Thursday Night Open Thread

Well, so much for my easy week, huh? The Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi earlier today, which surprised me more than I thought it would. Statements from both sides made it clear the Yankees decided to move on from Girardi, not the other way around. If anything, I figured Girardi would step away to spend time with his family. Anyway, I put together a list of potential managerial candidates at CBS, so check that out. I’ll have more thoughts on all this at some point tomorrow.

Here’s an open thread. Today is a travel day for the World Series, so there’s no baseball tonight. You’ve got Thursday Night Football (Dolphins vs. Ravens), plus the (hockey) Rangers and Islanders in action. You folks know how these thread work by now, so have at it.

Gardner and Judge named 2017 Gold Glove finalists

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, Brett Gardner is one of three finalists for the AL Gold Glove award in left field. MLB and Rawlings announced the Gold Glove finalists today, and in addition to Gardner, Aaron Judge is a finalist in right field as well. Neat. Here are all the Gold Glove finalists.

Gardner won his first Gold Glove last season and is a finalist for the fourth time in his career (2011, 2015-17). He’s up against Alex Gordon and Justin Upton, and with Gordon beginning to fade and no longer getting by on reputation, Gardner has a pretty good chance to win the award for the second straight season. It certainly wouldn’t be undeserved.

As for Judge, this is his first time as a Gold Glove finalist (duh), and he’s up against Mookie Betts and Kole Calhoun. Betts is probably going to win, but I’m glad Judge is at least a finalist. The man is so much more than monster home runs. He’s a very good defensive right fielder and I’m happy to see him get some recognition.

Didi Gregorius could’ve easily been a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop, though the AL shortstop crop is crowded, and he was unable to crack the top. That’s not surprisingly considering he missed a month with an injury. Elvis Andrus, Francisco Lindor, and Andrelton Simmons are up for the AL Gold Glove at short. Yeah. Also, Masahiro Tanaka is a snub. He’s a great fielder.

Prior to Gardner last season, the last Yankees to win a Gold Glove were Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, both in 2012. I think Gardner has a pretty good chance to win again this season. Judge will probably lose out to Betts, but whatever. The Gold Glove winners will be announced Tuesday, Nov. 7th.

Yankees part ways with Joe Girardi after ten seasons

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

The Yankees have parted ways with manager Joe Girardi. The team and Girardi confirmed the split this morning, with Buster Olney reporting Brian Cashman recommended a managerial change to ownership. Girardi’s contact expired following the season, so he technically wasn’t fired. The Yankees just aren’t bringing him back.

“I want to thank Joe for his ten years of hard work and service to this organization,” said Cashman in a statement. “Everything this organization does is done with careful and thorough consideration, and we’ve decided to pursue alternatives for the managerial position.

“As Hal Steinbrenner and I mentioned to Joe directly this week, he has been a tremendous Yankee on the field and away from it, as a player, coach and manager,” Cashman added. “He has a tireless work ethic, and put his heart into every game he managed over the last decade. He should take great pride in our accomplishments during his tenure, and I wish Joe and his family nothing but success and happiness in the future.”

Here is Girardi’s statement:

“With a heavy heart, I come to you because the Yankees have decided not to bring me back. I’d like to thank the Steinbrenner family for believing in me and giving me this wonderful opportunity. I would like to thank Brian Cashman and his staff for hiring me and always trying to improve the team. I would like to thank my coaches and support staff for their dedication to always trying to make the players better and get the most out of them. I would like to thank the training staff and the strength coaches for their tireless efforts of trying to keep the players on the field and healthy. I would like to thank the clubhouse personnel for making the clubhouse our home away form home. I would like to thank the players for the relationships that we have fostered over the last ten years but most important, how hard they played every day. I would like to thank Damon Oppenheimer and his staff for their hard work in trying to find us the best players available in the draft. I would like to thank the minor league staff for developing these young players. I would like to thanks Ben Tuliebitz for making our travel easy and always taking care of our families. I want to thank the media for always being fair with me and helping grow this wonderful game. Finally, I’d like to thanks the fans for their great support as a player, coach and manager and the lasting memories of their passion and excitement during the playoff games, especially the final six games which will remain in my heart forever.”

There have been rumors circulating the last few weeks that Girardi was feeling burnt out and was ready to step away to spend time with his family, though this wasn’t his decision. The Yankees decided to move on based on Cashman’s recommendation. The Yankees have only had two managers over the last 22 seasons, unbelievably.

Over the last few days and weeks there have been some rumblings that Girardi’s relationship with the players wasn’t great, and it stands to reason Cashman was concerned that relationship could deteriorate further. With an excellent young core ready to win now, the Yankees don’t want any trouble in the clubhouse. That goes without saying.

Girardi, 53, just completed his tenth season as Yankees manager. The team went 910-710 (.562) under his watch and never won fewer than 84 games in a season, which is pretty remarkable considering how messy some of those rosters were from 2013-16. Girardi managed the Yankees to the 2009 World Series title and three AL East championships.

Girardi leaves the Yankees in fifth place on the franchise’s all-time wins list behind Joe McCarthy (1,460), Joe Torre (1.173), Casey Stengel (1,149), and Miller Huggins (1,067). He is also fifth in winning percentage among those with at least 500 games managed for the franchise.

I have had more than my fair share of complaints about Girardi over the years, mostly based on his rigid bullpen use and managerial style, though he is a good man and was a good manager. The Yankees have an exciting roster with lots of good young talent and more on the way. Now it’s time to find the right man to lead them.

Reviewing RAB’s ten bold predictions for the 2017 season

Thanks for making me look smart, Chad. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Thanks for making me look smart, Chad. (Bob Levey/Getty)

Sadly, the 2017 Yankees season came to an end Saturday night, with a loss to the Astros in Game Seven of the ALCS. On one hand, falling one win short of a World Series spot sucks always and forever. On the other hand, the 2017 Yankees were a pretty awesome team. I haven’t had this much fun following the Yankees in a long time. I won’t forget this season.

Back in March, four days before Opening Day, I made ten bold predictions for the 2017 Yankees season. And now that the season is over, it’s time to go back and see how I did. One thing this exercise taught me: I need to go bolder next year. Most of this year’s bold predictions were more mild than bold. Eh, whatever. This was my first crack at this. Now I know better for next season. To the bold predictions review!

1. Pitchers not currently on the 40-man roster will combine for 30+ starts.

Yeah, I probably should’ve gone with something like 50+ starts instead of 30+ starts if I wanted to be bold. Here is the games started leaderboard among players who were not on the 40-man roster as of the bold predictions post:

  1. Jordan Montgomery: 29
  2. Sonny Gray: 11
  3. Jaime Garcia: 8
  4. Caleb Smith: 2

That is 50 starts — 50 starts! — by pitchers who weren’t on the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training. Nearly one-third of the season. The Yankees had some serious questions at the back of their rotation this year, though I figured guys like Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green would get most of the chances to fill in since they were already on the 40-man. That didn’t happen. Cessa, Mitchell, and Green combined for seven starts this season — five by Cessa and one each for Mitchell and Green.

2. Judge finishes in the top three of the Rookie of the Year voting.

Well, technically we don’t know the answer to this yet since the awards haven’t been announced yet, but yeah. Aaron Judge is going to be named AL Rookie of the Year. It should be unanimous, but you never know. The rookie WAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +8.2
  2. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers: +4.0
  3. Paul DeJong, Cardinals: +3.0
  4. Matt Chapman, Athletics: +2.7
  5. Jordan Montgomery, Yankees: +2.7

If Judge doesn’t win AL Rookie of the Year, it’ll be a travesty.

3. A pitcher other than Tanaka, Betances, and Chapman makes the All-Star Team.

I am 3-for-3 so far. Luis Severino made the All-Star Team this season. And he made it clean. He wasn’t an injury replacement or a Final Vote guy or anything. He was an original member of the AL All-Star roster. In the bold predictions post I guessed Michael Pineda would be the pitcher other than Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman to make the All-Star Team. I don’t know why anyone listens to me.

4. Green emerges as the next great Yankees reliever.

I am proud of this one. I believed Green had the tools to be a very effective reliever, mostly because his fastball generated so many swings and misses, even as a starting pitcher last season. His slider is just okay and his changeup basically doesn’t exist. I figured he’d eventually end up in the bullpen at some point, impress while airing it out for an inning or two at a time, and eventually enter the Circle of Trust™. That is pretty much exactly what happened. I’d be lying if I said I expected Green to be this good, but I had a feeling there was a potentially dominant reliever hiding in there somewhere. This is why people listen to me, I guess. Every once in a while I luck into looking smart.

5. Neither Sanchez nor Bird will lead the Yankees in home runs.

Remember Greg Bird‘s Spring Training? He was a monster and it looked like he was about to have a huge season. That’s why I included him in this bold prediction. Obviously the ankle injury changed things. Gary Sanchez was ridiculous during his two-month cameo last year, and pretty much everyone expected him to be the team’s best hitter this summer. The 2017 Yankees home run leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: 52
  2. Gary Sanchez: 33
  3. Didi Gregorius: 25
  4. Brett Gardner: 21
  5. Matt Holliday: 19

In the bold predictions post I picked Starlin Castro to lead the Yankees in homers in 2017. For real. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m boldly predicting Sanchez and Bird will finish second and third on the Yankees in home runs, in either order. Judge could sock 25+ dingers, which would probably be enough to lead all rookies, though I don’t think he’ll lead the Yankees either. Not Matt Holliday or Chris Carter either. My pick? Starlin Castro. Boom. Castro turned 27 last week and is at the age where maximum power output could be reasonably expected. He set a career high with 21 dingers last year, and now that he’s entering his second year with the Yankees and is presumably more comfortable with things, I’m saying he’ll get to 30 this year.

Castro finished sixth on the team with 16 home runs, though he spent two stints on the disabled list with hamstring injuries. Otherwise he would’ve cleared 20 homers easily, maybe even 25. And he still wouldn’t have been even halfway to Judge. Yeah, technically I got this bold prediction right, but the Castro pick is kinda embarrassing. I’m ashamed.

6. The Yankees do more buying than selling at the trade deadline.

Remember when we were all talking about the Yankees as sellers? Good times. The Yankees sold at last year’s trade deadline, and they weren’t projected to be all that good this season, so of course we thought they might sell again. Tanaka, Betances, Holliday, Gardner, and others represented potentially tradeable pieces.

Ultimately, the Yankees bought at the trade deadline with two big trades and one smaller deal. A quick recap:

Don’t forget about the Tyler Webb for Garrett Cooper blockbuster. All buying, no selling.

7. Ellsbury, not Gardner, is the outfielder traded away.

Nope. Neither was traded away. The outfielder traded away was, uh, Fowler? Poor Dustin. His injury was definitely the worst moment of the season. Once the injury happened, part of me hoped the Yankees would make the postseason and invite him to throw out the first pitch at some point. That would’ve been cool. The Yankees traded him instead. This business is cruel.

8. Rutherford will take over as the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

Nope. Rutherford was traded too, so he can’t be the No. 1 prospect in the organization. That said, even if he hadn’t been traded, he wouldn’t have taken over as the top prospect, even with Gleyber Torres blowing out his non-throwing elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. Rutherford did not have a good season overall:

  • With the Yankees: .281/.342/.391 (113 wRC+) with two homers, 18.1 K%, 8.2 BB%
  • With the White Sox: .213/.289/.254 (63 wRC+) with no homers, 15.4 K%, 9.6 BB%
  • Overall (all at Low-A): .260/.326/.348 (98 wRC+) with two homers, 17.3 K%, 8.6 BB%

I certainly wouldn’t give up on Rutherford based on a disappointing first full season as a pro. The kid is still incredibly talented and it could click next year. He’s not a better prospect than Torres though. This bold prediction didn’t come true. (MLB.com currently ranks Gleyber as the top prospect in baseball with Rutherford sitting at No. 39, for what it’s worth.)

9. The Yankees will have the most productive DH spot in baseball.

For the first two and a half months of the season, this one was looking pretty good. Holliday had a fantastic start to the season. Then he got sick and just stopped hitting in mid-June, two things that may or may not be related. Here is where the Yankees ranked among the 15 AL teams in DH production:

  • AVG: .235 (11th)
  • OBP: .327 (4th)
  • SLG: .429 (5th)
  • OPS+: 105 (3rd)
  • HR: 28 (5th)

The Mariners had the most productive DH spot pretty much across the board thanks to Nelson Cruz. They were first in AVG (.288), first in SLG (.547), first in OPS+ (148), first in homers (39), and second in OBP (.374). Only the Indians were better in OBP (.391).

10. The Yankees will spend more days in first place than last year.

I kinda cheated with this one. The Yankees spent zero days in first place last year. They didn’t win the AL East this season, though they did spend 62 days in first place, more than 2013 (17 days), 2014 (24 days), and 2016 (zero days) combined. (They spent 100 days in first place in 2015.) I closed the bold predictions post with this:

Even with the questions at the back of the rotation, I believe this team is better than last year, and it’ll show when they get off to a better start in April. They’ve had some trouble keeping their head above water early on the last few seasons.

The Yankees went 15-8 with a +43 run differential in April, the best record in the AL. And off they went.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Couple of upcoming offseason items. One, the Hank Aaron Award winners will be announced later tonight. It is given to the top hitter in each league, and I imagine Aaron Judge has a pretty good chance to win it. And two, the Gold Glove finalists will be announced tomorrow. I have to think Brett Gardner will be in the mix in left field. Maybe Judge in right and Didi Gregorius at short too.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the evening. The Dodgers and Astros will play Game Two of the World Series tonight (8pm ET on FOX), plus the Nets are playing. Talk about anything here except religion or politics.

Update: Jose Altuve won the AL Hank Aaron Award, not Judge. Womp womp.

A Quick Thank You to the Season that Was

(via @davidblattman)
(via @davidblattman)

It is difficult to put into words just how fantastic this season was for the New York Yankees. This is a team that was all but guaranteed to float around the 81-win mark this year, with the most hopeful of fans merely expecting strong contributions from the slew of youngsters that were slated for the roster. It was meant to be a transitional season, as Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi spent the last season of their respective contracts stewarding a ship towards 2018, with 2017 in the rear-view before the year even began. And most would have been happy with the team spoiling the playoff hopes of a potential playoff team or two.

Instead, the Yankees spent the better part of the season as one of the best teams in baseball, only bowing out to the soon-to-be World Series champions in the American League Championship Series. It was a hell of a ride, to say the least.

I’m not going to recap this season; those pieces will be written in the weeks to come. And I’m not going to attempt to plot out just how the Yankees made it this far; that story has been written and, exciting as it may be, we all know it well-enough already. Rather, with just under a month to go before Thanksgiving, I’m simply going to write out a few thank yous to the people that made this season special.

Thank you to CC Sabathia, for showing the world that you’ve still got it, even as your knees breakdown. And thank you for reminding us that some folk just love being a Yankee.

Thank you to Gary Dunaier, better known as ‘Thumbs Down Guy,’ for giving the fans and the players a new way to celebrate the team’s Fighting Spirit.

Thank you to Didi Gregorius, for always playing with the brightest and widest of smiles, and reminding us that baseball is a hell of a lot of fun. The post-game tweets are always a treat, too.

Thank you to Cashman and the powers that be, for brilliantly executing the ‘rebuild on the fly’ strategy.

Thank you to Girardi for sticking with the team’s young players, throughout their ups and downs.

Thank you to Luis Severino, for pitching like an ace from wire to wire, dazzling fans and opposing hitters alike with ridiculous sliders.

Thank you to Greg Bird, for finally getting healthy and raking in the playoffs.

Thank you to David Robertson, for coming home and being better than ever.

Thank you to Gary Sanchez, for proving that 2016 was closer to a taste of things to come than a fluke.

Thank you to Chad Green, for somehow becoming one of the best relievers in all of baseball.

Thank you to Brett Gardner, for being the continuing to quietly be a legitimate bargain in left field.

Thank you to Aaron Judge, for hitting baseballs harder and further than any human being should be capable of, while also playing with a childlike wonderment.

Thank you to the River Ave Blues staff, both on the page and behind the scenes, for making one of my dreams come true by bringing me on-board.

And thank you to the readers of River Ave Blues for taking it easy on me despite my penchant for rambling, and continuing to make the comment section a must-read (which is something that almost reads like an oxymoron).

I could go on and on, as this season was incredibly special in so many ways. It reinvigorated my love of the Yankees, and made me hopeful that another stretch of great success is well within reach. I don’t know what 2018 will bring, but for the first time in nearly a decade I’m heading into it with a healthy dose of optimism.

Poll: Masahiro Tanaka’s opt-out clause

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

At some point in the next ten days, Masahiro Tanaka and his agent will have to make a decision about his opt-out clause. The decision is due three days after the end of the World Series, which means it could come as soon as next Tuesday (if there’s a sweep) or as late as next Saturday (if it goes seven games). So far Tanaka has ducked all questions about the opt-out.

“I haven’t had a chance to think about my contract,” said Tanaka through his interpreter following the ALCS Game Seven loss the other day. “From a player’s standpoint, you don’t truly understand how you are perceived by other teams. The season really was a grind and a fight throughout the season. I can say I didn’t step away from it … I don’t know how it is going to work out.”

Over the last four years the perception of the opt-out decision has changed dramatically. When Tanaka hurt his elbow in 2014, there was no way he’d opt-out. When he earned Cy Young votes last year, he was definitely going to opt-out. When he couldn’t stop giving up homers in the first half this year, he wasn’t going to opt-out. Then when he dominated in the postseason, okay, yeah, he’s opting out.

Fans and analysts tend to look at this stuff too closely. On a day-to-day basis, almost. In reality, Tanaka and his agent are going to take a step back, examine the market for a free agent starting pitcher, and determine whether walking away from three years and $67M makes sense. One bad start in May or one great start in October won’t have a major impact on the decision. This is a big picture decision. Let’s break it down.

The Case For Not Opting Out

This is the easy one, so we’ll start here. Despite his postseason exploits, Tanaka did not pitch well during the 2017 regular season. Fifty-eight pitchers threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this season. Here are Tanaka’s ranks:

  • ERA: 4.74 (50th)
  • FIP: 4.34 (36th)
  • fWAR: +2.7 (33rd)
  • bWAR: +1.0 (51st)

Not good! Furthermore, Tanaka’s elbow is widely regarded as a ticking time bomb. He had the partial ligament tear back in 2014, and while the elbow hasn’t given him any problems since, most expect him to have Tommy John surgery at some point. Adam Wainwright pitched for five years with a partial tear before the ligament gave out. Tanaka just completed year three. Tanaka has also had some other nagging injury issues in recent years.

The market for a starting pitcher with a known elbow problem who was mediocre to bad overall during the 2017 regular season might not be so robust. Tanaka is a boom or bust player at this point, and there’s a lot of bust potential. Even if the elbow stays intact, he showed this year he could get blasted anyway. Passing on the opt-out and taking the $67M guaranteed would be a safe bet.

The Case For Opting Out

Moreso than any other position, quality starting pitchers rarely have trouble getting paid. Jeff Samardzija led the league in hits, earned runs, and home runs allowed a few years ago, yet he still signed a five-year contract worth $90M after the season. Ian Kennedy inked a five-year deal worth $70M two offseasons ago, after he’d thrown 759 innings with a 4.19 ERA (89 ERA+) and a 4.06 FIP over the previous four seasons.

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Several things make Tanaka desirable despite his poor 2017 regular season and the lingering elbow concerns. One, he has shown he can pitch at a very high level. He did it all of last season and he did it for much of the second half this season, plus again in the postseason, under the spotlight in New York. I would be careful not to overvalue those three postseason starts, but, if nothing else, they were a reminder of what he’s capable of. The ability to dominate still exists.

Two, Tanaka is only 29. He’s actually only 28. His 29th birthday is one week from today. Tanaka is still in what should be the prime of his career. You wouldn’t be signing a guy over 30 who figures to begin succumbing to age-related decline fairly soon. And three, the free agent pitching class isn’t great. Yu Darvish, who had Tommy John surgery two years ago and is now 31, is the headliner. Soon-to-be 32-year-old Jake Arrieta is next, and his command has been deteriorating for two years now.

Should he opt-out, Tanaka likely sits somewhere behind Darvish and Arrieta in the free agent pecking order, and ahead of guys like Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and Jason Vargas. All three of those dudes are less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, like Darvish. You can nitpick all these guys the same way you can nitpick Tanaka and say he don’t deserve a big contract.

At the end of the day, we’re talking about a soon-to-be 29-year-old pitcher who owns a 3.56 ERA (118 ERA+) and a 3.75 FIP in 668.1 big league innings, all with the Yankees in the hitter friendly AL East, and has shown he won’t wilt under the bright lights in the postseason. That is a mighty valuable commodity. No, Tanaka might not match the $22.3M average annual value of his current contract, but he figures to top the $67M total guarantee on the open market.

* * *

There is, potentially, a third option here. Tanaka could leverage the opt-out into a contract extension with the Yankees. That is exactly what CC Sabathia did a few years ago. I’m inclined to think the Yankees wouldn’t bite and would call Tanaka’s bluff and let him opt-out in that case, though an extension is worth considering. The Yankees need pitching and Tanaka has shown he can be damn good and thrive in New York. That’s not nothing.

The plan to get under the $197M luxury tax threshold looms, so perhaps there’s a scenario in which the Yankees sign Tanaka to an extension and lower the average annual value (and thus luxury tax hit) of his contract. If the Yankees were to tack on, say, two years and $33M to his current contract, that’s essentially a five-year extension worth $100M, with a $20M luxury tax hit, saving some payroll space. Maybe an extra two years and $27M would be enough to convince Tanaka to stay? Or two years and $23M? It’s worth asking.

At this point, we have all the information. We know how Tanaka pitched this year, how he pitched in the postseason, and how he pitched the last four years. We know his injury history — well, we know what the Yankees have elected to tell us about his injury history — and we know where the Yankees are as a team. They’re ready to win now. They almost won this year! Re-signing Tanaka is a win-now move. Okay, time for a poll.

Will Tanaka opt-out?
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