2014 Season Review: The Captain

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

As the Yankees fell further out of the postseason race this summer, the more the 2014 season became about Derek Jeter. The Yankees long-time captain announced in Spring Training that he had decided to retire after the season, not because the ankle and leg injuries that hampered him throughout 2013 made him realize his body wasn’t capable of doing what it once did, but because he “just felt like this was the right time.”

I don’t think it was surprising Jeter decided to retire this year. That isn’t the unexpected part. The unexpected part was that he announced it on Facebook. Who knew Derek Jeter used Facebook? The man managed to go his entire 20-year career in New York with zero controversy because he avoided things like Facebook. Anyway, the Facebook announcement came a few days before the start of Spring Training, and his big press conference followed a week later.

“This is not a retirement press conference. I still have a season to play. I feel good. This has nothing to do with how I feel. Physically I feel great and I’m looking forward to the season,” said Jeter that afternoon in mid-February. “Parts of 20 seasons I’ve played in New York and 23 counting the Minor Leagues. So I think I’ve done it long enough. I’m looking forward to doing other things in my life. This is a difficult job. I put everything into it each and every year. It’s not a six-month season. It’s 12 months. Again, I’m looking forward to other things. Not yet. But the idea of doing other things is what I’m looking forward to.”

Jeter’s final season was both memorable and forgettable, if that makes sense. Let’s review, starting with the forgettable stuff to get it out of the way.

The On-Field Performance

The 2014 season was, by far, the worst full season of Jeter’s career. He did stay healthy and appear in 145 games, but those 145 games featured a .256/.304/.313 (73 wRC+) batting line and only 24 extra-base hits. Among the 146 qualified hitters in baseball, Jeter had the fourth highest ground ball rate (61.6%) while ranking 140th in wRC+ and 145th in ISO. Only Ben Revere managed to hit for less power (.057 vs. .055 ISO).

Unlike the last few seasons, Jeter had no impact against left-handed pitchers, putting up a .244/.289/.304 (66 wRC+) batting line against southpaws and a .262/.309/.317 (76 wRC+) line against righties. He also hit .212/.293/.250 (56 wRC+) in high-leverage situations. Against pitches measured at 95 mph and above, Jeter hit .167 with a 0.021 ISO, both the sixth lowest marks in baseball. Teams routinely brought in hard-throwing relievers to face Derek in key situations and they buried him, hence his performance in high-leverage spots.

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

And yet, because he’s Derek Jeter, he routinely hit second in the lineup. In fact, only seven hitters had more plate appearances in the top two spots of the lineup this year. When asked about dropping Jeter to a lower spot in the batting order during a mid-summer slump, Joe Girardi replied “it’s not like we have a bunch of guys hitting .300, so that’s why we’ve kept it,” even though he had no trouble dropping others like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and even Brett Gardner lower in the lineup. Jeter batted second for sentimental reasons and it cost the Yankees. How much? I don’t know. But it’s clear the team was not putting itself in the best position to win each day.

On the field, Jeter was a detriment to the Yankees. He didn’t hit a lick and his defense was worse than ever before. His mobility was sapped, likely due to a combination of age and his recent leg injuries, resulting in a +0.2 bWAR and -0.3 fWAR season for the Cap’n. You don’t even need to believe in WAR to see he was a net negative for New York. After nearly two decades of brilliance on the field, Jeter was a big problem in 2014 when it came to tangible on-field contributions.

The Farewell Tour

For some reason the Jeter farewell tour seemed to last a lot longer than the Mariano Rivera farewell tour. Maybe because Jeter was an everyday player while Rivera was reliever who pitched in only 64 games. Each team had a little ceremony to honor Jeter as he traveled through their city one last time, and some of the gifts were actually cool. You can scroll through and see each and every one right here. The Stan Musial cufflinks and No. 2 subway tile mosaic were really great in my opinion. The bucket of crabs … not so much.

The Yankees held Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium on September 7th, and they brought out all the big guns for the ceremony. Cal Ripken Jr. was there, Michael Jordan was there, Jeter’s family, Joe Torre, a ton of former teammates, the works. The team wore a special Jeter patch on their hats and sleeve from that day through the end of the season, which was sorta weird because Jeter was never the type to draw attention to himself that way, but also kinda cool. His speech that afternoon was short and sweet:

The Yankees were 4.5 games out of a postseason spot that day and only sunk further out of the race in the coming days, so the rest of the season turned into a huge Jeter love fest. I understand why, but it did get a little tiresome. Announcers spent innings on end discussing Jeter regardless of what was happening on the field and the national broadcasts were about a thousand times worse. By the end of September the YES Network was promoting non-stop, wall-to-wall Jeter coverage, and I’m not sure if that was a promotion or a threat.

After two farewell tours in two years, I’m pretty much tuckered out. That’s not a slight on Jeter (or Rivera), he’s an all-time great player and Yankee and deserved all the praise he received. But I will not be sad there won’t be a farewell tour in 2015. I have farewell tour fatigue. Jeter’s was fun at the start, but by the end of the year, I was ready for it to be over.

The Last Goodbye

On Thursday, September 25th, the day after the Yankees were officially eliminated from postseason contention, Derek Jeter played his final home game at Yankee Stadium. Fans chanted his name pretty much from first pitch through the last. The new Yankee Stadium hasn’t been that loud since the 2009 World Series, maybe ever. In the very first inning, Jeter did this:

I thought it was gone off the bat. It had to be, right? Of course Jeter was going to hit a homer in his final home game. It had to be this way. But no, it only clanked off the wall for a run-scoring double. So close.

Jeter grounded out to end the second inning, struck out for the second out of the fifth inning, then reached on an error and a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning. The bases were loaded with one out, Jeter hit a weak grounder to short, perhaps too weak to turn two, and J.J. Hardy threw wide of the bag at second. Two runs scored and the Yankees took a 4-2 lead.

The Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth inning and while it would have been memorable no matter how it ended, David Robertson blew the save and the Yankees came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. It totally sucked at the time, but in hindsight, I don’t think I’ll ever be happier that a Yankee blew a save. Without it, this wouldn’t have happened:

That was pretty much the coolest thing ever. Jeter’s final game in the Bronx ended with one of his patented inside-out swings, muscling a walk-off single to right field. The same hit to right field we’ve seen a couple thousand times over the last 20 years.

Jeter finished out his career in Fenway Park that weekend but no one will remember that — he beat out in infield single in the final at-bat of his career for his 3,465th hit, the sixth most in baseball history — that walk-off hit was essentially the end of his playing days. At least it will be for Yankees fans. The Captain stepped to the plate, drove in the game-winning run, then rode off into the sunset.

I was a teenager when Derek Jeter started his career and now I’m an adult stuck with responsibilities and other awful things. I’ve grown up watching Jeter play and it’s getting harder and harder to remember the pre-Jeter teams, not that many from my lifetime are worth remembering. It’s sad to see him go. It’s sad because he was such a great player tied to so many great memories. And, despite his production this year, it’s sad to think Jeter won’t be in the lineup and at shortstop next year.

Jeter is going to go down as one of the greatest Yankees to ever live and will possibly be the best player to wear the uniform in my lifetime. He was a great player who was everything a team could have wanted in a franchise player. Great production, no controversy, durable, marketable, the works. I always laugh when fans of other teams call him overrated because the guys running their favorite clubs go to bed each night dreaming about having a Derek Jeter to build around.

The Yankees are moving into a new phase of their history now. And that phase might be ugly, at least in the immediate future. Jeter has retired and every tie to the dynasty years — the teams I spent my formative years watching — is gone. In this age of MLB-created parity and competitive balance, we might never see another run like that again. We definitely one see another Jeter. I know that for sure.

Bullpen Updates: Miller, Robertson, Offers, Trades

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Outside of the Chris Young re-signing, things have been rather quiet around the Yankees this offseason. That all started to change today thanks to a bunch of bullpen-related rumors. Let’s round them all up first, then discuss.

  • The Yankees are in “serious pursuit” of Andrew Miller, according to Buster Olney and Joel Sherman. Nick Cafardo and Dan Connolly add that Miller is in talks with 8-10 teams and is expected to sign soon. Jon Heyman says the lefty is going to wind up with a four-year contract that smashes the previous record for a non-closing reliever, which is Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants. I guess Rafael Soriano doesn’t count.
  • David Robertson already has a three-year offer worth $39M in hand from an unknown club according to Heyman, making it very likely he will receive a four-year deal when it’s all said and done. Heyman and Sherman say that even though Brian Cashman continues to praise Robertson, the Yankees appear unwilling to go four years to keep their closer. As a reminder, Robertson is said to be seeking “Papelbon money,” which means a four-year deal in the $50M neighborhood.
  • George King reports the Yankees have talked with clubs about trading for a closer, including the Braves and Marlins. Craig Kimbrel could be available if the Braves go into a total rebuild. The Marlins quietly have an excellent bullpen and could replace pricey closer Steve Cishek ($6.9M projected in 2015) rather easily if they decide to use him in a trade to fill another need.
  • Ken Davidoff reports the Astros have reached out to Robertson’s agent. Houston is said to be seeking a high-end closer this offseason. I’m not sure why, but whatever. Heyman and King say both the Blue Jays and White Sox want a closer this winter and Robertson is on their radar.

Okay. First off, I think the team’s unwillingness to give Robertson a four-year deal is just posturing at this point. I can’t seriously believe they would go four years for Miller but only three for Robertson, not unless they have some kind of serious concern about the health of his arm, and I have no reason to believe that’s the case. Robertson’s better and has a much longer track record of being elite than Miller (four years vs. one a half years).

Now, that said, I don’t think it would be crazy to let Robertson walk, get the draft pick, and sign Miller as a replacement. The Yankees might even be able to sign Miller and someone like Jason Grilli (whom they have interest in) or Luke Gregerson for the same total money it’ll take to sign Robertson, and wind up with an ostensibly deeper bullpen plus a draft pick. If it’s just Miller in place of Robertson, especially if the difference is money is only $1M or $2M per year, then I’d much rather just keep Robertson.

Trading for a closer seems like a weird idea — I don’t like the idea of paying a huge price for Kimbrel and his contract (owed $33M through 2017 with a $13M option for 2018) when you could simply sign Miller or Robertson — but, as always, it depends on the price and the target. I guess I would be in favor of that plan if it kept Dellin Betances in that oh so valuable multi-inning setup role. Heck, even if they sign Miller, I’d rather see someone like Shawn Kelley or Adam Warren close so Betances and Miller could dominate the sixth through eighth innings.

At this point it seems like a foregone conclusion the Yankees will spend big for either Robertson or Miller. I think they’re trying to play hardball with Robertson at the moment — I get the sense their “serious pursuit” of Miller is just a way to pressure Robertson into signing, which probably won’t work if his market is as robust as the reports — but are prepared to move on if necessary. I guess this is how I see this playing out: either Robertson or Miller signs with a team, then the Yankees go hard after the other.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 1st, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

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 nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Get Yankees stuff for cheap – Cyber Monday deals

As you’re all aware, retailers have tried harder and harder to push merchandise in the past few years, what with stores opening on Thanksgiving and all. Cyber Monday is just another one of those gimmicks that they try. But hey, if they’re offering discounts, and you need to buy stuff for people anyway, you might as well get it at a discount and not pay sticker price.

As we’ve been saying, if you buy through the RAB Shop — stuff you’d buy anyway — you’re helping support the site. Seriously, don’t go out of your way to buy crap you don’t need. But if you’re going to buy Yankees gear, we’d appreciate clicking through our links so we can get a cut of the sale — again, of stuff you were going to buy anyway.

A few of our partners have some deals, so you can click through these links if you need to buy someone a jersey, cap, or other Yankees gear this holiday season. And seriously, check out the RAB Shop link above. We have a Derek Jeter replica jersey with no name on the back for like $120. Sure beats spending double that on an authentic, right?

Huge Black Friday Savings at Fanatics.com

MLB Shop: Buy One Get One 50% Off Sitewide + Free Shipping. Valid 12/1 & 12/2 Only

Holiday deals at Steiner Sports.

Thanks again for your support.

Weekend Mailbag and Open Thread

We’ve been getting a ton of submissions through our new mailbag form, which you can find in the right sidebar. Keep ‘em coming. The more questions, the more mailbag features we’ll do. They’re pretty fun for everyone, aren’t they?

Again, we open with a couple of housekeeping items:

1. Remember, when you’re buying Yankees stuff this holiday season, click through the RAB Shop links. It’s a huge boost for us. We have some items displayed on that page, too — like a Jeter replica jersey that doesn’t have his name on the back. You don’t see those every day.

2. The first RAB Daily Digest will hit mailboxes on Monday morning. You can read about the RAB Daily Digest, or sign up using the form below. We’re at 850 subscribers right now, and would love to have this hit 1,000 inboxes for the inaugural run.



And now…

Zac asks: At first glance, the A’s seemed to get an uninspiring haul for Donaldson. What would the comparable package of Yankees players/prospects have been?

CanGuest asks: With regards to the Donaldson/Lawrie trade, it doesn’t seem like the Jays gave up too much in the way of prospects. Do you think we could have made a similar deal to get Donaldson, and how surprising is it that he was traded? Was he on anybody’s radar at all?

In case you missed it last night, the A’s traded 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for 3B Brett Lawrie and a trio of prospects: RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin, and SS Franklin Barreto.

It does not seem as though the Jays gave up much. Donaldson is not only light years better than Lawrie, but he also has less service time — he’s eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, while Lawrie will be free after 2017. The move seems even stranger coming on the heels of the A’s signing Billy Butler, a seemingly win-now move. Why sign Butler and then trade your best hitter?

Getting back Barreto is nice for Oakland, since they traded away their top shortstop prospect, but he’s just 18 and so has years before reaching the bigs. Billy Beane has to be banking to a decent degree on Lawrie delivering more on his considerable promise. He’s been perfectly average since a breakout performance in 2011, and has missed 100 games in the last two seasons due to injury.

That said, Beane clearly isn’t done. There are already rumblings of a Jeff Samardzija trade with the White Sox (which would be huge for them), and Brandon Moss could be next. This clearly isn’t a rebuild, but, as one reporter put it (can’t find the link), Beane is reworking the entire team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see John Jaso and Josh Reddick traded as well this off-season.

Was this a surprise? Sure, in that most of Beane’s moves are surprises. I don’t think anyone really saw him giving up Addison Russell for Samardzija, nor did we see him trading Cespedes for Lester. So, surprising, but kinda not since Beane never operates in a way we expect.

In terms of comparable Yankees prospects, there’s really not much there. They don’t have anyone like Lawrie, a cost-controlled MLB player the A’s can plug into Donaldson’s old position, or perhaps 2B. Martin Prado fits that bill, but he’s older, more expensive, and has fewer years remaining of team control.

Looking at the top 30 prospects, you have to think Clarkin would be in there. Jagielo? Torrens? I’m not sure. It’s tough to piece these things together from another team’s perspective. Sometimes a GM will have his eyes on a few prospects from one team, and that’s the end of that.

Ken asks: Would it make more sense for the Yankees to let Robertson go and hope that Betances’s 2014 was not a fluke (as opposed to what they saw from him previously) and go for a veteran to handle the eighth or ninth inning and sign/trade for a “marquee” shortstop or to go four years with Robertson and go for a lesser shortstop?

Tom asks: Any idea on potential arbitration savings on Betances (2016-2019) by signing a closer who racks up the saves (which pays in arbitration).

I’m not sure trading for a “marquee” shortstop is in the cards (there are none on the FA market) regardless of what they do with Robertson. I picked this question, because there is an obvious parallel in recent Yankee history: letting John Wetteland walk to make Mariano Rivera closer after the 1996 season.

Plenty is different in that scenario, mainly the success of the team at the time. Rivera’s 1996 and Betances’s 2014 were very similar. While that doesn’t make Betances the next Rivera, it is an encouraging sign, perhaps one that will allow the Yankees to save some bucks on Robertson, which they can allocate to offense. Because they need offense.

As for signing a closer to keep down Betances’s arbitration costs, that’s going to cost money, too. Even then, the market is full of question marks. The Yanks have reportedly talked about making Jason Grilli an offer, but he’s not exactly reliable. Francisco Rodriguez has declined, as has Rafael Soriano. Maybe they try to get one of them on a sweetheart deal and move Betances into the closer role if they falter.

(I do not think they’re signing Robertson, for what it’s worth.)

James asks: Could A-Rod be the hitting coach?

It might sound like a silly question, but the man does know the game. I remember him talking about specific things he works on with hitting coaches. Younger players also seem to love him. It’ll never happen, not in a million years, but I do think A-Rod could help out kids at the plate.

Rich asks: How good a chance does Severino have make the opening day rotation?

Zero. Negative, possibly. The kid has potential, but certainly isn’t on tap for the majors quite yet. Give him time. Maybe he slots in later in the season. But realistically we’re talking 2016 at the very earliest.

Mailbag: Lowrie/Cabrera, Zobrist, Roller, Frazier

Just a few shopkeeping items before we dive into the questions:

1. If you’re giving Yankees/baseball gear as gifts this year, You can also give a gift to RAB at the same time, free of charge. When you buy from the MLB Shop, Fanatics, or Amazon using our links at the RAB Shop we get a little cut. Same price for you, a little cash in our pockets.

Here are some deals at the MLB Shop today:

Those deals last through Sunday.

2. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re experimenting with a new mailbag submission form. It’s in the sidebar. You only have to hit Send once — it might not look like it goes through, but it does. We’re working on slightly better functionality on that. You can still email us questions if you prefer, but this form seems to work for more people.

3. Starting Monday morning we’re sending out a daily digest email. You can read more about the daily digest here. You can also sign up there, or you can just enter your email address into the field above.

And now, onto the questions.

Ben Zobrist
(CHRIS O’MEARA/AP)

Mark L. asks: Do you see signing two of Lowrie / Drew / Cabrera to mix and match with Prado as a cost-effective alternative to big bucks Headley?

No, I cannot see that. It seems increasingly probable that some team offers Chase Headley a four-year deal. Since the Yankees are willing to give only three, they’ll have to find help elsewhere.

Would it cost them less to sign Lowrie or Cabrera? Maybe a little, but maybe not. If Headley signs elsewhere I think they allocate that money to other positions and use Refsnyder or Pirela at second with Prado at third.

JR asks: With the Rays appearing to be in rebuilding mode, What would the cost be to get Zobrist be?

I’m not sure the Rays are in complete rebuild mode. Maybe they’re not looking for win-right-now pieces, but they’re not doing some three-year project. That said, Ben Zobrist has just one year left on his contract, for a super reasonable $7.5 million (well, $7.75 really, because he gets $.25 million if traded).

It’s hard to find a reasonable value here, though. How much is one year of Zobrist worth to you? I’m guessing the Rays want something like Greg Bird and a pitcher, and I don’t think I’d go that far. Not where the Yankees stand right now.

If they’re on the brink of greatness — if they have three guys with power who you can count on in addition to the table setters, and a great pitching staff — then maybe I consider mortgaging a decent prospect for one year of a player as versatile as Zobrist. But right now? The roster is too weak right now to make a move like that.

Hmmm asks: Would it be in the Yankees best interest, for the overall future of the team, if they do not sign anyone to over a 4 or 5 year contract until they are a legitimate contender to win? I understand that those contracts can help them become a contender, but I feel like if they don’t have the young talent that will make them perennial contenders that those contracts will just prove to be a waste.

I don’t understand this mentality at all. What does young talent have to do with being perennial contenders? Look at the 1996 Yankees. They had one starting pitcher under 30, and a lineup of mostly imported veterans. That’s not to say that the 2015 Yankees have a Jeter or a Bernie, but the idea that young talent creates perennial winners is a bit off.

You can only work with the players available to you, whether that’s on the roster or available to you in trade or free agency. Cutting yourself off from that talent because of years in a reasonable range is silly. Avoiding 10-year deals? Sure, that’s something you might want to avoid in general. But 4-5 years deals are pretty standard.

nycsportzfan asks: Why did the Yanks not protect Kyle Roller?

Roller did rake last season, mostly in AAA, so it seems as though he’s knocking on the door. That said, he turns 27 before the season starts, so it’s not as though he’s some prime prospect that they just didn’t protect.

There’s a lot going on with Rule 5 protection. You have to take into account the roster implications. A few years ago Brian Cashman said something about sometimes the best way to protect a player is to not add him to the 40-man roster. Wish I could find the exact quote. His point was that because of roster crunch issues, sometimes you protect guys and later have to make some tough DFA choices.

Say you protect someone on the fringe, but have to DFA him in June for some roster crunch reason. A team might not have taken him in the Rule 5, because they didn’t see a way to keep him on the MLB roster all year. But on waivers he doesn’t have that restriction. You can stash him in the minors for a few years. So a team that wouldn’t have made a Rule 5 pick might jump in with a waiver claim.

The Yanks have plenty of needs this off-season, and they’ll need roster spots. They can’t afford to have one of those spots taken up by a 27-year-old first baseman. Also, Roller didn’t even make this enormous list of Rule 5 possibilities.

Elfi asks: Why would the Yankees sign Headley for 3B when they have a solid and capable player in Prado who could do it? Prado I’m sure can at least match Headley’s numbers. This would pave the way for Refsnyder to be the 2B and of course A-Rod at DH

It’s all about depth. If you go into the season with Prado at 3B, you’re stuck with the rookies as your first option at 2B. If they fail, then what? By creating some depth, they can react to injuries and failures. If Prado gets hurt, Pierla or Refsnyder steps in. If they fail as a depth option, that’s one thing. But to rely on them, and have no real backup option, would hurt quite a lot.

Chris R. asks: Doesn’t a run at Todd Frazier make a ton of sense? 28 year old that can play 1st & 3rd. Entering his arb years so he will start to cost Cincy some money now.

Cincinnati is in a tough spot right now, with the poor season they had combined with a number of their pitchers hitting free agency after 2015. They’re locked into a couple of huge contracts, so they could seem inflexible at this point.

That said, he’s one of their only weapons on offense. Unless they go into rebuild mode — and I’m talking trade-Votto rebuild mode — I can’t see them entertaining offers for Frazier.

That said, a Jersey-raised kid who went to Rutgers and walks up to “Fly Me to the Moon” Frazier sounds like a Yankee to me.

Lightning Round

Kenny asks: With the Yankees looking for a new shortstop, do you think Ruben Tejada is on their radar?

The Mets also need a shortstop, so that should answer the question right there.

Daniel asks: Assuming no major changes to the current rotation, who would be the opening day starter?

Have to imagine that’s CC’s job for at least one more season, if he’s healthy.

Matt asks: The Rays are reportedly listening on offers for Yunel Escobar, should the Yankees be interested?

He doesn’t seem like the Yanks kind of player. The Braves traded him for peanuts because they couldn’t stand his attitude. Plus, he’s not a very good SS, even if he can hit a little.

Dustin asks: Dave Martinez for 1B coach or hitting coach?

He’s as good a candidate as any. I have a feeling that the Yankees are more interested in Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, though. But maybe they bring in both, given that they have two coaching openings.

Thanksgiving Weekend Open Thread

I say this every year and I’m going to say it again: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it isn’t close. Eating great food > getting presents at this point of my life. Yes, I’m old. Barring some kind of breaking news, I don’t plan on posting anything these next few days. It’s a long holiday weekend and I’m going to relax and enjoy it. You should too. Forget about baseball for a few days.

Use this as your open thread for the rest of the weekend. Talk about anything your heart desires except politics or religion or anything like that. This isn’t the place for that. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.