For the first time in his career, Mark Teixeira has won the Fielding Bible Award at first base for his defensive skills. Albert Pujols had won the award five times in the last six years, but he finished third in the voting behind Tex and Adrian Gonzalez in 2012. Teixeira received 95 of 100 possible points in the scoring system and was probably long overdue for this award, which I feel is a far better representation of defensive ability than Gold Gloves. Tex has a few of those already.
We’re back after a little layoff. But let’s be honest: no one was in the mood to listen to a post-mortem the day after a rough ending to the season.
It’s just the start of the off-season, so we’re starting small. On today’s show Mike and I discuss the impending free agents and what kind of moves the Yankees will have to make in order to fill the gaps. There will be quite a few of them.
Podcast run time 44:39
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
There is nothing in baseball quite like the optimism of Spring Training. Everyone has a clean slate, every young player is poised to break out, and every old and declining player is poised for a rebound. Alex Rodriguez has been that old and declining player poised for a rebound for three years running now, as the usual stories of him being fully healthy and in great shape and blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda ran rampant when camp opened in February.
Fast forward to October, and it was the same old story for A-Rod. His performance continued to slide and he missed considerable time with injury. He sparked some minor controversy along the way and like just about all of teammates, he didn’t hit in the postseason. Because he’s A-Rod, he drew most of the ire and his benching made national headlines. Talks of a possible offseason trade — with the Yankees eating most of the $114M left on his contract — soon surfaced. In other words, it was a typically messy year for the club and their third baseman.
You know what the weirdest thing is? It’s that A-Rod was actually productive this season. No, not by the lofty standards he established earlier in his Hall of Fame career, but compared to his peers. Alex hit .272/.353/.430 overall, a 114 wRC+ that ranked eighth among all third baseman who qualified for the batting title. When Felix Hernandez broke a bone in his hand with an errant pitch on July 24th, A-Rod owned a .276/.358/.449 batting line. Is that the monster hitter he was in his prime? No, of course not. But it was certainly above average and damn good production for a 36-year-old.
That broken bone was essentially the end of his season as an effective hitter. Alex didn’t return to the team until September 3rd and even then he only had a handful of minor league rehab games to his credit. He went 12-for-43 (.279) with three homers in his first eleven games back but quickly faded, going just 17-for-68 (.250) with one extra-base hit (a double) in the team’s final 17 games. His postseason featured a 3-for-25 showing, including an 0-for-18 mark with a dozen strikeouts against right-handers. Joe Girardi lifted him for pinch-hitters and flat out benched him at times as well. To their credit, both Girardi and A-Rod said all the right things and didn’t allow the situation to spiral out of control.
All told, Alex set new single-season career-worsts in strikeout rate (21.9%), extra-base hits (36), ISO (.158), SLG (.430), OPS+ (112). wOBA (.342), wRC+ (114), fWAR( 2.2), and bWAR (2.0). That doesn’t count his partial seasons in 1994 (17 games) and 1995 (48 games), just to be clear. He had stretches of 16 straight games without an extra-base hit (longest of his career), 17 straight games without a homer (third longest), 11 straight games without an RBI (second longest), and 13 straight games without a walk (second longest).
The Yankees like to use the DH spot to rest their older regulars — Girardi calls them half-days off — and Alex certainly saw plenty of time there. He led the team with 38 starts at DH, 13 more than anyone else. His previous career high was a dozen DH starts in 2010, and believe it or not he only had 50 career starts at DH coming into 2012. A-Rod’s defense at the hot corner actually wasn’t bad at all this year, but the Yankees did go to great lengths to keep him (and his bat) physically fresh and didn’t get much of a reward for their effort.
The contract is what it is at this point. There’s no going back in time to change it and there’s not much sense in holding it against Alex. The Yankees made their bed with the contract and are going to end up paying the vast majority of it either way, whether they keep him or trade him. The best case scenario for A-Rod these days is that he continues to be an above-average hitting third baseman whenever he actually is on the field, which these days is something like 100-125 games. Expecting more at this point is foolish. Hope that A-Rod can rebound and become an offensive force has morphed into hope that he can merely avoid falling off the cliff further the next few years.
Got six questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us any questions, comments, links, whatever. Someone actually sent us a note the other day saying we should start a premium cheese line called River Ave. Bleus, so yeah. Anything is welcome.
Patrick asks: I know Michael Pineda’s out until at least June and will have to build arm strength and yadda yadda, but could I be optimistic about him because his surgery was arthroscopic? I’m not expecting much in 2013, but what about the following years?
The fact that Pineda’s shoulder only needed to be scoped rather than the traditional, cut-me-open type of incision is encouraging. It was also an anterior tear only, meaning just the front of his shoulder. The typical kiss of death labrum tear is usually all the way around, front and back. That said, don’t trick yourself into thinking this is not a significant injury. There’s a chance — I don’t know what it is, but it definitely exists — he’ll never again be the guy he was prior to the injury.
Anyway, I expect the Yankees to send Pineda back to Triple-A for a few weeks next season once his 30-day rehab window is up just to delay his free agency. They already lost a full year of control to the injury, so they might as well get that back at this point. I don’t think they’ll worry too much about his arbitration status (Super Two), just the free agency. I’m hoping Pineda can provide about 80-100 league average innings next year, which would make me feel better about his long-term outlook. If he shows the same mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider as he did pre-injury, there’s would be a lot of reasons to be optimistic about 2014 and beyond.
David asks: What is the point of “mutual options?” Seems to me that if the player has a good year he’ll decline his side, if he has a crappy year the team will decline their side. Do any current Yankees have mutual options on their contracts and what is likely to happen to them?
The only time I can remember both sides picking up their half of a mutual option was Jason Giambi and the Rockies last offseason. That’s it. Mutual options serve little purpose as far as retaining a player go, so teams typically use them to push some money onto next year’s payroll (in the form of buyouts). If a club is up against its payroll limit, mutual options create a little extra flexibility. I actually wrote an MLBTR post about these things two years ago because they suddenly started popping up everywhere. The Yankees currently do not have a player under contract with a mutual option, either for next year or any point in the future.
Anonymous asks: Saw on MLBTR that the Braves might decline the option on Brian McCann. I know he had shoulder surgery but do you see any interest from the Yankees? If so, what kind of contract do you see him getting?
Yeah, I think the Yankees would have definite interest in McCann if he hit the open market because he’s a left-handed hitter with power and patience. He was the best hitting catcher in baseball for a few years, at least until Joe Mauer got healthy and started going bonkers. The shoulder surgery is a major red flag however, especially since it might keep him on the shelf for the first few weeks of next season. If the Braves decline what is essentially a one-year, $12M deal for McCann, I’d be very worried about the state of his shoulder. It wouldn’t stop me from looking into signing him, but the review of his medicals would have to be very thorough. It’s the whole “what do they know that I don’t?” thing.
Mike asks: If the Yankees don’t re-sign Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones for platoon DH how about trading for Victor Martinez? He’s got 2 years/ $25 million left on his deal, if the Tigers give him away (since with Miggy Cabrera and Prince Fielder they have no fit for him, and he’s coming off injury) and eat a little salary would you be in favor?
Martinez missed the entire season after tearing his ACL in an offseason workout, which somewhat prompted the Tigers to sign Fielder. I think they would have signed him anyway, but that doesn’t matter now. V-Mart has actually hit more homers (nine) at the new Yankee Stadium than any other visiting player, but that shouldn’t be the reason to acquire him.
I think the Tigers would eat some of the money to move him, but the problem is that Martinez is a first baseman and a DH only at this point. He hasn’t been a big league caliber catcher for about three years now, and I can’t imagine the knee injury helped his cause any. As much as I dislike it, the Yankees will continue to rotate their DH to rest their older players, which means acquiring a big money set DH probably isn’t a realistic option. Martinez definitely fits as a switch-hitter with patience, power, and contact skills though. I like the idea — obviously depends on how much money Detroit is willing to eat — but I don’t think the Yankees would go for it
John asks: How good is next year’s draft? If they get picks from Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, and Hiroki Kuroda and don’t surrender any via free agency, would it be a chance to get loads of fresh young high-end talent into the system? Also would they consider trading draft picks for players now like they do in NBA, etc?
I’ll answer the second question first: I love the idea of teams being able to trade draft picks but MLB does not allow it. Well, small market teams can trade their competitive balance picks, but that’s a crazy animal the Yankees won’t be involved in.
As for the actually draft class, it’s too early to know how strong it is. I’ve seen it written in a few places — by Keith Law, Baseball America, etc. — that his year’s draft is weaker than last year’s, but I feel like we hear that every year. Once the college and high school seasons open in the spring and guys start popping up because they’ve added velocity or a new pitch or learned how to hit a curveball, the quality of the draft class will change dramatically. I’ll stick with my default draft answer — there are always good players available regardless of round, it’s just up to the team to find them.
Jamal asks: The Yankees got 20-plus-HR seasons from their catcher, second baseman and center fielder – how rare of a feat is that?
My initial reaction when reading this question was that it probably doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s not some kind of historic feat. Maybe a team does it once every three or four years, something like that. Instead…
|1||2012||New York Yankees||AL||3||Robinson Cano / Curtis Granderson / Russell Martin|
|2||2010||Toronto Blue Jays||AL||3||John Buck / Aaron Hill / Vernon Wells|
|3||2003||Atlanta Braves||NL||3||Marcus Giles / Andruw Jones / Javy Lopez|
|4||1996||Baltimore Orioles||AL||3||Roberto Alomar / Brady Anderson / Chris Hoiles|
|5||1965||Milwaukee Braves||NL||3||Mack Jones / Gene Oliver / Joe Torre|
|6||1939||New York Yankees||AL||3||Bill Dickey / Joe DiMaggio / Joe Gordon|
|7||1938||New York Yankees||AL||3||Bill Dickey / Joe DiMaggio / Joe Gordon|
That’s it. Seven times in history. I only used a 50% playing time requirement as well (meaning the players had to play at least 50% of their games at the positions). Bump it up to 75% and those 1965 Braves disappear. A handful of teams get 20+ homers from two of those three positions each year, but getting them from all three is certainly a rare feat throughout history, even recently.
Joe Girardi spoke the other day about the Yankees getting power from non-traditional power positions like … well … center, second, and catcher, which is why they can carry a non-power guy like Brett Gardner in left. The old saying is that you build a team up the middle and the late-90s Yankees following that model perfectly, with elite players in center, at short, second, and once Jorge Posada took over, behind the plate as well. The Yankees still get a ton of production from their up the middle spots and it’s a big reason why they contend every year.
Via Andrew Marchand: Mariano Rivera is having second thoughts about returning to pitch next season, informing Brian Cashman that he is unsure about his future earlier this week. “He wasn’t certain on what he is going to do,” said the GM.
Rivera, 43, suffered a season-ending knee injury in early-May and said definitively that he would return to pitch another year the following day. Mo’s free to change his mind of course, especially if he felt the rehab was more grueling than expected. Either way, I selfishly hope he comes back for another year just so the fans can give him a proper send-off. Getting carted off the field in Kansas City is no way for Rivera to go out.
The Giants creamed the Tigers in Game One of the World Series last night to take a 1-0 series lead, as their (substantial) advantages in the bullpen and on defense were on full display. It certainly did hurt that Pablo Sandoval hit three homers either, the second three-homer game in AT&T Park history. The first? Kevin Elster back in 2000, the first official game ever played in the building. You know, you just can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.
Detroit will give the ball to Doug Fister in Game Two tonight, hoping he can give them all the innings Justin Verlander was unable to last night. Madison Bumgarner gets the ball for San Francisco after having a start skipped in the NLCS just because he’s worn down and losing effectiveness. He’ll be on ten day’s rest with a full bullpen behind him. A two games to none series lead would not insurmountable, Yankees fans sure know that, but it would be a commanding lead even as the series shifts back to Comerica Park.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on FOX, plus the Thursday NFL game is the Buccaneers at the Vikings. Talk about either game or any other non-politics topic here. Go nuts.