Archive for Players
With focus on Jacoby Ellsbury and his new $153 million contract, the Yankees acquired another player last night. As many of us slept or vented our feelings about Ellsbury, the Yankees were working on a deal with Kelly Johnson. It’s a mere $2.75 million for one year, or about 1.8 percent of Ellsbury’s contract. But Johnson could be the kind of player the Yankees need to help round out their big-name roster.
During his tenure with the Rays last year, we got a glimpse at Johnson’s versatility. When he came up with the Braves in 2005 he played left field, but after he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2007 (more on that in a moment) he seemed entrenched at second base. That’s where he played for most of the next six seasons, until he hit free agency. When he signed with the Rays, though, he divided his time among four positions: 50 games started in LF, 14 at 2B, 12 at 3B, and 2 at 1B in addition to 18 at DH. That’s the kind of multi-positional player the Yankees have needed for years.
To date the Yankees have signed three free agents, and all three bat from the left side of the plate. That might seem odd for a team that got the league’s worst production from right-handed hitters in 2013. But Johnson can hold his own against same-handed pitchers. For his career he displays no real platoon split, and has actually OPS’d about 10 points higher against left-handed pitching. In recent years he’s performed better against righties; last year he hit all 16 of his homers against righties, though he did have a .337 OBP against lefties.
Johnson’s greatest attribute might be his durability. After missing the 2006 season after undergoing Tommy John, he’s spent just one stint on the DL, missing 17 games in 2009 with wrist tendonitis. Other than that he’s missed just a few games here and there with nagging injuries, although that has totaled just 11 games, not counting his DL stint, since the start of 2007.
One other interesting tidbit about Johnson is his increased production with runners in scoring position. His career OPS jumps from .762 overall to .808 with runners in scoring position — and he matched that .808 OPS with RISP last season.* As friend of RAB Tommy Rancel notes, this might be due to Johnson’s pull tendency. While, as we’ve seen with Mark Teixeira and others, teams will shift the infield on guys like Johnson, they’re less able to do that with runners in scoring position. The extra gaps give him enough room to knock through some ground balls.
*Even better, he hit only 3 of his 16 homers with RISP, and another 4 with a runner on first. In other words, he produced runs from nothing, and additionally knocked in runners with singles, 21 of them, with ducks on the pond. That seems like an ideal distribution to me. Homers are always welcome, and HR with RISP can often mean many runs, but singling in scoring position runners while hitting bases empty homers does have a certain intuitive value.
As long as the Yankees have signed Johnson as a guy who can play different positions on different days, the relationship should work. Johnson has proven himself versatile and durable over the years, traits the Yankees certainly must value after 2013. His ability to hold his own against both lefties and righties means he can reasonably play both sides of the platoon. If, on the other hand, Cano leaves and Johnson becomes his replacement, the Yankees have a lot more work to do. But that was the case with or without Johnson. At least with him they have someone who can competently play the position.
Update: Lookee here: Jeff Passan of Yahoo! reports that the Yankees are showing interest in Anderson, and that he’s expected to be dealt next week at the Winter Meetings. Though given the flurry of recent activity, especially involving the A’s, it doesn’t appear anyone is waiting for the yearly conference to conduct their business.
While improving the offense appears to dominate the Yankees’ free agent agenda early this off-season, the pitching staff still presents a number of issues. Brian Cashman said he had to find 400 innings, meaning two reliable starters, this off-season. They could get 180 or so of those innings if Hiroki Kuroda accepts their offer, but they still have a huge number of innings to fill and not many attractive options on the free agent market.
The trade market looks fairly thin as well, yesterday’s deal involving Doug Fister notwithstanding. David Price might become available, but the Yankees don’t have the pieces to land him even if the Rays deigned to trade him within the division. Beyond that, it’s difficult to identify a team willing to part with an impact starter (except maybe the Red Sox, which is out of the question). That leaves the free agent market, which could inflate given the lack of trade options. Does anyone want Matt Garza for four years and $60 million, or to give up on a draft pick for the two good years Ubaldo Jimenez has produced in his career?
Make no mistake: the Yankees absolutely need two reliable starters this off-season. Getting cute with rotation construction will only compound the issue as the season wears on. Yet two reliable starters will give the Yankees four definites, including CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. For his part, Nova has yet to put together a full, effective season, so he remains something of an unknown. Behind him are David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno, all unreliable for one reason or another.
It might seem folly to add yet another unreliable arm to the fold, but it might be a gamble the Yankees need to make. This week we’ve learned that one potentially solid, but unreliable, pitcher has become available. Rumors started early in the off-season that the A’s could trade Brett Anderson, and with the addition of Scott Kazmir (two years, $22 million) and Jim Johnson (projected arbitration of around $10 million), they’re almost certainly looking to shed Anderson’s $8 million salary. In fact, just this morning we learned that the A’s are currently discussing an Anderson trade. While the Yankees aren’t mentioned, they could be players if Anderson remains on the A’s for a few more weeks.
Why it works
Bringing in a wild card like Anderson can work if the Yankees get their 400 additional innings from more reliable sources. In that case they’ll have Phelps, Pineda, and Nuno to battle for the fifth spot. Still, given the utter uncertainty of that group, why not add a guy who can perform considerably better than the typical fifth starter on a first-division team?
Despite a poor 2013 outing, Anderson has produced a 3.81 ERA during the parts of his five seasons in the majors (109 ERA+). His strikeout numbers haven’t been particularly impressive, but he has displayed good control a a decent ability to keep the ball in the park (though at Oakland Coliseum). Before he came up Baseball America rated him the No. 7 prospect in the game, a potential he’s shown signs of fulfilling, if it weren’t for that one big issue.
Injuries have plagued Anderson throughout his career. He spent 96 days on the DL in 2010 with elbow problems, and then underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2011. Even after he returned in late 2012 he got hurt, finishing the season on the DL with an oblique strain. In 2013 he suffered an ankle sprain after a rough start in April, but he did come back to strike out 16 in 12.2 innings out of the pen to close out the year.
Why the Yanks can use a wild card
Again, the entire idea of Anderson is predicated on the Yankees acquiring two other reliable starters. To rely on Anderson for 100 innings might not be the best bet. But it’s a bet the Yankees can make, given their current makeup. In fact, if they do find those 400 innings elsewhere, Anderson can be a huge strength.
If the Yankees get two starters, the fifth starter competition is between David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno. Phelps is the clear frontrunner before camp even starts, given his experience. At the same time, his value is in his flexibility. The Yanks have shown they can put him in the pen and then have him spot start if the need arises. Given the depletion of the bullpen, he could be valuable in a setup roll, and then come out to make a spot start if needed.
Given Pineda’s recovery from shoulder surgery, he likely should start the season in the minors. He could, for all we know, come out guns blazing in camp after a full off-season of healthy recovery. Who knows. But given what we saw from his rehab efforts, that’s not something anyone can count on. Consider him the first depth option. Nuno is essentially a depth option, not really a fifth starter on a playoff contender (though he has proven people wrong before).
With Anderson in the fold, the Yankees would have depth they could pull from both the bullpen and the minors. That’s the kind of flexibility that allows teams to endure injuries. If Nova isn’t as effective as he was in the second half, if they want to give Kuroda a breather (if he re-signs), if Sabathia gets hurt, they’ll be somewhat covered with depth.
Why it doesn’t work
It’s hard to overlook a guy who has missed, on average, more than 100 games per season in the last four years. There are players who start out as injury guys who, as they reach physical maturity, just stop getting hurt. Anderson, who turns 26 just before pitchers and catchers report, is entering the prime years of his career. He could be one of those guys.
Yet even if he is, it might not happen this year. If Anderson continues to get hurt in his age-26 season, but starts staying healthy at age 27, it does little to help the Yankees. If he spends another year mostly on the DL, they’re not going to pick up his $12 million option for 2015.
As it stands, he’s an $8 million lotto ticket, who will cost the Yankees prospects in addition to the cash. While Oakland might be eager to trade him, they’re still not going to take zeroes in return. Anderson could well fit better on a team with more room to experiment, or a team that’s not trying to sign a number of big free agents.
Whether the Yankees show interest in Anderson depends on their taste for risk. Obviously they’ll first have to address the tangible holes in their rotation. If the A’s decide to deal Anderson before they do that, the Yankees have no shot. While they don’t have to acquire players in order of need, they certainly want to focus their resources on reliably filling their 400-inning gap. After that, if they have the stomach for the risk, Anderson could be an interesting player to watch. When else does a 26-year-old, left-handed, potential No. 3 starter hit the trade market?
At some point soon — probably next week — the Yankees are going to finalize their agreement with catcher Brian McCann. They will add one of the best backstops in baseball at a substantial cost, reportedly $85M across five years with a vesting option for a sixth year. They’re clearly expecting big things out of him and why wouldn’t they? He’s been one of the most productive hitters of the last decade or so, especially relative to his position. Catchers who hit like this are rare.
Because the Yankees invested so much in McCann, they’re likely to look for ways to control his workload behind the plate in an effort to get as much out of him as possible. They want him to catch for all five years of the contract because that’s where he’s the most valuable — McCann is just another guy at first base or DH — even though it may not be realistic. He turns 30 in February and a five-year contract covers the years when most catchers turn into pumpkins, especially guys who have been starters for a long time. All that squatting behind the plate and all those foul tips take their toll.
McCann was a workhorse throughout his career with the Braves. He made his big league debut at age 21 and was an everyday catcher by age 22. From 2006-2012, his age 22-28 seasons, he started at least 113 games behind the plate each year and led all of baseball with 944 games caught total. He was limited to 91 starts at catcher this past season only because he missed April following offseason right shoulder surgery. That’s a lot of wear and tear and the team knows it. They don’t want their new addition to be a full-time DH by year three of a five-year deal.
Thankfully, that DH spot gives the Yankees a little bit of flexibility. It allows them to keep McCann’s bat in the lineup while getting him out from behind the plate for a day. Obviously other players like Derek Jeter will need to rotate through that DH spot — I really don’t like the rotating DH in general, but it’s a necessity for this roster at this point — but there should be enough starts available for McCann throughout the course of the season. Remember, he’s going to be the catcher first and foremost. DH is just an alternative for a day, nothing more.
The Yankees faced between 52-61 left-handed starters in each of the last five seasons, so a straight platoon with presumed backup Frankie Cervelli would limit McCann to roughly 100-110 starts behind the plate next year. That’s a bit below the 123 starts at catcher he averaged from 2006-2012 and it seems like a decent target to me. He could DH another 30-40 games — he will need some full days off of course, catching is hard — and that would get him in the lineup 140-ish times a year.
Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, platoons rarely work out as intended, especially for catchers. Blame injuries and hot/cold streaks and sorts of other unpredictable stuff. At some point next year the Yankees will face nine right-handed starters in nine days, something like that, and that will throw a wrench into everything. The Yankees also might not want to admit their shiny new $85M toy is a platoon player just yet. That stuff does happen. They could run McCann out there everyday against both righties and lefties at first just to see what happens. He did hit lefties from 2010-2012 (104 wRC+), maybe 2013 (72 wRC+) was a blip.
There’s an awful lot of stuff to consider when laying out a plan to keep McCann productive and behind the plate over the next half-decade, including his preferences. McCann might hate being the DH and that would be a factor in how they use him. Ultimately, the team owes him big bucks over the next five years and they should figure out the best way to keep him at catcher for as many of those year as possible. I think that 100-110 starts behind the plate number sounds pretty good because he would still get the majority of the games at catcher while having his workload reduced a bit from recent years. Coming up with a plan that works will be much easier said than done and it will be important. McCann’s going to be here for a while. The Yankees have every reason to look after his long-term well-being.
Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees used a franchise record 56 players this season. Fifteen of those 56 players appeared in no more than ten games, which isn’t much of a surprise. The last spots on the bench and in the bullpen were revolving doors all summer. Most of those miscellaneous players were awful, enough to help push the Yankees out of the postseason picture. Here are the worst players to walk through those revolving doors.
The signs were there, we just didn’t want to see them. The Yankees released the 26-year-old Adams in Spring Training to clear a 40-man roster spot for Vernon Wells (!), but no team took a chance on him and New York re-signed him to a minor league contract a week later. When Kevin Youkilis went down with his inevitable back injury, Adams got a chance to play third base on a regular basis. Things went quite well at first — 13-for-44 (.295) with two homers in his first eleven games — but they crashed in a hurry. Adams fell into a 4-for-51 (.078) slump and wound up back in Triple-A before resurfacing later in the season. Overall, he hit .193/.252/.286 (45 wRC+) in 152 plate appearances, though he did play solid defense at second and third bases. Adams had a pretty great opportunity this summer, but he couldn’t capitalize.
Almonte, 24, got his chance when the Yankees finally got sick of Wells and benched him in mid-June. Zoilo’s big league career started out well — he had three hits (including a homer) in his first start (video), reached base three times the next day, then doubled twice the day after the that — before he cooled off and got hurt. Almonte put up a .236/.274/.302 (55 wRC+) line with the one homer and three steals in 113 plate appearances before an ankle sprain effectively ended his season in mid-July (he did return in late-September, but played sparingly). The fun was short-lived.
You may not agree, but I think Boesch was a pretty significant loss this past season. The 28-year-old managed a .275/.302/.529 (124 wRC+) batting line with three homers in 53 sporadic plate appearances and appeared to be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, but he was sent to Triple-A Scranton when Curtis Granderson came off the DL (the first time). He lasted a little more than a week in the minors before suffering what proved to be a season-ending shoulder injury. The Yankees released him in mid-July when they needed a 40-man spot. Had Boesch been healthy, there’s a good chance he would have been given the opportunity to play everyday following Granderson’s second injury considering how poorly Ichiro Suzuki hit for a good part of the summer. Boesch is a flawed player but his lefty pop would have been useful. For shame.
Bootcheck, 35, emerged as the ace for Triple-A Scranton this past season (3.69 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 136.2 innings) and he managed to appear in one game with the big league team. On June 14th, he allowed one run on two hits and two walks in 1.1 innings against the Angels. Bootcheck got his chance because Adam Warren threw six innings of relief (in the 18-inning game against the Athletics) earlier on the road trip and wasn’t going to be available for a few days, so the team needed a replacement long reliever. He was designated for assignment at the end of the trip when Warren was again available.
Is it possible to be a poor man’s Brendan Ryan? Do those exist? If they do, I nominate the 27-year-old Brignac. He was with the Yankees from mid-May through mid-June, during which time he showed off a slick glove and hit an unfathomable .114/.133/.136 (-38 wRC+) with 17 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. Brignac played 15 games in pinstripes and he reached base multiple times in only one of them. It was ugly.
For a few weeks, Claiborne looked like the next great homegrown Yankees reliever. He started his big league career with 14 straight walk-less outings and allowed just one run in his first 20 innings in pinstripes. Claiborne, 25, had settled into a seventh inning setup role, but he allowed 13 runs and 38 base-runners in his next 25.2 innings and earned a trip back to Triple-A. When he resurfaced in September, he allowed nine runs and four homers (!!!) in five innings. Fatigue was the oft-cited excuse for his fade, but Claiborne threw only 61.1 innings in 2013 after throwing 82 innings in 2012 and 81 innings in 2011. It’s possible, sure, but I have a hard time buying it. Claiborne finished the season with a 4.11 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 50.1 innings, but outside of those first 14 appearances, he was very untrustworthy.
Cruz, 29, was the team’s fifth different starting shortstop in their first 84 games, but he actually wound up playing more games at third (13) than short (five). An all-glove, no-hit type like Ryan and Brignac, Cruz hit .182/.224/.200 (13 wRC+) in 59 plate appearances while playing excellent defense after being picked up off the scrap heap. He was the best non-Ryan infield defender the team employed this past season, I thought. Cruz’s season came to an end in late-July thanks to a knee sprain, and the Yankees eventually designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Reynolds.
Remember Eppley? He was actually on the Opening Day roster, believe it or not. His terrible Spring Training (12 runs in eight innings) carried over to the regular season, where he allowed four runs in 1.2 innings before being sent to Triple-A Scranton when Phil Hughes was ready to come off the DL in early-April. Eppley, 28, continued to stink in Triple-A (18 runs in 19 innings) and was eventually released to clear a 40-man spot for Claiborne. He was a nice middle relief find for the Bombers last season, but things went so wrong this year that he was pitching in an independent league by August.
The Yankees took a “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” approach to filling their right-handed outfield bat spot, eventually settling on the 32-year-old Francisco. He was released by the Indians in Spring Training and managed to beat out guys like Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera. Francisco lasted 48 team games, hitting .114/.220/.182 (13 wRC+) in 50 plate appearances overall while going 3-for-34 (.088) against southpaws. On the bright side, he did hit the team’s shortest homerun of the season. I guess that’s something. The Yankees designated Francisco for assignment on May 26th, when they claimed David Huff off waivers from the Tribe.
Gonzalez, 30, had two stints with the Yankees this season. He appeared in three games in mid-May and ten more from late-June through mid-July. The Former Attorney General went 6-for-34 (.176) in his limited time, but he did go 2-for-4 with a double and three runs driven in during a game against the Twins on July 2nd (video). Gonzalez also offered a nice glove, though not as nice as Brignac’s or Ryan’s.
Yes, Ishikawa was a Yankee this season. They nabbed the 30-year-old off waivers in early-July, watched him go 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on seven total pitches in his only game in pinstripes, then designated him for assignment to clear a roster spot for Derek Jeter, all in the span of six days. When’s the Yankeeography?
Joseph, 25, had two stints with the big league team in 2013, going 1-for-6 with a double, a walk, and a strikeout while starting both ends of a doubleheader against the Indians in mid-May. His season ended later that month, when he needed surgery to repair his shoulder. The Yankees removed Joseph from the 40-man roster last week, though he remains in the organization.
Part of that left side of the infield circus, the 30-year-old Lillibridge spent a little more than three forgettable weeks in pinstripes in late-July and early-August. He went 6-for-37 (.171) with eight strikeouts while playing okay defense in eleven games with the team, though unlike many other guys in this post, he did have the proverbial One Big Moment. On July 23rd against the Rangers, after Eduardo Nunez tripled in the tying run against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, Lillibridge singled in Nunez for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run (video). He drove in a run with a fielder’s choice earlier in the game. Lillibridge was designated for assignment when Alex Rodriguez came off the DL.
This was a really bad year for Marshall, who had a poor season with Triple-A Scranton (5.13 ERA and 4.62 FIP in 138.2 innings) and didn’t stand out in his three-appearance cameo with the big league team. The 23-year-old allowed six runs and 21 base-runners in a dozen garbage time innings, walking as many batters as he struck out (seven). He did manage to save the bullpen by holding the Red Sox to one run in 4.1 innings during a blowout loss in one of those appearances, however. Marshall also got to pitch in front of his family near his hometown in Houston during the final game of the season (video), so that was neat.
Miller, 31, struck out 92 batters in 63.1 innings down in Triple-A this past season (3.55 ERA and 3.22 FIP), but he got hammered in his only big league game, allowing three runs to the Red Sox in a four-out appearance on September 7th. The Yankees were desperate for bullpen help at that point and he was a warm body. Apparently the team saw something they liked though, because they re-signed Miller to a minor league deal recently.
The 2013 season was an overwhelming success for the 22-year-old Murphy, but not because of his big league performance. He hit .269/.347/.426 (117 wRC+) across two minor league level before joining the Yankees in September, when they added him to the 40-man roster because he was going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season anyway. Murphy went 4-for-26 (.154) in 16 games during his late season cameo and looked fine defensively.
Neal, 26, was the organization’s #Free[RandomGuy] this past season. You know what I mean, right? The random Quad-A player sitting in the minors who would be so much better than whoever they have at the big league level if they’d only give him a chance! Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, Neal put up a .325/.391/.411 (130 wRC+) in 297 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton before going 2-for-11 (.133) with really bad defense during a four-game cameo in pinstripes in mid-June. He was designated for assignment when Granderson came off the DL (the second time) and was subsequently claimed off waivers by the Cubs.
Nelson was something of a pioneer this past season. He was the first of many players the Yankees acquired in an effort to solidify the left side of the infield, coming over from the Rockies in a minor trade in early-May. Nelson, 28, played ten games in pinstripes, all at third base, and went 8-for-36 (.222) with eleven strikeouts at the plate. He actually went 0-for-10 in his first three games and 8-for-26 (.308) in his last seven. The team designated Nelson for assignment when they called up Adams, and he was then claimed off waivers by the Angels. Naturally, Nelson returned to the Bronx with the Halos in mid-August and hit two homers (including a grand slam) in one game against the Yankees. Go figure.
I wish I had kept track of home many times Zagurski warmed up but did not appear in the game in September. The guy was up every game it seemed. Zagurski, 30, spent most of the year bouncing between organizations before getting the call as an extra lefty late in the season. In his only appearance with the team, he faced three batters and allowed two runs. That appearance made him the franchise-record 56th player used by the Yankees in 2013. Let us never talk of this season again.
Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees used a franchise record 56 players this season. Fifteen of those 56 players appeared in no more than ten games, which isn’t much of a surprise. The last spots on the bench and in the bullpen were revolving doors all summer. A handful of those miscellaneous players were actually useful, but not nearly enough to push the Yankees into the postseason. Here are the best players to walk through those revolving doors.
The 24-year-old Cabral nearly made the team out of Spring Training last season, but he broke his elbow towards the end of camp and did not get fully healthy until midseason this year. The Yankees added him to the 40-man roster in September — he would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season anyway, they just sped up the process — and carried him as a second lefty reliever. When Boone Logan went down with a bone spur in his elbow, Cabral became the primary lefty. He appeared in eight games and faced nine left-handed batters total. Six of the nine struck out, one flew out to center (Kelly Johnson), and two reached base (David Ortiz singled and was hit by a pitch). Logan is almost certainly leaving as a free agent this winter, and, if nothing else, Cabral put himself in the mix for a bullpen job next season with his September showing.
I’m pretty sure the Yankees like Daley more than we realize. They signed the 31-year-old from Queens to a minor league contract two years ago and rehabbed him from shoulder surgery, then re-signed him to a new deal last winter. He threw 53.1 very effective innings across three levels in the minors (2.02 ERA and 1.88 FIP) before getting the call as an extra arm in September. Daley made seven appearances and threw six scoreless innings for New York, allowing just two hits and one hit batsman while striking out eight. Given how the bullpen imploded in September, he might have been the team’s most effective non-Mariano Rivera reliever down the stretch. I would not at all be surprised if Daley was on the Opening Day roster in 2014.
Yes, a player with a 4.67 ERA and 4.95 FIP in 34.2 innings for the Yankees is in the What Went Right post. Huff, 29, gets some slack because outside of a disastrous spot start against the Red Sox (nine runs in 3.1 innings), he was pretty damn solid in a swingman role (2.37 ERA and 4.15 FIP in 30.1 innings). His eight long relief outings included four of at least three full innings (including two of at least five full innings) with no more than one run allowed. In his Game 162 spot start, he struck out seven Astros in five scoreless innings. If nothing else, Huff landed himself in the conversation for some kind of Spring Training competition, either long man or lefty reliever. He does scare me though. I get a very Shawn Chacon-esque vibe. Maybe Huff has truly turned the corner — he credits pitching coach Larry Rothschild for fixing his mechanics — but a fly ball-prone soft-tosser in a small ballpark with no track record of big league success has serious disaster potential. This past season though, he was a rather important arm down the stretch.
Cherry-picking at its finest: Mesa led all Yankees’ rookies (hitters and pitchers) with 0.3 fWAR in 2013. He did that in exactly 14 late-July plate appearances, during which he had three singles, two doubles, one walk, and two strikeouts. Plus he played a strong outfield defense in his limited time. The 26-year-old Mesa did not get a September call-up because he suffered a severe hamstring injury in Triple-A and was unavailable. The Yankees released him to clear a 40-man roster spot for J.R. Murphy. Definitely not the way Melky2.0 wanted to end his season, but he was productive during the short time he wore pinstripes this summer, something you can’t say about so many of these spare part players.
Since signing with the Yankees out of an independent league in 2011, Nuno has done nothing but prove people wrong. He has a 2.48 ERA and 4.93 K/BB ratio in 269.2 minor league innings since signing, and that performance (along with a standout Spring Training) earned him his first taste of the big leagues in late-April. Nuno, 26, held the Indians scoreless for five innings during a spot start in the second game of a doubleheader and followed with back-to-back starts of six innings and two runs against the Rays and Mets. Between three starts and three long relief appearances, the southpaw had 2.25 ERA and 4.50 FIP in 20 innings. He suffered a season-ending groin injury in early-June and was a non-factor in the second half, which was unfortunate because a) the Yankees needed the pitching help, and b) it would have been a great opportunity to Nuno. Regardless, he helped the team when he was on the mound and put himself in a position to win some kind of big league job in Spring Training.
The Yankees showed interest in Reynolds last winter, after Alex Rodriguez‘s hip injury came to light, but they opted to sign the bigger name in Kevin Youkilis instead. Youkilis (predictably) went down with a back injury and New York scrambled for help at the hot corner for months. Eventually they were able to grab Reynolds off the scrap heap, after he’d been released by the Indians due to a dreadful June and July.
Initially expected to serve as a platoon partner for Lyle Overbay, the 30-year-old Reynolds soon took over the position on an everyday basis while mixing in a decent number of starts at third base. He even started a game at second when Robinson Cano needed a day to rest his hand following a hit-by-pitch. Reynolds hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat in pinstripes and a solo homer in his last, finishing his 36-game stint in pinstripes with six dingers and a .236/.300/.455 (105 wRC+) batting line in 120 plate appearances. It was exactly the kind of lift the bottom-third of the order needed. New York could re-sign Reynolds as a role player this winter — he’s open to returning — but so far they haven’t shown interest. As far as we know, anyway.
It wasn’t until Derek Jeter‘s fourth DL stint that the Yankees found an adequate replacement. Ryan, 31, was acquired from the Mariners on September 10th, after it was clear the Cap’n would not be able to return from his latest leg injury. He started every game at shortstop the rest of the season, hitting an awful .220/.258/.305 (41 wRC+) in 62 plate appearances while playing elite defense. A few of the hits he did have were meaningful — leadoff single started a game-winning ninth inning rally in his second game with New York, and a day later he hit a solo homer against the Red Sox. Ryan was, without question, the team’s best shortstop this past season despite only playing 17 games in pinstripes thanks to his glove. That’s kinda sad. The Yankees have already agreed to re-sign him to a one-year deal worth $1-2M, protecting them in case Jeter has another injury-plagued season.
On a cold day in February, I made a bet that I thought would be a sure thing. In a fit of Twitter arrogance, I threatened to eat my hat if Robinson Cano reached 80 walks. His previous career high had been 61.
— Benjamin Kabak (@bkabak) February 14, 2013
How could things go wrong, I thought. The Yanks didn’t have a great lineup entering the season, but they seemed to be able to offer up Cano enough protection that he wouldn’t blow past his 2012 walk total. And the things went south in a hurry. Derek Jeter wasn’t ready to return really at all this year while Curtis Granderson suffered two freak accidents. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner were total busts, and Cano was left holding the Yanks’ offense on his shoulders.
For a few months, things looked dicey. As Robbie emerged as the only real slugger in the Yanks’ lineup, his walk totals rose precipitously. After walking only 18 times in April and May combined, Robbie drew 18 free passes in June, and this four-walk affair at the hands of Joe Maddon and the Rays seemed to represent my nadir. Would I be able to eat an inedible item made of sponge and wire?
From May 24 through July 28 — a span of 59 games — Cano drew 39 free passes, ten of which were intentional. That’s a pace of over 100 in a 162-game season, and the hat seemed doomed. Even accounting for his slow start, Cano was on pace to draw 81 walks, and I figured all was lost. But then Alfonso Soriano arrived and Alex Rodriguez returned. It was all wine and roses from there.
From July 29 through the end of the season, Cano returned to his free-swinging ways. He drew just 13 walks while still hitting a robust .346/.391/.528. The intentional walk well fell dry as well since he now had protection in the lineup. Opposing mangers IBB’d Robbie just twice over the final two months of the season.
And so the hat was saved. Despite sweating out a tough summer, despite a short-lived Tumblr with hat recipes and an RAB Countdown, the hat has survived the winter. Robbie ended the year with 65 walks — a new career high but a far cry from the 80 he needed to achieve for us to see what happens when man eats toxic sponge. I’d say that’s a season that went very, very right.
Outside of the walks, though, Cano’s season was a bright spot. He hit .314/.383/.516 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs. He played a spectacular second base and seemed to be a leader in the clubhouse when the top veterans were injured. After hitting 21 dingers prior to the All Star Break, he launched only six more longballs all year but still hit .331/.379/.494. He appeared on his fifth All Star game and placed fifth in the AL MVP voting.
What comes next though is more important than what he did. We’ve followed the saga of Robbie very closely. He’s a premier offensive player who can man his position with the best of them. He’s Jay-Z’s first client and star in New York City. He’s also turned 31 a little over a month ago and wants a long-term commitment with lots of dollar signs attached. The Yanks can’t afford to let him go but may not want to pay. Yet for all the public posturing, they need Robinson Cano. I won’t say I’ll eat my hat if he doesn’t sign with the Yanks; I’ve learned my lesson there. But I’d be very, very surprised if the team’s best player in 2013 isn’t wearing his Yankee pinstripes come April.
After 19 big league seasons, including the last 17 as closer, Mariano Rivera‘s Hall of Fame career is over. He announced his intention to retire during Spring Training, so this is no surprise. We all knew it was coming. Turns out the knee injury that wiped out almost his entire 2012 season extended his career by one year — Mo admitted he planned to retire last year before the injury. In a weird way, I’m thankful he got hurt.
As good as he was this past year, the 2013 season was actually a down year for Rivera. He blew more saves (seven) than he had in any season since 2001, including three in a row during one ugly early-August stretch. His 2.11 ERA was his highest in a full, healthy season since 2007 and second highest since 2002. His 1.05 WHIP was also his highest since 2007. Rivera allowed seven homers in 64 innings, the second highest total of his career since moving to the bullpen full-time. His 3.05 FIP was his highest since 2000.
Despite all of that, Rivera was still one of the best closers in baseball. Among relievers who saved at least 20 games, he ranked seventh in bWAR (2.4) and tenth in fWAR (1.5). That’s a down year. Forty-three-year-old Mariano Rivera coming off a serious knee injury was still better than two-thirds of everyone else out there. When the Yankees were making one last push towards the postseason, Mo threw multiple innings five times in September, more than he had in any full season since 2009. He did that despite pitching through what he called “tremendous soreness” in his arm. He left everything on the field for New York and was deservedly named the AL’s Comeback Player of the Year for his effort.
Throughout the season, teams around the league paid their respects to Rivera with gifts and donations to his charity. The Athletics gave him a surfboard, the Twins gave him a rocking chair made out of broken bats, the Red Sox gave him the never-again-needed #42 placard from the Green Monster scoreboard, the Rangers gave him cowboys boots and a hat, the Rays gave him … whatever the hell this is. During Mariano Rivera Day at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees enshrined their closer in Monument Park followed by a live rendition of Enter Sandman by Metallica. The farewell tour was one of the coolest sidebars of the season, hands down.
And yet, the thing I will remember most about the 2013 season was the goodbye. We all knew it was coming — Joe Girardi announced beforehand that Rivera would pitch in the final home game of the season no matter what — but it was still a surprise to see him exit before the end of the ninth inning. It was unscripted, it was incredibly emotional, and it was a moment Yankees fans won’t ever forget.
Rivera never did pitch in another game after that and he didn’t have to. It was the perfect send off, the perfect goodbye for a perfect Yankee. Mariano was more than the greatest reliever to ever live. He was a first class person who was kind and treated everyone with respect. He helped countless people through his charity work and always took the time to give some love back to the fans.
I am happy to have witnessed Mo’s career from start to finish and I will miss watching him pitch dearly. There is never going to be another like him. Not ever.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the end of a disappointing homegrown era.
This was the biggest year of Phil Hughes‘ career. He was coming off a disappointing but almost perfectly league average 2012 season and had the opportunity to pitch his way into a hefty free agent contract this summer. This wasn’t your average contract year. Hughes’ walk year potentially meant going out onto the market at age 27 (!) with AL East and small ballpark success under his belt. Teams would have been lining up to pay him.
Rather than capitalize on that opportunity, Phil had the worst non-injury plagued season of his big league career. The end result was a 5.19 ERA and 4.50 FIP in 145.2 innings across 29 starts and one relief appearance, a performance that was below replacement level. Outside of a four-start stretch from late-April through early-May, Hughes never really put it together for any length of time. There was only one other instance this year in which he surrendered two of fewer earned runs in three consecutive starts. It was ugly for a number of reasons. Here are a few.
Homers For Everyone
Believe it or not, Hughes actually improved his homerun rate from 2012 to 2013. He allowed 35 homers in 191.1 innings last summer, which works out to 1.65 HR/9 and 12.4% HR/FB. This past season it was 24 homers in 145.2 innings, or 1.48 HR/9 and 11.1% HR/FB. Obviously the sheer volume of homeruns allowed is a problem, but timing was an issue as well. Twenty-three of those 35 homers in 2012 were solo shots (66%) and 25 came when the score was separated by two or fewer runs (71%). This season, 17 of 24 homers were solo shots (71%) and 22 of 24 (!) came with the score separated by no more than two runs (92%).
Obviously there is more to consider here than just Hughes — the Yankees played nothing but close games this past season because they had a crappy offense, so he had more opportunities to give up dingers in tight games. Still, it goes to show how untrustworthy Phil was for a team that needed steady and reliable pitching to compete. Any pitcher can give up a homer at any time, but Hughes is especially long ball prone and all season we sat on the edge of our seats waiting for the #obligatoryhomer. Every start he was walking on eggshells.
Aside from missing his very first start of the season due to lingering back problem, Hughes did take the ball every five days for the Yankees. Despite that, he failed to throw enough innings (162) to qualify for the ERA title. Hughes led all of baseball with 14 (!) starts of fewer than five full innings of work, four more than second place Barry Zito and five more than second place in the AL Erik Bedard. Part of that was Joe Girardi‘s general lack of faith in him, as the skipper rightfully showed a very quick hook late in the season.
Among the 192 pitchers to make at least ten starts in 2013, only eight averaged fewer innings per start than Hughes (5.01). The guy was a drain on the rest of the pitching staff. He taxed the bullpen when he pitched and that’s something that can (and often did) carry over and impact the next day’s game. Calling Phil a five-and-fly starter this year would be pretty generous.
Getting Ahead But Not Putting Away
There is one thing that Hughes does exceptionally well, and that’s get ahead of hitters. He threw a first pitch strike to a whopping 71.7% of batters faced in 2013, the highest rate in all of baseball (min. 100 innings). Patrick Corbin (70.2%) and Cliff Lee (68.5%) were the only other pitchers within four percentage points of Phil. Furthermore, Hughes was second in baseball by going to an 0-2 count on 26.3% of batters faced this summer. Only Lee (28.7%) was better. There’s no denying Phil did an outstanding job of getting ahead in the count and putting himself in a position to succeed.
However, he rarely took advantage of those opportunities. Hughes’ lack of a legitimate put-away pitch led to foul ball after foul ball and prolonged at-bats, so much so that he ranked 118th in pitches per plate appearance (3.97) out the 145 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings. He was 134th in pitches per inning (17.5). Batters hit a remarkable .281/.290/.409 (177 OPS+) against Phil when he was ahead in the count and a ridiculous .245/.290/.413 (213 OPS+) when he jumped ahead 0-2. The league average following an 0-2 count was .167/.197/.248 this summer. That’s nut. It’s easy to think Hughes is an out-pitch away from becoming an ace given his ability to get ahead in the count, but you can say that about a whole lot of guys. He’s not anything special in that regard.
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Barring something completely unexpected, Hughes will leave the Yankees and sign with a new team as a free agent this winter. He pitched his way out of a qualifying offer — making the offer seemed like a no-brainer as recently as late-July or so — so the Bombers won’t even get a draft pick as compensation. For shame.
Hughes will leave the Bronx having pitched to a 4.54 ERA and 4.31 FIP in 780.2 innings. That’s the third highest ERA and tenth highest FIP in team history among the 88 pitchers to throw at least 500 innings in pinstripes. Only Hank Johnson (4.84 ERA and 4.82 FIP), who played a century ago, and A.J. Burnett (4.79 ERA and 4.31 FIP) are worse in both categories. Hughes was electric as a reliever during the team’s World Championship season in 2009 and he had two years as an adequate back-end starter (2010 and 2012), but otherwise he was a huge disappointment and another example of the team’s inability to turn its top minor league talent into top Major League contributors.
Lost amid a flurry of news and rumors yesterday were the pronouncements of two veteran pitchers who wish to return in 2014. Perhaps the news was lost because the pitchers just aren’t that good. Brad Penny last pitched in 2012 and hasn’t cracked 4 K/9 since 2010. Roy Oswalt has gotten knocked around in each of the last two seasons despite extended off-seasons. So what does either seemingly washed up pitcher have to do with the Yankees?
For Penny, there’s nothing. He looks as done as done can be. Oswalt, after a disastrous and injury-shortened performance in 2013, might also appear finished. But there is a glimmer of hope for Oswalt’s future. It might just coincide with one of the Yankees’ desires this off-season.
Late last week we learned that the Yankees want to add a late-inning reliever. Given that they just lost the best who ever lived, that’s an understandable item on the off-season shopping list. They’ve spoken to Joe Nathan, but like most other viable late-inning options on the free agent market, he’ll cost more than the Yankees can probably afford if they want to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
So if the best options — Nathan, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and even Edward Mujica — are priced out, where can the Yankees turn? One place you can get creative in roster construction is the bullpen, and the Yanks might have an opportunity here. Roy Oswalt might be the kind of guy they seek.
Why would a guy with an 8.63 ERA last year — in the NL — and a 6.80 ERA in the last two years appeal to the Yankees? Because instead of starting, his primary role in his disastrous 2013 campaign, the Yankees could target him as a reliever. There are a few factors that could play in his favor if he were to transition from the rotation to the bullpen. Combine that with a likely manageable price tag, and it could be a deal that fits the Yankees’ needs and plans.
Starting with the most general, Oswalt still has quality peripherals. In Texas during the 2012 season he gave up a few too many homers, but he still struck out a batter per inning and walked fewer than two per nine. That walk rate jumped a bit in 2013, but his home run rate — while pitching at Coors Field no less — dropped back to normal levels. At the same time, he struck out more than a batter per inning. In both cases he ended up with an above-average FIP, despite a below-average ERA.
A decline in stuff has marked Oswalt’s recent seasons. His fastball has dropped from around 93 mph in 2009 and 2010 to about 91 mph in 2013. Yet that averages his starts and relief appearances. In two relief outings towards the end of last season he averaged over 93 mph with his fastball, topping out at around 94.5. That is to say, he can still reach back and get some gas on the ball. He also fared fairly well in Texas’s bullpen in 2012, further demonstrating that his 2014, if he has one, lies in the pen.
Oswalt has said that he’d like a return chance in Colorado, but that seems unlikely at this point. They just signed LaTroy Hawkins as their interim closer; he’ll hold the job for either Rex Brothers or Adam Ottavino. With those three in late-inning roles, it appears Oswalt will have to try elsewhere. A few teams are reportedly interested in him as a reliever, but even so the price likely won’t get too high. It’s hard to justify a raise over your ~$3 million salary coming off that kind of 2013 season.
The Yankees, who could use some late-inning bullpen help at a reasonable cost, could play this situation to their advantage. Oswalt would require only one year, while the other late-inning options could require multiple. Given his performances, he probably can’t ask for much in terms of salary. At the same time, there are indicators that he could perform in a late-inning role — if not as closer, than as setup man for David Robertson.
There are other relievers on the market who could perhaps more effectively fill the Yankees’ needs. At the same time, almost all relievers come with a large degree of risk. Given the ages of most available relievers, the Yanks will be gambling wherever they choose to spend their money. Why not go with a guy who could come at a relative bargain, and who has shown the potential to succeed as Oswalt has?
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the up and down final season of an all-time Yankees great.
When the Yankees coaxed Andy Pettitte out of retirement last season, it was supposed to be one last ride off into the sunset. Pettitte was going to come back, give whatever he had left, then walk away after the season. Again. Instead, a fluke injury robbed him of three months at midseason. The competitive juices were still flowing, so Andy decided to give it another go in 2013.
Unlike last summer, Pettitte was more than just a fun, feel-good story this year. He was an integral part of the team and he was paid as such — the Yankees re-signed him to a one-year pact worth a hefty $12M and penciled him in as their number three starter behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. This wasn’t “okay Andy, come back whenever you’re ready and do what you can.” This was “let’s go Andy, if we’re going to go anywhere you have to help carry us.”
Pettitte was baseball’s oldest starting pitcher come Opening Day and sometimes it was painfully obvious. Let’s break his season down into four separate acts.
Act I: Early Awesomeness
When he wasn’t hurt in 2012, Pettitte was pretty freakin’ awesome. He pitched to a 2.87 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 75.1 innings, posting his best strikeout (8.24 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (2.51 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%), and ground ball (56.3%) rates in years. It was amazing and much-needed considering how close the AL East race was down the stretch.
Early on this past season, that same Andy was on the mound. He pitched the team to their first win of the year with eight innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox in the third game of the season, and he followed up by allowing six runs total in his next three starts while throwing at least six innings each time. The Astros (of all teams) pounded him to close out the month (seven runs in 4.1 innings), but Pettitte got right back on the horse and pitched well in early-May. Following seven innings of two-run ball against the Royals on May 11th, he was sitting on a 3.83 ERA and 4.08 FIP in 44.1 innings through seven starts. Dandy.
Act II: Injuries & Ineffectiveness
On May 16th, Pettitte was forced from a start against the Mariners due to a sore trap muscle after only 4.2 innings. He had missed one start in April due to a stiff back, but the trap injury landed him on the DL for a touch more than two weeks. That was the risk of relying on a 40-year-old starter — a 40-year-old starter who had not thrown more than 130 innings since 2009 at that — injuries and physical setbacks figured to pop-up at some point.
Andy returned to the mound on June 3rd and clearly was not himself. He allowed at least four runs in eight of his next nine starts (including seven straight at one point), a nine-start stretch that featured a 5.04 ERA despite a 3.62 FIP. Opponents hit .295/.329/.436 against him in those nine games and the Pettitte trademark, the ability to wiggle out of jams, had deserted him. Pettitte looked old and washed up. I’m not sure there is another way to put it. He looked like a guy who should have stayed retired, frankly. The team didn’t have much of a chance to win on the days he pitched and through 17 starts, he had a 4.47 ERA and 3.78 FIP.
Act III: Empty The Tank
Something changed on June 24th. That ability to escape jams and keep the team in games had returned. Pettitte held the Rangers to two runs in six innings on that date, and five days later he held the Dodgers to two runs in seven innings. From June 24th through September 17th, a span of eleven starts, Andy allowed two earned runs or less eight times and only twice did he fail to complete six full innings of work. That works out to a 3.06 ERA and 3.54 FIP in 64.2 innings. He was back to being himself and not a moment too soon. The Yankees were fighting to stay in the playoff hunt and Pettitte had emerged as their best starter just as Kuroda began to fade.
Act IV: Blaze Of Glory
Following 6.1 innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays on September 17th, Pettitte owned a 3.93 ERA and 3.69 FIP in 169.1 innings across 28 starts. Three days later, he announced his intention to retire (for the second time) after the season. “I’ve reached the point where I know that I’ve left everything I have out there on that field,” he said. “The time is right. I’ve exhausted myself, mentally and physically, and that’s exactly how I want to leave this game.”
Andy’s final start at Yankee Stadium came two days later, on Mariano Rivera Day. The Yankees honored Mo will a long and incredible pre-game ceremony before Pettitte took a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Giants. In that final home start, he surrendered two runs on two hits in seven innings against the defending World Champions. Andy walked off to the mound to a long and thunderous ovation after being removed from the game.
Four days later, Pettitte and long-time teammate Derek Jeter were sent out to the mound to remove Rivera from the final appearance of his career. Those few days were just unreal. Incredibly exciting and emotional and heartbreaking all at once. What a way to go out.
Andy made the final start of his season and career on September 28th, appropriately enough against the Astros in Houston, his hometown and the only other Major League team for which he played. Pettitte went out in style, allowing one run in the complete-game win. It was his first nine-inning complete-game since August 2006 and his first nine-inning complete-game for the Yankees since August 2003. It was the kind of start that seemed unthinkable as recently as mid-June, and yet, Andy did it. Remarkable.
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All told, Pettitte pitched to a 3.74 ERA and 3.70 FIP in 185.1 innings this season, right in line with his career 3.85 ERA and 3.74 FIP. Same ol’ Andy, basically. Steady and reliable. Yeah, the 2013 campaign was shaky at times but that was to be expected at his age and with the long recent layoffs. When it was all said and done, Pettitte was an obvious positive for the 2013 squad. He retires as the greatest Yankees pitcher in history — an argument can certainly be made for Whitey Ford, but I think Andy just edges him out — and one of the most beloved players in team history. Few rank above him.
It is sad to see Andy go again, but I think it’s clear the time has come to call it a career. When he retired following the 2010 season, I thought it was obvious he still had something left in the tank and could continue pitching for another year or two. This time, I’m not so sure. He really labored for long stretches of time this summer and his usual start-to-start consistency just wasn’t there. The nagging injuries, stiff backs and strained lats and the like, became more frequent as well. Pettitte is one of my all-time favorites and the Yankees wouldn’t have hung around the postseason race as long as they did without him, but the tank looks to tapped out. Saying goodbye will be much easier for fans and Pettitte alike this time around.