What Went Wrong: Romine, Stewart & Cervelli

(Newsday)

The Yankees came into this season knowing Russell Martin was going to be their full-time catcher, but the backup job was up for grabs. Frankie Cervelli was the incumbent and Austin Romine was the high-ish profile prospect who broke into the show as a September call-up a year ago, so the best man in Spring Training was going to win. As it turned out, neither had what it took.

Austin Romine
Romine, 23, wound up with taking exactly zero plate appearances in Spring Training. He dealt with back inflammation — an injury that caused him to miss time last summer as well — in camp and suffered a setback towards the end of March. Romine didn’t get into minor league rehab games until July and it wasn’t until late-August that the Yankees activated him off the DL and send him down to Triple-A. He wasn’t brought back for a September call-up.

All told, Romine batted just 195 times between the minor league regular season and the Arizona Fall League in 2012. Instead of possibly spending the year cutting his teeth as the big league backup, it was a lost season in which the Yankees were unable to find out anything about Romine at the Major League level. Pretty much the only good news was that they never actually burned a minor league option this year, so he still has all three left. Some consolation prize.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Chris Stewart
The Yankees were concerned about their upper level catching depth in the wake of Romine’s back injury, so at the end of Spring Training they swung a somewhat surprising move, sending right-hander George Kontos to the Giants for the 30-year-old Stewart. Just like that, the team had a new backup catcher and the competition in camp was rendered moot.

Stewart, true to his reputation, didn’t hit a lick this year. He got on everyone’s good side with a handful of timely RBI singles in April, but overall he produced just a .241/.292/.319 (65 wRC+) batting line in 157 plate appearances. I thought his defense was solid but not as good as advertised — he threw out only eight of 35 attempted base-stealers (22.9%), for example — so Stewart struck me as a classic Nichols’ Law catcher. Considering the team’s midseason bullpen woes, Kontos (2.47 ERA and 2.80 FIP in 43.2 innings for the Giants) would have been a nice piece to have around.

(The Star-Ledger)

Frankie Cervelli
There was no more room left at the inn after acquiring Stewart, so the Yankees demoted Cervelli to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training. As if that wasn’t bad enough — Cervelli hadn’t spent extended time in the minors since 2009 — the Triple-A squad had to play on the road all season due to extensive renovations at PNC Field in Scranton. Frankie went from being the team’s backup catcher to a full season’s worth of bus rides in about five minutes.

Cervelli, 26, was supposed to go down and show the team what a huge mistake they had made, but instead he hit just .246/.341/.316 (89 wRC+) in 417 plate appearances. The Yankees recalled himĀ  as the third catcher in September but only got him into three games due to the tight race with the Orioles. To Cervelli’s credit, he worked a hard-fought two-out, six-pitch walk in his first of two big league plate appearances, coming around to score the game-winning run in the 12th inning against the Red Sox in Game 161. Nice moment, but hardly a season worth remembering.

Cashman: “Nothing to report” about talks with Rivera

Via George King: Brian Cashman confirmed that there is “nothing to report” about contract talks with Mariano Rivera. It’s been a little more than two weeks since the team’s long-time closer announced that he’ll return next year, but since then we’ve learned the Yankees will offer him a pay cut.

Rivera, who turns 43 later this month, appeared in only nine games this season due to his torn knee ligament. It’s fair to say he’s more of a question mark now than ever before given his age and injury, but the team will obviously welcome him back with open arms. The two sides have a history of contentious negotiations though, including an arbitration hearing and at least two threats to defect to the Red Sox, but I’m hopeful they’ll hammer this thing out before the Winter Meetings early next month.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Shane Victorino

(Denis Poroy/Getty)

Plugging the right field hole left by the eventually departed Nick Swisher is going to be one of the Yankees’ biggest challenges this winter, especially given their self-inflicted payroll cap heading into next season. Top free agents like Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, and even Swisher would look wonderful in pinstripes next year, but the team is unlikely to spend the kind of dough required to reel them in. They’ll instead mine the bargain bin.

One free agent outfielder whose stock is down coming off a subpar year is Shane Victorino, who will turn 32 in a little more than a week. The rebuilding-ish Phillies traded him to the Dodgers at the deadline, but he only hit .245/.316/.351 (88 wRC+) in 235 plate appearances with Los Angeles to close out the season. By late-September he was losing playing time to former Yankee Juan Rivera, among others. Victorino is just one year removed from a 13th place finish in the MVP voting though, so let’s see if he has enough left in the tank to help the Yankees.

The Pros

  • Just a .255/.321/.383 (94 wRC+) hitter in 2012, Victorino is one year removed from a .279/.355/.491 (133 wRC+) effort. He owns a 109 wRC+ over the last three seasons and crushes left-handers: .323/.388/.518 (148 wRC+) in this year and .318/.396/.550 (157 wRC+) since 2010.
  • Victorino definitely qualifies as a contact hitter, striking out just 12.0% of the time this season and 11.7% of the time over the last three seasons. His contact rates (86.8% in 2012 and 86.7% since 2010) are strong as well.
  • You’re going to get some walks in addition to that contact as well. He walked in 8.0% of his plate appearances this year and 8.5% since 2010, which is basically league average. Many contact guys are hackers, but not Victorino. He also stole 39 bases this year (87% success rate) and has topped 25 steals five times in the last six years.
  • Victorino remains a strong defensive outfielder, doing his best work in the corners even though he’s more than capable of playing center. His throwing arm isn’t the strongest in the world, but he gets rid of the ball quick and is pretty accurate.
  • For what it’s worth, Victorino plays really hard and that’s always pleasing to the eye. He also has plenty of pennant race and postseason experience given his time with the Phillies.
  • Because he was traded at midseason, the Dodgers could not make Victorino a qualifying offer and thus he won’t require draft pick compensation to sign. I doubt they would have offered anyway.

The Cons

  • Obviously Victorino’s offense took a step back this season, and his struggles come exclusively against right-handers. He hit just .229/.296/.333 (73 wRC+) against righties this year and .244/.311/.390 (91 wRC+) since 2010.
  • Although he avoided the disabled list this season, Victorino has been on the DL three times in the last three years and four times in the last five years. They were all minor strains (thumb, oblique, thigh, calf), but he tends to get banged up by playing so hard. Call it Slade Heathcott Syndrome.

The Pros greatly outweigh the Cons, but the inability to hit right-handers is pretty significant. He can’t hit righties despite being a switch-hitter, meaning he’d be relegated to the short end of the platoon stick. Perhaps the friendly right field porch in Yankee Stadium improves his output from the left side of the plate, but he’s not a big fly ball guy to begin with. He’s a line drive/ground ball guy who uses his speed to reach base. Being unable to hit righties is a pretty huge negative.

We haven’t even reached the Winter Meetings yet, and already we’ve seen two good but flawed outfielders since lucrative multi-year contracts. Torii Hunter landed two guaranteed years from the Tigers despite being 37 years old while Melky Cabrera received two years from the Blue Jays coming off a PED-related suspension. The market is flush with cash and teams seem willing to give that extra year to get their man. The Yankees, however, are fixated on one-year contracts in an effort to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2014.

That commitment to one-year deals hurts their chances to sign Victorino, who will presumably get offered starter money (and playing time) at some point this offseason. He would be the absolute perfect platoon guy/fourth outfielder for New York though given his ability to mash lefties, play all three outfield spots, run, and make contact. The Yankees have had success getting veteran players to take on reduced roles on one-year contracts in recent years, but Victorino strikes me as too young for that. I’d love to see them grab him as an Andruw Jones replacement on a one-year deal, even if they wind up paying him like $8M, but I have a hard time seeing those terms working for the player.

FanGraphs Q&A with David Cone

David Laurila of FanGraphs posted an interview with former Yankee and current YES Network analyst David Cone today … well, it’s not much of an interview really. Cone did all the talking and basically told a big story. He spoke about his development as a pitcher throughout his playing career and his love for data, something that extends into his broadcasts. It’s no secret that Cone is a personal fave in the booth, so you shouldn’t be surprised that I’m giving this RAB’s highest level of recommendation. Check it out.

What Went Wrong: Joba & Cory Wade

The Yankees opened the season with what appeared to be an enviable amount of relief depth, plus there was more on the way at midseason. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the best laid plans…

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Joba Chamberlain
When the season started, everyone knew the 27-year-old Chamberlain was going to be a non-factor until at least midseason. The right-hander blew out his elbow in early-June of last year, and the recovery time for Tommy John surgery is typically 12 months. He talked about coming back in May while the team cautioned that it might not be until July, but all of the speculation became moot when Joba suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle while jumping on trampolines with his son at a children’s play place in late-March.

Surgery and a lengthy rehab process followed, and it wasn’t until mid-July that he pitched in his first minor league rehab game. The Yankees weren’t counting on him to return this year but Joba insisted he would be back, and sure enough he was activated off the DL on July 31st. He was scheduled to make one final Double-A rehab start that night, but the club had traded Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee earlier in the afternoon and didn’t want to play with a short bullpen.

Joba was terrible early on. He allowed two runs in 1.2 innings in his first appearance and ten runs in his first eleven appearances (10.1 innings). His fastball hummed in around 94-96 and his slider was sharp, but his command was non-existent. That’s pretty typical for guys coming off elbow reconstruction. The good news is that Joba finished very strong, allowing just one unearned run in his final eleven appearances and 10.1 innings while striking out 13 and walking just one. He got hit hard in the postseason and I mean literally — the barrel of a broken bat hit him square in the right elbow and kept him out for a few days.

Although the Yankees did get 20.2 late-season innings out of him, 2012 was essentially a lost year for Joba. The ankle injury delayed his return and when he did get back on the mound, he wasn’t anything special (4.35 ERA and 4.01 FIP). It’s encouraging that he finished well and I suppose it’s good news that missing all that time due to injury will keep his salary down next year, but I think the Yankees would have preferred to have Chamberlain healthy as soon as possible and contributing to the bullpen.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Cory Wade
Joba’s injury last season opened the door for Wade, who pitched to a 2.04 ERA (3.76 FIP) in the second half after being plucked off the scrap heap. The 29-year-old Wade was expected to be an important middle innings cog coming into 2012, giving the club solid right-handed depth behind Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. He was stellar early on (1.46 ERA and 1.15 FIP in his first ten outings and 12.1 innings) and took on a setup role when Rivera and Robertson went down with injuries in early-May.

Wade pitched fairly well as the de facto right-handed setup man, allowing just six earned runs (3.60 ERA and 4.30 FIP) in his next 17 outings and 15 innings, but the wheels came completely off the bus in mid-June. He allowed one run in three straight appearances from June 16th-22nd, then got hammered for four runs in 0.2 innings by the Indians four days later. Three days after that, the White Sox crushed him for six runs in 2.1 innings. Joe Girardi let him wear that one, leaving Wade in to throw a career-high (by far) 58 pitches.

The Yankees had little choice but to send the soft-tossing right-hander to Triple-A, and outside of one-game appearance as the 26th man during a doubleheader against the Red Sox (three runs in 0.2 innings), he didn’t return until rosters expanded in September. Wade’s solid work in the minors (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) was unfortunately not an indication that his command/mechanical issues were a thing of the past. He surrendered four runs in 5.2 innings during the season’s final month, but he deserves props for throwing a perfect 14th inning in the crazy extra-innings comeback win over the Athletics.

All told, Wade pitched to a 6.46 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 39 innings for the Yankees this year. His strikeout (8.77 K/9 and 22.2 K%) and walk (1.85 BB/9 and 4.7 BB%) rates were dynamite, but batters absolutely punished him whenever he caught too much of the plate with his soft stuff. That happened far too often once the calendar flipped over to June. The Yankees designated Wade for assignment in early-October and the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers a week later, ending his brief tenure in New York. Between get picked off the scrap heap last summer and falling apart in the middle of this season, he gave the team about a full season’s worth of solid relief work (2.28 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 67 innings).

Monday Night Open Thread

The slow early-offseason for the Yankees continued with no moves today, but that will definitely change tomorrow. Tuesday is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for next month’s Rule 5 Draft, and the two most prominent prospects New York must protect are right-hander Brett Marshall and left-hander Nik Turley. It’s also possible that lefty Manny Banuelos will need to be protected as well, but don’t hold me to that. It’s tough to figure out when some of the international guys are Rule 5 eligible because we don’t know the exact date they signed. The Yankees have seven open 40-man spots right now but they won’t use them all for prospects. They still have to bring in a right fielder, a catcher, at least one starter, and most of a bench. The 40-man is clogged up with enough fringy prospects as it is.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Bears and 49ers are your Monday Night Football game, plus there’s various NBA action as well. Still no NHL games though because everyone involved in that mess is dumb. Talk about whatever you like here, enjoy.

Update: News Corp. closing in on deal for YES stake

Nov. 19th: News Corp. would acquire 49% of YES in the transaction according to Richard Sandomir and Amy Chozick, but there would be the option to increase their stake to as much as 80% in 3-5 years. I can’t help but wonder if that option is an indication that the Steinbrenners have their eye on selling the club down the line. The network, meanwhile, is worth a bit more than $3 billion, meaning it is likely more valuable than the team itself. In-freakin’-sanity.

Nov. 15th: Via Matthew Futterman: News Corp. is closing in on a deal to purchase a minority stake in the YES Network. They have their eye on the nearly 40% share currently owned by long-time investors Goldman Sachs and Providence Equity Partners. The Yankees own about one-third of the network and aren’t selling any portion of their share.

Last month we learned that the team was looking for investors to buy out Goldman and Providence. News Corp. is a monster, the world’s second largest media group in terms of revenue. They have stakes in FOX, The New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal among many other media outlets. Futterman says YES is likely to raise the monthly fees (which currently lag behind other regional networks) it receives from cable providers when their contracts expire in the coming years. In other words, the deal will make the Yankees a ton of money and your cable bill might be slightly higher in the future. Business as usual, really.