Curry: Yankees expected to name Jeff Pentland hitting coach, Alan Cockrell assistant hitting coach

Pentland. (Presswire)
Pentland. (Presswire)

According to Jack Curry, the Yankees are expected to name Jeff Pentland their new hitting coach and Alan Cockrell their new assistant hitting coach. This is the first time the team will employ an assistant hitting coach, which is a relatively new fad around the league. No word on a first base coach or when an official announcement will be made.

Pentland, 68, was first mentioned as a candidate last month. He has a lot of connections to people with the Yankees — he was the Royals hitting coach when Tony Pena was the manager, and he was the Cubs hitting coach when Joe Girardi played there and Larry Rothschild was the pitching coach. Jim Hendry, who is a special assistant to Brian Cashman, was also in Chicago’s front office while Pentland was there.

Pentland is a veteran hitting coach who started out on the UC Riverside and Arizona State coaching staffs before working his way up through the minors and to the big leagues. He has been a hitting coach with the Marlins (1996), Cubs (1997-2002), Royals (2003-05), Mariners (2005-08), and Dodgers (2010-11) over the years. He spent the 2014 season as a minor league hitting coordinator with the Marlins.

Cockrell, 52, was the Rockies hitting coach from 2006-08, so he was part of their trip to the 2007 World Series. He then replaced Pentland as the Mariners hitting coach and held the position from 2009-10. Cockrell spent 2011-12 as a minor league hitting coordinator with the Diamondbacks and was most recently working as a roving hitting coordinator in the Yankees farm system, so he’s being promoted from within. He played nine games in MLB with the 1996 Rockies before getting into coaching.

Curry says the Yankees were impressed with both Pentland and Cockrell during their interviews and are “very comfortable” with having two hitting coaches. The Yankees fired former hitting coach Kevin Long three months and one day ago, so they took their time coming up with his replacement. They still need to replace Mick Kelleher at first base coach, and reports say they’ve been talking to former Yankees player and coach Willie Randolph.

Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton announce coaching staffs

Thames is movin' on up. (Times of Trenton)
Thames is movin’ on up. (Times of Trenton)

The Yankees have yet to hire a new hitting coach and first base coach, but they have finalized the coaching staffs for their top two minor league affiliates. They were officially announced a few days ago. There was quite a bit a turnover — which isn’t uncommon at the minor league level —  and some of it appears to have long-term big league implications. Here are the new staffs:

Triple-A Scranton

Manager: Dave Miley
Hitting Coach: Marcus Thames
Pitching Coach: Scott Aldred
Defensive Coach: Justin Tordi
Trainers: Darren London (head trainer) and Lee Tressell (strength and conditioning)

Miley, Aldred, and London are all returning. Miley has been managing New York’s top farm team since 2006, when they were still affiliated with the Columbus Clippers. Aldred was considered for the big league pitching coach job a few years ago before Larry Rothschild was hired. Tordi was the first base and bench coach with Low-A Charleston last summer.

The most notable name here is Thames, who was said to be a candidate for the big league hitting coach job earlier this offseason. In fact, at one point it was erroneously reported he would take over as the team’s assistant hitting coach, but obviously that isn’t the case. Thames was the hitting coach for High-A Tampa in 2013 and Double-A Trenton in 2014, so he’s moving up another level. He has a lot of supporters in the organization and it appears the team is grooming him for an MLB coaching job in the future, perhaps as soon as 2016. Maybe that whole assistant hitting coach report thing was a year early.

Double-A Trenton

Manager: Al Pedrique
Hitting Coach: P.J. Pilittere
Pitching Coach: Jose Rosado
Defensive Coach: Michel Hernandez
Trainers: Lee Meyer (head trainer) and Orlando Crance (strength and conditioning)

Hernandez, Meyer and Crance are all returning to the team. Rosado is joining the Thunder after spending the last four seasons as a pitching coach with one of the team’s two rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliates.

Pilittere, who longtime RAB readers will remember as a player from Down on the Farm, was High-A Tampa’s hitting coach last year, Low-A Charleston’s hitting the coach the year before that, and the Rookie GCL Yanks hitting coach the year before that. The scouting report on him as a player always said he was smart guy with top notch makeup, which made him a good coaching candidate down the line. Like Thames, Pilittere seems to be a faster riser up the coaching ranks.

Pedrique is replacing longtime Thunder skipper Tony Franklin, who had been managing the team since 2007. Pedrique has some big league managerial and coaching experience — he spent 83 games as interim manager of the awful Diamondbacks in 2004 — and has been with the organization since 2013. He managed Low-A Charleston in 2013 and High-A Tampa in 2014.

Franklin, meanwhile, will manage the Pulaski Yankees in 2015, the organization’s new rookie ball affiliate, according to George King (subs. req’d). King notes that under new player development head Gary Denbo, the Yankees want to put veteran managers at the lower levels of the minors to work with their youngest prospects. I like the idea. I have no idea if it’ll make any real difference, but I like it.

NYP: Yanks put coaching staff search on hold; considering Jeff Pentland for hitting coach job

(Presswire)
Pentland. (Presswire)

It has now been 74 days since the Yankees fired hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher, and, according to George King, it will be a little longer until they name replacements. Brian Cashman confirmed the coaching staff search is on hold until January. “I am not doing anything with the coaches until the holidays are over,” said the GM.

Meanwhile, King and Ken Davidoff report the Yankees are now considering Jeff Pentland for the hitting coach job, though they have yet to reach out to him. “He was suggested to me about a month-and-a-half ago. I haven’t called him. That doesn’t mean I won’t call him,” said Cashman. Pentland told the NY Post scribes he’d welcome a chance to coach in New York because it’s “a great city and a great organization.”

Pentland, 68, is a veteran hitting coach who started out on the UC Riverside and Arizona State coaching staffs before working his way up through the minors and to the big leagues. He has been a hitting coach with the Marlins (1996), Cubs (1997-2002), Royals (2003-05), Mariners (2005-08), and Dodgers (2010-11) over the years. He spent the 2014 season as a minor league hitting coordinator with the Marlins.

Through the years Pentland worked alongside several members of the Yankees coaching staff and front office. He was the Cubs hitting coach when Joe Girardi played there from 2000-02, plus he was on the staff with Larry Rothschild in 2002 and worked under special assistant Jim Hendry from 1997-2002, when Hendry was in the Chicago front office. Pentland also served as the Royals hitting coach back when Tony Pena was the manager in Kansas City.

Davidoff and King say minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson continues to be a candidate for the hitting coach job, though it’s possible he will instead be brought on as the assistant hitting coach. Brian Cashman recently shot down a report saying Marcus Thames was set to be hired for the assistant’s job. Either way, it’ll be another few until the coaching staff is finalized.

Update: Yankees have not named Marcus Thames assistant hitting coach

Thames. (Times of Trenton)
Thames. (Times of Trenton)

Tuesday: While speaking with reporters at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, Brian Cashman said the Yankees have not decided to hire Thames as the assistant hitting coach and called the report “false.” He said they need to hire a hitting coach first, which the team is still not close to doing. Same with the first base coach position.

Saturday: According to Anthony McCarron and Bill Madden, the Yankees are planning to hire Marcus Thames as their assistant MLB hitting coach. There’s still no word on who they will hire as the actual hitting coach, but the Daily News scribes says long-time minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson is the favorite right now.

Thames, 37, last played with the Dodgers back in 2011. He spent 2013 as the hitting coach at High-A Tampa and 2014 as the hitting coach at Double-A Trenton. Thames was reportedly considered for the hitting coach job, though it’s unclear if he ever actually interviewed. Seems kinda weird that they’ve already picked an assistant hitting coach before an actual hitting coach. Of course they could already have a hitting coach lined up and we just don’t know about it.

As for the first base coaching job, McCarron and Madden say minor league field coordinator Jody Reed is the current favorite for the job. He was a coach and coordinator in the farm system from 2007-10 and also in 2014. Reed was with the Dodgers from 2011-13. McCarron and Madden also say the Yankees have interviewed Willie Randolph for the first base coaching job. Randolph was the team’s third base coach from 1994-2003 and their bench coach in 2004.

I’m glad the Yankees are embracing the hitting coach/assistant hitting coach system and it’ll be cool to see Thames on the staff. He’s awesome. It’ll be ready cool if Randolph comes back as well. Everyone loves Willie. There’s no word on when the Yankees will officially hire a hitting coach and a first base coach, and at this point I think I’m more interested to see how long they can go without naming coaches than I am to see who they actually hire.

2014 Season Review: The Manager

Joe Girardi
(Chris Carlson/AP)

Joe Girardi is a good manager. Figure I might as well get that out of the way. He seems to be a dividing force among Yankees fans. You either think he’s in the top 5 managers or in the bottom 5.*

*Yes, I know there are people who think he’s average, but it’s hard to be vocal about averageness, so the extremes, as per usual, pervade.

Here is the thing with Joe Girardi: if you think he’s in the bottom 5 managers, you feel he performed poorly in 2014. If you think he’s in the top 5, you feel he again performed well with a not-so-good roster.

Never one to back down from an unwinnable argument, here is the case for Joe Girardi’s greatness as a manager.

He has little patience for idiocy

After each game, Girardi has no choice but to sit in front of reporters for the postgame press conference. But he doesn’t have to like it, and oftentimes he shows exactly how thrilled he is.

This is obviously a personal thing. I know a few fans who don’t like when Girardi snipes at reporters who ask dumb questions. But I don’t see why. If reporters ask dumb questions, they should get dumb answers.

Yes, I understand that it’s tough to ask fresh, original questions 162 times a year. But it’s also tough to sit up there and listen to the same old, “what were you thinking?” sleep-inducers. Reporters have all game to think about an original question. It’s not that difficult to come up with just one.

So here’s applauding Girardi for, at least sometimes, not tolerating these kinds of questions. He’s no Mike Mussina in that regard — miss that guy — but with Derek Jeter gone at least there will be one guy in the Yankees clubhouse unwilling to constantly tolerate dumb questions.

He manages a quality bullpen

Again, we might find people who contend with the idea that Joe Girardi manages a fine bullpen. They’ll point to instances where he brought in a clearly inferior reliever, when he should have brought in Betances.

On this point, unlike the one above, I won’t concede much. Through the years it has become clear that Girardi puts his relievers in a position to succeed.

What does that mean, exactly?

1) He settles guys into roles. We might decry managers pigeonholing guys into roles like closer, 8th inning, 7th inning. It seems inflexible. But if players feel comfortable knowing they play a specific role, they might perform better.

2) He knows when guys need a break. You can’t keep calling on the same guys day in and day out. Girardi seems to know pretty well when his guys need a breather.

3) At the same time, he remains as aggressive with his usage as is responsible and reasonable.

For the last point, Betances is a great example. Girardi used him as much as possible early in the season, while knowing when to back off before getting him hurt or losing his effectiveness.

Heading into the season it didn’t appear that the Yankees had the strongest bullpen. They’d lost the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and didn’t do much to strengthen it over the off-season (signed Matt Thornton and that’s about it). Even though he needed the bullpen extensively, they still performed relatively well.

He gets the call right

This comes from baseballsavant.com’s replay tool, which is simply awesome. Their other tools are excellent as well.

MLB ChallengeJoe Girardi Challenge
On the left is the MLB average rate for manager challenges overturned. On the right is Joe Girardi’s rate. If you need hard numbers, he got the call overturned 82.14 percent of the time, while the average manager got it right 47.65 percent of the time.

He outmanages expectations

If a team outperforms its Pythagorean record, is that a reflection of the manager’s work? In isolated incidents, no, there are plenty of factors that can play into a team winning more or fewer games than their run differential indicates. But when it happens year after year, with the manager being the only constant? That’s another story.

In the last two seasons, given a roster that averaged 641.5 runs, against the AL average of 689.5, Giradi managed to beat the team’s negative run differential and win 13 games more than expected. If that happens in one season, maybe it’s a fluke. If it happens two in a row, both with similar conditions of poor offense and a patchwork pitching staff, the manager can start to take at least a little credit.

One question that came to mind: do teams with good pitching and poor offenses naturally out-perform their Pythagorean records in this low run environment? The answer seems to be no.

Tampa Bay, a team that allowed fewer runs than the Yankees, had a higher Pythagorean record than them, yet underperformed that number, winning only 77 vs a projection of 79.

Atlanta, which allowed under 600 runs, outperformed their Pythagorean record by one win.

Miami, which was close to New York with a -29 run differential, underperformed their Pythagorean by a win.

Cincinnati, with a -17 run differential and only 612 runs allowed, underperformed their Pythagorean by three wins.

San Diego is the closest to a team outperforming their Pythagorean in the same way as the Yankees, with plus-two wins.

The Yankees were the only team with a negative run differential to finish with a winning record — in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014 only the Cardinals, darlings of the league, outperformed their Pythagorean by as many runs as the Yankees did. No team matched their six wins over expectations in 2013.

Again, this trend (or, phenomenon) can’t be 100 percent credited to the manager. But Girardi does deserve a share of the credit. We know that managers can outperform run expectancy tables. It stands to reason, then, that they can scale that and outperform win expectancy tables.

Love him or hate him, Girardi is under contract for the next three seasons. Given how he’s performed since taking the job in 2008, he’s probably going to last those three seasons.

Guess it’s fortunate that he’s a good manager, eh?

2014 Season Review: The Front Office

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

As we inch closer to wrapping up our 2014 Season Review series, it’s time to look at the decision-making and the guys calling the shots. GM Brian Cashman is the most public figure, though he has two assistant GMs (Jean Afterman and Billy Eppler) plus an army of advisors and scouts and numbers crunchers doing grunt work. Both Hank and Hal Steinbrenner as well as team president Randy Levine have gotten involved in roster decisions over the years too. That happens with every team. No GM truly has autonomy in any sport or industry. Let’s review the team’s notable roster building decisions over the last year.

The 2013-14 Offseason

Last offseason focused on the free agency of Robinson Cano. It was by far the largest item on the team’s plate, perhaps the largest since Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract following the 2007 season. The Yankees signed Cano to one team-friendly contract way back in 2008 and reportedly his former agent Scott Boras and current representatives at Roc Nation were unwilling to discuss another below-market deal before free agency. (Remember when they asked for $305M last May?) I can’t say I blame them. Cano turned into a star and this was his chance for a massive payday.

But, even before the situation with Cano was settled, the Yankees agreed to sign Brian McCann to a five-year contract. The deal was agreed to on November 23rd and became official on December 3rd. During that time the team held firm with their seven-year, $175M offer to Cano. As far as we knew, no other team was coming close to that number. Little did we know the desperate Mariners would swoop in, offer a ten-year deal worth $240M, and lure Cano away from New York. Joel Sherman explained how things played out last December:

The Yankees and the Cano camp had initial contact last offseason and got a bit more serious in spring training. The Yankees made an opening bid in the seven-year, $160 million range. In May, the Cano camp said it wanted 10 years at $310 million and that shut down talks until the offseason.

The Yankees climbed to $165 million after the season. Cano came back saying he wanted $28 million for nine years — $252 million – with a vesting option for a 10th year. When there was little further movement, the Yankees grew pessimistic the gulf could ever be closed. They were planning to be aggressive in the offseason anyway, but they decided they needed to sign players or else the prices would inflate further if Cano left and agents sensed the Yankees were desperate. Which is why they were so bold with Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury – and several others they have yet to sign.

Reportedly the Yankees knew they were going to lose Cano on Friday, November 29th, so they jumped into action and had a deal in place with Ellsbury by Tuesday, December 3rd. Cano’s deal with Seattle was not reportedly agreed to until that Friday, December 6th. Later that night the Yankees agreed to sign Carlos Beltran. As Sherman explained, the team wanted to take care of business before word of Cano’s defection got out and prices soured, so it’s clear Ellsbury and Beltran were their Plan B. According to Jon Heyman, “they were all on board” with the McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran contracts, meaning Cashman and ownership.

That plan sounds great, but did it actually work? Top Boras clients never sign in early-December, so you know they met his high asking price for Ellsbury. Boras always takes his top clients deep into the offseason before striking a deal, so he must have been thrilled with the team’s offer for Ellsbury to sign so soon. Beltran, meanwhile, reportedly had three-year offers in hand from the Diamondbacks and Royals worth pretty much exactly what he took from the Yankees. If the team did save money by acting fast and agreeing to deals with Ellsbury and Beltran before word got out Cano was leaving, it seems like it was a very small amount.

Of course, every last dollar mattered to the Yankees last offseason because they were still trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold, so even saving a small amount was important. It wasn’t until MLB and NPB changed their posting agreement in December that the team decided to go over the threshold. The new system allowed Masahiro Tanaka to receive an enormous contract, all of which counted against the payroll for luxury tax purposes. His contract would have been much smaller — perhaps one-third of what he actually received — under the old system and not put the team on the hook for a big luxury tax hit.

Alex Rodriguez lost his appeal and was suspended for the entire 2014 season on January 13th, which wiped his salary off the books for the year. The Yankees agreed to sign Tanaka about ten days later, and once that happened, getting under the luxury tax threshold was impossible, even with A-Rod off the books for 2014. “The decision to go over 189 was for one player and that was Tanaka, and I have no regrets about that because he’s going to be everything that we saw in the first three months of the season. He’s going to be great,” said Hal Steinbrenner a few weeks ago.

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

The Mariners made it very easy to say goodbye to Cano given the magnitude of their offer but the bottom line was that the Yankees lost an elite player, something they couldn’t afford to lose after 2013. They tried to replace him with McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran, though only McCann actually filled a glaring roster need. Ellsbury was redundant with Brett Gardner and Beltran’s days of playing the field everyday were pretty much over, meaning he would have to share time at DH on a team that already had Alfonso Soriano — who had to play right field because of the signings, a position he had never played before — and Derek Jeter.

After missing the postseason and losing their best player, the Yankees tried to squeeze a few round player pegs into square roster holes. The McCann and Tanaka signings made perfect sense given the club’s needs, but the same wasn’t true of Ellsbury and Beltran in my opinion. Tanaka’s injury is unfortunate but pitchers get hurt. It happens. McCann had a disappointing 2014, yet out of everyone in the regular lineup, he’s the only guy you could say underperformed reasonable expectations coming into the year. Beltran having the year he had wasn’t something that was completely unforeseen. (Same goes for Soriano, Jeter, and Mark Teixeira.) Ellsbury had a fine year but not a seven-year, $153M contract player kind of year.

I think — and this is just my opinion, you’re welcome to disagree — letting Cano go was the right move, especially given the Mariners’ offer. The Yankees have too many bad contracts on the books and I felt at some point they have to break the cycle and stop adding more to the pile. The 31-year-old second baseman asked for ten years seemed like a good starting point. That said, if I had known Plan B was sinking seven years into Ellsbury — especially with the Gardner extension on the horizon — and three years into Beltran, I would have rather just seen them keep Cano. He’s a substantially better player than those two (combined!) and fills a position of real need. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

In-Season Moves

Midway through the season — less than that, really — the Yankees had some very obvious needs due to injuries and ineffectiveness. The rotation was hit hard by injury, as CC Sabathia (knee) and Ivan Nova (elbow) didn’t throw a pitch after early-May and Michael Pineda (back) missed three months after making just four starts. The infield was a mess, though because Teixeira and Jeter were locked in at first and shortstop, respectively, second and third bases were the only places to upgrade. Even the outfield needed help because Soriano played himself into retirement and Beltran was hurt.

The Yankees addressed most of their needs before the trade deadline through a series of shrewd moves that cost them very little organizationally. First they improved the third base situation by trading for impending free agent Chase Headley. The cost: Yangervis Solarte and High-A righty Rafael DePaula. Solarte was found money — the Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent, got about two good months out of him, then turned him into an established player via trade. DePaula was a classic lottery ticket arm, the kind every team should be willing to trade at the deadline. (The Padres did not protect DePaula from the Rule 5 Draft, by the way.)

Next the Yankees turned Vidal Nuno, a soft-tossing lefty they plucked out of independent ball who is wholly unequipped for life as a starter in an AL division full of small ballparks, into Brandon McCarthy, who pitched like an ace for two months. The pitching like an ace part was pretty unexpected, and that’s why he only cost Nuno. Had the Diamondbacks known McCarthy was capable of pitching that well, they would have asked for a lot more. And I’m guessing the Yankees and several other teams would have paid it too.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Then, on trade deadline day, the Yankees sold high on slugging prospect Peter O’Brien and used him to get Martin Prado, who wasn’t a rental. He is signed for $22M through 2016, which is a pretty sweet deal in today’s market, even if he doesn’t continue to produce at the 145 OPS+ clip he put up after the trade. O’Brien has huge power and that’s hard to find, but there are serious questions about whether he has the plate discipline to tap into that power at the next level. He also doesn’t have a position. His best position is the batter’s box. The Yankees used O’Brien when his prospect stock was at its highest and turned him into 2+ years of a bonafide big leaguer who filled a need. That’s the kind of trade the team needs to make more of.

The club’s last trade was basically a change of scenery swap, a my spare part for your spare part deal. What made it so interesting was that it was a rare Yankees-Red Sox trade, the first since the Mike Stanley deal back in 1997. The Yankees sent Kelly Johnson to the Red Sox for Stephen Drew, who was going to play second base for New York. The trade didn’t work out as hoped but it didn’t cost the Yankees a potential long-term piece and Drew didn’t have an onerous long-term contract, so who really cares. Took a shot in the dark and missed. Such is life.

It’s been a long time since the Yankees made a really bad trade, a Mike Lowell for three guys you don’t remember deal. I mean really, really bad. I guess the last one was Tyler Clippard for Jon Albaladejo back during the 2007-08 offseason. That was ugly. Am I missing any other obvious recent bad deals? I don’t think so. Anyway, point is Cashman seems to have a knack for making good trades and getting tangible help for the MLB team would sacrificing much in return. I’m sure someone will sit around and keep tabs on Solarte’s and Nuno’s WAR and eventually declare those trades a loss, but the point is guys like Solarte and Nuno are very expendable, and the Yankees used them to get a really good players even for only a short period of time.

The trade deadline went much better for the Yankees than last offseason, though ultimately it wasn’t enough to get them back into the postseason. Their thought process seemed to be very different in each instance too — over the winter they wanted to act aggressively to get Ellsbury and Beltran before word got out Cano was leaving, but during the season they showed more patience and waited for prices to drop into their comfort zone. One strategy worked out really well. The other … not so much. Perhaps that’s why he Yankees seem to be taking a slow and deliberate approach this offseason, because being aggressive didn’t work as hoped last year.

King: Ibanez not interested in Yankees hitting coach job

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

According to George King, Raul Ibanez is not interested in becoming the Yankees new hitting coach. Ibanez is one of three finalists for the Rays managerial opening, but King says Ibanez doesn’t want to coach at all if he doesn’t get the Tampa job. The Yankees planned to talk to Ibanez about their hitting coach gig a few weeks ago and at one point he was interested in hearing what they had to say.

The Yankees fired hitting coach Kevin Long more than five weeks ago now. Brian Cashman confirmed earlier this week that they have an interview lined up next week with a new candidate and that they’ve yet to bring anyone back for a second interview. We heard Chili Davis, Dave Magadan, and James Rowson were interviewed at some point. Davis joined the Red Sox and Magadan will remain with the Rangers. The Yankees also had interest in Cubs assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske, but he declined to interview.

At this point I really have no idea who the leading candidates are for the hitting coach position. Rowson has spent seven years as a hitting instructor in the team’s farm system and seems as likely a candidate as anyone. With the Rays bringing in a new manager, I wonder if their hitting coach Derek Shelton would an option for the Yankees. He managed in New York’s farm system from 2000-02 and is said to be close with Joe Girardi and new VP of Baseball Ops Gary Denbo.

Given their interest in Ibanez and Hinske, it’s clear the Yankees aren’t prioritizing experience in their search for a new hitting coach. Those two have no experience whatsoever in the role. It seems like whoever they bring in will be a surprise hire, kinda like when Larry Rothschild was named pitching coach a few years ago. There were no reports Rothschild even interviewed for the job, then bam, he was hired. I guess we’ll find out who the new hitting coach will be soon enough.