Archive for Musings
The latest Collective Bargaining Agreement overhauled the draft (and international free agency) and free agency in an attempt to fix long-standing problems, but instead all it did was create a new set of problems. It’s a vicious cycle. Teams are now given soft spending caps with harsh penalties for amateur players, and the qualifying offer system severely limits the market for some free agents. There’s no perfect solution to these problems — no realistic perfect solution, I should say — but Scott Boras has some ideas.
In a guest piece at ESPN earlier this week (subs. req’d), Boras laid out some creative ways to improve the draft and free agency. By improve I mean “make fair,” more than anything. None of his ideas are wacky and all of it passes the sniff test. The entire article is worth a read, but I wanted to touch on the key points separately. Let’s break ‘em down:
Problem: Qualifying offer system limits market for older players
Solution: Players age 31 and older do not require draft pick compensation
Unsurprisingly, Boras uses Kyle Lohse and Adam LaRoche (both his clients) as examples of older players who were hurt by receiving a qualifying offer this past winter. Both guys had strong-to-excellent seasons in 2012 but had trouble finding work on the open market because no one wanted to surrender a first round pick for a guy in his mid-30s. Under Boras’ scenario, a player age 31 or older who received a qualifying offer would net his former team the same compensation pick as any other qualified free agent, however their new team would not forfeit a pick.
I like the idea, but I do think the age threshold may be too low. Thirty-one is still in a guy’s theoretical prime, and a team should have to forfeit a first rounder to sign a prime-aged player. Robinson Cano is a perfect example — he’ll turn 31 in October and is still an elite player, so why shouldn’t a team have to surrender a first pick to sign him? The same would have been true for Nick Swisher last winter. Players like Cano and Swisher, obvious above-average players in their prime, should cost a pick. Maybe 32 or 33 would work better for the age limit.
Problem: Inflexible draft pools with slot values for each pick in the top ten rounds
Solution: No spending limits for the first round
I love this idea. Boras notes the draft talent pool varies from year-to-year, so clubs should be given the flexibility to spend however they see fit with their top selections. If it’s a deep class, they should be able to spend more without being penalized rather than squeezing each draft under the same spending umbrella. Smart teams should be rewarded for identifying the best talent and paying top dollar for it, and the teams with extra picks should be able to take full advantage. I really dislike the draft pool system and feel there should be no slot values at all, but this is a nice compromise. If a good player falls — Boras used Mark Appel (his client, duh) in 2012 as an example — a team should be able to sign him without punting several other picks. Free enterprise, baby.
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Boras also argues young American-born players are at a financial disadvantage compared to Cuban-born players — Stephen Strasburg’s contract ($15.1M) vs. Aroldis Chapman’s contract ($30.25M) at the same age, for example — but I’m not really sure what can be done about that aside from abolishing the draft and going back to true free agency (a.k.a the pre-1965 model). That won’t happen for obvious reasons.
I do think Boras has some good ideas for improving the current system though, particularly with regards to his uncapped first round of the draft plan. Ultimately, the best way to address the qualifying offer problem is to complete sever the ties between free agency and the draft, making them two completely separate events. The current CBA doesn’t expire until after the 2016 season, however, and it’s unlikely MLB and the players’ union will open it back up to address any non-performance-enhancing drug related issue. The owners have no reason to cave on that stuff right now.
Before the players even reported for spring training, we all knew that 2013 would prove a challenging season for the Yankees. A rash of injuries and setbacks in April only worsened the situation. Yet the team, largely on the back of the pitching staff, persevered through those challenges. After defeating the Rays on May 25, they owned the second-best record in the AL and sat atop the AL East at 30-18.
From there it has been all downhill.
Since then the Yankees are 27-38 with a -49 run differential. In the AL that’s only better than the White Sox and the Astros. Even the Blue Jays, still in the AL East cellar, have played over .500 ball since that date.
The easy narrative is that the pitching staff, which propped up the Yanks through those first 48 games (they allowed the second fewest runs in the AL, 3 behind Texas), fell apart in June, July, and now August. To a degree that’s true. In the first 48 games they allowed 3.73 runs per game, as opposed to 4.13 in the 65 games since. That amounts to 26 runs in those 65 games, which would have led to at least a few more wins.
Yet it is the offensive drop-off that has killed the 2013 Yankees. In those first 48 games they scored 4.33 runs per game, far from the best in the league but at least adequate given the stellar pitching. In the last 65 games they have scored nearly one fewer run per game. That amounts to fewer than every other team in the AL — by 19 runs — and is topped (bottomed?) only by the Giants with 210 runs since then. In other words, the offense was below average, but adequate, to start the season. It has evolved into a unit that the 1991 team might recognize.
These are the facts of the situation. After performing well to start the season — performing well without Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Kevin Youkilis, among others — the team has completely fallen off a cliff. At this point there is little, if any, hope that they turn it around. Last month they needed at least two bats, plus the healthy return of their own players, to have a chance. What they got was another player in his late 30s who is under contract for next year. And that’s it.
(As an aside, the Soriano trade does irk me a bit. If he were one of two or three moves made before the deadline, when improvements might have made a significant difference, that’s one thing. But to acquire him and only him makes the trade feel like a complete waste. Corey Black might be no shining star, but you wouldn’t up and release him, would you? Yet they ended up giving him away for a player who won’t help the team win in 2013, and stands little chance of helping in 2014. I really wish the Yanks had waited until the 31st to move on Soriano, and would have declined to do so after seeing that there were no other moves to make. Then again, apparently this was an ownership move. Hooray!)
We’re right to hope for miracles, but we’re also right to step back and see the team for what it has become. In order to make up the seven — seven! — games that sit between Yanks and the Rangers/A’s, they’ll need literally everything to come together immediately. That includes Robinson Cano getting hot, A-Rod and Granderson hitting their strides, Derek Jeter to successfully return, David Adams to prove a competent platoon partner with Lyle Overbay (or they could acquire Mark Reynolds for the same effect), Vernon Wells to keep hitting like he has since July 1, and significant performance improvements from Ichiro and Soriano. It might even involve Travis Hafner coming back and hitting like he did in April.
At the same time, it would involve CC Sabathia righting the ship, Andy Pettitte showing that he’s not completely washed up, Ivan Nova continuing his impressive run since being recalled, and David Phelps successfully returning from his two forearm strains*. I’ll take a moment while you step back and ponder all that.
*I could say it also involves Phil Hughes pitching consistently well, but the man is in the bottom 10 percent of qualified AL starters in terms of ERA for the last three years. Even if you add in 2010, he’s still in the bottom 10 percent. I’m willing to root for miracles, but I have to remain somewhat realistic.
Some of that might end up as the best case scenario. But that’s not enough for the 2013 Yankees. They need at least 80 percent of those events to reach their best cases, and even 80 percent might not be enough. How many times in the past have we seen this many things go well, all in sync, for a team that has played so poorly? Even in 2011, the Rays had played far better baseball at this point than the Yankees have, and needed plenty of help to get back in.
I want to hope. I really do. The April-May Yankees were downright fun to watch. It wasn’t always pretty, but they came back late in games, showed some guile, and got some phenomenal starting pitching efforts (even a few from Mr. Hughes). Since then, though, they’ve done little but let us down. I don’t want to give up on the season, but considering the hefty obstacles that face this team if it wants to crawl back into the race, it’s perhaps better for my mental health if I do.
I guess the only way to start this post is by saying there is no chance in hell the Yankees will trade Mariano Rivera. Absolutely zero. I’m more confident in that than anything I’ve ever written on this site. They’ve got a big retirement ceremony planned for September, they’re giving away a bobblehead … there’s no chance they’re going to let Rivera wear anything other than Yankees pinstripes in his career. So consider this post an intellectual exercise, or something.
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As of this morning, the Yankees have a 1.5% chance to make the postseason according to Baseball Prospectus. They are six games back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column with four teams ahead of them. Yes, it’s still mathematically possible for the Yankees to make the playoffs, but it’ll take a minor miracle. Losing five of six to the lowly Padres and even lowlier White Sox was a huge blow to their October chances. Those were supposed to be the easy wins.
Rivera’s final season — earlier this week he reiterated to Andrew Seligman that he is definitely retiring after the season — is going to waste in the sense that the greatest postseason weapon in history won’t get a chance to pitch in the playoffs one last time. As it stands, his final postseason appearance will be Game Five of the 2011 ALDS against the Tigers. I now retroactively consider myself lucky to have been at that game even though it ended the team’s season.
Trading Mo would be a Ray Bourque-esque “thanks for all the great years, sorry we couldn’t contend but we’ll trade you elsewhere so you have one last crack at a championship” move rather than something designed to kick start a rebuild. The Yankees would be doing Rivera a solid by sending him to a team that gives him a chance for a sixth World Series title in his final year. The market would be limited because it would have to be a legit contending team, not a fringe contender who is fighting for a spot. No one would be trading for him hoping he’ll get them into the postseason. They’re trading for him to turn playoff games into eight-inning affairs.
The team that acquires Rivera would have to be all but guaranteed to go to the postseason. I see eight teams that fit the bill (eight teams already? it’s August 8th!):
- Red Sox
We can rule the Rays and Red Sox right out. That ain’t happening. The Athletics have a strong bullpen and a very good closer already, so adding Mo doesn’t make a ton of sense. Same goes for the Braves. The Pirates are expected to get Jason Grilli back from his injury in the not-too-distant future, so adding a replacement closer isn’t a high priority at the moment. That could change if Grilli has a setback or something.
We’re left with the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Tigers, all of whom have at least a five-game lead on a playoff berth. They also have a closer who was a setup man when the season started and a need for another arm in middle relief. Acquiring Rivera would push Edward Mujica, Kenley Jansen, or Joaquin Benoit, respectively, back into a seventh or eighth inning role. That’s much more realistic than say, pushing Craig Kimbrel into the eighth inning.
Obviously Rivera is one of a kind in that he’s still at the very top of his game (last night’s blown save notwithstanding) at age 43. I joked earlier this year that you don’t see many athletes walk away from the game in their prime like Mo, but there is some truth to that. He’s still as brutally effective as ever. There’s no good way to gauge his trade value though, it’s not like elite closers are traded two months prior to retirement/free agent all that often. I guess there’s 2009 Billy Wagner and 2007 Eric Gagne, right? That’s pretty much it, and neither was as good then as Rivera is now.
Wagner was fresh off Tommy John surgery at the time of the trade, as in just two appearances with the Mets before being traded fresh. He brought back absolutely nothing in return. The Mets should have kept him and taken the two draft picks after the season. What a terrible move. Gagne, on the other hand, brought back two big league ready and maybe useful pieces in David Murphy and Kason Gabbard as well as a low-level lottery ticket prospect (Engel Beltre). Gabbard flamed out and Beltre finally made it to the show this year, but Murphy turned into a pretty solid player. Pretty nice return for two months of a closer.
So would that be the framework for a Rivera trade? Two iffy but big league ready prospects and a low-level minor leaguer? Yeah I guess. Like I said, trading him would be more about getting him one last shot at the postseason than maximizing the return. It would be nice to get a useful piece in return however. Someone the Yankees could plug into the lineup or the pitching staff for the next five or six years. Doesn’t have to be a star, a Murphy-esque player would be just fine. Best of an unfortunate situation, you know?
I can’t imagine seeing Rivera in another uniform and thankfully I don’t have to worry about that ever happening. He’s not getting traded in the next few weeks. Like I said before, there’s zero chance of that happening. I know it, you know it, and he knows it. I just wanted to talk things out to see what kind of market and what kind of return the Yankees could expect if they did decide to move their closer to a contender as a personal favor in his final season. It’s a thought I never expected to entertain, that’s for sure.
The only good thing about the Yankees being this bad — 27-38 in their last 65 games, a 67-win pace over a full season — is that I can kinda stop caring about the outcome of each game. Just sit back and watch baseball, that’s all. Maybe even get excited when they win. Crazy idea, no? Being free of expectations is pretty cool. Anyway, some random thoughts.
1. The Yankees should absolutely start playing some of their young players, but they aren’t exactly loaded with big league ready talent. They can steal at-bats from various veterans to give David Adams more playing time and flat-out replace Chris Stewart with Austin Romine, but that’s really it. Maybe dump Joba Chamberlain for Dellin Betances. Not much more they can do besides that unless Michael Pineda gets healthy pretty soon. It’s still worth it though, Romine and Adams (and Betances) might actually be useful next year and it’s worth seeing what they’ve got.
2. I threw this out there on Twitter the other day, so I might as well do it here: what positive long-ish term developments have there been for the Yankees so far this season? Just at the big league level and not something like Hiroki Kuroda being awesome. Something that improves the team’s 2014 outlook. You know what I mean. There’s Ivan Nova‘s last five or six weeks, Preston Claiborne and Shawn Kelley in the bullpen, and … that’s it, right? I suppose Adam Warren as well, despite last night’s outing. There has not been much of a silver lining so far this year, though I suppose that could change if they do start playing some more youngsters. I’m not going to hold my breath though. It’s not in their DNA.
3. Although he’s been slumping since the All-Star break, Robinson Cano is still hitting a stellar .287/.371/.492 (131 wRC+) on the year. It is down a touch from his .311/.370/.538 (142 wRC+) performance from 2010-2012, however. How much of that step down do you think is the result of his recent slump, and how much is actual age-related decline? The 30-year-old Cano has been really good this year overall, though he has had some frustrating;y long stretches of being straight up bad and I don’t know what to think. With Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley signing contracts valued at $14M per year (or below), the idea of a $20M+ annual deal for Robbie isn’t sitting well with me. He’s better than those two, but that much better? I keep going back and forth with the idea of signing him long-term, but I full expect the Yankees to give him a fat new deal at some point.
4. This isn’t Yankees related, but have you noticed the NL playoff field is just about set already? The Braves and Dodgers are running away with their divisions, plus the Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds all have comfortable leads on a postseason spot. They just have to sort out the NL Central winner and two wildcards. Cincinnati has the worst record of the trio and they’re four games up on the next best team, the Diamondbacks. That NL Central race will be interesting, but otherwise all the late-season excitement will come from the AL.
Imagen Yankez have all hom grown pleyerz.* Seriously, it’s a neat little exercise to go back and see what current major league players went through the Yankees system. Thankfully, Scranton RailRiders beat writer Donnie Collins has saved us some time and put together such a list himself. If nothing else, it’s a nice little thought experiment.
*You’ll have to follow @Seinfeld2000 to get the joke.
Without further pontification, here’s Collins’s list, complete with commentary and other goodies.
The best (current) pitcher on this list might not even technically qualify, depending on how you define homegrown talent. Quintana originally signed with the Mets as an international free agent in 2006, but they released him while he served a drug suspension in 2007. The Yankees signed him before the 2008 season, but then let him walk after the 2011 season. He was pitching successfully in the majors the next year.
Even if you count Quintana as a homegrown talent, it’s not as though it’s some developmental win. He’s arguably the best (current) pitcher on this list — certainly is in terms of results for the last two years — and the Yankees got nothing from or for him.
None of these pitchers rates in the top 30 in ERA among qualified starters for the last three years. The highest is Ian Kennedy at No. 46. On the flip side, Phil Hughes ranks No. 103, out of 112, in ERA during the last three years.
The disabled list doesn’t really mitigate this situation at all. Karstens is a fringy guy, obviously better off in the NL than in the AL. Phelps has been useful, but more on the level of Nova than above the level of Quintana. We still await the arrival of Banuelos; it seems the guys is constantly facing setbacks in his development.
You could probably go a few different ways with this list, since the Yankees have developed a goodly number of relievers. If you count Quintana, you could also count Jose Veras, who is having a fine season. There’s also Joba Chamberlain — whomighthaveremainedastarterunderdifferentcircumstancesbutthat’sbeyondthepoint — who has been good in the past but is having a really poor season that makes his overall numbers look that much worse.
Here the Yankees do have some clout. Rivera, Robertson, and Clippard all rank in the top 30 among relievers in ERA for the last three seasons. Melancon ranks in the top half and is on the rise. Dunn, Coke, and Choate form a decent cadre of lefties. Warren has shown that he’s a pretty good long man, at the least.
Yet again we find a blunder, though. While Coke and Dunn were both traded in large-scale transactions, Clippard got shipped out of town for Jonathan Albaladejo, which I’m sure Brian Cashman ranks as one of his worst trades. That’s not to mention how much Ramon Ramirez could have helped in the past.
Is there need for much commentary on the infield? Robinson Cano has been a phenomenal developmental success, especially at the major league level. He went from a guy whom the Rangers and Diamondbacks snubbed as a trade chip in 2004 to a veritable star by 2010.
And then we have the rest of the list.
After a hot 180 PA to start his career, Paredes has predictably stunk. Nunez has potential, and you can see it in nearly every swing he takes. It’s pretty, and it produces some of the hardest hit frozen ropes you’ll see. To date, it has failed to produce results worthy of an MLB starter. Adams still has potential, but he hasn’t done himself any favors in the bigs. I will refrain from commenting on Duncan.
Jeter obviously represents a developmental success, though that development occurred two decades ago, while Cashman was a mere peon in the organization and his staff wasn’t even with the team. Joseph could be decent, but lacks an arm to play 3B and so probably has no future with the organization. Pena was having a good year in part-time duty before getting hurt, but it’s not as though he’s going to be some surprise star.
This isn’t the worst group in the world, though there isn’t much power to speak of. Jackson is no superstar, but he did produce a solid rookie year and a standout season in 2012. Outside of that he’s been a little below average, which is fine for a center fielder with his kind of range. He and Gardner would prevent plenty of fly balls from dropping in.
The curious case here is Tabata, who earned Manny Ramirez comps while in the minors — and that’s a direct lesson to not comp minor leaguers to superstars. He’s been adequately above average for the Pirates in three of his four seasons to date, but like his Yankee-developed brethren he doesn’t hit for any power. Soriano is the only source of power here, and once again he’s not a true developmental success, since the Yankees signed him as a free agent after he played in Japan for a bit.
Again, a section that defies comment. The Yankees have had a pipeline of catchers, and none has really worked out. It does make me wonder what might have become, had Cervelli put his damn hand behind his back instead of leaving it prone and having a foul ball break it.
The roster above does not provide much inspiration. Collins wondered how it compared to the product actually on the field, and I think it’s pretty clear that the 2013 Yankees are a bit better than this crew.
Teams are built in many different ways, though, and an all-homegrown team ignores the Yankees greatest competitive advantage: money. So it makes sense, in a way, that they haven’t developed an elite corps of big league players. With money to burn on high-tier players, it’s not necessary.
Then again, a necessary cousin to spending on high-tier players is trading prospects for established talent. The Yankees have done this, and really haven’t surrendered all that much in the way of helpful big leaguers. But their track record suggests that teams aren’t getting a whole lot in return. I’m not sure if this turns teams away from dealing with the Yankees, but it certainly can’t help.
The landscape is changing as well. Players are opting for security over top dollar, signing extensions with their current teams that leave them off free agency lists at ages when it might make sense to sign them to long-term contracts. When they do hit free agency it could be in their early- to mid-30s, a time when long-term contracts become far, far riskier.
In the past, this kind of development had worked. In the future, it will not. Therefore, people railing against Cashman and the front office in the comments — an inevitability in nearly any post but a 100 percent certainty on this one — miss the point. How the Yankees have performed in the past in terms of player development does not necessarily reflect how they will perform in the future. In the past they didn’t need to emphasize development because of their other advantages. Now that players and teams have changed their behaviors, the Yankees will have to adapt in kind.
Which is to say that they have to do better if they want to avoid a long period of losing teams. The old methods just don’t work as well.
The Yankees currently reside in fourth place in the A.L. East at 55-51 (52-54 Pythag. record), and are 3.5 games back in the Wild Card hunt. A postseason berth is absolutely doable, but in order to get there, the team will have to address a number of hot topics — notably, the overall offensive ineptitude, the starting rotation concerns (CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes have all been pretty unreliable) and the huge elephant in the room that is the team’s high-priced third baseman being banned for the foreseeable future. This will be challenging given that the trade deadline is basically here.
Schedule wise, the team has some noticeable hurdles as well. It began last night in L.A. as the team faced off against the Dodgers and lost a winnable game. I’m guessing the Yankees will likely be dominated tonight by Clayton Kershaw, and will probably also surrender a whole bevy of runs to guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, and Hanley Ramirez. Who knows though; maybe they can pull a win out of the bag. Either way, I’ll be one of those folks on the East Coast struggling to keep their eyes open during tonight’s late night game.
This brings us into the month of August. The team will face some weaker opponents such as the White Sox and Padres (in Chicago and San Diego respectively) right off the bat, followed by an off day on August 8th. Who knows, the roster could look more formidable by this point if guys like Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and David Phelps all rejoin the roster. I don’t know if Francisco Cervelli is still on his original recovery time table or not (or whether he too will ultimately accept a plea deal for his involvement with Biogenesis), but maybe he’ll make an appearance around this time too.
From there, they’ll enter a seven-game homestand against the defending AL champs, the Tigers, followed by a four-game series against the Angels. I don’t expect sweeps of any teams, but I’ll be disappointed if they don’t take the series against everyone not based out of Detroit through this point. Of course, it’d be nice if they could at least split with the Tigers too. After the off day, the Yanks will trek north to Boston for a critical three games against the Sox followed immediately by the second off day of the month on August 19th.
The following nine days include four games (in three days) against the Blue Jays in New York, three games against the Rays in Tampa, and then three more back in Toronto. August 29th is the final off day of the month, at which point they’ll begin a three game set against the Orioles at home which will take us into September. The team has a chance to capitalize here on some (theoretically) winnable series. They could also gain a few important games in the standings within their division. On the other hand, if the team struggles in August, that probably seals the deal on the season.
September, unfortunately, looks equally (if not more) daunting and will likely be a lot more nerve racking if the Wild Card race comes down to the wire. After Baltimore, the Yanks have a quick three-game set against what will hopefully be a depleted White Sox squad. Then it’s three games against the Red Sox (at home), four more games against the Orioles (this time in Baltimore), and three more games against the Red Sox (this time in Boston). They’ll get one day off on September 16th, followed by a quick trip to Canada for their final series against Toronto.
After that, the team will have a three-game set against the Giants back in New York followed by their final off day on September 23rd. The Bombers will get another crack at the Rays (at home) before concluding their season in Houston with a three-game bout against the Astros. Overall, 18 of their final 27 games will be played against A.L. East teams. They better make them count.
Assuming the team doesn’t raise the white flag and punt the rest of the season by the deadline, they’re going to have a hard road ahead of them in the second half. It’s definitely doable, but in order for a postseason berth to remain plausible, the team is going to have to sort out a bunch of lingering issues in a hurry and then make the most of the games remaining.
Although they are just a handful of games out of the second wildcard spot with more than two months to play, the Yankees are unquestionably at a franchise crossroads. The late-1990s dynasty era players are on their last legs, in some cases almost literally, while the self-imposed 2014 payroll plan threatens to undermine their ability to navigate around some ugly long-term commitments. There are strong cases to be made for going all-in on the short-term and rebuilding for the long-term.
Based on our poll from two weeks ago, fans are split almost evenly between buying and selling before tomorrow’s trade deadline. The Yankees could try to make one last run with Mariano Rivera or kick start a rebuild by dealing off anyone drawing interest, and both options are perfectly reasonable. I fall on the “try to make on last run with Mo” side, but that’s just me. Beyond this season is another story, however. Pretty much no one will disagree with me when I say the Yankees are probably going to get a whole lot worse before they return to being legitimate World Series contenders.
That’s the dilemma the team will face this coming offseason. Do they continue to hold things together with gum and duct tape or try to build a viable young core to anchor the franchise moving forward? Ownership wants to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold to reap the (smaller than anticipated) financial benefits and that’s fine; it’s their team and they can do whatever they hell they want. At the same time, they’ve sent mixed messages and made reaching that goal even more difficult by trading for Alfonso Soriano and re-signing Ichiro Suzuki to contracts that impact the 2014 payroll.
The Yankees are in danger of becoming a team that is stuck in the middle going forward, meaning a club that isn’t good enough to legitimately contend and not bad enough to completely tear down. They’re there right now, really. Look at say, the 2012 Phillies or the 2010 Angels to get an idea of how that story ends if only half-measures are taken. The Yankees are going to have to decide this offseason whether they want to continue to try to contend or take a step back and rebuild. Ownership and the baseball ops people have to agree with the direction, come up with a plan, and stick to it. They can’t have one group going one way and another group going a different way.
The reason this decision has to be made this winter and not next year or the year after is Robinson Cano. He’s due a massive contract, and I have a very hard time seeing how the Yankees can given him that contract and legitimately contend while staying under the luxury tax threshold. It’s doable, sure, I just have a hard time seeing how without some great production from unexpected places (young prospects, old veterans, etc.). Cano’s a star of the first order, but does the team want to give him a nine-figure deal only to handcuff themselves financially and not surround him with quality players during his remaining years as an elite player? Wouldn’t that completely defeat the purpose of re-signing him?
Given the state of the organization, from the Major League roster on down through the farm system, it appears the team will have to decide between re-signing Cano, scrapping the payroll plan, and going for it, or letting Cano walk, sticking to the payroll plan, and rebuilding rather soon. I don’t see how they can do both, retain Cano and stay under the luxury tax threshold, while contending. There are two very clear sides here and everyone has to get together and pick one. Is there a right answer? I don’t know, but I do know the wrong one: the one that keeps the team in the middle between contender and rebuilder. Pick one of the two and go all-in to accomplish it.
The Yankees started 2013 with four of their five best hitters on the DL, so the plan was to ride out the storm on the shoulders of an experienced and deep pitching staff. That worked well for a while, but the injured guys have yet to return — or, in some cases, they returned only to get re-injured — and there’s only so long you can be a pitching and defense team in a small ballpark in the AL East.
The starting staff has held up reasonably well this year, though there have been some individual ups and downs. That inevitable over the course of the season. Here’s what the rotation has done month-to-month this season:
June and July kinda cancel each other out in terms of ERA, but otherwise the rotation has been pretty steady overall. It’s not an elite rotation though — a 3.96 ERA and 3.90 FIP place them 16th and 19th in baseball, respectively. Firmly middle of the pack.
A middle of the pack rotation and a bottom four offense (85 wRC+) is not a combination that lends itself to playoff contention. The Yankees have remained in the hunt — five back in the division, three back of a wildcard spot in the loss column — because a good bullpen (with an elite eighth/ninth inning combo) and good timing have helped them to a 16-9 record in one-run games. That’s the kind of good fortune you don’t want to have to rely on to contend.
Adding a bat(s) will be the top priority leading up to the trade deadline, but would it make sense for the Yankees to seek out a rotation upgrade as well? Hiroki Kuroda (2.65 ERA and 3.62 FIP) has emerged as the team’s ace, but he’s their only starter to make at least ten start with a sub-4.00 ERA. CC Sabathia (4.07/4.05) is trending downward and Andy Pettitte (4.39/4.75) has been very sketchy since returning from the DL. Ivan Nova (3.63/3.00) has pitched well of late, but two starts doesn’t mean much of anything. Phil Hughes (4.57/4.48) and the injured David Phelps (and Vidal Nuno) are back-end fodder. Michael Pineda is a complete unknown.
The Yankees have rotation depth, but it’s all back of the rotation depth. There is only so much lineup help they can reasonably add in the coming weeks, so maybe another way to improve the club is to replace one of those back-end types (Nova, Hughes, Phelps, etc.) with a better starting pitcher Strengthen the team’s strength, basically. Besides, it’s not like the team won’t need a starter or two next year either; adding an arm they could control would be a nifty pickup.
The issue with adding a quality starter is that there aren’t a ton of them on the market. With Ricky Nolasco already moved to the Dodgers, Matt Garza is top pitcher on the trade market. He’s an impending free agent and while he would certainly help New York in the second half, he wouldn’t do them any good next year. Yovani Gallardo is owed a bunch of money and comes with major red flags, ditto Jake Peavy. The surely available Joe Saunders, Joe Blanton, and Mike Pelfrey don’t help and are probably downgrades at this point.
If the Yankees were to add a starting pitcher, the best target might be Astros right-hander Bud Norris. The 28-year-old has a 3.63 ERA and 3.55 FIP this year, though his strikeout rate (6.39 K/9 and 16.7 K%) has dropped now that he’s no longer facing the opposing pitcher three times a game. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a history of improving strikeout rates, so maybe hethat would help. Norris has spent his entire career in a hitter’s park and will earn just $3M this year, plus he’s under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015. That’s the kind of guy the Yankees could add at the deadline to improve their rotation both in the second half and into the future.
I don’t expect the Bombers to seriously pursue a rotation upgrade prior to the non-waiver deadline in 13 days. They need to focus on finding some help for the offense. That should be their very top priority. I don’t think they should rule out adding another starter though, especially considering Sabathia’s decline and Pettitte’s recent shakiness. There is definitely room for improvement in that rotation. Having a bunch of back-end types in reserve only helps so much.
1. Last night, when the Royals took a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh off a Billy Butler no-doubter, I sarcastically tweeted that the game was over. Well, as it turns out, my cynical sentiments weren’t far from the truth. The Yankees are averaging a measly 3.89 runs per game and have now managed to score only one (!) run in each of the last three matches. This has resulted in a negative-six run differential, and according to their Pythagorean record, the team should officially be two games under .500 at this point. Collectively, the team has garnered a 83 wRC+ which is third worst in the majors. It’s painful to watch. It’s also really unfair to the pitching. You could march a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Matt Harvey out there every night and it wouldn’t be enough to win if the team only scores a single run. Ugly, really ugly.
2. Call it selective memory, but I feel like Mike has claimed that each series is very important for the Yankees over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, I kind of agree. It’s beginning to feel as though each game is a “must win.” The team sits six games out of first place in the AL East, which is by no means insurmountable at this point in the season. It’s not that these games are weighted differently from other season games. It’s just that the team needs to capitalize on its opportunities – particularly against some of the weaker opponents, like the Royals, if they hope to make the playoffs despite a failing offense. Yesterday, James Shields looked as shaky as I’ve ever seen him early on. The team simply needs to do better if they hope to remain in contention. On the plus side, the Yankees are only a game or so back from the Rays and Orioles in the standings, so a Wild Card berth is still very plausible even if a division title is looking less likely. Also, the Yankees have a bunch of games against Texas, Tampa Bay, Boston and Baltimore remaining which helps (or hurts) their cause depending on how you look at it.
3. Doug Mittler wrote a quick blurb about Brian McCann on ESPN yesterday (Insider required). It noted how McCann will likely be one of the top free agents available in the offseason and could demand a contract comparable to Yadier Molina – that is to say, a five year, $75M agreement. I don’t know if the Yankees have the goods to acquire McCann from the Braves before the trade deadline, nor do I know if the Braves have any interest in trading him, let alone to the Yankees. I also don’t know if the Yankees would be interested in him in the offseason given some of his prior injuries (including his most recent shoulder surgery) and their pending austerity budget concerns. I’ll tell you what though, right about now he’d look awfully good in pinstripes. Then again, so would Russell Martin (but that’s another point for another day).
4. So it looks like Robinson Cano has finally locked in his roster for the Home Run Derby. To be honest, I generally don’t spend much time watching the All-Star break activities. I’ll generally watch the first couple innings of the game itself (along with the last inning if I can to see Mariano Rivera pitch), and occasionally I’ll watch the first round of the Derby. Still, I have to hand it to Cano for picking a really solid group. Fielder, Davis, and Cespedes can all hit the long ball with the best of them. It’ll also be nice not having the Kansas locals bitch and moan about Billy Butler getting snubbed this year. I have to assume Robbie will have his father pitch to him again. Hopefully he can knock a couple into the stands this go around. On the other hand, I don’t quite get David Wright’s decision to invite Michael Cuddyer even though they’re apparently good friends. I’m guessing Carlos Gonzalez and Bryce Harper will be shouldering most of the load for the National League squad. It should also be interesting to see how many home runs get swallowed up by the vast dimensions of CitiField.
The Yankees lost their third straight game last night, scoring exactly one run in each loss. They’ve scored more than three runs against a non-Twins team just once in their last nine games and seven times in their last 22 games. Thank goodness Minnesota is coming town for another three games this weekend, eh? Here are some miscellaneous thoughts:
1. I had no problem whatsoever with letting Raul Ibanez walk this past winter because he was mostly terrible before he started hitting those monumentally clutch homers late in last year, but he went into last night’s game hitting .260/.306/.563 (140 wRC+) with 22 (!) homers for the Mariners. The AVG and OBP aren’t anything special, but holy crap could the Yankees use that kind of power bat in their lineup. He can even fake an outfield spot if need be. The so-called Bombers are on pace for 153 homers this season — they had 145 through the same number of games last year — which would be their lowest total in a non-strike season since 1991. Travis Hafner stopped hitting when the calendar flipped to May, making the decision to let Ibanez walk look even more egregious. I was totally cool with it like I said, but this is one I and probably team wishes they could redo.
2. Ty Wigginton is going to be a Yankee, isn’t he? It’s inevitable. The Cardinals cut him loose yesterday, just 87 games into his two-year, $5M contact. That’s what happens when you hit .158/.238/.193 (19 wRC+) in 63 plate appearances with awful defense. Wigginton, a right-handed bat, hit .234/.360/.411 (111 wRC+) against southpaws just last year, which is the kind of performance the Yankees will try to unlock when they inevitably sign him. The freely available Russ Canzler is almost certainly the better part-time first base/third base/left field/DH righty platoon bat at this point, but New York always seems to go for the proven veteran over the inexperienced guy. As soon as Wigginton clears waivers and is available to sign for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum, he’ll be fitted for pinstripes. The Cardinals are extremely well-run team though; if they cut bait, he probably doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
3. Wanna see a cool graph? Here:
That is Robinson Cano‘s walk rate on a day-by-day basis, and it’s going nowhere but up of late. In fact, Cano has drawn eight walks compared to just one strikeout this month. Since June 1st it’s 26 walks and 13 strikeouts (!). There are eight intentional walks mixed in there, but that is to be expected given the state of the offense. Robbie had about a 30-game stretch a few weeks ago where he wasn’t being all that productive, in part because he was chasing stuff out of the zone and not making quality contact. Nowadays he’s willing to take the walk and pass the baton. That maturation as a hitter is great, but at some point someone hitting behind him has to make the other team pay. Lineup protection doesn’t really exist in the sense that putting a good hitter behind Cano will get him better pitchers to hit — no one is going to pitch to him no matter who hits behind him — but it does exist in that someone can make the other team pay for their willingness to pitch around Robbie. The Yankees don’t have that guy right now, not at all.
4. Ivan Nova will make his first start since officially rejoining the rotation tonight — the last two were spot starts, the first due to a rain out and the second because of Hiroki Kuroda‘s sore hip — but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was sent back to Triple-A after the game, especially if the Yankees are planning to activate Derek Jeter tomorrow. Based on Joe Girardi‘s comments to Brian Heyman prior to yesterday’s game, it sure seems like the Cap’n's return is imminent as long as the ankle stays in one piece. Since Nova isn’t scheduled to start again before the All-Star break, they could send him down for the minimum ten days without him missing a start. That gives them the roster spot for Jeter and would allow Nova to stay sharp and on schedule with a Triple-A spot start. The Yankees haven’t manipulated their roster around the All-Star break at all in recent years, but this actually seems feasible if Jeter is ready to be activated. No sense in carrying a starter who won’t be available when you can add an extra position player for a few days without throwing the rotation out of whack.