Exhibition games start tomorrow and the regular season is five weeks away. Between now and then, we’re going to preview the 2014 Yankees not individually, but by grouping players (and personnel) together into different categories. Today we’re going to look at the guys who will put the Bombers in Bronx Bombers.
The Yankees made history last season and not in a good way. They hit 101 (!) fewer homeruns last year than they did the year before, the largest year-to-year drop in baseball history. New York went from leading baseball in dingers (245) and ISO (.188) in 2012 to ranking 21st out of the 30 teams in both categories (144 and .133) in 2013, and their runs-per-game average dropped from 4.96 (second) to 4.01 (17th). The lack of power is a big reason why they missed the postseason for only the second time in 19 years.
Blame injuries (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira) and blame roster construction (Ichiro Suzuki and Chris Stewart replacing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, etc.) for the decline in power. All of that and more was a factor. The Yankees set out to fix that problem starting at the trade deadline last summer and they continued to add some power-hitting pieces over the winter. I doubt they will be able to hit 240+ long balls this coming season, but they should improve on last year’s power production overall. Here are the team’s primary power sources.
To the surprise of no one, Robinson Cano led the Yankees with 27 homers last season. Soriano managed to finish second on the team with 17 despite not returning to the Bronx until the deadline. The Yankees were that power starved. Cano left for the Mariners over the winter but the club will now have a full year of Soriano, which will help compensate a bit.
Despite turning 38 last month, Soriano has put together back-to-back 30+ homers seasons these last two years and he’s hovered in the .225-.238 ISO range over the last four seasons. He’s no longer the 40+ doubles threat he was earlier in the career, but he has managed between 27-33 two-baggers the last three years. Soriano is a steady 60+ extra-base hit bat and, most importantly, the average direction and distance of his batted balls has not changed at all since 2007. From Baseball Heat Maps:
You can click the image for a larger view. The chart on the left is the horizontal angle of the ball off the bat — so +45° is the left field line and -45° is the right field line — and the chart on the right is the distance. Each red dot is an individual batted ball (grounders excluded, so this is everything he hit in the air) and the vertical clusters are individual seasons, so 2007-13 from left to right.
At Soriano’s age, any change in his batted ball angle or distance would have been a red flag and possibly an indication his bat has started to slow beyond the point of no return. Instead, Soriano continues to hit the ball to all fields (slightly more towards right field) and just as far as he did seven years ago. Sure, he’s had to make adjustments over the years, most notably switching to a lighter bat in 2012, but the end results are the same. He’s hitting the ball the same way he has for much of the last decade.
Now, that isn’t to say this will continue in 2014. Things can go south in a hurry when you’re talking about a player closer to 40 than 35, but there have been no obvious red flags in Soriano’s game to date. Outside of 2009, when he missed a month with a knee problem, Soriano has been a consistent 25+ homer, 25+ double, .220+ ISO hitter for a decade now, and aside from sudden age-related decline or injury, there is no reason to expect anything different in 2014. He is the Yankees’ best full-time right-handed power source by frickin’ far.
New York’s catchers hit eight total homeruns last season, three of which came from Frankie Cervelli before he got hurt in mid-April. The catcher position was an offensive blackhole in 2013 and the Yankees rectified that problem by giving McCann a five-year contract worth $85M. The just-turned-30-year-old is one of only two catchers with 20+ homers in each of the last three seasons (Matt Wieters) and one of only eleven players (all positions) with 20+ homers in each of the last six seasons.
Of course, McCann hit all those dingers while with the Braves in Atlanta, playing his home games in a park that has been perfectly neutral in terms of left-handed homers over the last five seasons according to the park factors at FanGraphs. His lefty power was extra desirable to the Yankees because of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, which is tailor made for McCann’s pull happy swing:
Don’t trick yourself into thinking McCann is something he isn’t. This guy is a pure grip it and rip it hitter who is going to try to yank everything over the right field wall. He’s going to hit .250-ish and walk enough (9.9% walk rate since 2011) to post decent but not great OBPs, but his real offensive value comes from his power. Homers too, forget about doubles.
I think the whole “sign a left-handed hitter and he’ll automatically hit a bunch more homers in Yankee Stadium” idea is generally overstated — not everyone’s swing fits the ballpark (see: Overbay, Lyle) — but McCann is exactly the kind of hitter who can really exploit that short porch. His career-high is 24 homeruns (2006 and 2011) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes this year with 30-35 homers, especially if he spends some of his catching off-days at DH.
Over the last three years, only ten outfielders have racked up at least 50 extra-base hits in each season. Soriano is one of them and another is Beltran, his new teammate. Heck, if you want to bump up the arbitrary criteria, Beltran is one of only four outfielders with at least 55 extra-base hits these last three years. Soriano is not one of the other three.
The Yankees finally snagged their white whale (well, I think he was the fans’ white whale more than the team’s) this winter by signing Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45M, nine years after declining to sign him at a discounted rate before he joined the Mets. Beltran has aged remarkably well as a hitter, dipping below a 120 wRC+ only once in the last eight years, and that was his injury-plagued 2010 campaign. He’s also managed 20+ homers and 25+ doubles in each of the last three years and six of the last eight years, with 2009-10 being the only exceptions. Injuries limited him to 145 total games those two seasons.
Unlike Soriano and McCann, Beltran is a switch-hitter. He maintained a .200+ ISO against both righties and lefties these last two years (.214 vs. LHP and .202 vs. RHP) but he is a different type of hitter from each side of the plate. Beltran is pretty much a dead pull hitter as a righty and an all-fields guy as a lefty, though he does the most damage from the left side when he pulls the ball to right field at this point of his career (spray charts). That’s perfectly fine and plays right into Yankee Stadium. The concern is the declining distance of his batted balls:
Given his age (37 in April), that little downtick last year (really the last two years) is a concern. It’s not much, but pretty much anything is a red flag with a player this age. On average, Beltran did not hit the ball as far last year as he did the year before. Could be a one-year fluke, could be a sign of age-related decline. We’re going to find out in the coming months.
I am pretty confident Beltran will be a 20+ homer, 25+ double guy for the Yankees this coming season and right now that is the most important thing. He could fall completely off a cliff in 2014 but it would be a surprise to me. (The 2015-16 seasons are another matter for another time.) Even if he is starting to slip due to age, some of Beltran’s would-be homers should still go for doubles in 2014. The guy is such a good pure hitter and it’s not like he was bad in 2013. The somewhat early signs of decline are there though. No doubt about it.
Teixeira is a total unknown heading into this season. He missed almost all of last summer with a wrist injury, an injury that required season-ending surgery after a brief and failed return to the lineup. Teixeira is currently taking batting practice and is slated to start playing in Spring Training games in early-March, but wrist injuries are known to sap power even after the player has been cleared by doctors.
Even as his overall production has declined, the 33-year-old Teixeira has always remained a source of homers, hitting at least 33 dingers from 2008-11 and then 24 in 123 games in 2012. He has never once had a sub-.220 ISO during a full season in his entire career. Teixeira has admitted to changing his hitting style to take advantage of the short porch as a left-handed hitter and there’s no reason to think he’ll do anything differently going forward.
Guys like Jose Bautista and David Ortiz had similar wrist tendon sheath problems in recent years and it took them a few months before returning to their previous form. It’s easy to say Teixeira will hit for power because he’s always hit for power, but there’s just no way of knowing what he can do following the injury. He’s included in this post because hitting the ball over the fence is his thing, but there is a chance he might not do that in 2014, at least not early in the season. It might take him a while to get back in the swing of things.
The Yankees gave Johnson a nice little one-year, $3M contract back in December and he is now their everyday third baseman in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension. The 32-year-old isn’t much of a doubles guy but he has hit at least 16 homeruns in each of the last four seasons, and he has power to all fields:
Johnson can hit the ball of the park in any direction, which is a good thing. He’ll get some help from the short porch but he’s also shown he’s strong enough to drive those outside pitches the other way. Is he ever going to hit 26 homers with a .212 ISO like he did in 2010 again? Probably not, but the 16 homeruns he hit in 2012 and 2013 might become 18-22 in the Bronx. Considering the Yankees only had one guy mash 18+ taters last summer, getting a similar number from a player like Johnson, who is slated to bat seventh, will be a welcome addition.
* * *
On the other end of the spectrum, the Yankees do not figure to get much power from second base (Brian Roberts), shortstop (Derek Jeter), left field (Brett Gardner), or center field (Jacoby Ellsbury) this year. From that group, only Jeter (15 HR in 2012) and Ellsbury (outlier 32 HR in 2011) have managed to hit double-digit homers at some point in the last three years and neither is a lock to do it in 2014. Sure, Ellsbury might pop a few extra dingers with the move into Yankee Stadium, but for the most part his ground ball/opposite field approach won’t boost his homer total all that much. Those four guys will pick up some extra-base hits with their speed, but over-the-fence power isn’t happening. Soriano, McCann, Beltran, Teixeira, and Johnson will be leaned on for homers and extra-base hits.
2013 Season: 85-77 (637 RS, 671 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for playoffs
Spring Training Games This Week: vs. Florida State (Tues.), @ Pirates (Weds.), vs. Pirates (Thurs. on YES, MLBN), @ Tigers (Fri.), vs. Phillies (Sat. on YES, MLBN), @ Blue Jays (Sun. on MLBN)
Top stories from last week:
- In an out of nowhere move, the Yankees signed Brett Gardner to a four-year extension worth $52M. The deal includes a $12.5M club option ($2M buyout) and covers the 2015-18 seasons. The team has not had any extension talks with David Robertson, however.
- The Yankees are done signing Major League free agents, but they did ink Andrew Bailey to a minor league contract with a club option for 2015. He is not expected to return from serious shoulder surgery until August or September.
- Injury Updates: Alfonso Soriano (flu) has missed the last few days of workouts. Tyler Austin (wrist) has some nagging soreness and has been shut down. Slade Heathcott (knee) has not yet started baseball activities following offseason surgery. Nik Turley (arm) and Jim Miller (calf) had some tightness and are day-to-day.
- The Yankees had Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz and right-hander Ordisamer Despaigne in camp for a private workout, but they are not planning to offer a contract to either player.
- Soriano is considering retiring following this season. He wants to see how the summer goes and how he feels physically before making a decision.
- Masahiro Tanaka and Gary Sanchez both appeared on Baseball America’s list of the top 100 prospects in the game.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Via George King: The Yankees will not offer free agent Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz a contract following his private workout on Friday. They aren’t planning to offer right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne a contract either, but he isn’t much of a prospect.
Diaz, 23, is said to be seeking upwards of $20M, according to King. He worked out for the club at their minor league complex in Tampa and I guess they weren’t all that impressed. The Yankees have reportedly been scouting Diaz for months, so they are familiar with him. There are questions about his long-term potential but it is surprising they won’t even make an offer. · (79) ·
Feb. 23rd: I’ve had lots of people ask, so here are the dates of the scheduled John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman radio broadcasts, courtesy of Sweeny Murti: February 28th, then March 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, 25th, and 29th. Remember, the Yankees are now on WFAN, not WCBS 880.
Feb. 20th: The MLB Network broadcast schedule has been announced via press release and added below. All games listed are on YES and MLB.tv unless otherwise noted. Twenty-six of 32 exhbition games are currently scheduled to be broadcast, though there is still no word whether the games in Panama will be aired. I imagine they will.
Feb. 16th: The MLB.tv schedule has been released and added to the list below (all listed games on YES and MLB.tv unless otherwise noted). Twenty-four of 32 exhibition games are currently scheduled to be broadcast somewhere.
Feb. 11th: In roughly two weeks, Yankees baseball will be on your television. Both the YES Network and ESPN released their Spring Training broadcast schedules today, which include 16 of the team’s 32 exhibition games. That’s actually down from 19 broadcasts last year. I guess that’s what happens when you miss the postseason. We’re still waiting for MLB Network and MLB.tv to release their schedules, so when it’s all said and done, something like 24 or 25 Grapefruit League games will be broadcast.
The Yankees and Marlins are supposed to play a pair of exhbition games in Panama on March 15-16th, but nothing has been officially announced yet. Right now the schedule says the Yankees will play the Orioles and Braves those days. I dunno, we’ll see. Here are the Spring Training games that will be broadcast. All listed games start between 1-2 pm ET and are available on YES, unless otherwise noted.
- Thursday, February 27th vs. Pirates (also on MLBN tape delay)
- Saturday, March 1st vs. Phillies (also on MLBN)
- Sunday, March 2nd @ Blue Jays (live on MLB.tv only, also MLBN tape delay)
- Monday, March 3rd vs. Nationals (also on MLBN)
- Tuesday, March 4th vs. Orioles (7pm ET, also on MLBN)
- Thursday, March 6th @ Phillies (MLBN and MLB.tv only)
- Saturday, March 8th @ Astros (MLBN only)
- Sunday, March 9th vs. Rays
(also on MLBN tape delay)
- Tuesday, March 11th @ Nationals (live on MLB.tv only, also MLBN tape delay)
- Wednesday, March 12th vs. Tigers (also on MLBN)
- Thursday, March 13th vs. Orioles (split squad)
- Thursday, March 13th @ Phillies (split squad, MLB.tv only)
- Friday, March 14th vs. Twins (also on MLBN tape delay)
- Saturday, March 15th @ Orioles (MLBN and MLB.tv only)
- Sunday, March 16th vs. Braves (also on MLBN tape delay)
- Monday, March 17th @ Pirates (live on MLB.tv only, also MLBN tape delay)
- Tuesday, March 18th vs. Red Sox (also on ESPN, also MLBN tape delay)
- Thursday, March 20th @ Red Sox (7pm ET) (also on ESPN)
- Friday, March 21st vs. Pirates (7pm ET, MLBN only)
- Saturday, March 22nd @ Twins (live on MLB.tv only, also MLBN tape delay)
- Sunday, March 23rd vs. Blue Jays (also on MLBN)
- Tuesday, March 25th vs. Phillies (7pm ET, also on MLBN)
- Wednesday, March 26th @ Blue Jays (live on MLB.tv only, also MLBN tape delay)
- Thursday, March 27th @ Pirates (also on MLBN)
- Saturday, March 29th vs. Marlins (7pm ET)
MLB Network will inevitably pick up a bunch of road games, but nearly all of the team’s home games at George M. Steinbrenner Field are available. I’ll update this post whenever MLBN releases their schedule.
Just one more day of workouts left until the Yankees start playing real, live Spring Training games. Here’s the news from Tampa.
- Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. Ivan Nova threw a bullpen session while Michael Pineda headlines the guys who threw live batting practice. John Ryan Murphy caught Pineda and said he was “jumpy” while facing hitters for the first time in camp. “I’ve seen him better than he was today,” he added.
- Vidal Nuno (Tuesday vs. Florida State), Nova (Wednesday @ Pirates), David Phelps (Thursday vs. Pirates on YES) and Adam Warren (Friday @ Tigers) will start the team’s first four exhibition games. All are expected to throw about two innings. No word on when Masahiro Tanaka or any of the other guys will make their Grapefruit League debuts. [Jorge Castillo, Jennings]
- Derek Jeter, meanwhile, will make his spring debut in Thursday’s game. He didn’t play in his first game until the middle of March last year. Jeter also said he expects to travel to Panama for the two exhibition games against the Marlins next month. [Mark Feinsand, Castillo]
- Nik Turley, who was held out of workouts this weekend due to some tightness in his pitching arm, will be shut down for a full week “just to make sure (he’s alright),” said Joe Girardi. “All the tests came back fine.” [Jennings]
- Following tomorrow’s workout, the Yankees will hold their annual team-bonding exercise. It’s expected to be a pool tournament. [George King]
This is your nightly open thread. The Nets are playing tonight and the Olympics closing cermonies are on as well. I’ll miss ‘em, I’ll admit it. Talk about anything and everything right here. Have at it.
Via Dan Barbarisi: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees have not had any contract extension talks with David Robertson. The GM told Mark Feinsand the team’s no extensions policy is a thing of the past after they signed Brett Gardner long-term earlier today.
Robertson, 28, will earn $5.125M this year before becoming a free agent after the season. He will be a full-time closer for the first time this summer, and closers make a lot more money than setup men. Unless the Yankees pay him like a closer or he is concerned about getting hurt this year, Robertson has little reason to take an extension right now. · (29) ·
For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have signed a homegrown player long-term. Jon Heyman and Jack Curry report the team has agreed to a four-year contract worth a guaranteed $52M with outfielder Brett Gardner. The deal includes a $12.5M club option ($2M buyout) for a fifth year and it kicks in next season, so the contract covers 2015-18 and potentially 2019. Brian Cashman told Curry negotiations began way back during the Winter Meetings.
“I love it here, I love everybody in the organization, the coaching staff and all my teammates and this is where I want to be,” said Gardner to Erik Boland, Jorge Castillo, and Mark Feinsand. “Free agency is something that kind of intrigued me, but it also kind of scared me. I’ve never been anywhere else … I made it known to them that I wanted to stay here and be a part of this. I learned from guys that come from other places that there’s no better place to play, so I look forward to staying here and helping the team win.”
The Yankees and Gardner avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $5.6M a few weeks ago, so consider this one big five-year, $58.6M deal with an option for a sixth year. Joel Sherman says the contract will pay Gardner exactly $12.5M annually from 2015-18, and he gets a $1M bonus if he is traded during the life of the deal. Curry adds the contract does not include a no-trade clause. Gardner asked for one but the team was unwilling to do it.
The four-year deal is right in line with the four-year, $48M contract the Indians gave Michael Bourn last spring. Gardner gets an extra million bucks per year — chalk that up to inflation — but his option is a club option, not a vesting option like Bourn’s. Given the contracts handed out this offseason, Gardner might have been able to get five gauranteed years had he hit free agency after this season as scheduled. He and Bourn are two very similar players who signed very similar contracts at the same age. Have to believe Bourn’s deal was the framework for this extension.
Gardner, 30, was the team’s third round pick in the 2005 draft after walking on at the College of Charleston. He hit .273/.344/.416 (108 wRC+) with 24 stolen bases last year while setting career highs in plate appearances (609), hits (147), doubles (33), triples (ten), and homers (eight). He’s a career .268/.352/.381 (101 wRC+) hitter with two 40+ steal seasons to his credit. As you know, Gardner is a top notch defensive outfielder, though he will now slide back to left field with Jacoby Ellsbury and his $153M contract on board. The Yankees obviously value having two premium defensive players in the outfield.
As with every long-term contract, this deal comes with risk for the team. Gardner has not been the most durable player throughout his career, most notably missing almost the entire 2012 season due to an elbow injury and a series of setbacks. He’s also had thumb (2009), wrist (2010), and oblique (2013) problems over the years. The good news is that none of the injuries involved his legs, Gardner’s money-maker(s).
Just the other day I said I didn’t expect the Yankees to re-sign Gardner when he hit free agency after the season. I didn’t think the team would be open to paying top of the market salaries to two no-power, defense-first outfielders, and I also thought Gardner would prefer to play center field and leadoff, two things that won’t happen in New York thanks to Ellsbury. Wrong on both counts, I was.
The signing is a welcome break from the team’s archaic no extensions policy, which Cashman confirmed to Feinsand is a thing of the past. The Yankees tried to extend Russell Martin, Hiroki Kuroda, and Robinson Cano prior to free agency in recent years, but to no avail. The last homegrown player to sign a long-term deal with the team before becoming a free agent was Cano, who inked a four-year deal with a pair of club options way back in February 2008, four years before he was due to hit the open market.
The Yankees now have three outfielders signed through 2016, though the smart money is on Carlos Beltran being relegated to DH duty at some point during the life of his three-year contract. There is only one outfield spot open long-term for prospects like Zoilo Almonte, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Tyler Austin, but only Almonte is close to the big leagues right now, so this isn’t even a thing worth worrying about just yet. All of those guys are trade bait, now more than ever.
Sunday: Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman told Dan Barbarisi and Jack Curry that Bailey’s timetable is likely not midseason, but closer to September. So yeah, this move is more about the 2015 bullpen than anything.
Saturday: The Yankees have added some potential midseason bullpen help. Tim Dierkes and Buster Olney report the team has agreed to an incentive-laden minor league contract with right-hander Andrew Bailey. The deal can be worth up to $2.5M and it includes an option for 2015.
Bailey, 29, is a local guy from New Jersey who went to Wagner College in Staten Island. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum and shoulder capsule last July, so he won’t be ready to pitch until midseason at the earliest. Bailey had a 4.91 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 44 innings for the Red Sox over the last two years while dealing with shoulder and thumb problems. He was legitimately one of the best relievers in the game before that, pitching to a 2.07 ERA (2.74 FIP) in 174 innings with the Athletics from 2009-11.
Torn shoulder capsules are very serious and no pitcher has returned from one to recapture his previous form. Guys like Chien-Ming Wang, Rich Harden, Johan Santana, and Mark Prior have all been derailed by torn capsules. I really think this move is geared more towards 2015 (especially with David Robertson due to become a free agent), but there is a chance Bailey will be able to help down the stretch this year.
For the first time this year, the weather didn’t cooperate. It rained in Tampa this morning so most of the day’s workouts took place indoors. Such is life. Here’s the latest from Tampa.
- As usual, Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. David Phelps threw a simulated game while Matt Thornton and Shawn Kelley threw live batting practice. Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, and David Robertson threw bullpen sessions. Kelly Johnson worked out at second and third bases but not first.
- Tyler Austin‘s wrist is bothering him again. He dealt with a bone bruise most of last season. Austin said it started acting up a few days ago, but when it didn’t go away, he told the team. He hopes to only miss a few days but who knows. [Chad Jennings]
- Alfonso Soriano (flu) is still being held out of workouts and will be re-evaluated on Monday. Nik Turley‘s arm was “a little tight” and he was shut down for the day. Jim Miller has “slight irritation” in his calf and will be re-evaluated Monday. [Dan Barbarisi, Jennings]
- And finally, today was photo day. You can scroll through all the shots right here, though they might not all be uploaded yet.
Here is your nightly open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, plus the Olympics are still going on. I’m sure there’s college basketball on somewhere as well. Talk about anything and everything here. Have at it.