Oppenheimer out of Angels GM mix; Eppler called for second interview

Via Jon Heyman and Mike DiGiovanna, Billy Eppler has been called by the Angels for a second interview about their GM job. Damon Oppenheimer was told that he is not longer being considered for the position, however. The Yankees gave the Halos permission to interview their two scouting directors, pro (Eppler) and amateur (Opp), earlier this month, and it seems like the Angels are starting to narrow the field down a bit. Dan Barbarisi wrote a great article about how Eppler and his department were able to unearth some hidden gems back in May.

What Went As Expected: Nick Swisher

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Yankees have had one of the league’s best offenses for many years running, but they came into the season with a surprising lack of sure things at the plate. How would Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez continue to decline? Would Curtis Granderson continue to rake after making adjustments with Kevin Long? Would Mark Teixeira‘s batting average bounce back? Can Brett Gardner do it again with the wrist injury in the rear-view mirror? How would Jorge Posada take to DHing? Is Russell Martin healthy? The only two players with any kind of certainty coming into 2011 were budding star Robinson Cano and the less hyped Nick Swisher.

Oddly enough, Swisher’s season started with a rather prolonged slump, particularly in the power department. He’d gotten off to hot starts in his previous two years as a Yankee, so this was quite the opposite. Swish didn’t hit his first homerun until the team’s 22nd game of the season, at which point he was hitting just .237/.351/.303 in 94 plate appearances. The slump continued into late-May, and the Yankees right fielder carried a weak .206/.321/.288 batting line into the May 29th game in Seattle, the Yankees’ 51st game of the season.

A second inning solo homer off Jason Vargas in that May 29th game set the stage for Swisher’s turn around. He put together a little six-game hitting streak and socked another homer three days later, then hit another one out three days after that. It’s not much, but he managed to raise his season batting line from .204/.321/.289 to .215/.342/.348 during the nine-game west coast trip, and he was the team’s best hitter during June: .326/.445/.651 with seven homers and more walks (20) than strikeouts (16). From that May 29th game through the end of the season, he hit .284/.397/.519 with 23 doubles and 21 homers in 442 plate appearances.

Swisher managed to raise his overall season line from that sub-replacement level garbage he put up through the first 51 games to a much more respectable .260/.374/.449 after 162 games, a .358 wOBA that was his worst as a Yankee but still 19th best among the 62 qualified outfielders in baseball. Swisher did struggle against righties (.335 wOBA) compared to lefties (.412), but it wasn’t enough to stop him from leading the team in OBP and posting the seventh highest walk rate (15.0%) in baseball. At 3.4 bWAR and 3.8 fWAR, he was either the 19th or 25th best outfielder in the game, depending on your statistical preference.

The sluggish start and dreadful postseason showing (4-for-19 with a walk) sort of puts a damper on yet another fine season for Swisher, who at this point has to be considered one of the best pickups of the Brian Cashman era when considering cost. He’s gotten on base and hit for power every season he’s been in New York, and he hasn’t spent a day on the disabled list. The Yankees are very likely to pick up Swisher’s $10.25M option for 2012, bringing him back to Bronx for at least one more season, a season that will almost certainly be productive.

Learning From The Rangers

Nap-o-li. Mon-ter-o. (Doug Pensinger/AP)

A couple hours from now, the Texas Rangers will make the first attempt in franchise history to win the World Series. They’re one win away from title, one year after beating the Yankees in the ALCS to send the team to their first ever Fall Classic. With young players all over the roster and a smart, progressive front office, the Rangers are quickly emerging as one of baseball’s powerhouses. The Yankees have been one of those powerhouses for more than a decade now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a look at the Texas squad and learn a few things. Here are four ways the Yankees can mimic the Rangers, each with the possibility of having a big impact.

Don’t Take The Catching Depth For Granted

Yesterday we heard that the Pirates are prioritizing a catcher this offseason, leading to speculation about the Yankees being a possible trade match. With Russell Martin entrenched behind the plate for at least another year and Frankie Cervelli, Jesus Montero, and Austin Romine all that Triple-A or above, the Yankees have the luxury of depth at a position where most teams have none.

Three seasons ago, the Rangers were the team with that catching depth. They had Gerald Laird at the big league level, plus Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez all on the cusp of the show. Laird was traded that offseason for no one in particular (Guillermo Moscoso and a Single-A pitcher that still hasn’t made it out of Single-A) as Texas dealt from what they felt was a position of strength, but less than two years later, that depth was gone. Ramirez couldn’t catch, Salty couldn’t stay healthy, and Teagarden couldn’t hit. They ended up trading for Bengie Molina at least year’s deadline before signing Yorvit Torrealba to a two-year deal this past winter.

Catchers, probably more than any other position, can experience growing pains early in their career. It’s not just hitting and standing in the right spot or throwing to the right base, it’s learning a pitching staff and dealing with nagging injuries. Matt Wieters has all the talent in the world and he’s struggled with it. Catching depth has a way of disappearing quickly, so the Yankees shouldn’t take what they have in Martin, Montero, Cervelli, and Romine for granted. That’s not to say they can’t or shouldn’t trade any of them, but they can’t just trade one of them for the sake of making a trade. A deal would have to bring real improvement to the MLB roster, not prospects.

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Prospect Profile: Tyler Austin

(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

Tyler Austin | 1B, 3B

A Georgia kid, Christopher Tyler Austin attended Heritage High School in Conyers, about a half-hour outside Atlanta. He was a fixture at showcase events and in various travel leagues, and was a high-end recruit for Kennesaw State. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 24th best prospect in the state prior to the 2010 draft, but noted that he could come off the board as early as the fourth round. The Yankees were patient and able to nab Austin with their 13th round pick, the 415th overall selection. He signed for $130k close to the signing deadline, over-slot but actually a bit of a bargain.

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Yanks prepared to offer Sabathia a six-year extension

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

CC Sabathia has every reason to void the remaining four years and $92 million on his contract. While that’s the most money any player will have ever left on the table, there is a 100 percent chance he’ll exceed that total, in both years and dollars, on the open market. But that won’t stop the Yankees from trying to prevent his impending free agency.

According to a New York Post report, the Yankees are currently preparing an offer, or a series of offers, intended to retain Sabathia before his opt-out date arrives. Their idea consists of a five- or six-year deal with a raise over Sabathia’s current $23 million annual salary. That sounds like a reasonable offer, and there’s definitely a chance Sabathia could accept.

Chances are the six-year offer is the only one that gets it done. Six years at $24 million per season totals $144 million, which exceeds the offer the Yankees made for Cliff Lee last offseason. That’s fair, given how much Sabathia has contributed to the Yankees in the last three years. They can even bump that up to $145 million, thereby exceeding Lee’s record $24 million annual salary. A five-year deal would certainly have to come in at around $125 million, and would include at least one option.

The Yankees stand to learn plenty with such lucrative offers. If Sabathia accepts, then he was true to his word about enjoying New York and his declarations of, “I’m not going anywhere.” If he declines a six-year deal worth $140 to $145 million, then the Yankees have to question Sabathia’s intentions. Again, $145 million over six years would give Sabathia the highest average annual value of any pitcher contract in history, to go along with his highest gross total of $161 million. Should he decline such an offer, he’s signaling that he would consider an offer from another team that, in all likelihood, wouldn’t constitute much more than a marginal increase over the Yankees’ offer.

Even so, a six-year offer to a 31-year-old pitcher might seem like a lot. But consider that 1) the Yankees made a six-year offer to Lee last off-season, 2) there is no pitcher on the market who matches Sabathia’s abilities, and 3) Sabathia’s importance to the team’s success the past three seasons. For instance, he has averaged 34 starts and 235 innings per season with the Yankees. In the three years before Sabathia arrived the Yankees had six pitchers reach 200 innings, but none eclipsed 218 in any season. Also, none had an ERA within 15 points of Sabathia’s average 3.18 ERA. That is, he’s been a consistently top-notch workhorse. That’s the type of pitcher the Yankees can pay a premium for.

Without Sabathia in 2012, the Yankees would be in quite a bind. They’d absolutely have to go after C.J. Wilson, and Wilson simply isn’t as good as Sabathia. Even when you factor in the contract Wilson would require, Sabathia seems like the better value. The Yankees recognize this, and will prepare an offer that appears difficult to refuse. If you truly liked pitching somewhere and they offered you a six-year deal that paid you more per year than any pitcher in history, wouldn’t you take it?

Eiland joins Royals, talks about leave of absence

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As the Cubs and Red Sox were busy introducing their new President of Baseball Ops and GM on Monday, respectively, the Royals very quietly announced that they had hired Dave Eiland to be their pitching coach. Eiland, of course, filled that same role with the Yankees from 2008-2010, getting the job because he was familiar with the team’s young pitchers (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy) after serving as their pitching coach in the minors.

During his final season in New York, Eiland took a month long and still unexplained leave of absence from the team, forcing bullpen coach Mike Harkey into pitching coach duties for the month of June. Although we still don’t know why he had to leave the team, Bob Dutton of The KC Star spoke to Eiland about the absence after the Royals announced his hiring…

Eiland took a 25-day leave of absence for personal reasons stemming from family issues in June 2010 from his job as the Yankees’ pitching coach. He was fired after the season and joined the Rays as a special assistant to general manager Andrew Friedman.

“It was something that if it happened in the off-season,” Eiland said, “nobody would have known anything about it. It was something I had to take care of. I came home, got everything where it needed to be and moved on.

“All is well, and I couldn’t be happier from a personal or professional standpoint. As I told Ned (on Monday), I wish spring training was starting tomorrow.”

When the Yankees decided to fire Eiland (technically they didn’t fire him, his contract expired and they decided not to renew it) after last season, Brian Cashman would not go into detail about the decision other than to say it was made for “private and personal” reasons. “He knows why [he was let go]”, said Cashman. “He was given conditions that needed to be followed. So he knows why.” Eiland spent last season with the Rays, scouting amateur pitchers prior to the draft.

Like A.J. Burnett‘s black eye, Eiland’s leave of absence is one of the Yankees’ great unsolved mysteries. It was blamed for Burnett’s disastrous June last season (11.35 ERA and a 2.26 WHIP in five starts), but after his awful performance carried over into 2011, I think it’s safe to say the only person that deserves blame for that is A.J. himself. Eiland may be a public figure, but frankly his personal life is none of our business. We’re curious and we can’t help but wonder about the juicy details, but as if often the case with these kinds of things, the reason is something a) not all that juicy, or b) better left unsaid.

MLB Network will broadcast 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series

The MLB Network announced today that it will broadcast the five-game Taiwan All-Star Series from November 1-6. The schedule is right here; four of the five games start at 9pm ET. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are headlining the MLB Team now that Miguel Cabrera has withdrawn due to a sore shoulder. They’ll be teammates with former Yankees Phil Coke, Jose Veras, Mark Melancon, and (hah) LaTroy Hawkins, among others. Old buddy Chien-Ming Wang will start one game for the Chinese Taipei squad. Hooray for baseball in November.