The retooling is far from complete, but the Yankees have done a really good job so far

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

In more ways than one, Derek Jeter‘s retirement following the 2014 season marked the end of an era for the Yankees. The face of their run of success from 1996-2014 — even the bad years from 1996-2014 weren’t that bad — was gone and the team was going to have to find a new identity. They’re not Jeter’s Yankees anymore. They’re … someone else’s. I’m not sure who yet.

The Yankees as an organization changed course after Jeter’s retirement as well. The goal was always win win win during the Jeter era and understandably so, right? The Yankees had great teams with great players in their primes. That’s when you’re supposed to win, and the Yankees did a lot of winning those years. The team always went after the best players even when they had “overpay.”

But, since Jeter’s retirement, the focus has shifted a little bit. The Yankees still want to win, but not at the expense of the future, both in terms of prospects and payroll. The club is trying to balance winning now with winning later, which is not easy to do. Last year they added younger players (Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino) to the roster and still qualified for the postseason. That’s rebuilding the Yankees way.

“We can’t rebuild here. That’s not what we’re about, our fan base,” said team president Randy Levine to Brian Heyman recently. “We’re trying to win every year and we’re trying to get younger and transition. Most teams, they have two, three, four years to rebuild. We don’t do that. So the fact that we are rebuilding, all these young players being introduced while we’re being competitive — we were a game from going on — I think that’s very hard to do.”

For most teams, tearing it all down and rebuilding is a necessity. Smaller market teams like the Brewers and Braves can’t retool and try to win at the same time like the Yankees. They don’t have the resources. At the same time, the Red Sox and Angels have shown getting younger and winning is not easy to do simultaneously. They keep trying to incorporate young players and that’s great, but they also keep falling short of expectations.

That Yankees, on the other hand, keep exceeding expectations. Eighty-seven wins last year is nothing to brag about, but they had the fourth best record in the AL, and many folks were counting the club out before Opening Day. The Yankees were being picked to finish in fourth or fifth place. They’ll be picked to finish in fourth or fifth place again next year. That’s just the way it is now. It’s been like that for what, seven or eight years now?

The zombie Yankees never go away though. They’re always more competitive than most of the rest of the league — you can blame the 1994 strike for the last time the Yankees didn’t play meaningful games in late-September — and now they’re not even trying to win. Not entirely, anyway. Their goal is building a new core, and yet they’re not starting the season with close to no chance to win. Winning is a goal, but not the only goal.

Rebuilding sucks. The years of losing sucks. The idea of building the next great team is awesome — only if it works, of course — but sitting through the process of building that team is awful. There’s nothing fun about watching a non-competitive team day after day. No matter how down you may be on the current Yankees, we haven’t had to sit through anything like that in a long time.

I don’t know if this on-the-fly rebuild will work. The Yankees have taken chances on talented guys like Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, and Starlin Castro and they might never figure it out. They might never be anything more than complementary players. Severino might be Neftali Feliz. Greg Bird might be Ike Davis. Aaron Judge could be Drew Stubbs. It could all go horribly wrong. Everyone loves the Cubs and Astros rebuilds but forgets about the Rockies and White Sox. It doesn’t always go according to plan.

For now, I do know I am more excited about watching the current Yankees than I have been at any point since 2012. There is bonafide youth and upside on the roster, and I don’t mean Andy Phillips and Jeff Karstens types. I mean potential cornerstone players. The Yankees have really done a fantastic job adding young talent to the roster the last 15 months, and they did it while not being completely uninteresting on the field. As far as I’m concerned, this is exactly the kind of rebuild a big market team should attempt.

Recent free agent signings clear up trade possibilities for Brett Gardner


Over the last week, the two best unsigned free agent outfielders came off the board when Justin Upton signed with the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes agreed to return to the Mets. Others like Alex Gordon and Denard Span signed a few weeks back, so, with Spring Training a little less than a month away, Dexter Fowler (tied to draft pick compensation) and Austin Jackson are the top available free agent outfielders.

The Upton and Cespedes signings took away two potential trade partners for Brett Gardner, though a trade with the Mets was never all that likely. I think Brian Cashman and Sandy Alderson would do a deal if they felt it improved their teams, but a crosstown trade might make the ownership groups a little queasy. No one wants to lose a trade to their geographic rival.

Anyway, with Upton and Cespedes (and Gordon and Span) off the board, the trade market for Gardner has become a little more clear. Gardner has been on the market all winter as the Yankees look for ways to land a young pitcher, though the crowded free agent outfield class complicated things. Now the free agent market isn’t so crowded. Here are the teams that could be in play for Gardner.

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles did bring back Chris Davis recently, yet their outfield situation remains Adam Jones and some combination of Hyun-Soo Kim, Nolan Reimold, L.J. Hoes, and Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard. And I guess Mark Trumbo too. There’s a clear fit for Gardner in Baltimore — the O’s could bat him leadoff and drop Manny Machado into a run-producing lineup spot — but the chances of a major Yankees-Orioles trade are tiny.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies have been after Gardner for a while — they originally wanted Gardner in the Starlin Castro trade — and they could still use a true center fielder and leadoff hitter. Chicago does have a full outfield at the moment (Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler), though Soler’s name has popped up trade rumors, so a Gardner deal could rekindle those efforts. But, again, the problem with a Cubs trade all winter has been their lack of young pitching to offer. I’d argue the Yankees should focus on getting the best possible talent for Gardner regardless of position, but they’re focused on arms.

Chicago White Sox
Reports indicate the White Sox were in on both Upton and Cespedes in recent weeks, though they were not willing to extend their offer beyond three years. The ChiSox have added both Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason in an effort to fix one of MLB’s least productive infields, and they shouldn’t stop there. They’re not good enough to be AL Central favorites and not bad enough to rebuild. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jose Abreu in their primes, the White Sox should continue adding in an effort to contend, and Gardner would be a massive upgrade over Avisail Garcia. Quintana or Carlos Rodon for Gardner isn’t happening, but could Erik Johnson? That’s the extent of Chicago’s pitching depth.

Cleveland Indians
The Indians, again. They talked to the Yankees about an outfielder for pitcher trade earlier this winter, though obviously nothing came of it. Cleveland has plenty of pitching to spare and they need outfield help — Michael Brantley will be out until at least May following shoulder surgery, so their outfield mix right now is Rajai Davis, Abe Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Collin Cowgill — so it seems like there should be a match. The problem? The Indians operate with a very strict budget and don’t have room for a $13M a year outfielder. The Yankees would have to pay down some of Gardner’s salary, which of course means they should expect more in return. The Tribe likely have their eyes on cheaper outfield options.

Los Angeles Angels
It never seemed like the Angels were going to make a serious run at Cespedes or Upton. They have a clear need for a left fielder — the currently have a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon planned, and yikes — and some pitching depth to spare, namely Nick Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Matt Shoemaker. Some are more available than others, obviously. (Heaney’s close to untouchable, I think.)

Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

I think there’s a real possibility for an Angels trade right now. Angels GM Billy Eppler is said to be a big Gardner fan and the Halos really need both a leadoff hitter and another lefty bat. Gardner would push Kole Calhoun into a middle of the lineup spot. He’s a great fit for them, assuming it works financially. (The Angels want to stay under the luxury tax threshold and have about $12M in wiggle room.) I don’t think I would call a trade likely, but I do think if Gardner is dealt, the Angels are the favorite to land him.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have a lot of outfielders (Matt Holliday, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss) but no true center fielder. Grichuk’s the most athletic of the group so he has the center field job by default. St. Louis doesn’t strike me as the kind of organization to make a knee-jerk reactionary move, but it’s tough to ignore all the improvements the Cubs made this winter, so the Cardinals could feel some pressure to keep pace. Gardner would solve a clear roster problem and the Cards have some young pitching to offer (Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney). Money is no issue either — St. Louis bid big for Heyward and David Price, and were in the market for Chris Davis, yet they’ve only walked away with Mike Leake this offseason.

Washington Nationals
I’m not sure the Nationals are a possibility for Gardner following the Ben Revere trade. Yes, they made a run at Cespedes, so they’re still willing to add an outfielder, but Gardner and Cespedes are very different types of players. Washington might not want another left-handed hitting leadoff type with Revere on board. Never say never, but it appears the Nationals are no longer a match for Gardner following the Revere trade.

* * *

Keep in mind the Yankees are not the only team with a spare outfielder at the moment. The Dodgers would probably love to move Andre Ethier before he gains ten-and-five rights in April, plus the Rockies have four outfielders for three spots (Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Gerardo Parra). The outfield trade market is not limited solely to Gardner. Outfield needy teams have options.

Realistically, the Angels and Cardinals appear to be the best possible fits for Gardner. The White Sox, Cubs, and Indians are also potential suitors to a lesser extent. I still don’t expect the Yankees to trade Gardner before Spring Training, but at least now the trade market is a bit more clear with the big name free agents off the board. That also means there are fewer suitors, though there are still several clubs out there in need of outfield help.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 25th, 2016

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

Two years ago today, the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract. That was a good day. I was going to embed a video with 2015 Tanaka highlights, but the only one I found has incredibly NSFW music, so we’ll stick with 2014 instead. Anyway, here are the weekend links as you get ready to brave the snow:

  • Tim Rohan has a fun story on the luxury auto dealer in Miami who sells and modifies cars for various MLB players, as well as other celebrities. Apparently big leaguers are his most creative clients, and they often try to one-up their teammates. Ivan Nova gets a mention for buying a $175,000 limo van.
  • David Laurila recently spoke to Billy Eppler, who had been an assistant GM with the Yankees before leaving to become GM of the Angels earlier this offseason. He spoke about the things he learned in New York, the transition to the Angels, and his vision for the team going forward. Pretty neat stuff.
  • This Michael Paterniti article on flight SR111 is from 2000, but it just popped up in my Twitter feed the other day. The article is a gut-wrenching look at the crash and the aftermath, particularly from the perspective of the medical examiner who had to sift through the wreckage. You might not want to read that if you’re flying soon.
  • Matt Norlander wrote about Emmanuel Omogbo, a basketball player at Colorado State who recently lost his family in a house fire. It’s a tragic story but also a bit heartwarming because of all the help and support he’s received.

Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. Every one of the local hockey and basketball teams is in action tonight except the Devils, so talks about those games, the links, Tanaka, or anything else right here.

Saturday: This is the open thread after you dig yourself out of the snow. The Knicks, Devils, and Islanders are all playing, plus there’s a ton of college hoops on the schedule as well. Have at it.

Sunday: Here is the open thread for one last time. The NFL Conference Championship games are on today. First you have the Broncos and Patriots (3pm ET on CBS), then you have the Cardinals and Panthers (6:30pm ET on FOX). The Rangers and Knicks Nets are both playing as well, plus there’s some college basketball on as well. Enjoy.

Room for Improvement: Dellin Betances


Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Dellin Betances pitches better than he has in the last two years. When thinking about room for improvement, there really isn’t much left for the to-be-28-year-old to grow into. If 2014 was his coming out party, 2015 was the year we realized this was for real. This past season, Dellin finished second in the league in fWAR and produced his second straight sub 1.60 ERA season (1.50 in 2015; 1.40 in 2014). Again, he racked up a ton of strikeouts (131 total; 14.04 K/9; 39.5 K%) and limited hits (4.8 H/9!). Despite all that, there were some causes for concern.

When he was in the minors, control was a big issue for Dellin; he didn’t seem to know where the ball was going and he racked up a ton of walks. To say he did that in 2015 would be unfair, but he did walk 16 more batters (40) in six fewer innings (84) than he did in 2014 (24; 90). He also surrendered home runs at higher rates in 2015 than he did in 2014. In total, he gave up two more (6) than he did in 2014 (4). On a per-nine-innings basis, the difference wasn’t that big: 0.4 in ’14 and 0.6 in ’15. However, that he gave up more homers in fewer innings is concerning, and the concern is greatly indicated by his HR/FB% jump from 6.9 in 2014 to 12.2% in 2015. The culprit responsible for these walks and homers might actual be Betances’ greatest ally: his curveball.

Before getting into the concerns with the curve, let’s highlight some of the good things. From 2014 to 2015 with his curve, Betances upped his Whiff/Swing% (50.90 to 51.18) and groundball/balls in play rate (52.94 to 59.38) while lowering his line drives/balls in plate rate (19.61 to 17.19) and fly ball/balls in play rate (19.61-12.50). He also increased the rate at which batters popped up per ball in play from 7.84 to 10.94. These are all generally good things. We want to see pitchers getting batters to swing and miss more while limiting air-based contact, save for weak pop-ups. The problems, however, Betances had with his Uncle Charlie in 2015 were with regards to control and homers.

In 2014, Betances threw 644 curves in 90 innings (7.15 per inning); in 2015, he threw 713 in 84 innings (8.49 per inning), so a little more than one curve per inning. That’s not a huge difference, but if we take a look at where those pitches landed, we see a difference. In 2014, Betances threw his curveball for strikes 43.63% of the time. That number dropped by almost three percent in 2015. Uncoincidentally, the rates for his fastball took similar turns. In turns of HR(FB/LD), Betances saw big jumps with both his fastball (just under 4%) and his curveball (5.53%), something we obviously don’t want to see. Considering the uptick in grounders from the curveball Dellin got, this number is troubling because it means that there were fewer fly balls and line drives in general, but that more of them ended up as dingers.

A problem Betances had in the minors with regard to his control was lack of repetition of his delivery and, in turn, his release point. That may have returned with his curveball in 2015. If we look at 2014, we see a tighter grouping of release points than we did in 2015. Perhaps that consistency in release in 2014 made his curveball so effective in 2014. Granted, it was still effective in 2015–and improved in some cases–but the differences could be responsible for the increased walks and homers. And while we saw a seemingly more consistent fastball release in 2015 than we did in 2014,  it was still a touch different from 2014 and that could’ve affected his control and command, leading to more walks and homers.

Dellin Betances is an elite relief pitcher and is probably no worse than a top 5 non-starter in all of baseball. There is certainly a degree of nitpicking to this post, but every player is always looking to get better, and I imagine Dellin is no different. If he can figure out how to bring those walks and homers back down to his 2014 totals, he’ll have a chance to be even better than he was then, and that’s scary. I’m glad he’s on our side.

Guest Post: Remembering the career of Jim Coates

The following is a guest post from reader Julian Bussells.

Coates and Paul O'Neill at Old Timers' Day last year. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Coates and Paul O’Neill at Old Timers’ Day last year. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

It can be difficult being a MLB swingman, having to keep switching between the rotation and bullpen and not having a set job. Those types of players don’t normally see the spotlight, but I want to cover a certain Yankees pitcher from the 1960’s because he grew up where my family is from and is even good friends with my grandparents. The pitcher I want to talk about in this article is Jim Coates.

Coates, also nicknamed “The Mummy”, was born in Farnham, Virginia and grew up in Lively, Virginia, which is where my grandparents have lived for a long time and where my father grew up. Signed by the Yankees in 1951, Coates spent seven years in the minors before finally getting called up to the show in 1956. After pitching in two games in September of 1956, Coates was sent back to the minors where he would spend the next two seasons pitching for the Yankees AAA team in Richmond and recovering from a fractured elbow injury.

In 1959, Coates was brought back up and did pretty well for himself as he went on to pitch to a 6-1 record with a 2.87 ERA in 37 games (four starts) and 100.1 innings. Coates even converted three saves in the process. Coates’ best season may have been 1960, when he pitched to a 13-3 record with 4.28 ERA in 35 games (18 starts) and 149.1 innings. While also being the Yankees’ Opening Day starter in 1960, Coates was named to the American League All-Star team where he allowed no runs on two hits in two innings pitched, facing all-time great hitters such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks.

Coates was lucky enough to go to three straight Fall Classics with the Yankees, winning it all in 1961 and 1962. Across those three World Series appearances, Coates pitched in thirteen innings across six games. In April 1963, Coates’ tenure with the Yankees came to an end as he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Steve Hamilton. Coates never got settled in the nation’s capital and was shipped off to Cincinnati that July for Don Blasingame. After pitching nine games for the Reds in 1963 and spending the whole 1964 season in the minor leagues, Coates got traded to the California Angels and went on to pitch for them from 1965 to 1967 to round out his career.

After a nine year career, Coates finished with a 43-22 record, a 4.00 ERA, 396 strikeouts, and 17 saves over 247 games (46 starts) and 683.1 innings pitched. During five seasons with the Yankees, Coates pitched to a 37-15 record and a 3.84 ERA in 167 games.

Still living in Lively, Coates actually made an appearance at the 2015 Yankees Old Timers Day, marking it his first appearance at the historic event. Coates even had a book published in 2009 titled Always a Yankee which I am lucky enough to have personally signed. Unfortunately, Coates has been really sick for a while now and I just want to personally send out my best wishes to him and his family. Even though Jim Coates will never have his number retired or have a plaque hanging in Monument Park, he played a big part in two World Series championship teams and played alongside many Yankee greats, which in my book are the most rewarding things a baseball player could ask for.

Manfred indicates NL adopting DH is gaining momentum

Nope. Nope nope nope. (Al Bello/Getty)
Nope. Nope nope nope. (Al Bello/Getty)

During the quarterly owners’ meetings earlier this week, commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged adopting the DH in the NL is starting to gain some momentum. The league is talking to owners and GMs about a possible change. It doesn’t sound like the MLBPA has been looped into talks just yet.

Here’s some more from Manfred, via Ken Davidoff:

“Twenty years ago, when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you’d think you were talking some heretical comment,” Manfred said, upon the conclusion of Major League Baseball’s quarterly owners’ meetings. “We have a newer group. There’s been turnover. I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways that we think would be good for the fans. Always respecting the history and the traditions for the sport.”

“I do think there’s a certain purity to the idea that everybody plays by the same rules,” Manfred said. “The significance of that purity goes up when you have interleague play every day. …Particularly given the difference between leagues, in interleague play, pitchers who don’t hit on a regular basis probably are more likely to have a problem than pitchers who do.”

Manfred called the DH the “biggest remnant of (the NL’s) identity,” and some NL folks are very much opposed to the idea. “We would like to remain real baseball,” said Phillies chairman Dave Montgomery. Turns out we’ve been watching fake baseball all these years, you guys.

Anyway, I’m sure the MLBPA will be on board with bringing the DH to the NL. Roster sizes won’t change but it will create 15 high-paying jobs since DHs historically get paid lots more than bench players. Adding the DH to the NL could also help extend some careers since it’ll give veteran mashers more options after their defensive skills erode.

I am a pro-DH guy. There’s nothing fun about watching pitchers hit, and the argument the NL game has more strategy is overblown. Most NL decisions — bunting, pinch-hitting, etc. — are made for managers by the game situation. Down a run in the seventh and your starter is at 105 pitches? Pinch-hit. See? That wasn’t so hard.

Ultimately, I think it’s only a matter of time until the NL adopts the DH. Owners are going to want to protect their increasingly expensive pitching investments. Last year Adam Wainwright blew out his Achilles running the bases. A few years back ex-Yankee Dustin Moseley tore up his shoulder swinging a bat. We all remember what happened to Chien-Ming Wang in Houston.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December and I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot about the DH coming to the NL between now and then. The players figure to be cool with it. It seems like it’ll just be a matter of getting the old school NL owners on board as well.