Yankees finalize coaching staff, Mike Harkey returns as bullpen coach

(NY Times)
(NY Times)

The new bullpen coach is the old bullpen coach. The Yankees announced Monday evening that Mike Harkey has rejoined the team as the bullpen coach, replacing the departed Gary Tuck. Also, first base coach Tony Pena replaces Tuck as the team’s catching coordinator.

Harkey, 49, spent the last two seasons as the Diamondbacks pitching coach. He was let go a few weeks ago. Harkey, who is very close with Joe Girardi, was the Yankees bullpen coach from 2008-13 before leaving for the job in Arizona. Harkey pitched eight years in MLB before getting into coaching.

The coaching staff is now set. Alan Cockrell replaced Jeff Pentland as the main hitting coach and Marcus Thames was promoted from Triple-A to take over as assistant hitting coach a few weeks ago. Pena, bench coach Rob Thomson, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and third base Joe Espada remain.

Report: Yankees not willing to spend big on Ben Zobrist

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

It’s the offseason, which means the Yankees don’t want to trade their best prospects, don’t want to spend big on free agents, and don’t want to surrender their first round pick. They like their team and are comfortable with their roster. It’s the same stuff we hear every winter and no, it’s not always true. There’s just nothing better to say without being self-defeating.

So, naturally, the Yankees say they’re not willing to meet Ben Zobrist’s asking price this offseason, report Dan Martin and Ken Davidoff. New York tried to acquire Zobrist from the Athletics at the trade deadline but balked at Oakland’s asking price: Rob Refsnyder and Adam Warren. Martin and Davidoff say the Mets are more likely to pursue Zobrist than the Yankees.

Zobrist, 34, hit .276/.359/.450 (123 wRC+) with 13 home runs and more walks (11.6%) than strikeouts (10.5%) in 535 plate appearances for the A’s and Royals this past season. He also missed a few weeks due to minor knee surgery. Zobrist played second base, third base, and the two outfield corners in 2015. He’s played shortstop and center field as recently as 2014.

Brian Cashman said the Yankees are seeking “more balance” at second base, which means if they do make a move, it’ll be for a more well-rounded player than Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley. They have offense first second basemen. Zobrist certainly fits given his strong defense, and his versatility means he could play pretty much anywhere. Every team has a need for a guy like Zobrist.

For what it’s worth, the FanGraphs crowd projects Zobrist to get three years and $42M. MLBTR projects three years and $51M. There is no draft pick involved — Zobrist was ineligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded at midseason — so it’s a straight cash deal. The Yankees have plenty of cash. They just want people to think they don’t.

Zobrist has slowed down a bit offensively the last few years and he is entering his mid-30s, so I certainly understand any hesitation to pay him $14M+ a year for the next few years. At the same time, it’s a relatively short-term deal, and Zobrist would add a ton of much-needed flexibility to the roster.

Kimbrel trade shows Yankees smart to listen to offers for Andrew Miller

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Late last week, the Padres started their payroll purge by trading their top two relievers. Joaquin Benoit and his $8M salary went to the Mariners for two prospects, then, on Friday, Craig Kimbrel and the $25.5M left on his contract were shipped to the Red Sox for four prospects. Just like that, Padres GM A.J. Preller shed $19.5M in 2016 salary.

By all accounts the Red Sox gave up a significant package to get Kimbrel, one of the best relievers in the game. MLB.com ranked OF Manuel Margot and SS Javier Guerra as the 25th and 76th best prospects in baseball, respectively. OF Aaron Judge and SS Jorge Mateo are ranked 17th and 87th, for comparison. Keith Law (subs. req’d) said he views both Margot and Guerra as top 50 prospects.

Furthermore, Alex Speier said he ranked LHP Logan Allen as the 12th best prospect in Boston’s system in the upcoming 2016 Baseball America Prospect Handbook. IF Carlos Asuaje, the fourth piece heading to San Diego, is not a top or even mid-range prospect, but he is a big league ready utility man who Padres GM A.J. Preller confirmed will be given every opportunity to win a roster spot in Spring Training.

So that’s two top 100 position player prospects, a strong lefty pitching prospect, and a big league ready utility man for two guaranteed years of Kimbrel plus an option for a third. And the Red Sox took on his remaining salary. Prospects are prospects, and there’s a chance the Padres get nothing out of this trade, but at this very moment it looks like they landed themselves quite a haul.

And that is exactly why the Yankees are smart to listen to trade offers for closer Andrew Miller, as they have reportedly done this offseason. Seeing Miller’s name on the block was a bit surprising, but deep down we all know everyone is available for the right price. It would take a lot to trade Miller — one report indicated the Yankees want three young MLB ready players — for obvious reasons. After all, the Kimbrel deal shows the trade value of elite relievers.

The Kimbrel trade also means one less elite closer is on the trade market for teams to consider. There are none in free agency — not unless you really love 33-year-old Darren O’Day going forward — and Aroldis Chapman is the best on the trade block. Others like Mark Melancon and Ken Giles could be available too. But, aside from the pre-arbitration-eligible Giles, Miller has by far the most favorable remaining contract situation among top reliever trade chips.

Chapman and Melancon will be free agents next winter after earning huge salaries next season. (MLBTR projects $10M for Melancon and $12.9M for Chapman.) Miller is owed $9M per year for the next three years. He’ll earn approximately as much from 2016-18 that Kimbrel is guaranteed from 2016-17. And the performance is very comparable. Here’s the last two seasons:

Andrew Miller Craig Kimbrel

Kimbrel is widely considered the best closer in baseball and he’s earned that reputation the last few years. On a rate basis though, Miller has been every bit as good — if not better, really — as Kimbrel the last two seasons. Heck, you could argue the Red Sox just traded four prospects to get Kimbrel to make up for the mistake of not re-signing Miller a year ago.

Anyway, the point is both Miller and Kimbrel are excellent relievers, among the four or five best in the world. Kimbrel was just traded for a monster prospect package, so it makes sense for the Yankees to at least listen to offers for Miller. Plenty of teams are seeking bullpen help. (Plenty really means every, in this case.) The Yankees don’t have to trade Miller. Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t listen though.

I think the Kimbrel trade was something of a perfect storm. The Padres wanted to cut payroll and the Red Sox are trying to get out of last place and back into contention, so there’s a sense of urgency. They hired Dave Dombrowski to run the front office this summer, and Dombrowski is known to target big name players and use his prospects as trade currency, not to fill the big league roster. Everything all came together for this trade.

The Yankees might not find that perfect storm trade for Miller. I’m sure they’ll field plenty of offers for the lefty. The question is can they get what they want? Remember, the Yankees plan to contend next year. They’re rebuilding on the fly. They’re getting younger and trying to stay relevant too. Not every rebuild as to be an Astros style total tear down. That is one way rebuilt. It is not the way to do it.

Trading Miller for prospects makes the Yankees worse in 2016 (and 2017?) and possibly better long-term, but the Yankees don’t want to be worse next year. That’s why they’re said to be seeking MLB ready players in any trade. If they don’t get a package to their liking, they’ll simply keep Miller. After all, if the Yankees didn’t have Miller and another team made him available, wouldn’t we want the Yankees to go after him?

Thanks in part to the Royals, bullpens have become a major focal point the last few years. Starters are throwing fewer innings and the need for multiple high end relievers has become a necessity for contention, not a luxury. Teams are paying big for bullpen help — look at the Kimbrel trade and look at Miller’s contract too, it smashed records for a non-closing reliever — and it’s possible some team will pay big for Miller, in a way that improves the 2016 Yankees.

The Revival of Carlos Beltran [2015 Season Review]


Fresh off their worst offensive season in two decades, the Yankees went on a massive free agent spending spree during the 2013-14 offseason. They lost Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson but replaced them with Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran.

McCann filled an obvious need behind the plate. Ellsbury brought speed and defense to a station-to-station club. Beltran? Beltran was brought in to be an experienced middle of the order thumper. Year one with Beltran didn’t go well mostly due to injuries (shoulder, concussion, elbow). Year two was mostly positive despite a miserable start.

A Healthy Spring

Soon after the end of the 2014 season, Beltran underwent surgery to remove bone chips and shave a bone spur in his right (throwing) elbow. He played through the injury late last year and his performance suffered. The surgery came with a six-week rehab and a 12-week timetable for returning to baseball activity, which meant Beltran was ready to go in camp.

The elbow was a non-factor in Spring Training and the Yankees didn’t hold Beltran back. He played in Grapefruit League games right away, and not as a DH either. He played the outfield. The elbow was healthy enough to throw. “The thing is pain free,” said Beltran to reporters after his first spring game. “Now it’s time to continue to get better and put together good at-bats during all of Spring Training.”

All told, the 38-year-old Beltran hit .225/.289/.275 in 15 Grapefruit League games. He had seven singles and two doubles, four walks and nine strikeouts. It wasn’t a great Spring Training statistically, and yeah, after elbow surgery it would have been reassuring to see Beltran rake, but the most important thing was his health. The elbow was sound and gave him zero problems.

A Bad Month, or the End of the Line?

Holy cow was Beltran bad early in the season. Players slump, I get that, and when players slump (or get hot) to start the season, it’s easy to read too much into it. But my gosh, Beltran wasn’t just not hitting, he looked awful in the process. He started the year in a 4-for-28 (.143) slump and Baseball Info Solutions data says he didn’t record his first hard-hit ball until the fourth game of the season. Beltran had three hard hit balls in his first seven games of 2015. Three!

In 18 April games, Beltran hit .162/.216/.265 (22 wRC+) with no homers and a 28.4% strikeout rate. The month started with a 2-for-20 (.100) slump and ended with a 2-for-22 (.091) slump. Joe Girardi dropped Beltran from the third spot in the lineup to the sixth spot two weeks into the season, and with Chris Young coming out of the gate hot, there were calls to bench Beltran outright.

Between the elbow surgery and his age, there were plenty of possible explanations for the early-season struggles. The Yankees stuck with Beltran even though he gave them plenty of reasons to make a change. “The important thing is that you continue to send him out there,” said Girardi at the end of the month, “and understand that he’s going to turn it around and be a big part of our offense.”

A New Month, A New Season

The end of Beltran’s early season slump coincides perfectly with the end of April. He went 2-for-4 with a double on May 1st, then went 2-for-4 with a double in his next game. Another double followed the next day. On May 10th, in the team’s 32nd game of the season, Beltran finally hit his first home run of 2015. The game-tying solo homer was part of a 2-for-2 with two walks day.

Beltran hit another solo homer the next day. The back-to-back games with homers were games three and four of what turned into 15-game hit streak, the longest by a Yankees player this past season. Beltran went 19-for-56 (.339) with four doubles and three homers in the 15 games. It was still a little too early to say Beltran was “back” — I’m not sure we’d ever even seen the good version of Beltran up to that point anyway — but at least he was showing signs of life.

The hot streak never really ended. Beltran put up a .299/.346/.494 (129 wRC+) batting line with 13 doubles and seven homers in 48 games from May 1st through the end of June. He wasn’t drawing many walks (5.9%) but his strikeout rate was tiny (14.9%). At the time, the Yankees had a fearsome middle of the lineup. Alex Rodriguez was mashing, Mark Teixeira was hitting dingers, and Beltran had picked up his game. It was glorious.

A Bump in the Road

The Carlos Beltran is Back Baby tour hit a bump in the road in early-July. In Anaheim on June 30th, Beltran took a swing and hurt his left oblique. Girardi and the trainer checked on him and Beltran actually stayed in to finish the at-bat before being removed after the inning. Here’s the injury:

The Yankees were at the end of a seven-game West Coast swing and the injury was reportedly minor, so they gave Beltran a few days to see how he felt. He did not play the next day, in the series finale against the Angels, and the Yankees had an off-day the day after that. Beltran was able to swing left-handed but not right-handed, so on July 3rd, he was placed him on the 15-day DL with an oblique strain.

“It just puts you in somewhat of a difficult position. If we were to test it and make it worse, if we were to just have him hit left-handed, everyone would possibly bring in a reliever when it was his turn and then you’ve got to make a switch,” said Girardi. “We had concerns about him trying to throw, so we thought it was best to give him this time off — especially with the days off that we have and the All-Star break, we’re trying to take advantage of them.”

The timing worked out fairly well. Beltran officially spent 18 days on the DL but missed only 12 team games due to off-days and the All-Star break. He played in three tune-up rehab games with High-A Tampa during the break and rejoined the team early in the season half. Obliques can be tricky. They’re very easy to aggravate. All things considered, the Yankees and Beltran were fortunate this was only a minor issue.

The Second Half Non-Slump

The Yankees came out of the All-Star break with a 3.5-game lead in the AL East and it swelled to seven games by the end of July. That lead quickly evaporated in the second half and the team had to settle for a wildcard spot, mostly because several important members of the lineup slumped. Brett Gardner, Ellsbury, A-Rod, and McCann were the main culprits, and Teixeira’s injury didn’t help either.

Beltran was the team’s one veteran middle of the order guy who didn’t slump in the second half. He was their best and most consistent hitter after the All-Star break, at times carrying the offense. The Yankees went 4-7 during an eleven-game span in mid-August but not because of Beltran: he went 12-for-34 (.343) with five homers in the eleven games. He was a one-man army.

In Toronto on August 14th, Beltran delivered the biggest hit of the season and the biggest by a Yankee in about three years. They were trying to keep pace with the Blue Jays in the AL East and Beltran delivered a huge pinch-hit three-run go-ahead home run in the eighth inning. To the action footage:

Thanks to that home run, the win turned a half-game division deficit into a half-game lead. Yeah, the Yankees lost the AL East anyway, but man, that was a huge win at the time. It was a statement win. The Blue Jays had won eleven straight and were steamrolling their way to the top of the division, but Beltran knocked them back to Earth and reminded everyone hey, the Yankees are pretty good too.

After returning from the oblique injury, Beltran hit .292/.364/.513 (138 wRC+) with 16 doubles and 12 homers in 67 games. He drew walks (10.8%), he didn’t strike out (13.4%), and he picked up countless huge hits. (His 0.63 Clutch score ranked 21st out of 153 qualified hitters in the second half.) The offense sputtered big time down the stretch. There were too many unproductive bats in the lineup. Beltran was the constant. The one guy who didn’t slump. He was their only reliable bat down the stretch.

Beltran finished the season with a .276/.337/.471 (119 wRC+) batting line, a team-leading 34 doubles, and 19 home runs. He had good walk (8.6%) and strikeout (16.0%) rates, he mashed righties (127 wRC+), held his own against lefties (99 wRC+) — southpaws had given Beltran a real hard time in recent years, so getting league average production in 2015 was better than expected — and he produced in high-leverage spots (147 wRC+).

The Yankees had three hits total — all singles too — in the wildcard game and Beltran had one of them. He went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts against Dallas Keuchel and the Astros that night. Beltran struck out to start the 1-2-3 ninth inning. The Astros finished one game back of the Yankees for the top wildcard spot and the Angels finished only one game behind the Astros. Without second half Beltran, the Yankees might not have even made the postseason.

Give Something Back on Defense

The Yankees signed Beltran for his bat, plain and simple. Had A-Rod not had such a strong season, particularly a strong first half, chances are Beltran would have spent a lot more time at DH. He started 128 games this summer and 120 were as the right fielder. Beltran finished only 59 of those 120 games. He was routinely replaced in the late innings because his defense isn’t good at all.

The stats paint an ugly picture. He finished with -14 DRS (57th out of 60 qualified outfielders), -4.5 UZR (47th), and -2.0 dWAR (59th). The Inside Edge data says Beltran made nothing beyond a semi-routine play in right field:

Carlos Beltran Inside Edge

Beltran made the routine plays and plays in which he had to range a little, but, beyond that, he made literally zero plays. The Inside Edge classification show zero outs recorded on plays that are made 40-60% of the time by the league average right fielder. So yeah, it was bad. Beltran gave a lot of runs back with his defense, even while being regularly lifted in close games. His offense was so good after April that he still contributed 1.9 fWAR and 1.0 bWAR on the season.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Next season is the final season on Beltran’s three-year contract. He has a no-trade clause and has made it no secret throughout his career he wants to play for the Yankees, so getting him to waive it doesn’t figure to be easy. Perhaps he could be convinced another club gives him a better chance to win his first World Series ring, like maybe the Royals, the club that originally drafted and developed him.

Anyway, a Beltran trade would really surprise me. The Yankees want to get younger but they want to win too, and Beltran is one of their better hitters. Replacing him in the middle of the lineup would be quite tough. Beltran figures to open next season in right field again, and I’m sure the Yankees will have their eye on moving him to DH should Rodriguez get hurt at some point. The Yankees don’t have a whole lot of flexibility with Beltran.

“I will approach (2016) like I approach it every year,” said Beltran to Christian Red recently. “If it’s my last year, it’s my last year. If I win a World Series, thank God for that. I’m very blessed.”

Fan Confidence Poll: November 16th, 2015

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Weekend Open Thread

The GM Meetings were pretty fun this week. The Yankees made some moves and there were a surprisingly large amount of rumors, at least by Yankees standards. They tend to keep things quiet. Three weeks and a few days until all hell breaks loose at the Winter Meetings. Anyway, here are the links for the weekend:

  • Here’s a really fun Owen Watson post looking at the most extreme home runs of the 2015 season. The longest homer, the hardest hit homer, the fastest pitch homer, the most inside pitch to a right-handed hitter homer … all sorts of fun stuff like that. Brian McCann makes an appearance, as does Nathan Eovaldi on the wrong end of an extreme homer.
  • Fresh off their World Series win, the Royals are facing a difficult decision with Alex Gordon, one of the best and most popular players. Do they break the bank to re-sign him, or let him walk and spare payroll? In this piece, Andy McCullough spoke to several GMs who faced similar decisions in recent years, and they all said a lot more goes into it than on-field production.
  • If you’re looking for an ultra-nerdy article with lots of math, this Alan Nathan post on optimizing swings is for you. It starts with the question “can a curveball be hit farther than a fastball?” and then dives into things like swing angles and all sorts of other neat stuff. You are forewarned, it is indeed very nerdy with gory math. It’s as much a physics experiment as it is baseball analysis.
  • And finally, a non-baseball link: I enjoyed this Tyler Rogoway article on the family who owns a big piece of land adjacent to Area 51. The land, which has been in the family long before the government showed up next door, had been mined for copper and other metals for generations. The family has refused many seven-figure offers even though no one lives at the mine site these days and the government makes it all but impossible to access. Crazy stuff.

Friday: Here is your open thread for tonight and the rest of the weekend. The college basketball season begins tonight, plus the Knicks, Nets, and Islanders are all playing. Talk about those games, the links, or anything other than politics or religion here. Thanks.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Devils and Nets are playing in addition to a nice full slate of college football and hoops. Have at it.

Sunday: This is the open thread for the final time. The Patriots and Giants are playing right now, and the late NFL game is the Cardinals and Seahawks. The (hockey) Rangers are playing tonight as well and I’m guessing there’s some college hoops going on somewhere. Enjoy.

The Swiss Army Outfielder

This ball was caught. (Presswire)

The Yankee outfield was given more shape on Wednesday when the team acquired Aaron Hicks from the Twins for John Ryan Murphy. Ironically enough, that shape is a little more amorphous now than it was before the trade. The term “amorphous” generally carries a negative connotation, the implication for the Yankees going forward is one of flexibility, not shapelessness.

It’s most likely that Hicks will slot in as the team’s fourth outfielder to start the year, but that alone could carry a great deal of playing time, as Chris Young appeared in 140 games for the Yankees last season. That much playing time is easy to envision for Hicks. Given his defensive reputation, he’ll likely be replacing Carlos Beltran on a daily/nightly basis, which will give the Yankees a strong defensive outfield in the late innings, something any team would gladly sign up for.

Nominally, Hicks will be the fourth outfielder, but there’s potential for him to play an even bigger role. He’ll definitely swap out for Beltran in the late innings, but given Joe Giradi’s tendency to platoon and his desire to rest players, Hicks will get plenty of burn in the starting lineup. Brett Gardner (fairly or unfairly) already gets his fair share of platooning as he sits semi-frequently against lefties. That’s a trend that’ll probably continue, given that Hicks hit lefties very well last year–.375 wOBA; 139 wRC+; .188 ISO–and has done similarly over the course of his (short) career–.354; 125; .175. Gardner was also, apparently, playing through injury in the second half and it’s a certainty we’ll see Hicks start in place of Gardner when Brett starts to slow down a bit after playing for long stretches. The same could be said for Jacoby Ellsbury, who probably wasn’t healthy for more than a month and a half of last season; he also had his fair share of struggles against left-handed pitchers and the fact that Hicks can play center–88 games there last year–means the Yankees will still be able to run out a mostly strong defensive outfield, even if one of Gardner or Ellsbury is sitting.

One knock on Hicks, a switch hitter, is that he doesn’t hit right handed pitching well. That rang true in 2015 as he racked up just a .292 wOBA/82 wRC+ against them. His career numbers against non-southpaws are just as ugly: .269/66. In this way, he’s definitely similar to Chris Young, who also couldn’t hit right handed pitching. However, for his career, Hicks does have a 9.2% walk rate against right handed pitchers, something slightly encouraging that the team could build on. And, taking it with a shaker of salt, Hicks did hit right handed pitchers fairly well in the minor leagues, posting a .371 OBP against them. It’s not the most reliable data, but it shows that, at some point, Hicks did something well against righties.

Despite those struggles, though, it’s easy to see why Hicks could be an upgrade over Young. His ability to play center field–and play it well–means that the Yankees can feel fully confident when they match up for platoons or have to rest someone. Hicks will also play the entire 2016 as a 26 year old, which in and of itself means there’s potential for more growth and development. Trading for Hicks was certainly a surprise, but it’s something that gives the Yankees a lot of flexibility in one spot on the field. Given the way the team looks, that’s a welcome sign.