Thoughts before Thanksgiving Weekend

"He must work out." (Presswire)
“Hmmm. He must work out.” (Presswire)

As much as I love baseball, I am a sucker for the holiday season, and that kinda sorta starts this week with Thanksgiving. The short work week this week and awesome food is really great as well. Anyway, here are some random thoughts on a random Tuesday.

1. The Red Sox’s decision to play Hanley Ramirez in left field seems pretty interesting. Apparently Hanley contacted Boston and said he was willing to play the outfield — I can’t find the report now but I saw it yesterday, just can’t remember where — which is great, but being willing to do it and being able to do it are two different things. Transitioning from the infield to the outfield is pretty tough in general for a player at that point in his career, and left field at Fenway Park is a different animal entirely because of the bounces off the wall. Yoenis Cespedes is a pretty good outfielder and he looked lost out there after the trade this summer. Ramirez can flat out mash — he and Victor Martinez were the only two true impact hitters on the free agent market this winter in my opinion — but the outfield learning curve could be pretty steep and hopefully hilarious.

2. Boston made their two big splashes yesterday and I’m sure they’ll bring in a pitcher or three this winter — you don’t sign both Hanley and Pablo Sandoval only to skimp on pitching — but I don’t expect the Yankees to make any kind of big move as a knee-jerk reaction. It’s been a long, long time since they’ve done that. I think you have to go back to the Rafael Soriano signing for the last time it happened and even that barely even qualifies. The Red Sox brought in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez that winter, and the Yankees had a bunch of money burning a hole in their pocket after losing out Cliff Lee, so ownership gave it to the best free agent left on the market. It’s been a while since the team operated that way and that’s a good thing. They have enough problems to sort out this winter. If they start worrying about what other teams in the division are doing and make moves as a “response,” they’re only going to dig themselves into an even deeper hole.

3. That said, it’s probably time for the Yankees to get serious about re-signing Chase Headley. Sandoval and Hanley are both off the board, meaning Headley is clearly the top third baseman available, so his market should soon take off. I’m sure the Giants will have interest. That feels inevitable. Headley is two years older but he and Sandoval are closer in production than everyone seems to realize — Headley had a 102 OPS+ and 3.5 bWAR this past season (123 OPS+ and 13.6 bWAR since 2012) while Sandoval had a 111 OPS+ and 3.0 bWAR (116 OPS+ and 8.2 bWAR since 2012) — yet it feels like he’s going to get maybe half the money. The best free agent third baseman on the market next year will be David Freese, and, as far as I can tell, the best on the market the year after that will be 37-year-old Adrian Beltre. Headley is by far the best third baseman who will be available via free agency for the foreseeable future, and I think if a team gives him four years at $14M annually, we’ll look back at it in a year and say it was a really smart signing. I mean, Kyle Seager just got $100M. Headley’s too good of a fit for the Yankees and the upcoming third base market is too weak for it not to happen. With Sandoval and Ramirez signed, it’s time for New York to get this hammered out.

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

4. There is a shockingly large number of people who are sincerely angry with Brian Cashman for the whole “sleeping on the street/rappelling down a building for charity” thing he does every winter. Like really, really angry. I can’t possibly wrap my head around that. They seem to think that if Cashman misses a call from, say, Jon Lester’s agent because he spends ten minutes going down the side of the building, the Yankees will miss their chance to sign him all together. As if the two sides haven’t already been in touch or agents won’t circle back to the highest spending team on the East Coast just to see if they’ll make one last offer. Why do people act like athletes and sports executives should be working 24/7? Like half of you reading this are at work right now. This is the silliest, most inconsequential thing to get upset about. Seems like a total waste of perfectly good outrage.

5. The 2015 Hall of Fame ballot was released yesterday and, off the top of head, I count 16 guys I would vote for: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz, and Sammy Sosa. There are one or two others I’m on the fence about who I’d have to research further. Point is, there are more than ten deserving players on the ballot this year in my opinion, yet the BBWAA only allows voters to vote for ten players each year. If I had a vote, I’d be forced to essentially rank the guys and I want to vote for and pick the ten most deserving. Or would it be better to leave guys like Pedro and Johnson off my ballot because I know they’re going to get in anyway and others will need more help, like Mussina and Raines? These are decisions I don’t think a voter should have to make. Voters should be allowed to vote for as many players as they want. A player either is or isn’t a Hall of Famer and the voting process should be that simple. Limiting the ballot is unfair to the players, more than anything.

Thoughts two weeks into the offseason

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Yesterday was the busiest day of the offseason so far but the Yankees were not directly involved with anything. Every move in baseball indirectly impacts every other team in some way though, plus one of New York’s division rivals made a major addition, so it’s not like yesterday’s two moves don’t matter to the Yankees. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous thoughts:

1. I think the Jason Heyward trade makes a potential Justin Upton to the Yankees trade much less likely. (To be clear, that was never rumored, I just hoped and prayed it would happen.) That doesn’t mean there’s no chance of it happening, but it was a long shot to begin with, and the odds just got even longer. Braves quasi-GM John Hart has made it clear he’s seeking pitching this winter and the Yankees don’t have much of that to give up. One year of Heyward cost four years of Shelby Miller, and I assume Upton will be similarly priced. Unless the Bombers are willing to part with Michael Pineda, I can’t see it. (Aside: Am I the only one who thinks the Cardinals giving up on Shelby Miller, who they shopped aggressively last offseason, is a red flag? Miller wasn’t all that good this year and St. Louis knows pitching. They might have serious concerns about his long-term outlook.)

2. The Russell Martin signing is a pretty nice upgrade for the Blue Jays, who finished only one game behind the Yankees in 2014. Martin’s probably never going to hit like he did this past season again — he put up a .290/.402/.430 (140 wRC+) line for the Pirates this year — but he had a 99 wRC+ from 2011-13 and is an exception defensive catcher. Toronto’s backstops had an 87 wRC+ in 2014 and were terrible at throwing out base-runners (only 20%) and framing pitches. Martin is an upgrade in every way for them and that hurts the Yankees’ chances of contention going forward. Don’t get me wrong, Martin’s not a bargain, the Blue Jays paid top dollar to get him — five years and $82M, more or less Brian McCann‘s deal — but an upgrade is an upgrade, and the Jays made what should be a significant one yesterday.

3. The Cubs had been pursuing Martin before he agreed to sign with Toronto and I suppose that could put them in the trade market for a catcher. They have a decent backstop in Wellington Castillo, so it could be they will go forward with him and were only pursing Martin because they think so highly of him. If they are in the trade market for a catcher, the Yankees could offer John Ryan Murphy as part of a package for an infielder, but he wouldn’t be the centerpiece. I highly, highly, highly doubt there’s a McCann deal to be made. Chicago was reportedly offering Martin four years and $64M, which is approximately what’s left on McCann’s deal (four years and $68M), but McCann wasn’t all that good this past season and Martin was. McCann’s no-trade clause would be an obstacle as well. Maybe the Cubbies really like Murphy. Otherwise I expect them to go after a lower priced veteran catcher if they pursue one at all.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

4. For whatever reason, I am not at all confident the Yankees will re-sign David Robertson. I’m probably still scarred from Robinson Cano leaving last year. That was a bit different though. The Mariners made it very easy to say goodbye to Robbie with that contract. Something tells me Robertson will get a pricey but not insane contract the Yankees should totally match or beat, but won’t. I’ve got this terrible feeling that it will all play out similar to Martin’s free agency a few years ago. He hits the market, the Yankees talk about having interest in re-signing him, then bam, he agrees to contract with another club before New York even makes an offer. I dunno, maybe I’m just paranoid. Re-signing Robertson seems like a such an obvious move yet it hasn’t happened yet and that worries me.

5. So, with Martin and Victor Martinez signed, the Yankees are currently slated to have the 17th overall pick in next June’s draft. That is obviously still subject to change pending the other nine unsigned qualified free agents (including Robertson). The Yankees last picked that high back in 2005, when they took Oklahoma high school shortstop C.J. Henry with the 17th overall selection. Before that, you have to go all the way back to the 1993 draft to find the last time they picked that high. (The Yankees took Florida high school righty Matt Drews 13th overall in 1993.) I think the Yankees will keep their first rounder this offseason but that could always change in a heartbeat. Ownership could decide to sign Nelson Cruz out of the blue a la Rafael Soriano or something. That said, it’s not unrealistic to think the Yankees could end up with a top 15 draft pick in 2015. All it takes is two more qualified free agents changing hands, and I would bet on Hanley Ramirez and Max Scherzer wearing something other than a Dodgers and Tigers jerseys next year, respectively.

Update: I should note that because of protected picks, the Yankees will only climb into the top 15 if the Rays, Marlins, Padres, Braves, and/or Brewers forfeit picks to sign free agents. Possible but unlikely.

6. Thursday is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man rosters for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees have four open spots on the 40-man but could easily open a few more by jettisoning Zelous Wheeler, Esmil Rogers, David Huff, and/or Eury Perez. Among the team’s Rule 5 Draft eligible players this winter are Matt Tracy, Mark Montgomery, Cito Culver, Angelo Gumbs, Mason Williams, Kyle Roller, Danny Burawa, Tyler Austin, Branden Pinder, and Zach Nuding. Austin is the only one I feel 100% confident the team will protect, though I also expect the Yankees to protect two or three of those bullpen arms. Maybe Pinder and Burawa. Adding Williams to the 40-man just feels like something the Yankees would do too. They’ve been … let’s so proactive at protecting former top prospects in recent years, like Jose Campos last year. Williams has done nothing to earn a 40-man spot, but he was arguably the top prospect in the organization two years ago. If another team wants to see if he can stick as a fifth outfielder, fine, let them. I have no reason to think he can. The Yankees have those four open 40-man spots and I think they’ll use all of them, which means they’ll have to open other spots when they make moves later in the offseason.

Thoughts at the end of the 2014 World Series


The Giants won their third World Series title in the last half-decade last night. If that’s not a dynasty in this parity filled age of baseball, I don’t know what is. They rode Madison Bumgarner’s left arm to the championship just like they rode Tim Lincecum in 2010 and Matt Cain in 2012. As good as those two were, Bumgarner was better this year. He was unreal. Historically great. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts now that the offseason is set to begin.

1. I enjoyed watching the Giants win again because they go against so many baseball axioms. Need youth to win in today’s MLB? The Giants had literally the oldest roster in MLB. Need a strong rotation? The Giants had one good great starter in Bumgarner. Their non-Bumgarner starters had a 4.23 ERA during the regular season (in that ballpark!) and a 5.59 ERA in the postseason. Need your highest paid players to be your best players? Cain and Lincecum were non-factors at best and detriments at worst in 2012. How many people said it wouldn’t be worth it if the Yankees only made the postseason as a wildcard team? There were countless comments like that here. Well, the Giants were the second wildcard team. Not even the first. And they won the whole damn thing. Just get in and you can win. I can’t say that enough. The Giants have won three titles in five years with three very different rosters and philosophies. There’s no magic formula, no right way to build a winning team. Just be good at as many things as possible, hope everyone performs at the right time, and roll with it. Baseball in a nutshell.

2. The Yankees still have not yet hired a new hitting coach or first base coach, though I suppose that could happen as soon as today now that the World Series is over. MLB doesn’t like clubs making any announcements that could draw attention away from the Fall Classic. (Unless you’re Joe Maddon, I guess.) I do wonder if the Yankees have been waiting so long to name new coaches because they plan to interview someone on the Giants and/or Royals staff. There are a ton of Yankees connections on the San Francisco coaching staff, including hitting coach Hensley Meulens, assistant hitting coach Joe Lefebvre, and first base coach Roberto Kelly. Those three played all played for the Yankees once upon a time, as did Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum. So maybe they’re on the radar and the club just hasn’t been able to interview them these last few weeks. Either way, I’m sure this is a loose end that will be tied up fairly quickly.

3. Speaking of Maddon, isn’t it amazing how he managed to steal headlines from not one, but two World Series games with zero backlash? He did it last week when he opted out and again yesterday when Jon Heyman reported he was joining the Cubs. And he got Rick Renteria fired. Think about all of that. Maddon said he intended to manage in 2015 when he opted out, but only the Twins had a managerial opening at the time. So either he already had something lined up (tampering!), or he opted out thinking “some team will just fire their manager and hire me.” What a dick move. So small time. Can’t wait for Maddon to be hailed a tremendous leader and a great guy at his press conference in a few days. At least Alex Rodriguez only interrupted one World Series game and didn’t get anyone fired when he opted out in 2007. (Aside: Renteria was the Padres hitting coach from 2008-10. Maybe the Yankees will interview him now.)

4. Since the end of the 2012 season, the Yankees have acquired five veteran outfielders either through trade or free agency: Ichiro Suzuki (re-signed), Vernon Wells (trade), Alfonso Soriano (trade), Jacoby Ellsbury (signed), and Carlos Beltran (signed). I’m talking about guys who were not picked up off the scrap heap, just to be clear. Not Chris Young or Thomas Neal, for example. Those guys cost nothing but the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. Here is what the Yankees gave up to acquire those five outfielders:

  • A good but not great pitching prospect (RHP Corey Black for Soriano).
  • Two super fringy prospects (LHP Kramer Sneed and OF Exicardo Cayones for Vern).
  • Two supplemental first round picks (the compensation picks for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson were surrendered for Ellsbury and Beltran).
  • Committed to $231.7M in total salary spread across 15.5 contract seasons (Soriano was a midseason pickup). Approximately $161.9M and eight contract years of that is still pending.

So, in return for all of that, those five outfielders combined to hit .254/.301/.382 (~88 wRC+) in 2,963 plate appearances from 2013-14, totaling 4.5 fWAR. You don’t want to know what those numbers are without Ellsbury. Okay, yes you do: ~83 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR in 2,328 plate appearances. That’s really bad! I mean, really really bad. Like, what the hell happened here bad. How many of those acquisitions were the result of pure desperation? At least four, right? Ellsbury and Beltran after Cano left, Soriano because no one was hitting, and Wells because of all the injuries in Spring Training last year. Maybe you can argue one of Ellsbury or Beltran wasn’t out of desperation, but three out of five still isn’t good. The Yankees collectively invested an awful lot in these five players the last two years and didn’t get much return at all. Yeesh.

5. As I was scrolling through the FanGraphs’ contract crowdsourcing results yesterday, none of them stood out to me as a real bargain. Granted, these are just FanGraphs readers voting in a poll, but I figured there would be one or two players (out of 55) who struck me as undervalued by the masses. I guess not. Sergio Romo at $12M across two years is a nice short-term deal for a late-inning reliever who misses a ton of bats and never walks anyone, and Mike Morse at one year and $7M is pretty good considering he can rake, but that’s about it. I think the problem is me, not everyone else. I need to recalibrate what I consider market value, because right now free agent prices are insane. Teams have a ton of money to spend and there are so few quality free agents to spend it on. That’s why Brandon McCarthy got two years and $18M two offseasons ago and will end up with three years at like $12M annually this winter despite being two years older and not pitching all that well for the Diamondbacks the last year and a half. Man, the Yankees have to get away from building through free agency. It ain’t happening anymore.

Thoughts before the start of the World Series


The World Series finally starts tonight after four baseball-less days. That felt like an eternity. My official prediction is Royals in six for no apparent reason. It’s a total guess. More than anything, I want a long and exciting series that goes the full seven games. Both the LDS and LCS rounds were a blast. Hopefully the World Series is just as fun. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

1. I think this is the first time since 2005 that I don’t really care who wins the World Series. Last year I wanted the Red Sox to lose because duh. The year before that I wanted the Tigers to lose because they swept the Yankees in the ALCS. I wanted the Rangers to lose in both 2010 and 2011 because they beat the Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. I rooted against the division rival Red Sox and Rays in 2007 and 2008, and in 2006 I wanted the Tigers to lose because they beat the Yankees in the ALDS. Common theme here? I wanted teams to lose. I didn’t necessarily want the other team to win, I just wanted the team I didn’t like to lose. How messed up is that? Almost all neutral fans I come across these days are rooting against a team — Dodgers fans rooting against the Giants, etc. — more than anything, myself included. That’s so screwed up. Everyone is rooting for someone else to not be happy.

2. Every postseason for the last I dunno, 15-20 years or so we’ve seen how important it is to have a deep and excellent bullpen. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Bullpens seem to be getting more attention this postseason because of that three-headed Kelvin Herrera-Wade Davis-Greg Holland monster in the Royals bullpen, but they’ve always been important. That’s why I think the Yankees absolutely have to re-sign David Robertson. Re-sign him and add more quality relievers as well, with Andrew Miller being the most obvious candidate. I like Adam Warren as much as the next guy and Shawn Kelley has his moments, but those two are best used as sixth and seventh inning types. Not eighth inning relievers. I have no concerns about Dellin Betances closing if that’s what it comes to, but how could you watch this past season and not see how valuable he was in a multi-inning setup role? With so many close games being played these days, stack that bullpen with as many power arms as possible. There will still be plenty of opportunities for guys like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow next year.

3. I’m a power guy and chances are you knew that already. Homers are the single best outcome for any at-bat and doubles aren’t far behind. Pile up a bunch of extra-base hits and you’ll to score a ton of runs. Here, look:

2000-14 XBH vs RperG

Score more runs and you’re more likely to win. That’s the kind of hard-hitting analysis you’ve come to expect from RAB. Now, that said, man are the Royals fun to watch. Their brand of “put the ball in play and run like hell” controlled chaos is exciting and it has me on the edge of my seat with every pitch because you never know when they might take off. It really is fun and I’m sure it drives the other team nuts. I don’t buy it as a model for perennial contention — in case you haven’t noticed, the Royals have benefited from some enormously clutch homers this postseason, it hasn’t been all speed — but it’s worked for Kansas City these last eight games. It’s refreshing to see such a different style of play.

4. If the Giants win the World Series again, don’t we have to consider them a dynasty? Three titles in five years is pretty damn impressive. I’m pretty sure we’d all consider it a dynasty if the Yankees did it, wouldn’t we? I think the coolest thing about San Francisco’s recent success is all the roster turnover, specifically their regulars. Their 2010 and 2014 World Series rosters only have three position players (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, former Yankee Travis Ishikawa (!)) and one starter (Madison Bumgarner) in common. In fact, if they win another championship this year, they’ll have had a different ace/closer combination in all three title years: Tim Lincecum/Brian Wilson in 2010, Matt Cain/Sergio Romo in 2012, and Bumgarner/Santiago Casilla in 2014. (Bumgarner is their Andy Pettitte, if you haven’t noticed.) Anyway, I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just find the Giants recent success impressive. They’ve managed to win a bunch of championships without having people try to discredit them because of their massive payroll (sixth in MLB at $155M!).

5. With Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis heading to the Red Sox and Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan out of the running, it sounds like the Yankees next hitting coach is going to be an off-the-radar hire. That doesn’t mean it will be an outside the box hiring — Jason Giambi, anyone? — just someone we haven’t heard connected to the team at all. That happened four years ago when the Yankees named Larry Rothschild pitching coach. They were no reports he was in the running or had even been interviewed, then bam, he was hired. Either way, I hope the Yankees go with the two hitting coach system because it just seems like something that could be very beneficial. Another set of eyes and another person to help communicate stuff can only help. (I don’t think two hitting coaches falls into “too many cooks in the kitchen” territory, but what do I know.) Nearly two-thirds of the league has a hitting coach and an assistant hitting coach these days. This is the perfect time to implement that system and I really hope the Yankees decide to do it. They’re always a year or two behind the rest of the league with this stuff. It’s time to catch up. (Example: The Rays and Blue Jays were using infield shifts all the time years ago, but the Yankees just got around to it in 2014.)

Thoughts following the coaching staff changes


The Yankees re-signed GM Brian Cashman but fired both hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher late last week. The rest of the coaching will remain though there’s a possibility they will be shifted around into new roles. We’ll just have to wait and see. The dust is still settling following those moves, and here are some random thoughts for the time being.

1. I’m going to start with Kelleher because this will be short and, frankly, I have no idea what’s going here so I’m not even going to pretend to try to understand this move. What does the first base coach do anyway? He keeps track of the pitcher’s time to the plate and the catcher’s pop time, and … holds onto Brett Gardner‘s oven mitt thing in case he reaches base? Outside of Davey Lopes, who turned the Phillies (2007-10) and now the Dodgers (2011-present) into elite base-running teams, I couldn’t even name any first base coaches around the league. I’m much more interested in Cashman’s “global perspective” comment — he gave that quote after being asked about replacing Kelleher — than the actual decision to let Kelleher go. What could that comment mean? I can understand targeting players with marquee value and stuff like that, but coaches? Do they want a Japanese-speaking coach? Another Spanish-speaking coach? Does Cashman simply mean they want a more well-rounded coach? This whole first base coach thing fascinates me. I’m oddly looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

2. I don’t think there is any way we can accurately evaluate coaches as fans. The only tangible decision a coach makes that we actually see is the third base coach sending runners. That’s all. Yeah, we see the pitching coach walk to the mound, but who knows what he’s saying? Just about every task a coach performs happens behind the scenes and we don’t have access to that stuff. Even if we did, I’m pretty confident in saying we still wouldn’t be able evaluate it properly. Was Long the reason the offense underperformed so much this year? Maybe. It’s very possible. I happen to think giving nearly 1,800 plate appearances to Brian Roberts, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, and Stephen Drew was a much bigger problem than Mark Teixeira being unable to beat the shift a few dozen times. Those five guys accounted for almost 30% of the team’s plate appearances in 2014. Did you know that? That’s a lot. And let’s not ignore the obvious here. It’s not like Long was handed the script to Breaking Bad and came back with The Chevy Chase Show. They had a great offense under his watch from 2007-12 and a not so great offense once the personnel changed in 2013-14. He didn’t have much to work with the last two years. Anyway, Long has been scapegoated — he was a goner as soon as Cashman re-signed, someone had to take the fall — and at this point many so many people have decided he was the problem that there’s no way to discuss this move objectively.

3. Despite George Steinbrenner‘s very famous hirings and firings (and occasional re-hirings and re-firings), scapegoating coaches is not something the Yankees have done all that much in recent years because they simply haven’t had to. People get fired when things go bad and and awful lot has done right for the Yankees over the last 20 years or so. Whenever they have changed coaches, it was usually because someone left for a job elsewhere, like Willie Randolph (third base coach to bench coach to Mets manager), Lee Mazzilli (first base coach to Orioles manager), and Don Mattingly (hitting coach to bench coach to Dodgers bench coach). Aside from canning pitching Dave Eiland a few years ago — that seemed to have more to do with off-the-field problems than anything — and replacing the awful Bobby Meacham as third base coach in 2008, getting rid of Long is the first time the Yankees have let a coach go for team performance reasons since before Joe Torre was hired. The Yankees will hire someone to replace Long and a bunch of people will inevitably praise the hiring when, really, no one will know nothing about anything. Remember how great the Orioles looked when they hired Leo Mazzone away from the Braves? Same idea. Other teams do this stuff all the time but a whole generation of Yankees fans will experience it for the first time.

Kelleher. Trust me. (Presswire)
Kelleher. Trust me. (Presswire)

4. Thanks to these two moves as well and the imminent retirement of VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman and defection of senior advisor Gordon Blakeley, the Yankees are undergoing quite a bit of administrative change this winter. There’s also talk there will both other changes in the player development system aside from Newman, with a few other long-time executives on the hot seat. The player development issues have been going on for a while — the Yankees do produce a few useful arms and trade chips each year, but at this point they need more than role players, they need some impact players — and it’s time for a change there even though we don’t really know who is really responsible for what. As fans, all we know is the system isn’t producing enough. We don’t know why. Are they drafting the wrong players? Do their hitting instructors stink? Do they not spend enough time teaching changeups? Who in the world knows. But there is a lot of change going on in the front office and on the coaching staff this winter, and while we can’t really know how much these guys are to blame, I’m glad to see some changes are being made. The status quo wasn’t working.

5. One thing that won’t change is Cashman. I’m not at all surprised he’s coming back but I also thought the chances of a GM change were higher this year than they have been at any other point in his tenure. It wouldn’t have been surprised me at all if the Yankees didn’t retain him or if he left on his own. I’m fine with Cashman staying because a) I do believe he knows the team needs to get younger before they can get back to being a perennial contender, b) he consistently comes out ahead in trades, and c) his loyalty to the Yankees is unwavering. I never worry he’ll make a rash, knee-jerk decision in an effort to save his job. There are a lot of GMs out there looking out more for themselves than their teams. I think Cashman knows what needs to happen. He just hasn’t been able to put it into motion for whatever reason. I think this will be his last GM contract with the team — it’s a coincidence Cashman’s and Joe Girardi‘s current contracts expire at the same time (Cashman’s been signing three-year deals for 15 years now), but it will make for a mighty interesting 2017-18 offseason — regardless of whether things go good or bad. Then again, I’m pretty sure I said the same thing three years ago.

Thoughts at the end of the 2014 season

Who's Derek Jet? (Al Bello/Getty)
Who’s Derek Jet? (Al Bello/Getty)

The regular season is over and that means we’ll spend the next few weeks looking back at the year that was and ahead to an important offseason. We’ll start our annual season review next week once I take a few days to catch my breath. Blog life is a grind, man. We’ve been using the “what went right/wrong” season review format basically since the start of RAB, but I feel it’s run its course and it’s time for something new. I’m just not quite sure what yet. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts on the heels of the team’s second straight postseason-less season.

1. Now that Derek Jeter is gone and the Core Four — sorry Core Five doesn’t rhyme, Bernie — is officially gone, the Yankees have to find or develop a new identity. This was Jeter’s team for the last two decades and now they have to find the next “face of the franchise,” so to speak. I don’t think that player is on the roster right now and that’s okay. It was a few years before Tim Lincecum replaced Barry Bonds as the Giants icon, for example. Masahiro Tanaka could eventually take over as the face of the Yankees but I don’t think he is that right now. Maybe if he had stayed healthy this season it would have been a different story. This is the first time in a very, very long time the Yankees have not had an undisputed star at the forefront of the organization. Remember, Jeter took over that role from Don Mattingly almost immediately. This is definitely a new era of Yankees baseball going forward, an era unlike many of us have seen.

2. I’m a big believer in the importance of being strong at the up-the-middle positions (catcher, second, short, center). Those are traditionally hard to fill spots and teams getting top notch production there have a big advantage over their competitors. It’s not a coincidence the most recent Yankees dynasty was built around Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams. Here is a real quick and dirty look at the top up-the-middle teams in 2014 using fWAR (sorry, our tables suck and you can’t sort the columns):

Team Catcher Second Base Shortstop Center Field Total
1 Angels 3.4 4.1 4.0 7.9 19.4
2 Pirates 6.1 3.0 2.3 6.9 18.3
3 Twins 2.1 4.7 5.9 4.6 17.3
4 Indians 5.5 0.0 2.8 7.4 15.7
5 Brewers 7.1 3.2 -0.9 5.7 15.1
6 Dodgers -0.8 4.4 3.3 7.4 14.3
7 Royals 3.0 0.9 3.3 6.5 13.7
8 Giants 6.1 1.5 2.5 3.4 13.5
9 Cardinals 2.1 1.5 5.5 4.2 13.3
10 Mets 2.0 4.0 2.1 5.0 13.1
11 Rays -0.6 5.3 0.4 7.2 12.3
12 Orioles 1.8 0.9 3.9 5.4 12.0
13 Nationals 2.6 1.1 4.0 4.0 11.7
14 Astros 2.1 5.1 1.0 3.0 11.2
15 Reds 3.8 2.4 1.7 3.1 11.0
16 Diamondbacks 1.4 0.8 3.3 5.5 11.0
17 Phillies 3.4 3.6 3.0 0.9 10.9
18 Red Sox 0.9 6.4 1.0 1.9 10.2
19 Tigers 1.8 5.2 0.5 2.7 10.2
20 Rockies 2.0 -0.3 3.4 4.6 9.7
21 Blue Jays 2.2 1.5 3.1 2.4 9.2
22 Mariners 1.6 5.3 3.1 -1.1 8.9
23 Athletics 4.6 -0.8 1.7 3.3 8.8
24 White Sox 1.6 -0.1 3.2 2.7 7.4
25 Marlins 1.6 0.6 0.6 3.7 6.5
26 Rangers 0.9 0.4 1.4 3.4 6.1
27 Padres 4.2 -0.6 0.7 1.8 6.1
28 Yankees 3.8 0.1 -1.9 3.6 5.6
29 Cubs 0.9 1.5 2.1 0.9 5.4
30 Braves 2.0 -0.4 2.3 0.1 4.0

Six of the top ten and eight of the top 13 teams are in the postseason. The Tigers and Athletics are the two notable exceptions. It’s no surprise the Yankees are near the bottom. Jacoby Ellsbury was their only above-average up-the-middle player this year. Brian McCann was terrible until his homer-filled September and second base was a disaster all year. Jeter’s farewell was awesome but his overall year was not. In fact, Yankees shortstop was the fifth least productive position in baseball this year, better than only Astros first base (-2.7 fWAR), Indians right field (-2.2), Rangers first base (-2.0), and Reds right field (-2.0). Yikes.

3. Now, about those up-the-middle positions. The Yankees are locked into Ellsbury and McCann — I expect McCann to be better next year, though that might be nothing more than blind faith — but they have clean slates at second base and shortstop. Moreso at shortstop. Martin Prado is a candidate to play second and Rob Refsnyder is knocking on the door at Triple-A. There’s no one like that at short though, not unless you count Brendan Ryan, and I sure don’t. These clean slates are both good and bad. They’re good because they’re an opportunity to plug holes with no strings attached or other considerations. They’re bad because these are really tough spots to fill. My perfect world scenario for second is starting Prado there, then moving him wherever else when the inevitable injury strikes and calling up Refsnyder. The Yankees will have their pick from several free agent shortstops. There’s a lot of room for improvement on the middle infield and the club could turn their up-the-middle foursome into a real strength if McCann rebounds and they hit on their inevitable shortstop addition this winter.

4. I think these last two years have made it clear that having a strong and deep bullpen is very important. I mean, it’s always been important, but nowadays there are fewer runs being scored and it seems like every single game is close. We just watched it game after game for six months. This year the Yankees played 52 one-run games and 128 games decided by four or fewer runs. Five years ago they played 39 one-run games and 110 games decided for no more than four runs. Blowouts are rare and teams with deep bullpens have a big advantage in all those close games. I don’t only think the Yankees should re-sign David Robertson, I think they should also look to add another high-end reliever to him and Dellin Betances. Someone like impending free agent Andrew Miller, for example. Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley are fine seventh inning guys who can be more for stretches of time (and less in others), plus I like prospects like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow as much as anyone, but I’m all for adding high-end bullpen depth. It’s both tricky and risky — relievers do still tend to suck for no reason and without warning — but without a big infusion of offense this winter, the Yankees are going to need to do whatever they can to help themselves in close games. Upgrading the bullpen is one way to do that.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

5. The Yankees are reportedly considering using a six-man rotation next season — it’s just a thought right now, they’re kicking it around — and I keep going back and forth on this. On one hand, they have a lot of pitchers coming off injury in Tanaka (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), CC Sabathia (knee), and eventually Ivan Nova (elbow), so it would be good to give them the extra rest. On the other hand, finding five quality starters is hard enough, nevermind six. And do we even know how much it will improve their chances of staying healthy? Good enough to make up for the extra starts they’ll lose? There’s also the roster construction aspect of it. Six-man rotation means three-man bench — I can’t imagine they’ll go to a six-man bullpen, nothing the Yankees have done the last few years suggests they’ll skimp on pitching — which means they’ll need more versatile players, including a backup catcher who can play elsewhere in a pinch. I don’t know, I can’t decide if I like the idea or if I don’t. If it keeps the pitchers healthy, then yeah, they should do it. The problem is there is no way of knowing how much it will help ahead of time. A six-man rotation could blow up in their face and lead to a lot of criticism, which makes me think they won’t do it. The Yankees aren’t the most progressive club when it comes to doing stuff outside the box to gain a competitive advantage. (Example: They didn’t start using infield shifts until years after their division rivals.)

6. I’m curious to see what Jose Pirela‘s role will be next year, which I guess ties into the whole “need more versatile bench players if you’re going to use a six-man rotation” thing. He looked good (149 wRC+) in his late-season cameo but it was 25 at-bats in late-September, that doesn’t tell us anything useful. His hits came against Wei-Yin Chen (single, triple), T.J. McFarland (two singles), Evan Meek (single), Clay Buchholz (single), Craig Breslow (single), and Joe Kelly (triple). That’s like, two and half MLB caliber pitchers. Pirela did have a big year in Triple-A (117 wRC+) while playing all over the field, and there’s a spot for someone like that on the bench. The Yankees like him enough to add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks before it was necessary — Pirela would have become a minor league free agent after the World Series again (he became a free agent last winter and re-signed with the team) — and he started the last four and five of the last six games of the season. The easy answer is that he’ll be an up-and-down utility man next season. But maybe Pirela will squeeze his way onto the bench in place of Ryan if they’re comfortable with their other shortstop options (namely whoever starts with Prado filling in). We’ll see.

Thoughts prior to Derek Jeter’s final home game

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

Derek Jeter will play the final home game of his career later tonight. Pretty much the only silver lining to being eliminated from postseason contention yesterday is that everyone will now be able to focus on Jeter and not the outcome of the game. (Not that Jeter’s retirement was lacking coverage or anything.) Here are a few random thoughts prior to the Cap’n’s last game in Yankee Stadium.

1. First things first: today’s weather forecast is not so good. Last I checked, there was a 70% chance of rain throughout the day before dropping to 20% later this evening. The tarp was put on the field immediately following yesterday afternoon’s game. Because the Yankees have been bounced from playoff contention and the Orioles have already clinched the AL East title (and are just about locked into the second best record in the league), this game normally would not be made up if it is rained out. It’s meaningless to the final standings. A league spokesman toldĀ  Brendan Kuty that “all efforts will be made to get the game in” tonight and there have been no discussions about what would happen if it is rained out, nor should there be. There’s no way the league would force them to make the game up next week just to honor Jeter. It’s not fair to the postseason-bound Orioles, for starters. The weather is the weather and there’s really nothing anyone can do about it. I’m just going to put my faith in the baseball gods and hope the skies clear up enough at some point.

2. I and I think everyone else is looking forward to seeing what the Yankees and Joe Girardi do for Jeter after Mariano Rivera‘s memorable exit last season. Pulling him in the middle of an inning so he can get a standing ovation seems a bit too obvious but that just might be what happens. The KISS method (keep it simple, stupid) is never a bad choice. My guess? The rest of the team will stay behind in the dugout when Jeter takes the field defensively in the ninth inning — maybe earlier if they’re worried about rain in the later innings — so he can be alone on the field and get a roaring ovation. Then Girardi will pull him mid-inning so Jeter can get another ovation. I dunno, I’m just spit-balling here. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be awesome and memorable. The Yankees have a knack for doing these right. After all, it’s the people that make this stuff special. Everything else is secondary.

3. Earlier this week Girardi said he plans to play Jeter during the final three games of the season in Boston, though he softened that stance after yesterday’s loss and said he’ll ask Jeter what he wants to do. Of course Jeter said he wants to play, but maybe he’ll change his mind if tonight’s send-off is just too perfect. That’s what happened with Rivera last year. Needless to say, I selfishly hope he doesn’t play in the series against the Red Sox at all. Like Rivera, let his final moment on the field come at Yankee Stadium with the home fans sending him off in a matter befitting of an all-time great. It would be different if the team was contending and set to go to the postseason, but they’re not, and I want to see Jeter end his career in the Bronx, not Fenway Park. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a jerk — yes, I know lots of people paid lots of money for tickets to see Jeter this weekend, including plenty of Yankees fan — I want his final moment to come at Yankee Stadium. That’s my selfish storybook ending for his career.

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

4. As for his post-career life, I’m guessing Jeter will stay out of the limelight for the most part, aside from the occasional charity appearance and whatnot. I’m sure he’ll show up to Spring Training and Yankee Stadium a handful of times in 2015, though I would bet on him waiting a few years before coming to Old Timers’ Day like most new retirees. Jeter will have his publishing business to keep himself busy and I’m sure he has a bunch of other stuff going as well (based on the recent NY Mag article). If Jeter gets involved in baseball in any way after retiring, I assume it’ll be at an ownership level, not in some sort of coaching position that comes with the day-to-day grind and a lot of travel. I could absolutely see the Steinbrenners letting Jeter buy a stake in the team at some point in the future, even if he’d be nothing more than a spokesman/figurehead like Magic Johnson is for the Dodgers. His relationship with the Yankees is far from over, obviously.

5. Admittedly, I have not spent a ton of time thinking about this, but right now I consider Jeter to be the sixth best player in Yankees history behind (in order) Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra. That’s my personal list. There is no right answer to this stuff. We all have own personal top Yankees lists and none are wrong. If you want to take the lazy way out and look at WAR, Jeter is fifth in franchise history with both 71 bWAR and 73 fWAR, behind that top four and ahead of Berra. This is about so much more than on-field production though. We’re talking about players who transcend stats. The Bronx Bombers are the Bronx Bombers because of Ruth and Gehrig. Mantle is the greatest switch-hitter ever. DiMaggio has his record hitting streak and the guy married Marilyn Monroe. Berra? He has a World Series ring for literally every finger. These guys aren’t just baseball players, they’re icons and important historical figures. The same is true of Jeter. Want to argue with me that he is the fifth or seventh or tenth best Yankee instead of the sixth best Yankee? Fine. I’m not sure it’s worth the effort though. We’re talking about all-time greats either way and Jeter’s place among the Ruths and Gehrigs and Mantles of Yankee universe is well-deserved.