitcher learned a changeup? Great job by the pitching coach! That hitter is only hitting .250 when he usually hits .280? Fire the hitting coach! We have no idea what clues we dig up are actually attributable to the coaching staff, so we end up guessing.
Because of that, I don’t want to review Joe Girardi and his coaching staff in our typical “What Went Right/What Went Wrong” format. This review is almost entirely subjective and we can’t really pin anything (good or bad) on the coaching staff specifically. We know Curtis Granderson essentially revived his career after working with Kevin Long two summers ago, but having a specific example like that is very rare. Instead, we’ll have to take a broader approach.
I think 2012 was Girardi’s worst year as Yankees’ manager. Every manager makes questionable in-game moves during the season, but I felt Girardi made more this year than he had in any year since 2008, and it all started in the very first inning on Opening Day with the intentional walk to Sean Rodriguez. That still bugs me.
Girardi has long been considered a strong bullpen manager given his ability to spread the workload around and squeeze water out of scrap heap rocks, but this year he leaned very heavily on Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. Working Soriano hard wasn’t a huge deal because he was expected to leave after the season, but Logan made more appearances in 2012 (80) than any other reliever under Girardi, including his time with the Marlins. Robertson appeared in 65 games despite missing a month with an oblique injury. Part of it was a lack of alternatives (blame the front office for that) and the tight race, but this was something that started before the Yankees blew their ten-game lead.
Girardi also had two notable meltdowns (for lack of a better term), lashing out at a fan following a loss in Chicago and then getting into a shouting match with Joel Sherman after calling him into his office. Maybe my conduct standards are too high, but that kind of stuff is a major no-no in my book. It stems from pure frustration and there is zero good to come from it. Girardi didn’t have a bad year as manager, he did a fine job guiding the team despite an overwhelming about of injuries, but I feel that he’s had better years in the past.
Larry Rothschild & Kevin Long
When the Yankees hired Rothschild as pitching coach two years ago, he came to the club with a reputation of improving both strikeout and walk rates. That is exactly what has happened overall, and we can see it specifically with someone like CC Sabathia (strikeouts, walks). Obviously the personnel has changed over the last few years, but the Yankees managed to get productive seasons from scrap heap pickups like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia last year while getting better than expected production from Hiroki Kuroda and even Andy Pettitte this year. We don’t know how much of a role Rothschild played in all of this, but the team’s pitching staff has exceeded expectations the last two years.
Long, on the other hand, came under big-time scrutiny following the club’s offensively-inept postseason showing and Mark Teixeira‘s continued decline from elite all-around hitter to pull-happy, one-dimensional slugger. At same time, he remade Granderson and helped Robinson Cano go from good to great. Long does preach pulling the ball for power and apparently that contributed to the team’s poor postseason, but the roster overall is built around guys who pull the ball for power. Outside of Cano and Derek Jeter (and later on, Ichiro Suzuki), the Yankees lacked hitters who could hit to the opposite field. Like Rothschild, we don’t know how much a role Long has played in all of this, and I’m not even convinced preaching power these days is a bad thing given the decline in offense around the league.
Tony Pena, Mike Harkey, Rob Thomson & Mick Kelleher
Not really much to add here. Thomson, the third base coach, does have a knack for being a little overly-aggressive with his sends in tight games while at other times he will hold guys who would have clearly been safe, but every third base coach does that. The Yankees have had an above-average stolen base success rate in recent years (77-79%), so I guess Kelleher is doing a fine job of reading moves and relaying that info over at first base. Other than that, we have very little basis for which to judge these guys on. Despite the whole “everyone should be fired because there are obviously better coaches available!” mentality than can fester following an embarrassing playoff loss, all indications are the entire staff will return fully intact next year.
Via Andy Martino: The Yankees have hired former Pirates manager and Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin as a Major League scout. The 61-year-old was at the helm for Pittsburgh briefly in both 2005 and 2007, and he was by Charlie Manuel’s side in Philadelphia for the last four years. I don’t know much about Mackanin outside of the fact that he’s interviewed for a number of managerial openings (Red Sox, Cubs, Rockies) in recent years and is reportedly very highly regarded within the game. Good hire? Sure, why not.