Yankees finalize coaching staff, Mike Harkey returns as bullpen coach

(NY Times)
(NY Times)

The new bullpen coach is the old bullpen coach. The Yankees announced Monday evening that Mike Harkey has rejoined the team as the bullpen coach, replacing the departed Gary Tuck. Also, first base coach Tony Pena replaces Tuck as the team’s catching coordinator.

Harkey, 49, spent the last two seasons as the Diamondbacks pitching coach. He was let go a few weeks ago. Harkey, who is very close with Joe Girardi, was the Yankees bullpen coach from 2008-13 before leaving for the job in Arizona. Harkey pitched eight years in MLB before getting into coaching.

The coaching staff is now set. Alan Cockrell replaced Jeff Pentland as the main hitting coach and Marcus Thames was promoted from Triple-A to take over as assistant hitting coach a few weeks ago. Pena, bench coach Rob Thomson, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and third base Joe Espada remain.

Yankees promote Alan Cockrell to hitting coach, Marcus Thames to assistant hitting coach

Thames. (Blade/Julia Nagy)
Thames. (Blade/Julia Nagy)

6:34pm ET: The Yankees have officially announced the moves. Cockrell takes over as hitting coach and Thames is the assistant hitting coach.

5:23pm ET: According to George King, the Yankees are planning to promote assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell to the primary hitting coach position. Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames will be promoted to serve as Cockrell’s assistant. The Yankees have not yet confirmed or announced the moves.

Hitting coach Jeff Pentland was let go earlier this month, as was bullpen coach Gary Tuck. The Yankees hired Pentland and Cockrell last offseason after firing Kevin Long. Pentland always seemed like a stopgap coach, though I thought he would stick around longer than one year. I was wrong.

Cockrell, 52, was the Rockies hitting coach from 2006-08, the Mariners hitting coach from 2009-10, and a minor league hitting coordinator with the Diamondbacks from 2011-12. He served as a roving minor league hitting coordinator with the Yankees from 2013-14 before joining the big league staff.

Thames, 38, played for the Yankees in 2002 and 2010. They hired him as a coach prior to the 2013 season and he steadily climbed the minor league ladder — Thames was the hitting coach for High-A Tampa (2013), Double-A Trenton (2014), and Triple-A Scranton (2015) in recent years.

It has seemed as though the ultra-likable Thames was being groomed for the hitting coach job the last few seasons. King says the Yankees were impressed with his minor league work and notes other clubs were showing interest in Thames as a coach. The Yankees decided he was ready for a big league job. Neat.

With Cockrell and Thames promoted, the Yankees now only have to replace Tuck as bullpen coach. There have not been rumblings any yet, but I do think it’s worth noting ex-bullpen coach Mike Harkey was let go as D’Backs pitching coach a few weeks ago.

Front Office & Coaching Staff Notes: Hendry, Chavez, Mattingly, Magadan, Baylor, Tuck

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Both the Yankees’ front office and the coaching staff have been shaken up a bit in recent weeks. Assistant GM Billy Eppler left to take over as Angels GM, and trusted scout Tim Naehring was promoted to take his place. Hitting coach Jeff Pentland and bullpen coach Gary Tuck were let go as well. Here are some front office and coaching staff notes via Nick Cafardo, Joel Sherman, Jerry Crasnick, George King, Ryan Hatch, and Jon Heyman.

  • Special advisor Jim Hendry interviewed with the Phillies for their since filled GM position. They named Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak their new GM over the weekend. Although he didn’t get the GM job, it’s still possible Hendry will join the Phillies as an advisor.
  • Special assignment scout Eric Chavez has left the Yankees to join Eppler with the Angels. His contract was up, so he was free to leave on his own. The Yankees hired Chavez last offseason and he had input into the Didi Gregorius trade since he played with Gregorius with the D’Backs.
  • Don Mattingly is not currently interested in the Yankees hitting coach position. He’s been there, done that. Mattingly wants to continue managing and right now there are four open managerial jobs: Dodgers, Padres, Nationals, and Marlins. Obviously he’s not going back to the Dodgers after leaving last week. The Marlins’ job is reportedly Mattingly’s to lose.
  • Dave Magadan will not be a candidate for the hitting coach job, apparently. He was let go as Rangers hitting coach about a week ago. The Yankees interviewed Magadan for their hitting coach position last offseason before hiring Pentland.
  • Don Baylor could be a hitting coach candidate. He held the position with the Angels the last two seasons before Eppler let him go a few days ago. Baylor, a former Yankees player, managed Joe Girardi with both the Rockies and Cubs, so there’s a connection.
  • Gary Tuck was apparently let go as bullpen coach last week because he and the analytic heavy front office didn’t mesh too well. I’m not sure what a bullpen coach does that involves analytics, but whatever.
  • In case you missed it yesterday, the Yankees reached out to former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington about joining the front office, but he declined.

Yankees fire hitting coach Jeff Pentland and bullpen coach Gary Tuck

Pentland. (NY Daily News)
Pentland. (NY Daily News)

According to George King, the Yankees have fired hitting coach Jeff Pentland and bullpen coach Gary Tuck. Apparently the rest of the coaching staff will remain in place, including assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Cockrell could be considered for the main hitting coach job.

“I am not coming back,’’ said Pentland to King. “When I signed, I was told it was probably a one-year deal. That was always in the back of my mind, but we didn’t look too good the last month. It’s the Yankees, that’s the best way to describe it. I have no regrets.’’

The Yankees went from 20th in runs scored to second this season, though most of their players struggled down the stretch and late in the season. After firing Kevin Long last offseason, the Yankees will be on their third different hitting coach in three years next season.

It’s a bit more surprising the Yankees let go of Tuck, to be honest. He worked well with the team’s catchers and Brian McCann has credited Tuck for improving his throwing. McCann has thrown out 36% of base-stealers as a Yankees after throwing out only 24% with the Braves. It’s worth noting former bullpen coach Mike Harkey was let go by the Diamondbacks a few weeks ago. I suppose he could be in the mix to replace Tuck.

As for the hitting coach, the Yankees could look at Cockrell and other internal candidates like Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames and minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson. Both interviewed for the job last year. I’m curious to see if the two hitting coach system, which is so common in baseball nowadays, will remain in place.

Manager Dave Miley will not return to Triple-A Scranton in 2016

(Times Leader)
(Times Leader)

Longtime manager Dave Miley will not return to Triple-A Scranton next season, according to multiple reports. “Dave was great for the Yankees and did a lot of great stuff,” said Brian Cashman to George King. “Obviously, Gary (Denbo) is running (the farm system now) and is trying to put people in places. With new people changes occur with new regimes.”

Miley, 53, has managed New York’s top minor league club since 2006, when they were still affiliated with the Columbus Clippers. He remained with the organization when the Yankees left Columbus for Scranton in 2007. Miley played in the minors from 1980-87 without reaching MLB. He coached in the Reds’ farm system from 1988-2002 before serving as their big league manager from 2003-05.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise has been around since 1989 and Miley is the all-time leader in wins (714). He led them to their only International League championship in 2008 as well as five division titles (2007-10, 2015). Miley was in charge when Triple-A Scranton spent the entire 2012 season on the road due to extensive renovations at PNC Field, and he’s managed every one of the Yankees’ recent top prospects, including Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Jesus Montero, and Luis Severino. It’s a long list.

It’s unclear who will replace Miley and it’s too early for that anyway. Minor league coaching staffs usually aren’t announced until December or January. Denbo replaced Mark Newman last year and rearranged the coaching staffs extensively. Some coaches were moved around — longtime Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin was moved to the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate, for example — and some were replaced with outside hires. Miley was one of the very few who remained in place.

Cashman on Girardi’s status for 2016: “Nobody should be looking for anybody different”

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Any time a Yankees season ends without a World Series title, the coaching staff and management will have their job security called into question. It happens every year. The Yankees didn’t win so changes need to be made, and it’s easier to get rid of coaches than players. That’s the general line of thinking.

Don’t expect to see a new manager in 2016, however. Brian Cashman all but confirmed Joe Girardi, who just completed his eighth (!) season as manager, will return next season. Here’s what he told George King:

“It’s a fact, nobody should be looking for anybody different,” general manager Brian Cashman said when asked if Girardi, who has two years and $8 million remaining on his contract, was in trouble. “He is signed for two more years and managed the team to the playoffs. It’s not his fault we didn’t hit. He managed a perfect playoff game.”

September was not Girardi’s best month as manager, but almost every move he made backfired, even the ones that made perfect sense. The decision to bench Jacoby Ellsbury in favor of Brett Gardner in the wildcard game will be second guessed until the end of the time — or at least until people have something new to complain about — but it was the right move.

Personally, I think Girardi is an average-ish manager in terms of on-field moves. He assigns his relievers specific innings and he weighs platoon matchups heavily, which makes him like most other guys out there. Girardi seems to go his best work in the clubhouse. The Yankees are largely distraction free — even something as serious as CC Sabathia checking in to rehab more or less blew over — and they play hard for him. You can’t quantify it, but there is absolutely value in that.

As for the coaching staff, Cashman stopped short of saying everyone will be back next season, though he says that pretty much every year. Here’s what he told King:

“I will go through that with our ownership and Joe. Since you live through it for six months you have a pretty good feel about everything,” Cashman said when asked about the coaches’ status. “Now is the time to have these conversations. You live and you know it and you have a feel for what you might want to do with it as you move forward. Those conversations take place with your manager, take place with your coaches and take place with ownership.”

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has one year left on his contract and bullpen coach Gary Tuck can pick up an option in his contract for next season. Bench coach Rob Thomson, first base coach Tony Pena, hitting coach Jeff Pentland, and assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell all have contracts that expire this month. I’m not sure what third base coach Joe Espada‘s contraction situation is.

The Yankees did not hit at all from mid-August through the end of the regular season, though they jumped from 20th in runs last year to second this year. Firing the hitting coaches after that would be weird but it’s not impossible. Marcus Thames served as Triple-A Scranton’s hitting coach last year and it seems like he is being groomed for the big league job. Pentland and Cockrell took over after Kevin Long was fired last season.

Pena has been with the Yankees since 2005 and Thomson has been with the organization since 1990. He’s worn many different hats over the years — minor league coach, director of player development, big league coach, the works. Perhaps the Yankees are considering bumping Thomson back up into the front office now that assistant GM Billy Eppler is leaving for the Angels.

The one coaching staff change that wouldn’t surprise me is Espada at third base. The Yankees had 14 runners thrown out at home this season, which is actually the fifth fewest in MLB, but there were some really egregious ones in there, sometimes due to apparent communication issues. Remember the incident with Mark Teixeira in Texas? That was pretty bad. Espada worked in the front office the last few years and maybe he’s the one moving back with Eppler leaving. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m not at all surprised Girardi’s job is safe and I don’t think it should be in danger anyway. The offense disappeared, none of the Triple-A relievers impressed, no starting pitcher threw 170+ innings, and the problem was Girardi? Please. Maybe the coaching staff will be shuffled around a little bit, but I would be surprised if there were any major changes in the dugout this offseason.

The Yankees and 2015’s major awards


We’re now into the final week of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL MVP, which should go to Bryce Harper unanimously, the other major awards in both leagues feature some very tight races. It’ll be fun to see them shake out.

The last Yankees player to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who took home 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year honors after tearing his ACL on the Kauffman Stadium warning track in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting — a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Right now the MVP race is between Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout, with Donaldson seemingly in the lead. Trout, however, has equal or better offensive numbers (other than RBI, basically) and doesn’t play in a hitter-friendly home park. Also, the Angels are right in the thick of the AL wildcard race. If they sneak in, will that push some voters towards Trout? The ballot literally says standings do not matter, but we all know they do. Voters consider that stuff all the time. Donaldson is the favorite but Trout could make it very interesting with a big final week to push the Halos into the postseason.


For much of the season Mark Teixeira was a legitimate MVP candidate based on old school stats. He was mashing taters and driving in runs (and playing great defense) for a first place team, which usually equals MVP candidate. Teixeira’s injury — he only played 111 games this year — and the Yankees’ tumble into a wildcard spot ended his long shot chances for the MVP award. Teixeira was awesome, but I thought it was a stretch to lump him into a group with Donaldson, Trout, Nelson Cruz, Manny Machado … guys like that.

The Yankees only have three other players remotely close to being considered MVP candidates, in my opinion: A-Rod, Brian McCann, and Dellin Betances. A-Rod has had a big year offensively but is still a DH, and DHs need huge years to win MVP. Not even peak Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz won an MVP, remember. McCann has been arguably the best offensive catcher in the league and a reliable defender. Betances? Even with his recent walk problems, he’s been the most dominant reliever in the game this summer.

The MVP ballot includes ten spots and those last two or three spots always seem to get weird. Teixeira, A-Rod, McCann, and Betances could all get down-ballot votes. Heck, maybe Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller will as well. Even Raul Ibanez got a tenth place vote on the 2012 MVP ballot after all those clutch late-season homers. (No, really.) I think a Yankee or three will get MVP votes in 2015. But they don’t have a serious candidate to win the thing.

Cy Young

The Yankees do not have a legitmate Cy Young candidate. They probably won’t even have a starter reach 170 innings — CC Sabathia leads the team with 162.1 innings with one start to go — which has never happened in a non-strike season in franchise history. Ever. Masahiro Tanaka has been the team’s best starter and he’s only thrown 149 innings with one start remaining. Betances and Miller could get votes — Dellin actually went into last night’s game eighth in the AL in bWAR — but they won’t win and shouldn’t win. Too many deserving starting pitcher candidates.

At this point I’d say the AL Cy Young is a toss-up between Dallas Keuchel and David Price. The traditional stats are damn near identical — Keuchel is 19-8 with a 2.47 ERA, Price is 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA — and Keuchel has an edge in bWAR (7.3 vs. 6.0) while Price has an edge in fWAR (6.4 vs. 6.1). So pick one. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer. Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, and Chris Sale are among the other candidates. The Cy Young ballot includes five slots, not ten, and I suppose Dellin could steal a fifth place vote or two. He’s pretty much their only hope for 2015 Cy Young votes.


Rookie of the Year

The Yankees have used more rookies this season than at any point in the last 10-15 years or so — at a quick glance, I count 23 Yankees rookies, 16 of whom made their MLB debuts in 2015 — but they don’t have a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. None of them have been around long enough. Chasen Shreve is the only rookie who has been on the roster more than even half the season, and he’s a middle reliever. Middle relievers don’t get Rookie of the Year votes.

Luis Severino is New York’s best chance at Rookie of the Year votes and I don’t see it happening at all. That’s not meant as a knock on Severino’s performance. He’s been great, but ten starts and 55.1 innings just isn’t enough to get love on a Rookie of the Year ballot that runs only three slots deep. Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa will occupy the top two spots in whatever order, then the list of candidates for the third spot include Lance McCullers Jr., Roberto Osuna, Miguel Sano, Delino DeShields Jr., Devon Travis, and Billy Burns.

None of the baby Yankees have been around long enough to garner serious Rookie of the Year consideration this year. Maybe Severino steals a third place vote. Maaaybe. That’s about it.

Manager of the Year

At some point in the last decade or so the Manager of the Year morphed into the “manager of the team that most exceeds expectations” award. Are the Yankees exceeding expectations this year? I think so, but more than, say, the Rangers (Jeff Banister) or Astros (A.J. Hinch) or Twins (Paul Molitor) or even the Blue Jays (John Gibbons)? That’s up to the voters to decide.

The Manager of the Year ballot runs three names deep and last year seven of the 15 AL managers received a vote (Girardi got one third place vote). The year before that? Nine of 15 managers got a vote. Girardi has received at least one Manager of the Year vote every year with the Yankees except 2008, his first season. The smart money is on Girardi appearing on at least one voter’s ballot. Winning it over Banister or Hinch or whoever? That’s tough to see.


Comeback Player of the Year

Okay, now we’re talking. A-Rod is a bonafide Comeback Player of the Year candidate along with Prince Fielder, Ryan Madson, and Kendrys Morales. (Jose Iglesias and Chris Davis are probably in the mix as well.) The Comeback Player of the Year used to be decided by fan voting, but it’s now up to a panel of beat reporters. I’m not sure how that whole process works.

Rodriguez didn’t play last season because of his suspension and there is precedent for a player being named Comeback Player of the Year following a performance-enhancing drug issues — Jason Giambi was named Comeback Player of the Year in 2005, a few months after getting caught up in the BALCO scandal. That doesn’t necessarily mean the voters won’t hold the PED stuff against A-Rod, but if they don’t, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

Anyway, Madson is a non-closer reliever, which works against him. Usually closers are the only relievers to win major awards. That’s not to say Madson isn’t deserving — the guy missed three years after Tommy John surgery, after all — just that the history of the voting body works against him. On the other hand, A-Rod (130 wRC+), Fielder (126 wRC+), and Morales (130 wRC+) all have comparable offensive numbers and they’re all DHs too. (Fielder has played only 18 games at first base this year.) Comparing them is nice and easy. Apples to apples.

The Comeback Player of the Year will come down to a matter of nitpicking. Fielder’s batting average (.306) or Morales’ RBI total (105) or A-Rod’s homers (32)? You can slice this in any number of ways. I don’t know if A-Rod will win the Comeback Player of the Year this year, but he’s a legitimate candidate and the Yankees’ best shot at winning a major award this season.