As expected, Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera won his second consecutive AL MVP Award on Thursday night. He again beat out Mike Trout by a pretty big margin, taking home 23 of the 30 first place votes. Based on the points system, Trout was closer to finishing fifth than he was first. For shame.
Speaking of finishing fifth, that’s what Robinson Cano did. He appeared on all 30 ballots and was as high as third on one ballot. Miggy, Trout, Chris Davis, and Josh Donaldson finished ahead of him. Robbie was the only Yankees player to receive MVP votes, which isn’t all that surprising. I thought Mariano Rivera might get a going away vote or two, but that didn’t happen. The full voting results are right here. Andrew McCutchen took home NL honors in a landslide. · (7) ·
The GM Meetings are over and the Yankees, unsurprisingly, did not make any moves this week. No one did, really. Marlon Byrd signed with the Phillies and Nick Punto signed with the Athletics, that’s about it. New York did reportedly meet with a bunch of agents though, and they’ve been connected to pretty much every big name on the market so far. That’s not a surprise with Hal Steinbrenner supposedly taking on a more active role in the decision-making process. Owners aren’t exactly known for making small moves, they go big game hunting.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Colts and Titans are the Thursday NFL Game plus the Knicks and Islanders are playing. College basketball, too. Talk about any and all of that right here. Go nuts.
As the GM Meetings wrapped up today, Bud Selig confirmed MLB’s owners unanimously approved expanded instant replay for the 2014 season. Both the players’ and umpires’ unions must sign off on the plan before it can be implemented, but that is expected to happen. “There isn’t one play or one instance that changed my mind. It has just happened over time. I know we’re doing the right thing,” said the commissioner.
Under the new system, each manager will be given two challenges to use at any point in the game. Managers were expected to be given three challenges under an earlier proposal, but they could only use one in the first six innings. I’m glad they changed that. Challenges are lost only if the play is not overturned — the play is reviewed off-site and the ruling is relayed to the umpiring crew — and if the challenge is successful, the manager retains it for use later in the game. Balls and strikes can not be challenged (duh) and homerun calls will still be handled by the umpires, as has been the case since 2008.
MLB tested the new system during Arizona Fall League play last week — managers were given an unlimited number of challenges and were encouraged to use them so they could work out any bugs — and things went fine. The games themselves were painfully slow because of all the replays, but that won’t be an issue next year as long as each manager is limited to two challenges. The challenges and replays themselves were quick and easy, usually taking less than a minute. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s definitely an improvement. Hooray. · (18) ·
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with yet another player who was exposed by far too much playing time.
Before every season, usually sometime in Spring Training, MLB’s people get together and start piecing together the All-Star ballot. The ballots are released in late-April for fan voting and it takes a few weeks to actually print these things and get them in every ballpark, so they have to prep before the season. As part of that preparation, they confer with every team about their positions and All-Star candidates. Some are obvious, like Robinson Cano at second base for the Yankees. Others aren’t so clear.
The Yankees listed Chris Stewart as their catcher on this year’s All-Star ballot.
Not Frankie Cervelli, who eventually took over as the starting catcher late in camp and early in the season, but Stewart. The guy who we heard was in line to be the starter all winter after Russell Martin bolted for the Pirates because dammit, his defense was that good. He couldn’t hit, but he’ll help the team by throwing out runners and framing the hell out of some borderline pitches. The Yankees were planning to play him so much that they dubbed him worthy of the All-Star ballot.
On April 26th, after a foul tip broke Cervelli’s hand, Stewart became the starter. It was clear Joe Girardi had little faith in Austin Romine, and, frankly, Romine didn’t exactly force the issue either. Stewart was the starter almost by default. He actually wrapped up April with a perfectly fine .294/.333/.382 (97 wRC+) batting line, production any of us would have happily taken over the full season. I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat.
Instead, Stewart predictably crashed. He fell into a 3-for-22 (.192) slump in early-May and hit .240/.286/.360 (73 wRC+) for the month overall. June was more of the same, with an ugly 7-for-37 (.189) stretch and an overall .255/.354/.291 (84 wRC+) line. Romine stole a few starts in early-July and Stewart went into the All-Star break hitting .241/.316/.306 (73 wRC+) with three homers in 170 plate appearances. He had started 54 of the team’s 95 games up to that point, more starts than he had in any other full season of his career.
As expected, Stewart completely collapsed in the second half. You can’t expect a career backup, even a reasonably young one like Stewart (he turns 32 in February), to suddenly play every single day without wearing down. He went 7-for-49 (.143) in his first 18 games after the All-Star break, dragging his overall season batting line down to .219/.296/.279. This is where I remind you he came into this past season a career .217/.281/.302 hitter. Stewart was played exactly as any reasonable person would have expected.
The second half slide continued all the way through the end of the season, and things got so bad at one point that on September 13th against the Orioles, Stewart struck out on two strikes:
If that’s not rock bottom, I don’t want to know what is. On the other hand, Stewart did make what might have been the Yankees’ best defensive play of the year. I don’t remember any better off the top of my head.
Stewart hit an unfathomably bad .169/.262/.226 (37 wRC+) in 124 plate appearances in the second half as Romine and J.R. Murphy saw more playing time behind the plate not necessarily because they earned it, but because Stewart played himself out of the lineup. That dragged his overall season batting line down to .211/.293/.272 (58 wRC+) in 340 plate appearances. Two-hundreds across the slash line board. Among the 32 catchers to bat at least 300 times this year, Stewart ranked 31st in wRC+. J.P. Arencibia (57 wRC+) should be ashamed of himself.
So yeah, Stewart was an unmitigated disaster on offense. I don’t think anyone seriously expected otherwise. But what about defensively? Well, Stewart was second in baseball with 12 passed balls — Arencibia had 13 and he had to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey — despite ranking 17th in innings caught. He did throw out 17 of 54 attempted base-stealers, a 31% success rate that was quite a bit better than the 26% league average. Pitch framing data is hard to come by, but a late-September update at Baseball Prospectus said Stewart was one of the ten best pitch-framers in the game (but not one of the top five) without giving us a runs saved value. An early-September update at ESPN had him at 17 runs saved. Overall catcher defense is damn near impossible to quantify even these days, but Stewart was obviously very good at framing pitches and a bit above-average at throwing out base-runners, but he didn’t do a good job blocking balls in the dirt.
If it wasn’t for the pitch-framing, Stewart would have been below replacement level this season, even for a catcher. An above-average but not truly excellent throw-out rate isn’t enough to make up for the passed ball issues and overall awful offense, both at the plate and on the bases. Framing pitches is his only redeeming quality and he’s lucky he’s so good at it, otherwise he probably would have been out of league by now. Similar to Jayson Nix, Stewart is a backup player who is best used once or twice a week but was forced in regular duty this past season. It’s not his fault he can’t hit or got worn down in the second half, it’s the team’s fault for putting him in that position in the first place.
2:22pm: Intrigue! MLB COO Rob Manfred told reporters at the GM Meetings that the league plans to change its proposal after NPB dragged its feet. “We warned them, told them, if this sat too long, there could be shifting winds out there. And suffice it to say, there have been shifting winds,” he said. There’s a chance there will be no agreement this winter, meaning Tanaka can not be posted. I’ll believe it when I see it, though.
Thursday, 8:45am: According to The Japan Times, the players’ union in Japan has formally agreed to the revisions and NPB is expected to approve the new posting system on Monday. Tanaka and other players could start being posted as soon as next Wednesday. Under the new system, the final posting fee is an average of the top two bids. That’s the only change as far as I can tell.
Tuesday: Via Ken Davidoff: MLB and NPB have “virtually agreed” to a revised posting system and an official announcement could be made soon, possibly as soon as today. The Rakuten Golden Eagles are expected to post ace right-hander Masahiro Tanaka shortly thereafter. The Yankees will reportedly pursue him very aggressively, so the sooner the agreement gets done and they can move forward with their offseason plan, the better.
Under the revised posting system, the high bidder still wins exclusive negotiating rights to the player. However, the final posting fee is now the average of the top two bids. So if the Yankees win Tanaka’s rights with a $100M bid and another team finishes second with a $50M bid, New York will only pay $75M. This gives teams some protection against a Yu Darvish situation (the Rangers outbid everyone by $25M or so). It’s also possible the winning team will still have to pay a percentage of the posting fee if they fail to sign the player, which will help deter clubs with no sincere interest from placing high bids just to block rivals. Makes sense, now wrap this up and let’s move on. · (56) ·
I feel like this was inevitable. At some point this winter, the Yankees would be connected to David Freese. It made too much sense. The Cardinals don’t need him anymore with second baseman Kolten Wong ready (Matt Carpenter would slide back to third) and the Bombers need some help at the hot corner. Add in the big-ish name, past postseason success, and familiarity with a baseball-crazy market and pennant races and all that, and it’s a match made in rumor heaven.
The Yankees have long had their eyes on Freese — they reportedly agreed to acquire him from the Padres for Kei Igawa back in 2007, but George Steinbrenner backed out because he didn’t want to eat any of Igawa’s contract — and sure enough, Mark Feinsand reported yesterday two sides have been talking trade. Later in the day we found out a deal is unlikely because they don’t match up well, or, in other words, the Cardinals don’t have much interest in what New York has to offer. That doesn’t mean a trade is off the table completely though, the offseason is still young and these two clubs have months to find common ground. Does he fit the Yankees’ needs though? Let’s take a look, starting with the negatives.
- Freese’s power was absent in 2013. He slugged only nine homers with a .119 ISO in 521 plate appearances, down from the almost perfectly league average .150 ISO he posted from 2009-2012. Freese saw his HR/FB rate drop from 18.8% in 2011-2012 to 10.5% this year.
- His batted ball profile did not change (no sudden spike in ground balls, for example) and his .320 BABIP this past summer was actually a career-low by more than 30 points. He’s a high-BABIP hitter who managed a career-worst .262/.340/.381 (106 wRC+) in 2013.
- Freese is pretty bad defensively regardless of whether you want to use the eye test or the various fielding stats: -14 DRS, -13.1 UZR, -12.5 FRAA, and -19 Total Zone in his career. If you watched the postseason at all, you saw how positively statuesque he is at third.
- Freese won’t give you anything on the bases. He’s gone 6-for-12 in stolen base attempts in his 466-game big league career and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 34% of the time, below the 40% league average.
- The injury history is rather long. Freese missed time with back trouble this season (started the year on the DL) and he’s had three surgeries since breaking into the show: left heel debridement (2009), right ankle tendon reconstruction (2010), and a left hand fracture (2011). He’s also had a lot of day-to-day stuff over the years (mostly hamstring and wrist).
- I usually try to steer clear of off-the-field stuff here, but Freese has three alcohol-related arrests in his recent past and that seems like something worth mentioning. He was arrested for DUI in 2002 and again 2009, and was also arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest in 2007. The second DUI was a violation of his probation stemming from the 2007 arrest.
- Freese didn’t hit this past season but he has hit every other year of his career, putting up a .296/.363/.446 (125 wRC+) line from 2009-2012 and .293/.372/.467 (133 wRC+) with 20 homers in 567 plate appearances in 2012 alone. Both his walk (career 8.6%) and strikeout (21.0%) rates are right in line with the league averages.
- As a right-handed batter, he does most of his damage against lefties (career 134 wRC+) but can still hold his own against righties (114 wRC+). Even this past season, the worst of his career, he managed a tolerable 98 wRC+ against righties. He doesn’t need a platoon partner.
- We have to mention the postseason, right? Freese is a career .289/.357/.518 (141 wRC+) hitter with seven homers in 185 plate appearances across 41 postseason games, but I have to point out those numbers were built almost entirely during that monster 2011 run (245 wRC+). He was okay in 2012 (106 wRC+) and downright awful in 2013 (50 wRC+).
- Matt Swartz projects Freese to earn $4.4M through arbitration next season — for some reason I thought it was over $7M — and he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015 as well. He won’t be eligible for free agency until the 2015-2016 offseason.
Freese isn’t a bat first player, he’s a bat only player. He doesn’t help on defense and you can’t count on him to play 140+ games either — he’s only done that once in his career (144 in 2012) — so if he doesn’t hit, he’s a replacement level player (like he was this summer). There’s a chance his subpar 2013 season at the plate has to do with his back problem, which means he could rebound next year if he’s healthy or continue to get worse since back injuries have a way of lingering forever. I think it’s very clear Freese’s reputation, which was boosted by 2011 postseason heroics, far exceeds his actual worth right now.
Now, that said, the third base market is a wasteland. The best available free agent is Juan Uribe, who was very good this past season but a release candidate in both 2011 and 2012. The alternatives are Michael Young and Mark Reynolds. So yeah, the free agent market doesn’t offer much help. With the Padres reportedly hanging onto Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval only kinda sorta on the market, Freese figures to be the best third baseman on the trade block this winter barring something surprising. He’s the best of an underwhelming lot of players.
The Yankees don’t have much to offer the Cardinals in the trade, hence St. Louis’ reluctance to pull the trigger. There is a chance the Cardinals will non-tender Freese prior to the December 2nd deadline rather than risk paying him $4.4M to be a bench player in 2014, at which point New York could simply sign him as a free agent. Maybe this is a repeat of the Russell Martin situation — the Yankees offered Frankie Cervelli to the Dodgers for Martin, who balked and eventually non-tendered their backstop days later. Maybe they low-balled St. Louis and are content with waiting to see if he gets cut loose next month (when they might have a better handle on the Alex Rodriguez‘s situation) before upping their offer. Freese would help the Yankees but only at the right price. I don’t think he’s someone they should go all out to acquire regardless of their third base needs and the lack of alternatives.
Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are “weighing a run” a free agent first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales. Their scouting reports grade him out as a solid defender and a positive in the clubhouse. The Mariners did make him a qualifying offer, so the Bombers would have to forfeit a high draft pick (18th overall) to sign him.
Morales, 30, hit .277/.336/.449 (116 wRC+) with 23 homers in 657 plate appearances. He’s a true switch-hitter who produced against both lefties (118 wRC+) and righties (115 wRC+). Obviously his bat would help New York’s lineup, but … I don’t get it. The Yankees don’t need another first baseman/DH, especially not one that will require a sizable contract (Morales is a Scott Boras client) and forfeiting a draft pick. They might have inquired but Morales really doesn’t make sense for the current roster. Due diligence, I assume. · (51) ·
It’s no secret the Yankees have a lot of roster questions to answer this winter. Re-signing Robinson Cano is the biggest item on the agenda, but, in terms of the overall big picture, rebuilding the rotation is probably the most important. As of now, the starting staff includes CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and three big questions marks. Heck, both Sabathia and Nova are question marks following the seasons they just had. Fixing the starting staff is a huge priority for the coming weeks.
“We’ve got a lot [of needs],” said Brian Cashman to Andy McCullough at the GM Meetings earlier this week. “I don’t know if I can separate any of them. I think I need to import 400 innings for the rotation … We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
When he says “400 innings,” Cashman means they need to add two starters. They’re not going to sit down and literally count projected innings totals until they add up to 400 or anything like that. The club need two starters to replace Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, that’s what he’s saying. They need to find some quality arms to replace those 400 innings (really 386.2!), but I don’t think they should stop there. The Yankees should look to add an extra 200 innings on top of that.
By saying they’re looking to add two starters, Cashman is implying the team can replace Phil Hughes with internal options. That’s possible, Hughes wasn’t exactly good last year, but the GM is showing an awful lot of faith in guys like Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno. Guys who have never made it through even half-a-season as a starter in the big leagues. I suppose Cashman could be counting on Michael Pineda as well, but that would be beyond silly at this point. He’s smarter than that.
Overall, the Yankees’ rotation ranked 18th in baseball with a 4.08 ERA (3.88 FIP) in 2013, and that includes a generally excellent season from Kuroda. This isn’t a “if we can just replace what we had last year, we’ll be fine” rotation. This is a “oh crap we need to replace what we had last year and improve upon that” rotation. Perhaps some of that improvement will come in the form of a rebound from a Sabathia and a full, consistent season from Nova. That’s not as silly as expecting Pineda to contribute, but it’s not exactly something you can take to the bank either.
There’s a chance, maybe even a good one, that some combination of Phelps, Warren, and Nuno can replace Hughes and be an upgrade in 2014. That is very much up for debate though. I am a firm believer in expecting nothing from unproven kid starters and letting them be in a position to surprise rather than be relied upon. Catch my drift? I’m sure you do. The Yankees don’t have to go out and sign the three best free agent starters or anything (they’re welcome to do that!), but adding Chris Capuano to the PhelpsWarrenNuno mash-up (for example)? Would something like that be too much to ask? Maybe it is given the limited payroll space.
The Yankees have a lot on their plate this winter. They’ve got to fix their offense regardless of whether Cano re-signs and they’ve got to add a whole bunch of pitchers, starters and relievers. Asking for one more rotation option might be very Spoiled Yankee Fan™ of me, but I am so in favor of adding as many arms as possible. We saw the importance of depth this past summer. Adding two starters and relying on a bunch of kids in the fifth spot might be the best New York can do this winter, but that leaves them very vulnerable if injury (or continued ineffectiveness from Sabathia, continued unpredictability from Nova) strikes.
Tuesday, 9:15am: Peter Gammons says the two sides had the contract worked out weeks ago, but Ryan had minor surgery after the season and they had to wait for the pre-signing physical. Sounds like it’s a done deal.
Wednesday, 6:11pm: The Yankees are “close” to re-signing Ryan, reports Joel Sherman. The contract is said to be “small” and would not deter the team from bringing in other players to improve the left side of the infield.
12:20pm: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees and Brendan Ryan have mutual interest in a reunion and a deal could happen quickly. The no-hit, slick-fielding infielder indicated a willingness to return to New York after the season. The Yankees clearly need help on the left side of the infield, though I’m hoping for someone who can contribute (much) more at the plate. · (57) ·
Via Jon Heyman: Hal Steinbrenner has spoken to Derek Jeter and explained to him the Yankees will look for a starting shortstop this winter in the wake of his injury-riddled season. The Cap’n has not spoken publicly since signing his new one-year, $12M contract, but Heyman says he understands what the team is doing and is okay with it. I’ve always assumed Derek Jeter will play shortstop for the Yankees until Derek Jeter says it’s time for Derek Jeter to stop playing shortstop for the Yankees, but it sounds like he may wind up spending most of his time at DH in 2014. The Yankees are said to be “close” to a new deal with Brendan Ryan and have been connected to several other infielders. · (54) ·