After the nightmare that was 2013, the Yankees’ farm system rebounded to have a strong but not really great year in 2014. It was more of a normal season than anything. There were a few surprises, a few disappointments, a bunch of injuries, and several comebacks. Pretty typical year for a minor league system, and, for the Yankees, a typical year meant a huge step up from last season.
The team’s seven domestic minor league affiliates combined to go 387-373 (.509) this summer, so after having their consecutive winning season streak snapped at 30+ years last year, they got turned things around quickly. None of the four full season affiliates qualified for the postseason, however. Only the two Rookie GCL Yankees squads did. The system did not have at least one league champion for only the third time in the last eight years.
As a reminder, this annual awards post has nothing to do with prospect status. This is all about recognizing 2014’s notable performances in the farm system. Pure production with future outlook taking a backseat. These are also my awards and my opinions, so you’re welcome to disagree. There is no right answer with stuff like this. Here are my 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 awards posts. So, without further delay:
Minor League Player of the Year: 2B Rob Refsnyder
From start to finish, the best and most consistent player in the system this year was Refsnyder. The 23-year-old opened the year with Double-A Trenton, hit .342/.385/.548 (159 wRC+) with 19 doubles and six homers in 60 games, then was promoted up to Triple-A Scranton. Refsnyder hit .296/.386/.453 (135 wRC+) with 19 doubles and eight homers in 77 games with the RailRiders, giving him an overall .317/.385/.495 (~145 wRC+) batting line. The team’s fifth round pick in the 2012 draft led the farm system in batting average (min. 400 PA), doubles (38), and total bases (255) while placing second in hits (163). He also cut his error total from 25 in 108 games last season to 12 in 122 games this season. Refsnyder put himself on the map a year ago and this year he proved he was no fluke. He’s played his way into big league consideration just two years after being drafted and asked to change positions.
After a couple of rough losses these last five or six days, the Yankees rebounded with a sound 5-1 win over the Red Sox on Wednesday night. They pitched very well, they hit well, and they even played some nice defense too. Just don’t ask about the base-running. We’ll turn a blind eye to that. With the win, the Yankees clinched at least a tie of the season series against Boston for the eighth time in the last ten years.
I had plans tonight and missed the bulk of the game — I left right after that ridiculous double caught stealing in the first and got home in time to see Dellin Betances fan Mookie Betts in the eighth — so I can’t really talk about it in too much detail. Brian McCann had four hits including a two-run homer, and it would be really great if he finished the year strong so he can go into the offseason feeling good about himself. Brett Gardner singled in Jacoby Ellsbury for another run and Ellsbury sacrifice flied in Chase Headley to score another run. McCann singled in the fifth and final run in the seventh. Carlos Beltran was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
Hiroki Kuroda was fantastic, holding the Red Sox to one run on a double and three singles in seven innings of work. He struck out eight and did not walk a batter. Kuroda was on extra rest thanks to Monday’s off-day and he simply looks so much better whenever he gets an extra day or two. He now has a 3.30 ERA (3.32 FIP) in his last 17 starts and 109 innings dating back to June 1st. That is more or less the good version of 2012-13 Kuroda. He’s going out in style, assuming he is going out at all. Betances and David Robertson each allowed a base-runner in otherwise uneventful eighth and ninth innings to close out the win.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some additional stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees are now four games back of the Tigers for the second wildcard spot with two other teams ahead of them. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 3.0% with 25 games remaining. Brandon Workman and ex-Red Sox Chris Capuano will be the pitching matchup in Thursday night’s series finale. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to catch the game live.
Last night did not go well for the Yankees at all. They didn’t pitch well and they couldn’t get out of their own way offensively. But this is baseball, and they’re back at it tonight with a chance to win. Both my favorite and least favorite thing about baseball is that they play every single day. Forget about last night and get back in the win column tonight. Here is the Red Sox lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Derek Jeter
- LF Brett Gardner
- DH Carlos Beltran
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Chase Headley
- 2B Stephen Drew
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
It’s much nicer in New York today than it has been the last few days. Cooler and not nearly as humid, with just a few clouds. Nice night for baseball. Tonight’s game will start a little after 7pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.
Martin Prado is day-to-day with a “mild, mild” left hamstring strain, Joe Girardi announced. Prado will not play tonight and he is unlikely to play tomorrow, but he could be good in time for Friday’s series opener against the Royals. He left last night’s game with tightness in the hamstring and had an MRI today. Prado has been one of the team’s best hitters these last few weeks, so losing him hurts. · (49) ·
Coming into 2014, one of the bigger reasons to believe the Yankees would have an improved offense was the return of Mark Teixeira after he missed all of last season. Is he the same player he was a few years ago? Of course not. But even after wrist surgery it was a pretty good bet he would outproduce Lyle Overbay, and he has (106 vs. 86 wRC+). Overbay did an admirable job last summer, but the lack of first base production was part of the team’s downfall.
Teixeira changed his batting stance in Spring Training at the behest of hitting coach Kevin Long, who reportedly noticed his first baseman had picked up on some bad habits coming off surgery. Remember, Teixeira wasn’t 100% recovered at the start of camp, he was still easing back into things and did not play games until early-March. As I wrote in this May mailbag, Teixeira made the same adjustments as Curtis Granderson back in 2010: he closed his stance, stood more upright, lowered his hands, and used a two-handed follow-through.
The changes seemed to work too. Teixeira went deep five times in his first 15 games of the season and nine times in his first 27 games, good for a .271/.375/.573 (164 wRC+) batting line in 112 plate appearances. Obviously we all knew he wasn’t going to hit quite that well all season, but proving he was still able to hit for power so soon after wrist surgery was important. There was some hope he would be a capable middle of the order power hitter for a team in need of one, even after signing Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
The production hasn’t lasted, of course. Teixeira has hit .204/.305/.358 (85 wRC+) with only eleven homers in 318 plate appearances across his last 76 games. There have been some minor injuries — wrist inflammation, lat strain, finger contusion — mixed in during that time, but nothing that required a DL stint or even forced him to miss more than a week. Furthermore, Teixeira’s production has declined with each passing month:
Teixeira was able to continue hitting for power through the month of June before losing 58 points of ISO in July and another 58 points of ISO in August. His homer totals dropped accordingly. Combine that with fewer base hits in general — his walk rate has remained strong all season, with the normal peaks and valleys — and you suddenly get one really unproductive cleanup hitter in July and especially August.
So now the question becomes why has Teixeira’s performance fallen off these last few months? That’s tough to answer, especially because it may simply be “he’s not healthy.” The guy is coming off wrist surgery, after all, plus he’s shown a knack for all sorts of other bumps and bruises. Who knows what Teixeira might be hiding or trying to play through, or how the combination of injuries is starting to take its toll. We can’t know from where we sit.
As for some numbers, the amazing Baseball Savant says Teixeira’s average distance on balls hit in the air was actually at its highest in July, and August was higher than both April and May. Month-by-month pitch selection data for hitters usually doesn’t tell you anything useful other than at the extremes, and it isn’t particularly enlightening with Teixeira:
|Batted Ball Distance (ft)
Basically all this tells us is Teixeira is still hitting the ball has far as he has all year and pitchers have not substantially changed the way they’re pitching him. Those month-by-month changes in pitch selection are just the natural ebbs and flow of baseball. I’m not even going to bother posting the spray charts because they’re one big garbled mess that look no different from month to month because he’s a switch-hitter.
Figuring out the cause of Teixeira’s power outage is little more than guesswork. Maybe he just stinks at baseball now. That’s always possible. The wrist could be bothering him, Long could have given him bad guidance — Teixeira is still using his “new” stance, for what it’s worth — maybe Foul Territory is taking up too much of his time, or maybe it’s something else entirely. Who knows what else is going on behind the scenes. What we do know for sure is that Teixeira’s production has dropped considerably as the season has progressed.
For all the recent talk about dropping Derek Jeter in the lineup, Teixeira doesn’t belong in the cleanup spot either. Ideally he’d bat seventh or eighth at this point, he’s been that bad these last few weeks, but you can’t bat everyone in the lineup seventh or eighth. The Yankees have a whole lotta number seven and eight hitters on the roster right now. Teixeira started the season very well and I was thrilled he was that productive so soon after wrist surgery. The production didn’t last though, and his fade is a reason why the Yankees are so far out of a postseason spot.
Via Chad Jennings: David Phelps threw fastballs and changeups as part of a 25-pitch bullpen session yesterday, his first time throwing off a mound since going down with elbow inflammation last month. “I know that we’ve been going kind of conservative with it just to make sure everything comes back,” he said. “All of the steps have been good along the way, so it shouldn’t be too long.”
Phelps, 27, will throw all of his pitches during a 35-pitch bullpen session on Friday. If that goes well, he will throw a simulated game on Sunday. I assume that would be the final step before he is activated off the disabled list. The Yankees have already announced Phelps will return as a reliever — at this point of the season there isn’t enough time to get him stretched back out even if they wanted him to start — and I assume he will jump right into the late-game mix once healthy. · (17) ·
Barring some kind of Derek Jeter farewell tour miracle, the Yankees aren’t going to the postseason this year. They’ve dug themselves too big a hole without enough games remaining to climb out of it. That’s life. They’re not going to play in October because their play from April through early-September says they don’t belong there. If you’ve watched them at all this year, you know how hard it is to envision them stringing together enough wins to jump three teams and make up five games in the second wildcard race.
Now, even if the Yankees do somehow manage to sneak into the postseason, this year needs to be something of a wake-up call for the team’s decision makers. I mean, last year should have been the wake-up call, but instead the Yankees doubled down on the only thing they know how to do: spend money. They tried to spend their way back into the postseason — spend their way back in while letting their best player and one of the five best in the world walk away, remember — and it failed. Miserably. They’re probably going to lose more games this season than they did last year despite their offseason spending spree.
The season is close enough to being over that we can say, with certainty, the first year of the Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran contracts were disasters. There aren’t enough games left on the schedule to change that now. The Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka deals have worked out more than fine, at least until Tanaka’s elbow started barking, but McCann and Beltran have not. When you sign a 30-year-old catcher to a five-year contract, you’re doing it under the assumption Year One will be the best. Year One is over now and the Yankees aren’t getting it back. It’s gone. Beltran’s deal is less damaging because it is shorter term but it still hurts. A lot.
For decades the Yankees conducted business the same way they do right now. They bought the best free agents available (or tried to, anyway) and by and large it worked. Free agency started in 1975, they won titles in 1977-78, had more wins than any other team in the 1980s, and dominated baseball in the late-1990s and 2000s. When you’ve got more money than every other team and you can simply buy the best players, why wouldn’t you do it? That’s the advantage of being based in New York.
That financial advantage is shrinking, however, and it has been since the luxury tax was implemented back in 2003. Aside from last year’s $228M outlier, the Yankees have had an Opening Day payroll in the $180M to $210M range since 2004. The average Opening Day payroll of the other 13 AL clubs (not counting the new-to-the-AL Astros) has steadily risen from roughly $60M to just over $100M during the time. Keep in the mind that MLB’s biggest payroll increases over the last few years belong to NL teams — the Dodgers, Giants, and Nationals, specifically. The payroll gap between the Yankees and everyone else isn’t what it once was.
Furthermore, free agency itself has fundamentally changed as teams lock up their best players to long-term extensions years before they’re eligible to hit the open market. The days of landing an in-his-prime star every winter are gone. It was only six years ago that the Yankees were able to pluck a 28-year-old CC Sabathia off the market to satisfy their pitching needs. Nowadays? Forget it. There’s a reason Masahiro Tanaka landed the fourth largest pitching contract in baseball history without ever playing an MLB game. His age. Impact players in their prime are no longer available for just money.
For years we’ve justified huge money long-term contracts by saying you’ll live with the ugly part at the end for the immediate return now. Well, the Yankees have hit the ugly part. They’re at the ugly part of their long-term deals with Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira. McCann and Beltran didn’t provide the immediate return either. That has left the team not just with unproductive players eating up a big chunk of the payroll, but little flexibility to replace them. Realistically, what are the Yankees going to do with Teixeira? Nothing. They’re going to grit their teeth and run him out there until his contract ends. That’s the only option.
The Yankees are caught in a cycle of relying on free agency to remain in contention. When the 2008-09 Sabathia/Teixeira free agent class started to fade, there was the 2013-14 Ellsbury/Tanaka class. The Bombers missed the postseason last year and responded the only way they know how, by spending money. The players they invested in did not provide the desired impact — back to the playoffs! — and that means the Yankees are going to do what now? Agree to another $400M worth of contracts this winter? That only continues the cycle with no guarantee of a return to contention, as we’ve learned this year.
Free agency is no longer a one stop shop that can turn a team around in a winter. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, it obviously is, but it can’t be everything for the Yankees going forward. Not anymore. The game of baseball has changed these last few years but the Yankees have stayed the same and they’re being left behind. The standings don’t lie. The farm system needs to be more productive, the free agent signings they do make have to be better, and the trades have to be smarter. Remember when they added Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, both smack in the primes of their careers? Those moves were awesome. Taking on a bunch of money to get Vernon Wells? Not so much.
Personally, I believe the Yankees need to do a better job of focusing on depth, from the top of the roster to the very bottom. No more bad players. No more Brian Robertses and Ichiro Suzukis, who we all know aren’t going to work out the day the contract is signed. Those types of moves have to stop. I know it’s much easier said than done. Believe me. Also, the Yankees should absolutely bury the competition whenever another Tanaka or Jose Abreu comes along. That’s where you flex your financial muscle in free agency. Not tacking on a third year so you can outbid the Diamondbacks for 37-year-old Beltran.
I don’t believe any team with a huge payroll should ever have to endure a prolonged rebuild and, frankly, even if the Yankees wanted to tear it all down, they have little to move anyway. They’ve painted themselves into a corner and getting out won’t be easy or particularly pretty. There is a very strong likelihood things will get worse before they get better. Is Brian Cashman the man to turn things around and get the Yankees back on track? I don’t know but I really have a hard time believing he is at this point. He’s been running the show for an eternity and a different voice may be in order. That doesn’t guarantee improvement, mind you. A new GM could make things even worse, especially if ownership brings in a figurehead GM they can walk all over.
Look up and down the roster and there are five, maybe six players I can buy as being part of the solution and the next great Yankees team: Tanaka, Ellsbury, Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner, and maybe Martin Prado. I’d add David Robertson to that group if he wasn’t due to become a free agent in a few weeks and I can’t bring myself to include McCann in that group after the season he’s had. The Yankees’ entire team-building philosophy is going to have to change if they want to get back to being a perennial contender because the game is telling them it has to change. Their old way of doing business is painfully outdated and this winter is the time to start getting back up to speed, postseason or no postseason.
11:20pm: Prado has been preliminarily diagnosed with tightness in the hamstring, the Yankees announced. He’ll head for an MRI next.
10:43pm: Martin Prado left tonight’s game with a left hamstring injury, according to the army of beat reporters with the team. He will see the doctor tonight. No word on the severity or anything like that, but we’ll find out soon enough. · (125) ·
So much for starting the homestand off on the right foot. The Red Sox clobbered the Yankees by the score of 9-4 in Tuesday night’s series opener, New York’s fourth loss in their last five games. The Yankees are now 24-29 against the AL East this year, including 9-20 in their last 29 intra-division games.
Shane Greene is one of the few reasons the Yankees can even pretend to still be in the race for the second wildcard spot. He’s been really good since coming up just before the All-Star break. But Greene got destroyed on Tuesday night, allowing six runs on six hits and three walks in only three innings of work. Five of the nine base-runners reached in two-strike counts, which gives you an idea of how much he was struggling. Batters had a .175 OBP in two-strike counts against Greene coming into the game.
There’s no real mystery about what happened here. Greene was simply catching way too much of plate and giving hitters plenty of pitches to hammer. The box score says 38 of his 67 pitches were strikes (57%), but that doesn’t say anything about the quality of his pitches, which were awful. Even a few of his outs were hard hit. What can you do? Greene picked an unfortunate time to have his worst start in the big leagues. Now he has to shake it off and get back to where he was before Tuesday. The Yankees are falling out of the playoff race but he’s still competing for a 2015 rotation spot.
Fifth Inning Fight
Aside from Martin Prado‘s solo homer in the third inning, the Bombers didn’t put up much of a fight against Joe Kelly in the first four innings. The homer was their only base-runner in those four innings, in fact. That all changed in the fifth thanks to a patented 2014 Yankees rally that could have been a whole lot bigger if they were able to get out of their own way.
Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Prado opened the inning with back-to-back-to-back singles — McCann bunted to third to beat the shift — but the end result was runners at second and third with one out and no runs scored. Beltran got a poor read on Prado’s hit over the left fielder’s head and was only able to advance to third. Prado, thinking it was an easy double, took a big turn around first only to see McCann standing at second. He was caught in a rundown for the first out. Beltran got a bad read but ultimately Prado has to know what the runners in front of him are doing.
Anyway, the Yankees ran themselves out of a bases loaded situation there but Chase Headley drew a walk following Prado’s single to re-load (?) the bases. Kelly then walked Francisco Cervelli to force in the team’s second run. Jacoby Ellsbury lined out to short for the second out and Derek Jeter grounded out weakly to short for the third out … until Joe Girardi challenged and it was overturned, scoring a run and re-loading the bases. Jeter hit the ball so weakly that he was able to beat it out. I’m not joking.
That set things up for Brett Gardner, the number three hitter du jour and the team’s best player pretty much all season. He saw five pitches from Kelly, all outside the zone, swung at one of them, and was called out on strikes. Strike three was such an awful call. Here’s the strike zone plot, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
Terrible. The only actual strike in that at-bat was a strike because Gardner swung at it and missed (pitch four). YES showed an overhead angle and strike three was in the other batter’s box. Home plate ump Tim Timmons had a pretty crappy zone all night (strike zone plots) but that call took the cake. Gardner slammed his bat, slammed his helmet, and got himself ejected. That only compounded the problem. I know he was mad and rightfully so, but he’s way too important to get himself thrown out of a September game with his team fighting for a postseason spot. Four hits, two walks, two runs. 2014 Yankees.
Last Four Innings
After that self-stifled fifth inning rally, the game pretty much flew by. Esmil Rogers replaced Greene and served up a solo homer in the fourth, but otherwise he and three other relievers (Rich Hill, Adam Warren, David Huff) combined to retire 12 of 13 Red Sox batters from the fifth through eighth innings. Chaz Roe allowed two runs in the ninth. I’ve already seen enough of him to know whatever the Yankees gave the Marlins was too much. The bullpen more or less held up its end of the bargain until Roe showed up.
The offense never came, of course. It never does. The Yankees had runners on base in the sixth (one-out walk by Beltran), seventh (Prado reached on an error and Headley walked, both with no outs), and eighth (two-out walk by Teixeira) but couldn’t score. McCann banged into a double play to end the sixth, Cervelli banged into a double play to short-circuit the seventh, and Beltran flew out to end the eighth. McCann hit a garbage time solo homer off the shell of Koji Uehara in the ninth for no apparent reason.
The Yankees had seven hits as a team. Prado and McCann had two each while Jeter, Headley, and Beltran had one each. Two of the seven (Jeter and McCann) were infield singles and another (Beltran) was a ground ball with eyes. Really knocked it around on Tuesday. Teixeira, Beltran, Cervelli, and Headley (two) each drew walks. There’s your offense.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, managed to pick up 12 hits as a team even though five of the nine players in their starting lineup went hitless. Mookie Betts (three hits), Yoenis Cespedes (three hits), Daniel Nava (two hits), and Xander Bogaerts (four hits) did all the damage.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
The box score and video highlights are at MLB.com. FanGraphs has some other stats and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Yankees are now five games back of the second wild-card spot and FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 4.7%. They were only 3.5 games out of a playoff spot after 136 games last year, before they committed $500M+ to free agents.
The Yankees and Red Sox will continue the series Wednesday, when Hiroki Kuroda and Anthony Ranaudo square off. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to catch that game or any of the other seven games left on the homestand. There are only 16 home games left this season, you know.
Yay, Yankees-Red Sox. Yay. The rivalry has definitely lost some luster through the years and that has been especially true this season, with the Red Sox quickly falling out of the contention and the Yankees slowly fading in the standings. Is it better to burn out or fade away? I’m thinking fade away. I prefer to have a September baseball game make me feel something other than complete indifference.
Anyway, the Yankees start a nice nine-game, ten-day homestand tonight, and they’re going to need to win about seven of the nine games to have a chance at the second wildcard spot. That probably won’t happen, but that’s okay. It’s worth a try though. Boston is out of it and they’ve been playing terribly of late, so let’s start the homestand off on the right foot. Here is the Red Sox lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Derek Jeter
- LF Brett Gardner
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- RF Carlos Beltran
- DH Brian McCann
- 2B Martin Prado
- 3B Chase Headley
- C Frankie Cervelli
RHP Shane Greene
It is crazy hot and humid in New York. The sky is nice and blue, but I wouldn’t exactly call this weather comfortable. It’s like standing in soup. This evening’s game will begin at 7:05 pm ET, and you can watch on either YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game, everyone.
Updates: In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees called up eight players now that rosters have expanded in September … tests came back clean on Masahiro Tanaka‘s sore arm and he has been diagnosed with fatigue … Ellsbury’s big week earned him AL Player of the Week honors.