Archive for Front Office
Via Scott Miller: Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler is among four finalists for the Padres’ GM job. Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen, Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller, and MLB executive Kim Ng are the other finalists. The Padres passed on more experienced candidates and prefer to hire a young up and comer. A second round of interviews will be conducted in the coming week.
Eppler, a San Diego native, was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels’ GM job a few years ago, so this isn’t the first time he’s been among a round of finalists and called back for a second interview. He joined the Yankees in 2004 and was the director of pro scouting from 2005-11 before being promoted to assistant GM. It’s clear that Eppler will be a GM at some point in relatively soon, either as Brian Cashman‘s eventual successor or with another team.
Thursday: The Yankees will indeed give the Padres permission to speak with Eppler about their GM opening, reports Jon Heyman. Teams usually won’t block an front office member from interviewing for a promotion like this, so this isn’t a surprise.
Wednesday: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Padres have required permission to interview Yankees assistant general manager Billy Eppler for their now open GM position. Josh Byrnes was fired over the weekend and Eppler, a San Diego native who started his career as a scout with the Padres, is one of several candidates for the job. Buster Olney says he will receive “serious consideration.”
Eppler joined the Yankees in 2004 and was the director of pro scouting from 2005-11 before being promoted to assistant GM. The promotion appeared to put him in line to take over for Brian Cashman whenever the time came. The Padres did not interview Eppler for their last GM opening during the 2009-10 offseason, though he did interview for the Angels’ job three years ago and was reportedly the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto. It’s only a matter of time before Eppler becomes a GM, either as Cashman’s successor or for another team.
Looking for some Saturday morning reading? David Waldstein wrote a great feature on Danilo Valiente, the Yankees’ batting practice coach. That’s all he does, throw batting practice and soft toss and stuff like that. He joined the staff this season after working down in the minors for several years. The article isn’t about his job though, it focuses on Valiente’s incredible backstory as a guy who used baseball as a way to cope with the death of his wife, which eventually led to a big league coaching job. It’s a fantastic read and gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation. Check it out.
5:00pm: Cashman confirmed long-time baseball operations staffer Steve Martone will replace Kuntz, according to Andrew Marchand. Kuntz will take over as the Director of Player Relations for the MLS, so he’ll deal with labor issues and their Collective Bargaining Agreement, stuff like that.
11:30am: Via George King: Will Kuntz, the Yankees’ manager of pro scouting, has left the club for an unknown position with Major League Soccer. “He loves soccer and that’s a huge job,” said Brian Cashman.
Kuntz took over as the head of the pro scouting department when Billy Eppler was promoted to assistant GM during the 2011-12 offseason. The team has not really unearthed any hidden gems like Bartolo Colon or Eric Chavez this last year or two, which may or may not have to do with Kuntz. Who the hell knows. No word on his replacement yet, but the Yankees almost always promote from within.
The Yankees announced five additions to their Major League/pro scouting staff today: Kendall Carter, Brandon Duckworth, Joe Espada, Dan Giese, and Dennis Twombley. Background info on all five is right here. Carter and Twombley are moving over from the amateur scouting staff and Espada was hired away from the Marlins. You probably remember Giese from his brief 2008 stint in pinstripes.
Duckworth, who bounced around the league as a journeyman right-hander for more than a decade, is the most interesting of the new hires simply because he spent the last two years as Masahiro Tanaka‘s teammate with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Did they hire him to help ease Tanaka’s transition, or did they get to know Duckworth while scouting Tanaka and felt he could help them as a scout? Either way, the Yankees haven’t dug up many hidden gems since Billy Eppler was promoted from pro scouting director to assistant GM two years ago. Hopefully that changes with the new additions.
The Yankees have officially announcing the hiring of Gary Tuck (bullpen coach), Matthew Krause (strength and conditioning coordinator), Trey Hillman (special assistant, major and minor league operations), and Mike Quade (roving outfield and baserunning instructor). The moves have been in the works for weeks. Tuck replaces Mike Harkey, who left to become the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach a few weeks ago. Here’s the press release if you’re looking for background info on all four new hires.
- Gary Tuck is likely to get the bullpen coach job now that Mike Harkey has been officially introduced as the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach. We heard he was a strong candidate earlier this week. Tuck was the team’s bullpen coach in 1990 and he held the same role with the Red Sox from 2007-2012. He was also Joe Girardi‘s bench coach with the Marlins in 2006, so he’s not a stranger.
- Trey Hillman has joined the Yankees in a development/consultant role. I figured this would happen. Hillman coached in the Yankees’ farm system from 1990-2001 and he is supposedly very close friends with Brian Cashman, close enough that he was considered a dark horse for the manager’s job before Girardi was hired. The Dodgers replaced Hillman as their bench coach a few weeks ago and it felt like only a matter of time before wound up in New York.
- The Yankees have hired Mike Quade as a roving outfield instructor. He served as the Cubs manager from 2010-2011 under GM Jim Hendry, who is now a special assistant in the Yankees’ front office. Quade has tons and tons of coaching and managerial experience in the minors.
Joe Girardi‘s coaching staff was shaken up a bit last week when we learned bullpen coach Mike Harkey is leaving the Yankees to become the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach. Harkey was one of Girardi’s closest friends and confidants, so replacing him won’t be easy in that sense. Here’s the latest on some coaching and front office positions courtesy of George King, George King (again), George King (yet again), and Josh Norris.
- The Yankees have hired Matthew Krause as their new strength and conditioning coach after declining to renew Dana Cavalea’s contract a few weeks ago. Krause held the same role with the Reds from 2005-2013. He also spent three years with the Pirates and eight years in the Marines, so the Yankees are in good shape for potential benches-clearing brawls. New York has been one of the most injured teams in baseball over the last four years while Cincinnati has been one of the least injured, though obviously not all of that can be attributed to the strength and conditioning coach.
- Gary Tuck is one candidate to replace Harkey as bullpen coach. He held that role with the Yankees in 1990 and with the Red Sox from 2007-2012. Tuck also served as Joe Girardi’s bench coach with the Marlins in 2006 and spent 1998-1999 as a catching instructor in the Yankees’ minor league system.
- Among the internal candidates to replace Harkey are Triple-A Scranton pitching coach Scott Aldred, Triple-A manager Dave Miley, Triple-A hitting coach Butch Wynegar, senior pitching instructor Greg Pavlick, minor league pitching instructor Gil Patterson, catching coordinator Julio Mosquera, and Rookie GCL Yanks manager Tom Nieto. All except Aldred have some kind of big league coaching experience.
- Pro scout Rick Williams has left the Yankees to take a job with the Braves. He and Atlanta GM Frank Wren have known each other for a while, dating back to their playing days and time working for the Marlins. Williams was most often used to scout pitchers prior to the trade deadline.
- Double-A Trenton hitting coach Justin Turner is out for whatever reason. He has been with the organization for a while but this was his first season with the Thunder. It appears High-A Tampa hitting coach Marcus Thames (yes, that Marcus Thames) will take over in Trenton.
Via Jack Magruder: The Diamondbacks are set to name Mike Harkey their new pitching coach on Monday. Good for him. Harkey, 47, has been the Yankees’ bullpen coach since 2008 and he is one of Joe Girardi‘s closest friends and confidants. Obviously the team will need to dig up a replacement now. Triple-A pitching Scott Aldred, who also interviewed for the D’Backs pitching coach gig, could be a candidate for the job.
Given how the 2013 season unfolded and where the Yankees finished in the standings, you might assume that we’ve produced more What Went Wrong posts than ever in the past. How could things have gone more wrong than any year in the recent past? you might ask. Apparently more things went wrong last year, when we produced twenty-six posts in the What Went Wrong series. This post marks number twenty-three this year.
In one sense, this statistic does not check out. How could have more things gone wrong in a season when the Yankees won the division, owned the best record in the American League, and made a trip to the ALCS, than in a season where they won 85 games and missed the playoffs by a healthy margin? Clearly that is not the case. So why did we produce more What Went Wrong posts last year than this year?
Because the entire roster suffered from poor construction and bad luck.
Perhaps that was by design, to an extent. Last year’s free agent crop was paltry and pathetic, with few players worthy of a multiyear deal. This off-season, while thin by 00s standards, stands out above both the 2013 and 2015 free agent classes. Better to hold off, then, during a poor free agent class and reload when there are better players available.
Design cannot explain all, or even most, of the Yankees’ roster woes in 2013. Many needs went completely unaddressed in the off-season. Losing a few key players during, and before, the season hurt them further, exacerbating those off-season construction flaws. As a result the Yankees fielded what was almost certainly their weakest roster since 1993.
The 2012 Yankees featured a fairly balanced lineup. They hit lefties and righties very well, and hitters of both handedness produced impressive numbers. But as we quickly learned, many of those players would not be back. Nick Swisher, for one, was almost certainly a goner. Russell Martin jumped on an early offer from the Pirates. Then we learned that Alex Rodriguez would require hip surgery, shelving him until July at the earliest. More than 30 HR from the right side of the plate were leaving town, and it was anyone’s guess how much they’d lose from A-Rod. Combine that with Derek Jeter‘s injury and uncertain return, and it added up to an enormous need for right-handed production.
Adding Kevin Youkilis made sense in many regards. He hit right-handed and played third base, and so could replace at least some of Rodriguez’s production. One folly was replacing an injured player with a guy who has had trouble staying on the field, specifically with back troubles. The other was adding no other right-handed hitters, at all.
Instead the Yankees added Ichiro Suzuki, a no-power lefty, and — and that’s basically it. Perhaps the players they liked wanted to play elsewhere, or signed contracts the Yankees deemed out of their desired price range. Maybe the trade market didn’t develop in the way they’d imagined. Whatever the case, the Yankees knew they were losing a huge chunk of their right-handed production and did very little to address that depletion.
Why didn’t the Yankees make a more concerted effort to keep Martin (he reportedly would have accepted a one-year deal) or sign a player who fit, like Torii Hunter? The story we heard was that they were focusing on pitching. They wanted to make sure that they re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. That would ensure a strong pitching staff. The offense, by their own admission, took a back seat. By the time they were ready, the good players were off the board. It showed in the team’s performance.
Key injuries and replacement players
At least when the Yankees learned of Rodriguez’s injury, they had time to find a replacement. When a J.A. Happ pitch stuck Curtis Granderson‘s forearm in his first spring training at-bat, the Yanks had few potential replacements; while Brett Gardner could slide into center field, that still left vacant an outfield spot and further depleted the lineup’s power.
About a week later further disaster struck when Mark Teixeira left the WBC with a wrist injury. Not only would the Yankees be without their slugging first baseman for the start of the season, but they had absolutely no one in camp to replace him; at the time the candidates were Dan Johnson and Juan Rivera, who ended up getting a combined 5 PA in the majors in 2013 (all Johnson), and Youkilis, who was already replacing Rodriguez.
Had they been so inclined, the Yankees could have used Eduardo Nunez to replace Rodriguez at third, sliding Youkilis over to first. Alas, towards the end of camp Derek Jeter reinjured his ankle, moving Nunez into the shortstop position. To man first base they nabbed Lyle Overbay, who had been released by Boston — who wouldn’t have been so bad if they had a right-handed platoon partner for him.*
*Overbay did hit .258/.317/.432 against righties, and that number was quite a bit higher earlier in the season, so he wasn’t a total zero the entire time. Then again, who’s to say what would have happened if they’d found a platoon partner. Does Overbay produce those numbers while sitting against lefties? That’s the big unknown about platoons: anyone in one has to buy into it. If a guy feels he needs consistent at-bats to get into a groove, chances are he won’t succeed in a platoon even if his splits suggest he would. Ya know, 90 percent of the game being half mental and all.
To replace Granderson the Yankees flexed their financial biceps to acquire Vernon Wells from the Angels. They ended up paying him $13 million in 2013, just so they could avoid having him count against the luxury tax in 2014. For about a month that worked out well — which seemed perfect, because Granderson was due back in a little over a month. Which is another disaster story in itself.
It didn’t take Youkilis even a month to hurt himself, even further depleting the infield. Matters got worse when Eduardo Nunez got hurt in early May — and you know your roster is in poor shape when it takes a significant hit with a Nunez injury. Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, Jayson Nix, the guy who might not have even made the team had Jeter not reinjured his ankle, got hurt in early July. That necessitated acquiring Luis Cruz, recently DFA’d by the Dodgers.
In early May Travis Hafner, who had enjoyed a resurgent April, suffered a shoulder injury. Fans winced, but to our surprise he did not go on the disabled list. Clearly he should have. From that point onward he hit .169/.250/.301, after hitting .260/.383/.510 through mid-May. It should have been predictable that Hafner, who made four disabled list trips in 2011 and 2012, would have gotten hurt.
Granderson came back and got hurt again. Teixeira came back and wasn’t ready for action. Youkilis came back and hobbled around until it was apparent he needed surgery. Jeter eventually came back, and then got hurt. And then came back again. And then got hurt. Finally, after collecting just eight hits in 44 at-bats, he shut it down. Even Rodriguez got hurt after coming back, forcing him into the DH spot for the last 20 or so games of the season. Gardner got hurt at the end of the season, which seemed to demolish whatever little hope the Yankees had remaining; they went 6-9 afterward, half of those wins coming against the punchless Astros and another two coming against the nearly equally punchless Giants.
Lack of outfield depth
To say the Yankees have failed to produce outfielders doesn’t state the case strongly enough. Yes, they drafted and developed Brett Gardner, a small speedster who developed into a decent ballplayer, but other than him what outfielders have they developed in the last six years? The last eight? The last ten? It seems that ever since they traded away Juan Rivera and Ricky Ledee 10 years ago that they have lagged greatly in the outfielder development department. There was Melky Cabrera, who was OK, Gardner, who is a fair success, and who else?
It is no wonder, then, that they were ill prepared for injuries in the outfield. By itself letting Swisher walk might not have been a bad call. They acquired him for essentially nothing, one of those my junk for your good player trades we frequently see, and laugh at, in the comments. They paid him a wage commensurate with his contribution, during his prime years. Letting him go was probably the smart move, if not the typical Yankee move. Only problem was, they had no viable replacements.
Did they honestly think Ichiro would continue the run he started after heading to the Yankees? From what we read in the aftermath, ownership forced the issue there, convinced Ichiro would earn his salary in marketing dollars. When Granderson went down they had to trade for Wells, who had produced an 86 OPS+ in the last two seasons combined. Their only hopes on the farm were Melky Mesa, a strikeout-heavy guy who wasn’t going to hit major league pitching, and Zoilo Almonte, another strikeout guy who actually got better in that regard during the 2013 season, came up, hit some baseballs, and got hurt.
It wasn’t until they acquired Alfonso Soriano that they started to trot out halfway decent outfields. Which brings us to…
Futility of the trade deadline
At close of business on May 23, the Yankees sat alone atop the AL East. A combination of unexpected offensive contributions and an expectedly good pitching staff put them in a position to contend. That’s all they could have asked for, given the circumstances. It appeared that reinforcements were in the offing. Curtis Granderson had just returned to the lineup. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis were nearing rehab games. The band was getting back together.
The next day, Granderson got hit with another pitch that broke a bone. A week after that both Teixeira and Youkilis did return, but they provided almost no positives before they both went back on the DL and underwent season-ending surgeries. The Yankees, still in first place by a few percentage points on May 26, had fallen into third place by June 13. On July 1 they sat in fourth place. The fill-ins had done an admirable job while the main players recovered from injury. But now that they were injured again, the Yanks needed more reinforcements.
The trade deadline can be considered a failure, but only because the Yankees didn’t acquire the players they needed to put them over the top. But could they really have expected to replace all the players who fell victim to injury? The list of needs ran deep: an outfielder and a first baseman, one of whom absolutely needed to be a right-handed hitter with power, and a pitcher, at the very least. A catcher would have been nice, too, if unattainable. When was the last time a team was able to add that many players — at least two of them impact players — at any one trade deadline?
Complicating the issue was the matter of players available. It takes two parties to consummate a trade, so if other teams weren’t selling, or weren’t buying what the Yankees were offering, no deals were possible. There didn’t seem to be many impact hitters available at all. In fact, the Yankees undoubtedly got the best hitter who was traded at the deadline in Soriano. In terms of pitching there were Matt Garza and Jake Peavy, who both could have helped the Yankees. But can it be considered a failure that they failed to acquire either?
The problem with the trade deadline represented a microcosm of the trouble with the entire roster throughout 2013. The pickings were slim. Flaws cropped up in the off-season, and became exposed when a few key players suffered injuries. The lack of depth on the farm, resulting in the inability to call up useful players, further complicated the roster woes. By the time the trade deadline rolled around it was too late to make any meaningful upgrades. There were too many holes.
It remains a surprise that the Yankees, with their pitiful roster, managed to remain interesting for more than half of the 2013 season (April, May, August, half of September). They managed to win only 85 games, but that far outpaced almost all of their projections, based on run differential and strength of schedule. So while the team was pretty unwatchable for a few months, they did manage to remain in contention far longer than anyone imagined.