Via Joel Sherman and David Waldstein, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner met in New York yesterday, though they talked mostly about baseball and the team’s baseball operations. That’s a pretty good indication that the two sides expect a new contract for the GM to be reached with ease. Cashman’s contract expires next Monday, so we should hear something very soon. I figure it’ll be another three-year deal, Cashman’s fourth in a row.
The Yankees have been searching for a quality left-handed reliever since letting Mike Stanton walk after the 2002 season, and that search led them to Pedro Feliciano last offseason. They inked the former Met to a two-year contract worth $8M in mid-December, in part because he a bonafide relief workhorse. He’d proven to be very effective against lefties and unusable against righties, making him the quintessential lefty specialist.
Feliciano, now 35, struck out six batters in his four Spring Training innings, and that was it. We never saw him again. On March 18th, we got word that he was dealing with a dead arm and the team was giving him extra rest as a precaution. Less than two weeks later the dead arm had turned into some kind of triceps problem, a problem that would cause him to open the season on the disabled list. Two days later it was being described as “soreness in a muscle behind his left shoulder,” and the team shut him down for ten days.
The ten days came and went, and doctors had to push Feliciano’s time table back about a week because he wasn’t ready yet. On April 12th, when he finally did get on a mound to start throwing, the southpaw suffered a setback and was sent for an MRI. “He was abused,” said Brian Cashman shortly thereafter, referring to Feliciano’s league leading games pitched totals with the Mets from 2008-2010. The MRI revealed a torn shoulder capsule, the same injury Chien-Ming Wang suffered in mid-2009, but surgery was put off after Dr. James Andrews advised a conservative treatment program that consisted of six-week shoulder strengthening routine. Feliciano was also undergoing platelet-rich plasma treatment as well.
Six weeks after Dr. Andrews’ recommendation, he was ready to start a throwing program on June 1st. Feliciano made 30 soft tosses on that date, and he continued building up to the point where he was ready to being throwing to hitters in early-August. A few weeks later, on August 25th, he made his first rehab appearance, striking out one in one perfect inning for the Rookie Level GCL Yankees. He never made another one. Exactly two weeks after the rehab outing, Feliciano underwent surgery to repair damage to his rotator cuff, a serious procedure that will likely keep him on the shelf for all of 2012.
Between Feliciano, Damaso Marte, and Kei Igawa, the Yankees had three $4M-a-year left-handers on their payroll that were completely unusable in 2011. The reason the Yankees went out and signed Feliciano in the first place was because Marte was recovering from his own shoulder surgery, so they ended up right back where they started, just with less money in their pocket. Cashman’s comments about Feliciano being abused came off as whiny more than anything, because anyone with internet access could go to Baseball-Reference.com and look up how much the guy had pitched the last few years.
The Yankees knew the risk involved with signing an older, heavily worked relief pitcher to a multi-year contract, but they took the chance anyway and got burned again. Early reports from this offseason indicate that the team is again looking to add a reliable left-handed reliever to their bullpen, this time to replace the injured Feliciano who was replacing the injured Marte who was replacing the awful Billy Traber. It’s highly unlikely that Feliciano will ever throw a pitch in pinstripes, rendering him a completely sunk cost.
After two mortifyingly slow Aprils to start his Yankees career, Mark Teixeira wanted to start on the right foot in 2011. In that regard he was a smashing success. In 102 April PA he hit .256/.392/.549, which represented the best April of his career. That made for an optimistic 2011 outlook. If Teixeira had produced those numbers in April 2010, his numbers would have been much more in line with his 2009 performance. In May he came back with a .375 wOBA, which, while not as good as his April, was still cause for encouragement.
And then the wheels came off.
In June Teixeira didn’t record many hits, just 20 in 94 AB, but he did send 13 of those hits for extra bases, including nine homers. While he did pick up more hits in July, 28 in 106 AB, he produced only nine extra base hits. That absolutely killed his overall production, since his early-season value came almost exclusively from his power numbers. In August he rebounded some, but not much, and for the second straight year he closed with a slow September. The end result: .248/.341/.494, a .361 wOBA and 124 wRC+. The latter, which relates Teixeira’s numbers to the league average, represents his lowest mark since 2006, though it was pretty much in line with his 2010.
During that horrible July, Mike and I took a hard look at Teixeira’s production. Mike likened him to an expensive Tino Martinez. After that I looked at some of his plate discipline issues, or really, lack thereof. It did seem that he was getting unlucky in many ways, hitting right into the shift at times when he might have gone the opposite way in 2009. That brought on a rough analysis of Teixeira’s stance at the plate. He opened up his stance considerably from 2009 through 2011, likely because he aimed to pull the ball every time up. He even admitted as such in Spring Training. “If you hit a lot of home runs and you see that short porch, you tend to come around the ball a little bit and try to hook it. I got into that a little too much last year and it ended up hurting me.” It again ended up hurting him in 2011.
The good news is that Teixeira realizes that there is a problem in his approach. He mentioned this as the season came to an end, saying he’d work with Kevin Long during the off-season to better balance his swing. We saw some tangible evidence of this later in the season; during the playoffs Teixeira noticeably stood upright, mirroring his 2009 stance. In Game 1 against the Tigers it appeared that he had figured out something, as his leadoff double led to the big inning that sealed the Yanks’ victory. But apparently closing his stance didn’t correct the problem; Teixeira had a poor series overall and received much of the blame during the fallout.
What went wrong with Teixeira? He tried to pull everything from the left side, and he far too often hit weak grounders and pop-ups. It comes as absolutely no surprise that he had a .222 BABIP as a left-handed hitter. From the right side he was a great deal better, producing a .410 wOBA (compared to .338 from the left side). That’s easy enough to define. The difficult part is finding the fix. Teixeira is far too expensive — and valuable on defense — to become a platoon player, especially when his strong side accounts for less than a third of his season’s plate appearances. If he can’t reconfigure his left-handed swing, the Yankees have a long five years ahead of them.
For now we can rest a bit easier knowing that he is actively addressing the problem. Teixeira has been the consummate professional during his time in New York, and it stands to reason that he’ll do everything he can to correct the flaws that have hampered his last two seasons. That’s all we can really ask at this point. Given Teixeira’s pedigree and work ethic I think we can remain optimistic at the moment. But if he continues his pull-happy ways in 2012, it will be much harder to remain optimistic for the remainder of his contract.
The Yankees were left with a bunch of money in their pocket after Cliff Lee decided to rejoin the Phillies last offseason, and that money was spent in a variety of ways. Part of it went to Rafael Soriano, part of it went to Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, and part of it went towards the bench. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees sought out viable reserve players during the offseason rather than wait until the trade deadline to shore up their bench.
It was going to be tough to fill Marcus Thames‘ shoes following his big 2010 season as the team’s designated lefty-mashing outfielder (.354 wOBA vs. LHP, .365 overall), but the Yankees were counting on Jones to not just match that production, but exceed it. They signed him to a one-year, $2M contract in late-January, and watched him hit a homerun in his first very at-bat of the season. Andruw was getting the occasional pinch-hitting appearance and spot start in left field, and aside from a two-homer game on May 25th, he struggled through an unproductive first half. He headed into the All-Star break as a .195/.278/.356 hitter overall and a .231/.315/.446 hitter against southpaws.
While off for the All-Star Game, Jones got some unsolicited advice from his mother, who suggested that he go back and look at old tape from when he was raking with the Braves. He widened his stance to feel more comfortable at the plate, and the results came immediately. Jones hit a pair of homers in his first game after the All-Star break, drove in another run in his next start, then ran off a stretch of five hits (including a double and another homer) in three starts after that. At one point in late August, he went deep four times in the span of 16 at-bats.
Andruw turned his season around with his mother’s help, and hit .291/.416/.612 with nine homers in 125 second half plate appearances. He annihilated lefties, tagging them for a .344/.452/.639 batting line after the break. That performance raised his season numbers to .247/.356/.495 overall (.371 wOBA) and .286/.384/.540 against lefties (.400 wOBA), so on a rate basis he did manage to outperform Thames, by a not small margin either. Jones only got one playoff plate appearance against the Tigers right-handed heavy pitching staff (a sac fly), and late in the season we learned that he was playing through a small tear in his left knee that had to be drained multiple times. Kinda makes his second half surge that much more impressive.
It’s easy to forget now, but not only was Chavez in camp as a non-roster invitee this spring, he was competing for a roster spot against Ronnie Belliard. Mini-Manny showed up to camp out of shape and suffered a leg injury shortly thereafter, effectively taking him out of the race. The job was Chavez’s to lose at that point, and he responded by hitting .395/.422/.558 and staying generally healthy (there were some calf spasms, but nothing crazy) during Spring Training. He opened the season as the backup corner infielder/left-handed pinch-hitter.
Chavez got just one plate appearances through the team’s first seven games of the season (he reached on an error), but he made an impact in his first start in game eight. He went 3-for-5 with two doubles off the Green Monster in Fenway Park, filling in at DH. He started the next day at third base and picked up another hit, then started to earn more and more playing time. The power production wasn’t really there, but Chavez was hitting .303/.410/.424 with six walks and just three strikeouts on May 5th, when the inevitable happened.
While legging out a triple against the Tigers, Chavez came up limping at third base and was immediately removed from the game. He was originally diagnosed with a small fracture in his left foot, but that was later changed to a really deep bone bruise. He dealt with setback after setback during his rehab, and didn’t return to the lineup until July 26th, 72 team games after suffering the injury. Chavez stepped right in and played a healthy amount of third base when he came back because Alex Rodriguez was on the shelf, picking up 11 hits (including his first homer) and a walk in his first 33 plate appearances post-injury. He also started to take some DH at-bats away from Jorge Posada.
Chavez ended the season in a bit of a slump (.213/.255/.298 in his final 51 plate appearances) that dragged his overall numbers down (.263/.320/.356 in 175 PA, a .294 wOBA), but he was a monster with men on base (.379/.447/.561) and in scoring position (.415/.468/.537). Despite the years of injuries, he was surprisingly good on defense, flashing some of that old Gold Glove caliber ability at the hot corner. I don’t think many of us expected much out of Chavez, so he exceeded just about every expectations. He’s reportedly “leaning heavily” towards retirement, which is understandable after the injuries. He was a nice veteran guy to have on the bench, someone still capable of putting together quality at-bats and having value in the field.
The offseason is officially right around the corner, which means lots of trade speculation and free agent rumors and all that fun stuff. We might as well get a jump on things by discussing something Joel Sherman mentioned yesterday, that the Pirates “have prioritized finding a catcher this offseason.” Pittsburgh recently announced that they plan on cutting ties with the injury-plagued duo of Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, opening up their catcher’s job. Former fourth overall pick Tony Sanchez hit a speed bump by posting a weak .306 wOBA in 469 plate appearances at Double-A this summer, and the rest of their catching crop (Mike McKenry, Jason Jaramillo, and former Yankee farmhand Eric Fryer) are nothing to write home about.
Since the Yankees actually have some catching to spare, young catching at that, it makes them a potential trade match with the Buccos. We know the two teams seriously discussed a Frankie Cervelli-Brad Lincoln swap before the trade deadline, plus Brian Cashman and Neal Huntington have gotten together for three trades in the last four years, so it stands to reason that there’s a decent working relationship in place there. The question is what do the Pittsburgh have that fills a need for New York?
Obviously, it’s all about pitching for the Yankees, starting pitching in particular. They’re not going to get a starter for Cervelli, not after yet another concussion, but there’s also Austin Romine to consider. He’s definitely a trade chip as well. The problem is that the Pirates don’t have much pitching to offer, and in fact they’re going to be in the market for some this winter just like the Yankees. Dig through their 40-man roster, and there’s only two arms worth even a second though: Charlie Morton and James McDonald. This is coming from a guy that loves Jeff Locke too.
By almost every metric, Morton was Pittsburgh’s best pitcher this past season. He managed a 3.77 FIP across 171.2 IP because he didn’t give up any homers (0.31 HR/9, lowest in MLB), the result of him reinventing himself as a sinkerballing Roy Halladay look alike (58.5% ground ball rate). He only struck out 110 batters in those 171.2 IP (5.77 K/9), and 23 of those 110 strikeouts came against pitchers. His unintentional walk rate (3.77 uIBB/9) isn’t anything special either. Morton’s still pretty young (28 in November) and cheap (MLBTR projects a $2.2M salary his first time through arbitration this winter), so there’s always a chance he could improve as he gains more experience with his new Halladay-esque delivery.
Huntington flat out stole McDonald from the Dodgers, getting five years of him (and another prospect!) for two months of Octavio Dotel at last year’s trade deadline. He’s a much different pitcher than Morton, more of a strikeout (7.47 K/9) and fly ball (38.9% grounders) guy. He gave up a ton of homers last year (1.26 HR/9) and compounded the problem by walking a lot of guys (3.89 uIBB/9). His career numbers, not that he’s been around all that long, are almost identical to what he did in 2011. McDonald just turned 27 and is still in his pre-arbitration years, and although I’ve liked him ever since he was being mismanaged in Los Angeles, he’s not going to step in and unquestionably solidify the rotation. Neither of these guys will really, especially not in the AL East.
Having an abundance of MLB ready or near-MLB ready catching is a definite luxury the Yankees enjoy, and it figures to be their primary currency when making trades. There’s no reason to sell low on Cervelli (following the concussion) or trade away Romine for questionable pitching help, or even bullpen help at this point. I can see why the Pirates would have interest in some of the Yankees young backstops, but they’re not going to want to trade one of their better starters for catching help (not necessarily straight up, just as framework for a deal I mean). There’s not enough incentive for the Yankees to make a move given what Pittsburgh has to offer.
You might have seen this earlier, but Dan Szymborski posted his 2012 Yankees ZiPS Projections early Monday afternoon, the first team of the offseason. You can click the link and peruse all of the projections at your leisure, but I’m going to spend some time focusing on everyone’s favorite player, Jesus Montero. We’ll discuss the other guys at some point this offseason … eventually.
Following his big September debut (.328/.406/.590 and a .421 wOBA), the ZiPS system forecasts a .271/.333/.486 batting line with 37 doubles and 27 homers in 579 at-bats for Montero in 2012. At first glance, that might seen a bit disappointing because of the generally low AVG and the OBP, but it most definitely shouldn’t be. I said this on Twitter, but if Montero does that next season, he’ll probably win Rookie of the Year even if the majority of his at-bats come as a DH*. ZiPS isn’t being tricked by that big September either, the system called for almost exactly the same thing for 2011: a .276/.334/.503 line with 34 doubles and 28 homers in 539 at-bats.
* For comparison’s sake, Eric Hosmer hit .293/.334/.465 with 27 doubles and 19 homers in 523 at-bats this year, and he should finish either first or second in the voting.
I see Montero’s current situation as similar to Ivan Nova‘s after last season, at least to a certain extent. Nova wasn’t great in September 2010 but he showed enough to warrant a much longer looking 2011, which he got and in turn rewarded the Yankees. Montero made such a strong impression last month that the team has almost no choice but to play him full-time next season, it’s just a question of where. We’ve talked about the whole DH/backup catcher thing, but putting it into practice is much easier said than done. The ZiPS numbers don’t mean anything at the end of the day, but they’re a nice little reminder of just how much Montero can help the Yankees if given the chance.
Standard Disclaimer: Projections are not predictions. Dave Cameron put it best when he said “Projections are information about what we think we currently know, while predictions are speculation about things that we probably cannot know.”
DWL Licey (11-6 win over Aguilas) Sunday’s game
Hector Noesi, RHP: 3.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 5-1 GB/FB – although this wasn’t great, it was an improvement after his stinker the first time around … remember, he’s on a strict pitch count
AzFL Phoenix (4-1 win over Salt River)
Corban Joseph, 2B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI. 1 K – eight for his last 24 (.333) with two doubles, a homer, three walks, and one strikeout
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 K, 1 SB – exactly two hits in four of his six games out here