2014 Season Review: The Manager

Joe Girardi
(Chris Carlson/AP)

Joe Girardi is a good manager. Figure I might as well get that out of the way. He seems to be a dividing force among Yankees fans. You either think he’s in the top 5 managers or in the bottom 5.*

*Yes, I know there are people who think he’s average, but it’s hard to be vocal about averageness, so the extremes, as per usual, pervade.

Here is the thing with Joe Girardi: if you think he’s in the bottom 5 managers, you feel he performed poorly in 2014. If you think he’s in the top 5, you feel he again performed well with a not-so-good roster.

Never one to back down from an unwinnable argument, here is the case for Joe Girardi’s greatness as a manager.

He has little patience for idiocy

After each game, Girardi has no choice but to sit in front of reporters for the postgame press conference. But he doesn’t have to like it, and oftentimes he shows exactly how thrilled he is.

This is obviously a personal thing. I know a few fans who don’t like when Girardi snipes at reporters who ask dumb questions. But I don’t see why. If reporters ask dumb questions, they should get dumb answers.

Yes, I understand that it’s tough to ask fresh, original questions 162 times a year. But it’s also tough to sit up there and listen to the same old, “what were you thinking?” sleep-inducers. Reporters have all game to think about an original question. It’s not that difficult to come up with just one.

So here’s applauding Girardi for, at least sometimes, not tolerating these kinds of questions. He’s no Mike Mussina in that regard — miss that guy — but with Derek Jeter gone at least there will be one guy in the Yankees clubhouse unwilling to constantly tolerate dumb questions.

He manages a quality bullpen

Again, we might find people who contend with the idea that Joe Girardi manages a fine bullpen. They’ll point to instances where he brought in a clearly inferior reliever, when he should have brought in Betances.

On this point, unlike the one above, I won’t concede much. Through the years it has become clear that Girardi puts his relievers in a position to succeed.

What does that mean, exactly?

1) He settles guys into roles. We might decry managers pigeonholing guys into roles like closer, 8th inning, 7th inning. It seems inflexible. But if players feel comfortable knowing they play a specific role, they might perform better.

2) He knows when guys need a break. You can’t keep calling on the same guys day in and day out. Girardi seems to know pretty well when his guys need a breather.

3) At the same time, he remains as aggressive with his usage as is responsible and reasonable.

For the last point, Betances is a great example. Girardi used him as much as possible early in the season, while knowing when to back off before getting him hurt or losing his effectiveness.

Heading into the season it didn’t appear that the Yankees had the strongest bullpen. They’d lost the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and didn’t do much to strengthen it over the off-season (signed Matt Thornton and that’s about it). Even though he needed the bullpen extensively, they still performed relatively well.

He gets the call right

This comes from baseballsavant.com’s replay tool, which is simply awesome. Their other tools are excellent as well.

MLB ChallengeJoe Girardi Challenge
On the left is the MLB average rate for manager challenges overturned. On the right is Joe Girardi’s rate. If you need hard numbers, he got the call overturned 82.14 percent of the time, while the average manager got it right 47.65 percent of the time.

He outmanages expectations

If a team outperforms its Pythagorean record, is that a reflection of the manager’s work? In isolated incidents, no, there are plenty of factors that can play into a team winning more or fewer games than their run differential indicates. But when it happens year after year, with the manager being the only constant? That’s another story.

In the last two seasons, given a roster that averaged 641.5 runs, against the AL average of 689.5, Giradi managed to beat the team’s negative run differential and win 13 games more than expected. If that happens in one season, maybe it’s a fluke. If it happens two in a row, both with similar conditions of poor offense and a patchwork pitching staff, the manager can start to take at least a little credit.

One question that came to mind: do teams with good pitching and poor offenses naturally out-perform their Pythagorean records in this low run environment? The answer seems to be no.

Tampa Bay, a team that allowed fewer runs than the Yankees, had a higher Pythagorean record than them, yet underperformed that number, winning only 77 vs a projection of 79.

Atlanta, which allowed under 600 runs, outperformed their Pythagorean record by one win.

Miami, which was close to New York with a -29 run differential, underperformed their Pythagorean by a win.

Cincinnati, with a -17 run differential and only 612 runs allowed, underperformed their Pythagorean by three wins.

San Diego is the closest to a team outperforming their Pythagorean in the same way as the Yankees, with plus-two wins.

The Yankees were the only team with a negative run differential to finish with a winning record — in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014 only the Cardinals, darlings of the league, outperformed their Pythagorean by as many runs as the Yankees did. No team matched their six wins over expectations in 2013.

Again, this trend (or, phenomenon) can’t be 100 percent credited to the manager. But Girardi does deserve a share of the credit. We know that managers can outperform run expectancy tables. It stands to reason, then, that they can scale that and outperform win expectancy tables.

Love him or hate him, Girardi is under contract for the next three seasons. Given how he’s performed since taking the job in 2008, he’s probably going to last those three seasons.

Guess it’s fortunate that he’s a good manager, eh?

Prado begins baseball workouts following appendectomy, taking grounders all over infield


Tentative starting third baseman Martin Prado has resumed baseball workouts after having an emergency appendectomy in September, he told Brendan Kuty at a charity event on Wednesday. Prado has been working out since October 20th — he had the season-ending appendectomy on September 16th — and he has been taking ground balls all over the infield in preparation for 2015.

“I’ve always been doing that. It’s not something new,” said Prado when asked about taking ground balls at all different positions in the offseason. “I just put myself in a spot where, whatever you need from me, I’ll be there. I can’t lock in with one spot.”

Prado, 31, hit .316/.336/.541 (146 wRC+) with seven homers in 37 games with the Yankees this past season after hitting .270/.317/.370 (89 wRC+) with five homers in 106 games with the Diamondbacks. He played mostly second base with New York but also saw time at third and in both outfield corners. Prado has played everywhere in his career but he’s best at second and third these days.

Prado’s versatility gives the Yankees a lot of flexibility and not just in games — he allows them to pursue either a second or third baseman this offseason. They can focus on getting the best deal knowing Prado can play the other position. I like him most at second and hope the Yankees can find a real — meaning not replacement level (or worse!) — third baseman this winter. Either way, it’s good Prado’s back to working out following the appendectomy.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Everth Cabrera


The non-tender deadline came and went on Tuesday, and all told a total of 32 new free agents hit the market, including Slade Heathcott, Jose Campos, and David Huff. Most of those 32 players are fringy Quad-A types or bench players who were slated to make too much money through arbitration. That’s the case every year. The non-tender deadline is more exciting in our heads than in reality.

Anyway, one of the most interesting players non-tendered earlier this week is shortstop Everth Cabrera, who was cut loose by the Padres. He’s interesting only because he’s still relatively young (turned 28 last month), he once led the NL in stolen bases (44 in 48 attempts in 2012), and because he’s a shortstop (the Yankees need a shortstop). When someone like Cabrera hits a market in which the best available shortstops are Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jed Lowrie, yeah he’s worth investigating. Let’s see if he makes sense for the Yankees.

Offense, If That’s What You Want To Call It

Cabrera’s backstory is pretty interesting. He’s one of only 23 players in history from Nicaragua — only Marvin Bernard has more career plate appearances among Nicaraguan-born players — and the Padres originally acquired him from the Rockies in the 2008 Rule 5 Draft. He stuck too. San Diego gave Cabrera 438 plate appearances as a 22-year-old in 2009 even though he had only four career games above Low Class-A — all four at High-A, so he essentially jumped from Low-A to MLB — and the results were actually pretty good all things considered: .255/.342/.361 (95 wRC+) with 25 steals.

Since he stuck as a Rule 5 pick and the Padres controlled his rights, they took advantage and had Cabrera spend most of the 2010-11 seasons in the minors for more seasoning. He didn’t return to the big leagues for good until 2012. They were pretty patient with him. Here’s what Cabrera has done in his three full seasons since returning to MLB:

2012 449 .246 .324 .324 87 .336 24.5% 9.6% 44 (92%) 102 47
2013 435 .283 .355 .381 114 .337 15.9% 9.4% 37 (76%) 90 169
2014 391 .232 .272 .300 65 .294 22.0% 5.1% 18 (69%) 59 84
TOTAL 1,275 .254 .319 .335 89 .323 20.8% 8.2% 99 (80%) 84 103

The 2013 season went pretty well — Cabrera was San Diego’s token All-Star* that year — but 2012 and 2014 were pretty bad. Cabrera is a switch-hitter who hasn’t done a whole lot against right-handed pitchers, meaning he wouldn’t even be on the heavy side of the platoon. He has zero power — he’s hit 21 homers in 3,522 career plate appearances between MLB and the minors — but that’s not his game, he’s a speedy leadoff type who steals bases, and he’s been quite good at stealing bases.

In fact, Cabrera has been one of the game’s most valuable base-runners over the last three years. That’s not just stealing bases either, I’m talking about going first-to-third on a single, scoring from first on a double, advancing on wild pitches, the whole nine. FanGraphs’ base-running stats say he’s been worth 16.0 runs on the bases since 2012, tenth most among the 223 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances during that time. He’s right behind noted base-runner Elvis Andrus (16.4 base-running runs) in 800 fewer plate appearances. Running the bases isn’t the most valuable thing in the world — 16.0 runs is about a win and half spread across three years — but it is Cabrera’s elite skill.

Everth’s best year at the plate came when he cut his strikeout rate by about one-third, though his swing rates on pitches both in and out of the zone were right in line with his career averages. His contact rates — 92.9% in the zone and 71.0% out of the zone — were much higher than his career averages (89.8% and 92.9%, respectively), however. That success could be attributed to some swing adjustments he made in Spring Training. Here are some details from Corey Brock back in March 2013:

“It’s more of a shorter, direct path to the ball,” manager Bud Black said of Cabrera. “It’s trying to keep the ball out of the air. He needs to work on line drive, down. That’s his challenge.”

“He and [hitting coach Phil Plantier] have been working real hard on his swing this winter,” Black said. “Everth spent a lot of time in Los Angeles working at a performance center. Then he would drive down to Phil’s house and work in his backyard.”

According to Brock, the focus of the work was on Cabrera’s right-handed swing, and it showed in his performance against left-handed pitchers that year (169 wRC+). That success didn’t carry over into 2014 and his production from the left side of the plate has been trending downward as well. There is some tangible evidence suggesting the improved contact rates in 2013 weren’t a fluke, though it’s unclear why Cabrera was unable to repeat that success this past season.

For what it’s worth, Cabrera has done a very good job of slapping the ball on the ground and using his speed the last three years — his 65.6% ground ball rate since 2012 is the second highest in baseball behind Ben Revere (64.3%). (Derek Jeter is third at 65.5%, by the way.) That’s his game. It hasn’t turned into results outside of 2013, however. You have to really squint your eyes and hope Cabrera suddenly improves his contract rates again to see him as even a league-average hitter going forward. The base-running is nice, but that alone isn’t enough to keep a player in the lineup.

In The Field

Cabrera has spent very limited time at second base (80 innings) and third base (two innings) in his MLB career. He did start his career in the minors at second base before sliding over to shortstop full-time once he got to the Padres, where he’s been ever since. Here’s what the four main defensive systems say about Everth’s work in the field these last three years:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2012 915.1 -4 -5.0 -11 7.0
2013 847.2 -3 -1.1 4 0.7
2014 804.0 -3 -4.8 1 1.4
TOTAL 2,567.0 -10 -10.9 -6 9.1

Mostly negative. I wouldn’t get too caught up in the exact numbers. The consensus seems to be that Cabrera was a bit below-average in the field these last three years. That’s enough detail for me. The only scouting report I can find about Cabrera’s defense comes from way back in 2009, when Baseball America ranked him as the 24th best prospect in San Diego’s system. “Cabrera … seamlessly shifted across the bag during the second half of 2008, showing solid range and arm strength at short,” said the write-up. That’s all we’ve got.

As sketchy as they are, the defensive stats are much more recent than Baseball America’s scouting report, so I trust them more. I think we have to say Cabrera is a below-average defender right now. The evidence points in that direction.

Injury History

Staying on the field has been a challenge for Cabrera over the years. Here’s a recap of everything that sent him to the disabled list since his MLB debut in 2009:

  • 2009: Broken hamate in left wrist, suffered on a hit-by-pitch. Out 60 days.
  • 2010: Two right hamstring strains. Out 49 total days.
  • 2011: Broken hamate in right wrist, out 47 days. Left shoulder subluxation, out 33 days.
  • 2012: Healthy!
  • 2013: Left hamstring strain, out 17 days.
  • 2014: Two left hamstring strains. Out 78 total days.

That’s an awful lot of injuries, and, as serious as the two wrist fractures and shoulder problem are, the continued hamstring issues scary me the most. Cabrera is a speed first player who needs his legs to be valuable. If they are starting to be compromised by injury, he’ll become unrosterable in a hurry. He needs his legs to be healthy to contribute. That’s not up for debate.

Off-the-Field Issues

This is where it really starts to get ugly. Cabrera’s had numerous off-the-field problems and run-ins with the law these last few years. Here’s a recap:

  • June 2012: Arrested for domestic violence. The case was eventually dismissed.
  • August 2013: Suspended 50 games for his ties to Biogenesis. He admitted to taking an undisclosed banned substance to help get healthy after the 2011 shoulder injury after the suspension was announced.
  • September 2014: Arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana and was later charged with resisting arrest. The case is still pending.

Performance-enhancing drugs are bad but the Biogenesis stuff is the least bad thing in Cabrera’s history. Even though the case was dismissed, domestic violence is not something to brush under the rug, especially since MLB hopes to have a domestic violence policy in place by next season. The resisting arrest charge is still pending too. That carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail if he’s found guilty.

Teams are willing to overlook this sort of stuff if you’re a star player, they’ve shown that time and time again, but a fringe player like Cabrera? He’s probably not worth the headache. The Yankees were all about second chances under George Steinbrenner, most notably signing Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, but those guys were former stars. Not borderline big leaguers.

Contract Situation

Cabrera earned $2.45M this past season, his second of four trips through arbitration as a Super Two. MLBTR projected him to make $2.9M through arbitration in 2015. Cabrera will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 before becoming eligible for free agency during the 2016-17 offseason.

Wrapping Up

After non-tendering Cabrera earlier this week, new Padres GM A.J. Preller told Jeff Sanders the team won’t try to re-sign him and it was “pretty much a move that (means) we’re going in a different direction.” They opted to cut Cabrera loose rather than pay him a modest $2.9M next year even though he’s a shortstop and shortstops are really hard to find.

The speed and the fact that he’s on the right side of 30 make Cabrera interesting, but aside from his base-running, there’s not a whole lot to like here. He’d have to improve his contact rates to provide more offense and, well, that’s really hard to do. Cabrera can run and that’s wonderful, but he doesn’t hit much, isn’t great in the field, doesn’t stay healthy, and has a police record. That’s … not really a guy I want on my team.

The Yankees have emphasized strong makeup and character the last few years now and that leads me to believe they’ll steer clear of Cabrera even though they really need a shortstop. My guess is he’ll have to settle for a minor league contract somewhere and impress in Spring Training just to stick around as a team’s Triple-A shortstop come April. I would be very surprised if a team guaranteed him a roster spot this winter.

* Fun Fact: A Padre has not actually played in the All-Star Game since Heath Bell faced one batter in the 2011 Midsummer Classic.

Update: Yankees a finalist for Andrew Miller, deal could come in a day or two


11:12pm: The Astros are not expected to sign Miller, according to Evan Drellich. That isn’t surprising. Strange stuff happens, but when push comes to shove, Houston probably isn’t going to win a free agent bidding war against the Yankees or any other team seriously in on someone like Miller.

9:09pm: Heyman has updated his story to say it’s basically the Yankees against one or two other teams right now. The Red Sox are out of the running and the Dodgers are only considered a possibility for Miller, not a finalist because they aren’t all that interested in a huge deal for a reliever. The Astros appear to be New York’s main competition. Heyman also says the Yankees are more willing to go four years for Miller than Robertson because of the difference in money.

5:00pm: According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Dodgers appear to be among the finalists for free agent left-hander Andrew Miller, and a deal could be done in a day or two. I’d be surprised if new Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman gave a reliever a huge deal, then again what do I know. Heyman says the Red Sox are bowing out of the race.

Ken Rosenthal hears New York’s interest is sincere and they aren’t just using the 29-year-old Miller as leverage against David Robertson, which is what I initially thought. New York could always bring Robertson back even if they sign Miller, it just seems hard to believe they would have two huge money relievers on the roster. Nearly two-thirds of RAB readers said they would prefer re-signing Robertson to signing Miller in yesterday’s poll.

Miller is all but assured of getting a four-year deal at something close to $10M annually according to Heyman, but Joel Sherman says the Yankees are only willing to top out at three years. That could be posturing. The current record contract for a non-closer reliever is Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants from a few years back. The Yankees did give ex-Rays closer Rafael Soriano a three-year contract worth $35M to be a setup man a few years ago, so maybe they would be okay with two big money relievers after having both Soriano and Mariano Rivera from 2011-12.

The Yankees would get a supplemental first round pick if Robertson leaves — they won’t have to give anything up to sign Miller — which would make it easier for them to swallow forfeiting their first rounder to sign a qualified free agent, specifically Max Scherzer. Of course, the team continues to insist they won’t give out a huge long-term contract this winter. We’ll see. Developing!

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Buster Olney (subs. req’d) continued looking at the top ten players at each position today with starting pitchers. Clayton Kershaw claimed the top spot, because duh, then Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale round out the top three. I feel like Sale is going to go down as the Mike Mussina of his generation — excellent every year but always finishing second or third in the Cy Young voting, not winning. No Yankees made the top ten but Masahiro Tanaka did get an honorable mention. I think the starters list is the best one Olney has done so far. The others were pretty heavily skewed by recent performance, but this one is really well done. No quibbles with the order at all.

This is your open thread for the evening. The Nets are the only local sports team in action tonight, though there is a whole lotta college basketball on well. You know what to do here by now, so have at it.

2014 Season Review: The Front Office

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

As we inch closer to wrapping up our 2014 Season Review series, it’s time to look at the decision-making and the guys calling the shots. GM Brian Cashman is the most public figure, though he has two assistant GMs (Jean Afterman and Billy Eppler) plus an army of advisors and scouts and numbers crunchers doing grunt work. Both Hank and Hal Steinbrenner as well as team president Randy Levine have gotten involved in roster decisions over the years too. That happens with every team. No GM truly has autonomy in any sport or industry. Let’s review the team’s notable roster building decisions over the last year.

The 2013-14 Offseason

Last offseason focused on the free agency of Robinson Cano. It was by far the largest item on the team’s plate, perhaps the largest since Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract following the 2007 season. The Yankees signed Cano to one team-friendly contract way back in 2008 and reportedly his former agent Scott Boras and current representatives at Roc Nation were unwilling to discuss another below-market deal before free agency. (Remember when they asked for $305M last May?) I can’t say I blame them. Cano turned into a star and this was his chance for a massive payday.

But, even before the situation with Cano was settled, the Yankees agreed to sign Brian McCann to a five-year contract. The deal was agreed to on November 23rd and became official on December 3rd. During that time the team held firm with their seven-year, $175M offer to Cano. As far as we knew, no other team was coming close to that number. Little did we know the desperate Mariners would swoop in, offer a ten-year deal worth $240M, and lure Cano away from New York. Joel Sherman explained how things played out last December:

The Yankees and the Cano camp had initial contact last offseason and got a bit more serious in spring training. The Yankees made an opening bid in the seven-year, $160 million range. In May, the Cano camp said it wanted 10 years at $310 million and that shut down talks until the offseason.

The Yankees climbed to $165 million after the season. Cano came back saying he wanted $28 million for nine years — $252 million – with a vesting option for a 10th year. When there was little further movement, the Yankees grew pessimistic the gulf could ever be closed. They were planning to be aggressive in the offseason anyway, but they decided they needed to sign players or else the prices would inflate further if Cano left and agents sensed the Yankees were desperate. Which is why they were so bold with Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury – and several others they have yet to sign.

Reportedly the Yankees knew they were going to lose Cano on Friday, November 29th, so they jumped into action and had a deal in place with Ellsbury by Tuesday, December 3rd. Cano’s deal with Seattle was not reportedly agreed to until that Friday, December 6th. Later that night the Yankees agreed to sign Carlos Beltran. As Sherman explained, the team wanted to take care of business before word of Cano’s defection got out and prices soured, so it’s clear Ellsbury and Beltran were their Plan B. According to Jon Heyman, “they were all on board” with the McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran contracts, meaning Cashman and ownership.

That plan sounds great, but did it actually work? Top Boras clients never sign in early-December, so you know they met his high asking price for Ellsbury. Boras always takes his top clients deep into the offseason before striking a deal, so he must have been thrilled with the team’s offer for Ellsbury to sign so soon. Beltran, meanwhile, reportedly had three-year offers in hand from the Diamondbacks and Royals worth pretty much exactly what he took from the Yankees. If the team did save money by acting fast and agreeing to deals with Ellsbury and Beltran before word got out Cano was leaving, it seems like it was a very small amount.

Of course, every last dollar mattered to the Yankees last offseason because they were still trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold, so even saving a small amount was important. It wasn’t until MLB and NPB changed their posting agreement in December that the team decided to go over the threshold. The new system allowed Masahiro Tanaka to receive an enormous contract, all of which counted against the payroll for luxury tax purposes. His contract would have been much smaller — perhaps one-third of what he actually received — under the old system and not put the team on the hook for a big luxury tax hit.

Alex Rodriguez lost his appeal and was suspended for the entire 2014 season on January 13th, which wiped his salary off the books for the year. The Yankees agreed to sign Tanaka about ten days later, and once that happened, getting under the luxury tax threshold was impossible, even with A-Rod off the books for 2014. “The decision to go over 189 was for one player and that was Tanaka, and I have no regrets about that because he’s going to be everything that we saw in the first three months of the season. He’s going to be great,” said Hal Steinbrenner a few weeks ago.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The Mariners made it very easy to say goodbye to Cano given the magnitude of their offer but the bottom line was that the Yankees lost an elite player, something they couldn’t afford to lose after 2013. They tried to replace him with McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran, though only McCann actually filled a glaring roster need. Ellsbury was redundant with Brett Gardner and Beltran’s days of playing the field everyday were pretty much over, meaning he would have to share time at DH on a team that already had Alfonso Soriano — who had to play right field because of the signings, a position he had never played before — and Derek Jeter.

After missing the postseason and losing their best player, the Yankees tried to squeeze a few round player pegs into square roster holes. The McCann and Tanaka signings made perfect sense given the club’s needs, but the same wasn’t true of Ellsbury and Beltran in my opinion. Tanaka’s injury is unfortunate but pitchers get hurt. It happens. McCann had a disappointing 2014, yet out of everyone in the regular lineup, he’s the only guy you could say underperformed reasonable expectations coming into the year. Beltran having the year he had wasn’t something that was completely unforeseen. (Same goes for Soriano, Jeter, and Mark Teixeira.) Ellsbury had a fine year but not a seven-year, $153M contract player kind of year.

I think — and this is just my opinion, you’re welcome to disagree — letting Cano go was the right move, especially given the Mariners’ offer. The Yankees have too many bad contracts on the books and I felt at some point they have to break the cycle and stop adding more to the pile. The 31-year-old second baseman asked for ten years seemed like a good starting point. That said, if I had known Plan B was sinking seven years into Ellsbury — especially with the Gardner extension on the horizon — and three years into Beltran, I would have rather just seen them keep Cano. He’s a substantially better player than those two (combined!) and fills a position of real need. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

In-Season Moves

Midway through the season — less than that, really — the Yankees had some very obvious needs due to injuries and ineffectiveness. The rotation was hit hard by injury, as CC Sabathia (knee) and Ivan Nova (elbow) didn’t throw a pitch after early-May and Michael Pineda (back) missed three months after making just four starts. The infield was a mess, though because Teixeira and Jeter were locked in at first and shortstop, respectively, second and third bases were the only places to upgrade. Even the outfield needed help because Soriano played himself into retirement and Beltran was hurt.

The Yankees addressed most of their needs before the trade deadline through a series of shrewd moves that cost them very little organizationally. First they improved the third base situation by trading for impending free agent Chase Headley. The cost: Yangervis Solarte and High-A righty Rafael DePaula. Solarte was found money — the Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent, got about two good months out of him, then turned him into an established player via trade. DePaula was a classic lottery ticket arm, the kind every team should be willing to trade at the deadline. (The Padres did not protect DePaula from the Rule 5 Draft, by the way.)

Next the Yankees turned Vidal Nuno, a soft-tossing lefty they plucked out of independent ball who is wholly unequipped for life as a starter in an AL division full of small ballparks, into Brandon McCarthy, who pitched like an ace for two months. The pitching like an ace part was pretty unexpected, and that’s why he only cost Nuno. Had the Diamondbacks known McCarthy was capable of pitching that well, they would have asked for a lot more. And I’m guessing the Yankees and several other teams would have paid it too.


Then, on trade deadline day, the Yankees sold high on slugging prospect Peter O’Brien and used him to get Martin Prado, who wasn’t a rental. He is signed for $22M through 2016, which is a pretty sweet deal in today’s market, even if he doesn’t continue to produce at the 145 OPS+ clip he put up after the trade. O’Brien has huge power and that’s hard to find, but there are serious questions about whether he has the plate discipline to tap into that power at the next level. He also doesn’t have a position. His best position is the batter’s box. The Yankees used O’Brien when his prospect stock was at its highest and turned him into 2+ years of a bonafide big leaguer who filled a need. That’s the kind of trade the team needs to make more of.

The club’s last trade was basically a change of scenery swap, a my spare part for your spare part deal. What made it so interesting was that it was a rare Yankees-Red Sox trade, the first since the Mike Stanley deal back in 1997. The Yankees sent Kelly Johnson to the Red Sox for Stephen Drew, who was going to play second base for New York. The trade didn’t work out as hoped but it didn’t cost the Yankees a potential long-term piece and Drew didn’t have an onerous long-term contract, so who really cares. Took a shot in the dark and missed. Such is life.

It’s been a long time since the Yankees made a really bad trade, a Mike Lowell for three guys you don’t remember deal. I mean really, really bad. I guess the last one was Tyler Clippard for Jon Albaladejo back during the 2007-08 offseason. That was ugly. Am I missing any other obvious recent bad deals? I don’t think so. Anyway, point is Cashman seems to have a knack for making good trades and getting tangible help for the MLB team would sacrificing much in return. I’m sure someone will sit around and keep tabs on Solarte’s and Nuno’s WAR and eventually declare those trades a loss, but the point is guys like Solarte and Nuno are very expendable, and the Yankees used them to get a really good players even for only a short period of time.

The trade deadline went much better for the Yankees than last offseason, though ultimately it wasn’t enough to get them back into the postseason. Their thought process seemed to be very different in each instance too — over the winter they wanted to act aggressively to get Ellsbury and Beltran before word got out Cano was leaving, but during the season they showed more patience and waited for prices to drop into their comfort zone. One strategy worked out really well. The other … not so much. Perhaps that’s why he Yankees seem to be taking a slow and deliberate approach this offseason, because being aggressive didn’t work as hoped last year.

Prospect Profile: Rob Refsnyder


Rob Refsnyder | 2B

Refsnyder, who will turn 24 in Spring Training, was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Orange County when he was only three months old. He played football and basketball in addition to baseball at Laguna Hills High School and was named Pacific Coast League MVP in baseball as a senior and twice in football. Despite all that, Refsnyder was not much of a pro prospect — Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him among 190 California prospects for the 2009 draft — so he followed through on his commitment to Arizona after going undrafted out of high school.

As a freshman, Refsnyder stepped right into the starting lineup and played everyday for the Wildcats, and immediately became one of the team’s best hitters. He hit .344/.397/.440 with nine doubles, two homers, 14 walks, and 31 strikeouts in 57 games that spring while playing some second and third base but mostly left field. Refsnyder went 4-for-10 in three games as Arizona was knocked out of the postseason in the Regionals, though he was named to the All-Region Team. The overall performance earned him an All-Pac 10 Team Honorable Mention as a freshman.

Refsnyder played in all 60 of the team’s game as a sophomore — almost all of them in right field — and hit .320/.371/.498 with 13 doubles, six homers, 16 walks, and 31 strikeouts. Although the Wildcats were again eliminated in the Regionals, Refsnyder was named to the All-Pac 10 First Team and ABCA West Regional First Team. He played for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League that summer and hit .308/.406/.436 with nine doubles, four triples, 17 walks, and 26 strikeouts in 39 games.

Refsnyder was one of the best players in the country as a junior, putting up a .364/.453/.562 batting line with 19 doubles, eight homers, 14 steals, 34 walks, and only 26 strikeouts in 65 games. He again spent most of his time in right field. Arizona blew through the Regionals and Super Regionals — they went 5-0 and outscored their opponents 61-20 — to advance to the College World Series. Arizona won all five of their games in the CWS to win the National Championship. Refsnyder homered in the first game of the CWS and went 10-for-21 (.476) in the five games overall, which earned him the College World Series Most Outstanding Player Award.

Baseball America ranked Refsnyder as the 369th best prospect in the 2012 draft class that spring. The Yankees selected him in the fifth round, with the 187th overall selection, and he signed quickly for the full slot $205,900 bonus.

Pro Career
Although they had plans to move him from the outfield back to second base (his high school position), the Yankees let Refsnyder play out the 2012 season in the outfield after signing. They sent him straight to Low-A Charleston after the draft and he hit .241/.319/.364 (91 wRC+) with four homers and eleven stolen bases in 46 games for the River Dogs.

The Yankees moved Refsnyder to second base and sent him back to Low-A Charleston to start the 2013 season, though he was quickly bumped him up to High-A Tampa after hitting .370/.452/.481 (173 wRC+) with seven steals in 13 games for the River Dogs. Refsnyder put up a .283/.408/.404 (140 wRC+) line with six homers and 16 steals in 117 games for Tampa after the promotion. All told, he hit .293/.413/.413 (143 wRC+) with 32 doubles, six homers, 23 steals in 29 attempts, 84 walks, and 82 strikeouts between the two levels in 2013.

Refsnyder started the 2014 season with Double-A Trenton and hit .342/.385/.548 (~159 wRC+) with 19 doubles and six homers in 60 games before the organization moved him up to Triple-A Scranton. In 77 games with the RailRiders, Refsnyder hit .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) with 19 doubles and eight homers. His combined batting line for the 2014 season was .318/.387/.497 (~146 wRC+) with 37 doubles, 14 homers, nine steals in 18 attempts, 55 walks, and 105 strikeouts.

Scouting Report
Refsnyder is listed at 6-foor-1 and 205 lbs., and he stands out for his simple and balanced setup at the plate. He knows the strike zone and his combination of hand-eye coordination and level swing allow him to spray line drives to all fields. Refsnyder, a right-handed hitter, did focus on going the other way in college and during his first full year as a pro, though this past season he did a better job of pulling the ball with authority when he got a pitch to drive. Here are his 2013 (on the left) and 2014 (on the right) spray charts, courtesy of MLB Farm:

Rob Refsnyder Spray Charts-001

Refsnyder has some power but most of it figures to be into the gaps for doubles at the next level. He isn’t much of a runner either despite the nice pre-2014 stolen base totals and success rate. He’s a high-contact hitter who knows how to get on base, which fits the traditional number two hitter mold rather well. Here’s some video:

In the field, Refsnyder remains rough at second base but he has improved since turning pro, particularly around the bag and on double play pivots. His movements in the field are choppy and he still shows some indecisiveness when it comes to charging a ground ball or waiting back. Some of that is simply due to a lack of experience, though Refsnyder isn’t particularly quick on his feet.

Refsnyder draws high marks for his makeup and work ethic, and others like Robinson Cano and Chase Utley worked their way to become above-average defenders at second after being below-average elsewhere early in their careers. That’s not to say Refsnyder will definitely turn himself into an asset in the field, just that it has happened in the past when it looked like it wouldn’t.

2015 Outlook
Perhaps moreso than any non-reliever prospect I’ve profiled over the years, Refsnyder’s landing spot at the start of next year will depend heavily on what the big league team does this offseason. If the Yankees manage to bring in a second or third baseman this winter, Refsnyder will go back to Triple-A and wait for a call-up. If the Yankees don’t bring in a second or third baseman, then Refsnyder will compete for the second base job in Spring Training (Martin Prado would presumably play third) with someone like Jose Pirela and/or some non-roster invitees. Either way, it seems like Refsnyder will make his Major League debut at some point in 2015, perhaps as soon as Opening Day.

My Take
I really like Refsnyder and want the Yankees to give him a chance to be their everyday second baseman at some point next summer, but I also think the hype has gotten out of control at this point. That’s not to say I don’t think he’ll be a quality big leaguer — there a lot between future star and future bust, you know — just that I’m not sure how much of an impact he can have a low-power hitter and below-average defender at second, especially when he first makes the jump to MLB. There’s a lot to like about Refsnyder, particularly his potential to hit for a high average with a good on-base percentage. He’ll have to make some big strides to contribute anything more than that though.