Position players reported to Spring Training today, but the day was all about Derek Jeter. He discussed his plan to retire following the season during a press conference this morning. You can watch the video right here if you haven’t seen it yet. Jeter said exactly what he wrote in his initial statement: things that used to come easy are a little more difficult, and he’s looking forward to starting the next chapter of his life. Here’s the rest from Tampa.
- As always, Chad Jennings has the day’s mound assignments. David Robertson, Matt Thornton, and David Phelps threw bullpen sessions while Manny Banuelos and Shawn Kelley were among those to face hitters in live batting practice. Adam Warren had been on the same schedule as Phelps, but he didn’t throw today and will instead throw live batting practice tomorrow. Seems like they are being lined up for some early Grapefruit League starts.
- From what I can tell, all the position players reported today with no issue. No visa holdups or anything like that. The first full squad workout is tomorrow but Eduardo Nunez was already out taking ground balls at third base. [Bryan Hoch]
- And, just in case you were wondering, Joe Girardi confirmed everyone has made it through Spring Training healthy so far. It has only been a week, but still. Health is good. [Jennings]
This is your open thread for the evening. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, plus the Olympics are still on as well. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.
As expected, Derek Jeter discussed his decision to retire following the 2014 season during a press conference in Tampa this morning. He said he wanted to make the announcement months ago, but people advised him to wait just to make sure he didn’t have any second thoughts. Also, the announcement was made on Facebook because Jeter wanted to draw attention to his Turn 2 Foundation. Here’s the video:
Three offseasons ago, just weeks after winning the World Series, the Cardinals let Albert Pujols walk as a free agent. They made a substantial offer but reportedly held the line at five years, so it was no surprise that he left when another club blew that offer out of the water. The Cardinals wanted Pujols back but on their terms and their terms only.
This past offseason, just weeks after missing the postseason for only the second time in the last 19 years, the Yankees let Robinson Cano walk as a free agent. Like St. Louis with Pujols, the Yankees made Cano a substantial offer but held firm, topping out at seven years and $175 million. When another team blew that offer out of the water, Robbie was gone. New York wanted him back, but again, only on their terms.
The Cardinals’ situation with Pujols and the Yankees’ situation with Cano were very similar and in more ways than the ones I just laid out. Not only did the two teams hold a hard line during talks with their homegrown star, but when that homegrown star left, both clubs turned to the same player to replace the lost offense: Carlos Beltran. St. Louis signed Beltran soon after Pujols left and plopped him in the middle of their order. The Yankees signed Beltran hours after Cano left and are counting on him to anchor their rebuilt lineup.
Beltran, who will turn 37 in April, is certainly no stranger to New York. He spent parts of seven seasons across town with the Mets and he has flirted with the Yankees on numerous occasions. Beltran famously offered to sign with the Bombers at a discount during the 2004-05 offseason, and he also gave them a chance to match the Cardinals’ offer three winters ago. The Yankees passed both times but decided now, with his best years almost certainly in the past, was the time to bring him. Cano’s departure was a big reason why.
With Brian McCann, the Yankees addressed a very specific short and long-term need behind the plate. Jacoby Ellsbury was signed mostly because he was the best non-Cano free agent on the market, but he gives the team a dynamic leadoff hitter who has been through the AL East wars and knows all about playing in a huge market. Beltran is sorta like a combination of the two. He’s a middle of the order bat like McCann but he’s also familiar with playing in an intense market with big expectations.
At the same time, Beltran is nearing the end of his career, so it’s tough to know exactly what to expect at this point. His defense has already declined to the point where he needs a late-inning replacement and his production against lefties has slipped as well, so these next three years will be interesting. I’ve said before that the signing gives me a Randy Johnson vibe, that the Yankees acquired the right player only nine years too late. I really hope that isn’t the case and considering how much money they sunk into him, the team is confident Beltran will remain a very good hitter for another few seasons.
“I look at the team, I look at our situation, the players we have and we have a pretty good chance,” said Beltran to Dan Martin yesterday. “Last year, I experienced being in the World Series with the Cardinals and it was a great feeling. Once you play there, you want to go there every year … Hopefully we can help this team win a championship. I know [Derek Jeter] has a lot of championships, but I don’t have [any]. Hopefully, I can win one.”
During his two years with the Cardinals, Beltran essentially matched Pujols’ offensive output with the Halos (128 vs. 130 OPS+) while doing a better job of staying on the field (296 vs. 252 games). I would be very surprised if Beltran hits anything like Cano these next few years, nevermind play a similar number of games. The Yankees don’t need him to do that though. They improved several lineup spots this winter and should have a deeper lineup overall. Beltran doesn’t have to be The Man for New York the way Cano was, but he does replace him as the team’s best all-around hitter and likely number three hitter. That’s a role Beltran is very familiar with.
There is nothing quite like the first few days of Spring Training, before position players even show up to camp. Pitchers aren’t doing much more than throwing in the bullpen or facing hitters during live batting practice, yet they all seem to look great and are poised for a big season. Just the other day Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told John Lott that Brandon Morrow “looks like a good, strong, starting, durable pitcher.” If that’s not a sign of early Spring Training optimism, nothing is.
The Yankees, of course, are no different. John Ryan Murphy (weird) told Andrew Marchand that Masahiro Tanaka was “very impressive” during his second bullpen session yesterday and that’s great. It doesn’t really mean anything though. Hitters will tell us how impressive Tanaka is once he gets into an actual game in a few weeks. But still, this is the time of year when everyone gets excited about everything and so far the team’s new high-priced right-hander looks as good as advertised.
Tanaka is not the only pitcher in camp who is something of an unknown. Not even close, really. In fact, I consider Michael Pineda an even bigger unknown after missing two years due to major shoulder surgery. At least Tanaka spent the last few seasons pitching against a reasonably high level of competition. Pineda has thrown two bullpen sessions since Spring Training opened last Friday — including 35 pitches on Monday — and he has looked great, because of course.
“I thought the ball was coming out easier [than last spring],” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings on Monday. “I know he’s had time to clean up a couple things too, mechanically, in this two-year span. He just looked like it came out free and easy to me. Didn’t look like he put a ton of effort into it, or that he was overthrowing it. … To me, it looked different than what I saw a couple years ago when he got hurt and was pitching in games. I’m anxious to see him obviously get in some games in the next 12 days or so.”
Pineda is the perfect example of how this time of year lends itself to getting excited about a player, no matter what hurdles they have to clear. He hasn’t thrown a Major League pitch in two years and he wasn’t exactly a finished product before he got hurt either. Remember how he needed to develop a changeup and was fly ball prone? Those issues didn’t disappear as he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. Pineda says he’s the same guy he was before the injury — “I’m feeling so strong. I’m feeling good power … I’m throwing the same. Mechanics the same. Everything is the same. All pitches are the same. I’m the same Michael Pineda,” he said to Jennings — which means there is still development to be done before he lives up to his potential.
And yet, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Pineda in 2014. He is finally healthy, first and foremost. He turned only 25 just last month. During that 2011 season with the Mariners, he became the only rookie pitcher in baseball history with a 9.0+ K/9 and sub-3.0 BB/9. That’s really impressive. Michael Pineda finally being healthy and in position to help the Yankees this year is exciting even if so many questions remain.
There will be plenty of time to worry and fret about Pineda and every other part of the Yankees over the next few months. Trust me, it’ll happen. Pineda will have back-to-back crappy starts at some point and we’ll all wonder if he’s breaking down again. The Yankees will lose like four games in a row and we’ll all worry things will never turn around. That’s just the nature of the beast. This time of year is different though. This is the time of year when everything is a reason to be excited, including Pineda’s early bullpen work.
The complex in Tampa is going to get much more crowded when position players officially report to Spring Training on Wednesday. Sure, a bunch of them are already in camp working out, but everyone will be there tomorrow. The Yankees will play their first exhibition game one week from today (vs. Florida State) and one week from tomorrow will be their first televised Grapefruit League game (vs. Pirates), so hooray for that. Here’s the latest from Tampa:
- Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. Ivan Nova threw live batting practice while CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka threw in the bullpen. Pretty light day otherwise.
- Joe Girardi told Jacoby Ellsbury he will indeed bat leadoff and play center field. No surprise there. Also, the broken foot Ellsbury suffered late last year and played on during the postseason is fully healthy and not expected to limit him in camp. [Dan Barbarisi, Nick Cafardo]
- Derek Jeter will talk about his decision to retire following the season during a press conference at 11:30am ET tomorrow, which will air on the YES Network.
Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing, plus the Olympics are still going on as well. Talk about that stuff, Spring Training, Jeter, or anything else right here. Have at it.
The whole “Robinson Cano is lazy because he doesn’t run out ground balls” thing has been beaten into the ground and I really hoped we would never hear about it again once he signed with the Mariners, but apparently that is not the case. Over the weekend, hitting coach Kevin Long declined to take the high road when asked about Robbie’s tendency to jog to first. From John Harper:
“If somebody told me I was a dog,’’ Long said here Sunday, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.’’
“We all talked to him,’’ Long said. “I’m pretty sure [Derek Jeter] talked to him a number of times. Even if you run at 80%, no one’s going to say anything. But when you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98% of the time, it creates a perception.”
“But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time. The reasons aren’t going to make sense. He might say his legs didn’t feel good, or he was playing every day and needed to save his energy. To me there was no acceptable answer.’’
Joe Girardi was asked about Long’s comments yesterday and the interview was ended abruptly by the team’s public relations people according to Brendan Kuty, so this is a thing now. Everyone is talking about the hitting coach trashing the former star player when they should be talking about bullpen sessions and batting practice and how great everyone looks. It’s an unnecessary distraction.
Regardless of how true any of this is — we all know Robbie doesn’t run hard to first — Long was wrong to talk about it publicly. Doesn’t matter that Cano is no longer on the team and frankly that only makes it worse in my opinion. This is like the Red Sox talking about Terry Francona’s use of pain medication after he was let go*. Criticizing a former player after he leaves town is the ultimate low blow.
* Joe thinks Dan Duquette’s comments about Roger Clemens entering the “twilight of his career” are a more appropriate comparison. I agree.
On Tuesday, new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon defended his new star and fired back at Long. From Jerry Crasnick:
“Last time I checked, I didn’t know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees,” McClendon told ESPN.com. “That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I’m sure Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He’s concerned with his team and what they’re doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.
“I’m a little surprised that Kevin Long is the spokesman for the New York Yankees. I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book (“Cage Rat”) proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting.”
The Yankees spent all winter talking about their “family” and the importance of having strong character guys in the clubhouse whenever they signed a new free agent. That shouldn’t stop at the players. Long is a high-profile member of the organization and he threw a former player — a former member of the “family” — under the bus on his way out of town. It was a classless move and everything the Yankees claim not to be. Dan Martin says Long has already reached out to Cano to offer an apology, but at this point the damage has been done. This became something when it should have stayed nothing.
The new Yankee Stadium has been open for five full seasons now, more than enough time to definitively say it is a hitter’s park, especially for left-handed hitters. The short porch in right is shorter than it was across the street, so we’ve seen plenty of balls that looked like routine fly outs go over the fence for the cheap homer. Anecdotally, I think the short porch has benefited the Yankees much more than it’s hurt them since 2009.
Because of that potential for the cheap homer, the Bombers have emphasized getting ground balls since the new park opened. The staff has gradually progressed from a 42.3% ground ball rate in 2009 to a 44.9% ground ball rate last year. Ground balls will again be a focus this year, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild has his staff focusing on the bottom of the zone early in camp. From Joel Sherman:
In bullpen sessions this year, pitching coach Larry Rothschild has introduced a technique he used in previous locales, but not with the Yankees — he has a yellow string that crosses the bottom of the strike zone and he actually is encouraging his pupils to hit the string.
Pounding the bottom of the zone should lead to more ground balls just because it’s tough to lift a ball at or below your knees, though the occasional golf shot is unavoidable. Whether this new drill actually leads to an increased grounder rate during the regular season remains to be seen, but hey, at least they’re trying.
In addition to an increased ground ball rate, emphasizing the bottom of the zone may also have a side effect: more called strikes. In a long but must read piece, Jon Roegele explained last month that the shape of the strike zone has changed during the PitchFX era. The zone is increasing in overall size but the corners are coming in while the bottom of the zone has expanded downward. Here are two heat maps from his post:
Grey means no change in the percentage of called strikes from 2008 (first full year of PitchFX) to 2013 while white means fewer called strikes and black means more called strikes. Again, the corners are coming in while the bottom of the zone gets bigger and bigger. You can click the image for a larger view, or, even better, click the link and read Roegele’s post for the entire analysis. It’s great stuff.
Anyway, Rothschild has emphasized the bottom of the zone this spring and it figures to help the Yankees both get ground balls and called strikes. Throwing strikes is hard though, especially to precise locations. It’s unlikely the entire pitching staff will suddenly start throwing everything right at the knees, but all it takes is one pitcher taking advantage of the bottom of the zone for this work to be worth it.
By their own admission, the Yankees are heading into the season with some serious question marks on the infield. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are both coming back from what amount to lost seasons while Brian Roberts has been battling injuries for almost a half-decade now. Kelly Johnson is a solid player but nothing more, yet he is the surest thing on the infield at the moment.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the infield was the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster. Jeter has been anchoring the infield (and the entire team, really) since 1996 and he’s had some truly great teammates over the years, so strong infield units are nothing new to New York. In fact, only five teams have had a 4+ WAR player at the four infield positions throughout baseball history, and a recent Yankees squad is one of them. Here’s the list:
|1||2009||New York Yankees||AL||Robinson Cano / Derek Jeter / Alex Rodriguez / Mark Teixeira|
|2||1983||Milwaukee Brewers||AL||Cecil Cooper / Jim Gantner / Paul Molitor / Robin Yount|
|3||1977||Texas Rangers||AL||Bert Campaneris / Mike Hargrove / Toby Harrah / Bump Wills|
|4||1913||Philadelphia Athletics||AL||Home Run Baker / Jack Barry / Eddie Collins / Stuffy McInnis|
|5||1912||Philadelphia Athletics||AL||Home Run Baker / Jack Barry / Eddie Collins / Stuffy McInnis|
Fifty-nine teams have boasted three 4+ WAR players on a single infield (most recently the 2013 Rangers), but only five teams have managed four such players. That’s it. It’s happened once in the last 30 years and three times in the last century. The Yankees, of course, had that one infield full of 4+ WAR players just five years ago, during their 2009 World Championship season. Let’s look back at their performances.
1B Mark Teixeira – .292/.383/.565 (141 OPS+), 43 2B, 39 HR, 5.1 WAR
Teixeira’s first year in pinstripes was his best by a not small margin, as he led the league in both homers and runs driven in (122). He finished second to Joe Mauer in the AL MVP voting but, in reality, he wasn’t even the best player on the Yankees’ infield. We’ll get to that in a bit. Following his typically slow start to the year — he was sitting on a .191/.328/.418 batting line as late as May 12th — Teixeira was a monster all summer, hitting .315/.396/.597 with 32 homers in the team’s final 129 games of the season. He just straight mashed that year. What a beast.
2B Robinson Cano – .320/.352/.520 (121 OPS+), 48 2B, 25 HR, 4.5 WAR
Man, remember how awful Robbie was in 2008? He hit .271/.305/.410 (86 OPS+) and was worth 0.2 WAR during that miserable campaign, which landed him in plenty of trade rumors. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about all the Cano for Matt Kemp talk. My favorite part of that was signing then-free agent Orlando Hudson to take over at second. That would have been a disaster given the player Cano developed into. That 2009 season was Robbie’s first step towards joining the game’s elite, but on a rate basis, he was the least productive player on his own infield. Bananas.
SS Derek Jeter – .334/.406/.465 (125 OPS+), 27 2B , 18 HR, 30 SB, 6.6 WAR
Remember when I said Teixeira was not even the best player on the infield? That’s because Jeter was. The Cap’n was a monster from the leadoff spot, hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases (30-for-35!), and, believe it or not, playing solid defense. The various metrics all say Jeter was above-average with the glove that year (+3 DRS, +6.3 UZR, +4 Total Zone), and while you can’t trust one season’s worth of defensive stats, I definitely remember believing he was playing better defense that year based on what I saw. Know how I always say you need unexpected contributions if you want to win the World Series? Jeter’s defense was an unexpected contribution in 2009. His bat was pretty awesome as well. What a season that was.
3B Alex Rodriguez – .286/.402/.532 (138 OPS+), 17 2B, 30 HR, 14 SB, 4.2 WAR
When the 2009 campaign opened, Cody Ransom was the starting third baseman. A-Rod was scheduled to miss the first few weeks of the season due to hip surgery, a surgery that kept him out until early-May. He famously hit a three-run homer on the very first pitch he saw in his first game back, then proceeded to hit (almost) like vintage A-Rod for the remainder of the summer. He and Teixeira were the most devastating 3-4 combination in the game for this one year. Rodriguez also managed to extend his record streak of consecutive seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI to twelve thanks to a two-homer, seven-run batted inning in the final game of the regular season.
* * *
Know what is really amazing about this infield? These four guys combined to play 594 of 648 possible games (91.7%) even though A-Rod missed the start of the year with the hip issue. They were awesome when they were on the field and they were on the field pretty much the entire season. The Yankees didn’t just have the best infield in baseball back in 2009, they legitimately had one of the best infield units in baseball history. It was the centerpiece of the championship team — everyone else was part of the supporting cast.
The Orioles have finally made a move to improve their team. According to multiple reports, Baltimore has signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a fiour-year contract worth approximately $50M. They’ll also have to forfeit the 17th overall pick. The Yankees were never connected to Jimenez but he was often mentioned as a potential fifth starter candidate should be remain unsigned for another few weeks and his asking price drop even more. That was always a long shot though. · (68) ·
Twenty-four years ago today, the Yankees signed Mariano Rivera as a 20-year-old amateur free agent out of Panama. He received a bonus somewhere around $2,500, so by today’s standards he was old and very cheap for an international player. Man, I’m really going to miss Mo. Here’s a recap of the day in Tampa:
- As usual, Chad Jennings has the day’s bullpen and batting practice groups. Michael Pineda threw a bullpen session while Adam Warren, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and several others faced hitters in live batting practice.
- Pineda is open to pitching out of the bullpen and said he is motivated to return this year because he wants to play with Derek Jeter before he retires. “When I heard I was traded to the Yankees, I was thinking, ‘I get to play with Mariano Rivera, with Jeter,’” he said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted.” [Dan Barbarisi, Buster Olney]
- Brian Roberts said the Yankees reached out to him even before Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners, but he didn’t expect anything to come of it because he assumed they’d re-sign Cano. Brendan Ryan, meanwhile, thinks he might be used off the bench to replace Jeter for defense in the late innings. The team hasn’t said anything about that though. [Jorge Castillo, Anthony Rieber]
- And finally, former head trainer Gene
MichaelMonahan was at the complex today and will spend Spring Training with the team. [Meredith Marakovits]
This is your nightly open thread. The Olympics and college basketball are the only sports on television tonight, so it’s a good night to catch up on some sleep or House of Cards or whatever. Talk about anything and everything right here. Go nuts.