Archive for Musings
I honestly did not expect it to happen, but over the weekend the Yankees agreed to a long-term contract extension with outfielder Brett Gardner. The four-year deal kicks in next season and can keep him in pinstripes through potentially 2019. The Yankees paid market rate but they kept their homegrown player and avoided a potential free agent bidding war after the season.
After news of the deal leaked, Brian Cashman confirmed to reporters that the team’s no extensions policy was dead. It had been dead for a while, but it wasn’t until now that the club actually managed to sign a player long-term. They tried to ink Russell Martin, Hiroki Kuroda, and Robinson Cano to extensions before they hit the open market within the last two years, but were unsuccessful each time. Only Kuroda re-signed with the team as a free agent.
Hammering out the extension with Gardner was another sign the Yankees have started to change the way they operate these last few months. The extension policy was trashed, changes were made to the player development system, and the international market was embraced. Yes, the team will pass on Aledmys Diaz, but they showed more interest in him than they ever did Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. They also went hard after Masahiro Tanaka and are planning a massive international spending spree this summer.
Those are all signs of progress and it’s just the stuff we know about too. Who knows what else is going on behind the scenes. I think the Yankees have been slow to adapt in recent years and not just with this stuff either — they’ve yet to embrace dynamic ticket pricing and fan caravan events for example, stuff the rest of the league has been doing for years. The front office and ownership have changed their team building philosphies though, and not a moment too soon either. Gardner’s deal is the latest and greatest example.
The Yankees will introduce Masahiro Tanaka at a press conference this afternoon and then pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training on Friday, so the offseason is dangerously close to an end. Here are some thoughts as we wait for the 2014 season to get going.
1. At first, I thought it was pretty weird Alex Rodriguez dropped his various lawsuits and accepted his suspension over the weekend, but it makes more sense now that I think about it. First and foremost, A-Rod wanted to avoid having to testify under oath, which he already did once by storming out of his arbitration hearing. I know he denied everything on Mike Francesa’s show a few weeks ago, but doing it under oath is a different matter entirely. I’m sure Alex hopes to get back into baseball one day — I don’t know how realistic that is at this point, either as player or coach or broadcaster or whatever — and the whole scorched Earth approach isn’t conducive to returning to the game. The move caught me by surprise and it seems like Rodriguez simply came to his senses a few weeks too late.
2. Know how there are usually a ton of off-days in April? That isn’t the case this year. The Yankees play 13 straight games and 19 games in 20 days to start this season — ten of their first 19 games will either be indoors or in a park with a retractable roof (Houston, Toronto, Tampa) — so they’re going to need their fifth starter right out of the chute. The schedule doesn’t allow them to hide whoever wins the job until the end of the month or anything like that. I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, necessarily, because all those off-days they should get in April will be spread out during the other months. It just means that whoever wins the fifth starter’s job has to be ready to go as soon as the regular season begins. There’s no grace period at the end of Spring Training.
3. As of right now, there are three bullpen spots up for grabs in camp, assuming either David Phelps or Adam Warren steps in as the long man. I’m interested to see if the Yankees use one of those spots on a second left-hander (Cesar Cabral?) because while carrying one would be rather useful with guys like David Ortiz and Chris Davis in the division, I think there’s a need to take the best relievers regardless of handedness. If the bullpen was a little stronger — let’s face it, Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton are solid but not exactly shutdown relievers — it would be easier to squeeze that second southpaw in there. The Yankees don’t really have enough quality depth right now to get super specialized with bullpen roles.
4. My annual Preseason Top 30 Prospects List comes out on Thursday and the thing that stood out to me the most while writing it was all the turnover. Sixteen (!) players from last year’s list did not make this year’s list due to a variety of a reasons. Graduated to MLB, traded, released, poor performance, injury, whatever. More than half the players are new to the list and that’s pretty mind-blowing. They Yankees had three first round picks in last summer’s draft and a bunch of young international guys had strong stateside debuts last year, so that helped fill in the gaps, but it’s still crazy to see that much turnover in one year. It’s not a bad thing either, the team needed some change down on the farm.
5. Speaking of the Top 30, one prospect I am really looking forward to following this summer is third baseman Miguel Andujar. I just didn’t realize how good he actually is. The kid mashed in the Rookie Gulf Coast League last summer (.323/.368/.496 while repeating the level) and he has just about every tool other speed, plus he doesn’t turn 19 until next month. The Yankees will probably hold him back in Extended Spring Training before assigning him to Short Season Staten Island when the season starts in June, but there’s some serious breakout potential there. Andujar, who signed for $775k a few years ago, can do almost everything on the field and it might not be long before he follows Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez as an internationally signed position player who becomes the team’s top prospect.
The Yankees have a policy of not negotiating a new contract until the old one expires, except when they don’t. We first heard about this “policy” in the spring of 2007, when Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada entered the final years of their contracts. Not wanting to sign two older players while they each still had a year left on their current deals, Brian Cashman spoke of this policy.
It was probably a line that he regrets.
Cashman had to tap dance around the line that following winter, when he signed Robinson Cano to an extension. True, Cano’s contract was technically up, since he was still in his pre-free-agency years. But it was still an extension before it became necessary.
It was also one of the smartest moves Cashman has made. With the two team options the Yankees moved Cano’s free agency date from 2012 to 2014. They also paid him a reasonable $15 million per year. So why don’t the Yankees do this with other players?
(You can think about this another way: if Cano had become a free agent after 2011, he might not have gotten a 10-year deal at $24 million per year. Perhaps the Yankees could have signed him, as a 29-year-old, to a Teixeira-like eight years and $180 million.)
One answer to that question: the Yankees haven’t really had any players worth signing to an extension since Cano. David Robertson and Brett Gardner are the only ones who come to mind, but they’ve done fine with those two going year-to-year. Really, no superstars have come up through the Yankees system in quite some time.
This week at ESPN NY, Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand have covered the Yankees’ thin system. What they cover is mostly the first whammy: the lack of cost-controlled talent. Developing even three starters during a five-year period can greatly reduce a team’s needs in free agency. The Yankees failures in development have cost them dearly, almost a half billion this winter alone.
There is another aspect, less considered, that hurts the Yankees in the long-term. This week the Braves signed Freddie Freeman to an eight-year, $135 million contract. A $16.875 million AAV might seem lean for a superstar, and it’s true that Freeman hasn’t totally proven himself one. But the Braves like enough of what they’ve seen to lock him down long term.
Freeman doesn’t turn 25 until September.
Because they’ve drafted and developed well, the Braves opened themselves to this opportunity. They can sign a 24-year-old to an eight-year deal at a $17 million AAV, while other teams scramble to sign free agents for prices much higher than that. We can look right to the Yankees and Mark Teixeira as a counter example.
In 2008 the Yankees signed Teixeira, entering his age-29 season, to an eight-year, $180 million contract. The Yankees faced competition when bidding on Teixeira, notably from the Angels and the Red Sox. The winning prize was paying a guy $180 million for his age-29 through age-36 seasons.
The Braves, on the other hand, competed with no one and will pay $135 million for Freeman’s age-24 through age-31 seasons. Yes, they’re paying a $17 million AAV for a guy who would probably make $5.75 million in 2014. But they bet on Freeman, buying out not only his three arbitration, but five of his free-agent years.
Because the Yankees haven’t developed any of their own talent, they have no opportunities for deals of this ilk. Yes, those deals might cost a team more in the short term. But long term who is better off: the Braves, who will pay Freeman during his prime years, or the Yankees, who will pay Brian McCann for his declining years?
With so much money circulating around the game, deals like Freeman’s could become much more common. If you’re the Angels, wouldn’t you offer Mike Trout 10/300 once he becomes arbitration eligible? Yes, it will cost you in the short-term, but you’d get him for his age-23 through age-32 seasons, rather than waiting for him to hit free agency at age 26 and bidding against other teams.
Yes, the farm system can help by producing quality players who will cost little for up to six years. But if it can produce superstars, it can provide long-term savings. That’s what the Yankees are missing now, and this winter we’ve seen the consequences.
In the span of about four hours yesterday, we went from wondering where Masahiro Tanaka will sign to the Yankees announcing his new seven-year contract. It was a fun morning, no doubt about it. The contract is worth $155M and includes an opt-out after the fourth year. Add the $20M release fee on top of that for a total commitment of $175M. Here are some thoughts following the deal.
1. Might as well just start with this to get it out of the way: I think the contract is more than reasonable and probably a bargain when you consider what other high-end 25-year-olds would get on the open market. No, he’s never pitched in MLB, but it’s not like they plucked him out of a beer league. The contract is expensive, don’t get me wrong, but as Hal Steinbrenner said yesterday, “market value is what one or more teams are willing to pay today.” Several other clubs were reportedly willing to pay Tanaka upwards of $20M+ annually, so the Yankees weren’t out in their own little world with this offer. It’s comforting knowing other teams believed in his talent enough to offer similar dollars. I’d feel differently if Tanaka was a few years older but the team is (theoretically) buying almost all of his peak years since he just turned 25 in November. If he pitches like prime Dan Haren (the most common comp) from ages 25-28 and then opts out, it will have been a brilliant signing. It’s the next contract, the one that comes after the opt-out and involves buying a whole bunch of decline years, that will be the really scary one.
2. Was it not amazing how the whole process was kept quiet? We didn’t hear a peep about negotiations between the Yankees and Tanaka and certainly nothing about an offer or details of their face-to-face meeting. Nothing at all. It was like that for most teams too, with the Cubs being the notable exception. Theo Epstein’s regime always seems to leak everything to media. It happened with the Red Sox and it’s happening again in Chicago. Agent Casey Close wanted things kept quiet and managed to pull it off even though he was dealing with some of the game’s largest markets and reporters in two countries. Scott Boras is still the king of all agents, but Close has really shined these last 14 months with the Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke deals.
3. I did this exercise a few weeks ago and it’s probably worth revisiting: how many games would the Yankees win in 2014 as presently constructed? That means Tanaka in the rotation but question marks in the bullpen and on the infield. We can agree they’re in the 85-89 win range right now, right? Maybe it’s more like 82-86 or 87-91, but the point is they are right on the postseason bubble. Each added win is so incredibly important to the Yankees right now — both financially and in terms of their #brand — because the value of jumping from a bubble team to a legit contender is so very high, the highest point on the so-called win curve. Going from 80 wins to 82 wins or 98 wins to 100 wins means little in the grand scheme of things, but going from 86 to 88 or 89 to 91 is huge. We can’t lump the Yankees under the general contract analysis/dollars-per-WAR umbrella for a number of reasons, one being their payroll. One win (or one WAR) isn’t worth $5M or $7M or whatever it is these days to the Yankees. It’s worth much more because of how much they depend on being competitive and where they presently sit on that win curve. If the Yankees are a true talent 88-win team right now (reasonable estimate, no?), adding players to get that 89th and 90th and 91st win will be the most crucial additions of the winter.
4. Now, that said, the Yankees snuffed out any lingering chance of staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold with the Tanaka signing yesterday, so they should go all out and continue adding payroll. I have their payroll at roughly $204M right now (last update), which is about $10M less than their average Opening Day payroll over the last three years. If they’re willing to go up that high again (nevermind meeting last year’s $228.1M payroll), there’s still enough room to add two pretty good pieces to the team. It’s probably not enough for Stephen Drew but that $10M might buy them Luis Ayala and a discounted Grant Balfour, for example. Or maybe Fernando Rodney (ewww) and Jeff Baker. Brian Cashman said the team is done with their “heavy lifting” yesterday, but spending that last $10M to fill out the margins of the roster really isn’t “heavy lifting,” is it? The bullpen is the easiest place upgrade right now and that last $10M could give the team those extra two or three wins to put them over the top.
5. This is probably just a coincidence, but the total outlay for Tanaka was identical to the team’s final offer to Robinson Cano. Perhaps they had budgeted 7/175 for Cano and then another ~7/150 for Tanaka coming into the offseason, but when Robbie made it clear he was going to the Mariners, they switched gears and gave the ~7/150 to Jacoby Ellsbury and spent the 7/175 to Tanaka. If that’s the case and they had re-signed Cano, would they have a) missed out on Tanaka because their contract offer would have been capped at $130M (plus the $20M release fee on top of that), or b) bid something like $75M under the old posting system and offered him a $75M contract (the Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzka commitments were split almost right down the middle, half posting fee and half contract)? This offseason has been so fascinating because it has played out so unexpectedly. If you had told me in like, September that the Yankees would lose Cano to the Mariners and commit $175M to Tanaka, I would have thought you were completely crazy.
6. There’s a very real chance Tanaka will be the youngest player on the team’s Opening Day roster, perhaps by as much as eight or nine months. There are only 14 players younger than him on the 40-man roster right now, and I think the only ones with a realistic chance to make the team out of camp are Cesar Cabral, Michael Pineda, Jose Ramirez, and I guess Zoilo Almonte if Ichiro Suzuki is traded. Austin Romine or J.R. Murphy could make the team if Frankie Cervelli gets hurt, but that’s all. (Tanaka’s younger than Dellin Betances … by seven months!) I don’t really know why I brought this up. I just thought it was interesting. The Yankees haven’t had much luck with young players in recent years but I didn’t think a 25-year-old free agent would wind up becoming their youngest player. Goes to show how important Tanaka is to the future of the franchise. He’s a crucial piece as they finish transitioning out of the Derek Jeter/late-90s dynasty era.
7. This isn’t all that important but I am curious to see what number Tanaka wears. He wore 18 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles and that, along with 11, are considered the traditional “ace numbers” in Japan. Those numbers are already taken though (Brett Gardner and Hiroki Kuroda). Tanaka did wear 15 and 17 in the last two World Baseball Classics but he’s definitely not getting the former — it’s retired for Thurman Munson. Seventeen is open though. Know what number would be cool for Tanaka? 21. It’ll never happen though.
Just nine days remain in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. Chances are we’ll know the winner even before that, since nine days is the deadline by which he must sign on the dotted line. He could come to an agreement within a week.
Speculation has run rampant, but we’ve had little in the way of actual reports about Tanaka. It seems as though his agent, Casey Close, has done a good job of preventing leaks from MLB teams. A few “reports out of Japan” have circulated, but since the original “reports out of Japan” indicated Tanaka wouldn’t be posted at all, it’s easy enough to dismiss those.
It does seem as though most media outlets agree that the Yankees and the Dodgers hold the best shots of signing Tanaka. Early in the process the Mariners looked like a good bet, and the Diamondbacks continue to linger. But right now, it would be a surprise to see him sign anywhere in between the two coasts.
At this moment the Yankees could be in an advantageous position. Ken Rosenthal reported this morning that the Dodgers attention is now on their own ace, Clayton Kershaw. With arbitration figures due on Friday, the Dodgers are eager to lock up Kershaw, likely to a record deal.
This situation could present the Yankees with an opportunity: make Tanaka an offer in mold of the one they made CC Sabathia in 2008. No, it shouldn’t be six years and $140 million, but it should certainly be a bold and aggressive offer, one Tanaka would have trouble rejecting. It shouldn’t be their best offer, either; as we saw with Sabahtia, there has to be at least a little upward flexibility.
Given that Tanaka has nine days to sign, regardless of an offer, he could simply defer a decision until after the Kershaw situation becomes clearer. But that shouldn’t stop the Yankees from stepping in and making an aggressive move while the opposition focuses elsewhere. Strike now.
The 2014 Hall of Fame class was announced yesterday and three all-time greats were elected to Cooperstown: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. The Yankees tried to sign Maddux as a free agent back the 1992-93 offseason, but he took less money to go to the Braves. New York wound up signing Jimmy Key instead, then Key beat Maddux in the decisive Game Six of the 1996 World Series. That was fun. Here are some random thoughts.
1. Mike Mussina is the first Hall of Fame candidate I am really invested in. (Jorge Posada will be the next when he hits the ballot in three years.) I love Don Mattingly and Bernie Williams as much as anyone, but I never did think of them as Cooperstown-worthy. I do think Moose is deserving and I’m really hoping he gets inducted at some point, even if he will almost certainly wear an Orioles hat on his plaque. Needless to say, I was disappointing to see him appear on only 20.3% of the ballots yesterday. That’s a lot of ground to make up and the ballot isn’t going to unclog anytime soon — Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas will be replaced by first-timers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz next year. It’s going to be a few years before Mussina even gets close to the 75% requirement.
2. While we’re on the subject of the Hall of Fame: how many future Hall of Famers are on the Yankees’ 40-man roster right now? Derek Jeter is a lock and I think Ichiro Suzuki is as well. Alex Rodriguez has all the requisite stats but he’ll never get in because of the performance-enhancing drug stuff. His admission in 2009 sealed his fate. Carlos Beltran has a very strong Hall of Fame case and these next three years could help push him over the top. CC Sabathia was on the Hall of Fame path for most of his career, but if last season is the new normal for him, he’ll probably end up on the outside looking in. Alfonso Soriano and Mark Teixeira are Hall of Very Good players at best. Aside from Jeter, Ichiro, Beltran, and Sabathia, the Yankee with the best Hall of Fame chances might be Brian McCann. He’s only 29 (30 next month), so if he takes advantage of the short right field porch these next five (possibly six) years and holds up physically for another year or two after that, he could wind up with around 300 homers and 45 fWAR. Those would be top five and top 15 marks, respectively, among catchers all-time. McCann has a ways to go but the Cooperstown foundation is in place.
3. Now that the Hall of Fame announcement has passed, the A-Rod ruling could be handed down at any moment. I suppose MLB may have asked arbitrator Frederic Horowitz to hold off until next week, after the new Hall of Famers do their interviews and all that, but he isn’t under any obligation to follow along. Still, I think the ruling will be announced Monday at the earliest. (Now watch it be this afternoon.) Whenever it comes, it will be good to finally get that out of the way, regardless of whether the suspension is overturned or upheld or reduced or whatever. I’m sicking of hearing about it and waiting around for it. I just want the Yankees to move forward with their offseason — it’s clear they’re waiting for the ruling before making more moves — and get this roster settled. Especially the infield. It worries the heck out of me.
4. The bullpen worries the heck out of me as well, but I am more confident in the team’s internal relief options than their infield options. By a lot. Unless the Yankees sign about three relievers these next few weeks, they’re going to have some bullpen competition in Spring Training and I’m curious to see how much of a chance right-hander Jose Ramirez will be given to win a job. He threw 9.1 innings in camp last year (three starts and one relief appearance) but he had not yet pitched above High Class-A. Ramirez chucked 42.1 innings in Double-A and another 31.1 innings at Triple-A last summer, so he has some upper level experience. The problem is that he’s been completely unable to stay healthy as a starter throughout his career — he’s had arm trouble in the past, and last year he missed time due to fatigue and an oblique problem — so much so that it might be time to stick him in the bullpen and let him air it out. Ramirez will turn 24 in two weeks and he’s got a really big fastball with a knockout changeup and a good slider. There’s a chance he can be an impact reliever as soon as this year if given the opportunity.
The Yankees are handcuffed. It’s not as bad as feared earlier this off-season. They managed to add a number of players who will help in 2014 and beyond. But at the moment, despite their stated need for a right-handed infield bat, the Yankees will not make a move. The reason, once you break it down, is fairly obvious.
On the roster the Yankees have 11 position players under contract, though only one catcher. The backup catcher brings the total position players to 12, one short of the typical 13 they carry during the regular season. It might seem as though they have room for one more, but this projection doesn’t account for the man in limbo, Alex Rodriguez. Given the roster numbers, the Yankees really can’t do anything until they know his fate.
At this point, a complete overturning of the suspension is the best-case scenario. It didn’t always feel that way; with the shackles of Plan 189 looming, a full-season suspension seemed like the only way the Yankees could spend this off-season. Yet they’ve spent plenty of money before knowing how Fredic Horowitz will rule in the A-Rod matter. If he overturns the suspension completely, or even reduces it to 50 games, the Yankees will soar past the $189 million luxury tax limit without making a single other move.
“I think if people think there’s some sort of benefit by losing that talent, I mean, you can’t replace it. It’s not like, all right, well, Alex is gone. If he winds up getting suspended and it’s upheld, how do you replace that? It’s not easy.
“It’s not like, all right, we’ll take that money and go in this direction. I think … our fan base saw when we lost significant players at various positions, it was not easy to plug holes because the talent just doesn’t exist.”
No infielder on the market comes close to even an aged and injury-prone A-Rod. Even Yankees fans who hate the man’s guts should be rooting for him to stand at third base on Opening Day. We root for the laundry, right? Mark Reynolds or Jeff Baker might successfully play a role on the 2014 team with A-Rod suspended, but neither will match him in terms of overall production. Since they are role players, chances are they’ll remain on the board until the decision. Even if not, missing out on them is no huge loss.
True, the Yankees also seem handcuffed by the Masahiro Tanaka situation, but that’s another post for another day (or maybe today, who knows). That handcuffing seems a bit more damaging for a number of reasons, including the implications on spending. But with A-Rod, a complete overturn or even 50 games is a pure win for the 2014 team, while a full-season suspension leave them looking for an inferior right-handed-hitting infielder.
I was planning to write one of these thoughts posts this week anyway, but at least yesterday’s activity gives me a decent title. The Yankees agreed to sign both second baseman Brian Roberts (one-year, $2M) and left-hander Matt Thornton (two years, $7M), two moves that put a small dent in a lengthy offseason wish list. They still need a third baseman, a starting pitcher, another reliever (preferably two), and general depth. Here are some nuggets for the time being.
1. The Roberts signing really doesn’t accomplish much in my opinion. You can’t count on him to stay healthy and even if he does manage to stay healthy, there’s no guarantee he’ll be any good. Gotta hope his .284/.327/.441 (109 wRC+) line against left-handers this past season was legit and not just noise from a 110 plate appearance sample because his .249/.312/.392 (90 wRC+) overall line was pretty mediocre. Everyone loves those high-risk, high-reward signings, but I think Roberts is better described as low-risk, low-reward. The Yankees are said to be seeking more infield help and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure they actually added any yesterday.
2. Thornton, on the other hand, is a real nice pickup as long as Joe Girardi uses him as a true lefty specialist and doesn’t force him out there against righties. He was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball once upon a time but that is no longer the case. Thornton has been better than Boone Logan against same-side hitters these last few years (doesn’t strike out as many but also gives up fewer extra-base hits) and the Yankees landed him for less than half the total cost. Heck, they got him for less than J.P. Howell (two years, $11.5M). Everyone wants a lefty reliever who can handle both lefties and righties, but there aren’t many of those guys around. As long as Girardi keeps him away from righties, Thornton should be very useful.
3. At some point soon, the Yankees will need to open 40-man roster spots for Roberts, Thornton, and the still not officially signed Carlos Beltran. Vernon Wells and David Huff stand out as obvious candidates to be taken off the roster, but after them? I have no idea. Ramon Flores and Nik Turley could end up going, but the latter would surely get plucked off waivers since he has minor league options remaining and is both left-handed and breathing. It seems unlikely Eduardo Nunez will go because the team isn’t in the position to give away middle infield depth. Maybe they’re working on dumping Ichiro Suzuki for some salary relief, which would also clear a spot. Either way, the Yankees have a serious roster crunch at the moment.
4. Grant Balfour (two years, $15M with the Orioles) and Jose Veras (one year, $4M with the Cubs) signed with new teams yesterday and both guys made a ton of sense for the Yankees, especially on those terms. Those are pretty sweet contracts, more than reasonable in this market. Both guys were handed the closer’s role by their new teams though, so this isn’t a simple “they should have matched the offers” situation. David Robertson should get the ninth inning next season for reasons Joe outlined over the weekend, but damn, I would have loved to see the Yankees add Balfour and/or Veras on those deals.
5. The Yankees have committed just under $231M to five outfielders over the last calendar year (Ichiro, Wells, Alfonso Soriano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Beltran), which is mind-blowing. Only one of them is younger than 35 and only one (Beltran) feels like a lock to post an .800+ OPS next year as well. Sure, Soriano could do it, but he needed that huge finish with New York to finish with a .791 OPS this past season. He turns 38 next month and, as Ichiro and David Justice showed, big finishes following a midseason trade don’t always carry over to the next season. The point of this is … I dunno. I guess that the team has spent a ton of money on outfield help over the last year and didn’t get a whole lot of offensive help in return.
6. This crossed my mind the other day and I figured I’d bring it up here: how long will it be before another homegrown Yankee tops a .900 OPS while playing a full season/qualifying for the batting title? The last five guys to do it were Robinson Cano (2010 and 2012), Jorge Posada (2003 and 2007), Derek Jeter (1999 and 2006), Bernie Williams (1996-2002), and Don Mattingly (1984-1987), so it’s not exactly a common occurrence. Gary Sanchez is a possibility but the kid is 21 with only 23 games of experience above Single-A. Hard to pin it on him. There’s no obvious candidate. Could it be another ten years (the gap between Mattingly and Bernie) before it happens again? Fifteen? Five?
It appears that Phil Hughes and Johan Santana simply couldn’t be in the Bronx at the same time. In 2007 the Yankees declined to include Hughes in a trade for the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner. Now that they’re both free agents, could Hughes and Santana effectively make that swap? Hughes has already signed with the Twins. According to ESPN NY, the Yankees have interest in signing Santana.
Any potential deal would come towards the end of the off-season, as the Yankees fill out their non-roster invitee list. Santana might be a household name, but at this point he doesn’t warrant a guaranteed contract. After missing all of last season, and all of 2011, with shoulder injuries. Those have been the kiss of death for so many pitchers that any amount of guaranteed money could be essentially flushed down the toilet. The only way to justify a rotation spot for Santana is to watch him first-hand in spring training.
While shoulder injuries spell trouble for all pitchers, Santana at least has one mitigating factor: he’s pitched reasonably well with diminished velocity. Through his first 16 starts in 2011 he threw 98 innings to a 2.76 ERA, holding opponents to a .618 OPS. While the narrative is that he fell apart after he threw the first no-hitter in Mets history, he did have quite a few good starts after that (12 ER in 30 IP) before completely falling apart in July. It’s not much of a stretch to speculate that his shoulder started becoming a problem right around that time.
The Yankees aren’t the only team with interest in a potential Santana resurgence. Both his former teams, the Twins and Mets, have expressed interest, as have the Rays, Orioles, Royals, Brewers, and Pirates. With that many teams in the hunt, there’s a non-zero chance that one team makes the crazy move of giving Santana a guaranteed contract. His agent, Peter Greenberg, has indicated that if a team does offer a guarantee, Santana could sign now. Absent one, he’ll throw in January for interested teams. At that point teams will get a better idea, and one could certainly offer a guaranteed contract.
The Johan Santana who dazzled the league for years with his devastating changeup is long gone. He started his fade in 2009, and by 2011 he was completely gone. This is a different Santana, one dealing with physical limitations. Yet he has shown, for at least half a season in 2011, that he has the ability to succeed even with diminished stuff. A second shoulder surgery certainly changes things, but Santana is still worth a peek, at least. I wouldn’t bet on the Yankees coming away with him, but in a search for low-cost, potentially valuable assets, they could do a lot worse.
A big part of being a Yankee fan is buying, hook, line and sinker, into the concept of mystique and aura, so mocked by Curt Schilling during the 2001 World Series. We expect dramatic victories, World Series titles and every player to thank the good Lord for making him a Yankee. We expect the Yanks to pay what it takes to retain their players, and we expect those players to embrace their time with the Yankees and stay in the Bronx to earn their spots in Monument Park and, for some, a plaque in Cooperstown. So what happens when they leave?
When Robinson Cano jetted for Seattle, of all places, it was more than a little bit of a shock to fans of the Bombers. Here was a player in his prime with multiple All-Star appearances, 1649 hits, 204 home runs, and a .309/.355/.504 slash line, all at the ripe old age of 31. The Yanks offered him seven years and were willing to pay him $25 million a year with an annual salary higher than everyone but A-Rod‘s. But it wasn’t enough, and now Robbie is Seattle’s, and Seattle’s problems are Robbie’s.
As the reactions from Robbie’s departures have come in, we’ve heard about disputes with Joe Girardi over lineup philosophy, and now, CC Sabathia has joined the fray with comments that stick to the heart of the Yankee legend. In comments to this weekend, CC spoke about the power of the pinstripes. “Just a player like that, putting on the pinstripes, and being able to play your whole career in New York means something – to me, obviously. It didn’t mean that much to him,” CC said. “It’s a difficult choice being a free agent. And he made a tough choice. I know he’s happy with his decision, and his family’s happy. So that’s good.”
Over the years, plenty of Yankee legends have had the opportunity to leave, and most didn’t. They earned their dollars because George Steinbrenner was willing to pay and because they wanted to stay. Derek Jeter hasn’t put himself into a bidding war, and Jorge Posada stuck around. Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, to differing degrees, both nearly left the Bronx but backed away from Boston at the last minute. Andy Pettitte left only to return while Reggie Jackson left never to return. Some players have walked away to avoid donning another uniform when their tenures were over, by their choice or the Yanks’, but I can’t think of someone else who walked away mid-career for another team who outbid the Yanks.
For Robbie, the choice was purely dominated by dollars, and I won’t begrudge him that. While the Yanks were willing to give him more per year, they didn’t want to give a middle infielder entering his age 31 season a ten-year commitment. Cano, meanwhile, figured that the guaranteed money today — the $65 million difference — is something he wouldn’t make up at the end of the seven-year deal the Yanks offered him. He didn’t want to gamble against his own age-related decline, and in today’s world where baseball teams are flush with cash, that’s certainly his prerogative and a fine choice.
But where it hurts is with that mystique and aura. It’s something fans buy into far more deeply than many players do, and it’s a stark reminder of the business of the game when a fan favorite and pinstripe native leaves. Maybe Cano didn’t think the Yanks during his career would ever be more than Derek’s team. Maybe Cano saw ten years of executive office upheaval, various team-building approaches and just one World Series win and simply decided there was nothing particularly compelling keeping him around that didn’t have a lofty price tag. Maybe we all overrate mystique and aura anyway. It hooks the fans, but what does it mean to the players anyway?
Without Robbie, Yankee life will go on. Brian Cashman says he’s disappointed, but he’s not $65 million worth of disappointed. The post-Robbie era will feature a Yankee team with a new look and a new approach. For nine years, Cano was the next great Yankee bound for Monument Park, and now he’s just another guy on the hapless Mariners. It may not feel good now, but it’s all part of the game, mystique, aura and free agency.