Archive for Musings
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.
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:
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.)
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.
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.
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|
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.
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.
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 told 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.
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.
Although they mathematically still have a chance, the Yankees are not going to the postseason this year. They’re six games back of the second wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them and only eleven games to play, so it would take a historic comeback to make the playoffs. I don’t see this team doing anything historic other than maybe getting no-hit. There will be no October baseball for a second straight year.
The Yankees do still have those eleven games to play though, and playing meaningless baseball for nearly two weeks is not something the Yankees or their fans are familiar with. There haven’t been a lot of truly meaningless games around these parts the last two decades. The focus has shifted to 2015 now and there are a few things the Yankees can do to take advantage of these final eleven games.
Shut Down Whoever Else Is Hurt
Brett Gardner just missed a few days with an abdomen strain — he’s has been awful since returning, in case you haven’t noticed — and Mark Teixeira‘s surgically repaired wrist has flared up again. There is no reason for the Yankees to push these two and have them try to play through injury. No one gets bonus points for being macho. Martin Prado and his hamstring would have fit here as well, but his recent appendectomy took care of that. I’m sure there are other players on the roster dealing with nagging injuries (Jacoby Ellsbury‘s ankle?), so any regulars with an injury that could somehow turn into something more severe shouldn’t be playing. The only exception to this should be Masahiro Tanaka, whose partially torn elbow ligament and progressing rehab is a very unique situation.
Shut Down Dellin Betances
It goes without saying that Betances has been the biggest bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. He went from failed starting pitcher prospect to arguably the best reliever in baseball and an important part of the Yankees going forward, regardless of what happens with David Robertson‘s free agency after the season. The team is counting on Betances to be a core piece of their relief crew going forward and for good reason. He has two out pitches in his fastball and breaking ball and I’m pretty sure standing in the box against him is terrifying.
That said, Betances has thrown the most innings (87.2) and the most pitches (1,328) among full-time relievers this year, and most of those innings and pitches have been high-stress. The Yankees have clearly scaled back on his workload these last few weeks — “No, no. Absolutely not. Dellin has been used a lot too, so, no,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following Sunday’s game when asked if he considered using Betances for multiple innings — and understandably so. I know he threw 120+ innings several times in the minors, but throwing 120+ innings every fifth day as a starter is much different from throwing 80+ innings as a high-leverage reliever.
Watching Betances has been literally the most enjoyable thing about the 2014 Yankees. His near-bust prospect to elite reliever story makes him easy to root for. But he’s also worked a lot this year. Betances also has a history of arm problems, both shoulder and elbow, so shutting him down now will allow him to get nice physical and mental break heading into the offseason. The Yankees have every reason to do whatever it takes to keep Betances healthy and effective both now and in the future. With the team out of the postseason, shutting him down before his workload grows even more makes sense.
Give Bryan Mitchell Another Start(s)
Mitchell’s first career start went pretty well on Friday as he limited the Orioles to two runs on six hits and two walks in five innings while being held to an 85-ish pitch count. Considering he had not pitched in a real game in two weeks — the Yankees did have him throw a 50-pitch simulated game at some point early last week to keep him stretched out and sharp — and surely had some first career start jitters to deal with, Mitchell did a fine job.
There is not a whole lot of evaluating that can be done by giving Mitchell another start or two; teams and scouts won’t change their opinion of him based on those short looks (barring injury), but it is an opportunity to let him get more comfortable and gain some experience. Not much, but some, and every little bit helps. The Yankees need pitching help this winter and Mitchell is likely to in the sixth/seventh starter spot heading into the next season. Giving him a few more innings to get comfortable and build confidence is a no-brainer.
Let John Ryan Murphy Start Some Games
Murphy is a good young catching prospect and, like Mitchell, the Yankees should do whatever they can to help him get comfortable and gain experience these last two weeks. Start him seven or eight times in the final eleven games, something like that. Again, 25 at-bats or so won’t (or shouldn’t) change what we think about him, but they could help send him into the offseason feeling pretty good about where he stands in the organization. That’s not nothing.
This isn’t just about Murphy, either. Brian McCann is in the first year of his five-year contract and he’s been a starting big league catcher since he was 22 years old. That’s a lot of squatting behind the plate — most of it during hot Atlanta summers — and a lot of wear and tear. The Yankees would still be able to use McCann at DH, but the goal is to get him out from behind the plate to save him physically, even just a little bit. It would also reduce the risk of a foul tip to the face mask and other incidental injuries like that. Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with McCann, so they should do whatever they can to protect their investment now that they’re out of the postseason mix.
Start Contract Talks With Robertson & Brandon McCarthy
The five days immediately following the World Series constitute the exclusive negotiating period for free agents, though the Yankees will get an extra month to talk with their impending free agents by virtue of not playing baseball in October. Their exclusive negotiating period is really one month plus the five days, and they should take advantage by starting talks with McCarthy and Robertson (and Chase Headley?), two players they should try to retain for obvious reasons. The sooner they start serious negotiations, the better their chances of keeping them off the open market and away from a potential bidding war. There are still eleven games to be played, but the 2014-15 offseason begins now for New York.
The Yankees were off yesterday for the final time this season. Twenty-one games in the next 20 days next up — they play a doubleheader against the Orioles in Baltimore on Friday — then we’ll either be celebrating the team’s miraculous return to the postseason or preparing for an offseason that should be mighty interesting. Here are some random thoughts heading into tonight’s series opener against the Rays.
1. First things first, the Yankees haven’t announced a starter for the second game of Friday’s doubleheader but that’s not really a big deal because of the expanded rosters. David Phelps should be activated off the disabled list before then, so the team will be able to stitch the game together with two or three innings apiece from guys like Phelps, David Huff, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, and Chase Whitley. I guess it all depends on who is needed in relief these next three games. Either way, cobbling together enough pitching for that doubleheader won’t be a problem. September call-ups make it a piece of cake.
2. With free agency becoming diluted, one of the few notable free agent outfield bats available this winter will be ex-Yankee Melky Cabrera. He had a big season with the Blue Jays, hitting .301/.351/.458 (124 wRC+) with 35 doubles and 16 homers before breaking a finger sliding into a base over the weekend, ending his season. Obviously there is a lot of skepticism surrounded Melky gives his past PED issues, but he is only 30 years old and he’s a true switch-hitter who hits both lefties (116 wRC+) and righties (127 wRC+). Plus he never strikes out (10.8%), which is a highly desirable trait in this strikeout heavy age. His defense isn’t anything special but he does have a strong arm for right field. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) suggested Melky could wind up with Shane Victorino’s contract (three years, $39M) while a scout told Jeff Blair teams are willing to offer Jhonny Peralta’s contract (four years, $52M). My gut says Cabrera will wind up with the bigger contract of those two, given the market. Does Melky make sense for the Yankees at that price? The team already has three outfielders under contract at a combined $50M or so per year the next two years. Would they really add a fourth eight-figure outfielder? The Yankees can use someone like Melky in the lineup, but I’m not sure he fits unless they trade Brett Gardner.
3. Now, that said, I think Carlos Beltran has to be the everyday DH next season. Or at least the most of the time DH, four or five games a week. There are two reasons for this. One, the guy is barely mobile at this point of his career and he’s a Raul Ibanez-esque liability in right field. My tolerance for bad defensive corner outfielders is surprisingly high, but not that high. Beltran’s been scary bad in right this year. Two, his health. I know Beltran is having the bone spur taken out of his elbow this winter, but he also has bad knees and at his age, the likelihood of breaking down physically is pretty high. Giving him more time at DH should reduce his injury risk, in theory. So, in this scenario the Yankees would have room for someone like Melky in right field, but again, are they willing to spent that much money on another outfielder? If the Yankees are going to hand out another $10M+ per year contract to a position player, the infield seems like the place to do it.
4. Stephen Drew has not hit a lick with the Yankees (32 wRC+) but I contend the trade was still worth it because now the team knows he is definitely not the guy to sign to play shortstop next season. The fact that he isn’t even playing regularly at this point seems like they are admitting that is the case. Besides, it’s not like the Yankees gave up anything of value to get him in the first place. They took a low-cost flier and it didn’t work out, that’s life. I don’t believe Drew is really as bad as he’s shown this year but I also don’t think the “he didn’t have a proper Spring Training” excuse is all that valid anymore either. He’s at 239 plate appearances and shown no signs of snapping out of it. (It’s worth noting Kendrys Morales is still struggling to find his way after signing late as well.) The upcoming free agent market is shockingly deep with shortstops, namely Drew, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez, and Asdrubal Cabrera. I assume the Yankees will sign one of those guys — they all have their pluses and minuses, I don’t see an obvious one to target right now — and eliminating Drew from the pack makes life that much easier. These few weeks after the trade were an audition and Drew flunked.
5. What exactly is Brendan Ryan‘s role on the Yankees going forward? I know they re-signed him (two years plus a player option!) as a backup plan for Derek Jeter should his ankle give him more trouble this year, but I don’t buy for a second that they would install him as the starting shortstop next year. I’d much rather see the Yankees re-sign Drew before going with Ryan as the starter. They’d have to whiff on every one of the free agent shortstop for Ryan to get a chance to play everyday, and I don’t see that happening. Ryan’s contract isn’t exactly an albatross ($2M in 2015) but he has no trade value. He has played in seven of the team’s last 33 games (five starts) and really doesn’t seem to have a defined role at this point. I wonder if the Yankees would look for a better backup infield infielder, then outright Ryan off the 40-man roster and down to Triple-A Scranton. If he gets claimed off waivers, so be it. He won’t refuse the outright assignment if he clears waivers because then he would forfeit the remainder of his contract, and I have a hard time believing that will happen. It’s a weird situation. No hit, all glove backup infielders have zero value if they’re playing as infrequently as Ryan does.
6. As far as second base goes, I think my perfect world scenario has Martin Prado at second and Alex Rodriguez at third base to open next season. A-Rod is coming back and I’m sure the Yankees will stick him out there at the hot corner early on. Then, when Alex inevitably gets injured, the Yankees slide Prado to third base and play Rob Refsnyder at second. A-Rod hasn’t played a full healthy season since 2007 and I have no reason to think 2015 will be the year he does it. Not at age 39 and after two hip surgeries and nearly two full years away from the game. I like Prado the most at second base, he fits there way better than in right field or at third base in my opinion, but I also want the Yankees to give Refsnyder a chance next year. I mean, at some point they have to try one of their young position players, and he’s the obvious candidate knocking on the door. Prado’s versatility gives the team flexibility and I’m sure Rodriguez’s brittle body will create the opportunity.
Yes, I’m swiping Mike’s bit, kind of. He’s invited me to do so for years, and now seems like a good time to take him up on the offer.
Brian Cashman‘s contract expires after this season. With the possibility of his team missing the postseason for the second consecutive year, fans have speculated that Cashman’s 16-year tenure as GM could come to an end.
Plenty of fans, particularly the loudest ones, have hoped that is the case. But it appears that they will be disappointed.
Playoffs or no playoffs, the Yankees intend to offer Brian Cashman a new contract this winter, according to pretty cool guy Jon Heyman. His sources indicate that ownership doesn’t blame Cashman for the way the last two seasons have unfolded.
(Perhaps because their own meddling has played a role?)
Few fanbases stand 100% behind the general manager. There’s always a set of people who believe that they’re the smartest people in the room, and they’re vocal so they can prove it to everyone. Yet it seems that this group is larger than it was the last time Cashman’s contract expired.
At that point, after the 2011 season, I fully supported bringing back Cashman. Since the inception of RAB the three of us (now four with Jay) have felt that Cashman is the guy for the job.
Now? I’m not so sure. Hence, a “thoughts on” post.
1. Where is this team headed? The Yankees had some tough decision to make last off-season. Not only did they face a depleted roster, but their far-and-away most productive hitter hit the free agent market. The time seemed ripe for a rebuilding effort.
They could have acted far differently. They could have re-signed Robinson Cano and signed Masahiro Tanaka without sacrificing the 18th pick in the draft. Instead they went in a completely different direction, trying to patch multiple weaknesses with high-priced free agents.
As Mike wrote earlier this week, the Yankees face an even tougher set of decisions this winter. Do they double down on their spending strategy to bring in Jon Lester? Do they seek out an offensive upgrade — Nelson Cruz or Hanley Ramirez? They’ve already committed $168 million to the 2015 team, and that covers just 10 players.
It seems kind of silly to hold back this off-season after going big and seeing little results this past season. Yet, as Mike noted, they certainly need to rethink how they operate as the team around them modify their philosophies.
The point is, in the past we’ve had some idea of the direction the Yankees were taking. Right now? I have none, and I don’t think anyone else outside the organization does, either.
The further point is, I’m not totally sure Cashman is the guy to take the team in a different direction.
2. Is it a higher ups problem? There are plenty of young executives from other clubs the Yankees could poach for a potentially vacant GM spot. But if they’re not allowed to actually make decisions, will it even matter?
The larger question is of whether ownership is truly a problem here. Yes, the Steinbrenners have opened their wallets to help the team, but are they spending that money wisely? Are they meddling to too great a degree? These are questions we have difficulty answering from the outsider perspective.
We’ve seen certain instances where the higher ups step in to make decisions. Rafael Soriano remains the most prominent example. Ichiro Suzuki, too. So how many decisions is ownership forcing on the team? How independently can the GM act?
The Diamondbacks just fired their GM, Kevin Towers. They’ll find someone soon to fill that role. Will he have any success? It’s tough to say, because, as my dear friend Leo said, Ken Kendrick still owns them. It has become pretty apparent that ownership is part of the problem here. Knicks fans have known this for far more than a decade.
If the problem does lie with the higher ups, then does it even matter who holds the GM position? In that case, having Cashman, who has been around the Steinbrenner family his entire adult life, might be an advantage.
3. Would a good candidate even want the job? Many of us have dreamt of becoming the GM. (And a few among us have delusions that we’re qualified.) Who would turn down the opportunity if offered?
Plenty of people. Perhaps the most qualified candidates wouldn’t find the Yankees’ job attractive. Two highly regarded executives, Jason McLeod of the Cubs and David Forst of the A’s, declined to interview for the Padres GM job earlier this year. Would they interview for the Yankees’ gig, knowing that ownership gets involved in baseball decisions?
The absolute worst case scenario is to let Cashman walk only to hire some retread GM, because none of the elite candidates want the job. I like Kevin Towers well enough, but I don’t want to see him replace Cashman as GM of the Yankees.
There’s no point in letting Cashman go if they’re not going to replace him with an elite GM, or a young executive on his path to greatness. Firing Cashman and then hiring (shudders) Ed Wade or Jim Bowden or Jim Hendry seems like a sure step backward. What if they’re the only guys lining up to interview for the job?
4. A Theo/Hoyer situation? By most visible measures, Billy Eppler has done a fine job in the last few years, first as pro scouting director and now as assistant GM. The Padres courted him for their vacant GM position, and nearly hired him. The man is in demand. Might it be his time to shine?
The Yankees could choose to promote Cashman and move Eppler into the GM role, a situation similar to how Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein operate in Chicago. On a practical level that might not accomplish much. Epstein surely continues to call shots in Chicago, just as Ken Williams continues to call shots in Chicago even though Rick Hahn is the GM.
At the very least, this kind of nominal move could keep Eppler in New York. Given the work he’s done in the last few years and the reputation he’s established, that seems desirable. The Yankees have an obstacle, in that they already have a team president. While most of us have less than perfect impressions of Randy Levine, it’s not as though the Steinbrenners are just going to fire him because they want to move Cashman into that position.
The holiday weekend is over and it’s back to business as usual. These first days after a long weekend are always the worst. The Red Sox come to town for a three-game starting tonight as well, and those games are always a chore. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous thoughts following the off-day.
1. By far, the biggest storyline of September will be Masahiro Tanaka‘s rehab from his partially torn elbow ligament. His recent “general soreness” setback was not encouraging, but, based on what we know right now, it seems like a dead arm phase. He has worked out at Yankee Stadium the last few days and even played catch. I know it feels like Tommy John surgery is inevitable — it is really, it’s only a matter of time once the ligament tears even a little bit — but I strongly disagree with everyone who says Tanaka should have the surgery now just to get it over with. I know the procedure has a high success rate, but all the pitchers who have had complications during their rehabs from elbow reconstruction just within the last year (Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, Patrick Corbin, Brandon Beachy, Jonny Venters, etc.)are a reminder of how risky it still is. And besides, four (four!) doctors advised the Yankees and Tanaka to go the rehab route. Brian Cashman said Tanaka was personally examined by Dr. David Atlchek, Yankees team doctor Dr. Chris Ahmad, and Dodgers team doctor Dr. Neal ElAttrache during the injury conference call, and Jon Heyman reported the test results were also sent to Dr. James Andrews for consultation. When four (four!) of the leading doctors in the field tell you go with the rehab option, you go with the rehab option. Having the surgery against the recommendation of four doctors would have been beyond irresponsible. It would have been a fireable offense for whoever ordered it. Tanaka might end up having surgery because that’s just how elbows work. Pitchers break. But hopefully this “general soreness” is just a blip in the rehab and he’s able to make a start or two late in the season just so we can some chance to evaluate him heading into 2015.
2. I’m disappointed we are unlikely to see Jacob Lindgren this month but I get it. He’s thrown 80 innings this year, which is a ton for a slider-heavy reliever, and there is definite risk to adding a player to the 40-man roster before he is Rule 5 Draft eligible, especially since you’re only calling him up for a few weeks in September. I do wonder how much of this is related to the team’s place in the postseason race though. Would the Yankees have been more willing to bring him to help out these last few weeks if they were only, say, a game out of the second wildcard spot rather than four games back with four teams ahead of them? Lindgren made his first appearance with Double-A Trenton on August 6th, when the Yankees were only one game back of the second wildcard. He then threw 3.1 innings in his first three outings with the Thunder while the big league squad fell to four games back of a postseason spot. Lindgren then threw two innings in each of his next four appearances. Maybe that’s when the decision was made that he would not come up in September, so they moved forward with a plan to make sure he got all of his innings in before the end of the minor league season. Either way, I fully expect Lindgren to come to big league Spring Training next year with a chance to win a bullpen job. He’ll certainly make his MLB debut at some point in 2015. You don’t draft a reliever with your top pick unless you intend to get him to the show in a hurry.
3. As of this morning, the Yankees have 43 players on the 40-man roster when you include Alex Rodriguez (suspended) and both CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova (60-day DL). I count eight players who will come off the 40-man as free agents this winter (Chris Capuano, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki) and another five who can be easily cut loose (Matt Daley, David Huff, Josh Outman, Esmil Rogers, Zelous Wheeler), giving the team ten open spots heading into the winter. Tyler Austin is a lock to be added to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure while others like Branden Pinder, Nick Goody, Mark Montgomery, Mason Williams, and Danny Burawa are on the fence. I’d bet on at least three of those guys being protected, maybe even four. (Just don’t ask me which three or four.) Anyway, add those guys and those ten open spots are really five or six open spots. Calling up Lindgren and/or Rob Refsnyder for a month before they’re Rule 5 eligible would even further limit roster flexibility. Guys like Jose Campos, Slade Heathcott, Chase Whitley, Preston Claiborne, and Austin Romine could wind up getting the axe this winter just so the team can re-sign or replace Robertson, McCarthy, et al as it is. I’m not quite sure where this is heading, but the point is the Yankees are facing a real 40-man crunch this winter and I have a hard time seeing how it will improve without the unexpected unloading of a big money contract or three.
4. Yesterday ESPN stats guru Mark Simon posted some hard-hit ball data — I really wish this stuff was available publicly somewhere — and the Yankees ranked dead last in all of baseball in hard-hit ball rate for the month of August at 12.4%. That is hard-hit balls per at-bat, not balls in play, just to be clear. The Twins (!?) led baseball at 19.1% last month and the league average is somewhere around 15.2%. This is all based on human stringers watching every game and recording the data, so it is imperfect. It’s not HitFX data. Anyway, I dug through Simon’s archives and found that, as of August 4th, the Yankees had the 14th highest hard-hit ball rate this season at 15.3%, so basically league average. That number obviously came down last month, after the trade deadline. This matches up with the eye test, in my opinion. The Yankees as a team don’t see to hit the ball hard all that consistently, with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury the only notable exceptions. There are a ton of weak fly balls and five or six-hop ground balls every game. More than usual. When I look up and down the roster and see, say, Brian McCann with a .245 BABIP or Mark Teixeira with a .235 BABIP or Carlos Beltran with a .254 BABIP, it’s not surprising. It doesn’t seem like anyone on the roster is having a “bad luck” season. These guys just flat out are making crap contact and getting crap results as a result. That is totally subjective, of course, but Simon’s data does back up what my eyes are telling me. Unless these guys magically regain bat speed in the future, it’s difficult to believe their offensive performances will substantially improve based on the quality of the contact they’re making.
5. The Yankees have 17 home games left this season — the most in baseball, by the way — and I would put money on Derek Jeter starting all 17 of those games. Barring injury, of course. Maybe not all at shortstop, but in the lineup every single day. The team is fading out of the postseason race and their attention will shift to maximizing all things Jeter this month, especially profits. It’s just smart business. They’d be stupid not to do that. I know Jeter hasn’t been very good this year, especially these last few weeks, but holy crap there’s only a month left in his career. I have a very difficult time remembered the pre-Jeter years and I think the post-Jeter years will be weirder than the post-Mariano Rivera years. Jeter is the last tie to the dynasty years, teams that were a huge part of my formative year. You don’t forget that stuff and with Jeter gone, the page will be officially turned. It’s just … weird. I feel like all I’ve known is the Jeter era Yankees — I know I’m not the only one who feels like that — and that whole chapter of franchise history is about to close. Getting old sucks, man.
The Yankees were off yesterday for the third time in the last week. It’s not often that happens during the season outside of the All-Star break. For a team with an older roster and intentions of making a run at a postseason spot, a bunch of off-days bunched together in the middle of August might do them some good. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous thoughts.
1. In the last two games against the Rays this weekend, Joe Girardi went to Shawn Kelley in seventh inning fireman situations before giving the ball to Dellin Betances to start the eighth. Earlier in the season, we would have seen Betances come in to pitch out of the jam in the seventh before throwing the eighth as well. Maybe not in back-to-back games, but definitely in one of the two. Girardi has scaled back on Betances’ workload — the attempted three-inning outing against the Orioles last week was a bit of a special case because he had not pitched in five days and the Yankees were off the next day — using him for four or more outs only six times in 14 appearances since the All-Star break (17.2 innings). In his 14 appearances before the All-Star break, Betances was asked to record four or more outs ten times (19.1 innings). The plan might be to limit him to one-inning outings the rest of the season unless there are extenuating circumstances, like an upcoming off-day or a particularly long stretch of inactivity. Betances is up to 73 innings this year, the most of any full-time reliever in baseball — it’s also the most innings thrown by a Yankees reliever during the Girardi era, surpassing the 71.2 innings Joba Chamberlain threw in 2011 — and most of them have been stressful high-leverage innings. They have to be careful not to run Betances into the ground. The Yankees and Girardi are right to lighten up on him these next few weeks, and this past weekend might have been an indication of how the bullpen pieces will fall into place the rest of the way.
2. With that in mind, it was noticeable Adam Warren didn’t even warm up during the Tampa series. Kelley was the first and only guy up in those important seventh inning spots. Warren hasn’t pitched since his meltdown against the Orioles last Monday. He hasn’t been very good these last few weeks — 5.46 ERA and 4.06 FIP in 28 innings since June 1st — and maybe that outing against Baltimore was the final straw. The one that led to Girardi taking him out of important situations. That would be preferable to, say, Warren nursing an injury and not being available in general. If that is the case, that he is out of the Circle of Trust™ for the time being, it could open the door for Esmil Rogers to see some setup work whenever Kelley and/or Betances is unavailable. Rogers has pitched well during his brief stint in pinstripes and he has had success in a short relief role in the past — 3.06 ERA and 3.13 FIP in 44 appearances and 53 innings with the Indians in 2012 — which could be enough to land him some more responsibility. It’s amazing how the bullpen changes throughout the season. Every year, without fail. Kelley was the setup man, Warren the emerging relief ace, and Betances the great unknown in April. Now Betances is the shutdown relief ace, Kelley is the shaky seventh inning guy, and Warren is (temporarily?) untrustworthy. And we’re talking about Esmil Rogers pitching important innings.
3. Derek Jeter served as the DH both Saturday and Sunday and I think we’re going to see a bit more of him at DH in the coming weeks. Carlos Beltran returned to right field and Jeter has simply played a ton in the field this year. He’s started 102 of the team’s 122 games at shortstop and his recent slump — .237/.250/.322 (55 wRC+) with a 74.0% ground ball rate in August compared to .289/.340/.320 (86 wRC+) with a 60.5% ground ball rate in July — could be fatigue related. We are talking about a 40-year-old coming off a major ankle injury, remember. That doesn’t mean Jeter will be the full-time DH, but he might spend two or even three days a week there going forward. Beltran is no great shakes in the outfield, but Jacoby Ellsbury‘s range and the small Yankee Stadium right field make it easier to hide him. Especially since the Yankees (still) have a ground ball heavy pitching staff. Jeter at DH means Stephen Drew at short and Martin Prado at second, which is a tremendous double play combo defensively, as we saw over the weekend. The Yankees are not going to flat out take Jeter off short, not at this point, but giving him some more time at DH definitely improves the team. (It also gives them more time to evaluate Drew at short up close.)
4. I can’t imagine the Yankees will go through this coming offseason without trading a catcher. I don’t know who it will be, but they’ve reached the point where someone has to go. Brian McCann is locked in at the big league level and Gary Sanchez is ready to be bumped up to Triple-A Scranton. That leaves two spots (McCann’s backup, Sanchez’s caddy) for Frankie Cervelli, Austin Romine, and John Ryan Murphy. The tricky part is trading the “right” catcher, so to speak. Cervelli gets hurt all the time and Romine seems to have played his way out of the team’s long-term plans, which means they don’t have much trade value. McCann obviously isn’t going anywhere, leaving Sanchez and Murphy. I really like Murphy and think he’s on track to become a rock solid all-around catcher (not a star), so I would be hesitant to give him up, but Sanchez has a chance to become a true impact bat, something the Yankees desperately need. His defense needs work and even if he can’t catch in the long run, first base will open sooner rather than later. The club needs both pitching and offense help this winter, and unless some team is willing to give up more than expected for Cervelli or Romine, it makes the most sense to move Murphy. Teams will move mountains for young catchers who can actually catch, and potential impact bats like Sanchez are super valuable in this offense-challenged era.
5. By all accounts, the Yankees are a “major player” for Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo, who is sorting through offers and is expected to pick his new team relatively soon. They supposedly like him more as a second baseman than as an outfielder, which puts them in the minority. Either way, the Bombers have long-term openings at second and in right, so they could make it work either way. I absolutely do not think they need to go all out to sign him after missing out on other big time Cuban players like Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu — that’s the kind of logic that resulted in Kei Igawa back in the day — but I do think the Yankees should be in the business of aggressively acquiring assets, especially guys in the prime of their careers. Castillo is only 27 and the Bombers have a decided lack of prime-aged regulars. Blocking a prospect like, say, Rob Refsnyder at second or Austin in right is a non-factor in my opinion. The prospects (and Castillo!) have not proven anything, so the more options the Yankees give themselves, the more likely they are to land a bonafide Major League regular. If everyone works out and the club is left with a logjam, great! That’s not a problem. It’s an envious situation. I have no idea how good Castillo really is, but if the Yankees think he’s legit, then they should absolutely flex their financial muscles to bring him in. They went bonkers for international free agent amateurs last month. Now continue it with a more high-profile player to give the big league team more immediate help.