The Front Office Post

During the chaos of last week’s amateur draft, two tweets from Baseball America’s Conor Glassey made the rounds, but I have yet to address them. Here’s what they said…

@rwolfe09 Not coincidentally, the Red Sox and Blue Jays have two of the biggest scouting staffs. Yankees? One of the smallest.

@JoeRo23 By my count, they have 23 scouts. Blue Jays have 70. Red Sox have 71.

I don’t know how the topic came up or how the rest of the conversation went, and frankly I don’t really care. I also don’t want to challenge Glassey’s info or anything, I’m sure his numbers are correct (or are at least in the ballpark). Either way, again I don’t really care. I think we’re all smart enough to understand that the more scouts a team employs, the better off they’ll be. It’s not rocket science. I just want to use these two tweets as a jumping off point about the Yankees and their front office. Forgive me in advance, I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this.

Brian Cashman has been the Yankees GM for the long time, an eternity compared to his peers. The only GMs who have been at it longer than him are Brian Sabean of the Giants and Billy Beane of the A’s. Cashman’s been at the helm since February of 1998, Sabean since September of 1996, and Beane since October of 1997. The other 27 teams have (unofficially) combined for 79 (!!!) different full-time GMs since Cashman took over, which puts the average life span of a big league GM at 4.44 years or so. Obviously the successful ones will last longer, and it’s hard to argue with the success the Yankees have had during Cashman’s tenure.

When I look at the Yankees front office, one thing really stands out to me: there’s no obvious, in-house candidate to replace Cashman. I’m guessing that’s by design, because why would Cashman want competition from the inside? He’s made himself that much more valuable to the franchise by making sure no one emerges as a potential replacement. From a business perspective, it’s brilliant. Assistant GM Jean Afterman reportedly specializes in contracts and negotiations, not necessarily baseball operations. Scouting directors Billy Eppler (pro) and Damon Oppenheimer (amateur) don’t have any kind of GM’ing experience, even at the assistant level. The closest thing the Yankees have had to a potential in-house GM alternative during Cashman’s tenure (at least recently) was Kevin Towers, who served as a special advisor in 2010 before taking the Diamondbacks GM job over the winter.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because when you look around the league, this is something pretty unique to the Yankees. Just to use the Red Sox as an example (since apparently they’re the measuring stick for everything the Yankees do), their official site lists something like eight assistants (with various titles) to GM Theo Epstein, including one former GM in Allard Baird (Royals). If Epstein leaves for whatever reason, AGM Ben Cherington could step in and the team wouldn’t miss a beat. In fact, he and current Padres GM Jed Hoyer served as co-GMs when Epstein briefly left the club in December of 2005, and the duo actually brokered the Hanley Ramirez-Josh Beckett trade in Epstein’s short absence. I just don’t see how that kind of seamless transition would occur with the Yankees.

Of course Cashman has advisors, namely former GM Gene Michael. I don’t want to make it sound like he’s calling all the shots on his own, because no GM does. Remember, the title is general manager; Cashman manages people. He makes decisions based on input from Michael, Eppler, and a ton of other people we don’t even know exist. From the outside looking in, it just seems like there are fewer people with input than there are elsewhere in the league. But then again, what do I know? I could be completely off base. There is such a thing as too many voices in the room, no doubt about it, but there’s certainly a ton of value in having others to make suggestions, challenge ideas, etc. Ten people in a room agreeing with each other is not necessarily a good thing, not when it comes to multi-million dollar baseball decisions and things like that.

Cashman’s contract is up after the season, and I do want him to return. Aside from the usual GM’ing duties, I also think he’s the perfect “bad guy,” so to speak, as these legacy players start to hit the end of the line. Need to move Derek Jeter off shortstop? Cashman will be the bad guy. Need to release Jorge Posada? Cashman’s the bad guy. Let Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui walk? Blame Cashman. He handles the role well. I also think his relationship with ownership is extremely, extremely important. I really can’t emphasize that enough. A meddlesome ownership can be a franchise killer, and Cash clearly has the respect of the Steinbrenners. That’s important.

Although I do want Cashman to return, I can definitely see the benefit to bringing in a new GM, if that’s the way the team goes. Thirteen years is a long time man … fresh opinions, fresh evaluations, fresh perspective, and fresh ideas can obviously provide a great deal of good. However there’s no clear candidate to take over, at least not internally. I think I said that already. If someone from the outside is brought in, then you’ve got to worry about them adjusting to New York and all the things that come along with it. The media coverage*, the huge payroll**, the fans, ownership, the stadium, literally everything involved with the job. The ideal candidate would be someone with GM experience, the kind of person that will walk into the office on day one and already be respected. Someone that’s been there before, been through getting hired and getting fired, been through winning and losing and dealing with expectations. New Mets GM Sandy Alderson fits the bill, just for example.

Now if Cashman does remain the GM beyond this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything should stay the same, at least in my opinion. I would like to see some level of front office restructuring, including the addition of some more traditional assistants and advisors, people with different backgrounds and varying levels of experience just to … freshen things up. I guess that’s the best way to put it. After doing things one way for so long, a little change can go a long way. That’s just the way this game is. You’ve got to constantly adapt, though the Yankees play with a much bigger safety net.

So after all that, it’s probably a good time to mention that I think Cashman’s return is more in question now than ever before. This has nothing to do with the team’s performance on the field, I don’t think they’re going to fire him or anything, it has more to do with his uncharacteristic outspokenness during the winter (that has continued into the season). I actually find the honesty refreshing, but it’s just that we’re not used to seeing it from Cash. He’s mastered the art of saying many words while saying nothing (of substance) at the same time, but this was the exact opposite. Very blunt and straight forward, “you asked a question, here’s your answer, are we done?” style. That outspokenness makes me wonder if he’s going to make/has made the decision to leave on his own terms. Maybe he’s burnt out. Maybe ownership went over his head too many times and he’s fed up. Maybe he wants a new challenge or to prove that can win with a small payroll. Who knows. The “why” isn’t important***, the “if” is.

How I got here from a pair of tweets about the number of amateur scouts the team employs … I have no idea. I guess they tie back into the stuff about having more input. It’s better to have three different sets of eyes watch a prospect than just two, which is better than just one. Information is a powerful thing, and the more you have the better the decision you’ll make. Regardless of what happens with Cashman after the season, I’d welcome some change to brain trust just to improve decision making as whole. It’s super cliche but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s: these are the Yankees. They should dominate the sport with their resources, and that includes having the best front office personnel. The Rays and Red Sox and every other team survives only because the Yankees make mistakes, so why not take some steps to reduce them?

* That includes amateur know-it-all schmucks like me.
** Big payrolls lead to bigger mistakes. It’s just the way it goes.
*** I suppose if the “why” has to do with some major internal dysfunction that pushes Cashman away, then yeah, that’s important. Important in that it needs to be addressed.

What’s a Brian Gordon?

(milb.com)

Word got out last night that the Yankees not only agreed to sign some 32-year-old right-hander named Brian Gordon, but they agreed to sign him to a big league contract and have put him in the mix to start against the Rangers on Thursday. Yeah, this move came completely out of nowhere, so let’s take some time to introduce you to the newest member of the Yankees’ rotation, or potential member anyway.

Originally selected in the seventh round of the 1997 draft by the Diamondbacks, Gordon was an outfielder when he came out of Round Rock High School in Texas. He steadily climbed the minor league ladder with Arizona, making it all the way to Triple-A before becoming a minor league free agent after the 2003 season. In over 2,900 plate appearances in the D’Backs system, Gordon hit a very respectable .280/.323/.446 with 63 homers and a 22.8% strikeout rate. He hooked on with the Astros the next year, hitting a serviceable .241/.310/.488 with 16 homers in just 340 plate appearances for their Triple-A team. That was the end of Gordon’s career as a position player; he went to Houston and suggested he give pitching a whirl rather than retire. He’s been doing that ever since.

Gordon, 28 at the time, made his pitching debut with the Astros’ Double-A affiliate in 2007. He struck out 51 and walked just 14 unintentionally in 61 IP (39 appearances) in his pitching debut, posting a fine 3.25 ERA. He made one appearance with Houston’s Double-A affiliate in 2008 before they released him in early-April. Gordon caught on with the Rangers, pitched to a 3.51 ERA in 95 relief innings for their Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, then earned his first and only big league call-up that September. He gave up a single to the first batter he faced as a Major Leaguer (Dusty Ryan), retired the second (Curtis Granderson), and then finished the season with four scoreless innings for Texas.

Another solid season for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in 2009 (3.49 ERA in 77.1 IP) was following by a fine season for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in 2010 (3.46 ERA in 78 IP), but not another taste of the big leagues. Gordon returned to Philadelphia’s top farm team in his usual relief role this season, but when injuries to the big league rotation sent Vance Worley to the show, Gordon told the Triple-A Lehigh Valley coaching staff that he wanted the opportunity to work as a starter. Since moving into the rotation in April, he’s struck out 53 against just five walks in 51.1 IP with a 1.23 ERA. Over his last three starts, Gordon has whiffed 31 of 72 batters he’s faced (43.1%) with no fewer than nine strikeouts each time out. He had an opt-out clause in his contract that was contingent on him finding a big league job elsewhere, which is what the Yankees are giving him. Since he made his last start on Saturday, the newest Yankee lines up perfectly for Thursday’s game.

As for the scouting report, Gordon told Jack Curry lasts night that he’s a six pitch pitcher that relies on command more than overpowering stuff. PitchFX data from 2008 says that his three fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter) sit in the high-80’s and occasionally touch the low-90’s while his slider will run in low-80’s, his curve in the low-70’s, and his splitter in low-80’s. His swing and miss rate has climbed from 9.3% in 2009 to 10.1% in 2010 to 11.6% in 2011, though his ground ball rate has sat below 40% for the last few years. That could be problematic in Yankee Stadium, although he hasn’t demonstrated much of a platoon split in his relatively brief career as a pitcher.

The Yankees have had some luck with scrap heap pickups like this over the last few years, and I get why they made this move. Gordon’s having a fine year and he adds depth, plus starting him on Thursday will allow them to keep one of the kids (Hector Noesi, David Phelps, whoever) away from a powerhouse Texas Rangers’ offense. Given his bullpen experience, he could easily slide back into that role if Noesi steps up or if Bartolo Colon and/or Phil Hughes start getting healthy. They could certainly use the help there, if nothing else. And heck, with interleague play coming up, his position player experience might allow him to serve as an extra pinch hitter in NL parks (.275/.321/.460 career in more than 4,100 minor league plate appearances). Gordon’s not going to save the Yankees’ pitching staff, not by any means, but he’s an upgrade over Lance Pendleton and Jeff Marquez on the margins of the roster, and every little bit helps.

Note: Mark Feinsand is reporting that the Gordon signing can not become official until 6pm ET time today. If one of the Phillies’ starters gets hurt between now and then, they could still call him up and the deal with the Yankees is off. Since Cole Hamels’ back tightened up last night, there’s a non-zero chance I may have written this post prematurely.

Ogando no match for Yanks, Sabathia in opener

Is it just me, or it does it seem like every single My9 game features some kind of rain delay? Tuesday’s game got pushed back 40 minutes or so because of a quick storm, but it was the Yankees’ bats that supplied the thunder (oh snap). They scored early and often, and with their ace on the mound, this one was over after two innings.

He makes it look so easy.

Brett Gardner, Leadoff Hitter

With Derek Jeter on the shelf for at least 15 days, Brett Gardner is going to get a second chance at the leadoff job he lost earlier in the year. He led off the first with a three pitch ground out, drew a five pitch walk with one out in the fifth, and then led off the sixth with a ten pitch at-bat and an infield single. A first pitch stolen base followed that. Gardner went 3-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored on the night, setting the table for the offense each time up. If you go back to April 23rd, a span of 165 plate appearances, Brett’s hitting .333/.406/.504. That’ll do.

Curtis Granderson, MVP Candidate

There’s little left to say about the season Grandy is having, so when he goes 2-for-4 with four runs driven in and his 21st homerun, it’s just another night of the office. His two-run single in the second inning turned a two run lead into a four run lead, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a Yankee’s batter capable of turning around a high fastball like Granderson. The most popular response I got on Twitter was Gary Sheffield, and he’s the only one even in the ballpark for me. Another night, another pitcher with no answers.

Figure it out from the left side, Swish.

Nick Swisher, Platoon Bat

I thought Paul O’Neill did a fine job of breaking down Swisher’s left-handed swing during the broadcast, showing how he was opening up early and getting off balance. He hasn’t had those same problems from the right-side, which is why he went 2-for-3 with a double and a homer off lefties Michael Kirkman and Arthur Rhodes while drawing just a measly walk off righty Alexi Ogando. Swish is now hitting .176/.315/.284 off righties but .356/.439/.576 off lefties. That has to fix itself at some point, right?

Eduardo Nunez, Starting Shortstop

Gardner gets the glory of the leadoff spot, Nunez the glory of the shortstop position. In his first game as the (temporary) starting shortstop, Nunez opened the scoring with a bases loaded single in the second inning, a solid line drive to left in a 1-1 count. He tacked on another hit later in the game to finish 2-for-4 with a run scored and a run driven in. Obviously we don’t expect that kind of offense every game, but as long as Eduardo can manage to be more than a zero at the plate while turning everything hit in his general direction into an out, he’ll be a perfectly fine fill-in.

Frankie Cervelli, Bad Player

Speaking of zeroes at the plate, Cervelli went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and five left on base, and he’s now 1-for-18 with seven strikeouts in Russell Martin‘s absence. At least he didn’t throw any balls into center field.

CC Sabathia, Ace

It wasn’t exactly an ace-like performance for Sabathia, but if seven innings, seven singles, one double, four runs, no walks, and six strikeouts qualifies as a poor start, then the Yankees are in pretty good hands whenever he’s on the mound. CC’s command was a little off, he was leaving some pitches up in the zone when they were supposed to be at the knees or buried in the dirt, but that happens from time to time. Maybe he was just pitching to score, which I hear is something the greats tend to do. Considering how often Sabathia picks the rest of the team up, the offense owes him a game like this every so often.

Ian Kinsler's life just flashed before his eyes.

Leftovers

Ogando has allowed more than two runs in just three of his 13 starts, twice against the Yankees. I love how no one in the YES booth even bothered to try to explain why they’re hitting him so well when no other team has been been able to. They just chalked it up to “you can’t predict baseball.” My guess: Ogando is a two pitch pitcher, and they’re just spitting on his slider and forcing him to go after them with the heat. It didn’t hurt that he was misses his spots big time either.

I don’t know about you, but I was terrified when Sabathia had to run over to cover first base twice in the first inning. The grass was wet following the rain, and after what happened to Bartolo Colon over the weekend … yikes. Thankfully, all went well. Luis Ayala chipped in a perfect eight, Pants Lendleton Lance Pendleton an eventful but ultimately scoreless ninth.

As for the rest of the offense not mentioned above, Mark Teixeira capped off that six run second inning with a two run single, Alex Rodriguez drove in two with a double into the gap and also singled to start that second inning. He also hit a ball right to wall in right-center, looked like it was gone off the bat. Robinson Cano (homer) and Jorge Posada (double) each had a hit, and I noticed that Jorge used a two-handed follow through on his. That’s Kevin Long’s trademark, so I wonder if he’s been working made some adjustments with Posada recently. Has this been going on for a while, or is it something new? I didn’t notice it until tonight.

A tip o’ the old RAB cap goes out to Michael Young. This was his 1,574th career game, a new Texas Rangers’ franchise record. Congrats to him.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two teams Wednesday evening, when Ivan Nova gets the ball against Derek Holland. If you ask me, that one has four hours written all over it.

Zoilo’s huge day helps Tampa to win

Update: The Double-A Trenton game is finally over and has been added to the post.

No official rosters have been released, but Cito Culver, Ben Gamel, and Mason Williams will be playing for Short Season Staten Island when the season starts this Friday. Not surprising. Oh, and apparently Alan Horne is done with his throwing program and is close to returning to one of the affiliates, though I’m guessing he’ll start close to home base in Tampa. Hard to believe he’s 28 already, but I guess time flies when you’re always hurt.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over Syracuse)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K – nine for his last 22 (.409)
Greg Golson, CF, Jordan Parraz, RF & Gus Molina, DH: all 1 for 4 – Golson drove in a run and struck out
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4 – he hit the ball hard three times
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Brandon Laird, 3B: both 0 for 4, 2 K
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 4, 1 R
Austin Krum, LF: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B – three of his last four hits have been for extra bases
Adam Warren, RHP: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 4-9 GB/FB – 55 of 98 pitches were strikes (56.2%) … picked a runner off first with his great move … a few too many walks tonight, but he’s been on a very nice roll of late
Greg Smith, LHP: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 15 of 26 pitches were strikes (57.7%) … I’m guessing this was just a tuneup for Saturday’s start
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K – threw six pitches, half for strikes

[Read more…]

Yankees sign Brian Gordon, may start Thursday

Update (9:27pm): Jack Curry spoke to Gordon, who clarified that his Thursday start is not set in stone. “I don’t know if it’s 100 %,” said Gordon. “I was told be mentally prepared to start on Thursday. That could change.”

Original Post (7:53pm): Via Ken Davidoff and Bob Brookover, the Yankees have signed right-hander Brian Gordon, who had been pitching for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. He will be added to the big league roster as a condition of his opt-out clause with Philadelphia and start for the Yankees on Thursday. That would be his regular turn, conveniently.

Gordon, 32, has pitched extremely well this year. He owns a 2.55 FIP in nine starts and three relief appearances (55.1 IP) with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, striking out 56 and walked just seven. His 38% ground ball rate is scary though. Gordon has all of four big league innings to his credit, all coming with the Rangers back in 2008. Brian Cashman told Mark Feinsand earlier today that they were leaning towards David Phelps to make that start, but Gordon represented a veteran alternative. Interesting move.

Game 65: Rain

(Photo Credit: Flickr user notladj via Creative Commons license)

It’s raining here in the city, though the forecast seems to indicate that there’s enough of a window to gets tonight’s game in at some point. The Yankees waited until the last possible minute to put Derek Jeter on the disabled list, but no such luck with Russell Martin. He’s still active and hobbled while the bench remains a man short. Anyway, here’s the starting lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, DH
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, 1B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Frankie Cervelli, C

CC Sabathia, SP

Whenever the game starts, you’ll be able to watch it on My9. Enjoy.

Start Time Update: The game will begin at 7:40pm ET. Not bad at all.

Calf strain lands Jeter on disabled list

Update (5:57pm): The Yankees announced that Jeter has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with that strained right calf. Pena takes his place on the roster. The Cap’n made a case to remain active, but the Yankees just couldn’t play any more shorthanded than they already are, not with the NL leg of interleague play coming up this weekend.

Original Post (4:27pm): Derek Jeter will miss at least a week with an injured calf, Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon, but the club will not move to place him on the disabled list until after the short stop meets with doctors at 6 p.m. tonight. No matter what happens with Jeter, the Yanks will recall Ramiro Peña from Triple A Scranton to provide infield depth, but Eduardo Nuñez will receive the majority of the playing time at short during Jeter’s absence.

Jeter left last night’s game in the fifth inning after pulling up lame while running out a routine fly ball, and was seen slamming his helmet as he walked to the clubhouse with assistant trainer Steve Donohue. It’s a shock whenever the Cap’n gets hurt because he’s been remarkably durable during his career. This would be his first DL stint since the infamous dislocated shoulder sidelined him for six weeks at the start of the 2003 season and just his fifth ever. The injury likely guarantees that his string of seven straight seasons with at least 150 games played will end.

For the Yankees, the decision to place Jeter on the disabled list is complicated by the Captain himself. As Jeter admitted, he knows he’s going to be out at least a week with the calf strain, but he is concerned, as Jack Curry noted, that if he is ready to play after a week, he’ll be bored waiting for his DL stint to be over. With the Yanks’ upcoming Interleague swing through NL parks, the club might be better off using the roster flexibility (although Jeter himself begs to differ).

As for Jeter’s pursuit of his 3000th career hits, well that’s going to be on hold for a while. He’s clearly not going to get to 3000 on this homestand. If he goes on the disabled list, he would be eligible to come off on Wednesday, June 29th, the second game of a three game series against the Brewers at home. The Yankees then head out on the road for six games, but it’s worth noting that the first series of that short road trip is against the Mets. Jeter’s six hits away, so it’s still possible that he’ll reach the milestone in New York, just in CitiField. If he misses only a week, he would be able to return to the lineup on the brink of a six-game homestand, and I’m sure the Yankees would prefer to see him reach the milestone in the Bronx.

We’ll update this story once the Yankees announce their moves later this evening.