The 109th edition of the World Series opens tonight with perhaps the most insufferable matchup imaginable: the Red Sox and Cardinals. It’s not so much the teams themselves — though let’s face it, no one likes the Red Sox around here — but it’s the way they’re covered. Hopefully these next few days are so super-exciting it will overshadow the general awfulness that will come from a Red Sox-Cardinals series. Anyway, I have thoughts:
1. Regardless of whether they win the World Series, I expect more than a few teams to copy the Red Sox model of targeting mid-range free agents and ignoring the top of market. It’s a great strategy in theory but is very hard to actually pull off. Boston did get at least somewhat lucky that every non-Ryan Dempster signing worked out almost perfectly this season. The years Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara had are like, 90th-percentile stuff. The Yankees are going to wind up re-signing Robinson Cano to a huge contract, which pretty much precludes them for the whole “spread the money around” idea. I have no reason to think they won’t remain a top of the market club, $189M payroll plan or not.
2. The Dodgers fired bench coach Trey Hillman yesterday and I would not be surprised if he wound up with the Yankees in some capacity. Maybe on the coaching staff, maybe as a minor league instructor, maybe as a scout or in the front office. I don’t really know. Hillman coached in the Yankees’ farm system for more than a decade (1990-2001) before leaving because he was passed over several times for big league coaching positions. He spent a year in the Rangers’ front office before heading over to manage in Japan. Brian Cashman and Hillman are reportedly close friends, so much so that he was considered an outside the box managerial candidate following the 2007 season. Hillman was named manager of the Royals before Joe Torre officially left and the Yankees had a chance to interview him. I don’t know what he would do or how qualified he is to do it, but I would not be surprised if Hillman returned to the organization at all.
3. This is probably worth its own post at some point, but I think former Rangers outfielder David Murphy has a chance to be a real free agent bargain this winter. The 32-year-old was awful this year (73 wRC+) but awesome last year (129 wRC+), and I suspect his true talent is somewhere in the middle (career 103 wRC+). Murphy is strictly a left-handed platoon bat (career 71 wRC+ against southpaws) and his performance against right-handers in recent years is rather interesting. Here is a table of information:
That is Murphy’s performance against right-handers only. I repeat: right-handers only. The strikeout and walk rates are very good, and outside of the normal year-to-year fluctuation, his batting ball profile is unchanged. It’s not like he suddenly forgot how to hit the ball in the air or something. It would be a big red flag if he did.
Despite that, Murphy’s average on balls in play fell off a cliff last season, nearly a hundred points from his established level the three years before that. There might be a tangible reason for this — maybe he changed his approach in an attempt to have a huge contract year, maybe he was hiding an injury, maybe he was a mechanic mess, or maybe he simply had an unlucky season. It happens. If the Yankees don’t bring Curtis Granderson back and can’t reel in Carlos Beltran, Murphy would make a ton of sense if they can sell him on the idea of using the short porch to re-establish his value on a one-year, prove yourself before hitting the market again next winter.
4. Tim Lincecum’s new contract (two years, $35M) is on the high-end but not way out of line with what I expected him to get. It shows two things: One, free agent prices continue to go up as the Yankees’ payroll comes down. That’s bad. Two, it shows the value of getting above-average pitching at an affordable rate, say $10-12M per year. Having Yu Darvish at that price sure would have been nice, but maybe Masahiro Tanaka can be that guy. Whoever acquires him will end up spending north of $100M, but half of that will be the posting fee, which doesn’t count against the luxury tax. Obviously the Yankees would benefit from that. My guess is the team that lands Tanaka ends up with a lesser pitcher than Darvish at a higher salary. Either way, Lincecum’s contract shows what happens when teams have a ton of money to spend — remember, every club will get an extra $25M starting next year thanks to the new national television contracts — and not many places to spend it. The few free agents who are good and/or have a track record are going to get paid in a big way.
Someone sent me this video and I thought it was pretty neat. It’s the final out of the last five World Series — three strikeouts, a fly ball to left, and a ground ball to second base. I’m sure you remember the ground ball to second. Five different pitchers too, even though one team (the Giants) won two titles in the span of three years. Kinda cool.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. There is no baseball — the World Series starts tomorrow — and no football, but the Islanders and Devils are both playing. Seems like a good night to chip away at the Netflix queue, eh? Anything goes here, talk about whatever. Enjoy.
- Brian Cashman reached out to the coaching staff last week to discuss new contracts. Their deals all expire on October 31st. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has reportedly agreed to a new contract and bullpen coach Mike Harkey — Joe Girardi‘s closest confidant — is expected to return as well.
- There’s a chance hitting coach Kevin Long will leave the team to join Don Mattingly, either with the Dodgers if he gets a contract extension or with a new team if he is let go and winds up elsewhere. The two grew close in 2007, when they were both on New York’s coaching staff.
- Strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea will not be brought back when his contract expires next week. He had been with the team since 2007. The Yankees told Cavalea they plan to go “in a different direction with the position.”
- Pro scout Don Wakamatsu recently interviewed for the Rangers’ bench coach job. They hired Tim Bogar away from the Angels instead. The Yankees brought Wakamatsu on board last winter and I assume he’s still with the team.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young-ish player who couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime.
Despite all the optimism about an Opening Day return, Father Time remained undefeated as Derek Jeter was slow to recover from his offseason ankle surgery and unable to start the season with the Yankees. That gave the team the opportunity to do something they’ve seemed eager to do for a long time: play Eduardo Nunez everyday. Jeter’s injury was the perfect chance to play the kid without him having to look over his shoulder.
For about three games, everything went fine. The 26-year-old Nunez went 4-for-10 with a walk in the season-opening series against the Red Sox, but then he took a pitch to biceps in the fourth game and went into a deep 7-for-55 (.127) slump through the end of the month. The bat wasn’t working, but Nunez actually showed off some improved throwing mechanics and went from disaster to merely shaky in the field. Errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but he did go from 30.1 innings per error from 2010-2012 to 62.3 innings per error in April 2013. Like I said, shaky instead of a disaster.
With his batting line sitting at a weak .200/.290/.275 through 95 plate appearances on May 5th, Nunez was pulled from a game after hurting his ribcage, apparently on a swing. An MRI came back clean but rest and treatment didn’t work, so a few days later the Yankees placed their backup shortstop on the DL. On the DL is where he stayed for two months and 57 team games. In typical Yankees fashion, his rehab moved very slowly.
Nunez returned on July 6th and five days later, Derek Jeter came off the DL (for the first time). Luckily for Nunez, the Cap’n hurt himself in his first game back and the shortstop position remained open. Eduardo went 16-for-62 (.258) with three doubles and a triple (.611 OPS) in between his return from the DL and Jeter’s second return from the DL. Nunez sat on the bench for a few games while Jeter played short, but on August 3rd, the shortstop job was his once again.
During the Cap’n's third DL stint, Nunez went a respectable 23-for-80 (.288) with seven walks (.341 OBP), three doubles, one triple, and one homer (.728 OPS) with four steals in four attempts. Jeter returned for about two weeks in late-August and early-September, but the combination of his need to DH and Alex Rodriguez‘s hamstring and calf problems kept Nunez in the lineup, either at shortstop or third base. Nunez had a very nice .295/.321/.487 batting line in September as the season wound down.
Despite that strong late-season performance, Eduardo’s season batting line sat at an ugly .260/.307/.372 (83 wRC+) with three homers and ten stolen bases (in 13 attempts) in 336 plate appearances. The league average shortstop hit .254/.308/.367 (85 wRC+), so Nunez wasn’t far off the mark with the bat. The problem was, as always, his defense. That improvement he showed in April was not evident late in the season, when he was back to booting grounders and airmailing throws.
The various defensive stats — -20.6 UZR, -28 DRS, -12.1 FRAA, and -18 TotalZone — absolutely crush him at shortstop, like worst defensive player in baseball bad, but defensive stats don’t really work in small samples. Nunez only managed 608.1 innings at shortstop this summer, only about 40% of a full season. Going back to silly ol’ errors, he made eight in the final month and a half of the season, roughly one for every 35.3 innings in the field. Right in line with his pre-2013 work.
Both fWAR (-1.4) and bWAR (-1.5) agree Nunez was one of the ten worst position players in baseball this season. That’s out of the 955 players who had at least one plate appearance. If you don’t want to use WAR — I actually don’t, I prefer it for multi-year stuff but not single seasons — then all you need to know is that Nunez was (at best) a league average hitter relative to position this season while being well-below-average defensively. That adds up to a below-average player.
This was Nunez’s Big Chance. Capital letters. Jeter was going to be out for a while and even if he came back at some point, A-Rod and Kevin Youkilis were sure to miss a bunch of time as well. Instead, Nunez did nothing to stand out in regular playing time. He didn’t hit all that much — not even show a sign that there was something more to come, really — and his defense was bad. Nunez seems to have some serious backers in the organization though, so much like Phil Hughes The Starter, I get the sense he will continue to get chances to show he is something he probably isn’t, which in this case is a depth infielder best used in an emergency.
Via George King: Both shortstop Stephen Drew and left-hander Paul Maholm are among the impending free agents on the Yankees’ radar for the upcoming offseason. The team may reportedly be in position to drop about $300M on player contracts this winter, part of which figures to go to re-signing Robinson Cano. The Yankees have a rather long list of needs, obviously.
Drew, 30, hit .253/.333/.403 (109 wRC+) with 13 homers and six steals in 501 plate appearances while playing solid if not above-average defense for the Red Sox this summer. The Yankees actually offered him more money than Boston last winter, but he turned it down due to questions about his playing time and Derek Jeter’s ankle. Unfortunately, those same questions still exist. There’s a decent chance the Red Sox will made Drew a qualifying offer, entitling them to draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.
Maholm, 31, had a typical Paul Maholm year for the Braves this year, with a 4.41 ERA (4.24 FIP) in 153 innings. He was just dreadful in the second half (5.73 ERA and 4.75 FIP) while battling an elbow problem. Maholm is a high ground ball (51.3%) guy who has seen his strikeout rate tick up a bit these last two years, but it still isn’t good (6.18 K/9 and 15.7 K%). I actually like Maholm more than most but he is the quintessential back-end innings eater. That’s it. I’d take a shot on him if his market dries up but he isn’t someone I would target right out of the chute in free agency. · (67) ·
As we spend far too much time trying to figure out how the Yankees will rebuild themselves into a contender while staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold next season, there has always been one great big unknown throwing a wrench into things: arbitration salaries. These go to players with more than three years but fewer than six years of service time; the guys who have been in the league long enough to earn a decent salary but not long enough to qualify for free agency.
Arbitration salaries are very tough to pin down (or estimate, for that matter) but can be substantial in some cases, especially as the player moves closer to free agency. Thankfully, Matt Swartz developed an insanely accurate model — it’s been within 5% or so overall — for projecting arbitration salaries, and the information has been available at MLBTR these last three years. Projections for the Yankees’ seven arbitration-eligible players were released over the weekend:
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)
Update: Here are the updated projections. Only Robertson’s changed.
Nova ($2.22M raise), Robertson ($2.4M), and Gardner ($1.15M) are all projected to receive healthy raises from last season. The other four guys are projected to receive $640k salary increases or less. Nova is arbitration-eligible for the very first time, meaning he’s coming off what amounts to a league minimum salary in 2013. I have to think that’s a pretty great moment for a young-ish player — that first year of arbitration, when your annual salary goes from mid-six-figures to several million bucks.
Anyway, at the projected salaries, I think both Nix and Stewart are obvious non-tender candidates, meaning the Yankees should cut them loose and allow them to become free agents rather than pay that salary. Nix is a perfectly fine utility infielder who played way too much this past season, when he earned $900k. The projected $1.4M is a real stretch for me. If he’s willing to re-sign with the team for $1M or so, great. If not, move on. There are better ways to spend $1.4M, especially considering the team’s self-imposed budget constraints. Same goes for Stewart. No way should the Yankees pay him a seven-figure salary in 2014. That’s madness.
So, assuming the Yankees non-tender Nix and Stewart but keep everyone else, their arbitration class projects to cost $14.8M next season. They currently have six players under contract with a combined $84.9M “tax hit” for 2014 and that includes Alex Rodriguez, who may or may not be suspended. It doesn’t include Derek Jeter, who figures to pick up his player option. So, between the guys under contract and the arbitration-eligible players, the Yankees have eleven players slated to earn $99.7M in 2014, pending decisions by Jeter and the arbitrator overseeing A-Rod‘s appeal.
That leaves the team with roughly $77.3M to spend on the 29 remaining 40-man roster spots (plus leaving space for midseason additions) when you factor in ~$12M or so for player benefits, which count against the tax. If A-Rod is suspended for the entire season, it’ll be $104.8M for 30 remaining roster spots. That sounds like a lot, but remember, Jeter and the inevitable Robinson Cano contract will soak up about $35M of that leftover money all by themselves. Without A-Rod but with Cano and Jeter, it’s more like $70M for 28 roster spots plus midseason additions. Doable, certainly, but that $300M spending spree might be more myth that reality.
Monday: According to Ronald Blum, the hearing will not resume until November 18th. That means a ruling might not come down until mid-to-late December, and who knows how the holidays will affect things. This might not be resolved until after the Winter Meetings, which would be very bad for the Yankees given their payroll and third base situations.
Sunday: Via Mike Mazzeo: The appeal hearing for Alex Rodriguez’s record 211-game suspension is expected to resume sometime in November. MLB is finished making their side of the case, now A-Rod’s camp has to do the same. There’s no word on how long that could take, but Mazzeo says it is likely to be about a week, which is what MLB needed.
Meanwhile, Ken Davidoff says both sides admitted to paying for Biogenesis documents. That’s bad news for both parties. First, MLB denied paying for evidence in a statement following A-Rod’s lawsuit. Second, the suspension is based on A-Rod trying to interfere with the investigation, which they’ve effectively admitted to doing. Who knows what that means, legally. Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz is expected to hand down a ruling within 25 days of the end of the hearing, meaning it may not come until late November or December. · (23) ·
Jim Leyland retired from managing today, giving me a good enough excuse to post this video of him cursing out Barry Bonds in 1980-something. You are forewarned, the language is pretty harsh. I wouldn’t listen if I was around kids or whatever. The Tigers job is a pretty desirable one — I’d take that over the Nationals, the potential for instant success if off the charts — but I don’t think Joe Girardi would have left the Yankees for Detroit had he been given the chance. Girardi legitimately seemed to make a family decision.
Anyway, here is your open thread for this baseball-less night. The Monday Night Football Game is the Vikings and Giants (8pm ET on ESPN) and the Knicks are playing a preseason game. That’s pretty much it for local sports. Talk about either game or anything else right here. Have at it.
The Yankees have announced ticket prices for the 2014 season. Roughly 39,000 seats will have the same price as last year while approximately 9,000 will go down. Only 2,000 seats or so will have a price increase.
The team is also re-branding some sections — some field level seats will now be Outdoor Suite Boxes — and adding something called the Field MVP Club Lounge, which is currently under construction. The Home Plate Team Store is also being renovated. Pretty amazing that given the current situation, the team is adding even more premium seating. Anyway, Chad Jennings as the full details. · (17) ·
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the best position player acquired by any team at the trade deadline.
Coming into the season, I think we all knew the Yankees were not going to hit for the same kind of power they have in the past. This was even before Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira got hurt in Spring Training. You don’t replace Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Alex Rodriguez with Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Youkilis and not expect to hit fewer homeruns. Not realistically, anyway.
Once Granderson and Teixeira (and Youkilis) got hurt, the lack of power was alarming. At one point Yankees went nine straight games without a homer, their longest such streak since going ten straight in 1984. They went four straight home games without a dinger for the first time in new Yankee Stadium history and just the third time this century. The Yankees hit 18 homers in June and just ten (!) in July, the first time they hit 18 or fewer homers during a calender month since April 1989 (min. 20 games). They managed to do it in back-to-back months. Their 78th game of the season was their 31st homer-less game, matching 2012′s total. It was bad.
Aside from the lack of power in general, the biggest problem specifically was the complete lack of thump from the right side of the plate. From June 25th through July 28th, a span of 477 plate appearances, the Yankees did not get a single homer from a right-handed batter. Not one. Literally zero in 28 team games and more than a calendar month. That’s just unfathomable. Triple check the numbers kind of unbelievable. And yet, it’s true. The Yankees didn’t have the ability to close the gap or extend the lead quickly with one swing of the bat and it cost them games all summer long.
On July 26th, after about a week’s worth of rumors, team ownership pulled the trigger on a trade with the Cubs that brought Alfonso Soriano back to New York in exchange for minor leaguer right-hander Corey Black. Brian Cashman said he preferred to wait rather than trade a good but not great pitching prospect for a good but not great corner outfielder, but ownership wanted Soriano and what ownership wants, ownership gets. The Cubs ate $17.7M of the $24.5M or so left on Soriano’s contract to facilitate the deal.
Just like that, the Yankees had a legitimate right-handed power source. Soriano whacked ten homers in his final 21 games with the Cubs and that carried right over into pinstripes. He went deep in his third game back with the team and 12 times in his first 32 games with New York. During a four-game rampage from August 13th through the 16th, Soriano went 13-for-18 (.722) with five homers and 18 runs driven in. That tied the all-time record for runs driven in during a four-game span in baseball history. Here’s where Soriano ranked in MLB following the trade (min. 200 plate appearances for the rate stats):
For the cost of a good minor league arm and $6.8M in salary obligation, the Yankees acquired a top 40 position player for the remainder of the regular season. Maybe top 30 or so depending on your opinion of fWAR and all that stuff. Despite not arriving until the trade deadline, Soriano finished second on the Yankees in homers (first among righties), third in runs driven in, and sixth in total bases (115). As an added bonus, New York finally had a player who could flip a bat, pimp a homer, and a put on a nice show:
Soriano was exactly what the Yankees needed: a legitimate middle of the order hitter who could hit the ball out of the park from the right side of the plate. His defense in left field was surprisingly solid as well, especially when ranging to his right towards the foul line. I thought he struggled a little bit on balls hit to his left and into the gap, but overall he was good defender. Certainly not below-average, which is what I had expected given his reputation with the Cubbies.
Unfortunately, Soriano’s heroics weren’t enough to get the Yankees into the postseason. He was the only player they acquired at the trade deadline, which meant many other holes (catcher, shortstop, rotation) were left unaddressed, and that led to the club falling short of a wild-card spot. Soriano did his part though. He was more than just the team’s best non-Robinson Cano hitter after the trade — he was one of the very best hitters in baseball and the team’s best trade deadline pickup since David Justice back in 2000.