I swear, coming up with a half-decent title for these “thoughts” posts is tougher than writing up the thoughts themselves most of the time. Anyway, the Yankees open the Grapefruit League portion of their Spring Training schedule later today, so here are some scattered thoughts for the meantime.
1. The Brett Gardner extension is making it much tougher for me to get on board with the Jacoby Ellsbury signing. I wasn’t a fan of the Ellsbury deal the day it was signed and I’ve tried to warm up to in recent weeks, but a similar player getting one-third of the money isn’t helping matters. The Yankees stunk offensively last year because they didn’t have enough power or high on-base guys. Ellsbury doesn’t help correct either problem all that much. Shin-Soo Choo would have in a big way. The Yankees did offer a Choo a huge contract (even after signing Ellsbury) and he turned them down, so at least they tried to sign him, but man an Alfonso Soriano/Carlos Beltran-Gardner-Choo outfield looks so much better than a Gardner-Ellsbury-Soriano/Beltran outfield to me.
2. Know how the Yankees always seem to get burned whenever they play an infield shift? For years they’ve had a knack for shifting infielders to the wrong place at the wrong time. We only had anecdotal evidence and that doesn’t mean all that much, but that is no longer the case. Jeff Zimmerman at the Hardball Times ran some numbers and figured out how successful each team was at shifting last season. When the Yankees had a normal infield alignment, the opposing team’s BABIP was .307. When the Yankees played some kind of shift, the opposing team’s BABIP was .325. So yeah, a batted ball was more likely to go for a hit against New York when they played the shift than when they didn’t. This is only one year of data (326 balls in play), so we can’t read too much into it, but at least now we know the team’s penchant for getting burned while trying to shift was a real thing in 2013. I wonder how much of that is due to a lack of rangy infielders than actual positioning.
3. One player I’m going to be paying extra special attention to these next few weeks is Scott Sizemore. Mostly, I want see how he’s moving around following back-to-back torn left ACLs. I think he has the best of chance of being a league average player — league average players are really valuable! — among the guys competing for the final bench spot (Dean Anna, Eduardo Nunez, etc.) but he has to make the team first, and that means he has to show the knee is healthy enough to move quickly in the field and on the bases. Sizemore had a real nice half-season with the Athletics two years ago (118 wRC+ and 11 HR) and if he can come remotely close to doing that over a full season, it’ll be a enormous boost. Coming back from two lost seasons will be tough though.
4. Joe Girardi confirmed the other day that both David Phelps and Adam Warren will make the team in some capacity, which isn’t all that surprising. It does confirm there are three open bullpen spots at the most though, and that assumes Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno will start the year with Triple-A Scranton rather than in the bullpen. If I had to put money on it today, I would bet on Preston Claiborne, Dellin Betances, and Cesar Cabral getting those last three spots. But still, there are five weeks worth of exhibition games left and lots can change. Part of me is very interested to see what Jose Ramirez and Manny Banuelos can do in short relief stints and I’m sure we’ll see those two (and others) at some point this summer. History says the bullpen on Opening Day and the bullpen in September will look very different.
5. Who is your pick for the annual “random player has a huge Spring Training and people will say he should make the team” storyline? Previous storyliners include Jon Weber (1.032 OPS in 2010) and Jorge Vazquez (1.209 OPS in 2011). Looking at the list of non-roster invitees, I’ll go with Antoan Richardson, the speedy switch-hitting outfielder. He’ll hit like .450 in camp, give or take. So consider this your annual reminder that Spring Training stats mean almost nothing for many reasons. One, the sample size is inherently small. Two, the level of competition varies wildly from day-to-day and even inning-to-inning. Three, players tend to work on stuff in Spring Training, not get results. You’ll see a pitcher throw something like 25 changeups in a two-inning outing just because he’s trying to get a feel for that pitch before the season. It will be tough to ignore stats this spring because of the various competitions (fifth starter, bench, bullpen), but trust me, you don’t get too caught up in the numbers these next few weeks.
Via El Heraldo (translated article): The Yankees have signed 17-year-old Colombian right-hander Juan Escorcia. He was one of 60 players they scouted at a recent workout. No word on the bonus but chances are it’s relatively small. The news would be everywhere if it was substantial.
“Escorcia is a right-hander who was highlighted in the evaluation process for the ease of his arm strength and pitching consistency,” said Luis Sierra Llamas, one of the team’s scouts in Colombia. Escorcia is said to stand 5-foot-11 with a fastball that sits around 90 mph, so yeah, he’s got quite a bit of development ahead of him before becoming a serious prospect. · (27) ·
The Yankees played their first exhibition game of the year this afternoon, beating Florida State 8-3. Back-to-back doubles by Zoilo Almonte and Brendan Ryan created the first run while a Gary Sanchez sacrifice fly drove home the second. The sac fly was actually a foul pop-up near the on-deck circle, but no one bothered to cover the plate so the runner came home. Spring Training baseball against a college team, y’all.
The box score is right here. Vidal Nuno struck out three in two scoreless innings while Brett Gardner (infield single), Frankie Cervelli (5-4-3 double play), and Kelly Johnson (strikeout looking) got one at-bat apiece. Ramon Flores hit a solo homer, Dean Anna doubled once, and John Ryan Murphy doubled twice. Shane Greene allowed all three runs in his two innings of work. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (above) went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a ground out to second. Here is everything else from Tampa.
- CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka will make their Spring Training debuts against the Phillies on Saturday. That game will be on YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. All three guys are slated to go two innings or 35 pitches. [Erik Boland, Bob Klapisch]
- Chad Jennings has the workout assignments for the guys who didn’t play in today’s game. David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton were among those to throw live batting practice. Alfonso Soriano hit on the field after missing the last few days with the flu.
- Tyler Austin‘s wrist feels “significantly” better, but he is not scheduled to take batting practice anytime soon. He is getting treatment daily and it continues to improve. Austin has been dealing with this issue since last April, so he’s not exactly out of the woods yet. [Jennings]
- Among the players making the trip to Bradenton for tomorrow’s Grapefruit League opener are Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Preston Claiborne, and Dellin Betances. Ivan Nova gets the start against the Pirates. [Mark Feinsand, Jennings]
This your open thread for the evening. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in action, so you’re on your own for entertainment. Talk about anything your heart desires right here. Have at it.
Via George King: The Yankees were one of seven teams in attendance for Johan Santana’s workout at a Florida high school earlier today. He topped out at 81 mph and sat mostly in the 77-78 mph range, though his changeup was said to be “impressive.” Scout Tim Naehring was at the workout for the team.
Santana, 35 next month, had surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule last April, his second such procedure. He is still in rehab mode, so it’s no surprise his arm strength was less than stellar, but torn capsules are usually the kiss of death and Johan has now had two of them. There is no such thing as too much pitching depth but the Yankees do have plenty of fifth starter candidates at the moment. No reason to give Santana even a minor league deal until he shows more arm strength. · (29) ·
Does anyone honestly want to hear a recap of the 2013 Yankees injury situation? From the revelation that Alex Rodriguez would miss at least half the season, to Brett Gardner‘s strained oblique in September, injuries buried the team.
What hurt the 2013 team could make the 2014 team stronger. Two key players who missed almost all of the 2013 season appear to be healthy in 2014.
How much did losing Teixeira hurt the Yankees in 2013? His relatively weak 2012 campaign might obscure his overall impact. Particularly in terms of power output, losing Teixeira hurt badly.
The Yankees went from an AL-leading .188 ISO in 2012 to a third-lowest .133 in 2013. A good portion of that loss came from free agent departures. Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Russell Martin were the Nos. 4 through 8 power producers on the team.
Not only was Teixeira the No. 3 power source on the 2012 team, but he ranked No. 23 (out of 143) in all of MLB. In a season when the Yankees needed their power guys more than ever, they lost almost all of them to injury.
Getting a healthy Teixeira in 2014 could provide the lineup with the power boost that it needs. (Particularly at first base, where they had the worst OPS in the AL in 2014.) Yet the question remains: what will Teixeira look list after serious wrist surgery?
The closest comparison is Jose Bautista, who did experience a power dip in 2013, after suffering a similar injury in 2012. Yet there are two mitigating factors here:
1) Bautista underwent his surgery almost two months later in the season than Teixeira, so Teixeira could be further along in the healing process.
2) Bautista did still produce quality power numbers in 2013, producing the eighth-highest ISO in the majors. That’s a drop-off from his No. 1 mark in 2011, but by no means a cliff dive.
There is no way Teixeira can be worse than Lyle Overbay and the 2013 cast of first-base misfits, so his return will be welcome regardless of actual outcome. At the same time, his return to form as a middle of the order bat will go a long way in powering the 2014 Yankees lineup.
Ladies and gentlemen, it feels so good to be back — only it didn’t. Each time Jeter returned last season he struggled physically. It honestly came as no surprise, at least in hindsight.
Baseball players rely on their lower halves. A novice observer might see the upper body central in every baseball movement; the ball and bat sit in our hands, after all. But everything that sets great players apart comes in the lower half. Swinging, throwing, and defensive range all rely on strong hips and legs.
Coming into 2014, Derek Jeter’s lower half was probably the weakest of his career. The ankle injury that ended his 2012 season prevented him from strengthening his hips and legs during the off-season. Sure, physical therapy got him to a certain base of strength, but that base is hardly enough to power a pro baseball player.
Jeter, unused to such physical limitations, pushed himself too hard and reinjured his ankle. Again, that meant rest and no opportunity to strengthen his lower half. Why did he injure his squad, then his calf, and then his ankle again in 2013? Because his legs were weaker than ever.
A full off-season to build strength should benefit Jeter. It’s tough to expect much of him this year, his final season, one during which he will turn 40 years old. At the same time, he is Derek Jeter. With physical strength behind him, perhaps he could come close to the .316/.362/.429 line he produced in his last fully healthy season.
As with Teixeira, it’s difficult to see Jeter not improving on last year’s shortstop production, which ranked 14th out of 15 AL teams.
Seeing as he’s the best second baseman in the league, the Yankees had no chance of replacing Robinson Cano‘s production this off-season. What they did, instead, was reinforce other areas of weakness in hopes that they can spread Cano’s production among many positions.
The man tasked with actually replacing Cano has not been known for his reliability in recent years. After three straight years of more than 700 PA, Brian Roberts has managed just 809 in the last four seasons combined. Worse, his combined numbers during that span are worse than any single season he’s produced since 2003.
Getting a relatively healthy 2014 from Roberts will go a long way for the Yankees. It’s tough to expect him to repeat his last fully healthy season, considering that was four full years ago. He did get better as last season progressed, though, so perhaps a healthy Roberts can still be a productive player.
The bet is a long one, as we all know. If the Yankees win, they get a slightly below average hitter at 2B (which would be above average for the position) for a low cost. If they lose, they have to replace Roberts from within, which means that the best among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, or Corban Joseph gets the spot. (Or it could be Kelly Johnson with one of the above, or Scott Sizemore at third.)
In 2013 Cervelli got his big chance. With Russ Martin gone and no other surefire starting catcher candidate on the roster, he could get some consistent playing time. He responded well early, producing a .877 OPS in 61 PA.
Then he got hit with a foul ball and broke his hand. Before he came back he suffered an elbow problem that kept him on the shelf longer. Then he got suspended for his involvement in Biogensis. Now he’s sitting behind Brian McCann, one of the best-hitting catchers in the league, on the depth chart.
Given his lack of minor league options and his relative experience, Cervelli figures to get the backup job. His return from injury can help prevent the catcher spot from being an offensive black hole when McCann takes days off. He might also make it easier to give McCann days at DH, limiting the wear and tear on the starter.
Most of all, a successful return from injury could raise Cervelli’s trade value. The Yankees will absolutely need help at the trade deadline. A healthy catcher who still has a few years of team control remaining could prove a valuable bargaining chip. With John Ryan Murphy and even Austin Romine ready at AAA, they can certainly afford to part with Cervelli.
What hurt in 2013 can help in 2014. The Yankees will get back a number of players whose absences hurt them immensely. Combined with the new guys, and we could see significant improvement this time around.
Outside of Matt Thornton and some minor league pickups, the Yankees didn’t do much to improve their bullpen this past offseason. David Robertson will take over as closer but the team did not replace Mariano Rivera in the sense that they lost an elite reliever and didn’t pick up anyone to take his spot. New York has a bunch of interesting young guys in camp and Joe Girardi always seems to cobble together a good bullpen out of nowhere, so it might not even be a problem.
The Yankees signed former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to a minor league contract over the weekend, but that move is geared more towards 2015 than 2014. He is rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule (and labrum!) and both Girardi and Brian Cashman confirmed that if he does pitch this year, it won’t be until late-August or September. According to Andy Martino, the Yankees have been monitoring two other relievers who are returning from injury and could provide more immediate help:
It turns out the Yanks sent a scout to a recent showcase for former Phillies closer Ryan Madson, according to a source — and while impressed by Madson’s arm after two years of rough recovery from Tommy John surgery, the team considered his asking price excessive.
The Yankees also continue to monitor another another former All-Star, Joel Hanrahan, who underwent Tommy John last year (the Mets have also watched him throw a bullpen session). If Robertson is successful, a player like Hanrahan would probably serve as a setup man.
Madson is the rare Tommy John surgery failure story — he had the procedure two years ago and has not pitched since due to continued setbacks and complications. The 33-year-old has been working out for teams for a few weeks now and there have been no reports of his asking price, whatever it may be. After two lost years, I’ve been assuming he would have to take a minor league deal like Bailey. I guess he’s shooting for more since he’s in a better position to help a team right away.
Hanrahan, 32, not only had Tommy John surgery last May, he also had his flexor tendon repaired and bone chips removed from his elbow. They did all three procedures at once and while he is currently throwing off a mound, Hanrahan isn’t expected to be game ready until May or June. There’s a chance he will be ready sooner rather than later just because he’s a one-inning reliever and won’t have to get stretched back out like a starter.
Given his timetable and the nature of his injury, Hanrahan might be the best 2014 bullpen option among himself, Bailey, and Madson. We know Bailey won’t be able to help until late in the year, if at all. Madson hasn’t pitched in two years and since he’s already had so many setbacks with the elbow, I don’t think you can count on him to be healthy and productive until he’s actually on a big league mound being healthy and productive. All three guys were elite when they were last healthy, but Hanrahan’s injury is the least severe. (They’re all severe, obviously.)
The Yankees have been signing injured pitchers and waiting for them to get healthy for years. They did it with Jon Lieber (worked out) and Octavio Dotel (didn’t work out) back in the day and with David Aardsma (didn’t work out) more recently. Bailey is the latest example and if Madson’s demands remain excessive for a pitcher who hasn’t pitched in two years, Hanrahan could be the next. With nothing but scraps left on the free agent market and teams not really looking to trade relievers at the moment, he is their best option for potential high-end bullpen help in the near future.
Over the last three months, the Yankees have committed 12 contract years and $210.6M in guaranteed money to Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. That’s a lot of cash and a lot of years for a pair of defense-first outfielders who will steal a bunch of bases but not hit for much power. Years ago, these two guys wouldn’t sniff that kind of money, but teams now better understand and value players who contribute in less obvious ways.
Having both Ellsbury and Gardner signed for at least the next five years impacts the Yankees in a lot of ways. First and foremost, they don’t have to worry about fly balls all that much because those two will track down almost anything. They also don’t need to sweat finding a leadoff man in the post-Derek Jeter era because they now have two of them. Having two-thirds of the starting outfield signed long-term makes life a bit easier, no doubt about it.
On the other hand, having both Ellsbury and Gardner signed for the next half-decade also creates some problems. Well, not to much problem. Just things to consider. They are two very similar players and that makes them somewhat redundant, especially offensively. Don’t get me wrong, guys who get on base and steal bases can be very dangerous, but there also needs to be some diversity to the lineup. The power is going to have to come from somewhere, and with two outfielders signed long-term, it will have to come from the infield.
The good news is that the Yankees have a clean slate on the infield, or close to one anyway. Mark Teixeira is signed to play first base for another three years but Derek Jeter is retiring after the season and both Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts are on one-year contracts. The team has a lot of flexibility when it comes to building their future infield, and that’s great. At the same time, holy crap they need to build three-fourths of an infield next winter. That’s a big deal and it’s a lot of work.
The Yankees’ best infield prospects (Eric Jagielo, Abi Avelino, etc.) are still years away from the big leagues and future free agent classes are pretty terrible. Next year’s class will get even worse as players sign extensions, most notably Hanley Ramirez. He recently said he wants to spend the rest of his career with the Dodgers and they have the money to keep him around that long. Hanley would be a great fit as a power-hitting infielder, though others like J.J. Hardy, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval would make sense as well.
There aren’t many power-hitting infielders out there — only 13 non-first base infielders have had at least 40 extra-base hits in each of the last three seasons — so finding two or three of them won’t be easy in the coming years. The Yankees are going to have to dig up a few guys like that though, that is unless they plan on becoming a speed-first team despite playing in a tiny ballpark in the AL East. The Gardner and Ellsbury deals mean New York will have to target some infielders who can rake for the coming years.
Feb. 24th: The rule change, which is being called “experimental,” has officially been announced by MLB and the players’ union. Long story short, the runner must not deviate from his path to the plate and the catcher can not block the plate without the ball. Plays at the plate are subject to instant replay. The full details are right here.
Feb. 19th: Via Jon Heyman: The ban on home plate collisions may be ratified in time for the start of Spring Training games. MLB approved the rule change back during the Winter Meetings, but both the umpires’ and players’ unions still have to sign off. Heyman says the umpires are likely to approve the change, so really all that’s left is the thumbs up from MLBPA.
According to Buster Olney (subs. req’d), the holdup has to do with precise language for the new rules and is not an indication things may fall apart. Several players and managers were consulted during the process, including Joe Girardi. The basic idea is that the runner will not be able to target the catcher and the catcher must give the runner a clear line to the plate. Everyone wants the game to be safer, but they also want the rule change to be approved soon so players can adjust during Spring Training, before the real games begin. · (35) ·
With the exhibition games set to begin on Tuesday, the Yankees had a very light workout day today. All the fun stuff starts tomorrow. Here’s the latest from Tampa.
- Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda were among those to throw live batting practice early in the morning while David Phelps threw a simulated game. The MLBPA was in camp for their annual song and dance, then the Yankees went out for their team-bonding pool tournament. [Chad Jennings, Wally Matthews]
- Andrew Bailey, who signed a minor league contract over the weekend, was in camp for the first time today. He said he “100%” expects to pitch this year, though it won’t be until August or September. [Mark Feinsand]
- Alfonso Soriano was back with the team after missing the last few days with the flu. He worked out a little bit today and expects to participate in a full workout tomorrow. [Meredith Marakovits]
- Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson, and Frankie Cervelli are the only regulars who will play in tomorrow’s exhibition opener against Florida State. Vidal Nuno gets the start. [Jennings]
- Social Media: Just a reminder now that Spring Training games are about begin, you can follow RAB on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. The three of us are on Twitter individually at @mikeaxisa, @joepawl, @bkabak, and @jaydestro.
This is your open thread for the night. The Knicks are playing tonight and that’s pretty much it. The NHL returns from the Olympic break tomorrow and, of course, Spring Training games start across Florida and Arizona. You folks know how this works by now, so have at it.
The Yankees have officially signed outfielder Brett Gardner to a four-year contract extension with a fifth year club option, the team announced. Yesterday we heard the deal was worth $52M guaranteed with a $12.5M option ($2M buyout). Gardner is already under contract for $5.6M for 2014, so the extension covers 2015-18 and potentially 2019. Can’t say I was expecting to write something like this as recently as 48 hours ago. · (14) ·