Second order of business: 40-man roster crunch

Hopefully Brian Cashman was just playing coy when he told the Daily News’s Mark Feinsand that he and the Steinbrenners “haven’t had any talks whatsoever” about a new contract. While a deal seems inevitable, the Yankees do have a few pressing matters they must attend to. But before they can get to player options and CC Sabathia‘s opt out, they have to address one major issue: the 40-man roster.

Plagued by injuries this year, the Yankees made good use of the 60-day disabled list. For the uninitiated, a player on the 60-day DL does not occupy a spot on the 40-man roster. After the season ends, however, the disabled list goes away and those players must return to the 40-man roster. The Yankees currently have seven players on the 60-day DL.

In most years even seven players on the 60-day DL wouldn’t cause many problems. Departing free agents come off the roster at the same time that 60-day players return, so the roster math usually works itself out. But the Yankees have surprisingly few departing free agents this off-season: Jorge Posada, Sergio Mitre, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Damaso Marte, and Luis Ayala*. Combine that with the players the Yankees must protect from the Rule 5 draft and it can create a tough situation.

*Scott Proctor is right on the edge of his six years’ service time. I’m not sure if he spent enough pre-September time in the bigs to qualify. But even if he doesn’t, the Yanks aren’t going to carry him through the winter, so we can consider him off. There’s also the matter of CC’s opt-out, but at this point even if he does come off the roster I’ll assume they’ll keep a seat warm for him.

A quick count reveals an even 40 men on the roster once the season ends, assuming Proctor’s departure. Thankfully, the Yankees already added two potential Rule 5 candidates to the roster: Austin Romine and George Kontos. That saves them a bit of trouble at year’s end. But they still need to add David Phelps, and they might want to add D.J. Mitchell, since a bottom-feeding team would almost certainly take him in the Rule 5 draft. That puts the Yankees over the limit.

There are a few expendables on the roster. Aaron Laffey and Raul Valdes are both non-tender candidates, though if the Yankees did like Valdes in September perhaps they want to keep him around. Laffey, however, is as good as gone. Reegie Corona is almost certainly a goner; his presence on the 40-man roster never really made much sense. Then there’s Colin Curtis and Justin Maxwell. They’re both expendable, and Maxwell is out of options. Chances are one of them could go as well.

The Yankees might have to find more room, too. They have spots in the starting rotation and bench that they’re not likely to fill from within. And, if reports are true, they could make room for another lefty reliever as well. Those moves create an even greater crunch on an overcrowded 40-man roster.

The Yankees, being professionals, will surely figure out who goes where in terms of the 40-man roster. In fact, they probably have a tentative plan already in place — it’s not as though they didn’t see this coming. For us, from the outside, it’s a strange picture. We know the Yankees need spots, but there don’t appear to be too many spots available. Observing how Cashman manipulates the 40-man could be one under the radar aspect of this off-season.

What Went Wrong: Pre-DL Derek Jeter

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

There’s no denying that 2010 was a down season for Derek Jeter. Just one year removed from a .334/.406/.465 batting line (.390 wOBA) during the Yankees run to the World Series, the Cap’n hit a punchless .270/.340/.370 (.320 wOBA) last season. His ground ball rate (65.7%) was the highest by a non-Luis Castillo hitter since the data started being recorded in 2002, and most of those grounders were weak, as you know. At 36-years-old, it was fair to wonder if this was the beginning of the end of one of the greatest Yankees ever, and early this season, it certainly looked like it was.

Jeter picked up just two hits through the team’s first four games, and just two extra-base hits (both doubles) through the season’s first month. His ground ball rate sat at a sky high 72.3% though April, explaining the utter lack of power. And yet, because he’s Derek Jeter, he remained atop the lineup despite a paltry .303 OBP in his first 211 plate appearances, essentially the first third of the season.

Every once in a while there would be a flash of the old Jeter, like the four-hit game against the Orioles on April 24th or the two-homer game against the Rangers on May 8th, but he was never able to build on it. That two-homer game in Texas was followed by a .247/.321/.301 batting line through the end of the month, and yet he continued to lead off. Joe Girardi stood by the Captain through it all, saying they would wait 150 at-bats, 250 at-bats, 350 at-bats, whatever it took until Jeter was right. Problem was, those arbitrary at-bat milestones kept passing by without improvement.

On the morning of June 13th, Derek was hitting .259/.324/.324 through 64 team games. The Yankees had one of the best offenses in baseball and were scoring boatloads of runs in spite of his presence as leadoff hitter, not because of it. That night, Jeter tapped a harmless fly ball to right to lead off the fifth inning in a game against the Indians, and appeared to have a little hitch in his step as he ran down to first. Eduardo Nunez took over at shortstop in the next half inning, indicating that the Cap’n did have some kind of physical problem.

The injury was announced as a sore right calf after the game, and an MRI confirmed a Grade I calf strain. The Yankees waited a day before placing Jeter on the disabled list, a move he strongly opposed. It’s not a big deal for the team to play a man short he said, but the team couldn’t afford to play short-handed with the NL leg of interleague play coming up. An injury that was supposed to take ten days to heal wound up taking three weeks.

At the time of the injury, Jeter was hitting a lowly .260/.324/.324, a well-below-average .295 wOBA. For a defensive whiz, that would be tolerable production at short. Derek is no defensive whiz though, and his age made his already shaky defense play even worse. The Yankees had one of the worst regulars in baseball not just suiting up for them every night, but also getting more plate appearances than everyone else on the team while playing a key position. In a way, the injury was a relief, almost like it put him (and us) out of his (and our) misery, at least temporarily. A little later today we’ll look at the other side of the Jeter coin, his resurgence following his return from the disabled list, but for now there’s no way around admitting that pre-injury Jeter went very, very wrong.

Rooting For The Enemy

I would have pimped it too. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

It’s such a weird time for me whenever the Yankees get eliminated from the postseason. There’s still meaningful baseball to watch and enjoy, but I don’t have a rooting interest. The Yankees are done, what do I care who wins? I don’t think I’m alone when I say this. At least in past years, I could root for whoever was playing the Red Sox in any given round. Can’t do that this year, but that’s okay because The Collapse was extremely enjoyable in its own way.

I’ve said this once or twice before, but at the moment I’m pulling for the Brewers. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are what I dream Robinson Cano and Jesus Montero will someday be for the Yankees, and they’re extremely fun to watch. Hard not to enjoy a  pitching staff with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, and former Yankees farmhand John Axford as well. The only thing not to like about them is Francisco Rodriguez, but that’s neither here nor there. Milwaukee seems to be the fun, trendy team this postseason, so I’ll throw them some love this month. The Cardinals? Meh. It was a blast watching them beat the Phillies, though they’re generally tough to enjoy because Tony LaRussa can’t help himself when he has a chance to manage.

The Rangers and Tigers is an odd series for me. I dislike Detroit for beating the Yankees in the ALDS, but I also dislike Texas for beating the Yankees in last year’s ALCS. There is a no-win series for me, I want both teams to lose because they’ve knocked the Yankees out of the postseason the last two years. I can’t bring myself to root for the enemy, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the games. All I know is that come next week, I’ll steadfastly be in the corner of the NL representative in the World Series. That’s a given.

The fans in Texas started chanting “Yankees Suck!” after Nelson Cruz’s walk-off grand slam Monday night, a nice little reminder that the Yankees are never really an afterthought. One of the biggest wins in franchise history, and the fans couldn’t help but think of the Yankees. It’s wonderful. I can’t bring myself to root for a team that knocked the Yanks out of the playoffs in recent years, but I’ve managed to find a way to enjoy October without them. That “Yankees Suck!” chant made my night.

Open Thread: Tinyballs

Another day, another Moneyball parody. This one’s actually kinda true though, even though the time frames don’t line up exactly. In case you missed it last week, here’s the Yankees parody.

Anyway, this is your open thread for the night. The Tigers and Rangers are finishing up their ALCS game on FOX, then the Brewers and Cardinals resume their NLCS matchup on TBS at 8pm ET. The Monday Night Football game is the Bears at the Lions (8:20pm ET on ESPN), which sounds just awful. You all know what to do by now, so have at it.

(h/t Calcaterra)

2012 Draft Order Tracker

It’s that time of year again, so our 2012 Draft Order page is back up and running. I’ll update it throughout the winter as picks change hands via free agent compensation, but right now it’s just the basic order with the comp picks for unsigned 2011 draftees included. The Yankees are currently picking 30th, 61st, 89th, and 92nd overall, but that is very subject to change.

Ivan Nova’s circuitous route to success

If you’re reading this site, than you surely know that two Spring Trainings ago, Ivan Nova was property of the Padres. The Yankees left him off the 40-man roster after the 2008 season, and San Diego took a flier on the right-hander in the Rule 5 Draft. Nova was straight out of Single-A ball at the time and definitely not ready for the big leagues, so the Padres offered him back to the Yankees at the end of camp. Two years later, he was New York’s number two starter in the postseason.

Today at FanGraphs, Josh Goldman looked at other players who were returned to their original team after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft, and found that only one (Randy Wells of the Cubs) had the kind of success Nova had in 2011. We know all about the players who were taken in the Rule 5 Draft and went on to play well for their new club, but it’s not often a player is returned then goes on to have an impact. Remember, every team in baseball had a chance to claim Nova on waivers before he officially back with the Yankees, so it was quite a chain of events that led to him even being in the organization this year.