Update: Hillman passes on chance to interview for farm system job

Thursday: Drellich clarifies Hillman was only offered the chance to interview for Newman’s job. He wasn’t offered the job itself. Drellich also says Hillman confirmed he was on a scouting trip to see the Astros and Athletics late in the season, so … Jed Lowrie I guess?

Wednesday: Via Evan Drellich: Former Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman confirmed the team offered him the opportunity to replace the retiring Mark Newman as their VP of Baseball Ops and head farm system honcho. He turned it down because he wanted to get back on the field and coach. “(Brian Cashman) said, ‘Trey, I would never hold you back from that,’” said Hillman, who was recent named the Astros bench coach. Gary Denbo will replace Newman.

In other news, Hillman also said part of his job this summer was scouting free agent-to-be shortstops. “I did three different trips scouting potential free agent shortstops to replace a guy named Jeter,” he said. I don’t think that means the Yankees will definitely sign a free agent shortstop this winter — they could always make a trade or, gasp, go with Brendan Ryan — but they are doing their due diligence. I’m sure Hillman was one of several people the Yankees sent to see the various impending free agent shortstops throughout summer.

2014 Season Review: Broken at 1B without a backup

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

How durable was Mark Teixeira when the Yankees signed him after the 2008 season? Since his debut in 2003 he’d played in fewer than 145 games just once, when he appeared in 132 in 2007. He’d been on the DL just twice, totaling 41 games.

Even after he joined the Yankees, Teixeira stayed on the field. He averaged 155 starts from 2009 through 2011. Even in 2012 he didn’t miss a game until August. But that started a cascade.

As Teixeira tells it, the cascade actually started many years earlier, back in his Georgia Tech days. He broke his right ankle, causing him to miss considerable time. While he stayed on the field afterward, he feels, according to this Men’s Journal article, that the injury caused “a chronic overloading of the muscles and joints on his left side.”

An athlete in his prime can compensate and play through such issues.

An athlete at age 32? That’s a completely different story. While Teixeira took care to diagnose and rehab his underlying problems in the off-season before 2013, his efforts didn’t help him avoid a wrist injury that cost him essentially the entire season.

As we saw in 2014, Teixeira hasn’t shown much in the way of physical improvement since late 2012. Maybe missing a season left him out of game shape. Maybe he took it too easy on his surgically repaired wrist. Maybe the way he chose to rebuild his body wasn’t ideal. Whatever the case, Teixeira looked more broken down in 2014 than he did in even 2013. At least then he had a specific injury.

In 2014 Teixeira’s injuries ran the gamut:

  • Hamstring strain (his only DL stint)
  • Groin tightness
  • Wrist inflammation (to be expected)
  • Ribcage tightness
  • Back strain
  • Wrist soreness again (first the left, then the right)

And that’s not to mention the three games he missed when a catcher stepped on his finger, necessitating stitches. Not that it was his fault. (Well, other than him being slow enough that there was a play at the plate.)

All in all the injuries cost Teixeira 33 games (by Baseball Prospectus’s count). He started just 120.

He also produced the worst non-injury-decimated season of his career. His 101 OPS+ was a point lower than the 102 OPS+ he produced in his 2003 rookie campaign.

It’s not as though no one saw this coming. How much could the Yankees have reasonably expected from Teixeira after his late 2012 and 2013 season woes?

A lot, apparently, seeing as they didn’t bring in anyone as his backup.

The implicit vote of confidence cost the Yankees. Here’s a list of players who took reps at first base — previous games in parenthesis, 2014 games following.

Kelly Johnson (3) 27
Brian McCann (0) 16
Chase Headley (2) 7
Francisco Cervelli (0) 5
Brendan Ryan (0, duh) 5
Carlos Beltran (0) 1
Scott Sizemore (0) 2
Austin Romine (0 – though 13 at AAA in 2014) 1

To put that in clearer terms: the Yankees used eight players with a combined five games of MLB experience at first base — including six of whom had never played first in the majors — in 64 games.

Oops?

As was the case at second base, it’s not as though the Yankees had a ton of options to sign as a backup first baseman. They’d also need a candidate who can play another position, since there is no room on the roster for a dedicated backup first baseman. Someone like Lyle Overbay just wouldn’t make sense (especially when he has a chance at more playing time in Milwaukee). Mark Reynolds might have, but apparently he saw an opportunity for more time in Milwaukee as well.

Carlos Pena? He wasn’t half bad with the Astros last year — though he ended up being toast this year. Postseason Hero Travis Ishikawa was free to sign when Teixeira went on the DL in April. He had, uh, three games of outfield experience before this year. Pulling Doug Mientkiewicz out of retirement?

If we were still doing season reviews in the what went right/what went wrong format, clearly first base would have gone wrong. But the issue is as much the lack of a backup as it is Teixeira himself.

Given his failing health, it was a huge stretch to imagine that Tex could have started 150 games. I don’t think the Yankees planned on that. Yet given Tex is guaranteed to be in the lineup when healthy, they might have found trouble attracting a backup first baseman.

In terms of the effects on 2015 and beyond, though, Teixeira presents the largest problem. The Yankees can create a more solid backup plan this off-season. What they can’t do is replace Teixeira. They simply have to hope that, like David Ortiz and Jose Bautista before him, Teixeira fully recovers now that he is a full year removed from wrist surgery.

A man can dream, though. A man can dream.

(Difficult challenge: In the comments, don’t talk about: releasing Teixeira, how Tex is “soft,” how he always blames something other than himself. Seriously. You’ve beat all those, and more, to death.)

Betances finishes second to Greg Holland for Mariano Rivera Award

MLB announced yesterday that Royals closer Greg Holland won the first Mariano Rivera Award, which will be given annually the top reliever in the AL. Craig Kimbrel won the NL version, the Trevor Hoffman Award. The award is voted on by Rivera, Hoffman, and Hall of Fame relievers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, and Goose Gossage.

According to Jon Heyman, Dellin Betances finished second to Holland in the voting for the Mo Award. Zach Britton finished third. Betances threw more innings (90 vs. 62.1) and had a better ERA (1.40 vs. 1.44), FIP (1.64 vs. 1.83), strikeout rate (39.6% vs. 37.5%), and walk rate (7.0% vs. 8.3%) than Holland this past season, as well as more fWAR (3.2 vs. 2.3) and bWAR (3.7 vs. 2.5). But he had 45 fewer saves. A bunch of ex-closers voted for the closer. Such is life.

Yankees could get more help from within in 2015

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

In yesterday’s Season Review post, I noted Shane Greene was a big player development success for the Yankees, who turned an under-scouted (due to Tommy John surgery) right-hander into a bonafide Major Leaguer with a 15th round pick, a $100k bonus, and patience. They haven’t had enough success stories like that, so much so that director of player development Pat Roessler was recently let go. I’m pretty sure VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman would have been cut loose as well if he wasn’t retiring.

The Yankees do, however, get just enough from their farm system each year to fill out their roster and make trades. This past season it was Greene in the rotation, Dellin Betances in the bullpen, and Vidal Nuno on the trade market. Last year it was Adam Warren and Preston Claiborne in the bullpen and Corey Black in a trade. They seem to crank out a few supporting players and trade chips every year despite the overall lack of production from the system. Spare parts aren’t a problem. Getting regulars and above-average contributors is.

Anyway, both Joe Girardi and Hal Steinbrenner recently indicated the Yankees will get younger going forward. “At times we ran out four guys, five guys over 35 years old. I don’t think that will happen next year,” said Girardi during his end-of-season press conference. Hal said “there’s no doubt, young players, player development, that’s going to play a big part (going forward)” during a radio interview. They could both be blowing smoke, but I do think they’re sincere.

Incorporating more young players into the roster going forward is a wonderful idea but it’s not easy to pull off. If it was, every team would be doing it. They try, but many fail. That’s baseball. The Yankees are also at a disadvantage because most of their top prospects are in the lower minors and aren’t big league ready, so they’re still a year or two away from the show. Which prospects could help next year, a la Greene or Betances or Black? Let’s look.

The Obvious Candidates
As always, the Yankees have some upper level relievers who are knocking on the door and figure to get an opportunity in 2015. Top 2014 draft pick LHP Jacob Lindgren is the most notable bullpener while others like RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Nick Goody, and LHP James Pazos could force the issue and get called up at some point. Every team winds up dipping into their farm system for bullpen help at some point and these guys are at the front of the line for the Yankees.

Elsewhere on the roster, both RHP Bryan Mitchell and C John Ryan Murphy have already gotten a taste of the show and are primed for bigger roles if the need arises. Same with RHP Jose Ramirez. I think we’ll finally get to see LHP Manny Banuelos next season as well. He missed just about all of 2012-13 with elbow problems and had an up-and-down 2014, which wasn’t entirely unexpected after the long layoff. With the rust shaken off, Banuelos is finally in position to help the Yankees next summer, either in the rotation or out of the bullpen.

Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

And then there’s 2B Rob Refsnyder, who is very likely to get an extended trial at second base in 2015. It might not happen right away, he might have to spend a few weeks in Triple-A, but I’m very confident it’ll happen at some point. Refsnyder has hit his way into big league consideration but his defense might be what keeps him in the minors a little longer. He’s still rough around the edges at second base after playing the outfield in college. Aside from the relievers, Refsnyder seems like the safest bet to be called up next year.

The Maybes
New York’s two best prospects are OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino. If you want to debate the order, fine. It doesn’t really matter though. Both are Yankees. Both are also likely to start next season with Double-A Trenton, and any time a top prospect starts a season in Double-A, he’s a candidate to be called up at midseason. The Yankees were very aggressive with the 20-year-old Severino this year in particular, so I’d be less surprised if he debuted in 2015 than I would with Judge.

Defensively-challenged C Gary Sanchez is expected to move up to Triple-A next season, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team distributes playing time between him, Murphy, and C Austin Romine. Sanchez’s climb up the ladder has been deliberate — he’s spent parts of two seasons in Low-A, High-A, and Double-A — and a full year at Scranton is probably in the cards next season. I do think he’ll end up getting a September callup since he’s already on the 40-man roster though.

Other possible call-ups include OF Ramon Flores and OF Taylor Dugas, both of whom spent part of last season with the RailRiders and will return there in 2015. 1B Kyle Roller is in the same boat. 1B/OF Tyler Austin is expected to join them next year and because he plays two positions where the Yankees will need backup (right field and first base), the chances of him making his debut next season are very good. Even if it’s only as a September call-up. Austin will be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Among the pitchers who could pitch their way into a big league callup are RHP Jaron Long, RHP Zach Nuding, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa, and LHP Matt Tracy. Long is the son of recently dismissed hitting coach Kevin Long but I don’t think that will have any impact on his standing in the organization. This is a business. Jaron knows it, Kevin knows it, the Yankees know it. If he’s the best option to help the team at some point next year, Jaron will get a chance and both he and his father will be thrilled.

The Long Shots
In all likelihood 3B Eric Jagielo, 1B Greg Bird, and DH Dante Bichette Jr. will open next year with Double-A Trenton, though I think they’re further behind Judge and Severino. Jagielo probably has the best chance of debuting in 2015 among these three and that’s only because he plays third base (not well, apparently). If the team needs a first baseman or DH, Austin and/or Roller are head of Bird and Bichette on the depth chart.

OF Jake Cave is in the same situation as those guys — starting the year at Double-A but unlikely to see the show in 2015. If the Yankees need an outfielder, both Austin and Flores will already be on the 40-man roster and in Triple-A. We won’t see young guys like LHP Ian Clarkin, RHP Brady Lail, OF Miguel Andujar, and LHP Daniel Camarena next year. It’s too early for them. We can talk about them more seriously next offseason and even more seriously the offseason after that.

The Trade Chips
Everyone. Seriously. I don’t think the Yankees have any prospects worthy of being deemed untouchable. But, to use an old Brian Cashman phrase, some are more touchable than others. I mean, if the Marlins come calling and say they’re willing to deal Giancarlo Stanton as long as the package starts with Judge and Severino, how do the Yankees say no to that? They shouldn’t give anyone away but everyone should be available in the right situation. Cashman did a great job getting a lot for a little at the trade deadline this year and I’m sure that’s the approach he’ll take going forward.

* * *

The Yankees say they plan to incorporate more youth going forward, and for 2015 that means Refsnyder and a bunch of relievers. That’s really it. The 2016 season is when others like Judge, Severino, Jagielo, and Bird become realistic big league options. It will probably take them a year or three before they have a real impact, but that’s true of every prospect. The process has to start sometime though, and for the Yankees, next season means better late than never.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Here is your nightly open thread. The Royals and Giants are playing Game Two of the World Series a little later tonight (8pm ET on FOX). It’ll be Yordano Ventura against Jake Peavy. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing preseason games as well. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.