Coaching staff remains unsettled for 2010

Johnny Damon, Andy Pettitte, and Hideki Matsui have dominated headlines over the past two weeks, but they’re not the only Yankee free agents. The Yankees face decisions on most of their 2009 coaching staff, and according to Brian Cashman, the team is “nowhere” in those talks. Manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long are under contract for 2010, but the contracts of all other coaches have expired.

Cashman did add that the team “would love to have all of them back under the proper circumstances,” which likely mean one-year contracts with a salaries similar their 2009 figures. The coaches include pitching coach Dave Eiland, bench coach Tony Pena, third base coach Rob Thomson, first base coach Mick Kelleher, and bullpen coach Mike Harkey.

What Went Right: Injury Bouncebacks

Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.

At this time last year, the Yankees roster was anything but set. They had a huge offer out to CC Sabathia, and planned to pursue at least one other starting pitcher. That would help shore up the rotation, but clearly there were no guarantees. On top of that, the Yankees powerhouse offense went out with a whimper in 2008. Not only did the Yankees need another bat to enhance the offense, but they’d need contributions from players who underperformed in 2008.

With the acquisition of Nick Swisher, the Yankees had four players who underperformed in 2008. Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui missed much of the season with injuries, and Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher had poor seasons at the plate. Even with the potential addition of Mark Teixeira, the Yankees had a lot to worry about. Without contributions from at least two of those four, the Yankees offense wouldn’t have been nearly as formidable.

Two of four didn’t seem like asking a lot. Two of the players in question were proven veterans coming off injuries, and other two were players in their primes who each had a bad season. But as it turned out, all four bounced back. That turned out to be a key to the 2009 season. It meant the Yankees had above average contributors in eight out of nine lineup slots, with the final filled by an average player. How many other teams can boast of such a powerhouse?

Here’s how the Yankees in question performed in 2008, and how they bounced back in 2009. All stats are from FanGraphs, at risk of Jeremy Greenhouse calling me out.

Player 08 wOBA 08 WAR 09 wOBA 09 WAR
Jorge Posada .340 0.8 .378 4.0
Hideki Matsui .348 0.8 .378 2.4
Nick Swisher .325 1.0 .375 3.5
Robinson Cano .307 0.5 .370 4.4

Both Swisher and Cano both returned to their pre-2008 forms, which brought a huge boost to the offense. As you can see from the table, these were not insignificant improvements. Not only did they increase rate production over 2008, but they stayed healthy and therefore added that value over the course of the season. WAR favors Cano over Swisher by almost a full run, but that’s mostly because of the positional adjustment. Both had phenomenal seasons, especially compared to 2008.

Posada and Matsui contributed in two ways. First, they improved their net production over 2008. Even when healthy, Posada and Matsui weren’t quite where they had been in years past. Their wOBA numbers weren’t bad in 2008, but the Yankees have seen them perform much better. There was certainly fear that age had caught up with them, but they answered that charge by coming back to produce in 2009. That leads to the second part of their improvement, remaining healthy. Even with their production in 2008, they didn’t help the team as much because they were hurt for much of the season. In 2008 both stayed healthy enough to add a ton of value to the team, as evidenced by their WAR figures.

All four players certainly had the potential to bounce back after poor 2008 campaigns. Cano and Swisher were guys in their primes who had bad years, and Matsui and Posada were two veterans who faced injury struggles. During the 2008-2009 off-season, it would have been wildly optimistic to predict that all four would bounce back. The Yankees got lucky in that regard. All four contributed to the 103-win season, which set up the team’s run through the playoffs. The 2009 Yankees might have made the playoffs if only two of those four bounced back, but they wouldn’t have been nearly as dominant. While the improved pitching staff was a big part of the story this season, we shouldn’t overlook Posada, Matsui, Cano, and Swisher. Their contribution was a big part of making this season as special as it was.

Yanks decline option on Mitre

Via Marc Carig on Twitter, the Yankees have declined the $1.25 million option the team held on Sergio Mitre. This move, however, does not portend the end of Mitre’s pinstriped career. Since he is arbitration-eligible, he remains, as Carig notes, under team control. The Yanks could still opt to non-tender him, but for the amount it will cost to resign him, Brian Cashman will look to retain him on an incentive-laden deal. Just a few days ago, I predicted that the Yanks would pick up his option. So much for that.

Greinke takes home the Cy Young

Both the AL MVP and AL Cy Young are pretty obvious picks this year, and half of those awards were made official today. Royals’ righthander Zack Greinke was named the AL Cy Young Award winner, beating out Felix Hernandez in a landslide. Greinke’s season was simply off the charts: 242 K in 229.1 IP, 2.16 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 2.81 tRA. His 9.4 WAR was by the far the most in baseball this year (Ben Zobrist was second with 8.6), and it was the best mark put up by a pitcher since Randy Johnson went for 9.9 WAR back in 2004. Congrats to Zack, there really wasn’t much of a debate here.

In a normal year, CC Sabathia might have gotten more consideration, but thanks to the phenomenal seasons put forth by Greinke, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez, he finished fourth (two second place votes, seven third place votes). It’s all cool though, Sabathia added something to his resume this season that none of those guys have.

The case for CC Sabathia as SI’s Sportsman of the Year

Every December, Sports Illustrated announces its Sportsman of the Year. Among the nominees this year is New York’s own Carsten Charles Sabathia, a good choice for the award for many reasons. Ben Reiter takes up CC’s case, writing about why our favorite big man should be the choice. It’s a great read on a great guy, both on and off the field. Takeaway quote on Reiter’s advocacy of Sabathia: “But Sabathia is also my Sportsman of the Year because he showed us, in this money-fueled era of pro sports, that cash doesn’t always change athletes, or corrupt them, and that the idea of a ‘contract year’ can sometimes represent nothing more than a matter of timing.” We’ll find out soon that Sabathia didn’t win the Cy Young, but I think he’d be happy to take home SI’s Sportsman of the Year.

What Went Wrong: The Joba Rules

Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.

"Hey look, a penny."

The Yankees added two new and exciting members to their rotation in the offseason, but many fans (myself certainly included) were most excited to see what the young Joba Chamberlain could do in his first full year as a starter. Things started out well, as the young Nebraskan posted a pretty 3.71 ERA with a tolerable 4.51 FIP in his first ten starts, striking out 51 batters in 53.1 IP. For a 23-year-old starter in the unforgiving AL East, Joba’s performance was more than acceptable up to that point. Unfortunately, things soon went downhill after that.

In Joba’s next seven starts, opponents tagged him for a .311-.385-.477 batting line (basically what Victor Martinez hit this year) that resulted in a 5.05 ERA and 62 baserunners in just 35.2 IP. Even worse were the high pitch counts Joba was running up, forcing him from games early and taxing the bullpen. Joba went into the All Star break with a solid 4.25 ERA, though he was averaging barely five innings per start.

After an eight day breather, Joba returned from the break like a man possessed. He completely shut down the Tigers, A’s, and Rays in his first three starts back, allowing just two runs and 16 baserunners in 21.2 IP. He won all three starts and held opponents to a .422 OPS against. Alas, the success did not last long, as Joba started to head into uncharted territory in terms of innings pitched.

Already at 110.2 IP on the season (his previous career high was the 118.2 IP he threw as a sophomore in college), Joba surrendered 19 runs in his next 20 IP (four starts). At this point, the Yanks applied the breaks, as Joba was limited to short, 3-4 inning starts for the next month or so to control those innings. He had a 6.75 ERA with a 5.45 FIP the rest of the way, finishing the season with 157.1 IP, the most he’d ever thrown in his life.

In one sense, The Joba Rules were wildly successful in that they kept the righthander healthy all year. However, at the end of the season Joba looked as if he didn’t know if he was coming or going, basically like a deer in the headlights. His performance suffered, resulting in many high stress situations that won’t show up in an innings total. Joba’s 2,730 pitches thrown were the 29th most in the AL, more than fellow youngster Rick Porcello even though he had thrown 12.2 fewer innings than the Tigers’ rookie.

The fact of the matter is that the Yankees made their bed when it comes to Joba and his innings limitations, and now they have to sleep in it. He was rushed to the big leagues in 2007 because he was admittedly fantastic in the minors, but mostly because the team needed help in the bullpen. Joba never had a chance to properly stretch out in games that don’t matter, and instead he was forced to learn on the job more than pitchers should have to. Give the Yankees credit for trying to be creative, but it’s painfully obvious at this point that the idea of cutting starts short and whatnot are not the best way to control innings.

The good news that Joba won’t have a significant innings limit in 2010, and hopefully the braintrust has learned from this experience and will develop a better plan to bring it’s young pitchers along, especially with Phil Hughes ready to join the rotation next year. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just keep it simple. Bite the bullet and have the kid sit and rest for two or three weeks mid-season. The less change to a pitcher’s routine, the better.

Photo Credit: Jed Jacobsohn, Getty Images

Drilling down on Roy Halladay

When it comes to pitchers on the block, the Yankees are always a likely destination simply because, for the last 15 years, landing pitchers has been the team’s modus operandi. They acquired David Cone in 1995, David Wells after the 1996 season and Roger Clemens prior to 1999 campaign. In the 2000s, the names — Javier Vazquez, Randy Johnson — kept coming but with less success, and just a year ago, the Yankees nabbed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett out of the clutches of free agency.

So we arrive in the winter of 2009-2010 with Roy Halladay seemingly filling the role Johan Santana played in 2007-2008. Already, the Yankees have been rumored to be interested in Roy Halladay, and the new Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos seems both willing to ship off Halladay and willing to send him to an AL East competitor.

The parallels to Santana are obvious. Halladay is one of the American League’s top five pitchers, and as he has aged, he’s become a smarter and better pitcher. Over the last two years, he’s 37-21 with a 2.78 ERA and 414 strike outs in 485 innings. He has thrown a whopping 18 complete games over the last two years. As a comparison, the Yankees’ entire pitching staffs have thrown just four complete games in that same span.

Similar to Santana, Halladay is playing out the last year of his contract, and the Blue Jays are unlikely to resign him after 2010. Furthermore, as the Twins were in 2007, the Blue Jays are living through their first off-season under a new General Manager. While Bill Smith inherited a healthy organization, Anthopoulos has his work cut out for him as he tries to compete with the big guns of the East while uncoupled Toronto from a few bad contracts.

So what, then, would a potential trade partner expect the Blue Jays to want, at least initially? For Anthopoulus, trading Halladay will be a defining moment of this off-season. He’ll be trading one of the best pitchers to throw in Toronto and big crowd favorite at a time when the team is hurting for attendance. He’ll need to recoup that investment while stocking up for the future. In that sense, I don’t see him settling for a package as weak as the one Minnesota received for Santana.

If I were a betting man, I’d guess that Anthopoulus would initially ask for Jesus Montero. At that point, Brian Cashman would hang up the phone. But the point remains: Toronto will need an impact, near-can’t miss prospect to give up Halladay right now. Since the Doc has but one year left on his contract, a team acquiring him may have to give up just one prospect, but it will be a costly one. Would Austin Jackson get the job done? Would the Yankees feel comfortable trading him? Does Toronto, as many others do, feel Jackson’s stock is low right now?

In writing about John Lackey last week, Joe mentioned how Halladay is a desired piece potentially available next winter. That, of course, is where the Yanks found themselves with Santana, but Johan never hit free agency. Brian Cashman will have to ask himself if he wants Halladay enough to pay in prospects and later in cash or if the team is willing to chance it and wait. Josh Beckett and Cliff Lee loom large in 2011 as well.

Right now, this is sheer speculation and the framework for a discussion on Halladay. The rumor mill is quiet in advance of the Winter Meetings, and teams are waiting to see how the market shakes down. When the Hot Stove warms up, Halladay will be front and center. Let’s see how the Yanks approach a big-name pitcher this time around.