(Presswire)

(Presswire)

At this time last season, the Yankees were still talking about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season. It was definitely doable, but it would have been very difficult, especially since the team wanted to contend at the same time. Eventually the Yankees abandoned their luxury tax plan and they didn’t even get back to the postseason anyway, so double yikes.

Because Alex Rodriguez‘s salary is coming back on the books and the team handed out four free agent contracts worth $15M+ last offseason, the Yankees won’t be able to get under the luxury tax in 2015 and probably not in 2016 either. It might be possible in 2017, after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and the luxury tax threshold is presumably raised.

Anyway, that’s a really long way of saying salaries for New York’s arbitration-eligible players are less important this offseason then they were at this time last year. When I looked at the club’s 2015 payroll situation three weeks ago, I guesstimated a $12M figure for their arbitration-eligible players. Turns out I was pretty close. Matt Swartz posted arbitration salary projections using his insanely accurate model — he’s been within 5% the last few years — earlier this week, and he has the Yankees’ players at $12.9M total. Not a bad job by me. Here are the projections:

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Pineda (~$1.5M raise), Huff (~$200K raise), and Phelps (~$800k raise) are all arbitration-eligible for the first time. Pineda is getting a nice bump in salary despite missing all that time to injury because a) he was pretty awesome when healthy this past year, and b) he was an All-Star back in 2011, and that pays. Phelps qualified as a Super Two by about a month’s worth of service time, so he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three. He and Pineda aren’t going anywhere. Same goes for Nova (no raise after lost season). They’ll be tendered contracts for next year.

Rogers, on the other hand, is an oh so obvious non-tender candidate at that salary. He earned $1.85M this past season, which is why his projected 2015 salary is so high. His raise isn’t expected to be that significant. Rogers had his moments in pinstripes (like this one) and his fastball/slider combination is just good enough to keep you interested, but not at $1.9M. The Yankees could always non-tender him and re-sign him at a lower salary, maybe even a minor league contract.

I don’t have any problem with Kelley at $2.5M next season — these days you basically have to throw 30 innings and not run over the closer with a bullpen cart to be worth $2.5M — even though he can be annoyingly inconsistent. At his best, he’s a true eighth inning guy who misses an awful lot of bats. At his worst, Kelley allows like four runs and gets one out. Which makes him no worse than most other relievers, really. His projected salary isn’t nearly high enough to scare me away.

The same goes for Cervelli even though I have no reason to believe he can stay healthy over the course of a full season. Quality catching is hard to find and the Yankees shouldn’t give it away for nothing just because they have John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine (and soon Gary Sanchez) sitting in Triple-A. Even if they don’t want to keep Cervelli at that price, I think another team would give them an interesting enough low-level lottery ticket prospect in a trade. Then again, what do I know.

As for Huff, he actually pitched pretty well this past season by long man standards, posting a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 39 innings. That’s usable. Huff’s projected salary is barely above the league minimum, so the decision whether to tender him a contract will come down to other factors like project performance and roster concerns. If the Yankees need a 40-man roster spot this winter — they’ll need one as soon as the World Series is over because A-Rod‘s suspension ends — Huff could be the odd man out.

It’s worth mentioning these contracts are not guaranteed. Teams can release arbitration-eligible players who sign one-year deals before mid-March and only owe then 30 days termination pay. If they release them after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years ago. They could keep Huff, see how the offseason plays out, then cut bait if a need for a roster spot arises. I’d put my money on Huff being non-tendered.

The Yankees have an uninteresting crop of arbitration-eligible players this winter. There are no real tough decisions here. It’s an easy call to non-tender Rogers and an easy enough call to keep everyone other than Huff. Huff is the only borderline guy and there’s almost no wrong decision there. If they non-tender him, fine. If they keep him, whatever. The arbitration-eligible players won’t make or break anything this offseason. The Yankees have an easy arbitration class this winter, which is good because they need to focus on lots of other stuff.

Categories : Hot Stove League
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Here is your open thread for the evening. The World Series finally (finally!) gets underway tonight (8pm ET on FOX). It’ll be James Shields against Big Game Madison Bumgarner. All three local hockey teams are playing as well. Talk about those games or whatever else is on your mind right here.

Categories : Open Thread
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One of Roberts's final hits. ( Elsa/Getty Images)

One of Roberts’s final hits. ( Elsa/Getty Images)

Not gonna lie: The original title of this season review was “Nothing from the keystone.” It sure seemed that way, given that Stephen Drew and Brian Roberts combined for 458 of 631 total PA from the position. Add in Brendan Ryan for another 42 and it looks like a downright disaster.

Then I saw this, and I had to change my title.

Click for larger

Click for larger

The chart does not lie: Yankees second basemen ranked seventh in the AL for OPS. All I could think was:

To reiterate, Stephen Drew and Brian Roberts combined for 73 percent of the overall plate appearances at second base, and together produced a .603 OPS. That actually raises another decent question.

How the hell did the Yankees second basemen produce a .693 OPS if the guys taking 73 percent of the PA produced a .603 OPS? That 90 points has to come from somewhere.

1) Martin Prado is awesome. In his 63 PA as a 2B he had a 1.074 OPS. That moved the needle quite a bit.

2) Yangervis Solarte got 49 PA as a 2B and had a .777 OPS, which helped.

3) Jose Pirela had three hits, including a double and a triple, in 13 PA, so he and Dean Anna, who hit a home run as a 2B, topped off the tank.

Here’s where the effect on the field doesn’t quite line up with the aggregate stats. Prado excelled while playing 2B, but no matter his overall numbers (7 2B, 3 HR, both more than Drew in a little more than half the PA) he affected only 17 games. Drew and Roberts infected affected a combined 121 games with their .603 OPS.

So I suppose the title could be, “Nothing from the keystone most of the time.” That’s a little clunky. The question mark will suffice.

No matter what, the Yankees were going to be disappointed at second base this season. In 2013 they had the highest OPS in the AL at second base — by 119 points. Once Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners, what options did the Yankees have?

Mark Ellis? Plenty advocated for that, but go look at his B-R page. I’m not even going to link it here. It’s too offensive.

Omar Infante? Sure, he’s ready for a World Series appearance, his second in three years, but his OPS was 37 points lower than Roberts’s during the regular season. And Kansas City is paying him through 2017.

Trade? Since zero second basemen were traded from the time Cano signed through Opening Day, it’s tough to say that the Yankees missed any opportunities. Once Cano left, they had essentially no chance to field a decent second baseman.

Mike wrote glowingly of Prado in his season review, and for good reason. He not only provided offense in the second half, but will be around for the next two seasons. That’s the big 2014 story for the Yankees at second base: how it will affect 2015 and beyond.

I could spend a few paragraphs ripping Roberts and Drew, but what’s the point? We saw some brilliant moments out of Roberts, but we mostly saw an aging, oft-injured player on his last legs. (Roberts confirmed that by announcing his retirement last Friday.) We saw — well, we really saw nothing from Drew save for a few line drives towards the very end of the season.

What we saw from Prado, though, was a glimpse of what he might provide in 2015. It’s almost certain he’ll start the season at second base, with Alex Rodriguez, Chase Headley, or a combination thereof manning third base. He might move at some point, perhaps to the outfield, perhaps to third base, making room for Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela. However the situation shakes out, Prado gives them a level of versatility they’ve lacked in recent years.

There you have it: a positively spun review on what seemed like one of the worst positions for the 2014 Yankees. Next up on my plate: What the hell happened at first base. And yes, the first basemen produced a lower OPS than the second basemen.

Categories : Players
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(Presswire)

(Presswire)

The World Series finally starts tonight after four baseball-less days. That felt like an eternity. My official prediction is Royals in six for no apparent reason. It’s a total guess. More than anything, I want a long and exciting series that goes the full seven games. Both the LDS and LCS rounds were a blast. Hopefully the World Series is just as fun. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

1. I think this is the first time since 2005 that I don’t really care who wins the World Series. Last year I wanted the Red Sox to lose because duh. The year before that I wanted the Tigers to lose because they swept the Yankees in the ALCS. I wanted the Rangers to lose in both 2010 and 2011 because they beat the Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. I rooted against the division rival Red Sox and Rays in 2007 and 2008, and in 2006 I wanted the Tigers to lose because they beat the Yankees in the ALDS. Common theme here? I wanted teams to lose. I didn’t necessarily want the other team to win, I just wanted the team I didn’t like to lose. How messed up is that? Almost all neutral fans I come across these days are rooting against a team — Dodgers fans rooting against the Giants, etc. — more than anything, myself included. That’s so screwed up. Everyone is rooting for someone else to not be happy.

2. Every postseason for the last I dunno, 15-20 years or so we’ve seen how important it is to have a deep and excellent bullpen. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Bullpens seem to be getting more attention this postseason because of that three-headed Kelvin Herrera-Wade Davis-Greg Holland monster in the Royals bullpen, but they’ve always been important. That’s why I think the Yankees absolutely have to re-sign David Robertson. Re-sign him and add more quality relievers as well, with Andrew Miller being the most obvious candidate. I like Adam Warren as much as the next guy and Shawn Kelley has his moments, but those two are best used as sixth and seventh inning types. Not eighth inning relievers. I have no concerns about Dellin Betances closing if that’s what it comes to, but how could you watch this past season and not see how valuable he was in a multi-inning setup role? With so many close games being played these days, stack that bullpen with as many power arms as possible. There will still be plenty of opportunities for guys like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow next year.

3. I’m a power guy and chances are you knew that already. Homers are the single best outcome for any at-bat and doubles aren’t far behind. Pile up a bunch of extra-base hits and you’ll to score a ton of runs. Here, look:

2000-14 XBH vs RperG

Score more runs and you’re more likely to win. That’s the kind of hard-hitting analysis you’ve come to expect from RAB. Now, that said, man are the Royals fun to watch. Their brand of “put the ball in play and run like hell” controlled chaos is exciting and it has me on the edge of my seat with every pitch because you never know when they might take off. It really is fun and I’m sure it drives the other team nuts. I don’t buy it as a model for perennial contention — in case you haven’t noticed, the Royals have benefited from some enormously clutch homers this postseason, it hasn’t been all speed — but it’s worked for Kansas City these last eight games. It’s refreshing to see such a different style of play.

4. If the Giants win the World Series again, don’t we have to consider them a dynasty? Three titles in five years is pretty damn impressive. I’m pretty sure we’d all consider it a dynasty if the Yankees did it, wouldn’t we? I think the coolest thing about San Francisco’s recent success is all the roster turnover, specifically their regulars. Their 2010 and 2014 World Series rosters only have three position players (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, former Yankee Travis Ishikawa (!)) and one starter (Madison Bumgarner) in common. In fact, if they win another championship this year, they’ll have had a different ace/closer combination in all three title years: Tim Lincecum/Brian Wilson in 2010, Matt Cain/Sergio Romo in 2012, and Bumgarner/Santiago Casilla in 2014. (Bumgarner is their Andy Pettitte, if you haven’t noticed.) Anyway, I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I just find the Giants recent success impressive. They’ve managed to win a bunch of championships without having people try to discredit them because of their massive payroll (sixth in MLB at $155M!).

5. With Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis heading to the Red Sox and Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan out of the running, it sounds like the Yankees next hitting coach is going to be an off-the-radar hire. That doesn’t mean it will be an outside the box hiring — Jason Giambi, anyone? — just someone we haven’t heard connected to the team at all. That happened four years ago when the Yankees named Larry Rothschild pitching coach. They were no reports he was in the running or had even been interviewed, then bam, he was hired. Either way, I hope the Yankees go with the two hitting coach system because it just seems like something that could be very beneficial. Another set of eyes and another person to help communicate stuff can only help. (I don’t think two hitting coaches falls into “too many cooks in the kitchen” territory, but what do I know.) Nearly two-thirds of the league has a hitting coach and an assistant hitting coach these days. This is the perfect time to implement that system and I really hope the Yankees decide to do it. They’re always a year or two behind the rest of the league with this stuff. It’s time to catch up. (Example: The Rays and Blue Jays were using infield shifts all the time years ago, but the Yankees just got around to it in 2014.)

Categories : Musings
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Long-time Oriole and short-time Yankee Brian Roberts has retired, he confirmed to Dan Connolly. “It was just kind of my time. There were numerous reasons that I felt like I couldn’t play at a level that I was accustomed to and wanted to play at if I continued to play. I always said that I wasn’t going to be the guy that tried to hang on as long as I could,” he said. Roberts played 1,327 of his 1,418 career games with the O’s. The other 91 were in pinstripes this past season.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The World Series finally starts tomorrow. The Texans and Steelers are the Monday Night Football game, plus both the Knicks and Nets are playing preseason games. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

Categories : Open Thread
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Denbo. (NY Post)

Denbo. (NY Post)

According to Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have tabbed Gary Denbo to replace Mark Newman as vice president of baseball operations. Newman, who has run the team’s farm system for more than a decade, is retiring. Denbo has been part of the interview process as the Yankees look for a new hitting coach, which was an indication he was moving into a more prominent front office role. The team has not yet made any kind of official announcement.

Denbo, 53, has worked three stints with the Yankees since 1990. He has served as a minor league hitting coach and manager (1990-96), minor league hitting coordinator (1997-2000, 2006-07), assistant minor league director (2000), hitting coach for the MLB club (2001), and scouting and player development consultant (2009-14). Denbo was also a hitting coach for the Nippon Ham Fighters (2003-05) and Blue Jays (2008). He played four years in the minors (1983-86) as an outfielder with the Reds but never made it above Double-A.

Feinsand also reports Pat Roessler is out as the team’s director of player development, a position he had held since 2005. There is no word on his replacement just yet, but the Yankees are reportedly considering former Expos and Mets GM Omar Minaya for a front office position, and he could be a fit there. When we first learned Newman was retiring a few weeks ago, it was reported Roessler and some other player development folks could be in danger as well.

The brain trust and especially Hal Steinbrenner have not been pleased with the team’s unproductive farm system these last few years, specifically their inability to produce position players. They evaluated their player development system late last year but only made procedural changes. This time around they changed some personnel. (Newman’s contract expires this month and I get the sense the Yankees weren’t going to bring him back anyway.) Hopefully the new voices lead to a more productive farm system.

Categories : Front Office
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(Brian Blanco/Getty)

(Brian Blanco/Getty)

On paper, signing Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract worth $3M last offseason made perfect sense for the Yankees. They had questions at both second and third bases, plus he’s a dead pull left-handed hitter who figured to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch. When Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners a week later and Alex Rodriguez was eventually suspended for the entire 2014 season, Johnson went from shrewd signing to essential piece.

Johnson, who turned 32 in Spring Training, hit an unsexy yet effective .235/.305/.410 (101 wRC+) with 16 homers and seven steals in 118 games for the Rays last year. He also saw time at the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as left field. That kind of production and versatility would be at an absolutely bargain at $3M. Given his 2012-13 spray chart …


Source: FanGraphs

… there was every reason to believe Johnson would hit a few cheap homers in the Bronx and see his offensive numbers tick up a bit. His struggles against left-handers were a concern but there were ways to minimize his exposure to southpaws. Add in the fact that he was very familiar with the AL East after spending part of 2011 and all of 2012 with the Blue Jays before joining the Rays 2013, and Johnson was a damn near perfect fit. The Yankees were wise to jump on him so relatively early in free agency.

Of course, as so many people are eager to point out, baseball is not played on paper or spreadsheets and things don’t always go according to plan. It would be really boring if they did. Despite his versatility and left-handed pull power, Johnson did not work out as planned for the Yankees. It took all of three games for him to lose the starting third base job — that had more to do with Yangervis Solarte‘s early-season performance than Johnson’s — and by midseason he had been relegated to full-time bench duty.

The first two weeks of the season actually went quite well for Johnson. He was able to stay in the lineup despite Solarte’s dominance because Mark Teixeira‘s injury created an opening at first base, and he went 10-for-35 (.286) with two doubles, a triple, and three home runs in the team’s first 12 games of the season. The three homers came in a five-game span against the Orioles and Red Sox. Johnson played as expected (better, really) for the first two weeks of the season. It was wonderful.

And then it all went south. Johnson went 3-for-26 (.115) in the team’s next 12 games and it took a set of back-to-back 2-for-4 games at the end of May to get his season batting line to .217/.286/.409 (93 wRC+) on June 1st. That’s not all that far off from his 2013 production, but he cooled off big time following the hot start and the move into Yankee Stadium hadn’t help his production as hoped. By the time June rolled around, Johnson was playing sparingly at first and third bases with the occasional start at DH.

(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

A strong two weeks in mid-July — 8-for-27 (.296) with a homer, four walks and zero strikeouts from July 6th through the 21st — wasn’t enough to save Johnson’s job with the Yankees, so, a few hours before the July 31st trade deadline, he was traded to the rival Red Sox for close friend Stephen Drew. Johnson finished his time in pinstripes with a .219/.304/.373 (91 wRC+) batting line and six homers in 77 games. That includes a .224/.300/.402 (94 wRC+) line with five homers at home and a .213/.308/.340 (86 wRC+) line with one homer on the road.

Johnson spent most of his time with the Yankees at first and third bases, though he see spot duty in both outfield corners and at second base. His defense on the infield corners was pretty terrible and that probably has a lot to do with inexperience. Coming into the season, Johnson had playing only 18 career innings at first base and 118 career innings at third base. All of them came with the Rays last season. The inexperience doesn’t absolve him of blame, he misplayed some balls any big leaguer should make, but it’s not something we can ignore either.

I do wonder if Johnson would have had more success with the Yankees if they had kept him at his natural second base position. That’s where he has spent most of his career and is presumably the most comfortable. Maybe keeping him there would have helped his offense somehow. These guys are only human. Learning a new-ish position is demanding and his game could have suffered elsewhere. This stuff happens all the time all around the league. Oh well. I’m just thinking out loud.

Johnson playing sparingly for the Red Sox (-12 wRC+ in ten games) before being shipped to the Orioles (111 wRC+ in 19 games) in a late-August waiver trade. Baltimore was looking for some extra third base depth following Manny Machado’s season-ending knee surgery. He did end up making their postseason roster but only got two at-bats in October. Johnson made a ton of sense for the Yankees coming into the season thanks to his versatility and left-handed pop, but it didn’t work out for several reasons and the team moved on at the trade deadline. That’s baseball.

Categories : Players
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