Archive for Musings
The final week of the regular season is upon us. To make the postseason, the Yankees need to win each of their final six games while the Rays, Rangers, and Indians win no more than two of their remaining games. Or something like that. Let’s see the Bombers hold up their end of the bargain before we start worrying about everyone else. Mathematically, the Yankees are still alive. In reality, they’re done. Such is life. Here are some random thoughts.
1. I’m not quite sure what the Yankees are supposed to do during this final week. I want them to play kids — Zoilo Almonte, J.R. Murphy, Dellin Betances, and Cesar Cabral, specifically — but mostly because I can’t bear to watch guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, Chris Stewart, and Joba Chamberlain any longer. Six games won’t tell us anything about the kids, or least not anything that should change our minds about their long-term potential and possible role in 2013. I’ve just about hit my limit with Ichiro and Stewart and Joba though. They’re unwatchable and there’s something to be said for having a watchable team. Forget looking at it as a fan, I can’t imagine all those companies paying big advertising bucks aren’t so happy with their bang for the buck this year. So please, for my sanity if nothing else, play some young players these last six games and make them interesting.
2. A team official told Erik Boland the return of Phil Hughes for next season “can’t be ruled out,” which is true of pretty much every free agent, really. That seems especially true for Hughes though because the Yankees will have an awful lot of pitching questions to answer prior to next season. If the price is right, the Bombers should definitely look to bring Phil back. The question is what’s the right price? He’s got a 5.07 ERA and 4.53 FIP in 143.2 innings this year, which is by far his worst (mostly) healthy season as a full-time starter. Hughes has alternated ~2 WAR seasons with ~0 WAR seasons since moving into the rotation four years ag0 and you’d be hoping for a rebound by re-signing him. A qualifying offer is out of the question at this point, but would one-year at $4M work? Maybe push it to $5M? I’m a) not terrible confident in the team’s in-house options, and b) in favor of adding as much pitching depth as possible this winter, so I’d definitely bring Hughes back for a year at $4-5M. The problem is he’ll probably get more on the open market — all it takes is one team to overpay.
3. You know how teams who have nothing left to play for — either because they’ve already clinched their postseason spot or have already been eliminated — will trot out a skeleton crew lineup in the final game of the regular season? I wonder if the Yankees will do that on Sunday. If they do, I’d probably use a lineup along these lines:
- CF Ichiro
- 3B Eduardo Nunez
- LF Wells
- DH Mark Reynolds
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- RF Zoilo
- 2B David Adams
- SS Brendan Ryan
- C Murphy
That … looks dangerously close to their regular everyday lineup, no? The only legitimate starting-caliber MLB players who would be sitting in that scenario are Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Alex Rodriguez. There aren’t that many position player call-ups this year. Hiroki Kuroda lines up to start that day, but since he’s out of gas, the Yankees could start Brett Marshall and have him thrown three or four innings before a parade of September call-up relievers take over. I suppose that depends on what they do to replace the injured CC Sabathia this week.
4. With the understanding that the best team doesn’t always win the World Series, which postseason team do you think is most dangerous in a short playoff series? A lot of people will probably pick the Red Sox because they wrecked the Yankees (twice) in recent weeks or the Tigers because hey, they won the pennant last year, but I think it might be the Reds. Johnny Cueto is back from his third lat strain, so manager Dusty Baker will have two aces (Cueto and Mat Latos) and a damn-near ace (Homer Bailey) in his postseason rotation. Their lineup is crazy deep — particularly with guys who work deep counts and make pitchers to throw a lot of pitches — and their bullpen is really underrated behind Aroldis Chapman. Sean Marshall is back from the DL, lefty Manny Parra dominates same-side hitters, and Sam LeCure and J.J. Hoover are as good as any right-handed setup tandem in the game. Not big names, but big results. The Reds are probably going to have to play a wildcard play-in game, which could derail their season in an instant, but that is definitely not a team I want to play in a best-of-five or best-of-seven series.
Mariano Rivera will conclude his remarkable career very soon. The farewell tour has basically come to an end. Unfortunately, once he leaves, he’ll take his patented cutter with him. The greatest closer of all time will presumably hang up his mitt on his own terms, and upon retirement, will instantly join the epic names of Yankee lore. The last #42 in Major League Baseball will depart from the game with dignity and grace. New York fans – baseball fans everywhere, really – will collectively mourn as a man of such notable modesty off the field leaves behind a career that can really only be defined as stellar on it. Statisticians, baseball analysts, fans, and bloggers alike will try to do Mariano’s numbers justice, but they’ll all fall short. His achievements speak for themselves at this point. Two decades of sustained dominance is simply nuts.
So, rather than dissecting Mo’s career (or even trying to digest it for that matter), I want to write about a bit of nostalgia that recently came to mind. The game I remembered occurred back in August of 2010. The Yankees were squaring off against their divisional rival, the Red Sox, naturally. I remember it being one of those dog-days of summer where it was swelteringly hot out; it was the kind of utterly disgusting heat that caused the $10 stadium beer (that should have, at the very least, been ice cold) to taste warm and unsatisfying almost immediately. Our legs felt like they were peeling off the outfield bleachers – which not coincidentally, was right were my wife (then girlfriend) and I were sitting – every time we shifted in our seats.
A rather ineffective John Lackey started for Boston while former-rotation-stalwart, CC Sabathia, took the mound for New York. The game went about as smoothly as it could have despite the Sox taking an early 2-0 lead after Victor Martinez homered and Mike Lowell snagged another RBI. I believe it was Lance Berkman who worked the walk and it was Curtis Granderson who brought him home. Ramiro Pena (yeah, he was still in the lineup) ultimately drove in Granderson on a ground out. It wasn’t until about midway through the game though that the combination of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada (yeah, they were around then too) finally broke the score open. Heading into the ninth inning, the Bombers led 5-2. Despite the blistering heat and general lack of Red Sox momentum the stadium was still full. The game wasn’t over. This was late summer baseball between divisional rivals. My wife and I waited. Everyone knew what was going to happen next.
Queue the iconic Enter Sandman riffs. My wife pointed excitedly as Mariano trotted to the mound in his usual unassuming way. I watched with anticipation as I had so many times before; I had seen Mariano take the stage for the better part of my life and he’s never failed to impress me with his calm demeanor on the mound. Moments later, Victor Martinez grounded out on what was probably three pitches. One out. Adrian Beltre hit a pop fly a few pitches later. Two outs. Boston fan-favorite, Mike Lowell, ended the game with a weak fly ball to center field. In anticlimactic fashion, the game was over. That was it. The Yanks won 5-2. There were no loaded bases or late game two out heroics. The Yanks just exchanged a few high-fives between the pitcher’s mound and home plate as is their custom. The Sox unceremoniously slunk back into the visitor’s locker room. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York captured the speakers.
It wasn’t one of Mariano’s most notable performances by any means, nor was the game particularly critical to season’s outcome for either ball club. It was really just the opposite actually. Mariano simply notched another save. The team benefited from one more stress free afternoon, and New York fans everywhere enjoyed another day of quality Yankee baseball. Really, it all felt quite routine. But it was special for me nevertheless. It was the first time my wife experienced the new stadium, the first time she got to check out Monument Park, and the first time she saw the World Series trophies in the Yankee Museum. More significantly, it was her first time seeing Mariano pitch live. I remember her watching his performance in disbelief. Mariano dismantled the heart of the opposing team’s lineup like he’s done so many times before – that is to say, with brutal efficiency. We loved every minute of it.
As for Mo, it was just another save for the record books. There weren’t any fist pumps following the third out. There weren’t any silly superstitious antics or rituals. There were no invisible arrows flung into the atmosphere, excited shrieks, or violent fist pumps. There was only Mo’s humbling ability to shut opposing batters down and bring happiness to Yankees fans everywhere. From the moment he made his presence on the field known, it was basically a foregone conclusion that he was going to do his job, and do it as well as he always had. But that’s the beauty of Mo, really. He’s a security blanket like no other. He brings peace of mind to everyone. Hell, even the opponents seem to take solace in knowing that if they fail against Mo, it’ll be because they’re supposed to. On the rare occasions where things go astray, we find ourselves more bewildered than disappointed.
Mariano Rivera, as he had done so many times before, finalized another awesome experience that afternoon at The Stadium and on that particular occasion, my wife and I got to experience it in person together for the first time. I doubt that we will ever get to see someone perform so brilliantly and so constantly in our life time again. There have been so many memorable Mariano moments both before and after that game against the Red Sox, many of which are certainly far more significant to the team’s glorious history. That’s the one that happened to pop into my mind though, and I’m happy about that.
Thank you for all the wonderful memories, Mariano. We’ll miss you and we wish you a happy, fulfilling retirement.
1. As Mike noted in the recap, Andy Pettitte has been the most reliable starter for the Yankees for several weeks now, and it hasn’t even really been close. On the off chance the Yankees somehow find their way into the play-in game, you’d have to give Andy the nod at this point. Right? It’s pretty nuts how the oldest pitcher in the game is basically the stalwart of the rotation once again, but baseball is weird like that. Plus, as we all know, Andy is a True Yankee™ and knows how to get it done. (Now if only the rest of the damn team were capable.) Unfortunately, even if the Yankees manage to squeak into the playoffs, they aren’t exactly geared for a run. Even in a crapshoot environment, having one capable starting pitcher and Robinson Cano is generally not enough to win a series.
2. I typically don’t put too much stock into a manager’s influence on a team other than the in-game decisions that he makes. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that some of the managers are able to deflect the media off the players or deploy a shift appropriately, but ultimately, I’ve always kind of put the burden on the players at the end of the day. I have to give Joe Girardi some major credit this season though. He’s had to cope with far more challenges than most of his peers I think. The team had a disappointing offseason heading into the year, and has been saddled with injuries ever since. Despite a (-17 run differential, 74-77 Pythag. record), the Yankees have miraculously managed to retain hope of playoff contention (though that’s rapidly fading) late into the season. Many of us (including me) didn’t see that happening when they were having that awful stretch in August. It’d be pretty cool if he won the Manager of the Year Award this go around. Well done, Joe.
3. Last night on Twitter, I somewhat sarcastically stated that the team had more non-hitters in its lineup at this point then hitters. The more I thought about it though, the more my sentiments kind of rang true. Here was last night’s lineup along with their respective wRC+.
- CF Curtis Granderson (109 wRC+)
- DH Alex Rodriguez (131 wRC+)
- 2B Robinson Cano (140 wRC+)
- LF Alfonso Soriano (108 wRC+, 122 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
- 1B Lyle Overbay (90 wRC+)
- 3B Mark Reynolds (98 wRC+, 121 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
- RF Ichiro Suzuki (72 wRC+)
- SS Brendan Ryan (45 wRC+, 75 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
- C Chris Stewart (56 wRC+)
Having Overbay batting fifth hurts a lot, though probably not as much as the offensive void that is Suzuki, Ryan, and Stewart. It’s tough to score runs when five of your players are below-average hitters overall. I suppose, if there is silver lining to be seen here, it’s that some of these castoffs have been offensively revived a bit since joining the Yankees. So, kudos to you New York for maximizing talent from sub-par or aging players. Also, please stop putting the team in the position of having to depend on so many sub-par or aging players at once.
4. This has definitely been the season of “what ifs,” at least for me anyway. What if the Yankees had a capable catcher all year? What if CC Sabathia didn’t fall off a cliff? What if Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira were around all season? Could the Yankees have that elusive Wild Card spot locked up already if they caught a break, anywhere really? Possibly. Probably. I don’t know. Unfortunately “what ifs” are just that. Useless hypotheticals. That said, it’s incredibly frustrating that in spite of the circumstances, the Yankees have had more than a fair opportunity to make the playoffs.
The Rays and Rangers have gone out of their way to play miserable baseball for weeks now. Meanwhile, the Orioles and Indians seem to be more than willing to concede their playoff berth as well as they’ve both had plenty of timely losses. I don’t know where I’m going with this last point other than if the team winds up missing the playoffs – and they probably will – they have no one to blame but themselves. Unfortunately, as Mike noted in his rant the other day, if they do make the playoffs, it’ll probably further mask some of the more serious underlying concerns surrounding the team heading forward.
Despite getting manhandled by the Red Sox this weekend, the Yankees wake up this morning with a small chance — a 4.5% chance according to Baseball Prospectus — of qualifying for the postseason this year. Last night’s loss eliminated them from the AL East race, so it is officially wildcard or bust for this team. New York needs a ton of help these next two weeks but they do have a favorable schedule, including nine of their final dozen games against the lowly Blue Jays, Giants, and Astros.
Getting to the playoffs this season doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things for the Yankees. If anything, sneaking into the postseason would (further) mask some severe organizational flaws, whether they be outdated policies (no contract extensions? really?), an over-reliance on old players (two years for Ichiro Suzuki? really?!?), an unproductive farm system, or a medical staff that can’t seem to keep anyone on the field. The list of problems goes on and on and explains why no matter what the Yankees do these next two weeks, it’s impossible to look forward and feel good about where the club is heading.
The Yankees have spent the last few seasons doing what? Holding onto the last remnants of the dynasty years because they are either unwilling to move on or simply don’t know how to do it. Their plan doesn’t seem to be much of a plan at all. They aren’t trading veterans for prospects, they aren’t trading prospects for veterans, and they aren’t giving prospects opportunities. What they are doing is picking up discarded players to plug whatever hole arises. Seriously, look at the roster: Ichiro, Chris Stewart, Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay, Brendan Ryan, David Huff … these guys were all available because their former teams dumped them and now they’re playing significant roles for the Yankees. What kind of plan is that?
I get that injuries really decimated the team. Really, really decimated them. Some were unpredictable (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira) while others were in no way surprising (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Michael Pineda). Either way, there were a lot of injuries and the club was wholly unprepared for them because the farm system has produced so very little beyond a handful of relievers and emergency call-up types in recent years. The Yankees force Phil Hughes and Eduardo Nunez types down our throats because they so desperately want to prove they can draft and develop competent big leaguers, but they can’t. I feel we’ve beyond the point of saying “they haven’t” and should now say “they can’t.”
Between the unproductive minor league system and the slashing of payroll at the big league level — which ownership will happy remind you of every chance they get, by the way — there’s almost no way for the Yankees to turn around and build a team that can have sustained long-term success this winter. They aren’t a Shin-Soo Choo or a Brian McCann or a Matt Garza away from contention. They’re three starting pitchers, two outfielders, a left side of the infield, a catcher, half a bullpen, and a farm system away from having a club that can have sustained success over a number of years. Their best building blocks going forward are a 30-year-old second baseman and a 30-year-old center fielder. Think about that.
“We have the most money, no secret about that. If we combine that with the best decision-making process on a consistent basis, God help the rest of baseball,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch when he signed his new three-year contract following the 2005 season. Yes, the 2005 season. That’s almost seven years ago and what has happened since then? The Yankees won the World Series, which was pretty awesome, but have they combined their ability to spend with the “best decision-making process on a consistent basis?” I find that very hard to believe and not just because the ability to spend has been willfully marginalized.
Joe wrote about the team’s need to adapt and improve their minor league development last month, but the Yankees need more change than that. I think the easiest way to put it is that they’re behind the times. Teams have more money to spend that ever before, which means the best young players are not hitting free agency or becoming available in trades as their salaries grow. The talent pool available to New York has become diluted and they can’t wave their magic pinstriped
wand bank account to make it all better. The rest of baseball has gotten progressive but the Yankees have remained the same.
Everything from the team’s policies to their decision making at the MLB level to their player development needs an overhaul and that starts right at the top. Does that mean replacing Cashman is step one? I don’t really know. I can’t say I have much confidence in ownership hiring the right replacement if they do fire him. The last thing I want to happen is Cashman being replaced by a figurehead GM while Randy Levine & Co. call all the shots. Ownership dips their toes into the baseball operations too much as it is. Change has to happen though. The Yankees run an outdated organization and the rest of baseball is leaving them behind. These last few months couldn’t have made it any more obvious.
1. I know I mentioned this on Twitter the other day, but can you imagine being a fan of the Orioles or Rays right now? As infuriating as the Yankees have been at times, I’m guessing fans of those two teams have had their fair share of angst as well. The Rays were tied for first as recently as a couple weeks ago. Instead of running away with the division, or at least securing the wild card spot, they’ve been pretty lousy. Now, they have the Yanks, Orioles, Indians, and even the Royals all breathing down their neck. As a fan, I suppose it’s still better to be rooting for the team being chased than the team doing the chasing, but yeesh, the Rays’ world must be pretty stressful at the moment. Ditto for the Orioles. Like the Yankees they are trying to make a final desperate run for that final playoff spot. The Yankees almost got swept by the Sox and yet the other wildcard contenders have nothing to show for it. That’s how it goes though sometimes. Baseball is odd.
2. Mike has talked about the bullpen workload of late, specifically how often Mariano Rivera has been called into duty. I get it. He’s retiring after the season. The team is at a critical point. They need Mo to be Mo whenever the occasion arises. But the man looks gassed out there, at least he did two nights ago. I was surprised, and thankful, last night that he pitched as efficiently as he did honestly. That’s what happens when you have a closer coming in basically every night of the week though, and sometimes for more than one inning of work – never mind the fact that the guy is in his forties. It’ll be cruel if the Yankees make the postseason and Mo is burnt out by the time they get there. Hopefully, the Yanks can string together some big wins (preferably against the Sox) and give the man a break. Frankly, the whole bullpen needs it. The team needs every player contributing at his peak, and a day or two off each week, might be the difference between blown saves and big wins over this final stretch. Unfortunately, that’s not something that Joe Girardi can control — particularly with the rotation being a mess. From a purely selfish standpoint, I also enjoy seeing Mo out there everyday. If this is the last we get to see of him, then let us enjoy it as often as possible.
3. Is anyone else frustrated with the team’s inability to grab a win without seemingly losing someone to injury? This year has been incredible in that regard. The other day it was Austin Romine, Ivan Nova, and Derek Jeter. Last night it was Brett Gardner. Things like this happen, but gosh, the Yanks have got to be setting some kind of dubious record for it this year. Of course, it goes without saying that losing Gardner hurts the lineup especially. Aside from being a fantastic outfielder and solid base runner, he’s been an important offensive force all year long. The team won’t be able to duplicate his contributions with any of the replacements. If a guy like Ichiro Suzuki takes over his lead-off spot, it’ll definitely represent a downgrade.
4. You know what’s funny? Alex Rodriguez is still a really important player. We saw this season how miserable the alternatives are. A-Rod, on the other hand, has had some big hits since returning, and has looked really sharp at the plate in general. Love him or hate him, he is a necessary part of the lineup. He’ll have to continue hitting well for the Yankees to make any kind of run into the playoffs. Also, I really enjoyed seeing him in the two spot these last few days. I think he’s done a good job there and I wouldn’t mind seeing that continue for the rest of the season.
5. Want some Friday humor? Well this is the best I got. My dream is that the Yankees make the World Series and A-Rod wins game seven on a walk off home run, and as he rounds the bases he mimes the act of injecting steroids into himself and then flips the world off at home plate. Then in a beautifully terrible and ironic nightmare, Bud Selig is forced to award him the World Series MVP award. Alright, that’s all I got. Happy Friday.
I’m sure you’ve all heard Randy Levine’s most recent remarks. A couple days ago, he told Mark Feinsand of the Daily News that Robinson Cano was not guaranteed to return next season as a Yankee if the price went too high, and then followed that up with some other remarks. Here are the quotes along with my two cents.
“Robinson Cano is a great player. … We will sit down and talk to him. Hopefully he’s a Yankee. Nobody is a re-sign at all costs, but we want him back and we feel good about negotiating something with him. But nobody is a re-sign at any cost.”
Randy makes an absolutely valid point. No one should be deemed a “re-sign at any cost” type of player (except for maybe Mike Trout at this point), even if they are a player that the team hopes to retain. Personally, I hope Cano returns, but only if the agreement is sensible for the team too. As great as he is, I don’t want to see something outrageous like ten years, $250M. No matter what, Robinson is going to get paid. You don’t have to fret about his future or that of his family.
That said, why is Randy Levine chiming in on this at all? How does this help contract discussions down the road in any way? I’m sure Brian Cashman (and by extension, ownership) has a good idea of how they value Cano relative to the rest of the league. Conversely, I’m sure Roc Nation Sports has an idea of what they’re seeking for their first major client. I don’t see how Levine fits into the mix. Let the conversations happen before publicizing opinions please.
“The fact of the matter is, the reason this season has taken some bumps is because we have had an incredible amount of injuries … When our players are together and they’re playing, which has been very rare, the team has been very successful. Since the All-Star Game, we have had one of the best records in Major League Baseball.”
The injuries are certainly a major factor in this year’s struggles. That said, that’s not the only reason this team has experienced some “bumps.” Many of the woes this team has experienced were self-inflicted after a very underwhelming off season and trade deadline. Also, in the spirit of fact-checking outrageous claims, the Yankees are 26-24 since the All Star Break and decidedly not one of the best teams in Major League Baseball.
“Take a look at this year; payroll has never translated into winning. What translates into winning is great talent … If you look at this year, some great stories; the Oakland A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, low payroll teams right in there, possible championship caliber teams. We are taking a look at getting down to 189 (million), which has got tremendous financial incentives under the new collective bargaining agreement. But as Hal Steinbrenner has consistently said and as I have said, it has to be consistent with maintaining a championship team.
At 189, I think we would have the second-highest payroll in baseball. That is a lot of money. We will see what happens at the end of the year. The bottom line is the philosophy of this organization is do whatever it can to win the World Series. That’s what the Boss instituted years ago, and nothing has changed.”
See this is where the Yankees go all Billy Beane and try to reinvent the game using pennies on the dollar. Look, if the team wants to maximize profits, that’s absolutely fine. Frankly it’s the franchise’s prerogative. We as fans may not appreciate that line of reasoning, but we can at least comprehend it. Baseball is a business, and the Yankees are looking to increase profit. Don’t feed us crap on top of it though. Make the moves and just call it for what it is.
$189M is still a very respectable payroll, and it definitely should be competitive with the rest of the league. Of course, it would have been ideal if the team had phased out some of their uglier contracts a bit more smoothly and tried to sign players to smarter deals heading forward — in other words, gradually reach that $189M objective. Instead, the team implemented an untimely austerity budget during a period when every other team in baseball seems to be upping its spending.
Also, regarding the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates, they are certainly feel good stories (and low budget teams). Of course, I don’t think the folks in Boston, Los Angeles, Texas, or St. Louis are feeling all that lousy about themselves at the moment either.
Thanks to their back-to-back come from behind wins over the Orioles, the Yankees are right back in the thick of the wildcard hunt with 16 games to play. Yeah, just 16 games left. The end of the season is right around the corner. Here are some thoughts as we await the final of this four-game series against Baltimore:
1. The Yankees crept to within two games of the second wildcard spot in the loss column, and you know what the most ridiculous thing is? They haven’t evenly played all that well recently. They’ve lost four of their last seven games — the Red Sox just demolished them over the weekend, that was ugly — and trailed in all three wins. The Rays are letting New York and every other team right back into the race. Tampa has dropped five of their last six games and 13 of their last 17 to fall from tied atop the AL East to eight back in the loss column. Last night, in the biggest moment of their season (to date), Joe Maddon brought the pitcher former known as Fausto Carmona out of the bullpen. He promptly walked the bases loaded and surrendered a grand slam. You kinda deserve to collapse when you do that. The Yankees were going to need some help to climb out of the hole they dug themselves a few weeks ago, and the Rays have happily obliged. The Bombers just have to start playing a little better to finish this thing off.
2. Can you imagine where New York would be right now if they had gotten anything out of CC Sabathia this season? I was pretty optimistic about him coming into this year because he finished 2012 well (ALCS Game Four notwithstanding) and had his elbow cleaning up over the winter, but boy was I wrong. Think about it, Sabathia’s has been replacement level this year (0.2 bWAR). Replacement level! Nearly 200 innings (198, to be exact) of 4.82 ERA (4.15 FIP) ball. That’s hard to believe and tough to swallow. Obviously Sabathia isn’t the only reason the Yankees are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, but there’s no doubt he has played a big role in the team’s general mediocrity this summer. I think we all knew CC would decline during the course of his contract, but I don’t think many expected to see him go from ace to fifth starter in one year. Yuck.
3. I’m convinced Derek Jeter will return next season. I don’t see him going out like this, not in a million years. He’ll pick up his $9.5M player option and work like hell this offseason to make sure there are no more physical issues next year. I’m sure of it. At the same time, I don’t see any way the Yankees can count on him in 2014. I think they need to go out and find a permanent shortstop solution this winter so they can treat Jeter as a full-time DH who can step in and play the field on occasion. If he can do more than that, great. I just wouldn’t expect it. I know he’s Derek frickin’ Jeter and a god around these parts, but we are talking about a 39-year-old shortstop who lost what amounts to a full season with a series of leg injuries. The Yankees should plan for the worst because guys like that usually don’t come back and be productive.
4. Hypothetical: what happens if, after the season, Andy Pettitte decides he wants to pitch again in 2014? He had that really ugly stretch after coming off the DL, but he has been vintage Andy of late. Not dominant, but steady and reliable. Pettitte is already the oldest starting pitcher in baseball at 41 and he’s shown that he’s not physically up to the rigors of a full season, meaning 30+ starts of 100+ pitches. The Yankees will need pitching next year and, despite that hiccup a few weeks ago, I think most people would welcome Andy back with open arms. What’s a reasonable cost though? He’ll earn $12M this year and I don’t see any way the team could give him a raise. If Pettitte wants to come back, I think my absolutely maximum would be $10M for the year. Preferably, I’d guarantee him like $6M with incentives that kick in around 20 starts or so. Let’s say a $6M base salary plus $500k for every start after number 20, giving him a chance to match this season’s $12M salary if he manages to make a full 32 starts. Reasonable? That would be a pain to work into the luxury tax-drive payroll, but I think it’s fair considering Andy’s expected production and marquee value to the franchise.
Thanks to last night’s sweep-clinching win over the White Sox, the Yankees have won five of the first six games of this all-important ten-game homestand. They took two of three from the Orioles over the weekend and swept the last place ChiSox, which is pretty close to the best case scenario. Sunday’s bullpen meltdown still stings, don’t get me wrong, but at least the Bombers rebounded well with the three straight victories.
Winning five of the first six homestand games was very important because these next eleven days are going to be a nightmare. The White Sox won’t be in the Bronx to kick the ball around — seriously, are they not one of the sloppiest teams you’ve ever seen? awful — and use a parade of overmatched rookie pitches anymore. No, now things get really tough. It’s make or break time.
Matt outlined the schedule situation of the various wildcard contenders yesterday, but the Yankees’ schedule is worth a deeper look. Starting tonight, they head into an eleven-game stretch that will more or less definite the rest of their season:
- Four games vs. Red Sox in Yankee Stadium
- Four games vs. Orioles in Camden Yards
- Three games vs. Red Sox in Fenway Park
That’s hell. Hell with no off-days scheduled. Just spitballing it, how many of those eleven games do you think the Yankees need to win to remain in the postseason hunt? Remember, there will be only 12 games left in the season after the stretch, so they have to legitimately make up ground and not just tread water. The time for water-treading is over. Seven wins in eleven games is the bare minimum, no? Anything less than that and it’s probably time to shift focus to the final few innings of Mariano Rivera‘s career instead of the out-of-town scoreboard.
For the sake of having numbers and something tangible to look at, here’s how the Yankees have fared against the Red Sox and Orioles so far this season:
|W-L||Runs Scored Per Game||Runs Allowed Per Game|
Do you know what those numbers mean? Absolutely nothing. What happened earlier this year has no impact on what will happen going forward. Not only have the Yankees rebuilt their lineup by trading for Alfonso Soriano and getting a small All-Star team back from the DL, but the Red Sox and Orioles have remade their rosters with trades and injuries and whatever else. How much you want to bet some random September call-up does something huge at some point in those eleven games? It’s damn near inevitable. That’s baseball, man. It’s weird sometimes.
The only thing we know with any certainty is this: those eleven games are going to be the toughest eleven games of the season. The Red Sox and Orioles are really good teams and always seem to play the Yankees hard. Maybe one or both of those clubs will have a bad series, but I wouldn’t count on it. New York will have to play its very best baseball of 2013 to make it through these next eleven days and continue to worm their way into a playoff spot. There is no margin of error anymore, that came and went last month.
On the other side of the coin, if the Yankees do manage to survive those eleven games and come out of them still within striking distance of a postseason berth, they’ll be rewarded by playing nine of their final dozen games against losing teams. Not just losing teams, I’m talking terrible, horrible, no good last place teams. Three against the Blue Jays, three against the Giants, and three against the Astros. There are three games with the Rays mixed in there — how enormous could that series be? goodness — but that’s what awaits the Yankees after this eleven-game stretch. By no means are those easy wins, but they’re damn easier than beating Boston and Baltimore. The most important stretch of the 2013 season begins tonight.
As of this morning, Baseball Prospectus lists the Yankees odds of making the postseason at 10.5%. Cool Standings is slightly more optimistic at 16.4%. Obviously, neither of these sites spark very much confidence. And yet, it feels like the postseason isn’t just doable, but realistic if the Yankees play some quality baseball for the remainder of the month. Right?
Maybe it’s just that we’re accustomed to big moments in New York, or desperate for another playoff berth. Or, perhaps, as fans, we’re just not quite ready to concede until the postseason is no longer mathematically feasible. After all, these are the Yankees. When I speak with my father, he’s very matter-of-fact about it. He reminds me that the Yanks are only 2.5 games out with 24 to play. One legitimate hot streak, or one slump by a divisional rival, gets it done. I think there’s something to be said for his sentiments too.
Regardless of the odds or one’s blind faith in incredible outcomes, the fact still remains, New York needs to win games in a big way and they’ll probably need some help from their competition as well. Let’s take a look at how the final eight series are scheduled to play out for each team that could potentially grab that second sacred Wild Card spot.
The Rangers and Athletics are in an extremely tight race. One of the teams will get in no matter what. The other will still have a very good opportunity to participate in October baseball. Unfortunately for the Yankees, both the Rangers and the A’s have fairly favorable schedules remaining too. Aside from the six games remaining against each other, each of these two clubs have plenty of games left against sub .500 teams (though the Angels have been hot of late and could potentially dampen the mood). Still, if I were a betting man, I’d figure both these teams will be enjoying October baseball.
Frankly, I just don’t envision the Royals or the Indians getting the job done. While both teams are definitely in the playoff hunt, I’d be surprised if it worked out favorably for either of them. Aside from the six games against the Indians remaining, the Royals also have to deal with the Rangers and Tigers. The Indians have a very convenient schedule remaining but haven’t been playing particular well of late (they’ve lost 16 of their last 27 games). Meanwhile, the Tigers will conclude their regular season against a lot of mediocre teams, not to mention the fact that they definitely do have a playoff caliber roster that’s been playing well. You also have to figure Miguel Cabrera will be healthy enough to contribute at his typical pace by the time it counts.
So that leaves the gauntlet that is the American League East. As was expected from moment one, it looks as though the division could come down to the wire. The Rays, Orioles, and Yankees are all fighting desperately for that last gasp of air. Seventeen of the final 24 games for the Yankees are against divisional rivals. Their fate (while statistically improbable) is still absolutely within their own hands. Of course, the same could be said for their competition. Hell, even though the Sox have a nice healthy lead on the division, 19 of their final 22 games are against divisional rivals (not to mention the two remaining against a formidable Tigers squad).
Needless to say, the road to the playoffs won’t be easy (or even necessarily pretty) for any of the teams involved. I don’t know how this all is going to end. Probability keeps our heads in check and our hopes from getting too lofty, but as we all know, the games aren’t played on paper. I, for one, am preparing for an exciting September.
So last night was pretty awesome. The Yankees mounted that hugely important come-from-behind win against the White Sox, the Pirates clinched their first non-losing season since 1992, and … I guess that’s it. Still a pretty great night. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so I will share them with you:
1. Now that the swap is official, I really have no idea what to expect about of Phil Hughes as a reliever and David Huff as a starter. Huff has pitched well in long relief against some bad teams (Blue Jays twice and the White Sox once) and his track record as a starter is ugly, but at this point the Yankees have to give him a chance. There’s just no way they could justify running Hughes out there every five days if they are serious about winning. I do expect Huff’s leash to be short however, which is easy to do with a nice big September call-up filled bullpen. All it takes is five decent innings to be an upgrade at this point.
Hughes, meanwhile, has never not been awesome out of the bullpen, but he hasn’t done it regularly since 2009. He did have a nice showing as a reliever late in 2011, but that was only a handful of outings. The Yankees don’t need him to be great since David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Preston Claiborne have the right-handed setup thing locked down, but it would be awesome of Hughes got back to being dominant in relief. He still gets an above-average amount of swings and misses on his fastball as a starter (9.46% according to Brooks Baseball), so hopefully that jumps a notch in relief (it was 11.97% in 2009). Hughes could be a nice middle innings weapon, especially since he’s stretched out enough to go two full innings and wouldn’t have to worry about turning a lineup over.
2. In an Insider-only piece, Jared Cross used pitch-framing data to examine the MVP candidacies of Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy yesterday. Molina is a legitimate MVP candidate even without the pitch-framing stuff in my opinion, but I digress. Here’s a table from Cross’ article:
That doesn’t includes yesterday’s games but I doubt it would change the data all that much anyway. Chris Stewart ranks fourth in the league with 17 runs saved via his pitch-framing — third on a per game basis, at least among those five players — which works out to roughly 1.8 WAR based on this year’s runs-to-WAR conversion factor. That’s an awful lot of value stemming from just catching pitches. FanGraphs had Stewart at 0.5 WAR yesterday, which includes everything but pitch-framing. So offense both at the plate and on the bases as well as catcher defense stuff like throwing out attempted base-stealers and blocking balls in the dirt. Add in the pitch-framing and he’s at 2.3 WAR for the year. I wish we had the pitch-framing numbers for the entire league to see where that ranks overall, but we usually have to wait until after the season for that.
A 2.3 WAR player is more or less league average … if you take the pitch-framing numbers at face value. There still a lot of work to be done in that area. I’m looking forward to seeing umpire-adjusted pitch-framing data, personally. Maybe Stewart’s even better than 1.8 WAR at framing, who knows? Stewart’s overall contribution has been okay, but he’s been so terrible at the plate lately (29 wRC+ since the All-Star break) that Austin Romine should get the majority of the playing time behind the plate. He’s supposed to be quite the pitch-framer himself, I hear. The Yankees showed they were serious about winning by replacing Hughes with Huff, and now they need to do it with Stewart and Romine.
3. Do you want to know what really, really sucks? There are only eight weeks left in Mariano Rivera‘s career at the absolute most. It hit me when he entered last night’s game that holy crap, this could be the last month of his career. We might only get to see him pitch another eight or ten times if the Yankees miss the postseason. That’s heartbreaking. Yankees fans have been through some sad goodbyes over the years — Don Mattingly, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte (the first time), Jorge Posada, etc. — but those won’t be anything close to Rivera for me. He’s by far my all-time favorite Yankee and probably my all-time favorite player overall. (I had it real bad for Darryl Strawberry growing up as a kid and it only got worse when he came to the Yankees.) It’s cheesy and cliche and all that, but Mo is definitely the kind of player I’ll sit around and tell the grandkids about one day. The Yankees will find someone to replace him, someone to pitch the ninth inning and close games and maybe even throw the last pitch of four World Series, but there will never be another Mariano. He’s truly one of the kind.