Brian McCann wins Silver Slugger at catcher

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Silver Slugger awards, which are given to the best offensive players at each position, were announced Thursday night. Brian McCann took home Silver Slugger for AL catcher. It’s the sixth of his career and first in pinstripes. He was the only Yankees player to take home a Silver Slugger. Here are all the winners.

McCann, 31, hit .232/.320/.437 (105 wRC+) with a career-high 26 home runs this season, his second in New York. He led all catchers in dingers and his 94 RBI were one behind Buster Posey for the catcher lead, which is pretty much all it takes to win a Silver Slugger. The winners are selected by coaches and managers around the league.

Alex Rodriguez, who lost out to Prince Fielder for the Comeback Player of the Year award, lost out to Kendrys Morales for the Silver Slugger. Aside from A-Rod and McCann, the Yankees didn’t have any good Silver Slugger candidates. I guess Mark Teixeira, but, you know, Miguel Cabrera exists.

The four major awards — MVP, Cy Young, Manager and Rookie of the Year — will be announced next week, but no Yankees are among the finalists. No Yankees won a Gold Glove either. So I guess McCann’s Silver Slugger is the only award the Yankees will take home this year. No biggie.

Update: Forgot Andrew Miller won the Mariano Rivera Award as the league’s best reliever. So two awards this year.

Thursday Night Open Thread

The GM Meetings ended today and it was a pretty busy week. The Yankees made two trades — one significant, one not so significant — and there was an awful lot of rumors and hot stove chatter to come out of Boca Raton. That’s the way things are now, I guess. Every little nugget gets posted somewhere. Still another three months until Spring Training, folks.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Bills and Jets are the Thursday NFL game (that should be fun, eh?), plus all five local basketball and hockey teams are in action. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Brian Cashman on starting Greg Bird in Triple-A: “That’s the optimal”

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

I wouldn’t call it a problem, but one of the biggest questions heading into the 2016 season is how Greg Bird fits the roster. The Yankees have Mark Teixeira at first base, Alex Rodriguez at DH, and another DH candidate in Carlos Beltran. Bird is a first baseman (and DH) only, and his lack of versatility doesn’t fit the bench.

“That’s the optimal,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff and Bryan Hoch when asked about Bird starting next season in Triple-A. “Not for Bird, but optimally period, that would be the best. Currently, Tex is the better player … If Alex went down, we could swing Carlos over from right field to DH … Currently (Bird is) blocked by some pretty significant players. It creates a great dynamic.”

That is basically CashmanSpeak for “we just have to wait for Teixeira or A-Rod to get hurt.” He can’t come out and say it, but I’m sure that’s what the Yankees are thinking. Stash Bird in Triple-A for a few weeks, let him work mostly on his defense, then call him up when the need inevitably rises. Teixeira and Rodriguez aren’t all that durable these days, after all.

Bird, 23, hit .291/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven home runs in 46 games with the Yankees this past season after taking over at first base following Teixeira injury. He really struggled against lefties in September and was passable at first base, but not an asset. Bird is very clearly the heir apparent to Teixeira, whose eight-year contract expires next winter.

Like I said, this isn’t a problem. Have too many good players is a good thing. Stashing Bird in Triple-A is a short-term measure, that’s all. It’s temporary. We’ll see him again at some point next year. It’s inevitable.

Rosenthal: D’Backs among teams to inquire about Andrew Miller

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Earlier this week we heard the Yankees are “shopping everyone,” including Andrew Miller, and now Ken Rosenthal reports the Diamondbacks are among the teams to inquire about the lefty closer. Talks are in the extremely preliminary phases — Rosenthal says the two sides haven’t exchanged names yet.

The D’Backs are a weird operation. They’ve been .500 or worse the last four years and they’ve made moves that send the message they’re both going for it (adding Jeremy Hellickson) and rebuilding (trading Miguel Montero, etc). Arizona reportedly tried hard to land Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline this season, so I guess their interest in Miller is not surprising.

Rosenthal mentions the D’Backs have some young starters and infielders who could interest the Yankees, though that is his own speculation. That makes sense though, right? The Yankees could use young arms — like every team! — and there’s an opening at second base, at least until Rob Refsnyder proves otherwise. Those positions figure to be the points of emphasis this winter.

Looking over Arizona’s 40-man roster, I’m not sure which young starters fit aside from righty Chase Anderson (4.30 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 2015) and lefty Robbie Ray (3.52 ERA and 3.53 FIP). Righty Archie Bradley is the big name but he threw only 65 ineffective innings this past season due to a shoulder strain. The Yankees are all about buying low on talented guys, but a pitcher with shoulder trouble is a different animal than a guy underperforming.

The only two infielders who stand out are third baseman Jake Lamb and second baseman/third baseman Brandon Drury. Lamb is a personal favorite, I think that dude is going to mash long-term (92 wRC+ in 107 games in 2015), and Drury’s an interesting guy with great minor league stats and a scouting report that doesn’t quite match up. He’s Refsnyderian, in a way.

Jon Heyman says the Yankees recently asked one team for three MLB ready young players in exchange for Miller — that seems like a perfectly reasonable opening ask to me, starting negotiating from there — which makes sense. They don’t want prospects. They want players who can help right away. The D’Backs have some interesting young starters and infielders — what about Ray plus Lamb or Drury? is that in the ballpark for an elite closer signed to setup man dollars for the next three years? — and I could see at least the makings of a match there.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this offseason, both in terms of roster spots and payroll, and the common phrase so far has been “open to anything.” We’ve heard Brian Cashman say that a few times already. We saw firsthand how dynamic the Miller-Dellin Betances tandem can be, though I definitely think there is some merit to moving Miller. He threw more sliders (54.1%) than fastballs (45.9%) in 2015 and missed a month with a forearm problem. That’s a red flag.

Miller does not have a no-trade clause and literally every team in baseball is looking to add an elite reliever this winter, even the Royals. The D’Backs are one possible trade partner but far from the only one. With Darren O’Day representing the best reliever on the free agent market, the Yankees have pretty great leverage. They can ask a lot for Miller because there are few alternatives out there.

The New Old Backup Catcher [2015 Season Review]


Last offseason the Yankees reached a breaking point with their catchers. Brian McCann was locked into the starting job, and they had three viable candidates for the backup spot: Francisco Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, and Austin Romine. Cervelli was the incumbent, Murphy was as big league ready as he was going to get, and Romine was out of minor league options. Something had to give.

The Yankees acted early in the offseason, trading Cervelli to the Pirates for Justin Wilson one year ago today. And with that trade, they gave Murphy a rather large vote of confidence. Cervelli was quite productive as a backup, at least when healthy, and keeping him for depth would have been completely understandable. Instead, they opted to make a change, used Cervelli to bolster the bullpen, and handed the reins over to Murphy.

A Competition, But Not Really

Although Murphy was obviously the favorite, the Yankees held one of those rigged competitions in Spring Training to determine the backup catcher. Murphy and Romine were the headliners, and others like Gary Sanchez and Eddy Rodriguez were said to be in the mix too. Murphy appeared in 19 Grapefruit League games and hit .238/.304/.310. Romine appeared in 17 games and hit .171/.216/.200.

Ask the Yankees and they’ll tell you those combined 83 plate appearances were used to determine their backup catcher for Opening Day. But we all knew it was going to be Murphy. He jumped Romine on the depth chart, so much so that when Cervelli got hurt last year, it was Murphy who got the call, not Romine even though he spent almost the entire 2013 season as Chris Stewart’s backup. Murphy “won” the job, then Romine was put on waivers and was dropped from the 40-man roster.

A First Half to Forget

The life of a young backup catcher is not easy, especially when you’re stuck behind a veteran like McCann. You’re used to playing everyday and now all of a sudden you’re playing once or twice a week. The adjustment from starter to part-timer can be difficult. Being a bench player ain’t easy, you know.

Murphy got his first start of the new season in the third game, catching CC Sabathia and facing lefty Daniel Norris. He went 2-for-4 with two doubles in the loss. His next start came two days later, after McCann caught that 19-inning game against the Red Sox, and that was the start of Murphy’s first half swoon.

From that game through the end of May, Murphy went 8-for-39 (.205) in 19 games, though he did record three doubles and a triple. June was better — 9-for-29 (.310) with a double in 12 games — and after limited time in early-July, Murphy cruised into the All-Star break hitting .247/.286/.325 (63 wRC+) in 29 games and 85 plate appearances. Meh.

A Second Half to Remember

After the All-Star break, the Yankees seemed to make a concerted effort to pick their spots with Murphy. He essentially became a platoon bat, starting against most left-handers to give McCann a rest. Five of his first seven starts of the second half were against southpaws, and the Yankees were so committed to this that Murphy even started back-to-back games against lefties on July 31st and August 1st. McCann actually sat two straight games.

The reward? Murphy went 11-for-27 (.407) with two doubles and a home run in those seven starts. He struck out only four times. The home run was a big one too. It was a go-ahead three-run home run over the high wall in right-center field at Target Field. Naturally, it came off a lefty, Glen Perkins.

Murphy continued to start against most lefties in the second half and continued to hit. He went deep twice in the span of three starts in early-September, first taking Henry Owens deep, then getting Wei-Yin Chen. After going 9-for-33 (.273) with those two homers in September, Murphy finished the second half with a .308/.368/.487 (134 wRC+) batting line in 25 games and 87 plate appearances.

As the team the Yankees really struggled against lefties down the stretch. McCann actually had a decent year against southpaws (108 wRC+), so Joe Girardi looked for ways to get him and Murphy into the lineup at the same time. With Alex Rodriguez tying up the DH spot, the Yankees had Murphy work out at first base at the very end of the season. He’s a former infielder — a third baseman, mostly — so it made sense to try it.

Murphy never did get into a game at first base, but the fact the team was considering him at the position showed how much they wanted his bat in the lineup against left-handers. He was behind the plate when the Yankees clinched their first postseason berth in two years, then stole the show during the postgame celebration.

There was talk the Yankees may start Murphy over McCann against the left-handed Dallas Keuchel in the wildcard game, but that didn’t happen. The point stands though. The Yankees viewed Murphy as a weapon against lefties.

All told, the 24-year-old Murphy hit .277/.327/.406 (99 wRC+) with three home runs in 172 plate appearances across 67 games. That includes a .266/.314/.456 (108 wRC+) line in 86 plate appearances against lefties and a decent .289/.341/.355 (91 wRC+) line in 86 plate appearances against righties. Among the 54 catchers to bat at least 150 times in 2015, Murphy ranked 19th with that 99 wRC+. Pretty cool for a backup.

Defense Not First

When the Yankees drafted Murphy back in 2009, he was relatively new to catching, so his first few seasons of pro ball were spent learning the position. He made some tremendous strides from 2011-14, enough that the Yankees were comfortable with him at the MLB level. They do value catcher defense highly, after all.

The numbers say Murphy was an average-ish defensive catcher this season. He threw out eight of 29 attempted base-stealers, or 28%, which is basically league average. Both StatCorner and Baseball Prospectus say he was an average pitch-framer. His rate of 13.8 innings per passed pitch was actually much worse than the league average (20.9), though he once did this:

John Ryan Murphy block

Average throw-out rate plus average framing plus below-average blocking equals a bit below average overall? I guess so. Defensive stats are sketchy, especially for catchers. I thought Murphy was good defender based on the eye test, though what do I know. He certainly wasn’t a liability. I think we can agree on that. As far as backup catchers go, it’s really hard to find fault with anything Murphy did in 2015.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Murphy is a trade chip this offseason. I know that because the Yankees traded him to the Twins for Aaron Hicks yesterday. I figured he would be back as the backup catcher but a trade was never out of the question, obviously. So long, Serial Killer John Ryan Murphy. It’s been real.

Thoughts following the John Ryan Murphy for Aaron Hicks trade

This ball was caught. (Presswire)
This ball was caught. (Presswire)

The Yankees made their first significant move of the offseason yesterday afternoon, trading John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for Aaron Hicks. It came the day before the one year anniversary of the Francisco CervelliJustin Wilson swap, which was the first significant move of last offseason. Anyway, I have some thoughts to share.

1. I think this was a really smart trade for the Yankees, and overall it was a good trade for both the Yankees and Twins. Know how I know that? Fans of both teams hate it. I’ve seen plenty of Yankees fans complain about giving up a potential starting catcher for a fourth outfielder — just click the RAB comments! — and plenty of Twins fans complain about trading a guy with star caliber tools for a backup catcher. You’ve got to give something to get something, you know? I’m a huge Murphy fan, irrationally so, but Brian McCann is signed for another three years. Murphy’s value to the Yankees was limited to backup catcher who maybe takes over as the starter in four years, when he’s one year away from free agency. Rather than sit on him in that low impact role, the Yankees used Murphy to get another young player who fit the roster better. It’s a fair trade in terms of player value in my opinion and the deal really helps both teams. “I wasn’t going to trade John Ryan Murphy for an old guy,” said Brian Cashman to Billy Witz yesterday. Amen.

2. Following the trade, Cashman told reporters the Yankees view Hicks as “an everyday player” — for what it’s worth, Cashman also called Murphy an “everyday catcher” — which could easily lead you to believe another move is in the works, potentially a Brett Gardner trade. “It provides us flexibility as we move forward to do some things but that’s not why I did the trade,” said Cashman to Erik Boland. I don’t know if adding Hicks makes a Gardner trade more likely, but, if nothing else, the Yankees are now better equipped to replace Gardner. Hicks can at least provide high end defense and crush left-handed pitchers, so the Yankees could pair him with lefty hitting Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams or Ben Gamel in a dirt cheap platoon, and maybe squeeze something like +2 WAR out of them. There’s always a chance Hicks, who will spend all of next season at 26, blossoms into something more too. Carlos Gomez is as tooled up as anyone and he didn’t start to figure it out until age 26, and didn’t really break out until age 27. Sometimes it takes time. Like Gomez, Hicks has the kind of natural ability clubs are willing to be patient with.

3. As for trading Gardner, I don’t love the idea but I’m certainly not opposed to it. It depends on the return, like any other trade. A good young pitcher or a second baseman makes the most sense. Prospects? Eh, they don’t really do anything for me. I would be opposed to trading Gardner if the main goal is to clear up payroll space, however. That wouldn’t sit well with me. For starters, Gardner is not exactly expensive, averaging $13M a year for the next three years. That’s Melky Cabrera and Michael Bourn money these days. Also, they’re the Yankees. Trading one of your best players to rework payroll when the payroll hasn’t significantly increased in ten years would be a really bad look. I mean, geez. The team’s payroll was $208.3M in 2005 and $217.8M in 2015. The average MLB payroll climbed from $73.3M in 2005 to $125.4M in 2015. So yeah. It’s one thing to not raise payroll commensurate with league-wide inflation. It’s another to start trading good players to make sure payroll continues to remain steady when you’re a huge market club with a six-year-old ballpark. I don’t think the Yankees would salary dump Gardner, but if part of the thinking is clearing money to make other moves, that’s a problem. The Yankees shouldn’t be pinching pennies after getting a postseason gate.

4. Even if the Yankees keep Gardner, Hicks figures to see an awful lot of playing time next season. Chris Young appeared in 140 games (!) this past season and batted 356 times. Garrett Jones, Heathcott, and Williams combined for another 119 plate appearances as outfielders. Joe Girardi said he plans to find a way to keep his players fresher and more productive next season, which I’m sure means extra rest, so Hicks will play a ton. The job description is fourth outfielder, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Hicks bats 400+ times next year. One injury and he’s an everyday guy.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

5. Does this trade happen if Gary Sanchez doesn’t mash this summer and continue mashing in the Arizona Fall League? (Coincidentally, Sanchez hit his seventh AzFL homer yesterday literally moments after the Murphy-Hicks trade was announced.) At this time last year Sanchez was coming off a good but not great year in Double-A, and questions about his defense and maturity persisted. His glovework took a bit of a step forward this summer and his maturity improved tremendously according to various reports. Sanchez began to take his career more seriously. (His wife had a kid late last year. I can’t help but wonder how much becoming a father led to the improved maturity.) If all of that doesn’t happen, the Yankees might not view him as a viable big league option — “I think Gary Sanchez can play in the big leagues this year. Whether he will or not we’ll have to wait and see,” said Cashman to Boland yesterday — making them more hesitant to part with Murphy. Either way, Sanchez made some significant progress this year and is on the cusp of a big league job. The talent in the farm system is starting to catch up to the MLB roster, allowing the team to make moves like Murphy-for-Hicks.

6. The backup catcher situation will be pretty interesting to watch the rest of the offseason. Something tells me we’re headed for another Spring Training competition, though this one may be more of a true competition than the ones we’ve seen the last few years. (Like last year, when it was Murphy’s job to lose but others were involved for show.) The Yankees do love strong defensive catchers, and maybe Sanchez has reached an acceptable level for them, but I don’t think they’d give him the job outright. Austin Romine could hang around longer than expected — he figured to be a 40-man roster casualty this offseason but now may stick around at least until Spring Training, in case there’s an injury — and the Yankees could look to sign a veteran backstop to a minor league contract for depth. Someone like Carlos Corporan or Jeff Mathis could be a fit. (Don’t laugh. Mathis is a great defender and has a reputation for being a top notch works with pitchers/leadership dude. There are worse veterans to have working with young pitchers in Triple-A.) Sanchez stepping into Murphy’s role as the backup catcher who starts almost exclusively against left-handed pitchers would be pretty damn awesome. I’m not sure that is the team’s plan right now. There’s still basically an entire offseason remaining and a lot can happen. It wouldn’t shock me if Sanchez started next season in Triple-A and Romine or someone else was backing up McCann.

7. As part of their youth movement over the last calendar year, the Yankees have targeted players with high-end ability who seemed to fall out of favor with their former teams. Hicks, Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, and Dustin Ackley all fit into that group. The Twins got tired of waiting for Hicks’ tools to turn into production and they had Byron Buxton ready to step into center field, so he was made available to fill a need behind the plate. The Yankees gave up some pretty talented players to get those guys, but almost all of those trades were made using players at a position of depth. The only exception is Shane Greene, and, well, you’ve got to give up something that’ll hurt to get a 25-year-old shortstop these days. They had the catching depth to deal Murphy, had the outfield and bullpen depth to deal Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez, and re-signing Chase Headley made Martin Prado expendable. This the Yankees version of rebuilding. It’s done on the fly. They look for guys with talent and ability who need a change of scenery, and so far it’s worth pretty well. Gregorius and Eovaldi were positives this summer and the early returns on Ackley were good. Hicks is next in line. Who else joins him this offseason?

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Well, the Yankees made their first notable move of the offseason today, trading John Ryan Murphy for Aaron Hicks. It’s tough to not see this as part of a larger series of moves, right? A Brett Gardner trade or something like that? I guess we’ll find out soon enough. I dug up a defensive highlight reel of Hicks from 2013. Couldn’t find anything more recent or anything that included offense. Sorry.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are in action. Otherwise you’re on your own for entertainment. Have at it.