Levine: $189 million plan includes Cano and Granderson

Roughly three-quarters of the emails we receive concern various aspects of the $189 million luxury cap for 2014. How will the Yanks get below this? we’re asked. Can they do it with Player X and Player Y? The most frequent of these questions center on Robinson Cano and, to a slightly lesser extent, Curtis Granderson, both of whom become free agents after the 2013 season. Yankees President Randy Levine spoke to Jon Heyman, and he seems to believe the Yankees can retain both. “The plan contemplates (Robinson) Cano, (Curtis) Granderson and a full championship team,” Levine said. It is certainly possible, but little will have to go wrong in the Yankees’ plan for them to achieve that goal.

Pineda up to 93 mph

According to Erik Boland, Michael Pineda reached 93 with his fastball during the first inning of his appearance today. That’s a tick faster than he threw this past Monday, when he topped out at 91 mph. That’s a bit reassuring, at least. It goes along with what Dave Cameron wrote on FanGraphs on Tuesday, noting that Pineda is not a guy who has to fire bullets every single time. Relatedly, it’s interesting to hear that Brian Cashman mentioned that he’d read Cameron’s article (via Bryan Hoch).

Where Are They Now: Steve Swindal

Swindal and Joe Torre in 2007. (Bukaty/AP)

Five years ago, Steve Swindal was the heir apparent to the Yankees. The husband of Jennifer Steinbrenner and a general partner of the team since 1998, Swindal had been appointed George Steinbrenner‘s successor back in 2005. That plan changed in early-2007, when he was arrested for DUI and Jennifer filed for divorce a month later. The team bought out his ownership stake that November, and The Boss instead handed the reigns to his son Hal.

After his time with the Yankees ended, Swindal served as the head of a marine towing company in Florida for a while. He’s now back in baseball though, having launched a youth academy in the Dominican Republic with Abel Guerra (the Yanks’ former VP of International Ops) and Hans Hertell (former U.S. ambassador to the D.R.) in 2009 according CBS New York. They house, feed, train, and educate young prospects in exchange for a portion of their future signing bonuses. More than 40 prospects have gone on to sign with a big league club after a stint at Swindal’s academy. “[It’s] the nicest academy of any agent,” said Rafael Perez, MLB’s director of Dominican operations. “And they produce a lot of players.”

Swindal’s son still works for the team in stadium operations (in the Bronx), and his daughter Haley sings the national anthem before games a few times a year. There doesn’t appear to be any animosity on either side, and in fact Swindal was at the club’s Spring Training complex last weekend. “I’m always going be pulling for the Yankees,” he said. “That’s never going to go away.”

As Ben wrote soon after the DUI and divorce, Swindal was seen as the perfect heir to Steinbrenner’s throne back then. “Swindal was everything that George was and more,” he wrote. “He exhibited the same win-at-all-monetary-costs attitude that Yankee fans have come to crave, but he also exhibited a whole lot of Baseball Smarts. He knew the value of constructing a Major League team through sound investment and an organization that could develop a steady stream of home-grown players to complement the free agent signings.”

That all sounds well and good, but we’ll never know how the course of Yankees history would have changed had Swindal taken over the team as planned rather than Hal. Perhaps all this talk of getting under the luxury tax threshold in 2014 would not exist, or perhaps the reduced payroll would have happened years ago. It’s hard to complain about the team right now, but there’s still that what-if element. “It’s a strange turn,” said Swindal to CBSNY. “Life is going to be full of turns and changes. It’s how you deal with it that’s important. I had the best ten years of my life with the Yankees, of my professional life. I don’t regret a minute of it.”

[h/t HBT]

2012 Season Preview: Saving Runs

So good that MLB told him he can't use a glove in 2012 just to make it fair. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Like a number of other teams, the Yankees ignored defense for quite some time in the mid-aughts. Maybe ignored is the wrong word, but it definitely wasn’t a priority. The 2005 Yankees were arguably the worst defensive team in baseball history, but they still managed to win 95 games thanks to a dominant offense and some good timing (pythag. 90 wins). That formula doesn’t cut it these days.

By no means are the 2012 Yankees a defensive dynamo, but they’ve improved defensively at a number of positions in recent years by shedding poor glovemen like Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Damon. UZR says the Yankees were the eighth best defensive team in baseball last year, saving 23.2 more runs than expected. At the same time, their -15 DRS ranks 21st out of the 30 team. Different systems give different answers, which is why this defense thing is so hard to pin down these days. Let’s take a look at the Yankees who provide value when not in the batter’s box…

Robinson Cano
Cano is a good example of just how imperfect defensive metrics are these days. UZR doesn’t like him one bit, rating him as a below average defender in each of the last four years and in six of his seven seasons. DRS, on the other hands, says he’s been above average in each of the last three years and in four of the last five. Total Zone says he’s been a bit below average the last two years, but above average the four years before that. FRAA? That says he’s been above average defensively in every season of his career except for 2010, when he registered at -0.5.

Which system is right? Probably all of them to a certain extent, but it goes to show that there’s still no right answer with this defensive stuff. Overall, I think Robbie’s a pretty good second baseman, particularly on plays to his right and around the bag on the double play pivot. Balls hit to his left have been a bit of a problem throughout the years, but I think he’s still a net positive, all things considered. No one will ever confuse Cano for Roberto Alomar or Chase Utley on defense, but he’s a solid glove guy that does his best work near the bag. That double play pivot is just as sweet as his swing.

Brett Gardner
You can make a legitimate case that Gardner is the best defensive player in baseball. He combines his speed with excellent reads for top notch range, and his throwing has improved dramatically over the last two years or so. His arm isn’t terribly strong, but it is accurate. Anytime a ball is hit in the air towards left, I’m pretty confident that it’ll be turned into an out these days.

One thing to keep in mind is that Gardner’s ridiculous defensive ratings — +50.9 UZR and +35 DRS last two years — are relative to other left fielders, and most other left fielders are slow, plodding, bat-first types. I don’t want to take anything away from Brett because he is an elite defender, but if the Yankees were to move him to center, he would not be a +20 defender on an annual basis. He’d be more along the lines of +10 or so. That’s still really awesome, and when it comes to saving runs with the glove, no one on the Yankees is better and very few around the league are even comparable.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Russell Martin
Catcher defense is a tough thing to quantify, but we’ve gotten better throughout the years. Although he’s been below average at blocking passed pitches in recent years, PitchFX data has shown that Martin is one of the very best at framing pitches and saving runs by turning balls into strikes. With an average arm that consistently throws out 30% of attempted base stealers or so, Russ handles himself well behind the plate and is an asset to the team defensively.

Of course, Martin looks like the greatest catcher ever compared to his predecessor Jorge Posada. Not to dump on Posada, but he was a bad defensive catcher and flat out abysmal later in his career, and it could be clouding our judgment when watching Martin or any other Yankees catcher. The few advanced metrics we have do a good job of showing that while he’s a good defensive backstop, Martin isn’t great. He does the job throwing out baserunners, frames pitches exceptionally well, and won’t allow and excessive amount of pitches to get by him.

Mark Teixeira
Defensive metrics still haven’t mastered the first base position, which has more to do with straight glovework than range. Tex isn’t fleet of foot but he does guard the line well and keeps his fair share of balls from getting through the hole. That has more to do with positioning than actual quickness. He’s also a strong thrower, which is still amazing to see after watching Giambi airmail throws for the better part of a decade.

I think Teixeira’s best defensive work comes when he’s scooping throws at first or snagging bad hops, stuff like that. There’s no way to measure this accurately, so it’s completely anecdotal. He saves the other infielders errors by scooping those poor throws, but more importantly saves pitches for the guys on the mound. Tex sees more defensive work than every non-battery position on the field, which is a good thing for the Yankees given his skills.

* * *

I think Alex Rodriguez is worth a mention here, because he looked fantastic on defense late in the season and especially in the ALDS. He didn’t hit much after the knee and thumb injuries, but he still moves well around the bag and makes a lot of tough plays look easy because of his strong arm. I also think A-Rod is the smartest, most instinctual player I’ve ever seen. He always seems to makes the correct decision when it comes to going for the double play, looking back the lead runner, charging the bunt, all that stuff. Alex won’t win a Gold Glove, but by no means is he a liability at the hot corner.

Mailbag: Cain, Hamels, Hunter, Rotations, Joba

Six questions and five answers this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar for all your contacting RAB needs.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Mark asks: Does the new payroll austerity plan all but eliminate the chance of the Yanks signing either Hamels or Cain after this season? I never personally thought the team would ever be in on either, unless Nova, Phelps, Warren, Banuelos, Betances and Hughes all regress in 2012, though signing either Hamels or Cain seems to be the long-term hope of Yankee fans – thoughts?

If they really wanted to, the Yankees could still add one $20M a year player and fit under that $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. They’ll have to cut costs in a big way elsewhere — namely replacing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Mariano Rivera, and Rafael Soriano with guys making no money — but it can be done.

I’m certain Matt Cain will sign an extension with the Giants soon, maybe even before the start of the season. Cole Hamels is a bit more of a question mark; I could see him signing an extension or testing the free agent waters. I don’t think the Yankees will heavily pursue either guy as free agents after the season, but they’ll surely remain in touch just to see what happens. That’s pretty much what they did with C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish this past offseason, if they fall into their laps at a lower than expected rate, great. If not, then no big deal. I love Hamels as much as the next guy, but it would be cool if the Yankees didn’t need to add another $20M a year pitcher after the season.

Jonathan asks: Torii Hunter is in the last year of his contract and stated that “I made money now I want a ring.” What would you think of letting Swish walk and getting Torii on the cheap 2/16m?

Peter asks: If the Yanks let Nick Swisher walk at the end of the season, would a Andruw Jones/Chris Dickerson RF platoon make sense as an alternative, with an eye on 2014?

Well, there’s nothing cheap about Torii Hunter for two years and $16M. His power and overall offensive production has been declining for years now, and his defense was never as great as it was cracked up to be. He’s also close to a dead pull right-handed hitter, and those guys don’t have great success at Yankee Stadium unless we’re talking A-Rod or Andruw type power. I’m the president of the Torii Hunter Haters Club, but there is some merit to looking at him as a stopgap solution if Swisher is allowed to walk after the season. Two years is one too many, however.

As for Andruw and Dickerson, I actually thought about that this offseason back when there was some talk that the Yankees might try to trade Swisher for a pitcher. That platoon wouldn’t be great but it would get the job done, probably a bit below average offensively (since Jones is on the short-end of the platoon stick) and a bit above average defensively (because Dickerson would get more time). I’d rather go with those two next season rather than Hunter, but I do think the Yankees could do better. They’re basically a solid Plan B in my book, nothing more.

(J. Meric/Getty)

Cameron asks: If you were given the opportunity to swap rotations with another team in the league, 5 guys for 5 guys, which team would it be?  The Rays, the Phillies?  Someone else?  I guess on the surface it could be an easy question, like ‘oh yeah, I’d take the Phillies rotation for sure’ but obviously there are a lot of factors like pitching in the AL, and the East specifically, etc.  Just curious what you think.  Thanks!

Just five-for-five, I would definitely trade rotations with the Phillies, Rays, Giants, and Angels. If I knew Chris Carpenter (career high in innings last year and his elbow was barking in the playoffs) and Adam Wainwright (coming off elbow surgery) were going to be their usual selves, I would include them as well. Given the uncertainty, they’re on the outside looking in right now.

With Philadelphia, the reasons are obvious. Three guys who are legitimate aces right now plus two more serviceable back-end arms. That same logic applies to the Giants, who have three aces (Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner) and two other serviceable arms. The Rays have two ace-caliber guys in David Price and Jamie Shields, plus another huge upside guy in Matt Moore. Jeremy Hellickson and either Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis are fine at the end of the staff. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana, and a potted plant is a pretty dynamite rotation as well. You can make arguments for the Brewers, Tigers, Nationals (if you knew Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann were going to get 200 IP each),  and White Sox (if Jake Peavy was healthy) as well, but I think those are up for debate.

Shaun asks: I was just wondering if Joba Chamberlain had any options left and if there was a way to delay his free agency by a year or so. I supposed this is irrelevant now that he will be back sometime in June but could the Yankees have saved anything from sending Joba down prior to him going on the DL? Still trying to wrap my ahead around the potential 2014 Yankees! Thanks!

Joba was called up in August 2007 and has never gone back to the minors, so he has all three options left. If they want to delay his free agency by a year, he’ll have to spend approximately two months in the minors between now and the end of the 2013 season. He will collect service time while on the DL and on a minor league rehab assignment, so that won’t help the team’s cause.

Unless he comes back from Tommy John surgery a shell of his former self, there’s no reason for the Yankees to send Joba to the minors. The union would flip out because his performance doesn’t warrant a demotion, and it’s not worth the hassle. If they would have sent him down and then put him on the DL, he would have filed a grievance and won. Glen Perkins and Tony Abreu have won grievances for this exact situation; their teams sent them down injured and tried to stash them on the minor league DL rather than allow them to accrue service time on the big league DL.

Tom asks: With caps on draft and international spending, is there any punishment for teams who do not use up their cap money? It seems that if teams only used part of their allotted amount, it’s a waste to the game as a whole because that’s money that other teams could have used to help bring more players into the game.

There’s no punishment, and teams won’t be able to save that money and use it on players the next year or anything like that. These draft and international spending restrictions are in place for one reason: to keep costs down. The less teams spend on amateurs, the happier the owners and union will be. It’s completely stupid, but it is what it is. At the end of the day, MLB and the 30 clubs are still for-profit organizations and the new Collective Bargaining Agreements reflect that.