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.

Open Thread: Goal Posts

(via the Yankees on Twitter)

One way or the other, the baseball portion of Yankee Stadium‘s schedule would have been over by today. The AL park schedule of the World Series is over, but of course the Yankees were ousted in the ALDS. The Stadium is now going into college football mode, with Rutgers and Army scheduled to play in Bronx on November 12th. You can get your tickets right here. The goal posts went up today, so they’ve got about two weeks to paint the lines and install additional on-field seating, plus whatever else there is to do. I haven’t been to a non-baseball event at Yankee Stadium yet, but everything I’ve heard is that they’re amazing, whether it’s college football or a concert or a boxing match. One day I’ll make it there for one. One day.

Anyways, here is your open thread for his fine evening. No World Series game tonight, the Rangers and Cardinals need to rest after making the 650 mile flight from Dallas to St. Louis. Both the Devils and Islanders are playing though, and that’s better than nothing. Use this thread to talk about anything your heart desires, go bananas.

(photo link)

Cashman, Hal met in New York; still no deal

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.

What Went Wrong: Pedro Feliciano

Nope. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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.

What Went Wrong: Mark Teixeira

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

(Charles Krupa/AP)

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.

What Went Right: Andruw Jones & Eric Chavez

The world's wealthiest ball boy. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

Andruw Jones

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.

Eric Chavez

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

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.