Archive for Musings
I thought we were beyond this. The whole “should Joba Chamberlain be a starter or reliever?” debate died a slow and ugly death a few years back, after the Yankees took matters into their own hands and officially declared the young right-hander a full-time reliever. There would be no more bouncing back and forth, no more Joba Rules, no more pitch counts, nothing. He will be a reliever and that’s what he’s done since.
Yesterday, despite not being asked any questions about the topic, Joba told reporters he still believes he has what it takes to be a starter in this league. Here is his full quote, courtesy of Mark Feinsand…
“This is probably going to spark a bunch of stuff and (PR director Jason Zillo) is going to be mad at me, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, do you think you have the capability to start? Yes. Do I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike? Yes. Do I have two plus pitches in the bullpen that I can throw at any time? Yes.
“I guess I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I feel like I’m good enough to do both. I’ve proven that I can do both. Whatever it is, if I close, I want to be one or the other. I’ve been in the role of in the bullpen for a while, but am I confident that if I got the chance to start again somewhere – wherever that’s at – I could do it? Without a doubt. I just have to focus on this year and what I can do to improve to help this team win, continue to try to win ballgames for them.”
There are two things going on here, the first of which is pretty simple: of course Joba thinks he can start. Pretty much every reliever thinks he can start, especially relievers who are still a few years away from their 30th birthday. He’s confident in his talent and believes he can handle a more important role, which is perfectly normal. It would be a little disappointing if Joba came out and said he’s content as a reliever and doesn’t think he’s capable of pitching in someone’s rotation. You always want your players striving for more, to be better.
Secondly, free agency is looming and starters make an awful lot more money than their bullpen brethren. It’s not close either. The biggest free agent reliever contract in baseball history (Jonathan Papelbon) is nearly identical to the third largest free agent starter contract given out this past winter (Edwin Jackson), nevermind in baseball history. Being a starter pays much more because they’re simply more important. You know this, I know this, Joba and his agent knows this.
With the obvious caveat that there is still eight months worth of baseball to be played between now and free agency, it seems very unlikely Chamberlain will be re-signing with New York after the season. That makes me sad. He’s made it very obvious we wants to start and the Yankees won’t give him that opportunity. That last part is very clear. Ivan Nova and his 4.41 ERA in 62 career starts is in camp competing for a rotation spot this spring while Joba and his 4.18 ERA in 43 career starts is not. Think about that. Nova has gotten 19 more starts (and counting!) to prove himself than Joba.
Anyway, some team is going to give Chamberlain a chance to start next year. He’s still young enough (only 27) with good stuff and former top prospect shine, which is the kind of package that typically has fans clamoring for their team to swoop in. I’m guessing Joba will get a contract like Carlos Villanueva’s (two years, $10M) with the promise that he’ll compete for a rotation spot in camp with the bullpen as a fallback option. Maybe his quasi-hometown Royals will give him that deal, or maybe it’ll be Padres and their big ballpark. I could see the Rays pulling off a move like that, the Rangers as well. Either way, Joba’s days with the Yankees are numbered because there is still, six years later, a difference of opinion about his role.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa two weeks ago today, and during that time the Yankees have lost Phil Hughes to a bulging disk in his back and Curtis Granderson to a broken forearm. Hughes is working his way back slowly but could be back on a mound within a few days while Granderson will be sidelined until at least early-May. Considering that those two are among the youngest regulars on the projected roster, these last two weeks have certainly been disheartening. Here’s a collection of random thoughts…
1. A few hours before Granderson got hurt on Sunday, I wrote a nice big post for Monday afternoon explaining why moving him to left field wasn’t a slam dunk upgrade. It was absolutely worth trying of course, but factors like his inexperience — hasn’t played left regularly since 2003 and remember, left is the infamous “sun field” at Yankee Stadium during day games — and the potential for his bat to suffer could take away from the defensive upgrade. The inexperience is a very real thing while possible offensive decline is more theoretical than anything, but it is something the Yankees would have had to monitor in camp. Confidence was another thing; being “demoted” to left in his walk year couldn’t have been an easy thing for Curtis to take. Maybe he would have used that as motivation to kick ass and prove everyone wrong, but who knows. I think Granderson is likely to return as a center fielder when he’s healthy because the Yankees will emphasize getting his bat is ready as soon as possible rather than saving a few runs on defense. We’ll see.
2. My darkhorse/never-gonna-happen left field candidate? Corban Joseph. He can hit because he has an idea at the plate — his recent comments to Chad Jennings were encouraging — with some pop from the left side, but his defense has always been a question. Joseph isn’t quick enough to play an average second base and he doesn’t really have the arm for third, so a corner outfield spot might be his best long-term position. Baseball America said “he has taken fly balls in the outfield during pregame drills” in their 2013 Prospect Handbook, so at least he has a tiny bit of experience tracking a fly ball. Thirty-two Grapefruit League games wouldn’t be enough to fully transition Joseph from the infield to the outfield — right field might be better since it’s the smallest part of Yankee Stadium — but it’s probably worth a shot. Like I said, however, it’s never going to happen. Would be interesting to see though.
3. Since Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli are both out of options, an injury is pretty much the only way Austin Romine could make the team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, he could use the regular playing time in Triple-A, but I doubt the Yankees would put one of those guys on waivers and sacrifice depth at this point. One thing I will be keeping an eye on in camp is Cervelli’s throwing, which was downright awful from 2010-2011 despite a very good minor league track record. Surely you remember all those errant throws into center field. Frankie threw a runner out at second trying to steal on Saturday and made a nice throw on a steal attempt yesterday even though the runner was safe. Cervelli told Jennings that he was “rushing” his throws and developed some bad habits from 2010-2011, but he corrected them last year and threw out 30% of attempted base-stealers in Triple-A. If he has in fact gotten over those bad habits and is able to contribute more defensively, he’d be the clear starter for me. None of these guys can hit much, but Cervelli is right in his prime years (27 next week) with a tolerable career .339 OBP. The lesser of two evils, I suppose.
4. By no means am I calling Ivan Nova a slacker, but I do think David Phelps has a bit of a leg up in the fifth starter’s competition because he is so far ahead in camp. He had already thrown a few bullpens by the time pitchers and catchers reported, and he was the first projected big leaguer to a) face hitters, and b) actually get into a Grapefruit League game. Phelps told Jennings he “pushed (himself) a little more in the offseason … because (he’s) trying to make an impression,” which is exactly what he did last year. As you probably remember, Phelps opened some eyes in camp last spring by showing some serious competitiveness and more velocity than he had in the past, and it helped him win that final bullpen spot. Talent always reigns supreme, but the Yankees have emphasized makeup and work ethic in recent years in an effort to get as much as they can out of that talent. Phelps is making one hell of an impression.
We’re now only six days away from pitchers and catchers reporting, the most exciting non-news day of the year. Almost nothing happens that day, all the guys have to do is inform the team they are physically in Florida. Everyone shows up for the first workout the next day. That’s all, it’s symbolic more than anything. But still, hooray baseball.
1. I think that this season, moreso than any other season over the last few years, it will be extremely important for the Yankees to have a strong bench. They’ll need a) a right-handed hitting outfielder, b) a competent pinch-hitter (preferably a lefty), and c) a speedy pinch-runner. They need (a) because everyone in the starting outfield is a lefty, that’s easy enough. They need (b) because the catching tandem is terrible and those guys shouldn’t be allowed to bat in the late innings of close games. Finally, they need (c) because Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, and Travis Hafner are crazy slow and will need to be replaced if they reach base late in close games. The Yankees lost a lot of offense this winter and figure to play many more close games in 2013, so Joe Girardi is going to need weapons on the bench. Not just warm bodies to fill-in during emergency situations, weapons he can deploy strategically.
2. I have this strange feeling Chase Utley will be a Yankee within the next 12 months. There’s a few different ways this could happen too. The Phillies showed last year that if they’re out of it at the trade deadline, they’re willing to move established players for prospects. Utley, 34, will be a free agent next winter as well. Given Travis Hafner’s affinity for the disabled list, I suppose the Yankees could look to acquire the second baseman from Philadelphia to serve as their left-handed DH. If he’s healthy enough at the end of the season — a big if given the last few years — he could be a second base candidate for 2014 should Robinson Cano sign some mammoth contract with the Dodgers next winter. He could also be a DH candidate as well. I dunno, just feels inevitable to me for some reason.
3. Obviously a ton is going to change between now and then, but one players scheduled to hit free agency next winter who really catches my eye is outfielder Carlos Gomez. He just turned 27 in December and hit .260/.305/.463 (105 wRC+) with 19 homers and 37 steals last season. The strikeouts (career 22.3%) and walks (career 5.0%) are a concern, though his defense grades out as well-above-average in center. A player that young with that kind of power-speed combination is very attractive even if his on-base skills stink. I could see him getting B.J. Upton money with another strong year, which probably makes him too pricey for the Yankees. But man, I would love to have him for ages 28-32.
4. All of the prospect rankings come out this time of year and it’s a nice reminder that the Yankees need to knock it out of the park in the draft this summer. They own three of the top 35 picks — all three carry seven-figure slot recommendations as well — and really need to add some quality, high-ceiling players to the system. Grabbing more Cito Culvers and Dante Bichette Juniors ain’t gonna cut it if they truly plan to remain under the luxury tax. They’ve got to max out on those three picks and take the best players possible, forget about trying to save a little draft pool room to use for overslot bonuses later in the draft. The new spending restrictions suck, but the Yankees have what amounts to three first round picks this year and need to capitalize.
Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.
Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.
The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.
2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.
Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.
Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.
4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.
The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.
So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.
Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.
6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.
Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.
I suppose there’s something slightly poetic about discussing the possibility of the Yankees voiding Alex Rodriguez‘s contract. After all, it was a voided contract that helped bring Alex to the Bronx in the first place. Aaron Boone blew out his knee playing basketball — something that is strictly prohibited in standard MLB contracts — in January 2004, an injury that would cause him to miss the entire season. The Yankees voided his one-year contract and a few weeks later, A-Rod was in pinstripes.
Following yesterday’s South Florida-based performance-enchancing drug revelations, reports surfaced that the Yankees are “looking at about 20 different things” in hopes of finding a way out of five years and $114M left on A-Rod’s contract. They’re looking to see if he breached his contract by getting medical attention without the team’s permission, if he broke the law by purchasing controlled substances, all sorts of stuff. The team is desperate to get out of the noose they tied around their own necks, so of course they’re doing to try to weasel their way out of it.
Fans, of course, are out for blood. A-Rod has disgraced the pinstripes and he must pay! Void the contract without cause and deal with the lawsuits afterwards! Release him and eat the money! Pressure him into retiring! Do whatever it takes to get rid of him! Darren Rovell and Ken Rosenthal even had the genius idea of committing insurance fraud, which might possibly be more stupid than anything irrationally said by any Yankees fan. That’s really saying something.
In reality, this is what will happen: nothing. At least not immediately. There is no hard evidence A-Rod purchased, used, possessed, anythinged a banned substance from 2009-2012. There’s a report from a non-major, tabloid newspaper on par with amNY. That’s all. Nothing can happen until Major League Baseball completes its investigation and finds actual evidence, evidence that is solid enough to act on. That could take a few days, a week, a month, a year … who the hell knows. There’s also the possibility the league will find nothing. It’s not until the investigation is complete that this whole process can go forward.
If MLB manages to find some real evidence, then the Yankees would have to figure out how to actually use it. The Joint Drug Agreement — a collectively bargained document that both Yankees ownership and A-Rod (via the players’ union) agreed to — says punishment is in the hands of the commissioner’s office and no one else. They might suspend him and he would probably be allowed to serve it while on the DL for his hip injury. There’s plenty of precedent for that. A-Rod would face the same penalties as Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera. He’s not special because he’s a Yankee and you don’t like him.
Unless there is language in A-Rod’s contract pertaining specifically to PED stuff — we have zero reason to believe there is — it’s going to be extremely difficult for the Yankees to shed themselves of that $114M. Maybe they could talk A-Rod into a Jason Bay-esque buyout just to get rid of him, but that won’t improve their financial situation. Alex has no reason to take any kind of discount from the team. Zero. Having banked over $300M in his career to date is irrelevant. The club is obligated to pay him that money and he won’t walk away from nine figures in an effort to repair an image that is already beyond repair.
Now, with all that said, of course the Yankees should try to find something that would allow them to cut ties with A-Rod. They should have been doing that long before yesterday’s reports were even published. We’ve known the contract was an albatross for years now, we didn’t need anything that happened yesterday to remind us. Yesterday’s report just made it seem slightly more possible, which might not even be the case. The team’s lawyers should be combing through every standard and silly little clause in that contract to find what amounts to a loophole.
If the Yankees do somehow defy the odds and manage to void even a portion of A-Rod’s contract down the line, it will be because they fought the union tooth and nail through ugly legal proceedings and won. Not because A-Rod will retire out of the kindness of his heart and certainly not because the union will throw one of its members under the bus. In that respect, trying to void the contract will be much more painful than just sitting around and waiting for the deal to expire in five years.
The court of public opinion needs no hard evidence. Yesterday’s report was more than enough to forever tarnish whatever was left of A-Rod’s legacy, regardless of its accuracy. Real life requires hard evidence though, especially when someone wants to void a nine-figure contract. We’re not even one step away from that potentially happening, we’re about thirty steps away.
This is no secret, but the Yankees have an old roster. Their position players averaged 32.7 years of age last season (weighted by playing time), making them the oldest group in franchise history by a little more than three months. New York is returning almost the exact same squad this year, except with Brett Gardner (29) replacing Raul Ibanez (40) in left and Ichiro Suzuki (39) replacing Nick Swisher (32) in right. The DH spot remains unaccounted for at the moment. Barring something unexpected, they’ll set a new record for average position player age again this year.
With relatively old age comes many things, namely injury concerns. Not only do older players tend to get hurt a little more often, they also take longer to recover. It comes with the territory and is a valid concern for the Yankees this coming season. Derek Jeter (ankle) resumed baseball activities today following his October surgery, but we won’t know if he’ll be ready for Opening Day until well into Spring Training. Alex Rodriguez (hip) isn’t coming back anytime soon, probably not until after the All-Star break according to Dr. Bryan Kelly.
One thing these old Yankees do have going for them is a track record of durability. Ichiro has played in at least 157 games in 11 of his 12 years in MLB, and his 485 games played over the last three seasons are tied with Prince Fielder for the most in baseball. Robinson Cano is right behind those two at 480 games since 2010. Curtis Granderson has appeared in at least 156 games in three of the last four years and ranks 24th in games played (451) over the last three seasons. Jeter (447) and Mark Teixeira (437) are also among the top 50 in total games played since 2010. By my count, the only other team with more than three players on that list is the Tigers with six.
Now past durability does not guarantee future health, of course. Jeter’s been remarkably durable over the years but that didn’t prevent him from crumbling to the ground with the ankle fracture during the postseason. Teixeira played in 155+ games in four straight seasons before battling a cough, wrist issues, and a calf injury last summer. Granderson missed a month with a hamstring problem in 2010 and an ulcer landed Ichiro in the DL in 2009. Heck, CC Sabathia has been the model of pitcher durability over the years and he landed on the DL not once, but twice last season. He’s not a position player, but I digress.
Anyway, I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. The point I really wanted to make is that while injuries and recovery from those injuries stand out as concerns stemming from the team’s age, I’m just as worried about these guys staying productive all season. Older players don’t just get hurt and miss time, they wear down and stop being productive down the stretch. The 162-game schedule is no joke, especially when you’re talking about guys on the wrong side of 30 who have been playing 150+ games annually their entire careers. It’s one thing to get hurt and be replaced by the fresh body, it’s another to stay healthy but not produce.
Principal owner Hal Steinbrenner created a bit of a stir last week when he showed a remarkable lack of awareness by saying he was “surprised to hear that there’s [fan anger] if you see what we’ve done this off-season.” Other than re-sign a few of their own older players and import the downside of Kevin Youkilis‘ career, the Yankees haven’t done much of anything this offseason. They didn’t even maintain the status quo — the pitching staff is the same and the offense is weaker because Nick Swisher and Russell Martin were allowed to depart.
Anyway, let’s move on from that nonsense and talk about something else Hal said last week. Here are the specific quotes, courtesy of Brian Costa…
“I’ve been resolute that [getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014] is our goal. And that is our goal … I don’t see [staying under the tax threshold] being less of a goal (in the future). I believe that you don’t have to have a $220M payroll to win a world championship, and you shouldn’t have to.”
“I’m not a big believer in extensions. There’s exceptions to every rule, but I’m just not a big believer in extensions. I’m worried about this year.”
These two ideas, getting under the luxury tax threshold and avoiding contract extensions, are technically mutually exclusive. In reality, the two ideas are at odds with each other. Getting under the luxury tax means the team will operate within defined financial limits, but avoiding extensions means the team will also have to pay market value for players. Paying market value and having a hard salary limit are not going to mix well, even with a payroll as large as $189M.
Right now this is not much of an issue. The Yankees only have two legitimate extension candidates in Robinson Cano and Phil Hughes, and the latter is far from a no-brainer. Both are one year away from free agency and Cano is a special case because he’s an elite player due a long-term, nine-figure commitment one way or the other. Perhaps the team should consider extensions for Brett Gardner and David Robertson (three years, $12M for both?), but other youngsters like Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Eduardo Nunez, and Michael Pineda haven’t done enough to warrant any kind of guaranteed commitment. Not yet, anyway.
The Yankees, specifically Hal since he made the comments, want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to stay under the luxury tax threshold in the future and that’s fine even if I disagree with it, but they also don’t want to hand out contract extensions to young players. They can do both, but it won’t be easy. The team saved millions of dollars by buying out Cano’s arbitration years with an extension six years ago, and they should be more open to doing the same in the future. There’s a disconnect between the team’s two policies right now, even if breaking one will help them accomplish the (much more lucrative) other.
It’s a Tuesday and I’m sick, so here are some random thoughts…
1. Depending on who you ask, the Yankees either did (Ken Rosenthal) or did not (Jon Heyman) extend an offer to Lance Berkman before he signed with the Rangers. Rosenthal hedges his bet a bit, so I’m guessing they didn’t make an offer despite showing interest. Berkman was, by far, the best pure hitter on the DH market when you consider the ability to hit for average, get on base, and hit for power, though he was also a tremendous health risk. The DH position is a weird spot for the Yankees because they really need a legit bat there despite also having the need to use it as a resting place for older regulars. They need more than a league average hitter or some random power-only old guy willing to take a six-figure contract because they lost a lot of offense in right field and behind the plate. Berkman is a potential impact hitter and I don’t see another one of those guys out there. Maybe the team is biding its time until the Nationals re-sign Adam LaRoche so they could swoop in with a trade offer for Mike Morse? That’d be neat.
2. The more I think about, the more I think it’s inevitable Chris Stewart will be the primary catcher to open the season. The Yankees obviously like him more than Frankie Cervelli, otherwise they wouldn’t have traded a useful reliever (George Kontos) to acquire him and send Cervelli to the traveling circus in Triple-A. We also know they’ve tried to unload Cervelli in the past, most notably on the Pirates back in 2011. The various catcher defense rankings (2011, 2012) say Stewart is an average to above-average defensive catcher, but he obviously can’t hit a lick. It’s not often a team gets to the World Series with a below-average catcher these days, nevermind actually win the whole thing. I am wholly unprepared for the Chris Stewart, Starting Catcher era. This really sucks.
3. You know what has been flying under the radar these last few months? Getting Brett Gardner back in the outfield on an everyday basis next season. It’s was painfully obvious the Yankees missed his speed prior to the Ichiro Suzuki trade last year, and his ability to work the count (career 4.29 pitches per plate appearance, which is elite) and simply get on-base (career .355 OBP) will be greatly appreciated at the bottom of the lineup. Add in his stellar defense — I do think they’ll move him to center next season, by the way — and it’s a pretty significant upgrade over the guys the club used in his place last summer. Don’t get me wrong, Gardner is no star, but he’s the upgrade no one is talking about just because he’s been here the whole time.
4. I do believe in the idea of the “contract year,” but there’s more to it than “he’s trying harder because he wants to get paid.” That part is true to a certain extent because I’ve lived through it. I know I’m not the only one who work extra hard in the weeks leading up to the annual performance review. “Contract years” also have a lot to do with timing, since many players qualify for free agency as they’re reaching their prime (late-20s/early-30s). The Yankees will have a ton of these guys on the roster next season, most notably Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan. Curtis Granderson will turn 32 in a few weeks and is right on that prime years bubble while Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Kevin Youkilis are well passed it. Wouldn’t it be pretty awesome if Cano and Hughes (and to a lesser extent, Joba and Logan) had huge contract years? Forget about the impact on the team’s chances, it would just be fun to watch those two have huge seasons (175 wRC+ and a sub-3.00 FIP, respectively?).
The way I think about baseball has changed quite a bit over the last few years, and I’m not just talking about statistics or analyzing players or stuff like that. My perspective on free agency and arbitration and trades has changed, and a lot of that started once I began contributing to MLB Trade Rumors. Rather than focusing solely on the Yankees, I was exposed to all 30 clubs and I’ve gotten more familiar with their preferences over time. Billy Beane and the Athletics will ask for your top three prospects in exchange for their good but not great big leaguer, and every so often they get it. The Brewers favor power, both at the plate and on the mound. The Red Sox have a sieve of a front office that can’t accomplish anything in secrecy or without weeks of rumors. So on an so forth.
The Yankees, of course, have their own unique tendencies and preferences, plus they’re also just different than everyone else. They just are. Their market is different, their payroll is different, their history and tradition is different. They are the most valuable franchise in the sport and their importance to MLB is greater than any other club’s. They are the league’s villain, so to speak. A revenue-generating, attention-drawing villain. Their prospects are judged differently, their moves are analyzed differently, their wins are downplayed and their losses are overblown. Everything about the Yankees is different compared to the rest of the league. They’re in that own little baseball world, separated from everyone else.
The city of New York plays a part in that as well. There’s more than 8.2M people living in the five boroughs these days, and that doesn’t include Westchester, New Jersey, or the millions of tourists who check in through the year. Shiny new Yankee Stadium is easily accessible via mass transit whether you’re coming from Brooklyn or Poughkeepsie. I’m willing to bet that if we ran some polls, the Yankees would also be the most popular team in Florida given their Tampa roots. Probably a few other states as well. Few teams have that kind of reach in one community, nevermind multiple.
Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here and I want to get back to the point I originally wanted to make. Bryan Hoch recently published an article with some quotes from Brian Cashman that caught my eye. To the blocked quotes…
“I think we’ve improved our pro scouting network, and I think we’ve improved our evaluation of statistical data streams,” Cashman said. “It puts us in a position to make informed decisions and much more comfortable knowing what is really available, and what you can expect from those players if you sign them and what you’d be comfortable paying them.”
“I don’t think we see things that others don’t,” Cashman said. “A lot of people have access to the same types of information and are organized the same way. I think we’re in position to make better and informed decisions. We have a circumstance where we have a city that’s a wonderful place to play, with huge fan support, with great players that we can surround ourselves with.”
“It’s worked to our advantage,” Cashman said. “A lot of teams see similar stuff that we see. We’ve been able to benefit because we are the Yankees and this an exceptional place to play.”
Just this offseason, at least three free agents have taken a smaller offer to join the Yankees. Hiroki Kuroda turned down more dollars and years to return to New York back in November. Kevin Youkilis spurned a multi-year offer (and an extra $6M) from the Indians to take a one-year pact with the Yankees last month. A few weeks after that, Ichiro Suzuki rejected multiple multi-year offers and took a lower annual salary to return to the team after enjoying his two months in pinstripes at the end of the season. Other players like Eric Chavez, David Aardsma, and Raul Ibanez have joined the club on team-friendly terms in recent years.
We’re never going to know these guys’ true motives, but it’s obvious there is something about the Yankees drawing them away from bigger paydays. It helps that they’re all multi-millionaires who don’t have to worry about their kids or their kids’ kids financially, but this does extend beyond money. Youkilis, for example, already has a World Series ring and turned down the opportunity to play closer to home. The Yankees do have a veteran clubhouse but it’s not just any veteran clubhouse. Players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and CC Sabathia (among others) are highly respected within the game and that is a draw for fellow established veterans. Perhaps it’s the need to not be “The Guy.” Maybe it’s the city itself. I’m guessing all of these things and more contribute.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, and in fact I think I may have written about guys taking less money to come to New York once before (eh, kinda). It’s a nice skill (?) for a team to have, especially since the Yankees plan to trim payroll in 2014 and will need to find bargains to fill out the roster. Last year it was Chavez and Ibanez, this year it’s Youkilis and Ichiro, and who knows who it will be in 2014. The Yankees just need to be careful about diversifying their roster, because these guys are complementary players at this point of their careers, not cornerstones. That phase of their careers is long gone.
After a few days of waiting, the Red Sox and Pirates finally finalized the Joel Hanrahan trade yesterday. The deal sends Hanrahan and infield prospect Brock Holt to Boston for four players: corner outfielder/infielder Jerry Sands, infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr., right-hander Stolmy Pimentel, and former Yankee Mark Melancon. I’m not here to discuss the merits of the trade from either side, but instead the framework.
By acquiring Hanrahan, the Red Sox cleared up some of their 40-man roster clutter. Sands, who I like more than most it seems, was made redundant by Jonny Gomes, Ryan Lavarnway, and Mike Napoli (if that deal ever gets done). Pimentel was once a top pitching prospect who has posted a 5.96 ERA (4.49 FIP) in Double-A over the last two years. He, like Sands, has one minor league option left. Melancon was an out-of-options middle reliever on a team with bullpen depth to spare. DeJesus was the only one of the four players going to Pittsburgh who was not on the 40-man while Holt has all three minor league options remaining.
The Yankees, like the Red Sox prior to the trade, have an awful lot of clutter on the 40-man roster. By clutter I mean youngsters who don’t figure to contribute much in 2013 or just fringy prospects in general. Ramon Flores, Jose Ramirez, and Nik Turley fall into the former category while Zoilo Almonte, Corban Joseph, and even Dellin Betances make up the latter. They’re interesting enough to keep around but hardly high priority guys, kinda like Sands, Melancon, and Pimentel. Given their big league roster needs (starting catcher, right-handed outfield bat, DH, bench), the Yankees are going to have to clear some 40-man spots before Opening Day.
Packaging two or three of those clutter pieces for one big leaguer seems like a wonderful idea in theory, but it’s much more difficult to actually put into practice. For starters, you have to find a team willing to take on several of those players and commit 40-man spots to them. That’s not easy. A rebuilding team isn’t looking to take on fringe prospects just because. Most clubs prioritize quality over quantity these days, even if it means getting back fewer pieces. Turning say, Betances and Joseph and Zoilo into a quality reliever or bench player is more of a pipe dream than anything, but the Red Sox just showed that turning spare parts into a useful player can be done.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying the Yankees missed out by not trading for Hanrahan. He would have helped the bullpen but New York is hardly in need of a $7M late-inning reliever, especially one with walk issues. I do want to see the team follow in Boston’s footsteps by turning some of those spare part guys who just don’t fit into the team’s long-term plans into a player who can help them win this season. These guys are going to start getting designated for assignment and plucked off waivers pretty soon, so it would be nice to get some kind of return before then.